Category Archives: story telling

Progress Report: The Resolution Revolution

I haven’t followed up on one of my previous blog posts before, but I felt that one month on a little bit of a progress report seemed like a good idea. Shortly before writing that last post I was in a place where, for various reasons, things with me needed to change and action needed to be taken.

But I have never been one for too much change, so I started with two areas I could affect immediately – writing and fitness. I had already started with this when I discovered #writeandrun21 was going on (a big thank you to Christine Frazier @BetterNovelProj and her brother Matt @NoMeatAthlete) so tying the two activities together made a lot of sense.

That was the vow – to get healthier and write more. So far, so good.

The continuing support of the #1k1hr writing sprint circle I have found myself a part of at the tail end of last year only gave me the extra encouragement to keep at it. Even when I’m writing and they aren’t around (due to all being online at different hours, spread across multiple time zones) the idea of that group is still behind me, spurring me on.

Back in my “Writing to White Noise” post I said I found it nigh on impossible to write under the circumstances of being in a public place and surrounded by fellow writers working on their stories, but without those guys and gals actually being physically present and being sat in comfort in my own home, the pressure I felt of the writing circle was gone. I find myself able to write more freely and naturally than I ever could have if we were all sat around a table across from one another.

It has now been a little over three years since I came back to writing, after almost a decade of being away from it. I found that while my creativity was still there, albeit a little different to how I remembered, I wasn’t producing anywhere near the amount of writing that I used to be able to in my late teenage years and early twenties.

While I understand that everyone else in that excellent little writing sprint circle is working on full manuscripts to their novels, for me I have been using those hours to not only work on chapters of my own novel but also on short stories as well as writing up notes and journals. At this stage it doesn’t matter what the particular project is, only that I am getting the words out. Several hundred of them a day, flowing out of me for at least one hour. Not all of it is going to be gold, but it’s all worthwhile. I’m hoping that through the word sprints it will eventually become habit for me to write like this on a daily basis unaided. Second nature. The intention is for me to ultimately be writing more, and so far that has been the case.

By the way, the walking/fitness thing is also going very well and also ongoing.

Thanks for reading, and happy writing!

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New Year – Write More! The alternative resolutions list.

Historically I’ve used the calendar milestone of my birthday to note and keep track of my accomplishments, and failures, from year to year. Me getting older (progressing in both age and wisdom?) seemed a more obvious reference point to me, rather than the last digits of the year changing on paperwork I have to fill out.

But still it can be a time for some to evaluate what has been done over the last twelve months, and take steps of how to improve upon that for the forthcoming year. This last year I feel I’ve written possibly the same amount as the year before, but I’ve definitely shared a lot more of my writing than ever before and has expressed myself to more people than I have previously.

WRITE MORE

I’ve written a couple of posts for this blog that have been fairly well received and through them have got in contact with some remarkable people, all of whom showed interest and asking questions of my writing and sharing with me their own creativity.

I will still procrastinate as much as I ever have. There will always be that one e-mail I am going to want to respond to before I start writing when the laptop goes on.

WRITE MORE

Housekeeping – and I don’t mean dusting the shelves or vacuuming the carpets! “I’ll write better if I had a tidier, sparser, desk or writing area”. What I have said before about my writing space was that I probably should have one but don’t.

From part of a blog post in 2012 :

I don’t have a writing space. No nooks, crannies or cubby holes. No ready room. No secret garden. No stark whites, or muted earth tones and certainly nothing airy and spacious overlooking sweeping vistas. I write in my head, and with all the useless trivia I have retained over the years there’s certainly no room for a desk in there.  Sometimes that’s all I need, but it mostly comes down to having pen and paper and me, and that’s it. If I were to sit in a room, at a desk and try and surround myself with inspiration – when I’m put against a clock, pressured even slightly to produce something nothing happens.

IMG_7844 (Small)

I still don’t have a desk. I have a little table that is barely wide enough for my laptop that slides up rather nicely to my comfiest armchair.

WRITE MORE

Fitness – another area that’s generally pondered at this time of year, when we realise how much food has been consumed in tandem with being fairly sedentary over a few days. Maybe becoming fitter, healthier and more energised will also focus the mind and inspiration and creativity will pour over you. While I have bought some new gym clothes already, I’m taking part in #writeandrun31 which is being organised by Christine Frazier @BetterNovelProj and her brother Matt @NoMeatAthlete. Walking is more my speed though so I won’t be running – it’s a lovely idea and everyone who takes part I will hold in high regard.  http://writeandrun31.strikingly.com/

WRITE MORE

 The setting of  specific targets and goals, with regards to my writing, will never seem to work out for me (NaNoWriMo? No thank you, not yet!) and I find the added self-imposed pressure to counter my creativity. So no X number of words per day or X number of hours per day. I simply vow to WRITE MORE – wherever and however I can, whenever I feel I can.

WRITE MORE

and Happy New Year to you all!

Has your writing ever upset someone important to you?

Have you ever produced something that has had a negative effect on someone you know, or your relationship with them?

You can’t please everyone in writing; it is an impossibility. Any subject that we as writers choose of our own volition to explore in our work has the potential to upset somebody somewhere. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and this is something that we can’t really dwell on too much.

But I am not talking about generalities where making a comment and taking a stance (accidental or otherwise) in terms of sexism, racism, politics or another subject where whole groups can be offended – instead I am asking if you have ever written a story that you personally have been happy with and have shared with others, and have had good feedback on, only to find that one person close to you was upset with it to the point that it altered your relationship with them?

Last year, taking a prompt from the Storyslingers writing group, I wrote a flash fiction piece that I was extremely satisfied with. I felt it was some of the strongest writing at that time I had produced and was keen to send it to trusted groups of people for their comments. This included a friend who while not a writer herself had been supportive of my writing and always wanted to read my work.

So I sent it to her without taking the content of the story into account. I hadn’t thought of her while I had been writing the story and it never occurred to me that there was anything in it that anyone could find overly upsetting. I didn’t think when I sent it about things that she had experienced in the past. Things that my story would be taking her back to and that she would sooner forget.

We are still in touch from time to time, wishing each other well with polite platitudes, but our relationship has been damaged and there is now a distance between us. I should have known better and not sent her the story but I just didn’t think at the time. As a result I went through many months of doubt regarding the things I wrote about. What if one of my stories was to upset someone else I am close to, even a family member? I came to the point where I realised I can all self-censor within reason but if I spent too much time worrying about causing offence I would end up not writing anything at all.

To an extent this sort of internal discussion is always off to the back of your head, relying on your own moral compass telling you “that might upset some people” and making the decision to make alterations on the fly.

Has your writing ever upset you?

I don’t mean through frustration; through it not meeting the standards you want it to – but the actual content. Have you ever written something that has made you question what on earth you had inside you that could result in something that you find intolerable? Last week, during a quick writing session before heading out to work, I turned out something that I found to be the most demoralising and pessimistic 300 or so words I have ever produced and I vowed it would never ever see the light of day. It left me with such an uncomfortable feeling for most of that morning but ultimately I’m grateful that I’ve purged that from my system and hopeful that it’s going to open the way to some more constructive and redeeming writing. Something more along the lines of what I want to be producing.

No feelings were hurt in the writing of this blog post – hopefully none will be made from reading it.

 

To what end? Does being a writer mean you have to have an endgame?

If I were a sculptor… but then again no, that’s not a good way to start off this post. Let me try this again for you.

Doing something you love but not getting paid for it generally makes you a “hobbyist”. If I set up an easel in my garage and painted, or I strapped a camera around my neck and traversed hilltops and valleys to take picturesque landscapes… or even if I took pride in a small corner of the garden and made a whimsical little area for fairies and goblins… Heck, if I made something with LEGO that wasn’t to the manufacturer’s design and displayed it on my mantle I would mostly likely be greeted with comments on what a wonderfully creative little hobby I had.

My occupation in retail is not something I want to define me to others, and writing is too much a part of who I am for me to really label it a hobby, but if you tell someone you’re a writer, invariably they’ll ask you; “are you published?” There has to be an endgame for writers in the eyes of non-writers it seems. I didn’t tell people I was a writer because to answer their go to question in the negative resulted in me having to go on the defensive, and to avoid feeling like a failure. We aren’t allowed to just be able to write for ourselves for the pure creativity in it. For the pleasure and the incredible sense of wellbeing we get from it alone.

I should at this point state that when I say I am not published, that is to say I have not attempted to get any of my creative writing published. In the late nineties I did contribute to a weekly e-mail newsletter reviewing episodes of US television shows. I also had an article on a now defunct US-based sports website in the early noughties on the subject of professional wrestling, and currently have reviews of CDs and DVDs printed in Trucking magazine (available monthly from all good newsagents).

“You play an instrument but you aren’t in a band? Do you have a record deal yet?” It just doesn’t get asked.

I can’t draw, paint, sing, dance, act, play an instrument – writing is my own personal creative outlet. I write because I love to write. Truly love it.

So, to what end? Can “for the sake of it” not be enough? That’s not to say that at some point down the road my aspirations will change, but that shouldn’t invalidate or belittle my desires now to just be able to express myself through writing for pleasure, to want to get better and better at it, as anyone practising anything would wish to do. To have a fun with it.

I’m only a hobbyist by definition. In my heart, I am a writer.

Planning For A Writing Life

There are loads of reasons to be a regular writer. Writing regularly makes you a stronger writer. Writing regularly makes you a more focused writer. It helps with memory and recall, and with spelling, grammar and punctuation. It can be rewarding. It provides structure. It’s brain exercise, and that can only be a good thing.

Trouble is, it’s not always easy to get into the swing of regular writing. I’ve struggled with it in the past, and I still do. We all have down-times. Things happen in everyday life that are our of our control, and sometimes writing is simply impossible. Once you fall out of your stride, it’s damn hard getting back into it.

But there are things you can do to ease you into a writing life. And if you plan to have a writing career, you really can’t afford not to write regularly.

A lot of people write either to a word count or a set time per day.

Start small, aim for something reasonable like 250 words per day. Young adult author Holly Black breaks down how she wrote her bestselling YA novel (part three in a trilogy) Black Heart here. In her post, she shows her daily word count for the four months it took her to write the book. Most are quite modest—sometimes she writes 300-400 words a day, but she writes regularly and so she’s able to finish a first draft efficiently. A lot of people aim for more than 250-500 words per day. If you can manage 1000 words, in two months you’ll have a novel. I know, it sounds easy when put like that, but often it’s far from easy. It’s not impossible though.

There are a couple of extra things you can try if you’re finding it hard to write daily:

First, figure out your optimal time to write. Some people are morning brains, and some are evening brains. There will probably be a time of day when you’re more productive—the creativity flows much quicker and more fluidly. Experiment. See what feels comfortable. You might also find that there’s no real optimal time, and even snagging an hour or two here or there is difficult. But if you really want to be a regular writer, you’ll find time. You’ll steal it. You’ll catch it in a dark alley and beat it up until it works with you.

Second, you need to find your Cave. This can be literal or figurative. My Cave is really my MacBook—as long as I have it, I can generally sink into my stories and get lost. If there are noises around me that I can’t ignore, I’ll plug in my headphones and listen to instrumental music. Or just plug in the headphones and not listen to anything (those little earbuds are great for noise reduction). But if you need a physical Cave, try to find a space where you’re comfortable to write. It doesn’t have to be a silent, candlelit room in a secluded Buddhist monastery high in the mountains of Tibet or anything—a lot of people love writing in busy coffee shops, or with the TV blaring background noise behind them—but it does need to be somewhere you can get lost in your ideas and story. If there are distractions at home, try taking your writing elsewhere. Pop out for half an hour and write on a park bench, or at an internet cafe, a library, a bar, at a friend’s house, wherever. I’ve known so many people who sneak daily writing in at their non creative-writing day job (naughty! But awesome!).

And sometimes it’s just really hard to start your daily word crunch.

There’s a fantastic exercise in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron called ‘The Morning Pages’. This is where you write three hand-written pages, every morning just after you wake up, of literally anything that tumbles out of your brain. It doesn’t have to be fiction. It doesn’t have to make sense. It should be stream-of-consciousness. You can write about what annoyed you at work the day before, or your reaction to a stupid comment you read online last week. You can imagine the last thing you ate and describe all the flavours and textures you remember. Write a list of chores and how you’ll go about them. Write about how irritating it is to have to get up and write three pages every morning. You just write those three pages. They’re just for you, not for anyone else. It clears your mind of all the crap you carry around with you throughout the day. Julia Cameron says: ‘ The morning pages are the primary tool of creative recovery.’ It won’t work for everyone, but it might for some.

Personally, I think the most important factor that keeps me on track with writing regularly is having an idea or set of characters that I love to bits. I must love my idea and my characters so much that to spend a day apart from them causes me angst and jitters. If you don’t love your idea, you probably won’t love the time you need to dedicate to it to getting it finished.

This is very long-winded, but I know what it’s like to want to write so desperately and then talk myself out of it for some reason or another (self-doubt, time management, tiredness, Skyrim, etc.). When I’m in the groove, there’s nothing like it. Productivity and creative movement feels great.

And I think writers should be able to feel great every single day. 🙂

Developing Characters, Part II

This is a follow-up post to Developing Characters, Part I.

I’d like to go into more depth on character voice and how to develop it. I can only speak for the way I do it; some of these methods might not work for others.

Years ago, when I was trying to strengthen my character voices, I would watch/read/listen to stories that had solid, distinctive characters and take note of the rhythms and phrases those characters used—not only in their speech, but also in their internal monologues. There are subtle differences between “Please make me a cup of tea” and “So are you gonna make me some tea, or am I gonna have to do it myself?” — the latter is wordier, yes, but the voice is more distinctive. Voice (dialogue and thoughts) doesn’t need to be spectacular in early drafts, but how characters talk and think should be considered at some stage during editing.

Here’s a trick to see how distinctive characters are: take a scene or chapter where there’s interaction, and select only the dialogue. Paste the dialogue into a fresh document without any speech tags, names, or other identifying descriptions. Read through it, or have someone else read it, and check where the voices merge or sound too similar. Is there confusion as to who’s speaking? If yes, either try loosening up one of the voices or make it more formal. Give one of the characters a verbal tick (like the tendency to say ‘you know?’ at the end of some of their sentences), or a light accent (though use accent carefully) and then re-read it. Better? It should be.

Another way of tempting out voice is figuring out how your characters feel about what’s happening. This will inform their attitudes and moods, and consequently what they’re saying and how they say it. Have them react, let them feel, give them passion and the ability to speak up. Let them tell lies. We all do it. An angry character might speak faster in short, snappy sentences, and they might swear or exaggerate, whereas someone speaking calmly and formally might use longer, more complex sentences and have a precise thought process.

Listen to conversations on the street, in your workplace and at home. I’ve mined real people I know for turns of phrase and verbal ticks. But also remember to look for people who are more guarded, who speak neutrally and try to maintain status quo—often you can have fun with a conflicting internal dialogue and thought.

I mentioned in the previous post shoving characters out of their comfort zones, and this also goes for shoving them at other characters. Bring in the type of person they despise, or someone they’re intimidated by, or someone they’re attracted to, and see how it changes what they say and how they speak. Character/character interaction drives plot and gives scenes energy. If everybody gets along all the time, dialogue can become lifeless. Even if your characters are friends, have them disagree regularly, or give them a rivalry that you can mine for little tensions.

IMO, most importantly, you’ll only get to know your characters well by writing them. Outline and do questionnaires and mind-map them, too, but they have to act and react to really shine.

Developing Characters, Part I

A well-rounded character has both good and bad traits, much like we do. A character doesn’t have to be particularly likeable, either, but readers must be able to empathise with them, at least somewhat. I think this is what readers connect with (and how to keep them reading)—they see a little of themselves or someone they know in a character. Yep, even in the bad guys.

When I’m trying to find a character’s unique voice, I always use their surroundings to influence how they would speak and act. I try to consider the time period, the social background, even the genre I’m writing—all these things will (and should!) effect voice. Saying that, I also think we often worry too much about finding a voice before we’ve even started, when all we really need to do is write and uncover it along the way. (Of course, it’s always nice if a character comes along with a strong voice already. :))

And if they still refuse to cooperate, you can always throw them into random and difficult situations that take place outside your main story. Write some drabbles or flash pieces and toss your characters into a crisis, or bring someone in from their past and make them deal with it. As their actions and decisions take place, you should get to know them better and it can help figure out what makes them tick. (Interviews and character questionnaires are also good for character-building. You can find some examples here and there’s a handy tag on Tumblr here.)

Also, the naming process often does my head in and sucks up hours of time. But! Three great resources I’ve used in the past for finding names (and name origins and meanings) are Behind the Name, Baby Names, and The Surname Database. I nerd out when a character’s name has a hidden meaning.

Research is good, but ultimately I find the best way of developing my characters is to just write them—in their own stories, in side-stories, and you can even shove them into other people’s stories.

Fact or Fiction? Two Tales of Turkey, by Muriel Higgins

It is true that we lived in Turkey for three years in the 1970s, but did the events related in Thanks But No Thanks and Hot Baby really happen?   Perhaps everything’s fact, or is it all fantasy?  Or can it be that one story is true and the other is made up?  Please read and comment.

Note: Words in Turkish have been written on a standard UK keyboard, so they lack the diacritics etc. of the Turkish alphabet.

Thanks But No Thanks 

South coast of Turkey, midsummer, a hot and scratchy time.  Our  campsite was near the shore between the sea and the highway on land which must once have been sea, and we swam and stayed in the shade till it was pleasant to move around.  The sea had receded here, while in other places by quirks of tide and current it had encroached.  We’d seen tumbled piles of masonry lapped by clear water, remains of ancient settlements, footprints of earlier visitors.

That was how we thought of ourselves too, visitors, not tourists.  Of course in those days anyone who reached Turkey by car was a traveller rather than a tourist, and many of our fellows seemed to have come to enjoy history-based exploration. We knew this from the scribbled recommendations for walks in the campsite office, and that was what set us off inland one  afternoon, the ground still hot underfoot and warmth radiating from the rocks.  We crossed the highway to the old road, centuries ago almost certainly hard by the shore.  Along this still discernible way would have passed Alexander and his Macedonians, later legions of Romans, St Paul on his journeys … same sunshine, same scrub either side of the track, same mountain scenery to the north.  Who knew what small finds there might be, come to the surface, disturbed by animals, missed by other hunters?

The dry smell of heat mingled with a sour waft of air from the thin sheep beyond a fallen wall.  Their bleats punctuated the chirps of crickets and the odd tiny clatter as a lizard scattered some pebbles. You might have imagined you were in another century.  Then, as often happens in a deserted spot, we suddenly weren’t alone: a small group of children came round a bend towards us.

Merhaba,’ we greeted them, ‘nasilsiniz?’  Hello, how are you?

One of the bigger boys was carrying a bag, and he pulled out a dusty bottle before observing ‘You’re not Turkish.  But you speak Turkish.’

‘No, we’re English,’ we said, ‘and we only speak a bit of Turkish, biraz yalniz.’  This was true, but we were up to most ordinary exchanges, and generally such conversations ran along predictable lines, which made it easy.

‘How come you speak Turkish?’

‘We’ve been living in Istanbul, we’re teachers.’  Distant sophisticated Istanbul, teachers.  The boy had nothing further to ask.  He waved the bottle in our direction: ‘You would like a drink of spring water, very cold, good?’  Yes, we would have, but everything we knew stopped us.  In a gentle version of the gesture common to the area we raised our eyes skyward, in this case meaning Thanks, but no thanks.

He dived into the bottom of the bag and pulled out what we saw was a handful of coins as he opened his fist.  ‘Eski, cok eski’ – old, very old.  Perhaps, we thought, and perhaps – and more probably – not.  Again from us that gesture, immediately understood. ‘No, we’re not buying, istemiyoruz, we don’t want them, thanks.’  Resigned, he dropped the coins into the bag, and gathering his followers around him turned and made to continue along the track.

We didn’t want to offend him, or any of them.  ‘Allahaismarladik,’ we called, in the correct farewell of those leaving.  The automatic response of those in situ came in a chorus:  ‘Gule, gule.’  These kids were the ones who belonged here, to whom this landscape and this track belonged.

A right turn would lead us back to the highway and the campsite.  Hot and thirsty, we picked our way along.  Fantasies make miles pass faster, so I hazarded: ‘What would you like most at this moment?  A glass of water would do me.’

‘How about a chocolate éclair?’  It wasn’t what I expected, but – yes, I thought.  And now we were at the edge of the highway, and one car was coming.  We waited till it passed, and saw a package flying through the air, landing by the edge of the road at the far side.  ‘What’s that?’

‘OK, let’s go and see.’

Yes and yes and yes.  We recognised it as a box from a pastahane, a cake-shop.  These weren’t bakeries for bread, but specialised in fancy sweetmeats: baklava, kadaif, seker pare, lokum – how the mouth waters.  One would choose or order by weight, then purchases were lowered into a box, dripping with syrup and nuts; this was wrapped in paper and secured with a flourish of synthetic ribbon – which was exactly what we could see.  ‘Got to open it, this is just weird.’

It was. We did.  Yes, believe it or not, chocolate éclairs.  Pastahanes did foreign delights too, and easily mastered choux pastry with chantilly cream topped by glace icing.

‘Maybe they were having a fight: someone was making a point.’

‘Or a child chucked it out in a tantrum, or just a fit of mischief.’

‘Or they’d been left in the car since yesterday and went off?’

‘We don’t want other people’s leavings, do we?’

‘They might come back for them anyway.’

‘Pity, but we’d better not eat them …’

‘Just leave it here then.’

The ping-pong debate reached a standstill.  We closed the box, pulled the wrappings together and retied the bow, placing it visible at the roadside, looking, I now realise, like one of those sad memorials to an accident.

That evening we ate apricots with sheep’s yogurt that came in a bulbous pottery jar with a handle.  And here it is, to show you that this really happened.

Hot Baby


The baby was all scream and heavy clothes.  A woollen bonnet pulled well down in front almost covered its face, but what you could see was a furious red.  It looked feverish and overheated, and I felt I wanted to loosen the clothes, untie the bonnet, give it some water and cool its brow.  The group of peasants to whom it presumably belonged took no notice of the bawling, the men smoking and laughing, the women, including the one holding it, staring into space.  You wouldn’t have known we were all on a Bosphorus ferry, one of the many which plied from Istanbul up towards the Black Sea.

Our two daughters saw me looking at the baby, thought I might be going to start talking, and edged away.  With fair complexions and blue-green eyes, they knew what might follow: chucks under the chin and a pinch of the cheeks.  In skimpy dresses and sandals they couldn’t have been a greater contrast to the peasants and their baby.
‘Sicaktir, degil mi,’ I said, hot, isn’t it.  I made a wide gesture to include the weather and the surroundings, and the baby: they could understand what they liked.  No response.  I looked at the baby and made some sweeping movements towards my ears and up over my brow, trying to suggest that it was too hot.  No, the mother wasn’t going to pay me any attention, foreigners didn’t speak Turkish.  But I heard the men say Not German, and knew they were referring to us.  Many Turks had worked in Germany, and they’d have recognised the language.  Ingiliz, Amerikan they were saying now.  I smiled and said ‘Ingiliz.’ This exchange went no further, and from then until they got off on the Anatolian side I stole looks at the baby, afraid it might cry itself into convulsions.
A few days later my husband came home from the office looking worried. ‘Something’s up’ he said, ‘but I’m not sure what it can be.  The Consul General wants to see us, both of us.’
Richard Moxon ushered us courteously into his very grand office, part of the impressive building which had been built as an Embassy but turned into a consulate when Ankara replaced Istanbul as the Turkish capital.  The Consul General was a generation older than we were, and headmasterly in manner.  He wasted no time: ‘We have a bit of a problem on our hands, but – ’ he smiled, ‘ – nothing that can’t be taken care of.  You were on a Bosphorus ferry at the weekend?’
We agreed we had been, and he produced a scruffy photograph: ‘That’s you, and your family, yes?’  It was.  Again we agreed.  What was this? Who’d taken the picture?
Fact is,’ he hesitated, ‘you talked to some Turkish people.  Yesterday someone blew in with this picture and what we think is a cock and bull story about a baby.’  We nodded; who could forget that baby? ‘Seems the baby, um, well, has died, that’s what we were told.’ He was watching me. ‘He died of pneumonia, they say.’
‘That’s terrible,’ I said, ‘but what’s that got to do with us?’
‘They say,’ he cleared his throat, ‘you tried to get them to undress him, and when they didn’t you put the evil eye on him.  Also, you insulted the mother by calling one of your children mother.’
‘It’s preposterous … completely … of course I didn’t.’  But at least I could explain the ‘insult’.  The Turkish word for mother is anne. ‘Our elder daughter is called Anna, and this is always happening – we call her, and people think we’re saying mother.  Our Turkish friends laugh a lot about it.’
Moxon unbent a mere trifle, and smiled.  ‘That’s that, anyway.  And of course the evil eye story’s a put-up job, I understand that.’
‘And anyway I didn’t try to – all I said to them was it was very hot.’  John came in: ‘It’s a scam then, isn’t it? A try-on?  But why?’
‘Afraid so.  They want compensation, that’s why.  They’ve asked for -’  he named a sum in Turkish liras that was the best part of a hundred pounds.  ‘Rather amateur, if it was a son and it did die, that’s not enough, really.’
‘Surely nobody’s going to fall for the story and pay?’ I asked. ‘Can’t we get a lawyer and …’
‘Now, can anyone prove that something didn’t happen?  Prove you didn’t put the evil eye on the baby?  I’m afraid not, and it’s not worth trying, really.’
‘So what’s going to happen?  Don’t want to pay, do we?  It’s a swindle.  Can we just let it go and hope for the best?’
‘No, I assure you, that won’t work, lead to more trouble.  What we must do is settle out of court, there’s no point in anything else. In these cases we usually find – ’
John interrupted, quickly on to usually: ‘We’re not the first, then? There’ve been others?’  Moxon nodded.
‘We’re going to pay them? That’s outrageous.’ I couldn’t believe what he was saying.
‘Perhaps.’  He was very calm. ‘We have a charity fund here, ours to hand out, no questions asked, not from H.E. in Ankara, not from our masters in King Charles Street: it’ll come from there.’
‘But -’
He cut in: ‘You wouldn’t want to embarrass HMG, would you? Cause trouble?’
I couldn’t say a thing, I was too busy thinking that Her Majesty’s Government operated a slush fund, it paid out for … it was hush money, that’s what it was.
Moxon laid a finger on the Daily Express which was on top of The Times in front of him.  ‘Britons in … um … Baby Death Probe,’ he said in capital letters with distaste. ‘Wouldn’t do, would it? Local English language press too, they’d be on to it fast enough.’
I thought He had that prepared, he’s manipulating the two of us, just like that bunch of peasants is manipulating the lot of us.  ‘The baby didn’t die,’ I said defiantly. I felt like a fish on a hook. 
‘Come, come, papers don’t care about what’s true or not if they want a juicy headline. And you can’t prove it, now can you.’  The consul’s tone changed.  ‘Now I’ve got something else to say to you.  In these situations it’s usually the more prudent course, the most expeditious – ’ he enunciated the syllables with emphasis ‘ – to take out the officer and his family and ask for an immediate posting.’  He smiled wryly. ‘As far away as possible.’
‘But – ’ now it was John who sounded uneasy.  He was cut off: ‘You’re thinking about your career.  Don’t worry.  You’ll find I’m sure that London is most understanding, no blot on your record, no, nothing like that.  He wagged a finger and looked each of us in turn straight in the eye: ‘You’ll keep this to yourselves.’  It was a statement. It was an order, giving meaning to the sinister nothing like that.  John kept to the present: ‘One thing then, what about … how do we … a cheque?’
Now the difficult business was over, Moxon, suave as you like, said ‘No need.’ I could swear he wanted to add dear boy.  He made a note on a pad.  ‘I’ll minute Pay and Records, and they’ll look after that for you.  Your share of the er disbursement will appear on your next salary slip as “voluntary charity donation”, right?  They’re used to that.’
He must have read my sceptical expression and turned to me: ‘Oh yes, it is a charity.’  Avuncular, in tone my dear if not in words, patronising old git.  ‘We make charitable distributions, we support DBSs, a number of them in this city.’
Distressed British Subjects, that was, yes, people marooned by circumstances, mostly old and needy.
‘Heating, telephone, doctors’ bills, shoes, things like that.  It’s a good cause.’
And no need for any secrecy about that, I thought.  Unlike us. 
How had he put it?  You’ll keep this to yourselves. I can still hear Moxon’s words and picture him in his fancy office, tap on the nose, Official Secrets Act, big stick.  And that’s what we’ve done, kept quiet about it, for more than thirty years.  But now, thanks to the Statute of Limitations and its thirty-year rule at last we’re free to recount this tale of trickery and collusion, condoned at a high level and played out in the grandeur of the British Consulate in Istanbul. Makes you think about hostages and ransoms, doesn’t it?

Fiction, Poetry & Music night at Beggar’s Banquet

Storyslingers and music cafe Beggar’s Banquet teamed up last Thursday to put on a night of stories, poetry and groovy tunes. The gathering wasn’t widely pimped, though we ended up with around 17 people in attendance, most of whom were writers, artists or musicians (and those in between who do a bit of everything!).

The venue was cosy and mellow-lit, creating a warm and friendly atmosphere. It was gently buzzing as people started turning up—a lot of readers had only met briefly before, so it was nice to reconnect. We also got to meet a few spouses; now they finally know what we get up to when we’re all together. We hope they enjoyed themselves, too!


The universe must have been in balance that night, as we were able to set the playlist as writer-poet-writer-poet. Nine wonderful writers shared their work in the end, reading a varied and vibrant selection. As always with these events, we were excited by and extremely proud of the talent in our local area.

Tish Oakwood reading her superb collection of poems

Sue Ashby also sharing a selection of beautiful rural-themed poems

Me reading my short speculative piece “Ring-Ring” 

To close the event, our generous host Meru performed a nifty acoustic song about not having anything to sing about. His soft, gravelly tones went down a storm, and we hope he’ll sing for us again at future gatherings.


Our line-up:

Peter Jump – who read two short stories.
Tish Oakwood – who read a collection of poems.
James Broomfield – who read a short story.
Elaine Cadogan – who read a collection of poems.
Jennifer Bell – who read a short story.
Sue Ashby – who also read a collection of poems.
Jennifer K. Oliver – who read two short stories.
Juliet Austen – who read a selection of her poems.
John Maynard – who read a short story.
Meru – who sang and played acoustic guitar.

We’d like to thank everyone for coming, especially those who brought material to read. We hope you’ll join us again next time! 🙂

Storyslingers First Story Slam

After a rainy month of preparations and organisation, the sun finally shone on Shaftesbury for Storyslingers’ first ever Story Slam. Writers from all over Dorset came to Shaftesbury Arts Centre, some to compete, others to listen and network. The Rutter room was packed out, over spilling and babbling with excitement. We’d jazzed the room up with drapes of colourful fabric, projected Dan Morison’s mecha cowboys on a wall and set up our handmade bookstall, spread with the finest of local book art and writing.
We had Daniel Frisby as compere who slickly guided is through the evening. Our first reader was James Broomfield who read a quirky story set in rural Devon following a man seeking a brotherhood. He thinks he’s found it when he discovers a society of beard-trimming smokers. Yes, you read that right; beard smokers. James’ story was wonderfully crafted, sharply observed, original, funny and thought-provoking. The evening was most certainly off to a good start. The following readers didn’t let the quality drop. Each story was different, but all at an impressive professional standard.

I’m glad I didn’t have to judge these stories, they were all so unique and brilliant. Fortunately we had two exceptional judges, award-winning novelist Allie Spencer (four novels published with Arrow. http://www.alliespencer.com/) and flash fiction expert and columnist at What the Dickens Magazine, Gail Aldwin. (http://gailaldwin.wordpress.com) We enjoyed some amazing live music from the Wrongo Bongo Band while the judges got busy conferring. This four-piece band play an extraordinary variety of instruments, from a berimbau to a didgeridoo; “The Wrongo Bongo Band has to be the most entertaining group of whacky musicians we’ve ever heard” –Andy Hamilton. Mike’s didgeridoo solo comprised of him holding up signs with Australian animals inscribed upon them, and then ingeniously imitating their sounds through the didgeridoo. 

(this is a photo of the band taken from their facebook page, click here. 
While the band built an exotic vibe, we continued to sell our handmade books, met new writing friends and discussed all the amazing stories we’d heard so far. Then the judges returned and Gail Aldwin got up on stage to read her story Dusting Off the Memories (published in Dorset Voices anthology, Roving Press) , beautifully written and read. Next up was Jennifer K Oliver’s richly described Steampunk story, then my own reading of a story I’d read the week before at London’s Southbank Centre. Dan Frisby told a beautiful allegorical Hare and Tortoise style tale set in the foothills of a Japanese mountain. Mountains seemed to be the unofficial theme, with my story entitled Mount Analogue, and a quote from Rene Daumal’s novel of the same title featured in the programme. Finally, Hamish Sinclair was drawn from the Lucky Dip and read a beautifully lyrical story making wonderful use of language.
With the evening drawing in and all the stories told, the judges came up on stage and gave their feedback to the six competitors.  Both judges were impressed by the quality of writing and the diversity of subject matter. “Allie was a great person to deliberate with in finding the winner and runner-up, particularly as the standard of all the stories was very high. We finally agreed that James Broomfield’s story should win due to its extraordinary content (about a man trying to find his brotherhood in North Devon by experimenting with smoking beard trimmings).  Technically the writing was superb with a strong and unique voice.  Runner up came Andy Hamilton’s ‘Stage Fright’ a classic ugly duckling scenario told in a fresh way.” –  Gail Aldwin.
James won a beautiful set of correspondence cards printed by Bath-based fine stationers, Meticulous Ink. “Each card has been lovingly letterpress printed on an 1870 Model No.4 press using only the finest oil based inks. We use cotton papers from local paper mills here in Somerset and our hand lined deckle edge envelopes give these cards that extra special touch.” – Meticulous Ink. This prize was kindly donated by Meticulous Ink. You can buy their correspondence cards via etsy: http://www.etsy.com/shop/MeticulousInk
Everyone was awarded with some amazing bookmarklets, made by our very own Jennifer K Oliver. The evening wrapped up with more music from the Wrongo Bongo Band, some networking and book buying.
Watch this space for the second slam, probably sometime in early 2013.