Archive for June, 2009


An odd sort of a day

A lot of exciting things happened today – or rather, two – but it was too hot for me to properly take note of them.

Firstly, and certainly most unexpectedly, a literary agency got in touch and requested my full manuscript. About a month ago, on finishing the book with J-, I’d diligently sent out my reams of synopsis’ – what is the correct plural of that anyway? – and had happily forgotten about the whole thing. Until an invitation to send the full book arrived in my in-box. Following which, I had a mad moment of panic.

In the past, I’ve worked for what most people would probably call a vanity publisher – which, I stress, will remain nameless. The setup was somewhat more complex than the usual system, though, and we did represent a quite a few writers who were actually incredibly talented… In any case, my experience there seems to have left me somewhat jaded and despite the initial flush of excitement, I found myself questioning the whole legitimacy of the agency.

I’d had a manuscript request before, and worried about the same things then, but disregarded all worries when the agency rejected me on receipt of the first five pages. Real companies, you see, never accept new work. Well, I mean, of course they do – they have to – but I suppose my subconscious reasons that one of said real companies will never accept my new work, specifically. The whole idea of someone loving it as much as J- and I do is beyond what my mind can handle.

And then full paranoia took hold – what if they love the idea, but hate our style? What if they take the synopsis, hand it to a ghost writer, and Marlo turns into some prissy little romantic princess who is completely in love with Pax Hadrian?

Of course, a cup of tea swiftly followed, as did a yoga session and now that I’m writing down all of these ridiculous fears, I feel a sense of calm. Whoever reads it will either like it, or they won’t and will act accordingly. If they ask for money, I will politely decline and go on ignoring the fact that at least twenty agencies have a synopsis of my book.

The second exciting thing to happen, which I may well yet get excited over, is the purchase of a Digital SLR camera. It’s a Nikon D90 and has made all my photography dreams come true. Don’t get me wrong, my Olympus was pretty awesome, but its time has been and gone.

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Let It Be – Part Three

* * * *

Mary had gone when I checked out back. She’d left the Moore Ford shining in the yard though and I got the notion to take it home to them that evening. Mary lived on that side of town so I figured I’d just call in on her as I walked back. She rented a room on the west side from an old Irish couple whose son had died on the railroads. She called the woman Mama Doyle.

Old Tom Moore got up from his porch when I pulled his car into the yard and his wife had a steaming coffee for me in no time. We got to talking then, about Betty mostly, and I started to feel bad about letting her down. I’d planned to take her out that night, but the picture in my pocket had spooked me something good, so I called to say I wouldn’t be picking her up. Besides, me and Betty had been seeing each other for years now, so it wasn’t like we were proper any more. If she’d have looked in my pants and seen a picture of Mary – no matter how strange or unlikely – she’d have sent me on my way and told her papa. And then the colonel would have been after me with his Old Reliable. And it didn’t help much that I was ten years older than his daughter.

Tom took me back to the edge of town, running the Ford over all manner of dirt and upsetting the good we’d just done to it. I set off walking for Mary’s when he set me down and found Mama Doyle’s place no bother. Except Mary wasn’t there and I didn’t know her well enough to start guessing where she’d got to. So, I went back to my garage instead, looking up ‘Hart’ in the phone book.

There were a few entries– even saw the fella who’d given me the picture, but it was his daddy I was looking for. That first time that boy had come in asking after Mary, he’d said his papa sent him and I wanted to know why. I figured if I knew that, maybe the picture would explain itself.

It was nine o’clock when I started ringing round all the men in town named ‘Hart’ and it was a stroke of luck that the third one I called was the right one. He seemed pleasant enough and agreed to meet me at the drug store the next day, at noon. It was a Saturday, so we only worked until twelve anyhow, but to get there on time I’d either have to close up early or leave Big Steve with the keys – ’cause something told me Mary wouldn’t be around.

* * * *

Yesterday.

I’m not a city person. I hate shopping – unless it’s online – because the whole process simply equals stress. Not only can I never find the clothes/shoes/car-scratch-repair-kit/ingredients that I want (incidentally, this weekend I FINALLY got a pair of XL jeans that fit my UK size 10 waist), but I also end up going about this most hated of tasks during the weekend, when everyone and their pregnant sister is out in force with at least six kids to every one adult and several buggies, each large enough to house a small family.

I’ve got nothing against people wanting to procreate – I hear that children can be pleasant – but I don’t think the fact that someone has managed to reproduce gives them the right to populate an entire supermarket with push-chairs full of kids who are way too old to be sitting in them – kids who are screaming because they want to get out and walk. Sure, that would mean more children running all over the shop, but at least then I could actually push my trolley down the aisles without having to politely excuse myself to every ‘new’ mother who stops to chat about her darling son.

“He’s eighteen years now, we’re going to have to get him a bigger pram soon.”

“Oh yes. Well, Becky’s coming up for two decades so we’re trying to get her walking by herself now… You can have her old buggy if you like?”

BAH! I’ve no issues with actual babies in prams, but Waitrose this weekend was ridiculous. One of the children – and I kid you not – was reading.

…But this is a side rant… I was actually going to talk about ‘losing’ my car keys…

As I said to begin with, I hate cities, but for ease of parking, whenever we head into town, we take my teeny-tiny car (hence the need for scratch-repair-kits). S- usually drives, but since I stay in the house the rest of the week and only really get behind the wheel on a Tuesday evening, I decided I should take us in.

Which I managed, without any moronic instances. So, we continued on our way – failing to get both the camera and the wedding present we went into town for in the first place. Back at the car I paid the machine and went to get my keys out… only they weren’t there. Luckily, S- carries a spare so it wasn’t like we were stuck, but my house keys were on the fob too and I didn’t like the thought of someone I don’t know with a key to my car. I asked at the car-park information desk and left my details then began retracing my steps back to the car.

I hadn’t taken anything out of my bag in town – opening it only as we left the car or so I thought. But search the concrete of the car-park as I might, my keys remained hidden. Slowly, we made our way back to the car. S- would be driving.

I opened the door to get into the passenger seat and paused. S- had gone to top up the money on the ticket so hadn’t unlocked the vehicle. And besides, the remote central locking is faulty at best, so normally I have to open the passenger door manually from the inside. As I’d done that morning.

My head turned in slow motion to look at the driver’s seat. And there, shining in the ignition – of all places – were the keys.

Needless to say, I felt like a total fool.

And Now For Something Completely Different…

Here is a random flash-fiction story I found on my computer. Enjoy!

Sticking Plasters.

My goddess has sticking plasters on the soles of her feet. Her sandals cut her skin to ribbons but she doesn’t care because she says that this way she can feel the grass on her toes. Now though, she lies on our settee, stomach down, reading about far away worlds in imagined futures and I sit at the other end, watching her pendulum feet with their not-quite-skin coloured patches.

It’s warm outside and she asks me to open the window a little further. I don’t see what it will accomplish. The air conditioning makes the place cooler than an open window ever could but while I’m up I put the kettle on and empty the teapot of the cold, soggy bag from earlier. She glances up with black eyes and grins at me, though she does not meet my gaze.

“Yes please,” She says.

I take the milk out of the fridge and take a brief sniff. The little black stamp on the top of the carton says it should be turning today but it still smells all right. I pour just a little into the bottom of our mugs and then stare at her purple kettle, waiting for it to boil.

I decant steaming water into the patient vessel and glance at her again. She’s absorbed in a place that’s better than here and is involved with people who are better than me – heroes and monsters and men who create. I can not create.

I offer her the larger mug of tea and wait until she’s shuffled herself into a sitting position. She sips it and smiles in thanks, laying it reverently down on the little coffee table beside her book. She won’t look at me, eyes on the floor as she sorts her skirt. She picks up the mug again and cradles it in both hands as if by coming from me it’s precious.

She finishes the tea and is about to pick up the book again when the doorbell rings. Men come up the stairs to our little flat and she gives them instructions. She takes the kettle and three suitcases of clothes. The men take the rest.  She’s gathered a lot in our seven years.

They carry her things below to the van and she looks around the flat one final time. Bundled into her arms are the last of her books. A tome of names and one simply entitled “9 months”. She adds the box of sticking plasters to her pile and smiles at me, apologetically. I know what she wants to say but can’t and I nod to let her know that it’s all right, that it isn’t her fault.

In a few years time I know my goddess will be fine, that she and husband will be walking through grassy fields and that in front of them their infant will run.

My goddess has sticking plasters on her feet. Nothing is her fault. As a goddess she must create, it’s her purpose. Incapable as I am to follow, my love becomes secondary.

Recently, I’ve found myself buying copious amounts of 60s/70s rock. I LOVE Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, The Zombies, Fleet Foxes and John Fogerty… but where do I go from here?

Anyone have any suggestions?

The Giant Duplo Frog Affair

Last night, I dreamed that I found a giant, living Duplo Frog.

When we still lived in Denmark, my husband and I went to look at a flat in a Copenhagen suburb. It was a wonderful thing – part of an old town house with glorious shuttered windows and cornicing on the roof. We didn’t take it though because every square inch had been painted a dusky pink and the enitre place was covered in chintzy pictures of cats and cherubs which, as tennants, we’d have been stuck with. I hadn’t thought of the place in months until last night.

In my dream, we’d moved in and redecorated the long lounge to look like a room at my parents’ house (the one with the pool table, for anyone who’s been). It was early morning, my family were visiting, and S- and I were in our room, trying to sleep through the noise of my brother playing in the corridor. My brother, incidentally, is twenty years old and hasn’t played anything that isn’t on some kind of screen for a good many years.

Suddenly, I noticed something moving in the corner of the room. Throwing back the sheets, I went to move a pile of clothes and found a giant Duplo frog, grumbling in the corner. It sounded like the dog, Mutley, from Wacky Races.

The frog and I stared at one another for a time and then, as carfully as I could, I picked him up and carried him to my parents’ room. Mum and Dad looked at the heavy creature in my arms and I put him down, walking off to try and get back to sleep. Only then, Dad changed his mind and I had to go and get my frog back… but suddently, I was too afraid to touch him.

And that’s when I woke up.

Let It Be – Part two

People actually liked the start of my story, which is always nice, and incredibly, my hits actually doubled when I posted it! So here, once again for your reading pleasure, is the second part of ‘Let It Be’.

* * * * *

We were closing up the second time I saw that boy.

Mary was out back when he arrived, cleaning up the Ford before we took it back out to the Moore farm. They’d been having problems with the underside rusting but it was nothing an occasional clean wouldn’t fix. The car was going on twenty years old and they ran it all over the fields, never bothering to take a look and see what was under the mud.

This time, the boy seemed calm enough, even shot me a dumb smile when he saw me, but I just couldn’t shake what he’d said the last time he came. Even back then I was seeing Betty – had no business interfering in Mary’s affairs – but she was a good friend, and I didn’t much like the thought of anyone putting her in her grave, let alone this city boy.

“Is Miss Ward here?” He asked, peering into the ’shop shadows. I sniffed, loud like and smirked when he wrinkled his nose.

“She’s gone home,” I lied, praying the girl would stay out back and not make me look like a fool, “It’s past five, boy, we don’t normally work late.” He waited a second, looked like he was thinking hard, and reached into his Sunday-suit pocket, dragging out a neat little envelope.

“Would you please give her this, then?” he offered it out to me and after a moment I took it. I’d no intention of handing it over – whatever it was, coming from this kid it couldn’t possibly be good. Still, I was curious as to who’d been showing up in my garage uninvited.

“Who should I say it’s from?”

He stared at me a long time, his sluggish blue eyes trying to read whether or not I was asking an honest question. I suppose I’d’ve been curious too had we been in opposite places. If I’d yelled bloody murder at a girl in his place, he looked like the kind who’d make that girl tell him why. After a long moment he cracked a little smile and said slowly, like he thought I was dumb,

“Albert Hart.”

He glanced at his letter, all puppy-dog eyes, one last time before stalking out into the yard and climbing into his car. It was a stunning thing – a brand new, 1936, Buick 8 Business Coupe and he didn’t even deserve to look at the thing. I shook my head while I watched him go and looked at my oily prints on his nice white paper.

I headed over to my room, shutting the door like I did when we got a phone call. The line was so bad way out here that to hear it proper, you had to lock yourself in. If Mary came back in she’d not disturb me, but just to be sure I picked up the receiver anyways and held it to my face with my chin. Thinking hard, I started to push down round the envelope, trying to feel what was inside – sure didn’t feel much like a letter, and it wasn’t the shape of some bills, either. The thing wasn’t sealed, so slowly, careful like, I opened it up.

Inside were a couple of photographs. The first two were of Hart, and he had his arm round a different girl in each picture. One of his ladies was wearing a wedding gown and on the back of that he’d written ‘Me and Ruth, June 10, 1934’, while on the other, he’d just scrawled ‘Nancy’.

“Cheating bastard,” I said to the walls and looked at the third picture.

The other two, though they got me pretty mad, weren’t a surprise. This one though… this one was all kinds of crazy.

It was old – had been printed in browns and yellows instead of silver and white – and there was a man in it who looked like Hart a little. His eyes were different though, wilder somehow – like he wasn’t so spineless. It could have been the boy’s rich papa – or from the clothes, maybe his granddaddy.

And there, plain as day beside him, was Mary.

Despite a morning spent frantically scribbling, I don’t feel like the day has brought anything of note. The only change is a growing restlessness, telling me I need to move on. Perhaps it’s the stifling heat down here, but I find myself increasingly certain that I need to be back in Scotland.

I’m a cold-blooded thing – my legs are so white they become luminous in the gloaming, and if the temperature rises above about fifteen degrees, I find myself fighting the urge to strip naked and jump into the nearest body of water. I detest people (en masse) and miss driving on winding lanes where rush-hour constitutes a tractor and two cars. I miss the continuous summer rain that would drown a Fen, but somehow seems to seep magically into the greenery. Please don’t misunderstand, England has wonderful points. The blissful Norfolk Broads, Thetford Forest, the Bacon Sandwich Man at Scotch Corner, and the safety of Mr Culpin’s house all give this place a magnificent charm of its own.

But ignore me, my ramblings today are transient and confused. I think I used up all my words this morning and am left to express my discomfort with the dregs. Roll on frost, snow and hail. Roll on thick woolen coats, hats and scarves and king sized duvets. Or somebody buy me a chest freezer, and leave me there for an hour or two. Blissful.

Let It Be – work in progress.

I’m writing a novella at the moment – working title ‘Let it be’ – and wondered if anyone would be kind enough to tell me whether or not my narrator is 1930’s-American-Mid-South-Man enough? I’m a Brit girl, through and through, but I really want to give a ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ sort of feel to this story. So below, for your reading pleasure, I have pasted my first few parargraphs 🙂 PLEASE let me know any thoughts.

* * * * *

A great friend of mine once told me that evil people weren’t born that way – that they come to it when someone does something mean to them – but I don’t much believe it. That boy who walked into the garage, way back before Betty and I got wed, hadn’t had anything but good in his life. He was the child of a rich papa and a big, fat mama, who loved him more than life but he still did all manner of wrong by that little girl.

The first time I saw him there weren’t many of us around – just me, Big Steve and Mary – and I was the only one who noticed him slip in. He ignored our big red signs telling him to wait in the reception and sidled inside, past Big Steve under the truck to where Mary stood washing our coffee cups. She was always one for plaid shirts and Levis, so from the back I guess she could’ve looked like a guy to someone who didn’t know her. This boy, all dressed up in his Sunday-suit, tapped her on the shoulder but Mary didn’t turn round, as was her way. With just a little pause to see if she’d stop washing, he said,

“Excuse me, sir. I wonder if you might help me. My father sent me here in search of Miss Ward.”

At that time, Ward was Mary’s last name, but if she noticed he’d said it, she sure as shit didn’t let on. She finished washing those cups until he was about to speak again and then she turned to him, all serious like. The boy near as jumped out of his skin when he saw those big black eyes looking up at him, out of that soft, pink face. See, Mary’d always had her hair short – she’d tell tales of being little and cutting it back an inch a month so her mama didn’t notice until it was all swept forward over her forehead and near enough looking like a boy’s. We just all took that as part of Mary, but I guess our visitor expected something different from his papa’s Miss Ward.

I knew Mary pretty well at that time. She’d been working as my secretary for almost three years then – though Betty didn’t much like it. She was a calm sort – never let anything fright her, unlike most women back then – and she got on well with the boys who fixed the cars. She kept to herself mostly, just making the odd remark where she had to and I’d never, in all that time, seen her put out.

Except when that young boy showed up. She stared at him, eyes squinting against the sun at his back. She knew him – I could see that much – but he didn’t seem like the usual sort she’d slot in with. Mary was at home with me – with the guys around the shop, and a couple of the girls who worked the bar in town – she wasn’t the kind of girl who’d get caught up with a fella who looked like he’d run from a wedding.

“What do you want?” she asked, slow like, her voice as steady as usual.

“My father sent me on a matter of personal business –is there somewhere more private we can discuss this?” He nodded at where Big Steve was struggling with the exhaust on the truck. Didn’t look like he’d seen me, but Mary flicked her eyes my way so I nodded – let her know she could go do what she needed to.

“Just follow me.” It wasn’t an invitation – those words came from a girl who’d had enough and she barked them like an order. The boy followed her all meek and mild into my room. I took a step out of the shadows by the door then, and went to stand by Big Steve in case he needed something.

Only, Mary and that fancy boy weren’t in the office for longer than two minutes, I wouldn’t’ve said, before he came storming out again with his fingers making fists. He stomped right past me, glaring his eyes against the sun outside, but turned before he stepped out. Mary stood in the opening to my room, leaning on the door frame, looking at him with her normal blank stare.

“You will help me, Ward,” his voice sounded sharp and foreign and I didn’t much like it, “Or as God is my witness, I will put you in your grave.”

Mary just laughed at him, not moving from where she stood. He tried to stare her down but she just smiled a lazy, half grin until he went running off again. When he was gone she pushed herself from her leaning place and we walked to stand next to one another, meeting in the middle of the ’shop floor.

“Old friend?” I asked, thinking she’d not tell me. Her way was quiet – she kept her business as her own.

“John,” She said, her smile making her voice sound like laughter, “I have never met that man before in all my life.”

There was something in the way she said it that told me it was truth.

I’ve felt rather contemplative over the last twenty-four hours. I don’t know whether this is due to the impending Yoga session I intend to undertake this evening, or whether my angry rants have finally caught up with me and I’m just too tired. In either case, I feel somewhat at peace with myself – like a slow, tentative understanding has been made between myself and the wider world. I feel now, more than ever, what a sad place our lifetimes have become.

That we can’t look the way our genes say we should and still be considered beautiful, that we need to pay people ‘insurance’ to protect us from one another’s wild accusations, that we can’t simply listen to one another to get to the root of a problem… it all stems from selfishness and ignorance. I’ve spent a great deal of time being angry about it, but what is anger good for? It solves nothing, and the world still remains as dark as ever it was.

My mother – the most determinedly happy woman I know – should have been my inspiration. She always says her mission in life is to make others feel better and that’s the way it should be. She’s had a run of rotten luck regarding her dream house but she never once let it spoil the magic of the place for her. I always mistook my parents’ unwillingness to go to court over the glaring lies they were told as a sort of weakness, but now I recognise it for what it is. By not rising to the insult, they proved their strength, proved that they were better than this angry world by not letting all the bitterness touch them. I will try and do what I should have done from the start and follow their example.

The Bible says ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you,’ and regardless of whether or not you’re a Christian, this little motto should be a universal truth. When upset, it’s so easy to try and hurt that person too, so that they know how it feels. But what will that solve? – instead one angry, upset person there’s now two. Better to turn away, breathe deep, and wonder what awful thing they suffered to make them lash out the way they do.

I make no promises, I am a stubborn individual and find change hard, but even if I remember these thoughts only once in a while, perhaps I can be better, happier, and start to make those I love happy too.