A Bit of a Hiatus…

Well, blimey. Another of those passages of time when I’ve been just so stupidly busy, that I’ve hardly had time to take breath, never mind look at blogs or think about doing any writing myself. And…it’s going to be quite busy for another couple of weeks.

Yet, here I am grabbing an hour to write something and, hopefully, catch up with one or two other blogs. And I have no idea what to write about! I usually have a few ideas mulling over before I sit down at the keyboard, and one or two half-finished posts on the computer that I can draw on. Today, though, zilch. I have one finished post that is on a somewhat contentious subject, which I’m going to leave a few weeks so I have time to properly respond to any comments it generates (who knows, though, perhaps there won’t be any?), and a couple of partly begun travel posts. I need more time than I can spare at the moment to sort out photos for those.

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Random and totally irrelevant photo of the week.

Yet…a blog is a personal thing. We’re not journalists, with deadlines to meet and news stories to tackle before they go cold. We’re not being paid to produce highly detailed technical notes on a particular subject. So my personal blog, today, is simply about my progress, or lack of, with my writing.

So, yes, nothing for the last couple of days. But I promised that I would produce an Author’s page on Facebook by the middle of the month – I will!  – and that I had a bawdy, riotous, Elizabethan short story to post in a couple of instalments at the same time. That one is a bit more interesting! Having promised I would do that (primarily to give me the impetus to write it), I got stuck in and by the end of last week I already had over 8,000 words done.

Far too long for a couple of posts, which I feel should be limited to around a thousand words. Certainly, I almost never read posts that are much longer than that. I don’t have the time, unfortunately. So I have a bit of an editing job to do on that.

When that is out of the way, I am going to collate some of my longer short stories together to publish as an e-book and, perhaps, a POD paperback. I won’t have the novel ready this year, so the short stories will be this year’s publishing project. I hope I have enough decent ones to be able to produce a themed collection.

And then? Back to the novel!

Tally ho!

The Admirable Jim Webster Presents…

I am delighted to host a guest post from Jim Webster today, since he…well, perhaps I’ll let him explain.

photo of Jim Oct 2015

Hi everybody, Mick kindly allowed me to drop in as part of a ‘blog tour.’
Given that Mick discovered my writing at Tallis Steelyard’s blog, I thought
I’d let Tallis, poet and raconteur from the city of Port Naain, tell you why
I’m here. Over to you Tallis.

I assume you are aware of the situation. You are summoned to the office of
some petty functionary and on arriving you find you are expected to join the
queue.
Or you need to visit a physician or tooth puller and arrive to discover that
even the city’s most glamorous courtesans cannot hope to find themselves as
sort after as the practitioners of these professions.
To be trapped in a queue is one thing, but in all these places where one has
to wait in line, they employ one whose task is to act as guardian of the
queue. These people are the ones who, with attitudes of supreme disinterest,
ignore the fact that you have an appointment for a certain hour and merely
gesture to the back of the line. So there you sit, secure in the knowledge
that to the minor functionary in charge, your time is of no value. They sit
there, blithely apathetic to the fact that there are people you need to see,
places you have to go, work that has to be done.
So what to do? How do I, Tallis Steelyard, cope?
It is an interesting question. I have tried using the time profitably.
Unfortunately the troll lurking behind the reception desk took umbrage at me
spreading my papers across her desk and borrowing her ink to make a fine
copy of some of my poems. I felt this was extremely petty of her. After all,
not only had she not paid for the ink herself, but I could not see why she
could not merely glare contemptuously at us from a different chair. There
was nothing that she was doing which demanded her sole unrestricted access
to the desk.
On the other hand, one of my finest hours came when I was faced with a room
full of dour and miserable people for whom time appeared to have stopped,
leaving us trapped in some grim limbo from which there was no escape. I
recalled a comic tale that had amused me when I heard it and decided to tell
it. I stood up, faced my audience, and started to recount it to the best of
my ability. I gave a fine performance. Any of my patrons would have
considered that Tallis was pulling his weight to get their party going with
a swing. I was especially pleased when one man at the head of the queue
voluntarily gave up his place to another, so that he could catch the ending.
The monster in charge of us was most put out. She tutted audibly, she even
tried to interrupt with the words, “Really Master Steelyard.” To my delight
she was shushed into silence by a young woman nursing a baby.
But normally, in all candour, I just take a good book with me. I take my
place without protest, make myself comfortable and start to read. Between
ourselves I feel that bursting into spontaneous laughter as you read is well
worth doing. It cuts your tormentor to the quick, forcing them to admit to
themselves that they are no longer in charge. They can no longer deny you
life’s pleasures.
To be really successful, you have to adopt the correct mental attitude. It
is rare that one has a legitimate reason for sitting and reading during the
working day. Far too often you are left feeling that you are indulging
yourself in a guilty pleasure. But in a queue you can indulge to your hearts
desire.
So remember, when you take your seat, wear that expression which tells the
world that you are not some put-upon victim, trapped against your will. This
is not an imposition, it is a window of liberty to be seized and enjoyed to
the full.
Trusting you all keep well.
Tallis

Ah well, Jim here. That went as well as can be expected I suppose.
Basically, what Tallis was supposed to tell you but somehow forgot was that
I have just published the sixth in the Port Naain Intelligencer collection.
(They’re a collection because you can read them in any order.) This one is
called ‘Keeping body and soul together,’ These novellas chronicle the antics
of Benor the Cartographer when he was staying in Port Naain. They do feature
Tallis, just not perhaps as much as he’d like.

Cover Keeping Body and Soul together

Rescuing random strangers on a whim may be the good deed for the day, but
will Benor survive the blood feud he has unwittingly become part of. More
importantly can he buy back the victim’s soul?

And me? I’m married with a wife and three daughters, dabbling in farming,
writing and journalism. I lead a quiet life in the north of England.
My blog is at

https://jandbvwebster.wordpress.com/

The blog of Tallis Steelyard can be seen at

https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/

I am on Facebook at  https://www.facebook.com/jim.webster.10297

And there is even a facebook page for the books!

https://www.facebook.com/Land-of-the-Three-Seas-426394067386022/

If the few kind words Tallis did write have stirred your compassion and you
feel the urge to support a starving artist, (me not him) then a quick look
at Amazon will let you see what I’ve written

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jim-Webster/e/B009UT450I/

There is a lot of it, all reasonably priced.

Oh yes, and the book,
It’s at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XRKQBLQ/

Are those blasted kittens still there?

Having posted a few days ago about my inability to finish one project before starting three others, I’ve attempted to organise myself a little to try to deal with that.

And not too long ago, I also posted about my inability – fear almost – to promote myself effectively.

Coincidentally, several days ago I took part in a Webinar aimed at small businesses (theoretically, that includes writers trying to sell books), about using social media effectively, and whilst I was pleased to discover that I seem to be doing a fair bit right already, there are several things that I should definitely change, which I will do shortly.

shark boy crop

Not kittens.

The first thing I’ll do, will be launch my own Author page on Facebook; something I really should have done before now. And to promote it, I plan to serialise a new short-ish story on this blog, over several posts. It’s something slightly different, for me, in that it is a spoof/satire ‘gritty urban detective drama’, but set in Elizabethan England. So, cue daggers, bawdiness, vomit and lots of mud and sour beer.

This will probably be during the second week of next month.

I have also learned a little more about publishing, from the company Wet Zebra at our local writers’ group, and from a few other independent sources, which might possibly lead to my attempting to publish my next book a little differently.

That next book will, I’m now reasonably certain, be The Assassin’s Garden, which has picked up momentum again. If all goes according to plan (!), it will be the first book of a series, stretching in time from the sixteenth century to the late twentieth century, and set variously in Persia, India, Europe and England.

So, what’s it about? I’m so glad you asked. A secret, something stolen, a pursuit, crossing time and continents. Revenge. It has elements of detective story, a bit of classic Gothic horror, a touch of fantasy, a soupcon of sex and violence, some ‘straight’ historical drama, and kittens. Yes, really.

imgp2288

Not a kitten either.

I’m nothing if not ambitious.

And, bearing in mind how easily distracted I am, the research will give me huge opportunities to prevaricate and wander off at tangents to all sorts of odd corners of the internet.

Making Friends with the Crocodile cover

Buy it, read it, make me happy!

And for Making Friends with the Crocodile, my published novel, I am going to re-write the promotional blurb and have another attempt to push it out further into the big, wide, novel-reading world.

Let’s Rid the Internet of Kittens

What is it about the internet and kittens, for goodness’ sake? There are far too many pictures of them.

Okay, that’s too provocative. Let’s move on.

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She Who Dislikes Being Referred To This Way has been away for a few days. I had presumed that I would sleep better without the snoring, and the duvet being constantly pulled off me, but I was wrong.

For some reason, I’ve not slept particularly well at all.

Perhaps it was the wild parties I’ve no idea why not.

I had intended to begin a painting, maybe even get it finished, but although I carefully planned said painting, even finding a few resource pictures to use, once I sat down in front of the paper, it just refused to happen. My mind went completely blank and my enthusiasm kicked the wall sulkily for a few moments and then ran out of the house sobbing.

Oh well, back to the writing.

I did have a few ideas for short stories and, because I know how to use my time both productively and wisely, immediately started writing two of them, as well as continuing with both the novels I’m writing. That’s what you’re meant to do, right? Isn’t it?

Oh, and a poem.

And, of course, I need to do research for all the various Tales In Process. Isn’t it amazing what a little bit of research throws up?

Here are just a couple of little snippets, a few gobbets of curiosity, that I have come across recently while researching topics in medieval Persia and India, for use in my #1 Novel In Progress, The Assassin’s Garden.

All of the prostitutes in Fatephur Sikri, India, during the short time that it was Akhbar’s capital, were kept in an area just outside the city called ‘The Devil’s Quarter’.

You do get sidetracked, of course, but perhaps that will be an integral part of the plot? Possible spoiler alert?

I wouldn’t like to say.

And at one point, there is a long journey undertaken in my book, by caravan.

‘Caravan’ is a Persian word, I discover. That seems appropriate. In some parts of Persia they would travel by day and rest by night.

In others, the reverse was true. Something to do with the temperature, I expect.

In the nineteenth century, there were caravans that existed just to transfer corpses to holy cities for burial. These disappeared in the early twentieth century, largely due to better understanding of how diseases spread!

And, obviously, I mean the caravans that are chock full of camels and traders and an ill-assorted collection of ne’er-do-wells, not the wretched giant metal boxes blocking ninety percent of our roads as soon as the weather shows even the faintest promise of a few hours of sunshine.

But enough of caravans, for now, I’ve got some words to beat into shape.

Oh, and there are still people who would prefer pictures of kittens?

Grumble Mutter Whinge

It is the first of March, today.

Meteorologically, it is the first day of spring. So, that virtually guarantees what weather we will have today; the sky is overcast and grey, there is a bitterly chill wind blowing and a spiteful, thin drizzle.

Spring! Oh, humour!

Arf!

Admittedly, the astronomical calendar tells us spring doesn’t arrive until around the 20th March, so winter still has cate blanchett to do whatever it will.

So that’s fine; it sort of reflects my mood at the moment, anyway. But at least going out for a walk always lifts my mood a little, and today is no exception. I’ve been working on my new novel quite intensely for a while, and I suddenly need to step back from it for a week or two.

Come up for air, as it were.

ladakh 5 panorama

Not this one!

And so I go for a walk in the miserably wintery springy weather. Ten minutes or so through the streets brings me to the common – a wooded area on the edge of the town which, on good days, is a pleasant enough place to walk, even if it doesn’t have any convenient mountains or long distance trails.

On bad days, though, it is full of dog walkers.

That sounds a bit mean, you may say. And, okay, you’re right. It is. But in my defence, when I say full of dog walkers (and dogs), I mean full!

Untitled-Grayscale-01

This one!

It is not unusual to be surrounded by dozens of dogs running madly around, the air filled with strident shouts of ‘Gawain! Guinevere! Come here at once!’ ‘Will you come here!’ ‘Put that down!’ ‘Keep still and he won’t hurt you!’ and then some wretched little tyke suddenly tugging at your trouser leg with a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth, to be followed by another shout of ‘Keep still, I said!’ from a voice that could etch glass.

But not today, fortunately.

And having had my walk, I can sort out a couple of other things on my writing list.

Once I got back, I edited a short story I promised for a project for our writing group. Job done – tick.

Next, I’ll begin the edit of a very long short story that has been hanging around for ages. So long, in fact, that I mentioned it in the ‘My Writing’ section on this blog when I first set it up, a year and a half ago. Tut. It’ll be good to get that finished, anyway. It’s my first attempt at a traditional murder mystery, and I rather got lost in my own convolutions.

If I get it to the point where I’m happy with it, I might put it out as an e-book, just to see what people think of it.

Ahem…if anyone buys it, of course.

And, as a bonus, I had an idea for another short story while I was out walking, so hooray!

Now to barricade the door against all the angry dog walkers.

‘Mr Business Brain’ or ‘Trying to blow my own trumpet without ever having learned how to’.

In today’s alternative ‘Alice in Wonderland: ‘When I use a word,’ Trumpty Numpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less’.

Lewis Carroll obviously saw this fellow coming.

Just thought I’d share that with you. Anyway, back to the task in hand. After two ridiculously hectic weeks, I now have to do my best to catch up with everything. Onward!

***

I don’t have a business brain.

I look at my clutter of short stories and paintings, my carvings and photographs and think ‘I should be able to at least make a bit of a living out of all of these.’

ladakhi door 2            001

But I don’t. And then I wonder ‘how on earth I am going to do it?’ and go ‘aaargh!’ and run off into the distance.

It really doesn’t help.

And so, if I had to have made a New Year’s Resolution this year, it would have been to sort all this out. I didn’t, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore it for any longer.

To begin with, then, how about attracting new blog followers?

Dressed in a loincloth and brandishing a spear (not a sight that sensitive readers should try to picture in their minds), I go charging out onto the lightly wooded WordPress plains, hunting new blog followers.

‘Aha, there’s one!’ I think, spotting a potential follower grazing harmlessly beside the River of Inspiration. I sneak up on them, then hurl a ‘follow’ at them, hoping that they will respond in kind.

Er, no.

It’s just not me, unfortunately. As I have mentioned in the past, I find it incredibly difficult to blow my own trumpet. And I will not ‘follow’ someone just for the sake of getting a ‘follow’ back. I do understand that anti-social media make up the platforms I have to work with, but for some reason I have not yet got my head around using them properly. So for blogs, I shall carry on as I always have. I don’t hunt for followers, I let them find me. Then if they follow me, it is presumably because they like what I’m writing.

Of course, they might simply be after a follow in return, but that won’t happen unless I like what their site does.

I do need to be more professional, though. For a start, then, I have begun to properly update the information on each site I use – such as the ‘Author Profiles’ on Goodreads, Amazon and LinkedIn.

So please feel free to connect with me on those sites – Goodreads LinkedIn. I promise I will put up more book reviews on Goodreads, and try to work out just what the hell LinkedIn is for.

mosque      untitled-grayscale-01

I shall sort out the prices on the paintings and photography websites.

What? Oh, Paintings and Photographs – thanks for asking!

Making Friends with the -Crocodile

And I need to find new ways to promote my novel Making Friends with the Crocodile. 

And then, there is this blog. I must regularly update the information on the ‘About’ page and the ‘My Writings’ page.

Do I need to simply be bolder in my approach to all this? Should I put a ‘shop’ on my blog?

I don’t know. But, learning how to properly use the limited anti-social media I reluctantly and sporadically do take part in (other than blogging), is a priority for me.

But I’m damned if I will ever use Twatter, though.

The Indian edition of my book is published!

Well, it’s taken me long enough, as I’m sure everyone will agree, but I have finally managed to publish Making Friends with the Crocodile as a Print on demand paperback in India! Hurrah!

It is published by Pothi, and is available on their site, here, and on Amazon.in and Flipkart.

pothi-advertising

It is still available as a Kindle e-book from Amazon, and is also available as an e-book from Kobo, worldwide, for those who do not favour Kindle.

I have been told plenty of times that I need to be more proactive promoting the book, but I’m not terribly good at that. However, this is me having another pathetic stab at it:

Buy it now! It’s great! Please…pretty please…

Oh well, I’m working on it.

Should you be kind enough to buy it, or, indeed, if you have already done so, please consider leaving a review. Reviews encourage others to buy the book, and, on Amazon, once a book has garnered a certain number, then Amazon list it a little more prominently – which is a tremendous help to the author!

And I have been lucky enough to garner some very complimentary and generous reviews, so far. A few excerpts:

‘This beautifully written story, set in a village in Bihar, draws you in from its first page.’

‘Making Friends with the Crocodile is a very fine book. And it takes us into the harsh reality of the life of women in rural India, much more effectively than any official report.’

‘The characters are depicted with obvious respect for a culture that is both beautiful and at times shocking. By the novels finale, though tragic, we are left with a very thought provoking and memorable story.’

‘This is a novel with depth and real emotional involvement. Told simply and with an honesty that defies disbelief at events and attitudes, it packs some serious punches. It’s a story that will live with me for a long time, and one that has materially altered my opinions about certain cultural norms. Researched in real depth and related in language that fits the narrator so well, it’s a very good read.’

‘Mick has delved into the mind of a middle- aged woman living in rural Bihar and has beautifully sketched the love – hate relationship she shares with her daughter in law. The book gives a lot of perspective on the mind-set and predispositions that prevail in the rural north Indian society (which apply, at large to many other parts as well).’

The blurb: ‘Siddiqa was only just into her teens when she was forced to leave her home to live with her new husband and his family in another village. The years have passed, and now Siddiqa has three children of her own. Her grown up son has brought his new wife, Naira, to live with them, so Siddiqa is no longer the lowliest in the household, for she has a daughter-in-law.

Life in rural India is particularly harsh for women. This novel explores themes of female oppression and tradition and asks whether the next generation will find life any easier.

I suppose that at least when I publish my next book, I should have a much better idea of how to go about it.

The Christmas Story! 3rd and Final Part.

They could see at once that something was very wrong.

There was no movement from the child in the bed of course, since they were within TimeShift, but the agonised rictus on his face, the distorted jaw and neck, and the twisted body lying half in and half out of the bed, immediately made them freeze and stare in horror.

A snapshot…a cruel statue…tiny hands caught in time, clawing desperately at a heaving chest…bulging eyes…

Henderson actually thought he could hear a terrified scream, somewhere in the air in that suddenly awful room.

‘Shee-it!’ Said Edwards, softly and slowly.

Nobody moved.

315a

After a minute or so, as if by comment consent, they opened the door and slowly went out to the landing, each of them reluctant to leave the child – it felt like they were abandoning him.

‘Try that door.’

Lesley was the nearest. Raising his fist he began to tap gently at the door, then realised what he was doing and shrugged, pushing the door slowly open.

They faced a woman frozen in the act of throwing a dressing gown around her shoulders as she stepped towards them, the dressing gown caught billowing like a hero’s cape, although her face was frightened and staring. Instinctively, they all took a step back.

‘She’s heard him,’ muttered Edwards. ‘She’ll make sure he’s okay.’

But none of them believed it.

‘She’ll get an ambulance, for sure.’

‘But what about all that fucking snow? How will they get through that?’

‘What can we do?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Seems blindingly obvious,’ said Edwards, after a couple of moments. ‘We just pop him in the sleigh and take him to hospital ourselves.’ Henderson looked grim.

‘It’s really not that easy, I’m afraid. We’re in TimeShift, but he’s not.’

‘So? Just bung him in the sleigh anyway, and off we go.’

‘No, we can’t. When you’re inside TimeShift you can’t move any other bodies that are outside. It’s impossible. And even if we could, what about his mum? She’d just find him gone.’

‘So to get him to the hospital, we have to do it outside of this TimeShift thing?’

‘I think we’ll have to do everything outside of that. First we need to find out what’s wrong, which means we have to get outside of TimeShift straight away. Talk to his mother….’

‘…won’t she sort of just freak out when she sees us?’

‘We can’t worry about that. We just need to work out how to do it.’

‘Don’t you know, then?’

‘Er, no. When it happened last time, I don’t know how it worked.’

‘Can you call the office and ask them?’

‘Only in real time. But there is one way I can think of. One or both of you will need to stay here, whilst I take the sleigh and come back in…what, one minute? Will that give you long enough to speak to her and find out what’s happening?’ They both looked doubtful.

‘I’m not sure that the sight of us appearing in her house at the dead of night will really help. Ain’t there any way you can stay here? At least she’ll know who you are.’

‘I don’t think so. Neither of you know how to operate it.’

‘No, we don’t. Okay, come back in a minute or two, and we’ll tell you how we’re getting on.’

***

There were four figures on the landing when he returned.

Lesley and Edwards were standing either side of the woman they had seen in the bedroom, who had her hands to her mouth in shock, whilst the fourth was a man in pyjamas who was lying stretched out on the floor A cricket bat was lying a short distance from his outstretched right arm.

‘What the…

‘Sorry, I had to biff ‘im.’

‘Why?’

‘He was attacking us.’

‘Oh, for…

‘But the boy’s having a fit, and needs to get to hospital. And, shit, that was weird.’

‘What was?’

‘The way she stopped moving the moment you appeared.’ Henderson looked at him, and then went back into the child’s bedroom. He was still lying in that awful, contorted, position, but now there was just a hint of dark blue in his lips. He returned to the landing.

‘I think he’s dying. We don’t have much time.’

‘Have you got a plan, then?’

‘Just to get him to hospital as fast as possible. If I go and get that programmed into the SatNav, then we just have to come out of TimeShift and get him on board as quickly as we can and…’

‘Oh, bugger it! It’s obvious!’ shrieked Lesley suddenly.

‘Eh? What are you talking about?’

‘Well, instead of pratting about here, why don’t we just go and get a doctor and bring ‘im here? We can stay inside this TimeShift bastard thing until the last moment, then.’

‘Yeeess…that might be the answer. It’d probably be quicker. Although, we might have a problem if they don’t believe us. We can’t afford to spend too long trying to persuade them; the boy mightn’t last that long.’ Edwards narrowed his eyes.

‘Don’t you worry about that. The doc’ll come with us!’

***

Finding the hospital proved to be the easy part.

It was a small hospital, and at that time of night there were a mixture of sleeping and wakeful patients, nurses doing rounds and writing in folders and dealing with a number of minor crises, but it seemed impossible to find a doctor. They stood at a doorway staring into a restroom where a nurse was sitting with a half empty mug of something and a pile of papers. She looked tired.

‘Don’t they have doctors here at night?’ asked Edwards.

‘I suppose they must have, but I don’t know where we’ll find them.’ They looked at each other.

‘Well, why don’t we just take a nurse?’

‘Well, why not? Come on.’

They hurried back to the sleigh, and as soon as they were aboard, Henderson switched off the TimeShift.

‘Right! Let’s go!’

They ran through the entrance and down the corridor, ignoring the shout from the desk porter, and burst into the restroom.

‘We’ve got a boy dying out there!’

‘What? Who are you? Where?’

‘I don’t know the address; you just need to come with us. He’s having a fit.’

‘I can’t just go…’ Her voice faded away as she took a proper look at the elves.

‘You’ll come with us,’ said Lesley, in a voice that said very clearly that she was going with them. ‘You need to bring anything?’

‘Er, yes…a couple of things…I’ll need a hand.’

‘Right, come on. We’re in a hurry!’

There was plenty of room on the sleigh, with most of the sacks now lying empty on the floor at the back. It took a couple of seconds to deploy the new ramp and push the trolley of equipment on board, and then they were up in the sky again, the nurse in the front seat beside Henderson. As soon as the reindeer started up and they were back in TimeShift, he felt himself relax.

‘Right. Sorry about this, but there’s a boy having a fit, and the ambulance would never get through this snow.’ She nodded.

‘Okay, I get that. I understand that you’re Santa Claus…I suppose. But,’ she lowered her voice and jerked her thumb backwards, ‘who on earth are they?

‘Elves.’

‘They look a bit rough for elves!’

‘I’ve had worse.’

‘You want a beer, love?’

‘What? I…’

‘We’re here!’ said Henderson, hurriedly. This time he managed to bring the sleigh down in the road, squeezing in between a couple of parked cars.

‘Let’s get the trolley off first.’

They pushed it through the snow up to the front door, and then Henderson switched off the TimeShift.

‘Okay. Hurry!’

They hammered on the front door.

***

It was two hours later.

At least, in some ways it was, but just at that moment it was really a hundred and eighty-nine and a bit years earlier.

‘And you’re sure the little feller’s alright, now?’

‘The nurse said he’ll be fine. And we’ve only got two more drops, then we can go home.’

‘Right, I think we need some more beers, then.’

‘Hey, these are good ones!’ Henderson said in surprise. Edwards looked hurt.

‘What was wrong with my lagers? You seemed happy enough with them earlier.’

‘Oh, nothing. No, they were great. I mean, these are pretty expensive ones. Where on Earth did they come from?’

‘Oh, they were in the lounge in that house. I’m sure no one will mind.’

‘No,’ Henderson agreed, ‘under the circumstances, I’m sure they won’t.’

***

If you’ve read this far, and my thanks for doing that, then you might like to read last year’s Christmas short stories:

First one

Second one

Third one

Fourth one

The Christmas Story! Part 2

‘Right,’ said Henderson, ‘here we go.’ He pressed the big green button and the reindeer burst into life. Less than ten seconds later, they were cruising through the sky just below the clouds. The TimeShift had kicked in, and, looking down, they could see they were passing over what appeared to be a small town, nearly every chimney of every house belching smoke, and the few roads between them devoid of traffic. Then the air around them crackled slightly, and instantly they landed on a rooftop in a modern day housing development. It was night time.

307a

Henderson glanced at the elves and nodded. ‘Okay?’

‘Nah, you’re the Big S. Best you do it.’

‘You know the rules!’ he said, in a passable imitation of Nicol’s voice. To his surprise, they looked at each other, grinned, and then got out.

They all stepped forward together, and found themselves in the middle of a darkened room, although each of them was able to see as clearly as if it were daytime. There was a single bed on either side of the room, each containing a sleeping child. On the end of each bed lay a large bag shaped like a sock, made from red material and embroidered in white with ‘Merry Christmas.’ A card table had been set up at the foot of one of the beds, covered with a small white cloth on which there was a small glass of sherry, and a plate with two mince pies and a carrot. He popped the mince pies and carrot into a small bag he was carrying, and poured the sherry into a flask. While he did that, the ‘elves’ put the regulation number of presents into each bag.

‘Dunnit.’ Said one of them. Henderson nodded, put a tick against the first name on his list, did that thing with his fingers he had to do, and then they were back in the sleigh. He turned around and put the bag and the flask on the floor behind the seat, and pressed the button.

‘Mind if we have these?’ said a voice behind him.

‘Go ahead.’

‘Cheers. Saves on lunch, anyway.’ He paused. ‘They don’t mind you eating one or two, do they?’

‘No, eat as much as you want. They don’t much care what happens to them anyway.’

‘What do they do with them when we get back, then? Do they just throw them away?’

‘They used to, but it goes to a food bank, now.’

‘What about the carrot? Can I give it to the reindeer?’

‘No, these ones can’t eat carrots. Don’t try it, whatever you do.’

‘Oh. Right.’ There was silence for a moment, then he heard a fsshh followed rapidly by two others, and then a hand suddenly appeared over his shoulder holding a tin of lager.

‘There you go, Big S. There’s a spot of Christmas cheer. It’s a bloody long day, this.’

‘Oh, thanks,’ he said in surprise. He took a sip, and then shivered slightly. It tasted pretty strong. ‘Better than that bloody sherry, anyday. Cheers!’

‘What happens to that?’

‘The sherry? Biofuel. That’s all it’s good for.’

A couple of hours into the shift, Henderson found he was beginning to relax. He was beginning to relax quite a lot, actually. He took his hands off the controls and turned around, leaning one elbow on the back of his seat.

‘I know one of you guys is called Edwards,’ he said, conversationally, ‘what about the other?’

‘It’s Lesley,’ the bigger of the two said grimly, clenching his fists belligerently. Henderson smiled.

‘Oh, right. Lesley, then, pass me another of those tins, would you?’

He reckoned they must be about halfway through the shift. It was always difficult to tell, what with their bobbing backwards and forwards randomly through the last two hundred years or more, and because of that it seemed somehow ridiculous to start worrying about whether it was two o’clock or three o’clock.

And at the moment, it didn’t seem to matter anyway.

But gradually they were working their way through the list; each name was ticked off in order, and the sacks that held the presents in the back of the sleigh were slowly emptying.

He thought he’d drunk three of those lagers, although there was a little voice somewhere inside him insisting it was four, and was just thinking it was a jolly good job that he didn’t actually have to drive the sleigh, when…

Crunch! Sssssssccccrrrrrsssshhhhhhh! Whump!

It took a lot to get reindeer to crash, but it seemed he’d managed it.

‘Where are we?’ Henderson slowly wriggled up from the foot well and got back onto his seat. He pulled his list out from his pocket and stared down at it.

‘Err, just outside Huddersfield. Probably.’ They had landed, but for some reason instead of coming down gently onto the roof of the house they were to visit, the sleigh had rushed down through the falling snow until it had collided with a hedge of conifers. The impetus had taken them through the trees, although they seemed to have a fair amount of snow and twigs over them and on the floor of the sleigh, then they had bounced a couple of times on the ground and come to rest against a low stone wall that formed part of the rear boundary of quite a large house.

He felt a little shaken, but nothing worse than that. He looked round at the others.

‘There’s a fair bit o’ the white stuff here, ain’t there?’ said Edwards, rubbing the back of his head,

‘Yes. Are you both okay?’

‘Yeah. Let’s get on with it.’ They all stood up, and Lesley picked up one of the sacks.

‘Right.’ They stepped forwards, but all that happened was that they found themselves standing ankle deep in fresh snow. ‘Oh.’

‘That’s not meant to happen,’ put in Lesley.

‘No,’ Henderson looked up into the sky, where the clouds were continuing to release a fair amount of snow, ‘and nor is that.’

‘What?’

‘Somehow, we’re in real time. Get back in the sleigh.’ They jumped in, and Henderson sat staring at the SatNav with its large red over-ride button, wondering what he should do now. He had a feeling that he’d been told about this the previous year, but the alcohol had made his thoughts rather woolly. As he hesitated, though, he heard a shout and looked up to see a couple of figures running towards them.

‘Oh, shit!’ Quickly he pressed the start button, and the reindeer roared into life. Seconds later they were up in the clouds again, and then they were down and sitting on a snow-covered roof. He looked at his list, then looked suspiciously at the co-ordinates showing on the SatNav. It seemed the program had reset itself automatically and they were now at the correct house.

Inside, he checked the list again. One child, boy, aged eight. Name of Dylan. On top of a chest of drawers was a hand-written note beside a mince pie and a couple of chocolates that read ‘For Santa, love from Dylan.’

That seemed okay then. He put a tick next to the name and they returned to the sleigh.

It was another short hop to the next call; the sleigh had barely risen to the clouds before it was down on a roof again. This time, the snow was seriously thick, and the flakes hanging silently around them were very big and very fluffy. It was remarkable, he thought, that the reindeer didn’t feel the cold.

But they wouldn’t, of course. Not these ones.

‘Right, come on. Only a few more to do, now.’ They stepped forward into the snow and materialised in a small bedroom.

And froze in horror at what they saw.

***

If you’ve read this far, and my thanks for doing that, then you might like to read last year’s Christmas short stories:

First one

Second one

Third one

Fourth one

The Christmas Story!

 

Well, it’s now December, so I suppose it can’t be too long before we begin to see the first of the Christmas decorations going up in the shops, and then, ooh, another week or so and we’ll start seeing some Christmas adverts on TV.

I said I definitely would not do another Christmas short story this year, so here it is. Part one of three. Probably.

In a way, this continues on from last year’s Christmas stories; I’ve put the links to them at the bottom of the page if you’d like to refresh your memories!

358a

It was almost the end of another tough year, another year of scrimping and scraping and just getting by. It didn’t seem right, somehow, that Santa should be on the breadline for most of the year, for that was how Henderson thought of himself now; Santa.

He didn’t really think they would take him on again this year, though. Not after what had happened the previous year, that is. But to his surprise, Nicol had smiled at him and said ‘Yes, it’ll be great to have you back on board again,’ without the slightest trace of sarcasm in his voice.

‘How have you been?’

‘Well, my back’s a bit stiffer than it was last year.’

‘You’ll welcome the new changes, then,’ he said, bitterly.

‘Changes?’

‘Yes. I’m afraid the government has taken an interest in us this year. That could spell real trouble in the future – if you come back next year, I expect you’ll find we’ve been privatised. They’re already making noises about cutting the number of presents.

‘It started last year. The Equality Commission visited us with a long list of what they called ‘positive changes’ that we needed to make.

‘Every single household with children needs to be visited, they said.

‘We do that already.

Each child needs to receive gifts of equal value, so that no one can think themselves disadvantaged.

‘We do. We always have done.

And you need to log each visit.

‘We do, it’s computerised. Has been for years. We have records going back to Victorian times.

‘And more crap like that. It feels like the writings on the wall, now.’ He sighed. ‘Anyway, this year they were back again. So if your back’s a problem, you’ll be pleased to know that all the sleighs are wheelchair accessible now; or they will be,’ he corrected himself, ‘just as soon as we finish making the changes.

‘It was sprung on us at the end of November. Some twat with a clipboard and one of those stupid plastic ID cards hanging on a chain around his neck turned up unannounced in the office. He had come to find out whether our employment record reflected the government’s ‘investment in diversity’ – whatever the frick that means. Had we heard that a shopping mall in the USA had a black Santa this year? Yes, I said, we had. And over the years we’ve had sled-loads of black Santas. And brown ones. Pink ones. One year we even had a yellow Santa. Real yellow, I mean. Jaundice, it turned out to be.’ He sighed. ‘That one didn’t turn out well.

That’s good, he said, and ticked something on his clipboard. Then: What about disabled? You’re Joking, I said. How’s a disabled Santa going to get up and down chimneys?’

‘But I didn’t have to…’ Henderson began.

‘Yes, but he wasn’t to know that. That’s for you to facilitate was his reply, though. Bloody hell, can’t these jerks even speak English? Oh, well, that won’t be a problem, I told him, I’ll just put ramps and a ladder in each sleigh.’ Nicol ground his teeth together and looked really angry. ‘I was trying to wind him up, but the bloody idiot just smiled and said oh, well done. I’ll tick that one off too, then.’

‘If I haven’t met that bloke, I’ve certainly met one or two like him.’

‘Oh, there’s more. I’ll need to come and take a look at your sleighs, now. He said. And I should have seen what was coming, then.

‘What?’

‘Now they’ve all had to go back to the workshops to be made wheelchair accessible. We’ve only got two available at the moment, which means things are a bit hectic.’

‘Does that mean you really have to take on Santas who are…well…in wheelchairs?’

‘Fortunately, not.’

‘I’ll bet that’s a relief.’

‘Just elves.’

‘Elves?’

‘Uh-huh. Elves.’ He shrugged. ‘No reason why not, I guess. You know how it works, it’s just a bit slower than usual. It means I put in a requisition for two more sleighs and teams to cover the timings. Probably the biggest pain is the changes to the delivery program.

‘Anyway, that doesn’t affect your team. Here’s your schedule.’

 

They were both rather thickly built, unshaven men. One was smoking a roll-up.

‘They don’t look much like elves’

‘You don’t look much Santa Claus.’

‘I look more like Santa Claus than they look like elves, though.’

‘Well, I’m sorry, but that’s your team. They are fully trained and know what they’re doing.’

‘Are these guys from the same agency as me?’

‘No, they’re long-term unemployed. From the Job Centre. Another government stipulation, I’m afraid. Forty-two percent of our intake this year have to be candidates who have been out of work for a year or more. But they’re okay. I did a trial shift with these two yesterday and they were, er, just fine.’ Henderson stared at him. His experience with elves the previous year had made the subject a rather sensitive one. Then he looked at the elves, who stared back at him in what seemed a rather unfriendly manner.

‘No need to gawp,’ said one. ‘Ain’t you never seen a bloke in a pixy hat before?’

‘Not for a while,’ he conceded. ‘I’m Henderson, by the way.’

‘Come on then, Henderson, let’s get in,’ said the other. ‘Let’s get this crap over with, so we can go home.’

‘Put that cigarette out first, Edwards,’ said Nicol, sharply. ‘You know the rules!’ Edwards glared at him, then threw the cigarette across the yard.

‘Bastard!’ he muttered, under his breath. Henderson took his seat at the front of the sleigh and waited for the ‘elves’ to get in.

‘This will be fun,’ he thought, gloomily.

***

If you’ve read this far, and my thanks for doing that, then you might like to read last year’s Christmas short stories:

First one

Second one

Third one

Fourth one