Despair – a poem.

She counts the tomato flowers:

One, two, three, four,

On the stunted plant.

 

Forever waiting.

Hoping….still hoping.

 

Old plastic sheeting and palm fronds.

Dry ground and hot sun.

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Stunted children,

One, two, three, four.

With spindle legs,

And hard, round stomachs,

Lie beneath the palm fronds.

 

Silently.

 

Flies,

Around dry mouths,

And dull eyes.

 

A few onions,

Some spinach.

Dry soil.

 

He was a farmer.

Drought.

Poor harvests.

And debt.

 

All he grew was hunger.

***

This year, he takes another loan to buy seeds

But this year will be different.

He will keep one tenth of the crop

For the seeds

 

Next year,

There will be no more debt.

 

No more hunger.

 

There is a harvest.

Jubilation.

 

Next year,

Sterile seeds.

 

Although he has paid back some money,

The debt has trebled.

***

That land was his,

Over there,

On the other side of the village.

 

That land covered in waste,

Hope buried under rubbish.

The future smothered with despair.

 

The land that belongs to someone who lives

In the nearby town.

Someone who has never seen it.

 

The next day,

She pulls up one onion.

Picks some spinach.

Boils some water for her children.

One, two three…

 

Her fatherless children.

***

In India every year, large numbers of farmers take their own lives when they become trapped in a cycle of poverty, high-interest debt, and bad harvests. And to compound their problems, certain huge multi-national companies are developing seeds that produce only sterile plants, meaning that the farmer cannot use harvested seed to grow new crops, and has no choice but to buy seed again the following year, sinking further into that hopeless spiral.

The government seems unwilling or unable to do anything to break this cycle.

Advice to New Bloggers (from Bob)

Bob has decided to go into journalism. Did I have any hints, he asked me? How should he go about it? In the end, I suggested he write a guest post for me.

‘What on?’ he asked.

Oh, I don’t know, I replied, possibly a little too casually. How about blogging?

‘Okay,’ he said. ‘I’ll do that.’

Over to you, Bob:

‘Right, so…why do we follow blogs? Obviously, it is so we can read the pearls of wisdom they scatter before us mere mortals. And if every post is a literary delight, then how much better would it be if we could get twice as many? Or three times? Or more? Everyone wants to read 20 new posts a day from their favourite blogger, all the more so if they receive email notifications of each one, as they get the added frisson of a ‘ping’ every few minutes as another notification arrives; an anticipation of the huge pleasure they will get when they read the new post!

‘Black print on a white background is so yesterday! Experiment with colours – green on blue, perhaps, or if you must use black, try it against a dark grey background. This ensures the reader gives your post the attention it deserves, rather than perhaps just scanning it quickly and moving on to something else.

‘But don’t stop there! Times New Roman and all that ilk are boring, boring, boring! Fonts such as Blackadder or Edwardian Script make it so much more fun! Again, your reader must work hard to prove how much they adore your posts if they are going to get to the point of posting any sort of relevant reply.

‘Size is everything. there is nothing better than a 4,000 word post to read because, let’s face it, your readers have nothing better to do with their time than read your post. After all, it’s probably the highlight of their day, so why skimp on their reading pleasure? Especially so if you have employed fonts and background colours similar to those mentioned above!

‘Is that okay, Mick?’

‘It’s a bit short, Bob. I thought you were in favour of long posts?’

‘Um…I ran out of stuff.’

Thanks, Bob. I’ll let you know.

Monthly Writing Update

AAARGH! Boink…boink…boink…thud!

Sorry…that’s me going a bit stir crazy and bouncing off of the walls at the moment. Two weeks ago I had an operation on my foot, which I am supposed to ‘rest and elevate’ for most of the time. I can get out and about a bit, but it is very slow going, with the aid of crutches, at an average speed of something in between ‘Get on with it!’ and ‘Oh for goodness sake, is that the best you can do?’ and which means, in effect, that I’m pretty well confined to barracks.

At least that gives me plenty of writing time. Perfectly true, but normally I would take a day off from writing every now and again, and go out somewhere – perhaps for a walk. Because that’s not really practical at the moment, I think I’m spending too much time writing and feeling a bit stale, so yesterday I ended up reading and watching a DVD.

I’ll be glad to be back on my feet properly again, but that won’t be for well over another month.

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Elephant tea caddy – what’s not to like?

Anyway, enough of your whinging, I hear you cry. What on earth are you writing at the moment?

Well, as usual I’m flitting between books, and I’m almost 40,000 words into the Indian story, which has the plot and sub-plots now fully worked out, and some 25,000 words into book one of The Assassins’ Garden – the one set in Medieval Persia and Mughal India. The plot of this one needs a bit more thought, but I’m making it up as I go along, so we’ll see what happens.

I wrote a few poems in the last month, one of which I put up on a blog post.

Oh, and here’s a haiku for today. The last week or so has been unusually hot and sunny, but the forecast is that it will break sometime this morning.

Heavy summer air,

Feeling so hot and humid,

Threatening a storm.

And here it comes now!

Today? Perhaps I’ll write one or two book reviews, once I’ve finished watching the rain hammering down outside the window.

Or just read…

Words

We use words all the time. There is a bottomless well of words, a huge mountain of them. There is a never-ending supply of words. Like anything else that is all around us and that we take for granted, we waste words because we see them never running out.

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We never think we have to watch them carefully, but words can teach and inform, or they can conceal and perpetuate lies.

Words can wound or words can heal.

Words can speak to people half a world away, or be whispered into someone’s ear.

Words can bring down governments and send the world to war, and words can bring people together and heal divisions.

Words can soothe troubled minds and words can reopen old wounds.

Words are powerful weapons and words are a lover’s touch.

Words are laughter and words are bitter tears.

Words are pleasure and words are torment.

Words are just…words, but…

The wise use words carefully, for they may have consequences far beyond the intention of the user.

A Poem – ‘Glamour’

Every time I post a poem I insist I don’t write many; that’s it’s not really my forte. And yet, I still write them, despite my doubts.

Although I consider myself a fiction writer, and a writer of short and long stories to be a little more precise, I love poetry. I love its conciseness, its ability to paint pictures and tell stories without telling stories. I feel it is closer to painting than other forms of creative writing.

So here is another offering, called ‘Glamour’.

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Sun-bed ravaged skin dry flaking and decaying,

Masked by layers of painted make-up.

She sets the wig straight with faltering hands,

Since the bloody thing has slid over her eyes again

For the umpteenth time!

Now takes a deep breath,

Then

Checks herself in the mirror across the room,

Turning her head painfully this way a little,

And then that…

‘Shit, I guess that’ll have to do.’

Both hands shaking, she lights a last, final, cigarette,

And,

Her lips pursed and cracking,

She expels the smoke with a wheezing sigh,

And coughs,

One eye still on her reflection.

Then leans back awkwardly against the pillows,

And turns slowly towards the nurse.

‘Do I look good?’ She rasps.

‘Yeah.’

The nurse nods.

‘You look good.’

The Great Sandwich Schism

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, God created the world. And he looked upon the world and said ‘Well, so far so good’.

And the world was full of beautiful things and good things and a great bounty of useful things that humans would later ransack and destroy in the name of greed, although that is a story for another day.

But when the people whom God had created looked upon his great works, they said unto Him ‘How might we thank you, oh God? How might we show our gratitude for your benevolence?’

And God replied ‘Oh, I don’t know. I really wish you wouldn’t bother. But if you must, just make me a sandwich, or something. I’m feeling a bit peckish after all that creating.’

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And so the people made haste to slice bread and find Good Things to become a tasty and delicious filling for the sandwich they had made for their God. And there arose minor disputes such as whether ham and cheese really went together in a sandwich, or whether mayonnaise actually counted as food, but the people settled their quarrel in an amicable fashion and so the sandwich was created and placed upon a golden plate that was decorated with the names of angels and archangels, and set about with small mountains of salad and just a little dash of mustard in case God should fancy some.

And then one among them rose up and said ‘Wait, for we must cut this sandwich before we present it to our God, unless it be a bit too large for him to handle and he drop pieces of cheese from the sides or drip mayonnaise in his holy lap.’

And all at once there arose discord, for some were found who would cut the sandwich in a diagonal fashion, and yet others who declared that would be an affront to His holiness and that the only Right Way would be to cut the sandwich into equal rectangles.

And lo, the factions took up weapons and fought, yea, even in the Holy Kitchen, and they did massacre one another and each declared that the other faction was a worshipper of Satan, who was completely bemused by all this, since he had no followers (not even on Facebook), and they did create rival churches and rival nations and declared undying enmity against each other, spending the next few thousand years thinking up new and more imaginative ways to hate and kill and destroy each other.

And God groaned and held his head in his hands and said ‘Oh verily, what a cock-up this has become. I think I shall destroy the lot of them.’

Bob’s New Hobby

Bob’s wife has been urging him to do more work around the house.

I don’t mean things like the washing up or vacuuming the carpets – God knows, she tried that before, and it ended with her drinking an entire bottle of gin in one sitting – no, I mean the ‘little’ tasks such as putting up shelves or fitting new internal doors or hanging pictures.

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Just why anyone would encourage someone like Bob to engage in activities that involve sharp edges, high speed motors, cutting blades, heavy blunt instruments or pointy pieces of metal is totally beyond my comprehension, but who am I to judge these things?

I had occasion to go round to their house recently, and was startled when Bob proudly showed me the shelves he had recently put up in the alcove in the living room. Now, I am certainly not someone who regards himself as a handyman in that respect, and my opinion of DIY is that it is something to be avoided at all costs, but even I could have made a far better fist of it than Bob did.

The shelves contained a few books and two or three very large ornaments which, I suppose, had been chosen due to their shape and mass being such that they were unlikely to slide off of the shelves, despite the unusual slope of those shelves.

‘What do you think?’ he asked, proudly. ‘Gina is very pleased with them.’ He indicated his wife who was standing in the doorway. As I glanced at her, she gave me a look that was nothing if not inscrutable.

‘I’m quite impressed, Bob,’ I said, which was true, since I was unaware of him even changing a fuse before. ‘Is this the first time you’ve put up a shelf?’

‘Oh, no,’ he said, looking slightly hurt. ‘I put a shelf up in the garage, last week.’ I raised my eyebrows.

‘You’ve found a new hobby, then.’

‘I can’t think why I haven’t done this before.’ His enthusiasm was obviously sincere. ‘There is so much to do around here. We’re getting a new kitchen cabinet next week, which will need putting up, and it would cost a fortune to pay some bloke to come and do it, so if I do it we’ll save that money.’ I stared at him, quite unsure what to reply. ‘And Gina wants me to cut the hedge this afternoon,’ he continued. ‘I’ve never really been into gardening, but I’m rather looking forward to it.’

From the living room there came a crash! and the sound of heavy objects hitting a carpeted floor fairly hard. ‘What was that?’

‘Nothing,’ said Gina, mildly. I looked at her sharply, aware that she was usually Bob’s fiercest critic, but she merely smiled at me and sipped her tea. A little later I went out to the garage with Bob.

‘This is the shelf I put up,’ he said, proudly, indicating a plank of wood somehow clinging to the wall just below the ceiling. To get anything down, Bob would clearly have to use a step-ladder.

‘Why so high up?’

‘Gina suggested that it would be a good place to put some of the bigger tools, so they weren’t in the way. I stared up at the shelf from the opposite side of the garage. I could make out a heavy hammer, an electric drill, and…

‘Is that a chainsaw, Bob?’

‘Yes. Gina wants me to take down that old tree at the bottom of the garden. It was a real bargain.’ I stood silently for a moment, as a thought struck me.

‘A bargain? Where did you get it?’

‘At the Saturday market in Umbridge.’ The market was notorious for selling cheap imported electrical goods from the far east, most of which had faulty wiring with no earth, and dubious import licenses, and other, heavier, tools that had been chucked out because they were no longer reliable.

‘Right. Your idea?’

‘No, Gina’s. A friend told her about them.

‘Right. Um. And the hedge this afternoon?’ He indicated a hedge-trimmer that lay on the workbench. It was big. Very big. I don’t really know about such things, but it looked as though it was designed for seriously heavy work. ‘Is that electrical?’

‘No, petrol driven. Same as the chainsaw.’ I scratched my chin thoughtfully, and as I did so I gradually became aware of a muffled sound that was not unlike that of an electric drill, coming through the wall from the house. Bob seemed not to notice it, and I decided not to mention it.

‘Bob, were there any instructions with that?’

‘No, but it’ll be easy enough to operate. These things are all quite similar to each other,’ he said, confidently.

‘Do me a favour,’ I pleaded. ‘At least get a book out of the library on this, and learn how to use it before you start.’ He shrugged.

‘If you think it important.’

‘I do, yes.’

We strolled around the garden, and Bob pointed out the jobs and ‘improvements’ that he had been asked to do. Eventually, and much against my better judgement, I have to say, I offered to come and help him, or to at least keep an eye on him. He smiled broadly at this.

‘Great! I’ll get a few beers!’

‘We can have them afterwards,’ I said, hastily.

We went back indoors. In the living room, the shelves were still up, and still filled with books and ornaments. In fact, Gina was in the process of adding more books as we came in. I stared at the shelves, and I stared at Gina, who returned my stare coolly.

The shelves were now perfectly level.

Resources for Writers – #1

A long, long time ago (heavens, it seems an age!), I wrote a post about the difficulties of historical accuracy facing writers.

Really? So kind of you – it’s here: HERE

Gosh, people are so kind.

Anyway, I have a number of books which I find invaluable when I am writing, so just to mention a few:

I have a first edition of Chambers’ Encyclopaedia; two volumes, published 1848, which I got for a song many years ago. Of course, anyone who has ever heard me sing will know that cannot be literally true – the only thing I might get for a song would be a heavy fine or a spell in prison. Or a slap. But enough of that.

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Referring back to my post on historical accuracy, I argued that even contemporary accounts of history are suspect – possibly even more so than many later ones – but as a snapshot of the world as it was seen by a group of British writers in 1848, my Chambers’ Encyclopaedia is invaluable. It gives me their view of other nations and religions, their understanding of science and commerce, and many other topics. A story set in 1848 or thereabouts, would use much of that information.

And 1848 in Europe was known as the year of revolutions – a good setting for a story or ten.

Equally, I set a long short story in 1920’s England, and many of the travel books of the time (I have a guide book to Dartmoor published in 1920) carry adverts for food, drink, hotels, buses, etc, which give a lot of the detail I needed.

Finally, Lonely Planet. My current novel, for which I still don’t have a title – don’t judge me – is set mainly in the India of 1988-ish. The 1986 edition of West Asia on a Shoestring while not being a great deal of use to the traveller of 2017, is incredibly useful to me when writing my book. I can easily get a sense of the price of everything that my English traveller of the story will encounter, and also a sense of what is available – where buses or trains might run, what sort of facilities are to be found in small hill towns, and many other things.

Obviously, our old chum Google is always at hand to help us out with our queries, but resources such as these are not only more accurate, they save us having to sift through many sites that may provide inaccurate information.

And God help the writer that uses that.

Jim’s Newbie

Some further nuggets from my special guest, Mr Webster! Over to you, Jim…

photo of Jim Oct 2015

‘Did I ever tell you about Chik, who used to sell spiced eggs from a stall on
Tithetakers Lane?

‘Chik was by heart a gambling man and he was fond of a wager. One of his
favourites was that you couldn’t eat four of his spiced eggs, one after the
other. If you accepted the challenge he would take your money for four eggs
and then lay them out on his counter, already shelled. Very few people ever
managed it. Some of this was that, to be frank, it is comparatively easy to
have too much spiced egg. But also because Chik would ensure that the third
egg was one to which he’d added extra spice. When you bit into it you could
feel your lips burning and by the time you’d finished it you were breathing
with difficulty.

‘The only person I ever saw defeat Chik was Flobbard Wangil. He did not bite
into the eggs but due to an almost obscene flexibility, managed to swallow
them whole. Still I shudder to think what the after effects were when his
digestive tract started to attack the four eggs.

‘Now you might ask how Chik made any money from his wager. Admittedly he was
paid for any number of eggs that nobody would eat, but that hardly amounts
to a grand sum. The real money was made by Chik’s lady wife who had the
stall next to him and sold an over-priced and somewhat thin ale in large
tankards. It’s amazing how much beer you had to drink to cleanse your mouth
after the third egg.

‘Or there was Esnard, sometimes called Esnard corpse-salesman. As you know,
there are lots of temples scattered around Port Naain. Some once stood in
their own grounds, but now have been swallowed up by the expanding streets,
and many are now little more than shrines visited only occasionally by a
celebrant.

‘Yet many of these shrines had crypts and other burial places. This is where
Esnard came in. You might ask why unchancy folk from the darker parts of
Partaan wanted corpses. You might indeed wonder at their willingness to part
with good silver for old bones. Not Esnard. When the call came for somebody
who was willing to work to satisfy this demand, Esnard was not found
wanting. When he discovered another lost shrine, he would visit it nightly
to pour oil on hinges and into locks. He was willing to do this for weeks if
need be, until finally he managed to get the door to open. Then he would
enter and work his silent way through the shrine like nothing so much as a
particularly methodical ghost.

‘In a back room of his house on Queercoats Lane he had his merchandise laid
out for discerning purchasers. Whole cadavers here, next to them skulls
lacking bodies; then on another series of tables, piles of mixed bones,
heaps of grave loam, and even a heap of leaden sphincter clasps.
Obviously his trade wasn’t widely popular and there were various groups
within the city who disapproved. Ghouls were apparently a problem, as were
officials from the municipality attempting to levy a business rate. Finally
Esnard was forced to slay a particularly unrelenting ghoul and found to his
evident pleasure that nailing the ghoul’s head to his front door not merely
kept other ghouls away but also deterred the forces of petty bureaucracy.
It may be that you might not realise that Tallis Steelyard has just produced
his second book of stories and anecdotes. This is book, ‘Tallis Steelyard, a
harsh winter, and other stories,’ is available from the first of June.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B071LH1THB

‘Were Tallis less busy he’d doubtless remember to thank me, Jim Webster, for
the efforts I make on his behalf. But you know what it is with someone like
Tallis who is constantly in demand. So I just get on with writing his stuff
down for him and from time to time making collections of his wit, wisdom and
jumbled musings available for a grateful public.

‘Tallis does have a blog, it is apparently de rigueur now for all writers. It
is available at

https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/

‘Riding in on his coattails I’ll merely mention that my own books can be seen
at Jim Webster’s Amazon page.’