The Bottom of the Well

Do you believe we have all been here before? The Bottom of the Well takes Emily back to a past life that will change her future forever. http://www.amazon.co.uk/…/B01…/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_eos_detail

Emily was happily ploughing her way through a new anthology of sonnets one damp afternoon in September when everything changed. She vaguely heard the bell over the door chime to introduce the arrival of an elderly man in need of a haircut and a new coat. He wore fingerless gloves and sported a grey-white goatee. He headed in Emily’s direction, greeting her as if she were an old friend. Then he handed her a crinkled manuscript. It was yellowed and bedraggled and was called simply A Ghost Story by Serena Sparks.

He said, ‘I believe you’ll enjoy this Emily my dear,’ and walked out, leaving the door to close slowly behind him. Emily watched him leave, wondering how he knew her name, looked briefly at the faded document, went into the kitchen, sat down and began to read.

“The girl awoke with a start. There was no-one in the room yet she knew she was not alone. Her teeth chattered with the cold and her breath could be seen like a white mist as it left her mouth. She hugged her arms around herself and wished she was at home in her own bed.

“It’s just a dream, she thought. If I lie down and go back to sleep it will all go away. But it didn’t. She got up to close the window where the cold must be coming through, but it wasn’t open. The curtains were moving, but there was no draught. The door was ajar but it wouldn’t let her pass….”

Serena’s past is buried so deep in her subconscious – in a place like a bottomless well – so deep that if you dropped a stone you couldn’t hear it when it hit the water beneath. Dominic Sparks must find the only woman who can help him to uncover it. But Serena is dead and Emily doesn’t yet have the power. After all she’s just a thirty-something mother of two who works in a bookshop in Totnes.

“You have great awareness and sensitivity and a talent for writing, just like my late wife, you just haven’t discovered it yet,” Mr Sparks had told her.

Now Emily must go on a journey to learn what her part is to be in all this, so that together she and Dominic can solve a mystery that has remained buried for almost 40 years.

The Bottom of the Well is my first novella.

THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL Cover Proof 1650_2500 15.03.206

 

Poetically retentive

With mathematical precision I count every beat
From beginning to end of each line
They must be concise and perfect and true
And every so often must rhyme

No freedom of verse or lyrical waxing
No skipping a meter or two
Iambic, trochaic or even dactylic
I just can’t get away from this view

So give me the sound of a heroic couplet
At the end of a sonnet’s quatrain
And leave out the free in the dreaded ‘free verse’
From such abandon I choose to abstain

This looseness, this freedom, this modern approach
Would make Shakespeare quite turn in his grave
Sestinas and pantoums or even a haiku
Is the poetic challenge I crave

But sometimes I wish I could open the window
And let all the verses run free
Oh, the burden of being so precise all the time
Is boring the hell out of me!

An Irrational Fear of Dogs and other short stories for Kindle

“An Irrational Fear of Dogs” is a collection of short stories that is sometimes funny, sometimes dark, always entertaining:

An Irrational Fear of Dogs
The dog was staring at her with small red eyes, its slavering jaws ready to clamp around her small thin arm.The children are coming, the children are coming, look out, look out! Phoebe felt safe here in the bushes for now, but did they?

The Sweet Smell of Lilies
Lilies always reminded her of funerals. But then Grace was inclined to let her over-active imagination run away with her. Only this time, however, she couldn’t have imagined the real truth about her family.

Double Bill
Goodbye Sarah. I bet you thought we would be friends forever. How wrong you were.The two of us were going to stand here and watch as Bill’s coffin was lowered into the ground. But things don’t always turn out as you expect them to…

The Indulgence
‘How long have you been dead?’ asked the angel. ‘About 30 years,’ she replied, ‘is that my time?’ Tess was becoming impatient, ‘What’s my indulgence, are you going to tell me what it is?’‘Tomorrow’, the angel told her…

Believing in Fairies
‘Help us,’ I hear you say. ‘If they stop believing in us, we’ll vanish forever.’Mia’s world was one of waking dreams, but no-one believed her, not even Dr Williams. ‘I walk with fairy folk and elves and creatures from beyond the stars,’she told him.

Global Warning
‘It doesn’t matter you know, any of it,’ said Jack. ‘It’s all rubbish, global warming, climate change, holes in the ozone layer, all that stuff.’Or is it? Martha though otherwise and the result would come as a bit of a shock.

Stage of Fools
‘It is a simple tale. What begins in love and jubilation ends in hate and misery. And revenge is so sweet.’ The opening night of Peter’s Medea would be a spectacular performance if it all went to plan, but not as spectacular as Justine’s parting shot….

Click here to buy An Irrational Fear of Dogs for Kindle

Believing in Fairies

In a world where for some people reality is too painful to bear and dreams are as fragile as eggshells, Mia was happy to float between the two. Her world was one of waking dreams.

‘I dream with my eyes open’, she said to the doctor, who was rapidly making notes and tutting a great deal. ‘I walk with fairy folk and elves and creatures from beyond the stars.’

‘I’m sure you do Mia, I’m sure you do.’ The doctor was putting away his notebook and closing his brown leather bag. ‘I’ll give some more sleeping tablets, but only for a few days. They are addictive you know.’
…..

Back at the surgery, Doctor Williams shook his head and spoke to his secretary in a quiet voice so as not be overheard by the usual plethora of sulky kids with buttons up their noses, pensioners who faked illness just so they could have someone to talk to and pregnant women having their blood checked for anaemia.

‘She really believes everything she says, that poor girl. I’d love to get to the bottom of what it is that is keeping her in this floating reality…something traumatic that she won’t face,’ he said.

‘Drugs I expect,’ Julia Fisher replied, ‘She’s on something. Has to be.’

‘Definitely not, I’ve examined her, talked to her, there are no track marks down her arms, I’m sure she doesn’t smoke marijuana, she’s not suicidal. No there’s something else. Something I need to get to the bottom of. Maybe I should regress her….’

‘Then she’ll tell you she was Joan of Arc or Cleopatra in a previous life or some such nonsense.’ Julia was always dismissive of anything slightly spiritual or scientifically doubtful.

‘Not that kind of regression. Not to a ‘previous life’ as you call it. Just to her childhood so we can find out what is hidden there.’

‘A couple of bodies, I expect. She probably murdered her parents and hid them in the cellar.’

‘Now who’s the fantasist?’ Dr Williams laughed.
…..
Mia’s eyes are lightly shut but she is not asleep. ‘They don’t believe in you anymore,’ she says aloud. ‘But it’s no matter. I see you. Like little stars you shine for me and only for me. You sparkle in the night sky and fall to the ground one by one in tiny gossamer droplets of light.’

‘Help us,’ I hear you say. ‘If they stop believing in us, we’ll vanish forever.’

‘I love you,’ she replies. ‘I love you as if you were my own children.’ And the world is shining around her and there are tears in her eyes.

‘I’ll help you, I promise. Trust me.’
…..

‘Everything that has ever happened in your life, Mia, is stored deep in your unconscious mind. Your conscious mind, however, may block these memories because they are too painful. This can give rise to mental illness and emotional disturbances. But I’m here to help you.

‘I am going to take you back to your early childhood.

‘Your eyes are closed and your eyelids are starting to relax. In a few moments, I will count rapidly from ten to one and with each number, your relaxation will increase. 10… 9… 8… Stored deeply in your unconscious mind are memories of other times and other places. 7… 6… 5… Soon you will be able to retrieve those memories and recount them…4… 3… 2… 1.

Then a strange thing happened. He realised that Mia was floating about two feet above the couch. She was surrounded by twinkling lights of silver and gold. They circled her body and then began to circle his head. Round and round they went. They played games like an aerial hide and seek, up and down they flew, now left, now right. They were making him dizzy.

‘Free us,’ they said. ‘Help us….believe…’

He remembered his conversation with Mia only the other day. ‘I walk with fairy folk and elves and creatures from beyond the stars,’ she had told him.

He hadn’t believed her. ‘It’s just a dream, a nightmare or even a hallucination,’ he had told her. But here they were all around him. And he was talking to them.

‘How can I help you?’ he asked them.

‘By believing in Mia,’ they replied.

‘I believe,’ he said and in an instant another believer had been converted and he knew that his life would never be the same.

Outlandish Tales of Folklore

Apologies for having posted the first three before, albeit ages ago, but I wanted to keep them altogether somewhere.

A sonnet is a 14 line lyrical poem traditionally written about beauty, unrequited love, romance, faith, death etc. Contemporary sonnets use modern language but the subject matter is often the same or similar. These attempt to break the mould, hopefully.

As they are a sequence, I thought it would be fun and challenging to link them. I used something similar to the film technique of ‘leitmotifs’ which are described as ‘poetic images that repeat like refrains in each strand’. This linkage can be seen in the 3rd line of each poem which is always ‘captures (kidnaps, snatches etc) babies in the night’.

Outlandish Tales of Folklore

A sequence of sonnets

Cooking with Elves

Around the campfire they sit and
Squabble, the Dark Elves, the Svartálfar,
Who capture babies in the night,
While slumbering peacefully in their beds
Tangling their hair in elflocks
They squeal with horrid delight,
Throw them in… Throw them in…
No beauty here, just the sharp pain of fright.

So before you sprinkle Buckthorn in a circle
And dance wildly under the full moon,
Think wisely if you cry before he flees
Dark Elf! Halt and grant my boon!
And wish not for help or harm
Or harm will harm you soon.

The Curse of Baba Jaga

Where are the servants? Don’t ask or
She’ll kill you, Baba Jaga, of the forest
Who kidnaps babies in the night.
The cat… The dog… The tree… The gate…
Her invisible servants, silent like the riders,
I am Day, says one, all dressed in white,
Who comes in red? I am the Sun,
Then dressed in black, I am the Night.

She’s coming now, look out, look out,
Sweeping their hoof-tracks with her broom.
The wailing wind begins to blow
While trees around her moan and groan
And shrieking spirits follow in her wake,
Leading you flailing to your doom

Hansel and Gretel

Deep in the forest, two children cry alone,
Finding a friend; a witch, a fiendish hag
Who snatches babies in the night,
Fattens them… Cooks them… Eats them…
Oh Hansel, Gretel, be afraid and run,
Hide in the bushes, stay out of sight.
Too thin, too thin, I like them fat,
The witch-hag cries with sheer delight.

Gretel, now her servant, fetches sweets
To force feed Hansel, trapped alone.
She’s coming now, the witch, she squeals
Be he fat or lean , I’ll eat him soon
But it’s too late, in the oven she goes
The children flee and the tale is done.

The Faerie Queen

Made from children’s laughs and squeals
She skips and flutters high above
While stealing babies in the night
And changelings substitute in their place
The faerie queen with faerie dust
Will disappear when it gets light
Shape-shifting now as if a ghost
Taking the dead with her in fright

Oh faerie queen with angel wings
And charms which magic potions soon
From sage and rowan, herbs and spice
Will stir her magic ‘neath the moon.
So if you think this faerie kind, just
Think again, she’ll cast your doom.

The Hag of the Mist

With filthy hair and stark black eyes
She stalks her victim through the fog
And snatches spirits in the night
And death to he who hears her cries
Calling his name she laughs and wails
He hears her call and dies of fright
And not a jot cares who you be
The banshee screams with sheer delight

So if you hear your name out loud
You cannot hide from what comes soon
The ugly hag has found you out
She calls your name, what’s done is done
You catch a glimpse, a second split
She’ll drag you down and down alone

Finally a decision

I’ve been sitting on my story Miss Havisham’s Ghost for over two (or even three) months, unable to go anywhere with it, so I decided the best thing to do was to give up. Not give up on writing the story but on trying to combine the two stories into one.

I have done this – bring in something autobiographical – before in a story and one of my friends thought the real person I was talking about was the grown up version of the child in the story. It hadn’t occurred to me that anyone would, but I thought if that story was confusing then this one would be even more so! So this morning I split them up.

And now I have two stories – each one almost 4,000 words. One is a traditional (so far) ghost story without a title, while the other is mainly autobiographical. All I need to do is progress the ghost story without the added complication of weaving in the other. The challenges of course, remain the same as ever!

Short novel or long short story – that is the question

About a year ago I wrote the first chapter of a novel for an assignment. It was called Miss Havisham’s Ghost and was loosely based on my own childhood but was intended to be a work of fiction. To be honest it didn’t get that good a mark so I shelved it. 

Then a couple of months ago (or more) I started writing a ghost story. The story is really two stories which come together about half way through. At some point I decided that the original assignment could be stripped down, rewritten and incorporated into the story along with some other real life incidents I wrote about for a life writing project.

Unfortunately I’m struggling with the bringing them together part. I’ve been stuck on 7,600 words for so long I don’t know where to go with it now. Should I give up at 10,000 words and call it a long short story or keep going till I get to however long a novel has to be? It’s still called Miss Havisham’s Ghost.  This is the last bit of the first chapter (the ghost story) and the start of the next chapter (autobiographical):

…In the middle of the room a coffin was laid out on the oak dining table. She had never been in this room before; it was dark and strange with old dusty books lining the four walls. It smelt a little like the school library. She had also never seen a coffin before or a dead body, if there was a body. There must be someone inside or why would it be here? Her breath came in shallow gulps as she moved closer. The lid was open and she could see the satin lining around the edges, pure white like her skin in winter. She didn’t want to look inside. It was bound to be someone she knew. Someone she knew and loved.

She was not prepared for what she saw inside. At first she could see only a small pair of feet encased in gold pumps sticking out from underneath the white gossamer dress, with its pink sash, like the one she had worn for her first communion three or four years ago. Then she saw the flaxen hair spread out like a fan on the small rosebud-embroidered pillow, the cold pale hands pressed together, as if praying for forgiveness. A tiny golden crucifix on a slim chain was wrapped around them. Then finally she saw the face – her face. The body in the coffin was hers. As dead as she was alive, the lips were slightly blue and there was a tiny trickle of blood in one corner of the mouth. She tried to scream but no sound came out. And then everything became blackness as she fainted.

Chapter Two

In 1978, when I was in my twenties, I went to Poland with my father. He hadn’t been there since before the war so it was both a treat and a surprise for him. Even when his mother died in 1966 he had been unable to return. Then just when we were about to leave he received a message from his younger sister Frania that Halce, the second oldest, had passed away. The funeral was arranged for the day after we arrived and we were told that we could pay our respects beforehand.

Oh the shock! I had never seen a dead body before that day. My first impression and most lasting memory was of a small coffin (she was only about five feet tall) with its lid open and a pair of feet in laced up boots sticking out from beneath a calf-length black dress. I went in a little closer. She can’t harm me. What was I afraid of? I saw that her cold pale hands were pressed together, as if praying for forgiveness. A tiny golden crucifix on a slim chain was wrapped around them. She was at peace….

In one corner of the church a group of widows dressed in black sat huddled together, wailing and crying and crossing themselves. Such was their custom.

‘Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Misereatur tui omnipotens Deus, et dimissis peccatis tuis, perducat te ad vitam aeternam.’

‘May Almighty God have mercy on me, forgive me my sins and bring me to everlasting life.’

Of course. That made everything alright then.