I wasn't born a writer of course - although there are some who would argue that for them this was the case - but I came to it by a more circuitous route.
I was raised in Cumbria, lived in Newcastle (briefly),Manchester, Northumberland, Merseyside, West Yorkshire, France, and am now happily settled in South West Scotland with a good sort of husband and an opinionated dog.
I had children, went to University, had a career - yes, in that order, which had its difficulties, but then it's never easy! My children turned out well - very well in fact, much due to their own efforts and tenacity, and the career was okay.
But writing has very much become my raison d'etre.
Ever since childhood I have flirted with the idea of writing. You know the sort of thing, poems filled with teenage angst and anger, protest and longing. Short stories with heroines equipped to beguile and vanquish! I never attempted to write anything of length because patience and application had never been facets of my personality.
But then one day in France, walking in the hills that I had grown to love almost unreasonably, I recognised a change in myself. And I knew I could do it. I could write that book.
I think it's true that everyone has a story in them, and everyone is entitled to their moment. I'm hoping this is mine. And I know I've many tales to tell!
In any case, this journey has begun.
I wish I could say 'straight to the publisher', but nothing is ever that easy!
Being part of a writing group is something I've found very helpful and stimulating. Members criticise work in a supportive way which is what every budding writer needs.
Family and friends are great of course, but their honesty can't always be relied upon. They are often far too kind!
I appreciate that the round of submitting and being rejected can be a long and arduous one, but I know that. I'm not easily daunted.
For me publication would be the greatest affirmation of ability. I can't think of anything more essential for a writer. Nothing, I speculate, would give me more satisfaction than seeing my book for sale on a shelf. That's the goal! That's the one!
to unsavoury excesses
of snacks that he finds
on the wayside and roadside,
in the roots of dank trees
and unspeakable weeds.
These smelly hors d'oeurves
and his rank apres diner
reduce and besmirch the tasty cuisine
I endeavour to serve
at an appropriate hour
in the mid afternoon.
He favours a cocktail -
dirty water and compost -
with a soupçon of tree bark
rotted well down
and flavoured with maggots
all wriggling around.
With a penchant for salad
straight from the hedgerow,
enhanced with wild herbs
and a beetle or two,
he munches his way
to the town and the park.
And home again, out again,
upside and downside,
Harley will snack on
the bounty of droppings
from take-away boxes
matured and discarded.
For a week, perhaps two,
or maybe three is required
to arrive at the optimum
stage of decay
for the dog who eats more
than a dog oughta do!
All sorts of things!
In the following section are some tasters. The first is the preface from my novel ‘The Disconnected Soul’, centred in a French village where we lived for a time. This isn’t the original title. I changed it because a recently published book had a very similar name, which was a bit frustrating. But I hope the new title conveys the psychic undertones which link and betray the main characters in my story.
I had the same trouble with my second endeavour – a futuristic trilogy – which is yet to be renamed. The second volume is nearing completion.
I'm fairly new to Flash Fiction but have found it a very rewarding discipline. The example here is called The Snake and written in the 81 words allowed for this particular exercise.
I write poetry too, often quite dark! And I suppose it is still my primary emotional outlet. This one is called How to Beat the Night.
I’m more upbeat with children, and ‘The Bullies’ is the second story in a series about a little bird. The series is entitled ‘Little Jack Redstart’, and badly needs an illustrator!
Finally there is one of a series of articles I wrote about our life in France. This one is called ‘The Woodman’.
I hope you enjoy them, and I'm happy to receive any comments at
Helena lay flat on the ground. She could feel the harsh earth grating against her cheek, but she couldn't raise her head. The sun pressed against her, pinning her to the spot. From over the ridge upon which her vision was fixed, a multitude moved towards her.
Jean-Jacques led the despotic tribe, his shattered limbs bouncing grotesquely over the stony landscape. He drew near:
'You murdered me!' he howled as he passed her by.
'No I didn't! It wasn't my fault! Tell him, Esther . . . ' she called to the emaciated waif that followed fast after his departing shadow.
'Tell him it was an accident. It wasn't me.'
The waif paused. 'Murder has a spectrum of a million hues, Mother. It happens when you push someone over a ravine - and it happens when you withhold love . . . '
The voice faded as she passed, making way for Elodie whose eyes, so luminous in life, were now dark and empty. She brought her face down close to Helena's:
'We did it!' she rasped. 'You and I.' But then her face creased with pain and the grating voice rose to a pitch that was almost beyond hearing. 'But then we lost. We lost it all . . . ' she shrilled as she too passed by.
Helena felt a shudder of revulsion struggling through her inert limbs. For a moment she withdrew her eyes from the ridge, and when she looked again Mattie was standing there. Whole. Complete.
'Why are you crying, Mattie?'
'Because in the end you destroyed everything, Grandma.'
'I didn't mean to! Can you help me?'
Helena tried desperately to raise her head, to extend a hand towards the child. She watched in despair as the image of her granddaughter began to fragment, and in pieces waft back towards the ridge.
Her voice, pure as a lark's, swung back,
'No one can help us now . . . no one.'
Helena felt the weight of the sun upon her eyes and her back as it pressed her more keenly into the dark earth, from which her consciousness would never emerge.
It is a snake.
Living in my terrace wall.
Long thin and black, viper like.
Patrolling between the steps and the pool.
Now, who is most afraid!
I'll bet if the dog hadn't died you wouldn't be here.
And you probably intend me no harm.
But the children run here.
They scamper laughing above the bright blue water.
That would unsettle you.
Make you strike.
Sorry, but you'll have to go.
I really am sorry.
How to beat the night
Don't let the darkness in.
Conserve the light in gathered
stripes of street lamps, moonlight,
Collect your thoughts,
the happy ones, the bright
crisp glow of other days,
and mix them with the light.
Now you weave your canopy
and cast it like a shield
across your startled eyes.
Never let the darkness in.
Ignore the webs of blackened light
whose silky tendrils catch
that spot behind your eyes -
that sharp quick dart across
the span of inward turning sight.
It catches you and bends your will
towards those shadowed territories
that undermine the light.
Lock the darkness fast away.
Its terrors hold no place for you
if you can draw a tiny spark
from distances beyond recall
to drown all ancient memory.
The fear of all we do not know
is in the dark - a monstrous thing -
that feeds on guilt, regret, relapse,
and poisons all we seek to be.
Don't let the darkness in!
2 - The Bullies
One bright summer morning Jack, Doffles and Pete
Thought they'd go out to play, and to make it a treat
They'd go to a place of which they were fond,
A place that was special - Popplesome Pond.
They'd have to be cautious, they'd have to take care,
For old Woodrow Weasel sometimes was there.
But with his good friends Jack felt secure,
And he had told his mother the evening before.
'Take care Jack!' she'd said, and he'd promised he would,
If mother would trust him he'd be very good.
So the three happy friends set off down the track,
Doffles, then Peter, and finally Jack.
When they arrived at the pond it was sparkling and clear
And old Woodrow Weasel wasn't anywhere near.
So they splashed in the water and chased all the fish,
Playing dragonfly bombers and spin the leaf dish.
Jack was so happy that he imagined forever
He, Doffles and Peter would be best friends together.
But then a strange sound make them stop in their tracks,
A large group of Blue Tits were laughing at Jack.
'What a plain little bird! What a drab, muddy brown!
No wonder he spends so much time on the ground!'
Then up came a Chaffinch who made it all worse.
He called Jack a 'no beak' then cackled with mirth.
He swooped from a tree and pecked hard at Jack,
Leaving Jack trembling with a sore on his back.
A Blue Tit then landed and stamped on Jack's feet,
Calling him feckless and stupid and weak.
Doffles and Pete didn't know what to say,
But they tried very hard to chase them away.
Jack felt like crying, but tried to be brave.
He knew they were cowards and wouldn't behave
In such a bold manner if they weren't with a crowd
That was jeering and cheering and laughing out loud.
But just when it seemed that the friends were alone,
Help was at hand from someone well known.
Old Woodrow Weasel launched into the fight,
And those cowardly bullies fled at the sight
Of his very sharp claws and his very sharp teeth,
Jack thanked him warmly and sighed with relief.
The friends all looked ruffled, and panting for breath,
As they smoothed down their feathers whilst trying to guess
Why Woodrow had helped them, and Pete being bravest
Asked 'Why did you do it - why did you save us?'
Woodrow looked thoughtful and a little surprised
At Pete's direct question, but calmly replied,
'I cannot stand bullies, so I always help when
I see someone picked on, and I'd help you again,
But I also will chase you if you come here too often,
This pond is my ground, and on that I'll not soften!
But today has been different, you've had a bad fright,
So now I suggest you go home for the night.'
With a flash of brown fur Woodrow darted away,
And the friends started homewards with little to say,
Pete comforted Jack and tried to have fun,
But Jack only wanted to be with his Mum.
So silently now they trudged back to the Pen,
Where Jack left Doffles and Peter Von Hen.
Sadly he flew to the Dormitory Tree
Where mother was waiting with corn for his tea.
He told her in detail the events of the day,
How he'd been made to feel ugly and too sad to play.
Mum listened quietly, her heart in her beak,
Holding back tears until she could speak.
'Have you never noticed, my sad little bird,
Your wonderful tail that goes unobserved?
For when you take flight and leap from a branch
Your bright crimson feathers are seen quite by chance!
And my mother told me when I was a chick
That obvious beauty can be gone in a tick.
But the beauty that lies beneath the feather,
A bird will keep for ever and ever!
So have courage Jack, be better than them,
Be kind to all birds, and never condemn
Those you don't know or don't understand,
And you'll be the bravest little bird in the land!'
I would suspect that every house in our remote mountain village had a wood burning stove.
In many homes this would be the only source of heating, and this was the case with us. The substantial chimney that snuggled around the burner warmed up and radiated heat into the rooms above via vents in the chimney breast.
The stout walls that shielded us from the summer heat now warmed up, and cocooned us from the icy air and driving winds outside. The village was beset by two major winds, the warm dry 'Spanish wind' that came from the south, sometimes depositing sand from the Sahara on our balcony, and the Transmontaine from the north that could blow for weeks at a time.
So it was very important never to run out of fuel. A number of villagers brought in wood to resell, and the previous owner of our house kindly offered to introduce me to the vendor he had patronised.
Thus it was that, as the light was fading on a bracing Friday evening, Marcel led the way through the newly paved streets (courtesy of a European grant: the village was applying for heritage status) to La Place de la Republique, where the woodsman's modest house stood over looking the north side of the square.
The front door opened into a large brightly lit kitchen, in the centre of which stood a pine table and evidence of an ongoing meal.
My natural instinct was to apologise for the interruption and return later in the evening. But such decorum was unnecessary. We were ushered in and accommodated at the table, where a large pastis was poured for Marcel and a glass of wine for me. A plate of cheese and a knife and fork were pushed invitingly towards me, whilst Marcel, with his much better French than mine, chatted amiably to the woodsman and his wife.
My glass was promptly refilled, and I began to wonder whether our hosts had any idea why we were visiting. Perhaps they thought it was just a social call.
The woodsman's wife intrigued me. I would have guessed that she was in her sixties, and probably a good few years older than her husband. She was dressed immaculately in a style that was up to the minute (in contrast to myself in a fleece and well worn jeans). Her make-up was elaborate and not one single grey hair was visible on her neatly coiffured dark head.
On reflection I don't know why I was surprised. I had frequently encountered French women of a certain age who even in remote places such as this courted the chic trends of the moment. They made me feel very lazy. I was to encounter the woodsman's wife on many occasions walking her little dogs near the village but, no matter what time of day, I never saw her once look dishevelled or without full-make up and coiffure.
But back to the evening in question. I was aware of my husband waiting at home to share our evening meal, whilst here I was scoffing cheese and getting quite merry on the contents of the woodsman's wine bottle.
When I could, I intervened in the general animated conversation about the forthcoming elections, and put in a request for a delivery of wood. We agreed on a price and a delivery time the following afternoon, at which point I made my excuses and departed, leaving Marcel to his newly charged glass of pastis.
The wood was to be stored in an old forge that formed part of our basement. Our house was built on a slope, with its rear cut into the bedrock. The back wall of the basement was an outcrop of granite.
The narrow village street rose sharply round the back of the house and would only accommodate one vehicle at a time.
The woodsman arrived at three o'clock, a mist of alcohol haloing his head and a cigarette firmly jammed between his teeth. He drove a small van that resembled a pick-up with a roof, and he took great pride in the fact that it held exactly one steer of wood (one cubic metre).
It took several attempts to manoeuvre the van into position on the hill, and one such effort included the rearrangement of the handrail at the top of the shallow steps that led down to the basement door. But he didn't seem to mind, and once he was satisfied that his vehicle was parked at a suitable angle, a piece of wood retained for the purpose was jammed under a rear wheel.
Once out of the van he produced a broad leather belt - a back support - and while he struggled into it he enlightened us as to his various health problems. These included not only a damaged back but a dicky heart.
Feeling that there was a high risk of this man passing away on our premises, my husband and I promptly rolled up our sleeves and prepared to help with the unloading and the stacking of the wood.
It had to be carried down a flight of steps and into the forge to be stacked against the far wall. By the time the task was completed the woodsman's complexion was decidedly florid, and his breath was coming in wheezy gasps. However, a further cigarette settled him, and pleasantries were exchanged before he clambered back into his van and drove off.
During our time in the village we had many more deliveries of wood, and each occasion caused us a great deal of stress regarding the woodsman's possible demise. But he was always cheery, always delivered no matter how difficult the circumstances, and nothing was too much trouble.
We saw him on many occasions and in different circumstances connected to the social aspect of village life. I will always remember seeing him dancing with his elegantly attired wife between one of the numerous courses of a New Year celebratory meal at the local restaurant. It seemed that here was a man who, despite the havoc his life-style was raging on his bodily functioning, enjoyed himself, and that for him was the most important aspect of being alive.
We had little in common, particularly on the political front (he was rumoured to be extremely right wing) but that didn't matter. There is a superficial aspect of life that should be allowed to remain so - the casual friendliness that binds people in a common situation - and makes everyday life that bit warmer.