Friday, 31 December 2010

Thanks be to...#fridayflash

It was exactly a year ago that Lovely Husband pointed out the existence of an on-line writing community called #fridayflash. I'd been blogging a few months trying to find other writers to talk to without much success. All that changed when I posted my first #fridayflash on New Year's Day. Within minutes I had a warm welcome and great responses to my work which have continued all year.

It's very easy to be a member of #fridayflash. All you have to do is write up to 1,000 words, log it on the collector here and let the world know via your twitter page. As soon as you do, people come to visit, and always leave a word of encouragement. I've met some great folks, felt completely supported in my writing and more important, the discipline of writing 1,000 words a week has been the best writing class I've ever attended.

#fridayflash has been a bright spot in a very difficult year, so I'd like to raise a glass this New Year's Eve to the very fine writers I have met over the last twelve months. I'm sure I've missed people out, but the list includes Lou Freshwater, Cathy Oliffe, Icy Sedgewick, Simon/Skycycler, Mark Nash, Mazzz in Leeds, Laura Eno, Laurita Miller, David Masters,Tony Noland, GP Ching, John Wiswell and most importantly Jon Strother who came up with the idea and makes it happen week after week.

Thanks to the #fridayflash crowd for a lot of fun, your wonderful stories and the helpful comments you've left me here.

Happy New Year to you all!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

#festivefridayflash - White Christmas

"A White Christmas? When do we ever get a White Christmas?"  He shook his head at the snow falling in ever increasing flakes.
"Never,dear." His wife, anticipating a tirade, did not look up from her stitching.
"I mean, I know it's supposed to be seasonal..." he paced up and down the wooden floor.
"Yes,dear."
"...but how often has it happened in the last ten years? The last twenty?" A floorboard creaked under the weight of his fretful feet.
"Hardly ever,dear." Her needle skimmed up and down, patching holes with consummate skill.
"It's freezing out there."
"You'll be warm enough."
"I'd rather stay at home." He sat back down on the sofa, stretching his large black-booted feet on her lap, forcing her to put down her needlework.
"You say that every year." She pushed him off and picked the sewing up again.
"It's going to be murder travelling."
"I'm sure it will be fine."
"I'm worried about the suspension..."
"You've just had a service."
"...and the brakes in this ice..."
"Will work perfectly, I'm sure."
"Perhaps I shouldn't go this year." He looked at her hopefully.
"After I've spent the last two hours mending?" She handed him his jacket. "Besides, they'll be expecting you."
"I suppose you're right." He took it from her and pulled it over his large frame.
"You know I am." She gave him a firm kiss on the lips.
"Here I go again." He stood up.
"Don't forget your hat!"
"Do I have to?"
"It's traditional."
"All right then..." With a sigh, he pulled the red and white hat over his curly white hair, "I look ridiculous."
"You look gorgeous." She rewarded him with a fuller kiss. "Now get to work."
"Don't wait up."
"I never do."
He stomped outside to his workshop where a small elf was placing the last present on top of a packed sleigh.
"I've oiled the runners sir, the reindeer are fed and watered, and the sat nav programmed," the chief elf beamed with pride.
"Then I'd better be on my way."
He jumped into the sleigh and with a crack of the whip headed East towards the first stroke of midnight. It was going to be a busy night.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Waiting for the Thaw - #fridayflash



"The path needs doing again."

"Uh,huh." He looked out of the window at the snow flakes falling from the darkening grey sky, obliterating the track that sloped down to the road, where even the four by fours were struggling to keep moving. It was only an hour since he'd last cleared it, but already another two inches had fallen. The snow drifts on the lawn  had risen to seven or eight inches and were so densely packed that they were almost reaching the  bottom window panes.

"I said the path needs doing again." This time her voice was edged with insistence.

He did not look up from force of habit, but simply turned over the page of the paper he was reading, "It's Someone Else's Turn."

She rose from her seat and walked, back erect, with deliberately paced steps to the door."I won't repeat myself. I have supper to cook." She departed down the stone-flagged corridor for the kitchen.

He sighed, put down his paper and followed her into the dark hallway where the heat of the radiators barely penetrated. His Barbour jacket was still damp from his last outing, his boots were icy when he put them on. He picked up the spade he'd left by the front door, and went outside.

The job took longer than expected. His back and knees were not what they were, stabbing him with pain each time he bent over.The snow fell almost as fast as he could clear it. Large wet flakes splattered his eyes, blinding him, so he had to stop and wipe them every couple of minutes. It was frustrating work, but the dread of being snowed in was enough to keep him at it. He dug and scraped until the path was clear. Though by the time he'd stood at the door for a couple of minutes to shake the snow from his boots, the path was white again.

****************************************

She heard the metal scraping the pathway as she busied herself around the kitchen. At least he was getting that job done. The weekly shop had not been done that morning, and they'd not be able to get out tomorrow. She probably had enough for a couple of decent meals. After that...well it would have to be soup and dry crackers.Tonight, at least, there were two lamb cutlets to use up, and enough potatoes and peas to make it feel like a proper supper. They'd run out gravy, but that couldn't be helped.

She heard the clang of the spade against the wall as he closed the front door.

"Supper will be five minutes," she called.

"Uh, huh."

"I said, "Supper will be five minutes." Her yell had more insistence in it.

"I heard you the first time. I'm just changing my trousers."

Thud, thud, thud - he climbed the stairs, as she took the cutlets out of the oven and put them on the plates. She sieved the steaming potatoes, and dabbed them with butter, watching it melt into yellow liquid running down through the pan. Typically, he was still not down when she put the peas on the plates. She put the food back in the oven till she heard his thudding descent.

As he entered the room, she placed the plates back on the table, and they both sat down.

"There's no gravy," he said

"Someone didn't go to the shops."

He said nothing more, and they ate in their usual silence. The only sounds were his masticating jaws, the clink of cutlery, and, outside, the snow-muffled engines of the last cars to make into the village tonight.

The food was delicious as always, though'd  he never say. When he'd finished his final mouthful, he pushed away the plate, rose from the table and disappeared to watch the news. She cleared the table, as was her custom, and began to wash up.

Clink, splash, wipe, clink, splash, wipe. There was something soothing about washing up at the end of the day.  Outside the snow kept on falling. The sky was black.

"They say this is going to last till Thursday at least," he called from the living room.

"Uh, huh," she said, looking at the ice that was beginning to form on the steaming window.

It would be a long time till the thaw.

Friday, 3 December 2010

New story at Blank Pages

Haven't managed a #friday flash for a while (soon, soon, I promise). I have, however, got a story in Blank Pages, a fine on-line arts magazine. I am really proud to be associated with it, and dead chuffed with art work and presentation. Please take a look and enjoy a great multi-media arts collective.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Plug of the Month - Catherine Chanter, Rooms of the Mind


This is a first ! Consecutive plugs for the same person. But Catherine deserves it. She stood out in my very talented writing class, with her dark wit, psychological understanding, and an extraordinary ability to play with words and images. I am delighted to be shouting from the rooftops about "Rooms of the Mind" her new novella and short story collection. (She's so modest she never will). I was lucky enough to see early drafts and it was absolutely mesmerising, in a ghoulish, black-humoured sort of way. I can't wait to get my copy to see how it all pans out. I can't recommend Catherine's writing highly enough. (So good, I wish I could write like that!)

Friday, 15 October 2010

#FridayFlash Night and Day

Tick, tock, tick, tock, tock, tick...

Sylvia wakes with a start from a sleep she hadn't meant to take. Her knees are stiff and her back is sore.  The Roman numerals on the clock are at four thirty already. The sun has already reached the bottom of the hill, painting her sitting room wall red and orange. Funny how she used to hate that clock: the over-large gold leaves and the distorted cherubs seemed to sum up everything she disliked about her mother-in-law, Alison. How many afternoons had she and Paul sat in this very room, keeping Alison company, to that relentless tick, tock? Alison, whose days had ceased to please her, so she must destroy theirs, forcing them to stay and listen to her endless complaints -sciatica, rheumatism, loneliness. It was always such a relief  when Paul's sister took over, and they were released to the night air, the moon, the stars, the dancing.

Tick, tock, tick, tock, tock, tick...

She's old, she needs me, Paul would say, as he whirled her across the dance floor like Fred Astaire. Though Sylvia knew it was true, she didn't want him thinking that way too long. She'd pull him with her into the music, and soon, he was singing a different tune, Night and day, you are the one...She smiles at the memory. Time was, when her feet could glide to that tune and she could dance through to pink dawns and still feel fresh and ready for more. Such days they were, when her hair was black, and she could follow her desires so easily: when an hour with Paul seemed to last a thousand years. Now Alison is dead, Paul too, the children left home, and those days may as well have been a thousand years ago.

Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock...

The rim of the sun is hanging on the horizon, sending shafts of red across the sky, making  the moon blush. That clock has ticked its way through so many of her suns and moons in this house that  she's come to love it for its ugliness. She even loved Alison a little in the end, as the years softened that sharp tongue and  the arrival of grandchildren brought some comfort. Now Sylvia's own days are an uphill struggle, and walks are something to dread, she can understand the old woman somewhat better too. Still, it was more pleasant living here in the later years, once the kids were grown, when it was just her and Paul, and Sinatra sang as they danced...Only you beneath the moon or sun. Those were the days when her hair was still dark, and he still thought her beautiful. Vanity of vanities - he wouldn't think her lovely now.

Tick, tock, tick,tock, tick, tock...

Outside the shadows are falling. Night rushes across the garden, masking the signs of Spring - the almond tree beginning to blossom, the sparrows laying nests. She ought to get up and make herself a cup of tea, maybe ring Gill, who worries too much. Only last year she would have leapt up the minute she awoke, but, her legs still feel shaky after her sleep, and she needs to catch her breath. There's no hurry after all. She might as well sit here for a while longer. She closes her eyes. Her breath shallows. And a voice sings to her across the years...Its no matter darling where you are, I think of you... She smiles, stretching out a hand for one last dance.


c Virginia Moffatt  2010

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Cradle Song

This poem was written for an assignment last year, inspired by a true family story. My twin sister has just found the birth certificates of the two babies, Winifred and Wilfred Clark, so it seemed a good day to post it.

Cradle Song.

They wrapped you in white blankets,
swaddling you tight to keep you warm.
It was not enough to ward off death,
who came and wrapped her chill, thin fingers
around you both. Your mother’s face
crumpled, as pale as the tiny tissue-white
bodies, she cradled, unbelieving.
There was no coffin small enough to carry
such tiny bodies. Your father found a drawer,
empty now of baby-linen, just large enough
to lay you in. It was too early for the two
of you to be at rest. Still, the warm earth
welcomed you, wrapping you in her tender
arms, as the wind sang to you in your sleep.


c Virginia Moffatt 2009

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Rave Review - "The Writer's Tale" by Russell T. Davies


It's not often that I read a book I love so much I can't put down. And I've never ever put one down and started blogging about it straightaway. But "The Writer's Tale" by Russell T Davies (former front runner for Dr Who) is just so brilliant that I have to tell you about it. I've been dithering about getting hold of a copy for ages now. I knew I'd enjoy it but the £30 price tag has been a tad off putting (For goodness sake BBC, some of us struggle to fork out half that for a book). So yesterday, when I saw it in the library, I grabbed it with both hands. And have been pretty much reading it ever since.

I've blogged about the great RTD here, which gives you an insight into why I love his work so much. What makes "The Writer's Tale" so special for me is that it is a treat for me both as a fan and as a writer. The book is basically a series of emails between Davies and the TV journalist Benjamin Cook. It begins by Cook asking whether Davies would be prepared to talk about how he writes an episode and quickly becomes the story of how The 2007 Christmas Special, and 2008 Series 4 are written. Seeing the ideas first form and change is absolutely fascinating. For several months Davies and Cook correspond about the new companion, Penny Carter, and then suddenly there is an option of Catherine Tate returning as Donna. Out goes Penny and Davies has to quickly think how/why Donna comes back, though using some of the same material. Only he and Cook ever know Penny existed and both are a little sad at the "demise" of this unwritten character. Yet when Series 4 is complete, Cook pays the ultimate compliment that Donna was way better than Penny would have ever been. (Interestingly enough the name stays as a journalist who gets caught up peripherally in the events of Episode 1).

Similarly we see Davies struggle with narrative points in the Series Finale. Why will Donna have to leave the TARDIS? (He comes up with a brilliant solution).How does he get all the companions from various places to be with the Doctor at the end? how does he get Rose to go off with Doctor 2 without it undermining her first departure? This last one is particularly interesting as most viewers felt that it didn't quite work. Davies is honest enough to realise he'd written himself into a corner when he'd come up with the idea of 2 Doctors and then made it central to the finale's resolution. He writes and rewrites the scene, and though the final version is better than the first - it's still a bit of a miss. But you have to admire him for trying.

The other thing that is interesting is how difficult he finds it to write. You'd think a writer of his stature and experience would find it easy. Yet  it seems like he flies by the seat of his pants every time, procrastinating all day and writing into the middle of the night, right up to the morning of production. That's either depressing or encouraging to writers like me. I'm an optimist so I'll take encouraging every time. And he's honest and sometimes quite impossible, and arrogant, yet also deeply humble. In a very long email he completely dissects his own behaviour at the BBC launch of the Titanic episode and is disgusted with the false notes he plays. I find that very heartening and human.

Finally, I love this book because it ISN'T prescriptive. Davies cut his teeth in script writing years ago. He doesn't need to be taught, because he's worked out for himself there are natural pauses that make a 3 Act structure. I like the fact he kicks against us needing to read Robert McKie to write. I do love the Robert McKie book too and found it useful, but it's refreshing to hear a successful writer say they're not bound by it. The book ends with a quote about gaining your writing voice that sums it up perfectly:

"Gaining a voice, whatever that is, comes with experience and practice - and the writing, again, is indivisible from the person. Your voice tends to be something that others  talk about, about you. It's not something that you think about much yourself, and certainly not whilst writing. I never - never - sit here thinking, what's my voice? You might as well ponder, who am I? It is, in fact, exactly the same thing. You can wonder your whole life and you'll never get an answer to that."

This is a great read - I hope your local library has a copy.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Plug of the Month - Catherine Chanter in the Asham Award

For those that don't  know the Asham Award, it's a biannual short story competition for women. The closing date for next year's award is this Thursday, so I thought it an apt moment to plug last year's collection - "Waving At The Gardener" . I enjoyed the previous collection "Is This What You Want?" enough to submit a piece two years ago. Sadly I wasn't even longlisted, but my friend Catherine Chanter made it to the final 12 and deservedly so..

I first read her excellent story "A Summary of Findings" when she submitted it for critique before handing it as an assignment. The brief was to write a piece from at least two different points of view. Whilst most of us went for the standard two person piece, Catherine in typical bold fashion, wrote a story with a monstrous but hugely sympathetic central character, whose mistakes were coldly analysed by commentaries from various professionals writing reports to cover their backs after a terrible event has occurred. Catherine makes us completely understand Callie's difficulties and pain, yet also, how her failings as a mother contribute to the tragedy that unfolds. There is a wonderful word play (particularly on the multitude of uses for the word "unit") and a sense of impending danger that builds up to the dramatic conclusion.

Highly recommended.

And STOP PRESS I have just seen that Catherine has won the 2010 Yeovil Prize for Poetry with her poem The Foster Boy's Bedroom. If this was the one she shared in class, I'm not surprised. Well done Catherine!

Saturday, 25 September 2010

#FridayFlash Awards (Finally)

So here I am on Saturday, reading some #FridayFlash  stories and remembering just what I love about this online writing community. I'm hoping, after a two month absence, that I'll find some inspiration to join in next week, but right now, it is about time I gave out some long promised #FridayFlash awards. The very wonderful Mazzz in Leeds nominated me some time ago and the deal is that one is supposed to nominate other writers too. It's been a long summer, so I've never quite managed it. So here goes, with probably my first round, 4 that I love (in no particular order):

Laura Eno who writes over at A Shift in Dimensions  is one of the earliest (maybe even founding?) members of #FridayFlash. She's always welcoming to newcomers and she's also a very fine comic writer. Her ongoing serial about the adventures of a peanut eating Death and his best buddy the rather hapless Chronos (Father Time) are hilarious, and this week's entry, though not in that series, is just laugh out loud funny. Enjoy.

Simon at Skycycler is very different. He writes poetic, moving stories of moments between people that are poignant or funny, sometimes both. He hasn't been writing much of late, so I hope that's just a blip. And I look forward to more in the future. But treat yourself to his back catalogue - you won't be disappointed.

Mazzz in Leeds is another regular #FridayFlash writer, and one I loved even before she nominated me!  She's well known for the high death rates in her stories, but they are done with such aplomb and infinite variety that each new story is a complete revelation. I love her sense of the gothic and dark humour and the moments of pathos that come when the laughing stops. Read her write now!

Finally, I came to #FridayFlash because my husband spotted David Masters tweeting about it. David writes over at Truant Pen with an enviable delicacy and incredible range. He writes with compassion and understanding and seems to be able to move from satire to compassion, humour to tenderness with incredible ease. Definitely one to watch.

There are many, many more, so I'll have to do this again, but that's it for now, my first round of #FridayFlash awards!

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Obituary for Pip O'Neill

My obituary for my friend Pip O'Neill is now up at the Guardian in their Other Lives section. I hope it captures a little of her wonderful wise spirit. You can read it here.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Philippa (Pip) O'Neill - In Memoriam

This is not a personal blog, I use it for writing and thinking about writing. You may have noticed that I have been a bit quiet of late. This is because one of my best friends, Philippa (Pip) O'Neill died of cancer last week. I have been trying to think of the best way to pay tribute here. I have written an obituary and sent it to the Guardian, but I wanted to remember the fact that she was such a whole-hearted supporter of my writing. I wanted to remember that even though she had nothing published, she was a terrific writer, sending me a wonderful short story recently. I wanted to remember her love of literature.

This morning, I remembered this poem. It is one of my favourites - written by Tennyson after his close friend Arthur Hallam died. It seemed right, for Pip, who drank life to the lees and remained strong in will to the very end.

Ulysses
by Alfred Lord Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honoured of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers;
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breath were life. Life piled on life
Were all to little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.



There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads you and I are old;
Old age had yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in the old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are,
One equal-temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.



Philippa (Pip) O'Neill 15/9/61-18/8/10

Saturday, 31 July 2010

On the mudflats

It's nearly dusk, but  there is no sun on the horizon. There hasn't been one for days. Just grumpy skies filled with low, grey clouds, indistinguishable from the sea that meets the end of the mudflats. Growing up inland, the first time she saw the broad expanse, she felt dizzy as if she might fall off the edge. She'd struggled to walk through the soft sands down to the muddy cockle banks. The only sand she'd seen before was in her father's time turner. He used to let her play with it while he read engineering reports. She'd loved turning it up and down, seeing the sand shift and slide, shift and slide - watching as time ran out.

Each day at low tide, the path through the soft sand marks the passing of her days. On the way out, her boots are clean, her tray empty. On the way back, she is mud-spattered, cold, wet, carrying a full tray back to the Collector waiting on the shore. There is no room for slacking. Only a full tray will do. And her father needs the money, so a full tray is what she will collect. Though her back is sore with the constant stooping, her arms ache, with the raking of the shellfish beds. Rake, sift, rake, sift - the pattern of her days

The shift is nearly over, the day is nearly done, but her tray is not full enough. These beds have been over-harvested, there are slim pickings to be had. Her fellow workers have moved towards the edge of the mudflats, closer to the incoming tide. She can see by their increased activity they have struck lucky. She squelches towards them, every footprint filling with water the moment she raises her boots. They will have to be quick.

On the seashore, the Collector looks down at the workers crouched over the shifting sands. Sky and sea meet in a dark grey huddle, it is hard to distinguish where the water's edge is. It is beginning to rain again. He cannot call the cockle-pickers - they will not be able to hear him. He could raise his arm, but it is unlikely they will look up from their labours. He considers his losses and turns towards his van.

On the mudflats, the workers have completed their haul. They stand up and begin the long march back to the beach. The sand shifts and slides beneath their feet. Shift, slide, shift, slide  - time is running out.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

#fridayflash Too Close to the Sun

This week's #fridayflash is dedicated to the Our Lady's School Storytelling Club a fine bunch of young storytellers and creative writers led by their inspiring deputy headteacher Mr Edwards-Grundy. This year we've been listening to Greek and Roman myths. The children have then mapped the key points of the story and learnt how to tell them to each other. Here's my version of one of the stories we spent a lot of time on. With many thanks to everyone in the group for their hard work and fabulous creativity. It's such a pleasure to help out.


The sun is high in the sky. It is too far away to see Apollo with his fiery chariot and his flaming horses. Icarus sighs. He wishes he was up there in the heavens, soaring in freedom, not trapped in this tiny tower room with his father. Why did Daedalus have to upset the king so? They should be honoured guests down below where the guards flash red, white and blue as they march up and down the courtyard; gardeners water the olive trees and orange groves; the queen's women shimmer gold and silver on their morning walks. Instead Icarus is forced to watch from the window, as he gathers feathers the birds leave behind on the ledge. His father is collecting them for some strange reason that he has yet to explain. But Icarus is an obedient boy, he picks up the morning offering and brings it back to Daedalus without question.

"Thanks son." His father is crouched in the corner, his back to the grey stone wall. He is sewing feathers together in what looks like an enormous cape. He adds the last few to the bottom and then sits back satisfied. He stands up and lays it on a table next to three others. "Now come here." He picks up a candle and lights it, letting the wax drip from the wick, and build in pools on the base of the candle. "This is going to hurt a bit." He pours molten wax on Icarus's right shoulder, down his arm, and the centre of his back. Icarus yelps with pain.  His father ignores him but quickly picks up one of the feather capes and sticks it onto the wax. The wax hardens and the cape clings to Icarus' back. It is itchy and heavy. Daedalus repeats the procedure on the other side.

"Now do you see?" he says. Icarus moves his arms up and down with wonder. His father has fashioned wings that fan out as he moves his limbs. He helps Daedalus fix his pair and they move towards the window.

"Two pieces of advice before we go," says Daedalus in a stern voice. Icarus nods, but he is only half listening. The ground looks a long way down. Can he trust his father's contraptions to work? He drags his attention back. "Aim for the middle of the sky. Fly too low, and the sea water will spray on your wings, weighing them down, dragging you into the water. Fly too high, and the sun will melt the wax. Did you hear what I said?"

"Not too  high, not to low. Got it."

"Good luck,"  His father pushes him to the edge. "Go, fly. Be free." He shoves him off. Icarus falls forward and sees the ground rushing towards him. The soldiers look up from their marching and scatter at the sight of the boy hurtling in their direction. The gardeners drop their watering cans. The women put their hands over their mouths in horror.

"Spread your wings, Icarus. Spread your wings." Just in time Icarus hears his father's words and spreads his arms out. At once the air currents lift him up. He flaps harder and moves higher, leaving the shouting, open- mouthed guards and astonished women behind. Daedalus dives off the tower to join him. Father and son swoop over the palace, out across the fields towards the sea.

After months confined to the tiny turret, the sheer expanse of sky and sea is a marvel. Icarus thrills to feel fresh air on his face, to be able to stretch his arms and legs. He soars and plunges through the sky. He is young. He is alive. He is free. He laughs with delight.

"Save your energy son," says Daedalus in warning, "It's a long way to go."

Icarus just laughs and leaps above his father's head. The sea stretches ahead of them for miles. The coastline is invisible. Daedalus has a point. The boy flaps his wings and settles into a rhythm. Gradually, Icarus finds his arms beginning to get heavy. A breeze builds up, and he floats for a while. But this brief respite does not last and soon his stiff limbs are forced to move again. On and on they fly, no land in sight, just patches of sea mist, which begins to thicken around them. The air becomes dank and chilly. Icarus shivers. He flies a little higher in an effort to keep warm. The mist swirls about them. He loses sight of his father. Cold drips through his bones. Where is Daedalus? How far now? Perhaps if he can rise above the cloud he can see where he's going. He flies higher, and higher. At last he emerges from the cloud into a blue sky glowing in sunlight. His veins flood with heat, restoring his energy. The coast is approaching. Below him, some distance away he can see his father beating a steady path with his wings. He sighs with relief.

Icarus laughs and soars upwards. He forgets his father's warning. He is drawn towards the smouldering orange sun above him.  Higher, higher and higher he flies. Now he is close enough to see the wheels of Apollo's chariot, the blazing eyes of the horses. He can even see Apollo's gold curly hair and bronzed skin, the concentration on his face as he whips his beasts along, straining in the heat of the fire-ball behind him. Icarus feels his cheeks sizzle and burn. And  something else -  a drip of liquid running down his arm. Then another, and another. Suddenly, he remembers his father's warning. Feathers are falling off him as his wings begin to peel off his body. In terror, he throws himself down, away from the melting heat of the sun. But it is too late. The wax is running over his skin, the wings are falling apart. He hurtles down through the sky, through the sea mist. He calls for his father, but Daedalus is too far to help. The terrified boy plunges down, down, down until he hits the water and is swallowed up by the deep blue waves.

Daedalus flies back to the spot, hoping against hope to see his son's face, an arm, a finger even. The water rises and falls, but there is no sign of the boy. At last, Daedalus feels his wings droop, and he knows if he is to survive, he must fly on to the shore.

He lands on the beach, and stands looking back towards the island. The waves lap at his feet. Across the horizon he can see Apollo's chariot reaching the end of its daily journey. A gull calls out over the darkening sky.  Suddenly he sees a mass floating in the water. His heart leaps for a moment. Then the waves shift and he realises it is simply pieces of broken wings bobbing in the tide. A wave crashes on the beach leaving behind bubbles of sandy foam. And something else. Daedalus stoops to pick it up and sighs.

This is all that is left: a small brown feather, caked in sea foam and marked with spots of red wax.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Plug of the Month - Evolve Journal



I discovered Evolve Journal almost by accident. Readers of this blog will have noticed by now I take part in the wonderful writing community that is #fridayflash (which deserves and will get a plug all of its very own soon). Jon Strother, the #ff coordinator, tweeted a link to an interesting article about whether to grade the writing in #fridayflash. You can find that article here. I was one of the myriad of commentators who argued that #fridayflash is about writers supporting writers and was struck by the way Chase, the author of the article, engaged with us and was willing to listen to our point of view. At the end of my comment, I invited Chase to visit this blog, which he duly did.  I was so interested in the discussion (and to be honest, don't have much time to be looking at websites in much depth) that I didn't register the article was posted under the title Evolve Journal.

So when EJ started following me, I didn't make the connection. I did what I always do, checked their twitter page and website, and liked what I saw. An online magazine promoting writing and writers, with a belief that "that literature can and should entertain while working to better society. We believe that literature should engage its readers in every possible medium, and that it is the role of the writers, publishers, and patrons of literature to help others enjoy and learn from literature"  In other words - my kind of magazine. It was only when Chase asked me to submit a story that it dawned on me that this was the person who'd been kind enough to listen to a tirade of comments from passionate #ff writers and my admiration for EJ was complete.

Each month EJ publishes a short story in a format that looks easily accessible for readers who you use EBooks and easy to read for those of us who don't. Each story has a front cover, chosen with great care to reflect the tale that is being told. They also do excellent book reviews and fascinating and encouraging interviews with writers about how to deal with rejection.

I know I'm biased, as EJ very kindly published me last month, but this is a great new magazine, already publishing interesting writers and reviewers. You only have to look here at July's story by Chloe Ackerman to see what  I mean. It deserves a wide readership, so please go and visit them soon!

Friday, 9 July 2010

#fridayflash Memento Mori

She looks so fragile in her sleep. The firmness of her finely sculptured face has crumbled into cavernous folds of skin between her cheek bones. Those hands - those powerful hands - are withered, covered in liver spots. Once, she was considered beautiful. Now - as death waits to claim her - all that is left is ugliness.

Some feel sorry for her. It doesn't matter anymore who she once was. Now she is simply a frail old woman, sick and in pain. She needs our loving care, just like all the rest. After all, we know her because she was in the public eye, Ginny says, Who knows what these others might have done in their time? The girls nod and sip their tea, before returning to soothe aches, change soiled clothes, turn bodies to prevent bed sores.

I remain behind in the staff kitchen, swirling the last dregs of my tea round and round, a tannin whirlpool at the bottom of my cup. I am not like my colleagues. It is precisely because of who she was that I cannot let her be.  Thanks to her, I watched my father lose first his job, then his way, finally his life. Cirrhosis of the liver. No surprise - we had lived with the memento mori of yellow skin and bloodshot eyes for years - yet the real culprit got away. Those hands, those powerful hands, waved away factories, call centres, shops and with a flourish of the pen, signed away benefits and health care. Whilst those beautiful chiselled cheeks smiled to the cameras as she explained it would create a leaner, fitter, more productive society. How can I forget?

I will be alone tonight. Once these sick women have all been tucked up like small children, my colleagues will leave. Over the next eight hours I will wander from room to room checking that the patients are sleeping, breathing - that all is as well as can be expected. It is not uncommon for death to come in the dark hours before dawn. I am often the first to find, and then report the passing of someone's mother, grandmother, aunt. It would not be so unusual if it happened to her tonight. She is very old, she is very sick, and in great pain.

The girls all leave at ten o'clock, laughing and joking as they escape back into the life that exists beyond these mortuary walls. I pace from room to room until I arrive at hers. I look at her still, sleeping face. She is barely breathing. I plump up the pillows, and steady  myself for what comes next.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Moving Out.

This was a nice neighbourhood. The Davies family had to agree. Plenty of room inside and out. Lots of families so the kids had plenty of friends to play with. An easy commute for Pete. A good school nearby, with lots of PTA activity to keep Jan occupied.The forest round the corner was wild enough to be exciting for the children but safe enough not to provoke parental anxiety. After such a long time searching, it was a relief to unpack their bags, and settle in.

Time passed. Susie and Paul got married and left home. Allie finished her A levels and began to be excited about University. Joseph got the lead in the Year 10 school play. The twins, Jenny and Georgia, went camping with the Guides.  Life was good that summer.

It was Joseph who ran home with the news that another  chemical spill was flowing through the forest. The streets were awash with foam and unbearable smells. Allie followed quickly afterwards to announce the bulldozers had arrived, combing the territory, destroying everything in their wake.

"Not again," said Pete, "We've only just got settled here."
"I must phone Susie and Paul," cried Jan.
"There's no time," said Pete, "You know the score. We've got to go. They'll find their own way."

The family gathered what they could and hurried through the streets, covering their mouths with their gas masks so as not to be overwhelmed by poisonous fumes. Escapees from the bulldozers limped past with broken limbs. Some, already overcome by wounds and toxins, settled in street corners to die. The usual carnage.

The Davies knew how to survive. They had done it many times before. This was just the first assault. They headed for the deepest part of the forest, where the chemicals had not yet penetrated, where the bulldozers struggled to clear. They dug themselves in at the base of the deepest tree. They clung for dear life as the bulldozers swooped around them, the chemicals poured out over the foliage. They breathed into their gas masks and waited.

At last the cries and shouts faded into the distance. The foam dissipated, leaving a slimy residue across the paths. The bulldozers disappeared.

"It's time," said Pete.

They trudged across the slippery landscape, trying not to weep for their lost paradise. They could mourn when this was all over. At last, they reached the edge of the forest, and a chasm that yawned between them and safety. The ground shuddered, bringing the chasm closer.

"Jump!" said Jan. They jumped. First the twins, then Allie, then Joseph. Jan pushing the children ahead before she made the leap. Pete was last, the ground was shuddering again, the chasm opening up.

"Come on Dad, come on," the children cried. The chasm was widening. He closed his eyes and with a running leap, jumped across it's increasing gape, grabbing the ground with the power of all his legs.

The family gathered themselves together and went in search of  a new home.


*******

"Are you scratching?" said Angela Smith later that day.
Sarah looked up. "No."
"Let me check," Angela peered between the strands of Sarah's hair, "Yes,you are. There's a whole family of nits in here. I expect it's like a forest to them."

She sighed, and reached for the teatree and nit comb.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Bad Weather Warning

The radio warned of bad weather. Only go out if necessary, the announcer said. Well I thought it necessary, and it wouldn't be for long. Just a few of us out on the street, determined to make our point. I braved the wail of the wind, that blew my umbrella inside out in seconds, breaking three spokes as it did so. I endured the lash of water saturating my clothes, oozing into my skin. I had promised to be there, and so I would.

The crowd was unexpectedly large. As if the rain and wind had thrown down a gauntlet and people had risen to the challenge. We marched to the sound of a drum beat, drenched. We would not let the cold defeat us.

We did not expect the soldiers. Fully armed soldiers standing on the corner as we moved towards our final destination. I thought they were there for show. To intimidate our rain-soaked bodies back home, with our bedraggled tails between our legs. We refused to be intimidated. We marched on.

A sergeant-major barked an order, and the soldiers blocked our path. Our leaders hesitated for a moment.  Then stood their ground.  Some called for quiet. Others began to chant. We halted. The soldiers cocked their rifles. The rain poured down.

Who knows what triggered it. A shout? A stone? The slip of a finger? Too hard to say in the noise of the gale and the blurring water flooding from the sky. But we all heard the unbelievable sound of a shot. So unreal  I thought it must be a car back-firing. Until I saw the mass of people begin to run in different directions. Another shot. And another. A squeal of pain. A crack of bone. The soft thud of bodies tumbling to the ground.

I ran and ran and ran. Shouts echoed all around me.  Shots ricocheted off buildings.

And the rain kept falling.


(Bloody Sunday - In Memoriam)

Friday, 11 June 2010

#fridayflash A Woman's Work

I wake at six to an unfamiliar ceiling. Alex is snoring, and I can just hear the sounds of Ben stirring next door.  So I must be in the right place. It takes a moment for realisation to dawn with the sunlight peeking through the cracks in the curtain. We won, though I never thought we would. We Won. Therefore We Moved. And now my life will change in - oh, so many ways.

I don't need to stagger out of bed, and peek out of that curtain, to know the street below will be full of paparazzi.  I've no intention of doing that - giving them the chance of a rapid snap. Me in my nightie with my hair all over the place. No doubt the day will come and I'll let down my guard. Some photographer will get lucky on the back of my hitched up skirt or drunken pratfall.  But not today.

Cherie, Sarah, Sam. They've all been here before me. Modern women - who juggled careers and children and lived lives independent from their husbands - until they reached this bedroom. How did they stand it? Cherie, one of the brightest of her generation, reduced in the public eye to a scrounging scally. Didn't Sarah have a job in PR once? Somehow it submerged into twitter and her husband's smelly socks. As for Sam, she gave it all up the minute she crossed the threshold. A family can only take one alpha parent after all. And someone has to be at home for the kids.

Of course I supported Alex when he said he wanted to be party leader. A girl wants to stand by her man when thinks he's in with a chance. I just didn't expect him to get it. Still, I thought, it won't last long, we can return to obscurity soon. No-one expected the Prime Minister to call a snap election,  but it should have been a shoo-in. Our electoral pain should have been over in a month. We should have lost with dignity, and got on with the rest of our lives, knowing, that at least we tried.

All it took was a  few thousand votes. A two percent swing the other way and we'd have been back at home drowning our sorrows. Because of those few thousand people bothering to go to the ballot box, I'm lying here staring at an unfamiliar ceiling. Wondering how the hell we manage a life that had enough complexity in it already.

The clock blinks six fifteen in red digitalised numbers. Ben potters into the room and climbs in bed for an early morning cuddle. Alex continues to snore.  In a minute, Alice will wake. In a minute, I'll have to work out where we have breakfast, find school uniforms, determine how we get them there. In a minute Alex will be woken and dragged off into a world that will consume him utterly. I doubt that I will see him much before tea time.

A woman's work is never done.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

#fridayflash At Dawn.

Well this may be a bit of a cheat.  Something written by one of my characters in the Work in Progress. I'm wondering whether it works as a piece of writing. Or is a tad melodramatic.  So thought I'd post as a #fridayflash. My cop out is that Elsie Forbes wrote it. Is this what you call meta fiction?


The women huddled by the rocks on the river bank. Their black cloaks clung to them, damp in the grey-white fog that rolled down to the water’s edge, obscuring the river. They did not speak. It was time to wait. They shivered in the cold dawn as they heard the sound they were dreading. A soft splash of oars – the signal for them to part. Splash, creak, splash, creak, the boat was coming closer. Soon the shape of the prow could be seen, forcing its way through the mist. The crouching boatman came into view, as he lifted his arms and pushed the wooden spars towards the shore.

He said nothing as he arrived, just held out his hand for the girl. She hugged her mother, stepping into the boat without a word. She stared ahead. She did not look back. The boatman took up his oars. Creak, splash, creak, splash. A curlew called across the water, a  mournful screech. The mist rolled round the boat, obscuring first the daughter's shape, then the boatman's. Finally, they vanished altogether, leaving the mother alone on the banks listening to the lap, lap,lap of the waves.

Her daughter was gone. And now she could no longer bear to be silent. She tore at her cloak, let out a curlew-shriek, and threw herself on the ground. When at last, her weeping was done, she picked herself up, smoothed  down the grime on her skirts and walked back across her fields to the house that was no longer home.

The seeds called out to their mother; the corn begged to be threshed; the fruit to be picked. She ignored their pleas. She could not tend the earth until  her daughter was returned to her. Until that time came,nothing in the land would grow. Nothing.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Driving Lessons

It was always going to end in tears:
you and I locked fighting in the car.
The memory haunted us for years.

All my errors fulfilled your fears:
each missed turn; each judder and jar.
It was always going to end in tears.

I nearly crashed when changing gears,
the A10 proved a road too far.
The memory haunted me for years.

I wanted to drive, like all my peers:
to be in charge of my own car.
It was always going to end in tears

That last Christmas, drinking beers,
you said you felt you went too far.
The memory haunted you for years.

I passed the test after all those years,
the day you died I got my car.
It was always going to end in tears.
The memory haunted us for years.


RIP Joseph Henry Moffatt - Feb 3rd 1924-May 25th 1995.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Brush Strokes.

It's the fiddly bits that get you when painting. The parts between wall and ceiling where you can't rely on your rollers anymore. Where you have to stretch arms, strain your neck, stand on tip toe to ensure your paint brush doesn't fleck the ceiling or corner wall as you attempt a neat finish. A perfect line between purple, white and green. It helps to have a bottle of turps and wet rag handy, ready to wipe away splodges and mis-strokes. You've been doing this for years now, you know the score. Still, these days you come down with lower back ache, sore calves and aching shoulders. You are not as young as you used to be.

Later in the bath, as you sip a glass of wine, you remember watching Jim paint that first house in Blenheim Yard. You were hugely pregnant, happy to watch him as he turned the nursery blue for the boy you imagined you would  have. As he came down from the step-ladder he tripped, knocking the paint which splattered blue stains across the new white carpet. He fell in it, rolling around till his face was covered with blue woad. You laughed, and laughed. You could not stop till your waters broke and the next blue was a flashing light. Jenny was born at three in the morning. You never did have a boy. Perhaps that was part of the problem. And when you arrived home two days later (for these were times when mothers were allowed recovery time) Jim had cleaned the carpet and the walls were perfectly pink.

It was when you moved house to accomodate the expanding family (Alex, two years after Jenny, then Sophie, and finally Emma) that you needed to take up the brush yourself. Jim was too busy earning a crust so you could all eat. You didn't begrudge his trips abroad, the long evenings by yourself. It paid for ballet lessons, drama clubs, school trips. The least you could do when you were alone and the children were sleeping was give the girls' bedrooms the makeovers they deserved. Pink, purple, red. The colours changed with the ages, and the fads they went through. Though you drew the line at black when Sophie and Em went all emo just before they left school.

It's funny, you think, as you get back to the job the next morning,  in all these years, the one room you never got round to was your own. It takes a husband leaving to do that. Now as you finish the final corner, you step down from your ladder and look round with pride. Purple, green and white - suffragette colours.

Life begins.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Plug of the Month- Julia Williams The Bridesmaid Pact




Lovely twin sister, Julia Williams,  has done it again. The Bridesmaid Pact is her 4th novel in the last three years (and I'm still plugging away at my first sigh). Anyway, this one's her best yet. A celebration of love, friendship and the possibilities of redemption, set in a North London suburb that seems uncannily familiar.  The ending made me cry. It's out on 27th May, so go and order your copy now!

Friday, 7 May 2010

#FridayFlash - Protecting the Legacy.

The Prime Minister looked at his reflection in the mirror. Twelve years ago, when the country swept him into power on a torrent of love, the skin below his steel blue eyes was taut and tanned. Now that affection had ebbed away to the tiny trickle of his third election, it sagged towards his cheeks in black wrinkly layers.

It was time to leave. And on his own terms. He and Jenny had made their decision sometime ago. The lecture tours, board positions and consultancies were all lined up. They had no desire to put themselves through a fourth round of the polls which was bound to end in humiliating defeat. He would go with his head held high and his dignity intact.

There was only one question left. The legacy. How was he going to protect that? His successor couldn't do it. A political bruiser with a tendency to lose friends, he would probably manage to hold the party together for the next three years. Then the  glorious experiment would end with a pathetic whimper. Which is why the Prime Minister had been preparing for this moment since the day he arrived. And if all had gone well, his next appointment would provide him with the solution he craved.

There was a knock at the door.

"Come in." He looked up eagerly. Had the experiment worked? The special committee entered together, the heads of MI5 and 6, the Foreign Office, and MOD. Behind them walked a man in his late thirties, tall, but not too tall, with an open, engaging face.

"We've done it," said Professor  Stanton, the Chief of Government Research. "Let me introduce you to the next elected Prime Minister."

The younger man stood in the centre of the room. He turned towards the Prime Minister and stared at him with his striking blue eyes.

"This country is tired. It has had enough of the old system. The old ways. What this country needs is change a new beginning, a new way of being." He wrung his hands together with a sincere intensity that was captivating.

"It's me," said the Prime Minister, "My DNA slightly rearranged, but really me."

"Of course it is Prime Minister," said Jeremy Barnett, head of MI5."We can place him in the opposition and ensure he takes up the leadership. When the election comes, the people calling for change will, of course, get what they asked for."

The clone looked across at his maker. "What this great nation of ours needs is a robust economy, strong borders and armed forces we can be proud of. I alone can provide you that."

The committee applauded. "Well said, sir,", " I couldn't have put it better myself, sir."

"Congratulations, everyone," said the Prime Minister, "You've done me proud."

The group nodded and trooped out of the room. At the door, Professor Stanton turned and said, "By the way sir, there is another one."

"There is?"

"Just in case.  For the other party. If the people are uncertain, and  a hung Parliament's on the cards. "

"Good thinking," said the Prime Minister. He wandered over to the window and looked down at the police officers guarding his front door. So reassuring to know that he was safe, and all was well.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Conversation Killer

Midnight.

"I saw Gill Evans today."
"Mmm?" Ali is drifting off and only half listening.
"At the rehearsal. Gill Evans was there too."
"Yeah?...Gill...Haven'tseenher...forages...Howishe?"
"Well. Really well."
"Uhuh..."
"Good night then..."
"Good night."


Mid-morning

"Bill's tied up with his am dram, and I'm left holding the baby, literally. She's teething right now, so will she let me put her down? All bloody night."
"Tell me about it. Freddie grizzled from six till twelve last night."
"Look at them now though, they'll sleep all day if we let them."
"At least we can enjoy coffee."
"True. Here's to coffee." They clink cups and laugh.

Lunchtime

"Ali! How lovely to see you!"
"How are you doing  Gill?"
"Is this Melissa? God she's beautiful."
"Isn't she?"
"I want one."
"There are strings attached..."
"So I'm told, but when they're asleep like this. They're just gorgeous."
"True. So what are you up to these days?"
"Work, work, work. You know me..."
"Yeah."
"I've joined the Crawley Players though. Give me something else to do. Nice to see your Bill there."
"That's right, he did mention it. What part are you playing?"
"Cleopatra."
"I didn't know that."
"Didn't he say?"

Midnight.

"I bumped into Gill Evans today."
"Hmm?" Bill is half asleep.
"She said she was playing Cleopatra."
"So?"
"Aren't you Antony?"
Bill says nothing for a moment and then says, "Did I tell you that Jim's just been made redundant?"


There's nothing kills a conversation more than a non-sequitur.



"

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Golden Girl

for RB

Breathe and stride...Breathe and stride...Breathe and stride...

The wind is ruffling the leaves on the trees as I begin to gather pace. It feels so good, after the months of darkness, to be out in the open. To smell Spring,  freshly mown grass and apple blossom, as I run. My legs are stiff from months of dis-use, but now as I turn down the familiar path that leads to the river, I can feel them lengthen and stretch. They were made for this. I was made for this. For this moment  when body, muscle, mind, lungs flow into one, so there is no effort, no thought, just a unity with the ground, water and sky. This is what I am,  this is what I do, this is what counts.

Breathe and...

I was twelve the year I learnt to run, or rather that running was my thing, surprising myself by coming first in every race on Sports Day. As the morning wore on, everyone got behind me Jill-ee-an, Jill-ee-an.  I'd never been so popular. Even though Mum and Dad missed it, as usual, telling them later was nearly as good. I pestered them till they let me join the athletics club. They thought it was a fad, and perhaps it would have been. But that was a miserable winter.  Running in rain, wind and even snow, was preferable to nights sitting on the sofa in between their silent enmity. I trained, and trained, and trained. Weekends were full of early starts and long drives to muddy cross country races. My parents never watched, never saw me come 500th, 200th, 50th, and at last my crowning glory, 5th. But Alan Forster did.

...stride and...

Kindly Alan Forster -all smiley eyes and crinkly hair - the coach we all wanted. The one who got girls into the national squad, whose proteges went to World Championships and even, once, to the Olympics. He saw what I could do, and promised I would do more. You'll be another Kelly, he said, our very own golden girl. And I believed him. Right around the time Dad left, I started a strict diet of protein and carbs, and Alan's special supplements. I went out every day at 5am, and abandoned the idea of a social life. Mum cried a lot, but I didn't miss Dad much.  Alan Forster was much nicer anyway. Besides, I had races to win.


...breathe and...

I reached the local championships. The regionals. The nationals. I won, I won, I won. The local paper called me "Golden Jill". Olympic qualification beckoned. And then I hit a slump. A bad cold meant I lost the only race Dad ever watched. A miscalculation next time saw me come in third. I trained harder, but my times got worse. The season began to slip away till one day Alan came up with a solution. Every champion needs a pick me up, he said. It's not illegal, it'll just tide you through. Whatever it was, it did the trick. I made the squad. Mum was so proud she let Dad come round to celebrate.They drank champagne and got all giggly. I had to be up early, so I left them to it.

...stride and...

Now I ran three times a day. I ate constantly but the hunger never left. I slept early, rose early, my muscles sore. I looked at the other girls' times and I need to do more. I didn't care about running, it was winning that counted, the crowd calling my name - Jill-ee-an, Jill-ee-an. I pushed and pushed myself, but my times stayed static. I did fartlek, Kenyan hills, speed trials. Nothing helped. Try this, said Alan, It will do you good. The devil has a familiar face and sups with a long spoon - THG mixed with modafinil. I supped with him. I took what he offered because I wanted to win. When he told me I couldn't be caught, I believed him. I hit my personal best again, and again, and again.

...breathe and...

A few drops of urine. The difference between triumph and disgrace. Sponsors queuing up and rapidly dropping you. The crowd shouting your name and the changing room blanking you. The minute the news broke, Alan left, but I had nowhere to run. After the press, and loss of friendship, all there was was a room at Mum's. Dad came back to a  house  no longer silent, but full of whispered concern. I sat in my room, looking at the wall. They took me to the doctor. Depression, she said, as she prescribed the cures of the modern age -  therapy and Citalopram. I sat silently through the first, and the second made my head fuzzy. My body sagged,  my legs became flabby with disuse.

...stride and...

It was a cold winter. The snow no longer beckoned me. I couldn't imagine running in the rain. Spring came slowly, blue skies, chilly air, an occasional bud. Still, my room seemed the safest place to be.  Until this morning when  I turned on the TV to see the crowds at Greenwich queuing for their moment to run. The camera panned over bodies throwing themselves into motion, faces strained with effort, legs stampeding. A memory stirred. I can do this. I went to the cupboard and got out my kit.

...breathe

The sun sparkles on the water. A swan glides by. I was born for this. My body was made for this.

There is nothing to do but run

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Sunday Story - Easter Rising

Well this will be a bit longer than my usual friday flash, but actually long fiction is what I tend to do more of anyway. This is an old story, reworked a couple of years ago. I rather like it, though it's failed to impress several competition judges...(one day). It being the right season, I thought I'd post it up and see what you all thought.

(Sorry it's one long scroll, still have to work out how to paginate!)





Easter Rising

And what if excess of love
bewildered them till they died?

WB Yeats “Easter, 1916”


“I’ll sing you a song of a row in the town”

The boys are in fine form tonight, he thought, as he drained the last drops of his pint. The tap being dry, he was drinking English beer, instead of his usual Guiness. It was rancid as communion wine. He looked at his watch, time to be getting back; but the bar was warm, and the song took him back to his childhood,

“And they played the best game played in Erin go Bragh.”

Ah, go on, I’ve time for another, he thought, though he knew he’d regret the head in the morning. He rose from the table and made his way to the bar; a small round man, whose face was too flushed to be healthy, with skin too lined for someone not yet sixty. Every table was full, the standing customers were packed from the wooden walls to the dark brown bar. The room was a fog of cigarette smoke. It smelt of sweaty bodies, and the sourness of spilt beer.

“Same again?” said Tom, the barman.

“Just a half,” he said, fiddling for the right coins. He was getting old, three years since decimalisation and he still missed the feel of a crisp ten shilling note. He took the beer, and made his way back through the carousing crowd.

“God rest gallant Pearse and his comrades who died,
Tom Clarke, MacDonagh, MacDermott, McBride” they sang with enthusiasm, several of them losing the tune. He smiled, his Daddy used to sing this to the three of them at bedtime: Sean, Thomas and Pat, all named for the heroes of 1916. Well that was a long time ago. Who’d have thought he’d end up here on the other side of the water? The singing died down and the pub buzzed with argument and laughter. He drank his beer, his mind wandering back to those days on the farm.

“Knockanure!” shouted someone, “Let’s have Knockanure”. He hummed along with the singers, though it wasn’t his favourite. The bar was as warm as his mother’s kitchen. He let his arms rest on the table, his eyes drooping slightly. It would be easy just to rest here, wrapped in the comfort of strangers in the pub, and not go home tonight. But his duty lay in ambush on the edge of the song: he couldn’t afford to stay much longer. As if answering his thoughts, the tune changed again,

“But the angelus bell o’er the Liffey’s swell

Rang out through the foggy dew”

If that wasn’t a sign he should go, he didn’t know what was. He sighed, gulped the remainder of his beer, adjusted his dog collar and pulled on his black overcoat: no longer Pat at the bar, but Father Pat Geary returning home. The April evening was cool, and there was a hint of jasmine in the air. It was a long walk, but he preferred it that way. In these dark times, when even his accent was suspect, it wouldn’t do to be seen drinking in a republican bar. He walked away from the warmth of the revellers, every
reluctant step taking him towards the unfinished sermon and the longest week of his year. Time was when Holy Week was everything to him. From the dramatic entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the betrayal of Maundy Thursday, the darkness of Good Friday, to the resurrection of Easter, he was the chief actor, the inspiration for his people. Now the ritual was all that was left; words said by rote that he wasn’t quite sure he believed.

It was midnight when he arrived home. He let himself into the narrow hallway, nearly tripping over Father Andretti’s size thirteen boots. Damn him, only here a week, and the curate was already a nuisance. Father Geary’s head was beer-fogged and the temptation to leave the sermon overwhelming, so he took himself off to bed. As he lay down, his eyes were drawn to a bare hook on the white wall. In the days when prayer had meant something, there had been a crucifix on that hook. It had been put in a drawer long ago; now the priest went to sleep unblessed.

When he awoke, it was with a dry mouth and a thumping head. He padded barefoot along the cold grey lino to the bathroom. As he arrived, Father Andretti emerged with a breezy ,“Good morning, Father.” Father Geary grunted in response, a man could be too cheerful in the morning. The passage was narrow, and Father Andretti, large. They squeezed past each other, and the Italian went downstairs humming to himself.

Was there ever such an oaf as Father Andretti? Father Geary thought later, during Palm Sunday Mass. In the middle of Father Geary’s hypocritical sermon, he dropped a hymn book. When they rose at communion, he collided with an altar server. As the two priests came out of church, he nearly fell over the step. It was enough to drive a saint mad, and Father Geary was no saint at all. The performance brought much amusement to the congregation: Dr Hewitt’s comment was typical,
“Morning Father Geary. I see you and Father Andretti are modelling yourselves on Laurel and Hardy. Perhaps you should hire a choreographer to avoid further collisions.”

He guffawed at his own witticism, and Father Geary reddened. He was unequal to such jokes; after ten years he could never tell whether the laughter behind them was affectionate or cruel. Hewitt moved on, and was soon engaged in a long discussion with Father Andretti. Other people shook Father Geary’s hand, but his attention was drawn to the lively debate between Hewitt and the Italian. How was it that the parishioners were always more welcoming to his curates? Why were they never so easy and relaxed with him? Suddenly, he’d had enough and went inside to tidy up, his head ringing with Hewitt’s sneering laugh. They were all like that these snotty English, mocking him and acting as if he hid terrorists under the bed. What in Heaven’s name was he doing here? This was not what God called him for, all those years ago. This was not how he was supposed to live.





It was the day the mountain collapsed, that he heard the voice of God, or so he thought. Then again, he was young at the time, dreamy and quiet, and he thought a lot of daft things. He was living with his mother and brothers on the family farm. Their Daddy had just died, and Tom and Sean were helping Mammy farm the land. Pat Geary was still a schoolboy then, doing his evening chores, checking on the sheep in the far field. There’d been heavy rain at the weekend. People said afterwards that it loosened the trees further up the mountainside. The first he noticed was a slight rumble, like thunder. He looked up to see where it was coming from, and for a moment stood still, his mouth gaping. The whole hillside was sliding forwards: trees somersaulting over themselves, mud and rocks cascading down in a torrent. Then he realised his legs could move after all, and he had the presence of mind to throw himself over the stone wall. He cowered behind it as the boulders and earth rampaged past him. The roaring earth sprayed gravel and sharp stones that whipped his body.

In the height of the tumult, he thought he felt a hand on his shoulder and voice saying “Do not be afraid”. In the midst of his terror and despair he felt a calmness descend on him and he stopped trembling. When at last the landslide halted, he rose, choking with dust; blood streaking his eyes; his limbs were raw from the battering of the stones. The sheep he had been tending were buried under several feet of boulders and dirt: only one small lamb had escaped to his side of the wall. It was blackened with the earth, and one of its’ eyes was bleeding; it bleated piteously for the mother that would never return. Looking down the hill, he saw that the earth had beaten a path to the edge of the farmyard, destroying several fields on the way. The crops were all gone; the cows, like the sheep, were smothered by the rubble. He picked the bleating lamb up in his arms, and made his way down to the small, white farm house, now flecked in dirt and mud.

His mother and brothers had taken refuge in the cellar. They emerged as he arrived, pale and shaking. For a moment, none of them could speak, and then Mammy said,“Will you look at yourself, Patrick. How in heaven’s name did you get yourself so mucky just tending the sheep?”

At this, they fell upon each other laughing and crying all at once, as the lamb wriggled out of Pat’s arms and ran off to the barn. They knew what the moment meant, but they went inside to celebrate anyway,

“After all,” said Mammy, “We’re together safe, and that’s what counts.”

So they raised a glass to new life. Soon after his mother went to live with her sister, Sean and Tom were off to America, and Pat was free to enter the seminary. Convinced that God had saved him for a purpose, he saw himself out in the missions: a modern St Paul, bringing salvation to the world.



“And look where it got me,” Father Geary almost shook his fists at the cross, “ministering to a bunch of stuck up English people. I wanted to go to Africa, and serve people who really needed me. But, instead, I ended up here in this damned backwater. What good do I do here?”

The figure on the cross was silent, as always. Presently, the priest finished his tasks, locked the church and went next door to the presbytery. Father Andretti loomed at him from the lounge, “I am sorry, Father Geary, for being in your way today. I was born, as I think they say in this country, with two left feet.”

Father Geary looked at the younger man. The blue eyes usually bright with laughter, looked troubled; the mouth normally creased in a smile, was solemn. Even the dark curly hair seemed to have lost its buoyancy. He was ashamed of himself, didn’t Mammy always tell him to be kind to others, and they would be kind to you?

“Ah don’t mind me Father, I’m just getting old: too used to my own ways. “ He resolved to make more of an effort. After all, he couldn’t blame the other man for his disappointments. It was his cross – for him alone to bear.



As Holy Week progressed, through a conveyor belt of ceremonies - benediction, confession, daily mass - he was glad of this resolve. Father Andretti might be clumsy, but he had the strength of a pack horse and proved an able assistant. Even so, by the time Good Friday arrived, Father Geary was so exhausted that the simple task of putting on his vestments took his breath away. When he spoke the opening words of the Mass, they seemed to come from somewhere far away. The church was hot and stuffy, every seat was taken; the latecomers filled the side aisles and overflowed into the porch at the back. He forced himself to concentrate on the rhythms of the service, but his mouth was dry as dust, and the prayers seemed to have no meaning. By the time they arrived at the enactment of the Passion of Christ, he was shaking from head to toe. He held onto the lectern to read the part of Jesus, steadying his voice, till he reached the final words,

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” .

His voice cracked, he was conscious of the congregation looking at him from the end of a dark tunnel; a voice in his ear calling his name. He had the vague awareness of someone helping him off the altar into the sacristy, and helping him lie across two chairs. Somewhere in the distance, he could hear Father Andretti continuing with service. He drifted off. It was pleasant to lie there, peaceful even.

After a while, the dizziness passed. He was able to sit up and look about him. Dr Hewitt was sitting opposite, and now Mass had ended, Father Andretti was disrobing.

“I thought you were a bit peaky Father, let me have a look at you.”said the doctor, “Hmm. I don’t think there’s anything seriously wrong, but your blood pressure’s a little high and your heart rate too. You’ve probably been overdoing it a bit. You work far too hard you know. You must let Father Andretti lighten your load a bit. Have a bit of rest now, and book a time to see your GP will you?”

With that he bustled off, leaving Father Geary open mouthed, only too willing to be led off to bed.

When he woke at seven, he felt more refreshed. As he came down the stairs, he could smell fish frying in the kitchen. Father Andretti was at the stove.

“How are you feeling Father Geary? I thought you should eat.”

“Better, thank you. And this is too kind: more than I deserve.”

“ We have to take care of each other, we men of God. For who else is there? Now I am making you some fish in olive oil. Just like we make it in Tuscany, and in honour of our Lord. As you know, he liked a bit of fish.”

Father Geary laughed. Here was a man, after all, who might be worth getting to know. He began to talk freely, and soon they were discussing Irish history.

“Ah but they were men,” Father Geary said “Pearse, Clarke, Connolly, Macdermott and Plunket . Pearse, there was someone who understood the meaning of the cross. He sacrificed his blood for the love of his country, knowing it would only be understood long after his death. That’s a kind of man I could believe in. That’s the kind of man I wanted to be.”

“He was indeed, and they did a fine thing to free Ireland.” said Father Andretti. “But these modern day bombers, I am not so sure of them.”

“A terrible beauty is born”

“Sorry?”

“Yeats said it in a poem. I think he meant they were right to give their lives, but what it might lead to who knows?”

“Ah yes, I remember, ‘Easter, 1916’.”

They thought for a moment, and then Father Andretti said,“So what brought you to England? Did you not wish to stay among your own people?”

“I wanted to be a Missionary in Africa, but my superiors had other ideas. They thought me too proud and full of ego. Ah, but I was young then, so, perhaps I was. Anyway, they sent me here to learn my place; to know the will of God.”

“And do you? Know the will of God?”

“Well now, I can’t say I do. I live with these cold English, never allowed to be a missionary. All I do is say Mass and give the sacraments, and that with very little grace. And now there is so much change. The Vatican Council did away with everything I knew, and I am too old for new ways.“

“You know I think we dwell on authority sometimes too much in this Church of ours. I wonder what Jesus would make of us if he came back now. Would he be pleased with us, or would he run through our churches overturning tables do you think?”

Fr Geary laughed, “Perhaps he would be after pulling the Bishop’s palaces down now?”

“You should see inside the Vatican my friend. Still I think you’ve had some hard blows, Father Geary, the church has not been kind to you, and yet you remain here.”

“Yes but for what? What good am I?”

“Haven’t you said it yourself? You give people the sacraments, care for them when they are sick, pray with them when they are dying”

“But I have lost the habit of kindness. I shame myself.”

“You are too hard on yourself! I think you are a man who has lived an excess of love, though bewildered by the people around him. Yet, I see what you do in this parish - and I think, you have been a faithful servant.”

Father Geary fell silent at this, and then changed to a lighter subject. They talked late into the night. At bedtime, when Father Geary looked at the bare hook on the wall, it seemed to him that something was missing. He opened his sock drawer, and took out the crucifix. He marvelled at it for a moment, before placing it in its rightful place. He went to sleep light in heart and spirit.



It was with a strange elation that he prepared for the Easter Vigil Mass the next day. For the first time in years, he enjoyed dressing in the gold and white vestments. As the two priests lit the fire to start the familiar ceremony, Father Geary was possessed with an awe he had not felt for a long time. He held the Easter Candle in the flame and watched the spark light the wick. The altar servers lit their tapers and the fire was passed among the candles of the congregation. As they entered the dark church, Father Geary raised the Easter Candle high above his head. The two priests sang with confidence,

“Christ our light.”


Behind them small flames were doubling and tripling, illuminating the shadows. The smell of incense filled the air; smoke rose like steam from his mother’s kitchen.

The priests reached the altar and smiled at each other. An altar server switched on the church lights. Dark night was banished; Easter had begun.



Copyright c Virginia Moffatt 2008

Friday, 2 April 2010

#fridayflash The Stationmaster.

The mourners followed the pall-bearers to the grave. They watched as the coffin was laid on slats of wood, the undertakers holding the rope taut whilst their chief removed each plank from underneath the brown box. Then inch, by inch, they lowered it in the grave. The deceased's daughter let out a long moan. His wife began to dab her eyes. The mourners followed suit. Hankies were brought to watery red eyes, hats were doffed in respect. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. He returned to the earth from which he came.Little spots of rain began to fall, then larger ones, umbrellas were raised and the funeral party scattered for cover.

Later, at the wake, his wife sat, straight-backed and pale-faced, in her black crape gown. She greeted her damp guests with an air of slight indifference, that was put down to shock. A young woman joined the queue. She was slim, dressed in Charles Worth,  carrying an elegant black parasol.The wife shook her hand, wondered for a moment who she was, then turned to the next person. The woman wandered through the crowd, greeting no-one. She nibbled on a cucumber sandwich, wiping the crumbs from her mouth with a tiny lace handkerchief. A little girl ran up. She was dressed in black velvet, yellow curls tumbled down her back.

"Hello," she said.
"Hello."
"My grandfather died."
"I know."
"My mother is very sad."
"He was a good man."
"He used to tell me stories."
"Me, too."
"Was he your grandfather too?"
"No. He was just a friend."
"Oh," the little girl paused for a moment, contemplating the idea that friendship existed among adults. It was too much. "There's cake. Would you like some?"
"I'd like it very much."

The lady in grey allowed herself to be led to the table. She ate a sliver of fruit cake, made her excuses and left. No-one ever saw her again.


*********

"It's just too sad," said the neighbour.
"It is," her friend nodded.
"A mother shouldn't see her child in the ground first."
"No."
"They say she ran back to the house to get the baby's toy. If she'd only stayed in the shelter..."
"It's too bad."

The neighbours watched the grieving mother follow the coffin out of the church. She walked with a ram-rod back, her face invisible under her black veiled hat. Her husband walked behind her, staring ahead with expressionless eyes. There was to be no formal wake. The couple said it was because they had to get back to the baby, and everyone understood. But in truth, they couldn't bear the throng of sympathetic handshakes. The graveside was dealt with as quickly as was decent. Water, earth, ashes, to ashes. She returned to the ground from which she came and it was time to go home. The little girl was napping, their friend said. They thanked her and saw her out.

The father poured out two glasses of sherry.

"I think, in the circumstances..."

She nodded, took off her hat, and let down her hair.  Blond curls, greying in places, cascaded down the back of her black rayon suit. She looked out of the window as spots of rain fell on the pane. They sat in silence for a while, sipping their drinks. A cry came from the child's bedroom, her old room. The mother sighed, she knew the routine. She put her drink down and walked upstairs to offer the necessary comfort.

*********

"...I have a mental image of her now, standing on the front step in her dressing gown,  shaking her fist at the house as if it were to blame for locking her out." The mourners laughed, there were many such moments to remember. The deceased's daughter continued, "What I loved about her, was she could laugh at herself too. She knew her own little foibles. It was a great gift, and for that and so many others, we'll miss her." She stepped down, and returned to her seat. Her husband raised an arm in comfort. Her brothers and cousins stood up to lift the coffin. Under the watchful eye of the undertaker, they carried it out to the funeral car and then arranged the convoy to the cemetry.

It was a colourful parade by the graveside, in keeping with the deceased's wishes. No black, I hate bloody black, you've got that? They got it, and in respect wore turquoises, purples, reds, oranges. The daughter who'd given the eulogy wore a bright yellow dress, a sun-hat and strapless sandals. The grandaughter was sporting a blue miniskirt and pink halter-neck top. Only the second cousin made the mistake of dressing according to tradition, and they forgave her that on the account of the effort she'd made, coming all the way from Newfoundland.  But the sunshine and brightness couldn't disguise the inevitability of the thud of the coffin as it reached the base of the grave. The sprinkling of water, the clods of earth. Ashes, to ashes, dust to dust, she returned to the earth from which she came.

Afterwards, in the pub, the grandaughter approached her mother who was sitting alone with a glass of wine in her hand.

"I've got something for you." It was a photograph album.
"Darling, how sweet. Where did you get these?"
"Grandma liked to tell me the old stories. She had all these old photos. She said I could keep them."
Her mother flicked through the pages, "Oh look, that's  my poor grandmother who died in the war. And her parents, who raised my mother. She always said it was harder for them than for her."
 She carried on turning the pages, "My goodness there's my great, great grandfather."
"He was a station-master wasn't he?"
"Very straitlaced apparently, though Mum always hinted at a disreputable past."
"Wasn't there some strange woman at his funeral?"
"So Mum said. They never did find out who she was."
"Perhaps she was his first wife?"
"His mistress?"
"His daughter?"
"He looks very respectable though. Maybe she was just a regular passenger on the line come to pay her respects." She closed the album and  put it on the table. "This was very thoughtful of you sweetheart. Now go and mingle."

She sipped a mouthful of her drink. "What do you think Mum?" she said.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Plug of the Month


Unusually, my plug of this month is for a work of non-fiction. Slightly strange for a literary blog perhaps except that:
  • Once upon a time I did a Biology degree. I therefore have pretensions to being an environmentalist.
  • Hedgehogs formed a huge part of my childhood - my parents (particularly my Dad) would always put milk out, and then we'd listen to the snufflings of the little critters coming up the garden.
  • I now know, thanks to Hugh, that the milk malarkey is turble for poor little hedgehogs, but garden wilderness is a GOOD THING. We have a great patch at the end of the garden and our own resident ball of spikes. (At least we did have, but there was some roadkill last autumn that looked a bit familiar. I sincerely hope it was the neighbour's)
  • They are undeniably cute.
  • Thomas Hardy wrote a great poem mentioning hedgehogs,* so they are literary after all.
Anyway, anything endorsed by both Jeanette Winterson and Anne Widdecombe must have a lot going for it. And to be described by The Guardian as "endearingly batty" has a certain cachet, don't you think?

For anyone in Oxford, Hugh will be speaking at Science Oxford on Thursday 8th April at 7.30pm "How Hedgehogs Can Save the World".  I can guarantee he will be witty, enthusiastic and informative. But if you can't get to Oxford, the paperback is out tomorrow, easily ordered on Amazon etc. And do visit his website which is brilliant.


* First seen at Thomas Hardy's birthplace in Little Bockhampton, an apt epitaph for my Dad, an English teacher, who had recently died.

Friday, 26 March 2010

#Fridayflash - Safe & Sound

"Can I go to Lily's for a sleepover on Saturday?"
"No, you can't."
"Why not?" Petra's pulls her face in a pout that looks like a stuffed salmon. Her mother sighs.
"Because not."
"But everyone's going to be there."
"Everybody minus you."
"But WHY?"
"Because Dad's on lates, and I say so." Her mother doesn't add that Lily's parents cannot be trusted; that Lily and her friends wear clothes beyond their age; who knows what they get up to? No wonder she prefers Petra to be safely under her eye at home.
"It's not FAIR."
"Life's not fair sometimes. Haven't you got homework to do?"

Petra sighs in return and stomps upstairs to her bedroom. She opens her laptop and begins her history essay,"To what extent was Germany's defeat in World War 1 responsible for the rise of Hitler?" She looks up a few websites for information; weighs up pros and cons; ponders the nature of oppression and considers herself hard done by. At last, the essay reaches a state that will satisfy Mrs Blandings. She emails it across and  switches to her Facebook page. Suzy's latest update makes her grin.

Suzy wishes Year 10 teachers would stop going on about GSCE's.

Petra posts,

Petra has finished her history essay & wishes her parents weren't such control freaks.

Suzy must be on-line. Her response is almost immediate.

Mine too. Do you think they learn it at parent school?

Petra yawns, types back,

LOL. I'm tired. Off to bed now xxx

Just before she closes down, a final message appears,

Sleep well. Talk tomorrow.S xxxx

She smiles and exits.


A hundred miles away, Tony smiles back, as he sits in his bedsit, preparing updates for tomorrow.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

#FridayFlash - Good Mornings.

I find, as the years pass,  my morning routine becomes ever more essential to my well being. I dislike it when my mornings are disturbed.

I am not an early riser - the preservation of beauty requires at least eight hours a night - and I need a leisurely breakfast if I am to last the day. Not that I eat much - half a grapefruit, some quinoa and a glass of pepper juice - but I like to take my time. Then a stretch, and a  look in the Mirror. The 3am girls always reassure me I'm fairest. I've never known them to let me down.

After breakfast: a bath. And then to work. Age will not wither me, but the maintenance of youth takes effort. There are eyebrows to be plucked. Grey hairs to be excised. Body parts to be moisturised. Once a week: a visit to the salon, for bleaching, botoxing, lifting shadows from eyes. At home: an hour in the gym working on  core muscles. A model stomach cannot sag even a millimetre.

I lunch alone: a sliver of grilled chicken, a mouthful of salad. I rest a little, and then prepare for the night ahead. I manicure, coiffure, choose my wardrobe, with only Rosa to help. It does not do to have an audience. It is important to be seen when all imperfection has been eradicated. I like to dazzle.

So my days pass, as they have passed for  years. Until this morning. This morning was different. Disturbing. And now I will have to act.

I had a long lie in as usual, meditating on a delightful night out. Cocktails at the Ritz. A film premiere. A nice little model to play with in the small hours. His smooth body and hard muscles proving a welcome distraction whilst Marco is away. Everything as normal until I picked up the Mirror. It took one tiny article to shatter my routine completely.

"Down at the Blue Note Club dancing the night away we bump into the ravishing Bianca Nievicata, daughter of Fashion King, Marco Nievicata, and stepdaughter of the gorgeous Catherine. She tells us her father is developing a new line for her age group. “ I’m so excited!” she gushes before rushing back to the dance floor. Where does this leave step-mum Catherine we wonder? Is she about to be supplanted as the face of Nievicata? Having met Bianca we can’t say we blame her Dad. Catherine may be good for her age but on balance we have to say, that Bianca is far and away the fairest of them all.”

No mention of my turn on the red carpet. The new Nievicata creation I wore (a stunning little piece in purple velvet). Just Bianca's pouty red lips. Her silky black hair. Her paler than pale skin. How could they let me down like this? I'd ring their editor, but it would only make things worse. Marco dotes on that child. Naturally, so do I. It wouldn't do to have that myth exposed.

Marco hasn't dared mention his latest little scheme. He must have been worrying how I'd respond.  I will have to embrace it with enthusiasm. That should be easy enough - living with Marco has always required a certain amount of deception. I'll make suggestions about the launch: venues, celebrities, refreshments. I'll do all the grunt work, get the right publicity, make it go with a bang. Then, when they're reassured they have nothing to fear, I'll phone the Huntsman. He can take care of Bianca for me. As he has done so many times before.

The preservation of beauty takes considerable effort. It's well worth it - don't you think?























* A gossip column in the Mirror newspaper for the uninitiated.