I am delighted to be able to announce my second published work with Jayhenge, this time a more lengthy piece entitled 'Mysterious Circumstances', which takes up a good chunk of the Unearthly Sleuths anthology. I am published alongside a good many of my very talented DeviantArt buddies, and that's just awesome.
Of course, I was very proud when 'Peacebot' was selected by Jessica for publication; in fact, she hand-picked it from my rather large collection of flash fiction over at DeviantArt. It was written in response to a prompt, then polished for submission. Artificial intelligence is a theme that interests me, and the story offers a snapshot of the kind of ideas that I have about it. 'Mysterious Circumstances' is different, in that it was written specifically for submission to Unearthly Sleuths, and a great deal of time and thought went into its composition. I do feel that it's more quintessentially me; my friends and followers on DeviantArt have read numerous stories involving a tenacious teenage girl, an atmospheric British setting of some kind, fuzzy animals and/or my favourite bits of folklore. This story offers all of those things... and, er, hopefully something new and interesting as well! ^^;
I'll keep this spoiler-free and refrain from writing about why I chose the supernatural elements that I did. Suffice it to say, all the inspiration came from the legends of Orkney, which you can read about here. Shall I confess...? Okay, I will. I've never been there! Hopefully one day I'll make that long and complicated journey, but I wrote the story before that day came. It's just that I've been enchanted by the legends, and I've felt a little something of the extraordinary atmosphere of the place through words and pictures, though I'm sure this is nothing compared with actually being there. Even so, my heart and soul are in the story that the place inspired, and I'm so proud to see it in print.
The icing on the cake is the illustration that accompanies my piece. An illustration is included with author bios to complement their story, all of them beautiful, and I could not be happier with mine. It's gorgeous, and perfectly evokes the atmosphere I was trying to create. When I submitted the story, Jessica told me in her response that she 'love[d] the feel' of it. This was very much what I had hoped to achieve.
I started being interested in the Brontë sisters when I found my mother watching an adaptation of Jane Eyre at a very interesting part - I think the introduction of Bertha, but I don't remember much about it. I did think we were in the house we lived in until I was eleven, but looking up the adaptation I think it was, it was made in 1997 which dates it a year after we moved out. Anyway, the upshot is that I must have been about twelve when my mother told me all about the literary sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne, and their ill-fated brother Branwell. Their older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, and other lesser-known facts I found out by my own reading of an easy book about the family in the school library. I read Jane Eyre when I was thirteen, and certainly I found it difficult, but I also loved at least bits of it. I then tried Wuthering Heights, decided I'd better wait a few years to try again, and went on with Anne's two novels: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall first, which I found very interesting, then her first novel Agnes Grey, which I liked but not so much.
Without going into too much more detail, I've read most of their works at least one since then, including some poetry and childhood efforts by Branwell as well as his siters. I've only recently started on Charlotte's three less famous novels; I read The Professor last year, am now on Shirley and have yet to read Villette (another that I tried to read when I was younger but couldn't manage it). I decided it was time I read these books when my brother Jake and a friend of ours decided to go to North Yorkshire on holiday. The Brontës lived in West Yorkshire, so a little way away from where we were going; but I live in Hertfordshire, and if I was ever going to get on a train and visit their home in a day then this was my chance. So, on Wednesday 24th August 2016, I fulfilled my wish to visit the Brontë Parsonage Museum.
The friend didn't come on this trip, but Jake did, and all photographs featuring me were taken by him. I took all the photographs I'm not in (not always particularly well but never mind)! We took two normal trains to Keighley Station, where Branwell used to work as a rail clerk (and got into some trouble); from there, we took a steam train to Haworth, just like Branwell used to do!
From the station, it is necessary to climb a couple of very steep hills to reach the parsonage. Haworth Main Street is a just one big hill, and it's longer and steeper than one might hope! Anyway, we did it, and had a little sit-down outside the very church where Partick Brontë was the parson. Below is a picture of me by the church, and beside that a family of chickens (see if you can spot which is which - ha ha joke!). The hen and her chicks were pecking around in the churchyard and were too cute not to be photographed. Could they be actual Brontë chicken descendants...?
Here is the outside of the schoolroom (I think you're sometimes allowed in, but not that day), and a close-up of the notice that explains it.
Inside the museum, I was allowed to take photographs without a flash - a rule which didn't stop one woman from attempting to destroy the handwritten text on one of the children's famous 'little books'! The exhibits below include the picture I took of one of those books, along with some artwork, letters and regular books that give you an idea of its size. The children's early creative endeavours are very famous, and I was particularly keen to see them. It's true that the handwriting is pretty much impossible to read - translating the works for print must have been a huge undertaking. Also, here's me standing on the steps on my way into the museum.
Below are some more exhibits. I was particularly interested in the dog collars belonging to Flossy (the small ones), and to Keeper (the big one), who apparently had a reputation for being fierce. You can also see Anne's writing box and Emily's christening mug. The dining room table is very important! The family used to write here and, according to the museum guidebook, at least some of Agnes Grey, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre were composed at this very table (it also says that Charlotte started Jane Eyre in Manchester, when looking after her father following his famous cataracts operation).
The grandfather clock is remembered as being very important in Patrick Brontë's nightly routine, as he would wind it on the way up to bed and tell the children not to stay up too late (even when they were no longer children).
It's not obvious from the picture that the clock is about halfway up the stairs, where they turn a corner. A few steps above this, there is another corner, which provides a good place to stand and photograph clock so long as there aren't too many visitors on the stairs with you. I had an opportunity and I took it!
Just one more thing I really need to show you: the famous Black Bull pub, which we photographed on the way back down to the station.
My fellow Brontë enthusiasts will know that Branwell more or less drank himself to death - although there were other factors, including opium abuse and, perhaps most significantly, tuberculosis.
Did you notice the view behind me? Yorkshire is very beautiful, and we had some other interesting adventures there. I paid my second ever visit to Whitby, which is a wonderful place (though it has its setbacks in the peak season), and which also has literary associations. We got lost a few times, in the car and on foot, and we had extremes of wet and hot weather. Our Haworth day was one of the least stressful for Jake and me, once we'd found Malton Station and got past the fear of missing our first train, but meanwhile back in North Yorkshire our friend - who is only in his early twenties (bless him) - got the back of his car dented by a hit-and-run driver. It's almost like some kind of weird cosmic balancing act, because while he was having a bit of a nightmare with that, I had a wonderful time at the Brontë family home.
For more information about the museum, you can check out the website: https://www.bronte.org.uk/
I'm behind with this, because it happened over a month ago, but still I am very excited to have been approached by Jessica of JayHenge Publishing and had my first acceptance from them! 'Peacebot' is a very, very short story I wrote for Flash Fiction Month way back in 2012. Jessica specifically requested that I send her this story, modified a little to fit the theme of the anthology, so it was an interesting and unexpected little adventure to blow the dust off it and give it some tweaks. In fact, I think it's the first real edit an FFM piece by me has ever had!
Of course, full details of the book are on my Published page, and there are plenty of reasons to click the links besides throwing me a bone. JayHenge has other anthologies out, and more in the pipeline; the two older anthologies are now free for Kindle, and there are plenty of great authors to discover. I was particularly excited to read this detailed review of Intrepid Horizons (that's the name of the book, by the way), which picks out a few stories by name. Including mine. Squee! XD
It was this publication that inspired me to come and pay this website some real attention after only a few minimal updates, and a stupidly long time with just one reading in the audio section (now called 'Hear' to fit on the navigation bar :P ). I'd known all along that the old design was a little old and tired, but it was seeing the websites of my fellow writers that made me finally decide to change it. I don't really know anything about design, but fortunately Weebly takes care of all that for me; it's just a question of choosing which design best suits my purposes. Finding an image for the top of each page is the hardest part, and I flatter myself that I've done rather well, but of course I could be wrong.
I recently recorded to stories for the audio section. One thing I learned as a student is that we must pretend all our work is perfect, and hope people don't notice the specific flaws, even if they realise that the whole is in fact far from perfect. I will say, though, I can't help being critical of my recordings. ^^; Still, I can read out loud (which, believe me, is more than some people can do), and I happen to think the second attempt is an improvement on the first. But they both carry the same date - how will you know which is my first attempt? Aha! See if you can work it out! ;)
Looking forward, a couple of mildly exciting events are coming up. There's FFM in July, obviously. Last year was such a great success, I mustn't get my hopes up too high for this one, but I do at least hope I'll produce some worthy pieces for the site (perhaps even one or two I'll feel like reading out loud). Then in August I'm off on holiday, and one of the things I'll be doing is visiting the Brontë Parsonage Museum. I am very excited about this, and must certainly write a blog post all about it. But until then - or possibly some time before - adieu. :)
I have spent much of today putting together the Flash Fiction section on this website. If you don't happen to know what it's all about and would like to, take a look at Flash-Fic-Month on DeviantArt. I've had a lot of fun with it in the past, and today I had fun looking through my old pieces and selecting the best ones for here. I think my best year was the first one I did, 2010, and I'd gone seriously downhill by 2012! In 2013 I significantly reduced my flash fiction output, and last year I didn't contribute at all.
Well, now I'm getting back to it, because FFM 2015 has a purpose for me going all the way back to NaNoWriMo 2014. Editing that stuff is hard work, and everyone knows that historical fiction is seriously tough. I've been balking at the thought of all the parts that need totally rewriting, and all the parts that I ought to have written but haven't and, I confess, putting it off just a little bit. Well, now I'm going to force myself to draft all of the new material that I know needs doing. Doubtless I'll find more and more and more to do after July, but this plan is going to make a big dent in my workload. Maybe it'll even get a bit easier after that... :-/
Seriously, I'm excited about this novel, and the hard work will pay off if I make it happen. I'm already proud of quite a lot of what I've done, and I was inspired in April when I visited the Norwich Castle Museum, specifically to see the Iceni exhibit (but I enjoyed other parts too). There is nothing in existence that Boudica definitely handled or even saw, but there is stuff that definitely belonged to her people, including an impressive coin hoard that was surely buried because the owner was about to embark on her rebellion. Since they were never reclaimed, we can guess what happened to that person. I want to make those events seem real and close, and that coin hoard behind a pane of glass, in Norfolk, is about as physically close as you can get.
Less seriously, I intend to have plenty of fun with Flash Fiction Month as well, and write a few pieces of less significance. I enjoyed reading some of what I've produced in past Julys, though I say it myself. :)
''Twas the Night Before Christmas' or 'A Visit From St Nicholas' by Clement C. Moore
Father Christmas is seen, reindeer and all, as he comes to a family's house and goes about his work.
This poem is very famous, and a classic that ought to be included in every Christmas collection (well, quite possibly it is). There is no need for me to explain anything about it. I've no objection to having something a bit predictable to finish my Christmas treasury. This is a Christmas Eve poem, and that's all there is to it!
'Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.'
Clement C. Moore, ''Twas the Night Before Christmas', Rosemary Gray (ed.), 'Twas the Night Before Christmas and Other Christmas Stories (Wordsworth, 2010), p.23.
'The Spell Begins to Break' from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Illustration by Paul Baynes
Novel Excerpt (1950)
The White Witch's spell, that makes it always winter and never Christmas in Narnia, is breaking. Father Christmas has come to Narnia with gifts for the Pevensie children.
This book is another great classic, and another favourite of mine, and - like Little Women much earlier in the collection - it deserves to be butter in this Christmas sandwich. The Father Christmas chapter is very striking, and unlike anything else I have chosen, with Father Christmas being a more noble and serious figure than tradition dictates. The gifts he brings are weapons for Peter, Susan and Lucy to fight (or more accurately in the girls' case, to defend themselves) against the evil queen and her army (we can also suppose he brought something for the absent Edmund, but we never learn what it was). Of course Lewis meant us to understand that Narnia is deprived of more than presents and feasts with the disappearance of Christmas. Aslan's presence breaks Jadis's spell in many ways, though the religious connotations are not overstated here, which perhaps the harsher critics will approve of - but never mind them. The story is for children, as is my Christmas collection. This piece is exciting, striking and empowering for them, and shows Christmas in a unique way, while still it is a beacon of hope and signifies something very special.
' "These are your presents," was the answer, "and they are tools, not toys. The time to use them is perhaps near at hand. Bear them well." '
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (HarperCollins Children's Books, 2001), p.118.
'The Song of the Holly Fairy' and 'The Song of the Christmas Tree Fairy' by Cicely Mary Barker
Illustration by the poet
The Holly Fairy welcomes the festive season, and then the magic of Christmas brings to life the fairy on the top of the tree, when the children are asleep.
It was only after a lot of thinking, with one spot left to fill, that I remembered Flower Fairies of the Winter. Then once I'd thought of it, I didn't know if it contained any Christmassy poems, or even if I'd find my copy - but I did, and sure enough there was 'The Song of the Christmas Tree Fairy' at the very end. It's short and sweet at three six-line stanzas, not very long for this collection, so I turned to 'The Song of the Holly Fairy' to see if it would do to go with it. The answer is yes, it will. The Holly Fairy hails the coming of December, and boastingly references a certain Christmas carol. Like Beatrix Potter and Joyce Lankester Brisley, Barker began as an artist, and even a total Scrooge could surely see why children were so delighted by her Flower Fairy illustrations.
'And carol-boys go singing clear
'Of all the trees (O hush and hear!)
'The holly bears the crown!'
Cicely Mary Barker, Flower Fairies of the Winter (Blackie and Son Ltd., 1987), no pagination.
'O magic sight, this joyous night!
'O laden, sparkling tree!'
Barker's illustration of the Christmas Tree Fairy, courtesy of flowerfairyprints.com.
Barker's illustration of the Holly Fairy, courtesy of flowerfairyprints.com.
'Father Christmas' by Catherine Storr
Illustrations by Marjorie-Ann Watts
Short Story (1957)
The Wolf thinks that Polly cannot possibly resist Father Christmas, but instead of catching her with his disguise, he ends up playing the part in a shop full of children.
The Polly and the Wolf stories are some of the first I used to read myself, and they are brilliant. The Wolf in particular is one of the greatest and funniest fictional characters I have ever come across. In this story, he has some truly hilarious moments, such as trying to come to terms with Polly and himself not being able to see each other when he puts on his disguise to phone her.
' "...One of them did ask for a baby sister," he said thoughtfully, "but did she really want her to eat, I ask myself?" '
Catherine Storr, Polly and the Wolf Again (Puffin Books, 1970), p.29.
The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter
Illustrations by the author
Short Story (1903)
A tailor, who is kind to mice, must finish making a coat for the mayor's Christmas wedding, or risk becoming destitute. All may be lost when he is too ill to work.
As everyone knows, Beatrix Potter wrote sweet and simple tales to accompany her beautiful illustrations. For Christmas, she takes us away from the more usual Lake District, and essentially gives us a version of 'The Elves and the Shoemaker'. I may have overused the word 'charming' in this endeavour, but nevertheless that is how I must describe this story: charming. It is a little different from other stories by Potter, partly because of the different setting, and also because the animals only speak on the night between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (which I believe is a legend connected with the animals in Jesus's stable). For children to imagine such a thing happening while they are sleeping away the time until Christmas morning is, I think, a lovely idea. I also adore Simpkin, who happens to be the only character in the story with a proper name. The illustrations of him look sweet and furry enough to stroke, while beneath that cute exterior he really is a very catty cat indeed!
'...and although it was the middle of the night the throstles and robins sang; the air was quite full of little twittering tunes.
'But it was all rather provoking to poor hungry Simpkin!'
Beatrix Potter, 'The Tailor of Gloucester' (Penguin, 2002), pp.39-40.
An illustration of Simpkin, courtesy of tate.org.uk.
'All This Was Meant To Be' and 'Once In Every Generation' from Forever Rose by Hilary McKay
Novel Excerpt (2007)
Rose Casson provides a last-minute Baby Jesus for the school nativity, and causes quite a shock to one member of her family.
I have returned to Hilary McKay, this time with a more sentimental and Christmassy offering than The Exiles at Home. Pretty much the whole story is about Christmas, so I could have chosen just about any excerpt, but of course I picked my favourite bit. Like many of the other pieces in this collection, it is sweet and fun, but with a modern style and McKay's own unique touch. It shows some of an eventful Christmas countdown for the Casson family just before, in the real world, the date finally clicks over into the 20s.
'Yesterday Kai covered Baby Jesus (who used to be Baby Annabel) with Golden Oak wood preservative and today he is sticking to everything.'
Hilary McKay, Forever Rose (Hodder Children's Books, 2008), p.244.