Word on a Whim

Archive for the category “Literature”

The Mayor’s sponsored reading ‘Mayorathon’

I saw the Mayorathon advertised in the free weekly paper a few weeks ago, and knowing I wouldn’t be at work on this day, decided to take part.  Each participant could buy a five minute slot to read to an audience an extract from a book, a play or a poem of their choice.  You could buy as many five minute slots as you wished, so long as you raised sponsorship of a minimum of £5 per slot. So I pledged a fiver and rehearsed reading a five minute extract from The Rise of Serge and the Fall of Leo. The Mayor had chosen a charity that supports people with acquired brain injuries and this seemed particularly appropriate as it is the cause of Serge’s disability.  I didn’t only take part for charitable reasons; I saw it as a potential opportunity to publicise my book and it was also a challenge to myself to read out loud in front of people.  The thought was terrifying.  I don’t know where my confidence has gone over the years. In my early twenties I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid at the prospect – in fact I was in a local amateur dramatics group and even had the nerve to sing a solo in a pantomime as the Prince in ‘Sleeping Beauty’.  Looking back, I was a different person then – although I doubt my singing voice was much better than it is now.  What a cringe-making thought!  I want to get a bit of confidence back you see, so that I don’t turn up at job interviews like a gibbering wreck.

So, I found an extract that wouldn’t entail doing Serge’s voice or Paddy’s Northern Irish accent and turned up, as instructed, fifteen minutes before my appointed time.  The place was packed; standing room only. I had expected a more casual affair – but there was a platform, a lectern and, gulp – a microphone. Looking up, even the gallery was full – and they were mainly children.  I can’t remember what was being read at the time, but it sounded good.  I think it was an extract from a Dickens novel.  I thought about the extract I had chosen to read and whispered to the lady at the door who was doing the register; “Will it mess things up if I don’t read?  Only this isn’t a children’s book.”

She beckoned me out into the entrance hall and some of the other organisers followed us to see what was up.  “There’s no rude words but urm … this guy’s about to top himself by jumping into the Thames on a freezing cold night and he doesn’t actually do it and it turns out okay but there’s a fair bit of detail and I don’t think I should read it to the children.”  It was at that point that I wondered whether it was a good idea to be reading it to anyone.

They assured me it was fine – the children would be leaving in about ten minutes. They had been surprised and honoured that the whole school had come along to listen and to support the event.  Sure enough, ten minutes later, the children filed out, leaving an audience of about six – plus the organisers and the Mayor.  Cool.

I was surprised how good the readers before me were – and the ones I listened to after my turn, as I didn’t like to dash off the minute I was done.  I waited until some more folk arrived and then slipped out.  The readers I listened to had such lovely voices and great presence.  I have a thing about voices – you know how sometimes someone looks gorgeous but then they open their gob and ruin it?   I have never liked my own voice – it’s a bit nasal and I can’t pronounce the letter ‘r’ pwoperly; but I don’t mind sounding northern – if ‘a’ and ‘u’ were supposed to be pronounced the same there would only be four vowels in the alphabet.  Northerners make good use of all five.  I think swear words have more impact with a northern accent but am not sure whether that’s a good thing or not.

Anyway, my bit went okay.  I didn’t faint or have a coughing fit or anything.  It seemed odd to be out of the office on a week day, doing something different and being able to appreciate the time and effort that people put into organising these charity events. Then I came home, took off my Jules Lucton costume, put on my warmest top that smells slightly of yesterday’s cooking, and applied for a job as a Test Analyst.

New Year’s Eve

Christmas had been a miserable time for Ella – searching frantically for her engagement ring yet trying to be discreet so Jim wouldn’t catch on that it was lost.  Well, it wasn’t lost – of course it wasn’t… it had to be somewhere…

The living room being so cold had done nothing to improve her mood but she couldn’t turn on the gas fire because a bird had come down the chimney on Christmas Eve.  Since then, its intermittent futile fluttering had become a fixation.

“At least we’re saving on the gas,” said Jim.  “Hey, turn it on if you’re cold.  The fumes will either kill the bugger or make it fly away.”

Ella had turned on him. “Don’t you think the poor thing would fly away if it could?  Anyway, the gas man’s coming some time today to take the fire out-”

“On New Year’s Eve!  How much is that going to cost?”

“I don’t know! It’s not like it’s a bank holiday. I just hope he manages to get here today.”

Hearing the tears in her voice, Jim left it.  Pre-wedding nerves, no doubt.  His own nerves were frayed only by worrying about how they were going to pay for the event.

Ella could remember taking off the ring to make mince pies…

“Lost something?”  Jim startled her as she knelt on the kitchen floor, yet again sweeping a runner-bean cane beneath the gas cooker.

“No… I just thought I dropped a sprout down here on Christmas Day – it will stink if I don’t shift it.”

Jim stooped to kiss her briefly.  “I’ll see you this evening.  I guess you’ll have to wait in for this gas man.”

The door clunked shut behind him and she slumped back against a kitchen unit and gave way to tears of frustration. She had succeeded in losing a little weight to look good on the wedding photos and the ring had become too loose.  It could be anywhere.  The bird fluttered again from behind the gas fire…

A van pulled up outside and she hurried to the door.  “I’d almost given up on you!”

“Oh? Sorry, it’s been a busy few days…”

“Look, I know I should have asked when I phoned you – but what do you charge, you know, for birds?”

“I do birds for free.”  Noticing her fleeting anxiety – a glance at her ringless finger, he hurried on, “I mean… we all have to do our bit in whatever way we can.  But I suggest you get a cowling, you know, over the top of the chimney.”

“Oh!  Yes, okay.  We’ll do that next year.”

He pulled out the gas fire and caught the bird easily; gently cupping his hands around its body to prevent it from flapping.

“A Magpie.  Poor thing. Shall we put it out in the garden – give it some water maybe?”

Ella sorted out the water and some fat off the ham in the fridge.

“Erm, if you don’t mind seeing to him it’ll give me a chance to clear out all that muck from behind the fire … before you put it back in place… thanks.”

From the kitchen window she watched as he placed the Magpie on the shed roof and then slowly retreated whilst it took a moment to gain its bearings then flew away.  Gas man clocked Ella’s smile, grinned back at her and returned to reinstall the gas fire.  Finally, she saw him out, handing him a litre bottle of Magpie.  “We had expected to pay you, but … well … we happened to have this.  Happy New Year!”

When Jim finally returned, she was kneeling by the fireplace smiling happily.  He stooped to kiss her but over-balanced and rolled over on the hearthrug, pulling her on top of him, laughing merrily as she told him about the Magpie and all the dirt she had cleared out from behind the fireplace.

Jim was about to kiss the engagement ring on her finger then hesitated with mock-disgust.

“I do hope you took this ring off before clearing out fifty year’s worth of bird shit!”

“The Snow Cock.” – Flash fiction

It was no great surprise to Mr Petrov when he looked out of his bedroom window and saw a huge snow cock in the front garden next door.  His neighbours were artists.  Olga was a sculptress who chiselled erotic shapes out of lumps of stone, whilst Luigi painted landscapes – mostly white.

Mr Petrov marvelled at the anatomical correctness as his eyes wandered from the asymmetrical testicles, up the shaft to the skilfully crafted knob.  He had always found Olga’s sculptures bizarre and grotesque, but this one made him smile.  He was still smiling as Olga crunched through the ice to load yet another of her stone sculptures into the van.  It looked heavy.  She was a tall and well-built woman, but surely her husband should be helping her?

By the time he had made it to the sub-zero outdoors, Olga was going by again with yet another sculptured lump of stone, bigger and heavier than the last.  She had to stop for a breather …

“I’m sorry I can’t help you with that, Olga.  You know I would if I could.”  He leaned on his walking stick, already shivering with cold but noticed she was sweating from exertion.

“Don’t worry, Mr Petrov, I can manage.  Hey, did you know we were moving away?”


“Yes … to a faraway country where the climate is warm.  I am leaving tonight.”

“So soon?  So suddenly?”

“Ha!  We have not been good neighbours for you … I hope you will get better neighbours next time.”

It was true that Mr Petrov had not enjoyed listening to the arguments next door …  Luigi was a small, fiery Italian and Olga seemed to thrive on lighting his fuse.

“But why isn’t Luigi helping you with this?”

“Luigi?  He has gone already.  Gone to the hotter place.  His landscapes now will mostly be red!”

Mr Petrov shook his head.  How selfish of Luigi to leave his woman to clear the house.  He didn’t know what to say …  “Well, they forecast that it’s going to be warmer this weekend.  We’re expecting a bit of a thaw.”

“Really?”  Olga glanced with regret at the magnificent snow cock she had created.  “But of course I will be far away by then.”


It was no great surprise to Mr Petrov when he looked out of his bedroom window and saw that the sun was shining and the snow cock had begun to shrink.  But what was that mark on the top?  By the time he found his binoculars and focussed them it had expanded.  Mr Petrov dropped the binoculars and fell back on his bed.  The knob had melted away to reveal a mop of short black hair.



Screenplay Finished

I have just finished adapting ‘The Rise of Serge and the Fall of Leo’ into screenplay format.  When I say ‘finished’, I am still going to have to give it a final read through before sending it off – but the last thing I want to do with something I have just finished writing is to read it. I still have time for that later, as the BBC Writers Room has not yet published its open dates for the autumn Script Room submissions window.

Re-writing the story as a screenplay meant that I had to cut it down to its bare bones to keep the running time within two hours. This meant omitting any scenes that were purely for entertainment value; scenes that did not progress the story towards its conclusion.  Serge and Fran’s wedding ceremony had to go, which I thought was a shame, but for the sake of the plot it was sufficient to see them living happily together.  For elements that were essential to the plot but would have used up too much screen time, such as Leo’s developing relationship with his son, I resorted to a montage but regretted having to gloss over scenes that I would have liked to see played out in full.

My conclusion is that the story would make a better multi-part drama series than a film, and one day I might re-write it as such, giving it all the time that it needs … but not right now!

The BBC is not looking for ideas to produce – the script readers are looking for writers they can develop. They receive thousands of scripts each year so I mustn’t be too hopeful.  Writing seems to have become so ‘closed doors’ that I am grateful to them for offering an opportunity for unknown/unrepresented writers to send in unsolicited scripts. After the closing date for submissions, if I am not contacted with two months, I must assume they are not interested.

Whatever the outcome, I get a little dream to float on during autumn …



All the books I wrote before ‘The Rise of Serge and the Fall of Leo’ were written in the past tense, which I believe is the more traditional style of telling a story.  I wrote those early stories without having to give a thought to the grammar – it just seemed to flow. With the Serge character, I felt that the present tense seemed appropriate for Serge’s outlook; he lives in the present moment and his actions are responses to what is happening right now.

I started my latest book in the present tense, as this now feels more natural to me, but at the end of the first chapter I decided to do this one in the past and rewrote it.  Rewriting it was more than just a case of sticking ‘ed’ on the end of words as I found that some bits just didn’t sound right and had to be rephrased. Moving forward, if I finally settle with the past, I will have to concentrate to use ‘said’ instead of ‘says’ and so on, until it becomes natural again.

I did go looking on the internet to see if people had tense preferences, and I think it was this comment on a forum that swayed me towards the past:

“Reading an extended piece in present tense often makes me feel as if I’m being hit repeatedly over the head with a teaspoon.”  (Emma)

I kind of know what she means, but yet it was this same quality that I felt gave my book a freshness, a faster pace and a sense of the seasons rolling quickly by.

To help me decide, I took an extract from ‘The Rise of Serge and the Fall of Leo’ and converted it into the past.

Here it is in the present tense:

Leo has had enough – it had been funny and intriguing at first – but now he will block the number.  Better still he will plunge the mobile into the water – as far down as he can sink it – and then jump in after it and follow it down to the depths where the water turns to mud.  He raises it above his head to achieve the maximum downward thrust but slips on the ice and falls to his knees – the phone flying from his hand and almost slithering over the edge.  He remains kneeling on the ice and clasps together his painfully cold hands, and sobs in despair…

  “Oh, Lord.  If you really do exist – as my mother believes you do – then please don’t let me ruin her Christmas.”

… and this is my ‘translation’ into the past tense.

Leo had had enough – it had been funny and intriguing at first – but now he would block the number.  Better still he would plunge the mobile into the water – as far down as he could sink it – and then jump in after it and follow it down to the depths where the water turns to mud.  He raised it above his head to achieve the maximum downward thrust but slipped on the ice and fell to his knees – the phone flying from his hand and almost slithering over the edge.  He remained kneeling on the ice and clasped together his painfully cold hands, and sobbed in despair…

  “Oh, Lord.  If you really do exist – as my mother believes you do – then please don’t let me ruin her Christmas.”

Have I got myself confused here? Do I need to change “will block the number”, “will plunge” and “can sink it” to “would block the number”, “would plunge” and “could sink it”, or are they still valid in the future when I am writing in the past?  I think I could have got away with the future, but it grates a little when followed by “He raised” instead of “He raises” – or would that read okay to everyone else?

Anyone’s feelings or advice on this will be very much appreciated and will help me to decide whether to go forward in the present or the past.



Writing under the alfluence of incohol

I have always been unusually attracted to alcohol to the extent that I must discipline myself to abstain for a while when guilt starts to override the pleasure.  I buy ‘Every Day’ vodka and, whilst I realise that’s a brand and not a prescription or a recommendation, I do find it’s the best thing for easing aches and pains or picking me up when I come home knackered and still have stuff to do. Most people I know would only have a drink with a companion, to be sociable.  I have never had a problem with drinking alone. I have been on the wagon for seventeen days and I look forward to starting to drink again at some point in the future, but with a little more reverence, and certainly not Every Day.  I don’t particularly feel healthier for not drinking … there are still days of feeling tired and crappy, which I might have put down to having one too many the night before, except I haven’t had any the night before.  Not that I do very often have a hangover these days – I am careful to get the ‘dosage’ right since ageing makes hangovers worse and longer lasting, and during the week I am conscious of early morning driving.  Maybe the aspartame and sucralose in the soft drinks I knock back to quash the cravings at my habitual drinking time are doing more harm than the alcohol?

So, where is the connection with writing?  I’m getting there but you can see how fixated I am!

Last weekend I was looking forward to starting to write my new novel.  It was the Jubilee weekend so I had two extra days off work to get stuck in and expected to have it well underway by the end of Tuesday … only it didn’t happen.  I spent hours staring at the laptop screen and then wandering off; finding no end of distractions to avoid writing.  I would rather have scrubbed the kitchen floor (it needs it) than start the new novel – but I didn’t do that either (maybe tomorrow).

Now, I’m not saying I write well when drunk – the reverse is true – but at least I would have written something. Alcohol loosens up my keyboard like it loosens some people’s tongues, and my fingers would not have been able to keep up with the flow of narrative – and I would have felt good for being on a roll and for getting so much done.  Then the next day, sober, I would have tightened it up by deleting a fair portion of superfluous waffle but at least I’d be much further on than I am now.

At least I’ve written this, on a Saturday night, without booze … so I have written something.  Hopefully I will make better progress with the book tomorrow.  I might even clean the kitchen floor.

A new mission

I have rejected the idea of rewriting my old novels in favour of starting something new.  Freshening up the old stuff would be a much quicker way of getting some more titles on my list but I really don’t feel like going back over old ground.  A lot of it was written during dark times and, although the subject matter is not a reflection of the ‘darkness’, looking back at it stirs up memories and feelings that are unwelcome now that I am happier than ever before.  Whilst not all the chapters of ‘The Rise of Serge and the Fall of Leo’ are entirely cheerful, I hope that the light tone of the narrative keeps the sad parts from being too heavy.

I am still at the research stage – making sure that the new story is plausible before I start writing it.  This makes me appreciate how lucky we are to have the internet with so much information so readily available.  Past projects involved Saturday morning visits to the library in a bid to get my facts right and I can still remember the satisfaction of coming home with a book that had a page or two on the subject I was researching.  Now I have too many pages than I have time to read; about any subject under the sun.  The sun is still shining.  Pity about all the flies that come with it ;<)

Writing a good Sex Scene

This is something that I struggle with – writing about it without including gratuitous details or off-putting graphic references to body parts.  Here are couple of snippets from books I have read that really don’t do it for me:

“maintaining his erection against her thigh, he lubricated her with his hand”

Sorry but Yuck!

“she felt the length of his shaft”

They were down a mine, right?

If I am reading a love scene, I feel cheated if the couple go off to bed and shut the door on me, but yet it can be cringe-making to be allowed behind the door.

As a teenager I loved the work of DH Lawrence and must have read just about everything he ever wrote – and how sensitively he wrote it!  Yes, he could be graphic, but then the ‘C’ word in his day sounded okay.  DH Lawrence also describes human emotions as they are, sometimes forsaking delicacy.  His characters feel anxiety in their bowels rather than as a butterfly fluttering in the chest.

Many years ago I read Roald Dahl’s ‘My Uncle Oswald’ (and I might quote this wrong as my copy got passed on along with all the Lawrence books) but I still recall a scene where he is looking through a window and he narrates something like this;

“I am not a voyeur.  The act of copulation is like that of picking your nose.  It is okay to be doing it yourself but to witness someone else doing it is a singularly unpleasant spectacle.”

That cracked me up when I read it and has stuck in my mind since about 1990, and probably explains why I struggle with sex scenes and why I will never be entirely at ease with writing them.  But I hope to keep practising …


Now available as a Paperback

Sorry to change back the subject, but ‘The Rise of Serge and the Fall of Leo’ is now available as a Paperback (368 pages), in addition to Amazon Kindle format!

Dean’s book cover looks superb and Imprint Digital’s printing and binding is excellent.  I really hope that what’s written on the pages is of similar quality – and I hope that you will read it and let me know what you think, either by commenting on this blog or by filling in the contact form on the top of this page or by writing a review on Amazon.

To link to the Amazon Kindle version (on Amazon.co.uk) click on the book cover image.  It can also be purchased in USD from Amazon.com.

To order a copy of the paperback using PayPal -UK only please (owing to postage cost) click the ‘PayPal click here to buy’ button, beneath the cover image.

I hope you enjoy reading the story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Thank you,


What shall I do next?

I have finally submitted the PDF file to the printers, and the paperbacks are in the process of being printed.  Whilst I’m looking forward to receiving them I am dreading discovering a typo the minute I look inside.  Not that I ever want to read my BF book again – after all that proof-reading.

There are some books I wrote years ago that I could dig up and re-write; all of them completely different from the one I have just finished, and different from each other – or maybe I should try something new?

An issue I have with writing in my spare time is that it doesn’t leave much time for reading other people’s work, but when I decided to read something instead of jumping into a new project, I found I was still in proof-reading mode and was checking out the punctuation instead of enjoying the story.

I will be glad to get my teeth into something new!


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