Word on a Whim

What began as a blog about writing and publishing has become a blog of whatever I feel like writing. Jules Lucton.

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Oscar !?

I know I’m not the only one who was shocked to hear the news this morning.  I could picture it so clearly; Oscar asleep in bed, and then suddenly his girlfriend turning up very early to surprise him on Valentine’s Day morning.  Waking with a start but still groggy, he grabbed the pistol from beneath the bed and fired.  No sound, other than the gunshot – because the first gunshot had killed her.  Unnerved, he fired again and then again – maybe thinking it was just a dream.  I imagined the absolute horror and disbelief when he switched on the light…

The silly girl!  As a hater of practical jokes, and a massive admirer of Oscar, I felt slightly cross with Reeva for misunderstanding him so badly – for not knowing that he would not like surprises.  But I have followed the developing story throughout the day, and, well, it is looking more as though he might have known he was shooting her.

Only last night I watched a video of him advertising sportswear.   Since I ‘Liked’ his Facebook page I get such links on my News Feed.  I confess I watched it twice.  Okay, I’m old enough to be his mother – but there’s no harm in window shopping – and it’s not only that he’s a hunk; there is also the running connection.

Running has helped me to retain some sort of sanity over the years and I try not to imagine a time when I cannot run, and I never take it for granted that I still can run, and I always give thanks at the end of a run.  This is how Oscar first became a hero to me – a guy with the motivation, not only to run, but to run competitively and to succeed beyond all expectations – with no fucking feet!

It is difficult now to read that Oscar has been “charged with murder” and I can only wait for the tragic story to unravel.  So often it seems that geniuses or people who excel in their particular vocation have some kind of imbalance that manifests itself as a weakness in another aspect of their makeup.  Perhaps the intensity of Oscar’s competitive spirit has in some way tipped his balance?  I feel so sorry for anyone who is personally connected, and my thoughts are with them tonight … but more particularly with Oscar.

Mad World

Yesterday morning when I was driving along a country road, a car appeared sideways from round a bend – the back end overtaking the front end as it drifted across my side of the road.  I swerved to the other side of the road to try to get round it but there wasn’t enough room and the rear end caught my front nearside wing and wheel.  Crunch.  The other car drifted along gracefully for some distance, thankfully losing momentum, so that it finally settled into the grassy roadside rather than hitting it with a bump and landing upside down in the ditch.  For the driver and his passenger, it must have seemed like an eternity before it came to rest.

Someone who saw it happen stopped to check that everyone was okay; delivered gratuitous male banter to the other driver, “You lost it there mate, didn’t you, ha-ha,”  then went on his way.  We then set about getting the cars off the road so as not to cause another accident, and exchanged details.

I phoned work and told them what had happened and that I would be ’working from home’, and everyone I spoke to asked if there were any witnesses.  Yes, someone stopped.  “Did you get his name and address?”  No.  The driver who skidded was a really nice guy.  Ashen faced, he had taken a brush from his car and swept all the debris off the road, and given me a card with all his details on.  “Did you take photos of the scene?”  No.  Our priority was to get the cars off the road and into nearby clearing as they were a potential hazard.

I knew they all thought I was daft, but sure enough, yesterday evening I had a call from the guy’s insurance company who said he had reported the incident and accepted full liability.  So there!  He’d probably gone and done his day’s work before going home and reporting it.  I wish it didn’t have to be anyone’s ‘fault’.  None of us really want to be driving on black ice in the weak early morning light – it’s just that we have to keep our hamster wheels turning.

Today I am ‘working from home’ again and will be collecting a hire car this afternoon that I will use until my car is fixed – but how silly is this:  The car rental firm is coming to collect me to take me back to their office to complete the paperwork so that I can bring the car back here.  Bearing in mind that the main road into the village is closed again due to flooding and we will have to go all around the Wrekin, why can’t they just deliver the car here and complete the paperwork on the kitchen table, saving everybody’s time and thirty-odd miles of fuel?  No wonder all our insurance premiums are so high.

A visit from the President

The “President and CEO” of the U.S. company I work for is visiting today.  The building smells of paint – honestly!  The painters were in last week, as well as the window cleaners.   We had the usual email about wearing appropriate attire and keeping the office tidy – it wouldn’t do to give the impression there was any work going on – and there was another request that made me laugh:  “Please ensure there is no preparation of food with strong or spicy odours.”  I don’t know why they didn’t give us all the day off, in case we make the place look untidy, or make a smell.

He is due to visit our department at 2pm and, although I only have another seven weeks left to work here, I am looking forward to meeting him.  In photos and videos he looks like Superman but with more appropriate attire.  Either he is about eight feet tall or else he surrounds himself with very small people.  I wonder if you have to put your height on your CV if you apply for a job as CEO in a large company?

Now I can hear scraping noises outside – and a colleague who normally wears overalls, but is wearing a suit today, is breaking up the compacted snow with a spade and removing it from around the visitor parking spaces – and as I watch a buffet is being delivered.  No onions, I hope.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Well, 2pm has been and gone, and so has our VIP visitor.  He looked older and thinner than he looks on camera – and he also looked eight feet tall, but then his posy were all shorties.

I said to him, “You should come here more often – the place has never looked so clean.”  No I didn’t.  The poor guy was wearing the glazed expression of someone who is jet-lagged and/or does not wish to engage in conversation, and walked through without saying anything.

I shouldn’t take the mickey.  My own home would be so much cleaner if I had visitors more often.

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!”

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

After a few weeks of ‘consultation’ I have today been given notice of redundancy from my job.  The consultation process has been a charade – a procedure that was necessary to safeguard the company from any possible litigation.  I believe they had already decided on the outcome, but we had to have meetings to put forward our ideas as to how the redundancy might be avoided.  The timing surprised me;  I was half-expecting it a few months ago when the legacy system I had developed and supported was finally laid to rest and I was struggling to learn the new programming languages, but this has happened just as I was starting to be useful.  There are a few of us going from IT and many old colleagues from other departments.  Budgets have been tightened and the company is cutting away some old wood.  The bugger of it is that I have to work twelve weeks’ notice, so I won’t finish until mid-March.  Traditionally in IT, anyone made redundant has their access to the systems revoked instantly and is escorted from the premises.  Unfortunately, that rule has just been changed here.  Maybe if I rant at my screen and say “delete” as people walk by they might let me go?

It has been a funny few weeks.   That initial meeting so suddenly called – and the first formal letter informing me that my job was “at risk” came out of the blue at a time when from my point of view we were particularly busy – so it came as a shock, followed later by a vague sense of bereavement at the thought of parting from my colleagues.  I have worked with some of them for almost thirteen years.  Now I am trying to focus on the things I won’t miss such as the bizarre heating system that blows hot air from the ceiling – drying out your eyes whilst your feet freeze beneath the desk …

I have been lucky with managers in that those I report to have always told me the truth as they saw it – but the truth has mutated with the passage of time and the failing economy.  Our project plans – all that future work – has suddenly lost its priority.

I have always believed that things happen for a reason, and was tentatively hopeful that my screenplay might make it through the BBC Writersroom and I would suddenly have loads of time to write scripts.  Not expecting to hear anything unless I was successful, I was surprised to find an email from them this morning – but it turned out to be a rejection.  By no means the first rejection I’ve ever had – it is something many writers get used to, and at least I know now, and I can knock that little fantasy on the head.  It means a lot to me to have dates and times, and to know what’s what.  I really wish it didn’t.  I wish I could be more laid back, and ‘take it as it comes’ but this is the way I am and yes, I know it is only a job, and losing it is way at the bottom of my list of the precious things in this life that I constantly worry about losing.  But yes, I was grateful to receive the email from work this afternoon.  I am on holiday this week – I was advised to use it!

So, what next?  Preferably something different – something that doesn’t necessitate sitting at a desk for hours on end … but what?  I am determined to be optimistic that this change is for the better.

Happy Christmas!

Love xxx

“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?”

“No?”

“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.

🙂

 

Old Dog New Tricks

This was supposed to be a blog that was mostly about writing – only I haven’t written anything recently, nothing in English, that is.  At work I write computer programs but the switch from iSeries RPG to web front-end C# with Sequel Server has resulted in me coming home feeling utterly mind-fucked; my head a cage-full of monkeys as the ideas of the fiction I might write come and go amidst the frustration of knowing exactly what the system I am working on is supposed to be doing, but not having the language skills to make it happen.  Then the nights are full of mind-loop dreams of unsolved and surreal problems that I would never get to the bottom of, if I tried all night, because they do not exist!  And there is the nuisance of Christmas approaching.

I don’t really have the aptitude for C#.   I believe it was created by a bunch of … gents who were concerned that higher level languages were a threat; opening the IT doors to none-IT staff.  Unfortunately, it has also closed doors for some veteran programmers, and I thought I was going to be one of them.

The transition from ‘top down’ to ‘object oriented’ programming has not been sudden.  The system I had worked on for hundreds of years was decommissioned some time ago and I expected to go out with it.  I was glad to be kept on but the deadlines for the latest project were particularly tight and I found I was doing extra hours at home, weekends and evenings, in order to just about keep up.  I am lucky enough to work with a small team guys who are not only technically brilliant but good friends too, and supportive – but I am determined I will not be carried by them.

I am picking up the new skills, slowly.   If you throw enough mud at a wall some of it will stick, but all the mud that has hit and slid away has been depleting, and all I have done in my spare time is easy-reading and nosying on friends’ Facebooks.   I am tentatively confident that this is about to change so that work can stay at the office and I can put some disciplined thought and time into another writing project.

Keep warm, and try not to get too muddy 😉

Jules

Sunday Ramblings

Most Sunday mornings I run along the riverside path with Gandalf.  When I say run, it tends to be very stop-start, because he is a hound dog and does what doggies do in that particularly stubborn way that is characteristic of the hound.  He is a lovely companion, partly because he does not speak, and if we pick a time when there are not too many other people and dogs around, this is our special time together – and the time and place where much of my fiction is created.

Often the route is dark, dismal and muddy. This morning the sun was burning off a heavy mist, so it was atmospheric, whimsical … and muddy.  I have never seen it looking so lovely.  I had a mobile phone in my pocket with a camera on it and decided to take some photos along the way.

Gandalf used to bolt under this bridge because the first time he went under it a train went over and freaked him out.

Those are cattle in the distance, standing in an area where the mist hadn’t yet burned off.  Aberdeen Angus, I think.  Shaggy ginger ones with really cute faces.

I don’t know much about photography but was always told the light should be behind – but I was trying to capture the heavy dew and the impressive network of spiders’ webs – and it could only be seen from this direction.  That fence has an electric current running through it to keep the cattle in the field.  The path gets quite narrow in places and poor Gandalf once touched it and hollered like hell.  I touched it myself and wondered why he’d made such a fuss – but I was wearing rubber soled shoes.  Gandalf’s hu-dad went along another day, took his shoes off and touched it, and his hand was stinging for hours.

These two guys wondered what the silly cow was staring at.

The foreground is mostly cobwebs and dew, the bit in the middle is the river and the sky has chemtrails.  (Oh, don’t start on about those again).

When I took the photos, Gandalf was either up to his ears in an interesting smell, or else marking ‘Gandalf woz ere’ on it – so I didn’t take any pictures of him by the river … but here he is back home; washed and fed and no longer smelling like a swamp.

Wishing everyone a peaceful Sunday,

Jules x

If a picture paints a hundred thousand words: painting compared with writing

I used to try to paint pictures … many years ago. I was never satisfied with the finished effort, which wasn’t anywhere near as good as the picture in my mind that I was trying to replicate.  My subjects were usually imaginary creatures.  I would picture the main subject; maybe a dragon coiled in front of a Gothic castle, and sketch the outline but then when I came to fill in the background the mind work would begin.  Was the castle on a hillside?  How much of the background was sky and how much was land?  What kind of sky or land?  Was the light-source from the moon … if so, from what angle?  How about the dragon; was it dozing, or warily guarding the castle, or angry and fearsome?  Should the dragon be painted in fine detail, down to its individual claws, or would an impression of claws be more effective?

Painting a picture has some parallels with writing a novel.  The novel starts with a visualised scene or an idea that inspires the writer to create a plot that includes the central characters – the secret friends who are with you night and day.  You already know, understand and admire them, and you want the reader to feel the same about them.  For this to happen you have to think about the details.  How do your characters react in given situations? How about their style of speech; the way they dress, the way they move?  What sort of homes do they live in?  Has anything significant happened in the past that has shaped them?  Could some of this detail be narrated or would it be more effectively conveyed as an impression through their actions and dialogue?

Writing suits me better than painting – and not only because I get better results with no mess to clear away afterwards. When I used to paint, if I realised too late that the composition was wrong I found it impossible to salvage, whereas with a novel I am able to go back and change the beginning or insert extra chapters or add some twists and turns to make up the length if required – although I’m not sure how well that would work if I was asked to provide a synopsis prior to beginning a novel!

Lately I have been trying to clear things out of the house to make some space.  I still have my large art folder containing the artwork I did at school thirty years ago!  I can’t keep such things for ever but there are a few pictures I might hang on to. I will throw out my paints though – they can’t be much good after all this time!  I decided to take photos of the best few pictures and post them on this blog.  Then, if I decide to chuck the lot out there is still a record.  I never improved on my school work, and the photographed images somehow look better than the real things – and I like to see pictures on the blog.

So here they are …

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 …

Jules

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