Chick mother

In the garden, the birds are getting busy. They sing beautiful, flirtatious songs. They flutter and spiral in aerial dances designed to impress.  They collect twigs and soft cashmere undercoat from the goats, helpfully deposited along the wire fence as they rub luxuriously along it. Two shiny blackbirds, bright yellow beaks and beady button eyes, face off at the bird feeder whilst a dowdy brown female watches with indifference. All is industry and love making. Soon, nests will be full of hatchlings; oversized beaks gaping and calling for food. Soon, parent birds will be even busier keeping their youngsters satisfied.

All this activity has reminded me of my old dog Sam, a few years back when he was a little more energetic. One spring afternoon, I stepped out of the back door to find him crouched on the pavement, head bowed. As I got closer, I noticed between his paws, two tiny featherless baby birds. On the fence, staring in anticipation, sat my three cats, licking their lips meaningfully. Helpless creatures fallen from the nest above, safe in Sam’s attentive care. He had protected them from becoming a tasty snack.

I’d noticed a pair of blue tits building a home in our rafters over the previous weeks. The babies had obviously tumbled down and landed on the path. Luckily for them, they were unhurt and Sam had found them before his feline friends. My heart was touched by his tenderness but I didn’t hold much hope for the pathetic little things. There was no way their parents could get them back in the nest and they were very young; bald, cold and eyes firmly shut. After Sam’s show of heroism, however, I couldn’t leave them to die so I scooped them up gently and took them indoors.

This was the start of a new role for me: chick mother. I found a little box, lined it with kitchen towel and placed them with care inside. Then I decided it would be more comfortable and warmer for them if they had a nest, so I took an old plastic bowl, put it in the box and filled it with shredded paper and tissue. They seemed happy in their new nest but still cold. I borrowed a small soft toy, a fluffy bear, from one of the children and sat him atop the nest like a surrogate mother bird. Then I searched the internet for any advice on rearing baby birds. Nothing encouraging came from my searching, mostly the information was don’t do it; never move a baby bird if you find one as its parents may return and rescue it. I could see the sense in this but my situation was different. If Sam hadn’t protected those birds, the cats would have had them for dinner. I had to bring them inside and see what I could do. I had to try. Further searching followed and I discovered that parent blue tits feed their young on green caterpillars that are abundant in the trees in springtime. They feed them many, many caterpillars every hour each day and into the night until dark. Never ever feed baby birds worms as these are too sticky.

My next job was a caterpillar hunt. There were plenty of trees; bashing the branches with a stick sent down all kinds of invertebrates onto my big white sheet of paper. There were quite a few caterpillars too. I took them inside and chopped them into pieces. A yucky, mucky job, poor caterpillars, but I knew parent birds regurgitate their offspring’s food and I wasn’t going to chew them! I found some cocktail sticks to use as a feeding implement. By this time, the baby birds were making quite a lot of noise and opening their beaks wide in starvation. I stabbed a piece of caterpillar and gave it to the first bird, which took it gratefully. This was the beginning of many days spent collecting caterpillars and feeding baby birds. Every two hours, to begin with, I fed my babies.

SONY DSCSadly, on the second morning, I came down to find one of the birds was dead. The process continued for the other bird, however, which seemed to be doing fine and ate greedily. After a few days, I bought some live meal worms and chopped them up to feed too. I was struggling to find enough caterpillars; the baby bird ate and ate. The more she ate, the stronger she got and the more food she wanted! I’d also developed a system for giving her a drink of water using a cotton bud. I called her Chickpea.

SONY DSCOver the days and weeks, Chickpea grew bigger and more active. Her eyes opened and she grew feathers, downy at first and then beginning to show her true blue tit colours. As she began to move around more, I realized the box was no longer a safe home so I constructed a makeshift cage from a bigger box and a clear plastic seed tray lid. I put in a small branch as a perch. She began to hop out of the nest and flutter clumsily onto the branch. Soon I realized she would need lessons in feeding herself and flying practice.  I started squashing meal worms onto the branch where she could pick them off. At least the gaps between feeding times were growing longer. Eventually, she had a bowl of meal worms to pick at as she chose. Then I started letting her out of the cage so her wings could grow strong. She would fly up onto my shoulder, then back to the perch, then up to a shelf and back to me. Once she was flying with confidence and feeding herself happily, I realized it was time for her release back into the wild.

One morning, just after dawn, I carried Chickpea, tucked safe in her box, far into the woods. When I got to a tranquil spot, full of the calls of other blue tits, next to a babbling stream, I opened the lid. She didn’t waste a moment, out she flew, up into a tall pine. She sat on an uppermost branch and sang. Then she pecked at the mossy bark and flew away. I’m not sure if I ever saw her again. On my woodland walks, I often hear a familiar trill but there are many, many blue tits living in the woods. I hope she lives there happily with them.

Characters not caricatures

People are not simple. They are full of complexities and contradictions. As writers we must be careful to create characters that are not cardboard cut-outs or stereotypes. We must make our characters come alive and appear real. We want our readers to be engaged, to believe in them. They may not like them but they must be willing to invest time and interest in them. After all, our main aim is to keep our readers reading.

How do writers do this? How do we reveal our characters in ways which make them seem true to life? There are many techniques we can use. We can provide a physical description of the character: how do they move, look, smell, how does the way they look affect the things they do? We can write about the character’s behaviour in their world: how they interact with others; any habits they have; how they react to external forces. We can use dialogue: what the character says; any speech patterns or phrases; what the character doesn’t say. We can think about the character’s back story: how this made them into the person they are. We can reveal the character’s inner life and thought processes.

As writers, we must be observant of people in our everyday lives. We must notice the ways they behave, the things they say, how they react to each other and their environment. We must remember to use our notebooks and keep a record of what we see and hear. These life experiences will help us develop our characters.

We must be readers too. We must study the way other writers portray characters. Do we believe in the character we are reading about? What techniques is the writer using? What works well and what doesn’t? We can keep notes on character portrayals that we find useful or particularly good.

Before we begin to write a story, we can make a character profile. This can include: the character’s looks, relationships, behaviours, habits, likes, dislikes, back story and motivations. This will help us make our characters well-rounded, fully developed people. Not forgetting, of course, that sometimes people can behave ‘out of character’. We are not straightforward after all and cannot be put into neat boxes. That’s what makes being a writer so interesting.

 

How do you develop characters in your stories? Do you write character profiles before you begin?

Death by chocolate

Some time ago, I wrote this odd little story for a competition in a local free paper. We had to include three random words: dream, chocolate and glasses. The competition was cancelled, so I thought I’d share it here:

 

Two glasses sat smeared and grimy on the coffee table; dregs of cheap red wine congealing. Greasy entrails of foil tubs spilt over the chipped woodwork. Stale aromas of spice mingled with cigarette smoke. An alcoholic fug filled the room. Weak sunlight struggled to reach dusty corners. A low moan rumbled from the tatty sofa.

‘Oh…’ a deep voice rasped,’…my head…’

A shadowy hump rose slowly from its resting place.

‘What a night…think we overdid it…’ the hump said staggering across the floor transforming into a man.

The man stared into a smudgy mirror. He rubbed his stubbly cheeks vigorously.

‘Ugh…’ he said to his dishevelled reflection.

He looked around the unkempt room.

‘Sandy!’ he called gruffly. No reply. Where was his wife?

The man picked his way gingerly out of the lounge, through the cluttered hallway and into the musty, dark bedroom. Sandy liked a lay-in on Saturdays. Her only chance for one. The rumpled bed was empty. He sat heavily on the lumpy mattress. Was Sandy there last night? It wasn’t her late shift at the factory. Yes, he remembered her coming home from her cleaning job at the hospital. She’d found him asleep in the kitchen. He’d woken with a start when she banged her bag down on the table. She’d glared with contempt at the sink full of oily dishes, the grubby work surfaces and basket of dirty laundry sitting shamefully by the washing machine. All as she had left them.

‘I see you’ve been busy,’ she’d said; voice quiet and hard.

He hadn’t been shopping or prepared the evening meal either. Since being made redundant two years ago, a dull laziness had seeped into his bones. Lethargy he could not shift.

‘Sorry love…’ he’d simpered, ‘We can go to the supermarket now…get some bottles…a takeaway…treat for you…’

Sandy had driven them to the supermarket. She’d tutted as he put two extra wine bottles in the trolley. They had picked up a Chinese then come back to the flat in bitter silence. The rest of the evening was blurred.

The man rubbed his hands over his distended stomach. His skin taut, firm and tender to the touch. They – well he – had overdone it last night. He let out a bilious belch which left a bitter sweet tang at the back of his throat. Chocolate; rich and dark. The sensation relit a memory. Something odd. A dream. Last night…

He was sitting on the sofa with Sandy. She was quiet; still angry with him. The air simmered with rage. He turned to speak to her, to apologize. He couldn’t bear the atmosphere any longer. Sandy sat immobile. Glossy, brilliantly tempered. A perfect impression made from delicious, luscious chocolate. He touched her gently. She felt cool and smooth. He breathed in the exotic, sweet smell. His mouth watered, taste buds tingling. He put out his tongue and licked her statuesque face. She tasted good. A high quality chocolate from a posh shop. He wondered if he could risk a nibble. A small bite. Of her ear. He couldn’t resist. The flavour was divine. He began to gobble greedily. Gorging himself on the chocolate. It melted and dripped from his lips. Soon he had devoured his wife with big, hungry mouthfuls. He felt a sickly burn in his throat. His stomach felt swollen and sore. He slept.

The man looked down at his enormous belly.

‘Oh my God…’ he moaned, panic fluttering in his chest, ’I can’t have…it’s not possible…’

He rose from the bed and stumbled into the hall. Frantically, he began to search the house. Pushing, smashing and renting furniture, ornaments and clothing as he went. He shouted and wailed for his wife, his voice tense and hoarse. He tore at his hair in desperation. Silence surrounded him. Fear filling his lungs so he could hardly breath, he surveyed the wreckage of his home. He collapsed on a kitchen chair and swept the table free of clutter in frustration. Putting his head in his hands, he sobbed convulsively.

‘No…What have I done?’ he wept.

Underneath the table, hidden amongst the carnage, sat a pristine square of paper. On it, in neat script, was written:

Dear Rob,

I can’t stand living like this any longer. I want something better and I’ve gone to find it. I’m sorry.

Goodbye,

Sandra

 

 

 

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Sitting in the grey and slate reception of a plain, somewhat dowdy, office building in lovely, ugly Swansea, I wonder what it would be like to be a receptionist. I have no idea what the role actually entails. I assume one would have to welcome people, organize appointments, do administration of some kind, talk on the telephone, tap on a keyboard, look at stuff on a computer screen, be smart and smiley.  This one is friendly and helpful. She has made me a cup of tea while I wait for my interview, which is running half an hour late.

It’s a worrying problem deciding what you want to be when you grow up. I envy people who are driven. As a child, I sometimes pretended to be working in an office. At the dining room table, I would sit, toy phone, typewriter, notepad and pen by my side: “Mr. So and So will see you now.” My father, on being told I was clever at school, said to me, “You can be whatever you want. You can be a secretary!” I had bigger ambitions. Enjoying telling stories, I dreamt of being a writer and journalist. Travelling the world, I would search out and share exciting tales.

My second ambition was to become a vet. I adored the James Herriot stories. Once qualified, I would publish hilarious tales about my antics. This, however, did not come to pass. On a work experience, aged fourteen, at a local veterinarian practice, my mind was changed by the old, head vet who told me of his experiments on calves as a student; transplanting their livers into their necks. Despite his assurances that it was pioneering work, allowing successful organ transplants in humans today, I was horrified. I wanted to be a vet to help, not harm, animals. That same vet had me wash his car too!

As for journalism, I went off that idea when I got bored in typing classes: the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. How could I be a successful writer if I couldn’t touch type? Instead, I became a teacher, sharing my love of books and writing with others. In fact, that is why I’m waiting in this reception today. I have an interview to join a teaching agency. After fourteen years of home educating my children, I’m going back to the world of paid work. It’s a scary thought, especially as I’m still not sure what I want to do with my life, despite supposedly being a grown up!

The scribbling has always gone on though. I’ve continued to create stories and scenarios in my head. If I get some teaching work with this agency, I fully intend to keep writing and working on poems, short stories and my novel. One letter tapped on the keyboard at a time.

I’m getting braver about sharing my work, so I mustn’t stop now.

Keep it under wraps

Wake to a foreign land,

heavily silent.

The earth keeps

secrets smothered

under cold, crisp layers.

 

Blanketing, blizzard

buries all.

 

Not a babbling bird

tells its tale,

nor murmuring mammal

speaks its story.

 

Whispering world of

words unsaid.

 

Our past is

entombed deep.

Truth suffocates us

beneath a

pure, white face.

 

 

Paradise Lost

The radio told me

as I buttered toast,

There is no paradise now.

Beautiful beaches are

wrecked on Bali’s coast.

 

Under a fresh blue sky,

no shores lie pristine.

There is no paradise now.

The salty sea’s cold tongue

cannot lick them clean.

 

Waves spit dirty rubbish

on damp silver sands.

There is no paradise now.

Only rainbow vomit

formed by human hands.

 

On shopping bag jellyfish,

turtles choke and die.

There is no paradise now.

We cannot close our eyes;

pretend, ignore, lie.

 

Marine creatures swim in

our colourful spew.

There is no paradise now.

No putting the world right

or making it new.

 

Those dreams of romantic

escapes are all dead.

There is no paradise now.

We made a wasteland; must

face ruin instead.

 

 

Sometimes the news creates a feeling of hopelessness in me. This story did just that. Since David Attenborough’s Blue Planet, awareness is growing and people are starting to act but is it a case of too little, too late? How do we change attitudes on such an enormous scale?

(Picture: AFPG/Getty Images Newsround BBC)

 

Tea with friends

Sue sat looking over the neat rows of flowers and sharp-edged lawns. It was hot inside so she had flung the windows wide. Cool air soothed her softly-lined skin. She looked down at her veined, wrinkled hands; spun her wedding ring round with her fingertips. Bill would have liked this garden; orderly and easy to care for. He’d always moaned about their place. The hedges, orchard and meadow were unkempt; difficult to control. He would have liked this small, tidy flat too. Less to maintain than the old, sprawling farmhouse they’d bought when first married. Forty-eight years they had spent there, not all of them happy. Sometimes Bill had reminded her of their home and garden, uncontrollable and wild. His depression, his drinking, his temper.

There had been good times. The early days when the children were small. Raising a family in the countryside. Cricket and badminton on the meadow. Hide and seek in the orchard. Apple and plum pie. Busy, happy times with people around. As the children grew up, moved on, made their own lives, things got difficult. Bill became introverted, quiet. He drank lots then. He shouted at her; impatient and irritated. The names were cruel; meant to cut, to cause pain. A flying fist could hurt too. Not often but enough for her to be afraid; to become a child, a mouse. Bill was certainly able to control her.

Still, she missed him. This flat was too silent. The days ached with empty hours. She tried to find things to do, to fill the spaces. She cleaned, read, went for walks, watched TV, spent hours staring out of the window. Everything seemed pointless on your own. The other residents were friendly but so, old. They spent their days in the communal lounge gossiping; discussing the comings and goings. She wasn’t ready for that life yet.

Sue sighed. When Bill died of liver disease, she’d discovered there were debts. Their savings were gone. The profits Bill had made from selling his building firm had gone too. She’d found herself without the home she loved; sold to pay everything off. Lucky to keep enough to rent this retirement flat. Not the place she’d envisaged for her final days. She was a young seventy; fit and trim. Years ahead of her, all being well. She shouldn’t be stuck in this home for the elderly. She should be in her farmhouse; her family around her. She wanted to move nearer to the children, but there had been nothing she could afford. Mark regretted he had no space for her. Five kids in a three-bedroomed house. Sarah had just started a family. She didn’t expect to move in with her and a new baby. No, she never wanted to be a nuisance.

A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts. Sue rose in a daze from her chair. She glanced at the clock. It would be Fred, her next door neighbour. A sweet man who loved gardening. He looked after the communal gardens. Three days a week he knocked at eleven. Brought her flowers cut from the beds; chrysanthemums, dahlias or sweet peas. She loved brightening the flat with their colour and scent. Sometimes he stayed for a cup of tea. Not always. He took some persuading. Sue had come to rely on these meetings. An unexpected friendship had developed over a cup of the aromatic, amber liquid. On the days when Fred was too busy, or too shy, to come in she felt disappointed. Today she would insist he stayed. She hurried to open the door.

 

Another day had passed without visitors. Sue sipped her tea and nibbled at a garibaldi. Crumbs fell on the table and her knees. Brushing them off carelessly, she sighed into the hushed emptiness. She picked up the red leather case hiding quietly under the pile of newspapers. The tablet Mark had bought her.

“We’ll be able to talk face to face, Mum,” he said, guilty about how rarely he could visit, “It’ll be as if we’re actually here in the room.”

“That sounds great,” she replied, “but will I be able to use it?”

“Of course, it’s easy. I’ll teach you.”

Sue had agreed to keep him happy. Now she talked to her family several times a week. At other times, the tablet sat mute and forgotten. The grandchildren had shown her how to play games and search the internet. She couldn’t muster any enthusiasm. Sarah had even joked about online dating.

“About time you found someone to care for you…all those years you put up with Dad,” she hugged Sue tight.

“Don’t be daft. I’m too old for all that!” Sue shrugged.

“You’re the one being daft, Mum,” Sarah admonished, “You’re still a very attractive woman. A great catch. What about your neighbour? Fred, isn’t it?”

“Now you are being silly…he’s not my type…we’re friends, that’s all.”

She’d seen an advert for a dating site on the television. Beautiful blue-eyed blonde with a handsomely dark man. With looks like that you wouldn’t need help finding someone. Bill was a good-looking man. Broad and strong. Those painfully deep eyes. Troubled eyes. She could almost see his soul. She remembered how he had made her feel that first meeting. Bill walked in the pub; assured, confident.  Her legs jellified. Happy in his skin, he was then.

“That’s the girl I’m going to marry,” he had announced to her best friend, Janet.

Arrogant sod. Anyway, that was past. Bill was gone. She was alone. Lonely. Maybe she should try a dating site. Start thinking about the present. The future. She typed ‘dating for old people’ on the touch pad.

 

Sue opened the front door. Fred stood; sweet peas clasped in front of his chest. He was a short, round man with bald head, rosy cheeks and kind, blue eyes behind his spectacles.

“Hello Fred.”

“Good morning,” Fred said, holding the bunch out to her.

“Thank you, my favourites,” Sue smiled, taking the flowers, “better get these in water. Will you come in for a cuppa?”

Fred’s cheeks reddened further, “Well…I don’t want to put you to any bother…”

“It’s no bother. We haven’t shared a cup of tea for a while. Come in, I’ve got custard creams,” Sue insisted.

Fred wiped his feet briskly on the mat and followed Sue inside. He looked around the small lounge and nodded with satisfaction.

“You display them so well,” he said.

Sue studied her flat. It was like an indoor garden with vases of cut flowers on every surface. She smiled broadly. Bill wouldn’t have liked it; dropped petals and pollen, vases gathering dust, damp rings on the furniture. But this was her home and she could do what she wanted.

“I’ll just get these sorted and put the kettle on. Make yourself at home,” Sue pointed vaguely towards the table and went into the kitchen.

Fred pulled out a chair and sat quietly down, folding his hands in his lap. He could hear the chime and tinkle of tea things being prepared. Earl Grey; their favourite. In a teapot, sugar bowl, milk jug and two pretty bone china cups with saucers, very civilized. Sue made the perfect cuppa. His favourite times of the week. At least, when he found the confidence to come in. He sat still and silent, wracking his brain for things to say. It had been a couple of weeks since they’d last had tea together. He’d missed their chats. He must have some news for her.

Sue entered carrying the tray. She put it on the table and sat down opposite Fred.

“So, what have you been up to?” she asked.

“Well, not a lot…been busy in the garden. The veg patch is going well. They’ve agreed I can sell any surplus in the common room,” Fred said, blushing with the effort.

“That’s wonderful,” Sue enthused, “I knew you’d been too busy to share a cuppa but I’d no idea.”

“You haven’t been walking in the garden lately,” Fred said, “so, you wouldn’t have seen…”

Sue poured the tea and offered the plate of biscuits. She felt a little ashamed. Embarrassed. She hadn’t been walking much lately. She’d hardly been out of the flat. Fred’s reticence had been her excuse for not asking him in. Poor friend she had been. Too busy setting up her online dating account, scrolling through possible matches, making lists of pros and cons, arranging meetings. Her first date was tomorrow. Whatever would Bill think of her? Silly tart probably. A hot flash swamped her body. He was dead. She had to stop being a child, a mouse. She had to start living her life.

Fred noticed her reddening, “I didn’t mean to…”.

He slurped his tea quickly to cover his awkwardness.

“Fred, you haven’t offended me…I’m the one who’s sorry,” Sue apologized, “I’ve been busy. I’ve missed the garden. I’ll make sure to come and see your patch soon.”

“That would be lovely,” Fred smiled, “I hope everything’s…all right?”

She seemed distracted. He was worried. Sue saw his discomfort; felt he deserved an explanation.

“Well, to be honest…. I’ve been feeling rather lonely. I miss Bill. His company. I suppose.” Sue explained, “I haven’t adjusted to being on my own.”

“Course not, these things take time.” Fred agreed, “When Anne died, it took me a good two years to feel…like I was managing.”

“I’m not managing, not…happy,” Sue said, “Anyway, Sarah suggested a dating site and I’m giving it a go. My first date is tomorrow night, Charles, his name is. He’s a bachelor, sixty-eight, plays tennis, likes fine dining, does amateur operatics, looks handsome in his photo…”

She tailed off. Fred was far away. In a different place. He didn’t know what to say. He felt sad, as if he’d lost something.

“That’s lovely. He sounds an interesting man. Just right for an active, attractive woman like you.”

“It’s only a first date. You’ll have me getting married next!” Sue laughed, half-heartedly, “I’m… not sure I’m doing the right thing. Seems disloyal to Bill.”

She fiddled with her wedding ring.

“Bill is gone. You deserve some happiness.”

Fred removed his glasses, wiped them, put them on, sipped his tea. He looked around the room. A rabbit searching for a bolt hole.

“Thanks, Fred. You’re a good friend,” Sue leant forward, patted his hand.

Fred rose, swept crumbs from his trousers.

“Must be going. Thanks for the tea…Good luck for tomorrow.”

He left hastily, no backward glance or wave.

“Poor Fred,” Sue smiled to herself, “I’ve embarrassed him, baring my soul like that.”

She began clearing the tea things.

 

The room was a shambles. Dirty plates and glasses smeared the coffee table. Newspapers and books sprawled over the sofa and floor. A pile of laundry, of unknown cleanliness, hunched in a corner. She hadn’t expected this. They’d had a lovely evening. Fancy Italian restaurant; wine, roses, music. Charles, immaculate and handsome in a pinstripe suit. They had talked and laughed. She’d readily agreed to come back for a drink. To think he lived in this mess.

“I was in a rush tonight,” Charles said with explanatory shrug, “Please sit down, I’ll make us coffee.”

“Tea for me, please,” Sue said, “Earl Grey if you have it.”

“Afraid I don’t, coffee man myself…may have some English Breakfast hiding in the cupboard somewhere.” Charles said, “Will that do? No pot I’m afraid…have to make it in a mug.”

Oh dear, that was not ideal.

“Yes, that’ll be…fine,” she said politely.

Charles disappeared into the kitchen. Sue surveyed the seating and decided the armchair looked the safest. Pushing magazines and clothing aside, she perched elegantly on the cushion edge. Bill would have had forty fits. The muddle, the chaos, the grime. Wouldn’t have stayed for one moment. His body aching and twitching from desperation to clean up. Life was chaotic too. Bill couldn’t cope when things didn’t run smoothly. A black mood would smother him. Then he would drink to forget. Hiding under an alcoholic blanket. Anyway, Charles seemed a nice man. They’d had fun. More important things than a tidy home.

A shriek brought her back to the room; dreadful wailing from the kitchen.

“Everything all right in there, Charles?” Sue called in concerned tones.

“Marvellous.” Charles replied returning with two steaming mugs, “My part in the Mikado…must keep practising. I do love to sing…can’t help myself…all day long.”

Goodness, Sue wasn’t sure she could put up with that racket.

“Lovely…” she said as she took the mug of tea, “Thank you.”

She tasted the dark, murky liquid. Awful; bitter and strong. He must have squeezed the teabag. This wouldn’t do. Couldn’t work. She’d laugh about it with Fred, over a delicious pot of Earl Grey in the morning.

 

Sue was worried. Anxiously, she checked the clock again. Half twelve. Fred should have knocked ages ago. She wondered what could have happened. He never missed his days. Always on the dot, she didn’t know how he did it. She sipped at her teacup. Fragrant, delicate…and cold. Something was wrong. Quickly she rose, slipped on her cardigan, checked for her door key and left the flat. Two doors down, she knocked decisively. Silence answered.

“Fred!” she called, “Are you there?”

There was no reply.

She hurried down the stairs to the communal lounge. Old folk sat comfortably around the room edges. The buzz of chatter ebbed and flowed like road traffic. Quiet settled when they noticed Sue. Unusual for her to come in here, kept herself to herself.

“Hello dear,” said Mrs Jackson peering over her knitting.

“Hello…” said Sue distractedly, “I’m looking for Fred…”

“Oh, haven’t you heard?” Mrs Jackson’s face lit up with gossip, “Last night, he had a nasty fall…in the bath, think it was.”

“A fall?” Sue interrupted, “Is he all right? Poor Fred…”

“Ambulance came. He went into hospital…” Mrs Jackson continued, a nodding hum of agreement rippled from the chairs.

“Sit down dear. Have a cup of tea. You’ve gone very pale…” Mr Francis hobbled out of his seat; offered his place.

“No, no thanks…I’m fine,” Sue said, backing out of the lounge.

 

She found herself in the garden. Fred’s haven; where he worked so hard. Alone. His vegetable patch looked calm and organized. Sue’s insides were in chaos. Dear Fred, such a reliable friend. Always there for a cuppa and a chat. His pleasant face and quiet conversation reassured and supported her. Without him, her life would feel empty, be empty. Fear pushed tightly in her chest. If Fred was to…She didn’t know how she’d carry on.

How shallow and stupid she had been in her loneliness. Online dating, looking for a new partner, someone distinguished like Charles. A disappointing let down. Someone tall and handsome like Bill. An abusive drunk. She hadn’t noticed what she had. A good, kind man. She walked through Fred’s flower beds. Bright dahlias danced in the sun. The scent of sweet peas filled her nostrils. Sue smiled. She wasn’t a child or a mouse. She knew what she must do.

 

The hospital smelt of disinfectant and stale food. Fred was in Green Ward, just off Yellow Suite. Sue was reminded of diarrhoea and sickness. Whoever chose such colours? She clasped her bouquet nervously. The nurse had told her Fred’s condition wasn’t too serious. She edged her way along the ward, glancing at each bed; examining the inmates shyly. There was Fred, thank goodness. Lying still and quiet, thoughtful expression on his face.  Leg raised in plaster, empty teacup on the bedside table.

“Hello Fred,” Sue said.

Fred turned to face her. A smile spread across his features.

“Sue…how lovely to see you,” his cheeks coloured, “fancy ending up in here. I’ve been an old fool.”

“I’ve been the fool…” Sue said presenting the bouquet, “Now, it’s my turn to bring you flowers.”

Fred looked at the dahlias, chrysanthemums and sweet peas.

“From my garden?” he asked.

“Our garden.” Sue said, “From now on, we’ll care for it together.”

“Together?” Fred’s eyes wore a question mark.

Sue took Fred’s hand.

“Yes. Together.” She smiled, “Now, how about a nice cup of tea?”

 

 

It’s never too late to find true love. I hope you have some romance in your lives on this Valentine’s Day!

If

I have never taken part in a blog challenge before, and never thought that I would, but A Frank Angle sent me a very polite, personal invitation and I thought this poem was appropriate. Thanks for the invite Frank.

 

If

If we could open ourselves for exploration,

to read and decipher like a map,

a foreign country to discover.

Then you might place your feet on fresh soil

and I might walk new pathways.

For a while, travel a road together,

reach a place we recognize.

 

 

Read more answers to the If Challenge in the comments on Frank’s post. Perhaps you’d like to have a go at the challenge too? Details are here.

 

Stuck in the mud

Today, I have a confession. Despite my writer’s resolutions, I haven’t had a good start to 2018. Yes, I have tried to write something every day – a bit of poetry, some thoughts and a few story ideas. But no, I haven’t worked much on my novel. If I’m being really honest, I’m feeling a little stuck with it. Like the gooey mud I trudge through daily to look after my goats, the bare pages suck and cling to my pen making progress slow. Like the grey, gloomy skies above, thick with rain cloud, my mind is a blank, heavy mass.

There is plenty of material to work with, I think,  but I cannot seem to organize it in a coherent way. My scribblings stretch across numerous notebooks, scraps of paper and sticky notes. I have part chapters and sections on my computer, along with completed ones. My method so far, if it can be called that, has been some sketchy planning and then writing with the flow. This has helped to develop some interesting ideas but also plenty of disorder. My writing style seems to have uncovered a secret me that I was unaware existed under my skin – a messy, uncoordinated me. Normally a fairly neat control freak, I seem to morph as a writer into a scruffy, chaotic hoarder.

Before I can carry on with my novel, I need to put this right. I need to find order so that I can get some clarity. My aim over the next week is to gather all my writings together in one folder. Then I think I’m going to continue my novel writing in one place – a large notebook. Once written in the notebook, I can transfer it to computer ready for editing. I’m still old-fashioned and write much better with a pen in my hand first time round, though I’m fully aware this is a much slower process.

I’m off to Ireland soon to visit a friend – on my own, what luxury! There I will have space, time and quiet. Surrounded by lush, green mountains, I hope to tackle more sections of my novel and come home feeling that I have achieved something. So, I have a deadline (which is good for me as I’m sure part of my problem is only being answerable to myself). I have to get sorted before my trip.

Wish me luck!

 

Is it just me or have you ever got stuck with your writing? Are you a muddled writer or highly efficient and organized?

Four lads go out for the day

Another poem using material gathered on my recent train journey.

 

Four lads go out for the day

 

Posing, strutting,

rubbing crotches

along the seat.

Shouting, braying

billy goats on heat.

 

Throw our cans,

crunch of tin,

on the luggage rack.

Furtive, frightened glances,

give ‘em a smile and wink back.

 

I’m a big man now.

Did anyone see?

Only me mam would

be ashamed of me.

 

A boyo’s day out,

rampage in the city.

Shake our tails,

feathers wide.

Don’t we look pretty?

 

Throw our wrappers,

plastic rustle,

on the dusty floor.

Tutted annoyance meets

with snorted guffaw.

 

I’m Jack the lad.

Look at me ‘ere.

Only me dad would

clout me ‘round the ear.

 

Attracting attention,

standing out

from the rest.

Silver-backed apes

beating our chests.

 

Throw a quick f-word,

sharply crude,

in the stuffy air.

Young kids in the next seat

but we don’t care.

 

I’m a foolish child.

Hear me loud.

Only me parents would

be so proud.