Tag Archives: story

The Myth of Turret Shells

I bought this beautiful card several years ago and it planted the seed for this little tale which is part of a collection I’m working on entitled Great Grandmother’s Tales From The Shore.

Sea Unicorn by Brett. Card by Sunrise Publications Inc.

 

“We always collected things when we went to the beach, shells, stones, driftwood, bits of sea worn glass. Treasures from the deep, Great Grandma called them. Gifts from the sea. They all have a tale to tell, a secret history. You just have to open yourself to it.

I love the turret shells because they aren’t really shells at all. People only think they are because they’ve lost the ability to believe in anything that can’t be proved. And maybe they do get seconded by homeless invertebrates from time to time. Maybe the hermit crab isn’t the only thing in the sea that lives as a squatter. I don’t know. But I do know they’re not shells.

Because they’re horns.

See, when the white horses are first born out in the waves, they all have a horn, just the one, in the centre of their foreheads above their eyes. And to start with, they live out there amongst the rollers and the breakers, learning to trot and canter and gallop, to race the winds as they whip the surface, to swim in the deep blue as the sun turns it to gold.

But when they come of age, they reach the time of the calling. It is a choice that each and every one must make. They are drawn towards the shore and, in the in between, where the water changes colour as the earth rises beneath it, they must decide whether to stay in the sea or forge a new path on the land.

Those that come ashore hide in forests and green places. We call them unicorns.

Those that remain behind lose their horns. They stay and play out in the open water. We only see them as white caps on the waves.

The horns become houses for little shellfish. Or mementos picked up on a day at the beach.

There are less of them now. Far less than when I was a child. I wonder why that might be.”

The Swallows

“They’re here! They’re here!”

swallows in flight

Her cry had us all running from wherever we were, the kitchen, the barn, the vegetable garden, the hen house, running, up the pocked, rough track that served as a driveway, to the wide wooden gate.

“Look, look,” she was calling, pointing upwards with both hands at once. “They’re really here. At last.”

I stopped and squinted into the sky, the brightness hurting my eyes after the dimness of the barn. Occasional ribbons of white cloud broke the aching blue, straggling across it with no urgency whatsoever.  The tops of the trees were utterly still, not a whisper of a breeze to stir them. The grass was dry and brown, the dust heavy on the track and the road beyond. It had been like this for days. As if the world was holding its breath, just waiting for them. Continue reading

It’s World Book Day

Yes it is, and in celebration of all things literary I thought I’d share some of my favourite books. Please do add your favourites in the comments; I’m always on the lookout for a good read!

5 books

Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint. Anything by Charles de Lint really, he’s exceptionally talented, but this particular one is a collection of urban fantasy short stories and is my go to book for comfort when I’m feeling in need.

Green Angel by Alice Hoffman. She writes exquisitely and this novella is particularly haunting.

The Wood Wife by Terri Windling. Full of extraordinary desert magic, you can almost feel the heat rising from the pages. I love this so much I have two copies (one for lending, the other for me!)

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. This is a children’s book but don’t let that stop you; the lyrical prose and intriguing story will leave you thinking.

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. You will never take the letters of the alphabet for granted again.

Skellig by David Almond. A beautifully wrought modern fairy tale.

The Miracles of Santo Fico by D. L. Smith. Funny, unexpected and uplifting.

The Secret Life Of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. Set in South Carolina in the sixties, it’s a sensitive coming of age tale.

Julie And Romeo by Jeanne Ray. A romance like no other and very funny to boot.

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. I adored this when I was a kid and still do now.

Guess I’d better stop now. There are just so many great books out there; happy reading!

Life between worlds – writing a novel

notebook, pen, laptopYou can get a bit lost in writing a book; it’s a long process and quite isolated too. You spend a lot of time with your characters, immersed in their world. Sometimes the real world is a welcome relief, sometimes it’s an irritating distraction. At times it can seem quite distant. The story grows and develops; it follows you even when you’re not actually writing. Your protagonists and antagonists feed you information, not always at the most opportune moments (mine often decide that the best time to tell me something vital is when I’m driving, usually with nowhere I can pull over to scribble it down). It’s as if you’re living in two different realms at the same time, each as tangible as the other.

You try hard to get the writing right, to let the characters have their say but also to keep the story flowing the way it should be. You cheer when it goes well and the words pour from your fingertips; you groan, procrastinate and drink far too much tea when the plot sticks or your characters decide to go off and do their own thing without telling you. And they do do that. Without so much as a ‘by your leave’ and then you find that they’ve changed the timeline or reconfigured the plot without so much as even conferring with you or asking what you think. Well, why should they? You’re only the author after all.

Eventually, eventually you get to the end.

Of the first draft.

But that’s not the end as a writer. Because the first draft is the basis but it always needs lots of work; editing and reworking paragraphs and dialogue, adjusting timeline inconsistencies, ensuring continuity of all sorts of things from the colour of people’s eyes to who has a dog and who likes what music. And then there are the typos and the grammatical errors and the repetition of words and phrases that need to be corrected.

So you plough through again, rewriting, amending, tightening up the prose and getting it closer to how you know it needs to be. And when you’ve finished the second draft, you go through it all again a third time, just to make sure.

Phew!

You’d think that’d be it then, wouldn’t you?

Alas, no!

It’s usually when I’ve got to the end of the third draft that I ask my lovely band of pre-readers to read through it and feed back to me anything that doesn’t fit right or hold true, anything that seems superfluous or out of place, anything that they think needs altered or adjusted. With these invaluable critiques it’s time for – you’ve guessed it – draft number four.

By the end of the fourth draft, hopefully the manuscript is as near finished as possible and as good as it’s going to get. This is usually the point where, having been living and breathing it for however long and having read and reread the story countless times, I usually think “This is complete and utter rubbish. Why did I bother? I might as well just dump it in the recycling bin and do everyone a favour.”

At that point I know it’s time to consign draft four to my virtual drawer and ignore it for a month or two. When I come back to it, it’s usually not as bad as I’d thought. Usually needs a few tweaks but generally it’s OK.

That’s the scary point. Time to unleash it…

A Story

It’s Halloween again, the day when walking between worlds is easiest. Traditionally it is a day for remembering those who have gone before, as spirits of all kinds are that much closer. Speaking of which…

drawing of tree

Tree of Life
Carl Glover

Look over there. The tall figure in the red cloak who’s just settling herself on the seat at the fork in the road. That is Nixa – she’s the storyteller. We’re lucky; she travels far and wide collecting and sowing tales; to catch her is like catching the wind. She looks so young, barely more than a child and yet I have heard that she’s as old as the trees that grace the ancient land. Some say she was a tree once, a birch in the forest where the trees hear stories whispered by the breeze and sung by the birds, stories that fall with the rain and rise with new growth. The birch had a spirit which absorbed so many that it could no longer be contained in bark and sap. And so Nixa emerged, to wander the world recounting all the stories that the trees tell, and more besides.

Study her carefully. The air shimmers slightly around her like the liquid movement of leaves under the sun. Now the bubbles start to rise, iridescent as they catch the light. People gather as she begins to speak, draws the words from her core and gives them life once again. The bubbles float on the still air, lifted by the soft lilt of her voice. Inside each you may catch a fragment of the tale, a glimpse of a place, a character, a dream. But they cannot be held. Just like the words, they drift away and disappear, leaving everything as before and yet inexplicably altered, each person subtly changed by their own connection with the tale.

You may think that a story is a simple thing, to be taken or left at will. But Nixa would tell you that stories are vital. They are the threads that connect us to everyone and everything, celebrate our similarities and our differences, remind us of our shared experiences and our common ground. Some stories resonate more than others, some hold an element of recognition and familiarity, some move us beyond words. In the end, we are all stories. That is why they need to be told.

Something’s Afoot In Faeryland

Trees and river

Faery window
Photo by Clare Bain

Something’s afoot in faeryland. Something’s coming this way. Perhaps it’s because Halloween is approaching and the veils between worlds are beginning to thin that it’s so much easier to sense it now.

Can you feel it? Will you let yourself?

In the quiet small hours of the night or the tiny moments between the hustle and the bustle of the day; when you catch a movement out of the corner of your eye or look through branches to the sky beyond; when you see a rainbow shimmering on a soap bubble or a diamond caught in a raindrop; that’s when you’ll feel it. Always unexpected yet always there – the magic in and beyond what is. Let yourself go. Look through faery windows, wonder about half hidden doors, follow a new path. Because you never know what you may find…

And if you should happen to wander this way on Halloween, there may just be a story from faeryland waiting for you…

Third Runway – a short story

 

Photo of oak tree

Photo by David Tucker

The oak stood, remembering; slow memories rising from deep within, flowing like sap to nourish branches, bark, roots and leaves. It recalled its embryonic acorn self, saved from the forest floor by the son of a farmer, who carried it over his heart until his true love agreed to marry him. How he and his new wife had planted it tenderly in the field where they would build their house, and how it had thrived in the rich earth and put down roots as they did.

It grew with their children and grandchildren and countless generations since; was glad when it was tall enough to shelter them. Joy coursed through it when people sat beneath the boughs to laugh and chatter, to whisper secrets and stories or just leaned back against its rough trunk to dream. Humans were full of mysteries and tales of far away lands, strange creatures, heroes, villains and thrilling adventures. Sometimes it felt a great longing to wander and see. Most of the time it was content to stand and watch, its presence giving comfort and stability to those around it. It watched as the tiny hamlet became a village and the village grew into a town. Observed as the garden it knew became the local green, with houses and roads ranged around it. Saw the old forest slowly cut down to make room for new buildings.

The oak shivered – the loss of its kindred left it saddened. And yet it endured, instilled with a deep peace from the earth and taking solace from the stories of the lives around it. Even as the other trees were lost and the green spaces dwindled and the concrete spread, it was content. Even as the horses became few and the cars multiplied and the developments obscured the sky and the air became heavy and toxic, it could still feel the healing power of the earth.

Yet sometimes, as it watched the humans, especially the children, it wondered. About how lovely it would be to run and laugh and jump and climb, free of roots and cares and the weight of change. About exploration. Discovery. Freedom.

It was glad of the children. It had seen so much change and they, although different, remained the same, full of laughter and love and questions and stories. Even now, as the adults became more angry and hardly stopped to draw breath, as its new roots struggled to find a path through concrete and tarmac, the children still came. As it stood on its tiny postage stamp of green, amid dark rumours of further destruction, it looked forward to the visits of the children. They, like it, knew nothing of business, profit margins, speculative investment and stimulus. They lived for the moment. And it understood observation, listening, stillness. Although now that was more difficult. So much light, noise, rush. So few of the wild creatures left.

The little girl was a good friend to the tree. She came almost every day, telling it what she’d done at school, at home, about her Mum and Dad and Gran and baby brother. She knew that the tree was her friend too, and so she told it secrets – how she had fallen out with her best friend and how when she was grown up she was going to discover an entirely new species of dinosaur. One day she was upset. ‘Dad says we might have to move,’ she said. ‘Everyone who lives round here. They want to build a new runway so more planes can fly in. So they have to knock down all the shops and houses. But I don’t know where we’ll go. Or you. Where will you go?’

The tree didn’t know. Trees don’t usually go anywhere. But fleetingly it wondered. ‘Could I?’

It was no more than a passing thought to begin with. It could not believe that the humans would destroy all that they had created. But there was anger tainting the air, tension tightening like bands around the community. The people marched and shouted and waved banners and signed petitions.

And then the girl said ‘They won’t stop. We all have to move.’

The tree watched the huge yellow machines in the distance as they ate the buildings away, leaving rubble and clouds of dust. They came closer frighteningly fast, the landscape flat and lifeless behind them. It could feel the rumbling shock waves of destruction as it moved its roots in the soil, but even that gave no comfort. All it could taste was bitterness.

When only the last few rows of houses stood between it and demolition, the girl came for the last time. She wept. ‘We have to go, they’re going to knock our house down. You have to go too. Please go, tree. So I’ll know you’ll be safe.’

Her tears fell on the roots of the oak as it stood, and it waved gently as she left, even though there was no breeze. A deep sadness flowed through it. And as it stood that night, alone with a few desolate houses and the drone of aircraft and traffic and the urban sky-glow hiding the stars and dimming even the moon, it surveyed the emptiness that had once been full of life.

‘Go.’ The realisation rippled through it.

‘Nature alone holds power, yet humans seek control. But they cannot control what they do not understand and that will be their destruction.’

It reached its being deep into the earth for strength and wisdom. Then, with mighty force that shook the ground for miles, it tore its roots free of the cancerous ground and set off in search of a better place.