A Year in Books – April to June

april to juneEven Artie looks shocked at the amount of literature I have devoured this quarter! It has been a very productive period. 13 books I have read between April and June. While sitting on buses during the daily commute I have been able to immerse myself in narratives that have taken me to occupied France, to the inhumanity of Auschwitz and war ravaged Afghanistan.

I have laughed with Maude who was looking for Elizabeth and cried with Conor when his mother faced an incurable illness.

Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey

I think this has to be my favourite read of 2017, so far! I had no expectations when I opened the pages but from the very beginning I was enthralled by the skill of writing and the subject matter. The narrative is slightly fractious due to it being narrated by a woman with dementia, but it is written in such a way that you slip from the present to the 1940’s very easily. Maud is seeking her friend Elizabeth, however underlying her search is a historic case of her missing sister. The first person narrative is funny, poignant and highlights the fear and confusion dementia sufferers have. It’s a very enlightening book, fabulously written. I won’t spoil it for you but the ending is sad yet hopeful too. I’d definitely recommend this book, it is a book I wish I could write!

The Taxidermist’s Daughter – Kate Mosse

I hate to say it, but I am not a lover of Kate Mosse’s writing. I still have to read the last installment of her languedoc trilogy. I don’t know what it is but I just can’t warm to her style of writing. I did think her Mistletoe Bride collection was readable but not memorable. The same could be said about The Taxidermist’s Daughter. Though Mosse can evoke a dreary Gothic atmosphere (i.e. rain and flood waters rising on a Sussex landscape), I just didn’t think her characters were developed enough. Neither character of Connie or Henry were likable enough to care what happened to them. It’s one book I’ll probably forget I’ve read.

Perhaps you have a different interpretation?

To Kill a Mocking Bird – Harper Lee

I really didn’t know what I expected from this book, but as I began to read it, it wasn’t what I had imagined it would be. Narrated by six year old Jean Louise it is a fictionalised account of growing up in the American South in the 1930’s. To me it seemed a book of its time as class and race hierarchies were commonplace. Though the main core of the plot is the trial of Tom Robinson accused of raping a white girl, the events leading up to it is seen through the eyes of Jean Louise and so the injustice of the system is even more shocking. I did enjoy the novel and would recommend, but its not one that has stayed with me.

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

Another of the best reads this year! I reviewed this book in my Sunday Sevens #28.

Folly – Alan Titchmarsh

I read this book on the recommendation of reviews on goodreads. I wish I hadn’t. The narrative was laborious and characters two dimensional. Titchmarsh had researched the area of fine art galleries and auctions indepthly, but just did not create a tale interesting enough to capture the readers imagination.

The book received a higher score on goodreads than The Haunting but I felt the story wasn’t as strong.

Do you have a different opinion?

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

I read this book before seeing the film and I must say the book is by far better than the film! It is a very emotive story. Thirteen year old Conor O’Malley is struggling to accept his mother’s terminal illness. The monster who calls helps Conor come to terms with his emotions. I must admit I was choked when I finished the novel. Though written for the young adult market I think it’s a story that can be read at any age.

The Lonely – Andrew Michael Hurley

This book was a 2015 Costa awards winner for a debut novel. It’s a Gothic tale with most of the action happening on a desolate coastal area in Lancashire. It is narrated by ‘Tonto’ whose brother Hanny is mute. A group of Christians visit the area at Easter hoping for a miracle, what they find is much more darker. The landscape is forbidding, the locals unfriendly and ultimately the miracle is only eluded to. Nothing is spelled out and I think that was the novels downfall. For me I didn’t care about the characters, in fact most annoyed me and at the end I was left feeling I had read a lot of words that didn’t make much sense. If you like vague narratives then this book is for you!

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

This book had been on my Kindle for over a year. While looking for new books to read I remembered the stage play that was in Liverpool and which, I wish I had gone to see as it had rave reviews. Hence why I downloaded the book. So I decided to give it a try. The book lives up to its hype. The tale is of two boys, Amir and his ‘servant’ Hassan. The narrative is from Amir’s point of view, of a young boy growing up in Afghanistan before the Russians arrive and then the Taliban. Always trying to capture the eye of his father, Amir is jealous of Hassan and it is only later that we discover the true relationship between both boys. Amir who comes from a wealthy background managed to flee with his father to the USA, while Hassan stays in Afghanistan.  The story is beautifully written, the language lyrical. The ravages of war is sometimes too hard to read. Hosseini’s book makes you realise what hell it must have been like to live in Afghanistan during those turbulent times. Hosseini has set up a non profit foundation to help refugees returning to their homeland after three decades of war.

The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas – John Boyne

The narrative of this book is so painfully naive as it is written from the viewpoint, of a child called Bruno. The Final Solution is viewed by this nine year old who has accompanied his family from Berlin to ‘Out With.’ The book relies heavily on the readers knowledge of ‘Out With’ (Auschwitz) and who the sad people in the stripped pyjamas behind the fences are. I think the book is more agonisingly sad because of this foreknowledge. Bruno who isn’t happy at Out With, finally befriends a boy from the other side of the fence, Shmuel. I won’t spoil the plot for anyone who hasn’t read it, but the final chapters will leave you sobbing!

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

It’s difficult to find the right words this book made me feel. Written in the 1980’s, though it can be applied to today’s world too, more so when news of atrocities to women in Europe, the Middle East and beyond occur daily. Offred is a Handmaid of the dystopian Republic of Gilead, (you don’t find out her real name!) It is a place after a catastrophe. Nuclear war has decimated the world and the human populace (birth rates have plummeted). In it’s place has risen a religious order which has reduced women to property (once again). I find the implications of the book hard to swallow as the unknown leaders have imposed a strict order on the women. Those who are breeders (the Handmaids), those who are not (the Wives) and those who are servants (the Marthas). There are other classes in the Gilead regime like the Aunts (who train the Handmaids), and Commanders (the highest ranking men). Everyone has their place in society, even the poorest of women like the Econowives.

Offred as narrator, I think is quite unreliable as her tale is rather vague. There are flashbacks of her life before the catastrophe. There is a general feeling of threat and violence but it is so muted in the narrative that by the time you come to the truly atrocious scenes you are left feeling numb. I found it hard to like any of the characters. Perhaps my Western upbringing has caused me to react negatively to this book?

As an aside I am currently enjoying the dramatisation on Channel 4, though again some of the episodes have left me reeling.

Have you read the book? Watched the series? What are your thoughts? Do you disagree with my ideas?

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

Much like the Handmaid’s Tale, Hosseini’s second novel, (also based in Afghanistan,) is about the bonds between two women and of their daily struggles during the restricting Taliban regime. Women were among those who were so poorly affected by this regime and Hosseini writes eloquently about the physical and mental abuse of Mariam and Laila. Though I did not enjoy the novel as much as I did the Kite Runner, the narrative does keep you engaged. Like the Kite Runner it is a story of sacrifice and endurance. There is a resolution but like many human stories, it is tinged with sadness.

Finger’s in the Sparkle Jar – Chris Packham

I don’t know why but this book left me feeling sad. Maybe it was because of the curious mix of narratives that sat uneasy with me? Or perhaps it emphasised that however beautiful nature is, it can be brutal! After getting to grips with Packham’s switching from first person narrative to third, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I preferred it when Packham wrote in the first person, his experiences seemed all the more real. The scenes with the fox and kestrel had me close to tears!

Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak.

As the end of June was in sight, I hurriedly finished The Book Thief. It was with a tear in my eye that I read the harrowing final parts of the novel. Another book set during World War II. The narrative is told by Death. There is a balanced mix of humour and sadness as Death goes about his job of collecting souls. Though the novel is about Death, the story is a very human one. You quickly grow to like the characters of Liesel, Rudy and Max, and even though Death prepares you for each of their fate, the sadness is still real.

Have read the book? Seen the film? What was your favourite?

41HJJM1VNYLFor July’s first read, I have chosen The Child in Time by Ian McEwan. I don’t know what to expect but hopefully it will be as well written as his Atonement.

Have you read any good books lately, any recommendations? Thanks to Laura at Circle of Pine Trees. for creating the challenge.

Thanks for dropping by,

Christine x

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12 Hours of Day #5

Sharon from Sunshine and Celandines messaged me on Friday informing me that this Saturday was another Photo an Hour. Though I had nothing planned, I thought it would be good for you to see into an ordinary day of mine. So here goes! 🙂

Photo and Hour – 22nd April 2017

8am to 10am:

Most of my Saturday’s start at 8am. Today was no different. I crawled out of bed sleepy eyed and had breakfast with Artie sitting at the bottom of the bed, with wonderful spring sunshine streaming through the bedroom window.

After breakfast I got dressed and put my ‘face’ on for the day ahead.

10am to 11am:

Saturday is shopping day, so David, mum and I headed towards Asda, or in Liverpool it’s ‘the’ Asda! :p The alarm for the hour sounded when we were heading into the frozen section of the supermarket, so we turned and smiled for the camera! Cheese!!

10 to 11

11am to 1pm:

Since the sun was shining, (though it was cold), David and I decided to take Riley to another local park, Sefton Park. We walked around the boating lake and played fetch on a field full of daisies and dandelions. 🙂

1pm to 2pm:

We arrived home for lunch at 1pm. I sat down with a Tassimo Costa coffee, the last of the hot cross buns and the final chapters of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.

2pm to 3pm:

While I took to doing some housework, David started preparing the ingredients for his curry base. He’s cooking Sunday’s dinner, so I left him to it! 😀

3pm to 5pm:

While dinner cooked I pottered about the yarden. I enjoyed listening to the buzz of two bees visiting the lithodora and red campion. Both were hairy-footed flower bee’sthe cream one is a male and the black is a female.

5pm to 7pm:

Saturday’s dinner was a Quorn Sausage and Lentil Cassoulet. I adapted the recipe from Donal Skehan. I used red lentils instead of puy lentils, perhaps I should have used green? Halfway through the meal I gasped, ‘I’ve forgotten to take a photo.’ So I apologise for the half eaten picture of the meal.

6pm’s photo comes courtesy of David. I was upstairs doing something or other. When I came down, David said, ‘there’s a new picture taken for the hour.’ I scrolled through the gallery and there was a picture of Artie, David had taken. Though Artie doesn’t look that enamoured :p

7pm to 8pm:

My last photo of the day. With the sun setting, I pour myself a glass of pinot, David switches his PS4 on. An evening of Classic FM and reading is ahead.

7 to 8

Evening’s entertainment

Thanks to Janey and Louisa for setting up the challenge.

How did you spend today’s photo an hour?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

A Year in Books – January to March

I thought I would give a little update on how I am progressing with the challenge, A Year in Books. As I was displaying some of the books I’ve read for a snap-shot Artie came over to give me his approval.

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It was a slow beginning to the challenge. All I read in January was two books. Since then I have managed to read more frequently, even taking the Kindle with me on the bus to work. Reading while travelling usually tires me, which is why I have only just started up again.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers – Max Porter

This novella featured as part of a short Open University course I took last year. David kindly bought it for me for Christmas. The theme is of grief and survival. After a sudden death of a wife and mother, two son’s and a father are visited by a crow (personified from the Ted Hughes book of poems Crow.) The narrative is quite fractured and erratic. The story just features short scenes of the family in states of ‘coping/or not coping’. Crow is depicted as a wild, untamed creature with bad manners and equally bad language. I think I need to read the story again as a lot of the message was lost on me.

Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

In Parenthesis – David Jones

David Jones was a survivor of the First World War. I came across his work featured in a documentary on the writers of WW1. In it’s time, In Parenthesis was hailed as a classic, but now sadly seems to have been forgotten. I managed to get a cheapish copy on eBay. The writing can be difficult to understand at times as Jones dips into Welsh and Arthurian legend. The narrative is his own experiences in the British Expeditionary Force and of one attack during the Battle of the Somme, at Mametz Wood. Some of Jones’s writing of trench warfare can only be described as lyrical, even his depictions of disemboweled men and decapitated heads smiling back from the crook of trees like Cheshire Cats is somehow horrifyingly captivating. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in history.

H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald

Yet another book on grief, though totally different in it’s approach to Max Porter’s book. I think this has been one of my favourite reads so far. I thoroughly enjoyed Macdonald’s description of Mable and how her relationship with this wild bird became cathartic to her wound gaping grief at the loss of her father. The chapters featuring her inspiration, T.H.White made me feel a little uneasy in his behaviour to his Goshawk, though he was writing from a different time period, still doesn’t make the reading any the easier.

Under Milk Wood – Dylan Thomas

One of Thomas’s last works, commissioned for BBC radio. This play for voices is a day in the life of a small Welsh village. An omniscient narrator introduces each character and a second narrator tells more about their hidden thoughts and desires. Each character has their own vignette, though written in prose the language is poetic, sometimes lewd, often humorous and occasionally poignant. I found though that my reading lacked the power of a TV or radio production. Perhaps I would benefit from a second read?

The English Girl – Katherine Webb

I reviewed this book in my Sunday Sevens #24.

The Haunting – Alan Titchmarsh

All I know of Alan Titchmarsh is from his gardening programmes and his Saturday show on Classic FM. When I saw one of his books, The Haunting on the shelf in WHSmith I was curious. The story is a dual narrative, historical drama set in 1816 and 2010 respectively with a hint of ghosts and a splash of romance. The book is an easy read but the narrative won’t tax the mind. The story is a little contrived and could have been better but it is what it is. I enjoyed it enough to buy another of his novels. Folly.

The Red Letter (short) – Kate Riordan

If I had known this was only 30 pages long I wouldn’t have bought it, however the writing was good and I enjoyed it. The characters were from a previous novel by Riordan, The Girl in the Photograph. Though reading the novella I couldn’t remember the original novel. I had to read the blurb to get any recall. Set in the 1930’s the story is of Marjorie who finds out her husband is having an affair. During the too few pages Marjorie awakens and becomes self aware. The novella ends with Marjorie riding on her bike with her future stretched out with many possibilities.

Birdcage Walk – Kate Riordan

If I like a book by an author I usually seek out other works by them, this was the case with Birdcage Walk, Riordan’s first published work, and you can tell it is! It’s very different in style to that of her later works, The Girl in the Photograph and The Shadow Hour. The story is based on a true tale of murder, mystery and a possible miscarriage of justice. Sadly, Riordan spends too long setting up the back story. Both protagonists are rather quarrelsome and two dimensional, and I didn’t bond with either of them. The narrative only improved after the subsequent murder and trial. There wasn’t much evidence of a miscarriage of justice, but that’s up to the reader to decide. The inevitable wasn’t much of a surprise when it finally arrived.

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David has chosen the next book for me to read. Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing, I have no expectations on what to expect within it’s pages.

Have you read any good books lately, any recommendations?

Thanks for dropping by,

Christine x

 

 

My Father’s Daughter.

I didn’t enter the water gracefully. It was a precarious balance on slippery rocks, before I lost my footing, gasped as my whole body plunged under the waves. Though it was September and there was still warmth to the sun, the body of water that lay before me was chilling beneath the wind that whipped the surface into tiny white peaks. ‘Keep swimming,’ was the motto, and swim I did, even if the cold of the water numbed my fingers, made my skin tingle. 2 km didn’t sound like much, but previously I hadn’t had much practice. I was rusty and my muscles let me know it!

As a child, my family would have weekly swimming evenings at the local pool, followed by a chippie tea and Doctor Who on the TV. I was lucky to be born when the old Victorian school buildings still stood, before modernisation bulldozed them for clinical, soulless buildings. My school, red bricked and full of ghost stories had a wonderful heated swimming pool alongside it. Even before entering the building, with towel rolled under an arm, the smell of chlorine always tickled the nose, cleared the senses.

The noise at poolside was often deafening! Children shrieked with nervous excitement, trying to stay afloat with giant orange inflatables around their arms. I would emerge from a blue curtained cubicle like a butterfly from its chrysalis, proudly wearing my red swimsuit. Always, my father would be in the pool first, beckoning me into the cradling waters, challenging me. In his youth he had been a finalist in the inter-city championships, had numerous certificates and badges. He still enthused about the sport and would encourage me to swim further than I could ever think possible. 100 metres was a long way for a young girl.

Where I swam now was very different to a pool and I was no longer ‘Daddy’s little champion.’ I was a woman of 40. An infinite expanse of sky, pregnant with clouds arched overhead. Shingle beaches lined the shores and jagged mountains crowded around, like they were bringing me into their confidence. Crows shrieked their good morning. Day would soon arrive and with it the chance of rain. As I pushed my body through the water, soft like silk, Nathan sat alongside me, paddling silently.

I met Nathan at a turning point in both our lives. I was chopping vegetables in the kitchen of a hostel, where I was holidaying in Scotland. Onions sizzled in a pan while tears tore down my face. ‘Something smells good!’ I started and the knife I held clattered to the floor.

‘It’ll be a chilli once it’s cooked.’ I turned to face a larger than life man. He was still wearing his hiking gear and had trodden mud through into the kitchen. ‘Hungry?’

‘Famished!’ He grinned.

The evening sun dipped beyond the horizon, turning the clouds into a kind of pink blancmange. The air was still, sweetly scented. Spring in Scotland has its own beauty. Trees slowly unfurled their tender leaves and rivers raged with melt-water from the mountains. Nathan, freshly showered, and I sat on a bench eating our bowls of chilli in the hostel’s garden. A bottle of wine shared between us. ‘What brings you to Scotland?’ I asked.

‘Adventure,’ he shrugged, then looking up at me he said shyly. ‘A broken heart. You?’

‘I recently lost my father.’ I took a mouthful of bitter wine. ‘We had been estranged the last couple of years, so the news was pretty hard to take.’ I paused. Nathan sat silently, listening. ‘I just had to get away, escape. You know how it is?’ He nodded. ‘I just packed the car and headed up here.’

‘Planning on staying long?’

‘A day or two. Depends if there’s anything to stay for.’ It was then that we shared one of those looks and the world suddenly shifts. Two people, lonely and broken, found comfort in each other’s arms.

Two years later, I found myself immersed in nature, practicing for a charity swim. The northern shore of the lake loomed ahead, trees, tall and prickly stood sentinel. From the water’s surface I suddenly noticed a familiar figure standing motionless by the lakeside, his arm raised in a wave. I stopped kicking, felt my body suspended by the water, while minnows gently swam between my fingers. ‘Sarah!’ Nathan called. ‘Don’t stop!’

‘Do you see..?’ I shouted, treading water.

‘What?’ I looked back towards the shore, to where only trees huddled around a burnt shell of a building. ‘It was probably a dog walker.’ Nathan encouraged. ‘You’re almost there! Don’t give up!’ I stretched my tired arms forward and pressed on for the last 50 metres or so. Soon my legs hit rocks as I crawled out of the water. My muscles ached, my skin purple with bruises. ‘You made it!’ Nathan cried jumping out of the kayak, ‘and in under an hour!’ His feet splashed in the shallows before he draped a towel around my shivering body.

‘Maybe I am my father’s daughter after all,’ I panted.

‘And more,’ Nathan cupped my face in his hands. ‘He would have been amazed at what you can achieve.’ Wells of tears unexpectedly flooded my eyes.

‘Really?’

‘Yes. Sure, he would have been jealous. Swimming in a lake! That has to beat swimming in a pool any day!’

‘I suppose,’ I smiled through chattering teeth.

‘You’ve swam further than you’ve ever done before. He would have been so proud of you!’ I felt Nathan’s lips, hot on mine as he wrapped his arms around me. I leant into his warm body.

‘I know it sounds silly but I could have sworn I saw him standing by the boathouse.’ Nathan looked to where the wooden structure stood derelict. There was no other living soul, save them at the lake.

‘Perhaps he was, cheering you on as he used to.’

‘It’s a nice thought.’

‘Come, let’s get you warm. A strong, celebratory coffee is in order. Perhaps I’ll buy us cake!’ We turned our backs to the lake laughing as we went, and the rain that was promised began to fall.

© 2016 Christine Lucas


I haven’t written anything of note in a while. The above story was written in response to an advert for submissions for an anthology on wild swimming. Needless to say I was not successfully chosen, so I’ve posted the piece for you, my lovely readers. It was written with a word count restriction, so forgive the fractured feel to the narrative.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Christine x

Sunday Sevens #25

Wow! These week’s come round quick! It’s that time again! Time for some more Sunday Sevens, devised by Natalie.

Walk 1000 miles: The beginning of the week saw my #walk1000miles badge arrive in the post! I am excited to take it on my future walks.

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My Walk 1000 Miles badge

My total for this week has been 26 miles bringing my overall tally to 277 miles. A culmination of getting off the bus earlier to enjoy the warm sunshine and to look for signs of spring.

Wild Swimming: With the help of David, we put up my Lake District map. We used string as pointers to pictures of the lakes I’ve swam in. Thanks to Sharon from Sunshine and Celandines for the inspiration. Her dog Hugo has a map featuring all his dips, I thought ‘what a great idea, perfect for my wild swims!’ 😀

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My wild swim map

Wildlife: This week I signed up for the Great British Bee Count, an incentive by Friends of the Earth. Much like the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, it is a survey to track the health of bee populations in the UK. The count this year will be between 19th May to 30th June 2017, just in time for the Wildlife Trust’s 30 Day’s Wild! Will you be joining in?

Earth Hour: Once again David and I participated in WWF’s Earth Hour. For an hour between 8.30pm and 9.30pm on 25th March 2017 we turned off all the lights and used the time to reflect. It made for a very calm hour.

Did you participate in this years Earth Hour?

Afternoon Tea: This weekend it was Mothering Sunday here in the UK and the day before was my Mum’s birthday. To celebrate both, I surprised my Mum with an afternoon tea at Jam.

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Afternoon Tea at Jam, Liverpool

The restaurant was busier than last time I visited with David, you can read my review here. The afternoon tea had some changes. Mum had beef bread rolls and thankfully there was no egg to be seen. The cake selection was a little different too. There were slices of red velvet cake, bakewell tarts and small doughnuts. The scones went down very nicely with cups of Assam tea!

Birdcage-Walk-UseReading: The book I have begun reading this week is Birdcage Walk by Kate Riordan. It is set at the turn of the 20th century and is based on a true crime. However I think the adapted story is a little far fetched but I am over half way through so will persevere to the end.

Have you read any good books lately?

In the kitchen: While I was out with Mum, David was busy in the kitchen baking another cake. This time he made a classic Victoria Sponge, with yummy fresh cream and strawberry jam.

For this Saturday’s dinner I made a Brown Lentil Chili and served it with oven baked tortillas. I adapted the quantities for two people. It makes for a gorgeous, healthy, filling chili. I have made this recipe several times this year.

These have been just a few highlights from my week. How has yours been?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

Sunday Sevens #7

This Sunday Sevens has been rather hard to compile. I only seem to be taking pictures of plants and food recently. Oh. I need to find some excitement in my life!

During breakfast on Sunday, (I have mine snuggled up in bed while listening to Classic FM) David called me downstairs. He had spied a new visitor to the yarden. It only stayed briefly and I didn’t have time to take a picture but I think it was a male Black Cap. He probably just used the yarden as a pit stop on his way to better feeding grounds, much like the Chiffchaff earlier in the year.

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By Tony Hisgett via Wikimedia Commons

David cooked Sunday dinner. He used a curry base and added spices to make a very tasty Rogan Josh.

We attended a family funeral mid week. Funeral services always make me think of this Emily Dickinson poem

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading – treading – till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through –

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum –
Kept beating – beating – till I thought
My mind was going numb –

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space – began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here –

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down –
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then –

After reading Kate Riordan’s second novel, I bought her first novel the Girl in the Photograph. It was only £2.75, second hand from Ebay. It’s another one of those novels that has parallel narratives.

While passing the University of Liverpool, I caught sight of this very striking statue in the quadrangle!

For Saturday’s meal I cooked a vegetarian bean chilli. However, I made a few adjustments to the original recipe, which you can find here. I just used what I could find in the store cupboard. I swapped borlotti beans for pinto, used red lentils instead of puy and left out the marmite altogether! It made for an inexpensive yet healthy meal, even if it was rather hot with two teaspoons of chilli powder! I thought it was very tasty!

For the final picture, in the past few weeks I have been monitoring a strange plant that has been growing in the yarden. At first I didn’t know what it was but now that it’s budded, I remember planting snake’s head fritillary bulbs a year ago.

Have you had any strange looking plants grow in your garden? Cooked any yummy meals recently?

Christine x

Sunday Sevens was devised by Threads and bobbins.

Week Six of Start Writing Fiction

I thought last week was difficult enough with falling behind with my studies, but this week has been even worse! We have been thrown task after task after task!! Below is one such task. It was to envisage a character through dialogue. I quite enjoyed writing it. It just seemed to flow. Hope you enjoy it too? And as always any feedback is most welcome!

 

She walked over to him, unsure whether he had seen her or not. ‘Would you like a second cup Sir?’ She noticed him start. He looked up into her eyes and to Olivia it looked like he had been found guilty. Guilty of sitting in a coffee shop alone. Guilty of a pupil seeing him outside of school. Guilty of being found reading ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’. ‘My favourite book!’

‘Well I thought I would give it a try since one of my star pupils loves it so much!’ He blushed or she thought she noticed the colour rise to his cheeks.

‘Would you like me to get you another cup?’ He shook his head.

‘I don’t think I’ll be staying much longer.’ He looked at his watch.

‘Are you waiting for someone Sir?’ He smiled his assent.

‘Though I don’t think she’s coming.’

‘Maybe she’s been held up?’

‘Maybe,’ he sighed. ‘Though somehow I think I’ve been blown off.’

‘No Sir, surely not.’

‘Well I have been waiting here for over an hour.’

‘There’ll be a plausible explanation I’m sure.’

‘Please don’t tell your class mates I was stood up. I really don’t want them knowing that I am a sad lonely old teacher.’

‘You’re not old!’ Olivia caught herself.

‘Older than you!’

‘Not by much.’

‘By enough.’

‘I’d date you!’ Olivia not only surprised herself but her teacher sat upright too.

‘Would you now,’ he released a strained laugh, showing he was trying too hard to make light of the matter. ‘Anyway,’ he changed the subject like a click of the fingers. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘I work here.’

‘I can see that, but why, you have your studies?’

‘I need the money Sir.’

‘Call me Adam. Sir is so stiff and formal.’ Now it was Olivia’s time to blush. She lowered her gaze. ‘Why do you need the money?’

‘I’m saving to go to Paris,’ she blurted.’ I’ve wanted to go since I can remember!’

‘Paris is a lovely city!’

‘Have you been?’ Olivia couldn’t stop the rising excitement within her. Adam nodded. She desired more than anything else to be able to share her dreams with someone. Adam, her teacher seemed the most qualified than anyone she knew, to be the one she shared them with. She sat down at the table before him. ‘What’s it like?’

‘Olivia!’ a shrill cry broke Adam’s description of music filled streets, the Seine glistening in the moonlight and Art, not just in the galleries but on the buildings that lined the boulevards. Olivia arose from her seat under the glare of her boss.

‘Sorry I have cups to wash.’

‘Perhaps,’ Olivia looked down at Adam with wide eyes. ‘We can continue this conversation at school, Monday.’

‘Yes, maybe.’ She walked away, forgetting Adam’s empty coffee cup on the table.

© Christine Lucas 2014.

Challenging expectations!

I’ve been a bit erratic with my studies this week. I have been worried about Artie having to go for a routine castration. Thankfully he is now home safe and recovering from the anaesthetic.

This week’s writing task was to write about a stereotype character and change the role. I found it really difficult to achieve and what I have written really shows no sign of stereotyping but I’ve tried and it is all I can achieve this week. I am very tired.

As always feedback is extremely valued. Thank you!

 

The wind slapped at his hairless head like an insult. He closed his eyes to the driving rain that threatened to blind him, while his fingers strained to keep their hold of the cold, bare rock. He was hanging hundreds of meters from the relative safeness of the ground, and close by someone was shouting. ‘Geoff, get a move on! You’re holding the rest of us up!’

‘I can’t!’ he shivered.

‘Just think why you’re doing this!’ And then he did. Of Hannah. Little sick Hannah lying in a hospital bed attached to multiple drips, with her grandmother sitting beside her reading fairy stories to chase away the fears. Since his wife had died it had just been him and Hannah. And now Hannah had become sick with the same rare genetic condition as her mother. Geoff was clinging to the side of a precipice as if his life depended on it, and in some way it did, maybe not his life but others. If he was successful in his conquering of Ben Nevis, Geoff would raise in sponsorship almost £100,000! His friends and family had been generous to a fault, but it was the donations from the public after he had featured in the local press that boosted his funds to astronomical proportions. Geoff remembered standing rosy faced before a TV camera and being humbled by the generosity of anonymous people. However on this ‘dreich’ autumnal day Geoff’s resolve faltered. It fell away from him like the lose rock that has fallen headlong down the slope as he tried to hoist himself up.

As his foot had slipped, it seemed to Geoff that his life flashed before his eyes. He recalled the look of his mother when his father left them. Of playing kiss chase in the school playground, and only chasing the girls with fair hair. He preferred blondes, so much so that years later his wife too had been a blonde. Geoff had met her at a friend’s 18th birthday party. Geoff wasn’t 18 until the coming January while Belinda was still only 16! He remembered they had ‘hit it off’ straight away. They were ‘soul mates’, Geoff always thought. After that night when they shared their first kiss under the stars, they were inseparable.

Geoff married Belinda when she was 21. It was a small registry office affair, but he remembered Belinda dressed in white, looking the picture of beauty. A year later and the perfectly formed Hannah with her big brown eyes, (inherited from Geoff) and blonde curly hair (like her mother) arrived.

He didn’t like what came next in his mind’s eye. Of Belinda falling sick. Of the long days and nights in hospital, and ultimately standing before an open grave with the priest prattling on about ‘the shadow of death.’ Flowers, that was his lasting memory of Belinda’s funeral. Lots of flowers. Large gaping lilies and pale, lacklustre roses. That was not how he remembered her. Belinda was vibrant and fiery like blooms of Birds of Paradise!

Some two years after Belinda’s death, Hannah started showing signs of becoming sick. This was the reason why Geoff was clung to a rock like a mollusc. He had agreed to climb the mountain to raise much needed funds for research. Somehow, his own discomfort sweetened the pain of what was ultimately to follow. ‘Come on Geoff!’ someone called. With teeth clenched he loosened his grip and raised his hand to the next crevice. He would achieve this for Hannah’s sake!

Week Four – Writing Course.

I’m in the fourth week of my on-line writing course with the Open University and the latest task was about plot, though we were not told to write anything new, the below example got me thinking.

‘A woman on a bus today carried her Pekinese dog inside her handbag. It had a red bow on its head that matched her sweater.’

So here is my story: It is a bit long winded. I fear it started off strong and then ended weak. What do you think???

 

She got on the bus, she had always hated the smell of them, but today, she didn’t notice the stench of sweat and disinfectant laced with the vomit of last night’s revelries. She was going to see Sheila. It wasn’t a visit she relished but it had to be done. If she was to protect what she had with Josh she had to do it! She may have been the ‘other woman’ but she knew that what she and Josh had, stemmed from more than a few marriage vows before a skirted vicar. He had told her much the same the previous night.

‘Jane, I love you. I will find a way for us to be together.’

‘Really Josh? You will tell your wife about us?’ She remembered he nodded and they had made love again in the dingy hotel room. They had once started out in four star, luxurious rooms but now had resorted to cheap thrills in ultra-cheap rooms.

‘Pleasing two women is getting rather expensive,’ Josh had said. Jane shrugged. She couldn’t have cared less where they made love, so long as she got her man! But months later, the seedy looks from hotel proprietors and the damp infested rooms, were enough for Jane to go off the whole affair!

‘I’ll tell Sheila about us as soon as I get home,’ Josh had promised, kissing her goodbye. That was why Jane now called Josh’s bluff.

She sat on the bus with butterflies fluttering in her stomach, she hardly ever had nerves. Jane reached into her bag in search of lip gloss and her hand touched something soft, furry. She cooed into the bag at her beloved Pekinese who peered up from the detritus of her bag with forlorn brown eyes. ‘Good luck always seemed to come to her while she had Rod nearby.’ He sat alongside the mascara and powder. The red bow on his head (rather gay, Jane admitted), matched the colour of her sweater. The colour of love! The colour of success!

As the bus rattled along, Jane could imagine her mother shaking her head disdainfully at the thought of her 22 year old daughter tearing through the streets of the city towards the suburban home of a middle aged man and his wife. Her friends from college had all said she was ‘stupid, silly, out of her mind!’ when she told them she was in love with a man in his 40’s!

Jane didn’t care! She knew she loved Josh the moment he stepped into the office. She loved his dark wavy hair that had started to go grey and his smile that was always beaming, even if he had had a bad night with the wife. They both worked at a rather successful law firm, he a solicitor, and she a lowly secretary. However she knew it was not love at first sight for Josh. It took a lot of cajolery, of making lots of coffee (with three sugars, just how he liked it) and being at his beck and call whenever he needed her.

It had been at the last Christmas party that Jane finally saw the fruits of her labour. She had been sipping rosé wine all evening, and nibbling on the odd samosa when Josh came up from nowhere and started a conversation with her. Jane remembered how wound up he had been. ‘A hard day at the office?’ she joked.

‘Not office, no.’ Josh rubbed his temples. ‘Having hell with the wife at the moment, where we’re going for Christmas/boxing day, her parents or mine, etc…’ Jane recalled rolling her eyes sympathetically. She was consolingly doe eyed all night.

‘Must be awful for you?’ He’d nodded.

They had talked utter tripe all night, while listening to bad Christmas hits and watching their fellow office workers dance badly. Jane remembered Josh had worn a green jumper with the face of Rudolf knitted on the front. ‘The wife, made me wear it!’ It made Jane think.

‘Did Josh have a mind of his own or did Sheila own that too?’ As fairy lights twinkled off the festive tinsel adorning the hotel function room, they found that they had both drank too much. Jane saw her opportunity disappear with every shot Josh swigged back. So she embraced the spirit of the occasion and held a sprig of mistletoe above her head. ‘Kiss me?’ she winked and was blown away by the force of his lips on hers. He didn’t even apologise afterwards. He just held her hand, looked into her eyes and mouthed.

‘Want to go to bed?’ Jane gulped. This was her moment.

‘Yes,’ she heard herself say and what happened in that hotel room that night, and every following Thursday afterwards, was the reason Jane was on that bus, with Rod itching to escape her bag.

When she alighted at her stop, the young bus driver gave her a coy smile. That kind of look from a man, always made her glow, so she smiled back. Rod was now on his lead. He had been fed up of the restriction of her handbag and had snapped at Jane as she tried to get the piece of scrap paper with Josh’s address on.

New Foundland Crescent was full of new builds on the outskirts of town. Rod pulled on his lead to smell the blue Salvia heads that lined the gardens but Jane pushed forwards to number 12. She found that the house was a detached, three storey with at least four bedrooms, a garage and driveway. Jane knew that there was also a huge garden to the rear where Josh said he used to tan himself under the summer sun. With high heels clipping on the stone pavement, Jane walked with back straight towards the front door. She already knew how she was going to break the news to Sheila if Josh hadn’t already done so. That he was going to leave her and go live with Jane, until the divorce was settled and then they would look for apartments together.

Jane had walked halfway up the driveway when the front door of the house opened and to her surprise two children waltzed out. One was aged about four, the other ten perhaps? They both carried little suitcases. ‘Going on a holiday?’ Jane asked them.

‘Yes, we’re going to Disney World!’ the older of the two answered.

‘For how long?’

‘Two, whole weeks!’

‘Just with your Mum?’

‘No silly, Daddy is coming too.’

‘Daddy?’ Jane bit her lip thoughtfully. ‘Josh never said he had children.’

‘Can I help you?’ called a voice. It came from the open doorway. It was Sheila! Jane stood gazing at her beautiful face and elegant clothes.

‘She looked nothing like Josh had described.’ A niggling doubt tickled at the back of her mind.

‘Can I help you?’ Sheila asked again, her smile faltering. ‘Are you here to deliver something?’

‘I’m Jane. I work with your husband.’

‘Jane?’

‘Has he not mentioned me then?’

‘He tells me so many stories about people at work. I rarely get to meet them, so putting names to faces is difficult.’

‘So he’s not said anything about the two of us?’

‘The two of you?’ Jane’s determination faltered under the scrutiny of the older woman. It was clearly obvious that Josh hadn’t told his wife about their year long affair. Jane realised that what she had thought she had with Josh had only been a young woman’s fancy. It was never going to be anything serious, was that why hadn’t told her about his children? Jane stoically steeled her face while inside she seethed. She heard herself lie unconvincingly.

‘We’ve both been short-listed as employee of the month.’

‘And you came here just to tell me that?’ Sheila looked perplexed.

‘No I was just passing and was hoping to collect a file from Josh. Is he at home?’

‘No he’s still at work.’

‘Mummy, come on we’ll be late for meeting Daddy at the airport,’ one of the children spouted.

‘I’m holding you up,’ Jane apologised, wanting to get away as quickly as possible.

‘I’ll tell Josh you passed by.’

‘You do that!’ Jane smiled. She pulled Rod away from the two children who were petting him. ‘Have a nice holiday!’ Jane waved as she walked away. She did not look back.

‘Is that Daddy’s friend?’ Jane heard one of the children ask. ‘She’s very pretty.’ Jane’s only consolation was the hope that Josh would have a rather frosty welcome from his wife at the airport.

‘Disney World,’ Jane thought. ‘He never mentioned he was going off on bloody holiday for two weeks! The bastard!’

As she turned the corner and was firmly out of sight of the matrimonial home, Jane lent against a wall. She tried mightily to stop the flood of tears that streamed down her cheeks, but they overwhelmed her. She felt betrayed, humiliated and stupid for believing the love she had with Josh was genuine. She pulled every inch of composure she could muster and made her way to the bus stop. Jane knew that come that evening in-between bouts of self-pity she would be hard at work updating her Curriculum Vitae and trawling through the job sites for a new position. She would never let Josh see what his lies had made her feel, both angry and sad simultaneously. Jane fought the temptation to send him a hateful text message but she rose above it and fumbled for loose change for her fare.

When the bus finally arrived after an agonising 20 minute wait, Jane had dried her tears and powdered her nose. For the last five minutes she had been ‘chatted up’ by a man in his 70’s who appreciated the colour of her jumper. Climbing the steps of the bus, Jane noticed that it was the same young driver at the helm. She flashed a smile at him and noticed he blushed. She was young and resilient and would soon get over her recent disappointment.

‘Men were like buses’, so her grandmother was always at pains to tell her. ‘If you miss one, there’s always another not far behind.’

Ideas for a Story

As you may know I have embarked on a short, free creative writing course with the Open University.

This is the second ‘large’ piece of writing I have been tasked to do. It was inspired by a short video introducing the course and I have tried to pull a story from one of the images featured. Of a young woman sitting, awaiting a bus with an over night bag on her lap. Let me know what you think of the first 500+ words and if it has any promise for me to continue with. Thanks. Christine.

 

I remember… how he looked the morning he walked into the class room. The bright spring sunshine flowed into the room, touching the heads of twenty four rowdy teenagers and me. I sat gazing out of the window to the park below. The trees were heavy limbed with pink blossom and daisy heads interjected the green grass of the playing fields. I watched as an elderly man walked his dog, a young mother pushed her baby in a pram while talking into a mobile phone. All life was going on before me while I sat stifled and bored awaiting the new form teacher to arrive and to begin another day of endless classes. Don’t get me wrong, I loved studying, was always in the top 5% of classes but life at present seemed an endless chore. Mother had just remarried to a pig of a man, Dan and my older sister Melanie, had started her first semester at Manchester University studying politics. So it was just ‘little old’ me in a house far too large for three people, (two of whom I tried to avoid at all times,) and Jake the Border Collie. ‘Perhaps I’ll take the dog for a walk after school,’ I thought and then the door was flung open and in he walked!

It was his confident swagger that gripped me first. He didn’t look much older than 25, but his poise gave him the air of a much older man. I think I half envied him then! Confidence was never a strong character trait with me. Indeed that was why I was sitting alone while the rest of the girls in class were all huddled at the back chatting to the boys, the good looking boys I may hasten to add. He breezed in and demanded such attention that everyone fell silent. ‘I’m Mr. Blake and I will be your new class teacher.’

It didn’t take long for the brassy ones of the class to pipe up, ‘sir, which school have you transferred from? What subject do you teach?’ The latter was voiced by the girls who were suddenly sitting alert like animals in anticipation of food.

‘Poor Mr. Blake,’ I thought. ‘He’s a carrot dangling before all these hormonal girls, many on the verge of womanhood,’ He bent over his desk and peered into the class register. He patted his shirt pocket, looking for something.

‘I’ve forgotten my glasses. Forgive me if I get your names wrong. I’m rather short sighted.’ His voice was rich and soft like the wind sighing through the trees. If I closed my eyes I could picture his voice coming from the radio late at night, announcing some relaxing piece of music. I smiled as I thought I wouldn’t mind lying in bed listening to his voice all night. ‘Olivia Edwards,’ he was saying my name. ‘Olivia Edwards is she here?’ and then I opened my eyes. He was scanning the sea of faces before him looking for someone he thought resembled an Olivia.

‘Here,’ I managed to squeak. His eyes rested on my face and I half envisaged a slight turn up of his lips.

‘Nice to meet you Olivia Edwards,’ and inside my heart pounded.