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WOTH cover smallWinter on the the Hill – Twenty Three

I know, the title Winter on the Hill is looking less appropriate as we head into early summer, but it’s metaphorical, right?

So:

The earth is rusty-red and dusty here, the sky a deep sepia tint, fading to the colour of straw where the sun has just gone behind the hills. There’s a pleasant warmth to the air, and a dryness. It’s coming out of the earth, quaking up from the rocks themselves as they give back to the heavens what the sun has poured into them all day. I’m sitting on the porch of a pioneer’s wooden cabin, out in the wilderness of Western Australia. We’re somewhere on the frontier, as it was I suppose towards the later nineteen twenties, and as near as I’ve imagined it at various points in my life.

News from home isn’t good. The vacuum of peace following the war to end all wars has been filled with the decimation of traditional industries and civil unrest on account of poverty. In America there’s been a market crash and stock brokers are leaping from the windows on Wall Street, though all this was as nothing compared with the hundred million worldwide who had already died from the H1N1 contagion, the so-called Spanish Flu.

I’m with Annie, the pair of us gazing at the afterglow of the sun. She came out on the SS Balranald in ’23, left her child with family in Ulverston, and she misses him deeply. He’ll come out when he’s older, just in time to get swept up in that second war, and sent out east – or rather west from here – to fight.

Charlie’s been dead since ’18 of course, but she still thinks of him, though by now she’s married anew, and carrying another man’s child – always something pragmatic, adventurous and uniquely admirable about Annie. And I suppose, though again I’m imagining all of this, what I admire in her, what marks her out for me is that she set the frontier of my matrilineal blood furthest from home, travelled as far as she could around the globe, planted her shovel in the dirt and said, this is where I’ll start again.

The world has seen such unimaginable upheaval, and no more so than in the first half of the twentieth century. Europe at least saw relative peace and prosperity after that, a period that coloured the aspirations of all, like me, who were born into the second half of that century. We never knew a world like Annie knew, and it’s hoodwinked us into thinking it’s impossible things could ever be like that again. I suppose ours being also the nuclear age, it gave us a certain bleakly arrogant confidence, that should such upheaval ever be visited upon our generation it would result in the earth being turned into a cinder, and would anybody really be so stupid?

Don’t answer that.

“I guess I’m dreaming all of this then, Annie?”

She nods, smiles tenderly. Her hair is dusty from a day tending the stock, which she describes as a sea of sheep, and her face, her cheeks, are different to my imagining, with their more natural pale Lancashire pallor burned red.

“I suppose so, Richard. But it’s lovely to see you, anyway.”

I’m not in the habit of dreaming of Annie, not like this, not so,… vividly. I know I tend to conjure her up in waking reveries, but that’s different. This is coming from the deeps, and there’s an easy pleasure in it, something comforting. I’m not saying this is anything more than it is, that I’m just dreaming, right? The thing is, I don’t know where I’m dreaming from, from what part of my life I have slept. Indeed, I can barely remember any of my life, yet still feel perfectly myself here, and complete, for all the lack of memory.

“I think I know what you’re trying to say to me,” I tell her. “But you were barely thirty when you came out here. I’m at the wrong end of my life, and anyway there’s nowhere like this now for ruined Brits to go to any more. All our bridges are burned. Our horizons have narrowed. Soon there won’t even be a Britain any more, just an England. And sixty million of us cooped up and screaming at each other.”

“Well, you don’t need to come all the way out here and tend sheep, Richard. All you need’s a bit of money to be comfortable. And you’ve got that. Do you think I would have made that decision if I’d your money?”

“But do I want to be comfortable? Is that all I’m good for now? Am I just another last man standing?”

“Well, no fun in prison either,” she says. “Or with your head bust open by a policeman’s billy-bat. Those are the times I remember too, and the times you’re running up against all over again, or so it seems to me, and God help you. But you’re in a position to ride it out.”

“True. And I’m too old for all that protesting anyway. I’m scared by it. And I don’t like being on a watch-list, same as any bloody murdering terrorist psychopath.”

“So what is it you want?”

“Just company, Annie. I want to be with someone who wants to be with me. Someone I can take care of. Protect.”

“Why protect?”

“I don’t know. Because in a way I was trying to protect others by my politics and my protests. By sticking it to the man on behalf of others.”

“And because you enjoyed it?”

“Yes, I’ll admit that. I did enjoy it.”

“So you led them to vote, and they voted for you to shove it up your arse. Fair enough. So maybe now you’re looking for something smaller and more docile to protect, like a hamster maybe? But have you thought what you need more than all of that Richard is someone who wants to protect you? Also, maybe you’re looking at things the wrong way. Sure events being what they are, it’s easy to say the world’s done for, but what about you? Are you done for? Inside I mean? Or after all the ups and downs of your life, could it be, do you think, that in spite of the way your thoughts are most naturally inclined these days, you’re actually on the cusp of a greatness of spirit like you’ve never known before?”

“Cusp of greatness? Doesn’t feel like that to me. Were you ever, do you think, on the cusp? Coming out here I mean?”

“Sure, why not? Can you imagine Blackburn in the nineteen twenties?”

“Seen pictures. Knew it best myself in the seventies. Time’s not improved it much.”

“Coming out here, Rick. I found myself, I think, or as near as a body could. You can do it too. You’ve got to see beyond events though. Events,… they’re just noise, like the clatter of a loom, it’s all incidental to the weave of the cloth. You see that, don’t you?”

“The cloth?”

“You, Richard. The warp and the weave of you.”

“You’re way ahead of me, Annie. You’re wasting your time looking over my shoulder. Me and my times, we’ve nothing to teach you.”

“Well, like I’m sure I’ve said before, you don’t get to my age and not pick up a thing or two. Nearly made it to ninety, I did. Outlived two husbands. Plus the times were, shall we say ‘interesting’. You tend to grow up fast when there’s a lot going on.”

“But you said the times, the details, they’re just noise.”

“Sure they are, which means in quiet times you can learn as much from the small things if you know how to look and how to read them. Me, I learned some lessons those six weeks crossing the world from Blackburn to Freemantle, say nothing of the next fifty out here. You’ll maybe learn as much just crossing over the threshold of a woman’s house. That can take you to a different continent, too, you know? All depends on what you do with it.”

__________________________________________________

This is going up on Wattpad, a chapter at a time. We’ll be done by Christmas, when it’s winter again. I’ve no idea how it will turn out, but I’m finding the ideas fascinating, also the fact that Coronavirus hijacked the story half-way through, without derailing it one bit. It’s just the way I write them.

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Yarrow Reservoir overflow – Anglezarke, West Pennine Noors

“Februaries of late years are a month of storms. We get as many as two or three in succession, battering in off the Atlantic now, bringing gales and rain, the likes of which seem every season to break new records.”

So muses Rick Jeager in the latest chapter of my work-in-progress ‘Winter on the Hill’. An ageing socialist firebrand, Rick has gone to ground in an old house perched on the edge of the Western Pennines. He’s thinking back on the Left’s crushing election defeat last year, accepting that perhaps the struggle is now lost on all fronts, and imagining the course of the next few decades as the climate becomes ever more dominant in human affairs. And while he ponders, he passively watches the rain as it pours down off the moors, swelling the rivers and lifting the grids on the plain, drowning meadows and homes, on its way to the sea.

In many ways, being senior in years, the climate breakdown doesn’t matter to Rick as he won’t be around to see the worst of it, though it strikes him as curious, as his own life enters its winter months, the planet itself seems also to be set on its own end-game.

I’m a bit disappointed in Rick thus far, actually, and I’m hoping he’ll get his act together, that through his bunch of newly acquired eccentric friends in the Autumn Tints walking group, he’ll somehow rediscover his mojo – perhaps where he left it on a mountain cairn in his youth – and maybe he’ll enjoy a little late-flowering love along the way.

For myself I’m looking forward to the coming spring. I know we’ve a way to go yet but as the last Friday of February approaches and the daffodils and the crocuses make their appearance, I cannot help but feel more positive. Hopefully my own rallying mood will rub off on poor old Rick.

So,… it was a busy day yesterday, repairing fences left gap-toothed by a week of gales, repairing a nasty crack in a UPVC door that was let fly in the wind, replacing a window handle that had come off in my hand. Added to that, the boiler is on the blink again and the roof is leaking around the chimney, but only when the wind blows from a certain direction. The boiler man should sort the former out on Monday, but not I imagine without his usual sucking of teeth over various reg changes that provide him with a million reasons for walking away and leaving us without hot water, in spite of our premium-gold-peace-of-mind-or-whatever contract. As for the chimney, it’s leaked off and on for the twenty years I’ve lived here – and probably long before that – in spite of the attentions of a long line of  roofing men who have tried various fixes in exchange for my funding their holidays, and all to no avail. I shall keep the buckets in place and trust the wind changes direction.

Come on Rick, buck up, man! We need you to sort this mess out.

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man writing - gustave caillebot - 1885I’ve been getting a sudden flurry of comments on Wattpad. They’re all roughly the same, telling me I’ve won Premier Membership but if you click the link it simply takes you to a story that “cannot be found”. It’s some sort of scam then, the purpose of which eludes me, but more of that later.

Wattpad is one of many self-publishing platforms now. I’ve been on there for ages, with mixed results. The Seaview Cafe topped out at around 4000 reads, which was great, but other stuff hasn’t been read at all. This is probably because I don’t game it. It’s a social network you see, and as with all such things you have to spend time building it up, virtual schmoozing and following others in order to get the clicks. But I’m socially inept, and prefer just to write.

Wattpad sells advertising. Writers use it as a vehicle for self expression, while readers read their stuff for free, and as we go along we all get served these adverts. Adverts are annoying, but so long as you can forgive them Wattpad’s maybe worth a look if you’re starting out, and you’re the chatty type, but best not taken too seriously because a writer needs to be careful they don’t lose their way.

The Wattpad model has changed recently, a kind of ‘premium membership’ being rolled out, a select group of writers testing a “paid” model. Also, if the rest of us agree to a subscription, they’ll spare us the adverts. Payment to writers is based on donations – we buy virtual coins which we toss into the writer’s hat if we like their stuff. I don’t know who those writers are, so I suppose they’ll have to be promoted in some way – sexy mugshots and all that, no English teeth, and no one over thirty five?

But this is beginning to sound like conventional publishing – about half a dozen chosen ones awarded most of the budget, and the rest dividing the pennies between them. According to the blurb, all writers will be able to join the paid ranks eventually, and that’s alluring if you’re chasing the idea of writing for a living, but unless you have millions of readers, you’ll be lucky if you make the price of a cup of coffee. And with the money of course will come the scammers, because they always find a way, and I suppose those spurious comments I’m getting now are the first exploratory wave of that.

But if Wattpad changes, or stays the same, it’s irrelevant to those of us writing the stories, because the important thing is always the story, I mean as it’s being written and experienced by you the writer, also in future years, when you’re revising and reliving the adventure, when maybe you start to wonder what the hell you were on about back then, or you realise how much your outlook’s changed, and which bits you thought were profoundly insightful turn out to have been merely stupid. Thus, in part, the story always serves you first. That’s your reward. There may also be a greater purpose, but that’s complicated and mysterious and, it may not be true, but here goes:

Most writers who’ve been at it for a decade or more already know the chances of making an actual living by it are zero, so you wonder why you’re still in the game, and that’ll take some time, maybe even another decade, and in the mean time, with luck, you’ll still be writing. My own vague conclusion at the end of this process is that writers, known or not, are explorers of the possibilities of imagination, and exploration is typically a human thing to do. And some of us can’t help it.

But more than that, all stories are based on a set of myths that rise from the deep unconscious, and there aren’t that many of them. We saw them first played out in stories from all those ancient civilisations – like the Mesopotamians, the Greeks, and the Egyptians – but they’ve been re-told in an infinite number of ways since, because times change and the myths need re-imagining for each generation. We writers needn’t be aware of this process, but if we analyse our own stories enough and dig deeply into myth we’ll find similarities. We’ll realise we’re basically saying the same thing.

And then there’s this theory that without an ongoing process of mythical renewal, the Gods might get the impression we’re no longer listening to them, so they’ll start stirring things up by unleashing troublesome daemons among us, hastening our decent into barbarism, so something fresh can rise from the ruins. So, creative types on this side of the divide try to avoid the ruination by placating the Gods, the Daemons, the Muses, or whatever by taking notes, by refashioning the myths to keep them fresh in people’s heads.

Well that’s fine, you say, but no publisher’s interested, so you stick your damned story online where you’re lucky if half a dozen people see it. What’s the point in that? Well, that’s not your problem. You’ve done your bit, and it may be that if only a dozen people see it, then maybe they’re the only ones it needed to speak to. And yes, all right, that’s romantic, and wishful, and a somewhat daring thing to say in the wrong company, but it has a certain mythical charm to it, and I like to believe in it.

But the main thing is writers on social media should be wary of getting hung up on the clicks, or the coins, or the comments, or whatever, because it’ll kill your craft, and they don’t mean a damn to your primary purpose anyway, which is simply to keep going, deep into the woods, every day.

 

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the master

Things move on. Gone are the days of Feedbooks when any old noob indy could self publish on there for free and have a hundred downloads by morning. Feedbooks is still going but for the self publishing indy it died ages ago. Stats suggest very few readers find their way to my stuff any more so I do’t bother with it – might as well stuff it in a drawer for all the good it will do.  But all is not lost: there’s always Free Ebooks.

This is another of those sites you can load your fiction onto. The model is a simple one – thousands of writers provide free content around which the site owners serve advertising and marketing packages which pay for site’s upkeep. Like Smashwords they want your manuscripts in MS word format, but don’t seem as fussy over the formatting – or it may be that I’m submitting stuff that’s already passed the Smashword’s meat-grinder test.

Downloads are encouraging – quite a spike early on, levelling off to a few clicks per day thereafter. I suspect it’ll be like Smashwords in the longer term, eventually flat-lining at a thousand clicks or so with only the occasional flutter thereafter. Yes, they want you to sign up for their marketing packages and all that, but I’m not going to advise you to ignore them because you know it’s a cardinal rule writers never pay publishers anything, don’t you? As for Free Ebooks paying you, well, there is an option for readers to donate through Paypal, but I wouldn’t expect more than the price of a cup of coffee now and then, and it’s certainly not worth giving up the day job.

Smashwords is still very much alive and well of course, and well worth submitting to if only for the free ISBN, and Wattpad is picking up in a strange kind of way too, though it requires a bit of engagement on your part, being more of a community thing, but that’s cute and I’m finding it has a nice feedback vibe for stuff you put on there piecemeal. I’ve been trying out the Sea View Cafe on it for a while now – at least up to the point where it got quagmired in my usual three-way polyamory trap – more on that in the next blog. I can recommend it for early drafts, but again it’s not going to change your life much. And once a story’s done on there, well,… it’s done and you might as well delete it.

So yes, things move on, but they’re not dying out. Online and digital are still the only way to go for the majority of unaffiliated wannabe writers. I predict the only bookshops in a decade’s time will be charity shops selling increasingly dog eared and spine busted samples of that old paper-tech, that actual books will have become an upmarket thing, paperbacks costing thirty quid a go. And us ordinary folk will have no recourse to libraries anymore, so this mad bagatelle of free online stuff will be our daily fayre.

So don’t despair, you young uns might have robots to contend with for your day-jobs by then, but at the end of it you’ll still be able to kick back of a night inside your cosy plastic nano-pod, with whatever passes for a mobile phone, and read, and think how: quaint, those days of paper. Hopefully some my stuff will still be around, scraped up by the content farming sites. And maybe amongst my writings you’ll discover a lost world where people fell in love face to face rather than dialling partners up via an app, a world where our dreams still meant something and we used to laugh at the idea of cars driving themselves.

So, anyway, if you’re a writer looking to share some ideas, some stories, do check out Free Ebooks! It’s like Smashwords, and a bit of a dead-zone as far as feedback’s concerned, though I have picked up a couple of four-stars. But if you want people to talk to you about what you write as you write it, go to Wattpad. Whatever you do though don’t get hung up on the mechanics of self publishing, on the clicks and stats at the expense of,… well,… writing. Just get your stuff on the Internet any which way you can and whoever was meant to read it will find it.

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durleston wood cover smallIt was Mark Twain who said: “Write without pay until somebody offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this circumstance with the most implicit confidence as the sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.”

I disagree, but then I would – having been writing willingly without pay for considerably longer than three years. Indeed I write these days without actively seeking any pay at all. As a round rebuttal of Mark Twain’s opinion on the matter, I offer instead the five rules of contemporary independent authorship:

 

 

1) Writers write.

2) If you can’t get anyone to pay, it’s okay to write for nothing, for as long as you want.

3) Publishers pay writers. (Sometimes).

4) Writers never pay publishers. Anything. (Ever).

5) Writers need not saw wood.

Most of us who write online for free are doing more than avoiding sawing wood. What we’re doing is bypassing a system that stands in our way. We’re seeking readers without having to negotiate the quaint arcana of the commercial publishing world. We write for free because experience has taught us that to seek payment from others is to close the door on our self expression, that to persist we might as well slide our work to the bottom of a drawer where it will remain for ever unread. Perhaps we lack the necessary persistence, perhaps we lack the talent. But neither of these cautionaries matter. We do it because we can. And in doing it we will find readers.

We can do it in a number of ways:

In the first instance, we can pedal our wares from the margins of our blogs. Click the cover-pic and you get a download from the public folder of our Dropbox thing. Simple. This way our work is completely independent and virtually immortal. Our stuff stays online until the sun goes supernova. The downside is unless you can game the system to achieve a monumental blog following, downloads are likely to be small. I manage a few per week. Not great, but who cares?

For more readers, you sign up to websites who grant a bigger exposure in exchange for plastering your stuff with advertising, or by tempting you into paying for “author services” like editing, proof reading, or marketing. Need I repeat my advice not to pay anyone anything in order to publish your work? It’s one thing to write for nothing, quite another for it to cost you money. The other thing to bear in mind when considering such sites is how many downloads you’re likely to achieve. There’s no point in signing up if their download rates are no better than your self served blog.

I use Feedbooks, Smashwords, and Wattpad. Feedbooks was always the best for downloads – even stuff I’ve had on there for years was still getting ten or fifteen downloads a week. I say “was” because it looks like Feedbooks is now dead so far as indys are concerned. Smashwords is less successful, but still garners a steady, if more modest exposure to potential readers. Wattpad,… well, Wattpad is a strange one. Put a novel on there in one lump and you’ll be lucky to get a single hit, ever. Put it up a chapter at a time over a period of months and you’ll do much better, at least until that final chapter goes up and then you’ll get not a dickie bird again. There’s a social media angle to Wattpad of course. Virtual networking. You like theirs,and they like yours. You need to use it to get the best from it, but I’m usually too busy with other stuff, like writing. I’m also an unreformed introvert who finds anything “social” a bit awkward.

Just recently I’ve been looking at other avenues, namely Free eBooks.net, putting my novel “In Dureleston Wood” on there by way of an experiment. The Free eBooks’ business model requires both writers and readers to sign-up. Readers are limited to five downloads per month unless they pay for VIP membership. Writers who contribute get VIP membership automatically, which suggests to me this may end up being a writer’s only hangout.

But anyway,..

Unlike Smashwords, there’s no option to charge for your work, but that doesn’t bother me. You can add a donate button so readers can tip you via your Paypal Account, should they feel so inclined, but let’s not fool ourselves over the potential of that. The site is heavy on advertising and it’s keen to sign us up for a premium marketing package, but again that violates my principles, so we won’t be going there.

Upload is simple, requiring a .doc formatted manuscript and a cover pic. Then you fill out your blurb and it’s done. Publication isn’t immediate – the info says it can take up to three working days for a submission to be “considered”, but a quick scan of what’s already on offer reveals there’s a lot of crap on there so I wouldn’t worry too much about being rejected. I wasn’t overly optimistic regarding my potential for downloads. I’ve tired various sites like this before and managed no more than a dozen hits in a year – but I achieved my dozen here after the first day. The rate will probably dwindle over time, but so far it looks like Free eBooks and I can do business without violating too many of my principles.

And without sawing any wood.

 

 

 

 

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350178bced2740617291e725a0b2159fresNet9_n7So,..

He led me into the wood, along the tunnelled path through which we could see the garden gate. Beyond it was the blue grey slate of the house itself, and the green front door – images first seen one clear spring morning a decade ago. It was coming back now, memories I thought I’d laid to rest, but I felt a terrible pressure in my chest, something trying to burst free, and I hung back, afraid I could not bring myself to cross the threshold into that strange world again.

Lamarr prattled pompously, not yet aware I was shrinking ever further behind. “It needs an awful lot of work to bring it up to standard of course,” he was saying. “It must be freezing here in Winter. And of course the road, such as it is, gets blocked at the first hint of bad weather.”

Incongruous in his suit, he produced an impressive bunch of keys and proceeded to try the lock, but to his surprise found the door already open. He walked in, and I followed, half closing my eyes as the breath of the place took me. Then I nearly ran into the back of him when he pulled up sharp. I was confused at first and thoroughly self absorbed, so I did not immediately register what he was staring at. Slowly, I followed his gaze and it was then I saw her: a woman, standing at the foot of the stairs, one hand on the banister rail.

She was in her early thirties perhaps, dressed in the long tweed skirt and the blouse I remembered Beatrice wearing that first night long ago. She even wore the little silver clasp at her throat, a string of pearls hanging over the jut of an ample bosom. Her hair was long and dark, and tied up in the Edwardian fashion, exactly as Beatrice’s had been. The look of her, the feel, the mood of the woman in this house,… it was startling and for an instant my heart leaped to an inevitable conclusion. It had all been a mistake! Beatrice was alive! She was there, waiting to welcome me back, about to smile in greeting,… except Beatrice would have been much older now,… like me.

The colour had completely drained from Lamarr’s face and I guessed he was thinking the same. The woman, for a moment, seemed similarly transfixed by us, but then she let out a startling growl, cat like, primitive, and she sprang at us, bowling us aside like skittles before making her escape through the open door. As she passed, I felt a tremendous strength and a heat, and I caught the scent of soap, of lavender. My God – the scent of Beatrice! But above all, even in the violence of the moment, I had felt the cool, starchy smoothness of her blouse upon my skin and then my heart had folded upon itself, leaving me numb with a shock that ran far deeper than Lamarr could ever have guessed.

I was too shaken by it to even think of chasing her, always supposing I could have run more than a hundred yards in the first place. Instead I gazed out as she tore down the path, the heavy skirt held high, her legs bare and efficiently muscular, like a hill runner’s, like a wild animal’s. She looked back once, as her hair fell, and a single beam of sunlight cut clean through the dross of decades to illuminate her face, to still my heart.

I wanted to say that I knew this woman, that I had known her all my life, known her for many lives, but clearly I did not know her at all.

***

More old ground this week, dipping in and out of this story. First published in 2007, I still worry about it. I worry about my future possible grandchildren and great grandchildren reading it and saying: “What? Grandad Graeme wrote that.” And then they’ll look at this dribbly old guy in his worn out Harris Tweeds, smelling of mint imperials and wee and they’ll go “EWWW!”

But then every generation has the problem of thinking it invented sex. As for the rest of it,  all two hundred thousand words of it, it’s far from perfect, but at least when I read it I still know where I’m coming from, and where in the long run I’m probably heading.

The picture is adapted from a photograph of the great American Silent Acress Lillian Gish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Loving your villains

the sea view cafe - smallIn most matters Squinty Mulligan took the view it was the substance of one’s life that mattered, rather than appearances. The Mercedes on his tail that morning, he decided, was not paid for. It was a leased car, brand new. It was the epitome of ‘appearances’. Were the driver, a slickly coiffured and besuited gent, to lose his job, he would lose his car, his rented home, everything. The man was a slave to his debt, and could not see it. There was no substance to him at all. He was no more than a credit rating.

As for Squinty? He could buy a car like that outright, a fancy wrist-watch, a nice home, no problem. That he chose not to, that he chose instead to rumble about in his old Landrover, trailing a cloud of diesel fumes was a question of his personal credo, one of not showing off, or pretending to be something you were not. The old man had taught him that. But it went deeper. Squinty had the money, had the substance – all be it gained by questionable means – but was averse to showing it off. All right, the truth was people might ask questions about the source of his ‘substance’, but Squinty was happy to overlook this fact and wilfully mislabel it as humility. Whatever, Squinty was not boastful.

In love it was different though. Squinty was lonely, but it was pride that would not allow him to show it. He had splashed a bit of money out on nice clothes and a haircut and a hot shave, and for a moment that time in the supermarket, he was sure Hermione had warmed to him, or at least paused long enough to ask herself the question. But it had backfired on account of his impetuosity, and after much thought, he now blamed Maureen for that.

The traffic was thick and sluggish heading into Manchester and the Merc was hanging really close to his bumper, so close he couldn’t even make out its lights or its number plate. It was pushing him, even though there was nowhere to go, and he was getting annoyed with it.

Maureen you say?

Sure, it had been grand for a while, a bit of a laugh, and there was no doubt she was fun to be with when she’d had a few, and very obliging afterwards in bed, though often too drunk to remember any of it in the morning, so in a sense it was like the first time with her every time. They’d tried to do it sober, but it hadn’t felt the same, and Squinty was getting to be of an age when he could no longer do it drunk.

And Maureen’s story was one of depression, of a son dead in a foreign war, and a husband making money on a rig in the Irish Sea, a man who’d not been home in years and most likely would not be coming home again and all because his wife was impossible to live with.

It had begun because he’d felt sorry for her, felt it would perk her up a bit, a bit of casual loving, like – her husband away and all that. And it had, but Maureen was an addict: booze and,… well,… you know,… and none of it satisfying her for very long, and he wasn’t such a fool as to think he was the only one she was doing it with.

Her house was a tip of course, the bedsheets unchanged, bottles of cheap booze in the kitchen cupboards, the sink piled with mucky pots. Okay, his place wasn’t much to look at either, but even Squinty had his standards. Sure a man would be a fool to expect anything but ruin in the arms of Maureen.

Now Hermione, on the other hand,… it was the sheer cleanliness of the girl, and the kindness, and the warmth of her. That she disapproved of his banter he took for a feisty spirit, and it excited him, but she was soft enough too and he’d soon have her in her place if he could only find a way of connecting with her first. But he’d never been good with that sort of thing, I mean playing a woman for keeps.

But aren’t you forgetting the small matter of a broken window, Squinty – not to mention other transgressions?

Sure, but he’d apologise for that, offer to pay for the damage, and she’d be sweet about it.

You’ll see.

It was a twisty road, still busy in both directions. The Merc wanted to go faster or squeeze past but since the traffic and the twistiness was against overtaking, the only thing it could do was nudge ever closer to Squinty’s tail in the hope of getting a few more miles per hour out of him. Squinty grew tired of it and slammed on the brakes.

It had always been a good stopper, that old Landrover – not much to look at of course, but it was built like a tank.

The front of the Merc was crumpled, because that’s the way with cars these days. There was steam and the scent of oil and antifreeze. Nice smell, thought Squinty as he stepped down – for a mechanic you couldn’t beat it. As for the back end of the Landrover it was hard to tell. It might have been missing a bit of paint, but it could have been like that for a while – Squinty wasn’t sure.

The dog was barking with the shock of it, but Squinty cowed it with a simple: “QUIET”

The driver of the Merc stepped out, pale and shaken, mistook Squinty for a dishevelled old fart and became uppity.

“But didn’t you see the fox?”said Squinty, innocent as you like.

“Fox?”

“Fox ran in front of me. Had to brake hard. Pity you were so close.” He couldn’t resist the curl of a smile. F@$%ing city slicker – he didn’t look so corporate and cool now, did he?

Sqinty wrote down his details, handed them over, all legal, like. “Your fault, mate.” he said. He tapped the back window of the Landrover. Got you on my dashcam, right up my arse for the past half hour. Was just thinking to myself I hope I don’t have to pull up sharp.”

He was smiling as he drove away. It was going to be a good day.

***

Squinty is the “villain”, for want of another word, of my work in progress: The Sea View Cafe. He has many a trait that makes me wince, and he treats the heroine appallingly, but there are bits of him that have me cheering him on. When you can love your villains, I think you stand a chance of pulling it off.

I’ve begun serialising The Sea View on Wattpad, even though I’ve still no idea where it’s going, but I’m just loving getting to know these characters. I can’t wait to find out what they’re going to do next. They’re in charge – I just take notes.

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racy lady 2I’m a little nervous this evening – always am the night before a trip. I’ve checked the oil and the water, checked the tyres, taken her out for a spin and all appears to be well. The hotels are booked, the travel insurance paid, and even if we do have mechanical trouble, the AA will be earning their subs for once and getting us home.

Come to think of it the clutch felt a little odd during that spin, but I’m wearing new trainers and they lack the broken-in, wafer-thin sensitivity of my old ones. It was hard to judge to bite point and I’ve always had a thing about the clutch – the one thing you can’t check or mitigate against. And of course a failed clutch can ruin your holiday. But I’m sure it’ll be fine.

So, I’m off to the Dales in the morning, a week’s tour of the best of rural England, ending up on the East Coast by weekend. We have a new-ish Vauxhall Corsa on the drive that could do trip with ease and, with 20,000 on the clock I’d have fewer qualms about it, but where would be the fun in that? The Dales in a twelve year old roadster just coming up to 80,000 miles has to be worth the risk. It’ll be a trip revisiting the familiar – I know the Dales quite well: Malhamdale, Wharfdale, Wensleydale and hopefully with the top down as much as possible. Then a long run across country to Scarborough and a few nights off motoring.

I’m travelling light – not much choice in a little car. I have the kernel of a new story on the pad, and I’ll no doubt be tickling away at that in the evenings before bed. It’s late July now, the season maturing, and many a moon come and gone without anything new in the making. Thus far I’ve been reviewing older stuff and posting it on Wattpad, which has been satisfying in a way but a bit like treading water. I also finished off Sunita, a back burner project  and put her on Wattpad as well. Reception for Sunita was good, mostly thanks to fellow blogger and writer’s champion, Tom Lichtenberg. Reception for Langholm Avenue and Fall of night was more muted. But all of this has been somehow retrospective, and what I love most in writing is the new adventure. So, we’re pre trip in a number of ways this evening, and though I’m nervous, I’m looking forward to the road in the morning.

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sunita coverMy thanks to Tom Lichtenberg and his brilliantly witty blog, Pigeon Weather Productions for encouraging me to have another look at Wattpad. I’ve had some stories on there for a while that have failed to gain any traction at all, so I’ve always been reluctant to endorse it as a vehicle for independent writing, at least as wholeheartedly as I’ve endorsed Feedbooks and Smashwords in the past. But I decided to have another try with a new story, or rather an old story from my back burner. It’s a hot darn smouldering psychic thriller, with one hot darn smouldering heroine, the titular Sunita. Am I selling it to you? This story doesn’t sound like me at all, which is perhaps why I like it so much.

Tom was suggesting in his piece that actually the thing to do with Wattpad is not to post a complete novel on there, not all at once anyway, but to do it piecemeal, a chapter at a time, like a work in progress and to tease the readers out into wanting more. So that’s what I’ve done and we’ll see how we go from here. I plan on posting roughly a chapter per week, and maybe abandon it if we don’t get any bites by the time I run out of material.

Actually, a part of me is hoping this one doesn’t gain any traction because it currently hangs on a conundrum, about 20,000 words in. and I’ve no idea how to finish it which, as I recall, is why it went on the back burner in the first place. Maybe a few Wattpad bites will give the characters the impetus to get their heads together and come up with a way forward.

At the moment, I’m still of the opinion that Wattpad is for kids, or at best young adults and that mature writers, dealing with middle aged characters will struggle to find anyone of their own kind on there. To whit, I’ve chosen my celebrity cast list, a quirk known only to Wattpad, and find all the leads for my story are in their forties. There’s not a lot of kissing, which is just as well because in my experience young adults find the concept of middle aged kissing disgusting. But it’s a stunningly attractive cast. I mean, who can argue with Shobna Gulati, Martin Freeman, and Jude Law? I hasten to add that the fact Shobna also played a character called Sunita in a well known TV soap is purely coincidental. As far as I know, not being a fan of said soap, that particular Sunita wasn’t endowed with psychic powers, and couldn’t dematerialise at will.

In short, as usual, my story misses all the bases, ticks none of the boxes, and barks up all the wrong trees, but that’s no reason not to like it! While the kids are busy trying to behave like what they think adults should behave like, some of us adults are these days trying to find a way back to being the way we think we should have been as kids!

Kick back, think “fun” and don’t take anything seriously.

What are you waiting for?

 Go get it!

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Having studied Wattpad, and come to the conclusion that you’re on a hiding to nothing if you’re the downhill side of seventeen, and at the risk of appearing ridiculous, I decided to hand over the reins to a much younger version of myself. He’s called Mickey Gee, quite a handsome devil, I think, a bit of a dark, roguish look about him too, and Mickey Gee sounds much less like my grandad than plain old  Michael Graeme. All right – he looks older than seventeen. I grabbed his picture from Second Life where we’re all about twenty five and have no difficulty with the idea of shapeshifting to suit the prevailing conditions. Anyway, Mickey Gee (love him already), is currently posting a serialisation of a college romance/mystery/thriller on Wattpad called “Watching over Zara” and it starts like this:

So, it’s lunchtime and I’m sitting here staring across the dining hall at Jayni Johns. Why am I doing this? Is it because she’s easily the hottest girl in college with her long blonde hair, her peachy ass, and those hug-me dimples? Or is it because she’s just picked up her ‘phone and is about to do something really stupid?

All right, so I’m reminiscing. I was young once you know! And I have a good memory. It’s the vernacular that’s going to let me down, mine being about thirty years out of date.

Mickey Gee’s not exactly a deceit. Anyone with a Google box  can find this post and learn the awful truth. I may fall flat on my face, but I’m enjoying the story so far – a bit of a bare knuckle ride to be honest and the prose is more cat’s tongue than baby’s bottom, but we’re up to ten thousand words already and I’ve no idea where it came from. The muse is letting her hair down, and it’s good to see her enjoying herself. 

We’ll see how it goes.

Currently, the first three chapters of “Watching over Zara” are up to 24 reads, while Michael Graeme’s “The Man Who Could not Forget” remains flat-lining at 12.  Go, Mickey Gee!!!

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