Writer's retreat

Writer's retreat

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

A Christmas story - or The tale behind the tale

Back in 1998, members of Solihull Writers Workshop were asked to bring in items relating to Christmas. We then had to write something inspired by one of the items. I can't remember what I took, but my attention was taken by the beautiful velvet jacket brought by Mary. It has a pattern of large flowers whose outlines are illuminated by gold thread.

It spoke to me of Christmas at home in the Cotswolds where I would often provide a relief organist to one of the local church services either on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. I remember one Christmas morning when my mother was playing in one church, I was playing in another and my father was ringing bells at a third!

Those times are past, but they can still provide settings and "flavour" to a story and thereby be preserved and shared. Can you work out which village it is?

This story has been a long time coming to fruition. The original version, where the main characters were both university students was rejected by The People's Friend as not being suitable for their readership. Mary kindly critiqued it for me afterwards and made some helpful suggestions. I then "left it hanging in a cupboard" for seven years and have now dustied it off and made some alterations. I hope you enjoy the finished article.

The Christmas Jacket

The velvet jacket lay on the bed, gold thread encircling deep purple and blue flowers glittering in the harsh electric light

"Very seasonal!" Hugh's words lingered in her mind. At the time, his approval of her expensive Christmas purchase made her glow, but now she could hardly bear to look at it.

"Come on, Sally!" her mother called up the stairs. "If we don't go now, we'll be late and that dreadful Mrs Pringle will sit in our pew. She always does if we're not there first!"

"All right, mother, I'm coming." Sally sighed and pulled on the jacket, trying not to notice the soft velour as it fitted snugly round her. She could almost feel Hugh's arms encircling her, stroking the velvet pile. It was too cruel he wasn't here to share her Christmas!

It was October when she first invited him to join her in spending Christmas with her mother in the small Cotswold village where she lived. They’d spent many happy weekends as visitors, being plied with home cooked food and strolling along country lanes breathing lots of fresh air.

Hugh had struck up a relationship with Oswald Prenderghast, the emaciated organist at St Mary’s church. He offered Hugh the opportunity to try out the small pipe organ and Hugh surprised everyone with the beautiful music he created from the moth-eaten instrument.

Sally arranged to collect him from the upstairs flat above the greengrocer’s shop in the High Street of the busy market town where they both worked. Hugh’s job was only a mile away from where he lived, so he walked or used his bicycle. Sally was the car owner, spending an hour each day commuting.

Everything seemed set, but they forgot to agree a time. Things were so rushed at work Sally didn’t contact Hugh until just before she left. There was no answer from his darkened flat, his mobile was on voicemail and when she stopped by the Observatory where Hugh spent his days analysing computer data from distant stars, the security man told her all the staff were gone.

Perhaps he had forgotten their plans. Hugh spent so much of life with his eyes on the stars; it was difficult to keep him focused on practical things. He must have gone to stay with his sister in Kent without telling her. Unsure what to do for the best and with time running out, Sally decided to drive home without him. She had to be back in time for the Christmas Eve service.

Sally grabbed her fur hat from the top of the wardrobe and pulled it tightly down over her curls. It was always cold in church. Even more so on Christmas Eve. David, Lower Trumpton's hard-pressed vicar, was sure to have forgotten to put the heating on until tea-time, when he knew it needed all day if the ancient stones were going to warm up and release the frost.

Finding her boots by the front door, Sally put them on and fiddled with her gloves as her mother fussed around her until they were both safely outside in the dark night. It was only a short distance up the hill to the church, so it was silly to take the car.

Arm in arm, they climbed the steep road, stopping half way to get their breath. Sally looked around at the silent village. The lights were still on in the hotel and she doubted the landlord of The Golden Ball was calling "Time!" yet, although some of his customers were already making their way up the hill for their annual visit to Church.

Frost made the road surface twinkle, reflecting the bright stars above. Sally could see the Plough standing on its nose behind bare thorn trees by the village hall, but the moon was not high enough to be seen against the black sky. It wasn't really dark at all, Sally thought. Soon they reached the black railings of the churchyard. Someone had hung coloured lights around the two yew trees, so their way was lit to the old oak door.

Carefully minding the step down into the Norman nave, Sally's mother smiled brightly at Mr Culpepper who was giving out carol sheets, whilst looking anxiously over his shoulder to see if "their pew" was still unoccupied. It was and Sally heard her give a sigh of relief. Together they walked up the aisle admiring the holly in the deep window ledges and the large Christmas tree Mr Watson from the Gas Houses had borrowed from the local Garage for the Christmas services.

Sally sank down onto her blue, embroidered kneeler trying not to think of Hugh’s absence. The pews looked much brighter since the ladies of the Mothers Union finished their mammoth task of re-stuffing all the church’s kneelers and embroidering scenes to commemorate village history as part of the Millennium celebrations.

She let her gaze drift towards the lady chapel with its beautifully carved stone arch adorned with animals and birds from the medieval bestiary. In front of the small altar stood the green man chair. The smiling face usually lifted her spirits, but tonight he seemed to be mocking her for thinking she would be able to share her simple village Christmas with Hugh.

The organ was playing a quiet medley of mediaeval carols. Hugh loved early music. It deepened her sadness to think he wasn't there to hear them.

David came out of the vestry. Everyone stood up and the service began. Sally sang the well-known carols, but her mind was elsewhere. She hardly heard David's usual thoughtful sermon, interspersed with well-worn anecdotes. Before she knew it, the organ was thundering out "We wish you a Merry Christmas" followed by a raucous rendition of The Boar's Head Carol and everyone was going home.

“Coming for a sherry, Sally?” Her mother always joined Mrs Dorncliffe, their nearest neighbour, for a festive tipple after the service.

“I’ll be along in a minute.” Sally indicated the mess of carol sheets strewn all over the sandstone floor by the wind whistling in through the open door. David had already rushed off to celebrate the Midnight Service with his other parish five miles away and old Mr Culpepper was busy counting offerings in the vestry.

Up in the nave, the organist was locking up the organ and switching off lights. She heard the clink of keys being dropped in their usual hiding place behind the memorial stone to Edward Palmer, Esquire, the 17th century church benefactor, then footsteps came down the flagstones towards her.

"I like your jacket," said a familiar voice, "very seasonal!"

“Hugh!” Sally gasped, dropping the carol sheets again in her surprise.

"I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to phone you before you left," Hugh knelt beside her, gathering up errant carols sheets into a tidy pile. "I had to finish my calculations on Ursa Major at the observatory before I could leave. I fell asleep under the telescope and you'd already gone by the time I got back to the flat.

“Luckily, the greengrocer was coming down here to make a delivery to The Golden Ball, so I hitched a lift. I knew Mr Prendeghast is always busy tonight with three services to play for on Christmas Eve, so I offered to deputise for him the last time we came down. My mobile had no battery left and there wasn’t time to come and tell you before the service. I hope you’re not too cross with me?"

Sally looked at the earnest young man in front of her and her heart melted. There was no point telling him how miserable she’d been without him. He was here now and they had the whole of Christmas to spend together. She smiled. The carol sheets lay forgotten as Hugh enfolded her in his arms. Christmas was complete and the gold thread in her special Christmas jacket sparkled in the light.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Three Yule Stories

Several years ago I started to write short stories to illustrate the eight different seasons which make up the Wheel of the Year. As time passes I notice there are many aspects for each season and the number of stories grow. Here are three which illustrate different issues associated with Yule.

Please accept these stories as my Yuletide gift. Feel free to share them with your friends and family. Leave me a comment so I know how the stories have touched you.

An Ancient Story for Yule

The earth froze. Far away where ice had not yet grasped the air in its fiery breath, rain fell upon rivers so they swelled in darkness and burst their banks. Men and animals fled to high ground to escape the floods, but the hills were covered with snow. Sheep and oxen scraped in vain for frozen grass.

Pale light filled the sky and the men knew day had broken. They looked to the sky for signs of the dreadful conditions easing, but all they saw were black, hanging clouds above the hilltops that spoke of more snow and bitter weather.

Those who laughed and sang when the sun was high and warm grew silent. Harps were stilled. Those lucky enough to have shelter from the elements drew their furs around them and huddled together, only venturing into the icy wind when animals needed feeding or there was water to be drawn from the one well still unfrozen.

They tried not to think of the travellers, making their way along the Ridgeway track for the winter solstice. It was bleak along the top of the hills even on the mildest days, but now the beaten path would be hidden and treacherous under the snow. The old women shuddered and hushed children who were too young to hide their questions.

Would the sun rise again? This was the question on everyone's lips. Would the child of the Triple Goddess be born to bring life and hope to this ice bound world, or would winter hold sway for ever, snow and frost eking their way into carefully hoarded food until even the strongest perished alone under the shadow of the hills?

"Will the priestess come, Granda?" asked a small child. "You said she'd be here to celebrate Yule with us this year?"

"I don't know, little one." The old man shook his head and pulled back the wooden shutter to peer out into the flurries of white. "I don't think there's much hope. We'll just have to pray they found shelter somewhere before the storm struck."

The child seemed about to speak again, but he saw the fear on his grandfather's face and kept his peace, slipping his small hand inside the larger one for comfort and reassurance.

At least they still had food, although no-one felt like eating when they thought of the small party stuck somewhere along the ridge. They gathered around the fire and spoke in low voices, eating their stew quickly and seeking their beds, as if trying to escape from their fears in sleep.

Some time in the middle of the night, the boy awoke. Bright moonlight was shining on his face through a crack in the wattle. The wind had dropped and an eerie calm enveloped the round house, broken only by heavy snores of those still sleeping.

The boy got up and shook his grandfather. "We must go and find the priestess, Granda, or the sun won't rise in the morning."
The old man muttered in his sleep, but the boy persisted, bringing him his fur lined boots and his warmest cloak. Together they went out into the still white world, marvelling at the fullness of the moon shining as bright as day.

"This way." The boy tugged at the old man's arm, leading him down the hill and into a gully where an exposed rock lay half buried under the snow.

"How do you know?" the old man grumbled, but deep in his heart he'd heard the call as well, faint at first, but stronger as they neared the stones. There under the rock they found them, the small group of travellers huddled together for warmth and still alive. The priestess' eyes glittered with the power she had called to herself, but she greeted them with a smile and helped the others as they made their way slowly up to the roundhouse.

The priestess looked up to the sky and urged them to hurry, to wake everyone in the small community so the ritual was not delayed. Bleary eyed, men, women and children stumbled from their furs, holding birch torches in the snow as the priestess led them up to the burial mound at the top of the hill in a dance of welcome to the son of the Triple Goddess.

As they finished the dance and stood watching the moon fade in the darkness, the sky began to lighten above the hills. A sudden brightness shone from behind the highest peak. A beam of gold struck the huge capstan on the sacred stones, lighting the inner chamber for all to see. A great roar rose from the people as they greeted the sun returning to them for another year.

The roar masked groans from the priestess, caught in her own birth pangs, brought on by the journey and the hardship she had suffered. The women took her inside the birthing hut, tending her for many hours until another shout was heard and the healthy cry of a new born babe rang out for all to hear.

"You see, Granda, everything was all right," the boy said solemnly as they sipped a Yule cup together beside the fire. "The sun has returned and we have our own child from the Goddess to care for."

"Aye, lad." The old man's eyes misted over as he ruffled the boy's hair.

Once again, the Goddess shared her greatest gifts amongst them. Spring would come again to the land.

The Battle of the Kings

It was well past noon when they noticed Ann's absence. Everyone was busy with preparation for the Yuletide feast.

The huge Yule log had been dragged in from woodland three fields away. Now it lay in the Great Hall hearth to be lit tonight from the remains of last year's ember which had been safely stored on a special shelf in the chimney. Every nook and cranny was decorated with garlands of holly and other evergreens. Sunlight pouring in through high windows shone on waxy green leaves making the dark red berries glisten.

Donald made his way through the mud to the warband's winter barracks next to the cattle sheds. He was sure he would find his sister treating the never-ending toll of cuts, bruises and hacking coughs brought on by the bitter weather and the need to search further afield for fresh fodder and fuel for both livestock and people. As the only remaining unmarried daughter of the chieftain, Ann was responsible for the health and welfare of their tribe now her mother slept with the ancestors.

Brian, the warband leader, was busy showing young lads from the settlement how to hack an enemy to death using a straw filled dummy. He wasn't happy to be disturbed.

“No, she isn't here." Brian grumbled at Donald. "Check with Michael, she was heading for the kitchens the last time I saw her."

Donald let flow a string of newly acquired curses, "She's not in the kitchens, she's not in the solar, she's not in the cellars and she's not down in the infirmary!" He was angry his younger sister was taking up so much of his time when he wanted to be making his own preparations for tonight's feast. "Dan says she's not been in the stables either."

Brian sheathed his sword and sighed. This wasn't the first time Ann had gone missing. As a child he was always retrieving her from various hiding places, but it was a long time since she'd disappeared without telling someone where she was going.

"It's not like Ann to go running off when there's things to do," Donald admitted, worry edging his words.

"Get on with your duties, lad," Brian told him, "She's not gone far in this weather. I'll find her" He pulled on his sheepskin boots and wrapped a great cloak of furs around his broad shoulders. The cloak was warn in places and spattered with mud from recent forays, but as he strode out into the yard, his long, bronze hair looked like a great ball of fire moving amongst the buildings.

He climbed up the watchtower, thinking he might see her if she'd made her way outside the settlement. His keen eyes gazed out over meadows and fields then he caught sight of something blue fluttering in the cruel wind by the wall on top of the far hill. The huge winter sun was just beginning to touch the horizon, bringing with it the longest night of the year. Brian had already seen the full moon risen high over the hills behind him, the pale silver circle foretelling the power of the Goddess in the night sky.

Brian left the settlement quickly, passing bondsmen feeding sheep in the near pasture and went up the hill to the high stone wall. On the other side was a ploughed field, dark brown clods stiff with frost. The wall was sheltered on his left by a patch of woodland. To his right stood a single line of fir trees, beyond which lay the small stone circle high on the cliffs overlooking the sea.

Ann was sitting on a flat stone on top of the stile, wrapped in her new blue cloak, watching the sunset. She seemed totally mesmerised by the scene, hardly noticing when Brian climbed up and sat beside her.

"You've set them all searching for you!"

Ann did not reply, but he caught sight of two fat tears trickling down her cheeks to join the dark stain on the collar of her cloak.

"What's wrong, lass?" His deep voice was gentle as he wiped away the tears.

"It's so beautiful," she whispered at last, "and it's leaving us!" Brian covered her small hand with his and felt how cold she was. He drew her towards him, wrapping his cloak around both of them.

"It will be back tomorrow," he soothed her. "Didn't we welcome the birth of the child this morning in the fougou beside the outer wall?"

Ann continued to stare at the setting sun. "I saw them fighting, Brian!" She shivered. "There was so much blood spilled. You wouldn't think an old man had so much blood in him!"

For a moment Brian wondered what she was talking about. There had been no battles on this land for several years now and certainly none where old men had fought and died. Then he realised what she had come here to see - the battle between the Holly King, God of the waning year and the victorious Oak King, who would rule over the waxing year and bring in summer.

Brian rubbed her cold arms and hands. "Come back, Annie, that's not a good vision for a feast day like this. We should be celebrating. They'll be lighting the Yule log soon and starting the feast."

"But the Oak King had to win," Ann might have been talking to herself, "otherwise the wheel won't turn and the sun will set and not rise again; but it was so hard, with the Mother here in her fullness, both of them wanted to stay with her! Who would have thought the old man would have fought so hard!"

Brian wrapped Ann up with his arms and held her tightly. The sky was crystal clear in the freezing air with hardly a wisp of cloud to reflect the pale pinks and blues around the sun.

Brian nestled her head against his shoulder and rocked her as he would have done a child. "He wasn't always an old man, love,"

"I know." Ann's voice was tinged with sadness, "How could he have grown so old over just half a turn of the wheel?

"All Gods can do as they wish," Brian told her gently, "It’s just an illusion for our eyes."

"But I was standing here watching them fight; they called me to witness! Others came too. They bore the body away and crowned the Oak King with his crown!"

"Others?" Brian wondered who else amongst their people might have been called to view such an ancient battle.

"Colin was here," Ann named a young man who was part of the warband, "but I didn't know any of the others."

"The king dies and is reborn again," Brian said, trying to find the words to bring his charge back from her terrible grief. "It’s the same every year."

"That doesn't make it any easier, knowing events will repeat themselves."

Ann gave a deep sigh and pointed towards the horizon, "Look, it's gone now!" and as he turned, the last reflected rays slid away leaving only the azure sky above.

Ann turned her attention once again to the ploughed field where she had watched the battle such a short time before. "We should mark the spot where he fell."

"How?" Brian squeezed her hand. "Plant a tree? Plant another stone?”
"I don't know. I've not been a witness before to such an event." She turned and searched his face, hoping to find a solution to her continuing confusion. "Father will be angry if we mark his ploughed land."

Brian cleared his throat, "Your father doesn't plough up here amongst the stone circle."

"They didn't fight amongst the stones, it was there in the field" She pointed to a spot about ten feet in front of them. "They came out of the wood; the other witnesses came with them and that's the way they went back, through the trees." She wriggled free from his hold and climbed down the other side of the stile into the field. Holding up her cloak and skirts, she began to search amongst the clods.

Brian followed her. "What are you looking for?"

"His blood!"

"But . . . Ann!"

"The night you were left for dead by the raiders and I found you, the soil was coated with your blood. It was sticky. I kept slipping in it."

Brian closed his eyes for a brief moment remembering that time so many years ago. Raiders from the sea had lured them into an ambush. A hastily thrown axe pierced his body armour and he’d been left for dead. Then it was Ann who’d come searching for him, insisting his broken body could be healed. It was months before he could fight again, but she’d saved his life.

"Yes," Brian agreed, "but I'm not a God."

"But I saw it! He bled! There were great gashes in his front!"

"He's a God, Ann!"

She looked at him, her eyes glittering, "I don't understand. What does the old man being a God have to do with him not leaving any blood? I saw it, I bore witness!"

Brian thought. "First of all, he's not really an old man, he's just . . . he's everywhere, not just here. You saw an image of him here and thousands of others saw him in other places."

Ann's expression was distraught, "I held his head in my arm as his spirit left. I wiped the blood from his face with my skirt. I wept for him!"

"Look at your skirt, lass."

Ann pointed to a small dark patch on the material. "It's still there, look! Do you still doubt me?"

Brian knelt down and inspected the dark stain. "It's dry, Annie, blood doesn't dry so quickly, even in this wind. I don't doubt you at all, lass. I'm sure you saw what you think you saw. You've been given a great gift by the Gods. However, the nature of what you saw is not of this world."

"It doesn't feel like you believe me," Ann retorted, "it feels like it used to be when I saw pictures in the fire and Mother beat me, or I saw faces in the water barrel and everyone laughed at me. I was so sure it was real but now I have no proof! How can I bear witness if I have no proof?"

Brian stood up and grasped her firmly by the shoulders, his sea-green eyes boring into hers. "I'm neither laughing at you nor beating you. You have proof for yourself, lass!"

"But isn't a witness supposed to tell other people?"

"Tell what you saw if you think it is necessary. You saw it; you experienced it, that should be enough. Those who want to believe will, those who don't won't, whether you have evidence or not."

Ann thought about this for a few moments then she said, "It's not up to us to give others faith, is it? They have to find it for themselves."


"So this was for me.

"It seems likely."

Ann digested this and then nodded, "For Colin, it was different and would be different. He hailed the new king and beat his drum and laughed and sang as he followed the procession down through the wood."

Brian nodded.

"So my grief at the old king's passing was my grief at a time of change."

"Or just your grief for the old king."

Ann looked at Brian and smiled for the first time. "I didn't want to let go but I had to." She ran her hand down the side of her skirt, "I was afraid of change, but it's all right, I understand that now. It took the Old King's blood to draw me out of myself, to grow."

"Yes, I see you do understand." Brian took her hand in his and squeezed it. Here was his Master’s daughter, his charge, a girl no longer, but a woman born to live her life as best she could.

"You have found the secret of Yuletide," he said as he wrapped his arms around her in a fond embrace. "You must let go of the past and reawaken the joys of hope and possibility,"

As he finished speaking and bent to kiss her cheek, a huge flock of birds rose from the field and circled above them, calling loudly as if in agreement.

A Yule Ritual

“The Solstice will soon be here, but I cannot go to the Grove meeting. I shall be travelling home.”

John looked at her, smiling, “You need to do something.”

Laura sighed. “Perhaps. Maybe I can visit my plants and speak to them about the turn of the year, of the darkest time, of bringing back the light.”

“You should do something.” His voice was insistent. Strange for one who did not follow her path to be pointing her towards a rite - something important, something she needed to do.

Time passed. She fetched holly from the garden, weaving it through the three woods of her pentacle – hazel, willow and ash- to bring green and red to her altar. She threaded velvet ribbons, green and purple over the holly and seashells, over the elder necklace and around the antlers holding her maiden and mother ornaments, their soft folds draping down to the kestrel feathers, the swan feathers, the polished wood of the yew bowl.

She brought home mistletoe, placing it reverently into the horn cup; the white, translucent berries adding richness to other hues gathered there.

Laura was sad it would not be blessed over the Yule fire. There would be no gift for the Dark Goddess this year.

How mistaken she could be!

The postman left a parcel. Out of brown wrapping she drew a gift. John explained in his letter. “The painting was done a while back. It was never quite what I wanted it to be, but I supposed that comes with working in a medium like oil on a small canvas, with limited skill. I always wondered why his face was never clearer, but perhaps it was never meant to be seen clearly. I thought you might like to have it.”

She sat for a while, taking in the scene – the Horned God striding through his wildwood, his long knife in his hand, caught by surprise by the watcher, turning to look over his shoulder for the briefest instance before returning on his way. His long legs and flank were fur-coated. There were antlers clearly visible on his head, yet merging with the branches of trees around him; vegetation shielding him from prying eyes.

It was time. It was the shortest day. She would be given space to bring light into darkness, blessing both mistletoe and gift before the Old Ones.

She lit her candles – a circle of flame creating a place apart from her modern world. She did not need to contain the sacred space, no circle casting on this occasion; it was her intent which was paramount.

She lit a charcoal brick, placing it carefully in sand where a bowl sat in the centre of the light. Incense from far away dropped onto heat, wafting smoke and scents into the air.

She stood before the flames, adopting the stance of invocation which came so easily to her now.
“I ask for blessings upon this room, upon this house, upon those whom I love and who love them.

“I bring air to this place in the incense burning. Air, so essential to our life; for without breath we cannot live.

“I bring fire to this place in the candles burning, drawing light into the darkness as we move from the dark time of the year once more into the time of light, illuminating our path.

“I bring water into this place.” She stopped and dipped her hand into the bowl, scattering droplets around the circle. “Water which sustains us, from which we came; without which we cannot survive.

“I bring earth into this place. Earth, which is beneath our feet, which is in the wood of the instruments, the wood of the candleholders, the wood of the furniture which supports us. Earth, from which we came and to which we shall return when the life spark leaves us.”

She drew the mistletoe from its horn and brought it towards the smoke. “I ask blessings for this mistletoe. May it bring joy, health and happiness to this household for the coming year.” She passed it through the smoke, before returning it to its place.

She turned to the painting, now sitting in the centre of the bookcase. She carried it tenderly towards the smoke. “I ask for this picture to be blessed with love; which was born of love and sent with love to be used on Hu Garden’s altar, to bring down the God into this place beside the Goddess. This day, when she brings forth her son into the quiet of the darkness, so he may grow and take us into the light.”
She passed the picture three times widdershins around the smoke, then returned it to the plinth.

“Finally,” she said, “I dedicate myself anew to the Old Ways. I ask for patience and compassion towards all who approach me. I ask for clarity of speech so all may understand my ways and how they, too, may be helped.”

Her voice dropped and her eyes glittered with tears. “I am so blessed in all that has been given me and I offer thanks.”

“Is there not one more thing you wished to do?” a voice inside reminded her.
She went to the bookcase and withdrew her herbal tarot cards. Sitting in the centre of the room, she shuffled the pack, then drew the first three from the top, laying them face up in front of her.

The first card was the five of wands – Turmeric. Such a lush, green plant, speaking of abundance in her life. The stave were crossed, preventing her from moving back into the past, but the wood showed green shoots - new life!

The second card was the six of wands – hawthorn, the herb of the heart, of love, of nurturing. Six staves were stuck in the earth, still sprouting leaves, protecting the man in the centre - a time for rest amidst the bustle of life before continuing with the battle.

The third card was Judgement. A woman held a goldenseal plant in her hands – rich, fruitful, mature, she was the plant, offering herself to the opportunities in the sky – renewal, new beginnings.

It was enough.

She put the cards away, standing to thank those who had drawn near to assist with her rite. She bad them farewell, opening the door to allow them to leave and the outside world to enter once again.

She doused the lights, leaving a single votive candle to freshen the air with scents of oranges and cloves.

It was done. She felt the quiet of ritual fill her deep inside and she smiled.

“A Blessed Yule to you and all you love and cherish.”

Let it be so.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Excited, inspired, enthralled! : An evening with Roger Ellory

On Wednesday 11 November 2009, the crime writer, R J Ellory, came to talk to Solihull Writers Group. We usually have at least two speakers during our writing year. They are generally enjoyable and informative, but over the past few years I have not felt the need to take copious notes.

Roger Ellory was different. From the minute he began to talk, I was reaching for paper and pen to capture the nuggets of inspiration he was offering. He excited me and made me think everything was possible. As he said, "A published author today was an unpublished author yesterday. A writer is someone who has to write. They have no choice, so never apologise just because you haven't been published."

You wouldn't think that 96% of writers work full-time; that the average earnings of best selling authors is £7,000 a year. If a publisher gives you an advance and your book doesn’t make the requisite number of sales to meet the advance, you won’t be offered a second contract.

We were curious to discover Roger’s background and his inspiration for writing. He told us much of his life had been devoted to drug rehabilitation following his brother’s early death from a drug overdose. He first started writing ate the age of 22 during a course on nutritional and dietetic therapy for drug rehabilitation after noticing another student engrossed in a novel. He wanted to write something which held the reader’s complete attention.

Over the next six years he wrote twenty-two novels in longhand and spent £12,000 on photocopying and sending them out to publishers and agents. He collected over six hundred rejection letters and decided to let the matter rest. He was £40,000 in debt and needed to recoup his losses.

The day after the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York, Roger remembered a conversation with his grandmother. She told him, “Don’t live a ‘what if?’ life.” Looking back, he realised the time he felt most happy and creative was whilst he was writing. He began again and wrote three books in seven months. He sent the second manuscript out to thirty six publishers.

Thirty five manuscripts were returned with rejection slips. The remaining publisher was Bloomsbury. Having not heard from them for three months, Roger rang them to ask for the return of his manuscript so he could start sending it out again. The person he spoke to had read the novel and liked it, but he needed to get twelve other people within the company to read it and agree to accept it for publication. This took a further two months before a contract was signed.

Roger received £5,000 in advance. The manuscript was taken to the Frankfurt book fair where three translation rights were arranged. This paid for the advance.

Roger doesn’t think anyone can write full-time. A writer has to get out and “do stuff”. He also told us to “Write about your passions, don’t fall into the trap of writing about what you know – if you stick to that you’ll find yourself limited. You have to write the book you want to read, not the one you think other people would like.”

Roger works very quickly. He currently writes 2,500-3,000 words a day whilst researching simultaneously. Most of his novels are crime thrillers set in the US, so his attention to time and details has to be meticulous. He can produce a 120,000 word novel in 6-8 weeks.

He believes there are three types of novel.

(i) A page-turning pot-boiler where the reader is hooked in the first paragraph or page. The plot twists and turns. Afterwards, a little like a Chinese meal which leaves you feeling hungry, you can’t actually remember what happened in the book.
(ii) Literary fiction – a triumph of style over substance.
(iii) Books found on Desert Island Discs – compelling narrative tells the story in a way that can’t be put down. You read the book again and again, buying copies as gifts for friends and acquaintances. It is challenging, human emotionally engaging and changes your perspective on life. Talking about the book will always include a narrative by the reader on, “This is how it made me feel”.

Non-fiction books convey information. The primary purpose of fiction is to evoke an emotion, not to educate people, so too much information or detail is not helpful. A story can be organic and grow.

Roger recommended two books for the aspiring novelist.
• On Writing by Stephen King
• Paris Literary Review Anthology No 1 published by Picador

When asked how to go about getting an agent, Roger directed us to his website. He thoroughly recommended getting an agent because publishers will not consider unsolicited manuscripts any more. They can also be successful in negotiating substantially larger contracts than an author on their own. An agent will take 10% of earnings but will be concerned with the author’s best interests and leave them to do the important job of writing.

The importance of dialogue in a novel was discussed. When using dialogue, you can achieve the same result in three lines where it might take six pages of description. A fast pace novel has a scene or dialogue of significance which is pivotal to the plot every 1,000 words.

The easiest way to edit writing is to read your own work as a reader. Print it out and read it aloud. A writer becomes a writer by writing. If you read something you have written six months ago and can’t see how it could be made better, you are not improving as a writer.

To compost or not to compost? – that is the question.

This is another snippet written to a given theme.

I have to confess a crime. It weighs heavily on my conscience. It goes against my beliefs and the current exhortation to save our planet.

On Tuesday, November 6 2008 , I burnt a pile of leaves. I did not put them in a black plastic bag and soak them with cold water and leave them for eighteen months to rot down into leaf mould. I also failed to place them in the green recycling bin given to me for that specific purpose by Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council. My compost heap was nearby but I did not place them amongst the grass cuttings.

My green credentials have been dinted. I can no longer consider myself a true friend of the earth. I hang my head in shame.

It was so much easier when I was a child. All vegetable matter went over the wall into the neighbouring field. Anything edible was eaten by passing badgers, foxes, stoats, weasels or fieldmice. It was not a concern. It did not smell. It disappeared over time. The same spot has been used for the past 48 years and is indiscernible amongst the wonderful crop of nettles, grass and horseradish growing on the other side of the wall.

All waste food goes to the hens. They adore potato peelings, meat, vegetables and the regular supply of mice and shrews caught in traps in the house or shed which holds the two deep freezes. They used to be pernickety about carrots, but since my father took over their feeding, they now show no distain.

There’s nothing to consume my waste food, it has to go into the bin to be removed by the rubbish men. I can’t even place vegetable peelings on the compost heap because of the rats. We know about rats. They really like our garden shed and our garage. My eldest son got to the stage where he recognised signs of rat infestation and would ring Environmental Services off his own bat. Even though he now lives elsewhere, he still rings up to check nothing has set up home in his bass drum or chewed through any of the other drum heads.

We can’t do as my father does and sit in the barn with a 12-bore until the rats emerge. It’s a slightly cleaner death than getting caught in a rat trap. Of course they’re illegal and the one hanging up in the barn is just an antique.

I understand we must recycle, re-use and compost our waste. Raw materials are scarce and there is no point in creating something new when we have the means to turn car tyres into place mats and juice cartons into the covers of notebooks. The new Eden Project teaching centre is filled with such examples from all over the world. It is very impressive.

Even at work I must wash out my milk cartons and the plastic bowls which held my lunchtime salad and place them in the recycling bin. Corporate clients expect their lawyers to now have green credentials alongside their legal practice certificates.
What should I do? Autumn stalks us and winter will not be far behind. As trees slumber more leaves are going to appear on the grass. I could leave them for the winds to transport elsewhere and forget them. This has been a very successful strategy over the years but I doubt wins me neighbours as good friends.

There will be trees to fell and hedges to trim this winter. Some of the wood will go for turning, but no wood turner wants hawthorn sticks and laurel leaves along with rose and blackberry brambles. The green wheelie bin may well be filled, but I suspect the fire pit will also play its part in garden management. The ash will add phosphorus to the compost heap and everything will come full circle once again.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Coals to Newcastle

The past few months have been filled with herbs and needlecraft - both knitting and sewing - leaving little time or inspiration for writing. Here is a little tale composed last Monday for Solihull Writers Workshop on Wednesday evening. - enjoy!

I love my mother-in-law. Really, I do. She produced my husband thirty six years ago and brought him up to be the wonderful human being I adore. She is good with the kids, although sometimes she seems perplexed by them. It doesn’t help we live half way across the country so she doesn’t get to see them as often as everyone would like.

She is scrupulously fair when it comes to Christmas and birthday presents.

I appreciate that, having suffered as a child from being the recipient of second class presents compared with my more popular cousins. I’ll never forget the Christmas when we both were given a dolls cradle. My cousin’s was new with a beautiful canopy made from rose-covered material which draped down over the crib.

Mine was just a plain crib, obviously second hand with scuffed wooden legs and no covers. I couldn’t help but be disappointed, but there was nothing I could do about it except wistfully yearn for something I couldn’t have.

“I know you don’t have time to make jam, so I bought you some from Asda.” Janet fished around in the bottom of her carrier bag and brought out a huge jar of strawberry jam.

“That’s very kind of you, Mum,” I mumbled, but she wasn’t finished.

“Reg and I had a glut of strawberries this year and I was going to make jam but somehow we ate them all and when I thought about it, all the Pick Your Own strawberries were finished. I was so disappointed. I know how much Martin likes his home made strawberry jam. He went through a phase when he was eight when he wouldn’t eat anything else for his tea except my home made strawberry jam.

“It didn’t matter what other jam I made – gooseberry, raspberry, damson, plum, apricot, he wouldn’t touch them. He only liked strawberry.” She smiled fondly at the memory. “You know, I have a picture of him eating strawberry jam at the Sunday School tea party. He wouldn’t have eaten anything if I hadn’t sent a jar of my jam along with him. I must remember to show it to you next time you come down.”

“Cup of tea?” I smiled weakly, holding up the teapot.

“Yes please, dear. Nothing like a cup of tea after a long journey.” She searched in the bag again. “I’ve brought you some scones too. I know you’re too busy to bake now you’ve got this little job.”

I poured the tea and went to find a plate for the scones. Janet pulled out her apron from the bag and sat at the kitchen table happily halving scones and buttering them, before smothering them with shop bought strawberry jam - the superior kind with at least thirty per cent fruit and only half the sugar.

Martin came into the kitchen with his Dad. He’d been showing him the new car. My new car. Part of the deal when I started work as Chief Executive for a small commercial company. True, it was a job share, because I wanted to be at home when the kids returned from school, but it was still a sizable salary and a considerable responsibility. I’d tried to tell Janet about my new job during their previous visit, but she fell asleep half way through my explanation. No matter what either of us said to her, she was convinced I was working part time in one of the local shops.

“Scones for tea?” Martin’s face lit up.

“Yes,” I said quickly, “Your mum very kindly brought us some scones and strawberry jam from Asda. She said it was the only jam you liked.”

Martin frowned and opened his mouth to speak, but I shook my head at him. He knew as well as I did the larder was packed with home made jams and jellies I’d been making throughout the year. He’d helped devise a system for hanging the jelly bag when I’d made crabapple jelly the previous week and he had picked the huge yellow quinces which lay in a basket in the scullery waiting to be turned into jelly and cheese.

Martin loved all my preserves and boasted to his friends we never bought anything that wasn’t home made.

He bent down and kissed his mother on her soft cheek.

“Thanks, Mum.”

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Poems of Place

Poems are such personal forms of literature.

Last Night there was a programme on BBC4 about the lavicious lifestyle of Lord Byron. I knew very little of his life story, not surprising when you think I studied his poems whilst attending an all girl's school where such things were never discussed. I loved his Prisoner of Chillon, not realising how Byron associated himself with the ancient stories of an imprisoned freedom fighter.

Rupert Everret rowed over to the Isle where both Byron and Shelley left their names carved into the dungeon rocks as grafitti. It brought a sense of being able to touch the past by visiting the present.

Sometimes I feel the same way about places I visit. Our recent trip to Northumberland inspired me record a memory of one of the Caravan Club Certified locations. There wasn't time for me to write such a beautiful and carefully crafted ode as Lord Byron, but it was enough to win me second place in the Solihull Writer's workshop annual poetry competition judged by the Birmingham poet laureat, Chris Morgan. Brenda Langmead won first prize, with her poignant memorial to her great aunt.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Making wishes come true!

What gives you inspiration to write? This is a question I am often asked. My usual reply includes the sage thought, “Writers write about what they know”. We all do this. We use experiences, phrases, stories told by others and pictures we see in our minds to weave a web of words to create something new, but which is based firmly in our own reality.

The opportunity for stories comes in many different guises. Take last week. I was sitting on New Street station in Birmingham waiting for a train to take me to Sheffield for a regular meeting with my line manager. The train was late and the man sitting next to me became very agitated. He was travelling to Leeds for a meeting with a different law firm from mine and was worried he would be very late.

“Why are you going to Sheffield?” he asked.

“My boss likes to make sure I’m alive and being nice to people.”

“That’s good,” he said. “I’m still alive yet 15 years ago a man was charged with my manslaughter. The police weren’t so nice then as they are today.”

It seemed such a strange fact to be sharing with a total stranger on a railway station. In one way I could wish there had been opportunity to discuss his life story further, but even so, he offered me the perfect beginning to a murder mystery or thriller – if I wrote those genres!

So where did The Lady and the Bull come from?

In 1999, Cornwall saw a total eclipse of the sun. It was also the year I decided to start visiting ancient sites all over the county. While my family enjoyed themselves at Shires adventure park, I went in search of some standing stones on the moor and Pawton Quoit. As I walked along a farm track, I was accosted by two traveller’s dogs. The owner came out of their landrover and quietened them so I could pass.

The following week, a fellow camper and I spent a day hunting stone circles, quoits and holy wells. When we reached Madron Well, a family were already inside the chapel. The mother was breastfeeding her baby while their two older children sat quietly on the stone seats by the alter. One of the two men with her asked me if I wanted to taste the water inside the baptistery and gave me instructions how to step on the middle stone.

I refused, feeling nervous and worried I would slip into the water. It was something I always regretted. When I returned the following year, the baptistery was dry – the local farmer had diverted the water supply from the sacred well. It was ten years before the water flowed again, thanks finally to the work of Andy Norfolk and others who love the site.

Even when I did collect water flowing into the stone baptistery, having gone to the chapel again with some German friends of ours, I was accosted by a local busybody who told me it was contaminated and shouldn’t be drunk!

But what of The Lady and the Bull? The story began as an account of our original day in West Penwith, which was eventually published in Circle magazine a year later. Then I took the first 500 words and decided to see what would happen if the woman who refused the water went back. The man who told me how to collect the water fascinated me. What would happen if he were still around? What was his history? What would she learn from being associated with him?

It was a difficult story to write. I had a vague idea of the outline, but in the end, the story decided what it wished to portray. When writing dialogue became a challenge, I was grateful to a friend of mine for helping to role play some of the scenes online so I could use the saved script as a basis for parts of the story.

For me, creating The Lady and the Bull was a profound teaching experience, helping me to understand a spiritual concept in greater detail. My readers may enjoy it for the developing romance and descriptions of wonderful Cornish countryside.

My only sadness is the fate of Altarnun bowsenning pool. I wish it were the clear, bathing pool it once was and could be again. Unfortunately, the farmer who owns the land appears to have no wish to conserve it and has not co-operated with local Cornish Archaeologists. The Parish Council at Altarnun is similarly uninterested in saving their unique heritage for future generations despite approaches by myself and others from the Wells and Spas community.

The Roman remains lie hidden and inaccessible under fallen trees and undergrowth. Maybe, the strength of the story will somehow reach out and touch the future in a way we cannot perceive today.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Writing articles

Most people who call themselves writers refer to their ability to create fiction, but many careers rest on the art of article writing. Ask any academic what keeps them in post and considered the leading light in a particular field and they will reel off a list of articles published in academic and popular journals. Indeed, you cannot apply for any research or lecturing university post unless you have published copious amounts of academic articles. Even junior pre-registration doctors start their careers with their name at the very end of a list of collaborators of a piece of published research.

While writers struggle to place short stories in a dwindling number of popular magazines, the market for article writing is much broader. As well as professional journals which require each article to be peer reviewed before they publish, there are also niche market publications and most charities and societies will have their own in-house publications which are usually desperate for copy.

Unfortunately the potential for payment for writing articles is probably just as limited as it is for stories. Most special interest commercial magazines will pay for one or two page articles and will provide their own illustrations. This is true of some professional magazines as well, although the dilemma then is - did you write them in your own time or in work time? If you claim the fee for yourself, you have to declare it for tax purposes, which then upsets your PAYE arrangements and brings you the delights of a fully fledged tax return.

Most special interest magazines and some professional journals will not pay for articles, even though they are commercial ventures with a cost per copy to their reading public. They claim they don’t have the resources to pay their feature writers. Instead you receive two copies of the magazine, so you can keep all your articles in a folder to impress new editors or lend them to friends to dazzle them with your achievements in the big wide world.

To write a good article, the process is the same as for stories. You need a title which will catch the eye of your reader. (This may be your own or may be provided by the magazine editor of a newspaper sub-editor.) Your first sentence must be dynamic and engage the reader before they turn the page and move on to something else.

Every article has an introduction, a middle and a conclusion. You tell the reader what you’re going to tell them, tell them and then describe what you’ve told them. Short articles need short, interesting sentences which move the information forward, trying not to drown the reader in whatever technical jargon might be involved. A designated word length helps to keep the writer focused, making sure each word helps to improve the article’s “story”.

I am not a prolific article writer, but I am successful in getting my articles published in both professional and niche market publications based both in the UK and the US. I write about the health service, mainly using stories told to me during my time supporting complainants. I also write about herbs and esoteric matters, depending on what subject matter tickles my fancy.

Article writing has been on my mind recently because I’ve had another complaints article published in Health Care Risk Report this week. The article argues the moral case to investigate a complaint after the statutory time limit has passed because sometimes people are too traumatised by an event to complain earlier.

I’ve also been writing two articles for the Solihull Writers Workshop annual non-fiction writing competition, adjudicated and sponsored by a former member, Mike Megano. Both articles are about subjects I’m interested in and hopefully, after the competition I shall send them out somewhere for possible publication.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Poems from 2008

In June 2008, one of the items for Solihull Writers Workshop was a considered poetry evening. We provided copies of one of more poems to each member of the group for them to read and provide a critique during the following meeting.

The first poem is an addition to a collection I wrote around death and bereavement. This poem is about loss of a different kind. Sometimes I work with organisations who support people with brain injuries and their families. The last verse was taken from comments made by a brain injury sufferer at a workshop I ran in London on Coping with Loss.

Sometimes when I feel a poem coming on, I let my pen run away with me. I used to do this a lot as a teenager, less frequently now. This was how the second poem was born. I was possibly imagining a scene from the televised versions of Cranford or Lark Rise to Candleford, with Tinker's Squeezebox frightening the chickens and elderly parishoners feeling the urge to dance coursing through their limbs.

After the event
Mirror, mirror hanging there
You show a face, a face so fair
But though the eyes are shining bright
The world behind has lost its light
I cannot see
The person
Who once

A stranger stands before you now
With different speech and thoughts that go
Around my head in different ways
I never thought
I could have changed
So fast

Now I scan the camera views
Of people whom they tell me knew
My former self
They look confused and wonder why
I cannot look them in the eye
With smiling familiarity
All strangers now
To the new

I still have thoughts and hopes and fears
My heart still beats, I still shed tears
And if I don’t remember you
Forget the past and think anew
Of what I can still be and do
A different me
A future new

And when we sit and drink our tea
I beg you, please don’t cry
And say how much you miss me.
I’m here,
Beside you
Still here
Not gone
I’m me.

Will you dance?
Will you dance with me again?
My legs are sore and buckle
In the breeze

But will you dance?
I hear a fiddler on the green
Mark out the tune

A squeezebox stirs
Coughing its melody
As chickens fly

Will you dance with me again?
I see hawthorn draped
Across the rose

Summer calls and I must follow
Follow, follow
Down the lane.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Welcome to Mercian Muse

There are many ways to write and many audiences to reach. Some people write entirely for themselves but I have always believed my words don't live unless read by someone else. This blog is to share some of my writing with you. If you enjoy it, tell me by leaving a comment. If you think something could be improved, show me what changes you think would be helpful. If you want to read more, maybe buy my books and stories - the links are on the side!

Here are some extracts:-

The Strongest Magick

An Arthurian romance telling the story of Ygraine, priestess of Avalon & Agryffan, Prince of Orkney. The Strongest Magick celebrates the relationship between love for the Old Ways and the land of Britain when King Arthur threatens to lay waste the countryside by turning to the God of the East.

The Strongest Magick is an Arthurian novel from a different perspective. It celebrates the infinity of spirit, showing a woman's re-awakening to the possibilities of love and her own indigenous power. Ygraine's life has been full of sacrifice. She is beautiful, innocent, fragile - but mostly expendable; her task complete once she hands baby Arthur over to Merlin for safekeeping and training. Torn from the man she loves to marry another at her father's bidding, she grieves for her Sidhe lover, not realising he has already returned to her. Every woman has the essence of the Goddess inside her. When she is a trained priestess of Avalon, tied to the land of Britain by the son she bore to unite its people, how can she stand by and see the land suffer as her people turn from the Old Ways towards the new God from the East?

Ebook ISBN: 978-1-60054-259-6
Length: 128,600 Words
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Rating: Shooting Star


Soon all was ready. Ygraine picked up a fallen branch and began to beat the rhythm of a heartbeat against an old oak. The men took their shields and beat upon them with their daggers following her rhythmic lead. This was not a call to arms, or a display of power to strike fear into the heart of an enemy, this was the call to spirit, both seen and unseen, that they might use this place for their worship.

When the rhythm was strong, she borrowed a shield and without dropping a beat, began the dance of welcome. In and out of the men she wove, bidding them follow her in the dragon dance to call up the wisdom of the earth to assist their rites. Round the grove they danced and up and down until everyone could feel their blood coursing through their veins and warmth stealing into their fingers and toes from the very earth they danced upon.

Finally, she slowed the beat and brought them back to the circle around the fire and the altar. As they stood for a moment, to get their breath, Ygraine realised Agryffan had donned his priestly headdress of deer antlers entwined with ivy. At other times he had hidden his face behind the stag, but tonight she could see his features clearly. His eyes were golden and glowing in the moonlight and the dragons on his wrists writhed about his arms. She knew there would come a time when she would be asked to bear the dragons for him and she wondered if they would find her worthy after such a long absence.

The glade breathed in the silence, shadows beginning to form beneath the trees. Ygraine could feel their interest as they touched the minds of each person, seeking to know purpose and intent at this time of power. Ygraine took the cup and filled it with clear water, turning to the four directions and honouring the world above and below before offering libation to the earth. Then she knelt before Agryffan, waiting for him to charge it with his dagger, acutely aware of his moment of thrust as if he had struck the blade through her instead of the water. Together they shared the first sip. The strength of the liquid took her breath away. She would have dropped the cup if Agryffan had not steadied her.

"Breathe," he whispered. "It has been too long since you drew power unto yourself and your body has become unused to its strength. Breathe in the night and let our Mother give you strength for what must be done."

Ygraine did as he said and soon the dizziness lifted. She was able to take the cup to the men around the circle so that they too might share in its life-giving force. When this was done, Agryffan took the cup and shared it with Bronwyn and Sianna, hailing the three of them as the manifestation of the triple Goddess, maiden, mother and crone. Ygraine thought he would place the ivy circlet on Sianna's head, for the Maiden ruled this time of the year, but he drew her to him and took out all the braids from her hair, using his long fingers as a comb until it hung free like any maiden's on her wedding night.

"Now is the time outside of time." he said to her, "Gone are the times before and the times to come. As the earth renews Herself each year with the rising of the sap and the wakening of the seeds from their sleep in the rich soil, so too do I call you to awaken, Spring Maiden! Feel within your blood the life force return. Draw down from the moon the power of the Goddess herself to bring you new life, new love, new heart."

Tenderly he placed the circlet of woven ivy upon Ygraine's head and she raised her arms to invoke the power of the full moon. Like a sudden shower, the power began to flood into her. All she could do was close her eyes and accept what was given. She could feel the transformation around her and knew that when she opened her eyes the whole world would be different. She heard the trees begin to groan, as if wakened from their winter sleep too soon. Birds began to sing amongst the branches and into her nostrils came the sweetest scent of apple blossom she had smelt since leaving Avalon so many years before.

Unable to bear the suspense any longer, Ygraine opened her eyes and was greeted with the sight of a glade transformed. All around, trees were in new washed leaf and blossom hung from the many ancient wild apple trees bordering the glade. The moon turned from her silver radiance to the golden light of day so everything shone and sparkled. Beyond the circle she could see rabbits feeding in the short grass and deer cropped leaves of low hanging branches. A lone hare hopped into the circle and sat, twitching her nose at those within for several breathtaking moments before ambling away to the security of the bushes. Both fox and badger stood and watched as they made their way along ancient unseen tracks. They took no notice of the other animals, as if their Lord were nearby and all creatures were at peace in His presence.

At Home And Away

Many people record images of their home and holidays with still or moving pictures. Between the covers of this book lie two collections of images captured in words so readers can paint their own picture of the scene. A Natural Year reflects the ever-changing, unchanging cycles of archetypal English countryside as experienced in the herb gardens in Warwickshire and the Cotswolds, where land has been cultivated since Neolithic times. Memories of Cornwall takes you to the ancient coastline of Cornwall over many summer holidays. You can play with children on the beach, watch the moon rise over the English Channel, or visit the many sacred sites within the county.

Whether listening for the sound of bees, smelling primroses or tasting snowballs, allow yourself to be transported to another place where Nature will hold you and nurture an inner peace.


Lament for Winter

Where is the snow?
In this dark time, earth sleeps
Ploughed furrows wait for frost
Seeds hide deep
Thick coats longing for scarification

Black clouds hover overhead
Brooding, resentful
Firing raindrops in sullen, pounding waves
Drenching an over-watered land
Where man-made lights stay lit throughout the day

No bright noon-times
No golden-dawned sun dazzling ice-sculptured
No chilled gasps of freezing air
No clouds of steam from feeding herds
No ice-covered troughs
No skating on frozen ponds
No toboggan rides down slopes
No snowmen with coal-black eyes and orange noses
No snowballs to throw or taste
No orange globes set fire to evening skies
No joy, no laughter, no fun!

Just damp, mud, rain
Not cold, not warm
Just soggy leaves from trees who seem unsure about sleeping
It is the time of dark, of rest
It rains.

Insect Song

There are spiders on the curtains
There are earwigs on the light
There are lacewings on the windows
When all is dark at night

There are ants on all the circle stones
Chasing us away
They only fly but once a year
Why should it be today?

There are bees upon the heather
Butterflies on the gorse
Damsel flies, green and turquoise,
Glitter along the course

Why are dragonflies so enormous?
Why does honey come from bees?
Why do flies drown in my teacup?
What do insects mean to me?

Bees and butterflies suck the pollen
Ants and beetles prey on leaves
Sandhoppers dance on seaweed
And they sometimes dance on me!

So many shapes and sizes
Different colours, different hues
At least there are no scorpions
Hiding in my shoes!


Going for a drink

A true tale from Community Health Council Days - who supports the supporters?

Healing across time

Past life regression has unexpected consequences...


As the sun began its downward path, she stopped; searching for food in her pack. Dried meat and bread took time to chew, but they stopped the pangs in her belly until it was time to sleep. She rested against a low rock, watching clouds chase each other above other mountain peaks. A sudden flicker of movement caught her attention. When she turned, a man sat watching her on the other side of the trail.

"Where has he come from?" Claire wondered. The man sat, his arms relaxed against his sides, showing he meant no harm. His face bore marks of deep weathering from many seasons.

"He's not from my people." The men of her tribe kept their faces shaved, but this man's beard was flecked with grey, his hair hanging loose past his shoulders. His clothes seemed familiar, but his deerskin was dyed green and underneath she could see a cloth shirt nestling against his skin. His eyes were shaded by the broad brimmed hat he wore. She knew enough of strangers not to seek his gaze, lest it give him power over her before she set her own protection.

"Why is he here?" She made no move to greet him, trying to make some sense of his presence. "Am I not to travel alone?" she wondered. "Have the Old Ones sent me a companion, or is this just another test I must endure?

His tangled web

Internet friendships can become complicated when you don't tell the truth


He expected me in velvet.

"I always see you in velvet" he said, when I admitted velvet skirts were my favourite clothes for relaxation. A style left over from the swinging sixties. A time of love, peace and goodwill to all men. A time I wanted to be part of, but missed by several years, hating the torn t-shirts, safety pins and spiked hair of the punks who coloured my adolescence.

I wanted to float, to dream, to spend time doing nothing except watch the sunrise and sunset and the glories which fall between.

Life isn't like that. When you finish feeding your mind with facts other people want you to know, there is work and work and more work. If you're lucky and find the right person, there is love and play and homes and children and joy and cares and tears and laughter.

I used to watch them. The mothers walking their children to school - clean clothes, neat hair, book bags dangling by their sides. Skipping along holding hands, with the light of enthusiasm still bright in their eyes. I watched them grow older as they changed schools. Boys with shirts hanging over their trousers, ties askew, girls in tight, short skirts and no coats no matter how cold the weather.

It didn't happen like that for me. There was never the right time, the right place, the right job. I thought there was the right man, but he was taken when I met him, bound up in commitments to wife, mortgage, children. There was passion, but he offered no promises, suggesting future opportunities, but the future has a habit of disappearing, subsumed by the present, making me realise the futility of allowing my future to be fashioned from the crumbs of another's possibilities. After fifteen years, I said farewell, taking my leave, determined to find a sunset of my own choosing.

I was growing old. The endless chatter of students brushing past me as I took my lunchtime walk in the park annoyed me. They spilled out over footpaths like a mindless sea, brushing aside anyone or anything in their way. I was invisible. The middle aged woman in the long green coat, merging with the hawthorn hedge or disappearing into the yew grove when no-one was looking.

"Will you come and hear me sing?"

The question surprised me. He lived so far away, why would he want me to come and listen to his songs? It wasn't as if we were real, we'd only been talking over the internet for a short time. It felt like a short time. Late at night in the darkness of winter when spring was still a glimmer of hope suggested by violets we came across one another. An evening of laughter. He made me smile. I appreciated the quick wit and banter, but did not expect to talk to him again.

I was wrong.

We found so many things to talk about. Music, books, work, play – the list was endless and immaterial. We talked. We shared experiences, hopes, the small minutiae of our daily lives. I learned the names of his colleagues and cousins, heard about their children, lives and events. I shared the pressures of my daily life,frustrations with my clients, the uncertainties of my job.

Somehow it made it easier having someone else to tell. He became my sounding board for new ideas, a sponge absorbing my emotions, helping me back towards a sense of balance. He was my friend.

We joked about meeting one day, about visiting art galleries in our wheelchairs, chaperoned by uniformed attendants who would push us where we wanted to go. I knew it wouldn't happen. He was too far away. There was no reason to spend so much money on just a trip.

I knew he would never visit me. Things were so different for him. It was as much as he could do to earn enough to keep himself and his son. His ex-wife had a drink problem and didn't work so he gave her money to keep her from losing a roof over her head. He blamed himself for what she had become, no matter how much I tried to show him it wasn't his fault, that we all choose our own path and walk it alone.

So how did I come to be standing here, outside the bar where I knew he was singing tonight?

Tears in a Dry Land - WARNING Chapters 6 and 8 contain adult content.

A romance from the shores of an ancient Mediterranean


The girl stood in the shadow of the mud house to watch the rich man's progress through the market place. Her ragged dress could not hide the thickening of her waist. Her head was covered with a heavy veil to keep out dust swirling around on the hot wind from the desert.

Sometimes, men -- strangers to this place - thought her condition made her an easy target for their desires, but others would soon warn them about the curse. Anyone who lay with her would die. Though some tried, her vacant stare and mindless prattling soon made them seek easier companions.

She often stood here watching crowds jostle around the flimsy stalls, sometimes loading their purchases onto donkeys or haggling with the stallholders for a better price. Today a group of women were berating a small child for dropping a basket of watermelons in the dust. The fruit was well past ripe, the basket too heavy for her to hold. As she stumbled, melons slid to the ground, spilling their juices and fragrances into the dust. No-one would pay money for damaged fruit.

Already cunning beggar boys were picking them up and disappearing into the maze of alleyways before anyone could stop them. Furious hands struck the child, angry voices scolding her for not holding more tightly to the basket.

The girl did not hear what the rich man said. She heard only the silence which followed. She saw silver being pressed into the young girl's hand. Then another strange thing happened. The rich man raised his head towards her, his dark brown eyes meeting her gaze. He looked tall and thin under his simple robe, only his proud bearing marking him out for who he was. Everyone knew him. Everyone deferred to his command. Everyone, except the watching girl, who knew no-one.

In two quick strides he stood before her. He placed his hand on her belly and for a moment her vacant eyes cleared. It was as if a lightning bolt struck her. She could not tell if she staggered, but suddenly she knew this man fathered her child.

When she looked up, he was gone. Her eyes scanned the crowd, suddenly catching sight of his bare head moving away through the throng of people. At the edge of the square, he turned and looked back at her, seeming to pause for a second.

There was a meaning in his gaze, saying, "Come with me, if you will, but come now."