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Courage

“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'”  Mary Anne Radmacher

That reminded me of my writing, so I thought I’d pass it on in the hope it inspires you too. We all have dispiriting days. Keep trying. Whatever it is you love, do it. If you cannot do it right now, that’s okay. Work, budget, family, life – all these things  interrupt or postpone our creativity. Just try again tomorrow. Everything you wrote today was rubbish (you think)? Try again tomorrow. Another rejection? Try again tomorrow. You get the message.

Here’s another one I love: “Fortune favours the prepared mind.” Dr Louis Pasteur

I know he was a scientist but I think he’d have made a good writer; writing is all about sharpening your mind and being prepared for anything. So, in brief: keep trying, and be prepared. That means sit down and finish your book, short story or poem. Have it ready to send off if suddenly a reputable magazine runs a writing competition, or an agent you thought had emigrated to a parallel universe because you haven’t heard from them in, like, aeons… finally gets in touch with the magic words: can we see the full manuscript… or you  get the chance to draw up your own marketing and publishing plan and decide to do it yourself.

Whatever you want to do, here’s a link to a blog that does some of the hard work for you and lists Calls for Submissions  for all kinds of writing. So, no excuses… write on! 🙂

Kay Leitch
Treasure This
Founder member of Electrikinc
Also posted on kaywritesheretoo

picture: Courtesy of Pixabay

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The Scream Collector

A quirky short story.

Mr Oddmore looked out of the kitchen window, frowning at the rhinoceros with two horns rolling in his vegetable patch and squashing a neat row of carrots.

‘What would you like for your birthday?’ Mr Peculiar adjusted the burgundy cravat he wore inside his open-necked shirt. ‘I’m afraid you can’t have my Sumatran Rhino; he’s new to my collection. I discovered him in a forest in Malaysia. But what about Shakespeare’s signature? A red diamond or the DNA of a dinosaur?’

‘I’m not a collector of rarities, like you,’ said Mr Oddmore. ‘No, what I want is a certain type of scream.’ He turned away from the window, his long gangly limbs seeming out of proportion to the rest of his body. ‘Come, I’ll show you what I’m missing.’

He led the way to the room he used as a gallery for his collection. It had floor-to-ceiling shelves full of glass bottles with cork stoppers that contained screams. A cloud of colour swirled inside each one. The screams had been ordered by colour and sound, starting with a luminous white scream in the top left-hand corner and ending many rows later with what looked like a thunderstorm.

Mr Oddmore picked up a random bottle, released the cork with a soft pop and they both leaned forward and listened. A high-pitched scream whooshed out. Mr Oddmore shivered and smiled a contented smile.

‘It’s the scream a five-year-old French boy made after seeing a headless ghost in a haunted hotel,’ he said. ‘I had to hide under the bed for two weeks to get it.’

He re-plugged the bottle, put it back in its place on the shelf and then allowed Mr Peculiar to choose a different one. The scream he picked was bright pink. He opened the bottle and a thousand excited female screams filled the air.

‘They were made during a boy band concert at Wembley Stadium.’ Mr Oddmore didn’t smile as much this time. ‘Pop concerts are guaranteed places to get screams, although they are always candyfloss pink and sound very similar.’

‘Only the rare is of value,’ said Mr Peculiar, pushing the stopper into the neck of the bottle and shutting off the noise. He placed the scream back on the shelf.

Mr Oddmore pointed further along the row. ‘You’ll notice I have a gap between lavender purple and deep plum. I’m missing an aubergine-coloured scream; one that is full-bodied, intense and emotional.’ He sighed deeply and added, ‘I haven’t been able to find it. That is what I want for my birthday.’

Mr Peculiar put his arm around Mr Oddmore’s shoulder and squeezed it. ‘Then, we will set about getting it for you. Rarities are my speciality, Old Chap!’

Over dinner ─ Mr Peculiar had brought with him a very expensive gelatinous soup made from the saliva nests of cave swifts for them to try ─ they analysed Mr Oddmore’s collection to identify the likely owner of the missing scream. He had screams from babies through to the very old; from people of every single country; and the screams of animals. He even had Mr Peculiar’s.

‘I’ve got it!’ Mr Peculiar banged his spoon on the table, making Mr Oddmore jump. ‘You’re missing your own scream!’

Mr Oddmore frowned. Why hadn’t he thought of it himself? He ran back to the gallery to collect a bottle and returned a few seconds later sounding breathless.

‘Here we go,’ he said and screamed into the open top.

‘Well, that was easy.’ Mr Peculiar returned to his soup.

‘It sounded forced ─ false.’ Mr Oddmore shook his head and peered at the colour. ‘It’s only tinged with purple, as though it’s been watered down.’

‘If at first you don’t succeed,’ said Mr Peculiar.

‘Try and try again,’ said Mr Oddmore.

Over the next week, Mr Oddmore tried various methods he used on other people to extract a good scream from himself while Mr Peculiar headed off on an expedition to Eastern Russia in search of an animal close to extinction: the Amur Leopard.

Mr Oddmore walked along a dark alleyway at midnight and tapped his own shoulder; he didn’t scream. He dropped a spider inside his shirt collar; it tickled on its way down and made him giggle and wriggle, but not scream. At bedtime, he turned off all the lights and played a recording of ghostly moans; every dog in the neighbourhood began howling, giving him a thumping headache. He sobbed rather than screamed.

As soon as Mr Peculiar returned home from his trip, Mr Oddmore went to see him at his manor house. He rang the bell and various animals answered with shrieks, barks and chattering.

Mr Peculiar opened the door a fraction and peered out. ‘Give me a second, Old Chap’ he said. ‘I just need to shut the cat in.’

He disappeared inside.

Mr Oddmore heard a low growl and a hiss and, somewhere deep inside the house, another door being banged shut. He wondered if he should come back another time, but a moment later his friend welcomed him inside. Mr Peculiar’s ginger hair looked ruffled and he had a jagged rip in the sleeve of his tweed jacket.

‘So, what have I missed?’ asked Mr Peculiar, showing Mr Oddmore into his study and opening a rare bottle of wine thought to have belonged to King Henry VIII. ‘Have you managed to perfect your scream?’

‘No.’ Mr Oddmore slumped on a tan leather chair. ‘I can’t make it sound convincing. I think it needs to be spontaneous, and I so very rarely scream.’

Mr Peculiar’s eyes sparkled and a smile started at the corners of his mouth. ‘Leave it to me. Collecting rarities is my specialty!’

‘What are you planning?’ asked Mr Oddmore.

Mr Peculiar poured the wine and said, ‘None of your business.’ He chinked his glass against his friend’s. ‘Here’s to a magnificent scream.’

‘I second that,’ said Mr Oddmore, smiling back at him.

***

Several days passed. Mr Oddmore expected to see Mr Peculiar’s face pressed against the window when he opened the curtains, or for Mr Peculiar to dangle him from an upstairs window. He wondered if his friend would tie him to a train track… He had constant butterflies.

But nothing happened, and the thrill of anticipation turned to sadness. He thought Mr Peculiar had forgotten all about making him scream, especially after the thought-to-be extinct dodo bird was found alive in Madagascar.

On the day of his birthday, Mr Oddmore felt thoroughly depressed. He went for a walk and got caught out in the rain. His shoes squelched from where he’d plodded through puddles, rather than edging around them.

When he arrived back home, his front door hung open.

Must have forgotten to close it, he thought. But part of him was worried he’d been burgled and he strode straight to his gallery to check on the screams.

He breathed a sigh of relief at finding nothing out of place. It wasn’t until he reached the middle of the room that he saw a leopard with rusty-orange and spotted fur crouched under a table, watching him. It padded out from its hiding place with its head extended forward and eyes fixed on its target.

Mr Oddmore ran for the door, screaming. The leopard catapulted towards him.

Mr Peculiar appeared in the doorway with an open bottle in his hand, blocking the way out. ‘It’s a good scream, but I think you can do even better!’

The leopard caught the back of Mr Oddmore’s shirt. Mr Oddmore screamed a terrified scream and pulled away. The material ripped, leaving his skin exposed.

‘That’s more like it!’ said Mr Peculiar.

Mr Oddmore began climbing the shelves, trying to keep his feet away from the bottles. The shelving rocked and creaked.

He glanced over his shoulder at the leopard looking up at him. His heart was thumping in his chest.

‘I don’t want you to make me scream any more,’ Mr Oddmore shouted to Mr Peculiar.

‘No need.’ Mr Peculiar held up the bottle. It was the shade of purple Mr Oddmore had been missing. ‘Happy birthday, Old Chap!’ He took a bag of cooked chicken out of his pocket and turned to the leopard. But before he had a chance to say, ‘dinner time,’ the big cat leapt onto the shelving, its paws knocking off bottles as it scrabbled upwards.

Glass cracked, screams escaped and flashes of colour criss-crossed the room.

Mr Oddmore screamed and cried, ‘Make it stop!’ as he climbed higher.

‘Come down this instant,’ Mr Peculiar said to the leopard in a commanding voice.

It took no notice of him and lunged for the shelf above. The shelving tilted in the direction of the floor. The leopard fell off, but twisted in mid-air and landed gracefully on its paws. The remaining bottles flew off the shelves and shattered, producing an orchestra of screams.

But no scream was more intense or vibrant than the one Mr Oddmore now made as he watched his entire collection being destroyed.

The shelving followed the bottles and crashed to the floor with Mr Oddmore still gripping onto it.

‘My collection ─ it’s all gone,’ he said, his eyes filling with tears. ‘The only scream I have left is my scream.’

‘There is no point in you keeping it,’ said Mr Peculiar, sealing the bottle with a stopper and popping it into his blazer pocket. ‘I’m the one who collects rarities.’

Mr Oddmore thought about starting his scream collection again from scratch. But he remembered his own scream and decided against it.

Instead, he accumulated the world’s largest collection of rubber ducks.

 

Story by Kim Donovan. Illustration by Julia Draper. Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved.

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The Shoemaker’s Secret

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The Shoemaker’s glass slippers and soft leather boots were coveted by royalty and the very rich. Other shoemakers wanted to know the secret techniques and materials he used to craft them, but his big secret was he didn’t make the shoes; they were the work of elves.

He had found the elves working in his shop late one night, stitching fabric. They were no bigger than dolls and wore tatty, green tunics over woollen tights. He thought he should pay them in some way and presented them with new clothing; they were like excited children on Christmas morning.

Over the next few months the elves produced more and more new designs while The Shoemaker took the credit for their craftsmanship, gaining considerable wealth and status. He continued to pay his workers in tiny shirts, trousers, underwear and socks, but then one night the elves turned the tables. They took something belonging to him before they made the shoes: the book he was reading. He bought another copy and thought no more of it.

But the following evening, the same thing happened. This time they chose a framed picture of his baby daughter and paid him five pairs of sandals. The day after, they took a curl of her blonde hair.

The Shoemaker held his child tight to his chest and said to his wife, ‘I’ll put a stop to it.’

The next night he waited up for the elves. They appeared on the stroke of midnight.

‘I don’t need your services any more,’ he said firmly. ‘Please go.’

They smiled smugly, bowed and left the shop. He hoped this was the end of it all, but in the morning he discovered a pair of sparkly silver shoes taking pride of place in the shop’s display window. His daughter’s beloved teddy bear had disappeared.

He tried moving his family to a nearby coaching inn, but that night they took the child’s little toe. The Shoemaker wept, not knowing what to do. The elves would take her bit by bit; he was sure of it.

The bell tinkled as the shop door swung open and a young man walked in.

‘I’m enquiring to see if you have any jobs?’ he said. ‘I want to be as good a shoemaker as you.’

‘Do you have a wife, children?’ asked The Shoemaker.

‘No, it’s just me,’ he replied.

The Shoemaker sighed with relief and smiled. ‘You can have my business for free,’ he said.

He handed the bewildered man the keys to the shop and left immediately with his wife and child. They were never seen again.

The new shoemaker was the talk of town. His glass slippers were exquisite.

Story by Kim Donovan. Image Pixabay. All rights reserved.

First published on my author blog.

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Johnny in the trees

The Chocolate Brownie

julia-trees-2

Johnny has a tree house.

His Dad helped him make it out of strong planks of wood. It has a proper roof, a little door and a window. The best thing is the ladder. It’s made of rope and bits of wood and goes all the way up the trunk. Johnny can pull the ladder up into his tree house and no one can reach him. No one.

When Johnny is in his tree he can feel the branches moving and hear the leaves rustling. He keeps some of his things up there – a very big shell, a poster of sharks, a tin of sweets and his book of football stickers. His Mum cut a log down the middle to make a shelf to put his best dinosaurs on.

She comes into the garden and stands at the bottom of the tree.

‘Johnny, time to do your spellings. Come down please.’

Johnny does not answer. A big crow lands on a branch near him. He likes the sound it makes.

Kark! Kark!’

When the bird makes the noise Johnny can see right into its beak. The crow’s eyes are like two black beads and the feathers are black and spiky.

‘Come on.’ His Mum’s still standing there.

Kark!’

Now Johnny’s little brother Dan is standing at the bottom of the tree.

‘Johnny?’ calls Dan.

Johnny does not answer.

‘Johnny, can I come up into the tree house. Please?’

‘Go away Dan, I don’t want you up here.’

‘Please, Johnny.’

‘Go away. Mum says you’re not allowed up here. You’re too little.’

A clump of acorns rattles onto Johnny’s roof. The noise makes him jump.

Now his sister Beth is standing at the bottom of the tree.

‘Mum’s made chocolate brownies, Johnny. If you don’t come down now I will eat yours.’

‘You wouldn’t dare!’

Johnny looks out of his little window. He can see Beth way down below. He looks down and thinks of the brownie. All squidgy and still warm from the oven. Beth holds the brownie half inside her mouth. Her eyes are all big and round.

Just then he hears voices in the garden below. Beth’s friends have come to play with her. She skips off, still holding the brownie.

He leans out of his tree house to count Beth’s friends. He’s very high up and it’s hard to see down through the leaves.

One’s called Jess, and another one’s called Ali. That’s two. Then he hears Sammy and Holly, the twins. Beth comes back and her friends follow. They stand under the tree, laughing. Five of them. No, six if you count Dan.

‘Well, do you want your brownie or not?’ Beth calls. ‘We’ve all had ours but there’s just this one left.’ She looks around at her friends. ‘We could share it out between us, couldn’t we girls?’

‘…and me,’ says Dan.

Johnny shouts, ‘Wait! Wait, I’m coming down.’

He throws the rope ladder out of his tree house and starts to climb down.

‘Please…’

Johnny climbs down a few rungs of the ladder.

‘…don’t…’

He climbs down some more rungs,

‘…eat…’

And then down the last few.

‘…mine…’

He jumps down to the ground and snatches the brownie out of Beth’s hand. It crumbles into bits. He picks the biggest bit up, but it’s got grass and a slug on it now.

He stuffs it in his mouth. Then he turns and starts climbing back up his ladder. When he gets to the top, puffing, he pulls the ladder up. Then he lies on the wooden floor of his tree-house, listening.

‘He ate the slug!’ says Jess.

‘He can’t have,’ says Holly.

‘He did, he did! Yuk!’ says Ali.

‘I feel sick just thinking about it,’ says Sammy.

‘Brave!’ Dan says.

Beth knows that Johnny would never eat a slug. But she doesn’t say anything.

Story by Julia Draper. (c) All rights reserved.

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Home for Christmas

starfish-picture

Jake found the little orange star washed up on the shoreline on a winter’s afternoon out walking with Mum. The star was no bigger than his small hand. It didn’t glow, twinkle or shine like normal stars but he decided it must have fallen from the sky.

‘Don’t worry,’ said Jake. ‘I’ll help you get home.’

He threw the star as high as he could into the air, but it tumbled back down and he caught it. He tried again and again….

‘You were too low anyway,’ Jake said to the little star. ‘Seagulls would have bumped into you.’

When Mum said it was time to go, Jake put the star in his pocket. They walked through the town and saw two fishermen decorating a Christmas tree next to the lifeboat station. A glittery star perched on the very top of the tree. It gave Jake an idea.

He persuaded his mum to stop off at the park, just for a few minutes. He left her on a bench with a takeaway coffee and ran over to the tallest tree.

‘You’ll be very high when I reach the top,’ Jake said as he started climbing.

He stepped onto some branches and pulled himself up onto others. Normally, Jake wasn’t brave enough to climb more than a few feet off the ground but today he didn’t allow himself to look down and kept going.

When he ran out of branches thick enough to take his weight, he took the star out of his pocket and reached up and placed it on top of the tree. But when he let go, it toppled over and fell to the bottom.

Jake quickly climbed down after it. He picked it up; it didn’t seem to be hurt, although it looked very pale. ‘Don’t be sad. I promise I’ll get you home for Christmas.’

There was only one thing for it ─ he’d have to take the star back himself.

At home he headed straight into his dad’s garage and built a spaceship from lots of different cardboard boxes, using masking tape to join them. He collected a few things from the house for the journey: a packet of cheese and onion crisps, a torch for when it grew dark and his favourite teddy to be co-pilot, and then dragged the spaceship onto their driveway and climbed in. There was only one rubber ring to sit on, so teddy and the little star perched on his legs.

‘Three, two, one… We have lift off!’ he said.

The spaceship shot into the sky above their seaside town and kept rising until the houses looked no bigger than those on a Monopoly board. Jake ate his crisps and switched on the torch as the sky turned inky-blue and then black. Millions of bright stars appeared in the darkness, and Jake lifted the little star so it could see that it was back home. But it still didn’t shine.

‘Can’t you see your family?’ Jake chewed his bottom lip, knowing the answer. With so many stars in the sky, it might take years to find the star’s parents.

He needed help. So, he touched down on the surface of the moon and climbed out.

‘Excuse me, have you seen any stars like this one?’ He showed the moon the little star.

The moon smiled and replied, ‘Oh, yes. Down there.’

Jake followed his gaze. He was looking towards Planet Earth at the ocean, where a cluster of tiny orange stars shone in the dark water.

‘He’s a sea star,’ said the moon.

‘I did find him on the beach,’ said Jake. ‘Thank you for your help!’

He climbed back into his spaceship and they took off once again, this time flying back to Earth and low over the ocean until he spotted some sea stars. It was like the world had turned upside down and the sky was beneath him.

‘You’re home now,’ said Jake and he dropped the little sea star into the water.

It sank down and down until it reached the sea floor.

And then it began to glow.

 

Story by Kim Donovan. All rights reserved. Image: Pixabay.

A note about Sea Stars

I have wanted to write about sea stars (starfish) glowing, like stars in the night sky, ever since I read A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman. The truth is only a few sea stars shine as a result of bioluminescence, not all of them. But it makes a nice story!

 

 

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Ploughing for inspiration

As a city girl, growing up first in London and then industrial Luton, I never dreamed that one day I’d spend more time in wellies than heels – and become a farmer! But that was where my career led me for more than a decade. In a beautiful corner of rural Essex I learned to drive tractors and spent each autumn ploughing the heavy boulder clay from dawn to dusk, and sometimes into the night. Acre after acre.
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The experience turned me into ‘a watcher’, mindful of any tiny change in the landscape. And it forged a deep spiritual connection, especially with the other watchers who sometimes showed up … The deer, for instance, who scattered at the sight of a human figure, yet never seemed bothered by the to and fro of our monster machines as they strained across the fields.

The Watchers

Autumn has drawn a foggy curtain
Over the farm by the church,
Trading rich summer gold for burnt coppers
Scattered and spent among the leaves.
 
In the fading gloom
A tractor driver traces patterns
Across the ploughed land.
Absorbed in mechanical rhythm he moves,
Away from the church, towards the wood,
Away from the wood, towards the church,
Changing the face of the earth
With every pass.
 
A noise disturbs him
Jangling off-beat and out-of-tune.
Resigned and weary he climbs from the cab
To fumble in the mud
And remove a rusty horse shoe
Hooked up in the harrows.
How many bouts to go?
How many have been here before?
 
Later, turning into the homeward stretch,
With just enough light to see,
He is startled by two deer
Watching close by
Like statues – strange, silent and beautiful,
Unperturbed by his roaring machine
As it strains across the heavy clay.
And in that dusky moment
His heart misses a beat,
Filled with splendour so measureless
He holds his breath
Knowing it will slip away.
 
The last rays melt behind the spire.
As he reaches the lane, he yawns,
Thinking of supper and a good night’s rest.
The seedbed is ready, the pattern is complete.
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Poem by Jenny Landor
Illustrations by Julia Draper

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Autumn fun in a nutshell

Apples, blackberries and pumpkins… Nature’s grand autumnal finale always triggers in me a kind of elation no other season can match. Ever since childhood, it’s been my favourite time of year. The shortening days, tinged with melancholy, the smell of ploughed earth and the prospect of bonfires are definitely part of it. And I still can’t resist kicking up the leaves – especially under the horse chestnuts where the greatest treasure of all might suddenly gleam up at me: the perfect conker.

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Preparing for combat

Last week saw the celebration of one of the country’s most traditional games at the World Conker Championship in Southwick, Northamptonshire. Organised by the Ashton Conker Club, the contest has been running for fifty years. It attracts thousands of visitors and teams from the around the world who fight it out like gladiators, armed only with a nut and 12 inches of string. All of which prompted me to add the following piece of fun to our creative archive. Someone once told me that it isn’t just about good hand-eye coordination and the desire to conquer. You have to psych your opponent out …

Just a game

Okay, now here’s the thing
It’s a nut on the end of a knotted string.
You hit mine, I SMASH yours …
Yes, let’s go play out of doors.
This is my favourite,
See that gleam?
It knows it’s on the winning team.
Good question; how can I possibly tell?
I partly oven-baked the shell.
Ha! Only joking.
Are you ready?
Three fat misses!
My turn, hold steady.
No, the sun wasn’t in your eyes.
That’s the rule, you had your tries.
What’s wrong?
Oh, please.
Don’t go bonkers,
It’s just a simple game of conkers.

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William the Conker leading his minion hordes.

Poem and photo by Jenny Landor
Illustration by Julia Draper

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