‘Self Doubt’ – Poem by Lesley Atherton

We all have it – especially writers.

I hope this poem helps anyone else who has to deal with it. I don’t claim to be a poet, but sometimes the words just happen, then happen to mean something.

Image: Pngtree

The Voice

There’s no way you can sing and dance
Said Voice with sneering, snarling stance.
Your playing’s crap. Your singing’s worse.
Makes fingers twitch, makes eardrums burst.
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl just pack it in.

Your needles break, your knitting sags.
Failed projects lounge in patchwork bags.
Your hemming rips, your beading flops
Applique flakes, and stitches drop.
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl just pack it in.

And writing? Girl, for goodness sake,
You’re barely literate. You’re fake!
You self-indulge. You scrawl your name
With fallow dreams of shallow fame.
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl just pack it in.

I’ve read your awful stuff, Voice said
You’re destined never to be read.
Remove the stories from your head.
The only decent scribes are dead,
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl just pack it in.

What makes you think you’ll ever scrawl
A story strong, a tale not tall?
And why would any person buy
Your ‘Camping Tales’ or ‘Baby’s Cry’?
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl, just pack it in.

So, when I’m low, the Voice is loud.
And when I’m strong, the Voice is cowed.
I’ll do it even if it’s bad
Cos if I don’t I’ll just go mad.
Yes. When I’m low, the Voice is Loud.
But when I’m strong, the Voice is cowed.
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl, just pack it in.

#poem #selfdoubt #thevoice #lesleyatherton

Review of Charlotte Rogan’s ‘The Lifeboat’ by Lesley Atherton

Claustrophobic Situations

When writing of any claustrophobic situation, three factors are key.

  1. The characters must be multi-dimensional.
  2. The writing must be deep and psychologically detailed.
  3. The lack of various settings must be countered by an unputdownable plot.

The lifeboat drifts

Other reviewers of ‘The Lifeboat’ have indicated that it offers personal insights and rich characterisation, and that it is ‘unputdownable’. I desperately wanted to love this book as the setting is fascinating. The book is mainly set in a lifeboat following the disastrous failing of a ship on its way to New York.  The lifeboat drifts, at first one of many, then later, apparently alone.

A retrospective perspective

The vast majority of the book is written retrospectively by the main character, Grace. Following her rescue, Grace and another two lifeboat survivors (both women) are put into prison awaiting trial for their role in the murder of Mr Hardie, an experienced seaman. Initially he’d kept the 30-strong lifeboat going, but his instability predicated his eventual downfall. Not enough was made of his drifting into the realms of the unreliably insane – and the rebellion of his fellow lifeboaters came too quickly and as somewhat of a shock.

Worse, in terms of the story itself, Grace relates events in a journal and does so solely for the purposes of justifying her actions. Inevitably, the reader then experiences nothing beyond the ‘facts’.

The journal was as cold as a court transcript, and as dry as a ship’s log

I’d been excited to read ‘the Lifeboat’ but Grace’s journal seemed to just plod along relating largely pointless details of lifeboat life, never once getting properly inside the survivors’ heads. The journal was as cold as a court transcript, and as dry as a ship’s log. Was this done intentionally as a stylistic choice?

The book enlivened a little only after the scantily described rescue had taken place and when three women were incarcerated awaiting trial. Such trials did take please in the nineteenth century, yet this fictional account seems unbelievable. Contrived, even. As did manipulative Grace’s final resolution.

Had this book been less about the day to day and more about the mental grief, it would have succeeded. But, for me, it failed as the characters weren’t up to the challenge. Had ‘The Lifeboat’ done this, I would have been unable to put it down. Sadly, it sunk.

#lesleyfridayreads #charlotterogan #thelifeboat

What’s the Cringiest Poem You’ve Ever Written?

“orator fits, poeta nascitor”
An orator is made, a poet is born.

Mine is less of a poem and more of a song. I am in my early 50s now, and wrote it back in those idealistic days when I was all of sixteen, thought I knew everything there was to know about the world, and when new age travellers were constantly in the news.

If you want to read something that will make you cringe even more than David Brent from ‘The Office’, you just need to take a look inside the songbook that’s been with me since the age of fifteen.

For those of you who can’t look in person, I’ve typed it up this particular corker here:

https://www.scottmartinproductions.com/pastpresenttense

Just scroll down to ‘Peace Convoy Partisans’. You won’t regret it, if only that you view your own writing more favourably.

And with that in mind, I challenge each and every one of you to fight back with an even more cringey contribution. Don’t be afraid. We’re all friends here!

Ideas…. Too odd. Too many. Too few.

A week ago I started watching ‘Stranger Things’ and have now reached the end of what’s currently available on Netflix. I resisted the show for what seemed like forever, but then the urge to indulge overtook me. I needed to see what all the fuss was about, but it wasn’t just that. My thirteen year old daughter drew a picture of Eleven (a focal character) when the first series came out, and the drawing has haunted me ever since. I’ve never understood why it drew me in, but it did, despite my reticence, and even before I’d watched a single episode of the show.

That’s how it is with ideas. They drift into your mind unseen and unexpected. Some anchor themselves and refuse to let go. Others leave a trace of something amazing, like the morningtime memories of the most vivid dreams. Sadly, those ideas fade unless you’re able to record them in a way that makes sense to you – write them down, paint them, or turn them into dots on the musical staves. Whatever you do the best.

I believe in writing about dreams. I’m a fan of them, good and bad. Why wouldn’t it be appropriate to utilise the most abstract and genuine experiences that most of us will ever encounter? They emerge from flickering memories, or out of the depths of deep-seated anxieties.

Some of my best ideas have been borne of my worst dreams, and I’m sure the same is true for other writers. Some of those most terrible nightmares have remained with me over the decades, in times of both light and dark. Is that why I don’t always sleep?

Many creative souls have trouble sleeping at night. This isn’t due to the cries of conscience, it’s our brains overanalysing every part of life, and pushing far too many ideas into our consciousness.

We are overrun with them. Overwhelmed with their undisciplined persistence. Their influx may not herald creative genius, but, no matter what, they keep coming in their millions. Creatives can’t always use or understand their ideas, but for most of us they are always there.

But then come those times when we have the opposite problem. When ideas don’t appear when we need them. This isn’t the most extreme writer’s block, when the words won’t come and the motivation is low. This is an enthusiasm for writing, a keenness to progress, and perhaps even a deadline to meet. But the tiny little spark that will set light to the amazing creation is just not there.

Aside from following tips to help you out with writer’s block – and they may well help – what else can you do? Dream. Take notes. And take ideas from wherever you can find them. There are plenty of idea generation sites on the internet. This is one at the top of Google’s current search – https://www.plot-generator.org.uk/. On it you can find those spark-ideas for scripts, opening lines, blurbs, and so much more. OK, so things like this can’t replace the flames of genuine personal inspiration, but what they can do is provide the flint. Two stones striking.

As a little example, I provided a few keywords for the Haiku Generator. I basically asked it to write me a haiku about bedtime. I wasn’t expecting to love the resulting poem, but I did!

Taken up bedtime
A single, smooth candle sleeps
enjoying the book.

I know that candles don’t sleep. I also know that candles don’t enjoy books. But I love it all the same.

That’s how words work sometimes. And that’s how ideas work. Unexpectedly. Randomly. And like the sleep of a single, sparkless candle.

Ten Tips to Rub Out Writers’ Block

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Do other professions have similar issues to writers’ block? Is there such a thing as Doctors’ Dread? Opticians’ Obstruction?  Grocers’ Groan?

And how should it be written? Is it a block applying potentially to all writers, therefore “Writers’ Block” or does this debilitating condition specifically refer to the struggles of solitary individual writers, therefore “Writer’s Block”?

Or should it even be “Bloc”? As in a collective, alliance or coalition? Doesn’t that put a different slant on the concept? It truly is a unifying condition because, whatever it means, and however it is written, I know one thing for certain. Pretty much all writers, often at unexpected points in their writing lives, will suffer from writers’ block.

Fundamentally though, it doesn’t matter as to the whys and wherefores of the name. What does matter is what it does to us. It can be truly paralysing. Time-wasting.  Annoying.  And frustrating enough to make you want to pack it all in and find yourself a far less demanding pastime or career.

It isn’t necessarily a short-term problem either – or something that happens when you’re sleepy or can’t concentrate because you’re attempting to write on a busy train. It can creep up in an environment of perfect calm. It can pounce when you’re well-rested and have set time to one side for the purpose of writing. It seems to relish planting buckets of self-doubt into your usually fertile and industrious mind.

It can hit before you’ve even set pen to paper, part way through a paragraph, or even when you’re speeding to a piece’s conclusion. One of my most frustrating moments involved my feeble attempts to name a character in a chapter’s final paragraph. It took more than three days to get it right. The silver lining to this particular cloud is that this particular occurrence of block forced me to change my writing technique and routines for the better.

(Incidentally, if you’re the type of writer who needs to complete sentence one to perfection before allowing yourself to move on to sentence two… and if you’re struggling to get something right, just try leaving a gap and moving on. I often make a note and highlight it, for example – ‘This is where they walk across the beach and end up at the Neolithic site’. I almost always come back the following day and shake my head in puzzlement at my previously frozen state.)

The great thing about the universality of this terrible condition is that almost every hobbyist or career writer can identify with how it makes us feel, and how crippling it can be. That means empathy, and it also means community.

So, here are a few bits of advice that all of us could potentially find useful. Some/all may be obvious, but there’s no harm in re-stating the obvious. We’re only human. We forget. And sometimes it is the block itself that loves to sabotage our creativity – by forcing that forgetfulness.

  1. If you always write on your laptop at the kitchen table, try moving the laptop to your bed, or to the sofa, or try attaching a keyboard and monitor and sitting at the desk. Or if you always write on the laptop, get yourself a little notebook, write in longhand and type up later.
  2. With whatever writing tool/s you prefer, get yourself comfortable. Put on the radio and just write down a few lyrics, or make notes of the DJ’s inane drivel. Or put the TV on and extract what you can from whatever you find. I also go through songs inside my head and write alternative lyrics. Often by the end of all this copying and daft wordplay, I’m ready for the more serious stuff.
  3. Take a break, even if you don’t think you need one. It’s a very obvious suggestion, but it does work. Twenty minutes is long enough to get yourself a drink, and to wander round your home giving your eyes and your body a change of scene.
  4. Eat something. Preferably something juicy – like an orange. There’s a good chance that as soon as you get those fingers mucky, your brain will suddenly rebel and switch itself back on again. Pesky things, these brains of ours.
  5. In preparation for potential bouts of block, keep notepads and pencils in every room and jot down abstract thoughts that jump into your head. That way, when you’re struggling for ideas in the future, you can just gather up your notepads and see what you can find. The chances are that if an idea connected with you in the past, it may also mean something in the future.
  6. I’ve had great results from opening a reference book at random and taking some words from that page. Perhaps pretend your character is speaking those words. Not so long ago I used this technique and had my character saying ‘Fear and Loathing in Birmingham? More like Lustful Loathing in Liverpool’. In the end, I didn’t use it in the piece, but it made me smile and was enough to get me going again.
  7. Do some physical exercise. Preferably something that gets the body and soul tingling, and out of breath.
  8. Spend some time with animals or children. I don’t know the proper term for this, but it certainly isn’t a form of ‘dumbing down’. To me it just encourages more of a non-intellectual response to life. It can help simplify what’s going on in your head and in your writing. Perhaps you could put yourself into the same position as the creature? How might two cats converse? What goes on in the mind of a toddler?
  9. Just write – even if it is complete rubbish. You will probably produce unreadable trash for the first few paragraphs or so because your mind isn’t yet in the right place. But it isn’t impossible that some of it may be useable, or even be pure gold. But the important thing is to write without demanding anything of yourself. No perfectionism and no preparation.
  10. Ask a fellow writer to read your work. Supportive writers are the best writers. This isn’t a competition. There’s room for us all, and the more we give, the more we get back. I’m not ashamed to say that some of my best ideas began their lives in the comments of my writing buddies.

I would love to hear your views. We’re all different and we all discover our own solutions to our own specific problems.

So, please comment. Who knows? Your comment may be exactly what a struggling writer-to-be is needing to hear.  And on day, you may be that struggling writer.

More on Wednesday. Please follow, and don’t miss any more writing-related revelry in the future!

“Every puffling is precious.”

http://www.scottmartinproductions.com

‘Hot and Cold’ – short story by Lesley Atherton

Perfection. That’s what she was, and I was sure that today would work out just the way I’d planned.

I first saw her on the castle walls and our eyes met, just for a second.  I yearned to catch up and not to lose sight, but her tour party was turning the corner, and mine was five minutes behind and still being forced to listen to the John Major impersonator who masqueraded as a tour guide.  I knew the history of the King’s Tower as well as he did.  When you live in a tourist location and have a season pass, you tend to come every day, just for somewhere funky to eat your lunch. This is my place, and I knew she’d come today.

But I stayed with my group of misfits for a little longer: the elderly and the bored, the kids who wanted to be on the beach, and the mums who wondered if incorporating education into their annual vacation was necessarily a good idea.  As if to answer, a boy of about six elbowed his mother in the thigh. She turned to glare as he moaned ‘This is boring’ at the top of his little voice. Donald, the tour guide pretended not to hear, but I knew how often such things happened, especially to Donald.

It didn’t matter. She was the one, and today was the day. My shoulders hunched as the tour guide droned on about the monks who had built the castle’s brewery and had supported their order with the proceeds. I followed each word, and mouthed them along with him.

I adjusted the hoody around my face, then smoothed it down around my waist. It was of a snorkel style that wasn’t at all appropriate for a summertime holiday destination, but it suited my needs.

Pushing a black curl behind my ear I tried to disregard the heat emanating from beneath the matching fleecy black fabric of my hoodie. It was too bad that the day of her visit was also the warmest day of this Welsh summer, but I had coped with worse in my life, and for worse reason. 

Walking like a drunken crab, I followed the tour party, while poking my head round each gate and turret and wall to catch a glimpse of the girl and ensure I didn’t lose her.  I thought I’d been mistaken and she’d gone already, but no. We arrived at the second west-facing tower as the girl’s tour party was just leaving. She lingered, just a little, at the rear, and I took advantage of the crowds to change my tour group allegiance. It went without a hitch.

There were only two more stops to go on the tour. We’d just been to the north tower with views over the kelp-covered rocks of the defended coastline, and our group were passing in and out of the gatehouse dungeon, before being directed to the inevitable gift shop and tea shop. Never a café.  Always a tea shop.  I moved closer to the young lady, and we stood alongside each other at the entrance to the dungeon. I nudged her Indian-cotton-clad arm with intention.

She turned, expectant, and smiled at the face inside my hood.

‘You’re Tarim.’ More a statement than a question.

‘Marta,’ I said. ‘Shall we do it?’

She nodded with vigour. ‘I’ve built myself up to this for weeks and can’t change my mind now. It’s the right time.’

The tour party had already begun to move off, and I could see my original party leaving the north tower to walk over to join us at the dungeon. We didn’t have long but I was ready. My camera was ready. Marta was also ready.  Allowing the remainder of the earlier party to leave ahead of us, I stood with my back against the now-closed heavy wood door and sighed deeply. We’d be lucky if we got a couple of minutes. As agreed, Marta moved to the far end of the underground room – the end with the wonderful sunlit rays emerging through the skylights – and speedily arranged herself on the straw-covered stone slabs. She placed the chains next to her arms and legs.  With just a little Photoshopping, I could make it look just as it should.  I took photograph after photograph, as I walked over to Marta and gently pushed up her skirt.

‘Tasteful, Tarim,’ she said, posing as I clicked.

Suddenly, the dungeon’s door creaked open and a Scottish couple giggled about finding us alone in there.

Marta raised herself from the straw bed, brushed down her skirt, and in a calm, unflustered voice announced to the couple ‘Sex pics. For an art magazine. We pose somewhere different every day. You should try it’. She winked, and the bearded, anoraked man watched with clear admiration as she left the dungeon. ‘Lucky sod’ he said to me as I followed Marta out. For that he earned a slap on the head from his lady.

But I was not lucky. Things weren’t as Marta had said.

In 1998, precisely twenty years earlier, the body of Marta’s mother had been discovered in the dungeon, bloodied and beaten. Marta had been five then, and a little girl, but now, as a young woman, she was the spitting image of her lost parent. We’d met on a cold crime web forum and it didn’t take long before we got talking properly. Eventually I persuaded her to meet me, and she agreed to come to the castle on this special day. She’d wear her mother’s clothes, and style her hair just as her mother had. I’d dress myself in a black hoody because, on the murder day, there had been a man creeping about in one just the same.

The murder had quickly sunk to the realms of forgotten and unsolved, and not even into infamy – as not once had any of the tour guides mentioned the fate of Marta’s mother or responded to questions asked by the tour parties. A woman’s death had been forgotten and a little girl was forced to live her life without her mother. No cold case team had ever been assigned to discovering more. So it was down to us. The pair of us would make things right.

For the first time in years, I was putting my journalistic skills to good use. My article was written and scheduled for publishing the following day, and the reconstruction photos would be a perfect accompaniment to the headline: ‘Who Can Solve This Twenty Year Old Mystery?’

Marta and I walked together towards the exit, flushed with excitement at our recent activity and with anticipation of tomorrow’s headline . ‘Fancy joining me for tea and a scone?’ I asked. ‘A tribute to your mum?’ She nodded with enthusiasm. ‘I’ll pay,’ she said.

Forgotten

Every other time, he had come back.  
But that day he didn’t.
We’d arrived as usual, and he’d parked me in a shabby little brick-built garage.
I didn’t know why we were there. It wasn’t my business to ask.
I just did what I needed to do, and waited patiently for him to come back.
He’d always come back. Till that day.
As he carefully checked my windows, then locked my doors, he chatted his usual to me.
‘Be a good girl,’ he said.
‘Don’t go anywhere,’ he said.
‘Don’t do anything I wouldn’t,’ he said, chuckling as he padlocked the garage behind me.
As was usual, my engine cooled and I stilled into fumy silence. I didn’t much like being shut away in these claustrophobic garages, full of my own emissions. But it’s part of the life of being a vehicle. We’re used and left, used and left. But not normally like this.
The year was 1997.
The place was Frankfurt, Germany.
And my owner, driver and friend, was Torsten, a 56 year old man who had loved and cared for me. We’d spent the previous ten years together.
But Torsten didn’t come back. I was alone for 20 years, in the dark.
In those years I’ve changed a lot. What used to be my gleaming paintwork is no longer that way. I’m dulled, rusting and crusted.
I wasn’t even searched for, but was found by accident.
As the garage door opened for the first time in forever, I awakened with a tremor of excitement. Was it Torsten? Finally I’d be back on the road again.   
Torsten was informed that I wasn’t stolen after all. Torsten was 76 years old when he got that call. He was alive and well, and had forgotten all about me.
But I hadn’t forgotten about him.
My heart ached. But it didn’t take long for my rescuers to break it properly.
After checking me out, I was told it was scrap heap time. My engine, already broken, camouflaged the slivers of my broken heart, and I went to the scrap heap willingly. I was more than ready.
This story was inspired by an article I saw in a children’s magazine about a man being reunited with his car 20 years after he reported it as stolen.  It was found in the lockup garage where he left it.

Review of Gail Honeyman’s ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’

by Guest Reviewer, and author of ‘Helios Sphere‘, Eleanor Duvivier

It has been a long time since I’ve felt compelled to write down my thoughts about a book.

Eleanor and I (also called Eleanor) connected.  We went on an adventure together through the ink and the turn of the page.  I should have known, it’s not often you come across a heroine called Eleanor.  Eleanor is not a conventional heroine and at times it’s hard to see her as a heroine at all.  In fact, at first I felt sure that she would be revealed as a psychopath.  This balance on the line of character profiles is truly intriguing.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is about a woman who thinks she is fine and is quite happy plodding along in that bubble until events start happening at her which makes her realise that she really isn’t fine at all.  For those, like me, with mental health issues that would worry about reading due to the last bit please don’t worry.  The author is empathetic and it isn’t used as a plot twist and moved on without proper appreciation and treatment.  Eleanor’s moving on is given such care and attention that I’ve never seen anywhere else.

Gail Honeyman, author (image from Goodreads)

Despite the book being about Eleanor there is a network of solid characters in this novel.  Eleanor learns to converse with people, make friends and care for others as well as herself.  It is a story about how Eleanor loves herself to love others.  This in itself is unconventional. It isn’t necessarily a story about Eleanor falling in love with a specific person although one could be fooled to think that at first.  When you struggle you know the first step is self-love and acceptance.  We can’t give from an empty cup after all.

What resonated with me was that Eleanor has scars on the same side of her face as I do mine due to a fire.  I shan’t say why Eleanor’s fire started.  When I was in primary school camping with Mum we got caught up in a tent fire and the end result was we were hospitalised with scars that we would share for life.  My flowery dress got caught upon the tent pole and my Mum had to tear melting tent apart with her hand to free me. 

For years I was bullied for surviving and called all manner of things for having scars.  Early on the scars were rigid and pink like mountains across my dark skin, in time they have paled.  It is small reactions that Eleanor does: showing the best side of her face, fearing the hairdresser, fearing the wielder of the makeup brush, not feeling perfect and being afraid of perfection.  These truly resonate with me.  There is a way that you act when you have scars that you hope no one notices.

It was the first book in a long time that I have laughed, cried, contemplated my own life, stayed up late to finish, oo’d, ahh’d and genuinely annoyed the other people around me about whilst reading.  I will read it again once I have time, just so that I can digest it all.

£20 note!

Since I started post-Uni summer I’ve been catching up with my reading list.  I’ve got books from three Christmases ago that I need to get round to.  This treat was the first on the list and in it I found a twenty pound note from my Mum – thanks Mum!  That’s what I get for taking so long to get round to a book, eh?  A little surprise in the pages. 

When you’ve been reading extracts of books and Uni reading for what feels like forever getting stuck into a book for pleasure was a real gift.  It was difficult to avoid spoilers during my Creative Writing MA as everyone was starting threads about it and was reading it that winter.  I can see why they were so obsessed.  This book was a gift in itself, had a gift in it, and was given as a gift. 

#eleanorduvivier, #heliossphere, #eleanoroliphant, #scottmartinproductions, #lesleyatherton, #review, #bookreview

‘Elmer and Louise’ by Lesley Atherton, Part 4

Photo by Вальдемар on Pexels.com

Elmer had assumed he was dead but, as occurs regularly in the cliffhangers of psychological thrillers, the ‘death’ he experienced proved to be an enormous exaggeration of his symptoms.

He was hurting, bleeding a little, and had bumped his head and almost every one of his body’s protrusions on the van and on the pavement’s kerbstone… but he was a strong and sturdy guy, and despite his injuries was in far better condition than he deserved to be after being hit by the large, white plumber’s van.

Following Elmer’s self-ejection from the stolen car, Dulcie and Louise had done exactly what he’d expected. The car had stalled right next to Elmer’s fallen form, but his girlfriend and sister had chosen not to scoop him up, return his forcibly to their stolen car, and take him with them on their journey.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

They’d driven off, without even a backwards glance, leaving Elmer crumpled in the gutter and with nobody but the driver of the white van to offer assistance. The plumber, at least, showed some empathy, squealing his vehicle to a halt and practically falling out of the van door in his eagerness to get to the crumpled shape.

‘Oh my God, you alright, mate…? Mate…? You just fell out of the car and my van hit you and then you rolled to the edge. It’s lucky there were no cars coming.’

Elmer shuffled slightly on the kerb and grimaced. ‘You can go. I’ll be alright.’

‘I can’t leave you here like this.’ The plumber’s forehead dripped with perspiration.

Elmer wiped his eyebrow with his forearm and was less concerned than he should have been when the blood seeping from his skull coloured the skin a deep crimson.

‘Here, get in. I’ll take you to the hospital. It’s only a few minutes away. It’s the least I can do.’

Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

Elmer nodded and allowed himself to be helped to his feet and guided towards the van. His right shoulder, hip, ankle and knee hurt like mad from the impact, and he struggled pathetically onto the front seat.

‘I’m Simon.’ The plumber offered a hand to shake.

‘Elmer.’ He shook his head. ‘No handshake. My wrist is killing me.’

‘I’m not surprised… You hit the ground pretty hard. And Elmer’s a pretty weird name.’

‘Yeah. Even worse when you try living with it. My sister’s called Louise. She was in that stolen car. That’s why I got out.’

‘What do you mean?’ He started up the van and the tinny rumble seemed to trigger cognition.

 ‘Hell! Elmer and Louise! No way! Your parents named you after a film?!’

‘Yeah. They had a terrible sense of humour. And look where it led us. Lou’s on her very own criminal road trip. I’m surprised it took her this long to come up with the idea, to be honest. I’m the straight one. She’s always been a wild card.’

Simon put on his seatbelt and took a toke of his e-cig before replacing it into his overall’s pocket. Elmer’s nose crinkled.

‘God, that smells like my grandma’s mouldy pot pourri. What’s it supposed to be?’

‘Can’t remember. Cinnamon biscuit? Strawberry and lime cheesecake? These things are a pile of crap, really. All they ever taste of is charcoal briquettes and ethanol… Strapped in?’

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

‘Strapped in?’

‘Seatbelt. Get your seatbelt on.’

‘Oh. Yeah. I’ve done it. Thanks.’

‘Guess that means your arm isn’t broken. Still need to go to the hospital though.’

Elmer shrugged, then nodded in resignation, closed his eyes, leaned his congealing scalp against the van’s head rest, and began to sob.  

Review of Short Stories – Snapshots of Life, Morality and the Complex Human Landscape of Emotion

by Guest Blogger, Rebecca Wilson

Throughout my life in education so far, I have received the same message – that ‘high quality’ literature lies exclusively within the academically compiled lists of ‘classics’ which frequently feature lengthy pagination and fairly distant publication dates.

The majority of these ‘classics’ consist of reams and reams of plot, description and deeper meaning. However, the sheer length of many of these ‘classics’ has (arguably) rather ironically led some of them to fall into the trap many writers face – maintaining balance.

Although I am by no means advocating that all longer stories lack balance, as you lengthen a story, the danger of this pitfall increases, and the deeper meanings in works can sometimes be swamped by excessive description or other forms of irrelevant minor detail.

This is where short stories have a unique advantage over longer stories. This trap is often much easier to avoid.

So why do short stories not have the same claim to the literary spotlight?

Don’t be deceived by their length, these works can offer a lot more than you may initially think…

Punchy, Powerful Messages…
With Clarity!

When reading short stories, readers are arguably less inclined to rake through dozens of pages before uncovering any implicit messages. The power of these messages is thus less likely to be sacrificed or difficult to extract, as is the case with some of history’s most hailed literary classics. A key example of this in my opinion would be Tolkien’s famous Lord of the Rings trilogy. Although a classic story, and one which I adore, the important messages it carries such as those of the value of friendship, loyalty and teamwork are often lost amongst the endless description of the vast landscape and history of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Although I can admire Tolkien’s expansive imagination, in his ability to build a world in such minute detail, the level of this detail included in the story can sometimes make reading the trilogy an arduous and lengthy task, rather than a singular source of enjoyable fantasy escapism.

Quality not Quantity
(of Pages and Profit!)

It’s no hidden secret that many classic novels, such as Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles often owe their length to the practice of serialisation and being ‘paid by the letter’. Here, the creativity vs commerce debate begins to flare up again, although it is often difficult to judge whether novels entirely owe their length to this cause or not. The endless sub plots and lengthy descriptions evident in classics such as DickensGreat Expectations can most certainly frame many classics as guilty of this in many respects, whereas shorter stories can often pack unique punches some longer stories can find, owing to their length, much harder to achieve.

Travelling and mental exhaustion

We’ve all experienced this. We’ve all been on a holiday, or a long journey, or simply sat at home ‘relaxing’, picked up a book and after a certain amount of time been more focused on getting to a numerical target rather than reading the text itself. Just picking up a book that has 400+ pages can be a bit daunting, with your brain telling you “this is going to take forever”, and thus, in this mindset, it does. And then you procrastinate from reading it, and alas, five months later, you’re only 200 pages into reading Vanity Fair (and yes, I am speaking from personal experience here). The book is abandoned, you grumble something about time wasting, and move on to a different book (not a classic this time, seeing as you’re holding a grudge for a bit). This is why shorter stories are simply perfect for the weary traveller who just wants something interesting to dip into for a short while, and why short stories can often maintain reader interest for a longer amount of time.

Skill of the Writer in World and Character Building – in Such a Short Space of Time!

This is a skill that is very difficult to master. Longer stories enable writers to gradually build up characters and thus have the safety net of future events in the story to fall back on should the development of a certain aspect be sparse in one section of the novel. Short story writers do not have this safety net, and so their ability to craft worlds and characters in such short spaces of time, that are interesting and sufficiently developed to keep readers engaged should be celebrated as a true indication of artistic talent.

Exploration of Ideas Not Suitable for Longer Work

Some ideas that are captured in short stories, such as singular emotions or experiences, can be very high intensity or simply not suitable to be explored in a feature length novel. To shorten a story can often be an efficient way of ensuring intensity remains high, concentration is less likely to fade and allows unique ideas to be explored in isolation, rather than being mentioned briefly amongst a tangled web of plot, description and characterisation. To cite an example, in Lesley Atherton’s collection of short stories Can’t Sleep Won’t Sleep Vol.1, there is a fascinating short story titled ‘Conflict’. This is my favourite of the collection, because it explores one singular emotion in such great depth, and just makes you, well, think!

And that’s simply to name a few unique benefits reading shorter stories can offer you. So why not read some yourself and see these ideas in action? Lesley Atherton’s series of short stories titled Can’t Sleep Won’t Sleep currently has five volumes for you to delve into, and the series most certainly embodies the ideas listed above surrounding the unfairly marginalised value short stories possess within an ever-expanding modern literary landscape.

#lesleyfridayreads, #can’tsleepwon’tsleep, #scottmartinproductions, #rebeccawilson, #lesleyatherton, #shortstory, #shortstories

Darkness.Chill.Silence.Bliss

Photo by Noelle Otto on Pexels.com

Summer isn’t ice-cream and beaches. Not to me.

The summer forces windows wide, admitting birdsong, creaking gates, the whirring of mowers, the madness of hedge trimmers, and the rhythmic cawing of noisy birds.

Neighbourhood children add to this with shouts, as do their mothers, while the grinding, grating power tools amplify their white noise backing track.

The skies are bland and blue, adorned with swathes of dove-grey clouds.

We wake early and retire late, and doze through the heat of the day, to be wakened by the ‘Greensleeves’ of the ice cream van.

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Houses remain empty while gardens fill with barbecue smoke and the snuffles of meat-obsessed canines.

But, to me, summer’s not ice-cream and beaches.

Neither are the darker months merely times pre- and post- the manic expectancy of Christmas; the craziness of shops, the worries of the poor and the extravagance of the rich.

It’s more than that.

Winter brings its own silent, deafening beauty and the comforting sounds of rain and wind.

Summer’s muggy blankness is a barrier of brightness.  

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Yet I’m drawn into winter skies; as tangibly solid and grey as my bed sheet. Winter rises late and snuggles down early in duvets that wrap us in their womblike comfort, while streets echo with cloistered emptiness.

I celebrate the differences of our seasonal extremes, but winter’s majesty, winter’s peace and winter’s rest are the introvert’s perfect backdrop.

Winter’s chill factor warms and energises my soul.

And autumn is a welcome transition.

Only five months more…

#lesleyatherton, #summer, #winter, #scottmartinproductions

Read This Book: NO MATTER WHAT! ***** FIVE STARS

Read this book ‘No Matter What‘ by Lesley Atherton

Review by Guest Blogger, Lauren O’Neill

No Matter What‘ is a short tale told from the point of view of Jayne Smith, a ghost writer who loves her job. She enjoyed the challenge of trying to write a book, autobiography or memoir in a way that it would seem her clients had written the books themselves. That is, until a certain supermodel named Hawk was sent her way, bringing not only stress and trouble along with him but also a past that Jayne had long since left behind.

Image: Pngtree

Lesley Atherton does a really good job of drawing you in and keeping you there and interested until the very end. Usually for me, short stories are just something to read to pass the time but with ‘No Matter What‘, I found myself enthralled with every word.

Even for a short story, each chapter flowed easily from one to another, I never found it difficult to get to the next page, never got stuck on a paragraph and never struggled to find the motivation to continue.

Jayne Smith, the protagonist of the story, is a woman who doesn’t find the need to impress or be a different person just to appease her peers and clients. Throughout ‘No Matter What’, I noticed how I didn’t agree with everything she believed but I still wanted her to come out victorious, be it ignoring the “supermodel version of Christopher Ecclestone” that was Hawk or being able to one day get the recognition she truly deserved for her hard work.

Without giving too much away, I saw myself mentally making note of every word she wrote, putting it away for later. This may just be a short fiction story but within it, you’ll find many things you could put to use in your life. As I started reading, I had somewhat of an idea in my head on what ‘No Matter What‘ was going to be about. Boy was I wrong!

For a 64 page story, there were so many twists and turns that kept me guessing and I have to admit, I never would have predicted what was going to happen and I think that’s quite a feat.

Illustration – quick sketch by a young Morrigan Atherton-Forshaw

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed ‘No Matter What’: the story was interesting, gripping and even quite helpful in some places. It kept me intrigued and excited to keep on reading to find out what happened to Jayne and if Hawk had caused any more trouble for the poor woman.

I would definitely recommend ‘No Matter What‘ to you if you enjoy a quick little fix of humour, excitement, mysterious supermodels and a ghost writer with more to her than she lets on, if you enjoy all that, then this is the story for you.

5/5 stars

#lesleyfridayreads, #lesleyatherton, #scottmartinproductions, #laurenoneill, #nomatterwhat, #shortnovel

‘Elmer and Louise’ by Lesley Atherton, Part 3

Elmer’s girlfriend, Dulcie, tapped her acrylics on the passenger side of the car’s dashboard.

‘So,’ Elmer urged, glaring at her. ‘What’s with the car?’

His sister, Louise, was still struggling to remove her disguise and make-up, but piped up from the back seat. ‘Well…’ Elmer turned to offer his encouragement and noticed Louise’s eyes flickered sparkly and bright.

‘We kind of took it.’

‘Took it? From whom?’

‘Erm, I wasn’t introduced to the actual owner. We found it in the Asda car park.’

Elmer stopped the car and grabbed his girlfriend’s arm.

‘What?! There’s CCTV all over that car park. They’ll have seen you.’

‘They’ll have seen two mad old ladies. Not us. Even you didn’t recognise us.’

‘But what about fingerprints? Oh my God, my fingerprints are all over a stolen car!’

Dulcie sighed and continued tapping.

‘Well, yes. But so are ours.’

‘But why would you steal a car? Louise? Dulcie? What the hell’s going on? Why have you done this? Why have you got me involved? I didn’t need this. I have a management meeting tomorrow morning.’

Elmer held his hand over his frantically beating heart. ‘Come on, you two. I have a life. I’m next in line for a big promotion too. I can’t get involved in crime. Not even as an observer. There’s no way.’

‘Calm down, Mr Asthma Attack,’ Louise teased as Elmer’s face reddened.

He glared. ‘I haven’t had asthma since I was a kid, Louise, and believe me, I’m not going to capitulate on this one like I always used to. Mum and dad are going to be told about what you’ve done. You’ll be disowned by all of us. I’m going to tell Paul too. You’ll be a jailbird divorcee by the time you’re forty. And you, Dulcie, why would you jeopardise your new acting career my doing something so stupid?’

Suddenly realising that he was still holding the steering wheel, Elmer let go and with the end of his tie began to wipe as many of the car’s surfaces he could reach.

‘And shut up with those fingernails, Dulce!’

The tapping didn’t stop, but otherwise the two women held their silence as he continued wiping, and that was when, in utter frustration, Elmer threw himself out of the stolen car, and straight into the path of a large, white workman’s van. He crumpled under the tyres as the van screeched to a halt.

Did Elmer survive?

What happened to his sister and girlfriend?

And was there any reasoning behind any of the day’s events?

Well, obviously, yes. There’s always a reason. Or should I say that there’s always an explanation, though such explanations may be devoid of all reason.

That’s what Elmer thought as he emerged from under the white delivery van, and noticed the symbol on the side. It was in the shape of a stylised toilet, and underneath was the text: ‘Trust Us With Your Plumbing’.

He wasn’t going to trust anyone again in a hurry. He’d trusted two mad old ladies with his life, and look where he was just twenty minutes later: broken and bruised, with resentment and fury in his soul.

After all, he had things to do, places to go, work to finish and hair to preen.

K-Pop – It Isn’t Just Music!

K-Pop‘ is a genre of music which originated in South Korea, and now seems to have taken over the world – much like The Beatles did in the 60’s.

by Guest Blogger, Lauren O’Neill

But will it stand the test of time like the Liverpudlian rock band has?

To some people, K-Pop is just some new thing that the female youth of this world have started to obsess over, and something that with time we’ll grow out of and find something new to fall in love with for a while.

But it’s quite the opposite in this case as K-Pop fans can vary in gender, colour, sexuality, age and location.

BTS at Wembley, 2019

This type of music is like any other genre – the only thing different is that they’re singing/rapping mainly in Korean. It is difficult to understand why so many people who don’t speak or know the language would listen to and pay money to see Korean groups and soloists.

But, a lot of the time the lyrics, when translated, mean a lot more to the fans than some stereotypical love songs do. For example, here are some K-Pop songs that bring light to more serious topics:

  • ‘My Pace’ by Stray Kids. Stray Kids are a 9 member boy group from the Korean Entertainment company JYP. This song talks about how you shouldn’t compare yourself to others and that just because someone is further ahead of you, doesn’t mean they’ll finish first. ‘Don’t compare, it’s alright to go slowly. Go your own path, my lane’.
  • ‘Answer: Love Myself’ by BTS. BTS are a 7 member boy group from the Korean Entertainment company BigHit. ‘Love Myself’ is all about… well, loving yourself and how important it is to love yourself and to treat yourself with kindness and respect. The 7 members also use this song to thank their fans, who they call ‘army’ for helping them reach this conclusion: ‘The me of yesterday, the me of today, the me of tomorrow (I’m learning how to love myself). With no exceptions, it’s all me’.
  • ‘I’ by Taeyeon. Taeyeon is a singer from SM Entertainment, as well as a member of the girl group ‘Girls Generation’. She sings about how even if you feel like the world is against you and being cruel, you must stay true to who you are and who you want to become and then maybe they’ll see you for who you truly are. ‘People don’t know, they don’t see your wings. A new world you’ve met could be cruel, but strong girl you were born to fly.’

Of course, there are the love songs out there in the K-Pop music industry that are all about a girl and a boy falling in love, and that’s okay! But that’s not all there is. Just like the songs I mention above, there are songs that could help you, make you feel better or just reassure you that you’re not alone and you’re doing okay.

BTS at Wembley, 2019 – two shows sold out in just ninety minutes!

K-Pop is an inclusive family that brings together people from all over the world. Many of them make friends for life through the connection they have – thanks to the music and the groups that brought them together.

K-Pop can also open the eyes of millions of people to different issues that are affecting the world today. BTS, for instance, has teamed up with UNICEF to help put a stop to child violence. A portion of their album sales and 100% of the profits from the sale of goods connected to the campaign goes towards many social programmes that will hopefully make a difference in someone’s life. So far BTS have raised over 2.4 Billion won as of April 2019.

Blackpink at Manchester
Blackpink at Manchester

K-Pop isn’t just music, it’s a community of people of all shapes and sizes who are finding themselves, finding their purpose or just finding a group/soloist that makes them happy. It may not be your kind of thing, which is perfectly fine but who knows, maybe you’ll find something you like!

#kpop, #k-pop. #thebeatles, #southkorea, #laurenoneill, #lesleyatherton, #scottmartinproductions, #bts, #unicef, #Taeyeon, #GirlsGeneration, #smentertainment, #bighit, #straykids, #jyp, #blackpink