#secondthoughts : Why I Pants

Saving our bacon on yet another month’s fifth Sunday is Stuart Nager. We ‘met’ Stu during 2018’s April A2Z Challenge when we both fell for his gloriously creepy tales of The Abyssmal Dollhouse, and thoroughly enjoyed the banter during his daily visits here.

A man of many parts is Stu – Professional Storyteller, Drama Teacher, Teaching Artist, Director, Performer, Playwright, Arts Administrator, Curriculum Writer, Professional Development Coordinator & Facilitator, Drama Coach, Composer, Singer to name just a few – yet still he dashed off this post in response to our enquiry if he’d fancy writing ‘a little something’ for us.


The Urban Dictionary defines Pantsing as “To yank someone else’s pants down. Usually done in a humorous fashion.” While that may hold its meaning in a Three Stooges short or Middle School hallway, in the blogging world it takes on a very different meaning.  To some, it comes with a different set of emotions: fear, unease, anxiety.

Pantsing is writing as you go. Being in the moment and letting your characters and story take you where they wants to go. No real planning. No outline. No mega research, piles of notes, no creating a huge backstory/bible. Just going with the creative flow.

Pantsing, as I see it, is Writing Improv.

I am an Improv trained actor/director. May seem an oxymoron, since improvisation is creating on the spot: really communicating by listening and then responding. But, the training is in not going for the joke but finding the truth in what you are doing, committing to it wholeheartedly, and allowing the scene and characters tell their stories.  What you see televised, more often than not, is comedy improv; the headset is to make the audience laugh, and sometimes that’s done at the expense of pure improve by going for the puns and the easy laughs.

Scene and character driven improv, as in the way I see writing, lays a foundation that is much deeper and much more satisfying.

I’ve done both types of improv. I’d rather have a great scene then a cheap laugh.

So, my roots of creating on the spot, my improv life (I created, lead, and performed in an improvisational storytelling troupe for twelve years: The Brothers Grinn), helped to form my pantsing style of writing. I find a freedom in doing it this way; research will happen, some pre-planning may enter my head, but in the end, I find more satisfaction out of seeing where the characters and story idea(s) take me.

Of course, this may all get thrown out the window as I contemplate pulling thing together in a Novella or Novel form. THAT is causing me the fear, unease, and anxiety.

Non-pantsers can sit back now, nod their heads, and drink their tea with satisfaction.

© 2018 Stuart Nager


Anti-ageing Pill

Things in Hollywood had gotten decidedly weird. I’d heard from a friend in Mumbai that Bollywood was having the same issues. They’d had to limit making films with – ahem – more mature characters in them, as pretty much every actor and actress had decided to take that miracle pill.

For the last two decades, they’d been taking it as we used to take vitamins. Not me though. I’ve always been fussy what I put in my body – food, drink, medications – and that habit saved me. These days my agent can’t keep up with the calls for me to read for parts – and from directors who wouldn’t have given me the time of day 20 years ago. But when all your character actors have started to display – let’s just call them side effects – you have to really work that Rolladex.

Hollywood was always a place for the young, but now all the older actors have been hiding away, waiting on the unbelievably long waiting lists with the best plastic surgeons. Hell, even the not so good plastic surgeons have lists as long as your arm. Seems even that solution isn’t working reliably. The last director who risked casting his male lead with a guy who’d just had corrective surgery, well … let’s just say he regretted it – and how. Turns out even the best plastic surgeon can only correct one aspect of damage. When that’s corrected, the poison contained in that miracle pill just turns to another bit of the body.

It’s not so bad for a character actor who gets to keep their clothes on, so long as the poison only affects their body. Once it moves to the face … well, it depends what particular version of the side effect you get. The face-melting bloodhound look wasn’t too bad – at least it gave you a couple of years more work, but a shrivelled ear or nose meant you were consigned straight to B pictures in minor roles as the bad guy – until it got too horrific that is. The skin conditions – well, they were beyond even the most talented make-up artist, so those meant straight to retirement no matter how big a star you’d been.

Of course, the ones worst hit were those who’d relied on their looks. Sure, a few of ’em could act – I mean really act – and they survived. But the pretty boys and girls – nope. Ironically, if they’d just gone the normal route of waiting till the signs of ageing (or a life lived hard) started to show and headed for a top plastic surgeon, they’d probably still be working. Quick fixes aren’t always the best way to go. Especially when it seems that the side effects aren’t the same in humans as in the rats they tested it on …

But seeing as I owe it my new found career and the healthy bank account that came with it to that miracle pill, I raise a glass of wheatgrass juice in salute to it every evening.

© Debra Carey, 2018

#Secondthoughts: Where Eagles Dare

“Broadsword calling Danny Boy…Broadsword calling Danny Boy…”

There are some phrases that just seem right.  They work.  They’re so good that they enter the population and almost become some kind of genetic memory.  These days we tend to call them memes and they get hacked about by anybody with access to a meme-generator, in order to illustrate a point.  I will freely admit to having done it myself once or twice.  But before the internet, before we knew they were memes, there were lines from books and films that became short hand for jokes, or action scenes, for heroism, or dark deeds.

Thirty years or so after the first time that I read “Where Eagles Dare”, and the famous radio call-sign exchange still brings back memories of Alastair McLean novels, and a slew of WWII films.

“Broadsword calling Danny Boy…Broadsword calling Danny Boy…”

Social Media can be a strange place.  You never quite know what will catch on.  By chance, I happened to notice that #WhereEaglesDare was trending on Twitter the other day, so I thought that I would have a quick look.  It turned out that the film was showing on some channel or another, and people were flagging it and then talking about.  The opening credits came in for a mention, and yes, they are pretty good.  I’d dispute that it is the best film ever, though.  The film has some great set pieces, but I’m going to go out on a limb, and say that it was miscast, and that the adaptation of the dialogue was not quite up to the mark.  I’d even suggest that it is worth remaking the film – Richard Burton, as Smith, is rather wooden, and Clint Eastwood, as Schaeffer, is…Clint Eastwood.  To his credit, at least he put a bit of effort into climbing the rope, instead of using a scissor lift…  a young Nathan Fillion might have been a good Schaeffer, I don’t know who the equivalent would be at the moment.  But I digress.

In any film, there are a number of things that need to come together, including the casting (and the on- and off-screen dynamic between the cast), the cinematography (including special effects), and the script.  In the case of a film adaptation, the casting is especially important, as is the script.  For fans of the book, if the writer did a good job then you will have a mental picture of the characters.  In terms of the dialogue to inform the script, you’d hope that it could just be picked up and plonked down as is, but of course there will be scenes that can’t be included – but you really need that line, yes that one there – and so the process of revising the script begins.

In terms of a film adaptation, whilst I love Guns of Navarone, Force 10 from Navarone and WED – all for different reasons – I’d argue that Where Eagles Dare is the best adaptation of the three.  But it also shares in one of the biggest frustrations that I have with the Lord of the Rings films: they messed up the humour.

When you think of Lord of the Rings, the inherent humour is probably not what springs to mind.  I will be the first to admit that we are not talking about a laff-a-minute, light-hearted read, but there is humour, albeit somewhat understated. The film adaptation, to my mind, makes the cardinal sin of rejecting the humour that Tolkien wrote into the book, and importing a totally unnecessary slap-stick element, usually at the expense of Gimli and the dwarfs.  I recently came across the term “Mary Sue” to describe a character who is improbably skilled at everything: in LOTR, the Elves, and in particular Legolas, become a race of Mary Sues, leaving the dwarfs to bumble along as the comedy country-bumpkins.  But that’s another essay.  Suffice it to say, that my view is that Legolas and Gimli were designed to be a balanced pairing in the author’s mind, and that there are all sorts of things that don’t work properly because the relationship between Gimli and Legolas is undermined.

So too, then, the balance between Smith and Schaeffer is not quite right in WED.  The humour is muted, the dialogue doesn’t sparkle.  Burton is, as I’ve said, a bit wooden – it almost feels like it should be one of his last performances, but it’s not; Burton died young, but worked for another 15 or so years after this film.  The book is a little more thoughtful, and doesn’t reduce the Germans to ciphers – at least, not all the time.

“Broadsword calling Danny Boy…Broadsword calling Danny Boy…”

And now for the kicker.  Having written all of the above, having assumed that the book came first, I’ve just discovered that McLean wrote the film first and then the book.  Apparently Eastwood didn’t like the original script and asked for fewer lines, which surely must be a rarity in the acting profession.  On the other hand, he got to do most of the action, so it probably worked out about even.

Even with that last minute shock revelation, I stand by the view that the book is better than the film, but perhaps now we need to say it is because McLean had the opportunity to polish things – and he didn’t have to worry about troublesome actors.  His characters would do as they were told.  He also had the opportunity to embellish some scenes and add depth – so for example the pilot who drops off the team and picks up the survivors gets to be a proper character rather than just an extension of the aircraft.

How about you?  Any films where the script/casting messed up a really neat book?  Any favourite books that got a good film treatment? Any films that fell flat even though they had an all star cast and the dialogue was straight off the page?

“Broadsword this is Danny Boy…Broadsword this is Danny Boy…Recieving”

© David Jesson, 2018


This month, in place of David’s story, we’re happy to include one written by David’s friend Jeff Farrow. In his day job, Jeff has been in the water industry for…some time, including being the Chief Engineer for the building of the London Ring Water Main.  Jeff and David share an interest in big engineering problems: they’ve spent more time than they would like understanding how and why cast iron breaks.  They also share an interest in the work of Isaac Asimov.  The Good Doctor’s 1957 story ‘Profession’ suddenly came to Jeff’s mind having lain dormant for…a number of years, and, well, read on…

Harry looked up at the giant screen, while still lying full length on the artificial pitch and trying to remember what had just happened. The stadium they had chosen for this final game was notorious for serious injuries, and he was beginning to understand why.

Crowd noise was generally a good guide, and it had been quite loud when the Clash happened, followed by the crowd’s equivalent of a sharp intake of breath and then silence, as they waited for the giant-screen replays – again, usually a good sign – 20,000 spectators all concentrating on their voting tablets.

It had not been a good month so far, leading up to this Quarter’s finals, and he’d only just made the team. But against the odds, he and the team had made it to the overall final, and a good score today, or better still a great score today would get him to where he needed to be. The all-important Quota for this Quarter had been set at ten, but with eight teams involved in the finals and 14 players and substitutes in each team, that made 111 other players, and therefore only a one in eleven average chance of Selection.

The 30 seconds or so after a Clash and before the video coming up on screen, were often the worst. With nothing to focus on during this time, except for the pain in his leg and the ever-present worry about serious injuries. The highest probability of all was always that the players towards the top of the Selection List would be out of the game and fail Selection due to serious injuries, at almost the last minute.

Selection was the most important thing in Harry’s and all of the players’ lives. Since the TV and Betting Companies had moved into ‘New Football’, this was where money and careers were to be made. Back in the past, when VAR had been introduced, the football clubs hadn’t realised what the natural consequences might be. Gamblers, viewers, and spectators had become more interested in the VAR than in the game itself, and although scoring goals and winning matches remained part of the overall betting system, the technical and visual merit of ‘Clashes’ had become far more important.

There were two main elements to a Clash in ‘New Football’. The violence delivered by one player on another – the ‘Hit’ – and the elegance and innovation of the ‘Dive’ of the other player.

These were difficult skills. There were legal and illegal Hits, with a wide range of scores. Dives had to entertain the crowd, but without being obvious.

Harry’s special skill was in being able to instantaneously tailor his Dive to the type of Hit he received and to the nature of the crowd who would be voting. He was considered to be above average in Diving, but sadly Hits still usually generated more points than Dives.

In his final semester at Sports Academy, Harry had made his choice to try to become a professional player. But it was an all or nothing decision; players who didn’t make Selection were on the scrap heap at 20, with the chance of other good careers closed to them. This was what gave Harry sleepless nights. He’d done really well during these past two years, and was now a regular first-choice player in a good team, but that still only placed him in the top 30 of this Quarter’s players, and he desperately wanted to get up into the top 10.

Although ‘New Football’ had now reached quite serious levels of on-pitch violence, there were still red and yellow cards to avoid. Some Hits were still outlawed, and Dives were only allowed after proper contact. If the VAR showed the Dive to be spurious or if the Hit was the wrong type, red or yellow cards could be given with serious consequences for a player’s score.

The referee was coming over to where Harry and Ricardo, his recent ‘opponent’ in the Clash, were lying, or in Ricardo’s case sitting, in the process of getting up. A yellow card now would be disastrous.

Maths was one of Harry’s strong points, and he used it now to take his mind off these thoughts and worries, and also from the rapidly developing pain in his left leg. He’d come into this game with a personal score of 73, which had placed him close to the top of the ‘List’ in his own team, but still only just in the Top 30 when all 112 players in the finals were considered.

One of the first big financial prizes for the Top 10 players after this game, was a place in the Championship Finals for the year, now always called the Olympic Finals. The big professional teams in the ‘New Premiership’ league almost always chose their new players for next season from the Olympics, so points today couldn’t be more important.

The Olympic Finals and the New Football Premiership league matches were played in front of 100,000 people, and were heavily sponsored by big world-wide gambling syndicates. A New Premiership player could make a fortune in a short playing career, and be set up for life.

Winning this game would be worth 5 points to each of his team, while a good Dive could earn up to 15 points and a good Hit up to 20, depending on the audience votes and also on the referee’s judgement.

Harry felt pretty safe for this Dive. The pain in his leg told him that this had been a real, and quite significant Hit with contact that should easily be picked up by VAR. He’d taken the ball right up towards Ricardo, going at top speed and leaving him no real option than to take him down. That was one of the skills needed by a good Diver – to entice the other player into making a seriously hard Hit, but in a way in which you could achieve a really good Dive without being hurt.

On balance, this time that hadn’t necessarily been too wise, as Ricardo was not known for subtlety or care in the Clash. He’d come in high, with both sets of studs horizontal above Harry’s knee level. Harry’s Dive had been as much about trying to keep his legs intact, as about winning points for elegance and style.

The ref was holding up a yellow card, which he waived at Ricardo, who had been above Harry on the List, so that was no bad thing; he would now get no points for this Hit, and also pick up a penalty of minus 5 for the ‘yellow’.

Meanwhile the crowd voting for Harry was being assessed and showing up as 14 on the big screens – so it must have been a pretty good Dive, at least in their eyes. The giant-screen showed the players’ scores in the latest Clash, and also the Top 50 scores. The addition of these points moved Harry above Ricardo, and up to 12th in the List. Ricardo was seriously not happy and the string of threats he made to Harry added a few more worries about how the game might end.

There were 25 minutes left on the clock, and Harry’s team were leading one – nil, although nobody cared about scores these days or who won or lost the game. With a bit of luck he could still make it to the Top 10. He stood up, tested the feeling in his leg, and ran into space calling for ball, hoping to set up another high-scoring Clash, preferably with someone other than Ricardo.

© 2018 Jeff Farrow

#FF Photoprompt

Bahrd stole down the holloway, slipping from one patch of mogshade to another; occasionally he was pierced by hot barbs of shrivelight.  He paused for a moment and tried to tune out the beating of his heart, pricking his ears for the sound of pursuit.  Three days shy of his 100th birthday, the youngest Senior Journeyman of the Edgemakers Guild was on the run.  He looked back down the holloway.


He started again, hurrying down the green-lit path between the trees.  He spotted the tree that was his marker and stepped up his pace, finding the quick rhythm required.  He counted paces.  He leapt. His hands reached out and up.  His fingers found the branch and he pulled himself up.  Many amongst the dwarfkind had the strength to perform the manoeuvre, but few had the requisite height.

Bahrd worked his way back up the path in the direction that he had come from, but now he was up above the holloway looking down through the leaves.  There – he found the gap that would allow him to penetrate into the forest, and worked his way down into the deep-woods.  Even should they pick up the trail, it was unlikely that they would follow him there…


There were those that whispered that he was too young to be a journeyman, no matter that his ‘prentice pieces outshone anything created in the Guild for a generation.  Some said he was flighty.  Some said he was too inquisitive, that he was too impetuous.  There were those that stated bluntly that he would never be a Master.  No one noticed that the Guildmaster, the venerable Fighrd, kept his own counsel.

Still, all this was moot now.  Jealousy, like a corrupting worm, had buried itself in the heart of the guild, and had just now erupted in a vicious prank.  Aimed at one of the senior Masters, designed to make Bahrd look bad, the prank had claimed the life of an apprentice.  The Guild Guards had been dispatched, and for all his cleverness, all his subtlety, Bahrd felt himself being forced into corner.  Yes, he had allies; yes, there were contingencies…but he also had enemies in high places, and whilst he had a fair idea that the events leading up to the tragedy had been enacted by a vindictive journeyman who coveted Bahrd’s title, there was a whiff of conspiracy, a taint of a particular brain, Master Nohrd’s, behind the plot.  Bahrd might have stayed, attempted to prove his case, endured what ever deprivations would come his way.  He might have done these things, if not for the note: “We are coming for you.”  Even this on its own might have been dealt with – had he trusted the Council.  Whilst there were Masters that he liked, trusted, in some cases even respected, none of these feeling extended to the Council.  And so, he fled.

But even his fleeing was not some blind rout.  He was an Edgemaker.  The youngest Senior Journeyman the Guild had ever seen, and if his style saw him clash with the Council and certain Masters from time to time, he still had a card to play, an edge, even now.

He felt, by rights, that it should have been a dark night, storm-tossed, riven by lightening.  Instead, it was a glorious summer’s day. For this, despite the lack of the dramatic, he was glad.  The cliff beneath the dormitory windows was treacherous enough – his first edge, as no one believed that it could be climbed in one direction or the other – but rain-slick hand-holds might well prove fatal.  He would have to use the holloway to complete his escape from the Guild; a calculated risk, as it was unlikely that there would be anyone using it today.


Dwarfkind didn’t like the forests, didn’t trust them. Bahrd was not a typical dwarf.  It was not that he minded the mines and mountain halls – that would have been too strange – but he liked solitude and the deep-woods were mercifully free of the idiots that surrounded him every day.  He’d ranged through the trees in many directions, for as far as you could go and return in a three days and two nights.  It was on one of these jaunts that Bahrd had discovered The Tree.  He called it this, for it seemed unlike any other tree that he had ever come across, and it was clearly the oldest tree for many leagues, perhaps in all the world.  Further, this tree talked.  At times it seemed senile, perhaps due to its immense age, perhaps due to the loss of wood at its core.  Other times it was full of sage advice and gossiped of events far away, although how it come by its knowledge Bahrd had no concept.

On a trip to visit The Tree, years before, Bahrd had even negotiated with this ancient, a strange parley, which had left Bahrd unsure as to who had the best of the deal.   The Tree had agreed to store certain of Bahrd’s treasures and tools against future need, an edge which Bahrd had taken gladly, not realising how he would need to use it.

He arrived at  Dusk: “I have come for my things, honourable tree”.

“Very well.” The voice was the rustle of leaves, the creaking of branches. “But then it is also time for you to fulfil your part of the bargain.”

Bahrd reached in to the hollow.  He had slept in here before now, but he was never quite sure what he would find on any given visit, nor where his things went between times.  What was also strange was that not everything that he had placed here had been returned, but everything that he would need for a long journey had been given to him.  In addition, there was a small package, made from woven bark, lined with leaves.  Nestled in the leaves was some kind of seed, a large one, that was beginning to put out a root and a shoot.

“My time is nearly at an end, and so I must think of the future.  Do not worry for your goods, they will be here when you come again, but you must take this with you when you leave.”

“What must I do?”

“Take it with you.  You will know what must be done, when it must be done.  For now, sleep.  The forest will watch.”


Fighrd sighed.   He did not like, on a personal level, what he had done.  The truth was, however, that he had repaid a favour to an old friend, and put an asset safely out of the way, for a while.  What Bahrd would do in the World was a problem for another day, although he had some thoughts in that regard too.  For now, though, he needed to remove a thorn…  He turned from his contemplation of the forest, stretching away in all directions from the base of the mountain.

“Send for Nohrd.  It is time we discussed certain truths.”

© David Jesson, 2018


“Wow! Just wow!”

”That’s not quite the response I was expecting …”

”No, no, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound so banal. But, when you said you had a refuge, I thought … I dunno, some kind of attic, even a summer house, just … not this. This is amazing. This is magical.”

”Thanks. I always feel a bit of a drama queen calling it my refuge. After all, my family are good people, it’s just that boundaries are not their thing. Well, other than a thing to step right over without thought. They’re all such extroverts and I’m … just not.”

”It’s one of the many things I love about you …”

”What is?”

“That you’re not an extrovert. I’d have been too scared to speak to you otherwise.”

”I’m so glad you did. I’ve never had anyone who I could show this place to, as they’d not get it. It feels safe, and magical – but it also inspires me to write. I have this little pop-up tent and a sleeping bag I use when I need to stay away a bit longer. When they see me in the kitchen making up sandwiches and flasks of drinks, they all tease me rotten. I wonder if they realise how close I am to not coming back.”

“Really? You’d just go …?”

“If the folk in my stories were real, yes, I’d go … in a heartbeat.”

© Debra Carey, 2018

#FF Photo Prompt

100 year old yew tree

Methinks it must be time for another photo prompt – so here you go.
I’m already wondering what type of tales this photo might inspire.

Word Count: anything up to 1,000
Deadline: 2pm GMT on Friday 6th July 2018


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