Meeting the parents

Melanie was feeling pretty pleased with herself. She was a little nervous, sure, but mostly relieved that this day had finally come. She’d been going out with Josh a while and had introduced him to her parents and the rest of the family ages ago, so long ago that he now joined in their regular family dinners. He’d never said “no” or refused to introduce her to his, it was more that he changed the subject, or made excuses. Finally, she’d had to sit him down and explain it made her feel he wasn’t truly invested in their relationship. So here they were.

Josh’s parents lived in a very prosperous part of town, one Melanie had never been to before. The houses were seriously big, ridiculously so to her eyes. Luckily, unlike some of the more in your face examples they’d driven past, this one was old, established and traditional in style. Out front, there was a wide expanse of porch, stretching round in front of the house’s two wings; a porch so large you could seat every single member of her extended family on it, with room to spare. Initially Melanie assumed there were just two stories, till Josh pointed out the roof windows as where he and his brothers had their rooms. It was early evening and the weather was starting to turn chilly. Although it wasn’t dark yet, the nights were starting to draw in. Still, Melanie thought it odd the porch was almost ablaze with candlelight, but persuaded herself it was simply a lovely greeting.

As Josh unlocked the front door, he pressed the doorbell and called out “we’re here”. Pulling the door behind them, he took her hand, looked her straight in the eye and said “I’m sorry, I truly am.” Before Melanie could react, she was swept off her feet by the biggest man she’d ever seen in her life. Undeniably Josh’s father – for the family resemblance was unmistakable – he was nevertheless a decidedly imposing figure. Josh was a tall guy, yet barely came up to his father’s shoulder. What was more disconcerting was the almost manic grin on his face. Having hugged Melanie so tight she could barely breath, he was now pumping her hand up and down with a crazy intensity, whilst calling out over his shoulder “Mother, mother, come quick, Josh’s girl is here!”

Deciding it was simple over-enthusiasm at finally having the chance to meet her, Melanie’s eyes were drawn to the woman now entering the room. Tall and slender, with skin so pale it was almost transparent, her fair hair hanging straight virtually to floor length, there stood the most beautiful woman Melanie had ever seen. Her dress a pale icy blue – she and it appeared to float aross the room in an almost unworldly manner. Smiling with her mouth but not her eyes, she held out a cool hand  “You are most welcome to our home Melanie”. Having presented her cheek for Melanie to kiss, she turned to Josh with a smile that did reach her eyes and held open her arms “My boy, my own precious boy, it’s been too, too long.”

Later, sitting at the elaborate table, where the four of them were waited on by an equal number of staff, they were told that Josh’s brothers had been sent out for the night “so we can focus on getting to know Melanie”. These words were spoken in the same slightly manic manner Josh’s father had used in greeting Melanie. As the dinner went on, it was hard to decide what was more disturbing – the manic behaviour of Josh’s father, or his mother’s abrupt changes from chilly to adoring as the conversation switched between Melanie and Josh. Eventually she realised, it didn’t really matter, as what concerned her most was Josh. He was withdrawing further and further into himself.

Dinner finally over and one long, drawn-out departure later, Melanie took the car keys from Josh’s hands. Noticing how he’d been knocking the wine back during the meal, she’d barely touched her glass. Melanie’d tried to make light conversation, but Josh just stared out the window. Realising this was going to take a head-on assault, Melanie pulled to the side of the road and spoke sharply “Josh, turn around now and look at me. Now Josh, I mean it.” When eventually he’d complied with her instruction, Melanie’d taken his hands in hers and reached across to kiss him. “You were right. So very right. If I hadn’t already fallen madly in love with you, meeting your crazy Adams family parents would’ve scared me away. But luckily I have, so you’re stuck with me.” That’s when the old Josh had started smiling back at her. “It seems you’ve got the measure of my mad Mama.  She cannot bear being thought of as a pale imitation of Mortitia Adams, so she gets especially riled when my father insists on playing the Gomez role. He’s going to be in so much trouble now we’ve gone …”


© Debra Carey, 2018

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#Secondthoughts: Bowdler, Buchan, and Heinlein

For a long time, I thought that to bowdlerise something was to make it a bit smutty, which is ironic really.  Looking back, I probably thought it was linked to ‘bawdy’; it was quite a surprise when I found out what it really meant.  It would be tempting to think of Thomas Bowdler as a typical censorious Victorian, but in realty his main work occurred before Victoria ascended the throne.  It’s always tricky to be sure about the motivations of someone who lived two hundred years ago, especially when that person’s legacy is divisive.  There are those who would say that Bowdler ripped the guts out of Shakespeare, whereas apparently he saw himself as serving the family by providing a version of the plays that could be read to children.

Hold that thought.

*****

I was going to say that I’ve yet to come across a version of ‘the 39 Steps’ that I haven’t enjoyed.  This was based off the back of having listened to a radio version on the iPlayer the other day.  The Hitchcock film with Robert Donat is of course a thing of beauty and a joy for ever; and if you get a chance to see the stage play based on this version, then you are in for a comedic treat.  The Kenneth More version is not great cinematography, but hey, it’s Kenneth More.  The Robert Powell version has a lot of the energy of the book: more, in some respects, than the other versions.  The version that I really didn’t like was the 2008 Rupert Penry-Jones one.  The thing that all four film versions have is that they add a romance element to the story that isn’t part of the book.

Hold that thought.

*****

Robert Anson Heinlein is usually described as one of the Big Three, with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.  All three wrote a lot of stuff across their careers, some brilliant, some less so.  One novel that has been on my mind a lot recently is The Door Into Summer.  I think at least in part because I’m sure I have a copy somewhere, but seem to have lost it.  In the end, I was able to discover the original magazine version, where this novel was published in three parts, online.  I can’t remember what prompted the desire to reread this story, but it is actually quite a good yarn in many respects.  The main character does a bit of hopping through time, missing out most of the 70s, 80s and 90s twice over via “the long sleep”, a cryo-hibernation easy time-travel, and jumping back once using an energy intensive piece of unreliable and almost unbelievable tech.  The story has lots of standard Heinlein tropes, which I’m not going to go into too much detail about here.  The one that is most problematic is that the main character ends up marrying a former friend’s step-daughter, who starts the story about 20 years younger than the MC, but catches up a bit thanks to all the time-travelling malarky.  This bit leaves a bit of a bad taste in your mouth, as it feels like a fudge to get round what should really be a verboten relationship.   John W. Campbell is supposed to have said of Heinlein:

“Bob can write a better story, with one hand tied behind him, than most people in the field can do with both hands. But Jesus, I wish that son of a gun would take that other hand out of his pocket.”

That’s probably a fair description.

Hold that thought.

*****

Three very different writers – so what’s the connection?  Possibly none, but I started to wonder about what Bowlder was trying to achieve and what the effect is of changing text/stories, and the effect of an agenda: are the changes that were made 200 years ago still relevant today?  Is it possible to do some sort of reverse Bowlderism?

For example, if we look at Shakespeare, because we’re mainly talking about stage plays, the interpretation of certain directions, the staging, the actors’ take on characters, inflection, all these things can change the intent significantly.   A character who is borderline sympathetic can be made more or less personable by the acting, at least within the confines of the script.

Whilst a lot of Shakespear’s writing is deeply poetical, he has a repuation for being direct, blunt even, in his work.  Further, there is context to consider, all the little bits of current gossip that were built in for the audience of the time.  Words change meaning.  On the whole then, watching Shakespear can be much like watching traditional opera.  There’s a good chance you are not going to understand everything that is going on, unless you brush-up beforehand.  On that basis, tidying up the script, updating the language, making it a bit friendlier to a younger audience – surely that’s not a bad thing?

On the otherhand are there stories that should be revised to make them better?  Better for whom, you may say.  One of Shakespear’s most important plays has a relationship  between a girld and a boy of different ages.  An arguement that comes up from time to time is that it was different then.  Yes, it was, but that’s no reason not to take a good hard look and say, do you know what, it wasn’t OK then and it’s not OK now.  Let’s take that Heinlein story.  Ignoring the fact that it is slightly dated (it’s future is almost 20 years in our past!), it wouldn’t take a lot to tweak it to remove the objectionable bit – in the right hands you could probably change a very few references and one scene, perhaps a thousand or so words all told, and actually make a stronger story as a result.

I’m not sure how much the editor and the publisher really tried to change Heinlein’s work.  There were a few things that Heinlein got a bit over-excited about, but his work sold.  I suspect he would have just walked if people started getting too heavy-handed with the red pen.

And then, on the gripping hand, there are the stories like The 39 Steps: All four film versions are very different to the book, with added characters being the least of the issues.  Screenwriters sometimes seem to feel obliged to mess with the story, but at what point does it become too much?

In the modern world much is made of EDI: Equality , Diversity and Inclusion.  We need to make much of it, because we are not very good at it, but I saw an article recently that said that Monty Python wouldn’t be commisioned today, because, well, “six white Oxbridge men”.  Oh dear.

The 39 Steps is about a man on the run: does he really have to have a love interest? An EDI argument would be that there needs to be a woman in there.  What’s interesting is that if you looker at the earlier adaptations, the romantic foil is not just a pretty face, but generally holds their own in the story.  It’s the 2008 version where the woman needs to be seen to be independent of the man.

What do you think?  Are there stories that need to be rescued from some objectionable feature?  Are we in danger of homogenising our literature and screenplays by devising roll-calls of characters that need to be present in every story?

© David Jesson, 2018

 

 

 

The Crux: Cave of Legix

Exciting news!  I entered a writing competition earlier in the year, and whilst I was no where near winning, my story “The Cave of Legix” is included in “The Crux”, an anthology of short stories from the competition.  For me, that’s a win.

The book is available in ebook and print versions, and the profits will be donated to charity.  For more details about the book, the competition and the editor, click here.  (There’s also a sneak-peek prolgue to one of the stories).

If you just want to crack on with getting a copy, see the links below.   The book will be relaeased on the 26th November and is available for preorder now!

 

 

Two characters in search of a coffee

“You look rough!”

“Thanks, I don’t think. You’d look rough too, if your author was editing.”

“Let’s get a drink, and you can tell me all about – woah! You’ve gone green!”

“Let’s get a coffee, and I’ll tell you all about it.”

*****

“OK, what’s this all about then?”

“My author’s editing -”

“Yes, you already said.  Mine does that from time to time.  He keeps on trying to strip out all the adverbs, but it’s not that bad really.”

“It’s rude to interrupt. My author’s editing, and they’ve decided that I drink. A lot.”

“But you’re tee-total!”

“I KNOW! Ooh, I should not have shouted…my head.”

“You should sue.”

“That’s not the half of it. My author’s publisher wants more diversity, so now I’m gay.”

“Oh…but aren’t you asexual?”

“Yep.  But what’s a character to do when a publisher makes demands and a writer starts getting creative?”

© David Jesson, 2018

#FF: Photoprompt

Winners and Losers

Le Coq walked up and down the route.  There would be no repeat of last year’s debacle.  Or, if it came to it, that of the before before.  This year, the race would be conclusive.  He strutted to the start line.

“Où sont les coureurs?”

The two teams brought their champions forward.  There was much checking of laces.  Legs were stretched.   Sporting behaviour was called for.

“Un…deux…trois…” the starting pistol cracked flatly in the crisp, frosty air.

A nice, clean race was never seriously on the cards.  This was a grudge match, and they’d barely gone 10 metres before the shoving started – neither party was blameless, neither party gave any quarter.  They pelted down the narrow snowy path side by side, each trying to gain some advantage.  If I can only get a little ahead, each thought, I can fly, I can win this.

Afterwards, each would blame the other, but in truth it was all but impossible to tell who stumbled first, who tripped the other.  The result was the same in either case.

Le Coq strutted up and demanded of the officials on the finish line “Qui est arrivé en premier? Qui a gagné?”

The worthy gave an expressive Gallic shrug and indicated the heap astride the finish line like a collapsed colossus. Le Coq stared. Le Coq berated. Le Coq walked off in high dudgeon, gesticulating wildly and talking to himself.  Once again, the chicken and the egg had managed to mess up this simplest of races.  Once again, there would be no answer to the age old question.

© David Jesson, 2018



Cockerel in the snow

They’d been following him for hours, first through the busy traffic of the city, then at high speed down the highway. When they’d finally followed him onto the smaller roads, it’d been tricky driving. The snow had fallen heavily and the roads hadn’t been cleared yet, Matthew wasn’t sure they’d even been gritted.

That family car pulling suddenly out of a driveway in front of them had caused havoc. In order to avoid them, his driver had spun off the road. The mother had spun too and managed to completely block the road with her estate car, chock full of kids. She’d been hysterical, even though they were all OK, so Matthew had to send one of his men running back up the driveway to fetch her husband, while the rest of them pushed her car aside. As soon as he could see the husband coming, Matthew and his team had jumped back in their car to continue the pursuit.

But they’d lost him. They’d spent too much time messing around with that blasted woman and her kids. She’d driven straight out in front of them and all she could manage to say was “but there’s never any traffic on these roads” over and over again. Everyone was alright – no bumps, no bruises, and frankly the kids were calmer than she was. Thank goodness the husband had been home, or he’d have been stuck there all night while they waited for a female police officer to relieve them.

They came across his car suddenly. It was stopped in the road, for no obvious reason. The driver’s door was wide open and one of Matthew’s men jumped in to check. “Run out of petrol” he heard announced, as the rest of the team scanned the road around the car. Yes, there were the footprints leading away from the car. The team grabbed their coats, torches and thermoses from the boot and headed into the snow. They followed carefully, for they knew he was armed.

Until, that is, they heard shots and some shouting, when they threw caution to the wind and ran. The sounds had come from the direction of a rather run-down outbuilding and Matthew rapidly deployed his team around it to ensure both exits were covered. Having called ‘Silent Running’ to his team as they’d set off after the footprints, each member had put their phones onto silent and inserted an earbud, before moving off. All had voice-activated dialling enabled and Matthew was able to quietly check in with the other team “Anything?” “Nope boss, not a peep”.

Having waited a few minutes without further sound or movement, Matthew quietly announced “I’m going for a closer look.” As Matthew approached, he could see that the door was very slightly ajar, the lock having been smashed – they were clearly in the right place. Taking out his handgun, Matthew muttered quietly “I’m going in”. Pulling the door open, he winced as the old hinges creaked. Ever so carefully, Matthew put first his gun hand, then the rest of himself into the opening when he heard an unexpected noise. Stepping back quickly, he waited, for he could hear – very faintly – the sound of something moving. Then with a rush and a small flurry of feathers, a cockerel strutted out through the open door, and Matthew had to hold in the laughter.

Their man must be still inside. Breathing carefully, he started to make his way slowly back through the open door, when there was a quiet voice in his ear “Skip, that cockerel is leaving a bloody trail in the snow, but I don’t think he’s been shot.” Moving in with rather more confidence, Matthew found his man – slumped in the corner, bleeding heavily and drifting in and out of consciousness. Matthew relieved him of his gun which caused him to stir and say “bloody chicken … startled me … and my gun went off. I only bloody shot myself!”

This time Matthew didn’t even attempt to hold back – he laughed out loud. How could he not? A cockerel had gotten the better of their man – one of the most wanted in the country.

© Debra Carey, 2018

 

#FF Photo Prompt

chicken in the snow

I couldn’t resist this cockerel striding through the snow and thought he’d make a fun prompt. Of course, you might be inspired to write something deeply sinister, that’s what’s so fun about this writing malarkey!

 

Word count: say 500-750 words
Deadline: 2pm GMT on Friday 9th November 2018

Don’t forgot, if you miss the deadline, you can always post your story to our #TortoiseFlashFiction page


Post your story on your site and link to it here in the comments below, or drop us a line via the contact us page and we’ll post it for you.