#SecondThoughts: Writer’s Fuel

The famed writer’s fuel of old was alcohol. Male writers, in particular, were famed for being big boozers: Ernest Hemingway, Hunter S Thompson, Raymond Chandler, Tennessee Williams, Edgar Allen Poe, Truman Capote, Jack Kerouac, William Faulkner, Charles Bukowski, F Scott Fitzgerald, Dylan Thomas, James Joyce … the list is endless.  Boozing has long been regarded as a manly pursuit, and is too often regarded as somewhat sad or seedy when engaged in by women.

What with all these famous drinking authors, one could be forgiven for believing that alcohol somehow unlocks a certain access to creativity. But, can writers write whilst drinking, or drunk?

Truman Capote famously said of writing while drinking …

“its impossible, writing requires too much concentration. But after a long bout of concentration, it can be helpful to have a drink and loosen one’s mind a little bit.”

This view is shared by a recovering alcoholic of my acquaintance who used it to quiet his mind. Suffering from Aspergers, he found it difficult to concentrate, as his mind would be running up to a dozen trains of thought consecutively.

As most of us know, it is possible to write drunk, but even a text message can be troublesome after too much has been partaken. James Baldwin, another infamous drinker admitted …

“at the time I was high and writing, I knew that what I was putting down was my most brilliant work ever; in the morning, I reread my work and tore it to pieces, it was so awful.”

While these two famous authors might be the exception, it does seem to make sense that whilst authors do drink, that’s not what makes them writers. Nor does drinking turn on some recessive writing gene.

Currently, especially within the Twitter #WritingCommunity, coffee seems to be the rocket fuel which powers most writers. Sure, there’s a handful who – like me – drink tea instead. I morphed to tea drinking when coffee started to bite back after far too many years of drinking it too strong, too black and in too great a quantity. And while I do enjoy my tea (Earl grey, dash of milk to quote one Jean-Luc Picard), it doesn’t do what coffee used to do, which is to give me a firm kick up the backside and get me moving. Tea – for me anyway – is more of a multiple-cup, slow-burn kind of experience.

I tried decaffinated coffee for years, but it was tough finding one that didn’t taste of absolutely nothing. I did eventually find one – surprisingly, it was instant <gasp> called the Languid Bean. It was absolutely splendid, tasty with a wonderful aroma, doing absolutely no harm to the increasingly delicate insides, while also being more effective than tea in getting this writer moving. Then it disappeared totally from the shelves. Clearly there weren’t enough people wanting (or needing) decaffinated coffee, or perhaps I was ahead of the trend.

These days there are more options, with even Nespresso offering a wide range of decaffinated capsules – but they don’t seem to have any zing. So I’m still on the lookout for something – anything – other than the dreaded diet coke. 


As this light-hearted look at writer’s fuel brings an end to a challenging year, may I offer you all an end-of-year toast …

To 2021 - may we be safer, happier &amp; fulfil our dreams (3)

 

© Debra Carey, 2020

Christmas Presence

The doorbell rang.  Hector opened the door and was greeted by the ever-cheerful postie.

“Mornin’.  Here are your letters, and I got a parcel here.  Ya don’t need to sign or nuffin, but it’s too big to go through the letter box.  There you go!”

Hector realised that it must be later than he’d thought if the postman was here.  Shoving the parcel and letters onto the hall table, he grabbed his hot-cup, fumbled his shoelaces into an approximation of tied, shouted out a farewell, and fled the house. Would a mad dash would put him at the bus-stop just in time rather than just too late?

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Image by Vlad Vasnetsov from Pixabay

In due course the rest of the family bade their adieus to the house, which settled down to its daily slumber.  Nothing was moving, not even a mouse.

After an hour or so, the box began to wriggle, jiggle and eventually it fell off the table on to the tiles of the hallway with a resounding bump. There was a muffled noise, which a careful listener might have discerned as cursing.  The tip of a blade appeared from inside the box, slitting the tape holding the flaps down.  Cautiously a flap lifted.  Larina peered out.  Certain now that the coast was clear, she jumped out.  Checking her watch, she pulled out a radio and clicking out a code, sent an ‘on-site’ message to base.  The Extra Low Frequency used by the team was limited, but adequate.

With sizzling speed, Larina explored the house. When she came across the Elf-on-the-shelf, she was tempted to do for it – she hated those things and everything they stood for – but SOP was to leave no trace of presence.  Regretfully she left it alone.

It is patent nonsense that Father Christmas could deliver presents all over the world in a single night.  It was bad enough in the beginning when he was looking after a single village, but as demand increased, other methods had to be found.  And so, he turned to the elves.  They didn’t merely watch to see who should be on which list but reported back and took delivery of a suitable present, sometimes as much as a month in advance, and kept it hidden and safe until Christmas Eve.

Larina found a place to hide the box she had arrived in and started clicking out her report.  She hoped she might receive promotion to the elite Jingle Belles unit after this mission, but friends warned her that she hadn’t had any really challenging missions yet, so the brass might not think she was ready.

***

Christmas Day came at last.  There was one present left when the family finished handing out the gaily wrapped gifts, and they puzzled over who it could be from.  The label simply said ‘Happy Christmas! Ho ho ho!”.

“Perhaps it’s from Santa!” The children said, puzzled.

“Perhaps it is!” The parents agreed, each assuming it was the work of the other.

Larina watched happily.

 

 

© David Jesson, 2020

#FF – Project Gutenberg: The Stories

A quick reminder that the prompt set last week was to go and look at the recent additions to Project Gutenberg and use a likely looking title as the prompt for a short story.  As ever, lots to choose from…

Palimpsest

Tom flicked through a box that was filled to bursting point with scraps of paper.  Each piece held a recipe: culled from a magazine, scribbled in haste from a phone conversation, included as part of a letter to his Mother, copied carefully from a borrowed book.  The variety was enormous and the only real order was that the least popular recipes had sunk further and further down.

When it had been announced that there would be travel restrictions, Tom’s mother had decided that she should really go and stay with her elderly parents.  They were not exactly frail, but they would need help, and she would not be able to maintain her usual visiting schedule.  Tom’s eldest brother had gone to university the previous September, and when they closed to face-to-face teaching, he had ended up going to stay with his godfather so that they could work together on the restoration of a derelict camper-van.  That left Tom, his older brother, and their father.  They’d always been pretty good at sharing out the jobs, but it turned out that Tom had a bit of a flair for cookery, and so he’d ended up doing more of the meals, and Father and Jonno did the washing and drying up.

Tom had been trying to catalogue the recipes, doing a little bit at a time whenever he took a break from school-work.  It turned out there were a surprising number of duplicates – some even recurring three or four times in the pile.  He collated the notes that his mother had made, suggesting changes, or adapting to the kitchenware available.  Some of these notes were surprisingly detailed, and Tom saw another expression of his Mother’s character.  He enjoyed the feeling of closeness whenever he cooked following these recipes.

Trying to stretch himself, to go beyond his comfort zone, Tom flipped over the stack and started at the bottom.  He turned over the pieces of paper, quickly organising the recipes into various groups: a pile to bin (subject to his Mother’s final approval), a pile to discuss with Father and Jonno, desserts, mains, and other recipes that he definitely wanted to have a go at.  He picked out one, a hand written recipe on letter paper: he was pretty sure all the ingredients for this were available.  A couple of others he clipped to the list where he was compiling a shopping list.

Tom put the kettle on to boil for a cup of tea.  There had been one or two meals that had verged on outright disaster, and he’d learned that it paid to read through the recipe thoroughly before beginning.  It was as he was pouring boiling water into a mug (his favourite, with a picture of the Tasmanian Devil on it) that the accident happened.  An emergency vehicle raced and some trick of reflection of the blue lights passing-by outside, some jangle of the siren on a neuron, made him flinch and water spilled onto the counter-top.  His first thought was to be thankful that none had gone on him, but that thought cost him a half-second, and that was enough time for the water to hit the paper, and for the paper to start soaking it up.  With a cry of annoyance, he picked the paper up.  Luckily the ink had not been smudged nor had the paper taken up too much water.

The radiators not being on, he put the letter in the airing cupboard to dry and went to get on with homework set for history.  The supply of schoolwork seemed never-ending.

An hour or so later, and his stomach reminded him it was lunchtime.  He went to the airing cupboard and got the letter out – it was perfectly dry now, so he took it with him back to the kitchen, ready for the commencement of preparing the evening meal.  It was as he was getting the bread out to make sandwiches that he noticed that there was now another set of words, pale brown, a hand-writing trickier to read than that of the recipe.  His gaze dropped to the bottom and he tried to decipher the signature.

“Dad!  Who’s Martha O’Reilly?”  he yelled up the stairs.

©David Jesson, 2020


Mother Carey’s Chickens

“Cheers!”

Daphne fidgeted. Her rumbustious family made the local pub feel overly loud and crowded. She’d not planned to meet the locals this way, so had been painfully aware of the raised eyebrows, even the odd harumph, at her family’s loud and boisterous display. They meant well, for they knew this move was a long-held dream finally fulfilled. Still… there’d now be no avoiding the entire village knowing she was of townie stock.

But, unlike the rest of her family, Daphne wasn’t under any illusions about life in the country. She knew what it was like from experience, and had chosen it with eyes wide open. Her best friend at boarding school came from a farming family. Growing up on a dairy farm, she’d been desperate to get away. Daphne had introduced her friend to a very different life in the big city, but in turn, her friend had introduced Daphne to life on the farm – and Daphne loved it. Although they’d all teased her, she did get invited to stay regularly and she’d accepted every single invitation. When her godmother died leaving her enough money to get on the housing ladder, Daphne had shocked a lot of people by choosing a cottage with a little land.

Although she’d wanted to live near her friend’s family farm, the broadband signal was shocking, and she’d still need to earn her living. So, she’d compromised. Her cottage had both good broadband and mobile reception, and she’d earmarked one of the rooms downstairs for her home office.

Bit by bit she got to know people in the village. She’d made a point to shop locally, without making a noise about it, and chatted to local shopkeepers and the pub landlord – asking for and following recommendations of local services.

Now properly settled in, she’d been keen to get her little stockholding up and running. She’d been putting in lots of hard work preparing the ground for planting in the spring, but also wanted to add some livestock. Taking advice, she’d decided to start small. A local farmer promised her a goat after he’d established she knew how to milk properly, and and as soon as she’d cleared up the pond, he’d let her have some ducks. But what she really wanted was chickens – and she’d a particular yen for bantams. Smaller and low slung, Daphne simply adored the way they looked and walked, and there was no doubting that fresh laid eggs simply couldn’t be beat.

Ever since she’d arrived, she’d been told that Mother Carey’s chickens were the best. But… Mother Carey was famed for not warming to incomers, and had yet to respond to a single greeting from Daphne. She’d accept a drink from her in the pub, but had no truck with any attempts at conversation.

Till that one evening that is…

Having been hard at work digging manure into her beds when the goats and ducks arrived, she’d been told to come to the pub when she was finished to settle up. Changed out of her wellies, and having washed her face and hands, Daphne was still decidedly sweaty and grubby when she walked in. Nevertheless, a warm handshake followed, drinks were bought and cash handed over. Her friendly local farmer had been chatting to none other than Mother Carey when Daphne’d arrived. And, as usual, she’d accepted a drink. But this time, when her son came to collect her, she’d called across “how many of my hens d’you want then?” While Daphne stood gaping, she added “and I s’pose you’ll be wanting one of my bantam cocks too? I’ll send my son round with ’em tomorrow.”

As the door swung shut behind the Careys, there was a burst of laughter in the pub. Daphne, still bewildered by the unexpected exchange, asked “what’s so funny?”

“Oooo you’re honoured, you are!” said her friendly local farmer.
“Not just her hens, but her precious son too – you have arrived!” the landlord added with a chuckle.

© Debra Carey, 2020

#FF Prompt: Project Gutenberg’s Birthday

Once again, it’s time to celebrate the anniversary of Project Gutenberg being unleashed on the world on 1st December.

Birthday_candles

The aim of Project Gutenberg is to help people access books that they might not otherwise be able to get hold of.  This can get a bit tricky because of copyright issues, but in some ways it becomes easier, because there are some fantastic books that are now out of copyright which would get lost forever if it weren’t for PG.

For this month’s #FlashFiction prompt, head on over by clicking to Project Gutenberg, trying not to get distracted by the 50,000 or so books on the site!  Take a look at the Recent Books section and pick one that you like the look of – the title of the book is the title/prompt of your story.

Tell us you tale – any style any genre, just nothing NSFW.

Word limit: 500-750 words
Deadline : Sunday 13th December @ 7am GMT

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


A reminder to new readers/writers, please post on your own site and add a link in the comments section below.  If you don’t have your own blog or similar outlet, do send us your story via the contact form on the About page and we’ll post for you, with an appropriate by-line.  

Two caveats if you want to go down this route: if you want to retain the copyright, then you will need to state this, and this is a family show, so we reserve the right not to post anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.

#IWSG: Are some months more productive for writing?

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. It’s an opportunity to talk about doubts and fears you have conquered. To discuss your struggles and triumphs and to offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.


December 2 question – Are there months or times of the year that you are more productive with your writing than other months, and why?

Yes, without a shadow of a doubt. I recently took leave for two periods each a fortnight long in order to finish an important writing project. The first period in October went OK, but the second period in November was a total washout.

During the second period, an unexpected family medical issue raised it’s head, but if I’m honest, I was already struggling. I’ve never considered taking part in NaNoWriMo because the final months of the year get swept up in a frenzy of Christmas and family birthdays. I’ve long been the family organizer, and although I am now sharing out those duties, when it comes to this time of year, the people I share the duties with are busy celebrating their birthdays.

But what’s become clear is that’s it’s not just a matter of the time available, keeping my head in the game also becomes unaccountably difficult. With the coming of the year’s end, my mind strays without any prompting to the process of reviewing the year against any hopes or goals I may have set, be that formally or informally. Of course, part of that process is the building of plans for the year to come, which is daft when I’ve not had a chance to finish the old one yet.

So, for me, November – January (inclusive) are bad writing months. I can blog, I even get brief flashes of the story, but despite sitting down immediately to capture it, I find it’s drifted away. It’s enormously frustrating, I’ve decided it’s time I turn to my professional NLP and coaching network for their help to change it.

The awesome co-hosts for the October 7 posting of the IWSG areare Pat Garcia,  Sylvia Ney,  Liesbet @ Roaming About,  Cathrina Constantine and Natalie Aguirre – do take a moment to visit them.


While you’re here, can I tempt you with a #FlashFiction prompt?

Every month, we run a different #FF prompt. This month it’s time for one of our regular features when we celebrate the anniversary of Project Gutenberg being unleashed on the world on 1st December. The aim of Project Gutenberg is to help people access books that they might not otherwise be able to get hold of.  This can get a bit tricky because of copyright issues, but in some ways it becomes easier, because there are some fantastic books that are now out of copyright which would get lost forever if it weren’t for PG.

The prompt goes live on 6th December, for this month’s #FlashFiction prompt, head on over to Project Gutenberg, trying not to get distracted by the 50,000 or so books on the site!  Take a look at the Recent Books section and pick one that you like the look of – the title of the book is the title/prompt of your story.

Tell us your tale – any style any genre, just nothing NSFW.

Word limit: 500-750 words
Deadline : Sunday 13th December @ 7am GMT

If you miss the deadline, you can always post your story to our #TortoiseFlashFiction page


A reminder to new readers/writers, please post on your own site and add a link to the prompt page once it’s published. If you don’t have your own blog or similar outlet, do send us your story via the contact form on the About page and we’ll post for you, with an appropriate by-line.  

Two caveats if you want to go down this route: if you want to retain the copyright, then you will need to state this, and this is a family show, so we reserve the right not to post anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.


© Debra Carey, 2020