Whither goest thou?

“Quo vadis?”

It’s a busy day today.  There’s a long line of people struggling up the steep hill to our gate.  Our optio, Marcus, delivers the traditional challenge.  The voice in my head always wants to shout out “It’s bloomin’ obvious, they want to get in, don’t they?”.  But rules are rules, and the optio must challenge the travellers, and the rest of the squad must look smart, two with ceremonial spears blocking the narrow archway into the building, two to pat down the supplicants, and apply the wands that check for illicit chemicals and EM signatures.

That’s me – the spear-holder to the left of the arch, attempting to look impassive, disguising the fact that I’m clenching my buttocks in time to show tunes to keep the blood moving around my body whilst I stand here.  It also helps to alleviate the boredom, a little.

The optio is a twenty-year man.  He’s mulling over whether to stay on for another twenty years or take his land-grant and retire.  He looks good in his uniform.  His skin is leathery from years spent out under suns on myriad worlds, but it contrasts nicely with his body-armour, the chest plate embossed with the traditional abdominal six-pack, the golden emblems indicating his rank, length of service, valour.

Me?  Yeah, I’m the odd one out for sure.  I’m not from Nova Roma.  I’m a refugee.  Military service seemed like the simplest way to gain citizenship, although who knows what that will mean in the long run.  I’ve been lucky though – no off-planet wars to fight in so far.  Instead, gate-duty.

It’s strange how quickly you get institutionalised though.  This guy here, with his super glossy black hair – he’s not a local.  It’ll be subtle, but he’ll get worked over just that little bit more than a home-grown Citizen.  The next senior person in our squad is Francesca, and she really doesn’t like off-worlders.  Yep, there it is, an extra pat down, legs kicked a little further apart.  She’s not going to get promotion though – she’s a good enough soldier, but not leadership material.  Cassie will get promoted before her, but new optios don’t get the squad they came from, so if we lose Marcus and Cassie, there’s a good chance they’ll break us up and ship us to different squads, possibly completely different postings.

Titus is the poet.  That’s him, with Francesca, doing the pat downs.  He won’t do the full twenty.  He’ll probably just do his National Service, get his SPQNR stamp on his docket and…he says he’s going to travel, but I reckon he’ll just end up back in the family bakery.

The guy with the thick black hair is waved on.  Cassie and I stamp to attention, spears to the upright to allow the man to pass.  He glances up at the aquila carved into the archway and makes his way inside the cool marble halls of the Senate building.

The next traveller steps up.

“Quo vadis?”

© David Jesson, 2021


#SecondThoughts: Social Media Curation

I recently spotted an ad for TweetDelete – a service for cleaning up your Twitter history – and wondered how many people might make use of a service like it. It wasn’t of interest to me, as I came to Twitter relatively recently and with a clear idea of how I intended to participate. I knew I wanted to use it for professional reasons – to network, to market, to learn – with entertainment or amusement being not only entirely secondary, but a very low priority. As a result, I’ve been careful how I use it. I don’t post anything with the mistaken idea that it’s private, and I make considerable efforts to ensure I don’t go viral for the wrong reasons (not that I’ve ever gone viral for any reason) 😀

Of course, it helped that I was already reasonably familiar with the online world and various Social Media platforms ahead of joining Twitter. In my early days of social media use, I was relatively relaxed about what I put online – as long as it wasn’t anything I wouldn’t have said to someone face-to-face, I didn’t see a problem. I’m not unhappy with that earlier decision, but used what I learned from those years in formulating my policy for use of Twitter.

I’m amused to recall that when my mother first started to hear about Facebook, she was convinced it was the work of the devil. OK, that’s a slight exaggeration… but only slight. She learned about it at the time when the mainstream media was full of ‘the evils of social media’. I tried explaining that it was simply a tool, and that many of those evils resulted from people using it in ignorance or without thought. Despite all that is not right with social media, I still believe that applies for most (not high profile) users.

So… as the tools and services exist, should we curate our online presence?

A common refrain now is that employers check Facebook (and other platforms) as part of their recruitment process. I imagine a serious mis-match between LinkedIn profile and Facebook page has the potential to cause problems, but… I guess the question is what are you posting? Are you expressing extreme views? Is there photographic evidence of you acting unlawfully? Or is it simply a slightly unwise proliferation of drunken episodes when your employer is teetotal, or videos of you swearing colourfully when your employer is straight-laced or religious, for example?

Of course, one option is to opt for the highest of privacy settings, allowing no-one who isn’t already your friend access to your details. But maybe you don’t believe it’s OK to have your private life judged by your employer? So long as you meet their personal and professional standards while at work, is it any of their business?

But, I don’t believe there is one right answer, for there are too many variables. How bad is the content? Regardless of how bad, are you ashamed of it? Do you wish to remove evidence of a mis-spent youth? If the answer to these questions is ‘very’ and ‘yes’, then social media curation could be for you, and there’s clearly a growing market for it, as I saw a business pitch on Dragons Den for this very service.

As someone who has carried out some curation on their social media (while I was training to be a counsellor, believing in the importance of presenting a neutral public face, allowing any potential clients not to feel in danger of being judged, and so able to express themselves freely should they choose to work with me) my belief is that there’s a balance to be found. Those items I deleted were reminders of happy times, and they’re not been easy for me to retrieve.

One last thought – any form of social media curation leads me naturally to the subject of branding. Among multitudes of training courses landing in my in box are “author branding” offerings. But how much should be brand and how much should be authentic? Like many of us, I follow a number of successful authors on Twitter. I don’t think you’ll be surprised to hear that I don’t follow them because of their branding, I follow them for their authentic content.

Do you have any experience of curation or branding? Or do you vote for authenticity?

© Debra Carey, 2021

#FlashFiction: Project Gutenberg – The stories

Gray Hairs made Happy

Tuesday’s dawn was more subtle than the day before, the colours of the sun rising being gently filtered through the low clouds; they’d only dissipate once the sun was high enough in the sky to burn them off. Sat in her usual spot on the terrace, Edna put aside her shawl and reached for her café con leche. Yesterday’s churros were a touch stale, but perfectly adequate when dipped into the hot milky liquid.

She enjoyed the peace & quiet of Tuesdays and Thursdays – the in between days when Carmen didn’t come. Carmen – her angel – who came three days a week to clean, to cook, to take Edna to the market for provisions, and to cheerfully carry out any other tasks needed now Edna herself was less able. It had been a wrench to move from the big house on the coast, filled as it was with memories of Russ and their retirement together. But it was not only too big, the weather was cooler up here in the mountains, and all their friends had died too or moved back home to live near their children.

She’d first met Carmen at the Smiths, handing around canapes. The day of the Smith’s farewell bash, she’d found her shedding a quiet tear, and discovered that she was to return to her mountainside family home once the Smiths had left. Feeling for the distressed woman, Edna had asked her about life in the mountains. It was to be the first of many conversations they would have, and when Edna found new owners for the big house, she’d followed Carmen to the mountains.

The sale of the big house and the purchase of the little one had all taken time – as is the way in Spanish property transactions. Fortunately she had the support of Carmen and her local contacts, otherwise buying the little house would never have happened. She’d needed to gain the formal agreement of so many local dignitaries, to her – a foreigner – buying a property in their small town. She’d long ago obtained formal residency status, but becoming a Spanish national simply wasn’t an option open to her.

Today Edna planned to clean and polish her silver tea service. Carmen had pulled out the trunk from beneath her bed and she’d selected a few pieces she wanted to display. Of course it had taken a long time to carry out that simple task, for Carmen had wanted to see everything, asking for the stories behind them and about the memories they held. They’d not got much else done, but it had been a good day. Those memories were now old enough not to cause sadness – which is why she’d put all those beautiful things away in the trunk. Carmen, clever Carmen, had known that now the time was right.

The tea set was the first of the trunk’s contents to be displayed in her little house. Carmen had offered to clean it, but Edna was keen to give it a try for this was her best time. It was long enough after the brief damp and colder months of winter for her arthritic knuckles to have recovered some movement, but not yet so hot that she’d become easily fatigued. And she loved that tea set – it brought back so many happy memories of her life with Russ.

Of course, in those days she’d not have been bothered with the cleaning and polishing of silver – or indeed of anything. Their spacious homes always ran as efficiently and smoothly as a Swiss clock, thanks to a fleet of loyal and highly skilled staff. Without the worry of its upkeep, it was one of Edna’s joys to use the tea set on those rare occasions she and Russ were able to take afternoon tea alone.

Their lives in India had been such a social whirl, those were such precious moments to her. Russ loved the spotlight – she’d loved him dearly, but wasn’t blind to his vanity and need for constant attention. She was no shrinking violet herself, gaining quite the buzz from entertaining. Their home was regularly filled with people – old friends and new, maharajahs and hippies, all mixed together. Edna’s parties were famed, for she was quite the hostess. The details mattered and Edna never missed a single one.

But those days were long gone and Edna loved her quiet life in her little house in the mountains. Soon she’d set up at her table, spread out an old towel, put out her cleaning and polishing materials, and get to work. Right now though, she would enjoy the sunrise, the warmth of her café con leche, the crunch of the churros – the little details that made her new life so filled with joy.

© Debra Carey, 2021

#FlashFiction Prompt – Project Gutenberg

The idea that Project Gutenberg would provide us with a great and continually change source of prompts was David’s. I’ll admit I raised my eyebrows a bit, but they actually become a favourite with the both of us. We’ve since run these twice a year and, as a result, they’ve been a Fiction Can Be Fun USP.

This is a deceptively simple #FlashFiction prompt but it does require some active choice on your part…

To select your prompt, go to the Recent Books section of the Project Gutenberg website. Pick a book whose title makes you go ‘ooooh I know what I want to write about …’ and there you have it – your #FlashFiction prompt for this month.

Do have a good browse while you’re there – you could find even more reads to add to your massive TBR lists – and all at no cost!

Word count: 500-750 words
Deadline: 8am GMT on Sunday 13th June 2021

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: Re-drafting – how long is long enough?

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.

June 2 question – For how long do you shelve your first draft, before reading it and re-drafting? Is this dependent on your writing experience and the number of stories/books under your belt?

I’ve very little experience in having any form of pattern or process to my writing or editing. Generally there’s little spare between my finding the time to write and the need to publish, but I do like to have some time between the first draft and what finally goes out. In practice, that can be anything from just overnight to days/weeks.

On those occasions when I’ve left a draft for months, the time I spend getting back into the story can either be terribly useful at picking up issues I’d not seen at the time, or just downright depressing as I can’t remember where I was going. I know this relates to my being a natural pantser rather than a plotter, and is something I’m working to address. Still… it does mean I’ve a tendency not to leave anything for too long.

The only complete piece of full length fiction I’ve written has been in progress since April 2018, when the first 40,000 words were written. Getting fully back into the voice(s) of the story after any longer break does take me a while and a fair bit of reading. But getting away from the story – even when unplanned – has been helpful in getting a fresh perspective, and has been when duplications and inconsistencies suddenly became glaring and obvious.

What isn’t clear yet is how long is long enough. But the more I write – and re-write – the clearer that will become (I hope).

The awesome co-hosts for the  J Lenni Dorner, Sarah Foster, Natalie Aguirre, Lee Lowery, and Rachna Chhabria– 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 and this month it’s a Fiction Can Be Fun’s USP – Project Gutenberg. This is a deceptively simple #FlashFiction prompt but it does require some active choice on your part…

To select your prompt, go to the Recent Books section of the Project Gutenberg website. Pick a book whose title makes you go ‘ooooh I know what I want to write about …’ and there you have it – your #FlashFiction prompt for this month.

If you’re inspired to give this a go, full details will be on our post going live Sunday morning.

© Debra Carey, 2021