Now with added Sci-Fi

Regular readers will recognise this as the story that I wrote for last month’s ‘Cluedo’ prompt – but now with added #scifi.

The Colonel lightly waxed his moustaches with 4D kinetic product, and the smart long chain polymers caused the hair to twist and curl up at the ends.  He’d been playing the role of a slightly bumptious senior officer for so long that it came as second nature these days.  He looked in the e-mirror, through habit rather than necessity.  As he knew they would be, the moustaches were perfectly even. He was more concerned that his hair seemed to be even thinner than ever, although he’d turned off the mapping function that would have confirmed this.  It might be time to start a treatment.  Either that or he should shave it all off.  He didn’t like the idea of that though, because it would show off the implant scars, which he really didn’t want to do.  At least his clear hazel eyes still held the bright alertness that had earned him his nickname all those years ago: he’d always been as keen as mustard, so Mustard is what they’d call him.

He’d had a different code name during the war of course, but that had been rarely used. Ostensibly he’d just been a junior staff officer, supporting the General Staff to the best of his humble ability – the hackneyed phrase was engrained in his mind, the number of times he’d used it in conversation over the years.  In practice his was a Security role, ensuring that no undesirables got close to the plans that were being formulated for Africa, the Middle-East, the Med, and finally France… In some respects, it was impossible to know how successful he’d been.  Who knew how many attempts had been made to access this vital information?  He’s been responsible for blocking a few agents, uncovering a few moles, but he had a lingering suspicion that there’d been someone, a ghost, who’d managed to evade him.  Had they been in the background directing the operations against him?  Or had they been actively probing the defences he’d put in place, penetrating this cordon, but ultimately unsuccessful in finding anything of use?

He gave his head a shake, as if to dislodge this thought.  Time to dress for dinner.  Things had changed since the War, no doubt about that, but Septimus Black was an old fashioned cove and he liked things to be just so.  There’d be a cocktail hour or so before dinner, and a very good dinner it would be too.  All sorts of things that were difficult to get hold of under the current legislation, like meat, were standard fare for Black.

The Colonel completed his preparations.  A vague sense of uneasiness had encroached as soon as he’d received the invitation for tonight’s dinner, and it had only got stronger as the week progressed.  Now it was a positive itching of his subconscious.  True to form, with only a few minutes before he needed to leave, he placed himself at the writing table and dashed off a note to the Chief Constable.  Colonel Gregory was an old friend and thoroughly deserving of his current appointment.  There were any number of ways that the information could have been forwarded, none were terribly secure, but the Cardinal cypher was as close to unbreakable as you could get, especially on the limited timescale available.  The Colonel rang the bell and whilst he was waiting for an answer to the summons, he withdrew a gun from the drawer of the desk.  By rights it should have been his Service blaster, but the Webley 500Z, whilst able to drop a battle-droid at 30 meters  was too big and bulky – it would have complete ruined the line of his jacket as well as being rather obvious.  Instead he slipped a slimmer Beretta Sorpresa into his jacket pocket.  This was more subtle, elegant even, if no more civilized: this was a flechette pistol, recoil-less, and capable of delivering either a single large needle at a velocity that the Webley could only dream of, or a cloud of smaller needles so fast it would make a fighter pilot’s head spin.  In for penny, in for a pound: he slipped a couple of spare ammunition clips into the opposite pocket.

Capes had come back into fashion for some reason, and his valet entered with a plain black one draped over one arm, anticipating that his Master was ready to leave.  Plain it may have been, but it could absorb the whole gamut of physical threats, however much kinetic energy they had on arrival.  The valet, as was traditional, was his former batman, not so much reprogrammed as…augmented.  The Colonel swapped the letter for the outerwear, walked down the stairs and out of the front door and into the summonsed taxi-pod.  It would be some time before he returned home.

© David Jesson, 2019



I went for a different tack to David, writing a new story. A normal one – for me – about people, life, emotions … and then added a #scifi event. That’s the great thing about prompts & writing – we all go off in our own different directions :o)

The nausea in the pit of his stomach was back – ever present at this time of year. Angus absolutely hated September, for with it came the first day back at school. An army brat, Angus had never experienced anything other than being the new boy. Everyone else had been going to the same school all their lives and knew each other. Knowing they’d soon be off again, local kids largely ignored army brats. After all, there was little point making friends – unless you were looking for a pen friend.

Lots of army families bought a house near one central base – giving wives the company and support of their peers, their children a settled run at school and the opportunity to develop friendships – while fathers travelled to ever changing postings. Angus had begged his parents to do so this time last year. His Dad had seemed to understand, but his Mum just said “maybe” and “your Dad ‘n I will think on it.”

The next day, his Dad said “sorry mate, I tried …” before heading out. Angus pursued his Mum, trying to talk about it, but she kept fobbing him off. Desperate, he locked himself in his room, refusing to come out, to eat or drink. His Mum just kept saying is “you don’t understand”. Finally, the CO’s wife visited. She’d made it clear he had to support his Mum as she was having a difficult time. Angus had no idea what she was talking about, but he was army, and when the CO or his wife spoke, you didn’t argue.

It’d been a quiet summer in the new posting. With his Dad away on exercise a lot, it was just him and his Mum. She was off doing stuff with other wives, spending evenings at the NCO’s mess, so Angus was left largely to his own devices. They’d bought him off with the promise of an X Box for Christmas but, till then, he’d been making the most of the local library. When the weather was half decent, he’d go off on hikes. The surrounding countryside was made for walking and the library was stocked full of books about local places to explore. Catching the bus with his rucksack packed for the day, Angus often didn’t get home till just before dark. His dinner on the kitchen table with instructions for warming up, he’d go to bed having spoken to no-one all day. Sometimes he’d catch himself staring at the other kids on the bus, joshing and joking amongst themselves, almost overwhelmed with loneliness.

His parents were arguing a lot. But one night it all blew up. Starting out as a low rumble, it quickly became scarily loud. Soon the neighbours were round, knocking loudly on the door. After a while, things calmed down and he heard his Mum leave with Jennie from next door.

Angus didn’t sleep much that night, so was up early the next morning. Finding his Dad’s by the front door, his stuff all packed up, he’d cried out “why’re you going back on exercise so soon Dad?”. He’d got a shrug from his Dad and a “I’m sorry son, you know it’s got nowt to do with you, don’t you?” Without the faintest what his Dad meant, Angus stood there bewildered – how could his Dad going away on exercise be anything to do with him? “Your Mum’ll come over when she sees I’ve gone – she’ll explain.” With that, he gave Angus an awkward hug and left.

It wasn’t his Mum who explained in the end, but Jennie from next door and the CO’s wife. His parents were having a trial separation. If things didn’t get better, there’d be a divorce. Hiding in his room, Angus kept away from his Mum for the rest of the day. When she went to the NCO’s mess with Jennie that evening, the CO’s wife appeared at the door – this time with a scruffy young lad by her side. She introduced him as Matt – her nephew – staying with them for the next few months. She asked Angus to take him out on a hike the next day.

While out there, they got talking. Turned out Matt’s Dad was in the army too. He’d been sent home with a serious injury, so Matt was staying with his aunt and uncle to keep him out of his Mum’s hair. Angus could see Matt was pretty cut up about it, so shared his own bad news.

Having someone in the same boat as him – in the same class – made September an easier experience. He and Matt got along pretty well as it happened. Matt was a reader and a walker too. He’d gone camping regularly with his parents, so they were soon allowed to get away on overnight camps at the weekends – so long as they’d done their homework.

As the weather turned cold, Matt’s aunt insisted their camping trips would soon have to stop so they decided on one final trip to a favourite destination where they could shelter inside a cave. Having gathered a huge amount of fallen wood their previous visit, they’d be able to keep warm and dry. Packing up their supplies, they were successful in cadging a lift from the CO’s driver so didn’t have to lug their heavy supplies too far.

The little stream which ran past the cave was useful for fresh water, but – as Matt mused out loud to Angus – it didn’t half make you go more often. Laughing, they’d gone off to their separate spots. Hearing Matt yelp, Angus assumed he’d tripped over something and chuckled, till he heard his name being called repeatedly and urgently.

Hurrying to Matt’s spot, Angus found him crouched down behind some brush. “What’s going on?” his voice sounding more high pitched than he’d like for, while they both carried mobile phones, the signal wasn’t always that great near the cave. Matt pointed into the darkening distance. Angus could make out some lights – pulsing regularly on and off. But they were white, rather than blue or red – so, not emergency vehicles then.

“What is it?” he hissed.
“Dunno. It came in over my head, ‘n made me jump …” Matt pointed to a wet patch on his lower leg.
“Eew!”
“Yeah I know, but … what should we do?”
“Hide? Call home? I dunno, what d’you think?”
“Shall we get closer and try to take a look?”
“Is there an exercise going on?” With his Dad living in baracks, Angus had no idea when exercises were scheduled.
Matt shook his head “Nothing planned, although could be one of those snap inspection thingies.”

They retired to the cave and stoked up their fire, agreeing to take turns to keep it going. If there was an exercise – for what else could it be – that would ensure they were seen and be safe. Neither slept well, to be honest, so when dawn arrived, they ventured out to the brush for a look see. There seemed to be a fair bit of activity in the distance. They still couldn’t see much, but they could hear the sound of vehicles and people moving around.

Agreeing it must be one of the snap exercises the army is so fond of, they returned to the cave for breakfast. When it was properly light, they took their day packs and headed off to investigate, being careful to stay in clear sight. Striding along the path, chatting quite loudly to each other, they found their path blocked by a couple of guys in NBC suits as they rounded a corner. Stopping and holding up their hands, they expected masks to be ripped off and a bollocking to follow. Except, it didn’t. Gesticulating with their weapons, the like of which neither boy had seen before, they were frogmarched into a clearing.

In the clearing were loads more men in NBC* suits, all rushing about. Several turned and looked at the boys, making Angus wonder if one was his Dad – with those suits on, you couldn’t recognise anyone. Passing a bunch of strange looking vehicles, Angus realised why they were so odd – none seemed to have wheels. Exchanging decidedly worried looks, they were dragging their heels now, Angus admitting to himself he was actively hoping to face an angry Colour Sergeant, even a furious CO.

Pushed right into the centre of the clearing where there was a veritable blur of activity, they saw brush and branches dragged and heaped up over a large … something-or-the-other. On and on they were pushed towards the something-or-the-other, through an opening to face lights so bright they were blinded. Shading their eyes with their hands, they were pushed through a doorway, and pressed face-down onto separate bunks. As Angus tried to turn, he became aware of a prick in his thigh and … the world went dark.

When Angus came to, the lights had been muted. He saw Matt stirring and swung his legs over the side of his bunk to walk across. An ear splitting alarm shrieked out, not stopping till he lifted his feet clear of the floor. Matt, now fully awake, Angus warned him the floor was alarmed. Both boys started fidgeting. “Need to go?” asked Angus, Matt nodded. The door opened, an NBC suited man walked in and handed each some sort of bottle-like receptacle, gesticulating how they should be used. The man waited till they had, then took both away.

When either spoke a need out loud, they were met by a wordless NBC suited man. No explanations, no questions. Just silence. At what seemed the end of a day according to their watches – two men entered. Folowing a brief prick to the thigh … darkness. This happened for three days. On the fourth day, having finished eating, their NBC suited visitor was collecting their plates and glasses, when – much to their surprise – he dropped everything and ran. “What’s going on?” Angus exclaimed just as Matt – nearest the door – asked “Was that gunfire?” Deciding the safest thing to do was lie flat on their bunks, the boys waited.

They heard a lot of noise outside but, it being muffled, they couldn’t make head nor tail of what was going on. Both hoped it would lead to their release – but from what and who exactly – they’d no idea. Eventually, the door started to glow as a small opening was cut. It seemed like an interminable wait till the hole was pushed through, setting off that ear splitting alarm. “Now” yelled Angus, and they rang for it, climbing rapidly through the hole.

The CO and Angus’s Dad were in the group of armed men waiting on the other side. The boys were whisked away in an armoured Land Rover, spending the next week in the Medical Centre, being poked, prodded, having blood taken and multiple x-rays. In between all the medical activity, they were asked a lot of questions by the CO.

It rapidly became clear that although they were curious and had seen some stuff, they didn’t know what it was. He told them very seriously that everything they’d seen was Secret. They’d have to sign The Official Secrets Act and couldn’t talk about it – to anyone. Not even to their parents.

“Was it a flying saucer?” Matt asked cautiously.
”Is that what you saw?” replied the CO.
Matt nodded “When it first flew over.”
The CO looked enquiringly at Angus who shook his head. “I never saw it properly – it was either dark, too far away or covered up. Are they gone – the … people?”
The CO nodded.

Life returned to normal, as it’s wont to do. Matt’s parents came to collect him and Angus’s parents got divorced. Angus attended the same school for the next 5 years, before heading to University – where he joined Matt. For they’d become firm friends.  They’d shared something big – very big – and they couldn’t talk about it to anyone else.

They’d returned to the cave to camp every summer since. They’d never admit it to anyone else, but there was hope – a small one – that they’d be there to witness the return visit. For they were sure there would be one.

© Debra Carey, 2019

*NBC suits are protective gear worn in the event of potential nuclear attack.

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#FF prompt – Now with added Sci Fi

Back in November 2017, we set our first picture prompt (a rather lovely nightscape of Durdle Door in Dorset, with a particularly science fiction/space opera feel to it).  In October 2018, our friend James Pailly said that he’d started a story based on the prompt, and it hadn’t been working for him, and he left it to mature and eventually come up with a three part story due to his new writing rule: ADD MORE SCI-FI.

Make of this what you will…

 

Word count: up to 2,000
Deadline: by 2pm (GMT) on Friday, 7th June 2019

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.

 

 

 

Experimental Writing: Part 8

Meanwhile, in Cardiff, a mere 26 miles away for a theoretical crow, the retreating Landrover made its way off one giant TV screen and onto another, as it left the field of view of the art gallery’s external security camera and was picked up, briefly, by a traffic camera.  The Landrover disappeared from view completely: the coverage out in rural Wales was less than complete.

A withered hand reached forward, fighting the cocooning embrace of the large leather chair, and picked up a phone handset.  An extended finger pressed a single button, and two floors below a phone rang.  The duty supervisor picked up the receiver.

“Hello, sir, how may I help?”  There was only one person who had this number.

“Are you tracking the car?”  The quavery voice matched the liver-spotted and boney hand.

“We’re doing our best sir.  There’s no visual at the moment, but Maddox planted a device, the signal is very weak though.”  A bank of plasma TV screens filled an entire wall some 20 metres in length.  Five people watched intently.  Three were dealing with other matters, whilst the other two were flicking through various camera views trying to locate the Landrover. On a single screen a map showed a large-scale map of Brecon and environs.  A red pin had been placed where Meredith’s spaceship had landed.  A blue pin marked the art gallery.  A dull ruby red dot pulsed faintly as it moved along the A40.  The dot suddenly became a lot brighter.

“Ah, the signal seems to have improved.  They’ve turned off the A40 and onto the A479 towards Talgarth.”

“What’s that?”

“They were heading North-West, ish, and are now heading in a more Northly direction.”

“Pah.  You’ve lost them.  That fool Maddox must have put the device somewhere it could be found.  They’ve put it on another vehicle to try and fool us.  Get a visual – NOW!”  The phone slammed down as hard as an elderly hand could manage it.

As the supervisor pondered options, directing the two operators to find cameras on likely routes and wondering on the feasibility of getting a drone in the air, the old man returned to watching the art gallery.  The muscle were starting to pull themselves together and were being shooed out by the tea lady, assisted by an expertly flicked tea-towel that was adding further insult, not to mention pin-point accuracy injury, to that already suffered.  They shuffled outside quickly and discovered the damage to their car.  They would not be going anywhere in a hurry.   He watched as one pulled out a mobile phone and –

Ring ring!  A phone on his desk chirped to life.

“Er…boss… bad news…we…er…lost the alien…”

“I can see that you idiot.  Wait there for further orders.”  Again, the phone was returned forcefully to its cradle.

A desk drawer was pulled open and a little glass bottle of tablets was brought out.   There were only a few in the bottle, rattling madly as the palsied hand tried to tip one into the other hand.  He would have to ask for some more, he reflected, and soon.  He washed the tablet down with a glass of water and slumped back in the chair.  Five minutes later, his eyes snapped open, and he sprang to his feet.  He gazed at himself in a large mirror with a garish gilt rococo frame.  The age had dropped away from him: he pulled out comb from his jacket pocket and placed a ruler straight parting into thick black hair which he swept back into place.  The chocolate eyes were no longer rheumy, and anyone could see for themselves the hard glint that was a characteristic of one of the hardest gangsters in Wales.

“Jenkins!” There was no infirmity in the bellow that summoned Rhys Probert’s right-hand man.

“Jenkins!”

Colwyn Jenkins was surprisingly average for someone who’s name was a byword for efficiency in the criminal community and was also known to be the only person that Probert would listen to straight away.   Jenkins was average height (although an inch or two taller than Probert), had an average face with no distinguishing features to hang a description off, and had the kind of average build that comes from not going to the gym, but rarely giving into temptation either.  He eased into the room, neither noisily nor oleaginously – just average.

“Yes, Mr Probert?  You called?” There was no inflection to indicate irony, obsequiousness nor any other emotional response that might be expected from an assistant when peremptorily summoned.

“Get them to get the car ready, and get the Gardeners on the road too.  We’re going to take charge of this ourselves.”

“Do you think that’s wise?”

“Yes, I bloomin’ well do!  It’s been a thousand or more years, but they’ve finally sent someone to collect their lost belongings and we can’t let that happen.  We’d lose all of this, for a start -” he gestured taking in the whole of the room and indicating somehow the whole of the elderly tower block that had been refurbished to modern standards. “It’s not what She wants either.”

“As you wish.  We’ll need to be careful though.  I’ve been interrogating the database on the basis of the information that we’ve managed to collect so far.  The agent that has been dispatched is actually of another race entirely to the original owners.  Shorter life span for a start so much more intent on the here and now.  Also, the database suggests that the agent is likely to be…tricksy…It won’t want to force a confrontation but will try and do things…elliptically.”

“Whatever. Tell the Gardeners to take it alive if they can but not if its going to cause too much trouble.  I don’t care what happens to the kids.  I want to be on the road in 10 minutes.”

Probert opened another desk drawer and pulled out a small pistol which he placed in one pocket and a taser that went into another.

© David Jesson, 2019

During 2019, I’m going to be undertaking a writing experiment, as described here.

The shape of story was formed through a four-part prologue: the first part of the prologue is here, if you want to start right at the beginning.  All through, I’m hoping that you’ll help me shape the story.  Every month there is a poll on some feature or another.

I’ve been a bit pushed this month, so haven’t thought of what to poll on yet.  Will update when I know!  In the meantime, feel free to let me know if there is anything that you’d like me to expand on/any characters that you’d like to see more of.  I’m not promising to incorporate anything but always good to hear where you think this is heading!

See you next month!

 

#Second Thoughts: Maps

Maps hold an important place in fiction.  In the case of the Fantasy genre it almost feels obligatory, but there are any number of books in other genres that have been improved by the inclusion of a map, and as many again that might have been an awful lot better with a map in the front, or if the author had referred to one when they were writing a book in a real world setting.  (I can’t now remember the details, but someone who knew the area told me that Dan Brown made a pretty big faux pas in a scene in Angels and Demons because of a mistake in (urban) geography.  Mind you, Dan Brown made some pretty big faux pas in other areas too…).

Terry Pratchett famously once said that Ankh-Morpork could not be mapped – and then someone proved him wrong.  The Discworld maps are a real labour of love and are worth checking out.  In this case, the maps are a nice addition, but it doesn’t matter whether you have them or not.   On the other hand, there are some settings where you really need the map in order to keep a sense of what is going on – Middle Earth is an obvious example.  Although, that said, whilst the map helps the reader to keep track of where everything is going, anyone paying attention will spot some issues (even if we exclude the square range that surrounds Mordor).  I’m not going to go into that in detail, but if you are interested in an analysis then you might want to check out this article.

The map at the top of this post is one that I created for a story that I’m in the middle of.  It’s taken a while, but I’ve finished the first draft of something that was meant to be a quick 5k story and is now a 10k one, which might yet get bigger when I revise it.  So it goes.  Not the real point though.   On Twitter, you can come across all sorts of things.  Chris Marshall and Emma Cox  were having a conversation about Inkarnate, an online map making tool.  Chris and Emma, who are two very talented writers that you should check out, are also incredibly talented artists and used the software to produce maps of their worlds.  I’m not great at drawing.  There was this time in an art class…no, maybe I won’t tell that story.  Anyway, the point is I’ve tried to do a few maps before now, but the results are probably closer to that of Middle Earth.  Inkarnate is pretty easy to get started with though.  (There is a really good tutorial here; I spent a couple of hours on this and there is more I’d like to do to make it better, including following up on some of the tips in comments).

Where am I going with this?  Well. Chris and Emma are meticulous in their world-building; Emma has even gone so far as to create divination system based on rune-stones that she has created specially, so they have a pretty good feel for their worlds.  This is just a way of expressing what they’re doing.  Most of my writing over the last couple of years has been short fiction, or on Earth in a relatively contemporary setting, or non-fiction, so I haven’t really felt the need to create maps.  This has been fun though, and whilst I’ve based it on what I wrote, it’s been interesting to add some features.  Given the nature of the story, I could have made lake and island perfectly circular, but that wouldn’t have been very interesting.  What it has shown up though is some large empty regions.  I know some of what happens in those, I just haven’t put the details in (yet).  Even so…perhaps there should be a wizard’s tower in that bit just there. 

So.  What next?  I can see myself doing a few more of these, and who knows, perhaps they’ll spark something rather than being a reaction to a story already underway.

What about you?  How do you feel about maps?

 

#FF prompt: Cluedo

Write a short piece from the perspective of one of the characters from the (classic) cluedo board game. Feel free to mix it up a little – the Revd Mr Green doesn’t have to be an Anglican priest for example, or maybe he is a former military chaplain. Miss Scarlet might not be the femme fatale we’ve always thought…

 

Word count: up to 500 words
Deadline: 2pm GMT on Friday 9th August 2019

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.

 

 

Experimental Writing: Part 7

Owain and Esther sat open mouthed staring at the creature before them.

“What…what just happened?” Owain stuttered.

“I’m afraid that my employer’s Security clearly isn’t as tight as they believe it to be and my mission has been compromised.  What is incredibly disconcerting is that whoever was behind this attack is clearly working with someone local.”

What are you?” Esther exclaimed.

Meredith slipped the beanie hat back on, followed by the dark glasses.

“It’s probably best if I go now, and if you forget that you ever saw me.  Go and get your sister.  Go and do something fun – away from here.” The alien slipped out of the door, leaving the two conscious humans gaping at each other.

Esther pulled herself together first.

“Quick!  After him Owain!  We can’t just leave him!”

“I don’t know, bet.” He took in the muscle entangled with furniture and sprawled on the floor in a localised disaster zone around their table.  “This looks like it could be serious – and we don’t anything about Meredith really.  Maybe he deserved this?”

“Owain Rhodri Griffin!  You ought to be ashamed of yourself!  I hope Ma and Da never hear you say such a cowardly thing.  Meredith is clearly in trouble and we should do what we can to help her.”

Before Owain could react, Esther had slipped round the tables after Meredith, and out of the door.

“Wait! Come back!” Owain’s shoulders slumped and he ran a hand across his face.  The gesture turned into an unconscious imitation of his father as he tried to make his adolescent fuzz rasp like a day’s worth of stubble – without success.  It suddenly occurred to him that there might be more of these jokers outside.

“Hey!  Come back!” he repeated, as he followed the path his sister had taken moments before.

*****

The lady on duty in the cafe came from the kitchen behind the counter, carrying a plate, chattering away.

“I’ve just made some pice bach*, cywion, would you like a few?  The Director likes us to have some on the counter all the time, but they much better fresh.”

She looked up and took in the scene of devastation.  A goon spread-eagled over a table, head hanging backwards over the edge, twitched.  Another, contorted around a chair, groaned.

“Ach-y-fi!”

*****

Esther burst through the door of the Arts Centre and into the car park: Meredith was not there.  How could she have moved so quickly.  The girl ran to the pavement and looked up and down the road.  There!  There was the strange creature hurrying along, whilst still somehow looking unobtrusive.

“Meredith!  Meredith, bach!  Wait!” Esther ran after the alien, as Meredith looked over a shoulder and did a double take.

“Meredith!” The girl panted; youth was on her side, but she was distinctly bookish, not completely hopeless at PE, but it was not her forte.  “Meredith, I want to help, if I can.  But I need to know why you’re here, and why people are after you.”

*****

Owain fumbled the keys to the Landrover from his pocket as he cannoned down the corridor from the tea room to the main entrance.  He nearly dropped the bunch as he barrelled through the door.  He regained control on the fourth attempt, having looked like he was juggling a hot potato, the keys slipping, sliding, falling, up again, begin again, as his hands tried to hold on.

“More haste, less speed” he muttered under his breath as he finally caught the bunch, having turned the clumsiness around and caught the bunch with the ignition proud of the rest and ready for action.

As he came through the door, he could hear Esther calling Meredith, but the majority of his attention was taken with the two shiny black SUVs that were parked-up outside the Arts Centre.  The two cars looked like sinister twins, and were the sleeker evolution of his own vehicle.  They had certainly not been there when he, Esther, and Meredith had arrived some thirty minutes before.  As he ran to his own Landrover, he started thinking that perhaps he should do something to slow these monsters down.  He had some thought of sticking a screwdriver from his tool kit through some tyres, but as he passed the SUVs, he noticed that the tyres were already flaccid and in fact seemed to be dribbling and flowing.

Owain shook his head and climbed up in to the driver’s seat of his car.  He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, started the ignition and put the Landrover into gear.  He pulled out of the car park and set out in pursuit of his sister.

*****

“Why are you here?  Why now?”

Meredith was just drawing breath to reply when Owain pulled up beside them.

“Get in quick, then, and we’ll be off.”

Meredith looked up at Owain and back at Esther and was trying to work out what to say when Esther grabbed an arm in one hand and pulled open the door behind the driver with the other and pushed Meredith in.

“Well done, Owain!”

“Right-o.  I’m just going to drive for a bit and then you can tell me where we’re going.   If I don’t know just yet, then I won’t give anything away by my direction.  But Esther asked you a question, several questions, and I’ve got one of my own: what have you done that’s got you into trouble?”

“Hmmm…it’s probably best if you don’t know everything, but you’ve probably worked out that I’m not from Earth.  I’d don’t know who those people were, but they’re obviously trying to stop me.  As for what I’m here to do….it’s a…it’s a…well let’s call it a rescue mission.

*****

*I’ve slipped in some Welsh here and there, and hopefully I’ve got it more or less right.   If I revise this story, I might add in a few more “in a minute now”s, “ti’n iawn”‘s and “shw mae”‘s…we’ll see. Perhaps I should put in a guide for the words I have used.  On the other hand, most of the terms I’ve used are exclamations and terms of endearment, that don’t really need a lot of explanation.  Pice bach though might need some description beyond the context: essentially these are what the Welsh call Welsh cakes, although there are a couple of synonyms as well.  If you’ve not come across Welsh cakes before, these are a little flat, round cake, cooked on a griddle or stone.  They are lightly spiced – nothing too exotic – and contain dried fruit like raisins and sultanas.  They are delicious, moreish, slightly crumbly, and best enjoyed with a cup of tea.

© David Jesson, 2019

During 2019, I’m going to be undertaking a writing experiment, as described here.

The shape of story was formed through a four-part prologue: the first part of the prologue is here, if you want to start right at the beginning.  All through, I’m hoping that you’ll help me shape the story.  Every month there is a poll on some feature or another. We’re over half way now and I know where we are heading but there is still some way to go.  I think that we’re due for some plot exposition, so…

Option 1: Straight Q&A between Meredith and friends

Option 2: Flashback, from Meredith’s perspective

Option 3: Cut to Antagonist…

Option 4: Other(?) – Please comment!

I‘ll leave the Twitter poll open for one week, and will add in any votes on here that come in during that time.  Feel free to expand on the options in the comments!  I’m not promising to incorporate anything but always good to hear where you think this is heading!

See you next month!

 

#Secondthoughts: Five Gold Stars

Despite various inflationary issues, economic and otherwise, we all know that something that has been given a gold star – or indeed a gold anything has done pretty well.  Even a gold raspberry from the Razzies suggests that you have reached a pinnacle, even if it is one that you would prefer not to be acknowledged for… There is a surprising amount of research done into the best way to collect data on peoples preferences and the cogniscenti are able to take one look at a survey and assess whether it has been designed by an expert or an amatuer – perhaps an intern given a job that no-one else wanted to do, or a trainee not being given enough support.  What must be obvious to anyone though is that you can’t really wrap up a range of issues into one rating, even if you let someone have a range of five stars to work with.  For one thing, the majority of people will say “you can always do better” and avoid giving 5*, but by the same token, they won’t want to completely damn someone’s hard work by giving only 1* – although there are exceptions.

(Side note: I find it worthwhile checking out the 1* ratings to see if the comments actually make sense.  Looking at something recently, I found that the 1* ratings all related to the supplier/format rather than the book itself.  On the whole, I’m usually less than impressed with 1* reviews, because they tend not to explain what was wrong, but just say that the reviewer didn’t like it, which is not entirely helpful).

This year I’ve decided to give the Goodreads challenge a go.  I’ve committed to reading a book a week, although as I writethis, I am behind schedule, partly because of time constraints and partly because I’ve been working through a couple of really chunky books.  I’ve slipped in a couple of very thin books to try and get me back on track…  One of the side effects of getting more involved with Goodreads is that I’ve been writing more reviews and reading more of other peoples reviews.  One of the chunky books that I’m reading is a non-fiction book, and it has been interesting to read the reviews of people who can be considered interested amatuers, those who’ve read the book beacuse they thought they should, and those who work in the same field(ish).  This is a book outside my normal interests, but was a gift: it has been hard work, but I am enjoying it, and the author makes a lot of sense.  One of the reviews has been a bit of a rabbit hole though and one that I keep returning to.

The review, which is quite damning in many ways, suggests that the author has made too much use of a particular theory and that anyone who really knows the area wouldn’t use that theory, debunking the whole book.  What has been interesting is the follow up to this.  There are a lot of comments that support or refute the review, and a few more extended commentary-conversations between the reviewer and people who have read it.  For my 2p, the reviewer is factually incorrect, but it’s not my area and I may have missed something in both the book and the point of the review.  Hold that thought.

The other thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot, especially prompted by my difficulties with keeping up with the challenge, is how many books I’ve got left in me to read.  I find my time under a lot of pressure at the moment, and that will change, but I keep returning to a story that Kathryn Harkup (@RotwangsRobot) told me about two little old ladies going into a bookshop and asking for 20 recomendations for books to read: “We know how fast we read and how much time we’ve likely got left, and we’ve done the maths”. *Gulp*.  Assuming I can sort myself out and keep up with the challenge, that’s 52 books a year, for perhaps 40 years, if I’m lucky.  One of these days I might be able to up the pace a bit, but still, we’re talking of the order of 2000 books left to read.  That sounds a lot, but my TBR probably runs to a couple of hundred with more being added all the time.  And what about re-reads of old favourites?

Debs has a very hard-line policy on awarding 5*, a policy which stands out amongst those that seem to throw them out like sweets.  It’s a tricky world, especially when there are so many books out there, all relying on (good) reviews.  Sarina Langer has an excellent policy on writing reviews which I wish would become the gold standard that people writing reviews worked to – although I admit that I am still learning how to put this into practice, especially for a review written on the hoof.    But the fundamental point is that the 5* system is not particularly useful.  There are books and films that deserve high ratings not because they are the best ever, but because they have some feature that is great.  Not everyone will enjoy a cozy mystery, even if it gets five stars.  Not everyone likes black and white films, or thrillers or… fill in the gap.

OK, so lets tie all this together.  If we think of those 2000 books as literary meals, not all of them are going to be Michelin-class – and nor would I want them to be.  There’s going to be a mix of things in there, including, yes, junk food.  But what I’m hoping for in a review is that it goes beyond those 5*  – which I’m actually beginning to become suspicious of – and gives me a reason to look beyond the cover and the blurb.

© David Jesson, 2019