Job Hunting

How could it be Fall again? Summer had seen my bank balance plummet, to the point that I was starting to tip into the red – a double whammy of too much fun and too few clients. I looked at the dog-eared copies of my favourite ‘tec novels slanted against each other on the shelf. What would Philip Marlow do? Sam Spade? Nick Charles? They’d shake things. They’d damn well find a client. I found a pencil and paper and started to write a list.

© David Jesson, 2018

________________

A little bit of Flash Fiction, which I submitted to one of Janet Reid’s competitions.  There are a number of rules, but the key ones are:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:

fall
plummet
tip
slant
list
3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the
prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.
Thus: fall/fallacious is ok but fall/faille is not

 

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Project Gutenberg #FlashFiction

The 1st of December is the birthday of Project Gutenberg, an online archive of out-of-copyright books that have been digitised and are made available to anyone who would like to read them.

A quick reminder that the prompt was to go to Project Gutenberg, have a look at the recent releases and pick a title that appeals: that is the prompt, and the title of your story…

An Engineer’s Sketchbook

There were probably only three people in the world who still called him Christopher, and one of those was his Grandmother.  At school, the custom was still to call the boys by their surnames, but some of the younger masters would buck the trend – if the Head or Bursar weren’t in earshot anyway.  And if you were going to go against what was practically a rule, you’d think you’d go al, sirl the way and use a chosen name.  But no.

Dr Hughes was young, earnest, and more than a little shy, all topped off with a generous helping of obliviousness.  As a relatively new master it was inevitable that he’d inherited the mantle of Career’s Advisor from a colleague who was retiring.

“Ah, Christopher, come in.  Have a seat.”

“Please call me Toph, sir.”

“Now then, lets see.  Well.  Are you enjoying being in the Sixth Form?”

“If I’m honest, sir, I don’t see very much difference to being in Year 11.”

“But you were paying attention in Assembley, when the Headmaster was talking about university?”

“Yes, sir, of course.  But I’m really not sure what I want to read.  Nothing really appeals.”

“Well then Christopher, lets take a look at your reports.”  Dr Hughes opened a manilla folder and riffled through the papers inside.

“Toph, sir.”

“Ummm?” Dr Hughes did not look up.  “Well, Captain of the First XI for Cricket and the First XV Rugby, so a sportsman. Good marks in French and Spanish.  Reasonable compositions in English…History is not your strength is it? With a little more effort in the Sciences you could probably have your choice of any Medical School…The world is not quite your oyster, although it could be, Christopher, it could be.  Have you decided whether it’s to be Oxford or Cambridge, yet?”

Toph was tempted to say that he’d been considering a Red Brick, but whilst History might not have been his best subject, People was something he excelled in.  It would do no good to give the master apoplexy.

And so the interview ground it’s slow but inexorable way to a conclusion that was unsatisfying for both parties.  Dr Hughes immediately put it out of his mind as he moved on to the next pupil in the Lower Sixth, reflexively making some marginal notes in Toph’s file, which he’d already forgotten before the closed folder was placed back on the stack on the table.

A few weeks passed, and then it was half term.  Following tradition, a trip to Town was organised, which would include a visit to the cinema.  Surprisingly, Tom, his youngest brother, had beeen desperate to go to the second hand bookshop that was one of his Father’s favourite haunts.  Jonno, the middle brother, had also been keen on the idea.  He was looking for some references for an art project on the one hand, and some old but not valuable books on the other for various pieces that he had in mind.  Toph could have gone off on his own somewhere, meeting up with the family at the cinema, but he decided that accompanying the rest to the bookshop might be quite fun.

On the way to Town, he was uncharacteristically withdrawn: Jonno was making notes and doodling in his sketch book, Tom was talking nineteen to the dozen about a book he’d found there on a previous visit.  Toph sat back and let it all wash over him as he thought about the mad man they’d been to see talk a few days before.  It had been a charity event,  something about closing down orphanages by getting the children homed with families, but the speaker was an explorer who’d travelled round the world by bike. He’d come into contact with the charity when he’d passed through Bosnia, and he’d stayed in contact.  Toph didn’t have many detractors, but there were one or two who thought him superficial.  They’d be surprised at how much he’d been affected by the talk.

Given the energy that Tom had been exhibiting earlier, he was quietly focussed in the shop, working his way through various departments in a methodical  and determined manner.  Jonno knew what he was after and wasted little time in finding it.  Toph browsed.   He nearly missed it: a little white haired old man moved a pile of books and exposed a blue-leather covered book, tooled with gold, upin which was emblazoned the legend “The Engineer’s Sketchbook”.  He picked it up, and leafed through it.

Toph was the kind of person who excelled at things because he wanted to.  He’d decided he wanted to be the best cricketer he could, for example, and he’d set out to make it happen. Without something to focus on, he had a tendency to drift.  As he looked at the book, two neurons in his brain fired together and he suddenly knew not only what he wanted to study at uni, but why, and what he was going to do afterwards.

He would read Mechanical Engineering, and travel the world, for a few years at least volunteering, his skills whereever they might be of use.

© David Jesson, 2018

Post Script: How could I not go with that title as my prompt?  I’ve written a few other stories about Toph, Jonno, and Tom, and you can find these via the Index page.  The charity mentioned in the story is a real one, and you can find more details about Hope and Homes for Children here.  Al Humphreys is also real, and not only that but an amazing and inspirational human being.  You can find out more about him here.  I firmly believe that everyone should be issued with a copy of his Microadventures book: you don’t need kit to have adventures and you don’t need to travel to far off climes.  (But that can be fun too).


An Artist in Egypt

There he went again. Shaking his head, Jonathan thought (and not for the first time) what a strange fellow his neighbour was. Up every morning shortly after dawn, he’d take breakfast on the verander, just as Jonathan did; but while Jonathan was having a cigarette with his coffee, he’d pack up an easel and a large bag, before heading off across the dunes.

Leaving for the Embassy, Jonathan would be back anything from teatime to late at night, depending what had blown up during the day. Tourists generally, especially the upper class ones, were the bane of his life. Oh, there were plenty of working and middle class tourists who got into trouble, but they were generally grateful for whatever assistance Jonathan and his team would give. But the upper crust … oh no. Always went their own way, ignored Foreign Office advice, and that given them by the Embassy. When they did get into trouble and needed fishing out – for they always did – they treated Jonathan and his team like a bunch of lackies. No gratitude, simply annoyance and ill manners.

The most recent lot had enquired after a chap they knew, who turned out to be Jonathan’s neighbour. For some reason, Jonathan felt a degree of kinship with this man he’d never spoken to and decided to check if he wanted this group to descend on him. Not that he’d done so yet, for it had been a long day yesterday and he’d only been home for a quick shower and change into dress uniform before that shindig at the French Embassy. He should have gone over this morning during breakfast, but it was his one moment of private peace – and he hated to give it up. Something told him that his neighbour would understand. He’d leave a note with his card on the way to work.

As he got home that evening, the sun was dropping low in the sky – his neighbour’s “lot” had already managed to get into trouble and, to divert attention from their idiocy, had complained to the Ambassador that Jonathan hadn’t located their friend. The Ambassador had not been pleased and had given Jonathan a very lively flea in his ear. Jonathan knew he’d have to speak to his neighbour that evening to obtain his wishes.

Changing into casual trousers and shirt, he accepted a long cool drink from his boy, before walking out onto the verander. Although still just a silhouette, he was confident he spied his neighbour returning over the dunes from a day’s painting. He decided to walk across the road to greet him. With luck he’d be able to raise the matter and get the chap’s decision, all before either of them would have to extend an invitation to the other. These damn tourists, upsetting a chap’s routines.

It didn’t go according to plan though. “Got your note” said his neighbour, handing his easel to Jonathan, before striding across the road. Reaching his front door, he passed his bag to his boy and then looked back across the road to where Jonathan was still standing – looking a touch gormless if he was entirely honest – and beckoned him over “you’d better come in for a drink while I clean up.”

Once inside, Jonathan was struck by how different the interiors of their houses were, especially considering their identical footprint. His neighbour’s house was cool and airy, whilst Jonathan’s was warm if not stuffy. Where Jonathan’s home was furnished like a typical British army batchelor – relatively spartan, with well-crafted pieces of furniture – this was lush and layered. There were colours and textures, comfort was clearly of prime import. There were also a number of paintings on the wall, all in watercolour – a mix of dhows on the river, and buffalos working the fields, to views of an entirely buccolic and decidedly English countryside. Jonathan had to admit that he was really rather taken with them – they had clean lines, and a slightly sketchy quality which suggested movement. He knew he’d buy one before he left.

His thoughts were interrupted by his neighbour’s return. Handing him a drink, he announced “Tristan Dawes – but you presumably already knew that from the contents of your note. So, who are these reprobates who’ve asked for my whereabouts?” Jonathan pulled his notebook out and read the names, noticing that Tristan’s facial expression wasn’t exactly one of delight as he did so. “What’s the drill then? You give them my whereabouts, and my peace is over?” Jonathan smiled “Not at all. If you’ve no wish to see them, I simply advise them that you’ve left instructions not to be disturbed … by anyone. They’ve no rights to your address and the Ambassador isn’t obliged to provide it to them.” Tristan nodded before holding out his hand to shake Jonathan’s  “Thank you, I didn’t expect that.”

He’d gained another flea in the ear from the Ambassador for not persuading his neighbour otherwise, but Jonathan stuck to his guns. The Ambassador would do anything for a quiet life, even if it was not strictly correct protocol.

He and Tristan took to having supper together, one night a week, alternating between homes. Jonathan arranged for him to join Embassy trips into the more far flung parts of the country, where he could paint new and different scenes. In return, Tristan had earmarked two paintings for him. Turned out Tristan had not only come to Egypt to escape his over-bearing family and family friends (like the lot who’d tried to track him down) he’d come to Egypt for the dry heat. Having been a bit of a speedster as a young man, the broken bones which came with the inevitable crashes had left him with arthritis. Cold and rainy England may have his heart – which it did, for he still painted it from his memories – but Egypt had provided him with the conditions to be able to continue wielding his brushes.

© Debra Carey, 2018

#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, 1971).  OK, so we’re a day late in our birthday wishes …

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.

 

Word limit: 500-750 words
Deadline : Friday 7th December @ 2pm GMT

Don’t forget, 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

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

#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