#Readers Resources: Read Across the UK – Part 3

Reading David Mitchell’s Utopia Avenue had me fall back in love with our capital city again, so I’m going to focus on London for Part 3 of Read Across the UK.

A housing estate somewhere in London
Hello Mum is a short story from Booker prize-winning author Bernadine Evaristo and was the first work I read by Evaristo. A real gut-punch, written in the form of a letter from a 14 year old boy to his Mum. In actuality, it’s a series of conversational monologues from a boy to his mother explaining how it was he died outside a fish & chip shop at this tender age. The line that caught me was “I wanted you to know I hadn’t been mixed up in badness for a long time – just for twenty-five minutes of my fourteen years of life.” This is a quick and emotional read about London estate life and gang culture, and well worth everyone’s time at under 100 pages.

Mr Loverman is my second offering from Bernadine Evaristo on this list, but both these two books are marvellous and so London that I couldn’t not include them. Barry is an Antiguan immigrant living in Hackney with his highly religious wife Carmel. Barry is quite the dandy, in the way that only Caribbean men can be, and we get to see life in Hackney through his eyes and that of the love of his life – his best friend Morris. Barry brings the colour of Antigua to grey London town with his sharp tailored suits and natty hats. He is a traditional old fashioned Caribbean man with all the stereotypical bits, both good and bad, but still a character to adore. If you walk down Ridley Road today, you’ll see it’s still chock full of characters who’d give Barry a run for his money.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows from Balli Kaur Jaswal nicely combines a murder mystery with the lives of widows in the West London area of Southall. The widows are all illiterate, but oh my can they tell stories. This tale provides us a glimpse into the unenlightened side of a Sikh community. Famously one which revolves around temple and service, it is nevertheless still extremely patriarchal. The suffocating nature of life in some of our capital city’s ethnic communities is what comes through most strongly here.

Crystal Palace, SE19
Ordinary People from Diana Evans was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2019 – yet what I enjoyed most when reading it related to the area in which it is based. “They lived near the park, where the transmitting tower loomed up towards the heavens like a lesser Eiffel, stern and metallic by day, red and lit up by night, overlooking the surrounding London boroughs and the home counties beyond, and harbouring in the green land at its feet the remains of the former glass kingdom” Crystal Palace, where the underground doesn’t go and you have to catch a train, is almost suburbia, not not quite. It’s more ethnic and interesting than proper suburbia “…. they had moved to the south for its creative energy and the charisma of its poverty” as befits being the chosen home of one of the central couples whose roots are in Jamaica and Nigeria. In truth, this book is a relatively ordinary story of relationships struggling after becoming parents, but the bits about Crystal Palace shine.

Highgate, N6
Her Fearful Symmetry from Audrey Niffenegger is yet another book where I found the location to be the winner. A ghost story where London’s Highgate Cemetery plays such a prominent part that it’s almost a character in itself. Female twins, a neighbour with OCD, and the lover of the dead woman (one half of another set of female twins), himself a tour guide at the Cemetery, are the other characters. This story is full of the type of gothic creepiness you’d not expect to find in a contemporary novel – and so is much like the iconic cemetery. Immediately I finished this, I added Highgate Cemetery to my wish list for a visit with my camera.

Although none of the last three were highly rated by me, they were all enjoyable reads with a real sense of place.

For my final two, I’m going back to London in Tudor times…

City of London
Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies and The Mirror and the Light – the famous Thomas Cromwell trilogy from Hilary Mantel gave us all a view not only of the machinations of Henry VIII’s court, but also of London at the time. Although the novels roamed far and wide across the country, both the court and Cromwell himself were largely based in London. Mantel’s descriptions brought much of the city to life for me, and I found myself absolutely fascinated by – in particular – Cromwell’s house at Austin Friars. I surely don’t need to add more about this marvellous trilogy, suffice it to say they’re well worth a read and that no-one should be put off by the first two being Booker Prize winners.

Inns of Temple
The Matthew Shardlake novels – Dissoluton, Dark Fire, Sovereign, Revelation, Heartstone and Lamentation from the pen of C J Sansom are also primarily set in London, in the area around Chancery Lane. They are all fine examples of historical mysteries at the time of Henry VIII and Sansom’s provides wonderful descriptive passages of London, the Thames, the palaces, as well as the seedier parts of town. Each book also comes with a detailed map to enable you to both get your bearings and compare the then with the now. The central character, Matthew Sharkdale, works first for Thomas Cromwell, then Thomas Cranmer, Queen Catherine Parr and finally the Princess Elizabeth. The central characters of Sansom’s novels are well drawn and and hugely likeable, and the tales themselves move along at a cracking pace. These are eminently readable novels and I commend them to you – not just for their sense of time and place.

There were so many candidates for this section and it was an almost impossible task for me to whittle it down to these few. What would you add to a list of “must reads” based in London?

© Debra Carey, 2022

#FF Prompt: The Story – You’re going on holiday

Oh the Views!

Why oh why did I think it was a good idea to go on a holiday Gregory had arranged? OK, it was his turn to pick. And, yes, he’s always been a good sort about what other members of the gang have picked.

But still….

I am totally and utterly freaked out. We’re in one of those amazing modern structures that look like a spacecraft – except one that’s jutting out of a mountainside. There are windows everywhere so I can’t get away from that view. You know – the really scary straight down one. I don’t think I’ll dare have a drink, in case I lose my balance and fall against the glass.

I can hear Gregory inviting admiration from the gang for his amazing holiday selection, and most do sound genuinely enthusiastic. But there’s also a couple who’re somewhat less so.

Me? I pretended I needed to go to the loo urgently, so now I’m sat here in the safety of the only room without windows, too scared to leave.

Thank goodness I brought my Kindle. I grabbed the WiFi card in my room as soon as I saw it, and now I’m sat here, connected to the WiFi in the smallest room, wondering how many of the 14 days I can spend in bed with the curtains drawn.

Poor Gregory! It really is an inspired idea. My fault entirely that I never mentioned my terrible fear of heights….

© Debra Carey, 2022

#IWSG: Writing regrets

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.

January 5 question – What’s the one thing about your writing career you regret the most? Were you able to overcome it?

With a writing career still very much in its infancy, my greatest regret is not having made it more of a priority. It’s not something I have been able to overcome, nor can I even call it properly a work-in-progress…. yet.

The reasons for not having made it more of a priority are three-fold: the first is financial – in that I still need to earn a living to secure not only my current well-being but also my future retirement. The second is my tendency to people please. This results in my never-ending struggle with putting myself and my wants ahead of others, especially when there is no obvious financial benefit to doing so. The final one is my scattered focus. I have so many things I love to do and, having found them in my later years, am loathe to give any of them up. This, unsurprisingly, results in my trying to shoehorn things in, meaning much gets started and less gets finished, or finished to any acceptable standard.

It seems crazy that I’m in this position when I’m a life coach – a real example of physicians being unable to heal themselves 🙂 So I’m putting my money where my mouth is and have hired a life coach for myself for the next 6 months. I expect I’ll have to accept some tough truths, but am confident it will be worth it.

The awesome co-hosts for the January 5 posting of the IWSG are Erika Beebe, Olga Godim, Sandra Cox, Sarah Foster, and Chemist Ken – 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 You’re going on holiday.

If you’re inspired to give this a go, you can get full details here.

© Debra Carey, 2022

#FlashFiction: You’re going on holiday….

…. but where are you going? Not anywhere ordinary that’s where. No multi-level hotel or cottage on the beach will do. Pick somewhere odd, with someone unusual, somewhere wild & wacky – and tell us why you chose it, or how you came across it, or when you’re going (or when you went there), and what made it appeal to you? Will you holiday alone, a deux, en famille or in a crowd of mates?

So, any style, any genre, just nothing NSFW – otherwise feel free to branch out as you wish. Tell us your tale…

Word count: From a drabble to 1,000
Deadline: 2pm GMT on Sunday 9th January 2022

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 – you retain the copyright.

One caveat, if you want to go down this route: this is a family show, so we reserve the right not to post anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.

‘Twas the night after Christmas

…and all through the house, the snores of the over-indulgent could be heard.

There was no unison in the sounds though – it was one awful discordant mess. Hugh was the loudest – wasn’t he always – for he insisted on sleeping on his back and never allowed a whiff of fresh air into his nominated bedroom. Although he slept alone up in the attic, the rest of the house were certain they could feel the vibrations. Whenever Hugh stood up and announced “bed, I think” there was a mass rush to get to sleep before he did. Fortunately, he had a rather lengthy bedtime ritual, so there was plenty of time for his siblings and their partners to fall asleep first. Of course, if they awoke in the night, there was no getting away from the dreadful racket, which is why there was always a little middle-of-the-night gathering in the kitchen.

Sylvie had been the first – always the lightest sleeper in the family, she was granted the room furthest away from the attic. But it was no good. If she timed her final drink of water too late, she always had to get up – and then she was lost. Over the years, she’d tried earplugs of every shape, size and design, then reading – or rather being read to while wearing earbuds – meditating, taking a hot bath and having a warm drink. Nothing worked, so now she jumped straight to dressing in warm casual clothes – not being one for dressing gowns and slippers – before heading downstairs to wait for the others to join her.

She couldn’t do any washing up as that was too noisy, but the kettle would go on, the favourite mugs of the usual suspects were laid out on the countertop, milk would be poured into pans and hot chocolate, cocoa and a range of teas were laid out ready and waiting. Sylvie would always start with a herbal tea in an attempt to calm down – Hugh’s snoring had always made her feel wound tight as a spring and tonight had been no exception.

By the time she was joined by her favourite sister’s husband, Malcolm, it was time to warm up some milk. Malcolm’s preferred hot drink was cocoa, but Sylvie had brought some rather fine Italian hot chocolate, so both poured themselves a mug. Their drinks had barely cooled enough for them to start sipping, when the remaining members of the kitchen club started to trail in. Alan and Clare came together, as ever, Sylvie wondering if they ever did anything alone. Alan tucked a blanket around Clare’s lap after settling her into the sole comfy chair, before making them both tea with lots of honey. Sylvie was somewhat disconcerted to note they were wearing matching dressing gowns, pyjamas and slippers this year – was their no end to their togetherness?

Her own husband, Rob, was – as ever – sleeping like the dead. He also snored, if less loudly than Hugh. Hugh made the noise of a motorcycle – one with a very large engine which was running rough – whereas Rob’s snoring was an altogether gentler affair. He only snored on those occasions when there’d been a heavy meal and lots of drink taken. Other than their family Christmas gatherings, he was known to snore after big Lodge dinners, but slept in the spare room at home on those occasions. Here, for the Robinson family gatherings, there wasn’t enough room for them not to share – but then she’d no cause to complain when there was already Hugh.

Ma joined them too, but not because of the snoring – she never slept well these days, not since Dad died. She’d insisted on keeping the old house and while it was useful for their regular family get togethers, Sylvie and Hugh – as the oldest children – had wondered when they should try again to persuade her to sell up and move somewhere smaller. The idea had been muted that first year, but she’d been surprisingly angry at the suggestion, and they’d been too afraid of upsetting her again. She seemed to be doing better in the past year, going to church again, re-joining the flower arranging rota, she’d even been on a few trips – like that one with the flower group to Holland in the Spring. But she always insisted how happy she was to be home after each one – insisting that she could only stand people for so long. She had made friends with a couple of local widows, each taking it in turns to plan outings. But she liked them because they were like her “independent old ducks who like their own homes and their own company”. If they did persuade her to sell up, it would have to be somewhere local, and the pickings were very slim hereabouts.

Just as they’d all got settled with their hot drinks and the chat was going strong, Ma held up her hand. Yes, her sharp ears had heard something – there was a timid knock at the door. As one they called out “come in” and in came Sylvie’s newest sister-in-law. They’d none of them particularly taken to her, as she’d replaced a much loved sister-in-law after a very messy divorce. It didn’t help that she was very quiet and clung to Craig like a limpet, so much so that they were really surprised to see her here.

Alan made her some tea with honey while Clare tried not to look too perturbed at the attention he was paying to her sister-in-law, for she was dressed in extremely glamorous silk pyjamas, dressing gown and silly little fluffy mules. The chat had returned to their usual this and that, when the mouse broke in – Melissa, that was her name – saying she had something special to ask of them all, but especially Ma. Sylvie suspected everyone around the table shared her worry that they’d been less than kind and welcoming to her on her first Robinson family gathering after the wedding. The family hadn’t attended their wedding either, but that’s because Craig had arranged for them to get married on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean.

With murmurs of encouragement from around the table, Melissa started. It was quite a tale of woe. Craig’s business was in trouble, although the details weren’t entirely clear. Naturally, she received sympathetic noises over that news, but when she moved onto the subject of the maintenance Craig was paying to his ex-wife and their children, she was on rocky ground. Not that she seemed to realise, for she went on at some considerable length about their greed causing Craig and herself to make cutbacks. Perhaps feeling she wasn’t getting the sympathy she deserved for this, she dabbed ostentatiously at her eyes, even though Sylvie was quite certain there wasn’t a drop of water to be found there. Alan gamely tried to change the subject, but Melissa wasn’t finished yet. Turning to Ma, with a worryingly winsome look, she said “Craig suggested we move in here with you to save a bit of money. Wouldn’t that be lovely for you to have some company?”

Everyone around the table gaped at her – all except for Ma that is. She got up briskly from the table to put her cup in the sink before saying “Aye, that’d be lovely. Except I’ve arranged to have lots of work done on the house to tart it up before putting it on the market, so you couldn’t live here through all that, what with the mess and the noise.” She turned and smiled sweetly at Sylvie, “you know love, like you and Hugh have been at me to do for ages.”

Sylvie smiled. Her mother might be an old duck, but there was no doubting she was a smart one. She knew full well what Craig was up to. But it wasn’t going to work, and he’d be getting a good ticking off from Ma later. Oh to be a fly on that particular wall.

© Debra Carey, 2021

May your holiday gatherings be more fine Italian hot chocolate than Machiavellian misdeeds but, most important of all, may 2022 be when you fulfil your writerly intentions.

#FF: Project Gutenberg’s Birthday- The Stories

Gentlemen prefer blondes: the diary of a professional lady

I can see the raised eyebrows – yes, even here from the page – and I can sense judgement made being that the words professional lady have nothing ladylike about them. But, that simply isn’t the case. I married into an old moneyed family. My husband was a darling man, he fell for me for the way I looked but, when he got to know me, to know my personality, my mind, my qualities – that’s when he got down on one knee. I’d struggled with my decision, for I’d sensed what was coming. He thought he was being clever asking to see my rings and putting each of them on his pinkie to test for size. But I knew… That said, my did that man have good taste in jewellery. His mother I found out later, she’d insisted on having him spend as much time with her as with his father, and she’d schooled him in many useful ways.

Yes, my husband was almost perfect. Intelligent, well-read, erudite, cultured, and kind – oh so kind. People said I married for money, but I didn’t, it was a love match. I’d have followed him into the anywhere, truly I would. And we were happy, ridiculously so, even though the family curse loomed over our happiness. It struck, of course, one day, after his morning ride. They shouted for me from the stable yard, and I was able to get to his side so I could be with him in his final moments. I withdrew from society after that, for I had nothing left of him, as we’d not been blessed with children.

Instead of spending my time raising children, he’d taken pleasure in schooling me – in business. He wanted to make sure I would have more than what he left me, for he was determined I would be my own woman and not dependant upon another man for my future security. It was he who told me not to be afraid to use my wiles. Not that he was suggesting I trade my person, oh no. Only that I shouldn’t be shy about using my looks – and my striking blonde hair especially – to get my foot in the door.

He also left me with one hugely valuable asset – an address book of the highest quality. Not lords and ladies, but rather business professionals of the highest standing and scruples. These were all men of course – for women are not taken seriously in business yet. But I always knew I’d want to work with women in due course, and set about making my fortune, so I’d have no-one tell me how unwise my plans were. It took time and now my locks are more white than blonde – still striking, I’m told, but no longer needed to get through those doors. For money talks, and I have a lot of it.

My ladies don’t have to be blonde, not have they needed to trade on their looks. I teach them not to be shy though. There’s more than looks to use with gentlemen in order to gain an advantage. Some have turned me down, assuming me to be something that I am not. Not one of them got a second chance, for I won’t be judged by those I work with. I don’t doubt there were some who thought the same but, by keeping their thoughts to themselves and acting on their ambition to succeed – have found success and, in most cases, a friend and mentor to both like and respect. We are a rare breed – successful business women.

I am writing my story so that others who come after me will know how best to obtain the advantage in a world where women are not taken seriously. Voting is permitted now, of course, and women are working – but it’s usually doing jobs men don’t want, or in lower paid professions. I’m certain that things will change in the generations to come, but I want women to know how to gain an advantage in a business world populated primarily by gentlemen. Being blonde certainly helps, but I’ve put pen to paper to capture all my knowledge and expertise. My words will help an advantage to be gained in business, whether you be blonde, redhead or brunette. But remember, your don’t have to be a natural blonde, you can become blonde if you’d like to use that edge!

© Debra Carey, 2021

A warning to the curious, and other ghost stories

The day had gone well for 2 section. Out of the whole company, they were the only ones to achieve all their objectives, and they’d had the lightest casualties. It had only been an exercise, but given where these raw recruits had been a matter of months ago, they had every right to swagger a bit. The captain had been complimentary to the rupert, and whilst as green as they come, he was humble enough to know that their success was mainly down to the NCOs, particularly Corporal Baker.

Baker had been one of the stars of the last intake and had earned his first stripe during training. The second had come after their passing out parade, and he’d been posted to training the next lot. Where the officers were posh and came from all over the place, Baker was every inch a Gloucestershire boy, and the lads revered him as one of their own. He spoke their language and got the best out of them. In training he patiently explained everything in his slow country cadence, stepping up the tempo as they moved from the classroom and parade ground and onto the rifle range and into the field. Here, his barked instructions were acted on instantly.

Tomorrow they’d be back in barracks, but for tonight they’d be given permission to bivouac without setting a guard. A couple of crates of beer had been dropped off and the fixings for a camp fire meal. Isaac smiled to himself at the enthusiasm the lads showed for this which, if they had known, was another training exercise. He also smiled at the thought that the brass imagined there was anything these West Country boys needed to learn about living off the land.

He’d got them started and then gone off to report to the rupert and the captain and take part in the debrief on the exercise. He mostly stayed quiet in the company of his peers and superiors, but there were a couple of things he felt it important to pass on, ideas which he believed would lead to a better outcome in a similar situation.

When he got back to his section, he found them settled in, and telling ghost stories round the campfire, waiting for the grub to be ready. They’d even waited to open the beer until he got back. He started opening bottles and passing them around whilst he listened to the stories. There were a couple of good yarns he’d not heard before and some of the boys had a real gift for telling a story. On the other hand, young Appleby was really struggling with his story, losing the thread and getting the characters mixed up. The rest of the section were getting restless and starting to heckle the unfortunate speaker.

“Come on Corp, your turn!”

“Well now, me ‘andsomes, are you sure? You’m don’t be standing guard tonight, but you’m still be needing your beauty sleep – early start and a busy day tomorrow.”

”The food’s not ready yet Corp. We’ve all told a story – of sorts.” Everyone looked at Appleby who blushed and pulled his head in like a shy turtle.

“Well then, if you’m sure, but I warn ‘un, this is a true story. This happened to me when I was on training.” The section settled themselves back again, with two of them dividing their attention between Baker and the fire where their meal was cooking.

“In fact, ’twas a night much like tonight: cold, clear and with the promise of frost. In’t middle of night, I got woken up to stand my duty and was sad to leave my nice warm sleeping bag, I can tell you.

“Well, my hour passed peacefully enough, and I went to get my replacement. After I’d done that, I thought I’d not get back to sleep until I’d emptied my bladder, so I took myself off past the guard. My night sight was pretty sharp by now, so I had no problem picking my way over to an appropriate tree.

“I’d just buttoned my fly back up when I spotted a glim of light bobbing away amongst the trees further in. What I probably should have done was to report it to the guard or the corporal or perhaps even the sergeant, but I were young and foolish and I thought I’d be checking it out for myself.

“Well, I followed that blessed light around and about for nigh on half an hour, nearly got myself lost I was so turned around, but I never caught up with th’ light and whatever was causing it. In th’ end I found myself back where I had started and deciding to get on to my bed. I picked my way back and checked in with the guard. The corporal was checking on them and asked me where I’d been. When I explained, he laughed.

‘Oh, you’ve seen the ghost have you? Nothing to worry about their, although he do be taking a shine to some people. Follow ’em about he do, if’un be too curious about his doings.”

He laughed again, and I pretty much decided he’d been having me on. But… He didn’t seem to be too worried about whatever was out there… I got back to my sleeping bag, but struggled to sleep. I were tired a’right, but my mind were all awake with this business of ghosts.

About an hour later, I reckon, I was just starting to drowse, when I realised I could see a glim of light bobbing around outside moi bivvy. The light seemed to be circling around moi bivvy…but getting closer with each pass. I wanted to cry out but moi voice was frozen, like. Closer and closer this light came, until I could start to make out features. It looked like a soldier, but from an earlier time. He still clutched his Brown Bess, but he knelt and laid aside his rifle and reached out his hands.

” I tried to say ‘What do you want?’ but it just came out like a creak.

“The hands were reaching out, reaching out, reaching out, until they clasped around my leg and started tugging.” Isaac paused and took a swig of his beer. The attention of the whole section was on him now.

“Where was I? Oh yes, they clutching hands pulling my leg – just like I’m pulling yours!”

© David Jesson, 2021

Author’s note: How could I not go with MR James and a ghost story this close to Christmas? The stories I normally write from the PG prompt focus on a trio of brothers that first came on the scene in a little second bookshop that may or may not be haunted, but as I’ve been spending a lot of time with the characters of the November Deadline (the book Debs and I are writing) recently, that I decided to explore Isaac’s background a little. I also need to say a thank you to Mr Dodge who gave me the bones of the story many years ago.

#FlashFiction 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.


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 12th December @ 8am 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: Does writing stress or delight you?

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 1 question – In your writing, what stresses you the most? What delights you?

The only thing about writing which causes me stress is when I have a deadline and am not feeling the inspiration. Fortunately it happens rarely. Editing can be stressful, especially as I’m rarely able to do it in multiple continuous sessions, so cannot avoid worrying about consistency while I struggle to keep my head in the story.

The aspects of writing which delight me are many – building a new character, getting an idea to move the story along, doing background research which can provide a spark of inspiration for my story or by gaining satisfaction that I’ve found some piece of information or fact which will add to the believability of what I’m writing, feeling the words simply flow through my fingers onto the keyboard, reading it back afterwards while thinking “I can’t believe I did that!” That last part has never been less than a buzz, even if someone else doesn’t like it as much as I do, I’m just constantly staggered that an old lady who came to writing late in life can actually string stuff together, so – like I said – it’s a delight 🙂

The awesome co-hosts areare PJ Colando, Diane Burton, Louise – Fundy Blue, Natalie Aguirre, and Jacqui Murray – 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 today, 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 5th 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 12th December @ 8am GMT

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

© Debra Carey, 2021

#SecondThoughts: What makes a Writing Space?

Although I’ve occasionally written something longhand in a notebook, if I write anything at all when I’m away from my desk, it tends to be notes – an aide memoir about a thought which popped unexpectedly into my head, or an item to be researched at a later date. I’ve also trained myself to think that it’s writing time when I’m sat at my desk.

That said, there’s very little about my desk that says “a writer works here”. My desk is very much a multi-purpose space – somewhere I do my day job providing support at an IT company, where I sit while doing my second job providing life coaching to my clients via Zoom, where I do all my personal and home admin. It’s also where I process my photographs, where I write my blogs (one life coaching, one personal, and this one), and it’s where I write fiction.

One wall of my office is lined with bookcases, positively groaning with books and yes, there’s a fair few on the craft of writing and publishing (perhaps one day I should review them). But there are also books on a variety of other topics (hence the groaning shelves). My office also stores the large pool of camera equipment I share with my partner.

But there are writerly aspects…

I’ve a simply beautiful antique writing slope which my partner bought me for Christmas a few years ago, which I really want to set up somewhere it can both be displayed and used for it’s original purpose. It currently sits on some shelving next to my desk and, whenever I see it, it makes me smile. I really rather like the idea of getting a quill or some form of dipping pen for it’s inkwell. One day…

Despite the fact that I now write my stories straight to screen, I have two large pots of pens & pencils – multiple colourful ballpoints and felt-tips pens, as well as many an ink pen. To date, I’ve three shades of ink – black, magenta and jade green. I love them all and feel sure I’ll be adding more, for they are gorgeous and I really enjoy the feel of writing with ink onto quality paper – it has a way of slowing down my thoughts, and that causes quite unexpected things to appear.

That leads nicely onto the dangerously swaying piles of notebooks on my desk – one pile of small (A5) and one of large (A4). There’s a mix of soft covers and hardbacks, ring binders and fully bound, all in multiple colours and patterns of cover. I intended to implement a system for their use, but have failed miserably to date. Instead, I regularly flip through them, either looking for something specific, or just to check what I may have forgotten (quite a lot as it turns out).

One item which really gives me the “I’m a writer” feels is the old black Anglepoise lamp sitting on the right-hand corner of my desk. It sheds a lovely warm pool of light across my desk, and creates a cosy atmosphere which feels more writerly than business-like. To add to the cosy atmosphere, when its time to do some writing, I put on one of my father’s old wool cardigans – oversized, rolled up at the wrists, and with holes which need darning. I’ve no idea if famous authors wore such things, but I feel more writerly when wearing one.

There’s also always a mug of tea – either Chai or Earl Grey – for tea is my fuel. In the background are the latest drawings from my grandchildren, and I try to keep space in the corner for a small sprig or two of something in a little glass vase from my daughter.

To the side of my desk, I have an inspiration board leaning against the wall. It’s filled with a selection of images and words cut out from magazines, together with a sprinkling of gold stars (someone sent me them and they seemed just the thing to add). It’s there to remind me of the life I’m working towards… one in which a writing shed plays a starring role.

What’s in your Writing Space? If you don’t have a dedicated space, what might make somewhere your ideal Writing Space?

#Secondthoughts: What I’ve learnt about writing from bad films

In the past, I’ve been pretty discerning in my viewing. There was the occasional yawn-fest when someone else picked the film, or if I watched TV when staying with someone else. But, generally, I’ve a pretty good idea of what type of thing I enjoy, and I’ve stuck to it.

Then my partner moved in with me and so naturally we watch a mix of what he likes and what I like. He likes action – high speed affairs with fights and stunts, and less attention to character development and storyline. That’s not all he watches – but it is what he watches at the end of a hard week when he simply wants to switch off and be diverted. As a result, in the past few years, I’ve watched a fair bit of – if not bad – then certainly not especially good stuff.

For I like films (and TV programmes) with well-crafted stories, with characters who are well-drawn and have depth, where there’s quality dialogue, not too many tropes, and a plot without a telegraphed outcome. The actors don’t have to provide award-winning performances, but must be believable in the role.

What I am not is a fan of films (and TV programmes) which are all action, horror or gore-fests, where the acting is one-dimensional or completely wooden, where there are glaring inaccuracies or plot holes, and where the plot follows a same-old same-old scenario. And so we come to…

Lesson 1: Humour can rescue those genres which are not my preferred – by which I mean wit, not macho banter (I have a strong aversion to macho banter). Macho banter is all about trying to be top dog, whereas wit doesn’t care, because it knows it’s clever.

To demonstrate this point I give you the action franchises Fast & Furious and Red. Both are headlined by action stars, both have action sequences and big stunts which require me to suspend disbelief. But the former takes itself terribly seriously, while the latter sends up the genre, albeit with affection. The former I find as dull as ditch water, while the latter proved pleasantly entertaining (if far from award-worthy). The quality of acting in the former runs from a to b, while that in the latter uses the full spectrum of the alphabet. The former is played for the ego stroking of the cast, the latter strictly for laughs. And with that we move on to…

Lesson 2: When you’re not playing it for laughs, you really must get the details right.

Professionals in the personal protection business absolutely trashed the BBC series The Bodyguard because the central character was running around not fulfilling his primary role – that of guarding his charge – but frankly, you didn’t need to be in the industry to notice, for it was the first question I asked. another BBC drama Vigil struck an immediate duff note in the characterisation of the captain. The action, which largely takes place upon a British nuclear deterrent submarine, is somewhere lead officers have to pass the notoriously unforgiving training programme before even being considered for service. Only the cream of the cream make it through, so depicting a weak captain in this key role, even hinting at his being a positive discrimination appointee by casting a black actor, is as unlikely to happen as a bodyguard with PTSD being selected to safeguard a key government minister. It was a shame for in both dramas, there was good tension, unexpected plot twists, and a quality cast. While there were other issues which caused a raised eyebrow or two, it was the sloppiness with characterisation which undermined their quality and made it impossible for me to take them seriously. While still on the subject of getting the details right, let’s move on to…

Lesson 3: while not Chekhov’s Gun Principle, if you’re going to name a weapon in your story, make sure it’s apt and historically accurate (surely a requirement for any named prop).

While I’ve blithely paid not a bit of attention to weapons used on screen, for my partner (whose great passion is military history) it’s the first thing he notices. Let’s compare and contrast The Battle of the Bulge and Fury. In the former, the easily available US Patton tank was used to depict German Tiger tanks. While entirely common at the time for German WW2 hardware has always been extremely rare), they also used post-war US Jeeps, despite earlier models being in plentiful supply. But in the latter film, accurate replicas were used throughout, and the producers also engaged with a British museum to use two fully restored WW2 tanks – one US, one German – for certain key scenes. Although there’s a certain amount of leeway assumed in film, you cannot get away with the same when writing your story. So, knowing that WW2 Soviet tanks are so small you’ll find no six footers in a T34, indeed knowing that they’re likely to be no taller than 5ft 6in, could not only help you avoid a distracting mistake but also contribute to your choosing to craft a character of Tartar, Turkic or Mongolian origin.

Lesson 4: when writing fiction in a historical setting, the bits which actually happened have to be correctly reported.

Let’s look at the bad and the good in a few TV series. In the hugely successful TV series Peaky Blinders, we see lead character Thomas Shelby meeting with Home Secretary, Winston Churchill in 1919 – except that Winston Churchill wasn’t Home Secretary in 1919. A similar error occurred in Leonardo, where da Vinci is shown being best friends with Niccolò Machiavelli, in 1467 – a full two years before Machiavelli was born. On the flip side, I offer Downton Abbey, where the writers demonstrate how to get it right by their successful depiction of the Grantham family living their lives weaved around the major historical events of the period, such as the sinking of the Titanic and WW1. With my second example of getting it right, I offer Band of Brothers. Based on a non-fiction book, it enhanced its accuracy by including clips from interviews with the surviving real life members of the cast of characters.

Have bad films/TV provided you with useful writing lessons? Where else have you discovered unexpectedly useful lessons in writing?

© Debra Carey, 2021