#secondthoughts: Fools & Mortals

Debs and I met through a book club. It started with just three people, Brave New World, and a less than ideal venue…(we weren’t anticipating the dance class in the pub where we chose to meet). From the beginning we took it in turns to choose the book and we had a rule that the book needed to be one that none of us had read – the idea was that we wouldn’t have an emotional investment prior to the novel and wouldn’t be heartbroken when a much loved favourite was ripped apart by others. When it came to my first turn to suggest a book, I couldn’t quite make up my mind, so I suggested a short list of three, and the others voted on this.  By the time that Debs joined the club a few years later, we had a pretty established format of a short list of 5-8 books, sometimes with a theme. Incidentally, the book we were discussing at Debs’ first session was an unusually long one for us – This Thing of Darkness – but one that we all loved, an infrequent situation for us!

Some authors are so prolific that it is possible to circumvent our rules, whilst still maintaining (some of) the spirit.  For example, I am a huge Pratchett fan, but had not read any of the Long Earth books when they turned up on one of Debs’ lists.  This month we read Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell: we have a huge Cornwell fan in the group, but she’d not read this one.  In fact, Cornwell, with only one or two others, is an author that has come up twice, the first book of his we read being The Last Kingdom. I’ve not seen the TV version of the Last Kingdom so I can’t coment on how it compares.  I wasn’t a big fan of the book: it should have ticked a lot of boxes for me, but I think I just didn’t warm to the main character.

I was intrigued by the idea of Fools & Mortals, especially as the group had opted to read Bill Bryson’s brief biography of Shakespeare a few years ago.  (We’ve been going for more than 15 years now, so we’ve covered a lot of territory).  I’m out of practice in terms of writing reviews and so this is not really intended to be one.  Elsewhere I’ve mentioned that I quite like Sarina Langer’s approach to reviewing, which is not so much as to offer a subjective star rating, but to pick up on the things that she likes and the things that she thought could be improved. One of the things that I have found myself doing more frequently as increase the time spent writing is to ask the question “what would I do differently, if I were writing this  book?”.

Before we get to that, it is probably worth noting that (a) I did search for some reviews of the book, and the consensus seems to be that it is a 4* effort, and, (b) outside of Amazon (where, at the time of writing this post, there were 205 reviews) I’ve yet to find a compelling/reasoned negative review.

So what did I like?  I liked the opening a great deal: I thought it was intriguing and sucked me in completely. (The Cornwell fan in the group thought it rather obvious, and didn’t like it.  Ho hum.  As an aside, the best meetings we’ve had are around books that split opinion).  It was an excellent start and the epilogue echoes this to give the story a nice symmetry.  I quite like the main character, who is very much of the time.  He is not an anti-hero, but neither is he especially heroic – he is a self-confessed thief, but is a reliable narrator.  I learned something, and I think that the tings that I learned were even true in some respects!

I have two major, linked gripes.  There is a plot, but it’s a bit thin, and as a consequence the book feels as though it has been padded:  there are quite large chunks of Shakespeare’s works in the book and there is a great deal of repetition.  Take ceruse, for example.  Ceruse was the name for the paste made from white lead and vinegar that was used to whiten the skin.  Unsurprisingly, given the the book is set late in the Elizabethan period, ceruse is mentioned 11 times  –  perhaps the biggest surprise is that it is not mentioned more frequently.  Sometimes things were added to the paste – Cornwell describes the property mistress of the acting troupe trying out various dyes to give a green hue to Puck’s make-up at the first presentation of a Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The use of crushed pearls is also mentioned: in a theatrical setting it is used to make the skin sparkle slightly in the candlelight.  We were reminded of the crushed pearls almost every single time, and I got a bit fed up with this being rehashed.

I think the plot felt thin because the book couldn’t really decide what it wanted to be.  I was going to complain about the fact that there is very little ‘action’ (in this sense peril) until almost halfway through the book, but in thinking about it, this wasn’t necessarily the problem – the problem was that the action felt rather contrived.

What would I do differently?  I was going to say “Nothing!  I wouldn’t write this book!”, but that is perhaps being too flippant.  The book did give me an idea, which I will make a note of and I might even revist, which would require  reasonable amount of research, but might be quite fun; it does need time to mature.  But if I were to take Fools and Mortals itself…hmmm….I think what could be quite fun is to reduce the book to novella length and then treat that as the first third of the book, the first Act.  There are two other acts that could work well (and a scholar could probably find several others).  Within my back ground reading, I found out that the Globe was built from the materials of another play house, called the Theatre, which was removed from its site following a dispute with the landlord, stored and then rebuilt.  Also, we tend to forget that Shakespeare lived not only in the Elizabethan era, but also in the Jacobean.  Managing this transition must have been fun…

So how about you?  What things have you learned about your writing by reading other people’s work?

 

 

 

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#Secondthoughts: Kill Your Darlings

If you follow the writing community on Twitter, and indeed on other social media I expect, you will frequently see bits of advice done up nicely, almost like a little gem of a motivational poster.  Nice font, an appropriate pic, the whole shebang.  Some are new-spun, most are bon mot or bon juste extracted from the sayings of well-known names, some still alive, some no longer with us and some from quite a long time ago.

I’ve noticed that should you be so inclined, you could probably do a nice bit of meta-analysis and group such advice into a relatively small number of sets.  One of these is “Kill your darlings”, although this is probably an extreme version of “make them suffer”, the point is that you need to be prepared to be horrible to the characters you love, not just the ones that you think deserved to be offed.  This isn’t just a case of editing out a secondary character who just isn’t pulling their weight, oh no.  You might have to kill off a much-loved character…

“Make them suffer” is justified on the basis of making the character grow.  I don’t know how much Dickens actually liked Sidney Carton as a character, but he did “kill off his darling” in order to show how much the character had grown – “It is a far better thing I do now, than I have ever done before”…  But is making your character suffer, and even die, all that it sometimes seems to be?

Two thoughts before we continue.

  1. I watched Strike recently, the TV adaptation of the first two ‘Cormoran Strike’ novels by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling).  I guess I’ve broken the first rule by watching the adaptation before the book, but to be honest, whilst I love a detective novel, when I saw the brouhaha when the book was launched, I really couldn’t be bothered, not even with after seeing this summary.  I quite liked the show: the casting was brilliant, and the key actors brought a warmth and humanity to the whole thing which meant that I didn’t feel that I’d wasted my time watching it. But.  The whole thing was clichéd beyond the point of being ridiculous, and frequently made my teeth itch, which was a shame.  Cormoran Strike, in particular, is such a bundle of “let’s make his life difficult” ideas that it is no wonder that he drinks so much, and incredible that he ever gets anything done.  If an alternate turned up in a Jasper fforde novel, he would probably be there to take industrial action.
  2. Do things always need to grow to be worth reading about?  As an example, lets look at P.G. Wodehouse.  It’s difficult to find as much energy expended to return things to the status quo as you find in a P.G. Wodehouse story once the balance has been tipped, and yet the stories remain popular, to the point that they are almost imprinted on the collective consciousness.

As with most things to do with writing, at least part of the answer is probably to do with your audience.  Sticking with detective stories, sometimes you want something quite cerebral with an unexpected detective being brainy and pulling the strings, and sometimes you want roof-top chases.  Sometimes it’s all about an every-person blundering into things and sometimes it’s the trained detective doing it by the book and getting on with the job (albeit guided by their gut/nose/other part of the body as appropriate).  You could argue that Miss Marple goes through some kind of growth – she has to learn to accept the success of her nephew and the consequent financial support that he provides and she has to deal with her increasing fraility.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that death is a part of life, and we shouldn’t not talk about it – an unexpected character dying in an unexpected way should shock, but not be shocking, if you see what I mean.  But as writers, and indeed as readers, we should be open to other forms of shock, and other forms of growth.  People die every day – the “crude death rate” is currently under 1% (81 people in every 10000 per year) – but it doesn’t affect everyone, everyday.


© David Jesson, 2017

Guide to identifying a time-traveller

About Time

I looked out of the high window to the street outside.  The rain poured down, not torrentially, but with an insistent persistance, that left the pavement devoid of pedestrians, and road itself almost barren of of vehicles.  What should have been a quiet summer’s evening was a complete wash out, and I was glad to be inside.  I turned from the window and picked up my glass from an antique occaisonal table.

“Not a time to be outside” I stated to the room at large, not really expecting a response.  The four of us had, as was our wont, adjourned to the Library after dinner, scowling concertedly at a new member who had the temerity to ty an join us.  The Library had been ours for time immemorial.  Greywood had plomped into ‘his’ armchair and, tumbler of single malt not withstanding, had fallen asleep.  None of us could really understand how he did it.  He was demonstrably asleep, with light purring snore emanating from around a large fluffy moustache – that we would often joke had a life of it’s own – and yet not a drop of whisky would be lost from the glass, all would be consumed before the evening’s end.

The Commonwealth Club (we often called it the  Prune Club – being elderly curmudgeons was our raisin d’etra) is an anachronym, looking like something that Phileas Fogg might have belonged, hundreds of years before.  But even in our supposed modern world it has its place.

Darbishire and Memana were bickering over some item or other that they had read in the news as I was looking out of the window, but they broke off as I made my comment on the weather outside and Darbishire said “that reminds me of a joke: time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana!”

Memana groaned and I looked round for a pillow, or failing that a book, that I could throw.  Greywood huffed through his moustache and fixed Darbishire with a steely gaze.  This was another of Greywood’s traits that we had never fathomed: no matter how deeply asleep he seemed to be, he always knew what was being talked about.  We waited for the inevitable anecdote from his time in The Service.

That was a truly terrible joke [said Greywood], and besides which, it is factually incorrect.  Fruit flies may, indeed, like a banana, but time does not fly like an arrow. Every moment in history is available to us if we had but the means to access it, and what we experience is merely the brain trying to make sense of all this time happening at once.  During my time in The Service, I was seconded for a period to the Bureau of Anomolies in Time and Space.  Some boffin or other had managed to crack a limited form of time travel, and whilst the Government had tried to keep it under wraps, a boot-leg version had leaked out to the criminal classes.  There were two issues with this technology.  One, whilst you could jump a reasonable amount of time into the past or future, you could only do so for a few seconds, a minute at most and you would come back to where you jumped from as if you were on a bit of elastic.  The other was that the process of jumping had a physiological effect and all the muscle fibres in the body would contract a small but significant amount.   As a result, the technology was all but useless for espionage, and the technology was suppressed lest it fall into the wrong hands. Suppressed badly, and inevitably it did fall into the wrong hands.

The head of BATS was not a complete fool – you don’t get to head up such a specialist group if you’re an idiot.   He acted promptly, called in extra support as required and the team were able to track the leak and find the criminal group who were planning to use the equipment.  They had had some plan of using the  technology to gain information on sporting events.  We managed to catch up with them in the midst of their first attempt and scooped them all up, with the exception of the time-traveller.   Police records indicated that we had the whole gang as far as was known and so it was no simple matter to find our lost waif.  We did not know what he (or she) looked like, we did not know where they had jumped from, how far into the past or future they had jumped, or when they had returned to our time.  As I say, the head of the team that I had been seconded to was not a complete idiot and, as he had seen me at work before, he called me in early.   A job like this is tricky in so many ways, but I was able to tell the team reviewing the CCTV footage from the venue what to look for and the Police were able to pick up the, as it turned out, man before he had got too far.

Greywood sipped his whisky, wiped his moustache, resettled himself into his chair and started to fall back to sleep.  There is only one thing to do at such times and we all knew the drill.  Memana was closest and kicked Greywood’s foot.

“Hey! Oh no you don’t!  How did you know who to look for?”

“I would have thought it was perfectly obvious – I told you about the technology, and it’s physilogical effects.  All they had to do was look for the person who suddenly had serious problems walking – time wounds all heels, you know”.

© David Jesson, 2017

 

One man’s now is another man’s history

Sonia awoke to a persistent beeping noise: “What the hell is that?” she muttered. She’d told her team not to wake her under pain of death and they’d never not complied. That’s when she realised it wasn’t her phone but the Gadget. Pulling open the drawer she read the message flashing in fluorescent letters: “Report immediately.”

Punching in her entry code – not her birthdate (she’d terrorised all her staff with instant dismissal if they used that) her’s was the date her dog died – Sonia strode into the office.. She found them all sitting round the coffee machine, feet up and chatting. “Up!” she yelled in her best sergeant major voice and enjoyed the scampering response. “We’ve got a top priority alert. A suspect on his way from Boston. Time Traveller. Someone down there goofed and he used a ray gun on the senior security guy who’s now gone all ga-ga.”

Her team looked decidedly unhappy with that news: “Erm boss, how’re we supposed to handle that without getting fried ourselves?”

“We’re just running interference” she reassured them. “We announce a delay with the refuelling truck which gives them enough time to get a specialist out here from Boston. Everyone needs to keep calm, act natural and it’ll be just fine.”

It’d been Sonia’s suggestion that they use the excuse of the refuelling truck as a delaying tactic. Here in Anchorage, the conditions meant they frequently needed to handle freezing weather and today was certainly cold enough to freeze the proverbials off a brass monkey.

Sonia changed out of her uniform into something a bit more unchallenging and low level before making the announcement about the delay. Her announcement was greeted with the expected groans, so she announced that free hot refreshments were available. She took the opportunity to move amongst the passengers and engage each of them in brief conversation, but no-one was triggering her spidey senses.

Her phone rang “John’s landed” she heard in her ear. This time it was her turn to groan. Really, her little brother? They’d had to send the doofus to handle this on her territory? Sonia flashed her best smile to the cute looking guy in the Bruins sweatshirt and excused herself. Pity this wasn’t a real delay, she could’ve pulled there.

Pulling on her outdoor layers and boots, Sonia crossed the runway to where John’s plane was taxiing to a stop. Bundled up, John emerged first and hurried down the stairs. “Hi Sis, it’s the guy in the Bruins sweatshirt. Have you spotted him yet?” “Don’t be ridiculous” she snapped in response, “I’ve just been chatting to him and he’s just an ordinary guy.” John grinned, “Yeah he is exactly your type, but he’s the guy, I promise you.” “So why didn’t you stop him at Boston then?” John sighed, he could feel his big sister assessing him cooling, expecting him to confess that he’d messed up. “I identified him, but while I went to get my kit to put him down, the head of security persuaded my boss that he could handle it without any fuss himself. Seems he was wrong.”

“What this ray gun he’s using?” Sonia enquired. “We don’t know yet. It’s the first of its type we’ve come across” John admitted. “They usually just knock you out, but these ones seem to make their victims loose their memories and their mental faculties.” “Sounds nasty.” “Yup, that’s why I put out the instruction to just delay him. I didn’t want my big sis getting into any trouble she couldn’t handle” grinned John.

Swiping him round the ear, Sonia asked for details of John’s plan. “Well, he’s seen me before, so …” “He’s seen you before? That’ll make it more difficult. How well would he know you?” “We chatted for nearly an hour, so it’s a risk. I’m going to need to disguise myself. Any thoughts?”

Sonia pondered as they walked across to the airport terminal. Going to her office, she signalled a cleaner pushing a mop and bucket to join them. There John and the cleaner switched outfits, including the glasses and knitted hat the cleaner was wearing. Sonia walked round John and admitted “I’d not recognise you even if I was expecting to see you.” “Perfect” said John and got his kit prepared. Pulling on thick heavy cleaning gloves, he pushed the mop and bucket across the terminal building and into the lounge. John pushed the mop around in the guy’s eye-line and when he was confident there’d been no reaction, he moved round behind him. Looking over the top of his glasses, John picked his spot carefully and plunged the needles into the guy’s neck. The guy startled, but collapsed before he could get his hand into his pocket. Sonia and her team raced in, removed his ray gun carefully, and cuffed the guy.

Later, as they were walking back to his plane with the prisoner, Sonia asked “I forgot to check, how’d you know it was him in Boston?” “Usual thing, I got an instinct …” “Oh come on” said Sonia “this is me remember, I know how your mind works. What was it that trigged those instincts?

“There was something wrong I couldn’t put my finger on, so I struck up a conversation with him. We talked ice hockey ‘cos he was wearing a Bruins shirt. He knew facts and figures, but there was no colour, no opinion. Even though he said he was a long-term fan, there was no passion. So I asked about more stuff. And he was the same – all facts and figures, but nothing personal.”

“Time travellers need to get their cultural references right, especially when they come from the future. My guy sounded like he was reciting history … not talking about life.”

© Debra Carey, 2017

Dreamcatchers

 

dreamcatcher

Writing prompt:
Every so often a dream catcher must be emptied of the dreams it has caught. Who does it and what do they see?

My first reaction on reading this was ‘oh no, a bit of hippy dippy nonsense’. But, I let my mind drift and here’s what I came up with:

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Everyone dreams” my Freudian tutor was saying, “if they say they don’t, they’re lying, or there’s something wrong with them.” “I don’t, but it’s just a vitamin deficiency, nothing dubious” I interjected, then realised I was getting those looks, you know the ones, where people are thinking ‘delusional’.

I realised the amateur mistake I’d made and hastily revised my statement: “well, OK, of course I do dream, I just never remember them. I haven’t done for years.” My tutor gave me an unfathomable look and wrote something down in her notebook.

Some weeks later, as class ended, a woman came in to speak to the tutor. Whilst chatting, I became aware that both were looking at me and nodding. It wasn’t a comfortable feeling so, despite being pretty desperate to go to the loo, I decided to walk with Therese to the station. Once there I raced down to my platform, catching the early train. It would mean a longer wait at changeover, but that would give me time to find the loo.

Opening my book, I was soon engrossed in Freud, scribbling in the margins and highlighting passages. Reaching my changeover station, I quickly packed up and hopped off, seeking a platform attendant to direct me on my now hugely urgent visit. Relieved, I emerged onto the platform to await my train, only to realise that the woman who’d been talking to my tutor was there and she’d spotted me.

Feeling more than a touch uneasy but drawing re-assurance from the crowded platform, I headed on down to wait or my train. She approached me, asking: “are you going through to Leatherhead from here?” I sighed, realising she’d done her homework and knowing that I’d have to trust my tutor wasn’t selling me into the slave trade, I agreed that I was. She offered me her hand and introduced herself: “Sarah Jane Compton, Sleep Specialist.”

We hopped on the train and she spoke to me about my dream recall, or rather, the lack of it. She was particularly interested in the vitamin deficiency thing and I told her it had been discovered during the years when I was seeing a nutritionist regularly. That we’d even tested it out. When I supplemented for a minimum of 4 weeks, my dream recall returned. But as the lack of it was doing me no harm and I didn’t naturally consume those food stuffs high in it (one of the B vitamins, I don’t recall which now), I simply didn’t bother anymore.

Sarah Jane was making notes as we talked, then our conversation moved more generally onto psychology (which I was studying) and my plans for the future. At that time, I had no fixed plan. I knew that the subject was one of great fascination for me, but I had yet to chose my specialism. Sarah Jane asked if I would be willing to participate in a sleep study – nothing arduous – they would simply measure my brain activity over a couple of nights and interview me on waking and later in the day. She stressed how helpful it would be and I agreed, subject to it taking place out of term time.

Some weeks later, I attended Sarah Jane’s sleep study where I was also invited to sit in on a few therapy groups. It rapidly became clear that the groups were for those whose sleep was disturbed. In some cases, it could clearly be traced to known trauma and the normal therapeutic options were providing succour and improvement. In other cases, there was no known reason for the deeply disturbing dreams being experienced. Children, in particular, were terrified of sleeping which was having a deterimental impact on their lives. One of the administrators had cautiously suggested trying dream catchers and – much to everyone’s surprise – they were experiencing a remarkably high level of success with them.

Whilst I was finding this entirely fascinating, I couldn’t help but wonder what part Sarah Jane saw me playing, when suddenly she came out with it. The dream catchers stopped being effective after a time and whilst they’d experimented with changing them for new ones, the children – in particular – took an overly long period of time to settle down with the replacements. Someone suggested that what was needed was for the dream catchers to be emptied. A few had volunteered, but as this involved viewing the contents, it had proven hugely distressing for some time afterwards and all ended up having to go into therapy because of what they’d seen. Sarah Jane wondered if I’d try. She was hoping that my lack of dream recall would make me immune to the dream catcher’s contents.

Unsurprisingly, I agreed. I did start to suffer from disturbed sleep myself. I’d wake up with a start, or wake up crying, or shouting out. Of course, I’d have absolutely no idea, no recall of why I felt the emotion, simply that I was feeling it – whether that be a terrible fear, absolute horror or terrible grief.

As this whole concept had originated from outside the box thinking, I decided to take a punt and suggest that – maybe – we should experiment with using dream catchers on those who lived happy lives and dreamed of pleasing things, you know, in the hope they’d provide a suitable balance? So, if you have happy dreams that you’re willing to share, do give us a call …

 

 

© 2016 Debra Carey

#secondthoughts – Enid Blyton

enidblyton01

I grew up reading her works – absolute lashings of the Famous Five, Mallory Towers, St Clares, and the Adventure series, with bits of the Secret Seven and the Mystery series thrown in for good luck.

I felt entirely betrayed when my boarding school experience didn’t match that portrayed by her in Mallory Towers and St Clares. But with the wisdom of age (and hindsight), I wasn’t a happy teen and a vast number of my peers appear to have enjoyed the experience (although I’ve not interrogated them over how well their experience matched the Blyton stories).

Villified for her racism (naughty Golly) and her entirely hands-off relationship with her own children, is she a fallen icon, or just a woman of her time?

Much of what was written at the time demonstrated the lack of enlightenment that was commonplace. Racism and mysogny were so prevelant as to pass beneath the radar of most; certainly I’ve heard many readers tell of re-visiting old loves and being shocked not only by the presence of both, but by the fact that they simply hadn’t noticed before.

As to her lack of mothering, we are comparing her behaviour to the entirely hands-on norm we now have. For many at the time (especially those who shared her social background), children were not a large part of their parents’ lives. In fact, I wonder whether her books provide an example whereby ideal children display a terrific ability to entertain themselves, in a delightful twist on being seen and not heard.

Whilst the children do get themselves into scrapes, they are always together. There is a collective and that collective provides protection against the type of trouble our children face now. Is it that children are more solitary these days, or perhaps families suffer from a greater geographic spread and so we no longer grow up with a gaggle of relations.

Another positive is that character traits such as honesty and loyalty are well-regarded,  whilst lying and self-absorption are demonstrably a ‘poor show’. I’ll step over the gender and racial stereotyping for the moment and say that whilst she portrayed an older world, a more ideal world where the sun shone more, they provide a fun and light-hearted balance to the many excellent tales of reality and life in the real-world. As adults, we all enjoy the occasional light and fluffy read, why shouldn’t young children?

Just a Man

The prompt:
He is just a man.
He will fail.
You will make sure of that.

 

small man

“Good morning Miranda”, said Gerry, “how are you feeling about our first session?” Miranda smiled, “a little nervous, but pretty excited. I’ve spent so much time talking this through with my group of girlfriends and getting absolutely nowhere with it. So, yes, nervous and excited.”

“I’m wondering” said Gerry, “if there’s something in particular that made you decide to seek professional help with this issue? Something more than the fact it’s been the subject of multiple conversations.” Raising her eyebrows at the unexpectedly on target question, Miranda responded: “I wasn’t planning to mention this quite so early,” she said quietly, “but my last boyfriend sent me this lengthy dissection of our relationship and what he perceived as my unreasonable expectations. I ended it that same day, but it’s been niggling away at me, probably because it’s written down and I can go over it, again and again, and torture myself with it.”

Gerry was nodding and making ‘I’m listening’ sounds, so Miranda found herself continuing: “I thought we could look at the problem overall before addressing the very specific points he raised.” “But the email upset you?” asked Gerry. “Not so much upset me, more came as a surprise. I thought we were doing fine. Well, apart from the usual niggles single people have when they’re transitioning into a couple, but I hadn’t spotted anything more … and I usually do.” “You usually do?” echoed Gerry in a slightly questioning tone. “Yes” agreed Miranda, “I’ve always been the one to examine the relationship, to check its temperature, where it’s going, whether I’m happy, whether I want more … or less. But that’s pretty normal isn’t it? The woman doing the relationship stuff whilst the bloke just putters along.” She laughed ruefully, “apart from the commitment-phobes, of course, who never let you get that far!”

“So, you ended the relationship when the e-mail arrived” said Gerry, “even though it was going fine. Why do you think that was?” Miranda recoiled as if struck, she’d never considered there was any other option open to her and she said as much. Keeping his voice very gentle, Gerry asked “you didn’t feel you could have a discussion about it?” “No,” said Miranda, “I didn’t feel he deserved me as he’d taken the coward’s way, sending an e-mail rather than talking to me in person.” Gerry’s facial expression seemed to say ‘fair point’.

Miranda noticed that each session with Gerry contained more of these unexpected and on-target questions. Despite feeling she’d addressed them well, she’d found herself thinking about the questions, over and over, and wondering if her responses were just a bit too pat, a bit too clever, a bit too deflecting? She decided to share her thoughts with Gerry, only to be rewarded with a broad smile and a suggestion that they discuss her ruminations in more depth.

These discussions began to feature in Miranda’s dreams, which provided interesting fodder for her weekly discussions with Gerry. When Gerry was away for two weeks, Miranda continued noting down her dreams. The night before her next session with Gerry, Miranda had a most memorable dream: She was in a big white room where twelve men and women ranged down one side, sat on ornate gold seats. Miranda approached each in turn only to find herself being asked, “why are you still single?” Miranda became more distressed with each question, finally blurting out to the last one: “You’re the wise ones, the all seeing ones, if you don’t know, how will I ever find out?” “You’ll have to ask Her” said the last one indicating a woman sitting on a far off cloud.

As Miranda got nearer, she recognised the woman as her mother. “Do get on with it Miranda” she heard her mother say impatiently. “But, but … I don’t understand”, blubbered Miranda, “what’s going on Mummy?” “Oh for goodness sake Miranda, you’re not a little girl, call me Mum, or mother, even Brenda?” Miranda shuddered at the thought of calling her mother ‘Brenda’ but took out a hanky and blew her nose. “Mum” she asked, “why am I still single? Why can’t I find a man to settle down with?”

Brenda snorted: “don’t be ridiculous Miranda, it doesn’t matter who you go out with. He is just a man. He will fail. You will make sure he does” and with that Miranda’s mother waved her away. Miranda stood there, her mouth gaping: “But Mum …” “Oh for goodness sake Miranda, what on earth do you think I was doing all those years whilst you were growing up?” Miranda looked how she felt – genuinely bewildered. Sighing heavily, Brenda continued: “I was training you to make sure the male species suffered, the way your father made me suffer. And I can see that I’ve done a good job. Now, hurry along, there’s a good girl. Just keep up the good work and do stop wasting money with that dreadful (Brenda spat out the next word) Man, Gerry, who asks you all those impertinent questions.”

 

© 2016 Debra Carey