The Last Day

It was the last day of summer.

The last day the frogs leapt in unison. The last day the Rooks flew into town, sailing on the wafts of music which floated up between the long fingers of flutists. The last day peach gowns were worn, gossamer and chiffon wafting gently in the breeze as though underwater.

It was the longest day of the year, the shortest night. Some reckoned the night didn’t come at all, because the sun was peeking blearily over the tip of the horizon, hiding her fiery hair, but not quite low enough so her rays didn’t escape and lighten the blackness of night.

Penny’s parents were preparing for the sunset, the sunset that would never come.They ran around the kitchen like headless chickens, and she smiled to herself.

She watched them from her corner in the kitchen, where the small window fit neatly into the little alcove, and was a porthole to the view of the sharp, steep landscape outside their house. She sat on a small red cushion, worn and faded from years of use, on the small wooden window seat.

When she turned back to the view outside, she saw the Rooks. An entire flock of them. A colossal black cloud, swirling over the mountainous city, like an ominous vortex. Their hoarse cries rising in the sky, a bellow of extortionate proportions. The very utensils shook on their hooks, the mugs rattled and the cupboard doors vibrated with the sound of over a thousand of them, and Penny slammed her hands over her ears.

The music from the city was drowned, and the sun sank lower in the horizon. She watched as they soared around the city once, twice, and a third, final time, before they swooped upward, covering the sky, and bringing darkness onto the world. Pitch blackness draped her window, and Penny found herself looking at the glass and seeing only her dim reflection, and the reflection of the wooden kitchen in it.

She turned to her parents, they had stopped what they were doing, and were standing, frozen, eyes on the window. The house began to hum with the screeching outside. It was beyond anything she could imagine, and even though they heard it every year, the sound was momentous. Time-stopping. Gut-wenching. She felt it in her bones, her heart was beating to the sound of it. Her breathing changed to match the shift in tune. The sound was increasing. Louder and louder, the vibrations more and more intense, until, as the clanging orchestra outside reached its peak, a sudden silence filled the room. The darkness outside surged, replaced by a dim twilight, and Penny stared up at an empty sky.

The Rooks had vanished.

The remaining twilight would hang over the world for a few weeks, before the black tendrils of winter edged their way across the sky, bringing frost and snow.

The last day of summer.

 

 

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Wuthering Heights

What is a ‘wuther’ exactly, and why are these Heights Wuthering? Is it some kind of present-tense form of ‘wither’? Do the Heights of this home ‘wither’ in agony because of all the pain, heartbreak and madness that has taken place under its roof?

You need look no further, dear reader, for I have the answer right here, quoted from Emily Bronte herself, ‘Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr Heathcliffe’s dwelling, “Wuthering” being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather.” (Wuthering Heights)

I first read Wuthering Heights when I was a wee tot of ten years old. I was at the age where I had mercilessly devoured all the normal, nice children books my parents had bought in bulk from charity shops at 5p each and filled my bookshelves with. I was tired of goody two shoes Enid Blyton characters and children playing detective.

I was living in a country where English books were a rarity, and you could only find really expensive recent editions. I loved old editions. Recent editions do nothing for me. They look like they’re trying too hard to appeal to the children of today who care only for how a book looks, who are only interested in something if it matches the technicolour of the TV cartoons that a lot of them are constantly glued to.

I like my books with plain, faded covers and yellowed pages that are well loved and smell slightly musty.

My father had a bookshelf filled with classics that my parents were dubious about sharing with us children. William Golding was too deep for us. The Mill on the Floss was “not for your age, yet, Len”, Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Grey was definitely not suitable subject matter for sensitive minds. And Wuthering Heights? Good fried grief.

I read all those titles and more hiding in the corner between my desk and the metal framed window, the heat of the sun beating outside and warming my bedroom walls, even though the air conditioning was on full blast. If there was somebody in my room, I snuck into my wardrobe (I was small then, I fit perfectly!) with my reading light (2 dirhams at a bazaar) and read till my eyes were sore.

It was in the wardrobe that I became acquainted with Emily Bronte’s Catherine and Heathcliff. It was wildly abhorrent, yet so enticing. I kept waiting for the redemption of the characters, for them to come together at last, in harmony, their misunderstandings put to rest. No such thing happened, and desolation began to peer at me through the final pages.

I thought their story was wildly romantic, and was devastated at the deterioration of Catherine and her thoughtless choices. The depth behind these choices were lost on me. I was only invested in the surface emotions. I didn’t understand why she was pulling all the feathers out of the pillow, I only knew that pulling feathers out of pillows was a fun pastime, and if Catherine did it, then my own secret pulling was justified.

Never mind I wouldn’t dream of justifying such a thing to dear Mother.

Honey and Welcome

I welcomed him. I greeted him. I said hello. I saluted him. I received him. I embraced his presence.

I offered him cake.

He was in my home.

His shoes on my holey carpet. Honey dripping down the side of his teacup. A metal teaspoon inside my honeypot. Internally screaming. The honey stick lay on the kitchen table, untouched, right next to the pot. Untocuhed. Use the honey stick, idiot, you will ruin my honey.

There was sliced, toasted bread on a plate. Butter in a butter dish. A loaf of cake with dry icing and glace cherries on top.

A window broke upstairs. My fingers clenched around my teacup. I saw his bright blue eyes rise to the ceiling. My knee jerked up and down under the table. Breathing hard and fast. I picked up a piece of toast and began to slide the soft butter over it. Then, looking directly at him, I picked up the honey stick and dipped it into the honeypot. The honey oozed gently onto my toast.

More glass crashed upstairs, glass splintering on the floor, the tinkle almost beautiful. Systematic crashing. Swinging in, and out again. I closed my eyes. Maybe he hadn’t heard. I needed to distract him.

‘You really should not use metal teaspoons in honey.’ I said, levelly, taking a bite to soothe my nerves. The floorboards upstairs really were creaking too much.

He didn’t seem to register what I said, so I spoke again, a little louder this time.

‘Would you like another cup of tea?’

‘No.’ he said, shortly. He stood up. ‘Are you alone?’

‘Yes, of course.’

‘There is someone upstairs.’

‘Don’t be so ridiculous. It’s just the cats.’

‘Do you let your cats break windows?’

‘Nonsense. No windows are broken. They are just playing with their toys.’ I took another bite. Everything is normal. Everything is normal. EVERYTHING IS NORMAL.

The crumbs joined together and solidified in my throat. A giant lump of despair and toast, welded together tightly. Like metal. I swallowed. It refused to go down.

‘I am going upstairs.’

I stood up quickly. Blocked his way through the kitchen door, swallowing hard. The ball of chewed toast refused to go anywhere, so all I could do was stare helplessly at him, leaning my hand against the frame and my hip on the other end. I jerked my head towards the table, where the honey dripped from the honey stick and on to my table cloth. He was already speaking into his phone. His voice was muffled, and I thought it was because my tears clouded my vision.

I was choking, that’s what it was. I was choking and that is why I couldn’t hear him. I tried to tell him so, but he looked right through me, beyond me, speaking gibberish into his phone and pushing past me on his way upstairs. I felt weak, flailing, gasping for breath.

‘Stop!’ but it sounded like ‘‘Mllop!’

My tongue was swollen, that’s what it was. I was allergic to honey.

I heard his feet pounding on the stairs and when he reached the landing, suddenly, all was still. No crashing. No creaking floorboards. Just his still body staring at what I knew for certain was in the bedroom. The rope. The blood smears. The body dangling from the ceiling. The jerking of the corpse. So hard it swung into the fragile glass. Splintering into purple skin and spattering on the wall. Red and white. Clear and cloudy.

I sunk to the floor, still choking, dying, poisoned, maybe.

I welcomed him into my home. I saluted him. I gave him my best honey.

‘Detective Winters. May I come in?’

He was handsome. His eyes frosty blue, like the china I bought sixteen years ago before it went out of fashion.

I greeted him. I let him right in.

His feet pounded on the stairs as he raced down, I could hear the clink as he fumbled with his protective weaponry. Or whatever they use to hold you, seize you, take you, confine you, constrain you, detain you.

A cloud over my brain. I was losing oxygen. I was sure of it. The atmosphere was draining. It wasn’t the toast, it wasn’t the honey. The air was conspiring against me. I was dying. This was it. I felt his hands on my wrists, he was shouting something, I slumped against his chest. How solid. I couldn’t move. This was the end.

Love Letters #36

Dear Tom,

It was Anne Shirley who told her darling husband-to-be Gilbert that she was ‘alone but not lonely’ one beautiful evening whilst walking through the graveyard of Summerside, that year she was away teaching there. A mighty dreadful time she had with those Pringles, I tell you. I was reading of her walks on the train; the countless descriptions of wind surging through the tree lined avenues of the most wondrous places on P.E. Island, and I felt the cool breeze on my face, I saw the violets in their numerous beauty, I smelt the flowers in bloom and the voice of Rebecca Dew echoed uncomfortably close to my ear, that I looked up abruptly, only to see the heads of my fellow modern train passengers, oblivious to my rapture, in raptures (or otherwise) of their own. I laughed loudly at some point, her characters do come up with the most curious things! A rather stern Aunt Mouser told her niece to not quote the bible flippantly, and then turned to Anne and said, ‘You must excuse her, Miss Shirley, she just ain’t used to getting married.‘ Tom, forgive me when I tell you that I found this so funny that tears streamed down my face!

When I turned the book over, there was a little ode to Montgomery, saying that her work ‘continues to draw countless visitors to Prince Edward Island each year.’

I will be very frankly honest with you, dearest, when I say that my heart sank when I read that. I imagined the Prince Edward Island will not be as I imagined it if I ever do go. I made up my mind then and there to never go. I don’t want to see roaring cars and buses and city roads with white paint. I don’t want to see areas of desolation and corrugated iron roofs. I don’t even want to see people wearing modern clothes. I don’t want to see tourists. Granted, they may be like-minded tourists, but tourists they will be nonetheless. I want it to be just how Anne and Emily and Pat describe it, and my heart aches to know it will never be so. I was born too late, I suppose.

I last read Anne of the Island at the age of fifteen. I was reading the first three books over and over again, and only recently did I stumble upon the fourth book, all these years later.

I was trying to fault Anne, I found, whilst reading the fourth book of the Green Gables series. I was trying to fault her for being ‘too perfect’ or ‘too beautiful’ or ‘too well liked’. She is well liked enough, and is able to deftly turn everybody and make them adore her, sure. However, I couldn’t help but fall in love with her adult self again, all these years later as an adult myself and not a child.

Anne is timelessly incredible. She is not too beautiful, because she doesn’t see herself so, and many others pointedly tell her of her carroty hair. She is not too perfect, because she tells Gilbert in an epistolary fashion that she has to accept that not everybody will like her, when certain people very vehemently do not. She is not too anything, and yet she is perfect. She is who I aspire to be.

She is hopeful, she is resourceful. Her words dance with life and laughter, and I imagine her grey eyes to be starry and full of light. She talks to everybody, is friendly with everybody, tries to help all sorts of people. She even cancelled her trip back home to sit with forty year old Pauline Gibson because she knew Pauline was lonely and henpecked by her grumpy old mother. How selfless is that? I don’t doubt that a lot of people were like that at the time, and didn’t think twice of being so generous with themselves and their time. Nowadays everybody is so ‘busy’, so ‘private’, so ‘personal’; never talking to strangers or even trying to find out who one’s neighbours are! Nobody just calls on a newcomer anymore, nobody sends each other cake, nobody calls each other over for supper unless they know them very well, and that is why, I suppose, a lot of us are so lonely!

A little sprinkle of Anne makes any day brighter. I found my day to bloom after reading a few chapters of her, and my heart ached a little, because I would never be able to meet her or become chums with her or wonder the nooks and crannies of the Island with her. She makes a small town like a little heaven here on earth.

I learnt from her to find joy in every aspect of my life. I learnt that even though I don’t live in Avonlea with her, I can find my own little Avonlea just where I am.

I love Anne Shirley, and I can see why others do too; and I am excited to finish following her journey through the eight precious books penned by our very own Lucy Maud Montgomery. Over and over again, delving into the land of magic, spirits and the most eccentric little characters one could ever dream up. She makes my heart yearn for something I can’t quite touch.

Yours most truly,

Amelia.

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James Hill

  

On the production of books.

Here are some things I am doing recently;

 

  1. I am finishing my last module towards my English Language and Literature degree. It is called ‘Creativity in Language’, and examines the different approaches in the analysis of creativity in language, and also in other modes of storytelling and performance. It raises interesting questions about the originality of creativity, and whether or not creativity is fundamentally political – whether that be intentional or unintentional.
  2. I am also writing a book about a girl who stops growing. I am trying to make it a masterpiece, but it is hard to make a masterpiece when your brain feels like an empty room. I am noticing that I waste a lot of time not gaining knowledge, and I mean to change this by consuming more books and exploring different parts of the world. I have acquired a cover designer for my book, someone who is also willing to do some small illustrations for me. This is spurring me on to finish by my deadline in October.
  3. I have signed up to a website called AgentHunter. This website is one where you can find a suitable agent in order to get your book published. I am aiming to submit my manuscript to several agents by October 15th. I will be writing a review about this website in the next few months – just in case anybody is interesting in hunting for a suitable agent online.

That is all, really.

What have you been up to, recently?

 

2016

I don’t have any resolutions for 2017. I think it is ridiculous because I never keep to them anyway. Does anybody?

The truth is, I don’t have anything to be really proud of this year. I have achieved nothing. In fact the only thing I remember being truly proud of is a 98% on a creative writing assignment for university.

I did get a job, but I can’t stay there because of my husband’s job. I loved the job because I was teaching and I did really well at that. Lots of colleagues told me I had a knack for it despite not being trained. I think I do well with kids. I think kids like me. I taught kids from age 5 to age 17 and it was incredible and demanded a phenomenal amount of brain power and enthusiasm and energy and it was draining but also so wonderfully fulfilling and enjoyable. I love the kids. I loved the kids. I had lots of plans and ideas for this job, and I am so bloody sad to leave it but sometimes in life you have to make sacrifices.

Everything else was pretty much a flop.

2016 was a massive learning curve. But then again, every year is. Every year we grow and change, and we have different lessons to teach us different things and frankly, every year the lessons we get are harder than the lessons from the previous year. They have to be. Life is a constant challenge. It is funny how it works out like that.

I hope 2017 will be better. I hope I can be a better person, and a better wife. I hope I can be wiser and more intelligent. I hope I can be spiritually better, and have more faith. I hope I can finally get the body I want, and treat the problems I have with my hair. I hope that I can have a brilliant relationship with my family and stop being so bloody negative about everything. And lastly, I hope I get a first class degree and FINISH THIS GODDAMN BOOK.

There.

What do you hope to see in 2017?

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Finding Inspiration

I have my timetable from work, finally. I am swamped. With no breaks. Busy busy. Every minute. Which is awesome yay.

But also means I do not have any time to think. Or any inspiration. So I am still uninspired. Which bodes terribly for the novel I am currently writing. With a deadline in December. I just don’t know how this is going to go down.

I know a girl from college who is a freelancing graphic designer. She designs so beautifully and uniquely. And I really desperately want her to design my book cover. But since I have made zero progress in the last two weeks, I might have no content to present to her for her to design anything!

I really must buck up, if I am to produce anything. And if I am to produce anything close to what I see in my mind.

Lately I have been watching the film ‘Coraline’ on repeat. The making of that film was extremely complex because it was all done by hand, everything, down to miniature knitters and a number of puppets with replacement limbs and different faces with an assortment of facial expressions! Can you imagine the laborious effort it took to create such a detailed movie all by hand? That is so inspirational to me. I watch it and I sometimes slow it down to see movements clearly because it fascinates me how they could pack so much fun detail into a two hour stop motion film. It stands out because it is so unusual, and the story behind the making of it is incredible too. You can read more here if you are interested.

Didn’t they get tired of it, or fed up? I know I would. Their dedication in the end produced something so beautiful to watch and re-watch multiple times.

So whenever I watch Coraline, I let the artwork seep its dainty tendrils into the folds of my brain and maybe spark something there. It almost always produces an idea or two.

So, this is what this uninspired girl has resorted to. Where do you go to find inspiration, when it evades you?

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The Age of Miracles

This is a review.

The Age of Miracles is a coming of age debut novel by Karen Thompson Walker.

As debut novels go, this one was outstanding. Walker did not waste a single moment getting to the point, which I found refreshing and mesmerising.

The tale followed the story of an eleven year old girl ascending slowly and painfully into adolescence, chronicling all the awkwardness of the age, in an apocalyptic time when the earth begins to slow, rendering the days longer. With each cycle around the sun, more minutes are added to the day, and this phenomenon is called the ‘Slowing’.

It was a new idea, and what made it plausible was that it was backed by scientific theory – which gave life to the events unfolding.

I loved how Walker combined the coming of age with this almost sic-fi plot line, and wove them together seamlessly. This was a girl, growing up, going to school, experiencing what we have all experienced with friends and parents and troubles that might seem insignificant to an adult but could make or break a child struggling to make sense of their rapidly changing world – and to have that world very literally change around her too, is remarkable.

Walker, I felt, took a great idea and delivered it excellently. I did not feel as though I was reading words. I felt submerged in the tale and when I was jerked out of it at one point because it had got so dark out that I literally could not see the words on the page anymore, I felt as though I had resurfaced from another world.

It takes a great deal of skill in writing to make you feel like that, and I think Walker has delivered this very well. I would say it was the defining factor of this book. It is a beautiful tale, tragic and extraordinary. I had me thinking about it days after I had turned the last page, and I found myself wanting a bit more.

I would give this book five stars out of five, and would love to read more from Karen Walker.

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Dream

This is my current dream:

I am walking past a huge Waterstones. And there, in the glass display, is a book written by me. Yes me. You see that? It says Lenora Sparrow on it. The cover design is simple and elegant. No pictures. Just a dark blue cover with little yellow dots all over it and the title in handwriting that is not too airy fairy and not too serious either.

And the blurb on the back makes me so excited because.. well.. I don’t know. I just love it and them and want to share them with you.

And there are lots of my book in stock. And all the signs say, ‘Hurry up and grab this book!’ and inside my heart is surging with joy because that is all I have ever wanted since I was seven years old writing stories in my dad’s university exam answer booklets.

I said to my parents, ‘Just you wait, I will have published a book by the time I am fifteen.’

They used to tease me and take my exercise books and read them to each other!! The audacity.

I wrote it, folks. That book I swore I would write. From age 11 to 14, I wrote it all out using dozens of pens. Seven massive notebooks, filled to the brim with words. Three huge folders with family trees and calligraphy signs and characterisation sheets and land naming and maps and paintings of what I think my characters look like.

I still have them. Shoved in the back of my gateway to Narnia.

I want to write a book that blows your socks off. I want to write a book that makes your heart ache with nostalgia and joy and the pleasure of meeting my people.

I want to write characters that will walk out of the pages and live in your mind and haunt your dreams.

But can I? And will I, EVER?

I walked past Waterstones today and there was a new book in there by a young woman not much older than me, and it’s famous already because she is a relatively well known Youtuber and it looks like a decent book, you know, because this girl actually has something decent to say.

And I felt so excited because it looks completely gorgeous and I have a feeling it is a heartbreaker, and I picked it up and read a few lines and well, I am happy for her, of course, but I am also a little bit jealous. I will definitely read her book because I like her content, and will support it.

It’s called ‘On the Other Side’ by Carrie Hope Fletcher.

I was jealous of Christopher Paolini who published Eragon at age fifteen. I thought, ‘I gotta beat this guy’ because I was thirteen at the time and I had two years ahead of me and I had three books under my belt.

But I didn’t send them to anybody. Because they weren’t good enough. Of course. They aren’t good enough. Nothing I have written is good enough. And I have a wonderfully electric story in my head but my fingers and brain will NOT collaborate to write it how my mind sees it and it is so FRUSTRATING because all I want is to have my books in shop windows and on bookshelves and to contribute to somebody’s childhood.

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School Trip

The week has come to an end, and so has my thunder cloud mood.

We went on a school trip today with Year 1 and 2, and despite going through four seasons of weather in one afternoon, it was an enjoyable trip. Kids are sweet, and they do come out with the funniest things.

We hiked through a forest, and mounted a summit. Some children were being blown away by the wind at the top of the hill, and their terror combined with the way they were reaching out to the teacher, but being pushed further and further away, was a pile of hilarity for me and my sister in law.

Obviously we kept our laughter in check at the time, but my oh my what laughs we had later.

I have to say, though, that I think the trip should have been cancelled, and it wasn’t such a good idea to take a bunch of six year olds on a hike because they aren’t going to appreciate that. They just want to play.

I did try to engage them by pointing out different kinds of trees and how you can tell an oak apart from a birch. We also examined animal droppings (once we got over the toilet humour!) to see which animal might have passed by before us.

All my knowledge of nature has come from books. I grew up in the desert, and walks like these were few and far between (every ten months when we came back to the UK for summer holidays and to see our family and grandparents, obviously), so I relished things like oak leaves and pine cones and rabbit poops. The kids in books did all the things I could only dream of. These kids sure are lucky, I tell you that much.

I think they were interested, because they kept bringing me dead leaves saying ‘Miss, this is an oak leaf, see, look at all its ridges!’

They are a bunch of cuties.

I have to say, though, that I didn’t get to sit down all day and am only just sitting down to catch up on internet stuff. In fact, I have been so busy all week that I haven’t been able to wash my clothes and I am travelling to Shropshire tomorrow to have a look at the place where they filmed Narnia (Hail C.S. Lewis!), and then to Birmingham to see the places where Tolkien grew up! Who knew he grew up in Birmingham? I don’t particularly like Birmingham but after finding out about that little Tolkien tidbit I might have to change my mind. We’ll see.

I hope those clothes dry overnight outside. You know, it’s too cold for April! We have been hailed upon and snowed down on, and the sky looks mighty troubled tonight, and breath is coming out thick and fast and hanging in the air as though it was too cold to dissipate.

Which it is.

Have a great weekend and bank holiday!