The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R.Tolkien

“All right!” said Pippin. “Mind yourself! Don’t get lost, and don’t forget that it’s safer indoors!”

Sometimes, I think that I might be a Hobbit. Maybe there is a strong, little Hobbit inside all of us.

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The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R.Tolkien

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who lives to see such times.  But that is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that that is given to us.

Click here if you want to follow my first reading of the Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien on Twitter.

Our Footsteps in the Forest – The Next Stage in the Journey

I’ve finished draft zero of Footsteps in the Forest: The Heart of the Wilderness!  What is draft zero, you ask.  Well, quite simply is the rough sketch in which the story is designed.  You can read more about this aspect of writing here.

In this case, this draft zero is my handwritten account of thoughts, feelings and memories of my adventures in Białowieża with my partner, Callum.  Together, we journeyed into the Primeval Forest and UNESCO World Heritage Site.  We came face to face with wild animals in their home.  The discomfort I felt was worth every encounter, every memory; you see, I am incredibly phobic of biting insects and arachnids. Ticks, mosquitos… the deer keds that I never even knew existed before. It’s not completely irrational, I feel, because I’ve had Lymes Disease from a tick bite and I attract anything that sucks blood.  To top it off, I react badly to insect bites. Still, I found that I was made of firmer stuff than I realised when I faced my fears in Białowieża.

Maybe I’m not selling my experience, which was so spiritual and uplifting at the same time.  The scenery was like something out of a Brother’s Grimm Fairytale where the young characters get lost in the vast expanse of woodlands.  This was not man’s land, it was not tamed.  Here, we just another animal.

In the distance, I spotted a large, strange shape.  We slowed and approached cautiously.  My blurry vison detected a hint of movement.  We realised as we grew closer that the same was a very calm moose.  It was larger than I ever expected.  We got off our bikes and calm swept over me.  This was why I was here; to come face to face with the wilderness.  For a moment, everything else was merely the price to be paid for encountering such majesty.  The moose surveyed us from the roadside, towering over us and then crossing. It trampled through the undergrowth and disappeared into the distance.

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Perfecting ‘The Glass Girl’

Writing and working full time can be a challenging balancing act. I am, arguably, a hobbyist at the moment.  It is a balancing act that I need to perfect if I intend to take up writing as a profession.

I have read through all of my critiques on The Glass Girl and annotated my draft. It was difficult to read the critiques at times; I felt that, at times, some readers missed the point of the story. However, this has been an important learning opportunity because I soon realised that I hadn’t conveyed my point very clearly. This constructive feedback has shown which sections that I need to rewrite.

 

The story isn’t nearly as finished as I thought, but it will be better after some further editing. I colour-coded the suggestions into a few categories. This helped me to create a plan of action for my next drafts.

The Glass Girl will be available free to read on this blog. It follows the early years of a young girl made of glass in a world of pottery people.

“What do you want to do when you grow up?”

We sat in assembly, cross-legged in rows on the floor. Silent. Mrs T had just asked us to share our dreams, our ambitions. What did we want to be?

I looked around, no one raised their hand to speak. Slowly, I raised mine. Mrs T smiled at me.

“I want to be an author,” I said. It seemed that whole room erupted in laughter. I went bright red and looked down to the floor; I wished I could shut everyone out and stop them from seeing my pain. Mrs T’s face went stern as she looked out across Year 8.

“Don’t laugh,” she chastened. Her frown did little to stem the flow of giggles. “Stop, stop it now.”

It sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it? Something from a story? Only it wasn’t. It was only too real and it still brings tears to my eyes over a decade later. Bless Mrs T, she was trying to inspire us and to get us to aim for the stars. She was trying to show us that anything was possible. She wasn’t to know that it was have the exact opposite effect, that I would leave that hall a little less than I was before.

I always offer caveats when someone asks me about my ambition.

“Oh an author,” like it’s a throwaway word not to be taken seriously. “I know it will be difficult so I’m going to need to be practical and take a real job in case I don’t make it.”

Then it stopped being in case. I wasn’t making by default, because I stopped trying. I went to university and gave up writing somewhere along the way. I took some office jobs on graduating and was ‘too tired’ to write after work. My in case, my back up plan, became my plan. The dream burned inside, refusing to die out completely.

What did I get for all this time? I let the naysayers win. Only, they don’t care about that win as much as I do. They’re not even here to revel in it, they’re gone. It’s time I shook myself off and won for myself. This time, I have a plan. There have been advancements in self-publishing that mean that I have a new back up plan, a new start up plan.

Fuck it, I’m going to do it for myself.

One final thing: Mrs T, thank-you for telling them all to back off and trying to draw me out of the cell you saw me building.

My Visions in the Mirror of Erised

‘erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi’

I look into the mirror and see myself, my face lit with a smile that reaches my eyes.   I have just stood up from a table, my laptop screen glowing and an open folder contains the annotated pages of a novel in progress.  My reflection continues smiling, one hand on the back of a chair and the other clasped around a steaming mug.  The bookcase is full, an eclectic mix of genres with the top shelf dedicated to books bearing my own name.  Red and orange trees sway in the breeze outside the window.

He sits on a sofa behind me, our child on his knee.  He reads out loud to our toddler, one arm holding the book and our child cuddled under the other.

It is such a simple moment, really.

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‘What a Mess’ by Faye Stone

“Thank-you, I’ll make sure to clear my diary,” Julie said. She placed her phone down on her desk and slumped back into her chair, running her hands through her chestnut hair as she bent her head down. After a few moments of stillness, Julie’s head snapped up and her eyes were wide. Her attention focused on a few crumpled sweet wrappers and a stained coffee mug left on her desk. She swept the wrappers into her bin and stowed it back under her desk, out of sight. She scrutinised her small office as if daring anything to fall out of place and smoothed down her shirt, tucking it once more into her skirt. Julie shuffled a stack of papers into an orderly pile and returned them to their place on her desk before shaking her head. She picked up the papers once more and stowed them in a drawer. The smiling faces of a man and woman looked out of the drawer at her for a moment before she slammed it shut; she almost didn’t recognise herself in that picture anymore. The room seemed bare, even to her eyes. Her office was on the second story with glass walls on all sides; two windows faced out to the car park behind, one into the office of another manager and the last looked out across the open plan office. She was in a glass box, exposed on all sides.

She stepped to the glass wall that separated her from her teams. Her department consisted of three rows of desks, each seating six people. She placed her hands on her waist when she noticed the state of a desk on the nearest row; paperwork was drowning underneath a sea of crumpled post-it notes and a growing collection of assorted food wrappings. The desk belonged to the youngest member of the department; a young man slouched deeply into his chair, headphone wires trailing from his ear into his pocket. On the next row of desks, Julie noticed two piles of paperwork outgrowing the confines of their owners’ desks. The piles mingled in indiscriminately where they met. She frowned as she reached for the door.

Julie stepped out of her office and set her shoulders back, frowning. Emily and Sian, the team leaders, turned to face her as the door opened. Sian had limp, shoulder length hair; she was short and stocky with crow’s feet well established around her brown eyes. Emily was younger, a pale figure with striking wavy, dark hair and hazel eyes. Julie beckoned them inside, closing the door behind.

“I’ve got a very important meeting today,” she paused. “As I’m sure you are aware, it is a difficult time. I need your help, get the teams to tidy up a little.” Sian nodded, glancing out to the office.

“Of course, anything else we can help with?” she said, folding her arms and tilting her head just a little to the side. Sian looked directly at Julie.

“That’s everything, for now,” Julie leaned against her desk and grasped the wood tightly. “I’ll make an announcement when I know more.”

“Hmm, and will Emily and I be briefed first? They are going to have some questions,” Sian said. Emily nodded.

“Yes,” said Julie, her voice strained. “You’ll both be the first in the know when I have some more information.” Emily smiled but Sian remained resolute.

“Good. These last few months have been hell and people are starting to put their feelers out.” Julie smiled and walked to the door, opening it for Sian and Emily to leave.

Julie watched from the corner of her eye, pretending to busy at her laptop. The teams began tidying their workspaces, collecting piles of wrappers and papers to be thrown away. All except Joe, the young man Julie had noticed earlier. He sat, slouched shoulders, whilst everyone bustled around him. A glance at her watch told her that she had half an hour until the meeting. Julie felt too restless to stay still. She left the office without knowing where she was going. Everyone turned round to her as her door opened, with the notable exception of Joe; all eyes were on her for a moment before they returned to their various tasks. She walked past her team, her spine rigid and her head held high. Julie risked a backwards look as she turned the corner into the kitchen; Sian was muttering to Joe and looking pointedly at his desk, her arms folded.

Her hands were shaking as she poured herself a glass of water. Julie took deep breaths; the air smelled unsettlingly of instant noodles. She wasn’t ready for this; this wasn’t what she had been expecting at all. This was Julie’s second managerial position and she had only been with the company for a matter of months. She sipped water and dabbed tears from her eyes, her back to the kitchen door. It was all too much, on top of everything that was happening with Steve. Julie rinsed her glass, setting it down on the draining board and started to walk to her office.

The teams were still tidying their desks and there was a man in her office, watching. Julie recognised the tall man instantly. It was Ralph. Ralph Brixton, the Chief Operations Officer. Julie’s stomach dropped. She noticed that Joe had returned to work without removing a single post-it note and stopped by his desk on her way to the office. She leaned down, almost face to face with Joe. He didn’t have anywhere else to look but at her, headphones still plugged into his ears. He wilted further into his chair and pulled on the wires to remove the headphones.

“You will keep your desk immaculate in future,” Julie hissed in before heading into her office.

Ralph frowned at Julie as she entered her office. He took Julie’s chair behind the desk and gestured for her to sit in front. Julie dropped into the seat without question. Ralph crossed his arms in front of his chest, his face hewn from stone. Sian looked up from beside Joe and glowered in Julie’s direction.

“I’m going to be brutally honest, Julie, we’re in profit protection mode and your department seems to be the weak link.” His words hung in the air whilst Julie wilted under his gaze.

“Well, I’m sure you know that the teams have been working as hard as they can,” she began. Ralph raised his finger to silence her.

“I hear a lot about your teams, Julie, a little too much. There are some people saying that I made the wrong choice in hiring you.” Another lengthy pause and this time Julie knew better than to talk. “Everywhere I go, people are complaining about this department and, when I come here, it’s easy to see why,” Ralph gestured out to Julie’s team, still abuzz with activity as Sian and Emily coordinated the tidying efforts. Julie wrung her hands, pinching and pulling at her skin. “Talk me through how you and your team managed to lose us one of our sizable clients.”

The next hour passed in a blur as Julie stammered on with apologies, without always knowing for what errors her team were being credited or if they could be pushed back. It seemed that nothing she proposed had any effect. Julie closed the door behind Ralph and stepped to the window facing out across the car park, her back to her team. They had been glancing in her direction throughout the meeting with Ralph, witnessing her blush.

Tears welled in her eyes. There was a knock at the door and Julie hastily wiped her eyes. Sian entered the office before Julie could call her in.

“We need to talk about how you are managing this team,” Sian said.

Julie drove home in silence. She pulled up on to her driveway and stayed in her car for a moment. She dropped her head forwards and onto the steering wheel, sighing deeply. The horn blared out and shocked Julie upright. She gathered her bags and headed into the house through the back door and into the kitchen, dropping her bags onto the floor with a thud. A chocolate Labrador bounced at Julie, its tail beating a percussive rhythm into the cupboards and upending a bowl of dry kibble onto the floor. Julie dropped to her knees and took the dog into her arms. It licked her face in enthusiastic greeting.

“Stop, Mitsy,” Julie crooned, her face softening. “Mitsy, no.” Mitsy seemed to calm for a few moments before wriggling free and heading for the back door. Julie let Mitsy out and she bolted down the overgrown garden.

There was an opened bottle of white wine in the fridge so Julie poured herself a glass. She walked past the unwashed breakfast bowls and the remains of a microwave meal for one, heading into the living room. Dirty cups and abandoned magazines littered the coffee table. Julie sank into her armchair, pulling one of Mitsy’s toys from underneath her and throwing it across the room. The landline’s red light was blinking to show that she had new messages. She leaned over and pressed the button.

“Message one, today at 10:45.” A woman’s voice emanated from the speakers on the handset. “Ms Evans, this is the Central Cross Library calling about your outstanding book loans. Please ensure that all overdue books are returned to us by the end of the week, your outstanding debt with us currently stands at £8.50 and this will continue to increase if the books are not returned.” Julie hit the delete button.

“Message one, deleted. Message two, today at 13:16,” chimed the automated voice before a familiar voice filled the room. “Er, Julie, it’s Steve. I guess you’re not in, of course not. Call me.” Julie jammed her finger on the landline and took a gulp of wine. She grabbed a bridal magazine from the coffee table and flung it at the wall.

“Message two, deleted. Final message, message three today at 16:54.” Steve’s strained voice came out the speakers for the second time. “I’ve had a think, Julie, and I think it’s for the best if I just swing by after work today. I’ll be on my way by the time you get this message, please have it ready. Then soon, we’ll have all this over and done with.” Julie’s head slumped back and she closed her eyes. Her eyes filled with hot tears and the last thing she saw before her vision blurred was the engagement ringbox.


Thank-you for reading, please feel free to leave comments and constructive feedback.

This has also been published on Prose.

The Wolf and the Fog

There was a time when my mind was filled with gray fog; I couldn’t see anything, it was as if I was completely blind.  I was trapped somewhere cold and didn’t know where to search for light and warmth.  My thoughts became knives that cut me and underneath that agony was the steady, dull ache of fatigue.  I could barely move as time stretched on and on, turning my torments into tortures.  Dark shapes prowled in the distance, waiting for their moment to strike.

A wolf came to me from out of the gloom.  It appeared beside me whilst I was huddled on the ground, coldness seeping into my core.  It stood before me, directly between myself and one of those sinister figures that lurked in the distance.  The wolf faced the figure and raised its hackles and growled, teeth bared.  The guttural sound emanated from the back of the throat of the beast and filled me.  The figure retreated, disappearing into the fog.  The wolf lay beside me, warm and reassuring, my protector against the darkness.

The wolf came and went, some days staying by my side and others disappearing completely until I wondered if it had only been a dream.  Over time, its visits became more frequent.  It chased away my fears and filled me with a steady strength until I could stand again.  We ran together through the fog, occasionally breaking out. The sky was overcast at first, but it cleared a little bit more on each visit.  Eventually, the clouds were blown away by the wind that we made as we raced. The sky was crystal clear and magnificent blue.  I was strong, I was powerful, I was exhilarated.

We became a pack.

It led me back to my human pack; they had been waiting for me for longer than I knew.  They embraced me and I was stunned.  I was half-feral and ready to bite, yet they held on to me all the same.  I turned around and the wolf was gone.

I know now that, if ever the dreaded fog returns, then all I need to do is howl.