No place like home

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Footprints in snow

No place like home

Her feet squeaked across the snow. Each step left an imprint in the frozen blanket, curved and indented like a maze. She pulled her coat tighter, head dipped so low the fur on her hood cupped her chin. Her breath came out as ghostly whorls. Above trees chattered, their bony fingers banging against each other like maracas. It smelt just the way she remembered, fresh and sweet with peat. She arrived at the gate, once a fir green; it was now coated in rusty patches that flaked when touched. She ran her fingers over the wooden ‘67’ nailed to the pillar. With a smile she pushed open the gate, its familiar screech, music to her ear muffed ears. The trees had gotten taller, glut with rings. A full moon hovered over the trees casting a shower of mirrors over the leaves. The house came into sight, windows aglow with amber light. Music floated, low sultry notes beneath a husky voice thick with poetry. Through the glass were her parents, snug in each other’s arms gently swaying. She could already taste cider ham and turkey, a generous glass of mulled wine on the side. She took the key from her pocket and turned. She was home.

Have a wonderful Christmas, wherever you may be!

Reindeer

Advertisements

Week 49 was ajingle with reflection & gratitude

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

number 49

Week 49 was ajingle with reflection & gratitude

This week was definitely more productive than the blip of week 48. I spent time editing two short stories, one old and the other new and sent them off to the powers that be (in this case journal editors!) It was great to get a few things completed and off my desk in time for the Christmas break and the advent of a new year. Now it’s a waiting game with a break of family, stuffing myself and laying around, ahhh the relief! In addition I found a book ‘The 100-Year Old Man who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared’ to lose myself in and was reminded of where writing can bring you if done well.

I have been thinking about what to do with my time over Christmas. At the moment I am torn between reading and editing the NaNoWriMo novel to see if it salvageable, or letting the brain clear and have new stories come in whatever form they may. In terms of 2014 I have decided that – apart from the odd occasion on my blog – to stop writing poetry as I don’t think it’s my forte, and trying to master every form is just not possible. Saying that if a wonderful fully formed one presents itself, who would I be to resist?!

What I do know is that like everyone around me I am ready for a break; one to slow down, recharge and reflect. It has been a wonderful year full of surprises, both in my personal and writing life. I am grateful to have had so many wonderful people accompany me on the journey. Here’s to the 50’s and the telltale jingle of Santa…

Half-Full

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

This is, quite simply, a story with a twist. I hope you enjoy it!

Half Full illustration

Half Full

“Your outlook on life is either that it’s half-full or half-empty Jeremy. Which is it?” My mother has a way of getting to the point of things, even when all you ask is whether she wants another glass of wine.

“It’s your attitude in asking. If you look like you’re sucking on a lemon, god’s gonna give you lemons. Or in your case a vat of ugly juice.”

These are phrases she regurgitates, often and with zeal. A nod never does the trick, nor a response with any hint of exasperation. She can tell the whisper of a sigh a postcode away. Instead you need to agree in a way that is so believable, you actually believe it yourself.

“You know you’re so right there. I never thought of it like that.”

She looks me up and down, her eyes a truth barometer. I don’t twitch or sweat or move in a way that appears shifty (as she puts it), but instead plaster on a smile and take a sip of wine, just the way she likes, just the way she taught me.

*

Unsurprisingly, most of my childhood was spent being called ‘mammy’s boy’. At rugby matches she screamed my name, even if I was on the subs bench and had no chance of playing. For parent teacher meetings she bought cupcakes and decorated them with the teacher’s name in icing, a small dagger hidden somewhere in the letters. After any school activity she’d sit with the light on in the car, an eerie glow above her head staring ahead in wait for my appearance. Thankfully I was a big boy who turned into an even bigger man, a blessing of biology that meant ‘mammy’s boy’ was said at a distance and with some care.

As I got older I tried to find reasons for my mother’s behaviour. Apart from being a stickler for detail and ridiculously mean, she had spent most of her life losing things; her parents, two brothers, my father, four children. Once after a few too many glasses of sparkling rose she told me what happened to them all, her smorgasbord of tragedies.

“Accidents Jeremy. My life is littered with unbelievable accidents. My mother went first, struck down in the back garden while trying to get the clothes in. It was a storm, the biggest in 50 years and lightning struck the clothes horse and that was that. I still remember how black her fingers were.”

She laughed at the memory and sipped.

“Now my father, never the cleverest of men managed to somehow fall into a knee high silage pit. It was only after one of the neighbour’s kids saw a hand poking out that we found out what had happened to him.”

I topped up her glass and leaned in closer.

“Your uncle Sam loved to travel, got excited by strange tribes in strange places that took many methods of transport to get to. Somewhere on his way to Borneo his boat sprung a leak that meant they needed to go onto land. Only the land was a jungle, and there were a lot of big cats with very little to eat. Uncle Dan on the other hand was a quiet type who rarely left his house, never mind come across a jungle cat, but while he slept a boiler broke and the carbon dioxide ate him up.”

With each story her voice got higher, the definite hint of glee. “As for the children, well they just weren’t fit for this world. The one that got born before you had six toes for God’s sake. Ugh. It was only the vodka that kept me going through it all.”

I envied my nearly brothers and sisters then, and fought the urge to walk away. But I needed to hear the most important admission, the question I’d been asking all my life.

“Your father on the other hand, well he is an accident, but unfortunately not a dead one.”

I felt a gush of relief followed by anger. I waited while she sipped slowly and with care as if she needed a key to wind her up. The seconds dragged by.

“Well, where is he then?”

She hesitated, the cogs in her head whirring at the implications of imparting this knowledge. This nugget of information was a carrot she had dangled in front of me for years. “Your father liked a drink, whiskey was his tipple. And one night he made a bet that he could drink a bottle of Johnnie Walker in one sitting. He won the bet, but somewhere between the pub and our house he wrapped the car around a tree and split his brain open.”

She stopped to sip.

“And?”

“And nothing. He split his brain open Jeremy. What do you think?”

“So where is he?”

“In St. Audeens. They look after him well there. As much as anyone can look after a turnip that drools and screams.”

St. Audeen’s hospice was five minutes from our house, the place we had lived all our lives. She watched me for a reaction, in her beady eyed way, but instead of showing the explosion going on inside of me, I said “Oh right.”

*

“What the hell are you daydreaming about?”

I snap back to the present to see her hand outstretched, a tiny yellow puddle in the glass.

“Actually I have a surprise.”

She cocked her eyebrow. “For me?”

“For you.” I go to the cupboard, pull out a bottle and turn the label for her to see.

She hums and slurps the puddle in her glass. I unwrap the foil, twist off the metal and pull the cork till it pops. Her glass refilled, she takes a large gulp. I wait for her to swallow and hold out my glass.

“To us.”

With reluctance she clinks back and takes another greedy slurp.

“Actually, what about another toast?”

“What for?”

I hold my glass out again. “What about… to Michael?”

She freezes, the only movement the flex of her throat to let the champagne down. “What would be toasting to him for?”

“I’m glad you asked mother. You see old pops is better. Not totally better of course, but able to talk and get around with a cane. He says you haven’t visited him in a while. In fact he says you never visited him at all.”

Her breaths come out as hisses.

“Not only that, but he says that he had fallen in love with someone else. A girl from the bakery he says. And the night he went out it was to celebrate telling you he was moving out. But the brakes didn’t work that night, although on the way to the pub they were perfect. Funny that isn’t it?”

She starts to wheeze and lets her glass fall. It shatters into hundreds of little pieces.

“So I’ve decided that he’s moving back in here. And that unfortunately means you need to leave. But don’t worry I’ll give you a good burial, one fit for the life you led.”

She falls to the floor, her body curled into a foetus.

“It does seem that accidents run in your family doesn’t it? It’s a shame to add poisoning to the list, but what can you do? It does seem the glass is half-full after all.”

Tiger Hunt

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

I am delighted to have a short story of mine ‘Tiger Hunt’ featured in this issue of The Looking Glass, a great magazine that showcases children’s literature and illustration. I wrote the story to take a different view of the Celtic Tiger era in Ireland – a period of rapid economic growth often referred to as a bubble as it wasn’t sustainable, and as a result the economy crashed bringing Ireland down with it. Tiger Hunt is from a young girl, Lucy’s point of view after the bubble had burst featuring a tiger, a lion and a lot of bubbles! All comments welcome.

Here’s a snippet to whet your appetite…

Bubbles illustration

By Terri Levine

Tiger Hunt

A bubble that’s all it was. Celtic Tiger me arse.”

They all grumbled then. In a wave of “You’re right there” and “Sure we didn’t see any of it” that went from one end of the table to the other. Then they supped, slurped a gulp of whatever coloured stuff they got from the bar and started talking about other things. I was under the table surrounded by their legs. My mind whizzing so fast I felt dizzy. The tiger was back. And this time he was in a bubble.

*

A while ago all anyone talked about was the tiger. It was tiger this and tiger that. He’d even been on the news. I didn’t know what this tiger’d done or why he’d done it, but somehow he was more famous than Tony. You know Tony? That tiger on the box of Frosties.Now, I never liked Tony much or the flakes he thought were so great. They were way too sweet and made the top of my mouth furry, but I felt sorry for him. Sure he was on telly a lot, but I’d never heard him being talked about on the news.

But this tiger wasn’t like Tony or any of the others. He was a Celtic one that I couldn’t find in any of my nature books or online encyclopaedia.

“What does Celtic mean dad?”

On the telly coloured balls rolled around a bigger plastic ball.

“What are you on about Lucy?” He looked from his ticket to the telly and back again.

“Celtic, what does it mean?”

Scrunching up the ticket he threw it at the screen. I tugged at his sleeve.

“WHAT?”

“What does Celtic mean?”

“It means Irish. Now go off and find something useful to do.”

*

When I said it to my teacher she laughed. “An Irish tiger, well now that’s a new one. As far as I know you can only find them in Asia or Africa.”

I turned away feeling stupider than ever.

“Unless you’re talking about zoos of course.”

A bing went off in my head. Maybe that was it. Maybe the Celtic tiger was at Dublin Zoo.

You can read the rest at: http://www.tlgmagazine.org/view-volume-two-issue-two.html

Week 48 was a blip best forgotten

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

48

Week 48 was a blip best forgotten

Well this week was rubbish (to put it bluntly!) I totally indulged myself in lazy days and pottering around, and as a result achieved very little in the way of writing, zilch in fact. I don’t think I have ever taken my foot off the pedal as much as this week, and I’m trying to figure out why.

Part of it is burnout, part of it is laziness and the other part is not being very motivated. I’m wondering what I have achieved this year. What milestones there were in terms of my writing, be it development or being published? In my head it doesn’t appear that I have achieved that much, or not as much as I wanted to. Where is my finished novel, where is my two book publishing deal, where is my liege of short stories littering the virtual ether and bookshop shelves?!

I am partly jesting, but also questioning myself and where this journey is taking me. A flurry of doubts and questions are plaguing my head, which is all linked to a year ending and a new one on the horizon. I think I always have a mini-breakdown at this time of year wondering what progress has been made, what have I learned, what’s next? Pretty typical pre-Christmas jitters, but frustrating nonetheless as they are getting in the way of the most important thing – getting those words down on paper.

So I am writing week 48 off as blip, an anomaly in an otherwise productive-ish year and am tucking it under my belt, hat, snood and moving onwards and upwards to editing a short story for submission, to writing a good piece for Saturday’s blog post and most of all just letting my mind settle so inspiration can find its way through again. Over and out…

P.S – The relaunch issue of The Bohemyth is now out, a fab collection of poetry, short stories, photography and an essay. It was a joy to get the opportunity to read the submissions, and I’m looking forward to the next batch for 2014.

Week 47 was a rush

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

47

Week 47 was a rush

This week was a rush to the end. Words galloped from brain to fingertips to page. It was all about trying to tie loose ends together, and have a few surprises along the way. So a month later, I managed 50,046 words, a day early. It was great thrill to have done it, and made me proud to have stuck to it even when the last thing I wanted to do was write.

Now out the other end, this is what I learned from the process:

  1. I can write even when I don’t want to and in various states (although the writing quality does suffer!) i.e hungover, shattered, fairly grumpy and just plain lazy.
  2. A great word, line, idea, plot, twist will come when you least expect it. Most often when you just get the trash out and let the inspired slip in.
  3. It is possible to write a novel quickly. Unlike the labour of pain and love that was my first novel, which took a year and a half to finish.
  4. I enjoy writing even when I don’t want to.
  5. Dedication gets things done.
  6. I like writing crime/mystery/things with a twist.
  7. I need to find that story that gets my blood boiling and brain zinging. I don’t think I’ve found it yet.
  8. I seem pretty good at writing from a child’s point of view.
  9. I plan to do it again next year, but with a lot more thought and preparation prior to November.
  10. Madness can come when you let it!

So the question is now what to do with it? Is it worth editing and finishing properly (even though there are plot holes as big as gorges in it)? Is it a story worth pursuing? I intend to finish it in its current state to get the story sewn up, but after that who knows. Maybe after Christmas I will have a greater understanding of what’s next.

Otherwise I have been reading submissions for The Bohemyth. It’s an experience that’s great fun and also strange as I’m not used to being on this side of the process. Along with reading some great prose, it will allow me to learn a lot about myself and my own writing, and give me the chance to experience writing I may not have encountered otherwise. I’m excited to see what the issue brings.

Writing this I realise there are only five more entries of this diary to go before I have charted a whole year. The next stage is still hazy. Do I continue it, but as a monthly post instead of a weekly? Should it morph into something else or remain as it is? Is it useful to other people or more an indulgence on my part? Answers on a postcard please (or better yet in the comments box)?!

Zippo

Tags

, , , , , ,

I wrote this story yesterday with the aim of writing something with hope, something with a ‘happy’ ending. I find that I often dwell in dark places when I write and I wanted to try and come out of that on this occasion, a challenge I hope has been achieved. As usual all comments are welcome!

Homeless feet

Zippo

I met Jerry outside our building. He was wrapped in a sleeping bag holding a paper cup squeezed in the middle to make a number 8. I’d seen him a few times before, always in the same spot, always with the same big fat ladies cup. Usually I walked by him. Forgot he was there as he never talked when I passed, but just sat reading a book, turning the page with one hand and holding the cup with the other. But one bitter day, so cold the frost was harder than the concrete it covered, he spoke.

“Have ya got a pair of shoes to spare?”

As a smoker I was used to all the lines used by those that begged. I need money for a hostel or a cup of tea or can you spare a cigarette? This one however took me by surprise. I lit up and stood next to him; let my eyes wander over his feet. He was wearing slippers, a blue pair with a huge hole at the end that showed the guts of a craggy nail.

“Where d’ya get them from?”

“Charity shop. They were grand in the summer; comfy for my bunions, but now they’re just no good.”

He didn’t need to say much more. Nobody would let a man out in winter with slippers on unless it was by accident, a glitch of a diseased memory. So I went to Pennys and bought him a pair of boots, sturdy looking things with thick soles along with a few pairs of woolly socks that were fit for climbers, according to the packet. “Will that do ya Jerry?”

“Aye Keith. Aye.” He talked with a lilt from another place. One lost long ago, but persistent. Scotland he told me once, but nothing more than that. He wasn’t a man to be pressed for details.

After that he always gave me a nod, wriggled a leg in the air to show me he still had them. As if I doubted he needed them in the first place.

The next time he spoke it was for a suit.

“What do ya need a suit for Jerry. You movin’ up in the world?”

“My daughter’s wedding. Some fancy hotel in Meath. It has stars apparently.”

I tried to take him into Pennys, then Dunnes, then Marks & Spencers, but they wouldn’t let him in. With each rejection I saw him die a little. “Hey Jerry what about that charity shop where ya got the slippers?”

The girl behind the counter knew him by name. She gave him a hug and pulled out a chair for him to sit on. “So what can we get for you today Jerry?”

He looked at me to speak for him. Somewhere along the way I had become his interpreter. “He needs a suit… for a wedding.”

“Right well let’s see what we have then.” She went to a rail at the back of the shop and fingered through the hangers. She had the longest neck I had ever seen, slim and beautiful.

“Now let’s give these a try.” She pulled back the curtain to the dressing room and handed him the first one.

Clothes got flung to the floor, while his boots got kicked beneath the curtain into the middle of the shop. When he pulled the curtain back I had to try not laugh. She giggled and then pinched her lips as a punishment. The sleeves only reached his elbows, while the trousers were stuck fast to his calves. I don’t know how he got into it, never mind how he was going to get back out. “It may be a bit small for ya Jerry.”

He nodded and moved onto the second. She left us to deal with customers. By number four we had cracked it. A perfect fit, it was charcoal grey with a red spotted dickie bow that I saw him eyeing up while we waited to pay. Only for buying it I’d never have known it was from a charity shop.

“That’ll be 10 euro.”

“But, it says 20 on the label.”

“Jerry always gets a discount. Wouldn’t be much of a charity shop otherwise would we?!”

I didn’t want her to think I was cheap. “But it’s me paying, so just take the full amount yeah?”

She took the 20 and handed the bag to Jerry. “Have fun now, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

Jerry laughed at that, a kind of growl a bear might make when snoring.

“I’m Karen by the way.” I glanced at her neck and shook her hand.

Weeks passed and I didn’t see Jerry, missed him on my morning smoke. I said it to Karen and she told me not to worry. “Jerry’s a nomad, never stays in one place for long. I’m sure he’s fine.”

So I got on with work and life and falling in love, and put him to the back of my head for a while. Then I got a new job, and knew I’d have to leave Jerry’s spot behind. On my last day I went out for an afternoon smoke, as we had a few drinks in the office and my lungs were needing to catch up with my liver. I fumbled in my pockets for a light, and then remembered it was on my desk as I’d taken it out to light the candles on the cake.

“Need a light?”

A guy held out a lighter. It was a Zippo, flame so high it could have taken out a forest. “Thanks mate.”

“It’s yours.” He pressed it into my hand, his fingers coarse as scales.

“Ah no, I can’t take that. I have one inside.”

“I want you to have it.”

There was something familiar about him, something my intuition knew, but brain didn’t. He turned to walk away and I saw them, the thick soled Pennys boots on his feet. “Jerry?”

Then came that bear growl. “Tis indeed Keith.”

His beard was trimmed and his face a healthy pink. Clothes no longer hung off him, but looked like they belonged. I wanted to ask him so many questions. Pummel him with why’s and where’s and how’s, but I knew he wasn’t a man for details.

“Take care Keith. Of yourself and the girl.”

I let him walk away. A man who had found his swagger, a man that had built himself back up. Lighter in hand I looked at it, simple and solid with an engraving on the back:

Turns out all I needed was a pair of shoes and a suit

J

Week 46 was a mangled blur

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

number 46

Week 46 was a mangled blur

This week was a blur, a mangle of writing and work that seemed to go from one to the other with not much in-between. It is typical that my decision to take on so much writing coincided with the busiest time at work, so it has been a juggle to say the least.

In regards to the novel I have passed the 40,000 word mark with 6 more days to go. It is a manageable feat, but a feat nonetheless. I am now trying to tie up loose ends in the plot (seeing as it is meant to be a crime/mystery/WTF novel) and I’m really flying by the seat of my pants. Should there be multiple personalities involved, a mass murder that has been kept quiet, and what really happened to the boy that nearly drowned? Your guess is as good as mine at this stage!

While enjoying and embracing the experience, I will be glad for the arrival of November 30th as I can get down to writing some flash fiction again, and look to start a short story that’s been roaming round my head. Plus the first round of submissions for The Bohemyth are due in and I’m gagging to see what people have come up with for it. It’s all go, just the way I like it, but Christmas will be a welcome break, and I have a few ideas up my sleeve for both this diary and the blog when 2014 rides in. Watch this space…

The Trumpeter

Tags

, , , , , , ,

I wrote this flash fiction piece a while ago after a Sunday watching a jazz club in action. There was a trumpet player there, with well worn Doc Martens that were open at the laces and spilling out onto the stage. It got me imagining a busker with shoes that sang while he played, and ‘The Trumpeter’ is the result of it.

Sheet music

The Trumpeter

He had shoes that sang. Or more accurately boots. That reached up past his ankles to hug his shins. Once black, they had scuffs of grey with bright yellow laces that wound up the middle in sinews. His pinstriped trousers were torn at the hems, the perfect circles of a moth attack. But there were no moths in his home, it was the walking. He had a sickness when it came to walking. An urgency in his feet that demanded use.

The only time walking stopped was when he played. Fine notes of brass that bent to the will of his lips and fingers. Each midday he arrived to busk, stood on a patch of ruby cobbles, removed his top hat and raised the trumpet’s neck to his mouth. Each breath coaxed notes out, wisps that curled around crotchets and minims in a pull. Once free they surrounded him in a mass, a swarm of beats and half-beats.

While he blew his feet twitched, toes curled in a wriggle. With each stroke the boots sang, in a voice so deep it belonged to the ocean floor. The melody poured out, a cascade that made the tiny hairs in people’s ears sway. Anyone who stopped to listen let the sounds fill their bones; drown their marrow in the unlikely symphony. Coins were thrown into his hat, a pile three heads high that spilled lava-like over the rim onto cobbles.

When night threatened the sky they stopped. His lungs flat and worn while the boots had burst through the laces, unfurling their tongues over his feet. With the coins in his pocket, he put on his hat and faced west, the cool air a balm for the weariness. Then he walked, the trumpet alight with strokes from the setting sun, his boots caught in the hum of a growl.

I took week 45 by the horns and kind of won!

Tags

, , , , , , ,

number 45

I took week 45 by the horns and kind of won!

Time is not on my side this week, so this post is going to short & sweet! Writing for the ‘write a novel in a month’ challenge has been an enjoyable and surreal experience. I just let the words come and tried not to worry about the holes in plot, character flaws, shaky voice and slip in tense at different points. It’s a liberating experience when you embrace it, and one that confirms you really can write anywhere, in whatever mood and at whatever time at the day. I am currently on Day 18 and on 26,188 words, which is a bit behind, but seeing as I am on a half-day from work, intend to hit 3,000 words today to make up for it and go from there.

Last night I read for a whole 20 minutes at Mill Miscellenea, a great night of music and poetry in Dundrum. It was daunting seeing as I had only read for about 8 minutes or so before, and in order to engage the audience needed to give a background to each piece. I did cheat a little as I read some flash fiction and one short story along with poetry. But it seemed to go down well and even though I was nervous most of the day, a lot of practice and keeping track of the time put me in good stead. It was a great experience that I hope to be repeating, if and when the opportunity arises again!

So it’s back to writing those words and seeing what details are uncovered next about the mystery note scriber in the novel. I have a plan for today involving cliffs, a hidden Coke bottle, a love declaration and the sneaky going-ons of a brute of a man. Oh the fun….