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I'm still recovering from York slowly so apologise that I've been quiet. It was so incredible getting to meet so many wonderful cloudies!
I've posted a blog on my site with some pictures and an update on what has been happening since York. Here: http://jodyklaire.wordpress.com/the-empath-above-beyond-series/aeron-in-flight/
I've just sent my edits for Fractured back off to the editor and will be starting the build up ready for the November release date. York definitely taught me some great new things to try and incorporate into my work. I got to sign books with the awesome Squidge and we had Welsh cakes which all meant one happy Welshwoman!
The blog even has me reading out the first chapter of The Empath too :-)
Big smiles and hope you're having a great week!
The following sentence is at the end of the third para of the first page (far too soon for the reader to've been convinced of the otherwise blameless quality of my prose!): Careful to keep his tone curious rather than demanding, he asked, ‘What body?’
I want to underline/make sure the reader notices the final two words and "said" does not seem to me to have the same impact. And yes, I DO know it is MY book and I can/should do what feels right, but wondered how Cloudies felt about it?
But I'm about to self-publish (next January) my Fiona Griffiths series in the US, and that means that I have to start dealing in book covers too. And - bloody hell - that's a hard decision. So I fully intend to avoid making it.
I have, via the good offices of 99designs, got 8 fabulous covers on my shortlist. Those covers are available right here right now and I'd love it if you took a look. See which cover you really love, and which is just a little bit meh. Then vote. Vote like you're a Scotsman fired up on Irn-Bru and independence. Vote like you're a black South African seeing a ballot paper for the first time. Vote like - well, hell, just vote OK. Go here. Look at the designs. And vote. Do you really need me to give you another "vote like ..." sentence to make you do it?
Hell with it. Vote like you're a crotchety parish councillor with stern views about street lighting. Or whatever. Just look at the covers. And vote.
Thank you! It means a lot. And we can have a good natter about what we thought of the covers in the comments section below.
Hope you enjoy it!
At o600, we join other keep-fitters - in my case, trying ever so hard get-fitters - running, jogging, walking, or whatever, around the footpath. First day I walk around taking in the view, while Bright Eyes darts off like a startled gazelle.
She has all the gear, this stay-dry fabric that clings to her firm torso, and designer trainers that promise Olympican standards. Add the Sony walkman with a download of my favourite 5,000 songs, and she's away.
I, on the other hand, wear an old creased t-shirt with Hard-Rock Cafe emblem on the front, stained shorts, and Scholl sandals in my best hippie style. It's in character with Chiang Mai.
At the top of the park, the east end, is a concrete area where a few men play 'keep a football up in the air' game. Quite impressive skills, better than Fulham FC. I walk around them. A little further on is an outdoor gym consisting of a couple of stone weights on metal bars, plus a few seats where a few stalwarts congregate. I walk past them, down the path, past a massage parlour about to open, and a couple of food stalls.
I come to a bridge that crosses the lake. Bright Eyes rushes across and asks if we can feed the fish. I fork out a coin, and she purchases a bag of brown pellets. We return to the bridge and look over the parapet. The fish are hungry, all gathering below in the water, mouths gaping wide. Our bag depletes in record time. I calculate that there are several thousand fish in this lake. All protected.
Back on my walk I pass a gang of three Thai men who are walking anti-clockwise, and who look as if they will be going to work after their stroll. One, who wears dark glasses in the grey dawn, says hello. We exchange a High-Five. Twenty or so joggers pass me. And a few walkers. I'm the slowest.
Down at the bottom end, a childrens play area, sadly neglected. I walk on by, and pass a welcoming coffee shop that opens at 0800. It's closed. I come to another concrete area where a dozen or so people wearing white tunics are practising a fan dance to music. I waltz by.
Bright Eyes joins me at the top where we park our bikes. 'I've done three laps,' she says. 'I'm sure I'm down to 50 kilos. Look.'
The view is impressive. I nod, showing my appreciation.
Do a few more laps. Weigh myself later. 'The scales must be wrong,' I say...
Vote and and as you see fit.
1. And the Lord said unto John: "Come forth and ye shall have eternal life."
... but he came fifth and won a toaster....
2. I told my wife she was drawing her eyebrows too high....
She looked surprised...
3. Someone stole my mood ring...
.... I don't know how I feel about that.....
4. When my wife and I argue, we are like a band in concert. We start with some new stuff, then roll out our greatest hits....
It’s one of those enchanted midsummer evenings that feel as if they could last forever, when the lingering light hangs gold as honey in the still, velvet-soft air. I’m nearer peace than I’ve been for a long time: I’ve just had a good dinner with my old friends John and Diana, and now I’m sitting with John in their garden finishing the wine while Diana does the washing up – they tossed for it and she lost.
“I’m sorry I was such a wet rag at your party last week,” I say, “only there’s nothing more depressing than a good party when you’re in no mood for it; and I’m afraid I wasn’t.”
“Yeah, well,” he replies, “when you told me Susan had left you I thought a party might cheer you up, but it seems I was wrong.”
“Tonight’s cheered me up, anyway.”
“Good. But, you know, there’s always someone worse off than you. Remember Lizzie?”
“Diana’s old school friend? I’ve heard about her but I’ve never met her.”
“That’s right. Well, last year her boyfriend chucked her out of his place and she stayed here. It was painful to see her, because she always used to be very outgoing; full of life and laughter. And she was the type who was always ready to help anyone who needed it, but this time she couldn’t even help herself. She withdrew right into herself, mooning about like death warmed up. Then, last November –”
“John, I have a confession to make,” I interrupt. I know it’s rude, but I’ve been hardly listening. Something happened at that party that has been preying on my mind ever since; and it’s time I came clean, both for politeness’ sake and for a reason of my own. “You’ve obviously presumed I left the party early and I haven’t disillusioned you. Actually I left very late. I’m afraid I was in one of your bedrooms with a woman. I’m sorry.” I stare into the bright depths of my glass and wait anxiously for John’s reaction, but he only starts to laugh.
“Sorry?” he hoots. “I ought to give you a medal, mate, getting it away in the state you were in last Saturday!”
“Well, it didn’t start like that,” I reply, grinning back at him with a mixture of relief and embarrassment. “She found me being miserable on the landing, took me into one of the bedrooms and got me to tell her all about Susan and me breaking up. She said some things that made me feel a lot better; then it moved on from there and I felt better still.”
“She blew your nose and then she blew your mind, eh?" He chuckles. "Just one thing: who was it?”
“Ah, you’ve got me there.” He’s also got to my reason for mentioning this to him in the first place. Ever since I woke at first light to find no trace of her except a note on the bedside table, I’ve been kicking myself for letting her go like that. I’ve tried filing her away under memories to treasure, but it hasn’t worked: I’ve a compelling desire to see her again. “I was rather hoping you could help me there, actually.”
“Blimey, you must have worked fast,” he exclaims, beginning to laugh again.
“What did she look like?”
“Long hair, right down her back –”
“Now that’s funny, for a start, because I don’t remember anyone like that at the party. Diana might, though. Here she comes now; I’ll ask her. Diana!”
Diana doesn’t answer: she’s walking slowly, examining with a puzzled frown a scrap of paper in her hand. “John,” she says, “where can this have come from? I found it on the hall floor.”
“Let’s have a butcher’s.” He takes it from her, then he begins to frown too. “‘Sorry I’ve had to go. Lovely meeting you.’,” he reads out. “What on earth does that mean?”
“Er, it’s mine,” I say, embarrassed.
“Yours?” they exclaim together, astonished.
“That’s impossible,” adds Diana.
“John, that girl I told you about wrote it. I found it by the bed when I woke up and stuffed it in my pocket. It must have fallen out just now when I took out my cigarettes.”
“What girl?” asks Diana.
“This sly whatnot here,” says John, grinning, “had it away in one of our bedrooms last Saturday. Ah, there’s a point: which bedroom, Martin?”
“The one at the back, next to the bathroom. Why?”
“That explains it, then. I’m afraid your friend of last Saturday didn’t write this note, Martin: it must have been lying about in there all the time.”
And I thought it was her farewell to me! Wait a minute, though – “It explains nothing,” I say, “because that is a page torn from my diary. I’ll show you.” I run into the house and return with my diary, flipping it open to show the tear. “See!” I say triumphantly. “It fits!”
“That’s incredible!” says John, “I could’ve sworn that was –“ He suddenly breaks off, seeming to freeze for a few seconds; and when he turns back to me there’s a strange expression on his face. “This girl,” he says, in a low, unsteady voice. “Long hair down her back, you say. What colour?”
It’s a measure of the impression she made on me that I can remember quite a lot. “About Diana’s age; small and on the skinny side; grey eyes; freckles. She was wearing a green and white striped teeshirt and denim dungarees.”
“Oh Christ!” Diana gasps. I glance sharply at her, because I’ve never heard her swear before; and see that she’s leaning on John for support, as white as a sheet.
“What’s wrong.” I ask, and now it’s my turn to be puzzled.
John speaks very slowly, and reluctantly, as if the words are being dragged out of him. “Your description fits Lizzie to a T. And that note is in her writing.”
“Aaah! So that’s who it was!” I begin to smile, because this should make it easy to find the girl; but my smile switches off when I see that John and Diana are looking more upset than ever. “Well? I presume she wasn’t invited to the party, but what’s so terrible about her being there? She’s your friend, isn’t she?”
“Shall you tell him, or shall I?” says John, but Diana is biting her lip to stop herself crying, and cannot speak.
“Tell me what?” Perhaps I’m speaking a little sharply, but this business is beginning to get on my nerves.
John tells me, and all at once my hopes of finding the girl vanish, along with the soft golden warmth of the evening, to be replaced with sensations I always thought belonged in stories: a crawling of the scalp, a chill running from the back of my neck down my spine.
“What I was going to tell you earlier,” he says. “Last November, in that back bedroom, wearing the clothes you’ve described, Lizzie took an overdose of pills and died.”
The problem will be applying it in retrospect to the two novels I've already written ... or starting something new.
It may be hard to believe but I don’t do parties. But when I got the invitation to Bob’s I decided I must go. Bob lost his wife to cancer at an unfairly early age relatively recently and I thought that his declaring a party and inviting a whole load of people from uni days had to be gone to.
It was held under an impressive marquee in a field near Bob’s house; he has lived in the same small Berkshire village since the early eighties and is very well known there. As the best keeper in touch in the world he had attracted an impressive group from our time in Manchester along with possibly half the village and a considerable extended family. I was late to arrive.
I was pounced on by Rob, who is instantly recognisable. He rapidly gave me full chapter and verse on his failing health; particularly, but not exclusively his back. He seems to have done in the whole spine due to running marathons. He also has diabetes and cuts a sorry figure, a bit bent in the middle now. Whilst sorry to hear this I couldn’t help sneakily feeling good, as despite my recent injury that needed surgery I am all healed and in fine fettle. Clive joined and regaled us with his extensive researches into optimising his pension. When I said I wasn’t planning retirement just yet he looked at me like I had said I was going to shave my head and wear orange clothes.
Graham, who I had completely forgotten, rushed over. Apparently I have earned a singular object as he said ‘It is Alan, isn’t it. The Alan P….’ I confessed and he then regaled me with a number of my sporting exploits, many of which I had forgotten. It seems I had a fan back then. We got drinks and settled down to reminisce.
Gill was there with her husband, Roger. I had been invited by Gill and her friend to accompany them to see the Carpenters at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1974. We did a little wistful reminiscing. It was a surreal evening as I remember it. They said that they wanted someone to take them as they were nervous to be out late in central Manchester. So I went with them and played the dutiful escort cum bodyguard. I discovered I liked the Carpenters that evening; they had a really good live act. I was a good boy and got the girls back safely to their door.
The marquee had a floor and also in the centre a dance floor. Before long we were joined by a period disco, offering an evening of music from the sixties and seventies (we aren't quite old enough for the sixties, I should mention). I have a horror of disco as I know no-one who is worse at dancing than I am. But I looked forward to listening to the music. It’s the glam rock era, not the greatest of music, but if you were there and young ….
A hog had been roasted and we ate the victim with bread rolls and some greenery. The evening progressed convivially.
As the disco built up a good head of steam we were all amusing ourselves trying to identify the bands and to predict what would be up soon. I confidently predicted we’d have Kung Fu Fighting by Carl Lewis before 8pm. Lori, Clive’s wife, took the bet which cost me a bottle of fizz as Carl remained absent. (I have cause to suspect she had influence with the DJ, but no proof). I was first to identify The Rubettes with that soaring falsetto in Sugar Baby Love and I also got Alvin Stardust. Nostalgia doesn’t get much better than when you’re doing it with old friends.
Slowly the floor was filing up with what I can only describe as dancing crumblies. It takes a certain alcohol level to lower the inhibitions sufficiently so that older people think they can dance and the sight of an aging group mouthing the words and making uncoordinated moves along with tunes that were written before the disco beat was properly understood was at times unreal. Unless you are Lori. She’s an actress and is properly talented. Clive, the pension analysing husband, was forced into the role I always remembered him taking; standing on the spot making small movements while she danced around him. She still has it and is wearing very well.
Driving had kept me sober and I managed to smilingly resist all invitations to join the dancing with the truthful “I really can’t dance, you must remember” and a slightly exaggerated “I’d rather stick needles in my eyes”.
Tiger Feet is the only song I can think of that has a personal dance routine. I may be wrong. If you haven’t seen it then off to YouTube with you (oh the flares, the flares). I can’t imagine any set of dance moves more calculated to put strain on the back. Rob was once rightly famous for his performance and couldn’t resist as he was called out to the floor. Rob is the one with the spinal cartilage issues. Anyway, he did it. Then I carried him back to his seat, from which he didn’t move again.
And so it went on, surreal really. I watched amazed as a villager, in his seventies I’m sure, made all the wrong moves to See My Baby Jive, with impressive energy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a miserable git, honestly. One of the main reasons I became over time a vaguely competent musician is because I really can’t dance. I just can’t do it. So I played in the band instead – but that’s a whole other story.
It came to be late enough and I thought I’d make my exit. I did a round of handshakes and hugs, and having received a number of perfumed pecks on the cheek made my way out of the big canopy towards the edge of the field.
At the edge of the light from the tent Gill was waiting by the roadside. The road was pitch black and there was no moon or street lighting, Roger had gone on to fetch the car. I paused and said something about how it had been a good night.
She replied “You never did understand about that night at the Free Trade Hall, did you?”
After a moment I replied “Perhaps I still don’t?”
“I fancied the pants off you. You never noticed?”
Echoing into the night Carl Douglas must have spotted my racing thoughts as “Oh ho ho hoooo” rang out accusingly. I glanced back to the tent. Lori was streaking across the grass with an impressive turn of speed. She grabbed me insisting I had to come back and dance now it was on. Left with no choice other than to be a boorish party pooper I gave Gill a sorry smile and capitulated.
There are few songs less suited to dancing to than Kung Fu Fighting even if I had any ability at all. Nevertheless Lori had her way with me, as it were, and I spent a few minutes sort of moving with the music, along with ducking an occasional karate chop from a nearby enthusiast (Clive I think) as Lori proved me wrong by dancing perfectly around me.
Having already said my goodbyes I gave a cheerful wave and departed into the night as they sang Shang a Lang and did Doo Wop be Dooby Do Ay.
When I reached the road Gill had gone. Perhaps it’s as well.
This is my first blog on the Cloud. I’ve been moved to
share a heartbreaking event with my fellow writers, as this seems
the most fitting forum.
Last week, the world lost a wonderful man – a man with a booming voice and laugh, a huge, warm presence, his eyes creased with constant delight in the world. The wisest, warmest, most graceful of men, kind and unstinting with his time, his learning, his knowledge. A man who I was lucky enough to meet through his niece, my friend, (through whom I also met my husband – my debt to her is huge) and a man I instantly recognised as someone special, someone I was privileged to connect with on my life’s journey. He called himself a journeyman, in the medieval tradition, and I am forever grateful that our journeys intersected. I knew him as a beautiful person first – and it really was love at first sight, for me – and a gifted writer second.
That man was John Moat. Some of you may have connected with him in writing circles, especially down Devon way, his heartland, or with the Arvon Foundation he co-founded with John Fairfax. My then boyfriend and I stayed with him and his wife, Antoinette, several times at Crenham Mill, firstly with his niece and her husband (then boyfriend). Then my boyfriend suggested he become a husband and I agreed. Not being religious, we decided we would hold a humanist celebration in Greece – where we got engaged, and which we loved – and started casting around for a suitable celebrant. I cast around for, ooh, seconds before saying, “John Moat. It has to be John Moat.”
It was audacious of me to suggest it, as we didn’t really know him so well back then, and he was, well, John Moat - but it felt so, so right. There was just something about John. Well, we asked him and he was surprised. “Why me?” he asked. I tried to explain that we felt this connection with him, this great respect, this love of his wisdom and gentleness, his depth of knowledge and understanding, and ended up saying something lame about it just feeling right. He took it very seriously, and said we must come down and spend a weekend with him so he could quiz us on our intentions before he agreed.
And so we went. And we had many erudite (on his side) conversations in their magical walled garden and their jasmine-filled conservatory about spirituality and marriage and life and what was important to us, and in the end he decided we might not string a sentence together as well as he could, but we were basically all right. And he agreed to be our celebrant.
John and Annie came to Greece and John stood there on his rock and talked to us all, at beautiful, eloquent length. There’s a picture of me standing with furrowed brow, focused on John, lost in his words. What an enormous honour. What a start to our marriage! I am still humbled when I think of the extraordinary man who launched us on our path together. He feels woven into the very fabric of our marriage. A kind of humanist blessing.
And now we have moved back (for me) to Australia and we haven’t seen John and Annie much in recent years. There’s been letters, the occasional email, news from my friend. There is one thing I will always, always be grateful for – when I was over last September, I went to stay with Deborah Dooley at Retreats For You in Devon. I was there for two nights and so I phoned John and Annie.
“You’re in Sheepwash? Don’t think you’re getting away without seeing us! We’re coming for lunch.”
And they did, bless them, they did. We had lunch and I spent some precious time with them, with him for the last time. I didn’t know it then, of course.
I was only ever but one tiny thread in the rich tapestry of John’s life, and we didn’t spend a lot of time together, really. The time we did spend was extraordinary. The weight of his presence and his influence on me is all out of proportion to those few fleeting moments, as they seem now. I feel real grief that this beautiful man is not in the same world as us anymore. I can’t begin to imagine the hole in Annie’s life, in his children’s lives.
There was just something about John. Vale, John Moat. Rest in Peace.