Aug 22nd

Turning Point

By OFP

Turning Point.

Beno.

He was always small for his age. But even at two, he was a force of nature.  He had an unnatural density on par with a bag of cement which surprised those who tried to pick him up.

Mini rugby suited his nature and he knew no fear on the pitch. Socially, we didn’t notice but he was very immature.

School went well at first, before kids formed cliques and groups. He grew less enthusiastic about school each year and seemed to have very few friends. Because of his small size, and his social awkwardness, he became easy sport when groups of older kids became bored and went hunting the weaker ones.

More than once, he came home in tears and I cried inside knowing from my own experiences that to intervene was to make things worse for him. We suffered it.

Albert Hopkins, a lesser member of the main social clique had made it his hobby to pick on Beno in order to promote his own cred with the other members of his circle.

‘He’ll get through it. If we get involved it will get worse for him’ I said to a crying Her-indoors.

‘Kids do this shit to each other. It’s just life.’ I said to her retreating form.

Each year was slightly worse than the next. But he lived for his Sundays on the rugby pitch, the only place where he had any success. So I reasoned that although his life was troubled, it probably balanced out.

The summer of his fourteenth year, his body woke up. He would steam through our week’s groceries in two days. His clothes changed out two sizes. His voice deepened an octave.  He grew shoulders and would dip into me and barge me out of the way in a friendly way when I tried to push by him.

The autumn came and rugby started and he streamed through the selection processes for the County side and then made the England South West under fifteens.

School also started again and then so did Albert Hopkins.  I got the call while at work.

 

‘Jeff, Beno has been in a fight at school again and we have to go to the office and speak to his teachers...’

‘Ok. I‘ll do it...’ and I hung up.

I pulled into the car park and ditched the van in a No Waiting area. I was tired and apprehensive that Beno had been hurt and it would set him back from his recent gains in sport.  Life is a balance, I reasoned and shuffled up the steps.

I asked at the reception where Mrs Hammond’s office was and was directed through a series of hallways to her room. The hallways had that highly polished tile flooring that is only found in schools and old hospitals. My boots made a pleasing rhythm on them which did not alter my mood.

I turned a corner and Beno was sat in a chair next to a door. The door said Ms J. Hammond on the frosted glass. I looked at Beno and he looked at his feet.

‘You hurt?’

He shook his head and maintained his focus on the floor.

‘How many attacked you?’

‘Two’ he mumbled.

An anger grew in me.

'motherfuckers...' I muttered under my breath and I knocked on the door.

‘Come in, please....’

I did. Inside were two women of middle age and middle appearance. Neither remarkable in first impression but I reasoned that this was probably a good thing as they are being paid to teach and not present a game show on telly.

‘I am Mr Jefferson, Beno’s dad.’

‘I am Mizz Hammond, Head Teacher and this is Mizz Grayson, Ben’s science teacher. Please sit down,’ she said with a hint of unpleasantness.

‘Beno. We call him Beno, not Ben...’ I said maintaining my position. I didn’t understand her surliness when I was here to discuss why Beno was getting slammed every time he came to school.

‘Please sit down, Mr Jefferson. You are his step-father, is that correct?’ 

‘No it isn’t correct. I have adopted him. Do you have a point, Missus Hammond, or can we discuss why my son has been getting battered here for the last two years and we are only just now discussing it?’

Mizz Grayson twitched in response and squirmed uncomfortably in her chair and adjusted her glasses. ‘Mr Jefferson, you have been summomed here to help us deal with a violent attack Ben has committed on two fellow students.’

I turned to the door behind me and shouted, ‘Beno! In here! Now!’

A full second later, Beno opened the door. He nodded uncomfortably at the two women and looked at me.

‘What happened today. Don’t add anything. Don’t leave anything out. Go...’

‘Albert’s been taking the piss out of me all day. In science class, he poured a bottle of ink all over my arm and laughed at me, then the whole class laughed at me, so I hit him. His wanker friend, David jumped me from behind so I dropped him too. I’m sorry dad, but I can’t take anymore shit from them...’ tears welled up.

My throat went tight. ‘Ok. Wait outside in the chair.’

I turned to the women and offered my two hands out palm up as if asking them for their input.

Nothing.  A bit of squirming from Mizz Grayson. Mizz Hammond looked uncomfortable but she began.

‘They’re at an awkward age and some develop more quickly than others. We have to be able to maintain control of the classroom and there is no place for violence.’

I leaned forward in my chair and nodded. ‘I actually get that, Missus Hammond, but...’

‘Mr Jefferson. What Ben did was just savage and uncalled for... ‘ Grayson interrupted.

I turned to look at her and then back to Hammond and said, ‘What we are trying to establish here is why thi...’

Grayson interrupted again... ‘Mr Jefferson. I am sure you will agree that violence never solved anything...’

I turned back to Hammond and smiled and pointed my thumb at Grayson. ‘She is used to speaking to children. If she interrupts me again, we will reconvene with the board of governors.’

Hammond leaned back in her chair. Clearly this meeting wasn’t going to plan for her.

 

I turned back to Grayson. ‘Mizzus Grayson, After a tour with the 82nd Airborne, two tours in military advisory command and a tour of Africa in the French Foreign Legion, I can assure you that violence, properly applied, solves almost every human problem out there.’

She twitched again.

I continued, ‘What are the chances that these two idiots will have another go at Beno?...’

‘Well, None at all, they’re badly hurt and traumatized... He’s terrified them.’

I smiled and nodded my head encouragingly and I slapped my knee and waited for the irony to be taken in... and I waited... and waited.

‘Where you were unable to control these two clowns and keep them from humiliating Beno, He has re-established calm by taking out the problem with selected use of violence.’ 

A long awkward silence prevailed.

Hammond leaned forward in her chair and spoke softly to Grayson.

‘Miriam, will you excuse us please,’ it wasn’t a question or a request.

She got up, looked furtively at me and left the room.

‘That was unkind, Mr Jefferson. She is actually a very dedicated and competent teacher,’ Hammond’s tone was almost friendly.

‘She is better for it, Mizz Hammond. What do we do now? Every tough kid in this school is going to take a run at Beno. You and I may be having this chat on a weekly basis.’

She pondered a bit and rolled a pencil across the blotter on her desk. She tapped the end of it as if she had come to some sort of conclusion.

‘Beno has no close friends here Mr Jefferson, what would you say to a transfer of schools?’

I pondered this. Her tone was supportive and encouraging. She was playing me but in a direction that may be good for all concerned.                                                                                                          

‘Admin transfer. No record of this incident?’

‘Agreed.’

‘Which of the schools around here have the best rugby side?’

Mizz Hammond smiled and it was a very nice smile. ‘I shall enquire. Take him home, today and we will be in touch,’

‘Thankyou for your understanding, Mizz Hammond.’

‘It’s Mrs Hammond, actually. Janet..’ she offered her hand.

Janet Hammond probably saved Beno’s life. The next school gave him a fresh start and his rugby skills gave him a social standing with his peers. He made friendships and his schooling improved. It changed his perspective on just about everything. He left school and never looked back.

Last week, Beno sent me an email from Norway with an attached scan. Baby girl.  Along with it came an invite to visit after the birth.

 He has been all over the world or at least underwater all over the world working in the oil service industry and has made a good life for himself. He seems to have courted well as his fiancé is very pleasant and smart and somewhere in the Claudia Schiffer range. She has a quiet smile that can stop men breathing.

I pondered his life. We aren’t close in a communications way but I think we know some of the same things. And I thought about him when I looked at the scan.

So this glass is to Beno’s little girl, and with a nod of appreciation to Janet Hammond.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aug 22nd

Book pricing - on line etc

By mike

Between £5 and £10 would be acceptable for me.  This would be for a paperback. 

I recently recommended the short stories of Walter De La Mere as I know some word clouders  write about the supernatural.  The book I read is called ‘The Best Stories of Walter De La Mare‘  I read a few  stories in great detail and thought‘ Ah - this is how it is done.‘  This particular book can be read on-line. I suggest dipping into the story ‘All Hallows’

   I looked for other books in second hand bookshops but I  had no joy.  I also tried bookshops - as one book is in print.  This is  ‘Out of the Deep: and other supernatural tales’

   It is a British Library publication. (April 2017)   It may seem pricey at £8.99 but many Londoners will have to pay more in fares to get to the British Library and back home. The kindle price is a few pounds. 

    However, looking at the Amazon reviews. The first review says: “ If you enjoy ghost stories, then I strongly recommend you avoid this book at all costs. Each story is approximately one hour long and goes absolutely nowhere. The author may be accepted as an accomplished contributor to English literature, but it certainly isn't for the work in this book..”.

    I am devastated. Any idea I might have  had - of attempting literary criticism has been abandoned..

    I have some ‘The British Library’  publications as they are last copies.  I think I might have had to pay more than £8.99 to have the book sent to my local library.  As they were ‘last copies’ I would have to read them in the library to which the book  is sent, so £8.99 is a considerable saving in  money and time.

     I know the British Library is not a typical on-line publisher,  I recall the ‘face’ value of few books I did buy was about £12, but, at the time, Amazon offered a discount and downloading was not an option

    All the  De La Mare short stories are available and I think are published by the descendants of Walter De La Mere,but I don’t know,  These editions seem pricey.  I wanted to see copy of the British Library book before buying it, as I might have read the stories.  This option is not available with the family edition,

     I am such a duff with computers there is no point in taking that route myself, but I would be reluctant to do this without professional help This would be with editing the texts to make them readable.  In most cases the books have been published.

     Just by circumstances I am looking, in detail, at a few days of an 1832 travel book . Can it be turned into a book of more general interest?  The editing problem would be complex.  This is because this has already been done by the author!   Later editions exist.

The author became blind and I don’t know how this might have affected his memories.

   i only have three days left to enter a competition for a horror play and cannot get down to it.  I don’t think I will make the deadline!!

 

Aug 21st

An Early Autumn

By Athelstone

Last week I was in Brittany. I had been warned that the August weather was not quite up to scratch this year: a disappointment to the thousands of Parisians escaping to the countryside in La Rentrée, the annual holiday/mass-evacuation. In fact, apart from a few showers, it was glorious, with temperatures up in the mid-20s, that’s the 70s for people like me brought up with Fahrenheit. 

As the ferry approached Portsmouth on the evening of the return journey, several of us went to the windows to catch a glimpse of the new flagship carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth recently docked there. We were disappointed. The ferry was arriving in a torrential downpour and the windows were obscured with streaming water. That was what I found. A wet and dismal evening for the height of summer, my car’s dashboard telling me that the temperature outside was a miserable 15 (that’s not even 60 - Fahrenheit fans).

So! Winter will soon be with us*. As many of you know, the most important thing to be done in winter is the composition of a short story. This blog is my convoluted way of bringing your attention to something that is on the way. Coming soon. About to break free.

Sometime within the next few weeks, I will set up a group and produce another blog in which I will invite interested parties to join in a writing exercise: to write a short story and then to judge the work of others. This event, a Word Cloud tradition, was started by AlanP some years back as a challenge with a competitive edge. That’s important. This is no online writing competition where you wave goodbye to your cherished text and then some anonymous celeb author picks somebody else’s for a prize (and it wasn’t nearly as good as yours, and that whatsisname can’t even put a sentence together, and look at all those bloody, useless, excessive, green, adjectives…). AlanP always emphasised that it was first and foremost a challenge – and it is. It’s a challenge to write to your absolute best and then put that story up before a group of people who, if you don’t know already, you will come to know through the work. It’s a challenge because once you have done that, you then have to read each and every story. Actually, that’s the easy part. The real challenge is to put every ounce of mental effort you can into picking those that you consider the best. Believe me, this is a challenge. Only once have I had a clear view from an early stage of who I would pick. Even then, the struggle to select others was agonising.

And when all that is done, you find that the challenge was worthwhile. As if fate was on my side in making this point, it turns out that an entry in the last challenge won second prize in the Segora short story competition and then won the Remastered Words 2017 competition and will be published in audio format. Previous competitions are littered with similar tales of success: competitions won, stories published, stories forming the kernels of novels and so on. 

As a taste of what’s to come, I can say that anybody who has taken part in one of AlanP’s challenges in the past should feel at home with this one. I thought long and hard about shaking things up, re-jigging the format and so on, but there are so many aspects that I enjoyed in the past, that I have decided to ease myself into the big shoes with a little familiarity. If I do another then change may come – but that’s for later.

I can also tell you that the title of the challenge will be Whispers and Glances

Watch this space.

 

*with luck, my gloomy prediction will inspire a touch more summer. My first trip to York was a wonderful sunny weekend with drinks and conversation on the water’s edge. Hope to meet some of you there this year.

 

Aug 21st

Indie publishers

By Catasshe

This started in a discussion on my Self Edit group's wall and I wanted to move it here.

Why are Indie publishers not talked about more? It feels like the discussion circulates round 'Agent and Big 5, or self pub' as though they're the only two options. Whereas there are many small independent publishers, which are really good and do a great job for writers. A colleague of mine, Daniel Shand, is published by one, and he just won the Betty Trask prize. I don't believe he has an agent (though of course he may by now).

It seems to me that if you can get published by a good small publisher, you're maybe better off than getting a raw deal from one of the big ones.

It also seems that self publishing sales figures will be negligible without a massive existing platform. 

Any thoughts on the Indies? I do know that some Cloudies have had bad experiences with them. Why would you choose Self pub over being published by a small publisher. 

Does anyone have any stats on the levels of manuscripts small presses may turn down compared to big publishers?

Is there any significant difference in kudos between publishing with a small publisher (a good one) and a big one?

Aug 20th

Sunday Laugh...

By OFP

I read this and and found it hilarious and actually inclusive and warming.

https://www.thesun.co.uk/archives/news/280145/amin-yashed-furious-man-replies-to-facebook-trolls-making-shed-jokes-about-his-name/

A guy named Amin Yashed was getting loads of comments on social media about his name and the obvious English conotations... 'Get out of my shed' etc....

 

He kicked off at first and complained about racism and islamophboia but then he applied a Judo move and flipped it, creating another profile of his 'brother'  Robin Yashed and embracing the comments.

I think what he did was absolutely spot on. It showed him actually getting the British sense of humour and being self effacing. Fair play to him.

 

He is now an icon up there with Hugh Jass, Dick Stroker and Phil McCraken. 

 

Many origins but one culture.

 

Aug 19th

The art of thimble filling...

By Tpfm

Writing is a painful exercise.  Writing the perfect sentence is... Well imagine standing on the battlements of a castle.  There is a thimble on the ground below.  Armed with a wide brimmed bucket of water you are asked to fill the thimble to its brim.  You must pour water from your bucket.  You must manipulate the bucket in such a way to create a steady flow where no water is wasted.  No splashing on the ground.  And once the thimble is brimful you must halt the water stream... no waste, economical. Poised and measured.  The perfectly filled thimble is your perfectly formed sentence.  Just repeat the exercise ten thousand times and maybe... maybe... 

Tis a quare pastime, the aul writing... Wrote for three hours today. Filled two thimbles.  I'm writing thimblese.   How is everybody else's thimble-filling?

Aug 19th

Nemesister review and author interview

By Daedalus

Many of you will know TenacityFlux who is a longstanding Cloudy and still pops in from time to time, whose psychological Thriller Nemesister was published recently. The book is highly recommended and a real page-turner. I reviewed it and interviewed the author on my blog, and thought Cloudies might be interested in what TF has to say, in particular about getting into the head of one character:

"I used to act out the scenes with him in to get the voice right, I even used to walk the dog while having conversations as him out loud – I find if you have a mobile phone clamped to your ear, no one questions what you’re doing, and the dog never minded!"

Read more here

Aug 18th

Anyone got any experience of Virgin Media Wayleave Agreements?

By BellaM

I've had a rather peremptory letter from Virgin Media telling me they want my agreement for them to lay fibre optic cables on my property. They are inviting me to log into their website with a unique ID to find out more information and to give my consent. The wording is very cute and does not discount the possibility that if I log in my consent is automatically given. So I am not logging in.

The letter has annoyed me by telling me that if I don't agree I will be a bad neighbour.

I've emailed the company to ask for more information but I just wondered if anyone here has had any experience of Virgin Media network expansion.

Aug 18th

Pens That Can't Spell

By Dolly

I've just discovered that WH Smith, sell pens that can't spell. It's true! The other day I bought a pen from them, took it home and started to write. It couldn't spell, it was useless! I took it back, and to give them their due, they exchanged it without any fuss or quibble. I took the new one home, and started to write. It was brilliant! Not one mistake! Not only that, it automatically did the punctuation as well! How cool it that? The only complaint I have is they don't tell you these things. Now I only know of these two, and that by mistake, but what if there are others? They might  sell a pen that can't write at all, or only write in italics. I think they should come clean about this, and display all different types of pens separately so there can't be any mistake. 

Aug 17th

A little extra carry on.

By mike

     Secretspi is very perceptive.  She mentioned that an extract from a travel journal reminded her of ‘’Flashman.’   Fraser had used the travel book as a source for one of his novels.  ‘Flashman on the March‘  It was something  I came across  some years ago.  At the time, it was one of the few mentions of the travel writer that I came across.  I wrote an essay at the time and included Fraser’s footnote.   Fraser’s intention had been comic but others might not find it so. ‘Flashman on the March’ was published in 2005 .  Is his footnote comic?      

(The opening of the essay)

    GEORGE MACDONALD FRASER wrote a series of novels based on the ‘Flashman  papers’.  These  journals  were allegedly written by Flashman, the bully from ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays,’ and concern his adventures as a soldier in the British Amy during the nineteenth century.

     The novels achieved considerable popularity and such was their authenticity,  that a few critics believed the papers to be genuine.  This authenticity was, in large part, due to Fraser’s  research.   One source that he used for his last novel  ‘Flashman on the March’ - whose theme is a military engagement in Abyssinia - had been the travel books of James Augustus St John. 

     Fraser included notes at the end of his novels and comments:

      J.A St John who travelled to Abyssinia in the 1840’s and seems to have spent most of his time goggling at boobies, on which he was obviously an authority.   He has drooling  descriptions of slave girls, and a most scholarly passage in which he compares Ethiopian juggs to Egyptian ones, and finds the former “more finely shaped and better placed.’    (1)

I don’t agree with Fraser’s comment as it seems to suggest J.A St John is a voyeur and that his intention was pornography.  But this is a different issue and can be disproved.  I am certainly not an Arab scholar but it is possible Arab women were not described at the time.  And the Arab writing tradition had been an oral one.      

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