May 26th

Missing Links

By Caducean Whisks

Today, I am baby-sitting three chicks for my friend the primary school teacher. 

None of hers hatched this year in school, so they borrowed some from a farm; they have to go back at the weekend; both species of kids have had enough of each other. When the flock was dumped in my lounge, the cat rolled her eyes. Again? 

They’re not new-born, and have reached the dinosaur stage - two or three weeks? - when baby fluff is replaced by grown-up feathers. Two are turning white (one with flecks of black) and the third is turning tawny. For today anyway, they are my Queens of England flock: Elizabeth (nearly all white regal ermine), Victoria (black mourning spots and boots) and Katherine (tawny like Henry VIII). Since they’re that bit older and sturdy I’ve put them in my chicken run to see what happens. 

What happens is what always happens: the adults treat them as alien beings: come for a cautious look then cluck loudly, scurry away, peck if the babies run up. 

The kids don't take a blind bit of notice and explore as children do, tasting this, scratching that. All three jumped in a food bowl just now and tried out sultanas, corn, grass, melon, anything that wasn’t chick crumb. As I write, they’re working their way around the run. On and off perches, seeing what they can eat. The big girls all have their beaks out of joint. The foxes in the next pen want to know what’s up. I’m being told loudly and clearly that my hens are not best pleased; and all the neighbours are being told, too.

But they’re good girls. They’re not harming the little ones beyond a peck on the head when they encroach. It’s chicken discipline. It’s OK. 

The farm that spawned them says they’re getting a lot of boys born this year, so thinks they’ll probably be boys.

I’ve been lucky in the past: all the adults I’ve taken on, I know are girls. All the babies I’ve taken on have turned out to be girls (except Beryl the Guinea Fowl who turned into Errol, but apart from him).

It’s got me thinking (again). 

None of the chickens I’ve ever had - in thirteen years of keeping them - has ever been born into a natural family. They’ve never seen a boy chicken; don’t know such a thing exists. Likewise, they’ve never hatched their own chicks and so have no idea that these insolent little balls of fluff are their own species. 

And I wonder what that must be like, to have no concept of the missing half of your species, or a missing generation of children. 

The girls certainly have sexual urges but have no clue what to do with them. They squat down in front of me when they’re feeling sexy, as I’m the top bird around here and something tells them to submit. It’s not all the time - I guess it’s when they ovulate. They also squat down in front of one who’s in a bad temper - aka ultra-assertive and pecky. 

Occasionally one’s gone broody in the past, and sat on eggs forever. It’s too sad, but once when I tried to give a broody hen some fertile eggs to hatch, she didn’t get it right. Again, an urge she had, which she didn’t know how to express; never had mothering, never seen it done. 

Looking out now, I see the little Queens are flopped out in the sun with full tummies, while the adults have disappeared up the far end, away from those scary strange creatures. Can’t see a single one. 

However it’s going better than it’s done in the past. When teacher comes to collect them, I may have to say sorry, they’ve flown away, or a sabre-toothed tiger broke in, or something; I’ve never had white chickens. They may be boys though. That would be interesting if they were - give my girlies an experience of the real thing and if they grow up together as brothers, I’m told they get along. 

I return to my central question: what must it be like to have no inking of two crucial and fundamental elements of your own kind when they’ve been missing from your entire life and from the lives of those around you. I can’t imagine it. Perhaps that’s the point - they can’t imagine it either. Odd thought, isn’t it. 

It must have taken a long time before humans made the connection between sex and babies, given that there’s such a time lag between the events and it’s not an automatic (or obvious) cause and effect. I wonder if there’s something else about humans that we can’t imagine because it’s entirely out of our experience, but would explain all sorts of things if we did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 25th

How to self publish ? (Part 2) Prepare the ground

By jonmark

How to self publish ?    (Part 2)

Prepare the ground

For the purposes of this article I am assuming you want to self publish a novel. My steps in these blogs will concentrate on how you find readers. If you want to self publish something to send to friends and family then none of this is necessary but if you are serious about finding readers then you should stick to a clear plan and be determined.  

If you are an unknown author  then the hardest bit is building your audience. When you are languishing at number 70,000 on the Amazon charts, the average curious reader will have an almost zero chance of finding your novel. You must get into the top 100 in one of the many charts on Amazon so that the casual reader will find your book and buy it. Having said that, the importance of this has absolutely nothing to do with royalty payments.  The first novel is about finding readers.  My book has been on Amazon for just about one month. To date, the highest, I've been is number 82 in one chart. However as I write my sales have diminished but it is not over yet. Despite what people on the internet tell you, self publication is  not a walk in the park. It requires a lot of dedication and time, not to mention self belief.  My dip in sales was entirely to be expected but I am not dead yet. It is just another step in the author's journey. Anyway lets reel back and think about the steps before publication. What should you do before anything else.

·         Create a Twitter Account

Before you can begin to think about self publication, I am sure you will have read about creating a presence on social media. You should start a twitter account immediately even if you have not finished writing the novel. All writers use Twitter. It is questionable whether Twitter is diminishing in importance but it is a great vehicle to get yourself known as a "writer". Don't tweet pictures of your cat because thousands do and they are boring. Don’t get too political but make sure your content is interesting. A good tweet will include a photo or a link to an interesting article on the internet.  The tweet I got the most views (nearly 4000) for was a photo of a Cornish beach which looked like the Caribbean .  I just wrote "Not the Carribbean. @Cornwall Today Porthcurno Beach"

·         Get your book cover professionally designed

You might be surprised that this is the next thing you should do. The reason for this is that if you have your book cover, you can use the cover artwork to build your website and also create a Facebook and Goodreads Author Page.  I used Spiffing Covers to design my cover http://spiffingcovers.com but there are many other professional cover designers around. A good source for expertise in this field is https://reedsy.com . This website sells professional expertise and takes a commission on sales. You provide a brief and the professionals bid for your contract. There are some excellent people on this site selling their services.  You will be able to see examples of the work they've done and many have designed successful covers for top authors. You can of course do your own cover and if you are tech savvy then there are the tools on the Amazon websites to do this. The problem here is how professional can you make the cover using your own materials. You know the saying "Don't judge a book by it's cover." But people do! Your cover must stand out.

Rachel Abbott who self published and has sold over 2 million copies on Amazon told me that your cover needs to stand out when it is a "thumb nail" image on Amazon. She also said that when you are unknown concentrate on making your book's title stand out. Don't make your own name too prominent as nobody knows who you are and they don’t care.  Good advice.

Whoever you hire, you need to provide them with a brief on how you think the cover should look. It needs to convey a simple message about what the book is about. It needs not to be too cluttered but it also needs to look good against the competition. Have a look in a book shop and decide which covers really draw you in and grab your attention. Try and recreate that mood in your book cover.  To get a good job done, you might need to pay between £200 and £500. That is a lot of money which you might never recover, but compared to the endless hours you've spent writing the book it is a small price to pay.  As I said in Part one , there are loads of companies out there offering to publish your book. You could spend a small fortune but there are areas where you can do it yourself and pay nothing but in my opinion book covers is not where you can save money.

The truth is that there are far too many books out on Amazon and it is very difficult making your book known. I don't pretend that I have got it right. I am still finding out. The self published novelists who have made a success of this game are those that work hard and build content. I've only published one book. It could take me several books to make it work. 

 

Hope you are finding this useful. Let me know. 

May 25th

Business ethics?

By RichardB

There is a magazine article today in the BBC News website's business section, about a man who's been making money by running a chart-topping podcast. It starts like this.

 

When Jamie Morton started making his own podcast, he certainly picked an eyebrow-raising topic - reading out his dad's attempts at erotic fiction.

 

Jamie's father had sent him the first few chapters of the racy novel he'd been secretly writing.

"I naively assumed it would be some story of swashbuckling pirates or a spy thriller. It was only when I started reading it that I discovered he'd been penning porn," says Jamie, 29.

 

Bodice-ripping sentences he stumbled over included "the job interviewer had just asked her to remove her jacket and silk blouse" and "her black brassiere was working overtime".

 

Following the initial shock, Jamie decided to read his dad's adult literature to some friends down the pub. They immediately collapsed with laughter and piled in with their comments and critiques.

 

The evening was so much fun that it inspired London-based Jamie to launch a podcast called My Dad Wrote A Porno. Every week he and his friends, James Cooper and Alice Levine, discuss and analyse a different chapter of his father's unintentionally funny book, which is called Belinda Blinked.

 

Since its launch in September 2015 the podcast has been a surprise hit, surpassing 50 million downloads worldwide, and regularly dominating Apple's iTunes podcast chart.

 

The article goes on to tell how he's made money by incorporating adverts into his podcasts, and then enlarges into general comments about how to be a successful podcaster. But not one word anywhere about the issue that, as a writer and a father myself, immediately occurs to me.

 

Where is Jamie's father in all this? How does he feel about his efforts at writing being publicly ridiculed all over the world? Okay, so maybe his writing is pretty poor stuff, but that's no excuse. Even if he did give his permission for the podcast, I bet his son didn't tell him about going down the pub to take the piss with his mates.

 

I suppose Dad must even be actively co-operating, if the podcast has been running for nearly two years. Obviously he must be better at taking a joke than I am, but I still think that initial session in the pub was a betrayal of trust. How would you feel if you'd shown your MS to your son or daughter and they did something like that?

 

No word about any of that anywhere in the article, just a celebration of a successful business venture. Is this an example of business ethics?

May 24th

£1000 in cash prizes - Competition for Young Writers (18-30)

By robert

 

Writers in Oxford is holding a competition for young writers (aged 18-30) from Oxfordshire ...

  • £1000 in cash prizes
  • Any genre
  • 500 words
  • Philip Pulman will chair judging panel
  • Deadline 31/8/17.

More details here:


http://www.writersinoxford.org/the-wio-young-oxfordshire-writers-competition/

May 24th

The Front Line

By Gerry

I was reading online about the Manchester bomber (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40019135) and wondering if he was basically a ‘school shooter’ who’d found an ideology to back him, when I read an interesting detail. Apparently the imam of his local mosque had preached against IS and had been rewarded with a ‘face of hate’ by the bomber-to-be.

 

There was a sidebar feature on ‘Lipstick and dresses return to Mosul’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-39525749) so I clicked on this and found stories of what it was like to live under IS in Mosul. It’s like this, your seven year old daughter goes to the shops for sweets and talks to the man behind the counter. Along come the religious police and say it is wrong for an unaccompanied female to talk to a male, so your daughter must be punished. They send for the female religious police to carry out the sentence, which is to beat and pinch her on her face and hands. Your daughter screams till she passes out and her heart stops. She dies in front of you.

 

I say ‘your daughter’ because that is how I read the story. I put my daughter, when she was seven, into the story and wondered how it would feel.

 

At first it’s incredible. Then it’s all too credible.

 

Imagine internet trolls, in all their hate and helplessness, suddenly given power. Imagine all the real-life trolling they could get up to.

 

To get a glimpse of the sort of person you really wouldn’t want given power, you might like to watch the semi-famous Chicken McNuggets Attack’ video. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMuw2C4qe88) Admittedly, this is partly fake because the sound was not originally recorded so has been added since. We cannot therefore be certain the woman wanted to ‘eat the face’ of the hapless drive-thru operative, but her actions suggest words of violence must have been spoken.

 

All this might seem to take us some distance from the Manchester attack, but not really. The point is there are lots of people carrying massive hate inside themselves, and, if they can feel justified – whether by IS propaganda or a certainty that McDonalds ought to serve a specific dish – then nothing can stop their determination.

 

And as writers, we know we can find those twisted feelings and justifications inside ourselves. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to write about them.

 

Let’s bring it even closer to home. We’ve probably all encountered people around us who are a bit off, whether at work, or neighbours, maybe even family members, whatever – and we’ve probably had dialogues inside ourselves where we put these people right on their silly, unjustifiable attitudes. And we’ve probably felt a churning in our stomachs because we don’t even want to bump into them, never mind say what needs saying.

 

There again, some people are impervious to what-needs-saying, so we’re stuck with the internal dialogue and the occasional tummy churn.

 

Now, the question is this: do we give in to dislike? To anger? To hate even? Do we – just on this one topic – become mini trolls, relishing the thought of giving them the exact verbals they deserve and more? Or do we insist on maintaining our standards, give them a polite hello, even though we know we’re going to be snubbed? Ask how they are, even if the reply – if any – is likely to be a hostile grunt?

 

That’s when we realise the front line is right here. Right where we stand. Right where we breathe. Each one of us.

 

Hate? Or decency?

 

Ain’t always easy.

 

 

Ultimately it’s never easy.

May 24th

The House that Jak built

By stephenterry

 

On our way to meet the riverine people we stopped off at a site where a few years ago it had been the refuge for flood victims. One of our projects. The deserted area, the size of a football pitch had a large stone building baking in the sun, now abandoned. Outside, a water pump, neglected. 

Our guide, a local officer, pointed way into the distance. ‘That’s the Brahmaputra,’ he said. ‘Floods create new passages for the river, it’s constantly moving.’

One of the difficulties in providing Aid, could never be sure of any long-term relief.

The officer continued. ‘We’re going to cross it to one of the islands. There’s a community living there. Even a junior school.’

A school? I scratched my head. ‘How…?’

He was quick to respond. ‘Two branches of the flooded river separated this community from the mainland – they had a fertile area large enough to grow crops and feed themselves. Maybe the next flood will make them move.’

‘Oh,’ I said, beginning to realise the river controlled peoples’ livelihoods. A risky life.

We parked safely close to the river – dry season - got out and walked to a small wooden pier. A local fisherman was to take us in his longboat over to the island with us as passengers. A ferry would have been better, given I was not a natural canoeist.

It was an erratic journey.

‘There are strong currents, and shallows,’ said the officer as I watched the fisherman punt his way across in a zig-zag style. ‘But don’t worry, he knows the river.’

The water was brown, sludgy-looking with miniature whirlpools erupting. Not a place to fall out of the boat.

About fifteen minutes later, we embarked at a similar small wooden pier. Was I happy to step onto dry land, although on reflection, for how long would it remain dry?

A few elders had assembled to meet and greet us. All wearing coloured sarongs and sandals. They seemed overjoyed to see us, treated me like royalty or perhaps a visiting dignitary. I was probably the first English person to ever step on their patch.

Then came the guided tour.

Green – banana plantation, vegetable plots, and nearer the central village, hordes of chickens and a few dogs scattered from our path.

No children.

Of course, daytime, they were in school. The highlight of our visit.

Taken to the classroom, I peeped in. A slatted bamboo hut – a woman teacher at the front sitting on a wooden chair, a chalked blackboard behind her. Facing her, about twenty children sitting on slatted bamboo mats. Most were scribbling on pieces of paper. A few dog-eared books, pencils and crayons made up the class.

The teacher saw me – no doubt forewarned – and told the children to stand up to see me.

Which they did. Silently. The teacher motioned to one child – a girl. ‘Well?’

And the pretty little girl with piglets, joined by a few excited classmates, welcomed me in my own language. In English. All smiles. I was later told they’d been practising for days, but at the time my open mouth could have been a fly-trap.

‘Thank you so much,’ I managed to say, rubbing my eyes. ‘Thank you all very much for showing me your home.’

They needed funds, primarily to pay for the teacher who travelled over from the mainland, plus money for learning books, writing pads and basic items.

What could I say? Apart from promising the little girl that I’d take up her request back at Dhaka.

Which I did. And it was granted.

Oh, and the blog title above? On our way back to the river, I met an elderly but wiry man who told me – through interpreters – that the flooded river had made him move house about fifteen times over the years. He’d carried his bamboo home on his back to safer pastures.

Name was Jak…

May 23rd

Dr Hairy and the QCQ, Part 4

By Edward Picot

Dr Hairy and the QCQ part 4 image

The fourth in a new series of puppet-animations about the life and misadventures of an ordinary (but rather hirsute) GP.
 
Dr Hairy is nervously awaiting a surgery inspection from the QCQ. Grabber decides to help him out - and then, just as the inspection is about to take place, his mother rings - with hilarious results!
 
YouTube - https://youtu.be/vMxmpgXVeAE
Vimeo - https://vimeo.com/218506525
 
- Edward Picot
http://edwardpicot.com - personal website

May 23rd

How to self publish - What you need to know.

By jonmark

How to self publish ?  What you need to know.  (Part 1)

 

Why I chose to self publish.

 

The decision to self publish was not an easy one.  While writing my first novel for my  MA in Crime and Thriller writing at City University London, I was exposed to many traditionally published authors, highly respected literary agents, editors from the big publishers and critics . I sent my manuscript to quite a few agents and arranged a lot of One to One sessions with agents to meet them first hand and get feedback. All were very positive about my writing but said that I was several years too late with my conspiracy thriller. Ofcourse people are still buying Dan Brown books but they didn't believe there was any more room for new debut novelists in this genre. They were probably right but all writers say that you should not try and write for the market. Write something you feel passionate about. My problem was feeling passionate about something that was not currently popular.

 On one occasion I pitched to three agents at the Bristol Crime Fest and all requested sight of the finished manuscript but none thought they could sell it. It was not the next Girl on the Train. Phil Patterson of Marjacq told me that I write with "a confident, uncluttered style, written in a pacy, well ordered way, but conspiracy thrillers are a tough sell these days. I could not sell this. Maybe something new." 

So I had two choices. Ditch the novel and "write something new "  or self publish. I chose the latter because I wanted to write and I wanted to see what the self publication journey was like. There is so much on the internet and lots of organsiations offering self publications services for a fee, it is quite possible to spend a lot of money before you even publish.  

You can do it yourself for nothing but if you want to find some readers you will have to spend some money

The key is to spend it on the important things which are:

·         A professional eye catching cover.

·         Build an author website.

·         An editor

·         And after you publish - spend some money on marketing.

Be prepared to lose money on your first self published novel.

Have a look at my website

https://jonathanmarkwriter.com

and my Amazon book page.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Last-Messenger-Historical-Conspiracy-Thriller-ebook/dp/B071H58G8V/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

 

 Please let me know if you want to know more. I don’t want to post about something if there is no interest.  

May 22nd

Round Two

By Gerry

Cloudies have been kind enough to comment on the first version of this – the one that won Friday Night Live but lost agent interest.

 

After FOW17 and trying to be a good boy, I had a go at excising the humorous touches the agents found inappropriate. Instead I concentrated on: how would such an experience look/feel. The idea was that humour can put a distance between the observer and the event, so I have tried to lessen that distance.

 

Good idea? Or not?

 

Cloudies have been cracking good with title suggestions and reactions, so I hope they don’t feel their patience strained by being invited to a second round of the great Submission Package Battle.

 

*****

 

New Version of the First

500 words or so

 

My wife was pointing a gun at me and nothing made sense. “Cheryl, what are you...”

            The gun, it seemed so big in her hand. “How did..?”

            Aimed right at my face, barrel to eyeball. “Why are..?”

            She didn’t reply, just maintained that aim of hers. Determined Cheryl. Oh, it had been an exhilarating marriage, but right now, marooned on the tiles of our kitchen floor, I suspected its limits. True, we’d often joked that she only married me for my money, but a joke should mean we weren’t serious, shouldn’t it? “Look, I always...”

            She narrowed her eyes and pronounced one word.

            “Esme.”

            That’s all. Just the name, Esme.

            Then she fired.

            The blast was as insane as everything else, a blow so hard that no consciousness could survive.

            Perhaps something lingered, a sense of astonishment. Like an echo dwindling down a long, long corridor, till it turned a corner and disappeared.

            For a while there was absolute blank.

            Except for one detail.

            Somebody was noticing the blank.

            That pulled the echo back from round the corner, returned it to the corridor, sent it speeding back to me.

            And as it arrived I heard a voice say, “Well done, darling!”

            A voice I knew.

            Shit, what was my brother Zak doing in the kitchen?

            My eyes opened themselves except they were not physical eyes any more, not corpse eyes on the floor, they were areas of perception hovering somewhere in the room.

            I watched him walk towards Cheryl, a big congratulatory grin on his face and – here’s a curious detail – thin rubber gloves on his hands. He reached to take the gun while she said, “I did it. Didn’t think I could, but...”

            “Of course you did,” he purred, “and now the money’s ours. But first of all, let’s wipe your prints off that nasty weapon.”

            She held it to him and he took it at chest height, turned it around, aimed it upwards, and – I couldn’t believe it, couldn’t conceive it – shot her under the chin. From credible suicide range. With only her prints to say who’d handled it.

            At this stage my sight was entirely impressionistic so I couldn’t be sure how she fell. I tried swivelling my focus down – twist, jerk – to where her body arrived on the floor.

            Simultaneously, with a different sort of sight, I noticed how the ghost Cheryl came detached from her body. She hadn’t fallen, simply got knocked out her skin, floating backwards as the body went down, an amorphous ball of consciousness.

            Immediately afterwards, she began gathering herself and in scarcely any time at all she had reformed as a duplicate Cheryl – unmistakeable yet somehow elusive to detail, an obvious blonde beauty, with jeans and jumper sketched from memory, not really part of her, lingering out of habit.

            And she was staring at Zak with such rage that I doubted she was capable of anything else.

            So I coughed. Whether it reached her as a genuine cough I couldn’t say, but it conveyed the idea of my presence.

            She turned. Switched to Zak again. Switched back to me.

 

            And slowly, mournfully, I shook my head. What ever have you done?

May 21st

Andalucian Life. The next stage.

By Hilly

  ‘So, the plan is, we leave our packs, with all we own in the world with some bloke we’ve never met in the petrol station and then climb up a mountain with no particular clue as to where we’re going.  Have I got it all?’ I was looking over the edge of the escarpment and wondering at the amount of rubbish that seemed to have accumulated there.
    ‘Yep, that’s the plan.’
    ‘We’d better get out our money and passports, just in case.’
    ‘That’s a better plan.’
    When the station came into view, I mustered all my Spanish to explain our situation but the man smiled warmly and said he’d been waiting for us and that our friends Patrick and Shauna had warned him that we were on our way. He pointed out the route we must follow and hid our packs in a back room.
    Walking past a dusty pink bar set high on the hill, with a steep tarred track leading to it that was advertising a ‘flamenco’ evening in the week, round the corner we found an even steeper path that wound up the side of the mountain and slid out of view over the top.
    ‘This looks like it,’ I peered up the road. ‘Do you think we should check further up?’
    ‘They said that it came straight after the bar’s turn off, so this must be it.’


The walk was tiring as we struggled along the dusty, rock-strewn path and it led forever upwards. The view that faced us when our journey took us curling over the pinnacle was incredible: a surprisingly verdant area, criss-crossed with ancient drovers’ paths and mule tracks. Wild thyme and broom covered the slopes. The air smelt crisp and fragrant.
    The foothills of the southern slopes were cut by deep, fertile valleys rich with almonds, olives, lemon and orange trees, chestnuts, cherry orchards, walnuts, grapes and figs and terraced pastures created by the moors eight hundred years before and still being worked. Higher up the terrain changed to Mediterranean pine, heather and gorse, until above the tree line there was only alpine grassland, where I later found out, wild ibex, horned mountain goats roamed and golden eagles soared.
    Another town lay sprawled at the foot of this in the valley and heavy, imposing mountains rose beyond to dizzying heights and dominated the horizon.
    ‘Give us the letter, what does it say to do now?’ Kieran read our crumpled, much perused letter. ‘Okay, we carry on until we pass an old farm; Patrick calls it a cortijo on the left and soon after there is a fork in the track. One path leads upwards and we have to take the one that carries on relatively straight. The farm is about ten minutes walk from there.’
    We trudged on along the rough, rock-strewn path for a while in silence.
    ‘There’s the farm. Good grief, that bloke looks ninety if he’s a day.’
     A skinny, gnarled olive branch of an old man, earth brown and bent nearly double was ploughing the land with an equally elderly looking, grey muzzled stringy mule that struggled valiantly to pull the plough blade through the hardened, rocky earth. The house was built with the barn for the animals below it. I was not sure which looked the comfier.
    ‘You don’t expect to find old people up this far, do you? Especially not still working like that? It looks like a scene from the nineteenth century.’
    ‘Must be fit. I’d like to be that fit at his age.’
    ‘Either that or he’s only forty and it’s the lifestyle that has made him look so old.’
Kieran gave me a grin and then pointed over my shoulder. ‘Looks like the track is over there.’
   

We started along it, crossing the deep ruts made from vehicles, treading carefully as there was no give in the ground, the sun shining down on us from a clear azure sky. I wouldn’t like to sprain an ankle at this remote point. Our reverie was suddenly interrupted by the cries of a small child who was hurtling towards us at great speed.
    ‘Raaaagh!’ he shouted and stopped short in front of us. His bright blonde hair was sticking up on end and his startling blue eyes lit up his sun-browned face.
    ‘Who are you?’ he challenged in English, stood with legs braced apart in a fight or flee position, hands clenched at his sides.
    ‘We’re Kieran and Hilly,’ laughed Kieran, ‘And you must be Joe?’
    ‘Raaaagh!’ he roared again and ran back the way he’d come.
    We followed him and saw the farm for the first time. It was made using the large rocks favoured by the locals and looked like it was still in the process of being built from a ruin that existed there before. Unpainted, it blended completely with its surroundings. Rubble and fallen down stone walls sprawled all over with gorse and scrubby grasses sprouting from the nooks and crannies. Lithe lizards basked themselves in the sun, one beady eye alert in their immobility. Large bushes of broom dotted the landscape.
    ‘Hello there.’ A tall, thin man, hair laced with strands of grey, bearded and bright eyed like his son approached us. Yellow dust lay on him like a patina. His son ran around the perimeter like a posse.
    ‘Can’t believe we’ve made it.’ Kieran reached out to shake his outstretched hand. ‘Hi, I’m Kieran and this is Hilly.’
    He smiled amicably, ‘I’m Patrick. Shauna is at work but will be home in time for lunch. Come in, we’ll put a coffee on and we’ll show you the place. Did you have a good journey? The last thing we heard was that you were on your way to Madrid.’ His soft and lilting Irish accent was quite musical.
    ‘Yeah,’ said Kieran, ‘we spent about two weeks there with my brother, which was excellent.’
    ‘Good, you can’t beat family. That’s why we moved to here and neglected to leave a forwarding address!’ He grinned roguishly at us. ‘Only joking! Come on in, I’ll bet you could do with a drink, eh?’
    Passing what looked like a newly built section to the building that still managed to look like it’d simply grown out of the landscape, we swung down the side along a gravely track and turned into a beautiful slate flagged terrace with a sturdy wooden pergola, trailing jasmine and honeysuckle, that fronted the main part of the house. This led down to a number of irrigated man made terraces to a portion of cultivated land. Mature trees, leafless, now moved gently and creaked in the breeze. To the right, another path wound down to an irrigation tank, called an alberqua, which doubled as a swimming pool in the summer. This proceeded further down to the animal sheds where their horse and two goats lived. Land stretched away on all sides and the green and gold of the closer hills gave way to the more brooding darks of the mountains opposite. Shadows from light clouds scudded across them.
    ‘Come in, come in,’ Patrick turned and shouted, ‘Joe, do you want a juice?’
    We heard a roar from the distance.
    The double wooden doors were open and a bead curtain kept any flies at bay. As you came in, to the left a set of shelves held the precious radio and cassette player, run off the small wind generator that was spinning frantically further up the hill. Open cassette boxes littered the shelves.
    The kitchen was also to the left, the window opening onto the terrace. Plants and herbs thrived on the wooden windowsill. Bowls and plates were piled on the white, enamelled sink and terracotta shelving and bricks were constructed into shelving units. Arabic material was hung on a wire to hide the interiors of the shelves.
    The whole room, painted a soft, warm ochre was paved with large terracotta tiles but the kitchen area was on a slightly lower level to the rest of the room and you stepped down into it. A cooker, fed by a big, orange gas canister was in the middle and workstations, also of terracotta ran round thee sides of the walls. Various cooking implements hung from one of the ceiling beams that I later learnt was the traditional peasant style of building in this area. Crossing them were tightly bound canes. Chilli peppers and garlic were strung up on a bookcase at the far end. Beside that was an old fridge that hummed and clunked quietly.
    A bench ran round two sides of the far wall, made again from the shelving units, plastered over and covered in foam, materials and soft cushions. Hidden beneath them were the bottles of preserved fruit, vegetables in oil, tomatoes and marmalade made the previous year from their own produce. Tucked into this enclave was a round wooden table, and three extra chairs.
    To the right as you entered was the fireplace, quite large and stacked with an assortment of logs and twigs. On the organic looking mantle, fashioned from a rough piece of olive wood was a hand crafted mirror and some pictures of Joe as a baby.
    Two easy chairs and a small wooden seat nestled in anticipation in front of the fire, along with a thick multi-coloured tufty rug. Another rug sat in pride of place in the centre of the room.
    ‘Coffee all right with you both? I myself try not to have too many as I go mad on the stuff.’ Patrick stepped into the kitchen and I noticed he was wearing the strange slippers we’d seen the night before, dusty, well worn in and fraying.
     Kieran and I settled on the double bench.
     Patrick pottered about in the kitchen, explaining as he worked.
    ‘You’re lucky; especially if you’re a bit shy as we’ve only just finished the bathroom. Before, we had designated shit-pits. Don’t worry, they’re all well buried now but it was a bit of a bind having to stumble across the land in the middle of the night to find the latest one, armed with a torch, a shovel and a bottle of water.’
    Terrible thoughts entered my mind. Bottle of water?
    Patrick carried on, ‘We’ve just laid the floor and it’s now at the stage of being cleaned with a vinegar solution which brings out the salts before you finally oil them. I’ll tell you, we’re very proud of our bathroom. If you take sugar,’ he brought the coffee pot and three mugs over and put them in the centre of the table, ‘you have to use honey.’ He returned and fished a jug of milk and a pot of honey from the fridge. ‘You can’t beat fresh goat’s milk and orange flower honey from a local farm.’
     He was right.

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