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Daphne’s Turn -Short story

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iStock: AdamLongSculptures
https://anchor.fm/molly-doitt/episodes/Daphnes-Turn-e16jt3b

Daphne’s Turn

Since Teddy’s death, she slept on his side of the bed, so that in the morning she’d look out through the bay of the bedroom window, imagining she saw what he’d seen. She was aware of the dip in the mattress his body had moulded and thought of his head on the same pillow. It eased the ache of missing him, which tumbled like a stone inside her. Through his illness he’d described the daily changes of the cherry tree outside to her. Observed its spreading branches, the way it caught the light; its buds and blossoms through the seasons. They’d rarely closed the curtains, as they weren’t overlooked at the front.

Sundays were the quietest days when she’d lie in bed for longer, listening. The piping of a blackbird’s song, the whinny of a horse, breeze stirring the cherry tree. The froth of pink blossom was long gone, the leaves starting to change from green to deep red. It would not be long before they fell.

On Sundays, there wasn’t agitation of rush hour cars, and traffic on the bypass was more hum than roar.

Village children weren’t chattering as they made their way to the bus stop for school. Even the family who’d recently moved next door weren’t yet up. Teenage arguments and pounding music hadn’t begun to penetrate the party wall.

Yes, in some ways she liked Sundays best.

As she made her breakfast; two slices of toast and marmalade, tea poured from a pot into a china cup, the sun came out. A wedge of light lit the patio area so she loaded a tray and took her meal outside. The back garden had been neglected. She should mow the lawn one last time before the winter. However, it seemed a shame. The grass was long but brightened by shaggy golden dandelions. They were a cheerful flower and she could never resist blowing the clocks they left, reminding her of childhood days, when life had been simple.

The autumnal damp intensified the garden aroma, the elders and old roses mingled with something else; the scent of change.

She and Teddy had often talked about planting a tree, but could never agree on what to choose; there were so many options for a small garden. Across the fence was a mighty oak tree which they loved. It was always a topic of conversation when they’d sat in the garden, never failing to amaze with its perpetual cycle of change.

She returned to the kitchen, switched on the radio before washing up. Pushing her sleeves up she noticed a brown scab on her forearm. It was the size and shape of her thumb print. She put her finger on it, feeling its roughness. It reminded her of a knot in wood. It didn’t hurt or irritate. She didn’t think any more about it, as her attention was taken up by a politician making a statement on a radio programme. “Oh, don’t be ridiculous!” she shouted. The radio panel ignored her outburst.

“You agree with me, don’t you Teddy?” She looked at his photo sitting on the window sill, smiling at her. She’d given up worrying about talking to Teddy. Knew she wasn’t going mad. Of course, Teddy hadn’t always agreed with her, he liked to play the devil’s advocate.

Sunday was a day for a little housekeeping, watching a film in the afternoon, a hand or two of patience and an early bath before bed. As she dried herself, she noticed other brown scabs on her legs and stomach. Perhaps she should make an appointment with a doctor.

Every week day she walked to the country park; taking a route through the streets of the village. They’d moved here when first married, fifty years ago. It hadn’t changed much. Some new front doors and double glazing, an extension or conservatory. There was still a corner shop. It was a mini supermarket now. The young cashiers were polite, but didn’t talk much, unlike Mrs Brown in the old days.

She liked the familiarity of the walk, the one that had been their daily ritual when Teddy was alive.

Going through the metal gates into the park, she decided on which route to take, clockwise or anticlockwise and started a circuit to the lake at the top. The trees were smouldering into yellow and amber. Spent horse chestnut husks littered the ground. She looked for a shining brown conker but there were none left today. If she’d found one, she’d have picked it up, smoothed it in her fingers then left it by the willow at the far side of the lake. That’s where she sat. On Teddy’s bench; the metal plaque winking in the sunshine.

They’d started to come here in the early days of their marriage. Making plans. Imagining bringing a family for picnics, teaching them the names of the trees and plants. But children hadn’t come.

She looked up at the willow tree, that rose beside her. Leaves which last week had been silvery, were now glinting gold in the slant of sunshine through its boughs. Its trunk reached out bending into the water, trailing its leaves to make dimples in the surface. Whispering as it moved. On one of its branches, there was an oval mark, so like an eye; she could never curb the feeling that it was watching her. This was where she had sprinkled Teddy’s ashes.

She reached to pat the tree trunk, and noticed another crusty brown scab on the back of her hand. She remembered Teddy stroking her skin, could almost sense his touch. “Like alabaster,” he’d murmured.

As soon as she got home, she phoned the doctor’s surgery.

The receptionist said, “The doctor is only seeing urgent cases at the moment. Is it urgent?”

“Well no, but…”

“Can you take a photo on your phone, send it in?”

“I don’t have a mobile.”

“What about a friend, a son, daughter?”

“No, there’s nobody.”

“Well I could suggest a video call on your computer, but not to worry.”

She was going to say, she might be able to do a video call on her PC, given a bit of time to work it out.

But the receptionist was already saying, “Phone again if the symptoms deteriorate.”

And the line beeped her dismissal.

The following week after a bath, she noticed her toenails had turned a strange colour, yellowed, thick and horny. They didn’t hurt though, as long as she didn’t put on shoes or slippers. She took to walking in the house barefoot, amused by the tik-tak-tik sound of her nails against the tiles. She did a tap dance to a song on the radio and laughed. She hadn’t danced for such a long time. Teddy had loved to jive with her, spinning her around until she was dizzy, her long auburn hair swirling in a cloud. Though her hair was grey now, when she closed her eyes it felt the same, brushing through the air.

In the mornings she started to find it more difficult to climb out of bed, her joints were stiff and aching. Her skin continued to scab in bigger areas of brown so it was no longer supple.

As she washed up her breakfast crockery, her arms began to cramp.

Tomorrow, she’d have to phone the doctor’s again.

The Sunday chat show was in full swing when she switched the radio on. People were chuntering about the news and what should be done. She tried to speak, say “Rubbish, rubbish, what are you talking about?” but the sound was merely a croak. Her throat felt rough and rusty. She tried another sentence but she could only whisper. She wouldn’t be able to speak to the doctor’s receptionist unless her throat eased before tomorrow morning.

She made a cup of lemon tea with honey to take outside. Perhaps it would relieve her throat and the sunlight might help her skin.

She shuffled to the back door. Then sat and sipped her tea. A great tit called from the fence and chirruped, ‘Do it, Do it,’ as if encouraging her to walk further.

Easing herself up out of the chair, she hobbled down the garden. The branches of elder and leylandii hedging swayed like a welcoming wave. Brambles and swathes of ivy reached out long shoots as if trying to embrace her.

A tightening in her chest that she hadn’t even been aware of relaxed as she soaked up the scent and sounds around her.  Her lungs moved in steady, rhythmic motion. Her breaths deep, absorbing the garden essence. She liked the sound each exhalation made; it reminded her of the whisper of the willow tree.

On the lawn, the grass came up to her ankles, she knocked dandelion clocks and their down floated like ash.

When she paused, it seemed quite natural that her rooty nails wriggled down in to the earth. She laughed because the soil tickled as her toes bedded in.

Though her feet were fixed she found she could sway, dancing with the breeze. Her hair thickening into twigs, twisted about her.

As it got darker, she felt no impulse to move back to the house. She watched as the full Harvest moon made her limbs glow silver.

The next day it rained but she was well protected with her crusty bark, the drops danced on her. Pattering a tune which was soothing, reminding her of the way Teddy’s heart beat in rhythm with hers when they’d made love. Refreshing; healing.

She closed her eyes and felt them begin to seal. This made her anxious, as she wanted to be able to see. But though her vision altered, perception of light and movement remained.

Time appeared to matter less, without the need to wake and sleep. She was centred and content. Although she couldn’t speak, she gradually became aware of networking. It began as a tremble in her roots, as if electric wiring had connected. Words weren’t spoken but she was sure the question, “Are you alright?” was asked by the oak in the next garden. She responded, “Yes,” by a mechanism she didn’t understand. Thus, in time she was introduced to other local trees. Had many a long conversation.

It might have been spring when she received a message from a willow in the country park.

 

 

 

 


GAME

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You can listen to my prizewinning short story GAME here.

It won the Hastingslitfest short story competition 2018.

https://open.spotify.com/episode/3KKqEc7Oy7WfGjCXjr6pfY?si=uVDtKzF-Qe-pNvQSIx44Dg



Short story-Anticipating the Fall

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Anticipating the Fall

Click on the link to read my short story: Third place winner in Foxes Retreat short story competition 2020.

 


Anticipating the Fall

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Strensall Common. Near York.

A Poem inspired by the artwork of Aasen Stephenson: A leaf carved with the words, ‘Don’t be afraid to Fall…’

ANTICIPATING THE FALL

I drag my feet up to the woods again,

Long shadow amidst silhouetted trees,

Defeated canopy lies rusting underfoot,

Old leaf embers shiver on the breeze,

As a green stick sapling, I played here,

Climbing up; scrambling through my life,

Navigating days; scraped knees, hopeful heart,

Now, I watch leaves fall, melancholy at their flight.

A spire twists through the frame of naked trees,

Bell strokes mark the passing of the hours,

A wake of solitude follows as they fade,

In this quiet, I hear the last leaf gasp.

    Tugged from monotony with one sharp gust.                                                                      

Finally from it’s industry released,

      Drifts down, for one extraordinary flight                                                                     

Oblivious of those who stand to see.                                              

Tumbling against the setting of the sun,

Glint of gilded amber, dancing; now set free,

    Sways; a parachute of firework spark,

            The joy of colour after a life of green,

For what existence would it be to live,

Without experiencing this final thrill,

Dwelling forever in youth’s foolishness,

Hung up in endless childish frill?

Miss flaunting new synthesis in ball gown gold,                                   

Nor feel the ecstasy of gravity as it flies,

Winged with grace, to the place where it will rest.                                 

Full circle, having lived a life.

It levitates, hovers, waits before it lands,

I hear its melody and understand the song

Take a breath, a moment more to listen,

‘It is not yet done…No, it’s not yet done.’

I hurry home wrapped up against the autumn chill,

Boots kicking through the glorious array,

The last leaf’s song remaining with me still,

And I’m laughing as the sunset slips away.


Last Piece of The Puzzle

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The days after my mother’s cremation are dry, as if the whole world has been scorched. My body shrivels; eczema returning, making my skin flake and irritate, sore as sunburn. When my fingers pull through my hair, it fizzes with static and breaks. However many cups of tea I drink, my thirst is not quenched, my mouth remains ashy. Food tastes like cardboard so I don’t eat and my bones are angles and ridges, reminding me of carcasses in deserts.

    I cough and choke when I enter her house to clear it. Everything is cobwebs and dust, the air desiccates around me. I ignore the unfinished jigsaw puzzle on her card table. We used to love completing them together, mother and daughter, working in quiet companionship. Such a simple activity, but one which brought us joy. Now the scattered shards of puzzle look abandoned.

    I start in the bedroom; bagging up cast off clothing, then filling boxes with books. Bedding crackles as I shove sheets into black sacks. In the kitchen crockery and cutlery glint and make jangling echoes through the empty house.

    When I sit at her desk, the top creaks as it opens, the hinges unoiled. Her documents and letters are parched and crack as I sort through them, the ink dried in the fountain pen. Postcards I’ve sent her break when touched. Their foreign stamps flip and fall away like dead leaves.

    I finish in the lounge. Clouds of dust rise up when I move her things. I pull the curtains across, trying to block the frazzle of sunshine. But it still twists in, lighting up the motes in the air so I half hope that they will coalesce into a vision of her.

    Eventually I come to the cabinet where she kept the jigsaw puzzles. She saved them all. My first; five pieces of wood which formed a donkey. Then more complicated ones. The clock face which had moving hands to add on when completed, from which I learnt to tell the time. Maps of Britain and then the World, so each day was a trip of discovery in our own front room.

    Later, I would give her a puzzle at every birthday; her favourites birds or butterflies or flowers. I remember how she examined each piece, even when her eyesight was poor, her fingers sensing the outline, weighing it up and then placing it in the correct position. She’d say, “I love how all these little bits which mean nothing on their own; fit together to make something whole, something beautiful.”

    The abandoned jigsaw is a circular one, which when finished will depict a single rose in full bloom. I put in one bit and then continue, my fingers easing as the puzzle grows. As I place the last piece in the central spot, a tear drop of water falls onto the perfect petals. Then more follow, like a summer shower. The drought is over.


Hastingslitfest 2019

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I was lucky enough to return to Hastings this year as part of my prize from winning last year’s short story competition. Does the sun always shine in Hastings? It was another sunshine filled two days.

On Friday I attended 2 workshops, ‘Writing difference,’ with Char March and ‘Preparing your Novel for Submission,’ with Hannah Sheppard. Both were excellent. With insight, and plenty of ideas to work through. They will both help me with novel No 4, which is currently in first draft stage. I’ve got renewed energy to work on it now.

On Saturday I had a table at the Book Fair. It was great to meet other authors there, talk to visitors and sell some books.

Book Fair Hastingslitfest 2019


Game: Winner of the HastingsLitFest short story competition 2018

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‘GAME’

    In a doorway, John unfolds himself from his newspaper bed. A flash of orange catches his eye. One two. One two. The jogger always disturbs his sleep, regular as clock work. Each day John ponders what the chap in the orange trainers does for a living, he never looks at John, never puts a penny in the hat although it’s obvious he could afford it. No, it’s generally the have nots who spare a few pence. Once John had a good job, felt he was climbing the ladder, but then the recession hit like a fat snake. Swallowed him up and dumped him at the bottom of the pile. One error of judgement, one wrong roll of life’s dice, lost him his house, his family; everything.

    John tries to make a plan for the day, where he’ll go to find the choicest pickings from bins, where best to sit and beg a few quid. ‘If I get enough money I’ll buy a coffee’, he thinks, but then changes his mind. He’ll buy cider, of course. The coffee would be warm but the fancy lattes and the like are more expensive than a bottle of cider which could last most of the day.

    Norman Smith climbs into bed shattered after a long night on the road. “Night love,” he says to Tracey. “Night love” she responds. Tracey is getting up and dressing in her polyester uniform ready for work. She keeps the curtains closed, though daylight is spilling in where the fabric panels don’t meet properly. Quietly she leaves the room, glad to escape the stale smell of lorry cab that clings to her husband. Every time she goes out, Norman goes in and vice versa. Like a weather house, she thinks. Norman is asleep by the time Tracey is getting breakfast. He dreams of road maps winding their way through space. An endless maze that he must escape from.

    Tracey puts out cereal, the box a cheap version of the best brand. It always tastes soggy. When she married she thought she’d go up in the world. Well, she has in the physical sense, living on the tenth floor of a concrete block.

    She knocks on her daughter’s bedroom door, “Come on Norma, you’ll be late for school.”  

    However long Norma takes to get ready, she always appears bedraggled. But Tracey remembers thirteen is an awkward age. As Tracey leaves the flat on her way to the supermarket, the postie arrives, hands her a letter. A brown envelope with a bold headline, ‘FINAL REMINDER’. Tracey can see the glimpse of red writing within, which can only mean one thing. Tracey sighs. That’s her life, two steps forward, one step back.   

    Reginald Longbottom tries to move out of the path of the jogger he can hear pounding the paving behind him. It’s awkward with the rollator. Reginald likes to get out early; it’s in his blood from his years in the army. A life of discipline. He used to be like that jogger in his flashy trainers; a man with the world at his feet. Now every step is a struggle. Still, he thanks God for each extra day he gets through. After all he’ll be ninety nine next year. And to his mind, each year after three score years and ten is a bonus. He wonders whether he’ll make his hundredth. That sounds good. A century. Like a cricket score worthy of applause.

   On Sundays Reginald goes to church. He can’t bend to kneel anymore, but thinks God probably has better things to concern himself with. He prays and asks forgiveness for shooting a man in the war. It is the one memory which haunts him. As a soldier he was told “Kill or be killed”. And his life turned on that moment, like the random toss of a coin. It could so easily have been him who lost.

    Robert Blewitt, called Bobby Blue by his colleagues, likes the sound of his trainers hitting the paving. One two. One two. He sees the familiar people and things on his run but they don’t impinge on his conscience. There’s the beggar, the bus queue, the corner shop displaying another torrid headline. And then on Hampstead Heath the same dog walkers, the old guy with his frame. But they blur into insignificance. He views the distant city, the tall buildings which are shrouded in haze this morning. That’s where he works, creating wealth. He sees light glinting off skyscrapers. That is the hub; the beating heart. Though the masses don’t appreciate it, Bobby knows it is he and his colleagues, dealing on the stock market, who underpin the whole success of Britain. Bobby stands for a moment stretching his back, hands on his hips. Takes a few deep breaths. This is my city he muses. He knows he’s winning at life.

    John marks the passage of days by how cold he is, how quickly the dark comes, the mass of people going to and from homes. Today is a weekday because children are in school uniform. Oh, here’s the little lass, always looks scared as if somebody might jump out and say ‘Boo!’ Occasionally, he thinks he might do it, see her jump like a scared rabbit, but that would be mean and he doesn’t have the energy for leaping.

    A ten pence piece lands at his feet; Norma always donates this as payment to ward off bad things happening to her. She walks to the bus stop, avoiding cracks in the pavement and keeping to the shadows hoping that she won’t be visible to the bullies who patrol the open spaces.

    At the bus stop, Norma hides beside the bulk of a woman; large and with a screaming child in a buggy, carrier bags hanging off the handles. “Shut up, Jayden,” the woman shouts, pushing a dummy into the infant’s mouth. The woman looks at Norma and smiles as if Norma might have some idea of what it’s like to be a mother. Norma looks away.

    Every day is like an obstacle course, Misha thinks, as she adjusts the carrier bags. It doesn’t matter how many times she does it; just getting out of the house and then onto and off the bus with a pushchair is difficult. Who designs these things; buses and buggies anyway? Somebody who’s never had a screaming child, a pregnant belly and three carrier bags of stuff.

    Norma sidles into the classroom and takes her usual seat at the front corner. She looks forward. Today’s topic, ‘The Norman Conquest’ is written in red pen across the white board. Already the second ‘n’ has been smeared to a bloody streak. Norma’s stomach flips and groans, ‘No this will be bad’. She can hear sniggering from the back of the class as other pupils enter. She can hear them murmuring, trying to think up insults which will hurt Norma most, hear them scrabbling for strips of paper they can use to bombard her with.

    Why did her parents have to call her Norma? They said it was tradition, to be handed down to the eldest child. But it’s a heavy burden.

    A moist pellet lands by her ear with the cry of, “Strike!” Norma brushes it off, hoping teacher will arrive soon. One day she’ll stand up to the bullies. But she always puts it off until tomorrow.

    On the bus Misha watches London streets go by, reminding her of a Monopoly board. But she feels she’ll never ‘Pass Go,’ never ‘Collect two hundred pounds.’ Misha’s unborn baby kicks, catching her under her rib cage, so she has to take a deep breath. She wants a girl, then she can stop. A boy and a girl is the perfect number. She’ll call the baby Beyoncé, an empowering name.

    Inside her womb baby-to-be Beyoncé, is a boy. He turns and twists unaware of his future; his name, the house, the school; and his mother’s regret at having another boy.

    Gamemaker, leans back and surveys the creation. Amazed how a simple idea flourished. When it began it was based on the cutting edge technology available but now has developed a whole new complexity and just keeps on growing. Grown beyond Gamemaker’s control. More brilliant, more intricate than had ever been thought possible. The initial coding has progressed into a universe of planets and stars and life. One planet is populated with sentient beings; humans, who are trying to understand the origins of the Game. It amuses Gamemaker to see them struggle to grasp the concept. Gamemaker hasn’t named this creation but humans appear to like labelling things. They might call it Quest… But would be wrong; there was never a point to the Game, no end point, no grail or prize.

    Perhaps Conquest would be better. These humans have caused so many conflicts and obstacles to overcome. Gamemaker shrugs. The Game is worthy of admiration… but now it’s time to move on to the next challenge.


Where DO you get your ideas from?

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Where DO you get your ideas from? An author’s guide to creating novel ideas.

The title of this blog post is a question a friend asked me after I’d published a short story on my web page. That story was inspired by a TV documentary which I wanted to respond to.

More recently I’ve had to consider the question again.

When I got a date and place for the launch of my latest novel, ‘the matter,’ I was delighted and excited. It seemed a long time since the start of the process. In fact I had taken the first chapter to a writing retreat in early 2015 and after positive feedback worked hard to complete it.

The novel centres on 11 year-old Simeon Isherwood, who has a genetic disorder. This makes him unable to communicate. His scientist parents have the opportunity to let Simeon undergo genetic replacement therapy. After making the difficult decision to go ahead, the results are not quite as expected.

As I started the process of how to introduce ‘the matter’ at the launch I realised it was going to take a bit of thought.

I have published two other novels, ‘The Memory of Wood,’ and ‘The Kim’s Game.’ However, ‘the matter,’ developed in a different way.

For those first two novels, the starting point had been a definitive moment when ‘the story’ emerged.

For ‘The Memory of Wood’ I‘d been having a drink in the bar of a hotel and heard about the legend of the ghost of Mary Queen of Scots descending the staircase. The book’s theme centres on this tale.

The trigger for ‘The Kim’s Game’ was meeting a person who’d had a leg amputation. Thinking about the character took me on a path of ‘What else has this man lost?’ The answer: a relationship, his mother, his home…and these losses reminded me of the memory game I had played as a child, which we called ‘Kim’s Game.’

Rather than a single occurrence or character ‘the matter’ evolved gradually. Because though the story centres round Simeon and his parents, there is another character, a mysterious ‘entity.’ As I considered how it sneaked in, I had a memory of visiting a science exhibition back in 1973. On a screen was a visual display of an atom: the nucleus central and electrons moving around it, a bit like moons orbiting a planet. This was a time before the World Wide Web, mobile phones and even calculators. I was just starting my secondary education and it was a real eye opener.

The thing that still amazes me was the amount of space between those subatomic particles. And I think that must still underpin my world view. There is a lot of current research into dark matter but it remains a mystery. In fact, scientists can only account for 5% of matter in the universe, the other 95% is dark matter and dark energy.

The other strand of the story is Simeon’s operation. This theme for the book developed after I met an eight year old girl with a terrible genetic disorder. Again I asked the question, “What if…she could have an operation that would cure her?” and then “What if…that operation changed her, so though considered a success by the medical world, she was unhappy at becoming a different individual?”

The “What if..?” question is one that most of us will arrive at when developing a new idea for our writing. But some subjects though triggered by a recent topic or occurrence may actually go much further back to a previous event, a character that made an impression on us, or a strange tale that piques an interest.

Wherever they start, I sense they have something to do with the space between the atoms somewhere in the depths of the neural circuits in the brain. And just as I get dizzy from thinking about Infinity, this is also another topic that gives my brain ache…just where do those words come from? So I can’t fully answer my friend’s question but I hope ‘the matter’ is thought provoking and pertinent to the world today. The publisher, Cinnamon Press says it…‘is a unique and headspinning speculation.’

P.S. If you are concerned that ‘the matter’ is some kind of pseudo-science book, please be reassured…in fact it begins in the jungle of ‘I’m a Celebrity, get me out of here!’ (Don’t let that put you off either.)

***

Thanks, Stephanie! Ideas can materialise all at once or nurtured over time, but best founded in real life experience.