Posted in Writing

An Autumnal Story for a Misty Morning, via Wattpad

A seasonal short story from my new flash fiction collection Quick Change, and an introduction to Wattpad, the free reading site. 

Received wisdom in my village is that autumn starts the day after the Village Show is over. The morning mists this week bear witness to that myth’s veracity. So, feeling all autumnal, I thought I’d post up a link to a short story on an autumn theme (or fall, to my friends the other side of the pond). It’s taken from my new flash fiction collection, Quick Change, which is currently available as an ebook and due for launch as a paperback in November this autumn.

Autumn LeavesAutumn Leaves 

Click on the story title to read the story on a site called Wattpad. You can also find other free samples of my work there, not just from this book but from others too, both published (my diabetes book) and as yet unpublished (my memoir of moving from the city to the country).

All about Wattpad

If you haven’t already encountered Wattpad, it’s a social media site which helps authors share free samples of their work with readers by posting up their books in short bursts, either all at once or eking them out over a longer period. (The old adage “always leave them wanting more” doesn’t only apply to the performing arts, you know.) Some authors also use it to test out new stories and gain feedback, effectively acquiring beta readers (the book world’s equivalent to test drivers) prior to publication. And of course, they all hope that lots of readers will enjoy the free samples sufficiently to pay real money to buy their actual books, whether as ebooks or in print.

I joined Wattpad only recently, but I’m hoping it’ll help me reach new readers that otherwise wouldn’t know about me. The site is particularly popular with teenagers and new adults reading scifi and fantasy (not my core audience), but it’s becoming increasingly popular across other genres and with other audiences too.

More about Quick Change

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collection
Emerged from its cocoon on National Flash Fiction Day 2014

The ebook edition of Quick Change is now available to buy exclusively on Amazon for £1.99 or the equivalent in your local currency. That’s just 10p a story, folks! Click the book cover image on the right to go straight to its page on Amazon. I’ll be adding the ebook to other distribution platforms such as Kobo and Smashwords shortly, but if you’d like to read it now and don’t have an ereader, simply download the free Kindle app to the electronic device of your choice (phone, tablet, PC, etc).

In the run-up to the launch of the paperback, if you’d like a free review copy of the ebook of Quick Change, in return for an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads, please let me know. 

Like to join my mailing list? There’s a free, new, previously unpublished short story with every issue of my enewsletter, despatched once a month. Click here to sign up now for free. You can unsubscribe at any time. 

Posted in Family, Personal life, Reading, Writing

All Change!

English: Woodland magic Shafts of sunlight thr...
Changing Autumn colours at the National Arboretum Westonbirt, a few miles from my house  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Mummy, did you realise that this will be the last night I go to bed as a Year 5?”

Such was the plaintive cry from my daughter’s bedroom on the eve of the summer holidays. Like most children, she is averse to change, but it didn’t take her long to realise that change can also bring advantages. Not least the one that stems from the deal we did when she was still at infants school: I agreed that the number of pounds in her pocket money should equal her school year. She reminded me of our agreement the minute the summer holidays began, holding out her hand expectantly, “because, technically, I’m really a Year 6 now”.

Unlike my daughter, I positively embrace change. When I’m restless, rearranging the furniture makes me feel so much better. Not so my husband. Notorious for being unable to find things – glasses, car keys, wallet, shoes, daughter – even he feels it’s getting out of hand when he can’t find the sofa.

Changing Roles

This autumn it won’t be just my furniture that’s getting a different outlook. I will be too. After being in constant employment since finishing my formal education, I’ve decided to go it alone. Well, I couldn’t wish for a more understanding boss.

By the time this edition of the Tetbury Advertiser* rolls off the press, I’ll be working from home. I’ll be writing, blogging, editing, helping other authors, and reading, reading, reading. (I like to think of reading as a job creation scheme for other authors.)

Statuette of man reading a book
Reading: a job creation scheme for writers

As a writer, I could – and often do – work anywhere I happen to be. But by choice I’ll be working mostly at the desk in my study, overlooking my back garden, which from this viewpoint is dominated by a huge old apple tree.

The apple tree serves as a kind of arboreal calendar. Imperceptible daily changes transform it from bare branches to blossom to harvest. No matter what I’m writing, wherever my imagination has taken me, a glance out of the window provides me with a grounding reality check or where I am and what season we’re in. A few weeks ago, the old tree was so full of apples that it showed more red than green. Now with only the odd scarlet dot breaking up the expanse of leaves, it just looks like it’s recovering from measles. Before long I’ll be able to see straight through barren branches.

Changing Colours

Even that anticipated change doesn’t make me feel downhearted. 13 years of driving to work at Westonbirt has cured me of autumn melancholy. Nothing puts a more positive spin on seasonal change than the National Arboretum. Even when the autumn blaze of colour disappears, the trees spring magically back to life, their skeletons revitalised by the magical fairy lights of the Enchanted Wood’s Illuminated Trail. Such optimism is enough to make you look forward to midwinter.

But first, I need to rearrange my study…

(*This post was originally written for the October 2013 edition of the Tetbury Advertiser.)

Posted in Family, Personal life

Goodbye Sun, Hello Fun

English: British version of the bugle call &qu...
“Sunset” – also known as “Retreat” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(A post about one of the virtues of dark winter nights – the excuse for the family to play board games and cards.)

Make the most of any late autumn sunshine, because now the clocks have gone back, we’re on the slippery slope towards the dark nights of the festive season.

“Sunshine – what sunshine?” I hear you cry. Optimist that I am, even I’ve given up on it this year. With uncharacteristic pessimism, I put my summer clothes into hibernation before the end of September. My cotton Union Jack maxi-dress, an investment in 2012’s patriotic occasions, never even made it out of the wardrobe over the summer. It was just too cold.

But I’m not letting our disappointing summer weather get me down. I know a way to ensure that no matter how sunless and cold the winter is, it will be a happy one in our household: I’ll hit the games cupboard.

A "whimsy" from a nautical-themed wo...
A “whimsy” from a wooden puzzle by Wentworth Wooden Jigsaws (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Situated next to the wood-burner in the middle of our living room is a huge stash of old-fashioned board games, playing cards and jigsaws. I have fond memories of learning such games from my beloved grandmother, so just the thought of a round of Scrabble gives me a warm glow, even if the wood-burner’s not alight. I love losing myself in a jigsaw (preferably a children’s one so it’s not too hard). I’m always astonished how, mid-puzzle, my subconscious takes over and I find myself slotting a piece into place before I’ve consciously realised that I’ve found the right place for it. Weird, but magical ly meditative.

My playing card collection is also a source of happy memories. I bring back packs with scenic views from places I’ve been on holiday, so sitting by my fireside, a game of Patience transports me to New York or Greece or Hong Kong. And sun.

So forget the wonders of the Wii . Never mind the excitement of the X-Box. Give me old –fashioned game technology any day and I’m happy. Cosy winter evenings, here I come!

This post was originally written for the Hawkesbury Parish News, October 2012.

Posted in Family

In Praise of Pine Cones – and Grandpa

Pitch Pine. Pine cone.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(A new blog post about autumn, my father, my daughter and family relationships that bridge generations)

On my way to a routine hospital appointment, I’m strolling down a suburban street when I spot a perfect pine cone lying on a grass verge. Now, I cannot pass a nice pine cone any more easily than I can ignore a conker, freshly dispensed in all its shiny glory from the spiky lime-green case in which it’s been lying, fattening, since Spring. I slip the pine cone into my pocket, glad to be distracted from my imminent arthritis check-up. I’ve been a bit creaky lately and I’m not looking forward to my consultant’s review.

Pine cones, in contrast, are full of the promise of good things. Promise of cosy, autumn firesides; of sustenance for small birds in winter; of nourishment for squirrels as they bulk up for hibernation. Pine cones are a forerunner of Christmas, but in a more subtle way than the charity gift catalogues that have been landing on my doormat since July.

I always plan to collect and decorate pine cones and string them on the Christmas tree with tartan ribbon. If my daughter gets her way, they’ll be adorned with fake snow and glitter too. Or else we’ll douse them in melted fat, roll them in seeds and crumbs, and suspend them with string from trees outside our living room window. They provide an oasis for hungry birds on short, dark winter days and it’s a pleasure to watch from inside a warm house.

There’s an unnatural neatness about the shape of a pine cone. They’re reminiscent of the children’s drawings of Christmas trees that subdue nature’s disorder into a more manageable form. But even so, a pine cone is a pine cone is a pine cone.

Grandpa on his 80th birthday with a "Keep Calm You're Only 80" balloonOr so I thought until last weekend, when, on a walk in a Penzance park with my father, I learned to appreciate the pine cone in a different way. Just turned 80, he is a long-time lover of trees and their diversity. Stooping to collect a pine cone from the ground, he gives my nine-year-old daughter a spontaneous lesson in the identification of the originating tree, based on the arrangement and distribution of its spikes.

Unlike me, my father has an artist’s eye, full of wonder at the natural architecture of the world about us. An accomplished watercolourist, woodturner, carpenter and calligrapher, he has a keen understanding of the complexity of the tree’s task in creating what it has so casually dropped in our path. No matter what your religious beliefs, when you’ve heard my father hold forth about trees, you can’t help but be in awe of nature. His childlike sense of wonder is not restricted to trees. He’s ready to detect a miracle in everything he sees in the natural world.

Pair of watercolour paintings by Grandpa and Laura
Laura’s garden by Grandpa and Grandpa’s garden by Laura

I believe this attitude is one of many reasons why, at the age of 80, he remains so youthful in spirit and outlook – and why my small daughter relates so readily to his world view. She is as close to him as his shadow. They spend many happy hours together. Lately he’s taught her to paint in watercolours. We have a pair of paintings, one by him, the other by her, hanging in our living room, natural companion pieces. This summer, each of them took first prize in their respective age groups in the “original painting” category of our local village show. I see echoed in their relationship the closeness of my connection with my own Grandma, my father’s mother. It seems the baton of the bond is being handed down the generations.

Grandpa and Laura
Having fun with Grandpa

So, with my pine cone resting snugly in my pocket, I settle down in the hospital waiting room, beginning to feel a little more optimistic about my appointment. I know I can depend upon my lovely consultant to be supportive, and I’m sure she’ll have some sound advice for keeping me young by nature, as well as young by name. I want to make sure that when my turn comes to connect with my grandchildren, I’ll be ready to rise to the challenge. Goodness knows, I’ve got a hard act to follow.

This post originally appeared in the Tetbury Advertiser, October 2012 edition.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like to read about my relationships with some of the women in my family: Bowled Over By Fond Memories of My Grandma   The Scent of A Mummy  

Posted in Family, Personal life

Where are all the spiders when you need one?

Housefly shot 1
The Fly (Image by Greh Fox via Flickr)

Someone new has taken up residence in our kitchen uninvited. He’s  been here so long, without showing any signs of leaving, that I may have to add him to the electoral register.  Unless a spider domes along to take care of him – for our new resident is a plump and noisy  bluebottle fly. He’s become so familiar that now and again I glance at him wondering if he’s strayed from that ancient science fiction film, “The Fly”, and listen out for the tiny voice crying “Help! Save me!”

When I was younger, I would happily kill a fly with one adept swing of the fly swat.  If no more specialised weapon was available, a rolled-up newspaper would do.  I spent my teenage years in a house near a small German forest.  Every summer swarms of fat houseflies would pour in the minute you opened the windows – which you had to do as in the middle of that continental landmass, the weather was often unbearably hot. Returning home from school each afternoon, I’d quickly build up a double-figure score before starting my homework.

My aversion to flies may have had something to do with my sixth form Biology genetics project: bringing home a jam jar full of fruit flies, feeding them mashed banana, then anaesthetising them with ether to count how many had curly wings and how many had straight wings. Give ether to a schoolgirl? I hear your horrified cry.  Surely that’s asking for trouble? This was of course the good old days, before health and safety regulations took over.

But as my memory of the awful stench of etherised, banana-stuffed fruitflies has diminished, so has my eagerness to kill flies.  These days I’ll shoo them out the window if possible, but our current visitor is most uncooperative.

Nor can I kill anything else (as my friends and relations will no doubt be pleased to hear). My attitude on seeing roadkill is much the same as my horror at seeing dead bodies on the news: “Oh no, that’s some mother’s son!” I think I must have watched too much of Johnny Morris‘s “Animal Magic” TV programme when I was a child: I anthropomorphise far too easily.

So I’m dependent now on the appetites of an itinerant spider – of which there is currently no trace.  A couple of months ago, you couldn’t enter a room without finding a spider – or sometimes a dozy wasp or a ladybird. I can’t kill spiders either, thanks to the indoctrination by my kindly elderly neighbour who abided by ancient country sayings.  “If you want to live and thrive, let the spider keep alive,” she often told me.

Up to a point, I’m happy to maintain peaceful coexistence with a spider..  I’m no arachnaphobe, but nor do I want long-term spidery lodgers.  I have therefore applied with great success the rural remedy of leaving  conkers about the house, which spiders cannot tolerate.

The fruit of the Horse chestnut tree. They are...
Conkers - and no sign of a spider (Image via Wikipedia)

This autumn, the massive horse chestnut tree beside my house has distributed so many conkers in the garden that we haven’t seen a spider for weeks.  I think if I want to attract a spider, I’ll have to collect the conkers from the garden and throw them over my neighbour’s wall.  (Well, it will make a change from snails and slugs.)

But in the meantime,  a bigger problem has arisen in our camper van.  We’ve acquired a couple of mice.  At least our new kitchen lodger is flying solo, so we don’t have to worry about it breeding – but a pair of mice?  Hmm.  Now, where can I get a hungry cat?