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Just back, fairly fired up

November 10, 2018

I’m just back from a week spent at a ‘writing for children and young adults’ workshop run by the ARVON FOUNDATION, a long established provider of encouragement and advice for those who want to write.

It was held at Lumb Bank in Yorkshire, once the home of Ted Hughes and before that the home of the owner of the mill that now lies derelict at the bottom of the valley. The photo shows the autumn trees and autumn skies above the site this morning.

I hope it has fired me up enough to do the rewrite that I think my completed project needs and the nerve to keep on submitting it should anyone be so foolish as to reject my masterpiece.

And I had a flash of ideas for another more humorous work. Let’s see how it goes.

We had a large group of frighteningly talented people there, all women but me and one of the tutors. I found myself singing PRETTY WOMEN as I stood outside waiting for my lift out (Thank you Lindy!) but quickly realised that given the source it could be misunderstood…

Speaking of morbid matters. this is one piece I didn’t get to show off at the workshop, an assignment to do a ‘gothic’ story. I may post other samples here if my self-confidence and vanity last.


“Yes, yes,” said the old man impatiently. “It is always sad when such great houses fall into desuetude. But I hope we are both men of business. You did not drag me out here to exchange platitudes, Mr Pulsifer.”

The slight, pale young junior solicitor begged the bookseller’s pardon. He was more than a little overawed by the old man, hair as white as snow and as long as any maiden’s, falling like fine lace across the black velvet of his jacket. The old man who his senior partner had insisted be brought in to assess the Library at Hellvellyn Hall.

J.D. Sombre, Bookseller and Antiquarian

1 Valterrerea Chambers W2

said the business card in tiny, elegant and nearly unreadable text.

The old man sniffed down the entire length of his nose and allowed himself to be conducted up the worn spiral staircase to the locked door at the top of the North Tower.

The junior solicitor fumbled at the huge ring of heavy antique keys he’d been entrusted with and after much effort managed to open the door into the tiny turret room, lined with books and smelling of mildew on parchment.

The old man was not impressed.

“The Sumerian scrolls, or rather the the alleged Sumerian scrolls are inferior copies from Egyptian scribes. Worth more as parchment than information. The Von Juntz your senior partner made so much of in his letter is a third edition and heavily censored. The medieval witch trial evidence might be valuable to a few collectors of curiosities I suppose…”

The old man sighed and took off his pince nez to polish them. He leaned back in the chair the late Master of the Hall had read so much dubious lore in for so long.

“Didn’t he ever,” the old man grumbled, “apply his reading? Did he have no dark fire in his soul? Did he never do anything or only read?”

The junior solicitor protested that he had understood the older man to be a bookseller.

And Antiquarian!” came the stern reply.

Ah, said the junior solicitor and led the other down the spiral staircase and into the courtyard where the late (and last) Master of the Hall had been found face down in the lily pond.

A gilded statue of a naked nymph stood in the centre of the pond, vainly covering her maidenly parts as if startled while bathing.

The old man glared a question at the younger who in his turn merely gestured across the pond as if to say ‘if you would but observe…’

The eyes of the nymph blinked and looked, from side to side as if seeking a way of escape, from the older man to the younger man as if looking for some mercy where she knew there would be none.

Only the eyes lived. The rest was frozen and inhuman.

“Ah,” said the old man. “Now we can negotiate!”

From → Writing

  1. If I had read this in a magazine, I’d say it’s a good first section of a story. I know it’s fashionable these days not to bother with having all three of beginning, middle and end, but the more you cut down the more it’s just a scene rather than a story. I want to find out who these people are and what they’re going to do.

    Of course, as I always say™, making things that appeal to my taste is approximately never a way to commercial success.

    • It’s a vignette. Five hundred words written as a ‘writing prompt’ to do something ‘gothic’. It isn’t going anywhere because the horror of the last moment is supposed to be all it is. If I were to explore anyone’s PoV here it would probably be the nymph’s and that would go well beyond my limits of how far I want to go with horror.

      • O. Henry made a career out of short stories with a sting in the tail. But O. Henry is dead.

        I think I see what you’re getting at, but I also think that format is more valuable as something for the writer than as something for the reader.

  2. True. But the 45K word novel that I’m going to ask you to have a look at (in fear and trembling) started from just such a vignette.

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