Rose’s Death

She was soft and white with striking pink eyes

Patient to a fault, unless, when gathering wool,

You happened to cut deeper than intended.

She’d nip your finger and look sadly reproachful

Until you repented and promised never to do it again.

Her brood of three,

Bundles of white just like their mother,

Were pliable creatures with rose-red eyes

Long ears and fur, pledging yarn in abundance,

But long-lived, opposing the end of their dam.

Nothing presaged her sudden demise.

One morning her life snuffed out brought us sadness

And an unforeseen burial beneath the old apple tree

© HMH, 2013

Fashion Drawings

Lavender dress
White dress with Back Fastening
Pareo Dress

These drawings are all from the eighties, which is easy to perceive. I drew them with coloured pencils on paper, and they were my first attempts at designs. I sewed the first two designs and reused the fabric from the lavender dress more than once.

Two Part Dress

© HMH, 1987 + 2019

Writing prompts

Do They Work?

A while ago, I visited a prompt generator and, among others, got these: The poisoned Rose and The Mysterious Yacht. I’ve forgotten the rest. Couldn’t find anything else that was remotely interesting. It made me wonder if some of these sites are condescending and expect that you’re unable to think for yourself. The issue here is that if you’re uncertain about what to write, it’s seen as a failure. There is a difference though. For me, it’s easy to figure out what my novels are about – there was always this urge to write and explore the flawed family theme. You may ask why. But the answer won’t be to find in this essay.

With short stories and especially flash fiction, the situation is different. It’s a media that I tend to see as a playing ground. Sometimes the ideas come easily. At other times, I draw a blank. Tonight is such a night. No matter, the search for prompts made me think about writing. There is an endless theme.

What strikes me about writing prompts is that getting three random, or seemingly random, words work better for me. It’s probably because three words that don’t have a superficial connection pushes my brain to make associations. Voila, the start shot reverberates through my mind. Free association is a psychological tool that works for scientists (Psychiatrists) as well as musicians (composer/songwriter) and authors. Looking back at the two prompts I noted, they appear closed in on themselves. Should one mix them up though, the situation might change. We won’t use ‘the’ but mysterious, rose, yacht, poisonous. Perhaps one adjective is enough.

Rose/Poison/Mysterious/Yacht? Is that better? Let me see. Free association brings up Belladonna. A rose is a flower, A foxglove is a poisonous flower and the poison you get from it is belladonna. A beautiful lady can be called a rose. A beautiful lady could be rich too (it isn’t a must) but a rich lady could possess a yacht. There: we’ve connected rose/poison/yacht. What about mysterious? How to bring that into the equation?

There is something mysterious about beautiful ladies. Is that enough? That is an interesting sentence. It could be spoken by a man thwarted in love. Of course, he could be rich and possess the aforementioned yacht. Would our lover be thwarted badly enough to become murderous? Would he take her out on his yacht and make short work of getting rid of her? How? With poison, and a stone to weigh her down? Does he do this kind of action often? If so, he has evolved into a serial killer.

We have a story growing with hardly any effort. It’s true that being thwarted in love doesn’t necessarily make you a serial killer – not even of beautiful ladies. On the other hand, there could be a mystery buried in there. A genetic fault that he doesn’t know about. A childhood trauma that is buried deep in his subconscious. That would open an avenue for a psychologist – a criminal profiler – to take on the case. All of this it’s up to the writer to make plausible and bring together in a coherent plot. Without these jumps through several mental hoops – no story.

We’re far away from a logical plot, but it’s just a matter of letting the ideas mature. Don’t force the issue. Let the concept simmer for a while. The essence will generate a story – sooner or later. This is a game, but it helps to stimulate the creative muscles. So much is clear.

Next up is writing the story. Come to think of it, this idea is so complex that it could be fleshed out to a mystery novel or a thriller. If it must be a short story, it might be sensible to discard part of the associative ideas. Leave out the mystery and you have a revenge story. Leave out the beautiful lady – and you could write nonfiction about poisonous flowers. Not so appealing maybe, but people need to know about nature’s dangers. There are too many vegetable poisons. You don’t need a speckled band to traverse a small hole in a wall for creating suspense.

© HMH, 2019

Ceanothus

A feathery frame supporting

Little pieces of sky

Blue wonders, offering heady fragrance

And fairy visions.

***

A breeze carries soft petal chimes

That cause the soul to resonate.

Thus

A question springs to mind.

With such wonders

Why do we sense

Futility and darkness?

Our little lives

Could open like blossoms

Carrying blue balm

To narrow minds.

***

Let us find courage

To live and to love.

In our slight hearts

Rapture can flourish.

We may find lost visions

In an old-fashioned garden

*****

© HMH, 2019

Review Time

Rebecca Bryn, Touching the Wire

Harrowing and Realistic

Touching the Wire is about guilt and shame. It analyses complexities that we habitually manage to avoid. It’s about surviving under impossible conditions – or chose the only way out. It’s about facing life when you wish to die. This book takes its readers down the abyss and leaves us no option but facing the horror that is deep inside every human being.

Shame and guilt are hard taskmasters. Rebecca Bryn shows the agony and regret, the love lost and the emptiness – the pain — and the forgiveness. Her strong prose makes the protagonist’s humanity realistic. She creates a balance between his background and remorse. Here is a vivid and absorbing read that will make you think — and think again. Highly recommended.

James Donaldson, Witching Hour

An Entertaining take on Cults

A doomsday setting, a blood cult, a damsel in distress. A hero who takes on an entire village in an endeavour to debunk the myth that holds the cult together. The elements of Donaldson’s Witching Hour are simple, but he adds some unexpected twists. The proverbial brawny henchmen add comic relief, but the protagonist, the hero, Nash knows how to fight. Nash’s thoughts sustain the plot in an entertaining read that will keep his readers enthralled.

Kate McGinn, Winter’s Icy Caress

FBI, Vengeance, Ice, Love, Betrayal

Kate McGinn is a good writer – I read one of her short articles, which was brilliant. In the hope that her novel writing would have the same standard, I bought Winter’s Icy Caress. There is much to say for her writing, the prose flows and the storyline benefits from her skill. On a personal note, her heroine’s obsession with her love interest’s looks became repetitive. Other than that, the plot was engaging with many twists and turns. McGinn keeps her readers guessing.

Cindy Davis, Final Masquerade

How to Escape the Mob

Witnessing her fiancé murder his best friend pivots Paige Carmichael onto a headlong flight. Without time to consider the danger, she takes some money and a precious coin out of her fiancé’s safe. Then she absconds with her booty. Her hope that clever disguises will help her gain safety backfires again and again. So far, this novel doesn’t distinguish itself from most suspense fiction. What makes it stand out is that the protagonist learns that there’s more to life than shopping and looks. At first, a shallow character, Paige learns that friendship, honest work, trust, and love for pets, as well as humans, enriches life. Recommended

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps, Wham

Dystopian Fantasy

Wham is a fitting title to a dystopian scenario that hits you between the eyes. There are elements of Margaret Atwood in the class divisions, but the authors have their own style. They bring across their message with compelling prose. The characters, be they elves, fairies, wizards, potentates, or ‘ordinary’ school children, are convincing and real. The world building is as strong, and the wasteland of the ‘normal’ world contrasts resoundingly with the hidden fairy country. As the first book of a series, it sets the scene for coming adventures. Here, my personal view is that ‘Wham’ is too short.

For me, the problem with series is that the necessary hook often leaves the reader without a sense of closure. True, if the ending is definite, there’s no reason to continue. All the same, there are several examples of series (e.g. by Guy Gabriel Kay or Ursula Le Guin) where every part has a conclusion, although the readers want to know what happens next.

This doesn’t detract from the excitement and heart-stopping agitation that Wham gives its audience.

Soleil Daniels, Halfborn

A Confrontation with Guilt

Coral hides. Her occupation is staying away from people — unless her needs force her hand. That’s when she seeks society, knowing that she must clean up afterwards. Money isn’t a problem, but her cravings are. Mostly she is in control and does only what is necessary. Enter Marshall Kevin O’Neal, and Coral’s life changes forever. She loses control for the first time in her life and there’s no way back — neither for her nor for him. His suffering makes her aware that there are questions to answer. The only problem is that she doesn’t know where to find the necessary knowledge.

From then on Coral’s life becomes one long trip. She must tackle her guilt, although she has no idea of the reasons behind her action. She and Marshall go on the road, to escape the consequences of their actions and to find out what they’ve become.

This is strong meat and an unusual twist on vampire mythology. Daniels presents an allegory that shows how lack of knowledge can pull people out of their comfort zone. Bonded in their lust and guilt, Coral and Marshall must learn who they are or face the consequences.

The characters are believable and engaging, but more than that, their troubled journey creates a brooding backdrop for the conflict they face.

William Gareth Evans, Within the Glass Darkly

A Traditional Vampire Tale.

WGE draws on the original vampire mythology, as narrated by Sheridan Le Fanu and Bram Stoker. Their inspiration partly originates in Hungary, with Countess Elizabeth Báthony (1560-1614), a serial killer of magnificent proportions. It may not be the greatest wonder that the vampire idea caught on in the nineteenth century, when female sexuality was ignored, and male sexuality was repressed.

WGE spins his tale, using some of the well-known Le Fanu characters, as well as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Van Helsing. The action takes place around the Parisian Vampire Theatre that Anne Rice celebrates in her vampire series.

With all these references, it is astounding that WGE manages to present his personal take on the mythos. He does it with panache and conviction, adding his own ideas and bringing his celebration of this bloodthirsty chapter in literary history to life. The introduction of a male counterpart to Carmilla, works wonders. The age-old vampire is a formidable fiend. His first killings make your hair stand on end. To find out more, read Within the Glass Darkly.

Millie Thom, Shadow of the Raven

Finding Balance among Vikings

In Mercia, the Vikings raid with impunity. That makes it easy for an envious brother to stage fratricide and usurp power. The true king’s family suffers the consequences. Millie Thom brings the political tensions, the greed and resentment to life. There is a gallery of believable characters, led by to boys, Eudwulf and Alfred. Through his captivity and thraldom, Eudwulf becomes familiar with Danish everyday life. To survive, he gets involved and learns to appreciate that Vikings aren’t all monsters. That doesn’t mean that he stops wishing for revenge, both against the Viking that killed his father and against the Mercian Traitor.  Back in Mercia, Alfred lives a toddler’s life, although he early develops an awareness that not everybody can be trusted.

Ms Thom shows her deep understanding of the historical period and presents her readers with a vivid tapestry of heroes and villains, Christianity and Norse mythology, day to day life, festivities, and raids. The battles are brutal. The love scenes are mesmerising. In short, nothing is missing in this glimpse of ancient times. A well-rounded read that is engrossing from the beginning to the end. Highly recommended.

Bedtime Story

There’s nothing like my bed. When the pillows are arranged and I dive under the duvet, ready for an evening of writing and reading, it’s bliss. One of those moments when it’s impossible to deny that life is wonderful. To think that it’s a habit to go to bed. Every evening ends with a quiet time. My laptop and pad are ready for my thoughts. Even the most inane ones. What more does a person need?

The frustrations – the daily frustrations disappear. It’s time to snuggle and take delight in simple pleasures as above. True, this isn’t the only use that a bed provides. Let me not digress. Yes, let me. A bed is for sleeping, right? False. A bed is also for sleeping. It is for quiet talks at the end of the day — if one has somebody to share intimate thoughts with. It’s for passionate love-making – if one gets there and doesn’t resort to the floor or a kitchen table. Beds are far superior though.

Beds are for building caves with blankets and duvets and pillows, or for staging pillow fights. The last idea may not always be appropriate. On the other hand, beds are versatile. They may not be the best site for extensive breakfasts, especially because of the crumbs. A cup of tea or coffee works, if one doesn’t spill it. Film viewing? Sure thing. Telly? Not for me. My preference is settling down for a writing session. A few cars pass, or a couple of girls chatter. Then the street-noise calms. The flat is darkened except for a small table lamp beside my bed. My feet get warm and my mind soars. What will be my theme tonight? Will it be a rant, a short story, musings about my work in progress? It all depends on what’s uppermost in my mind.

Sometimes, it’s just a blow by blow account of the day. Not so interesting, but probably practical. It’s difficult to remember when certain affairs started or ended if one doesn’t write them down. The best moments happen when a sudden idea develops. Beds are fertile for busy minds. Or is it the other way round? Can beds make busy minds fertile? That makes sense. If they (the beds) also help procreation – that’s another matter altogether. That is, if procreation doesn’t take over and decide to pounce, negating well-laid plans.

That was a digression. Back to bed. My bed. Warm and snug. The ultimate in cosiness. The helping hand for crying over spilt milk. There’s nothing like the comfort a bed offers a saddened heart. Yet, a bed can become your worst adversary. The enemy that won’t let you be comfortable. The lair for bogeymen. They prefer living under the bed though. Mostly, they’re easily scared away. Just turn on the light and they disappear. Pouf.

Have I forgotten something? Naturally. Beds are dream machines. Everything is possible in a bed. You can fly — and there’s no need for fairy dust. Just close your eyes and soar. In dreams, you can be a hero or a victim. You can have the entire spectrum. Want to experience being a spy? Try a dream. Want to laze your time away in a flower meadow? Nothing is easier. Want to get lost in a mysterious house that grows new rooms as you roam? Close your eyes and find exquisite tapestries, fabulous divans, shadowy corners, and ballrooms, candelabras, or staircases going up and down and in circles. Careful that you don’t get dizzy. The next you know, you wake up, stretch, and a new day begins. Alternatively, it’s still night. Ah, but that is a bonus. That means time to start over.

Read a little, turn out the light and the dreams wait, just around the corner of the pillow. Don’t despair if sleep doesn’t come instantly. That gives time for reflection. Only, don’t think too hard. Muse upon something pleasant. Take a sip of water. If necessary, take a turn in the darkened flat. Certain yoga positions can be practised in bed. Wiggle your toes. Arrange your pillows. Sooner or later, everything will come together and harmony reign. If it doesn’t, don’t curse the bed. It provides the nest, but it can’t take away your improper thoughts. Improper for creating harmony. All other thoughts are proper.

Welcome. A bed is a kingdom in miniature. Use it but don’t abuse it. It’ll always be ready to welcome you, give you warmth, and a good night’s sleep. Enjoy.

© HMH, 2019

Prima Donnas

Moaning like cats and crying like babes

High-strung coloraturas and heart-wrenching bel canto,

Taut necks and folded wings,

The singers hold forth in the high street of fish town

Gulping out sounds that stop the traffic on a weekday like all others.

Inscrutable yellow eyes muster the audience

While muscles support challenging lovelorn chants

The prima donnas give encores and stretch their necks

Letting the tone surge and rip. Cascading laughter ensues

Now a lyrical intermezzo — now a slow dance to enhance the concert.

Flash mobs or buskers hold nothing against such performers.

Talents ripen through natural selection.

In the night the chorus takes over and holds forth,

Accomplishing Wagnerian chords with untold stamina,

Serenading sleepers, drunkards and lovelorn stragglers

Into the wee hours.

Summer or winter matter little to the inexhaustible,

Those high-strung performers driven by instinct

Deep rooted in saltwater and pebbles

But forced by the ever changing natural, unnatural world

To nest on house tops as the beaches became playgrounds

For other two legged but wingless creatures

© HMH, 2013