A SENSE OF PLACE

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Tower of London

Every week I look forward to Friday morning and a treat in the form of Bernadette’s regular ‘Feminist Friday’ posts on her blog haddonmusings.com  The women featured, both famous and not so famous, are aways inspiring and fascinating. Recently I heard the story of one British woman who was a trailblazer in the world of printmaking and I want to share her life, her work with you.

helenaArtist and printmaker Helena Markson is a person whose name and fame should have spread far beyond her field of expertise. Born in London in 1934, she studied at Salisbury School of Art and then at Central School of Art before becoming a successful professional printmaker. Initially she co-directed a Fine Art Printmaking workshop, soon after she set up an etching studio in London before teaching at Chelsea College of Art and St. Martin’s School of Art in London. During this time she exhibited many of her prints. Her lifelong career took her across the UK, to America and Israel and she worked until her death in 2012.  

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Brighton Fair

Although there were women involved in printmaking in the 1950s, most would work on smaller pieces that were made using less equipment and could be done at home, for example wood engravings, wood-cuttings and lino cuttings. Helena was unusual in that she worked in etchings, often large ones, which used acid and print presses; in other words she worked from a print studio with both the space and ventilation she required. 

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Albert Dock

 

Throughout her life Helena was inspired by architecture and her range of work reflects this; she always depicted places she had a special connection to and particularly buildings. These were firstly from her life in London and Salisbury. Later Liverpool featured strongly in her work following an important  commission by the main town planner who had been drawn to her earlier work. As a result she spent much time completing a series of prints highlighting the urban renewal undergoing in Liverpool in the 1960s.

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Palm House

Israel was the centre for the latter part of Helena’s career as well as her life. Initially she was invited to show her work in the country, however she was immediately fascinated and drawn to the country and its people and in 1970 Helena moved permanently to Israel. Helena is held in high esteem in the county and is seen as a pioneer who set up the country’s first print studio at the newly created University of Haifa. As co-founder of the Art Department within the university she brought printing presses and equipment from the UK to form the new print studio. Later she set up the Fine Art Print Studios and taught lithography and etching and became Professor Emeritus of Haifa University. 

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Waving Grasses

Helena was a private person throughout her life but she always retained a strong emotional presence to wherever she worked and this was true for her work in Israel which cemented her fascination with landscape and all her prints are imbued by a sense of place. However in Israel there was a transition in her style; her early work of London and Liverpool  were mainly monotone subtle colours and architectural whilst her later prints gave more a sense of space in vibrant blues and oranges. 

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Abercrombie Square

Even though she lived and worked in Israel until her death aged 78, Helena continued to visit the UK and America.  In the UK the poet, Dylan Thomas, particularly caught her attention and she completed a series based on his poems called ‘Dwelling Places’ with images of places she had lived, books she had read and people she knew. 

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book-coverHelena Markson’s beautiful prints are open to view in collections around the world including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Tate Britain in London. A book celebrating her work has recently been released and is entitled ‘Helena Markson – A Sense of Place’ .

Sources include: BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour Friday    25. 11.16    10.00 am

Beyond Fear

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Fearless, stoic he stands above me on the hill. As majestic in his stillness as in a walk or trot. The black horse is one of a pair I regularly encounter on my walk whilst in Sweden. At times they deign to come near the fence, but never too close; other times they’ll stand afar, then glance up. Often I stop to observe their grand stance, their all-knowing demeanour, their fearlessness. 

Fear seems to be all pervasive in our society in recent times, not only on a global political level but on on a personal, emotional one too. Fear rules so much in our lives.

Seeing the silhouette of the horse against the ethereal sky I feel its courage emanate from its very being. Fearless. A saying I used to comfort my son (and myself) comes to mind and with so few words A. A. Milne’s encapsulates the motto on how to live life and how to garner belief in ourselves. 

Meanwhile I also recall a longer speech by the esteemed former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela on his inauguration in 1994. His wonderful heart-felt speech is a declaration to ourselves, to never let fear and feeling of worthlessness rule our lives. I never fail to be drawn in by the initially alarming, unexpected first two lines: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate./ Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

Both these quotes have seen me through some tough times, supported me, given me courage, even solace. I hope you enjoy them and find them comforting, inspiring and that their spirit will equally enhance your sense of fortitude. 

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?  You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel  insecure around you.
We were all meant to shine like children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.
It’s not just in some of us. It’s in everyone. 
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, 
our presence automatically liberates others.

By Nelson Mandela     1994

The Loyalist Legacy: Book Tour

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I am very excited to be part of Elaine Cougler’s book tour for her latest historical novel, The Loyalist Legacy.

‘Historical fiction is flourishing as never before,’ declared the head the British Historical Writers’ Association recently and Elaine’s final book in her Loyalist trilogy is testament to the popularity and success of this genre.

Set against the backdrop after the American War of Revolution (American War of Independence) and the War of 1812, The Loyalist Legacy is an intimate, personal and realistic novel centred around William and Catherine Garner seeking to rebuild their lives admist the terrible hardships and ensuing political fallout.  Her book can be read as a stand alone but of course would be richer to read in sequence.

With realistic insights into the challenging lives of Ontario’s early settlers, Elaine Cougler once again draws readers into the Loyalists’ struggles to build homes, roads, and relationships, and their growing dissension as they move ever closer to another war. The Loyalist Legacy shows us the trials faced by ordinary people who conquer unbelievable hardships and become extraordinary in the process.

The following encapsulates the essence of the book and I cannot help but want to learn more about the two main characters, their struggle and the change created in both them and their country.

When the War of 1812 is finally over William and Catherine Garner flee the desolation of Niagara and find in the wild heart of Upper Canada their two hundred acres straddling the Thames River. On this valuable land, dense forests, wild beasts, disgruntled Natives, and pesky neighbors daily challenge them. The political atmosphere laced with greed and corruption threatens to undermine all of the new settlers’ hopes and plans. William cannot take his family back to Niagara, but he longs to check on his parents from whom he has heard nothing for two years. Leaving Catherine and the children, he hurries along the Governor’s Road toward the turn-off to Fort Erie, hoping to return in time for spring planting.

The wonderful atmospheric writing of the following excerpt immediately drew me in and transported into the nineteenth century world of William and Catherine.

The tunnel sloped upward and, as the light grew brighter, they left the water behind. First out of the hole, Lucy watched as Robert turned back to help William tug their father, blinking, up into the sunshine. Aaron pulled her to the waiting wagon, and parted the hay to reveal a hiding place. She crawled inside, John came after and then her sons. They were almost blind in the shadowy half-light, brown with the sun filtered through the layered hay.

A bright spot of light opened where they had crawled in and Aaron shoved a jug of water toward them. “Godspeed,” he whispered and was gone. She prayed his part in this would never be known. The wagon lurched and they were off, the three escapees and her, now just as guilty in the eyes of the law as her men, and whoever was driving the wagon….

John dozed beside her, his long legs reaching to Robert and William who sat hunched at their parents’ feet. She had lain down beside John to try to cushion him from the bumpy road and hold his head on her shoulder. How could he sleep? She was acutely aware of each rut in the road and every stone the wheels scraped against as the wagon carried them to what she hoped was freedom. The horses snorted and panted up every hill and she found herself holding her breath hoping they’d make it.

They hardly stopped on the way out of the village, but each time they did everyone held their breath until the squeaky wheels started turning again. But the ride was uneventful. No one followed them; indeed, no one seemed to know they had escaped.

The wagon bed was covered with a thin tick meant to ease their journey and she thanked the planners for their effort even though it didn’t help much. Nevertheless the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves created a kind of rhythm and gradually her thoughts subsided into the sound as she released her fear and her excitement. Her body relaxed against John’s. The last thing she remembered was putting a handkerchief over her nose to keep out the bits of fresh hay floating in the murky air.

 

Whispering woke her. And a sudden burst of cool air, which wafted into the tight space, now dark. She pulled the cloth away and sat up. John groaned beside her and she felt his fevered forehead.

“Mama? Are you awake?” William’s low voice caught and he cleared his throat. “We’re stopping for the horses.” He crawled through the opening and she followed after him feeling her way in the darkness.

“What about your father? He’s burning with fever.” Picking bits of hay from her clothing she looked around but could see very little. A few distant stars shone weakly and a slip of a moon hung over them like a curved sword. Two men switched the teams but in the dim light she couldn’t see who they were. Only the occasional glint of harness bits and wide eyes—both horses’ and humans’—bore witness to their task. Mr. Beasley had been as good as his word.

Robert went to help the men and Lucy turned to John. William opened up a larger hole in the straw so his father could breathe easier. Very soon the horses were hitched again, the spent team tied to a wheel for a moment, and its driver, spent also after six hours of driving, brought Lucy a package of food from under the wagon seat. They each found a brief moment in the bushes, William helping his father out of the wagon for the purpose, and soon stuffed themselves back into the tight space.

The plan was to drive all night, the new driver had said, but Lucy wondered how much more she and John could take. Her rheumatism pained her at the best of times but bumping along in the back of this wagon was pure agony although she uttered not a word to her family. William had kept the plug of hay out of its hole at the back of the wagon and she was glad of the air. She plunged her hand into the sack to find what their rescuers had packed for them.

Hours later the wagon stopped again. William woke and hastily plugged the hole against the dawn light but soon removed the hay and crawled out, Robert right behind him. John’s eyes were on her and she took his hand.

“Where are we?” he asked.

“Another stop for horses, I expect.” She touched his cheek. “Come. We’ll have a stretch.”

Robert helped his father from the wagon and took him into the bushes.

“Where are we, William?” Lucy asked. “Do you know?”

“We’re going to Burlington Bay. That’s all Aaron told me.”

“Beasley kept his promise.”

William squeezed her rough hand and she winced. “What is it, Mama?”

She forced a smile and took back her hand. “Look. The sun is just clearing the lake.”

“That’s the last we’ll see of it today.” Robert had returned from helping his father. “The driver says we’re still many miles from Beasley’s place.”

03_elaine-couglerA lifelong reader and high school teacher, Elaine Cougler found her passion for writing once her family was grown. She loves to read history for the stories of real people reacting to their world. Bringing to life the tales of Loyalists in the American Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and Rebellion of 1837 is very natural as Elaine’s personal roots are in those struggles. She lives today in the heart of Ontario, Canada, and is the descendant of Loyalists who lived through the times of which she writes.

Elaine Cougler can be found on TwitterFacebook Author Page, LinkedIn and on her blog.

The Loyalist Legacy is out now and available at  Amazon UK or Amazon US.

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THE FOOD OF LOVE: A BOOK REVIEW

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It’s not often I start a book and have absolutely no idea what it is about. NetGalley emailed me saying I’d been pre-approved for ‘The Food of Love’ and as that morning I’d just finished a rather graphic collection of Stephen King’s short stories I thought this gentle-sounding novel would be my soothing tonic.

‘The Food of Love’ – such a safe, innocuous title I immediately pictured romance centred on a taverna in Greece or a spy/love story set in Spain, the nights hot and with many evening scenes at a half-lit tapas restaurant. 

I could not have been more mistaken, although my theory seemed to hold sway for the very first part of the book which starts with a family on holiday in the warm climes of Florida. Freya Braithwaite and her husband Lockie are walking through Old Naples one evening with their daughters, Charlotte and Lexi. Charlotte is quietly confident albeit cautious and sensible whilst her younger sister is the adventurous one who begs to be allowed to swim in the dark. Even as she is being warned about the dangers, including that of sharks, she refuses to obey and disappears off the sea wall into the blackness below.

This brief flashback sets the picture of a perfect happy harmonious family where love and laughter are the norm in their idyllic lifestyle. Eight years later the book begins properly with the Braithwaite family at home in the UK and quickly I became engrossed in their lives; Freya is a freelance food writer (extremely pertinent to the book), whilst her husband is a freelance photographer. The family are captured with poetic, lyrical ease and in small sketches the author reveals the everyday, the ordinary wonderful life. Of course, as with all good books I was by this stage on tether hooks, just waiting for the turn in the story, waiting for the drama, the chaos.

A phone call from the school provides the catalyst to the ensuing novel where a normal meeting with a teacher unveils the potential problem with one of her daughters. Freya’s gnawing anxiety ahead of the meeting is portrayed with truth and I could easily imagine myself in her position and Freya’s insistent rejection of the teacher’s insinuations is equally believable – there was no way Lexi could have an issue with food! 

From hereon the book becomes a harrowing, even punishing read at times, as Lexi’s anorexia is dramatically discovered and her health rapidly deteriorates. The effects of her starvation are candidly described and the catalogue of Lexi’s increasingly critical health problems are meticulously revealed. Freya’s confusion, desperation and guilt is brilliantly captured whilst Lockie’s down-to-earth, angry reaction causes friction for the first time in their nineteen year marriage. He finds it increasingly impossible to accept what he sees as ‘pandering’ to Lexi as she undergoes various treatments. Furthermore the tension that has existed between the siblings continues to fester, especially since Charlotte finds herself sidelined, the milestones in her own life forgotten, ignored.

Although told from the third person perspective I identified closely with the characters, especially so with Freya and Lexi. The collapse of all their lives is told in raw albeit loving detail with the absurd amidst the calamity skilfully interwoven. Personally I found the topic uncomfortable, disturbing even and I would not be surprised if this holds true for many potential readers, however I can offer the assurance that it is handled with finesse and control; ultimately it is a book about four people thrown into the unknown and how we function as an individual, as a couple or as a family when faced with adversity, when the unimaginable becomes a reality and to what extent love can be the solution. 

I read the book in two days and found it, to use that well-worn phrase, ‘unputdownable’ and this was partly down to the ‘countdown’  paragraphs at the end of each chapter. Set some time in the future, the clock starts with eight hours left as Freya prepares for the life-changing event, and together with Charlotte, she is desperately trying to compose a letter to Lexi. Events, memories from the past are unveiled as they struggle to compose their missives. The burning question is of course whether Lexi is alive or dead?

‘The Food of Love’ is a compelling, heart-wrenching, even painful book but all the same a heart-warming and rewarding novel which I can highly recommend to anyone with an interest in so-called ‘domestic’ dramas. 

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a honest and impartial review.

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Rating:                          4 out of 5 stars.

Publisher:                     Lake Union Publishing 

Release Date:              1st December 2016                               

Links:                             Amazon UK or   Amazon US 

The Flying Trapeze

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My recent Writing Group prompt proved rather challenging; involving both a genre in which I’m not adept as well as a topic that sadly holds little interest. 

The topic was circus and more on that later. The genre was a limerick – although I enjoy composing some for a laugh after dinner, I’ve never seriously tried to write any. 

My first port of call was ever reliable google and helpfully I discovered the basic principles of limericks; the first, second and fifth line have the same number of syllables (approx 7 -10) and rhyme, whilst the third and fourth rhyme but have fewer syllables (4-6). As often happens one site led to another and soon I became engrossed in the history of limericks, which came from Ireland but are thought to have originated in France and first appeared in England in the Middle Ages. To read more about limericks click here.

Circuses never held any fascination for me and way before the current spate of scary clowns, I’ve always found clowns frightening. On top of that I worried about the exploitation of animals which meant I have never been to a circus. However, I would be thrilled to witness the exploits of acrobats and trapeze artists, such as the ones in the limerick below – hopefully under far less eventful circumstances!

On writing my limerick I approached it from the story first and sketched this out. Quickly I realised this would not be one or even two limericks, rather an epic limerick or perhaps more accurately a poem with limerick verses. After endless revisions, tapping out the syllables repeatedly, this was my contribution – I hope you enjoy it. 

I surprised myself by have an absolute ball writing the limerick and ‘perfecting’ it – just proving that it’s always good to write outside one’s comfort zone. You never know what will emerge!

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The Flying Trapeze

The man on the flying trapeze

He felt just a little unease

The girl he had missed

The Earth she had kissed

And died of a fatal disease.

+++

He now had death on his hands

Which he did not understand

Had he been tricked?

Had he been picked?

As part of somebody’s plan.

+++

In a seat in the back of the tent

Sat the person who had the intent

So pleased that their dream

Achieved by their scheme

She smiled, gave a laugh and then went.

+++

The cause of the sudden demise

Was about her increase in size

She’d put on weight

And in that state

Her future was not a surprise.

+++

A justified lesson would be taught

The ultimate revenge must be sought

She who took her place

Would fall on her face

And the culprit would never be caught.

+++

To ensure there would be no scandal 

She took wax from an old church candle

For her anger to cease

She applied candle grease

All along the long trapeze handle.

+++

The man on the flying trapeze 

Had failed in his innocence pleas

He’s now serving time

Without reason or rhyme 

And spends all his time on his knees.

© Annika Perry

DREAM HOUSE

I am happy to hand over today’s post to my very good friend Mirja aka delphini510 and her unusual take on property selling. Hope you will enjoy it.

***

Reading many estate agents’ formal and stilted descriptions of properties for sale, I was overtaken by a wicked impulse.

So here is my quirky approach to a sales “blurb”.

Dream House

Is your dream of a house, a place

where in the morning you can step out;

hear birdsong whilst see them feed.

Surrounded by honeysuckle, clematis,

mighty trees.

***

To sit on a bench tucked in between,

have colourful butterflies visit

along with dragonflies.

Filling your senses with peace

before the day begins.

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***

If this sounds right for you, please do step in;

Coffee is brewing, you can share with me.

I will show you around,

***

let your feet connect with mighty oak,

sawn and smoothed.

Did you notice the windows

facing the rising sun?

Showing off flowers and shrubs.

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***

You now face two wings,

one leading left, one right.

Four bedrooms to the left;

yes, they are big,

Did you notice the bathroom had jacuzzi too?

***

Back we traipse, turn to the right,

then right again. Quirky? I know, that’s what I like.

Through the sunny breakfast room to kitchen,

also lit by the sun

showing off the porcelain tiled floor.

***

By the way, did you notice the brownies?

I baked them myself.

Please help yourself

Back again and there is the lounge

with plenty of books and yes, T.V.

Please do roam around.

***

Next, two steps to the dining room

Looking out over a wooden deck,

steps leading to the lawn.

***

Now my favourite, the Garden Room

always so bright,

views of the garden wrapping itself around,

The house nestling in its heart.

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***

Come with me to the secret garden

hidden on the side;

with berries of all kind.

The grape vine is enough for some wine

or just eating as they are.

A little patio with seating to just enjoy.

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***

Price:  Oh, better start saving pennies and pounds.

          Meanwhile I have enjoyed having you around. 

          By Mirja

 

Season of Mists *

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As Autumn steadily sweeps across us, the temperatures dipping further down with each day, nature’s exhibition of its colourful canvases growing ever more spectacular, we slowly ready ourselves for the winter. 

Winter coats, gloves, hats and scarves are made ready.  The radiators clatter to the sensation of heat coursing through the pipes for the first time in months. 

So off to Sweden I head for a few days to help prepare the summer houses for oncoming winter, when ice can reach a metre or two below the ground, when snow can pile metres high up against the walls. Minus twenty (centigrade) is not unusual. This is the final sorting before the dark days descend, radiators will be left on and this year to ensure there is no repetition of last Easter’s indoor flood following burst pipes, a heated lead has been placed in the water pipes between the houses to stop them freezing. Fingers crossed. 

I can’t wait to see the bountiful beauty the trees will offer – although even as we left in August the birch leaves were already tinged ochre and cracking at the tips. The ocean adorns itself with a wintry gown, the light flickering across the silver shimmery sea, the crispness of the air snapping at my lungs. 

This is my last escapade abroad this year; I will catch up with you all on my return until then I wish you a lovely final few days in October, a fun Halloween if celebrating and for those participating in NaNoWriMo best of luck! May stamina, perseverance and snacks carry you through until the end of 50,000 words. 

‘There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom. If one could but recall this vision by some sort of sign. It was in this hope that the arts were invented. Sign-posts on the way to what may be. Sign-posts toward greater knowledge.’

Robert Henri (1865-1929), American artist & teacher

* From ‘Ode to Autumn’ by John Keats

SOFIA!

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I wrote the following short story a few months ago and since then have swayed back and forth whether to send it into competitions. Following my recent post on The Cost of Competitions and the informed and lively discussion afterwards I have decided to share Sofia here instead.

So, when you have a few minutes to spare I hope you have a chance to read the story -perhaps snuggled up in your favourite corner, a coffee / tea to hand plus the odd biscuit or chocolate too!

The first half of the story appears below – to read it all including the final half please click here.

SOFIA

With two chipped mugs balanced precariously on a tray Inspector Nunn kicked the door closed and placed the drinks in front of Jane. She hardly noticed the tea sloshing onto the plate of scattered rich tea biscuits.

“Sorry about that Mrs Terence. Please continue,” said Inspector Nunn, as he reached for a soggy biscuit and dunked it in his tea.

“I noticed the man’s voice, that second time I saw him. He was restrained and quite embarrassed to start with, calling out for his daughter.

“He didn’t seem too worried and then there was a sudden, almost hysterical urgency in his call.

“‘Sofia! Sofia!’

“By now he was much more frantic and as he ran past me I saw his long brown hair unfurled from his ponytail. Ragged and knotted. He took a few steps along the path, and then his head swiveled round, as he scanned his surroundings. Helpless. Searching, with that haunted look. Perhaps that’s why nobody helped. Not at first anyway.

“‘Sofia!’

“He shouted her name again and again; the last syllable stressed and short.” “Mrs Terence…” interrupted Inspector Nunn.

“Jane, please.”

“Jane. When was the first time you saw him?”

“Sorry. We saw him only a couple of hours earlier. Ellie – that’s my daughter – and I bumped right into him. Into him and his little girl. Sofia, I assume. The two girls started talking, in that peculiar fashion of four-year olds. There was silence, followed by a couple of words, then some pointing. Ellie mentioned the sloth we’d just visited. That’s why we hadn’t seen them; we were blinded by the sunlight as we stepped out of the dark corridor. Ellie hadn’t been too impressed by the sloth, if I’m honest. It did rather resemble a slab of fur…”

“Jane, what about Sofia? How did she seem?”

“She was happy, excited even. I guess it was her first time at the zoo. She was buzzing after their encounter with the golden tamarins; she danced around us, her light red hair floating behind her, the locks bouncing on her back. Beautiful. A tamarin had snatched the bottle of drink from the man’s rucksack, but luckily the staff had retrieved it quickly. That explained why Sofia was clutching the bottle in one hand and in the other a sheep. I remember that. In a zoo full of exotic animals she carried around a cuddly sheep. Pretty boring, I thought.”

“Did you try to help? Did you try to stop him? To talk to him?”

“He was too fast, you see. He didn’t stop. Didn’t even really say anything else. Perhaps I should have done something, anything. Yes, I was a bit afraid. After all I was on my own here, with little Ellie. I should have forced him to stop, tried to help him. He was just so large – a body building type with a tight black T-shirt with weird silver writing on it. Look at me. At five foot six, I felt tiny next to him. Vulnerable even. I did have to think of Ellie.”

 

“Thank you for waiting Mr..?”

“Elwood. Martin Elwood. I don’t know how I can help you. I didn’t see anything.”

“Anything you can tell us will help. Trust me. When did you arrive today?” asked Inspector Nunn, as he munched away on the final sodden biscuit, his tea long since finished.

“I got here first thing this morning, just as the zoo was opening. In the summer we bought one of those Gold Cards, giving us free admission for a year. It’s great value for money. Have you got any children, Officer?”

“Inspector. Yes, I have two. Carry on.”

“Shh…Don’t talk too loud, they’re fast asleep, they’ve just had their bottles. It was my first time here with the twins on my own.”

“The man, Mr Elwood. When did you notice him?”

“That was right away, in the car park. He was with the little girl in the van as I pulled up. It was a white van with the name of a builder on it. His own business I assumed, although I did wonder why he wasn’t working. In this recession didn’t think anyone could afford take time off willy-nilly?”

“How about you? Why were you here on a Tuesday?”

“I’m a pilot and work erratic hours – crazy working life – I bet yours is a bit like that, Officer?”

“Again, it’s Inspector. Do continue but less about my life please,” replied Inspector Nunn. “How did they seem?”

“Fine I suppose,” replied Martin. “The girl was talking non-stop, playing with a little sheep. I saw her singing “Baa Baa Black Sheep” and that made me smile.”

“Why?”

“Well, because it was a white sheep of course. The whole time the guy seemed distracted, stared ahead, ignoring his sweet daughter. That was pretty cold of him, if you ask me. I couldn’t do that.”

“Didn’t he talk to her at all?”

“Oh, well, I suppose now you ask, he did look at her a couple of times, stroked her hair even, but with sadness. I mean, why come to a zoo if you’re gong to be a miserable sod?

“At the entrance till we stood behind him. He was one of those who obviously don’t feel the cold. This morning there was still a slight frost, early for mid-October, but a definite chill and even I got my coat on. He seemed one of those macho types, wearing just a T-shirt advertising a heavy metal band or such. What a contrast to the girl! What was her name? Sophie you said earlier?”

“Sofia.”

“Sorry, Sofia. She wore a pretty red dress with lots of layers, a red cardigan with white lace and matching white plimsolls. Dressed for a party I thought. The zoo does hold them you know but it did seem odd, as no one turned up to greet them and there were no other children in party clothes.”

“When did you see them next?”

“Quite a bit later, by the giraffes. The man was a bit more engaged then, you could say. The girl was on his shoulders, and she reached out with her free hand to stroke the giraffe. It lowered its head and then suddenly stuck out its tongue. A thick wedge of black flesh licked her hand, she squealed in shock, startling us all. Her dad took a step backwards and stumbled over the pushchair. It nearly tipped over and with a scream my boys woke up. Great, they’d only been asleep for a few minutes! Yes, I suppose that is selfish but I – they – needed their rest. The man did say sorry but his accent was so heavy I barely understood him.”

“He wasn’t her father.”

“That’s strange, who was he then?” “Her uncle.”

 

“Good Afternoon Miss..?”

“Beaumont. My first name is Bethany. I just heard the witness muttering as he left. Something about the guy not being Sofia’s dad. Are you sure? They seemed so close.”

“Please Bethany, tell me first what were you doing here today? And why were you so sure that they were father and daughter? What makes you such an expert?”

“I never said I was an expert. I just see a lot. I’ve been working here for two years; came straight from school. I pride myself on working out the visitors relationship to each other, kills time at the ice-cream kiosk I tell you.

“He acted with the love of a father. Sure, he looked different, but I’m not your normal twenty-year old either with all my piercings.

“My Mum despairs, especially when I had my tongue done last monh. Sofia liked it though; she touched the stud and all. Her dad…uncle…didn’t seem to mind at all.

“She’d just come from the African area and the giraffes. There was a bit of a scare I heard. The ice cream was to comfort her. The Calippo lolly was clasped in both her hands, they must have been freezing. A sheep? No, I didn’t see her holding anything, just the ice-lolly. The man wasn’t holding anything either. He bought a 99 Flake and we had a long chat about that. Yes, he did seem foreign but his English was fine. What did we talk about? Oh you know, the usual, in this case the ice cream. Why didn’t it cost 99p instead of the two pounds? Inflation, that’s what I said. Of course it didn’t help that he had all the trimmings, including a flake, sprinkles and sauce. They seemed like any normal visitors – no, I take that back. They were different, friendlier, not too many stop for a chat with me.”

Copyright ©Annika Perry

To read the rest of the story please press here and read on from page 6.

 

The Cost of Competitions

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To pay or not to pay?

Have you ever paid to enter writing competitions; either for short stories, poetry or even submitting a novel? Or perhaps you’d never contemplate having to pay for competitions? 

The topic of writing competitions came up at our last meeting of the local writing group and I was surprised at the varying opinions.

A couple of people seemed genuinely surprised that most competitions charged and that these were successful – I then had to admit to entering some myself with one win, a shortlist and a couple of long-list to my name. 

oldieimageAt first I was overjoyed to have my work professionally validated and deemed worthy to be read in print and it was the confident booster I so desperately needed. The deadlines, themes etc was a great incentive to sit down and write, producing a story in a day or two – then a few more days to re-write and edit. However, as I entered more and more competitions I quickly became disillusioned. Not only was it expensive but entering the competitions was eating into my novel time. Instead I took a break from them and concentrated on writing the first draft of my book; the thought of competitions filed away in the depths of my brain. Until the discussion. Until the latest issue of Writing Magazine (a top-selling magazine in UK aimed for all level of writers in all genres). Once again many competitions tempted me, my creative desire to write short stories rejuvenated. 

However, are paid writing competitions a scam as sometimes is implied? 

Starting out, my initial reaction was the same as some of my writing group members who were shocked you had to pay for them. However, at the same time I appreciate there is a cost to running them, the administration alone for example. Also the judges take considerable time and work to read through the entries. In the process though some competitions have become prohibitively expensive as they fight for prestigious writers to join their panels.  Free competitions can be great, particularly if you have researched them well although I think paid ones are here to stay.

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If you are interested in entering competitions, whether free or fee-paying, I quickly learnt there are several important issues to consider.

  • First of all, check out who runs the competition? Is it reputable? Will your work be published in print / online?
  • What is the prize? Sometimes just recognition and being in print is enough, just be aware of this in the first instant. Another point to consider is that if it is a famous prestigious competition, such as the  internationally famous Rubery Book Award or the BBC Short Story Award, it will attract thousands of entries from across the globe and your work will have less chance to make an impact. 
  • Is there a particular topic/theme to the competition? It is important to submit work targeted to the particular competition and not be tempted to recycle old entries that nearly but don’t quite match the prerequisites.
  • There are some excellent free competitions, the Writers & Artists Yearbook Short Story Competition is one example and well worth entering and this year for the first time there is no specific theme. However other free competitions seem more set on getting your personal details for promotion. Just be aware.
  • Take the time to look up the judges. This can be more helpful than initially imagined. What type of books / poetry / stories have they written or promoted? What can you learn about them from their social media exposure? Perhaps your style and content is not something that would interest them and your entry would be better placed elsewhere. 
  • Do check out the previous winners. This piece of research can pay dividends in the long run and its importance cannot be emphasised enough. Early on I made this mistake and only too late, after submission, read some previous winners and realised that my story had no chance of winning. Very frustrating and I chastised myself for this lapse. Also if hoping to win a magazine competition read not only the previous month’s winner but also a few back issues to help establish a feel of the target audience.  
  • Reading the T & Cs (many times and preferably underlining!) is vital.  Always make sure to follow the rules of the competition – this is not a moment to rush ahead without reading the small detail. How should the submission be made? Post? Electronically? If the latter, in what format? In an attachment or part of an email? What are the font / spacing etc rules. What is the word count – and stick to it! The number of words, means just that! Unfortunately an entry can lose out for this reason alone and I know of one such case. Also send the correct money, in time! Also make sure you take note of any restrictions – for example there may be an age band or locality to consider. Finally be aware of the deadline. This is in itself an excellent incentive to complete your work for but do make sure the submission is in at least a few days ahead. Posting on the deadline date is not accepted by most competition rules. 
  • It is a good idea to consider how relevant is the prize for you? Financial reward is always welcome no doubt! Specific prizes such as a free book cover design will only be attractive to those with a book ready. Writing course prizes, such as a week on the prestigious Avron Writing course offered by the Bridport Prize, are also popular but again not ideal for everyone.

Hopefully by following these points you can save both money and time by ensuring your entry will be considered by the judges. 

oxoLately, some competitions have expanded their remit from pure competitions to helping others, whether locally or abroad. For example the Magic Oxygen Literary Prize  promises to plant a tree for every entry. The trees are planted in Bore, Kenya. Furthermore the competition money will help fund an extra classroom at a school nearby. Personally I cannot help be moved by their efforts but at the same time wonder if it is a bit of a gimmick, a con? 

Novel writing competitions are some of the most expensive ones on the market, often starting at £20. The Rubery Book Award costs £36 to enter with a prize of £1,500. Is this too much or is the possibility of a break into the publishing world worth the cost? Some offer feedback for an extra outlay. Is this worth it?  

Recently I have noticed an increase of competitions on blog sites and whilst initially sceptical I have followed some and seen their success. The writing is of a superb quality, the winners receive public recognition as they are published on the blog and shared further and the entry fees are far lower than anywhere else but still retain the incentive of a cash reward. As the number of entries are considerably lower than national competitions ones the chance of a win is exponentially improved. 

puppetWhat are your experiences with writing competitions? Have you entered any? Many? Paid ones or only those for free? Are you perhaps running a competition on your blog? Could you share your experiences? Have you ever been asked to be a judge for writing experiences? What was this like? 

I would love to hear from you and hope a lively discussion will ensue.

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Finally, in addition to the competitions already mentioned the following are just some of the many which have caught my eye and these should give you a feel of the range, expense and prizes out there.

  • Cinnamon Press runs competitions for Poetry & Short Stories.
  • The Telegraph newspaper runs a monthly ‘Just Back’ Travel writing Competition.
  • An audio transmission of the winning story is promised in this free and unusual competition run by soundwork
  • The Rialto is running a pamphlet competition. 
  • The London Magazine offers a prize  consisting of a number of pounds sterling equal to the current year (£2016 for year 2016)for the best Short Story submission. 
  • mslexia magazine, one of my favourite writing magazines, runs four competitions, open to women writers of all levels of experience from prose, Short Story, Novel and Poetry. Winners have gone on to secure publishing deals and literary agents.
  • Inktears Short Story / Flash Fiction competition.

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The Good-Morrow #NationalPoetryDay

sun3The Good-Morrow was one of the first poems John Donne wrote for his 1633 collection ‘Songs and Sonnets’ whilst still a student at Lincoln’s Inn (one of the four Inns of Court for barristers in London). I studied this as a student at school and I often recall it in its entirety; its passion, sensuality, energy and overwhelming belief in life itself never fails to lift my spirits. Hope you feel the same. What poem has this effect you? 

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John Donne