‘TWIXT THE CUP AND THE LIP *

IMG_0343

Sometimes we don’t need to travel far to journey a long way.

With a publication agreed weeks ago it was with a song in my heart and a dance in my step that I prepared for this major event in my life.

My first book was due out in the world!!

A wonderful celebratory party away was planned…local to us all but a special place to be spoilt and dine in style!

As the date for publication drew closer, delay followed delay and to my shame, lowered my spirits. Worst of all was the lack of communication from the producer and broken promises. In my naive trust, I waited and believed. Until now. At last, our cooperation had to be terminated.

As for the celebratory weekend – I was all set to cancel. My family refused to accept this, insisting that after all the book is ready; apart from the elusive cover! (And final proofread before publication!)

So we set out to celebrate life and what has been achieved – I hope you’ll join me in reliving the wonderful weekend.

20171202_143743

It’s not easy to get anywhere high up in Essex…it’s a pretty flat county but Wivenhoe Park is situated on top of a hill and it is here that Wivenhoe House was built. Wivenhoe House’s fascinating history stretches back to 1759 when Isaac Rebow asked Thomas Reynolds to build the mansion house, which is now Grade II listed.

Stepping out of the car we admired the same landscape painted by the English Romantic artist John Constable in 1816.

John_Constable_-_Wivenhoe_Park,_Essex_-_Google_Art_Project

The building escaped mostly unscathed apart from a few broken chimney pots following the country’s worst earthquake in 1884, was requisitioned by troops during WWII before becoming the original home to Essex University in 1964. It is now a hotel.

Wivenhoe_House-adnd-Edge-hotel-Tony_Forsgate

The university campus is close by in the park, the tall 1960s tower blocks iconic and for the first time ever I wander amongst them, past a delightful library full (!) of students, past a modern theatre, into the main campus site.

 

Lakes and fountains adorned the area; ducks and coots pecking amiably on the cold ground. A stunning sunset greeted us and we paused to let the peace and beauty sink in – not too long though as the bitter chill bit through our coats.

20171202_154225

Heading round we realised how hungry we were on seeing this unusual cafe…a Routemaster double-decker bus cafe – closed alas but probably just as well as dinner was soon.

The hotel was impeccable with friendly staff who were eager to help. The bedrooms were superb.

20171202_140757

The balcony overlooking the park was a bonus – even if it was too cold to use the welcoming table and chairs.

20171202_140811

The brassiere dining room was delightful and we were welcomed by the sommelier who recommended his original cocktails. How could we refuse! By the end of the evening, my spirits rose even further when presented with the ‘Congratulations’ platter.

IMG_0345

The next morning we just had time for another walk around the grounds; this time to hunt out the two famous cork oak saplings which had been smuggled into the country in the boots of General Redbow following the Peninsular War. What had they witnessed in their two hundred year existence, I wondered?

These impressive trees were both enthralling and majestic; languidly they grew along the ground as well as upwards, their trunks dramatically pock-marked and small leaves reaching in bunches for the sky.

20171203_110401

Gazing at the trees I felt a certain sense of calm for the first time in weeks…their strength and timeless aura transcended my worries and concerns. During this trip, I once again became re-aligned, my inner journey to renewed energy and belief reignited during our short sojourn.

Finally, my deepest apologies to you all…your warm, generous and enthusiastic support for the publication of my short story collection has been overwhelming and it has been hardest to let you down. I hope you will bear with me and kindly ask for your patience until the launch of my book.

20171202_160107
Supermoon photo taken through the trees in the evening.

‘Painting is but another word for feeling.’ John Constable.

I would just substitute the word painting with writing in this case!

Photo ©Annika Perry, except the Constable painting of course!!

*There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip is a very old proverb, similar in meaning to “don’t count your chickens before they hatch”. It implies that even when a good outcome or conclusion seems certain, things can still go wrong. (Wikipedia)

Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – Short Story – The Bike by Annika Perry

I’ve been thrilled to take part in Sally’s ‘Posts from Your Archives’ and it’s been a delight to both make new friends here on WP and say hello to existing ones. Thank you so much Sally for all your hardwork and the opportunities here on your blog.

This final of my four instalments features one of my shorter stories which is also included in my short story anthology out soon. Enjoy!

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Today is the last in the posts from the archives of Annika Perry and a short story that is very emotive and also I am sure will resonate with parents of those who love the thrill of riding two wheel racing machines.

The Bike by Annika Perry

bike2

Death came to his eyes that day. The advert had gone into the paper on Thursday and since then three calls, two visits and now a sale. He’d never expected this to happen. Why couldn’t he see this? Since he was three he’d lived on two wheels. Scooters, bikes, mountain bikes, motorbikes and trial bikes. The one selling today he’d only got last year.

For two long summers he’d worked at the hotel saving up; hospital corner after hospital corner on the beds, scraping his knuckles endlessly on the dark wood frame, loo after loo scrubbed, room after room vacuumed. He’d had a…

View original post 747 more words

FRAZZLED!

My Desk

It’s never taken me so long to send an email before. 

I’m not referring to writing the message; its composition came easily enough. The actual act of pressing ‘send’ seemed impossible. My cursor hovered over the paper airplane icon; pausing I sat back and scanned the document once more. I stood up and paced around the room.

The momentous moment had arrived and my first manuscript was just a click away from the publisher. I was savouring the experience while being equally terrified of the reality. Many bloggers have used the analogy of giving birth with reference to writing a book; I can identify with this emotion to a certain extent…sending away my first book to an outsider felt like I was releasing my baby into the wider world. With another few tours of the room, I returned to my seat and pressed the button. No turning back!

After weeks of intense editing on my anthology of short stories my head seemed to burn with heat and a flu-like fever of concentration reverberated around my mind whilst the rest of my body struggled against the cold. A day or two of complete relaxation was in order to restore the equilibrium.

The editing process had been unexpectedly and contradictorily tougher and easier than anticipated. 

Hour after hour of close computer and document work took its toll on my eyes and head resulting in migraine-style headaches.

However, several useful editing tools were a fantastic help in bringing my manuscript to completion.

Grammarly, a proof-reading program recommended by Jacqui Murray at Worddreams (thank you, Jacqui!), was a most invaluable editing aid. After initially reading through each story a few times, amending the plot etc where needed, correcting typos and punctuation I then used Grammarly to check for any missed errors. Surprisingly it picked up quite a few; these included spacing gaps between words, spellings and punctuation. I did have to be cautious with my changes though as the spellings were corrected to American style and it had a predilection for commas which I disagree with – see what my editor says! 

Natural Reader  proved another excellent editing tool. Once again Jacqui recommended this on her blog and I was initially sceptical but decided to trust her positive experience with it. Despite the mechanical unemotional aura to the voice (although there are various choices) it made a huge impact having each story read aloud to me. Although I’d been reading some out to myself, listening actively to each word through Natural Reader allowed me to pick up on silly mistakes including one where I had put the wrong name for a situation in a story. Yikes!

As well as a dictionary by one’s side (or the website permanently on display) it is essential for writers to consider Thesaurus as one’s best friend. My original paperback copy from childhood is gradually falling apart so I now use its services online, consulting, searching for words to improve and sharpen my writing and this was even truer during these last editing weeks. 

Finally, never underestimate the value and effectiveness of good old-fashion pen and paper – or in my case pencils! With a few sharpened pencils in my arsenal, I printed out the stories when I thought they were ready and took them downstairs where I’d commandeered the dining room table (my desk by this time was overflowing with papers!). Here the final editing took place and with the change of room, my creative spirit was rejuvenated and the final changes were made. Some of these were minor, a word or two; in other cases, a whole paragraph was rewritten and paragraph spacing was slightly adjusted in the more complex ones. Furthermore, I was inspired to change the title of two stories. 

The stories for my anthology were now ready to be sent away to my editor; however, there were several more important elements to the book to complete before the full manuscript was whole. In my next post, I will describe how I tackled the all-important blurb, tag-line and about the author page. 

Thank you very much for following my exciting journey to publication of this anthology of short stories.The book is due out beginning December and I will reveal the book title and cover soon.

“I love short stories because I believe they are the way we live. They are what our friends tell us, in their pain and joy, their passion and rage, their yearning and their cry against injustice.” Andre Dubus

Bookcafe

CHIPPING AWAY!

sandsculpture

Editing is a strange process.

I’m finding the task both hugely satisfying and exhausting. Like a skilled artist, I imagine myself adding those final touches to a painting that will lift my work. As I carve away at my stories I’m falling for the characters all over again, getting to know them intimately, their stories engraved on my mind. Even when not at the computer, chipping and adding away, my thoughts are constantly with my creations…I want to honour them by presenting them in the best way possible.

My distracted state has not gone unnoticed at home. Returning from school one day my son cautiously asked why a breakfast bowl was on the laundry basket in the bathroom. A very good question and I had no sensible answer – no doubt a new edit idea struck me between rooms. I’ve warned him to expect a lot of these unusual distractions as I battle against my perfectionist nature and concentrate singlemindedly to complete my first book.

With a selection of my short stories with a professional editor, with discussions underway for a book cover, I have been reassured that completion before Christmas is possible.

Yikes! On hearing this deadline my stomach flip-flopped with excited elation (and terror!) whilst my mind nearly overloaded as I careered through everything that needs to be done. Then, ever the Virgo, organisation took charge and with a new notebook in hand, I made lists, lots of them. These I’m slowly ticking off…

Whilst editing I have noticed my predisposition for certain words which I’ve harshly erased; even as I berate myself for my persistent use of these lame and weak phrases, I’m pleased to learn more about my writing, how to improve it with immediate effect.

Who are the culprits? Stand up words, wave goodbye and bow out!

* Also   *Now    *Then     *At last     *Just

*After all    *Of course    *Finally

Finally (noooo!!) one chap’s name appeared in three different stories…sorry, there’s only need for one George!

‘My short stories are like soft shadows I have set out in the world, faint footprints I have left. I remember exactly where I set down each and everyone one of them, and how I felt when I did. Short stories are like guideposts to my heart…’  Haruki Murakami

C299ADBE-2693-4672-9C36-B831530FA1B2

A GREEN CAGE

Bad Prison Cell Alcatraz

I pace the floor. Not for the first time. One, two, three, four and a half. The metal green door is cold to my touch. My head swivels round and captures the photo on the wall. Holding its gaze I walk methodically back. One, two, three, four and a half. The edges of the photo are frayed and its colours dulled; the past ten years have not only taken their toll on me. The photo was taken with my camera, one that used actual film. I hear those don’t exist anymore. Everything is digital they say.

Joe’s tiny face smiles back at me. He was only six months at the time and how he loved bouncing in that blue baby rocker. His red romper suit covered in white yogurt after he’d knocked my hand feeding. We’d laughed so.

Those days all my photos were of Joe. Joe smiling, sleeping, playing with his cuddly lion, eating, swimming, on holiday at Centreparcs. We were inseparable. Until his death. Three months later.

“Turner! Turner!”

The prison officer fills the door, her hair pulled tight into a functional bun, the khaki-coloured uniform bulging at her waist and arms. Hard to believe that had been me; squeezing into clothes. Now a size 10 hangs like a sack on my tall frame.

“Turner!”

Standing still, I gaze ahead. Carol, that’s my name. They took that from me in here; my self. Sometimes I repeat it to myself, just to make sure I don’t forget. “Carol. Carol.”  Daughter, wife, mother. Then child-murderer. Or so they claimed.

“The warden wants to see you. Now!”

I nod curtly and glance at the space above my table. The light green cement wall is covered with study notes, magazine photos and a calendar. A big red circle pulsates around tomorrow, marking my appeal hearing. My final hope.

The daily clamour of prison life continues around me unabated. After the silence all those years ago the constant barrage of noise is a balm for me. The silence of Joe and the day he stopped breathing.

The relentless rain had whipped around the car on the journey home from the nursery that day. Joe had cried non-stop. This in itself was unusual as was the pitch of his scream; twenty minutes of fractured tortured crying. Not that of hunger or exhaustion. Slowly it dwindled to a whimper and I hate myself even now for being relieved at the peace.

I stopped by the front door and rushed Joe, who was in his car seat, inside along with the shopping, before driving to park around the corner. On entering the house his stillness struck me immediately. Then I spotted his lips, tinged light blue. Panicked, I released the seat belt, opened his jacket and held him. I tried to get him to breathe. Those minutes turned into a lifetime. I must have called an ambulance. They took him away, lights flashing and sirens blasting. I sat in the corner of the ambulance, helpless. Watching the paramedics fighting to save my son’s life. In vain.

The hail had hammered upon my face as the police arrested me soon after Joe’s death. I wasn’t even allowed to see him again. Nor was I permitted to attend his funeral.

At least Liam had been able to go. Liam, Joe’s father, my husband, who knew me better than anyone. We’d been close friends since our teens and he always trusted me, when many doubted. Many times since we’d sat across the visitor table, surreptitiously clasping each other’s hands for comfort.

“It will sort, love,” he’d promised. With his dark hair straggling across his face he insisted, “It’s all a big mistake”. He’d been right, only we never guessed it would take ten years to prove it.

Salt, such a small innocuous condiment. The police and doctors said I had been feeding Joe teaspoons of this over time to kill him. My beloved Joe. My incredulity at the accusation turned to total disbelief, then resignation as expert after expert testified to the high sodium levels in Joe. The only possible reason given for its presence was poisoning.

I could never have harmed him but nobody listened. He’d been tired, lethargic even. Joe’s low weight had always concerned me. I’d asked for help but was told not to worry.

My raw anger and desperation at the trial hadn’t helped. I realise that now. Neither had my appearance with unruly frizzy hair which had long since been tamed into a short smart bob. Exercise, an anathema to me previously, became my new religion and I trained at the prison gym like a fanatic. Its bright green walls especially gaudy under the fluorescent lighting.

Once my body was in shape, I turned to my mind. Unused since school where I gained a couple of qualifications, I studied like one possessed and only last year achieved a degree in law. I’d almost laughed as I held the certificate. A degree! Me?! A care home child, no known parents and already convictions for petty theft. I’d had no chance at the trial. No chance afterward either. Until five years ago and the death of a baby girl. Then two more babies. All from salt poisoning.

“Expect the best, prepare for the worst.”

The warden’s words reverberated in my head.

The worst had already happened. Couldn’t he see that? I knew what he meant though, losing the appeal, being trapped a lifetime within the green cage.

For the best I reread Liam’s letter, which I’d received the day before. He’d prepared the house for my possible home-coming and redecorated Joe’s nursery as a study for me. I swear I could smell the fragrances from the flowers in the garden through his description and closing my eyes I glimpsed the bright sunflowers against the back wall.

“I found him in Joe’s nursery at the weekend,” Liam’s mum said to me on a visit early on. “Asleep on the fur rug, clutching Joe’s clothes, teddies strewn around him. The charity bag lay empty in the corner of the room.”

I’d covered my eyes.

“Carol, dear. Liam can’t sort it all out. Shall I help?”

Her offer was the first of many that Liam and I came to rely upon. Now she too was gone and we only had each other.

The warden gave me a box and with trepidation I began to pack. Law books, spiritual books even, such as my well-thumbed copy of “Stillness Speaks”.  I would never have believed it. Then reams upon reams of notes and finally the file of newspaper cuttings.

On top was the story of the two now discredited expert witnesses who had testified against me. Their omission to mention a possible medical cause for the sodium poisoning had sentenced not only me but also three other women to jail for child murder.

Finally I placed the photo album Liam had made for me into the box. Its blue spine long since broken and the silver heart frame on the front no longer shone. I opened it carefully.

There we were on our wedding at the local registry office, then at the pub meal afterward. So simple but perfect.

There I was pregnant, looking blooming and blooming huge as well. For that big bump Joe was born tiny, a light bundle with black hair streaked across his head.

Then the last photo ever taken of Joe.

Liam gently bouncing him on his knee, Joe’s face half-hidden behind the hood of the yellow giraffe dressing gown, his hands tucked inside the long sleeves, Joe’s sweet giggles audible from the photo.

In shock I dropped the album and started shaking.

Not for the first time, I cried; sobbed until my body heaved with grief. Angry clanging on the doors followed as my cacophony of tears refused to be silenced. Before long darkness enveloped the cell and by the light of a torch the green forest of night closed around me.

“You’re free to go,” my lawyer said the next day in court. “You’re free.”

The appeal had passed in a blur, too shaken, too frightened of the outcome to absorb much detail.

“Free?” I questioned and looked around for permission to leave.

“Carol!” Liam was suddenly in front of me and unrestricted we moved towards each other. Then stopped. An invisible barrier. Liam took the final strides towards me and he reached out and pulled me in. Saving me. I rocked back and forth in his arms before we headed out into the blinding sunshine. To face the press together.

Two hours later I was home. The butterflies fluttered erratically around the flowering buddleia; more calmly the bees buzzed over the red roses. Our garden was a firework display of colours. Golds, reds, pinks, purples. I gingerly stepped over the petunias which had spread over the path, wanting to preserve their beauty.

Inside, the house gleamed and his mother’s redecoration years earlier was evident in the modern minimalist style. So tidy. No toys on the floor, stairs, furniture.

Liam took my arm and gently guided me towards Joe’s nursery. Apprehensively I opened the door.

It was stunning. The sun beamed upon the large pine desk in front the window and light dazzled me, reflecting from the crystal framed mirror. A bookcase stood empty. In the corner was a white armchair and Joe’s cuddly lion rested on the soft seat. The whole room teemed with sweet peas, the multicolours a feast for the eyes as I spotted them on the desk, windowsill and coffee table. Their scent a crashing reminder of that first and only spring with Joe.

“”I love it, Liam. It’s just perfect. Thank you,” I whispered quietly in awe.

“The colour?” he questioned cautiously. “Do you like it?”

I hadn’t spotted the light green walls at first, now I moaned to myself.

“They say green is calming and restful. Creates harmony,” Liam reassured me. “I thought it would help you settle back home.”

“That’s kind of you. Very thoughtful,” I replied. However, deep inside my emotions swirled. Liam meant so well.

I still didn’t think it was the right colour.

The End

©Annika Perry

LASTING SANCTUARY

books:glasses2:jpg

Back and forth. The chair rocked gently, back and forth. Years, decades even, I’ve sat here on and off, rocking calmly, the squeak a welcome friend, the worn wood of the arms soft to my caress. Even as a child I sought solace here and closing my eyes, I drifted into a restful doze….

’Williams! Stop that rocking! I swear, I can see grooves on the oak floor. Williams!’

I’d only sneaked in ten minutes earlier and made straight for the rocking chair in its usual gloomy nook beneath religion and travel, navigating my way by memory with my spectacles grasped uselessly in my hands. Those bloody glasses! Bad enough they fogged up a hundred times a day, even worse they were NHS ones.

‘Caught any fish today, Snorkel face!’  That was the kindest thing anyone ever said to me at school. Even my name was a shout and a demanding, irritated one at that.

At last, the glasses cleared and my gasp of awe puffed audibly across the room. A gentleman in the opposite corner tutted disapprovingly, glared at me before returning his eyes to the book in his hands.  ‘Perfume’ if I wasn’t mistaken and one I could recommend to him. Books galore! My usual heavenly delight. The afternoon light shimmered through the windows, the dust danced around the bookshelves, the words within a promise of new worlds, of escape.

The coins in my blazer pocket clinked against each other as I reached for them. Two pounds altogether and well worth saving my 50p weekly pocket.  Who needed sweets anyway? For me it was all about the books. With a push the chair lurched forwards, depositing me on my feet with a satisfying creak and groan. I edged left around historical fiction, turned right at thrillers then stopped by biographies. 

‘What do you want to read them for?’ Dad always asked. Not waiting for an answer he’d reach for a beer from the fridge, his head lost within the cold vault as the muffled one-way conversation continued.

‘You should be out playing football with your mates. Out do you, hear? None of this bookshop rubbish.’

Why did he never realise that the bookshop was my haven, the dark wooden shelves my sanctuary, the books my guardian?

‘Mr Williams! Thank goodness, you’re awake. There was another complaint about that chair yesterday.’ I continued to rock, groggily, trapped in time, my Ralph Lauren glasses on the wonk. I straightened them slowly. ‘It will kill someone, one day, Mr Williams. That young lad, Joe, the one you always tolerate, who’s constantly here, was thrown off the chair yesterday when its arm broke right off. Yes, that one. I fixed it but it nearly killed him. Fell onto the floor, he did and banged his head. Nearly killed him!’

The laughter within me built up gradually, begrudgingly, relentlessly. 

‘Mr Williams, as the owner you’re responsible…’

‘For keeping things just as I want them! As I’ve done for over thirty years. Don’t change a thing! Now, where’s my laptop…’ Still chuckling I nudged it awake and started to tap on the screen whilst inhaling the muggy scent of books with satisfaction.

 A chair that takes people’s fate in its own hands is a story waiting to be published! And added to my bookshelves.

©Annika Perry, 2017

This piece was written in response to a prompt issued by my creative writing group – the options were eclectic and consisted of Lemon Tree Grove, Book Shops or Graveyard. I was tempted to write a short story including all three elements but fear this would become far too long for the group!

bookshop

Images courtesy of pixabay

THE GAME

midnight-008

The Game

maltesers-wrapper-smallImogen popped one more Malteser in her mouth, cracking the honeycomb between her teeth. One of her front teeth wobbled precariously before slotting back into place.

‘I can pull that for you,’ said Layla, rubbing her fingers in anticipation. ‘Look,’ she continued, pointing to a gap, ‘I yanked this out last week. You should have seen the blood – everywhere it was.’

‘No, leave it,’ replied Imogen, edging backwards. ‘Let’s leave this too. The game is stupid. It’s for kids.’

‘God, Imogen, you’re such a loser. Just say the spell, then the word and that’s it. What’s written on these pieces of paper will appear. I promise.’

‘As if.’

‘Well, it worked with the Maltesers, didn’t it?’ retorted Layla.

‘Very funny. I heard the rustling as you pulled them out of your pocket,’ said Imogen.

‘Didn’t.’ 

‘Did.’

Layla scrambled off the rough floorboards.

‘Well, I’m off then,’ she said, pocketing the scraps of folded paper which rested in the chipped bowl. One of Mum’s favourites but she wouldn’t notice it gone. Since her new boyfriend, she never noticed anything.The television was permanently on as was the tablet on Mum’s lap. Being ignored wasn’t the worst, it was their yelling that did her head in. This was her retreat; her Dad’s old shed. It felt safe amongst the cobwebs and spades. Breathing in the musty damp air, Layla reached for the latch.

‘Wait,’ said Imogen. ‘Okay, I’ll do it.’

Layla tipped the papers back into the bowl.

‘But,’ she added, ‘we don’t have to say the spell aloud. We’ll just think it. Right?’

Biting her nails, Layla was silent for a moment.

‘That should work, but you have to say the word aloud.’

Imogen took a paper and unfolded it and frowning she closed her eyes. Real tight, with the balls of her hands rubbing against her eyelids, the paper dangling between her fingers. She muttered and then shouted out.

‘MUD!’

mud2Layla rolled back in shock, knocking against the tool table which sent a trowel flying into the air, the slimy sloppy brown mud on it trailing messily on the floor and landing by her side.

‘Where did that come from?’ exclaimed Imogen, gaping at the mud and the trowel partially buried in it.

‘Yeah, it really does work!’ laughed Layla, ignoring her friend and grabbing a paper. She mumbled the spell quickly, then whispered, ‘mask’. The girls glanced around expectantly, then frantically. Nothing. With sighs of disappointment, they took a paper each and nonchalantly went through the motions with the two remaining words.

‘Midnight,’ said Imogen.

Sunlight shimmered through the grimy perspex window. More like midday, thought Imogen.

‘Murder,’ droned Layla.

‘I could murder this game,’ said Imogen, as she stood to leave. ‘Like I said, bloody stupid.’ The door clattered shut behind her, rattling the tiny hinges. Within seconds it flew open again and Imogen loomed over her, clutching a black wooden mask.

‘Look! This was on the tree. Just hanging there. I can’t believe it. I’m taking this home.’

african-mask-ebony-woodLayla followed Imogen down the path to the house, shaking her head in wonder. How did her mother’s mask from Gambia end up outside?

Heading inside, Layla snatched some biscuits and crisps from the cupboard before going up to her room, slamming her door to the fighting downstairs.

‘Layla! Layla! Get help!’ screamed her mother.

imagemidnightLayla woke with a start and reached for her phone. 00.00. Midnight. Scrambling out of bed she ran to the door when she suddenly heard an ear-piercing screech. Her mother. Then silence followed by a cough becoming louder and she edged away from the door as the footsteps came closer. Stumbling, she reached the wardrobe and lunged inside, tapping at her phone screen.

‘Police! Help! My mother’s been murdered!’

The End

© Annika Perry

img_0071