For a long time I’ve been scratching my head over how to improve the book cover of this story of mine. The first one, featuring a red-faced sleeper, never quite did it for me. The next cover, with its ash-grey graphic, continued to be unsatisfactory. With its picture of a face garnished with flame-like decoration and suggestion of smouldering smoke, this week’s cover release is much closer to what I’ve been intending for the book.
The two books I have recently read have some contemporary issues that we are aware of as the scaffolding for their tales.
Joanne Harris’ tale of the experiences of her chocolatier Vianne in Monsieur Le Cure ISBN: 9780552776998: Swan Books at transworldbooks.co.uk (sadly, this WP didn’t provide the special character e of the French alphabet when I typed in the book title) and Stef Penney’s tale of her half-gypsy, Private Detective, character Ray Lovell in The Invisible Ones ISBN: 978-0-85738-293-1: quercusbooks.co.uk are both about outsiders of one kind or another. Within themselves they are made to be either insiders or outsiders and vice versa at any time depending on their history or the circumstances in the stories.
Both books are entertaining and full of insights into their characters’ heritage. The epistemology of those insights, however, is for others to verify.
The two writers have used the contemporary issues of immigration and misplaced people to show, through the actions of their characters, what can happen when people perceive differences between themselves. How they can develop prejudices, resentments, fear and hatred. Misunderstandings and gossip fuel the dramas. In both books the characters’ reticence and misleading revelations to other characters figure prominently.
Each of the books has its characters who were previously portrayed as extremely confident; shaken in confidence . Their characters previously lacking self-confidence find theirs. You’ll have to read these stories to know more.
Adrian Regis, 13th July 2014.
It’s the first of January 2014.
Gary is up first. He doesn’t need to be or to be up as early as this: six thirty. His first plan of action is to make two poached eggs on toast for Tracey; then to wash up. This is all part of Gary’s tactics in trying to get a routine going now that he doesn’t have to get up to go to work anymore.
Tracey has her own way of going. She makes homemade bread and prepares evening meals for them both; only vegetarian meals. It’s going to be vegetable goulash tonight. She likes to have her favourite LP by the Zenders playing in the background while she does her jobs. Yes, they still have their old record player that Gary bought for her in the seventies. While Tracey was preparing the goulash, Gary had a wash and a shave. Then he hovered about Tracey as he usually did, getting under her feet, until lunch time. Lunch was butter-nut squash soup, bread and pâté surprise sandwiches. The surprise being that there wasn’t any pâté in the sandwiches. That was just one of Tracey and Gary’s little jokes that gave them such a chuckle.
After lunch both of them sat to watch television. The programme was one of those, escape, career change ones about a couple who’d had enough of it all and wanted to drop everything and go somewhere else. Gary and Tracey couldn’t understand the point really. They’d never wanted to change anything about their lives. Because the point of the programmes like that didn’t mean anything to her, Tracey always treated the watching of them as one of her relaxing times. God knows she needed them because, as right now, Gary couldn’t settle for long, breaking, no, shattering Tracey’s planned relaxation by suggesting they go for a New Year’s Day walk. Tracey knew that Gary wouldn’t be satisfied until she’d agreed to get up from her programme. So, she did. They togged up and went.
Not long into their walk Tracey and Gary met Freda Longmire, her sister and brother-in-law on the top path to the church. Freda noticed Gary’s boots but agreed that they gave good support. Then they exchanged goodbyes. Gary and Tracey continued on their way. Knowing they would pass the churchyard, Gary checked the church door to see that it was securely locked. It was. They’d had a gripping drama last week. Gary was a hero. He’d gone to the church to fulfil his cleaning rota obligation. It was his turn that day. As he came close to the church door, which should have been locked, he heard a loud, persistent banging noise. Thinking it was someone doing some maintenance work in the church, he went in smiling; expecting to greet whoever was doing the work. There’d been a lot of fundraising to pay for repairs. Now, at last, it was happening. What a happy thing. But that wasn’t it.
Finding the door unexpectedly somehow stiff and jammed, Gary pushed hard and it gave way to let him in. He was about to joke about it as he went in, to whoever was doing the building work when he pulled up short at what he saw. He could have believed what he saw if it had made sense to him. But, there was a man standing, about to again, smash a long handled sledge hammer into an already sizeable hole at the side of the church’s, now defunct, never used, donation box in that thirteenth century church’s wall. Gary was not silly enough to think it any sense to react in an outraged high temper. The man had that sledgehammer for one thing. The other thing might be was that the man might be deranged, a reasonable assumption as people don’t normally attack church walls with a sledgehammer; do they? Rob a church. That sought of thing. Any of that would suggest that there could be danger here for Gary if he didn’t handle it right.
Gary surprised himself. He had a sudden flash of inspiration that would let him and this man relax until Gary could see one or think of a way to get the man into a situation where Gary could get help with him. Gary was gobsmacked when this man himself provided, in a sense, a doorway.
“Oh, hello” the man said “I was passing by the church when I heard a lot of banging. By the time I got in to see what was going on, whoever it was had run away. I found this hammer here. It looks like they were trying to get into the safe.” The sun suddenly shone in Gary’s heart at that. He immediately knew how to play it next.
“Wow”, he said, “That was lucky. Thank you. You could have been hurt.”
“Oh, that’s alright” offered the perpetrator, “I’ll be off then.”
Now Gary was panicking slightly. How was he going to keep the man here so that the police could see him? Oh, yes. “It was a brilliant thing you just did. Stopping them like that. Our church wall would have been in a horrendous state if you hadn’t disturbed them. Don’t rush off. The vicar’s wife is in the vicarage. I know she’d like to thank you for what you’ve done. Give you a cup of tea; something to eat. She’s just here. The vicarage is just by the church gate.” Gary could feel this opportunity slipping away from him. The man only had to say no. Gary wasn’t sure that he knew what to do then if he did. Mercy!
This man who looked like he didn’t have a place of abode; like a wanderer then said, “Well, yes. Okay. I’d like that.” Gary was elated. He told himself not to show it too much in case the man got suspicious and found a reason to change his mind and flee. But he was over the moon at this blessed turn of events. So, now, this is where they were: waiting at the vicarage door while Gary knocked and rang the bell hoping, quite desperately, that indeed, the vicar’s wife was there for him. It seemed ages before anyone came to the door in answer to Gary’s knock and ring. His mild panic began to surface again. But it was alright. Mary, the vicars’ wife was in. Added to that, so was the vicar. He was standing in their hall while his wife opened the door.
Gary felt that he had to set up the scenario as quickly as possible and in a way so that he could convey the true story while telling the story the man gave him. So to reassure the man, that his lie hadn’t been discovered and he wouldn’t then panic and run away before the police could get there. Gary made sure that he spoke first. “Hello, Mrs Broad. Sorry to bother you but this man here came into the church just in time to stop burglars smashing the church wall around the safe.” Gary hoped that by telling that incredible story; the way he paused and emphasised certain words while telling it would give the vicar and his wife a heads to consider that it wasn’t the true story. It was convenient of the man to have stepped a little to stand closer to the doorway than Gary. In effect, the man had blind-sighted himself to what Gary was doing. This was only slightly so though; as Gary was fully aware. It was enough though to allow Gary to intermittently pantomime holding an imaginary phone up to his ear while saying the word, police, silently and slowly to convey the urgent and important requirement of his vicarage conspirators that they phone the police as soon as possible.
Gary was reassured that his covert message had been understood when he saw the vicar go out of sight further into the house. “So,” said Gary as a prompt for keeping everybody’s conspiracies going, “I’ve said to our friend here that you’d give him a cup of tea for helping us, Mrs Board.” Gary leant forward to suggest going forward into the vicarage while he said that. He was glad to see that the vicar’s wife understood what he was meaning by that; invited him and the man inside. It had happened quickly. The vicar picked a safe moment when the man wasn’t paying attention to him, to pointedly nod to Gary that it was done. The police were on their way to them. The vicar was obviously content with the way things stood then because he said, “Thanks, Gary. We’ll have a nice cup of tea with our new friend. You don’t need to stay. See you tonight at choir practice.”
Gary acted, because he couldn’t actually say the question out loud without the man hearing him; will you be alright? Are you sure?” Again, pointedly, the vicar nodded his affirmation that they would be alright. This allowed Gary to leave them and go to do what he meant to do before all of this happened: to take his turn at cleaning their church. Time was getting on by then.
And, of course, that was then; but not now. Now, after checking the church door this week later Gary rejoined Tracey for their walk as the church door was okay this time he’d decided to checked it. Their walk took them down past the paper mill near their church; through fields; some them with new saplings growing in them. This was Forestry Commission land. Tracey spotted that all of the saplings had labels on them. Those labels told her that the little trees were Sweet Chestnuts, Bird Cherries; Wild Cherries and Chestnuts.
(c) Adrian Regis 2014
Spent a wonderful day at the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden Rosemoor, in Devon, yesterday. I’ve never seen and smelt the wonderful scents of so many roses and other floribunda, in my life, before. It has been quite a few years since I visited the last time. Everything that was in its infancy is now mature and voluptuous. Such a relaxing place too. An added, unexpected bonus was the small exhibition of limited edition prints by Ted Naismith.
Here, to give you a taste, are some of the first paragraphs of some of the chapters in my developing fiction about Mister Baum’s adventures in Oz:
The Land of Love―a fantasy
A family holiday
There is something so utterly glorious about being on a holiday beach; standing on warm, light sand; feeling it slip between your toes. Not a thing to think about and not a thing to worry about. These times don’t come often to most of us but this time it is Mister L. Frank Baum’s turn.
The Land of Love―a fantasy
A story begins
Standing there just then on that lovely beach during the summer of 1900, after his wife and boys had gone off and left him to find their items of fun, Mister Baum recalled the image of himself here on this same beach, last summer. Then, he was looking down at that unfamiliar object he held. The very strange object that he’d found and picked up out of its bed of sand.
The Land of Love―a fantasy
A dramatic event
Unbeknownst to the Baum family, the one they had seen on the beach in front of them tackled overpowered and dragged away by the other two did not stay with his captors for very long after the incident. Away from prying eyes, their captive had drawn an apparatus from his pocket that he was sure they had never seen before; let alone would know how to cope with. They didn’t.
The Land of Love―a fantasy
With his mouth and chin smeared with his favourite honeycomb ice-cream that each of his beloveds, in turn, had lovingly and in good fun poked there, Mister Baum was transported to the stuffed-full arcades in town by his family’s gleeful descriptions. Clothes stores, sports stores and the art stores they’d been to all of them. He could quite see what a marvellous time they’d all had by the amount of overflowing shopping bags they’d each managed to carry and had now dropped heavily onto the carpet.
The Land of Love―a fantasy
We can sense from previous events and behaviours how distraught and understandably determined the device’s owner was to get it back. So it is not really surprising to us to have him suddenly appear in Mister Baum’s hotel bedroom. How he suddenly appeared there was a surprise.
The Land of Love―a fantasy
Mister Baum had been standing motionless and amazed at the transformation to that ballroom; after the liquid was completely gone. He’d been standing like that for two minutes expecting any possibility in what might happen next. You see, he’d learnt that the impossible was highly possible where he’d ended up.
Mister L. Frank Baum’s jokes The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the first book in the series of 14 initially appears to have no humour; mainly concern, peril, hope and unusual encounters. There are jokes, however. Joke 1. In the chapter, The Road Through the Forest, Dorothy says to the Scarecrow, “Anyone would know that (if a road goes in it must come out)”. The Scarecrow replies, “Certainly; that is why I know it. If it required brains to figure it out, I never should(would) have said it.” Joke 2. In The Wonderful Wizard of OZ, the Wizard mixed pins, needles and bran together then put that mixture into the Scarecrow’s head saying, “ .. I have given you a lot of bran-new brains” “Why are those needles and pins sticking out of his head?” asked the Tin Woodman. “That is proof that he is sharp”, remarked the Lion. And “this (liquid) cannot be called courage until you have swallowed it.” Joke 3. The Lion … drank till the dish was empty. “How do you feel now?” asked OZ. “Full of courage”, replied the Lion.