Dog Training – a Short Story.

It’s cold and grey here in Scotland today. Perfect weather for cuddling up on the couch with a blanket and something to read, so I thought I’d help you out with a short story.
If you live somewhere warm and sunny, reading a short story while soaking up the sun can be rather pleasant too, especially if you have a cool drink to hand and your sunhat perched. 😎🤓📚😀
~~~
This short story won first prize at a conference for The Scottish Association of Writers, many moons ago, and it was where I first developed the character, Hugh, whose story I subsequently wrote in my novel, For What it’s Worth.
Being a short story, it is easily and quickly read, so I hope you enjoy it when you get a moment or two to chill.
If you want to read more of my work, you can find all of my published novels listed here on Amazon.

🐶

Dog Training

 

“Excuse me, sir. I’m afraid dogs are not allowed in the park without a lead.” The Park Keeper pointed to the sign.

“Ah, yes! I see that, but you see, the thing is …”

“The thing is, sir, your dog is fouling on my grass. There’s a penalty for that.” The Park Keeper pointed to the relevant notice. “Unless, of course, you use a pooper-scooper and dispose of the offending mess appropriately, sir.”

“Ah, yes! I see that too, but you see, the thing is …”

He reached into the pouch he wore across his body. “The thing is, sir, I have some plastic bags here for just such an occasion.” And he handed one over. 

“Ah, yes! I see. Plastic bag. Yes.” Hugh looked at the bag as though it was from outer space. “And what exactly?” He made a vague waving gesture with it.

“Never done this before, have we, sir.”

“No, actually. No, haven’t. Haven’t needed to really.”

“Ah! New to this area, are we?”

Hugh nodded, looking at the dog as it crouched on the grass adding to its offence. 

“Thought so. Standards, sir. It’s all about standards, if you don’t mind my saying so, sir. We like to keep our park up to a high standard. Litter, dogs’ mess, ball-games – these are the things that bring a park down, you know.”

“Quite, yes. Yes. I can imagine.” Hugh wrinkled his nose in distaste. “Thing is, don’t you know.” He still held the plastic bag at arm’s length. A look of puzzlement crossed his face when he looked at it.

“If I may, sir?” The Park Keeper took the bag from his grasp and walked across the grass to the offending pile. “Allow me to demonstrate the use of the plastic bag as a pooper-scooper.” And this he ably did. “One places one’s hand inside the bag, thus.” He demonstrated. “Pick up the poop, thus.” He did. “Turn the bag inside out, thus.” Again, accomplished expertly. “Thereby containing the mess within the bag, to be disposed of in the receptacle provided.” He indicated the bin at the end of the path.

“I say, well done.” Hugh applauded. “Donald, is it?” He gave a nod to the name badge on the Park Keeper’s jacket.

“Thank you, sir.” Donald beamed. When Hugh made no move to relieve the Park Keeper of the plastic bag of pooh, he walked across to the bin and demonstrated how it should be deposited. “Thus.”

Hugh nodded his understanding. “Yes. Yes. Quite. Now, the thing is, you see.”

“And now, sir. May I suggest you collect your dog and put it on its leash before any further mishap occurs?”

“Good idea. Yes. The thing is though …” Hugh raised his hands, displaying the lack of a dog leash.

“Ah, I see your problem now.” The Park Keeper clicked his fingers together. He reached into his pouch once more. “Fortunately, I carry this length of rope for just such an occasion.” He handed it to Hugh.

“Rope. Yes. I imagine you …” He held the rope out and wiggled it about a bit as though putting it through the dog’s collar.

“Exactly, sir. Now, if you’d care to call the dog.”

“Yes. Yes. See what you mean. Call the dog. Rover, don’t you know. Always called my dogs Rover. Ever since I was a boy. Got a puppy for my birthday.” Hugh smiled at the memory of waking to the warm, wet nose snuffling round his face. He’d wanted a dog so much, hadn’t dared to hope his mother would let him have one of his very own. He’d called him Rover, unable to think of a more original name. Continued to call it Rover even after realising, or, rather, being told, he was a she. “Old-fashioned now, I suppose. The name, I mean. Rover. Still, Mumsie has kept up the tradition, don’t you know.”

“Yes, sir.”

Hugh drew himself back from his thoughts and shook his head. “No matter. You see, the thing is …”

“If you’d care to call the dog, sir?”

Hugh could see Donald was getting edgy.

“This particular dog has been, ahem, irritating me, shall we say, on and off for days now. Never on a leash, trotting about as if it owns the park, cocking its leg where it will, digging in the flower beds.”

Hugh affected a look of understanding and sympathy.

“I’ve been watching out for you, sir, and I’m pleased to have the opportunity to make clear the park rules concerning animals. “If you wouldn’t mind, sir?”

The dog was perilously close to a beautiful display of roses. In fact he was beginning to dig around them.

Hugh looked doubtful, but reluctantly co-operated with the request. “Rover! Erm, Rover!” he called self-consciously and ineffectually.

The Park Keeper smiled his encouragement.

Hugh tried again. “I say Rover, old boy, do come over here.” He tapped the rope against his leg.

The dog, a large black Labrador, disdained to come over anywhere, but began digging in earnest, putting the roses in serious jeopardy.

Hugh pursed his lips and attempted to whistle, not something he was ever good at, but something he always believed he would someday be able to do. He felt it was a requirement of a dog owner and had sought to perfect the technique since being given that first puppy, also a black lab as it happened.

The sound that came from his lips was thin and frail and the dog could be excused for ignoring it.

Hugh called again. The dog dug on. The roses toppled in the dirt.

“Not well trained,” Donald remarked through gritted teeth. “If you don’t mind my saying so, sir,” he said.

“No. No.” Hugh was eager to reassure the Park Keeper. “I don’t mind at all. Completely in agreement on that point. Has a will of his own, don’t you know.”

“Do you mind if I try?” The Park Keeper indicated his willingness to round up the dog. 

“Not at all,” Hugh said earnestly. “Be my guest.” And he handed over the coiled rope.

“May I suggest, sir, you go round that way?” Donald indicted one side of the shrubbery. “While I advance from this direction. That way we can perhaps cut off his escape.”

“By all means,” Hugh acquiesced. 

Labrador Retrievers are not by nature difficult dogs and Rover proved true to his breed, allowing himself to be rounded up and captured without much protest.

“Firmness, you see, sir,” Donald said with due pride. “They respond to firmness. Firmness of voice. You have to let them know who’s in charge.”

“Yes, absolutely. Yes. I see that. Thank you. Well done. Most Impressive.” Hugh knew it was true. Mumsie had often tried to goad him into being his dog’s master rather than its playmate. The role had never suited him and none of the dogs he’d owned over the years had been fooled by any attempts on his part to play it.

The Park Keeper dusted down his jacket and stood tall. “And now, sir, if you’d be so good as to remove the animal from the vicinity.” He handed the rope over to Hugh. “I’ll tidy up round the roses.”

“Yes. Yes. The thing is, you see …” his voice trailed off when he realised the Park Keeper was no longer listening. Obviously, as far as he was concerned, the matter was now satisfactorily concluded.

“I’ll fetch a rake,” he said.

“Yes, yes, of course. By all means,” Hugh agreed.

When Donald returned, he seemed surprised to find Hugh still there.

Hugh was sitting on a bench and the dog was far off, digging again at the same spot, the roses torn and scattered between its paws.

The Park Keeper drew a long breath between gritted teeth and bore down on Hugh. “Ahem!” He coughed. “Excuse me again, sir.”

“Oh, hello!” Hugh smiled. “Waiting,” he explained. “Waiting for my wife.” He looked at his watch. “Late.” He pulled a tolerant face. 

“The dog, sir?”

“Yes, yes. Still here, isn’t he.”

“I did mention before, sir, the necessity of a leash?”

“Yes. Yes. Absolutely! You see, the thing is.” Hugh raised his hand, still clutching the rope.

The Park Keeper’s eyes followed the length of the rope as it snaked across the grass all the way to the dog’s collar. “Ah, yes. I see. Not quite the spirit of the injunction, may I say, sir?”

“Well, I must say,” Hugh said as he stood up. “It’s been very nice speaking with you, quite, you know, quite, well, quite educational, in fact.” He waved to Yvonne. “Bit of a lesson in dog-handling, don’t you know. But now, I see my wife coming. So, if you don’t mind.” He handed the rope to the Park Keeper. “You see, the thing is, at this point in time, I don’t actually have a dog.”

~~~

A Blank Page

This is not about THE Blank Page. The one every writer dreads, the one that stares back at you from screen or notebook, begging to be filled with winsome words.

No, this is a short story about A blank page. A different blank page. It is a short story in response to a writing prompt.

~~~

A Blank Page

A short story by Christine Campbell

Justin stared at the blank page attached to his easel. Six-thirty in the morning and it was still blank. This was the seventeenth blank page he’d been confronted with since he rolled home from the pub last night with Steve’s remark ringing in his ears.

‘Gotta go,’ Steve said, downing his last mouthful. ‘Gotta put the finishing touches to my sketch for tomorrow.’

‘Tomorrow?’

‘Yeah, exhibition time, remember? You’ve probably already submitted yours.’ He thumped Justin on the back and started putting his coat on. ‘Not like me. Always at the last minute. Can’t stop fiddling with the blessed thing, probably making it worse instead of better. Oh to have your flair and natural talent. You don’t need to fiddle. Sketching seems to come easy to you as breathing.’

Justin smiled. It was true, he did find it easy. Give him a subject and in a few sweeps of a pencil, he had it captured.

He’d forgotten about the whole exhibition thing though, and contrary to Steve’s assumption, he had not submitted. He signalled the barman for another pint. No worries, he’d skip this one. It was only an art college exhibition.

Just as Steve moved off, he threw back the killer remark. ‘Wouldn’t care so much, but it’s fifty percent of this year’s final assessment. See ya!’

And he was gone.

Grief! So it was!

The memory of Professor Clarke standing in front of them trying to get their attention as they all packed up for home, shouting the information, waving a sheet of paper at them, telling them to take one as they went – it all came flooding back with the beer he swallowed.

He hadn’t bothered to read what was on the sheet of paper. All he remembered was, it wasn’t blank!

Finishing his pint too quickly, feeling its effects as he grabbed his coat and staggered to his rooms, he lunged into the flat and dived into the drawer where he’d stuffed the forgotten instructions.

Grief! Steve was right. Fifty dratted percent! Fifty! And it had to be ‘new work. Not seen or submitted previously.’ That put paid to one of the plans he’d hatched on his way home.

Seventeen failures later, he was staring at a blank sheet of art paper tacked to his easel, with nothing in his mind. Nothing! Nada! Rien!

He knew there were seventeen failures lying crumpled at his feet because he had started a new pad of eighteen sheets and here he was on the last one with nothing to draw. Another hour and he’d be too late to sneak it into the exhibition along with all the other last minute entries.

Closing his eyes, he could visualise the area he’d been assigned. A delightfully prominent spot, assigned to him as one of the Professor’s  favoured pupils, the rest of his year’s work already beautifully displayed there with just the right sized spot left expectantly dead centre for this most important piece of the year.

The piece he’d supposedly been working on all term.

The piece he hadn’t bothered to do, assuming he could rustle something up anytime, and what did it matter anyhow. It would be good enough. He was great at sketching – once he had the inspiration.

Inspiration, that fickle, flirtatious female had waltzed out the door as he’d staggered in last night.

And there it was.

A blank page.

And half an hour left.

He showered and changed into fresh clothes, stood at the easel again and summoned the fickle female.

This time she came at his call. Elated, he did what he had to do, gathered his things and rushed out the door, his coat flapping behind him as he dashed down the stairs out onto the street and made a crazy flight to the art college. Last of the last, he hung his work, stepped back and smiled. Sublime. Inspired. Unique. Perfect.

Standing well back, modesty forbidding him from flaunting his smugness, he watched the punters view his work, delighted that it drew so many comments, initiated so many conversations among them, caused so many to stand gazing at it, deep in thought, as he’d intended.

Even Professor Clarke had smiled and nodded his head, as though seeing for the first time the quality of his student.

Victory was his! Victory snatched from the jaws of defeat.

Steve was speechless. ‘Wow! Don’t know how you do it. Always a shocker how far out the box your work is,’ what he eventually managed to get out.

The description Justin had pinned beside his work had invited the viewer

~~ to interpret the work as he would ~~ to allow his mind to wander where it could ~~ to view his work as a catalyst to deep, meaningful pondering~~

Perhaps it should not have surprised him when the year assessment results were posted out, and, after ‘deep, meaningful pondering’, these were the marks Professor Clarke gave him for inspired exhibit:

A blank sheet of paper.

A smaller, but equally empty page as the one he’d so proudly hung as the masterpiece of the exhibition.

~~~

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more of Christine Campbell’s writing, here is the link to her Amazon Author page and her published novels.

~~~

She Holed Up in Mexico

That was the writing prompt for our writing group, PenPals, and one of our members, Sharon Scordecchia, wrote this fun-filled story using the prompt:

She Holed Up In Mexico

~~~

UNUSUAL

He was lookin’ outta the window, his back to me, as I entered the room. FBI his jacket announced.
Fat But Interesting or Federal Bureau of Irritation? I’ll find out soon enough I thought as I sat down on the dining chair that had been positioned away from the table.
“I’d just like to ask you a few questions Miss, ah, what is your name?”
“Miss Sarah Jessica Parker the third,” I replied politely.
“You come from a long line of Sarah Jessica Parkers,” he observed.
“There are three of us and yes, I’m the third.” Definitely the Bureau of Irritation I decided.
“How long have you worked for the Witherspoon’s, Miss Parker?”
I thought for a moment, “‘Bout two years, I’d say.”
“So you’d notice if something unusual happened in this house?”
“I’m only here twice a week, Sir. We does the upstairs on a Monday, that’s today, and we does the downstairs on a Friday.”
“We: you and Mrs Hudson, the other cleaner?”
I nodded, even more irritated.
“I’d like you to think carefully, Miss Parker,” he eyeballed me, “Did anything unusual catch your attention when you were in on Friday, or this morning, for that matter?”
I studied the beads of perspiration in the cleft of his chin, on his top lip, on the tip of his nose. “Well depends what you call unusual, Sir, ‘cos see, in my family we got plenty unusual, only we thinks it’s normal ‘cos we’s used to it. Take my sister Mel – she smokes a pipe. Other folk’s thinks that’s unusual. Or Uncle Harry, he don’t talk to nobody but God on a Sunday. You mean that sort of unusual?”
Fat Bureau of Irritation looked at me like he agreed that all ma family stuff was pretty unusual so I wondered whether I should tell him about one of the wardrobes upstairs; that it was filled floor to ceiling with large, medium and small packs of incontinence pads. Or whether I should tell him that this mornin’, when I’d opened the French windows up wide, stripped the bed and began to turn the mattress, the room had filled with hundreds of green butterflies, all blowin’ about on the breeze. I wondered if I should tell Mr FBI I’d had to turn the vacuum cleaner up full to vacuum them nuisance things up.
FBI sighed. “If you think of anything, Miss Parker the third, could you give me a call on this number?” He pushed a card towards me.
“There is one thing happened.”
His eyebrows rose, hopeful.
“Mrs Witherspoon senior, she had an accident last week, tripped over the dog. And her bein’ real old an’ all, it was worse than it looked. She got her leg all in plaster cast now.”
The Bureau of Irritation looked at me like that just wasn’t unusual enough for him.
“Anyway, what is unusual, Sir is that there’s a definite rustlin’ sound when she moves now, you know, when she’s getting in an’ outta her wheelchair and hobblin’ about.”
“A rustling sound, you say?”
“Hm,” I nodded. “Kinda like the sound of …leaves rustlin’or money rustlin’. In fact, Sir, Av’ bin wonderin’if they put that plaster cast on prop’ly at the hospital. When ma cousin Finn had his plaster cast on it sure didn’t make no rustlin’ noise, just more of a thud, thud, thud, y’know?
FBI stared at me for a long time till it was almost becomin’ rude, till I almost couldn’t resist the urge to lean across and wipe that moisture off his nose with ma big orange duster. “You can go back to your work now Miss Parker. You’ve been very helpful,” he muttered, just in time.
From the French windows upstairs I watched as ol’ Mrs Witherspoon was helped into the Bureau of Irritation’s vehicle along with her daughter in law and whisked off down the drive an’ through the magnificent wrought iron gates.
“You done in there yet?” Hudson’s voice yelled from downstairs.
“Yup,” I shouted, “Just gonna change this vacuum bag.” I took the bag out and wrapped my overall round it and stuffed it in my shoppin’ bag.
As I walked downstairs swingin’ my bag Hudson glowered up at me. “I dunno what you said to that detective, Sarah, but he’s taken them Missus Witherspoon’s away. And the last thing Mrs Witherspoon junior growled at me was, “You’re fired, you and her!” She meant you, Sarah.”
I wore my most indignant expression. “An’ after me doin’ them a favour an’ all! That Federal Bat Investigator is probably takin’ them to hospital to get ol’ missus W’s cast put on properly, Mrs H, ‘cos when I told him about the loud rustlin’ sound it makes when Mrs W senior moves I could tell he thought the same as me, that it’s unusual.”
Mrs H looked at me and shook her head, her damp curls comin’ to life and bouncin’ about. “Honey, that rustlin’ noise is Mrs W senior’s incontinence pads, tha’s all. What that detective is lookin’ for is money. These folks we been workin’ for is into money launderin’ ‘n’ stuff, nothin’ you or I knows anything about.”
“Huh,” I said, “Wha’d’ya know. And now we’re outta work, just like that.”
“See ya around, Sarah, honey,” she sighed, dismissing me with a wave as she walked off down the drive.
I pulled the door to, listening to the solid click as it locked shut, and began walking slowly down the curved steps to the gravel drive. Perhaps I should’ve run after Mrs Hudson. Perhaps I should’ve shouted, “Hey, Mrs H, I’m gonna be holed up in Mexico for a while,” told her that I was gonna be holed up in Mexico, eatin’ tacos and guacamole, with a vacuum bag full of crushed butterflies, butterflies with pretty green patterned wings.
I squeezed the shopping bag and heard the comfortin’ sound: the rustle of thousands of dollars, dollars that’d all been hibernatin’ under a mattress, green dollar bills that for a few seconds had scattered and flown ‘bout freely with the summer breeze, only to be ruthlessly captured by the sudden violent vortex of the vacuum cleaner I’d been wieldin’.
“Nothing unusual about that rustle, Mr FBI,” I sang under my breath, “No Sir, there’s never any mistakin’ the rustle of money.”

~~~

Great, isn’t it?

Show Sharon some love and leave her a comment 🙂

 

 

If Memories were Picnics

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A writing prompt

The garden crowded round, almost hiding it from view, but Mhairi had not forgotten. If it could speak, what stories it would tell: of summer days and summer picnics, no doubt. But these were not her memories. They belonged to some other time, some other family. The table had always been there. It was old when she was young. Neglected and forgotten, it endured where those who spread their food upon it had not.
Pulling the long grass and weeds that stood between her and it’s dark, weathered wood, she cleared the bench that served it and sat down. Memories flooded in unbidden: her father throwing still warm carcasses upon it, skinning rabbits and hares with more pleasure than was seemly; her mother flirting with her lover across the wooden slats, as though a child of six or seven would have no notion of what was in play; lonely picnics with dolls and teddies instead of playmates, marigold food on rose petal plates.
Stretching her arms flat across the table’s width, Mhairi lowered her head and wept. One memory surpassed all others. One summer day when she was eight and he was eleven, their last day together, a picnic of stale bread and cheese, ‘A banquet fit for a king,’ he’d said, thanking her for what she’d managed to steal from the pantry.
Her tears fell on the old, gnarled surface of the table, making tiny pools of mud in the dust. Using the sleeve of her coat, she scrubbed at them, revealing the grey grain of the wood. It had aged well, better than one could have expected in the Scottish climate, but it had been wisely placed in the shelter of a towering sycamore tree, hedged around by rhododendron bushes. Even on dreich, wet, winter days the table was dry, a great place to bide out the storm. In summer, it’s situation afforded shade from the noonday sun.
When she wiped the debris of too many autumns from the end of the table that had been swallowed by the bushes, her fingers found the crude carvings of that childhood summer. M & B. No heart wreathed the initials: it was not a declaration of love, but a statement of friendship. They were but children, after all.
All of life, this table had witnessed, and death.

What a treat!

Another wee video for you. This one is about how I’m going to go about editing my NaNo novel when the first draft is finished.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pF4hbSecTY&feature=youtube_gdata_player

While I am busy finishing my first draft of my NaNo novel, I thought I’d give you a special treat. Jane Blewitt is one of the writers in our writers’ group, PenPals, and she is very interested in history as well as being a great writer. She often combines the two as she has in this short story.

If you want to find out what is fact and what is fiction, Jane has been kind enough to share some of her research with us after the story.

Enjoy!

~~~~~

A Twilight Memory of 28th January 1829

by

Jane Blewitt

 “It’s going to be a long night and you’re no going to make it any easier if you’re getting jittery already!” hissed Charlie.

“I can’t help it.  Do you think this is necessary?  It’s never happened in Penicuik before.  I mean, he’s only a wee bairn – surely they would show some mercy…” My voice trailed off.

“Do you think they care about that?  Do you want to run the risk with wee Jimmy?  If it goes wrong, you can tell ma it was your fault.”

“You’re right, you’re right.  I hate graveyards; it’s uncanny with this unholy time of day.  It’s neither day nor night.”

“Do you think I relish this task?  It has to be done and we’re family and best suited to carry it out. Well, I am at any rate,” assured Charlie. “Keep busy while it is light, Harry. Check we have everything in order.”

“I’ve checked everything a dozen times already.”

“Do it again!”

Sighing, I picked up the blunderbuss and examined it; everything was as it should be.  We had been given two as it was necessary that each of us was armed.  All the ammunition was present and correct.  Ma had provided us with food and ale, and thick blankets to help us through the cold night.  Though Charlie had sniffed that I wasn’t man enough to drink ale and I was that soft the blankets would make me fall asleep.  I gritted my teeth, grimly determined to prove my brother wrong.

“Don’t light the lamp, eejit!  We don’t want people to know we’re here!  You sit there, and I’ll stay here and that way we can watch the whole area – if you manage to stay awake, that is,” commanded Charlie.

It didn’t help that Charlie was right, I was jittery.  This place was eerie during this half-light but unthinkable to contemplate what it was like at night.  No one of sane mind would be caught lingering here.  The age of the place didn’t help although our Watchhouse was fairly new.  I started at a sudden noise.

“Barn owl,” growled Charlie.  I could feel his glare burning my skin through the dark.

It didn’t help that I couldn’t get that blasted skipping rhyme out of my brain either.  I repeated my prayers to steady my nerves and remind myself that I was a good Christian, thus having nothing to fear.  Afterwards I chewed some bread to help me stay awake.  At last, the moon peeped out from under its blanket, for which I was thankful at first, but then shuddered as the dancing shadows played tricks with my eyes and my mind.

It was halfway through the night before I heard them.  The sounds were unearthly and were advancing and retreating at stages.  I strained to see who it was.  I could hear the foliage moving and strange grunts as they bumped into the grave stones.  They were progressing to where Jimmy lay!  I called out a warning to the Resurrectionists, which was ignored.  I lowered my blunderbuss and fired.  Charlie managed to light the lamp and we ran to Jimmy’s grave.

“Henry Dewar!  You have succeeded in shooting Granny McLeod’s pig!” roared Charlie with laughter.

I gave a watery smile, but my nerves were torn to pieces.  Altogether, I was a thankful man when our watch had ended and our cousins took our place.  I started the walk back home and Charlie caught up with me after having exchanged the various items of news.

“The lads were saying Burke swung for it yesterday morning.  It doesn’t make it any easier for us. Shame we still have to keep an eye out for the Resurrectionists.”  Charlie jaunted off, thinking of his breakfast and singing that skipping rhyme:

“Up the close and doun the stair,
But and ben wi’ Burke and Hare.
Burke’s the butcher, Hare’s the thief,
Knox the boy that buys the beef.”

~~~~~

And now, the background facts.

Henry Dewar was a real person and the incident I’ve described did happen but I’ve used a wee bit of the literary flight of imagination as I wasn’t sure what Henry’s brother was called.  Thank goodness we can be creative when writing!  Other characters have gone down infamously in history and the skipping rhyme used to be sung by children in Edinburgh and the surrounding area.  So my story is a mixture of fact and fiction.  Hope you enjoy!

I’ve a direct quote from The Annals of Penicuik – Chapter V – Ecclesiastical History, which was written by By John J. Wilson (1891):

The old watch-house in the churchyard will also be remembered by many of the inhabitants. In the times when body-lifting was so common, to provide subjects for dissection, it was erected at a cost of £20 by a number of the inhabitants. A Watching Committee was formed, and each had the right to watch at night after any of their relatives had been buried. Two guns, with suitable ammunition, were provided, and the watch was usually kept by two persons. There is no record, so far as I know, of any resurrectionists visiting our churchyard to carry out their dismal work. The only tragedy, indeed, which occurred was the shooting of a pig by Henry Dewar, whose excited imagination, when lie heard it moving about the tombs, led him to believe that a nocturnal body-snatcher had at last made his appearance. This watching was discontinued about the year 1840. In connection with the matter it may be interesting to my readers to learn that Burke, of infamous memory, lived for a considerable time in Penicuik. He lodged with Lucky Millar in the High Street, and worked as a labourer at the mill-lade which was being cut between Lowmill and Esk Mills.

~~~~~

Hope you enjoyed Jane’s story as much as I did.

What Shall I Write?

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What a great time to be a writer.

There are so many things to write about, so many forms to write in, so many ways to share your writing.

What more is there to write about now than there was ten, twenty, thirty years ago? A hundred years ago?  Quite apart from all the scientific developments there have been that we could write about, just as the Industrial Revolution opened up opportunities for travel, so with the Technological Revolution, opportunites to travel without travelling have opened up. We can learn about almost anything or any country, almost any city in the world without setting foot outside our home. We can see photographs, videos, even take virtual tours of places of interest. We can watch people of every nation dance and sing, cook and juggle. We can talk to them face to face from opposite ends of the globe. With the press of a button, the touch of a screen, the whole world is at our fingertips, to research and write about.

Okay, so let’s say we choose something to write about, how will we set it out? We can write a poem, a sonnet, a novel, a short story, an article, an essay. There have always been these forms of writing and many more besides.

But what about Flash Fiction; how long has it been popular? According to an entry in Wikipedia, one of the first known usages of the term “flash fiction” in reference to the literary style was the 1992 anthology Flash Fiction: Seventy-Two Very Short Stories, in which editor James Thomas stated that the editors’ definition of a “flash fiction” was a story that would fit on two facing pages of a typical digest-sized literary magazine,

In China the style is frequently called a “smoke long” or “palm-sized” story, with the comparison being that the story should be finished before the reader could finish smoking a cigarette.

While there is no set word limit to Flash Fiction as a general category, the point of it is brevity. Often the word count is set by the  market or competition to which it is to be submitted, sometimes a few hundred words, rarely more than a thousand. Longer than that, it begins to fit into the Short Story category.

The name Flash Fiction may only be a little over twenty years old, and didn’t come into popular usage till about the year 2000, but the form goes way back into antiquity with writers like Chekhov, O. Henry, Aesop’sFables, Kafka, and Hemingway writing short, short stories which nowadays would qualify for the Flash Fiction label.

What about the Drabble? Is it a newer form of writing? It’s probably less well known, but, no, it has been around a long time too, though not always by that name.

A drabble is an extremely short work of fiction, exactly one hundred words in length, usually not including the title. The purpose of the drabble also is brevity, testing the author’s ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space. ~~~ An excellent writing exercise.

Again according to the Wikipedia entry under “Drabble”, we read: “The concept is said to have originated in UK science fiction fandom in the 1980s; the 100-word format was established by the Birmingham University SF Society, taking a term from Monty Python’s 1971 Big Red Book. In the book, “Drabble” was described as a word game where the first participant to write a novel was the winner. In order to make the game possible in the real world, it was agreed that 100 words would suffice.” ~~~ How very Pythonesque.

Going shorter still, we also have 55 Fiction.

A literary work will be considered 55 Fiction if it has:

  1. Fifty-five words or less. However some publishers actually require exactly 55 words, no more and no less.
  2. A setting,
  3. One or more characters,
  4. Some conflict, and
  5. A resolution.
  6. The title of the story is not part of the overall word count, but it still cannot exceed seven words.

There is even the popular Six Word Fiction, arguably the most famous one being Hemingway’s  “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn”, which, it is alleged, he wrote to win a bet.

So why do I say this is a great time to be writing? What makes it different to any other time?

Surely it is the opportunities to find an audience for your writing? Never before has it been so easy to put your writing before a vast public readership. The same means by which the world is brought into your home is the one that gets your work out into that world to be seen, to be read and, hopefully, to be enjoyed.

Perhaps for the first time in history, there is a level playing field. Whatever you choose to write about, whichever form you wish to write it in, there is the opportunity to publish it. It doesn’t depend on who you know or who regards your work as good or bad, it doesn’t even depend on whether it actually is good or bad. It only depends on yourself and your commitment to share what you choose to write.

It is then up to the reader to decide if your writing is worth his time and commitment to read, so…

Learn your craft; respect your readers.

A Story a Day for a Week in May

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Two of the bloggers I follow, Marian Allen and Jo Robinson, are writing a short story every day during the month of May. They have actually signed up to do it…officially! I have been very impressed with Marian because she has done it, a story a day every day so far this month. Jo has just joined in. Inspired by their commitment, I think I’ll give it a try, unofficially, at least for this coming week. ‘A Story a Day for a Week in May’ may not have the same cachet, but it does have a certain ring about it, wouldn’t you say?

I’ve taken as my writing prompt an exercise suggested some time ago by one of my cohorts in PenPals, the writing club I belong to. She suggested we take one of the characters we are writing about in our novels or other work, and send them to buy a pint of milk. An everyday task: a way to get to know the character.

So, here is my first effort:

For Monday, May 20th

***

Milk, Don’t You Know!

It had been a rubbish day at work. Everything that could go wrong had gone wrong and, by the time Sandra walked home she was as thoroughly depressed as she’d been in a long time. When she opened the door to find Hugh curled up on the sofa with a book, his Basset-Hound-Puppy tail wagging to greet her, she felt herself falling apart. She flopped into the chair, her head back, tears gathering behind closed eyes.

“Bad? Dare…dare I ask? Bad day, was it?” Hugh did dare, carefully letting his book drop to the floor beside the empty mugs that had gathered there during his day.

She didn’t open her eyes, knowing, that once opened, there would be nothing to hold back the tears.

“Exhausted, you look exhausted,” Hugh consoled. “Cup of tea? Can I? Would you like…?”

“Please,” she nodded and, while Hugh fussed in the kitchen, she gave a long shuddering sigh and mentally drew all her scattered fragments into a tidy pile, ready to be put back together by the promised restorative cuppa. “Oh, yes, please,” she sighed.

“Ah, yes,” he said from the doorway. “Bit of a problem, there, with the aforementioned beverage, don’t you know.”

The fragments started to slip away.

“Milk. Didn’t happen to bring milk, did you, I don’t suppose?”

Tears trickled from the sides of her tightly shut eyes.

“Mmm. Take that as a ‘no’, then should I? Mmm.” Hugh raked his hands through his hair. “Next problem, no money. Don’t suppose you…?”

Silently, barely moving her position, she reached into her bag. Once found, she unzipped her purse and held it upside down letting the coins fall where they would.

“Yes, well.” Hugh bent to pick up the few pennies. “Not enough, not enough really, is it? Sixteen P? Pint of milk? Sixteen P?” He looked around for what he could sell. “Cushions? Do we really need cushions on that chair?” he asked.

And that was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back! “Those cushions were embroidered for me by my sister. They were part of my wedding trousseau.” Sandra was on her feet. “An old fashioned concept, I’ll grant you, as is the silly, outdated notion that it should be the man who goes out to work his butt off for his little woman,” she fumed, eyes wide open now, no effort to stop the tears of anger and self-pity. “If you don’t get out there, find some way to buy a pint of milk and make me that cup of tea,” grabbing up the cushion, “without, without, selling off the last of my treasured possessions, so help me, Hugh, I’ll…”

He held his hands aloft. “Point taken! Yes. Milk. Tea. On to it.” He snatched his jacket from the sofa where it had been thrown earlier. “Going. Milk. Yes.” And he rushed out of the door, embarrassed, she knew, by her tears, cowed by her anger.

She sat down again, her knees drawn up to her chin, her head in her hands, crying in earnest now. “Oh, God,” she prayed. “What am I going to do? He can’t even buy a pint of milk!”

It wasn’t that Hugh meant to be vague. In fact, mostly, he was unaware of his mental peregrinations. Looking back, even when chastised at school for his inattention, it always came as a surprise to him that his mind had strayed so far from the point of focus. He knew others were frustrated by this quality in him, but he couldn’t quite work out what to do about it. Survival instincts threw up soft, billowy clouds of insouciance to shield him from the harsh glare of censure.

He scrabbled up the money by dint of searching through the pockets of the coats that hung in the hall, and sifting through the ‘bits and pieces saucer’ on the kitchen worktop: nothing larger than the sticky ten pence piece he rescued from his jacket pocket, but together, enough for a pint of milk.

‘Milk,’ he mused as he ran down the stairs.

‘Milk,’ he muttered, slowing to let the traffic pass. ‘Funny thing, milk. Become a necessity, what? How does that happen? What did people do before there was milk?’ ‘S’pose always been milk, really,’ he replied, wandering along the street. ‘It’s tea that’s newer on the scene, don’t you know.’

‘Tea,’ he thought, looking in the book shop window. ‘Funny thing, tea. Become a necessity, sort of. Like coffee. Suddenly, everybody needs coffee to start the day,’ he observed as he fingered the row of second-hand books laid out on a stand in front of the window. Finding an Ian Rankin he hadn’t read, he checked the price pencilled inside the front cover. ‘Hmm, not quite enough,” he realised, counting the coins in his pocket. Then remembered that he had come out with a purpose.

‘Coffee,’ he reminded himself as he strolled into the All Hours Minimarket at the corner of the street. ‘Needs sugar, actually, coffee, can’t take it without sugar.’ He shuddered at the very idea.

‘Sugar,’ he mumbled, as he browsed the shelves. ‘Sugar. Ah, yes, there it is.’

‘Just about got enough for a small bag, ‘ he said, counting out the coins. He smiled as he handed the pile of copper over, winning a responsive smile from the assistant despite the inconvenience the counting of the small change would give.

‘Mmm,’ he hummed, entering the stair. ‘Can almost smell the coffee. Hope Sandra remembered the milk!’

 

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