The Storm

Today I am pleased to host a guest piece from fellow Kirklees author Carol Warham. This is an extract from her forthcoming (as yet untitled) historical novel set in the Fair Isle (between Shetland and Orkney). In this passage, Spanish galleon El Gran Grifon, a survivor of the Armada, is in trouble in the North Sea …

****

Rodrigo clung onto the wooden rail as best he could. Every sinew stretched; every muscle tearing. The wild sea flung waves which lashed him, time after time, making it difficult to breathe. His feet constantly slipped as the deluge of salty, dark water swamped the decks. The lurching of the ship, as it was battered by wave after crashing wave, made it difficult to keep steady. He could smell and taste the terror of the men around him.

Another huge surge tore his grip away from the rail and he found himself being flung from one side of the deck to the other. Occasionally, when a moment’s lull allowed it, he hung over the side retching. His stomach was empty now but the bile kept coming. Terror filled him and he clung to a soaking coiled rope which he twisted around his arms. The rope burned into him as with each toss and pitch of the ship it tightened around his wrists.

Closing his eyes, he pictured his mother and father as he had last seen them, four years earlier. He could still feel the imprint of his mother’s thumb as she made the sign of the cross on his forehead, whispering her blessing, tears coursing down her cheeks. His father’s last words, called out, as he’d turned and walked away, rang in his mind. “Go with God my son, and I hope one day he will return you to us.” Now he would never see them again. What a fool he’d been to try and find adventure.

The sky was wild and black. The only light was the occasional flash of lightning as it zigzagged across the clouds, followed by a deep roll of thunder. It seemed as if the rain was made up of ice-cold daggers driving themselves into Rodrigo’s flesh, disregarding any clothing he wore. Where was God now? This storm was the devil’s work.

When he could focus he saw Sebastian, his friend, holding onto the rail close by. Occasionally he could hear him cursing, crying aloud they had been brought to this terrible place to die of cold or drown in angry seas.

Sebastian spat his words out in disgust. “Madre Mia! We will surely die in this God forsaken hole. You must look to save yourself, mi amigo.”

Rodrigo turned his head, to the side, as he fought the wind and rain. “My fingers and hands are so cold, I can’t feel them. I’m not sure how much longer I can hold on.”

He grimaced as he tried to grasp anything which would keep him from being flung into the sea. The captain had promised they were trying to get home, but now they were caught in this storm. It was obvious to all the ship was in her death throes, and it seemed, to Rodrigo, she wanted to take them all with her. The valiant but damaged vessel rocked and heaved, desperate to stay afloat but losing its battle. The dying El Gran Grifon creaked and screamed as it was pounded and battered by the mountainous waves, which crashed over it or slammed into its sides.

A terrible tearing and shredding noise, which could be heard above the maelstrom, caused Rodrigo to look up. Sebastian jerked his head around to see what was happening. Some of the other sailors were shouting and signalling. It took him a few seconds to realise what it was.

They had struck rocks but the mast had rested against the over hanging cliff. Rodrigo tried to see but the driving rain made it impossible to look up for long. A sudden scurry of sailors pushed him out of the way as they rushed towards the main mast. Within moments the first man had started to climb up it. Soon others were following and edging themselves along the rigging to make their way to the cliff edge, which towered above the dying ship.

As the first man reached the rocks, ropes tumbled down from the cliff top. Rodrigo screwed his eyes against the wind and rain to watch. There must be people on top of the cliff watching them. Praise be, they were throwing down ropes to help them climb up the rock face.

“Quickly, we must go,” Sebastian took hold of his arm and started to pull him towards the mast.

Rodrigo threw off his friend’s hand. Panic swept over him as his arms and legs trembled of their own accord. His legs refused to obey him. He could not move.

“Do you say your prayers, Rodrigo?”

Rodrigo nodded.

“Now, pray to our Holy Mother to help us.

Sebastian let go of the rail long enough to shake Rodrigo’s shoulders. “It is our only chance, mi amigo. Say your prayers, El Grifon is sinking. She cannot last long. Come!”

https://www.facebook.com/carol.warham

Writing has been Carol’s love since childhood. She started by making small comics for her dolls, progressed to training as a journalist for a short while. Once the family had grown up Carol settled down to writing and published short stories, poems and holiday articles.

In recent years she has become a judge in the short story section for the HysteriaUK competition and also for the RNA’s romance novel of the year.  For the last two years she has volunteered for the Huddersfield Literary Festival and is looking forward to the 2020 festival. She is also a member of the Promoting Yorkshire Authors group, while running a small local writing group.

In recent times she is working on two historical novels, and both are demanding a lot of research, which she is thoroughly enjoying although it does slow up the writing process.

Carol lives in Yorkshire, surrounded by some beautiful countryside, which is ideal for her other passion of walking, often with a dog called Sam.

Resolutions is Carol’s debut novel and is set in a location close to where she lives.

Carol on Amazon

Gruesome Beauty

Hey, it’s Halloween tomorrow, in case you hadn’t noticed. And I’m delighted to host a suitably terrifying guest story from horror writer Nick Stead. Are you brave enough to read on?





Gruesome Beauty

Rotting leaves blanketed the forest floor, dull brown and pale yellow. A far cry from the vibrant greens of summer, this was nature’s decomposing carpet to welcome Death as he rode in on the cold winds of the coming winter.

Rain turned the carpet to a thick mulch, riddled with all manner of unwholesome creatures. Worms wriggled their way through the sodden vegetation and maggots fed on this free banquet gifted by the turning of the seasons. And as the carpet shifted and changed, something new began to appear beneath the surface.

Lifeless as the leaves themselves, its unblinking stare should have been horrifying to all passers-by. Except there were none. This was private land, closed off to the general public. Only the wildlife would look into that milky gaze as they moved through the forest, and look away again moments later. Even the ravens had not descended on the scavenger’s feast it promised.

A man strode across the mulch, his boots squelching with every step he took. He came to a stop beside the dead eye and sank into a crouch. The land was his. No human visitor would ever discover its secrets unless he invited them in, not even the police. There would be no interfering from the outside world.

“I’m here, my sweet,” he said. “I know it’s been a while but life has been hectic. The days pass and time slips away.”

Trees stirred as a light gust of wind whispered through the bare branches, and a bird took flight with a startled caw. The man frowned.

“Is that disappointment I sense?”

The sky seemed to darken and his frown deepened.

“Surely you did not think I’d leave you out here to rest in peace?”

The dead eye rolled in its socket to fix him with its clouded gaze.

“Ah, forgive me, my sweet. I admit, that was a poor turn of phrase. You’re not at peace, are you?” He brushed away the leaves to reveal a face made repulsive with decay. The sight of it turned his frown to a smile. Pulling a mirror out of his pocket, he held it over the corpse’s skull. “Don’t be sad. See how death has transformed your pretty face into a new kind of grotesque beauty? This gift isn’t for just anyone. I picked you specially.”

The face stared at its reflection but only its eyes moved, though to say they widened in terror would not be entirely accurate as there was no longer any flesh surrounding them to express terror with. But terror is what she felt, this poor cursed soul condemned to an eternity of imprisonment inside her own rotting corpse.

“Soon the whole world will know your beauty. But you must be patient a while longer, my sweet. The world is not quite ready for your vision of ghoulishness, so we will wait a while longer.”

She wanted to scream, but her wasted muscles no longer obeyed her soul’s commands. His power over her was absolute. Only her eyes worked. They followed him as he raised himself up and began to walk away, this mad man in command of forces the modern world no longer believed in. Yet even when he left her alone, her terror never waned.

This was a special kind of hell her tormentor had devised for her. And most terrifying of all, it was one without any foreseeable end. Would she be trapped like this for all eternity? That thought was too much. The wind was beginning to pick up, and nature voiced her scream for her.

*****

Nick specialises in supernatural horror and dark fantasy, and is best known for his Hybrid series about a Yorkshire werewolf struggling to survive in a world which would rather see him dead. He lives with his two cats in Huddersfield, where he spends most days chained to his desk, writing to the scream of heavy metal guitars. When he does get out, he has been known to terrorise local libraries and give talks in schools, as well as making appearances at various horror and comic conventions across the country. He is just putting the finishing touches on his first non-Hybrid book, a horror based on the infamous Pendle witch trials of 1612, and has already begun work on his sixth novel – a new project which has yet to be revealed!

https://nick-stead.co.uk

https://hybridseries.co.uk

Metaphoria

Here’s a bit of fun I wrote at Holmfirth Writers a while back. I seem to remember that the first line was the prompt for the exercise.

Metaphoria

The day was coming to an end, but still the heat fell like hammers.

So much so, in fact, that several people were injured, innumerable tiles broken and an unfortunate garden gnome smashed beyond repair.

A cart containing two people rolled slowly down the rutted – and now hammer-strewn – road and past a large wooden sign that said ‘Welcome to Metaphoria – be careful what you say!’

The couple were grimy and covered with sweat – it really was hot, never mind all those hammers.

“I am so sick of this bloody weather,” said the woman. Almost immediately, red droplets began falling from the sky and splashing on their clothes and faces.

“What is this? Why is it red?”

“I don’t care,” said her husband. “I’m just glad of a bit of water on my skin. It can rain cats and dogs for all I care.”

“Nooooo ….” screamed a woman from a nearby house, before her wails were drowned out by a chorus of barking and hissing as surprised animals began to tumble from the sky. A small poodle landed on some sacks in the back of the cart, then dusted itself off and jumped into the road.

The woman stomped angrily towards the cart, dodging a couple of falling moggies on the way.

“Didn’t you read the sign? This is Metaphoria. Everything you say here gets taken literally by our crazy local God, who also has a warped sense of humour.  So you mustn’t use metaphors.”

“Point taken. I’ll avoid them like the pla…” said the man in the cart, before she managed to get a hand over his mouth.

“Similes too. If I hadn’t stopped you just then, everyone in this town would have been dead within three weeks. It’s best not to talk at all while you’re here, but if you must, do so in plain, unambiguous language.”

“OK, fair enough,” said the man. “I get the message.” His wife was not so convinced.

“What about nice metaphors, though? Does your God react to those too? I mean …” She winked at her husband. “… we came here because we’d heard the streets were paved with gold.”

And sure enough, in a flash, the road gleamed a metallic yellow.

“Oh wow, I’m starting to like your God! I’m going to have another go. “Life’s a bowl of cherries.” And there, suddenly, was a bowl of ripe cherries in her lap.

“Don’t get too excited,” said the local woman. “He has a budget. The gold is paint – don’t think we haven’t tried that trick before.”

“Still, the cherries are real enough, though,” said the man on the cart, taking one and popping it into his mouth. “And very nice too.”  His wife turned to him again.

“We should make the most of this. We could think of some good metaphors and get lots of great stuff for ourselves – clothes, food, drink, whatever. And then we can party like there’s no tomorrow. Oh ….”

From the side of the road came a piercing scream of anguish. 

Pharaoh

It’s been a little while since I put one of my own poems on here. This one was first published in Precious (Hammond House 2018) and is also in my collection Sea Without a Shore.

I will be reading this and other poems on Tuesday 15 October at Honley Library (West Ave, Honley HD9 6HF)), 7-9 pm, a double bill with Alan Prout, plus guest poet Anne Broadbent. There will also be refreshments and an open mic.

 Pharoah
 
Proud I was in life, but foolish, believing crowns
and flattery were signs of real power.
But scarcely was my chamber dug
when I was sent to dwell in it.
Here, I was meant to dine in splendour with the gods
but gold and jewels have no sheen
in endless dark: what use are chariots
and hunting bows inside this womb of stone
that drip-feeds me its cursed gift of ever-life?
Disembowelled, bound, and blind
how I have known the infinity of night!
You come as thieves:
I do not care – these things are yours.
Gladly, I exchange them for your gifts, of space, of light.

Sorting

Today I am pleased to host a poem from fellow Maytree poet Clint Wastling, whose first collection, Layers, will be published shortly. Welcome, Clint!

Hi Tim, thanks for the spot on your blog. As many of your readers will know I’m an East Riding of Yorkshire poet. I think a sense of place and our place in history is important to point us forward. As a poet I have two types of work: poetry for the page and poetry I perform—though there is always a crossover! Thursday 10th October, it’s performance, when myself and a few guests do an annual fundraiser for Prostate Cancer Research. Nearly 12000 men died from this last year, a statistic we should never forget. The event is at The Monks Walk pub in Beverley and starts at 7.30pm.

I’m also looking forward to becoming part of the Maytree family with my first poetry pamphlet, Layers, due out later this year. David Coldwell has worked hard on editing and choosing the poems. I’ve decided on Sorting to illustrate my work as it has layers of time and is set in Whitby – my favourite place. Hope you enjoy it! 

 Sorting
 
When I walk by The White Horse and Griffin
on Whitby’s old Church Street
I remember trinkets found
when mum downsized to a retirement flat.
She snatched the box from me.
You can’t throw that!
This will give you some idea of our task:
place card holders, a receipt for grandparent’s honeymoon
dated 1935, confetti, a tarnished lapel pin.
 
Throwing away the past can be cleansing,
can be painful, always a little loss
and if we are preservers of the past
then I am growing toward mother’s view:
let others decide, let the future obliterate.
Letters read again, photos seen,
all the love there was evidenced
in all the love there’s been,
spent in a million kisses
 
a hundred thousand wishes
preserving all that’s gone before.
Names from this box of trinkets.
Now when I walk by The White Horse and Griffin
On Whitby’s old Church Street,
I remember that hotel bill and pause--
my grandparents walked through these doors
took their honeymoon here
where past and present meet.

More Poetry News

A round-up of some new developments on the poetry front:

First of all, I’m pleased to announce that I will be doing a joint event with fellow Write Out Loud poet Alan Prout at Honley Library on 15 October, 7-9pm. We will both be reading from our recently published collections. There will be a guest spot from another fine poet, Anne Broadbent, refreshments and an open mic.

Another exciting event in prospect is a poetry evening by Holmfirth Writers, at Globe Arts, Carr Lane, Slaithwaite, at 7pm on Wednesday 2 October, on the theme of Colour.

Still on the subject of events, it was great to be part of the launch of the Cotton Grass Appreciation Society anthology, at Marsden Library on Saturday evening. There is some great poetry in this book, from such names as Simon Armitage, Gaia Holmes, Jo Haslam, Alison Lock and my good friends Anne Steward and Sally Brown (pictured, centre and right below). I’m thrilled to be in such company, and it was great to meet some of the other poets.

Finally (for now), I’m delighted to have a poem, Light Years, in this great collection from Dempsey and Windle – and what a lovely cover!

Cute Aggression

Today I’m pleased to host a little piece of sci-fi flash fiction from Owen Townend, a fellow member of the Kirklees Author Forum. Our future interactions with alien species may not be quite what we expect ….

Cute Aggression

Oh! I want one in my arms! A little face to smush!

            I did have one some time ago but it ran away. A real shame: it was a great big furry beast. All you could see were its little eyes shining up at you. It wouldn’t climb up on my lap no matter how often I tried to encourage it. 

            Which is funny as they aren’t at all fussy about most things. What they eat, for example: they just love flightless birds. I suppose they were the natural predators of such things back where they come from. 

            It’s a shame when they fight you, though. I had a friend who had a little one: tiny black eyes on this pale squeezed oval of a face. It wouldn’t stop grabbing sharp objects and attacking her with them. There was only so much a light bop on the nose could do.

            Then again, I’m not one of those trainer types, you see. I haven’t the strictness to break them in. Probably why mine escaped so quickly. 

            Capable little critter though. Managed to commandeer my THRU vessel and set off for The Inevitability. And he only had two arms and two legs! Still they found the vessel not that far out. The limits of a human brain, I suppose. Have you seen one? You can fit two into the tip of your average tendril.

            Still they’re gorgeous creatures. Plenty of fat to be good for a cuddle at the end of a long trek. Shame about all the fluids though. 

            If you want an intuitive pet then you could do a lot worse. Just make sure you keep the little dears indoors… 

*****

You can find out more about Owen and his work via:

his blog – https://mrpondersome.blogspot.com/

Twitter – @mrpondersome

Owin is the secretary of the Huddersfield Authors’ Circle https://huddersfieldauthorscircle.wordpress.com/