As 2020 begins, I thought now would be a good time to review the future direction of this blog for the coming year and beyond. I’d very much welcome any views from readers regarding which way it should go.
At the moment, I tend to post about three times a month on average, a mix of:
news of recent or forthcoming events, publications, etc (sometimes including a poem, if poetry-related).
poems or short prose pieces (sometimes humorous) of my own.
guest posts from other authors, usually including a poem or short prose piece.
miscellaneous others, such as invitations for guest posts, reblogs of other people’s posts, etc .
I am wondering whether to continue the mix as before, or change it, and I’d particularly welcome readers’ views on this. Is there anything in this mix that you think I should drop? Anything I don’t do now that I should consider doing in the future?
Another point on which I’d welcome views is frequency. Is three or so posts a month about right? Too many? Not enough? I’m somewhat leaning towards reducing it to one or two posts a month, but I’m not sure. What do you think?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of this. You can comment on this post, or e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org
A poignant guest poem today from (soon to be) fellow Maytree poet Aziz Dixon.
Who you are I cannot say nor why we came to sing today
but I was ten when I joined the choir. I felt the music breathe through me.
Today I cannot find my words but still the music sings in me.
I know we came to sing today because you care for me.
Aziz Dixon draws on local Pennine and Welsh landscapes and his sufi experience. He has been published locally and online in the north of England, Wales and internationally. His work featured in Best of Bolton, November 2017 and Burnley Creative, September 2019. His first pamphlet is forthcoming with Maytree Press.
A winter’s tale today from my good friend Anne Veron (a.k.a.) Steward, fellow member of Holmfirth and Meltham writers’ groups (and with whom I also share a publisher: Maytree Press). A surprise encounter in the forest ….
The sky faded from ice blue to silver with fine brush strokes of grey vapour echoed by the body-warmed billows of breath from the sturdy ex-bus driver, Steve and his eight year old granddaughter, Emma. They were rustling through the crisp carpet of leaves under giant beech trees on their familiar Sunday walk in between a mighty lunch and a teatime spread.
“Can we take some of those holly leaves home, Grandad?” asked Emma. “We made some like these dipping them in glitter at school,” she added.
Steve laughed. The glossy leaves were edged by frost, “Those wouldn’t be frosted for long in Grandma’s house,” he said.
“Shall we take some magic cobwebs, too? They would be lovely on the Christmas tree.” said Emma, pointing at the great filigree cobwebs stretching among the bushes. She knew really, but they did like to pretend.
“And bottle some dragon’s breath?” she said, breathing out a massive cloud into the so-still air.
“There’s no dragons here,” Steve said, “but it is one of those days… The air smells of wolves.”
“Wolves, Grandad?” asked Emma. She couldn’t help peering into the misty edges of their path to the fragile outlines of the silver birch standing knee deep in crisped bracken. She thought she saw a swift shape threading its way into nothingness. She pointed but Grandad was lost in memories.
“Oh yes, Laurie Lee wrote that. Cider with Rosie. ‘The air smells of wolves’…You’ll read it one day. That was about 100 years ago when people still had memories of wolves. Just this sort of day, I think. We don’t get them often these days, but …yes, sniff hard.” He made a deep inbreathing and then a noisy outletting … “Ahhhh. Yes, definitely the air smells of wolves today.”
Emma played the game. Her breath drew in and noisily out, her eyes shut. Her eyes opened to huge, “It does, it does. I can smell… something… grey… and a bit hairy.”
“Yes, that’s it! You got it first time,” he said, “I got a trace of deep cave. That’s where they live, of course.”
There was a high keening that drifted into the woods. There was no way that anyone could tell how far the sound had travelled in that thin-air day. Steve looked at his granddaughter’s startled face and reached for her redmittened hand, “The dogs in the boarding kennels are a bit noisy tonight,” he said, a little too forcefully.
“I thought I saw… a something …back there,” Emma said, pointing the way they had come.
“Someone walking their dog, I expect,” said Steve, but they started to stride out a little bit faster. There was a rustle and deep throaty coughing call that made them stop in their tracks. An elegant bracken-coloured deer picked its way through the trees ahead, followed by another and then another, their ears turning and flicking, their nostrils wide, tasting the air.
They were gone in an instant. Steve and Emma just looked at each other. Beyond speech.
“Guess what was in the woods, Grandma?” said Emma as she unwound her fluffy scarf in the toasty warm kitchen.
“Don’t tell me,” she said staring an accusation at her husband, “that wolf story again. He gave your mum bad dreams with that one.”
“No…well…yes,” said Emma, “but we saw deer in the woods. Really!”
“Well, I bet the wolves had chased them there. A winter treat for you, Emma,” said Steve.
Here’s a little bit of fun I wrote at Meltham Writers on Thursday. Harold and Mabel’s holiday is not turning out as they’d planned ….
Harold awoke and turned on the bedside light. On the wall opposite, the hands of the clock were spinning round at a remarkable speed – anti-clockwise.
He nudged his wife. “Mabel, either we have encountered a discontinuity in the fabric of space-time, or the clock urgently needs some new batteries.”
“What did you have to go and wake me up for? Of course it’s the batteries. It’s just like that time you told me the earth was being swallowed by a black hole, but it turned out a bulb had gone. It’s the middle of the night, Harold. Turn the light off.”
“It’s not the middle of the night. My watch, which appears to be functioning normally, tells me it’s quarter past nine. It should be broad daylight.”
“But it’s pitch black outside. Ergo, Herbert, your watch is not functioning normally and it is, in fact, the middle of the night.”
“Either that or I was right first time and we have gone through a rift in space-time. I think I’d better check – it could have a significant impact on the rest of our holiday. Have we got a torch?”
“Oh, for Goodness sake! It’s in the cupboard next to the sink.”
Herbert walked into the kitchen area, retrieved the torch, and then opened the external door of their caravan.
“What is it. I’m trying to get to sleep.”
“I think you’d better come here.”
“Shut up, Harold. Come back to bed.”
“No, really, Mabel. I’m being serious. You need to see this for yourself or you’ll never believe me.”
Mabel huffed and puffed and reluctantly put on her dressing gown.
“This had better not be another one of your daft ideas, like that portaloo you thought was a Tardis.”
“Don’t take my word for it,” replied Harold patiently. “Look for yourself”. He opened the door again and shone the torch beam around in all directions. “As you can see, there is nothing whatsoever visible outside. No other caravans, no trees, no ground, even. No nothing. Nor ….” He now switched off the torch “… are there any stars, or any moonlight, even though it was a full moon last night. Just blackness. There is literally nothing outside. Our caravan is now the entirety of the visible universe. All the rest is gone. So, incidentally …” he pointed the torch at where their Vauxhall Astra should have been “… is the car.”
“Oh Harold, you’re getting carried away again, like when we got lost in Blackpool and you thought we were in a parallel world. It’s probably just foggy.”
She took the torch from him and shone it around.
“Hmm,” she said, seeing nothing to refute what her husband had said. “Must be very foggy indeed. Look, I’m going to sort this out once and for all.”
She tightened her dressing grown around her and lowered herself out of the caravan and onto the first step, then the second, and the third, then … nothing. Her foot could find nowhere to plant itself. In desperation, she knelt on one knee on the bottom step, waving her free leg about beneath the caravan. Still nothing. Mabel returned to the caravan with a look of utter surprise on her face.
“You see,” said Harold, with an air of quiet satisfaction, “We have passed through a rift in space-time. This caravan is our universe now. We are utterly alone.”
“Oh well,” said Mabel. “Bingo will be off, then. Might as well go back to bed.”
I’m delighted to announce that my next reading event will be on Friday 31 January, 7.30-8.30pm in Denby Dale Community Library, 364 Wakefield Road, Denby Dale HD8 8RT. I’ll be reading poems from Sea Without a Shore and also excerpts from my novel Revolution Day.
Finally, (since two bits of news doesn’t seem quite enough for a blog post!), here’s a random poem:
The Friend of Birds
She was akin to them: precise and bobbing in her movement – a broken hip had lent her walk a mallard’s totter – knitted plumage out-displayed the boldest drake. They loved her for it – or was it for the crusts she scattered on their pond? Too numerous to fight for: not for them the hiss of battle but contented quacks and clatterings of beaks.
For ducks – and enterprising doves – she was the fountain-head of bread; at home, for tits and finches, a cornucopia of seeds, greeted with ecstatic twittering. They would envelop her in feathers, grant her, with their perching feet an honorary bird-ness of her own.
Age made her more birdlike: bones grew hollow; sallow skin took on an eggshell mottle. Deep within, a fatal flutter, as of tiny wings, took hold: fulfilling, in a way, her wish to slip – as her small friends could do so easily – the irksome bonds that tethered her to earth.
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
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
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?”
“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!”
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.
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
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
lives in Yorkshire, surrounded by some beautiful countryside, which is ideal
for her other passion of walking, often with a dog called Sam.
is Carol’s debut novel and is set in a location close to where she lives.
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?
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.
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.
my sweet,” he said. “I know it’s been a while but life has been hectic. The
days pass and time slips away.”
stirred as a light gust of wind whispered through the bare branches, and a bird
took flight with a startled caw. The man frowned.
disappointment I sense?”
seemed to darken and his frown deepened.
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.
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.”
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
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.”
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
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!