This year’s NANOWRIMO

Once again, it’s into the fray come November 1.

This year, I will not be necessarily starting from scratch though it will feel like it.

Since my eldest grand daughter was about 5, now nearly twelve years ago, I’ve been promising a YA chapter book about a princess, based on her.

She seemed to like the idea of being a royal pain in the neck, which is what I said she would be in the book, but, by the end of her adventure, she will have transitioned from spoilt brat to a woman worthy of becoming a Queen.

A long time ago, when my wife was in hospital having an operation, my daughter who is also the editor and mother to said princess, and the princess herself were sitting around in the hospital room waiting for my wife to return from radiology, and decided to come up with the quest said princess had to go on.

Thus, over the next hour, we came up with a lot of different ways to make her ‘suffer’, ten in fact, because at the end of each ‘trial’ she had to collect a magic stone, ten altogether, which had to be arranged correctly to fulfil the prophesy.

And, of course, save the realm from destruction.

Yes, there’s always some sort of world threatening calamity behind every quest.

And since then, she had become unofficially Princess Marigold, and the title hovering between The Dark Horse and The Legend of The Dark Horse. Or maybe, when it’s finished, something else.

Over the twelve years I have been writing bits and pieces, and in the last month been putting it together in a single file, as well as a synopsis, and, God forbid, a plan, which I found quite by accident, and we must have put together on a forgettable day in 2015. That’s the date on the file.

So, come November, it’s back to it, and hopefully it will be done by her 18th birthday, in September next year.

At least now, she had grown so much, that she will be able to dress up as the princess, and feature on the front cover!

And, as each day passes, I will trying to keep everyone informed of my progress.

Sayings: Beyond the pale

I’ve often said, when espying an injustice that was so outrageously displayed that no one could miss it, as being beyond the pale.

The pale within a fence became an area of land within a boundary such as a county, and then to areas within Ireland that were held by the British. As these became smaller, those areas were deemed to be uncivilized.

This, in modern parlance, beyond the pale refers to someone’s behavior being outside the accepted norm.

 

There’s also…

In a word: Pale

Which is the color of the face of a person who is usually desperately unwell?

As distinct from a pale face, a white man is described by the American Indians. This, sadly, was learned from American westerns, motion pictures that told a rather interesting version of events between the Indians and the new settlers.

Paleface was in one movie, in particular, Bob Hope.

A pale can also be a single upright piece of wood in a fence.

Something could pale into significance, or be a pale imitation of a better quality article.

Not to be confused with a pail, which is a bucket, wooden or otherwise, that holds liquids.

The most famous of which is that which Jack and Jill went up a hill to fetch a pail of water, and, well, you know how that ended.

In a word: Piece

Aside from the fact that it really means part of something else, we’ve got to remember that it is one of those ‘i before e except after c’ things.

I have a piece of the puzzle.  Well, maybe not.  You know what it’s like when you’re assembling a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle.  Yes, you get to the end and one piece is missing.

You’re so angry you want to give someone a piece of your mind.

Just remember not to give too many people pieces or you will become mindless.

We might be listening to a musical piece, which can be a movement, I think, in a symphony

Or we might piece together the parts of a child’s toy, especially on that night before Christmas when everything can and will go wrong.  I’ve been there and done that far too many times.

I’ve been known to move a chess piece incorrectly, no, come think of it, I’m always doing that

Some people call a gun a piece.

This is not to be confused with the word peace, which means something else, and hopefully, everyone will put away their pieces (guns) and declare peace.

And, every Sunday, at the church, there’s always an opportunity to say to the people around you ‘peace be with you’.

I wonder if that works very well if the person standing next to you is your enemy?

In a word: Spark

So, as far as I’m concerned a ‘spark’ can happen when electrical wires cross and the resultant ‘spark’ can start a fire, or the fire is already alight and ‘sparks’ fly making it worse by starting more spot fires.

But…

Another meaning is that a ‘spark’ is created by a ‘spark plug’ in order to force the pistons of an engine to drive the crankshaft

This leads to…

There is no spark in this relationship, so perhaps it’s going nowhere.  No, we’re not looking for a fiery spark, but a small amount of very intense feeling

Spark?

I was watching God Friended Me last night and I’m sure like many others we were waiting to see that spark that would change their relationship from the friend zone, to something else.

And…

it’s there, but something seems to be holding them back.

As for the word spark, well there several different meanings, one of which I am familiar with when I was young.

Being called a ‘bright spark’

Depending on who used that remark, it could either mean you were clever or you were a smart ass, which I suspect the latter was the reference to me.

Then, moving on

Saying something inflammatory ‘sparked’ the crowd into action.  A single remark can be equated to a literal ‘spark’ that can ignite a reaction.

A lynching perhaps?

And what about, once upon a time, a ship’s radio officer, he was called ‘sparks’ or ‘sparkie’, also a name that sometimes refers to an electrician.

I can see plenty of uses for this word in a story.

It’s not like you can pull over to the side of the road…

In space, it’s a little difficult to just suddenly stop.

But, given several hundred thousand kilometers, anything is possible.

Especially when there’s a request to divert to Venus.

You can’t always tell when the ship drops out of cruise to what could be considered a dead stop, not that a dead stop is necessarily achievable.

I was down in the mess hall when the call came from the officer of the deck for me to return. I was half way through a half decent cup of coffee, and had just had the donut delivered.

Both now had to be sacrificed.

I looked out the window into the inky blackness of space and it was difficult to say if we were in idle mode. There was, however, another ship just off the port bow, a old cargo ship that had seen better days, and we both looked like we were drifting together.

I suspect that meant we were keeping station, much the same as we would if we were visiting a planet.

I took the elevator and arrived on the bridge where the captain was in earnest conversation with the chief engineer and chief scientist.

He looked up when he saw me approach.

“Ah, number one, there’s a team waiting down on the transport deck. The Aloysius 5 has some vital equipment on board for repairs at the mining colony on Venus, and we’ve been diverted to pick them up and them there post haste.”

“Out of commission?”

“A temporary issue with the drive. We’re sending an engineering team over to help with the repairs and will pick them up on the way back. They should arrive on the deck the same time you will.”

“Yes, sir.”

Should be simple, I thought. Take one of the shuttle craft over, load up, drop the engineers, get back, head for Venus, about 5 hours from out current position. Much the same as a pleasant drive in the country.

And I needed more shuttle time.

In the elevator I was joined by one of the security staff, a gung ho type lieutenant named Andrews. A man always looking for trouble, the sort who would shoot first and ask questions later.

Maybe it was not going to be a pleasant outing after all.

© Charles Heath 2020

In a word: Incline

When you first think of this word, it is with a slippery slope in mind.

I’ve been on a few of those in my time.

And while we’re on the subject, those inclines measured in degrees are very important if you want a train to get up and down the side of a mountain.

For the train, that’s an incline plane, the point where traction alone won’t get the iron horse up the hill.

Did I say ‘Iron Horse’?  Sorry, regressed there, back to the mid-1800s in the American West for a moment.

It’s not that important when it comes to trucks and cars, and less so if you like four-wheel driving; getting up near-vertical mountainsides often present a welcome challenge to the true enthusiast

But for the rest of us, not so much if you find yourself sliding in reverse uncontrollably into the bay.  I’m sure it’s happened more than once.

Then…

Are you inclined to go?

A very different sort of incline, ie to be disposed towards an attitude or desire.

An inclination, maybe, not to go four-wheel driving?

There is another, probably more obscure use of the word incline, and that relates to an elevated geological formation.  Not the sort of reference that crops up in everyday conversation at the coffee shop.

But, you never know.  Try it next time you have coffee and see what happens.

The story behind the story: A Case of Working With the Jones Brothers

To write a private detective serial has always been one of the items at the top of my to-do list, though trying to write novels and a serial, as well as a blog, and maintain a social media presence, well, you get the idea.

But I made it happen, from a bunch of episodes I wrote a long, long time ago, used these to start it, and then continue on, then as now, never having much of an idea where it was going to end up, or how long it would take to tell the story.

That, I think is the joy of ad hoc writing, even you, as the author, have as much idea of where it’s going as the reader does.

It’s basically been in the mill since 1990, and although I finished it last year, it looks like the beginning to end will have taken exactly 30 years.  Had you asked me 30 years ago if I’d ever get it finished, the answer would be maybe?

My private detective, Harry Walthenson

I’d like to say he’s from that great literary mold of Sam Spade, or Mickey Spillane, or Phillip Marlow, but he’s not.

But, I’ve watched Humphrey Bogart play Sam Spade with much interest, and modeled Harry and his office on it.  Similarly, I’ve watched Robert Micham play Phillip Marlow with great panache, if not detachment, and added a bit of him to the mix.

Other characters come into play, and all of them, no matter what period they’re from, always seem larger than life.  I’m not above stealing a little of Mary Astor, Peter Lorre or Sidney Greenstreet, to breathe life into beguiling women and dangerous men alike.

Then there’s the title, like

The Case of the Unintentional Mummy – this has so many meanings in so many contexts, though I image back in Hollywood in the ’30s and ’40s, this would be excellent fodder for Abbott and Costello

The Case of the Three-Legged Dog – Yes, I suspect there may be a few real-life dogs with three legs, but this plot would involve something more sinister.  And if made out of plaster, yes, they’re always something else inside.

But for mine, to begin with, it was “The Case of the …”, because I had no idea what the case was going to be about, well, I did, but not specifically.

Then I liked the idea of calling it “The Case of the Brother’s Revenge” because I began to have a notion there was a brother no one knew about, but that’s stuff for other stories, not mine, so then went the way of the others.

Now it’s called ‘A Case of Working With the Jones Brothers’, finished the first three drafts, and at the editor for the last.

I have high hopes of publishing it in early 2021.  It even has a cover.

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Memories of the conversations with my cat – 22

As some may be aware, but many not, Chester, my faithful writing assistant, mice catcher, and general pain in the neck, passed away some months ago.

Recently I was running a series based on his adventures, under the title of Past Conversations with my cat.

For those who have not had the chance to read about all of his exploits I will run the series again from Episode 1

These are the memories of our time together…

This is Chester. He spends a lot of time looking out this window.

He’s keeping an eye of the birds outside.

Or, more to the point, he’s selecting the one he’s going to present to me on the back doorstep.

He missed the briefing when I told him that it was not the cat’s job to catch birds just keep them from eating my lawn seed.

Seems his natural instincts trump my instructions

No problem.

He can’t go outside.

Sorry. Not sorry!

Searching for locations: Niagara Falls, Canada

We visited the falls in winter, just after Christmas when it was all but frozen.

The weather was freezing, it was snowing, and very icy to walk anywhere near the falls

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Getting photos is a matter of how much you want to risk your safety.

I know I slipped and fell a number of times on the ice just below the snowy surface in pursuit of the perfect photograph.  Alas, I don’t think I succeeded.

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The mist was generated from both the waterfall and the low cloud.  It was impossible not to get wet just watching the falls.

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Of course, unlike the braver people, you could not get me into one of the boats that headed towards the falls.  I suspect there might be icebergs and wasn’t going to tempt the fate of another Titanic, even on a lesser scale.  The water would be freezing.

An excerpt from “Betrayal” – a work in progress

It could have been anywhere in the world, she thought, but it wasn’t.  It was in a city where if anything were to go wrong…

She sighed and came away from the window and looked around the room.  It was quite large and expensively furnished.  It was one of several she had been visiting in the last three months.

Quite elegant too, as the hotel had its origins dating back to before the revolution in 1917.  At least, currently, there would not be a team of KGB agents somewhere in the basement monitoring everything that happened in the room.

There was no such thing as the KGB anymore, though there was an FSB, but such organisations were of no interest to her.

She was here to meet with Vladimir.

She smiled to herself when she thought of him, such an interesting man whose command of English was as good as her command of Russian, though she had not told him of that ability.

All her knew of her was that she was American, worked in the Embassy as a clerk, nothing important, who life both at work and at home was boring.  Not that she had blurted that out the first tie she met, or even the second.

That first time, at a function in the Embassy, was a chance meeting, a catching of his eye as he looked around the room, looking, as he had told her later, for someone who might not be as boring as the function itself.

It was a celebration, honouring one of the Embassy officials on his service in Moscow, and the fact he was returning home after 10 years.  She had been there one, and still hadn’t met all the staff.

They had talked, Vladimir knew a great deal about England, having been stationed there for a year or two, and had politely asked questions about where she lived, her family, and of course what her role was, all questions she fended off with an air of disinterested interest.

It fascinated him, as she knew it would, a sort of mental sparring as one would do with swords, if this was a fencing match.

They had said they might or might not meet again when the party was over, but she suspected there would be another opportunity.  She knew the signs of a man who was interested in her, and Vladimir was interested.

The second time came in the form of an invitation to an art gallery, and a viewing of the works of a prominent Russian artist, an invitation she politely declined.  After all, invitations issued to Embassy staff held all sorts of connotations, or so she was told by the Security officer when she told him.

Then, it went quiet for a month.  There was a party at the American embassy and along with several other staff members, she was invited.  She had not expected to meet Vladimir, but it was a pleasant surprise when she saw him, on the other side of the room, talking to several military men.

A pleasant afternoon ensued.

And it was no surprise that they kept running into each other at the various events on the diplomatic schedule.

By the fifth meeting, they were like old friends.  She had broached the subject of being involved in a plutonic relationship with him with the head of security at the embassy.  Normally for a member of her rank it would not be allowed, but in this instance it was.

She did not work in any sensitive areas, and, as the security officer had said, she might just happen upon something that might be useful.  In that regard, she was to keep her eyes and ears open, and file a report each time she met him.

After that discussion she got the impression her superiors considered Vladimir more than just a casual visitor on the diplomatic circuit.  She also formed the impression the he might consider her an ‘asset’, a word that had been used at the meeting with security and the ambassador.

It was where the word ‘spy’ popped into her head and sent a tingle down her spine.  She was not a spy, but the thought of it, well, it would be fascinating to see what happened.

A Russian friend.  That’s what she would call him.

And over time, that relationship blossomed, until, after a visit to the ballet, late and snowing, he invited her to his apartment not far from the ballet venue.  It was like treading on thin ice, but after champagne and an introduction to caviar, she felt like a giddy schoolgirl.

Even so, she had made him promise that he remain on his best behaviour.  It could have been very easy to fall under the spell of a perfect evening, but he promised, showed her to a separate bedroom, and after a brief kiss, their first, she did not see him until the next morning.

So, it began.

It was an interesting report she filed after that encounter, one where she had expected to be reprimanded.

She wasn’t.

It wasn’t until six weeks had passed when he asked her if she would like to take a trip to the country.  It would involve staying in a hotel, that they would have separate rooms.  When she reported the invitation, no objection was raised, only a caution; keep her wits about her.

Perhaps, she had thought, they were looking forward to a more extensive report.  After all, her reports on the places, and the people, and the conversations she overheard, were no doubt entertaining reading for some.

But this visit was where the nature of the relationship changed, and it was one that she did not immediately report.  She had realised at some point before the weekend away, that she had feelings for him, and it was not that he was pushing her in that direction or manipulating her in any way.

It was just one of those moments where, after a grand dinner, a lot of champagne, and delightful company, things happen.  Standing at the door to her room, a lingering kiss, not intentional on her part, and it just happened.

And for not one moment did she believe she had been compromised, but for some reason she had not reported that subtle change in the relationship to the powers that be, and so far, no one had any inkling.

She took off her coat and placed it carefully of the back of one of the ornate chairs in the room.  She stopped for a moment to look at a framed photograph on the wall, one representing Red Square.

Then, after a minute or two, she went to the mini bar and took out the bottle of champagne that had been left there for them, a treat arranged by Vladimir for each encounter.

There were two champagne flutes set aside on the bar, next to a bowl of fruit.  She picked up the apple and thought how Eve must have felt in the garden of Eden, and the temptation.

Later perhaps, after…

She smiled at the thought and put the apple back.

A glance at her watch told her it was time for his arrival.  It was if anything, the one trait she didn’t like, and that was his punctuality.  A glance at the clock on the room wall was a minute slow.

The doorbell to the room rang, right on the appointed time.

She put the bottle down and walked over to the door.

A smile on her face, she opened the door.

It was not Vladimir.  It was her worst nightmare.

© Charles Heath 2020