Monday, 28 February 2011
Some weeks ago over at "Icarus' Flight To Perfection" a challenge was posed: to write a short work of fiction prompted by the unusual picture above. Since then, the "truth" has come out.
Well, let's just say that's one version of events - here's another:
It’s been three weeks since the funeral. Three weeks of sifting through the debris of a life; my Grandpa’s life, to be exact. The house will be put on the market the end of this week and I’ve managed to distribute most of the unwanted furniture to friends and family.
But not the piano.
At first I couldn’t bear to part with it. There were knowing looks from my cousins. After all, it was a rare Steinway grand, a little knocked about but fully restored it could fetch more than the value of the house and its contents put together.
But then I knew that the bond between Grandpa and this beloved instrument required careful thought as to its future.
As a child I remember running my hands over the ebony keys, feeling their cool, silky smoothness under my fingertips, but Grandpa would always gently move my hands away and carefully close the lid. Then he’d lead me through to the little music room where he conducted his lessons and wind the stool higher so that I could reach the keys on the little upright and there he would take me through my scales.
He constantly reminded me that only when I had learned to play with sufficient skill could I possibly be allowed the touch the refined instrument he kept at the back of the house. It was incentive to keep practicing the boring repetitions and I dreamed of one day being allowed to finally sit down at the precious grand piano.
Occasionally, when persuaded, Grandpa would give me a private recital. His hands would deftly sweep across the keys painting melodic masterpieces of Grieg, Debussy and Rachmaninov until I’d feel tears pricking at the corners of my eyes. In those times, I realised just how much I still had to learn.
I was mildly surprised that he never scaled the heights of his profession, but I supposed that it was in part the passing of my Grandmother that had curtailed his performing career. When she had died on the homeward journey of their last cruise, he seemed to leave part of his heart in the ocean. So, he had turned his attention to sharing his musical prowess with successive generations of willing, or perhaps less so, pupils including myself.
With the passing years I progressed, passing scholarships to various musical conservatoires. Grandpa was so proud of me, but still refused to let me play his prized possession. Always there was just a little more practice required; a further skill to be mastered.
When I travelled abroad he would write me, telling me he’d been listening to one or other of my recordings and would then proceed to instruct me, ever the teacher, on where I could make improvements on my performance.
I was in Paris when the stroke hit him. I cancelled the tour immediately and flew straight home. Seeing him lying in the hospital bed, frail and diminished, I knew the piano would stay silent from now on.
I sat with him, through that night, stroking the hand that seemed cold and alien whilst I hummed a tune and the fingers on his other hand worked an unseen keyboard to mimic my melody. In the early hours of the morning the last bars faded and there was the silence of a rest.
After the funeral I went back to the old house. It was quiet and still inside, as if waiting for the maestro’s return. Instead an interloper, his apprentice, sat down at the hallowed instrument.
I don’t recall for how long I played, or even which pieces, but eventually the last bars echoed into the silence of the room. I gently closed the lid and walked away, having given my first and also my last performance on Grandpa’s beautiful and treasured piano. That’s when I decided what to do with his ashes.
It took some persuasion, but finally I managed to have the instrument careful loaded onto a sufficiently large vessel and we cast off on a cool evening tide. Before the boat stopped, I lifted the urn from my bag and raised the lid of the piano, scattering Grandpa’s ashes inside. The haunting whispers of the strings as both instrument and performer were reunited at last settled any momentary anxiety of madness on my part.
We lowered them both into the water, foamy waves lapping over the polished wood until the piano drifted away into the darkness.
I never thought to see the Steinway again but now, just days later, it appears that the coastal tides have turned and it has washed up on the sandbanks. I have a sense that Grandpa and Grandmother, reunited at last, will make music together now wherever they are. Perhaps he’s returning the piano to me after all, to finally play it with his blessing.
I wonder, should I go down there and reclaim it?
Wednesday, 23 February 2011
I don't always 'write' you know - sometimes I do 'other things'! So I was really pleased and excited to find out about this A-Z Challenge via a new blog I've started following My Readers Block
This looks really interesting - during April I promise faithfully to post every day (except Sundays) and thus created 26 posts - one for each letter of the alphabet! So there will be a variety of things, not JUST writing/fiction.........
Fancy trying this youself? Well, I think the plan was to try and get 300 people on board - I was 295th when I signed up, but there's still room for more!
Go on, you know you want to!!!
Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Today sees my final story for Lily Childs February Femmes Fatalesseries. I have to say the stories were fun to do and I'd have been thrilled to get even one included but for Lily to choose three is truly gobsmacking!
So, big thanks to Ms Childs for pulling together a great selection of treats from so many diffeent and talented writers - why not head over to catch the last week of goodies and if you've missed any of the previous stories they're still available for your perusal and enjoyment!
Monday, 21 February 2011
This week's F3 challenge is to write on the aspect of unrequited love, either in the form of a love letter or a 'Dear John' letter.
This was quite an interesting concept and I thought through a few different scenarios before settling on this:
Please stop following me around. When will you get the picture – I am not interested!
At first you were kind of cute, hanging out at the rink at the start of the youth team season. Some of the guys think I’m nuts to throw you over but like I say, I’m not interested. And please stop leaving me letters taped to my locker as I get ribbed by the guys reading them out in the changing rooms!
This year I have to be focused on the team and I really don’t need distractions, so if you do have to come to the rink (and I can’t really stop you, much as I’d like to!) please sit at the back, or at least don’t drape yourself all over the barrier rail – I’m sure that can’t be good for you, letting it all hang out there. (and anyway, don’t you get cold wearing those skimpy tops?)
So, like I said, I’d prefer it if you didn’t keep hunting me out. I don’t want to hurt your feelings but I’m sure you can find someone else who will give you the attention you deserve, it’s just that I’d prefer someone more my own age – dating you would be like dating my mom!
(By the way, I heard tell you were thinking of trying out for the cheerleader's squad - I think it would be a bad move at your age as you have to be really fit!)
PS – also, could you quit with the wolf-whistles each time I skate out – it’s embarrassing in front of my team-mates as well as the visiting squad.
Saturday, 19 February 2011
Well, blow me down with a feather! I've just been presented with a 'Stylish Blogger' award!
Of course I'm grateful to receive it but a bit bemused because I don't consider myself 'stylish'! Anyway thankyou Yvette, for your kind words!
Now, as I understand it, I am to pass this award onto three other 'stylish' bloggers! As far as I'm concerned, if 'sylish' was meant to portray artistic beauty then I would have awarded this honour to Yvette herself, if she hadn't been the very one to bestow this upon me in the first place - her blog is a wondrous compendium of colour and design.
I am choosing to interpret 'style' in different guises, though!
First, I'm nominating my daughter, Rachel (yes, I know, nepotism.....!) but her blog is always full of interesting and eclectic ideas and issues - and she throws it all together with such panache, how could I not! (interesting contradiction, the titles of our blogs!)
Second, I'm nominating fellow would-be-published author, David Barber. His blog is a source of inspiration not only for all matters literary (a frequent place to find about writing challenges!)and a great 'signposter' to other writers and blogs but also for the beautiful pictures he regularly posts, usually of his local environs or something that has captured his imagination. Plus, of course, his humour and wit!
Third, I'm nominating Lily Childs for her Feardom! This is one lady who slickly puts together some choice cuts of fiction! Her overwhelming enthusiasm for encouraging new (and old!) writers with her regular challenges is exemplary. Even if her 'dark' side of fiction isn't your cup of tea you can't knock her sheer joy of the written word!
So, as far as I'm concerned panache, inspiration and enthusiasm seem to equate a certain sense of style. Please, dear reader(s) do take time to visit each and all of these blogs when you have a spare minute!
Now, if only I could have made more than three awards.......
Wednesday, 16 February 2011
Tuesday, 15 February 2011
Read the outcome of Yvette's Short Story Challenge here
(...I'm sure comments would be appreciated from all the writers, if you feel so inclined!)
And a big thankyou to Yvette for hosting the challenge in the first place!
Now, who's next? ;-)
Monday, 14 February 2011
Today's the day for posting stories for Yvette's Fiction Challenge.
This was based on the discovery in France of an apartment that had been sealed up for over 50 years, the rent paid meticulously and anonymously until late in 2010. When eventually opened, the apartment held all sorts of weird and elcelctic items including the portrait of a woman in a pink dress. Read the original news story here.
So, Yvette picked up this story and ran with it, inviting others to contribute a story based on the curious apartment. For my version of events, I have decided to write in the form of a letter! Here you go:
THE LADY IN PINK
A death in the family often brings with it a sad regret for questions never asked or answered. It would be just so in my case, or so I thought. My Grandmother’s passing, two days ago, was the beginning of unravelling a mystery that had flitted about on the edge of family gatherings for as long as I can remember. So often a look or a whisper or a sudden change of conversation meant the moment was lost and once again I was left to quiet and solitary speculation.
However, Grandmother’s letter which was found on the table beside her bed that morning, addressed specifically to me, has shed light on the most audacious mystery. Even re-reading it now, it seems I can hear her conspiratorial laugh……
Le Beausset, le 14 mai 2010
I have been meaning to write this letter for some time. In fact, I have started it on so many occasions but now seems the right time to set to and complete the task, lest my faculties should fail me and this great mystery be forever lost.
Of course, you know what I mean by the ‘great mystery’ – it has been the subject of much speculation on your part for many years, even though my silence has numbed you, latterly, into refraining from asking any more.
Well, I shall tell you what your heart desires and then you must decide whether it must be brought out into the open or, perhaps, remain a mystery forever. To you I pass the baton of responsibility, for I am weary, yet I cannot go to my grave and hear your echoing questions in my ears for all eternity.
The enclosed letters and notes I entrust to you; they will explain much more eloquently than I can tell, for this is not a simple story and my eyesight and the strength to hold this pen will determine whether or not this will be but a brief note!
The mystery, as you so rightly guessed, lies back in Paris. The notes will give you a precise location, an apartment in the Rue de Victoire. As sole beneficiary of my estates you need to understand that there lies my greatest treasure.
You will remember, of course, some of the stories I told you about my Grandmother, Marthe, but there is still much you do not know. For becoming an actress she was denounced by her family, misguided minor nobility who still harked back to the days when such a career would be seen as bordering on the debauched. She flouted their attempts to rein her in and fled penniless from their estates the Voges, forever cut off from them.
But fortune smiled on Marthe. She kept her first name, but having left behind her family she also discarded their name and their cruel threats that linked to her past. Instead, taking the name Marthe de Florian she became an actress and the darling of the stage.
Her beauty, of course, was legendary and she was the subject of much talk but she was punctilious in her affairs so what is said about her is not the whole truth. Even I don’t know the identity to some of her paramours – and she confided much to me as a small child, unaware perhaps that I understood a lot of what she said.
When my mother died in childbirth, father went mad with grief; that or his love of too much fine cognac found his bloated body floating in the Seine. It was never certain whether he jumped or fell to his death. There I was, but hours old and yet an orphan.
Marthe, ‘meme’, took me on and retired from public life, nurturing me with love and care and more than a modicum of taffeta, tulle and eau de cologne. My earliest remembrance is sitting in her boudoir being allowed to try on her hats and her jewellery. I can still hear her voice, low and whispery as she told me the tales of her dresses - which beau preferred this one; the ball she attended wearing that one. But out of all her couture there was one she would never let me touch. She would hold an elegant, jewel-encrusted hand to her mouth, her index finger poised against her closed lips entreating me to silence. Only once did she say a name – Giovanni - but it was many years later that I finally understood its significance.
After her death I found time to go through many of her things, much of it stored up in the attic of her house; boxes and trunks full of books and trinkets and clothes. A lot of it I gave away but there were many things I could not part with, each held the memory of a story she had told me and to get rid of them would have been like throwing her away, too.
It was only when I finally sold the place and prepared to move into the apartment in R. de Victoire that I came across the treasure. I was clearing out the last of the cupboards and in the back of one of her closets I came across something hidden behind an old dust sheet. Only when I pulled away the faded cotton did I realise what lay beyond, as a swirl of pink muslin cascaded out of its bonds. It was the dress she had refused to let me touch all those long years before.
As I pulled it free from the crude wrappings I realised there was something more hidden there. Lifting away the layers of muslin and silk taffeta I felt the hardness of a picture frame. Dragging the whole out of the recesses of the closet and into the light of the room I brushed aside the pink froth and found an image of her, portrayed in the very same dress. The attitude of her pose left me in no doubt that she considered herself adored by the artist for whom she’d sat.
For weeks I passed back and forth around the crowded apartment, glancing at the portrait wondering about the story that lay behind that and her jealously guarded secret that made her unwilling for me to even touch the dress in later years.
It was a little while afterwards as I was unloading yet another box of books and working my way through them that I found, tucked inside the back of a rather nondescript book of verse, three letters and a small card.
I don’t know how long I sat in the window-seat, looking at the fine handwriting. It felt almost voyeuristic to be reading of a love so strong, distilled into so few letters. They were all signed, with notes and entreaties of love, simply – G.
When I turned it over, the business card purporting to announce one “G. Boldini, Portraitist”, explained all and I suddenly rushed back through time to that whispered breathy voice which said but one word – Giovanni.
Why is that so significant, I hear you say? Well, my dear Sébastien, it is time you knew of your heritage. Mémé would never say much about my parents. My father’s family had already drifted into insignificance long before he met my mother and I never remember Mémé saying anything of a husband of her own. One learns to stop asking questions when met with silence; to which you, dear boy, can testify from your own experience, can you not?
Well, it didn’t take too much detective work to see the significance of the dress and why it above all others was deemed so special; she had worn it for one man, her special beau, the father of her only child. If you read the letters you will see the truth of what I say.
Shortly before the war broke out, a few months after this discovery, I left Paris on a trip to Marseilles. I took very little with me, a few pieces of jewellery and some clothes and since I was going to stay with a literary friend, I took along the letters and the pink muslin dress to see what he would make of them. Perhaps, somehow, I entertained the idea of someone writing a tale based on this great love story to which I and now you are inexorably linked.
But then, as Hitler marched unstoppably across Europe and across France, I was trapped. I spent the war years in the south, away from the bombing and the curfews, for my heart was in Marseilles. Gustave, your grandfather, never did get to write about that pink muslin dress - the one I wore as his bride, admittedly altered to meet the fashion requirements of the day. I’d known of his sympathies with the résistance but not the extent of his involvement. He kept that from me until his death, just a few months later, after a reconnaissance mission went wrong.
I wore the dress one last time, to his funeral, shocking the populace for the scandal of not wearing mourning black. Even then, it was tight around the waist, bearing tribute to the fact that Gustave had fathered your mother, Edith. She never knew the story of the pink dress that I packed away, never to see daylight again until now. Only you, Sébastien, know the truth.
So, my boy, I have tried to tell you of the mystery and in return for this knowledge I must ask you to do two things for me. Amongst the papers I have given you, are the details to the apartment and the keys. I made just one trip back, soon after victory was announced. There was some minor damage and a few items had to be moved into the main salon because of dampness; so the place was even more cluttered. I’d intended to go back later to sort things out properly, but age and infirmity and the intervening years have robbed me of the ability to do so. The place has stayed sealed to this day, but now you are its guardian.
It has remained a mausoleum for too long so I am bequeathing it to you, to dispose of as you see fit. Choose something from the jewellery box for Marie and the girls. The boys will find nothing of interest there but I’m confident the sale will realise enough money to purchase an education for all of the children.
Now, the two requests I have are these: you must make sure the painting is given its full provenance; it will increase its yield. I just hope that whoever buys it will appreciate how special it is – or maybe you will decide to keep it yourself?
Lastly, take care with the trunk at the foot of my bed; it holds that precious pink dress. Promise me I will to be buried in it – I want to look my best when I’m reunited with Gustave. I don’t think Marthe will mind too much, do you?
The paper smells of time and old cologne. She told me of portraits and pink dresses, but I wonder what else I shall find in the Rue de Victoire? And this painting, if it hasn’t perished after all these years, will be the first thing I shall seek out!
Perhaps Mémé will get her wish after all. She was always excited as each of my novels was released. Maybe now, I should write the story that she hoped Grandpere Gustave might have written: ‘The Lady in Pink”.
Saturday, 12 February 2011
OK you guys - last call for your stories for Yvettes challenge!
...and the good news is, the rules have changed slightly - the max. word count is.........infinity!
So leave off whittling down those last straggling words and be ready to submit!
Deadline is 14th Feb - let Yvette know you're ready to unleash your story to the world!
Wednesday, 9 February 2011
When Lily Childs asked me submit items for her February Femmes Fatales feature I was gobsmacked and honoured! Even moreso, when she accepted all three stories!
So, today, if you hop over to Lily's Feardom, my first story is up for inspection - I hope you enjoy it!
If you're new to Ms Childs' site, do take time to catch up with the other stories whilst you're there! Any comments would be welcomed by all the participant writers. Why not make a date to check out the new February Femmes Fatales stories - right through to 28th? Lily'd love to see you there!
Tuesday, 8 February 2011
When I signed up for new cycle at F3, the prompt was to grab the book closest to you, open to pg. 56, choose the 5th sentence as your opening line and take it from there!
Well, I had in my hot sweaty little hand Matt Hilton's new release, 'Blood and Ashes' which I was just planning to start - so I gingerly opened to page 56 and traced down to the fifth sentence, all the while trying not to take in too much of any plot spoilers.
If any of you know Matt Hilton's work, then what is to follow bears absolutely no resemblance to his work but it's based on an encounter I had today. Matt's sentence is in italics, then I take over..... :-)
I cleared my throat to get his attention. You’d think the fact that he’d backed into me with his trolley would have been enough warning, but I suppose that’s chivalry for you these days.
“Do you mind…?” I gestured, pointing to the stack of bananas he was blocking.
First he totally ignored me, then he raised his eyes slightly from the large list he’d been studying.
I would have given him a glare, but I stopped, with the caustic remark I’d have added now wedged firmly in my throat.
The tired desperation that seemed to haunt his features threw me off guard and it’s not often I’m lost for words.
He had an unkempt, tousled look about him; although his clothes seemed good quality there was a just-fallen-out-of bed look about his dress sense.
A brief smile caught me unawares as he raised his shoulders apologetically and backed out of my way. As he turned I noticed the contents of his trolley and a quick bit of mental arithmetic of the ‘putting-two-and-two-together’ variety made me ashamed of my earlier brusqueness.
He had my sympathy and my admiration. Piled high amidst the usual groceries were a couple of large bags of nappies. Proud, but obviously exhausted, new father was learning to cope with the altered priorities of life and with my own babes having already flown the nest I could afford him the time to get his bearings.
I turned back towards the bananas, but something else caught my eye and pulled me up short. Hooked onto the front of his trolley was a pair of tiny coat hangers displaying identical newborn baby suits, one blue and one pink.
I winced slightly. Poor devil, I thought. Twins!!
Sunday, 6 February 2011
The Public Library system is being dealt a near-fatal blow with various local and county councils cutting budgets. For 160+ years, Public Libraries in the UK have fed the minds and entertained the populace, but they now seem to be in a sad decline.
Looking back all those years ago, it is laudable that philanthropists started the ball rolling, providing access for all to reading material, whether for education or recreation. But since then our world has changed and there are more attractions (distractions?) competing for our precious attention.
Also, the success of bulk purchasing and undercutting sale prices has seen many independent booksellers go to the wall, leaving just a couple of national chains. Even these are now in danger, threatened by the online providers and their digital stores providing books that have never been so cheap.
So, the two-fold original inspiration for public libraries (books for all regardless of income; and the education and entertainment of the masses) now seems almost defunct.
While we strive to retain library services are we actually fighting an already-lost cause?
I've said elsewhere (FB/Twitter) - we need a resurgence in the thrill of reading! This, I believe, will bring about a change in people's attitudes towards the published word.
Booksellers may still have to battle their digital counterparts - that's down to fiscal matters but at the end of the day do you want to buy your reading material from robots, or have a 'real' conversation with book-world professionals? (do you want the price to be the bottom line or are you prepared to pay a little extra for 'service'?)
The knock-on effect of the current financial climate may be just the band-wagon that libraries need to be jumping on - when the pennies are getting few and far between for all of us then public libraries should be screaming from the rooftops - "FREE BOOKS HERE!!!"
But, sadly, Joe Public seems to be averse to reading - the written word now has to battle against all manner of digital/entertainment opponents.
So - how do we turn the tide?
By example -
* parents reading with their children - not just the book at bedtime;
* schools teaching the LOVE of reading, not just the mechanics (damn the 'Literacy Hour' - it stifled reading for pleasure!);
* good role models - how about book publishers using 'stars' to advertise their wares? Imagine Johnny Depp or Kate Winslet (or the fantasy figure of your choice) caught with their nose in a book? The possibilities are endless and the liklihood is it would snowball as it became 'cool' to 'RIP' - read in public!
But until then, I suppose we can all do our bit - get those books out on your lunchbreaks, on your morning commute, in the dentist's waiting room....wherever.....
I have this vision of 'flash-mob read-ins' taking over shopping centres....
....we could do this, couldn't we?
Are you game? Let's 'RIP'!
Friday, 4 February 2011
Just a few days left to create your entry for Yvette's Short Story Challenge!
What can you dream up given the raw materials: an empty Parisian apartment left untouched for over 50 years; a weird and wonderful collection of artifacts; a rare and previously uncatalogued painting.....
Click the link above to read Yvette's blogpost for the 'rules' and here for the real-life background to the story......then get writing YOUR explanation of events!