Poetry Drawer: The Cursed Crane by Alex Watson

jap

I stood as ever stood, my head bent o’er.

My long suffering twin stared back in silence.

Above, a mechanical bid drenched the senses.

It was ever thus.

 

As the din receded for a moment,

My twin twitched; she fluttered her virtual wings

And spoke from her watery heart.

“Master Crane, for decades you and I have

Drunk together, froze together, endured together.

Today, I set you free.”

 

My wings fluttered, my metallic frame grew soft with down

My legs stretched, my toes stirred,

Nothing had prepared me  

But I knew my destiny.

 

I stood, as never stood, my head alert.

The herd of deer, the laughing girls, the quarrelling men.

 

I preened as never preened, my heart in bloom.

The wearied mums, the dashing kids, the brimming shops.

 

I flew as never flew, my eyes so bright.

The dashing waves, the endless sea, the fretful gulls.

 

I reached as never reached, my lungs on fire.

The bullet train, the temples stone, the paddies green.

 

I soared as never soared, my life reborn.

The islands green, the fishers dots, the cirrus soft.

 

I climbed as never climbed but hopes were crushed.

Those hideous birds, their engines black, their windows closed.

 

I wept as never wept, my tears in streams,

And cursed my twin who set me free.

 

Inkspeak: The Orgastic Future by Deborah Edgeley

Orgastic pic

 

 

Gatsby stood

glancing over dark water,

like Kant at his church steeple, gathering thoughts…

 

Curious tremble.

Arms outstretched towards emerald light.

The orgastic future,

that-year-by-year-recedes-before-us.

 

Pursuit of a moment;

love frozen in his past.

His feminine jewel, his green, shimmering, feminine jewel.

Sipping chartreuse from fluted crystal.

Daisy, the dainty, docile, debutante, desired by young Americans.

The dream icing….

Surely a man could reclaim what was once his?….

 

Fifth avenue.

Dust. Car horns. Heat.

Yard-long billboard eyes

of bespectacled Dr. Eckleburg

watch Gatsby hand over

illegal liquor swag

for the mansion across the bay from Daisy…

 

Dr. Eckelburg doesn’t care.

 

Traffic lights say green! Go!

Go, go, green, run, faster, green, go, rev, light, run, go, fast

Fade.

 

Green, go, rev, green, fast, go, go, go…

Fade.

 

Daisy drove the death car that killed Myrtle.

Daisy let YOU take the blame….

 

Chartreuse frozen in fluted crystal.

 

Boats against the current,

bourne back,

ceaselessly into the past.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Books From The Pantry: Lonely by Robin Barratt: Reviewed by Shannon Milsom

 

Lonely

Lonely is an often poignant and touching poetry and short story compilation, put together by publisher and writer Robin Barratt. In the compilation there are 118 contributions from 57 writers, each with their own unique and culturally different way of writing.

Why a compilation on loneliness, one might ask?  Robin’s answer is simple:

‘Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, and no matter what sort of lives we have led, or are leading, most of us at some point have felt, or feel, lonely or alone.’

Loss, is of course, a key theme, and one which many of the writers in Lonely chose to describe, such as in Courtney Speedy’s short story ‘But I Loved You All the Same’.  The story describes in vivid and unusual rhyming prose the loss of one man’s wife to mental illness. The reader gets a real insight into how bright and wonderful and chaotic everything was before the woman’s mind deteriorated, and how, even though he has moved on, the narrator still yearns for her.

‘I can still smell you on my pillow and taste you in my morning coffee.’

Dadby Maire Malone explores the theme of loss of a parent in her short but sweet poem.  Gentle memories of a father lend the lines a dreamlike quality that lets the reader observe small yet poignant snapshots of someone’s life.

‘I was a child again running down the lane

For your ounce of Condor or packet of Gillette’s’

Although lots of the poems and stories are full of descriptive, emotive and provoking language, some of my favourites are those which are subtle and thought-provoking in the way they almost matter-of-factly describe the feeling of being lonely.

Lonelinessby Margaret Clough illustrates this in such a way.

‘I hold a book that I have read before. My fingers, as they turn a page, can feel the emptiness between the lines.’

The poem gives the reader a look into the seemingly joyless and bleak life of someone living alone. The monotonousness and mundaneness of the descriptions emote a feeling of hopelessness and despair. Then the last line, in its simplicity, makes you stop and pause:

‘I have stopped listening for the phone to ring’.

One day in Spring’ by Kathleen Boyle is another piece of writing with artful subtleness. Kathleen’s short story deals with death and loneliness. The world is described to you through the eyes of an old woman, Joan, who knows her time on this Earth is nearly up.  The descriptions of what she observes in her last day are poignant in their beauty, for you are aware, as the character is, that this is the last time she will see them:

‘Joan acknowledged that this day, with its puffs of white cloud drifting high above the little town, the intermittent sunshine brightening pink blossomed trees and crocus strewn grass verges, was a different day.’

Joan’s transition into death is again, subtly written and moving. As the reader, you get attached to the character of Joan throughout the story. You feel her last day is lonely and not without sadness and regret, but also that she is ready and acceptant of death. The last line, understated and exquisite, gives Joan her final release.

‘Pain free, she stood and stepped away into the dark.’

Loneliness is the most human of emotions. So simple and yet also so complex in its many forms. Lonely manages to capture the essence of this, with each writer painting their own intricate picture of what they perceive loneliness to be. The reader is privileged to be able to dip into the book and step into one of these snapshots of human emotion at any time; each so different from the next.

Ultimately, this is what makes this compilation so engrossing, magical and utterly relatable. As human beings we have all felt some degree of loneliness. Whether it be the heartbreak of losing a spouse or family member, or the quietness of solitude when living alone; what makes Lonely so brilliant is that it explores these feelings from all angles and backgrounds.  

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Inky Interview: Author Sheila Renee Parker by Kev Milsom

She

Hello Sheila! It’s great to meet you! I’d love to start the interview by learning about the foundations of your interest in literature. Who are/were your literary heroes, and what types of writing/authors inspired you as a younger reader?

As a young reader my love for scary stories and suspenseful tales began to emerge. I was quickly drawn to the masterful creations written by Stephen King and Anne Rice. Another author I became a huge fan of was V. C. Andrews. And my all-time favourite poet has always been Edgar Allan Poe.

Are the characters in The Spirit Within based on real people, and is there anything of Sheila Renee Parker in the main character, Cassy Blakemore? Additionally, what sparked your initial inspiration for planning and writing this novel?

The characters in my novel The Spirit Within are characters relatable to everyday life. I wanted to write a story that seemed realistic enough to pull the reader in, making them feel like they were a part of the story as well. I put all my heart into creating every character. So, is there anything of me in Cassy? The answer is yes, because even though Cassy Blakemore is a fictional character, she finds the strength to overcome life’s crazy obstacles by discovering the spirit within. 

Spirit

Your book focuses strongly on aspects of parapsychology and the paranormal. Have you always been interested in these subjects and is this something that has been created by personal experiences? If so, then has this changed your life and outlook in any particular ways; spiritually, emotionally or mentally?

The paranormal has always been a part of my life, simply meaning not only have I been interested in the subject but because I’ve had paranormal experiences ever since I was a small child. I’ve had encounters with shadow people, a terrifying Ouija Board experience, been touched by spirits and have even heard them as well. I’m also an empath. I can easily detect the energies of both the living and the dead. Writing about and researching the paranormal helps me to find answers to my own questions regarding the unknown. It has definitely changed my life by opening my mind and expanding my perception of things in every way possible.

Could you give our readers an idea of how you prepare for writing, Sheila? Is there one specific area or location that you always use for creative writing, or are you more flexible and spontaneous in your approach? Also, are you one who writes via computer, notebook or bits of both?

Oh, I am definitely flexible about where I write. My process begins with paper and pen. I jot everything down in a notebook then I transfer it all onto my laptop. Why do I do it this way? Simply because I find it much easier to carry around my notebook and pen wherever I go. It doesn’t matter where I am, if I get the sudden urge of a great idea, that’s when I write it down. I even keep paper and pen on my nightstand by my bed just in case a spark of imagination ignites.

Outside of writing, what are your interests, and do these involve any other forms of creative expression?

I absolutely love art. My favourite artist is Leonardo Di Vinci. Aside from writing, art is another beautiful form of expression that I openly embrace. The mediums I use when creating a painting vary between acrylics and watercolours. Samples of my artwork can be found on my site https://sheilarparker.wordpress.com/art-poetry/.

Going back to literature, what are you reading at the moment and what types of book do you like to read as a form of relaxation? Does this include non-fiction as well as fiction?

I like to read uplifting stories as a form of relaxation. Something light-hearted with a positive message is always welcomed regardless if it’s fictional or non-fictional. A book that I often refer to from my shelf is Mike Dooley’s Notes from the Universe. I highly recommend it to anyone.

Huge thanks for sharing your thoughts with our readers, Sheila. It’s always a pleasure to learn new thoughts and perspectives from writers and authors. Finally, what’s on the drawing board for the remainder of 2016 and 2017? Are there any new projects in mind?

To continue with the writing of the sequel to my novel The Spirit Within. It’s been a work in progress, but I promise my readers that I am definitely getting it done! I am extremely excited about the continuation of Cassy Blakemore’s tale of self discovery as more secrets unfold with more intense supernatural detail. Also, compelling weekly articles posted on my website https://sheilarparker.wordpress.com/ that discuss the various topics regarding the paranormal, including my own personal ghostly encounters and interviews with some pretty amazing people like paranormal investigators, film directors, actors, TV show hosts and authors just to name a few. 2016 to 2017 are full of phenomenal plans, stay tuned!

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Pantry Prose: Cardboard Box Time Machine by A. J. Hayward

cardboard

Find a large cardboard box, and with a broad permanent marker or similarly bold writing implement, write ‘Time Machine’ on the side. It must be written in black ink since no other colour will do the job. Open the lid and climb inside. Use the same marker pen to draw all the flight controls and instruments needed to control your craft. Set the dials and be sure to select Auto Pilot. Turn the ignition. There’s a stutter, a splutter, a mechanical hiccough then failure! It’s a used box, after all – damp, battered, with dog-eared corners – that Dad dug out of the garage, just moments earlier, especially for you to use on this sodden day. New boxes work best, but this one will have to do. It just needs a little extra help, a little coercion, a gentle knock here and there to get things going. Your eyes dart around the craft in search of Universal Adjuster, a tool otherwise known as a hammer. You pick it up and start tapping. Metallic rings and clangs resonate around the craft. Then a clonk!

‘Aha!’ you exclaim. ‘Inter-dimensional-space-bending-cardboard-box-time-machine-engines should not sound like that!’

There’s a moment’s pause for fiddling and fettling. The engine looks in much better shape now, and you use Universal Adjuster once more to check your work. The clonk becomes a delightful clang that reverberates about your ears and about the titanium inner skin of the capsule in which you are sitting.

‘Marvellous! I’m good to go!’ you say to yourself out loud excitedly, pleased with your work.

A second attempt of firing up the beast follows. And whilst crossing the fingers of your left hand you turn the ignition key with your right. To your delight, the engine roars to life! ‘I’m a genius!’ you shout emphatically, congratulating yourself.

Wheels spin. Cogs whir. A mechanical hum accompanies a gentle vibration that makes the ‘Arrggggh’ sound you’re letting out wobble like it does when sitting in the passenger seat of Dad’s car as he transverses cobbles. Stroboscopic lights – myriad in colour red, blue, green, white – flash before your eyes. And through the small oval-shaped, drawn-on windscreen of your highly advanced technologically superior Cardboard Box Time Machine (CBTM) a vortex opens. It looks just like a vortex that bath water makes as it escapes down a plughole. Except this vortex’s longitudinal axis falls along a horizontal, not vertical plane.  You notice how the vortex opening resembles a basking shark’s gaping mouth vacuuming plankton. It fills the entirety of your vision and it’s getting close to gobbling up the entire craft with you in it. ‘Gulp, here goes,’ you think as you reach down, push a lever forwards and whooooosh! Cardboard Box Time Machine along with its pilot enters at full throttle. Basking Shark Vortex opens wide and swallows. The craft lurches violently from side to side. It pitches forwards and backwards with ferocity. From the point of view of an observer standing outside, CBTM looks just like a small fishing vessel being tossed about by a violent winter’s ocean. There are bumps, twists and turns, and one or two 360 degree stomach-churning rolls and then finally there’s a sudden and abrupt stop. Splat! Your head hits the windscreen of the vessel as you’re hurled from a seated position at the back to the front.

‘Ooooouchy!’ you cry out whilst rubbing your head.

A rapid health assessment ensues. Feet-check: a quick toe-wriggle-all ten digits present and accounted for; legs-check: hands still attached to arms-check: arms still attached to body- check: body intact; evidence of cuts and bruises absent.

‘Pheeweee, that was a lucky escape.’ Counting yourself very fortunate indeed to have survived your fiftieth inter-dimensional trip through space-time and Basking Shark Vortex. ‘Next time, I might not be so lucky. I can live with a throbbing head, just,’ you add.

As the fogginess in your head begins to clear so too does the mist, or more precisely the smoke, that envelops your technological superior craft. A mental note is made to improve future landings. ‘Perhaps I need a crash course in inter-dimensional space-time travel,’ you think, chuckling to your own asinine joke. ‘Dad always said I paid no attention in class.’

The view outside the windscreen begins to present itself by degrees. You squint to enhance visual acuity. Perplexed by what you see, eyes are rubbed and refocused and a squint follows for the same reason as before. ‘That can’t be right, surely?’ is the question upon your lips. ‘Something has gone terribly wrong!’ naturally follows. The view outside your craft appears identical to that before the ignition was turned. Lots of head scratching, lots of ‘umming and arring’ and lots of wheels and cogs begin to spin and whir in your mind just as the wheels and cogs spun and whirred in Cardboard Box Time Machine earlier. You begin the cognitively challenging task of piecing together what clues you can find. You stare at the array of dials before you. The drawn-on altimeter indicates ground level, the attitude indicator level, airspeed and vertical speed indicators both show zero and the magnetic compass you so very diligently drew upon the interior of the cardboard box at the start of your adventure agrees with the heading indicator – both point north. All these readings are perfectly normal and exactly what you’d expect them to be at the end of an inter-galactic inter-dimensional flight through Basking Shark Vortex. ‘Humph.’ A sound reflecting your mental stumbling block. There’s more head scratching, more ‘umming and arring’ and new wheels and cogs are recruited to accompany those already spinning and whirring. ‘Hold on to your hats, it must be the fuel.’ A conclusion which is discounted as quickly as it’s formulated by a quick glance of the gauge; the tank is half full or half empty, depending on your point of view. In either case, it’s perfectly normal – nothing suspicious there – just what a space-time traveller might expect of her craft after completing the outward leg of a journey. ‘Well, I’m stumped!’ you say to yourself, disappointed at the impasse.

Just then a stroke of pure genius flashes through your time-travelled mind. ‘I’m a dingbat! Of course, silly me. I forgot to check the clock – that’s the first rule in “Time Travellers Companion to Time Travel” – Duh! Set the clock! Stupido!’ You now check the misshapen clock that’s drawn on the inside of your technological superior craft. It reads 1985, a fact that’s difficult to reconcile with the familiar view of the living room outside. ‘Normally, when I time-travel, time and place change but this time only time has changed – weird!’ All sorts of questions about time travel, the universe and your place in it cascade through your mind. ‘It’s the same but different place; the same but different living room…I feel the same but somehow different…it all feels the same but different…” Your thoughts trail off.

*

For those of you who can remember and for those who cannot and for those who are just too young to have been there in the first place, the latter of whom I envy enough to make passing reference, 1985 was memorable. This is the year that Thatcher quashes the British Coal Miners Strike, kills an entire industry and dispenses thousands of P45s. 1985 is the year in which the first UK mobile telephone call is made. An eccentric and deluded Clive Sinclair launches, and presumably rather wishes he had not, the C5 electric tricycle which achieves a head turning battery-assisted maximum speed of 15mph! Whoosh there it goes! Also making the headlines are housing estate riots in Brixton, London and Liverpool; Boris Becker wins the men’s Wimbledon final at – wait for it – just seventeen years old, a new record. And as if to offset that benchmark on the plus side with another on the negative, English football clubs are banned from competing in Europe and no wonder. During the European Cup Final between Juventus and Liverpool thirty nine people – mostly Juventus fans –die and 600 are injured when they are crushed against a wall in Heysel Stadium, Brussels, before the start of the game. As if that wasn’t bad enough, 500 Hippy travellers clash with police on their way to Stonehenge and a human-shaped hole, arguably, is discovered in the earth’s Ozone Layer by British scientists.

But for me the most significant event of 1985 has to be the Live Aid concert, conceived by Geldof and Ure as follow-up to their hugely successful ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ chart-topping, record-breaking single released the previous year. Both endeavours are inspired by Michael Buerk’s BBC News reports that beam haunting, grotesque images of millions of men, women and children dying of starvation during the 1984 Ethiopian famine.

Live Aid, billed as the ‘global jukebox’, is a dual-venue concert held conjointly in Philadelphia and London, with seventy-two thousand attending at Wembley. An estimated global audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations, tunes into the live broadcast and it raises over 50 million in relief funds. And I, like literally billions of others, become transfixed by the whole affair. BBC’s macabre images are etched permanently onto my retina, and, of course, I become swept-up in the excitement of seeing such big acts play at such a big venue for such a big and worthwhile cause. The Coldstream Guards band opens with the ‘Royal Salute’ and ‘God Save the Queen’. U2 play just two songs: ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and a fourteen-minute rendition of ‘Bad’. Queen whips up a storm by playing some of their greatest hits including ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘Radio Ga Ga’ and ‘We are the champions’, and occasionally Freddie Mercury leads a thick Wembley crowd in booming refrains. I join in at home watching in front of our push-button colour TV Set. We all do, I imagine. David Bowie performs ‘Heroes’ and remarks after introducing his band, ‘I’d like to dedicate this song to my son. To all our children and to the children of the world’. His words resonate well with the mood of the nation and of the world.

And to wrap-up this whistle stop tour, 1985 is the year in which the first .com domain name – symbolics.com – is registered by the Symbolics Corporation; .edu domains, for educational institutions, outnumber commercial .com’s. Microsoft releases its first version of Windows, Windows 1.0, which makes my Windows 7.0 look less like a dinosaur (or a Windowsaurus). And Back to the Future, starring Michael J Fox, is released, grossing nearly 400 million dollars worldwide. How reassuring it is that such big profits can co-exist with such diabolic famine.

*

The throbbing in your head has slowed to a manageable yet noticeable pulse. The smoke outside the windscreen has fully dissipated. Your thoughts organise themselves into a coherent whole. ‘I’m an intrepid inter-dimensional space-time traveller. I MUST EXPLORE!’ This, once voiced, acts as cue to spring the hatch and climb out of your technologically superior craft. Once outside, a cursory inspection of CBMT follows, if only to make certain the journey back to your present can be completed. The damage is worse than expected. Basking Shark Vortex has ripped off those dog-eared corners. You notice a gouge as long as your arm down one side of the fuselage as well as a hole about the size and shape of a little girl’s head in the windscreen. ‘Oh no! That’s never going to get me back!’ you say out loud in disbelief at the extent of the damage. Fortunately, and unlike the first, you paid attention to and complied with the second rule of ‘Time Travellers Companion to Time Travel’, which states: ‘For ad-hoc repairs always carry sticky tape’. And before going any further, you spend no more time than absolutely necessary repairing your craft. To ensure durability – and let’s face it inter-dimensional space-time travel is a tricky, death-defying feat of accomplishment, make no mistake about it. You decide, in your good judgement, to wrap the entire craft not once or twice in clear sticky tape but seven times, giving no regard to how you’ll climb back into CBTM. Now dizzy, having just run around the craft like a maniac, you stand back and whilst wobbling from side to side say to yourself, ‘Just the job, that’ll get me home…I hope,’ as if to give yourself a well earned, if anxious, pat on the back.

Uneasiness appears in your mind. ‘Wait! I’ve missed something.’ There’s a short-lived nervous pause. ‘But what is it?’ you ask, searching for the source of doubt. In pursuit of an answer, you mentally scan ‘Time Travellers Companion to Time Travel’ stored in your infinitely flexible, organic cerebral processor: your brain. You adhered to rule two but skipped rule one. Are there any other rules you may have skipped? A forefinger presents itself in your minds-eye and settles on rule three, which reads simply: ‘Take essential provisions.’ ‘That’s it! I’m hungry, silly me I forgot rule three. What a nana brain!’ And with that, you walk into the same but different kitchen, which is in the same place but different time to the one you left behind in your present. You learned on Tuesday, from your misadventures in the garden, sorry, ahem, African Bush, how very important it is to travel light. Losing a leg to a disgruntled crocodile in a different time won’t do, so you busy yourself rummaging around the cupboards hoping to find the three essential provisions for inter-dimensional space-time travellers: Jam sandwiches, full-fat cola and jelly snakes! There’s the bread, white of course – crusts binned, torn-off – discarded flamboyantly over your left shoulder. There’s the butter, spread thickly, and jam spooned on, generously. A freshly made jam sarney is folded in two and shoved, indelicately, into a jean pocket for later. Now for the cola. ‘Gutted!’ There is none, so a tin of IRN BRU spotted in the fridge is settled on. ‘It’s made from girders,’ you say, chuckling to yourself in the best wee lassie Scottish accent you can muster. And now for the most important provision of all: Jelly snakes. ‘No house is complete without ‘em. Come out come out wherever you are,’ you say as if to charm them out of the cupboards directly into your hand. Snake charming is not your forte, however. ‘Housewife is fired!’ you say, pretending to be a CEO sacking her PA. A melodramatic soliloquy commences in the form of ‘Humph! How will I ever survive?’ You suck in your stomach. ‘I’ll surely die of starvation!’ You now drop to the floor, curl up in a ball and feign agony. ‘I’ll never get back now. It’s just not possible. I can’t make it.’ Just then, out the corner of your eye, you spot a tin on the counter top marked ‘Treats’. Without a pause you jump to your feet, rush over to the tin and prise open its lid. There inside, you spot an array of familiar sweets and treats including Refreshers, Drumsticks, Black Jacks and Gob Stoppers. ‘Boooooooring!’ To your bitter disappointment, Jelly Snakes are absent ‘Drats! I’m dooooomed!’ Then a reprieve. Several silvery packets, all identical – the design of which you’ve never seen before – catch your eye. You pick one up, shake it. It rattles like a snake. ‘Curious,’ you think. You flip the packet over and it reads ‘Space Dust’. ‘Even curiouser,’ you think for a nanosecond. And before your hands are able catch-up with your thoughts, they grab hold of three packets, rip them open feverishly and in the blink of an eye your mouth is full of small exploding rocks.

‘WhoooooOOOAAA…hooooooOOOAAA…Brilliant! It’s like Alien Spray but different,’ you manage to articulate amid spitting out tiny fragments of dynamite. You grab a handful of treats, Space Dust an’ all, and stuff the lot into a jean pocket. You are a now ready to explore 1985.

A short shadowy figure appears behind the mottled pane of the kitchen door. Your first instinct, guided by rule four ‘Do not interfere with locals’, is to hide, and a full length cupboard offers a suitable spot. You don’t want to draw attention to yourself so you move slowly, without making a sound. You are now safely stowed, and through a narrow slit, left purposely between the door and its frame, you observe the shadow, which judging by its size and shape belongs to a boy. A loud single knock makes the glass rattle. Hundreds of tiny spiders crawl up and down your spine. It’s the hairs on the back your neck standing to attention. ‘Oh no, he must have seen me!’ you think. ‘I’ll stay just where I am, thank you very much. Better not break rule four, or I’ll be brought before the Council of Inter-Dimensional Time-Travellers again and last time it got nasty!’ There’s another knock, much louder than the first; then another and another and another. ‘This guy’s impatient,’ slips out, muttered under your breath.

‘Issy! Issy! It’s Maggot. Are you hiding from me again?’

‘That’s weird,’ you think.

You try hard to suppress all curiosity through fear of what the Council of Inter-Dimensional Time-Travellers might do. And whilst you’re trying not to think about what your punishment might be for contravening rule four, you also begin to wonder why a shadowy figure, a real Muppet with a truly ridiculous name, Maggot, is referring to you as Issy. And then it dawns on you. ‘Oh nooooooooo!’ – a thought played in slow motion. ‘I must have accidently hit the transmogrification button during turbulence.’ And, in fact, that’s exactly what did happen. Whilst Basking Shark Vortex tossed your technologically superior craft down its neck, a stray hand inadvertently hit a button labelled ‘Transmogrify’ and in an instant your body transformed from that of Jessica, a ten-year old animal loving African bush-baby who refuses to wear shoes, into Issy a very cute, adventurous tree climbing BMX chick who, by coincidence, also refuses to wear shoes.

The shadowy figure presses on. ‘Issy! Issy! Open up, it’s Maggot!’

Peals of laughter are now streaming out of your belly, through your mouth and into the ears of Maggot who’s standing outside the door waiting to be let in.

‘I can hear you laughing, Issy! Come on- open up, it’s Maggot.’

Throwing caution to the wind, you leap out of the cupboard and position yourself directly in front of Maggot; you on the inside him on the outside.

‘Okay, Maggot,’ you say whilst still laughing. ‘Tell me how you got that ridiculous name and I’ll think about letting you in.’

‘Come on, Issy, you know the story. You gave me that name!’

‘Did I now? Well remind me!’ you say, assertively putting your foot down.

‘Stop being mean, Issy. Let me in!’

‘No! Not until you tell me why I called you Maggot!’ you reiterate, standing your ground. Jessica and Issy have much more in common other than their dislike of shoes; both share a stubborn streak too.

‘Fine, here goes again for the umpteenth time. How humiliating!’ Maggot’s voice trails off into an embarrassed murmur.

‘Speak up, Maggot, I can’t hear you! Why did I give you that name?’

‘It’s because I stink of maggots! I carry a bag of ‘em everywhere I go so I can fish whenever I like! You happy now?’

*

That explanation about how Maggot earned his name is only partly true. Yes, he  carries  a bag of maggots in one jacket pocket and rudimentary fishing tackle – a reel, a hook and float – in the other, just in case a fishing opportunity presents itself. He’s potty about angling. He talks about it insistently; the fish he lands, the whoppers that get away. He dreams about landing perch, barbel and roach. You get the idea. He’s as mad as a very mad hatter about fishing as possibly anyone can be. Tucked away, in the inside pocket of his favourite jacket, and it’s his favourite because it’s his only jacket, Maggot keeps stashed a bag of Rainbow Kaylie, as Emergency Rations. Now, if you believe that you’ll believe almost anything. Maggot is addicted to that stuff. He’s just as crazy about that sugary delicacy as he is about fishing. One day, whilst Maggot is fishing in his favourite spot along the Llangollen branch of the Shropshire Union canal, not far from the Dusty Miller, Issy spots Maggot’s jacket hanging on a branch of a hedge, just behind where’s he’s sitting. It’s unattended and Maggot’s concentration is focused entirely on a bright yellow luminous dot bobbing about on the surface of the water. Nothing but him and the float exist in the whole world. Issy spots her opportunity, and the more playful side of her character, or rather the more devilish side, goes to work. She knows Maggot won’t notice a thing if she’s quick, and my goodness Issy is the quickest in the business when she wants to be. In one swift movement, she grabs a handful of maggots from one pocket and releases them into the bag of Emergency Rations. Now, a lot of girls would turn their noses up in disgust at the thought of handling maggots. But Issy is no ordinary girl. She’s doesn’t flinch. Anything boys can do, Issy can do better.

After planting Maggot Time Bomb, Issy leaves Maggot to exist in his world whilst she spends the remainder of the afternoon sat atop a nearby lift-bridge, to be in hers. It’s nearly tea time now and our two friends are feeling hungry. From her lofty perch, Issy can see a disappointed Maggot packing up his gear, dejected, head down, having landed nothing all day. And rather than climb down from the oak beam on which she sits, Issy shouts, ‘Geronimooooo!’ as she jumps straight into the canal below with a splash! Meanwhile, Maggot is walking up the tow path with both their bikes to meet her. He’s shaking his head in acknowledgement of Issy’s lunacy. That bridge is at least five metres from the surface of the water. It’s a jump he’ll never ever, not a million trillion gazillion years attempt, ever. Issy is no ordinary girl.

‘I’m starving,’ Issy says to Maggot as she’s climbing out of the water, trying her dastardly best to detonate Maggot Time Bomb.

‘Me too,’ Maggot replies. ‘Come on, let’s ride home.’

‘Sure you don’t need Emergency Rations first?’ Issy says, trying once again to trigger an explosion.

‘Good idea,’ Maggot says as he pulls out the bag of Kaylie from his inside pocket. ‘Here, you have some,’ he adds, offering the bag to Issy first.

‘Oh no, I couldn’t deprive you. Look you’re a bag of bones as it is! They’re your Emergency Rations after all, not mine,’ Issy counters, already smiling, knowing her encouragement will be sufficient to help plunge the lever…

‘Thanks Issy. You’re a good friend.’

‘Yeah right,’ you think, whilst trying desperately hard to hold down your laughter.

Maggot Time Bomb is primed! Issy’s friend throws his head back and throws the entire contents of Emergency Rations into his gaping mouth, which once full he closes. There’s something very odd about this batch of Kaylie, he notices. It’s lumpy. It tastes unusual and, wait for it, it’s wriggling! None of that perturbs this boy and none of that prevents him from doing what he does next. He begins to chew. Grooooosss! Each bite lets off a small explosion, and small packets of gooey slime hit every corner of Maggot’s mouth. He coughs and splutters. He spits. He sticks his fingers down his throat to eject any stray maggots he may have swallowed. Meanwhile, Issy is laughing hysterically, doubled-up holding her belly. It now dawns on our expert angler what has just transpired.

‘What did you do that for?’ Maggot asks angrily.

‘Just because, Maggot. Come, let’s go home,’ Issy replies, still laughing and feeling just a little guilty for having just put one her best friends through her expertly executed Maggot Time Bomb escapade. And that’s the true story of how Maggot earned his nick name and ever since that day it has stuck like a limpet’s foot does to a rock.

*

‘You sure that’s the whole story, Maggot?’ Issy prompts whilst chuckling to herself, recalling briefly the real story behind her friend’s unflattering name.

‘You know it isn’t, Issy. Let me in!’

‘Okay. You win. Open, says me!’ And with that, Issy opens the door and allows Maggot to enter the kitchen.

 

Books From The Pantry: The Spirit Within by Sheila Renee Parker: Reviewed by Kev Milsom

Spirit

  ”Cassy, you’re a really good student. You have a lot of potential to do really great things. Just don’t get distracted, okay?” he said in a sturdy voice.

   ”What do ya mean, distracted?”

   “I think you know exactly what I’m referring to,” he insisted, while staring over my shoulder at Amber. She didn’t seem to notice because she was too busy playing with her cell phone.

    “I’ll be okay,” I said.

    “I’m sure you will, Cassy, but just remember that those who work harder in life get rewarded a lot more than those who don‘t.”

    “Huh?” He confused me. I had no idea what he was talking about.

    “What I’m trying to say is that persistence is effort and I know you’ll go far if you don’t let certain influences get in your way,” he said, not losing sight of Amber.

    “Thanks, Professor Stone, but everything’s gonna be fine.” I smiled as I tried to reassure him.

    “It’s your future. Don’t let anyone interfere with that.”

    “Yeah. Sure. See ya Thursday.”

Although I’m well past the expiry date and my memory is admittedly not what it once was, I’m reliably assured that life as a late teenager can be a confusing time.

This is certainly the case for Cassandra Blakemore (known to everyone as Cassy) – the central character in Sheila Renee Parker’s debut novel, The Spirit Within. When we first meet Cassy, she struggling to cope with various aspects of everyday life in the town of Fairview, Texas; notably her schooling and the frustrating qualities of a best friend called Amber, (mentioned in the above quote), who believes that life should be less about taking it seriously and more about parties, boys and more parties. On top of this, Cassy also has to cope with growing up with the loss of both parents, a well-meaning, but interfering, Uncle called Mitch and coping with her ‘gem’ of a boyfriend, Raleigh Nichols, who likes to drink…and then drink plenty more.

While this would be considered enough for any young soul to deal with, new and odder challenges begin to materialise, when Cassy begins to experience unusual sensations of a paranormal nature which begin to impinge upon her life. When these mysterious happenings put a strain upon her relationship, Cassy is faced with a stack of unwanted questions and some important decisions that have to be faced up to.

The story is told in a first person narrative, which adds considerable weight to the protagonist in this novel. While there is a lot of dialogue throughout the book, the author makes sure to keep events moving along nicely. To aid this, the chapters are each of a reasonable length – each beginning with a simple description which sets the forthcoming scene. This all ensures that the reader is kept firmly attached to the plot as it moves along and allows for good rhythm and pace. The introduction of the ‘weirder stuff’ is gradually introduced and keeps the reader intrigued by what direction(s) the book is going to be travelling in.

This is a key issue with the The Spirit Within as the balancing, juggling act that is required to maintain the central themes associated with growing up, dealing with relationship problems and terrifying paranormal vibrations is a writing challenge that’s certainly not on the easy scale of difficulty. Sheila Renee Parker manages to combine these foundation issues well, adopting a solid writing style which allows the reader to relax into the book and just go along with the literary ride, meaning that when the surprises do occur the reader is not left staring at the page and wondering what just occurred. We know the characters well, because the author has put a lot of work into making them as three-dimensional as possible.

This is certainly a book that younger readers in their tens and twenties would enjoy, but also one that appeals to anyone who relishes tales associated with the paranormal. It’s also clear that the author has done her research into these topics, which furthermore adds a sense of realism to the plot, with forays into ESP, psychokinesis, premonition and more.

A perfect book for the beach, in what’s left of our summer.

Get your copy here :)

Poetry Drawer: Soulless Puppet by Elaine Snelson

puppet

Dance to the tune of a satanic fiddle,

Sinew and tendon plucked with pleasured zeal.

Mimic the motions of a soulless puppet.

Temperate, obliging, self assured.

That to be of use

is to exist…to be real.

 

Turn your cheek against the blindingly obvious.

Protect a fractured sense of worth.

Feeling totally insignificant

against the seductive mask of sincerity.

Crushed, defenceless and hurt.

 

 

 

 

 

Inky News: Event: Symposium on Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Sarah Layzell Hardstaff

mississippi

It’s no exaggeration to say that one of the most exciting moments of my life was receiving the course materials for the Open University’s EA300 module in children’s literature. It was the start of an epic quest that is still ongoing as I work towards my PhD in children’s literature.

One of my favourite things about EA300 was the balance of classic and contemporary children’s literature. One notable novel on the course list which falls into both categories is Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, now in its fortieth year in print.

mild

I’m currently helping to organise a symposium to celebrate Taylor’s novel, which will take place on Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th September at Homerton College, Cambridge. We’ll be taking Roll of Thunder as our starting point for wider discussion on children’s literature, literature in the classroom, and issues such as diversity, representation and authenticity in books for young readers.

We’re also hoping to bring together a broad group of people to join in these discussions, so whether you’re a writer, teacher, student, academic or librarian, why not come along?

You can find out more about the event here:

http://www.educ.cam.ac.uk/events/conferences/rollofthunder40/

 

 

 

 

Inky Articles: Berenice Smith on Page Design

B book

 

Berenice Smith is a print and digital designer with a Masters in Graphic Design and Typography. She runs her own design practice in Cambridge (http://www.berenicesmith.com/) and is a partner with Dialogue (http://www.dialoguecreative.co.uk).

 

We often judge books by their covers but many readers forget to pay attention to the page design. Unlike the shining cover, the page design carries the bags of words, gently helping the reader through the information inside. Dr. Watson to Sherlock’s start, if you like. Just like Watson, it should be reliable, quietly invisible but occasionally challenging. I have been reading The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer. In this fascinating first person narrative, the changing format and typography is part of the plot. Many readers and writers are astonished to know that a designer even touched the inner pages. But yes, we do! Even e-books. A reference or educational book requires more navigation and perhaps a ‘how to use the book’ section. Clear titles, section headings and features. Designers will select typefaces according to the hierarchy of content. How the format works in print and the transition to an eBook is an important consideration too. What does the designer do and how can you apply it to your book?

Technical details. A designer will consider the trim of the page and the number of pages. Your printing method and budget may decree a certain number of pages and your designer will keep this mind when looking at typefaces (as different fonts are not equally sized) and overall page sizes. A good designer will know the differences between different printing techniques such as litho and print on demand and how this affects colours and photos.

White space. Margins and gutters (the gap where the book is bound) matter even though they do not contain any text. Does the text require two columns? What is a suitable line length? Does the text have any extracts and should these require indenting? How does this white space affect the balance?

The typeface. I believe that the typeface used in a book can decrease or increase the enjoyment of a book. A book may require more than one but getting the balance right is critical to the success of the page design. Incidentally a typeface is a set of typographical symbols and characters. It’s the letters, numbers, and other characters that let us put words on paper (or screen). A font, on the other hand, is traditionally defined as a complete character set within a typeface, often of a particular size and style. Fonts are also specific computer files that contain all the characters and glyphs within a typeface. • Way finding. Navigating a book can take the form of running heads, folios, page numbers, sets of features such as quotes, tips, mapping end notes or footnotes.

Prelims and endlims (also referred to as front and end matter). Fiction books are making use of what may have been a notes section in the past. Book group questions, extracts from future novels and interviews can be found in this section. How does the overarching page design relate to these important introductions and lasting impressions? Any good book be it written to help you learn or to entertain when you curl up in bed, you can be certain that page has been designed. And if you don’t notice it, then the designer has done a good job!

 

 

 

 

Inky Interview Special: Open University lecturer Dr John Ridley by Inez de Miranda

JOHN RIDLEY

You currently teach Children’s Literature at the Open University, a module that is popular with both readers and contributors of Ink Pantry.

 
Has the EA300 module changed since you started teaching it, and if so, how?

First of all, thank you for this opportunity to talk about my work with the Open University and also as a school librarian.

I’ve been teaching Children’s Literature (EA300) for six years and the module and set books have changed very little. What does change each year, however, is the inclusion of the latest book to win the Carnegie Medal. This appears in the End of Module Assessment (EMA) options and provides an opportunity to look at new material and how it fits within the tradition of children’s literature. This year we have seen the introduction of some collaborative work as part of the assessment for one Tutor Marked Assignment and this will encourage students to work together.

What do you like best about this module, and do you have any advice for future students?

Children’s literature has always been an interest of mine and this is a wonderful opportunity to look at its history and stages of development. Children’s books are part of our childhood and have often been influential in our lives; reading children’s literature, within the context of academic writing, can bring the books to life in a different way and students find this a really interesting aspect of the module. My advice to those students who are considering studying Children’s Literature is, look closely at the course content, which is quite demanding, and be prepared to take a critical and analytical view of these well loved books.

SWALLOWS

From research, I gather that you have an impressive background in education.
You’ve worked in both primary and secondary education.

What made you decide to teach at the OU?

I’ve been teaching for over 40 years and most of that time was spent in primary schools. I began an MA in primary education with the University of York in 1994 and became very interested in educational research. I was sponsored by the National College for School Leadership and completed a doctorate in education with the Open University in 2010. Following my retirement as a primary headteacher I began teaching with the Open University. Teaching part-time with the Open University was always part of my early retirement plan and I was fortunate to be offered a contract in 2010. The Open University, as its name suggests, is open to all and provides opportunities for students of all ages. It is very satisfying to see students graduate and I always enjoy attending graduation ceremonies.

What do you enjoy most about teaching at the OU? And what do you like least?

For the past six years I have worked with international students from across Europe. Monthly tutorials are held online using the OU’s systems and this allows me to work with students in a virtual classroom. This can have its challenges and also its rewards; the Open University is a world leader in distance learning and, through the internet, students can work together as they prepare for their assignments. I find it sad when some students prefer to work alone rather than engage with the group.

You are also a school librarian at Aysgarth School. What does this entail?

I have just retired from my part-time post as librarian after three years at this lovely school. Aysgarth is a small preparatory school where most of the boys are full boarders. My role was to encourage ‘a love of reading’ and organise and maintain the school library, as well as providing the weekly House Quiz. It was a privilege to work in a school where reading was valued and encouraged.

Aysgarth School is a school for boys aged 8-13, a group that is often considered to be reluctant to read. Is this your experience?

There will always be some reluctant readers and, at Aysgarth, the boys are fortunate to have regular quiet reading sessions in the library where they have access to a wide range of books, as well as daily newspapers and magazines. The boys are encouraged to find books that interest them and they enjoy reading in the comfortable surroundings of the library during planned reading sessions and often in their free time too.

Do you think that being in a single sex school makes boys more likely to want to read?

This is difficult to know without evidence, however, it would make a very good research project for someone. What is clear is that pupils respond well where there is a culture of reading for pleasure and having daily reading sessions in the library really helps the boys to get into reading. It’s very much seen as a normal activity rather than something that is imposed.

What type of reading material is popular with the children?

With boys ranging from 8 to 13 their selection of books is very broad. Popular authors include Francesca Simon, Roald Dahl, David Walliams, Anthony Horowitz, J K Rowling and Philip Pullman. I would always aim to move the boys on to more challenging books when they are ready.

As a result of government cuts, more and more public libraries are closing. As a librarian, how do you see the future of public libraries?

Public libraries are under threat and many have closed. It’s important that members of the public support their local libraries by using them regularly. If you don’t want to buy an expensive book, the public library will get it for you. It’s a great service and it’s free.

Do you think that in our modern society, with internet, Amazon and ebooks, there’s still a place for libraries?

This is the great debate and it is reflected in the boys’ reading habits; there are some who prefer to use Kindles. Libraries may need to embrace new technology and supply ebooks alongside their normal stock. There are still those who love the feel of real books, however, I have to agree that Kindles are best for reading in the dark.

Quite a few of us Ink Pantry-ists are writers.

With your expertise in education and with children’s literature, what advice would you give to those of us who want to write for children?

It’s good to hear that there are potential children’s authors out there. My advice would be to keep writing, don’t give up and always get children to read your work; you will find that they give you an honest view. The Open University also provides popular modules in Creative Writing.

I’ve often considered writing a children’s story in the boarding school tradition, with magical characters and the odd wizard, however, that may have been done already! Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your questions and good luck with your writing.