Here’s one I wrote earlier

A little glimpse into my early writing…

When I was in my twenties I wrote a lot of  short stories and poems although I had started a novel called ‘The Man in the Sun’… a  family saga I think!

There was a women’s magazine called Honey, and I was lucky enough to win a short story competition and then have several other stories published too! Here is one I wrote while I was working at Manchester Airport; on night shift there were all sorts of odd people about, working there or just being there… so this is based on what I observed and what my imagination did with it!

© Lois Elsden 2017

The wind is my enemy, the wind is my friend

Here’s the short story I wrote for my writing group – the group I ma in not the one I lead. it’s a real challenge for me to write something short to have something complete and with an ending – I’m so used to writing novels!

The subject for this week was wind/air/sky/clouds, and I ended up writing a sort of post-apocalyptic, science fiction, fantasy piece… which may even develop into something else…

The wind is my enemy, the wind is my friend

For a while the wind had been so strong that all I could do was force the door shut, drop the bars across and hope it held. It was a stout door, a round door to fit the entrance, but not quite round enough so the wind could make ingress through a hundred different minute cracks and chinks and tiny holes. I had tried to block them up with  a sort of putty made from dirt from the floor and slime from the walls… as soon as I blocked one, another seemed to be there… but maybe they provided ventilation.

There were many kinds of wind, the moaning wind which I felt would drive me mad if it didn’t stop, the buffeting wind which came in lumps as if thrown, the constant ‘sailing wind’ which I could ignore, the shrieking wind like a soul in torment, the balmy gentle wind, the whispering wind and the singing wind – not that I could ever quite catch their whispers and songs…

 I remembered reading of Antarctic expeditions centuries ago when the explorers (mad adventurers maybe) would be trapped in their tents for days on end as the… as the… words came back to me, as they sometimes do “It is at the steep edge of Antarctica that the strong katabatic winds form as cold air rushes over the land mass…” Katabatic wind…. katabatic wind… That’s the word, katabatic. I search my memory banks… ‘formed by cold air masses descending on the ice-cap...’

This wind I had shut the door on was not freezing cold which might have killed me, this wind was merely annoying.

Blow, blow, thou winter wind 
Thou art not so unkind 
As man’s ingratitude; 
Thy tooth is not so keen, 
Because thou art not seen, 
Although thy breath be rude…

This wasn’t a winter wind, there is no winter, no summer, no seasons here, but this wind was like a winter’s wind, very cold, but not deadly, very annoying… but not as annoying as the moaning wind or the shrieking wind…

Now outside, roaring at my door, it was the sailing wind, and even the sailing wind as I called it, had its own voice; it was consistent, strong, and a medium tone, not screaming or growling… It was tedious but if I shut my eyes at least I could pretend I was on a vessel going somewhere instead of being trapped up here.

I did shut my eyes, and passed a little while imagining a voyage, maybe with dolphins leaping round the bow, maybe with flying fish shimmering in the air beside me, albatrosses curving ahead.. The roaring forties…

It’s amazing what I can remember… The Roaring Forties are strong westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere, generally between the latitudes of 40 and 50 degrees.

My imaginary boat slowed as the wind outside came round, dying a little so it was blowing obliquely to the door…

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you.
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I.
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by…

Christina Rossetti… what would she make of my situation, trapped here in my little hole, no trembling leaves, no bowing trees, the only voice the wind…

There was a moaning behind me… the damned chimney! Now it was catching the wind… Well, there was nothing I could do, just have to put up with it and be ready to damp the little fire if it got a blow back of smoke…

My little fire was perpetual… I gathered the cave mosses growing out of the cracks of the walls around me and dried them by the fire, then fed the embers of the previous mosses. Whatever they were they burned slow and I had a store – bound bales of dried moss, bound with the strange white roots of something which dangled into my little place. The walls were damp, so I kept my dried moss close to the heat.

In the semi dark, the only light was from the little fire, and the chinks I hadn’t filled or which had blown through. I couldn’t write, but I held my journal and imagined my words…. The words of Burt Franklin Jennes came into my mind…

Let me dip to the forties that whimper and whine,
As the winds from the Horn whip the seas into line.

The forties, those strong westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere…

The wind in the chimney had died away to an intermittent sobbing, and I felt some of the tension leach away. Should I open the door… maybe I would, just to feel a breeze on my skin…

I lifted the bar and the wind pushed the door open, not a rough, rude wind, just a wind. I could see nothing because of the clouds, and it was cold but while it was light I would keep it open. I had an arrangement to prop and wedge the round door ajar –  temperamental winds might whip round unexpectedly and I couldn’t have the hinge broken. The wind was my enemy, even when it pretended to be benign.

I took up my journal, and my pen made from one of the stiff mossy roots, and with my charcoal ink, I began to write my wind song.

I could sing winds…

crosswind, headwind, whirlwind, zephyr
tailwind, trade wind, knik wind, briza…

I could recite winds…

Haboob, Harmattan, Khamsin, Levant,
Bora, berg and Foehn
Chinook,Mistral, Scirocco and Leveche…

 The wind was my only friend, even when it was my enemy.

© Lois Elsden 2017

Here is a link to my published e-books and my paperback ‘Radwinter’:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

The Boy

Here’s a story I wrote for one of my writing groups – not one that I lead, but one that I just go to!

The Boy

“Julie! Hello! Did you have a wonderful time?” I called.

She saw me and worked her way between the tables with her tray. I stood up as she arrived and took her coffee and carrot cake and set it down took off her coat.

“Hello, Dora, you’re looking well! What news?”

She sat down and then moved the table a little, altering the angle of her chair so she could see the counter. I thought she might have been bursting to tell me about the holiday… maybe it hadn’t gone as well as she hoped, although she’d definitely caught the sun. She glanced back to the counter, looking for her ‘boy’ as she called him.

The rest of us in the book club used to have a little chuckle, well, actually quite a big chuckle over Julie and the boy. Julie is the same age as us I guess, somewhere between mid-fifties and early sixties, the boy is probably about forty, so not really a boy at all. We could never see what she saw, he was an OK looking guy, very pleasant and friendly when he served us coffee or whatever. Julie had a big what we used to call ‘crush’ on him… which did amuse us!

I didn’t have much news; the hens were laying well, I’d made a great batch of both quince and crab apple jelly… the usual sort of domestic things, and I’d done a lot of walking and writing. She asked how my walking book was going. She was pushing bits of carrot cake around the plate. It’s her passion and usually she attacks it with gusto.

I was more interested in hearing about the Cape Verde Islands, but I obliged her with recounting where I was up to in my guide to unusual and unexpected places, and how to get there via an interesting route.

“How’s Ruby?” I had to ask after her mother. We tried to avoid it because otherwise the whole conversation would take a downward spiral. We all felt so sorry for Julie; Ruby her mother was lovely and we tried to visit regularly, but she was very wearying… sweet, but so dependent and so… well, so … well, trying really.

We took it in turns to have the book club at each other’s homes, but now we only saw Julie when it was her turn to host it – she couldn’t leave Ruby in the evenings. Ruby insisted on ‘being sociable’ and joining in, but she’d never read the book, and always tried to talk about other things. As I said, we felt so sorry for Julie that we put up with it, but it made it difficult to get any new members; a new person wouldn’t want to have a book club where we talked about Princess Diana and how Woman’s Weekly wasn’t as good as it used to be.

Julie was looking across at the counter; there’d been a big reorganisation in the museum, the café had become so popular that it had expanded into what had been the old library. The museum staff were expected to serve in the café as well as doing the museum work. We meet here regularly, good coffee, nice cakes, and a museum! What more could you want! But for Julie there was an extra, the boy.

The boy was Rohan and as I said we used to have a private chuckle over how much Julie ‘liked’ him – we called him her toy boy and it got shortened to the ‘boy’. We would tease her gently as she came back blushing and happy if he happened to serve her, and roll our eyes when we met her outside and she told us about him, what he’d been wearing, what he’d said to her, what she’d said to him – it was only ever ‘Is it raining outside?’ ‘Yes, a bit.’ ‘I thought it might be everyone’s coming in with umbrellas.’ That sort of thing…

“So, come on, how were the Cape Verde Islands?” I asked.

I thought for a moment she was going to cry, but she blinked it back.

“It should have been wonderful, it should have been such an escape! I should have felt free!” she exclaimed, almost angrily. I felt desperate for her; it was the first time she’d been away from her mother for more than a couple of days since she’d moved in when her marriage broke down. It turned out her husband had spent all their savings and remortgaged the house. Julie had had no choice but to live with Ruby… to become her carer in effect… her nurse…

Julie worked at home doing secretarial and the accounts for a firm in town, and a couple of times a week Ruby went to an old people’s social club which gave Julie the freedom to come out and meet her friends, as she was meeting me now. We nearly always met in the museum… I think it was the highlight of her week to sit drinking coffee and watching the boy surreptitiously.

So the holiday… Every day she was away Julie had rung the care home where Ruby had been accommodated… and it was always something… Ruby begging her to come back early, Ruby not eating (the food was disgusting she said) Ruby not sleeping (the beds were like concrete) Ruby not wanting to get up… the care home had been wonderful and told Julie there was nothing to worry about, her mother was fine… but it had ruined the holiday.

“And now I come back to this!” she said…

She’d come into the museum last week and again this week, several times she told me, and the boy was not here, not on any of the days he usually worked, nor was he working anywhere else in the museum.

“I thought maybe because it was half term last week he was looking after his son,” she was genuinely upset. “But no, now he’s still not been here!”

She abruptly changed the subject to the novel we were reading for book club. She always read them, even though she only saw us once in a blue moon.

Poor Julie… and we arranged to meet the following week, back here in the museum.

“Hello there, what can I get you?” it was Rohan, the boy, back behind the counter. He smiled in his friendly way and we had a trifling conversation about the new type of coffee beans. He was quite handsome I suppose, but I couldn’t really see what Julie saw.

I took my coffee over to her where she sat beaming. We don’t often embrace but she jumped up, unloaded my tray then gave me a hug.

“Your boy’s back!” I exclaimed and she grinned. “Are you going to ask him out? I’ll sit with Ruby!”

“Don’t be silly… it’s not like that… of course it isn’t… And anyway, even if he was older or I was younger it still wouldn’t be like that! I’m not free am I? But to come here a couple of times a week…” she stopped. “I know you think I’m ridiculous, that I’m a ridiculous old woman, and I know you all laugh at me, but the boy…” She tapped the side of her head. “In here, in my head, anything is possible! In here I’m free!”

© Lois Elsden 2017

If you want to read more of my stories, here’s a link to where you can find my ebooks, and my paperback Radwinter:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

Sailing By

You may know that I’m involved in another blog, a writers blog with two friends; we share our own and other writers work. Today we share an absolutely brilliant story, called Sailing By. You may not know, however that Sailing By is the title of a piece of music; Wikipedia describes it: “Sailing By” is a short piece of light music composed by Ronald Binge in 1963, which is used before the late Shipping Forecast on BBC Radio 4. A slow waltz, the piece uses a repetitive ABABC structure and a distinctive rising and falling woodwind arpeggio…. played every night on BBC Radio 4 at around 00:45hrs before the late Shipping Forecast. Its tune is repetitive, assisting in its role of serving as a signal for sailors tuning in to be able to easily identify the radio station.

Here is a link to the story:

https://somersetwriters.wordpress.com/2017/05/04/sailing-by/

… which I am sure you will enjoy! If you listen to BBC radio, particularly the Today programme on Radio 4, you might find something extra amusing in it!

If you don’t know, the music, here we are:

Royalty – part 2

I shared the first part of a story with you yesterday; it was something I wrote for my writing group. The topic was ‘Royalty’ and I was really struggling to think of what to write when I remembered two characters I’d started writing about before, a lonely man, and a woman who is staying at her father-in-law’s house while he is in hospital. These two people meet in a pub, just by chance, sitting at the same table as a young couple.

If you want to read part 1, here is a link:

https://loiselden.com/2017/04/21/royalty-part-1/

Royalty – part 2

“Are you in the quiz?” They all looked up at a small man in a yellow sweater with a golf club log who was standing with a sheaf of quiz sheets and a pint glass of pens.
… How did it happen? Who said what? Who tentatively suggested that maybe they might… should… could… Later no-one could remember, but they each handed over a pound, and were given a quiz sheet and a selection of pens and suddenly they were a team!
A quiz! She always went to the pub for quiz night at home, well, she used to… But a quiz!
There was a moment’s ridiculousness and confusion when they introduced themselves – she had thought the two young people were a couple, no, they weren’t, they had just got into conversation at the bar; they had thought she and the man beside her were married… no they weren’t, obviously!
“I’m Clare,” she said, and the man beside her was Gus, and the two separate young people were Elliot and Evie… four strangers who were suddenly a quiz team.
Before they could converse or say any more about themselves the quiz started, and they were plunged into understanding how it worked; it was a bingo quiz, and puzzling over the rather tricky and very random questions, Clare lost herself completely in the proceedings. Her three team mates were fun and funny, and as strangers they could relax and be themselves – whatever selves they chose to be.
The first round finished and the carbon copies of their answer sheets were collected… but there was a problem, they needed a team name. They looked blankly at each other… then Elliot said to the man collecting the answers, well, this was the Royal Inn, so they were the Royal team! It seemed a bit weak, but what the heck, what did it matter?
It was a natural time to get a drink… but… but… Gus stepped in; who would like a drink? He’d be pleased to buy a round… Pints of beer seemed to be the order, and while he was at the bar, the answers were read out, and they self-marked – the copies having been collected so no cheating.
Gus returned with beer to find his team in high spirits; he’d had to wait while the barrel was changed, and in that time, all the answers had been read out and believe it or believe it not, they had won! Clare, Elliot and Evie insisted Gus take the cost of the round from their winnings, and use another four pounds to buy the sheets for round two!
The questions were similarly random and tricky as the first round… and this time they were defeated… however, there was still enough of their winnings for four more pints. Clare sat back and glanced at her team mates; what did she know about them? Evie was a nurse and singer with a band, Elliot worked in an estate agent’s, Gus was not working at the moment, and she had told them she was here temporarily looking after her father-in-law’s house while he was in hospital and her husband in the States.
The quiz master came round with one final question for the beer round… Beer round? Yes, the winning team had a free round of drinks next week!
“How long is the Queen Mary, not the Queen Mary 2, but the original Queen Mary?”
It was simple for Gus… 1,019.5 feet…
“The winner of the beer round, with a bob on correct answer of 1,019.5 feet, is Royalty!” shouted the quiz master.
“Royalty?”
“Yes!! That’s us!!”
Somehow the Royal Team had become Royalty…
“Hey! We’ll have to come back next week to claim our free beer!” exclaimed Evie.
“Brilliant! I’ll be here! You, Gus? You Clare?” asked Elliot.
Clare smiled… If father-in-law was still in hospital, she would be here!
Gus picked up his glass. “Here’s to Royalty! See you next week, chums!”

Royalty – part 1

As well as leading two creative writing groups, I am also in a writing group; there are seven of us and we meet roughly once a month and read something we have written on a topic chosen the last time we met. Today our topic was ‘Royalty’… and I confess I was absolutely stuck… I just could not think of anything to write at all…

… and then I had a thought about something I had written a while ago, well two somethings actually. One something I think I have shared here, about a man called Gus who was wandering aimless and rather lonely in a marsh area beside the sea… he finishes his walk and on the way home drifts into a pub. The other was about a woman who was staying in her father-in-law’s house and visiting him every day in hospital; he was very ill, very, very ill, but his son, her husband was away in America. She was for the moment not working so she had come to stay in the old man’s house and visit him. These two characters, Gus and the woman came together in my mind, and this is what happened:

Royalty – part 1

She realised as she got to the bar that the last time she’d been here was with Philip… There were two pubs in the village, and since she’d been down here on her own, staying in her father-in-law’s house so she could visit him in hospital, she’d only been to the other pub, the Schooner. She’d been for lunch… a couple of times… she’d been for dinner before visiting in the evening, a couple of times… but she hadn’t been here, to the Royal Hotel.
The other pub, The Schooner was convenient, but somehow impersonal… the staff were polite and efficient, but somehow…
Why hadn’t she come here, to the Royal? It was a typical village pub, and had a more homely, friendly feel; she glanced at the menu while waiting for the Canadian boy serving behind the bar to return with her change and thought it sounded altogether more interesting… Maybe tomorrow she’d come here for lunch…
It was busy but there was a space on the bench seat by the window. There was a group of women sitting at the next table so she took her change and went and sat down beside them… Maybe she could get talking to them, maybe she could have a conversation… she was starved of contact, and although she didn’t mind being on her own, it suddenly seemed a welcome proposition to actually converse with someone. Her father-in-law was declining day by day; anything he did say was so random and unintelligible that trying to make a conversation was like trying to catch soap bubbles blown by a child.
She sat down and glanced at the four women but they were there in an intense conversation. A jacket lay on the seat beside her and probably belonging to the people on the table to her right, two middle-aged couples. She caught a burst of conversation from them, the woman with the dark perm talking to the woman with shoulder length blond hair, was complaining about students in her son’s hall of residence all being ‘foreign’ and how the places ‘stank of curry’… Hmmm… maybe this pub wasn’t so congenial place after all.
A man was approaching with a pint of beer, preoccupied and patently thinking of something else and he squeezed between the table and the next one with the two couples before realising she was sitting there.
“Oh! Is this your seat! I’m sorry, I didn’t realise, I thought it was free!” she exclaimed.
“No, no, that’s fine! Sorry, I just left my jacket…”
He was interrupted by a young couple who asked him if the two chairs at the table were free. Yes, yes, they were he replied, still standing between the two tables.
“I’m just on my own, this seat is free,” she said, indicating the place beside her, realising that the jacket must be his.
There was a bit of a kerfuffle while the young couple, who had thought she and the pint of beer man were a couple, took off coats, organised phones, put drinks on the table… and the man, after asking again if it was ok for him to sit beside her, did just that, and sat beside her.
She would knock back her beer and go; having wanted company she now felt awkward with the bloke beside her and the young couple across the table. They too had subsided into silence, concentrating on their phones. The young woman looked like a student, fashionable, long dark hair and a serious face, the lad looked rougher, awkward almost, compared to his lovely girlfriend.
She would finish her beer…
“Are you in the quiz?” They all looked up at a small man in a yellow sweater with a golf club log who was standing with a sheaf of quiz sheets and a pint glass of pens.
… How did it happen? Who said what? Who tentatively suggested that maybe they might… should… could… Later no-one could remember, but they each handed over a pound, and were given a quiz sheet and a selection of pens and suddenly they were a team!

If you want to know what I had written about Gus previously, here is a link:

http://wp.me/p2hGAs-1YJ

The shepherd boy’s grave

I wrote this for my writing group; I had set them the task of looking at the endings of a variety of novels, poems, stories etc, and then using the ending as an inspiration to work towards – not to end with the particular situation or lines, but just as a stimulus… I thought since I had set them such a tricky task, I ought to have a go. I had the last stanza of a poem by Martín Espada, ‘Ezequiel’, and here is what i wrote:

“Oh look, look at this!”
Russell walked on a few paces and then stopped with exaggerated weariness and turned and plodded back to her. Why was he being like this? What was wrong? When she’d asked, he’d said in an offhand way ‘nothing, why should there be?’ … which meant something was wrong.
She was looking at a small limestone block with a grey metal plate attached.
In loving memory of Ezekiel, our son, cruelly torn from our embrace; “I will also bring upon you a sword which will execute vengeance” Lev 26:23
“Who was he?” she asked.
“Some kid, mucking about with his mates…” Russell stared at it and his face, which had once been so easy to read, every expression familiar and understood, was closed, his thoughts private and far away.
“Did you know him?” Ronnie asked trying to make conversation… her words felt dry and forced on her tongue, words which used to come so easily and flow without thought.
“Not particularly…” and he turned and continued his tramp up the hill.
How can you not particularly know someone? It was so hot on this bare hillside, she wanted to sit down and admire the view or sit down and talk, talk about things… But she roused herself to follow him, with a big sigh and a sense of foreboding.  This was, if not the end, the beginning of the end…
“Hello, there! Wonderful day, isn’t it!”
She turned back and a man with a walking pole was climbing steadily towards her up the slope.
“Perfect,” she answered, not sure whether to slow to converse, or hurry on to catch up with Russell.
“I see you were looking at Zeek’s place,” he said coming up to her. Before she could make any comment he went on, “Is that Russ walking on ahead? Russell Broome?”
“Yes…”
“I’m John, Russ and I were at school together, way back in prehistoric times.”
He glanced up the path and lifted his pole in salute; Russell, further up the dusty, chalky trail was looking down at them. He didn’t wave back but turned and continued to tramp up the track, quickly as if he was in a hurry.
How awkward.
“I was looking at this… this memorial but actually I was pausing to catch my breath.” Ronnie hoped the man, John would continue his walk but he stood, looking down at the memorial.
“Zeek was helping his dad with the sheep, he came up here and it’s thought he met rustlers, he was shot and the sheep were taken.”
Ronnie looked around; she’d heard the sound of sheep but there was no sign of any.
“How old was he?”
“Seventeen.”
How tragic… a seventeen year-old shot and killed on this peaceful hillside. She asked the man if he’d known the boy, yes, her replied, they’d been at school together.
She wanted to say – the three of them, Russell, this John and Zeek, they’d been friends… but she didn’t and after a moment of silence, he said cheerio and began to follow the path.
“Oh, another thing, if you’re interested in history – it was in all the papers at the time when Zeek died here, that this was already known as the shepherd boy’s grave – some lad way back in ancient history was killed here too… people used to leave flowers…”
“How interesting,” and she was annoyed at repeating his word.
“There used to be a white wooden cross here, just a small one, I’m never sure whether I actually remember it or just think I do! Cheerio!” and he turned and continued his walk.
She was hot and fed up, Russell had disappeared completely behind a rocky outcrop and she sat down on a big stone, more of a boulder with a smooth indentation as if many people had sat here over the years.
In the sheltered side of the stone was a burst of yellow and she’d thought it might be some rubbish, a plastic bag perhaps, but it was a clump of yellow flowers with black centres… black-eyed Susans maybe? But up here on this hillside?
She stood up and looked up the pathway. She could see Russell half a mile ahead now, stumping along, head down, not admiring the view or looking where he was going. The other man, John was not far behind and she watched as he caught up with Russell and passed him.
There may have been an exchange of words, she couldn’t tell, the man had slowed but didn’t stop, and soon was striding away. Russel walked a few more paces then turned and looked round, presumably to check where she was. He was looking back along the path, then glanced down the hill and saw her.
She waved. He flailed his arms to beckon her, come on, hurry up, what the hell are you doing down there, he was clearly saying.
“Hello! Stopped for breath?” this time it was a friendly couple of middle-aged ladies, in khaki shorts, big boots, and woolly socks. “Shepherd boy’s grave!”
Ronnie took a deep breath and walked on with them, their friendly, hearty chat, raising her spirits.

Ezequiel, you are buried in the valley of dry bone,
There is thirst in the wood of your white cross
Heat in the tyre planted with sunflowers by your grave,
Prophecy in the bones. When your voice booms
Over the desert, all the bones will rise knocking,
Skulls snapping hard onto spines, sinews roping around shoulders,
Flesh swelling like bread on sinew, and the four winds
Gusting breath into the lungs of the dead. Ezequiel,
You will walk again with your grandfather of the .22 rifle.
You will walk again with your goats.

 

Although this was supposed to be a contained short story, as I wrote it other ideas came into my mind, and it maybe that it will become part of something much longer – not necessarily the beginning, although I think I want to start with the memorial on the hillside. It isn’t a mistake that there are two different stories about Zeek – one that he was mucking about with friends, the other that he was shot by sheep rustlers… and the mystery of why, if Russell had known him, did he bring Ronnie up the hill past the memorial… hmmm, lots of thoughts for me!