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Easy to write on your ‘phone.(  Evernote simple).  And great fun to be concise (50 words) yet still offer up a glimpse of something with a hint of a tale! 

Morning cigar in the yard.

Skeletal  trees fingered against the ink dark sky.

The roofs austere , secretive as my smoke climbs towards just one .

We’re 150 years apart. She doesn’t know I’m here yet.

(But she will) .

There’s my mistress calling. 

”Yes, ma’am”. Better go and make up  a fire.








”I never hated a man enough to give him diamonds back.” (Zsa Zsa Gabor) 


Our Dreaming mind allows our daily mind to escape its limitations and censorship. One of the most liberating and creative aspects of a dream maybe the way in which the dream story combines several seemingly random yet resonant ingredients.(Freud’s condensation and displacement).

 Juxtapositions of many kinds thus proliferate and give our dreams their puzzling singularity!  My recent dream of Zsa Zsa Gabor, a camping holiday and a bandaged foot was too much fun to ignore. When I started to write the dream down I was also aware of a toilet block, a crowd of gawping campers and a yellow winnebago too. The story is only in its infancy but where it will go who knows!



I couldn’t find the toilet block because someone had parked  this huge yellow  winnebago  in front of it and a crowd of kids and adults were all stood there staring at the back window.
”She’s having a massage now”  laughed a life guard from our pool.
”A  nurse has arrived too” whispered a thin man in sunglasses.
”Well I really  need to use the toilet!”  I said loudly  to the window.
Someone sniggered in the crowd. “Find a bush  or a bucket then.”  I could hear even more laughter and felt even more desperate.
Luckily there was a movement from the van.
A side door slid open and a huge  face looked out. The crowd was silenced.
”Madame says you are welcome to use her bathroom if you remove your sandals.”
”Me?”  I said.
”Who else?  If you want to use her toilet , please show  some initiative.”
I ran forward to the door  and took off my shoes.
”Wait a moment. Oh that’s fine,  come on  in,” said a cool voice from deep inside the van.
I climbed the steps aware of fifty pairs of eyes on my back. I noticed the smell of liniment and nail polish as I stepped inside the van. White carpet and dark red rugs everywhere.
”Imagine you’re in the Arabian nights,” said the cool voice once again. ‘And you’re Scheherazade.’


Jane Austen memorably summed up her creative challenge in her characterization of Emma Woodhouse.” I am going to take  a heroine whom no one but myself will  much like.”Austen was right: Emma does test her readers. She is interfering, opinionated and frequently fallible. Yet for all her mistakes,  we do warm to Emma because she is also spirited and essentially good-hearted despite her fallibilities. Of course, Emma’s desire to engineer “happiness” for others is both dangerous and exasperating. Her interference in the romantic dreams of her fellow townsfolk,  also nearly blinds her to her own chance of fulfilment with her watchful mentor Mr Knightley.
 Emma’s foibles push the reader’s tolerance at times yet we forgive her whereas we loathe her rival Mrs Elton whose crimes at times, are uneasily like those of Emma. But Mrs Elton fails to endear herself  despite the parallels between her engineering behaviour with Jane Fairfax and Emmas with Harriet. Both Emma and Mrs Elton lack imagination and consequently insight where their “protegees” are concerned. However, Emma recognises her shortcomings  whilst Mrs Elton remains arrogant and patronising  to the end of the novel. Mrs Elton’s interior life remains significantly obscured from the readers view of course and this is because it is Emmas novel rather than Augusta Hawkins’ aka Mrs Elton’s!

When Emma is faced by the (unsurprising)  revelation that the unctuous, status conscious  Mr Elton,  desires her,  rather than her protegee, Harriet, Jane Austen delivers one of the wittiest and perceptively brilliant observations in the novel:‘ The hair was curled, and the maid sent away, and Emma sat down to think and be miserable.”

Here Emma’s sorrow is arranged in a revealing sequence, underlining the  studied, decidedly unspontaneous ”  process of Emmas feelings. Austen is suggesting Emma’s innate  theatricality- even in private! Emma  is described arranging to be upset after she has arranged other things;  notably her hair and toilette!Emma respects her orderly arrangements before she gives herself any opportunity or space  to be upset. This scene has definite echoes of the century earlier ‘mock heroic’ poem by Poe ‘The Rape of the Lock’ where hyperbole, irony and bathos reign around the habits of the wardrobe and daily toilette:

   And now, unveil’d, the toilet stands display’d,
Each silver vase in mystic order laid.
First, rob’d in white, the nymph intent adores
With head uncover’d, the cosmetic pow’rs.
A heav’nly image in the glass appears,
To that she bends, to that her eyes she rears;
Th’ inferior priestess, at her altar’s side,
Trembling, begins the sacred rites of pride.

 In Austen’s novel,  Emma’s incipient learning  arc is in keeping with her character and class.  Austen does not use Emma as a mere mouthpiece of her own mora  views, thereby forcing feelings upon Emma which do not truly belong to her.  She describes Emma as Emma would behave if she acts consistently with her headstrong, vain yet sympathetic characterization.   We believe  in the independence of Emma as an individual character who reacts and behaves in a way entirely consistent with Austen’s characterization.

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.


She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father; and had, in consequence of her sister’s marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early period. Her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses; and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection.

Sixteen years had Miss Taylor been in Mr. Woodhouse’s family, less as a governess than a friend, very fond of both daughters, but particularly of Emma. Between them it was more the intimacy of sisters. Even before Miss Taylor had ceased to hold the nominal office of governess, the mildness of her temper had hardly allowed her to impose any restraint; and the shadow of authority being now long passed away, they had been living together as friend and friend very mutually attached, and Emma doing just what she liked; highly esteeming Miss Taylor’s judgment, but directed chiefly by her own.

(The Romola Garai BBC version is excellent). 


Chapter One of Jane Austen’s Emma introduces us to one of the most brilliantly likeable yet flawed heroines in English Fiction. 

Here’s a lovely exercise Martin Thomasson tried out on Phoenix Writing Group last week…

Rewrite from a first person perspective: 

a) Emma

b) Mrs Weston( formerly Miss Taylor) 

c) Mr Woodhouse

d) Mr Knightley

I tried Emma’s first person narratorial perspective for fun! 


” Of course I am delighted about Miss Taylor. Dear Miss Taylor. Dear Mr Weston. How wonderfully perfect they are together. I am truly happy for them. I’m smiling as I write this . And now as I look through my window I see a robin and a blackbird. How beautiful life can be. 

I have my books, my pianoforte and my father.

I do hope though that Mr knightley will not forget us and will call soon. 

In this light I can see the line of trees my grandfather planted and the long track beyond. So beautiful and familiar.

Yet why then,  do I feel something inside me that I cannot name? 

No matter. I shall walk to the edge of the trees as I used to with Miss Taylor before she went away.






Spectre ironically opens in Mexico city: it’s the day of the dead and this acts as a metaphor for the whole film For this Bond is preoccupied with the resurrection of the dead, the unfinished spectres of his bloody past.

I felt Spectre a very dark Bond. Craig looks a haunted man, tense, focused and bent upon revenge.  Yet ironically we find he is the ‘cuckoo’ in another killer’s narrative. For everything in Spectre is a matter of perspective: the guilty and innocent seem interchangeable , slippery reflections of each other. Think Cain and Abel…

 The villainy of the  effete  bureaucrat casually played by Andrew Scott aka Moriarty in Sherlock seems creepily ordinary. He wants to abolish the OO programme and substitute surveillance techniques so the nation is under constant voyeuristic scrutiny. Sound curiously familiar?  Maybe Theresa May could meet up with him to discuss her latest attempt to gain a licence to snoop on the nation. Coffee cups at noon…

The film is literally spectral throughout. Only THE car lightens the movie at all. Daniel Craig is a permanently haunted man in a muscle tightening suit. Think Bradley Headstone in Dickens’ last completed novel, Our Mutual Friend. Even Rome seems positively predatory. Tourist encouraging it is not!


Writing at speed is great fun as ‘one’ never knows what might happen or come out of your keyboard or pen. It is also freeing as you don’t have time to censor or edit your writing which often hampers the flow even before your story takes place. Writing begets writing. Here’s something that became a ‘Damascus’ moment for the protagonist. 


Sam started it all which surprised me because I had never taken much notice of him before. We pretended to be drinking friends from way, way back, but that just meant he was a detail in a room I felt comfortable in. Then that Tuesday night  i pushed  past him to get at  my free tapas  and I felt  this singed,  smoky thing  going on right there across my face. He looked the same I think,   but when he stopped and spoke to the pretty girl rearranging the room, his vowels took off somewhere so far flung and exotic I almost pleaded to join him. As I watched,   he let loose this deep, throaty growl and the poor girl blushed and nearly dropped her tray:  besotted.  Sam didn’t seem to notice so at least that was consistent I suppose. A few minutes later he came back over and hugged me goodbye: I tell you I nearly burned alive.
“God you’re warm” I said “you’re like a giant’s kiln”.
Sam smiled and told me he had changed a few things around. He hugged me again. Then he winked. God, I felt on the brink of bad poetry.


A few days later I met up with blonde Gill because that’s what we do every other Wednesday. Five minutes after my coffee, I leant over to kiss her as usual, and this gust of sweet smoke took me right in the eye, nearly blinding me.  I grabbed at my chair and collapsed.
I could hardly see for a few seconds and when I could,  Gill looked all  radiant as if she’d just been visited by a couple of  fiery angels.
“Sorry Paul” she said in this smoking old film star voice. “Have I not mentioned to you?”  
“Mentioned what?  I asked blinking back my tears.
“I’ve changed one or two things around. I’ve moved myself about a bit.”
“You have?” I said. I could hardly breathe because of this cherry nutty heat.
“I’m more alive Paul.” she paused.. “Everywhere, ”  and then she  grinned  as if she knew something very special that had nothing to do with our every other Wednesday at one.


That left Cindy. My steady careful Cindy. I decided to treat her. She valued my mind. Respected my choices.  No edge to Cindy.


“You look all out of ideas Paul. Spent. Have you a light? ”
“You don’t smoke”  I said.
“Long time no see “she replied narrowing her eyes.
“It’s been a week Cindy.” I reached across to stroke her hand.



A long time ago, I wandered into my weekly lecture at Liverpool University expecting my own English tutor, Steve Newman to talk about Keats’ poetry. I didn’t get Steve, instead his wife delivered a talk about the Lamia which kept me spellbound, not least because Jenny Newman took the side of the snake-woman against the cold rationality of  her (philosopher) enemy in the poem. My affection for the Lamia persisted  and it is one of my favourite poems. The description of her metamorphosis is like a super sensual Dr Who episode! 

I decided that the Lamia would make a great outside detective and would need a ‘mate’ as curious as she was hence ‘Bella’ stolen at least in part from yet another of Keats’ longer poems. I also thought they would need a profession aside from incidental detection, so Bella is a travelling guru of curiosity, with a strong clientele at the ‘beach’ of South Carolina..




Her hands were small on the wheel. Dark grey gloves worn like pelt.  An under pelt of something that lived quietly yet joyously alive.  The left hand reached down for the gear change and brushed my thigh. No apology.  Third gear such a lingering agony until fourth and fifth.  We were away from our town, driving on smooth grey roads with little to distinguish them except the falling leaves and the spits of rain. My mouth tasted dry and then wet. She fed me small sweets with a gloved hand, so I could taste the fur too and she held them to my mouth. I doubt she realised how new my mouth was , how long the tongue could be, how much I longed to coil myself, about her waist, her sweet neck barely glimpsed above her black collar. More wool. Always wool in winter, even in spring Wool heats up. I veiled a look and drank in her side face. Pale with cheekbones you could slice your skin on.  And the fur. I liked the capable hands; so competent, so ambitious. .

Can I pause here?  Everything was new once. You may not have this surge of wonder, of core electricity, but I do. You see I was not like this until very recently. Even recently is new for me.   And sitting next to this woman felt more remarkable. I am remarkable: so is she and this is where it all began.   

A man in a brown coat waved at our car. This seemed a sign to slow down and I noticed the car lost its movement and her hands settled on the wheel. Lights flashed and the empty road became at once crowded with uniformed creatures all consumed by some mission.  Each uniform occupied a space and we sat parked at the road side in silence whilst the queue of cars waited to be talked to by a tall man in orange.

I stretched out my neck. Maybe willowy could be a good disguise after all. All those years of rippling to good effect.  I narrowed my eyes. Used my senses new and old.   Voices were loud and agitated. Some lights had been put out in a circle around a pile of clothing in the road. Radio voices mixed in with the sound of the car.  We were told to wait by the orange man.

My friend found a cigarette and blew smoke out of the window.  Then I saw what all this mess was about.  No one should look like that a voice was telling the world. No one should become such a thing. The heap of clothing had recently been a person.  A team arrived with special coats and lots of white cases. I heard crying.

the lamia


Truth be told, I felt the wrong shape myself, sat there, watching a human being reshaped again because someone had wanted to leave their signature.

Bella and I got out of the car. Our Love could wait.

‘’Do you know how much energy it takes to cause this? ‘’The man in the plastic coat took off his glasses and wiped away the rain. If he had once been eager, life and death had hurled that one over the fence. Cameras were busy and Bella finished her second cigarette.

My nose twitched. Beyond Bella’s tobacco, someone had left something behind, something the plastic coat might not know. Bella touched my arm and pulled me towards the tape.

‘Look’ she said.

The hands of the woman were cupped to the sky. A sweet gesture if you were on a beach, double jointed and part of your brain wasn’t leaking onto the road. But it was the left hand that was trying to tell us more, a strange red line wrapped around a stone that shone even in this faded light. The woman’s bloody fingers held an amber star.

I nodded at Bella. ‘’What can you hear breathing? ‘’ I said.

Bella said nothing, her confidence gone, moving behind me for shelter.  

A dark scattered shadow mixed in with the breathing and stirred slightly amongst the broken body of the woman.  When you are in the company of a predator you match their breath. I pushed Bella to one side. She knew.  If he was hiding out here, camouflaged amongst the lights and the dead, then so was I and the human noises at the edge of this place could be like small matches lit and then blown out.

I swear something was breathing that should not. Dead things should not breathe, but some things should never have been alive, let alone dead. This breathing contained an echo, as if the breath came from another place. Believe me when I tell you that it did. It had escaped from an ancient tomb, a buried place.  The Creature had extinguished in one moment,   the protection of time. Thousands of years of enforced silence and peace, gone. Now the creature and I were neighbours again though there was nothing neighbourly about this creature. Think propinquity: the   propinquity of menace.



Sometimes we only need a ‘trigger’ point memory to retrieve something we may have ‘lost’ in our past. At the Phoenix Writers’ Group in Horwich Bolton,  we often explore different ‘triggers’ through workshops. 

Here’s a simple trigger using a famous cordial- RIBENA!

I remember being rather envious of houses where ‘ribena’ was readily available. It always semed an expensive drink that was for other people rather than for my brother and me. So when I thought of ‘ribena’ I found a short series of glimpses that had been tucked away sleeeping in the recesses of  my mind.

The act of recollection reminds me of the movement of dominoes. ‘Ribena’ was the first domino. This memory anchor  then ‘nudged’ different domino memories, so  everything reanimated once again: my Aunty Joan, Shandy the dog, the cold kitchen in Hale; Oxford Road’s greatest clairvoyant,  who had the  the bluest of eyes and Aunty Joan’s Sunday evening ghost tales told over a steaming hot  iron. 


There was always Ribena in my godmother’s house and sometimes chocolate biscuits. My godmother made a soft rustling sound as she moved about as she always wore pinnies and always claimed to have ‘something baking in the oven’.  We called her Auntie Joan Jude to differentiate her  from my biological Aunty Joan  who lived in Manchester and ironed every Sunday night. If I stayed there in Manchester, then I would sit in a chair in the steamy kitchen whilst my Aunty Joan tried to scare me with her ghost  stories as she ironed. It was warmer in her kitchen than anywhere else and Shandy the dog would sit in her box listening, so she wouldn’t be called ‘that daft dog’ by my Uncle Norman.


 Perhaps I was a disappointment to my Aunty Joan as she did her best with her ghost stories, but I had an immunity to her tales probably brought on by a trip to see the greatest living clairvoyant ‘Ribena’ who lived up some wooden stairs on Oxford Road. Once my brother and I had been pronounced ‘special ‘ by  the famous predictor of fate, then no tales told by my Aunt were going to unsettle me, however macabre.



The only exception to my immunity lurked  in the Whitworth Art Gallery, where I  was horrified to see  John the Baptist’s head held in triumph by Salome. Now that image haunted me for years! Chapel en le frith’s winter  fog, the  musty train seats that pricked and the long dark lane home from the station with my mum and brother,  ALL  get mixed up somehow with the bloody head of poor John the Baptist! What a coalescence! 


( Last week at Phoenix Writers Horwich Bolton, , we selected postcards of paintings to ‘enter’ and Barbara’s range included the painting above. We were not allowed to turn the postcard over until we had created a story from our reactions to the painting. So I picked Burne-Jones’ The Ascension because I thought it was beautiful and immediately imagined being the chap on the far left, late as ‘always’ delivering a monologue about the creation of the painted window one winter in the past. . Great fun! ) 




As always in my life, I arrived both shivering and late.  But if the poet was right and the end is where we start from, little wonder that so much that has endured in my life, began from that special time.


We called it the winter of the painted window.  A group of us volunteered to assist the artist who wanted local models for the new chancel window. By the time I arrived, the others had claimed the best places next to Joshua, so I was stuck out on the margins getting a stiff neck. The chapel studio was cramped and the heating meagre.    But there was something there from the beginning and it held me. I couldn’t hide from it and I’ve never forgotten it. For whatever it might have been, it was beyond the merely living.


Most mornings, a trainee   priest would admonish us on his way to communion. We listened to his short sermons and practised looking as inspired as we could on our empty stomachs.


On the second or third day, my nearest neighbour told me what beatific meant and that night I felt my grandma’s hand in my hair.   I spoke her name. I imagined her standing by my side smelling of cinnamon.   I still do sometimes, especially before I fall asleep. One never knows at my age now, what these dark nights might bring.
I am not afraid of death. Arriving and departing appear so much the same to me.  Joshua taught me that.  Life is just a turning up and then a turning away. A slight change of direction, that is all.


  Early or late. I shall  wave.


The artist told us his doubts had once led him astray, so the picture would serve as his penance for being a reluctant believer. “I came to God late” he said.  He had rechristened himself Tomas and rejoiced in his second life. Apparently   he needed his new name to act as a reminder to keep him steady.  Sadly, he had been lost once and now, thankfully,    he felt God’s eye ever upon him.


Poor God I thought. Tomas imagined him a stern schoolmaster punishing the tardy, keeping notes.  My God, when he appeared, seemed  more like a desert wind whirling me around, making me blink; sometimes teasing,   sometimes slamming me into my fate.
I learned things from those wintry months standing in the studio pretending to pray to Tomas’ harsh God, whilst secretly imagining my own.
Like when Tomas sighed as we bit into our nails and clenched our hands. “You look too much like some local labourers have strayed into my studio by accident. I have given you work all through this winter and look how you punish me.!.  Elevate your minds please.”
Of course we were just village craftsmen and farmers; but we were hungry and curious, so to humour him and because we had nothing else to replace him with , we succumbed to his  vision. Most mornings,   we practised gentle palm touching; we greeted each other more kindly and we even cleaned our broken nails.


 Our hands would often  retaliate by going numb by the evening, but  Tomas promised this  made the painting even more real.   “Look, your hands are apprehending the divine.” He told us.  Faith finds its own heart’s knowledge”
We all nodded unsure of his words, but glad of our day’s meal. I liked the idea of my hands showing my heart; and so I thought did Joshua, though he was always placed away from me, in the middle of us all.  


Our window painting took all that winter to complete. We were fed on simple soup and bread. We drank rough wine when Tomas was pleased with us.  I counted each day with pebbles in my garden. Their grey shapes stained the plot of earth beneath my kitchen sill and when the snow came I stopped counting them outside and brought my pebbles indoors to keep them warm. I began my own mosaic with the pebbles and arranged the outline of a face in shadows of my kitchen.

Sometimes I even thought the pebbles became less grey and lit up as our  winter went on, but this could have been one of my mind’s lonely tricks. We had been starved of colour here for so long that I confess I began to hope again.
  But I am departing from my purpose.  You want to see the window clearly and so do l.


So Imagine us all, huddled together spending three and a half months straining to think only pure thoughts, so our faces would shine.
“Your expressions are your souls’ testimony” said Tomas. “They must never mislead. Consider your duty to a lonely child gazing upon your faces years from this moment. What will your eyes have to tell them? How will you direct their souls?  “
I commanded my eyes to shroud nothing of myself for i doubted Tomas’ restrictions, his fierce austerity.  I   feared his cold blue eyes.  So I widened my eyes and boldly looked out. Openness seemed stronger than armour.



Yet we let Tomas rule us easily most days because we felt the power of his  certainty and we were hungry and young  enough to compromise. Sometimes   we prayed secretly for the return  of his doubt. But we liked our bread and Tomas could be kind when he forgot to brandish his certainty. 


And we joked around too …Our favourite joke was about the  crowd of apparently adoring disciples at the bottom of the  window. Have you noticed how they all have a certain look about them?
God must know where Tomas found this adoring crowd. We rarely got to see them. Tomas kept them all to himself.   Once after wine, someone suggested they were Tomas’ secret family. “Maybe he was really less pure than he pretended.” If you look closely they all have a similarity about the mouth don’t they?.
Despite this,    Tomas captured something about me I really didn’t recognise at the time. Something less mean perhaps. Less tormented by life’s games.


Of course the star is still Joshua. How Tomas captured that searing glance I do not know. There was something special amongst us those months. Joshua stood so still. He accepted what was there.  It felt like he began to live the part. You know he even gave up his shoes in December’s snow.



When the painting was done Joshua simply went away. No goodbyes. He vanished. Never even came to the party. Strange that. We all missed him. Even Tomas.
Perhaps one day he’ll come back.
I listen for his knock.


My son had two two hour sessions with Janet before his Cambridge Pre-U exam (similar to A Level)  for his English Literature Prose paper. These were, for practical purposes, done on the telephone, but they actually worked very well. Janet sent him some passages to look at beforehand as preparation and as a way into the discussion. Her knowledge of the subject was very impressive and she was able to extend and guide the discussion in many directions. She was able to help him identify major themes, symbols and use of language,  and provide some ideas as to how to use these in the exam. She also suggested some reading related to the text which would improve his understanding and help him put it in a wider context. He did very well in the exam and I believe (because he told me) that the two sessions with Janet gave him much more confidence to approach what he had beforehand been finding a quite a difficult topic. Janet is very professional, but also  has a very friendly and approachable manner and this certainly made it enjoyable for him looking at the texts and in increasing his confidence. I would have no doubt in recommending Dr Lewison for any student wanting to consolidate their knowledge at this level. 
peel view

shynessONE PAUL

(I wrote this post a couple of years ago as shyness affects us all at times and when we are undergoing changes such as college or university, then our confidence in speaking to others and feeling relaxed, may seem a little threatened! So I am republishing this today as there are things you can do to boost your confidence and here are THREE! )



Janet Lewison

  • How many times have you walked out of  seminar or a lesson and wished that you had spoken up and said what you wanted to say?
  • How many time have you felt frustrated that you kept silent about your idea and then had to listen to other people discussing your ‘secret’ idea whilst  enjoying the praise and lime light?
  • Have you ever made a bargain with yourself saying next time I will speak up and then found yourself making the same promise again each week as terms slips away, noticing week by week that everyone else has spoken up  but you?
  • If you have answered YES to any or all of these questions then today I will reveal three easy ways you can change your behaviour in groups whether you are at University, in the Sixth form   or at School

Before I reveal  THREE possible solutions to your situation let me quickly tell you why I feel so strongly about the misery of NON -PARTICIPATION.

When I was a shy third year Undergraduate student at Liverpool University I can remember being very silent week by week during the ironically ‘dreaded’  English tutorial. For I shared each tutorial with about  5 other students  who all seemed so confident, so worldly , so wise….

….Each week I kept promising myself to say something next time,  but the term went on, and then the next term began…and I felt more and more trapped in my behaviour …

Shyness was  a grim  prison.


Until I remember that the next tutorial was going to be Joseph Conrad’s slim line classic, Heart of Darkness.

A very apt title  looking back…

Once again I sat there, I felt all twitchy;  I shuffled in my seat checking my watch…

Tick tick tick.

I took a huge breath.


For  I felt an overwhelming surge of pent up frustration, even anger.

For I didn’t agree with what anyone was saying at all, time was ticking away, mocking me.

ANOTHER DEEP BREATH...and despite my shyness I had to burst out with my thoughts, red faced and stuttering as I may have appeared…

I spoke.

I dared to express my opinion. I pointed out why I felt the novel was about doppelgangers and fear.

Another student nodded, replied, my tutor murmured something.  On we went….

After that I felt much  better. I was on parole!

Something had changed.


I had given vent to my own curiosity about the novel.

I didn’t become the extrovert of the class but I did feel able to speak up sometimes and I even chose to write about Oscar Wilde who was definitely not to my tutor’s taste, but who nevertheless awarded  me my very first 70% mark.

Something had genuinely shifted through speaking out and making my thoughts join the outside world.

As a tutor and teacher, I appreciate  how important it is for students’ learning and  self esteem to feel that they can speak up in discussions.

There is something powerful about speaking aloud and when we hear our ideas ‘out in the open’ we may often find that they become larger, or take a new direction, making us think more flexibly and even differently.

So what are the three ways you can improve your participation in groups?

1) Make sure you have prepared evidence for your viewpoint. This could be a quotation from an article/an image/section from book or report etc.

This supports you in terms of argument but perhaps even more importantly it gives the group something to look at that is not you.

You can pass it around as a hand out, remind the class of the line if it is class text, or even point it out if visual evidence like a projector.

It also ‘buys’ you breathing space for the group can read it or even listen to you reading it and this is a great asset for everyone!

Buy yourself TIME! 


2) Look at everyone who speaks and give good eye contact. Smile. Smiling creates a positive state in both you and your listeners. 

Being supportive involves you in the ‘action’ of the group and can even lead to a spontaneously expressed  ‘I agree’ .

Each moment that you join in the action and movement of a group, even when you are not actually speaking aloud,  you are building your participation.

You are building good will and affirmative emotions. 

Participation is very much about being present in a group through body language as a clear indication of interest and curiosity.

Remember that we all like to be supported and acknowledged in any group situation.

Be Present by SHOWING that you are listening. 

Participation is verbal AND non verbal.

Daring greatly through turning up for the group and for yourself! 

3) Use curious words and curious phrases. Words matter.

Words have the power to transform as Alice found out once she followed her instinct for adventure and followed the mysterious white rabbit!

WONDER-LAND is hugely important for our participation. 

So when you are giving positive eye contact, nodding, laughing, etc you may find yourself ‘adding’ in words or phrases that allow you to enter into the discussion in an open and non threatening way.

Curious Words open up possibilities and show feeling and curiosity on your part. 

So What are these curious words?

They are words that show interest and leave plenty of room for flexibility and possibility.

Curiosity MOVES us ....

pITUREHere’s another post about an Edith Wharton ghost story called ‘The Triumph of Night.’ ( Now there’s a masterclass on the effect of a resonant metaphor just in the title of the story!) There is definitely something ‘of the night’ about the narrative , not least in the heartless betrayal that lies at the heart of the tale.

Close analysis is essential to the study of English Literature and English tuition works to enhance the skills of students through practice at all levels of English Studies, whether GCSE, GCE A level or Undergraduate. Attention and confidence are key to textual analysis. Look for the ‘strange’ and think about WHY you have noticed something in particular, then follow your ‘nose’ through the trail of narrative or poetry to get to the heart of the message. 


  In fact the more I consider the implications of the sustained metaphor of the ‘triumph of the night’ the more nightmarish yet ‘proximate’ the tale becomes. For it is the very openness and generosity of the young man Rainer which makes him vulnerable. So cynicism would seem to be the best way to avoid betrayal, yet Wharton shows us that self preservation as evinced by the protagonist Faxon,  is also a form of self-betrayal and leads to guilt and emotional isolation. 


  Once again I look for the ‘strangeness’ in an attempt to explore the undercurrents of the narrative. perhaps nothing is more pleasurable in reading critically than asking yourself ‘why does this word or phrase affect me in this way…?’ Being curious about the EFFECT of language helps us appreciate the way in which a text is constructed and certainly gives an individual aspect to our essay writing. Reading ‘otherwise’ makes your essays have a voice. 




Extract Two.


They saluted their host’s nephew with friendly familiarity, and Mr. Grisben, who seemed the spokesman of the two, ended his greeting with a genial–“and many many more of them, dear boy!” which suggested to Faxon that their arrival coincided with an anniversary. But he could not press the enquiry, for the seat allotted him was at the coachman’s side, while Frank Rainer joined his uncle’s guests inside the sleigh.

A swift flight (behind such horses as one could be sure of John Lavington’s having) brought them to tall gateposts, an illuminated lodge, and an avenue on which the snow had been levelled to the smoothness of marble. At the end of the avenue the long house loomed up, its principal bulk dark, but one wing sending out a ray of welcome; and the next moment Faxon was receiving a violent impression of warmth and light, of hot-house plants, hurrying servants, a vast spectacular oak hall like a stage-setting, and, in its unreal middle distance, a small figure, correctly dressed, conventionally featured, and utterly unlike his rather florid conception of the great John Lavington.

The surprise of the contrast remained with him through his hurried dressing in the large luxurious bedroom to which he had been shown. “I don’t see where he comes in,” was the only way he could put it, so difficult was it to fit the exuberance of Lavington’s public personality into his host’s contracted frame and manner. Mr. Laving ton, to whom Faxon’s case had been rapidly explained by young Rainer, had welcomed him with a sort of dry and stilted cordiality that exactly matched his narrow face, his stiff hand, and the whiff of scent on his evening handkerchief. “Make yourself at home–at home!” he had repeated, in a tone that suggested, on his own part, a complete inability to perform the feat he urged on his visitor. “Any friend of Frank’s… delighted… make yourself thoroughly at home!”

Look how cleverly Wharton encourages our interest through our designated reader’s position as ‘Faxon’,  using his physical exclusion’at the coachman’s side’. this exclusion delays his(and therefore the reader’s)  firm knowledge about Rainer’s significant birthday and what such an anniversary  might signify in terms of wealth.


 The repetition used by Mr Grisben concerning Rainer’s  longevity reinforces the narrator’s intuitive concern about Rainer’s future health. These techniques alert the narrator( and therefore the reader) to something impending and when ‘we’ arrive at Rainer’s Uncle’s home, we start to notice much ‘strangeness’ indeed!  For look at the pronounced contrast between Uncle Lavington’s home being described both in terms of its ‘principal dark bulk’ and then the  ‘violent impression of warmth and light. ‘


Faxon feels ambivalent about what the house represents. He feels confused about the ‘character’ of the house,  and a few moments later, he is confused as well by the contradictory character of Uncle Lavington with his ‘dry and stiff cordiality.’  as opposed to his apparently exuberant ‘public personality.’


It all seems the wrong way around.  We might expect a character to be more at home’ with himself when he is at home! We join with Faxon in wondering about such an irony, and if Lavington is strangely not ‘at home’ we must  expect the uncanny! He is performing friendliness and geniality rather than feeling it as he is harbouring a terrible intention. He is plotting to destroy his trusting nephew in order to save his own reputation and wealth. Truly a man of the ‘night’!! ( And with a curiously perfumed if his deceit has a scent! Or maybe his effete quality is a sign of his malignant, corruption of his ‘feminine’ role as nurturer of his ward and nephew?)  minotaur

I think today marks the 187th birthday of Leo Tolstoy- and the extract below describes the first encounter between Anna Karenin and Vronsky in Part One Chapter 18 of Anna Karenina. The description captures the moment of love’s ignition and the reader joins with Vronsky in stepping aside to admire this most compelling of perhaps all  heroines. For who could resist the combination of ‘suppressed eagerness” with her nature ‘brimming over with something”-Surely  it is the indefinable, intellectual and erotic energy of Anna’s  ‘something’ which though ‘shrouded’ ultimately proves fatally irresistible ?  


I can remember reading Anna Karenina for the first time at Liverpool University and thinking Anna doomed to enjoy only the most mediocre of romances with Vronsky,  who proves too ordinary for her defiant yet compromised soul. Vronsky appreciates Anna’s power but is unable to match it or even truly meet it. Her husband Karenina is sexually repressed and cold though undeniably loves Anna. The tragedy is that only Levin could have balanced her and he in turn is compromised by marriage to the resoundnigly dull( though acceptably orthodox) Kitty. The twentieth century could have saved Anna ; the nineteenth consumed her heart and soul. 

Vronsky followed the guard to the carriage, and at the door of the compartment he stopped short to make room for a lady who was getting out.

With the insight of a man of the world, from one glance at this lady’s appearance Vronsky classified her as belonging to the best society. He begged pardon, and was getting into the carriage, but felt he must glance at her once more; not that she was very beautiful, not on account of the elegance and modest grace which were apparent in her whole figure, but because in the expression of her charming face, as she passed close by him, there was something peculiarly caressing and soft. As he looked round, she too turned her head. Her shining gray eyes, that looked dark from the thick lashes, rested with friendly attention on his face, as though she were recognizing him, and then promptly turned away to the passing crowd, as though seeking someone. In that brief look Vronsky had time to notice the suppressed eagerness which played over her face, and flitted between the brilliant eyes and the faint smile that curved her red lips. It was as though her nature were so brimming over with something that against her will it showed itself now in the flash of her eyes, and now in her smile. Deliberately she shrouded the light in her eyes, but it shone against her will in the faintly perceptible smile.


I reread Edith Wharton’s short story ‘The Triumph of Night’ again yesterday,  as I remembered finding it frustrating as it was both enjoyable and unsatisfying.  Certain aspects of the story had fascinated me,  whilst others seemed rather contrived. I remember finding the resolution rushed as if Wharton had wanted the story  to be over and done with and had sacrificed the  unsettling   pieces of the story to a studiedly, artificially  ‘uneasy’ ending.  The story resonates throughout with something unsettling yet doesn’t  quite fulfill its disquiet. I wondered why, particularly when Wharton is often superb at disquiet as her brilliant story ‘Afterward’ reveals.  The idea of the ‘night’s triumph lingers on though…


 In in artistic sense, I  was reminded  of Katherine Mansfield’s criticism of her own  short story, Mr and Mrs Dove when she said:’ It’s a little bit made up. It’s not inevitable.’  So I read the Wharton story again and tried to evaluate why I felt ambivalent about it, why it didn’t feel quite as ‘inevitable’ as i felt it should!


 It’s always worth annotating the ‘strange’ in a text as these moments give away all sorts of fertile ideas about the writing.  when you read and come across the ‘strange’ stay with those moments and explore them further. 

I have copied below several places where the text seems strange and  ‘leaks’ interest and tried to work out why I found the story so ambivalent. I have underlined ‘strange’ moments!Here’s the first example: 



“Weymore?–No, these are not the Weymore sleighs.”

The voice was that of the youth who had jumped to the platform–a voice so agreeable that, in spite of the words, it fell consolingly on Faxon’s ears. At the same moment the wandering station-lantern, casting a transient light on the speaker, showed his features to be in the pleasantest harmony with his voice. He was very fair and very young–hardly in the twenties, Faxon thought–but his face, though full of a morning freshness, was a trifle too thin and fine-drawn, as though a vivid spirit contended in him with a strain of physical weakness. Faxon was perhaps the quicker to notice such delicacies of balance because his own temperament hung on lightly quivering nerves, which yet, as he believed, would never quite swing him beyond a normal sensibility.

“You expected a sleigh from Weymore?” the newcomer continued, standing beside Faxon like a slender column of fur.





When the protagonist Faxon meets the ill fated Rainer for the first time, Rainer rescues Faxon from the wintry night and takes him home to his Uncle’s grand house. The agreeable  warmth and fairness of Rainer are in stark contrast to the snowy chill of the night and subtly set up an opposition between heat and cold in the narrative. However the reader also recognizes the  irony  that  the consumptive nature of Rainer gives him rather too much warmth which dooms him. He is too trusting of his Uncle’s feigned ‘warmth’ so once again ‘warmth’ becomes double edged in the story. 


The ‘night’ in the story’s title, refers to  both the landscape itself and is also a metaphor for the dark conspiracy at the heart of the story,  where murderous  neglect masquerades  as benevolent care. Who is really cold despite their affectation of warmth? Why might this be? Could ‘night’ also refer to something else, latently present yet unspoken? 



In the extract above, Faxon is immediately sympathetic to Rainer,  as he is himself more sensitive and delicate than other men. Faxon describes him in an engaging and even tender manner when he refers to Rainer being ‘like a slender column of fur.’ This simile stayed in my mind. It seemed affectionate and would not be out of place at the opera. The vulnerability and wealth of Rainer are suggested by the simile. He is even feminized by this choice of language yet ironically Rainer  is also rescuing the forgotten- about economically challenged Faxon. Their affection is immediately reciprocal but ill fated. 


This encounter is then explored again at the end of the story when Faxon ‘rescued’ again by Rainer finds he must attempt to rescue Rainer in turn and fails as Rainer dies (almost) in his arms. Thus the ‘transient light’ that illuminates Rainer above, proves a doom laden foreshadowing of Rainer’s impending mortality. It also suggests that he is a ‘transient light’ in the moral darkness of his villainous Uncle’s web-like conspiracy.


Faxon therefore intuitively recognizes more above than he rationally knows above,   and it is  his reluctance to ‘know’ what is going on in any explicit manner,  that creates the strange spectral doppelganger figure at the house,  which reveals the secret evil of the Uncle, yet from which Faxon  flees, leaving Rainer to his Uncle’s malignant final design. 


 I did wonder if Wharton, however obliquely, is playing with a latent homo-eroticism in the story and this constitutes at least part of Faxon’s fearfulness and  need to run away. He suggests above that his sensitivity will never transport him ‘beyond a normal sensibility’, unlike he  infers, Rainer with his fair hair and frailty.  I did wonder at this phrasing and at its innate awkwardness as Faxon tried to balance or measure ‘normality’.


Faxon is musing,  yet is repressing his feelings,  even whilst being introspective.   Where after all are the women in the story?  And do look at the investment in the euphemistic ‘sensitivity’ of both Faxon and Rainer in the tale. The latter’s sensitivity is ‘explained’ by tuberculosis, Faxon’s remains more obscure. He is once again ‘rescued’ again during the story’s final moments by yet another male . and transported away to another country presumably to get over Rainer and his own impotency when it came to protecting his vulnerable friend. . 

(Even  the evil  Uncle scents his handkerchief and fills his home with arranged flowers! ) 



I will continue with the following extracts soon. 

Extract Two.


They saluted their host’s nephew with friendly familiarity, and Mr. Grisben, who seemed the spokesman of the two, ended his greeting with a genial–“and many many more of them, dear boy!” which suggested to Faxon that their arrival coincided with an anniversary. But he could not press the enquiry, for the seat allotted him was at the coachman’s side, while Frank Rainer joined his uncle’s guests inside the sleigh.

A swift flight (behind such horses as one could be sure of John Lavington’s having) brought them to tall gateposts, an illuminated lodge, and an avenue on which the snow had been levelled to the smoothness of marble. At the end of the avenue the long house loomed up, its principal bulk dark, but one wing sending out a ray of welcome; and the next moment Faxon was receiving a violent impression of warmth and light, of hot-house plants, hurrying servants, a vast spectacular oak hall like a stage-setting, and, in its unreal middle distance, a small figure, correctly dressed, conventionally featured, and utterly unlike his rather florid conception of the great John Lavington.

The surprise of the contrast remained with him through his hurried dressing in the large luxurious bedroom to which he had been shown. “I don’t see where he comes in,” was the only way he could put it, so difficult was it to fit the exuberance of Lavington’s public personality into his host’s contracted frame and manner. Mr. Laving ton, to whom Faxon’s case had been rapidly explained by young Rainer, had welcomed him with a sort of dry and stilted cordiality that exactly matched his narrow face, his stiff hand, and the whiff of scent on his evening handkerchief. “Make yourself at home–at home!” he had repeated, in a tone that suggested, on his own part, a complete inability to perform the feat he urged on his visitor. “Any friend of Frank’s… delighted… make yourself thoroughly at home!”

Extract THREE


With this thought in his mind, Faxon raised his eyes to look at Mr. Lavington. The great man’s gaze rested on Frank Rainer with an expression of untroubled benevolence; and at the same instant Faxon’s attention was attracted by the presence in the room of another person, who must have joined the group while he was upstairs searching for the seal. The new-comer was a man of about Mr. Lavington’s age and figure, who stood just behind his chair, and who, at the moment when Faxon first saw him, was gazing at young Rainer with an equal intensity of attention. The likeness between the two men–perhaps increased by the fact that the hooded lamps on the table left the figure behind the chair in shadow–struck Faxon the more because of the contrast in their expression. John Lavington, during his nephew’s clumsy attempt to drop the wax and apply the seal, continued to fasten on him a look of half-amused affection; while the man behind the chair, so oddly reduplicating the lines of his features and figure, turned on the boy a face of pale hostility.


Extract FOUR


“It was cold out there.” he sighed; and then, abruptly, as if invisible shears at a single stroke had cut every muscle in his body, he swerved, drooped on Faxon’s arm, and seemed to sink into nothing at his feet.

The lodge-keeper and Faxon bent over him, and somehow, between them, lifted him into the kitchen and laid him on a sofa by the stove.

The lodge-keeper, stammering: “I’ll ring up the house,” dashed out of the room. But Faxon heard the words without heeding them: omens mattered nothing now, beside this woe fulfilled. He knelt down to undo the fur collar about Rainer’s throat, and as he did so he felt a warm moisture on his hands. He held them up, and they were red….





English tuition helps boost confidence in self expression and boosts grades. I charge £25 /Hour for students to GCSE level and now  £30 for A level and Undergraduate tuition. I am aware that these costs may prohibit students enjoying the benefits of English Tuition and wanted to reiterate that if students wish to attend with friends or siblings then I am quite happy to charge the same amount for the session. Obviously this is slightly different to one to one tuition but I have tutored many students in small groups and it does help and often proves lively in terms of discussion without becoming impersonal and like a classroom. 

It is also helpful if a group of students are very precise in terms of their particular ‘problem areas’ as this can then help focus the English tuition to their advantage. 

So if you would like to try English Tuition with a friend or two or even a member of your family, do contact me for more information. 

Very Best, Janet Lewison




Partly  inspired by Blake’s wonderful poem The Schoolboy containing the ageless wisdom:

How can the bird that is born for joy
Sit in a cage and sing? 
Partly by Stephen King's Misery and not a little by my aversion to fastidiousness! 
As I have mentioned before on this blog, 50 word tales are great fun and easily fit on a
 smartphone app like Evernote! . 

Imogen  worked very hard and kept everything in cages.

Naturally they were all happy. 

She checked on their progress  and of course, it was good.

Her lover was well connected and that was good too.

Then one  day,  she noticed something staining
her busy hands. marking her cages. 






I first read Oliver Sacks in 1986 when The Man who mistook his wife for a Hat was published by Picador. I was utterly absorbed by his stories of human beings compromised, often in extraordinary ways,  by neurological problems,  yet who managed to re-imagine themselves with resourcefulness and tenacity.  The humanity and compassion of Oliver Sacks’ writing resonated deeply, as I had spent several weeks shortly before, in Walton Hospital’s neurology department, and ever since that experience,  neurology has retained both  an understandable fascination and fear. 

Oliver Sacks writes with wit and compassionate curiosity. He is unafraid of revealing his own character in his writing. He is never cold and distant and his science is one of care and acceptance. His medicine is always person centered no matter how scientifically extraordinary his patients’ symptoms. Like Ray Bradbury and Toni Morrison I think he is one of the most visionary writers I have ever read. 

He saw all right, but what did he see? I opened out a copy of theNational Geographic Magazine and asked him to describe some pictures in it.

His responses here were very curious. His eyes would dart from one thing to another, picking up tiny features, individual features, as they had done with my face. A striking brightness, a colour, a shape would arrest his attention and elicit comment—but in no case did he get the scene-as-a-whole. He failed to see the whole, seeing only details, which he spotted like blips on a radar screen. He never entered into relation with the picture as a whole—never faced, so to speak, its physiognomy. He had no sense whatever of a landscape or scene.

I showed him the cover, an unbroken expanse of Sahara dunes.

‘What do you see here?’ I asked.

‘I see a river,’ he said. ‘And a little guest-house with its terrace on the water. People are dining out on the terrace. I see coloured parasols here and there.’ He was looking, if it was ‘looking’, right off the cover into mid-air and confabulating nonexistent features, as if the absence of features in the actual picture had driven him to imagine the river and the terrace and the coloured parasols.

I must have looked aghast, but he seemed to think he had done rather well. There was a hint of a smile on his face. He also appeared to have decided that the examination was over and started to look around for his hat. He reached out his hand and took hold of his wife’s head, tried to lift it off, to put it on. He had apparently mistaken his wife for a hat! His wife looked as if she was used to such things. ( The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a hat, Oliver Sacks).


”To be ourselves we must have ourselves – possess, if need be re-possess, our life-stories. We must “recollect” ourselves, recollect the inner drama, the narrative, of ourselves. A man needs such a narrative, a continuous inner narrative, to maintain his identity, his self.” ( Oliver Sacks) 

”I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.” ( Oliver Sacks on his terminal illness)

John Mouldy

I spied John Mouldy in his celler,
Deep down twenty steps of stone;
In the dusk he sat a-smiling
Smiling there all alone.

He read no book, he snuffed no candle;
The rats ran in, the rats ran out,
And far and near, the drip of water
Went whisp’ring about.

The dusk was still, with dew a-falling,
I saw the Dog-star bleak and grim,
I saw a slim brown rat of Norway
Creep over him.

I spied John Mouldy in his celler,
Deep down twenty steps of stone;
In the dusk he sat a-smiling
Smiling there all alone.


Here’s a poem to encourage even the most indifferent readers and writers! 

English tuition allows students to read lots of different texts so that their understanding of how language works extends far beyond what they might read at school. 

When students encounter different writers, they quickly pick up ways of creating their own stories too. 

All writers ‘borrow’ from other writers and English Tuition gives students the opportunity to try out new types of writing and to take their writing to different levels and places. 

In De La mare’s poem above students love the witty oddity of the poem’s title.  Questions are asked and the poem is a brilliant generator of ideas…

1) Who is the eponymous ‘hero’ of the poem- and how relevant is his name John Mouldy? Juxtapositions are a succinct way of gaining the reader’s attention. We are compelled to read on…place the ordinary next to the extraordinary and see what is created…

2) How sinister is the ‘smiling’ behaviour in the poem?  Why are smiles sometimes so unsettling? 

3) Why does the poet repeat the first and last stanzas? What is the effect of this form  of refrain? 

4) De La Mare  utilises alliteration in the poem several times.. Think about the effect of the alliteration.

5) Think about the setting of the poem and how the ‘celler’ creates certain Gothic/ unsettling expectations.  The speaker is very specific about the number of stairs down to the celler. WHY? What is the  EFFECT? 

6) Who is the narrator of the poem and what effect is created through his/her act of ‘spying’ on the ever smiling John Mouldy?  have we any doubts about the motivations of the narrator?

Walter De la Mare is also famous for his intriguing poem The Listeners , where the calling visitor is ignored by  house crammed with (eavesdropping)  ghosts! The poem is beautiful ambiguous and perfectly understated.

For he suddenly smote on the door, even   
   Louder, and lifted his head:—
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,   
   That I kept my word,’ he said.
What could be more intriguing than the prospect that the visitor knows about the listeners and wants them to pass on a message to an unnamed ‘them’? And that he ‘kept’ his promise? What we wonder, is the purpose of his visit after all? And who is listening to every sound he makes? 

Ray Bradbury knows the importance of wanting. In his story ‘The Picasso summer’ his protagonist George Smith adores Picasso. He ‘loved art more than life itself.’  George dreams of even buying a Picasso picture. He lands in Biarritz with his wife, after hearing the rumour that Picasso is staying only a few miles down the coast. The very name ‘Picasso’ evokes awe for George and the story becomes a ‘stage’ for the brief meeting of George with his god, Picasso. Picasso is on the beach, idly drawing with a popsicle stick, creating pictures that can only last as long as the tide stays out. And only George is there to witness these transient images of Picasso: a gift one feels for George’s devotion!

The story is ended perfectly too,  privileging the reader’s knowledge with that of George in a private epiphany, as Picasso’s impromptu pictures are  washed away . but George has ‘seen’ his god and is fulfilled.

”Just the tide,’ he said after a while, sitting there, his eyes still shut. ”Just the tide coming in.” . 

The stranger stood alone. Glancing about, he saw his aloneness, saw the waters of the lovely bay, saw the sun sliding down the late colors of the day, and then, half turning, spied a small wooden object on the sand. It was no more than the slender stick from a lime ice cream delicacy long since melted away. Smiling, he picked the stick up. With another glance around to reinsure his solitude, the man stooped again and, holding the stick gently, with light sweeps of his hand began to do the one thing in all the world he knew best how to do.

He began to draw incredible figures along the sand.

He sketched one figure and then moved over and, still looking down, completely focused on his work now, drew a second and a third figure, and after that a fourth and a fifth and a sixth.

George Smith, printing the shore line with his feet, gazed here, gazed there, and then saw the man ahead. George Smith, drawing nearer, saw that the man, deeply tanned, was bending down. Nearer yet, and it was obvious what the man was up to, George Smith chuckled. Of course . . . Alone on the beach this man how old? Sixty-five? Seventy? — was scribbling and doodling away. How the sand flew! How the wild portraits flung themselves out there on the shore!

What a wonderful ‘what if ‘story?

And the tide carrying away the spontaneous sand doodlings of Picasso is  pure elegy in motion!




“Stop!” cried the old man.
Douglas pulled up and turned.
Mr. Sanderson leaned forward. “How do they feel?”
The boy looked down at his feet deep in the rivers, in the fields of wheat, in the
wind that already was rushing him out of the town. He looked up at the old man, his eyes
burning, his mouth moving, but no sound came out.
“Antelopes?” said the old man, looking from the boy’s face to his shoes.
The boy thought about it, hesitated, and nodded a quick nod. Almost immediately
he vanished. He just spun about with a whisper and went off. The door stood empty.
The sound of the tennis shoes faded in the jungle heat.
Mr. Sanderson stood in the sun-blazed door, listening. From a long time ago,
when he dreamed as a boy, he remembered the sound. Beautiful creatures leaping under
the sky, gone through brush, under trees, away, and only the soft echo their running left
“Antelopes,” said Mr. Sanderson. “Gazelles.”
He bent to pick up the boy’s abandoned winter shoes, heavy with forgotten rains
and long-melted snows. Moving out of the blazing sun, walking softly, lightly, slowly,
he headed back toward civilization . . . .


Apparently this story(The Sound of Summer Running) was inspired by an incident on the bus. Ray Bradbury identifies the importance of ‘wanting’ in this story and makes the desire fresh and innocent. He also transforms the act of gaining what you desire into a reciprocal gift. I will come back to this idea shortly.  However let us first  see how  Ray Bradbury remembers the event: 

“I was on a bus going into Westwood a few years ago, and a young boy jumped on the bus, threw his money in the box, raced down the aisle, and threw himself into a seat across from me.  And I looked at him, and I said, ‘My god, if I had his energy, I could write a poem every day, a story every week, a novel every month.  What’s his secret?’  I looked down at his feet.  He had the brightest pair of new fresh tennis shoes on his feet.  And I said, oh, my god, I can remember when I was a kid, my father taking me downtown and buying me my first pair of new summer tennis shoes.  I went home, and I wrote the short story.”

Look how Bradbury creates his story via association. He sees the boy board the bus, notices his energy and then finds the ‘reason’ for such vitality in the ‘fresh tennis shoes.’ Bradbury then recalls his own emotional connection to the resonant event of the new ‘summer tennis shoes’ and thus the story is discovered. I say discovered because Bradbury’s creative  technique reminds me of Michelangelo’s famous description of his own art, where it is as if the artistic creation  has already existed  and is merely waiting for the artist  to discover its hiding place.  Hence his creation of the Sound of Summer running.’

”Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”



The ending of the Summer of Running story is beautifully ambiguous. For is Douglas’ experience of the tennis shoes the same as that of the old man? Surely the old man imagines a jungle world and the young boy something nearer to home. Yet the prompting of the old man may transport the young boy into the world of gazelles and antelopes too. Their understanding seems reciprocal from the beginning and the old man accepts the terms of the young boy’s deal with him.  The boy’s desire for the sneakers becomes a matter less of material exchange and more about a reciprocal gift, a ‘communion’ of the imagination.


If the boy’s magical ‘away’ is initially different to that of Mr Sanderson, then the boy has the capacity to imagine Mr Sanderson’s ‘away’ too. The very evocation of the words ‘antelopes’ and gazelles’ act like a Proustian conjuring trick as they re-evoke the freedom of a Proustian ‘lost time’.  As the boy and Mr Sanderson wear the new sneakers they are anchored to a fresh sensory freedom which ignites their imagination.  They become ‘lite’ as the name oft he shoes promises and this contrasts with the ‘heavy’ shoes of the present, where the burdening weffect of material reality is to supppress the imaginative freedom of wonder…linked in this story with the young boy. 


Thus the old man is returned elegaically to a time and place  when he was young, dreamy and full of imagination. ‘Civilization’ as the last word in the tale appears to be all tied up with convention and expediency. interestingly the boy’s father has no recognition oft he magical qualities of the new  sneakers. He dwells very much in a more practical, prosaic reality. 

Yet the old man, perhaps more contemplative of his approaching ‘exit’ from life, now delivers up the names of the free running animals as a promise and hope for something truly ‘away’ from the prosaic world.

Simply wonderful. 



Reading helps us find out who we might be under cover so to speak!

 We don’t need to wear borrowed clothes when we read, we can truly imagine those what if personalities and places that often times get submerged because of convention: for as we are governed, so we tend to govern ourselves.

Little wonder then, that writing depends on reading. How can anyone create characters and situations and make them compelling, if there is no store house  of words to feed the writing? Reading makes writing more daring, more full of life and surprises.

Ray Bradbury offers this formula for creative writers:

“Find a character, like yourself, who will want something or not want something with all his heart. Give him running orders. Shoot him off. Then follow as fast as you can  go .”



In my next blog I will introduce you to a Bradbury character who wants something with all his heart and who ran as fast as…..a gazelle!



A few Christmases ago I treated myself to a copy of Ray Bradbury’s collection of essays about the writing called Zen and the Art of Writing. It remains one of the most joyful books I have ever read. I could say inspirational but it has become a tired word in the media. So let’s just say that Ray Bradbury is wonderful; in every sense of the word.  I have never read a short story writer with his range, humanity and ability to  surprise.   
Ray Bradbury worked through the power of word  association.  He collected ideas for stories in the form.of  words or simple phrases creating stories almost by chasing the ideas  through the tales which evolved as he wrote on.
“I have never listened go anyone who criticised my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the rooom.”


Think about The Veldt one of Bradbury s most famous tales originally begun as “The playroom” and captured though the word association of ” Africa. Hot sun. Vultures. Dead meat. Lions.”  Apparently the tale took about 120 minutes as “an explosion of idea.” Given ” shelter” by his “intuitive self” for years…

Ray Bradbury Dies

Now think of Bradbury and his wife walking on a beach and coming across the broken bones of Venice  pier. ” what’s that dinosaur doing lying here on the beach?”asked Bradbury. …If his wife “wisely” gave him no answer then the sound of the ‘Santa Monica foghorn’ the night later gives Bradbury his answer. He decided that the lonely dinosaur had heard the foghorn, assumed it was another dinosaur calling from the deep past and he had  died subsequently  on the shore of a broken heart when he realised it was only a foghorn. 


The foghorn story was filmed two years later and marked the beginning of Bradbury’s association with John Huston. 




  • The villain is the hero of his or her own story. ..symbiotic relationship with hero… Unity of opposites?
  • Your villain is a dark reflection of your hero’s wants, needs and desires.. he/she is doing what the hero would do,  If not constrained by morality, purpose, or righteousness…
  • The villain may define the hero and vice versa…may ‘complete’ the hero…fulfil something lacking in the hero..for a time…
  • If the hero is ‘haunted’ by his or her past…then the villain/antagonist may be within the psyche of the hero. A war going on within the hero between ‘good’ and ‘bad’, potency and impotency.
  • A successful villain is both fascinating and repulsive.
  • The villain stops the hero realising his/her dream.
  • Very often more powerful than the hero but then loses power and potency as the hero grows on his/her journey…
  • Maybe the nature of villainy subject to change unlike heroism?

EXAMPLE: Count Fosco in The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. 

(Narrated by protagonist  Marian Halcombe ) Reads like a ‘discovery’ rather than creation! (Bowen)

He looks like a man who could tame anything. If he had married a tigress, instead of a woman, he would have tamed the tigress. If he had married me, I should have made his cigarettes, as his wife does–I should have held my tongue when he looked at me, as she holds hers.

I am almost afraid to confess it, even to these secret pages. The man has interested me, has attracted me, has forced me to like him. In two short days he has made his way straight into my favourable estimation, and how he has worked the miracle is more than I can tell.

It absolutely startles me, now he is in my mind, to find how plainly I see him!–how much more plainly than I see Sir Percival, or Mr. Fairlie, or Walter Hartright, or any other absent person of whom I think, with the one exception of Laura herself! I can hear his voice, as if he was speaking at this moment. I know what his conversation was yesterday, as well as if I was hearing it now. …Is it his face that has recommended him?

It may be his face. He is a most remarkable likeness, on a large scale, of the great Napoleon. His features have Napoleon’s magnificent regularity–his expression recalls the grandly calm, immovable power of the Great Soldier’s face. This striking resemblance certainly impressed me, to begin with; but there is something in him besides the resemblance, which has impressed me more. I think the influence I am now trying to find is in his eyes. They are the most unfathomable grey eyes I ever saw, and they have at times a cold, clear, beautiful, irresistible glitter in them which forces me to look at him, and yet causes me sensations, when I do look, which I would rather not feel. …The marked peculiarity which singles him out from the rank and file of humanity lies entirely, so far as I can tell at present, in the extraordinary expression and extraordinary power of his eyes.

His manner and his command of our language may also have assisted him, in some degree, to establish himself in my good opinion. He has that quiet deference, that look of pleased, attentive interest in listening to a woman, and that secret gentleness in his voice in speaking to a woman, which, say what we may, we can none of us resist. …He may construct his sentences more or less in the foreign way, but I have never yet heard him use a wrong expression, or hesitate for a moment in his choice of a word.

All the smallest characteristics of this strange man have something strikingly original and perplexingly contradictory in them. Fat as he is and old as he is, his movements are astonishingly light and easy. He is as noiseless in a room as any of us women, and more than that, with all his look of unmistakable mental firmness and power, he is as nervously sensitive as the weakest of us. He starts at chance noises as inveterately as Laura herself. He winced and shuddered yesterday, when Sir Percival beat one of the spaniels, so that I felt ashamed of my own want of tenderness and sensibility by comparison with the Count.

The relation of this last incident reminds me of one of his most curious peculiarities, which I have not yet mentioned–his extraordinary fondness for pet animals.

Some of these he has left on the Continent, but he has brought with him to this house a cockatoo, two canary-birds, and a whole family of white mice…. His white mice live in a little pagoda of gaily-painted wirework, designed and made by himself. …They crawl all over him, popping in and out of his waistcoat, and sitting in couples, white as snow, on his capacious shoulders. He seems to be even fonder of his mice than of his other pets, smiles at them, and kisses them, and calls them by all sorts of endearing names. .


  • “Of all the books you have read or movies you have seen, who is the villain that you remember most? What made them so bad and so memorable?”  What did they achieve ? And why?

  • Now think of a name for your own villain and write a RANT from the point of view of your villain.

  • Try to hear the voice or your villain and allow their words to erupt on the page or in your head. How do they speak, what do they say…allow your villain to emerge through the use of the RANT!!

What do you give a ghost for breakfast? 

She’d always arrive with damp hair  begging for the top of the milk.

Slight Kiwi accent too. How weird after all these years. Nice smile though. Cute if you like that sort of thing.

That scent. 

No air kisses though.

Call me Kezia.

Of course this is not quite what happened. Life disappoints us all and I am no different from you. So I admit I am improvising, a little.  Details are missing. Maybe Katherine overwhelmed me; she could be too much you know. When my courage failed me, I lay low, licked my wounds and waited until I could face her again. I discovered my dark corners so to speak. No doubt she knew more about dark corners than me. She retreated into dust even when she was alive. She told me that she coiled into herself. Despair wrapped up in rage.  ‘Now I am dead, I can uncoil’. Part of her attractiveness, the cobra within.

‘Just look into my eyes.

Beneath the darkness, yellow peril, I swear. .

‘I don’t want to write, I want to live! ‘

Nowadays so much Time has passed between our meetings and the quiet hours of my later life, my after- Katherine –life as I it, that I must confess my memory isn’t what it used to be. Yet in a deep down essential way, my shortened version tells you as much as the longer version ever could. Katherine, I am sure, would prefer the shorter version. After all it was her nature. She was thrifty with words. Hated verbiage. She said it strangled truth. ‘Cheap’ she said. I can still hear the emphasis in her voice. Nothing cheap about her but she could be vulgar you know. Earthy to her toe nails.  That’s why everyone enjoyed her company until she turned savage on them. When Alice Temperley asked her about love, well the answer she heard sent her home in a taxi and the next time we saw her, she’d changed more than her hair. Sometimes I still hear her roaring about this town, black leather, boots and special parcels. Blame Katherine. Her words climbed into your head, like tentacles, they rearranged what you thought was there. Alice claimed to be grateful though. Mouse to femme fatale within a week.

Katherine tolerated me, but only just and maybe because I had something she wanted. So without any more preamble, here’s the longer version and then judge for yourself. Be kind though. She wasn’t. But I survived to tell a tale.

I did meet Katherine Mansfield a number of years ago, under very curious circumstances and maybe for time we were friends. She would come around to eat and share adventures, , always in need of something but looking pretty well considering, In fact none of the old pictures do her justice. Even with wet hair she held the floor. I think she loved to turn her head towards you as if she needed to hear your words purely, so you felt flattered, acknowledged. I remember Tom Hills walking away from one of our parties as if he were a Greek God, and Margery, little Margery Wall, telling me she became a Gothic heroine under Katherine’s tuition. I was even popular for a while. People  who didn’t even like me would drop by and send cards, appear unprompted and gaze over my head looking around the room, fooling no one. They were looking for Katherine. Weren’t we all?

Katherine spoke in a husky way as if she was about to pounce and when she left I could have followed her perfume trail all the way back to where she spent  her dead time slumbering, waiting for her next opportunity to return.

Katherine found me one Monday morning, sheltering from the rain with Cleo a white terrier I helped walk for my neighbour. Cleo turned her head and sniffed at the air. And as if by magic there was the most beautiful woman I had even seen.



Noblest of men, woo’t die?
Hast thou no care of me? shall I abide
In this dull world, which in thy absence is
No better than a sty? O, see, my women,

The crown o’ the earth doth melt. My lord!
O, wither’d is the garland of the war,
The soldier’s pole is fall’n: young boys and girls
Are level now with men; the odds is gone,
And there is nothing left remarkable
Beneath the visiting moon.

I am rereading Antony and Cleopatra. It is utterly compelling to read and exercises a hypnotic power over the audience/reader, not least because of the  multifaceted , multiple  perspective through which we engage with  the two protagonists.   This sophisticated and most  challenging perspective, makes our reading of either Anthony or Cleopatra both  difficult and exciting:  for at any one moment, we harbour conflicting views towards them;   as they move inside and outside of themselves.

In the famous scene above. Anthony has just died in Cleopatra’s arms. Romantic grief is palpable ‘ the crown o’the earth doth melt’  but so realistically, is self love.’Hast thou no care of me?’ Cleopatra the bereaved lover is also still Cleopatra the egotistical , attention seeking, ever theatrical Queen of Egypt , ‘deserted’ by the death of her lover Anthony! So in this scene we encounter both versions of ‘being’ Cleopatra and they are both deeply and convincingly  affecting as their coincidence reveals the duality of human nature. Cleopatra is ever fascinating because of this conflict, this coincidence. She cannot help but view herself grieving even when she is so upset. She is not false, she is fallibly herself:  authentically contradictory- ‘shall I abide in this dull world which in thy absence is no better than a sty?’  YOU have consigned me to this misery by YOUR dying…your greatness dwarfs everything, consigns what remains to a ‘sty’ BUT my first thought is of myself…

And on she processes her loss…

For who  can resist the utter truth of the final declaration of Cleopatra, ‘And there is nothing left remarkable beneath the visiting moon’? The grief of Cleopatra synthesizes with her own self identity. The ‘great’ , the ‘remarkable’ are now overtaken by the banal. Heroism eschewed for bureaucracy. The ‘time’ of the great characters has now been overtaken by the likes of Augustus Caesar; bathetic diminishment  leaves no room for the ‘remarkable.’

This palpable sense of emptiness and desolation anticipates Cleopatra’s inevitable suicide. Who is great enough to   to share the world she once conquered? No one.

I am really enjoying several UDEMY courses at the moment including a course by Sean Platt whose eBooks on kindle publishing are highly motivating and energizing as well as practical.

Yesterday Moira Eribenne gave me five words to create a mini outline or story ‘beats’ and this proved great fun as it allows your mind to wander off in search of inspiration through association. 

My five words  were: Foil, Fire-bird, Tattoo, Baguette and Suspense.

How easy to build a tale around just a few words?  

It may also be interesting to relate such tale building to archetypes perhaps? 

Fire-bird is a red haired young woman who lives on the edge of an old alpine village called La Baguette. She lives with her grandmother Aradeema  as her parents died mysteriously years before. It is a solitary life and she is excluded from most of the village life because of her grandmother’s anxieties about the villagers.

 Fire-bird’s  her best friend is a strange, hybrid  creature called Suspense who claims to feed off the residual light from fallen meteors. Hence Suspense shines with a magical intensity  that empowers and protects the two women from the lower villagers who are afraid of the ‘magic’ associated with Fire bird’s house. However the canny villagers(mainly from the **** family)  do  try to convert the light for their own uses using foil balloons with only paltry success. 

 ‘My powers cannot be beckoned’ says Suspense in his/her grandiose but guttural voice. 

One winter day  a visitor arrives at the gateway to the village of La Baguette claiming to be the fire-bird’s long lost brother Michael.  He wears a tattoo which covers the entire left hand side of his face with a picture of a terrible electrical storm and a large winged creature carrying a couple away in his beak to a break  in the clouds …
Fire-bird is intrigued but Aradeema is wary and  Suspense also acts ambivalently for the first time in Fire-bird’s life.  Michael is given a week in which to convince the family of his identity. The skies become more agitated and Suspence’s energies become even more pronounced- even slightly unstable. 
Aradeema reveals she too wears a singular tattoo, this time on her left leg. But the revelation of its picture is delayed by Michael developing a strange fever and needing nursing. Is this a ruse to stay longer or are there secrets which need to be found to reestabilise the family and community?
Is the visitor a fraud or is his face story the truth?
 What will Suspense do and how will Firebird react?
Finally what does Aradeema know?

Last week I posted a an extract from a short story by Ray Bradbury where he used a second person narrator. The effect of this narrative  view point is very interesting as it immediately involves the reader in the perspective to the point of complicity or collusion. Our ‘I’ becomes the ‘you’ and thus we can be positioned and manipulated from the beginning. Now we may attempt to resist this. We may disagree with the premise that we are suddenly someone else, but as a story instigator, it works brilliantly and even the most ‘stuck’ or reluctant writer cannot help but to write! 

And then as an exercise we decided to play with different points of view using the original piece. This was very interesting and revealed the importance of tone and the shift in nuance through POV. 


At the writing group we first tried to write an opening using the second person narrator ‘you.

Here is my attempt: 

You don’t like this house. You never have. You have a nose for falsity. You sniff the air and there it is, the careful hypocrisy of the hall. How strange. Your own steps make no sound. You’ve designed your walk in this way.

Now you climb the stairs and regret the effort. Your chest rebels and as usual you blame the house. It is an unloved place.

Your memories are without affection. All those holidays captured on his Kodak camera. Lines of set smiles on these walls.

Today is your birthday. You have come of age. You touch the door at the top of the stairs.

You open it and go inside.

strange shit

Then I rewrote into another point of view. 


I don’t like the house. I never have. When I sniff the air, there it is, the foundation deep falsity, the enduring hypocrisy of this hall. My own steps are silent. I’m free from sound. I can climb your stairs and pretend to regret the effort. ‘Oh my rebellious heart’ I say. ”It must be the house”.

Always this house.

After all, this is an unloved place. All those events stretching behind me, without affection.Your Kodak projector. Lines of set smiles. The Christmas slide show. My loitering in dismal hope. So much awkwardness.

But today is your birthday. I have brought you a present. I’m at the top of your stairs. Now which is your door?

Oh yes. I think this is it.




And then I tried third person POV.

Paul didn’t like the house. He secretly loathed its hypocrisy. He even confided once to someone he should have remembered that even the foundations were false.’It’s a suburban tower of Babel’he told them over a drink.

When he came back for the birthday party, no one heard him. He’d developed this special way of walking since he’d been away, so quiet even the house couldn’t hear him. He liked it that way.

Of course the stairs still made his chest rebel.’ Same old reaction’ he thought aloud.

Then at the top of the stairs, he took a moment to stare at the doors. He pretended that he couldn’t make up his mind which belonged to the birthday boy.

‘Is that you?’ said an imperious voice.

‘Oh yes’ said Paul. ‘I think perhaps it is. ‘


It’s rather  humid in Horwich (Bolton) today. A little heavy and rainy and as I drank my cup of tea I thought of my brother’s Southern Home State of North Carolina and all that heat. Travel further South from there, and you’re in James Lee Burke country where swamps have  inhabitants of a dangerous kind. So I wrote the following 50 word tale.

Check your decking! 

Heavy air. Alligators are sleeping  beneath our porch. I can hear them breathing. Waiting for my sign. 

You see I’ve trained them. Now they know why I saved them. 

They remember their loyalties and I guess they are hungry. 

You see I have run out of food today.  




50 words are great fun on your mobile phone! 


“Deep silence fell about the little camp, planted there so audaciously in the jaws of the wilderness. The lake gleamed like a sheet of black glass beneath the stars. The cold air pricked. In the draughts of night that poured their silent tide from the depths of the forest, with messages from distant ridges and from lakes just beginning to freeze, there lay already the faint, bleak odors of coming winter. White men, with their dull scent, might never have divined them; the fragrance of the wood fire would have concealed from them these almost electrical hints of moss and bark and hardening swamp a hundred miles away.”

Blackwood’s story ensnares the reader through the gradual, slow release of unease. We are drip fed disquiet from early on in the story so we feel slightly aware of ‘something’ yet keep trying to forget what we intuitively ‘know’…that ‘something’ beyond us is waiting just over there, getting nearer. The slow release of uneasy detail unsettles through the careful personification of the approaching weather, suggesting that nature in this wilderness has its own design; its own rules and motivations. So we notice that the wilderness has ‘jaws’ and the cold air ‘pricked’ and that winter releases ‘bleak odors.’ One part of the wilderness seems to call to another. Dream becomes reality and nightmare all at once. So ‘something’ is amiss or is on the move. the word ‘electrical’ is stunning in its  incongruity and therefore insinuates the uncanny…

What an imagination! Beware of moss! 




‘I wonder that the great master who knew everything, when he called Sleep the death of each day’s life, did not call Dreams the insanity of each day’s sanity.” (Dickens, Night Walks). 


It’s human arrogance to assume your dreams are your own. 

”I am a dream planter by day” he said,  and held out his hand. 

So, there I was in Corsica with these red lizards, whilst someone who claimed to know my father biblically,  developed a sudden, hoarse  cough.




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