The Diversity Deal

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Diversity and inclusion are wonderful when they work in your favour. In the last week, Muslims like myself have been the beneficiaries of the world’s love and understanding. At airports around the United States people with open, liberal minds have acknowledged that most of us are just ordinary folk. We only want to live and work in peace and free from fear. Owing no allegiance other than our shared humanity these generous and passionate people stood up for our rights and our cause.

I’ll admit that I am conflicted. There are so many sides to what has happened that I am not sure how to reconcile them all. Let me lay them out for you.

Perhaps easiest to understand is that I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love in the face of an act of hate. It is a bright light in a time of encroaching darkness. I salute all those who have given of their time and skill and energy in the cause of humanity. May whatever powers you believe in uplift you.

But this has also left me with a sense of dread. I fear many Muslims do not understand that this is a two-way deal. We may be heartened by the efforts of others on our behalf, but what will we do when it is time for us to stand up and be counted? I have no doubt that the Trumpists are coming for us all. So, answer me this my Muslim brethren:

You want to live in peace, free from fear, with equal rights to your neighbour, and to practice your beliefs without interference. But if that neighbour is from the LGBT community and will not be served in a local store will you campaign on their behalf? That neighbour’s right to live without molestation is the same as yours.

What if that neighbour is a woman exercising her right to choose, and finds herself denied medical care; will you step forward and raise your voice? Her right to choose what to do with her body is the same as yours.

When emboldened fascists daub swastikas on the local synagogue will you be there to wash the walls and help protect your fearful neighbours? Their right to religious freedom is the same as yours.

All the things you want for yourself you have to be willing to offer to others, without stinting or reservation. If you’re unwilling to do that then you are unworthy of any shred of what has been put on the line for you this week.

That deal has embedded in it the Islamic concept of Adl – justice. What you want for yourself you must want for others, irrespective of what they believe and how they want to live. Freedom for Muslims means freedom for non-Muslims. If you aren’t able to sign up that then sign up to Trump or ISIS, they both believe in one law for them, and one law for everyone else. You think I am exaggerating? See if you can read beyond the first few lines of this from Breitbart without vomiting. I couldn’t. The Alt-Right would restrict women’s education in an echo of the Taliban, and it is their poison being whispered into Trump’s ear.

So how do you reconcile the freedoms you are morally bound to protect, if they war with your own beliefs? That, my friends is a test of faith. If you believe that the message we bear is the Truth then trust in it. Welcome everyone and let your capacity to love and accept bring them closer to you. Or maybe you and I just aren’t the same kind of Muslims. Maybe you are a Muslim that takes pride in the bloody history of Islam of the sword. If so, ISIS is waiting for you, what are you waiting for? My Islam is the one of mercy for mankind.

And in that internal argument of faith lies another source of discomfort. There are countries that export terrorism. Decades of Saudi money peddling the spiritually bereft Wahabi / Salafist ideology has created a generation of emotionally and mentally damaged people, willing to believe violence is an answer. In places this monstrosity has replaced mainstream Islamic thinking. My real dissension with the Trump ban is not its existence, every nation has the right to protect its borders and vet those entering for potential threats. But when that ban specifically excludes the nation that provided the 9/11 hijackers I am left aghast. If the ban had been properly consulted on, discerningly targeted and professionally implemented, it might have been a valid policy. Instead it is an act of naked racism, spiced with a toxic dose of Trump’s personal commercial interests.

And that last leaves me with a sense of fear. I live in London. I only have to contend with the backwash of Brexit and Theresa May trying to sell the country to the highest bidder. But I have friends and loved ones in the US. They are people who cling fiercely to liberal ideals, and carry a deep respect for their fellow humans, irrespective of creed or colour. I fear for them, because their chief executive is trampling on every concept of value in pursuit of his own limited interests. The coming battle for America’s soul is one in which there will be casualties, and my friends are people of conscience who will stand and make their presence felt. I fear for them almost as much as I fear for family in Pakistan who live in the shadow of lawlessness and Salafist terrorists.

The Trumpists are coming for us all, and that brings me back to my initial sense of dread. My challenge is to the Muslims – when they have had enough of you and bully the gay man two doors down from you, will you stand watch so he can sleep safely? Will you escort the woman past the baying mob to the health centre, will you link arms with the Rabbi to keep the fascists from the synagogue? If you want these people to stand up for you, you need to stand up for them. That’s the diversity deal.

END

picture credit Nuccio DiNuzzo

My author site

If you want to read more in a similar vein:

Remember, The White Folks Won

The Gates to Common Ground

J’accuse… the Muslims

 

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Seat Mii roadtest on a mountain track

Mountain track road test of Seat Mii 1.0 automatic in Crete.

The obvious question is why an automatic? As a younger man, I extolled the virtues of control and the expression of skill that comes with driving a manual car (stick, for my American friends). Now as my life falls into the sere, I find myself heartily sick of changing gears. I’ll take a quiet life, as your man Thom whined.

In this case my thoughts were more practical. I figured driving on the wrong side of the road was challenging enough without right-hand gear changes to tax my malco-ordination. The bus to Heraklion with which I had a very low-speed altercation can attest to the wisdom of this, and also paying for the excess (deductible) waiver.

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This is what happens when the bus you are overtaking decides to move away from the bus stop without looking

The interior is surprisingly roomy and the boot is functional if you buy groceries like you’re on a diet. The pint-sized engine is actually OK for highway cruising and quite quiet at Cretan highway speeds (plus a bit). Unless there is a headwind, in which case get a hotel room and wait for the weather to change because you ain’t goin’ nowhere.

The things you can’t get away from are the ECU and gearbox, and given the component sharing across VAG the poxy things probably infect all Skoda and VW small cars.

Picture the scene: you’re on a twisty, unsurfaced mountain road. It has a spiky, uneven rocky top greased with dust and gravel. You’ve just walked a kilometre back along a gorge from the lovely secluded Agio Farago beach and you need to go up over the mountain to sanctuary at the delightful Monastery Odigitrias.

The first thing the guide books don’t tell you is that this road is only for 4x4s and rental cars. It’s also only one and a half micro cars wide, so if something is coming the other way, one of you has a decision to make.

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This road runs at 90 degrees to the one we took, but you get the idea.

So, you’re on an upslope, steep drop to one side, car breaker rain channels to the other, a sequence of blind hairpin turns ahead. The powertrain is too puny to creep. You give the Mii a bootfull and wait. The kick down gear change is ponderous as the engine, out of its depth like a reception teacher asked to cover the advanced calculus class, hyperventilates.

Sometime later it accelerates, if you’ve planned it right this is before you roll down the road to a comedic but nonetheless fatal end.

You keep your foot in until the last moment. The ultra-light steering is not a problem because the whole car is rattling with road feel and the suspension surrendered a long time ago. You know better than to death grip the wheel, you keep your thumbs clear and your hands soft. It’s a low grip surface, the grim reaper lurking amid the oleanders to one side, you turn the wheel and come off the gas.

Roller skate wheels skitter over the terrain, you’re sideways in a hairpin – that’s good and bad: you’re now pointing the right way but running out of momentum. Another bootfull and… nothing.

Seconds pass, you’re about to stop and roll off the road. “Oh,” says the Mii’s addled brain. “When you stabbed the gas pedal through the fireguard into the engine bay, you wanted me to accelerate. Hold on while I tell the gearbox.”

Certain death in a tin can through the rearview mirror. You’ll be goat food. Eventually, something mechanical happens. The Mii drops a cog. The engine wheezes, supplementing the dregs of forward impetus to crawl up the short straight to do it all again.

Over and over again. Never has a Muslim been so happy to see a monastery.

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Moni Odigitrias. See the church, buy the honey, use the toilet.

On the plus side, should you find yourself inadvertently going up a goat track instead of the actual road (they’re easily mixed up) the turning circle is tiny and a seven-point turn will bring you back to the right path.

Pro-tip: when you have edged to the limit of the road remember to put the car in reverse before you hit the gas again. Fortunately, the engine response is slow enough that I managed to stand on the brakes before plunging down the mountain.

Honestly, I would rather have been in Brooke, my twenty-year-old Renault Laguna. She’s down on power from her glory days, but I know every beat of her faithful heart and so can judge every gear change by telepathy. Better still would be the Monkey Car – my wife’s even older Citroen Saxo (still in the family). No one does fun small cars as well as the French and I have booted that Saxo through Snake Pass, so I know what a hoot it is to drive on twisty roads.

The locations at either end are highly recommended. The drive – well at least you now know what the guidebooks won’t tell you, and which car not to do it in.

End

Find out more about my writing here.

Publication – Lifting the Weight

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My story “Lifting the Weight” is included in this anthology from Death’s Head Press. A bit earthier and more violent than my usual fare, so be warned!

The narrator is a demon with a lust for wealth. Bad luck leaves him cursed by a necromancer, carrying a Weight that he can only relieve by righting wrongs. Following a tip off on a criminal gang he finds himself with a choice between his lust and his freedom.

Check it out on Amazon in the UK and US

Find out more about my writing here.

Upcycling: from scaffold to garden seat

My blog is over five years old and despite enthusiastically adding joinery to the title, I have not once blogged about my woodworking projects.

Time to address that.

One of my neighbours had building work done a couple of years ago. Apart from the aggravation this caused, his workmen left a scaffolding board and another long piece of timber leaning against the back gate to my garden. They obviously intended that I should take possession of them, so one quiet evening I did. I kept them for ages on the grounds they’d come in handy one day.

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They were pretty nasty (the boards, not the workmen). Spiked with nails and head-worn screws, scabrous with lumps of mortar.

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The idea arose when my cousin and his wife bought a new house. With a garden but without a garden seat. What better than an upcycled bench for them to sit on of a summer’s evening and watch the sun set on the brambles crowding over from them neighbour?

I set myself the constraint of working with the dimensions of what I had (this was a mistake, as you’ll see) and apart from new hardware only using the generously donated materials.

There was quite a lot of crap on the boards. Brute force dealt with the nails, but some of the screw heads and tips had to be ground off, which meant careful planning of where I made cuts later. A hammer and bolster did for the big lumps of mortar, but I did eventually resort to the belt sander to get all of it off.

I lifted the dimensions roughly from my own garden bench, mainly for the height of the bench and the back. The width was set by the board itself. I decided early on that I wanted the legs and arm rests to be one piece, mainly to minimise the number of joints and points of failure.

Be warned scaffold boards are dense. I cut by hand, with the jigsaw and with the two different blades on my old Black and Decker Scorpion. The board was just too unweildy for my table saw and of course that would be useless for even basic curves.

This was hard work. I suspect a modern variant of the Scorpion would be best and that my antique (about fifteen years old and well used) has just run out of puff and sharp blades.

You’ll notice in the design I cut out a little arch in the legs. I wanted to get the weight down and this was a cute but simple way of doing it.

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I joined the seat to the arms with offset half laps. I know these are considered quite weak, but with the thickness of the wood and the width of the board this gave me a really secure join. I backed it up with a couple of pocket screws as well.

The joints were a really tight fit, the mallet was not enough. In the end I had to get out the fencing hammer and use gentle persuasion. More hard work but the end result was worth it. The point of the offset (rather than going the half way through) was to allow the bench to sit a bit further forward, away from the back rest, otherwise you’d be sitting upright like on a church pew.

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The overhang on the sides was deliberate. I had in mind a cup of tea at the end of a long day, so a place to rest it integrated into the bench seemed like a good idea. I also went over all the edges with a round over bit on the router for a neater finish. Apart from that I left most of the nail holes and damage unrepaired. Regular followers will know I am a storyteller and I wanted the material to tell its story.

Of course life intervened, I didn’t finish before the weather turned, so the project was stored outside covered in tarps through the winter. And that is where the glaring design flaw became apparent. The slightest gust of wind would blow the damned thing over. The heavy scaffold board made the centre of gravity quite high, and the relatively narrow width just didn’t provide enough stability.

I’d thought about this and put a couple of extensions on the legs, but it just wasn’t enough.

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First job the next summer was to add more width to the base to keep the whole thing standing.

I coloured it golden oak, and there we have it, job done.

I’m not sure that my cousin has made much use of it, but Milo the cat loves it.

 

 

 

Publication Announcement – Finding Galatea in Transcendent

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A little late with this one – I was travelling. I’m delighted to have my story Finding Galatea published alongside fabulous contributions in this lush (and large) anthology.

In Finding Galatea we meet Cyrus, a man with exceptional senses. He escapes the sensory overload of London to take refuge in Seville, where he meets Beatriz. She is perfect, a woman of peculiar beauty who has no scent. Their lives and love flourish.

When Beatriz’s sister Joanna goes missing Cyrus must return to London and the sordid underworld he left behind. But in searching for Joanna he risks losing the woman from beyond his imagination.

You can listen to me reading a bit from my story here

And there is an excerpt on Transmundane Press’s site here

Fans of English renaissance tragedies will be pleased to know there is also a character called Rowley.

Here’s the blurb for the anthology:

A parallel dimension exists below the surface of reality.

Its doors swing open every time we sleep, allowing us passage into the land of DREAMS, a plane rich with exotic fantasy and limitless bliss. Within this wonder world, however, lurk dark corridors and terrible creatures—some unfortunate travelers never escape the NIGHTMARES waiting in the shadows.

Many have tried bridging our worlds. Seekers and wise men have meditated for VISIONS and ingested intoxicants for HALLUCINATIONS in hopes that the veil between our realms will thin, allowing access to all the thrills, joys, and horrors beyond our senses.

TRANSCENDENT is an open gate, a gangway linking our realm to the shimmering sphere where nothing is certain and anything is possible.

Get your copy now!

Head over to the Transmundane Press site for readings, excerpts and author interviews.

 

 

Rohit Sawant has put together this lovely credits list:

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Find out more about my writing here.

Me and Me Too. Even You

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Source: Wikipedia

That moment when the penny finally drops about misogyny:

Me and Me Too. Even You

Signals saturate the spectrum
But now the noise is clearing
We can hear what we’ve been taught

The brooding dripping man film
Blade Runner. Deckard demanding
Rachel’s compliance
It’s OK she isn’t human
Listen

Bond, being James Bond
And we all wanted that
Magnetic watch
It’s all about the gadget
Not the girl. Listen

Today. Searching for the perfect gif
My cleverness and wit
I hear at last
The true lesson taught
At our mother’s teat
No never means no
You, Pepe le Pew. Even You

Ruswa Fatehpuri 2018

I wrote this while thinking of the perfect gif with which to respond to a friend on facebook – she had posted something about a hair colour change. Pepe losing his stripe or Penelope gaining one is a frequent plot device in the cartoons. It was going to be hilarious. Then I really saw what I was looking at.

Oh, and the fact that I masquerade in poet guise as Ruswa Fatehpuri is a poorly kept and entirely uninteresting secret. Was.

And if you are going to dive into a Blade Runner rabbit hole that involves Deckard really being a replicant you’ve pretty well missed the point.

End

Find out more about my writing here.

There is a Ruswa Fatehpuri chapbook out there too

 

 

 

 

The Nunicorn

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A Nunicorn  – not a horse with a horn, a donkey with a hook!

The Nunicorn

(a story for children of all ages)

The myth about fairies and unicorns, Nobby thought to himself, was that they weren’t all nice and noble. He plodded his way along the dirt track, his heavy hooves leaving deep imprints in the mud. Earlier a pair of unicorns had galloped by, seeming to float over the ground and looking magnificent of course. They didn’t notice the thick clods they threw up into Nobby’s face. Nobby was a nunicorn and no one cared what he thought.

The cart creaked and swayed behind him. At least that did not weigh much. He was meant to have a load of bright red apples from the orchard, but instead he had a barrel of seashells. Pippin the apple fairy had promised to transform them for him on the outskirts of the fairy village.

Everyone thought fairies only drank nectar straight from flowers, and unicorns munched grass in unspoilt forest glades, but they all loved apples and someone had to haul them in. Pippin remembered what it was like to be an outcast and quietly helped Nobby in his thankless duty. They had to keep it a secret though because the magic people were still a bit scared of Pippin’s ability to turn anything she touched into an apple. Fortunately, while the fairies and unicorns were graceful and lovely they weren’t very bright, and so far Nobby had never been caught.

It was a long trudge from the seashore and Nobby was covered in sweat by the time he reached the meeting point with Pippin. She was nowhere to the seen. With a sigh, Nobby dipped his head and let the thick rope attached to the cart slip off the hook that protruded from his forehead.

“Ho Nobmeister!” A unicorn appeared in a sudden cloud of road dust, rearing up magnificently on his hind legs. It was Fidelio. The unicorn nosed his way to the cart, trying to nudge aside the canvas covering the barrel.

“Give us an apple,” he said. Most people who love unicorns don’t know they can speak, which is just as well because they are not very well spoken.

“Can’t,” Nobby replied, truthfully. It was impossible to lie to a unicorn.

“Why the flippin’ ‘eck not?” Fidelio snorted and pranced back a few steps.

Nobby desperately thought of an excuse. Where was Pippin, she had promised to be here?

“They’re not quite ready yet,” he said. It wasn’t precisely a lie, and Fidelio did not seem to notice.

“Want one.” Fidelio nosed towards the barrel again.

“It’s your choice of course,” Nobby said with a shrug, “but if you eat those I think you’ll get a terribly upset tummy.” He looked meaningfully at Fidelio’s bushy silver tail. “I’m not sure you could lift that high enough to keep it clean.”

Unicorns are also terribly vain. Fidelio backed away and Nobby breathed a sigh of relief.

“Oh Nobby, you’re exaggerating.” Nobby jumped at the new voice.

Pippin was leaning on the cart and held out an apple to Fidelio in one gloved hand. Her other hand was hidden behind her back.

“Yeah, Nobbo. Exaggerating.” If Fidelio wanted to complain more his words were lost in a sudden mouthful of apple. He pranced off with a shake of his magnificent mane.

“That was close.” Nobby twisted to give Pippin a nuzzle and she offered him an apple. As always it was juicy and crunchy and sweet.

“Sorry Nobby, there was a terrible storm last night and it has made travel really difficult.” Pippin flapped water from her wings and lifted a muddy shoe.

“Tell me about it, I’ve been slogging through this sticky muck all morning.”

“Oh Nobby,” Pippin said, scratching the base of his hook, “things will get better for you one day, I’m sure.”

Nobby dropped his head, Pippin was one of the few fairies that was kind to him. The others had no time for someone who looked as odd as he did. If something wasn’t lovely and pretty and nice the fairies had trouble accepting it. They assumed that anything outside their narrow view of what was beautiful must be either evil or pitied. The unicorns were just mean. A nunicorn, they said, wasn’t even a thing, it was a mistake. Everyone knew there were mundane horses and donkeys, and stupendous horses with a magic horn called unicorns. There were even legends of an exceptional horse with two magic horns called a bicorn, but no one had seen one of those. Then they looked at Nobby. Whoever heard of a donkey with a hook? they said. That is exactly what Nobby was.

“I’ve got an idea!” Pippin said, grabbing Nobby’s gristly mane in excitement. “If you could do something really brave, or really spectacular everyone would have to change the way they think about you.”

Nobby shook his head and took a couple of steps backwards. Pippin could get over excited and if she touched him with an ungloved hand she would turn him into an apple.

“Like what?”

“I don’t know, maybe you could save someone in danger, or find something no one else could.”

“Like the bicorn?” Nobby snorted, “no that can’t be right. Why should I have to do something special to be treated with basic respect. What you’re saying is that because I am different I have to work harder than everyone else. Why is that fair?”

Pippin sighed. “I think you’re expecting the world to be fair, and it isn’t.”

Nobby regretted his outburst. The fairies had been unkind to Pippin and were still not welcoming. But he still felt angry. He and Pippin were as they were and fairies and unicorns should just accept it. He dipped his head and picked up the strap for the cart, resting it against his forehead.

“Come on Pippin. You hop into the cart and transform those shells, and I’ll get us underway. Everyone will be wondering where their apples have got to.”

They hadn’t gone far when they heard shouting from the road ahead. They rounded a corner and found the two unicorns that had gone galloping ahead stuck in muddy bog caused by a dip in the road. Fidelio was prancing around the edge of the bog and not doing anything useful.

“Help,” the unicorns cried. “We’re stuck in this sticky stuff and getting stucker. It’s all over our shiny coats and getting stuck in our silky manes.” They both whinnied and shook their heads, spraying mud all over. Fidelio gave a yelp and backed away, unwilling to get dirty.

“Now’s your chance Nobby.” Pippin jumped down from the cart and hurried to the edge of the mud.

“I’m not doing this for your silly plan Pip. I’m doing this because it is the right thing to do,” Nobby grumbled. He dropped the strap attached to the cart and with a twist of his hook unhitched it from the cart as well.

Pippin bent down to pick it up.

“Wait!” Nobby shouted.

Pippin had been about to touch the strap with an ungloved hand. It would have turned into an apple and there would be no way to save the unicorns.

“That was lucky.” Pippin picked up the strap in her gloved hand and threw one end to the trapped unicorns. They started fighting over it.

“Give it here.”

“Leggo, give it me.”

“Stop it,” Nobby shouted at them. To his surprise they did. “One at a time or neither of you is getting out.”

Sheepishly one of the unicorns dipped its head into the strap.

“Out the way Nobmeister, this is a job for unicorn power.” Fidelio hitched the other end of the strap on his horn and began to pull. The stuck unicorn edged forward and fell back as the strap slipped off Fidelio’s horn.

“Just getting’ the hang of it,” Fidelio said. He took up the strap again. This time it slipped straight off. “Fiddlesticks,” Fidelio said. He turned to the two unicorns. “Sorry folks looks like you’re stuck forever.”

Nobby and Pippin shared an amused look. Pippin took the strap and dropped it over Nobby’s hook.

Nobby began to pull. The unicorn was heavy, and it was well stuck. Nobby pulled harder. His hooves began to slip on the wet ground. He braced himself and pulled with all his might. The edges of his vision went red, stars danced in front of his eyes. He felt his horn grow suddenly very hot. In the distance a horsey shape emerged from the trees. It shone like a black diamond and swam in Nobby’s vision. It seemed to have two horns.

Nobby gasped just as the first unicorn came out of the muck with a loud sucking schlopping pop.

“Did you see that?” he gasped.

“You were amazing Nobby,” said Pippin.

“Did you… oh nevermind.” The other unicorn was straining for the strap. When he was ready Nobby pulled again. This time his hook grew hot the first time, and just before the unicorn popped out of the mud Nobby saw the strange figure in the trees again.

Both unicorns were standing with their heads bowed, covered in mud. Fidelio pranced back and trotted around them.

“Look at the state of you. It’ll take weeks to clean that off and I don’t think you’ll ever get rid of the smell.” He stopped and looked down at Nobby. “Good job Nobbo. Seems like you’re a decent sort after all. I’ll be sure to tell the others.” With that he was off, somehow avoiding the mud pool himself.

“Well?” Pippin asked.

“Well what?”

“You’re a hero now. You should go and make the most of it.”

Nobby shook his head. He couldn’t shake the image of the strange horse with two horns.

“I’m going to go away for a while Pip. I’m off to find the bicorn. Not for them, but for me.”

Pippin’s eyes went wide. She reached out to stroke his mane and stopped. She had been reaching with an ungloved hand. “You’ll not find much if I turn you into an apple. Speaking of apples, what about those?” She pointed to the cart.

“I think the fairies and unicorns can haul their own apples for a while.”

END

Find out more about my writing here.

 

For those who have read my adult fiction, a biographical note. These children’s stories are where I started. I was enraged by a fairy story franchise that played on the acquisitiveness of children, churning out books with regurgitated storylines I can’t describe as “plots”, and merely changing the colour or gemstone of the fairy involved. So I started making up my own for the kids, rather than buy them more of this trash (because they had to have X the Xish fairy to complete the set…)

My kids preferred my stories and so the saga began. Recently my younger daughter asked me to rehash this one for her as she has a textiles project to do at school, based on her favourite story. Since I was writing it down I thought I would share it will my beloved blog followers.

Somewhere I have about 20k words of the story of Pippin Apple, which was intended to be a novel, but life intervened.

And no, I can’t draw.