You May Be Shakespeare But…

“You may be Shakespeare, but get yourself a job first.”

My mother’s advice has guided and bounded my life since I first told her I wanted to write for a living at the age of twelve. The advice was born out of her own experience, the curious mix of aristocratic and working class sensibility with which she was imbued.

During my childhood we were proudly, honourably working class folk. My mother had a clerical job in a bank, and before that had worked in a factory, a green grocer’s stall and a dry cleaner’s shop. In contrast my mother was born in a palace in India, which at the time still retained some vestiges of the wealth and influence of her family’s glory days.

She watched as the diversion of wealth: the fascination with language and poetry and lifetimes spent indulging it, was retained long after the wealth had gone. She saw indolence and inaction fritter away the estates and her uncle fighting a desperate, lone rearguard action to slow the inevitable decline, while the rest of the family looked on unwilling to believe that what had taken centuries to build could be so rapidly lost.

More of decline and fall, and indeed that ancient heyday in other posts. Suffice it to say that my mother’s sentiment was borne out of watching orchards being sold off while her elders discussed Persian poetry, and her own experience of knowing what it took to secure financial stability.

I started full time employment at the age of 21, and worked until I was 40. In between my brother and I managed to convince our mother that she should retire, despite her protestations. Marriage, house, children followed in that order, and then I hit the age milestone and my elder daughter said “We only see you when you are tired.”

I’m not sure I can explain how strongly that statement affected me. As a child I would wait by the window of our terraced house and watch out for my mother coming home from work. We forced her to retire so she could enjoy the livelihood she had worked so hard to secure. Yet here, with the benefit of that security all my daughter would take away about me from her formative years was seeing a tired man at the end of the working day.

It made me realise I wanted to be more than the breadwinner, I wanted to spend time being a father, I still wanted to be a writer, I wanted to build a treehouse for my kids to play in.

I stopped work in June of that year with modest savings and no plan for how the world would work in the time to follow, other than trusting in my experience.

I took over the school run in the mornings to give my wife a break from the routine, and spend those precious chatty morning minutes with the kids. I’d frequently do the pick up as well, walking home with each daughter holding a hand and listening to the stories of their days.

I built a treehouse. It’s actually a platform on stilts because the pear tree in the garden might not be strong enough. It took weeks, I had no plans, no tutorials other than the DIYing and carpentry I had picked up over the years, and a whole load of ambition.

I wrote two books. I have given away more copies than I have sold, but I wrote them, they exist. My name is on more than just a few emails on an office server somewhere.

And things worked out, I’m back in a job, and if money is a little tighter than it was before, at least there is something to show for the time I took off.

If that is a little smug, a little not about the regret of not doing, but the pleasure of finally doing it, well I’ll say I earned it. And as the royalty cheques haven’t been rolling in, I’m glad I did it Mum’s way.

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Unsafe Containers – Schoolroom vignette

The DP prompted me to make a little more progress on my novel The Streetsweeper of Between: here is a little developmental extract that will slot in somewhere:

–>

“It is highly acidic, don’t spill a drop.”

Cecilia’s arms were aching, and the heat of the glass bowl was making her hands go red. She was standing on one foot on top of a pile of books, holding the bowl at arm’s length and trying to balance. It wasn’t, she reflected, the most unusual of Miss Bridges’ lessons.

Her governess was holding a candle underneath the bowl, keeping the fluid inside it warm. The bottom was slowly turning black with soot. The slight quiver from Cecilia’s arms made the surface of the supposed acid ripple, although Cecilia doubted Miss Bridges would take such a risk.

“How long do I have to hold this?” Cecilia asked through clenched teeth. She had been at this for almost five minutes and her strength was draining rapidly.

“That’s up to you.” Sometimes Miss Bridges had an annoying way of not actually answering a question, but Cecilia had learned that it meant the wrong question had been asked.

“What are my options?” she tried.

Miss Bridges smiled as Cecilia risked a glance her way. The little flash of approval steadied her on the pile of books for a few moments more.

“You have four. You could drop it.”

“That would damage the school room floor.” Cecilia shot back.

“Very well, then you could drink it down.”

“It is acid I would die.”

“You could ask for help so you could let it go.”

Cecilia paused. She knew her governess’ methods. “Why would someone help me?” Miss Bridges smiled again, “Let’s come back to that one. It’s too late for your final option. You could avoid letting the bowl fill up in the first place.”

With a sigh Cecilia stepped down from the pile of books and placed the bowl on her desk, the fluid inside flowed back and forth with the movement, almost, but not quite spilling over. “So this is one of your allegorical lessons.” Miss Bridges nodded, blowing out the candle and picking off the little bits of wax that had dripped onto her fingers. Cecilia sat down on the pile of books, and rubbed her aching arms. “The best solution is to avoid the liquid building up, which means there is a choice. Once it has built up the best way to let go of it is to find someone to help. I could let it go, or drink it down, but there are consequences to each. And I couldn’t hold on to it because eventually I would tire.”

“A reasonable summary.”

“Could I stop the fluid dripping, so it didn’t need to be caught?” Cecilia asked.

“Possibly, but for most people that would be unnatural.”

Cecilia supressed her own smile, it was unusual for Miss Bridges to give away a clue like that, but there was no reason to let on that she had picked up on it. “Anger.” She said, looking up at Miss Bridges.

“Go on.”

“It is natural to feel anger, but the trick is not the let it build up. Once it has accumulated the best thing to do is get help, discuss it, resolve it. If you let it all go you hurt those around you, if you take it all in yourself, you hurt yourself.”

“Very good,” Miss Bridges picked up a little square of paper and dropped it in the bowl. It turned yellow and began to dissolve. “Now one more lesson for today: next time I tell you that you are holding a pan of acid please be a little more careful where you put it.”

END

If you are interested in my storytelling look here

The Streetsweeper of Between (In Progress, Extract)

About 9k words into this story our heroine Cecilia and her travelling companion Jake (who is trapped in a small pocket watch case) encounter the unusual Archie. All subject to change, but I was having so much fun with it I thought I would share:

 

–>

 

The last request was somewhat easier said than done. There were piles of clutter everywhere. Cecilia thought she spotted a chair back peeking out from under one such pile, and began excavating. Most of the clutter was papers, piles of them, littered with calculations. She held one up to meagre light from the window, the title in neat, clear script read “Time Dilations and Relativities in the Region of Between, by Archie Khwarizmi”.

“Which one have you got there?” he asked, coming over to peer around her elbow. He turned his head up so that he could look through his spectacles at the paper. “Ah yes, early effort, superceded of course by my theory of differential angular momentum, but still a good place to start for the beginner.” He looked at Cecilia, “Are you by any chance a mathematician?”

“No.”

“Then what are you, other than a cat of course, that much is empirically obvious.”

“I’m not really sure, I suppose you could call me a seamstress for now.”

“Hmmm, well I have some items in need of repair, but there is not much call for seamstressing around here. Why have you come out all this way?”

“I’m on my way to see Nelli in the mountains.”

Archie blinked at her. “Really? All the way to the mountains. Well I suppose Nelli in the mountains could need a seamstress as much as anyone else, but it seems a long way to go. Did she ask for you?”

“Oh no, I was on my way there to see if she could help me answer some questions.” Cecilia had put the paper down and continued unearthing the chair. It emerged at last and she sank gratefully into it.

“In that case you have come to the right place, answering questions is what I do best. I’m a scientist, mathematician, accountant, and something of a philosopher as well.”

“My goodness, what do they call someone who does all that?” For a moment Cecilia was genuinely impressed. Mr Arris, with whom she had spent her early life, was a lawyer; Old Mother Gwen was a washerwoman and seamstress; Sten and Agnes were farming folk. She had never met anyone with four professions.

“An economist.” Archie replied with one of his big smiles.

“And you can help me answer questions?”

Archie hesitated, “well maybe not answer them, no. I can help you ask better questions and propose some possible theories on what the answers may be.”

Cecilia looked at him sceptically, “Just how many theories do you have?”

“Sixty three.” Archie said proudly.

“Sixty three!” Cecilia and Jake echoed.

Archie jumped back in alarm. “Who said that?” he called, looking about. Cecilia opened out the case, and Jake’s eye peered out curiously.

“Archie meet Jake, Jake, this is Archie, he’s an economist.”

“He’s a liar is what he is,” Jake’s mouth said. “Sixty three theories indeed. If anyone around here had sixty three theories I would have heard about them by now.”