Sunday, 27 March 2016

Explaining the blog title

The man of the title, Kyril Emanuel Georg Bonfiglioli, friend, novelist, wit and knife-thrower, was the subject of the first nine posts of this blog, from 31st March till 20th May 2013. Read those to share my memories of his exploits: spirited, scandalous, comic or dangerous.
     The rest is self-indulgent "stuff", which you may find entertaining.

Here, for example, is the first episode of a tale inspired by DBJ's story posted on the Open University ""Fiction Writing" course I've just completed. It's my second attempt at fantasy.

Parting the Veils

The palace of the Desert King was the only stone-built dwelling for more than a hundred miles in any direction.
     In the centre of its Great Hall, a girl was kneeling, her wrists and elbows bound tight behind her. Through her matted, sweat-soaked hair, she fixed her eyes on the swollen figure sprawled on the onyx throne.
     ‘Who are you,’ he roared, ‘ to threaten the King of the Ten Tribes, Ruler of the Desert Lands?
     She spat the dust from her throat. ‘I am Aestrid Liefsdottir, Princess of the Northern Lands, daughter of the Sea-Wolf, who is Ruler of the Waves!’
     ‘What is the wildcat saying?’ The Desert King turned to his Chief Counsellor.’
     ‘I do not know the tongue well, Lord King, but it seems her father is a wolf of the sea and the Ruler of the Waves.’
     ‘Ha, she mocks me, does she? Then she will learn that there are no waves here except the shifting waves of sand, of which the sea-rovers know nothing. They call themselves wolves but they are bound captive to the seas they sail upon. They trade in the ports of our lands but they cannot trouble us in the heat and solitude of the desert.’
     Merdec'ah the Magnificent, King of the Ten Tribes, heaved himself to his feet and looked down at his latest prize, still struggling in the grip of two palace guards. She glared back at him.
     ‘Take her to the rooms of my women and give her to my first wives. They will know what to do.’ As they turned to go he added,’and see that there is no mark on her body. I will have her perfect when I take her.’ His voice dropped to a menacing growl. ‘If they find a purple bruise from your grip or one scratch from your fingernails on her skin, you will lose that hand!’
     The guards left the Hall at a run, giving the raging girl no chance to struggle and mark her own body. She knew enough of their language to grasp the king’s intent; they knew enough of the King’s temper to dread the reality of his threat.
     At the gate of the women’s quarters the guards gratefully released their burden. They handed her over to the king’s three senior wives, no longer wanted for his bed but now charged with the discipline of the whole seraglio. They would look forward to the preparation of this new and younger girl to sate the king’s waning lust.
     Without a word, they marched Aestrid into a room where a bath was already being prepared. They paid no attention to her curses as they stripped off her tunic and sandals and plunged her into the hot water, pushing her head under again and again till her cries of vengeance tailed off in spluttering exhaustion. It was as if in their eyes, she was no more than an object to be cleaned.
     She had still heard no word from any one of the three. She was dried, clothed in a simple white robe and locked into a small room, furnished with only a bed and a chair. A small grille high on the rear wall allowed air and a little light into the room. From the other side of the wall she could hear footsteps and recognised the sound of a guard’s iron-tipped boots as he patrolled the outside walls of the harem.
     Only when all was quiet did she let herself fall full-length on the bed, sobbing. Why had she not heeded her father’s words in the market-place? ‘Stay close to Torsten and no harm will come to you,’ he’d said as she hurried off to see the fine silks and brocades displayed on the crowded stalls.    
     She had no need of bodyguards, this girl with the glowing skin and flaxen hair. She could wrestle any boy of her age in their village, spear more fish and even outrun most of the warriors.
     Now she was held in a desert fortress, miles from the coast, beyond rescue, beyond even the reach of her father, Leif Gustafsson the Sea-Wolf, the most feared raider on the seas.
     In this tiny room, in the half-dark, the whisper seemed loud. She looked up at the air-grille.
     In her own language, a man’s soft voice said, ‘Aestrid, listen. Do not be afraid. I can help you.’
     She heard the guard’s approaching footsteps as he broke into a run, coming nearer. An angry shout, a challenge, in the barbarians’ tongue. The hiss of a sword-slash and the sound of metal on stone. Two more whistling cuts that met nothing but air. The guard shouted again. This time there was fear in his voice.
     Aestrid heard him run off, running as if for his life.

(This is a three-part story, to be continued next Sunday)

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Two posts in a day! A first on this blog.

The Dreaded Chamber of Dr McGunnigle 

I have been under a great deal of pressure recently. Can you imagine being cooped up in something like a space capsule for hours on end, with five other people, all crammed into a 20 ft by 6 ft space? 
     Space, did I say? They have more space in a spaceship, for goodness' sake! Not only that but we were forced to change into drab cotton garments and plastic shoes. I am reminded of my time in Her Majesty's Prison at Craiginches – but that's another story. 
     Once in this cramped environment, we had to wear the most unbecoming headgear you've ever seen, a clear plastic dome which fits on to a large rigid ring that encircles your neck like a slave collar. We looked like a troop of the latest ridiculous creatures to invade children's television – the Minions. 
     The final indignity was being hooked up to flexible tubes which pumped gas into the hoods to infiltrate our lungs. For a moment I panicked, dreading the spidery fingers and tentacled probes of alien scientists exploring our bodies.  
     There was no escape. The heavy metal door clanged shut, sealed tight by the relentlessly increasing air pressure. The pressure built and our ears were popping like corn on a red-hot griddle.  The torture didn't stop until we were at a virtual forty feet of pressure below the sea – or “full fathom six point six recurring” as Shakespeare might have put it. 
     We settled down, some reclining, some sitting. The ear-popping stopped; the gas we breathed was oxygen - 100% compared with the 20% of normal atmosphere. Most people brought a book to read. Some tried to chat but it wasn't easy from inside a clear plastic upside-down dustbin. A nurse was there with us to deal with any problems. 
     The final task was to
     To be serious, which never comes easy, I was there for four weeks of daily treatment simply to revive and rejuvenate my radiotherapy-raddled jaw, so that I could undergo a little surgical procedure, the extraction of a couple of teeth. The oxygen-under-pressure experience would help the healing. 
     I wasn't reading like the others; I was writing.  
     I've been on an online course run by the Open University. It's called “Start Writing Fiction” and it's free. They have hundreds of fascinating courses covering a huge range of subjects. Now I'm looking hungrily at one called  “Screen Writing”. 
     Two and a half hours of writing time, with minimal interruption. What more could a scribbler ask? One day I made notes for a story to post on the OU course website and even got the story started. The next day I finished it, then typed it up at home. No laptops, phones or any other techy stuff is allowed into the chamber.  In the last week I finished chapter 13 of my novel, wrote 14 and started on 15.
     "Working under pressure" is not usually seen as a positive phrase but this experience will help me improve my novel, get it finished and get it published. 
     Guess what? One of my problem teeth fell out this morning!
     How's that for a result? 

Time for a laugh

These few lines won me £100 in a humorous verse competition a while ago. See if it makes you smile.

     It was the second prize. I seem to make a habit of them, even going right back to schooldays, when I was always coming second to the class swot.

     All Sheep were once Black

Signor Stradivarius 

thought it quite nefarious

that his rivals in Cremona, 

when seeking a string donor, 

would eviscerate a cat. 

Oh, he never would do that - 

being fond of furry things - 

so, when seeking fiddle-strings, 

he would take his coat and hat, 

murmur "Chee-aaaoooow"  to his cat 

and visit friend Edmundo 

(a fine basso profundo

and, after they had wined and dined, 

tell Ed what he had in mind. 

"Amico, you've a flock so fine, 

the best in all the Appennine. 

Now when you next go to the butcher's 

(I know the surgeons need their sutures) 

but save a bit of gut for me, 

to make my fiddle-strings, you see." 

Ed boomed, "Ha! You praise my sheep 

to get your cat-gut on the cheap. 

But, since it's you, I'll let you have it. 

Ever thought of trying rabbit?"

And soon, in Strad's old fiddle shop 

the ringing tills would never stop, 

as fiddlers came from far and near. 

Cat-gut, you see, was far too dear. 

Cats are wary; cats are quick; 

they've smelled their cousins on a fiddle-stick! 

Sheep are kept inside a fence, 

so using sheep-gut makes more sense.

Strad's technological revolution 

has left its mark on evolution. 

The frightened sheep have all turned white, 

but cats can walk the streets at night.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Another offering from the OU online course I've been on recently. Reviewing other people's work, and the course itself, has helped me refine and clarify my thinking on writing in general. If it will only do the same for my own writing, I'll be proper chuffed.

Review: DBJ’s story “Fractures”

This story drew me in completely. I’m a sucker for “lone wolf”, “one against the odds” kind of stories, especially set in an unusual situation – time travel, alien worlds, different cultures.
    Opening with dialogue engages the reader straightaway. Even better when the words come as a shock – ‘a crack in the sky?’
    Anna’s character came out very strongly. We can see she is a leader; she knows what has happened to her but finds it difficult to explain to people with whose world she is unfamiliar. All this was indicated through her speech and actions, not by having a narrator explain things.
     The detective was less well defined but now I think more about it, the situation is new to him – bizarre, even – so it probably helps to show him somewhat thrown by it.
     Angela is the the third character, grieving, heavily pregnant, a mixture of emotions which begin to sort themselves out as she speaks and gets closer to Anna. Already you get the sense that she will be an ally, much needed in this new situation.That’s not easily done, showing a character beginning to change in a very short story.
     Dramatic action, as in  “he stepped back from the table and his hand went to his hip”, “ the chains snapped taut”, the cleanly-sliced camera, all work well because they are interspersed with relatively calmer dialogue and narrative.
     I think it would help if the detective’s speech contrasted more strongly with Anna’s measured, slightly archaic delivery. ‘Whaddya mean, ya came through a crack in the sky?’ and ‘Don’t gimme that shit! No more with the damn fractures!’
     While we’re on the fractures, just before that, if you transpose the phrases ‘killed by animals’ and ‘taken by the fractures’, you hear ‘fractures’ as the last word. That adds drama to the tec’s outburst.
     And you don’t need to tell us that “his expression was one of confusion.” I think you’re already showing that by what he’s saying.
     Still on the tec, it would create more of a gulf of understanding between Anna and him, if he always referred to her butchering tools as knives or blades. ‘You call ‘em tools, lady. We call ‘em knives. And knives kill people.’ They are tools to her; weapons to him.
     Last point on the tec: I couldn’t see how he got the idea she was asking for a lawyer. If you cut some of her long speech (remembering word-count) and add something like, ‘I will  speak only to someone who will listen to me,’ that might make it clearer.
     Now, to the creation of a different world and how someone from that world interacts with us. Fasten your seatbelt!
     As you say, if you invent a world, you have to know everything about it, or at least everything that will come into the story. But nobody would expect you to do that amount of work for a story of less than 1,000 words – and in the context of a writing course. I guess this is where some of the apparent contradictions come from. I ‘ve tried not to let them distract me from the story, but you’d have to think about them if you expand it into a longer work.
     And I think you should do that.
     First thing to decide is if this other world is alien to ours, or parallel, alternative, or our world in another time, either past or future. Future ones tend to be post-apocalyptic. I wasn’t sure about this aspect of the story.
     Anna understands the language of modern USA and the people who live there understand her, though there are minor differences. Has she dropped in through a time-portal from a hundred or more years ago? It seems not, because she is not familiar with the word “lawyer”. That word was in use in Middle English (from about 1100 AD). Is she then from an alternative universe where there has never been a need for lawyers? (Sounds like a good idea to me.)
     She uses words and phrases like “pointless exercise” and “procedure” which are modern usages. That was confusing.
     Anna’s people are “settlers”, which implies they came from somewhere else to build their settlements. Are they aliens who have somehow learned English, immigrants from 17th century Europe, or 18th/19th century New Englanders heading West? Well, Southwest.

DBJ, this is a great concept and a good story. I will add that if you do expand it, incorporating the other chapters you’ve written, look carefully at two episodes and how their technology, or her experience of it, might be reconciled: finding the rifle in the blind and coming across the “conveyance” on the road.