July • Dystopian drift

I keep being reminded, by things happening today, of things I wrote ten years or so ago. PLanning to insert chips into employees to ‘enable’ them to access amenities, reminded me of this one — unfortunately. And I honestly believe that is how the powers that be will circumvent the self-inflicted downfall of capitalism that is already in progress and that it will start as everything does, in small ways first. Thereafter they will just ‘enable’ us all to access some things and not others!

The future’s here and it’s SCARY.

The Dispensary

Tatum walked through the deserted high suburbs towards the low white buildings of the Dispensary. The only residents here were the feral cats and vermin. Life on the outside was too harsh for her now so she had come for aid. She had skills, qualifications. Maybe not the skills they wanted but she would do anything.

Last time they’d given her nutritional supplements and turned her away. “This one is a super processor,” she’d heard the chip analyst say, “Supplements only.” That meant she wasn’t from the genetic pool they wanted. She carried genes for obesity, intelligence and creativity. People like that had a tendency to be fat, physically lazy and imaginative enough to make trouble.

Tatum knew the buildings of the Dispensary well. She had helped develop the facility; had been instrumental in training some of the operatives. She had tried to give them a sense of moral responsibility for what they were doing. It was important that all the measures put in place to combat disease, provide employment and share resources be equitable and humane. Nowadays the operatives trained each other and left moral concerns to the Global Committee.

Tatum pulled the fur coat she’d found at the fill sites tight around her. She was more coat than woman now. Flurries of snow were beginning to fall. From this elevation she could still make out the coastline and the ever encroaching rubbish slick just off-shore. If the snow lay you wouldn’t be able to see where the land ended and the great North Pacific Gyre began. It would all look like bleached plastic. They’d probably put her to work on that floating toxic heap. Still it didn’t stink like… She looked back towards the land fills where she’d picked out a living. Life was rubbish whichever way she turned but at least this way she would stay alive.

The automatic door slid open. A mechanical voice said, “Welcome. Please place your left wrist over the consul scanner.” This had all been automated. She wondered what the chip analysts did for food these days. A barrier was lowered and she went into the booth.
“Chip expired,” said the voice.
“What does that mean, ‘chip expired’?” she asked, looking for the camera she knew was somewhere.
“Operator to booth 9.”
A young man approached. “If you’d like to step this way um, Tatum,” he said consulting an electopad.

“What does it mean expired?” Her voice wavered.
“The systems run off plasma processors now. They cannot interpret your chip. You will receive a new one.”
“Right.”
“Functions change. We will require fresh information.”
Tatum looked at the bland and Spartan surroundings. This kind of impersonal atmosphere was exactly what she’d fought to prevent. But efficiency and accountability had become expediency and dissenters to the new regime had been relocated. She wondered whether Dr. Fiche was still Director.

It was warm enough to remove her coat but she still shivered, missing its accustomed weight. In the booth there was a bed, a table and a chair. Tatum sat in front of the interactive screen and answered all the questions put to her, submitting with ill grace to the various scans.
“Age?”
“59…”
“Status?”
“Outsider. Super Processor.”
“Last employ?”
Paneuropia Dispensary G666 C grade.” It seemed a long ordeal. Each answer was verified by a RetNaScan.

“I will fit your chip,” said the operative coolly.
“Will it hurt?”
He didn’t answer. He swabbed her left wrist and removed the sub-dermal chip deftly. It hurt a little.
“Is there any work here? I’m a geneticist. I wrote, ‘Mutant Man,’ you know.”
The operative made no reply.
“Dr. Tatum Fenton?”
Still there was no hint of recognition.
“Dr. Fiche would remember me.”
The operative replaced the chip with one from the computer output tray. None of this technology was familiar to her and the young man, what was he? Some kind of robot?
“Can I get some food here? I’m so very hungry. I walked all the way down from the fills you see,” she said. “It took me days.” Her voice tailed off.
He remained impassive.

They brought her some real food if you could call it that. It looked grey and tasted synthetic. Afterwards she was asked to check the information on her new implant and confirm it with her secret pin number.
She waved her wrist over the scanner and the screen glowed green.
“There’s nothing on here but today’s date,” she said.
“That is correct. Please insert your pin.” The operative left.

Tatum keyed in the number. She felt the chip tingle in her arm and waited for the rest of the information to appear on the screen. Maybe it took a while to process. The young man had been so uncommunicative; she wasn’t really sure what she was supposed to do. She was so tired though – drained – drained from years scavenging the fill sites, tired from the walk, exhausted and confused by all the new technology. At least it was warm here and she had a full stomach. Still the screen was blank and somewhat distorted. It was a relief to go and lie on the bed. She felt a little dizzy and heavy – as if she was falling…falling…

Oonah V Joslin

First published 2008 in Static Movement

Mid-Summer • and Winter

I don’t think I have ever been more sad or angry over events as this past couple of weeks. I’ve tried to stay rational and calm. I’ve written a couple of poems to let off some steam not to raise awareness — awareness isn’t really a problem but steam is. And it’s HOT and people aren’t being looked after by the people who are supposed to SERVE communities. It seems as if hatred stalks the streets and indifference has hands in some very deep pockets.
Only words
They do not serve who rule
both are in I’m not a Silent Poet.
One feels helpless.

In the meantime Bewildering Stories’ Editors once again chose to include my work in their Quarterly Review
Not for the Weak and Do Not Hurry, Do Not Rest 
It’s a poem that reminds me of my oldest brother(right) Thomas Arthur Kyle who died, aged 82 this week in S. Africa. He had six children and a happy life and was well loved. A life like that is no occasion for over sadness.
My brother Stuart photographed here with him died over a decade ago, aged 62 of cancer. My mother died in 2003 aged 89. She had a LOT of children (see last month’s blog)

I was sitting in the garden the other night, after midnight, after a late supper, cooling off, thinking, feeling a bit sad, contemplating life, looking at the stars and eating a mint magnum. Must be summer, I thought. But our calendar says it’s mid winter. It’s an Australian calendar. Winter in South Africa too.

What to make of all that? I don’t know. Do you? It’s too warm to think, my head is spinning and the world keeps turning.
Happy solstice wherever you are.

Summer, that is

Maybe it’s me
but I dread it you see
Summer, that is.
When it gets too hot
and I can’t go out,
walking that is.

Because I’m alabaster
and it’s a disaster
if I get the sun.
And I can’t get to sleep
in this infernal heat
well – can anyone?

And the minute it’s sunny
isn’t it funny
how mowers come out
buzzing and zizzing
or barbecues sizzling
well into the night.

But when loud talk and laughter
diminish to whispers
after midnight,
I eat an ice cream
in the garden and dream
up where stars gleam so white

and I think it’s okay,
the cool of the day
in Summer, that is.

Oonah June 2017

May and June • the work goes on

I would like you to read this poem today. May and June were the names of two older sisters — twins born on the last day of May and  1st of June. They died before I existed. You can read about that on pg 6 in Gyroscope Review.

and again in 2016 I am delighted to be inAvailable NOW from:
https://www.createspace.com/6652118

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0994525206

Also within the past month I have been flitting here and there spreading words like crazy:
It ain’t over and I’m the fat lady

On a Sundae

The Children Shall Be Blameless
Not for the Weak

Famous Daves

Gyroscope Review Spring 2017 PRINT ISSUE available to buy Gyroscope Review Spring 2017 Anniversary Issue

No Chance Meeting • 40 Years Today

Causeway St. Portrush. 1977 May 3rd was a day that changed my life.

I was walking home to the flat I shared with two other students. I was with my friend — Stephen. He was expecting a visit from a school friend from Wales and was leaving me home early to get back to his digs.
It was one of the worst days of the year politically speaking, because there was a lot of transport disruption from a strike and the military was everywhere, patrolling round. There were even armoured vehicles on Main Street that day.
As we approached the house, a figure came towards us. He was wearing a beige duffle coat and he looked pretty exhausted (after running the gauntlet of a major break-up followed by the worst of welcomes Ulster had to offer, all the way from Wales and with a very rough sea crossing) but he was smiling. Stephen introduced us and I knew PING in that moment and with absolute certainty


This is the man I’m going to marry.

Number 54 upstairs flat

And it wasn’t really a romantic notion (I was never a Mills & Boon kind of girl). It just presented itself in my mind as a fact as though it was the most certain thing in all the world. Now, of course you could accuse me of speaking with hindsight here because it all came to pass, but I assure it that was my first thought! And later Noel told me he had a similar thought. Maybe there is no such thing as a chance meeting.

Do you believe in such things?

I do.

He’d been going to book into Mrs MacSorley’s Guest House but he ended up sleeping on the livingroom floor of our flat because Stephen didn’t have a suitable bedsit and it saved money. In the ensuing few days, he and I talked and found we had similar interests and I became even more sure — yes — this was the man!
At that time Noel lived in Wales and I was just finishing my degree. I found I couldn’t get a job in Ulster so I applied for jobs in Scotland, London and Cardiff and I got the one in Wales. I moved there in 1978. The rest as they say…

August 1980

It just so happens that my sister Esme (bridesmaid) will be with us on Wednesday so we are going to out to celebrate 40 years of knowing each other and the champagne is on ice. Cheers!

George and the Gateshead Worme • by Oonah V Joslin

George and the Gateshead Worme – by Oonah V Joslin 2016

There was a worm lived in Gateshead
in the once-upon-long-ago
with vicious scales and big long nails
a fiery wake that wreaked of death
he carried plague on his foul breath
for he had come up from the SOUTH (boo)
at least that’s how the legend goes.

I’ll eat you all. I’ll ssscorch your town.
I’ll burn your buildingsss to the ground.
I’ll make you plead and beg and weep
unlesss you bring me sheepsss to eat. (hiss)

People complied, what could they do?
‘Til one day all the sheep were gone.
The Worme demanded calves and hogs
horses and asses, cats and dogs,
fowl by the dozen – since they’re small
he downed them whole – feathers and all
and when the livestock was all gone
there was a meeting in the toon.

I’ll eat you all. I’ll ssscorch your fieldsss
I’ll burn your cropsss to cindersss. I’ll
make the river bubble and boil
unlesss you bring me girlsss and boysss. (hiss)

The squire stood there and the thane in
fine threads with haughty demeanour
they’d had turtle doves for breakfast
roast swan and peacocks for dinner
tomorrow they’d have guinea-fowl.
They weren’t getting any thinner! (boo)

We have been forced to make a deal
in these wretched and austere times
with the Worme of Gateshead, people. (boo)
And the Squire wrung his noble hands.

Though it pains us as it pains you
to give in to this vile bully,
we have been forced to make this deal.
You must understand this fully. (boo)

From this day we must deliver
a child a week to The Worme’s lair (hiss)
We’ll draw lots for the sacrifice.
Indeed! I think that’s very fair!

And though the towns folk booed and hissed
the Thane and squire didn’t hear
for they were spirited away
by henchmen – and partook of beer
before going their separate ways
to their out-of-town fortresses.
The first lot fell on gypsy folk
who cursed the Worme that it might choke.

Now and again The Worme came down
just to intimidate the town
swooping and snooping, breathing flame
and he observed the squire and thane
feasting together in the tower
and the squire’s daughter, plump, well fed,
was slurping broth and chomping bread.

Do you really think you can cheat
a dragon with sssuch ssscrawny meat?
Thessse ssskinny children of the poor
are but a morsssel. I want more.
Sssquire, I will have the best you’ve got
and to your daughter fallsss that lot! (hiss)

The squire now wrung his hands for real
he knew there could be no appeal.

Sir George (Huzzah!) was travelling from the south
he was a brave and fearless youth
a knight whose armour shone with truth
he’d heard tell of this Gateshead Worme (hiss)
and thought that it could do no harm
to offer succour to the town
since they were suckers anyway…

Good Knight, as Squire I beg, won’t you
save us from this most evil Worme?

I’ll think about it – here’s the price
you all must pray to Jesus Christ.

He’s eaten all our cheeses too!
The thane was not the brightest coin.
I mean if you become Christians (what dorks!)
I’ll save your daughter and your town.

No problem! Anything you say.
But it’ll have to be today
to save my beautiful daughter
from inevitable slaughter.
She’s up there now you see. Hurry!

Young George leapt on his faithful steed
with his trusty sword Ascalon
and to Gateshead he rode with speed
to find the poisonous dragon.
He glittered in the noonday sun
his hilt with garnets shone and gold.
I will smite thee, O Worme! he cried. (Huzzah!)

The Worme replied, Oooo Aren’t you bold!
Nothing will keep me from my catch
I’m just about to do my worssst
maybe you’d care to ssstay and watch?
or maybe I should cook you firssst! (hiss)

The dragon’s fiery breath surged forth.
The maiden gave a screech of fear. (weak cartoonish screech for HELP)
George thrust his sword into its heart.
Down from his blade a droplet fell.
Up from the ground grew a red rose.

You saved my life the maiden swooned,
you are my hero. You’re a saint.
When I get out of this armour
lass, I think you’ll find – that I aint!

Being well travelled I suppose
there’s always dragons to be killed.
The story goes George plucked the rose.
Saints are allowed some – latitude
for it’s well known – Maids everywhere
have ways of showing – gratitude. (One last HUZZAH! From all the readers)

April • Easter • Musings

April has been both warmer and colder than usual and that’s April for you! I didn’t get out to a reading this month as planned but the summer months are ahead and who knows what will turn up (if I look for it)? Our usual walks are busy-busy with Easter Hols visitors and Easter egg hunts. I like it quiet so I am staying away. I am even avoiding the shops. I have everything I need here and lots of time to enjoy a few old favourite films and books.

So here is my little gift to you this Easter — one of my favourite passages of all time from C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian

Did you drool? Bet you did 🙂

So far this April I have written a poem a day. This is no mean feat but is greatly helped by the superb prompts from Marie Lightman’s Blog. It’s a great resource for those writerly types amongst you. Yesterday I wrote one about Seaton Delaval Hall and it reminded me of this lovely day out with my sister. So far it’s been great fun rummaging through the old brain cells.

I have been writing some flash fiction too. This is partly due to having plenty of time on my hands from not editing The Linnet’s Wings because of the site being inaccessible for now. It has given me pause to think… how all that editing may be sapping my own creativity. Certainly this has been my most productive month for a couple of years.

I am pleased to be in the second print edition of Gyroscope Review, in the Spoon on ther Tracks edition of Obsessed with Pipework and Alone Again with Jack Savage in PP&P and Bewildering Stories with GRAPHENE

Whether you are a tree or not, Chocolate is a certainty this weekend. Enjoy!

The Long and Short of Writing • Essay on Micro Fiction

I have decided to place this essay here for those who want to know how to write microfiction. It is a matter of precis, which I was aways good at in school. In fact I am not as good at writing long stories! But I don’t think they do that in schools these days and so this might prove a useful example for some aspiring writers. That is my hope anyway.

The Long and Short of Writing Micro Fiction

by Oonah V Joslin

Version 1

1,253 was a tad longer than the 500 word limit for the challenge set on our forum the other week. The words marked in red were to be included in the text so I had to retain those whilst more than halving my count. Quite a challenge.

Ambassador Ekbert put the last of his possessions into the transfer holds. ‘So that’s all?’ Then he disengaged the environmental adaptation system with a 5 minute delay code and called security. ‘So, that’s all,’ he said into the translator he’d spent years developing – not that he actually needed a translator any more but protocol demanded a certain distance at this moment.

‘Vor,’ came the reply.

“So – that’s all!” he thought.

The taint would remain in his mind. He had little choice but to resign quietly. The work might continue if he was able to acquaint a successor adequately with the cultural requirements of the mission. After all, he gave no direction to the way this species interacted with humankind. He was a mere sprocket; neither the driving force, nor the end result. His job was to keep the chain of events leading to cultural understanding on track and thus his faux pas was probably of little importance outside of his immediate circle. Provided he left quickly and was replaced soon, nothing would be lost; he must keep sight of that – but he would miss these lovely beings and their strange ways.

‘Vor,’ he affirmed.

‘Yaie,’ had been his first word – a simple hello, without use of body language of any kind and with minimal eye contact, no preconceptions with regard to time, space, gender or any other value or construct. The Gola had moved from its platform and circled him very slowly, clockwise, then anti-clockwise, then touched his forehead with one long, blue finger-like limb, almost a benediction, and mounted the platform again in one long graceful motion that mesmerised and sedated. Each of the twenty or so attendants had done the same and as they passed in endless dance, he grew accustomed to the slight tingling of his skin as they reached out to touch him. That was his first lesson in standard greetings among the Golathe. But it took a long time to identify the collective and individual colours and feel of the vibrations in each subtle greeting, as an emotion.

‘There comes a moment of epiphany in any interaction between beings, be it linguistic or empathic, social or personal, when barriers are broken down and true friendships and lasting liaisons become normal. This is what I hope for our two planets – for our two peoples.’

His inaugural speech as ambassador had been the culmination of months and a triumph of translation.

‘It does not necessarily follow that the stranger the culture, the longer that takes. It depends upon variables that none can predict and can be measured only in terms of enlightenment. Today friends – may I call you friends? – the darkness has rolled back.’

He stood naked before them as they always were, and took the accolade with pride.

As ambassador, Dillon Eckbert pieced together every nuance of their melodic language, dipping gestures, colour changes and came to appreciate their complexity. They were graceful, calm creatures for the most part. When they paled to white something was wrong. He was an experienced diplomat who detected the first signs of trouble well. For their part, though they could detect no emotion from him, for he didn’t change colour, but they gradually became less suspicious.

And so Eckbert fashioned himself a life amongst this alien race and thus came to that epiphany himself when, circling two friends he recognised in the market whilst buying schbOr, a local delicacy he’d come to love, he felt all at once, completely at home. Despite his own words, the sensation took him by storm. Here he was, far from Earth under a golden sky on a planet whose inhabitants floated around him and he was almost dancing around them, turning his head this and that way, never looking into their eyes, making small piping sounds with his lips to imitate their intonations and if any other man had appeared there, he would have thought it a strange creature indeed and perhaps have required the use of his own translator. It had been six years. Now, in his dreams, he floated too beneath a golden sky of shifting hue. “So, that’s all,” is how his thought would have translated in that moment but it really meant a myriad of things – it was a term of wonder, resignation, regret, or surprise – even of endearment. The slightest tonal shifts changed meaning, combined with colours which he of course, could not affect and that gave him the equivalent of a foreign accent and a slightly untrustworthy air, for those who were unacquainted…

Then he saw Agat. She was the daughter of a high ranking official. The function was informal. As the higher in rank, he was supposed to circle her slowly in the usual manner, then touch her forehead lightly with his finger. But she took his breath away. She was like mother of pearl, tall slender, wavering and demure even by the gentle standards of the Golathe. Yet something, some frisson, had passed between them and he met her eye and could not look away and so failed to begin the clockwise dance – a thing no Golathe would ever do. But they were well prepared for such a circumstance and not for one moment had Eckbert ever countenanced any romantic attachment in his own case. It was electric, overwhelming. His body reacted in the normal way and Agat paled. Then her father paled. The other guests picked up the vibration and turned and saw the three stalk-still and realised that something had occurred. Eckbert was ejected from the domicile and made his way home in a state of confused arousal. He could not banish Agat from his mind. The Golath requested an audience.

He remembered the boy. So, you’re going into the diplomatic service? That should satisfy your wanderlust.’ His father had had a way of putting him down without saying much and it would take more than a magna cum lauda in Intercultural Competencies to change that. ‘An unlikely choice given your predilection for solitude.

The combination of allophilia and wanderlust were such persistent voices inside him that Ekbert knew he could never be happy doing any other work and this had been a unique opportunity.

He remembered the young man, Dillon Eckbert who’d stood on the podium exuding all the knowledge, empathy and self confidence of a popular student about to embark on a most promising career. He’d always stood out, and addressing his peers he began to speak but such was his standing amongst them that his first words were drowned out by cries of:

‘Hail the Valedictiorian! Hail the Valedictiorian! Hail the Valedictiorian!’ And caps raised in the air thrice in deliberate and universal praise.

Now he must face the Golath – alone.

To his dismay, Agat and her father were there. Agat stirred in him the same reaction as before and he blushed but he did not meet her eye again. Instead he circled both her and her father four times without a word and then he allowed the Golath to circle him.

‘You have emotion,’ said the Golath.

‘Yes.’

‘You turn colour.’

‘I go pink, yes.’

‘What meaning?’

‘Shame – love.’ He looked at Agat.

‘What has shame to do with love, Ambassador?’

‘You’d be surprised.’

‘So, that’s all! My people thought it was the violence your kind sometimes displays. Instead you want to mate?’

‘Mate? Is it…’

‘It is up to Agat,’ said the Golath and Agat reached out and shyly touched Dillon Eckbert’s body. He had come home.

Version 2

You will see that in this second version I tried to collapse the back story down. The first paragraph is reduced from 70 to 23 words. But there is still a hint that we are not on Earth in the words marked in green. Now, 697 words is better but that still left almost 200 words to get rid of and that is a greater challenge still.

Ekbert cleared his possessions, disengaged the environmental system and called security. ‘So, that’s all,’ he said into the translator.

‘Vor,’ came the reply.

I honed the second paragraph to less than half its length too whilst keeping the essential cue words in place. If you have to half a piece that you’ve already written, it’s usually best to do the précis one paragraph at a time to make sure you’re keeping the balance of all the original elements and you should give each new version a separate identity – Sprocket1, Sprocket2, etc so that you can print off and compare versions if you feel the piece has lost vital elements at the end.

The taint would remain in his mind. He’d resign quietly, acquaint a successor with all cultural requirements. He was a mere sprocket; neither the driving force, nor the end result in this endeavour. His faux pas was probably of little importance outside his immediate circle. Provided he left quickly and was replaced soon, nothing would be lost; except to him.

In Version 1 I had put a lot of detail in about the language and customary greeting that didn’t really need to be there. The audience will fill in a lot from imagination if you just hint at otherness. So although I’d spent time dreaming this stuff up, my darlings had to go. And you will also notice that 4 paragraphs now get compressed into 3 – 564 -224 words. Looking at them here, I can’t see that anything was lost.

His first word had been a simple hello, ‘Yeai’; no body language, minimal eye contact, avoiding preconceptions with regard to time, space, gender or any other value or construct. The Golath had circled him slowly, clockwise, then anti-clockwise, then touched his forehead with one long, blue finger-like limb, almost a benediction, in a long, graceful motion of mesmerising calm. Twenty attendants had done the same, passing in endless dance. He grew accustomed to the slight tingling as they reached out. It took longer to identify their collective and individual colours and feel the vibrations of emotion in each subtle greeting.

His inaugural speech as ambassador was the culmination of months of translation.

‘There comes an epiphany in any interaction, when barriers are broken down and true friendships form. This is what I hope for our two planets. It does not necessarily follow that the stranger the culture, the longer it takes. It has an agenda none can predict and can be measured only in terms of enlightenment. Today – may I call you friends? – the darkness has rolled back.’

He stood naked as they were, and accepted the accolade with pride.

He studied every complexity of their melodic language, gestures and colour changes. When they paled to white something was wrong. However, they could detect no emotion from him, for he didn’t change colour.

The story pivots here and so at this point I had to make some radical changes because in Version 1 the story is as long from here to the end as the entire word count should be and I already have a 307 word count! I began to mark things I could easily lose.

One day, circling two friends in the market whilst buying schbOr, he felt suddenly, completely at home. It took him by storm. Far from Earth, under a golden sky, with beings floating around him, imitating their intonations and gestures, at that moment, he would have thought another human, a strange creature indeed. It had been six years. In his dreams, he floated too. “So, that’s all,” he thought. But it meant a myriad of things – wonder, resignation, regret, surprise – even endearment. Tiny tonal shifts here changed meaning, combined with colours which he could not affect and that gave him the equivalent of an accent and a slightly untrustworthy air.

Then he saw Agat, daughter of a high ranking official. She was like pearl, slender, wavering; demure even by Golathe standards. Some frisson passed between them and he met her eye, could not look away and so failed to begin the clockwise dance. He had never thought any romantic attachment probable. It overwhelmed him. His body reacted and Agat paled. Then her father paled. Other guests picked up the vibration and turned.

Eckbert was ejected. The Golath requested an audience.

He remembered his father, ‘So, you’re joining the diplomatic service to satisfy your wanderlust?’ His father had always put him down despite his magna cum laude in Intercultural Competencies.Unlikely choice given your predilection for solitude.’

But Ekbert knew he could never be happy doing any other work. He was the young man who’d stood on the podium exuding self-confidence, about to embark on a promising career, addressing his peers. But his first words were drowned out by cries of:

‘Hail the Valedictiorian!’ And caps raised in the air in praise.

Now he must face the Golath.

Agat and her father were there. She stirred in him the same reaction as before and he blushed. He circled her and her father without a word and then he allowed the Golath to circle him.

‘You are emotional,’ said the Golath.

‘Yes.’

‘You turn pink.’

‘Yes.’

‘What meaning?’

‘Shame – love.’ He glanced at Agat.

‘What has shame to do with love, Ambassador?’

‘You’d be surprised.’

‘So, that’s all. My people thought this a violent display. Instead you want to mate?’

‘Mate? Is it…’

‘It is up to Agat,’ said the Golath.

Agat reached out and touched Dillon Eckbert’s body. He was home.

Version 3

As you can see that wasn’t going to do it so at this stage I went back to the beginning to see what else I could take out or how I could rephrase sentences in order to lose a word here and there. At this stage every word-cut, counts. Strange then to start be putting one back but the simple title Ambassador says much about the character, saves words later on and is a required word so it does 3 jobs quickly. The first two paragraphs are now one, 51 words long and they take the reader straight into the story – a successful man who has done committed some terrible gaff – what can it be?

Ambassador Ekbert packed possessions and called security. This taint would remain. He’d acquaint his successor with all cultural requirements. He was a mere sprocket; neither the driving force, nor the end result. His faux pas was probably of little importance outside his immediate circle. Nothing would be lost; except to him.

These next 3 paragraphs have been reduced from 224 to 135 words now.

Here is version 2 again for easy comparison and I have highlighted the cuts.

His first word had been a simple hello, ‘Yeai’; no body language, minimal eye contact, avoiding preconceptions with regard to time, space, gender or any other value or construct. The Golath had circled him slowly, clockwise, then anti-clockwise, then touched his forehead with one long, blue finger-like limb, almost a benediction, in a long, graceful motion of mesmerising calm. Twenty attendants had done the same, passing in endless dance. He grew accustomed to the slight tingling as they reached out. It took longer to identify their collective and individual colours and feel the vibrations of emotion in each subtle greeting.

His first word had been a simple hello, ‘Yeai’; no body language, minimal eye contact, avoiding preconceptions. The Golath had circled him, then touched his forehead with one long, blue, finger-like limb, almost a benediction. Twenty attendants had done the same. He grew accustomed to the slight tingling as they reached out. It took longer to identify their individual colours and feel the vibrations in each subtle greeting.

His inaugural speech as ambassador was the culmination of months of translation.

‘There comes an epiphany in any interaction, when barriers are broken down and true friendships form. This is what I hope for our two planets. It does not necessarily follow that the stranger the culture, the longer it takes. It has an agenda none can predict and can be measured only in terms of enlightenment. Today – may I call you friends? – the darkness has rolled back.’

He stood naked as they were, and accepted the accolade with pride.

His inaugural speech took months of translation.

‘There comes an epiphany in any interaction, when barriers are broken down and true friendships form. This is what I hope for our two planets. It does not necessarily follow that the stranger the culture, the longer it takes. None can predict the schedule. Today friends, the darkness has rolled back.’

He stood before them naked and accepted the accolade.

He studied every complexity of their melodic language, gestures and colour changes. When they paled to white something was wrong. However, they could detect no emotion from him, for he didn’t change colour.

He studied every complexity of their melodic language, gestures and colour changes. When they paled to white something was wrong. They could detect no emotion from him.

The denouement was cut by 100 words. The part I honed most was his looking back to his father’s rather harsh attitude. I needed to show that he might have chosen a life amongst aliens because of his own alienation and also I need that word – wanderlust. It also led up to the happily ever after ;). But I could see that I’d made way too much of it so I worked on that section in particular.

One day, circling two friends in the market, he felt suddenly at home. It took him by storm. Far from Earth, under that golden sky, with beings floating around him, he would have thought another human, a strange creature indeed. It had been six years. In his dreams, he floated too. He felt a myriad of things – wonder, resignation, regret, surprise – even affection. Tiny tonal shifts here changed meaning, combined with colours he wished he could affect.

Then he saw Agat. She was like pearl, slender, wavering; demure even by Golathe standards. Some frisson passed between them and he met her eye, and failed to begin the clockwise dance. He had never anticipated any romantic attachment. It overwhelmed him. His body reacted and Agat paled. Others picked up the vibration and turned.

The Golath requested an audience.

Version 2

He remembered his father, ‘So, you’re joining the diplomatic service to satisfy your wanderlust?’ His father had always put him down despite his magna cum laude in Intercultural Competencies. ‘Unlikely choice given your predilection for solitude.’

But Ekbert knew he could never be happy doing any other work. He was the young man who’d stood on the podium exuding self-confidence, about to embark on a promising career, addressing his peers. But his first words were drowned out by cries of:

‘Hail the Valedictiorian!’ And caps raised in the air in praise.

Version 3 – 30 words gone:

He remembered his father, ‘So, you’re joining the diplomatic service to satisfy your wanderlust? Unlikely choice given your predilection for solitude.’

But Ekbert knew he could never be happy doing any other work as he stood on that podium confidently about to embark on a promising career, addressing his peers. His words were drowned out by cries of:

‘Hail the Valedictiorian!’

Now he must face disgrace.

Even this final dialogue is 10 words shorter.

Agat and her father were there. His reaction was as before and he blushed but he circled her and her father and then he allowed the Golath to circle him.

‘You turn pink?’ said the Golath

‘Yes.’

‘Meaning?’

‘Shame. Love.’

‘What has shame to do with love?’

‘You’d be surprised.’

‘My people thought you would attack. Instead you want to mate?’

‘Mate? Is it…’

‘It is up to Agat,’ said the Golath.

Agat reached out and touched Dillon Eckbert’s body. He was home.

If you read Version 3 I’m sure you’ll see that the story actually improved by being cut. Ah how I love short fiction – the shorter, the better! The last part was to choose a title and the challenge stated it had to have a duel meaning so I give you:

In Diplomatic Circles by Oonah V Joslin. (Thank you for reading!)

Ambassador Ekbert packed possessions and called security. This taint would remain. He’d acquaint his successor with all cultural requirements. He was a mere sprocket; neither the driving force, nor the end result. His faux pas was probably of little importance outside his immediate circle. Nothing would be lost; except to him.

His first word had been a simple hello, ‘Yeai’; no body language, minimal eye contact, avoiding preconceptions. The Golath had circled him, then touched his forehead with one long, blue, finger-like limb, almost a benediction. Twenty attendants had done the same. He grew accustomed to the slight tingling as they reached out. It took longer to identify their individual colours and feel the vibrations in each subtle greeting.

His inaugural speech took months of translation.

‘There comes an epiphany in any interaction, when barriers are broken down and true friendships form. This is what I hope for our two planets. It does not necessarily follow that the stranger the culture, the longer it takes. None can predict the schedule. Today friends, the darkness has rolled back.’

He stood before them naked and accepted the accolade.

He studied every complexity of their melodic language, gestures and colour changes. When they paled to white something was wrong. They could detect no emotion from him.

One day, circling two friends in the market, he felt suddenly at home. It took him by storm. Far from Earth, under that golden sky, with beings floating around him, he would have thought another human, a strange creature indeed. It had been six years. In his dreams, he floated too. He felt a myriad of things – wonder, resignation, regret, surprise – even affection. Tiny tonal shifts here changed meaning, combined with colours he wished he could affect.

Then he saw Agat. She was like pearl, slender, wavering; demure even by Golathe standards. Some frisson passed between them and he met her eye, and failed to begin the clockwise dance. He had never anticipated any romantic attachment. It overwhelmed him. His body reacted and Agat paled. Others picked up the vibration and turned.

The Golath requested an audience.

He remembered his father, ‘So, you’re joining the diplomatic service to satisfy your wanderlust? Unlikely choice given your predilection for solitude.’

But Ekbert knew he could never be happy doing any other work as he stood on that podium confidently about to embark on a promising career, addressing his peers. His words were drowned out by cries of:

‘Hail the Valedictiorian!’

Now he must face disgrace.

Agat and her father were there. His reaction was as before and he blushed but he circled her and her father and then he allowed the Golath to circle him.

‘You turn pink?’ said the Golath

‘Yes.’

‘Meaning?’

‘Shame. Love.’

‘What has shame to do with love?’

‘You’d be surprised.’

‘My people thought you would attack. Instead you want to mate?’

‘Mate? Is it…’

‘It is up to Agat,’ said the Golath.

Agat reached out and touched Dillon Eckbert’s body. He was home.

March on in Poetry and Pictures

Sometimes it has been a case of trying not to take pictures of people taking pictures of the crocuses at Wallington this year because few of us have ever seen such a spectacular display.

Even the robins are impressed. This one decided to sing right in Noel’s ear. The daffodils are being blasted by the recent winds.


Always something to see in the conservatory.

 

In Bewildering Stories a poem about my feet

Lots and lots of images and words by me and others HERE

I’m coming up in Gyroscope Review and going live at The Cumberland Arms, Newcastle on Thursday 30 March

Me and my feet — we go places.

Time Marches On • Even for Monkey Puzzles

The Ides are upon us 🙂
                          The Equinox draws near.
                                                   and the Monkey Puzzle’s blooming
                                                                                           at Belsay this year.

25 Years ago this Monkey Puzzle tree in the grounds at Belsay was the same height as me. I stood next to it and touched its sharp top and ever since I have sort of thought of it as a friend, visited regularly. So when I was 38 it was a baby.

25 years is a long while in human terms but for a Monkey Puzzle that can live 1000 years, it’s a click, a snap, a moment. This tree must be about 30. It is just putting out its first flowers. And isn’t it beautiful!

It came as quite a surprise. I’d never thought about Monkey Puzzles flowering. Apparently they form cones that mature and then the seeds are rather like pine nuts and edible. Not that I would or could. It’s not my tree. But I am glad for her and happy she’s thriving.

I think it’s a pity that she probably won’t get to be 1000 years old. A lot can happen between then and now and she was planted there purely for decorative purposes and no doubt would be cut down when she gets too tall for that space (even if Belsay was still standing then). In 1000 years we will all be forgotten (most of us anyway). I am not being morbid — it’s just a fact. And by then even she would not remember the little plump woman who remained so small and used to visit almost every week and always say hello. Well — we all have to enjoy our flowering while we can.

For now she is my friend. And she’s blooming gorgeous!

The heading picture is from Cragside House — Nellies’ Moss Lakes.

February • Those ruby slippers

And as meteorological spring begins with St David’s Day, I will be baking Welshcakes as usual. One has to preserve these little traditions after all!

February is a strange little creature. It’s short and not always sweet but it has always been an important month for me — not just because it brings an increase in light from 5 – 6 pm or because of the first flowers that bring so much cheer or Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day, Pancake Day but because of past significant events.

When I was a child it was the month of the Feis and when I was in Wales preparations for the Eisteddfod on St David’s Day. I always liked those events.

It was on the 3rd of February 39 years ago that I left N Ireland and my family behind to take up my first teaching post in Cardiff. Events do not come much bigger than that first time out in the world on your own, looking for a place to live, living in a new city, not a soul you know! Well I had already met Noel the previous year and so I looked him up. He’d written to me in the meantime so I thought it would be all right and one thing led to another. I wasn’t alone any more. There’s a poem I started way back then which eventually ended up in Three Pounds of Cells after many revisions. That is the way I tend to write.

This is who I was then…
South Wales Echo

Mary’s voice was audible above the city traffic noise.
She was a constant.
many layered,
a bag, a shopping arcade, a history.

I was all high hopes with half a bed-sit.

Her atonal notes,
expressed the urban opera;
a dissonance within the crowd.
Stout hand weathered with grime
permanently cupped for change,
she never begged.

I never gave.

One day I offered her a meal
in a café.
She looked at me aghast,
shuffled away.
I drew my smug conclusions
as her diva voice
faded between the shops:
one single, long, passionate outpouring.

When Mary died
‘The South Wales Echo’ carried the news.
A voice was silenced in the Land of Song.

I hear her still sometimes
shrill down the years.

“South Wales Echo” is a local newspaper.

It was in also February 25 years ago that Noel started work in Northumberland. To do that he had to leave me behind in Wales. It wasn’t an easy time but it was logical since his prospects were better than mine. One partner should never have to limit their prospects because of the other. It wasn’t a foregone conclusion, but a joint decision. I could teach anywhere.

I had a contract to work out and he had one to start so it was the only way and we had a house to sell and so I had to pack everything we owned. It was a time of leave-taking. It was also a leap year and on the leap day one of our close friends Ernie Caddy, died. I phoned Noel to tell him. It wasn’t until the middle of April that I upped sticks for the second time and came to join him.

But it sometimes does you good to have a break from each other — makes you appreciate what you’ve got. The school of nursing provided us with a very nice house rent free for 18 months in the grounds of the mental hospital (good place for me many would agree). Red squirrels in the back garden. I remember watching them scamper up these tall tress. Red squirrels are very endangered now. I haven’t seen one for a few years 😦 The house is gone too. It was bulldozed along with the rest of St Mary’s though the main reception building is now a pub.

So this spring marks our quarter century in Northumberland. It was like starting all over again at the time but we are happy we did it.

photo003

And this February? I seem to have been in bit of a flux as usual. Maybe I’ll sort myself out a bit in March…or April. But there’s this…

A friend asked me recently — so where’s home? Ireland? Wales? Northumberland?

If I click my ruby slippers where do I end up? And I thought: There’s no such place as home. There’s no such place as home. There’s no such place as home. Because that is the truth of my life. And I replied:

Home is where Noel is.

Happy Pancake Day