Ian’s entry for the short story contest: An Archaeologist’s Nightmare

As Ian, (aka The Eternal Omniscient Sage) doesn’t have a blog of his own, I am delighted to have his entry to the contest here. His lack of blog does rather concern me over what therefore I may do for his in return as blogroll addition and writing a guest post are not possible.

Everyone else who has written one will be linked here after the deadline, and prizes etc will be dealt with then.

Enjoy!  The blue is the story starter and the rest is Ian’s.

An archaeologist’s nightmare

Many years ago while Alex was a student, he spent some weeks one summer
helping on an archaeological dig. The weather was fine and while the work
was quite boring, the other people were pleasant and he found he was making
friends.

One afternoon, he was kneeling in a ditch with the sun beating down on his
back. He was slowly uncovering something buried in the earth but when the
piece of pottery came free, so did something else. Looking down with utter
horror, Alex saw poking out of the mud, the milled edge of a coin, it was
edge on and only half exposed, but he knew immediately what this meant.
Milled edges had not been used on coins until a couple of hundred years ago.
He was dumbfounded. But not only dumbfounded, he could see his future
collapsing. He needed his dig notebook to pass his final exams and this find
meant that all his careful scraping and recording of what he had thought
were the remains of a Neolithic round house were, frankly, rubbish. Nothing
above that coin could be older than, say, 150 years. 

What should he do? Alex stared long and hard at the coin, sticking
derisively out of the mud, shining like the tears starting at the corner of
his eyes. He found that he was seriously considering “losing” the coin and
he started at the thought. He had not been a diligent student; he had missed
lectures and turned up with a hangover at more than was the average rate for
archaeology students, but he had always refrained from borrowing others’
work or plagiarising for his assignments. Something always seemed to be
looking over his shoulder and he generally accepted that if he’d done wrong
then it was his responsibility. 

What should he do? And then a rush of relief came over him. Of course, the
whole team had been tramping around last night looking at each other’s work.
Somehow this coin must have fallen from a careless pocket. He chuckled,
bent, picked up the coin and laughingly flipped it in the air.

When he caught it with a flourish, it glinted again in the sunlight and Alex
lifted it nearer to his eye to examine it. Although it was dirty he could
tell, from his lectures, that it wasn’t British, which struck him as
peculiar. No student or member of staff had been abroad recently. In fact it
was one the major complaints among them that they never got to dig abroad
like many other universities seemed to be able to arrange. But maybe it was
a memento and meant something to one of the others. Alex realised that this
thought had swung the balance. He would play it straight and mention it at
the evening meal so that whoever owned it and valued it would be able to
reclaim it. What would happen next was anybody’s guess.

There was only an hour to go before it would be time to pack up and he
scraped desultorily at the soil. He would remove another layer before
collecting his things together, he resolved. Then he started again, his
trowel had begun to uncover sand and with a few more scrapes he realised it
was not just an odd pocket but that it extended and a quick trowel all over
his trench floor convinced him that it was a layer covering the whole of the
area he was digging and maybe across the whole site. His trench, after all,
was the deepest.

This day was full of puzzles thought Alex. He squatted back on his heels to
rest his wrists and picked up the coin again. Losing his balance he pitched
head first back into the trench, right onto the patch of sand. He just had
time to see that the coin bore the figure of a kangaroo, before a voice said
“Hi Cobber” and he was in bright sunlight.

Short story contest deadline approaching..

In case anyone was thinking of writing an entry and has yet to do so( three have so far notified me) get your metaphorical skates on. The final deadline is 7th September.

I am working on a number of things right now so hopefully I shall have a few ready before too long… Any of these whet your appetite yet? Tune in for more, or better still subscribe!

The Sparrowhawk and the creative soul…  

Dealing with grief

Subcreation and  the power of story

 

Dungeons and Dragons

 

http://shafali.wordpress.com/2010/08/09/announcement-blog-carnival-bloggers-writers-story-in-caricature-storytelling-festival-contest/

This story is my entry for Shafali’s wonderful blog carnival. Enjoy!

 

Dungeons and Dragons

Like most things decided upon while half-cut, it had seemed like such a good idea. Gatecrashing his stepmother(to be)’s Hen party along with his mates really had seemed such a clever thing to do.

Adjusting the thin fabric under his bottom, he sighed and wished he’d not had that last pint. The chain around his ankle allowed him some movement but really he couldn’t get far enough away to have a pee without the risk of it leaking back to where he’d settled near the bars. The stone beneath him was, well stone cold and he could remember his grandma had always said that sitting on cold rocks would give him piles. However, if haemorrhoids were the worst and most lasting humiliation to come from this horrible night then he would count himself a lucky man.

He cringed to remember some of the things he’d yelled at the coterie of “mature ladies” who had been in the Hen group.

I’ve seen better looking drag queens,” he’d jeered and failed utterly to register the sudden drop in temperature in the snug. “I reckon Boris Johnson would make a better woman than most of you.”

His stepmother(to be) had simply ignored him but had made a small gesture at Brenda, one of her friends, who, in his opinion, was the ugliest example of womanhood he’d ever seen and all of a sudden, he was seized by two of them. To his utter surprise he found they both had hands of steel and he was suddenly powerless.

Well then,” said Brenda, “let’s see how well you scrub up then!”

He was lifted off his feet and in a frighteningly short time,they had transported him to Brenda’s house and he was stripped naked and was subjected to the severe torture of having pretty much every inch of skin waxed. His throat still hurt from yelling. Tied by tights to a chair, he was systematically made up and had his hair curled and fiddled with until he gave up protesting. The gang of dragons(as he now thought of them) just carried on regardless and finally, dressed him in a long pink evening gown, complete with matching pumps. The weird thing was that the pumps, supplied by Brenda, fitted his size 11s very well. But Brenda was a tall woman.

Now, what shall we do with him, ladies?”

His heart froze and they picked him up and bundled him into a taxi, wrapped in a big blanket and covered his head. When they took it off, he realised he was in a dark place and that they were placing a shackle around his ankle.

Blinking in horror around him, he saw he was in a cage, and beyond it, only darkness.

Enough’s enough ladies!” he pleaded. “You canna leave me here. It’s my Dad’s wedding tomorrow morning. I have to be there. Let me out, go on. I won’t say anything.”

But his pleas were unanswered and the laughing voices fade away leaving him in cold, silent darkness. That was hours ago now and he was desperate for a pee. He closed his eyes, hoping to drift off and lose himself in sleep. His dreams were haunted by visions of huge women with hands like navvie’s and Adam’s apples you could cut cheese with….

Laughter woke him.

My God, how did you get there?”

A security guard stood there and he could see now beyond his cage to the world beyond. Tableaux of unimaginable horrors surrounded him and he gazed stupidly at the guard.

Where am I?”

London Dungeon, lad. This is someone’s idea of a joke, no? Let’s get you out of there.”

What time is it?” he demanded.

Half past eight. We open at nine. You were lucky I had a look round before we let the public in,” said the guard.

It took a while to get him out of his chains and into some decent clothes. In the private toilets the staff used, he scrubbed at his face to try and get the make-up off but just made it smear worse than ever.

Pan stick,” said the woman guard, when he came through in despair. “Heavy duty foundation used by people with very bad skin. Trannies use it.”

I’m not a tranny,” he said. “Can anyone lend me a tenner? I have to get to my Dad’s wedding before it’s too late.”

The taxi ride seemed to take forever through the Saturday manic traffic and he knew it was too late. He reached the reception determined to find his Dad and set him straight but as he walked in the door, he knew the world would never, ever look the same again.

Sat at high table, resplendent with smiles were his father and his new stepmother. The groom wore a beautiful gown of pink silk, with matching roses and the bride wore a tuxedo in magenta with a rose-pink tie.

Oh you made it then, son,” his father said, pushing at his wreath of roses. “I wondered what had happened to you.”

Swallowing, he came to the table and solemnly, like all good Englishmen, shook hands with his father. He nodded to the bride who raised her eyebrows in query.

You’ve got eyes like piss-holes in the snow, son,” his father said. “Whatever did you get up to last night?”

I drank too much,” he said, eyes still following his stepmother. “Slept in too late. Sorry. But I’m here now.”

Aye, that’s the main thing, you’re here,” said his stepmother. “I guess you’ve learned a valuable lesson, eh?”

Oh yes,” he said, with feeling.

edit: these are the other wonderful entries; go check them out!

Baker Street blues- the secret

I made a throw-away line about a bitter-sweet memory associated with Baker Street and choosing to keep in secret for the time being. A number of people have asked about it and rather than have anyone fretting about it, I thought I might share it now and put you out of your misery(of curiosity).

I liked the song from the moment it came out, when I was about 12 or so, and I always felt the words of the song told a story and like most young people with a creative bent, I made up several stories woven around the lyrics. Back then, a one-night stand was used still more in it’s original context of a single night of a musician playing a gig and then moving on; today it’s used as a term for casual sex, and I guess even then it was moving towards that usage. I have no idea which use Gerry Rafferty meant but being pretty innocent in those days, it was the musical context I took it in.

I don’t even remember the stories I made up back then but in the early 90s when I was in my mid 20s, I was writing quite different stuff. We had also just acquired our very first CD player and were slowly buying music for it; most of our music was still either on vinyl or on tape. I wrote my first adult novel that year, between  summer ’91 when we moved to Nottingham and summer of ’92. I’d never even really considered submitting to publishers before (think about the phrase: does it not sound like an aspectof an S+M game?) but having completed my novel I thought, why not and sent off the first chapter to a number of publishers.

The response over the next few months was enough to knock me off balance. A few rejections trickled in and then, to my shock, I started getting requests to send the entire MS. I say shock, because at this stage, the MS was literally that, handwritten. The first one, from Hodder, sent me into a frenzy of typing up on our computer: it took more than a fortnight. A flurry came in, two via phone calls and I became very excited. The praise in the initial letters was mindblowing. I’d always been sure (in my own modest way) that I had talent but here were people who ought to know, agreeing with me. Even rejections were usually accompanied by a few words scribbled down below the signature, encouraging me.

It was a long while before I realised quite how valuable even these rejections were. For those who are unfamilar with this area, if a publishers’ reader bothers to write something, it means you made an impression, usually a very positive one. Even then they got huge amounts of paper thrown at them. They simply don’t have time or inclination to be kind.

Anyway, the first time a publisher rang me up, I almost fainted. It was one of the big ones and my husband had taken the call. The second time, I had to sit down abruptly and try not to babble inanities. That time it was a smaller independent publisher. He said he’d been blown away by the first chapter and that this alone was an absolute masterpiece. When he and I ended our talk, I went through into the living room where my daughter(then aged about 3) was playing and put on the first tape I found.

It was a Gerry Rafferty album and the first song was Baker Street and dancing(yes, I danced with joy) to that song, with all the delight of someone who had finally made their dreams come true. I was lifted into another dimension of happiness, and since then, hearing the opening bars of that song, I recapture some of that champagne-fizziness and innocent hopefulness.

I said this was a bittersweet memory, didn’t I?

The MS came back a fortnight later. He simply didn’t think it was the right book for him and the middle section didn’t seem to match the start. It was like being told your baby had died in the womb. I wrote back, expressing my disappointment, more because I simply needed to say something to someone. I didn’t whinge. A day or so later, he rang again and talked to me for an hour and a half and the upshot of it was that he wanted me to continue to believe in myself, that I had enormous talent and that I must not give up. He also wanted me to send him whatever else I wrote and he would then introduce me to a friend of his who was an agent.

By the time I wrote my next one, he had ceased taking on new fiction and his friend had retired(or stopped taking on new clients) and I was adift again.

Pretty much the same happened with the other publishers. They liked it, but decided not to take it for whatever reasons. A few years down the line, I had my cerebral event( I blew a blood vessel in my brain) and I stopped writing.

When I began again and tried a second time to get through the traditional route, I did look up the kind publisher but his company was not taking on any new writers and I think he himself had retired or passed on. At this time I got taken for a bit of a ride by an agent who turned out to be no good and even the publishers and agents who liked my work were not willing to take a risk, because of the death of the midlist fiction where most books end up(not bestsellers and not flops but still not big earners)  and I reached the same point of despair again before finding another way.

But there is one more weird twist to this story.

Breese Books, the publisher I had such close dealings with back in the 90s and who forever linked in my mind the soaring saxophone and guitar of Baker Street with the feeling that I had achieved my goals and dreams, did stop publishing fiction for a while and then moved into a niche area. These days they publish books on magic tricks and they also publish a genre of fiction many of you might not even know exists.

In fact Breese Books publish Sherlock Holmes stories written by modern writers.

You really, really could NOT make this up if you wanted to. Baker Street to Baker Street in only 18 years of heartbreak and effort.

Baker Street Blues- a tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes

 

Baker Street Blues- a tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and to Sherlock Holmes

 

I confess. I’d never been to Baker Street in all my long years as a fan of Sherlock Holmes. I’d travelled along it in a bus, or in a taxi but never set foot there until this Sunday.

As I stood on the escalator coming up from the Tube, a tune began in my head. It was almost involuntary and a bit of a surprise to me. Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street is a total classic and has bitter-sweet significance to me, which is a story I shall keep secret for the moment. As I reached the station exit, the soaring guitar was being overtaken by the saxophone solo and as I stepped finally onto Baker Street, the lyrics began….

Winding your way down Baker Street, Light in your head and dead on your feet…”

Pretty much summed up how I was feeling. I’d had a thirteen and a half hour working day the day before and had the same that day, though in effect I was free to do what I felt like, while remaining on call. Tiredness notwithstanding, a massive grin spread across my face, the first spontaneous smile I have had for a long while, or so it feels. I joined the queue at the museum and continued to grin for the next hour.

 Sherlock Holmes is perhaps the most famous creation of the writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but its easy to forget that Doyle was responsible for another fabulous creation too, Professor Challenger, the hero of the novel The Lost World, that has been made into many films since. Sir Arthur was a medical doctor, graduating from Edinburgh, and had a questing mind that took him to many places that were unusual for a man of his class. He did a tour as a ships’ doctor on a voyage to the West African coast, which probably opened the mind of the young Arthur greatly. His lack of success as a medical doctor gave him time to write; he had written as a medical student and his long hours waiting for patients when he first set up practise in Southsea gave rise to the first appearance of Holmes in A Study in Scarlet. Later, set up as an ophthalmologist and recorded he had not a single patient! In total, Doyle wrote four Holmes novels and 56 short stories. Many have been made into films and TV shows, and writers have produced endless tributes and pastiches to the great detective.

Visiting the Sherlock Holmes museum on Baker Street was for me akin to a tongue-in-cheek pilgrimage as I fell in love with the great detective when I was nine years old. I passed on this love to my daughter who had the stories read to her as bedtime stories. What makes me love him so?

 It’s hard to explain but there was such hope for me in the discovery of a truly clever hero to look up to and aspire to be like. Holmes is thought to be based on Professor Joseph Bell, Doyle’s old university professor, and the fact that while the man himself is fictional, there was a real person behind the stories, gave me a lot of hope that somewhere intelligence is valued above other attributes.

Holmes is a perennial favourite for film and TV and a recent BBC mini series Sherlock relaunched the iconic Holmes to a new public, updating the tales to be set in the present day with huge success. I can only hope that the next series is as excellent as the previous one.

Anyway, if you are not already a fan of Holmes, then what are you waiting for? It’s elementary, my dears!

 

Get your thinking caps on!

What links a not-very-successful medical doctor, a street in London, a seventies’ song that became a classic for it’s combination of soaring saxophone and electric guitar, and bee-keeping??

Tune in tomorrow for the answer and for some of you, a real thrill!!

Short Story competition- an archaeologist’s nightmare

Sometimes the hardest thing about writing a story is getting started…..

For my students I often use a short piece of writing to get them started, to get the creative juices flowing and to limit the time spent biting the end of the pen.

I thought the other day that this would be a great way of encouraging other people to have a shot at a tale or two and so I decided that a little contest might be fun.

The rules:

Taking the following short passage as a starter, write the story this inspires you to write in as many or as few words as you like. Copy and paste the text below as your starter; it’s not to be changed in any way. The rest is up to you but no smut please. And definitely no pornography. I have some tolerance for strong language but only when it is in context.

Then what? You have two choices at this point. You can either post the story on your blog, and put a link to the contest here(and encourage your visitors and friends to have a try too) or if you don’t have a blog, either post the story in the comments section for this post or email me the story and I will include it in a follow up post which links all the contestants together so everyone can have fun reading what the others have written.

The reward:

Apart from the satisfaction of writing a great story? OK, you mercenary lot….if you are not already on my blogroll, I shall add you. If you are, I will plug your blog here.

As an added incentive,  I will write either a blog post (as guest blogger) or a short story or poem, on a subject of your choosing (within reason; I have limits….) for whoever writes the story I would most like to have written myself. Yes, I know this is entirely subjective but hey, I have to decide somehow.

One other thing: the archaeologist in the starter is almost certainly Alex from Strangers and Pilgrims…..

Over to you.

An archaeologist’s nightmare

Many years ago while Alex was a student, he spent some weeks one summer helping on an archaeological dig. The weather was fine and while the work was quite boring, the other people were pleasant and he found he was making friends.

One afternoon, he was kneeling in a ditch with the sun beating down on his back. He was slowly uncovering something buried in the earth but when the piece of pottery came free, so did something else. Looking down with utter horror, Alex saw poking out of the mud………

© Vivienne Tuffnell 2008