On this day in 2009…

…I posted my very first blog post.

I’d had the idea in mind for the blog title itself before I even knew blogs existed, but Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking took a while to come into being. I joined a co-operative blog, Cafe Crem, first, and after a month, I was ready to go it alone.

When I hit publish for this post, my stats will tell me I have done 970 posts in the eight years since I began.  There have been almost a quarter of a million hits. Thousands of comments, likes, shares. It’s been a huge part of my life. It’s where I began to reach out and meet people who (I hate the term) are my tribe. I’ve met a few wolves in sheep’s clothing too, got burned, got hurt. I hope I have touched lives for the better. There’s even a little book, intended as a part of a series using the essays in this blog collected thematically. The first book is on depression. There will be more (one day). There’s posts about my books, stories, poems, rants, paens, authors I love. So much here.

So, wish Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking a happy 8th birthday. Having seen many blogs begin, flounder, die, and disappear, I know that keeping going is quite an achievement and one I ought to be rightly proud about. Blogging is not longer what it was, as Facebook has taken the place for many, as a forum for sharing, but I will persist and hopefully, you will too.

Bless you all (in the true sense, rather than the wonderful passive-aggressive semi-curse of the American south) and thank you.

Permission to rest?

 

Permission to rest?

It’s almost the end of January as I write this; Imbolc/Candelmas will be upon me in a few days and I was thinking, I ought to write something. I ought to do another Cave post. I ought to celebrate the slow return of the light and the changing of the season. But I’m not going to. Not today, anyway. I may change my mind in the mean time but right now, I’m not going to do it.

It occurred to me that it’s nearly six years since I last completed a full-length novel (the third in the Ashurst series) and since then I have limped along with a number of works-in-progress. One is over 60k words long. I had hoped/intended to finish it last year. But every time I thought about opening the document to work on it, I had this sinking feeling and I thought, “Why bother?” and couldn’t find the impetus to start. It’s the same with four other projects.

I am so tired, so bloody tired, and I can’t let myself rest. I keep thrashing away, trying to recover my inspiration and energy for writing; I write the odd short story, essay, poem or add a few thousand words to one novel or another. I’m doing corrections for the new novel, after the first proof reader has gone through it; I’ve done around a hundred of the three hundred pages. It’s like squeezing blood from a stone (well, not quite like that; the blood comes from injuring your hand, not from the stone. Maybe a better metaphor than I thought). I keep feeling that if I stop entirely I will never get going again and all the hard work I’ve done to create a writing career for myself will be for nothing. If I let go, do I stop being a writer because I stop writing, or can I be like an actor, who spends time doing other things and calls it resting? And what would I do, what would I be, if I did?

I want to rest but I cannot seem to be able to give myself permission.

Comfort Literature ~ the new trend for 2017?

I’m probably going to do a proper round-up post in a day or two but having watched a very bleak two-parter on TV (an Agatha Christie adaptation) that left me feeling even lower than before, it occurred to me that what I would like to see trending in the new year is literature that comforts. Not schmaltzy, saccharine candy-fluff books that pretend everything is nice and rosy but books that have a strong core of something special, something strong and real and comforting.

One of the books I read this year was Elizabeth Goudge’s The Rosemary Tree. It’s a comfort book, like all of hers I have read so far. It’s not light and fluffy but quite different. It’s about people coping with things that seem intolerable and finding ways to redeem the unredeemable. That’s what I mean about Comfort Books.

In view of this, for the end of this year and for the start of next, I have reduced the price of Away With The Fairies to £1.99 or equivalent worldwide. I’ve had many emails, reviews, letters and messages from readers about this book, on how it’s helped them cope with some very difficult times in their lives.

I’m hoping to have a new book out by Easter, and that too will be a Comfort Book. More information to follow soon.

If you have suggestions for other books we might all enjoy, please share them in the comments.

 

Chloe’s Christmas Presents

Chloe’s Christmas Presents

I thought I’d entertain you with an excerpt from Square Peg, from the Christmas period.

On New Year’s Day, Cathy’s van pulled up outside their house, and by the time Chloe had got to the door, Cathy was on the doorstep. She looked pinched and blue with cold, her layers of brightly coloured clothes apparently inadequate. She ate a huge bowl of pasta, drank a pint of orange juice, spent an hour and a half in the bath and then went and slept for eighteen hours without stirring once. Chloe was starting to worry that she’d died in there when she finally emerged the following afternoon looking much better but still grey with tiredness.

“I don’t think you’re terribly well,” Chloe said, when her sister’s coughing fit came to an end.

“No, I’m not brilliant. Too much sea air,” Cathy said. “And before you ask, I don’t really smoke. Too expensive. I just have the occasional cig when I can. It’s just been so cold; I haven’t managed to shake this last cold off yet.”

“I got you a Christmas present,” Chloe said.

“Christ, I got you guys presents too,” Cathy said. “I totally forgot yesterday. They’re in the van. I’ll go and get them.”

Cathy was coughing again when she came in again.

“I don’t believe in wrapping paper,” she said, and handed them each a small parcel wrapped in brown paper.

Clifford opened his cautiously; the parcel smelled strongly of seaweed. It was a wooden cross, carved out of driftwood. There was no figure on the cross but there was a beautifully carved crown of thorns where the head of Christ would have been.

“This is beautiful,” he said. “Where on earth did you get it?”

Cathy grinned at him.

“The beach,” she said, and it dawned on him that she had created this cross herself.

“It’s fantastic,” he said.

“Not bad for a few evenings with a pocket knife,” Cathy grudgingly admitted. “Go on Chloe, open yours.”

Chloe unwrapped the paper. Inside was a piece of crystal wound around with silver wire so it could be worn as a pendant. At first she thought the crystal was clear quartz, then she saw that there seemed to be another quartz point inside it. She looked at her sister.

“It’s lovely,” she said. “What is it inside it?”

“Itself,” Cathy said. “It’s what they call phantom quartz. The crystal grows; sometimes it stops growing for thousands of years and then starts again. When it starts again, the original point still shows inside the new point. I think tiny specks of dust show where the first point was. I found it in a gift shop; you know, they often have displays of crystals, lots of them in boxes. If you’re patient enough to go through them all, you can sometimes find unusual ones. I was lucky that time. So then I did the wire myself, so you can wear it as a necklace.”

“It’s fantastic,” Chloe said. “Wait a minute while I get a chain and then I can put it on.”

She ran upstairs to their room and brought down a silver chain and threaded the stone onto that, and fastened the necklace round her throat.

“This is for you,” she said, bringing out a big parcel from behind their rather forlorn Christmas tree.

Cathy undid the paper, smoothing it out as she did so. Chloe had gone to the camping supplies shop and bought the best sleeping bag they had, guaranteed to some unimaginably arctic temperature, and a fleece liner that was easy to wash and quick to dry.

“Cor,” breathed Cathy. “I could go to the Antarctic with this. Ta ever so. You’ve no idea how cold I’ve been lately.”

But Chloe had some idea when she saw Cathy’s existing sleeping bag, the following day when Cathy brought it in to put in the washing machine. It had been an excellent bag once, but that was years ago, and it was probably only any use now as a summer bag. She’d been intrigued by Cathy’s van, when Cathy agreed to show her it. It was very neat and clean, but very sparse. Cathy kept her belongings in a series of boxes that she admitted were actually old army ammunition boxes, which she could stack and fasten down in the back with a network of bungees. Her bed was a rolled up length of foam rubber, tied up during the day with another bungee. There were a number of old army blankets too, folded up and stored in one of the ammo boxes; that was obviously how Cathy hadn’t turned into a human ice lolly one of those freezing nights.

“Brilliant present,” Cathy said, stowing it away. “I get scared during the winter, you know, that one morning I won’t wake up.”

That shook Chloe; she hadn’t thought of such things before.

“I’m better off than many,” Cathy said, seeing Chloe’s look of horror. “I’ve got the van for starters. I’ve slept in the odd doorway in the past, but only once at the dead of winter and I was younger then and not on my own. Being homeless stinks in the winter.”

“You don’t have to be homeless,” Chloe said.

“I’m not. The van is my home,” Cathy said. “And I took you at your word about coming here when I needed to. And you’d even got me the best Christmas present I think I’ve had for more years than I can remember, so I know you did really mean it. But you must know I don’t want to settle down, not when there’s so much I can do. This will make life more comfortable,” and she patted the box with the sleeping bag and liner in it. “And I do appreciate your offer, believe me I do. I thought about you two quite a lot recently. That’s why I made the presents.”

“They’re marvellous,” Chloe said, touching the crystal at her throat. “That cross you did for Clifford, you know you’re really talented. Was it you who painted the van?”

Cathy nodded, and then shut the van door on her tiny home.

“Do you like it?” she asked.

“It’s amazing,” Chloe said. “I think it’s lovely. You really are good at art, you know.”

Cathy flushed with pleasure, and then shook her head.

“It’s something I enjoy doing, that’s all,” she said.

“I think you’re brilliant at it,” Chloe said.

There was a brief moment of discomfort between them, until Cathy patted the side of the van, fondly.

“Yeah,” she said. “With this thing, I can never forget where I’ve parked.”

“It’s the first time I’ve ever considered a Transit van as art,” Chloe said. “When we were in Wales in the summer, there was a family turned up at the campsite we were at in two white Transit vans. We called them the White Van Clan, but not where they could hear us. Imagine White Van Man with a family; that was proof positive that the gene pool has a shallow end.”

from Square Peg available in all Amazon stores.

An Advent offer

An Advent offer

I’m cutting the cost of one of my books for December/Advent, because the book starts just before Christmas.
It’s also, in my own opinion, my best book. Sadly, this is not reflected in sales. It falls between the cracks of genre and that’s never a place to be. Young male protagonist, a plot that is almost the antithesis of romantic fiction. However, it also contains a *villain* that some readers reckoned worse than Joffrey, a hero who’ll break your heart and characters you’d like to spend time with and who will all haunt you long after the book is ended.
Talking of which, there is a sequel, still gummed up in the works, but which I’d love to see out there next year. Needs a polish, a cover and some oomph from me to get it out.

The Bet is available in all Amazon stores, currently at £2.99 or local equivalent: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bet-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B009ISHLYI/. It’s also in a nice chunky paperback that would make a good Christmas present to someone who you think would enjoy it or even (dare I say it?) to yourself.

All but one of my books are in paperback. I’d hoped to get Square Peg out in time for Christmas in a paperback edition, but life has been..interesting. I’m hoping to release a new novel, Little Gidding Girl sometime early next year, and also a new collection of poetry; that’s being fiddled with to ensure it’s as good as I can make it. The poetry will (probably) only be in paperback, because it’s a much better way to publish poetry. You can dip into a paperback of poems much more readily than an e-book.

Reviews also very welcome, of any of my books. I’d love to see Away With The Fairies make it past 50 reviews by New Year; the myth has been that the Mighty Zon promotes books more once this milestone is reached, but while I suspect this is a myth, I’d still love to test it out.

Advent blessings to you all.

The Wave

The Wave

The Wave

Damp air filled with the tang of salt.

The light is grey, dead, heavy with storm.

Wind rising, beating the water,

Driving spindrift to shore.

Gull feathers & seal bones

Litter the strand-line,

Tangled with leathery weeds

Stinking with rot and mussels.

I feel the wave before I see it;

A huge pressure on my aura

Rearing like a stallion

Maddened by lust and fear.

The sound, a hundred trains

Condensed into one deafening roar

When I see it, it’s too late to run.

A mountain of water a mile high

breaks over my head

And I drown, crushed first

To a handful of pebbles

Rolling along the beach.

Shadow pebbles

Shadow pebbles

I wrote this poem over a year ago; the feeling had begun building back then and it became almost unendurable. You can interpret this however you like but for me, world events are at the root of it.

Gerhardt the Monster-Hunter

 

Gerhardt the Monster-Hunter

Gerhardt’s obsession with the paranormal that led to him becoming a semi-professional monster hunter began when he was barely four years old. His eccentric aunt Grethe invited the whole extended family to stay at her rambling, ranshackle old mansion for Halloween one year. It was a wonderful chance for family to catch up and for the hordes of cousins to meet each other. Much of the family was dispersed over great distances, so this was the first time Gerhardt had ever met most of the cousins who came to stay. The house seemed packed to the rafters with people, and at four, he found himself feeling rather shy and overwhelmed. A huge array of costumes had been provided for the children to find themselves outfits; Gerhardt opted to don a bright orange pumpkin-shaped beret. He’d never seen a pumpkin before and a gigantic one dominated the dining room where it peered over the room from the mantle-piece. In the carved face someone had put an old glass eye; it fascinated him with its shine and the way it seemed to follow him, and when no one was looking, he prised it out of the vegetable socket and popped it in his pocket. Years later, when much else had faded, he still kept the eye, on a little stand on his desk, as a kind of talisman against doubts.

The party was filled with games and jokes and everyone dressed up, including all the adults. Cousin Colin had found a vampire outfit and looked very scary with his fangs and dripping blood; aunt Grethe was a very convincing witch. Ghosts in sheets, zombies, wizards, ghouls and werewolves all gorged on sweets and cakes. By bedtime, Gerhardt had consumed almost his own body weight in candy. As his parents snored away in the big bed and the house fell first quiet and then silent, a raging thirst began to torment him, and taking Teddy and his blanky in hand, he ventured out to find some water.

Houses always seem very different at night, but even so, Gerhardt wandered down what seemed like countless corridors and stair cases, becoming more and more confused and lost in the semi-darkness. A few dim bulbs glowed in cobweb-bestrewn shades, creating more shadows than they banished. Behind him, he was sure he could hear footsteps but he told himself it was just the echo of his own feet on the bare wood floors. He clutched Teddy tighter, because as we all know, teddy-bears are guardians of frightened children and talismans against evil. A night wind blew through the passage way, catching the gauzy curtains and making them billow out as if someone were behind them. The sound of rasping breath from the end of the corridor were the darkness was deepest, made him hold his own breath and hear his heart begin to pound like jungle drums. As his nerves reached breaking point, from the deep shadows stepped two stooping figures. Dressed identically in old-fashioned school frocks, their long lank and dirty hair falling over their faces so that even their eyes were hidden, two thin girls lurched towards him, arms held out and fingers wriggling at him.

It was too much; Gerhardt fled screaming, pyjamas damp with the sudden shock, and ran away as fast as his legs would carry him. Later, his twin cousins Jessica and Jennifer confessed that they had also been out of bed, wandering the house in search of candy their other cousins had missed, but by then Gerhardt and his parents had gone home, and the family became estranged for all sorts of very trivial reasons, so that for Gerhardt, this became the only family gathering he ever attended.

The experience that night scarred him; he became a geography teacher. He took refuge in the routine, the mundane and the predictable for many years; yet a seed had begun to grow, and he started to explore the paranormal. A hobby at first, ordering books from the library, subscribing to many magazines and joining various groups, the arrival of the internet was a great boon to his studies. Eventually, his website dedicated to seeking monsters and spooks, became very successful, possibly due to being targeted by trolls, though not the type that live under bridges and eat goats.

He learned to be very cautious about how he responded to the many messages inviting him to investigate hauntings and sightings of paranormal beasts. Most proved to be pranks or misguided people who probably needed to get their spectacles checked. But sometimes there were ones that seemed so promising he followed them up, laden with his (mostly self-built) equipment and accompanied by his faithful ghost-hunting pooch Bob. Knowing that animals generally sense the presence of departed spirits and discarnate entities, Gerhardt had considered both cats and dogs, but eventually settled on Bob the dog because if nothing else, Bob would always give him an excuse to be out at night without looking like a prowler or a weirdo.

The email from a young couple who had stumbled upon a ruined church and a forgotten crypt intrigued him. The church had become ruinous many years ago, shortly after the final interment in the crypt of a lady whose family had been massacred by an axe-wielding maniac. Unable to forget what she had seen, she had fallen to her death in the river; compassionate lee-way was given to her regarding her burial in hallowed ground, and once the family crypt was resealed, building work hid the entrance. Like many remote country churches it fell into disuse, then disrepair and finally, the lead nicked from the roof, it more or less fell down. But the young couple had found the crypt entrance and had gone down with torches only to see phantoms and figures flitting around. Would Gerhardt like to come and investigate further?

So, weighed down with devices and protective amulets (the old glass eye tucked in his pocket) and with Bob the dog prancing along, Gerhardt arrived at twilight in the overgrown churchyard. There was no sign of his hosts, so he picked his way among the gravestones and table tombs, and tried not to trip up as the ground descended steeply towards the shadowy shell of a church. The ghost-monitor was beeping loudly, and the ectoplasm sensor was blinking, but Bob seemed unperturbed, so he carried on, picking his path with care as the darkness grew ever deeper.

Bob leapt up at him, startling him, and gave a little woof. Something or someone was watching them. Gerhadrt stiffened, a cold sweat breaking out beneath his tweed jacket with the leather elbow patches. Doggedly, he plodded on, when the earth broke open around a tomb with a terrific roar and from the blackness emerged a tall gaunt figure. Red-silk lined the heavy black cloak that swirled around the apparition, whose bloody fangs and white-streaked locks proclaimed his identity as a vampire.

Too scared to even squeak, Gerhardt cringed away, but Bob the dog bounced over and began to jump up at the figure to lick at the hands.

Oh excellent!” said the vampire. “You’re here in good time. Just in time for dinner too!”

Gerhardt reeled, his heart leaping in his chest, and he staggered back, as the vampire stepped from the hole and came towards him, hand held out.

It must be almost forty years,” he said. “You have no idea how hard we had to try and track you down. Family feuds are so last century, aren’t they? You can’t have got any letters. Or surely you would have replied.”

Gerhardt felt his skin crawling as if a million ants were running all over him; his eyes began to roll as the greyness flowed over him.

You’ve not changed a bit,” said the vampire. “Surely you must remember me? I’m Cousin Colin. See, the fangs come out-”

But Gerhardt had fainted. When he came to, Colin had managed to drag him to the terrace of the old mansion, and someone else had fetched a deck chair and some refreshments. Colin held out a goblet of faintly luminous green liquid.

Here, have some lime juice,” he said. “You’ll feel much better in a minute and then you can come and meet everyone. When Aunt Grethe passed away, she left the house to all of us and we decided to turn it into a themed hotel. We’ve had such smashing Trip Advisor reviews already. Tonight’s our first Halloween since we opened. We all wanted you to be here, so we concocted that tale of the crypt to winkle you out of your hermitage somehow. Come on in, the party is just getting started…”

© Vivienne Tuffnell October 2016

(a story inspired by the Story World Tales of the Haunted House, by Caitlin and John Matthews. A collaborative brain-storming by me, Graham Edge and Elaine Blath Feainnewedd October 28th 2016)

This is the first piece of fiction I’ve shared on the blog for simply ages. I’ve been saving up my short fiction to make into another collection. There’s one in the offing that’s going to be modern fables for grown-ups and another collection of ghostly tales that might be out in time for Halloween next year.

If you fancy some proper spooky stories for this Halloween, you could always try one of the following. Or all of them.

The Hedgeway 

The Moth’s Kiss 

The Wild Hunt and Other Tales 

Strangers and Pilgrims is set during the Halloween period but it’s not a ghost story. Away With The Fairies has themes that tie in with this time of year and is decidedly spooky at times too.