Coffee Break Read – Drifter

It isn’t given to everybody to be able to identify the precise moment when they fall for the love of their life…

It was Saturday night and the drifter drove his beat-up truck into just one more trail-end town. Truth to tell he would have preferred somewhere livelier as he had money in his pocket, but he was tired and hungry. He parked the Dodge outside a tiny diner only to see the closed sign go up on the door as he swung to the ground. An old timer and his equally ancient dog stopped and looked at him.
“Food at Belle’s Bar over the street’s better than the slop they serve here. Can even get decent coffee if’n you don’t want beer with your meal.”
The drifter tipped his hat in a grateful salute and made his way to Belle’s.

The old timer hadn’t lied about the food or the coffee. By the time the stranger had got outside of a huge plate of savoury stew, a generous helping of peach pie, and three large mugs of steaming hot coffee he was feeling almost human. He decided he might as well stay for a beer while he chewed over his options.

His usual Saturday night agenda involved picking up some lonely woman in a bar and getting invited back to her place for the night. He got bed and breakfast and his lady hostess got what he reckoned to be some pretty hot sex. Something for everybody, and no offence taken if his advances were spurned. However, he had worked for the better part of two months helping a group of dirt farmers plough and weed and build fences, so he was bone weary and he had money enough to get his own room. He’d have that beer and think. He bellied up to the bar and the woman tender stopped polishing glasses.
“I get you, bro?”
“Bro?” the drifter was amused and that made him look closer at the woman. She was maybe thirty years old, and plain of face, but with an infectious grin and the light of intelligence in a pair of strange bi-coloured eyes. She chuckled.
“Yup. Bro. Saves me trying to learn the names of all the damned fools that come in here looking for beer and sympathy.”
He found himself laughing too, and for some reason that felt good.
“I’ll take a beer please, and one for yourself.”

Somehow or other, he was still by the bar when it was closing time. He watched the bartender take off her apron and hang it on the beer pumps before he spoke.
“Anywhere I can get a room in these parts?”
She looked at him for a long moment then seemed to come to a decision.
“I got a bed too big for one woman.”
The drifter felt his smile flow across his cheeks. This one, he thought, would be a real pleasure. He held out a hand and the woman came around the bar and put her own hand in his.
“Hi, pretty lady,” he said, “my name’s…”
She put the fingers of her free hand across his mouth.
“Let’s just keep it to bro, shall we? This time tomorrow you’ll be gone and your name’ll be no manner of good to me.”
He nodded his understanding and they walked out of the bar shoulder to shoulder.

It wasn’t early when she slid from his embrace and padded out to the kitchen. He watched her go, marvelling at how comfortable she was in her own nakedness and how much he had enjoyed that nakedness. He put his hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling. He was still deep in thought when a voice floated in from the next room.
“I’m sorta making breakfast. What do you want on your toast?”
“A couple eggs would be good,” he responded without thinking.
Almost instantaneously a laughing face appeared in the doorway.
“Eggs bro? Sheesh. The sex wasn’t that good.”

And he knew at that moment that his fate lay in a one-horse trail-end town with this woman by his side.

©️ Jane Jago 2018

Life Lessons for Writers – Seven

Yup. Jacintha Farquar. Again. Here to moan in your lugholes about whatever turgid pap you writers seem to think you can hurl at us poor readers with no comeback.
I mean, here to help you aspiring novelists hone your art and improve your technique.
Honestly.

Life Lessons for Writers – Seven: Cultural References

You, yes, you, stop looking away as if this has nothing to do with you because you know you have done it. You will have dropped the names of movies you love, references to books or music you love and that esoteric hobby of yours, somehow into your magnum opus.
Along comes the reader who is twenty years older or younger than you, loving the book and then POW – you’ve lost them. They don’t care that your main character likes listening to Swooky Pizzaface or that the classic scene in Toy Story Two Hundred and Twenty Three was just soo funny. And maybe you were thinking all your fly fishing pals were going to just love that reference on page sixty-two of your post-apocalyptic novel? Well all two of them who ever read the book might do, but for the rest of your readership you’d probably have more reach by mentioning J.R. Hartley…
Did I lose you on that one?
Go Google it.
That makes my point.
One person’s cool cultural reference is another’s ‘Huh?’ or even ‘Ugh’.

Then we come with anachronisms.
Why is it every damn character in the future has a secret passion for 21st Century movies/books/HipHop or history? Now I know for a fact there will be some of you reading this who will be saying ‘Yes, well I have a passion for 4th Century BCE Greco-Roman pottery’. Well good for you if you do, but you know what? There is a reason shows and books about that are not topping any popularity charts.
My son, Moons, won’t even watch a film from the 1990s as he says the visual quality is too crap so by the time we get another century on things from this time will just be sad and dated in the minds of most.
You may fondly imagine readers are smiling as you name check the entire cast of Farscape, but no, they won’t be. They will be being reminded that they are reading a frigging book set five hundred years in the future in which the main character has an utterly unlikely obsession with an old show they never even liked themselves. You will have broken their reading immersion at best and alienated them at worst.
It is not an effing ‘easter egg’ it’s a bloody shambles.

And what about if you write in the past?
Get your facts right. It is not hard to learn when various items were discovered/invented, Google is your friend.
Don’t have someone in Tudor times wave a red rag at a bull – that kind of bull fighting didn’t exist then, and a ‘waving a red rag’ meant flapping your tongue to no good end.
Don’t have your Viking feeling his heart pumping to circulate the blood around his body, no one knew it did that then.
Don’t have a character in the Wars of the Roses thinking about the cells in his body, or talking about a virus or about bacteria – or even germs. They were not known about then.
Don’t have your Roman Senator say he is going to handbag someone or that he fights according to Queensbury rules…
Just don’t…

So in brief make sure your cultural references fit the culture. 

  1. Don’t try and shoehorn in pop-culture references to the present day in your distant times sci-fi. Far from being something the modern reader can relate to you will alienate those who dislike your referenced material and break the reading immersion of everyone else. 
  2. Do check that whatever cultural references you do use fit the setting both historically and – well, yes, culturally.
  3. Don’t impose your own boring geekdom on your poor bloody readers thinking you look clever. You don’t, you look an effing pratt!

And if that hasn’t sent you scurrying back to your keyboard looking for the delete key I don’t know what will. So sod off unless you are going to make me another Bloody Mary…

Coffee Break Read – Hole in the Sky

“The men who came out of the hole in the sky, what did they look like, Dylan?”
Dylan thought for a bit and chewed on his pencil. He wanted to help the nice lady, she had been very kind and said he could play with any of the toys in her room.
“They were big and scary,” he said, and started drawing. “They picked up mummy and Gwen and ran back into the hole in the sky with them.”
“Then the hole closed up?”
Dylan nodded. He wanted to explain how the hole had pulsed and made the air around it shimmer, as if it didn’t belong. He wanted to tell the nice lady how he had tried to run through the hole after the men, and seen a strange boat with a dragon’s head on the other side. But he wasn’t sure how to put the images in his mind into words that made any sense. So he kept working on his picture instead.
“There wasn’t really a hole in the sky, was there?” the nice lady spoke kindly. “It was a car or a van that the men got out of, wasn’t it?”
Dylan wondered if the nice lady was trying to make fun of him. He finished his picture and held it up.
“They looked like this.”
The nice lady must have been very tired because her face went very pale and she suddenly fell asleep on the brightly coloured carpet.

E.M. Swift-Hook

How to Cook Like a Toff – Luncheon for the Ladies

Prunella teaches you how to cook like a toff!

The biggest test of any woman’s cookery skills (as well as her patience and tolerance for alcohol) is luncheon for a group of her own sex.
The best advice, honestly, is to never allow oneself to be inveighed into hosting what can only be accurately described as a bitchfest.
Should you be foolish enough I have a few words of consolation.
However badly the occasion falls out there will always be worse in living memory – with the proviso that you remember the three golden rules.
Never serve chicken (by some intervention of Beelzebub it will always be raw in the middle)
Never run out of booze
Never allow your husband/offspring/brothers within shouting distance (they will find it terribly funny to cause mayhem and leave you apologise for them)
So, ladies, to our muttons. Now might indeed be a good time to break out your finishing school cookery. Or it might not. Perfect salmon en croute may be the normal order of the day for you, but with fifteen arch-critics at the door, failure is guaranteed. Burned pastry with raw fish inside is the best you can expect. Do. Not. Attempt. Anything complicated. If you must show off your culinary talents I strongly suggest a casserole which can be perfected the day before and merely heated on the day.
But. Having, unbeknownst to me, been made a member of a group of ‘ladies who lunch’ (I believe my unlamented mother-in-law to have been responsible) I have developed a coping mechanism which I am prepared to share here.
The food.
Tapas. Consisting of whatever you can find at your nearest German supermarket (not Waitrose, or Samantha, Lucinda et al will even be au fait with the price). Shove your purchases onto the best Coalport serving platters and smile your best humbly self-satisfied smile.
The booze.
Unlimited amounts of sangria and/or Agua de Valencia. Shakes head at puzzled young women. These drinks are both ironic and carefully lethal.
Mix as follows.

Sangria

2 litres red wine
1 litre Fundador or similar sherry-based brandy
2 tablespoons muscovado sugar
2 large oranges sliced
1 large lemon sliced
2 punnets strawberries
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
1 litre lemonade
Mix all ingredients except lemonade in large jugs at least three hours prior to luncheon. Add lemonade at the last minute.

Agua de Valencia

2 litres orange juice
4 sliced oranges (blood oranges for preference)
1 bottle cheap gin
1 bottle cheap vodka
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 bottles cava
Mix all ingredients except cava beforehand. Add cava just before the wenches descend

And there you have it. A no-fail luncheon for your natural enemies.

Just one last thing. Make no attempt to hide the supermarket packaging the food came in. If you do, your husband’s ex-girlfriend will seek it out and parade it about the room. Which bitchery there is no point to if you leave the packets in a neat pile on the kitchen worktop. Benefit two of this strategy is that when a mildly intoxicated young woman demands to know if the king prawns were prepared to Mary Berry’s recipe or Nigella’s you can recommend her to go and read the packet.

Look out for more tips on how to cook like a toff next week!

January’s Grace

January explodes upon the world
With fireworks and cheers
And auld lang syne.
Then creeps she neath her soft blankets
Of snow and mist
Within her house walled with ice
And roofed with frost
And on the casement panes
She prints star patterns,
Draws icicles on eave and gable,
Paints the lawn from green to white
And with bony fingers reaches
Like the leafless trees
To caress the greyness of the sky.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Weekend Wind Down – The Portal

It wanted but ten minutes to midnight when Matthias stepped out of his door and sniffed the starlit air. His dogs, Florence and Fido, came out too and sat at his feet regarding the quiet dark landscape through round, intelligent eyes. Matthias lit up his long, clay pipe and smoked  in ruminative quiet for a moment before bending to place one hand on each soft furry head.
“I wonder how many we can expect tonight?”
By way of an answer Florence wagged her tail briefly, and Fido gave a small wuff.
Their master smiled.
“Good dogs.”
It was, he thought, a pleasant night to be standing in the well manicured grass, smoking a pipe, and listening to the small sounds of the night creatures in the trees and the crevices in the dry stone wall that surrounded his demesne.
Somewhere across the silent valley a bell rung, tolling the midnight hour with its melodious chimes. Florence and Fido stiffened, and Matthias knocked the dottle out of his pipe on a convenient stone.
He turned to watch the well-worn path that led uphill from the town and his eyes caught the gleam of a pale light coming his way. What was at first one light, became two, then three, then a dozen, until finally a score or more of the pallid glimmers progressed across the springy grass and through the tall trees to where Matthias stood.
As the first reached him, it changed from an insubstantial mote of light to the figure of an elderly man, bent and soured with age. The dogs barred his way and he looked down vaguely.
Matthias called through the open doorway.
“Who comes to meet Archibald Smith.”
A dozen or so voices replied, so the dogs parted allowing the old man to pass into his new home.
The ritual repeated for each of those who sought entry and it gladdened Matthias’ heart that all had someone to speak for them – meaning he had not any to turn away into the unforgiving sky.
He looked down at the dogs.
“Time to turn in.”
But Fido growled and Florence pointed to where one glimmer of light, paler and more frightened than any that had been before seemed to be trying to hide itself among the tall grass that bordered the wall. Matthias beckoned and it came reluctantly to where he stood beside the square of warm light that marked his door. As the light touched down in front of him it became a very old woman, a woman with no teeth and precious little hair, a woman so wrinkled and wizened and diminished by age that it was difficult to tell what she might have looked like under her loose and greyish skin. But then she looked at Matthias, and the sheer beauty of her grass-green eyes stabbed him in the breast like a sword.
“Why do you try to hide, sister. Is there no one awaiting you beyond the veil?”
“I do not know, sir doorkeeper. I only know that I tremble to think that he who was my husband may see me as I am now and regret awaiting me at the portal for sixty years.”
Matthias smiled his understanding.
“Who comes to meet Grace Sandling?”
“I do,” a great voice from beyond the doorway stirred the air and set the scent of honeysuckle tickling the noses of the dogs.
“Come forth then. It is permitted.”
A tall, strong auburn-haired figure with a neatly trimmed beard and big strong hands walked out into the night.
“My Grace,” he said tenderly and fell to his knees on the award in front of the old woman. “My Grace, come to me at last.”
The woman shook like an aspen tree in the winter and covered her face with her insubstantial hands.
“I am not as you remember me. Cruel eld has robbed me of both beauty and strength. I am ashamed to let you see me thus.”
The man reached out and removed her hands from in front of her face. He looked into her eyes.
“You are exactly as I remember you. Brave and beautiful and kind.”
He carried both her hands to his lips and as Matthias watched the years fell from her, until she stood sword-straight and as lovely as a spring morning. The man offered her his arm and they walked through the doorway together.
Matthias swallowed a lump in his throat before whistling the dogs and walking through the door with them at his heels.
The door closed behind them and the garden and the dry stone walls folded onto themselves leaving only a bare hillside in the cold moonlight.

©️Jane Jago

Granny Knows Best – Friday the Thirteenth

Friday the Thirteenth! 

Who’s afraid of Freddy Krueger then? Lights a fag from the stub of the last one and sneers. 

Look at yourselves will you. Frightening yourselves shitless about a random date and a fictional monster. 

Get a grip!

Friday the Thirteenth is just another day. It is no more unlucky than any other day. 

To illustrate: I met my late and unlamented spouse on a Friday. Only it wasn’t the thirteenth. And I couldn’t blame luck. Nope. I wound up married to the louse because of the effects of rough cider not the friggin’ date….

So. Get out from under the bed. Get your legs down the appropriate holes in your trousers (or pants if you are a bloody colonial), and try to act like you have a brain cell.

Stop watching horror films if you don’t have the balls to realise they are fiction. 

Don’t be looking for lucky items of clothing, just put your adult panties on and get on with the day.

Do not walk around with your fingers crossed. You will only wind up hurting yourself.

Put the bloody rabbit foot down. It isn’t lucky for f***’s sake. The poor bloody rabbit is dead.

To cut a possibly very long rant a little shorter here is the bottom line.

Superstition is crap. It will never be anything but crap. It is designed to sell crap. And to allow the feeble-minded to blame their inadequacies on a higher power.

Again I say crap.

If I see anybody surreptitiously turning their money in their pocket, or avoiding their reflection I shall be kicking ass…

Piss off. I’ve said all I’m going to say and you are annoying me now.

Happy Friday suckers!

Coffee Break Read – Blessed

I walked my brother’s only daughter around the sights, snarling at street corner conmen and would-be pickpockets. The kid just drank everything in open-mouthed and adoring every moment. After four leg-weary hours even she was ready for a sit-down, and I guided her into Frankie’s Grill.

It’s not the most salubrious joint in town, but the food is good and they know me. I ordered burgers and fries and while we waited I just listened as she babbled. When she suddenly stopped speaking and swallowed as if her mouth had gone unaccountably dry I turned to follow the direction of her eyes.
“Shit,” I said with some feeling, “what’s he doing here?”
“I don’t know. But I wonder if he wants company.”
“Probably. But we ain’t it.”
She regarded me solemnly for a moment then nodded.
“If you say so. Though he sure is pretty.”
He was more than pretty, with the sort of hard-edged handsomeness that turns the knees to water. I laughed.
“Pretty dangerous, kid.”

Right on cue, the server came with our food.
The kid waited a beat. “He a John?”
“He is. Although not one of mine. Now eat your burger before it goes cold.”
The kid applied herself to her plate with a healthy appetite, even managing to finish my fries before she sat back replete.

The man now occupied a booth opposite us, from whence he stared at me with his mesmerisingly blue eyes.
“He looks at you,” the kid remarked, “as if he don’t know whether he wants to fuck you or strangle you.”
“Oh. He wants to do both. Simultaneously.”
The kid looked sick for a minute then firmed her chin.
“Nope. Not my bag,” she gave a nervous half giggle.
“Mine neither. If anybody is getting beaten up I reckon to be doing the beating.”

Then my stalker made a mistake. He turned his gaze from me to the kid, undressing her with his eyes and enjoying the blush that spread from her neck upwards.
“Can you make him stop that?”
“Sure. You just pop to the restroom. I’ll come get you when it’s sorted.”

It wasn’t more than thirty seconds before he came and slid onto the banquette next to me, sitting so close I could feel the heat of his lean thigh. He put his big hands on the white tablecloth and I looked at where the black hairs marched across their backs. He spoke first.
“What is it worth to leave the little one alone?”
I didn’t answer, merely turning my head to meet the icy heat of his eyes.
“I asked you a question.” His voice had quite nearly the cut of a whip.
“And I chose not to answer.” I kept my own tones cool and sweetly reasonable. Something I knew would both irritate and excite him in equal measure.
“I will have you,” he groaned. “I will have you bound and naked and at my mercy.”
“I think not.”
“Not even to save the child.”
“You are not interested in her.”
“Maybe not. But I will take her if nothing more challenging is offered.”
I half turned towards him, showing him the white column of my throat. He swallowed and slowly clenched and unclenched his hands.
“Do you want me to call you master?”
“I want more than that. How far are you prepared to go to save the child from the bite of the cat o nine tails?”
“About this far,” I licked my lips and slipped the knife between his third and fourth ribs.
“About this far..”

© jane jago 

Life Lessons for Writers – Six

Yes, it is me. Jacintha. Struggling to be sober enough to write something sufficiently significant to be worthy of putting out in public, which is more than many of you lot try to do.
I have been making a point of reading you ‘indie’ authors a bit over the last few weeks and I have to say there are some really stunning books out there that you people have written. Wonderful, captivating and more than worth my Kindle Unlimited sub five times over. Well, maybe not that good, but pretty damn good.
I must also say there is also some really dreadful drek which some of you seem to feel you have a right to inflict on the rest of us. The sort of writing that, were I the author, I would be embarrassed to put my name to it.
So maybe I can address some of the problems from the drek pile.

Life Lessons for Writers – Six:Too Many Heads

Oh. My. Effing. God.
I have no idea what it is with you writers, but get behind the wheel of a story and the first thing you want to do is tell it from five thousand different perspectives. Either by hopping from head to head like a libidinous frog, which I surely have no need to tell you is a terrible idea, or by having a character change break every other page.
No.
Don’t do it.

In my extremely humble opinion as a mere reader of your wonderful creative ramblings, I can spot a newbie a mile off by the fact it is page thirty and I have already run through five or six different characters’ heads like a bad dose of Montezuma’s revenge.
There seems to be this conviction that every last detail of the story has to be fed to the reader in a scene through a character – and sometimes the same scene from more than one character as there was this tiny nuance the reader might miss. I blame those so-called creative writing classes who ram ‘show don’t tell’ so far up the jacksie of every would be writer that they are incapable of writing a sentence that says ‘It was snowing’ but have to write ‘The soft bosomy whiteness settled from the skies upon the reluctant face of mother earth.’ So they then think they have to ‘show’ every last effing nuance of the whole damn plot!
No.
No.
And again …NO!

If Shakespeare managed to have action take place ‘offstage’ and still keep his audiences at fever pitch, you can too – unless you are a truly crap writer in which case go back to reading until you’ve learned how to do it better and stop inflicting your vile ‘brain babies’ on a long suffering world.

Gods I need a drink now, where did I put the tequila and pernod?

So, let me try and explain this again for those of you at the back who were busy on your smartphones.

(1) Before you write your book choose no more than four characters (and that is pushing the limits) through whom you can tell your story and accept that now and then you will have to find some other way than character presence to explain to the reader something that has happened. And yes, there can be one ‘guest’ POV in the book as well, but no more. You. Can. Do. It.

(2) Do not think you have to give your reader insight into every last damn thought of every last damn character. You don’t. Those that really matter can be conveyed to the reader through your POV character. That is what good writers do. Yes. Really.

If you don’t learn these lessons, you’ll be dug deep and drowning in the drek pile for life and good luck to you.

Now bugger off the lot of you, I want to watch the reruns of Bridgerton in peace.

Coffee Break Read – Criminal Analysis

“We call it PhrAInology,” Professor Gross said proudly. “Phorensic Artificial Intelligence-led study.” The slides on the screen behind him flashed through a sequence of pottery heads their skulls marked into a mosaic each section labelled with an attribute such as ‘Ideality’, ‘Benevolence’ and ‘Sublimity’.
The watching journalists were all wondering exactly what “Philoprogenitiveness” was supposed to be. A few looked up ‘phrenology’ on their smartphones and frowned to find it was a long-discredited pseudoscience.
“Ever since Franz Joseph Gall realised that the shape of the head could reveal the psychology of an individual in 1796, we have been striving to perfect this technique,” Gross was saying a glow of pride in his eyes, “and now we have.”
There was a murmur of expectation as Goss called up the next slide showing a facial recognition scan turning the head into a mesh-like simulation.
“PhrAInology can use regular facial recognition software on security cameras and take things up a notch.” The screens showed a man wearing a hoody walking along an alleyway behind some shops, shoulders hunched. then he looked quickly around. The screen froze and zoomed in on his face and a rapid animation showed the graphic processing going on. It finished with his face being surrounded by a flashing red outline.
Goss was smiling now as if PhrAInology was a child of his who had just done something clever.
“See? PhrAInology has identified this man as a criminal which means we can now act to prevent him from committing any more crimes.”
On the screen, a spray of bullets could be seen apparently issuing from the camera and the man was thrown back, his body jerking spasmodically, in eerie silence as there was no soundtrack to the video.
“We are presently working on a version that can be used in reception and nursery classes in schools,” Gross told the shocked audience. “Soon criminals will be a thing of the past.”
The lights on the stage shifted and revealed three men sitting on barstools to one side of the stage.
“Now to show how effective PhrAInology really is, I have given some of the journalists in the audience the chance to run PhrAInology for themselves.” He gestured to the three men who all looked well presented. “Here we have three people, one of whom has a criminal background and two do not. I challenge those journalists to tell me which one is the criminal.”
After a couple of minutes of excited speculation, the results came in, flashed up on a screen behind the three men. All had chosen the man in the middle who then got off his stool and admitted he was indeed a convicted criminal.
As the applause died away, Gross said he would take a few questions and most were concerned with possible applications of PhrAInology, but one young woman from an independent-minded news source had a different question to ask.
“Professor Goss, are you a criminal?”
The Professor laughed and shook his head. “Next, question.”
“But Professor Goss, I just ran PhrAInology on you and it says you are. It says you are a conman. You know, there might even be something in this after all.”

E.M. Swift-Hook

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