We are What We Eat.

I have just sent my occult detective short story off to the editor and his first comment was on the part food plays in it. Lovely John Linwood Grant made the same comment about my other short stories in an interview I did with him recently, only he mentioned the other F word…fertility, more of that at a later date.

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It got me thinking, because food does play an important part in my stories. I think what a character cooks and eats is important to understanding them and can give you as much insight as what they wear, where they live and what they believe. Chances are if they don’t eat pork, they are from one of the Faiths of the Book which forbid it, or if they don’t eat beef, they maybe Hindu. If they don’t eat meat at all, they maybe vegetarian or vegan, either by conviction or faith again.

Some of us are heathens with the moral values of a vulture and eat almost anything…I’m not judging, I’m just saying, cos I suspect I may have to put my hand up and be counted in this group.

Maybe this is the moment to mention my favourite food apart from bread and butter, because I don’t get to eat it very often and if you just happen to have a tin which needs a home, I would like you to consider me first.

Yes, I love caviar. I don’t need your blinis or your soured cream or your chopped egg, just give me a spoon.

I digress… back to food in stories and the insight they give to character. For example, if an individual breakfasts on raw chicken gizzards with a side order of hot caramel sauce, the chances are they are either the villain or not playing with a full deck.

I couldn’t find a picture of raw chicken gizzards, so here is one of tentacles. I would most certainly eat this, but not with a side order of hot caramel sauce.

On the other hand, Mrs Lillicrop, my occult detective breakfasts on porridge and kippers and has a fondness for afternoon tea. Already you are getting the picture of middle class respectability and you would be right, apart from a tendency to attack poltergeists with nothing more than a pince-nez and a stern word of reproach.

I sometimes visit a site where young authors ask for advice, often it has to do with what name would be best for their characters and what hair colour to pick etc etc. I think it would be a far better if they first worked out what their creation likes for lunch…see previous about breakfasting…a tuna sandwich with no mayo says more than sea green eyes and dirty blond hair imo. I’ve not suggested any of this to them, because they would probably regard it as grossly frivolous.

As you probably know, or have guessed, I like to cook and I like to cook things I have never cooked before, especially if I can use ingredients I haven’t tried. I also like to read about cooking down the ages, because the evolution of food and cooking technics reflects the evolution of mankind. It is part of our history, all of us, no matter where we come from, how we eat and how we cook it is the result of thousands and thousands of years of experiment and enjoyment. Tastes differ all over the planet, but very few of us eat what we don’t like, although plenty of us eat too much of what we do like, and yes, I’m guilty of this…warm crispy bread and lashing of fresh butter…mmm.

What people don’t like to eat can tell you more, Mrs Lillicrop is off to Scotland in my next (work in progress) story, but she will not be eating haggis. Why? Because I hate it, can’t stand it, its up there with cabbage and beets, my other two top hates. I will now sit back and await the comments of haggis lovers, including no doubt my husband who adores it and has to cook it himself if he wants to eat it. He is lucky I don’t make him do it in a fire pit in the garden. He likes cabbage as well, I sometime wonder why I married him.

However, what those around Mrs Lillicrop do eat on her Scottish adventure and what they don’t eat will provide much to explain them and their thoughts, tastes and motivations.

 

BTW, he doesn’t like lobster either, I have to eat his share for him, it’s so hard, but someone has to do it.

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Occult or Not To Occult

Recently a friend suggested to me that I should write a short occult detective story.

I, not unnaturally, recoiled in horror. I know I can and do write some weird stuff (See “A Solemn Curfew and Other Dark Tales”), but by and large I write fantasy/scific adventure books laced with rebellious youth, a modicum of soldiers and/or eco-warriors.

The trouble was, having put the idea in my head (I will get you Dave), it wouldn’t go away. I read a lot, I mean a huge amount, some of it is social history, but I do like a good mystery. preferably the cosy sort or the 1930s country house party sort, and my brain went off on one of its side trips and came up with a possible plot for a 1930s Occult Detective Country House Mystery...I really, really will have to cut back on the coffee.

I decide I might as well write a few pages, just to see where it might go and suddenly I am having more writing fun than I have had in ages. If you ever want to make yourself feel tickety boo and full of the joys of spring, fill a respectable English manor house with unsuitable fiancées, mediums, wobbly tables, difficult domestic staff and the occasional reptile. I promise you, it will cheer you up faster than a jug full of Pimms on a hot day.

Research has been great, I have salivated over the most stunning clothes, the fashion at the time was for curvy, but slender women, which means I can only look, because while I can do curvy, slender is a boat which sailed a long time ago and is never going to return to harbour.

I’ve looked at cars as well. Why did the running board go out of style? I’ve given the afore said unsatisfactory fiancée a red 1934 MG Midget, the bounder doesn’t deserve it, but I had to make the sacrifice.

The daughter of the house is Cissie and I think she probably looks very like this young lady, he doesn’t serve her either, but I have plans.

Best of all, a delightful Occult Detective presented herself for my approval and I do very much approve of her. I definitely did not want a Miss Marple or a Miss Silver or a Mrs Bradley and, much as I love him, I didn’t want a Lord Peter Wimsey type, so Mrs Lillicrop was an answer to a prayer. She is tall and elegant, dresses well and is armed with a pince-nez.

I intended the story to run for no more than 7000 words, but I am hitting 10k already and while the end is in sight, I think it may need a little more.

Will I sell it? Who knows, I think it may not be yucky enough for the Occult market, but I don’t really mind, because I have a feeling I will want to write more Mrs Lillicrop stories and one day there may very well be an anthology called “Mrs Lillicrop Investigates”.

Watch this space and check out my Solemn Curfew stories if you need to know where my idea of yucky begins and ends.

 

 

Going Home

I haven’t posted a short story in a while, so I thought you might like this one.  My large extended family lives on each side of the Atlantic and even after all the years, there is still a fine thread which goes back and forth across the ocean joining us together.

My Aunt Jean was one of my grandfather’s many sisters, she followed a brother and a sister to Canada in the 1920s. She always said you have to go back before you really know where you belong. Her life in Canada was the subject of many, many family stories, some of which might possibly have been true.

The picture is because “moose in the lake” was one of my favourite of all those stories, along with black bears in the trash bins and mistaking a skunk and babies for the family black and white cat and her kittens.

 Going Home

The wind ripped the handkerchief she had been waving from her fingers and carried off high above the liner’s bows.

Despite the cold she could not bring herself to go below, she stood by the rail and watched the shore slipped further and further away as the evening tide carrying them out. She knew when she came on deck tomorrow green waters would have turned to blue and the land would be a memory.

She had always promised herself she would go home, go back to her mother and all her brothers and sisters. Every part of her had ached for the familiar faces and familiar places of home.

Eventually she could bear the aching need no longer and she had packed her case and fled back to the land of her birth.

Once there, softly and quietly the familiar had wrapped itself about her. Remembered sights and smells and sounds had woven in and out of her senses, drawing her back to the places she had left when she had begun her great adventure.

She had come home and home had welcomed her with open arms, but now she was leaving them again, crossing back over the great ocean.

As the light finally faded and she could no longer see the dark shadow of the land, her thoughts turned to the wooden cabin by the lake.

The fruit harvest would over and soon the trees would blaze with the colours of autumn, heralding the promise of the long white winter to come.

He would be there, waiting.

When she left, she believed she was going back to where she belonged, but now the ship was carrying her back to him and to the land she knew she would now forever more call home.

 © Bev Allen 2015

 

Story Time

I’ve been having a few problems with this self publishing business. While I don’t believe computers are worked by the magic fairies who live in the back of the hard drive and live on the biscuit crumbs they find stuck in the key board, I am inclined to push the wrong buttons, panic, push even wronger (yes, I know that isn’t a word, but I like it) buttons and then spend the rest of the day sobbing into said key board, possibly providing salty goodness to the fairies I don’t believe in.

It is all being sorted, but the anthology will be down until 23rd of this month, BUT I will get you “The Tattooed Tribes” on time (6th March) as promised, provided I don’t have another button moment.

As I am now forbidden to press anything without supervision, it should all go smoothly.

In the meantime, here’s a short story for your Wednesday. I call these short pieces “coffee time stories” because they should fill the time it takes to drink a coffee, no more.

This one is about a couple of my great aunts. Jean emigrated to Canada back in the 1920’s, but the family never lost touch and this is about one of the times she came home to England. The very last time.

 

The Last One Left

 

They were playing “do you remember” and I listened, rapt, as they recalled lives and names that were little more than twigs on the family tree of my knowledge.

Even the passing of many years could not keep the whisper of South London from Jean’s Canadian accent, an echo from their childhood which still rang clear and true in May’s voice.

Here at the end of the twentieth century I sat in the airport and listened to stories from its beginning; and to others from the nineteenth century told to them and now told to me, while overhead the great jets that had not even been thought of when they were born, thundered the news of their arrivals and departures.

They sat side by side, one arm around the other’s waist as they had in those sepia pictures I had of them as children. They were the last two of my great grandmother’s long brood to arrive and now they were the last remaining. As I watched them it seemed as if years fell away and, for a moment in time, two very old ladies faded away and were replaced by two little girls in identical white dresses.

The demands of the announcer brought the stories too an end and I helped Jean to the wheel chair.

“Damn thing,” she snarled.

“You’ll drop your scotch if you try and walk,” I warned.

Her eyes sparkled as she cuddled the bottle.

The moment had come at last and they took each other’s hands. Cheeks with skin transparent with age touched. They whispered something to each other; then kissed. The tears were mine.

May and I watched until the plane was no more than a point in the sky.

“We’ve made a promise to each other,” she said.

“Next time in Canada?” I suggested.

“No” she replied calmly. “To never see or speak or have news of each other ever again”

“Why!” I demanded, appalled.

A tear rolled down her wrinkled cheek.

“Because that way neither of us will ever know we were the last one left.”

© Bev Allen 2017

 

 

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Dr Who and Me

I think every generation has its favourite Doctor, for me it was Tom Baker. The floppy hair, the wild eyes and the huge smile all made him different and exciting. I even knitted myself the scarf, all nineteen feet of it. No sooner was it finished than my kid brother nicked it and refused to give it back. He wore it for years and still has it, packed away from the moth to be an heirloom for his son. (And he says I’m the insane one  in the family).

Back to Dr Who. If you read my blog post “The Black Bat of Night”, you will know that I was a winner in a short story competition run by SFX magazine. It was while I was still wandering around on cloud nine and telling complete strangers all about it, I got an email from a publisher called Big Finish, they published a series of anthologies of Dr Who stories. They had seen “Maud: A Garden Tale” (now included in my new book “A Solemn Curfew and Other Dark Tales“) and…

WOULD I LIKE TO PITCH A STORY FOR THEIR  NEXT ANTHOLOGY !!!

Would I?

What do you think?

In case you’re thinking this is fan fiction, you couldn’t be more wrong. To begin with there are copyright issues, you can’t legally publish anything using the Dr Who characters or the TARDIS without permission. Secondly there are rules, very strict rules about how you portray The Doctor and stricter ones about the sort of situations you can put him in and the relationships he has with his assistants.

It was also hard work, much harder than I thought it would be, because no matter how well you think you know a character, you didn’t create him and getting your head around how they think and react is tough.

I did a pitch, which they liked, with amendments and then I started to write. And stopped and bought half a dozen old Dr Who DVD’s, watched them and began again. It had been a while since I had seen any Dr Who and I was surprised how just how much I had forgotten.

For various reasons, the story also had to be set in New Zealand and as I’ve never been nearer to New Zealand than Cornwall, so I also bought several guide books. It looks really beautiful and maybe one day I will be able to go there and see for myself.

And as this was also a Christmas Collection, it had to have a seasonal feel, so I decided turkeys were needed and did a bit of research on them as well. Not very bright your average turkey, possibly what they had in mind when they came up with “bird brained”.

As you can see, 5,000 words can required a lot of work.

Any way, after some editing and a couple of very sensible changes suggested by the editor,  “Autaia Pipipi Pia” came out in the 2008 collection “Dr Who. Short Trips: Christmas Around the World.” I’m not going to tell you what that means, but I will say it’s Maori, or at least my idea of Maori.

Have a look in “Books” section here and you will see the glorious cover designed by Grant Kempster.

I thought that was going to be the end of this adventure, but there was one last treat to go. Tom Baker was a guest at Comic Con in 2009 and unknown to me, my kids went and took my copy of the anthology with them and Tom Baker was kind enough to sign it for me.

So that is the story of how I got to write a Dr Who story and see it in print. I still get a buzz when I catch a glimpse of the book on my shelf.

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