Monday, 15 January 2018

Telling Dreams by Owen Townend

EDIT: I just realised that I haven't had the chance to introduce myself properly to most of the other members so I'll endeavour to do so here.
I'm Owen and I've been coming to infrequent Writer's Lunches since late last year. I'm Vice President at the Huddersfield Author's Circle and a friend of Nick's and Ian's.
I write short stories with speculative themes: sometimes sci-fi, usually unusual.

"Why are you reading my dream journal?" I asked the man on the bench.
            "Seventh of January," he muttered.
            "Seriously! how the hell did you get it?"
            "You left it out."
            "In my bedroom! That's breaking and entering." I reached into my pocket. "I'm calling the police."
            "I have a question," he said, setting down the journal.
            I laughed. "You have a question?"
            "You've had three now, I deserve at least one." He finally looked up at me. "Why did you lie about the date?"
            "Your coil nightmare didn't happen on a Saturday and certainly not on the seventh."
            "How would you know?"
            "That particular dream was between your factory floor romance and wooden stick murder spree. Which were respectively on the first and fourth."
            He knew so much, too much. His eyes suggested that he knew more.
            "It felt like a Saturday," I muttered.
            "It felt like a Saturday in the nightmare," the man corrected, "You go out on Saturdays, don't you?"
            "But how would you-?"
            "And, in the nightmare, you get stuck in the coil during an art gallery trip."
            He slid the journal across to me. "This is the problem with not writing these things down immediately after they happen. The memory inevitably changes. You go away with the wrong impression."
            "Not wrong," I said, "That was just how I remembered it."
            The man raised an eyebrow. "Have you ever thought for one lucid second that a dream is noteworthy and must be written down forthwith? Then did you pick up a pen on a bedside table and scribble it all on a sheet of paper?"
            "On waking did you realise that the paper, the table were never actually there?"
            I nodded. "And then I remember the writing dream better than the dream that I actually wanted to write about."
            The man grinned. "Vicious, isn't it?"
            I finally laid a hand on my dream journal.
            "Unfortunately we do tend to carry incorrect feelings of time and space into the conscious mind," the man carried on, "That's when immediate and accurate recording becomes essential."
            "I suppose."
            "Also you wrote it in the past tense, not the present," he said, shaking his head, "How do you expect the dream to remain vivid that way?"
            The man stood up and walked away.
            "Then when did it happen?" I called after him, "When did it actually happen?"     But he had already gone.
            I opened the journal, flipped to the third or fourth page. Empty.
            The entire book was empty.
            "When is this happening?" I asked, "What time is it now? Really?"

Monday, 8 January 2018

Dave Rigby interviews Val Penny about her debut crime novel ‘Hunter’s Chase’

To start things off Val, can I ask how you began writing fiction? Was there a specific trigger?
There was indeed a trigger, I began writing my first novel when I was being treated for breast cancer. I had taken early retirement and was beginning to wonder how I had ever had time to work when I received the unwelcome diagnosis of breast cancer. As my treatment proceeded, I started to blog about my experience. My writing here still receives considerable attention: I found my treatment very tiring and had little energy to do anything but read, so I started reviewing the books I read on .I have always enjoyed reading crime fiction and I began to think that, as I had the time, I would try my hand at writing a crime fiction novel. It was not an easy task, and it took a lot longer than I thought it would, but the result was Hunter's Chase.

The novel features DI Hunter Wilson. How would you describe him?
Hunter Wilson, like all my characters in Hunter's Chase, is a combination of several people that I have found interesting. I needed my main protagonist to have certain characteristics including patience, perseverance and a desire to achieve justice for those who could not attain that for themselves. Hunter is a compassionate man who fights for the underdog and is a fine team player. These are important qualities in my main character. But I also needed Hunter to have flaws. Everybody has faults and to make Hunter believable, he had to have them too. He is not a saint. He is divorced, he is untidy, he likes to win, he bears a grudge.

How did you first come up with the plot for the book and how did it develop from those initial ideas?
The original idea came from a former employee of mine. She had worked in a lawyer's office, in the north of Edinburgh, where they specialised in criminal law and when she came to work for me in a rather different type of office in a rather elegant part of Edinburgh city centre. The comment my employee made was “It is lovely not to work in a place where you smell the clients before you see them!” It was this comment gave me a kernel of an idea that formed the basis of the Johnson family in Hunter's Chase from that central family and their story, my novel evolved from there.

To what extent is a sense of place important in your books and how do you create this?
I chose Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland as the setting for Hunter’s Chase. Setting is most important to a novel and Edinburgh is a beautiful city of around half a million people. It is big enough so that anything that I want to happen in my novels can happen, but it is also a small enough city that many people in the city know each other. The main protagonist of 'Hunter's Chase' is Detective Inspector Hunter Wilson. He lives in Leith, an area to the north of the City and drinks in his local pub, the Persevere Bar. His home is also close to the Hibernian (‘Hibs’) football ground. The other main character, Detective Constable Tim Myerscough lives across the city from Hunter, in the south-west of the city. He moves into a flat Gillespie Crescent between Tollcross and Bruntsfield. His local pub in the Golf Tavern, off the Bruntsfield Links. DC Tim Myerscough's father, Sir Peter Myerscough, lives even further to the south in the Morningside district of Edinburgh. From his large house he has fine views across the Pentland Hills.

Plot, character, setting, theme, genre…which of these do you focus on initially when you are developing a new book?
My novels fall squarely within the genre of crime thrillers. I first draft out a rough idea of the plot of my novel. That tells me who I need to populate the story and make it come to life. In Hunter's Chase, DI Hunter Wilson struggles to ensure the crime in Edinburgh does not go unpunished. Hunter's Chase introduces a new detective, DI Hunter Wilson into the ‘Tartan Noire’ genre. I am delighted to be compared to other proponents of Tartan Noire such as Ian Rankin, Alex Grey and Quintin Jardine. I think all crime novels explore the triumph of good over evil. The readers know the criminals will not succeed. Still, the thrill of the chase and the problems overcome to achieve justice for the victims must enthral and satisfy the readers.

How do you come up with names for your characters?
I have always been interested in names and this interest has stood me in good stead when populating my novel with characters. In many cases, the characters told me their own names. Hunter Wilson, for example: reflects the fine Scottish tradition of using surnames as first names. Wilson is a popular Scottish surname and I do like the conceit of having an investigating detective who goes by the name of Hunter. Meera Sharma is another character who told me her own name. I once knew a very pretty girl whose name was Meera. I partnered the first name with the name Sharma because I thought it had a good ring to it. As for Timothy Myerscough, I have been savouring the name Myerscough for over twenty-five years and the first name Timothy balanced it nicely. Names for the characters come easily to me and I enjoy finding names for my characters very much.

I see from your biographical details that you have a background in law – both in practice and in teaching. How has this influenced your writing?
I write crime fiction, but I was never involved in the practice of Criminal Law. Indeed, I only passed my Criminal Law exams at university by promising the Professor that I would never work in that field! However, I did meet many policemen and sat through many court cases. There is no doubt that my background fired my interest in crime novels.

Do you have a regular writing regime? What would a typical writing day look like and do you have things which help you along, such as a regular supply of coffee, music, or a stimulating view from the window?
I usually write in the afternoons. In the mornings I take care of the regular household and social matters that I need to deal with. In the evenings, I tutor local children for their English exams at school, so in the afternoons, when I have the house to myself, I write. I find Earl Grey Tea, quiet, familiar music and watching my cats all help in their own way if I have a block in my flow. However, most help is afforded to me by chocolate. That is my excuse and I am sticking to it!

And, can I ask, is there a new book in the pipeline?
Only this week, I heard from my publishers, Crooked Cat Books, that they have accepted the sequel to Hunter's Chase: Hunter's Revenge. It is very early days, but we are aiming to get the novel completed and edited with a view to publication during August or September 2018.

Click for more details

Thanks very much for answering our questions and good luck with ‘Hunter’s Chase’ and your future projects.
Thank you for allowing me to visit the blog today, Dave. I really appreciate it. I can be contacted on social media at:

Friends of Hunter's Chase -

Val was interviewed by Yorkshire Writers’ Lunch member, Dave Rigby.

Monday, 1 January 2018

My Daughter did Science by Andrew Shephard

I was speaking to my daughter
of the properties of water –
the flow, the singing brooks,
reflections on a placid mere
the inspiration of a tear,
how it differs from the rocks.

No Dad, she said, rocks too can flow,
erupt and spew and turn to gas
when subject to sufficient mass –
just watch the molten lava flow
from this Icelandic volcano.

it’s not important what it is,
what matters is how hot it is.

A very happy New Year to all contributors to, and readers of, the Yorkshire Writers' Lunch.

Monday, 25 December 2017

The magic of Christmas

I have been saying that ‘I don’t do Christmas’ for some time now. I was first inspired by a friend who had me perplexed some 15 years ago, when I was invited to her home for Xmas and she opened Christmas cards and displayed them on her mantlepiece whilst commenting to me that she did not send cards to people.

I was baffled, shocked even, I asked how could you not? I was still in that mode of trawling through the address book and sending cards to all and sundry. So of course, I simply could not comprehend her stance on this ritual, that I myself had never questioned, along with buying presents for many, and getting the tree up and decorated and shopping till I dropped.  

I recall one year, I had decorated my tree and my sister informed me that trees had Themes. I had been using the same baubles and tinsel each year and added to them if I saw something new that I liked.  I drew the line right there. I was not going to throw out my hoard of Christmas decorations to get in line with Themes. I could feel a shift occurring in me.

I am not exactly sure when my position took a firm change, but eventually I started to feel ground down by the lack of reciprocity amongst family. I started to volunteer with homeless charities at Christmas time.  I started to go abroad to escape it all.  Life changing events and children reaching adulthood also had a significant impact on my declaration of ‘not doing Xmas’ anymore.

I guess I simply do Xmas differently now, as I am no longer caught up in the commercialisation of Xmas. I do not do frenzied shopping. Exchanging gifts with adults ‘just because’ does not make sense to me at all now either. I no longer run away. 

However, this year I can’t escape the magic of Christmas for children, I have started to view Christmas through the experience of a child drawing on my own wonders of anticipation, excitement and delight, and as a mum, being able to create that same joy for our child when he discovered what Santa had left for him ;-). Those memories are priceless.  

Christmas is indeed a magical time, but most of all, a time to reaffirm our love for humanity and celebration of the religious significance; a time for sharing with others; joyous laughter, Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all. I am so looking forward to New Years’ Eve as that is a significant time for me. That period in between Xmas and New Year is when I create my Vision Board and set my intentions for the coming year. Last year’s Vision Board was about emotional resilience and learning to practice intentionally more self-love and care. Now to plan for 2018!!

Happy to New Year to All!!

Monday, 18 December 2017

Mrs Oblomov by Andrew Shephard

How did I meet him? Through a dating site. His profile stood out because of its honesty. Instead of bigging himself up like most men he admitted to a long list of faults without a hint of shame. True to his claim of unreliability, he failed to show at Pizza Express at the agreed time.

Usually I would have glugged down my wine, dismissed him as a tosser and slunk off home dispirited. But I didn’t want to let it go. There was a tantalising familiarity about his picture. I was sure I had met him before and I needed to know where. A few taps and swipes on my phone later I had a mobile number for him. I ordered a second glass of wine and sent him a cheeky text asking how long he would be and did he want me to order for him. I tapped the table with my sparkly nails waiting for a ping of acknowledgement. Half a glass of wine later my phone was still as silent as a church mouse.

I was about to press the phone sign and give him a piece of my mind when I had a better idea. I was dressed for a date, and with an indiscreet rearrangement of the plunging neckline of my velveteen dress, took a selfie which I was sure would attract his attention. Now please don’t get the wrong idea about me. That was the first time I had sent a provocative photo to anyone, let alone to a man I was yet to meet. I run a mile when a camera is produced, even on holiday.

The moment I pressed ‘send’ I flushed with embarrassment. I drained the rest of my glass intending to march off home in a huff. But then I thought, ‘How dare he!’ and rang his number. I was going to give that inconsiderate shit a piece of my mind.
The phone rang and rang. I hung on, waiting for it go to voice mail. It rang until I wanted to throw my expensive smartphone onto the floor and crush it with a stiletto heel. The appearance of a waiter asking for a second time if I was ready to order distracted me from my phone rage. I almost cried because the waiter was looking down at me with sympathy bordering on pity. No doubt he had seen the same scenario many times. I realised my cleavage was still on maximum display and would have liked to slip under the table.

“My… colleague has been held up in traffic. I don’t think it’s worth me waiting any longer. Can I just pay for the wine?”

I was tugging up the material of my dress when my phone buzzed, flashed, and vibrated. I grabbed it from the table, accepted the call, and before the bastard could speak launched into a tirade using language I reserve for special occasions. I paused, waiting for him to defend himself with a pathetic excuse. There was a yawn and a further breathy pause before he replied.

“Sorry, I was asleep when you called. Am I supposed to be somewhere?” His deep, soporific voice matched perfectly the come-to-bed eyes of his profile picture. I asked him for his address and told him, unnecessarily, to stay where he was. And that is how I came to be Mrs Oblomov.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Time for Dressing Up

We had a rare night out this week – a pre-Christmas meal with friends.  

There is not much I could do nowadays that would cause our boys to raise their heads from their latest gaming obsessions.   But there was a time when Mummy putting on clothes that were not covered in baked beans was a source of great curiosity.

Oliver would watch me applying make-up with great interest.

“Mummy, why are you decorating your face?” he once asked.

How to explain to a three year old? To try to look less exhausted? To hide my desire to forget the whole “going out thing” and just put my pyjamas on? I can’t remember what explanation I gave, but I doubt he was satisfied with it.

Sometimes their questions would be more disconcerting. Children are painfully honest.  As I was straightening my hair, William watched with a fascinated expression. 

“Mummy, are you trying to make your hair REALLY flat?” he asked. I have to confess, “flat” was not exactly the look I was going for, but it was obviously the stand-out characteristic for this small fashion critic. 

In the days when Mummy was always to be found in jeans, or on bad days, joggers, Mummy in a skirt was always very amusing. William would point suspiciously at my tights. 

“What’s happened to your legs, Mummy?” 

“I’m wearing tights.”

“What are those?”

“Sort of very thin socks”. 

I could see him thinking, “Not very good socks. Not warm, and they don’t have pictures of Bob the Builder on them”.

Oliver particularly liked shoes as a small child.  Some of his most dramatic tantrums were over new shoes, or sandals, or wellies.  So when I dug out my heels from the back of the wardrobe, he was very excited.  

As we were getting ready to go out for my birthday, (I think it was a significant milestone), I produced a pair of high heels with a diamante strap, which I had worn on our wedding day. 

Oliver bent down to touch the sparkly stones. “These are like party shoes!” he exclaimed. 

“Well it’s sort of a party, because it’s my birthday,” I said. 

Later, as we were about to leave the house, Oliver spotted my husband’s black lace-ups.  He was outraged. 

“Why don’t you have sparkly party shoes, Daddy?” 

Good question. 

Walk into any children’s clothing department, and the space devoted to girls' clothes will be double that for the boys. Racks and racks of pink and purple skirts, dresses, and tops, with sparkly slogans, kittens, and unicorns, outshine a few drab racks of navy, and khaki, and plaid.   

There has been a lot of debate recently about gender and clothes. Certainly, this polarisation seems to have become more extreme in recent years. I am absolutely in favour of girls’ clothes being more practical, and I think gender-free clothes are a great idea.  

Equally, though, I can’t help thinking it’s a shame that boys' clothes are, well, boring. Many boys are just as interested in dressing up as girls, but as they get older they quickly pick up that this is not acceptable. Boys wear black, and grey, and khaki.  They don’t get to sparkle.

So, wouldn’t it be great if boys had more glitz and glamour, for those rare, special, occasions, when only glitz and glamour will do?

Monday, 4 December 2017

Snowflake by Annabel Howarth

A miracle of creation,
Born from the heavens,
Perfect to my eyes,
When do you first wonder,
“Though in my six-sided symmetry,
I hear I am beautiful,
I hear I am perfect,
Which of us is best?”
“Who do you love the most?”

You are perfect to my eyes,
You are perfect to my soul,
Each one of you is

Whose journey began
In a frantic storm, which
Twisted and turned you,
Quick and slow, from
East to West, each move,
Shaping you,
You are perfect to my eyes.

Who fell quietly,
In the middle of the night,
You are perfect to my eyes.

who fell in a fanfare, of
Joyous children’s smiles,
who fell hurriedly, on a
Road of treacherous ice,
You are perfect to my eyes.

You, who grew angry,
You, who just cried,
You, who laughed at inappropriate times,
You, who they called clever,
You, who they called brave,
You, they called a joker,
You, they always blamed,
You are perfect in my eyes.

There is no best way to be,
To be born, to live, to die,
Rest easy, my precious children,

You are perfect in my eyes.