A CHRISTMAS TALE: Warning – SENTIMENTAL

Christmas? Not this year, thank you.

DEAR GRANNY NUISANCE

By

ANNE STENHOUSE ©

“Sean,” Caro said. Realising instantly he couldn’t possibly hear her above Peppa Pig and assorted friends belting out of the TV, she tried again. “Sean!”

“Okay, love. What’s the problem?”

“Your mother has sent me an e-mail about Christmas.” Caro scanned the lines again and handed the phone to her husband so he could read it for himself.

“Right,” Sean said. “And?”

Caro sniffed, sniffed again, and gave way. Tears filled her eyes and flowed across her cheeks.

“I think it’s the nicest letter I’ve ever had,” she managed as she tried to blow her nose and fend off an assault by something furry launched from the settee.

“Really?” Sean sounded mystified and Caro had to remind herself that many non-cooks had no idea of the magnitude of upscaling Christmas dinner meant. He’d already been to the wine shop on the corner and ordered everybody’s particular brand of fizz, beer, gin, tonic and white, red or rosé. It would be delivered in good time and that was it. Job done.

“Dad wants a dry sherry,” Sean spluttered. “Where am I going to get that?”

“The supermarket had one last week. I nearly put it in the trolley, but you were so…”

“Pleased with myself for getting my share of the preparations out of the way. Well, thanks, Caro.” Sean handed the phone back and sank onto a chair.

Caro resisted the temptation to apologise. After all, it was Sean’s fault they were landed with feeding seventeen people and keeping track of five toddlers and three Dachshunds. This was why she had two spreadsheets of timings, one for shopping and one for cooking, tormenting her. He was the one who’d got into one-upmanship banter with his sister and, Caro now suspected, been taken for a ride.

“Why don’t you ask Abi to get it. She did say…”

“If there’s anything we can do. What she meant was if you losers can’t even sort Christmas…”

“Forget it,” Caro snapped, the warmth created by her mum-in-law’s e-mail evaporating like snow off a dyke. “I’ve got a supermarket delivery slot and I can add dry sherry to the list.”

She watched the conflicting emotions cross her husband’s face until he sent her a rueful smile.

“Sorry, Toots. I’ve let us in for more than I knew.” He took the elephant out of her hands and the giraffe from the floor and tossed them back to their two over-excited off-spring. “What exactly is it about Mum’s mail that’s so touching?”

Caro scrolled the mail back and read it through again.

‘Dear Caro, Pete and I are so much looking forward to Christmas Day. He says it will be such a pleasure to relax with his dry sherry and not have to worry about finding enough ice/mixers/nibbles while I stress in the kitchen. Having done thirty Christmas dinners myself, I’ll bet you’re reaching the point of wondering why you ever took it on.

‘I’d like to make my contributions based on my earlier experience. You may find them a little weird, but I think when you look back from Boxing Day, you’ll see the point.

‘You asked me for a spectacular dessert, but I propose to bring:

  • The potatoes, peeled and part-boiled, ready to go into the oven
  • The carrots and parsnips, peeled, sliced and part-boiled
  • A large dish of cooked red cabbage
  • Several plastic boxes containing: sliced lemons and sliced limes, the batter for the pop-overs, brandy-butter, turkey gravy and jelly babies (these always raise my moral)

‘The point is to take out the nuisance stuff and leave to you the chance to have time to make a lovely pud (and get the praise). I cannot tell you how mortified I was when I forgot to par boil potatoes and we all had to wait forty minutes after the starter for the main course!

‘Let me know if this would help, please. If you would genuinely prefer a fancy pudding, then I’ll do that, of course. Love Tania, aka Granny Nuisance.’

“It’s the love,” Caro said finally, “And the understanding. Mum was on the phone within minutes of getting our invite to say she’d bring the crackers and the table napkins.”

“Well,” Sean said, “That helps a bit with all the extra shopping and crackers for seventeen can be expensive.”

Caro thought about that. He was right, of course, and she needed to be more appreciative. Starting off from a point of designing ‘her’ table, she’d seen her mum’s offer as trying to take the limelight, but thinking about it with Tania’s letter, the offer was designed to take the strain. Her mum had also done around thirty Christmas dinners. A more appreciative phone call to her was needed later.

She clicked reply on Tania’s message and began, ‘Dear Granny Nuisance…’

The end

Kaye Jaye says ‘Four beautifully crafted stories, each one a little gem – it’s not a cliche when it is true.’

Available for your kindle at 99p here

ROUND ROBIN – THAT FLAWED OR EVIL CHARACTER

Maybe it’s a follow-on from the Hallowe’en mindset but in November Rhobin has asked us about our flawed or evil characters. How did they become that way? What part do they have in the story and what will become of them?

The tapestry of life from which we draw our material and re-work it into fiction is rich and varied. Therefore, the characters we create must also be rich and varied. If everyone in a story was of exemplary character how boring would it be? If noone in a story met the challenge of a flawed or evil opposition how could we show (beloved of editors – showing) the protagonists at their best.

When does natural perverseness become a flaw or evil?

There is a vast jump from being flawed to being evil. Most of us are flawed by way of the thinking of people not naturally like us. In my own personality, I see a tendency to forensic enquiry which, quite frankly, drives some others barmy. But for the fiction writer such a flaw is gold dust. The reader sees the corpse of the plump grandmother stretched out on her kitchen floor and wonders who could have committed such a heinous crime. As the chapters roll on so does their understanding until, perhaps, they can see how the death came about. Why did she need to know – whatever it was she kept on about?

The evil character, on the other hand, does not have or display such a flaw, however annoying. The evil character is in pursuit of gratification, whether of power or sex, and knowingly pursues their chosen path.

I don’t believe any of my writing contains an evil character. There are societal evils. When researching The City of Discoveries for the People’s Friend, I read a lot about the lives of the poor in nineteenth century Britain. The poverty and degradation endured by huge swathes of the population was heart-breaking to a modern understanding. Much of it could have been, if not eradicated, certainly relieved. I hope my research fed through into the prose without being any kind of information dump.

Ulverscroft Library Edition

Bad characters I have certainly used. Rosalie’s ex in A Debt for Rosalie has an alcolhol addiction and it blinds him to the needs and wants of others. The original draft of the book showed him in a much worse light than he appeared in the finished version. Manipulative, violent when crossed or drunk (often both), unreliable and risk taking to the danger of himself and others. Even after editing one reader told me she never knew when he (the character) was going to pop up and it ramped up the tension.

I haven’t written anything from the point of view of an unreliable narrator, but I think it might be an interesting thing to do. that person would have to be flawed and it would be the force of the flaw driving the narrative rather than the force of good. Hmn!

So, I use flawed and bad characters as part of the narrative tapestry. How do my fellow robins, listed below, deal with them?

Dr. Bob Rich  https://wp.me/p3Xihq-2ue

Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea

Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/

Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca

Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com

Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobincourtright.com

DIARY OF A WRITER – NOVEMBER PROMPT – A DEBT FOR ROSALIE, ULVERSCROFT

When my mum had had her first cataract removed, she stayed with us while recovering and as we’re well placed for the local library, she was off the following morning with my card in hand. As a person who doesn’t remember not being able to read, I lived her joy at being able to read again with her.

Ulverscroft are a large print publisher and they bring the joy of reading to so many people whose sight has become dimmed. It’s an honour to see my stories in their catalogue.

A Debt For Rosalie was first published by My Weekly and will be published in large print on Monday 1st November 2021.

Rosalie Garden arrives at Maldington House, an upmarket guest house, to work as a chef and earn enough to repay her father who bailed her out after her ex brought down her catering business. David Logie is the house’s owner, and son of the proprietor Agnes. Still mourning the early death of his wife, David wants to sell his inheritance. Together with Agnes, Rosalie works hard to frustrate David’s plans – and bring him to realise that he can love again.

So, why a prompt? Makes me want to do it again…

Anne

A MAID AND A MAN

In the shops from Thursday 28th October, the tale of Tabby Royce and her man, Cal Morrison, is set in early nineteenth century Edinburgh. Tabby has trained as an apothecary under her papa, but when he dies, her older brother and his wife take possession of his shop and Tabby is forced into domestic service.

Arriving in Edinburgh with her new mistress, she soon finds her skills appreciated by both that lady’s host and his steward. How can she continue in her work as a woman excluded from anatomy lectures? How can she make Cal see life holds more than work?

Travel with Tabby through the violent reactions to early anatomy work …

Anne

HALLOWE’EN ROUND ROBIN

Little Cook Hallowe’en Decor – October 2021 – Athens

This is another month when I haven’t written a post of my own as I was away from base. The task posed by Rhobin was:

Share a childhood Halloween memory or what was your scariest Halloween?

Below is a list of the group who have risen to the challenge and I’m sure there’ll be some hair-raising stuff therein.

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea

Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com

Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/

Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/

Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-2sc

Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobincourtright.com

Last year, Capital Writers produced a small volume of Spooky Stories and it’s available to buy here: DARK STORIES

Anjana C described my own contribution as:

The Cemetery House by Anne Stenhouse is a deliciously gothic ghost story with a criminal bent, in her Five Star review – thank you , Anjana C

Coping Mechanisms 9 – A Wee Holiday

A Bastide town

We booked it eons ago, cancelled it, moved it, re-booked it. At last, we were able to visit some friends at their lovely house in the Dordogne. This picture is of a nearby Bastide Town where we wandered about in the sunshine and ate lunch outside in the square.

Despite the paperwork and the hours of mask wearing, it was a treat beyond price.

A work in progress

Museums are a constant source of inspiration and encouragement for artistic types. When next I think I’ve got a touch of writer’s block. I’ll look at this and marvel. In due course a mediaeval tradesman would turn it into something similar to the glorious completed windows I saw elsewhere.

A modern touch in an ancient craft.

That’s what I was doing last week. Loads of wonderful door pictures. Be patient.

Anne

SEPTEMBER ROUND ROBIN – Other Genres apart from fiction

Having been away from base this last week I didn’t write a blog on September’s subject, but my lovely fellow robins did and you can find their words here:

Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/

Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea

Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/

Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-2qf 

Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/

Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobincourtright.com

Enjoy!

I’ll be back later in the week to tell you what I was up to.

Anne

Diary of a Writer – September Prompt

Illustration – Gerard Fay

Nothing succeeds like success and that mantra is no different for me with the publication of my fourth serial for DC Thomson’s The People’s Friend than it was for the first.

In A Class of Their Own arose out of the reading and researching I did for serial 3, City of Discoveries. 1869 was a bumper year for anyone looking for ideas and I highly recommend it to you. Writing pompts there in plenty.

It is about Sophia Jex-Blake and the struggle for women to overcome prejudice and false perceptions in order to train and qualify as doctors of medicine.

Illustration – Gerard Fay

It is also about the Stevenson sisters who were Edinburgh ladies of comfortable means and formidable intellects and drive. Edinburgh folk recognise Flora Stevenson’s school in the north of the city but perhaps not who it is called after. My own knowledge of that comes from a pamphlet I borrowed years ago from my local library. Written by several Edinburgh women, it celebrated the lives and work of some of the female pioneers.

Transformed into the Begbie sisters for the serial, Jane Begbie sets up a peripitetic school for teaching the children (read girls) how to cook and feed a family. Fast forward to 2021 through Atholl Crescent and we arrive at Queen Margaret University.

And the prompt? There’s an idea bubbling away. Seeing the lovely illustrations by Gerard Fay week by week remind me – YOU CAN DO THIS.

What’s on your writing horizon? Take a compass reading, raise the sails and lift anchor. (enough with the nautical stuff, Ed)

Anne

Coping Mechanisms – 8 – In a Theatre

Theatre Dublin

We’ve all been waiting for something: meeting new babies, old friends; eating out in a restaurant; swimming in the local pool. The list is probably endless.

For me, as I’ve been lucky enought to see my family and a few close friends, it’s been a trip to live theatre in a theatre – a building purpose built for performance.

Last night – I got toTraverse I to see Enda Walsh’s MEDICINE. Starring Domhnall Gleeson with some or all of (I hate not having a programme) Clare Barrett, Sean Carpio, Aoife Duffin. It was everything one would expect from a Traverse Festival production and from a great playwright.

With the testing positive numbers at 6835 yesterday, it may be some time before one goes again, but oh, how I enjoyed last night.

Tomorrow night, 29th August, is the final broadcast of the Royal Lyceum’s SOPHIA by Frances Poet. It’s in their Soundstage season and stars Madeleine Worrall as Sophia Jex-Blake.

As regular readers know, my serial about Sophia and The Edinburgh Seven is currently running in The People’s Friend magazine. Instalment 3 will be in the shops on Wednesday. However, I suspect from the list of characters, that the play is going to give more importance to aspects of her life I didn’t include. Wonderful! I’m looking forward to that.

IN A CLASS OF THEIR OWN by Anne Stenhouse currently running in The People’s Friend magazine.

Round Robin – August 2021

Do you have any character habits or favourite words that always crop up in your writing?

Oh my! This does take me to task.

I’ve said it before but ‘that’ is like an alien species, invasive and hard to eradicate. My lovely editor at MuseItUp, Judy Roth, pointed the habit out to me and I now make huge efforts to check each ‘that’ has an earned place.

Another favourite word can be the word that (is that necessary? Ed) arrives in my head while writing on any given day. It will usually be an adverb or adjective and when I edit, I discover its presence in one paragraph after another. Maybe this need to edit makes the prose richer.

The antithesis of favourites are the bogey-men. Only in recent years have I developed the confidence to begin sentences with a (necessary) conjunction and end them with a (necessary) preposition. Likewise, I find it very hard to use suddenly and will often opt for abruptly.

Character habits, too, can become favourites. Agitation in my regencies is very often signalled by the heroine shredding the ribbons of her hat or twisting the strings of her reticule until her fingers are white. From Mariah’s Marriage:

“Mariah gripped her reticule so tightly flashes of pain stung her hands but shewelcomed the distraction they made because they prevented her bursting into shameful tears.”

Smoothing down her skirts is another personal habit I attribute to my heroines as they seek to bring a difficult passage to its conclusion. It in some ways signifies the resumption of control.

In describing the secondary characters, I often have stains on their clothing from dropped food. I’m using this to suggest the slightly lower level of society they inhabit, perhaps, or perhaps that their intellects set them apart from such mundane issues – in their opinion. When Tobias calls at Mariah’s home for the first time in Mariah’s Marriage his pristine and fashionable dress almost brings the household to a stand.

“Mariah reluctantly led the way into the house and was not surprised to findTilly opening the inner door as she entered the tiled vestibule. The girl had been spying through the side-light. ‘Tilly, is Papa in the downstairs study?’ she asked the maid, who was agog at the appearance of her escort. Mariah had forgotten how circumscribed their lives were. Of course Tilly would be interested in the earl’s tailored wool coat with his spotless waistcoat and carefully tied neck cloth. The men who normally visited here wore ill-fitting garments which were often stained with food. Not only that, but the earl had a clean-shaven face and the hair of his head was trimmed into a neat style that allowed his strong bones to be seen easily. Seen and admired, she thought.”

I’m sure there are many more, but please read on in the posts of my fellow robins from the list below.

This week saw the publication of the first instalment of my People’s Friend serial about The Edinburgh Seven. A Class of Their Own will run for 8 weeks.

Gerard Fay

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea

Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com

Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/

Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/

Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/

Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-2ow

Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/

Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog

Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobincourtright.com

Judith Copek