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bi-monthly magazine for writers, readers and all literary types

What the Dickens? magazine

4

Issue the olympia edition


Front cover illustration by Matt Bellisle: ‘London 2012 Olympics’ “I dont really like the logo for the upcoming London 2012 Olympics, so I did my own faux graffiti version of a mark for the event. Kind of inspired by Banksy’s London graffiti...”

Matt Bellisle is an award-winning Creative Director, Designer and comic book artist who likes to swear frequently... You can follow his work at gravitydsn.com or on Twitter at: @mattbellisle


editorial

γειά σου! (Hello!) I can’t believe it is June already! We have been at it now for six big months and here is Issue 4: ‘Olympia’. Joining us are some lovely new folk who will be working on the magazine and contributing to the ever growing pages. We have Sharon Ayre who is proofreading all the words and content, and also Lois Bennett and Alison Bacon who will be weaving us some regular reviews from the booky world. It is great to have more regular people contributing, so please do get in touch if you have any ideas. While writing is and always has been the main focus of the magazine, I have always wanted to include and cover all art forms and all types of creativity. I don’t see writing as being separate but more a part of the whole, each being connected to the other. I see the magazine as a space to hang artwork and display photos, see plays and watch the theatre unfold, listen to the radio or hear music, watch films and read books all while focusing on the literary aspect of it and/or the creative process. All these things in some way inspire the work I do and are a necessary part of everything. The next six months will see more of the magazine naturally evolving as we head towards a printed version which is what many people have asked for. If you are passionate about the arts and want to be involved then please get in touch with your ideas while there is still room. ‘There is no scarcity of opportunity to make a living at what you love; there’s only scarcity of resolve to make it happen’ (Wayne Dyer).

Victoria Editor

Twitter @writersgifts facebook.com/writersgifts veebeewriter.wordpress.com

Contents Letters Jokes & Quotes............................4 Behind the scenes of a writing website.....5 Author interview – Giles Kristian............6 Digital World.............................................8 Art – Tiago Ferreira...................................9 Contributions wanted!............................10 From Page to Stage...................................11 Photography – Jane Rusbridge................12 A bit of shopping with... What the Dickens?..................................13 Book Reviews by Novelicious................14 Author interview – Jane Struthers.........16 The Life in the Name..............................19 Olympia Writing......................................20 The Literary Market................................55 Memories of Olympia.............................57 Help! The dog ate my manuscript!.........58 The Old Curiosity Shop.........................59 Book Reviews by Lois Bennett...............70 Book Reviews by Alison Bacon.............71 Competitions.......................................72

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letters

Letters, Jokes & Quotes STILL no letters? Looks like we’re going to have to bribe you! We want your opinions; what do you like/don’t like? What would you like to see more of ? Tell us we’re great... Best letter receives a £10 National Book Token.

The aim of art is not to represent the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. Aristotle If you’re lost in the woods, who would you trust for directions: the publisher who prints everything you write, the White Queen, the Good Fairy, Santa Claus or an agent? The agent. The others don’t exist and you are hallucinating.

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behind the scenes of a writing website

Behind the scenes of a writing website Part

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Richard Hearn

work, plus having in-depth pages such as these only helps on the search engine front (those writing website doesn’t exist in a vacuum. robots, remember?) Despite the fact that Paragraph Planet’s central premise of writing a story in 75 words I’ve discovered the wider world of flash fiction makes it concerned with the small, it’s great to feel too. This seems to have grown exponentially in part of the wider writing community. This issue the last couple of years with a host of sites having I’ll expand on ways your own writing website their own take. These include 1000words.org.uk with stories inspired by a Pinterest board, and might link to the outside world. nationalflashfictionday.co.uk which collected Writing being a mostly solitary acvtivity, writers together various events and competitions taking are often looking for ways to connect. Twitter is place, including May 16th’s National Flash Fiction particularly good for this. Its brevity seems to fit Day. particularly well with my own site, and I use it to prompt people to read that day’s paragraph, but I Flash fiction even takes a non-website form. can also tweet links to any blogs or related projects Last year I was invited to be a judge at a Flashof contributors. Most encouraging of all, it’s a way Lit Fiction night in Brighton’s Digital Festival by in which visitors to your site can connect with two literary promoters, Grit Lit and Story Studio. each other, with your hash tag or username acting This involved rounds of writers reading their own as an initial meeting spot. If you’re developing fiction, plus a few Twitter competitions. And we’re your own site, I’d definitely recommend being on returning this year in September – provisionally Twitter. Facebook too is good for spreading the the 16th - so keep an eye out for announcements, word, and allowing people to make more lengthy including how to take part… comments. I’ve also linked my Twitter account to Facebook, so any message will display on both The writing community has proved to be a very supportive one, giving feedback and with the #fb hash tag. encouragement readily. Editors on one site Obviously, the sections you put on your own often become contributors on another, and help website also help to build links with the outside publicise each other’s projects. Call it networking, world. Probably the best advice if you’re a writer call it cross-fertilisation, but places where writers developing a website is to simply think about what meet, either literally or virtually (like this you might want. There are three groups you need magazine, ‘What the Dickens’), are fantastic for to satisfy: 1) visitors to your website 2) contributors an author. to your website and 3) try to remember the army of computers operated by robots somewhere under the Nevada desert. Or that’s how I imagine Google Richard Hearn has written on various topics Headquarters to be, anyway. including immortality, painting trees and the comedy of Sat Navs. He recently had a short So, for example, I’m always fascinated by other play performed in the Brighton Fringe and writers’ working methods and the way novels also writes the ‘Distracted Dad’ column for develop, so I ask those questions in an interview Brighton magazine, Latest Homes. section. Obviously authors get to publicise their

The wider writing world

A

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author interview

Author Interview Giles Kristian

During the 90s Giles was lead singer of pop group Upside Down, achieving four top twenty hit records, performing on Top of the Pops and at such venues as the Royal Albert Hall, N.E.C. and Wembley Arena. He has been an advertising copywriter and lived for nearly three years in New York, writing copy for movie marketing company Empire Design but mainly working on his first novel. Giles burst on to the historical fiction scene in 2009 with RAVEN: Blood Eye, the first book in a series of novels that followed the fortunes of a young warrior and his band of Viking brothers. Have you got previous? What is your writing background? Following on from my pop career (I was a singersongwriter but I can’t say that songwriting has helped with my novels!) I also wrote copy for a marketing company and maybe that is slightly more relevant, especially when it comes to the blurbs on the covers. I had a few poems published and read on the radio when I was younger. Other than that, I have a novel in my drawer at home that I wrote before I got an agent and a publishing deal for RAVEN: Blood Eye. I may do something with it one day. I also have half a thriller knocking about somewhere. I suppose it’s all creative, all about language and all part of the journey. What drew you to writing historical fiction? I have always revelled in history and been drawn to the past. Combine that with a passion for language and creating – for storytelling – and the lure of writing historical fiction was, in the end, impossible to ignore. I used to read Bernard Cornwell novels and feel that I inhabited the worlds he had created and one day I thought, I can do that. Quite ambitious really, perhaps even slightly arrogant to think I could try. But then again, he who dares and all that. How long does it take you to write and research a book like this ? The research for a book like this is on-going. I rarely write a page, even half a page, without having to research something; whether a geographical reference; flora or fauna related;

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details of a historical event or person; or to do with the food, clothing or technology of the period. The research is at least 50% of the job and probably more. Furthermore, with this period you find there are a lot of ‘experts’ whose greatest pleasure is to try to pick holes in one’s work. Love those people. The road to publication? Was it rough or smooth? I was living in New York. I had finished writing RAVEN: Blood Eye and I knew I needed to get an agent to have any realistic chance of being published. I posted submission after submission and opened rejection after rejection. Every time I opened one of those heart-breaking letters I wrote to another agent (and by the way, agents take an age to bother sending you even a standard form rejection). Eventually I was taken on by a prestigious New York agent and I thought I’d arrived. Ha! Then came the rejections from publishers. On a trip back to London I approached another agent and they took me on in a sub-agent capacity. About a month later I got my threeBook deal for the RAVEN saga. Then, two years later, my first book was published. So I would say the road to publication was rough. But of course the journey is all part of it. What inspires you? Great books, great films, great music, talented people, passionate people, bravery, honour, camaraderie, my wife, my little girl, Norway, the fjords, the ocean, good wine, boats, the weather.


author interview Which books have influenced you the most and why? Bernard Cornwell’s ‘Warlord’ (Arthur) series really started it all for me, inspiring me more than any other novel. I ‘felt’ the tale so keenly and was bereft when it ended. Stephen King’s Dark Tower series also had a profound effect on me. As a sheer feat of imagination it blew my mind. So the former was incredible because I felt so close to the tale that I half believed I was in it, and the latter was incredible because I could only barely conceive of it.

What words of wisdom can you leave us with? More an observation really, but through The Bleeding Land I realized what a twisted indulgence it is to write a novel: to explore one’s own mind and delve into countless others’, asking questions, seeking answers, forever learning.

#askauthor

SJATurney Has Giles ever been aboard a reconstructed longship during sail, perhaps as research, given his vivid descriptions? I have not… yet. But next year I will be lucky enough to be one of one hundred rowers on the dragon ship Harald Fairhair, the largest replica Viking ship ever constructed. It will be sailed here from Norway where it is being built, and at some point on its journey down the west coast we the muscle will row it up into Wirral. It’s a once in a lifetime What are your plans now and what’s coming up opportunity and will be particularly poignant for next? me because I will at last get to feel for myself what I’m half way through the next book in The Bleeding I have written about. Land series and after that there will be one more to complete the trilogy. After that who knows? Well I do but I’m not telling. Where and when do you write? I write in my study at home from nine to five, five or six days a week, roughly speaking. I procrastinate (grinding coffee beans, tidying my study, doing the washing) and I get easily distracted (by Google, my daughter, Twitter) but somehow the tales weave and the books get written.

The Bleeding Land (Bantam Press, 2012) A nation divided. England is at war with itself. King Charles and Parliament each gather soldiers to their banners. Across the land men prepare to fight for their religious and political ideals. Civil war has begun. A family ripped asunder. The Rivers are landed gentry, and tradition dictates that their allegiance is to the King. Sir Francis’ loyalty to the crown and his desire to protect his family will test them all. As the men march to war, so the women are left to defend their home against a ruthless enemy. And as Edmund, the eldest of Sir Francis’ sons, will do his duty to his king, so his brother Tom will turn his back on all he once believed in... We have three signed copies of The Bleeding Land to give away! For full details please head on over to the Competitions page.

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digital world

S

Digital World Ben Ottridge

SELFSELFSELF

D

igital world is an apt title this month in particular, as it becomes more and more clear that the future of innovation in publishing is in the digital realm. All the old rules about bestsellers and ‘big name’ authors – while still being relevant in some respect – seem more like guidelines these days, when a bestseller can appear from nowhere. Chosen by public demand, self-published eBooks can take off in ways never before seen. Just look at 50 Shades of Grey, which began life as Twilight erotic fanfiction in Australia and exploded onto the New York Times bestseller list, picking up a sevenfigure book deal on the way (without ever being published in print in the USA!). It’s been a long slog even to get to this point however. When I first became involved in eBooks way back in 2006, no-one really knew what they were, including me! Although I was working with small publishers on converting their back catalogues, it seemed that the big publishers were slow to react to the coming changes. And given what occurred in the music industry with the rise of the mp3 this might not have been good business sense on their part…

Myspace, enabled musicians to get themselves heard without record company backing, Amazon sneaked in with its own publishing platform (KDP) and made it much easier for authors to get The Digital Zone at LBF 2012 their own work out there. Although the conversion process was still fiddly, widespread distribution (something the big six had always had a good handle on) was suddenly available to all. The ramifications of this are still sweeping across the industry and it’s clear that interest in eBooks is rapidly rising. Nowhere is this more obvious than at the London Book Fair at Earls’ Court, which I attended back in April for the third time. The ‘Digital Zone’ has been growing every year that I’ve been, with more and more companies vying for attention. The message is clear: the future for authors is digital.

So what happened? Well in much the same Get involved now! way that Napster (and its ilk) and later, One small (!) corner of LBF 2012

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art

Tiago Ferreira was born in Lisbon in 1988, and lived in Oporto for 19 years before moving to London in 2010, to pursue an MA in Conservation. As someone with clearly too many hobbies, he dedicates his free time to music, painting, photography, making electric guitars and shamelessly playing videogames. Prints available to purchase here: kain-hallis.deviantart.com. If you would like to order or purchase a painting please contact Tiago directly through the deviantart website.

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contributions wanted!

CONTRIBUTIONS WANTED! This magazine is all about engaging with your playful & creative side. As well as short stories, flash and poetry on the given theme for the issue, I want you to really open up and let loose! Revive the art of letter writing and send me some thoughts. Use the theme I give as a starting point and go on some adventures! Draw a picture, take a photo, chat to a friend, ask someone something, write a non-fiction article, book review, film review. Sandy has lots of creative fun and games for you in The Old Curiosity Shop. Spend some time with yourself and play for the sake of it. Let you mind whirl and search for words or plunge the depths of the internet and hunt down the answers to the quiz. Use the writing tasks and splurge then send us what you wrote. There are chances to win lots of great goodies in the magazine so allow yourself to go crazy and create things you haven’t done before with the help of WTD. There is much fun to be had!

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                            Then panic running the fields, the grass, the racing leaves ahead of light, holding that robin’s eye in the laurel, hydrangea’s faded green. I must write like the wind, year after year passing my death day, winning ground. From ‘October’ by Gillian Clarke


from page to stage

From Page to Stage Strokeybeard Productions

W

ords are immensely powerful things. Put together in the right way they can create an entirely new world. They can give you a sharp look at a reality that makes you stand up and be counted.

an audience. Scripts come alive when they are performed to an audience and we want to Think of the power of 140 Twitter characters. use that energy They connect, they convey information, they to get people start a revolution. talking. Writers, performers In the current political climate, where the and audience, government is tearing at society and public drinks in hand, services whilst giving hefty tax breaks to huge chatting about companies, words and creativity give those most what worked, affected a voice. The arts become a form of protest, what didn’t work, words debunk myths, they tell the truth and they where could it go provide humour, happiness and escape. from here? The favourite play from each session will go through Enter Strokeybeard – a theatre production to a performance night where the audience can company born from a love of words and a belief vote for an overall winner to be performed in a in their power. local theatre. Strokeybeard productions is a new theatre production company based in Brighton. We have three co-founders with backgrounds in words and people and our aim is to encourage, develop and showcase new talent, to entertain, to teach and to breathe change.

As an added bonus, the winning playwright from each evening will be interviewed by What the Dickens? magazine and have the opportunity to have their play published in the magazine.

At this stage we are looking for submissions of short plays (15 mins) to include in the showcase. We started Strokeybeard because we are passionate We want your words and your worlds, real and about writers and believe in supporting emerging imagined. talents. We believe that playwrights benefit greatly from seeing their work on stage and being Although theatre is in essence a form of fakery, involved in the creative process of getting it there. it has the power to awaken an audience to reality. From page to stage! We want to bring writers and performers together and facilitate feedback and Short can be sweet. Short can be powerful. Send us development. your 15 minutes and tell us what you care about. Our initial project is a series of showcase evenings for playwrights. Think of it as an open mic night for playwrights, a selection of 15 minute rehearsed readings in local theatres and pubs in front of

strokeybeardproductions.wordpress.com Twitter: @Strokeybeard

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photography

Jane Rusbridge is a writer published by Bloomsbury. Her first novel, The Devil’s Music, was nominated for the 2011 International IMPAC Literary Award. Her second, ROOK, is set in the ancient village of Bosham, and explores the mystery surrounding Harold II’s burial place, the hidden histories of the Bayeux Tapestry and connections forged through three women’s secrets, past and present. Since the late 90s, Jane has spent some time every year in Southern Crete.

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a bit of shopping with...

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Shakespeare Love & Insults Coasters £5.75

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£1.20

Shakespeare ‘Insults’ mug £9.95

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book reviews

Book Reviews By Novelicious

Secrets of the Tides by Hannah Richell

REVIEWED BY CESCA MARTIN

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was intrigued to receive this book in the post. The cover showed a picture of a very English cottage with the tagline ‘Going home was just the beginning...’ This line and the blurb didn’t give much away so I wasn’t absolutely sure what to expect from this debut novel from Orion. The prologue pulls you up short and you are sucked in from that moment. The present day story of ‘Dora’ begins well and I found myself in her dilapidated flat in East London following her story from the start. The book centres on the story of her family and the events that unfolded in her childhood. We return to sixteen years earlier and read first-hand about the goings on. Hmm... Is it obvious I too don’t want to give too much away either? This book is a great, atmospheric family drama. The central character Dora is a girl anyone can emphasise with and the other family members are boldly drawn and wonderfully flawed in their own separate ways (no one wants a sister like Cassie and yet you can’t help admire her spirit). The family home, Clifftops, in Dorset, provides a vivid backdrop to the action and the minor characters (the wonderful gardener and his wife, the sexy resident artist Tobias [it should be made law that sexy artists are called Tobias]) are all rounded and vital to the story. The book moves at a cracking pace and part-way through the book I was absolutely glued. If you want an uplifting read this is not it, but those of you who like to mull over some of the more depressing moments in life should be happy with the content. I am confident this will go down a storm in plenty of circles (fans of Jodi Picoult should look out for this) and I will be looking forward to more from Hannah Richell in the future. DRAMA, DRAMA, DRAMA... great stuff ! Rating: 9/10

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book reviews

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

REVIEWED BY AMANDA KEATS The Age of Miracles will be published in the UK in June by Simon & Schuster

A

pocalyptic-style stories are usually quite sudden and dramatic. In The Day of the Triffids, most of the world’s population went blind overnight. In The Day After Tomorrow, the climate shift is forecast to happen in 100 years and starts happening within half an hour of the film’s opening credits. People rush out and clear shelves in supermarkets, buy guns, start looting – chaos ensues. However, debut author Karen Thompson Walker takes a different approach in The Age of Miracles – a book that is hauntingly realistic in its catastrophe because it happens so gradually. One day, there are 24 hours in a day, then suddenly people notice there aren’t. The days have slowly been getting longer because, people realise, Earth’s rotational pull has been slowing down. This isn’t a terrifying and sudden battle for survival. Nobody knows the effects this ‘slowing’ is going to have on the planet and governments and the people of Earth try to adapt to the new way of things. There is, after all, nowhere to run to avoid this impending catastrophe. It reaches every corner of the globe. The Age of Miracles looks at these gradual changes through the eyes of a girl on the cusp of her adolescence, from the moment it was announced to the world. As the world adjusts in whatever way it can, Julia – our guide – notes what she observes around her while dealing with the awkwardness of talking to boys, buying a bra and the everyday struggle to find happiness. She is as much in the dark as the adults and is learning as she goes, about the slowing and about herself. The days get longer and so do the nights. Before long, the sun is up for more than 24 hours straight and people are struggling to keep going. New time-keeping measures, which divide communities, are put in place. Plants begin to die, birds struggle to stay airborne and people struggle to cope with the dramatic shift in their sleeping patterns. This is certainly a debut worth looking out for. With beautiful flowing prose and not a sentence of preachy, sanctimonious drivel in sight, The Age of Miracles will politely make you think twice about leaving lights on unnecessarily, putting TVs on standby or complaining about a little rain. It will make you appreciate daylight – no matter how cloud-filled the sky may be – and the darkness that comes with the setting sun. The Age of Miracles is not an action-packed disaster story; rather it looks at Julia and the people around her as they are forced to change what they know and either adapt or die. A beautiful, compelling and utterly intoxicating debut. Rating: 8/10

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author interview

Author Interview

Jane Struthers

Have you got previous? What is your writing background? In writing terms, I’m a serial offender! I have always written – it’s an essential part of my life. As a teenager, I wrote plays and novels instead of doing my homework. I was playing around with ideas, I suppose, and also writing styles. I worked in publishing as an editor, but when I was 26 I began to work as a ghost-writer too. I ghosted non-fiction books for several authors, and my first book was published under my own name in 1991. I have written over twenty books since then on a variety of subjects, from books about Britain (such as Royal Britain, Red Sky at Night and Beside the Seaside) to mind, body and spirit (including The Psychic’s Bible and Attracting Abundance).

writers as well, for balance and interest. I also do a lot of research to uncover interesting stories that, with luck, the reader doesn’t know. There has to be an element of surprise and discovery, I think, for any book to be a satisfying read.

What drew you to writing non-fiction? I have always adored reading biographies, letters, diaries, history and travel, and I used to be an editor of non-fiction books, so I have a natural affinity for non-fiction. And I love facts and dates! I adore acquiring facts about something and piecing them together with other facts until they form a complete picture. I am fascinated by people’s quirks and the way these quirks affect their lives, not to mention the lives of others.

What inspires you? Everything and everything! I am always on the hunt for new ideas and fresh inspiration. For instance, I might hear something and think ‘That would make a good book’. But I have to be really caught up by the idea, to the point where it becomes all-consuming, before I work out how to turn it into a book.

How long does it take you to write and research a book like this? A good six months. There is so much to find out, long before the actual writing begins. When I planned the structure of Literary Britain and Ireland, my first task was basic research to decide which places and writers to include. Some were obvious choices, of course, such as Dickens, Shakespeare and Austen – leaving them out would have been unthinkable. But if they were associated with more than one place, as in the case of Dickens, I had to decide how many of those places to put in the book. And I needed some lesser-known

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The road to publication? Was it rough or smooth? It was remarkably smooth, and I realize how very lucky I am to be able to say that. My first ghostwriting book came as a result of commissioning an author to write a short book for me. We got on well and a few weeks later he asked me to ghost a much bigger book that he had been asked to write for another publisher. Everything stemmed from that.

Which books have influenced you the most and why? Where do I start? My favourite non-fiction books read so powerfully that they are completely engrossing and I get lost in them as I do a novel. I love Virginia Woolf ’s diaries and letters because they give such a fascinating glimpse into a writer’s mind. Michael Wishart’s autobiography High Diver was hugely inspirational because his descriptions made me view the world in a new way. Victoria Glendinning’s Vita is a fabulous example of how to let the reader reach their own conclusions about someone’s life, without the voice of the author interfering.


author interview Where and when do you write? I write fiction for at least an hour each morning, before the day’s work begins. After breakfast I go into my office, which is just off the dining room, and work in there all day. I keep strict office hours when I’m writing a book – I have to, partly so I can keep to the schedule and partly because I think it’s essential to have a sense of discipline when writing. Showing up at my desk at the same time each day helps the words to flow. If I get really stuck, I find it helps to work in a different room. The change of scene often frees up my mind. What are your plans now and what’s coming up next? I’m working on a new novel and experimenting with the way I’m writing it. The past two years have been very busy so I have five books out this year – as well as Literary Britain and Ireland, these are Royal London, Attracting Abundance, The Wisdom of Trees Oracle and The Book of Christmas. I’m waiting for confirmation about my next book, but I am already excited about it.

What words of wisdom can you leave us with? Always do your best. Don’t give up. And if you struggle to inject life and intimacy into what you’re writing, imagine that you’re writing it for a specific person. It might be someone you know (I often imagine I’m writing for a particular friend) or you might want to invent someone. But write for one person, not hundreds or thousands of anonymous readers. Jane’s website is janestruthers.com and you can follow her on Twitter: @JaneStruthers

We have four copies of Literary Britain and Ireland to give away. Full details are on the Competitions page.

YOUR GUIDE TO LITERARY PLACES & EVENTS TO VISIT IN THE UK Coming soon at: LITERARYUK.ORG the olympia edition ~ 17


author interview

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Spring 2012 issue now available!

magazine


the life in the name

The Life in the Name Caroline Auckland

O L Y M P I A B R O W N

Olympia Brown. Lephia Brown, Olympia’s mother, encouraged education of all her children, including the girls. Yellow Springs, Ohio, Antioch College: where she gained her college education and invited Antoinette Brown to preach. Michigan, Olympia recognized in the Hall of Fame in 1999 for supporting women’s rights and women in ministry. President of the Federal Suffrage association 1903–1920. Inspirational speaker. American Suffragist.

Born in Michigan in 1835; died in Baltimore in 1926. Racine, Wisconsin: where she became a pastor of the church and had a school named after her. Ordained as a woman minister; one of the first in 1863. ‘Women’s Suffrage’ published in 1907. Nineteenth Amendment August 25th 1920. Olympia Brown and other women were able to vote for the first time. Olympia had been instrumental in this historic change.

Olympia Brown wrote words that at the time might have been considered fiction. But history has judged them to become fact. An important figure in both women’s rights and women’s ministry. References: The Michigan Women’s Historical Centre and Hall of Fame. Writer, blogger (newtonhouseltd.blogspot.co.uk), working on her first book and also a collection of photographically illustrated short stories. Likes to think outside the box.

the olympia edition ~ 19


olympia writing

Olympia Writing Our Poetic, Hellenic Inheritance by John Mcloughlin

A

llow me to begin, sagacious reader, by briefly introducing the characters and conveying to you the story of the brief and tragic marriage of Orpheus and Euridice, as found in the large Latin narrative poem The Metamorphoses, written by Roman poet Ovid and completed around 8 A.D. Orpheus as a historical figure is perhaps one of the most interesting for any student of ancient Hellas, and particularly in the study of the development of ancient Hellenic philosophy and religious mysticism. The parallels and distinctions between the two are prominent in the lives and writings of important philosophers such as Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Anaximander, Plato and Aristotle; philosophers belonging to the broadly rationalistic and scientific Milesian schools and mystics alike all can find many of their formative influences come directly or indirectly from the conflicts that Orphism and Dionysianism present. Not any of this is new or ground-breaking, so I shan’t carp on about it any longer. Orpheus as a mythic figure is what we shall concern ourselves with this evening. So settle down in your seat class, and please stop picking your nose Crabbage, because I have a story to tell you. Orpheus was famous for his skill with a Lyre . So skilful was he in fact, that the animals and the earth and the Gods themselves would listen to him play, and be touched by his music. Eventually -and presumably bored of living the crazy and fabled Robert-Johnson-esque life of a touring musicianOrpheus settled down to marry his great love, Euridice on the Ciconian coast, which is lovely. This was not, however, to be a happy beginning; after the toasts, the buffet, ‘The Power of Love’ and ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ covers Euridice decided to take a brief walk with her crowd of attendant Naiads through a grassy area. How one does love outdoor weddings. An adder, creeping

20 ~ what the dickens?

its fatal way through the grass, bites Euridice on the ankle and deposits it’s venom in her leg. She is soon dead. Orpheus is not the quitting type, however, nor is he dissuaded by something so trivial as the prospect of Death. In fact, so unafraid of it is he that he decides to take a trip to the realm of death itself, the Underworld, named Hades, as is its patron God. The Underworld is not an ideal holiday destination; misty, crawling with foul rivers and infested with the souls of the dead. Regardless, down Orpheus went, was ferried by Charon across the river Styx and eventually finds himself in the audience of Hades and Persephone themselves. He makes an impassioned plea: “I beg you, by these fearful places, by this immense abyss, and the silence of your vast realms, reverse Eurydice’s swift death… I ask this benefit as a gift; but, if the fates refuse my wife this kindness, I am determined not to return: you can delight in both our deaths.” Brave and noble as it is tragic and beautiful, I am sure you will agree. To be so small and so gifted and to stand before gods themselves, asking them to give to you back your wife, or take you to death as well. Moved by his music and by his sentiments, the gods decided to heed his request; his wife was returned to him. It is important to me that you take a moment here to imagine the elation, the relief from hopelessness and, most importantly, the moment of actually seeing your beloved returned to you not from the brink but from the depths of death itself. There was one condition; Orpheus was to leave the realm of the dead at once, and was not to look back to his following wife until he had done so. Once more at the gates of Taenarus, at the very brink of returning from the vale of Avernus, Orpheus looked back. From fear and from eagerness, he looked back. Having time to utter only a single farewell, his wife turned and melted back in to the Underworld; living no more, dead once more. Imagine, now, not elation or relief, but despair and


olympia writing guilt and horror and anger and helplessness. All of these are Orpheus’s feelings, one cannot doubt. To be so close, and yet to fail at your own consequence. Words can barely comprehend the sorrow. I will return to our sad Orpheus a little later. For the moment, I will answer the question which I am sure is on your lips. What does any of this have to do with us, or poetry? What exactly does ‘Olympia’ actually mean to the trendy, loquacious and be-sunglassed poetic acolyte gracing modern coffee-shops? Is ancient Greece, to the students thronging towns like Leeds and Cardiff and Newcastle and Liverpool anything more than the subject of a rather fantastic Disney film? Are the Olympic gods anything more than the subject of an entertaining drinking game? Outside of the highest echelons of higher education do younger people with literary interests really connect with our Latinate and Hellenic inheritances, I wonder. If not, if, as I suspect, the teaching of such subjects is accompanied with the same melancholic, academic lethargy which accompanies GCSE Shakespeare studies then we have touched upon the point of this article: We should be interested. Lack of interest in a subject such as this speaks of more than a general disinterestedness in the smaller points of Greek history. Fascinating as it is, we cannot simply expect everyone to like it, that would be foolish and ignorant. The issue appears to be a poetic disinterest in history at all. It’s a cliché by this point that modern poets are far too in touch with themselves and the finer points of Writing From The Heart than they are with the difference between a Petrarchan and a Shakespearean sonnet, or in the difference between a Villanelle and a Rondelet. There is truth behind the cliché. Poetry about ourselves can be beautifully introspective and often paradoxically dialogical, that is certain, and we must not fall in to the trap of delving far too deep in to history that we lose touch of the here and now; but on both sides of that divide there seems to be an extremism which can only damage the practice of poetry amongst our newer generations. Everybody, absolutely everybody who loves poetry has heard ‘but it’s boring!’ It is a simple truth that we deal with that an awful lot of people simply aren’t very interested in the craft. What does not strike me as the solution to this is a conscious nose-dive in to either the entirely common or the entirely specific. Neither is the solution a poetry which is broadly the two, rather a poetry which incorporates

the two is more fitting. Exploration of the past, connection with the present; the two are not entirely dissimilar. A common misinterpretation of literary theories like the Marxist interpretation and the Feminist interpretation and the PsychoAnalytical interpretation is that they are filters we can place over life, and through which texts can be interpreted. This is not true. They are ideas and veins which connect us to the mechanisms of the world, and through which we interact with it – and this is mirrored in our readings of literature. The task of poetry is, it seems, to identify and elucidate each of these strands, which are so numerous as to appear infinite, in startling and elegant detail through the use of our not inconsiderable arsenal of specialist devices, and in doing so build up a picture of humanity, and the universe and the imaginary; the sympathetic, the everything and the beautiful. If we may return to Orpheus, when we left him he was at the circumference of the Underworld, having inadvertently caused his beloved wife to be swallowed once again in to its dark and lamentable depths. Hark back, if you would, to the feelings I described when we left him; despair, hopelessness; fragility and guilt. Imagine questioning the Gods, and Fate, and the power of Love. Imagine questioning those skills – for Orpheus, with a lyre – which had brought you so far and so close to succeeding. Imagine, reader, being able to compress all of that in to one image. If the purpose and the beauty of poetry is to be able to condense, identify and beautify those points of feeling which connect us with the world then just think of the power of that image; of Orpheus, stood at the gates of Death, watching his wife drift away. That, wise and handsome reader, is why we must renew our passion for the stories and ideas which have been around for so many thousands of years; in them we have the tools and the materials to weave a fabric to warm the mind, to question the universe and to create the lyrical, the beautiful. John Mcloughlin is a second-year undergraduate student of Modern History and English at Cardiff Metropolitan University. He is currently engaged to Calliope, Euterpe, Clio, Thalia, Terpsichore, Erato and Melpomene, but he does not think the last one will end well. Please don’t tell Zeus.

the olympia edition ~ 21


olympia writing

Perfect Circles Wheels within wheels, precision driven In perfect circles we danced that night Where every step was synchronised In pure harmony of motion Until your love wound down and passion died As the music came to a final stop Revealed to me the mockery No key could I find to bring you back Now lifeless, my mechanical maiden Inhuman, cold, forsaking life My Olympia frozen, vacant Breaking the spell and breaking my heart. Stephanie Ellis

I am a Humanities Honours graduate of the Open University, currently working as a teaching assistant and part time librarian in a secondary school in Southampton. I have had poems published in both the local and national press and have been short-listed a number of times in Writers News/Writing Magazine.

22 ~ what the dickens?


olympia writing

Cockneys and Corinthians by Abigail Wyatt

‘L

ook at that one,’ shrieks Stavros, his eyes wide with amazement. Gleeful in his mockery, he points his finger and giggles like a child. ‘All dressed up like Bugs Bunny in drag and just to sweat his guts out. It makes no sense to me, my friend, not a bit of sense at all.’ With a brief, flat flicker of a smile I acknowledge his comment. I am weary from working and I have come here to watch. Stavros, however, has other ideas and the silence lasts only a few seconds. He jabs his elbow into my ribs and starts off again. ‘It must be stifling inside that suit and they’re still in the holding pen. He’ll be out in that heat for hours yet. It’s not my idea of fun.’ ‘It’s Easter, Stavros,’ I tell him. ‘He’s supposed to be the Easter Bunny. He’ll be out there running for Children in Need or Testicular Cancer Awareness. It isn’t so much about having fun as the expression of a philanthropic impulse. At least, that’s what he’ll be telling himself, though it may be more complicated than that.’ ‘A what impulse?’ He arranges his features into an expression of utter stupidity. ‘You must speak to me more plainly, my friend. I am a man of very small education. I was, after all, a lifelong member of the glorious and great unwashed.’ ‘Come on, Stavros,’ I grin back at him, ‘don’t play the dumb card. Philanthropy: the performance of selfless or charitable acts for the benefit of worthy individuals or the advancement on the whole of humankind.’ ‘Widders and orphans,’ says Stavros, beaming, ‘widders and orphans. There but for the grace, etcetera, etcetera, the dull and deserving poor.’ Stavros speaks with exaggerated solemnity. His face is long and lugubrious and his right hand rests on his heart. ‘Shut up and listen,’ I say, showing him my middle finger. ‘You said you wanted to see this but all you’ve done so far is talk.’ Stavros abandons his comic pose but adheres to the broad line of his argument. He is in truth a clever bloke, probably much brighter than me. ‘Ok, ok, so it’s all about altruism, the earnest desire to do some good. I still can’t see the point

of it, though. I mean, what’s in it for him? This time tomorrow he’ll be back at work and stiff and sore all over. The round trip will have cost him a packet and what will he have to show?’ Stavros is beginning to irritate now. Most of the time he’s good company but then again, if you are not in the mood, a little can go a long way. ‘If it’s all so pointless, why do you bother? Just go back to your station. It’s isn’t as if there’s no work left to do.’ This, of course is an understatement: there remains a small mountain of paperwork, the kind of stuff that gets left till last because nobody wants to take it on. For a start, there’s the whole of the First Division Foot-Fest that has to be analysed and documented; on top of that, there’s the business of the line official beaten to a pulp by the crowd. If the poor bugger dies, there’ll be all kinds of trouble and the hunt will be on for a scapegoat. We already have the footage, of course, but it still has to be analysed; every shot, every angle subjected to a close examination; every shred of evidence will have to be sifted and screened. And even when that’s done, it will still be several days before it’s all on the database. The longer these things get left, of course, the more we lose sight of the truth. Stavros, who knows all this, shuts up immediately. He does not want to think about work having completed his labours for the day. It is late in the morning as we approach the conclusion of an eighteen hour shift. We are employed as Recording and Archive Operators at the Ministry of Sport and Entertainment. Once these two were separate entities – till they fell victim to the cuts. The point of our job, in simple terms, is to find out what has happened – as opposed, that is, to what seems to have happened or what Joe Public has been told. We’re paid to get to the bottom of things, no matter how murky and unpleasant; in short, our job is to find out the stuff that the big boys don’t want us to know. Now you might think that’s straightforward enough with the benefit of cutting edge technology; but the fact is it isn’t straightforward, it isn’t straightforward at all. And it isn’t just outright corruption that is the problem, nor the fact that they’ve bumped up the privacy laws. The real problem is to do with the way all this stuff works together: the bribery, the bullying, the

the olympia edition ~ 23


olympia writing blackmail and the cloak and dagger secrecy, the ‘There’s some might say that’s naïve of you,’ unrelenting media hype and the power of political Stavros returns with a grin. ‘spin’. Don’t get me started, though, or you may On screen, the camera man is showing us the wish you hadn’t. It’s enough to say that times have ‘serious’ runners. They are huddled together in changed, and not for the better I think. restless knots, stretching and bobbing up and down. They check their laces, shake each other’s This morning, though, instead of staying at our hands, and fidget with their sweatbands and their stations, Stavros and I are playing hooky. An hour numbers. Their tension is almost palpable. They ago we sneaked along the corridor and down the are restless and itching to be off. narrow back stairs. We are hiding out in a dreary Behind them waits the rest of the race, moving like little room once used for ‘informal interviews’. It a long, coiling tail: younger people, older people; was all a long time ago, of course, but the room people of all colours and all creeds; people, too, of still feels chilly and bleak. To cheer ourselves up all sizes and shapes and in all kinds of garb. While we have brought along some pre-packages snacks some are sensible in shorts and tracksuits, many from the canteen and a half a dozen cans of that more are frankly foolish. A man attired as a purple pale, gassy liquid that passes here for beer. We have octopus turns towards the camera and smiles. come, for reasons that are shamelessly nostalgic, At last the race is underway and Stavros and I to see the running of the Old London Marathon. fall silent. We fix our attention on the flickering We are watching on an unwanted plasma-port, screen and keep our thoughts to ourselves. too ancient and too old to be missed. Eventually, though, the silence palls and Stavros It is a fine day for a spectacle and thousands of is the first to break it. people are present. There is nothing to match the ‘All this,’ he says, suddenly solemn, ‘and inspired start-line of a marathon for good-natured fun and by the courage of one man. excitement. Everywhere, there are waves of bright For a moment I think he is about to launch colours, balloons, a flurry of flags; everyone another line of banter. This time, though his eyes is relaxed and happy and grinning fit to bust. are wistful and his manner is subdued. Somewhere out of sight a samba band plays and ‘I would have given a lot,’ he murmurs, ‘to have some of the crowd take to dancing while cheerful accomplished something like that. Something like policemen on well-groomed horses go clip-clop- that means you count for something. It means you clip across the square. On almost every corner get some respect.’ there are ice-cream vans and wagons selling ‘It’s just a race, Stavros,’ I say. ‘It’s nothing all hotdogs and burgers; a huddle of people surround that special. You should know more than most them, either eating or waiting to buy. that things aren’t always what they seem.’ Of course, there are marathons that are run all ‘Just a race,’ he spits back at me, ‘well, that’s easy over the world: New York, Boston, Paris, Munich, to say if you’ve achieved something memorable, Amsterdam, Tokyo and Sydney; but, ever since something that’s worth the good opinion of others the Windsors got in on the act and Pietri lost out and keeps your name alive.’ to Hayes, for me at least the London Marathon ‘But that’s just the winners,’ I remind him gently, has been at the top of the tree. Stavros makes a ‘and only a few are remembered. Most of these joke of it all but the truth is he feels it too. Stavros, people are “also ran’s” and some won’t even finish despite his name, is much more Cockney than the course. You said it yourself. They’ll have Corinthian. His father drove a cab out of Greek empty wallets and nothing but blisters to show for Street and his mother sang smooch in the clubs. it. The truth is that all they want is to be able to Stavros himself speaks a little Greek and talks say that they were here.’ about his ‘heritage’ but Soho was his manor. He Stavros looks at me and curls up his lip. ‘And lived there for most of his life. I thought I was the cynic. Anyway, that isn’t the ‘Any second now,’ says Stavros and he pops point. I wasn’t talking about them.’ another beer. ‘Cheers,’ he says. We clink bottles ‘What then?’ I have to admit I am curt. I am like glasses and settle down in our seats. trying to follow the commentary. ‘Here’s to a good, honest race,’ I say. My toast is ‘You,’ says Stavros viciously. ‘Of course, I’m not without irony. talking about you.’

24 ~ what the dickens?


olympia writing When he says that I want to laugh but that would be unfeeling. Instead, I try to tell him again that things are very rarely what they seem. Back then, it was the same, just like now, all hype and spin and politics. What they liked best was the noble gesture, a tale of heroic self-sacrifice; and a man who, having fought for the state, laid down his life in its service, breathing the greater glory of Athens with his final, rasping breath. Stavros is silent but his eyes slide away and I am not convinced he is listening. ‘No,’ he says eventually, ‘that can’t be right. That can’t be how it was. You’re talking about the Golden Age. It has to have been different. I’ve been in the Ministry these three hundred years and I’ve uncovered all kinds of corruption. I don’t think I can go on with it if what you are telling me is true.’ ‘But it is true, Stavros.’ I pat him on the shoulder. I want to offer comfort but I don’t want to lie. ‘I’ve done this job for two thousand years and maybe it has made me cynical but there are still some honest people out there, even if we don’t know their names.’ Then Stavros gives me a searching look and, when he speaks, his voice waivers. ‘So,’ he says, ‘are

you actually saying you never ran a marathon?’ ‘I ran,’ I tell him, ‘I ran alright. I ran myself into exhaustion: two hundred and forty kilometres in the space of just two days. Not only that, when I got back to camp, I had to be ready for battle. I did as much as anyone did when it came to winning the day. Now you might well think that that would be enough to make a proper hero. It wasn’t, though: they had to have their story; they had to have their ‘spin’.’ ‘But they remember your name,’ says Stavros, ‘at least you have that comfort.’ ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘they do, but their “honour” is nothing but a lie. The sad truth is that a noble Athenian runs lightly through the pages of history. His name, so they say, is Pheidippides but he is neither who I was nor who I am.’

David, Double Dips and Decathlons

getting back to sleep. It did not take him long to decide against it. He got out of bed and went to his wardrobe to put on his dressing gown. It was dark blue with a golden DC emblazoned on the left side of the chest. It was a gift from Vince Cable for listening to him once. David paused and recalled that moment, he had not actually listened to a word that the dear old man had said to him but he had so perfected that glazed-over look to appear as though he was hanging to every word somebody was saying to him when in fact he was deciding what to have for dinner that Mr Cable was none the wiser. Indeed ever since Cable tried to approach him about that conversation David came out with his government’s stock response. “Look, we need to review this sensibly.” That always bought him time. David went down to the kitchen and made himself some breakfast. He sat down and started to eat. “This is ridiculous,” he chastised himself, “they are just dreams and I am the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.” But he knew they were

by Vincent Shaw

D

avid Cameron awoke with a start in the bedroom of Number Ten Downing Street. He tried to calm his breathing and rubbed his hands through his dark brown hair. He sat up and allowed his eyes to become adjusted to the dark surroundings. He looked to his left and saw that Samantha, his wife, was still asleep. He recalled the night before seeing her go to bed wearing her new pyjamas, they were green with white polka dots, a furry purple collar and a red woolly hat. She looked ridiculous but David had long since given up trying to offer her fashion advice he just hoped that the media would not pick up on her fashion faux pas too much. David then turned to his right and looked at his alarm clock. The time read 4.30 am. He puffed out his cheeks and thought about

Abigail Wyatt writes mainly poetry and short fiction. Over the past five years her work has been published in more than sixty outlets most recently in Words with JAM, Poetry 24 and One Million Stories who are soon to publish her collection, Old Soldiers, Old Bones and Other Stories.

the olympia edition ~ 25


olympia writing more than just dreams, they were keeping him awake and were now affecting his relationship with his cabinet colleagues. They knew that something was amiss. “David?” David looked up, his wife was standing in the doorway of the kitchen looking at him. Her dowy eyes expressing concern. “What are you doing up so early?” Samantha asked although she knew what the answer would be. “I had another one.” “Dream?” “Yes.” “Don’t you think it’s about time you told him about these dreams?” “And how do you suppose I do that?” David did not mean to snap so much at her but he believed that to be a silly question. How was he supposed to approach the subject with him? He was the Chancellor of the Exchequer and a very powerful figure within the Conservative Party. “Well, tell me what happened.” “It was the same as usual, I suppose.” Samantha paused. “Was he naked again?” “Worse.” She could not believe it. How could they be getting worse? She walked into the kitchen, put her hand around her husband’s head pulling it towards her body. “How?” Samantha asked. David paused, breathed in deeply, talking about these dreams just seemed to make them worse. He knew the old saying that a problem shared is a problem halved but he just thought that by talking about them just brought them back to the forefront of his mind instead of allowing him to forget about them but he knew that his wife was not going to let it go today so thought it better to answer. “This time,” he said, “it glistened.” Samantha let go of David’s head and looked down at her husband. “Glistened?” She asked. “What glistened?” “I think you know it was,” David leant back in his chair at the kitchen table, “George was stood before me in my office right here in this building naked.” “Well I still believe you need to speak to him about it,” she insisted, “you have a meeting with him and Nick today don’t you?” David shuddered at the thought. He never enjoyed these meetings at the best of times. Nick Clegg was the leader of the Liberal Democrat

26 ~ what the dickens?

Party and in this coalition was the Deputy Prime Minister. According to many in David’s party the Liberal Democrats were just the junior members of this coalition but David knew this was not strictly true. He had to listen to whatever Nick had to say as without the Liberal Democrats his government would fall. His main issue was that George believed Nick to a political lightweight so there was always going to be a clash between Clegg and David’s creepy Chancellor. “Yes,” replied David, “at 9am.” “Well take it easy between now and then. You don’t want to look as though you haven’t had much sleep.” David smiled back at his wife. He knew that would be hopeless. There always something about his Chancellor that freaked him out. Whether it was the fact that he looked at people through the tops of his eyes as if he was burrowing into their soul he was not quite sure. What David did know was that George seemed to know everything somebody was thinking. Some people put it down to good political judgement but they had not suffered David’s dream. He placed his cereal bowl in the kitchen sink and went upstairs to get dressed. Time seemed to fly towards 9am, David was sat in his study waiting for Nick Clegg and George Osborne to arrive. He glanced at his watch. It was almost time. There was a knock on the oak panelled door and in walked David’s Chancellor and Deputy Prime Minister. Both were dressed smartly in suits. “Good morning gentlemen,” David said to both of them with a forced smile, “please be seated.” David beckoned them to sit in the two leather chairs that were placed opposite his at the desk. “Good morning Prime Minister,” both Nick and George replied and they both sat down. George Osborne peered at the Prime Minister, his eyes seemed to shrink as he glared across the desk. David shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Ahem,” coughed David, “I think we need to start this meeting by discussing the latest economic figures.” Just prior to the meeting it had been announced that the British economy had slipped again into recession. It was the dreaded double-dip recession that everybody in his government had feared. It


olympia writing left them open to attack from opposition parties who could now accuse them of mishandling the economy. How David’s government reacted now could set the tone for the rest of their term in power and this was their first opportunity to discuss tactics and economic policy. “As you know the economy has slipped into recession.” David continued. “Yes that is terrible news,” replied Nick. “Well of course it’s terrible,” huffed George, “what the Prime Minister will no doubt be wishing to discuss will be how we get out of recession.” George stared grimly at David, a slight smirk coming across his face betraying the seriousness of the situation. “Well, er, of course,” replied David, “we need to work out how to get out of this mess. We have said that there is no Plan B but do we need to tweak Plan A?” “As we have always said, the recovery will be difficult but we are all in it together.” George replied as if the conversation was beneath him. David bristled at George’s reaction, he knew that the phrase “we are all in it together” had actually been uttered only by George but by now that sentence had been linked with the both of them. “There can be no going back on our path. We know what we needed to do to get the British economy back on track and we may be unpopular but it will work. Now is not the time for shirking Prime Minister.” George was serious. He had warned everybody when they won the last election during the biggest economic crisis of modern times that to get Britain back on an even footing would be difficult and the road would be paved with problems. “But we need to show the British public that we can promise them so much and that they have a lot to look forward to,” Nick argued, “I am sorry but they will look at these economic figures and will say that they have nothing to look forward to because things will not be getting any better and if anything things will get worse.” David sat back in his chair and pondered. “In many ways you’re right,” he said pointing his pen at his Deputy Prime Minister. “Oh, hang out the bunting, Nick has got something right.” George interrupted. David ignored the interruption. “Look at what is happening this year. We have the European Football Championships, the Queen’s Jubilee

and, of course, the London Olympics. These can all boost our nation’s finances and if we manage them effectively the good feeling produced by them will rub off onto us.” “And how do you propose we do that?” George asked. “Please do not suggest anymore of those blasted Downing Street dinners. If I have to speak to another celebrity I swear I will burst.” There was a slight pause as the three men started thinking to themselves. Nick Clegg sat up suddenly. “I think I have it!” Nick exclaimed. “Oh Lord help us,” George grumbled. “No go on,” encouraged David. “Well,” continued Nick, “you know how you said this year is the year of the London Olympics and you wanted to know how we could get any success from that to rub off onto our coalition but George here is against having a celebration dinner here for the gold medallists.” “Yes.” David replied “Well instead of that why don’t we enter the Olympics ourselves as competitors?” Nick looked at the two men in expectation. “As what?” George finally replied. “As competitors. We could put it to the International Olympic Committee that we will represent the true Olympic ideal as we know we won’t win any medals but we are taking part for the love of sport and it will also show the general public that we are game for a laugh and that will surely win us some brownie points.” The room fell silent. It was certainly a novel idea and could well be a classic distraction policy designed to take the heat off the bad news and get the voters to focus solely on the good even if it was just politicians making fools of themselves in the Olympic stadium. Finally George broke the silence. “I have to say that is the worst idea I have ever heard.” George looked at the Prime Minister. “David you cannot be taking this preposterous plan seriously.” David looked at his Chancellor. “It is an interesting idea we have to agree on that.” George Osborne could not believe it, he stared across the oak desk. “Let me put it this way, Prime Minister, do you really want to see me running around an Olympic track, half naked and dripping with sweat?” This startled David. “What? No! Never! I have never wanted to see you naked, George, I promise. I have never wanted that to happen.”

the olympia edition ~ 27


olympia writing Nick Clegg looked concerned at the Prime Minister. “Are you okay David?” “Yes,” he answered, “I just want it to be made clear that I have never wanted to see George naked that is all. You both believe me don’t you?” “Yes of course.” Nick answered. George looked straight at David, at first saying nothing and then finally breaking the unbearable silence by saying. “I think this meeting has come to a close. I shall think of ways to get the economy out of trouble. Prime Minister if you will excuse me.” With that George left his seat and went to leave the room. As he reached the door he turned to David and Nick who were still sat at the desk.

“For what it’s worth David I do not believe you ever wanted to see me naked.” George placed an emphasis on the word “wanted” that sent a shiver down David’s spine and then finally left the room. I am Vincent Shaw from Manchester, UK. I am a freelance writer who specialises in writing satirical pieces of work. I currently write for dailywaffle.co.uk and I am heavily influenced by the works of Bill Hicks, Eddie Izzard and Peter Cook which is why my writing can be surreal as well as satirical.

Orpheus’ Poem Orpheus roams the dark corners of my mind Telling me of his secret demise While humming to me an endless poem And I dance towards him My feet moving to the music of his rhyme I come so close to his arms but he is yet again far away I close my eyes and hear him out calling his name Then I catch his rhythm and I am again caught in his poem I come across a staircase leading down I call to him to come to me for I cannot see beyond the steps But he sings his poem not letting me have a word I creep slowly on the stairs but I hear his poem and I move easily down So I go on and on not letting my senses speak Until I am with him and he is fast asleep I shake him to wake but he is gone and I look up to see No light is left for me So I am trapped in the dark corners of my mind And I call to Orpheus to save me But Hades will not let him go So I roam the dark corners of your mind Whispering for you to follow me and give me company in my demise Nusaiba Imady My name is Nusaiba Imady, I’m an avid reader and writer. I’m also a college student at NYIT – Abu Dhabi division, and when not battling my economics paper, or the heat, which is prevalent, I’m writing poetry and blogging. Orpheus’s Poem, came to me the second I read about the theme being Olympia. Something to do with the greek mythology behind it. My blog link is nusiinwonderland.blogspot.com.

28 ~-what the olympia the dickens? edition


olympia writing

Bolt Like the crack of the starting pistol the sun forces my eyelids open, shattering me into consciousness. Another day. Rain starts as I climb out of bed, quiet but persistent. Threatening. The clock ticks. Accusing. There are cats to feed, children to get ready. We just make it as the school bell clangs. She sprints to join her friends I miss the bus by seconds. The driver saw me, I know he did and he didn’t need to smirk like that. I’m sure he went through that puddle on purpose. Ah well. It will probably wash off. My fault for wearing white jeans. Trudge to the supermarket. How to best spend that lonely tenner? I avert my eyes from a trolley piled high with things I only ever gaze longingly at. She has invested in a little number for the next night out with her man. When did I last have a night out? Come to think of it, what is a night out? What is a man? Home and check the e-mails. Has anyone written pleading with me to come and join their organisation? No? Strange. Zoom off on the school run. Feel weak. Ah yes. I had no lunch. Ah well. Check they are doing homework, stop them fighting and then open the fridge. Echoey in there but sure I can do something creative with pasta. Again. Plan the start of that amazing novel. The one which will bring us money beyond our dreams and enable me to get a car, maybe take us on the first holiday in years. My eyes are closing. Maybe tomorrow. Carina Barnett Carina Barnett wanted to work with words all her life then illness put life on hold for a bit. This piece captures the challenge of life as a lone parent sometimes but it is usually wonderful and hugely rewarding - we just don’t get gold medals round our necks for it!

the olympia edition ~ 29


olympia writing

Olympics once it was fun legends of sport you could believe in maintaining a tradition playing the game innocent competition sic itur ad astra (thus you shall go to the stars) once long ago you did not see the hoops many would leap through popping pills injecting drugs cheating sic transit gloria mundai (thus passes the glory of the world) G W Colkitto G W Colkitto is a member of Read Raw, has had short stories and poetry in magazines and anthologies and an eBook novella The Case of the Hungarian Foot released by MX Publishing. Winner of the Scottish Writers’ Group’s Showcase short story competition 2011 and their poetry competition 2012. gwcolkitto.co.uk

30 ~ what the dickens?


olympia writing

Olympia Especial, OS 999

but he had a passionate interest in trains plus a bottle of red Burgos wine to keep him company. by Cleveland W. Gibson Twenty years passed and then, in Indo-China now Vietnam, a soldier was killed by a sniper circled calendar showing a date. outside the railway station of Ho Chi Minh city. An old man accepting a retirement card “Was he my father?” I asked. The French police and a railway watch. Eyes filled with tears. thought he might have been, from his effects. A hospital visit, the doctor holding up three But I never knew for sure. It was a random event, fingers. coming suddenly without warning. Mother had The old man shaking his head. His wife pats his died by then. So did it matter any more? hand, as she sobs gently. The news about father reached our family Months later the graveyard scene, a Norman members in England a year ago. style church in the background. It caused a great deal of speculation about the A name on the headstone: John Cooper, Olympia Black Arts being at work. Special engine-driver. Halloween. One minute to Midnight. Clock *** chimes midnight A class 47 Olympia Especial erupts into life. Tonight I ventured out as a reporter attempting No driver but it smashes the door of the railway to cover Halloween stories, some enough to chill shed at Wolverhampton. me bones. The black class 47 disappears. On Halloween night I expected my father’s ghost The OS 999 surfaces around the world as the to appear and tell me everything. Say, even the Olympia Especial. truth behind a female ghost seen walking along People hear a man laugh. They shiver. a railway track with a baby in her arms. A lonely railway line. A level crossing. “She be a black-hearted killer,” the locals had A fast moving OS 999. said, nodding sagely. A dead baby in a basket. A blind mother dying “Buried here in the Cotswolds.” A soldier from the French Foreign Legion I looked around the bar of the ‘Victoria’ pub in outside a fort in Indo-China. Uffington to see the pencil sketch of the ghost. The soldier salutes the French flag. “That her? Mary-Blind Mary?”I asked Jim, the A sniper aims. Landlord. “Oh, yes,” he replied. “I’ve seen Blind Mary *** many times. Sally, my daughter, did the sketches. Take a look. On the walls. Should give you plenty The man on the sinister looking train slammed his to write about.” face against the carriage window. Terror showed True. It is a good story for my newspaper. in his eyes as he struggled to escape. I sipped my beer. The train gathered speed. He stared at his wife The passing train sounded so loud it blocked and children on the platform. They watched him out my next words. The railway line was close to with large eyes. the pub. “Nobody has ever managed to board the phantom “Sure. Well, Mary turns up every year at this train, until now,” the Portuguese policeman said. time to frighten folk with her baby.” The man made the sign of the cross. I drank more beer and slid onto a stool. Our Portuguese end of the family coined the “Tell me. What you know,” I said. I started to phrase the ‘Train to Hell.’ scribble in my notebook. They knew. In short, the man was never seen “She sounds interesting.” again. “This here Mary, Blind Mary, started to appear Later at family gatherings, in London and about two years ago. That happened after the Lisbon, as a lull appeared in the rah-rah of graves in Little Coxwell were moved. She was conversation people speculated on my father’s buried there with her baby. fortune at ‘Villa-Formosa.’ Dad had no passport, “Some drawings?” I commented. “Looks

A

the olympia edition ~ 31


olympia writing gruesome, even for a ghost. Her piggish eyes, black and all that. Mind I like the blue dress. Something terrible happened. What was it now?” “Sally said,” Jim explained, “that Blind Mary was hanged on Halloween night for her crime of murder. “Back in Victorian times poor Mary lost her soldier boyfriend in the Irish conflict. Only shot through the head. Mary went mental. Hunger and hard times then forced her to kill the baby. Both ended up in the same grave. Buried in the local graveyard.” “How did the baby die?”I asked “Mary cut the baby’s throat. Said she’d no money for food. Stupid woman carried the body around with her until she got caught.” *** Before midnight arrived I decided to take a stroll outside. My subconscious aim was finding if there were any loose spirits about. No luck. I moved on in the direction of the nearby railway line, now a scene of sudden activity. I kept walking, interested by the police cars and the bright flashing light. As I drew closer to the barrier crossing I saw the police tried to pull a car from the bottom of a ditch. The car driver stood at the side of the road, and I felt glad he was unhurt. The shaken man kept talking to the police about the incident. Even as I drew closer towards the flashing lights a woman in a blue dress caught my attention. Her face frightened me, as did the bundle she carried. The chilling clue was the noise the bundle made. A policeman stepped forward to stop her but she

ducked under the barrier. The black-train hit her a second later. The OS 999 Olympia Especial. I had seen it. Been that close! *** The police called for more back-up and emergency-services in order to cope with the accident. Clearly some people suffered from shock. I spoke to a policeman about the young woman hit by the train. “No body? Oh my. But I can see pieces of her dress snagged on the tracks and in the grass.” The policeman shrugged. “Then what about the baby? I saw the baby,” I protested. I noticed an ambulance worker held a bundle. I started walking in that direction. I had to know. Then I saw the tiny bonnet, the tiny dress but there was no face, no body only tiny bones. And those piggish black eye-sockets set in the skull giving the same terrifying look of her mother, Blind Mary. But something surreal set me thinking. I reached for the faded postcard of a black OS 999 train at the railway station of Ho Chi Minh city. The postcard lay on top of the baby’s shawl. The incident turned out to be an interesting event to talk about when I next visit Grandma in Portugal. But for safety I’ll fly from Heathrow. I’m certainly not risking a journey on the Olympia Especial, OS 999 on schedule for Hell. The end.

Cleveland W. Gibson publishes on Smashwords.com and Amazon.com. He has worked for the Government, taught ESOL, been a carer, trained as a lifeguard and road race director. His writing has appeared in many forms. A current project is a fantasy novel, House of the Skull Drum.

32 ~ what the dickens?


olympia writing

Twin Jumps by Derek Miller

D

ean strode with long confident strides, his slim frame moving without effort to where the high jump was taking place. It was a large stadium, he had to go round the outside of the grass and in August the hot weather meant that he was a little warm when he got there. Lined with London landmarks the jacket he was wearing was unnecessary in the sunshine but he was expected to wear it all the time. The pole vault, where he was the flight coordinator, had finished a little earlier than expected, and he was hoping he might see Sara in her event. Keeping behind the other officials, not wanting to put her off, he could see her last high jump was superb and probably a world record. The crowd went wild with delight, in the intimately designed stadium any noise was amplified and the screaming for Sara was deafening. All the Croatian fans were standing and stamping their feet for a long time it felt as though the celebrations would never end and any other sounds in the stadium were drowned out by their shouts for Sara. He felt so overwhelmed with pride, his girlfriend an Olympic gold medallist. Sweet honeysuckle is the taste of success. This almost made up for any regret he had about not being able to compete. In celebration she then ran round the pit holding her flag and right in front of him, he started smiling and waving and expected a hint of recognition there was a small smile but nothing more. She was so close that he could smell her perfume mixed with perspiration, and see that now she had that ecstatic ‘I’ve done it all’ look. Perhaps the last two weeks had just been a dream thought Dean looking again at Sara. Except for her daily four hour training programme he and Sarah had been together most of the time. After a brief fling after an athletics event in California, where they initially met, both of them wanted to see each other again. They made a stunning couple both were tall, attractive and muscular, turning heads wherever they went. Sara had short black hair and intense blue eyes, with good complexion from eating only the best food, with a temporary speech impediment which had resolved itself by the time of the London Olympics. Although Dean could no longer compete due to an injury he kept

in very good shape. With mutual desire for each other they had arranged their time in London together. Dean had rented a flat in Stratford for the weeks of the Olympics. Both of them wanted the relationship kept quiet until after 11th August, and could not be seen out together. High jumping was not an endurance sport, so there was no ban on sex, and as they were both young and athletic, it had been a sustained, beautiful physical togetherness. He thought it had been so comfortable living with Sara that he wanted it to continue for ever it was the best relationship in the world. Escaping for a few days to Brighton, Sara was from a rural part of Croatia, she was amazed at the cosmopolitan nature, she had never seen groups of gay men being open, or hen parties desperately trying to have fun. Feeling as it was far enough from London they could eat together, in an Indian restaurant, eating a range of food with such fine spices Sara had never seen before served on silver plates. Over the general noise of conversation they had talked about what happens afterwards, Sara saying; ‘I will retire and become a coach in England, you can help me to set it up Dean. I never want to leave you or this country.’ His eyes never left Sara as she did her small lap of honour, and there was only a slight irritation in the back of his mind that something was not right. It was difficult to imagine this was the same woman he had spent the last two weeks with. He watched her disappear into the group of Croatian supporters, team members and officials, then come out again with an even wider expression of joy on her face. This time as she jogged by, moving like a leopard, every muscle in her body toned and relaxed she smiled broadly at him, hugged him and said enthusiastically; ‘Hello, see you later.’ Dean looked in a mix of exuberance and amazement, this was his old Sara back again and he replied; “Fantastic jump, see you later.” And she was gone, to prepare for the medal ceremony. ‘Oh well’ he thought perhaps the nerves got to her, but there was still a niggling thought that would not either let go or come to the surface. He saw her on the ceremony stand when her National Anthem was playing, and noticed the slight bruise on the top of her leg from last night’s sexual antics. There was a large screen in the stadium showing her winning the high jump, it wasn’t very clear, but there was no bruise showing

the olympia edition ~ 33


olympia writing on her leg. With a lot of activity, results of the drugs tests, press conferences and team debriefs he knew he wouldn’t see her alone for some time, so he slowly drifted back towards the Croatian accommodation. Now that both their main events were over, they could be more open about their relationship. He still had some supporting duties to perform and was held up for a little while discussing the arrangements for tomorrow. Still he was very surprised to be passed so soon by Sara who then ignored him. She went in quickly and shut the door behind her. He phoned her to ask to be let in, but there was no reply, and then he had to take a phone call from the chief judge asking some technical questions about the pole vault competition. He was just about to phone again, when Sara came along the drive, and ran to him planting a greedy kiss on his lips said; ‘Hello Dean, do you see my jump. Very close to a world record.’ She opened the door to the accommodation. He was looking at her in amazement. As they walked in he said; “What’s going on, you’ve just walked past me ten minutes ago and ignored me.” ‘No, that wasn’t me.’ as she moved forward to kiss Dean. ‘Wait a minute. I also want to ask about the bruise on your leg.’ Dean was trying to find his official voice but he knew it didn’t work with someone he was so close to. Playing with his tie, and trying to over emphasise authority produced a mixed vision like a fish trying to organise a group of bears. ‘You know how I got the bruise, you shouldn’t have been so rough the other night. But I did enjoy it.’ She was still moving forwards to kiss Dean, who was moving backwards and round at the same time like two tango dancers in reverse gear. ‘No, it’s that the runner who won the high jump didn’t have a bruise. You can see on the replay if you like.’ He said with some effort. Sara looked shocked at this, and started defiantly; ‘I won the high jump and a gold medal at the Olympics, look here it is.’ holding out the bright yellow disk. Then she followed Dean’s eyes to see another woman in the corridor with different clothes on looking just like Sara. ‘Perhaps I can explain.’ she said quietly, and indicated that we should all go into one of the

34 ~ what the dickens?

rooms which was empty. ‘So what is going on?’ Dean asked. ‘We’re twins,’ Sara started; ‘Ivana is the real athlete, but she is painfully shy and has a speech impediment. So although competing in the high jumping is fine, talking and the medal ceremony after are just too much. Ivana does the jump and I do the medal ceremony, no one notices as we are identical twins. This is our last race, Ivana will become a coach and I’ll become Mrs Perko. The person you were with in California was Ivana, but when we were in London we agreed she would ignore you and I would be the one you were with.’ ‘So what you’re telling me is that you’ve both cheated and I was just a temporary distraction until you got back to Croatia.’ Dean was starting to stroke the lapels of his jacket and had difficulty standing still. Not knowing whether to be very angry at them or annoyed by his feelings for Sara which clouded his judgement. Now there were two Sara in the room, and not sure who he loved the most, he was more confused than ever. There was a strained silence until Ivana started to talk slowly and with a slight lisp looking at him with eyes so wide open and such a look that would have brought a stone statue to life; ‘No it wasn’t like that. Sara found you for me because I am always too shy around men, she started the text messages. I won the race fairly, but am not interested in the medals or talking afterwards. In any case as an official you shouldn’t have a relationship with a competing athlete. And in this case you didn’t.’ Sara was pleading with tears forming in her eyes; ‘It’s difficult for you to understand. We come from quite a poor village in Croatia. I have to marry someone with money so that my mother can afford the medical treatment she requires. You are wonderful. This will be my last trip away from home. You and Ivana will make a great couple, with a fantastic future. When I go back home my life is effectively over.’ Dean’s brow was furrowed like corrugated cardboard and his normally relaxed body was tense, thinking did not come naturally to him; ‘I suppose the person who took the drugs test won the high jump, the swap happened after that. And presumably you are happy for Sara to take all the glory.’ Ivana said; ‘It’s fine that Sara takes all the medals. I get to compete, which I enjoy. Obviously some


olympia writing members of the team know, so I will have some kudos with which to start a training programme.’ It was Sara who moved first; ‘I’m going to get a proper shower, and change into some better clothes. I’ll leave you two to get to know each other.’ Ivana continued; ‘As you know for an athlete I need to focus on my performance, without any distractions and Sara wanted one last fling before marriage. We always planned to tell you the truth, which is why Sara invited you here today instead of to the apartment.’ Dean was still confused; ‘I’m not sure, as an official I should report this discrepancy. But then I would be questioned as to how I know, and what I was doing here.’

Ivana and Dean sat down on the settee, she started; ‘We had always hoped that tonight we would swap back, and I would pretend to have a sore throat to save talking. We are identical twins, very few people can tell us apart. Look I’ve put on my best dress for you.’ Dean looked at Ivana, she was more beautiful than ever and when he was hoping for some more guidance she kissed him.

Inspector Bucket at the Olympics

“Oh, for God’s sake!” said a fourth, called Ravens. “Let’s not jump to conclusions. That’s why we’ve got the Inspector in, isn’t it? To track down the kidnappers and find poor Schröder before he gets hurt!” “Thank you, sir,” said Bucket, holding up his hand to stem the outcry. “That’s exactly what you’ve done. But, gentlemen,” Bucket asked with a smile, “why haven’t you simply called the police?” “Damn it, I thought you were the police!” said the fiery gent, indignantly. “Why are you called Inspector if you’re not?” “If you’d been a little more sober at our last meeting, Mason,” said Cunningham angrily, “you would have remembered that we agreed to use a private detective!” Mason snorted, but Cunningham went on. “Inspector Bucket is a highly recommended, ex-member of the police service, famous for his discretion. And I think we all agree, gentlemen, that discretion is what we need, if we are to save the Games from disaster.” “I’m sure you will have seen, Inspector,” said Ravens, gesturing towards the ransom demand, “that the abductors have warned us not to inform the police. They threaten to harm poor Schröder if we do.” “Yes, I saw that,” Inspector Bucket agreed, “but do you think our abductor is actually serious?” The committee members looked at him with surprise. “This seems a rather amateur effort,”

by Peter Cooper

I

t was the July of 1866. Inspector Bucket and I had been called urgently to a meeting at Crystal Palace. The members of the National Olympic Association watched him anxiously as he studied the ransom demand for the third time. “Friedrich Schröder has been abducted,” it read. Large black letters had been cut up and glued onto a sheet of paper. A ransom of one hundred pounds was demanded. “We were expecting a telegram from Schröder, informing us of his safe arrival and where he was staying, Inspector,” said Captain Cunningham. “When nothing arrived we began to be concerned. And then this!” he said, gesturing at the ransom note. “And why would anyone want to abduct Herr Schröder, do you think?” Bucket asked, holding the letter up to the light. “The Greeks, of course!” exclaimed a florid faced gentleman by the name of Mason. This comment seemed to cause uproar. “Hear, hear!” another member, Pearson, pitched in with enthusiasm.

Derek Miller lives in Balsall Common and writes short stories. Balsall Writers are holding a writing and poetry competition with a closing date of 31st October 2012 see: balsallwriters.org.uk for details.

the olympia edition ~ 35


olympia writing continued Bucket. “I don’t think, somehow, that our kidnapper is in earnest.” “Not in earnest, man?” said Mason angrily. “We have our first National Olympics due to start in less than two weeks and you think it’s a joke!” He thumped his fist on the table, adding, somewhat non-consecutively, “The Greeks are at the bottom of this, I’ll wager!” “Oh, for pity’s sake, Mason,” Ravens exclaimed, “don’t get back on that hobby horse again!” “I tell you, the Greeks don’t want us to make a success of our event,” Mason continued. “You know full well that Athens are planning their own Games. Well, they don’t want us to steal any of their thunder, do they?” “And as you well know, Mason,” said Cunningham, “the Greek Association has been most helpful.” Mason gave a scornful grunt. “And what’s more,” Cunningham continued, “they have agreed that Velissariou should take part in our Games. Now, why would they allow that if they didn’t want to support us? Velissariou will give us a truly international dimension.” “And the kidnapping of Schröder will scare off others from taking part, and that’s just what the Greeks want!” replied Mason disdainfully. “What do you know about Schröder, gentleman?” asked Bucket calmly, ignoring the arguments. “A hurdler,” said Ravens. “Speaks English too, which is a help. A damn fine runner!” he added with enthusiasm. “I have a godson who’s in the running lark, as it happens,” said Bucket as he inspected the photograph he had been handed. It showed a nervous gentleman dressed in athletic clothes. “And Schröder’s personal circumstances?” Bucket asked. “Would there be any other reason for him to be abducted?” “I’m the treasurer of the NOA, Bucket,” said red-faced Mason, “and if his requests for financial support are anything to go on, a ransom of that size would be out of the question, given the class of his family.” There was a heavy sigh from Cunningham.”We have insisted on our games being open to all classes, Inspector,” he explained patiently. “Very commendable, sir,” said Bucket smiling, “I have to confess that I’m from ‘all classes’ myself.” Despite Bucket’s good humour, the argument

36 ~ what the dickens?

broke out again. He raised his hand to cut it off. “If there was nothing in Schröder’s person indicating wealth,” Bucket said, “I must presume that he was subject to a random attack. Schröder may have given away his connection to the Games, once attacked, and the kidnapper might then have seen the opportunity for extortion. Unless, of course,” Bucket smiled, “Schröder was carrying ostentatious amounts of expenses from you gentlemen.” Mason blanched. “With funds in Schröder’s pocket,” Bucket reasoned, “the abductor might have assumed there was more where that came from, might he not?” “We are not rich, Bucket!” Mason exclaimed. “That is, unfortunately, correct, Inspector,” agreed Cunningham. “Nevertheless, we do provide appropriate expenses, just so those athletes who do not have the advantages of birth might participate. There was a majority in voting for this, Inspector, and the funds are administered by Mason himself.” “Well, I’ll take it Schröder didn’t have a great deal of cash about him, shall I?” Bucket said. “I must presume, then, that someone knew about his link with your Olympic Association and targeted him deliberately.” “I told you!” said Mason with conviction, “the damned Greeks are to blame!” “Well, gentlemen,” Bucket continued, “whoever’s to blame, our kidnapper hasn’t set a date for payment yet - a sure sign of his amateurism - so I think we can risk a little delay whilst I make enquiries.” “You think there was only one kidnapper then, Inspector?” asked Ravens. “Oh yes, sir,” replied Bucket, “I have a strong feeling about that.” The gentlemen of the Olympic Association watched him expectantly. “You’re likely to receive another demand soon, I should think, as soon as the kidnapper realises his error,” Bucket concluded. “I’ll take this list of addresses of competitors, as well as Schröder’s photograph, if I may, and I suggest we meet again in 48 hours.” There was a mutter of agreement. “Thank you, gentlemen. I bid you good day.” On the next morning I was in the British Museum Reading Room, instructed by Bucket to search the South London Gazetteer for hotels that might


olympia writing be popular with Germans. Meanwhile, he was visiting the addresses of competitors who were scheduled to appear at the Games. He joined me after noon when, much to my irritation, all he did was to leaf idly through newspapers. He was waiting, he said, for a reply to a telegram he had sent off to the London Docks Harbour Master. Eventually, we broke for lunch at a nearby hostelry and I showed Bucket the results of my labour. “Ah, here we are, my lad,” he said putting down his glass of sweet brown sherry. “The German Hotel’ itself, obvious now I’ve seen it,” he smiled. As usual, I had little idea of what he was talking about. “I thought we might find it in Sydenham and here it is,” he continued. “A big German community there, my boy – handy for the Crystal Palace, I shouldn’t wonder.” Just then we were interrupted by a boy bringing Bucket’s telegram. “Ah,” he said when he’d read it. “I thought the Harbour Master might have noticed somebody unusual getting off the Hamburg boat, and he has. I think we have all we need now, my boy,” he said, without further explanation. “Call us a cab, won’t you?” The ‘German Hotel’ was a building in an insalubrious alleyway off Sydenham Road. Although faded now, it might once have had pretensions of grandeur. These days, it offered cheap rooms for German migrants, for, as Bucket pointed out, there were many Germans who, escaping a tyrannical government, had settled in this part of London. This hotel was their first stop whilst they sought permanent accommodation. Several poor looking characters were in the lobby, sharing the German papers scattered about, or using the notepaper, left over, perhaps, from the hotels more elegant days, to write letters home. When Inspector Bucket announced himself to the proprietor, that gentleman seemed somewhat anxious, thinking, unsurprisingly, that he was speaking to an actual Inspector of the police and not a retired one, as Bucket now was. “A man wearing a cast on his leg?” the proprietor asked, repeating Bucket’s question hesitantly. Bucket’s telegram had told him of such a person who had hobbled off the Hamburg boat

and the Inspector clearly felt that this might be significant. The proprietor considered. Perhaps he hadn’t understood Bucket’s question, or perhaps the proprietor was worried that he had been caught harbouring a radical wanted by the British Government. “Ja, Inspector,” he said at last. Bucket asked for the man’s room number, guaranteeing discretion if we were allowed to call on him. Bucket was promptly furnished with the number. “Kommen in,” a voice called. The man in the cast was expecting someone, a messenger perhaps, for he was sealing a letter and writing an address. When he saw us, he reached for his crutches and tried to stand, but Bucket snatched them away. “Herr Schröder, I presume?” asked the Inspector. And Schröder it was, if rather yellow and ill looking. “My name is Inspector Bucket.” Schröder pretended incomprehension but Bucket was having none of it. “I know you understand English, Schröder, so stop pretending you don’t know who you are,” said the Inspector sternly. At this, much to my surprise, Schröder put his head in his hands and started to weep. Bucket opened the discarded letter. It was another ransom demand. Schröder had been cutting out letters from a German paper and gluing them to hotel notepaper. For, of course, now it was clear, Schröder had kidnapped himself ! By the end of Bucket’s interview with him I felt quite sorry for the poor man. His crutches confiscated, Schröder’s further safekeeping was guaranteed by the anxious hotel proprietor, in exchange for Bucket’s discretion. At Crystal Palace, when the 48 hours were up, the gentlemen of the committee were astonished by Bucket’s discovery. “Kidnapped himself !” Mason expostulated. “There, that’s what we get for allowing low class foreigners into the Games,” he gloated. “But why on earth did he do it, Bucket?” Cunningham asked, ignoring Mason’s intervention. “He’d no intention of taking part at all, I’m afraid, sir,” said Bucket. “He’d fractured his leg a few days before he was due to depart for England and cooked up his plan then. I didn’t trust that

the olympia edition ~ 37


olympia writing ransom demand from the start,” continued Bucket, “it was made up of letters cut from a German newspaper – the English Press don’t go in for quite such a gothic typeset, you see, sir – and, on top of that, he’d used notepaper from ‘The German Hotel’ in Sydenham. I could see the embossed name underneath, sir.” “But I still don’t understand,” Ravens said. “The reports of Schröder professed him to be a good chap, honourable and trust worthy.” Mason made a noise of derision. “Desperation, I’m afraid, sir,” explained Bucket. “Living conditions are not too comfortable for the poor in Hamburg, no more than they are here, if truth be told. But on top of that, the government there has become very repressive by all accounts and it seems our Schröder may have been in trouble with them for his political views,” Bucket added. “He hoped to better himself and live more freely, by starting anew in America. He’d scraped together enough to pay the fare on a ship from Hamburg to London and, in his desperation, hoped to extort enough for his onward fare from you gentlemen.” “But Inspector,” Cunningham said, “we’d already sent him enough to pay his fare here and enough for decent accommodation – as we have done for all competitors – so why should he need to ‘scrape’ money together, as you put it?” “Spent it paying off debts and fines I expect,” said Pearson. “No sir,” said Bucket. “It seems he received no expenses at all. In fact, none of the competitors I contacted received anything at all. Most, of course, only had to travel to London from somewhere in England, even if at their own expense, but Northumberland is a bit of a stretch from London,

sir, as is Carlisle, or Plymouth, or ...” “I don’t understand,” said Cunningham.” “Perhaps you should ask Mr Mason,” said Bucket pointedly. It turned out that Mason had been appropriating funds for himself, rather than paying them to the competitors. Once the committee got over the shock of this, Bucket persuaded them that if Mr Mason were to make reparations to the affected competitors they might still salvage the reputation of the NOA and the Crystal Palace Games might go on without risk of a damaging scandal. They could deal with Mason afterwards, once he had paid up, as they thought fit. But Bucket had one more demand: if the scandal was to be kept out of the press, Mason should pay Schröder’s fare to America. When the arrangements for all this were agreed, and a grateful Friedrich Schröder was safely bound for America, Bucket was invited to Crystal Palace again. “We are in your debt, Inspector,” said Cunningham. “But, unfortunately, we are now short of a competitor. You don’t hurdle, do you man?” he laughed. “I fear not, gentlemen, but I have a godson who can run a bit.” And so it was that, on the day of the hurdle race, in front of 10000 spectators, Bucket’s godson, a young cricketer by the name of WG Grace, managed to win the 440yd hurdles whilst simultaneously playing cricket for England at the Oval. Bucket watched from a privileged seat, the honoured guest who had saved the Olympics.

Peter Cooper is an ex student of the MA Creative Writing course at Sheffield University. Inspector Bucket and the March Hare is a new story by him using the character invented by Charles Dickens in Bleak House. A novel by Peter, also about the further adventures of Inspector Bucket, entitled Bucket and the Beast is due to be published by Dahlia Publishing in Autumn 2012. Peter is also the writer of The Carebot, a short story included in The Mirador Fantasgamoria. As well as writing, Peter spends his time as an amateur thespian and artist. He tweets Haiku as Percy Plum. Website: petercooperstellingtales.com.

38 ~ what the dickens?


olympia writing

False Gods by SJI Holliday

H

er username was ‘Venus85’. She’d wanted just ‘Venus’ but obviously so did someone else so she reckoned her birth year was as good a suffix as any. His was ‘Adonis82’. She supposed he’d had the same thoughts. They’d started off in a chatroom, then it became emails, but neither had been brave enough to attempt the phone call. She’d sent him a photo of her in a bikini on a beach in Crete, taken when she’d just started Uni and showing her in the best possible light. Lithe and smiling and sunkissed. His had been taken somewhere in the Atlas Mountains, a field trip. He wanted to be an archaeologist. She didn’t have such heightened plans. A teacher, she hoped. High school. Biology maybe, although they all seem to do a bit of everything these days. They talked about books and films and heroes and heroines. They talked about how it was easier to meet online nowadays. It was the thing to do. There was never much interest from the people they saw day to say. We’re Gods and Goddesses, they told each other. These people in the real world; they don’t even come close. They decided to meet at the Eros statue in Piccadilly Circus. Seemed fitting. She arrived by bus to Victoria Coach Station and walked past Downing Street and Nelson’s Column. He was coming by tube, he’d said. He didn’t live far. She was early; she sat on the edge of the fountain, watching the crowds that bustled and hovered around, taking it all in. Japanese girls giving the Victory sign to the cameras, giggling. Americans in shorts, swollen feet squeezed into gaudycoloured Crocs.

He was late. She wandered around the tube exit in the centre, but there were too many others and she didn’t know which one he’d appear from. She glanced up at the neon screens, the giant faces of the beautiful people on there. Watched the buses, the taxis; the people playing chicken with the traffic, just trying to get over to Burger King but not wanting to wait for the lights. Horns honking; chattering: French, Spanish, Italian. Teenagers with backpacks and braces. Then she saw him. Well, she thought it was him. He looked different from his picture. Thinner, spottier. Crumpled clothes. She looked down at herself, her cleavage threatening to burst from the long floral dress she’d chosen after discarding multiple less-flattering outfits. Nothing fitted very well at the moment. Her hair was good though, long and shiny, dyed a golden-flecked red. She was still Venus, she decided. Even if she wasn’t quite the one in the bikini-shot. He, though – he was no Adonis. She wondered if he’d photoshopped his picture. She couldn’t imagine he’d ever looked like that. False God, she thought, as she slipped into the crowd before he could see her; let herself get carried away in the throng towards Leicester Square. She turned once, saw him standing near Eros, a puzzled look on his face as he glanced at his watch. Lucky escape, she thought. As she turned away, she just missed the man who came running up the stairs from the tube, panic on his fine-looking face. If only she’d waited a little bit longer.

SJI Holliday is the author of a sheaf of short stories and is currently creating a crime novel. Her world domination via writing is limited only by time, motivational slippage and the perils of procrastination. She pins her ideas onto frames like dead butterflies. Does not bite.

the olympia edition ~ 39


olympia writing

B of the Bang by AJ Kirby

T

hem in suits came sniffing around, axsing questions. Slinking in notes on their personal organisers, taking snaps for what for we didn’t know. Was funny because though there wasn’t no buildingworks going on they were wearing hardhats and high-vis jaykets. Though as they were stepping a fuckin warzone. Then more of them in suits – even they cars had suits – came and some of them highminded buggers. Came making squares of their fingers, scratching stubble, nodding. Chaps with them, like, line-of-sight thingies. More hardhats. Knocked up this show at the library. Had drawings of what they wanted the place to be. So I goes for a shuffties. Pfft, it’s like, how shifting the land what they want to build what they call their dream on is. Where they’ll shuffle their nightmare off to meantimes, I axs myself. Minister for something or other there. Ugly bastard. Face like a shotput. Ears like they was wraps of hundreds of elastic bands all clagged together. Did all that holding babies malarkey and chuntering on whilst not listening to what some peeps said to him. Cut this ribband on the door and we all piled inside making waves for the free volley-vents and drink. They didn’t trust us with proper shampoo flutes. Just these placcy cups and when I smelt it, it smelt nothing like booze anyway. Anyway after a bit old Minister clopped up to what they call the dais, or maybe a pulpit, and he looked out on us all rabble like he was already halfway through knocking us down. He speechified. Described the buildings what he wanted to grow up through the cracks like he was doing the outline of a woman he’d bought for the night. Course we all got rowdy. Food was running out and the drink nothing to write home for. So Minister banged what might as well have been a gavel on this desk. Made like it was the B of the Bang. Like it was saying go, to all us, get running now before you make the place look messy. ***

40 ~ what the dickens?

Someone musta told the Minster like what I was the man what knew about round here on account of being here longtime. One day he turned up at my pad with a knock like a five-oh’s. And about sixteen motherfuckers shoot up from my couch and leg it out the back door. Me cracking up o course as I already seen it’s the Minister for Ugly hisself. So he came in and one of his lackeys found him a seat by dusting it down. Another lackey carrying a portfolio thing which was chock full of nonsense propaganda I wanted no part of. Minister told me he wanted get down straight to brass tacks. And then spent the next ten minutes waffling on until my fuckin leg went to sleep. He saw he’d bored me. Held his hands up – I surrender – like he a cowboy and me an Injun got him in my bow and arrow sights. All right, he goes, what we need round here is Influencers. What you say has weight round here. And I went, are you calling me a fat bastard, you jug eared get. One of his lackeys laughed behind his hand. I’m not calling you anything, he went. And then he told me more about how the Olympics would be good for the local area and bring in all kinds business. So I axsed whether the Olympians would be allowed to be all on drugs this time because man that was my favourite Olympics when that Ben Johnson was all fired up on Uppers so it was fizzing his veins and brains practically out his neck and his nose was snorting like a bull’s. They said Carl Lewis took one look at that bastard and said that’s it I might as well pack up and go home. I told the Minister for Ugly that an Olympics where everyone Smacked-Up to the eyeballs, gurning to the back-teeth with fuckin dope would be the best for all concerned because then all the cheating was out in the open and everyone knew they were in for a good race: someone’s head might explode. Takin the piss like. He snorted, nervously. Like a cow confronted by Ben Johnson on a China Shop rampage. Let’s go for a walk, I said. Juss me and you. And I’ll tell you what’s what. He wasn’t sure about that. He looked like a kid at an ice cream van at his limo but I said no. They set him up with, like, fuckin body armour


olympia writing and shit under his shirt and under his shirt he was blubber enough already so with it on as well it looked like a fat suit and his buttons went all strained like he’d pop out at any minute like the Hulk. Then we went out the front door and he wiped his shiny shoes on the fuckin way out like a cunt. Anyway we went walking and we were followed a few paces behind by his lackeys and minders and some of them paparazzi too here to get a snap of the Minister for Ugly out amongst the peeps or somesuch amen. Him, a feller what was supposed to be all about the sports and that, out of breath at the pace I set. Me, like, talking at him. Some of it crap, some of it not even in English, and him nodding like he understood. Like I’d raised a motion in fuckin parliament or somesuch. So we were B of the Banging around, chipping down shit streets, shooting a fake breeze. My zone waking up from a night-before which had snailed on seventeen years all around us. I could smell it angry. Like it a guard dog bristling with menace and if it caught any man like our Minister for Ugly abroad there would be hell to pay, and hell don’t like waiting for pay-ups. Interest hell charges insane man. Worse than the worst loansharks round here. Loansharks and bottom-feeders and pike dwelled these waters. Should have been warning signs up. And one of them boo-eys. At the water’s edge, the wildlife was big cats with long teeth and claws or hyenas with jaws can snap a leg off at the knee no trouble. Benni’s Boys. But weird though because the Minister clocked none of it. Clocked none of the, like, insects what could sting and bite neither. Teems of them flocking on corners, just buzzing around, irritating peeps. Some of them I recognised, like Sharps, who lurked outside the Clinic. Always pestering a feller for a snort or a few ding for his pocket. Never even pretended it was because it was for something eat because they – some of Benni’s sewed his lips up and now he was only fed on a drip maybe. Didn’t clock Irish stood near the door of O’Malleys drunker’n you’ve ever seen a skunk and smelling worse and he’d pissed his britches so many times his skins had taken on a urinal-sheen. Had two skins the Irish or more. All of em rotten. I said all right Irish and Minister for Ugly looked

at me like I’d just gone on and talked to myself or to a ghost or somesuch. Maybe it just all looked the same to the Minister. Maybe he didn’t care about fuckin Benni’s tag everywhere. That lop-side crown forming the dot on the i. Crossing t’s, his tag day-glowed across shopwindows. Takeaways Benni had on protection too. From himself like. He was like Irish before he became Irish and he put a lock on the liquor cabinet so he could protect himself or the booze whatever. Lock on his kiddies’ door as well, if the rumours were true. Busted one or both them locks and found hisself on the street one night and he’d been here since. But once some idiot TV programme stalked him some because they thought he was a secret millionaire because some kid told them that. They thought he had money under a mattress. But he never did. Never any hidden, like, story behind us shadowing us, just more of the same crap, like in a rat’s nest. I wanted the streets to tell the Minister a story like here was not meant to be luxuriated around on Sunday drives or anything like that. I wanted him to see it was a place a feller could get stuck in like a goat in a snake-throat. I wanted him to see the piranhas in the tanks at the fish pedicure place, Feeding Nemo. I wanted him to see the club. Rolls and Twos, whatever that means. Rolls had a poster on door tacked up said no guns inside and no exceptions. Next door that was a pram shop. Local teenmums egg-nored this pram shop because it was scabby, they said. Knock-off from proper town shops was better to be seen with at the park. I wanted him to see. Hear. Shit hisself. At the way the street kinda snarled. At MC Cheeba barrelling out a car window at a level approaching automatic gunfire decibels. Wanted him to snide down in his e-lectronic notebook that the car spunking out Cheeba’s tunes was the only car window rolled down though there was sweaty shadows in back of all of them parked even if they had no wheels and tyres and were going nowhere. Most other car windows shut fast, black. And nobody smiling inside em. Nobody smiling anywhere in fact. Nobody told a joke here for time and we run out the language to tell em. Sometimes we laugh though

the olympia edition ~ 41


olympia writing but laughing is not what it really is. It’s really just another weapon because we only use it to, like, grind some bastard’s face more into the dirt and the crap. Make them smell what they really are in the gutter. Learn this early, you do. Kids on the blocks kicking cans, hoisting sawn offs. They axs you what you doing down their way and they don’t axs twice. These kids are six years of age or they are younger and they are kicking cans on account of they are bored waiting til they get axed to move up a gear and do what they older brothers and sisters are doing which is working. Twenty four seven three six five, even when asleep because one can get motherfuckin popped when one’s asleep so one must sleep with one eye open like in that song about guarddogs or something. The older kids on point. They’re the tip of Benni’s iceberg. Just little peaks. Spreading out from them, these huge amorphous-conglomerasaurus, veiny, webby networks of powder-merchandising operations. Like genetically modified flesh which resembles nothing known to humanity just some

dock-off underground slug which inhabits the sewers and sucks up everything good and shit alike. Kids on point fumbling in pocketses firing off textses on their handhelds, or twitching a head, or v-ing their fingers, or otherwise resembling trackside bookies. They lay odds, place bets, manage stock, count sales. Enough. I stopped. Dead on the street. Minister for Ugly practically bundled into me and then went all funny as though he wanted brush away my germs. Look, I goes, all serious-like. Let me put this in terms you understand. Round here, we’re like the fuckin pacemakers in one of your races. Going along like fuck until you tell us to stop so others can run on take the glory. We drop out of the race, man. But what happens to us then, we disappear? Fall off the face of the earth? Minister for Ugly clapped me on the back, smiled like a fuckin crocodile. I knew you’d get it. In the end. His eyes went all misty and I understood he hadn’t understood. It’s the Olympian spirit, he said. Aye, right, said I.

AJ Kirby is the award-winning author of five novels (Paint this Town Red, 2012; Perfect World, 2011; Bully, 2009; The Magpie Trap, 2008; When Elephants Walk through the Gorbals, 2007), two collections of short stories (The Art of Ventriloquism, a collection of crime shorts, 2012, and Mix Tape, 2010), one novella (Call of the Sea, 2010), one novelette (The Black Book, 2011) and over forty short stories. He is also a sportswriter for the Professional Footballers’ Association and a reviewer for The Short Review and The New York Journal of Books. Originally from New Mills, Derbyshire, AJ Kirby now lives in Leeds, UK.

In early October 2010, a group of writers came together to form the Historical Writers’ Association – the HWA. This grew from the belief that we as historical writers need to have the same kind of professional body run by professional writers for professional writers (and their agents and publishers and booksellers) to sustain, promote and support each other and our work in the way that the Crime Writers’ Association provides professional and social support for its members.

42 ~ what the dickens?

If you think you’d like to join us, or know someone who does, please mail our Membership Secretary on: tony.riches@ btinternet.com giving your name, details of your recent books and your publisher. Annual subscriptions stand currently at £75 per annum, if paid by BACS or Standing Order, £80 if paid by Paypal or cheque.


olympia writing

Atonement It was only a boat, a boat floating on flat water and waiting. Waiting to carry me home. Home I say home. But there is no home for me now, not any longer. Never again will I see that place beneath the trees, Where flowers grow and birds sing. Where there is a lake; a lake upon the hill, which by its nature is dark and treacherous deep. “Do not venture in,” she told me, “do not walk the edge of the dark reeds, for there lies peril.” But I was wayward and listened not to the words of the wise. For what do they in their dotage know of the world and its ways? Plenty it would seem and more. For they still walk in the footsteps of their lives, whilst me; Ha, I know not what I am doing. I walk the way of the beast of darkness. No longer alive, but still not dead. I am a shadow cast low, over shady waters, unable to embark and yet, unable to stay. Into the Styx I cast myself, again and again, but the river repulses me, spits me out, as though it were not yet my time. But what to do? I am no Olympian immortal; no King Oinomaos; with superior strength and the beautiful Hippodamia to give away as a prize. Vanquishing suitors who dare to try for her hand. I am not among the number of the six sons and daughters of Gaia and Cronus; Titanic and gargantuan. I am a lost soul crying out in my misery to a boatman who has no ears. “Take me; take me with you, Charon, lest I should traverse these desolate shores for 100 years. Take me with you that I may rest my weary head upon the ground and sleep the sleep of the dead.” But my words fall empty and the boatman casts off again, taking only those who can pay the fair. I wronged a woman once. Carelessly. Unthinking. But since that day I have known no rest. Now no bell tones for me and I am left to wander; adrift on a boatless shore. Moira Quinn Words to change the world are what started and keeps me writing. Then there’s the rhythm and lyricism of language and the intonation that changes meaning; not forgetting the ethereal; the magical; the mysterious, oh and a big slice of nonsense poetry too, there’s always room for that.

the olympia edition ~ 43


olympia writing

I ♼ Synchronised Swimming Why does this Olympic sport bring chortles of mirth? It floats my boat to see swimmers synchronise like beautiful flowers. Their figures curving in the water like the opening petals of a wondrous water lily, smooth and bright as sea glass. They swirl in perfect harmony. Many left legs bend to form a crooked-handed clock. Many right arms thrust like pointy cocktail sticks. Heads bob up like slippery olives then slip away again into the brine. What a sight to see such human harmony. I’d love to be a synchronised swimmer and bottle the peace that being in water brings. Kate L Fox I am a writer who enjoys poetry. I have an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Kent. I have had several poems published, including prose poems. I enjoy visual art as well as writing and like mixing them together. By day I work as a copywriter.

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olympia writing

The crack in Pyramus and Thisbe’s wall I am born from earthquake and defeated sun. My stone will never be hung with cloth, or driven through to hold vases. Instead, I am lent her white cheek, her petal ear filled with his muffled longing. His limbs lengthen against me, hoping her warmth will carry through. But what I can’t provide deepens desire, their hands flanking my sides. When they leave me, their breath stays mingled in my dust, their wretched blood, bearing fruit. Helen Addy Helen Addy 34, is from Morayshire. Her work has appeared in the 2010 Bugged anthology, SOUTH 42, Carillon, Pushing Out the Boat and Shetland Library’s Bards in the Bog, April 2012. Her poems appear online in Shot Glass Journal and Snakeskin. She is working towards a first pamphlet.

the olympia edition ~ 45


olympia writing

Olympia In stadium est laudum – the goal is to praise To be lifted up above competitors’ heads On the roar and swell of human approval because The endurance of personal pain is a match half-lit Without the fire of admiration, to strike it into full flame. There is no merit in weightless feet pounding the earth at breathless speed, Unless the eyes of a million cities are gazing on them in wonder. In team sports the spirit is less ego-centred It has the opportunity to flaunt itself to team members ‘There is no “i” in team’ is a laughable phrase as clearly The team would be nothing without me I carry them, us, our country, the world, ME! Oh sweet victory, let this be my, I mean our, moment Of crowning glory! I’m watching, straining as far as my eyes can see But surely those dots on the screen can’t be real, honestly? What’s real is the man next to me, well his stink Did he really have to enjoy this sport, so inebriated with drink? It’s pointless standing apart during this spectacle of human bravery So I’ll merge with the people I’m crushed with, like family And S-C-R-E-A-M for my team, my county, my heroes – In stadium est laudum. Suzy Rigg I’m a mother, marketer, intuitive and optimist. I think words are magic, as in magical. Poetry excites me because of the human mind’s ability to create personal stories where only words exist. I want to write poems that are both accessible, yet cerebral. Poems to make you think, smile and feel. My poetry blog is here: theyummybone.blogspot.co.uk.

46 ~ what the dickens?


olympia writing

S

o, here I am aged 23. My name is Jesse Owens and I am about to represent my country at the 1936 Summer Olympics. Whoever would believe it? Me, a black kid from America. When I think back to how it all began, it’s incredible really. Running’s been my passion since I was little. I owe everything to my coach at school. Charles Riley encouraged me a lot. Hey, he even let me practise before school so I didn’t lose my after school job at the shoe repair shop. I’m wearing Adidas shoes, the first sponsorship deal for a male African-American athlete. Let’s hope they bring me luck. I so want to take back glory to my country.

Moment of Glory by Amina Hachemi

O

thman meandered down the street, blowing on a gravelly graze across his elbow. His thin, young adolescent face was streaked with grey tracks of sweat. His hand-me-down orange vest hung loosely from his scrawny frame and his blue shorts sat awkwardly above his scratched knees. Both were freshly doused with a coating of dust. Under his arm, he held tightly onto a deformed football, the fabric scratched and peeling. Dusk was setting in rapidly, but Othman was in no hurry to get home. He knew the crazy men – drunks and drug addicts – wouldn’t cause him any trouble while there were still people around. He could picture his family at home: his mother would be halfway through preparing dinner – some sort of pulse-based mash with a carrot or two, perhaps – in the cupboard kitchen, her face red and covered in beads of sweat, and her frizzy hair defying the grip of the scarf twisted tightly round it. His three elder sisters would be sweeping or scrubbing clothes in the large plastic basin that doubled as a bath, while his two younger brothers chased each other round the living room, which was also the children’s bedroom, arguing over the portable gaming console their father had bought them. Othman had played with it a couple of times, but it usually ended in a scramble with one or more of his brothers followed by their mother

I’m looking round the stadium. It’s a wonderful sight. All those pale faces. What must they think of me? Now, I’m ready. My heart’s pounding. I’m about to run as if my life depends on it. Here’s hoping. I’m Julie Gibbons. I live in Brighton. I have enjoyed writing on and off for many years. I’ve had a ‘True Confession’ story published and a ‘rant’ and a ‘top tip’. A writing class I attend is very enjoyable. The tutor is most encouraging. We aspire to be popular authors.

entering brandishing a wooden spoon. Anyway, the batteries had almost run out and they could only see the screen if they held one hand above it to block out the light. His two elder brothers would still be at work at the port and wouldn’t be back until late – even later than their father, who rarely ate dinner with them these days. A commotion suddenly caught Othman’s attention; there were loud shouts erupting from the café across the road. His interest piqued, he crossed the road to take a better look. Every face in the café was directed at a small television screen in the corner where a football match was being broadcast. Barcelona was playing and had just been awarded a penalty shot! Like all his friends, Othman’s favourite team was Barcelona and they always spent at least ten minutes at the beginning of each game arguing over who would play as Messi. They had all chalked his club number 10 on the back of their vests, anyway. Othman stared through the smoke-filled interior at the small screen as Messi walked up to take the shot, the football under his arm; Othman unconsciously tightened his grip on his own ball. The café fell silent; no one could breathe. Slowly, he placed the ball on the floor and held it there for a moment before stepping back several paces. His heart pounded like the pupils’ chaotic table drumming in maths class while the teacher watched, helpless. He stood completely still, assessing his position, the goal, and the goalkeeper; formulating a plan. Then, with the eyes of the world on him, he vaulted

the olympia edition ~ 47


olympia writing towards the ball, his feet almost not touching the ground. In one swift, graceful movement, his foot made contact with the ball and powered it off the ground. Innumerable pairs of eyes followed as it sped through the heavy, tense air – the bearer of a thousand dreams. He stood firm, his gaze fixated on the spiralling orb careering towards the goal. A horrified gasp caught in his throat as it appeared to be heading for the crossbar and, for an excruciating moment, seemed to hover in mid-air – hesitant. Then, with an abrupt twist, it slid past the goalkeeper’s outstretched hand and charged into the back of the net. Silence, then a colossal roar. The crowd and café customers simultaneously leapt from their seats, the ground trembled and he basked in their cheers. He spread his arms wide and ran in circles, his head held high and his heart soaring. He laughed aloud, jubilation filling every pore; what a moment! All of a sudden, his sandal caught on an uneven pavement stone. He lost balance and crashed into the concrete, scraping

his other elbow. The cheering faded as the café patrons returned to their seats, and Othman sat dazed at the side of the road, rubbing his throbbing elbow. His shorts had ripped; his mother would not be happy. As he pulled himself up, he realised something was missing. He peered around him wildly, his injury suddenly forgotten. Where was it? It can’t have gone far. He wouldn’t leave without it! He squinted to see through the darkness with little aid from the dim streetlights. Then he spotted it, impaled on a metal fence and hanging limp and deflated, like his dreams.

Mascot

best work on it. It‘ll blow your mind,’ Mike had said, Act cool. ‘Who…?’ ‘Leprechauns,’ squeaked the one in green. ‘I beg your pardon,’ a little man in a brown checked cap interrupted. ‘As far as I can see the only leprechaun in present company is you.’ ‘But we have recognition. Make it easy for the poor feller. Who’s heard of Brownies?’ ‘Oh they’ve heard of us, don’t you worry.’ Alex lay back. ‘I’m actually hallucinating bickering,’ he thought. At least they were over by the fireplace. He looked again. God no, one was advancing over the shag-pile. Dead-white, one alien eye. It was cart-wheeling towards the sofa. Keep calm, Alex, he said to himself. Tripping can’t hurt you, remember. The walls don’t really cave in or the wallpaper eat you up. The little white face popped up in front of him, tiny hands clinging to the braid on the edge of the sofa. Alex looked at it, ‘Christ. Its head comes to a point.’ A voice from down below. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ Pointy-head turned round. ‘Spokesperson.’

by Pat Phillips

O

rth-a, Orth-a. The chant was getting louder. Alex woke up on the sofa, freezing, foetal, hands tucked between his thighs for warmth. The heating had gone off, a grey light from outside. He was perishing. Orth-a, Orth-a. What was that bloody noise? He tried to get up, fell back reeling. God, his head might fall off. How much had he had to drink? He tried to stay still to keep his head on but it was too cold. Wasn’t this supposed to be Spring? He leaned over the edge of the sofa. His jacket was on the floor. He dragged it over him. He’d better go to bed, try to get a couple of hours. The squeaky chorus started up again. Orth-a, Orth-a. He peered blearily at the fireplace. Seven little figures were sitting on the edge of the hearth, tiny legs dangling. He focussed and they cheered and started clapping. Shit! He pulled his coat over his head again then peered out with one eye over the collar. They were still there. Mescaline. ‘Try this, mate. Diego Rivera did his

48 ~ what the dickens?

Amina Hachemi holds a BA from ParisSorbonne University and an MA in Translation, Writing and Cultural Difference from the University of Warwick. A passionate linguist, she enjoys exploring cultural experiences and perspectives through her writing and translation. ahachemi.weebly.com – Twitter: @ahach


olympia writing ‘Who appointed you, ye cheeky ….’ ‘Oh let ’im do it,’ said the Brownie. Pointy crept along the braid to Alex, looking up at him, the alien eye now blue like a calendar kitten’s. ‘Please sir,’ it said in a beseeching voice. ‘What?’ Was it more or less nuts to converse with your own delusions? ‘We need to ask you a favour.’ ‘Go on, go on.’ A chorus of excitable voices from below encouraged. ‘Ask him. Orth-a, Orth-a. ‘Who’s Arthur? Got the wrong bloke here, lads. I’m Alex.’ ‘No, you don’t understand,’ said Pointy. ‘We want you to…’ ‘Useless!’ shouted the Leprechaun. ‘I should be spokesman. I’ve kissed the blarneystone…’ His voice was suddenly muffled as if a number of people had sat on him. ‘Auth-or. Not Arthur,’ Pointy said. ‘What?’ ‘Author. Please sir, we’d like you to write us into being.’ Alex nearly choked. ‘I know what this is,’ he said, ‘I’m hallucinating Pirandello,’ he said. ‘Don’t tell me, Six Leprechauns in search of an Author.’ ‘Exactly!’ triumphed Pointy. ‘Except Seven and only one Leprechaun.’ He peered back down. ‘See I told you he’d get it!’ ‘You’ll get it, when I get hold of you,’ said the Leprechaun. ‘I should be spokesman, me… not you, you reject.’ ‘Prototype!’ squeaked Pointy, ‘I’m a prototype.’ ‘Prototype for what?’ said Alex. From near his toes, he felt a movement. The Leprechaun had struggled up onto the arm of the sofa. His top-hat was skew-whiff and his jacket hanging off. Alex drew his legs up. ‘Don’t mind me,’ the leprechaun said. ‘He, to use the term loosely, was a prototype for Mascot 2012. Rejected, REJECTED,’ he shouted, ‘by Health and Safety. Head too pointed by far. BY FAR.’ ‘I’m a prototype. I’m trained and everything,’ burst out Pointy. ‘Watch!’ he did a triple somersault and then swallow-dived into the rug. He lay stunned for a minute. ‘Think that was the one for the water,’ he said. ‘Not good enough for the mascot though were ye? They went for the bottle-opener model.’ Leprechaun lifted the cravat delicately over his

nose. ‘Bejabers, those are cheesy ol’ feet there, Mr. Alex.’ Pointy was back up. ‘I just need someone,’ his one eye staring at Alex, ‘to write me into being.’ ‘Just one small problem,’ said Alex. ‘Not Author, I’m afraid. Ac-tor.’ There was whispering and muttering. Pointy hung from the braid by one finger to confer below. Surely they’d go in a minute, thought Alex. Nearly daylight. How long does this stuff last? In the pub Mike cracked out laughing, pointing. ‘The mescaline. He’s had a mescaline experience.’ Nat came over, wiping a glass, trying not to laugh. ‘Yeah? How was it?’ ‘Fucking awful if you must know. Seven little men appeared on the fireplace. Or six little men and an Olympic mascot, failed.’ ‘You haven’t got a fireplace.’ ‘I’m dog-sitting at my parents’ place.’ Shit, the dog. When did he last see the dog? Between splutters Mike said they’d just been winding up the pub dickhead that he was drinking mescaline when Alex rolled in, nine pints up from the rowing club do, demanding mescaline as well. ‘So what the fuck was it?’ Nat grinned, ‘Mum’s elderberry Schnapps.’ ‘Don’t forget the ink,’ said Mike. ‘Oh yeah. And a bit of printing ink. Magenta. Only a tiny bit.’ ‘Oh, thanks very much.’ Alex glowered and took his pint over to the table by the window. After a few minutes Mike joined him. ‘Oh, come on, mate. It was only a laugh. And you did have your own personal mescaline trip.’ He cracked out laughing again. ‘Seven little men!’ Alex waited till he shut up. ‘They’re still here.’ From his pocket Pointy peeped out, nodding his agreement. Two hours and a few Marsdens later, Alex sat with his head in his hands while Mike and Nat closed the bar for the afternoon. The little men, bored and sneaking the odd sip of beer were squabbling and fighting on the table and on the shiny leatherette seat. Every so often Pointy would swoop down, abseiling and trapezing to knock Leprechaun’s hat off then shin back up

the olympia edition ~ 49


olympia writing Alex’s sleeve out of reach. Mike looked at him. ‘Still there?’ Alex nodded. ‘Maybe it was the ink,’ whispered Nat. ‘Or Perhaps it’s like ghosts. Ask ‘em what they want then they might go away.’ ‘They want me to write them into being. But I’ve told them I’m an actor, I don’t do writing.’ Mike and Nat looked at each other. ‘Thought you were a Burger King burger flipper,’ said Mike. ‘Have you told them that?’ ‘No, it’s like that play I was in at the King’s Head. Pirandello, Six Characters in Search of an Author.’ The one that closed in search of an audience?’ It was the King’s Head, for fuck’s sake. The only sell-out there was for Busty Bailey, the gravity defying stripper.’ ‘Well what did they do in the play?’ Alex stood up. Five little men fell off onto the floor. ‘Oy!’ That’s it, thanks mate. I’ll go and fucking write them into being and push them off a cliff.’ Mike called after his retreating back, ‘I know a good Helpline…’ Nat said, ‘Maybe we should have gone to see the play? I didn’t know about the cliff bit.’ Alex lay on the sofa. The dog wouldn’t come in. It just lay in the garden growling. They were still there; he could hear them whispering and scuffling through the fallen petals of the geranium drooping over the side of the fireplace. He got up to water the plants. Only three jobs for a housesitter – don’t traumatise the dog, water the plants and prevent invasions by random leprechauns, Failed on all counts. The water spilled over the soil, splattering the tiles. There were little yelps and curses as the men came jumping out like baby frogs disturbed in a grass mound. ‘OK,’ said Alex. They huddled together and looked up at him, Pointy sleepily popping his head out of his shirt breast pocket. ‘OK what?’ said Leprechaun, finally. ‘OK, I’ll write you.’ Cries of glee. ‘But in a short story.’ Mutters. ‘So what does that mean exactly?’ said Pointy. ‘It means you can’t have too many characters.’

50 ~ what the dickens?

‘Well that seems obvious’, said the Leprechaun. ‘Clearly the most charismatic among us…’ Alex looked at him. ‘Aren’t you supposed to be Irish? What’s with the Laurence Olivier accent?’ There was a wail from the group, ‘But we’ll die…’ Pointy said, ‘But you’ll write me, won’t you Alex?’ He looked down at the one eye, batting its eyelashes. ‘No flirting,’ he said. ‘I am messed up enough without flirtations from non-gendered imaginary Olympic mascots. And the rest of you, you can be the crowd, chorus, onlooker, whatever.’ ‘But who..?’ ‘No discussion. I decide who’s in, who’s out, who’s crowd. Comprende?’ Mutinous mutterings then an apparently resigned, ‘Yes sir, yes Alex’. He looked down to see Pointy’s one eye filling with tears which glittered on the end of its lashes. ‘Can I just have a name?’ it whispered. ‘Let the man write!’ said the Leprechaun. One hour after reading the story the deputation gathered. A little bespectacled figure was pushed forward. Alex looked at them, disbelieving. ‘Is this a womble? I thought they were bigger.’ Leprechaun gasped. ‘It is surely not a womble. This gentleman is our lawyer, reporting on our demands. And he is actually a Borrower whose heart is broken for sure.’ Looks like a womble to me. Why the broken heart?’ ‘First draft borrower, written out in the second draft. Or was it the third? Anyway he’s been pining for Arrietty ever since.’ Alex perked up. It was possible to write them out in the second draft? He almost smiled. ‘What are these demands then?’ Mike poured him a pint. ‘How’s it going?’ ‘Terrible. I got nothing but complaints. Leprechaun’s complaining about being a generic shamrocky stereotype; the mascot’s complaining that Mascot isn’t a proper name; there’s too much stuff about Alex and Alex’s friends, apparently. Oh, and some of them want women.’ Nat said, ‘How exciting. It would be like “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”.’ They ooked at him. ‘You know, like “The Rape


olympia writing of the Sabine Women”. The avalanche comes and at the end of the winter they’ve had a baby.’ Mike shook his head, ‘Worrying.’ Alex groaned. ‘Babies!’ It’s fucking “Frankenstein”, not Pirandello.’ I’m creating a monster.’ ‘You’re creating a nice long stay in a Mental Health Institute,’ said Mike, turning back to the bar, turning the sound up on the TV. ‘Get help.’ Nat was humming a show tune, holding a teatowel like a Fred Astaire scarf. ‘Both of you.’ The TV announcement came on: ‘All airports are on red alert as the first athletes arrive into Britain. Security forces at all borders are prepared to use force…’ Eureka! On the market the next day, Alex prowled the bag stalls. He bought a check holdall from the indoor market and then an identical one from an outside stall. In the afternoon he gathered the little men and said they were going speed-dating but they had to hide until they got there. There was much excitement and cleaning up. Alex went to his mum’s computer and tapped out a conclusion to his story. He put a soft towel inside one of the bags with a little mirror to keep them preening. Under the towel he put an old mobile phone and some bits of an old Playstation. In the other bag he put a couple of tee-shirts and a towel. He gathered Leprechaun and the others together. ‘Right. This is a big adventure. We’re going on a train and I need to keep you all together, so hop in the bag.’ ‘Not me though’, said Pointy. ‘Especially you.’ Pointy looked back at him sadly as he clambered into the bag.

When they were all in, Alex zipped up the bag and then slipped it inside the other one. Muffled voices were arguing. ‘What’s this sharp thing?’ ‘It’s dark’ ‘Oy’. Alex boarded the train at Piccadilly and got off at the airport. He went into Arrivals in Terminal 2 and stood conspicuously near the CCTV cameras. He went into the toilet and carefully took the inner bag out of the outer one, stuffing it behind the loo. The little men muttered and chunnered. ‘What’s happening? Are we there yet?’ ‘Mine’ll be better looking than yours. Oy, you’re standing on my foot.’ When he came out he hoisted the other bag onto his shoulder. He ambled out with a party who were meeting a Dutch deputation. As he left the recurrent security announcement was on the Speaker. ‘Because of increased Security ….Please do not leave baggage unattended Any suspicious baggage will be destroyed…’ On the train home, Alex had a moment of guilt then felt his heart lift. In his conclusion all the little men in the bag were blown up by airport security. Free. The train was crowded. He stood up for some old granny. He leaned against the window, The world was light again. As he got off he felt something stirring in his breast pocket. He undid thebutton. The clear blue eye was staring up at him, little hands clasped together. Alex was dumb. He’d only said ‘the little men,’ and not the fucking Mascot. ‘Can I have a name now? I thought maybe something beautiful. Like Olympia.’ Alex looked down at him. ‘Shut up. And don’t do the eyelash thing’. He buttoned down his pocket again and turned into the pub.

I’m currently doing the MA Writing Course at Sheffield Hallam working on Short Story. I’m a a freelance English Lecturer and Oral Historian. I have an English Degree and a PhD in Oral History. I live in Greater Manchester.

the olympia edition ~ 51


olympia writing

Olympia’s Great Escape by Caroline Auckland

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lympia had risked everything. She had changed her identity and made a run for it. Shut up in a tiny flat with no love, by an open window she had seized her chance. She was only going round and round in circles, on the daily treadmill. Actually it was the night shift, she was a long distance runner and preferred to practise in the dark. Her coach was a boy-child who ignored her most of the time. Calling her Olympia after a gun in a PlayStation game, she was a novelty that for her boy-child had quickly worn off. She felt old and tired, her coat white and her albino eyes red, she was not sure how much energy she had left. She had run all night searching for love and in her search for attention she had exhausted her boy-child with her marathon run as he slept in the same room. In the morning his mother, tired from the broken night’s sleep left the cage door hinged open. She could not deliberately remove her son’s pet but she could help her on her journey. With sleep she could tend her son’s tears knowing that as with computer games they would only be fleeting moments of intense feeling that would quickly be diverted into a new obsession on the screen. Olympia was snoozing on the newspaper, the sports section, after a breakfast of dried flakes masquerading as hamster food. Filled with artificial supplements the only part of her body they fuelled were her dreams. She twitched with the images of apple segments and round fat peanuts and great fields of white cotton wool. The door banged, like a starting gun, waking Olympia as the boy-child left for school. She sniffed the air. Base notes of unwashed body, dirty clothes,dried skin flakes it was a locker room odour. She longed for the great outdoors, with top notes of fresh air, the wide open spaces and the opportunity to run.

52 ~ what the dickens?

She clambered out of the cage, scaling the bars like a climbing wall. She tottered along the windowsill, limbering up as she gazed out of the window onto the outside world. The sash was open a fraction, she could just push her body through and under the frame, like a limbo dancer. She teetered on the edge


olympia writing and then freefalled onto the grass, not her preferred surface, but at least it did not record her tracks. She made for the brick wall , like a gymnast she balanced along the edge, up and down she pranced, performing tricks and posing with perfect balance. But she had nowhere to go. The drop was too deep, there was no safety net, no slide. She sat and waited and listened to the noise of the huge mechanical engines that flashed past, these sounded even louder than the PlayStation games of her boy-child. She felt dizzy and disorientated. Then whoosh, she was scooped up into the air and like teleportation in a game a new life began. Victoria, on her way back from work in London had been climbing the hill towards home. She noticed the small white object dashing up and down the brick wall and recognised it for what it was an escaped hamster. She had picked it up, surprised that it had not been run-over by a car or caught by a passing dog. She went door to door, no-one claimed the animal, she put posters up on lampposts but the telephone number was never called. The temporary home in the Topshop shoe box became a new palace in a top of the range Hamster cage. She had a sex change and took a new name; her new owner, her Queen Victoria, named her Albert, and so it came to pass that Victoria and Albert lived on the top floor of a Victorian house. In comparison with her previous prison, this new cage was a stadium. She was loved and not confined to her base. When Victoria came home from work, she would lift Albert out of the cage and place the hamster on the bed. Albert could run around the bed like a circular track. Knowing her limitations as a runner rather than a high jumper on reaching the edge of the bed she flattened herself and gazed at the drop onto the floor. She became a long-distance runner, no longer confined to her cage. She sped along Victorian corridors and dark passages in a fabulous twentieth-century ball, loving every moment; the adrenalin was flowing, the lactic acid forming. She had an admiring audience, an online fan club with a Facebook account where Victoria’s friends would chant ‘Albert, Albert! Ahh Albert’ at her antics. As with all celebrities she had her own stalkers, catty rather than bitchy. They would try to enter her sphere, but luckily for Albert her sphere was a plastic bubble that was impenetrable. Cat’s eyes, even shining in the dark could not catch her as she ran faster and faster. She had room to be herself. She no longer slept on newspaper like a down and out; she snuggled in a cocoon of white cotton wool, a transgender hamster, Olympia by night and Albert by day. She was fed on fresh apple slices and peanuts shaped like rugby balls. She did not suffer from nightmares as hamsters are nocturnal animals, they are awake at night and sleep in the day so really she only had daydreams and these are much kinder.

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flash fiction newsflash Hamsters do not live long in the scheme of things, not even as long as a cats nine lives. As time passed she began to look old and ill, but she was happy. She had found that it wasn’t a celebrity world she lived in. The beautiful and the young were not the ones who were celebrated in this Victorian house run by her new Queen. It was the ones with charisma and personality. Old age was valued. So even though her hair was receding and falling out and others may have felt the need to help her onto the stairway to heaven and have her put to sleep. She was still having fun by being able to climb a real one like a podium in daylight and enjoy the view. Albert Olympia was prized amongst pets and Victoria would mourn her Albert when her time was over just as another Victoria in history had mourned her Albert.In the meantime she was held in the palm of her Queen’s hands like a loving cup. Caroline Auckland, a graduate in Communication Studies has worked as a buyer for Marks and Spencer in publishing. Caroline is currently working on a collection of photographically illustrated short stories for adults and young people and also her first novel. She also writes an online blog: newtonhouseltd.blogspot.co.uk.

54 ~-what the olympia the dickens? edition

Photograph by Tony Ottridge


the literary market

The Literary Market

In association with What the Dickens? Writing & Literary Gifts The Literary Market is a place where you can explore, connect and shop with artists both in the UK and Worldwide who hand make all things literary. A huge reason for me doing what I do is because I like to share and collaborate with others. I want to create out of all my projects an inspired literary community that work together to help each other move forward creatively.

the olympia edition ~ 55


memories of olympia

Memories of Olympia... Lovegod I

writhed as a mass. They started throwing water from the stage, our skinny arms reaching out from our tie-dye t-shirts, trying to grab the little cups. Then the fainting started. Girls were getting pulled from the front by burly bouncers, lifted above people’s heads like they were crowd surfing. Clothing was grabbed, advantages were taken; the dope-smoking boys realised why they were there – to press up against us in the crush and confusion and cop a feel. But we had elbows. By the time it was over, we were drenched in sweat and water; but we felt a collective high that still gives me goosebumps when I hear one of their songs on the radio 24 years later. God, I feel old.

went to a Soup Dragons gig in the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh, I must’ve been 14 or 15. The band had broken onto the scene with their anthem ‘I’m Free’ (which, when I write it down, makes me think of John Inman…) and then we all bought the album, which I’m sure everyone has forgotten except for hardcore Soup Dragon’s fans (incidentally, who couldn’t love a band who named themselves after a character from the Clangers?!) The titular track was ‘Lovegod’ and it only had about eight lines, repeated over and over in psychedelic alternative 80s fashion… the chorus was: ‘And it’s you, who is the lovegod, and it’s you, who makes me die.’ Susi Holliday Somehow this was just as frenzy-whipping as ‘I’m Free’ (which I only recently discovered was a Rolling Stones cover…), which was reflected at the Susi Holliday is the author of a sheaf of gig – full of young teenage girls and a few straggling, short stories and is currently creating a crime dope-smoking boys. It’s not a big venue, and it novel. Her world domination via writing is wasn’t long before everyone was surging towards limited only by time, motivational slippage the stage, the band milking their five minutes of and the perils of procrastination. She pins fame for all their worth. I don’t know how hot the her ideas onto frames like dead butterflies. place was, but the sweat was pouring off us as we Does not bite.

A

dare question her. Since she burst onto the music scene in the 80s (Kylie is currently celebrating her 25th year in the business with a year of special events dubbed “K25”) she has proven, perhaps more than anyone else of her stature that triumph can overcome all adversity. Who would have thought that the bubble-permed car mechanic from “Neighbours” would still be here nearly 3 decades later, and even more shockingly to have had a respected career under her belt including The album’s title track has Kylie playing the role estimated record sales of over 60 million units? of a fearless warrior type deity, opening with the Throughout this period she has proven herself lyrics “I’m fierce and I’m feeling mighty, I’m a as an accomplished live singer and songwriter, a golden girl I’m an Aphrodite. Alright?”. She sings far cry from the “novelty act” she was viewed as the song with such passion that no-one would in the infancy of her career. Her accolades have phrodite was the Greek goddess of “love, beauty and procreation”. It was also the name of my all-time ultimate goddess Kylie Minogue’s last album and subsequent stage tour. So what better link is there between the Olympia of yore and a modern-day idol? I would argue that no other popular artist embodies all of the ethereal qualities that a goddess demands and her Aphrodite era tied in with this theme perfectly.

56 ~ what the dickens?


memories of olympia included Grammys, Brits, honorary doctorates and even an OBE. Without even mentioning her much publicised battle with breast cancer Kylie could be seen as someone who has fought tooth and nail to get where she is, but without ever compromising herself as a person (is there anyone who would dare admitting to disliking her?). She has survived lost record contracts, failed romances and intense media scrutiny, but has seen every negative as a positive and used it as a building block to come back from each

setback brighter and more shimmery than before. I think it is Kylie’s determination and positive attitude that has made her my ultimate goddess since childhood. It is no mistake that “Kylie” is Aboriginal for “boomerang”, and to quote her from her own cannon of lyrics “like a pure white diamond I shine on and on and on and on”. Jasmin Shorter @ladyjazmana

T

he ancients knew what they were talking This was propaganda of the highest order, which allowed the king to become one of the most about when it came to their deities. powerful absolute monarchs who ever lived. Louis Not for them the faceless piety of modern religions, was prolific in his commissioning of paintings and not when you can have philandering gods and allegories. He even went so far as to have ballets vengeful goddesses. Hateful Hera, thundering written in which he would take a starring role. Thor, the blazing luminosity of Apollo, the rich So here’s to the Greeks and the Romans, and imagery is endless. here’s to their gods, who contributed, in their own The legacy of the Greco-Roman religions is vast, special way, to the creation of one of the greatest from poetry to tales of legend, but what I’m men ever to have walked the earth. personally grateful for is the way their tales of heroism and derring-do were adopted by royalty Andrew Gonsalves as a way of displaying their own virtues. Arguably the best example of the use of the ancient religions as a testament to your own personal glory comes from possibly the mot magnificent monarch to have ever worn a crown, Louis XIV, the Sun King. Aligning himself, as he did, with the sun god Apollo, to the point where one became almost synonymous with the other, led Louis to commission an incessant amount of art depicting him as a deity, the result of which was that he was seen by contemporaries, and by posterity, as a demi-god.

Andrew Gonsalves is a wannabe journalist. He gave it all up to follow his dreams a little while ago, and is getting there, slowly. He likes nothing better than losing himself in a book, preferably ones about long-dead royalty. He also likes cake, preferably cheesecake, but any cake will be considered. His ramblings can be found on Twitter, @ALGonsalves.

Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything. Plato the olympia edition ~ 57


help! the dog ate my manuscript!

Help! The dog ate my manuscript! Share your writing problems with Gail Aldwin

How do you move from autobiography into fiction? Thinking about your life can provide a rich vein of material and the accompanying emotions may feed a desire to record experiences. People write autobiographies for a variety of reasons, including the need to understand life choices and to create a legacy for family and friends. Autobiographies rely on the author telling the truth and it can therefore be restrictive. Different interpretations of the truth may cause difficulties when writing about the actions and motivations of others. If you are seeking to publish an autobiography, it is worth taking advice to avoid any possible disputes. Some people use autobiographies as a way to build their skills and confidence as writers and then venture into fiction because of the greater freedom it offers.

person (the he or she in fiction) provides distance and creates new perspectives. It’s good advice to write what you know but you will need to develop creative flair to avoid being prosaic. If you base your fictional characters on real people, disguise them carefully. Choose a name, profession, location etc that bears no connection with the real person. You can draw upon personal traits, mannerism and style of speech to inform dialogue but characters must look different. Change the height, hair style and complexion of your fictional characters so that there is no resemblance. It is worth investing time in recording the back story for each of your characters. Drawing from personal experience is a good first Make notes relating to education, childhood, family step in moving from autobiography into fiction. background, career path etc so that the characters Stories from life don’t need to follow the sequence assume a wholly fictional identity. Continue to of events as they happened – fiction allows you think about your audience while you write and this to discover alternative paths and outcomes. For will help to shape the story. the story arc to be effective, from the opening pages to the ending, you may need to re-order the The writing journey into fiction can be seen action and re-cast scenes to make them consistent through the work of Dame Beryl Bainbridge. within the narrative. This process of re-imagining Her early books drew from real-life events events will enable you to develop your fictional and her 1974 novel The Bottle Factory Outing writing skills and expand your writing experience. describes the time when she worked on a bottleIt is worth being clear about the theme of your labelling line. The murder in the book is linked work, that it has a spine which holds together all to the occasion when her mother-in-law fired a the different elements of the story. As the saying shotgun, leaving a hole in the wall of the author’s goes, life is stranger than fiction, so that things home that remained there for many years. When that have actually happened may not be plausible Dame Beryl had exhausted material from her life on the page. You’ll need to work through any experiences, around 1990, she began to focus her tensions and make adjustments accordingly. work on historical events including the Titanic and the Crimean War and by the end of her career The shift from using the first person (the I in an she’d written 18 novels. autobiography) to using, for example, the third Gail Aldwin’s blog can be found at: gailaldwin.wordpress.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @gailaldwin.

Got a question for Gail? Write to her via letters@wtd-magazine.com

58 ~ what the dickens?


the old curiosity shop

The Old Curiosity Shop Weird and Wonderful Writerly Witterings, Tips, Tasks And Treats Sandy East Grafting and Crafting Love is the answer to everything. It’s the only reason to do anything. If you don’t write stories you love, you’ll never make it. If you don’t write stories that other people love, you’ll never make it. – Ray Bradbury

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ay’s bang on it. Again. Love is the answer. However before we speak of love, let us speak of Olympia... What words come to mind when you think of this? I made a list and it went something like this: goddesses, gods, myths, battles, Olympics, London, lycra, mounting, lunging, grunting, sweaty areas, medals, small-super-skimpy shorts, thrusting... and after a few other words of a bodily-fluidly-physically-challenging-nature and a little wincing, I ended up with CHAMPIONS. Champions is a GREAT word although it seems terribly old-fashioned these days. This could just be me and my occasional pining for the TV RetroGold that was “We Are The Champions!” and always wanting to be one of those over-sugaredgobby-gawky kids who jumped in the pool at the end of the programme, or my love for Roald Dahl’s Danny, the Champion of the World and Danny rising against the odds... Who doesn’t love it when the underdog triumphs in the end? And then I thought, how d’you get to be champion at anything at all in this life? My mind hurtled ideas like javelins in every possible direction until I reached the point where I had to lie down, stick ear plugs in and and slap an eye-mask on to shut out all the noise, and as I started to drift off, the word LOVE swam into my mind... When we love what we’re doing, or we do something because of love, we often succeed, don’t we? I thought about a tweet from @storyscavenger on Twitter recently: ‘I love my job’ and I thought, she does and she’s great at it. She’s busier than ever, always pushing herself, and that’s because she’s doing what she loves. I then thought about another friend who’s an actor/producer talking about a project that had

been challenging him and how we reached the end of the conversation with him saying, ‘It’s a driver. I have to do it’ and he IS doing it, and that ‘driver’, of course, is love. Suddenly I had a whole cabinet of very shiny, super-buffed trophy-examples. What makes you a champion at anything is LOVE. Hence Mr Bradbury’s wise words above, which I believe apply to any kind of story and not just the written... And so The Old Curiosity Shop in this edition is all about CHAMPIONS. Do what you love, trust in it, and do it well, and see what comes... Simply that. Ladies, gentlemen, artists, writers, readers, dancers, runners, dreamers and searchers, enjoy the tasks first of all, and then devour an exciting collection of Curious interviews with some top champions from the worlds of comedy, theatre, radio, TV, film, and music. Read, chuckle, nod a lot, admire, flex a body part, loosen your collar, sigh, fan yourself, be cool and then just allow yourself to swoon anyway. Because you will after you meet these Champions of Graft and Craft. Bronwen Carr, Freddie Stevenson, Samuel Barnett and McNeil and Pamphilon are five very different people using their gifts, working hard, doing it their way and loving what they do. I might just love them all a teeny-weeny-tiny bit for their talent, dedication, honesty, loveliness, and most of all for sharing with all of us. Ok, I do love them. A lot. And so will you. Lap ‘em up. But before you get to that bit, read, read, read, and do this bit first:

TASK ONE: MUSIC-MOTIVATORCHAMPION-CREATOR SOUNDTRACK.

Create a champion-themed playlist to inspire and create a piece of writing/art/performance/ film or to simply motivate you while you work. Make it chest-thumpingly-ball-bulginglyboob-jiggingly-electronically-bouffanted-hairraisingly-anthemically BRILLIANT and nothing less, y’hear? Good. Here’s a small possible playlist just to give you a few ideas: Get off to a galloping, gyrating, gusto-filled

the olympia edition ~ 59


the old curiosity shop start with I Need A Hero! – oh Bonnie, love, where HAVE all the good men gone? – followed by a rousing We Are The Champions Of The World – we so are the champions! – and then maybe The Winner Takes It All – apply blue eye shadow, and gaze into the disco-shimmer-lights for this brief reflective moment – and end with a stomping Strong Enough by Cher for the encore? I’m not cool. So what? YOU are. Get creating your musicmotivator-champion-creator-soundtrack NOW.

of Your Life. Next, make a huge beautiful list of all that you love, select five random love-nuggets and grow something from there...

TASK TWO: UNDERDOGS ARE GO!

TASK SEVEN: YOU’RE SIMPLY THE BEST!

Write down the word CHAMPION and then all the words that you consider to be the very opposite of champion and create a sculpture/ story/poem/script/painting/song about the unlikeliest champion in the world...

TASK SIX: I LOVE TO LAUGH HAHAHAHA!

Fill yourself up with comedy. Laugh hard. Laugh loud. Wheeze. Guffaw. Cry. Chuckle. Gasp. Squee-wee. Laugh-fart. Oh hush, we’ve all done it. Now write something FUNNY. A sketch, a ditty, a haiku. Tickle yourself.

Remember that time you were a champion? Remember when you rescued that puppy? Remember when you came up with that brilliant idea that day at work and your boss practically snogged your face off with gratitude for saving his lazy bum? Remember that time you really nearly TASK THREE: WE COULD BE HEROES... could have wet yourself because you needed to pee for so long and it was raining hard and the JUST FOR ONE DAY. Thank you and spank you for your songs, bus went over 57 bumps in the road but you didn’t cheekbones, and glitter, Mr Bowie. And for spill a single drop and your fat pants and dignity were saved? CELEBRATE YOUR CHAMPIONLabyrinth too. So. Who’s your hero? Why? Make yourself YOUR NESS THROUGH ART. hero for one day. Go through their drawers. Wear their clothes. Sleep in their bed. Be an artist, dancer, TASK EIGHT: SET YOURSELF A architect, designer, politician... Be whoever you CREATIVE CHALLENGE admire and create their story for you. 3,000 words of prose a week; a portrait in a fortnight; a comedy sketch a day; a flash each TASK FOUR: OLYMPIAN-WIMPIANS. morning; a novella in a month; a mural over the Gather images of an Olympian nature and make summer; an album in a year... Do it. Sweat. Grind. these your starting block. Pick out a character Work it. Win. from one of the images and give them a challenge. Zeus feels puny, delicate and in need of quiet TASK NINE: CURIOUS INTERVIEWS. time... A top athlete can’t be arsed to sprint... Read ‘em. Take the points that hit you hardest. Apollo’s got a case of S.A.D. Let them triumph Use them. Build on them. Make something. You over adversity! Or not... can do it. You are a champion too, dude.

TASK FIVE: LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.

Surround yourself with The Good Stuff. Watch Brief Encounter, The Way We Were, and Beauty and the Beast by candlelight; dance until you’re dizzy; read about Aphrodite; make things that you love with love and give them to people you love; listen to those songs that make your heart go warm and squashy and fizzy and wibbilywobbily; remember a Pop Star crush and how it made you feel; snuggle up with love whether it be a fleecy blanket, Uncle Bulgaria the hot water bottle Womble or a Hot Piece of Ass/The Love

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Finally, please, please, please send in whatever you create. Tell us about the process too. Be bold, be proud of what you make, and share it in the next issue of What the Dickens? We are shaking our pompoms and star-jumping for you, Maureen/Ken/Lily/ Martin/Ling/Kelly/Madison/Ralph/Lorenzo/Alan/ Jessica/Sue-Ellen/Bob/Al et al. We so are... SEND YOUR STUFF TO: wtd-magazine.com “If something makes me go, ‘Wow!’ I get very excited!”


the old curiosity shop

Curious Interviews eet the bold, brave and brilliant Bronwen Carr. ‘Rampant feminist’, lover of ‘big plays of ideas’ and ‘trailblazers’, and director of stage, radio, and, potentially, the universe... She’s an energetic-enthusiasticwis e-wonder f u l-w hirlwindkind-of-a-person who is very likely to make you go ‘Wow!’ quite a lot. And then some more...

M

Your recent production of Sarah Kane’s Phaedra’s Love was a big success. What was that like and why did you choose that particular play of Kane’s? Because I love it! Sounds strange but it’s such a massive visceral play and it has two cracking roles for women in it which we don’t see enough. Also it was a real challenge to make all that sex and violence work on stage. I got to shake up people’s perception of me which is always fun! It was a bit of a slog but the producer’s an extraordinary woman and she managed to make it happen.

Bron, I think of goddesses – Olympian or otherwise – and I think of you: passionate, creative, determined, strong, dedicated! You’re a woman always dreaming big, and striving forth. What projects are you working on at the moment? I’m directing a new play called Francesco by performance poet Philip Wells at an amazing new festival (The Arts Pilgrimage at Ingoldisthorpe Hall in Norfolk, theartspilgrimage.com) It is a one off performance (for the moment) but we’ve got Diana Quick on board – it is very exciting! I’m also developing an extraordinary script, with actress, musician, artist and all round wondergirl, Sioned Jones, called Stoned. She’s on tour at the moment and when she comes back we are sending it out. Plus Shakespeare with my pupils and hopefully developing a directing course over the summer. There are a few other projects in the pipeline so I’m flat out!

You’ve vast experience in theatre and now you’re moving into radio. Tell us about the differences between directing in theatre and radio and what it is that excites you the most. I’m at the beginning of my journey with radio so I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer that question yet! The main thing I’ve realised is that theatre is visual and radio is aural. That sounds absurd, but they are quite different mindsets. Also, radio is limitless which really makes me jump around the room. In radio if you want a dragon, you just say that there is a dragon, create a great sound effect and have the actors react truthfully and bingo, a dragon! That’s an awful lot of imaginative power! Both genres however live and die by the quality of their writing and the actors involved. So look after your actors, serve the words and things will hopefully all come together beautifully.

What is it that makes your heart soar and your nerves zing when you read a script? Do you have a list of ‘must haves’? Or is it more organic and instinctive for you? It tends to be organic. I actually don’t much like reading scripts cold, I find it much easier to hear actors reading it. So when a script really pings out at me off the page, I know that I’m dealing with something special. It can vary from script to script, from a strong development of character to a really gripping story. I love the unusual. I like big plays of ideas, particularly with a historical bent. If something makes me go ‘Wow! That’s new!’ then I get very excited.

Recently I asked you to send me an ‘Inspirational Women’ list and as I read through my brain did several skips, spins and then had to snooze for a bit. It was big, and culturally and historically diverse. Tell us who sends a whirlwind of pings and beams through you. I have a big soft spot for the early actresses – Mrs Betterton, Nell Gwynne... Real trailblazers! For the same reason the early feminists and democrats of the French Revolution, Mme Roland, Anne de Theroigne Lucile Desmoulins many of whom played the ultimate price. As a rampant feminist myself I draw a lot of inspiration from the women who made the life we lead today possible. On the theatre/film/writing/acting front I would say obviously Aphra Behn (a female playwright AND a spy, what is not to love!) but coming more up to

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the old curiosity shop date, I think Orson Welles was probably the master and whether in radio, theatre or film he is a great benchmark to give yourself. Right now I love the work of people like Moira Buffini, Bryony Lavery, Laura Wade, Anya Reiss in theatre writing and AS Byatt and Hilary Mantel on the literary side. The arts practitioners who float my boat are directors like Marianne Elliott, Jamie Lloyd, Dominic Dromgoole, Sean Holmes, Dominic Cooke, Rupert Gould, Erica Whyman, Roxana Silbert and Orla O’Loughlin who are all doing incredibly innovative and forward looking work. The actors who give me goosebumps are Eve Best, Geraldine James, Simon Russell Beale, Helen McCrory, Alex Jennings, Roger Allam, Harry Lloyd, Lisa Dillon. This country has such a richness of talent. You’ve three people dead or alive that you can work with. Who? Why? Where? When? Go! Orson Welles, Joss Whedon, Aaron Sorkin. I have no idea what it would be, but it would be awesome and I would get to direct! Some amazing mash up featuring politically aware, fast talking, media mogul vampires I expect! Sounds brilliant! ‘The play’s the thing...’ Give us your Top Five plays that just do it for you and tell us why. 1. Measure for Measure – my favourite Shakespeare, incredible language, a complex flawed set of characters and the best speech about death ever written. 2. Arcadia – I saw this years ago with Rufus Sewell, Sam West, Lucy Whybrow and it absolutely changed my life. It was the kind of intelligent theatre I dreamed of creating. Having said that, I’m scared to ever see it again now in case it is disappointing. 3. Uncle Vanya – my favourite Chekov, funny, heartwrenching, incredible. I was also lucky enough to see a near perfect production of this at the Donmar Warehouse. Simon Russell Beale was Vanya, Helen McCrory - Yelena, Emily Watson - Sonya and Mark Strong was Astrov. Sam Mendes directed and it was the closest thing to flawless I have ever seen on any stage. 4. Withnail and I – witty and wondrous! Still funny, a brilliant piece of storytelling, an exquisitely etched study of character and a great preparation for a life in ‘the business.’ My brother and I still occasionally spontaneously quote it at random moments. 5. Knot of the Heart – not a flawless play, but David Eldrige wrote it for my friend Lisa Dillon after she challenged him to create a work in which women are not defined by men and he did just that. It is

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not a happy story, but it is immensely powerful and so far away from the normal tranche of plays that it really made me stop and think. Plus the cast was masterful. Wonder Woman and Wise Woman that you are, please share with our readers some advice as to what they could and should do if they’re thinking of venturing into directing? Make sure that you can not imagine yourself doing anything else. If there is a chance that another job could make you happy then do that. Only go into the arts if you feel you genuinely have no choice because it is going to be a tough ride! Listen to your instincts. Don’t pay too much attention to well meaning advice or spiteful criticism, only take what is useful and discard the rest. Never doubt that you have the right to be in the room. Only ever take work that really interests you, especially if you are doing it for free. Try not to do things for free, but if you do make sure you are doing them for the right reasons. Respect people with skills you don’t have - you need them. Be brave, this business is too crowded for scaredy cats. Don’t believe the hype, ever. Don’t surrender if you know in your gut you are right, but have the good grace to let go when you know that you are wrong. Always treat everyone as you wish you had been/will be treated and you can’t go far wrong. Finally, which goddess if you could be any OTHER goddess would you be and why? Oh I’d like to be Arianrhod, a Celtic Goddess of fertility, rebirth and the weaving of cosmic time and fate. That sounds like fun! Directing the Universe... Bronwen Carr trained as a director at Drama Studio London and the National Theatre Studio Director’s course. Her work as a director has ranged from a new musical about Real Love in Eastbourne to a 150 year old new play about Witches by Joanna Baillie at the Finborough. She is a Celt to her bones, being half Welsh and half Scottish. She now lives in Egham with her actor husband Matthew Bates and adopted cat Lennox. Her favourite book is Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety and she most likes drinking wine and having impassioned discussions with good people. Bronwen Carr Theatre Director @BronCarrB


the old curiosity shop New York, drifters, dreamers, sages, saviours, elements, love, longing... If I were to make a Wordle for The City is King, I might start with these words. What would be better of course is nd here’s hoping if you shared with us what this record means to Freddie Stevenson you. In Wordle form or otherwise. does just that. From I’ve never heard the word ‘Wordle’ before. Good travelling by snow word. Yes, The City is King is a record about New ploughs to carving York, and my experiences moving there. It’s about cities out of marble to all the things you said in your Wordle. One thing straddling the Atlantic, I like about the record, which I tried to show in this is a man making his the cover image of the rat with the crown on his way across the map with head and the woman’s legs and red heels (pure passion and might in order to explore, create and luck we got that shot by the way, she was just share his music. Meet a musician who is very passing by, as was the rat), is the beauty to be much on the move in every possible way. He’s found in the darker aspects of the city. So another got stories to share and a lot to say. Ladies and Wordle could be: ‘Drinking, lust, despair, void, gentleman, prepare to be inspired... ghosts, tears & vomit’. Another could be: ‘Birds as spiritual guides, freedom, joy, friendship, pizza’. Hey Freddie! You’re writing, performing, touring, and sharing your newest record, The So to music generally. Where did it start? Who City is King... Pretty busy times for you, hey? lit the spark? What keeps the fire going and the How’s it all going? ideas growing? Yes, pretty busy! I’m writing this on an iPhone in It started at the beginning. My first music teacher a snow plough driving through Virginia on a two told me I had no musical talent so I made my week tour of the south of the United States so I first recording on my Fisher Price tape recorder. guess that makes me busy. Not busy enough to It was pretty radical for a six year old, just me drive and write at the same time though. Safety screaming all the swear words I knew at the time first. and how much I loathed the teacher. This started me off. I went to Wyoming and listened to people To me, you seem to be a man forever creating sing Hank Williams songs around a campfire. I and forever on the go but in a chilled out, listened to Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Beatles, The steady, eyes-to-the-sky, feet-on-the-ground Band, Schubert and Cole Porter. I played the guitar ‘I know where I’m going but I’m just flowing’ for hours and hours every day. I wrote melodies kinda way. Is that a fair description of you? and I wrote poems but I wasn’t able to make them Well, it’s very complimentary so I’d like to say it’s stick together until I wrote a song called ‘The a fair description! Quite often my feet are in the Occasional Spell’ which is on an album called ‘All sky and my eyes are on the ground. I suppose I My Strange Companions’. I wrote it a long time do have a fairly clear sense of where I’m going before I made that album. It’s the first proper without always having an idea of where I’m going. song I wrote; where the music came from inside I try to not get too distracted by things and follow the words and the words came from inside the the middle way, follow my instincts I guess. If music. I keep going, I don’t know why. I need to my instincts are wrong then I’m wrong about make a living, somehow. I need to write, I know everything and my instincts are often wrong so that much. Music is a mystery to me, I can keep I’m basically wrong about everything but I carry exploring it forever. I love the people I work with. on regardless... There’s nothing else to do. I’m not I’m fascinated by the relationship between words entirely sure if it’s about doing the right or wrong and music. I can’t tell the difference anymore. I thing or anything like that, more about being keep breaking into new levels of awareness with ruthlessly myself. it, I keep going. “Music is a mystery to me, I can keep exploring it forever.”

A

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the old curiosity shop Geography and place are important aspects to the history and style of the music you create and it feels as if travelling and moving to new places are key elements to your songs. Would you agree? Yes. When there are lots of sensory impressions coming in, what comes in must come out. Songwriting is my way of digesting and metabolizing experience. I have moved around a lot but that might not always be the case. I could sit in a garden for a whole year and just write about that garden. I could write about the face of one woman for fifty years. Perhaps the faces of every other woman I’ve ever seen or will see are contained in her face. I’ll always write about the house I grew up in. Or rather, the house I grew up in will be in everything I write. I’m aware of how seemingly still objects are constantly in motion, of how everything moves. For me, writing gives everything meaning. In the most boring thing there is magic. Everything is full of limitless possibilities. Luckily my job requires a fair bit of traveling so hopefully I’ll always be able to do it and be fed by it. Balance in life seems to be important.

too? What are your rules? Absolutes? What wisdom can you share with us? All I know about the writing process is that it’s constant and largely subconscious, like breathing. So sitting down to write becomes a bit like meditation, just being aware of breathing. I find it difficult sitting still for any significant period of time so I’ll do a lot of my writing when I’m walking. If I’m working at my computer I’ll get up every half an hour and walk around the block. Or, if I get frustrated and stuck, as I always do (it’s part of the process), I’ll start again with pen and paper, lying on the floor like a child. Or I’ll take it to the typewriter because the words look different and feel different coming out. Whatever it takes to get myself out of the way and allow the thing to flow. I always carry a notebook. I play around with other forms. Sometimes there’s something I want to describe that won’t immediately fit within the form of a song. A vignette, or a short story or something longer. At least that’s what I’ll start with. It’s not up to me it seems, it’s up to whatever I’m trying to write about. It’s like I’m confronted with an enormous block of marble and I think, ‘I’m going to carve a whole world out of this, with hundreds of different people living hundreds of different stories’, so I set at it and I start becoming interested in a certain city in this world so I carve more detail into that city then I become interested in a certain neighborhood in the city then a certain street then a house then a room then a nine year old girl asleep in the room and I think, ‘What’s her name?’ and her name is Sylvia and I think, ‘What’s she dreaming about?’ and I write a song about her dream. But everything else I’ve already carved out has an influence on Sylvia’s dream, so nothing is ever wasted. There’s so much you can do within the structure of a song, the form is so ancient and natural to our emotional infrastructures. The only absolute I have, which 99% of the time I fall woefully short of, is to strive to remain as aware as possible of what is going on inside and outside of me so that should everything suddenly go dark, I could have a pretty good stab at describing it.

One of the reasons why I wanted to interview you is because of the stories you tell in your songs. You give us lively, wilful, intriguing characters, distinct voices, pain, humour and change... How deliberate is that and how important is the story element to you? I’m always pleasantly surprised when people point out the storytelling aspect of my songs. I think a lot of it happens subconsciously. I rarely sit down with a story to tell in mind, but as the song takes shape, different threads connect and seem to create a distinct world, peopled by characters who interact and have beating hearts and motivations. Perhaps it comes down to something as simple as that when I perform the songs, I have to remember the words! And it helps to have a beginning, middle and end, so I know where I’m going. I bet it also has a lot to do with my background as an actor too, pretending to be someone else in a made up world. I’m also just curious about people and their stories so all these things work their way into the songs. But, as I say, a lot of the time it just seems to happen What’s next for you? Musically? Geographically? without my willing it. Creatively? Any plans to tour in the U.K? Pressing on! I’m hoping to make some more Tell us about the writing process for you. Am I recordings later in the year. I’ll be playing a lot right in thinking that you write in other forms of live shows in and around New York. I’ve been

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the old curiosity shop turning corners with my writing so I’m searching for new ways to present the songs, both live and on record. I have an inkling simplicity is the key. Simplicity can be a complicated thing to achieve. I really, really, REALLY want to play more in the UK. I’m making concerted efforts to sort my life so I can. I’ll straddle the Atlantic, if necessary! I like your determination! So, your album is called The City is King (there is a LOT of love from a LOT of people for this album by the way) but what makes you feel like a king, Freddie Stevenson? Or better – as it links in with our Olympia theme – what makes you feel like a God? And which one? I’ve always been interested in mythology and I’m particularly interested in how it relates to our psychology. I think the Olympian Gods live in all of us, in varying degrees. I wish I was self aware enough to tell you which one is most prominent in me. I can hear them all down there though, arguing away. I feel like a king knowing that I have this heritage, as do we all. We are all kings; kings containing gods. But, when you zoom out and pull the camera back, there we all are in the city

and the city is king! Pull it further back and the world is king. Even further, the universe is king. Even further...whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must have a nap, Sylvia is a god sleeping in a bed built for a queen dreaming of a king. Freddie Stevenson is a British/American singer/songwriter from Edinburgh, currently living and working in New York. Playing guitar and writing songs from an early age, he trained as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He has released three studio albums, the most recent being The City Is King 2011. A collection of fifty of his songs, recorded during periods of transience and given away for free online, have been published as the songbook 50 Songs, 2011. He performs with a variety of musicians in different ensembles including the Dirty Urchins who can regularly be found busking in Central Park. His collaborations as a songwriter include work with Mike Scott of the Waterboys. His band, the Midnight Crisis, perform regularly in New York City.

“You can’t just write ‘pull a chinny face’ – you have to do it.”

W

elcome to a world of portkabins, vast amounts of tea, vacant cow-faces, and brain-farts. Welcome to McNeil and Pamphilon, a delightfully, devilishly funny ‘double-act’ who are on a constant gig-athon, and likely, and quite rightly, to be on your TV screen soon. Be excited. Be VERY excited. My first memory of a McNeil and Pamphilon gig is of the two of you bouncing about like puppies in a room in Edinburgh dripping with sweat and beer, some bare flesh, fluids, cow’s milk and a LOT of laughter. It was lovely but perhaps you’d like to describe yourselves for our readers. Steve: I’m a sadness and regret-filled balloon wrapped in translucent skin and H&M sale clothes. Sam: I’m the same as Steve although I do go a decent olive with a bit of sunshine, and I have awesome wavy hair, like a girl.

Photo © Copyright Karla Gowlett

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the old curiosity shop If you could create a nice big shiny label for what it is you do comedy-wise what would it say? You can add ‘appropriate’ images too if you like. Steve: The ‘tagline’ on our Edinburgh publicity this year is ‘Two men. Doing comedy. In a portakabin.’ That’s a pretty good start...

I get to see my wife instead of Sam’s vacant cow face, I consider that a result.

Sam: Intriguing banality.

Steve: Thanks.

Sam: My favourite bit about performing is getting to work with Steve – he’s a really sharing performer and he makes me laugh.

Steve: We do a mix of sketches, songs, chatting Sam: Anything to add? with the audience – our shows tend to be friendly, informal affairs. Unless they’re not going well, Steve: Nope. then Sam shouts stuff really quick until they laugh or hit us. Sam: My other favourite bit is all the solo deals I get offered in private after gigs Sam: It’s a living... Steve: Presumably more bar work? Steve: It isn’t. Sam: Don’t grind my gears, McNeil. Seriously, I’m Tease us with some tantalising but tasteful a truck on a hill. details about your new show please. Steve: There’s one bit that’s three minutes long Who are your heroes? Apart from each other where Sam eats some Tic Tacs, and another bit obviously. And why? where I clap all over some flies. Sam: Our agent, Becky Williams at DAA, Beth O’Brien at Ditto Productions, Mel, Alex and Dave Sam: I’d pay to see that. at Impressive PR... Steve: And you have. Edinburgh’s costing you about £6000. Sam: Great! Can you lend me £6000? Steve: We’ve been through this...

Steve: Sam lives in constant fear that he’s about to be dropped. Comedy-wise, I’m watching a lot of “30 Rock” at the moment, and Louie CK is God. Sam: I like Bubbles in “Trailer Park Boys”. That’s it.

So you’re a double-act. Can I call you that? Or Sam: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, I couldn’t pay you back. is that terribly retro? What’s it like writing and Can you GIVE me £6000? performing together? Who brings the cherries and who brings the cream? Steve: No. Steve: We’ve been called a lot worse. Yeah, double-act’s a pretty odd term but we’ve yet to And moving on... It seems like you’re gigging find anything better that explains what on earth all the time. Are you? Do you ever wake up in we are. a cold sweat and think, ‘What am I doing here? I should be in a cider-drenched comedy club Sam: Writing can be very arduous but when things in a compromising position making people start coming, they come very quickly. It’s 90% chewing cry with laughter?’ What are the best parts of pens and making tea, and 10% going ‘of course!’ performing for you? Steve: Yeah, we’re gigging a lot at the moment, Steve: We tend to come up with ideas/write stuff trying stuff out for Edinburgh. In truth, there are separately, then rework it together. I tend to sort very few days where we’re not doing stuff at the structural stuff (including adding punctuation, moment, so it’s rare we’d have the chance to miss grammar and adjectives to Sam’s brain farts), and gigging. Frankly, if I can get one day a week where Sam adds jokes to my mindless rants.

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the old curiosity shop As almost-gods of the comedy world (you can quote me on this) what advice would you offer to up and coming comics in terms of performance and writing? Steve: Gig, gig, gig. You can spend ages rewriting and rehearsing but, once you’ve got an idea, just get it on its feet in front of some strangers as soon as possible – they’ll soon let you know if it’s funny or not.

What’s next for McNeil and Pamphilon and how excited should we be? I’m assuming VERY. Steve: Edinburgh’s the big looming deadline at the moment. We did our first preview in Brighton last week and we’re really happy with how the show’s shaping up so, yeah, be VERY excited.

“I’m a bit misty-eyed about it all... I’m very lucky.”

job and I feel blessed at the diversity of things I’ve been allowed to do. It’s incredibly fulfilling.

A

What’s it like working on John Morton’s Twenty Twelve knowing that it’s being described as the ‘Best Comedy’ in ages/forever/all eternity/quite a long time? Are you all ‘Oh the pressure!’ or more ‘Babes, whatever...’ about it? Tell us about the process and working with the cast. Twenty Twelve is one of the happiest jobs I’ve ever worked on. There are no egos. Everyone just gets on with it. John Morton is a genius. I love the precision of his writing and his direction. The script is a gift and the cast and crew are all superb. I don’t want to sound sycophantic but it really is an honour to be involved in a project like this. I’ve come in as a new character in the second series and been made to feel so welcome. We’re about to film three more episodes and it just gets funnier and funnier. The thing I find the most difficult is learning the lines because they are written in such realistic speech patterns that every single ‘um’ and ‘er’ becomes crucial to the rhythm and timing of a line. I just love the style and pace of the script. The other difficult thing is not laughing during takes. The other actors are so good and so poker-

Sam: We filmed a couple of things that we wrote with the BBC recently, and we’re developing several other things with them at the moment, so Sam: You could spend months writing the most hopefully some of that will be ‘out there’ soon so intricate and creatively witty script with layers strangers can judge us all over the world without of meaning and it might transpire that the only having to pay, or get dressed and come to one of funny bit is when you look at the audience and our gigs. pull a chinny face. You just can’t write ‘pull a chinny face’ – you have to do it. They’re @mcneilpamphilon on Twitter. Here’s their website: mcneilandpamphilon.com. Steve: I tend to record gigs when we do new stuff too, which is a really useful way of editing stuff. Throw out the bits that don’t get laughs.

nd he’s grateful, gracious, generous, and completely and utterly charming. Really. Samuel Barnett, star of stage and screen and all-round super lovely chap, is striving forth gloriously. From sorting out sporting challenges in Twenty Twelve to stirring up Shakespeare, this is one very talented man who deserves all the successes coming his way... Sam! I’m thinking Twenty Twelve, the forthcoming run at Shakespeare’s Globe, last year’s Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, and I imagine you doing little whoops of delight at the much deserved brilliance of life for you at the moment. Are you whooping on a daily basis? Tell me you are. I can tell you that I truly am whooping on a daily basis. Life is very good at the moment. I’ve been incredibly fortunate with the work that has come my way. I’m continually surprised when I get a

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the old curiosity shop faced that I feel like a fraud. I’m just extremely when I would throw myself around on stage and proud to be involved with Twenty Twelve. when I forgot lines! He’s a gem. I feel ridiculously proud of him, especially as he’s playing Henry V And so to the summer: Shakespeare’s Globe, at the moment which I can not wait to see. He’s Twelfth Night, Richard III, Mark Rylance and one of the nicest people I know, as is his wife, you! How are you feeling about being part of Debs. I love them both. Shortly after Ros and such a great project and working in that space? Guil ended, the three of us did a little Sondheim I can not WAIT to start working at the Globe. I evening together, one of the most enjoyable times know it’s terrible that I’m taking a job away from I’ve had on stage. Ros and Guil was a treat to do an actress in playing Elizabeth in Richard III, but and I can’t imagine having done it with anyone it’s going to be such a pleasure getting my hands else. on a role like that. I’m feeling quite daunted as I’ve never done Shakespeare professionally. I was It must have been great to work with Jamie again a terrible Friar Lawrence at drama school and that after The History Boys? That play and film was, is the extent of my experience. But even in the and I assume still is, a big part of your life isn’t auditions, working with Mark Rylance made me it? feel like a better actor there and then. He made me The History Boys is still a big part of my life because better. He demands truth and playfulness, which of the relationships that were formed during it. I is what I love. Even in an audition, everything am still in touch with everyone from the show. was very alive and present. I know I’m in good We became a family. I adore them all and love hands with Mark and Tim Carroll and that this is seeing them. It doesn’t matter how much time going to be a huge learning curve for me. It’s also goes past, we always pick up where we left off. going to be exciting playing two different roles. And of course professionally it’s been a gift. It was Sebastian in Twelfth Night is so vastly different very special. It just kept on giving! It has meant to Elizabeth. I desperately wanted to be cast in that I’m not a stranger in the acting industry and this project because I wanted to try my hand at it has led to amazing opportunities to work with Shakespeare: the roles on offer are amazing, I some incredible actors, writers and directors. I’ll wanted to work at the Globe and I wanted to work always be grateful for the experience that was The with Mark. I couldn’t quite believe it when I got History Boys. I’m a bit misty-eyed about it all. It the job. There’s a real buzz around the Globe and genuinely was a dream job and some people never I can’t wait to get involved. I’m scared and thrilled get to have that. I’m very lucky. Everything about at the thought of getting out there on that stage. I it was a joy, from the people to playing the part. did a one-man show once and nothing can be as scary as that was so I feel prepared to look into You’ve worked with an array of great actors, the eyes of the audience. It’ll be exhilarating. I directors and writers. Who has really inspired hope no pigeons poo on my head. you and why? And who would you like to work with in the future? So help any pigeon that even thinks about I have to say that I’m inspired by most people I passing a motion in your presence! So to Ros work with because each one of us is different and and Guil. This was a huge success for you last I know that I could never do what they do. I love year, and of course reunited you with Jamie watching good actors. I learned an awful lot from Parker who you worked with on The History Frances de la Tour and Richard Griffiths during Boys – tell us what that was like. Wonderful The History Boys. Just by watching them, I learned barrel-gymnastics by the way... about comic timing and how to deliver a line, how I adore Jamie Parker and working with him again to underplay something. It was wonderful to work was a dream because we had a shared language with Judi Dench. I saw how everything happened and a sense of timing together borne out of in her eyes, how subtle she was, how it looked already having worked with each other for three like she wasn’t doing anything, and then you’d years on The History Boys. We laughed so much see the end result on film and it looked amazing. and supported one another. I always felt that he’d I’m in awe of writers and directors. I do not have catch me if I fell. Which he did. Both physically their vision. I could never do what they do. I’ve

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the old curiosity shop loved working with Nick Hytner, James Grieve, Stephen Friers, Marianne Elliot, Tom Hooper, John Morton, and I’d love to work with Howard Davies, Dominic Cooke, Thea Sharrock and Josie Rourke, to name but a few. As you know the theme for this issue is Olympia and naturally you fit the bill in more ways than one! Therefore would you care to share a little of what you do to keep you fresh, focussed and producing the best work that you can? It’s the basics really. Eat well, sleep well, relax, take care of myself, see friends, go to the theatre. Meditation is a great help. I’m always aiming for balance in my life, which I only recognise as I swing past it on the way from one extreme to another!

Born in Whitby and trained at LAMDA. Theatre includes The Way of the World, 66 Books, Women Beware Women, The Man, The Whisky Taster, Dealer’s Choice, The History Boys, When You Cure Me, His Dark Materials, The Marriage of Figaro, The Accrington Pals. TV Includes, Shakespeare in Italy, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, Marple, Beautiful People, Desperate Romantics, Crooked House, John Adams, Wilfred Owen, Alexander Hamilton, The Royal, Strange, The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, Coupling. Film includes Love Tomorrow, Bright Star, The History Boys, Mrs Henderson Presents. With a face for radio, I have done over twenty-one radio plays.

Photograph by Tony Ottridge

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Book Reviews By Lois Bennett

Musketry & Mayhem: The Bleeding Land by Giles Kristian The Bleeding Land is the first in a new trilogy from the author of the popular Viking saga RAVEN (Blood Eye; Sons of Thunder; Odin’s Wolves). The setting this time is 1642 England - a country on the brink of disaster. Growing parliamentarian forces are threatening to overthrow the king, and the novel’s two protagonists – brothers Edmund and Tom Rivers – find themselves on opposite sides of the battlefield, each with his own reasons for fighting and each willing to lay down his life for what he believes in. But can blood ties ever truly be severed? Which allegiance will prove the strongest? From the very first page, I was immersed not only in 1642, but also in the drama of the Rivers family. Though the novel is lush with factual descriptions and period detail, Kristian manages to distribute it in such a way that the characters and their situations are always the main focus. Readers are introduced to a range of weaponry, clothing and customs without any slowing of the action or resemblances to matter-of-fact, nonfiction history books. Each sight and sound comes alive. Each grips you and pulls you into the action. At times, it’s hard to remember that you are not on a horse yourself, riding swiftly into battle. There are moments of elation, and moments of despair. Kristian not only captures these moments well, but releases them to the readers, who cannot help but share in the excitements and disappointments the characters are feeling. As a writer, I also love to look beyond the storyline and discover the author’s style. I noticed whilst reading The Bleeding Land that Kristian uses a number of techniques to pack a solid punch at pivotal plot points – for one, a lot of alliteration. He also alters the rhythm and length of sentences depending on what’s happening, using shorter, punchier sentences after a few longer ones when the action is heightened, or when a character is affected in some profound way. Which can be quite effective. Crows, rooks and ravens often appear as ominous foreshadowing devices, and a few other allusions to the Raven trilogy might just be spotted by those who look closely enough... Giles Kristian plunges readers back to a time in our nation’s history that is largely neglected in the world of historical fiction. After reading The Bleeding Land, I imagine that interest in the English Civil War will blossom from the literary seeds Kristian has planted. Overall, The Bleeding Land’s first installment is a vivid, compelling tale with an epic span. Bring on book two! Lois Bennett’s publishing history includes articles, book reviews, photographs and prize-winning poetry. She is currently working on her first novel. When she’s not writing, she loves to read – especially classic & historical fiction, and is the UK Membership Secretary of the Historical Novel Society. Find her online at: loisbennett.co.uk, and on Twitter: @lois_bennett

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Book Reviews By Alison Bacon

eBook Round-up May 2012

More and more authors, famous or otherwise, are self-publishing and if you have an e-reader there are plenty of bargains to be had. Here Ali Bacon makes some recommendations. Please note that the price of eBooks can vary from day to day. EBooks may also be available in paperback. Cells by Harriet Grace is an intense human drama involving a great deal more than the heroine’s problem of infertility and I found it a very satisfying read. Martha Morgan is a successful journalist, her husband Grant a practising psychoanalyst. Enter Jon, an office messenger at the national paper where Martha works, awkward with women and worried about keeping his job. Already this is sounding like a love triangle, but this is not a story that plays out in any conventional way. The writing, described by another reviewer as ‘richly detailed and emotionally intense’ invites us to walk with each of the characters and simply see where they will take us. Once or twice I thought I glimpsed a plot twist coming up but was denied that satisfaction. On the other hand, there’s a strong undercurrent of suspense as we contemplate all the things that might go wrong (some of which do, some of which don’t). The only disappointment was that I never felt in total sympathy with any one of the main characters and read with a slight sense of detachment. But this is still a novel with all the emotional complexity of a Sally Vickers or Maggie O’Farrell. This self-published book has been professionally edited and produced by Silverwood Books (silverwoodbooks.co.uk) and it shows. £5.15 Literary fiction: Rating 9/10 Reach for a Different Sun by Jenni O’Connor is a thriller which I liked for its rich evocation of Jamaica and clearly defined characters. The heroine is Monique, a journalist of Jamaican descent who goes back to Jamaica for the funeral of a much-loved aunt. On the island she uncovers the dark side of present-day Jamaica and secrets revolving around firebrand dissident Mary and archetypal villain the malevolent and boorish Devon Jones. As the plot gathers pace, the author also fills in the ‘back stories’ of her main characters in separate chapters. I expected this to be a distraction from the main thrust of the story, but in fact it worked really well, giving me a real feel for Jamaicans at home and abroad. The story of June and Owen emigrating to the UK recalled Andrea Levi’s Small Island and in this respect Jenni’s writing, if less literary, is equally affecting. I would have liked a few more surprises towards the end and the descriptions occasionally veered towards cliché, but this is still an entertaining and engrossing read. The book has a professionally designed cover and the copy is as clean as a whistle. £1.96. Thriller: Rating 8/10

Alison Bacon lives in the West Country where she blogs, writes and plays golf (not necessarily in that order). Her short stories, articles and book reviews have appeared in magazines and on the web. She is about to unleash a novel on the world. Read all about it at alibacon.com.

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Competitions Giles Kristian, The Bleeding Land, p.6 To win one of three signed copies of Giles Kristian’s The Bleeding Land, simply answer the following question: What will Giles be rowing next year?

Jane Struthers, Literary Britain and Ireland, p.16 To win one of four copies of the book, answer the question below: Name one other book that Jane has written.

Email all answers to: competitions@wtd-magazine.com

Please include your name and contact details. All entries must be received by 15th July 2012.

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Competition answers from the last issue... What the Dickens? Literary Quiz (from Issue 2)

1. Satis House. It means “enough” 2. David Copperfield 3. Jarndyce v. Jarndyce 4. The Artful Dodger 5. It was left to Oliver by his dying mother – and it proves his identity. 6. Nemo is Captain James Hawdon – Lady Dedlock’s lover. He is Esther’s father. 7. Dombey And Son 8. Opium 9. Great Expectations 10. A Tale of Two Cities 11. The Signalman (short story) 12. Martin Chuzzlewit 13. Tavistock House 14. The Marshalsea 15. Charles Dickens’ father was imprisoned there. 16. The Pickwick Papers 17. John Dickens, Charles Dickens’ father, worked there from 1817- 1822. 18. Satis House in Great Expectations 19. Gad’s Hill Place in Kent 20. Agnes Fleming 21. Harold Skimpole in Bleak House 22. A Christmas Carol 23. Bleak House 24. John Rokesmith (Harmon) 25. Gin 26. It’s where Magwitch is transported and later makes his fortune (and is able to reward Pip for helping him) 27. He’s a rag-and-bone man who dies by spontaneous combustion 28. Great Expectations 29. Hard Times 30. Little Dorrit 31. She is beaten to death by Bill Sykes 32. He’s a blacksmith 33. The Old Curiosity Shop 34. David Copperfield 35. A Christmas Carol 36. The Chimes 37. A cricket is the guardian angel in A Fairytale of Home 38. Barnaby Rudge 39. Martin Chuzzlewit 40. To become sailors

Submissions The next issue of What the Dickens? Magazine will be out on 1st August 2012. Next issue’s theme will be ‘Sunflowers’. Full submission details are on our website: wtd-magazine.com

Isabel Ashdown – Glasshopper & Hurry Up and Wait The main character in Hurry Up and Wait is called ‘Sarah Ribbons’.

Suzanne Ruthven – Life Writes Suzanne is the editor of The New Writer.

Secret rabbit The rabbit was hiding on page 38!

Congratulations to all of our winners; Helen Yendall, Lorraine Blencoe, Sarah Scally, Alan Stevenson and Mary Gladys Yendall.

Credits Editor: Victoria Bantock Extra contributions: Sandy East, Gail Aldwin & Sharon Ayre Magazine & Web Design: Ben Ottridge benottridge.uk Advertising contact: advertising@wtd-magazine.com General contact: victoria@wtd-magazine.com

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What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others. Pericles

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What the Dickens? Magazine: Issue 4 - The Olympia Edition  

What the Dickens? Magazine. Bi-monthly magazine for writers, readers and all literary types. Issue 4: the Olympia Edition

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