Flash Fiction: The House with the Blue Roof

The man of the moon lived at the end of a quiet street in a small cottage that had a curious thatched roof the colour of the sky on a clear spring day. A low fence overgrown with brambles enclosed a small front garden and larger backyard. Although the front garden of the cottage was immaculate, the back garden held a chicken coop with five hens, a large tabby cat (who enjoyed the taste of scrambled eggs more than a mouth full of feathers), a tangle of birch trees, shrubs, and a jumble of buckets and containers. These seemed to have little use, but the man of the moon refused to part with them, even though the neighbours complained and gave him stern, sidelong stares.

In the centre of the garden stood an oak tree that was much older than the cottage, the neighbourhood and even the whole of the long-lived town. It’s boughs stretched upward and outward to touch the birch leaves and form a shaded garden of dappled sunlight. The man of the moon looked after the oak tree day after day, even talking and singing to it during the bleak midwinter when everything seem to lose its colour. Then, on the nights when the moon had waxed fully and the silver light of the moonbeams struck the oak and birch trees, the man of the moon would be outside and clattering about with his containers and buckets well past midnight to the chagrin of his neighbours. Placing the containers just so to fill them with the dripping dew of the moonbeams could take the whole afternoon. Balanced on his rickety, silver-splashed ladder, the man of the moon would hang pails on some of the middle branches of the oak tree, adding more silver-splashed pails, buckets, and even glass jars beneath the trees in the garden where the dew would drip from the heavy summer leaves. By the time the sun finally set, the whole garden would be set aglow as the moonbeams gathered among the trees and the moonlight-filled, silver dew drip from the leaves into the waiting containers. As one container filled, he ran to empty it into the large water tanks that he kept in the corner of the garden, rushing back again, splashing through the silver dew to replace the receptacle before emptying the next filled container into one of the water tanks. So it would go on the whole night. Rushing from one jar to the next, from one bucket to a dangling pail that he deftly hooked and unhooked from the height of the old groaning ladder.

By morning his clothes and boots were as silver-splashed as the garden, but he would quickly close the water tanks before the sun rose and go scrub his face and hands while the jumble of containers settled noisily in their heap next to the water tanks.

By the time the first people up the street left their homes for the day, the garden with its oak and birch trees would look like any other; the moonlight dew faded to nothing but water that dripped-dripped onto the leaf-strewn ground below. The boots by the back door were no longer silver-splashed, but muddy, and even the tabby would have washed the last remnants of silver from its coat. She, of course, would be sitting by the front gate with such a look of malice and disdain for the people of the street that none would dare to come and bother her owner while he was trying to eat breakfast without falling asleep at the table.

It would be with new moon that the man of the moon’s next task would begin. This night, after all, was the best night to see where he painted the stars that would swirl, shine, and shimmer for the next month. The rig that he built to pump the moonlight dew from the water tanks to the roof was almost silent and he turned it on after everyone had headed inside for the day and he was left alone outside. Standing on the blue thatch, he took a large paintbrush from a bucket at his feet and ran his hand over the bristles to make sure that they weren’t clumped together. He dipped the brush into the container of silver at his feet and, with broad strokes of his arm, painted the light swirls of the Milky Way, stippling the stars of the sky and paint the constellations in place with a fine brush. By midnight the swirling night sky was alive with silver light again and he looked at his work with a smile. He headed back inside after taking down the light dew’s rig and climbed into bed dreaming of dancing silver swirls.

The Starry Night (1889) by Vincent van Gogh, Wikimedia Commons

This is the first story that I’ve written that will make up part of the collection titled Where the Stars Used to Sing.

Cover for Where the Stars Used to Sing (2020)

Reading & Listening Update: Research, L’Morte d’Arthur Lectures, and More

Besides sitting with a nasty head cold while writing this (oh the joy of the changing season — hello there, autumn, my second-favourite season who’s not being very friendly this year), the past two weeks have not been too bad.

The one highlight (oh, and what a highlight!) was finally seeing a-ha live on stage after waiting a whopping 26 years. But more about that in a next blog post.

I’ve been Busy with an uppercase ‘B’ trying to get everything done that I want to get done by the end of February. Like outlining the whole of Ruon Chronicles. Methinks I need another month o_O

Anyway, here’s an update of the stuff I’ve been reading and listening to that I really enjoyed. Most of it is for research purposes and that which isn’t is basically my mind going “squirrel!” as soon as I spot something remotely interesting or helpful to read.

Books — Bits and Pieces of Everything

Because I’ve been so busy I’ve been book-hopping like mad. And, while a New Year’s resolution had been to not buy any more books until my TBR pile is smaller, I ended up grabbing a free book by Darla DeMorrow. (Takes deep breath to read the title.)

The Upbeat, Organizes Home Office: Five Simple Steps to Sort and Succeed for an Organized Mind, Better Time Management Skills & an Office That Makes You Smile by Darla DeMorrow

Basically I’m busy — okay, slowly — busy revamping a space for my home office. This includes my standing desk (it’s this one from Deskstand) which I haven’t been using for most the summer because I’ve been flaring quite a bit thanks to all our heat waves. Luckily now that the weather is changing I can move back into my room properly (it’s an oven in the summer) and redo the Writing Closet.

So this volume came by just in time for me to make the most of my space, yay!

The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface by Donald Maass

Yes, I’m still busy with this one, but that’s because I’m doing the exercises as I go. It’s really a helpful book — and I think this may become my favourite craft book.

It really delves into the emotional hooks and really thinking about characters so they don’t become cardboard cutouts. And I’ve already changed part of Knowledge Stones based on the advice in this book. It’s definitely better now!

I know it’s a pricey book (she says, keeping the Rand/Dollar exchange rate in mind), but it’s definitely worth it.

The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic by Darby Penney and Peter Stastny (Photos by Lisa Rinzler)

I’m reading this book about the Willard Suitcases again as research for an article I’m planning to write. It really is a heartbreaking book (I think more so because I have a mental illness and would probably have found myself in a similar place if it wasn’t for modern psychiatric medicine…), but I think it’s one everyone should read because it shows the people behind the suitcases in so much colour. You come to understand them so much better and really see them as people and not “just” another patient number.

Here’s an Instagram account about the Willard suitcases that is fascinating to follow as well.

Magazines — Needlework, Gemstones, and Craftiness

I’ve also been reading quite a lot of magazine articles. I usually get my international magazines from Pocketmags and, while I still prefer physical magazines, the digital ones do just make more sense price-wise. Plus I get to have magazines on my phone for those moments when I’m in a queue for instance and I don’t have my knitting with me. Because, let’s be honest, nobody likes queues.

I’m still absolutely addicted to PieceWork Magazine — their Spring 2020 issue is now out, by the way. Plus they now have all their back issues online for subscribers to read!

On the website there are also fascinating articles, for example these two:

A Brief History of Harvesting Spider Silk

Deep-Seated Associations: Textile Threads in Language, Myths, Fairy Tales, and Novels”.

 Other interesting magazines I got on the back issue sale includes a few Rock&Gemissues (which is also for research for, among other things, The Ruon Chronicles), some BBC History issues, Writers’ Forum issues I’d had my eyes on, the 200th issue of Knitting Magazine and a couple of Cardmaking & Papercraft issues. Did I get enough mags to keep me busy for a while? Definitely! 

Some of the interesting articles on the Rock&Gem website include:

Earth Science In the News: A Hum Foretells a New Volcano?

How Do Super-Sized Geodes Get So Big?

Podcasts, lectures, and lectures in podcast form

I’m quite a “slow listener” when it comes to podcasts — no listening as one and a half or double speed for me, thank you! — but I also seem to listen the longer episodes and lectures in about 1-hour intervals. One of my favourite podcasts is the Mythgard Academy lectures.

I’m currently busy with the lecture series about Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and even though it comprises 36 two-hour lectures I really don’t want it to end!

If you’re a fan of Arthuriana, or even just medieval romances and literature and would like to know more, I can highly recommend it. They also use the Middle English text, which is awesome!

Here is a link to the page of lectures (there’s video lectures available as well): Mythgard Academy’s Le Morte d’Arthur lectures

Some of the other podcasts which I enjoyed over the past few weeks, include:

The Folklore Podcast: Episode 67 — Celtic and Western European Fairies

Mark Norman’s podcast never fails to entertain and to educate at the same time. Though I know more about these fairies than those in the rest of the world, there were still much to learn and a lot of Story Fodder to get stuck into.

The episode of The Folklore Podcast which I listened to before episode 67, was episode 60 (Magical House Protection) which was just as fascinating. 

Become a patron of The Folklore Podcast over here — the perks are many; not least of all having all the episodes ad-free.*

Courtesy of The Folklore Podcast website

Lore: Episode 136 – The Third Time

I’ve been a fan of Lore for a few years now and found it quite by happy accident (or did I…) when searching for something completely different. Needless to say, I’ve been listening since and still look forward to the new episodes.

Episode 136’s description is as follows:

Folklore is our legacy. We humans have carried it with us everywhere we’ve gone in the world, and it anchors us to our roots and our community. But it also does something else: it gives us a place to hide our fear, to put it on a leash and control it. And there’s one story in particular that does that better than most.

Now, if that doesn’t make you want to listen, nothing will.

I Should Be Writing: Episodes 478 “War of Art”, 473 “Character Names (1)”, and 472 “Trust the People in the Basement”

I love Mur Lafferty’s podcasts I Should Be Writing and Ditch Diggers. Her honesty about her writing and struggles with mental health really hits home.

Thanks to the episode about character names, though, I realised that I have three (yup, 3) characters with very similar sounding names in the first part of The Knowledge Stones. So I need to work on changing some names…

The podcast about War of Art actually needs a whole post as it was something which I have also been thinking about when it comes to self-help-ish-like books and craft books.

*Yes, I know I work in advertising, but some of the podcasts really do go overboard with the amount of ads that they have. I quite like the way Lore does ads; leaving them until almost at the end of the episode. However, if a podcast’s creator(s) are able to get revenue without advertising, I’m also really happy because it shows me that people are still willing to pay for the content they enjoy. But let me stop before I start a whole marketing lecture!

Thoughts on Books: The Myth & Magic of Embroidery

The Myth and Magic of Embroidery by Helen M. Stevens

The Myth & Magic of Embroidery by Helen M. Stevens

“From ancient times, embroidery and other textile arts have been associated with myths and legends, fables and fairy tales, high drama and folklore, from Ancient Greece to modern Europe. This book explores the use of embroidery in such rituals. The Myth and Magic of Embroidery contains embroidered pictures inspired by nature, including plant life, animals, landscapes and sacred places from many origins such as Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Old English. Each chapter contains an adaptation of a legend or fable with illustrations taken from the author’s own workbook. The book includes detailed working methods and new design techniques, such as the transformation of traditional ethnic stitches and the translation of designs from ceramics and architecture into motifs for embroidery, enabling the reader to create stunning embroidery pieces of their own.”

I got this book in grade 8 or 9 after completely falling in love with it at the local bookstore and staring at it, there, for a few months. It was the first time that I had seen such detailed embroidery and I was absolutely enthralled. I even did one of my “artist profiles” in art class about Helen M. Stevens.

The book has seven chapters:

  • Words and Music
  • Blithe Spirits
  • Earth, Wind and Water
  • Plantlore
  • Quests, Journeys and Battles
  • Animal Magic
  • Sacred Places

There are also two sections that show the basic techniques and a bibliography.

These chapters all contain myths, legends, folklore, and even history that link to embroidery, other needlecrafts, and the embroideries’ subjects.

It was also this book that first gave me the idea for a proper magic system based on embroidery — the magic system that’s present in The Ruon Chronicles (although it has grown and matured since then). The Myth and Magic of Embroidery, therefore, can be seen as one of the catalysts that got me writing (not to mention loving embroidery more).

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Friday Stuff: Existential Questions, Plants, Solar Eclipses, Word Origins, and What I’m Reading

THE 10-YEAR QUESTION. – Jon Acuff

“Ten years from now, what will the older you wish the younger you had done?”

Could This Be the End of Frankincense? – JoAnna Klein

As more uses are found for the aromatic resin, the population of trees that produce it are on the brink of collapse.

During a Solar Eclipse, What Are Plants Doing? – Cara Giaimo

Research conducted during the Great American Eclipse of 2017 suggested the sun’s midday disappearance shocked some plants.

From rabbits to gonorrhea: “clap” and its kin – Anatoly Liberman

Three years ago, I discussed the origin of several kl– formations, all of which were sound-symbolickl- appeared to suggest cleaving, cluttering, and the like. … Why should kl- suggest clinging and clustering, rather than cloying or clobbering? Actually, it does both. In this hunt, one never knows where to stop, and researchers are often carried away by the tempting similarity of numerous words that may or may not have anything in common.

What I’m Reading:

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction—from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between by Lee Gutkind

“From rags-to-riches-to-rags tell-alls to personal health sagas to literary journalism everyone seems to want to try their hand at creative nonfiction. Now, Lee Gutkind, the go-to expert for all things creative nonfiction, taps into one of the fastest-growing genres with this new writing guide. Frank and to-the-point, with depth and clarity, Gutkind describes and illustrates each and every aspect of the genre, from defining a concept and establishing a writing process to the final product. Offering new ways of understanding genre and invaluable tools for writers to learn and experiment with, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up allows writers of all skill levels to thoroughly expand and stylize their work.”

Thoughts on Books: Writing with Chronic Illness by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

It’s time again at Storybundle for the writing bundle and the 2019 collection is, again, a great choice of books (and a lecture). There was especially one book which caught my eye (and that was the first one that I ended up reading); Writing with Chronic Illness by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

Writing with Chronic Illness by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

As most of you know by now, I struggle with some chronic stuff, most importantly Bipolar (and everything that comes with it), so this seemed like the perfect book for me. The only other (writing) book that I’ve really read so far that really addresses health and that you should do what you are capable of doing and not run yourself into the ground is Crank It Out! By C.S. Lakin. (Okay, I know there are probably many such books, I just haven’t found them or read them yet.) Anyway, Writing with Chronic Illness has really helped me a lot already.

Rusch has divided the book into two parts; the first a bit of history about her own chronic illness and struggles and the second how she has been so prolific while her health has been anything but good.

What I really liked about Writing with Chronic Illness is that it’s not only written earnestly, but also in a way that says “You can find something that works for you as well”. Rusch knows that chronic illness is not an easy subject to tackle because she lives it. She knows as well as anyone that it’s not a one-size-fits-all.

One of the first things I did learn from her book, was that I really need to keep to my routine a lot more than I do. It seems once I get lost in my own mind I tend to throw bedtimes out of the window and that soon catches up with me. It then takes a whole weekend to get back into gear; which sucks, honestly. Unfortunately, a routine is a must for me — and not only to make it easier to remember to take my meds at the same time every day.

It’s five stars for me

In the end I have to give this small volume five stars for the earnestness with which it is written, and also for the no-nonsense way in which Rusch gives her advice.

Writing with Chronic Illness contains many good takeaways and pointers that you can use in your own life without being preachy about them. It’s really the honesty of the book that really struck me.

If you have a loved one struggling with chronic illness, this can also be an eye opener for you as you see how people with these illnesses need to make a life by working around the worst of the symptoms, etc. in order to keep going. (Sometimes this may seem to be the same as “keeping up” with the rest of the world, and, sometimes it may look as if the whole body and mind just checks out. And you don’t always get a warning of when that is going to happen.)

Some more ramblings

I must say, I also realise that I am in a very privileged position in that I am able to work full-time and still work on my writing. But, a lot of the time, it does seem that the world is moving at a breakneck speed and I am unable to keep up with such a pace. However, Writing with Chronic Illness gives me hope that I will not only be able to (in the future) spend much more time writing fiction, but will also be able to better handle my own Chronic Stuff while doing this. 

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My Current Writing Research Sources

I thought that it might be interesting to show the type of books and sources I use for research and to up my writing game. These are not all of the books and sources I use, mind you. But they do give an idea of what I’m referring to at the moment.

The Ruon Chronicles/The Knowledge Stones

The Knowledge Stones is rapidly nearing its final scene, and now I’m starting to worry that everything that needs to pay off, won’t. Which I guess is a good thing as I will then make sure that they do pay off instead of just writing “The End”.

I bought The Last Fifty Pages by James Scott Bell over the weekend as an extra reference to read through before writing the very end of the book. The main reason for this is that part of the book was written through pantsing, and I don’t want the ending to feel like that.

While I was at it, I also got 27 Fiction Writing Blunders by the same author– because sometimes you need someone to call you out on something stupid that you’re busy doing in your writing and not realising you’re doing — this one I’ve yet to start on, though.

Books:

Porselein

The world of Porselein has more of a Renaissance feel to it than Ruon Chronicles and, to that end, I have to read up a lot about the period. The first book I turned to was The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy by Jacob Burckhardt; a book I’d read (okay, scanned) during Literary Theory at varsity and about three years ago found at a library sale. (This book was first published in 1860, so there are more than enough free versions on the internet and Kindle if you’re interested.)

I also downloaded The History of the Renaissance, edited by Ross Johnson and Manners, Customs and Dress During the Middle Ages and During the Renaissance Period by P.L. Jacob (both from Kindle). These three books should give me a good place from which to extend my research. Luckily I had known quite a bit about the Renaissance already, so it wasn’t that I started writing Porselein completely blind!

Next is Porcelain Through the Agesby George Savage; a 1954 book that I found at an antique shop after reading about it somewhere else (on the internet … that’s as much as I can remember). It was quite a find and, even though it has some foxing, etc. I bought it with glee. One of those serendipitous moments! 

I’m still busy with The White Road: A Pilgrimage of Sorts by Edmund de Waal; which I also bought on Kindle. You can read more about this book over here.

When it comes to audiobooks, I’ve listened to The Rival Queens: Catherine de’ Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal That Ignited a Kingdom by Nancy Goldstone — although this one wasn’t started as much for Porselein as me being curious! Some elements might find their way into Porselein, though.

Books:

Reading Update: Essays and Porcelain

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Essays

Uit die dagboek van ’n vrou, by Audrey Blignault, compiled by Marié Heese.

Originally written for Sarie (one of the staple South African magazines), these essays by a beloved South African and Afrikaans author gives a view into a life filled with happiness and pain and all the things and emotions that make up a life well and truly lived.

Audrey died in 2008 at the age of 92, leaving behind a legacy of beautiful writing.

(Sorry, this book is not available in translation.)

Porcelain

The White Road: Journey Into an Obsession by Edmund de Waal

Originally bought as a research tool for Porselein, I’ve quite fallen in love with this book and its beautiful, evocative language. It truly shows the ‘la maladie de porcelaine or Porzellankrankheit’ (“Porcelain sickness”) that takes hold of people who work with and collect porcelain.

It really is one of those books that you don’t want to read too fast as is informative without reading like a lecture.

It’s split into five parts, following the story of porcelain through the centuries:

  • Part 1 – Jingdezhen
  • Part 2 – Versailles – Dresden (where I am in the book at the moment)
  • Part 3 – Plymouth
  • Part 4 – Ayoree Mountain – Ekruria – Cornwall
  • Part 5 – London – Jingdezhen – Dachau

Thoughts while reading: Snaps, Scraps and Snippets of the Past and Present

Book: Snaps, Scraps and Snippets of the Past and Present: How to Retrieve the Lost Pictures of Your Past by Lois J. Funk (When I last checked it cost approximately USD6.00)

‘Memories are nothing less than bits of gold waiting to be mined from the veins of life.’ But, how to mine those bits of gold and turn them into stories that others will enjoy reading? In this nonfiction how-to, the author sets out a brand new set of writers’ tools to help you do just that. 

Another book I got from the Kindle Store, this one really started out as a “research” book for Porselein (in which I play around with memory/remembering/forgetting a lot), but I soon realised that it is the perfect way to learn some skills in writing creative non-fiction.

The book itself is divided into three parts; Looking Through the Viewfinder, Finding the Focus, and Using a Wide-Angle Lens. (I am only busy with chapter 3 at the moment, though, hence the title of the post.) Each chapter is filled not only with explanations and exercises, but also with examples from Funk’s own work which really pulls you in and makes you want to write yourself. They actually remind me of Audrey Blignaut’s essays that she wrote for one of the local Afrikaans magazines — which is a very good thing!

What I also enjoy about the book is that Funk let’s you focus on the “small” memories we all have. Those special moments that we remember that may not have been some huge event like a marriage or a death. Rather we are confronted with recalling those moments that we may have thought of as insignificant, but still have stayed with us for decades. Those memories of places and people who may not be in our lives anymore, but which still left an indelible mark. It’s not just for those who want to write a memoir, per se, but also for those who want to leave more meaningful behind than just digital detritus.

I’m sure I’ll do a proper review of the book once I’m finished, but, for now, I can only say that the book really is helpful and definitely worth what I paid for it.

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Thoughts on Books: The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases From a State Hospital Attic

Penney, D., P. Stastny, and L. Rinzier. (2008) The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases From a State Hospital Attic. New York, Bellevue Literary Press.

“This book is dedicated to the memories of the Willard Suitcase owners, and to all others who have lived and died in mental institutions.” — Darby Penney & Peter Statsny

I came across the Willard suitcases project’s website a few years ago thanks to another article which showcased some of the photos. That article, I am afraid, I have long since forgotten the link to and can now only speculate where it had been published. Nevertheless, the project had caught my imagination. 427 suitcases were wrapped in plastic as they had been found in one of Willard’s attics (a state mental hospital) and taken to the New York State Museum. These held the worldly possessions of patients who had lived and died at Willard.

The contents of the suitcases are both heartbreaking and riveting, leading one to question who this person was, how their illness cut their life short (or so it seems in many cases) and, more than once, made me say “There, but for Grace, go I.”

‘As jy weer in jou dagboek skryf

Onthou

Om die goue blaar te sien in die somerson’

When you write in your diary again

Remember

To see the golden leaf in the summer sun

When I saw the book on Kindle, I knew that I wanted to read it. It wasn’t because they were some “crazy” people locked away, but because I wanted to know about the people behind the suitcase, behind the facade that seem to still linger over a person as soon as they are diagnosed with mental illness of a kind that severely impacts their day-to-day lives. And, boy, did some of the stories hit close to home.

What really enthralled me about the book is that the stories of the patients were the stories, really, of the everyman who has, in many cases, just seen too much — too much death, too much loneliness. In many cases what could now be treated quite easily with some medication and psychotherapy/CBT was basically still untreatable — the medication and treatments in their infancy, so to speak.

We learn of people who sometimes flourished within the walls of Willard to become a person that lived as well as they could within the confines placed upon them. And yet, we see in this view of a lost generation of mental patients many of the same things that still haunt patients today. And you also realise how far a little empathy can go. Indeed, there, but for Grace, go I.

‘As jy weer in jou dagboek skryf

Onthou

Om in my oë te sien

Die son wat ek nou vir altyd bedek

Met swart vlinders’

When you write in your diary again

Remember

To see in my eyes

The sun that I now forever cover

With black butterflies

Extracts of “As jy weer skryf”, a poem by Ingrid Jonker, written in June 1964, and published in Kantelson in 1966, shortly after her suicide by drowning in July 1965 at Drieankerbaai, Cape Town at the age of 32.

Shards of Mirrors by Carin Marais now on Noisetrade

Shards of Mirrors now on Noisetrade!

Shards of Mirrors is a collection of 16 flash fiction pieces by Carin Marais. The stories are thematically linked, with the writer exploring loss, grief, forgetting, and remembering throughout the collection. Though not light-hearted, many of the stories are bittersweet and even hopeful.

The genres range from steampunk (“Calling the Rain”), and horror (“The Call from Below”, “Red”), to sci-fi (“Shared Memories in High Definition”, “Petrichor”) and fantasy (“A Cup of Tea”, “A Fair Trade”).

Get your copy of Shards of Mirrors on Noisetrade today! 

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