Two, middle aged friends find their life-paths crossing - after having had no contact since their student days - when a terrible shared secret comes screaming through the years to haunt them, threatening their sanity, freedom and comfortable lives.
Evidence surfaces, when Joshua (the ten year old son of the family who had just moved in to the former student flats) finds a ring in the back garden. This leads to further discoveries of human bone and a police inquiry quickly links the house to the era and the two main characters.
As the story unfolds, we hear personal accounts of the sequence of events told by Dave (a respectable dentist) and Tom (an IT consultant) and see how their viewpoints differ. However, in the process we see how the secrets they each keep (from themselves and each other) have shaped who they have become. These statements are set against (and woven amongst) present tense revelations as the inquiry unfolds, revealing that the girl was a flatmate of Dave and Tom, who was not lost on a backpacking holiday as the reports had suggested in 1976
We learn from Tom and Dave that their extreme student lifestyle - constantly in search of the ultimate thrill - led (through a combination of drink and mushrooms, on Halloween weekend) to the drowning of Clare (an archeology student), in the bathroom at the house.
We hear from Tom that the secret he kept from Dave was that he had sex with her almost-dead body, causing her to drown. However, we learn from Dave that it was his idea to dispose of the body (to hide their grisly excesses) instead of reporting the incident.
Having tried a variety of methods (including food processors and a bonfire in the garden) they are satisfied that the incident is behind them, but rivalry between Dave and Tom reaches a climax when Tom tells Keith about the party. Dave had stolen Keith’s girlfriend and the tension between them was already there.
Now, in the present day only Dave and Tom know the full truth but the police (as yet) can’t directly link them. That is, until Keith arrives back on the scene. Dave convinces Tom that the only way to retain their anonymity is to make sure that Keith doesn’t reveal all that he knows.
However, following the ill conceived murder of Keith, fresh evidence emerges which irrevocably incriminates both Dave and Tom but for different reasons. From beyond the grave, Clare appears to have had a hand in posthumous retribution.
The city streets of York are the last place on earth that one should consider taking LSD. However. If you are, in fact, the sort of person that would ever consider taking LSD in the first place (just to restate my observation) then York is the perhaps the last place you should do it and I’d like to explain why I think so.
Coming from an unremarkable, West Yorkshire market town as I do, my childhood and youth was spent roaming the terraced streets looking for like-minded lads my own age to go on adventures with. Not that it was completely like the set of Coronation Street back then but the many characters they featured in the ’60s and ’70s were ones that I could identify with and would see on a regular basis.
Grim faced, old women in dark overcoats - their hair strangled into what was known as a ‘bun’ - leaning over picket fences or clattering galvanised buckets about in their outhouses would (more often than not) shout at us youngsters to: “Stop playing football in that ginnel. You’ll make my sheets dirty.”
At the time, it meant nothing at all, but as I look back and remember fondly the scuff-kneed, sticky-haired escapades of my childhood, I am struck by a few distinct and mind altering changes. Firstly, I should explain to any non-Yorkshire speaking readers that a ‘Ginnel’ is an old Norse word for ‘a narrow path sometimes linking streets at different heights’.
This in itself is not a particularly interesting fact but it is deeply fascinating when you look into the Northern culture and realise just what an impact the Vikings (and indeed the Romans) had on, not only our quirks and habits but our language and speech patterns.
Ok. Let’s fast forward a lifetime to the present day. I currently live in the venerable and historic city of York - capital of Yorkshire and the only city in that county that does not have an affiliation to any of them, be they North, East, West or South. It is: like the Vatican city. With its mighty blah-blah cathedral and incumbent seat of northern Christian importance, the place is so far removed from my entire early life so as to make the ‘true’ experience of what it actually is, something of a purely hallucinogenic one.
Granted, the day-to-day reality is no different to any other, similar town of its size. People go about their business, eat burgers, drink franchised coffee and generally function like residents of any lesser place but under the cobbled streets, something else lurks. Something occasionally glimpsed and photographed by Japanese tourists or by the coachloads of Scots that arrive like angry hoards to hunt for Christmas gifts.
It is the sheer history of the place; the way that the new nestles with the ancient; the commercial with the benignly decorative that the mysteries (and indeed the hallucinations) lie. Walking as an ‘outsider’, which I often do - and to this day still feel - I am never tired of being bombarded with fragments of curiosity washed up on a shore of fractalised detail like the splintered remains of a thousand shipwrecks, their cargoes bobbing in the lapping surf for all to see and pillage.
It would not be uncommon to walk down a single street and witness buskers performing on a welsh harp or an upright piano, just doors down from a legless beggar. A wiry underfed dog, shivering at his side as fur coat-wearing intelligencia pass by. Their jewellery jingling softly as they ponder which quaint coffee shop they should visit.
Astride this scene, stand crooked buildings bearing the faded paintwork of times long passed. Merchants and insurance brokers for the sugar trade, milliners and apothecaries, scriveners and spice blenders. All nestling, shoulder to shoulder amidst Dickensian windows and back alleys straight from The Pirates of the Caribbean (true! Google it.)
It is no wonder, then, that this place was the starting point for the main city in my current novel “Valvepunks” which follows the progress of a bewildered (but brilliant) old man and his young acquaintance as they go into deep space in the future in search of a love interest from World War II, finally arriving in the city of Divinestopia (working title).
Built underground in caves (walled city), Divinestopia (York) is a uniquely organic jigsaw of the ancient (the inhabitants of the planet they are on) and the modern (the presence of the antagonists). The buildings are interleaved in precision geometry leading from the filthy outskirts (York’s underbelly - yes it has one!) to the ‘inner sanctum’ where the palaces and fountains are. Its inhabitants ranging from the drones to the privileged intellectuals who exist contemptuously side by side in two completely different worlds in the same space. A beautifully horrible yet horribly beautiful place.
No surprise then, that York should have inspired a vision of a ‘selective utopia’ - a place that wasn’t all bad (depending on one’s perspective) nor all that fantastic. Divine and dystopic all in the same breath. Even the secondary main character is named after one of the shops in York, such is the wealth of detail inherent in this complicated city.
So, weary traveler, if you wish to experience York to its fullest, you might choose to visit for the day, spend a few nights at one of our many thousands of hotels, guest houses and Inns or perhaps even read my book for a glimpse of the mind altering effect it can have. But I would strongly suggest that you never, ever take LSD whilst walking its streets. You might never return.
Far away and in darkness now, the still night changes the features of this street to carbon black and there: like a dense, solid mass is a house like any other - the rolling fog of early autumn sticking to its damp walls. Upstairs, a thin light breaks through the curtains in the gap created by the lens of a telescope; impotently peering out. It stands, attentive but redundant and inside he sits beside its tripod and slightly turns the pages of a book, occasionally glancing at the sky, waiting for a break in the clouds and a respite from that stifling shroud. This night was logged as the perfect time for him to view Alpha Centuri but he is denied the spectacle. He sits in his upright chair and demands the fog to recede but like Canute and the ocean: it defies him.
About him, the ephemeral details of his passions are evident in every quarter. The walls are filled with prints and posters of astronomical instruction; charts of moon phases; artists impressions and tales of places he could never visit but still, he dreams. Comic books line the shelves, fingered and much loved - their contents memorised and captured as imprints in his memory. The details, carefully logged for potential future reference in the event of their circumstances presenting decisions he must make. But, as he surveys his kingdom, a sense of the overwhelming fruitlessness of his labours takes hold of him as a symphony of minor chords and choral tragedy rises to a deafening crescendo in his consciousness as he covers his ears and forces his eyes closed.
Since the beginning, he was captivated in those stories that he heard spoken through a grill darkly - carefully documenting every word as a child. The impossible lives and astounding tales of wonder reverberated in his imagination, brought alive by that deep and cosseting voice which accompanied him to sleep regularly through his impressionable years and burgeoning cogniscense. But, like all dreams of childhood: they were shipwrecked on the rocks of truth as the hard edges of the real word bruised and tore at the fragile sails of innocence.
Each entry, like the splintered fragments of an eggshell, being carefully pieced back into its ovoid whole through the pages of this book. Page after page of hand written words in a book full of wonder that lies dull in his hands now. Turning the pages, he looks upon each entry: carefully transcribed from that voice to his hand.
“Lies and more lies,” he says through stinging tears as the concepts fly from the page to his memory, reminding him of the depth of detail that is now as meaningless as it is unfathomable. The endless lists of prime numbers like exotic islands of perfection, with white beckoning sands gleaming in an endless sea of integers - the surface of which ripples above the ocean of real numbers. The simple decimals and fractions are the shallows and rock pools where the silver fishes play and the irrationals and transcendental numbers are the abyssal deeps: uncharted and dangerous. But their hidden references and continual emergence through those stories, to him now, mean nothing at all. They didn’t signify the ‘ultimate’ truth, only a cacophony of misinformation and misdirection.
The many hours invested in this document now lay heavy on his heart for its worth is empty to him. As his search for scientific proof reached further into the void, the more it revealed the impossibility of the claims and he seethed with the insult of it all. Then, he remembered the letters - each one, lovingly scripted and worded with respectful élan, which had fallen on closed ears, despite their pleading requests for answers. They were nothing more than another gate closed to him by the keeper of secrets.
His resentment fully engaged now, he grips the page and tears it out. First one, then another until the act of tearing his fantasy apart becomes a theatre of spiteful revenge and the impetus it brings makes him feel invigorated. Demolishing the very evidence of his deepest desire propels him higher than the pedestal he took it from and the destruction brings not only a euphoric calm, but a resolve. A solution, intact and perfectly formed.
Reaching, now, for the shelves, he takes a reel of tape from the many. A carefully indexed but perfectly ordinary spool of brown magnetic recording tape and with his finger in the spindle, uses his other hand to wrench the ribbon from its axis. Imprinted in the analogue and undulating magnetic fingerprints of this tape are hundreds of hours of documented adventures, each one beginning and ending in the comfort of the fireside. Warm tones and distant, ghostly voices coming alive each time the tape is played are disseminated - never to be heard again as the lengths of their sonic pattern is strewn through the air. Flaying his arm back and forth, the tape cascades around him in delicate loops and as the first reel is emptied, he turns to the next as the shiny brown bunting falls, drifting at his feet. Boxes are torn apart and cast aside, as each recording is tortured by ritual and he executes his rage upon them without mercy and curses the air.
Standing at the window and looking out at the bleak, milky dark air - amber cast by suburban incandescence, he breathes deeply. His breath catches the glass and forms yet another barrier between him and whatever it is that he believed was outside his four walls. There is no escape, he thinks as he looks over the gardens and shed rooftops into the dreary expanse of houses just like his.
Behind him, his studies reveal another side to his anguish. Piles of reports and essays, neatly written and diligently crafted with the intention of attaining the highest grades which always came almost too easily. His reports and assessments bear testament to his considerable intelligence but are also his prison. The text books now lay asunder with the remnants of the catalyst that bore them as fruit. Standing in the wreckage of his endeavours, the sum total of its futility weighing greatly on his young shoulders, he thumps the glass with his fist. He snatches at the faded curtains with their rocket ship print design and tears them violently from the rail. Plastic lugs ping and ricochet against the pane as he shreds them to bandages - swaddling that might have salved his pain and the fabric which his grandmother had carefully chosen to incite his imagination but which now, burned like acid in his thoughts.
Turning, he steps through the detritus. As the crunch and snap of each footstep brings a closure to the devastation he has wrought on himself, he approaches the radio - a project that he and his father undertook one boxing day, many years ago. The beeswax casing, polished to a rich, penumbrant glow, sits benignly on the shelf by his bed but is now the focus of his irritation.
Reaching for it, he forces the back open and reaches inside for its guts. Tearing wires in handfuls, he pulls at the body of the thing until he finds the core - the tiniest granule of galena crystal that causes its heart to beat, and squeezes it, unyeilding between his fingers.
“All for this!?” he cries and throws it into the air. Then, unravelling lengths of copper wire, he casts them to his floor with the audio tape and hurls the case at his mirror which, for a moment, captures his raging face then splinters with cascading music.
“I shall have my audience. I WILL be part of all that: all that I have worked for. You will be mine,” he says into the stunned silence of his room. Outside, a dog barks into the night.
Rescued - By Susie Milford
Trudy’s humdrum world at the local charity shop took a surprising turn the day she discovered an abandoned pet and called the ‘Cat Rescue’ office.
‘Oh well,’ thought Trudy as she unlocked the door to her world of second-hand clothes and unwanted clutter. Being the manager of a sleepy town charity shop wasn’t all bad. It paid a modest wage - not much, but enough and yet, she couldn’t help feeling that something was missing from her life.
Looking back through the glass door, with the drizzle collecting in tracks all the way down to the gray pavement outside, she wondered if today was going to be any different from the usual routine of chores and empty disappointments.
She went to the kitchen in the back office to make herself the first cup of coffee of the day and whilst the kettle was boiling, she fingered through the morning’s mail.
‘Coo-e. Only me,’ came a voice through the door.
She recognised it immediately as one of her regulars.
‘Stand by your beds,’ he grinned as she emerged from the office.
‘Brought the rain with you I see, Mr Piper,’ she said.
‘I said…’ then she smiled. ‘Here, let me take that bag from you. It looks heavy.’
‘Yes! Shocking day, isn’t it?’ he said as he shook his umbrella in the doorway and removed his hat. ‘I do hope you’re taking donations at the moment. This lot is for you.’
‘Of course Mr Piper. Always welcome,’ she lied.
‘It’s only my old gardening clothes, I’m afraid, but I’m sure someone might find a use for them. All freshly laundered and pressed,’ he beamed.
‘Thank you,’ said Trudy taking the bag through to the back room.
‘Is Joshua about today?’ called Mr Piper in the distance.
‘No, not this early,’ said Trudy as she came back and stood behind the counter.
‘Pardon?’ he said, searching in his pockets.
‘Now that he’s moved up to secondary school he only pops in after four. He usually walks to the shop to meet me and then we catch the bus home together.’
He leaned forward and said: ‘That’s a fine lad you’ve got there. Here, when you see him, give him this. Tell him to buy some toffees on the way home.’
She took the fifty pence piece and thanked him.
‘Well, must be off. Got to get to the bakers before all the best cream cakes go. Those builders…’ he shook his head and smiled. ‘Much obliged, Trudy. See you again,’ and with that he was gone.
The rest of the morning dragged by without much excitement. She sold a pair of shoes to Mrs Fletcher, a kitchen clock to a student and some baby clothes to Janis from the post office, but apart from that, trade had been slow.
‘Not bad for a Tuesday though,’ she thought.
As it was quiet, she took the chance to have some lunch and whilst she ate, she picked through Mr Piper’s clothes.
‘I can’t put these on the rails,’ she thought to herself. ‘Too ragged and old. Bless him, he means well.’
So, she bundled them back into the bag and headed outside to the rear of the shop and the textile recycling bins but as she lifted the lid, amongst the sweaters and old curtains, she was sure that she could hear a cat meowing. She put the bag on the floor and leaned over to make certain and sure enough, the sound of a cat was clearly coming from deep inside the huge plastic container.
‘Oh! the poor thing,’ she thought. ‘Someone must have abandoned it,’ but she knew that she couldn’t get it out herself as the bin was too large and full of heavy clothes.
‘Besides,’ she thought, ‘who would mind the shop whilst I was doing that?’
Rushing back inside she checked the phone book and rang the local Cat’s Rescue.
‘Yes, the bin has a lid so the rain isn’t getting inside. It’s safe but it sounds so desperate. Please hurry,’ she said, peering out through the kitchen window at the bins.
‘Don’t worry, we’ll have someone right round as soon as we can.’
Just then, Mrs Simpson arrived in the shop.
‘You’ll never believe what’s happened,’ said Trudy.
‘What is it dearie?’
‘There’s a cat stuck in the textile bin out at the back.’
‘Have you called someone?’
‘Yes they’re on their way over right now. I hope they get here soon, the collection wagon comes today,’ Trudy sighed.
‘Oh the poor mite,’ said Mrs Simpson clasping her hands, then she remembered something. ‘Ooh, I almost forgot what I came here for,’ and she began searching in her handbag, eventually pulling out a small pair of faux-pearl earrings.
‘I’ve finished with these. Thought I’d bring them back, let someone else get a bit of pleasure.’
Trudy took the pearls and put them on the back shelf for later.
‘What I AM looking for, is a nice necklace. I’m going to Marjory’s later. It’s her birthday and I thought I should make an effort.’
As she turned the stand around on the counter looking at the costume jewellery, she looked up at Trudy.
‘How’s that boy of yours? Haven’t seen him in a while.’
‘He’s fine.’ said Trudy.
‘You’ve done a wonderful job, raising him alone like you do. Now, this is lovely,’ said Mrs Simpson as she tried on a silver chain with tiny flowers.
After she’d gone, Trudy went to put the earrings in the glass cabinet and as she looked in, she caught her own reflection in the mirror at the back, framed by the other trinkets in the case. She held the pearls to her own ear and sighed.
Putting them down and tugging at her hair she thought: ‘I suppose I could scrub up nicely, if I had a reason to.’
And then, she remembered the cat.
Stepping back through the kitchen to check on the bins, she wondered about who would come from the rescue centre.
‘I bet it will be some dreadlocked, eco-warrior with baggy jeans. Or, worse still, some stern, tweedy type with sensible rainwear,’ she mused, but just then, the shop bell rang. Racing back inside she was met by a good looking man with a shoulder bag.
‘Having a spot of trouble?’ he said.
‘Cat. You have a trapped cat? I’m from the rescue centre.’
‘Ah,’ said trudy. ‘Come through. It’s terrible.’
The man followed her, past the kitchen and through the corridor to the back yard.
‘Do you think you can do something…?’ she hesitated, realising she didn’t know his name.
‘Chris,’ he said.
As he spoke his name, it made his lips reveal his teeth in a soft smile.
Suddenly, Trudy felt like a schoolgirl and as she introduced herself, she realised that as she said it, it made her own lips pout and she blushed.
‘Now, let me see,’ said Chris rolling up his sleeve and delving deep into the mass of fabric. ‘Ah, there you are sweetheart,’
Beneath the frocks and old blankets, he uncovered a very scared and bedraggled, ginger cat.
‘Is it alright?’
Turning to look at her he said: ‘Yes, it’s…’ and then she heard a fierce hissing as Chris wrenched his arm sharply out of the bin.
‘Ow! you little…’ he said and winked at her. She could see that the cat had bitten his hand quite badly and said: ‘You must let me see to that. We have a first aid box inside. Come on.’
She led him back to the kitchen, where she attended to his wound with antiseptic and cotton wool.
As she dabbed at the crimson lines on his broad hands, she said: ‘It’s lucky you weren’t wearing any rings. I suppose you’re not allowed to in your job,’
She looked at his face and he turned his eyes to her and said: ‘Oh no, it’s just that I don’t have any,’ and for a moment, Trudy’s heart beat a little faster.
Just then, the door went again and Joshua arrived. She looked through the door into the shop and called: ’Hey Josh, I’m in the back. Come through.’
‘Hi mum,’ he said. ‘Is there anything to eat?’
‘Is he yours?’
Trudy’s mind raced for the right thing to say.
‘Yes, he’s the man in my life. Aren’t you Joshie?’ and she ruffled his curls.
‘Mum!’ he complained.
‘Josh, this is Chris. He’s from the rescue centre.
‘Hey matey,’ said Chris, offering his free hand in a soft fist for an ‘air punch’.
‘How come you got your hand cut?’ said Josh.
‘Chris is here to get the cat that’s stuck in the bins at the back,’ said Trudy.
Josh’s eyes lit up. ‘Really? Cool. What happened?’
‘We don’t know,’ said Chris. ‘You want to watch?’
So, as Trudy finished up his hand, they all went outside.
‘Here you go. Have a look,’ said Chris as he dragged over some crates for Josh to stand on to get a better look.
He pulled some of the blankets out so that he could get to the cat without being scratched again and it hissed.
‘Looks like I’m going to need some special equipment from the van,’ said Chris. ‘Josh, would you keep guard here while I get them?’
Josh leaned over the rim, watching the scared animal crouching and looking back at him.
‘Here we go,’ said Chris as he arrived with a carrier and a pole with a soft loop at the end.
‘This is my special ‘cat catcher’,’ he said as he caught Josh’s look of concern.
‘Now then, you hold this while I reach down.’
Together, they secured the terrified cat and managed to get it safely into the carrier but beneath the jumpers they could hear more noises.
‘Hello,’ said Chris. ‘What’s this?’
He carefully lifted more clothes from the bin and they all saw a family of three tiny kittens, closely huddling together.
‘MUM!’ cried Josh, ‘can we keep them?’
Trudy looked at Chris, wondering what would happen next.
He looked at her then back at Josh.
‘Well, they are very young. They’re going to need some medical attention first.’
With the cat and her kittens, safely in the van, Chris brushed his jeans down and came back into the shop.
‘Don’t suppose there’s any chance of a coffee after all this excitement?’ he said.
Trudy went to the kitchen and switched on the kettle as she heard him and Josh chatting. When she returned with the cups, she saw them laughing and looking at cds in the rack.
‘What will happen to the cats now?’ she asked.
Chris came over and said: ‘Well, I’ll be housing them for tonight. Then, after a few weeks we’ll have to find some new homes.’
Josh’s wide eyes looked at her and he didn’t have to say anything. She was thinking the same thing.
‘But,’ continued Chris, ‘if you like… you can come and visit them tonight. Just to see how they’re getting on,’ he smiled.
As she locked up the shop for the night, Trudy looked back into the darkened shop. The drizzle had stopped and it had turned into a bright afternoon after all. The blackbirds were chirping loudly along the high street and then she remembered the fifty pence piece that Mr Piper had given her earlier. Then, walking to catch the bus with Josh, Trudy thought that life in a sleepy town wasn’t so bad after all.
Later that same evening, Trudy rang the number that Chris has given her and arranged to visit him at home so that Josh could see how how the kittens were settling in. Luckily, he didn’t live too far away and so, after dinner, they both prepared to set off.
She’d decided to buy the pearl earrings that Mrs Simpson had returned earlier and spent an unusually long time getting ready.
‘Come on mum,’ cried Josh from downstairs as he paced the hallway.
‘The cats won’t notice if your hair isn’t done.’
Maybe not, she thought, but there’s no harm in making an effort.
As they arrived at the end of the street, Trudy checked the piece of paper with the address that she had written down earlier.
‘This is the place,’ she said, and together they approached the little house.
‘I’m so excited,’ said Josh as she knocked on the door and when Chris opened it, so was Trudy.
‘They’re doing fine,’ he said as he led them both through the hall to the laundry room at the back and there, between the tumble dryer and the sink was a large cage with blankets.
Laughing, Chris said: ‘Don’t worry Josh, the pen is for our safety as much as theirs. She’s very protective at the moment.’
Then, he said: ‘Can I get you a drink?’ and Trudy was surprised when he offered her a wine but she thought: why not? Even if it is a schoolnight.
As they sat in the kitchen, sipping their drink, she quickly discovered just how much they had in common as they talked about films, books, clothes and even TV shows and Trudy was unaware of just how much time had slipped by as she stared, attentively, into his deep blue eyes. She noticed how immaculate and stylish his home was and she couldn’t help but be vaguely suspicious although of what, she wasn’t quite sure.
Chris offered to drive them both home, eventually, and as they arrived at her house Josh raced up the stairs and let himself in, filled with the prospect of getting a new pet but more eager to play on his new computer game. He’d been so bored with ‘grown up’ conversation for the last couple of hours and it was then that Trudy took herself by surprise.
‘Listen,’ she said, ‘if you’re free this Saturday, how would you like to go see that new film we we were talking about?’
Chris looked at her, his hands still on the steering wheel and the engine ticking over.
‘Sure,’ he said, ‘but why don’t we meet up in the afternoon and make a bit of a day of it. Hm?’
Trudy thought this was a terrific idea and they arranged to meet in town that weekend.
What follows is an actual transcript from a genuine archive document written in 1963 containing annotations from Sydney Newman the producer responsible for creating the original Dr Who mythology which became the now legendary television series. As you can see, the ‘doctor’ was originally intended to be: ‘A frail old man lost in space and time who has lost his memory’ (sounds very familiar to someone I know).
I discovered this document whilst researching my own ‘time-slip’ writing and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
BBC ARCHIVE. WRITTEN DOCUMENT 1963
“DR. WHO” General Notes on Background and Approach
A series of stories linked to form a continuing serial; thus if each story ran 6 or 7 episodes there would be about 8 stories needed for 52 weeks of the serial. With the overall title, each episode is to have its own title. Each episode of 25 minutes will begin by repeating the closing sequence or final climax of the preceding episode; about halfway through, each episode will reach a climax, followed by blackout before the second half commences (one break).
[Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: “Each episode to end with a very strong cliff hanger.”]
Each story, as far as possible, to use repeatable sets. It is expected that BP [abbreviation for ‘back projection’] will be available. A reasonable amount of film, which will probably be mostly studio shot for special effects. Certainly writers should not hesitate to call for any special effects to achieve the element of surprise essential in these stories, even though they are not sure how it would be done technically: leave it to the Effects people. Otherwise work to a very moderate budget.
There are four basic characters used throughout:—
A with—it girl of 15, reaching the end of her Secondary School career, eager for life, lower—than—middle class. Avoid dialect, use neutral accent laced with latest teenage slang.
MISS McGOVERN (LOLA)
24. Mistress at Biddy’s school. Timid but capable of sudden rabbit courage. Modest, with plenty of normal desires. Although she tends to be the one who gets into trouble, she is not to be guyed: she also is a loyalty character.
27 or 28. Master at the same school. Might be classed as ancient by teenagers except that he is physically perfect, strong and courageous, a gorgeous dish. Oddly, when brains are required, he can even be brainy, in a diffident sort of way.
[Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: “Top of his class in the parallel bars.”]
These are the characters we know and sympathise with, the ordinary people to whom extraordinary things happen. The fourth basic character remains always something of a mystery, and is seen by us rather through the eyes of the other three….
A frail old man lost in space and time. They give him this name because they don’t know who he is. He seems not to remember where he has come from; he is suspicious and capable of sudden malignance; he seems to have some undefined enemy; he is searching for something as well as fleeing from something. He has a “machine” which enables them to travel together through time, through space, and through matter.
QUALITY OF STORY
Evidently, Dr. Who’s “machine” fulfils mary of the functions of conventional Science Fiction gimmicks. But we are not writing Science Fiction. We shall provide scientific explanations too, sometimes, but we shall not bend over backwards to do so, if we decide to achieve credibility by other means. Neither are we writing fantasy: the events have got to be credible to the three ordinary people who are our main characters, and they are sharp—witted enough to spot a phoney. I think the writer’s safeguard here will be, if he remembers that he is writing for an audience aged fourteen… the most difficult, critical, even sophisticated, audience there is, for TV. In brief, avoid the limitations of any label and use the best in any style or category, as it suits us, so long as it works in our medium.
[Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: “Not clear”]
Granted the startling situations, [Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: “What startling situations?”] we snould try to add meaning; to convey what it means to be these ordinary human beings in other times, or in far space, or in unusual physical states. We might hope to be able to answer the question: “Besides being exciting entertainment, for 5 o’clock on a Saturday, what is worthwhile about this serial?”
[Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: “Not clear”]
DR WHO’S “MACHINE”
When we consider what this looks like, we are in danger of either Science Fiction or Fairytale labelling. If it is a transparent plastic bubble we are with all the lowgrade spacefiction of cartoon strip and soap—opera. If we scotch this by positing something humdrum, say, passing through some common object in street such as a night—watchman’s shelter to arrive inside a marvellous contrivance of quivering electronics, then we simply have a version of the dear old Magic Door.
Therefore, we do no see the machine at all; or rather it is visible only as an absence of visibility, a shape of nothingness (Inlaid, into surrounding picture). Dr. Who has achieved this “disappearance” by covering the outside with light—resistant paint (a recognised research project today). Thus our characters can bump into it, run their hands over its shape, partly disappear by partly entering it, and disappear entirely when the door closes behind them.
[Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: “Not visual. How to do? Need tangible
It can be put into an apparently empty van. Wherever they go some contemporary disguise has to be found for it. Many visual possibilities can be worked out. The discovery of the old man and investigation of his machine would occupy most of tne first episode, which would be called:- “Nothing at the End of the Lane”
[Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: “Don’t like this at all. What do we see?”]
The machine is unreliable, being faulty. A recurrent problem is to find spares. How to get thin gauge platinum wire in B.C.1566? Moreover, Dr. Who has lost his memory, so they have to learn to use it, by a process of trial and error, keeping records of knobs pressed and results (This is the fuel for many a long story). After several near-calamities they institute a safeguard: one of their number is left in the machine when the others go outside, so that at the end of an agreed time, they can be fetched back into their own era. This provides a suspense element in any given danger: can they survive till the moment of recall? Attack on recaller etc.
[Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: “Good stuff here”]
Granted this machine, then, we require exciting episodic stories, using surprising visual effects and unusual scenery, about excursions into time, into space, or into any material state we can make feasible. Hardly any time at all is spent in the machine: we are interested in human beings.
OVERALL CONTINUITY OF STORY.
Besides the machine we have tne relationship of the four characters to each other. They want to help the old man find himself; he doesn’t like them; the sensible hero never trusts Dr. Who; Biddy rather dislikes Miss McCovern; Lola admires Cliff… these attitudes developed and varied as temporary characters are encountered and reacted to. The old man provides continuing elements of Mystery, and Quest.
He remains a mystery. From time to time the other three discover things about him, which turn out to be false or inconclusive. (i.e. any writer inventing an interesting explanation must undercut it within his own serial—time, so that others can have a go at tne mystery). They think he may be a criminal fleeing from his owm time; he evidently fears pursuit through time. Sometimes they doubt his loss of memory, particularly as he does have flashes of memory. But also, he is searching for something which he desires heart—and—soul, but which he can’t define. If, for instance, they were to go back to King Arthur’s time, Dr. Who would be immensely moved by the idea of the quest for the Grail. This is, as regards him, a Quest Story, a Mystery Story, and a Mysterious Stranger Story, overall.
While his mystery may never be solved, or may perhaps be revealed slowly over a very long run of stories, writers will probably like to know an answer. Shall we say:—
The Secret of Dr. Who: In his own day, somewhere in our future, he decided to search for a time or for a society or for a physical condition which is ideal, and having found it, to stay there. He stole the machine and set forth on his quest. He is thus an extension of the scientist who has opted out, but he has opted farther than ours can do, at tne moment. And having opted out, he is disintegrating.
[Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: “Don’t like this at all. Dr Who will
become a kind of father figure - I don’t want him to be a reactionary.”]
One symptom of this is his hatred of scientist, inventors, improvers. He can get into a rare paddy when faced witn a cave man trying to invent a wheel. He malignantly tries to stop progress (the future) wherever he finds it, while searching for his ideal (the past). This seems to me to involve slap up—to—date moral problems, and old ones too.
In story terms, our characters see the symptoms and guess at the nature of his trouble, without knowing details; and always try to help him find a home in time and space. wherever he goes he tends to make ad hoc enemies; but also there is a mysterious enemy pursuing him implacably every when: someone from his own original time, probably. So, even if the secret is out by the 52nd episode, it is not the whole truth. Shall we say:—
The Second Secret of Dr. Who: The authorities of his own (or some other future) time are not concerned merely with the theft of an obsolete machine; they are seriously concerned to prevent his monkeying with time, because his secret intention, when he finds his ideal past, is to destroy or nullify the future.
[Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: “Nuts”]
If ever we get thus far into Dr. Who’s secret, we might as well pay a visit to his original time. But this is way ahead for us too. Meanwhile, proliferate stories.
The first two stories will be on the short side, four episodes each, and will not deal with time travel. The first may result from the use or a micro—reducer in the machine which makes our characters all become tiny. By tne third story we could first reveal that it is a time—machine; they witness a great calamity, even possibly the destruction of the earth, and only afterwards realize that they were far ahead in time. Or to think about Christmas: which seasonable story shall we take our characters into? Bethlehem? Was it by means of Dr. Who’s machine that Aladin’s palace sailed through the air? Was Merlin Dr. Who? Was Cinderella’s Godmother Dr. Who’s wife chasing him through time? Jacob Marley was Dr. Who slightly tipsy, but what other tricks did he get up to that
[Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: “I don’t like this much - it reads silly and condescending. It doesn’t get across the basis of teaching of educational experience - drama based upon and stemming from factual material and scientific phenomena and actual social history of past and future. Dr. Who - not have a philosophical arty-science mind - he’d take science, applied and theoretical, as being as natural as eating.”]
A good writer should have their radar on at all times. Life has a way of hurling incidents that, when viewed with ‘novel-goggles’ has a perspective which makes them larger than life and absolute gold dust when it comes to the tricky business of inspiration.
There was an incident which happened to me today which I have to admit was unlike anything I have ever experienced before. So, as an example I guess it’s not typical. However, I wanted to tell you about it as it is still very vivid in my mind and I think it might inspire a bit of creative exploration in your own imagination.
I was waiting in line at a gas station. It was a clear, sunny day with a slight breeze. Ahead of me was one compact vehicle with a female driver. To my left were two other pumps with two and three vehicles respectively and to my right were another two pumps with about the same amount waiting there. It was a busy morning stop-off for us all by the look of it.
The woman in front worked for a real estate company, judging by the signs and livery on her small car but it was clear that she was unfamiliar with the workings of the gas cap. She struggled with it for at least five minutes before eventually (it seemed) breaking it off completely and it rolled under the white van to my left. She heavily stuck the pump nozzle into the hole and walked around the van to get the cap.
She must have been filling the tank to capacity as it seemed to take at least another ten minutes during which time I looked around at the other occupants waiting their turn. By now I had switched off my engine. Behind the van at my left was an old couple and behind me were two female students. To my right was an old man and his wife and behind him: a business man in a suit. Between the pumps I could see a mother with two small pre-school children in the back, but any more than that I was unable to see.
As I sat there just observing what was going on, I became increasingly aware of a terrible sense of dread overwhelming me. I began to have doubts about all kinds of things but wasn’t sure what they were. I had a cascade of fragmented dream sequences slicing their way into my thoughts but they appeared to me as shards of important things forgotten. I began to feel a prickling sensation across my neck and forehead as I grasped at these shattered bytes of what began to feel like an alternative reality in the same way that a hangover delivers you a handful of blurred polaroids and says: “remember this from the night before?” and try as you might, you have no recollection of the scenes before you.
Eventually, the woman appeared to have finished and I was more concerned about being late for work to notice how long she had taken paying for her fuel, but when she returned she seemed concerned that the car wouldn’t start. She fumbled endlessly with the keys and eventually got out and gestured to me to help her push it out of the way. As I stepped out of my car, I realised that I was standing in an inch of petrol which had spread from under her car and outwards to the kerb of the pumps and had flowed under my car and beyond, behind me under their car.
A forecourt attendant ran out from the cash desk and helped push her car forwards to let others through but seemed to not notice the several gallons of freshly seeping petrol that her car was oozing. I went to the back of mine and told the students to back up, or in effect I think in my mental state I actually told them to get the hell out of there, which they did pretty quickly. I too, started my engine up (which I instantly regretted) and backed up enough to get around the furthest pump to my left and past the tanker which had arrived with a delivery of fresh petrol. I drove away from the station, convinced that I hadn’t paid for something or had just robbed them. Such was the state of mental confusion I was experiencing. I have no idea what the outcome of the incident was, but as I never heard an explosion or heard anything on the news, I have to assume that they got the spill cleared up.
My mind was in a state of mosaic, almost hallucinatory paranoia for about two hours after that and it was only after lunch that I was able to check out on the internet, what might have been wrong with me. I realised that I was experiencing a ‘real time’ dream which was being fed to me from my memory. From what I could discover, I am pretty sure that I must have been suffering from a mild case of ‘Toxic Psychosis’ which is a side effect from inhaling petrol fumes, Wikipedia told me. Further, it said that in mild cases, a subject might experience a ‘detachment with reality’ and in severe cases ‘paranoid hallucinations’ and even death. I then recalled that the air inlet pipe for my car is just by the nearside tyre, about six or eight inches from the floor. Then, my ‘novel-goggles’ came on.
Take the above scenario; the characters and add to it a punk robbing the cashier at the same time. He has a stolen car which he can only start by hot wiring and add to that: the tanker fully loaded who clipped the kerb as he parked up, sheering a strut at one end (which now hangs precariously against the concrete and will spark if he moves forward or backward.) With me so far? Ok, this is where it gets exciting. The businessman has just lit a cigarette and the old woman with the old guy (remember him?) is now having am asthma attack, which he is unaware of as he pays. Top it all off with everyone tripping out on the fumes as they sit on this ticking bomb and you have one hell of a great story - who’s going to rescue them? Will they rescue them? How are they going to do it? Will they all fry?
I don’t have an answer, but I’d love to see what you could make of it. I may well do something with this set up at some point, but for now I just wanted to share with you the endless possibilities of real life as a ‘story starter’. Keep your eyes open at all times, just in case that ‘big idea’ comes right up and says hi.
P.S. if you do want to have a go at writing this story, I’d love it if you’d let me know, so we can all read how it ends up, and I’d be kinda grateful if you kept my name on it somehow as the person it happened to or at least inspired your version. Have fun.
Audrey’s husband, not known for his open displays of love in life, managed to get a message through to her on the anniversary of his passing.
‘If only Jim were here. He wouldn’t have let it get this way,’ thought Audrey as she looked through the kitchen window and across the bedraggled, overgrown garden. It wasn’t that she didn’t care, she just didn’t have the energy any more, or if she was honest; the interest. Not since he’d gone anyway.
She was dreading the 25th, in a couple of weeks, as that was to be the anniversary of when it happened. It was also the last time that the garden had had a proper going-over. She’d paid a neighbour to attend to all the essential things from time to time but he didn’t give it the care and attention that Jim did.
That was part of the sadness for Audrey - Jim paid it far too much attention. After his illness, he had become very withdrawn and she’d missed his sense of humour and warm kindness. There was an urgency in all he did in the days before he went, and he had been unusually preoccupied in his greenhouse and around the flowers.
She put it out of her mind as the phone rang.
“Hello mum, it’s Katherine. Me and Richard were wondering how you’d fancy coming to the coast with us all for a week or so.”
Audrey loved Zoe, her granddaughter, very much and they got on like a couple of kids together. She reminded Audrey of herself of when she was young, so later that day she began to prepare all her best clothes and fell asleep with eager excitement at a change of scenery.
‘It will be good to be out of that house for a while, especially with that date approaching,’ she thought. ‘I don’t fancy being alone at the moment.’
The following morning she was sitting in the kitchen with her suitcases packed and her best hat as the car pulled up the drive. Zoe bounded through the door, full of noise as Richard helped her out with the bags.
“It’s going to be so exciting Gran. We’re staying in a caravan. Isn’t that great?” and Audrey smiled as she felt just the same.
On the way there, they played I-spy together in the back seat and shared a huge bag of jelly babies until eventually Zoe fell asleep. It was quite a long journey and before much longer Audrey too had fallen asleep.
“Look at those two, would you? What a pair,” said Richard grinning and looking at them in the mirror.
“Hey, wake up. We’re nearly there,” said Katherine, “Let’s see who can spot the sea first” and they all eagerly peered out of the window to catch the first glimpse of the water.
“I win, I win,” squealed Zoe bouncing Audrey out of her catnap and soon after, Richard was pulling the car alongside the caravan in a little park overlooking the bay.
He heaved a hugh sigh and said “I think I’m ready for a cup of tea, I don’t know about anyone else.”
The following morning they set off early to explore and head for the beach. After a hearty fish and chip lunch, Audrey helped Zoe build sand castles for a while and later, Richard took her to the amusements, while Katherine walked with Audrey to see the gardens on the seafront.
Sitting amongst the early spring blooms and with a fresh breeze about them, Audrey said: “You know, he never said he loved me.”
“Who didn’t mum?”
“Your dad. Never told me to my face.”
“Oh come on. He must have done.”
“He used to write it in cards and things and if I ever asked him, he’d just tease me, but I never heard him say it. Except in the early days of course,” and she smiled at the memories that danced through her mind. “But then, these last few years, after his operation, he just seemed to turn in on himself. He didn’t even talk much let alone tell me how he felt. I began to think that he didn’t love me at all any more. Saw me as a silly old…”
“Now, mum. You mustn’t think like that.”
Just then, Richard and Zoe turned the corner by the gate and waved and together they all walked back to the caravan with stories of the day’s adventure.
The rest of the two weeks seemed to fly by, and they visited all the local tourist attractions, had many trips out into the countryside and even saw a few shows as well.
“That’s where I met him,” said Audrey pointing at the pier on their last day. “I was eating ice creams with my friend Pat, you remember Pat? she married that butcher on Town Street …their son went to Australia,” but Katherine just smiled. “Anyway, Jim came striding up to us with his friend Charlie and he said to me: ‘Would you like to see Tommy Trinder tonight? I’ve got a spare ticket.’ He didn’t, of course, but he was like that. Always found a way of saying the right thing.”
Audrey stared off into the distance and thought about a time long ago.
“Come on mum, it’s getting cold. Early start tomorrow.”
The car journey home seemed much shorter but Audrey felt invigorated by the sea air and the company of little Zoe and as they turned the corner into her street, her tiny house didn’t seem quite so imposing now, especially as the 25th had passed the day before.
As Richard hauled the cases into the hall, Audrey suggested that she put the kettle on and the family flopped down into the chairs in the dining room.
“Your garden looks like it could do with a proper sorting out,” said Richard. “Tell you what, why don’t me and Zoe come over every week or so and get things back into shape for the summer? I’m not so busy on a weekend now that big contract is over. What do you think?”
Audrey thought it was a wonderful idea but just then, Zoe’s voice could be heard calling from the upstairs bedroom.
They all rushed to find out what the fuss was and saw her at the window as she stared in disbelief at the garden below and as they joined her, they all stood in silence.
There, amongst the long grass that was once the lawn were a hundred or so daffodils which had blossomed whilst they were away, very carefully arranged into the shape of a heart.
“So THAT’S what he was doing all that time,” said Audrey through her soft tears.
Katherine hugged her, whispering: “See mum? he told you after all.”
Dinner for one
(Or, The Mad Mortician of Brindle Street)
Joshua looked on in horror as Hickson skilfully removed huge slabs of meat from the body lying on the table before him.
“This,” he said, “is the best bit,” holding up a darkened orb that resembled a heart.
It was the first time that Joshua had seen his employer behave this way but then, it was also his first experience of being an apprentice and being the only funeral directors for many miles meant that Brachs & Barton encountered a steady turnover of customers in that borough. Thomas Barton had died a few years earlier and Brachs had sought an apprentice to train up; to assist him with the work needed to prepare the deceased for internment. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant job and he had struggled to tempt anyone in spite of the handsome salary he had been offering but Joshua was young, built like an ox and quite poor.
London was buoyant following the coronation of George V earlier that year, but work was still scarce. He was fortunate, in that: the job included a small room at the top of the house where he could live. In the beginning, he had been assigned to lesser duties such as tending the horses and dressing the departed’s faces for those who wished to offer their last respects but after some time, Hickson believed that he was ready to learn the process of presenting the cadavers in the gruesome and professional task that, until now, only he was proficient.
The rich aroma of bacon greeted Joshua as he arrived downstairs for work and he found Hickson merrily frying breakfast in the small kitchen at the back of the parlour where he lived.
“Breakfast lad? We have a busy day ahead of us and you’ll need sustenance inside you for the tasks that I have in mind.”
Joshua thanked him and sat at the small table in the centre of the room. Being of humble origins had meant that he was used to spending most of his time in a state of hunger so when his employer was offering the bonus of a free meal, how could he resist?
As Joshua devoured the plate before him, he wiped his chin and commented: “I needed that. I was starving.”
“What do you know of hunger?” snarled Hickson as he poked at the embers in the fireplace. “Have you ever wished you could sleep just to escape the wringing ache in your gut, day after day?”
Joshua was taken aback by his outburst but thought no more of it and thanked him for the meal and all the while, Ratchet, Hickson’s dog, barked around the legs of the table.
“Quiet, you hound! Be silent!” growled Hickson and taking a leash, fixed it to the animal’s collar and lifted it a clear six inches from the floor until its barks became a husky yelp.
Joshua felt that he should say something, but his master’s manner prevented him.
“I’ll bloody teach you to behave like a gentleman’s dog, you…” and without finishing, he dragged the animal across the floor and out into the yard beyond, where it returned to barking as he slammed the door behind him. Later that morning, a thin light shone across the tiled walls of the preparation room as Hickson prepared to treat the corpses and Joshua looked on, as his master began to slice away at the grey mass before him.
“First we must drain all the fluids, like this,” he said and with a few skilful moves he had begun the lengthy process.
An odour, the likes of which Joshua had never encountered, filled his senses and he covered his nose with his sleeve as he coughed. Hickson laughed and looked back at his work.
“Take great heed lad, for these are the secrets of the craft and I am putting great store in you by imparting them.”
However, Joshua was sure that what followed could not be part of the trade as Hickson produced a leather apron filled with butchery tools and began to dissect the various limbs of their muscle, placing the cuts neatly onto a marble slab to one side of the table. Disgust and revulsion bowled through his every vein as he watched this slaughterhouse madness and his mind retched at the anvil memory of his morning meal.
“Aye, It looks like what you are thinking but I am not suggesting you copy this part of the operation. This is for my own purposes,” he said as he delved into the gut of the thing and removed first its liver and then the heart. After a while, there was a banquet of fresh meat arrayed on the block and Hickson reached into a store room for a bag of hay that he had taken from the stables. Stuffing it inside the skin, he stitched up the incisions and washed his hands.
“Now it is ready for the embalming fluid,” he said, stepping closer to the trembling apprentice and punctuating his words with a blade, “but if you should ever tell of my passion for the ‘corpus humanis’, I shall find you; kill you and eat you as well. Mark my words well: An eye for an eye.”
At the funeral the following day, Joshua single-handedly hauled the coffin from the back of the hearse and heaved it into the waiting arms of the pallbearers; the strongest of the deceased family, who took the casket through the stone arch and along the path. Only Hickson knew that the cabinet was heavy with the bricks that he had secreted in its lining.
“Will you not join me in the chapel Mr Brachs?” said Joshua.
Hickson took a hip flask from his waistcoat pocket and shrugged as he leaned against the coach. Joshua looked back at him downing the cheap gin and spitting at Ratchet who was barking at his feet and went inside the chapel. Sitting at the back of the congregation, he began to reason that the cause of Brachs & Barton’s success was that his master, he suspected, was becoming greedy and had begun to murder his clientele - choosing only the ripest victims for his own, as he learned how the deceased had been ‘struck down’ by a vicious assailant ‘at such a young age.’
That night, Joshua was awoken by bitterly arguing voices downstairs.
“I’ll have my money from you one way or another, if it’s the last thing I do,” said a woman’s voice.
“After what you did to me Gwendolyn? I can scarcely believe your impudence in the matter.”
“You owe me alimony stretching back for months now. That child of yours needs shoes and clothes. Just how do you expect me to provide those?”
Ratchet was barking furiously as the two jousted their positions ever closer to conclusion.
“If you hadn’t ruined my business, none of this would have happened.”
“We all know what happened to Thomas and I’m sure that there are others who would be very keen to learn about your ‘business’ if I had the inclination to tell them. See that you have that money for me by Friday week,” she said and Joshua heard the sound of the front door as she disappeared into the night.
For a long while afterwards, Hickson could be heard clattering about in the kitchen along with Ratchet’s incessant barking which eventually came to a husky halt. The incident had troubled Joshua greatly and in the days that followed, the seeds of curiosity took hold and his resentment grew like vine, encircling every corner of his thoughts.
As the two of them rode back from a funeral a week later, he felt compelled to confront a question that had been foremost in his mind. “What happened to Barton?”
Hickson thrashed the reins, snarling: “Don’t ever let me hear you utter the name of that scoundrel in my presence!”. Joshua steadied himself as the horses recoiled from the chastisement.
“Why?” bellowed Hickson into the wind, “Because he stole my wife whilst she was still heavy with my child and I will not speak of it again.”
The following afternoon, Joshua was surprised to receive a visit from Gwendolyn who arrived without announcement when Hickson was out, having gone up to London on business.
“I’m afraid the master is not in, Ma’am.”
“I know,” she said, “it is you that I wish to speak with.” Joshua showed her into the sitting room and sat, facing her.
“I suspect that you know of Hickson’s practices, but before you deny it, let me say that: I am well aware of the extent of what happens between these walls.” Joshua was stunned but she continued- “I have been extracting money from him for my silence but now I want more and I am prepared to pay you handsomely if you can assist me in …disposing of him, so that I may inherit his fortune.”
Gwendolyn’s empowering words echoed through the haunted corridors of Joshua’s mind from that moment forward and as he went about his daily work the next day, he became resolute in the allegiance that her conspiracy had offered him. He didn’t join Hickson for breakfast that morning, or any other that followed, as he had already begun to cook his own wicked recipe. Having access to the bodies now provided him with the perfect opportunity to inject them with the embalming fluid before Hickson’s intervention and this he did with furious intent. Each day he watched him devour the poisoned steak and he recalled Gwendolyn’s carefully detailed instructions - His death would never be detected as it would be seen as a hazard of the job following his demise, she had told him - it seemed the perfect murder.
In the weeks that followed, Joshua saw the master descend from being an imposing and incumbent force within the household to being a frail and pathetic shadow and how he relished every passing signifier until the day that he finally died, without struggle, as he slept. Joshua was elated to discover him lying in his pit and was particularly energised after he had informed the authorities and began the process of preparation for the funeral but he had a final act of defiance to complete, for his own sanity.
As the body was lain on the table, he used the skills which had been imparted to him in removing the most select tissue which he later prepared as a feast for Ratchet. The dog gobbled the the fresh meat with adoring enthusiasm as Joshua stood proudly in the kitchen feeling freed at last from the horrors he had learned to endure. Little did he know: the true implication of this pedantry gesture.
The minister spoke quietly in the autumnally muted cemetery the next day and his voice hung heavily on the pitiful few who were gathered there. Reciting the words of Job from his crow-black leather book, he gazed emptily at the darkened sky.
“Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery…”
“I need to speak with you Joshua,” whispered Gwendolyn so slightly that her words were almost unspoken beneath her veil as she leaned toward him.
“Oh?” he mouthed. His hands clasped before him, tightened their grip.
“In the midst of life we are in death…”
“You have served me well, master Hepton, but I have a final task for you. My underwriters have attended to matters in my favour, as it is the building that is quite clearly the true extent of Hickson’s wealth.
“…earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust…”
“Therefore, I need you to be absent for a few days. Consider it a compassionate sabbatical. Further, I would suggest that you find suitable lodgings as there might well be a significant ‘accident’ to the building.”
Joshua’s mind reeled like a sailor, freshly landed in port - such was the intoxication of her implications.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “I shall provide for you, for you have more than provided for me” and Joshua was sure that the vaguest smile played about her lips.
“…and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore. Amen.”
That evening, in the still darkness of a cheap lodging house not far from the parlour, Joshua looked out across the rooftops and saw the crimson glow of flames engulfing the building. As the smell of the blaze was thick in the air, he felt the weight lifting from his heart into the night sky and the torment of such terrible deeds (and his own part in it all) peeled from his soul and drifted out to join the rank stench of evil. As he watched in the stillness of his contempt, Ratchet - the innocent animal he had saved from the catastrophe, with the taste for human flesh still on its tongue, snarled with him in its sight.
Mystical phrases retold in English
This is the first of several blogs about #storycraft based on extensive research and study. Whilst the definitions may not be conclusive (or indeed correct!) they nevertheless provide a starting point for discussion and further citation. Please feel free to comment or contribute.
The novel ‘query’ (to agents, publishers etc)
The goal is not about ‘selling’ the novel in question, it’s about getting a ‘follow up’. people like to work with people and you want them to work with you (as you talk confidently ‘about’ your novel). Remember, you’re suggesting a long term relationship, so you’d better have more ideas in the hat for later down the line (or: if they don’t like your novel idea, but like your ‘style’).
This is a one sentence ‘hit’ that sums up the entire story in (not usually more than) twenty five simple, enticing and direct words. (Sometimes known as an ‘elevator pitch’)
The STORY synopsis
Often confused with the plot synopsis, this form details the chronological sequence of events which lead to a final culmination or resolution. Because of the (often lengthy) build up and background detail, this form is best left as ‘research material’ as it is not necessarily the ‘big story’ - the tale ‘actually’ being told.
The PLOT synopsis
As the name suggests, this is purely a concise description of the key sequences revealing the motives, obstructions and conclusion. The plot is the sequence in which the story is told.
The THEME synopsis
This is a snapshot ‘overview’ of the characters and their contribution to the main plot revealing the cause of resolution. This might follow the ‘actual’ plot and may well be a ‘who-did-what’ explanation.
The BLURB synopsis
This is the ‘marketing tool’ version that encompasses elements of the ‘plot’ and ‘theme’, revealing the main hook but witholding the resolution and (perhaps) hinting at the twist.
An aging street beggar is being kicked to death by thugs in a darkened park. They laugh as he bleeds and we hear his thoughts as he recounts why he was reduced to being a homeless destitute.
He’d lost his job, his home, his life because of something so terrible that he did which was simply a monumental error of judgement on his part. The event had a catastrophic effect on his life and those around him.
He’d become homeless following his release from prison and no one would talk to him, especially his family - they’d completely cut him off by then and his son went into care and in time he lost touch.
The half-way house and the benefits system had failed him and he could no longer hold down a steady job, so he simply gave up. All he wanted was to forget and for the world to forget about him.
His employers had let him go when the story first made the headlines but it was her that drove him to it. He knew it was the right thing to do but his son hated him for it.
He loved Rosemary so much. They’d met at school and were sweethearts right from the beginning. She was the first and only woman he’d truly loved. How proud he was when their son was born. Now they were a proper family, he thought, and he worked very hard to provide.
Her illness came completely out of nowhere and quickly became the centre of their world. The treatment was so expensive that they struggled to meet the rising costs and soon became in great debt.
He took extra shifts at the plant where he worked but that just meant that he had less time with her. Her needs became greater and she eventually begged him to release her, such was the pain of her endurance.
‘At least Stevie will stand a chance in life without the burden of me on the family and together they planned a way for her to end it all but through it all he was torn. He knew she wanted to die, and it seemed the loving thing to do.
He’d not seen his son for years, not since before it all became public. He’d become a young man now and probably wouldn’t recognise his dad anymore - a tatty shadow of his old self. But he recognised his son’s voice well enough, shouting at him in the drizzle as the fatal blow came to his temple.