Review ‘Too Much Lip’ by Melissa Lucashenko

The incessant fights in the Salter family are too real, their plight is real, every word is real and that’s what damaged me the most.  I took long walks due to the serious and unrelenting nature of the content.  Loaded with the troubles of the Salter family, cruel sarcasm, too much drink, too many smokes, I was getting worn down right along with them.  It took me a month to read this book in fits and starts but I’m glad I did.

Abrasive characters are well portrayed which makes them doubly annoying, they need to be accepted warts and all, like ‘mouthy’ Kerry Salter and her unlikable brother Ken who argue every minute of the day.  I’m sure I’d have put Ken in hospital at about Chapter Three.

Maybe take the pressure off young Donny.

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Bad things are happening, but as long as Kerry’s Harley Softail is safe.

Early on, Bundjalung woman Kerry has returned to her home town of Durrongo, and grieves the loss of her girlfriend Allie, her Pop and her stolen blue backpack.  She does a B&E, part retribution, part spirit world, and the universe turns a notch.  Fair move, but repercussions come later.  Then there’s romance in the form of her hot eye-candy boyfriend Steve Abarco who’s the flagship for level-headed, rock-solid men.

Kerry’s tarot card-reading mother Pretty Mary celebrates a birthday and those volatile chapters are my favourites.  At the party is another brother, gay Black Superman, maybe long-dead sister Donna, plus assorted Aunts (called Mary) Uncles and children who gust through the pages like eucalyptus smoke.  But forget about opening old family wounds, I’d say a lump the size of police headquarters sits in the pit of their stomachs, continually irritating their every move.

The battle against a new prison, to be built on sacred ground where Salter ancestors are laid to rest, ramps up with a land rights campaign.  Enter cops like Senior Sergeant Trevor Nunne and money-hungry Mayor Jim Buckley.  Ken’s flamboyant gesture on a piece of Buckley’s property was not appreciated and leads to disastrous retaliation.

You will have noticed that I am not giving too much away.

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Two Aboriginal kingplates I photographed in a display cabinet at Ipswich Art Galley, Queensland.

Writing style-wise, I did wondered why Kerry wasn’t written in first person.  Some events are seeded in advance while others appear to be inserted later to up-the-ante.  Every so often the voice changes, doubt creeps in, there’s a lull.  Or a change in atmosphere with The Doctor.  Occasionally things become omnipotent and POVs jump in and out of people’s heads but that can be overlooked for scary brave writing.

If you are not Australian, you WILL become lost in the slang and cultural references.

Try anyway.

Read this rude, gutsy book if you ARE offended by swearing, truisms close to the bone, and the struggles of Indigenous people.  As Ken says in Chapter 15 ‘How to invade other people’s countries and murder ‘em, and call it civilisation’.

It’s a strong insight into the modern world and an ancient culture, one which doesn’t need skyscrapers because Country is a place of belonging and a way of believing.

Good onya, Melissa, for audaciously holding your nerve*

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


* REFERENCE : Sydney Morning Herald interview insights into the writing of ‘Too Much Lip’
https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/melissa-lucashenko-too-much-lip-was-a-frightening-book-to-write-20180724-h1326h.html

AUTHOR PROFILE : Melissa Lucashenko is an acclaimed Aboriginal writer of Goorie and European heritage.  Since 1997 Melissa has been widely published as an award-winning novelist, essayist and short story writer.

AUTHOR WEBSITE : https://www.melissa-lucashenko.com/

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Indrani Ganguly ‘The Rose and The Thorn’ Book Review

Author Indrani Ganguly based her historical novel in Lucknow, India, a city renowned as the most refined of the Muslim kingdoms where she, her mother and grandmother were born.  In 1857 the Siege of Lucknow was also the scene of some of the most brutal fighting during the country’s uprisings.

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Indrani Ganguly’s novel is an illuminating blend of fact and fiction.  Twins Mukti and Lila Chatterjee—the eponymous rose and thorn compared to a black rose in their garden—are the heart and soul of the story.  Ganguly’s research is comprehensive thanks to an academic background, and her foreword mentions some family memories.  She explains the book is not a personal history of her family, although I think there are insights which add to the charm of the narrative.

Two parallel movements emerged in India in the 19th and 20th centuries, the national movement of Independence and the social reform to uplift the most vulnerable sections of society.  During this time of national and social upheaval, the role of Indian women makes enlightening reading.

India Father and Children 1930sLucknow Rose and Thorn

There are six families in “The Rose and The Thorn”.  The main characters are Jai Chatterjee, history professor, his wife Shanti and their twin daughters Mukti and Lila.  Then follows The Mukherjees, The Alis, The Johnsons, The Banerjees, and The Maharajas.  It is easy to keep track as the years unfold, events develop in clear progression and the tension builds.

Young Mukti innocently reads the signs of civil unrest in a 1922 pamphlet calling for a boycott on foreign clothing, and the event is witnessed by her British friend Elizabeth and father Alan when riding in a tanga (horse-drawn transport).  Protesters burn clothes on a huge bonfire, quickly followed by police aggression.  One of the police inspectors, Anil, is a Chatterjee family member.

India horse-drawn Tanga

India Mahatma GandhiAround this time, non-violent resistance advocate Mahatma Gandhi is arrested and imprisoned for two years for publishing seditious material.

The twins Lila and Mukti grow up, marriages are arranged and their resilient personalities emerge to deal with life; the loss of loved ones, writing for radical newspaper Chandpur Barta, social work at a women’s centre, and an eventful protest march for women’s rights.

As a young woman in 1970s I was woven into the women’s liberation movement but did not realise how long Indian women had faced their own battles.  They were invisible, they survived as long as they had a man, otherwise they were classed as nothing.  From a 21st century stance, I find it difficult to comprehend the household dictates of that time and the shocking treatment of widows.

The character portrayals of the men and women in the story are strong, and they have firm opinions on the subjects of politics and political activism—handsome Rashid Ali spices things up!  His mother Ruksana is also a driving force.  Mosquito-hating Krishna Banerjee and the Maharaja are men not to be underestimated.  Societal revolutions are brewing but the big question is ‘Will Congress win?’  If women had the vote things may have been different.

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I was interested in the chapters dated March 1923 because that was the year my mother was born.  As my mother grew up, I wonder how much she and her Australian contemporaries knew of the Partition turmoil in India?  I knew India was part of the British Commonwealth but certainly didn’t learn about their struggles.  To quote the prologue “There are no martyrs’ monuments or eternal burning flames…” for the ordinary women who led extraordinary lives.

On a lighter note, Chapter 25, March 1923 “The Governor’s Ball” has an outrageous encounter with the Governor’s wife.  And during a family visit to the Taj Mahal, a wandering minstrel strolls by, strumming his ektara (traditional one-stringed musical instrument) singing a saucy song:

There was a rose and a thorn in my life
One was my lover and one was my wife.
Which was which I could not tell
It changed day-by-day and as night fell . . .

. . . I don’t want to give too much away, dear reader, but I will say there is a secret.

Author Ganguly explains that representing the dialogue in English was a challenge.  The two languages used in the book are Hindi and Bengali which have very different grammar syntax.  She overcame this and the result is flowing dialogue containing a smattering of Indian words which enhance the story.

India Food Luchi Eggplant 01The woven cloth khadi, and sweet and savoury food references enticed me to look for translations.  I found a recipe for Mukti’s favourite dish, freshly fried luchi and eggplant.

My curiosity was piqued by the influential roles of India’s royals, the Maharaja and Maharani, in the story.  I read a quote from modern-day Princess Shivranjani of Jodhpur who doesn’t have a problem with only male heirs inheriting but aptly retorts “If you say a boy is everything and a girl is nothing, well, I have a problem with that!”

Indian Goddess Maa Durga Devi 03Powerful Goddess Durga, whose name is spoken several times in the book, also got me researching.  “Durga” in Sanskrit means “invincible” and numerous Mantras are chanted for her throughout the year.

The era of Indian history from 1916 to 1947 is brought alive by Indrani Ganguly through the eyes of Mukti and Lila, and the wise and courageous women who supported them.  While I did not choose a favourite between the rose and the thorn, I enjoyed their journey and learned a lot about the faith and endurance of families in India during those turbulent times.

The epilogue narrator says “I myself travelled many different paths till I joined my father in Delhi but that is another story.”  I look forward to reading it!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward



AUTHOR PROFILE

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Author Indrani Ganguly

Indrani Ganguly was born of Bengali parents in Lucknow, India.  Her parents imbued her with a strong sense of Indian and world history and culture, and a great appreciation of  diversity in all its forms.  Indrani studied English Honours and sociology in India and did her PhD on the impact of British occupation on revolution and reform in West Bengal from the Australian National University.  In 1990, Indrani married an Australian with whom she now lives in Brisbane, Queensland.  They have a son, daughter and grandson.

Published by Boolarong Press
https://www.boolarongpress.com.au/product/the-rose-and-the-thorn/
[NOTE General photographs are for illustration purposes only]

Here is the YouTube link to BBC’s Great Indian Railway Journeys video which documents the history and scenes of Lucknow, and shows the buildings which Indrani Ganguly writes about in her book.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CckjZafH0vI

‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ by Kate Morton

Not my usual genre

but I love and respect this book. It deserves the status of a 21st century classic.  Narrated by numerous voices from Birdie Bell to Elodie Winslow, I was immersed in a mystery with twists and ghostly turns, fine art and emotional lives of several families over two centuries of turmoil and heartbreak.

The fluid nature of ‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ is similar

to the ebb and flow of a river.  In this case the Thames, and the reader should move with the tide, not fight against it.  Accept each individual character and enjoy their allotted time in the book, otherwise an undercurrent could pull you down into reader malaise which may cause you to miss the best bits.

Human emotions are the core of this novel

but some criticism seems to be there are too many characters.  Why?  The classics and modern historical fiction have loads of characters.  I think Kate Morton truly loved her cast of players and couldn’t bear to trim them to fit a mere trifle like a word limit.  Each person has a purpose!

Perhaps the 21st century reader has difficulty due to

a shorter attention span?
less retentive memory?
poorer concentration?
reading skills only suitable for glancing at a small screen?
Tick all of the above
(Sorry, just had to lecture…)

My friends know that rarely, if ever, do I reread a book

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because once read, never forgotten – well, almost – but ‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ is the first book in years which I have felt compelled to reread.  It touched on many threads in my own familial life and exposed feelings and understandings.  In one chapter, I had to stop because the emotion became too much as I recalled several elements of my own family’s journey through life and death.  My grandfather was an early 20th century artist, talented and struggling to make a living, perhaps similar to Edward Radcliffe.

Triggered by outstanding writing, we pour our own sentiments into a story

and Kate Morton succeeded in cracking my heart just enough to make the sadness bearable.  Then the atmosphere lightens, a scene change like a stroll in springtime.

Synopsis from publishers Simon and Schuster

https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/The-Clockmakers-Daughter/Kate-Morton/9781451649413

“In the depths of a 19th-century winter, a little girl is abandoned on the streets of Victorian London.  She grows up to become in turn a thief, an artist’s muse, and a lover.  In the summer of 1862, shortly after her eighteenth birthday, she travels with a group of artists to a beautiful house on a bend of the Upper Thames.  Tensions simmer and one hot afternoon a gunshot rings out.  A woman is killed, another disappears, and the truth of what happened slips through the cracks of time.  It is not until over a century later, when another young woman is drawn to Birchwood Manor, that its secrets are finally revealed.”

Oh, secrets revealed

but there are a couple of unanswered questions.  This is where a keen reader sees the clever intertextuality and works it out for themselves from the vignettes Kate Morton has polished and refined for us.   Even down to the defining chapter headings—or didn’t anyone notice that.  This story is a puzzle, it appeared to be disparate people until I followed the signposts, keeping observations tucked away for future reference.  Gradually events join up, different eras are linked, a genealogical timeline exposed.

Here’s my incomplete list of characters…

Elodie Winslow, modern archivist
Tip, her great-uncle
Handmade leather satchel
Birdie Bell, young pickpocket
Lily Millington, pickpocket and artist’s muse
Mrs Mack, purveyor of crime
Martin Mack, thug
Pale Joe, sickly boy
Birchwood Manor
Fairy folk tale
Edward Radcliffe, artist and portrait painter
Frances Brown, his fiancée
Lucy Radcliffe, his sister
Thurston Holmes, unpleasant friend
Ada Lovegrove, sad student
Juliet, newspaper columnist
Jack, ex-policeman
Radcliffe Blue diamond

There are beautiful paragraphs

which I would love to reproduce, although being taken out of context would ruin the impact.  There’s grimy poverty stricken London, the joy of wildflowers, the thunder in a storm, a fascinating country manor, the love between Edward Radcliffe and Lily Millington, the dubious behaviour of their friends and family culminating in a shocking moment followed by the ultimate conclusion.

I won’t divulge crucial plot points and

my recommendation is to read ‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ without preconceived notions.  Unlike reviewer Caroline E. Tew, Crimson Staff Writer of The Harvard Crimson, I did not expect a resolution that is literal, practical or easy to digest.  Have a pinch of romance in your soul.

There’s a 12-Minute PDF Blog summary out there which should have a Spoiler Alert.  It reports inaccurately on a clue, and pretty much gives the game away.  I am glad I did NOT read it prior to reading the novel.  It exposes the plot in a clinical fashion, ruining the atmosphere and skimming across Kate Morton’s beautiful prose and depth of feeling.

On the other hand

an exceptionally good review of ‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ by Jo Casebourne of The Reading Project will give you well-rounded insights into the story and characters in chronological order from 1860s to present day.

Naturally author Kate Morton’s website is an absolute must
https://www.katemorton.com/behind-the-clockmakers-daughter/

I have reproduced a chapter vignette (below) to show a scene of top-notch character writing.  But first, let me ask you to ponder this key question, answerable after reading the book.  Out of the four woman, mother, sister, lover, fiancée, who do you think loved Edward Radcliffe the most?

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Chapter Sixteen ‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ Extract

Leonard Gilbert, ex-soldier, researching the Radcliffe family.
Lucy Radcliffe, now elderly yet still sharp.

“The cottage was pleasantly dark inside, and it took a moment for his gaze to arrive at Lucy Radcliffe in the midst of all her treasures.  She had been expecting him only a minute before, but clearly had more important things to do than sit in readiness.  She was engrossed in her reading, posed as still as marble in a mustard-coloured armchair, a tiny figure in profile to him, a journal in her hand, her back curved as she peered through a magnifying glass at the folded paper.  A lamp was positioned on a small half-moon table beside her and the light it cast was yellow and diffuse.  Underneath it, a teapot sat beside two cups.
‘Miss Radcliffe,’ he said.
‘Whatever do you think, Mr Gilbert?’  She did not look up from her journal.  ‘It appears that the universe is expanding.’
‘Is it?’ Leonard took off his hat.  He couldn’t see a hook on which to hang it, so he held it in two hands before him.”

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Five Star Ratingstar twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03

Review ‘The Chicken Soup Murder’ by Maria Donovan

The plot twists and turns over many months as I follow the lives of three families jolted sideways after two untimely deaths.

Michael’s friend Janey has lost her dad to cancer and Michael understands this, but the other person who died?  Nextdoor neighbour and dear friend Irma.  Was it a heart condition, an accident or murder?

The safe, cosy world of young Michael and his Nan changes dramatically.  Michael also has to cope with George, a bully, who moves into Irma’s house with his father Shawn prior to her death.

IMG_20190427_151647The sudden loss of Irma is deeply felt by Michael.  As the saying goes he has “an old head on young shoulders” but is confused over what actually happened and gets no help from the adults.  Strong opinions and conflicting advice are tossed his way.

Deep down Michael believes Irma was murdered and is determined to convince Nan and the gatekeepers.  There are complexities to face and he over-reaches in the hope of finding justice.  Anxiety joins his grief, he challenges his homelife and raises old questions.  Why does he live with his grandmother?  Where are his parents?

During a bad night, Michael’s old teddy bear comes down off the shelf for support as he works on his theory of Irma’s demise.  He thinks she may have been poisoned.  The chicken soup in question was homemade by Irma and well loved by Michael, his favourite panacea for cold symptoms.  In fact, he is sniffling when she goes off to make him chicken soup and disaster strikes.

At one stage, Michael suspects his Nan – she’s my favourite character! – and while out walking he dashes away and hides.  Quote “Michael?” calls Nan.  I don’t move.  “Michael”.  “He’s fallen in the bloody moat,” says the man who isn’t Grandad.  “Good job there’s no water in it.”  “Feeder canal,” says Nan.  “This is no time to be right about everything,” he growls.  I’ve never heard anyone tell Nan off like that before. Unquote.

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Real clue? Fake clue?

Author Maria Donovan portrays well-rounded, believable characters and each brings small yet highly significant details to the story.  Bully and his father are thorns in Michael’s side but nothing distracts him from the hunt for clues.  Janey has her own family problems.  To relieve her frustration she gets a box of golf balls and stands in The Middle, a green opposite the houses, and slogs each white ball as hard as she can…

Being of a nosey disposition myself, I empathise with Michael’s underlying emotions and the need for resolution.  Unfortunately this drive consumes him to the point of performing an ill-advised concert song.  Tension escalates and stoic Nan marches towards a showdown.  Maria Donovan’s tightly written finale comes at a penultimate time of year for everyone.

IMG_20190427_152828Skillfully woven through the story are school holidays, the seaside, and events on telly like Wimbledon, Test Cricket and 2012 Paralympics.  Halloween high jinks are followed by a traditional Guy Fawkes bonfire night.  Occasionally the zeitgeist side-tracks Michael’s quest yet adds a kaleidoscope of nostalgia for me.

Michael’s journey isn’t for children although young adult readers would identify with the youthful side.  Part mystery, part coming-of-age, I think adults will enjoy the unique elements of the plot, and appreciate less gore than currently found in mystery novels.

Maria Donovan’s book walks a fine line between innocence and adult behaviour and succeeds in capturing the mood beautifully.  It demands to be read again.  Seek out those clever clues!

My star rating star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY:

Maria Donovan Book Launch

‘The Chicken Soup Murder’ is Maria Donovan’s debut novel and was a finalist for the Dundee International Book Prize.  Apart from this book, Maria has many literary credits to her name including her flash fiction story ‘Chess’ which won the Dorset Award in the Bridport Prize 2015.

Maria is a native of Dorset UK and has strong connections with Wales (also in the book) and Holland.  Her past careers include training as a nurse in the Netherlands, busking with music and fire around Europe and nine years lecturing in Creative Writing at the University of Glamorgan, South Wales.

Visit Maria Donovan online www.mariadonovan.com
Twitter https://twitter.com/mariadonovanwri
Facebook http://facebook.com/mariadonovanauthor

I can highly recommend the informative Chicken Soup Murder Q&A with Maria Donovan and Shauna Gilligan.

Dylan Thomas ‘Under Milk Wood’ Wales Readathon 2019

#dewithon19 logo

I found myself drawn to ‘Under Milk Wood’ by Dylan Thomas after accepting an open invitation from Book Jotter to participate in Wales Readathon by reading a book or two from any Welsh writer during March.

Because I wanted to read a physical book, my search had its ups and down until I visited my local library.  Ah, libraries, magical places!

Wales Readathon Dewithon (1)

I now have in my possession (for a limited time) an updated paperback edition of ‘Under Milk Wood’ published 2000 and based on the definitive 1995 edition.  The original was first published in Great Britain in 1954.  The cover art above is taken from ‘Abstract With Woman’s Head’ an oil painting by Evan Walters.  The paperback has been well-read, with yellowing pages, and the print is small.  Initially glancing through it, I thought it had longer introductions and more explanatory notes than the play length!

First, the book blurb to get you started—

Synopsis is taken directly from the back of the book, written when people read longer paragraphs:

“In 1951, two years before his death at the age of thirty-nine, Dylan Thomas wrote of his plan to complete a radio play, ‘an impression for voices, an entertainment out of the darkness, of the town I live in, and to write it simply and warmly and comically with lots of movement and varieties of moods, so that, at many levels . . . you come to know the town as an inhabitant of it’.

The work was Under Milk Wood – an orchestration of voices, sights and sounds that conjure up the dreams and waking hours of an imagined Welsh seaside village within the cycle of one day.  Thomas’s flawed villagers reveal a world of delight, gossip and regret, of varied and vivid humanity; a world that his classic ‘play for voices’ celebrates as ‘this place of love’.”

And, I might add, a snapshot of history, a way of life changed forever.  The VOICE OF A GUIDE-BOOK on page 19 hints at Llareggub being a backwater.  In Dylan Thomas’ time the part where Mog Edwards boasts that he will take Myfanwy Price away to his Emporium on the hill ‘where the change hums on wires’ was already a dying era.  But Thomas shows us that basic personalities never really change.

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Now some background information—

Dylan Thomas (1914 – 1953) is a poetry icon, he even has his own day on 14th May.  No doubt ‘Under Milk Wood’ has been analysed within an inch of its life, so it will be difficult to choose a path not already well-trodden.  For starters, I am not going to tell you Dylan Thomas’ life story – his granddaughter Hannah handles that beautifully.

I will say that Dylan Thomas finished polishing his play for voices ‘Under Milk Wood’ in 1953 and performed it in New York.  It went on to become a BBC radio drama, stage plays, films and produced in several other formats in Wales and around the world.  Australian pianist and composer Tony Gould‘s 1997 ‘Under Milk Wood’ adaptation (written for narrator and chamber orchestra) was performed by actor John Stanton and the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra.

Several Australian versions followed, including a one-woman production of the text performed at the Sidetrack Theatre in Sydney, New South Wales.  Actress Zoe Norton Lodge performed all 64 characters in the play – and I like to think at least one was based on her father, a proud Welshman.

And finally my book review—

Got a coffee handy?  I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this classic.

Spoken by an omniscient narrator, the opening paragraph of ‘Under Milk Wood’ gave me chills.  If you’ve got the time, I’d like you to read it.

[Silence]
FIRST VOICE [Very softly]

‘To begin at the beginning:
It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters-and-rabbits wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black crowblack, fishingboat bobbing sea.  The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine tonight in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows’ weeds.  And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now.’

He goes on to describe the people and the animals, the town and household items until we arrive at ‘ . . . the big seas of their dreams.  From where you are, you can hear their dreams.’  Then we learn about Captain Cat, the retired blind sea captain.

FIRST DROWNED
Remember me, Captain?
CAPTAIN CAT
You’re Dancing Williams!
FIRST DROWNED
I lost my step in Nantucket.

And just like that, you know you’re in for a rollicking time!

Make no mistake, it contains dark adult concepts.  Fear, foibles and funny thoughts are exposed, things which the villagers would prefer hidden from view.  At the same time, it doesn’t matter because whatever country or town you live in, I think Dylan Thomas’ characters are universal and show us that love, lust, greed, spite and skullduggery can lurk inside every home.  The odd behaviour of Lord Cut-Glass and his clocks, Mr Pugh’s poisonous ideas, Mrs Dai Bread One and Two; the good, bad and temperamental folk are laid bare in the most lyrical of terms but at the same time asking us to accept and forgive.

As for individual characteristics, I consider Nogood Boyo has the right idea.  He goes out in a dinghy, ships the oars and drifts in the bay, lying in the hull among the tangled fishing lines.  NOGOOD BOYO [Softly, lazily] ‘I don’t know who’s up there (on Llareggub Hill) and I don’t care.’  Page 29.  But inquisitive readers do.  On page 55 Reverend Eli Jenkins muses about his deceased father Esau who fell sleep in a corn field and had his leg scythed off.  Reverend Eli thinks ‘Poor Dad, to die of drink and agriculture.’

Listicle 06Rhymes are chanted and there are various words unknown to me so I appreciated the Textual Notes at the back of the book.  The editors, Messrs Walford Davies and Ralph Maud, took exception to BBC copywriters dropping commas, changing spelling or capitalising/italicising words which were not in Thomas’ original manuscript.  So ‘take that BBC!’ from pages 81 to 104 they have been painstakingly corrected.

But, I say (holding up my pointer finger like a school teacher), while Mr Thomas was said to be an excellent speller, I think I spy with my little eye, a possible hiccup on page 37 and I quote ‘ . . . the drugged, bedraggled hens at the back door whimper and snivel for the lickerish bog-black tea.’  Could that word be ‘licorice’?  No, this man rocks poetic license and knows exactly what he’s doing.

Just for the record, I’m not entering the ‘Under Milk Wood’ book title debate.  The name of the fictional fishing village of Llareggub, where the entire dawn-to-dusk scene takes place, appears to be Welsh but if you read it backwards, it says something quite different.

There are several evocative paragraphs I could elaborate on with great relish, however, since I did not study Dylan Thomas at school, this blog post could be in danger of turning into a starstruck student essay.  I will close with one of the milder pieces:

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‘From Beynon Butchers in Coronation Street, the smell of fried liver sidles out with onions on its breath.  And listen!  In the dark breakfast-room behind the shop, Mr and Mrs Beynon, waited upon by their treasure, enjoy, between bites, their every-morning hullabaloo, and Mrs Beynon slips the gristly bits under the tasselled tablecloth to her fat cat.’ Page 27.

An excerpt from the final paragraph reads:  ‘The thin night darkens.  A breeze from the creased water sighs the streets close under Milk waking Wood.  The Wood, whose every tree-foot’s cloven in the black glad sight of the hunters of lovers . . . the suddenly wind-shaken wood springs awake for the second dark time this one Spring Day.’  That makes my mind reel – in a good way.

Grab a copy and read it out aloud—Rated Five Daffodils!

Wales Readathon Dewithon 2019 08Wales Readathon Dewithon 2019 08Wales Readathon Dewithon 2019 08Wales Readathon Dewithon 2019 08Wales Readathon Dewithon 2019 08

Diolch yn fawr, mwynhewch ddarllen!  Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Dewithon Logo Daffs


Twitter #dewithon19

Wales Readathon https://bookjotter.com/category/wales-readathon/

DHQ: Dewithon 2019 https://bookjotter.com/2018/03/26/dhq-dewithon19/

Suggested http://readingwales.org.uk/en/

A Dragon Delivered My Parcel

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I was waiting for the delivery of a book written by UK author Maria Donovan.  The title and synopsis of ‘The Chicken Soup Murder’ hint at a delicious yet deadly coming-of-age mystery.

There was scratching at the front door and our well-trained pet dragon stood there with a grin on his face.  He had collected the parcel from the letterbox in anticipation of a treat.  I patted him on the head and said ‘Good boy’ then picked up the parcel.  He whined.  I laughed.  ‘Okay, I’ll get a couple of nuts’.

Inside the door, I placed the parcel on the sideboard.  Underneath was an old rusty toolkit containing old rusty bits and pieces.  I selected a couple of flange nuts and one bolt, gave them a squirt with WD40, and went back outside.

Part of the game was a quick toss-and-gulp and if you weren’t ready you’d miss it.  I closed the front door on the slobbering noises and went to find a pair of scissors.  The Booktopia cardboard was tough but I wrested it open.

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And there was the pristine book I had so eagerly awaited!  At the moment, I’ve only read up to Page 20 so I am sorry to disappoint you but my book review will be in another blog post further down the track.  As my auntie used to say ‘Keep you in suspenders.’

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Happy Valentine’s Day

Valentine's Day 11Valentine's Day 01Valentine's Tree 03

Valentine's Day 12

Sonnet 116: Let Me Not to the Marriage of True Minds

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove.

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wand’ring bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me prov’d,

I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

By William Shakespeare

🎀

Love to all Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Beach Boys and West Coast Girls

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Guest post from Maud Fitch who looks at 20th century male chauvinism, surfer culture and skin cancer.

Okay, she looks at one particular song––California Girls by The Beach Boys––with the observation that it reeks of male teen spirit.

Thanks for filling in, Maud.  “No problemo,” she writes “My comments relate to the inequality of the sexes and when males sang about women with such defining features, dare I say ‘personalities’, that a song could transcend the decades.  Whereas women sang about males who are leaving/arriving or causing tears/heartache and are not physically described, leaving nothing etched in the memory.” 

Maud’s musical hypothesis…

If you don’t know the song lyrics (lucky you) here they are:

California Girls
The Beach Boys
https://www.thebeachboys.com/

Well, East Coast girls are hip
I really dig those styles they wear
And the Southern girls with the way they talk
They knock me out when I’m down there
The Mid-West farmer’s daughters really make you feel alright
And the Northern girls with the way they kiss
They keep their boyfriends warm at night

I wish they all could be California girls
I wish they all could be California
I wish they all could be California girls

The West coast has the sunshine
And the girls all get so tanned
I dig a French bikini on Hawaiian island dolls
By a palm tree in the sand
I been all around this great big world
And I seen all kinds of girls
Yeah, but I couldn’t wait to get back in the States
Back to the cutest girls in the world

I wish they all could be California girls
I wish they all could be California
I wish they all could be California girls

I wish they all could be California girls
I wish they all could be California girls
I wish they all could be California girls
I wish they all could be California girls
etc, etc…

Songwriters: Brian Douglas Wilson / Michael Edward Love
California Girls lyrics 1965 © Universal Music Publishing Group

Location is not an issue here, the girls in question are prominently mentioned and The Beach Boys diplomatically reference various US regions so as not to offend by omission.

A catchy tune, they sing of the visual pleasure of one woman pitted against another until the type named ‘California Girls’ moves to the top of the lust list.

The objectifying of women does not translate well to 21st century sensitivities.  Although in 2010 Katy Perry sang a similarly shallow song California Gurls.

It can be argued that The Beach Boys were young and represented their gender and the world-wide surfing movement with what appealed to them at the time.  Their songs certainly represented the superficiality of youth and what was uppermost on the manly mind.  In contrast, The Supremes song of 1965 Surfer Boy shows an entirely different slant on surfing and a more emotional approach.

The Beach Boys skimming appraisal of the external woman brings me to the French bikini on a Hawaiian island girl.  I don’t know skin cancer statistics in other countries but at one stage Australia had the highest skin cancer rate in the world.  Most beach babes of the mid-to-late twentieth century now have a crusty epidermal layer of melanoma sores and spots which are regularly checked by their skin cancer specialist.

Are these bikini babes still loved?  Nobody of that beach culture vintage is cute now, unless Botox is involved.  Heck, everyone of that generation has aged and, depending on decrepitude, may wish they had that body again.

Allowing for variants, The Beach Boys and The Supremes are now older, wiser people who made a lot of money from their hard-working vocal chords and have moved into Music Legend status.  I wonder if they sit in comfy chairs, musing about their past lyrics?  Do they laugh, cringe or couldn’t care less?

The world may have moved on but surfers still surf, boys still ogle girls, and sex discrimination still remains.  And no matter how irksome, old songs never die.

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Maud Fitch – Guest blogger and east coast Queensland girl

Elly Griffiths Forensic Archaeology Series

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Sample of this 10-book series with book 11 The Stone Circle due 2019.

I love binge-reading!  When I discover a good author like Elly Griffiths who has ten books in her crime oeuvre, I am ready, willing and able to read all.  The archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway mystery series fits the bill nicely.  To quote the Independent ‘The perfect ratio of anticipation, shock and surprise’.

Elly Griffiths is the pen name of Domenica de Rosa; she has written other novels under her real name.  I like the historical and archaeological authenticity of this series which could be due to the fact that she’s married to Andrew Maxted, curator of archaeology at Brighton Museum.

I enjoyed the earlier books and then the later ones shown above.  I loved ‘The Ghost Fields’ WWII story and found award-winning ‘The Chalk Pit’ quite fascinating.  I struggled with ‘The Outcast Dead’ subject matter although it is fitting.  I must mention the clever yet sneaky outcome of ‘The Dying Fall’ which has a touch of Hollywood about it.

The stories mainly revolve around Norfolk UK, tidal marshlands, excavations (with an occasional nod to ‘Time Team’) coastal regions and fictional University of North Norfolk where Ruth Galloway works.  She is also a police adviser.  The relationships of the key players are intriguingly tricky because of love triangles, children, 21st century parenting, murder and mystical goings-on.

Rather than a book review, I thought I’d do a quick character overview:

  • Dr Ruth Galloway lives on the Saltmarsh, lectures in forensic archeology, makes ground-breaking discoveries, and likes old bones and her cat Flint.
  • Fast-driving policeman DCI Harry Nelson moved with his family from Blackpool to Norfolk and doesn’t really like the place but he’s a born copper.
  • Two glamorous women, Michelle Nelson is wife of DCI Nelson, and Shona MacLean is Ruth’s bestie.
  • Michael Malone (aka Cathbad) brings enjoyable highlights to each plot with his spiritual insights, Druid instincts and flowing cloak.
  • Part of Nelson’s team are police officers DS David Clough ‘old school’ and DS Judy Johnson ‘graduate’ who don’t always share the same views.
  • Phil Trent, professor of archaeology at UNN, worries about funding but loves TV cameras, publicity and himself.

As I dug and sifted through the series, I noticed less archeology and gradual changes to the main characters but that’s the grit which makes these books human and relatable.  There’s drama in their lives; a rocky layer or two over a conspiracy waiting to be uncovered.

Elly Griffiths has a nice knack of getting you up-to-speed with each book while revealing a ‘fresh’ crime involving the living and the desiccated.  At one stage I quibbled over her use of Anglo male names like Max, Dan, Tim, Tom, Ted, Bob, well, you get my drift…but this has improved and the VIP reviews keep on coming:

"I refuse to apologise for being in love with Dr Ruth Galloway and DCI Harry Nelson, one of my favourite current crime series . . . a pleasure from start to finish"
Val McDermid.

"I adore the Elly Griffiths series and have eagerly read each book. I love seeing how the recurring characters are living and working out their relationships"
Joyce of joycesmysteryandfictionbookreviews

I’m waiting for book 11 ‘The Stone Circle’ but don’t you hang around, start reading!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Elly Griffiths UK Author
Elly Griffiths ‘The Chalk Pit’ and something evil is waiting in the dark tunnels under Norwich – forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway had better watch her step https://www.hachette.com.au/elly-griffiths/the-chalk-pit

Goodbye to Facebook Again

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After taking one year off to immerse myself in the art of writing, my time is up.

New Year’s resolution: I will no longer be posting regularly on Facebook because it is the most all-consuming part of my day and ultimately hollow.  Eight years ago I dropped out, as evidenced by the snapshot of this unanswered Poke.  Author Jen Storer of Girl & Duck, The Duck Pond and Scribbles creative groups can be pleased she was the one who drew me back into social media to nurture my writing dream – you light up my life – thank you.

My unFacebooking is not due in any way to the calibre and overall enjoyment of the wonderful ‘friends’ I made, I will miss virtually following your daily journeys in writing and illustration.  Conversely, we all are living two lives, the one on Facebook and the real one.

My departure is due to the links, Likes, highlights, comments, feeds, Facebook layout and general entanglements with people whom I do not know on a real level.  It may feel personal but it is not; and I need to grasp reality, my home, my family and my proper writing.

A visit from a little red hen named Took got me back out into our overgrown garden and I realised the computer screen is destroying my creativity rather than enhancing it.

My WordPress blog will continue https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/

“Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instil in us” – Hal Borland, American author.

Happy New Year 2018, everyone, and much fulfillment!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward



Postscript
: According to the 2017 Deloitte Media Consumer Survey, daily social media usage in Australia is down from 61 percent to 59 percent in 2017, and 20 percent of Australian social media users say they are no longer enjoying their time on the platforms.  Likewise, almost one third (31 percent) of survey respondents said they have temporarily or permanently deactivated one or more of their social media accounts in the past year.  Fake news is killing the media star with 58 percent of respondents agreeing that they have changed the way they access online content given the prevalence of fake news.  So, folks, I am not alone!

Bullying

Bullying 02
Behaviour

To quote Families Magazine “This poster will help your kids to differentiate and identify the difference between being RUDE, being MEAN and BULLYING.”

The self-explanatory poster is one of several free downloads on the website of Families Magazine, an A4 glossy magazine printed every two months and distributed in public libraries and places where families are in Brisbane, Ipswich, Toowoomba, Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast, Australia.

Families Magazine says “Interactions with others can be confusing.  Sometimes what is considered bullying, may in fact be something else?  Bullying is a repetitive behaviour that is designed to intentionally hurt or belittle another person.”

All three behaviours are upsetting to a child, but bullying is the most destructive.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Maud Fitch Sticky Beak

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Move along, folks

Maud Fitch was well-known to the local police.  While Maud would say she was recognised for her crime-busting phone calls and neighbourly good deeds, Sergeant Ron Tisdale on the front desk of Kingsgrove police station expressed the opinion that she was a nuisance caller.
“In fact,” he said in his rich baritone voice, “she’s a serial pest.”
Sergeant Tisdale had just hung up from her latest telephone call.
“It’s not as though Maud fits into the lonely old woman category,” he said generously. “She’s got a good family, a part-time job and plenty of hobbies.”
A junior officer asked what the problem was this time.  “An escaped nerd alert?”
“Don’t be too cheeky, lad,” said Tisdale, careful not to let his soft spot show. “This time Maud has been observing her retired neighbour across the road and she thinks he’s murdered his sister and disposed of the body.”
The younger officer laughed.  “Wasn’t that a storyline on TV last night?  She’s a sponge.  She absorbs everything she sees on television and translates it to her own life to spice things up.”
“That might be so but I’ll log the details just the same,” said the Sergeant.  He rubbed his chin. “I think I’ll drop by Ms Fitch’s place on my way home this afternoon.  Just a quick visit to check that everything is fine.”
Being the senior officer, he ignored the knowing wink from his subordinate.
Maud had made a comment about uncharacteristic behaviour which sounded an
alarm bell in his orderly mind.  At the very least, he wanted to see that sparkle in her eyes when she had a hunch about something.
* * *
Maud saw Angus McDowell draw the living room curtains again.  He seemed to open and close the floral curtains three or four times a day in a vain attempt to make it look like someone was at home.  That in itself was unusual in such a safe little town like Kingsgrove but it was always his sister, Felicity, who did the domestic work inside their home.  Angus was the outside type.  He trimmed the garden, attacked the weeds and planted flowers as orderly as a row of chairs at the movies.
“He’s been doing that curtain thing for several days now,” said Maud.  She shaded her eyes from the afternoon sunlight which gleamed down on her pale skin and auburn hair.  She turned and caught Sergeant Tisdale with a transfixed look on his face.  “And I haven’t seen Felicity for almost a week.”
The Sergeant cleared his throat and reached for his fourth helping of Maud’s homemade biscuits.
“Perhaps she’s gone on a holiday?” he suggested. “Has he told you anything specifically to the contrary to arouse your suspicions?”
Maud poured more hot water into his coffee cup and frowned.
“That’s just it, he’s cut himself off, Sergeant.”
“Please, call me Ron,” he said.
“Angus isn’t answering the phone or the door bell,” she added, “Ron.”
“Maybe Felicity is visiting family and he didn’t want to go with her.  Could be he’s home alone having a kind of bachelor break.”  Sergeant Tisdale muttered to himself, “Lord knows we all need one of those occasionally.”
Maud understood that his daughter was leaving the grandchildren with him more and more now that his divorce had come through, thinking that it would cheer him up.
“He’s not the type,” she said emphatically.  From her position as a twice-divorced woman with grown-up sons, Maud felt she could speak with authority on the slovenly ways of men when left to their own devices.  Angus was neither a loner nor a slob.
The Sergeant shrugged his broad shoulders.
To highlight her next words, she tapped her spoon on the side of her cup.
“He’s been doing everything under the cover of darkness.”
After she had outlined the nocturnal behaviour of her neighbour, Sergeant Tisdale said  “I don’t want to snuff out your theory with a fire blanket, Maud, but I hardly think getting the groceries delivered or taking out the rubbish and collecting the mail after dark constitutes a criminal case.”
Crumbs were starting to gather on the front of the Sergeant’s shirt and he automatically brushed them off.  Maud’s glare made him hang his head like a school boy.  He apologised as she hurried out of the room to find her hand-held vacuum cleaner.  When she came back she noticed he had taken the opportunity to stuff a savoury cheese sandwich in his mouth.
Over the suction noise of the vacuum, Maud said “I haven’t told you the clincher yet.”
“Clincher?” mumbled Sergeant Tisdale.  The look on his face indicate that he thought this was another word for Maud’s guesswork.  But she knew he was actually allowing himself enough time to swallow the sandwich.  It gave her the chance to air her next piece of evidence.
“Yesterday, when I dropped by, there was no flower bed in the back garden.  Now there’s one near their old jacaranda tree.”  Her voice rang with triumph.
Sergeant Tisdale smiled politely.  “The McDowell’s have a neat garden, they like gardening, I see nothing unusual with that.”
“But, Ron,” gasped Maud, “it was dug in the middle of the night.”
“Well?” said Sergeant Tisdale as he eyed the last biscuit.
Maud shoved the plate towards him.  “It’s the same size as a graveyard plot.”
Unimpressed, Sergeant Tisdale sighed. “And?”
“And there’s no flowers planted in it,” said Maud.  “The reason I think this is so significant is the fact that Angus has a bad back so all the hard work is carried out by a landscaper who arrives around ten o’clock in the morning.”
She waited for a rebuke, similar to the kind her family dished out, which usually ended with her being told she was a sticky beak.
Instead, Sergeant Tisdale asked “When did you last…?”
With a dramatic squeal, she cut him off and pointed out the window.  “Look!  He’s fussing at the curtains again.  I can see his gardening overalls.”
Sergeant Tisdale half rose from the armchair which caused a cushion to tumble to the floor and coffee to slop onto his trousers.  Maud gave a snort of annoyance but it was directed through the window.
“Too late,” she said. “He’s ducked out of sight.”
“Sorry about that,” said Sergeant Tisdale.  He sat back down and carefully reached for a paper serviette.
“Oh, don’t worry…” began Maud.
“No, I don’t mean spilling my coffee,” he said.  “I meant twitchy behaviour.  It happens a lot around policeman.  Police cars also have a way of making citizens nervous.”
He dabbed at his knee with the disintegrating paper and changed the course of the conversation.  “Maybe he’s worried about you, Maud.”
She rejected this idea with a wave of her hand.  “No, I think he knows we’re on to him.”  For emphasis, she punched a small fist into the palm of her hand.
“Let’s nail him,” she said.
“I’m shocked,” said the Sergeant and smiled. “You have a wonderful imagination.”
His comment was ignored because Maud remembered something else she’d forgotten to tell him.  “You know, I rang all the hospitals in Kingsgrove and none of them had a Felicity McDowell on their patient admissions list.”
By tilting his head to the side, Maud thought his interest was piqued but he dashed her hopes.
“What’s the motive, Maud?  From all reports, Angus and Felicity McDowell have got on very well over the years, considering they are brother and sister. No sibling rivalry there.  They’ve settled into retirement together after the death of their mother and have never put a foot wrong, so to speak.  Now, answer me this,” he said and leaned forward slightly. “Why do you think Angus has murdered his sister Felicity?”
His voice sent a shiver up Maud’s spine.  She sucked in a lungful of air and expelled it slowly.  “Well, dear Ron, I was saving the most incriminating evidence until last.”
Sergeant Tisdale put his cup aside, drew himself up in the armchair and displayed credible anticipation.
“The McDowells were arguing just before Felicity disappeared.”  Maud moistened her lips.  She believed this was the good part.  “Felicity was leaving the house and she shouted at him saying he was a boring old man and it showed.  She didn’t want to end up a wrinkled prune like him.  She said he was stuck in a rut and should live a little, move with the times.”
“How did you hear all that?” asked Sergeant Tisdale.
Maud felt guilty and knew it showed.  “I was watering the garden.”
With reluctance, Sergeant Tisdale rose from the comfort of the chair and said “Hurt feelings yes, murder no.  An argument like that doesn’t indicate Angus would have been angry enough to commit murder.”
Maud was crestfallen.  She had hoped Sergeant Tisdale would look into it for her.  However, his next words brightened her outlook.
“I’ll call on Angus tomorrow, just for a little man-to-man talk.  But I’m not promising anything.  I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for Felicity’s absence.”
As he walked towards the door, Maud followed him and voiced her main worry.  “I certainly hope Angus is not a serial killer or I may be next on his list.”
Sergeant Tisdale assured her that normal people don’t turn into serial killers overnight.  He thanked her for the afternoon tea and was just about to cross the threshold when he paused.  He asked Maud if she had seen or spoken to either of the McDowells in the past week.
“No, except for partially seeing Angus at the window,” she said.  “Why do you ask?”
“We don’t know if that person in the house across the road is actually a McDowell.  It could be anyone.”
As far as Maud was concerned, their conversation had taken a turn for the worst.  She was horrified to think that perhaps both McDowells were murder victims.
“Oh,” said Maud. “Both murdered.”
She opened and shut her mouth then managed to utter “Oh, Ron.”
Sergeant Tisdale told her how this particular thought had been niggling at the back of his mind.  Maud couldn’t tell if he was serious.  “Don’t worry,” he said and gave her elbow a squeeze. “Just speculating out loud.  Not a very plausible scenario.  Also, if someone was in there house-sitting, I’m sure you would have witnessed other comings and goings.”
“And surely they would have told me if they were going away?” said Maud.  She felt indignant at the very idea of being excluded from this information.
“Not necessarily,” said the Sergeant.  “For example, they might have been too embarrassed to say they were going to a nudist camp.”
Despite herself, Maud laughed.  It was an unlikely event as far as she was concerned.  She said if that was the case, she would never be tempted to join them.
“Shame,” said Sergeant Tisdale.
As she closed the front door, she was aware that the Sergeant’s look was one of interrupted longing.  She assumed he was disappointed he had not been invited to dinner.  With a final vacuum of the armchair, she dismissed the flaws of men because a plan of action had already germinated in her fertile mind.

Peeking 10
Sneak Peek

Dusk had melted into darkness and the clock numerals glowed towards midnight as Maud changed her clothes.  She put on her black slacks and a dark blue shirt which she buttoned to the top.  In the wardrobe she found a black cap her nephew had left behind.  Once it was firmly clamped on her head, she surveyed the effect and was satisfied she looked slinky enough to blend into the night.
“Now for a bit of sneak and peek,” she whispered to the mirror.
At first, Maud thought it would be a good idea to dig up the grave-like mound beside the McDowell’s jacaranda tree but visions of a gruesome discovery quickly ended that notion.  Now she wanted to see who was in the McDowell house.
She crossed the dimly lit road, opened the wooden gate and tiptoed across the springy lawn.  The act of trespass did not enter her mind.  She headed for the side of the house because, she reasoned, it was less visible from the road and more likely to have an open window.  Startled by a creature rustling in the shrubbery, she paused and held her breath.  It was then she heard another sound.  The sound of digging.  Maud was sure her heart skipped a beat.
“Caught in the act,” she thought.  Surprised at her bravery, she moved forward.  She wanted to see who was doing the dirty work.
“Maybe the body is being moved?”  This thought made her shudder.
Maud crept along paving stones as she followed the noise around the corner of the old house.  Dull light from an open doorway partially lit the back garden.  There, hunched over the newly-dug garden bed, was a shadowy figure wearing heavy grey overalls and thick gloves.  Although she only had a back view, Maud guessed it was Angus.  She could distinguish his movements and watched him dig at the soil with a small trowel.
Suddenly her bravado faded and Maud lost her nerve.  She couldn’t tackle him and she certainly couldn’t accuse him of anything.  It was too tricky, too dangerous even.  Inwardly she chastised herself for doing such a foolhardy thing.
As she cursed her impulsive behaviour, her innermost thoughts screamed in a high pitched voice “Run, run now,” but she willed herself to stay calm.
She started to back away.  As she moved slowly down the path, she felt for the stability of the wall.  Without warning, she stood on a loosely coiled water hose and staggered.  It twisted around her ankle.  The more she flayed, the more entangled she became until the hose wrapped around her leg.  Finally she fell backwards and plonked down in a puddle of water.
The silhouette jumped up and ran over to her.  Two sturdy boots halted in front of her downcast eyes.  Maud did not want to look up.  She did not want a confrontation.  She knew she was cured of sleuthing for life.  One steel capped boot tapped with intimidation as she forced herself to look upwards.
In the same instant she raised her eyes, the backlit figure spoke.
“Maud Fitch,” said a female voice. “What on earth are you doing spying on me in the middle of the night?”
“Felicity! You’re safe!” cried Maud, flooded with relief.
“Of course,” said Felicity. “Now answer my question.”
Maud gulped. “I thought you were dead.”
“Obviously not,” said Felicity.
“But, but,” stammered Maud, “why are you dressed in Angus’ clothes?”
“To do a spot of gardening,” said Felicity.
Maud felt bold enough to ask for some assistance.  Felicity helped her untangle the garden hose and she stood upright.  As she brushed at her damp slacks, Maud saw a line of potted plants waiting to be transplanted.
Unable to resist, she said “Why do it at this time of night?”
“Planting by the lunar cycle,” said Felicity.
“Angus does the gardening.  Where is he?”
“None of your business,” said Felicity.  She appeared about to add something, instead she pulled off the gardening gloves and shoving them into a plastic bucket.
“You didn’t…” Maud’s voice faded.
Felicity shot her a sly grin.  “You reckon I’ve bumped him off and buried him in the garden, don’t you?”
Maud nodded and wondered how fast she could run.
“I could easily do that to you,” said Felicity matter-of-factly, “and nobody would ever know.”
“Ron Tisdale would,” said Maud, then covered her mouth.
“Will the good Sergeant be arriving next?”
“Yes,” lied Maud.
Felicity appeared unfazed by this and Maud watched as she swiftly removed the stained overalls.  Unfortunately it was too shadowy for Maud to tell if the marks were made by grass or blood.  Felicity jammed the overalls into the plastic bucket and stood there wearing a pair of tight jeans and a flattering top.
To Maud’s dismay, Felicity then snatched up a pair of pruning shears and shook them menacingly at her.  “You’re a nosey old sticky beak,” she said.
Maud was relieved when Felicity dropped the shears into the overcrowded bucket.  She retorted “Tell me something I don’t know.”
Felicity chuckled.  She sat down on the door step in the pale glow from the kitchen beyond and ran her fingers through her newly-cropped hair.  It was almost a challenge.
Her attitude no longer threatened Maud but she was disconcerted when Felicity smiled and crossed her legs in a relaxed fashion.  Maud wondered why her image was so cool, so casual.  And, she noted with surprise, so young-looking.
She thought “If Felicity is older than me then she should look older.”
In fact, Felicity looked younger and more unlined than when she and Maud first met ten years ago.  It took Maud a few seconds to work it out.
“You’ve had Botox injections,” she accused.
“Yes, I have.  Got it done last week when I was in Sydney, only took a few hours.  And I’m loving it,” said Felicity with a girlish toss of her head.  “When do you think Sergeant Tisdale will get here?”
“I think you should be arrested,” Maud exploded.  “Obviously you wanted a new life, a carefree younger life.  You didn’t want Angus hanging around, poor old wrinkly Angus, so you killed him.  Clearly the treatment has addled your brain.”
“You’re the one who’s addled.” Felicity glared as much as the Botox treatment would allow.  “Angus got knifed.  It was no accident.”
She paused and straightened her sleeve.  “I persuaded him to go under the knife.  I’ve been covering for him while he recuperates from cosmetic surgery.”
Maud was dumbfounded.  “Angus, cosmetic surgery?  Never!”
“It’s true,” said Felicity. “It’s our little secret.  Please don’t give the game away.  He should be home tomorrow so you can check out the work for yourself.”
“I won’t be coming back, I couldn’t imagine anything more awful.  What a ludicrous thing to do,” shouted Maud.  She turned and stormed off before she realised her behaviour was excessive but she had gone too far to make amends.  As she rounded the corner, she yelled over her shoulder “You’re a couple of vain peacocks.”
She muttered all the way home about people who couldn’t grow old gracefully, who were image obsessed and wanted immortality through the process of body distortion.
“I love my wrinkles,” she said defiantly.  Then wondered if it was true.
* * *
Next day, Maud had driven home from work and cruised down the last familiar stretch of her own road when she saw Sergeant Tisdale’s police vehicle pull away from the kerb outside the McDowell residence.  For her own benefit, she needed to know what he had been told about her unseemly actions and started to formulate an excuse.
She flashed the headlights then flagged him down with windmill-like arm gestures.  The Sergeant appeared both annoyed and amused but pulled over good-naturedly and lowered his car window.
Maud was ready with her questions but he spoke first.
“I’ve solved the McDowell mystery,” he said.
Maud went to speak but he kept talking.  “Old Angus and Felicity are there.  He told me that both he and Felicity had each taken a short vacation.”
She gave a wary nod.
Sergeant Tisdale continued “The separation must have done them both the world of good.  They look ten years younger.”
Maud smiled.  At that moment, she experienced a revelation.  She decided that saving face was not as important as keeping a friend’s secret.
Sergeant Tisdale looked at her expectantly.
“Glad to hear it,” was all she said.
Maud accelerated sharply and left the Sergeant behind without a second glance.
She knew he wouldn’t give up on her that easily and she had biscuits to bake.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

(With my thanks to Maud Fitch, friend and fellow writer)

The System

Allora Queensland
Allora Township

Angus shuffled through a pile of bills and sent one fluttering to the floor.  His son Steve stood beside the dining room table, arms folded, watching him.  Every week Angus misplaced an important piece of paperwork.
“Told you it wasn’t far away.”  Angus held up an electricity account.
“You should have a proper filing system, Dad,” Steve said.  “One day the electricity will be cut off and you’ll wonder why you’re in the dark.”
“It’s you who’s in the dark, my lad.”  Angus tapped his nose, an obscure family joke.
Steve gave a brief smile.  “Let me buy you a three-drawer filing cabinet with suspension files and alphabetical tabs.”
“My manila folder is just fine,” said Angus, holding up a battered cream folder with various names crossed out and a succession of dates which finished at 1998.
“You’re damn lucky I haven’t forced you into owning a computer,” said Steve, stacking old invoices, “otherwise I’d make you pay bills online.”
“The only line I like is a fishing one,” said Angus, his mouth twitching at the corners.  He couldn’t resist adding “Just ‘cos you program computers doesn’t mean I have to like ‘em.”
Steve gave a good-natured harrumph and went in search of his mobile phone.  He gave a whistle and his dog Fancy raced in from the garden with her tongue lolling and eyes gleaming.  “Come on, girl, it’s time to take the old bloke shopping.”
Angus knew that Fancy had been foraging in the garden by the dirt clinging to her paws.  “Glad someone likes my little courtyard,” he said.  She placed a paw on his bony knee and he ruffled her ears.  “No treats yet.”
Before they left, Angus surreptitiously swallowed a blood pressure tablet.
They took Steve’s car and drove into town, parking on a broken two-hour meter.  At the shopping centre, Angus went straight to the rawhide-smelling pet store and bought a packet of dog treats.
“One hundred percent pure beef,” he read.
“You spoil the dog,” said Steve.
Angus jutted his jaw but said nothing.
At the next stop, Angus purchased postage stamps and talked with the postmaster.
“Steve’s going to make me a grandfather in a couple of week’s time.”  His thoughts strayed and he said quietly, “That will certainly change things.”
Steve tapped his watch and mouthed the word “Coffee”.  Angus knew he had just two minutes to pay the electricity bill.  He said to the postmaster, “Can’t miss out on my Café Bijou treat.”
Leaving the post office, they walked a short distance to the café, pausing once for Angus to catch his breath.
“When can we eat at a healthy place?”  Steve sounded like a five year old child.
“When I’m gone,” said Angus, taking off his sweaty Akubra and fanning himself.  The steps going into the café were uneven and he tripped.
“Steady.”  Steve offered his arm but Angus shook his head.
Café Bijou served a wide range of high fat, carb-loaded meals and well sweetened desserts.   Angus enjoyed the never-ending cups of coffee served by the eighty year old waitress Dita.  Her hands had started to shake but she didn’t spill their coffees.
“Dita, you’re a living treasure,” said Angus.  He took a swipe at her apron bow as she ambled away.
“Ah, ha,” Dita crowed, “you never could hit me backside.”
“Don’t know why––it’s broad enough,” said Angus in an aside to Steve, who hung his head and started tapping on his phone.  Angus handed the menu to him.  “I bet you’ll check which sandwiches have the least amount of red meat.”
“Do you have the slightest idea what cholesterol is?” asked Steve.
Angus ignored him and leaned over to take a newspaper off the top of a bundle.  “Same stories, just a different way of writing ‘em.  If sporting heroes stopped screwing up their lives, the media would be stumped for ideas.  Look, one of them died from a health-nut overdose.”  Steve rolled his eyes.
As they were leaving, the treasurer of the bowls club halted Angus in the doorway, asking for a donation for their sponsored charity.  Angus obliged but the chitchat got to him.  Shifting his weight from foot to foot, he said “I’m going shopping with my boy Steve.  He’s pretty busy these days.  Every moment counts.”  With apologies, he pursued Steve’s figure down the street, heading in the direction of the supermarket, his least favourite place.
Fancy had been asleep in the car but woke when she heard their voices returning.  They loaded the grocery bags into the boot.
“We’ve got time to look at a new filing system,” said Steve.
“Let’s do it another time.”
“It would help keep your records more organised, Dad.”
“It’s just how I like it,” said Angus and slipped a dried treat to Fancy.
Once on the road, they travelled in silence until Angus saw Steve glance at him in a melancholy way.
“The doc said my new pills are working just fine,” said Angus, aware that his illness hung between them, an unseen yet active enemy.  “I don’t have another appointment until next month.”
Steve nodded. “Good.”
Angus didn’t add that the surgeon had said he may not be allowed to drive again.
He watched Steve negotiate a corner.  “You’re a good driver, Steve.  Shame I never taught you how to drive a ute across a furrowed paddock.”
“I was too young.  Then the farm was sold.”  Steve toyed with the digital controls on the dashboard.  “You did more for me in other ways.”
After awhile, Angus said, “Can we take a different route home?”
“That sounds ominous,” said Steve but obliged by turning off the main highway.
The rural landscape was sparsely treed with very few farm buildings.
Without warning, Angus said “Stop!”  He asked Steve to pull over outside an old barn-like warehouse with an adjoining timber yard.
“I reckon we could make our own filing cabinet, don’t you?” said Angus.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Bright Cherry Walk Cafe 01
Cosy

Jessica Blair is Actually Bill Spence

Yorkshire Country Lass
Young Lady

Historical romance author Jessica Blair was unmasked as 93 year-old British grandfather Bill Spence.  In the past, female writers like Charlotte Brontë had to adopt male pen names in order to get their books published. But the tables were turned for former war hero Bill Spence after he wrote a series of romance sagas.

The grandfather from Ampleforth, North Yorkshire, was told his books would need to be printed under a feminine moniker if he wanted them to sell – and so his pseudonym Jessica Blair was born.

Bill has various genres published under another name but has written 26 novels under the female pen name.  In 1993, his first book was “The Red Shawl”.  In 2017 his current title is “The Life She Left Behind” about a young widow, with futures to secure for her two daughters, who is torn between remaining at her beloved estate Pinmuir in the Scottish Highlands or following the plans her deceased husband made to join his brother in America.  Hmm, that outcome could go either way.

My congratulations, Bill, on longevity in both writing and living!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Bill Spence Author
Bill Spence Authorhttps://www.jessicablair.co.uk/biography.shtml