Questions about Tasmania

October 5, 2014

While friends are looking after my house in the UK, I will be visiting Tasmania next month. I have ‘a few questions’ I’d like to try and answer:
Did my uncle really get up to mischief with Errol Flynn in Hobart?
Which schools did Errol attend and was evicted from?
What stories are there about Spy Catcher Peter Walker who settled in Hobart?
What VIP did Dad meet in Devonport when Dad was still in his gardening clothes?
Can you still find Aboriginal flints on the farms on the south-east coast?
Is it still possible to have a blue-tongued lizard as a pet?
Are the Tasmania devils still in decline?
Has the Tasmanian tiger really been seen as reported?
Can you still catch flathead in abundance?
Are abalone, crayfish, oysters and scallops still abundant?
Why do so many places in Tasmania have English names?
Do the locals still think of England as ‘the home country’?
Is it still ‘in’ to be descended from a convict?
Is it better to be a pensioner/teenager/schoolchild/parent there?
Is dementia care better in Tasmania?
What does ‘Neighbour’s’ and ‘Home and Away’ mean to the locals?
Is the Aussie-outdoor easy-going better life fact or fiction?
Is water still turned off in the afternoons when there is a drought?
Do people still picnic with tea boiled in billy cans?
Do the Roaring 40s still create havoc every winter?
(And as research for my next book):
Are red-back spiders still prevalent?
Would a red-back hide in a table desktop?
Could such a desk be transported from Tasmania to the UK in the 80s, spider intact?
What does the bite of a red-back spider look like?
If you were bitten, would you be able to shake the spider off easily?
If you were bitten in the dark, would you know definitely what you had been bitten by?
Could you keep a red-back in a shoe box safely for a while?
What would happen exactly if you died from a red-back spider bite?
How long would you take to die if you had a heart complaint, could you die suddenly?
If you can answer any of these questions already, that would be wonderful!

Talking to people

September 22, 2014

Talking to people
At some stage in our lives, inevitably, we have to stand up and talk to a group of people. As you know, I volunteer to give talks on subjects like ‘Water Aid’, ‘John, Dementia and Me’, ‘Flirting with Spanish’ ‘A close look at unseen poetry’ and ‘The View from Downunder’. I do these talks, not because I think I’m the best thing since sliced bread, but because I’m scared my mind is going to degenerate as I get older. If you don’t use it, you lose it eh? So I figure that if I have to stand in front of some people and keep track of what I’m saying and what is happening for half an hour, the chance is that I haven’t ‘lost it’ – well not yet, anyway.
Recently I did a course – if you have a spare moment, you might like to look at a website called FutureLearn for here you can take FREE courses – some of which are very good. The one I did recently was called ‘Talk the talk’. It gave advice on how to give a presentation so that your audience stays in the room. We were supposed to download a demonstration of what we were going to say – I only managed the first bit of this – but you had the opportunity to have a huge number of people look at your presentation and give you advice. There were a number of suggestions that were given by the Open University, which gave the course and the ideas I found most useful (and probably pertinent) are found in this series of questions:
Why are you giving the talk: to inform, persuade, motivate or entertain? (I like to think all four)
Who will be listening? How much will they already know and what would benefit them? (I made a bad mistake once, when I prepared a light (hopefully) entertaining talk only to find a member of a university had come to find out as much as she could about the subject!)
Will you use Powerpoint or some other technology? ( I’ve always used Powerpoint when I can – people have pictures to look at instead of me, however, lately I’ve been to places that don’t have the technology and had have to do without. I found it was much easier to prepare for. Now I use Powerpoint, not as something to hide behind but to illustrate a few strong points if I can.)
What are you going to say, how are you going to shape your talk – what will it begin with what will be the bulk of what you say, how will you connect your points and how will you end the talk? What examples will you give to illustrate your points? (Here’s the rub – I’ve realized that my talks up to now had not been thought through…)
How are you going to keep calm before and during the talk? How are you going to make sure your talk is within the time limit given? (I try to think ‘slow down’ all the time – I tend to gabble and at the moment I keep checking my watch which is not a good thing, but it’s the only thing that seems to work as yet.)
How will you evaluate your talk? Can you get someone to say what they think of your talk afterwards? (I’ve now got a sheet that I give out, asking people to write down what they liked and what could be done to improve my talk. One brave lady told me I shouldn’t use so many sheets – so now I try to talk more directly to the audience.)
I hope you find this information as useful as I did and before you think I’m a bit of a ‘know-all’ and think I give perfect speeches – there’s always something that goes wrong. At one stage I bought a dress to wear and was determined to wear it, only to find that it really was too short for my old legs, so I had to hide behind a table so that the audience was not put off completely!
Good luck with your speeches!
Oh, and, of course, if you are brave enough and think you would like me to give a talk to your group sometime – just contact me!

poem to remember those who fought in World War 1

September 4, 2014

‘A little girl’s smile’

In the stench of the trench
with rats and scraps and ankle-deep mud,
he stood, tense,
bayonet ready for blood.

His wife’s eyes, wide and blue
shone on his daughter’s sad smile.
The whistle blew.

In a sea of serge he rose,
Scrambling over damning
mounds of lost souls.

The ghosts of folk at home
whirled and swirled as he choked
in the battle-torn smoke.

He heard the whisper of an angel .
He felt the smack of a black shroud
smothering him as he lay
dying in agonizing pain.
Will we remember him?
Perhaps for a while,
but what we will always recall
is that little girl’s sad, sad smile.

poem Lament for our post box

September 4, 2014

(background: in July 2013 the postbox in Common Road Witchford was taken. Other post boxes in other villages in the area also went missing. Other villages have had their postboxes replaced, but not the one in Common Road. We ask why? What have we done to deserve such discrimination? The Chief Executive Officer says that the said post box is with the engineers and she does not know when it will be put in place – a little worrying that she represents the energy and drive of our newly privatized mail service in England!)

Lament for our postbox

Oh how I miss our post box
on the corner of Common Road
It suddenly went – such a shock
We miss it loads and loads.

It stood, tall and inviting,
ready to receive our mail.
I am always one for writing
Letters were sent without fail.

Now in the wind and biting rain
I struggle for miles with my post.
I moan and groan with the pain
In my feet, my legs, my knees at the most.

Oh when will our post box come back?
Oh when will we see its smile?
Oh when will see its bright red stack?
It’s not been here for a while.

Perhaps one day, next month, next year
Our hopes will be fulfilled
A lovely red box will suddenly appear
And our worries will all be stilled.

Oh please can we have our post box back?
‘Cause things are not the same
Oh please can we have our post box back?
We need it here again.

poem My Harley Davison Ride

September 4, 2014

Note: this event was organized to bring the plight of carers of dementia patients to the fore. We need the powers to be to focus on paying good money to good hands-on nurses, then many of the other problems will go away.

As a child,
I climbed on the back of a makeshift bike
took a reckless ride with chap from school
Perched on a hill, shook with fright
Then,
With a shove and a push I was off with this fool
Feet flailing, voice wailing, my arms holding fast
We sped to the bottom, tipping and tumbling
stopping at last in a heap on the grass.
Oh what fun it was for the biker
‘But not for the rider!’, I cried.

As an adult,
A rash moment of folly
and I had agreed
to another jolly.
But this bike was different, a bike to impress
a Harley Davison none the less!
But what’s in a name?
My nerves knotted just the same.

The day came and I waited,
My nerves’d never abated.
Suddenly, the air came alive
The ground vibrated
The beautiful beast arrived,
Its driver smiled ‘Ready for a ride?’

It was like a speeding demon,
Although it was standing still,
Wide-eyed and glistening, silver and crimson
a quiet giant ready for the kill.

Heavy helmet jammed on my head
Cocooned in leathers, lead-lined feet
I climbed aboard with a feeling of dread
One turn of the key and off we sped.

This gentle giant purred and purred
My heart fluttered, and stirred
with the power of this vibrant bike
weaving waves that whistled and whirred
with dashing glimpses of field and dyke.

Wild wind rushed at my cheeks,
Breathing freshness I’d not felt for weeks.
Curled up cows and leafy trees
streamed my sight with visionary dreams.

We were one with the road at our feet
burrowing and bending every turn of the street
We were one with the clouds and the infinite sky
We were one with the sheep in the fields flitting by.

With a half-hearted halt we finally arrived
at the home where my husband now lies.
Nurses and patients came out to derive
great joy from this sudden surprise.

The Press all came, and took photos galore
Now I was willing to climb on for more
We finally left, waved a fond farewell
and sped away for another bright spell.

Faster and faster this mighty machine
Rumbled and mumbled with speed
A rubbery face and a gale beyond measure
We trailed about 90 what potent pleasure!

Now when I see a mass of black
Of bikers and bikes I’ll never look back
It’s the bike for me any chance I get
You own one? Have we met?

A free ‘Writing and Writers’ Conference for you – on the 18th October 2014

August 24, 2014

You may be interested in this rare opportunity for a free conference in the Library of Birmingham that will be taking place on Saturday 18th October. The full details are below:
Invitation:
Writing and Writers’ Conference
Saturday 18th October
The Library of Birmingham
Centenary Square, Broad Street, Birmingham, B1 2 ND United Kingdom
Tel: 0121 242 4242 (Monday to Friday, 10am-5pm) enquiries@libraryofbirmingham.com

Featuring:
• Chris Carling talking about her moving and highly topical memoir: ‘But Then Something Happened: A Story of Everyday Dementia’
• Rosemary Westwell ‘John, Dementia and Me’: exploring life problems in fiction and also talking about ‘Unseen Poetry’
• Jackie Reynolds and Michael Callan ‘‘Connecting Communities with Creative Writing’
• Sarah Gornall ‘Co-authoring and what it can mean.’
• Dr David Gatley ‘1936 a Year in Post Boxes’
• Elaine Ewart ‘My work as Fenland Poet Laureate including poetry writing, and performing ‘
• Noreen Wainwright ‘A homespun year’ by Noreen Wainwright and Margaret Priestly Thrifty ways to make and grow, bake and sew
• Stephanie J. Hale ‘What it takes to sell a million books, what it takes to make a million from your book idea and what works and what doesn’t when it comes to selling books in this exciting new digital age.’
• Hayley Humphrey ‘Nanowrimo: From writers’ block to 50,000 words, a novel written in a month.’
• Mary McGuire ‘Publish or self-publish? Which way do I go?’

ENTRY FREE refreshments served

Book early to avoid disappointment: contact: Malcolm Henson, North Staffordshire Press, Business Village, Staffordshire University, 72 Leek Rd., Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire ST4 2AR Tel: 01782 442831 enquiries@hensoneditorial.com website: http://www.northstaffordshirepress.com

‘A Close Look at Unseen Poetry’ – a book to help your prepare for your examination in English

August 24, 2014

If you are a teacher or student of English and are about to prepare for an examination in which you need to analyse a poem that you have never seen before, you may be interested in my book ‘A Close Look at Unseen Poetry’. It is now available on Amazon. I write this, not just to sell the book, but I hope that I can be of some help to people who are very busy and do not have the time to gather such information together before preparing for the exam.
I have tried to give lists, quizzes and descriptions that introduce poetry styles, structures, metres and special devices such as metaphor and personification. Then I have selected 26 well-known poets and or poems that are almost an essential part of our upbringing. – poems like Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ and Elizabeth Browning’s ‘How Do I Love Thee?’. I have analysed each poem, trying to get to the heart of the meanings the words convey, providing the starting point for you or your students to agree or disagree and develop your or their own powers of observation.
I hope it is of some help and I would be very interested in your comments.

Review: Penzance Litfest 2014 (Penzance Literary Festival 2014)

July 24, 2014

Penzance author 1Penzance author 3Penzance author 5Penzance author 6Review: Penzance Litfest 2014

Penzance Litfest 2014 (Penzance Literary Festival) held from 16th to 20th July throughout the town was, for me, a great inspiration. A host of writers  (some pictured here), readers, and people interested in the topics offered massed to hear and see the huge variety of events. As a contributor, I can say this was one of the best organized events I have presented at, for everything was in place and there was always someone at hand to ask directions and provide the biro, paper – whatever you needed.

My aim for attending the Festival was to improve my writing and get over the writer’s block I am suffering while trying to complete a whodunit sequel to my first novel ‘John, Dementia and Me’. I can truthfully say that there were a number of creative writing workshops that I believe have done the trick. I am inspired to write on, although whether the writing I do will be of any quality remains to be seen. After this festival, I am ready to write at length and also ready to ditch most of it when I come to review it. What will it matter? As long as something is written, and who am I to think that everything matters so much? It is far better to write a load of rubbish than to constantly moan about not writing anything at all.

You may, or may not be interested to know of these twenty tips I picked up during the Festival that interested me most:

1. You DO have time to write everyday if you aim to write for only 6 minutes.

2. To give a sense of place, think of describing the effect on the character’s senses: what can they see, hear, smell, touch or taste?

3. If you’re stuck on characterization, try thinking of five things they would have in their pocket.

4. Think of what animal, musical instrument, landscape, city, plant, piece of furniture, clothing, pub. sign or weather your character would be.

5. Be a character actor, read their voices aloud.

6. Write quickly, without checking or changing anything first. Then underline phrases that you like (not as I have always done, underline phrases that I thought need changing.)

7. You need to present yourself as an author well, if you want people to be interested in you and your topic i.e. your books

8. Sometimes, images are more interesting than text for readers of social media.

9. In order to develop your writing, read a lot of other books

10. Write the story you want to write, not one that you think you should write.

11. It’s a good idea to plan. Planning speeds things up.

12. Voice is everything – find the right voice.

13. Write the back story; know the history of your characters.

14. Revise, revise, revise.

15. Don’t send your submission letter out too soon.

16. Don’t give up the day job; it is very difficult to earn anything with your writing these days.

17. To create a good hero, he must have 3 things: a flaw, such as excessive drinking; an endearing quirk such as polishing his glasses, and a trauma that has scarred him/her for life.

18. Your villain should have something in their past that caused them to be the way they are and they should have the ability to be persuasive and seductive

19. To create suspense: have someone not turn up to a specially arranged clandestine meeting or a child not returning home from school,

20. To create tension: have a house that seems to be empty and go through each room noting the details, find something strange in a knickers drawer/ a briefcase or find something has been interfered with: a diary or personal papers.

Highlights of the Penzance Litfest events for me were:

The Bookshop Band –an inspired group of young performers who research books thoroughly – reading them cover to cover and catching hold of one or two key ideas that spring from their understanding of what the book is trying to say. Then they weave these phrases and ideas into charming, almost magical songs. The combination of sounds they use –voice, ukulele, guitar, harmonium and the occasional percussion, along with the subtle changes in harmony give their songs an ethereal, perpetual sound as though they are tapping into centuries of folk lore.

There were a number of presenters whose books I plan to read on Kindle, not necessarily because their presentation was inspiring (although many of them were fascinating), but the books themselves seem interesting:

Tom Vowler: ‘That Dark Remembered Day’

Liz Fenwick : ‘A Cornish Stranger’

Sandra Greaves: ‘The Skull in the Wood’

Angela Stoner: ‘Once in a blue moon’

Tiffany Murray: ‘Happy Accidents’

Kate Lord Brown: ‘The Perfume Garden’

Paul Murphy: ‘As I walked out through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee’

I enjoyed every event I attended and I brought away some new idea from each presentation. I hope there will be another Litfest in Penzance next year and can’t wait to know the dates!

Reminder, submit NOW to present at the Writing and Writers’ Conference at Birmingham Central Library on Saturday 18th October 1000 – 1700

July 8, 2014

Reminder: Thank you for those who have already submitted to do a presentation at our conference on Saturday 18th October 2014 in Birmingham Central Library 1000 – 1700. There is a promising array of presenters already. However, there is still space for a few more so please remember to send in your submission in soon – you have less than seven days to enter.
The details again: Call for submissions
North Staffordshire presents a one-day Conference: Writing and Writers in Birmingham Central Library on Saturday 18th of October 2014.
If you have a book that you have written or are in the process of writing or if you are interested in writing, language and/or (language) communication and have ideas to share, you are invited to send an outline of a 20-minute presentation to give in a one-day conference at Birmingham Central Library on Saturday 18th October 2014.
Your submission should contain your full name, address (including post code), phone number(s) and email address(es). It should be no more than 500 words and should summarize the content of the whole of your presentation.
Entrance to the conference will be free and you will be welcome to bring your books to sell and flyers and cards to distribute. There should be plenty of time for discussion and networking or viewing this impressive library.
You should send you submission within the body of an email to rjwestwell@hotmail.com or by post to Dr R. J. Westwell, ‘Antipodes’, 17 Common Rd., Witchford, Ely Cambs. CB6 2HY (please enclose a stamped self-addressed envelope.) The deadline for receiving entries is the 14th July 2014 and successful entrants will be notified by the 14th of August 2014.
Dr Rosemary Westwell (PhD, MA Ed, MA TESOL, BMus, BA Hons)
On behalf of:
Malcolm Henson, Managing Director, Editorial Services, North Staffordshire Press, Business Village, Staffordshire University, 72 Leek Rd., Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire ST4 2AR Tel: 01782 442831
http://www.northstaffordshirepress.com

How to bring a dead story alive

June 27, 2014

Can a dead story be brought alive?

I wrote a story as part of a writing course with the OU recently. (Found on http://www.futurelearn.com website.) Even before I’d submitted it, I felt it was not quite ‘there’. This is an attempt to bring it alive. Is it possible I wonder?

This is the setting and I wanted to show that I had come from Spain on holiday and was boarding a plane where I met a man who intrigued me. I hadn’t put in the background that mattered – my brother had suffered from post traumatic-stress disorder but I had not recognized it. I had thought he was fine and felt guilty that I had signed to say he had suffered in the war and was different. In this story I’d hoped to show that after many years, my guilt was baseless, the man I met was showing the same symptoms as my brother.

Opening of the story
‘Spain had been glorious – sun, sand and sangria every day, so I was feeling very relaxed.’

That all right. I’ll keep the opening. However, the next bit needs changing.

‘ hopeful that I would meet someone interesting on the 2-hour flight home.

Instead of this, I need something to start to build up the tension, like:.

‘I’d had time to forget the guilt that had gnawed at my insides after signing that paper. My brother had always been edgy but I wasn’t convinced that he’d become worse after his last stint in Afghanistan, but I’d signed anyway. For a few glorious weeks I’d managed to forget, but now, now I was heading home, the feeling of shame and guilt would haunt me again.’

The next section in the original story was:
‘When I arrived early at the gate, I found a seat and took out my Kindle. It was going to be a long wait to board the plane, but I was certain not to miss it. I glanced at the check-in desk.’

I think I can delete this.

I want to keep the following however (with a few changes):

‘A lone figure was already standing at the head of the queue. There’s always someone, I muttered to myself. They just have to be first on the plane. With seating allocated already, what’s the point? The man was standing almost to attention, leaning slightly forward as if to start the boarding by force of will.
I pressed the button on my Kindle. Drat. It needed charging. I would just have to talk to the person next to me, whether they wanted it or not.’

Changed to:

‘When I arrived early at the gate, a lone figure was already standing at the head of the queue. There’s always someone, I muttered to myself. They just have to be first on the plane. With seating allocated already, what’s the point? The man was standing almost to attention, leaning slightly forward as if to start the boarding by force of will.
I pressed the button on my Kindle. Drat. It needed charging. I would just have to talk to the person next to me.’

This introduces the main character and his nervousness I hope is conveyed in the way he waits to board the plane.

The next paragraph:
‘When the boarding finally started, some ten minutes late, I struggled onto the plane, dragging my case behind me and pulled it towards my seat next to the window. The man already sitting in the adjoining seat, leapt to his feet. As he quickly took my case and lifted it up for me, I noticed that it was the same man who had been waiting at the front to the queue. I smiled my appreciation for helping me and sat down.’

What to do about it?
It still lacks tension and it tells too much. Let’s change it to:

‘When I finally boarded the plane I saw that the same man was sitting next to my seat.’
This shortens it and leaves me more space to put in the psychological bits – i.e. my thoughts and feelings as we speak.

the next bit:

‘He was young, with attractive, smooth features and a tan as if he, too, had been out in the sunshine. He looked muscular, alert, as if nothing would escape his attention. His features held an air of wisdom, and experience in spite of his youth. I was intrigued. He was the sort of guy I always fell for and I always fell for rogues, so I was on my guard.’

The description is OK – although introducing the idea of him being attractive and mentioning the men I used to fall for heads this story into the area of romance which was not originally intended. So let’s leave out the romance.

‘He was young, with a tan as if he, too, had been out in the sunshine although the taut jaw and fixed expression suggested he had not been on holiday. He sat alert, as if nothing would escape his attention. Did he have another agenda? A cold chill ran down my spine. Was I sitting next to a terrorist? I glanced quickly at his muscular frame, but there were no suspicious signs of hidden packages.

The next bit:

‘When we were finally settled, remembering the catastrophe with my Kindle, I leaned forward slightly and asked.
‘Have you been on holiday?’’

Lame. Let’s try simply.

I must engage him in conversation; take his mind off whatever was worrying him. I leaned forward slightly and asked.
‘Have you been on holiday?’’

The next bit:

‘Yes, I’ve been to Benidorm. I’d never been there before,’ His voice was strong and deep, and he spoke quickly, directly, without hesitation. ‘I was there for a week.
‘Were you in an apartment or hotel?’’

My comment: This is too simple. He just tells his story and I simply ask a question. There’s no depth.
Let’s try:

He coughed nervously ‘Yes, I’ve been to Benidorm.’ His voice was strained as if each word needed a great deal of strength to produce.
His tension was getting to me. Holding a conversation with this man was going to be difficult.
‘Were you in an apartment or hotel? I asked. Please God he’d stayed in an apartment so we had something in common to talk about.’’

The next bit:

‘The stewardess slammed a door shut. My chair shook as his whole body flinched.
He frowned as if concentrating very hard. ‘The hotel was nice but the view wasn’t so good.’
He pulled something out of his pocket. I leaned forward expectantly, but he only glanced at it and put it straight back.
I cleared my throat. ‘You went alone?’
He grimaced. ‘Yes alone. I would’ve loved to have taken my daughters.’
This time he put his hand in the other jacket pocket and pulled out a photo of two healthy young teenage girls.
‘Beautiful’ I said with sincerity. ‘

My comment:
I worry which door the stewardess had slammed – this is the first time she is mentioned. I should introduce her into the scene more naturally. Some of this section I’d like to keep but I think I need to shorten it, make it more compact and to the point to enhance the tension. He didn’t really need to pull something out of his pocket and not do anything with it This bit of writing doesn’t go anywhere, so why include it?

Let’s try changing it to:

‘Before he could answer, the stewardess offered us magazines. We declined. As she handed one to the person opposite, she dropped it. My companion flinched. ‘An apartment? I prompted.
‘No’, he snapped. ‘a hotel’ He pushed his hands along his legs to remove the sweat that had been building up.
‘Oh’ He was just like my brother, one word answers. I’d have to try open-ended questions. ‘What was the hotel like?’
He frowned as if concentrating very hard. ‘The hotel was nice but the view wasn’t so good.’
I cleared my throat. ‘You went alone?’
‘Yes alone.’
This was getting painful. Find out about the family, I remember someone telling me once. They can usually help in hijack situations. ‘I hope you don’t mind my asking, but do you have family? Perhaps they could have gone with you.’
‘I would’ve loved to have taken my daughters.’ He said quickly. He tapped his shirt pocket and pulled out a photo of two healthy young teenage girls.
‘Beautiful’ I said with sincerity.

Next bit’

‘His voice darkened. ‘My ex holds them very close to her.’
It was on the tip of my tongue to ask why, but I decided it best to let sleeping dogs lie. Fortunately, he did not need prompting.
‘I still love my wife,’ his said his, voice breaking up with emotion. ‘It’s been five years since we split up.’
‘It must be hard,’ I murmured sympathetically. What could I say?
He clasped and unclasped his hands on his lap and kept glancing at the stewardesses. One of them looked at him, whispered in the ear of the other stewardess, and walked towards the cabin door.
‘Er’ I started, ‘What’s your job?’
‘I don’t have a job. I retired early.’
‘What did you do before you retired?’
‘Oh I was in the army, stationed in Ireland.’
He pulled his tray down. The stewardesses were coming with the food trolley.
By now my mind was whirling.
‘Tea or coffee?’ the stewardesses had arrived.
‘A coffee for me please.’ I said, pulling my tray down.
‘And one for me, too.’ he echoed.
‘Are you together?’ the blond stewardess asked.
‘Good heavens no!’ I snapped, ‘I must be twice his age’ then blushed. He looked sternly straight ahead.
We paid separately. He dropped some coins on the floor and deftly retrieved them.’

My comment. At last a bit of darkness here, but it needs compacting – I need to leave out the age bit, it’s irrelevant.

Let’s try:

‘His voice darkened. ‘My ex holds them very close to her.’
It was on the tip of my tongue to ask why, but I decided it best to let sleeping dogs lie. Fortunately, he did not need prompting.
‘I still love my wife,’ his said his, voice breaking up with emotion. ‘It’s been five years since we split up.’
‘It must be hard,’ I murmured sympathetically. What could I say?
He clasped and unclasped his hands on his lap and kept glancing at the stewardesses. One of them looked at him, whispered in the ear of the other stewardess, and walked towards the cabin door.
‘Er’ I had to keep him occupied, ‘What’s your job?’
‘I don’t have a job. I retired early.’
‘What did you do before you retired?’I could feel a droplet of sweat fall down my forehead. I brushed it away.
‘Oh I was in the army, stationed in Ireland.’
It figured. He, if anyone would know how to secret a bomb. Was he planning to get his revenge on this plane, now? My lips were dry. He pulled his tray down. The stewardesses were coming with the food trolley.
‘Tea or coffee?’ the stewardesses had arrived.
‘Water please’ I said, pulling my tray down.
‘Coffee for me, please.’ he clipped.
As he paid for his drink he dropped some coins on the floor. Watching him closely, I took in a sharp breath. Was it going to happen now? But, glancing around him, he picked up the coins and shoved them in his pocket.

The next bit:

We were silent for a few moments while we sipped our drinks. I had time to reflect. I had a niggling feeling that he reminded me of someone. One of my ex-rogue boyfriends perhaps? Tony, the salesman, the con-artist? There was something about the eyebrows that was similar. I cringed. Tony’s chilling words rattled around my brain in a loud repetitive echo. It was more the icy tone than the words of dismissal that had upset me. No, definitely not Tony. If nothing else, Tony had always been calm and collected, never nervous. My neighbour’s high cheekbones and the suggestion of a dimple at the corners of his mouth reminded me of James, the librarian. Was this who he reminded me of? No, again, James was always unfazed – even on that day in the kitchen when I told him we were finished. His tranquil features were starkly lit up in the neon light as he came for a final hug.’

My comment:
Do we really need reference to past boyfriends, especially now I’ve decided to leave out the romance bit? I think not, although I need to make clear that he reminds me of someone who I can’t think of at the moment. Perhaps this would work better if his mannerisms remind me of other people in my life and then finally my brother.

Let’s change it to:
‘We were silent for a few moments while we sipped our drinks. I had time to reflect. I had a niggling feeling that he reminded me of someone. There was something about the way he sat, his jerky movements and the constant feeling that he had something else, something very serious on his mind. Was it my father, who was always thinking of work while we tried to talk to him? No, I was sure it wasn’t him. There was something about the eyebrows that I had seen before. They were thin and long and almost met in the middle. I suddenly remembered my rather gruff Headmaster at school, his tall frame looming over us in the assembly hall. I had spent most assemblies staring at his eyebrows wondering if they would meet one day. But the mannerisms very different, Mr Dodgson stood tall and still, there was nothing nervous about him. It was my neighbour’s mannerisms that reminded me; they reminded me of someone I knew, someone who had been very close to me. It was my neighbour’s sudden movements, the jerky conversation, the feeling that he had something else on his mind that were very like -. Then it struck me. I suddenly knew who he reminded me of.’

The next bit

‘I cleared my throat. ‘If you don’t mind my asking, did you have a bad experience in the army?
‘Yes’, he said, his voice tinged with bitterness. ‘I was a green jacked’ he glanced at me. ‘A foot soldier in Ireland when I was thrown onto a pavement curb by a bomb.’
He glanced at my sudden intake of breath.
He continued. ‘I keep seeing flashbacks of the bomb blast. I had two discs in my back damaged yet they wouldn’t give me the pension.’ His voice was now hard and resentful.
One of the cabin crew was standing outside the cabin door watching him very closely.
‘Why not?’ I croaked.
‘When I said to Sarg. that I needed to see the medic he told me to grow up.’ He grabbed his empty cup and snapped his tray back loudly.
I flinched. ‘That’s awful’, I tried to speak with just the right amount of sympathy.
As he fingered his empty cup, it suddenly struck me. His manner was almost exactly the same as my brother’s after he came back from Viet Nam. My brother had always been on edge, never still, never able to concentrate for any length of time.
I softened my voice. ‘I hope you don’t mind my asking, but you remind me so much of my brother. You wouldn’t be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder would you?’
He nodded.’
My comment:
This is supposed to be the grand finale, the climax when the truth will out, but it falls a bit flat. I repeat the word ‘glanced’ at the beginning, and the drama if there is any, is not continuous. I interrupt to flow of information. It certainly needs changing for I have already said who he reminded me of.

Let’s change it to:

My mother used to say that my brother was nervy because he was a ‘war baby’, so I had assumed that my brother had always been like that. However, after he came back from Afghanistan, he was even more on edge, never still, never able to concentrate for any length of time. Now I had witnessed someone else with the same symptoms.
I leaned forward. ‘If you don’t mind my asking, did you have a bad experience in the army?
‘Yes’, he said, his voice tinged with bitterness. ‘I was a green jacked’ he glanced at me. ‘A foot soldier in Ireland when I was thrown onto a pavement curb by a bomb.’
He flinched at my sudden intake of breath.
He continued. ‘I keep having flashbacks of the bomb blast.’ He paused as if reliving that hell for yet another time.
One of the cabin crew was standing outside the cabin door watching him very closely.
I softened my voice. ‘I hope you don’t mind my asking again, but you remind me so much of my brother. You wouldn’t be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder would you?’
He nodded. I suddenly realized that this was no terrorist, and that my brother had indeed changed as a result of the war. In one flash of insight, the guilt I had carried for all those years for signing that piece of paper suddenly melted away.
The FINAL VERSION
‘Spain had been glorious – sun, sand and sangria every day, so I was feeling very relaxed. I’d had time to forget the guilt that had gnawed at my insides after signing that paper. My brother had always been edgy but I wasn’t convinced that he’d become worse after his last stint in Afghanistan, but I’d signed anyway. For a few glorious weeks I’d managed to forget, but now, now I was heading home, the feeling of shame and guilt would haunt me again.
When I arrived early at the airport gate, a lone figure was already standing at the head of the queue. There’s always someone, I muttered to myself. They just have to be first on the plane. With seating allocated already, what’s the point? The man was standing almost to attention, leaning slightly forward as if to start the boarding by force of will.
I pressed the button on my Kindle. Drat. It needed charging. I would just have to talk to the person next to me. When I finally boarded the plane I saw that the same man was sitting next to my seat.
‘He was young, with a tan as if he, too, had been out in the sunshine although the taut jaw and fixed expression suggested he had not been on holiday. He sat alert, as if nothing would escape his attention. Did he have another agenda? A cold chill ran down my spine. Was I sitting next to a terrorist? I glanced quickly at his muscular frame, but there were no signs of suspicious hidden packages.
I must engage him in conversation; take his mind off whatever was thinking about. I leaned forward slightly and asked.
‘Have you been on holiday?’’
He coughed nervously ‘Yes, I’ve been to Benidorm.’ His voice was strained as if each word needed a great deal of strength to produce.
His tension was getting to me. Holding a conversation with this man was going to be difficult. ‘Were you in an apartment or hotel? I asked. Please God he’d stayed in an apartment so we had something in common to talk about.
Before he could answer, the stewardess offered us magazines. We declined. As she handed one to the person opposite, she dropped it. My companion flinched. ‘An apartment? I prompted.
‘No’, he snapped. ‘a hotel’ He pushed his hands along his legs as if to remove sweat that had been building up in the palms of his hands.
‘Oh’ He was just like my brother, one word answers. I’d have to try open-ended questions. ‘What was the hotel like?’
He frowned as if concentrating very hard. ‘The hotel was nice but the view wasn’t so good.’
I cleared my throat. ‘You went alone?’
‘Yes alone.’
This was getting painful. Find out about the family, I remember someone telling me once. They can usually help in hijack situations. ‘I hope you don’t mind my asking, but do you have family? Perhaps they could have gone with you.’
‘I would’ve loved to have taken my daughters.’ He said quickly. He tapped his shirt pocket and pulled out a photo of two healthy young teenage girls.
‘Beautiful’ I said with sincerity.
His voice darkened. ‘My ex holds them very close to her.’
It was on the tip of my tongue to ask why, but I decided it best to let sleeping dogs lie. Fortunately, he did not need prompting.
‘I still love my wife,’ his said, his voice breaking up with emotion. ‘It’s been five years since we split up.’
‘It must be hard,’ I murmured sympathetically. What could I say?
He clasped and unclasped his hands on his lap and kept glancing at the stewardesses. One of them looked at him, whispered in the ear of the other stewardess, and walked towards the cabin door.
‘Er’ I had to keep him occupied, ‘What’s your job?’
‘I don’t have a job. I retired early.’
‘What did you do before you retired?’I could feel a droplet of sweat fall down my forehead. I brushed it away.
‘Oh I was in the army, stationed in Ireland.’
It figured. He, if anyone would know how to secret a bomb. Was he planning to get his revenge on this plane, now? My lips were dry. He pulled his tray down. The stewardesses were coming with the food trolley.
‘Tea or coffee?’ the stewardesses had arrived.
‘Water please’ I said, pulling my tray down.
‘Coffee for me, please.’ he clipped.
As he paid for his drink he dropped some coins on the floor. I watched him closely. Was it going to happen now? He glanced around as he picked up the coins but nothing happened, he simply shoved them in his pocket.
We were silent for a few moments while we sipped our drinks. I had time to reflect. I had a niggling feeling that he reminded me of someone. There was something about the way he sat, his jerky movements and the constant feeling that he had something else, something very serious on his mind. Was it my father, who was always thinking of work while we tried to talk to him? No, I was sure it wasn’t him. There was something about the eyebrows that I had seen before. They were thin and long and almost met in the middle. I suddenly remembered my rather gruff Headmaster at school, his tall frame looming over us in the assembly hall. I had spent most assemblies staring at his eyebrows wondering if they would meet one day. But the mannerisms very different, Mr Dodgson stood tall and still, there was nothing nervous about him. I was sure my neighbour reminded me of someone, someone I knew, someone who had been very close to me. The sudden movements, the jerky conversation, the feeling that he had something else on his mind were very familiar. Then it struck me. I suddenly knew who he reminded me of.
My mother used to say that my brother was nervy because he was a ‘war baby’, so I had assumed that my brother had always been like that. However, after he had come back from Afghanistan, he was even more on edge, never still, never able to concentrate for any length of time. Now I had witnessed someone else with the very same symptoms.
I leaned forward. ‘If you don’t mind my asking, did you have a bad experience in the army?
‘Yes’, he said, his voice tinged with bitterness. ‘I was a green jacked’ he glanced at me. ‘A foot soldier in Ireland when I was thrown onto a pavement curb by a bomb.’
He flinched at my sudden intake of breath.
He continued. ‘I keep having flashbacks of the bomb blast.’ He paused as if reliving that hell for yet another time.
One of the cabin crew was standing outside the cabin door watching him very closely.
I softened my voice. ‘I hope you don’t mind my asking again, but you remind me so much of my brother. You wouldn’t be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder would you?’
He nodded.
In one flash of insight, the guilt I had carried for all those years for signing that piece of paper suddenly melted away. I suddenly realized that this was no terrorist, and that my brother had indeed been suffering from the same problem: post-traumatic stress disorder.
END
My comment:
This is 2oo+ words more than the allocated wordage, and yet I thought I had compacted the information.! It just goes to show that when you try to write something that evokes some interest or an emotional reaction, you need to spell it out so that your meaning is clear, but in so doing, you also need to maintain the storyline without wandering off topic.
This is still not a finished piece of work and, as always, it needs copy-editing, but I do hope it is an improvement on my first attempt.


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