Tag Archive | writing

The suffering of children

Imagine if you will that you are a child living in a beautiful location, rolling hills, lush greenery, ancient trees that have been around for many centuries. The hills and valleys are scattered with all manner of wild flower and animals both wild and farm.

Because your government hasn’t invented welfare and support for young families yet and also hasn’t regulated wages, your parents can’t earn enough to keep you all in food and clothing let alone lodgings. The only answer is for you to work as well.

On a hot summer’s day, the fourth of July, the sun shining across that playground of nature all around you, instead of running out into the fields with your dog, your outdoor toys, your sporting goods, whatever you would prefer to be playing with, you head for the mine down in the valley.

You’re working away, shovelling the coal dug out by the menfolk into trestles hooked to a small, steam-driven transport engine to carry the coal back to the surface. You don’t hear the rumble of thunder above the surface, you’re so far under the ground and the work is noisy.

Around 3pm the alarm is sounded. The engine has ceased to work because water is leaking into it from somewhere above. Everyone is told to head back down to the tunnel away from the shaft. You’re a child. You’ve already worked since sunrise and you’re confused. You know it’s a long way to walk so you decide to wait until the engine is restored.

The engine does not seem to be getting fixed and you know that work has ceased in the mine. There are 40 of you together down there. You look to one another to figure out what to do. There is another way out that doesn’t rely on the engine. It will bring you out in the woods not far from the mine. That seems like the best idea.

Together you make your way along the tunnel towards that exit. You don’t know that the water coming in near the engine is the first hint that the stream flowing through the woods near the exit you’re heading for has burst its banks under the torrential rain that came with the storm clouds.

You’re making your way as quickly and carefully as you can because you know you’ll have to give account for yourself and quickly. You open a trap-door that serves to regulate air flow and go through. You get closer to daylight when the weight of water becomes too much for the structure at the surface to hold. It rushes through in a raging torrent and you’re knocked from your feet by a wall of surging water, washed back all the way to the trap-door where the water just keeps coming and gathering where it can’t get through the door, which opens upwards.

26 of you bear the brunt of it. It takes the breath from your lungs, it’s dark, you can’t see what’s happening but you can feel the force of water crushing the air from you and refusing to let you keep your head above it. Your small form cannot physically fight it. When the water clears and the adults return to the mine, they find the tragic remains of all 26 of you, drowned in darkness when you were so close to regaining the daylight.

The exit never reached by 26 children.

These events occurred at Huskar’s Mine, Silkstone, Barnsley, 4th July 1838.

I learned of this recently thanks to information made available by Daz Beattie on the Durham Mining Museum website.

So moved by the story and the spirit of those 26 children, I was compelled to go to the site of the memorial erected to them in the grounds of the parish church of Silkstone. I wanted to visit the place where there memory is strongest and bring them flowers to let them know I wish them love and brightness now they no longer have to face the darkness of the pit; Red, yellow and bright pink sweetheart roses tied by my own hand into a bouquet.

I would urge you to read the page on the DMM website. View the photographs of the memorial and on-going remembrance of the children who paid the ultimate sacrifice. A sacrifice that moved Queen Victoria herself to become involved in ensuring the welfare of women and children and that they no longer were forced by poverty to work in the mines. A silver lining to the darkest of clouds.

The inquest that followed showed some prejudice, almost placing blame upon the children for what was simply a terrible and utterly tragic natural event. It causes me to question why the mine wasn’t better protected against such an incident when the stream was known to be there.

Survivors told their tale as best they could. James Garnett, father of George aged 9 and Catherine aged 8 returned to the mine once the water had subsided and found his children but could not return them to the surface until all of them could be brought above ground.

Benjamin Mellow, a superintendent of the mine, stated at the inquest that the water could not have been more than six inches deep by the marks left. When I close my eyes and feel for those children, I can see a lot more than six inches of water. I can imagine only part of the terror they must have felt however brief it might have been.

On the monument in the cemetery is the following inscription:

“This monument was erected to perpetuate the remembrance of an awful visitation of the Almighty, which took place in this Parish on the 4th July 1838.

On that eventful day, the Lord sent forth his thunder, lightning, hail and rain, carrying devastation before them, and by a sudden eruption of water into the coal pits of R.C. Clarke Esq., twenty six beings whose names are recorded here were suddenly summoned to appear before their maker.

Reader remember:-

Every neglected call of God will appear against thee at the day of Judgement. Let this solemn warning then sink deep into thy heart and so prepare thee that the Lord when he cometh may find thee watching.”

Most importantly, here are the names and ages of the children as inscribed:

George Burkinshaw aged 10 years.
James Burkinshaw aged 7 years. (brothers).
Isaac Wright aged 12 years.

Abraham Wright aged 8 years. (brothers).
James Clarkson aged 16 years.
Francis Hoyland aged 13 years.
William Alick aged 12 years.
Samuel Horne aged 10 years.
Eli Hutchinson aged 9 years.
George Garnett aged 9 years.
John Simpson aged 9 years.
George Lamb aged 8 years.
William Womerfley aged 8 years.
James Turton aged 10 years.
John Gothard aged 8 years.

Catherine Garnett aged 8 years.
Hannah Webster aged 13 years.
Elizabeth Carr aged 13 years.
Anne Moss aged 9 years.
Elizabeth Hollin aged 15 years.
Ellen Parker aged 15 years.
Hannah Taylor aged 17 years.
Mary Sellars aged 10 years.
Elizabeth Clarkson aged 11 years. Who was buried at the feet of her brother.
Sarah Jukes aged 8 years.
Sarah Newton aged 8 years.

Heartbreaking memorial created more recently for the children of Huskar’s Mine.

We couldn’t find any marked graves for these children in the churchyard. But the monument refers to grave one and grave two. Mass pauper’s graves and nothing to mark them that we could find. Poor parents could not have afforded individual grave or headstone no doubt. Had I been the mine owner, I know for certain I would have paid for a respectful burial for each and every one of them.  Poor parents, this time in the sense that I feel their heartache both for their loss and how their beloved children’s remains were treated.

Unable to identify any other definite location to pay my respect, I lay the roses on the steps of the monument itself instead. As I walked back towards it to do that, I could barely make my feet take each step. I ran the tips of my fingers over each inscribed name and offered my heartfelt sorrow and genuine pain at their suffering under their seniors’ direction for the sake of money. It pains me now to think that it was a preventable tragedy had someone taken the time and paid the small costs of reinforcing the banks of the stream. Walking back towards the car the tears streamed down my face and I ached to my core for the merry band of bairns who were washed away from us.

I cannot help but feel for every single one of those little souls, toiling in the darkness only to be swept away from this mortal coil by a summer’s afternoon storm. When I think how children are so excited by the thunder, lightning and unusually heavy rain from such storms, the sadness only grows more poignant. Had I been alone there, I would have sunk to the ground and wept.

What upsets me too is the inscription telling that it was an almighty act of God and very nearly if not actually implying that those children were judged and smote from the earth as a result. That written by a religious leader. What comes to my mind is “suffer the little children to come unto me”. (Matthew 19:16, Luke 18:16).

So I still pray for their spirits that they continue to have a new life filled with light and complete absence of darkened tunnels, toil and hardship. We can never let society regress to the point where children live in such poverty again. And yet we seem to be doing just that.

Because I didn’t have the opportunity to meet them in the physical life, I suggested a carvery dinner and ate so much I could barely move, offering each taste and the enjoyment of a hearty meal to the children, just letting them know how grateful I am for the privilege of living in 2014 England, all the time knowing there are still many children the world over that don’t ever get a meal like that. We must steer towards change. Without the children, what future do we have?

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Burble

I was going to post a serious blog about giving to charity and how dreadful I felt having to choose just one to vote for only this afternoon. But that would no doubt make everyone reading feel dreadful too and I don’t want to do that any more than I want to vote for one worthy cause among many equally worthy causes.

So instead, because it’s a dreary October weekend and the cold weather is really kicking in, I thought I’d share a bit of silly fiction instead. All new and expecting parents should take note:

Burble

“Aren’t you getting big?” Yes, but there’s no need to shout. I’m young, not deaf. You only hear baby burble when I tell you. I’m bigger than I was, yes. Still not exactly big though. Unless you’re comparing me to, say, this rusk.

“Shall we go for a nice walk in the park?” Well, really that’s more fun for you than for me. You’ll be walking and I’ll be lying there in the pram with nothing to look at but the clouds and that stupid smile you put on whenever you look at me. Then you’ll meet someone you don’t even know and they’ll ask if they can hold me and you’ll say yes. I’ll scream and squall because I really don’t want to be pawed at by strangers. They might have all sorts of germs! Then you’ll say you’re sorry, poor baby must be tired.

I’ll be tired alright. Tired of being treated like a baby. Okay, so I know technically I am a baby and I haven’t quite mastered the controls of this body yet, but I wish you’d realise that just a few months ago I was the greatest mathematician in the world who happened to get hit by a bus. Perhaps I should have calculated its speed better. You know that thoughtful look you tell everyone about? That’s calculus that is. Calculus in my head. And according to the contract I’ll forget it all before I can talk. Next time I’ll be ready for the bus.

JAM 2013

The charity vote is here in case you’re still reading. £50,000 pounds for the winner. I voted MS Society because I know them well, know they’re often forgotten and know every penny counts.

Enjoy the weekend!

Taking literacy to a whole new level

It’s not often a project comes along that captures my imagination quite so much as the one I’m about to describe. I’ve recently had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of Steve Monosson, Creative Director at Borne Digital, based in New York. Now, Steve’s a nice guy, very talented, makes me laugh and then I asked about the project he’d mentioned in another context.

Stylus screeches across the vinyl, my eyes grow wide and I think “whoah”.

This is not some little creative venture. This is ground breaking stuff taking literacy education to a whole new level. Borne Digital produce books for reading on a tablet. eBooks. But these eBooks are created with multiple layers of content and the level of difficulty adapts to individual learning ability. Kind of like a level-up when you reach a certain stage in the game.

Read MSNBC’s article about this and vote for Borne to get a very important chance to be heard.

We all know how kids thrive in an interactive environment. We all know they’d rather be on the iPad than reading a dowdy old paperback. And quite importantly it is now known that many people with dyslexia are better able to read from eBooks. What Borne have done, are doing, combines all of these factors and more.

Imagine if, when you were learning to read, your books had adapted to meet your ability. Imagine how much less pressured that would have made reading aloud to the teacher. Imagine how rewarding it would have been to see how far you had come in the space of just one book.

Now put yourself in the place of the teacher who, with Borne’s technology, is able to focus more on what matters and less on how to make reading fun and engaging no matter what level individual children are at. Have you breathed a sympathetic sigh of relief yet?

Key quotes from founder Daniel Fountenberry carried in the MSNBC article:

“We want to use technology in ways that empower teachers and that allow all children to reach their full potential.”

“Reading is fundamental to learning, and learning is fundamental to human development. Reading is the basis of all learning, and we all know the impact of not being able to read–what it does to a person’s self-esteem.”

I urge you to read the article if you haven’t already and see what this is all about. And check out the Borne website too.

There are so many benefits to Borne’s work. Most importantly, it changes reading from something children feel they ought to do into something they love to do. That has lifelong positive repercussions. And as if that wasn’t enough, Borne Digital seek to bring reading to the most impoverished areas where it can be of most benefit.

But there are so many potential applications beyond the classroom too, which I’ve no doubt Borne have already anticipated. This is brilliant, potentially world-changing stuff. I can’t help but be 100% behind it and so much hope it finds its way to the UK.

Please vote for Borne to have that all important opportunity and spread the word. Share this blog, share the article, do what you can to make this project the enormous success it deserves to be. If you are, or have contacts that could be, of influence in education, in literacy organisations, in government, in big business that might like to support the project, please let me know and I will pass details on immediately. This is huge. Let’s make it huger!

Fresh Eyes & Introductions

Nearly October. How did that happen? You get distracted by one thing and another then by the time you look round a whole month and more is gone. High time I dusted off this blog before it becomes a haven for spiders, wood lice and death watch beetle taking advantage of my neglect!

First of all I’d like to thank and introduce you to William Martin, a talented writer and educator whom I’ve come to know during my nocturnal forays into discussions among fellow writers and creative minds. You can find some of his short stories and his blog on his website at authorwilliammartin.com and might come across a blog entry by yours truly based on my activities of the last week or two especially.

William recently read one of my short stories that I haven’t yet released. It failed to be noticed in a competition for which it was entered and I wish I’d had his feedback before I submitted it. There’s alway been a niggling doubt about it in the back of my mind but I could not see what it was that I needed to address. William hit the nail(s) on the head. It doesn’t need any massive changes, but in a few places needs some refining.

Now what this story suffered from was a combination of two factors: slavish adherence to word count and good old writer too close to the work to see. So this is a very writerly blog. That’s still not a word and still definitely should be. if you can be motherly or fatherly, why can’t you be writerly? It’s a very similar thing when it comes down to it. Anyway, yes, the issues with the story:

Slavish adherence to word count. I had a maximum of 5,000 words that I absolutely had to stick to. 5,001 and it would have been rejected without reading. What I’d cut was not completely necessary to the story, but did make it very much subject to reader knowledge and reader assumption. Not good things. While I like to credit my readers with the ability to know, use Google and make assumptions, not all of them will and this doubtless made it a rejection pile candidate. Something to bear in mind for anyone writing to a strict limit.

Writer too close to the work. This is the bane of so many writers, especially with regard to short fiction and poetry. For me, those happen in the moment, usually come from a strong and sudden urge to write and have a strong emotional attachment because they came from such a surge of passion. Because I know what I was thinking or feeling in the moment and haven’t forgotten does not mean I’ve captured things perfectly so that anyone can understand. It’s almost like looking at your child and seeing only the good. You just can’t see the bad no matter how you try, especially when they’re young. Always helps to get some input from someone who has no bias.

These things have been picked up by a fresh pair of eyes that was new to my work, new to me and had no reason to be anything less than completely frank. I’m taking a break from fixing the story to write this post then I’m going to set about revisiting the stories that have been listed to the right for some time now because I know I can do better for them. I’m un-feasibly tired though, so I’ll not re-release without pause!

Thanks again to William. Don’t forget to check out his work at authorwilliammartin.com and I’ll be back soon to keep those spiders at bay!

Bitten

A little flash fiction for your Friday frivols 🙂

I woke up yesterday morning with a bite mark on my neck. Not a tiny mosquito bite, not a flea bite. No, this is a full human-sized bite with a whole lot of teeth. I suppose it could have been the cat, but she has very sharp teeth and would not only have drawn blood but woken me up.

All day I spent trying to figure it out. I mean, the window was open all night but locked in position and no-one could get through without making a hell of a racket. It’s a mystery.

I can’t find anything online about blood disorders or infections, even of the nasty fungal sort that would cause this pattern of bruising. Imagine you’ve bitten an apple and rather than leave puncture marks, you’ve left little bruises. That’s my neck.

So I went to bed deciding not to worry about it, window open just a crack, and drifted off quite happily. I’d probably been asleep about an hour when I woke up with a start. Something was biting my neck! I shrieked and twisted away.

My attacker jumped back looking rather embarrassed. He stood there, in his black cloak with its standing collar and red lining, white frilly shirt, one hand clamped over his mouth. He pointed at something on the bed and I thought he might burst into tears. A set of dentures had dropped to the coverlet as I pulled away.

“They’re jutht temporary until the cuthtom thet ith ready,” he wailed.

JAM May 2013

The big bang theory

Nothing at all to with TV shows of the same name or indeed astrophysics, fascinating though it is. I need to make a big bang (on paper) and know nothing of the theory.

For some time I’ve had an idea for a story largely inspired by my Granddad. I wrote a quick thought down when it first came to me, intending to come back to it when other projects were complete. It’s one of those ideas though that won’t be quiet and since late yesterday has been taking shape.

Initially I’m writing it as a short story but can see that I’ll come back to it and take it much further. It has the scope to cross decades and continents and it would be a shame to leave it at just a handful of pages. There is one small problem possibly leading to a far bigger problem if I don’t watch what I say and where. I need my main character to blow up a building.

Not so easy for one man who, although he possesses the know how, is travelling from England to Antwerp in 1953. I assume he knows how to make a bomb because I don’t. Perhaps foolishly, I typed it into Google before I even thought about what such Internet activity might trigger. My sane and rational side says at the most my other searches might be looked at by some poor sod somewhere. My highly imaginative side envisages black helicopters, snipers at the neighbour’s attic windows and masked men abseiling down the chimney to arrest me at gunpoint. Please let it be coincidence that my Internet connection slowed right down after the fact. Please let it be that the entire North East only just logged on after the sun went down and volume of traffic is to blame.

What kind of world do we live in now where I find these things occurring to me whether by dint of imagination or not? I mean when my Facebook account browses my cookies and tries to sell me more of the things I already bought (surely self-defeating, Facebook if you think about it), should I not be slightly paranoid that everything I do is scrutinised if not by the authorities by marketeers? Will someone now try to sell me a bomb making kit via social media? I wouldn’t be surprised!

I’ve enlisted the help of a friend who knows about these things (in a licensed and responsible way) because I really am that irrationally concerned about who might get their hands on my search data and although it would all be a terrible misunderstanding, what would happen in the meantime? While it might in itself provide a plot of topical interest, I don’t especially want to be the main protagonist! And if they took a search to be indicative, what of the writing? Would they dig up my yard in case I really did kill Phil? Would they make sure my gas meter had never gone missing?

As far as I’m aware my Granddad, God rest him, never (intentionally) blew anything up. That is not how he came to inspire this story. It touches upon certain aspects of his life and I think he would really like where I’m taking it. That is if he were watching me as well. I wouldn’t be so nervy about that though!

Call me crazy, call me paranoid. My big bang theory is sometimes they really are watching you and there’s no telling what you might spark in the most innocent of circumstances these days. Now I’m about to make a phone call and if there’s a crackle on the line, I’m grabbing the cat and running!

Flash!

I have a new addiction. It’s not chemical, which is no doubt a good thing. It’s Flash. Not FLASH! Ah-ah! of the infamous movie that has over the years made it so that whenever I hear Brian Blessed speak, all I can hear is “Gordon’s alive?”. Nor is it the multimedia software, although sometimes I find a game on a website and I’m there a while. No, I’m talking about Flash Fiction.

So am I any good at it? Well, I don’t know. I’m good at keeping to a strict word count – some groups and competitions set a tight limit of 250 words, others 100. But years of writing limericks and haikus as an exercise in word play and certain other pursuits have fine tuned writing within a limit. When I write to a restricted count, I like to be bang on the total; not one word under, not one over and that, I think, is the addictive part.

It’s the Wiki of fiction. But I was struck by something about it that reverberates with the warnings expounded by one of my favourite novels of all time. Fahrenheit 451 by the late Ray Bradbury tells how the world in which books are burned evolved from a world where people demanded ever shorter, more concise versions of everything.

So is flash fiction a good thing, or is it the flash point of the fire that burns our literary heritage? As a warm up exercise, no pun intended, it works for me. It takes far less investment of time and deliberation than a traditional short story. It’s far more throwaway. But that’s the thing that scares me a little about it’s growing popularity. In the world of wikis and tweets, will we soon forsake the book? Or is it all just a flash in the pan..?

Empty Pages

Empty pages, let us talk a moment here.
You see, you fill me with a most irrational fear.
You scare me half to death with pristine white.
This isn’t writer’s block, it’s writer’s fright!
I’ve tried to work with you in pastel dress
But find the end results are still a mess.
So what am I to do, oh pages clean?
To scratch my pen upon you feels just mean.
It is your purpose, yes I know, to take the word
And let it live to be re-read, even heard
But I look at you, your perfect paper face
And to sully you with ink seems a disgrace.
Have I the right to write upon such beauty?
There are far less dainty forms to fill that duty.
The electronic page can take your place
And then my foolish marks I can erase
But no, those pages cannot be as good
And leaving you for them is simply rude.
There has to be an answer, pages dear.
Perhaps we ought to wait for an idea
That we can share, that flows from my pen.
Yes that’s the way and maybe… maybe then
We’ll work together gladly my old friend
Your surface alive with words up to The End.
No doubt we’ll start again with something new
And there’ll be this chat again some time with you.
Until then I’ll place you back upon the shelf
To be your unblemished, uncorrupted self
And when my words have the power to compare
To your perfection we’ll say at last fair’s fair.
For now my ache to write must rest complete
Upon the knowledge I can always press Delete!

JAM 16/04/13

Automatic Writing

One minute I was tired but couldn’t sleep, the next I’d written several thousand words and by some subliminal means become convinced I needed an X5 steam cleaner, an X-Hose and an Octaspring mattress. I switched the background TV off when Victoria Principal started trying to sell me something to put on my face. She does look pretty amazing for 63 so maybe I’ll regret that later. In thirty years or so.

I don’t clearly remember what I wrote. It was another one of those sessions of switch off conscious thought and let the story write itself.  Of course it still has to use my fingers to tap out the words but when I come out of it, I feel as rested as if I’d been in a deep sleep. That makes me wonder if it is a sub-conscious thing altogether and while it goes on my conscious mind is indeed asleep. I know I killed people. I should probably hope I was here writing the whole time and not in fact in the throes of some psychotic break brought on by stress and an accidental overdose of pills. I’ll keep an eye on the local news just in case.

There was an entire sub-plot that I didn’t like which I think I completely deleted and replaced with something totally different. So I killed three minor characters there too. Well, they served no real purpose. I can remember writing their pitiful part in proceedings and remembering is never a good thing. Remembering means I had to try too hard to write it. Not remembering has its own inherent problems of course. I have a lot of reading back to do before I go on or I won’t know what’s going on in my own story. Might be pleasantly surprised or might be horrified. Although if it’s supposed to be horrific and it is, that’s a good thing, right?

The more I think about it, it has to be a sub-conscious thing. I didn’t so much as move except to type in all that time. I’m someone who always has to have a drink to hand, usually a cup of tea, and not only did I not take a sip but there was more than half a cup of stone cold lapsang souchong beside me when I stopped. Wasn’t aware of any aches and pains but it turns out my back is killing me and I didn’t notice. I was in effect not really here.

I’ve read about automatic writing as a means to contact the hereafter. To do it you must enter an altered state of consciousness. How different then is it from this? And if it isn’t any different, which of these is true: that people for hundreds of years have scribbled from their own sub-conscious believing it to be a spirit, or that I am not in fact writing this novel but am channeling the spirit of a writer?

Now I must make breakfast before my state of consciousness becomes easily defined as ‘un’.

The Northman is free!!

For a limited time only. Today and tomorrow in fact (10th & 11th April 2013).

The brilliant J.D. Hughes has organised a free download extravaganza on his fantastic novel Northman.

To quote from my own review, Northman is a “tense supernatural thriller steeped in history with some interesting perspectives on life, existence and the meaning of it all.” Even time itself has no power over the Northman. “Hughes writes with intelligence, knowledge and skill to weave a tale that fills many shoes. Decide for yourself whether I mean fits many profiles or makes you that afraid.”

But don’t just take my word for it. Some bites (bytes?) of what others are saying about it:

“The ending is stunning, something I hadn’t predicted at all – isn’t it great when that happens?”

“A delightful work, and I could gladly read it again.”

“The prose reminds me of Ernest Hemingway, John Masters and other writers of the first half of the 20th century, while the explorations of life’s meanings brought to mind Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.”

“A scarily good thriller that deserves a place on your Kindle.”

“If you want to read a good thriller then this is for you! Loved it.”

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Read J.D.’s blog about the giveaway or head on over to Amazon UK / US and get your copy. How else will you know how to watch out for and survive the Northman when he comes?!