Jasmine reluctant

Well, that was a surprising week wasn’t. Fancy Federa losing at Wimbledon from matchpoint! Then there was the government in turmoil over Brexit. Actually that is normal, but the resignations of Johnson and Davies were a bit unexpected. Of course they couldn’t do the honourable thing and resign when asked to back the PM. No, first they gave her their support, then they resigned. But that behaviour is not really a surprise since they have both lied and squirmed since before the referendum. But where does it leave May and the Brexit negotiations? I’ve no idea.

Then there’s Trump’s visit to the UK after causing mayhem at NATO. Nothing surprising there either (I’m writing this  on Thursday evening – perhaps he’s declared himself king of Engerland by the time you read this). I’d have thought that, by now, skilled politicians would have worked out how to neutralise his disruptive behaviour. Apparently they haven’t, which is worrying. The thing is – he’s dangerous. Satire is a useful weapon but just considering him a joke is not. I don’t think he’s particularly bright or the “ideas man” but he knows how to stir things up and sow discord. Other leaders have not found a way to counteract his rudeness, his willingness to tell outright lies and his immediate recall to Twitter to spread his chaos. Our “leaders” whatever their political colour have to find a way to cope without the spin-doctors and the protocol experts.

………………………..

WP_20180414_09_47_33_ProToday I am (I hope) at BLISS in Southport, joining a couple of dozen other authors at the Prince of Wales Hotel displaying and signing our books. I hope there will be people attending who are not only keen readers but who also have deep pockets. I have 10 titles for sale – viz. the 3 Jasmine Frame novels – Painted Ladies, Bodies By Design and The Brides’ Club Murder – the Evil Above the Stars trilogy and Cold Fire, my two Angela Meadows erotic novels and the Elsewhen SF anthology. That’s plenty to keep your bedside table creaking on its legs.

However, for free you can read the next episode of the Jasmine Frame sequel/prequel, Negative, here.

Negative: Part 5

Jasmine felt a wave of nausea pass through her, as if she’d drunk too much alcohol. It wasn’t alcohol, she hadn’t had a drink since she’d arrived here, but she knew the cause of her discomfort – a body, a death, a victim. Perhaps Tegan’s death was an accident, but the tone of the police officer’s questioning suggested a mystery. It wasn’t a simple road accident then.
Ceri seemed as nonplussed as Jasmine. ‘How?’ she asked.
‘I’m afraid that I can’t tell you that,’ the PC replied. Perhaps he didn’t know the whole story, Jasmine thought, definitely not all the details. The SIO, the senior investigating officer, would be keeping important facts secret if there was any crime contributing to the woman’s death.
‘The last time you saw Tegan Jones was Tuesday evening?’ The officer went on.
‘Yes,’ Ceri replied in a quiet voice.
The PC turned to the proprietor. ‘Was she working yesterday?’
The little man flustered. ‘I think so. I wasn’t here. I wasn’t told of a problem. Myfanwy. . .’
‘Myfanwy?’ The officer interjected.
‘Our stand-in waitress,’ the owner continued, ‘she didn’t report anything being wrong yesterday.’
Jasmine coughed. The other three people turned to face her. ‘Tegan Jones was waiting at dinner last evening,’ she said.
The officer turned a page in his notebook. ‘Who are you?’
‘Jasmine Frame. I’m a guest. I had dinner here last evening. Miz Jones was here while I was.’
‘What time was that?’ The PC asked while scribbling notes.
Jasmine had to think. She hadn’t noted the exact timings of her movements the previous evening. What had she watched on TV when she returned to her room?
‘It was quite early, I think, when I finished dinner – seven thirty-ish,’ she said.
‘Thank you, madam,’ the PC said. ‘You didn’t note what kind of mood she was in did you?’
Jasmine shook her head. ‘I’m sorry, she didn’t serve me and I didn’t have any conversation with her. Miz Jones didn’t seem to converse much; not with guests. I couldn’t say what her emotional state was or whether it was different to normal.’
‘Thank you, I think that’s all for now.’ The officer completed his note, turned and left the dining room with the proprietor on his heels. Ceri approached Jasmine. Her face was drained of colour.
‘I can’t believe she’s dead,’ Ceri said, her voice shaking.  Jasmine got up from her seat and wrapped her arms around the girl. ‘I’ve wished her dead any number of times for being so nasty to me, but. . .’
‘It’s okay. You can’t blame yourself for thinking those things. She was nasty.’ Jasmine was trying to be comforting. ‘Her death means she’s not going to bother you again.’
Ceri sniffed. ‘But how? What happened to her? Why did the police come asking questions?’
Jasmine was thinking the same things. She didn’t want to think about another death but she couldn’t help it. Questions about the investigation just kept popping into her head. She released Ceri from her hug.
‘There is obviously some doubt about when and perhaps how Tegan died. The police can’t have witnesses from the time of death; not yet anyway. That’s why they’re trying to trace her last movements.’
‘I want to know what happened,’ Ceri said firmly.
‘The police won’t be letting much out yet. Not until they have the story straight. But there are other ways of finding out some things.’
‘How?’
And so it begins, Jasmine thought. No I am not investigating this woman’s death, but she could see that Ceri was eager to know more.
‘This is a small town,’ Jasmine said, ‘How do you normally find out what’s going on.’
Ceri didn’t have to think for long. ‘Facebook and my mother.’
‘There you are then. I expect you’ll know more than that police officer soon.’
The girl looked around her. ‘I’d better clear up here. Then I’ll ask around.’
‘You do that,’ Jasmine said starting for the door.
‘Shall we meet for coffee?’ Ceri called.
Jasmine paused and turned. ‘Yes, if you like. Same place?’
Ceri nodded and began stacking plates.

Ceri didn’t appear at the time of their previous meetings but Jasmine didn’t wait on the pier because a wind carrying flurries of rain was blowing in from the sea. She went into the café, queued for a coffee then sat in their corner seat.
Her cup was empty when Ceri strode in. She came straight to Jasmine.
‘I’m sorry. I was stuck on my phone. I was on Facebook and texting my mates, then my mother rang to tell me the news.’
‘The news?’
‘About Tegan. She held me up.’
‘That’s okay. Sit down, I’ll get the coffees.’
Jasmine returned to the table with Ceri’s cappuccino and another black coffee for herself. She sat down and smiled at the young woman.
‘Well tell me. What’s the town got to say?’
‘It’s all over Facebook,’ Ceri said, not really surprised. ‘It’s the most exciting thing that’s happened here in months. Usually it’s what tourists get up to but the season hasn’t really got going yet.’
‘So what is being said about Tegan?’
Ceri took a deep breath. ‘Well some of the posts name her and some don’t.’
‘That’s to be expected. For some people it’s just an exciting event and they don’t know or care who the victim was. What are they saying? Is there a location?’
‘A location?’
‘Where her body was discovered.’
‘Oh yes, On the Undercliff.’
‘Where’s that?’ Jasmine had an idea but wasn’t certain.
‘The road round the headland.’
‘Oh yes. I walked it the other day. It’s a few miles long, do you know where?’
Ceri was looking at her phone, her thumb flicking over the screen.
‘Yes, here we are. It’s about a mile out of town on the east side.’
Jasmine frowned as she recalled her walk. ‘I know. The cliff’s pretty sheer there. The road is tucked right against the rock.’
‘That’s the place.’
‘Any suggestions of how she died?’
Ceri’s face creased. ‘There are all sorts of ideas. They can’t all be right.’
Jasmine grinned. It was as she expected. ‘It’ll all be supposition,’ she said. ‘The police won’t have released details, but gossip gets out. Perhaps there’s some truth there somewhere. What do they say?’
‘Oh, that she was knocked down while out walking, or jogging. That’s nonsense, I don’t think Tegan ever jogged anywhere and she wouldn’t have gone for a walk after work last night or before the breakfast shift.’
‘Okay, so we can reject a typical hit and run. If she’d been hit by a driver who stopped, the police wouldn’t be asking questions about where she was last night. What else?’
‘She fell from the cliff.’
‘From what you said about her not going for a run or walk, that sounds pretty unlikely too.’
‘That’s what I thought.’
Jasmine pondered. ‘Anyway, it seems we know that Tegan’s body was found on the road a mile out of town, under a cliff, and not in a car.’
‘That’s right, Jasmine.’ Ceri nodded.
‘So how did she get there? Is that where she was killed or was her body dumped there?’
‘Dumped!’
‘It’s how bodies are got rid of.’
‘Do you mean? No, you can’t. . .’
‘Tegan was murdered. Yes I do.’ Jasmine felt a mixture of excitement and resignation. Too many deaths had impacted her life in recent years. If it wasn’t actually normal to be thinking of causes of death and motives for murder it was certainly a familiar state of mind for Jasmine. ‘What did your mother have to say?’
‘Uh, Mother? Oh she said, “good riddance”. She knows what Tegan’s been like to me.’
‘Did she think Tegan’s death was suspicious?’
Ceri’s eyes opened wide. ‘I thought she was joking. She said “I expect her partner’s got fed up with her and bumped her off”.’
‘Your mother said partner, not husband? Tegan’s not married?’
‘No, didn’t I tell you? Tegan’s partner’s a woman. Tegan’s a lesbian. I mean, she was.’

 

 

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Jasmine’s back

WP_20180414_09_47_33_ProIn four weeks I’ll be at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Southport, Lancashire for the BLISS Book Lovers event (Sat. 14th July.)  It’s another of those bookfairs where the authors display their books and engage visitors with enthralling chat about their work. It really works best if there are lots of people wandering around who aren’t the participating authors. For that reason I have a few free entry tickets available for anyone wanting to attend.  Just send me a message on paintedladiesnovel@btinternet.com and if they haven’t all gone I’ll see that you get a ticket. Also send me a message if you want to pre-order any of my books for delivery at the event.  They will all be priced at £8 on the day except for Painted Ladies, which is free with either Bodies By Design or The Brides’ Club Murder. The Evil Above the Stars trilogy will be £21 for all three volumes.  There will also be free bookmarks and postcards of scenes from the September novels, particularly Cold Fire.

Of course, if you can’t get to Southport you can order the books direct from me by sending a message to me at the same email address above.  All books are £9.99 inc p&p each and the free offer for Painted Ladies stands. The package of the three Evil Above the Stars books is £25.

……………….

And so Jasmine returns. I’ve had a rest from writing Jasmine Frame stories for a couple of months although the fourth novel, Molly’s Boudoir, is still on the stocks. This new story is something of an innovation.  It is both a sequel and prequel.  It fits into the short period of time between the events of Painted Ladies and Bodies By Design. I am not going to give away any of the plot of Painted Ladies other than to say Jasmine is recovering.  You’ll have to wait and see how the story develops but I do want it to be a little more reflective.  Jasmine is stuck at the stage in her transition where she’s living as a woman and taking hormones but the body she wants is a distant goal because of the time it takes to get Gender Confirmation  Surgery. She’s alone and self-employed and has just completed a traumatic case so she has reason to be reflective.

By the way I’d welcome beta readers for Molly’s Boudoir.  If you would like to read it in its pre-copyedit state and are prepared to make comments (positive and negative) then please send me a message on the email address above. In  return you’ll get my grateful thanks and a signed (yes, really) paperback copy when it is published.

So here is the first episode of Negative.

Negative: Part 1

The forest of wind turbines on the horizon in a flat calm sea seemed to be unchanging. It was only the rattle of the railway carriage that told her that she was moving. She kept her face close to the window gazing at the scene. It had been a long time since she’d seen the sea, but it was almost like coming home having grown up in a coastal town. This was a different bit of sea though and turning away to look out of the other side of the carriage she could see that she was travelling through unfamiliar country. Hills clothed in bright green grass and dark trees rose steeply from the narrow coastal strip and beyond, partially hidden in cloud, were the dark blue hints of higher mountains.
Jasmine looked back at the sea. She needed a holiday, a break, a change of scene, but it felt a little like she was running away. Angela had recommended it, as did Jilly, her GP. While her injuries were healing, the dreams still disturbed her nights. She woke feeling she couldn’t breathe. The media interest in her, though lessening, was irritating and stopped her from getting back to work. Not that she was sure she would have much work. Frame Investigations might be defunct. Who wanted a private investigator whose picture had appeared in the local and national newspapers and on the internet?
She’d argued. She didn’t want to go away. She wanted to curl up in her drab, small flat. She was alone. What was she going to do on a vacation? Anyway, she couldn’t afford it.
Angela had argued back. The change would do her good, refresh her. She’d meet new people; people who didn’t know her. She had some money coming from the Police for her work and in victim compensation, and why didn’t she use some of her savings. That was for her transition, she’d responded.
Angela had replied, ‘Your wellbeing now is more important than having money in the bank for whatever surgeries you decide you might need in the future.’ Jasmine had wanted to retort that future treatment was what was going to make her what she wanted to be, but she had accepted Angela’s point.
So here she was, on a train to somewhere unfamiliar. On her own because, of course, Angela had her own career she couldn’t desert at short notice and anyway they were divorced now. There was no-one else.

The train pulled into the terminus station. Jasmine collected her small case and stepped onto the carriage accompanied by a couple of dozen fellow travellers. It was summer, but not yet school holiday time so the season hadn’t really taken off. Her companions were largely grey-haired. Though they might have noticed her in her t-shirt and short skirt, none seemed to take any interest in her. She checked the map on her phone and strode out of the station towing her case behind her. The hotel she’d booked wasn’t far. It was in one of the streets that lead down to the seafront, but she noted, didn’t have a direct view of the sea. It was a small independently run establishment. The grey stone Victorian building looked as though it had had a coat of paint applied to its woodwork but didn’t seem to have had any recent improvements. Not seedy anyway. She’d booked it because it was cheap, offered breakfast and dinner and had a single room spare for a fortnight – that was as long as she thought she’d survive being on holiday.
The owner showed her into the room. Its narrow window looked out at the row of buildings in the next street with just a peek at the hill that rose beyond the town. He was welcoming and explained the idiosyncrasies of the plumbing and informed her of the mealtimes. She examined his face. Had he guessed what she was? Did his eyes display any sense of judgement? No, he was treating her as she thought he would any other guest who happened to be a single woman, taking care not to fuss over her in case it was interpreted as being sexist.
After asking if there was any other assistance she needed, the proprietor left her alone. Jasmine unpacked her bag and then decided to explore. She left the hotel and walked down to the seafront. Although the sun was still shining it was now late afternoon, her journey had taken most of the day, and there was a cool breeze blowing in off the water. Her bare arms and legs felt a bit chilly. To keep warm, she strode out along the promenade. She passed retired couples and families with young pre-school children, but the wide concreted pavement wasn’t crowded. On one side were the large, at one time grand, hotels and on the other, brightly painted wooden huts offering the usual seaside goods for visitors – buckets and spades, sunhats, ice cream, soft drinks, and fast food accompanied by the sickening smell of over-cooked fat.
She went to the iron rail that marked the boundary between the shore and beach and gazed out at the curve of the bay with the mountains on the right and the headland to the left. Why was she here? She knew no-one and knew nothing about this area. It was simply a retreat, somewhere to be herself, unknown and hopefully unbothered. For a moment she wondered what the attitude of the locals was to transitioning transwomen. Were they likely to be more or less accepting than in the cities and towns she was familiar with? She didn’t know, and it gave her a little anxiety about what she might discover. Holiday-makers, surely, were only interested in their own enjoyment so would be unconcerned by her, that is unless there were some young, single men looking for women to satisfy their vacation lust. She’d have to avoid them.
She wasn’t sure what she would spend her time her doing. There were plenty of things to do and see, walks to do and she’d brought a few books. Swimming in the sea was out. No bathing costume helped her look more feminine, and her scars would show. Relax, that was the main thing – and recuperate; dispel the nightmares of the slashing knife, ripping through her skin, chopping at her penis and scrotum. Yes, she wanted rid of them, but in a controlled, clean, anaesthetised manner where they would be used to build her new genitalia. She shivered, not just with the breeze on her shoulders, and turned to walk back to the hotel.

After kicking off her shoes and lying on the bed to read a not very interesting novel for a while, her watch told her it was time for dinner. Did one dress for dinner in hotels these days? She wasn’t sure but decided to change from the clothes she had travelled in. Instead she put on a calf-length dress with a thin cardigan. She powdered her face and re-did her lipstick. She looked in the mirror. What impression did she give? A young(ish) woman on her own in a small holiday hotel. Would people wonder why she was alone and perhaps examine her for reasons for her aloneness? Would their examinations note the wide shoulders, the mannish angle of her nose, and firm jaw-line? Would they suspect her for what she was?
She was used to these worries although it was the first time for a long time that she had been in a new place to test them. She took a deep breath, picked up her bag, checked her new smart phone was in it and stepped outside her door.
The dining room was half full. Most of the occupied tables by couples although one had two pairs sitting at it. Glances noted her entry, but none lingered. A waitress, dark hair, probably in her forties, indicated that she could sit at any of the smaller tables set for two, and left her to choose. She went to a table at the corner of the room which, while unobtrusive, gave her a view of the diners. She sat, pulling the hem of her dress under her bottom and looked at the brief menu.
There was a buzz of conversation around her. She caught snippets of conversation about the day’s activities, and discussions of the news of the moment – the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and preparations for the London Olympics, now less than two months away and the media, at least, becoming frantic that the organisation was incomplete.
Jasmine was approached by the second of the waitresses on duty. She was young, slim and tall, at least as tall as Jasmine’s five foot nine. Her long blonde hair was tied in a bun so that it wouldn’t flop into the dinner plates when she served the diners. Like the other waitress she was dressed in the typical waiting uniform of short, black skirt, black tights and black pinafore but the younger girl’s skirt ended higher on her thighs. She gave Jasmine a thin smile but there was a nervousness about her, her eyes not looking directly at her, that caused Jasmine to examine her. She noted the heavy foundation on her chin and cheeks, and the bold colour of her eye and lip make-up. The shirt was tucked into the skirt but the girl didn’t have much of a waist. The hand that gripped the notebook had painted nails but was large with stubby fingers.
“Are you ready to order?” the girl said in a way that Jasmine suspected she’d prepared herself to speak rather than just spill the words out. She smiled at the girl and the thought came to her, what were the chances that the hotel I chose to stay in had a trans employee?

………………………..to be continued.

 

Jasmine and the end of the world

IMGP6557 (2)Earlier this week I spent an enjoyable day at How The Light Gets In, the “other” Hay festival. I attended some interesting talks and discussions but the last got me hopping mad. The topic “Out of the Apocalypse” was billed as a discussion  about:

“From climate change and superbugs to nuclear strikes, visions of man-made apocalypse fill the headlines. Is this because we don’t really believe them and as a result are simply entertained? Should we see impending apocalypse as very real and act with more urgency? Or is apocalypse a perennial human narrative that sells books, magazines and news and is mostly fantasy?”

Unfortunately the contributors circled around the subject although none appeared to be climate-change-deniers. First there was discussion of the meaning of the term “apocalypse”.  Apparently it is derived from the Greek word for Revelation as used in the last book of the Bible and so refers to religious hopes for the end of the world where God triumphs, believers get their reward and the rest get punished or annihilated. It perhaps doesn’t quite mean what the title was intended to mean.  This meant that apart from a bit of discussion about nuclear holocaust we never dug into the impending disasters facing us. The chair even asked at one point why we “don’t see any evidence of the coming apocalypse.”  I felt like shouting out “how many more pictures of retreating glaciers, disappearing Arctic ice, burning rainforest, turtles with stomachs full of plastic bags, heaps of rubbish, city smogs, etc., etc., do you need?”. The participants seemed to approach the Apocalypse, or whatever it is, in an almost religious manner i.e. that it was all about an abrupt death. Yes, it is about people (and wildlife) dying, but that’s not the worst part of it.

The coming Armageddon, (another term of dubious applicability) will not be a one-off event. It will be a slow (in human if not geological terms) process, as the environment dies, food becomes short, order breaks down and people gradually die of starvation, disease, “accidents” and violence. The causes are numerous.  Here are just a few:  climate change caused by excessive use of fossil fuels and deforestation leading to drought, violent storms (causing landslides), mass extinctions et al; death of marine life by pollution (not just plastics) and acidification; soil degradation (we’re losing a massive amount every year); air pollution; pollution of fresh water sources; invasive pests and diseases (e.g. flu, ebola); etc.

I don’t see governments making any real attempts to solve these problems.  I hope I am being pessimistic but what I see does not give me cause for optimism. In the future we will see rising prices for food, increasing unrest in areas where food and water are in short supply, leading to break down of law and order, wars, refugees and migrants. In richer countries, those with power (corporations, the wealthy) will take steps to protect their interests (perhaps by supporting populist groups that give them the tools of government), while the ordinary people will see their standard of living and rights slowly eroded.

It sounds like a dystopian novel. I wish it was, but I fear it is a forecast for the next hundred or so years.  I hope I can see out the rest of my life in relative safety and comfort but I fear for my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

One of the speakers wants to cut the world population by reducing births. While a reduction of numbers is essential, a lack of young people with new ideas and energy will only hasten the descent into chaos. So, I don’t know what the answer is.

I don’t have any solutions, but welcome ideas.

………………………….

So, let’s look the other way, forget reality and delve into my fictional world of Benefactors.  Here’s the next episode.

Benefactors: Part 8

Chapter 8

Helen didn’t know how long she had. It turned out to be what felt like a couple of hours before the lock clunked and the door opened. A young man appeared with a tray. He was unimportant, a junior, a servant perhaps. Behind him stood a pair in military style dress though without any badges or insignia. One was male and the other female although they looked almost like twins with short hair, bulging muscles and coms implants in the side of their heads. They both held weapons.
Helen wasn’t sure which of them to address her words to. Perhaps none of them. Perhaps there were invisible listeners who would act on the message.
She spoke loudly and clearly. ‘I need to see someone. The man that visited me before or someone else. I have important information I must divulge. It is vital that you pass this message on. If my memory is wiped before I am able to speak then the future for this nation is dire.’
The servant and the guards made no sign that they had heard her. The tray was placed on the desk and then he withdrew. The door closed and the lock clunked again. Helen sat and tasted the food – a tasty chicken casserole. She found she had an appetite.
She had only just put down the blunt plastic fork when the door opened and the gaoler entered.
‘I understand you have something to say to me, Professor,’ he said in a bored voice that did not take Helen in. The speed of his response showed his interest.
Helen stood up, composed herself as she would before delivering a talk to a packed lecture theatre, and began.
‘I do and I think you will be interested. First of all let us put aside this idea that the tree’s genome is a hoax designed to fool me. Your involvement shows that this matter is far bigger than my reputation.’ She paused for a breath and to examine his face. He was impassive, but listening. ‘I can understand the concern about how people would react to the news that someone or something visited us eons ago and left us a secret message. I am not sure what effect that information would have on the populations around the world.’ The man’s headed nodded almost imperceptibly. ‘I also understand the government’s fears about what might happen if some of our, um, competitors made use of the information in the genome more successfully than ourselves.’ Helen noticed the man stiffen slightly. That indeed was his principal concern. ‘You think that by removing me and Darmaan and Fraser from the picture, by destroying the trees and the people who tended them, that the secrets can be hidden for ever. I’m sure you are also aware that history suggests that that course of action is not going to work. You can never be certain that the secret will not get out, and that has got nothing to do with whether, Darmaan or Jock or I managed to spread the word before we were, er, taken out of the picture.’ The man’s eyes flickered; a hint of anxiety. ‘How do you know that it was only Jock Fraser who took samples from the trees and got a hint of the secret that they hide. Who was it that destroyed the trees and killed their gardeners?’ The man shifted his weight on his feet as if uncomfortable. ‘But just think for a moment about the people or creatures, or whatever they were who planted the message in the trees all that time ago. How do we know that they just left the message once? Why just one tree in the Rift Valley. They could not be certain that the people they left tending the trees would survive for ten thousand generations. Okay, that is where we think modern humans originated and spread out from. But wouldn’t it have been sensible to leave copies in other plants in China, say, or South America, anywhere, to ensure that they would be found when we were capable of it.’
Helen stopped talking and watched the man. He had taken his eyes off her. He was thinking. She continued. ‘Our benefactors, let’s call them that shall we, did their best to see that our race progressed. As well as the message in the DNA they provided a drug that helped the people cooperate and work together. Yes, I’m sure that is the purpose of the toxic narcotic that you mentioned. They knew that it would be a long time before we were ready to understand their gift and I am sure they would have taken every step to ensure that when the time was right it would be available to us.’ The man was definitely agitated now, his mouth moving and his hands clenching and unclenching.
Helen went on. ‘If we are the first we must do what we can to interpret the message, and very carefully let the news out so that others do not try to stop us, steal it or keep it to themselves.’ She had made the case, now her statement had to get personal. ‘I, and Darmaan and Jock are already involved but what a waste it would be to wipe our memories. You need me, us, to lead the work of using this gift. I’m not being boastful but my main talent is running teams of researchers. I learnt it on the Human Genome Project. Now you need me on this which is far, far more important. Please give me, all of us, a chance to help.’
She finished and stood waiting for a response. The man looked at her then turned and departed without a word. Helen flung herself on the bed, her heart beating fast as it did at the end of any presentation. Had she said the right things? Had she done enough to save her mind? Had she saved the world?

Chapter 9

Jock had spent time in various prison cells in nations across the world. Sometimes his papers had not been “in order” or landowners had got upset at his “trespassing”, or rivals had had words with the authorities. It had never been more than a few days but he was familiar with bare walls, lack of furnishings and amenities, unpalatable water and food. This wasn’t one of those simple gaols in a developing country. This had freshly painted, strong walls, a bright light in the ceiling (which didn’t go off), an effective lock on the door, and was so insulated from the outside world he couldn’t tell whether he was still in the tropics or had been ferried to one or other of the poles.
Time passed. He rested on the hard rubber bed fixed to the wall. He was fed by a bowl pushed through a letterbox sized slot in the wall. Most of the time he lay thinking, feeling anger and remorse for the death of Ekuru Lengabilo and wondering at the fate of the boy and the old woman. He wondered what Professor Patel had found in the genome but realised that it must have been as special as he had guessed to have brought Special Forces all the way to the Rift Valley to extract him.
He was actually beginning to get bored with his company, particularly as he had no means of writing or recording his thoughts, when the door to the cell swung open.
‘Please step out of the cell,’ a voice said from outside. Jock jumped to his feet but walked very slowly to the doorway and looked through it. There was an honour guard of helmeted, armed and uniformed but unidentified personnel on both sides of the short corridor.
The squad leader at the far end of the corridor spoke with a firm but unthreatening voice. ‘Come with me, please, Dr Fraser.’ He beckoned Jock to join him. Jock walked passed the soldiers examining each. Their dark visors prevented him from seeing if there was any emotion at all in their eyes, but they held their weapons at the ready, with fingers on triggers. Jock joined the officer who turned and pushed the door open and they stepped out on to a small parade ground. A one-man quadcopter rested on the tarmac with its canopy raised. The seat was empty.
‘Get in,’ the officer commanded. Jock did as he was told, settling into the body hugging, memory foam seat. The canopy lowered. The craft took-off vertically, the four rotors whirring but the electric motors silent. Jock rose above the roof of the surrounding building and then the craft began moving horizontally.
‘What is the destination?’ Jock asked. Perhaps there was a communications link with the drone pilot wherever he or she may be or perhaps the craft was autonomous and would tell him itself. There was no reply. Jock looked out trying to interpret what he saw. He soon worked out that they were travelling north and the landscape looked as if it could be British but could equally be northern Europe or even some parts of North America. Britain was most likely. The small craft didn’t travel in a straight line and Jock presumed it was avoiding urban areas. He guessed that being battery powered the journey would not last long and indeed after an hour they descended to an air field. A helicopter stood alone on the concrete with a guard of soldiers around it similar to those at the prison.
The quadcopter landed and the rotors slowed to a stop. The canopy opened. Without waiting for an order Jock got out. Having recently been in Africa and then confined inside, he shivered in the cool breeze. One of the helmeted soldiers beckoned him towards the helicopter whose rotors were already turning slowly. The door in the side was open and Jock climbed in. There were no other passengers. Jock took a seat and the door was closed on him. At once the engines grew louder and Jock felt the slight lurch as they left the ground. He hurried to fasten the safety belt. The windows had been opaqued so he had no sight of the disappearing airfield and no way of determining the direction of travel. The change of transport persuaded Jock that he was in for a somewhat longer journey and with no companions to talk to decided that sleep was the best pastime for the journey.

…………………to be continued.

Jasmine’s having a holiday

I lost track of the days this week and almost forgot to write this blog page. It was partly because I’ve been getting on with my new September Weekes novel, provisional title, Malevolence. Not completely sure where it’s going yet but things are developing . . .

Anyway being late gives me a chance to comment on the local government elections that took place in many parts of England yesterday. I didn’t get the chance to vote as all of our local councillors face an election next year.  Nevertheless this election  was hailed as the big chance to see what the electorate felt a year after the General Election.  The answer – not a lot. As usual I think the turnout was about half what it is for the parliamentary elections – so, very poor. The results show that a surprising number of people are still willing to vote Conservative despite the incompetence shown by May’s government and total disregard given by the Brexiteers to the wellbeing of the country and the sovereignty of  parliament. But we knew all that – a large proportion of the population are incapable of seeing the disaster that Brexit (and a Conservative government) is. There again people in general do not have a lot faith in Labour either, whether lead by Corbyn or anyone else. The Lib Dems made some gains but just can’t get their message across – the media still gives more time to UKIP (who lost almost everything) and Farage (who isn’t even in politics anymore) than Lib Dems or the Greens.  In fact the bulk of the media is conniving with the Conservative Leavers to drag the country into a future which will see most people a lot worse off, financially, environmentally and safely. (is that grammatical?)

So we limp on to a future which no one, especially the Leavers, can foresee.

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………………….

No news on Jasmine Frame at the moment, so here is the fourth episode of my SF long story or novel fragment, Benefactors. Hope you like it.

Benefactors: Part 4

Chapter 4

Jock was a little concerned but not too worried when Ekuru Lengabilo wasn’t at the dusty airstrip. His small plane landed early in the morning after the flight from Nairobi. Jock took a ride in a local’s beaten up Chang’an pickup truck into the small town of Isiolo. There were more Kenyan government soldiers hanging around the low concrete buildings than there had been the last time he was here, but either they didn’t notice or didn’t care that a highly tanned westerner was in a local truck. The driver dropped Jock off at the corrugated-iron lock-up garage and Jock was greeted by the Samburan mechanic that looked after his Toyota 4×4. Jock dumped his bags inside and checked that the alcohol tank was full. He was pleased to see that the mechanic had followed his instruction and allowed the sun to reach the solar panels on the roof so the batteries were fully charged.
Jock signalled to the mechanic to open the rickety door and he drove silently out on to the unmade road. He stopped to check there were no other vehicles or carts obstructing his route.
The passenger door was wrenched open. Jock glanced to his right and saw Lengabilo climbing in.
‘Drive!’ said the guide in Samburan. In Jock’s ear the translation came through without the urgency. He engaged forward, put his foot to the floor and they shot forward with a whine from the electric motors. They headed north.
‘What’s up?’ Jock asked when they were clear of the town.
‘The army were looking for me,’ Ekuru said. He twisted to look out of the rear window.
‘Why?’
‘They think I support the terrorists.’
‘What terrorists?’
‘The people of the God Tree.’
Without thinking, Jock pressed his foot against the brake and they came to a sudden halt in a cloud of dust.
‘What do you mean? Those people are the most peaceful and cooperative I’ve ever met. Probably something to do with those leaves they chew. They’re not terrorists.’
Ekuru nodded. ‘You and I know that. The government knows that too, but they also know that the way to get western support is to label opposition groups as terrorists.’
‘Ah, I see.’ Jock drove off again. ‘The people were worried about the Chinese plans to survey their land for minerals.’
‘It’s gone beyond that.’ Lengabilo said.
‘How?’
‘A week ago the Chinese arrived with all their vehicles and drilling machinery. They set off north west.’
‘To the Tree People’s land?’
‘Yes.’
‘We need to get there as quickly as possible,’ Jock thrust his foot against the accelerator. A light on the dashboard showed that the fuel cells were supplementing the batteries and solar power.

It was dawn next day when they left South Horr, heading west. Jock had stocked up on alcohol for the fuel cells and supplies for himself and Lengabilo. He was feeling anxious. He’d told the elder of the Tree People that he would present their case to the government but he had failed to get passed the lowliest of officials back in London. Now he was keen to get to the people’s homeland and the grove of trees that he had left just a few weeks earlier.
The roads through the forested hills were no more than tracks and passage was slow, but eventually Ekuru, driving the 4×4, carefully negotiated the steep descent into the Rift Valley. Jock scanned the view looking for landmarks that would show that they were close to the grove of trees. At last he thought he recognised the shape of the gullies and bluffs.
‘There,’ Jock said pointing, ‘where that smoke is rising.’ As he said it he realised that something was wrong. There shouldn’t be a pall of smoke over the People’s home. They rounded a bend and emerged on the savannah. Ekuru stopped the vehicle.
‘No!’ Jock cried. Ahead of them, huge vehicles were parked where previously wooden huts stood. Beyond, where the grove of trees had grown in the shade of a narrow valley, the earth had been gouged out to form a quarry.
‘They’re gone,’ Jock said meaning both the people and the trees that they tended.
‘We’d better get away from here,’ Lengabilo said reversing and turning the truck. He drove quickly away from the mine site.
‘What have they done?’ Jock said.
‘It’s what I feared,’ Ekuru said, ‘The government declared the Tree People terrorists for opposing their deal with the Chinese. Then they moved in. The people are probably all dead and the trees chopped down and burned.’
Jock’s heart hammered as if he had been running, ‘But those trees. . . they’re so special.’
‘The Tree People worshipped them,’ Ekuru said.
‘Not worship exactly. They cared for and protected the trees for thousands and thousands of years and I let them down.’
‘It’s not your fault that the government sold the ground beneath our feet. Where do you want to go?’
Jock thought for a few minutes as they trundled slowly over the rough ground. ‘I don’t know but I need time to think and get in touch with friends. Get us off the plain and back into the hills out of sight.’ Lengabilo did as he was told, turning back towards the rising ground that marked the eastern border of the Rift. As they approached the first hills they spotted two people in traditional dress, sheltering under an acacia tree. Ekuru stopped the vehicle and they both got out. The smell of the heat and dust and the vegetation struck his nostrils.
An elderly woman and a young boy sat in the shade. The boy stood up as they approached. Jock thought he was familiar.
‘It is the boy who gave me the leaves and seeds,’ Jock said. Ekuru nodded. The boy looked fearful and stepped close to the woman.
‘Tell him not to be afraid,’ Jock instructed, ‘Remind him who I am.’ Lengabilo spoke in the language that defeated the translator. The boy and the woman relaxed and invited Jock and his guide to join them. Jock returned to the car for water and food and offered it to the couple. They professed their thanks in a manner that did not require translation. Ekuru gradually extracted the story. The vehicles had arrived without warning. The people had tried to protect the trees, ignoring their homes, but had been gunned down by the soldiers that accompanied the miners. Only the boy had escaped because he had been tending the old woman who was ill. For two days they had been moving slowly away from their home that was now a scene of destruction.
Sadness, regret, guilt filled Jock. ‘All the trees are destroyed?’ he said. It wasn’t quite a questions but Ekuru translated his words. The boy shook his head and spoke.
‘There is one left,’ Ekuru said.
Jock jerked upright, ‘Where? How?’
Ekuru and the boy talked and then the interpreter turned to Jock. ‘The story is that hundreds of years ago an animal or a bird, versions of the story differ, plucked a seed pod from a tree in the grove and took it away. Many years later a goatherd came across the tree growing in a gully just a few miles from here. It was a young sapling then. Now it is a mature tree. The People have looked after it even though it is separated from the main grove.’
‘We must get to it. If I take cuttings, then perhaps the genome can be preserved.’ Jock got to his feet.
‘Not today,’ Ekuru said, ‘It’s too late.’ He pointed to the Sun dropping over the western horizon.

………………………to be continued.

 

 

 

Jasmine in preparation

It’s been one of those weeks; a little bit of this a little bit of that, but I have made progress. The editing of the collection of Jasmine Frame stories is almost complete although I am still unsure about the title, Jasmine Frame: Training for Murder.  All the stories are from the period at the start of James/Jasmine’s police career. I am still thinking about better ideas.

20170930_130307I did have a bit of a down at one point with news that sales of my books are pretty slow. That could be my fault – I’m not doing enough to promote them – but I’m not sure what more there is to do on a limited budget. On the other hand I get an email asking for news of the next Jasmine Frame novel.  So I press on.

I note that the media obsession  with trans matters continues with a new series on ITV called Transformations.  It follows people undergoing transition.  I haven’t seen it yet but will comment more when I have. I’m about to do a few talks myself about being trans including the legal and medical aspects. The problem, or perhaps it isn’t a problem, is that everyone is different and that there are so many forms of transgenderism or gender fluidity.  It will be an interesting experience.

So with one thing and another I haven’t yet started the new Jasmine story. Next week?  As a substitute, here again is something I wrote earlier. It is also a piece I wrote for one of the writing groups I attend. I think the task was to write a letter of complaint. In fact I have added the reply too. It was an attempt at satire, not perfect which is why I have not bothered to find a home for it or sent it to any competitions but you can enjoy it or otherwise tear it to pieces.

The Devil’s Redundancy

Dear Lord and Master of All,
I am writing to complain about the redundancy notice I have been sent by your office. I would like to remind you of the contract I received when I accepted this posting outside Paradise. I draw your attention to the term ‘eternity’. Yes, I am appointed to run the underworld for eternity. Further my job description says I am to punish sinners for time without end. You can’t just rip up a contract like that just because you’re omnipotent, after what I’ve done for, what is it now, six thousand years.
You say the reason for my getting fired – that’s a good word isn’t it for the one who has been stoking the fires with a little help from my demons – is because I have been failing in my duty of tempting the good souls to whom you have given the Earth and all the living things within it. Well, I have some reasons for that.
First of all it is a question of numbers. Heaven may be infinite in size but the Earth isn’t, so there is only so much room in the underworld to accommodate all the sinners, allowing space for the punishments you insisted that I provide. The problem is that you let these humans proliferate so that I now have over seven billion of them to deal with at once, and that’s just the living. If you hadn’t made fornication so pleasurable for them I’m sure they wouldn’t breed so fast. So, with so many people to tempt it’s as much as I can do to get round each of them during their lifetimes as well as the time spent preparing new chambers of hell.
The second problem has been an energy crisis. When there are potentially so many candidates for burning there is a need to provide fuel. Now you designed the laws of thermodynamics so you know that when you use energy some always gets lost and heats up the surroundings. I’m afraid that’s been happening and the Earth has been warming up a bit. Well, with increasing numbers the temperature has been rising faster. I can’t keep hiding global warming behind their use of fossil fuels, which you kindly provided, for much longer.
Finally, the place has been filling up at a faster rate than I can manage without me tempting them to excess. I know you’ll say that is why I’m redundant. I’m not needed anymore to trick these folks into vices as they do it for themselves, but do you really expect this place to run by itself or are you expecting volunteers to step in and run your Big Purgatory.
You see you really shouldn’t have given them free will. It’s because of that they’ve found ways to sin that you, for all your omniscience, never thought of. For a start, why did you give them seven deadly sins to work at, when they’d have done well enough with two or three. The trouble started when you made gold not only a pretty metal but rare too. In the early days it was only a few of them who fell for the envy and greed thing as they built up their stocks of the stuff and then added the lust, gluttony and pride for good measure – people like old King Midas; he sends his regards by the way. Now they don’t need to actually own the metal to get into the vices. For a while they collected bits of paper but now figures in their fancy computers do the job very nicely. And then you went and gave a few of them ingenuity so that the rest can satisfy their basic desires while slumped in front of the TV, building up their sloth coefficient. They’ve even found new ways of encouraging vices with inventions such as internet porn, fast food and reality TV shows – which make me pretty wrathful, I can tell you.
I think that instead of putting me out to grass you should be getting round to that Armageddon thing you’ve been talking about for eons. Let’s give the whole place a re-boot and re-think the human race.

Yours faithfully,
Lucifer
P.S. Give my love to the kids.

………………….

My dear Lucifer,
Thank you for your letter. I do think it quaint that you still use such outmoded forms of communication. I find email so much more in keeping with my status of omniscience because, of course, it is never lost but always stored in the perambulations of electrons. I can access it anywhere in my universe thanks to the free dongle that came with my package.
I knew that being made redundant would upset you and I want you to know that I empathise with your feelings. I do want to thank you for all the efforts you have made to punish those creatures that I allowed to stray from the paths of righteousness. The truth is that I have decided on a little reorganisation up here.
When I created this place I decided on a multi-faceted presence which allowed my people to interpret my existence in a number of different ways. This produced effects that were not quite as predicted. Not of course that I am giving up my claim on infallibility, it is just that these people have followed a path that was not one of high probability. That was one of the results of allowing them a semblance of free-will. The problem is that instead of uniting in praise of me they have divided up into more and more denominations, each at each other’s throats, so that they have called into question my forgiving and all-embracing love. It has got so bad that a sizeable proportion have even given up believing in me. I am sure that you appreciate that that is not a good state of affairs for an all-powerful being.
Anyway to cut to the chase, as some of them say, I have decided on a universe-wide reorganisation programme. I am going to amalgamate the various divisions of paradise and terminate the various brand-names by which I have been known. It is time for a re-launch with a brand new face of God. So there will be, as you suggest, an Armageddon of sorts. However, it is such a fag having to re-build a whole universe and come up with all those little clues that suggest that everything has been around a lot longer than it actually has – do you know how long it took for me to come up with all the dinosaurs last time? Yes, I know time means nothing to me but someone has to think of these things. Anyway I’ve decided on a species-selective form of the final curtain and these humans I created gave me the idea themselves, isn’t that smart. They’ve already had a few goes themselves but this is going to be the grand-daddy of all economic collapses. I’ve hardly had to do anything at all really, just a few nudges of this corporation or that, a few insider dealings here or there. At the appointed moment their whole financial system will collapse and they’ll be back where they started, a bunch of stone wielding, hunters and gatherers ready to look around them and see me in everything.
I know what you are going to say – where does hell fit into all this? Well actually it doesn’t. I’ve decided on a rationalisation process that means that you and your dominion are surplus to requirements. It’s quite clever really in that I’m bringing punishments for sins back in house. They’ve brought it on themselves really. Once civilisation has gone there’ll be enough radioactive waste, nerve gases, incurable diseases to say nothing of environmental degradation brought on by their profligate use of all the resources I gave them, that there will be plenty of ways to make their existence miserable. And the good thing is that I won’t even have to provide for the pure and faultless souls because there aren’t any. Every last one of them has fallen for at least one of those seven vices you mention, plus a few extra ones that they invented for themselves.
So there we are Lucifer, old fellow. I’m sure you will get over your disappointment and will enjoy your retirement – for eternity, of course. I’ll make sure your needs are provided for, perhaps a little heritage-hell for old times’ sake and I am sure the new arrangements will keep you amused even as a spectator.

Yours truly,
The Almighty One

…………………………………………

Jasmine plans

We’ve survived a week of 2018. Actually, it was more of the same and I’m trying my best not to get worked up at the foolish things said and done by people who are supposed to be leaders or despondent at the state of the world. So, let’s be more personal shall we.

I’m not one for making new year resolutions.  I have done it and some times kept some of them for a while but I think having goals, as some other writers have suggested, is a good idea.  So I’ve made a to-do list. It’s not complete and I’m not going to divulge it here and now. I will say though that there are quite a few writing objectives on it – plenty of ideas to be realised!

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Tea in Debenhams

Jasmine Frame, of course, features amongst them but I’m not starting a new story this week. I have now written three novels with the fourth nearly finished (the first, draft anyway), and thirteen novella/short story prequels. Two of the prequels have already been made available as e-books and I am putting together an anthology containing four of the stories. The prequels cover the period from 2000 to 2012 when James/Jasmine went from a 17 -year old, unsure about his/her gender and future, to a 29 year-old transitioning transwoman working as a private detective. Not surprisingly, during many of the intervening years, James was a policeman. I’ve ended up doing something I never intended doing which is writing stories where the protagonist is a police officer. I don’t want to write police-procedurals, but I will have to continue doing this. I do have some ideas for the next story but it needs a bit of work – hence the delay.

Another aspect of my to-do list is promoting my writing, September as well as Jasmine. I’ve been to a number of marketing workshops and read plenty of guides but I haven’t found the magic formula necessary for getting noticed. Perhaps I’m not trying hard enough (particularly at the social media interaction – but I hate it) or maybe there are opportunities out there I’ve missed. Anyway, let it be known that I am available for talks/workshops with groups, festivals, bookfairs, indeed, any event where I can present my writings with or without a talk about them and/or me and my experiences.

In lieu of a Jasmine story here is a short piece I wrote a while ago for one of my writing groups. I think it was an exercise but I have no idea of what. Perhaps a character study.

Garden Party

“Canapè, sir?”
“What? Is it going to rain?” Billy looked up at the clear blue sky mystified.
There was a drawn out sigh, “I said, canapé, sir.”
Billy noticed the bow-tie wearing waiter was holding a tray of doll’s house sized burgers in buns.
“Oh, you mean, these. I thought you meant….” Billy nodded towards the marquee occupying the centre of the immaculately trimmed lawn.
“Yes, sir, I know sir. I was referring to these bite sized organic rare steaks of Aberdeen Angus beef in an organic whole-meal sesame seed bun.”
“Sounds more than they look,” Billy said reaching for a handful.
“One normally eats one at a time, sir.” Billy released the three that were in his left hand but retained the two he was raising to his mouth with his right.
“Oh, of course, got to make them go round, I see.”
The waiter sighed again and slid off to a quartet of which the two middle-aged men looked as though they were dressed for a day’s sailing and the two mature women wore brightly coloured cocktail dresses.
Billy looked around. Across the lawn between the marquee, swimming pool and the large ivy-clad house were clusters of people similarly dressed. Billy didn’t notice them, his eyes had located the waitress carrying a tray of tall glasses emerging from the very large tent. Billy hurried to intercept her.
He skidded to a halt, causing the glasses to rattle as she also stopped suddenly in order to prevent a collision.
“That’s lucky,” Billy said.
“What’s that, sir?” the girl said staring at him.
“I can help you with that heavy tray.”
“It’s alright sir, I was taking it around the guests.”
“Oh, in that case, I’ll just take a couple.” Billy lifted two glasses of the pale bubbly liquid from the tray. The girl wrinkled her nose and looked sideways at him then marched off to a group of twenty-somethings in chinos and striped shirts or frilly mini-dresses depending on their gender.
Billy took a sip of the drink. Champagne? It could have been Babycham for all he knew, but it tasted as though it had alcohol in it so he was happy. He was about to go in search of more of the mini-foods when a voice in his left ear assaulted him.
“Who are you then?”
Billy turned to see a large, moustache wielding, ancient in a school tie and striped blazer leaning on a shooting stick.
“Oh, hi, uh, I’m with, um,” Billy searched for a name, “Fiona.”
“Fiona? Fiona?” the florid face looked blank, “Oh, Algernon’s lass. There she is now,” He raised the stick and pointed it to a pair of young women not ten metres away.
“That’s right, I’d better get this drink to her.”
“But she’s already got one,”
“Oh, that’ll soon be gone. You know Fiona.”
“What, oh, yes. Got to keep the filly lubricated, what.” The old duffer chortled and Billy made his escape, straight towards the pair of girls.
“Hi, Fiona,” Billy said over the girl’s shoulder. The girl turned to face him. He fell in love. Her round pale face, large blue eyes, and shiny black hair tied in a pig tail, enraptured him.
“Who are you?”
“I brought you a drink.”
“I’ve got one.”
“I thought you might like another.”
Fiona looked at the dregs in her glass, and smiled. To Billy it was as if the day had been dull and the Sun had just come out.
“Well thank you. Who did you say you were?”
“Billy.”
“Billy? I don’t think I know a Billy. Do you, Hettie?” She turned to her companion, a tall blonde with a wide face.
“No. There aren’t any cousins called Billy, are there?”
“No, you must be a friend of the family.” The girls nodded, convinced they had solved the mystery.
“Yeh, that’s right.” Billy agreed. Fiona took the glass from his left hand and sipped the champagne. She examined him closely.
“Oh, I do like your jeans and T-shirt. Those rips are so in, aren’t they and those streaks of colour. Well, they look almost as if you really had been painting the house.” They giggled at the joke.
“Everyone else looks so boring,” Fiona continued, “look at them all.”
“Your uncle and aunt’s invitation did say it was a Garden Party,” Hettie sniffed and smoothed the pleats in her crimson silk dress.
“Well I think it’s great that someone has decided to be different and rebel a little.” Fiona grasped Billy’s arm, “Why haven’t I met you before since you’re a friend of the family?”
“Oh, I’ve been, um, away for a while.”
“Gap?”
“Yeh, there was a bit in between…”
“I’m going to South America on mine. Hettie’s coming too.” Hettie nodded.
“Let’s go and find some more finger-food,” Fiona went on.
After a shot glass of gaspacho, a minute triangle of bread with a spot of patè de frois gras, and a biscuit with a single prawn, Billy was feeling in need of something more substantial.
“When will they serve the real food?” he asked.
“Real food?” Fiona giggled
“Yeh, proper sized portions.”
“Oh, you won’t get any of that this afternoon. As Hettie said; it’s a garden party.”
“Really, I think I need something more. It takes more energy chasing around trying to catch the waiters than you get from these mini-bites.”
“Oh, you are funny. Look there’s Aunt Deborah. I’m sure she’d like to say hello.”
A horsy woman in a tweed skirt was striding across the lawn from the house.
“No, she looks busy,” Billy tried to tug Fiona in a direction perpendicular to Aunt Deborah’s determinedly straight path.
“She’s coming straight towards us. Hello Aunt Deborah,”
“What’s he doing here?” Aunt Deborah pointed a finger at Billy.
“That’s Billy, a friend of the family,” Fiona said innocently.
“Friend of the family, my foot,“ Aunt Deborah roared, “He’s painting the downstairs loo, Christmas hyacinth blue. I’m not paying you to drink my champagne, Shoo.”

……………….

 

Jasmine at rest

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Feb. 2017

It’s the end of one year and the start of a new one so I suppose it is the time to look back, and forward.

2017 was a pretty ghastly year politically and environmentally, but putting worries about the future of humankind to one side for now, I’ll just consider my own selfish interests.  We had memorable holidays in Munich, the Isles of Scilly, Loch Tay in Scotland, Manorbier in Pembrokeshire and some shorter, bookselling jaunts to Bradford, Sandbach and Wellington (Shropshire). Two of my novels have appeared – Cold Fire published by Elsewhen, and The Brides’ Club Murder by ellifont.  I was runner-up in the NAWG minitale (100 word story) competition. I’ve had a number of science anniversary pieces published online by Collins Freedomtoteach, and articles in the Beaumont Magazine.  I even did some science education writing but the less said about that the better – I didn’t enjoy it.  Listed like that it looks like quite a busy year.

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Dec. 2017

Looking ahead, I hope to finished Molly’s Boudoir: the 4th Jasmine Frame novel, very soon and then put it away for a short time while I look to getting the collection of Jasmine Frame short stories published as an e-book. Then I will turn my attention to my next SF/Fantasy novel. The problem is I have a number of undeveloped ideas and I’m not sure which to pick up and run with. Decisions! I also intend writing more short stories and contributing them to competitions and magazines.  Together with attending more bookfairs and literary festivals it promises to be a busy and exciting year.

I hope all you readers out there have a successful and happy 2018.

I haven’t got a Jasmine story this week having finished Reflex last week.  For a change I am giving you a seasonal i.e. Christmas, (well, we’re still in the 12 days) story which I wrote some years ago.  I can’t recall whether I’ve put it on the blog before although I did include it my little booklet of Christmas Tales.

Same Day Delivery

Father Christmas stepped down wearily from the driving seat of his sleigh and pulled the air purification mask from his face. The long white filaments irritated his skin so he rubbed his chin with some relief. He appreciated the mask when he was travelling because of all the pollutants he met landing on roofs across the world – carbon monoxide from gas fires in the UK, wood smoke in North America, sulphurous fumes from dirty coal in China and goodness knows what from the dung in India. The emissions were constantly jingling the warning bell in his cab. On this last trip it had jingled all the way. He glanced into the cargo bay. Yes, no presents left, he’d finished his deliveries for the year, at last. Already the elves were scurrying around the sleigh. They were opening up the Rapid Displacement and Lift Facility, or RDLF affectionately called the Rudolf, that pulled the sleigh. Its spiky, branched, cooling fins were producing a mist in the cold arctic air. The elves also had the Temporal Transporter and SACK (Superfast Article Conveyancing Kit) to service so Father Christmas decided he would leave them to it.
He trudged to his office and began to strip off his boots, insulating trousers and jacket. They were thickly padded not so much for Arctic temperatures as for the absolute cold of the time shift. The longer the interval the more the cold penetrated to the core of his body. Over two hundred years old but looking less than seventy, Father Christmas was upset that the clothes made him look fat. And why did they have to be so red? Why couldn’t he wear a modern white or silver outfit like astronauts? But he knew that the red suit was part of the image. Who would want a silver Father Christmas? More comfortable in T-shirt and jeans, Father Christmas poured himself a cup of coffee and sank into his high backed, swivel chair and rested his feet on the desk. There was a deep pile of documents in the in-tray but they would have to wait. He was on leave now or would be very soon. He was itching to get away for a few days’ vacation.
The door opened and the Senior Elf entered and stood with his grey hair and wrinkled brow just above the level of the desk.
“Welcome back Father Christmas,” he said cheerfully,
“Less of the FC stuff when I’m on holiday. It’s Dave now.” Father Christmas replied gruffly.
“Oh, you’ve finished the run then.”
“Yes, and about time too. Look at the date,” Father Christmas gestured to the wall clock and calendar. It read 17th December. “I’ve been back to the 25th December three hundred and fifty-seven times and I really wish it wasn’t Christmas every day.” The Senior Elf nodded in agreement.
Father Christmas went on “You know if things get any busier I won’t be able to finish one delivery before the next one starts.”
“You’re a victim of your own success,” the elf said, his pointed ears dipping in sympathy.
“Yes, I know. When we took over the franchise from old Saint Nicholas, a hundred years ago, we only had to deliver to a couple of hundred million children in Europe and North America. Now, regardless of their religion, or even if they’ve got none at all, everyone, all over the globe wants a delivery from Father Christmas. We’ve updated the sleigh, replacing the reindeer with the Rudolf, and installed the instant parcel delivery system so that I don’t have to get stuck in chimneys, but this time travelling just isn’t working anymore. And I’m exhausted.”
“We’re working on it,” The Senior Elf said reassuringly.
“I hope so too. Any more problems to deal with?”
“Well. There has been some disturbance amongst the elves.”
“Really. What sort of disturbance?”
“It’s the BNP.”
Father Christmas looked confused, “Who are they?”
“The Better North Pole group. They’ve not been very nice to the goblins. You know we’ve got quite a few of them working here now.”
“Since we changed the employment rules they’ve been pouring in haven’t they. They do a good job.”
“Exactly Fa…Dave, but the BNP say the goblins are taking jobs from elves.”
“But aren’t the goblins doing jobs the elves don’t want, like parcel wrapping.”
“Yes.”
“Well tell this BNP lot to behave then. You know, I always hoped we could automate parcel wrapping.”
“That was an idea, but times change. The days when it was all train sets for boys and doll’s houses for girls have gone. Now they want Playstations and Wiis and Barbies and Manchester United kits and all sorts of things. They all need different wrapping techniques.”
“In that case good luck to the goblins,” Father Christmas sighed, “what else have you got for me to worry about?”
“You may not have noticed but back in the summer it got quite warm. The Arctic ice almost melted away; it’s this global warming. If it gets any worse there won’t be enough ice left for our mega-shed warehouse.” Father Christmas looked worried.
“Are you suggesting that we’ll have to re-locate; move the Father Christmas HQ from the North Pole?”
“I fear that is the situation, uh, Dave.”
“Hmm. What about the South Pole? No too busy.” Father Christmas scratched his head. “I really can’t think of anywhere on Earth that is so remote that it has not been visited by Michael Palin, Sue Perkins or some other comedian.”
“It is a problem, sir.” There was silence for a few moments.
“I know,” Father Christmas said excitedly, “the Moon. No-one has been there for decades. Lots of unused space.”
The Senior Elf shook his head, “the elves won’t like it; it’s a long way from their homes and there aren’t any good shops.”
“Look if there’s a recession in Elfland they’ll move to keep their jobs. Look into it.”
“If you insist.”
“I do. Now I’m going on holiday.”

After a few days in the Maldives, Father Christmas felt refreshed. He had soaked up some uv, swum in the warm ocean, eaten good food and chatted up some pretty girls. On the 23rd December he was back at his North Pole desk.
“Well, what news do you have for me,” he demanded of Senior Elf who peered over the edge of the desk. The Senior Elf grinned.
“I think we have solved the delivery problem, Father Christmas.” Father Christmas leaned forward excitedly,
“You have! Tell me about it.”
“I’ll leave that to the Chief Boffin sir.” He retreated to the door and called out. The boffins are sub-species of elf distinguished by unruly hair and an undeveloped dress sense. The Chief Boffin waddled into the office and stood behind the desk staring up at Father Christmas in awe. The Senior Elf nudged him.
“Tell him about it then.”
“Oh yes, well, hmm, we call it the Multiple Manifestations Machine.”
“What does that mean?” Father Christmas sighed, already regretting the addition of another weirdly named gadget to his sleigh.
“The problem is that we’ve been thinking serially; There’s been just one of you visiting each household in turn,” the Chief Boffin warmed to his subject.
“Well there is just one. Real one anyway; me,” Father Christmas said indignantly.
“In this universe.”
“What do you mean?”
“Our universe is just one of many. There is an almost infinite number of universes and billions more are created every minute.”
“How?” Father Christmas asked.
“Every decision that is made whether it is a radioactive atom choosing to decay or Justin Bieber deciding whether or not to perform, causes a split in the continuum and one universe becomes two. Many of those universes are very similar to our own with stars, planets, people and TV reality programmes. The Multiple Manifestation Machine simply pulls Father Christmas from a billion or so universes so that each household can have its very own Father Christmas.” Father Christmas shook his head.
“Well I don’t understand it but if it means that I can get all the deliveries done on Christmas morning then I’m happy. Let’s do it.”

It was nearly midnight on Christmas Eve. The sleigh was loaded with presents and Father Christmas was dressed in his traditional outfit. He climbed into the driving seat.
“Now tell me again. What do I do?” The Chief Boffin sighed,
“Once you are in the air you can operate the Multiple Manifestation Machine.” Father Christmas looked at his controls, mystified.
“Where is it?” The Chief Boffin took a deep breath,
“It’s the box on the dashboard between the satnav and the hands-free mobile phone dock.”
“Oh, I see it.”
“When you’re ready, just press the button; everything is programmed in.”
“Right, got it.” Father Christmas looked at his watch. It was just midnight. “Well, here it is, Merry Christmas, everybody have some fun.” He waved cheerily to the assembled elves and engaged the Rudolf.
The Senior Elf watched as the sleigh lifted off in a sudden blur of movement. In less than a breath it was barely more than a dot hanging in the sky directly over the North Pole. Moonlight glinted off its gleaming paintwork. Then suddenly there were two sleighs, then four, eight, sixteen.
“It’s working,” murmured the Chief Boffin, and moments later the sky was filled from zenith to horizon with twinkling sleighs too numerous to count and banishing the stars from the night sky. If he squinted the Senior Elf could see that each sleigh was piloted by a red-robed clad Father Christmas.
Then they were gone.
The Senior Elf stared into the clear, violet sky pierced by thousands of bright stars. He turned to the Chief Boffin.
“I’ve been wondering. What has happened to the universes we’ve taken the Father Christmases from?”
The Chief Boffin stroked his bushy beard.
“I suppose it would be as if Father Christmas didn’t exist. People would have to deliver their own presents on Christmas Day.”
“No Father Christmas! How could anyone imagine a world without Father Christmas?”

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