Will It ~~ by Mark Huntley-James

Will It ~~ by Mark Huntley-James

I was taught to wear a seat-belt by a chap called Reg White. Some forty-plus years ago, he drove me to school, along with his son and my sister. Cars came with seat-belts factory-fitted by then, but wearing them did not become a legal requirement in the UK until after I left school. The lesson was a trivial car crash – no more than a few miles an hour, rolling into the vehicle in front in stop-start traffic. My memory is hazy, but I don’t think either vehicle was damaged. My head, however, smacked off the windscreen pretty damn hard.

It only took one lesson.

I’ve not thought of that in years and was reminded by a recent drive to Plymouth for a hospital appointment, and buying a new toilet. Ordinary, everyday stuff, but on the way, we passed a friend’s house, which set a whole train of thought going, all the way back to Reg White.

We have an old Volvo sitting in our paddock. It did good service for nearly twenty years until it got too difficult and too expensive to pass the annual emissions test, the power-steering was becoming unpowered and the gearbox required a mix of good fortune and brute force to select the desired gear. We ought to get rid of it, but there is a certain sentimental attachment – we went everywhere in that Volvo, frequently packed to the roof with camping kit, and even slept in the back for short events. As it turns out, the back of a Volvo 740 Estate is about two inches too short for me to lie comfortably but easier than pitching a tent for one night.

The Volvo is in our will, a bequest to the friends on the road to Plymouth, a bit of posthumous housekeeping, or paddock tidying. That clause is redundant now, as the Volvo-fanatic friend on the road to Plymouth died a year or more back.  That set me wondering how many more of our odd bequests will pre-decease us?

There were a few of those in my Mother’s will. I don’t think she ever actually told my sister or myself that we were her executors, so it was a bit of a surprise after she died that we had to go and pick up the will from her solicitor. It was all quite straightforward, the bulk of her estate divided up amongst family, but like our own wills, there were redundant bequests, including Reg.

One of the last times we saw Reg was small get-together we hosted – my family, some friends of my partner, Reg and his wife. He was already ill by that point, prostate cancer held at bay, and not noticeably unwell. He tucked into the chicken in cream, almond and mushroom with enthusiasm (Reg was a bit of a foodie before the word was invented) and then had a portion of the vegetarian option. His prospects were good – prostate cancer is often slow – but his proved aggressive and unpleasant in the extreme.

So there it is, a train of memories back to a lesson in seat-belts from a man I remember as generous with time and tales, patient and devoted, and a life cut short.


OMP Admin Note:  Mark Huntley-James writes science fiction and fantasy on a small farm in Cornwall, where he lives with his partner and a menagerie of cats, poultry and sheep.

He has two urban fantasy novels out on Kindle – “Hell Of A Deal” (http://relinks.me/B01N94VXBC ) and “The Road To Hell” (relinks.me/B07BJLKFSS  ) – and is working on a third.

He can be found online at his blog http://writeedge.blogspot.co.uk, his website (https://sites.google.com/site/markhuntleyjames/), and occasionally on that new-fangled social media.


Our short story anthologies written by over 100 writers have been recently published (links below) with all proceeds being donated to the charity organizations our group supports.

If you are a Kindle Unlimited member, you can read the complete anthology for FREE, and KU proceeds are donated along with the proceeds from the sale of our anthologies.

Our volunteer authors love to see reviews, and every review helps to make the One Million Project’s books more visible to Amazon customers, assisting us in our mission to raise One Million Pounds / Dollars for EMMAUS Homeless Programs and Cancer Research UK.

LINKS

myBook.to/OMPThriller

myBook.to/OMPFantasy

myBook.to/OMPFiction

myBook.to/OMPVarietyAnthology

 

“Grammar, What Big Teeth You Have” ~~ by Mark Huntley-James

“Grammar, What Big Teeth You Have” ~~ by Mark Huntley-James

Grammar rules, OK.

Breakages will be reported, criticised and condemned.

I never learned much in the way of English grammar.  Plenty of French, Latin and Greek, but very little English.  I’ve largely forgotten the former three, and now I just struggle with my native tongue and frankly the natives can get pretty damned restless if not outright hostile.  For some reason, there are two things which bring out the tyrants, the complainers, the rabid proselytisers – grammar and spelling.

When I was a kid I was frequently told that there was no such word as ‘can’t’.  Not even finding a suitably recent and liberal dictionary containing the fabulous ‘can’t’ could put an end to the assertion.  There simply was no such word, no matter how many people used it, in speech and print.  Now roll on a few years, to my teens, and those immortal words: to boldly go where no man has gone before.  I don’t care that everywhere they went there were clearly people who had arrived earlier, it was the split-infinitive that troubled me.

Or, strictly speaking, failed to trouble me.  I like to boldly go.  I try to imagine that opening as the grammarians might have it – to go boldly – and I can see myself switching channels.  And back when I first encountered all that bold adventure, there was no remote on the TV so I would have had to have got out of the chair…

The trouble with grammar is the collision, with resultant debris, between a pattern of rules and the fluid reality of people communicating.  People like rules, like patterns and, as someone who once earned a living as a scientist, I like rules and patterns, but language does not follow grammar, grammar is the attempt to slap rules on later.  The one size fits all garment that inevitably sags or pinches.

In the dim and distant past, I learned about verbs – regular verbs and irregular verbs, the ones that follow the rule, and then all the special cases for the ones that don’t.  The very terminology is misleading because the regular verbs are the ones that barely get used.  The irregular verbs have been ground down, knocked about and generally dented by frequent exercise, constant use and regular abuse.

And so the language changes.  Language is like that – words, phrases and grammar of my parents’ generation often seem a bit stilted, and my grandparents’ generation… well that’s some foreign language that sounds close to English.

The trouble is that language changes as if change is the only thing that matters, a crazy race to be somewhere else, whilst those grammatical rules are slow to adapt.  The rules, by my crude and unsubstantiated estimate, describe the language at a time somewhere between my grandparents and my parents and, like me, are a bit too padded around the waist and likely to get out of breath if they have to run too hard to catch up.

I don’t dislike grammar – it’s just a set of rules best treated as guidelines (to borrow from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean). Grammar doesn’t define language, it’s a report done later to explain what happened, to hide the uncomfortable bits, to bring the erratic into line. Forget Disney, let’s borrow from the legal world – the rules of grammar are simply sentencing guidelines. And remember that if you deviate too far from those guidelines there will be complaints, protests and appeals to a higher authority that the sentence is wrong and ought to be corrected. There is no deeper sin, except to fail to get the spelling rite.

Those who treat grammar carelessly, who choose to explore beyond and to boldly go where no writer has writ before, they must expect to be hounded mercilessly. If you do it right, and well, then applause and acclaim await, but pick poorly and you are off to literary obscurity.

There’s a quote I like, attributed to Pablo Picasso (but possibly falsely), that I’ve seen doing the rounds on social media lately –  Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.

Syntax, anyone?


OMP Admin Note:  Mark Huntley-James writes science fiction and fantasy on a small farm in Cornwall, where he lives with his partner and a menagerie of cats, poultry and sheep.

Huntley-James has two urban fantasy novels out on Kindle – “Hell Of A Deal” (http://relinks.me/B01N94VXBC ) and “The Road To Hell” (relinks.me/B07BJLKFSS  ) – and is working on a third.

“He can be found online at his blog https://markhuntleyjames.wordpress.com/, and occasionally on that new-fangled social media.”


Our short story anthologies written by over 100 writers have been recently published (links below) with all proceeds being donated to the charity organizations our group supports.

If you are a Kindle Unlimited member, you can read the complete anthology for FREE, and KU proceeds are donated along with the proceeds from the sale of our anthologies.

Our volunteer authors love to see reviews, and every review helps to make the One Million Project’s books more visible to Amazon customers, assisting us in our mission to raise One Million Pounds / Dollars for EMMAUS Homeless Programs and Cancer Research UK.

LINKS

myBook.to/OMPThriller

myBook.to/OMPFantasy

myBook.to/OMPFiction

myBook.to/OMPVarietyAnthology

 

 

 

A Good Idea ~~ by Mark Huntley-James

A Good Idea ~~ by Mark Huntley-James

I have a head full of good ideas, or at least they look superb provided they stay in my head.  It’s like when we have to take our huge fluffy cat to the vet for his recurring eye problem – in the controlled environment there, he stays still, perhaps purrs, and eye-drops go in.  Away from the vet, in the wilds of our kitchen, he wriggles, wails and scratches, defying the firm embrace of a towel and ensures that most of the eye-drops land on the floor, in his ear, in my eye… anywhere except where they are supposed to go.

Good ideas are just like that from the moment I let them out of my head.  In fact, even the rubbish ideas do the same.  The moment I want to wrap words around them, the ideas wriggle, bite and scratch so that what comes out is nothing like that perfect, purring super-good idea that was in my head.

So, what’s the problem? Was the idea faulty, or just the words I dressed it in?  And why did I ask the question the wrong way round? The fault, dear Reader, is not in my ideas, but in my writing.

You know, I’m sure I’ve heard something like that before. Never mind. Back to The Idea…

The good (or even great) idea is an illusion. Hold up a great idea to a mirror and see its reflection, the equally mythical original idea.

How about this one? Girl meets boy, their families disapprove, everyone dies.  I can see it in my head.  The killer line – Romeo, Romeo, where’s your damned hashtag?  Are people going to be still quoting me in four hundred years, or is my work destined to be composted at the bottom of the slush-pile from hell? Perhaps if I come up with a killer name for the girl, it will work, and maybe throw in a really posh location to draw in the audience – that might make it a winner. I’m thinking Helen sounds good, and I’ll set it in a great ancient city, something like Troy… then the family disapproval, a big war, and everyone dies…

Once you start poking at it, people have been telling stories for thousands of years with a basic plan of boy meets girl… and everyone dies. Or hero goes out, slays the monster and marries the girl. Or… well, there’s a good catalogue of great ideas that storytellers have been taking and recycling over the centuries. Ooh, no wait, what about pauper child turns out to be the rightful king…

It’s not the idea that matters, but the words. That’s the real point of being a writer – finding the right words to wrap an idea and make it ready to face the world, fresh and bright, new and interesting enough that people will be amazed at what you can do with boy meets girl and they work together to create mass slaughter.

The great idea that looked so good in my head is really an expertly photo-shopped super-model, and the trick is to get it out and ready for the world, new clothes, new style, strutting its stuff down the literary catwalk.

Forget the great idea – go stitch your words into a great presentation.


OMP Admin Note:  Mark Huntley-James writes science fiction and fantasy on a small farm in Cornwall, where he lives with his partner and a menagerie of cats, poultry and sheep.

He has two urban fantasy novels out on Kindle – “Hell Of A Deal” (http://relinks.me/B01N94VXBC ) and “The Road To Hell” (relinks.me/B07BJLKFSS  ) – and is working on a third.

He can be found online at his blog http://writeedge.blogspot.co.uk, his website (https://sites.google.com/site/markhuntleyjames/), and occasionally on that new-fangled social media.


Our short story anthologies written by over 100 writers have been recently published (links below) with all proceeds being donated to the charity organizations our group supports.

If you are a Kindle Unlimited member, you can read the complete anthology for FREE, and KU proceeds are donated along with the proceeds from the sale of our anthologies.

Our volunteer authors love to see reviews, and every review helps to make the One Million Project’s books more visible to Amazon customers, assisting us in our mission to raise One Million Pounds / Dollars for EMMAUS Homeless Programs and Cancer Research UK.

LINKS

myBook.to/OMPThriller

myBook.to/OMPFantasy

myBook.to/OMPFiction

myBook.to/OMPVarietyAnthology

 

Prompt Response

Prompt Response

A year ago, I wrote a couple of stories in response to a writing prompt. I don’t usually do that and, honestly, I really dislike writing prompts.  They’re too much like that old favourite: write about what you did at the weekend.

I always hated that as a kid. Wherever I was, my weekend was full of aliens, magic, spaceships and adventure, but it was really clear that what my teachers wanted was a description of how green the trees were in the park, or how the sea sounded at the beach. Perversely, I now blog about what the animals did around the farm, which is barely a theme or two from writing about my weekend, without the aliens and magic.

I think, perhaps, that my perception of and reaction to writing prompts is the problem. It’s all about creativity and the prompt is just that, something to set the thoughts rolling. Why is it any different to write a story triggered by a deliberately chosen phrase, or by seeing one of the geese racing around the paddock whilst tangled in a bucket? 

I’m blaming it on pressure, on the need to react, to meet someone else’s expectations, which probably says more about me than the prompts or the people who generate them. Perhaps it’s the lurking feeling that it’s like an exam question, subject to that all-important guidance– read the question carefully and answer exactly the question asked. That’s great advice for an exam, but stifling when in search of creativity. 

Inspiration is a rare and precious thing, to be seized and nurtured whenever it pops up. Read the question and then ignore it; answer what you think they should have asked. Especially on those prompts which really are like an exam question and nail you down to a detailed scenario – “you’re a duck and you’ve been swimming on the same pond all your life, eating the same bread and then someone tosses a croissant in the water, so write about your new diet”. Given the prompt, are you now seeing a safari expedition to study pink elephants and go abseiling on sunbeams? Why not?

A year ago, I wrote two stories based on a pair of prompts. I’ve just done it again, for the same venue. The difference, I suppose, is I’m no longer worrying about meeting anybody’s expectations. I’ve taken the prompts, parked them for a week, looked again, parked again… been utterly uninspired… and then, out of nowhere, I have something, and now I’m having fun. Oh, and those prompts were just a handful of words, not a whole world.

Of course, as I stared at this year’s prompts (printed and pinned to the back of a door, two words to define each topic, albeit with an array of explanations, hints, and suggestions not to be constrained by anything in the explanations…) I grumbled about not being inspired. In fact, I got annoyed enough to mutter and makes puns about it, even thinking that it was taking so long to come up with a story so I could scarcely call it a prompt response…

I’m still not a fan of writing prompts, but they do serve a purpose, something to make me look at the world differently, find a different angle on something mundane.

Yup, take inspiration wherever it comes –making the tea, hanging the laundry, rescuing that goose from the bucket, or deliberate writing prompt. It’s all the same – alien invasions, magic lands, amusing chickens – if it finds a story in you, then write.


OMP Admin Note:  Mark Huntley-James writes science fiction and fantasy on a small farm in Cornwall, where he lives with his partner and a menagerie of cats, poultry and sheep.

He has two urban fantasy novels out on Kindle – “Hell Of A Deal” (http://relinks.me/B01N94VXBC )and “The Road To Hell” (relinks.me/B07BJLKFSS  ) – and is working on a third.

He can be found online at his blog http://writeedge.blogspot.co.uk, his website (https://sites.google.com/site/markhuntleyjames/), and occasionally on that new-fangled social media.



Our short story anthologies written by over 100 writers have been recently published (links below) with all proceeds being donated to the charity organizations our group supports.

If you are a Kindle Unlimited member, you can read the complete anthology for FREE, and KU proceeds are donated along with the proceeds from the sale of our anthologies.

Our volunteer authors love to see reviews, and every review helps to make the One Million Project’s books more visible to Amazon customers, assisting us in our mission to raise One Million Pounds / Dollars for EMMAUS Homeless Programs and Cancer Research UK.

LINKS

myBook.to/OMPThriller

myBook.to/OMPFantasy

myBook.to/OMPFiction

myBook.to/OMPVarietyAnthology

“What Comes Around” ~~ by Mark Huntley-James

“What Comes Around” ~~ by Mark Huntley-James

Some decades back, I was offered a research fellowship, funded by a precursor to Cancer Research UK.  Sadly, although it was a hugely tempting invitation, my personal circumstances meant that I turned it down. Maybe if I’d taken it, I might have made some ground-breaking contribution to cancer research.  More likely, I would have made a tiny contribution, all part of the satisfaction of helping to piece together a larger puzzle. None of that happened, but on the other hand, had I taken it I wouldn’t have met my partner, so no regrets.

As it turns out, whilst I declined my chance, one of my relatives joined a clinical trial around about the same time. It’s a story which has only come to light in the last few years, and perhaps only now because my ageing relative has survived cancer twice, and that second occurrence presented some peculiar circumstances.

Family, supposedly, is where they have to take you in.  By my definition, family is where I have the strangest conversations, and think it perfectly normal. A few years back, I received a phone call at oh-god o’clock on a Saturday morning – a friend called to let me know that my ageing relative hadn’t felt well the previous evening, took a taxi to hospital, and had been diagnosed with appendicitis.  Strictly speaking, the first diagnosis was cancer – something about a blob like that on an x-ray in a patient that old must surely be cancer, and the other symptoms didn’t quite fit with appendicitis.

So I phoned and  had a conversation which went something like:

“Hi, so how’s the appendicitis?”

Apparently, this is not entirely normal, but it’s the way things work in my family.

The answer was, “Fine, fine, but my sense of taste is off and I can only eat the vegetarian option.” By definition, that’s pretty much the end of the world. Then I got the natural counter-question. “So, how are your heart tests?”

“Oh, fine, just one more to go.” (Which came out as all clear!)

And finally, the kicker:

“That’s good.  Did you ever see the pathologist’s report on your mother? She could have died of a heart attack at any moment.  By the way, they found pre-cancerous cells when they took my appendix out.”

Really, that sort of conversation is normal in my family.

So, from surgery on a seriously inflamed appendix, my ageing relative was also diagnosed with an almost-cancer and put on a course of chemotherapy. A few years on, and those pre-cancerous cells have recurred occasionally and been knocked back down with yet more oral chemotherapy. Equally importantly, they are monitored regularly with a simple blood test.

Now, it emerges, said relative also had cancer twenty-five years previously – a benign tumour that could be removed with some minor surgery.  However, instead of getting treatment immediately, my relative joined a clinical trial – the tumour was benign and easy to monitor, therefore perfect for assessing drugs to shrink tumours. After eighteen months, the now-shrunk tumour was finally removed, and my family had made a small contribution to the development of cancer treatments.  Twenty-five years later, other small developments have come together to stop pesky pre-cancerous cells in their tracks and watch for any recurrence with simple blood tests.

It’s easy to focus on the horrendous impact of cancer, both on the sufferer and on their family, whilst forgetting the positives, the advances in treatment and the patients who volunteer to be a part of that process. All of those major break-throughs and revolutionary treatments are built from countless tiny steps and small contributions.

Thus far, I am part of the fifty percent of my immediate family not diagnosed with some form of cancer. Should that day come, and a physician says ‘we have this experimental treatment…’ I  hope I have the courage to sign up and make my own small contribution.


OMP Admin Note:  Mark Huntley-James writes science fiction and fantasy on a small farm in Cornwall, where he lives with his partner and a menagerie of cats, poultry and sheep.

He has two urban fantasy novels out on Kindle – “Hell Of A Deal” (http://relinks.me/B01N94VXBC ) and “The Road To Hell” (relinks.me/B07BJLKFSS  ) – and is working on a third.

He can be found online at his blog (writeedge.blogspot.com), his website (https://sites.google.com/site/markhuntleyjames/), and occasionally on that new-fangled social media.


Our short story anthologies written by over 100 writers have been recently published (links below) with all proceeds being donated to the charity organizations our group supports.

If you are a Kindle Unlimited member, you can read the complete anthology for FREE, and KU proceeds are donated along with the proceeds from the sale of our anthologies.

Our volunteer authors love to see reviews, and every review helps to make the One Million Project’s books more visible to Amazon customers, assisting us in our mission to raise One Million Pounds / Dollars for EMMAUS Homeless Programs and Cancer Research UK.

LINKS

myBook.to/OMPThriller

myBook.to/OMPFantasy

myBook.to/OMPFiction

myBook.to/OMPVarietyAnthology

Something to Talk About ~~ by Mark Huntley-James, #OMP Blogger

Something to Talk About ~~ by Mark Huntley-James, #OMP Blogger

There are so many things my mother never talked about.  One of them was money, so it was quite a surprise to me, as her executor, to learn that she actually had some.  Since she never talked about it, I was also surprised by one of the charities she made bequests to.  The British Heart Foundation made sense – she had a heart condition – and likewise the diabetes charity, but the one that initially puzzled me was Cancer Research UK, because I saw no immediate connection.  There didn’t need to be one, but the other causes she supported were things she had had a close association with, so I expected something.

Of course, illness was another thing my mother never talked about.  Yes, she would tell you all about her glucose levels, how the latest pills were doing, but she only ever mentioned her own health.  She skipped over Grandad’s health twenty years ago, yes he was quite ill so she was staying with her parents to help out, but that was about it.  I knew he was ill, in a subliminal way, because his vegetable patch wasn’t dug over – the first time in all the years I was old enough to notice – and he looked short.

I don’t have any good way to describe it properly. Grandad was taller than me and broad in the shoulders, but now he looked short. My mother did say he wasn’t feeling well.

What my mother avoided mentioning, discussing or otherwise bringing out into the light of day was that Grandad had cancer. Some months later I took the umpteen hour drive down again, and saw him in hospital a few weeks before he died – he looked terrible, but he was being discharged and I drove him home.  Just being away from the hospital perked him up and by the time I left at the end of the weekend, he was looking good.  Of course, no-one was mentioning the C-word, let alone the terminal diagnosis.

I’m sure I must have worked it out, but I wasn’t telling myself either.

So, I shouldn’t have been surprised by any of my mother’s bequests.  They all touched her.

Nine months ago, I was asked if I would like to contribute a story to a charity anthology and I agreed.  It seemed like a good idea, supporting a worthwhile cause, and there it was again, Cancer Research UK.

I wonder what my mother would have thought?  She didn’t really talk about that sort of thing.


OMP Admin Note:  Mark Huntley-James writes science fiction and fantasy on a small farm in Cornwall, where he lives with his partner and a menagerie of cats, poultry and sheep.

He has two urban fantasy novels out on Kindle – “Hell Of A Deal” (http://relinks.me/B01N94VXBC ) and “The Road To Hell” (relinks.me/B07BJLKFSS  ) – and is working on a third.

He can be found online at his blog (writeedge.blogspot.com), his website (https://sites.google.com/site/markhuntleyjames/), and occasionally on that new-fangled social media.


Our short story anthologies written by over 100 writers have been recently published (links below) with all proceeds being donated to the charity organizations our group supports.

If you are a Kindle Unlimited member, you can read the complete anthology for FREE, and KU proceeds are donated along with the proceeds from the sale of our anthologies.

Our volunteer authors love to see reviews, and every review helps to make the One Million Project’s books more visible to Amazon customers, assisting us in our mission to raise One Million Pounds / Dollars for EMMAUS Homeless Programs and Cancer Research UK.

LINKS

myBook.to/OMPThriller

myBook.to/OMPFantasy