booksandstories.com

December 2004 Christmas Review

Web Page Progress

A few small changes on the web page front this month. I have split “The Friendly Ambassador” into four separate books on the List Page. I feel that this more truly reflects the amount of work that went into the story. It also compares with the possible publishing venture which may result in the first book, “The Beginning Of The End,” going into print. However, not being a greedy sort, the same password will allow you to access all four books, so the change does not reflect any increase in costs to you. I think that's fair.

I'm now on a professional package at Brinkster, my ASP website hosting company. Their original free service is now called an educational package, but I no longer qualify for that. I still can't complain, I have been with them for five years, and in that time my costs have been minimal.

I've added a banner link to 1 & 1, who provide me with three of my domain names. So if you fancy any of their services, use the links and make me some money!

Writing Progress

Writing has been sparse this month (again). I have done little or no writing but I have done more reading, both for my Phd and my pleasure. I have no excuses for not getting my head down and doing some real writing. I just don't seem to feel like it. So apart from the changes outlined above there hasn't been much of a development. However, I know that if I put my mind to it I could write. It isn't a mental block, just laziness. With Christmas coming there is the chance that with a few days off I might feel more like putting the effort in. I'll just have to hope that this is the case.

Splitting “The Friendly Ambassador” was something I never intended. But having not gone to the expense of printing it out completely, I never really considered its size. “The Look Of Love” filled one complete lever arch file, and “The Tale Of The Comet” filled two. Both of these stories are dwarfed by “The Friendly Ambassador.” I never intended for it to grow so large, but the story that had to be told took that amount, and there was nothing I could do about it. However, now that it is done, and that I have begun reading once more, I've been thinking about the construction.

Stories are written in a number of ways. There is the famous Journey type story. This can be a physical journey with perils on the way (“The Lord Of The Rings”), or a journey of an individual from ignorance to wisdom (“Star Wars”). And there are macro-stories which are set against global or galactic events (“The Winds Of War”), and micro-stories that focus on a small group of characters and the events that affect them only (“The Waltons”). I think “The Friendly Ambassador” is a macro-story, and I sometimes wonder if I have spent so much time on the larger story that I might have lost focus on some of the characters and their individual stories.

Of course, all this is because I am reading again. The books I have been reading are the seven Serrano Legacy books by Elizabeth Moon, and I have noticed that she writes in two styles. Sometimes, for one or two books in the seven, she will focus on one character and what happens to her. Then she might focus on another character in the same way. But in between she goes macro, spreading the story to encompass many other characters and events, almost none of which feature her original leads in very great detail. I have felt a little aggrieved at this sometimes, as the character I want to read about remains absent for many pages. It is this feeling that I hope won't be in the minds of my readers.

For most of my stories, events are limited to how they affect the lead characters. And most of my stories do not have too large a cast for any of the characters to be absent for long. I was particularly careful with “The Tale Of The Comet” to ensure that none of the lead characters, Susan, Michael and Jennifer, were left out for too long. This was sometimes difficult with them being split up for a large part of the story, but I made sure that I visited each character in turn, a chapter for each, so that they were never away for more than two chapters. In “The Friendly Ambassador” this is much harder as there are so many characters to deal with.

I think I have got it right, but I am sure that different people will have different characters who are their favourite, and they will want to read more about them. I just hope that I am right and I have got a fair balance.

It's not surprising that “The Friendly Ambassador” still fills my mind long after I have finished it. I think the work involved and the sheer size of the story are what have left me so disenchanted with writing. Like all my stories I put a lot of effort into it, and now that it is finished I feel a little let down. It's a bit of an anti-climax I suppose, and all I have to look forward to is doing it all over again with the next story. The silly thing is that I enjoy writing while I am doing it, especially when the story is well on its way and things are happening. But it's just getting going in the first place, committing to all that time at the computer, wearing out the paint on the case where my hands rest, and even the letters off the keys I use the most (A is always the first to go). But sooner or later a story has to come out.

As promised, “The Heroic Englishman: Part III” has moved to the List Page. Part four is due out next month. This month sees a different Short Story, a comedy for Christmas that has nothing to do with Christmas at all. I intend to have a safe and Happy Christmas, please see that you do too, and I hope to see you all back here in the New Year.

December's Short Story

This month's Short Story is a gentle comedy of words entitled “The Dropped Bollock.” As a preamble to the story I have included a definition of the Word that gets Harry into all sorts of trouble.

Bollocks: English Language Definitions For Those Unfamiliar With The Word

Slang term for human testicles:
  “Someone kicked him in the bollocks.”

Plural noun.
UK OFFENSIVE.
Also used to describe a bad or stupid mistake:
  “They completely bollocksed up the game!”
  “Try not to drop another bollock this time!”
Phrasal verb.
UK OFFENSIVE.
Also used to describe something as nonsense:
  “That's a load of bollocks!”
  “Bollocks to that!”
Noun.
UK OFFENSIVE.

(From Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary)

And now to the story itself…

Harry’s workshop was in the basement. Despite the fact that he was an engineer by trade, Harry often spent his evenings and weekends in his workshop messing about with some engineering problem. He found it relaxing to get away from the day-to-day pressures of work and family life by designing small motors or fixtures. He often made small railway parts for some of his friends, who were enthusiasts, and motors and gearboxes for radio controlled planes and cars were a speciality. Today was no different. He was building a gearbox and drive train for a six-wheeled radio controlled vehicle.

    Harry was in his element when tinkering. The workshop had all the tools he needed, including a lathe and milling machine. And what made it more relaxing was that his wife, Erin, hardly ever came down to disturb him. She didn’t like the smell, clutter, and general feeling of the place. However, his daughter, Jessica, now seven, shared no such feelings. And she would sometimes wander down to see what her father was up to. Her visits were growing frequent but were brief. She would soon get bored with the mechanical bits and pieces and retreat back upstairs.

    Harry didn’t mind the visits. He liked the idea that Jessica might share his mechanical interests. She was fairly knowledgeable and attentive when he explained things to her, and she remembered them next time. She could already identify gearboxes, cylinder heads, drive shafts and cams. Not bad for a seven year old. But like her mother, Jessica didn’t like the dirt for long.

    Sitting at his bench, Harry smiled as he worked on the prop-shafts for the drive train. He had just made them on his lathe and was cleaning them up before fitting them. He had all the parts laid out neatly on the bench. There were wheels, springs, gears, and a multitude of nuts and bolts. With the prop-shafts done he was now ready to put the whole thing together. He worked quietly and patiently for some time, but then he frowned.

    The prop-shafts he had just made were too short. He held one of them up and realised where and how he had miscalculated. He sat back in his chair and sighed.

    “I’ve dropped a bollock,” he muttered, shaking his head.

    Instantly a bright little voice piped up, “What’s a bollock, Daddy?”

    Harry looked round in surprise and found Jessica staring up at him with a smile. She was all blonde curls, wearing girly jeans and a top.

    “I didn’t hear you come down,” he said as a delaying tactic, hoping that she would forget her question.

    “You were so busy you didn’t notice.” She moved closer to the bench, and standing on her tiptoes and holding onto the edge with both hands, she could just manage to get her nose over the top. She gazed at the bits and pieces laid out on the bench. “So which one is the bollock then, Daddy?”

    Harry looked down at her. She was so expectant, and so used to having him explain, that he couldn’t avoid it.

-o-

Erin sat up in bed and turned to him. “You did what?”

    “I said I told her it was part of the gearbox,” Harry replied.

    “Which part? A nut?”

    “Ha, ha, very funny!” Harry said with little humour.

    It was late and they were both in bed when Erin had asked Harry what he and Jessica had been doing together for so long. Harry had decided to come clean. Now Erin wanted the details.

    “So what took you so long?” she asked.

    Harry pulled the covers tighter around him and snuggled deeper into the bed. “She helped me to look for it.”

    Erin did a double take. “She helped you- Oh for God’s sake, Harry!” She ripped the covers from him and poked him in the side. “Why didn’t you just tell her?”

    Harry rolled over. “I couldn’t, alright,” he admitted. “I was too embarrassed and I whimped out. What can I say?”

    “Whimp is the right word. But I’m warning you, Harry Wood, you better tell her the truth tomorrow morning. Jessica is no fool, and she is a yapper. If you don’t, you’ll be sorry.”

    “Oh, she’ll forget about it,” Harry said more hopefully than confident as they both settled down again. “She hardly talks about mechanical things.”

    “That maybe so,” Erin said as she settled beside him and rearranged the covers. “But it only takes one word, and Jessica has only two real hobbies: One is talking, the other is talking a lot.”

-o-

All through breakfast the following morning, the missing bollock was absent from the conversation. Jessica was as bright and chatty as usual, and she was excited about the “show and tell” they were going to have at school later that week. She never stopped talking about it. She spouted an endless list of school friends and what they would be bringing.

    “Sidney is bringing his daddy’s golf clubs, and Sam is bringing her pet goldfish. Alan and his daddy are bringing a model they made.”

    Erin had spotted a trend. “Is it only daddies that are coming, Jessica?”

    “No, mummies are coming too. Sheila and her mummy are talking about painting, and Leah and her mummy have a photograph collection.”

    Harry looked up from his coffee. “Aren’t they the same?”

    “Of course not, Daddy! Don’t be silly!”

    Erin smiled at her husband’s expression at being corrected. She was about to ask him a question that was even more embarrassing when there was a knock on the door.

    “That will be Sheila and her mother now. Off you go, Jessica, and be good.”

    “Yes, Mummy.”

    Mary and Sheila lived two doors down, and Erin and Mary took turns driving their daughters to school. This week it was Mary’s turn.

    Erin helped Jessica on with her coat, gave her a bright red lunchbox and her bag, and the little girl trotted down the hall to open the door.

    “Bye, Mummy! Bye Daddy! Let me know if you find your bollock, Daddy!”

    There was a slam followed by a splurt as the front door closed and Harry spat out his coffee.

    Erin turned and leaned her back on the worktop and folded her arms. She stared at her husband, still coughing and spluttering, and shook her head slowly.

    “I warned you. It’s all going to end in tears.”

-o-

Harry had forgotten about the dropped bollock by the time he came home from work. For a while it had preyed on his mind as he considered how many times Jessica might mention it to her friends at school. But work soon drove it from his mind, so when he came home and found Mary and her husband, Peter waiting for him in the lounge, he was caught by surprise. Both Mary and Peter were giving him a stern look, it was a look that was matched in his wife’s eyes, and Erin was quick to point out why.

    “Hello, my darling husband,” she said very sarcastically as she stood with her hands behind her back. “I wonder if you wouldn’t mind explaining something to our friends and neighbours. Go on, Peter.”

    Peter folded his arms and his eyes narrowed. “Sheila said that your Jessica had invited her to stay over at your house tonight. That we don’t mind, and haven’t done until now. But Shelia also said that your daughter told her that they could spend the evening looking for your bollock, and that when they found it they could see where it fit.”

    Harry stared at him in shock. “But, but…”

    Erin added to his distress. “Mrs Earnshaw from school has been on the phone. She said that Jessica had asked if she and her father could bring your bollock and other parts into school for the show and tell. Needless to say, Mrs Earnshaw thought the idea highly inappropriate, so inappropriate in fact that she had decided to inform the governors, social services, and the local constabulary about it.”

    “But, but…”

    “Oh, stop imitating an outboard motor and pull yourself together!” Erin suddenly exploded. “Social services want to see us and Jessica tomorrow morning at 9:00am sharp! And Detective O’Hara would like to see us at the police station after that! I suggest that you tell them all that the bollock is what you euphemistically call that lump on your head!”

    Harry finally got his voice in gear. “What lump?”

    Erin brought the rolling pin from behind her back and tested it’s weight on the back of a chair. “This lump,” she said as she stepped forward menacingly.

    Upstairs, Jessica heard a loud thwack followed by a groan. She got up and ran into the upstairs hall, leaving Shelia in her room playing with the dolls house Harry had made. Jessica looked through the banister and shouted downstairs.

    “Is that you, Daddy? Mummy said she found your bollock! Did she give it to you?”

    Erin came into the hall and looked up at her daughter. She was still holding the rolling pin in one hand, and she tapped it repeatedly into her other hand.

    “Oh yes, Jessica! I gave it to him good and proper! And you can be sure that he won’t be dropping any more!”


Copyright © D. G. Richards 2004

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