Category Archives: Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction

#CarrotRanch #FlashFiction Challenge ‘The Rat Catcher’ @Charli_Mills

This post was written in response to Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch’s weekly Flash Fiction Challenge. May 11, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about trading. Trade away and go where the prompt leads you. Find out more, read other entries or join in here!

I’ve returned to Victorian England once again for my contribution. 

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Trading Rats: The Rat Catcher

The seller stood with his back to the door holding a swinging cage of squealing rats.

‘How much?’ asked the buyer.

‘A guinea.’

The buyer stroked his beard. ‘Two shillings.’

‘What? I went down the gutters for days risking my life to catch them!’

The buyer looked at the bite marks and blood on the seller’s hands. ‘You need to sell and find a doctor or you’re a dead man.’

The seller leaned back into the door which closed with a loud bang. ‘Two guineas, or I drop this cage, it smashes and we’ll both be devoured for dinner.’

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Who decides the price in illegal trading? Buyer? Seller? Is it a question of supply and demand, as in any other negotiation? Or is it the person who has less to lose? What happens when the buyer or the seller gets too greedy?

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Rat Catchers had a lot of work in Victorian England for three reasons.

1- Rat baiting was a popular, albeit illegal sport, which involved a lot of money with rich and poor people betting. In this case, rat catchers caught live rats.

2- Other rat catchers were paid to kill rats in different parts of the country.

3- Finally rich ladies liked to keep rats as pets in squirrel cages. A practice which I have heard is also popular nowadays.

Many of the rat catchers were children. They preferred catching rats to cleaning chimneys, working in coal mines, or hawking wares, because it was easier and paid better.

De-ratting English manors and businesses was often more lucrative as children could earn from two shillings to one pound. By the way, a guinea was 21 shillings.

If anyone is interested in finding out more:

Full Revelations of a Professional Rat-catcher After 25 Years’ Experience

This fascinating book, written in 1889, is a fascinating and informative read.

More information on this web page about Victorian England.

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#AtoZChallenge ‘C’ #NationalPoetryMonth ‘Half Caste’ #NPM17 #CarrotRanch

This year to celebrate National Poetry Month and to take part in the April A-Z Blogging Challenge, I’ll be posting two poems a day, one written by me and another poem written by one of my favourite poets. The title or first word of both poems will begin with the corresponding letter in the Blogging Challenge.

Today I’ve also added a third challenge, Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch, weekly Flash Fiction Challenge based on a 99 word prompt. This weeks’ prompt is write a ‘hello or a goodbye’

Today I offer you Half Caste by Luccia Gray, and Half Caste by Guyanese poet John Agard.

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My poem is about a group of school children who meet a new girl. Here’s their ‘hello’ and her ‘goodbye’.

Half Caste by Luccia Gray

She was doing her homework.

They were playing around.

‘She’s not like us,’ they whispered.

‘She’s different,’ he complained.

‘Odd clothes, funny accent,’ she smirked.

‘Let’s say hi to the new girl.’

‘You’re not English,’ they said.

‘I was born here,’ she protested.

‘You’re only half English,’ they replied.

‘Right or left?’ she challenged.

‘You’re colouring’s wrong,’ they complained.

‘My tanned colouring’s fine,’ she replied.

‘You’re half caste,’ they said.

‘Look at me, I’m quite whole,’ she insisted.

‘You’re half caste,’ they chanted.

‘At least I’m not half stupid,’ she sighed,

Said goodbye and turned back to her books.

***

.

Half Caste by John Agard

Excuse me

Standing on one leg

I’m half-caste

Explain yuself

Wha yu mean

When yu say half-caste

Yu mean when picasso

Mix red an green

Is a half-caste canvas/

Explain yuself

Wha u mean

When yu say half-caste

Yu mean when light an shadow

Mix in de sky

Is a half-caste weather/

Well in dat case

England weather

Nearly always half-caste

In fact some o dem cloud

Half-caste till dem overcast

So spiteful dem dont want de sun pass

Ah rass/

Explain yuself

Wha yu mean

When yu say half-caste

Yu mean Tchaikovsky

Sit down at dah piano

An mix a black key

Wid a white key

Is a half-caste symphony/

Read the whole poem here http://www.intermix.org.uk/poetry/poetry_01_agard.asp

John Agard was born in Guyana in 1949. His mother was Portuguese, and his father was Caribbean. In 1977, he moved to Britain.

This poem was written in response to those who referred to him as ‘half-caste’. In spite of the humour, bitterness and anger also comes across in his words.

He uses the overused and often meaningless expression ‘Excuse me’ as he sarcastically apologizes for being half caste.

I love the rhythm of the poem and the way he compares his mixed racial and cultural origins to a Picasso painting or a symphony by Tchaikovsky.

Agard finally challenges the reader to explain himself and realise how inaccurate and offensive the expression is.

The girl in my poem on the other hand isn’t angry or embittered because she is assertive and clever enough to get on with her own life and ignore some narrow minded people one is always bound to bump into in life.

By the way, it’s a unique experience to hear Agard read the poem himself. Watch it here!

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#CarrotRanch #FlashFiction Challenge ‘Art as History’ @Charli_Mills

This post was written in response to Charlie Mills’ Carrot Ranch Weekly Flash Fiction Prompt 

March 16, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) go down the rabbit hole to a place where art is not allowed. It could be a small story or a dystopian vision. Is there a power struggle over art? Would the general public miss it? Is the end of art a natural evolution? Go where the prompt leads.

 

An Unfavourable Ancestor

‘Destroy it, Brigs,’ Rochester said, pointing to the portrait.

 ‘But it’s your most glorious ancestor, sir, Damer de Rochester, who died at the Battle of Marston Moor.’

Jane gazed admiringly at the portrait and the man she loved, seeing a likeness. ‘You must be very proud of such a brave ancestor.’

‘Brave but foolish, Jane. The Rochesters have been on the blacklist since the Restoration, thanks to him.’

‘It’s a grand work of art. I beg you to reconsider,’ pleaded Rochester’s administrator.

‘I want no trace of him. The new Queen mustn’t know, and I will have my knighthood.’  

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A little bit of English History may be needed to capture this flash in its entirety.

The portrait of Damer de Rochester, who was slain at the Battle of Marston Moor, is mentioned in Jane Eyre, as one of Mr. Rochester’s ancestors.

Marston Moor, in North Yorkshire, is famous for the battle fought on 2nd July, 1644. The Parlamentarians, led by Oliver Cromwell, defeated the Royalists. After this defeat the Royalists left Northern England.

        The Battle of Marston Moor, by J. Barker

It is not known for sure if Rochester’s ancestor was a Royalist or a Parlamentarian, but my guess is that his family were associated with the Parlamentarians, and so when the monarchy was restored in 1660, the family was not awarded a knighthood for their loyalty and service, as would probably have happened if they had been faithful to the monarchy.

Two hundred years later, a member of the landed gentry, such as Rochester, would probably want all reference to his Parlamentarian ancestor destroyed, because the new Queen, the young Victoria, of German origin, might not know enough about English history to continue with the veto on the family. This is why Rochester is so keen to have the portrait destroyed, because he wants no evidence of his family’s lack of allegiance to the monarchy.

Charli’s flash includes the lines, “Your art is my history, Danni.”

Art does indeed record history. It is a historic document, and as such can be subject to manipulation or destruction. Rochester, in my flash, would destroy a work of art because it reminds anyone who sees it that his ancestor fought against the Monarchy. He wants this fact to be forgotten.

My flash is a fictional reinterpretation, based on the painting and the characters in Jane Eyre. I have used it to illustrate the point, that art can be inconvenient for future generations as a permanent record of events.

A world without art that Charli envisages, would be unbearable.

I believe a world without music, dance, literature, fine art, photography, theatre and cinema etc. is impossible, however, a world where past and present art is manipulated or censored is unfortunately possible.

Nevertheless, I’m optimistic, because artists have always found a way to express their true feelings through their art.

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#CarrotRanch #FlashFiction Challenge: Honeymoon Love Letter @Charli_Mills

This post was written in response to Charlie Mills’ Carrot Ranch Weekly Flash Fiction Prompt 

March 9, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a honeymoon story. It can be between a couple before, during or after the honeymoon. Or it can refer to a honeymoon period. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by March 14, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published March 15). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

Honeymoon Love Letter

He refused, yet again. Why wouldn’t they leave him alone? He would never share Charlotte’s love letter.    

Dearest husband, the word seems strange, yet marvellous, my husband, at last. You are dearer to me today than you have ever been, yet less than you shall be tomorrow. I shall never forget the wild nights spent in Bangor, or the gleams of sunshine which woke us every morning. I love you, Charlotte.

Arthur folded the letter he had read every day since his wife passed away, fifty years ago, and tucked it back under his shirt, close to his heart. 

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This flash fiction is inspired by Charlotte Bronte’s honeymoon in Bangor, Wales, with her husband Arthur Bell Nicholls. They were only married for nine months, and very little is known about their relationship, however, the letters she wrote during her honeymoon and her obvious desire to marry him, in spite of her father’s opposition, as well as Arthur’s tenacity, leads me to believe that there was a love story between them.   

The letter I have included in my flash was inspired by words and sentences she wrote in ‘real’ letters about her husband and her honeymoon.

           Arthur Bell Nichols circa 1854

Arthur Bell Nichols met Charlotte Bronte in 1845 when he was appointed curate to her father, Reverend Patrick Bronte. The first time Arthur asked for Charlotte Bronte’s hand in marriage, in 1852, her father, the Reverend Patrick Bronte refused, probably because he considered his curate to be beneath his famous daughter. As a result, Arthur applied to work in Australia, although he also persisted in is pursuit of the elusive Charlotte, in spite of her overprotective father.

Charlotte and Arthur eventually married in June 1854, nevertheless, Charlotte’s father refused to lead his daughter her up to the altar, or attend the wedding ceremony.

The newlyweds spent a protracted honeymoon in Wales and Ireland, and there is no indication that it was not a happy, albeit short, marriage. Charlotte wrote several letters during her honeymoon, describing her journey as pleasant and enjoyable.

Unfortunately, Charlotte died nine months later, probably due to complications with her pregnancy, as she suffered severe morning sickness and general ill health. Charlotte and her unborn child died on 31 March 1855. She was 38-years-old.

These may or may not be photographs of Arthur and Charlotte (Both are disputed).

Nicholls became the copyright holder of his wife’s works. As interest in Charlotte Bronte grew in the months and years after her death, Patrick Brontë asked Charlotte’s friend, the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, to write her daughter’s biography. Arthur Nicholls was reluctant to allow Mrs. Gaskell access to Charlotte’s letters and was not pleased with Mrs. Gaskesll’s account. In any case, neither Mrs. Gaskell nor Patrick Bronte were Arthur’s fans. The biography was controversial, incomplete, due to its omissions, and was withdrawn and rewritten twice due to accusations of slander. It was finally published in 1857.

Arthur remained at Haworth, looking after Reverend Patrick Bronte until his death in 1861. He put the contents of Haworth Parsonage up for auction in October 1861, retained the family’s manuscripts and private effects, and returned to Ireland, his homeland.

Nine years after Charlotte’s death, Arthur married his cousin. He died in 1906, and it is said his last words were ‘Charlotte, Charlotte.’

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#CarrotRanch #FlashFiction Challenge: Victorian King Midas @Charli_Mills

This post was written in response to Charlie Mills’ Carrot Ranch Weekly Flash Fiction Prompt 

March 2, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include slag in a story. Slag is a glass-like by-product of smelting or refining ore. Slag is also used in making glass or can result from melting glass. It can be industrious or artistic. Go where the prompt leads. All writers are welcome!

I’m afraid it’s a dark flash this week. Hidden rooms in attics where troublesome wives were imprisoned were not infrequent in Victorian England. 

I’ll tell you all about the fascinating world of Victorian amber slag lamps after my 99-word flash.

 

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Victorian King Midas  

Their skeletal remains were found in the hidden attic room of their Victorian home. She was wearing glass slag amber earrings, necklace, and an evening gown with amber slag gems sewn on.  

A note on the bed-side-table, held in place by a priceless Victorian amber slag glass lamp, read:  

My husband fancied he was like King Midas and everything he touched turned to gold and became his property, like me. I thought his blood might be amber, but it was bright crimson.

He would have been pleased it was his favourite slag amber lamp which had cracked his skull.  

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Well, in this case the wife didn’t escape, but she was able to give her husband a taste of his own medicine!

I didn’t know anything about slag, but I looked it up on Saint Google, and found out it was also commonly known as Malachite glass, which is pressed glass with coloured streaks to create a marble effect.

The production of slag glass originated in late-19th-century England, where glass manufacturers are thought to have added slag from iron-smelting works to molten glass to create a range of effects—from tortoiseshell to marbling. Among other uses, slag glass was a popular material for lampshades and other household ornaments.

Slag glass was made by British companies such as Sowerby, Davidson and Greener during the Victorian era, around the 1880’s/90’s. Sowerby marketed their slag glass under the name ‘Malachite’, and this name was used for all the colours they produced. The most common colour for slag glass was purple, but it was also made in blue, turquoise, green, and brown glass. Modern slag glass is still being made today in USA, and comes in a variety of colours.

                         Examples of Victorian slag glass

Since the process of making slag glass was shrouded in a certain amount of mystery, stories sprang up to try and account for the process behind the effects. For example, it was a rumoured that Sowerby’s Gold Nugget, which was an amber colour,  was ‘invented’ by John George Sowerby, the artistic son of the company’s founder, by tossing gold sovereigns into batches of amber glass to create this dramatic hue. Mr. Sowerby was an artist who left the day to day running of his business to a trusted administrator. 

Such a man, might have been a greedy and materialistic  miser. He might have thought he was King Midas, making his slag products into gold by adding the gold coins to the mixture. He might have filled his house with amber slag ornaments, such as lamps, candlesticks and vases etc. And he might have covered his wife in amber slag and locked her in his attic, so no-one else could see his golden lover.

Although, who knows, that might never have happened.

Here are some more pictures of slag lamps on Pinterest.

I’d like to thank Charli for this weeks’ prompt, which has (indirectly) introduced me to the fascinating Sowerby family of entrepreneurs, artists, writers, painters, and naturalists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Who knows if another Victorian novel may come of this… 

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#CarrotRanch #FlashFiction Challenge: Magwitch the Migrant @Charli_Mills

This post was written in response to Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch’s weekly Flash Fiction Challenge

february-23-carrit-ranch

February 23, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a migration story. It can imagine the dusty or arctic trails of the frontiers past or look to the travel across the galaxy. What issue about modern migration bans might influence an artistic expression in a flash? Migrate where the prompt leads you.

Migrations can be voluntary, in search of a better life, but they can also be imposed. Starting a new life is always hard for a migrant, but even more so when it is imposed.   

My migration story has taken me to Victorian England, where deportations to Australia, for certain criminals, were considered a cheap alternative to life sentences.

magwitch

Finlay Currie as Magwitch

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Deported

‘You’re Magwitch, the convict at the graveyard.’

‘Wrongly convicted, Pip. Compeyes was the mastermind.’

‘Miss Havisham’s groom who abandoned her at the altar?’  

 ‘He was imprisoned and I was deported to New South Wales.’

‘You tricked me into helping you.’

‘I’ve paid you back generously.’

‘You’re my anonymous benefactor?’

‘I worked hard at the Penal Colony. My money is yours now.’

 ‘I don’t want your soiled money!’

 ‘Are you planning on giving up your fancy life and going back to being a blacksmith?’

‘You’ve ruined everything. I hate you!’

‘And yet, Pip, you have Estella to thank me for.’

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magwitch-and-pip

 

Pip had always thought Miss Havisham had been his anonymous benefactress and he was horrified to learn his money had come from a criminal, but he later came to terms with Magwitch when he learnt more about his life and hardship, and finally looked after Magwitch in his final days, in prison, once again. This time Magwitch cannot leave him his money because it is confiscated, thus destroying Pip’s Great Expectations.

Great Expectations is an absorbing and complex novel. Magwitch, who is deported to New South Wales, for using counterfeit money, has a short-lived presence in the novel, yet his role is vital in the plot. He is a catalyst in Pip’s life.

Pip met Magwitch at a graveyard when he’s seven and is persuaded by the escaped convict to bring him food. Magwitch, who was grateful for the child’s help, improves Pip’s prospects by being his anonymous benefactor, enabling him to move to London and become a gentleman, instead of a village blacksmith.   

Magwitch is also Estella’s father, whom we all know was the woman Pip loved and lost. Dickens wrote two endings to Great Expectations. In the ending which Dickens finally endorsed, on Wilkie Collins insistence, Estella and Pip are reunited in the final scene of the novel, with that famous line, in which Pip says of Stella:

‘I saw no shadow of another parting from her.’

During the 18th century, most prisoners were deported to penal colonies in America, but after the American War of Independence broke out in 1775, transportation was sent to Australia. Over the years, about 160,000 people, including men, women and children, sometimes as young as nine years old, people were transported to Australia. Most of them never returned.

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#CarrotRanch #FlashFiction Challenge: Watching the Hanging @Charli_Mills

This post was written in response to Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch’s weekly Flash Fiction Challenge

february-16

February 16, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a watcher. Respond by February 21, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published February 22). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

Here’s my take:

Watching the Hanging

‘We’re going to Horsemonger Lane, Boys,’ said Fagin.

Dodger pulled away. ‘Ain’t nothing there except Southwark prison.’

‘A public hanging!’ said Fagin.

When they arrived, the street was teaming with watchers, howling, screeching and yelling like animals.

Oliver gasped. The place was crawling with thieves and prostitutes fighting and shouting obscenities.

‘Might as well get some work done. Look, there’s a fancy looking toff over there,’ said Fagin, pointing to Charles Dickens.

‘Bet I can half inch his bread and honey,’ bragged Dodger.

‘Watch the hanging carefully, boys,’ warned Fagin. ‘Remember, if you get caught you’ll be brown bread.’

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Some words explained:

Toff (Victorian slang) = rich man

Half inch (cockney slang) = pinch (London/UK slang) = steal

Brown bread (cockney slang) = dead

fagin__oliver_and_dodger_six__by_thebarefootedsasha oliver

The former flash fiction was inspired by a real event, which took place in London in 1849.

Dickens attended the execution of Mr. And Mrs. Manning, convicted of murdering a friend and stealing his money, on November 13, 1849 at the Horsemonger Lane Gaol in Southwark.

It was called the “Hanging of the Century” at the time because it was the first husband and wife execution in 150 years. Dickens and a huge crowd of rowdy, blood-thirsty Londoners (between 30 and 50 thousand) watched the public execution, performed outside the prison.

maria-and-frederick-manning

                         Maria and Frederick Manning.

Dickens wrote a scathing letter to The Times condemning the crowd, which can be read at the end of this post.

There were thousands of public hangings in the UK in the 19th century (more figures here). It was indeed a harrowing practice, meant to deter possible criminals, although it actually had the opposite effect. Pickpockets, prostitutes, and all types of petty criminals gathered around the event to carry out their illicit jobs. The police were enormously relieved when public hangings were abolished in England and Scotland, in 1868, because they drew huge crowds and greatly altered public order.

Public executions, and other types of punishment, have been part of most world cultures over the centuries. Looking back always makes me think what a long way we’ve come in Europe, from being the bloodthirsty barbarian spectators at the Roman coliseum, through public punishments such as whippings, the stocks, the pillory, to abolishing capital punishment altogether from our legal system in the 20th century. 

More about public hangings in the UK here.

Conclusion: violence does not deter violence, it breeds violence.

I’ve learnt over time, that all problems have simple solutions, or none at all:

If there’s a solution, Education is almost always the answer.

It’s a simple solution, but it’s not cheap to organise and offer or easy to train teachers and reach students, nevertheless it’s always worthwhile and rewarding.

Children without an education, like Oliver and Dodger in Victorian England, stood a 50% chance of being hanged or imprisoned, as Dodger will no doubt be in the future, as Bill Sykes and Fagin were, or ‘saved’ by a kinder, more socially conscious society, who will educate them and enable them to lead criminal free lives, like Oliver.  

I’ve also included Dickens’ letter condemning the event, below.

English novelist Charles Dickens (1812 - 1870), circa 1860. (Photo by John & Charles Watkins/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

English novelist Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870), circa 1860. (Photo by John & Charles Watkins/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Some people at the time, and even today, unbelievably accuse him of being bloodthirsty himself, for watching the hanging. Well, that’s like accusing a war correspondent of enjoying a war; a bit of twisted logic, I’d say.

Dickens’ letter to The Times Nov. 13, 1849

I was a witness of the execution at Horsemonger Lane this morning. I went there with the intention of observing the crowd gathered to behold it, and I had excellent opportunities of doing so, at intervals all through the night, and continuously from day-break until after the spectacle was over… I believe that a sight so inconceivably awful as the wickedness and levity of the immense crowd collected at that execution this morning could be imagined by no man, and could be presented in no heathen land under the sun. The horrors of the gibbet and of the crime which brought the wretched murderers to it faded in my mind before the atrocious bearing, looks, and language of the assembled spectators. When I came upon the scene at midnight, the shrillness of the cries and howls that were raised from time to time, denoting that they came from a concourse of boys and girls already assembled in the best places, made my blood run cold. As the night went on, screeching, and laughing, and yelling in strong chorus of parodies on negro melodies, with substitutions of ‘Mrs. Manning’ for ‘Susannah’, and the like, were added to these. When the day dawned, thieves, low prostitutes, ruffians, and vagabonds of every kind, flocked on to the ground, with every variety of offensive and foul behaviour. Fightings, faintings, whistlings, imitations of Punch, brutal jokes, tumultuous demonstrations of indecent delight when swooning women were dragged out of the crowd by the police, with their dresses disordered, gave a new zest to the general entertainment. When the sun rose brightly-as it did-it gilded thousands upon thousands of upturned faces, so inexpressibly odious in their brutal mirth or callousness, that a man had cause to feel ashamed of the shape he wore, and to shrink from himself, as fashioned in the image of the Devil. When the two miserable creatures who attracted all this ghastly sight about them were turned quivering into the air, there was no more emotion, no more pity, no more thought that two immortal souls had gone to judgement, no more restraint in any of the previous obscenities, than if the name of Christ had never been heard in this world, and there were no belief among men but that they perished like the beasts.

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I love that Dickens wrote to make the world a better place, and campaigned for civil rights and a more socially conscious society in his private life, too. How can anyone not admire him?

 

#CarrotRanch #FlashFiction Challenge: Making a Rainbow @Charli_Mills

This post was written in response to Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch’s weekly Flash Fiction Challenge

february-91

February 9, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a rainbow in a puddle. Is it a silver lining of sorts or a false reflection? Think about what it might mean or convey. Simple science? Hope? Or the doom of humankind? Create action or character reflection. Go where the prompt leads you.

Respond by February 14, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published February 15). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

Here’s my take on the prompt this week:

Making a Rainbow

‘Look a puddle!’ James rushed to the playground.

‘What’s a puddle?’ asked Timmy.

‘Some water on the floor,’ replied Susan.

‘But we mustn’t spill any water,’ said Timmy. ‘Who did it?’

‘The clouds spilled the water,’ said Miss Rushbrooke.

‘Does that mean the drought’s over?’ Asked Jenny.

The teacher sighed watching the toddlers dip their fingers. They hadn’t seen rainfall in their short lives.  ‘Look for a rainbow. That’ll bring us good luck.’

They shook their heads; the sky was clear blue again.

‘Don’t worry,’ said Miss Rushbrooke. ‘Bring the watercolours. We can make a rainbow in the puddle.’

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Some say you never miss what you’ve never had, others say you can invent things that you’ll never see and never miss them, because they’re always in your imagination.

Teachers can help children be creative and imagine what they haven’t yet seen, or might never see.

What a wonderful profession!

 

Carrot Ranch #FlashFiction Challenge: Victorian Orphans Cracking Rocks

This post was written in response to Charli Mills’ weekly fiction challenge at Carrot Ranch.

february-2

This week’s prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a rock in the road. It can be physical, adding to a plot twist, or it can be metaphorical for a barrier or hardship. Go where you find the rock.  All writers are welcome!

As usual, the prompt has taken me back in time, to Victorian England, once again.

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Cracking rocks and other chores

‘You’ll get up at 5, carry hot water and light the hearths in all the bedrooms.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘After breakfast, you’ll empty the latrines and make the beds.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Then you’ll prepare lunch and do the laundry.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Such a pretty girl, but so frail.’ He smiled maliciously. ‘The master may use you for other chores.’ 

Let him try, I thought.

He wasn’t to know I had worked cracking rocks with a heavy hammer all day, until I splintered the forman’s skull when he put his hand down my breeches and discovered I wasn’t frail at all.

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Children from the age of eight were exploited sexually and in the workplace in Victorian England. It wasn’t unusual for young girls to disguise themselves as men in order to do male chores, or escape male attention. On other occasions, it was the men who were disguised as women to do women’s chores. In any case, children, often abandoned orphans, trying to survive in large cities, had to learn to fend for themselves from an early age, or perish. This is another post, including flash fiction, I wrote about Oliver Twist and the subject of child labour and orphaned children in Victorian England.

In this flash, the narrator is a girl, who had been disguised as a boy while she had worked cracking rocks. She reverted to her female role and clothes to escape being caught as a murderer. Her new master would do well not to believe she’s unable to defend herself!

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In The Eyre Hall Trilogy, my sequel to Jane Eyre, Susan and Michael Kirkpatrick were orphans, who Jane Eyre employed at Eyre Hall, when they were 14 and 16, respectively. They had been living in a workhouse in London, as many orphaned children at the time. The following paragraphs are taken from All Hallows at Eyre Hall. Michael narrates this passage some years later, as an adult, recalling how Jane, like many other wealthy people living in rural areas, was unaware of life in a London workhouse.

It’s a moving and important extract, because Michael also describes the moment he fell in love with Jane, when he was a young boy. Although Michael had been obsessed with Jane from the first time he saw her at the age of fourteen, Jane didn’t fall in love with Michael until he was an adult and her husband lay on his death bed. Their love affair brings great heartache and trauma to both of them, but they manage to overcome all the emotional and physical demons they face.

****

“Have you ever worked?” she asked us, and Susan told her we had done the workhouse chores, such as oakam breaking, which made our fingers bleed. She had not heard of it before, so Susan told her how we had to tease out fibres from old ropes to produce lots of thin loose fibres. “Whatever for?” she asked, quite aghast, and Susan told her the strings were later sold to shipbuilders, where they were mixed with tar and used to seal the lining of wooden vessels.

Susan told her I was a strong boy and used to hard work, because I often cracked granite rocks with a heavy hammer ten hours a day. Again she asked, horror-struck, for the reasons, Susan told her the chippings were carted away by older men, who were not strong enough to crack them, and were then probably used in construction works. Susan proudly explained that with the pennies earned, usually not a shilling a day between us, we were able to buy food, some clothes, and borrow books and magazines to read by candlelight.

When she asked how long we had been there, Mrs. Rochester was again appalled to hear we had been there for two years, since our mother had died. She asked her about our life prior to our mother’s death, and Susan explained we had lived in a rented room in Morton.

She looked at me sadly and asked if I did not speak, and I could only gaze at her face and think how very kind and beautiful she was. Susan told her I was shy, but that I spoke, read, and wrote very well, because our mother had taught both of us to do so. My mistress put her hand up to my face, lightly touching my cheek, and sighed, looking straight into my eyes, as if she were searching for something. It was the moment I fell under her spell. No one had ever touched me like that before, with such concern and affection, not even my mother, who had been too sad and overworked to bestow such warmth. Then Mrs. Rochester spoke to Susan and said someone would teach us our new jobs at her house.

Today is Charles Dickens birthday (February 7th, 1812). I’m not going to praise him yet again, because you all know how important his work is for World Literature and my own literary mind. He also makes a personal appearance in Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall, and is a vital part of Jane’s recovery in Midsummer at Eyre Hall, although he is no longer physically present.

Here I am beside Charles Dickens’ portrait at the National Portrait Gallery in London, a few months ago.

with-charles-dickens

There are so many things I could say and so many words I could quote to honour Charles Dickens’ memory today,  but I’ve decided to include the following quote, which is not my favourite, but it’s appropriate for a happy day like today!

charles_dickens_quote_2

Hope you’re all having a wonderful 7th of February!

Carrot Ranch #FlashFiction Challenge: Creating Jane Eyre

This post was written in response to Charli Mills Weekly Flash Fiction Challenge, at Carrot Ranch.

January 26, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the theme, “women create.” It can be art, sewing, ideas, babies. What is at the heart of women as creators? Go where the prompt takes you.

january-26

 

Creating Jane Eyre

“Who’s the author of this abhorrent attempt at a novel?” asked Lady Eastlake.

“Currer Bell,” replied Mrs. Mozley.

“Who on earth is he?” asked Mrs. Rigby.

“Some say he’s a woman,” said Mrs. Mozley

“Women don’t describe such coarse and shameful relationships between men and women,” snapped Lady Eastlake.

“Unless it is such a woman who has long forfeited the society of her own sex,” said Mrs. Rigby.

“It’s unchristian. We should make sure it’s banned,” suggested Mrs. Mozley. “Just in case it’s a woman’s creation. Imagine how degrading it would be for the rest of us.”

They nodded.

****

When Jane Eyre (1847) was first published by Charlotte Bronte under the masculine pseudonym Currer Bell, it was received with mixed reviews. Some were highly praising and others harshly critical.

Some of her staunchest critics were female and criticized Jane Eyre for being vulgar, improper, anti-christian, as well as politically incorrect. Her three main female critics were Lady Eastlake, Elizabeth Rigby and Ann Mozley, the three women I’ve brought together in today’s flash.

Among the most outspoken critics was the conservative Lady Eastlake, who accused Charlotte Bronte of lack of femininity, and of agreeing with the working class uprisings of the Chartists, who were demanding votes for the working classes.

In addition to Lady Eastlake, Elizabeth Rigby, an author and art critic, and the first woman to write for the Quarterly review, stated that if the book was by a woman, “she had long forfeited the society of her own sex.” Rigby also considered Jane Eyre  showed “coarseness of language and laxity of tone.” Rigby was especially irate about her unflattering depictions of the aristocracy, accusing Charlotte Bronte of a “total ignorance of the habits of society.”

Ann Mozley, writing for the Christian Remembrancer in 1848, writes “Never was there a better hater. Every page burns with moral Jacobinism.” The Jacobins were French revolutionaries who aimed to abolish the monarchy and do away with class distinctions, as well as instituting a universal vote, an idea abhorrent to upper class, Anglican Britons.

According to these and other critics, Jane Eyre challenged traditional views about how women should act and behave, and therefore threatening the established social order.

Jane is indeed rebellious and demands respect and equality, although she knows her place, she also believes that her fate isn’t written in stone. Here are her unforgettable words to overbearing Mr. Rochester:

jane-quote-1

Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since the 19th century. Censorship, accepting injustice and exploitation, and gender, racial or religious discrimination is something we aim to overcome.

Well done Jane Eyre for shocking them all out of their complacency!

You’d be happy to know that my sequel takes up her fiercely independent, outspoken and resilient, free spirit.

In Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall, Charles Dickens visits Jane Eyre (at that time, Mrs. Mason) at Eyre Hall for a few days over Christmas. Dickens confesses that he has left his wife and has a young mistress, although it is a well kept secret, because he is not prepared to affront the establishment. When Jane tells him she is having an affair with Lieutenant Kirkpatrick, her former valet, and she is no longer hiding her feelings, he replies:

“How invigorating! Are you going to shock us all and defy the laws of propriety? How brave of you!”    

That’s my Jane!

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