Carrot Ranch #FlashFiction ‘Forest Bathing’ #99Words #MondayBlogs

This post was written in response to Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch’s weekly #99 word Flash Fiction Challenge. This week’s prompt is to write a story about forest bathing. You can use the Japanese term, Shinrin Yoku. Check out other entries or take part yourself!

Inspirational Walks

The Verger at Rochester Cathedral heard the author’s cane tapping the cobbled streets below his window. He must be on his way back from his daily, inspirational walk from Gad’s Hill.

Mr. Miles stepped out to greet his old friend. Turk trotted by his master’s side biting a dry branch collected in the woods.

‘A cup of tea, Mr. Dickens?’

‘Not today, Mr. Miles. The seventh instalment of Edwin Drood awaits.’

Miles sighed, watching him trudge up the hill, stopping to peer at the little graveyard under the castle wall where he had expressed his desire to be buried.

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Unfortunately, Charles Dickens died of a stroke before The Mystery of Edwin Drood was finished. Only six instalments were published. Dickens died in June and the seventh, unfinished instalment, would have been published in October 1870.

Neither was he buried at the cemetery at Rochester Cathedral, as had been his wish. Instead, he was buried at Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey, due to the pressure of Arthur Stanley, the Dean, who was searching for a famous writer to boost the prestige of the Abbey.

Turk was his favourite dog, but he died five years before him, so Turk wouldn’t have accompanied Dickens on his last walks.

According to his biographer, Peter Ackroyd, Charles Dickens walked for twelve miles a day, either along the London streets or in the countryside in Rochester, Kent, where he lived. He was usually accompanied by one or more of his many dogs.

He either walked on fact-finding missions for his novels, or for inspiration and tranquility.

Gad’s Hill, where he lived for the last years of his life, is a forty-minute walk from Rochester. Dickens preferred to walk alone because his purpose was to think and create. More information on Dickens walks here.

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I find walking in nature, is invigorating and inspiring, so I do it as often as possible. I often post pictures and poems or thoughts after my #SundayWalks, as I did yesterday, for example.

I’m fortunate enough to live in the country, and like Dickens, the town centre is about a 40 minute walk.

I used to walk with my dogs, but they’ve both passed away. I often walk with my grandchildren and children or my husband. I enjoy walking alone, but I don’t mind being accompanied. Even when I’m chatting with someone, I feel inspired and always take a notebook with me to jot down ideas.

Here’s a picture of a path I often take for my walks.

Here’s recent walk with my grandson, who loves inventing stories on our walks. On this occasion, some sheep had been put out to pasture that afternoon.

Does walking leisurely in a forest or the countryside open your senses and inspire you, too?

K’lee and Dale’s Cosmic Photo Challenge #CosPhoChal ‘Portraits’

This Monday’s theme is ‘Portraits’.

I remembered that I have some lovely pictures of portraits I took at the National Portrait Gallery in London, a lesser known gem, right next to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, and others I took at Charles Dicken’s Museum at Doughty Street, London.

Here I am as close as I’ll ever be to my favourite writers. Top left Robert Browning and his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Mr. Greenwood, who marries Adele in All Hallows at Eyre Hall is based on the widower, Robert Browning.

Elizabeth B.B. wrote the most romantic sonnet in the English language, How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

 Top right with Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote the unforgettable Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, one of my favourite novels, whose influence features strongly in Midsummer at Eyre Hall. We all have to balance the capacity for good and evil we possess.

The bottom left are the Bronte sisters, Anne, Charlotte and Emily (from left to right) in the famous painting by their brother, Patrick Branwell Bronte. The portrait on the right is of Charlotte Bronte.

The bottom right, Mr. Charles Dickens, who features prominently in Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall, where he narrates a chapter, and Midsummer at Eyre Hall, where his generosity and friendship will be of invaluable help to Jane Eyre.  

Isn’t it wonderful that the Bronte’s and Charles Dickens are so close, in the Gallery and in my literary heart and mind.

Here I am with Dickens’ portrait in the reproduction of his dining room at his home in Doughty Street.

A caricature of the older Dickens, on his way to the continent, which means anywhere which is not UK!

This isn’t a portrait, but I thought I’d include his chair, where he sat and probably read, chatted, and perhaps plotted and made notes, before sitting at his writing desk. 

Finally, here I am beside a portrait of my favourite sports person, Rafael Nadal, the greatest Spanish tennis player of all time, and one of the best in the world, not only because he’s a world tennis champion, but because he’s such a good sport.

I hope you liked my portraits!

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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

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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.

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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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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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Happy Birthday Charles Dickens! #amreading #amreviewing Oliver Twist

Today’s a very special day for English literature. On this day, 7th February, in 1812 , Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth, United Kingdom.

On this special day, I’d like to suggest you read one of his novels, so I’m including my ‘special tribute review’ of Oliver Twist, which you can read for free as a kindle ebook on amazon, thanks to a community of volunteers who converted this novel from its physical edition to the digital format.

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My Review

If you only read one of Charles Dickens’ books, or if you don’t know where to start reading his books, I recommend you read Oliver Twist, the unforgettable story of a poor orphan boy, who spent his early years in a work house, before being recruited by a gang of pickpockets.

It’s not an easy book to read, and is not meant for children or the faint of heart, because it portrays some harsh events, many of which Dickens had experienced himself, or had personally investigated, and that is one of the main attractions of this book; It’s real.

You may read about child labour and the plight of the many orphaned children in Victorian England, but no history book will describe a workhouse, the inside of a prison, the starving dogs and hungry rats, the life of a pickpocket, a thief, a pimp, or a gang leader, a public hanging, or the cruelty of London slums, the way Dickens does.

Read it if you want to know what really happened, what the streets, people and life was like for Victorian Londoners.

I never tire of rereading it myself. Dramatic, yes, exaggerated, I doubt it, realistic, shockingly.

The plot is a page turner, and the characters come to life in every scene. We see their gestures, smell their ragged clothes and listen to their lies and truths.

I love Dickens’ use of the English language. It may be wordy by contemporary standards, but it’s smoothly done. A real pleasure to read for anyone who loves the English language and wants to take a short trip to Victorian London.

A book to read once and reread all your life. 

Although I usually read my paperback, this free kindle version makes it even easier to read. A big thank you to the volunteers who made this edition possible.

As a writer, I often read a random chapter or passage before I sit down to write. Dickens humbles me, but he also gives me great encouragement by showing me how the English language can convey so much using the right combination of words.

‘Capital!’ As Dickens would say.      

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I’ve written a piece of Flash Fiction based on Oliver Twist, and included some information about child labour and orphans in Victorian England in this post.

I’d like to include one of Dickens’ quotes, which is one of my favourite.

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Dickens wrote his books with the aim of making the world a better place, which he did, through numerous campaigns and by building awareness among the reading public, but his greatest legacy was the belief in the power of words to improve our world.

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As well as influencing me as a writer, Charles Dickens also makes a personal appearance in Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall, my sequel to Jane Eyre, and is a vital part of Jane’s recovery in Midsummer at Eyre Hall, although he is no longer physically present.

Here is the page with the moment Charles Dickens arrives at Eyre Hall to spend a few days with Jane Eyre, now Mrs. Mason.

They spoke about their private lives, the craft of fiction, and also about current affairs such as child labour and abuse, public hangings, and the dangers of the slums of London. It’s one of my favourite chapters.

Which is your favourite novel by Charles Dickens?

Why not write a review and share on a blog post to celebrate his birthday!

 

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.

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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.

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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:

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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!

Carrot Ranch #FlashFiction Challenge: The Mourner

This post was written in response to Charli Mills’ weekly Flash Fiction Challenge.   

January 12, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that expresses a strong concern, something to give a crap about. Something that brings out the feeling to stand up. How can you use it to show tension or reveal attitudes?

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The Mourner

The undertaker pointed to the sullen lad. “He looks like a good candidate, Mr. Bumble.”

“Any job requiring silence will suit this hard-working boy, Mr. Sowerberry.”

“No speaking required,” he said, then turned to the pauper. “Just crying, preferably bawling his eyes out.”

“Indeed?”

“He’ll be working as a mourner at children’s funerals.”

“Excellent. We’ll be sorry to see him go, but it’s our duty to help destitute orphans.”

Good riddance, he thought. Nobody gives a crap about any of the blighters.

He’d paid a fiver to get rid of Oliver Twist.

Troublemaker.

How dare he ask for more!

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Oliver Twist may not be Dickens’ best novel, but it’s my favourite. It’s a novel which is very dear to my heart. I read abridged versions as a child and I’ve read and reread the complete novel many times.

Oliver Twist is Dickens at his rawest, most melodramatic, and outspoken. I can almost hear his pen scratching the paper as he writes and see his head shaking with anger at the injustices remembered and portrayed.

I watched all the film adaptations, my absolute favourite is Carol Reed’s 1968 version. I watched numerous versions as school plays, throughout my school days. Years later I took my children to see Lionel Bart’s unforgettable musical adaptation live at the London Palladium in 1994. Here’s Jonathan Pryce as Fagin.

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Oliver Twist was an orphan who spent his early years in a workhouse, until he was found a job away from the other inmates, because he was considered subversive as a result of asking for more gruel.

This is the extract from the scene in Dickens’ Oliver Twist where he asks for more gruel:

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Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:

‘Please, sir, I want some more.’

The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupified astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper.

The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.

‘What!’ said the master at length, in a faint voice.

‘Please, sir,’ replied Oliver, ‘I want some more.’

The master aimed a blow at Oliver’s head with the ladle; pinioned him in his arm; and shrieked aloud for the beadle.

The board were sitting in solemn conclave, when Mr. Bumble rushed into the room in great excitement, and addressing the gentleman in the high chair, said, ‘Mr. Limbkins, I beg your pardon, sir! Oliver Twist has asked for more!’

There was a general start. Horror was depicted on every countenance.

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Of course they were horrified, How dare he ask for more? How dare he speak up and challenge injustice? How dare he hope to improve his lot? He was obviously an upstart and it was then that they decided to find him a job away from the workhouse, because he would be a bad influence on the rest of the inmates.

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Few people gave a crap about children in general, and even less so if they were orphans, in Victorian England.

Child abuse, including child labour, and exploitation, was rampant in Victorian England. Children who survived infancy were often put to work at an early age in textile mills, coal mines, and down chimneys, where working conditions often proved deadly. Girls from the age of five went into domestic service as nurses or maids, and rural children worked on farms, too. Workhouses and poor houses, like the ones in Oliver Twist were cruel places as Dickens himself experienced as a child.

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Fortunately, many Victorians campaigned to improve the lives of poor children. Reformers such as Lord Shaftesbury (1801-1885 in the picture above, left), were able to pass laws to protect children from exploitations, such as the 1841 Mines Act which made it illegal for children under the age of 10 to work in a coal mine. The 1847 Ten Hour Act which made it illegal for children to work more than 10 hours in a day. The 1874 Factory Act which banned the employment of children under 10 in factories. Of course if these laws were needed, it meant that children under the age of ten were working as if they were adults, and probably earning a great deal less. Lord Shaftesbury later became the president of the Ragged School Union, an evangelical organization which established hundreds of schools for the poor.

Charles Dickens’ novels revealed and condemned the exploitation of helpless children. When Dickens was twelve, his father was imprisoned for debt and he was sent to work in a blacking factory, an incident that haunted him his whole life. No wonder his novels depict plenty of neglected, exploited, or abused children and orphans.

Oliver Twist (1837) was written to expose and attack on these practices and the cruelty and injustice of workhouses and poor houses for the homeless, which subjected them to unhealthy and inhuman living conditions and hard labour.

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Orphans and their plight also featured predominantly in other Victorian novels, such as my beloved Jane Eyre. Many of the characters in The Eyre Hall Trilogy are orphans or abandoned children, too.

Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall includes an account of a dramatic case of child farming, child abuse and kidnapping, which, as Dickens’ novels, is based on real events.

In the following scene from Chapter XI, Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall. Michael is in London, searching for a child who had been kidnapped and sold. The following is his conversation with a representative of the law, who expresses the general opinion of many people within the establishment, at the time.

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Sergeant Wilson was a round sort of man. He had a round red–veined face, a large round belly, and fat chubby fingers. I imagined he was a man who enjoyed his food and drink over any other pleasures in life. When he spoke, his slurred and jovial voice convinced me he would never be seen chasing anyone or even organising a chase. I informed him of my suspicion that a woman under an assumed name was buying and selling babies. I was appalled at his lack of interest in the topic.

“There are too many children in London, Lieutenant Kirkpatrick, far too many. They are often born in the wrong families, who cannot feed them or clothe them, so they are taken to other better–off families. It is often a question of social justice. Many of the intermediaries are religious orders. Children are left on church or convent doorsteps, others sadly fall into the hands of dubious individuals such as the one you mention, but in any case, the children who survive will have a better life, don’t you think?”

I could not disclose the real events that had occurred, but I needed to be able to threaten her with some legal action.

“Of course I agree, Sergeant Wilson, but let us suppose a criminal had robbed children and was selling them for immoral reasons, such as prostitution or unpaid labour?”

“If it could be proved in a court of law that she stole the children and sold them, she would be taken to Newgate and later hanged. Unfortunately, none of the parents would miss a hungry baby, and call the police to deal with the crime.”

I tried to convince him that the plight of the babies was important, but he was unmoved.

“Have you any idea how much crime, I mean serious crime, there is in London? Pickpockets, thieves, burglars, and debtors, they are our curse. They threaten the honest, hard–working citizens of London.”

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Fortunately, at least in Europe, we have a welfare system which caters for the underprivileged, makes education available and compulsory for children up to the age of 16 or 18, a national health service covers all citizens, and there are laws to protect children and other vulnerable citizens, such as immigrants, refugees and the unemployed. We should never forget that this hasn’t always been the case. Social care and civil rights were gained because many people fought for them, and now it’s our turn to make sure they are still guaranteed for our children and grandchildren.

More on the Victorians and child labour at the British Library

#WordlessWednesday & #OneLinerWednesday On Life, Birth and Death

 (Almost) Wordless Wednesday. 

Birth: The source of the Spanish River Ebro, the second longest river in the Iberian peninsula, in Fontibre (in Spanish the source of a river is called its birth: nacimiento).

 

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Death: Ancient Cemetery next to the Romanic style Visigothic church at Retortillo, Cantabria, Spain built on the ruins of a Roman necropolis known as Julióbriga, a few kilometers away from the river’s source.
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One Liner Wednesday. This week’s theme: ‘It was the Beginning of the end’

 

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“I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul.”

 “I hope that real love and truth are stronger in the end than any evil or misfortune in the world.”
Charles Dickens

So wise. I’ll never tire of rereading Charles Dickens…

 

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Finally, seen at the Hermitage in Córdoba:

 

Translation: In the twlight of your life your last exam will be on love

Hope you have a Wonderful Wednesday. Remember, carpe diem; it’s all we have!