Tag Archives: Creative Writing

A Dab Hand At

The sky was black when first he came to me. A carrier in the night; the last survivor from a long forgotten era. An orphan of chance.

I was standing by the window – cloak misting around my shoulders – gazing out upon the deep when a man’s face loomed out of the fallow fields in front of me and pressed itself against the glass. The birds outside had long since taken up their grisly chorus – far fouler creatures than they would now be stirring, and so I rushed to admit the man into the safety of my abode.

What madness might have driven him to venture out at night? thought I as I strode to unlock the chain. What ill thoughts have led him to my door?

The stranger wasted no time, but burst past the threshold and into the light. From his build he must have been a man from the North; tall and broad as the mighty oak. His face was shaped like a King of Old, with a firm brow and keen eyes that shone in the dark. His nose was bent in ways that whispered ‘magic’ and there was a wiry growth of hair atop his lip. He seemed confused and would not look at me at first. Now here, now there, he roved about the room, in the very depths of some demented nightmare, muttering of secret desecrations, of restless motives and of the fall of man.

Suddenly, as if at last aware of his surroundings, he stopped his pacing. Then he turned to me and at once threw himself upon my mercy. He began to beseech me, first in the tongue of his mother, then in the tongue of mine, that I might be persuaded to aid him in his quest. White-knuckled, he grasped at the foot of my robes. I recognised nothing about his features, but I could not shake the thought that we had met before; that somehow he and I were brothers. I agreed to help him if I could.

Words failing him, the stricken man pressed a dirtied roll of parchment into my hands. Deed done, he sank back onto the floor. With trembling fingers I opened the parchment. It read as follows: Knowest thou the origin of the phrase – ‘a dab hand at…?’

Surprised, I turned to the man for elucidation, but I found a corpse where life had been. In a twisted act of kindness, death had chalked a smile upon his face. He had faded from this life trusting that I, the foremost scholar of the age, would be able to penetrate the mystery and return peace to the Kingdom of Man. It was clear to me what was at stake. I knew I could not fail.

Yet fail I did. I could find nothing of the phrase in the scrolls, save a tenuous mention regarding a link between ‘dab’ and ‘dapper’, scarcely enough to risk a mention. At the fundamental moment my mind had failed me. There seemed nothing I could do.

The sun did not rise that morning, nor has it risen since. Tonight I am to lead the men of Skia, the last great protectors of the Truth, against the forces of Despair. It is likely I shall fail. I give this account that any reading it might know the quest that claimed the life of my brother, and of so many after him, still burns brightly within my breast. I will conquer the Truth, in this life or the next. And then, when all is done, I will at last be able to answer that smile, which has haunted me to the ending of my days.

This fable is based on true events. My friend Tom, whose wonderful poetry can be found here, text me asking if I could shed any light on the phrase ‘a dab hand at’. As you can see, I couldn’t. I hope you can forgive me, and that this ridiculous excuse for a story has sufficed in place of information.



Filed under Idioms & Their Origins

Sometimes It Pays To Take A Closer Look

It’s frustrating for us writers when a literary agency doesn’t bother to get back to us. Having guarded our work so jealously for so long, at last we send it out and wait with bated breath, only for it to be passed around a room and laughed at by a bunch of jokers, before being unceremoniously consigned to the dustbin of history. At least this is what happens as far as we know – because nobody bothers to tell us otherwise. If my work is not good enough, then it’s not good enough. I do not think I deserve to be published end of. But I do need to know if I am below standard, in order to improve. Telling me nothing is not helpful. Below you will find a short story  (500 words) that I wrote on this subject. It was written for a competition a few months ago… which I haven’t heard back from, of course. Anyway, I hope you enjoy.

Sometimes It Pays To Take A Closer Look

You should have taken that chance, shouldn’t you? Maybe then you wouldn’t be standing on the Strand outside McDonalds – nose pressed, breath misting against the glass, windowed away by poverty from the golden nuggets within.

“Carry on please sir.” An anxious employee, absurdly dressed in a khaki uniform, ushers you away. You continue to traipse along your lonely path. At least he was polite – plenty of them aren’t.

It hasn’t always been like this. Six months ago you were a top dog; a fat cat, to mix the metaphors. Even working for the most powerful literary agency in the country seemed beneath your talent. But a man’s got to earn a living, and the tips weren’t bad.

It was a Friday night; you remember it because it was somebody’s birthday. A girl’s – you didn’t know her name but you knew by the way she’d pressed her breasts together when giving you the invitation that it would be worth your while. You reached for the last file in your tray, humming Loick Essien’s ‘That’s just how we roll’, (although in your mind you’d replaced the first person plural with the singular).

The file was unusually thin; it was if the author expected his work to stand by its own merits. Laughable. The synopsis wasn’t awful, so you turned to the first chapter. That wasn’t bad either. Just as you were beginning to get really involved, Doug stuck his head into your office.

“It’s five mate, you coming?”

You looked up. “Yeah I’ll be there in a bit.”

Doug nodded to the file in your hand. “Onto something?”

“I don’t know. Probably not.”

“Who’s it by?”

You searched the covering letter for the name. You didn’t recognise it. “Never heard of him,” you said.

Doug grinned. “Then bin it. Lets go!”

“Just give us a sec. I’ll meet you there.”

Doug tapped his hands on the door, one after the other in quick succession. “In a bit then,” he said.

“In a bit.”

He left and you turned again to the file. But you couldn’t concentrate anymore. Doug was right – you should bin it.You’d never heard the name before; likelihood was you’d never hear it again. Besides by then it was ten past five. You got your coat and hastened to join the celebrations.

You should have taken that chance. Next month a new book topped the charts. It was written, they said, by a nobody. Your boss soon found out that you’d been the one to let it slip through your hands. It all turned sour from there.

That’s why when I pass you now, on the way to the signing of my second book, you’re ferreting around in the mud for scraps. Seeing you, I stop, and with a generosity you would never have shown me, I take a note from out of my bulging wallet and press it into your grubby, snatching hands. “Here you are sir,” I say, “go buy yourself a meal.”


Filed under Rants, Rants, Raves & Reviews

The Aviators, by Helen Jane Long

Every now and again one is fortunate enough to stumble upon a piece of music that catches one by the heartstrings and does not let go. Today I found exactly that in ‘The Aviators’, by Helen Jane Long. You may have heard a part of it in the BA ‘to fly, to serve’ adverts.

Whilst listening on youtube I found that the music – which is featured on the BA advert mentioned in a previous post – was being compared to Hans Zimmer / Klaus Badelt’s ‘He’s A Pirate’ as if this was in some way a bad thing. It was suggested that Long should be ashamed of herself for taking the credit for somebody else’s genius. I am afraid I do not share this view. A good piece of music is as much about how it makes you feel, as it is about how it sounds. Anybody sensible who has listened to the two tracks will see that there is no meaningful comparison to be made between them, if indeed there is a comparison to be made at all.

I am a methodical writer – after the initial trembling excitement of a new idea, rarely do I feel particularly happy about what I am producing. Writing is a slog for me. I don’t mind, that’s just the way it is; I sit down, and I get it done. Music is my crutch – I would have produced nothing without it – and on occasions I am lucky enough to be reminded of the reason why I write; to stir the passions in others as others have stirred the passions in me.

I have written 2,500 words today. Each one of them is thanks to a beautiful piece of music by Helen Jane Long.


Filed under Rants, Raves & Reviews, Raves

A Christmas Truce

Pale winter’s sun with her sweet dwindling light, 
To bed crept she and hid her weary face,
Whilst fell around her darkness bleak as space.
What madness might have met that fateful sight,
But for one faint and gentle spec of white?
A single flake of snow with God’s good grace,
Untouched as yet by death or human waste,
Did fair remind the world of wrong from right.
Now to this ghost both friend and foe gave chase,
With haste across the lines that had been set,
And in each other’s hearts they found a place,
To rest, amidst a merry Christmas fete,
So true the violent times could not erase, 
The mem’ries of when warring brothers met.


Filed under Beyond The Grave, My War Poetry

The Rising Of The Sun

First light and is the night swift sent from sky to back of mind,
Forgotten timeless hours spent, awake, though eyes were blind,
Behind the clouds the sun peaks out an arm to turn the ruse,
First light’s a poet’s marvel; it’s a budding wordsmith’s muse.
The waking wind is whisp’ring ’bout a half remembered dream, 
That matters not the slightest to the slightly bubbling stream,
Or to the trees that bend to touch the lazy morning’s breeze,
First light’s a simmering silence; a restless reverie.
The little mouse fears not the owl who’s sated by the night, 
Nor does the owl have mind to kill, his bed consumes his sight,
It’s morning, let the world be so, let Nature keep Her way, 
First light’s a careless harmony; a carefree time of day.
But there’s the creak and cranking, from the forest over head,
A crimson dawn, and through the haze, the water runs as red, 
The sense of shame, of shattered calm, an air that’s thick with hate,
First light’s a cruel ecstasy; a bitter twist of fate. 
If not from owl or mouse from where, this stain upon the land?
A stranger to the playful scene, be it the claws of man?
First light’s a fickle mistress; it’s an awful game of chance,
Wake up, you might be anywhere, thank God you’re not in France.


Filed under Beyond The Grave, My War Poetry

A piece of mud!

A piece of mud! A piece of mud!
One hundred yards across that flood,
‘Boys that’s our goal, our end’, they say,
‘Our flag will fly from there today’.
A piece of mud! A piece of mud!
A gentle hill, worth nothing much,
A tomb where several thousand sleep,
A place where dreadful secrets keep.
A piece of mud! A piece of mud!
Is that the cause of all the blood?
The fighting, man on man, in vain?
To take the hill, we try again.
A piece of mud! A piece of mud!
One hundred yards across that flood,
‘Boys that’s our goal, our end’, they say,
‘Our flag will fly from there today’.


Filed under Beyond The Grave, My War Poetry

The Stranger

In no man’s land the sky was bright,
The night alight with blood,
Lost in a shallow grave lay I, 
Alone amongst the mud.
Where was the wind that blew the tears,
So gently from my face?
Where was the God who’d promised,
Not to leave me in this place? 
Abandoned by my fortune,
And forgotten too by chance,
In earnest I began to cry,
Alone somewhere in France.
Then through my grief I heard a noise,
The sound of boots on ground,
A stranger’s face looked down upon,
The lost boy he had found.
“Your crying cease,” the stranger said,
“It will be fine, you’ll see,”
He bending down to pick me up,
To safety carried me.
When back behind the lines I asked,
The man who saved the dead,
Why had he risked his life for me,
And this is what he said:
“Though not for freedom do I fight,
Nor do I war for fame,
I will most gladly give my life,
To spare my brothers pain.”
“I do not place my faith in war, 
Or think that it is right,
I only trust a brother’s love,
And this is why I fight.”
I spent the day a-wondering,
About the stranger’s words,
The truth becoming clear to me,
But that was when I heard.
The stranger was estranged no more,
From death, who masters all,
A sniper’s shot had found him out,
At night; none saw him fall.
I could not find the stranger,
Though I looked for where he lay,
But ‘till my death I’ll thank him,
At the start of every day.
So in each morning’s sun I see,
The bravest man I’ve known,
Whose fate was not to answer, 
All the loving calls from home.
And with each ageing breath I breathe,
I weep with coward’s shame,
For he who risked his life for me,
And did not ask my name. 
An old man now, as luck would be,
I’ve seen it in the end:
‘Greater love hath none than he,
who give his life for his friend.’

Leave a comment

Filed under Beyond The Grave, My War Poetry