Tuesday, 2 July 2019
I wrote this story in ten minutes during a recent meeting of the Uxbridge Writers' Circle. I used the 'prompt' of a bookmark decorated with pictures of rainbow-coloured sheep. No time for editing!
Gordie couldn't bear it. He heard his father talking on his smart phone, arranging for the shearers to come the following week. Gordie's stomach lurched as images of struggling sheep and the noise of electric shears pummeled his senses. It wasn't fair. It was bad enough that the mothers had lost their lambs. Instinctively, he knew better than to ask what happened to these cute, playful balls of soft fuzz. He didn't want to know, because he knew there'd be nothing he could do about it. But, this was the last straw - taking the sheep's coats off without their agreement, despite their obvious protests.
He lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling. Surely he could do something about this. He gaze absent-mindedly at the rainbow he'd painted on the ceiling. He loved the optimism of the rainbow with its promise of a pot of gold at its end. That's when he got the idea.
He rounded up all the spray cans of paint he could find - in the basement, the garage and the barns. He didn't have quite a full array of the colours of the rainbow, but pretty close. And when the sheep were in the barn at night, he crept down the stairs and reclaimed the cans. He was careful to shake the rattly things out of earshot of the sheep, and then, very slowly and calmly, sprayed all of them with each colour.
This is bound to stop them, he thought. Rainbow sheep - who's going to want rainbow wool?
His father was livid, but the upshot was he got out of the sheep rearing business and turned to potato farming instead. And from that day on, his father showed more respect for his son.
Vicky Earle Copyright 2019
Thursday, 6 June 2019
Every month at our Uxbridge Writers' Circle meeting, we members read a piece that we've written that incorporates words we selected the previous month.
The words are shown in italics in my story below.
I and my husband are breeders and owners of thoroughbred racehorses. (The picture is of a racehorse we part-own).
This story of fiction uses some of my experience of this "world".
I’m pretty sure that I’m not making the same mistake twice as I move into this farm.
The barn has ten well-constructed stalls with oak walls and rubber matting, as well as a window in each, with the necessary bars for the horse’s protection. The small farmhouse has brick walls, gingerbread trim and a cold, damp, stone-walled cellar. A lot of restoration and upgrading is called for. When I first looked around, I knew that I’d never be able to keep the place warm. There’s a vintage wood-burning stove in the kitchen, and that’s it. It would be warmer sleeping in the relatively well-insulated barn with the horses until the place is renovated.
The barn is what drew me to the property and compelled me to make a submission to the owner. It was like an interview process. The old man reserved the right to refuse anyone he thought wouldn’t respect the land and the buildings. He was an avid horseman, he told me, but had to sell his beloved mares when he fell ill about five years ago, and now he had to leave. There was no family to give it to. He wanted someone to be a caretaker, a custodian of his beloved home of over sixty years.
Despite recent events, I wondered if I was headed for more heartbreak and disappointment when I shook his hand and agreed to his conditions.
My passion is thoroughbred horse-racing and breeding. Those of you who’ve had any experience with it would have guessed most of what I’m about to tell you, but not all.
It started when my relationship with Sally ended. I purchased a modest farm with lush fields and stately maples that guarded its frontage and entrance. This was to be the realization of my vision. As a young boy, I yearned to live in the country and have racehorses, just like my grandfather. I did my research and bought mares and yearlings at the sale that had great potential for breeding and racing.
I had nothing but bad luck, or so I thought.
Two mares lost their foals early in their pregnancy, two other mares proved impossible to get in foal, and the fifth was found to have a large glass marble inserted into her uterus. This is sometimes used as a way to reduce the symptoms of heat during the racing season, but also prevents conception.
The three young ones didn’t make it to the races. They suffered repeated episodes of colic, skin diseases, coughs, foot issues, eye infections and so on. In brief, they were unwell most of the time.
We thoroughbred racehorse owners and breeders learn to live with disappointment. The few highs we get, have to carry us a long way. Only optimists can survive.
At first, I accepted all that happened as bad luck. But as the stress crept up on me and consumed me, and my optimism wavered, I imagined ghosts, curses and other menaces invading my farm to destroy my hopes and dreams. I got sick, lost my job and consequently sold everything.
With my dreams shattered, and my self-esteem at rock-bottom, I knew I had no hope of securing another job, so I became a day-trader on the encouragement of a buddy of mine. I had a bit of luck almost as soon as I started, and built on it. But one day, as I stared at the computer screen with its graphs, data and talking heads, I thought of Sally.
This part of the story is long, so I’ll cut it to a bare minimum. I hired a top-notch private investigator and she infiltrated Sally’s circle of friends with ease. The golf course, the gym, the book club.
The PI told me that she found Sally to be a bitter, vindictive woman who must not be crossed and needed to be in control. She couldn’t help herself and asked me how on earth I got into a relationship with a woman like Sally. She said you only have to look into those cold, steel-grey eyes to see the iciness inside.
But it wasn’t long before the PI got close enough to Sally to share stories about past relationships. (I made the mistake of ending my relationship with Sally abruptly, on her birthday).
My hunch was right. Sally had sabotaged my life. She didn’t hold back as she told the PI how she’d contaminated the horses’ feed, poisoned the water troughs, infected the grooming brushes and done many other heinous, harmful things.
The PI was astounded, horrified and distraught that anyone could hurt beautiful, innocent horses, as she put it. I was relieved that there had been no ghosts or curses and thanked my lucky stars that Sally hadn’t burned the barn down with the horses in it.
I told the PI that I wasn’t going to report it.
She said she would take the case to the SPCA and that it was out of my hands. I gave her the vet bills, the specialist assessments, copies of x-rays and ultrasounds.
The upshot of all of this, is that Sally’s serving six months in jail for animal cruelty, starting yesterday, and I’m moving into my new farm today. And the PI is moving in tomorrow.
The horses arrive next week. I can afford first-rate security systems and I’m using them. No horse is going to suffer again, through human interference, on my watch.
We’ll soon be able to sit on the verandah and gaze at the horses. And, with a glass of wine each, we’ll toast our future in the horse-racing business.
Queen’s Plate, here we come!
Vicky Earle Copyright 2019
Friday, 10 May 2019
I have just finished reading Vimy by Ted Barris, and his detailed and thoughtful description of what the soldiers endured brought back the little I know about my mother's father. Here is the only picture I have of him, and it was taken in Canada which is strange...
The following story is based on research my sister and I have undertaken about our grandfather.
The setting of the interview with the writer is fictional.
I’d like to thank my sister for her assistance in providing information that helped me in writing this piece.
Some words are in italics - this is because I used this piece as my word challenge story - the Uxbridge Writers' Circle members' stories each incorporated these words.
More Questions Than Answers
He wouldn’t talk to me. He wouldn’t tell me anything about the war. It wasn’t until a writer came to meet my grandfather, while he visited from England, that I was able to convince him to share some of his story. The writer interviewed veterans who had served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the First World War. For some inexplicable reason, my grandfather became enraptured by this stranger, but still didn’t give away much of his past.
I waited for him to dismiss me from the room, but he appeared to be oblivious of my presence. I sat in a chair in the corner, a little behind him, and waited to soak up his secrets like a sponge.
The first question I had was what was he doing in Canada in 1916? He wasn’t asked so I didn’t find out and I still haven’t to this day.
The writer asked why he had joined the army. Yes, he’d heard some stories about the horrors of the war, but he had a duty to do his part. Couldn’t let those Germans take over the world.
I could imagine the twinkle in his grey eyes as he told the writer that he was part of the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles. His shoulders straightened when he said that he was a horseman first and foremost. He squared those shoulders when asked about his experience with horses, and explained that he was an expert in horse care, you see, as well as a proficient equestrian. Why, he’d been a jockey in Vancouver.
He lived in Courtenay, BC at the time of enlistment. No, he wasn’t a Canadian Citizen. He was born in Oxford, England.
I know he had a daughter in England and on his attestation paper he states he is married – to his first wife who I’d thought died years before. He lies about his age in order to be accepted into the BC Bantams as they were known. He was 43, but, on the form, he claims he’s 36. He was only five-feet tall, and hadn’t met height criteria to enlist, but the creation of the 143rd Battalion with their lower height requirements, provided the opportunity. He told the writer none of this, however.
He said that even though he was older than nearly all of the recruits, and short, he was fit and strong because of the physical work he did. He didn’t elaborate, but my mother said he worked at lumber camps primarily caring for the horses.
He folded his arms and said that the training camp was tough but fun too. And he was glad of all that he learned once he finally arrived in France. He knew how to lay railway tracks, dig trenches, excavate tunnels, load ammunition, carry heavy loads and cool the big artillery with water. He was disappointed that he ended up with the infantry. He missed working with horses. But the regular rum ration always felt good and gave him a boost.
The writer asked what he liked least about the war – was it the killing? He fidgeted and looked out of the window. I thought he would be too disturbed to answer, but he turned back to face the writer. No, it was seeing his mates trudging up the hill in muck and slime, as if they were under the spell of a pied piper, who led them to their death or worse. And trying not to look at these brave boys, as they lay in shell holes, blown to pieces. And hearing the injured cry out in pain, their screams piercing the roar and thunder of the guns.
Tears welled up in my eyes. I thought I’d choke. But the writer continued with no emotion in his voice. After all, he’d heard it all before.
Did he get injured? Yes. He got hit by mustard gas. A yellow-green cloud descended like an evil menace. He said he had to take off his fogged-up gas mask to load the big gun. He grabbed the arms of his chair and coughed. He mumbled something about pain, the sensation of burning as if his insides were suffering a sudden severe drought, and later enormous blisters on his arms and left side. But his eyes got better.
My mother had mentioned skin grafts when I asked about Grandpa’s paler patches of skin. He’d got burned, was all that she would say. I don’t know how extensive the skin grafts were and I’m not sure if I could tell them apart from scars left by the blisters, even if I’d had the opportunity to study them. I’ve found out that the gas would settle like an oily liquid, and seep through uniforms. Not usually fatal, but extremely painful and debilitating.
After he was injured, he returned to the South Camp at Seaford in England, but he wouldn’t say anything about where or how he was treated for his exposure to mustard gas. He jumped to 1919 when he was married for the second time, this time to a first cousin, Alice. I had been told that they were second cousins. I stifled a gasp. He and Alice were the parents of my mother.
The marriage certificate, a copy of which I saw later, stated that his profession was Sergeant, but there is no record of his promotion in the Canadian Expeditionary Force data base.
I was surprised that he shared his marriage to his first cousin with the stranger, but he made no mention of his daughter. I don’t know where his daughter was during his training in BC and in England, or during his deployment overseas, and his rehabilitation.
As if the sharing of his experience at the front had exhausted him, my grandfather wouldn’t give the writer any additional material for his book.
At the time, I’d done no research into my family history, and only knew what my mother had told me, which I’ve since learned is not accurate. Who told the untruths, I don’t know.
The writer used none of my grandfather’s story in his book, but in the meantime, my sister and I have done some research, which, so far, has raised more questions than answers. He died at the incredible age of 84 without revealing any more of his past.
Friday, 26 April 2019
Although I've been a writer of cozy mysteries for a few years, I only recently heard of "Sisters in Crime". So I thought I would share this discovery!
"Sisters in Crime" SinC is not what you might assume it to be: it is an organization comprised of "authors, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers, and librarians bound by our passion for the mystery genre and our support of women who write crime fiction".
While the organization is based in the US, there is a Toronto Chapter that holds monthly meetings. I have been to two - and they were both worth the drive from Uxbridge to Yonge and Eglinton. In the most recent meeting, the panel members were Maureen Jennings (of Murdoch Mysteries fame) as well as Desmond Ryan, Lisa De Nikolitis, Mary Lou Dickinson and Sharon Crawford. In the earlier meeting I attended, Jack David, ECW Press, made a presentation providing useful insight into the publishing of mysteries/thrillers.
I participated in a SinC webinar, available free to members, the other day which was offered by Tiffany Yates Martin, FoxPrint Editorial - "The 10 Biggest Mistakes Writers Make". It covered plot versus story, character, suspense, tension, and much more. Tiffany stated that every single scene must move the story forward.
Also, SinC issue a great newsletter!
If you are a fellow author of mysteries (males are welcome as well, by the way) I recommend that you consider membership in Sisters in Crime. While there is a fee for belonging to SinC National and for joining SinC Toronto Chapter SinC Toronto , my current assessment is that these are sound investments.
I'll keep you posted on how this works for me!
Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Holding Her Head High
The hunger pains were like arrows that pierced her stomach, but Marie held her head high. The small brim of her hat rippled in the breeze and her grey dress fluttered about her legs. She chose not to look at any of the German flags that hung on, or flapped above, nearly every beautiful old stone building in Paris. And she’d grown accustomed to the presence of the rigid, expressionless Nazis who guarded the doorways to these familiar places.
That didn’t mean she accepted the foreign occupation of her beloved country. To her mind, it wasn’t an occupation, it was a plunder and rape of France. But what pained her most of all was that this feeling was not universal. Many of her co-patriots assisted the Nazis. They squealed on their friends, neighbours and even their families. The Vichy Government believed that the Germans would be the victors in the war, and so did many of her friends. They thought it was prudent to be on the winning side, and that it was pointless to show any resistance. In fact, it would be dangerous to do so, they pointed out, since the Germans had become more and more brutal as the months and years passed.
Marie had just heard, first thing that morning, that François, a fellow member of the resistance, had been shot. She’d found that out through the underground communication network – a complicated, crucial web of informers. François had been caught cutting telephone lines. He was only eighteen.
Although she was devastated by the murder of François, and her legs wobbled, Marie continued her walk, doing her best to act as if she was a nonchalant pedestrian, so as not to attract attention. She couldn’t let any of her feelings show.
She’d recently made her dress out of a summer bedspread, using a small white linen tablecloth to make the collar and cuffs. She did all that she could to look chic. She wouldn’t allow herself to contribute in any way to the satisfaction of the Germans. No shampoo? Stuff your hair under a hat. Clothes worn-out or stolen? Make new ones from other things. Do not look shabby. Maintain your dignity. Don’t let them get you down.
She swung her handbag a little as she walked past the café, which now had the atmosphere of a morgue – cold and lifeless. Two years ago, she’d had a glass of wine and shared a joke with her brother as they sat at one of the ornate metal tables outside. But he had been taken by the Nazis and was now a slave in Germany.
Her face must not betray her. She must complete her important mission. The two forged passports were hidden in the lining of her handbag, and the one-page news bulletin, cut into eight pieces, had been sewn into the hem of her dress.
Two German officers marched towards her. They laughed and pointed at her. She averted her eyes, but one of the men grabbed her arm as she attempted to pass. She understood little German, but deciphered enough to realize that they promised her food in exchange for sex. She laughed, and said “non” three times. The officers became more belligerent and the grip on her arm tightened.
A woman pushing a pram on the other side of the street, stopped, pulled out a MP-40 (stolen from the Nazis) from under the blankets and shot the Germans before they had a chance to register what happened.
Marie ran – adrenalin gave her the strength and stamina to navigate the streets to safety. She didn’t hear what happened to the woman. Perhaps she’d been assigned by the resistance to protect her and what she carried.
A couple of days later, the Gestapo murdered twenty innocent French people in reprisal. Marie’s outrage at the cruelty and brutality of the occupiers made her even more determined to make a difference. She wanted, ached, to be more than a courier. It was her duty to her brother, to her country and to François.
The news bulletin that she had delivered to an underground printer, contained a short article on a couple of acts of sabotage that had created significant disruption in the manufacture of supplies for the Nazis. Sabotage. That’s what she wanted to do.
Marie’s determination and stubbornness, as well as her courage, led her to being accepted into a small group that planned to sabotage strategic railway lines which the Nazis used to move supplies for the war. Under cover of darkness, Marie’s group removed the bolts which held track lengths together. Sometimes this would disrupt trains for a few hours, but sometimes it resulted in derailments and more serious set-backs for the enemy.
Although her brother didn’t return from Germany, Marie survived the war. She was an unsung hero, as many French women were. Although she didn’t receive recognition for her work, she knew she’d done what she could. She held her head high until her death at eighty-nine years old.
Vicky Earle Copyright 2019
PS and check out a micro-story called "The Bridge": The Bridge
Friday, 1 March 2019
For the month of March, the first two e-books in the Meg Sheppard Mystery Series are available at reduced prices for those of you who haven't had a chance to read them yet.
Because I'm editing my third book in the series and I'm sure that once you've read the first two, you'll want to read the third!
Here are the links which will connect you to each book at your favourite e-book retailer:
What Happened to Frank?
Over Frank's Dead Body
And please leave a review!
If you prefer the soft-cover version, they'll continue to be available at Blue Heron Books, Uxbridge Ontario until mid-April. Also, Books Galore in Port Perry has a couple of copies.
Tuesday, 29 January 2019
"The grass is growing at last and the horses are nibbling its fresh, brilliant-green blades. Just Eagle and Bullet are home at my farm. Rose and Speed are back at the racetrack where optimism and spirits run high as a new season of thoroughbred horse-racing begins. I miss them, but I'm looking forward to seeing them train and race.
Instead of leaning on the oak-rail fence watching and listening, I could be packing to leave for a vacation with William. But we had our first passionate disagreement this morning and there's a residual shiver tingling along my spine: like an aftershock. He told me that he got a fantastic deal on a last-minute booking. He bought a short vacation at a resort in Cuba for both of us, as a surprise. But it was more like a bolt out of the blue for me. And the surprise for him is that I'm not going."
Wish me luck as I work on the slow and careful process of editing over 80,000 words! Don't feel sorry for me though - I enjoy all aspects of writing a novel, including editing!
And I love to write short stories. I have posted two more which I wrote to share at recent Uxbridge Writers' Circle uxbridgewriterscircle.blogspot.ca meetings. You can find them here:Short Stories
And if you still haven't read the first two books in the Meg Sheppard Mystery Series, they are available at Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge and at Books Galore in Port Perry, and as e-books at all your favourite e-book retailers!