Sticky June: 2013 365 Challenge #173

Summer skies

Summer skies

Trying to write my Claire post today, it was hard to remember what the weather was like back in April.

It’s hot and humid here, with a promise of summer storms. I thought; What I need is a seasons dictionary, like the emotion thesaurus. So today’s post is dedicated to a freewrite on June in all its sticky glory. It is the summer equinox after all.

By the way, I reserve my copyright to the idea of a seasons dictionary, if it doesn’t exist already! Ha ha.

Seasons. June

Sticky with life, the hedgerows spill over with nettles and cow parsley, messy and exuberant. Yellow oil seed rape paints every field in luminous colour. The sky, high and hot, is the hue of murky water after a watercolour is finished. Clouds promise rain. Bees buzz in a range of pitches, their busy sound adding to the heat and exhaustion. Trees heavy with leaves, their glory days of spring colour over.

A sense of waiting. Waiting for the storm, humidity rising. Sticky sweat trickling down into the bra and between the shoulder blades. Children hot and cranky or laughing too loudly as they run through the fountains or play in the water.

Dog pants, running slow and heavy-footed. Pheasants call their two-noted cry in the distance while, nearby, the intermittent song of the sparrow, blackbird and thrush fills the silence. The brash beep beep of a reversing tractor cuts through the peace, a reminder that, somewhere, despite the heat, people are working hard. Flies swim and swoop in the heavy air, irritating the skin and blocking the way.

The ground is hard beneath my boots, waiting for the rain. My steps startle a bird and it flies abruptly from the undergrowth, the wing-beats quick and loud in the air. Sheep sit motionless, even their short shorn locks too hot for comfort.

Trees heavy with leaves

Trees heavy with leaves

Everywhere abundant life, busy and quiet, eager and waiting, living, growing. Winter a distant memory, but an ever present threat. Grow, now, while there’s sunlight, warmth and water. Grow and keep growing.

The pods hang on the oil seed rape plants. Soon the flowers will blacken and die. The plants will die and yield their crop. The corn is still green. Farmers hope for a better harvest. One not drowned by relentless rain. Thinking the words seems to bring the promised downpour. Heavy drops splat into dry soil & sizzle on hot skin. One drop, two.

Footsteps quicken, heading for home and shelter. The dog wants to stay in the river, in the cool. Home now. Your coat is waterproof, mine is not. That smell of rain, wet dust and the scent of flowers as the drops release their fragrance. A breeze comes with the rain, cooling sticky skin. The rain is fresh. Footsteps slow. Let it rain.

Remember the washing on the line and speed up again.


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire drove past the sign and smiled. “At last, I’ve left the country! What a shame it’s only the border from England to Wales, rather than, say, France into Spain.”

The small sign with the red dragon was the only way Claire knew she had crossed into Wales. The road wound on ahead of her, just the same as she had been driving on since leaving the hostel. Welsh countryside stretched around her in a myriad of green hues. Her destination was Brecon, the namesake town of the Brecon Beacons that nestled at their foot. Claire had skimmed through the town’s website before leaving Kington, and had decided it would be the perfect place for lunch.

Before long, Claire could see the spire of the Norman Cathedral heralding her approach into town. She checked her phone: There was just time for a wander before her appointment at the Llangorse Activity Centre.

Claire experimented with the unfamiliar Welsh word, putting her tongue to the roof of her mouth in an attempt to repeat the clu of the Ll sound. After three or four attempts she decided to make sure there was no need to ask for directions.

Gazing around her at the pretty shop fronts and historic buildings that made up Brecon, Claire realised she was trying not to dwell on her afternoon activity.

Come on, Claire, don’t be such a baby. You’ve done this a few times now. It keeps the lovely Jules off your back and provides plenty for the blog in the way of high-adrenalin activity.

She shivered and felt an ache in her tummy, a sensation she realised brought with it a memory of Josh.


Claire closed her eyes, clenched her jaw, and stepped forwards.

“That’s it, Claire. Well done. Try opening your eyes, the view is amazing.” The deep voice ended in a chuckle, as Claire’s face remained scrunched up.

Wind whistled past her face, brushing tendrils of hair away from her sweaty brow. Prising open one eyelid a fraction, Claire looked ahead. Some way beneath her, approaching fast, was a wooden platform with several people standing on it. Behind it she could see the blur of blue that indicated the presence of the lake, and two more wires zagging off to the right and down the hill.

Blood pumped in her ears, blocking out the whoosh of the wind and the cheers of encouragement from below. Despite her closed lids, perhaps through a change in the air, Claire sensed something looming up ahead. Before she could open her eyes, tree branches surrounded her face and she slid to a halt. Hands reached out to unclip her from the wire, before leading her forwards to clip her onto the next one.

Not again. Claire had done one zip wire before, as part of the Tree Trek. One was a challenge, for someone terrified of heights.

“How many have I got left to do?” Claire could hear the wobble in her voice. Get a grip, girl.

“You’re on your third, so you’ve still got a dozen left. Awesome, right?” Claire felt the enthusiasm emanating from the guide in waves, and resisted the urge to push him off the platform to the ground 20 feet below.

Swallowing the metallic taste in her mouth, Claire nodded feebly and managed one more nod when the guide gave the signal to ask if she was ready to go again.

Yes, go on, get it over with.

Scrunching her eyes shut once more, Claire felt the platform fall away behind her, and let gravity do the rest.


Using the Senses: 2013 365 Challenge #143

The fields of oil seed rape

The fields of oil seed rape

Good writing is all about recreating a sensation for the reader: an emotion, an experience, a place. To do this we are taught to use all the senses; to show rather than tell. It’s probably one of the hardest parts of writing to do well. I know it’s not one of my strengths.

I do try to include smells and sounds as naturally as possible but it tends to be an element added in a later draft rather than intrinsically there from the beginning. Which is odd because I do live in all my senses. I’m very sensitive to sounds and smells. A piece of music, bird song. Even the dog that’s been yapping at the vacuum cleaner next door all morning, these all create the mood of my day.

As I write this I’m walking through a field of oil seed rape, a plant that gives off a very strong smell. One with equally powerful memories for me. I am instantly transported to my childhood, around ten or eleven, when I would run through the fields with my two best friends at the time – both boys, not that it mattered at that age. We ran free and hid in the fields, racing along the tractor lines between the tall yellow plants.

Even though I smell the darn stuff every year, and have developed an allergy to it in later life so that it makes my eyes itch, the memory that sticks is that one from 25 years ago. Year after year, the smell of the crop reinforces that memory.

I guess the problem with trying to introduce that effect into my writing is that smells always seem to take me off on a tangent, to a memory that bears no relation to my current situation. Still, it would probably be good to dig out some of my old writing exercises on the senses and have a refresher. Find some better way to invoke the senses than endlessly writing about thudding hearts and the smell of aftershave.


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire watched the sensuous lips moving, aware she had no idea what words were being spoken. With a mental shake she tuned back into the conversation.

“…wouldn’t stop coughing, right by the Number Three speaker. I had to ask Simon to offer the woman a throat sweet. I mean, what can you do? I couldn’t throw them out the cathedral for coughing, but it was live on Radio Three. A dreadful dilemma.”

Anthony turned a worried frown towards Claire, seeking reassurance that he had done the right thing offering the persistent cougher a Halls. Realising some response was required, Claire nodded, as if discussing the viral ailments of visitors to Lincoln Cathedral was everyday fare. “I’m sure you did the right thing. So very selfish, coming to a concert with a cough.”

She was rewarded with a grateful smile that caused forgotten regions of her body to flutter in a disturbing way. Cupping her hands around her giant, sadly empty, coffee mug, Claire dredged her mind for a new topic of conversation. Hopefully a more stimulating one.

You’d think being in charge of recording concerts for BBC Radio would be an interesting job. Turns out I was wrong. How disappointing that every job is dull when it’s your job.

“Where to next then, Anthony? What marvellous audio delights do you have to share with the nation?”

Anthony looked vaguely perplexed, as if Claire had spoken in a foreign tongue.

Come on, my accent isn’t so very different from yours, though not nearly so appealing. She gave a small shiver of pleasure. Claire found the Scottish brogue inexplicably sexy, particularly when she was able to understand the words being spoken. Anthony’s silence gave her an excuse to gaze at his attractive face without hiding a yawn.

At last he translated her words in his head, and his face fell, like a school boy discovering he’d got double Latin next instead of Games.

“Opera.” He shuddered, so comically that Claire had to stifle a laugh when she realised he was in earnest. “Britten. The Turn of the Screw.”

Never heard of it. I’m such a philistine.

“Not that I’ve ever heard of it,” Anthony added. “But Opera, eugh. At least it’s back in London, at the Barbican.” He glanced at his watch, as if only now realising he had to get from Lincoln to London in time to oversee set up.

“Christ, is that the time?” He pushed his chair back with a nerve-wrenching screech, and spilt the remainder of his half-drunk latte across the table. Claire stood up just as swiftly, to avoid coffee spilling into her lap. She looked up at Anthony’s soft, wavy hair, the kissable lips, the heavenly eyes framed by eyelashes that wouldn’t look out of place on a cow.

He would be a worthy replacement for Josh in my dreams. If he wasn’t such a boring idiot.

Claire held her hand out to the frazzled man, who took it with a weak grasp, leaning forwards to plant a kiss on her ear, before fleeing the coffee shop.

“Bye,” Claire said to the empty space in front of her. Then she collapsed back onto her chair and gave in to the storm of laughter swirling in her breast.