What Pegman Saw – Follower

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. Many thanks to Karen and Josh for organising this most stimulating prompt!

WPS - Follower 190601

Balbulol Dive Resort, Indonesia | Lera 76, Google Maps

Follower

He’s here again, not doing anything, just sitting and watching me.

At first he hid. He’s bolder now, in plain view.

I chant invocations as I shovel ash from a bonfire into a sack and put it into my outrigger. Nine and ninety days it has sat in sun and rain, and now it’s ready to bless the land and the sea.

I paddle hard for hours, and as I approach the atoll the sun is at its zenith. Has my pursuer had the stamina to keep up with me? I can’t see him. Perhaps the heat has overcome him? I shrug. If it has, he will not do.

I have been quick. The sun must be three-quarters through her journey before I scatter the ash. I eat and drink, and, behold, my hunter paddles slowly to the beach. His head droops.

He’ll do. I shall make him my apprentice.

Friday Fictioneers – Dark Matter

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

PHOTO PROMPT (C) Douglas M. MacIlroy

Dark Matter

Trevor had picked up the letter from the hospital as he left for work; and then forgotten it as he focussed on his application for time on the Keck telescope in Hawaii. It wasn’t until the afternoon tea-break that he read it.

“Sperm count – very low; quality – poor. Conception is essentially impossible.”

Trevor swallowed hard. It was his fault Fiona had been unable to conceive! How on earth was he going to tell her?

Her smiling face as he arrived home that evening seemed particularly joyful.

“I had some wonderful news today,” she said. “We’re going to have a baby!”

Inlinkz – click here to join the fun!   

Friday Fictioneers – A hearty breakfast 2

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

PHOTO PROMPT (C) ROCHELLE WISOFF-FIELDS

A hearty breakfast 2

A savour of bacon filled the cell. Hank looked over the fried breakfast at Roberto’s gun, bulging in its holster.

“How can I change your mind about – erm, shooting me?”

“Not my call,” shrugged Roberto, “Hurry up.”

“I could get cash out of my account.”

“That’s not what you said yesterday.”

Hank rubbed his bruised chin.

“I lied,” he admitted. “I could lay my hands on $100,000.”

Roberto sniggered. “Eat up,” he said.

“That would be today. Give me three days and I can raise $500,000.”

“Make that a million and I’ll ask the boss.”

Hank gulped. “OK,” he said.

Inlinkz – Click here to join the fun

Friday Fictioneers – A hearty breakfast

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

PHOTO PROMPT (C) ROCHELLE WISOFF-FIELDS

A hearty breakfast

The delicious smell of frying bacon insinuated itself into Hank’s dream. He half-smiled, then grimaced as the pain of his bruised jaw woke him up. The light came on and Roberto, the less brutal of his guards, approached with a tray.

He set it down in front of Hank. Bacon, sausage, mushrooms, eggs, beans, toast and coffee.

“What’s up?”

“Your ransom hasn’t been paid.”

“So? – Hey, is this for me?”

“Sure.”

Hank tried one of the fried eggs.

“Perfect!”

“We’re gonna shoot you when you’ve finished. You know what they say: “The condemned man…”

Suddenly, Hank wasn’t hungry any more.

Inlinkz – click here to join the fun!

Friday Fictioneers – Included

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

PHOTO PROMPT © BRENDA COX

Included

I watched the boy in a wheelchair as he gazed at the gaudy carousel, with its bobbing, gilt-maned steeds. It had a mechanical organ, which was infusing an old Beatles song with melancholy.

With a rumble, one of the new trams passed between us, steel wheels squealing against steel track, eclipsing both sound and sight.

When it had gone, I saw the carousel operator and the boy’s father lifting the wheelchair onto the carousel and securing it near the edge of the platform.

The carousel revolved, the organ played a Sousa march, and the boy looked out – and beamed.

Inlinkz – click here to join in the fun!

Flash Fiction – Commitment

Commitment

The front door slams, jerking me to full awareness of my whisky hangover.

The place beside me is empty, the bedding cold. Angela’s suitcase and her yellow coat are gone.

How could I have been such a fool?

She had looked so lovely yesterday, blue eyes sparkling.

I lever myself out of bed, groan, pull on yesterday’s clothes. Perhaps I can catch her before she gets the bus to Manchester at 8 o’clock? The red roses I’d bought her reproach me from the floor.

Wincing, I jog; it’s the only way I’ll make it before she leaves. I take the stairs of an underpass two at a time, pounding feet offering a counterpoint to the litany of excuses in my aching head. Do I really fear commitment so much?

I barge through the crowds at the bus station.

07:59 A large man drops a large suitcase right in my path, and I stumble into it. “Oi! Watch where you’re going,” he snarls.

08:00 I look across the crush to the bay where her bus is waiting, and see a flash of yellow. She enters. The bus door closes and the bus starts to move.

Friday Fictioneers – Fresh Start

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

PHOTO PROMPT © ROGER BULTOT

An apology to Rochelle. When I first accessed the prompt this morning, my computer didn’t give me Roger’s prompt, so I went with Rochelle’s photo.

Fresh Start

White, pinched faces. Clothes that had once been smart, now heavy with grime and the sweat of fear.

The older woman kept glancing apprehensively at the younger, seeking reassurance. She sat lop-sided, as if she had been injured and never quite recovered.

“You are from Armenia?” I suggested. I could only imagine what they had been through.

The two women exchanged glances, and then the younger nodded assent.

“I have friends who will take care of you, if you like. They will help you learn English.”

The younger spoke to her companion, who wept.

“Thank you, sir,” she answered.

Inlinkz – click here to join the fun!

Book review – Back When We Were Grownups, by Anne Tyler

Book review – Back When We Were Grownups, by Anne Tyler

Title – Back When We Were Grownups

Genre – Literary Fiction

Author – Anne Tyler

First published – 2001

Edition reviewed – 2002 (Vintage)

Enjoyment rating – 8/10

There are no spoilers in this review

*        *        *

Review

The novel starts with the sentence, “Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.”

The woman is fifty-three-year-old Rebecca Davitch, and the whole novel is constructed around this opening sentence. Rebecca wants – needs, even – to know whether the insight is true, and, if it is, what she can do about it.

She seems to be a joyous and extroverted person. Her late husband, Joe Davitch, had owned a large and rather distinguished house that he used as the basis of a business hosting parties; all sorts of parties, from children’s birthday parties to wedding anniversary parties.

“I was very different as a young woman,” thinks Rebecca. “I was quiet and serious. That was the real me.” How had she become such an outgoing person?

Everything had changed when she jilted her studious fiancé in favour of a whirlwind romance leading to marriage to Joe. The novel’s plot is based on Rebecca’s efforts to understand this event. This is worked through carefully and with insight.

There aren’t any sub-plots as such, but Rebecca’s daily life constantly intrudes on her search for understanding and fulfilment. Such is the quality of the writing that every scene from Rebecca’s life tells us more about her character, and more about her true nature.

The novel concludes with a ‘set piece’ of writing, which is an absolute tour de force. It’s an inspired way of finishing the story of Rebecca’s quest. It takes place in the midst of a party (where else?) and it sets the emotional tone perfectly. It’s satisfying, it’s beautiful, and it’s moving. It’s marvellously crafted, and I admire the hell out of it!

Friday Fictioneers – Only a cold

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

PHOTO PROMPT © DALE ROGERSON

Only a cold

It was one of those late fall days, when clouds smear the sun like ice-cream and a chill wind rattles the last leaves.

Pastor Nicholas was coughing in the hallway

“It’s only a cold,” he said, irritably, to his wife, Maisie, and he slammed the door as he set off to visit his parishioners.

Maisie had made him a packed lunch, but he left it unopened. Despite his exhaustion he could feel God working through him, healing broken lives.

That night, Maisie had to call an ambulance. “Pneumonia, exacerbated by overwork,” said the hospital. Maisie was devastated when Nicholas died.

Inlinkz – click here to join the fun!

Friday Fictioneers – The security of wealth

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

PHOTO PROMPT © LIZ YOUNG

The Security of Wealth

Gold, silver and crystal thrust skyward in gigantic whorls that scattered mazy gleams from a myriad brilliant points. The billionaire looked and beheld that it was good.

People, ant-like, came from the slums and worked in the hotel of shiny surfaces, cleaning, toting bags, serving, making beds, all for the comfort of the guests. And if they were lucky the ants received tips. And if they weren’t tipped, they can’t have done a good job.

And that night, the billionaire felt his heart constrict, counted his racing pulse, sweated with the agony in his chest – and died.

Inlinkz – Click here to join the fun!

Book review – The Miniaturist

Book Review – The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton

Title – The Miniaturist

Genre – Literary Fiction

Author – Jessie Burton

First published – 2014

Edition reviewed – 2017, by Picador

Enjoyment rating – 6/10

There are no spoilers in this review

Overview

Petronella (Nella) Brandt is a country girl, the newly-wed bride of wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt of Amsterdam. She arrives in Amsterdam to join a household of four people; her husband, Johannes; his sister, Marin; his man servant, Otto; and his sister’s maid servant, Cornelia. She has to learn how to fit in with the family, each of whom has secrets, in a city whose sole yardstick of value is wealth.

Or is it? Johannes gives Nella a realistic model of her new house as a wedding present. Nella wants model people to occupy it and contacts a miniaturist to make them. When they arrive, they are uncannily accurate and detailed. Furthermore, they seem to reflect events that are happening in the full-size house.

The sins of the present begin to reveal the secrets of the past, not just to the household but to men of power and influence, men who have no reason for covering them up. Slowly a storm of malice raises a surge that threatens to sweep away the household. How much will Nella be able to preserve?

Criticism

Despite its title, the book is not really about the model house, the seemingly prophetic dolls and the woman who makes them – the miniaturist. These are plot devices to keep you turning pages – which they do successfully. They are also part of an extended metaphor about the powerlessness of the inhabitants of the full-size house to be able to shape their own destiny. The miniaturist herself, we discover, is trying to build a professional life in a world where a woman is simply not allowed to do that.

And this is the heart of the novel. It is the struggle by each of the women, Nella, Marin, Cornelia and the miniaturist, to achieve self-realisation in a world where a woman’s only value in society is as a wife and mother.

I don’t think the novel fully delivers on this. It’s a feeling rather than analysis, but the characters’ motivations seem rather sketchy, and perhaps even unlikely. This hinders rather than prevents the development of the reader’s sympathy for the characters, and certainly I felt enough for them that the narrative hooks kept me reading.

Finally, the quality of the writing. Brilliant. Beautiful. Compelling. I’m not going to reveal the climax of the novel, but it’s clearly been constructed with intense care and the effect is dazzling.