Monthly Archives: March 2019

Geoff Le Pard's reminiscences of school days

School Days, Reminiscences of Geoff Le Pard

Welcome to the School Days, Reminiscences series in which my champion bloggers and authors share reminiscences of their school days. It’s my small way of thanking them for their support and of letting you know about their services and publications.

This week, I am pleased to introduce Geoff Le Pard, author, blogger, humourist and all-round nice guy. I met Geoff through Anne Goodwin, if I remember correctly. We engaged in conversations on Anne’s blog first, then followed each other and engaged in conversations on each other’s blogs too.

Anne and Geoff had already been lucky enough to meet in person on a writing course, but I hadn’t known either for long when I visited family in London for the first time in 2014. I very timidly emailed Geoff and asked if he’d like to meet up. (This was prior to the Bloggers’ Bash of which Geoff is now on the organising committee and I didn’t yet know of any other instances of bloggers meeting up.)

I was both anxious and thrilled when Geoff, Anne and Lisa all agreed we’d meet up at the British Library. I think we were all wondering if these ‘strangers’ were who they said they were or if they might be potential axe murderers. Fortunately, though some of us may have a been a bit stranger than others, none were axe murderers and we had a very pleasant afternoon together.

Norah, Anne, Geoff, Lisa beside the lock

Since that auspicious occasion, Geoff has entertained thousands, if not millions, of readers with his blog posts that are sometimes hilarious, sometimes serious, often compassionate and always with his own tangent on life, love and anything in between. He has published four novels, three anthologies and one memoir. I have no hesitation in recommending them to you.

But perhaps we should get to the real purpose of this post, which is to provide Geoff with an opportunity of sharing his reminiscences of school.

Before we begin the interview though, I’ll allow Geoff to tell you a little of himself:

Geoff Le Pard started writing to entertain in 2006. He hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels he writes some maudlin self-indulgent poetry, short fiction and blogs at geofflepard.com. He walks the dog for mutual inspiration and most of his best ideas come out of these strolls. He also cooks with passion if not precision.

Welcome, Geoff.

Let’s talk school. First, could you tell us where you attended school?

My schooling started at 3 at Miss Stark’s nursery school in a large house about half a mile from home (mum walked me everyday). From there, at 5, I went to Maple Road Primary in Whyteleafe, in leafy Surrey this time about 2 miles away (I caught the bus – until I was 6 with mum, after that with my older brother (he was one year older). At 11 I moved to a local Grammar school, Purley Grammar school for boys, about 4 miles from home (I cycled) until I was 12 when the family moved to south Hampshire and joined Brockenhurst High School, also a Grammar, where I stayed until 16 when I moved into the adjacent sixth form college until 18 (the school was seven miles away and involved a daily train journey after a cycle ride).

Did you attend a government, private or independent school?

The nursery was private but the remaining schooling was Local education authority funded. Grammar schools were an attempt by the post war governments to give the best equivalent of a private education to those who couldn’t afford it. To enter you had to pass your 11 plus. I failed mine, had an interview as I was ‘borderline’ (makes it sound like it was a mental health issue) and was granted a place – I still think Paddington Bear was my saviour – this post explains my reason for thinking that.

What is the highest level of education you achieved?

I went through the sixth form, took four A levels (two maths, history and French plus S level maths – not sure what the ‘S’ stood for but it was meant to be equivalent of first or second year at uni – I managed 100% I was told – get me, much good it did me) and then attended University (Law, at Bristol University), and later in life went again for a masters (Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam)

Geoff Le Pard's highest level of education

What work or profession did you choose after school and was there anything in school that influenced this choice?

I chose a law degree at Uni that lead to a career in the Law. I can cite the following influences from school:

  • One of my school friends had already chosen law and it sounded cool;
  • I went to a careers’ evening organised at school and the two reps from Southampton University were law lecturers and they were the coolest people there
  • My maths teacher wanted me to go to Cambridge and do maths and he was anything but cool

What is your earliest memory of school?

The sandpit at nursery and the leather indoor slide and being made to stand in the corner for running when told not to.

I recall the terror of my first day at primary school, the sun in my eyes through the high windows and all the other children; I also remember the old fashioned radio speaker on the wall – a large wooden box with a brass speaker in the middle and listening to a story on it. There was a separate playground for the first and second forms (years 1 and 2 nowadays) with a high wire fence around it, like a tennis court that we stared through, like caged animals, at the older children in their playground

What memories do you have of learning to read?

I’m pretty sure I could read before I went to primary school but unlike my older brother I didn’t really enjoy it. I have to thank him for inadvertently (in the sense that I was an irritating little shadow who he needed to rid himself of) persevering in finding me books to read and converting me to the joys of reading. This post may give you a sense of my journey

What memories do you have of learning to write?

Ah me! Handwriting has never been a strength – a school report, noted in the post above, said I achieved a B in my handwriting exam and the remark from my teacher was ‘I don’t know how he managed it’). We had lined books in which we repeated our own take in cursive writing and mine were not things of beauty – again, perhaps I should indulge another post, here with examples of my work.

What do you remember about math classes?

I was always ‘good’ at maths (if you ignore the geometry report cited above – ‘utterly confused in exam – good term’s work’). I didn’t always grasp a concept immediately like some but it didn’t take long and I generally could work back though to first principles if taught properly.  For some time it looked as if maths was my way into university until I was lucky enough to have an inspirational history teacher in the sixth form (years 11 to 13 now) who taught me to widen my horizons. He was cool.

What was your favourite subject?

History and the more modern the better.

Geoff Le Pard tells what he liked best about school

What did you like best about school?

Play time, friends, being praised, winning badges, some school dinners and certain teachers. In secondary school I would add in sport and, after the age of 14, learning.

What did you like least about school?

Geography, biology, any sense I was in trouble, shepherd’s pie, girls until I was14 (my terror was different from there on) and certain teachers.

How do you think schools have changed since your school days?

Harder work, more pressure put overtly on children to perform (we had exams that were as difficult, we just weren’t bombarded with how important they were meant to be), a more rigorous structure to what they learn, less scope for great teachers to go off topic, far more Big Brother is watching you – we had scope to break rules, places to subvert – it seems today the rule breaking has to be in public and so is more likely to be chastised. I hear evidence that in certain places behaviour has degenerated but good teachers have always controlled classes. The punishment regime is less physical today and children are believed more than before. Perhaps the biggest changes are children are listened to more and teachers have less time to teach (or should that be to educate?)

What do you think schools (in general) do well?

When they do it well they inspire lifelong learning and in my experience that comes from the spark of an individual teacher capturing a child’s imagination. They give a child tools to learn, to teach, to educate him/herself – reading and writing and, no doubt today IT skills and after that to be inquiring, not to accept what they are told is the answer but to question – the ability to frame the right question is perhaps the greatest gift a teacher can give a pupil.

Geoff Le Pard says teachers need to teach children to ask questions

How do you think schools could be improved?

They can spend more time educating and less teaching. The tyranny of the curriculum is one of teaching’s greatest challenges. The notion that if you learn to a script and regurgitate that script and you will succeed is one of life’s top five fictions; no actor worth their salt merely delivers a script – they have to understand it, live it, get beneath and inside it. That is precisely the same with learning. Get beneath the surface, go round the back, take off the lid and see the workings and that way so much joy will be had and so many avenues will be opened. Good education acknowledges the world is round and that all we can ever do is proceed to the next horizon and see what’s there; bad teachers are education’s flat earthers.

 

thank you for your participation

Thank you for sharing your reminiscences of school and thoughts about education in general, Geoff. It’s been wonderful to have you here. I learned so much I didn’t already know about you. I enjoyed hearing your perspective on education and agree with much of what you had to say about it.

Find out more about Geoff Le Pard

on his blog

TanGental: Writing, the Universe and whatever occurs to me

and his author page

Geoff Le Pard’s Amazon Author Page

 

Geoff’s Books:

My Father and Other Liars by Geoff Le Pard

My Father and Other Liars is a thriller set in the near future and takes its heroes, Maurice and Lori-Ann on a helter-skelter chase across continents.

Smashwords

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle by Geoff Le Pard

Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle is a coming of age story. Set in 1976 the hero Harry Spittle is home from university for the holidays. He has three goals: to keep away from his family, earn money and hopefully have sex. Inevitably his summer turns out to be very different to that anticipated.

Smashwords

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Life in a Grain of Sand by Geoff Le Pard

Life in a Grain of Sand is a 30 story anthology covering many genres: fantasy, romance, humour, thriller, espionage, conspiracy theories, MG and indeed something for everyone. All the stories were written during Nano 2015

Smashwords

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Salisbury Square by Geoff Le Pard

Salisbury Square is a dark thriller set in present day London where a homeless woman and a Polish man, escaping the police at home, form an unlikely alliance to save themselves.

This is available here

Smashwords

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Buster and Moo by Geoff Le Pard

Buster & Moo is about two couples and the dog whose ownership passes from one to the other. When the couples meet, via the dog, the previously hidden cracks in their relationships surface and events begin to spiral out of control. If the relationships are to survive there is room for only one hero but who will that be?

Smashwords

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Life in a Flash by Geoff Le Pard

Life in a Flash is a set of super short fiction, flash and micro fiction that should keep you engaged and amused for ages

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Smashwords

 

Apprenticed to My Mother by Geoff Le Pard

Apprenticed To My Mother describes the period after my father died when I thought I was to play the role of dutiful son, while Mum wanted a new, improved version of her husband – a sort of Desmond 2.0. We both had a lot to learn in those five years, with a lot of laughs and a few tears as we went.

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Life in a Conversation by Geoff Le Pard

Life in a Conversation is an anthology of short and super short fiction that explores connections through humour, speech and everything besides. If you enjoy the funny, the weird and the heart-rending then you’ll be sure to find something here.

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

If you missed previous reminiscences, check them out here:

Charli Mills

Sally Cronin

Anne Goodwin

Look for future interviews in this series to be posted on Sunday evenings AEST.

Coming soon:

Hugh Roberts

Debby Gies

D. Avery

with more to follow.

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your comments. Please share your thoughts.

 

#WATWB March Indigenous Mindfulness app

#WATWB A mindfulness app for Indigenous Communities

For the past two years, on the last Friday of each month, We Are the World Blogfest has invited bloggers to join together in promoting positive news. This month they are celebrating their second anniversary. Now that’s an achievement. Thank you for helping to spread light on the world.

If you would like to join in by sharing “stories that show compassion and the resilience of the human spirit . . . (to increase) our awareness of hope in our increasingly dark world”, please check out the rules and links below.

This month, I am sharing a news article about Aboriginal women who created a mindfulness app in their own languages with the aim of improving mental health in Aboriginal communities.

Mental health and suicide, especially among young people, is a major issue for many Aboriginal communities. What I like about this project is that it is empowering the local communities to take actions that will contribute to improvements. That this is occurring in the International Year of Indigenous Languages, makes this project even more special.

The app combines singing, meditation and breathing exercises and combines ancient wisdom with western knowledge of mental health.

To find out more about this wonderful project, click here.

Here are the guidelines for #WATWB:

1. Keep your post to Below 500 words, as much as possible.

2. Link to a human news story on your blog, one that shows love, humanity, and brotherhood. Paste in an excerpt and tell us why it touched you. The Link is important, because it actually makes us look through news to find the positive ones to post.

3. No story is too big or small, as long as it Goes Beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD badge or banner on your Post and your Sidebar. Some of you have already done so, this is just a gentle reminder for the others.

5. Help us spread the word on social media. Feel free to tweet, share using the #WATWB hashtag to help us trend!

Tweets, Facebook shares, Pins, Instagram, shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month are most welcome. We’ll try and follow and share all those who post on the #WATWB hashtag, and we encourage you to do the same.

The co-hosts for this month are:   

Sylvia McGrath,
Damyanti Biswas,
Shilpa Garg,
Dan Antion,
and Belinda Witzenhausen

Please pop over to their blogs to read their stories, comment and share.

Click here to join in and enter the link to your post. The bigger the #WATWB group each month, the greater the joy!

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your comments. Please share your thoughts.

Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – #Family – Whose story is it anyway by Norah Colvin

I’m over at Sally Cronin’s wonderful blog this week, sharing a post from my archives about family history. Sally and I would love for you to pop over and have a read and share your thoughts.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

This is the second post from the archives of  educator and storyteller Norah Colvin and this week Norah shares her own experiences of telling real stories about family to young children, not just their immediate family but passing on living history about those relatives we have met but the younger generation may not have.

Whose story is it anyway by Norah Colvin

Nor and Bec reading
Children love stories. They love being read stories and beg for them to be read, over and over again.

Equally as much, if not more, they love being told stories, especially stories of their own lives. They beg for them to be told over and over, listening attentively and with wonder as their own stories (her story and his story) are being revealed. They commit these tales to memory so that eventually it is difficult to distinguish the genuine experiential memory from the telling. Even as adults they…

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water conservation on World Water Day

What’s water to you?

Last Friday 22 March was World Water Day.

Sustainable Development Goal 6 is crystal clear water for everybody by the year 2030.

Many of us living in developed countries take access to clean healthy water for granted. We turn on a tap and it is there. Even though it is free and plentiful, the sale of water in plastic bottles is increasing and the bottles are contributing greatly to the destruction of the environment.

If it seems crazy, it must seem especially so to those who live in places without access to regular supplies of clean water.

The figures quoted on the World Water Day website are astounding:

  • 2.1 billion people live without safe water at home
  • 1 in 4 primary schools have no drinking water service
  • about 159 million people collect their water from ponds and streams.

And so, the list continues with one horrifying statistic after another.

Water is essential for life, not only for drinking but also for many of our personal, societal and global everyday activities. According to business reports, it is even more precious than gold. Maybe we could live without gold, but we can’t live without water.

Learning about water — the water cycle, its uses, conservation and pollution — is an important part of everyone’s education. Sometimes we find teachers in the most unexpected places.

Bill Nye - everyone you meet can teach you something

Charli's flash fiction challenge a bucket of water

Not surprisingly, education is the theme I’ve taken in my response to the flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch this week to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a bucket of water. What is the condition of the water and what is the bucket for? Drop deep into the well and draw from where the prompt leads!

water more precious than gold

More Precious than Gold

The children observed the bucket.

Teacher explained, “Let’s find out about what’s in the bucket. Ask only ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions. Do not say what you think it is.”

Is it wet?” “Yes.”

Is it a liquid?” “Yes.”

Is it heavy?” “Try.” “Yes.”

Do we drink it?” “Does it come from clouds?” “Does it make puddles?”

“Yes. Yes. Yes.”

Is it more precious than gold?”

Don’t be stupid,” spluttered Andy. “It’s water!”

Teacher glared. Andy’s smirk dissolved.

Ahmed looked squarely at Andy. “In my country

Teacher closed the book. Ahmed’s lesson was more effective than any she’d prepare.

getting the most out of life

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

School Days Reminiscences of Anne Goodwin

School Days, Reminiscences of Anne Goodwin

Welcome to the School Days, Reminiscences series in which my champion bloggers and authors share reminiscences of their school days. It’s my small way of thanking them for their support and of letting you know about their services and publications.

This week, I am pleased to introduce Anne Goodwin, short story writer, novelist, reviewer and blogger … to list just a few of her many accomplishments.  Anne and I have been friends almost since the beginning of my blogging days and she has featured in my posts several times in the past, including here, here and here.

Anne was not the first person I met when I began blogging, but she is the earliest to still be with me on my journey. Interestingly, we met on Twitter where a discussion about singing (or not) led to a blog post and then countless conversations on her blog and mine for more than five years. She also supported me as co-judge for two years running in the Carrot Ranch Rodeo Flash Fiction Contests.

I had the pleasure of meeting Anne in London in 2014 when I was visiting family. We met at the British Library and, during the course of the day, Anne revealed a secret – she had secured a contract for her first novel Sugar and Snails. She was already a published and award-winning writer of short stories, but now she could add novelist to her achievements. I was thrilled to be one of the first to know and I told her that I was pleased to have known her before she became famous.

Since then Anne has published a second novel Underneath and is working towards publication of a third. Her most recent book Becoming Someone is a collection of her short stories. Some of the stories I had previously read, and just as many or more I hadn’t. I had been a fan of Anne’s stories since first encountering them and was thrilled to have a collection in one volume, perfect for savouring morsel by morsel. I was even more delighted with the acknowledgement in the front of the collection ‘For Norah Colvin and Charli Mills’. What’s to not like?

I could continue to ‘sing’ Anne’s praises, but perhaps we should move onto her interview. Before we do, I’ll let Anne tell you a little of herself:

Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity a secret for thirty years, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, about a man who keeps a woman captive in his cellar, was published in May 2017. Her short story collection, Becoming Someone, on the theme of identity, was published in November 2018. A former clinical psychologist, Anne is also a book blogger with a special interest in fictional therapists.

Anne Goodwin and her books

Welcome, Anne.

Now let’s talk school. First of all, where did you go to school, and what was the highest level of education you received?

I attended Catholic (state) schools in a small town in the north of England from the age of 5 to almost 18. I then went to university where I gained a BSc in Mathematics and Psychology and a PhD in Psychology, then an MSc in Clinical Psychology which was also a license to practice.

What work or profession did you choose after school and was there anything in school that influenced this choice?

I suspect my career in Clinical Psychology was despite my schooling – or perhaps unconsciously I wanted to understand why it was so bizarre! (One of my short stories, “Kinky Norm”, which you can read for free, is based on a true story of the impact of repression on adolescent girls.)

What is your earliest memory of school?

It might not be my earliest memory, but I do recall a boy being caught by the teacher picking his nose. ‘Where do you put it?’ she asked, vis-à-vis the snot. ‘Nowhere,’ said the boy, which I thought an excellent answer. I couldn’t understand why she ridiculed him but, in those days, ridicule was the norm.

I also remember being so anxious that, if the teacher said an as in an apple, I heard it as Anne, and assumed some punishment was on its way. I suppose that was a product of the strictness of both school and home cultures, where it was deemed perfectly acceptable for an adult to hit a child. I think (memory being so fickle) I managed to avoid the worst of it by hypervigilance and obedience, which served me in good stead in a system that was less about genuine learning than doing as you were told.

What memories do you have of learning to read?

I couldn’t read on starting school, but quickly learnt, despite the classroom tension. I remember the primers (Janet and John) being ever so dull, but I didn’t mind too much as I soon moved on to better things.

What memories do you have of learning to write?

Learning to write was more frustrating, as described in a post on my blog. The teacher stood at the blackboard etching row upon row of noughts and crosses in coloured chalk. We sat at desks, copying the figures into our books with fat wax crayons. At home, colour meant drawing wherever the inspiration took me. When we progressed to proper letters, I couldn’t see why it was wrong to shape my ‘g’ and ‘a’ as they appeared in a printed book.

What do you remember about maths classes?

We didn’t embark on what I call mathematics (as opposed to arithmetic) until secondary school, with yummy simultaneous equations and those soon-to-be obsolete slide rules, of which I had two (and probably still have somewhere in the loft). Before that came the dreaded times tables, catechism with numbers, yet after hours of chanting (and a 1st class degree) I still can’t tell you what 7×8 makes, without stopping to work it out.

What did you like best about school?

School was a life sentence; I didn’t expect to enjoy it. But I always liked reading and writing, as long as we were free to choose the topic for ourselves. And Music and Movement, which was a radio programme that did what it says on the tin, and features in my debut novel, Sugar and Snails.

What else would you like to tell us about your school days?

I almost left school at sixteen, and stayed on for A’ levels (university entrance) only because the career officer’s recommendation that I work in a bank (being good at maths, albeit not at numbers) seemed even less inspiring. I’m so glad I did! Out of uniform and in classes of no more than a dozen (education post 16 being a new venture for my school), I blossomed, especially in English. (Why didn’t I study that at university? Maybe because I associated reading with leisure, although the texts we picked apart in class were anything but.)

Anne Goodwin's school days

Given my capacity for compliance, I’m lucky I made the transition to critical analysis. Suddenly (although we’d probably been sliding dangerously towards it since the age of eleven), I was expected to have an opinion, to examine texts from different points of view. (Although not in maths, which provided a counterbalance, a safe space where the right answer remained stable over time.)

All credit to Pauline Blair, the teacher who joined the school at the start of our A’ level years. I think she found it a culture shock, and we were equally bewildered by her. She was posh! She claimed to be a feminist which, in my ignorance, I thought meant feminine, given that she ticked me off for slouching and sitting with my legs wide apart. She took us to see the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, and sang (properly, the way I do now) on the long drive home. She’s the only teacher I’d like to meet again, to see what she made of us in that insular part of the world.

What are your thoughts about schools, then and now?

I think it’s great that so many kids these days enjoy school: despite repeated ministerial interference, teachers must be doing something right. It’s great that there’s no physical punishment but, with limited resources, more kids are excluded than in my day. It’s still impossible to tailor teaching to individual learning styles (I’d probably have struggled in a noisy aka lively classroom) and much more pressure (or maybe my school was atypical in being insufficiently clued up for the antediluvian equivalent of league tables) on exams.

How do you think school could be improved?

  1. Reinvest in SureStart (it was a UK New Labour thing for at-risk preschoolers) so that all kids have the skills they need for school.
  2. Scrap private schools’ charitable status and put the taxes raised into state education.
  3. Abolish all religious schools, and schools established to follow a particular fad.
  4. Provide every child with a light breakfast and a three-course vegan lunch (to avoid the expense of catering for different diets) for free. Kids can’t learn if they’re hungry, and we desperately need to give the adults of tomorrow the skills to pursue a healthy diet. (So cooking and gardening lessons too.)
  5. Halve class sizes, and give teachers more support, including optional counselling / short-term therapy for anyone working with kids.
  6. Foreign language and music classes from the early(ish) years and (although I hated it) compulsory exercise through a diversity of sports. (Why should these life-long benefits be restricted to those whose parents can cough up the dosh?)
  7. Prevent (religious) parents from withdrawing their children from certain lessons, such as sex and relationships, including same-sex couples.

Idealistic? Too expensive? Not if we care about the future society we build.

thank you for your participation

Thank you for sharing your reminiscences of school and thoughts about education in general, Anne. It’s been wonderful to have you here again. I enjoyed learning about your school days and agree with so many of your recommendations for improving education. Now, if only we could get some of those with the ‘power’ to listen to us.

Find out more about Anne Goodwin:

Website: annegoodwin.weebly.com

Blog: annegoodwin.weebly.com/annecdotal

Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Anne-Goodwin/e/B0156O8PMO/

and her books:

Anne’s books: annegoodwin.weebly.com/about-my-books.html

YouTube: www.youtube.com/channel/UCLxWxjJlY4hxuP9bzah5F_g

Connect with her on social media:

Twitter: @Annecdotist

Books by Anne Goodwin

If you missed previous reminiscences, check them out here:

Charli Mills

Sally Cronin

Look for future interviews in this series to be posted on Sunday evenings AEST.

Coming soon:

Geoff Le Pard

Hugh Roberts

Debby Gies

D. Avery

with more to follow.

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your comments. Please share your thoughts.

 

Smorgasbord posts from your archives #family

Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – #Family – Understanding family relationships by Norah Colvin

Sally Cronin has featured my post about understanding family relationship in her Smorgasbord Posts from your Archives #family series. If you missed it the first time, you might like to pop over to Sally’s to read and check out other posts on Sally’s wonderful blog.
Thank you so much for sharing, Sally. It’s a pleasure to feature on your blog.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Delighted to welcome educator and storyteller Norah Colvin and some posts from her archives. In her first post from 2015, Norah who is a dedicated participant in the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction challenge, was reminded about a family mystery.

Understanding family relationships by Norah Colvin

At the Carrot Ranch this week Charli Mills is talking about cold cases and challenges writers to, In 99 words (no more, no less) write about an old mystery in the current time. Is it a discovery? Is it solved? Does it no longer matter, or does it impact innocent generations in between?

My thoughts immediately turned to a mystery that occurred in my family over one hundred years ago when the two-year old brother of my grandfather disappeared and was never seen again.

http://www.clker.com/clipart-10083.htmlhttp://www.clker.com/clipart-10083.html

Most families do have a skeleton or two in the closet. Not all families like it to be known. Many…

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Jacqui Murray blog hop Survival of the Fittest

Blog Hop: Jacqui Murray — Survival of the Fittest

This week I am delighted to introduce you to Jacqui Murray. I’d been following Jacqui’s blog Ask a Tech Teacher for some time before I realised she had other writing achievements in her portfolio. I had always enjoyed keeping up with what was new in technology for the classroom and reading Jacqui’s advice for teachers and parents as well as the general technology user. Now, I’ve discovered she has much more to explore.

Jacqui and I have found that we share a lot in common. She recently hosted me at her blog here, and soon her guest post Why Kindergartners Must Learn Technology will be shared on the readilearn blog.

This post is part of a blog hop celebrating the launch of Jacqui’s latest prehistory novel Survival of the Fittest.

Survival of the Fittest by Jacqui Murray header

The Book

Title and author: Survival of the Fittest

Series: Book 1 in the Crossroads series, part of the Man vs. Nature saga

Genre: Prehistoric fiction

Cover by: Damonza 

Available in print and digital at: Kindle US Kindle UK Kindle CA Kindle AU

Short Blurb

Five tribes. One leader. A treacherous journey across three continents in search of a new home.

Summary

Chased by a ruthless and powerful enemy, Xhosa flees with her People, leaving behind a certain life in her African homeland to search for an unknown future. She leads her People on a grueling journey through unknown and dangerous lands but an escape path laid out years before by her father as a final desperate means to survival. She is joined by other homeless tribes–from Indonesia, China, South Africa, East Africa, and the Levant—all similarly forced by timeless events to find new lives. As they struggle to overcome treachery, lies, danger, tragedy, hidden secrets, and Nature herself, Xhosa must face the reality that this enemy doesn’t want her People’s land. He wants to destroy her.

Questions for Jacqui

Setting a book in the days of prehistory must present a number of challenges for writers. I asked Jacqui to explain how she approached some of those challenges.

How did Xhosa tell time?

Xhosa’s People had no need for the exacting time that we today have. It was enough to know that events happened around certain other repetitive events (like a full moon or a sunrise). They could peg daily events to when the Sun reached a certain point in the sky (with a good guess if it was overcast).A popular way of telling time which I borrowed from societies that predated clocks, sundials, and any regimented ways of telling time is measuring time by sun’s movement. A finger of time would be about fifteen minutes and a hand of time would be bout an hour.

How did Xhosa count?

Xhosa and her People also had no need for counting. This is true even today with primitive people. Many count only to two (which is the method I’ve adopted for Xhosa). Beyond that, numbers may be described as handfuls or how much room they occupy in relation to something else. Counting people was unnecessary because all Xhosa had to do was sniff, find everyone’s scent, or notice whose she couldn’t find. 

Did Xhosa have any type of culture—art, music, that sort?

This time in man’s prehistory predated art, music, and most culture. There is very little if anything known about earliest man’s (850,000 years ago) interest in art and music. In Xhosa’s case, I extrapolated from what we do know about these early iterations of man. They appreciated colors but didn’t think of applying it to themselves. Their brains could imagine things unseen but that didn’t extend to painting themselves, wearing jewelry, or tattoos. Since clothing was only for warmth (or in Seeker’s case, to protect his sensitive parts), no thought was given to designing or decorating these.

Music—They did appreciate bird songs but considered it an animal voice, not something that they could replicate for their own pleasure. They could replicate it but it was to imitate the bird, not express creativity. They also appreciated rhythm but that was to set a running pace or sooth people.

Most scientists believe Homo erectus couldn’t talk. How did Xhosa and her People communicate?

These early humans were highly intelligent for their day and possessed rich communication skills but rarely verbal. Most paleoanthropologists believe that the ‘speaking’ part of their brain wasn’t evolved enough for speech but there’s another reason: Talking is noisy as well as unnatural in nature which attracts attention. For these early humans, who were far from the alpha in the food chain, being noticed wasn’t good.

Instead, they communicated with gestures, facial expressions, movements, and all the body language we-all still use but rarely recognize. They talked to each other about everything necessary, just nonverbally.

thank you for your participation

Thank you, Jacqui. You’ve obviously worked hard to make your novel ring with authenticity.  I wish you success with it.

About Jacqui

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for TeachHUB and NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Quest for Home, Summer 2019. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

Connect with Jacqui on social media

http://twitter.com/worddreams

http://pinterest.com/askatechteacher

http://linkedin.com/in/jacquimurray

https://worddreams.wordpress.com

https://jacquimurray.net

 

Jacqui has generously provided us with Chapter one as a preview of her novel Survival of the Fittest.

Survival of the Fittest by Jacqui Murray

Chapter 1

Her foot throbbed. Blood dripped from a deep gash in her leg. At some point, Xhosa had scraped her palms raw while sliding across gravel but didn’t remember when, nor did it matter. Arms pumping, heart thundering, she flew forward. When her breath went from pants to wheezing gasps, she lunged to a stop, hands pressed against her damp legs, waiting for her chest to stop heaving. She should rest but that was nothing but a passing thought, discarded as quickly as it arrived. Her mission was greater than exhaustion or pain or personal comfort.

She started again, sprinting as though chased, aching fingers wrapped around her spear. The bellows of the imaginary enemy—Big Heads this time—filled the air like an acrid stench. She flung her spear over her shoulder, aiming from memory. A thunk and it hit the tree, a stand-in for the enemy. With a growl, she pivoted to defend her People.

Which would never happen. Females weren’t warriors.

Feet spread, mouth set in a tight line, she launched her last spear, skewering an imaginary assailant, and was off again, feet light, her abundance of ebony hair streaming behind her like smoke. A scorpion crunched beneath her hardened foot. Something moved in the corner of her vision and she hurled a throwing stone, smiling as a hare toppled over. Nightshade called her reactions those of Leopard.

But that didn’t matter. Females didn’t become hunters either.

With a lurch, she gulped in the parched air. The lush green grass had long since given way to brittle stalks and desiccated scrub. Sun’s heat drove everything alive underground, underwater, or over the horizon. The males caught her attention across the field, each with a spear and warclub. Today’s hunt would be the last until the rain—and the herds—returned.

“Why haven’t they left?”

She kicked a rock and winced as pain shot through her foot. Head down, eyes shut against the memories. Even after all this time, the chilling screams still rang in her ears…

 

The People’s warriors had been away hunting when the assault occurred. Xhosa’s mother pushed her young daughter into a reed bed and stormed toward the invaders but too late to save the life of her young son. The killer, an Other, laughed at the enraged female armed only with a cutter. When she sliced his cheek open, the gash so deep his black teeth showed, his laughter became fury. He swung his club with such force her mother crumpled instantly, her head a shattered melon.

From the safety of the pond, Xhosa memorized the killer—nose hooked awkwardly from some earlier injury, eyes dark pools of cruelty. It was then, at least in spirit, she became a warrior. Nothing like this must ever happen again.

When her father, the People’s Leader, arrived that night with his warriors, he was greeted by the devastating scene of blood-soaked ground covered by mangled bodies, already chewed by scavengers. A dry-eyed Xhosa told him how marauders had massacred every subadult, female, and child they could find, including her father’s pairmate. Xhosa communicated this with the usual grunts, guttural sounds, hand signals, facial expressions, hisses, and chirps. The only vocalizations were call signs to identify the group members.

“If I knew how to fight, Father, Mother would be alive.” Her voice held no anger, just determination.

The tribe she described had arrived a Moon ago, drawn by the area’s rich fruit trees, large ponds, lush grazing, and bluffs with a view as far as could be traveled in a day. No other area offered such a wealth of resources. The People’s scouts had seen these Others but allowed them to forage, not knowing their goal was to destroy the People.

Her father’s body raged but his hands, when they moved, were calm.  “We will avenge our losses, daughter.”

The next morning, Xhosa’s father ordered the hunters to stay behind, protect the People. He and the warriors snuck into the enemy camp before Sun awoke and slaughtered the females and children before anyone could launch a defense. The males were pinned to the ground with stakes driven through their thighs and hands. The People cut deep wounds into their bodies and left, the blood scent calling all scavengers.

When Xhosa asked if the one with the slashed cheek had died, her father motioned, “He escaped, alone. He will not survive.”

Word spread of the savagery and no one ever again attacked the People, not their camp, their warriors, or their hunters.

While peace prevailed, Xhosa grew into a powerful but odd-looking female. Her hair was too shiny, hips too round, waist too narrow beneath breasts bigger than necessary to feed babies. Her legs were slender rather than sturdy and so long, they made her taller than every male. The fact that she could outrun even the hunters while heaving her spear and hitting whatever she aimed for didn’t matter. Females weren’t required to run that fast. Nightshade, though, didn’t care about any of that. He claimed they would pairmate, as her father wished, when he became the People’s Leader.

Until then, all of her time was spent practicing the warrior skills no one would allow her to use.

One day, she confronted her father. “I can wield a warclub one-handed and throw a spear hard enough to kill. If I were male, you would make me a warrior.”

He smiled. “You are like a son to me, Daughter. I see your confidence and boldness. If I don’t teach you, I fear I will lose you.”

He looked away, the smile long gone from his lips. “Either you or Nightshade must lead when I can’t.”

Under her father’s tutelage, she and Nightshade learned the nuances of sparring, battling, chasing, defending, and assaulting with the shared goal that never would the People succumb to an enemy. Every one of Xhosa’s spear throws destroyed the one who killed her mother. Every swing of her warclub smashed his head as he had her mother’s. Never again would she stand by, impotent, while her world collapsed. She perfected the skills of knapping cutters and sharpening spears, and became expert at finding animal trace in bent twigs, crushed grass, and by listening to their subtle calls. She could walk without leaving tracks and match nature’s sounds well enough to be invisible.

A Moon ago, as Xhosa practiced her scouting, she came upon a lone warrior kneeling by a waterhole. His back was to her, skeletal and gaunt, his warclub chipped, but menace oozed from him like stench from dung. She melted into the redolent sedge grasses, feet sinking into the squishy mud, and observed.

His head hair was sprinkled with grey. A hooked nose canted precariously, poorly healed from a fracas he won but his nose lost. His curled lips revealed cracked and missing teeth. A cut on his upper arm festered with pus and maggots. Fever dimpled his forehead with sweat. He crouched to drink but no amount of water would appease that thirst.

What gave him away was the wide ragged scar left from the slash of her mother’s cutter.

Xhosa trembled with rage, fearing he would see the reeds shake, biting her lip until it bled to stop from howling. It hardly seemed fair to slay a dying male but fairness was not part of her plan today.

Only revenge.

A check of her surroundings indicated he traveled alone. Not that it mattered. If she must trade her life for his, so be it.

But she didn’t intend to die.

The exhausted warrior splashed muddy water on his grimy head, hands slow, shoulders round with fatigue, oblivious to his impending death. After a quiet breath, she stepped from the sedge, spear in one hand and a large rock in the other. Exposed, arms ready but hanging, she approached. If he turned, he would see her. She tested for dry twigs and brittle grass before committing each foot. It surprised her he ignored the silence of the insects. His wounds must distract him. By the time hair raised on his neck, it was too late. He pivoted as she swung, powered by fury over her mother’s death, her father’s agony, and her own loss. Her warclub smashed into his temple with a soggy thud. Recognition flared moments before life left.

“You die too quickly!” she screamed and hit him over and over, collapsing his skull and spewing gore over her body. “I wanted you to suffer as I did!”

Her body was numb as she kicked him into the pond, feeling not joy for his death, relief that her mother was avenged, or upset at the execution of an unarmed Other. She cleaned the gore from her warclub and left. No one would know she had been blooded but the truth filled her with power.

She was now a warrior.

When she returned to homebase, Nightshade waited. Something flashed through his eyes as though for the first time, he saw her as a warrior. His chiseled face, outlined by dense blue-black hair, lit up. The corners of his full lips twitched under the broad flat nose. The finger-thick white scar emblazoned against his smooth forehead, a symbol of his courage surviving Sabertooth’s claws, pulsed. Female eyes watched him, wishing he would look at them as he did Xhosa but he barely noticed.

The next day, odd Others with long legs, skinny chests, and oversized heads arrived. The People’s scouts confronted them but they simply watched the scouts, spears down, and then trotted away, backs to the scouts. That night, for the first time, Xhosa’s father taught her and Nightshade the lessons of leading.

“Managing the lives of the People is more than winning battles. You must match individual skills to the People’s requirements be it as a warrior, hunter, scout, forager, child minder, Primary Female, or another.  All can do all jobs but one best suits each. The Leader must decide,” her father motioned.

As they finished, she asked the question she’d been thinking about all night. “Father, where do they come from?”

“They are called Big Heads,” which didn’t answer Xhosa’s question.

Nightshade motioned, “Do they want to trade females? Or children?”

Her father stared into the distance as though lost in some memory. His teeth ground together and his hands shook until he clamped them together.

He finally took a breath and motioned, “No, they don’t want mates. They want conflict.” He tilted his head forward. “Soon, we will be forced to stop them.”

Nightshade clenched his spear and his eyes glittered at the prospect of battle. It had been a long time since the People fought.

But the Big Heads vanished. Many of the People were relieved but Xhosa couldn’t shake the feeling that danger lurked only a long spear throw away. She found herself staring at the same spot her father had, thoughts blank, senses burning. At times, there was a movement or the glint of Sun off eyes, but mostly there was only the unnerving feeling of being watched. Each day felt one day closer to when the People’s time would end.

“When it does, I will confess to killing the Other. Anyone blooded must be allowed to be a warrior.”

Survival of the Fittest by Jacqui Murray

 

 

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