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Something Coils

My Eccentric Friend

What Story Would You Write?

What does he have in the bag? Sculpture on exhibition at Hotel Tylösand, Sweden.

This sculpture chilled me. The man or boy seems to have emerged from the ocean. He is pale and holds something in a bag at arm’s length. The sculptor must have had a particular story in mind. Here is mine.

The man ascends the steep bank rising from the shoreline. His head appears first over the grassy embankment. His hair is short and pressed damply to his skull, so his ears seem unusually large and stand out from his head. You note that although his nose is not quite straight, no features are striking. Nor is his body distinctive. He is slim but not muscular and you can see that his upper torso is smooth and hairless, because he wears no shirt. You are not alarmed by his partially dressed state, for although it is late, at this time…

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How to Install a Bathroom

 

Extract:

How to install a  bathroom: cover all floors with cardboard; spread your economically thin dust-sheet on top; tell the woman of the house that it will make a mess; make sure it is a big mess, she is paying a lot of money; find the longest route through the house; tread carefully, your boots are for building-sites not hardwood floors in Newton Mearns; do not spin round on your heels; that interesting circular pattern was not there before; yes it is unique, no, her neighbours will not be envious;

MVJ 2015

For more information please email the author of this blog.

 

The System

Extract

What is it that pulls you off the beaten path? The path you’ve mapped so that each day follows the next in well-ordered progression. Where love is constant, unquestionable and as unassuming as the cup of tea you bring me before work, when my eyes are half open and the bed still warm on your side.

—–

What she means is that she will not work for me. I watch him at his desk. He is fast, efficient, he doesn’t ask her opinion but expects to receive it. He does his part, passes papers to her, she does her bit, brings them back, smooth as the Berlin Metro. He rewards her with quick little smiles. She beams; she shimmies past my desk on her click-clicking heels.

MVJ2015

For more information, email the author of this blog

The Lightness of Her Bones

Extract:

She looked like a piano teacher to me. She had that straight-backed look you get from sitting for hours on a piano stool. She was close enough for me to see that her fingers that clutched the boy’s shoulders were slender but strong. She was tall and middle-aged, and clearly angry.

“I bet she raps their knuckles when they get the notes wrong,” I said aloud, absently.

“What?”

 

 

For more information please email the author of this blog/ 

MVJ

20 July 2015

Dr Warner Wins the Prize

I am delighted to report that Dr Karl Warner, Chef par Excellence, previously featured in my blog post “Theory Soup” has been awarded the Adam Smith Business School Prize for PhD Excellence.

Thesis: Networking Capability Development in New Venture Internationalisation: A Theory Building Approach

I am immensely proud to receive the Adam Smith Business School Prize for PhD Excellence. As my hometown is Kirkcaldy, Fife – the birthplace of Adam Smith – it is an even greater honour to receive this award.

Karl  received his PhD in International Business and Entrepreneurship in July 2014. Karl’s thesis explores how medical technology start-ups build “networking capability” to enable their new venture internationalisation. Focussing on social capital, his thesis explores how Scottish and Australian medical technology start-ups can connect and collaborate with suitable investors, mentors, R&D partners, professional service providers, contract manufacturers, distributors and licensors in order to access critical resources for early internationalisation.  This doctoral research therefore helps explain how entrepreneurs should manage these relationships and use this social capital to commercialise and grow their firms in high-technology markets.

Get this

Extract:

There I was, dancing naked on the front lawn of suburbia, my heart pumping to the pulse of the sprinkler, spray-wet skin and diamonds beading my hair.

“Dance with me.” I screamed at you; at your bedroom window, no longer our bedroom window.

______

I saw you cowering behind the curtain. I felt your blood run cold. I saw you turn uncertainly to the woman, no girl, behind you. She is deranged, you would say, and pull a sheet around your nakedness, exposed by my nakedness, outside, not in. Mad bitch, mad, mad. I felt your fear as you saw your world come crashing down. I threw up my arms and laughed.

MVJ2014

For more information please contact the author of this blog.

 

Love Locks

Extract:

“Excusez-moi, parlez-vous anglais?” I asked hopefully.

It was pretty much the only thing I could say in French. I stood  in the  police station and shifted from foot to foot. I was nervous, and my feet were hot.

“Mai-oui, but of course, how can I help you?” He looked me up and down, then looked back to his book where he recorded the time.

“Your name? You are staying where, and for how long? May I see your passport? Now, why are you here?”

“I have lost my wife.”

MVJ2014

 

For more information please  email the author of this blog

 

 

Flash of Gold

A slightly different version of this flash fiction is published as “Flash of Gold” in Oor Ain Voice, by Write Enuff, 2016. (out of print).

I stop for lunch and eat my institutional sandwich at my desk. I look out through grimy leaded panes and see a flash of gold; startling on a grey day. It is a girl in a yellow flamenco dress, doing a twirl outside the college gates. It is January and -4 outside. Her heavy snow boots and sheepskin jacket do not detract from the graceful execution of her dance. But she is dancing to keep warm. She hands out leaflets and from here I can’t see what they are. To save horses in Spain perhaps. She prances after some disappearing students who take her leaflets and laugh. One of them returns, he takes the bundle from her and places them down. He blows on her hands, and rubs them in his. They laugh. Their breath hangs in the cold air. They raise their hands to the cloud. This is our cloud they might be saying, we made it together. They hand out the rest of the leaflets. Her yellow dress swirls. He struts a clumsy dance one hand on his hip, she stamps her feet and circles him. A gold mist envelopes them, is this love blooming on a grey street on a grey day?  I check my screen. A Facebook friend posts that it is snowing in Barcelona. Who would have believed it? My lunch is up.  I leave them to canter home.

MVJ 2015

Daydreaming my way, part two

The funny thing about daydreaming is that when you have time to do it, to really let go and lose yourself in some magical forest of discovery, somehow the paths into the forest lead to dead-ends. It is when daydreaming diverts from something that really must be done that the paths open to a mystical tour and you never know where you will end up. Those  commas in the text you are trying so hard to edit become tadpoles swimming in the bucket that you once put them in after fishing them from a canal. The canal becomes a lake, there are boats on it. There are boats too off the Maltese islands where the sun is shining and you are lying on a deck, glass of champagne in your hand. Bubbles rise in the glass and you remember the Bermuda triangle where ships sink because of bubbles rising in the water  and lots of tiny bubbles decrease buoyancy. But that doesn’t explain  planes falling out of the sky or does it? So you just have to look up wiki and on the way you find an article on the universe and download some pictures from the Hubble because they are so beautiful and relaxing, and evocative of something but what? Hey this one reminds you of jellyfish, stained glass colours in indigo oceans and what was that tune about indigo skies, and suddenly it is lunchtime and where has the morning gone?

Daydreaming is about your inner stream of consciousness where your mind of its own accord wanders from thought to thought, memory to memory making connections and associations that allow us to see things in novel ways. Daydreaming underpins creativity but is not in itself productive. Creative people are those who are able to harness their daydreaming, and steer it towards a tangible outcome, or snatch ideas in passing like forest fruits from the meandering pathways of fertile imagination. Creative people follow roaming thoughts to see where they lead but creativity comes not so much by accident as by design. Invention results from creative and experimental thinking. If rising bubbles sink ships, what happens in the air that sinks planes? If I change the character in my story from a girl to a boy would he think differently? Will my house be warmer if I grow a garden on my roof? How will smoked fish taste if I eat it with my fruit salad (the canteen had run out of plates, and yes it was delicious). Was salty caramel a lucky accident, and did that blogger who enjoyed cheese sauce on his apple pie discover it by design or error?

The difference between daydreaming your way passively through life and being productively creative is knowing when to let your thoughts wander, and when to switch off the dreaming channel and focus on the task at hand. Creative people are dreamers, true, but creative people are also task oriented, motivated to get things done and see the results of their creativity. Creative people are able to balance their dreaming with focused activity, harness ideas from their dreams and make something of them. I wonder why these lessons are so hard to learn. There I go again, off at another tangent.

This month has not been very dreamy for me as you can probably see from the lack of new posts. This has been a month of focused, task oriented activity. Reporting, marking, processing, form-filling, and  solving everyone else’s problems. Daydreaming does not pay the mortgage. Not Yet. 

Daydreaming my way part one

I have always been a dreamer. Mind like a butterfly my mother used to say. Flitting from one thing to another. Asking seemingly random questions – in the midst of arithmetic – why do tadpoles become frogs? Why did I ask at that precise point? Perhaps because the commas between the integers looked like tadpoles, and the next lesson, my favourite, would be about nature.

And so I have spent my life thinking about the next thing, or the last thing, or things that connect with other things but not about this thing that I should be concentrating on at this moment in time. My teacher was not happy with the daydreaming. She is depressed, she wrote on my report one year. So everyone tried to make me focus, keep my mind on the task, keep eating until my dinner was finished, keep on with the homework. Eventually and thankfully they gave up. Daydreaming makes life so much more colourful, but I have always tried to switch it off  when I find myself squandering away my time, or forget what it is I am supposed to be doing, or what our conversation is about.

It was during a guilty moment, when I was not doing what I was supposed to be doing, that Scott Barry Kaufman’s (2011) article snared me and pulled me back into focus. His research found that daydreamers are more creative, and able to keep nightdreaming running while at the same time concentrating [of a fashion] on various tasks. People with this ability are less able to resist distraction, but are able to keep their internal stream of consciousness (dreaming state) running whilst doing relatively complex things. This enables them to make connections between objects, processes, thoughts and tasks that would not be possible if the dreaming state was completely switched off. Creativity therefore seems to rely on the brain’s internal dialogue making connections between normally unrelated things in novel and interesting ways. So the next time you catch me daydreaming, please don’t distract me, I am mentally composing my next masterpiece. If only it could find its way onto a page.

2014 Personal Reflections

To be absolutely frank, 2014 is a year that I will be glad to put behind me. It was not without its good points, some of which were wonderful. There were two weddings in the family, and it was truly lovely to be able to share the beautiful and happy photographs of those family events as they unfolded over the days before and after the ceremonies, for that, social media plays an enormous role in bringing family together when miles or circumstances otherwise keep us apart. My cousins, the brides, were radiant, their grooms handsome and the photographs so lovely that it almost felt as though we were there together. The joy of those occasions though was sadly overshadowed by the unexpected death of my dear auntie (grannie, mum, great-auntie, wife, sister and friend) to all of us who crowded into the flower-filled crematorium early in the summer. We promised to her that our goodbyes would be a celebration of her life and celebrate we did, for she lived life to the full and enjoyed every minute. It brought us all together but reminded us too of how fragile life is, and how unexpectedly it can come to an end. We will miss her. This year for other reasons was one in which I decided to step off the treadmill or at least slow it down a bit. Apart from a lovely family holiday in beautiful Kefalonia in May, a quick business trip to Bratislava in June, and a visit to our daughter in London, I travelled only between home and work and stopped trying to deal with the 20-30 e-mails that arrive in my inbox every hour. When I can find a way to throw out the feeling of guilt with the junk mail, things will really be on the up. A highlight of the year was a school reunion. After 40 years one of our group of friends arranged for us to get together and surprisingly we did recognise each other after the first smiles broke through the wrinkles and the years fell away. Why did we not do it sooner? The work year was busy of course in an uninspiring, repetitive, mindless kind of way but lightened by a liberal sprinkling of social occasions, food, drink, music and excellent craic with family, friends and colleagues.   My daughter’s thoughtful Christmas present of last year triggered an attempted self-reconstruction  as a new kind of writer. Tired of hearing me say that I had always wanted to write fiction, she bought me a write-your-first-novel template from Nanowrimo. Inspired, I created several characters between Christmas and the start of 2014 , wrote a number of short scenes but realised that writing a novel in my “spare” time would need more than cutting down on my foreign travel. So I signed up for a creative writing class focussing on the short story instead, deleted the half dozen cringingly bad posts I’d put on this blog since 2011 and started again with some fiction. To all of my friends and family out there who have had my creative writing efforts pushed in-your-face over the last 3 months, I apologise. I hope you may have enjoyed some of it and I promise I will be more subtle in future. I may also experiment with material that is less safe, less pc, and more ballsy, gritty or dark. Raunchy might come later. The writing class is great fun, I’ve met lots of super-creative and talented people and am looking forward to next term. My husband has also been following a course of self-reconstruction, took his motor-bike test and arrived home with a brand-new, clean and shiny set of wheels.  Mid-life crisis? No, he is trying to avoid parking charges by losing two wheels, or that’s his creative story! Well 2015 has arrived, let it bring what it will. Happy New Year everyone, let’s hope that the world will become a more peaceful and happier place.

Chocolate Brownie

Extract:

There was a woman who walked her dog every day to the woods. She walked past an old man’s house. The man’s name was Alex. He watched her as she came out, and went back into her house. He watched her in her garden, and at night he watched her through her lit-up windows when she did not know he was watching. But she did know because he liked to complain to Fred from the social and Fred knew her friend Jean, but the old man did not know that she knew, so he talked and talked.

MVJ2014

For more information please email the author of this blog


From Theory Soup to Pièce de Résistance

 

A colleague remarked that a student’s PhD abstract read like theory soup. I thought immediately of minestrone, thick and hearty, bright and colourful, tasty and wholesome. I know exactly what he meant though, and see it often in articles I am asked to review for journals. Usually the authors claim to draw on one or two key theories that underpin their conceptual approach, then throw in a handful of this, that and the other for effect, hoping perhaps to enhance the culinary delight of the concoction. As most chefs will tell you, Minestrone has a tomato base to which complementary ingredients add piquancy, spiciness and aroma, then cooked gently to allow flavours to infuse. In the best minestrone the texture and flavour of each ingredient is preserved within a wonderfully blended flavour that is the broth. Its taste and aroma will live in your memory forever. Get it wrong, it is just soup, and potentially unpleasant like the version in a local, since gone out of business, restaurant in which the most memorable flavour in their minestrone was turnip. It should come as no surprise then that “theory blending” is the name of the game. A few months later my student submitted his PhD. I am happy to report that the final version was blended to perfection, the theories infused throughout, but each retaining its own piquancy. On the day of the defence the critics did their best, but his courses were impeccably presented. It ended with the sweet; anticipated with excitement, as this was where it could all come to a sticky end. But he handled it with a flourish as the maître d’ handles a flambé for the top table, with quiet confidence and understatement, delivering the crêpe with a burst of flame and quick flick of the wrist.

Then the twit forgot to register for graduation! What can I say? Is this a case of early-onset, absent-minded professorism?
Karl, I despair.

Congratulations Dr Warner.
Paula, you did a grand job.

Winter Warmer – Nutty Turnip Soup

Inspired by traditional Scottish, and Zimbabwean everyday cooking, this soup blends the flavours of turnip (orange swede) with crunchy peanut butter (dovi). For a more authentic African flavour, substitute pumpkin or butternut squash for the turnip. Served very hot, thick and roughly mashed for texture and crunch. This is a tasty and filling dish – perfect for cold winter days.

1 medium turnip (or pumpkin, or butternut squash) cubed

1 bunch fresh celery, finely chopped

1 quarter small white cabbage, finely chopped

1 handful of golden lentils

1 chunk (about 3cm square) of fresh stem ginger, finely chopped

Fresh herbs to taste (coriander or basil work well)

Optional – enough stock (minimise the salt), or water to make it soupy but thick

3 large tablespoons of unsweetened crunchy peanut butter

Lots of roughly ground black pepper

Sweat the vegetables and ginger in a large heavy based pot until starting to soften. Add water or stock depending on your taste (vegetables have a naturally sweet taste which changes when you add salt or salty stock). Cook gently until the turnip is cooked but is still slightly firm then add the lentils. Cook for around 20 minutes more until the lentils are soft then mash roughly with a potato masher. Stir in the peanut butter, heat through then stir in the chopped fresh herbs. Add black pepper to taste. Serve with a swirl of fresh unsweetened cream.

 

Pie ‘n’ Chips

Pie please.

Scotch pie. Pie ‘n’ chips.

Salt and vinegar, just the job.

Wrapped in the news, it cost two bob.

 

Doon Kirk Loan an roon’ the bend, clutched tae my heart like ma best friend,

Ah fund a bench, and there ah stopped

Spread the feast across ma knees.

Wished ah’d remembered tae ask fer peas.

 

But now ma frozen fingers pick, first the crust and then a chip

Burnin’ haunds an scalded tongue, salt n’ grease upon my lip.

On frosty nights there’s nothin’ better,  pie and chips and bein’ tegether.

 

A chip fer you and twa fer me.

Hot and steamin’ now the meat, pastry-crusted what a treat.

Lick yer fingers, gies a kiss

Ah love ye doll but widnae miss

Ma Friday nights wi’ pie ‘n’ chips.

My Sister’s Life

Extract:

I was twelve years old when I first realised I was walking on water. Before that I was home-schooled and no-one had much hope for me. But I survived. My sister was at private school and would have stayed there had I not hung on. The cost of my tuition was sucking the funds from her education pot so our parents had no choice but to dismiss my tutor, and pull her from the posh school. That is how we ended up at the local academy where normal kids go, and that is when I saw how much her life differed from mine.

MVJ2014

For more information please contact the author of this blog.

 

Contingency Plan

“The writer has something to say – the academic is an apologist”

I identified closely with many of the sentiments and observations in Chris Walsh’s recent article in the Times Higher Education (THE) promoting his work on cowardice.  Academic work is constantly scrutinised for relevance, rigour, quality and contribution to knowledge. There are conventions in publishing that encourage particular writing styles and of course all previous relevant knowledge must be cited.  The publish or perish culture also forces us down a route of safe and sure publication, and the prevailing emphasis on objectivity renders the academic voice near silent. This week, for the first time in a long time, I dug out and re-read  some of my earliest papers. Two things struck me.  The first was how rough they seemed in  writing style, and how  much they would benefit from further editing, even although the editors at the time thought them good enough to publish. The second was the confidence with which I expressed myself in those early papers, which puts my more recent (yet more skilfully written) work to shame. In those early papers I had a voice, I was a writer with something to say and it came over strong and clear despite other shortcomings.  My most recent academic work is more refined, more accurate in its positioning in the body of literature, and follows the publishing conventions in our field, but it has no voice, or at least not one that I recognise as my own.  Has the academic world gone too far in silencing the subjective, sometimes quirky, but well-informed voices of the academic community? Have we, as Walsh suggests, become apologists for our own craft? Or is it just me?

Intellectual cowardice | Features | Times Higher Education.

Something Coils

What is Your Story?

A version of this story is published as “The Bag” in Oor Ain Voice, by Write Enuff, 2016. A slightly different version of this flash fiction is published as “The Bag” in Oor Ain Voice, by Write Enuff, 2016. (out of print).

What does he have in the bag?
Sculpture on exhibition at Hotel Tylösand, Sweden.

This sculpture chilled me. The man or boy seems to have emerged from the ocean. He is pale and holds something in a bag at arm’s length. The sculptor must have had a particular story in mind. Here is mine.

The man ascends the steep bank rising from the shoreline. His head appears first over the grassy embankment. His hair is short and pressed damply to his skull, so his ears seem unusually large and stand out from his head. You note that although his nose is not quite straight, no features are striking. Nor is his body distinctive. He is slim but not muscular and you can see that his upper torso is smooth and hairless, because he wears no shirt. You are not alarmed by his partially dressed state, for although it is late, at this time of year it could be tempting to take a plunge in the river after a day in a hot office. So his smart shoes and city trousers, while at odds with the pale nakedness of his chest and arms, are easily explained.

A sudden shiver runs down your spine as you see his expression of intense concentration. His eyes are unblinking and focus on a sack that he grasps by its neck and holds in front and away from his body. His arm stretches forward, its muscles sharply defined in the moonlight. His other hand hangs loosely at his side and is connected to the sack with rope, the yellow kind used by boatmen, to see easily below water. At its end is a metal clip. The middle of the rope coils tightly several times around his hand to ensure his grip and its length shows that the bag was submerged at six or seven feet.  You see the sack is heavy and that something coils inside. Its weight is dispersed in each corner for balance, although he holds it steady. You see his lips curve in a slight smile and realise this is his precious. What does he have in the bag?

You can’t get it out of your head. You follow him through the grass to an old wooden boathouse. The  water laps under the rotted boards. You shudder at the sucking sound of the tide pulling back, for it has now turned. You follow him inside keeping to the shadows. He sets the bag down gently in the boat moored there, and you see he is careful to distribute its weight evenly. As he lets go of the bag it settles down wetly onto the thing inside. You think you see movement, but it might just be the bag pulled down by the weight of water and slipping around the smooth surface of something lurking there; for you feel a presence. The man takes a lantern from a hook and steps into the boat. It rocks gently for a moment, the water lap-lapping as he sits carefully on the bench, an oar at either side of him, the bag in front between his feet. He adjusts it carefully, tenderly. You hear him speak to it softly.

You think he is going to take the oars and pull the boat out of the boathouse, into the current, but first he lights the lantern. The light is dim and soft and casts fleeting shadows. He loosens the top of the bag, and in the shifting reflections of the ripples shimmering across his face you see what it has done to him. This is mine you think. You have to have it. You move forward slowly, stealthily. One oar does it. One quick smack. One single splash.

You sit on the bench, the bag between your feet. You adjust it carefully, tenderly. It’s alright you say as you extinguish the lantern. You take the bag and hold it in front of you and away from your body. You step out of the boat and walk along the bank to the place from which he came. You lower it into the water taking care that it is fully submerged, letting it sink until the yellow rope is all played out. You coil it around the post, once, twice, and a half hitch.

I stand in the shadows. I watch you climb up the embankment in front of me. Your shirt is clinging wetly to your skin. You raise your arm and wipe your sleeve across your face. In the moonlight I see you look around. You pull a fallen branch from the side of the path and sweep it behind, covering your tracks. I watch as you reach the road, your head rising first above the embankment and caught in the glow of the street lamps. As you move away along the road, I look back towards the river.

I follow your path. I reach the post where the yellow rope is coiled, once, twice around, and secured by a half hitch. I remove my shirt and place it on a stone, then I squat down to pull on the rope. I see myself reflected in a sliver of moonlight on the dark water, I see that I am slim but not muscular and as I pull on the rope the muscles of my arms are sharply contoured. On my face is an expression of concentration, a slight smile curves my lips. This is my precious; in the bag is my precious.

Also published as “The Bag” in Oor Ain Voice, by Write Enuff, 2016. Available from epubli at this link: Oor Ain Voice, or from iTunes, or Amazon

Dear Facebook

I am so fed up with the advertisements that you place at the side of my FB page so I followed the link to find out how you select them. It’s based on what I like and post. If that is true my posts must be too boring to give the search engines any buzz words to guide their algorithms – let me see if I can influence the ads. Listen FB, I love rock music, art, fun places like Copenhagen, places I have not been like St Petersburg, Hong Kong, Colorado. I’d like to visit Greenland and sail round the Antarctic. I love the sounds and smells of markets in Africa, I want to be a writer. Community, creativity, interesting ordinary people interest me, not celebs. I love world music, poetry literature, language and culture. Please post ads for charities, disaster appeals and if it’s about food make it about alleviating hunger and not belly fat (oops – must never mention that again). If it has to be food I like wine and clean fresh food and recipes from around the world. My taste in film is eclectic – please don’t insult me by guessing one narrow genre. OK, that’s it for the day – back to preparing lectures on – guess what – international business ethics – put that in your pipe and smoke it FB, I am waiting to see what you come up with in your sponsored links – selected just for me. 🙂