Ani’s Advent 2019! Doing what comes naturally … with Annabelle Franklin’s Pearl

Hi, Pearl here! My fellow canine author Ani has kindly taken time off from talking to the birds to host me on her blog. Feel free to head on over and find out how we Storyhounds help our human authors find ideas.

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

Hi Santa,

I got into a bit of bother for talking to the birds today.

She knows I have to, because I’m a bird-dog… it’s in my blood, you see. But she says that while she doesn’t mind me having a word, other two-legses prob’bly just hear me barking… and they won’t like it.

She might have a point… ’cause normally, it’s just the pigeons I talk to. But I don’t get owls in the garden very often… and it’s not my fault they come out at night when two-legses want a bit of peace and quiet! I’m only doing what I was born to do… sorting out the feathered things and guarding my two-legs.

But heigh ho, they have some odd ideas sometimes that we should be how they want us to be… not how we are…

I’m not sure that’s very fair.

Mind you, fair or not, I’ll…

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Short Story: You’re Fired!

Image by kalhh from Pixabay

‘I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go,’ said Mr Blowhard.

What?’ cried the Captain. ‘You’re firing me?’

‘You mustn’t think of it like that,’ said Mr Blowhard, trying to look kind. This didn’t come naturally to him, as he wasn’t a kind sort of person and his wasn’t a kind sort of job. ‘You’ll get a good pension, and the boys have clubbed together to give you a send-off. They’ve bought you a lovely clock!’

‘But I can’t retire,’ the Captain protested. ‘I’m not old enough – the government has just raised the pension age to 75.’

‘You are 75,’ Mr Blowhard reminded him. ‘The boys threw you a party last month, remember?’

‘Oh yes,’ said the Captain. ‘But I don’t feel 75! I’m still fit and healthy, and I’m perfectly capable of doing my job. I’ve never done anything else!’

Mr Blowhard squirmed in his seat and resisted the urge to scratch his bottom that always came upon him in awkward moments. This was proving harder than he’d expected.

‘How can I put this?’ he said, steepling his fingers and gazing at the ceiling of his plush office. ‘We feel your image is a bit… outdated. In this business, as you know, it’s vital to move with the times.’

‘Outdated?’ exploded the Captain. ‘What on earth do you mean?’

‘Our advertisements have a certain… target market. We aim to reach a certain… demographic. That is, the grannies. Children don’t buy fish fingers… and nor do parents anymore, they’re all feeding their kids tofu and alfalfa sprouts. Fish fingers are what the grannies give the little darlings when they come to tea.’

‘I see,’ said the Captain, slightly deflated. ‘But why wouldn’t I appeal to the grannies all of a sudden? I’m the right age, aren’t I?’

‘You don’t have the right image,’ said Mr Blowhard.

‘Image? What on earth do you mean?’

‘Grannies aren’t what they used to be, Captain. Thanks to the media marketing machine and the diet and cosmetics industries, grannies have been encouraged to believe they should still be sexy.’

Sexy?’ cried the Captain, his red cheeks puffing out through his white whiskers like a baboon’s backside. ‘Since when did grannies need to be sexy? They’re well past reproductive age – some of them are past the menopause! Grannies are meant to be cosy, not sexy!’

‘Grannies need to be sexy, Captain, because the beauty industry needs them to be sexy. It’s made a fortune selling compulsory sexiness to younger women, so now it’s doing the same with the older ones. It’s got all the old girls doing aerobics and having their faces rebuilt and dressing like teenagers and joining online dating sites. It’s created a whole new market by making grannies think they need to be sexy. ’

‘I still don’t see why you need to fire me,’ the Captain said stiffly. ‘Presumably they still buy fish fingers when the grandkids come to tea?’

‘Of course they do!’ said Mr Blowhard with a patronising smile. ‘We’d be out of business otherwise.’

‘So why are you firing me?’

‘Because you’re not sexy!’ shouted Mr Blowhard, losing patience. ‘The grannies don’t want cosy anymore. They don’t want a maritime version of Santa Claus with a West Country accent, they want a virile, exciting sea captain!’

The Captain stared at him. ‘But that’s preposterous. You can’t have a young Captain Codfish.’

‘Of course not – he’s still going to be a grandad figure. We’re even going to have him swimming with the grandkids. But, just like the grannies, he’s going to be sexy as well as old. And you don’t fit the brief, which is why we’re letting you go.’

The Captain had run out of arguments. He got up, put on his cap and stamped out of the office.

 

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Names from the Hat

Hi, Pearly Greyhound here! I’m over the moon – I’ve just won a book of pictures and poems about pointy dogs! The wonderful whippets who feature in the book picked my name out of the hat themselves. If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is!

Whippet Wisdom - a Highland Journey

A very big thank you to all of you who put their name into the hat for the chance to win a free copy of our forthcoming book Between Heather and Grass via our Cover Reveal post.

We closed entries yesterday afternoon in order to prepare individual cards for today’s draw. The idea was that Pearl and Eivor would pull one card out of the hat each.

Pearl wanted to go first:

a blue and white whippet in a jumper on a dog bed

a white dog's paw holding a pink card with 'Anne' written on

Congratulations to Anne Leueen from HorseAddict!

Next, it was Eivor’s turn:

a black whippet in a jumper with his nose in a woolly hat with pink cards

a black dog's paw holding a pink card with 'Cathy' written on

Congratulations to Cathy Ryan from Between the Lines Books ‘n’ Stuff!

I wanted to take another picture of Eivor when Pearl made a bee-line for the hat and flicked a third pink card on the floor.

They both looked at me as if to say there’s another name from the hat.

a blue and white whippet tipping pink cards out of a woolly hat

We decided it would only be fair to let this one count too:

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Some Spooky Action for #Halloween

Here’s an extract from my work in progress, a supernatural comedy for kids!

Chapter One: Spooky Action

Charlie Busby lay in bed, watching a spider as it built its web in the corner of the sloping ceiling. He could hear the shouts and laughter of the other kids playing on the village green. He longed to be with them, but his mother had sent him to bed early for bunking off school.

‘She would never have found out if Jemima Bosscombe hadn’t told her mother,’ he grumbled to himself. ‘I bet Mrs Bosscombe couldn’t wait to spread the news.’

Charlie had skilfully avoided Upper Bottom Village School for most of the spring term. He preferred to spend his time playing in the woods, pretending to be a powerful wizard. His teacher, Mr Taxi, had never mentioned his absence. Charlie suspected Mr Taxi liked it better when he wasn’t there to cause trouble.

‘I wish I was a powerful wizard,’ he thought. ‘No one could send me to bed early then. I could stay up all night if I wanted.’

Much later, he heard his mother grumbling to his father as they came upstairs.

‘There’s something wrong with that boy!’ she said.

‘Yes, dear,’ said Mr Busby.

‘He’s not like other children. I knew he was trouble the minute he was born.’

‘Yes, dear.’

‘He’ll never amount to anything… all he’ll be fit for is a job in McDuffers…’

Mrs Busby’s voice faded out as she shut their bedroom door, and soon the sound of her snores vibrated through the wall.

Charlie had always known his mother didn’t like him. The corner of his room was filled with evidence of her dislike – a heap of grubby old toys she’d picked up from jumble sales, because she thought it was all he deserved for Christmas. The latest of these was a toy owl, knitted by the Vicar’s wife from beige wool and stuffed with Reverend Siggisworth’s old socks. Mrs Siggisworth had made clothes for it out of green felt – a school uniform, complete with cap. Charlie hated that owl; its stuck-on features had such a superior look.

It wasn’t as if the Busbys were too poor to afford decent presents. Mrs Busby was just mean. She only let him keep the laptop his Dad had given him because he needed it for his homework.

An hour later, he was still wide awake. ‘I’m too bored to go to sleep,’ he muttered.

‘How strange,’ said a voice in the corner.

Charlie felt like he’d had an electric shock. He sat rigidly against the pillow, his tawny hair sticking up in hedgehog spikes.

‘Who’s there?’ he whispered.

A faint moonbeam lit the corner. At first, he could only see the pile of toys with the knitted owl perched on top, its round felt eyes staring smugly back at him. Then he noticed something on the carpet near the bottom of the pile – a shimmering puddle of light, made of fizzing white dots.

It’s a ghost! he thought, and pulled the duvet up to his chin. Part of him wanted to pull it right over his head, but a bigger part wanted to see what would happen next.

The puddle of light grew into a pillar, and took on human form. The ghost had curly hair, a droopy moustache and a small triangular beard. He wore short pumpkin-legged pants, a jewel-encrusted tunic and a massive frilly collar that looked like the trimming on a Christmas cake.

He gazed at Charlie with eyes that glittered like moonlit coal. ‘Very strange indeed.’

‘What is?’ said Charlie, speaking with difficulty. His mouth felt like rubber.

‘You said you were too bored to sleep. Most people find that boredom sends them to sleep.’

‘Are you going to kill me?’ said Charlie.

The ghost raised his slug-shaped eyebrows. ‘Why would I want to do that?’

‘It’s what ghosts do, isn’t it? Kill people and take over their bodies and turn them into zombies.’

The ghost tittered. ‘You’ve been watching too many movies.’

‘How do you know about movies?’ said Charlie. ‘You’re from the old days, they didn’t have movies then. And how come you don’t talk like one of those boring Shakespeare plays?’

The spectre rolled his eyes. ‘I haven’t spent all this time on the astral plane without learning how to speak modern English! I like to keep up with the times – and I’ve been hanging around you for a while.’

Charlie shivered at the thought of this ghost being there without him knowing. ‘Why have you been spying on me?’

‘I haven’t been spying on you.’ The ghost sighed. ‘Believe me, your life isn’t that interesting. I’ve been gathering energy so I can appear to you. I’ve come to give you a message.’

‘Go on, then,’ said Charlie.

‘I’ve come to tell you that you have power, and it’s high time you started using it.’

Charlie’s heart leaped. ‘What sort of power?’

‘Magical power, boy.’

Now it was Charlie’s turn to raise his eyebrows. He wanted it to be true; on the other hand, it seemed too good to be true.

‘Don’t you believe me?’ said the ghost.

‘I don’t know,’ said Charlie. ‘I’ve never seen any sign of this magical power. Why should I believe the word of some random ghost?’

‘Because you and I have a special connection.’

‘Oh? What’s that, then?’

‘It would take too long to explain,’ said the ghost, turning back into a pillar of light, ‘and I don’t have much time. You’ve seen no sign of your power because you’ve only ever played at magic; you’ve never tried to do it for real. You need to start. Now.’

‘Wait!’ said Charlie, as the ghost shrank to a puddle on the floor. ‘How do I do it?’

‘Will,’ said a voice in the corner.

‘Will? What d’you mean?’

But the ghost had gone.

From Bad Boy Wizard #1: The Astral Gatecrashers © 2019 Annabelle Franklin

 

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Pearl on #Brexit

Hi, Pearl here!

When Snip and Frieda’s humans go out, they leave Radio 4 on to keep the dogs company, so Snip and Frieda are well informed about British politics. I, on the other hand, know very little about it, and I’m not sure I want to know.

I’ve heard Snip and Frieda talking about something called ‘Brexit’. At first I thought it was something tasty to eat, but according to Snip and Frieda it’s nothing as nice as that. Frieda said it might even lead to shortages of tasty things to eat, which is distinctly worrying.

Snip told me not to worry – he’s laid-back about it, as he is about everything. His motto is ‘Don’t worry, be happy’.

Luckily, we don’t have to hear about Brexit in our house. Annabelle prefers music to talking on the radio, so we only listen to Radio 1.

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Tips from a TV Writer

I’m a member of Swansea and District Writers’ Circle, and we’re lucky enough to have some excellent guest speakers at our monthly meetings.

This month’s speaker was screenwriter and novelist Rob Gittins, who has worked on virtually every long-running British TV drama in the last 30 years, including Casualty, The Bill, Emmerdale, The Archers and BBC children’s show The Story of Tracy Beaker. He’s the longest-serving writer on EastEnders and he received an Outstanding Achievement Award at the British Soap Awards in 2015.

As a fan of EastEnders, I found it fascinating to get a glimpse of the show’s inner workings. Rob explained it’s a collaborative process, with the writers sitting round a table and brainstorming ideas. Once they’ve decided what’s going to happen in a particular episode, Rob outlines the scenes in columns on a sheet of A4 card. He passed round some cards for us to look at. His writing is tiny, and totally illegible to anyone else but him. It was weird to think I was holding a whole episode of EastEnders in my hands!

Certain topics don’t make it onto the screen, as they are considered too top-heavy. For instance, a major act of terrorism would  have such a devastating and long-lasting impact on the characters it would be hard to follow convincingly with less dramatic events, and would risk killing off the show altogether. Therefore storylines tend to be the kind of thing found on page 4 or 5 of a national newspaper, rather than headline news on page 1.

Sometimes, viewers don’t take to certain characters and they have to be tweaked or removed. A while back when a new family was brought into EastEnders, viewers didn’t like two of the kids, Robbie and Sonia. In order to save them, the writers gave Robbie a dog and had Sonia learn the trumpet! The viewers warmed to them, and Robbie and Sonia are still in the show over 20 years later.

Rob gave us some useful tips for our own writing:

  • When brainstorming, nothing is off limits – as he put it, no idea is too stupid. It’s easier to start with an over-the-top idea and bring it down than it is to amp up a dull one.
  • When you’re creating a story, ask ‘what if?’ and see what answers come up.
  • If an idea isn’t working, put it in the middle of the room and walk around it. See it from different angles, and from the POV of different characters.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of archetypes as a framework for your story. The first series of Sky 1’s comedy drama Stella was based on The Wizard of Oz.
  • Bury bombs! Foreshadow a major event with a small and seemingly innocuous incident some time before the main action.

Rob Gittins has been lucky enough to write for a living throughout his adult life, beginning with BBC radio plays. He said that sometimes this has been a worry, as he hasn’t had the experience of other jobs to draw on; but it hasn’t held him back. I found this  encouraging, as it shows what you can do with enough determination and a good imagination.

 

 

 

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No Drama

This story emerged from one of my free writing sessions. It was inspired by a TV ad, and is quite timely. Be warned, however – it’s not a children’s story and there is some colourful language!

No Drama

‘You need to sound more positive, Jason. Try smiling while you speak.’ The director ran his fingers through his hair. ‘OK, guys, let’s go again. Take 12.’

Jason forced a painful grin at the microphone. ‘It’s time to get ready for Brexit –’

Cut!’ yelled the director. ‘You sound like you’re saying it through your teeth! You’re meant to be making Brexit sound like something good that everybody wants – you’re making it sound like something grim!

‘But not everybody does want it, Philip,’ said Jason. ‘And it is grim.’

‘You need to cut that attitude right now,’ snapped Philip. ‘OK, take five, everyone.’

‘I thought it was Take 13,’ Jason joked feebly. No one laughed.

During the break, Philip gave him a stern pep-talk. ‘You’re meant to be an actor, Jason – so act! It doesn’t matter what the hell you think about Brexit, you need to act like it’s the best thing to happen to this country since Winston Churchill. People are anxious – so reassure them! You want to sound soothing, and positive, and upbeat. You want to make Brexit sound like something new and exciting, the next Great British Adventure. Make them feel like pioneers! You’re being well paid for this, Jason, so get over there and earn your money.’

Ten takes later the ad was in the can, but Jason wasn’t a happy man. He felt as if he’d soiled himself. He’d never wanted to do adverts, particularly not cheesy, patronising government ones. OK, so they paid more than movies or TV work, but he’d have been happy to take less money and feel good about himself.

He longed to land a part in a big TV drama, but he kept getting passed over. The trouble was, he had the wrong look – just that bit too ridiculous for straight parts, but too boring for comic roles. Recently, he’d tried for Peaky Blinders – he’d even got the haircut, for God’s sake – but he hadn’t been called for an audition.

When he got home from the ad shoot, all he wanted was a hot shower to wash away the unclean feeling. But as he pulled up to his house, he saw Norman outside the front door.

This is all I need, he thought. I can’t cope with Norman right now.

But it looked like he would have to cope with Norman, because Norman had seen him. He pulled into the drive and got out of the car.

‘Hello, Norman.’

‘Hi, Jason! How’s things?’

‘Come inside, and I’ll tell you.’

When they were seated in Jason’s kitchen with stiff drinks, Jason gave Norman a potted version of his woes.

‘I don’t know what people see in Peaky Blinders,’ was all Norman had to say. ‘It’s just a bunch of guys with bad haircuts shooting people.’ He laughed. ‘That haircut really doesn’t suit you, by the way. It makes you look like one of those potatoes kids grow grass on.’

‘Thanks for that,’ said Jason.

‘I don’t know what you’re moaning about,’ Norman went on. ‘You’ve got the perfect look for voiceover work, and you’re getting well paid for that Brexit ad. Take the money and run, I say.’

‘But I don’t want to do VO work! It shouldn’t all be about looks – I’m a good actor, and my talent and training is being wasted on crap!

But Norman was clearly bored with the conversation, because he changed the subject to his favourite topic – himself – and warped on at length about his latest relationship. He was still in the honeymoon period, and the girl in question could do no wrong. According to him, Anya was a cross between Beyonce and the Dalai Lama. She worked all over the world for some charity that saved a rare and exotic species of toad, and she’d met all sorts of fascinating people. She was interesting and funny and, of course, mindblowing in bed.

Jason glanced at his watch. Half an hour had gone by without Norman drawing breath, and Jason was deeply bored with Anya without even having met her. He just wanted to go to bed and watch crap TV on his own.

Normally, he would have gritted his teeth until Norman ran out of drivel, but today he just couldn’t do it.

‘Norman,’ he said. ‘Shut up.’

Norman stared at him as if he’d grown a penis on his head. Jason never told people to shut up. Jason was quiet and unassuming and, well, nice.

‘I’ve had a bastard of a morning,’ Jason went on. ‘I’m tired, I’m miserable, and I just want some peace and quiet. So go away and stop wasting my air.’

‘Well!’ said Norman, puffing out his cheeks. ‘I like that, I must say! I thought you were meant to be a good listener!’

‘No, Norman, I’m a good actor. I’m just good at looking like I’m listening.’

Norman did go home then, having told Jason it was no wonder he didn’t have any friends.

That was the trouble with pretending to be nice all the time – people couldn’t hack it when you dropped the pretense.

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Lazy Pearl and Free Writing

You may have noticed that Pearl’s posts have been somewhat sporadic since she took over from Millie.

This is because greyhounds are basically lazy. They sometimes have spurts of energy, but they prefer to spend most of their time chilling out. Pearl is often too lazy even to do her job as a Storyhound; it’s been so long since she astral-traveled to Storyland to hunt down ideas for my writing that I’ve had to start thinking up ideas myself!

I’m not as good at astral travel as a dog, so I have to use other methods. I’ve found it useful to do a few pages of free writing first thing in the morning. This is something I used to do naturally, but earlier this year my mind got so cluttered up with RULES that my WIP nearly ground to a halt. Those pesky RULES would keep popping in and interrupting my flow, and I don’t need that while I’m working on a first draft. With free writing, there’s only one rule, and that’s NO rules – it doesn’t have to please anyone, not even me. It doesn’t even have to make sense. So, no pressure.

I started with a suggestion I found in Ray Bradbury’s wonderful book Zen in the Art of Writing. He recommends using free association to make a random list of words, then picking one word from the list and writing whatever comes into your head about that word. By following this method, I’ve managed to churn out a short story most mornings for nearly two months. Some of them are rubbish, but that doesn’t matter. Since I started doing this, the WIP has begun to flow again – not as glitch-free as I’d like, but I’m hoping the situation will  improve as I continue the free writing practice. And one or two of the short stories look quite promising!

Do any of you do free writing? I’d love to hear what methods other writers use to get started.

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What Pearly thought of Dorian Greyhound

Hi, Pearl here! As promised in my last post, here are my thoughts on The Picture of Dorian Greyhound, which I have just finished reading.

I immediately fell in love with Dorian, a beautiful and innocent young Greyhound who has his pawtrait painted by the renowned artist Sir Basil Basset. While Dorian is sitting for the pawtrait, Sir Basil’s friend Lord Henry Wooffon comes to visit. Impressed by Dorian’s youthful beauty, Lord Henry urges him to make the most of it as dogs grow old only too soon. When Dorian sees his finished pawtrait, he wishes he could stay young forever and the picture would grow old instead of him.

Sir Henry is a thoroughly bad dog, and under his influence Dorian does a lot of naughty things. Dorian’s wish comes true and he never grows a day older, but the pawtrait ends up looking horrible and hideous as it becomes a record of all his bad behaviour. The ending of the story is very sad and it made me cry. Dorian should have gone to dog training classes instead of listening to that wicked Weimaraner.

I wish I had a pawtrait like Dorian’s. We dogs do grow old too soon – I’m 11 now, and on medication for arthritis already. If I had a magic picture, I wouldn’t be naughty; I would enjoy my eternal youth in happy, healthy ways. Thank goodness we dogs never really lose our innocence!

What Annabelle thought

This book is based on Oscar Wilde’s classic The Picture of Dorian Grey, which has always been a favourite of mine. The abridged canine version stays faithful to the original, a dark tale of the corruption of innocence with a harrowing ending – all the more harrowing in this case, because it happens to a dog. The Greyhound is the perfect canine vehicle for the elegant beauty of the young Dorian, and the illustrations of the characters are stunningly true to canine life, worthy of the great Sir Basil Basset himself.

Favourite lines:

” ‘Oh, there is no such thing as good influence, Mr Greyhound,’ declared Lord Wooffon. ‘Every dog must explore his own sins, and not borrow those of others.’ ”

“It was a poisonous book, which described within it the life of the senses – of the rejection of obedience and training, which is artificial, and the pursuit of natural rebellion, which society calls “mischief”. It troubled one’s tiny brain.”

“It was almost nine o’clock when Dorian finally arrived at the club and found a very bored Lord Wooffon sitting alone, idly contemplating a squeaky ball.”

And, of course, the famous Wilde witticism: “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.”

The Picture of Dorian Greyhound by Oscar Wilde and Eliza Garrett. Illustrated by Pastiche Pastiche. Published by Wildfire. Hardcover, 64 pages.

Other books in the Classic Tails series are Pugs and Prejudice, The Great Catsby and Romeow and Juliet.

Pearly’s pawtrait Debra Allen Photography

 

 

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Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Greyhound by Oscar Wilde & Eliza Garrett

Hi, Pearly Greyhound here! Annabelle has just bought me this book – when I’ve read it, I’ll let you know what I think. In the meantime, check out this review on The Strawberry Post…

The Strawberry Post

Title: The Picture of Dorian Greyhound
Author: Oscar Wilde & Eliza Garrett
Illustrator: Pastiche Pastiche
Publisher: Wildfire
Genre: Classic, Short Story, Picture Book
Book format: Hardback
Sweet Strawberries:  Sweet StrawberrySweet StrawberrySweet StrawberrySweet Strawberry

Description: The greatest works of literature, as told by the finest breeds.
Dorian Greyhound is the best of his breed – well tempered, beautiful and pure of heart.  So Basil Basset, an artist, paints a portrait that reflects the very essence of Dorian’s soul.
Then the moral corruption of this sweet creature begins.  On the outside, Dorian remains young and sleek – but as his naughtiness increases, the portrait starts to reveal his inner decay…

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