Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Things they say, episode 9

Scene: the hall, morning. Shoes and coats are being put on...

E: But WHY do we have to go to school? All we do all day is learn and learn and learn and learn...

Me: That's why you go every day. There's so much to learn. I'm (insert age here) and every day I learn something new. Even if you went to school for the rest of your life you'd never learn everything!

E: Exactly! So there's no point in going, then. (Takes off shoes)

Exit, pursued by a stare

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

But is it art?

Keeping up with the historical (and artistic) theme, here's a short film I made while out-and-about this Easter.

It's of the 'Rudston Venus' - a Roman mosaic from a villa situated at Rudston, East Yorkshire, depicting (rather crudely) the Roman goddess Venus (Greek Aphrodite).

She's holding the apple awarded to her by Paris in the beauty contest between her and the goddesses Athena and Hera - the one that started all the fighting over Helen and led to the siege of Troy (see last post!). She is also attended by a 'merman' (one of the traditional companions of Aphrodite).

So although she might not be your ideal of beauty, this voluptious figure is the goddess of just that.

The mosaic is now in the care of Hull Museums; there's nothing left of the villa itself but a field.

Some think the depiction is naive, almost childish. But I think it's remarkable - not only as an example of the vibrancy of Roman culture in one of the remoter parts of the Empire, but also the style - a blend of classical and Celtic influences that creates something unique and fascinating.

But is it art?

Friday, 7 April 2017

The Plains of Troy

It's not often we feature fiction here. (There are those who classify all my posts as such, but I digress...)

This is proper fiction - flash, to be precise, and it comes from the pen of the talented author of the debut novel, Ashael Rising. Shona Kinsella is an Unbound author with a up-and-coming bestseller on her hands. She's also a talented writer with an ability to rise to pretty much any creative challenge. Like the one I set her.

Write a piece of flash fiction; write to a prompt; make it witty; make it entertaining; make it memorable. Oh yes, the prompt? The Plains of Troy. Here's her story...

Dust hung in the air, kicked up by the feet of an army. Polomedes rubbed his nose and sighed. He hated this dry and dusty plain more than he had ever hated anywhere. It had been eight years camped outside Troy. Eight years away from his wife and child – all because Menelaus couldn’t keep his own wife. Polomedes stopped and took a long drink of water from his canteen, then poured a little of the precious liquid into his hand and used it to wash the dust from his face. He didn’t know why he bothered – his face would be coated again in moments. He lowered the canteen and continued his inspection of the perimeter of the camp.

The army had long since grown lax in their security. The Trojans seemed content to stay inside their walls, sending the occasional volley of arrows towards the Achaeans but rarely venturing out. All around the ragged edges of the camp lived the camp-followers, those who did not fight but followed the army. Polomedes would send them all away if he could but he did not command here.

The soldier rounded a wall of tents housing camp followers to see that they backed up
to a scraggly wall of bushes.Who allowed this? he thought, angrily. Allowing the camp to spread so close to cover was practically inviting outsiders in. Polomedes drew his sword and swung it at the bushes,heedless of the damage that might be done to his blade. As he hacked away, he imagined fighting the Trojans, freeing the Lady Helen so they could all go home at last. He got increasingly agitated and came back to himself only when he was sweating and panting.

As he stood there, bent over and trying to catch his breath, he noticed movement on the other side of the remaining bushes. He crept through, hoping to surprise an enemy,someone to fight! Instead he saw a maiden, fair of face and form. She was dressed in the style of the Trojans and had a brace of hares slung over her shoulder. She stood before him, frozen as a deer before a hunter. Polomedes stepped towards her, though whether to challenge or protect her, he wasn’t sure.

“Paul Cairns, have you been listening to a word I’ve said?”

Paul blinked. The camp was gone. He was back in his history classroom, the warm sun beating down on his back and making him dozy. Kelly had turned around in her seat and was watching him, an amused smile on her face.

“Well, Mr Cairns? How long were the Achaeans camped outside the walls of Troy?”

“Ten years, sir,” Paul answered without hesitation.

Mr Atkinson gave him a long look. “Indeed. Do try not to daydream so obviously in my class in future.”

“Yes, sir.’ Paul blushed and tried to avoid Kelly’s eyes as Mr Atkinson turned to face the rest of the class.

“Who can tell me what happened in the tenth year of the siege?” the teacher asked.

Shona Kinsella is a fantasy author who lives in the west of Scotland with her husband and three children. Her debut novel, Ashael Rising, was published by Unbound in February 2017 is available purchase from AmazonUnbound and all major book retailers. Find out more at www.shonakinsella.com or follow her on Twitter.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

A spoonful of sugar...

Anyone who's ever had to give medicine to babies and small children (how do I make sure she gets the right dose/swallows it all/doesn't choke/spit it out?) will be interested in this.

Mum-of-two Dorota Dyk has invented a simple, mess free solution that gives greater control - safely positioning the syringe in the right place and requiring the use of only one hand to dispense the medicine.

Here she is, talking about it.

This invaluable little invention (which has already generated interest from children’s hospitals like Great Ormond Street, Alder Hay, Sheffield and Manchester) is currently live on Kickstarter.

But the campaign will finish in a week so there is not much time left. If you'd like to help fund the first batch of MEDAPTI here is the link to the campaign:


Do support it if you can.

You never know when such a small device might be so very useful.

Friday, 24 March 2017


I don't often talk about my work-in-progress. That way, I can avoid failure and rejection as a topic of conversation.

But I'm going to 'fess up to having been given the cold shoulder by the BBC in their latest Writers Room drama script submission window.

Now, my script might not have been perfect. It might not even have been any good. But it was a cracking idea, combining the 90th anniversary of the inauguration of the Menin Gate, Ypres (in July this year) with a bit of BBC history - their first overseas (and only their second-ever) outside broadcast.

Yes, on Sunday 27th July 1927 the Beeb broadcast the ceremony on telephone lines all the way from Ypres. Ambitious, to say the least, seeing as their only previous outside broadcast was of the boat race.

I'd done plenty of research into the Menin Gate as part of the work on my book, The Glorious Dead. I was intrigued by the broadcast, looked into its history and managed to find all the details on the ceremony.

Next came the decision to create as main character the dying mayor of Ypres, Rene Colaert, a man who'd been there when the Germans arrived in 1914 (was taken hostage when they left), saw his town's destruction and then supervision its rebuilding. He was too ill to attend the ceremony so... he listened to the broadcast (in English) with the window of his bedroom (through which he could - just - see the Menin Gate itself) open.

Notwithstanding all I've said about my shortcomings as a dramatist (manifold) I still can’t quite believe the BBC have passed up such a good idea. Believe me, they (ideas you know are pretty special) don't come often. So when they do...

If they'd written to say 'your script is pants but we want to develop the idea' I'd have been happy. As it is, and as is the suspicious way of people who spend their days in their own heads, I'm now convinced some bugger’s going to nick it, so… here are the first few pages. And if anyone else wants to do it, get in touch.

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