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Monday, 2 October 2017

A new (writing) season

winter vegetable garden - possum proofed!
It's late autumn in the Adelaide Hills, time to plant winter vegetables. Finding enough sun in our garden is tricky, and this spot is probably going to prove too shady but we're giving it a go, growing sugarloaf cabbages and small-leafed spinach. The cage around it is not because we expect escapees but to keep out the bane of my gardening existence - the ubiquitous brushtail and ringtail possums.

Possums are incredibly cute, especially the little ringtails. They are also voracious, having a go at just about any new growth - leaves, buds and blossoms, and fruit. They didn't do much damage to the chilis (he he!) but, unbelievably, one year they stripped my rosemary (euch, mouthfuls of rosemary!). I keep my mint and parsley in an old birdcage, and now we have decided the only way to give our vegetables a chance is to cage them. It was so disappointing to grow snowpeas last spring and eat only three pods ourselves. And don't get me started on the apple crop that never grew because the wretched critters ate all the blossoms - and broke branches in their enthusiasm to get to them...

This blog has always included a photo and a chat about what's happening in my garden at the moment. But the season I'm most excited about right now is the publication of my debut novel, The Golden Hour, to be released in early June. Yay! That's been a long time coming and it's such a joy to reach this point.

The Golden Hour, a novel by Claire Belberg
Click here to order the book if your local bookshop doesn't stock it.

To celebrate it, I'm re-entering the blogosphere. I confess I won't be posting often on here, but please go to my new blog, The Character Forge, at, where I intend to post at least monthly. There I will give updates on publishing news, write about the writing and publishing process, and wonder about the connection between writing imaginary characters and the effect of writing on the growth of my personal character.

It's not just about me, you'll be glad to hear! I would love to connect with you - so let me know what you want to know or share about authors and writing, what you like to read and why, how imagination improves your life, in what ways reading/writing/imagining grows you as a person.This is about journeying together into more life and joy, about becoming who we truly are - doing it together because it's better that way :)

Saturday, 19 December 2015

From shining star to sea: the journey of an unlikely promise

Succulents are perfect for Adelaide summers
We are in the midst of a record-breaking heatwave. I am so grateful to live in the Adelaide Hills where the trees give refreshment even in scorching weather. We have seen koalas a lot more than usual as they move into the suburbs in search of water. The magpies, wattle birds and silvereyes appreciate our birdbath, which has to be topped up frequently. The garden is surviving the heat well – my deep watering approach seems to be working but it requires daily diligence as I use a sprinkler mornings and evenings in different areas of the yard. We used to have it all rigged up with automatic systems, but the garden has changed and the system has aged beyond usefulness.

In recognition of Christmas in one week’s time, here is a Christmas story with a difference. It is based on a rather odd Victorian Christmas card (c. 1880).

From shining star to sea: the journey of an unlikely promise         
Robbi lay back down on a rock near the shore, terrified, yet almost relieved that his fears were being realised. It was a fool’s journey, but what else can a mouse do? He tried to explain it to the lobsters again.
                There was much clacking of claws. It dawned on the mouse that they were laughing. He wished they would kill him and be done with it. His mission made no sense anyway.
                The last of the sunlight was swallowed by the ocean. The mouse, still wet, began to shiver. An order was given to carry him to the beach for a gathering of the clan. Robbi’s tail was pinched in a large claw and he was dragged to the sand, pressed by dozens of hard-shelled bodies.
The biggest lobster spoke at him. ‘There was an ancient promise about a message from the King of the Land. Frankly, it sounds like nonsense. But truth comes in strange packages. You might go to our King, if you’re convincing. Speak up.’
                The mouse trembled; he knew he had no powers of persuasion. His death was imminent.
                He spoke quickly, hastening the inevitable. ‘I was in a forest. A large beast was caught in a hunter’s trap, a net of thick rope binding it. When I realised it a was a lion, I knew I should have listened to my father.
                ‘The lion did not kill me with its huge paws. It asked for help. I chewed through the rope in all the places the lion told me, and expected to be eaten for my troubles.
                ‘I darted away as he wriggled free, but froze with terror as a roar shook the ground. He bellowed, “I, the King of the Land, thank you, little mouse. If you dare, come close again.”
                ‘My legs were stiff with fear, but I went close. After all, even though he’s a lion, he is my King.
                ‘"You are a brave soul,” he said. “I will need you again one day. Will you do what I ask if I call you?”
                ‘Not long afterwards a new star had appeared in the sky. Every creature began rehearsing old stories of a long-forgotten promise. The King called me. He said the time of reconciliation had begun. He sent me to the King of the Sea to say: Peace, Joy, Health and Happiness from the King of the Heavens.
                ‘I warned him I would fail. I had so many reasons why he should entrust the message to someone else, but he would not listen. He asked, “Will you go?”
                ‘What can a mouse do? I said yes. And here I am.’
                A hint of moonrise lit the underside of a cloud, making the lobsters restless. They twitched their antennae, waiting for a signal from the Boss. He was in deep silence.
                ‘Boll! I charge you with taking this mouse to the King.’
                Boll, the mouse’s former guard, stepped forward. ‘But I can’t.’
                ‘You can and you will. Go, and may the favour of the King of the Heavens follow you. Oh, you’d better take this.’ He passed it a white oilskin with some incomprehensible words written on it. Then he dismissed the young lobster with an imperious wave of a claw.
                The rest of the clan fled to the safety of the dark waters as the moon lit the winter night.
                Only Boll and Robbi remained on the beach, shifting uneasily. ‘What do you think it says?’ the mouse asked the lobster, indicating the oilskin in its claw.
                ‘How should I know?’
                ‘Oh.’ Gulping, the mouse said, ‘We’d better just go.’
                ‘Right. Er, how? You can’t swim.’
                ‘I can, if my head is above the water.’
                ‘Right. Ride on my back.’
                Robbi climbed on and slid off the other side.
                Boll clacked. ‘Better hang on to one set of my feelers. I’ll use the others.’
                They tried again, with more success, and Boll took a few steps. ‘Okay up there? Hold the message.’ It handed the oilskin to the mouse.
                ‘Okay,’ Robbi said, all his senses alert. ‘Let’s go.’
The Boss watched from his rock at the water’s edge. It was the strangest sight in all his long years, a mouse on the back of a small lobster, the white oilskin message hanging down from a paw. One mouthful and they’d both be gone. The skin had been in the Boss’s family for generations. But what can a lobster do? It was the King of Heaven’s problem now.

I echo the message of the King of Heaven: may you have Peace, Joy, Health and Happiness this Christmas and in the new year.

See you next time!

Claire Belberg

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Julia: a story

Spring delight
The first spring flush is passing now in the Adelaide Hills. I am trying to be diligent to remove spent flowers in the hope of a new flush in a few weeks’ time. I find it a challenge to manage that, weeding, fertilising, mulching and watering all at once! I don’t have a green thumb but I start each growing season full of hope.

The fruit trees are producing mixed results. Lemon – fabulous; one of the apples – very promising; nectarine – nothing at all after a serious infestation of aphids; apricot – a decent crop. Unforeseen disasters may occur, of course – growing things is a risky hobby.

Do you enjoy dreaming? I love it; it’s like reading without the book. Not always as satisfying but often intriguing. Today’s story is a drama that started with a dream I had.

He was looking directly at me as I stood in the phone booth, about to make a difficult call. He was the archetypal gentleman, from his well-cut suit and his neatly trimmed beard to the way he held his tall body with perfect ease and grace.
I banged the receiver down awkwardly and left the booth.
‘I hate strangers staring at me, ‘ I muttered, forced to walk past him to get to my room. Once I was around the corner, I ran, holding two thoughts at once. The first was to lock myself in my room and stay out of sight until I was sure he had left the premises. The second was his odd reply to my outburst: ‘I know what you mean.’
I knew who he was, though what he was doing in an ordinary London boarding hostel, I had no idea.
The hostel was pleasant enough, and I was one of the lucky two boarders who had ground floor rooms with big windows and a little patch of grass beyond the back door. I was careful to keep those big windows covered with their heavy drapes when there were strangers around, but as I slammed the door behind me and pushed the bolt, I realised that if I was to remain out of sight I had no time to close them again. I had opened them only a short time before to allow the rare sunshine in.
I heard his voice from my hiding place under the bed on the far side of the room.
‘Madam? Are you all right? I meant no disrespect.’
I could just see him as he stood on the little lawn, his handsome face filled with concern. I knew who he was and that he meant well, but I stayed where I was until he left.

Fate kept placing George and me in the same public locations for some months after that, as if London were too small for two strangers to not connect. I pretended not to see him on each occasion and, since I would not look at him after the first recognition of his presence, I could not know if he had seen me. Finally there came a day when we communicated, and for that I will be eternally grateful.
It was not fate that caused Wade to turn up at various junctures of my life. On this day, a brisk spring day with its usual dose of wind and rain, he ran into me as I left Sloane Square station.
‘Julia,’ I heard a voice say behind me. I froze.
He came around to face me, pushing me gently to the edge of the pavement where the eaves of an apartment block gave a little protection and the stream of commuters flowed past us without interruption. I stared at my feet, unable to think straight, which was typical when Wade was around.
‘You didn’t give me an answer after last time,’ he said. Even into the low voice he used to keep our conversation private, he managed to inject poison. I felt it leaking into me from my ears steadily towards my heart. I had no antidote; I just waited for it to take familiar effect.
‘You know my answer,’ I said, forcing the words from my lips.
But he knew my weakness. ‘You say that, but you’ll do what I say. If you don’t add my name to your account by the end of the week, I’ll make sure Alexa knows exactly what you did on the night she was conceived. Every bloody detail.’
Alexa was my five year old daughter, who lived in the care of my sister in a village in Devon. I didn’t put it past Wade to have worked out where she was, nor to tell a child things no child should know.
I had practised what I should say, but now I could not remember the words or any sense of how I could resist his threat. But before I was forced to respond, a third person joined us. George.
‘Is there a problem here?’ he asked in his fine English that made Wade’s private school accent sound common.
My fuddled brain had had no chance to plan for an event unforeseen. ‘He’s trying to blackmail me,’ I blurted, looking George in the eyes for the first time since our encounter at the phone booth. Then my eyes flew to Wade’s face and I blushed. Wade always made me feel that my actions were wrong.
Only this time it was Wade who did not know how to respond.
Before he could, George spoke again. ‘If anything suspicious happens in this woman’s life, ever, you will feel the full weight of the law.’ He looked directly at Wade for a moment that carried the significance of years, and then turned to me.
Handing me a business card, he said, ‘You can contact me any time if he gives you more trouble.’ Then he touched his right hand to his head in that ageless gesture of the English gentleman, and walked in the direction of all the other morning commuters. It struck me for the first time that George used public transport like the rest of us.
Wade found his words, and his venom. ‘Oh yes, he’s going to solve the sordid dealings of a bitch on the street.’ He had regained his usual place of power between us. ‘Who does he think he is?’
‘George Pennington, QC,’ I said, reading the card.
‘Some fancy lawyer type. He’ll have forgotten you by the time he’s finished reading the Times.’ He seemed to need to convince himself.
‘He’ll remember,’ I said. ‘We have met before. And he’s renowned for his memory of detail.’
Wade’s confidence was shaken, and in like measure mine was increasing.
‘You don’t know who he is, do you, Wade?’ I pressed. ‘He’s literally a QC – counsel to the royal family.’
And then I did what I should have done years earlier. I said, ‘Goodbye, Wade,’ and turned my back on him.
I walked in the direction George had walked, simply because he had; that was all the sense of direction I needed. Of course I did not see him. In fact, we never met again. Nor did I suffer further threats from Wade Chandler.

Have a happy November!
See you next time!

Claire Belberg

Friday, 9 October 2015

The case of Arthur: a narrative poem

westringia glabra - thriving
This spring is hotter than average. That’s really no news at all, given Adelaide’s renowned weather variability. And the Bureau of Meteorology said it would be the case. I just hope the tender new growth in my garden will not be as shocked as I am at temperatures in the 30s (Celsius) so early in the season. We have already had to start cooling the house with the evaporative system.

The other part of the BOM’s forecast was for wetter than average, but unfortunately they got that wrong. After a much lower rainfall in the winter just past, these hot days are beginning to use up our limited water supply. If the worst comes to the worst, we might even use the water we pay $1 million a day to produce in spite of having sufficient natural water available ever since the plant was opened two and a half years ago.

I’m working on doing more efficient watering this summer, using deep watering less often. I thought I was already doing that until I read about a Hills nursery and realised that ‘deep’ means the dripper system being on for many more hours than I had scheduled. Our water bill is never negligible, but my goal is to make the plants more drought-proof and use no more water than in the previous summers. Of course, I won’t know if I’ve achieved it until I get the bill at the end of the season…

Okay, enough worrying about possible futures. Right now I’m loving the vitality of the spring garden. Some of the plants I’ve been carefully nurturing for far too long are actually starting to thrive! I’m so happy with the westringias growing where nothing else copes that I’ve bought three more.

This month’s poem is a humorous narrative in blank verse. As usual, it has nothing to do with all that stuff you just read!

The Case of Arthur

The carousel slid bags and packs towards
a neatly dressed and bland-faced man. He claimed
a case with practised swing, then strode outside.
He caught a taxi home with rising hopes.

The man (his name was Arthur) took his time –
changed into trackies, brewed his fav’rite caf –
before he started on the joyous task
of sorting through the contents of the case.

A well-worn bathrobe Arthur thrust aside
to start the pile of items to be thrown.
The common stuff – holed socks and underwear
with sagged elastic – tossed, the out-pile grew.

But Arthur held his hopes in spite of these
poor specimens. He knew that treasure hides
itself in rags to mask the trail. He kept
his cool and checked each piece with measured pace.

Dress shoes, Van Heusen business shirt – all good
for keeping Arthur fitted out for work.
But wait! Inside the shirt was something firm.
He held his breath as wrappings fell away.

The prize! His searching years were done. He’d found
the willow-patterned plate for which he’d yearned.
His joy knew full expression:  Arthur sang
as he displayed the plate in pride of place.

His travel days were done, he told himself,
And gave the lucky suitcase to his niece.
But habits of longstanding keep their grip;
our Arthur missed the thrill of baggage claim.

So do not be surprised if, when you fly,
Your suitcase disappears without a trace.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned!

See you next time J

Claire Belberg

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The Crypt (Part Two)

Cape Gooseberry
I wrote too quickly about our winter-ripening fruits. Not long after my last post we experienced frosts in the garden for the first time in the sixteen years we have lived here. The pepino was badly burned, the agaves on our deck turned to mush, and the lovely cape gooseberry pictured here is much reduced. I have learned to make pepino & lemon jam, and pepino & ginger chutney, so all is not lost!
Next winter I'll know to check for low overnight temperatures and to cover the vulnerable plants with a sheet. But now the spring is coming, though a little colder and wetter than usual after what seems a wet enough winter to me, but which they tell us was actually much drier than average. South Australia needs its winter rains so that we have enough water in the long, hot, dry summer. So bring on the rain!

Continuing the story, begun in my previous post, of a courageous young woman and an uncommon sword in a desperate situation...

The Crypt (Part Two)

He stands with his arms crossed, leaning against the rail while his goons come at her from each side. Sharpy is there to her right, his knife doing its dance. She swings that way, then to her left as the first boy runs at her, then back as quickly as she can again towards Sharpy, trying to swish the sword a little so that he cannot entirely anticipate her moves. Back and forth they duck and lunge, and sometimes the blade makes contact with a boy or the box or the rail. All the time Honeytongue keeps up a languid commentary until the young woman wishes she could switch him off.
She cannot keep it up much longer. How she has even managed this long is a puzzle she has no mental capacity to examine yet. The boys are making hits with the tip of the knife and with fists, and the young woman’s body is bruised, cut and aching all over. The sword hangs from her hands, its weight unable to be raised higher than her waist. Her back is wet with sweat, and her mind foggy with weariness. It is difficult to see in the faint light with sweat misting her vision.
Honeytongue vaults the box and stands directly in front of her, towering over her. There is no room to swing the sword even if she had the strength.
‘Drop it.’
The voice does not sound right, her dazed mind tells her. She tries to let go of the sword but her fingers will not unclamp. The sword dips down to the platform on Sharpy’s side. But Sharpy is not there. Honeytongue is still on the box but he is looking towards the door. The other boy is crouched low on the platform looking the same way.
‘How dare you treat the Sword of Truth with such dishonour! Stop playing around. Put it back where you found it and come down here.’ The imperious voice rings out through the dark crypt. Steps sound, and suddenly the room is filled with light.
Honeytongue had used the last moments of darkness to grab for the young woman. But she is not there. She too had used the distraction to advantage, slipping into Sharpy’s previous position, dragging the sword with her. The man’s voice has charged her with new energy though she barely recognises the words.
‘Get off the altar,’ the man says. He strides towards the platform, his indignation evident in his steps.
‘She needs help, sir,’ Honeytongue says, his voice dripping with compassion. ‘She’s not herself.’
‘He’s a snake. Don’t listen to him. They chased me here to do me harm. There’s one with a knife somewhere, and another one up here where you can’t see him.’
‘Put the sword down,’ the man says.
‘Not until you make them leave.’
Honeytongue turns back to the young woman, drops to his haunches and reaches for her in a swift movement. Before the man can say or do anything, she brings the waiting sword down with all its weight flat onto the boy’s head. He falls like a stone on the platform.
The man runs up the stairs, shouting, ‘My God! What have you done?’
The young woman lifts the sword again, every muscle straining. ‘Don’t come close,’ she warns. ‘And watch out for the other two.’
The man steps back, then walks around the other way. There a black-clad boy squats, springing up as he sees the man.
‘She’s dangerous. Look what she did to my arm,’ he whimpers. But he keeps his distance.
‘Where’s the third one?’
‘Probably trying to get to the door. He’s a coward. I don’t think he’ll stay for his mates.’
The man hesitates. He looks at the sword and at the boys on the platform, one unaware, the other cowering. ‘Come on,’ he says to the whimperer. ‘Come with me.’ He leads the boy down the steps and across the floor to the door. As they pass a stack of boxes, Sharpy darts out and, grabbing the other boy, pushes the man away.
The man staggers, but in spite of his scrawny physique he holds his ground. He simply watches as the boys run through the door and out into the night.
‘Just you and me now,’ he says, walking back towards the platform. ‘You can put the sword back in its place.’ He waits at the bottom of the steps.
The young woman sobs a single choking cry as the sword clatters onto the floor. She falls forward against the box, her head hanging, her hair a curtain hiding her face. She has no strength to protect herself any more.
The man walks slowly up the steps and checks the slumped boy. He picks up the sword and examines it closely, pommel, guard and blade. Apparently satisfied, he replaces it carefully in its bed. ‘Your work is not over yet, it seems,’ he murmurs. ‘And I had thought, all these years, that your glory lay in history. Can your light and hope influence even this age?’
The young woman, now standing, sees her rescuer a confused old man. Where is the booming voice, the certainty that banished her assailants?
She takes a step towards him.  ‘You did what was needed, sir. We all did – you, the sword and I.’ After a moment she adds, ‘Do you mind if I leave now?’
The man stares at her, looking at her closely for the first time. She knows what he sees – the now dust-smeared and slashed burgundy clothing, the dyed black hair and stark makeup now smudged into a mispainted mask. She can feel blood dripping from her side, and wonders if it shows through her tunic. She senses a residue of violence in her very skin and longs to be washed clean, of this and the endless fear.
The man looks at the remaining boy, still as death on the platform. ‘I think we had better call the police. Why don’t you come to my house and clean up? My housekeeper will have some clothes, I think.’
The young woman studies his grey, lined face; he keeps his eyes on the fallen boy. ‘I guess so,’ she says, resignation and hope mingling. With one last look at the sword, now still, its jewels gleaming in the electric light, she limps down the steps and follows him towards the door.

That’s the end of the story. I like subtle endings. How do you feel about them? Do you prefer endings that tell you more about what happened afterwards? Happy endings? Endings that leave possibilities open? Perhaps you have a favourite story ending you would like to quote. Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

See you next time!

Claire Belberg

Saturday, 18 July 2015

The Crypt: a short story

Luxurious growth - pepino gold
Mid-winter in the Adelaide Hills, and it’s wet and cold as it should be. Yet we have our share of sunshine days, which makes for pleasant gardening and even a picnic or two.

Unusual fruit - pepino gold
There are more plants flowering now than there were in May, which always surprises me. I have been planting unusual fruits this year, and today’s pics shows how a small pepino gold that lost its leaves in its first winter is now taking over my garden – and still flowering and ripening fruit through the cold! I discovered that I don’t really like the flavour of the ripened melon-like fruit, but fortunately my offspring do. It can also be eaten unripe, cooked like various other relatively tasteless vegetables (choko comes to mind) which fill out a casserole or stir fry. I don’t mind that. And, at the very least, the plant adds lushness to my garden, which is always welcome.

The story this month, a drama with a hint of myth, shows an experience involving an ancient sword in the life of an oppressed young woman . The story is too long for one post, so come by again in August for the second half.

The Crypt

Around the bejewelled sword lying in splendour on a raised dais lined with royal blue satin stand eleven solemn devotees. They link hands in the circle and one by one they name a gemstone – emerald, ruby, sapphire, diamond – and intone the meaning of each symbol engraved in the gleaming steel – truth, light, strength, honour, hope, power, love.
   A gaunt man in purple robes speaks longer than the others, reminding them of how the sword came to them through the centuries. He gives them the benefit of his meditations on just one of the many glories of the sword but he does not demonstrate it, though he has some skill. His focus has always been more on its making and its history.
   The attendants leave after a hymn of praise to the maker and the original wielders of this mighty and glorious weapon of a past age.

A young woman dressed in rich monochrome stands in the shadow of the crypt. With her back against a wall still warmed by the summer sun, she tries to slow her wildly beating heart. Beyond her a strobe of moonlight flashing between the branches of a windblown eucalypt alternately lights, then hides, a group of boys. They huddle, the backs of their black t-shirts showing as dark patches in the evening, then spread out, each of the four in a different direction. One begins to move towards the crypt, slowly, his head turning left, right, in front as he searches.
The young woman feels for the handle of the door to her left. It is locked, as it was the three previous times she tried it. She turns to face the wall and feels upwards for the window, which is closed. There is no mechanism; her fingernail on her right middle finger tears as she feels all around the edge, searching for a gap.
She turns back to see where the approaching boy is now. She panics for a moment, then spots him searching under the trees of a neighbouring yard, just over the road.
She has known this crypt since childhood when she and her brothers had played hide and seek among the stone buildings of the historic precinct. They had always called this ‘the crypt’, although it was set only a little lower than the other buildings, its foundations six feet below ground level. A concrete path surrounds the rectangular building, and concrete retaining walls. Wide concrete steps lead down to the main door. She has never entered, but a sign states the times of worship, when the crypt is opened.
Creeping around the corner from the locked side entrance, the young woman tries to picture the crypt walls as she saw them in her childhood games. A memory tugs at the corner of her mind as her fingers trail lightly along the wall. This side is cool, never receiving the sun’s attention. While it leads away from the one who searches for her, she recognises it is a dead end trap. There is no knowing where the other boys are. Even now they could be approaching from behind the hall in front of her. She listens for footfalls and giveaway crunching of stone or leaf litter underfoot, but the wind blows all sound aside except its own.
Her fingers identify a change of texture, and into her memory springs the image of a metal grate as large as a small dog. She turns to face this dank wall, putting both her hands to the grate and pulling. It moves with a scrape of metal against stone. She pulls carefully, feeling the pressure of the unknown at her back but fearing the sound giving away her location. Pushing, easing, holding her breath, stopping when the wind stops. Finally the grate comes out. She has no idea what lies beyond it.
She places the metal carefully on the concrete path to her right. The space where it was is pitch black. She feels as far in as she can reach, brushing away accumulated litter. It crackles a little, and she stops to listen again. Is that an answering crackle behind her, just to her left? Her heart beat increases and the pounding makes it harder to hear. It takes all her effort to hold the fear back, to think before she moves.
The wind’s white noise begins again. The young woman makes her decision and thrusts her arms and head into the space, and pulls herself into the tight, cold stone tunnel. The air is musty, dead, and dusty enough to tempt a sneeze which she manages to supress. She drags her body through, combat style though the movements are awkward, arrhythmic in the cramped space. In every moment she fears hitting her head, her hands touching something other than stone, or her feet being pulled.
Then her hands feel nothing but space. She forces herself to continue until her waist is at the lip of the stone, her upper body held in air. She cannot sense what is ahead of her. She might fall head first, a long way. But there is no other way. She wishes she had started feet first.
She falls. A jumble of nerve ending signals and sounds sort themselves, moments later, into a tangle of wooden chairs, an echoing crash, and a stabbing pain in her right thigh.
Her eyes adjust to the dark; moonlight entering a high window gives enough light to see the essentials. She manages to stand, making the chairs tumble further. She hobbles towards a central section, a platform of some kind. For a while she forgets the threat outside in the otherworldly wonder of being inside this place for the first time.
Her feet bump into a step, and she half falls up a set of them. At the top of the platform is a rail, a wide walkway, and a large box in the middle. She shuffles forward.
The hint of moonlight reflects off something on the top of the box. She lets her fingers provide the details her eyes cannot make out. There is silky fabric in generous folds around the edge, and then something hard and cold and long in the middle. Lightly tracing its shape from the top, she understands that it is a sword. Its pommel is scratchy, lumpy, and the cross guard similarly textured. Her hand slips into the grip and, without meaning to, she begins to lift the sword from its bed. It is too heavy. She lets it go again.
Why, she wonders, is there a sword in here, the centrepiece of this room? A crypt is normally a burial place but instead a sword lies in the place of honour. It is a mystery.
Scuffling and muffled voices remind her that this is not the time for mystery. She berates herself for losing focus, for not closing off the tunnel that is even now giving her enemies the same access she used. She is trapped. She would like to kneel or sit hidden but she remains standing, likely outlined by the moonlight, because she does not trust her right leg to do anything else. She waits.
They come, three of them, one by one tumbling out of the tunnel with a clatter and a shout. She waits for the fourth. Perhaps he is too big for the tunnel, or stands guard outside.
They fan out, still systematic in their method, edging around the room, approaching the platform from three directions, muttering instructions in short phrases. They have done this before, she thinks. Fear rises in her chest again. She feels the futility of resistance, and sweats the temptation to reveal herself and surrender to their vile intentions. It would be a relief, really, after all this time. If it isn’t these boys, it’s her stepfather, his son, her French teacher – a string of parasitic males and their sycophant female partners. She has been playing hide and seek for real for so long. How bitterly ironic that she should finally be caught here, inside the favourite refuge of her unsuspecting childhood.
She has been seen. She braces herself, adrenaline overcoming any thought of surrender. She steps up to the box and grasps the sword. Again she wonders at the way it fits her hand. She knows the sword is too heavy but she sets herself to raise it anyway. She is here, it is here, and her enemy is upon her.
The sword rises, glinting in the faint light as if it flashes a message. The fear drains from her and in its place a battle cry fills her lungs and forces its way through her lips: ‘The sword of light! You cannot defeat it.’
Exaltation sustains her as the first boy comes at her, jeering, ‘Ha! That thing’s twice your size. You’ll kill yourself before you can hurt us.’
He lunges at her and she waves the sword wildly at him, both hands on the hilt. The weight of the blade smacks him on the shoulder and knocks him off balance. He groans and rolls away from her.
The second boy runs up the platform steps. ‘You little bitch! You don’t deserve to live – you’re nothin’ but a gash and I’m gonna prove it.’ He pulls from his boot something small that glints as he dances around, twisting it, thrusting it, moving closer to the young woman. She swings the sword, loses her footing; he darts in and slices at her side while she is hefting the sword back in his direction. She feels the sting of contact with his blade even as the sword slices towards him. He ducks. The sword clatters against the railing and bounces. It is all she can do to hold it. She has no control of its direction.
The knife-wielder is joined by the third boy now, both of them keeping out of the sword’s range, side by side on the platform with the box between her and them.
Her arms are getting tired and the weight of the unwieldy weapon drags at her shoulders. The initial exaltation is dulling. Her strength will not last as long as her determination. But still she holds the sword with both hands, letting it rest for a moment against the box while she strains to see the movements of her assailants.
The first boy is on his feet again, clutching his struck shoulder with the other hand and swaying like a drunk. ‘I say we just run at her—‘
‘Shut up.’ The third boy’s words hold authority. He turns his attention to the young woman. ‘You’re getting tired, aren’t you? You’ve put up a good fight. Pretty impressive for a slight build like yours. I’ll say this for you – you’re feisty.’
She feels a new measure of wariness. He is cunning, this boy with his honey words, using the soft touch while his mates are harsh. In spite of herself she answers. ‘You’re no better than the rest, even if you play Mr Nice Guy. You don’t fool me.’
‘Quit blabbin’,’ the second boy, the knife-wielder, growls. ‘Let’s just cut her and get outta here.’
Their leader pays no attention. He holds them back, standing nonchalant, relaxed, as if all the searching and chasing were just to engage in conversation with her.
She flexes her fingers and resettles her grip.
‘You realise, of course – you’re no idiot – that we’ve got you cornered. You can’t win against three of us. You’ll just get hurt. It’s heavy, isn’t it, and your muscles aren’t trained to use it. You did well getting in here. It took us a while to find you. But you know, don’t you, that even your smarts can’t beat the three of us.
‘Why don’t you just put the sword down,’ he continues, ‘and let’s sort this out calmly. We won’t kill you – we just mean to have our fun, so if you’re really smart you’ll cooperate with us. I’ll make sure Sharpy here puts his knife away. I’m not into cutting.’
Sharpy growls but he puts the knife back into his boot.
‘See,’ says Honeytongue, ‘they do what I tell them. You will too.’
There is no threat in his tone, just supreme confidence in his authority. He seems so reasonable, so sure of himself, the young woman thinks that it would be easy to believe him. She is tired, her leg and her arms telling her in no uncertain terms that they are not enjoying this unfamiliar action.
‘No,’ she says, grimacing at the pathetic whisper. ‘No.’ She says it more firmly, and clears her throat. But she has no more words to add in the waiting silence. She raises the sword and balances the weight on her feet. The silence stretches until she’s sure something will snap.
‘Too bad,’ Honeytongue remarks, ‘I prefer my catch unbruised. Go to it, boys.’

(To be continued)

See you next time!

Claire Belberg

Monday, 22 June 2015

Blog Tour Award - The questions we ask ourselves

This blog post is a bit different from my usual and a bonus for the month of June. Thank you to Rosanne Hawke for inviting me to participate in the Blog Tour Award.

Firstly, these are the rules:
1. Pass the tour on to up to four other bloggers.
2. Give them the rules and a specific Monday to post.
3. Answer four questions about your creative process that lets other bloggers and visitors know what inspires you to do what you do.

The questions are:
1. What am I working on at the moment?
2. How does my work differ from others in my genre?
3. Why do I write or create what I do?
4. How does my writing/creative process work?

I really appreciate the talents of some other up-and-coming authors: Wendy Noble (writer, reviewer, editor, speaker and very diligent blogger) and James Cooper (all-round writer, writing teacher, and chief editor of the group blog author.docx). Wendy will post her Blog Tour Award on Monday 29 June and James on Monday 6 July.

Although this blog is mostly built around my short stories and poems, I’m going to tell you today about my major novel project.

 1.   What am I working on now?
The short answer is – the same novel I have been working on for six years! But the more informative answer is that I’m actually now writing it as four novels in a series.

I’m thinking of calling the series 'Find Freedom' and this first novel by the same title. In it we follow Meg, a forty-two year old journalist in the City-State of Encaedion in the year 2230. She has been the ‘voice of the voiceless’ throughout her career and has a large following, but she’s starting to ask the hard question: what difference is this actually making? Already discontented with her work and her marriage, life takes a serious turn for the worse when her teenage son is convicted of subversion. Where can you go when your life is falling apart?

my writing space
   How does my work differ from others in my genre?
I don’t write to genre – true confession: I don’t really understand how genre works – which leaves it in the miscellaneous category called ‘literary’. But I’m not clever enough to be what the reading public thinks of as literary…my focus is to write using English well and to tell stories that make readers feel like they know these characters as neighbours. I write about transitions, so the ages of my protagonists (and therefore my target audiences) vary according to the nature of the transition.

3.   Why do I write or create what I do?
I ask myself this question quite often. In the end, I think that it has the same answer as a lot of other things in my life – that I have the opportunity, the desire and a sense that it’s something I was made to do.

A related question: what can I offer uniquely to the myriad of books currently being published? My answer is that there is room enough in the world for every human being to be creative, each uniquely because we are actually unique. There isn’t a quota, or a standard to meet apart from using what we have to the best of our ability and opportunity. It’s not actually a competition (unless you’re after fame and fortune).

4.  How does my writing/creative process work?
This is harder for me to answer because it’s still developing.

I put aside a day a week to write. I learned the hard way that it doesn’t work to do it in the lounge room when your family is around. I key my stories directly to the computer, but I handwrite poetry – for the practical reason that experimenting with formatting is easier with pen and paper. (I used to say I couldn’t think without a pen in hand, but it turns out I can think just as well with a keyboard.)

A map of Encaedion City
I also use an art journal for a haphazard collection of items: newspaper/magazine clippings, hand-drawn maps, arguments with myself about why I need to approach an aspect of the story differently, and for times when I haven’t access to my computer. I am not a visual artist by any means, so mud-maps are about as exciting as it gets in the non-verbal department.

A process flowchart:
 ·      an idea about theme, setting, and the key character
 ·      a rough structure mapped out (plotting is not my forte)
 ·      lots of character notes, scenes written to make the characters act, interviews with them, etc – I had 65,000 words of notes before I began actually writing the story
 ·     a first draft (meaning that some chapters were written five times and others only once)
 ·     feedback on the first quarter from my writing group
 ·     most of a second draft
 ·     decided to convert it into four novels, and proceeded to rewrite the first quarter AGAIN, this time four times longer

My next post will be in mid-July – I hope you’ll pop back for another short story, poem or excerpt from my novel writing. And feel free to drop me a line by comment or email.

See you next time!

Claire Belberg