S E A M I N O R
By ~ Nigel Bird
Mum always speaks in Gaelic when we come up to Skye. She speaks in Gaelic because that’s what Gran likes to use in the house. I can’t join in when they’re talking, but I understand some of the things they say. Mum thinks that I might go to school here soon and they’ll teach me, only I want to stay at my other school with my friends.
Skye’s an island so you have to go over a bridge to get there. Davy told me it was a troll bridge and that some people didn’t want to pay, but I said I would because you wouldn’t want to make them angry like in Billy Goat’s Gruff.
It’s always dark when we arrive. When we step out of the car we can see how this place gets its name; all you can see for miles and miles are millions of shining stars. Maybe they put an ‘e’ on the end it’s so stretched out. In London the heavens seems so small. There are always buildings in the way.
This time the journey had been awful. We packed in more than usual because Mum thought we might stay longer. I got wedged up against suitcases and dresses and stuff. Davy was fine though; he got to sit in the front where Dad usually went because Dad wasn’t coming this time.
And we didn’t get to play any of our usual games like I-Spy or making words from registration plates.
Davy said that Dad always had a map in case we got lost. Mum told him that she didn’t need maps; she was a human compass. Then she didn’t say anything for the rest of the journey.
Lots of things are different here. Some are better and some aren’t. It’s wonderful wandering around in fields and woods, but it’s not so much fun walking to the shops and back, especially the back part. I love swimming in the sea and paddling, but I’m not so keen on taking a bath in the old tin thing we fill with buckets. I love the way Gran gets us quiet for the weather forecast every evening, but I miss the television and my computer.
It was even more different when Mum was young. There wasn’t a road, the toilet was outside, the washing was done by hand, things like that. Mum said that the only things that hadn’t changed were Gran’s tabard and the weather.
Whatever time we get up Gran’s always ready with a pan or two frying. We have a big cooked breakfast “to keep the wind out,” Gran says, and we go out and explore. When we get back we wash our hands and by the time we get into to the kitchen there’s a plate of fresh scones on the table and a jug of milk from Nancy the cow, all warm and creamy.
We explore a bit more and it’s lunch, then dinner, then supper for the weather forecast, and in the evenings we listen to stories. I think some of them are true because they have real people in them and some are made up because they’ve got fairies and giants in them.
Mum’s the best storyteller though. Perhaps that’s because she reads so much. She was reading when we were down by the sea last week - ‘A Perfect Day For Banana Fish’. She’s been reading that lots recently; it must be her favourite.
Thinking about banana fish makes me laugh because I start to think of other fish: orange, grapefruit, kiwi, potato… Maybe there’s a pineapple shark out there too. The one I like best of all is the onion fish. It’s always crying, even if fish can’t cry, not really.
When she finished it she put the book face down on the rock, pulled her knees to her chest and held them there, “giving herself a hug,” she said. She didn’t move for a long time, staring out over the water into the distance; perhaps that’s what distant means. I played with Davy till it began to get chilly and went for a cuddle to warm up. This was a safe place. Old Man’s Jaw it’s called. If you stand on top of the hill behind you can see the face and this long, flat rock sticking out. I’ve seen it in a photo at home, Mum pointing across the bay to where she was born. She had one more story for me that day, about how I was made in that very place almost eight years ago. This is where I started out as a tiny seed.
“Just look at you now,” she whispered and I wondered how big I’d been when I began and how big I’ll be in the end.
A few days after that we went out to collect peat. A tractor came along and we all helped to load the trailer. The midgies kept biting everyone so we put on this cream to keep them away. It’s for moisturising the skin really and smells like perfume, so it’s not for the midgies at all, but they didn’t come near me after that. Uncle Tam’s hands were green from the string by the time we’d finished and Bob had a bad back. The children got to sit on the trailer all the way home, and we piled into the kitchen when it was unloaded for cakes and biscuits or whatever you wanted.
Most of us went for a walk after that. We turned round when the dark clouds started rolling in and got back just before the storm. I don’t know how she’d managed, but Gran had moved all the peat into the shed by then. The stacks in front of all the other houses were getting soaked through and Uncle Tam was struggling with a tarpaulin in the gale and the gale was winning.
“He’s only himself to blame, now. They said the rain would be coming,” said Gran shaking her head, wiping her hands on her apron and putting on the kettle. We all had tea to warm up our hands, which made Davy and me feel very grown-up. We watched the flames thinking about how much we deserved to be cosy, especially me with my blister and Tam with his green skin.
Then yesterday happened.
Gran took off her tabard and put on her wellies so that she could take me and Davy to the shore. Mum couldn’t make it. She stayed in bed because of a headache. She kissed us goodbye and said she’d join us later, and reminded me to look out for the banana fish.
It took about twenty minutes to get there.
There were lots of people with bags so they could tidy up the beach. For the children it was going to be a competition. Whoever collected the most rubbish would get to light the bonfire later. Second prize was a toffee apple.
We put on our huge rubber gloves, took a handful of bags and walked over to where no one else seemed to be. Uncle Tam was just over the way collecting whelks. He’d sell them later on and said he’d make a pretty penny.
I found the rusty bit of an old spade, a plastic bottle, a long metal stick and a burst football. Davy spent most of his time digging a piece of rope from the sand. It looked small at first, but the more he dug, the longer it got. In the end it filled up half the bag. Daddy was always asking how long a piece of string is when we asked him things; I didn’t think it would be that long. Gran had sawn off a gill net from the post in the water using the blade of her penknife and that filled the bag. Just think of all the birds we were saving and how nice it would be for all the walkers to see it so wonderfully clean.
We started another bag. The first thing we found was an old bike tyre. Davy was trying to stuff it in when it went all quiet; he stopped what he was doing. This is the bit I don’t want to say because it sounds stupid, but you can ask Davy and Gran if you like. I couldn’t hear the sea or the birds and it was creepy, then there was music, soft at first, then louder and louder. It was like a choir in church. It was all high voices and ladies singing and it was the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. There weren’t any words, just tunes. Davy held my hand tightly and then the sound was suddenly the wind again. Just like that.
We looked at each other then sprinted over to Gran. Davy was first and grabbed onto one leg, and I got the other. He was telling her about the music and I joined in until she couldn’t tell who was saying what, so we had to start again one at a time. He’d heard the same as me.
She went quiet for a moment and said, just like it was nothing important,
“That’ll be bad news at sea; someone won’t be making it to supper tonight.” She looked up, touched her forehead and shoulders and chest and said something Gaelic.
“I heard it once when I was a girl a long time ago. My mother heard it too. Like the sound of heaven itself, and yet it was a horrible thing that happened when it came to me. Two boats collided. Full of men they were - fathers, husbands, brothers – none of them seen again.” It sounded a bit like the start to one of her fairytales, but she didn’t take it any further.
“Now don’t you worry, there’s nothing to be done. Let’s get this bag filled up,” she said, and so we did.
The bags were heavy, but we managed to drag them to the pile.
I couldn’t believe what was there: lobster pots, a bicycle, tubes, bottles, netting, a doll’s arm, crates and rope. The twins had brought a bag of seaweed even though the man at the start had told us that seaweed wasn’t rubbish, so that couldn’t count for the competition.
Angus got to light the bonfire. He’d found a whole carpet, but he didn’t carry it back himself so I don’t think he should have been the winner.
Mum hadn’t arrived. Now it was later and I wanted her to be there.
It turned into a party. There were guitars, fiddles and songs. The people who weren’t playing were mostly dancing. The only ones who didn’t look happy were the twins, because they’d had a fight, and Gran. She was gazing into the flames, the light seeming to make her look strangely old and tired. I guess she is pretty old, really.
Eventually we had to go because my eyes wouldn’t stay open. The music could be heard from the cottage till we shut the door behind us.
She wasn’t in bed. It was the first thing we did, go and see if she was better.
I cried and Davy told me to stop being a baby, but I think he was nearly crying too, so Gran made us hot chocolate. We got into Mum’s bed, wrapped ourselves up in the blankets and she told us cheery stories until I fell asleep.
I had a funny dream. I walked down to the sea and could hear the church music again. I could see my mother sitting in the things we’d collected, except the bicycle was like brand-new. She was staring again and brushing her hair and we smiled at each other for ages.
When I woke up I tried to keep that picture in my mind and when it faded I pulled my knees up and gave myself a huge hug.
Anyway Santa, if you've got room in your sack, let me write another story like that in my life. That would be more than enough.
Bless you and yours,
nigel p bird
Sea Minor ~ creating waves in the world of fiction
PHOTO CREDIT ~ Paul Evans, HiDef Wallpaper
A VERY LUCKY MAN ~ ANOTHER AT THE BIJOU DEBUT
There's a stillness within me, reading Nigel, sensing this story, feeling the sea - major in its minor. Santa's gonna pull through for this fine fine author man. I intuit his fond deep wish to be brimming near the top of the bag, just past the iPad2, super shiny Schwinn, and the ever present Slinky. Everyone needs a Slinky.
Everyone needs more stories like Nigel's . . . stories where you have to take a bridge, just to touch the Skye. Sure seems the best way to make those kinda high-ended travels, doesn't it?
believing in believers . . . Santa
and the power of words to swoop into your psyche,
transforming you a far far better person. Honoured am I to know Nigel Bird's flight to where words shall e'er soar.
my author friends
YOU HEAR THAT?
THAT RAT-A-TAT-TAT ON MY OLD OAK DOOR?
(I don't really have an old oak door, wished I did - but that sounded quite right)
IT'S TWO GOOD CHUMS WAXING ELOQUENT ON WRITING AND NOIR AND ~
CHRIS RAT-A-TAT-RHATIGAN A lot of people have commented on your ability to create compelling, emotionally resonant characters. How do you view writing character?
NIGEL BIRD That’s a lovely thing to hear. I’m pretty sure that working with my characters is one of the things that comes naturally to me. I get to hear something from them or picture them in action and most of the rest falls into place. The one thing all the characters have in common is that they’re human (I may have done some kids stories where that wasn’t the case, but I’m not counting those). As such, I assume that they will have more layered skins than onions and more complexity than the most advanced computer. Where they take stories and events isn’t always predictable and having characters who create their own dynamics keeps things interesting.
When it comes to editing, it’s the question ‘would they really do that?’ that I focus upon. I miss the ‘no’ answers sometimes, but have quality readers to pick up on those that slip through the net.
RAT-A-TAT Do you see any themes that are thread through all your work? I've noticed that deviance and revenge keep popping up in different ways.
BIRD They do seem to, don’t they?
Deviance is a funny thing. It’s like right and wrong. Everyone would draw their lines in different places and many of us would change those places from one day to the next. It’s like hating John McEnroe and then finding yourself loving him without noticing the change. There is no black and white, no matter how difficult that makes life for us. It’s something I like to play with in my work, as much as anything to find out what I might think about something.
Deviance is also a cerebral thing, an abstraction of thoughts from actions. That means the rules are likely to change pretty quickly when faced with trouble, adrenaline and rage. I’ve learned that for me the positions of justice or injustice can crystallize very quickly and all that logic can leave a room without me noticing. Because of that, I’ve got myself tangled in more that the odd knot or two.
And revenge? I guess that comes from the emotional perspective of justice. It’s probably based upon my early experience. Bad things happened to me, like they do to everyone. Did I want revenge? Sure did. Did I get it? Sometimes, yes. At secondary-school, I moved from being a victim to a kind of a well-built psycho with rage that was very ugly when it popped out for a visit. I played out the roles of victim and terroriser over the years – they feed each other wonderfully - and learned that they both suck.
RAT-A-TAT You've written a splendid novel. Tell us about where that's at right now.
BIRD When you say positive things about my work, Chris, I positively swell with pride and confidence. A splendid novel – I’m inclined to agree with you now you’ve given your opinion. I must thank AJ Hayes, and Ron Brown for their feedback, too.
It’s called In Loco Parentis and it’s ‘teacher noir’. I guess it brings together some of my years in the classroom as a kid and a teacher and then wraps it all up inside a first-person narrator who’s on the brink of a breakdown. Though I haven’t read ‘The Slap’, I guess the tagline for this might be ‘The really hard slap’ or ‘the punch in the jaw’ or similar.
I believe that it’s the first time I’ve attempted a novel and been able to apply the things I’ve learned from others and myself over the years. It has much more of a must-keep-reading feel than my other failed attempts and I think I’ve got most of it in the right places.
The novel is being looked at now. How long that will take, I have no idea. I’m in a very different position now than when I was manically sending out ‘Orinoco Pony And His Dandelion Adventures’. I’ve learned patience (some) and I know who I want to have it. There are 4 or 5 publishers I’d pick to give it a home and if it doesn’t find one I’ll look at it again and put it out anyway. Like you say, Chris, it’s pretty good. People out there will like it – maybe not in their droves, but in little cells around the world; that would do me nicely.
RAT-A-TAT Whose work are you into lately?
BIRD Donald Ray Pollock is on my mind again as I’ve just started The Devil All The Time. He’s amazing. I wish I knew how he did it, but I guess he probably doesn’t even know the answer to that one himself. I even love the dedication, Once Again, for Patsy ; it says something about him that I like.
David Cranmer excites me a great deal; Thomas Pluck’s been doing wonderful things with the short story; Darren Sant is shaping up wonderfully; and WD County put out a story in Speedloader that blew me away. Simon Logan is a gem; Eric Beetner pure class (alongside JB Kohl and in his own right); Pablo D’Stair is right up there; Hilary Davidson’s cool; as is the talented (almost Pollock-like) Heath Lowrance. And anyone else who was in Pulp Ink.
I’m a big fan of Ian Ayris and his short work, so Abide With Me is something I’m very excited about.
And you and AJ Hayes are the guys I’m waiting for, hanging up there like fruit so ripe you might explode. Somebody needs to come and harvest you guys really soon.
RAT-A-TAT You're working some with this Blasted Heath I keep hearing so much about. What is it -- a breakfast cereal? A cartoon superhero? Tell us about that.
BIRD To me they are superheroes of sorts. Allan Guthrie, that hyper-intelligent and talented author/agent/E-book superstar has teamed up with Kyle MacRae who’s a lovely guy with a lot of know-how. Together they’ve formed the publisher Blasted Heath. What they’re about is quality fiction. They are meticulous in their planning, editing, formatting and presentation. The website looks like a dream and works a treat. Between them they understand the emergence of the e-book better than practically anybody else and they intend to take the publishing world to the next level. I think they have the blend of pragmatism and imagination that rarely comes along, like Lennon and McCartney (without the slightly irritating one) or Laurel and Hardy.
They’re putting out work that’s rich and varied and it’s likely that their name will become synonymous with quality reads. Like the best publishers before them, the brand will be a stamp of guarantee and they’ll be many mainstream publishers wishing they’d had their savvy when they try and work out why the boat left before they even got to the dock.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM NIGEL!
AN *AT THE BIJOU* GIFT EXCLUSIVE:
SIT DOWN SCHWEETHEART ~
LINK DELICIOUS INFLUENCES OF ~
OUR NOIR AUTHORS' "JUST DESSERTS" ~
LINKS TO OUR NOIR SO FAR ~
NOIRTORIOUS COMING ATTRACTIONS ~
Every other day cold crimes . . . decking NOIR NOEL into December
Ian Ayris ... Paul Brazill ... Kevin J Mackey ...
Steven Miscandlon ... BR Stateham ... Sal Buttaci ...
Julian Bramwell Slater ... Luca Veste ...
Helen Howell ... Christina Vincent ... Zelda Martin ...
Charlie Wade ... Darren Sant ... Aidan Fritz ...
Lily Childs ... Vic Watson ... Fiona Johnson ...
Jack Bates ... John Kenyon's reveal
Thomas Pluck and the Lost Children benefit show
a Santa visit from NOIR E-PUBLISHER BLASTED HEATH
a Rex Pickett surprise ...
return of the great Randisi ...
AT THE BIJOU'S Harry B Sanderford ... Matthew Magda ...
plus return pizazz by our masters of the ceremonious ~
Kevin MadDog Michaels and Absolutely*Kate ...
Why ~ Who knows who's getting into the act? . . .
RAYMOND CHANDLER may be channeled!
DECEMBER decks NOIR NOEL AT THE BIJOU