December’s Showcases are introduced by Pen to Print Alumni and Write On! Thoughtful Tuesdays editor, Eithne Cullen.
I know a lot of people are only just beginning to feel a bit of the Christmas Spirit we need at this time of year. So I’m opening today’s Showcase page with a fabulous traditional image from our resident artist, Danny Baxter. When I saw this, it reminded me of many messages and cards from over the years and the jewel colours make it so stunning and eye-catching! I’ll be sharing another of Danny’s images next week, too.
Here at Pen to Print we love getting submissions through our submissions window. And some of us love poetry. I’m challenging everyone to read this poem, sent in by Herman Richards and still say, “I don’t get poetry” or, “I don’t understand what the poet is saying.” I love this poem for its simplicity, its depth and for its unassuming use of rhyme for all the rhyme fans.
Poems Are Nice
Poems are nice.
Poems are so good when you read them twice.
Old or young, poems are fun.
Reading a poem is like searching for goals.
Reading a poem is like we’re in another world.
Reading a poem is a lot of fun.
Not just to sit there and read in the sun, but to chew a gum or eat a bun.
Poems make you glad, plants make you sad.
It changes you from a bad mood to the best of it all.
It changes that zone that makes you feel like you want to fall.
It’s good to read, it’s good to imagine.
Reading a poem brings you to the beginning, another world, another island that makes you feel like you’re the best of them all.
© Herman Richards, 2021
Now, coming closer to Christmas, I know lots of readers like to snuggle up with a ghostly story or a mystery novel. One of my favourites is The Signalman by Charles Dickens. I can recommend it for a chilling tale on a cold, dark night. Here’s a little taster for you:
‘One moonlight night,’ said the man, ‘I was sitting here, when I heard a voice cry “Halloa! Below there!” I started up, looked from that door, and saw this Some one else standing by the red light near the tunnel, waving as I just now showed you. The voice seemed hoarse with shouting, and it cried, “Look out! Look out!” And then again “Halloa! Below there! Look out!” I caught up my lamp, turned it on red, and ran towards the figure, calling, “What’s wrong? What has happened? Where?” It stood just outside the blackness of the tunnel. I advanced so close upon it that I wondered at its keeping the sleeve across its eyes. I ran right up at it, and had my hand stretched out to pull the sleeve away, when it was gone.’
‘Into the tunnel,’ said I.
‘No. I ran on into the tunnel, five hundred yards. I stopped and held my lamp above my head, and saw the figures of the measured distance, and saw the wet stains stealing down the walls and trickling through the arch. I ran out again, faster than I had run in (for I had a mortal abhorrence of the place upon me), and I looked all round the red light with my own red light, and I went up the iron ladder to the gallery atop of it, and I came down again, and ran back here. I telegraphed both ways, “An alarm has been given. Is anything wrong?” The answer came back, both ways: “All well.”‘
Resisting the slow touch of a frozen finger tracing out my spine, I showed him how that this figure must be a deception of his sense of sight, and how that figures, originating in disease of the delicate nerves that minister to the functions of the eye, were known to have often troubled patients, some of whom had become conscious of the nature of their affliction, and had even proved it by experiments upon themselves. ‘As to an imaginary cry,’ said I, ‘do but listen for a moment to the wind in this unnatural valley while we speak so low, and to the wild harp it makes of the telegraph wires!’
That was all very well, he returned, after we had sat listening for a while, and he ought to know something of the wind and the wires, he who so often passed long winter nights there, alone and watching. But he would beg to remark that he had not finished.
Following on from this, I’m sharing an extract in the mystery genre. It was sent to Pen to Print by Jessica Thompson, who told us it’s an extract from her new culinary cosy mystery:
A Caterer’s Guide To Holidays And Homicide
“Detective Law here. Did you have a question for me, sir?” The phone brought a grumbling voice to the room.
“Yes, sir,” Jake said. “A group of us are here at Summerhaven Lodge, up your lovely canyon, for the week, and one of our party has passed away.”
“So I hear. Sorry, son,” said Detective Law. “Well, we will do our best to get to you, but with this blizzard … Well, we will have to see where we’re at in the morning. Is anyone else injured?”
“No, no. Nothing else,” Jake explained. “When the snow had just started, Billie Cavendar, white female, about sixty years of age, set out alone in her car to get her medication from the drugstore and never made it past the first curve in the driveway.”
“Ah, it happens all too often,” the detective growled. “They set out because of the snow, when that’s exactly why they should have stayed inside.”
“Yes, sir,” Jake responded. “But we need to know what to do now. Do we leave the scene undisturbed for tonight? Should we try to dig out the car a-sap? Try to keep people away from the scene?”
“And you’re positive she’s dead?”
“Yes, sir. D.O.A. at 19:37. She was cold enough that she must have died right when she first left the lodge, or soon after, around 17:30.”
“Did dispatch tell me that you used to be an investigator with the military?”
“Then, son, I’m deciding to trust you.” Detective Law’s voice softened a little. “This is unprecedented for me. I’ve seen a lot of things and found a lot of bodies long after a blizzard, but not had a body reported during a blizzard when we couldn’t secure the scene. Lots of missing persons and distress calls during a storm, but …”
The detective sighed loudly and paused for a minute.
“Alright.” Detective Law seemed to have gathered his wits again. “Well, I can tell you this much: do not go out in this weather again. Ya hear?”
“We don’t need any more bodies out there. You will stay inside and stay safe until this blizzard clears. Roger that?”
“Yes, sir. Roger Wilco.”
“Good,” the detective sighed again. “Now, I suppose all we can do is keep everyone away until we can secure the scene. That will be morning, and that’s the earliest. So you need to keep everyone else inside, too.”
The detective grumbled again. “Wait, are you saying you are with a group of hoity-toity sixty year-old women?”
“Ha,” Jake chuckled. “Yes, sir. I know I have my work cut out for me. Nobody’s gonna want to listen to the hired help. Especially women who are used to getting their own way. I’ll do my best.”
“I can already hear them calling their families, so I guess that cat is out of the bag,” Violet added.
“Well, at least the cold is on your side. I’ll call you back when I know something in the morning. Good luck, son. You’re going to need it!”
When Jake set Violet’s phone on the counter, Willem looked at them and then the hand made pies going into the oven and rose to his feet.
Willem wound his scarf around his neck and shrugged into his coat. “Well, good luck, sucker,” he said. “I’m not going to try to tell Carina Moretti what to do! That woman cannot follow orders.”
“Wait. I’m not supposed to let anyone outside,” Jake protested as he followed Willem towards the door. “We need to stay together.”
“Fat chance,” Willem snapped. “I’m going back to my cabin, and you can’t stop me. It’s right there. I’ll be fine, and I’ll stay inside once I get there.”
Willem marched out without pausing and slammed the heavy oak front door behind him, making the dark wreath clatter. As he marched back to his cabin on the other side of the carport, plunging his feet into the deep snow one at a time, Violet and Jake each stood watching his progress through a sidelight on either side of the door.
“I guess we can’t stop him,” Jake said.
“And we can see, he’s going straight back to his cabin,” Violet admitted. “Then, like the detective said, the cold is on our side. He’ll probably stay inside all night, right?”
“Sure.” Jake’s arms hung limp at his sides, and his shoulders slumped.
“It’s ironic, right?” Violet smiled out at the retreating figure. “Right after he says that Carina can’t take orders and won’t do what you ask her …”
“Yeah.” Jake smiled. “He really is just like my grandpa,” he said.
© Jessica Thompson, 2021
Many thanks to Jessica, Herman and Danny for sharing their work in today’s Showcase. This is also a good time to remind you to submit your writing through pentoprint.org. You may find your writing in the magazine – in print or online- and don’t forget our podcast, which is really taking off.
I’ll finish by reminding you to enjoy your run-up to Christmas. Don’t be too scared if you’re reading ghost stories, or too excited by the murder mysteries you submerge yourselves in. As for me, I’ll be making sure my Christmas isn’t spoiled by staying well away from Midsomer and never, ever going on holiday with Jessica Fletcher!
If you’d like to see your writing appear in the Write On! Showcase, please submit your short stories, poetry or novel extracts at pentoprint.org/get-involved/submit-to-write-on/
You can read more fiction, poetry, interviews and author advice in the latest issue of Write On! Issue 10 of Write On! is available now. You can see it here.