Pen To Print
unknown soldier danny fenn write on showcase

Showcase: An Unknown Soldier + Something for Everyone + The Rose Thief

Hello, readers! I hope you are all coping well with Lockdown Two and looking after yourselves. As essential as the quarantine is to get the virus under control, we need to make sure we don’t accidentally hinder our health in other ways by neglecting physical exercise, mental stimulation and social connection.

Hopefully, two of our entries this week can be of some small help. Lynda Shepherd and Claire Buss are important members of the Write On! team, and both have submitted fun pieces to keep you entertained and looking on the bright side. Lynda’s Something for Everyone is a family – and community-oriented – short story, following a young girl’s determined mission to find urgent funds to save the local community centre. Meanwhile, Claire has submitted a video reading of the first chapter of her latest novel, The Rose Thief. This urban fantasy is the first in The Roshaven series and is a hugely funny and intriguing magical mystery adventure that will appeal to any Terry Pratchett fans.

But before you enjoy these charming works, let us remember that today is Armistice Day and one for quiet reflection and appreciation for all those brave soldiers who gave their lives for Britain and the Allies during World War One. Danny Fenn has sent us his poem, dedicated to those who made the ultimate sacrifice, with a special focus on the youngest casualties: those who lied about their age for the chance to serve and protect their country; and those who had their futures robbed from them.

Lest we forget!

Dan (Associate Editor)

*****

An Unknown Soldier by Danny Fenn

unknown soldier danny fenn write on showcase

My body is long gone

My name is a mystery

But my story is told

Within pages of history

Not yet a man

I had no whiskers to shave

But when the order was given

I was heroically brave

Bullets and bombs

Of flame and fire

Face down in the mud

My short life did expire

I will never now achieve

What life had in store

Just an unknown soldier

Now and ever more

I am one of millions

With a story to tell

Who now lie in the field

Right where we fell

Please pause and reflect

Silent and remember

Wear a poppy with pride

On the 11th of November

(C) Danny Fenn, 2020

*****

Something For Everyone by Lynda Shepherd

lynda shepherd something for everyone write on showcase

“I heard from the builder who was going to do the repairs to the community centre this week,” Reverend Michaels tells me. A deep furrow appears between his brows.

“Was?”

“Mr McArthur tells me if we can’t raise the remaining five hundred pounds by next month, then he’ll have to start another job.”

“That’s terrible!”

“It is. Everyone will be very disappointed. We had so many new activities planned for the summer.”

“You’re having to tell everyone, I suppose,” I say, flicking my head toward the church.

“I am. I do hope Millicent’s not too upset.”

“Thank you.”

I look over and see Millie chatting to her friend Ben. Intense expressions on both their faces. Millie whispers something in his ear and suddenly the intensity breaks like a sudden ray of sunlight through the thick cloud above, as he throws back his head and laughs. I smile and head inside the church.

*

“Was Ben all right earlier?” I ask Millie as we sit together, waiting to watch Dragon’s Den that evening.

“He’s a bit…” Millie makes a gesture with her hands like a moving scale, before continuing. “He was going to start teaching guitar lessons at the community centre. Now its going to be ages before he can start.”

“The reverend wasn’t looking forward to announcing the delay. Of course, he’s had to tell Ben and a few others already.”

“It can’t have been an easy one, telling Mrs Mavers.”

Mrs Mavers, the formidable leader of our local choir, was definitely a force to behold.

“Millie!”

“You’re laughing.”

“I’m not,” I say, biting my lip. She had a point.

“Tea and Jaffa Cakes, Gran?”

“Sounds good. Perhaps the Dragons will inspire us.”

*

“Do you sing these kinds of songs with the choir?” Millie asks me, a few days later, as I’m giving her a lift into town and singing along to the radio.

“Not as often as I’d like,” I say honestly, because I’ve often thought we’d attract a wider mix of people if we did.  Then again, real life is not like Sister Act.

We’re nearly at Queen Ann’s College. The breakfast show DJ reminds me we can also listen to Time FM’s mix of the greatest music from the eighties, nineties, the noughties and today via mobile, online and podcast.

“Do you need a lift back later?”

“I’m good, thanks, Gran. Ben’s busking at the shopping centre later. I promised I’d sing a couple of songs with him.”

“OK, have a good day, love.”

“Thanks for the lift, Gran.”

*

The next morning, Millie gets into the mini with a grin nearly splitting her face in two, despite the rain already dripping from her fake fur rimmed hood.

“Morning Millie, love. You look happy.”

“I think I might have found a way to raise the money for the community centre repairs.”

“Really?”

“There’s a bit to do. I’ll fill you in later, if that’s all right, Gran.”

“Millie!”

“Gran, I promise you’re going to love it and we’re going to save the day.”

Millie is on a mission.

*

It starts that evening, I find myself feeling slightly awkward as Millie bowls into choir practice.  Suddenly, I have an inkling of what my granddaughter’s cunning plan might be and know I need to support her.

“Mrs Mavers!”

“Millicent, can I help you?”

“You can. Well, you all can, actually.”

“How’s that?”

“Angela,” I say, “my granddaughter has come up with a solution to help raise the money for the community centre.”

“I’d like the choir to help by performing on the green on Saturday. I have all the details here. I hope you’ll be there.” Millie says, thrusting A4 sheets into Mrs Mavers’ hands.

“We will,” I say.

“Thanks, Gran, ladies.”

Mrs Mavers turns to me.“I think we should have had a discussion about this first.”

“Angela, I know it seems a little spontaneous but I think we have a great opportunity here.”

*

Saturday comes and I’m with Millie, waiting for her cousins to come out of the gymnastics club at the school.

“Millie, Millie, we’ve been practising. Really, really hard! You’re going to be, like, so impressed. If we were on telly, you’d put us through to the next round.” An excitable Hallie jumps in front of me and executes an intricate spin, her turquoise skirt swirling like ribbon.

“So I see. Come on, Gran’s going to take us to the green.”

“Are you all right, Millie?” I ask as we pull away into the traffic heading towards the village.

“It’s Ben. I’m not sure if he’s going to turn up. He doesn’t think he can make a difference. Oh, Gran, you’ve seen the crowd that gathers when he busks and he’s got bookings for wedding receptions in the summer and beyond. Why doesn’t he believe?”

“I don’t know, love, but he wouldn’t let you down, I know that.”

There’s a lot of activity as we arrive by the green.

“Millie, if I pull up over here, can you take Hallie and Emily to join their group?”

“Come on, girls, we have work to do!”

*

As I walk over to the bandstand, I take deep breaths and offer up prayers for success as I observe the village fair before me. Flowers and trees nod in the breeze and teardrops of dew shine in the hazy sunlight. A dozen posters sketched by Millie’s talented hands have done the trick. The people have come in their droves. As I stand with the other ladies of Saint Cecilia’s choir, I watch a nervous Millie stand on the makeshift dais, microphone in hand.

“Thank you all for coming to this very special event in aid of our community centre. We hope you enjoy and give generously for something that means so much to all of us.”

Hallie steps forward and leads her class singing Abba’s I Have a Dream, arms moving in pure joy and fanning out as they reach the chorus.  A lone guitar begins to play, Millie’s grin returns. Ben is here. The choir join in, the crowd smiling and clapping, as some of the primary school children in luminous T-shirts weave in and out of the rows with orange collection buckets.

Moments later, the music changes to a nineties classic  and Millie and Ben duet the verses and the choir joins in for the chorus, encouraging further the now-buoyant crowd. Around the edge of the green, parents are selling teas, coffee, cupcakes and biscuits – some iced with the slogan Help Our Community – and jam in pretty recycled glass jars with brightly-coloured ribbons adorning the necks. Hallie and friends spin like tops on the grass, coming to a stop in front of the bandstand to join in the final group song Happy.

*

Millie and I people-watch as the afternoon draws to a close. We help to collect the buckets, margarine tubs and other assorted containers that have been used to collect money, so our community can have its well-loved hub back in use. As we work, the sun moves across the grass, as if being pulled gently by unseen strings.

“Do you think we’ve done it?” Millie asks me. Her nervousness is endearingly sweet. It had been a lot to organise. Asking the mayor if they could change the cause for the event, baking and persuading groups to perform specially chosen pieces.

“There’s only one way to find out,” I say, waggling the big bucket, which is encouragingly heavy. Millie nods. “Millie,” I say, resting a hand on her shoulder. “I’m proud of you. What you’ve done today is wonderful.”

“An excellent effort, Millicent,” Mrs Mavers calls out on her way past.

*

Sniffing, Millie stares out at the horizon, her eyes misty with emotion.

“Praise indeed,” I say, and we make our way towards the tables, already cleared, at one side of the bandstand. We join the other volunteers, making the all-important count, listening as we do to Ben reprising a selection of songs from the performance, mixed in with songs he’s written himself. Between songs, he wanders over, his guitar strapped across his battered Music Matters hoodie.

“Looking good,” he says, smiling at Millie. She gives him the thumbs up, assuming he means the total for the day’s efforts. He grabs her left wrist just as she goes to continue counting. She looks up, startled. He leans in and whispers in her ear. She laughs, but only briefly. Leaning in again, just for a second, Ben kisses her cheek before wandering off again to the strains of Hey Jude.

“I think he likes you.” I say and wink at my granddaughter’s rosy complexion.

“Nah, I just said to him, ‘See, I knew you could make a difference,’ and he did.”

“Hmm.” I nudge her and she pushes me back.

“Come on, I want to tell everyone some good news,” she says, casting her eyes down at the piles of silver, copper and gold coins, as well as random items, such as board game counters and fidget spinners, that have somehow made it into the various containers.

*

At six o’clock, Millie is up on the makeshift dais again, this time with the mayor beaming with pride as they look out at the sea of faces before them.

“Everyone, thank you so much for coming. I think you’ll agree, its been a wonderful event. A special note of thanks must go this young lady, who reminded not just me, but all of us, what our community spaces do for us. I’m delighted to announce, we have reached and exceeded our target of five hundred pounds. Thank you to all you donators and supporters, because today we have had a truly perfect day.”

In the front row, Hallie blows a gigantic bubble. The soapy orb rises into the air, capturing, for few seconds, in its rainbow-flecked embrace, a day that has truly had something for everyone.

(C) Lynda Shepherd, 2020

*****

The Rose Thief (sample chapter) by Claire Buss

The Rose Thief is out now and available to purchase here. Claire is currently editing the sequel, The Silk Thief, and hopes to publish it soon.

If you’d like to see your writing appear in the Write On! ‘Showcase’, please send your short stories, poetry or novel extracts to pentoprint@lbbd.gov.uk. You can read more fiction, poetry, interviews and author advice in the latest issue (6) of Write On out now and available here.