Creating Good Storytelling

Barbara DaCosta is author of Mighty Moby and Nighttime Ninja, both illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Ed Young and published by Little, Brown. Nighttime Ninja received the Children’s Choice Award. Visit her at her website, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Have you ever stopped to think why you can’t put some books down? Or why you can’t stop listening to your friend telling you the same tale for the umpteenth time?

The secret is in the storytelling. It’s the tone of voice, the anticipation, the pacing. It’s in their utter commitment to the story. A good storyteller, they say, is someone who can read the telephone book to you and make it sound interesting.

Much of this is done through use of various devices: a movie’s suspenseful music or ominous lighting. A cliffhanger at the end of a novel’s chapter. A shoe about to drop, an unanswered question, a ticking clock. But ultimately, it’s about one person speaking to another.

Even in a picture book, a sense of urgency can be created, through the flow of the artwork, the rhythm of the words, the judicious use of page turns, even the use of punctuation! So it’s not enough to have only one element work. It all has to work, and it all has to speak to the reader.

In our book Mighty Moby, we strove to knit pictures and text together to create a sense of anticipation. Based on Herman Melville’s masterpiece Moby Dick, we follow Ahab-his obsession dragging whalers and whale into an epic battle-when suddenly-

You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens next.

Illusion vs Reality

Dylan Callens lands cleanly. That would be the headline of a newspaper built with an anagram generator. And although Dylan is a Welsh name meaning god or hero of the sea, he is not particularly fond of large bodies of water. His last name, Callens, might be Gaelic. If it is, his last name means rock. Rocks sink in the sea. Interestingly, he is neither Welsh nor Gaelic, but rather, French and German. The inherent contradictions and internal conflict in his life are obvious.

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Philosopher Rene Descartes was puzzled by his senses.  He knew that sometimes they deceived him.  At some point, we’ve all been deceived by a sound outside or something that we see out of the corner of our eyes.  Descartes, upon noticing this, raised an important question:  if our senses can deceive us sometimes, how do we know that we aren’t being deceived all the time?

I’ve always been intrigued by the question.  How do we know that what we are seeing is real?  Can we know with absolute certainty that what we see is really there?  When I step outside, I believe that what I see is real.  When I talk to someone, I believe that they are responding to me.  But the only real evidence I can say about this experience is that I think it’s really happening.  I believe that there is a world all around me and I’m not just dreaming this up, or being fed some kind of false information by an evil super-genius.

During his meditations, Descartes comes to a point where he thinks he proves that he exists.  He says that no matter what, he is thinking thoughts.  And since he is thinking, he exists in some way.  Even if those thoughts are false, those thoughts are undoubtedly his.  This is the basis for his famous line, I think, therefore I am.

There is also a widely-known thought experiment by Hilary Putnam called “The Brain in a Vat”.  It goes like this:  Imagine that a mad scientist kidnaps you one night while you are sleeping.  He then takes the brain out of your body and places it in a vat with nutrients that keep your brain alive.  He then hooks up a whole bunch of electrodes from a supercomputer to your brain and provides all the sensory data needed to trick your brain into believing that you are experiencing these things for real.

While the thought experiment seems far-fetched, it does pose an interesting question – if things weren’t real, how would you know?  And even if you were able to recognize the world as not being real, what would it matter?  You would have no way to escape the vat.  Your thoughts and actions would be meaningless vat-thoughts and not be real, anyway.

This question about reality is what drove me to create Carl’s world in Interpretation.  I wondered how we, as humans, could be fed false sensory information without ever being aware of it.  If it was possible, I wondered to what degree we would be ready to accept that reality.  I think it’s even more acceptable if the world that is presented to us feels like utopia.

Carl’s utopia is ripped away and instead of doubting it, he doubts the new, miserable existence that is in front of him.  He is in pain, starvation stalks him, and the world is run down.  He yearns for his past life and wants that to be his reality.  Still, he does find hope wherever he can.  Clinging onto those little pieces of hope drives him forward.  He continues to seek answers, only to find that once again, he has been deceived.

At the heart of this deception, he is questioned by an entity about which world people would prefer to live: one of illusive luxury or one that is real but extremely difficult.  While I would want to believe that I’d choose the real world, regardless of how difficult it might be, I’m not so sure.  Because in the end, aren’t we just choosing to believe that the life we are living is real in the first place?  So, why choose hardship, even if it’s the more “real” option.

In novels, the theme of illusion vs. reality has always been one of my favorites.  As a topic in philosophy, I also enjoy exploring it, too.  That’s one of the many reasons that I chose to write Interpretation.  If nothing else, we should look at what is in front of us and question it.  There is always something hidden in reality that will give it more meaning and it’s up to us to discover and seek our own answers.

An Excerpt from Interpretation

Carl closed his eyes and tried to laugh at himself.  Barely a squeak left his mouth.  What was he thinking, trying to enter this godforsaken wasteland by himself with no supplies?  Still on his back, he dreamed about opening a bottle of Ocean Surge.  Wet bubbles danced against his tongue, bathing his taste buds with refreshing fruit-infusion – small bursts of happiness made his lips sing an ode to joy.

But forget that fantasy; sulfur-ridden tap water would be just as good.  Carl knew the taste would not equate, but its effect would invigorate.  Carl smiled, his eyes wide open, staring into the dimming sky, into the nothingness that surrounded him.  Gulp after glorious gulp of imaginary liquid until he couldn’t keep up, showering his face with it until a puddle formed around him.  That puddle turned into an ocean and Carl sank to the bottom, his faint breath weakening further.  The light grew dimmer.  He tried to reach up, to reach out of the depths of his hallucination, but his arms felt too heavy, as if the pressure at this depth couldn’t be overcome.

A shadow hovered over him.  Carl tried to speak to it, but words didn’t make sense.  The shadow spoke back with a meaningless, muffled slur.  Water entered Carl’s mouth, nearly choking him.  Nonetheless, the delicious wet felt so good, like ocean refreshment in every bottle.  That was the slogan, right?  Carl laughed or cried, he couldn’t tell.  For all he knew, he was dead.  The shadow grew, saying something that he couldn’t work his mind around.  Darker. Darker.  Clock, what the hell was that clock song?  Darker. The shadow drew nearer.  Or maybe it was the darkness.  It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born, And was always his treasure and pride… Ah yes, there it is.  But it stopped short – never to go again – When the old man died.  That’s the one.  Darkness.

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Beware! Author at Work!—and a Giveaway!

Lauren Carr is the best-selling author of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, which takes place in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. Killer in the Band is the third installment in the Lovers in Crime Mystery series.

In addition to her series set in the northern panhandle of West Virginia, Lauren Carr has also written the Mac Faraday Mysteries, set on Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland, and the Thorny Rose Mysteries, set in Washington DC. The second installment in the Thorny Rose Mysteries, which features Joshua Thornton’s son Murphy and Jessica Faraday, Mac’s daughter, A Fine Year for Murder, was released in January 2017. The next book, Twofer Murder, will be released at the end of the year.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She also passes on what she has learned in her years of writing and publishing by conducting workshops and teaching in community education classes.

She lives with her husband, son, and four dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV. Visit Lauren Carr’s website at http://www.mysterylady.net to learn more about Lauren and her upcoming mysteries.

Every writer dreams of being a character in a Neil Simon play. In case you haven’t noticed, most of Neil Simon’s plays were autobiographical. Therefore, the lead character would be a writer and the plot would involve the protagonist’s loveable friends and family who would invade his life—creating chaos and disrupting his writing.

Such has been my life while working on my latest work-in-progress. One day, I will be able to laugh about it. One day. In the future. Not now.

Since January—count it—eight months—I have been working on Twofer Murder, my most ambitious mystery novel yet.

Twofer Murder will be a treat for mystery lovers because it is two mysteries in one novel. This book will contain all of the characters from the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose mysteries. The guys go fishing and get embroiled in a murder mystery. Meanwhile, the ladies go off to a murder mystery writers conference and end up wrapped up in their own mystery when an up and coming mystery author ends up dead! Can’t beat that! Two mysteries for the price of one!

I knew going into this project that it would be a challenge. Every writer needs to challenge herself—otherwise the writing gets stale. However, the biggest challenge that I have encountered is not the writing.

It’s life!

This project started off with a bang during the first week of February when I came down with the flu. I had come down with a fever of 102 and went to the emergency room at three o’clock in the morning. Several years ago, I had had pneumonia and with this illness, I felt the same way. At the ER, when Doogie Howser was finally able to tear himself away from his computer game to tend to me, I told him that I needed a chest X-ray because I suspected I had pneumonia.

Doogie disagreed. He gave me a shot. Several minutes later, after he managed to make it to the next level in his computer game, he came in and told me that I looked great.

“I don’t feel great,” I replied. “I don’t feel any better. I think I have pneumonia.”

“Oh, you have the same virus that’s been going around,” Doogie said with a wave of his hand. “You’ll be better in a week.”

Three weeks later, I still had a fever and had written a total of 40 pages on Twofer Murder. Doogie had managed to make me feel so much like a drama queen that I was afraid of making a fuss over feeling so lousy and my silly little fever. When my fever reached a hundred and four, I went to my regular doctor who chewed me out for waiting so long.

I had had the real influenza and had been contagious the whole time! It was six weeks after that before I felt more or less like myself again.

Normally, by the end of spring I would have a book off to the editor. However, with Twofer Murder, which is realistically two books in one, I was really only getting started. The plotline for this double mystery requires strict attention to detail.

Attention that keeps getting interrupted!

“Type up your book and fix my computer,” my husband said just now while pouring a cup of coffee—coffee that I brewed before sitting down to finish a chapter I had started last night.

Seriously? Writers don’t just “type up” a three hundred page book!

Civilians (non-writers) have the mistaken impression that writers can calmly finish writing whatever paragraph they’re working on, tend to the interruption, and then sit back down at the laptop and pick up right where they had left off.

We writers wish it were that easy.

Until I became a full-time writer myself, I truly was not aware of how delicate a writer’s attention span can be when working on an intricate portion of a book. It is maddening to get back into the zone to finish writing a scene in which your hero is walking into a trap after being ripped out of it to do laundry because you’ve run out of clean underwear. I wanted to go commando until I was sure that Mac Faraday and Gnarly had escaped the shoot-out unharmed. But, my husband pointed out that if I got into a car accident and ended up being taken to the ER by ambulance that Doogie Howser would most certainly tell all his friends that Lauren Carr didn’t wear underwear.

When writing fiction, especially novels, authors have to get into the zone, the setting, characters’ minds—including each character’s agenda—and pay attention to all the details pertaining to the storyline. Once they get into all that (the zone) then the words flow easily from the mind, down through the fingertips and across the keyboard.

Interruptions at this point drive mystery writers to consider writing the interrupter into their book—as a victim. For me, I find that I have to start all over again at the beginning of the section—or sometimes even the beginning of the chapter—to get back into the zone to finish the scene. Recently, with Twofer Murder, it took two weeks for me to write a three-page fight scene –not due to writer’s block, but constant interruptions.

My husband had broken his foot in two places and was on crutches. Since it was his right foot, he couldn’t drive. That meant all the errands he would do (including the grocery shopping), suddenly landed in my lap. Man! Never had I realized how much my husband did around the house! Boy, did I marry well!

While I sympathized with the pain and inconvenience of his injury, I was very frustrated as a writer. Seemingly, every time I sat down to write, I would have to return to the beginning of the chapter. Then, just as I felt myself getting up to speed, getting into the zone as I closed in on where I had left off in the fight scene, a dog would bark, the phone would ring, or I would hear the garbage truck in the distance and realize that I had not taken the can to the curb.

So, the month of August has arrived. Friends and family who are accustomed to a new Lauren Carr release in June are asking, “Where’s the next book?”

My response, “I’m working on it.”

“But you’ve been working on this book since January,” my mother said this weekend. “Usually, you release three books a year. What’s wrong? Do you have writer’s block?”

“No, I keep getting interrupted.”

“By what?” she’ll ask.

“By phone calls from friends and family asking if I have writer’s block!”

(Sigh.)

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To enter the drawing for two ebooks
by Lauren Carr, Kill and Run and
A Fine Year for Murder,
just leave a
comment below about what interruption
drives you the most crazy, whatever
it is you might be doing. 
The winning
name will be drawn
on
Monday evening, August 14th.

       

The Power of Storytelling—and a Giveaway!

Seth Margolis lives with his wife in New York City and has two grown children. He received a BA in English from the University of Rochester and an MBA in marketing from New York University’s Stern School of Business Administration. When not writing fiction, he is a branding consultant for a wide range of companies, primarily in the financial services, technology and pharmaceutical industries. He has written articles for the New York Times and other publications on travel and entertainment.

Connect with Seth:
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I’m often asked what book inspired me to become a novelist. But I think the more interesting question is: What inspired me to become a reader of novels? With so many alternatives to reading available today – electronic games, on-demand movies, online videos, social media – the pull of a good novel, in any format, remains irresistible. Why?

I wish I could report that my inspiration was something weighty and “important.”  Anna Karenina, for example, or The Grapes of Wrath (two of my favorite novels, as it happens). But in fact, it was a children’s book that first showed me what great storytelling could do.

The book was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. It was published in 1963 and has been in print ever since, so clearly I’m not the only person inspired by this great novel. I was nine that year, and reading on my own. My parents gave me the book for my birthday, and each night that week I’d read a chapter or two, using a flashlight, on the top level of the bunkbed I shared with my younger brother. The next day I’d recount what I’d read to my mother, no doubt in the breathless, spare-no-detail way that children tend to adopt when describing what they’ve read to their patient, if half-listening, elders. I must not have bored my mother too terribly, because she began to read the book, on her own, the next day. Over the following nights we tore through the book, separately, and then talked about what we’d read the next morning.

We loved discussing Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. And especially the Happy Medium. I’m sure the wordplay sailed right over my head. Also unnoticed by me was the novel’s undercurrent of Christian themes. My mother didn’t point this out to me, but she was an astute reader and I’m sure she picked up on it. To me it was just a grand adventure, albeit one with profound lessons about life, conformity and truth.

But what I really learned from A Wrinkle in Time was far more significant to me than anything in the plot or even in the lessons it contained. The novel, or I should say the experience of reading the novel, taught me that reading, typically a solitary endeavor, can bring people together. It was a powerful lesson. Even today, when I think of A Wrinkle in Time, what I remember most isn’t the story itself, magical as it was, or the Happy Medium with her crystal ball. It’s a feeling of closeness to my mother, who died almost thirty years ago, and the experience of sharing a magical journey with her. And I think that’s when my life as an enthusiastic, committed, can’t-ever-be-without-a good-book reader really began.

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Purchase Links:

              

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Follow the tour here.

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To enter the drawing for a print
copy of Presidents’ Day by
Seth Margolis, just leave
a
comment below. The winning

name will be drawn on Friday
night, August 11th. This drawing is
open to residents of the US and Canada.

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In the Spirit of Transparency

Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today to reveal all…about herself.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.

sunny69@comcast.net   //  http://www.sunnyfrazier.com

I’ve decided to take a page out of Donald Jr.’s playbook and come clean with the truths in my life. Feel free to fill in the blanks and come up with your own conclusions!

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My ideal man is a cross between Jon Stewart and Joel McHale.

I get overwhelmed grocery shopping because there are too many choices. I count on coupons to tell me what to buy.

Menopause made me realize that my body is not just a temple but also a sweat lodge.

I can’t wear my glasses and talk on the phone at the same time.

I have three kidneys. They don’t take the other two out when you get a transplant.

I alphabetize my book shelf so I won’t have to choose my next read. Then I cheat.

I can’t believe I got a good conduct medal in the military.

No matter what people say, eleven cats are not enough.

I live in silence. That way I can hear what the kitties are up to.

I believe in ghosts, especially the one living in the front bedroom

I always tell the truth because people think I’m joking.

I can’t tell my left from my right. Being ambidextrous is confusing.

Numbers baffle me unless I’m doing astrology. Astrology makes sense.

I’m fascinated by aging. You never know what’s going to break down next.

I don’t have any more fantasies left. I’ve done them all.

I’ve caused two riots in foreign countries (Germany and Haiti) and am barred from ever entering Colombia again. Not my fault.

Living next door to a government protected Iranian mass murderer was never on my bucket list.

I once sold copies of my books at a funeral. By request.

To me, onions smell like bad body odor.

I ate my first chicken strips at the age of 65. Not bad.

I’ve never eaten a S’more.

I’ve been kicked out of 3 writing groups. Apparently real criticism is not allowed. They never published.

I’m a former newspaper reporter. I don’t do rewrites.

Growing up with a future nun is punishment enough.

I’ve never been able to decipher my handwriting.

When people call me “nice,” they’re referring to a fictional character.

I can’t keep secrets, especially my own.

Being bipolar is the worst of both worlds.

I do crossword puzzles in ink. Not because I’m confident, I just like to see the mess I make.

When I walk into a room and there are no books in sight, I feel like I’m in a ghost town.

Now I want to believe in dragons. Thank you Game of Thrones.

Hanging upside down on monkey bars, my 7 yr old self knew life would never be better than this.

I don’t smoke. What’s the use of spending money on something that burns but doesn’t get you high?

My tongue won’t curl. I know it’s genetic but I feel gypped.

The first time I ate lobster, I knew Nirvana.

My mother believed Kindergarten was a communist plot.

In the Navy I learned you never piss off the disbursing clerk who pays you and the corpsman with access to your shot record.

I don’t mind being catty, I just don’t want to be caught at it.

I don’t believe in bluffing at poker. Now nobody will play with me.

All of the above are original and true thoughts. My head is now cleared for landing.

In Pursuit of the Spirits

Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband who is a law professor. Where the Bones Are Buried, the fifth book in the series, is in bookstores now . You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at http://www.jeannematthews.com

I turned a recent trip to England into a pilgrimage to seek out the watering holes of some of my favorite writers.  Having just read The Man with the Golden Typewriter, a compilation of Ian Fleming’s letters, I decided to begin my quest at the place that inspired James Bond’s passion for martinis.  Fleming regarded the preparation of a martini as high art, no less delicate and exacting than brain surgery.  Dukes Bar in London achieved his ideal of perfection.  As I wended my way down an unmarked alley into the hidden courtyard, I knew I was in for a serious encounter with the spirits.

The mixologists perform their sleight of hand tableside and the resulting concoction is as lethal as 007.  I remember taking a photo to commemorate the occasion.  Everything after the first two sips remains a blur.  I staggered out, both shaken and stirred.

The next stop on my pilgrimage was Oxford and a tour of Balliol College, Lord Peter Wimsey’s alma mater.  Lord Peter preferred wine to spirits, but he was no less picky than Bond.  In The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, he sent back a bottle of 1915 Romanée Conti because it was “rather unfinished” and requested a bottle of the 1908 vintage.  There are no hostelries in Oxford that claim a Dorothy Sayers connection.  Recalling that she considered her translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy to be her finest work, my husband and I toasted her with a modest little Chianti and shifted our attention to Colin Dexter and Oxford’s most famous fictional detective, Inspector Endeavor Morse.

Colin Dexter shared his hero’s fondness for real ale and malt whiskey and the city boasts a number of pubs frequented by both Dexter and Morse.  The BBC television series based on the Morse novels filmed scenes from various episodes in most of them.  The Eagle and Child was used as the location for Second Time Around and The Way Through the Woods.  The White Horse on Broad Street was featured in The Dead of Jericho, The Wolvercote Tongue, and The Secret of Bay5B.  And Morse and Sergeant Lewis pondered many of their toughest cases over a pint or two in the Randolph Hotel, which named its stylishly elegant bar, The Morse.

Of them all, the slightly ramshackle Turf Tavern has the longest and most colorful history.  Hard to find down a narrow alley known locally as Hell Passage, this unadvertised, unassuming pub is the site of Jude Fawley’s drunken rant in Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure.  In addition to Dexter and Morse, its patrons have included Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Stephen Hawking, and the cast and crew of the Harry Potter movies.  The Australian Prime Minister and President Bill Clinton have contributed further to its cachet.

I couldn’t visit the ancient spa city of Bath without paying homage to Peter Lovesey’s brilliant and curmudgeonly Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond.  A few weeks earlier I had finished the eleventh book in the Diamond series, Stagestruck, set in and around the city’s Theater Royal.  Lovesey wove into his plot a local superstition that the theater is haunted and I found myself in pursuit of spirits of a different sort.

The ghost, it seems, is that of a young lady who fell madly in love with an actor.  Her husband challenged his rival to a duel and killed him.  Grief-stricken, she hanged herself in Garricks Head Pub next door to the theater.  Those who have seen her say she appears in 18th Century evening dress, but has absolutely no color.  Visitations of the so-called “gray lady” are accompanied by a strong whiff of jasmine and a lingering mood of sadness.  There’s also a butterfly superstition in the Theater Royal.  Seeing a live one bodes a successful performance and rave reviews.  In Lovesey’s story, the discovery of a dead butterfly foreshadows a murder and the patrons of the adjacent pub know more than they let on.

Garrick’s Head Pub, built in 1720, is home to other unhappy spirits.  Over lunch, our waitress recounted an incident in 1996 in which a poltergeist hurled the cash register over the bar causing an “almighty crash.”  It might have been the spirit of Beau Nash, Bath’s dissolute Master of Ceremonies who was the first occupant of the building.  Or it might have been his mistress, Juliana Popjoy.  She was so distraught at his death that she resolved nevermore to lie in a bed and lived out the rest of her days in a hollow tree.  Maybe she returns from time to time looking for her Beau.

My husband asked Garrick’s owner why he didn’t have copies of Stagestruck on display in the pub.  He’d never heard of the book or its author.  How is that possible?  I shook my head and ordered a gin and tonic.

 

 

The Bagpiper On The Beach

Mary Reed and Eric Mayer published several short Lord Chamberlain detections in mystery anthologies and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine prior to publication of One For Sorrow, the first full length novel about their protagonist. In 2003 the American Library Association’s Booklist Magazine named the Lord Chamberlain novels as one of its four Best Little Known Series. They are currently writing the as yet untitled twelfth in the series. Ruined Stones, the second book in their Grace Baxter World War Two mystery series, was published by Poisoned Pen Press in July 2017. Mary and Eric’s website is at http://home.earthlink.net/~ maywrite/

At first glance, The Bagpiper On The Beach resembles the title of a newly discovered Lovecraft short story, but in fact it refers to a favourite memory concerning the first holiday I had had in years, to wit, a visit to northern Maine in the early nineties.

The trip began with a bang when, an hour or two into the journey, the muffler fell off. It subsequently travelled with us in the front passenger seat wheel well, on the grounds if stopped we could point to its remains and declare our intent to get a new one when we arrived at our destination. Announcing our arrival, passage through, and departure from each small town with a noise reminscent of a sonic boom was not calculated to sooth our nerves, but northern Maine did the job, as well as providing a shiny new muffler at reasonable cost.

I remember the afternoon we spent sunning ourselves at the beach while the tide came in. Soothing indeed, but not a favourite memory due to the fact that the next morning my legs were as red as boiled lobsters and gave as nigh as much pain as the unfortunate crustaceans must experience when  being cooked. In fact, I had to come downstairs on my rear end because it was some time before I could straighten my legs without wincing.

What was much more soothing, and has contributed to my fondest recollection, was the scenery — strongly reminiscent of remoter parts of Scotland, with pine forests sweeping down to the rocky shoreline.

One morning a cold wind was blowing and dark clouds rolled by, hiding the cheerful but dangerous sun. It was like a summer day in the north of England where I grew up, about fifty miles from the Scottish border.

We donned light jackets and walked past the beach where we’d lingered too long. The air was filled with mist, perhaps blown in off the sea or else drizzle from the leaden clouds racing overhead. The sea was as dark as the sky, except where big waves dashed themselves to white foam against the shore.

We cut across a small headland and threaded our way through a thick stand of pines. Then we heard a mournful sound. Not the cry of gulls, more of a moaning, yet not not the wind soughing in the trees either. It couldn’t possibly be, it would be an impossible coincidence, but it sounded very much like bagpipes.

We emerged from the trees and found ourselves in a secluded cove. Standing there on the rocky shore against a backdrop of pines and dark, scudding clouds, his kilt rippled by the wind, a bagpiper was playing.

It really was too perfect to be true, but there he was.

We fell into conversation with him in the way that Americans make so easy and he explained he always went to the beach to practice his craft so as to avoid annoying people. We assured him we were not at all annoyed, delighted, in fact. I asked him if he would care to play My Country, T’is Of Thee and with good humour he did just that, and sand, rocks, water, and forest echoed with the same melody as the British national anthem.

Perhaps my brief anecdote shows you never know, contrary to Lovecraft’s eerie tales of strange gatherings on hilltops and at decayed ruins, what unexpected delights may still await in unfrequented places.