Category Archives: Stories

WRESTLING DRAGONS ON CORFU AND QUESTIONING THE FISH!

photo (2) Hello, I haven’t run away with the cash, nor spent it celebrating the new United harmony of the British peoples, convinced the Welsh and the real Celts were always the warmest and the best, but flown off to live cheap on Corfu and write Dragon In The Post! Fire Bringer is coming too, thanks to you, although I have a lot to say about the packaged awfulness of Amazon and Createspace, while I’m pondering whether to try and Crowd Fund Light of The White Bear too, giving Phoenix Ark the USP (Unique Selling Point – eeeew) of being the only little publisher to be truly grass roots and completely Crowd Funded. Along with the tag line “The author they couldn’t kill!” I know it might strike terror in the hearts and wallets of backers, not to mention my own, but it would also make a grass roots publishing tale entirely real. Would it work though and how painful would it be?

But is the question now, never go back? I say it because after a lovely few days, following 15 solid days of rain out here and now sharp, Greek sun across that sparking blue, things are not as they seemed or were. The charming waiter on the little island of Vidos, opposite Corfu town, has vanished, to be replaced by a sullen old timer slamming down ashtrays, while I found the beautiful groved restaurant overlooking the sea, at Aloniki Bay, where we had a lovely home cooked lunch when I first arrived too years ago. Yet only to be jipped a vast 14 Euros on the tiny, oily, boggle-eyed fish. Ah me, all is change and sometimes too fast. It seems embarrassing and petty to complain when everyone is going through it, and the nice owner made some amends when he said ‘come back and eat free next time – if you don’t have the fish!” yet it troubled the perfection of this magic isle. But the place is beautiful and rich as ever, Prospero’s Isle, work is being done and the answer is, ever forward, with stories and real life too.

The picture is DCD’s, of the fishy grove and a writer’s lunch table, where at least some postcards have been written!

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TRAVELS IN THE ROMANIAN MIND?

To keep a promise to a reader, Christian, and say hi, wondering how people are faring out there, time to write a bit about old travel journeys. Good God, it was twenty-two years ago now, in the late winter of 1990, I went to Romania for five weeks, with a friend called Sophie Thurnam. It took us to Bucharest, the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, ‘Dracula’s’ or Vlad Tepes’s birthplace of Sigishoara, a beautiful old German town ringed by monumental housing blocks, to Brasov and up north into very snowy Moldova.

It was extraordinary for many reasons, not least because the Ceaucescus had just been shot, (there were bullet holes in our hotel lift). Yet the arrival of the miners to beat up journalists in the capital meant no one knew what was really happening, and if the old regime could reform, or who the puppet masters were. Spawning newspapers meant rumours were rife, but without the rigour or authority of real journalism. As we started to hear Russian voices on London tubes, or see Romanian gypsies begging here later, so too it was a sharp wake up call to my younger socialist ways of thinking, as sharp a lesson as seeing the terrifying, monumental Victory of Socialism Boulevard. That had destroyed half Bucharest’s churches, and created a giant avenue of ‘elegant’ apartments, with washing hanging off the balconies and nothing in the empty shops beneath. It would all somehow find its way into my fantasy novel, The Sight.

There’s too much to say in a brief blog, but many sights went deep, as war began to erupt in Yugoslavia. Perhaps, in discussions of what poverty really is, one was the sight of an art shop in Bucharest, with three plastic bottles of primary colour paints in the window and practically nothing else. In that hard winter, the imaginative poverty was just as shocking as the economic, especially with fear so long in the frame. In a country that had open ties with Saddam Hussein and seemed to have engineered some brilliant state trading coup to fill shops with boxes chinese rice crackers. Bucharest was once called “The Paris of the East”.

Then there was going to the old fashioned restaurant, Capsa, or visiting the theatre to see Timberlake Wurtenburgger’s “Our Country’s Good” , directed by Andre Sherban and feeling the physical fear in an audience. Or chatting to the bearded new Minster of Culture in the huge ‘Victory’ palace, who told me how Ceaucescu had even banned the tradition of puppet theatres, as a means of dissent, and rightly said the first thing he himself wanted to do was get rid of a Ministry of Culture all together. Too old style Communist block, or 1984 Ministry of Truth. At a Gypsy wedding a kind of local mafia were selling large tins of peaches to the guests, as they left.

But against it, enormous pollution, miners working with hand tools, an old beggar lady frozen up in the streets, the tragic story of orphanages, or the Pitest-Bucharest 3 mile stretch of motorway, which had giant potholes in it, was the astonishing beauty of the countryside. We drove towards the Carpathians, full of the stories and sensibilities from Patrick Lee Fermour’s travels, and in a haze of golden light an old shepherd flagged us down. “The King,” he said, with watery eyes, “The King is coming.” King Carol tried to get in a few weeks later, and was turned back on that motorway. Then, at a Monastery up north, we saw a world straight out of the 16th century, or perhaps 19th Century Russia, except for the wealth of the monks, whose long beards I barged in on, sitting around a polished table, watching a European cup football match. At Christmas time they were not exactly friendly, and offered no room at the inn. Then came the rumour that a Popa we managed to stay with, a priest, had links with the Securitate, the Secret Police. But we also saw the walls of the extraordinary painted monasteries of Bukovina.

It became travels in fact and in the Romanian mind, especially growing up with Bram Stoker ideas of how Transylvania is the land of vampires. Beautiful, very sad Romania. I’ve often wondered what has happened there and if people’s lives are still as hard as they were for so many.

DCD

PA PRESS

Phoenix Ark is a member of the Independent Publisher’s Guild, The IPG.

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HURTING WITH THE HURT LOCKER

We think The Hurt Locker not only deserved its six Oscars, but is one of the best war films ever made. Sparse, with the excitement of a thriller, but often replacing big noise and big feeling music with ambient sound, its documentary style is wonderfully un-manipulative. There are no Rides of the Valkerie, no aching violins, as young men are shredded in slow motion, by deliciously explosive gunfire. But the tension is agonising, at times, and the pity of war clear too, along with its excitement and meaning, as we follow the exploits of a bomb disposal unit in Iraq.

Here nastiness goes on on both sides, not mined with a shovel, but glanced at as almost normal in war, but its effect in showing the horror of war too is just as real. The moment a body bomb steps into the scene, you are revolted by what is possible, but the reversal of that later, exposing the fog of war, is done quite brilliantly. At every turn it avoids clich√©, or the obvious. Through that, and participating so intimately in the first hand action, you are almost completely on the US soldiers’ sides, as men bonded in action naturally become. They are the flawed heroes and their humanity and vulnerability is underlined throughout.

Ralph Fiennes’s brief appearance as a mercenary is suitably understated, in a desert fight that is agonising and utterly convincing, but the acting stars go straight to Jeremy Renner. The Hurt Locker becomes not only his bomb suit, of course only there to keep a body together under impact, but the diffused devices he keeps under his army bed too, the triggers to what might have been. What he has to live with and survive daily. There comes the revelation of the other hurt in the background, a marriage and a kid back home. Another kind of ‘real life’. The film’s tension, humanity and understatement was perhaps tripped up by the Stepford Wives element at the end, because it is implicit, but it does not matter, and in the calendar countdown throughout, you begin to realise that men like that, hooked on such extremes, only really have one place to go. As for Katherine Bigelow, who won best Director, the first time a woman has, perhaps it takes an intelligent woman to tell us the truth of war and men. Remember though, like so much good work, it was based on a novel.

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HOPPETTY COMES TO TEACH A DRAGON HOW TO FLY!

Phoenix Ark are delighted to publish another story, for parents to read aloud with kids, from PolliPigglePuggar, by David Clement-Davies

THE TALE OF HOPPETTY THE GRASSHOPPER

Once upon a day the sun was shining with all its might, just as it loves to do. The misty skies were quivering with the turning spring and great billows of itching gadflies rode the morning air, in clouds of glittering wings. They only had a day. In the shining meadow the long grass was rich and juicy, thick as little pencils, while among the fattly firming stalks of luscious green, casting their shadows everywhere, a new-born Grasshopper, tiny as a nail, fresh as a dew drop, popped up his little head and looked about in wonder.

Wow. His little Grasshop-eyes were huge, and the fine antennae fingers on his head shook with interest, and a mighty question too, that Hoppetty couldn’t wait to ask. ‘Oh please,‘ he cried, to all his brothers and sisters, flashing through the stalks above and darting everywhere, ‘can you tell me how I do that too? How to reach the sky.

‘Too young, Hoppetty,’ snapped a brother scornfully, and with a gigantic spring, launching himself straight over a Dandelion, like a fly. ‘Too weak, Hoppetty,’ winked a sister, flicking like a weightless dart, to the very top of the highest flower, ‘Go and ask our parents, silly Hoppetty.’

So the little Grasshopper turned and walked on his little legs over the earth to his mum and dad. But they were busy making meadow music with their strong back legs, a kind of cerricketting, side by side, and talking of all the dangers in the meadow too, to even notice their tiny offspring’s question. Poor little Hoppety bowed his head and nearly cried.

Oh why does nobody show me anything at all?” he wailed.

But then Hoppetty’s brave little heart rallied and he decided to ask the other creatures what he wanted to know. The creatures in the meadow.
So off the big-eyed Grasshopper set, through the long grasses, up the meadow, step by step. At first Hoppetty was very frightened and rather slow, creeping through the stalks, like a forest of giant trees looming around him, tipping forwards too, always looking down, because Grasshopper’s legs at the back are bigger than the front. But at last he came on a yellow backed-Bumblebee, who he heard first, hovering over a buttercup and sticking pollen to her legs, like magic dust. Her face was shining like the sun, as Hoppetty looked up, and nectar dripped from her lips.

‘Please, Mrs BumbleBee,’ said Hoppetty nervously, feeling very small indeed, ‘Can you tell me how to touch the sky, just like you? Like the gadflies, and all my brothers and sisters too? I’m Hoppetty the Grasshopper.” ‘Fly in the sky, My Dear?” buzzed the busy bumblebee, though not unkindly, ‘Dear me no, Hoppetty, you haven’t any wings.’ With that the heavy laden bee took to the air again, abuzzing and afuzzing, but called out kindly too, ‘Up there, Hoppetty, below that tree, try the Caterpillar. They know a thing or two.

So off the bright green Grasshopper set again, a little less nervously this time, and there, on the edge of a leaf, hanging down from a low trailing branch, Hoppetty saw a jet black Caterpillar, furry as a spider, acurling and awhirling, aworming and asquirming and eating his home. ‘Please, Mr Caterpillar,’ cried Hoppetty, ‘Can you tell me how to fly?” ‘Not me,‘ answered the Caterpillar, chewing on his leaf, ‘I haven’t changed just yet. But when I eat enough, and spin myself a silk cocoon, then I’ll be a butterfly myself. All sun and air and breeze. I’m planning to take off.”

The little Grasshopper looked jealous and then monumentally sad. He sighed. ‘Besides,‘ said the Caterpiller, smacking his delicate lips, “Grasshoppers don’t fly, silly, they hop. They hop, skip and they jump. Suddenly.” “Oh yes,” said Hoppetty, “I forgot.”But Try up there,” said the Caterpillar, beginning to spin the finest thread around itself, “Up the meadow, by those stones. Snail knows a thing or two.”

So Hoppetty walked on, faster now, and found Snail, like a homeless slug, lying beside her shell, trying to eat some earth. “Please,” said Hoppetty, “I want to launch myself, but I don’t know how to Hop.” Mmmmm, beats me,” said the snail, “I haven’t any legs. I’m earth bound. Though I know your reach should always be bigger than your grasp. But tell you what, up there, by the old Kitchen Garden wall, lives the wisest creature in all the world. The Tortoise. Go ask him, Hoppetty, he knows everything.” So that’s exactly what brave Hoppetty did. He was going much faster now, even stepping over little stones, and less frightened of all the things around him, although Hoppetty stopped dead when he saw a dark green grass snake lift its head and flick its tongue, looking for a snack, just like him.

But the bright sun shone in the snake’s dim black eyes and he slithered coldly away, and Hoppetty went on, faster still, seeing a great brown wall of human bricks and stones, far in the distance, rising like a flat mountain before him. It was huge and it made him gulp and feel sick. It seemed to take for ever to even get near it, but there, in the earth , at the edge of the Kitchen garden Wall Hoppetty found the Tortoise. Or Hoppetty found his stoney shell, since tortoise was inside, contemplating things.

Now Hoppetty stepped up sharply, to the dark little hole where a head should have been and called out loudly. “Hello, Tortoise,” he cried, “I’m Hoppetty, and I’ve come to ask you how to hop.” It took an age before anything happened, but then, very slowly, a wrinkled head came out, blinking and sniffing the coming summer air. ‘To Hop?” said the Tortoise slowly, in a deeply ringing voice, “Well how should I know, little fool, I’m the slowest thing in all the world. I hardly ever move.”But the cleverest,” said the bright eyed Grasshopper quickly, “Everyone knows that!”

“Mmmmm,” said the Tortoise, flattered and chewing on his ancient lips, “Mmmm.” His voice was as deep and ringing as an old stone well. “Well, I tell you what, Hoppetty, I’ll make you a bargain.”Bargain?” piped the little Grasshopper. “Oh yes,” said the Tortoise, “nothing in life is quite for free. And I’m hungry, and this grave question of yours needs real food for thought.”

Hoppetty was pushing himself up on his back legs, his brave antennae quivering faster then ever before, as he wondered just what food for thought was. He waited and he waited and at last Tortoise spoke again. “So go and find me something delicious,” said the Tortoise, “And I might just tell you what you need to know.”Some thing?” said Hoppetty, very smartly, “Well, I know Mrs Bee likes Pollen, and the Caterpillar loves his leaf, the Snail likes earth and snakes are simply silly. What shall I get you though?” Now the Tortoise looked at Hoppetty straight, and looked, and some strange new light came into his dark, slow eyes.”Cabbage,” he whispered suddenly, although not very fast, “I like my cabbage, Hoppetty, and it’s the only answer to your question too, I’m sure of it. So bring me a fresh new cabbage leaf, Hoppetty, and I will show you exactly how to hop, higher than anything else.” “Where,” said the Grasshopper, wonderingly, ready to run as fast as ever he could, “IN THERE,” answered the Tortoise ominously, turning his slow head, “Beyond the Kitchen Garden Wall.”

Now Hoppetty set off immediately, his heart filled with hope, but soon his spirit had sunk like the biggest stone, in the deepest pool, for though the little Grasshopper went around and around the wall, there simply was no way in at all. The Garden wall just was too high to climb, and the wooden door, when he found it, was blocked below with stones to stop the slugs getting in. It was impossible. The poor Grasshopper’s bursting heart was breaking, because if Hoppetty didn’t get Tortoise his Cabbage, he would never know the secret at all.

But then the sun came out again, and suddenly the little Grasshopper had a brilliant idea. So he jumped onto a stalk of grass, and sprang onto another, then up to a leaf, and now the top of the wall was not so high at all, he closed his eyes, and pushed and pushed and pushed and launched himself up and out. Hoppetty found himself sailing over, straight onto the finest cabbage leaf in all the Kitchen Garden. Hoppetty set to work, and now, eating a little himself, but cutting the best bit for his friend the Tortoise, so eager now to get the answer that his heart was doing somersaults, he turned and sprang, straight back over the wall again.

I’ve got it,” cried Hoppetty proudly, landing like a gadfly right before his friend, “Your special cabbage. So please, Tortoise, now can you tell me just how to…OH!” As the great old Tortoise lowered his kind, wise head and smiled, pulling the delicious cabbage into his old mouth, Hoppety’s little heart took wing and soared. “HOP,” he cried delightedly, “But I hopped, and I popped and I dropped, and then I hopped again, all on my own, into the Garden and out again, over the wall and away. Hooray.” So off grateful Hoppetty went, thanking his friend, as the Tortoise chewed his most delicious leaf, ahopping and apopping, aspringing and asinging, the summer filling his brave little heart, Hoppetty, Hoppetty, Hoppetty, all the way home. Now he jumps quite the highest of all the grasshoppers in all the meadow, ever, does Hoppetty the brave.

David Clement-Davies 2011. All Rights Reserved.

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Sherlock Holmes, security, disclaimers, Ra Ra Rasputin, and releasing the Phoenix Files!

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or used fictitiously…” Every novelist knows that is the legal disclaimer that appears in the front of any published novel, and every movie lover will have seen something similar tagged to a film. But where does it actually come from?

Phoenix’s boss found out last year, when researching a private biography in the Paris National Archive. Those files had been kept closed under the seventy year rule, probably similar in time-period to the valuable protection of authorial copyright, namely a normal lifetime’s distance after an author’s death, and included a police dossier on the arrest of Adrian Conan Doyle, the rather dissolute son of Sir Arthur, creator of the great detective himself, Sherlock Holmes. Adrian and his brother, in very Sherlock Holmes vein, had been arrested at Bolougne-Sur-Mer in the 1930’s, for trying to smuggle weapons through customs, onto a Packet Boat. They would not have had a chance in today’s high security climate, because both were carrying sword sticks, of all swashbuckling things, revolvers, and several boxes of ammunition. 21 and 19 years old respectively, they were questioned, fined and released, though according to his biographer, Adrian would later develop an obsession with weapons, and Medieval torture instruments. Among some fascinating ‘secret’ records though, was another dossier on Prince Yusupov.

It was of course Felix Yusupov who was responsible for the origins of the above disclaimer, certainly in movie theatres, after he sued MGM, for its portrayal of him in the 1932 film ‘Rasputin and the Empress’, and their dramatisation of his involvement in Rasputin’s murder. He won the case, for libel and invasion of privacy, not over the murder, but for the fact the film had suggested Rasputin had seduced his wife, Princess Irina Alexandrova. One of the richest men in Russia, who fled to Europe after the Revolution, Yusupov founded a fashion house with her, and made rather a career out of suing people. He had already gone head to head with Karensky in London, who founded the exile newspaper, The Days, and specialised in attacks on ‘White Russian’ aristocrats like Yusupov. But the file we found was itself a little gem of mis-sleuthing, and historical translation. It involved their investigating an attempt to blackmail the Prince over a homosexual affair with the son of a French Count. Among decidedly loaded police remarks about Yusupov’s femininity, and fondness for the company of young men, it reveals the French police paid a ‘snitch’ to root through Yusupov’s clothes, left at his tailor, where they found a little parcel of cocaine in his pocket. Fictional Holmes would have loved such 1% solutions, because although Yusupov is said to have boasted on the boat leaving Russia, that he had murdered Rasputin, the language of all those police files so exposes the official prejudices of the time. Also the language of professional sleuthing emerging everywhere, which, with relatively new forensic techniques like Finger Printing, began to transform the landscape of investigations, and moved it out of the romantic domain of the ‘spy’ – there were several notes in those files scrawled on restaurant napkins – into the territory of the official policeman. In Conan Doyle’s take, who at been dead for eight months when his sons were arrested, often the territory of the bumbling Lestrade. Incidentally, after fighting battles against real injustice, Sir Arthur’s famous last words must have been some of the greatest of all time, to his second wife – ‘You are wonderful.’

It was one of many fascinating things that turned up, although supposedly not of interest to today’s serious, or even scandal hungry newspapers, and so the general public, (we tried), so over the next few weeks, that and other little discoveries will be added to our own blogged ‘Phoenix files’. Phoenix puts no such disclaimer in front of its blog, we’d rather the tag ‘this is a true, or based on a true story’. We naturally coda it to ‘excerpts’, and in the books we are trying to produce, when of course they are fictional. DCD

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