OUR AUTHORS WRITE FOR YOU... short stories and excerpts from our contributors
How one thing leads to another..... by Mairi-Rose Wiseman
Searching through a list of poets of the Great War, I happened across the name of one Wilfred Wilson Gibson and I was slowly transported back to a poem of my childhood: Flannan Isle.
Long before I had been initiated into the terms of poetic analysis, I can still remember being terrified by the atmosphere embedded in the narrative of this poem; I knew nothing of the techniques employed by the writer to create the mystery of the disappearance of the three lighthouse keepers; I was uninformed of style, metre and imagery as poetic concepts; I was simply captivated by the sense of the supernatural, the paranormal or the magical, as the child within me might have called it.
So what fascinated this child? Well to begin with, three men who had worked the lighthouse had disappeared and the lighthouse was not functioning. That's a serious matter. A lighthouse must send out a signal to inform sailors of the proximity of dangerous rocks. Even this child knew that. This lack of signal was a strong indication that something was amiss.
Having suggested this problem, Gibson, the poet, goes on to describe the journey of three other men who had travelled to Flannan Isle to seek out an explanation. And this is where the poem becomes really spooky. Gibson creates an image of the men being dwarfed by the lighthouse. It was 'towering white'. This figurative language sets up a contrast with the, 'three queer, black, ugly birds' which seem to be 'too big'. This child experiences an eerie tingling. She is well versed in fairy stories of the sea. She isn't able to access the internet – that's a distant techology – but she's heard stories about kelpies; she's steeped in ideas of devils and the supernatural and she know the power of magic. Fantasy can be easily explained; it's her reality. These three birds could actually represent the souls of the dead lighthouse keepers if they had lived an evil life, she reasons. If you were bad, you went to Hell; she knew that. Perhaps Hell meant being changed into a big, black ugly bird. The child 'knows' this is possible. There is no redemption for those who are evil. They might try plunging into the sea but that won't cleanse their evilness. That which previously had been spooky, now becomes spine-chilling.
And then the men land on the Isle itself. The entrance door is 'black'. It is distorted 'sun-blistered' and crucially, 'It gaped for us ajar', as if their arrival had been expected. The imagery is dark and inexplicable but this child is encouraged to read further because the door being, 'ajar', has been like an invitation. And also I may add, the frequent use of 'We' embraces this child. She is one with the men who seek. Perhaps she too can smell 'some strange scent of death'. She may not understand the implications of the 'black foreboding eye', but the ponderous effect of the diction is unsettling. So too is the fact that there's an 'untouched' meal on the table and there's a chair 'tumbled' on the floor. Why would three men take the time to prepare dinner and then leave it on the table. And the chair? Had there been a fight?
Gibson continues, 'We hunted high, we hunted low;' and he repeats this to deepen the mystery: everywhere has been searched; twice. As well as this, the men's disappearance is called their 'fate' as if to suggest the event has been predetermined A child may not understand the connotations of the word 'fate', but in this context, and aligned to the fact that apparently men in the past had also disappeared, makes this child wonder if the three who have gone to search, could be the next victims. And just to emphasis that possibility, the repetition serves to chill, especially the heart of THIS child. She has now been totally absorbed into the poem.
Finally, the last 4-line stanza reminds us of the ballad form established right at the very outset. The expression, 'ballad form', would probably not have been familiar to an 8 year old nor perhaps would the term, rhythm, but what would have been appreciated would have been the effect of the rhythming structure and the focus on the final word: 'dead'. And on top of all that, to discover that the story was based on fact would have added to the chill. I must also add, thrill, because this child read and re-read the poem and when she discovered, 'The Rime of the AncientMariner', she remembered 'Flannan Isle' and fell in love with poetry.
It begs the question,:do you really need a knowledge of the language of poetic analysis to appreciate a good narrative? Just sit down and read and let your imaginative muse stir your intellectual curiosity.
IMPORTANT ADVICE FOR SCHOOL PUPILS from TEACHING TANIA by James Gault
Next, I come to the delicate question of homework, which of course you must always do. But there will be, inevitably, some occasions on which, through no fault of your own, you will inadvertently not have done your homework. You may, for example, have inexplicably forgotten about it. Such a thing, of course, must never happen with the homework I give you. But, for other teachers, it is a possibility, and indeed, over a long school career, practically unavoidable. So what should you do in such a case?
First of all, on your journey to school, you must dedicate your mind to finding the most convoluted and improbable explanation for not having the homework. “As I came out of the house with my homework in my hand, a passing bird descended, grabbed it in his beak, and flew off with it. I took a taxi, at great personal expense, and we followed it to Wenceslas Square. There the bird let go of my homework and it started to float slowly down to the ground. Unfortunately, there was a delay while I paid the taxi driver a not inconsiderable sum of money, and from my own pocket too. I then started to cross the square, watching my homework descending towards a young man sitting on a bench. Suddenly this young man took a packet of cigarettes from his pocket, put one in his mouth, and then proceeded to illuminate a small cigarette lighter with his free hand. I was shocked, and not only because, as you know, I abhor smoking. My precious paper was descending towards the naked flame, and, you’ve guessed it, I arrived in front of the bench just in time to see my homework going up in smoke. But, of course, I’ll do it over again and give it to you tomorrow.”
This story will produce one of two responses. Your teacher may say, probably in a rather disgruntled sort of way, “OK then. But don’t you dare forget it tomorrow!” This is a perfectly satisfactory outcome for you. But some teachers are of a more suspicious or tenacious nature, and may respond by saying, “You really don’t expect me to believe such a load of nonsense, do you?” With such a pedagogical giant there is only one way to proceed. You must be firm, resolute and even arrogant, and say, without allowing your voice to waver, “Do you honestly believe, sir (or miss) that I could have made up such a story if it wasn’t true?” (You will note that you have not actually lied in this statement). Faced with such a demonstration of conviction, the teacher will wilt, and will reply weakly, “Oh well then, do it again for tomorrow”.
It's a Miracle by Keith Guernsey
If you visit my author page on Amazon, you will see that I have referred to our four-footed son Harley as the "King of this castle. It is as true today as it was when I wrote it five years ago.
For the first half century of my life I always thought the phrase a man's best friend was just a marketing slogan on the side of a can of dog food. But I have learned over the last decade that it is actually very true. To say he stole our hearts would rank as a colossal understatement. He came to us a rescue on a one week trial bass and has been by our side every day since. I distinctly remember calling his adoption advocate that very first night and telling her that there was no need for a trial. He was ours and we were his!
At 15 years young we faced the reality that he wouldn't be with us forever, but that didn't make almost losing him any easier. He was getting sick to his stomach, not eating and showing signs of extreme lethargy so we knew an unwanted trip to the vet was in order. We took him in early March and were informed that he was in kidney failure. He was in such bad shape that we prepared for the end. Susan even picked out a place in her garden where she would scatter his ashes. A lot of tears were shed as we hoped for a miracle and sure enough one occurred!
Other than a change in diet (thank you freshpet.com!), we really didn't do anything different but all of a sudden he seemed to find the fountain of doggie youth! He started eating again like there was no tomorrow. We even had a reign him in as he still only weighed 10 pounds. He began to run wild like he was five instead of 15 and an amazing transformation had truly taken place. Susan and I were so thrilled to have our little best friend back. There didn't seem to be any logical veterinary, medical explanation but it didn't matter to us one iota!