Short Stories, Poetry Anthologies, Singing our Spelling and Times Tables, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton…
I love writing short stories. Transporting someone with little time to read a full novel, or who doesn’t enjoy full-length books, into another world or reality. Getting them to suspend their disbelief as they dive into a good yarn for an hour or less.
Writing short stories is a joy. The planning and plotting is a real brain-teaser. How to get a beginning, middle, and a satisfactory ending into so few pages without skipping on the action, great characters, and of course a riveting plot. I think they are harder to write than full-length novels; having said that I love writing novels too.
Short stories are such great fun to write. I began writing short stories as a child, they helped me escape somewhere safe and quiet, away from demanding siblings and parents. I would scribble on pieces of paper, and in what we used to call exercise books, and hide them from inquisitive eyes, especially my youngest sibling who used to love wrecking my things when I was at school on a Saturday morning.
It was she who single-handedly wrought destruction on a collection of vinyl 78 and 45 records I’d been given, smashing them to smithereens when she was left to her own devices one Saturday morning, having decided to play in my bedroom; she was about three at the time.
Thankfully my bookcase survived. We are a family of book lovers and she knew not to deface or destroy a book.
I loved my English Language and English Literature classes at school. At preparatory school, the nuns were very hot on teaching reading and writing skills, and we children had to keep a poetry anthology in which we’d add favourite poems by distinguished and classical poets, as well as write our own poems, and thoughts about what we’d read and written.
We kept exercise books with our own short stories and compositions and we’d be asked to read them out on a Friday afternoon in front of the class. Always written in our neatest, joined-up handwriting, each book had to be covered to preserve it. Brown paper or wallpaper seemed to be the popular choice of pupils.
Our Friday afternoon would end with a spelling test and we’d be asked to stand up in front of the class and spell various words for our teacher, Mother Mary Paulinus. Sometimes we sang spellings so that complicated words would stick in our mind, such as Mississippi – we’d sing it like this:
Mrs. M, Mrs. I, Mrs. SSI, Mrs. SSI, Mrs. PPI.
We also sang our Times Tables. I still sing them in my head if I need to remember a calculation.
Later, at senior school, one of my English Language and Literature teachers, Mr. Kilner, inspired and encouraged me with my writing. He was a former actor, and his classes were so entertaining and exciting. He made stories come alive and encouraged us to push ourselves when it came to using our imagination.
He was responsible for putting on the school plays, and I have mixed feelings about being Mrs. Spoffington in ‘Oh, I do like to be beside the Seaside,’ because, having purchased tickets to see The Beatles in London, I couldn’t go because I was appearing that same night in the play. I couldn’t let the school down, but I never got over it. Disappointed doesn’t describe it.
Mr. Kilner was also responsible for my receiving two awards; English Literature and English Language. He put my stories and work forward for these and I was given £50 in book tokens to spend at the local book store. £50 in 1966 went a long way and I recall the horrified looks on the faces of those attending when I was presented with the books I’d chosen – my teacher was given my choices beforehand to buy on my behalf, and despite being ‘asked’ to select other, more suitable books – such as classics – for me, he did as I wished.
I can’t recall all the books I picked, but there was:
‘Return to Peyton Place,’ by Grace Metalious, which was also a TV series at the time and thought to be quite ‘risqué’. I’ve no idea what made me pick that one. It resulted in the parentals complaining to the school.
‘The Big Sleep,’ by Raymond Chandler – also a classic movie. I grew up reading his books.
I loved Leslie Charteris, reading his books and watching ‘The Saint.’ on TV with Roger Moore. I used to love reading Spy novels. I’m a huge fan of Frederick Forsyth, Len Deighton, and John le Carre. I guess that is why there is often espionage or spy agency content to my writing, as well as music.
Mickey Spillane’s ‘One Lonely Night.’ I loved his detective stories. He and other crime writers got me hooked on reading and writing crime.
‘Frenchman’s Creek,’ by Daphne Du Maurier – she is one of my all-time favourite authors. I had a library of her books – all leather-bound – at one time, but they were lost in a house move a few years ago.
I love pirates and everything about pirates. Apparently, I have an ancestor who was a16th century pirate, Grainne O’Malley, (Grace O’Malley) known as the Queen of the Pirates from Western Ireland.
I love Agatha Christie and I had a couple of her books in the selection but I cannot recall which.
As I said, there were other authors/books but the copies with inscriptions, about my awards, have long been lost.
Mr. Kilner didn’t bat an eyelid because he’d introduced us to Edna O’Brien’s books such as, ‘The Girl with Green Eyes.’ Parents had complained to the school when he gave us this, and ‘A Taste of Honey,’ to read. They deemed them unsuitable for us. ‘A Taste of Honey,’ was a screenplay written by nineteen-year-old (in 1958) Shelagh Delaney.
We also read ‘To Sir with Love,’ and we went to the cinema to watch it. When Only One Woman’s foreword was written by iconic rock singer, Graham Bonnet, for Christina Jones and me, signed copies of our novel were presented to prize winners at an event attended by actress, Adrienne Poster, who appeared in the movie.
Adrienne is mentioned in our novel. She was also – unknown to Christina and me at the time – once married to Graham. We gave her a signed copy of it. Small world.
Mr. Kilner took us to see the play, ‘Dr. Faustus,’ by Christopher Marlowe. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton starred in it at the Oxford Playhouse in 1966. It was Elizabeth Taylor’s first-ever stage appearance.
It was amazing to see two superstars so close up.
‘The Taming of the Shrew,’ is another movie he took us to see, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
Many years later my husband, then-boyfriend, and his band frequently performed at parties for Elizabeth Taylor, and Richard Burton, along with their entourage at a club, L’atelier, in Gstaad, Switzerland.
Some of the anthologies in which my stories appear.
I also have short stories in various magazines from time to time including Electric Press (free online magazine)
and The Writers’ and Readers’ Magazine (online and in print) where I have a regular series and also a short story from time to time.
Not all my short stories feature crime – some are ghost stories, others are time-shift, and I love writing adventure stories.
Find my writing here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Risdon/e/B00I3GJ2Y8
Do pop in and say hello. I love hearing from you and having a good natter. Have a fab day, take care. Jane xx