Judge Not Lest You Be Judged

They say never judge a book by it’s cover. And that makes sense, to a point. But for those who love the physical nature of books it’s an odd piece of advice. Sure, I get it, the content can be awful even in a book with a great cover and visa versa. But there’s something about the whole package that’s important when reading.

And it’s not just the cover! The quality of the paper the words are printed on, the formatting of the text, even the smell of the book (which can be awful as well as enchanting). All these and more can have a huge impact on the reading experience which in turn has a huge impact on our ability to stick with a book or, more importantly, our ability to retain the information it imparts.

Books engage you through more than words and so it’s important to know that the publishers have considered the whole reading experience. From the first page to the last, everything printed in between and even the glue used to hold it all together.

Perhaps the advice should be, “Don’t just judge a book by it’s cover…judge it on a lot more.”

“B and B and B”

This is an entry for the weekly Trifecta Writing Challenge. This week, the challenge is to include the word ‘grasp’ used in the sense to comprehend.

It’s not a stand alone story, it’s a further revelation in my ongoing story about Leopold Haman. So, it isn’t very exciting on it’s own. But for those who have read the other instalments it’s a little clarification as to what on earth is going on.

Enjoy either way.

——–

The sign above the door read, “BBQ, BEER & BOSOMS.” It was exactly the sort of place Leopold despised. He hated himself a little for being there, but he needed information and there was no-one better than Giggs for getting that.  Unfortunately, this was exactly the sort of place Giggs loved.

Leopold strode through the front door with the confidence of a man who knew he was being hunted; that is to say very little. Hunched in a feeble effort to hide his face, he walked quickly and avoided eye contact. Leopold’s trademark overcoat gave him away. Once they saw that, every man in the bar knew exactly who’d condescended to their level.

“Giggs, my good man.” Leopold  whispered, still trying to conceal his presence. His whisper simply disappeared into the melting pot of sounds that bubbled through the room. “Giggs, sir, I wish to benefit from your unique talents.”

“Well, well, well, Mr. Haman. Lord of the manor, knight of the round table, professor of all the world. I wonder what on earth you could be doing in the B&B&B?” Giggs was fond of Leopold really; but it was in his nature to have a bit of fun when the opportunity arose.

“You know very well why I’m here, a man of your abilities. Don’t let’s drag this out…” Leopold, still whispered, but spoke such that he was certain he’d be understood.

Giggs’ eyes narrowed, “You’ve not begun to grasp the situation you’re in have you Leo? You’re up to your neck. You’re past you’re neck. You’re neck disappeared long ago!”

Leopold was getting impatient. “Whose following me and why!? … If you don’t mind.”

“It’s the boss, Leo. Turns out you do your job a little too well. You killed his son protecting that politician and now he’s offering a pretty penny for your scalp.” 

Leopold, for the first time in nearly 20 years, was flustered. He grabbed Giggs by the collar, “I suggest we discuss this further outside.” 

Who Are You?

Leopold opened his eyes. It was the sort of coming to that happened in stages. At first the light stung his eyes as if he’d been asleep for some time. He raised a hand to shield them and felt a pain in his shoulder. Next, the light brought with it information about where he was waking up.

The walls were decorated unlike the room he’d been occupying. Yet Madam Prie sat watching by his bed. He surmised he’d been moved to her private quarters.

“How long?” He grunted.  It was his fashion to show women more courtesy but the concoction of shoulder pain, splitting headache and confusion as to unfolding events was taking its toll.

“Couple hours.” Came the gentle reply. “Let me tell you a lot’s gone on.”

“Where am I?” Leopold thought it prudent to double-check and assess his safety.

“Honey, you’re safe, don’t worry. I got you held up in my private suite and before you ask don’t nobody know you’re here. I told them boys that came looking for your body that you ran off with your tail ‘tween your legs.

Clearly Madam Prie was as streetwise as Leopold and he trusted her assessment.

“It was that bellboy, Shankly, he must have talked. No-one knew I was here!” His voice betrayed that he was clutching at straws.

“That’s mighty weak Mr.Haman. I knew you were here didn’t I? So too did all the guests down in the bar when you checked in. Throw in a couple of snoopers on the street when you arrived and you got a heap of people who knew exactly where you were.”

She was right of course and Leopold knew it, “Smart lady.” He thought.

“What I’m more interested in is exactly who it is who brought a hole in the wall to my hotel?”

It was a reasonable question to ask and Leopold didn’t know where to start. He just lay his head back and braced himself for an awkward conversation.

***

It’s been a while. I’ve swapped writing for DIY in the summer Sun. But as you might expect in Wales the sun was short lived. So with the rain comes more writing and with that writing comes a few more instalments of a guy I’d missed, Leopold Haman.

Perfume

Dust was settling on his head. The scratching sound had changed into a booming sound and now a ringing sound in his ears. Leopold twisted his head around to assess the damage done. As his neck turned it sent spasms through his upper body. He could see right through the hole left in the wall. A huge space the size of 5 men standing side by side. Through it just another empty room.

“Who tipped them off?” He breathlessly asked himself. “That bell boy has some questions to answer. I don’t tip that well in order to be found!”

Gently he placed his palms on the ground and tried to lift himself. His shoulders quaked and he fell heap like on the floor. Through the ringing he could hear quick footsteps in the hallway. Judging by their percussiveness it was the hotels owner, Madam Prie, coming to see what had happened.

She burst suddenly into the room, half expecting to find her guest blown into a thousand pieces, half expecting to expose Leopold as teh culprit  She wasn’t expecting to find the strong, deliberate, calm man who had checked in yesterday morning lying bedraggled on the floor; blood seeping from a gash in his forehead.

Leopold hated others seeing him so vulnerable, least of all a woman as beautiful as Madam Prie, he was embarrassed. Yet he’d trained himself never to blush, he wasn’t going to show her any colour.

“Mr. Haman!? Are you all right?” Her soft, southern accent soothed the ringing in his ears.

“I’m afraid my dear that I’m quite how you see me to be. Struck down by the force of that blast and unable to right myself.” He tried once again to lift his medium-sized frame from the floor. He couldn’t.

Madam Prie stepped over to his side and lay her hand on his chest, “Take it easy sir, help is on its way.” He believed her. He allowed her perfume to send him silently into unconsciousness.

Boom

From little acorns do mighty oaks grow. That was an adage that Leopold knew all too well. On numerous occasions he’d been in taverns and bars and witnessed seemingly innocuous disagreements alchemy into all out mass brawls. But he was a cool head. Often surrounded by such chaos part of his skill was to not be enveloped by it. Leopold had long ago lost the ability to flinch.

Flaking paint textureThen he heard it. A small, insignificant scratching sound. Repeating in beats of three.

*Tink* *Tink* *Tink*

He turned his head to face the wall he thought the sound was coming from and he felt the corse fibres of his uncomfortable scarf pull at his three-day old stubble.

“What on earth is that?” He thought. “It’s too percussive to be a mouse gnawing at the skirting board; couldn’t be tap dripping either.”

When Leopold had rented the room he’d expressly asked that the two rooms either side remain unoccupied for the duration of his stay. Slowly he rose from the chair which furnished the otherwise bare space and silently made his way towards the wall.

*Tink* *Tink* *Tink*

“What ever is it!?”

Leopold pressed his ear against the flaking paintwork and listened. The noise stopped. All that remained was his breathing and the slamming of a door out on the landing.

“Flint!” Suddenly he realised what the sound had been; two flint stones crashing together in the hope of igniting a spark. Leopold instantly understood that they’d found him yet again. He also understood that as he stood there with cheek resting against the partition wall that a short powder fuse was burning its way towards a makeshift bomb. He surmised that he hadn’t the time to supposed so instead he readied himself. Sat down and braced for the blunt force that was about to strike him.

How things often escalate! A disagreement in a bar; or even a small scratching sound, ‘tink, tink, tink.’

*Boom*

– Image courtesy oDietmar Down Under –

Bump

Preamble: The following short story was written as part of the Trifecta Writing Challenge. Dan, the main character  is the protagonist in a super hero novel I’m writing called, “The Specials.” In it he develops his ability of seeing the future and together with friends takes on a criminal mastermind, €A$Y. Enjoy 🙂

***

Bumper Car

Dan was rushing. If he had any chance of seeing her today he had to make the bus. “Why is the future so dark, so cold?” He wondered.

Bump

Dan was no longer moving in the right direction to catch his bus. Instead he was spinning round, drowning in a cascade of papers as he recoiled from clashing shoulders with a stranger heading in the opposite direction.

It was in many senses a lucky bump. Instantly Dan saw a whole set of different futures unfurl in his mind. Where before all he could see was darkness, this lucky bump was beginning to shine a brighter light on things. Before the bump he’d been destined to catch the 9:43 bus at the end of the road; but the bump and subsequent tidying of strewn papers from the floor meant that he was sure to miss it and so miss the impending explosion.

Of course Dan would have foreseen the explosion from his favourite seat near the back of the lower deck and would no doubt done something to stop it or at least raised the alarm and rallied innocent victims off the bus. Now, while he stood leaning against the cold metal frame of the shelter he heard the distant boom of the bus exploding into flames.

€A$Y had struck again. This time closer to Dan’s home, his family and loved ones than ever before.

The bump was lucky for him, but luck is really just a relative term.

***

Image from Digiray CC by 2.0

The Life You Haven’t Lived

Claire tentatively walked through her professor’s office door.

“Take a seat.” The old man spoke coldly.

His office was as cold as his words. Devoid of life. It was the office of a man who’d lost touch with the outside world, the struggles that constantly bite and snarl. Inside he was safe in his academia, outside ‘real life’ was constantly on the attack.

“Sir, if I…” She was cut off.

“Young lady I must say that in recent months I’ve been very disappointed by your contributions. Mediocre essays, rushing in an out of class; I’ve yet to receive a single submission for extra credit! Do you not care about bettering your own mind?” His question was little more than a statement.

“I couldn’t care less,” thought Claire, “If I cared about me at all I wouldn’t be here, trying to juggle university and the relentless demands of raising two children all alone. All I care about is bettering a future for them.”

She said nothing. Why waste breath on a man who’d clearly never experienced the hardships life throws at you? She simply sat and stared at her hands, folded gently in her lap.

“I thought as much,” the professor continued, “In which case I shan’t require anymore of your efforts. We are obviously here for two very different reasons. You’ll receive a B- but you needn’t bother with any further assessment.”

Claire sat speechless.

“Learn what you’re here to learn but don’t sacrifice family in the pursuit of knowledge. Ideas and thoughts disappear the moment you’re gone. I wish I were as courageous as you.”

The professor’s gaze lay squarely on a photograph on his desk. Claire saw a much younger professor, a woman and a boy. The professor’s eyes were different, full of the joy that accompanies surviving life with loved ones. Those young eyes flickered now in the old. In a breath they were gone.

The professor gestured toward the open door.

“That’s one less thing to juggle.” Claire smiled.

A Professor's Office, 1876

A Word Paints a Thousand Pictures: Image vs. Text

They say a picture paints a thousand words. There’s plenty to be said on that front. But it’s true also to say that:

a word paints a thousand pictures.

Do you know what I mean? When I say winter, a picture (or pictures) immediately jump into my mind. They’re probably totally different to the pictures that jump into your mind.

In this post I want to share 5 images/thoughts that spring to my mind when I hear the word,  ‘Chicago.’

delicious deep pan Chicago pizza

all rights reserved aymane.hamahmy – flickr

Firstly, it has to be the pizza. Chicago town pizza is brand that is pretty successful in the UK. Their microwavable mini-pizza’s kept me going through university so I think I’ll always feel a debt of gratitude to the great city of Chicago for giving us great pizzas.

Confession time: I’m actually a bigger fan of thin Italian bases than I am of the deep dish 😮

Al Capone Portrait

all rights reserved che1899 – flickr

Secondly, I think of Al Capone the infamous gangster. He was from Chicago right? Specifically I think about the Valentines Day massacre that I learnt about in school. In my mind’s eye he’s the quintessential gangster, setting the standard for all others to adhere to. The Valentines Day massacre particularly sticks in my mind because of the juxtaposition of emotions that the event conjures.

I was also fascinated to find out that Capone was finally arrested and convicted not for bootlegging, murder, or anything of that nature. Instead he was finally brought to justice for…tax evasion.

Album art from Sufjan Stevens'

Chicago is in Illinois right?

Thirdly, I think of the Sufjan Stevens song (and the album artwork from Come on Feel the Illinoise). Interestingly the album art includes I figure I’ve  always assumed to be Al Capone. I’m happy to be corrected on that one.

Sufjan’s song is a favourite of mine and it’s one that I often share with friends I’m trying to turn onto Steven’s as it’s one of his more accessible tracks.

two men kayaking on the green Chicago river

all rights reserved Jonathan Wood – flickr

Fourthly, I think of the Chicago river running green every March 17th. It seems from a distant observer that St.Patrick’s Day is of far more significance on the US side of the Atlantic than the British.

St. Patrick’s Day tends to be around the same time of year that we in the UK celebrate Comic Relief. So I’ve got some fun associations with this in my mind.

Barack Obama on the Cover of Time Magazine

all rights reserved Tony Fischer – flickr

Fifthly, and finally, I can but think of the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Obama. The little that we learn of him this side of the pond includes the fact that he was Senator for Illinois before running for President.

It’s funny that in the UK Obama is considered nothing short of a hero yet I guess no-one could tell you why that is. I think he’s so well loved over here not for who he is but for who he’s not. George W. Bush.

#Part of the Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge#

Meet Gio

Allow me to introduce you to Gio. He’s a character in a novel I’m writing (sshhh, that’s a secret). He isn’t the main protagonist but he does play a fairly major role in proceedings. I’ve previously done a character sketch on my main character, Dan, but this is first time I’ll set down some solid ideas about Gio, his background and what makes him tick:

Gio, real name Glenn, is a 16-year-old who’s in the process of trying to reinvent himself. Like most 16-year-old boys he’s very concerned with his appearance and how members of the opposite sex perceive him. Being Glenn from Dundee just never seemed particularly ‘sexy’ to him.

Enter Gio, his new persona. The name derives from Glenn in the following way. Firstly, drop all letters until you’re left with G. People called him that for a while. Then, introduce two new letters that give you a Mediterranean feel. Try ‘i’ and ‘o’. Add a smidgen of olive skin and people are left wondering, “Is he really Italian?”

Mysterious. Sexy.

Gio is a pupil at St. Swithun’s College in East Hampton. It’s a boarding school so most of the other pupils don’t need to know he’s really from Dundee rather than the Italian Riviera. He’s an only child which means that his parents dote on him. The common word to describe him is spoilt. But what parents wouldn’t want to give their only child all that they could?

Gio has a short fuse. He never really blows his top but he’s easily aggravated. Yet to those he likes he’s warm, caring, funny and dependable sort of guy. Those who are closest to him know when they’ve set him off which means that most of his ranting and raving is ignored. Gio doesn’t mind as long as people let him blow off his steam.

Gio’s ability* is his super sense of smell. It comes in a few parts…

Firstly, he can literally see smells. They appear to him coloured as if the gas that carried them were laced with dye. Secondly, his nose is super sensitive. Even the faintest whiff to others is a real stench to Gio. Finally, he can make smells visible to others if he so wishes.

Gio is just a typical teenage boy with an odd super power. Desperate to impress but deep down longing to be accepted.

*I should mention that my novel is set in a world were abilities are common but not altogether glamorous.

#Part of the Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge#

Mind the Gap

This weeks dailypost writing challenge came in the form of a question.  A simple question, at least on the face of it:

Do you prefer digital books or paperbacks?

Superficially it’s a question of  ‘speed/ease of access’ vs. ‘tactile/sensory comfort’. It’s right there in the poll as you choose either ebooks or paperbacks as your choice is summed up thusly: Vote for ebooks because “you can get new books in a flash and bring multiple reads with you everywhere you go.” or vote for paperbacks because “nothing beats opening up a brand new book or rummaging through a bookstore.”

Yet the question left me torn. I agree with both statements. I love reading on my kindle as much as I love reading my ‘real’ books.  I really do value the speed at which I can get new reads electronically, as well as the thrill of the ‘free for today’ offers or any book under a pound. I know that I’m always a wifi connection away from my library too. That’s reassuring.

Yet, somehow, when I know I want a book for keeps I tend towards the physical copy. Perhaps I read something electronically, fall in love, and then decide to back it up in paper and pulp. Perhaps I anticipate falling in love with a novel and so wait the extra day for it to be delivered or for me to wonder past a bookshop and buy it straight as a paperback.

For examples of both, I’ve loved downloading free copies of the literary classics to my kindle devices (kindle, iPad, iPhone, laptop) and taking a look to see what the fuss is about. No cost, no commitment, I don’t feel guilty about the 10’s I’ve downloaded and am not anywhere near closer to reading.

Yet when I decided to purchase Ian Fleming’s entire James Bond catalogue it didn’t even cross my mind to go digital. I chose a print run I liked the look of and bought a matching set.

The thing with asking ‘which do you prefer’ is that in reality I love the both. ebooks and paperbacks offer me different AND complimentary qualities.  Or perhaps I’m just greedy.

*Part of the Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge*

To Be

What would make to absolute strangers embrace? To stare into another’s eyes is intimacy enough, but to touch? To linger in touching? To embrace?

Touching another person is a peculiar boundary; after all it can happen so carelessly, clumsily even. Brushing past on a busy street, reaching for a common object, squeezing tightly into an overcrowded train carriage. All of these we’ll happily endure because somehow a touch can communicate intent.

Even the briefest touch from an unwanted source can send a person recoiling as if stung by a wasp. But a touch we long for, contact we crave, it never seems quite long enough…

And so to our couple. What shared experience; what mutual, impulsive urge could lead to complete strangers holding one another in such a way? How long would they have to share the moment, a second, a minute, an hour, before they are willing to cross that boundary? Perhaps it depends on the experience. Alone on New Years eve with the 4 seconds left on the countdown would you hold a stranger if you’d caught their eye? Perhaps. What if each of you had witnessed something so beautiful, so once in a lifetime…would that break the barrier down?

Maybe it is a thankful embrace. Maybe one has just rescued the other from certain death as the tram hurtled by. That embrace no doubt would linger. First resisting, as an unknown individual forcefully takes hold of you. Then accepting, as you realise there’s nothing to be done. Next willingly, as you become aware of the danger that is being removed. Finally thankfully, pausing in the overwhelming debt of gratitude you feel. That should do it.

Of course this couple are not celebrating New Years; they haven’t just dived out-of-the-way of a runaway rail carriage. They appear relaxed, at ease in one another’s arms.

Consider the numbers. With nearly 7 billion of us treading our pale blue dot and the growing pandemic of loneliness and isolation even in a crowd, how many at any one moment are thinking about holding close a loved one or a friend? How many are thinking about holding tight a stranger?

And with so many desperate to simply be acknowledged, how many would be willing to act if they knew that the other, the stranger, felt likewise? What of the odds of two such strangers passing on this modest street?

And so we return to our initial touch, the touch that can communicate. Here we have our happy couple who spoke so much without using words. Our contented duo who exchanged no glances but who called out loudly at one another as the softly rubbed shoulders, as they lightly clasped hands.

“Hold me.” He said. “I will.” She replied.

The odds are not important because here they stand before our very eyes; immortalized in pixels. Arms draped over each other as a sweater hangs off the shoulders on a fine autumnal evening. Their touch has said it all.

What could make absolute strangers embrace? A shared humanity! “It is not good for man to be alone.” The circumstances might require fine tuning, the courage may need stirring, but at its simplest all that is required is to be. We are made to be; to be held, to be loved, to be together, to be accepted. Perhaps our couple were brave enough to admit this at the exact right moment.

*Part of the Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge*