Friday Fictioneers : A watchful eye


PHOTO PROMPT © Nathan Sowers grandson of our own Dawn M. Miller


Dew had settled on Bertha’s shawl, seeped through to her dress. The damp drew out the warmth from her shoulders, making her shiver.

She glanced into the mirror, at the reflection of a wormy shed, the path leading to it choked with fleabane. Back when she was ill, she would have seen the shed’s lone window as an eye, wide, watchful, judging …

A scrape, a thump. The demons were awake inside the shed. Thank goodness she’d thought to lock the door, to protect herself against their grasping claws, their greedy mouths.


How the devils screamed! She closed her eyes.


Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. Write a story and join the fun. See here to learn how.

NB Bertha’s name just sprang to my mind when I went to write this. Hardly surprising for anyone who has read Jane Eyre, for Bertha Mason is Rochester’s disturbed wife, the original ‘madwoman in the attic’.

As a teenager, I loved Jane Eyre, but grew to have greater sympathy for Bertha after studying Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, which explores the themes of racism, colonialism and prejudice in Charlotte Bronte’s original telling.











Penis trees and giant snails

Gorgeous Image: Paperblanks

Gorgeous Image: Paperblanks

I love an illuminated manuscript, the ornamentation, the fine details.

I like the Celtic influence that means you can have a picture of the easily led Eve plucking fruit for the equally easily led Adam, surrounded by knotwork of interlaced dragons – an Asian religion (sand, dates and fig trees) illustrated with pictures whose roots are in a frozen North (ice floes and lands of the midnight sun). That mixture appeals to me.

While we’re on the subject of Adam and Eve, can anyone tell me why Eve has been so long castigated for leading old Adam astray? Supposing the early Christian leaders were right and men were superior to women (women were after all, created from a man, right?) why is it that this superior individual, the first child of the Creator, takes no blame for man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden? If Adam was so amazing, why wasn’t he capable of saying

No, love. I think I’ll give that apple a miss, ta. There’s a melon over there with my name on it.

If Eve was a temptress, then we have to say that Adam was weak willed and none too bright.

I only ask, as the harsh judgement of Eve has impacted on women’s personal and legal rights, their rights to their own bodies, to their children, to education for … Ooh … A few thousand years and counting. Just a small thing but worth mentioning.

Back to manuscripts.

Apart from the skill, dedication and craftsmanship that manuscripts demonstrate in dead calf, iron and oak gall, they open a window into the Medieval mind in the form of marginalia. It seems that when monks were handed a book of the Bible to transcribe and illustrate, they had pretty much free reign. This meant they sometimes filled the margins with some very interesting doodles…

Rabbits firing crossbows, people relieving themselves in jugs (back and front), preaching dogs, snails with human heads, nuns picking penises out of a tree … Err, yeah, not quite sure what that’s about, but either vellum and goose quills are hallucenagens or monks channelled the creativity they might have used on more earthy pleasure into their artwork.

These rough, vulgar pictures appeal to me. They show that human minds really haven’t changed in a thousand years – give a man a margin and five minutes alone and he’ll draw a willy.

Something else that appeals to me is the book illustrated above. No, it’s not an illuminated manuscript, but a notebook* I found in W H Smiths yesterday. The cover design is based on the 8th century Lindau Gospels. To say I was tempted to buy it is an understatement.

You see, there’s a part of me that wants to pretend I’m an 8th century monk, sitting in his cell, offering up his time, his eyesight and the health of his spine to creating such a beautiful object.

I don’t think I’d be pepared to maintain a tonsure through judicious application of a pumice stone, but I might draw some creative marginalia – probably involving giant snails and a penis tree.

*The makers also produce notebooks featuring the works of Shakespeare, Da Vinci, Charlotte Bronte and F Scott Fitzgerald. Now, who could fail to be inspired by that?

This post is dedicated to Emma at Bluchickenninja and her love of stationery.

What’s in a name? Pseudonyms and why writers use them

Ah, my dear, we can but dream. Image: Pixabay

Ah, my dear, we can but dream.
Image: Pixabay

Have you always had the same name?

For many women reading this, the answer will be a resounding ‘no.’ The same goes for myself – no, I have not always had the entertaining monica ‘Lynn Love’ – cousin to Penelope Pitstop, third cousin twice removed to Pepper Potts, bastard offspring of Linda-black-sheep-of-the-family-no-one-talks-to-her-at-family-get-togethers-Lovelace.

My surname used to be Cuthbert. Lynn Cuthbert. Lynn Love may be a bit of a joke name, but Lynn Cuthbert is an accountant’s name – maybe a quantity surveyor. And before I have legions of quantity surveyors telling me I’m slurring the good work of civil engineering the length and breadth of these fine isles, may I say – first off, what on earth are you doing here on WordPress? Go find your tape measure and calculate something. And second off, there’s nothing wrong with a respectable profession like yours, it’s just not for me – and for heaven’s sake stop being so sensitive about it.

Now, if you’re a writerly cove, you may have dreamt for years of seeing your name on the cover of some beautifully bound, hand-tooled leather hardback. But was it your own name you saw, or a pen name?

There is a long, fine tradition of authors using nom de plumes. The wonderfully titled Samuel Langhorne Clemens most of you will have read as the master of wile and wit, Mark Twain, and most readers will know when they pick up a Richard Bachman novel, they’re really reading the work of Horror King of Kings, Stephen King.

But it seems women are the ones who have run fastest and loosest with the pseudonym.

Understandably for early novelists, when ladies were supposed to spend all day learning how to sing, play respectable musical instruments (perhaps a piano that would show of your finely boned wrists – nothing such as a tuba or a cello that would distend your delicate female body parts) embroidering anything that stayed still long enough for you to set your needle on it, fainting and practising how to die from something decorous, like consumption.

What you really, really weren’t supposed to do was be the daughters of a parson, live in close isolation with other creative, mildly unhinged siblings in the middle of a windswept moor, allowing your suppressed, base natures emerge through torrid tales of mad women chained in attics, obsessive love, domestic violence, ghosts, conflagrations and fallen women.

Is it any wonder Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte used the (rather odd) male pen names of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell? If nothing else, they saved the blushes of their father Patrick.

Even today, when it is – you’d think – more acceptable for women to be authors, they still often use their initials rather than those all too-feminine first names. Think of P.D. James, J. K. Rowling, C.J. Lyons, J. D. Robb (Nora Roberts). This is often because they’re writing in a genre which is male dominated, such as thrillers. When J. K. Rowling was on the verge of publishing the first Harry Potter book, her publisher asked if she would mind becoming J. K. instead of Joanne, in case boys were put off reading the adventures of the wizard genius because they were written by a girl. I’m pretty sure the thriller writers would have a similar story to tell about adopting their gender neutral names.

Would I ditch my real name, the name of my other half of twenty five years, the name of my son, to guarantee higher sales?

Too bloody right I would.

Though, if I wrote some throbbing, muscular, brain-splattered, blood-drenched torture-porn action thriller, I don’t think sales would improve by being L.M. Love instead of Lynn.

So, how about a pen name?

Stud Bentley? Kurt Nontweasel? D. B. Turnblatt? Flash Portsabre?

Hmm. I’ll get back to you.

Any suggestions? Have you invented a pen name for yourself? Or are you determined to use your own? If you have already published – pen name or not – any regrets?

Speaking of names, I was wondering if George R. R. Martin’s was an invented reference to one of his literary heroes –pedlar of epic fantasy, orcs, hobbits and golums, oh my! – J. R. R. Tolkein. You know – the R. R. bit?

The answer? No.

GRRM’s full name is George Raymond Richard Martin – so not made up. But, I bet he enjoyed being able to stick those initials in there.