Memoirs Of A Bicycle: Times Past

Driving to Gatwick Airport recently, road signs to long-ago places from my childhood like Horley, Reigate and Brighton, zoom by.  But one town called Purley brings back just one clear memory.  Not of the town itself; in fact, I have no memory of the place at all.  What I do remember, is going to one shop with my parents for one reason only: to get my very first bicycle.

I was seven when I got my first bike, a Raleigh with a red frame. I adored it and couldn’t wait to learn how to ride it.  I spent hours practicing by pedalling along a narrow walkway between the side of our house and the neighbour’s fence, a hand on each, until I got the perfect balance.

But it wasn’t until we moved to the Suffolk countryside that my cycling days really took off. In the summer, I cycled the couple of miles to school and in the summer holidays, my brother and I cycled down to the tennis courts a few miles away in the nearest small town.  The cycling was fun, but not the arguments over who’s turn it was to serve and collect stray balls.

We cycled for hours with our friends from the village. I loved my bike, but I was envious of the boy with the yellow Chopper.

Hands-free meant something different in the 70’s.  It meant riding a bike without holding the handlebars.  Even better, go down a hill as fast as possible with just your feet on them.  Getting my Cycling Proficiency Badge was a thing of pride, but I was more proud that I could pull a stunt like that.

Not my first bicycle, but the only one I can find (c) Sherri Matthews

Sadly, for my brother, such a stunt didn’t turn out so well when a stick caught in his front wheel spokes. Close behind him (though younger, he was always faster), I watched in horror as he flew clean over his handle bars and scraped several feet, face down, along the grit-covered road.

We found a nearby house, and knocked on the door to ask for help.  The woman, kind and concerned, called our mother.  While we waited, she mentioned something about putting iodine on my brother’s knee-bone exposed wound, but thought better of it, mumbling something like, ‘it might send him to the roof’.  I found out later what she meant when I asked my mother.  A throw back to the war, or something like that.  Like beef dripping sandwiches and dried eggs.

But although cycling took up a large part of  my younger years,  it was my foray into night-time cycling that finished me off.

I was a Girl Guide, briefly.  Cycling into town for the weekly meetings was fine when it was light, but returning home in the dark was quite another. One such night, as I cycled out of town and away from the street lights,  I realised I was totally alone in the pitch dark on a rural road split between an open field and a wood.

I had recently finished scaring myself witless reading the ‘Hounds of the Baskervilles’, and as I pedaled furiously, my dynamo lights blazing as much as dynamo lights can,  I could have sworn I heard footfall behind me. Like an animal.  Like a hound.  Like a headless hound with flames of hellfire blazing from its neck, inches from the back of mine.

The speed with which I arrived home that night would have put me in contention for the Tour de France.

Strangely, but perhaps not surprisingly, I have no memory of cycling after that.  Nor of attending any more Girl Guide meetings.

It wasn’t until decades later and visiting rural France for the first time in my adult life, that I rediscovered the joy of cycling.  And I am today, once more, the proud owner of a bicycle. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to cycle a few trails with hubby soon.  But it won’t be in the dark.  And it’s safe to say I’ll hold the handle bars this time – with my hands, not my feet.

*******

This post is in response to Irene Water’s Times Past challenge for July.  Irene asks that we state our generation and where we grew up as part of her fascinating memoir series, exploring our differing childhood experiences, generationally and geographically.  I write as a tail-end baby boomer growing up in 60’s and 70’s rural Britain.  (Not wanting to miss Irene’s July deadline – scraping in as usual –  my Italy post will follow shortly.)

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Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – Travel – ‘The Streets of Old City Dubrovnik’ by Sherri Matthews

While I’ve been away, lovely Sally Cronin has featured weekly the remaining three of my travel posts for her Archive Travel Series: Strolling through ‘A Most Beautiful Village of France’ in Normandy and finding sweet solace in a tiny, ancient chapel; breathtaking Jersey and a day at the ‘War Tunnels’; and this week, the last of the four, in historical and stunning Old City Dubrovnik, in Croatia (and a link to a Cats of Croatia post…couldn’t resist).

Thank you so much for the visits and lovely comments awaiting me upon my return from my holiday. It’s wonderful how sharing old posts forms new connections, filling the Summerhouse with lively discussion through shared discoveries and adventures. Travel is a wonderful thing, and I am beyond thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to travel to such places, but they are even more wonderful when shared with you.

Thank you so much to Sally for this wonderful and incredibly generous opportunity and sharing my posts far and wide. Sally invites all to join in, and is a lovely way to meet new bloggers, re-share old posts to a new audience and learn great travel tips!

In her own words, Sally invites all to join in:

‘The aim of this series is to showcase your blog and any creative work that you do from books, art, photography and crafts. You pick between one and four links to posts that you have written for your own blog since you began blogging up to October 2017 and you simply send the link to those blogs to sally.cronin@moyhill.com

You have to do nothing more as I will capture the post and images from your blog and I will then post with full copyright to you.. with your creative work and your links to buy and to connect. I might sometimes need a little more information but I am quite resourceful in finding out everything I need.

The deal is that you also help promote the post by sharing on your social media and responding to the comments.

Previous participants are more than welcome

The theme for the new series is travel.

Places and countries you have visited,
Different cultures,
Exotic food you have discovered when travelling,
Modes of transport – cars, bikes, horses, RVs
Camping Trips,
Road trips,
On the road for work,
Train Journeys,
Travel themed music,
Planes and airports,
Ships and other marine vessels,
Humorous adventures etc.’

Thanks again Sally!

Speaking of great travel tips, lovely memoir author D G Kay (Debby Gies) is sharing hers with us at ‘The Travel Column‘, her new regular feature over at Sally’s blog. For openers, if you’re going on a cruise anytime soon, you need to read this! And a huge thank you also to Debby for such generous sharing of Sally’s travel series and my posts in my absence.

Back to writing then, and will post here soon with new travel tales and adventures from my recent holiday with hubby on the sparkling Almalfi Coast. Including, but not limited to, an extraordinary encounter with an Al Pacino lookalike taking us on a wild taxi ride along back-to-back hairpins, while rummaging around looking for a Chaka Khan CD. Ahh…Mama Mia Italia!

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

Time for the fourth last post from the travel archives of Sherri Matthews who has taken us to Lake Garda, a traquil village in Normandy and to Jersey during wartime occupation. Today she takes us to Croatia and the beautiful streets of the old City Dubrovnik.

Over at the Daily Post, the Weekly Photo Challenge for this week is ‘Street Life’. Cheri puts the challenge to us in this way:

‘For this challenge, document the movement (or stillness) of a street: tell a story with your snapshot, capture a scene that reveals a bit about a place, or simply show us where you live — or a path you often take.’

With this in mind, here is my story entitled, ‘The Streets of Old City Dubrovnik’.

The beautiful country of Croatia (once part of Yugoslavia together with Bosnia and Slovenia until declaring independence in the 1990s) is home to…

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Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – #Travel – An Italian Journey – Writing and Healing by Sherri Matthews

Every Thursday for the next four weeks, lovely Sally Cronin will feature one of my archived travel posts for her Posts From Your Archives series. The first today is about my visit to stunning Lake Garda in September, 2016, not long after the death of my dear, darling Dad. My grief left me unable to write, but I share in this post how my time in Lake Garda both healed and inspired me to write again.

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

Welcome to Sherri Matthews and her series of four travel posts. Sherri includes wonderful photographs in her posts and so I will give you a taste and then a link to view on her own blog where I would appreciate you leaving your comments.

An Italian Journey – Writing and Healing by Sherri Matthews

September arrived and with it, any thoughts of writing vanished. My birthday; a long-awaited holiday. Both beckoned. But somewhere in the space between early spring and autumn’s first flush, everything blurred into one big smudge of I can’t face it.

We heal, eventually, from family illness and loss, but scars do not disappear. And something, at some point, has to give, even if only for a short while. My long-burn writing dream never died, but in the deep, silent part of me, my ability to focus, to write, lay in tatters.

So I retreated into long…

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Surprises, Diana’s Dresses And The Annual Blogger’s Bash 2018

The Summerhouse sat in snow last time I checked, but emerging from hibernation to a sun-basked spring, I discover a new garden and the chance, at last, to get my hands dirty.

New growth pushes through bare soil and reminds me that nothing stays the same and nature, like life, is full of surprises. I think of all the gardens I’ve left behind for others to enjoy. Now it’s my family’s turn to reap the benefits with cherry blossom in April and bluebells in May, chased by peonies and poppies in June.

I have pumpkin, sunflower and nasturtium seeds, hoping they will turn out as the packets promise.   I am nostalgic for the last time I grew pumpkins in the vegetable patch I planted with my children in California, some twenty years ago.

My geraniums flourish.  Not since I grew them in California have they survived the winter.  There, left outside to their own devices, they died back to dry, brown sticks which miraculously sprouted back to new life in the spring.

This year, I left them in our front porch where not only did they not die back, but kept their leaves all winter.  I didn’t think that was possible in England.

Although, considering the temperature inside the porch during a heat wave in April, it looks like we’ve inherited a greenhouse in disguise.  No wonder my geraniums thrived.

It also doesn’t hurt to have a little helper.

Eddie enjoys helping with the gardening. Being an English cat born in a barn and raised as a kitten on fresh rabbit (shhh…don’t tell Bunnykins), he wanted to know why the sign says ‘ladybug’ and not ‘ladybird’. We Maisy, a Californian kitty through and through, would have happily explained.

My long time ambition to create an English cottage garden begins with a perfect shady border by a grey, stone wall.  With hollyhocks, foxgloves and lupins, I am determined to fulfill this ambition at long last, despite the onslaught of slugs and snails.  Not so perfect, then.

I need a hedgehog, so I imagine sneaking back to my old house in the dead of night, on a mission to retrieve Mrs Tiggy Winkle, who lives there beneath the summerhouse, it of wood and nails.

But I have some success…

We’ve had visitors too.

Mr Toad…

And a fledged baby bird, resting on the fence panel mid-flight.  Blue Tit? Chaffinch?

But the most wonderful surprise of all is a robin who sings from an apple tree behind a stone wall at the end of our driveway.  Throughout the long winter I watched it sing from the same high perch every evening.  I can’t see him now with the tree in full leaf, but I still hear him and I know it is him. I know it is My Sweet Robin.

Before gardening took over, London called twice.  First, in early April to a fantastic evening enjoying the Classic FM Concert at The Royal Albert Hall, my Christmas/Anniversary gift from lovely, generous Hubby.

Prince Albert Memorial, Kensington, London, which faces the Royal Albert Hall.

The next day, we walked through beautiful Kensington Gardens. Thrilled to discover that Kensington Palace was newly open for the summer season, we took the tour.  I’ve always wanted to visit the once-upon-a-time-ago home of Diana and her boys.

The famous gates at Kensington Palace, once covered in flowers…

Imagine my delighted surprise finding ‘Diana: Her Fashion Story’ exhibition inside.   A truly breathtaking walk through Diana’s life, forever caught in time by each of these famous dresses.  I remembered so well the photographs of her wearing them at iconic moments throughout her incredible, yet tragically too short life.

The tone, with each step, felt reverent and hushed beneath the subdued lighting.

When I posted my entry, ‘Mummy‘ in March for the Bloggers Bash Blog Post Competition,  I had no idea that I would soon be visiting Kensington Palace. Thank you to all who left such lovely comments on my true story, which I wrote with Diana, to me the quintessential royal, in mind.  Fellow blogger Viola Bleu linked to it in a post, inspired, she told me, to write her own thoughts on Diana.  Her beautiful words touched my heart.  Thank you so much Viola, I hope you enjoy the photos.

London called the second time on May 19th.  Not for the Royal Wedding, but for the Annual Blogger’s Bash. A lovely day all round, summed up beautifully in a post by Suzie Speaks with lots of fab photos taken by her husband, and Sacha Black’s post listing all the award winners.

Always wonderful to catch up with ‘old’ blogging pals and meet new, it was also a great opportunity to thank you so much for visiting the Summerhouse, rain or shine, posts of no posts, lighting up the place with your happy smiles.

And this year, I was truly honoured as an Ambassador representing  Carrot Ranch, conferred to me by, and on behalf of, Charli Mills and all the Rough Writers, unable to attend, but waving joyfully from Sea to Shining Sea.

Congratulations to all the award nominees and winners, and to my friend Marje Mallon whose story took first place with a beautiful prize for the Bloggers Bash Post Competition.   You can read all three winning stories here at Hugh Robert’s blog, Hugh’s News & Views, and you can catch the live video presentations posted on the Blogger’s Bash Facebook page

A huge thank you to the wonderful committee, Sacha, Hugh, Geoff and Suzie , this year joined by Shelley, Adam, Helen and Graeme whose tireless work and commitment made this such a successful and enjoyable event.

Blogger’s Bash Q&A Panel with Graeme, Hugh, Sacha, Ritu & Geoff

And of course, no Blogger’s Bash is complete without Hugh’s excellent and fantastically presented video which is now live on his blog.  Nobody escapes Hugh’s video, I mean nobody.

There is just one more surprise to report from the Summerhouse: a couple of weeks after the Classic FM concert, hubby took a call to say he had won the random prize draw held by their sponsor, Honda. Who wins those?  I thought they were made up.  But it’s real.  We really have won a holiday on the Almalfi Coast in Italy.  Still pinching ourselves that we get our holiday in the sun after all.

Meanwhile, I’m cracking on with the memoir and long overdue blog visits.  On days when I fade into a fog, I remember this quote taken from Writing Magazine by the marvellous Margaret Atwood, which I leave with you:

Asked in a recent interview whether she considers herself an optimist, she said: ‘Any writer is an optimist.  Why? Number one: they think they’ll finish their book. Number two: they think somebody will publish it. Number three: they think somebody will read it. That’s a lot of optimism.’

Life really is full of surprises.

*******

This walk through my garden, Diana’s dress exhibition and the Blogger’s Bash is linked to Jo’s Monday Walk

All photos copyrighted (c) by Sherri Matthews, A View From My Summerhouse. 

 

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The Bloggers Bash Blog Post Competition 2018: Mummy

Nothing like leaving things to the last minute, here’s my entry to The Bloggers Bash Blog Post Competition 2018  Closes at 23:59 tonight…sorry for the short warning!

 

Mummy

She was one year younger than me, that shy, pretty woman with the floppy fringe and huge, blue eyes.  She burst on the scene with the light through her skirt, and all we could talk about was Lady Diana.

Lady Di.  That’s what my American friends called her.  I stayed up all night far away from home and watched the fairytale Princess marry her Prince Charming, while my grief for my husband, only one month buried, sat still for an hour or two.

A year is a long time when you’re young. Long enough for me to live again. London called and I watched the news of Princess Diana cradling her new-born prince as my unborn child moved inside me. Soon it would be my turn to hold my own little prince.

A twist and a turn took me back to America where I soaked up news from home. In the undisturbed space between the grocery shop and the school run, I savoured a Peppermint Patty and flipped through People Magazine, Diana’s life splashed across every page.

But something was wrong.

I pondered the photo of her sitting alone, pensive, on the diving board of a luxury yacht.  Our lives, though worlds apart, no different as mothers with fierce love for our children and both knowing that sometimes fairytales turn grim.

Yet joy reigns, undiminished, when London calls to celebrate. In May, bells will ring and crowds will cheer and Harry will kiss his bride. The little boy who walked behind his mother’s hearse, his letter meant only for her, now a man walking strong in the legacy of her undying love.

She was Princess Diana to the world, but to Harry, she will always be Mummy.

 

 

 

 

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Fire And Ice And Somerset Gin

Things have been busy at the Summerhouse lately, which is a good thing when it comes to writing and blogging, but not when two bungalows directly behind your newly purchased house go up in flames late one night, perilously close to your mother’s annex.  That kind of busy isn’t good.  Mercifully nobody was hurt and we coped with the scare in our usual British way by keeping calm and drinking tea.  It works, it really does.

Only a few days before, I had taken my youngest for lunch at the Goose Farm.  There weren’t a lot of geese around, but we noticed these two seemed quite keen on waddling around this caravan.  Probably thinking about their summer holidays.

Big Enough For Two
(c) Sherri Matthews

I would like to think about a summer holiday after our long winter.  On March 1st, ‘The Beast from the East’ met ‘Storm Emma’ sending a deluge of snow drifts, blizzards, freezing rain, ice and bitterly cold temperatures to the South West.

The day the storm hit, I was due to attend the funeral of a dear friend, tragically gone too soon.   Hubby took the day off to be with me, and we hoped to get home before the worst of the storm hit in the afternoon.

Eerily deserted at first, as we took things slowly on this major Dorset road…

Trying to Get Home
(c) Sherri Matthews

But minutes later, we joined the tail end of a traffic congestion that was going nowhere fast.  We must be a laughing-stock to the parts of the world used to snow for months on end, but when snow hits in the UK, all it takes is for one vehicle to come a cropper on the first slightest incline, and that’s it for the rest of us. No snow tyres or chains, and no ploughs or gritters able to get through.

With all roads linking to Somerset blocked, we turned around.  Just as well, as the BBC news next morning announced that hundreds ended up stranded overnight in their cars on those very roads.

We inched our way slowly along the now treacherously icy roads to a pub we know called the Baker’s Arms.  It took us three hours to travel a few miles, back to where we started.  Hubby dashed inside to ask the owner if he knew where we might find overnight accommodation, while I stayed in the car listening to freezing rain pelt our car like a hail of bullets…

View Through The Frozen Windshield
(c) Sherri Matthews

Thanks to the kindness of strangers at such times,  a member of staff called around for us, finding a local B&B with one room left, thanks to a cancellation.  And so we added to the group of stragglers gathered there, all strangers brought together by happenstance, inspiring one man to mutter something about an Agatha Christie Murder Mystery, as he climbed the stairs to his room.

A layer of ice which had formed on top of the snow, cracked beneath my boots as I walked across the car park, like the way the caramel topping of a crème brûlée snaps beneath the spoon and sinks into the creamy pudding beneath.  Except this was no desert and it ruined my suede boots.

The next morning we set off for home, but with ice warnings still in place.

A thick layer of ice on our car formed overnight, this is the view through the passenger side wing mirror
(c) Sherri Matthews

The snow drifts grew deeper as we got closer to Somerset…

Dorchester Road
(c) Sherri Matthews

We passed too many cars to count left stranded overnight…


Just a couple of the many stranded cars
(c)Sherri Matthews

The main road into town was not cleared as we had hoped, making it a challenge to find the best way home.

Deserted Somerset Town (c) Sherri Matthews

First stop, the supermarket for supplies, only to discover that the place had obviously fallen prey to a zombie invasion.  How else to explain the stripped bare shelves and no milk or bread or veggies or fruit or meat?

A scene from The Walking Dead in Winter? No, just a Somerset Supermarket Car Park                   (c) Sherri Matthews

And finally, we made it home.  Snow is beautiful – from the inside of a warm and cosy house with a fire blazing.

We thought that was it for our snow adventures for this year at least, but yesterday snowfall greeted us once again, a beautiful gift for our 12th wedding anniversary.  Happy to stay home with a glass or three of bubbly by the fire, what better way to celebrate? And of course, yet more snow photos…

(c) Sherri Matthews (not a real robin btw)

(c) Sherri Matthews

Poor snow laden Daffodils…hopefully they’ll recover (c) Sherri Matthews

Eddie wasn’t sure at all about the snow at first, having only experienced it a few times in his twelve years…

No…not at all sure. (c)Sherri Matthews

Hmmm..what is this white stuff anyway?
(c) Sherri Matthews

Okay, think I’m feeling a bit braver this time…
(c) Sherri Matthews

This isn’t too bad after all! Little Snow Panther on the prowl…
(c) Sherri Matthews

Knowing of the upcoming snow and our plans to stay home for our anniversary,  on Friday evening, hubby surprised me with a visit to a beautifully restored Jacobean Manor, Newton House.  Newton House is a bespoke Gin House, their speciality Newton House Gin distilled on the grounds using their homegrown botanicals and fresh spring water supply.  Usually only open for their periodic Gin & Jazz evenings, hubby contacted the lovely owner who reserved a table for two by the fire in the bar.

Newton House Gin with Fever Tree Tonic, fresh mint, capers, lime and lots of ice. Divine!
(c) Sherri Matthews

That’s the Spirit! Distilled in Somerset
(c) Sherri Matthews

Telling news was something I once did in a handwritten letter, as I did for years when I lived in California, long before we had email and blogs.  My friend, now sadly gone, would have loved the snow stories, but would have told me off for venturing out.  We kept in touch by letter through all the years I lived in America, her friendship never wavering, and now I have some of her letters to keep and remember her by.

Handwriting is on my mind, with Learning to Write as the subject of Irene’s Times Past Challenge last month.  Belonging to the tail-end Baby Boomer generation growing up in rural Suffolk, England,  cursive handwriting class was a weekly, standard lesson at my small village school, and my favourite.

I couldn’t wait to practice my looped letters and words with my prized Parker fountain pen with dark blue ink flowing through its fine, pointed nib.  Although each wooden desk had ink wells (and lots of carved graffiti from years gone by), they stayed dry, the ink in my fountain pen coming from small, plastic ink cartridges.  Saturday trips into town included a visit to WH Smiths to buy a box or two so that I wouldn’t run out.

Learning cursive handwriting, practising on lines in an exercise book, meant that for a time my handwriting was incredibly neat and legible, something I once took great pride in.  But not any more.  Like so many, I bemoan the modern state of my handwriting, so reliant now on typing.

I wonder if handwriting lessons helped improve my storytelling as well as my writing? This was my first ever ‘put together’ short story. A would be murder mystery of all things…
(c) Sherri Matthews

My only problem was as a leftie, I ended up with smudged ink along the left side of my hand and wrist no matter how hard I tried to avoid it. Then again, as I’ve often said, I was always the kid at the party with chocolate on my face…

Many years later, I don’t think learning to write by hand was a high priority in my children’s schools. When Eldest Son was in Junior High in California, we received a letter from the school advising that we should buy a computer for his schoolwork.  All parents received the same letter, stating that handwritten homework would no longer be acceptable, because most was illegible.

Shame the school didn’t offer to pay for said computer.

Or handwriting lessons.

We did get a computer, at great cost we could little afford. and shared it between all the family.  And so broke out war.   But that’s another story for the Summerhouse.

 

 

 

 

 

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Real Memoir Imaginary Flash And Not Your Typical Anthology

Summerhouse in Spring (c) Sherri Matthews

When I moved house last October, I said goodbye to my Summerhouse.  That is, to the wood and nails of it.  To the little wooden house painted blue , strung with pretty bunting and lights which no longer belongs to me.

My Summerhouse wasn’t just my writing space; over the years, it was home to a nest of bumble bees in the ground below, several spiders and their cobwebs spun in dusty corners, and a hedgehog who took up residence at the back.

I miss it, but I smile through my wistful nostalgia when I look at the photos, because I know that it is the virtual essence of the Summerhouse that remains.

My Summerhouse is imaginary now, a virtual meeting place, but it is no less real, filled with you, my lovely people.  A community created by the footprints you leave with your beautiful messages and cheery smiles from all parts of the world, no matter what the weather or the time, or the day.

In fact, it as real as Charli Mills, talented, authentic and beautiful author, blogger and my dear friend extraordinaire.  As real as the imaginary place called Carrot Ranch that she founded in 2014, and as real as the literary artists who gather there.

I met Charli soon after, galloping in on a cloud of dust from Somerset to the Wild West, intrigued by her weekly flash fiction prompts.

Charli collaborated with flash fiction writers from around the world and through Carrot Ranch, her vibrant, all-inclusive literary community, formed the Congress of Rough Writers,  of which I am proud to belong.

Four years since that first gallop – and several falls later – I am thrilled that several of my flashes and my essay, Memoir to Flash Fiction and Back Again, feature as part of a collection from four other memoirists in our newly published Anthology:

The Congress of the Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. 1.
Charli Mills, Series Editor, Publisher & Lead Buckaroo
Sarah Brentyn, Editor & Contributor

Available in digital and paperback direct from Book Baby or Amazon UK  Amazon US

We wrangled words and created stories from around the world.

‘CarrotRanch.com is an online literary community where writers can practice craft the way musicians jam. Vol. 1 includes the earliest writings by these global literary artists at Carrot Ranch. Just as Buffalo Bill Cody once showcased the world’s most daring riding, this anthology highlights the best literary feats from The Congress of Rough Writers.’

And today, I am honoured to announce the Summerhouse as host for this week’s Rough Writer Tour Around The World.

But how does a memoir writer like me (I don’t do fiction!) get to contribute to a flash fiction anthology? I chomped at the bit for the chance to express the many ways writing flash fiction has helped hone my memoir, as in this brief excerpt from my essay in the Anthology:

‘Memoir is truth, bringing the reader into the writer’s authentic experience.  Fiction takes us into worlds that the reader knows aren’t real allowing their imaginations to fly, but it still needs to be plausible.  With memoir, the reader knows the story is plausible (no matter how ‘far-fetched’ it might appear at times) because it actually happened.  Therein lies the challenge to reveal the truth without embellishment.  Many times I’ve written a flash that would seem to have nothing to do with my memoir, yet so often it reveals a dark and complicated aspect of my true story in new light, rejuvenating parts with ‘light bulb’ moments as I find a description, or a piece of dialogue or a reflective thought that I might otherwise have overlooked.’

And in this excerpt:

‘At other times, the flash takes a humorous turn, and sometimes my characters return for a mini-series.  Can this really be happening to me, a memoir writer?   This has been the biggest surprise of all.  Could these blocks of 99 word flashes, when put together, make up the outline of a more complete story?   Horror of horrors, I think.  This can’t be happening, can it?  After all, I can’t write fiction, remember.’

This is how I found my character Fred, the Hapless Werewolf.  I would never have dared splash such a story on the walls of the Summerhouse if not for flash fiction and the wonderful writing freedom it unleashed (and a few of you telling me you enjoyed it when I first published it here, thank you!). Here again is my first Fred flash:

Barking  – 99 Word Flash Fiction

“Mrs Barker?” enquired the policeman as Ethel’s bulk blocked the doorway.

“Yeah…?”

“There’s been an accident.  The driver thinks he might have hit a deer, but before he could check– he’s a vet – he thought he saw ‘something’ run into the woods.  An abandoned car nearby is registered to your husband.  Is he home?”

“Something…what do you mean?”

The policeman coughed into a balled fist.  “A man, but like a wolf. He said…”

“Gawd! It’s High Wycombe, not the bleedin’ Wild West.”

Later, Ethel heard howling. “Pipe down Fred,” she cackled from the bedroom window, “you’ll wake the neighbours.”

*******

And this is how it all began:

Thirty writers began with 99 words and forged literary feats. Vol. 1 explores the literary art of flash fiction, beginning with the earliest compilations at Carrot Ranch and later pieces based on a new flash fiction prompt. This is not your typical anthology. It continues with longer stories extended from the original 99-word format and essays on how flash fiction supports memoir writing. Based on the experiences at Carrot Ranch, the concluding section of Vol. 1 offers tips to other groups interested in using the flash fiction format to build a literary community.’

 

Naturally, we’re delighted to receive our first
5-Star Review from Readers’ Favorite by Charles Remington:

“A fascinating book packed with bright ideas and worthwhile material. I was greatly entertained by the stories and essays and so taken with the idea that I thought I would give it a go with a 99-word review.

Stories of ninety-nine words, no more, no less, little gems from the Rough Writers of the Carrot Ranch. Like wild flowers in an early morning meadow glistening with dew and I, a butterfly or bee, flitting from bloom to bloom, immersing myself in a kaleidoscope of experiences which pass through my mind like an ever-changing dreamscape. Stories of love and loss, victory and defeat, struggle and gain from the pens of talented authors with backgrounds as diverse as their stories. A brilliant idea that has created an astounding anthology, one that you will return to time and again.”

*******

Thank You Charli Mills for creating Carrot Ranch,
to you and my fellow Rough Writers for making
the publication of this beautiful Anthology possible.

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* I’ll be back shortly with Summerhouse updates and blog visits, once again well overdue.  I’m on the back-hoof once again in this virtual space that is all too real!
Love Sherri x

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Raw Literature: Asperger’s, Voice and the Search for Identity

My guest post features at Carrot Ranch today. I’m honoured for the opportunity to write about a subject close to my heart and share my passion for increasing awareness of the impact of Asperger’s on Aspies and their families, in the hopes of a better understanding.

Carrot Ranch Literary Community

By Sherri Matthews

The first few pages of the children’s book, ‘Are you my Mother?’, both captivated and troubled me as a girl. The story tells of a baby bird who hatches while his mother is away from the nest looking for food.  The hatchling flies the nest to look for her, but he has no idea what either he nor his mother, looks like.  He asks everything from a kitten to a boat, ‘Are you my mother?’, but to no avail.  Then he starts to cry.

Thankfully, unlike the baby bird, I didn’t have to search for my mother. But I questioned my identity when, after my parent’s divorced and I no longer lived with my dad,  I was told to use my stepfather’s surname. In 1970’s Britain, I was the only one of my friends from a so-called broken home; I understood it was to save…

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Sixty Seconds’ Worth Of Distance Run

The sun disappeared taking last year with it, and I quietly prayed that this year would be better. Eyes straight, time to press on and write.  This is THE year, right?

Lyme Regis, Dorset, December 2017
(c) Sherri Matthews

The Summerhouse is five years old this month.  Five years of blogging, except I am not exactly prolific these days.  Five years since I scrawled out the first words of the first draft of my memoir and five years later, I am still writing.  But it’s too easy to think I’ve failed because I haven’t finished it. I forget what I have accomplished when the climb back up from each derailment is more protracted than the last.

A change of scene helps, so I’m told.

Perhaps a cottage in the English countryside…

Selworthy in Exmoor, West Somerset (c) Sherri Matthews

Or a spot by the Aegean sea where the cicadas strum to the rising heat and a lazy lunch awaits…

Crete (c) Sherri Matthews

Both would be nice, but I already have my change of scene in a room for an office in our new pad. It’s in need of some decorating and organising, but it’s my space.  It is a work in progress. Like my memoir.  Like me.

So the new year rolled in and I set to work, and then a friendship from long ago rolled in, though I knew she had never left. Threaded throughout my memoir, she was there at the start, stood firm at the end and is with me still.

We reminisced of the times we sat up all night drinking Bacardi and Coke reciting Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ until we knew it by heart, word for word, pondering its mighty value against our flighty aspirations…

‘If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster,
And treat those two impostors just the same;…

…If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!’

We planned a road trip across America by Greyhound bus when we were eighteen, before the ‘gap year’ was invented.  My friend reminded me of all the poems I had written and read out to her and of the reams of letters I sent her from America.  My Lord, she must have been bored stiff!

I got my trip across America, but it wasn’t what I planned and it wasn’t with my friend.

And there lies the story.

So now to complete my memoir and cling to blogging for all it’s worth, and what better way to begin than with a return to Irene Waters’ Times Past prompt which for January is:

High School Graduation

Writing as a tail-end Baby Boomer growing up in rural Suffolk, England, my high school graduation experience was non-existent.  There was no such thing for school leavers: only university students graduated with tasselled hats, long gowns and degrees.  My last day of school in the early summer of 1976 consisted of getting signed out by each of my teachers, a hurried handshake and a mumbled ‘good luck’.   My friends and I then faced two nerve-wracking months for our ‘O’ Level exam results.  That was it.

But if my high school graduation was non-existent, Eldest Son’s was filled with pomp and ceremony and endless speeches beneath the baking Californian sun.

American High School Graduation
(c) Sherri Matthews

My son was three when we left England for America, and he spent his entire grade school education there.  I was glad for the celebrations that made up such a large part of his and his siblings’ American school experience. Mine felt more like boot camp in comparison.

Although I was grateful for my maths teacher who turned up on Friday for double last period dressed in tweed and armed with a projector and slides of his safaris in Africa.  Anything was better than maths.

My son wasn’t too enamoured with all the fuss around graduating with a high school diploma, but on the day, he had a great time with his friends.

High School Graduation. Eldest Son second from left.
(c) Sherri Matthews

A graduation party supervised by parents and teachers followed.  ‘Safe and Sober’ was the theme.   I had to laugh.  Safe, hopefully, but sober?  At eighteen? Being a Brit, I didn’t know anybody at eighteen who stayed sober at a party.  But never mind the American legal drinking age, after what happened at the little party I held for him at home, I’m sure it was the beer keg at his friend’s party afterwards that he most looked forward to.

Our lumbering black Lab, a totally loveable Scooby Doo of a dog, managed somehow to break a water pipe at the side of the house while gallivanting around the garden.  Water gushed out of the ground, flooding our patio and turned our grass into a mud pit.  EH (ex husband) spent the rest of the evening trying to fix it and had to turn off the water.  Meaning we had a house full of guests with no running water or working toilet.

That night, after everyone had left or gone to bed,  I found a bottle half full of champagne in the kitchen and I sat on the sofa and polished it off. I pondered what family life would be like once my son left home for college in a few months.  And I wondered where the last eighteen years had gone.

I wished I could have had them all over again, hoping I had made the most of every distance run, my days with my son.   I had a good cry and then looked to the years ahead, and I resolved not to waste a single minute of all that was to come, unforgiving or otherwise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Times Past Challenge, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 75 Comments

Winner of Flash Fiction Contest #7

At last! I’m thrilled to announce the winner of my Murderous Musings Flash Fiction Rodeo Contest #7. Fantastic flashes, all thirty-two of them a deviously delicious read. And the winner is…Marjorie Mallon! Huge congratulations Marje!

I’m also hugely excited to announce the publication of The Congress of Rough Writers: Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. I available here (universal link). I’m truly honoured to have several flashes and an essay feature among so many accomplished and talented writers.

Thank you so much, dear friends, for your support of Carrot Ranch’s first ever Rodeo and my first ever writing contest. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and the ride ain’t over yet, with Charli’s announcement of her TUFF contest next week and the ‘Best of Show’ overall winner announcement on January 2nd!

As for the Summerhouse, thanks so much for hanging with me through all weathers. Maybe I’ll find Sweet Robin soon and when I do, I’ll tell you all about it. But until then, I wish you all the merriest of greetings for this wonderful festive season. And my hope and prayer for 2018: Keep the dream alive; hold fast and write like the wind.

Happy Christmas!

Love Sherri xxx

Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Murderous Musings Winner at Carrot Ranch @Charli_MillsMurderous Musings

By Sherri Matthews

When I set my Murderous Musing’s prompt for Charli’s Flash Fiction Rodeo, I expected a few good folk to turn bad, but not thirty-two of them. And what a deliciously devious lot they are! Thank you so much to all who entered; my esteemed judges and I read wide-eyed and suitably horrified through a disturbingly chilling collection exploring the dark side of the Rodeo.

Some had us baying for the same sweet revenge, such was the pain of the story.  With others, we pondered the tragic price of a seething jealousy, bitter resentment and an all-consuming rage.  One or two gave a chuckle, clever in the twist at the end.  We enjoyed every flash and it was a close call, but we agreed our overall winner is Mr Blamey by Marjorie Mallon.

Mr Blamey by Marjorie Mallon

Mr Blamey had no first name. He had…

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