• Methodist or Minstrel?

    Chapter 1 Magic

    “I don’t know—think of something!” Marina studies the paper with interest—“that’s your beginning line—2,000 words by teatime,” the friendly organizer of the writing event explained. Marina has been a serious writer since 2006; five novels published as an independent author with several other volumes in the long series waiting to be formatted. The years seem to have skipped by since she returned from The Southern Hemisphere. The sun is bright today—and the atmosphere happy. She should have worn lighter clothes—and a pair of summer shoes would have been more sensible.

    ‘No—can’t go there—can’t speak about my own story,’ she tells herself. ‘You need to branch out—use your imagination rather than always speaking from the heart—and Soul—and all the rest with an observer’s eye that catches the crystal somersaults cavorting through your daily life; tuning into the ethereal—finding The Magic in The Everyday. Tra la la’---Can she write in any other way? Probably not.

    Marina’s friend, Kendal, likes the way she writes ‘tra la la’---at the end of their morning e-mail exchange, signalling a happy and busy day ahead, and time to rouse the toaster. “It sets me up for the day,” he recently told her. So, here she is—ready for a glorious time in one of the best positions in town; the gallery of the artisan bakery and restaurant with views of historic rooftops, burgeoning greenery and blue skies—with several hours to write! What more could any author desire?

    A manicured lawn sweeping away to her left is something she hasn’t ever seen before. The high arched window frames the scene with pleasing highlight. Nature Sprites disguised as dandelion seeds waft over the heads of chatting schoolgirls who emerge from a door onto the neat lawn. It is Saturday morning—is there a school event today? Or perhaps lessons are on the agenda. In groups of two or three the girls float away down the garden path as gently as the downy seeds that take their cue from the light breeze teasing their intrigue.

    The gallery of the old Methodist Chapel where Marina sits is sunny and welcoming—nicely secluded from the mumble of chatter way below. An orchestra of culinary percussion helps her concentrate—not that she needs help in that arena. A busy family life, noisy dogs, sociable workplace and attentive family means working through the noise of teaspoon sonatas, barista burbles and platter clatter is easy. In fact, the sounds cloak her in a pleasing, soporific fog. Oh—and did she mention the bipolar husband and denying, banished lover? That addition is akin to ten marching bands with the loudest claxons as fanfare, creating ear-drum nightmare. She sighs—teaspoon sonatas are mere chicken-feed and delightful in comparison.

    Chapter 2 Metaphor

    The glass bauble waterfall suspended from the ceiling is still, surprising Marina as she taps away. She likes the raindrop effect that fills the cavernous void with a whimsical something—catching the lingering prayers from past chapel-goers, perhaps. Does it ever move in the breeze? Worn from extensive use, several of her laptop keys have lost their letters; luckily she can type fast and fluently. And the bottom row of the keyboard is no longer responding to her touch; is that a metaphor? After years of seeing signs and reading clues she suspects that it is, hoping that the bottom of her world isn’t about to implode. She relies on a spare keyboard her son helped her install. The M key is the biggest problem; trust her to have chosen that letter to form the trail she likes to weave through every chapter. “Chapters? You won’t be needing chapters with 2,000 words, will you?” The friendly organizer appeared a while ago, helping her find the elusive floor socket for when her laptop runs out of battery—which will be any minute. Chapters—they are always important in her writing, no matter the length of the tale. She munches a cheese cracker—pleased she brought the packet with her. She grins to herself, recalling a silly saying that always makes her laugh: ‘If you feel as if the bottom has fallen out of your world, eat a bowl of muesli and the world will fall out of your bottom!’ Chortle chortle—but come on—this isn’t getting a short story written! Concentrate for goodness sake! She rather wishes the glass baubles would dance about a little—like the dandelion seeds outside the open window beside which she is so happily ensconced.

    The chapel gallery attracts the visiting children; three have already explored the exciting levels while she has been writing. One had to be rescued by his father when his big brother gave up on dealing with a tantrum a few minutes ago. The steps and balustrades have an art-deco feel about them. She could be in a minstrels’ gallery; the glass baubles and dandelion seeds her only audience. Her life has changed in so many ways—from living in the fastest-growing, modern, coastal town in the Antipodes to one of the smallest, inland, historic towns in Britain—a marvellous change of scene and the perfect place to retreat with her rucksack of bulging notebooks. She has been here nearly four years now, and a writer’s retreat the town has certainly proved to be. Everyone has been so welcoming and yes--she certainly feels she belongs. The creative mantle enveloping the place is surprising and exciting. Few here know she is a writer—fewer still have read her work—a subject to either shock or delight; readers fall into an array of different camps. She is known in other ways in this town—and perhaps that is how it should remain.

    Chapter 3 My

    The schoolgirls have returned—untucked shirts and loose hair replacing their earlier decorum. Marina suspects it is lunchtime. One girl is limping slightly—perhaps her new summer shoes are rubbing her heels; Marina’s always do that. She tries to keep summer shoes going for as long as possible to avoid ‘summer-limp-syndrome,’ which brings her back to the subject of shoes and hot feet. Yes—her now three-year-old sandals are broken in and perfectly comfortable, even though they look like old-hands—or should that read old-feet? They would have been better than boots today, although luckily the gallery maintains a pleasant temperature.

    Glancing around she is struck by an enormous framed picture on the wall—a picture of—my goodness; it’s a picture of her two dogs! An almost exact replica! How extraordinary is that? A large candle burns on the monastic bench in front of the piece of art; ‘Ode to my Hounds’ comes to mind, although she can’t find any title. This is a good sign, for sure; the bottom is most surely NOT about to fall out of her world! The Bog-Brush and little Pipkin were constant companions during her adventurous epic ‘down-under.’ She has written a lot about them over the years, so a wry smile plays at the corner of her mind as she finds them here—in the gallery with her. Strolling through the coastal bays in the early morning was always their favourite pastime in The Land of the Long White Cloud, where Banks of bougainvillea and wattle sang duets with the volcanic scenery all around. “My steps are small, Bog-Brush—wait for me!” The large dog followed by the tiny one is caught for all time—in Marina’s memory and now most surprisingly beside her writing table! She didn’t bring The Bog-Brush back home to England in July 2011—but she did bring The Pipkin. Yesterday the little dog had ten teeth removed by the vet in the High Street at an alarming cost which she won’t mention here! She has left one speedily-recovering pooch under the care of revising teenagers today.

    Oh dear—she is wandering. Story invention is always eclipsed by the stories she finds all around, so she apologizes if her readers were expecting something other. Old habits die hard and all that, although ‘what comes naturally—and what you enjoy most’ are the louder voices this morning. A school girl has just appeared under her window—alone in the now quiet garden she is dressed in a smart black suit and is carrying a caramel jacket over her arm. She meets a boy under the yew tree and hands him the jacket in an intimate way. Marina likes watching people—wondering about their movements and plans.

    “Are you eating that here, or outside?” The waitress at the bakery counter wraps the large almond croissant that is enough for two and will certainly keep her going through the final paragraphs. “There are so many new people in town today,” the girl comments, asking if they are all here for the writing competition! Marina stifles a smile as the girl flicks her long plait over a shoulder. “I think there must be something else going on in town,” she suggests, deciding the fathers and sons purchasing pizzas ahead of her—not to mention girls in suits and possibly brothers under yew trees exchanging jackets--indicate an Open Day event, or something similar.

    Chapter 4 Moment

    Several waitresses have appeared upstairs in the gallery bearing lavishly filled plates of food since Marina began writing. It is now 1.40 p.m. ‘Goodness—I am being delivered a fabulous lunch!’ Her initial thoughts were quashed when the first waitress to arrive asked if she could borrow a chair from the table and promptly sat down to her own meal. So much for a wild imagination! Ah—now she knows where the staff escapes to eat. Her own cup of Earl Grey Tea and huge croissant are ample fare. The pink and white wall-flowers that she spies all over the pretty town nod in agreement outside the high window. She has a literal bird’s-eye view from her seat; a special moment. They remind her that this is no time for leisurely noshing! But wandering thoughts are okay—these lovely wall-flowers always grace the central decoration of the table in June where families with small children gather for the Parent and Child sessions she runs three times a week. Wall-flowers and the second half of the summer term; how she enjoys celebrating the rhythms of the year.

    Marina’s laptop plug won’t fit in the floor socket she is supposed to use—the Kiwi adaptor makes it too bulky for the slanted angle. Never mind—another point works, although she has to stand to type. “At least you are up close to us, Mistress;” the two dogs in the picture whisper their appreciation while the candle flickers a question. “You took ages to notice we were here!” She smiles at the memory of the little Pipkin trying so valiantly to keep up with the charging Bog-Brush. “Come on—surprise The Bog-Brush around the corner,” Marina used to cojole. The Pipkin’s sad eyes always get to her; a Terrier/Chihuahua cross, she is the biggest softie. “I can’t keep up--I don’t know—think of something!” she used to plead. Her mistress never got around to fashioning the body-board and harness that would have ticked all the right boxes. Now the little dog has her own small daughter to boss about rather than a huge, hairy mutt to keep up with. Said monster remains on the shores of The Bay of Plenty.

    Marina never has far to look for inspiration and she does love to be surprised. She hopes you have enjoyed reading as much as she has enjoyed writing. ‘Body-board and harness’--perhaps in a parallel lifetime, she thinks, suspecting this is the first time such a suggestion has ever occupied the mind of either a Methodist or a Minstrel residing within these prayer-filled walls.

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