Friday 28 December 2018

Review of A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki

A Tale for the Time BeingA Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book for my bookclub, and had initially been dubious that it was a book for me. It is more literary than I would normally choose, and I don't have a particular interest in Japanese culture. But what unfolded was an emotional journey through sensitive topics like bullying and suicide.

The book flicks between two worlds: Nao's and Ruth's. Ruth finds Nao's diary washed up on the beach of the remote island she lives on in British Columbia, Canada and starts to read and translate it. Nao's diary talks about her life in Japan, since moving there from America with her Japanese born parents. Ruth believes the diary has been washed up in the 2011 tsunami and attempts to track down Nao and her family.

It's difficult to talk about this book without giving away the story. It is a slow intense read that reveals various elements of Japanese culture. It tells the story of a teenage girl, Nao, who was raised in America and has been thrust into Japanese life and the difficulties she experiences, as well as the difficulties her parents experience. It is also tells the story of her great grandmother, who is a Buddhist nun, and her great Uncle who was a Kamikaze pilot. And it tells the story of Ruth and her husband, and their life on a remote island.

The tales are interwoven, and no more is given than absolutely necessary. The reader is left to feel their own emotions about the things that are uncovered; the author doesn't provide the reader with a judgement either way, although we do see Ruth and her husband's reaction to some of it, if only to explain more fully what is being described in Nao's stories.

I loved the depth of this book, of the characters and stories and their lives. I also loved other topics which are touched on, like Buddhism and Quantum Physics, and the appendices in the back that give more detailed information on these topics.

View all my reviews

Wednesday 26 December 2018

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 87

This week's photo prompt was taken by Carlos M Almagro, a Tenerife based photographer. This was taken there. He has some incredible pictures on his website, definitely worth checking out. He calls this one Calm and Joy.

I had this story in my head for a while, but I struggled to develop it and not sound like a boring narrative. I hope it's worked.

The General Guidelines can be found here.

How to create a clickable link in Blogger comments can be found on lasts week's post here.

There is also a Facebook group for Mid-Week Flash, if you fancy getting the prompt there.


Sitting here in the little wooden chair, enjoying the sunrise for the first time in decades, I sighed: I was safe. I’d dreamt of this moment and it didn’t disappoint; my mind was my own again.

It hadn’t been easy getting here, a life-long mission, through many lives. Time after time attempts had been made to release me, but each time the demon had remained and gone on to create further pain and misery. But finally the right words and incantations had been found.

I could no longer remember a time before the demon, only when I had first spotted it. I had glanced in a mirror – a luxury item in that lifetime – and I could see it in my eyes: a dark reflection, a dullness that hadn’t be there before, something looking out that wasn’t a part of me. And then the thoughts had started: the paranoia, the thoughts telling me to hurt myself, the urge to hurt others, and the confusion about whether I had or not leading me to self-destruction or reclusion.

It leached onto others and turned them too. A few strong ones had resisted and identified the truth, so I developed a way to shackle my true essence to them and find them in the next life, hoping to harness their abilities to rid me of this thing. It hadn’t worked until now. 

It was thanks to Emmie. She had persevered through the last seven lifetimes, edging closer and closer to the solution. She had tried spells and enchantments, sometimes distracting the demon, allowing me to return to myself for a few moments and regain my inner energy. And in those lucid windows she had taught me how to build my strength and increase my protective wall, pushing it out, making it more difficult for the demon to re-engage, even though it ultimately did, until the day her team had found the words.

In this lifetime, Emmie had been born into an academic family, one with a unique interest in alchemy with an extensive library on the practices of the black arts, including how to perform exorcisms. Once we had found one another again, I became her pet project and we went through rigorous tests and experiments trying to unhinge the thing. She brought in an entire team, determined to achieve it this time, each member bringing their own insight to the table.

When an invitation and airline ticket arrived by courier I didn’t hesitate, despite the noise in my head ramping up significantly. But I wasn’t going to hurt myself or hospitalise myself; I refused to accept that there was something wrong with me, or that I had a fear of flying, or that I was infectious and couldn’t be around other people. I just kept going, first into a cab and then to the airport, dowsing the worst of the torturous thoughts with booze on the flight.

It made the ensuing boat trip less enjoyable, but with my head hung over the side for the duration, vomiting, meant the voices couldn’t cut through the sick induced fog in my brain.

Once I arrived at the remote destination - a barely populated remote island - I was led through a series of instructions. With each one I could feel the demon rise and struggle, its panic increasing to a screaming pitch. The small group were aware of this and handled me as though I was no longer lucid, placing me in the chair and setting stones in a circle round it, placing each one with a different chant, tone, and language.

With the arrival of each one, I could feel my own energy rise and the demon’s being pushed out. It grappled for my mind, tearing thoughts of malice and hatred across it; screaming at me, screaming at them, monopolising my ability to think.

At the last stone, the group joined hands and synchronised the final invocation, turning in a circle, each stepping on the stone to push it further into the sand. And on the last word, it flew out of my brain like a cork from a bottle, leaving me exhausted but elated, back in control.

They left me to gather myself, telling me to take my time, encouraging and reassuring me that I would be safe outside of the circle too, but for the moment, this was where I wanted to be, remembering who I was, ready to be my own person again.  

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 86

This week's prompt photo is actually a close up shot of a much larger photo, taken by Brian Romeijn, a Rotterdam based photographer, who became well know for this series of photos he took of the Orient Express, which stands abandoned in Belgium after its last trip in December 2009. You can see the original picture on his site, Precious Decay, along with a variety of other photos of urban decay.

It prompted a dark tale. I went for a ghost story and this came out instead. Enjoy!

The General Guidelines can be found here.

How to create a clickable link in Blogger comments can be found on lasts week's post here.

There is also a Facebook group for Mid-Week Flash, if you fancy getting the prompt there.

Lie In Wait

He walked through the carriage. He could see them all perfectly in his mind’s eye, seated in their finery. The travel outfits, the latest fashion of the era, bought specially for the journey: bustles and black ties, stiff collars and corsets. He could hear their pleasantries and their witty banter as they past the time staring out of the windows. Men and women – rarely children, unless groomed for such a trip to sit quietly and attentively – impressed by the carriages, the exquisite train, all revelling in their wealth and comfort, all believing that it was the purpose of life.

Then as he passed through into another carriage, he felt it. It was still present at the edges, gnawing away at the fading decadence. A pervasive darkness that lay in wait, as it had done then. Little had they known how vulnerable they’d been; how easily they had been taken and diverted. He wondered how it had manifest; how it had travelled from one to another.

He witnessed the dark stains, too numerous to hide, even in the decay that the decades had wrought; the rips and slash marks in the upholstery where the filling now burst from, and heard a whisper of the cries that had been released in their last throws.

No one had been able to explain the arrival of a train full of slaughtered people, with no one living but the driver, who had been oblivious to the contents he’d been carrying, despite spending a lifetime rotting in a prison cell paying for it. People had speculated on who else it could have been, how someone could have jumped on or off the train and done it. But he knew differently.

He had examined the faded pictures, identified the marks from one to the other, how each had taken their part; the system and pattern was ever present in the chaos of the pictures if you had a mind to see it, and he did. And here, now, he knew he hadn’t been wrong in its origin. 

He paused in the middle of the second carriage and waited. It whispered at the edge of his hearing, words starting to form, cajoling, persuading, enticing. He smiled. If he could get it to come to him, he could give it what it needed: a channel, an outlet, a place to reside. He would welcome it and give it an opportunity. It would be his, to use as he pleased.

His head tilted back as the murmurs grew to voices, and opened his arms. The smile on his face spread, his mouth opening wide. And as it arrived, a roar of laughter built up inside him and exploded out, shaking the remains of what they dubbed ‘the carriages of carnage’, waking the souls that slept there, to taste the fear again. 

Tuesday 18 December 2018

2018 Tipsy Santa Blog Hop

It's been 5 years since the last one, but Tipsy Santa Blog Hop is back, hosted by Ruth Long, and co-hosted with Cara Michaels and Laura James.

Any genre gives, but being Tipsy is a requirement. Why don't you give it a go?

The Truth About Santa 

Jake was excited. He lay in his bed trying hard to get to sleep, but it was Christmas Day tomorrow and his mind raced at all the possibilities it would bring. He also tried hard to remember his Christmas list for Santa. Mum had put the envelope in her handbag to send off. He wasn’t sure if he put the new Turbo Stunt remote control car on it. He hoped so. He really wanted it.

He kicked his legs under his duvet to try and release his excitement. Then he stopped suddenly. What was that? Were those bells he could hear? Was Santa on the roof? There was definitely shuffling, downstairs. He was putting the presents under the tree! Jake just knew it.

He pushed back his duvet and climbed out of bed carefully, knowing the floor would squeak if he put too much weight on it too fast. He tiptoed to his bedroom door and put an ear to it. Was that singing? Could he hear someone singing? Jingle Bells. It was definitely Jingle Bells. He turned the handle on his door gently and pulled the door open a crack. Yes, singing.

Then the sound burst out into the hallway and Jake almost slammed his bedroom door shut in fright. There was just a narrow slit and he peeped out. He could only see the top of the stairs, not what was at the bottom – or who. Whoever it was didn’t seem to care if they woke him. Would Santa really do that? He listened to what was being sung. The words weren’t clear, like the person couldn’t quite get his mouth round them. They seemed to slur and then the person belched.

Then the tune changed to Oh Danny Boy, but instead it was his name being sung: ‘Oh Jakey Boy’. The voice was familiar.

He opened his door wider and crept to the top of the stairs and crouched down, peeping through the banisters to the hallway below. He could see the red suit, the hat, and white whiskers of a beard. It was definitely Santa, but he was hanging onto the bottom of the stairs swinging back and forth with a glass in his hand. And instead of the milk Jake had put in it, there was brown liquid like the stuff his dad drank.

As Santa swung back towards him in mid song, he spotted Jake and cried out, “Jakey! There you are!”

“Dad?” Jake stood up. “Why are you dressed as Santa?”

His dad chuckled. “Oh Jakey, you don’t still believe in him do you? It’s me! It’s been me all along!”

Then his dad swung too far and lost his balance, landing in a heap of whiskey and red material. He didn’t move, instead a raucous snore bounced up the stairs to Jake who stood at the top with tears in his eyes.

Santa wasn’t real and instead it was his dead beat dad. There was no chance he’d get the Turbo Stunt car now. 

Wednesday 12 December 2018

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 85

This week's prompt is a piece of Digital Art from a French artist, Cyril Rolando, or AquaSixio over on Deviant Art. He calls this Piano Lesson.

A last minute tale popped into my head for this one, after forgetting it was Wednesday and I hadn't written anything! 

The General Guidelines can be found here.

How to create a clickable link in Blogger comments can be found on lasts week's post here.

There is also a Facebook group for Mid-Week Flash, if you fancy getting the prompt there.

Capturing Magic

Chris positioned the video camera then he positioned the bird. The owl clung to the edge of the piano, unsure what it was meant to do, looking at the keys. Then it reached out a claw and depressed one. The piano gave off a short low base sound. Chris thought it might startle, but instead it froze, looking more closely at the key it had pressed. Then it did it again.

Chris felt prickles of goosebumps run up his arms as he tapped the record button and looked through the lens, zooming in on the owl’s talons as it laid them on one key after another. But he found himself pulling away again to watch with the naked eye as a melody became apparent. 

Even though he was seeing and hearing it, he couldn’t quite believe it, and nor would anyone else. He knew the video would be considered a hoax of some sort, edited or dubbed over with the music, but he left it running anyway, transfixed by the owl as it played tunes he swayed to, watching it dance up and down the piano keys in an almost comical way, yet like a master composer and concert pianist.

Chris dug finger nails into his crossed arms to convince himself he was awake and this was real. The pain was significant; it had to be.

It went on for more than half an hour until finally the piece of music reached its crescendo. Chris applauded wildly, so enraptured by the performance, and the owl turned to him, cocking its head as though acknowledging the appreciation.

Then it cocked its head in the other direction, towards the conservatory where its cage was kept and leapt off the piano towards it. Chris was so mesmerised by the playing he assumed the bird was tired and returning to its perch to rest, forgetting that it had just displayed high intelligence and wasn’t captive bred.

The top two windows of the conservatory were open to let the room breathe and out the bird flew, gone, along with Chris’s dreams of a repeat performance.

Wednesday 5 December 2018

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 84

This week's picture is yet another untraceable one. It is on wallpaper sites and used by thousands of people - it is such a shame that the artist doesn't get credit for it. This picture has a name in the corner, but I can't quite decipher it. I have tried different spellings but to no avail. If you do know, please let me know and I will credit it correctly.

This one was pretty simple for me, especially when I think of my writing career - or plans for my writing career and my impending participation in #PitMad over on Twitter.

The General Guidelines can be found here.

How to create a clickable link in Blogger comments can be found on lasts week's post here.

There is also a Facebook group for Mid-Week Flash, if you fancy getting the prompt there.

Now or never

She knew she had to climb it – wanted to climb it even – but it scared her. She wanted to reach what was at the top; she wanted it so much, but looking at the bridge that led there it was filled with alarming risks and possible derailment.

There was only a loose chain to hold on to that would move and swing with the bridge, and there were gaps between the slats showing the depths she could plummet to below. Walking on it meant feeling unstable and uncomfortable; it meant navigating something that would expose her weaknesses. She was unsure if would bring her what she wanted. Would the light at the top be worth it? Would it provide her with everything she needed? She didn’t know. She had to dare to be brave and make herself vulnerable, and face it head on.

Could she live with not trying, not attempting at all? Could she live with never knowing if she would have reach that light, and what was on the other side? Could she live with regret and staying within an existence that was comfortable but not challenging? She didn’t think so.

She straightened her shoulders and lifted her head up, taking in deep breaths. She took a step onto the first rung and felt the wobble of the bridge. Her heart missed a beat and her hands were clammy on the chain links, but she gripped them tighter and steadied herself, getting ready for the climb of her life.