Crazy Dead Uncles

birdplateThe other day in a tea shop, on my way to a stressful meeting, I called on my ancestors to accompany me so that the upcoming discussion might prove beneficial for all involved.  Often when I call on the Old Ones to gather around, they’ll show me an outward sign to reassure me of their presence.

The waitress instantly dropped an empty plate which crashed into a thousand pieces on the café floor.  Later, the ceiling lights dimmed in the closed meeting room to produce an eerie twilight, then plunged us all into dramatic darkness before flashing on again.

In both situations, everyone in the room first looked at each other in surprise, then smiled at their shared experience.  The waitress grinned broadly as the other café patrons and I helped gather the shattered porcelain, and those flashing lights in the meeting room prompted spontaneous solutions, transforming hardened officials into jovial allies.

Possibly the one thing that’s more gratifying than sharing a laugh with your ancestors is being able to pass on their mad sense of humour to the descendants who’ll follow you.  I only hope I can do it with as much flare.


The Moment of Truth

Yes“‘Ohhhhhhh,’ moaned Mrs Fruit. ‘Are any of Mick Looney’s ancestors there?’

Her words hung in the air, she took a deep asthmatic breath.  Suddenly she stiffened.

‘I have somebodyyyyyyyyyyy,’ she intoned.

Looney craned forward, the moment of truth. ‘What does he say?’ he said.

The answer came clear and strong.

‘The fish knives are with Aunty Peggy.’”

Spike Milligan

from The Looney: An Irish Fantasy1987.

Aphrodite’s Cave


All was hushed except for the wash of milky foam along the shoreline.  She scanned the ocean before her for the next set of waves, her back to the beach, legs dangling in warm water.  Aphrodite was sucking her out to sea, or so it seemed, by the strong tidal pull dragging her towards the horizon.

A newly formed wave rose into a breast of moving water, standing up with a roar.  She turned and paddled fast towards the beach, arms windmilling through thick brine, legs kicking madly mid-air. The long wave shaped itself into a coil ready to spring from her left, just as she stopped paddling and jumped into a crouched stand, left foot forward, knees bent, toes gripping the wax, arms flying like a bird.

Now racing parallel to the beach, tasting the salt spray, at one with the board, her fingers reached for the hard wave wall towering up beside her right ear, to feel the tingle of speed.  Back hunched, head forward, balanced over her feet, she carved down the face of the wave, driving the line, enjoying the ride, a curtain of white water slowly swallowing her up from behind.

For one, two, three, four, five seconds, she disappeared under an avalanche inside the crystal cave, stalling in the pipe, staying within it, milking it for speed.  Then, a gust of wind hit her spine and spat her out of the tube.  With the tip of her board she pierced the curved green wall and let it fling her skyward, up over the back, as the wave roared on to collide with the coast.

© S.K. Riley, 2013

Image: Aphrodite’s Cave – Thomas McKnight

The Mystery of Story – Watching the Tide

green-ocean-tideSo you’ve reached a point in your story where you’ve finished writing a scene but the characters refuse to move away. There’s more of the story to come, so they remain frozen in place like a faded tableau.

As the author, there’s nothing you can do but wait for them to come alive again. And when they do, you can feel the action arriving from a long way off.

I’m grateful to Tim Winton for his breathtakingly accurate description of this process…

“Writing a book is a bit like surfing,” he said. “Most of the time you’re waiting. And it’s quite pleasant, sitting in the water waiting. But you are expecting that the result of a storm over the horizon, in another time zone, usually, days old, will radiate out in the form of waves. And eventually, when they show up, you turn around and ride that energy to the shore. It’s a lovely thing, feeling that momentum. If you’re lucky, it’s also about grace. As a writer, you roll up to the desk every day, and then you sit there, waiting, in the hope that something will come over the horizon. And then you turn around and ride it, in the form of a story.”

When my characters resumed their scene at three this morning, I remembered everything I could and wrote it all down in the first light of dawn.  But just as a wave recedes, taking the flood of rich green waters with it, not everything washed up onto the beach, onto the page.  Bits of the story floated back out to sea like seaweed and salmon, bluebottles and baitfish, lifejackets and old flairs, on the ebbing tide.

I have faith that these ‘lost’ parts of the story will come again on the next wave, the next high tide, the next full moon… sometime.  And like all writers before me, I simply trust, knowing that the story is alive.

It will return these treasured pieces to me if I sit waiting on the shore believing in mystery.

– S.K. Riley