Whatever strikes my fancy

I’m a writer and photographer. I’m working on my autobiography. Funny thing, but if people learn this they will often ask “is it finished yet?” Umm, unless you’re using a spirit board to ask that, the answer is obviously “No”. I’ve stopped it at the point I received my new birth certificate with new name and gender, but I’m still here so it could continue.

I write speculative fiction, also called science fiction and mystery and these pieces usually start with asking myself “what if …?”, then answering that question. That “what if …” could be on any topic – as the title indicates “whatever strikes my fancy”. I’ve destroyed cities and other planets (usually with classical music playing in the background as I write) and in the late nineties I chronicled a war that destroyed this planet. What prompted that was the debate over whether the 21st century would start January 1, 2000 or 2001. I think the answer depends if you ask an historian or a mathematician.

With my blogs, again I write about any topic that strikes my fancy or irritates me. I enjoy writing about various online scams as warnings to my readers. For the most part I stay away from American politics. I’m not American so unless what’s-his-name in the White House had done or said something exceedingly stupid, I ignore it. Having said that, living in Canada and being reasonably intelligent, I am aware that events in the U S may and can have a tremendous effect on us as well, so I do pay attention to American politics. I have however taken Canadian federal politicians to task on many occasions over their pronouncements or actions. And with the current regime in Queen’s Park, I can see that Ontario Premier Doug Ford will become a frequent target.

I prefer to write and edit in longhand, then once I’m satisfied I transcribe to the computer. By doing so, if inspiration strikes while I’m out I can capture the thought at the moment as I usually carry paper and pen.

I use this same approach with my photography. If something catches my eye, I’ll take a photo. A flower, a sign, interesting architecture, a scenic vista or sometihng whimsical such as this shot below taken outside a local shop on my phone, it doesn’t matter. There are occasion , such as grocery shopping, when carrying a camera is too awkward, by my phone has an excellent camera.

I use digital cameras (Canon ever since my first film SLR in the seventies) and have what I consider to be good software – Corel Paintshop Pro for processing. I can usually find something in the raw image to turn into a photo. And of course, by using digital cameras and processing, “undo” and “delete” have become my best friends.

I’ve had various people who like my work suggest to me I should give courses in both writing and photography. Such course would be very short indeed for here’s what I’d say:

Writing: write about what interests you. If that requires research, great – you’ll learn something new. If writing fiction or topical blogs, write the way you speak. If people who know you read it, they’ll hear your voice speaking the words and for others, it will sound more natural. Don’t use what I call “ten dollar words” in an attempt to sound more intelligent. If you don’t normally use them in everyday vocabulary, you’ll probably use them incorrectly.

Photography: if it catches your eye, snap it and sort it out later. Remember, “delete” can be a powerful tool.

There’s the essence of any courses I’d give.

Now, go create something and remember to hug an artist, no matter what their field of endeavour, for we need love too. And to my Canadian followers and visitors, have a safe and happy Canada Day weekend.

Cat.

For the writers among us

A few thoughts and observations on that demon that haunts us ink-stained wretches:

“… writers don’t like the actual writing bit.”

“Being literate as a writer is good craft, is knowing your job, is knowing how to use your tools properly and not to damage the tools as you use them.”

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” Douglas Adams, (1952 – 2001)

The above three quotes are from Douglas Adams, best known as the author of the five books of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. (I know, but that’s how he described it.) And from personal experience I can say that first quote is spot on. As well, I have written many short stories that prove the third one as well.

As for the second, that would be for the reader to determine. I like to think I write well, and use, but not abuse, the English language properly. One piece of advice I was given is “write the way you speak.” In other words, if you don’t commonly use “ten dollar words” in your daily vocabulary, don’t use them in your writing, even if you can get them half-off. You’ll sound pretentious and will probably use them wrong. My writing always uses the vocabulary and speech patterns I use in everyday communication and people have told me that when they read my stuff, they can hear my voice reading it in their minds. I consider that a compliment. The only time I vary from that is if the character requires it.

There are several other “rules” of writing that make little sense to me at least, such as “write what you know”. That may be fine if you’re writing a technical piece, but doesn’t necessarily apply if you’re writing fiction. When it comes to my fiction, many of the stories start with me asking myself “what if …?” then answering the question. How bleak would the literary world be if authors only wrote what they know? We’d have been deprived of works like J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series as well as many books that are now considered classics.

“Write what you know.” I’m a blogger – sporadically recently because there are things going on that interfere with the writing as well as Douglas Adams’s first observation – and my blogs are usually about things or events that either interest me or incense me. And given the newly elected government in Ontario, I think there’s going to be a few things that incense me. In my more honest moments, I frequently describe my blogs as “rants, raves or reasoned discussions – reader’s choice.”

One thing I read somewhere (I think it was a writer I friended on MySpace years ago) was that in order to be a writer, you must write 600 words a day. What that writer didn’t add was that it must be six hundred words you want to keep. I don’t agree with that word count. You can only write so much and if only 10 words will come that are “keepers”, then that’s ten words you don’t have to worry about later.

Many people who don’t write and don’t understand writing will often joke about the process and sometimes point to the hoary opening “It was a dark and stormy night” as an example of writing. Actually, I used that twice in one story just to see if it was possible to use it without seeming trite. Here’s what I came up with:

It was a dark and stormy night – a real nasty one – the kind I’ve come to dread ever since that night. I was sitting quietly, enjoying my beer, when I noticed the guy staring at me. I ignored him as I do anyone who is rude enough to stare. Then I sensed him coming over.

After a bit of small talk, he stopped talking and just looked at me. I looked back. “What, you want to hear about the time traveller?”

“If you wouldn’t mind telling me,” he said, signalling for refills for both of us.

I thanked him, then said, “I don’t mind telling, if you don’t mind listening. All I ask is that you don’t interrupt too much, because I don’t really like talking about it.”

He agreed and, after a sip of the beer, I started.

“It was a dark and stormy night “ I stopped as I saw him glaring at me, then I said “I know, I know – any story that starts that way has to be pure bull, right? Hear me out, then you tell me.

In the introduction to this piece I wrote “I planted my tongue firmly in my cheek and here’s the result”. I know it’s hard to tell from this short intro, but what do you think? Did I pull it off? If you like, I’ll post the entire story later this week.

Okay, let’s try to get serious for a few minutes here. Writing is, by its nature, a solitary pursuit. When you’re working on a piece, be it fiction, a blog, essay or factual, most writers don’t want anyone around to derail their train of thought. I usually have classical music playing quietly while I work. In one short story, I destroyed an entire planet with “Ride of the Valkyries” in the background. Yes, some writers say that so-and-so is their muse, their inspiration, but that doesn’t mean that muse has to be present all the time. I’m fortunate in that respect as I live alone so there are minimal interruptions.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” Very true. I can’t count the times I’ve started writing something with a plan in mind only to have the characters dictate what happens through their actions. I usually just leave it since on the occasions I’ve tried to bring the story back to my vision, it didn’t work as well.  And yes, it can happen that something you’ve written will send a story off in a new direction rather than following your roadmap. I think it works this way: You write something and your mind picks up on that and asks “what if I follow that line instead?” That is what I mean by the character dictating the ensuing actions.

It seems that many good writers are also voracious readers. Not to see what the “competition” is doing, but simply for the enjoyment of the written word. No, the excuse that it cuts into writing time won’t work. Without some kind of break or diversion, your mind goes stale and your work will suffer.

And, I think I’ve done it again – started off with one idea in mind, but ended up somewhere else. I could have probably spent much less time writing this if I’d simply said “write about what interests you; write it with passion and in cohesive sentences and the readers will come.” To finish off, a quote from Robert A Heinlein (1907 – 1988), the great science-fiction writer “You must write.”

Enjoy your day and remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat.

Do it your way

Every once in a while, someone will look at some of my photos, or read something I’ve written and suggest that I should teach photography and/or writing. That presents a problem for me.

I’m sure that each of you is very good at some pastime that gives you a sense of accomplishment. But, how would you go about explaining to somebody else just how you do it? That’s the problem with my photography and writing. Oh, I could probably teach each, but the course would be twenty minutes tops. I’ll try here to explain how I do what I do.

Photography: My philosophy is simple – if something catches your attention, snap it. You may look at the image on the camera screen and not see what you expected, but wait until you get it up on the computer screen when you process it. (I do digital photography, so my comments are restricted to computer processing.) The larger image may show you something surprising that you can turn into a beautiful photo. The photo at the top of this is an example of a photo I thought was “okay” until I saw it on the monitor, then it went up in my estimation.

Take advice if offered. I’ve had some free-lance photographers give me some advice that I think is worth passing on. First, remember that a digital camera darkens an image about 30 – 40% from what you see with your eye. You’ll want to restore that brightness before anything else. This of course wouldn’t apply if you feel the darker image is more effective.

Next, a free-lancer told me to avoid weddings if at all possible because you’ll never please everyone.

Finally, if you want to be a free-lance news photographer, the best advice I was given for this was “f8 and be there”. You can’t take the shot if you aren’t at the scene and an aperture of f8 will give you a decent depth of field.

As I said, I do digital photography and process my own work. There are many photo processing programmes available. My personal preference is a Corel programme called “Paintshop”. Some people prefer Adobe’s Photoshop. I’ve used both and prefer Paintshop. If you can, try as many as you can – some places offer free trial copies – before spending your money on one.

The choice of camera is up to the user. Many of my best work was done with a Canon point and shoot, including the header photo. I currently use a Canon DSLR, but depending upon my plans for the day, I have often used the camera in my phone. The quality of phone cameras has improved greatly.

I’m torn about suggesting photography courses. Yes, I can see the benefits for some people, but when I told an artist friend it had been suggested I take one, her comment was “Why? That would only ruin you. The course would only teach you to take photos the way the instructor does.” If you feel you’d benefit from one, go for it. As my friend said, if you feel competent, save your money.

In photography the most important advice I was given was that you have to have imagination and the ability to think outside the box. Photography is as much about feeling as technique.

Writing: I’ve always written, at least back as far as Grade 5. I was fortunate in having teachers who encouraged my writing and have since received advice from others. There are many courses in creative writing available through community colleges that you can take. My ex-partner was part of a group of writers who would meet once a week and present short stories for criticism. Some members were published authors; some were taking courses and others just sat down to write. Through the members of this group (I was a casual member since they often met at our house) I learned the proper format for submitting stories, but that’s about all.

Most often, aspiring writers are told “write what you know”. That is fine if you’re writing factual articles and stories. I have a blog and frequently write opinion pieces that I laughingly refer to as “rants, raves and reasoned discussions – reader’s choice.” The main exception to that is a series of blogs under the general title “Bring him to justice”. This series concerns the attempts by the Toronto Police Service to arrest a man charged with several counts of aggravated sexual assault. This series is factual and, full disclosure here, I’m doing it because I know several people he dated.

For my fiction, it’s rather difficult to write fiction strictly sticking to “what you know”. If I’m writing fiction, the process usually starts with me asking myself “what if…?” then writing a piece to answer the question.

Perhaps the best advice the writer me was given was “write the way you speak.” If you don’t use multi-syllable words as part of your usual vocabulary, don’t use them in your writing. I sometimes paraphrase this as “if you don’t use ten dollar words all the time, don’t use them in your writing, even if you get them half-off. You’ll probably mis-use them.” Something else – spelling counts. Spell-check is great in most cases, but if you use a homophones – and yes, I had to check the definition of this – such as “hear” or “here”, spell-check won’t catch it. Proofread, then proofread again.

There. My courses on photography and writing are finished. As the title suggests “do it your way.” Class dismissed.

Remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat.

Permanently blocked

As I type this, I have three unfinished stories dating back several years in my projects folder and I don’t think they will ever get finished.  Not because I’ve had a major case of writer’s block, but for another reason.

When I began working on these pieces, I was in a much darker place and the tenor of these work reflects that – very dark and brooding.  Times have changed and I am no longer in that place and despite reading over what I do have down, I still can’t get back to that darkness and in all honesty, I don’t want to.  Still, there are some wonderful descriptive passages among those words, but I can’t figure out how to incorporate them into new pieces. Here’s an example:

“Rattle, clatter, clunk.”  The lid of the letter box announcing it had been fed intruded into his consciousness. Hoping there might be more than rejections, bills and flyers, Colin hurried to check.  Three pieces of paper awaited his grasping hand.

“Looks like the usual stuff: ‘occupant’ and ‘householder’.  Oh well, I suppose it’s better than no mail at all” he muttered to himself.  Ever since Colin had decided to become a full time writer he had developed the habit of talking to himself,  but with so many story lines chasing each other around in his mind, he hadn’t noticed that he did so.  “Well, let’s see.  We have something from a local business, addressed to ‘occupant’.  Sorry folks, ‘occupant’ doesn’t live here anymore.”  He folded up the flyer and threw it into the recycling bucket.  (With the amount of paper he went through, mostly from having to re-write frequently,  Colin was very conscientious about recycling.)

“An envelope from a publisher.  Let’s see what they say.  Hmm, they think the  novel has possibilities, but the genre doesn’t fit in with their catalogue.   Oh.  Well, that’s an excuse I haven’t heard in a while.  I’ll just add this to the collection.  Maybe one of these days I’ll just put out a book of rejections I’ve received and call it something like ‘A Thousand Times “No” ’. ”

But despite some of these descriptions I find myself stuck.  I can’t get back to the dark side on these and can’t find a way to recycle the good bits into something else.  So I suppose I’ll have to do what I do with photos I screw up and hit delete.  This is what an artist friend of mine suggested, reasoning that because they were started during a black period, there is lot of negativity attached to them, so I’d be better off getting rid of them.  And I have to agree with her.

Oh well, there will be brighter stories ahead, I know it, so I’ll just carry on and keep blogging until those stories appear.

Enjoy your day and remember to hug an artist – we need love (and ideas) too.

Cat.

Midweek fiction – It’s only a game

I wrote this is 2007 following a disastrous night playing solitaire

It’s Only A Game
copyright 2007 gch
“What to do you mean you haven’t received my remittance yet? Who is this? Why are you bothering me? If you think I owe you money, send me an invoice.” Clyde slammed the handset onto the cradle before the caller could respond and returned to the Solitaire game on his computer screen.

He’d only had Solitaire on his computer for about ten days and found it a good way to relax. His favourite was the Vegas version, where he could see whether he was ahead of the computer or not. When playing, he preferred a two-handed method – left hand tapping the enter key to turn cards and right hand working the mouse to move the cards. It may not have been more efficient, but he felt it required a bit more concentration. “Let’s see … Red six on black seven, yes, now turn over the top card, good, the black five can go on that red six.”

Two days later, the mail brought an expensive looking envelope bearing the name of a well-known casino. Never having been to a casino, Clyde was curious about why they would be contacting him. His fingers told him the envelope was stuffed with paper. Returning to his study, he reached for the letter opener as he sat down.

Carefully slitting the flap, he slid several sheets of paper from the interior of the envelope. Several appeared to be computer printouts and one, on vellum paper, looked like an invoice. Scanning this, he gasped as he saw the bottom line, which read “Balance outstanding as of May 31, $51,118.00.”

Turning to the other sheets, all the while muttering to himself “There must be some mistake. I’ve never been to any casino, let alone that one. Somebody must have stolen my identity and run up this huge debt” he examined them. They were daily tallies of amounts, usually losses, and each bore his name and an account number at the top.

Returning to the letter, he carefully read it.

Dear Mr. Partridge:

As stated in our telephone conversation of June 4, we have not yet received your payment to cover your losses at our games for the month of May. In response to your request, attached please find copies of our records. Kindly remit by return mail no later than June 15.
It was signed by someone in accounts receivable.

In a panic, Clyde again scanned the letterhead, searching desperately for a telephone number. Finding one, he telephoned the casino and angrily demanded to speak with the Accounts Receivable manager. A few bars of soft music later, he was connected.

“Clyde Partridge here. I just received an invoice from you for some $51,000 dollars. I wish to tell you sir that I have never been in your casino before, so I don’t see how I could have incurred this great debt. You must have me confused with another Clyde Partridge.”

“Are you Mr. Clyde V. Partridge of Flaherty? You are? Well then Mr. Partridge, these amounts are indeed your responsibility.”

“But, I’ve never been in any sort of gambling establishment. I don’t know how to play poker. I’ve never even bought a lottery ticket before.”

“Oh no, Mr. Partridge, there’s no mistake. And by the way sir, these are not poker debts, these are Solitaire losses.”

“Solitaire? The only Solitaire I play is at home on my computer. I certainly wouldn’t go to a crowded room to play a game of Solitaire.”

“I understand that sir, but that Solitaire game on your computer is linked to our computers which keep track of your winnings and losses. If you had won, we’d have sent you a letter telling you that you had a large credit balance.”

“But, how is that possible? I have a computer, but I don’t have any form of internet access. And I’ve only had the Solitaire game about a week.”

“Yes sir. Isn’t wireless technology is marvellous.”

I was playing Vegas Solitaire one night (yes, and losing) when a fiction writer’s favourite words – “what if …” popped into my head. This is the result of that question.

Cat
Enjoy the rest of your week and remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat

Word pictures

A friend told me she thought I could create equally vivid images with both my pen and my camera.  The header photo is an example of my photographic efforts.  Below is an example of my writing abilities – how a town was founded.  This has been extracted from a piece I’m working on. I’d appreciate feedback and comments on this.  Thanks.

After taking a sip of my drink, I said to him  “Yesterday you said you’ve been coming into the pharmacy for fifty years.  Could you give me a bit of the history of Fletcher’s Corners?   Looking around I get the impression that Fletcher’s Corners wasn’t always just a small town and I wouldn’t mind knowing more.”

He stared at me across the table and threw back his beer.  I signalled Bert to bring him another and after thanking me, he began.  “Well young lady, first off, how long have you been in town?”  I told him and he nodded.  “You friendly with many of the townsfolk?  I  allowed that Owen Fletcher and I occasionally went sailing together, admitting that was more because while I enjoyed sailing I didn’t own a boat, but “I wouldn’t call us buddy-buddy.”

Again he nodded.  “Good.”  He paused and finished off his beer.  Once more I signalled Bert.  “First off, what’s your name young lady?  I like to know the name of the person I’m talking with.”

I told him and he stuck his hand across the table and said “Pleased to meet you Patricia Keys.  I’m Walter Talbot, but folks just call me ‘Old Wally’.  You planning on changing the name of the store?”

That had originally been one of my first priorities, but other things had rearranged my list so that item was now well down and falling fast.  “No, I think I’ll leave it as ‘Robert’s Drugs’.  Everybody in town knows it as that and I’m not vain enough that I have to have my name on the store.”

Wally grunted.  “Good.  Bobby changed it when he took over and it took most of twenty years before folks here started calling it ‘Bobby’s’ instead of ‘Jackson’s’.  Don’t worry Pat, people here will know your name whether you advertise it or not.

“Now, Fletcher’s Corners.  The town was started a couple of hundred years ago by Owen Fletcher.  The present Owen Fletcher is his great-grandson.  Owen was a doctor of some sort – nobody ever saw a diploma, but back then this was mostly wilderness and if somebody said they were a doc, and their treatment didn’t kill you, their claim was accepted.  Anyway, Owen Fletcher married into money.  He bought a couple of sections of land here, then built a big house on the best land. That house is now the office building at the hospital.

” Anyway,  it seems that some of Owen’s in-laws were ‘tetched’ and Owen offered to put them up.  After all, his big house was almost empty, what with just him, Lavinia, his wife and their infant son and the company would be welcome.  The families offered to subsidize their relatives’ keep, so Owen wasn’t doing it just out of the goodness of his heart.  One thing led to another and before he knew it, friends of the family were asking for the same thing.  Of course since they had offered to pay him for the upkeep, he couldn’t say ‘no’.  Well, eventually his house began to get awful crowded.  Something happened one day, he never said what for sure and my granddaddy didn’t ask, and the next thing the town knew, Owen’s got contractors out there on the point putting up this huge dormitory.”

He paused for breath and another sip of beer and I glanced at my watch.  “Wally, I’ve got to get back to the shop.  After you’re finished here, could you come by and tell me more.”

Glancing around the room, which was now filling up with the lunch crowd, he said “Sure.  It’ll be a lot more private than this anyhow.”

Half an hour later Wally entered the store and looked furtively around.  “You alone?” he asked.

“Yes.  There’s no-one here except you and me and all these pills.”

“Good.  Now, where was I?  Oh yeah.

“As I said, Owen had this huge dormitory built to house all these relatives and friends of relatives.”  Nodding at the street through the window, he continued.  “That was the Post Road back when this place was founded.  First Avenue used to be the side road leading from the Post Road down to the landing.  The people Owen hired to work in the hospital built homes around the junction for the social aspects.  Life was a little easier if there were always people around other than the people you worked with.  Same thing’s still true.  As the hospital grew, more and more people moved in and soon we had people opening shops of all kinds.  At its peak, Fletcher’s Corners probably had close to twelve hundred people living here.  We had the usual greengrocers, milliners, a draper, a livery stable, two banks and a post office not to mention about ten or twelve taverns.

“The town pretty well kept its size until the railways and trucks started taking all the freight from the boats, then it shrunk.   The bypass pretty well spelled the end for a lot of the businesses, since they had relied a lot on the through traffic. Over the last ten or fifteen years though, its started growing again as people move out of the cities in search of a bit of peace and quiet.”

Just then the door opened and a couple entered and greeted me.  As I filled their prescription, they chatted pleasantly with me, totally ignoring Wally, sitting right beside them.  After they left, still not having acknowledged Wally’s existence, I asked him about it.

“Well, now’s about a good a time as any to get into the pecking order of Fletcher’s Corners.  Back then there were three main families:  The Fletchers naturally, since it was Owen’s business that was the main reason for the town; the Harrises – old man Harris owned the biggest tavern in town as well as running the post office; and the Talbots.”  I looked up in surprise.  Wally grinned and said  “Yup.  My grandfather ran the bank – the one that went out of business.   As I said, we had two banks here in town, the Talbot Bank, and one other one that became the current branch.  Fletcher kept the hospital accounts with the Talbot Bank until the major bank took over the other one, then changed.  The loss of those lucrative accounts resulted in grandpappy closing down.  Until then the Fletchers and the Talbots had been pretty close and just about ran Fletcher’s Corners as their private kingdom.   So, after the bank shut down, the Talbot’s opened an apothecary shop – this one.   I said that my grandfather ran one of the banks here and had a fair bit of power in the area.  As a matter of fact, before this place was called Fletcher’s Corners, people used to call it Talbot’s Corners.  But as more and more of the residents began to be Fletcher employees, it started being called Fletcher’s instead of Talbot’s.  I don’t mind really; having your family name on a village isn’t all that great.  People think that just because your name is the same as the village, you can fix up any little problem they may have.  But, I’m wandering here.  At one point, from what I’ve been told, both Owen Fletcher and my grandpappy decided that Malcolm Harris shouldn’t have the post office franchise as well as the tavern, so between them they convinced the government to give it to someone else.  As it turned out, Mal was making more from the post office than his tavern, so by taking it away, grandpappy and Fletcher had severely reduced his income.  Things got worse for the Harrises since Malcolm was a gambler who had more money than card sense and eventually he lost the tavern too.  Malcolm claimed that Owen Fletcher and Alexander Talbot had plotted against him just to gain control of the tavern.  It wasn’t true, or so my grandmother always told me, but the Harris family has had no time since for either the Talbots or the Fletchers.  Jack Richards there is a descendant of Malcolm Harris.  That’s why neither of them would even admit you had someone here with you.”  Wally glanced at the clock on the wall.  “I’ve been boring you long enough young lady.  If you’ve a mind, stop by Bert’s once you close this place and I’ll let you buy me another beer while I tell you more about this hellish place.”  And with that, he left.

Sound reasonable?  Let me know.  Thanks,

Cat.

New fiction Yorkland Part 3 Xaja

Yorkland 3
© 2009 gch
Xaja
Almost two centuries have passed since the events in “Partition.” The dissidents have changed their focus from reuniting with Canada to regaining the personal freedoms lost after the Stoney Creek massacre.

Xaja put down her writing instrument and massaged her hand. “I can’t believe people actually used this method to prepare hard copy. I’ve been at it for thirty minutes and all I have to show for cramped fingers is my name. Look!” She picked up the piece of paper and waved in the direction of her brother. “Adon, turn around and see what I’ve done.”

Adon turned the sound down on his terminal and swivelled his chair around. “Hold it still so I can see it.” He saw a piece of paper from the printer, blank except for the messy word X A J A printed in the centre. “Not bad, but if you wanted a sign, why not print one up? It’d be faster and, if you don’t mind me saying so, a damn sight neater.” Turning back to his computer, he continued, “Why this sudden interest in that – whatever it’s called?”

“You know I don’t like talking to your back. Turn around, please.” He swung around again, then she continued. “According to something I saw on the computer today, this is how things were printed before computers. It’s called . . . let me think . . . “ she paused. “Let’s see. ‘Handwriting!’ That’s it. And people used it to prepare documents.”

Adon laughed. “Right. Next you’ll be telling me Shakespeare did all his plays that way. Xi, think about it. You just spent half an hour on those four characters. At that rate, old Willie would never have finished one play. Just the title ‘King Gord’ would have taken an hour. Trust me on this sis, William Shakespeare used a word processor.” He laughed again. “One more thing to consider: how else could he have made copies for the actors? You can’t honestly believe they were all done by hand? Sorry sis, whatever you read was wrong.”

Xaja sat, still rubbing her hand. There were times she thought her brother purposely tried to belittle every single thing she tried and she was certain this was one of those times. His logic was flawed. It was common knowledge the first computers didn’t arrive from the Orient until the late eighteenth century. That being the case, it was impossible for Shakespeare to have used one. Nothing else made sense, despite Adon’s comments.

She stated at the page she had laboured over and tried to imagine a world without computers; a world where all documents were prepared by hand. How would such a world function? First, a logical assumption would be than not everyone had mastered the art of handwriting. There obviously would be specialists in the field, just as there were specialists now. More than likely, people would visit this “writer” and dictate their message to a disc recorder. They would then return later for the hard copy. Yes, that made sense. The longer she considered it, the more sense it made. These professionals would do the actual handwriting, while other people carried on in their own areas of expertise. After all, there was a university degree called “Doctor of Letters.” It was mostly honorary now, but at one time it must have been granted to the “writers.” The thought staggered her. These ancients had doctorates to ply their trade and here she had been thinking it would be easy.

“Hey, Xaja. I found something interesting here about your new hobby. Come see this.”

“Read it to me.”

Adon peered at the screen. “This says that handwriting was first invented in the nineteenth century by somebody named ‘Job’. Hey! Seeing how long you took with just four characters, maybe that’s the origin of the saying ‘the patience of Job’!” He paused and glanced at his sister. Seeing no reaction, he continued. “It says the invention (or discovery) caused a panic among printer manufacturers.”

“Dear Adon. Sometimes you are so gullible. What, are you hooked into some fantasy site? Brother mine, think back to your school history. Job invented the telephone in the late 1600’s.” She shook her head. Adon had always been the one to believe everything he saw on the screen, even if it completely contradicted the previous screen. But this was something special in that he was researching her latest interest rather than laughing at it. She picked up the writing instrument. “According to the antique dealer who sold me this, um, ‘pen,’ handwriting predates computers. He said . . .” Xaja paused as both computers chimed. The screens blinked as their data disappeared and was replaced with an image of the Parliament Buildings, which had the words “Special Bulletin” superimposed.

“Now what?” grumbled Adon. “Did the PM pass gas or something?” As he spoke the image changed to show the minister responsible for the Bureau of Investigative Activities. She looked up from her notes.

“Good evening. This will be a brief statement and there will be a few questions afterward.

“Today, we have decoded the disk found taped to the front doors of Chatham City Hall two days ago. At this time we will not release the contents of that disk. From our inquiries, we have determined this was the action of a single individual. Thank you.”

The reporters gathered before her were silent for a moment, then “Madame Minister, could you perhaps tell us if the disk contained one document or several and, do you have a suspect in mind, and if so, would you tell us the name of this person?”

The minister smiled. “When I said a few questions, I didn’t think they’d all come from one person in one breath. There was one document with a total of ninety-five clauses or demands. An eyewitness has identified one Marter Luthin of Tilbury as the person responsible.

“I think that should answer all your queries. We will issue further bulletins as more information becomes available. Now, good night, ladies and gentlemen of the media.”
The screen went blank.

Xaja stated at Adon. “Marter! What has he gone and done now?”

Adon shook his head. “Who knows Xi. With him it could be just about anything, but from the tone of the announcement it sounds as if he’s stirred up major trouble for all of us this time, although I certainly hope it’s just a case of the government over-reacting.”

Adon turned to his computer and set about surfing the newsnets, searching for more information. His search revealed only that all the private nets as well as the public one, were carrying repeats of the Minister’s brief announcement. Of course, they all had their own tame talking heads attempting to decipher “what it all meant.” That none of them had seen the disk or its contents didn’t matter. They were being paid by the net to sound intelligent and knowledgeable, so they were going to earn their keep.

A little icon in the top corner began flashing. This was tied to an e-mail address that very few people knew of and messages could only be left after the sender entered a special code. Adon suspended his surfing and clicked on the icon. “Xaja, you need to read this as well.”

Xaja turned from her monitor and joined her brother. “Who’s it from?”

Adon looked at the coding at the top. “Wes.”

“What’s he have to say for himself?”

Adon quickly scanned the message before answering. “He says it wasn’t Marter, that Marter was nowhere near Chatham that night. They were both in Toronto. He doesn’t know who did it, but says he’s confirmed the so-called “eyewitnesses” are employed by the Bureau of Investigative Activities. He feels this is a set-up and they’re using it as a pretext to go after Marter.”

Xaja sighed. “Poor Marter. If he’d only learn when to shut up, he could accomplish so much more. But, for some reason he seems to think that by being loud and disruptive, he can effect great changes.

“Hasn’t he learned anything from the past? Didn’t the ill-fated revolt Louis Riel Dumont led have anything to say to him? Did he not scan the history of Yorkland at the time of the Dumont Rebellion and see how thoroughly it was crushed? Or look at the first citizens’ revolt, the Albert Johnston uprising, the one put down by Vanessa Anderson?”

Adon shook his head slowly. “I don’t think Marter is even aware Dumont tried to overthrow the government or that there was a previous attempt. Maybe I should send a link to his website.”

“And how do you plan on doing that without getting caught? By carrier pigeon? Come on Adon, you know how dangerous that would be, especially now that they’re looking for Marter.”

“Xi, Xi, I’m not that stupid. I’m just saying it might be an idea if someone could teach Marter a bit of history. Don’t worry little sister, I won’t do anything foolish.” That last was more a dig at her size than the fact he was the older of the two. She was petite while he towered close to two metres tall. Adon resumed his surfing and Xaja returned to her handwriting, each thinking their own thoughts.

Since the abortive Dumont attempt, Yorkland had increasingly become a police state. Vanessa Anderson’s stated goal of a standing army equal to five percent of the population had long ago been surpassed. Adon and his sister were involved with – in fact were the actual leaders of – a group dedicated to restoring the personal freedoms enjoyed prior to the appearance on the scene of one Louis Riel Dumont. Both siblings were aware that Marter Luthin was a loose cannon and was advocating another citizen’s revolt, and both were also aware that, especially in view of the restrictions placed upon the citizenry, such armed revolt would meet the same fate as the first two. Their plans were more subtle and of a longer range than a simple uprising.

They were also aware that the second Riel Rebellion had been brought down through the actions of a mole on the central committee. That mole had been their great-grandfather, Paul Milton. Politics being a family heritage, Adon and Xaja worked within the system, near the edge of legality, but strictly within the system. Several decades ago, the government had relaxed some of the restrictions imposed and allowed “free” elections again, although in most ridings, there were few opposition candidates. The only similarity between their plan and that of Louis Riel Dumont was that theirs too depended upon an election being called. The group headed by the brother and sister team wasn’t concentrated in Toronto, but was spread out across all of Yorkland. It, unlike the Dumont cabal, was overt rather than covert.

The siblings were able to function openly because they had registered as a political party, which they called the New Freedom Party. At the moment, neither was head of that party, but were listed in the documents as members of the executive committee. This is why their final success or failure depended upon an election being called.

Finally, the government did call an election. The polls, rigged of course, showed the government had an approval rating of over sixty percent, so there appeared to be no danger of losing power. This was the moment the group had been waiting for. The day following the dropping of the writ, the head of the NFP resigned and named Xaja leader pro tem and the executive committee very quickly made that permanent.

One reason the government had run without opposition was their use of strong-arm tactics. Opposing candidates were bullied or frightened into withdrawing from the race. On some occasions, particularly stubborn candidates met with unfortunate accidents. As much as they were reluctant to do so, after losing several candidates to fatal incidents, such as brake failure on winding roads, Xaja and Adon agreed they would have to adapt the same tactics if they were to stand any chance at all in the upcoming election.

The campaign was more a verbal donnybrook than reasoned and impassioned rhetoric. The candidates for the governing party, rather than tell the people what they would do, spent most of their time smearing the New Freedom Party candidates. While the NFP candidates for the most part stuck with the party platform, rather than retaliate directly, there were allusions to the past performance and heavy-handedness of their worthy opponent and the party they chose to represent.

For most voters, the campaign couldn’t end soon enough. While they were interested in what the New Freedom Party had to say, they couldn’t take the mudslinging from the ruling party, not could they take the intimidation factor.

Political gatherings, as with churches, had been excluded from the ban on assemblies, but were monitored closely. All-candidate meetings often consisted of the government candidate, the NFP candidate, loyal supporters of the government, the family and close friends of the NFP candidate and a dozen or so soldiers around the assemblage. Cowed by the presence of the military, those few ordinary voters who did venture in usually remained silent.

Among the supporters of the NFP were some members of the military. These came from all ranks and had formed a loose association. When the election was called, they were aware that, should the NFP actually win a majority, they may have to take quick action to prevent the newly defeated government attempting to stage a coup. Consequently they had made plans that those they considered loyal to the NFP, or to Xaja herself, would be not only on base, but armed, on election day.

The day of the election was bright and sunny, belying the tension felt by the citizens of Yorkland. The media, who had been keeping track of the campaign, were saying this could be the most important election in the short history of Yorkland. At the polling stations, the government’s intimidation continued, with armed soldiers being very visible at the entrances. There were few incidents, although several people were hustled off in custody before they had a chance to cast their ballot. A reporter on the scene noted that those who were detained all wore campaign buttons from the NFP candidate in that particular riding, but wisely did not include that fact in his report.

Yorkland, because of it’s size, was all in one time zone, so all the polls closed at the same time, therefore the results began flowing very soon after that hour. Initial results showed the government would retain its hold on power. The major media outlets, never willing to bite the hand that feeds them, or in this case allowed them to exist, were quick to declare the government had won the election. Thirty minutes later the talking heads and pundits were scrambling to explain the sudden surge in votes for the NFP and the fact they appeared to have taken several key ridings. Many variations of “it’s not over until it’s over” were heard through the media over the next hour or so, as the NFP collected riding after riding.

Keeping tabs on the election results, the ranking officer of the NFP cabal in the military mobilized his men, ordering them to keep the commanding officers of their respective bases under close confinement. This resulted in several irate colonels yelling at lower ranks when orders to stand down were refused. It also brought a few surprises when the base commander revealed that he too supported the NFP and would cause no problems for the other supporters.

As had been expected, when the Prime Minister learned that not only was his party being soundly trounced by this upstart New Freedom Party, but that he’d lost his own seat to the NFP candidate, he called the man who had been his Minister of Defence, only to learn that person had also lost his seat.

The PM’s next call was to the Army Chief of Staff, General Walters. This worthy was sitting in his study listening to the election results and working on his computer when the telephone rang. He answered it to hear the Prime Minister’s panicked voice.

“General Walters! Have you been watching the election results? We can’t let this happen! We can’t lose power! Order your troops into the streets. I want the NFP ground into dust by morning. I want Xaja Milton in chains at my door by dawn!”

General Walters saved what he’d typed and turned his full attention to the former Prime Minister. “I’m sorry sir, but you are no longer the head of government according to the will of the people. Therefore you have no right to order me to do anything.” General Walters lived in the riding Xaja had contested and had in fact voted for her with a smile on his face.

General Walters had received his officer’s training at Sandhurst in England and had always disliked the way the government had used and abused what he called “his men” to maintain an iron grip on Yorkland. He couldn’t see staging a coup, which some of his junior officers had proposed on more than one occasion, but now that a truly free and honest election had ousted the regime, he was damned if he’d help it maintain power illegally. “It appears that Xaja Milton is, or will be in a few hours, the new Prime Minister of Yorkland, so I will wait and see what orders, if any, she has for me. Now, good night sir.” He hung up and returned to the monitor screen, quietly reading what he’d written.

Effective immediately, 2200 hours on this date, I order all members of the Armed Forces of Yorkland to stand down. Under no circumstances is any person of any rank to accept an order from a member or former member of the just defeated government.

As the people have chosen to elect a majority of members of the New Freedom Party, the loyalty of the Armed Forces will be to Yorkland, the Armed Forces, and the New Freedom Party.

Failure to obey this directive will be considered grounds for court-martial.

Nodding and smiling to himself, he clicked on “send” and all base commanders, as well as certain members of the cabal who’d been sent blind copies, received their instructions.

The people had also been following the election reportage with more than great interest. Once it became clear that the NFP had defeated the government, they congregated in the streets, ignoring the soldiers on patrol. The soldiers themselves, having been made aware of General Walters’s directive, in turn ignored the gathering masses, and in some cases joined them. The civilian police, reasoning that they would be unable to control these crowds without help from the army, which they could see wasn’t going to happen, contented themselves with watching and directing traffic around the mobs.

Those people who lived in Toronto gathered, not on the streets, but on the south lawn of Queen’s Park. As with those in other cities, they were peaceful, just revelling in the fact they could congregate without the soldiers disrupting or arresting them. The police on duty, after an initial slight panic over the gathering mob, resumed their normal task of guarding the entrance.

In two campaign offices, the reactions to the media coverage of this gathering were completely different. In the office of the now former Prime Minister, he was shouting “Why aren’t the police or army breaking up this demonstration? Why are they gathering at Queen’s Park anyway? That ground has been forbidden to them!” He reached for the telephone and called the Chief of Staff again. General Walters answered, heard the voice screaming at him, and hung up silently. Understanding at last that he had lost the backing of the army, and thereby his means of controlling the people, the Prime Minister accepted defeat and reached for the telephone once more. “Get me Xaja Milton.”

In Xaja’s campaign headquarters she, along with her brother and her workers and supporters were overwhelmed by the show of support and quicky decided to make an appearance. Contacting various people, they made their way in a small motorcade to Queen’s Park.

The arrival of the motorcade didn’t attract much attention from the gathered throngs until Xaja stepped out of one of the vehicles. Immediately the quiet was broken as, with one voice, the crowd shouted out her name. While they had been in transit, Xaja had accepted a call from the former Prime Minister acknowledging his loss – ungraciously, but he acknowledged it – and wishing her well.

Making her way to the steps of the legislature, Xaja waited patiently until the crowd grew quieter. One of the officers on guard duty appeared carrying a microphone for her. She accepted the offered device and thanked the officer with a smile. Turning to the crowd, she was silent for a moment, then:

“Thank you all for your support tonight. While I was on my way here, the former Prime Minister called to wish me well as I embark on my new journey.” She turned to look at the people gathered behind her on the steps. “Let me introduce to you some of these people up here with me, for some of them will play a role in how Yorkland proceeds from here.” As she called each name, the party named stepped forward. Finally, there were only two people left. “Next is my brother Adon, without who’s encouragement I couldn’t have made it this far. And finally, we have the Governor-General, who has graciously agreed to administer the Oath of Office on short notice.”

Xaja handed the microphone to the Queen’s representative and stood back while that lady stepped to the edge of the top step. “Thank you. While it is unusual for a successful party leader to be sworn in on the same night they were elected, it is not unprecedented. I won’t bore you with the historical incidents where this has happened before rather, since I can sense you’re in no mood for rhetoric, I’ll just get on with it.”

With those words, Xaja came forward once more, this time to take the oath of office, then began her inauguration speech:

“Good evening. My name is Xaja Anna Monoghan Milton. My great, great grandmother was Anna Milton, one of the architects of Yorkland. Tonight, almost two centuries after she and Vanessa Anderson started this great country on its path, we are once again at a point where Yorkland needs new direction.

“The New Freedom Party made many promises during this campaign and it gives me great pleasure to act on the first of those promises tonight. As of midnight, the imposition of the National Security and Anti-Terrorism Act, under which we’ve lived for the past one hundred and fifty years, will be repealed.”

Anything else Xaja might have had to say was lost to the roar of the crowd as the import of her words sunk in to the watchers. Thirty minutes later, once the applause and cheers had subsided, she continued “This does not mean a suspension of all laws. It means that those restrictions on assembly; on freedom of expression, and the other limitations imposed by that act will no longer be in effect. If you’re drunk in a public place, you can still expect to sober up in jail.” The crowd roared with laughter at this. “All the civil laws are still in place and will be enforced. So behave yourselves accordingly.” She paused again, surveying the crowd, then

“Since I can tell you’re all in the mood for a party, I’ll stop now. The Speech from the Throne to be delivered next week will contain more details on what the New Freedom Party plans.

“Once again, thank you all for your love and support, and Long Live Yorkland!”

The media covering this event turned off their audio equipment lest it be destroyed by the sheer volume of sound from the crowd.

Later, in their apartment, a very exhausted brother and sister watched the replays. “I can’t believe we actually did it Adon. I can’t believe we got rid of that dictator.”

Adon watched the screen. “Don’t be too sure he’s gone for good Xi. Rats like that have a habit of turning up where and when you least expect them.”
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