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Pierre van Rooyen

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Ten year old girl confronts African lion and lives.

The children giggle as they stalk through the tall grass of the African
bush. Five Masai boys and a European girl. At ten years of age, she
is a year older than her playmates. She has plastered her face and
arms with mud from the river so as not to attract attention from the
village elders.

Out of sight of their parents, the boys painted their faces like Masai
warriors. They wear the red shuka of their tribe. The girl is cloaked
in red cotton too. She blends with her African playmates.

Each child wields a five foot spear. A mahogany shaft tipped with a honed, leaf-shaped steel blade. Strapped to their left arms, they bear
water-buffalo-hide shields. They are playing at an imaginary hunt.

The mark of a Masai warrior is to kill an African lion with nothing more than spear and shield. Then he may choose the girl of his dreams and wear the lion’s mane on his head.

Ceremonial headgear for children are stuffed birds they have downed in flight. This gang of adventurers sport tail feathers in their hair. They wander along a game path far from the village.

Padding down the trail toward them is a young male lion. The carnivore comes across the playmates barring his path and bristles.

The children drop to their knees as they have seen adult warriors do.
They slant their spears at the lion, planting the shafts in the earth
so if the lion pounces he might impale himself. They kneel shoulder
to shoulder, angling their spears forward, clutching their shields to
their bodies.

The lion snarls a warning. He grunts and paces forward. Then to break their courage and scatter them, he feints. He could claw their
throats in seconds. Growling and swishing his tail, he advances on
the little warriors.

But the children don’t scatter. One stands to face the king of beasts. It
is the ten year old girl. She confronts the big cat with her eyes.

Lo murrani, Supa. We greet you. We children are the bright moon. Do not make our mothers cry.’

The lion fixes his eyes on her and twitches his tail. He is about to

You may be fierce, Mr Lion, but we can be fierce too if you make us.
Beware our spears, we have polished the blades with pig fat. Do you
want pig fat in your chest? We are warriors, protectors of our

The lion bares his fangs. A rumble erupts through his throat.

Enkai our god is watching you, oh lion. Beware for Enkai has two faces, a black one and a red one. Do not enrage the red face.’

The lion’s claws are out and he paws the air at her.

Stop complaining, Mr Lion. An elephant does not tire of his tusks. Go home to your wife. Na kitok Takuenya to missus lion. She awaits you.

Tell her you have spared Angelina Freyer, daughter of Tom and Daisy Freyer. Spare these Masai friends of mine too, oh great one.’

The lion grumbles.

Sere mister lion, sere to you … ashe naleng … goodbye. You must go
now. We mean you no harm.’

The five boys kneeling with their spears and shields alongside her, gape  as the animal switches his tail and grunts before turning aside and padding away through the grass.

One of them has voided his bowels.

The story about the lion is true. Although Daisy and I didn’t hear it in
the first instance from our daughter Angelina. Apparently she and the other youngsters returned along the game trail, constantly in
rearguard readiness in case the lion followed them.

In sight of the Masai village and the farm where I was employed,
Angelina returned her spear, shield and red shuka cloak to her
playmates although she kept the birds’ tail feathers in her hair. She
rinsed the mud from her face and arms and donned her dungarees. Then, without a word to us, she crept into the farmhouse and went to read a book in her room.

‘Angelina’s acting funny, don’t you think?’ Daisy queried that night after our daughter had gone to sleep. ‘She’s so quiet, as if she’s in shock.’

I chuckled. ‘Probably fell out of a tree into the pigsty. Too
embarrassed to tell us about it.’

‘Perhaps you’re right, Tom. I washed her back in the bath tonight and she did have grime engrained in the nape of her neck. Had to scrub it out amid her protests.’

The story came out two days later, related by the Swahili woman who ran the farm kitchen. When questioned by his mother, one of the nine year old Masai boys broke down in tears and confessed everything. Apparently he had been so traumatised by the incident, his nightmares kept his father awake and his mother was instructed to find out what the problem was.

Daisy gazed at me and I glanced at her. I believed the story. She couldn’t conceive of a ten year old facing down a lion.

‘Tom, do you think it’s possible?’

‘Let’s find out, dear. With that lass, everything is possible.’

I led her into Angelina’s room where our daughter had her head stuck in another book.

‘Gogga?’ This is her nickname. It is Khoisan or Bushman for bug, or as I tease our daughter, Little Nuisance.

‘That’s me, Dad.’

‘What’s this we hear about a stand-off between you and a lion?’

‘Where d’you hear that?’

‘C’mon Angie, the whole of Kenya is talking about it.’

‘Well, I sorta had to outfox him before he lost his marbles. There were five little Masai kids with me. Okay? I couldn’t let Mr Lion have his way with them, could I?’

‘No, but Gogga you are only ten.’

‘Yeah, but Dad this lion was young, he was only two.’

‘My God, Angie, two is just about full grown. He could have broken your neck with a swipe of his paw.’

‘Gotcha, Dad. But it was sort of mind over matter. Right? I stood to face him and glared at him without blinking. That sure bamboozled him.’

‘And the Masai children?’

‘Oh, they were good, Dad. They crouched around me, spear shafts planted in the ground, blades pointed at him, shields protecting us.’

‘Oh Angie, darling,’ Daisy murmured. ‘You could have been killed, my angel.’

Angelina rolled her eyes.

‘We were mucho ready for him, Momma. But I told him a story, that he should leave us alone. If he started something, he’d have pig fat in
his chest.’

‘So he went away as simple as that?’ I queried.

‘Not exactly. He sort of came at us four or five times swishing his tail,
but I wouldn’t take my eyes off him. That’s the best way to outfox
him, Dad, other than use my spear. See? But it was my talking that
made him uneasy and he eventually took a powder.’

I couldn’t help myself from chuckling at her audacity. ‘Gogga, we love you and I reckon you tweaked his tail, but please don’t do it again.’


Ha, ha. Angelina is the girl who tweaked two lions’ tails. Many Good
Reads, Smashwords and Amazon comments on this 380 page novel.
Especially from women readers.

‘… I loved this book … I was hanging onto the edge of my seat … this is a riveting story that kept me awake late at night … could be
made into a blockbuster movie … a wonderful African story … I was
thoroughly hooked … a delight that will be loved by all … I
hurried anxiously from one page to the next … an enjoyable read
with lots of charm and surprises … an absolute page-turner …  a
magical story … this is a wonderful story, I could not put it down
… it kept me on my feet the whole time … a tight enthralling
story … would make an exciting movie …’

(In the first four months I published The Girl Who Tweaked Two Lions’ Tails on Smashwords, readers awarded it 119 Likes, ranking it among the top eight most liked novels on Smashwords. But Amazon made me take it off Smashwords when I applied for Kindle Select, and those Likes were lost. Boo-hoo.)

Back on Smashwords at 99 cents.

Smashwords offer nine alternative types of download, including PDF straight to computer.

Amazon charges 99 cents in the developed world, but they add $2,00 for ‘far-off’ places like Africa, I suppose because downloading costs
them more.




Lauren Beukes: At the forefront of the global invasion.

Anchored here in the Malacca Straits, working through a modum connected to my note-book, and a shore-based cellphone tower, I came across this snazzy article.

Good words about Lauren and her on-going work … and bad words about the intolerable violence against women.

Written by Ashraf Jamal, it appears in the Arts & Culture pages of the Mail & Guardian dated March 1.

Nice work, all.

I don’t have an appropriate pic, but here’s a Rafflesia flower for everybody. It blooms only for a day or two, measures one metre across, and the pic was taken in the mountains of Borneo. Have fun.

Twelve days and nights at sea in a small boat.

We have a friendly orangutan on board named Thaba Nchu. He is only a stuffed toy although a large one.

Caption to pic: Faith’s hand-drawn chart of Salamon Atoll. More info about this coral strewn lagoon below.

A funny thing about Thaba Nchu is the despondent look on his face.
Faith and I tease that he got that look on his face when he heard we
had to beat (sail against the wind) a thousand miles from Seychelles
to Chagos.

The trouble with crossing oceans is that they are miles deep and one
cannot anchor.  So you keep sailing day and night. With only husband and wife on board, this plays havoc with sleep patterns and neither one gets more than three hours sleep at any one time.

It took us twelve days and Thaba Nchu’s face got longer and longer.

In going to weather, we have to trim the sails and steer the boat
perfectly so as to sail as close to the wind as possible. And every
time the wind heads us off our course, we have to go about onto the
other tack to get back on course again. For a thousand miles, day and

And of course night-time squalls bring thirty knot winds and downpours of rain. Lots of fun for whoever is down below being called up on deck at two a.m. to help reef the sails.

Sometimes conditions are too rough to cook even though we have a gimballed stove. When we hit a wave, pots and pans go flying around the cabin. More than once, we have opened a tin of baked beans, shoved a teaspoon in and passed ‘dinner’ to and fro between us. Lots of fun.

Our last night approaching Salamon Atoll in the Chagos Archipelago was miserable. Squalls right on the nose, Senta down to 50% sail area,
beating into the rain at three o’clock in the morning, lightning all
about us illuminating palm trees on the atoll ten miles ahead.

But sailing at five knots, ten miles took us two hours until around five a.m. with only a mile to go, we hove to as we could only enter the atoll in strong sunlight.

Salamon Atoll (see chart above) measures five miles by two, is twenty to forty metres deep, and strewn with coral heads. More than one yacht has been wrecked there. We know of three. Depths in the pass range from only two to seven metres, so you must navigate through the pass to avoid running aground.

We cannot handle the weight of more than twenty metres of anchor chain, so we look for ‘shallow’ places to anchor (usually at our twenty
metre limit) and as far away from coral heads as possible. We deploy
two anchors on sixty metres of chain. It is a helluva job for Faith
and me to get this ground tackle up again, but it does allow us to
sleep at night. Only occasionally, if there is a fierce squall, do we
sit anchor watch.

The link below takes you to Faith’s diary of what happened on passage and which other yachts we met in the atoll.



935 page, colour illustrated adventure-travel book giveaway.

For 24 hours, on Sunday 24 February, Amazon will be making downloading of this book free of charge.

As there are hundreds of colour photographs and illustrations, it may be an idea to download this fun read-and-look-see tome onto a computer or i-pad. Amazon does supply free of charge, reading software for use on personal computers, Mac, I-pod, I-pad and smart phones.

Just click on the link below for more information.

Travel is by sailing boat and countries visited include Borneo, Philippines, Brunei, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the Chagos Archipelago (British Indian Ocean Territories), Seychelles,
Madagascar, Mayotte, Kenya and Tanzania.

There are some funny scenes in this book. Like when we anchored near Labuan Island in the South China Sea to swim under the boat and scrape off barnacles. And a sea-snake came to see what we were doing.

I was underwater and it passed six inches above my face. Had I surfaced then, it would have been high-and-dry draped around my head. But I couldn’t hold my breath forever.

When I came up for air, the snake and I were at eye level with each other. Much panic. To protect my eyes, I looked away and called to Faith on the other side of the hull that there was a snake in the water and she should get up the boarding ladder. More panic.

My movement gave the snake a fright and he and Faith passed each other going in opposite directions, she going for the boarding ladder and he getting away from me.

But the snake would not leave the vicinity of the rudder. We had to both climb on board, weigh anchor and motor around in circles before he swam away. Then we re-anchored, dived overboard again and carried on working under the hull.

As Amazon is in Seattle and works to Pacific Standard Time, the 24 hour promotion starts at different times around the world.

USA west coast, approximately half an hour after midnight Saturday
night/Sunday morning onwards.

USA east coast, about 0330 Sunday morning onwards.

United Kingdom, around 0830 Sunday morning onwards.

Africa and Europe, around 1030 Sunday morning onwards.

Australia, around 1730 Sunday afternoon onwards.

Sailing to Seychelles. Breaking seas down the main-hatch. Ugh.

This was the second time Faith and I took the boat to sea. We had already sailed her to Kenya and back. Now after six months of work and preparations at the Zululand Yacht Club, we were aiming to cross the Indian Ocean.

The first thing that happened was that we got a wave down the main hatch. And we were barely fifteen miles offshore. Two days later, running before a forty knot gale between Mocambique and Madagascar, another wave, travelling faster than we were, broke over the cockpit and landed in our best sleeping berth. Such is life, tee-hee.

It took us fifteen days to reach Nosi Be in north western Madagascar. And there, at anchor, we spent a week rinsing the inside of Senta with fresh water to get rid of sea salt. But it was worth it.

Caption to pic:  Supper. Faith caught this tuna on a hand line and lure trailing behind the boat somewhere in the Seychelles.

Here’s the rest of the story plus photographs taken from her diary.—Seychelles


Zanzibar, Tanga, Mombassa, Kilifi by sailing boat.

Faith and I decided not to go into Dar Es Salaam as we feared the boat would be looted, so chose the small dhow port of Tanga instead.

From there, we sailed to Mombassa where an immigration official made me wait three hours before checking us in. Apparently he wanted a bribe and I didn’t understand his hints. A health official had already taken us for the equivalent of thirty rand and gave me all sorts of excuses when I queried him.

Finding a pass in the offshore reefs of Kenya proved a headache. Our chart was small-scale and did not show the Kilifi pass. Also, we were
blinded by the late afternoon sun, the markers on the shore were a
mile away and too small to see with the naked eye.

From a pilot book, we knew what the pass latitude was. So Faith crouched on the foredeck with our binoculars trying to keep the markers in line, while I sailed us toward the reef, trying to keep us exactly on the latitude.

But the East African current was sweeping us northwards, so we crabbed in sideways under sail, me screaming my head off at the rapidly shoaling water (from over a hundred metres to only seven) and Faith urging me to keep aiming at a pass I could not see. Ha,ha, we made it.

Kilifi is quite a hideaway. One reaches an outside lagoon from the sea. Not so easy as large offshore reefs ptotect the lagoon and one has to look for the pass. All under sail. But then there is an inner creek
behind the sea-front which is all ‘inland’.

We anchored in the creek for a month and on the way back to South
Africa, spent a couple of weeks exploring the Mafia Islands which lie
south of Zanzibar, offshore of the Rufiji River delta.

Wilbur Smith’s Shout at the Devil took place on the Rufiji.

From there, it was a ten day-and-night sail to South Africa. Just us two kids on board swapping three hour watches day and night. Wow, is that tiring.

This is the link to Faith’s diary.


Madagascar to Zanzibar. Diary of a woman skipper.

More adventures and pics from Faith’s diary.

We get better performance from the boat with Faith skippering and me crewing. That’s how we won many races at Hartebeespoort and the Vaal Dam, piquing one or two male skippers.

This is the link to Faith’s diary.

Just one of the many dhows we sailed with in East Africa and Madagascar. They are very fast and we had a hard time catching and racing them. Often, we lost.

Have fun,


(Ha, ha. Returned to the hospital in George Town, Penang last week, for an MRI scan on what happened to the tumour. The radiation burnt it. Only scar tissue there now. So as good as new until next time. In the meantime, bought myself a racing bicycle, so I’ll probably break my neck on that. Lotsa fun.)


South Africa to Madagascar under sail. Just us two kids.

Quite a few photographs here. This is Faith’s diary of one of our early
voyages. Ha, ha, in the town of Tulear, an arrogant official
threatened us with, ‘La grande penalty.’ Did he mean the guillotine?


This shot was taken on our return. Probably off  St Lucia.

Faith and I had been up the whole night approaching South Africa, racing to get into Richards Bay before a south westerly gale coming up the coast from Cape Town made things very wet. The boat can become a submarine when it wants to, leaving two drowned rats in the cockpit to struggle on.


Putting a novel together and discovering I can’t write.

Don’t laugh. This actually happened …


                                       I shoulda gorn fishin’.



(Circa twenty years ago.)  I’m thinking aloud. I can’t write.
Inspiration comes from writing. The more I write, whether good or
bad, the more I can write and the greater the chance will be that a
few more good parts appear on the page. And there’ll be a few more
good moments and a few less bad times, when what comes out is garbage.


My working title is The Survivors. I might fail at being one.


How do I know what is good? Only by writing, rewriting, editing, tweaking and polishing. Ripping apart what I have put down and rewriting two, three, four, or five times. I haven’t yet learned the value of an economy of words. In my second novel, I once wrote a particular paragraph fifteen different ways before I got it right. If I was so ruthlessly critical of anyone else, they would be indignant.


Good judgement comes from experience. Ha, ha, experience comes from bad judgement. I have to journey many wrong roads to work out which is the right route. I never know if what I put down is good. But I surely know when it’s bad.  I have such wonderful visions in my head and utter rubbish on the page.


Why am I so bad? Why can’t I do it? Struggle on and on. It will get
better. I want to cry, I am so depressed. I’m attempting to put the
image I have for my first novel down on paper. It doesn’t work. I
labour every Saturday, Sunday, public holiday, weekend, and annual
leave. All work, work, work. On weekdays, I try to hold down a job.


I’m so humiliated, I see myself standing only half an inch tall.
Everybody, except me, out there having fun. All I do is write, write,
write. I am driven. But I’m also bleeding. Sometimes I could weep.


The first chapters are so ludicrously stupid, I throw the first draft
away. I start again. Better, but still not readable. At least, there
is continuity. I work halfway through the second draft and don’t
like it. It’s not good enough. I despair.


There is another level somewhere up beyond my reach, I have managed to glimpse. So I grasp the fringe and start again, this time from the end of the novel, working forward. To get the final chapter rolling, I write the last paragraph of the penultimate chapter which becomes the springboard for the final chapter.


Then, in order to start the penultimate chapter, I write the last paragraph of the chapter before that. And that becomes the jumping off point for the penultimate chapter.


And so on, working from the end of the manuscript forward. Always writing the last para of the previous chapter (which hasn’t been written yet) to launch the chapter waiting to be written. Crazy.


I have to keep my cool. I have now been working for two years. When I reach the chapters in the first half of the manuscript, they don’t tie up with my new vision which I am putting down backwards. So I have to rewrite them too. Finally, I finish the first chapter for the third time.


Delete  every third word.


I do a bit of cleaning up and send the manuscript overseas. They are
kind in their rejections (they hate first novels because they usually
lose money on them). They offer to send it to someone else.


Six months later, I get a letter from an agent. The manuscript is
promising but grossly overwritten. Much of the description is
flowery. Cut it back by thirty five percent (from 120 000 to 80 000
words). I could vomit. I have to remove every third word. They might have another look at it.


Back to the grindstone. I’m buoyed up by the agent’s interest, but
shattered at the criticism. It takes me three months to edit. Now,
I’m working every night too. Seventy hours a week, forty at a job,
thirty, writing. Am I the only one who’s crazy, or are we all like


The agent in London says not bad, leave it with him to try and sell.
Thirteen publishers turn him down. It takes over a year. To get a
reaction to the first version, took six months. I have been writing
for three years and trying to get it accepted for eighteen months.
Four and a half years altogether.


I attempt a second novel, Rufiji, but the experience is worse than the
first project. An incredible mess. I rewrite it twice before putting
it away, and start a third manuscript. The agent sells my first novel
and I now start working with the publisher. All sorts of queries and
changes. Eight months later, I check the proofs. It takes three days
over a long weekend.


The publisher advances me a few thousand pounds sterling. I amaze myself. I need the money, but don’t take a cent for myself. I spend the entire sum on sending a young black friend to the Eshowe teachers training college.


Themba Nguni becomes a high school teacher and subsequently uses his salary to put himself through Unisa in Pretoria, the biggest university in the world, I hear. Something like 250 000 students.


He majors in maths and science. I am thrilled at our synergy. Themba
adopts me as his father and I adopt him as my son. He becomes a
character in my third novel. I need the raw material.


I cannot write in this universe.


My first novel, published in hardback, UK and Commonwealth, gets good reviews, both overseas and in SA. Except for some self appointed critic of literature at a local newspaper who maliciously tells readers the novel’s not worth reading and the author’s no good.


Strange. Those who struggle to get somewhere are put down by those who don’t even try.


Her name is Somebody von Biljon. I send her a jar of hair remover for her upper lip and phone her up and ask her if she looks like her name sounds. Only kidding, tee-hee.


But I use this incident in my third novel. It might be called The Street
Urchins, or The Little Girl in the Fig Tree, something like that. I
have to sell it first, otherwise it won’t be called anything.


I cannot write in this universe. To stare at a blank page is not on. I
have to fantasize, to day-dream, meditate, transcend. I have to
escape down a rabbit warren like Alice in Wonderland and come out in another world where I’m free.


To run around and take to the air like a bird. To be bizarre and nobody knows I’m doing it. Scientists talk about Worm Holes and Einstein Bridges allowing humans to cross space-time from one universe to another. I am definitely in another universe when I write.


Neil Diamond sings about transcending so he can dream.   Richard Bach is in another universe when he creates Jonathon Livingstone Seagull, Biplane, Illusions, Bridge Forever and other novellas that sell so well. When I read his books, I am so enchanted that my eyes fill with tears.


John Steinbeck wrote Tortilla Flat, incredibly funny. He was not in this world when he dreamed it. Steinbeck wrote in school exercise books, using pencils. Each morning, he would sit at his desk for half an hour or so, fantasizing, meditating, while sharpening his pencils.


About twenty which he kept in a mug. And scribbling notes on the left hand page to his agent about where he would take the story that day. Read his field notes,  ‘Journal of a Novel’. A wonderful experience. And much to learn.


As he dreamed himself into his novel, he began writing on the right hand page. Eight or ten hours later, he  surfaced from his daydream, his pencils blunt and he, burnt out from writing until the next day. He didn’t consciously write, but described what he saw and heard in
his head.


The first draft of a full length novel like East of Eden took ten months. Then he’d work through the manuscript again, removing adjectives and adverbs and substituting with the appropriate noun or verb. He transposed chapters, paragraphs and sentences. A lot of careful work which took another year.


The video inside our heads.


To get the fourth draft of my first novel going, I buy a pair of
industrial earmuffs at a hardware store. I sit at a folding table,
wearing the earmuffs and start to daydream. I visualize the scene I
want to write. Slowly, I slip through the rabbit hole.


My fantasy comes to life and I watch it in fascination. The video in my head. I run it forward to past what I need, so I can see what happens next. Then I backtrack so I know what has happened before the scene I am about to paint.


I run the film in slow motion. I want to know what my senses are
picking up:  sight, smell, touch, sound, taste. And what might be in
the reader’s peripheral vision, or sounds in the distance. I also
allow myself to embrace an emotional feeling. Writing must come from the heart and not the head.


Watching the video, I become a railway engineer pioneering the route (plot) where I think the tracks should be laid. I walk the whole route, seeing how I will bring the tracks through the hills, where the
cuttings will be, what the passengers (readers) will feel when they
travel this route. Or should I use another route?


Feeling (the emotional experience) is critically important. I must have an idea of where the train (the story) will slow down and where it goes fast on the descents.


I am gone, no longer of this world. I retrace my steps to where I
started. Then, watching the video … no, when living the film, I let
it start running. My fingers on the keyboard, tell me what is
happening and what the characters are saying. Words start appearing on the screen.


But this is weird. Sometimes, I can’t believe what is going down on the page. It appears so fast, I can’t keep up. It is so good, it is
certainly not me writing it. I don’t know where it comes from, but
it is not my work. I have not thought those words, but there they are
appearing in front of me. This is not the norm, but it does often


With my early writing, the phenomenon still new to me, I sense someone is standing behind my right shoulder, thinking the words that are going down on the page. I glance over my shoulder to see who it is, but there is no one there.


In his Journal of a Novel, Steinbeck talks about, ‘Although never
having lost the debilitating ache of clumsiness and inability, I have
sometimes seemingly held fire in my hands and spread the page


Admirable that a great writer like Steinbeck can be so humble.


Why aren’t we writing? Editing? Tweaking? Rewriting?


Just for fun … at the beginning of the twentieth century, an Irish
author was to give a talk about writing a novel. The town hall was
jamb-packed with aspiring writers.


Drunk, the Irishman arrived half an hour late and staggered onto the stage.


How many of you want to be writers?’ he slurred.


They eagerly put their hands up.


Then why in hell aren’t you at home writing?’ he bawled and fell off
the stage.


I smile at that, but it’s the truth about writing, rewriting, editing
and polishing. We just gotta shuddup and do it.


I don’t believe we should talk to anybody about our work. It
weakens our writing. And we should not tell our story orally to
anyone.  It has to come out through our finger tips.


Also the writer shouldn’t narrate what happens in the story. The
characters must earn their keep by driving the story themselves.
Remember Lisa Dolittle to Professor Higgins … ‘Don’t talk to me
of love. Show me.’


I love that scene.


In my opinion, a novel must generate its own momentum. The reader should experience it as if  living it. The author should remain invisible. I attempt this, but don’t know whether I achieve it.


For raw material, I have a notebook and keep it with me day and night. I write down everything unusual, bizarre, fascinating, charming, funny,  horrible, etc, that ever happened to me, friends, relatives … things I have read or heard about: births, sex, accidents, school, travel, the world, suicides, poverty, abuse, car accidents, crimes, deaths, trauma, divorce, practical jokes, infidelity, workmates, childhood, dreams, etc.


This way, we build up a reservoir of raw material that can be turned to our own advantage as if they happened to us or our characters and so fascinate our readers.


Do you remember how Snoopy began his novel? ‘It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out.’ Twelve words. I’ve played a game expressing this in fewer words, without adjectives or adverbs or using Snoopy’s nouns and verbs.


Nice exercise.


Here’s a great scene from a great novel.;_ylt=A0oGkkrcL_JQ_V8AngtXNyoA?p=youtube+paper+moon+movie&fr2=sb-top&fr=yfp-t-621&type_param=





Two fat, green acorns. (This is the best story I have ever heard.)

One morning way back, somewhere around 1906, a little boy strolled with his grandfather through a meadow bordered on one side by a river, and on the other, an avenue of oak trees.


‘Look, Gramps,’ the five year old cried, ‘two acorns in the grass over


He pulled his hand from his grandfather’s, darted to where the acorns lay and returned with the prize clutched in his fist.


‘They’re beautiful aren’t they, Sonny?’ The old man praised. ‘Two fat, green acorns you got there. Are you going to keep them?’


‘For sure, Gramps. I’ll put them in the trophy cabinet in the drawing room with Dad’s sporting trophies. So that’s where my new acorns will live. Now I got trophies too.’


When grandfather and grandson returned to the house, Sonny ran to the trophy cabinet standing adjacent to a window. He opened the door and placed his treasure alongside his father’s trophies … his two fat, green acorns.


‘They do look good in there,’ the old man commented. ‘I have never seen such healthy acorns.’


Then one day when Sonny was at kindergarten, the maid wanted to dust the trophy cabinet. She took the trophies and the little boy’s two acorns out of the cabinet and stood them on the window sill.


While she dusted, she accidentally knocked one of the acorns out the
window. ‘Oh dear,’ she muttered. ‘At least it’s not a trophy. Only an
acorn. I’m not going all the way outside to fetch it back. In any
case, Sonny’s still got one acorn.’


So she replaced only one fat, green acorn in the cabinet.


The poor acorn that had been knocked out of the window suffered a bad time. It fell onto a brick path which cracked it’s outer shell. There
it lay in the dirt, accidentally kicked around by people strolling on
the path.


Then the rains came. They swept the abandoned acorn to the bottom of the garden where no-one would find it. And worse, the run-off gushed it into the river where it became entangled with refuse and debris and found itself washed up in a muddy backwater.


A flood lifted it onto the river bank where children grabbed it to use
as ammunition for their catapults. By the time they discarded it half
a mile away, it was battered and bruised.


Then winter arrived and the acorn lay freezing in the snow.


The following spring, a herd of grazing cows ambled across the meadow. Their hooves trampled the acorn into the ground, splitting its shell further.


Beneath the surface, it put out thread-like roots and when these took hold, a pale shoot searched for the surface. It emerged into the sunshine and slowly changed from pale white to chlorophyll green.


The shoot developed into a slender sapling, but a hooligan, angry with the world and laughing at the destruction he caused, hacked off its leaves with his flick-knife and kicked the main stem, bending and
fracturing the struggling plant which would now grow up ugly and


But the sapling did survive. The years passed and a beautiful oak tree
developed. Admittedly, the trunk was distorted and not as straight as perfect oak trees. But the spread of branches was magnificent.


Birds nested in the safety of the upper boughs. Squirrels found refuge in the tree too and scampered up and down the misshapen trunk.


In the heat of summer, cows grazing in the meadow ambled to their
favourite tree and chewed the cud in its gentle shade. And in sudden
rain storms, the animals sheltered under the protection of the


Butterflies, ladybirds, moths, daddy longlegs, beetles, praying mantises, dragonflies … all survived thanks to the protection of the oak tree.


On Sundays, families brought their picnic baskets and spent leisurely
afternoons under the spreading branches. Children asked their fathers to loop a rope over a lower branch so they could rig an old tyre for a swing. Others played hide-and-seek, making the trunk their refuge.


And in the shade cast by this tree with a misshapen trunk, courting
couples dreamed of the future and how they would conquer the world. And the boy scratched John Loves Mary on the trunk.


Sonny grew too. He was now seventy four years of age and had his own grandchildren.


One Sunday afternoon, having spent the day with his family, the sun now low on the horizon, its rays horizontal and illuminating the
underneath of trees, Sonny strolled back to the house.


As he entered the trophy room, one of the silver cups reflected the
setting sun’s rays. They flashed in the old man’s eyes.


In that instant, he remembered his two fat, green acorns which for
seventy years he had forgotten. He rushed forward, expecting to see
his treasure in the trophy cabinet … his two fat, green acorns.


But all he found was one acorn … an old shrivelled nut which had spent its entire life in the warmth and protection of the cabinet, never
having taken up a challenge, never having struggled, suffered no
failures, never having experienced life and having missed all


And useless to everybody.


Let’s teach our children that life is about falling out of the window.


(Yah, I’ve fallen out of the window many times, usually from somewhere around the twenty second floor.)


Fun caption to pic.


‘Just think, Maud. One day you’ll have a fancy wedding like this.’


‘Uh uh, Graham. Not me. I tell you, when I get big, I’m not gonna fall in love or get married. That’s kids’ stuff.’


‘You’re joking. What’ll you do?’


‘I been thinking about that. I wanta be a real lady. So I’m gonna get me a horse an’ a guitar, and I’ll ride around every day singing Don’t
Fence me In.’


‘Good thinking,’ Amos agreed.


We lounged under the oak tree with our feet in the gutter. Maudie
sighed. Graham skimmed an acorn across the tramlines.


(Page 133)