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Saturday, 4 July 2015

Saturday Story - Word Widower


Nik Morton

“Your pronounciation leaves a lot to be desired, madam,” the interviewer said in a rather curt manner to his subject. The woman looked nonplussed, but not half as bad as I felt.

I was fuming; fortunately we didn’t have any smoke detectors. I turned the television off in haste.

“Dan, why’d you do that?” Sheila demanded from the depths of the sofa. “It was a really interesting interview!”

“Interesting? It was pathetic! He decries the poor woman’s pronunciation yet he can’t even pronounce the word “pronunciation” properly!” Try saying that after a few drinks, I thought.

I threw on my jacket – well, put it on, really. Ever tried throwing on any type of clothing? It goes all over the place.

“Switch on, if you must. The television, not me,” I quipped, trying to defuse my loving spouse’s incipient long silence.

“I’m going down to the pub,” I said. “At least at the local they don’t pretend they can talk properly.”

Those ruby red lips were clamped shut as she pointedly gazed at the blank screen, arms folded. Resolutely staying quiet, Sheila grabbed the remote, jabbed the relevant button and the machine’s single eye glowered accusingly at me.

“Do you want me to bring you back some crisps?” I sallied in an inane attempt at a peace offering.

“Is that potato chips or crisps?” she retorted without looking up,

“Very funny,” I snarled, quite impressed despite myself, and walked out the door.

Her obscure reference alluded to the inventor of crisps, George Crum, an American Indian chef – as opposed to chief. He’d actually been trying to get one over on an obnoxious diner, railway magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, who complained about the undue thickness of his French fries. Crum’s frivolous attempt at extreme thinness backfired and in fact was a hit with the magnate and soon the Saratoga Chips caught on, even if their name didn’t.

Sheila probably got that piece of useless information from the Discovery Channel. If she isn’t watching game shows or soaps, she’s hooked onto educational television. But she never reads a book. Except dictionaries.

Crosswords – and we have plenty from time to time, though we deign to call them “differences of opinion” – word-searches and daily doses of Countdown – when it was being televised – kept Sheila quite content. As long as she had the Big Dictionary within reach. Numbers were another matter entirely. She was no good and marvelled at the Carol Vorderman replacement’s ability. And she always got frustrated over that new craze, sudoku – those Japanese have a lot to answer for – karaoke and sushi, for starters – well, not in the meal sense, thanks very much, as sushi sounds like a raw deal, to say the least.

In every room in our house there are half-read – or is that half-dead? – books, lying face down, spines uppermost, like tents pitched to accommodate all those words. And they’re all dictionaries: foreign words and phrases, allusions, euphemisms, idioms, religious quotations, contemporary quotations, eponyms, slang and proverbs spring to mind, though there are others...

I won’t beat about the bush. I’m attracted to words too, though not as seriously as Sheila. I must confess to having a fondness for the odd idiom or two – or even the plain straightforward normal idioms. Idiotic, I know, but there you are. Certainly, Dr Johnson disparaged their use – “colloquial barbarisms, licentious idioms and irregular combinations” – and I don’t think he was talking about underwear. Not to mince words, I suspect my predilection for idioms indubitably explains why all my short stories get rejected.


The Big Dictionary is seventeen centimetres thick, all 3,333 pages of it. Thumb-indexed and very heavy, it has been in our family since 1935 and has all the names of each relative on the flysheet at the front. You could say that, up to a point, it reveals the etymology of our family as well as that of each word it contains.

            It was love at first sight for Sheila: she fell in love with this book first, then me.

            A thirst for knowledge doesn’t adequately describe her deep and seemingly insatiable urge. She just wants to know everything. And since she has what amounts to a photographic memory for facts –though not numbers, it’s quite possible that one day she will actually achieve her aim. But what can she learn then, when she knows it all?

            Frightening thought, to know everything. They called her a “know-all” at school, but they don’t know the half of it!

            Of course I know that she’ll never know absolutely everything. It isn’t going to happen, because in so many different areas of research they’re discovering new information every day – even new planets.

We’ve known each other six months and been married two of those. Naturally, the only place we could go to for our honeymoon had to be none other than Wordsworth country. As it was a February, while we stayed in Grasmere there wasn’t a daffodil in sight; it seemed like poetic justice to me, though Sheila was a bit peeved. I cheered her up with a visit to the great writer’s home Dove Cottage where William stayed with his sister Dorothy. Strange, the associations you make with names, but I always think of The Wizard of Oz when I hear that name.

Fortunately there were no dictionaries in evidence in the cramped little cottage; I had really feared that Sheila might have attempted to purloin one.

Just like an addict who needed an instant fix, the day after our honeymoon, Sheila started reading the Big Dictionary from the beginning.

It didn’t take long after that for me to realise that I was shaping up into a word widower.

Marriage and in fact any serious endeavour can be a leap in the dark, a leap of faith, if you will, and to begin with I’d faithfully hoped she would turn over a new leaf but the only leaves she turned belonged in dictionaries.


When I returned from the pub, arms brimful with assorted flavoured crisps and a bottle of her favourite stout, Sheila was listening to the television – something about the engineering feats of Isambard Kingdom Brunel – while reading the Zed section of the Big Dictionary.

            This was not good news. I must have blinked for a few days. When had she managed to get so far into the book?

            Once she read about zythum, a drink made in ancient Egypt from fermented malt, she’d be thirsting for a replacement dictionary. And nothing but a new edition would suffice.

            Sadly, Sheila was in for a shock. I’d tried to prepare her more than once, explaining that the family tree had sort of obliterated the date of printing on the flysheet, but she just ignored me and devoured another half-dozen exotic words.

            What do you do with unfamiliar words if you’re not a writer like Anthony Burgess? They might come in useful for the Times Crossword, I suppose, or for showing off in a pub quiz – both of which Sheila has resorted to since she began reading the Big Dictionary.

            But how was I going to tell her that a new dictionary, printed seventy-three years since ours, was going to contain thousands of new words? Indeed, many of those words she’d memorised were either obsolete or had changed their meaning or even been hijacked for politically correct or socio-political purposes...

Scientific discovery alone continually threw up new terminology; many branches of science even had their own lexicons. Modern media dispensed slang and neo-words by the hundred every day, or so it seemed. Jargon was everywhere. The hungry English language simply laps up new words from any and every source and makes them its own.

She closed the big book with about two pages left to read and I breathed a sigh of relief.

“I’m off to get some zeds,” she said. “Let’s eat the crisps in bed, shall we?”

“What about the crumbs?” I countered. She was a stickler for cleanliness though not tidiness.

“Don’t make any,” she suggested sternly.

“Impossible!” I protested cravenly.

“Is that two words?” she teased at the door.

My heart lurched. “You’ve been reading the dictionary of quotations as well, haven’t you?”

Sheila nodded. “Samuel Goldwyn. In two words: im possible.”

“And where are you up to in that book?”

“Francis Bacon.”

“A while to go yet, then?”

“It might take some time, yes,” she replied. “As Bacon said, I have taken on all knowledge to be my province.

“Which dictionary are we reading tonight, by the way?” I asked, ever hopeful.

“Dreams,” she said.


“You’ll have to wait for the next few pages of the Sex Dictionary until you buy me the latest New Oxford English.”

I sighed, crestfallen. “All right,” I said with a sinking heart. “It’s a deal.” Once she got into that tome, with all its new words, I knew full well that she’d have no time for me at all. Yes, word widower summed me up precisely.


Previously published in Pen and Plot Webzine, 2013

Edited by novelist Rosean Mile, Pen and Plot has now been removed from the web

Short stories can contain humour as well as drama. Some of my tales in Spanish Eye contain humour, while others are tragic, dark or poignant.  An assortment of emotions in 22 cases of Leon Cazador, half-English half-Spanish private eye.




Thursday, 2 July 2015

FFB - Silent Wolf

Jake Douglas is a prolific author with several pennames. This one was published in 2008 and starts out slow with cattle spooked by wolves but soon gets going. A cattle herder encounters a man savaged by wolves, his throat almost torn out. The man survives though can hardly speak and adopts the name ‘Silent’. It seems that Silent has mislaid his memory as a result of his ordeal. In repayment for saving his life, Silent cooks for the cowboys – until a couple of gunmen come looking for him.

Silent is slow to rile but fast to settle scores. The sudden gunplay sparks something in Silent’s mind. When his memory begins to return, Silent sets out to discover why he was literally thrown to the wolves. On this journey of self-discovery he meets up with Gail, the sister of the trail sawbones who patched him up. They both find that they’re intent on digging up the truth behind the massacre of a stagecoach’s passengers. Unfortunately, they may end up digging their graves instead…

Fast-paced with plenty of characterisation, with a puzzle at its heart, this is an enjoyable fast read. Silent is a great invention and of necessity speaks volumes without articulating much.

Birthday surprise review!

Posted on Amazon UK on 30 June, my birthday, this is a book review of my novella Bullets for a Ballot (2012); the book was commissioned by Edward A. Grainger (David Cranmer), the creator of the western character Cash Laramie.

‘US Marshal Cash Laramie rides into Bear Pines to help recently bereaved widow Mrs Esther Tolliver run in the local town elections against Mayor Brett Nolan. But Nolan doesn’t have any intention of playing fair in this exciting action packed adventure full of shootouts, double crosses and treachery. Who can Laramie trust in a small town where corruption is rife and bullets are like whispers in the dark?

‘Author Nik Morton skilfully takes the characters created by Edward A Grainger and makes them his own in this gripping western novella.

‘To summarise this is one of the very best Cash Laramie adventures, featuring the welcome reappearance of fellow Marshal Gideon Miles and essential reading for any fans of the series.’

Thank you, Warren Stanley of Bradford, England – who has 180 reviews on Amazon.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Birthday thanks!

I would like to thank all 159 FB friends (family, friends, FB friends, fellow writers, et al) for sending me birthday wishes. This year I thought it only appropriate to thank each one individually, since they have taken the trouble to type in a greeting etc. So, thank you all!

Footnote: if only a quarter of those well-wishers read one of my books (I know, some have read some!), now that would be a wonderful birthday present – not the royalties, just the fact that the books are being read… [We write to be read, not to become rich…]

At my time of life, the gifts are simple, and appreciated: from my wife Jennifer, a CD of the 1965 TV series The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe starring Robert Hoffman as Crusoe and Fabian Canalos as Friday. Music by Robert Mellin and Gian-Piero Reverberi (We already have the B&W DVD). Plus from my daughter Hannah and 6yr-old grandson Darius, a Ravensburger 3D puzzle of Rome’s Colosseum (which Darius is anxious to assist in constructing!)

Our friends from UK, Margaret and Neil (he’s known me since 1959!) were visiting for three weeks and joined us for an evening at Bella Italia (walking distance from home) and enjoyed authentic Italian cooking. Followed by il conto and chilled limoncello.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Normal service will resume in a while...

Sorry there are no new posts, but we have visitors from UK...

Normal service will resume sometime early July!

Friday, 12 June 2015

Three crime titles - killer bargains!

Publisher Crooked Cat is promoting three crime titles this week, beginning today:

... the first in an ongoing popular series

A LIMITED JUSTICE by Catriona King
... the first in a popular series set in Northern Ireland

SPANISH EYE by Nik Morton (who he?)
22 short cases from half-English half-Spanish private eye Leon Cazador, 'in his own wrods'

Monday, 8 June 2015

Writing - 'The pen conveys...'

During my research for Cataclysm (set mostly in China [but also Tenerife, Madrid and Rome]), I discovered a few interesting quotations – none of which I’ve used in the book.

But they may be interesting to readers and writers – or not...

Certainly, the old fellow Anonymous has the most attributed to him; he must have been very busy.


Procrastination is the thief of time – Anonymous

 The cure of ignorance is study, as meat is that of hunger – Anonymous

The difficulty is not in reading books, but in applying the truths to life, and the greatest difficulty is in remembering them – Chang Chao

In making a candle we seek for light; in reading a book we seek for reason: light to illuminate a dark chamber, reason to enlighten a man’s heart – Anonymous

The pen conveys one’s meaning a thousand miles – Anonymous

It is more profitable to reread some old books than to read new ones, just as it is better to repair and add to an old temple than to build an entirely new one – Chang Chao

The benefit of reading varies directly with one’s experience in life. It is like looking at the moon. A young reader may be compared to one seeing the moon through a single crack, a middle-aged reader seems to see it from an enclosed courtyard, and an old man seems to see it from an open terrace, with a complete view of the entire field. – Chang Chao

And… a general quotation:

He who has never tasted the bitterness of life has never known the sweetness of it all – Anonymous



Saturday, 6 June 2015

Blank day, blank page... almost

I had hoped to post another of my previously published short stories, but alas there are not enough hours in today to manage that...

Anyone new arriving at this blog, please search for 'Saturday Story' and you'll find about sixty or so stories to read at your leisure and (hopefully) pleasure...!. 

For regular readers, my apologies!

PS - I'm halfway through a 'final' re-read of my latest manuscript Cataclysm. More of which, anon. (Why is 'final' in quote marks? Because it's never final...)

Hope you have a good weekend!

Friday, 5 June 2015

FFB - Post Mortem

In 1994, when I read this first outing (1990) of Chief Medical Examiner of Richmond, Virginia, Dr Kay Scarpetta, I couldn’t have known that there would be 23 books in the series (and still counting), the latest being Depraved Heart (2015).

Scarpetta is also a lawyer and a consultant for the FBI. The books are littered with all sorts of fascinating behind the scenes forensic activity, anticipating the successful TV series C.S.I. by ten years. So if you’re into such things as analyzing photos, evidence samples, and the study of the time of death, you’ll enjoy a lot of the detail that goes into the development of Scarpetta’s investigations. As the series progresses, Scarpetta builds up a number of intriguing relationships: her niece Lucy, an FBI intern , Benton Wesley a FBI colleague and romantic interest, and Pete Marino a detective, among others.

Post Mortem concerns a serial killer who is on the loose, three women having been brutalised and strangled in their bedrooms, the deaths particularly gruesome. While Detective Marino comes across as a bit of a slob, there grows between him and Scarpetta a mutual respect as they begin to hunt down the killer. The wealth of detail about the pathologist’s research is never heavy-handed, the supplemental characters are interesting, and Scarpetta’s humanity well matches Marino’s cynicism. To compound matters, she has to combat male chauvinism and, worse, somebody has broken into her office computer system and she is being blamed for leaks to the press!

Suspenseful and well written. By now of course Cornwell is a legend among crime writers. This is where it all began.

PS – I never knew she was a descendant of abolitionist and writer Harriet Beecher Stowe (source: Wikipedia).

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Writing - editing - work in progress progresses - 3

Penultimate pass of the text of Cataclysm is done. The word repetitions have been addressed; that took about eight hours, all told. In the same process, of course, text is altered and improved.

a few other repeated words not on yesterday's least:


Two more final read-throughs and doubtless some tweaking...

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Writing - Editing tip - Work in progress progresses – 2

Catalyst - #1 in the 'Avenging Cat' series

It’s that time again. My next novel Cataclysm, #3 in the ‘Avenging Cat’ series, is completed, and the self-edit is ongoing, prior to it being vetted by Jennifer, my wife, before being sent to the publisher, Crooked Cat.

Part of that self-edit process involves tackling word-repetitions. Some are word-echoes, repetitions that occur more than once often in the same page, while others are simply examples of lazy writing that needs livening up.

The repetitions I’ve identified by using the Word search are shown below. I’ve started work on these; some have been reduced in number already (see brackets); be wary of replacing one repetition with another, however!

Smiled – 23 (9)

Nodded – 48 (18)

Laughed – 8 (this is good, I made a conscious effort while writing to avoid using this!) (3)

Grinned – 14 – (not bad, either) (6)

Sighed – 4 (again, I was on the look-out for this so they are few) (3)

Looked – 26 (22)

Moment – 37 (11)

Glanced – 40

Few – 40

Down – 58

Up – 145 (horrendous! Search entails a space in front of and after this word)

Out – 142 (same applies as above…)

Back – 72 (ditto)

Just – 36 (I tried to avoid using this word so much, will definitely excise most)

Called – 34

Saw – 19

Walked – 37

Ran – 32

Pointed – 22

Suddenly – 5 (not bad, but probably too many)

Seemed – 49

Felt – 52

Thought – 49

Though – 30 (I've noticed in other books that sometimes this is used when the writer meant 'thought')

Shrugged – 14 (again, while writing I tried to avoid using this, but it can still be reduced)

Stepped – 46 (surprised at this, but this number will get reduced)

Turned – 75 (far too many!)

Shook – 33

What’s the point of all this?  Often, the repeated word (and its associated phrase) is redundant. And tidying up at this stage can improve the narrative flow.
The above list shows those words I’m familiar with in the repetition stakes; there may be others, of course, and hopefully they will come to light in the final re-read.