An Uphill Struggle

Open Book Cape Town

Session Two of the #Writing My City workshop at Suiderstrand Library.

I was excited and quite optimistic about how it would go, particularly since after the initial struggle of the first session, we had finished up with heads down, writing.

I’d done lots of preparation, including finding what I thought was accessible material for my little group of (principally) Afrikaans-speaking ladies. I had a photo-prompt, some poems to read and a ‘kick-off’ worksheet.

Oh, and I’d brought cake.

Everything was prepared; my laptop was poised ready to play the You Tube clips. Slowly-slowly the group members dragged themselves in. We greeted each other, then they crawled around on the floor finding sockets where they could charge their phones. We assembled around the table with our coffee and biscuits.

We had a little recap. Had anyone continued writing? Just the one willing woman. The one who’s really keen. Okay, that was expected.

So, I explained, I’ve found some Afrikaans poetry, written by a guy from the Cape back in the Days of the Struggle. He’s called Adam Small. It’s good stuff!

O oppas, oppas performed by Veronique Jephtas.
[Now I’d thought it was engaging, even though I understood about one word in ten].

Blank looks all round. I handed out the copies of the poem and tried to get them to translate. A few words were squeezed out. Maybe it was a bit before their time… maybe it wasn’t my place… I don’t know.

So I picked up another of his poems: ‘The Poet, Who is he?‘ Here’s the rough translation:

The poet
Who’s he?
You all have so much to say about the poet
But who’s he?
Is he really what you think?

The guy with the pen and the ink
who sits in his study and thinks out poems?

You’re all mistaken
Not him

But you’re the poets
You, guys who walk in the street
And gossip
And see things
And point them out and let God know

The point being… you are the poets!
Refer back to the success of the rapper. You can do it!

For my final flourish, I played one of Veronique Jephtas’ own pieces of performance poetry. Warning: strong language.

Break through! They enjoyed this. We talked about the role of women, their place in society etc. It was really interesting, but their supervisor from Social Development urged against pursuing their vulnerable feelings. Fair enough. I’d thought of that for Part Two. 

Cake Break

For the second half I used a photo prompt. A recent one from the lovely Hélène Vaillant’s Willow Poetry: ‘What do you see?

000000 helen valliant photo prompt for 13 Many

The little boy hiding behind a tree. I explained that the poems we were about to read were inspired by the photo. You can use anything to get yourself writing.

I gave them copies of the following and we read them together.
Thanks for your poetry!

Hide and Seek by Von Smith

Childhood Problems by Susan Zutautas 

Lost by Christine Bolton

The one ‘willing woman’ and Bongi, the Head Librarian, took up the discussion about the poems with me. Some of the others also participated. We had engagement. 

For this last part of the morning I wanted to take them back to an earlier, happy memory. I shared one of mine. Of being in my grandma’s kitchen…

Think about an early memory, something happy.

Now perhaps you’d like to write something? You don’t have to read it out. Think about that memory: Where are you? Who’s with you? What can you see? What does it look like? What can you hear? What does it sound like? Smells are very important to memories. What can you smell? Describe it. What can you feel when you put out your hand? What do you feel inside? What can you taste? What happened? What were you thinking? What did you do? (I gave them each a worksheet with the headings).

And then they all put away their phones and started writing. And continued writing. 

Continue for homework if you would like to.

We’ll see.






The (un)dutiful daughter

The Undutiful Daughter by Chris Hall lunasonline

Maggie trudged up the winding steps of the south tower, resentment gurgling in her stomach. Every day for the past 15 years since her father had passed away she had been obliged to carrying out the wearisome task. Every day of the past 15 years, as the big old clock in the hall struck twelve, she filled the copper watering can and climbed the tall stone steps. She was careful, oh so careful, not to spill a drop of the precious sweet well water which was all that must be used. Nothing sullied, nothing tainted, only the very best. Every day for the past 15 years she climbed to the top of the south tower to water a single bloom which her father had nurtured faithfully for as long as she could remember.

No one else could carry out the task. Not the gardener or the gardener’s son. Not the girl from the village who came to tend to her mother’s feet. Or, heaven forfend, the surly housekeeper, who prepared her mother’s meals, but not hers.

Meanwhile, Maggie’s mother sat in splendid isolation on a huge cushion-laden throne, from whence she issued orders and complaints in turn, which fell from her lips like so many leaden marbles, rolling over the stone floors to trip up the unwilling or unwitting. No task was too trivial to escape her notice, as she monitored the household through her all-seeing crystal spyglass. And, despite her great age, she still looked fresh as a daisy, while Maggie herself was beginning to wilt.

Maggie was almost at the top of the south tower. She rounded the last narrowing loop of the steps and arrived at the pinnacle. There was the single bloom. It never changed, never altered, throughout the changing seasons and  the succeeding years; its golden face, thrust upwards to the sky, surrounded by a plethora of pink petals. The petals never discoloured or dropped. The single bloom remained, static, unseen, apart from by Maggie and her mother’s crystal spyglass.

Lately, as her knees creaked and her back ached with the climb, Maggie had begun to wonder what would happen if she deviated from the routine. But it was an idle thought. She swallowed her resentment down. Duty must be served.

As she raised the copper watering can, a flock of geese flew overhead, honking noisily. Maggie looked up. If only I were free like them. Her heart yearned to fly away to a world beyond the castle; explore the unknown lands beyond the fields and cottages which she could see from the top of the south tower. If only I were free, she mouthed silently.

Maggie’s back arched unwillingly as she tracked the progress of the snow-white birds. She craned further back; her feet teetered on the topmost step. Arms cartwheeling, she desperately tried to keep her balance. The watering can flew from her outstretched hand. It spun as it fell, spilling a wheeling spray of sweet well water down the wall of the south tower.

With a superhuman effort, Maggie flung herself forward. Her face buried itself in the golden centre of the solitary bloom. Her hands clawed for purchase, pulling out fistfuls of pretty pink petals which showered over the steps. Maggie sank to her knees and steadied herself. Slowly she came up for air. Maggie stared in horror at the ruined solitary bloom. All that remained was a battered bare stalk with a smashed-in face.

Then gradually, as Maggie watched, the squashed centre of the solitary bloom plumped back out again. Features appeared: eyes, nose and mouth. Maggie blinked. The corners of the mouth turned up and rosy blushes appeared on the golden cheeks. Petals sprang out on either side of its face. The head of the solitary bloom turned; it gazed up and down, left and right, settling on Maggie’s open-mouthed stare.

‘You wished to be free,’ it said in a clear and musical voice. Maggie continued to stare. ‘Close your mouth, child,’ it continued.

Child? Thought Maggie. Hardly.

‘I too wish to be free,’ said the solitary bloom, its head bobbing. ‘I have been here for an eternity, marooned on top of this barren tower.’

Maggie rubbed her eyes.

‘We can both be free, Maggie,’ the voice sang. ‘Free as the birds on the wing. Free as the clouds in the sky.’ It threw back its head and laughed. Then it straightened up and gazed intently at Maggie. ‘You can free us both, Maggie.’ It nodded vigorously. ‘Would you like that Maggie?’

Maggie stared, transfixed. Free?

‘Free, Maggie. That’s right.’ The solitary bloom leant towards her and whispered something.

Maggie stood up. She looked around at the fields and cottages below. She looked at the wide blue sky where birds sang and flew. She stretched out her arms and took a deep breath.

‘Go on, Maggie,’ the solitary bloom urged.

Maggie bent down and ripped the solitary bloom from the earth were it grew. She held it aloft, soil cascading from its roots. The solitary bloom let out a great cry. Maggie took up the cry as she leapt from the top of the south tower.

Down below in the depths of the castle, the crystal spyglass started to shake in the old woman’s hand. It reverberated, taking up the sound of the cries coming from the south tower; louder and louder, until the very walls of the castle started to shake. The servants fled from the building and the old woman yelled and cursed on her cushions as the castle crumbled and crashed down around her. Moments later there was nothing but rubble and dust.

High up in the sky two snow white geese honked loudly, flapping their wings in joyous freedom; soon they had disappeared beyond the clear blue horizon.

From  a prompt by Hélène Vaillant of Willow Poetry: What do you see May-14-2019

A Nick in Time – Chapter 25


Bryony was still staring at the broken wagon with Toby at her side. Tommy was slowly walking the horses around. Several men, red-faced and sweating, a couple carrying ropes, pounded down the roadway towards them.

“Did you see where they went?” One panted, as they came to a halt in front of them. He glanced at the broken cart and looked away. “The horses…?”

Bryony glared at him, while Toby indicated the two directions which the runaway horses had gone after their disastrous encounter. The group split up to follow at a run.

One held back, calling over to Tommy. “Take your horses to the inn. We’ll get someone to fix things up,” he said breathlessly, nodding towards the wagon, before he too ran off following the second group who had struck out over the fields.

“Let’s hope someone can help us,” said Toby. Bryony nodded, looking over at Tommy, who shrugged and started leading the horses along the road toward the centre of the village.

“We should bring our things from the wagon,” said Tommy, reaching into the back. He handed Bryony the cloak which Issell had lent her, and grabbed the cloth bag with the remains of their food and the half empty water crock. “The wagon should be safe enough here for now.”

Bryony hitched up her skirts and trudged after Tommy, Toby walked along next to her. She swallowed down her nerves as they approached the inn where a crowd of people were gathered outside. Toby reached out and put his hand on her arm. “Don’t worry,” he murmured. “It’ll be all right.”

The crowd were too busy discussing what had happened to notice their arrival. One person did though. No sooner had Eliza, the innkeeper’s rosy-cheeked wife seen Tommy leading the two large dray horses, she hurried over. “Tommy,” she held out her hands to him. “What’s happened? Is Dary not with you?”

Tommy nodded a greeting to her and looked around for the others. Bryony and Toby appeared at his side. Bryony smiled back at the friendly-looking woman.

“Who’s this then?” Eliza asked, looking at them both. Bryony and Toby introduced themselves, explaining what had happened to the wagon. Eliza raised her eyebrows. “Those horses!” she exclaimed, shaking her head. “John’s had such trouble with them while they’ve been stabled here, and now some of Lord Childecott’s men have come to fetch them and look what’s happened,” she raised her arms in the air. “They get spooked and escape.” She lowered he voice. “I just hope his men catch them, or who knows how his Lordship will react. Mind you, you’d know better than me, living where you do.”

The mention of Lord Childecott’s name made Bryony’s stomach turn over. She swayed on her feet. Toby, equally distressed, but managing not to show it, put out an arm to steady her.

“The poor lass must be quite done in, coming all this way, and then having that accident.” Eliza put out her hand and stroked the side of Bryony’s face. “Let me take her inside.” She looked at Toby and Tommy. “You two take those horses of yours and get them settled in the stables, then we’ll see about getting your wagon up here.” She breathed in sharply. “Lord Childecott should pay for the damage to it.”

Bryony let out a little gasp. Toby started to say something, but Eliza brushed him away. “Let me take this young lady inside, while you look after the horses. We can worry about the wagon later.” And with that she steered Bryony away into the back of the inn. Toby rolled his eyes at Tommy who shrugged and turned to busy himself with the horses.

Toby followed as Tommy walked the horses behind the inn to the stables. There was no one about. Presumably they had all gone off in search of Lord Childecott’s missing horses. Tommy, familiar with the stables, set about taking care of the two horses, with Toby helping as best he could.

Meanwhile, Eliza was busy fussing over Bryony. Bryony accepted her ministrations gratefully, but wished she’d stop talking so she could think. Fortunately Eliza didn’t seem to require any response from her as she sat her down on a cushion-covered bench in the back parlour and shouted through to the kitchen for someone to warm some broth.

A few minutes later, Bryony heard Toby calling at the kitchen door. She started to stand, but Eliza waved her to stay where she was and bustled out of the room, returning with Tommy and Toby, before disappearing once again to see about the broth.

Tommy and Toby sat on the bench opposite. A large table stood between them. Bryony leant forward, her elbows resting on the table. “What are we going to do?” she asked anxiously. “If Lord Childecott…”

Tommy shook his head from side to side, holding up his hands.

Bryony frowned and looked at Toby. Toby also frowned, then smiled, looking from Tommy to Bryony. “I think Tommy’s saying there’s nothing to worry about,” said Toby. He glanced at Tommy who nodded vigorously. Toby paused. “But that’s right, isn’t it?” He said. “It wouldn’t matter if he finds out about the wagon. We’re just going for supplies, aren’t we? There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Tommy pointed at Bryony and covered his face with his hands. Bryony nodded slowly, looking at him. “But they mustn’t see me.” Tommy grinned and nodded. “Yes,” she said. “That might be suspicious. But I think that’s easily done. I can keep out of Childecott’s men’s way.”

“It’s probably best if we all do,” agreed Toby, “I wouldn’t want them asking me questions. Not after what happened back in the village.”

Tommy pointed at himself again, passing his finger across his lips. Bryony laughed. “Of course, they can’t question you, can they Tommy.”

Tommy laughed soundlessly and walked his fingers over the table. He pointed to himself and then in the direction of the stables.

“You’ll go back to the stables then Tommy,” confirmed Toby.

“Not before he’d eaten some broth,” said Eliza, entering the room carrying a wooden tray laden with steaming bowls and a half a loaf of dark bread.

The three travellers fell upon the food. Now that Bryony felt there was a little less to worry about, her appetite returned. She had the feeling that things would have to be very grave indeed before her companions’ desire to eat would be spoilt. Just as they were wiping the last of the broth from the bowls with hearty crusts of bread, they heard a commotion coming from the yard outside.

Toby put down his spoon. “Perhaps, they’ve found the horses?”

Tommy got to his feet and hurried out into the yard. Sure enough, there were the two fine-looking horses, their coats flecked with foam, each held firmly by one of Childecott’s men by a makeshift rope halter. The men were jovial now, relieved by their success.

The man who’d spoken to them on the road detached himself from the little crowd and came over to Tommy. “Sorry about that, lad.” He looked at Tommy more closely. “You’re the young fellow who usually comes along with Dary, aren’t you? It’s Tommy, isn’t it?”

Tommy nodded.

“Sorry, I didn’t recognise you back there.” He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “Just give us a moment and we’ll go and fetch your wagon.”

Eliza appeared at the door and hurried over. “John, are you all right, love?” She put her hand on his shoulder and looked into his face.

“Aye, lass, don’t fuss.”

“Those horses have caused so much vexation.” Eliza put her hands on her hips. “And now their wagon is broken,” she continued pointing to Tommy and shaking her head. “Dealing with that man Childecott is more trouble than it’s worth.”

“Hush now, lass.” He dropped his voice. “It doesn’t do to speak ill of…” John looked over his shoulder nervously and then turned back to Tommy. “Hold on, let me just get these horses settled.” John strode over to the men holding the horses and gestured towards the stables. “You get them safely back in the stalls and clean them up. I’ll send some fresh water for them directly.” He turned to walk back, then paused and shouted back over his shoulder. “And make sure the stalls are properly secured.”

The men moved off with the horses and John rubbed his hands together. “Right then Tommy, where’s that other lad who’s with you? We’ll go for the wagon now.”

With Childecott’s men safely out of the way, Tommy had no hesitation in fetching Toby. The three of them had little difficulty rolling the broken wagon up to the village. At John’s suggestion, they took it straight to old Giles, the carpenter’s workshop.

Old Giles peered at the damage, stroking his beard and sucking in his cheeks. “That’s going to need a whole new piece of timber there.” He pointed to the damaged shaft.

“Can’t you just patch it up?” asked Toby. “Bind the two pieces back together?”

“Nay, lad, not unless you’re looking for another spill. A repair like that would never hold, especially with a laden wagon. I assume that’s where you’re going, to Greaton for supplies.”

“Yes, sir, that’s right,” agreed Toby, “but we’re in a bit of a hurry. For the supplies, that is.”

“They’re from the inn in the valley back yonder,” explained John. “An inn can’t do without its ale.”

Old Giles nodded. “I can do my very best, lads, but it’s not going to be fixed this evening. Maybe I can fit it in later tomorrow.”

Tommy and Toby both sighed loudly. “Well,” said Toby slowly, “if that’s the best you can do.”

“Aye lad, it is.”

©2019 Chris Hall

So, what do you think of my first full-length children’s story as it progresses? You’ll find the earlier chapters here. I’d love to hear your feedback!

The last of his kind

Velociraptor by Alex CF

He was the last of his kind.
Wearily he lay down,
waiting for the end.
He’d sensed it coming.

The heavens darkened,
flames filled the sky.
The celestial destructor bore down
upon his Mother Earth.

Would she survive?
Would others come after?
No answer came.

His body crisped to dust.


This wonderful piece of artwork was posted by Jason H. Abbott last week, as part of his science fiction art series. This was what I was moved to write.

Here’s the link to Jason’s original post:




Superpower by Chris Hall lunasonline

Sandra’s superpowers had come as a surprise. Caused by a faulty connection in her washing machine, the freak accident had dumped her on the floor. She’d felt rather odd after that, sending out electric shocks at the most inopportune moments. It was only when she’d touched the interactive display at the mall and the whole panel had exploded that she’d realised their potential.

So many wrongs which need righting, it was hard to know where to start; but the people who had rejected her writing were at the top of her list.

Hell hath no fury like an author scorned.

Written in response to The Haunted Wordsmith’s Prompt May 13, 2019

Hide and Seek

000000 helen valliant photo prompt for 13 Many

My big brother said to go hide while he counted to a hundred. Then he’d come look for me.

I can’t count that high, but I’ve been here ever such a long time.

I think I’ve found the best hiding place ever and maybe he can’t find me.


From  a prompt by Hélène Vaillant of Willow Poetry


And just because it’s such a lovely sunny day here, I thought I’d share this with you:


A Nick in Time – Chapter 24

Later in the morning after Bryony and Toby had left for Greaton, Issell had taken Bethany up to the edge of the woods. They were close to Lord Childecott’s forbidden area, but Issell judged it to be safe enough, provided they were mindful of where they wandered. In any case, she needed certain herbs which were only in flower for a short time, besides which she wanted to distract Bethany who was understandably fretful over current events.

As they passed within sight of the Manor House Issell wondered how her friends were bearing up. She still couldn’t quite believe that Lord Childecott would carry out his threat. He’d had people flogged and whipped and put in the stocks, and he’d even resorted to banishment, but surely he wouldn’t… she couldn’t even bear to think about it. Issell shook herself, trying to rid herself of the dark thoughts.

Then there was her brother Toby on the road to Greaton with Bryony and Tommy. Issell had never been to the big town and knew little of the workings of the Ruling Council, but the mysterious Mr Eyre seemed to have a lot of confidence in the plan. Coming from a time in the future, as she fully believed he did now, he surely would have a good understanding of how such things worked. Bryony too, but they had put a lot responsibility on her young shoulders.

“Oh look, a little stream,” Bethany exclaimed, as they climbed past a small rocky outcrop near the ridge. She scampered forward and knelt down next to where the water was bubbling forth from the rocks.

“This is one of the sources of the River Eden,” said Issell kneeling down beside her. “You see,” she continued, pointing downstream, “it disappears underground for a while and reappears further down the hill just outside our village. There it joins with the larger stream that comes from the north and makes the little river which runs through the village. It continues on through the Valley and widens out. Beyond the Valley, it goes all the way to the sea.”

“Does it go to the town where Bryony’s going?” asked Bethany.

“No, sweetheart, but that’s a clever question. A different river flows through Greaton, one which rises over in the east.” Issell dabbled her fingers in the water. “This is very pure water, even cleaner than our sweet well water.” She cupped her hand and scooped some up taking a sip. She look at the little girl and smiled. “Try it Bethany.”

As Bethany bent forward another reflection appeared in the stream behind theirs. Startled they both turned around.

“I thought I heard voices,” said the man grinning down at them. He was tall, broad-shouldered and straight-backed, but the deep lines on his weathered face gave away his age.

“William!” Issell sprang up and stepped towards him, putting her arms out to him. “We thought… well, we didn’t know what to think.”

William took her hands and squeezed them. Issell looked up at him. “And Ellen?”

William smiled. “She’s fine, Issell. We got a good start on Childecott’s men. We went over the Valley to, well, perhaps I’d better not say.”

Issell nodded. William dropped her hands and turned his attention to the little girl beside her. He squatted down. “Surely it can’t be?”

Bethany looked at William with her round blue eyes. “It is you, William, isn’t it? You gave me the little robin.”

“So I did, little one.”

“But you’re so old now!” Bethany screwed up her eyes and waved her hands in front of her face. The she stopped and looked from William to Issell. “Oh, I don’t understand these olden times.”

William glanced up at Issell, then turned back to Bethany. “It must be,” he frowned. “Nigh on thirty years since we last met.”

“It was three weeks ago, when I met you and Ellen, and we did the spinning and you gave me the little robin.” Bethany took a deep breath. “Then four days ago, I came again with my big sister and your house was burned.” She looked at him with her round blue eyes. “I was scared.”

William ruffled her golden hair. “But we escaped. We weren’t hurt.” He stood up and looked across the Valley. “And one day we will rebuild.” William furrowed his brow. “Four days ago,” he paused. “That was when I went back to look at our house to see if any of my tools could be salvaged.”

“You went back?” Issell’s eyes widened. “But weren’t you worried that Childecott’s men might be around?”

“Well, yes, but I was careful. Don’t forget, I know the woods here like the back of my hand.”

Just then, there was a rustling in the bushes from the direction in which William had come. He tensed and turned. Then a small black kitten trotted out meowing loudly.

“Astra!” Bethany cried. At the sound of her voice, the kitten bounded over towards her. Bethany scooped the little cat up in her arms. “Astra,” Bethany whispered into the kitten’s fur. “Did you follow us?”

“I was just coming to that,” said William. “When I went back to the house, this little thing was there, meowing her little heart out. I couldn’t understand where she could have come from. She was obviously lost.” He put out his hand and stroked the soft fur above the white star shape on her forehead. “So she came home with me. She’s been following me about ever since.” He grinned as he petted the cat. “I didn’t think she’d come this far though.”

Bethany looked at William, then at Issell. “I can keep her with me, can’t I?” She hugged the kitten. “I want to look after her and keep her safe.” The little cat was purring loudly, snuggling against Bethany’s neck.

William held up his hands. “Well, she’s obviously yours.”

Issell smiled and stroked Astra’s head. “Of course you can, chicken.” She raised her eyebrows. “So that’s four of you crossed over here now.” She turned to William. “They seem to have come from some future time, through the woods over there. No one can explain it, but I’m certain that’s what has happened.”

William nodded then furrowed his brow. “Four you say?”

‘Yes, William,” said Bethany nodding. “There’s Briny, my big sister and Mr Eyre. He’s our tutor. He’s been here before, like me, but…” the little girl’s eyes clouded.

Issell put her arm around her and hugged her gently. “There’s been some trouble in the village, you won’t have heard.”

William grew stony-faced as Issell told him about the events which had led to Martha, Mr Eyre and the others being rounded up and held at the Manor House awaiting some kind of trial, and what Lord Childecott had suggested their fate might be.

“We must stop this!” William cried out. “We must free them and help them escape.” He looked around and lowered his voice although no one was anywhere nearby. “There are people,” he indicated over his shoulder, “the other side of the escarpment who could help.” He nodded to himself. “I’m sure they’ll be willing.”

Issell nodded. “That is good to know, but we’re hoping it won’t come to that. You see, Bethany’s sister and my brother Toby are on the way to Greaton to petition the Ruling Council about Lord Childecott’s actions.”

“But Issell, if this trial is only in a few days that might not been in time. The Ruling Council works very slowly.” Issell’s hands shot to her mouth in alarm. William continued. “Leave this to me.” He looked at them. “Now you both take care, and try not to worry.” With a wild look in his eyes, he turned and ran off towards the escarpment.

©2019 Chris Hall

So, what do you think of my first full-length children’s story as it progresses? You’ll find the earlier chapters here. I’d love to hear what you think of it!