Friday, 27 July 2007

The ultimate rejection letter

Any unpublished author will be familiar with rejection letters. I came across this on the web. No attribution, so if it's yours, let me know.

Herbert A. Millington, Chair - Search Committee
412A Clarkson Hall,
Whitson University College Hill,
MA 34109

Dear Professor Millington,

Thank you for your letter of March 16. After careful consideration, I regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me an assistant professor position in your department.

This year I have been particularly fortunate in receiving an unusually large number of rejection letters. With such a varied and promising field of candidates, it is impossible for me to accept all refusals. Despite Whitson's outstanding qualifications and previous experience in rejecting applicants, I find that your rejection does not meet my needs at this time.

Therefore, I will assume the position of assistant professor in your department this August. I look forward to seeing you then. Best of luck in rejecting future applicants.


Chris L. Jensen

While on this topic, have a look at: The Devil's Mailbox

27th August 2007 I've found the author! Still not entirely sure who he is, but see;

Friday, 20 July 2007

Trav and Isolda in the rain

Another extract from Trav Zander. Trav and Tor have returned to Carl's catital to rescue Katrin. While waiting for dark, Trav goes into the city to look for Isolda. Tor suggests he gets some apples while he is there.

* * *

It had started to rain, which was good; it meant Trav could wear his hood, and if he kept his head down he was unlikely to be recognised. He knew he would be lucky to find Isolda. In this weather she would most probably stay indoors, but he wanted to see her so much he had to go and look. People were clustered by the shelter of the stalls in the central square. Trav walked round, then looked into the shop windows, but Isolda was not there. He saw a fruit stall and went and bought some apples and a hessian bag to put them in. Pocketing his change, he glanced up and there she was, coming out of the glovemaker’s, as if summoned by his wish. The elegant way she moved made her unmistakeable though she was shrouded in a cape and hood. She was alone. He followed her down a narrow lane. The rain grew heavier, and she took cover under an overhanging building. He joined her there.

‘Wet day for a walk,’ he said. Her head turned sharply and he smiled at her. It was so good to see her, and he could tell she was pleased to see him. His spirits soared.

‘Trav? You’re mad coming back. Carl is thirsting for your blood. What are you doing here?’

‘Oh, I just came to get some apples…’

‘Fine, don’t tell me then.’

‘…but since I am here, and we happen to have bumped into each other, why don’t you come away with me?’

She looked at him.

‘What, now?’

‘Why not?’

‘You mean, leave Carl, leave all my belongings, walk away with you now to wherever you are going? In the rain?’

‘Right. That’s it exactly. If you get a better offer today I’ll be surprised.’

‘But I hardly know you…’

‘You like my stubble.’

‘I don’t know where you live.’

‘Doesn’t matter, I don’t live there any more, Carl knows the address.’

‘So you want me to join you on the run? You’re insane.’

No one was about. Trav put his arms round her and kissed her, savouring the delicate lily scent of her. Apparently she still liked him…quite a lot, it seemed. This thought made him smile too much to go on kissing her properly, so he stopped and said, ‘Come on, Princess. Trust me, it’ll be great.’

She leaned back against his arms smiling and gazed into his eyes. ‘You know, I really like you, Trav. But I’m not quite crazy enough to run away with you.’

‘If I kissed you again, would you get crazier?’ He bent his head towards her. She stopped him with a hand on his chest.

‘It’s no good, Trav, you’re very nice, I find you very attractive, but you’re just not the sort of man I go for.’

Trav saw that she meant it. His confidence and excitement of a moment before evaporated. The colour leached out of the day, leaving it grey and flat, and he became aware that his left boot was leaking. Everything seemed heavy, complicated and barely worth the effort. He let go of her.

‘You mean I’m not rich?’

‘Yes, that is what I mean. I’m sorry.’

‘So you prefer a rich bastard like Carl to someone you like who’s poor?’

‘I like the life. I like money, nice clothes, someone else doing the cooking and cleaning. Good food and wine. Not having to get up at dawn. I’ve tried being poor and I didn’t like it.’ Isolda was getting into her stride now. ‘I’m not going to go back to it for anyone, and if you’re honest I bet half of what you like about me is the gloss that wealth produces; the way I dress, the way I smell, the fact that my hands aren’t red and cracked and my face isn’t careworn from a life of petty worries. I doubt you’d have looked twice at Isolda the kitchen maid in her grubby rags.’

‘You think that’s what attracts me to you? Your clothes? Okay, I like the packaging, you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met, but it’s not just that. It’s you I want, Isolda, the real you that I can talk to. You when you’re being kind and funny and understanding. Carl only cares about your looks. For him you’re the beautiful mistress who adds to his status, that he bought like any other expensive object in his palace.’

There was contempt in Trav’s voice, and Isolda thought not all of it was for Carl. She flushed.

‘I am my own person, not yours, not Carl’s. I am here because I choose to be. If you don’t like the way I live my life, that’s too bad. It’s none of your business.’

‘You can’t have it both ways, Princess. You’re paid to do what Carl wants, however you wrap it up. You’re his down to the last polished fingernail.’

‘I think you should go.’

‘Right,’ he said. ‘I’m going.’

Her hand moved towards him uncertainly. ‘Trav – take care of yourself.’


He went off through the downpour. Isolda stood as he disappeared round the corner. There was a lump in her throat, and a piercing sense of loss in her heart. Part of her wanted to run as fast as she could after Trav, frantic that it might be too late and she’d never find him. She turned and walked in the opposite direction back to the palace, rain mingling with her tears.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Okay, so I'm a blockhead...

Doctor Johnson famously said, ‘No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.’

The picture, by Henry Wallis, shows Dr Johnson at Cave's the Publisher. Is the maid waiting for him to finish some last-minute revisions so she can run it to the printer’s? Or perhaps, given the fancy frock, it's a daughter of the house admiring an eminent author.

Lots of us write without being paid, though I guess most of us cherish the small hope that we will be published one day, and maybe even reap a modest profit. My writing folder is ironically entitled FAME AND FORTUNE, because I dimly remember hoping this would be the result of my efforts, in the far-off days when I knew nothing at all about it.

I have another quote from Doctor Johnson, who lived in a time lacking worldwide communications;

‘I would not give half a guinea to live under one form of Government rather than another. It is of no moment to the happiness of an individual. Sir, the danger of the abuse of power is nothing to a private man.’

Happy state of ignorance. The great man wasn’t right about everything.

I looked up these quotes on The Samuel Johnson Soundbite Page.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Picturing a character...

I find it helps when creating a character if I can find a photograph that looks like him or her. I don't start with a photo, but once I know what the character is like, I can recognise a picture of him.

(In case this sounds terribly amateurish, I'll just drop in that Jane Austen used to do the same when she was looking at portrait paintings).

This photo is of an African dictator. The website I got it from has now vanished, so if you know who he is, please let me know. It's really bugging me. I used this photo for my villain, Carl of Thrales. I don't see him as a black man, but the expression is spot on. This is how I describe him;

'Carl was in his mid-twenties, and had inherited his kingdom six months ago on the death of his father; he had an air of sleek confidence, lolling as he was on his ornate gilded throne. A smooth face, a slight curve of the mouth and arched eyebrows gave him a calm superior air. Mouth and eyes, looked at separately, seemed to be smiling; taken together they were not'.
N.B. Thanks to Roger Williams, (see his blog Dictators of the World) I now know that the photo is of Joseph Kabila.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Is it any good?

How do you know if what you have created is any good?

Two ways, in my opinion; your own gut feeling, and the reactions of others. Both unreliable.

Van Gogh, obsessively painting nearly one canvas a day, must have felt an inner conviction of his own talent. During his life, he only sold one picture. Within a year of his death, his brother's widow had begun selling his work. Today his paintings sell for millions.

Then there's Sir Walter Scott. Any of you read his books? I thought not. * They're unreadable. In his day he was hugely successful, the first international author.

Sometimes I think my writing's good, at other times wonder whether it's not total rubbish. And as for the reactions of others... My short story, Comforted by Darkness was described as 'mesmerising' (I like that reviewer a lot) while another dismissed it as 'a readable romance for a weekly magazine'.

All you can do is peg away and see what happens (provided, of course, it happens in your lifetime).

* Okay, Alan, you're the erudite exception that proves the rule.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Sweet peas

I grew these on the workshop balcony.

Sweet peas are such good value; pretty colours like tissue paper, fragrant, and you have to pick them to keep the flowers coming.

Mantelpieces are like secular altars. I put small things I like on there, and change them around now and then.

Except for the careful use of the serial comma, this has nothing to do with writing. I'm being self-indulgent.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Carl of Thrales

Carl of Thrales is one of the villains in Trav Zander. I can't help feeling sorry for him, as he has truly terrible judgment. At the start of the book he has everything, and he loses it all through one bad decision after another.

This is a scene towards the end of the book, after Carl has been deposed from the throne of Ser. He is on his way to wreak vengeance on Trav.

* * *

Carl sat at the inn table on the hard wooden bench, his muscles sore after another unaccustomed day in the saddle, damp from the intermittent showers that had been falling on and off since dawn. He’d have liked a seat by the fire so he could get dry, but they were all taken. He lacked a change of clothes and, used to clean linen, felt crumpled and grubby. The forest was confusing, and today he had got badly lost. He had taken the wrong path, blundering about for hours before getting back on track. One lot of wet trees looked very much like any other. Without a map he had to rely on rare signposts or directions from surly labourers.

He hated the way he lived now, homeless, comfortless, having to do everything for himself, and he had no idea of what would happen when his money ran out. He could not work, he did not know how, and he had no desire to learn. Still, time enough to think about that when he had done what he meant to do…he would be able to think better once his task was accomplished. It would clear his mind.

‘Here you are,’ the slatternly serving girl said, dumping a plate and tankard in front of him containing a primitive meal of beef, bread and beer. He was hungry, and just the sight of the food made his mouth water, but he called the girl back and pointed to the crusted mustard pot.

‘I’d like a clean one of these.’

‘What’s wrong with it?’

‘It’s got dried mustard all round the top.’

‘No one’s ever complained.’

‘Well, I’m complaining now. I want another one.’

The girl picked the pot up, put it on the table next door, picked up that table’s mustard pot and banged it down in front of Carl.


She walked away. The new mustard pot was hardly cleaner than the first. Carl began to eat. What a wretched inn this was, but it was the only one he could find in the small town and it was a black night. Too dark for him to want to ride on to the next place, and besides he was exhausted. The low-ceilinged room was packed, and the noise of a dozen conversations oppressively loud. Everyone seemed to know each other, and newcomers crossing the threshold were greeted with roars from the drinkers and diners.

‘D’you mind if we sit here?’

Two burly men of uncouth appearance stood by Carl. He looked them over. Their clothes were coarse and they reeked of horses, sweat and ale.

‘Yes, I do mind. I prefer to be alone.’

The larger of the two men raised his eyebrows. ‘Do you now? Then it’s not your lucky day, sonny.’

He settled himself beside Carl, forcing him to shift along, and his friend joined him opposite. They resumed their conversation.

‘The grey gelding Mel was asking five hundred for, did you see its legs? Bog spavined and sand cracks too, he’s got a nerve, and he sold it as well. There’s a fool born every minute. That mare in foal at the end of the line, she was a bargain for anyone with eyes to see it…’

Carl seethed quietly for several minutes, then interrupted.

‘What was the point of asking if you weren’t going to take any notice?’

The big man broke off and turned to Carl as if he had forgotten he was there.

‘Manners,’ he said briefly. ‘Myself I’d have gone for the bay with the blaze, nice looking animal, mark you with that temperament it could break your neck…what is it now?’

‘That’s what you call manners, is it? A perfunctory query then barging in where you’re not wanted? Still, I guess in this company it passes for refinement. I suppose it’s only what I might have expected from a filthy peasant who was probably dragged up in a stable.’

Carl had the man’s full attention now. ‘What did you just say?’

All at once the miseries, discomforts and frustrations of the day came to a head and Carl let some of his anger out. ‘I said you could have been reared in a pigsty, going by your smell, and you’ve got the manners to go with it.’

The man put his tankard down slowly on the table and stood up, exuding such menace that the room hushed round him.

‘Get up.’

‘What for?’

‘Come outside.’

Carl did not like the turn events were taking. ‘No, why should I? Do you know who I am?’

‘I don’t know who you are, and I don’t care. I know what you are, you’re an arrogant little stuck-up git who thinks the world belongs to him and wants teaching a lesson. Well, you’ve just met the man to give it to you. Get up.’

Carl was relieved to see the innkeeper coming over. He addressed the big man before Carl could make a complaint.

‘What’s going on, Winch? Is this fellow causing trouble? I don’t want a fight.’

‘It’s all right, Pirie, I won’t hit him in here, he’s coming outside with me.’

‘Leave him, I’d rather not have a fight outside my inn either.’ He eyed Carl. ‘You, you can clear off, you’re not welcome here.’

‘But that’s outrageous. I haven’t finished my meal. I’ve paid for my room. You can’t turn me out.’

The innkeeper felt in the leather bag on his belt, and counted coins on to the table. ‘I’m doing you a favour. There, take that and don’t come back.’

‘But where am I supposed to sleep tonight? This is the only inn.’

‘That’s your problem.’

Under the unfriendly eyes of the whole room, Carl picked up the money and his jacket and walked out into the black rainy night to get his horse.