Flash Fiction: The Poet and the Forest

Here’s a little flash fiction for Friday about the importance of nourishing your imagination.

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There was once a poet, who came upon an enchanted forest. The poet wandered beneath the towering trees, discovering hidden paths and flowing streams. The poet learned all the songs of the birds and the scents of the wildflowers. The forest crept into the poet’s heart, and when the poet sat down to write, words poured onto the page like summer rains.

But there was no living to be made in the forest, nor was there much to eat, so the poet went to find work in the desert, where the wind chafed the poet’s hands and stung her eyes. The heat of the sun burned away all smells and the landscape was too barren for birds. The people in the desert were harsh too. “Who are you?” they asked by way of greeting, “Are you rich yet?” They walked on and stared at the desert with despairing eyes.

At last the poet had earned enough to return to poetry. But as she tried to write by a flickering fire in the desert, she had lost all words. The desert had entered her soul, and her imagination had withered.

So the poet returned to the forest. As the branches closed overhead, her creativity returned. She had learned that imagination must be nourished, just as the body must be fed. One day she would return to the mines of the desert, but for now, she let the forest embrace her.

Leaving Paris

Paris had never looked more beautiful than on that last run through the city. I had forgotten the squalor and smells of the narrow streets now and saw only the grandeur of the rooftops against the sky. Gerard guided me out of Le Marais and along the broad boulevards near the Louvre Palace. We ran through arcades and before churches, past statues and under stone carvings. We passed the scaffolds and skeletons of the new Paris that was being built. We saw sudden vistas of the Seine and the hills above the city. I had no idea why I thought this city frightening when the carriage had first rolled through the city gates. Paris was my city now and I knew all its lanes and colonnades and bridges.

– Elise flees across 19th century Paris in ‘The Alchemist of Paris’

Having left her idyllic country home, Elise has found herself in a web of greed, betrayal and deceit – and magic. Can she escape in time?

Inspirations – Mystery and Travel: Death on the Nile novel (1937) and movie (1978)

This post is part of the Little Bits of Classics & Christina Wehner Agatha Christie Blogathon which celebrates the 126th anniversary of the birth of Agatha Christie. With 85 novels written and between 2 billion – 4 billion copies sold, Agatha Christie was one of the most successful and prolific writers of the twentieth century.

If you haven’t discovered Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile is a great book to start with.

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Death on the Nile takes place in the setting Agatha Christie knew best – a world of high society which dined in the finest restaurants and vacationed abroad. The author had spent much time in the Middle East in the 1930s accompanying her archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan, on digs, and had holidayed in Egypt, giving authenticity to the novel’s descriptions of grand hotels, luxury steamers, moonlit riverbanks and ruined temples.

The novel begins in England, where beautiful American heiress Linnet Ridgeway has purchased a country home. Linnet’s penniless friend Jacqui de Bellefort visits, asking if Linnet can give Jacqui’s fiance a job on her estate.

When Hercule Poirot enters the story, he is not acting as a detective, but enjoying a meal in London. He observes the devoted Jacqui and Simon at a nearby table, just before they visit Linnet.

To the surprise of the social set, it’s Linnet who weds Simon a few months later. The beginnings of the murder mystery are set in motion.

Arriving in Egypt for a cruise, Hercule Poirot finds himself at the same hotel as the honeymoon couple. Strangely Jacqui is also there. Heartbroken by Simon’s desertion, Jacqui has decided to follow Linnet and Simon, casting a shadow on their happiness.

What happens next? There’s a cruise down the Nile, a close shave in an ancient temple, moody sunsets, embezzling lawyers, an international agitator on the run, an eccentric authoress of saucy romances, high society jewel thieves and no less than three murders.

Hercule Poirot at last discovers the unlikely murderer. Death on the Nile is a whodunit, but it’s also a love story, a tragedy and a reflection on wealth, power and envy – Agatha Christie at her best, transcending her genre.

Movie Poster for the 1978 Universal Studios film of Death on the Nile

Movie Poster for the 1978 Universal Studios film of Death on the Nile

The 1977 movie of Death on the Nile is a treat. Lois Chiles and Simon MacCorkindale are a stunningly beautiful Linnet and Simon. Mia Farrow broods as Jacqui. Peter Ustinov is an impressive Hercule Poirot, and the supporting cast (of potential suspects) includes Bette Davis, Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury, David Niven, Jane Birken and Olivia Hussey. There are some subtle changes from the book, with the omission of some characters and the combining of motivations, but these won’t affect your enjoyment of the film or the book.

A tense but stylish moment in the 1978 movie

A tense but stylish moment in the 1978 movie

Some other fun facts about the film:

  • The scenes were filmed on location in Egypt and at Pinewood Studios.
  • The haunting music was written by Nino Rota, a composer who had worked with the directors Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti and Franco Zeffirelli, and wrote the score for Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather films.
  • The tango scene in the luxury hotel was choreographed by Wayne Sleep.
  • The costume supervisor was Rosemary Burrows, who later worked on A Passage to India, Master and Commander and Harry Potter.
  • The costume maker was Germinal Rangel, who made the costumes in Sofia Coppola’s sumptuous Marie Antoinette.
  • Look out for Lois Chiles’ silver evening dress and her glittering shawl. You will covet Mia Farrow’s divinely slinky gowns and very glamorous daywear. And Simon MacCorkindale’s dressing gown is incredibly stylish!

“Most of the great love stories are tragedies,” muses Hercule Poirot on the last page of the novel. It could be said all of Agatha Christie’s great works are much more than whodunits.

Leaving home

At twilight I slipped out of the convent and into the herb garden. Unlocking the gate, I strolled under the old stone arch to the fields beyond. The sky was blue violet, and a golden moon was rising over the hills. The air was sweet with the scent of the rustling grasses. Wildflowers, some blooming only for a day, shivered in the evening breeze. I walked through the fields, until the monastery and convent were only a dim silhouette behind me. I breathed in over and over, wanting to savour the scent and the taste of the countryside. The forest on the hillside was dim and silent and the tree branches were like lace against the setting sun. The meadows rolled out to the horizon, where the river glittered through banks of poplar trees. I tried to capture each part of the landscape in my mind, so that I could imagine it, wherever I might go.

– Story Excerpt “The Alchemist of Paris”

 

Like the character Elise, I grew up in the country before moving to the city. (Strange fact – I grew up next door to a convent!)

Are there places that you have left behind in your life? Do you think of them often? If you are a writer, do you incorporate those memories into your writing?

Cover Reveal – The Alchemist of Paris

 

Cover design by adipixdesign.com

Cover design by adipixdesign.com

I am very excited to reveal the cover design of ‘The Alchemist of Paris’, created by the wonderful Adriana Hanganu of adipixdesign.com.

‘The Alchemist of Paris’ is a gothic mystery set in modern day and 1820s Paris.

A young woman searches for a forgotten mansion in the heart of modern Paris. The only clue to its location lies in an extraordinary nineteenth century diary, which reveals a tale of deceit, magic, betrayal and immortal love.

More to come in the coming weeks!

Your Novel Stinks! Including all the Senses in your Writing

The quickest way to immerse a reader in your character’s world is for the reader to experience that world through your character’s senses.

Most writers are familiar with the “show don’t tell” rule. The closer we are to the character’s actions and reactions, the more gripping the story becomes.

Sight and sound are easy to write. But what about including the other senses in your work – what does your character touch, taste and smell?

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Here are three writing tips I have developed on how to include all the senses in my writing:

  • Use smells to build atmosphere. There’s positive smells (scents, perfume, aromas) and negative smells (stinks, odours and fumes). Layer the smells with what your characters see and hear to create a mood. A dark swamp becomes more sinister with the stench of rotting foliage. An apartment becomes more alluring with the sweet scent of fresh cut flowers.
  • Use smells to tell us something about the character. What is the character used to and what might they notice if they go somewhere different? Your character might be living in a medieval village next to a pigsty. Surrounded by these smells since birth, they probably never notice. But how would they feel if they went to a castle and breathed in the perfume of beeswax candles for the first time?
  • Think about scents and smells that you remember personally and the feelings they evoke. Do you remember the overpowering scent of fields in summer? Or the strong smell of seaweed on a beach in a heatwave? Work your memories and feelings into your character’s experiences.

© 2016 M. C. Dulac