On the brink of receiving my small collection of short stories proof copy for ‘A Smattering of Alice’, I muse over a couple of incidents that led to its completion and became the glue that held me together during its journey.
My love of blue butterflies is a common denominator in the relationship I have with two friends who have shared in the book’s journey: Shirley and Nola.
Although Shirley passed away in November 2018, I do sometimes speak to her as if she’s at my side. It was on such a day in the early summer of 2020, when I had completed my lockdown permitted hour’s exercise by walking along the cinder track, that I encountered my first blue butterfly of the season.
I was resting after my walk, sitting on my favourite bench at Pricky Beck, Burniston and began to read Shirley’s novel, War at Kiddlesea Bay, published post-humorously. I laughed out loud at its intro sentence:
‘Adolf Hitler ruined Ellen’s birthday.’
It was so typically Shirley that I could hear her voice loud and clear. I was overjoyed when a blue butterfly began to circle round me and continued to do so for five minutes before settling on the open page of the book, where it stayed for a long time.
I thought it may be a visitation from my friend bringing me comfort and joy as I read her words.
I lost count of the blue butterflies I encountered whilst resting and reading the book’s chapters there that summer. It was lovely to have her company again (even though it was all in my head). I thought I would never have another friend with whom I could form a creative working partnership as I had with Shirley.
Then along came Nola.
She had joined the Scarborough Writers’ Circle (where I am a member) prior to the pandemic. We hadn’t spoken much at meetings and it wasn’t until she began sending comical poem sketches, via email, to circle members during the first lockdown period (to keep us motivated), that our ‘conversations’ began.
Several weeks and many poem sketches later, I mentioned to her it would be a good idea to collate these into a book as a historical record. This led us into a natural working partnership where Nola produced the material and I collated it into book format. On completion of her first book ‘Counting the Days’ (she is on Number 3 as I write!), my passion to work on my own collection of short stories was rekindled – with Nola volunteering to illustrate the stories as a thank you.
In-between lockdowns, we formed a bubble and went out walking, sometimes going to her place for lunch. My first time there I noticed a blue butterfly on a guitar hanging on the wall. She told me it had belonged to her friend and creative working partner, Riss Chantell, who had died five years previously.
Our shared grief at losing our close friends is, partly, what motivates us to continue working together.
It has been a long, arduous journey for both of us with life throwing all sorts of personal obstacles in our path to prevent us bringing our work to fruition, not least my breakdown last July with its ongoing repercussions, and Nola’s sad news of a death in her close family circle taking its toll on her emotions and her time. But we have done it! Together. And become firm friends in the process.
The penultimate story in my collection is titled ‘Blue Butterfly’. It was inspired by the bench incident at Pricky Beck and also a shared interest of Nola and I in the characters created by Lewis Carroll in the Alice books, which is what the collection’s stories are tenuously linked to, though it is definitely an adult-themed collection. Its intention is to draw readers into the worlds created to challenge their perception of how behaviour can manifest as a mental health problem – even in fictitious, sometimes disturbing, realities.
I wait patiently for the proof copy. If you know me well, you will know that I am not good at waiting patiently so I am constantly drumming my fingers on every surface awaiting its arrival.
Will keep you posted.
With love for the journey,
ADDENDUM: I wish I could say it was worth the wait but the proof copy has now arrived and my hard work in presenting it to the publisher in book format is ruined. In its transfer to the company’s super-duper program it has metamorphosed into a complete mishmash.
Nothing else to do but press CTR – ALT – DELETE, turn off and re-boot myself to acquire more glue to hold me together for when I can re-surface and magically make it beautiful again.