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The child stood alone in the garden. Beyond the trees, beyond the wall, the world turned without it.  People interacted with members of their family and with those they met in the street. A smile, a nod, a few words and they moved on, secure in the knowledge that they had fulfilled their social obligations. In the garden, the child wondered. What did you say when you met someone for the first time? Practice, that was the key. Words were said, a hand held out. A small head peered out through green branches to see if the people in the world shook hands. There was no physical evidence, only written. For the child had discovered reading. Had found worlds to disappear into whose social customs were spelt out. A wrong word here and dragons came, a hand not offered and crowns rolled. It was simple. The world the child saw outside of the garden was not. Realising that there was a difference between the walkers in the street, the runners and drivers and the brave and fearless characters in the pages, the child grew more afraid of saying the wrong thing, offering the wrong hand. And yet… and yet… the child longed to reach out and find that it was real, that it existed, that others noticed it and still liked it. Scared to stay, fearful to step outside, the child was torn. It realised that whatever happened it would be different, other. It did not know how to interact successfully with those on the other side of the trees, the wall. One day, the child ventured out. Tentative efforts to talk ended in failure. So the child tried giving its whole self to ones who smiled. Beaten and bruised, the child retreated, to the garden, behind the trees, behind the wall. Will it ever come out to play again?


I can’t come away from Writers’ Holiday at Caerleon ( or C’Leon as we Newportonians say) without doing something. Perhaps a couple of somethings. So here is a top tip from the week.
Top tip 1: If you have a problem to solve think about it before you go to sleep. Your unconscious may very well solve it for you.
Top tip 2: this follows on from top tip one. Have a notebook and pen by your bed that you can write down the answer as soon as you have it. Don’t wait for the morning or it will disappear and then you’ll have to do the thinking and sleeping bit all over again. Get used to writing in large untidy lines in the dark, I would.
I took a large piece of wallpaper from the roll left conveniently behind by the previous owner and not moved from its place in the wardrobe by me. I measured my bedroom wall widthways with it and cut a strip off. I had planned to stick it on the wall opposite my bed. It kept falling off. You have to imagine the antics here, stretching oneself from one end of a wall to the other trying to stick wallpaper up sideways. I tried using stickers to hold it- pretty ones, not so pretty ones, ones I wanted to get rid of. Nothing worked. Don’t tell me masking tape- I couldn’t find any. My roll of that is most probably in the car and it’s pouring.
So I put it on the bed and wrote my narrative arc on it in purple. I like purple. Then I thought, well, I can use this over again and went to find the post it notes that I was sure we had. I found the fluorescent pink notepads that have a sticky line at the back and decided I’ll use those. I plotted out the main scenes and stuck them on. A thin purple line with large pink notelets on it. The roll has rolled. It now lies at the bottom of my bed sulking. I may try green next time when I add in the extra scenes.
I am pleased though, despite all this I have reached my target of one chapter completed. This rewrite round.

It was up with the larks this morning. Now all I have to do is seed clues throughout this piece to help you find the answer to the question of whether I enjoyed it.
We were determined to get as much as possible out of our tutor, Janet Laurence. We made her turn up fifteen minutes early and come back another fifteen minutes early from coffee and she then stayed another fifteen minutes after we’d finished. Many thanks, Janet.
It was that kind of ending. None of us wanted to leave Caerleon and Writers’ Holiday. If it hadn’t been for the beds and the showers we would have stayed there for a lot longer. I am now used to showering in the dark as the light and fan regularly went out after two minutes.
I have returned armed with books (what else on a writing course?), tools, inspiration, determination and new friends.
Thanks are due to Ann and Gerry Hobbs who run the Writers’ Holidays. Their warmth welcomed us and sustained us through to the goodbyes.

Hello Campers! We’re all a little bit bleary eyed this morning because we spent so long with the boys from the Cwmbach Male Voice Choir in the bar, last night.
My course this half of the week is on Crime Writing and we are taught by the very elegant Janet Laurence. This group is getting really stuck into modus operandi , types of murder, reasons why and we can all recall one from true life or point someone else to a book about it. We have sorted out our victims, perps and suspects or Unsubs. This morning we discovered the body/bodies in odd places and they were very odd. I won’t give away anyone’s ideas or when their book comes out, you’ll all be saying, I’ve read that before, it’s been done to death. We are so committed we are meeting earlier than scheduled tomorrow- did you see what I did there? Actually, insanity wasn’t on the list…yet.
The talk in the afternoon was a joint one by husband and wife, Stephen Wade and Kate Walker. They had kindly stepped in to the breach when a speaker had to pull out. Stephen is a poet and has been a writer in residence in prisons. Kate is a famous Romance novelist and is giving the course on contemporary romance. Can you guess who had the most questions?
Caerleon suffered a heat wave today. So after a lovely circular talk by Trisha Ashley, we spent the evening in the garden instead of being indoors at the Poetry Slam. Sacrilege, I know. The Poetry Slam is still going on as I write this and I am going to bed. Last morning tomorrow. Goodnight campers, sweet dreams.

What a day! There aren’t enough superlatives to give it.
My group doing The Novel- taking it deeper, moving it on with Jane Pollard had our last session. We recapped everything we learned and then split into two teams. We had half an hour to come up with a skeleton of a novel from a picture stimulus and choice of four themes.
I have to say, we were a tiny bit sceptical- just a weeny bit. How can that be done? We were not allowed dialogue or description but we had to have character with depth, fears, passion and courage, crises, internal and external tensions and more and a viable plot line.
We did it! Both sets of us. We amazed ourselves. Thank you , Jane. We now have a skeleton that we can work with for any novel. Brilliant! Just what you want to come away with from a Writers’ Holiday.
I moved on to my next choice of course. This will develop over the coming days so hold that thought for a while. It was enough that we succeeded where we did.
We went on the trip to St Fagan’s, National Museum of Life. If you haven’t been, go. They have added new houses and streets. I spent a long time chatting to the cobbler, Geraint, who makes bespoke clogs. I asked how long it took him to make one shoe. He replied that he never makes one shoe always a pair. You can imagine the rest.
Then it was traffic jam all the way back in time for the Cwmbach Male Voice Choir who charmed us completely and sounded so magnificent. There were around 60 of them in concert, the night before they go to Brittany to represent Wales in the Celtic Festival in L’Orient. All I can say is, look out Brittany. These men are wonderful -so sweet, so powerful; glorious. After the concert, they came and sat in the bar with us and sang. For another two hours! Superb! Absolutely joyous. We sat on the baritone table and the twinkle in their eyes sounded in their voices.
And so to bed, without having done my homework for tomorrow- but that as they say, is another day.

Another hard morning’s work with Jane Pollard. I will pin a notice above my computer when I get home in blood: GO DEEPER. My head was bursting with so many ideas that as I walked down the Roman Way into town this afternoon, I was really in 11th Century Spain, not Roman Wales. I have found that I need a little bit of space between the input and the output to mull things through and ponder. My character was walking down the barracks with me, pointing out the latrines and the ovens even before I got there. Naturally I had to check her facts with the one information board, conveniently placed near the latrines. Wouldn’t you know it? She was right.
This means of course that when she speaks to me now, I will have to listen and write it down. I have to confess, I have been listening but not writing it down. My head has been nodding, saying, that’s really interesting, I should make a note of that and then I’ve moved on to the next thing that takes my interest, like sleep.
A change is in order, don’t you think? Instead of my morning pages and extremely intermittent dream journal- seldom kept, I have to institute a new regime, until she decides to leave me again.

The rain held off, you’ll be glad to know. It started spitting on the way back up the hill after the pub crawl. We crawled round two pubs- one with a huge rabbit called Guinness, which was more like a Were- Rabbit. One minute he wasn’t there. The next he appeared and then made ever decreasing circles nearer and nearer us. It was more worrying when he suddenly appeared behind us, close enough to step on and didn’t move. As we stood up to go, he disappeared again- spooky. We moved on to the other pub- the Hanbury Arms where Tennyson composed the Idylls of the King. The pub is right on the banks of the Usk, but as it was dark, we couldn’t care less about the view. We took over the back room until time was called. They serve Brains SA among others.
We needed the drink, honest. We had done such hard work… really. The evening lecture had us halishing for something. Elizabeth Hawksley had called her talk Purple passion : making love on a tiger skin. She read bits of three different novels from the early 1900s ending with The Sheik and yes it was made into a film in 1921 with Rudolph Valentino. Be still my beating heart. It was all over thrills, trembles and passion. So we were in definite need of sustenance of one kind or another.
I’d a really productive morning with Jane Pollard working on moving the novel deeper. She is a hard worker herself and gives very generously to her students. Now I know what I need to do to correct my novel, all that’s left is to rewrite it- again. But I also have the plot outline for another one- wonderful, where did it come from? My partner and I were literally bouncing ideas off each other and then Jane added that extra something- how does she do that?
We spent the afternoon walking round Caerleon’s Roman Baths which are a joy to behold- literally. They are stunning and they’re free! The Museum was also great- I loved the barrack room and the garden. We had a closer look at the amphitheatre than yesterday, going right inside, imagining the tall wooden walls surrounding the central area. Not lions, I think, maybe bulls but they’d have to be little ones or there’d not be much room to escape a charge. Perhaps the little white bull? What do you think?
Tea, I cried, I need tea! Before seeing how we can create a website in under an hour. We saw it done and go live.
So all in all a good day, Roll on tomorrow. Oops, have I done my homework? Better get to it.

Caerleon for me has always been the green mounded amphitheatre under which are the original stones left by the Romans. I lived just down the road in Newport and hardly ever went there- apart from one or two visits in about twenty years. Until today.
I arrived for the last Writers’ Holiday to take place on the campus of Caerleon College. They are moving to Fishguard next year after twenty odd years here.
Twenty seems to be cropping up a lot. Is it the magic number?
We wandered around Caerleon, peered over the barricade at the Amphitheatre- still green and mound looking, marvelled at the the wondrous wooden carvings in the Roman Gate area, stood and pondered the wall at Mynd and thought of the brave Chartist rioters- Newport was very proud of its Chartist heritage- the bullet holes preserved in the Westgate hotel walls, the square named for John Frost, a relation of my old English teacher. Caerleon has the opposite- a wall built to defend the town against the Chartists. And yet it has the sleepy Georgian look of a pretty town taking care of itself along the muddy banks of the fast flowing River Usk.
I have not been on a writers’ holiday before, so I didn’t know what to expect;
being welcomed by a kiss on the cheek was not it.
By the time I had sat down after our walk round part of Caerleon, I had received advice on writing that is even now inscribed in my notebook and will be actioned upon when I get home.
The evening kicked off with a free glass of wine or juice depending on your preference- I must admit, readers, that I drank wine. I know, can you ever forgive me? What can I say, I was carried away by the occasion? I received my comeuppance later on- truly.
We met some pleasant and friendly people at our table and then had dinner together. Just through chatting another link was made. Goodness, it’s great this networking thing, especially when they’re so nice. Four of us stayed together for the talk – we thought we’d get ahead of the game and they’d be in the room by the bar and bagged a table. Those in the know ( that’s anyone who’d been before) found the secret door and nipped in ahead of us. So we tipped out chairs forward, thinking we had sussed out the layout of the room and the person would be running the quiz from the other end of the space.
How wrong were we?
The talk for the evening was entitled 99% Perspiration and delivered by the poet James Nash. Read his collections, buy his books, he is good. He led us from the romantic, personal, intimate and sad to the funny and political. His sonnets are wonderful and hit a space in your chest you didn’t think was working any longer.
Look away now when I say the wine took effect.
By the time I got back to our table that we had previously sourced as the best possible , it was clear that we were now right next to the microphone, but the other were all taken. A steep learning curve.
The quiz was a literary one- did you expect anything else amongst such hallowed members?
Now if it had been a film quiz perhaps we would have done better, but I have to say our numbers were slightly down on the winning table. We came fourth! An achievement to be proud of. And so to bed.
What will tomorrow bring? Maybe a drier day or thunder, it’s in the lap of the gods, but hopefully the muses will sing for us.

I don’t normally give interviews. You are very lucky. I’m beginning to regret this already. Which magazine did you say you worked for? Heat? Well, I can’t say that I’ve ever read it, but it sounds appropriate.
I won’t answer all your questions. I hate being bored. The minute I feeling the inkling of boredom then the interview stops and you had better run very fast.
We’re agreed? Good. Well, you better get on with it. I have other things to do.

Please don’t be impertinent. My future business plans could be seriously undermined by those who wish to stop me or thwart my advance.
I’m in the bullion and jewellery trade. I would have thought that was obvious. What else would a dragon be interested in?
Please! Have you no common sense? Sheep, goats, people- it’s all food. Do you question all your interviewees about what they eat?
You do? Well, more fool them for answering. You also ask about their hygiene habits? I think you had better start running… what? Oh, your readers would be interested in how a dragon deals with the problem of halitosis? It’s a sore spot with those who look after animals. I could say that you humans also have a problem. For me, I find that flossing twice a day to get rid of the stringy bits that curl round the fangs is good. Apart from that I make sure I have a good burn at least once a week. That gets rids of any germs or bacteria that have started growing. Can’t say that I’ve ever had a problem myself. We dragons are partial to the spice of heat in the mouth. Hmm, you’re from Heat? I’m wondering how spicy…
Yes, we can tell another dragon by their breath. It lets us know if they are ill. Their breath changes in texture and smell. We mate for life. It’s important don’t you think that you can bear your mate’s smell if it’s going to be for a long time? I think your fashion of chopping and changing partners is more because of smell than anything else. Get that right and it all falls in to place.
Where’s my… I think we are done here. You of all people should know how insensitive that question is. I thought we had an agreement. Now if you don’t mind, I should like to be alone.
What? I don’t think saying sorry is ever enough. I am deeply hurt. Just because I am rather larger and fiercer than the usual dragon, doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings. You didn’t know dragons came in smaller sizes? What planet are you from? This is exactly why I don’t give interviews. Don’t you do any research? You people make me sick. I suppose if you don’t know anything you make it up.
It has been known, has it? And you want me to set the record straight? Well, you’d better be quick. What do you want now? You want me to answer the questionnaire that is asked of all your interviewees? I’m not sure that I want all this information to be broadcast. It might aid my enemies. Those businessmen I talked about. The espionage bill is astronomically high within the cutthroat world of futures. Naturally, I mean the stock exchange, My wealth is not just in tangible properties. What did you think that I had a hoard? That is so last century. At the moment the euro is causing considerable worry with my partners in China. They’re thinking of reverting to the gold standard. I must say, I’m beginning to agree with them. So hoarding might come back into fashion. Listen to your instincts, in this case my cousins, they come right in the end. It’s always best to keep it in the family isn’t it? Yes, very well to do, they aren’t persecuted in China. They are seen as gods or nearly gods. I laugh when I see the people dancing in the way they think we do. If I did that my back would give out, but it’s great fun.
Back to your questionnaire, if we must.
I have lost count of the number of clutches I’ve had. Not all survived. And some were killed, murdered, assassinated by your kind. We dragons have been victims of persecution for as long as I can remember and that my dear, is a very long time. My memory is better than the proverbial elephant. Which, if you think about, it is bound to be since we live longer. NO! I have never known a dragon to suffer from dementia. The very thought is abhorrent.
Now you’ve made me think about it, it does explain the number of dragons who have walked into obvious traps and been killed. I sometimes wondered why they didn’t see and then fly out of danger. Pride, I suppose.
There are always bad eggs in a clutch. If I have to admit to it, yes, the komodo dragons are related, very distantly on my father’s side. My mother would never let us visit. She said they were nearly feral. She didn’t want us associating with their kind. Brought down the whole class of dragonhood, she said. My mother was very hot on manners. Literally. If we put a wing wrong or a claw up when it wasn’t appropriate we were blasted. Terrible scourge, mother was. Many a time we watched her flash a village when she’d been angered by some well- intentioned idiot of a mayor. They had some stupid notion that my mother liked nubile young girls. They were flaunting them at her all the time. It got so that wherever we went as a brood, young women were being thrust at us from all sides.
Who knows where they got this idea from? Maybe you can explain it? You thought we …? Excuse me while I snort! Did that hit you? Oh, I am sorry. No, I can see that cleaning won’t help. Perhaps I can offer you some recompense. This pearl, perhaps? Yes, it is a fine one. I plucked it from the mouth of the giant oyster who lives deep within the Marian Trench. You didn’t know, well who was expecting you to know? So I take it, you don’t want the pearl? You do? Of course you do. Venial, like all your kind.
Quite frankly, I’m bored now. You’ve got enough and what you wanted. NO. No pictures. I prefer if the masses didn’t know what I looked like. If that is a camera phone, then I suggest you delete it now. Oh dear, did that burn? Here, have a gold necklace and find your own way out.
I would run if I were you.

Treading softly, her bare feet trying to avoid crushing the tiny creatures she knew were there, she made her way down to where she could hear the rushing of water. The stream slipped over the rounded rocks, smoothing them by the very force of its motion. It called out in a burble, murmuring sounds over and over, daring to splash and then hide under sheltered banks. It looked so cool, the flashes of sunlight caught in the water’s sparkling net, she was drawn to dip her toes.
The mossy bank cushioned her as she stretched out one dusty foot. Tickling her toes, the droplets swarmed, sucking the dryness and leaving glistening patches. Inviting, entrancing her, she succumbed. With a two handed twist, she had wrenched off her dress and was in that water, shivering from the sudden shock of the change of temperature.
Her dark hair floated on the surface as she tried to open her eyes beneath. For a brief instant, all was dark and murky. The mud, disturbed by her entry, settled in slow folds, rippling on the bottom of the river. Her toes clenched at the uneven ground seeking purchase. She wavered, teetering, unbalanced, rocked by the motion she had set up.
Then, her sight cleared and the water brightened. Each reed was revealed in its sharp laurel frond. The tiny fish glimmered as they darted round her legs, snipping, nibbling and picking at her skin. A bubble of laughter popped from her nostrils. Joyous delight in the wonder of the riverbed, alive with creatures she had never seen before.
She stretched out a hand to capture a miniscule black dot as it warbled past her. It slipped through her questing fingers as cream through a sieve. She teased it for a little while longer until afraid of damaging it, she desisted. Marvelling at the new world that had opened up to her, she tentatively lifted one foot then another off the ground. She spread her arms and gave herself up to the strength of the stream.
Her body floated this way and that. The stream continued its course around, about and under her. Sometimes a rock protruded, she pushed away from it. Sometimes she was content to let the stream take her where it willed. Her skin wrinkled. The tiny fish surrounded her and released her. She sloughed her old self off, feeling it fall away from her as chains from a freed slave.
The water bore her onwards through white froth and spume, lighter, airier, unfettered, down to a wide sheltered pool. She darted between sticks, hid behind rushes, danced through the spray of rainbow coloured globules, laughing and singing. She belonged here. She dived deep, seeking the bottom. A cave revealed itself under the overhang of the bank. She swam closer. The walls were ribbed like an ancient mariner’s chest. The roof arched narrowly and squeezed itself into a fissure that trickled thin rays of sunlight. The darkness beyond sent shivers of fear through her. She retreated to a shallower area.
The seasons drifted ever onwards. She found a home for herself within the pool. The creatures all knew her and befriended her. She was not lost for company. The willows bent their heads to whisper secrets they had captured from the wind. The bright kingfishers gleamed brilliant blue and gave her eyes the flash of radiance that comes with true beauty. The rain spattered richness, adding minute particles of matter that was absorbed by her pool, changing them into food, fuel, life forms. She was content. She had no memory left of those distant harsh times. Nothing remained to remind her. Only the dark recesses of the cave gave her pause.
The wind whistled through the branches, it cackled and shrilled. She dived deep into the water, hoping it would be enough. There was a stirring in the mud at the bottom of her pool. Large cracks appear and the water seeped in, forcing the gaps wider and ever wider. Hot steam pillared up, bubbling and boiling as it did so. A phoenix flew out of the chasm that ripped her pool apart. It soared high, screaming with the agony of rebirth. Swooping low, it brushed the surface of the drained pool, charring the bodies of the creatures floundering there. Three times it circled, diving, squawking and singeing. It hurled itself against the sky glowing in the blue, ever fainter, a bright speck to join the dust of starlight.
She had huddled inside the cave. No fear caused her limbs to tremble. She gasped as her lungs adjusted. Her eyes, awash with sorrow for her companions, closed. The ground beneath her feet solidified, calcified. Faltering fingers gripped the dried walls. She steadied herself and breathed in deeply. Cautiously, she opened her eyes, daring herself to see the chaos that she was sure lay beyond.

A breeze played with the tendrils of her hair. Her hands rediscovered her changed body. She lifted her legs and wondered at the weight they now had. The grass tickled her toes and she moved on, clutching the stone. She did not look back, she did not need to. The way was clear.
The end

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