Always looking forward to welcome new readers.
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Still distraught, Delilah straightened herself and turned towards the big boat. For a second she wished not to have chosen such a spectacular rendezvous. She dismissed the thought. Vörös’s men wouldn’t look in such a high profile spot. They would be searching the backstreets and bars. There were lots of places to hide in such a big city. The boat was perfect because it was so unlikely. It was best, she believed, to hide as a lantern, not as a silhouette. Spoon was like that: an unmissable flash on the banks of the Danube.
The girl walked down the covered gangplank to an exterior boardwalk where a female receptionist dressed in a small, smart suit stood by a reservations lectern seemingly impervious to the cold.
The receptionist cast a schooled eye over the young woman and her informal attire. She confirmed there was indeed a booking in the name of Drummond and, with a disapproving glare, ushered her newest guest inside. Delilah politely asked if there was a washroom; she had only just finished work and would like to tidy herself.
The cloakroom was big and plush. She occupied a cubicle and quickly stripped to her knickers. From the shoulder bag she pulled out the little blue dress and the cheap pair of heels she’d bought earlier. She tore out the price labels. Quickly, the girl dressed in the new outfit and pulled the overcoat over the top. The old clothes she folded tightly and placed in her bag. At the sparkling basins, she washed with water. She hadn’t bought any make-up, but she decided the natural look, added to the waist-length ponytail, made her look fresh, innocent and rather homely. She ate the last of the fudge. There was a silver salver piled with little sugared sweets. She picked a handful, placed one on her tongue and sucked. Her mouth fizzed with bitter mint.
With the bag slung carelessly over her shoulder, the girl went back outside. She exchanged her coat and satchel for a stub ticket at the cloakroom. Then, purse in one hand, she set her shoulders back and her head firm and straight, her figure upright and brazen – exactly how Madam Souza would have wanted her. Delilah’s long shapely legs carried her, alluring and assured, into the wide, lustrous splendour of the lounge…
©2015 Christoph John
The train pulled from the station and Brno was left behind. The railway line cut between the mountains outside the city, following an old floodplain. The landscape was close, flat and empty. The last light of the day vanished and the inky darkness of night drew a curtain over the window. The girl became calm again and she took another short nap, her head propped against his chest and his arm about her shoulder.
Drago woke her when he needed the toilet and excused himself. The girl was right; the nearest convenience was under repair. A sign was tacked to the door and said something in three languages, one of them German, none of them English. He found a vacant cubicle in the next carriage.
Drago went inside and slid the bolt across. It was a roomy chamber, big enough for him to take two strides before reaching the bowl and sink. Like all chemical traps it stank of other people’s waste. Someone rattled the door. While he flushed and rinsed his hands, the lock shook again. It was probably an impatient, irritating child, he thought. Drago unlocked and opened the door.
The stranger stood very close to the entrance, no more than a foot away. He was dressed in an unbuttoned dull brown raincoat over a dark suit. Sprouting from the man’s gloved left hand was the stark metal barrel of an automatic pistol...
The debut Jon Drago novel will be published on 10th November 2015
Are you ready to meet the Steel Wolf...?
I have managed to obtain from Joelle Lever the winning entry from the Sutton College Creative Writing Competition. It really is an excellent poem and deserves wider readership. Please enjoy.
The elders would have known all their names.
They’d roll off their tongues in patois.
Sometimes in my sleep, my eye traces their shapes:
The Shady Stone, Dead Man’s Ledge,
The Eagle’s Beak, Venus’ Breast.
I go there at dusk,
When the kites call their last,
High above the valleys and the long shadows.
There you can smell the rain before it comes,
The storm’s static crawls on your hair.
Under a cover of yellow gentian
Small creatures hide in the matted grass.
Just beneath the velvet skin
I see the small drum of their hearts.
Here I can lean and freefall,
Follow the mist only the tallest spires pierce.
I taste the moisture on my lips,
Wet my finger to find the wind.
By Garabit white meets red,
Smothers the viaduct’s pillars.
Upstream of the dam
I peel back the blanket of water,
Watch flooded villages run dry,
Set off rusty bells.
And when darkness folds around me,
I run back down the scrub
Until cold grass licks at my feet,
And now my eye is blind,
Orange salamanders line the path.
©2015 Joelle Lever
On Tuesday 21st July 2015 the winner was announced for the Sutton College Creative Writing Competition in Association with Waterstones. The competition was open to national participation and the prize was presented at Waterstones book store in Sutton. The winner was Joelle Lever for her poem Pays. In a competition the judges decreed as very difficult, Christoph John received runners-up recognition for his poem The Salentine.
Below is a picture of Christoph with Joelle and Waterstone's manager Mike Long.
We watch the light fade among
The palms and pines of the communale,
Embers of urgent Otranto suns.
Your dry lips, my fingers touch.
We suckle ginger-peach gelato.
The lanterns beckon us
Over bastion walls to the meadow
Of the sea, the sea which leads to
Everywhere and ebbs turbulent sorrow.
They still wander the raw Salentine,
Men from over the sea: Griko,
White terracotta houses tipping horizons,
Rose and lavender baskets,
Shrines to San Pietro, Maria,
Silent summers, fields swept with oranges
And emeralds, the olive orchards
Where Spartacus was betrayed,
And the stone of the Appian Way
Was lined by dead slaves, crucified
On pine and palm, their cypress
Echo, seeping from the sweet soil,
From beyond the ages.
Listen! The women in the meadows,
Centuries of song, mandolins, accordions,
The primeval mandragora of the taranta,
Dipping, swaying, until the blood is purged by the drum
Of stamping feet and magical, splintered voices.
© 2015 Christoph John
On Friday 24th October 2014 Christoph John won the One Planet Poetry Slam held at the Charles Cryer Theatre in Carshalton. The event was organised by Sutton Writers and was part of the 2014 One Planet Sutton Festival Arts. The award was for the Best Poetry Recital (for a poem written on a non-environmental theme.)
The winning entry was On the Day My Granddaughter Learned About the War. It was inspired by the national events surrounding the commemmoration of the Great War 1914 -18 which took place that summer. His poem uses the thoughts and experiences of real veterans and re-imagines them from the perspective of one soldier. For this he is indebited to Max Arthur and his brilliant book Last Post: The Final Word from Our First World War Soldiers.
Christoph would also like to mention Nicholas Budd, who pointed out that a Lewis Gun was fastened to a bipod, not a tripod. You can't fault research!
The poem is reproduced here and in the Cuttings section.
On the Day My Granddaughter Learned About the War
After ‘Last Post: The Final Word from Our First World War Soldiers’ by Max Arthur.
One day at school my granddaughter
Had been learning about the war,
She was telling me all of it,
I said: ‘I know. I was there.’
People teach rubbish about the trenches.
Gruesome things happened there.
Only those who lived it
Can tell how it happened.
We spent the hours in shovel-dug holes
Cut deep in the damp old earth,
The lice enjoyed the feasting,
Plum plump with blood,
Burrowing in our jerkins
Clad in precious French mud,
Our biscuits sour mouthfuls
And the cracking of bullets overhead.
Everything was mud and water and continuous bombardment,
You’d sweat like Jesus,
John Nash painted the bewilderment,
The dead trampled by the living,
A study in fear,
Over the top,
The memories etched in the pastels,
The daubs and the splatters,
I can still smell the ghastly heroism,
Terror gripping gaunt faces,
Your end foretold by memorial flowers,
Dusty billows of white on grey,
The machine gun spores,
One hundred yards away
And not a tree or stick left standing.
They called me up on my birthday,
We were hit by the first cases of flu,
Men keeled over on parade
Like soldiers in the mud,
I had ten days in bed,
My uniform fumigated,
More people died of the flu than the war.
We took playing cards, footballs, keepsakes,
Things to remind us of home,
Tiny sepia photographs;
I used to think of my brother,
Peach Melbas in long glasses,
Lazy days riding ponies by the canal,
I kept a Bible in a Christmas box
Inscribed ‘with love’, read by cannon fire
Until the words were crushed,
Crumpled into God’s bowels
And the days of bloody shelling stopped
And the whistle went up,
Over the top,
No, I’ll stop:
You can’t describe the horror.
My fingers went like putty,
My gloves were wet rags,
Struggling to secure the Lewis gun,
Bipod askew on dangerous ground,
I didn’t need to aim,
I thumbed the trigger,
They ran in a line as if I wasn’t there,
They ran into my bullets,
Eight men dead by my bullets,
They die in screams and whispers,
The world swallows them and me,
One lay on what was left of the earth,
Ripped from shoulder to stomach,
His insides wriggling beside him,
Gnarled lips twist one word:
I rolled a cigarette,
The cracking of bullets overhead,
Well, what was I supposed to do?
It was stinking in there,
Everything was with us,
Rats and shit and the bodies of our boys,
A thrown up carcass,
A thoroughbred stallion,
Pristine bone on snaggled dank flesh,
The horses only lasted a few days,
They went blind with gas,
So we shot them.
I moved left,
Out of the shell hole,
If I moved right
I wouldn’t be talking now,
The shrapnel got me
And the rest of the war was hospital beds,
Nurse’s aprons billowing white
And a belly of regret.
The shell disturbed the mustard gas
Lying dormant with unknown soldiers,
It made me weep, still makes me itch
Like vermin nibbling at groaning flesh.
Those who got identified were deducted a quid
To pay for a corpse blanket
And were shoved one foot deep in the sod
As if it never happened.
I used to think of my brother,
As the bullets broke overhead,
How he held my hand as we walked to school.
It broke my heart when he was killed on the Somme.
I wish I’d died with him,
But it wasn’t to be.
I gave up smoking aged 104,
The doctors said it’d kill me.
© 2014 Christoph John