Talk about getting things backwards…

DaVinciCodeSolution

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper

If all that matters to you as a writer, or reader are pretty pictures like the one above take a trip to an art gallery or museum.

What am I on about?

These days more and more writers fall into the trap over what their book’s cover looks like. A lot obsess over it. Before you say anything, yes I accept it’s all part of the modern day sales pitch when it comes to paperbacks and eBooks.

But remember this – until you have built up a faithful readership, as long as night follows day, having a spectacular cover is no guarantee of sales. What sells is your writing talent and the story itself.

“Ah, but having one improves my book’s chance,” I hear hundreds of you caustically shriek. Not necessarily true!

For example, I know several fellow writers who have spent a lot of hard earned money on each and every cover of their books. Yes I grant you the end result is eye-catching. But when you have a chat in private with each writer and ask how many copies of book X,Y or Z actually sold, most will say it made little or no difference whatsoever.

I’m sorry to burst your bubble here people, but, you can have the most artistically produced cover ever conceived, but if you the author are unknown, or the story itself is either below par, or its genre is currently out of vogue, no amount of time, money and effort put into the cover art, will induce people to buy. Last time I checked, you don’t read a picture unless its the speech bubbles on each page of a comic!

Most reputable publishers focus on the quality of the books they are responsible for, avoiding the need for individual cover design. Remember Penguin?  With no fancy picture to distract the reader, Penguin relied on you the reader perusing the first few pages. All actual bookshops allow you to open a book at page one and read a paragraph or chapter. The same applies to eBooks. Most online outlets selling them give you a ‘look inside’ option to sample the story.

In some countries around the world, books are sold sans cover, relying on the quality of the story waiting to be read. That’s how it should be…

There’s no substitute for hard work

Liz-S-Writing-Workshop-101

This morning I perused several posts on different internet pages extolling the importance of attending workshops and conferences for writers. All of them give the unsuspecting the totally wrong message, by implying that participation is a guarantee to literary success by sitting down with, and talking to, what the various sites claim are professionals in our business.

Most also suggest that by spending copious amounts of money to promote your work via their sites will also ensure success. This little time bomb is usually to be found buried in the small print, tucked well away from the main text.

It’s all complete bollocks!

If you are a social climbing gadfly with money to burn who loves to tell anyone within earshot that you are an author, by all means flit between the various writers workshops and conferences, no matter where they are, to your heart’s content. If you believe that doing this will somehow make you a writer – dream on!

These days you will find many of these wannabe’s on sites like Facebook. They are fairly easy to spot. Usually they are the ones who add the word author as if it is one of their christian names – Author Joe Bloggs, or they add the word to their surname – Joe Bloggs- Author.

However, not all writers who have the word added to their name can be lumped together with the wannabes. There are one or two exceptions. Usually they are people who got caught out when creating an account on the social media site of their choice.

As a general rule of thumb, you will find that hardworking real writers just use their given name.

If you delude yourself into believing that by rubbing shoulders with well known authors, somehow or other some of their success will rub off on you, think again! As for the literary agents and publisher’s representatives who the various sites say will be in attendance, if they turn up at all, which is highly doubtful, they are only looking for one thing – a manuscript to exploit to their own financial advantage. They are certainly not there for you.

As for the kind of literary success the various sites say is yours for the taking, unless you are known celebrity, be it an actor, pop-star, socialite, television personality or sports man or woman, who has been approached by a publisher with an in-house ghost writer standing by – forget it!

Come on now, you didn’t really think that your favourite movie star or singer actually penned that best seller did you? Well did you?

Take it from one who knows – there is no substitute under the sun for hard work and long experience. That only comes after years of honing your craft. Most of us continue honing until the day we shuffle off this mortal coil. Don’t worry if it takes you several years or decades, one day you will pen a work which appeals to the general reading public.

Meantime get busy writing…

A Temporary Truce

Blazenose

Another tale from my anthology “Globular Van der Graff’s Goblin Tales for Adults…

***

In which Globular Van der Graff, (Glob), Makepeace Terranova (Make), Byzantine Du Lac (Byz), Eponymous Tringthicky (Mous), curmudgeonly old Neopol Stranglethigh (Neo), and Bejuss, the one eyed lisping raven with the twisted beak, are confronted with an unwelcome arrival from beyond Goblindom’s borders.

***

When the unbelievably smelly plains goblin Snidely Grossbundle had woken up with a lump the size of an acorn on his pointed head, courtesy of Neo’s club, he discovered much to his great annoyance that the life he knew before had now ended. Finding himself locked inside the stinking cell previously occupied by the grand high goblin, Obadiah Fingletook beneath the mountain top lair of Baron Cragwit Grimbledoff. He had been struggling to survive on a starvation diet, while trying to figure out how he was going to escape his living tomb.

The world was gripped in the frozen clutches of winter once more. Dragon Tooth Mountain where Snide was imprisoned lay hidden beneath freezing cloud and a thick blanket of solid ice. His stinking matted coat of hair had stuck itself fast to the ice covering the stone floor, restricting his movement. He hadn’t eaten a proper meal in many moons. He barely survived on spiders and the odd bat which landed within reach from time to time, after it had flown through the hole above his head seeking a place to roost.

“H-h-h – drat’s it, I’s catchin a cold – h-h-h-h-ffner!” Snide’s explosive sneeze deposited a stinking mess onto his hairy arm. He smelt it, licked it, and then swallowed it. “When’s I’s going ter gets out on here, that’s wot I’s wants ter know?” he wondered grumpily, while he scratched his head searching through his matted hair for something else to eat. None of the spiders, earwigs, snails, toads and slugs who lived in the cell, offered a reply. Snide was merely an unwelcome and dangerous intruder in their existence. Then his already dire situation took a tragic turn for the worse.

***

Cragwit’s lair lay directly below as Kilycke circled above the ancient edifice. The black slit pupils of his golden eyes focused on the ruined building. “At long lassst, I have finally found my ancessstral nessst.” he hissed, smiling to himself as he circled overhead one last time before landing in the ancient courtyard. He folded his giant wings and began sniffing the stonework. From now on Cragwit’s old lair would once again belong to his kind. “I sssmell a plainsss goblin ssstinking up my nessst – wherever it isss, I’ll find it.”

Kilycke had spent most of his long life searching the entire world for the nest. To have a goblin infesting it was the last straw and completely intolerable.  His cruel mouth twisted into an evil smile as he began searching for the intruder. In the gloom his keen eyesight soon detected the missing stone in the courtyard. Despite his great bulk he silently moved over to investigate.

Below the courtyard Snide trembled violently. Even though he could not see, he knew that a large dragon had just landed. As his fear grew, his body’s foul odour increased in intensity. Despite the freezing cold, he perspired profusely.

Kilycke twisted his great spiked head sideways and peered into the darkness below the missing stone with one eye. His magnificent eyesight quickly adjusted, soon picking out the tiny trembling goblin. His mouth opened ready to strike. In an instant everything within the cell was incinerated. Snide screamed his last when he was enveloped in the fiery breath of the evil black dragon, ending forever his stinking existence.

***

Glob and Neo sat on the old oak’s snow covered giant bough outside their front door, glad to trade the turmoil inside their home for the relative peace and quiet of the frozen world. Make and Mous were arguing loudly as usual.

Byz and Bejuss were fighting over a spider which Byz had found hiding under his bed, and decided to keep for himself. “Put me food down! Me wont’th it, me thtill hungry,” Bejuss lisped angrily, carefully lining up his beak, ready to strike. Aiming at the wriggling spider, he stabbed Byz’s hand instead. It was not an entirely surprising result when you consider the old raven only has one eye.

While Byz danced in pain, with floods of tears flowing down his cheeks, Bejuss didn’t miss a second time when he made short work of the spider as it tried to escape. As far as he was concerned, far too many folks where taking liberties with his food of late. Baby Ylesse had started it off at Neo’s feast. Now Byz had joined in. Enough was enough! “Rarrk – play wiv me food agin n me’ll thtab yer, thee if me don’t!” he angrily insisted, as Byz gave him a black look, while tearfully nursing the deep cut on his hand from Bejuss’ sharp twisted beak.

The whooshing sound of giant wings flying low above the oak instantly silenced the goblin household in a heartbeat. A split second later a humin battle horn blew from the direction of the village. By the time Glob, Bejuss and the rest arrived, all of the humin’s roundhouses were afire.

“Wot was it that dids this Mica me lad?” Neo shouted loudly, to make himself heard above the violent crackling and roaring of the flames, and the cries of the injured.

Mica turned briefly towards his small friends, glad to see they were all alive, with a look of complete shock on his face. “Twas a dragon my friends, a fierce black giant,” he said, wiping ash from his eyes. The goblin brothers immediately began helping their humin friends, trying to save what few possessions they could.

Neo waded chest deep through the snow to Miranda’s stable. The old mare’s eyes were wide with terror. She neighed and thrashed at the sturdy pole which barred the door with her strong back legs. The goblin quickly ducked under the pole and her wildly flailing hooves. “There, there me love, yer Neo’s here ter protects yer,” he soothed, “comes wiv me dearest; tis time ter takes yer ter the safety on the woods.” Miranda immediately calmed down when she heard the welcome sound of her Neo’s voice. She lowered her head and nuzzled his leathery old face in thanks as he put on her halter.

By nightfall the humin village was nothing more than a deserted, burnt out shadow on the snow covered ground. Mica and his father-in-law, the village shaman Yestin assisted by Glob, Make, Mous, Byz and Bejuss had led the survivors of Kilycke’s vicious unprovoked attack to the old cave hidden by the thickly wooded steep side of the valley, where the witch Cazophen had once briefly lived.

***

Over the next few days Kilycke indiscriminately attacked the homes of many across Goblindom, leaving behind nothing but ashes and burnt bodies. No one was safe from his rampage. This new fiery threat to all living things within the borders of their hidden world had to be dealt with quickly. Enmity between all simply had to end.

On Mica’s insistence, invitations to an emergency council of war, and an immediate truce for the duration were quickly sent out to the many leaders of all living beings. The meeting place would be the ruins of the humin village on the first night of the next moon.

***

A vast army recruited from the three goblin tribes – plains, woods and mountain, escorted her magnificence, Hermione Fingletook, mother of all, and her first born, the grand high goblin, Obadiah Fingletook, accompanied by Hermione’s beautiful young adopted daughter Heliotrope, much to the goblin brother’s great annoyance. She had already nearly cost Make his life, so why had Hermione brought her along?

Boggis, the one eyed leader of the mountain trolls sat next to Hermione, greedily ogling her ample proportions. Fighting off his strong desire to gnaw on her, he licked his lips imagining how she would taste. He briefly turned over in his mind whether it would be better to boil, or perhaps, spit-roast her over hot coals. Maybe she should be stuffed with truffles and wild onion, and her carcase basted with honey syrup, to produce tasty crackling?

The rest of the war council consisted of the leaders of the ogres, mountain and plains gremlins, griffins and wyverns led by Yathle. Mica and Yestin represented the humins. Lox and her forest elves sat quietly in the shadows. Morweth and Brilith sat beside Glob. All eyes turned suspiciously to where Crellen, the much feared black wizard, sat beside fat Obadiah, making him shake with fear and break wind, much to everyone’s annoyance.

Mica stood to address the assembly. “Friends, we have a new common enemy. Unless we can come up with a plan to defeat this black dragon we will all perish.”

“If I’s may address the council on war yung Mica,” Grimefleet Binglenook, the last elder goblin interjected as he struggled to his feet, leaning heavily on his ornate bejewelled walking stick. Bingle adjusted his snail shell ear trumpet and cleared his throat. “The great book on law has within its pages a section on hows ter fights just such a foe as this black dragon,” he began. “A direct assault on its nest is the answer. Destroy it for all times n the inhabitant loses all its strength. Black dragons do draw their magic from their ancestral nest n the ground on which it sits. Finds the nest n casts a spell on undoing upon it. Once its nest is destroyed, the dragon will dissolve n its spirit will joins its ancestors in the constellation of Draco in the stars above.” Finished, Bingle sat down heavily, completely exhausted.

The black wizard Crellen stood up, casting a scornful eye over the assembled group. “What the ugly wizened one says is perfectly true. I’m greatly surprised that such a low nothing as a goblin even comprehends the complexities of the magic arts, let alone has knowledge of the stars above,” he began, haughtily glaring at Bingle. “To cast such a spell will require the expertise of both black and white practitioners of magic. If Morweth will agree to work with me, between us we shall manufacture and cast just such a spell. But we cannot travel to the dragon’s nest unprotected. Nor can we be expected to wander the land in search of it. Scouting parties must be sent out to the north, south, east and west. Meantime, no large groups should be assembled; the dragon will easily detect and destroy them. By the time this is over, thousands may die. I suggest that the goblin army be broken up into small parties to assist in the search for the dragon’s nest?”

Neo angrily rose brandishing his club, glaring at the wizard through his rapidly crossing eyes. Everyone knew that Bingle was Neo’s oldest friend. As far as he was concerned no one could get away with insulting his friend, or goblins in general, come to that. He charged towards Crellen swinging his club above his leathery old head, ready to draw black wizard blood. His attack stopped suddenly when he was hoisted unceremoniously into the air by the scruff of his scrawny neck. “Crellen, this is no time for cruel insults!” Mica declared angrily after sitting Neo back down minus his club, once more taking control of the situation.

The wizard bowed low and sat back down with a contemptuous smirk on his face. At any other time he would have instantly turned his tiny potential attacker into a toad or a pebble without a moment’s hesitation.

Hermione rose from her seat. “If Yathle and her sisters will agree to work with the griffins patrolling the skies, and Boggis and his kind will agree to work with the ogres and elves patrolling the woods and mountain passes to the east and west, Obadiah and Heliotrope will organise the collection of whatever ingredients Crellen and Morweth deem necessary to manufacture their spell.”

Obadiah jumped indignantly to his feet with a haughty look on his fat face and began yelling at the top of his voice. “I AM THE GRAND HIGH GOBLIN, NOT SOME LOW KITCHEN SKULLION. I REFUSE TO DO MENIAL WORK DO YOU HEAR MOTHER!”

Glob sidled over to him and whispered quietly in his ear, “If’s yer don’t behave, I’ll tells everyone here bout us finding yer naked. Plus, I’ll tells everyones bout the big ugly wart on yer fat wobbly backside. Now sits down n shuddup yer royal fatness – or else!” Obadiah glared angrily at him for a split second, and then sat down pouting. He dreaded the thought of public humiliation, knowing full well that Glob would carry out his threat.

Make stood, puffed on his bestest briar pipe for a moment blowing a perfect smoke ring, and said, “begs pardons yer worships, but Grassnit Thimblefoot be the best scout I’s knows. He’s shud leads the wizards once the dragon’s nest be found.” He then sat down with a smile on his face, satisfied that he had offered something worthy to the discussion.

Mica stood once more and was about to end the meeting when he noticed Boggis out of the corner of his eye, attempting to lick and sniff Hermione, while slobbering all over her back. “Boggis, unless you stop thinking about eating folk, I’ll ask Crellen to turn you to stone this very instant!” Boggis looked sheepish as all eyes concentrated on him, and sullenly complied. “Very well friends,” Mica continued, “it appears we have a mutually agreed plan. Crellen and Morweth will need a place hidden from view to work while the rest of us divide up into scouting groups. But how will we communicate. With so many groups spread far and wide, should one find the nest, we need to keep in touch. Plus, the black dragon’s every movement needs to be observed and reported.”

Old Bejuss flew from where he had perched in the trees above, to where Mica stood. “Me can help,” the old raven said, “If me athk’th all me birdy couthinth for their help, we can act ath yer methengerth – rarrk.”

Yathle flexed her wings adding, “we wyverns and griffins can search from above, working alone. If the dragon sees any of us flying together it may attack. When the time comes we can divert its attention while the wizards do their work.” All assembled murmured their agreement.

***

By the dawn of the following day Crellen and Morweth were busy at work deep inside the bowels of the ancestor oak’s great trunk in a makeshift laboratory, making use of all the many ingredients they demanded Obadiah and Heliotrope brought to them.

Small scouting parties of two or three individuals crept throughout the land, searching for any sign of dragon attack, taking advantage of every kind of cover. In the skies above, birds flew to and fro with the odd wyvern or griffin. To the casual observer, all looked normal in the frozen world of Goblindom.

Kilycke sat on the walls of his nest sniffing the wind, listening and watching. His long tail lashed slowly from side to side. He stretched his wings and flexed his limbs. It was time to cause mayhem once more in the world below. Besides, his rumbling gut told him he was hungry again. The ogre he had barbecued last night with his fiery breath barely filled one corner of his stomach. “It’sss time to hunt,” he hissed to himself as he spread his wings, making good use of the winds by gliding silently eastward on the hunt.

Working on a hunch, Nit had taken Neo with him on his search for the dragon’s nest. They were once again journeying through the wild country beyond the north western borders of goblin held territory within Goblindom. They had briefly stopped for a rest, sheltering in the shallow cave on the road to Dragon Tooth Mountain when they heard the unmistakeable sound of dragon wings high above them.  “Peers yer notion wos rights after all Nit,” Neo chuckled.

“Aye, bests gets back wiv the news,” Nit replied, smiling and puffing contentedly on his clay pipe. By the time they reported their findings to Mica, Crellen, Morweth and Hermione, news had already arrived about the dragon’s latest target to the east, courtesy of a griffin named Slyth.

***

Kilycke flew silently among the clouds on the hunt above Goblindom’s eastern reaches. His keen sense of smell honed in on his next target, a humin settlement close to where Brilith and Morweth lived. But when he delivered his fiery attack, the burning village was empty of its inhabitants. Brilith had previously warned them. Heeding her advice, they had taken refuge deep inside a cave behind a waterfall.

Raging with fury and frustration the dragon flew south, closely shadowed by a one eyed old raven with a twisted beak. By nightfall Kilycke had temporarily made camp after successfully broiling a tiny band of goblin scouts with one mighty blast from his mouth, and now sat eating his fill. Bejuss perched in the branches of a tree close by with his one beady eye focussed on the monstrous armoured killing machine who now slumbered as he digested his goblin snack. Wherever Kilycke went, Bejuss would surely follow.

The old raven must have finally nodded off, because the next thing he knew he was suddenly woken by a panicked cry from above. Slyth twisted and turned as Kilycke chased him. “Fetch help Bejuss – hurry!” the griffin screeched, as he narrowly avoided being roasted in mid-air.

Bejuss needed no urging. He flew low and fast through the trees, ducking and diving among the branches. Within an hour he arrived breathless inside the cave mouth above the ruined village where Mica sat. “Rarrk – Slyth’th in trouble,” he panted, “the dragon ith tryin ter burn him!”

Mica immediately blew his battle horn. In answer, the air above the valley rapidly filled with wyverns, griffins and birds of many hues. Bejuss flew to Yathle to tell her what was happening. She thanked him and set off closely followed by a dozen of her sisters and a squadron of griffins, escorted by flights of eagles, crows, ravens, hawks and old Bejuss who did not want to be left out of the action.

***

Word reached Mica’s ear via an elven runner that Crellen and Morweth were ready with their spell. Nit and Neo escorted the two wizards to Dragon Tooth Mountain and Kilycke’s nest, glad of the distraction offered by Yathle and her aerial armada many leagues away. While Crellan and Morweth prepared to conjure the spell of undoing at the centre of the courtyard, above the cell where Snide had perished so terribly, a mighty battle began to unfold in the southern skies.

Yathle’s keen eyesight soon fell on the frantic mid-air duel ahead. Slyth was growing increasingly exhausted as he ducked and dived, twisted and turned as Kilycke sought to destroy him with his fiery breath. Issuing her battle cry she led her aerial armada to war.

Meanwhile, Crellan and Morweth stood ready at the centre of the courtyard in the ancestral nest of Kilycke. Together, they chanted their powerful spell of undoing.

“O clyw ni elfennau i gyd. Dewch tân, daw gwynt, yn dod mellt. Dinistrio nythod hyn o drwg, gyrru allan pob drwg o’r lle hwn, yn ôl y pwerau hud!”

Neo and Nit stood in the shadows keeping watch as the two great wizards repeated their spell. “Wots they sayin Nit, wot language is they speakin?” Neo whispered.

Nit listened for a moment longer before replying. “They’s talkin in the ancient humin language on the west Neo.”

“So wots is it theys saying thens?”

Nit translated. “Oh hear us elements all. Come fire, wind and lightening. Destroy this nest of evil and drive it all from this place, according to the powers of magic.” As the spell was repeated for a third time, the ancestral dragon nest slowly began to destroy itself, stone by stone.

Far to the south, Kilycke was surrounded by thousands of birds, dozens of griffins and Yathle and her sisters, closely followed by brave Bejuss.

With each probing attack, the black dragon suffered terrible wounds. As he twisted and turned firing great blasts of flame, hundreds died, hideously burned. At first Kilycke seemed unchanged by the spell. But slowly he began to weaken. As the power of the spell increased, his armour of tight fitting scales began to fall away.

Seizing their opportunity, two of Yathle’s sisters delivered a fiery broadside scorching his exposed body, making him scream in agony. Seeing bare flesh, the eagles, crows, ravens and hawks dived at breakneck speed, gouging great lumps of burnt flesh from Kilycke’s body.

Soon, all witnessed his final moments when he began to vanish before their eyes. “I cursss…” were the last words he would utter in this world as he disappeared forever when his spirit rose into the sky.

***

Bejuss sat on his perch inside the witch-cage preening his singed feathers. Neo and Glob looked in silence at the frozen world beyond their door, glad to still be alive. Byz played with a worm out of sight of Bejuss, while Make and Mous sat back to back talking quietly about the day’s events, surrounded by honeysuckle flavoured smoke rings from Make’s bestest briar pipe.

Dragon Tooth Mountain’s peak lay bare. Any sign of it ever being occupied was gone forever. The time of a temporary truce among all living things in Goblindom was now at an end.

To read more from the anthology go to your nearest Amazon site and look for the Kindle eBook “Globular Van der Graff’s Goblin Tales for Adults”.

More and more these days it’s becoming a case of writer beware…

editing-newbiewriters

So, you have written your magnum opus. Congratulations. Now you need the services of an editor. But which one do you choose? More importantly will they help or hinder?

In these days of the internet, more and more people are advertising their services as an editor. Some even start up their own publishing business. But how good are they really? Do you simply engage one at will? No – ask pointed questions. after all you are about to pay them for their services.

If they are genuine, they won’t mind being quizzed. The first question I would ask them is which best selling books have you edited? If they are genuine they will be happy to list the books. The second question I would ask them is why, if they profess to know more about the English language than the average writer, have they not become a best selling author themselves?

Just because they may have a university degree, doesn’t mean they can write to save themselves. Far to many so-called editors these days are nothing more than failed writers. Once upon a time they wrote what they believed was the next perfect literary work of note, only to find that it appealed to no more than a handful of equally academically minded individuals like themselves.

With some of these editors, there is always the very real danger that they will try to impose their own will on your story. Don’t let them! Just remember that apart from taking note of the grammatical and punctuation errors they found, and making the necessary corrections, the story is your intellectual property not theirs.

The same thing applies to a lot of people who offer their services in cover design and formatting. Like the aforesaid editors, they tried their hand at writing and failed. So what did they decide to do? Make money instead by offering their services for a fee. No one could ever blame them for wanting to earn a living. I certainly don’t.

Just remember this – engaging any of the above is no guarantee of literary success.

The truth is that no matter how much you try, no matter how well your editor and you edit and polish your manuscript, no matter how eye catching the cover of the book may be, no one can ever predict what will be the next best seller.

Plus, remember this – before you can turn a profit, you have to sell enough copies of your book to get back the amount of money you handed over to your editor etc. A lot of people forget that tiny detail.

Last year to my great delight, one of my books took off, selling well over eight thousand copies. Compared to a book published by one of the big five conventional publishing houses, its sales were minimal. But in ‘Indie’ terms it was a best seller. What appealed was its scenario – a story written around the so-called Mayan calendar predictions for the world ending in 2012. When I was writing it, I didn’t give a thought to whether or not it would appeal. All I wanted to do was entertain the potential reader. Apparently I did just that.

Most writers of my acquaintance, whether they publish conventionally or self publish, would ever consider giving up to become an editor. Instead we plough on writing that next book. If you are a writer, you are a driven, some would say pig-headed, individual. Writing is not the occupation of choice for the faint hearted…

The Letter

POLAND - CIRCA 1918  German Soldiers relax in their deep trenches which in the Stalemates of WWI-681203

The war had dragged on for four years, neither side seemingly gaining any advantage. To the rear of the front lines, generals sat in comfort looking at a map, dispassionately moving markers around hoping to gain an advantage over the enemy. None of them for one moment considered those markers represented living breathing human beings.

***

Paul sat on the firing step with his back to the trench wall. His rifle lay propped up beside him as he reached inside his tunic for pencil and paper.

Dear Franz,

You and I are the only ones left from the class of 1912. Remember Opellman? He died this morning at dawn when we went over the top, shot through the head. At least it was quick. I doubt he felt anything.

Gruber was eventually found a week ago by the military police. Poor Gruber, he’d had enough. All he wanted to do was go home to the farm. Who could blame him, certainly not me?

There’s talk of an armistice, but you know how rumours spread through the trenches. Hell, we all thought that the war would be over by Christmas back in 1914.

Yesterday old Hans died – remember him, fat jolly Hans, always had his pipe in his mouth come what may. A French plane flew low over where Hans and I were making our way back to the trench with what food we could get for our unit. The bastards dropped some bombs and Hans was hit. His leg looked bad. I applied a field dressing to it before hefting him across my shoulder.

It took me nearly two hours to carry him to the nearest dressing station. My back was killing me. All the while we kept talking, making plans for what we’d do together after the war. I shed tears of anger when the damned medical orderly told me I had wasted my time as Hans was dead.

It’s dawn. The whole front has fallen silent. I’ve just heard a bird singing. Can you imagine that Franz – a bird, a real live bird. I’m going to sign off for a moment. You know me, I love to draw.

Paul feverishly began to sketch the bird sitting on the mangled remains of a tree trunk. He needed to get a better view. The last shot fired in anger, rang out. Paul toppled lifeless into the mud. As his hand relaxed its grip, the unfinished sketch and his pencil fell from his dead hand.

***

Despite the agreed armistice coming into effect at 11am, on November 11th, 1918, 13,000 soldiers died on the last day. Next year (2014) we celebrate the centennial of the first day of World War One on the 28th of July…