“Oh what a rush of thought then came, dazing me with its sweet bitterness, to think that after all these weary years…we had come back to Moonfleet!”

J.Meade Falkner wrote those words in his timeless classic first published in 1898. It is a story of high adventure set in the Dorset smuggling village of Moonfleet. The ending of this book still has the power to move me not least because I know the place well. The Fleet or Chisel Bank still stands today more or less as it was then and the Dorset coastline in these parts is little changed. The smuggling Inn  so wonderfully named the Why Not? in the story could be an old Inn tucked away in the lanes beyond the cliffs its signboard creaking in the wind along the deserted lane that leads down to the sea.

My father once told me that stones tossed into the sea off Lands End would one day, several hundreds of eons later find their way to Chisel Bank. There was a logical explanation to this, it had to do with sea currents around the coast of Britain and who knows it could well be true, certainly there is no where like this place on earth.  One stands on the miles long Banks face to the sea transported to a timeless place the echos of the sea deep sucking at the stones, the wind tugging at your hair buffeting your very soul and just like the young John Trenchard in the story you cannot but be moved by the place. I have for years kept one of the smooth pebbles, black as basalt, smooth as silk that I picked up on the Fleet.

That wild coast took many men to their deaths in shipwrecks during the years in which the story is set and reading the novel again I can but imagine fondly that Master Ratsey and the faithful Elzevir Block still live today because of their characters so skillfully drawn by Falkner.

“Yes I love to see it best when it is lashed to madness in an autumn gale, and to hear the grinding roar of pebbles like a giant organ playing all the night, Tis then I turn and thank God, more from the heart, perhaps than any other living man, that I am not fighting for my life on Moonfleet Beach…”

Rumer Godden’s Kittens

Rumer Godden wrote the kind of children’s stories that adults like to read. She wrote the kind of children’s books that I still believe in and perhaps in my sub conscious it was she who inspired me to write my own first story at the age of twelve.  She moved with her parents to India at six months old in 1807 and so many of her novels both for adults as well as children describe an India that still clung to the remnants of the British Raj.

I remember seeing The Peacock Spring produced for television, catching it by miraculous chance somewhere, sometime ages ago. Suddenly, watching it I remembered having read the book during one of those endless summers of childhood when it was somehow so easy to evoke the sensuous landscape she managed to portray with so little description, the languid afternoons the idyll of childhood before innocence was shattered.  Jean Renoir’s film of her book The River is considered a classic and has been re released in reconstituted version. In the central character, the young sister who writes in her diary is instantly recognizable as the young Rumer.

She was fabulously witty and excentric as I discover on coming across her Daily Telegraph obituary from 1998 the year she died. Her sister who was pretty while she considered herself plain outshone her in every way ‘The best possible thing for a writer is to be ignored’ she wrote of this. I remembered my own sister, brilliant at everything without even trying while I excelled in nothing and was patently useless at everything else. So perhaps she had a point.

Her first husband who she met in India she describes as “a dashing stockbroker who thought Omar Khayyam was a type of curry.” She lived her life as a novel going to live in a remote mountain retreat in Kashmir with her own children. The house which had no electricity or running water she described as “The most beautiful place you could imagine.” Their servant attempted to poison them by adding ground glass, opium and marijuana in the Dahl rice, her daughter remarking it was too gritty gave it to the dog who died although thankfully they survived.

I felt I not only would have liked this wonderful woman as well as her writing but that we would have been of like mind on many things when she remarks towards the end of her life that she loved Jane Austins Mr Darcy better than any of her husbands.

Another quote that I found in Carol Blake’s book on publishing brings me to the kittens.

“Nothing is as dead as a book once written. She is rather like a cat whose kittens have grown up. While they were growing she was passionately interested in them but now they have grown up they seem to hardly belong to her, and probably she is involved with another batch of kittens.”

How Long is a Piece of String?

Or how long is an acceptable length for a novel or short story?  It is very important to understand these basic rules if you want to be taken seriously when prospecting agents. Take the shorter length so named Novella that is classified at running between 20-50.000 words. A paper back is normally from 50.000 words. I wonder today if shorter than this, the Novella is considered as a disadvantage by agents despite the illustrious examples of this; Jack London’ s Call of the Wild, Hemmingways Old Man and the Sea, Conrads Heart of Darkness, not to mention RSL’s Dr J. & Mr H. among others.

A useful site lists these acceptable lengths as well as several interesting and surprising exceptions to the rule but advises we stick within the lines although, ‘it is not the word count but making every word count’ that matters.

Unless we believe we have produced a work of genius however It is probably better not to stack the already mountainous odds against ourselves and bow to convention.

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