Monday, 31 October 2011

Crying in the rain


Dig down through the soil in any part of my garden and you’ll hit a solid pan of pebbles and boulders. It comes as a surprise after two feet of soft, rich soil. A hard, jolting surprise. The tines of your fork bend as you try to find a way through, to ease the foreign matter loose. Your neat hole dug for the fence, trellis or gazebo post becomes enlarged and distorted in the search for the margins of a large boulder. When the obstruction is revealed in all its terrible glory, the shaft of the spade snaps in an attempt to lever the monster free from the earth.
This isn’t a natural feature of my back garden. There’s no glacial or ancient river-bed explanation, it was caused by huge earth-shifting lorries that used my back yard as a throughway during the construction of the housing estate seven years ago. There’s no such easy explanation for the obstruction under my own soft surface. It was found beneath my ribs, after I broke them in a karate sparring session. The boulders can be dug out of the garden with the right tools. My cancer couldn’t be removed. It was part of me.
James loves the garden. He’s not a typical boy. The flowers and vegetables are safe from harm when he’s around, unless he has other, more boisterous, playmates to visit. We have the accoutrements of childhood - footballs, sliotars, a rugby ball, the usual sport playthings, but James doesn’t kick the heads off the roses or bash the broccoli. He inhales the scents, wonders at the earth’s creative abundance and carries ladybirds from tree to tree. My special son with unique focal powers. He dwells within a spectrum of disorders, a fitting word for the range of colours and lights that brighten his world.
From the front of the house I call to my family, each of them busy, indulging in their own favourite pastime. They don’t hear me or, if they do, there’s no response.
My wife, Leah, reads a novel. When she doesn’t read, she sleeps on the white stitched, dark brown leather of the Italian sofa in the playroom. We chose that sofa together, just before the recession took hold. There was a bitter fight with the bankrupt furniture company to get it delivered.
Sarah plays her silver-plated flute, bought with her own money saved from birthday, Christmas and Holy Communion gifts. At age six she drew her first note from a flute at the music school open day and took a firm vow to one day buy her own. Now ten, she picks up any new classical piece from sheet music within minutes. It’s too early to say she’s a prodigy but the sound is heavenly.
I walk through to the back of the house, calling for them again. James hears me first, his ear ever tuned for my voice. He looks up from his Lego and I stoop down to ruffle his hair. When he’s not playing Lego or exploring the garden, James likes to watch recorded TV programmes that include quizzes, facts and figures. He’ll stand in front of the screen and speak the answers in time with the contestants, every high and low score of the series stored in a memory that can’t remember where he left his shoes.
I became needy. The family understood that. I didn’t show pain and they didn’t smother me with sympathy. They showed that they cared by respecting my needs when I had to have one or another to keep me company.
‘Let’s take a turn around the grounds,’ I say.
Leah lets her glasses slip down her nose, gives a tight smile and returns to her book. Not her.
Through the archway, in the dining room, Sarah runs through a minuet and hits a wrong note.
‘That should be a sharp,’ I call to her.
‘I’ll play that again,’ she says and runs through the tune, an emphasis placed on the corrected tone.
‘I don’t know how your father could tell the difference,’ Leah mutters from behind her book.
James stands and I put my hand down to his.
‘We’re going outside, Mum. We’re going outside.’
‘Yes, dear. Come in if it rains.’
He unlocks the door and hooks it open.
‘Down here, Dad. Down to the orchard, where it’s squelchy.’
It’s just a dwarf Granny Smith’s apple and a Victoria plum tree. I built the trellis across the garden to give an illusion of a secret garden. This is where I did battle with buried boulders. This is where I sit on my bench, listening to the birds and watching James gather the autumn leaves.
‘Look, Dad. These aren’t from our tree.’ He holds up a fistful of oak leaves that have blown in from the neighbour’s garden.
Sarah’s flute strikes up a new tune, a march. The notes stride down from the house, and James stomps around the base of the apple tree, his shoes hitting the waterlogged ground with the sound of troops crossing the marshes.
‘Let’s dance,’ he says and takes my hand, swinging his arm to the military step. He will never be too self-conscious, too embarrassed to hold his father’s hand. James doesn’t see, hear or feel other people’s opinions. But he sees me, feels the strong, assuring grip of my hand on his.
My feet make no splash next to his. The rain begins to fall, pattering the leaves. The tears of an absent father.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
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Saturday, 29 October 2011

Guess who's coming to town? And it ain't Santa.


My new serial killer e-book will get an airing on Amazon and Smashwords next week, so I'm moving all things Baptist to the new page for The Baptist. In my defence, I was having a lot of strange dreams at the time of writing and I'm not sure where all the darkness comes from, but I know where it goes.

The Baptist won fourth place in the YouWriteOn Book of the Year Award 2011.

Here's the Amazon 'Click to LOOK INSIDE' preview

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Just when you think it's safe to go back into the water


We've all heard the stories of infection risks from fish pedicure. Even in small-town Ireland the word has spread to Kilkenny folk and perhaps that's why they stay away in droves from the two new fish pedicure places in town.

I was walking through Market Cross shopping centre a few days ago and found myself lured into a shop by a glamorous young lady. She then sat painting her nails while the kids and I stared at a dozen tanks of titchy fish that raced around looking for their missing lunch. My wife's tough jogging feet sprang to mind and I bought her a gift voucher - because she's worth it.

One week later and I urged her to redeem the voucher. We got a call from the MacDonagh Junction branch just as we were perusing the tarantulas and goldfish at the new pet store. Redemption was imminent.

Things were buzzing over at the fish pedicure place - there was a young lad having his toes nibbled as his dad looked on.

'Which ones haven't eaten all day?' I asked and the girl guided our hosed-down wife / mother victim to a tank full of piranhas.

Little known to us, one of the fish had mutated after excessive feeding and the result is in the picture above.

It was like a slow murder scene from Austin Powers. She still has nightmares.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Nineteen reviews - time to clear the decks with a new page for Peril fans

It's nearly ten months since Peril was launched as an e-book and there have been nineteen reviews posted by readers on various public access websites (Amazon, Smashwords etc). So, to decrease clutter and stop me blowing the Ruby trumpet, I've created a new page for Peril reviews to keep the blog clear for general articles.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Here's something refreshing


I'm a big fan of Melody Gardot, Julie Feeney, Jennifer Warnes, beautiful and melodic female voices. If you like a bit of blues or just a sweet tone then take a listen to this young lady Sam-Hannah-Turner and let her know if you like it. Mighty oaks and all that.


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Saturday, 15 October 2011

What's that lying under my car? Is it a monster, is it a monster?

Last night I came home from work, sat my wife and two young children (7 and 10 years old) down, and said
'I have a story to tell you and I swear that it is true. When I've finished I want you to give the story a score out of ten.'

They just laughed, pretty much used to me stringing them along, but I had a captive audience. Mrs B was just out of the shower and, it being late, the kids were keen to do anything other than go to bed. So they listened. It went like this.

A few days ago I was on a business trip to Cork city with a work colleague. We left early and travelled together in her car. She insisted on doing all the driving. That meant a four hour round trip and we sandwiched that around a meeting with hospital consultants, bump-starting and then jump-starting her car, and a national conference on Diabetes. It was a long day. I could tell she was getting worn out towards the end of the driving (no comments on her driving prowess and yes, I had offered). I was chattering away and getting fed up of listening to my own voice. She was probably tired of listening but too polite to say so.

It was early evening when we pulled into the car park back at base. Most folk had gone home. I thanked her for the day and headed into my darkened room for half an hour, supposedly to catch up on work email. Peril had sold a few copies, the blog traffic was good, Ruby_Barnes tweeted some nonsense. Then I went out to my cold car and drove home.

About an hour later my friend left the building. Dark and windy, autumn leaves wafting around the odours of early fall. She walked over to her car, parked in a now dimly lit area beneath some big old chestnut trees, and climbed back in behind the wheel for the drive home to her family.

She turned the key and started the engine. Roaring and screaming came from somewhere outside the car. There was nothing to see through the windows but the noise was too terrible to ignore. She switched off the engine, opened the door and stepped out. There was no-one and nothing around. Just fallen leaves and the prickly husks of horse chestnuts. No attack victims, no tortured animals. But the noise continued and a banging started to come from underneath her car. She bent down to have a look and found a man on the ground under her car, clothes torn and covered in blood. He was trapped under the engine.

Two other colleagues were still at work. They raised the alarm and soon the Guards (police) and an ambulance arrived. The car was lifted and paramedics eased the blood-soaked man from under my friend's car. She was distraught, wondering whether she had run him over somewhere between Cork and Kilkenny and he had clung for his life to the undercarriage, the flesh torn from his back by the rough country roads. Or he'd been the last customer at the golf pitch and putt course next to our offices and we'd run him down when he'd squatted to retie his shoelace or something.

(At this point my kids were spellbound and my wife was looking at me through narrowed eyes.)

The Guards and ambulance crew managed to piece together what had occurred. During the extra hour that my friend had been working in the office, a tramp had been sitting on a stone bench near the car park, drinking from a bottle. He dropped his bottle and it rolled under the car. The guy crawled under the car for his booze and managed to get his head wedged between the ground and the engine. In his drunken thrashing  he broke the glass bottle and cut himself on it. There was a lot of blood but his condition wasn't life threatening.

My friend was traumatised by the experience and vowed never to work late again in case someone crawled under her car and injured themselves. The drunk was taken off to the local hospital for stitches and is probably now back on the loose with his new set of battle scars.

The listeners' verdict:

Mrs B scored me zero out of ten and said I had committed a basic story-telling error and failed to suspend disebelief. It couldn't possibly be true, the tale was probably only partially accurate and I had embellished it. She wasn't impressed.

My daughter gave me ten out of ten. She was gripped by the story, horrified at times and slightly relieved by the ending.

Seven out of ten was the score from my seven year-old son. He said he would have given full marks if the tramp had died.

Just because true life is stranger than fiction doesn't mean that it's believable. Or maybe it's the way I tell 'em. Perhaps I should switch from thrillers to YA.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Friday, 14 October 2011

Thanks to @WodkeHawkinson

I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by the lovely Karen Wodke Hawkinson and the results are posted on Yahoo Associated Content. Here's a narcissistic snippet:

Ruby Barnes, author of Peril, dedicates his writing to the memory of his grandfather, the late Robert 'Ruby' Barnes. In addition to his writing, he also maintains a blog. Ruby has that unique talent for creating characters the reader both loves and hates, and simultaneously roots for and against. From the shipyards of Port Glasgow to the industrial heartland of Southern England, through the fractured reaches of mountainous North Wales and across Scotland 's bottomless lochs, Ruby has traveled and found inspiration for the misfits, rogues and psychopaths that haunt his writing. He is now based in sometimes sunny Kilkenny, Ireland. I was fortunate that Ruby graciously took time from his busy schedule to grant me the interview that follows:

Can you identify a moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer? What was that moment like?
That moment was when, as a teenager, my English teacher accused me of plagiarism over a poem I had written comparing an ancient tower with a mountainside, two sentinels observing time passing by. My parents also disbelieved that it was my own work. It was a moment of incredulity and elation. Then I was heavily marked down for suspected copying.
Read more here...