Red Robin – Day 13 of Cupán Fae’s 2019 Advent Calendar

A poem by Helen Carroll.

Red Robin,
Pale coffin,
Distant thunder rumbles
Like a bauble tumbles
From a withered tree.
I see your image haunting me
As glass shatters on the presents,
A ghost of Christmas past and present,
No future ‘cause it’s dreaded.
The wrapping paper’s not torn, it’s shredded.

Christmastime will never be the same,
Watching robins through the windowpane,
I’m writing nativities on walls in red glitter,
Saw how your tiny wings panic and flitter,
Struggling against the storm; against the snowdrift.
I’m rattlin’ around this empty house. These empty gifts
Were once full of your laughter from last year.
The silence of your absence is so loud I can’t hear
My own thoughts, my own blood boiling at the memory
Of the glances and murmurs in the cemetery.

Cause what angers me most is the way they were right:
You were too turbulent, a brutal hurricane in the night,
Too young for the fight. But you were always fighting though.
Ever since birth, Fate, Herself, had made you a foe.
How could I abandon you to a life of criminality?
Had to channel your rage, a battle of integrity.
But your animosity for this city was too strong.
And now you’re gone, you’re gone, you’re gone...
I cannot accept your journey ended with a bomb!
It’s like you’re gonna breeze into the room like nothing is wrong,

But there’s broken decorations, smashed bottles
All around. I see you shattered; see you throttled.
Your little robin wings are mangled,
And as these thoughts are untangled,
The wind howls louder now,
Drowning out the carols. How
Dim are the fairy lights
On a winter's night,
Now you’re dead,

My Robin Red.

Cupán Fae’s 2019 Advent Calendar – Day 12, Pocket Prompts

Time for some shameless self-promotion! In October, I launched a new product, called Pocket Prompts – writing prompts and creative thinking tools to help stories develop and blossom.

A deck comes with 25 double-sided cards, providing a total of 50 prompts across three categories: Character, Plot and Setting.

For the sake of creating something that would offer the most amount of options to people, each card comes with a Plot prompt, and the remaining 25 prompts are split between Character cards and Settings.

My aim with the cards was to be a genre-neutral as possible, which I expand upon on my blog when writing about the cards – a simple prompt of ‘Something explodes’ can mean so much more than a literal explosion, for example.

In 2020, I will be resuming the blog with an expansion of more cards, and exploring ways of using more than one card in a story to turn things on their head.

In the meantime, if you want to get your hands on a deck, they are available through my Gumroad store – otherwise, you can ask about them IRL at a Cupán Fae meet-up or at events whenever I’m tabling. (Like DCAF this Saturday!)

I may be biased, but I think they’ll make an excellent gift for the writers in your life.

The Professor Who Saved WinterTide – Day 8 of the Cupán Fae 2019 Advent Calendar

“…and the fallen bridge has cut us off completely, so we can’t get any special food for WinterTide and my little brother and sister won’t get their presents this year.” Robin read again, “Please help us, Professor! Everyone says how clever you are – you invented the telephone and those Hopper machines that carry the post…” 

She set the letter down. It was a rather sweet and affecting story to be sure, although –  “Odd place to build a house, on a rock spur in the middle of a canyon,” she noted, looking out from the edge of Higham Canyon towards the house in question.

From the other side of the wooden frame and rails they were putting together, Professor Wilson Scarecrow beamed benevolently at her.  “Well, with house prices as they are, dear assistant, I suppose some people have to take what they can get.”

Robin did her best not to seethe at the ‘dear assistant’, instead she looked across at the house on the spur. “Will there be enough space for you to land?” she asked.

“Of course! Dear assistant, I have planned for every eventuality!” The scarecrow simpered smugly. “I have a scientific and exacting mind, you know. You could learn a lot from it.”

Robin clenched her fists. Generally, the Professor wasn’t a bad old stick to work for – well, broom-handle actually; he got very annoyed at the implication that his backbone was a stick. He paid well; working hours were good. He’d given her a three week holiday for WinterTide, and had bought her a ticket on the new train the Dwarves were running, that would take her nearly all the way to Naughtingham. She was greatly looking forward to that. It felt like an age since she’d Left Home To Seek Her Fortune. However, good though he was, when he was enthused and active, the Professor could get – well, ‘pompous’ and ‘condescending’ barely covered it. 

She took a deep breath. Once he was flying, she could be off home.

She began setting up the counterweight on the frame, as the Professor moved his large ‘Plain-Sailor’ flying device onto the frame’s wooden rails and connected it to the rope from the counterweight. It was a larger Plain-Sailor than the other ones he’d experimented with – it had to be. As well as the presents that the postman hadn’t been able to bring across the gorge, there was the fearsome array that the Professor had bought for himself, together with three large hampers of festive food and drink, a spool of metal wire, and a tin horn to connect the house to the phone-lines.  As he got the Plain-Sailor settled on the rails and clambered in, the Professor chuckled to himself. 

“Ah, dear assistant, it’s a fine thing we’re doing here today. Helping someone in need at WinterTide, when they’re marooned and in danger of having the holiday spoiled by the uncaring ways of the State.”

“Actually, the bridgebuilders reckon they’ll have the bridge repaired in a week.” That would too late for WinterTide, but Robin felt the Professor was getting a little overblown. As usual. 

“But they their humble entreaties reached my ears!”

“You don’t have ears, Professor.” Which was true – the grass-haired football he had for a head had some nice ears painted on, but not actual ears. 

And I shall save WinterTide with Science!” the Professor bellowed. 

“It’s the kind of thing they write heartwarming festive stories about,” Robin said caustically. She agreed it was a nice gesture, but he was making a bit of a meal out of it.

“Indeed!” The Professor affected to look modest. “The Professor Who Saved WinterTide. It has a nice ring to it, wouldn’t you say?”

And who was it who spent the last two hours helping you assemble a frame in snow? And was up all night helping you make the Plain-Sailor? “Quite.”

“And your diligent service will not be forgotten!”

Robin sighed. “Ready to go?” she asked.   

“Indeed! People in need, as posterity too, wait for no man – or, more correctly, for no scarecrow!

Robin moved towards the lever to release the counterweight. Then paused. “Er…Professor?”


“But… you’ve overlooked something!”

The Professor swelled up with pride, looking mortally affronted. “Indeed I have not! Nothing has been overlooked! Mine is a keen, finely-honed mind. It overlooks nothing! Certainly nothing you could have discerned!”

Robin growled, “Very well, Professor. Launching.”

She yanked the lever. There was a loud thud, then the Plain-Sailor was hauled from the rails. It shot forwards, sailing majestically over the gorge and trailing the telephone wire behind it. As that played out, Robin took out her mobile telephone-horn and length of wire, and hooked it onto the longer wire. 

Watching, she saw the Plain-Sailor come to a halt – very nearly going off the other side of the spur in the process. She saw the Professor, very far away but just discernable. She watched as he clambered out and was swarmed by children. She could only just see him then, as he began to dispense packages and hand the huge hampers to a woman. Then, taking up the wire, he carried it proudly to the house.

Robin waited, then heard the horn whistle. “Hello?” she said, her voice travelling clearly across the taut wire.

“I landed!” the Professor boomed. “It worked! And you should see all these happy faces! My word!”

He did, to his credit, sound happy at the joy of others. So Robin felt a slight pang of guilt before bursting the bubble. Only a slight one, though.

“How are you going to get back?” she asked.

“Eh? Oh, I’ll launch…” A long pause followed as the Professor trailed off. “Ahhhhh… I may have made a blunder!”

“No! Surely a keen and finely-honed mind such as yours couldn’t have made a blunder!”

The Professor coughed. “I…I wonder, dear assistant, could you…”

“Oh, I don’t think I can do anything, Professor! Not when I have so much to learn from you. After all, if you can’t work something out, what could I do?”

The Professor coughed again. “I…eh, I believe that I may have been somewhat hasty, dear assistant, but…”

Robin grinned. “The bridge should be finished in another week, Professor. I’m sure that the Professor Who Saved WinterTide will be welcome in the family home until then. Merry WinterTide!” She unhooked the wire as she turned to walk away. 

This would be a good holiday. She wasn’t the least bit worried about her job. Where else would the Professor find someone willing to put up with him?

Cupán Fae’s 2019 Advent Calendar – Day 7, Bird by bird

Review and gift recommended by Róisín Tuohy

Bird by bird by Anne Lamott is the kind of book you give a writer in dire need of a pep talk… or possibly a psychotherapist. 

Writing isn’t easy and Lamott feels your pain. Crammed with practical advice and exercises, as well as stories from the author’s own life, some hilarious, some harrowing, some both, it’s an insightful look at what it means to be compelled to write. 

This book is for anyone who is tiptoeing on the diving board of writing. Maybe you’ve got an idea nagging away at you, but you’re afraid it’s embarrassing, or just not very good. Maybe you’re afraid of what your mother will think. Lamott encourages you to jump into the pool, dive deep and find new worlds. It won’t be easy, and what’s great about this book is that the author recognises it won’t be easy. She also recognises that it’s important, and you should carve out time for writing, if it’s important to you. 

The title comes from a story Lamott tells about her brother struggling with a school project on the birds of North America. “bird by bird buddy, just take it bird by bird, “Lamott’s father tells him, and so…bird by bird, word by word.

Cupán Fae’s 2019 Advent Calendar – Day 5, How Not to Write a Novel

How not to write a novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman is one of my most thumbed books. I don’t say that lightly. It’s got a big crease down the spine and more than a few loose pages.

Most advice books tell you what to do. This one, as the name suggests, tells you the opposite. Shabby spelling, clichéd plot devices, downright offensive characterisation… it’s all here. It’s rip-roaringly funny, and I often get the urge to reread it.

Of course, you, intelligent writer (or the intelligent writer friend you’re buying for) know not to fall into flat description or overblown hyperbole.  However, the authors are in fact editors, and have come across all this stuff during the course of their work. While the examples are comically exaggerated, any would-be author will cringe at one or two (in my case, overstuffing a manuscript with a cast of thousands). The final section deals with getting published and usefully highlights some common pitfalls in traditional publishing.

Broken up into easy-to-read sections, it’s a perfect for dipping in and out of. Plus, there’s something oddly inspiring in looking at just how bad it could be and doing it anyway. 

Gift idea and review presented by Róisín Tuohy.