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jgkulyk

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    I taught my way around the world in five countries before coming home to be a caregiver to my parents. I wrote a chapter in a book entitled What Are You Waiting For? (Sid Harta Publishers) regarding my international running achievements. I currently work in a winery.

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  1. The dispatch rider saluted the staff sergeant, threw the satchel over his shoulder, and bolted out of the reception to a row of BSA M20 motorcycles. He straddled the next workhorse in line, pulled his goggles down from his helmet, and gave it a sturdy jump-start. Off he sped, down a narrow road stretching north across the countryside. He knew every second mattered. The whistle blew its high-pitched farewell and the train jerked forward as it pulled away from Euston Station. Tommy’s heart rate accelerated in synchrony with the revving up of the engine. What am I in for? He pushed his spectacles further up his pointy nose, not to bring the scenery into clearer view but out of habit, a nervous tick. All he knew was that he was wanted up at Bletchley Park on this day at 9 am. It did not say by whom, for how long, or for what purpose, just that he should disembark at the fifth station on the Northwestern Line and report to the RTO, the Railway Traffic Officer, in the vestibule with said paper in hand. He did know that if he overshot the mark he would end up in Milton Keynes, but that was it. He had an hour from London to speculate the rest. That is why the window seat was wasted on him. Even in February, the English countryside charmed with the first signs of spring, but the budding trees on rolling green hills, the white snowdrops and yellow daffodils quickly blurred to grey, then disappeared altogether before Tommy’s glazed-over eyes as he retreated into his head. For Tommy, there was nothing out the window that could calm his nerves. The swaying of the train and the rhythmic chugging of the engine should have lulled him to some much-needed sleep, but his mind had far too much to muse. He shifted in his seat. First and foremost, he had to keep track of the number of stops or face consequences as unknown as his orders but undoubtedly more grim, a blood-curdling prospect that would keep the most weary soul awake. The removal of signposts, milestones, and railway station names was a tactical move done as part of the anti-invasion preparations underway. It was hoped the lack of whereabouts would disorient the incoming Germans, but it also proved effective against Britons now and then as well, and Tommy knew he did not want to be one of them, not today, not at any cost. If he got lost in his head, he trusted the jolt of the train would bring him to his senses long enough to make the tally. Otherwise, his head cluttered with typical wartime concerns for his family, the conundrums awaiting him back at work, and suppositions about what was to come. When he left Euston Station, he swore it must be related to electrical engineering because that was all he knew and did. Maybe they have a wire loose, he chuckled to himself. By Station 2 he hoped it had something to do with his side pursuit of thermionic valves (vacuum tubes), that maybe this would be the big endorsement his work needed. Now that would be well-worth this anxious trip, he nodded to himself. By Station 3 he indulged in a more far-flung flight of fancy for his sheer amusement about the possibility of being recruited as a top-level communications agent ordered to shut down the entire German network thereby altering the course of the war in our favour, but he knew that was the stuff best left on the pages of a Graham Greene novel for safety’s sake. Eileen, Kenneth, and John needed him back home and besides, the sauerkraut would wreak havoc on my stomach, he quipped to himself, but it failed to yield a grin. By Station 4 he resigned himself to a far less glamourous possibility that was more suited to his quiet life. They probably need some switches, he sighed. After the jolt, he knew he had to get his head back on for the end was next. Once the train pulled into Station 5 his pulse raced and his thoughts came full circle. What am I in for? He scrambled past the knees of the passengers in the compartment, elbowed his way through the throngs of bodies standing in the corridor, circled the clump of suitcases with their owners perched on top in the exit, side-stepped down the carriage steps, and leapt off into the unknown full of apprehension. I think this is the fifth stop, but there was no point asking any of the crowd that got off with him because they all got on at different stations. The train blew its haunting ‘That’s it, you’re on your own now’ and pulled away from the blank station to disappear around the bend leaving him utterly abandoned in a most uncertain place. Whether or not it was the right station remained to be seen, but one thing was for certain now as he stood alone on the quay. He was committed. “Keep calm and carry on,” was the government order of the day, so Tommy got on with it, albeit without the calm bit but Churchill wouldn’t have blamed him. His shoes echoed along the concrete in an earnest tempo as he headed to the station house for the verdict. Along the way, he couldn’t help but notice the foreboding eight-foot chain fence looming on the other side of the tracks topped with a roll of barbed wire that would slice any climbing hunk of meat to ribbons. Is the fence there to keep people out or in? It was for the best that he did not know the other side of the fence was his destination, or the jaunt ahead would have felt like a heavy trudge of the condemned. Once inside the station, he spied the RTO booth on the right. The closer he got, the more uninviting it became. The black clad officer on duty had the scowl of a henchman that made anyone who approached second-guess the necessity of their inquiry, but Tommy had no recourse. That was his order. He reached inside his breast pocket for the official brown envelope to prove it at the counter. He always thought it best to approach any surly creature with a pleasant disposition in the slightest hope that it might soften their reception. “Good morning. Lovely day isn’t it,” Tommy said. The officer only made an ever so slight dip of the head. Tommy made the extra effort to remove the letter from the envelope himself in front of the officer before handing it to him as a further courtesy, but the officer remained unaffected. The officer read the letter and handed it back without a single pleasantry. “Left. Follow the path over the bridge and along the fence to the driveway.” Tommy froze. That’s it? Left of what? How long? How far? What sort of path? The dreadful fence that I just saw? Driveway leading to what? Tommy’s head spun with curiosities, but when he opened his mouth to speak, the officer cut him off, “Off you go.” “Right. Good day.” Tommy could see any further conversation would be futile, so he made an about-face and walked out of the station with the officer’s glaring eyes on his back every step of the way. At least he knew he was in the right place. Everyone else filed out of the station to the right. Left? Really? He saw a narrow, wooded path off to the side that looked like an ominous one-way portal that people go in but don’t come out. Who or what lurked in those woods? All he had was daylight on his side. The rest was up to chance. Carry on. He knew he had to, or the officer would come calling in beastly form. Into the woods he went with fingers crossed. Do Bletchley know what they’re asking? The towering trees quickly closed in on him with horrific flashbacks of getting lost in the woods, alone, at the age of seven on a family day out in the country. His head kept scanning right to left with the odd look over his shoulder for the slightest sign of another presence. His ears perked up like a fox on the hunt, or was this fox the hunted? Crack! What was that? Probably just a bird or a fallen branch, he kept telling himself. Otherwise, it was dead quiet, the kind that makes you sweat and quiver. Fortunately, not far along the path was the iron bridge. It did not lead to greener pastures, only more woods on the other side of his new sardonic friend the fence. Great. I’m being led to salvation by the barbed devil incarnate. Then, as if on divine cue, a squirrel scampered about without purpose just off the path ahead as if he was just on his usual morning run, and that put Tommy somewhat at ease. Animals sense danger long before humans do and this one had no apparent worries or seemingly sinister intentions. I don’t think he’s German. That little bit of levity was enough to carry Tommy to the finish line, the coveted driveway. This time he didn’t cry tears of joy. His grown-up lungs only heaved with relief. I live to tell the tale. Almost not for long. He made the right up the laneway toward the RAF sentry post. From out of nowhere the buzz of a small engine rushed up behind him. When he turned around to see what it was, he nearly got his block knocked off. Bloody hell! The driver of the mad machine was none other than the dispatch rider from the coast. What he lacked in safety, he more than made up for in time. He was brilliant at what he did, just not by Tommy’s estimates. The dispatch rider flashed his papers to the guard and sped ahead before Tommy could thank him for taking a year off his life. Tommy arrived at the sentry gate rattled. “Papers!” barked the sentry. “Yes, of course. Here we are.” Tommy handed him the envelope. “Identification!” “Sorry. I’m a bit thrown off,” Tommy said still gasping. Tommy reached back into his coat for his brown identity card. The sentry did not offer an ounce of sympathy, only daggers. “Wait here.” The sentry stepped inside the box to make a call. A second sentry appeared out of thin air. “Oh, hello,” Tommy said. The second sentry answered with an icy stare. He positioned himself in front of Tommy like a roadblock, deliberately placing his hand on his rifle. Tommy nodded to say message understood. He dutifully stood on the spot under the menacing eye of the watchman while he waited for his next directive. No point trying to be conversational with a Rottweiler. Fortunately, it was not long before the uncomfortable silence was broken by the conversation inside the box. “Flowers.” Then the sentry laughed, a reaction Tommy found most disconcerting. The sentry continued, “Not those, a man! Maybe next time, luv.” Then he reappeared. He handed back Tommy’s papers. “Main house.”
  2. 1. The Act of Story Statement: Tommy Flowers, an electrical engineer in London, must race against the clock to complete his computing machine for Allied High Command in time for D-Day while keeping it an insufferable secret under government orders. 2. The Antagonist Plots the Point: Secrecy is the arch nemesis that torments Tommy Flowers from start to finish. During World War II, he is forced to sign the Official Secrets Act, so Tommy Flowers must endure conflict at home, settle for an unsatisfying career of post-war work well below his ability, and waste the prime of his life because his Colossus, the world’s first electronic programmable computer, his greatest life achievement, is to never have existed. Money also knocks him upside the head throughout the war. British social class divisions and the elitist world of Bletchley Park further complicate Tommy Flowers’ efforts to build his electronic-valve computing machine as they refuse to listen to him because he’s from London’s East End and has only a degree from night school, not a doctorate from Oxbridge. Tommy Flowers has no recourse but to pursue his machine on his own and plunge his family into debt to fund what should be a government project, a debt he can’t explain to his furious, frustrated wife because of the Act. Time is also never on his side. The war demands he slog away day and night to meet impossible deadlines. Peace time is an agonizing wait-and-see game for the order of secrecy to be lifted, a 30-year tortuous strain of patience in the face of heart-wrenching injustices and lost opportunities. 3. Conjuring Your Breakout Title: The Secret Genius 4. Deciding Your Genre and Approaching Comparables: Genre: Historical Fiction (based on a true story) Comparables: 1) Dan Brown’s Digital Fortress 2) Andrew Hodges’ The Imitation Game 5. Core Wound and The Primary Conflict / Hook Line: Tommy Flowers, an electrical engineer from London’s East End, must race against the clock and plunge his family into debt to complete his computing machine for Allied High Command in time for D-Day while keeping it an insufferable secret under the most trying circumstances then and for 30 years thereafter, or he will face the noose for treason. 6. Other Matters of Conflict: Two More Levels Aside from the antagonistic forces of secrecy, money, and time, Tommy Flowers must also face the possibility of humiliating failure. The viability of his machine, of its speed and reliability, rests on his assertion that a machine powered by electronic valves, versus the mechanical relay switches that Bletchley Park insist upon, can work if powered up and down slowly and kept running, contrary to their infamous blowing in radio and radar equipment. What Tommy Flowers proposes has never been done before, which puts the outcome of the invasion at risk and his reputation before his colleagues, his credibility as an engineer, his pride before his Bletchley critics, and his sense of self-worth on the line with the ultimate risk of self-ruin. On the home front, secrecy causes constant tension between Tommy Flowers and his family as he can never tell them where he goes or what he does, and he goes away for weeks at a time leaving the family to endure the trials and tribulations of war on their own for extended periods of time. On top of that, Tommy plunges the family into debt and can’t explain to his wife what it’s for because of the Official Secrets Act, only that it’s important work for the government. She finds it utterly ridiculous that its up to the Flowers family to help the poor, poor government, but Tommy is not quite in the mood for a noose so he can only beg her to trust him, a trust that is stretched to its limits. 7. The Incredible Importance of Setting: The Secret Genius unfolds across five primary settings: 1) The Beach: The story opens along the southern coast of England in 1941 on an empty, golden sandy beach with sleepy waves rolling ashore to create an atmosphere of peace and tranquility, but the truth washes up against the rocks further up the beachhead below a cliff face: shards of green and grey metal, a mug, and a combat boot. Atop the cliff face is an unassuming, hexagonal brick and clapboard enclosure that receives radio waves. One hundred meters behind it is a hangar-like structure that houses a small army of uniformed operators that transcribe the incoming dots and dashes of Morse Code to paper. This is one of many Y-stations throughout Britain that intercepts German messages during World War II and provides a crucial lifeline of intelligence to the Armed Forces. Later in the story, Tommy Flowers and his family unwittingly stumble upon it on a day out. 2) Bletchley Park: An hour north of London in a non-descript town of Bletchley is a late Victorian mansion that has been converted into the secret nerve center for British intelligence operations where intercepted messages from Y-stations are sent for decryption. Governed by MI6, staffed by the brightest minds in the country recruited from the best institutions and most illustrious aristocratic families, Bletchley Park is a top-secret elitist world of eccentric characters and mind-boggling machines. 3) Train: Tommy Flowers is summoned to Bletchley Park to aid in the construction of several codebreaking machines, so he makes countless trips between London and Bletchley during which the English countryside comes to life, the war rears its ugly head, and his mind races faster than the wheels on the train with apprehensions, plans, and breakthroughs. 4) Dollis Hill: Tommy Flowers is Head of Switching for Post Office Research at Dollis Hill in northwest London, a research and development institution for radio, radar, and telephone exchanges. Unlike the glamourous world of Bletchley Park, Dollis Hill is an austere, brown-brick, three-story monstrosity filled with cluttered engineering labs in which the world’s first electronic programmable computer comes to life. The phrase etched in stone above the front entrance plays throughout the story: Research is the door to tomorrow. 5) Tommy Flowers’ Home: Home is a source of both comfort and tension between Tommy, his wife, and his two sons aged four and five at the beginning of the story. Home also captures the essence of war life: victory gardening, the Blitz, sleeping in an Anderson shelter, rations, war songs over the radio, war Christmases, board games, knitting, and Blind Man’s Bluff out in the back garden. It is a middle class, stand-alone, two-story, red-brick structure with a shed in the back that houses the “Green Monster”, the family car. There are also several single scene settings which take place in a Home Guard training compound, a grocer, Windsor Castle, the town of Berkhamsted, and two pubs.
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