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The Deer Stalker

A short story / flash-fiction
It’s still there, like a trophy, on the kitchen windowsill – the bottle you drank from on Wednesday night.
I don’t drink beer. Anyone who knows me knows that.
I wonder how many people have walked past the house and seen it there and thought, ‘She’s had a man in her house. At last.’

I looked at it on Thursday morning, sitting in the sunshine, the last swill at the bottom evaporating into the morning air. I breathed the deliciously dirty, left over smell into my head and drank in the memories as I thought about your deoxyribonucleic acid still on its un-rinsed neck. Still on my neck. The words you knew I wanted to hear repeating in my mind, caught on a loop. Later when Mum saw it but said nothing I felt I was holding that night like a clandestine cloak around me. Memories still so physical I couldn’t share them. Not yet. Maybe in a couple of weeks I’d tell her about the man known by his friends as The Deer Stalker.

On Friday the stale beer-warmed-in-the-sun smell accosted me at breakfast, as if to taunt me: ‘He didn’t phone. You’re used and dirty,’ it said. I held it in my hands for the first time since Wednesday night and examined the neck, hoping I hadn’t made a mistake and fallen for a man who was easy with his DNA after all. I played the evening back like a film and smiled at the blank table top as if it were your face. I dipped the back of my neck into my shoulder as if it were your hand. And then I closed my eyes and pressed the warm rim of the beer bottle to my mouth as if it were your kiss.

Yesterday was cloudy. I washed and tumble-dried my sheets, and the house smelled of me not you or your beer. I looked at your bottle on the windowsill and told it to call me. I told it I was going to be out all day but I would have my phone with me. Over lunch I protected myself with hands in front of my face as I told Anna about my encounter with The Deer Stalker. She tore up her seeded roll doubtfully and gave me half. I found I couldn’t eat as she suggested reasons for your nickname.
After a silence, she asked, ‘What was it like? Are you glad he was your first?’ But I could tell she was cross.
I said, ‘Sorry.’ I was sorry I hadn’t told her sooner.
But she said ‘No.’ It wasn’t that. She was sorry I’d had to find out this way.
I didn’t understand.

I had this daydream this morning that I could take your DNA from the bottle and make a baby. I could give birth to you. Hold on to you. If I couldn’t have you then I would have a beautiful copy of you. Maybe you would find out and you would see me with this baby and realise you loved me. And then it dawned on me that maybe I’m already pregnant. As I showered I wondered if perhaps you’ve lost my number and you’ve been trying to contact me.
But now that Anna’s told me what she found out about you last night I don’t want your DNA. I’m holding the bottle under the hot tap and allowing myself, and the ghost of my virginity, one last memory of my defeat. I admire your stalking talent; your ability to watch patiently from afar until you’ve learnt a woman’s moves. That’s a clever technique to appear as if from nowhere and catch us offguard. And then the softly-softly charming, not touching, always getting closer and closer – winning trust, moving gently. Bit by bit. You won’t hurt. How could someone like you hurt? You creep. You creep.

How to Be a Successful Modern Family Woman

This is one end of our hall. The other end is even messier. There are five of us making this mess. Six, if you include the dog. (He’s responsible for making the carpets permanently filthy.)
Sometimes I look around me and think that it looks more like twenty people live here, we have that much clutter and footwear.
I often wake in the middle of the night and think I am failing as a woman/wife/mother because I am not keeping things tidier (I promise you it’s not all about the hall). But deep down I know that tidiness is not a representation of any sort of success in those roles.

So I thought about how I could get through the days (and nights) without beating myself up over every little imperfection.

And this is what I came up with:

Add “Look tired” to your list of desired achievements for the day. (TICK!)

Make “Emergency ponytail” your favourite hairstyle.

Make “Teaching daughters about feminism” your reason for having breakfast dishes on the kitchen table all day and a confusion of clean and dirty laundry strewn around the house

Add “Check Twitter” to every even number on your “(AS LONG AS IT TAKES, OKAY!?) To-do” list.

Add beguiling entries to said list, such as: “Read that thing I have to read”, “Google that important thingy”, and “clear out underwear drawer”. Tick them and put list on fridge for all to see. This turns the guilt of time spent reading, web-browsing and having no clean underwear into achievements.

Wear a “Period Pains Hurt!” t-shirt once-a-month – or anytime you need people to sod off and stop asking you to do too many things.
(“The Menopause Is No Joke!” “Ask Me When I’ve Had Enough Sleep” and “The Most Productive People Take Breaks” are also useful for sending an important message)

Get “Superwoman Doesn’t Exist”, “Oh, Sod it!” and “All the best people are a bit smelly & messy” magnets for your fridge.

Have a partner who is a partner and not a stereotype.

Before anyone can ask you about all the things you haven’t done tell them all the things you have done.

Every time anyone says anything about how much better things used to be when families were more disciplined, mention the mass, hidden, domestic, mental and physical abuse of women and children of the nineteen fifties and the inequality and fear of the patriarchal figure that stinted the potential of many people for many years and still fuels the guilt and perceived (= made up) duties of the twentieth-first century woman.

Know that the best people trust you and like you a lot more when they know that you are not perfect

Never allow chores or household appliances to remain an enigma. Repeatedly marvel at how fun and easy the dishwasher/washing machine/cooker/vacuum cleaner are to use instead of being truthful about how depressing housework is. (Now that I’ve read this through I want to point out that what I mean by this is other household members should be allowed and encouraged to do more)

Don’t be a domestic goddess because your daughters will think they have to be a domestic goddess and your sons will expect their wives to be a domestic goddess and you don’t want that do you?
Well. I don’t.

I Need to Promote a Book… Don’t Go!

(Clears throat)
I need to write a blog post about a book. I’m not sure what I’m going to write yet (at the moment I haven’t even thought up a title for this post) but here goes:
(Draws breath)
I have to promote a book.
I have no idea what I’m doing.
That’s right. You can laugh if you want.

Actually… No. That’s not true. I have plenty of ideas about how to promote a book. I have seen lots of ways of promoting books over the last few years and I’m not sure if I want to put myself or my friends or family or anyone I know on the Internet through that. I’m terrible at this kind of thing. And I’ve seen how embarrassed other writers get when they have to promote themselves.

Have to promote themselves…

You see no one’s career is at stake here. No one will profit from this book – other than Lulu and Amazon. Oh and Royal Mail and any other delivery companies used in transporting the books hither and thither. Oh and Fotolia where I bought the cover photo. Oh and maybe any independent bookshops that choose to stock it.

Erm. So why do I need to promote it?

Well I need to promote it because 40 people wrote short stories for it for free, 15 people read stories for it for free, I gave up my time for weeks for free, it would be stupid to make a book and have no one read it. I need to promote it because I owe it to the people who donated stories for it. I need to promote it because Amazon sales rankings are addictive and watching them change last night was the best ever fun. Okay, not that, but I do really want people to read it.

And why should people read it?

Well people should read it because not only is this an interesting book if you’re into flash-fiction, but it’s interesting if you want an introduction to flash fiction; there are some very good and very enjoyable tiny stories in there that will make you laugh, giggle, cry, nod your head, gasp, wince. People should be made aware that there are some exceedingly talented writers living in the west country – FOUR of whom are in North Devon – which is where I am! (Oh, no that four includes me… that’s self-promotion) THREE of whom are in North Devon – which is where I am! It’s a format that you don’t have to commit to. It can be flicked through and stories picked at random. It can be read story-by story over a period of sittings (standings, lyings, waiting-in-queue-ings, lunch-breakings, sitting on the loo-ings, etc..). People should read it because it was put together for National Flash Fiction Day and we’d like more people to know about flash fiction – to read it, to write it, to appreciate it. Some people don’t understand flash fiction and slag it off – can you believe it?!

So what’s my angle? My title? The crux of this blog post?
“Read this book and show the flash slaggers how wrong they are”?

No. It’s this:
“I think you should buy this book”.
(I wish it could be cheaper but it’s not. It’s an expensive business – self-publishing a book.)
I’d like you to read it. I think short stories and flash fiction are wonderful and I want more people to enjoy the freedom and blasty funness of them (do please Google “blasty funness” and tell me if I’ve just been unintentionally incredibly crude). I want you to appreciate the talent and hard work of people scribbling away at home for little or no fame and little or no profit but purely for the love of writing and giving an experience to their readers.

I do feel for those ordinary hard-up writers self-promoting because they have to. It’s not easy.

Oh yeah. Almost forgot the link – ha ha!

Kissing Frankenstein & Other Stories by Flash Fiction South West – Now available at Amazon

Don’t buy it to make me happy.
Buy it to make you happy.

I know! – I should work in advertising, yeah?!


Try another line?

Please find it in your pockets to spend £7.50 so that 40 writers will feel loved, appreciated, and – most importantly of all – read.

You’re still laughing at me right?

Oh – alright: Tania Hershman wrote one of the stories! Now will you buy it?!

Not Swimming But Running Away

If you were to write down a list of the top twenty most important things to you and a list of the top twenty annoyances and asked lots of people whom you consider to be like you, or friends or family to do the same, and then compared them, there would be a few disappointments in every list – disappointing ways of looking at the world that leave you wishing they didn’t think like that and you’d rather they saw things more the way you did.

I expect if you asked the whole world to do it and created a database you’d have difficulty finding someone with the same lists. All forty the same? It would be harder than winning the lottery, surely? But perhaps that’s easier to cope with when you don’t know them. It’s weird when people see things very differently from us but if they’re strangers then we can dislike people’s views, even dismiss them as wrong perhaps. ‘Oh, they’re just “other”.’

It’s a simple fact that there is NO ONE that sees the world EXACTLY like us.
I kind of accept that.
Someone else might say they are avid musical-theatre-goers, fans of Bruce Springsteen, think that their hamsters are the most important creature in the whole wide world and that Roquefort cheese should be a main meal on Sundays – just like I do*, of course! 😉 – but there will always be a disappointment in there, a niggle that instantly repulses me for a few seconds, minutes or hours perhaps. Maybe I will remember forever how, despite the fact that we have so much else in common, Susie in Chichester likes planting Leylandii trees and I can never forgive her for that. In fact a little bit of my love for her secretly died when I found that out.
(It’s okay, Chichester people, she’s not real).

We should accept differences, avoid confrontation, and get over it, yes? It’s a rare treat when we find people we feel comfortable being ourselves around and we should come to terms with the fact that we’re all a bit different, you can’t change people so just enjoy their company, right?

And yet I’m still disillusioned and disheartened regularly. I don’t know why. I guess I just want to find more people that I feel completely comfortable with. It would be like a holiday to not have stomach-churning disappointment each time someone said something that didn’t sit comfortably with me. If another parent mentions the words ‘Gina Ford’ for instance, I instantly think, Oh God. Please tell me you didn’t?! And then I never forget. We’re not the same. We have major parenting differences, I’ll think to myself forever and ever after that how I’ll never be able to have that discussion with them about how much I loathe Gina Ford…

If someone says they respect Alan Sugar, Simon Cowell or Jeremy Clarkson… (I have a list) I visibly deflate a little and hope I’m not the only one in the room who doesn’t agree with the person speaking. Sometimes I disagree so much with someone’s opinions that I would rather be alone because to stay in that person’s company would either mean having a disagreement or keeping quiet and being quiet means being unfaithful to my own values. I can’t stand the thought of either.

And then there’s the extreme.
Have you ever been in a position where you find yourself thinking, I don’t agree with what’s being said here. I’m the only person sitting at this table who thinks like this ? I have. Too many times.

I expect it is one of the reasons why I write. And why I use Twitter. If there is only a metaphorical table of people sitting staring at me in bewilderment/horror/shock/pity/ or whathaveyou all ready to disagree with me at the same time at least in writing I can get my own feelings across before they shout me down, patronise me or frighten me into silence.

When I say “frighten” I mean I don’t like arguing – so much so that I shake. Those within my shield of safety will laugh at this because I do argue with my husband. But I don’t like people throwing an entirely different viewpoint from mine in my face and either getting away with it without being challenged or preparing themselves to do battle with my views. It doesn’t change my mind it just makes me want to run away from confrontation. So I need people who see the world as closely as possible to the way I see it around me.

Exactly the way I see it, if possible.

Which, of course, is no one.

We should do that list. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours



Anybody there???

PS Near the top of my annoyances list would be:
There are far too many cat photos on the Internet. It drives me nuts. Seriously.

Cue dinner party table of people looking at me in bewilderment/horror/shock/pity/ or whathaveyou…

*I don’t like Bruce Springsteen, Roquefort or people treating their pets like children and I don’t go to musical theatre


The first thing you notice as a child is how it feels like you’re not having to wait so long for Christmas to come around again each year. The next thing you notice is that you’re old enough to leave school, then old enough to drink, old enough to vote – officially an adult! Oh – boy – how you can’t wait to leave your parents’ house and use all your new adult rights. 18th, 19th and 20th birthdays seem to come almost back-to-back. Whoosh! Where did those teenage years go?!
But when your parents celebrate big birthday milestones: their fortieth, their fiftieth, they seem old, and really properly growing-up still seems like a long way off for you yet.

But those Christmases still keep coming thicker and faster, and before you know it you’ve celebrated twenty Christmases, twenty-five Christmases and you can’t believe how quickly summer comes and goes each year. Is it really time for Wimbledon again? you ask yourself.

And then suddenly you find out you’re going to be a parent and you have 8 or 9 months to get used to the idea and then before you’re ready you’re holding a screaming baby in the supermarket with sick on your shoulder and your clothes on inside out and an irritating old woman tells you to ‘Make the most of it. They’ll be grown-up before you know it.’ But you don’t know it and you don’t want to know it because you haven’t slept and you want to tell her to piss off.

And then it’s a baby’s first Christmas and then it is Grandad’s last Christmas. And you yawn, scream and plod through the terrible twos and troublesome threes and Wimbledon again. And then the kids are at school and you’re giving away toddler toys and you notice for the first time how old your parents are looking and you scratch your head and think Gosh am I really a parent? What happened there? And the kids make mess and they make noise and they need less and they want more: they want food and things and money and they write Christmas lists and they write Christmas lists and they write Christmas lists and then one of them looks up thoughtfully and says, ‘Cor. Christmas again already. That year went fast.’

And then taking down the Christmas decorations seems to lead directly into Wimbledon and it hardly seems worth putting the boxes away because you’ll be getting them out again in a minute. And then you catch your reflection in the hall mirror wearing a waterproof jacket and holding a garden centre list as you head downstairs with a thoroughly grown-up serious face just like those you saw on your parents’ faces. And someone in the garden centre tells you your eldest daughter looks just like you used to at that age.

It wasn’t such a long way off after all.

And then you notice that the apples have started growing on the tress again already and it dawns on you that it is precisely 18 years since you first found out you were going to be a parent.

Kissing Frankenstein And Other Stories

Here’s me having a go at the WordPress “Press this” function to share this excellent review of our book over on Dandelion Girl’s blog:

Kissing Frankenstein And Other Stories.

No Going Back

I’ve been waiting recently.
Waiting to get back to normal.
I’ve felt wrong – sometimes unwell, sometimes tired, sometimes exceptionally withdrawn and unable to communicate effectively. I thought this would go when my studying finished, when the children were all well at the same time, when summer came, when we’d recovered from the shock of losing both our fathers, when… well… I suppose I was waiting for a period of unease to become a period of feeling more light-hearted.

I’m not sure what I was expecting. I suppose some kind of lifting of dark clouds, a new energy, my mind and body sighing with relief. Cheerfulness maybe.

My plan was that every night I was going to go to bed with a book and read for pleasure again, free my mind of academic pressure, enjoy not feeling stressed or gloomy or overwhelmed by study pressure or family worries. I was going to spend more time with my husband and we would laugh more, talk more, and feel released from (some of) the confines of stress that we’ve had to deal with recently.

But it hasn’t come. I’m still not laughing. I still don’t feel released. I’m still not reading – books feel like a commitment for which I can’t promise my full attention right to the end. And I guess I’m scared: scared of reading something demanding – emotionally or intellectually – perhaps. And I don’t want to be disappointed either. Life has disappointed me too often in the last 4 years. God forbid I should read a disappointing book on top of everything else!

I still feel stuck in a new way of regarding life – as a serious of difficulties, stresses, worries and losses. I still feel uneasy and troubled. I am fluttery and nervous like a butterfly unable to land on wet ground for fear of drowning. I don’t trust life now. It’s as if there is no dry land anymore.

Maybe it’s something about being British – or English perhaps – a certain avoidance of the realities of life and death. So that when our lives do throw those realities at us it is so unexpected that we recoil and struggle to readjust. In seven years the very shape and makeup of my and Richard’s families have changed drastically through several deaths (and births, but mostly deaths). It’s not something we were ready for and maybe that’s a fault of our culture in this country: denial of the reality and brevity of life.

I now know how quickly life can change and life can go. I can’t assume old age will be awarded to everyone and I think throwing myself into things that demanded that I got outside of my own head for years and concentrated on other people’s words helped me avoid dealing with what had happened inside me and around me.

The shape of my life and the shape of me have changed. There is no getting back into my cocoon like an uneasy butterfly longing for my caterpillar years. I have to learn to deal with who I am now – what I have and do not have now. I have fewer of the people I love in my life now and so does Richard. We have both lost that youthful security that being surrounding by elderly relatives provided.
We can’t go back. We can’t ever feel how we did before. We have to sift those lighter moments from each day and enjoy them for what they are and live with less expectation.

So instead of living with a ‘Phew. I’ve got through that. Where’s my reward? Now let’s get back to normal’ mentality, and thinking I might go back to less stressful times, I now have to learn to flap my wings even though I feel heavy. And I have to land occasionally – even though I sense danger – because you can’t flutter forever.
I suppose a period of readjustment takes time as well as swapping expectance for acceptance.

Richard’s recently acquired a new catchphrase from somewhere: ‘It is what it is, isn’t it?’

It is.

PS. Books: If you’re reading this and know of a cast-iron guaranteed page-turner that’s not too demanding intellectually or emotionally but also not disappointing please let me know. (Not a youthful rom-com that reminds me that I’m past it either!) I think it’s just the kick up the butt I need to get me reading again.

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