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Posts tagged ‘Fiction’

Backtracking

This is the first story I wrote for my writing tutor in October 2009. I hadn’t written since school but found myself longing to write again after my father died and I needed time alone in other worlds. I’ll never know whether it was his death that inspired my writing or my starting to write but looking back it feels like it was a catalyst. And having the discipline of a course to follow was just the boost I needed. I was inspired to dig out this particular story this week when a friend shared a photo of a sculpture by Penny Hardy. I’ve asked permission and Penny has kindly allowed me to use this photo here. Many thanks to her. I’ll put some links below for further interest.

You Blew Me Away by Penny Hardy

You Blew Me Away by Penny Hardy

Backtracking

Eddie sighed, feeling old, as if retiring from his job at the rail company was another nail in the coffin. He felt silly and uncomfortable wandering around a scrapyard, looking for goodness-knows-what amongst the rust and mechanical miscellany. Still, he had to prove Jan’s friends wrong – he wouldn’t be ‘getting under her feet’. So phase one of clearing his allotment was making the shed a useable space.

He’d noticed other allotment holders had chairs and tables and radios amongst the pots on their shelves. He thought he should probably have the same and that the scrapyard would be the place to look for some of these things.

Staring at the sharp, unidentifiable rust shapes and contorted bicycle jungle he scratched his head. It occurred to him that he was probably looking in the wrong place; what he was after wouldn’t be left outside in all weathers. But he continued staring up, impressed by how beautiful orange rust looked against an intensely blue summer sky.

And that’s when he noticed a hand. A metal claw of a hand, an accidental shape created by broken and twisted bicycle spokes. The hand was reaching up out of the wreck into the sky, reaching out for help. A cold bullet of shock and sadness torpedoed through his body and his memory tried to reload images from his past. He blinked them away turning towards the small office at the entrance where he would ask for help.

Under a shelter behind the office was a collection of old school desks. He ran his hand along one, feeling the varnish and remembering his own school days. This would be perfect; great for storing his sandwiches. He wouldn’t even have to go home for lunch. Eddie found a deck chair and an old radio and took them and the desk to his car then turned back for one more look. The spokes no longer looked like a hand at this angle – just a twisted mass of wiry metal. He found himself compelled to walk back to where he’d previously stood, so that he could recreate the illusion.
How wonderful that something so useless could conjure up such a powerful image:
A human shape created from junk.

And then he was in amongst the rust and spikes, pulling. Pulling out whatever he could find that was bendable, shapable. A powerful urge to have that feeling again was taking over. He could do this himself. Something that looked like old bicycle spokes could also look like a hand, so why not arms? legs? a head? He took to his car anything vaguely malleable, staining his clothes with rust and cutting his hands, until there was no room left in the car. He would come back.


‘You’re quiet this evening’ said Jan after dinner. ‘What’s going on in that head of yours?’
‘Nothing’ replied Eddie, visualising his hoard in the shed and imagining it taking shape already. He would start with the first: Hayley, the manic depressive who had leapt in front of his train in 1970. Then Mikey, the lad who ran after his ball onto the track in 1978. He would make 7 metal sculptures in all and stand them on his plot with a view of the valley and tell them all how sorry he was and how he would carry their deaths around with him for the rest of his life.

It was three months before Jan became curious. She had continued to keep the house as neat as ever, had seen her friends as much as before and was beginning to notice that Eddie’s retirement had made little difference to their marriage after all. In fact she was feeling rather neglected.



‘It was terrible’ she heard him say as she entered the shed ‘Your poor wife, John. I read all about her in the paper. Right, you can keep an eye on Mikey, while I start Gareth. At this rate I’ll have you all together by Christmas’
As he turned to move sculpture number three next to the first two he caught sight of his wife. She wasn’t moving, her face was pale, and tears flooded her eyes.
Eddie stepped forward and Jan dropped her head onto his shoulder. With their arms still by their sides, they both trembled with the release of many years’ pent up emotion and tears.
‘You don’t forget’ whispered Eddie to the top of her head. ‘How can you forget what you’ve done to people?’ He raised his head, guided Jan into his deckchair and leant himself against the school desk looking down at her, eyes feverish. ‘I read about them all afterwards. I didn’t want you to know how bad it was.’

Jan reached up and took Eddie’s hand ‘Tell me now. Tell me everything.’


End.


Many thanks to Penny for allowing her photo to be used.
Penny Hardy has a website here
: http://www.pennyhardysculpture.com/
and a facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Penny-Hardy/122465097936140?fref=ts

(I’ve noticed WordPress has just congratulated me on my blog anniversary. It’s 6 years old today so that was nice timing.)



Mute

shutterstock_169863227I’m thinking about my response to something you said. I have many responses to choose from and I’m not sure which I should use. First I want to be sure I’ve made sense of what you’ve said. There’s a word you used that might mean something else and I want to be sure I’ve understood you the way you want to be understood. If I don’t know you very well that might take me a few extra seconds. The conversation has made me think of a hundred different things that may or may not be relevant. I need to filter those. What I say needs to be appropriate to the moment.

Which response should I use and how will I convey my answer? If you were someone else I would use a different language – different sets of words.

I finally decide what the best response should be. But it’s too late. I’m too slow. Someone else has spoken. The conversation is over. You’ve gone. It’s the middle of the night, the next day, the next week, months later, years later.

And this is what you saw:
She stares at me strangely for a second. She looks down. She looks at the room around me. She says nothing. Did I offend her? Did she not understand me? Is she stupid? She fidgets rudely as someone else talks.

Or maybe this was one of those times where I had to give an immediate response: ready or not. Maybe I blurted out the first unconsidered words and tried to catch them as they escaped: ridiculous, thoughtless and fancy-free, inappropriate and nonsensical.
Because that wasn’t how I felt at all.

I’ll write down what I mean. How I feel.
I’ll think. I’ll edit. I’ll read through and rewrite the bits that aren’t true.

And you may never know.

But someone will.

Eventually.

At least, I hope so.


Forty Quid and Some Fruit

A flash fiction

There’s something about having nothing that makes you feel … well, both heavy and light all at the same time.
There seems no point looking forward or back, ‘cause every time you do you feel sad and kinda hopeless. Life like this just goes on and on and on, and when you see no end to it, no better days ahead, it makes you want to top yerself. But there’s a lot of point in living in the moment. Why not smoke? Why not drink? Why not eat sausage and chips? Small pleasures. Simple things.

My health? My future?
I’m not expecting anything to be honest.

So, I stop the fags and buy some fruit?… What then? I sit here and fiddle with me orange peelings and cry about tomorrow? No. I share a fag with a mate over a cuppa tea and we get a few things off our chest. We can’t do much for each other but we’ve still got that.

And do I tell Benjy he can’t get bladdered with the lads after work on Friday so he saves a few quid? What then? His whole working week is about Friday and his friends. He couldn’t get through it if he didn’t have his Fridays. The rest of the week is bloody miserable for him. You know they don’t even pay him properly because he’s officially still training? What a load of bollocks.

Anyway… What have we got then? Forty quid and some fruit? That can’t get us a car, a new place to live. The fridge is knackered, the cooker is knackered. Megan needs a new bed. There is no future just by depriving ourselves further.

I was looking over this fella’s shoulder on the bus the other day – reading ‘is paper. Some woman had written how people who drink and smoke should pay more for healthcare. I laughed out loud, I did. The man turned and stared at me like I was mad.
I was mad to be honest. “Healthcare”?! Most people I know don’t even bother with doctors no more. We just wait until we keel over with liver damage or breathing difficulties. What’s the point of being told we ain’t living right, huh? “Yeah, sorry, doc, I lost me Waitrose loyalty card and haven’t been eating my pomegranates recently.”
It’d be funny if wasn’t so bleedin’ tragic. You know I know some people who’s not even registered with a doctor?

I think if I did have forty quid and some fruit I’d make a big bowl of punch and have a party. Share a little bit of happiness. We never seem to have any fun these days.

On The Button

I’m celebrating 2 years since my first attempt at flash fiction by sharing that first story from July 2010 (which is in fact more like a short story than a flash)
(Isn’t it funny – and rather worrying – how only 2 years ago I thought of sponsored academies as fictitious)

‘Zophar, listen.’ Luna crouched before him on the pavement. ‘You can get out whenever you want, okay?’
Zophar nodded, looking past his mother to the others. His body was poised in politeness towards his mother but in anticipation of other children, his eyes looked ahead to his new schoolmates and he willed her to say goodbye.
‘Did you Anti-Germ your hands?’
Another nod.
‘Where are your disposable toilet seat covers?’
Zophar patted his backpack.
‘And mask? Remember which pocket?’
More nodding.

His father opened the driver door of the car and the airlock was released with a Clop. Shhhhhhhh. He stepped out carefully, holding a green canister, spraying into the air as he approached.
‘Another squirt of Pollute Repel for luck.’ He misted the air around Zophar’s head and tiptoed back to the car, as if trying to avoid making contact with the ground. ‘One last button test, perhaps Luna?’ he called, slipping back into the car and sealing himself in.
‘Yes. Quick button run-though,’ said Luna. Tell me again.’
‘Emergency Back-Off spray, emergency water purifying tablet.’ Zophar’s fingers ran downwards over the buttons on his blazer at speed as he rushed through the list. ‘Emergency anti-viral pill, emergency contact button, emergency detox spray button.’ He touched his cuffs next. ‘Panic buttons. Now can I go?’ The five-year-old jiggled impatiently.
‘Anytime at all, if you are worried,’ continued Luna, ‘if someone touches you, if someone coughs near you, if the toilets are dirty. Any reason. You hear me? We’ll get you out straight away. Just press those cuff buttons. And when the car brings you back remember: shoes in the porch, through the first entrance door, blazer off, then through the airlock and straight to the arrivals shower. Don’t come in with your shoes and blazer and don’t touch the cruise control in the car on the way home. You hear me?’
‘I know, I know, you said. Now can I go?’
‘Okay.’ Luna kissed the air, not touching Zophar. ‘Go baby. Take care. Remember: buttons!’ She mimed pushing buttons as he ran off. ‘And don’t run or you’ll fall and touch the ground and I’ll have to take you home!’

Luna clasped her hands in front of her chin. ‘Good luck. Come home safely,’ she whispered.

Zophar scampered up the steps as fast as he thought he would get away with. He was more happy and excited than he could ever remember being.

This was better than birthdays. There were other children here.

The entrance was massive. It took up one whole side of the building.
‘Prevention Pharmaceutical’s Academy of Learning and Science welcomes you all and asks that when you enter the building, you do not share a door pod with anyone else,’ came a voice from within the walls.
Robotic eyes shifted around and each pod spoke instructions through hidden speakers as one hundred children at a time were allowed to enter the first segment where they were instantly separated by screens that held the children in stalls as they were scanned for identification and viruses.
Immediately three boys were locked in and a voice told them to wait until cars arrived to remove them.
Some newcomers were familiar with screening and airlocks. They stood patiently while the eyes and scanners moved around them. But the others, from older housing out of the city had not experienced Entrance Pollution Prevention.
Zophar could hear cries of ‘I want to go home,’ ‘I don’t like this,’ while others sobbed and tried to back out.
Luna had told him about the entrance and how other boys weren’t used to it. ‘They’ll soon get domesticated,’ she had said. ‘Everyone learns eventually.’

Next they were filtered into a huge glass cube. It was one of six on three levels. A voice told them to wait for the professors to collect them.
In this mix of trained and untrained five-year-olds, the difference was obvious to Zophar: the untrained boys had less shiny clothes and they didn’t have emergency blazer buttons. Zophar worried for them. But they didn’t look bothered. A few of them started talking to each other and they even tried to talk to the trained boys. Luna had said to keep away from untrained boys because they weren’t treated. He wondered if it would be safer to hold his nose then he wouldn’t be sharing their air. He held his breath for twenty seconds and gave up.
An untrained boy had been watching him. ‘I can hold my breath loads longer than that.’
‘Ludo’s the best at holding his breath. He swims underwater,’ said another boy.
‘He goes swimming?! Wow…’ Zophar stared.
‘Ye-ah, loads of us go. It’s really good for you.’ The boy threw off his blazer and mimicked breaststroke. ‘Gives you strong muscles. My dad said so.’
Zophar, Ludo and some others took off their blazers too, giggling as they ran in circles pretending to swim.

‘Why are your buttons so big?’
Zophar turned to see Ludo wearing his blazer and fiddling with the cuff buttons.
‘No! Don’t!’
The airlock opened and a robotic sensor promptly identified Zophar’s blazer. Ludo was shunted gently towards the door pods.
‘Please wait until your car arrives,’ said a voice.

From the door pods Ludo was directed into Zophar’s family car and within minutes he was lowered out at Zophar’s house.
A woman’s voice from a wall speaker said he could try school again tomorrow and she was glad he was home. ‘And remember:’ she said, ‘shoes in the porch, through the first entrance door, blazer off then through the airlock and straight to the arrivals shower. Don’t come in with your shoes and blazer on.’

Luna waited outside the bathroom with clean towels. She stared; horrified at the sight of the strange, untreated boy and then she hyperventilated.

Zophar’s father left Ludo in the entrance while he arranged his collection. Then the house and car were treated before the car was sent to collect the right boy this time. It had all been too risky and too stressful – Luna would home-school Zophar from now on.


This story is now published as an e-story from Ether Books:

(N.B. Thanks to Norman Geras – @normblog , who very kindly supplied me with the inspired prompt word: “prompt” when I asked on Twitter!)

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.

I Need to Promote a Book… Don’t Go!

Right.
(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?!

No?

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?!

Flutter


It was the flit of the butterfly’s wings that changed everything.

When she saw it, perched perfectly still on a nettle, it was dark – like her.
She liked that.
Quiet and dark.
And alone.
Folded up against the world.
She drew her elbows into her sides and watched its antennae twitch. ‘We’re the same – you and me.’

But then it lowered its wings and she saw that she was wrong. It showed off its rich red-orange and its bright purple flashes and powder-blue-eyed stare.
In a multi-coloured flash it took off.
She watched the creature’s papery flight lift and bounce and then disappear it; losing itself in a medley of yellow dots, orange silk hearts, green spikes, purple tongues and bright pink spears. Light petals fluttered, heavy pompom heads swung like upturned pendulums, and grasses waved. The colours altered as the wildflowers danced and bobbed in the sunlight. How inspiring nature was to have evolved a creature that adapted so cleverly to its habitat.

Sitting cross-legged and gazing out across the grasses and flowerheads, she tried to match long-unused names with remembered images: the red admiral, the tortoiseshell, the painted lady… but she didn’t know what this one was. Butterfly spotting had remained in her childhood with so many other ephemeral memories.

She wanted to take a photo. One day she would take the perfect wildflower meadow photo: sky, flowers and one other element: a bee, a bird, a distant hill, a butterfly perhaps…

One day…

She looked down at the unopened corner-shop-vodka, with the wonky label, hammocked in the lap of her long summer skirt and squeezed the pills in her fist until her palm begged to be relieved of the pain. Then she stood up – letting the bottle drop to the ground and walked back to the hospital, shaking out the pills like seeds along the path.

They’d said his eyelids had fluttered.
There was still hope.

If You Build it, They Will Come…

About good people doing good things

Kissing Frankenstein & Other Stories

Kissing Frankenstein & Other Stories


Back in October, a strange man approached me on Twitter and asked me to follow him.

Even though I had my own puppy and don’t particularly like sweeties, I did.

He beckoned me over and said he’d heard I was good at writing flash-fiction and he wanted me to join in with some brand-spanking new flashing idea he’d had.

Me? Good? Spanking? Flashing?
(okay, maybe he didn’t say “spanking”…).

Must be some other Rachel, I thought, but I decided to see what he had to say.

His name is Calum Kerr and I, for one, had never heard of him before (sorry Calum). He said he was organising the first ever National Flash Fiction Day in May 2012 and wanted to get a few fellow flash-fiction writers on board from all over the country. Did I want to be part of it?

Well, I love being asked to be part of something. I always say, ‘yes,’ and think later.

So I said, ‘Yes.’

And thought later…

When I got an email, a few weeks later, asking all writers to provide a short biography about themselves saying where in the country they were and a brief bit about themselves, I got a knotty, twisty feeling of doom and failure in my stomach. I left the email for a while, wondering what on earth anyone could be interested in about me! You see, I have no Credentials. I just like to write.

Another few weeks later, another email came, saying could those writers who hadn’t provided a bio about themselves yet, please do so.

So I looked online at the National Flash-Fiction Day site, read a few of the bios already there and got that knotty, twisty feeling of failure and doom again.
I didn’t belong there. Other people had Credentials. So I emailed Calum and told him I thought maybe I wasn’t what he was looking for to promote his venture. I said something daft and pathetic about how I’m not anyone – I’m just a mum in Devon who likes to write, I’ve only being writing for 3 years and writing flash-fiction for 2.

I get the ‘I’m worthless rubbish, you don’t want me’ thing from my mother. We don’t believe in bigging ourselves up. We’re much better at listing what we’re not good at. (Which is why Mum never got past the interview to be an Open University tutor…)

So, anyway, Calum would email me back and say, ‘Oh, okay then. What a shame. Maybe next time?’ Yes?

No.

And this is where my faith in decent human beings was restored (and continued to be for several weeks)…
He told me to stop being so silly and write a truthful bio, and he would put up on the site whatever I came up with. He told me that numerous people had told him I was good at writing flash-fiction and that’s why he asked me to take part.
Thank you, “Numerous people”, whoever you are!

So. I did as I was told and this is what I came up with: National Flash Fiction Day – Rachel Carter

And then…
And then, what?

Well I looked at me on the site just sitting there and saw that other people were doing things in their own area, and I wondered what things a shy person like me (with no Credentials) could do in my own area?

By mid-February nothing much seemed to be organised for the South West and, noting that it was only 12 weeks until National Flash Fiction Day, I felt a bit guilty. So I decided that the least I could do was provide an online place where people from the South West could send their flash-fiction. It would be a way for writers to showcase their writing whilst also publicising National Flash Fiction Day and awareness about the genre.

I emailed Calum again and said, ‘How about I do this thing I’ve thought of?’
And he said, ‘Yes! Do it! Let me know if you need any help.’

So I did it.

I wrote a blog post and asked for readers and writers and 15 people offered to be readers immediately and people started sending stories immediately and emails were coming in every day and Calum promoted it on the site and people started trusting me to do this, to get this sorted, and – whoosh – I did it.

I did it.

I said if there was enough interest I’d make a published anthology (Interviewer: ‘I see. Have you ever done anything like before, Rachel?’ Rachel: ‘NO!’) and there was enough interest and the readers kept reading and the writers kept writing and I kept sorting and flapping and emailing and squeaking, ‘Help!’ and. And we made an anthology.

I did it.

We did it.

I’ve made mistakes (at least 3 people are nodding their heads now…) and I’ve learnt a lot. But, above all, I’ve learned that people are prepared to be helpful, supportive, reliable, and to be all those things for free, for nothing, simply because people like to do good things, to be part of things.

Thank you to those 15 readers who stuck with it – you’re amazing, thank you to all the writers who threw stuff madly down the Internet into my email inbox – including brand new writers and experienced, published writers! – thank you to all the people who have been available to reply to my strange, flappy emails: to my mum, to Martha, to Pete, to Gail, to Calum, to Elizabeth, and to Natalie ( – the world’s best retweeter!).

We did it. We have a flash-fiction anthology, written by writers from all over the west country to celebrate National Flash Fiction Day 2012.

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.


(Ta-dah)

Detergent

This is my “reject” flash-fiction that I wrote for the Flash-Fiction South West anthology* and submitted anonymously. The readers put it through but, as editor, I rejected it on the grounds that it was not quite good enough!
Oh, the thrill of wielding my own power over myself! 😉

DETERGENT

This one was more like his mother, he noted, tasting ironing starch on the air and inhaling the heady commercial washing powder aromas rising from his crisp shirt as he tightened his tie. He didn’t have to do anything for this one.

He thought back to the times he used to take breakfast up to his first wife in the mornings and the way she planned her gardening jobs in bed, her soil-ingrained fingers curled around the tea-stained mug; long, dark whorls of naturally moulted hair decorating the pillows and un-vacuumed carpet, washing left uncollected until the weekend.

These days his dirty underwear, toilet splashes and still-warm, half-drunk coffee were disappeared before he had a chance to feel mortal. Artificial scents masked the “real” and the repeated pish, pish of ‘A hint of spring breeze’ into the air replaced opening a window. Vases of plastic flowers sat watching Gardener’s World with them each week, while this one tutted at the women with filthy fingernails.

‘Just like “she who must be obeyed” hey, Tony?’ She would dig him in the ribs with her elbow. ‘Just like your ex with her filthy boots in the house and inability to do her own laundry or cook a decent meal.’ Echoes of his mother’s ‘Above and beyond the call of duty – what you do for that woman.’

Now the slap on the back of the hand, dressed up as playfulness, when he was caught making a sandwich in his own zero-point-zero-zero-one-percent-chance-of-germs-kitchen.
Now the silence of invisible glass doors, once noisily, nosily marked by playful dogs.
Now polishing the cooker hob with a tissue for fear of being discovered if he fried an egg when she was out, and hiding the frying pan before it could be used in retribution.

Oh no, he didn’t have to do anything for this one.
He didn’t dare.

As he walked to the bus stop the crack of his backside itched, raw with dermatitis.


(*The chosen flash-fiction, written as our contribution to National Flash Fiction Day can be read here: flashfictionsw.co.uk)

Ironic

A flash fiction

‘Oh, isn’t he lovely?!’ they said, with only his wide smile, smart suit and ability to buy a round of drinks to go on.
Didn’t they so want to be one of his friends when they saw how he dominated the room?
Didn’t everyone laugh at his jokes?
Didn’t the women smoulder under his charm?
Wasn’t he the perfect host?
Wouldn’t it be marvellous to do all this again? Oh you must come to ours next time.
Cue the hand slipping around the shoulder and the pithy upper arm squeeze. Yup. There it was again.

One pace away for every year of marriage, the exclusion had become tangible. She was out of his circle. Had she moved or was she pushed?
Her performance hadn’t been up to much after all. Not quite the double act he’d been hoping for. The gregarious social couple moving in all the “right” circles hadn’t touched the feminist issues she’d expected it to. She’d begun to feel like 1950s arm candy. A secretary, an assistant. A PA. A Smiling Thing.
Where had her political life gone? What happened to her opinions? She felt around in her coat pocket for a tissue. She missed the feeling that she was standing for something, doing anything good. But she’d found that her inner strength had made her quieter, strangely. Tears of fury pricked at her eyes as she watched the stage and the repeat performance. Fools. They were all fools.
‘Not stopping?’ laughed Daisy from the office, as she walked by heading for centre stage, poking at the coat and not waiting for an answer.
Daisy. Daisy. Oh he’d be glad to see Daisy. He was half crazy for Daisy.
She wanted to tell Daisy she was welcome to him. Him and his fake teeth, his personal grooming products that took up more room than hers, his slow, degrading, emotional bullying.
But she wasn’t going to be tipped out of his net like an accidental catch. She was going to make a bloody great hole in it. She’d seen a TV programme about huge fishing trawlers that grab everything in sight and chuck back the dead and damaged things they don’t need. Ruining life that needn’t have been touched and then moving on without a care in the world. Maybe he needed unhooking from the bottom.
Eventually.
She slipped off her coat. Threw back her gin. Breathed in deeply. Stood tall. She practised her smile on the faces around her, the beam growing and spreading like a contagion. Oh, the power of a clique grin. The false togetherness of a room full of people all in it for themselves. She touched the arms of the inner circle with well-practised political matey-ness, and hissed in Daisy’s ear to piss off out of the way. Please. With wide, endearing smile. Oh, and mine’s a gin. So kind. You are wonderful. Isn’t she wonderful? Two can play at this game. I’ve learnt from the best after all.
The beaming bastard had a powerful edge to his voice that cut people short and as she approached him her personal space was invaded by his vibrations.
Those fishing trawlers were damned noisy and ugly when you got up close, she recalled. The little boats hadn’t stood a chance.
How rude he was. How charmingly rude.

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