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A Chance to Shine

My modest return to Friday Flash. It seems I haven’t written and shared a flash fiction since December 2012!

This isn’t the first time I’ve given a voice to an inanimate object. A couple of years ago I wrote a very short fiction about a pair of shoes with their own opinions…


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An apple from the garden, sat atop the wooden kitchen table, all perfectly imperfect.
Alone in the half-light from the cookerhood lamps, it proudly glowed: its contours more strongly rounded by its halo, the two small, black bruises and the – as yet negliable – newly forming wrinkles hidden by the shadows.

‘Paint me,’ it whispered. ‘I’m still beautiful. Paint me before I die.’

A woman entered the room, switched on a single light bulb, remembered the apple she had rescued from the ground in the morning, and smiled now at how its middle seemed noble and self-possessed like a robin’s. She saw the asymmetrical left-lean of the stalk, the elliptical shadow pool, and the way the reflection from the light bulb beamed out midway where the red and yellow colouring met. There was something really palatable – comforting almost – about the form of an apple.

She remembered drawing and painting apples in school. Hadn’t she been quite good at still life? For the briefest moment she wondered if she would like to sit and draw this apple now. But it was late, and anyway what would it achieve? She didn’t have time for unproductive things like drawing and painting.

‘Paint me. I’m dying.’

‘Where’s Cézanne when you need him?’ the woman asked the apple, pressing her lips together in compunction, as she turned out the lights, shut the door and followed the stairs to bed.

The forlorn apple’s previously tight, satiny skin turned sticky and soft in the dark, warm kitchen. It had tried its best but it hadn’t managed to inspire her.

Maybe the stories it had heard on the tree about humans being creative and appreciating nature the way no other animal could hadn’t been true after all.



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.

Yuck

A flash fiction

We are allowed to watch a film on a doctor’s fold-up computer in the camp. It is a film in a language I don’t understand with people so different from us it is like they are from another planet. Their clothes are plain and pale and flat. They speak too loud and too fast and there is never any still or any quiet.
A translator tells us it is a film popular with children all over the world.

There is a girl my age in the film. But she is not like me. She sits with her family at a table to eat but she doesn’t like her meal and refuses to eat it. I can not imagine ever refusing food.

The girl in the film is shouting at her father.
When the floods came and the mud and the house moved down the hill and we tried to run away I shouted at my father. But he didn’t hear me.

The girl in the film says a word: Yuck.
I would like some yuck. I would eat some yuck. I want to pull her flat hair and sit in her place and eat up all her yuck and show her how hungry I am.

Shelterbox

True Love


Will you still love me when I’m ugly?

You are ugly

And you love me?

Yes

Will you still love me when I’m old?

You are old

And you love me?

Yes

Will you love me when I’m wrinkly?

You are wrinkly

And you love me?

Yes

When I’m embarrassing?

You are

And you…?

Yes

Was I ever beautiful…? And not embarrassing?

No

And you’ve always loved me?

Yes

Well I wish you’d said something

What? And spoil your fun?

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)

Instant Chums

A flash fiction

‘In the war…’ said Grandma…
Here we go, thought Sally.
‘… even though we wasn’t the ones fighting, we was like an army, we was. All working together. All gettin’ on with it for a common good. None of this – whatcha callit – image thing. All this wow factor that you gets on telly now. We was teams and chums and you fell in love because you had a nice chap that cared.’ Grandma said “cared” like Sally had never heard of the word before.
‘You all wanna be something special naradays, you lot. “Think not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”!’ Grandma waggled her candy cane forefinger at Sally who pretended to scratch her ear so she could look at her watch.
‘Look, Grandma. I have to…’
‘Appearances!’ Grandma interrupted firmly. ‘Stop judging people on how they look, stand, talk, smell, and what-‘av-you. It’s what’s inside that counts.’ Grandma thumped her chest a little too hard and Sally knew there would be bruises. She bruised so easily these days.
‘Yes. I’ll try to remember that… but I must… I’ll see you next time I get cover, okay?’ She kissed Grandma patting the bed ineffectually.
Back along Brick Lane she passed the familiar hunched shoulders and pinched nose of the man whose body language screamed, ‘Don’t touch me. I don’t even want to breathe the same air as you!’ Grandma was right – she had judged him by his withdrawn, unwashed appearance, his faded, leaning stacks of pre-computer-age unwanted kids’ games, and his apparent disregard for fashion. She wondered what he “cared” about. From now on she would be civil to him. She offered what she hoped was a friendly smile in his direction. If he smiled back or said hello or anything like that maybe she would offer to fetch him a coffee and perhaps sometimes they could help each other set-up.
His top lip curled on one side.
‘What are you smirkin’ at, you smug bitch?’ he growled, folding his arms.

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