Friday, 21 October 2011

A Liberal Feminist Wrings Her Hands #fridayflash

I just don’t know what to do. Milly wants a Barbie for her birthday. Where on earth did she get that idea? We’ve always been so careful not to gender stereotype. Dolls and toy cars, teddy bears and train sets. Mind you, she’s insisted on wearing pink since she was three, because that’s what girls do don’t they? It goes against the grain, but we’d hate to give her an identity crisis. And she does look adorable in that fairy outfit she insisted I buy her.

We have to draw the line at Barbie though. Those improbable breasts. The invisible waist. The endless legs. The first of too many unattainable images. The kind that lead girls into anorexia, bulimia, unsuccessful boob jobs. It’s not just that though. You can’t buy one Barbie. You have to get them all - fashionista, bride, anchor girl - or your life is not worth living. And now I’ve heard Mattel is carving up half the Indonesian rain forests to make her packaging. Anti-feminist, consumerist and ruining the planet. They’re not the values we want to teach Milly.

But…at bedtime, after I’d turned Disney Channel off and tucked Milly up, she looked at me with her large brown eyes and whispered, “I AM going to get a Barbie for my birthday aren’t I Mummy?”

What could I say? What's more important? A principle or our child's disappointment?

"Of course you are sweetie, " I said, giving her a kiss.

There's nothing else for it. We'll  just have to get her one. And  keep telling her why Barbie is so wrong. We can always give Greenpeace a donation as well. Fifty pounds should do.

I’ll go out to Toys R Us first thing.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Life Lessons #fridayflash

My Dad said I'd never amount to much. Slacker, he called me. Good for nothing! Sitting in front of that damn thing all day, when the sun is shining. What's wrong with you? Why don't you play outside like a normal boy?" Yada, yada, the soundtrack of my teens.

I didn't care back then. High School was dull, full of idiotic tribes whose inane rituals bored me. My teachers with their constant nagging, You won't get a good job without decent grades, even duller . My parents were tolerable, but they weren't exactly setting the world alight. Dad with his dreary job at the tax office. Mom with her bake sales and bridge clubs. Why would I aspire to that? Is it any wonder DS was where I came alive?

At first it was the film games I loved the most - Transformers, The Green Lantern, X Men. I loved playing all the lead roles, fighting for justice, defeating the bad guys. It was a blast. That was till I came across the war games - Battlefield, Halo, Soldiers of Anarchy.  Soon I found whole worlds to command - my strategic skills and quick fire reactions winning battle after battle. I conquered lands, and empires. My enemies fled at the sight of me pumping bullets with my AK47s. It was an adrenalin rush all right. No wonder daily life sucked.

Dad never got it of course. How could he? Tied to his desk and his spreadsheets and ledgers. I doubt he ever had an exciting moment in his life. He was such a loser. No wonder that heart attack killed him at 50. I expect it was the stress of living so monotonously.

Still. I've showed him. I've showed them all. Those whiny teachers with their lousy report cards. The principals who hauled me in their offices for their tedious Pull Your Socks Up lectures. See, it turns out, after all, those years weren't wasted. All that playing with joysticks and staring at computer screens was perfect preparation for a life worth living, serving my country. All that time to get me ready for this:

My computer screen has a perfect image, relayed back to me through the clear blue sky. A man is standing on the dusty street below, waiting outside a single story brick house. The intelligence on the ground has confirmed it, but I am waiting for him to turn round. To see the face of my enemy. Across the street, I see someone hail him. He turns round, relaxed, easy, unaware of the danger he is in. I cannot pick out his features. I zoom in.  The picture is blurry, but that long beard, those black rimmed glasses and hook nose are unmistakeable.  It's him alright. My pulse is racing, as I call it in.

"We have confirmation, target is on the plot. Repeat. We have confirmation.  Target is on the plot. Do I have permission to fire.Over?"

The response is sweet. The words I've been longing to hear.

"Target approved. Fire at will.Over."

I wipe drops of sweat from my forehead and reach for the controls. For a second, nothing happens. Then the flash of the bomb. The flume of smoke. Rubble, dust. People running.

"Target taken out. Over."

"Nice job sergeant. Over and Out."

I pull off the head-set and hand over to my co-pilot. I walk away from the booth and grab myself a Coke from the machine. The sweet taste of victory trickles down my throat as my colleagues surround me with congratulations. Another kill for my country. As always, it's quite a rush. I can't get enough.

My Dad said I'd never amount to much. If only he could see me now.

Friday, 7 October 2011

#fridayflash Blue Sky Thinking.

The sun burns bright today. Electric-yellow rays scorch the earth, even at this early hour. The blue sky is empty of clouds. The only thing visible is the heat shimmering on the horizon. Today is a day when a sensible man would stay inside. Cool, collected, protected from danger. But I am not a sensible man, and the sun is not the only thing I fear.

Once upon a time, when the Arabian Nights were real, and not just stories to soothe me to sleep, too much sunlight was the only thing that frightened me into the dark. That was in the days before Our Enemies came. Infidels from East and West with their bomb-filled aeroplanes dropping death and destruction. At first we were able to spot the warning signs. The drone of engines, the glint of steel, the trail of smoke were enough to alert us to run for cover. If  Allah was kind, the wind was fair, and we were slight of foot, we'd escape the blasts that ripped our communities apart.

But Our Enemies are clever and their tricks became ever more devilish. Soon we discovered the Russian Roulette of the yellow packages. Glinting, gold bars, dropping from the sky into the welcoming arms of juniper bushes. What treasures would they reveal? One day, a gift of sugar and flour, enough to feed a family for a month;  the next a curse of metal shrapnel, enough to fill a child for life.

Was it any surprise, I grew up to curse Our Enemies, East and West? Between them, they robbed me of my Grandfather, Mother, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins. For a while  I cursed Allah too, blaming him for my losses, till Mullah Ahmed showed me the error of my ways. It was through him, that I learn that God had made me suffer in order to prepare me for the fight. That the violence I had endured had a purpose. I must beat the Infidel as they had beaten me. Teach my countrymen to burn them as they burnt us. Destroy them as they destroyed us.

I preached this message, and as the Mullah predicted the people followed. For a while, I was blessed with  Allah's beneficence, I prospered, married well and fathered children. In Allah's name I smote my Enemies, and brought destruction to their Citadels. And truly, I had no fear, until...the worst fear of all overcame me. The soundless, sightless attack. At any time, in any place, the bomb falling from the pitiless sky.

And now, the Enemy is mine alone. I am on their list - a Wild West villain beyond the democracy they pretend to believe in. My Father appeals to their courts of law in vain. I am only safe if I put myself into their lion's den, allowing myself to be transported to Guantanomo or some other sightless hell. I will not submit, I cannot. Yet my refusal condemns me to this - a life in perpetual motion attempting to out run a killer I can never see. Inside or out, I can never be safe, for the remainder of my days.

It is months since I have seen my family. Proximity to me places them in the gravest danger. One brief visit, and I would be their executioner.So I move from day to day, hoping to survive another day underneath the radar. Hoping my good deeds will be sufficient for Allah to preserve my life for another day.

The sun beats down as I leave the house. The horizon melts into the distance of possible escapes. Above me the blue sky is devoid of life.  When the moment comes I know it will show me no pity. A sensible man would disguise himself  and be smuggled across the border to freedom.And yet, I cannot leave the country of my birth, and so each day I wake, I pray, I run. Hoping, insh'Allah, that by the day's end I will reach safety.

The sky above  is devoid of life. When the moment comes, it will show no pity.

Friday, 30 September 2011

#fridayflash White Wedding

"You didn't get married then?"
Sylvie shook her head.
"Wow, that's...I mean...I thought you two were so close." Sophie's green-black eyes shimmered her concern.
"We were."
"When I saw you at the bar that night, it looked like you were eating each other."
"He is tasty, there's no denying." Sylvie seemed fascinated by a mark on one of her feet.
"So, what happened?"
"I had the most divine dress."
"Designed by?"
"Stella McCartney of course." Sylvie gazed down at her long black limbs, "V neck, vertical line, three quarter sleeves, white silk - perfect for the hour glass figure."
"I happened to glance at our engagement photo and it came to me..."
"What did?"
"It was his diet, you see."
"You left him because he went on a diet?" Sophie's mouth opened in a perfect "O" , exposing a set of jagged teeth.
"He wasn't the person I'd fallen for," Sylvie sighed, "When we met, he was round, cuddly, juicy. Now he's just skin and bone."
"I guess you could say, he went out of flavour."
"That's a lousy joke." Sophie giggled anyway, setting Sylvie off into convulsions. They shook so much that strands of silk holding them together split apart, swinging them in opposite directions like trapeze artists. Sylvie spun sticky threads rapidly as she passed her friend doing the same. They worked hard and in ten minutes they were hanging upside down in the centre of the newly fixed web.
"Has it put you off?" panted Sophie.
"A white wedding? Nah, it'll happen, and with any luck, quite soon..." Sylvie nodded at a bulbous brown male scuttling along the floor below. "See that? Delicious."

Friday, 26 August 2011

#fridayflash The Preacher

She is hell-fire and damnation. She corrupts my thoughts, polluting me to the depths of my soul. Every day I pray to my Master to have the strength to resist the temptation that the Evil One has put in my path. Verily, I understand, that she has been sent as a test to my fidelity.That I must walk though this valley of death with integrity and fortitude. That if I trust only in the Lord, then shall I overcome.

She comes each week to Chapel, gazing at me, with a brazen mockingness, as if she is questioning every statement that I preach. Her brown hair is piled in curls underneath a hat decorated with yellow and purple bird feathers. Though she is wearing a velvet cloak, I know that underneath, the neckline of her blue silk gown plunges to the point of immodesty. Her sister sits besides her, dressed in suitable grey, never daring to catch my eye, drinking in my every word. A more suitable helpmeet for me, perhaps, but I have strayed off the path of righteousness. I want to reach out and untie that velvet cloak, caressing the blue silk dress with my fingers. I want plunge down beneath the cloth, unhooking the corset, hook by hook. As I preach the Word of the Lord, I am possessed by the idea of  doing unspeakable things to her in the darkness, and though I condemn myself for my hypocrisy, I am powerless to stop.

Once, walking home after Chapel, I saw a couple, locked together against the side of an abandoned cottage. She had her skirt hitched up and they were rutting like animals, in utter depravity. The woman glanced up as I passed, and smiled at me like a demon. Sometimes, I believe it was at that moment the Devil crept in to my soul. At night, I am tormented by dreams in which we are that rutting couple, and I give way to the agonising ecstasy, whilst she taunts me, laughing like the fiend she is. I wake in damp disgust, and resolve that today I will rid myself of this affliction. That I will purify my soul and walk again by still waters, that I may lay down with my Lord in green pastures. But I cannot.

She is hellfire. She is damnation. I should have the faith, and the strength to resist this temptation. But I am a weak sinner, lost in the wilderness. There is no way back for me now.

I will have her and be damned.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Halfway up the Hill

This being my hundreth post, I wanted to it to be a little bit special. So I'm delighted to say that I have something to celebrate.

After 7 and a half years, I have finally achieved something I thought might never happen. I have completed the first draft of my novel. As achievements go, it's not that impressive. I still haven't finished the book or found an agent, let alone a publisher. And as my daughter kindly pointed out - if it's taken you this long to write the first draft, how long will the second take you?

Still, it's worth taking a breather, halfway up the hill, and reflecting where I've come from. Way back at the bottom of the slopes, when the idea for Echo Hall first presented itself, I was a stay-at-home mother, with three children of five and under. My writing time was pretty limited, though my thinking time wasn’t. As a result, I was able to work out the core of the plot and a few key characters, but didn't have any opportunity to write it down. I meandered along the lower slopes for the next three years. Training for the London Marathon in 2005 took up all my spare time for quite a while, though long runs helped clarify plot and character development. Moving to Oxford at the end of that year, and returning to work in 2006 pretty much did for my writing that year, though by then I'd at least worked out the narrative structure.

It wasn't till the beginning of 2007 that I carved out some time and took my first faltering steps up the path to the summit. At last I set down my first five chapters (embarrassingly over the top from this distance, but quite pleasing at the time). Later that year I started a writing course, which I hoped would help me  progress, but which often had the reverse effect. The relentless treadmill of constant assignments trapped me in many a thorn bush and several  dispiriting dead-ends. When I made the mistake of trying to submit parts of the novel as coursework, the resultant marks and critique sent me spiralling into despair. Still, I perservered with my story, and, thanks to a term sharing chapters with my course friend, Rachel Crowther (who has since published her novel, The Partridge and the Pelican) by the end of the course, I had drafts for 3 out of 5 sections. I was also encouraged by the very lovely Dennis Hamley, whose support for my portfolio (a re-worked beginning) gave me the hope that I was beginning to get somewhere.

When I graduated, I had high hopes that I'd be able to storm off to the summit in no time. After all, I was in a regular rhythm of writing and the discipline of submitting assignments had at least helped me work to deadlines. But, alas, it hasn't been that easy. I spent the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010 mired in a bog of complex work issues. Dealing with that and looking after my family meant my writing had no chance. I discovered #fridayflash around then, which kept my hand in (& at least helped my writing improve), but novels need space and energy and I had very little to give. Last July, thanks to my lovely husband Chris, I got away for a beautiful weekend of writing and surged forward to complete a draft of part 4. But immediately afterwards, I was thrown off course by the death of my lovely friend Pip. After that happened, I literally froze and couldn't write a word for a couple of months. When I was able to go back to it, the novel seemed too daunting, so I stuck to my weekly #fridayflash stories instead. By Christmas, I was preparing for the London Marathon again. Once more, I found long runs useful times for working out plot and character, but I was just too exhausted with that, work pressure and family life to actually do any writing.

Since completing the Marathon, I've found the going slow. Having had such a big focus for the winter, it has taken a while for me to put my energies into something else. Part 5 has progressed chapter, by painful chapter, up a dusty scree slope, slipping back 3 feet for every 2 feet forward. It's taken the relaxation of a fortnight's holiday to give me the impetus to throw down the last 2,000 words and drag myself to this plateau where I am now resting in quiet triumph.

And yes, the path ahead is daunting. Of the 65,000 words written, I'd say only about 15,000 are any good (and even these need re-working). I need more words, and better ones. I will have to write and re-write again, and again and again, before the language is of sufficient quality to do my story justice. I have characters who are half formed, or too stereotypical, who need shaping and developing in complexity. I have to fix period, place and editorial detail. Far too many people change names half way through, and there are huge blank spots where my inspiration ran dry for a moment but I let the story run on anyway. I fear my book is both too elitest and too shallow. Too polemic, yet not stating it's case clearly enough. I have a lot more work to do.

But, the top doesn't look an impossible target anymore. It may have taken  years to get here, and possibly a few more before I'm done. Yet I'm eager to continue and I can see what I need to do to reach my goal. For the moment though, I'm taking the opportunity to put my weary feet up and enjoy a piece of Kendal Mint Cake in the sunshine.

Tomorrow, I'm heading for the top.

Thursday, 28 July 2011


My first post was actually on the 10th July 2009, but let's not quibble, shall we? I'd like to take a moment to wish my blog a very happy 2nd birthday.

I started this blog just as I finished my creative writing course. My aim was to develop my own fiction, share my thoughts about writing and connect with the writing community. After two years of being constrained by the academic treadmill, I felt it was time to break free and do my own thing.

I started with a prose poem Midwinter, and the first of many plugs of the month  being for my lovely sister Julia Williams, who is, coincidentally this month's plug. Although I don't manage to do it every month, I've been delighted to use this blog to advertise her work, the poems of my sister Joanna Clark and friend, Karen Annesen, and the fiction of my writing buddies, Catherine Chanter and Rachel Crowther.

I had high hopes of writing articles here, and intended to keep regular series going: Art and Craft, has featured Graham Greene and William Goulding; Sublime Screenplay: The Sopranos, ERFinding Nemo; Rave Reviews: Gilead and Oranges are Not the Only Fruit. I've got a whole bunch more I'd like to write, and add one on Children's Classics, but alas, there never seems to be time.

The main purpose of this blog has been to experiment in my fiction. It took me a while to work out how best to do this until my husband pointed out #fridayflash to me. #fridayflash is a community of writers who post flash  fiction on their blog each Friday and advertise it via twitter. Although I don't manage to write or read #fridayflash every week, in the last 18 months, it has become an indispensable part of my writing life. I love the discipline of capturing a story in 1,000 words or less, enjoy reading other people's stories and the warmth of connecting with other great writers. I haven't counted how many #friday flashes I've written, but here's a random selection that I quite like. Alive,alive o is the voice of the anti-hero of my next novel (if I ever finish the current one), A Day In the Life an experiment in twitter that doesn't quite come off, but was fun to do.  I like Tommy Rot even though it's very sad, and Submission which is based inspired by a  holiday I took in Morocco. Golden Girl reflects my passion for running, whilst Protecting the Legacy seemed the only possible reaction to last year's election. Moving Out is, I hope, a playful response to a particular curse of modern motherhood,  whilst Bad Weather Warning and On the Mudflats deal with some bleak political realities. I ended 2010 reflecting on relationships, loving in Night and Day, hard-hearted in Waiting for the Thaw, and comic in White Christmas. I've not written so much this year, but topical events have been a rich source of inspiration for Nobody's Fault, Blast from the Past, A Saturday in March,  Breakfast News, Rapture, and The Sheriff Rides into Town. Though my anti-romantic side has also been to the fore with  After He'd Gone, Bad Timing, and Red Shoes.

All in all, I feel it's been a productive two years - 98 posts, 30 followers, plus 300 on twitter who come and see me from time to time. I'll never have the time to write as much or as often as I like, but I'm quite pleased with what I've achieved. So thanks to all my followers, visitors and commentators for turning up, reading and letting me know what you think. Hope to see more of you in the year ahead!

Friday, 15 July 2011

Plug of the Month - The Summer Season by Julia Williams

My lovely sister Julia Williams, has done it again! Her fifth book in 4 years is flying off the shelves. She doesn't really need my endorsement, but she's getting it anyway. And on our birthday too.

The Summer Season is as bright as sunshine, as sweet as a glass of Pimms. A perfect read for the beach or bank holiday. Through the power of gardening and the coming together of a community, Lauren, Joel, Kezzie learn to  terms with what they've lost and find out what they need.

Happy Birthday dear Julia, may your rise up the bestseller charts be swift!

Saturday, 9 July 2011

#fridayflash The Sheriff Rides Into Town

I've always lived by the rule book my Father left me. It worked for him, and it's worked for me. In particular:

#Rule No 1. If you are careful, you won't get caught. But you have to be very careful.

Oh, I've been careful, so very, very careful. For all these years, I  have been above suspicion. My email is encrypted. I change my mobile regularly. I use so many intermediaries I'm untraceable. If a crusading hero were to ride into town on the whiff of a rumour, they'd find nothing but straws whistling down the wind. And if they were able to weave a tale from the fragments they found, well then:

#Rule No 2.Your friends are  your best defence.

I have  friends, such powerful friends. There's hardly a politician, newspaper mogul, movie star who I haven't helped in some way. They've all enjoyed the hospitality of my house parties, and appreciated the parting video as a memento of their stay. If our sheriff were to enter the saloon bar with impertinent questions, they'd rise as one to protect me, I'm quite sure about that. As for the tiny few who reject my generosity, ridicule is such an effective weapon, their protest rarely amounts to much. Should some foolhardy idiot dare stick their neck out to defy the mocking bullets, there's always:

#Rule No 3. Deny everything.

Our gunslinger might think he has all the shots, but when he faces me down at the poker table, there's no way he can win. Whatever cards he holds, I'll always call his bluff. My tongue will gild my lily-words, allaying the doubts of even the most sceptic audience. I will tell the tallest of tales, wrapped in the tiniest veneer of plausibility and the world will believe me, as it always done. Failing that:

#Rule No 4. Create a fall guy.

I'm fire-proof. I'm sure of it. Were our dogged loner actually able to penetrate the maze of connections I have created, he'd reach an impasse just before my door. I own my workforce. All of them. They know they have no choice but to hang for me, and, if it comes to it, they surely will. It is hard to imagine they'd have the wit to sell their souls to anyone else, but if they do, I'll have a way out. That will be the day when it's time for:

#Rule no 5. Burn the village.

If all else fails, I have other resources to fall back on. There are still places I can go where none can reach me, and I can begin again. If it comes to it I will burn my village to save it. It will be satisfying to watch my pursuer from a distance, as he warms in the flames of his great victory. A victory that will be bright, beautiful and pyrrhic.

This morning I woke to the sight of waggons circling, of vultures hovering overhead. My nemesis is swaggering down Main Street for our final showdown. I am ready for him. My bags are packed, the possessions I care about least are piled high. All I have to do is light the spark and they will burn.

My Father's rules have protected me all these years. They protect me still. For we have saved the best for last:

#Rule No 6. Cut your losses and be gone.

Dedicated to Alan Rusbridger, Guardian Editor.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

#fridayflash - Rapture

Sylvie wakes with a shiver. She can hardly feel her feet. Her back aches. She has slept with bent knees and now her right leg has cramps. She shakes it back to life, warming her toes as she does so. She doesn't mind the cold, not with Jim sleeping beside her and the knowledge of what today means. She turns towards the blissful sight of of his lovely face in the green tentlight. She could gaze at his face for hours, but the sun will be rising soon, and they can't be late. She strokes his smooth skin and is rewarded with his eyes fluttering open and his lips reaching to kiss hers.
"It's time," she says.
"At last." His grin is ecstatic.

They jump out of their sleeping bags, pulling their clothes on, eager to get moving.

"No time for breakfast," says Sylvie.
"We're not going to need any, where we're going." He grabs her hands and they race towards the cliffs. The  air is cool as the grey-blue sky lightens in preparation for the final dawn. Jim takes large strides  up the stony path, forcing her to takes twice as many steps just to keep up. The exertion warms Sylvie and she soon forgets her aches and pains.

They arrive at the top, beaming at each other in breathless elation. At the edge of the cliff, they find a grey boulder. They sit against it, staring out across the sea at the horizon which is already lined with a strip of orange-gold. A seagull sweeps past and dives down into the waves below. Otherwise they are completely alone.

"I thought the others  might come," she says, trying not to sound too disappointed.

"They were faint-hearted. Not true believers," he smiles at her, "It's better this way. Just us. You're the only one worth saving."

Oh the delight of hearing those words. After all this time, she still can't quite believe she is his chosen one. But here they are, just the two of them, right at the end. She snuggles against him, watching the clouds above the horizon turn pinky-orange. The wind has picked up causing the waves below to rise and fall, crashing against the rocks below. She looks at her watch, five to six. The sun will soon be here and then, and then...

"What will happen to the others do you think?"
"Earthquake, fire, pestilence, plague."
"Even my mother?" This has always been her one reservation. Her mother isn't a believer, of course, but she is a harmless soul.
"I'm sorry sweetie, but your mother is one of the worst. She reads the Bible, but doesn't hear the message. It's right there in Genesis, and Matthew and Peter. This is the last day of tribulation, it's quite clear. Yet she doesn't believe it."
Jim has explained this before - the thousandth year since this, the seven thousandth since that. The importance of using  the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars. If truth be told, Sylvie doesn't quite understand, but it is enough that Jim does, "I guess you're right."
"You know I am."

The sun is half way above the horizon, joined at the water's edge by its orange reflection, creating the momentary illusion that a ball of fire is burning the sea. It is getting warmer,d espite the wind and the sky has paled into blue.  A dog barks in the distance. Sylvie's watch says a minute to six. She squeezes Jim's hands. He squeezes back.

"I love you Sylvie," he says, and she trembles with joy. This is it. The two of them, about be raised up to heaven.  The sun pulls itself above the horizon blazing the sea with orange and red waves. They wait in eager anticipation. Any second now. The hands on Sylvie's watch march round to six. They wait patiently. Any second now.

They wait...any second now...and wait...The sun rises higher in the sky, fading into yellow, it's reflection reduced to a tiny circle in the waves. Six ten, six twenty, six thirty, seven. Nothing happens.Nothing. But the sun keeps rising.

Sylvie's back is sore, her knees ache, her right leg is cramping. She is longing for a cup of tea and a fry up. But she doesn't dare to suggest it. How could Jim have got it wrong? He's always been so certain. Suddenly, Jim throws his hand against his forehead,  as if he's heard her thought, "Idiot. I'm a total idiot." He ruffles in his pocket and picks out a leaflet. "Look," he says, pointing to the date and the time. "I misread the time. It's 6pm NOT am."
Sylvie grins with delight."So, it's still going to happen then?"
"You betcha." He stands up and stretches. "Come on," he adds, "Breakfast. We'll come back later"

Hand in hand they run back across the cliffs. Towards the day ahead, and the rapture that is still to come.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Breakfast News #fridayflash

1st May 2011 8:31am

RESULT. Go SEALS go.  I can't believe the lefty liberal pricks on this thread bleating on about human rights. Don't you get it Obama Bin Laden KILED people. Lots of them. I thought Osama was weak, but not know GO Osama. You showed us the US NEVER gives up.

1st May 2011 8.32am

For God's sake what's wrong with you people? Do you really get off on celebrating death in this way? What makes those people outside the White House any different from those fundamentalists burning US flags? 
BTW Gotcha it's OSAMA Bin Laden. Obama's the president.

1st May 2011 8.33am

Oh come of it Appalled. Ringing your hands about poor little Osama (no typos). The man was a fucking sycopath. He murdered thousands of people. Caused a war, and while his people lived in caves he was larging it in a millionaire's  manssion. Fucker deserved to die.

1st May 2011 8.34am

Where should I begin Gotcha? I'm not saying Osama was a saint. But who created him? The fucking CIA that's who. They needed him in Afghanistan and when communism collapsed they needed a new enemy. 9/11 was a TOTAL set up. There were no hijacked planes. It was the US airforce all along.

Jim sighs as he looks at the computer screen. What an idiot. He types in a response, his fingers tapping the keys in righteous indignation. Then, aware of  the rumbles in his stomach, he shouts down the stairs, "Jenny, are you doing  a fry up?"

Jenny looks up from her computer screen, appalled by the latest comment she has read. "In a minute. Let me just finish this".

She bangs out an angry response to Gotcha. Then she rises from the table and heads for the fridge. She pulls out bacon, sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes and eggs. She drips oil into the pan and starts chopping vegetables.

She knows what makes her husband happy.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Bad Timing - #fridayflash

"I don't think I love you any more."

These are not words a girl wants to hear. Particularly, when the person uttering them is still inside you, and you are experiencing the after-shocks of a deep and satisfying orgasm.

"Then you'd better go." He doesn't move. "NOW." I push him off me. He rolls over to the damp side of the mattress.
"I'm sorry."
"Save it."
"I wish..."
"Just GO."

He makes no further attempt at civilised conversation. Taking me at my word, he climbs out of bed, and grabs his clothes. I bury my head under the pillow so I don't have to look at him. But I can hear the crackle of static as he pulls a T Shirt over the torso that I was just stroking, the sliding of trousers up the legs that were so recently wrapped round my body.

"Bye then." His words penetrate the muffle of the pillow case. If he's looking for a moment of understanding or forgiveness I'm not inclined to give it. I wait till he has left the room before I allow myself to bring my head up to breathe. A sickly smell of sex pervades the room. It makes me gag. The door to the flat bangs. My cue to jump out of bed, run to the toilet and throw up.

I feel better for a second. And then I begin to cry. My body shakes with sobs that seem to surface from deep in my gut. What am I going to do now?

I don't now how long I sit there crying on the cold bathroom floor, my sticky legs rubbing against each other, aggravating my eczema. I do know that when the tears finally subside, and I pull myself up, my face is puffed and blotchy. He used to say I lit up every room. No-one would say that of me now.

The stupid thing is, that I know he is right. He doesn't love me. He never did. And I didn't love him either. We were held together by mutual orgasm and the need for company on a Saturday night. Would it have made a difference if I'd said it first?

I have a shower, get dressed and make myself some toast. It doesn't change anything, so I phone in sick. I put "Casablanca" in the DVD, wrap myself in a blanket, and settle down to watch.

The bedroom will smell of sex for days. The bedsheets will stay stained.

I'm not inclined to clean up just yet.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Plug of the Month - The Partridge and the Pelican by Rachel Crowther

This is another novel I've seen in bits and pieces. Rachel and I spent the winter of 2008 emailing each other and critiquing various segments of our books . Of course, she is far more efficient than I and has not only completed a Masters in Creative Writing since then, but  the novel too and got  published to boot!

I can confirm that although I haven't read the whole and the bits I did read were out of sequence, this is fab.
I'm really looking forward to it. So enjoy!

Saturday, 9 April 2011

A Saturday in March

"Saturday,Saturday." I find myself humming an old Elton John tune as I head down the corridor, carrying a set of medical notes. Mind you, the only reason he found it all right for fighting  was that he'd never had to spend it in Casualty mopping up the mess. Down here with the drunks and druggies, who will conspire to ensure my Saturday night will be anything but pleasant.

The glass doors open, allowing me through to the waiting area. It's 9.30pm. The room is nearly full with punters sitting on pink and blue plastic seats, tending their injuries and illnesses under the white strip-lights. We're going to be busy tonight.

I call out "Emily Davies?"  There is no answer. I call again. It is not until I call for a third time, that a young girl, with tangled hair and a slightly dazed expression, responds. She is helped up from her chair by her friend. They hobble towards me like survivors in a bad disaster movie.

My heart sinks. The paper work says eighteen, but the girl is at least three years younger than that. I doubt Emily Davies is even her real name. Her friend doesn't look much older and is in almost as bad a state. Runaways, no doubt, who've all too quickly learnt the streets of London aren't paved with gold, but with broken glass and, from the looks of it, an unfriendly fist. Emily's right eye is swollen and will be purple by the morning. She has a seeping bandage wrapped around her forehead, her brown hair is matted with blood. Her skirt is ripped and she has bruises forming on her bare legs. Her friend is stroking her arm.They are both biting back tears. I call them through and they follow me into the small cubicle. I draw the tattered green curtain round to give us a modicum of privacy.

"Can I take a look at this Emily?" She nods, wincing as I take the gauze pad of the gaping wound. The triage nurse was right, this will need stitches. I clean the wound and put a fresh bandage on it for now.
 "That's nasty, how did it happen?"
"I fell."  Of course she did.
"It looks like someone hit you."
"She told you she fell." The friend snaps. She, too, has had a rough night. Her clothes are rumpled and her mascara is smudged.
"I can get you some help, you know." Emily raises her head, hopefully. Her friend presses her arm in warning.
"Honestly, it's all right. I fell in the street. Su...Sylvia, picked me up and got me here."
"OK." There's no point pushing it, "You didn't lose consciousness  then?" She shakes her head. "Right, well I'll send the nurse in to do those stitches, and we'll keep you under observation for a bit. Is there anyone we can call?"
"No, thanks."

I call Lucy over and explain what's necessary. "I'm a bit worried about her, I think I might call the police..."
"I'd wait a bit, see what I can find out. They might be more open with a woman. Besides, the police are a bit busy tonight." She nods up at the telly on the wall. The screen is filled with images of a smoking Trafalgar Square, rows of riot police and smashed windows in the West End. Of course, it was the march today. I'd been so busy I'd forgotten all about it.

I move on to the next patient, and the next. An hour passes before I catch up with Lucy again.
"They're all right."
"Did they tell you what happened?"
"Not really, but I honestly don't think you need worry."

 I'm not convinced. I return to their cubicle to repeat my observations. Lucy has cleaned Emily's hair, and the wound is neatly stitched.  Sylvia looks better now she has brushed her hair and they are both eating chocolate bars and swigging fizzy drinks. They seem much more cheerful.

"Any dizziness?" I ask.
"I'm fine, honestly. Can I go now?"
"Another hour, I think. Have you got somewhere to stay?"
"I'm going back to Su... Sylvia's."
"Is it far?"
"Tooting. We should still be able to get a Tube if you let us go soon."
"Are you sure you don't need the police? I saw a couple of PC's outside."
She winces again,as if I'd ripped her stitches open. Sylvia says, "NO cops."

It's puzzling, but I can't prove she's 15, that her name's not Emily, and I can't force the truth out of her.

"I'll be back in an hour."

Now the pubs have closed, the waiting room is noisier and fuller than before. Come to think about it, it's even fuller than usual. But before I can work out why, I'm called to the ambulance bay to treat a head injury patient. Ambulances are  flashing in and out of the bay discharging patients onto gurneys before screeching into the night.

"What's going on?" I ask a paramedic.
"It's a battleground out there. Police with batons, protesters with bricks. We're just ducking our heads and trying to get people to safety."

I haven't a moment to let this sink in. My head injury needs urgent attention, and after him there's a possible cardiac arrest. It is way past midnight by the time I get back to the girls.

The cubicle is empty.

"I think they just went," says the patient in the next  bed, who is waiting to be plastered. I run down the corridor in time to see them heading out of the front doors. I follow them into the March night, gasping at the sudden chill as my lungs flood with fresh air.

"Are you sure you're going to be all right?" I ask, noticing Sylvia's "No Poll Tax" badge, for the first time.
"We just want to go home," says Emily.
"Well, rest up, come back in a fortnight to check those stitches. And immediately if you feel sick."
"Will do, thanks."

I watch them walking off into the night. Lucy comes up to me.

"Do you think they'll be OK?"
"I think they just got caught up in it. We've patched them up and sent them home. They're safe enough now."
"How did you know?"
"Emily Davies, and Sylvia Pankhurst? Somewhat unusual pseudonyms don't you think?"
" I guess."

Another ambulance screams into the bay, and instinctively we both move towards it.

"Saturday, Saturday..."It's going to be a long old night.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Poetry in Motion

As a writer who runs (or a runner who writes) I find a lot of my trotting time is spent pondering about this and that. It helps to pass the miles away, particularly on the long runs I've been doing of late. One of my regular musings has been the connection between writing forms and running distance. So, in honour of my twin passions, I thought I'd post this simultaneously on  my blogs:

Poetry is equivalent to 100-500m sprinting. Short, precise, fluid. Just as the sprint is a perfect mix of swift and simple motion, poems have to hit that perfect mix of words delivered with total economy.

Flash fiction equates to running a mile. Short enough to require that same level of paced precision, but long enough to satisfy a craving to go further. Flash fiction needs control, pacing and an elegant delivery.

Short stories range from 3km to 10km. Now, a runner needs stamina as well as pace, the ability to control the progress of their perfectly placed limbs. There a peaks and troughs, and a critical point to break for the finish line. In the same way, the author directs the flow of a short story ensuring each revelation builds on the last. There are ebbs and flows, and a pivotal moment that determines the fate of the characters for ever.

The novella is similar to a half-marathon. It takes guts and determination to run 13.1 miles, but it also takes a fine-tuned body, balancing energy intake and expenditure exactly. So it is with writing a novella, which requires dedication and commitment, a willingness to put the time in. But also, a control of the narrative, so the reader doesn't lose their way.

The novel, naturally, is the marathon. It requires months of preparation, during which the runner encounters set backs, injuries and false starts. A marathon runner has a clear goal to run 26.2 miles, an often complex journey of with loops, twists. When a marathon is completed, the participants are left emotionally exhausted and totally satisfied. Every aspiring novelist knows writing a novel follows a similar pattern, with dead ends, abandoned characters, and ripped up text. Completing a novel needs stamina and commitment, leaving the novelist, drained, exhausted and ultimately satisifed when it's done.

Stamina, stubborness, patience are all required for running marathons and writing novels. Luckily I'm blessed with both.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

RIP Diana Wynne Jones.

Diana Wynne Jones died today, and I feel like I've lost a friend. I've been reading her novels for over thirty years. I love her work so much that I bought Enchanted Glass the other day at the school book fair, (allegedly for my daughter, but I'm enjoying it a great deal thank you very much).

I can still remember the first DWJ novel I read. I was in the school library one lunchtime when I came across  Power of Three. Browsing through the shelves I picked out a nice chunky book, with an enticing front cover - a grey shape emerging out of the water. I sat down and began to read and was immediately drawn into the atmospheric world of Otmounders, Dorig and Giants, and the story of how the curse of a dying Dorig has to be undone if the three communities are going to survive. I couldn't put it down, and though I haven't read it for years, I have never forgotten it. As a gawky, unsure thirteen year old, I completely identified with the central character Gair, who is the only child in his family to lack a special gift. I loved the way Gair learnt to believe in himself, to act courageously and that the very thing he thinks makes him useless, is in fact the best gift of all. It took me a couple more years to develop my self-confidence but books like Power of Three were a great comfort to me in the mean time.

After Power of Three, I read The Homeward Bounders, a  somewhat dark tale of children trapped in a virtual gaming world that seems enormously prescient now. Next was Wilkins' Tooth, a group of kids responding to bullying by trying to set  up Own Back Ltd with disastrous results. In The Ogre Downstairs, two families come together when their parents marry, creating conflict between the children. When they are given magical chemistry sets, chaos ensues, and they learn to understand each other better. Then there's Dogsbody ( I love Dogsbody) which tells the story of Sirius the Dog Star, who loses his powers and comes to earth as a dog, in order to find a Zoi. The trouble is he can't remember what a Zoi is, and is too full of doggy thoughts to work out how to find it. Eight Days of Luke rewrites Norse mythology when an unhappy boy curses his relatives and releases the God Loki from his prison. And of course, there are the Chrestomanci stories, Charmed Life, The Lives of Christopher Chant, Conrad's Fate,The  Magicians of Caprona and others, set in a parallel world where magic is part of every day life and managed by the government post of Chrestomanci.

My absolute favourite has to be Hexwood which I picked  up at my Mum's house, my sister had brought it for our nephew and he had left it behind. It is a stunning book, not really for children at all. It starts with a girl, Ann Stavely sick in bed, watching the strange comings and goings of people to the Hexwood Farm opposite, whilst she talks to four voices in her head, The King, the Prisoner, The Boy, The Slave. Then suddenly, we are transported to another planet where a group of shadowy leaders are trying to rectify a virtual game on Earth that has gone awry. Various characters are sent off to see what has happened, without resolving matters. Meanwhile, as Ann recovers from her illness, she decides to visit the Farm  where she meets a strange character called Mordion and a boy called Hume. The story is told in a complicated time frame with Ann encountering the two of them at different stages of their lives, and then reaches a startling revelation about half way through which completely changes everything you've read up to that point. A very complex narrative structure is wrapped up with a satisfying ending in a story that has explored issues of power, corruption, child soldiers, and slavery. It's fantastic, I can't recommend it highly enough.

Overall, what I have loved about Wynne Jones all these years was her ability to create believable authentic fantasy worlds, tell stories with wit, compassion and heart. But her stories weren't just about magical worlds, they all had a message: the importance of reconciliation; self discovery; overcoming fear, standing up to bullies. But she did it in such a subtle way, that I never felt she was preaching and I always learnt something.

Coincidentally, I learnt of Diana Wynne Jones' death just as I reached Hyde Park today at the end of the anti cuts march. The middle of a good humoured crowd of people, standing up for what they believed in, seemed a good place to mourn the loss of a writer, who has inspired me for years.

So thank you Diana, for all the wonderful books and characters. I know I'm not alone in saying I'll miss you. The world is a duller place without you.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Red Shoes #fridayflash

The girl totters on the edge of the pavement. The heels on her red stilettos are high enough and thin enough that if she moves one inch forward she'll fall in front of the cars racing past her. I feel like yelling, "Be careful love," but she won't hear me from down there. Instead I watch her trying to put her umbrella up. It looks like one of the crap ones from the 99p store - it ain't no wonder,  it keeps blowing inside out.  Despite the weather, she's wearing next to nothing - a thin white cardigan over a low cut blouse, a short black skirt, bare legs. She must be freezing dressed like that, yet she don't seem to notice. She just teeters on the brink of danger. Looks like she's trying to decide something.

I used to dress like that, not caring about the wind and rain, so long as the look was right. I even had a pair of shoes to match - ruby red and glistening with fake diamonds. The were magic - my red shiny shoes - just one click of the heels and off we'd dance on other adventure  - clubs, parties, concerts, we went everywhere together. Why, we even once tripped off with a fella up to Blackpool to see the lights. Fantastic they were, and so was he. And he wasn't the only one, neither. My lucky shoes took me dancing, night after night, bloke after bloke.Lovely days they were. Till we danced into George. And after that, I didn't need no more excitement, I had enough right here at home. Life was like that for ever such a long time.

Of course, we don't get up to much these days, George and I. There's not much scope in this tiny flat. And who wants to go out in this wind, when you need thermals just to go to the post office? I'm not like that girl in the street no more. Those days are long gone.

The rain has eased off and  the girl's put her brolly down. She turns her head slightly and gazes back this way. Perhaps she's looking at someone, her eyes rest on the flats next door. I'm probably making it up- but it seems to me she's saying goodbye. She turns back towards the road, as if she's come to a decision. Yes, she's taking a step onto the street. There she goes, dashing across the traffic on the dual carriageway. I watch her trip her way towards the tube. You go my girl - I think - click your heels and be off.

The clock strikes five. The sun comes out from behind a cloud. Perhaps there'll be a rainbow in a minute. I don't have to wait though. George needs his tea. He don't like it when I keep him waiting. I slip my red slippers back on and head to the kitchen. I think we'll have chops tonight.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Writing Heroes (1)

It being World Book Day, it seems like a good moment to celebrate my Writing Heroes (and answer my daughter's question as she asked  me this the other day).

So here, in no particular order, are SOME of them.

Virginia Woolf - I find it comforting to share my name with such a literary genius. She wrote stream of consciousness like no-one else can, and made it accessible too. I love the inherent sadness of the passing o f time in To the Lighthouse,  the rollercoaster exuberance of Orlando but my all time favourite is Mrs Dalloway.  A masterclass in stream of consciousness, she makes it look so simple, as she hops between the minds of her characters, panning out to take in huge scenes and then back to tiny, intimate memories. And it goes without saying that her seminal lecture - A Room of One's Own  will always be my inspiration.

Charles Dickens - Victorian fiction is sometimes seen as a little old fashioned these days. But I ADORE old fashioned. Good, straight narrative with passion and heart. Dickens is fantastic at creating memorable characters, from the "ever so humble" Uriah Heap, in David Copperfield,  the cold, but conscience stricken Ralph Nickleby in Nicholas Nickleby, the uptight, violent school teacher Bradley Headstone in Our Mutual Friend, hard-hearted mercenary Estella in Great Expectations, and her slightly kinder sister, Bella Wilfer in Our Mutual Friend, Lady Deadlock and Mr Tulkinghorn in Bleak House.  I could go on, and on. He's also brilliant at creating atmospheric landscapes, the marshes in Great Expectations,  the river in Our Mutual Friend, the mean streets in Oliver Twist. He's funny and ironic, and his writing burns with a passionate rage at the social injustices of his day. What's not to love?

Charlotte and Emily Bronte - As I said, I'm a sucker for Victorian fiction. I like most of Charlotte Bronte's books, but obviously, Jane Eyre is the favourite.The opening scene where sensitive Jane is locked in the Red Room by her cruel aunt packs a powerful punch. The hypocrisy of Mr Brocklehurst at Lowood Orphanage, the burgeoning relationship with Mr Rochester (bordering on the sadistic from his point of view), the chance of happiness ruined by the secret he harbours. And Jane's finest hour when she refuses to be Mr Rochester's mistress, and then later St John's wife, in order to be true to herself. Wonderful stuff. Equally wonderful is Emily's Wuthering Heights (I refuse to rate one above the other). I love the way she describes the landscape and how storms rage outside and within the character's lives. And though it's often painted as a love story, in fact the central Heathcliff/Cathy romance is more a tale of terrible obsession and how it destroys everything around it. Emily is ahead of her time in showing how the cycle of abuse is created from generation to generation, but can be broken in the end by true love, as the burgeoning relationship of young Cathy and Hareton demonstrates. Love them both.

Graham Greene - I blogged at length last year about Graham Greene's skill. So I'll just say here, he's a great storyteller, with fine novels on good/evil/hope/despair/faith/politics, and creates fantastic landscapes and characters with the sparest details. Particular favourites are Brighton Rock, Stamboul Train, The Power and the Glory, The Heart of Matter, The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana, The Third Man.

EM Forster - At his best EM Forster is peerless, quietly and humorously debunks the mores of his time. In A Room with A View he attacks English lack of feeling and hypocrisy, in praise of experiencing real emotion and living life truly. A Passage to India challenges the very notion of the British Empire, not only giving the Indians a voice, but allowing them to laugh at the British too. He's also a fine story writer, with my favourite "When the Machine Stopped"  envisaging a world where people stayin their rooms underground speaking to each other on video machines. But his best work has to be "Howard's End" a brilliantly crafted novel highlighting the clash of the personal and political, the emotional and practical, the spiritual and logical selves, and how we have to  unite them, if we are to live as full human beings.

Margaret Atwood -  Atwood's first novel, The Edible Woman, ends with the main character eating a cake of herself in a wedding dress, after she realises she is selling herself short with the man she was going to marry. Her early novels follow on the theme with her heroines breaking out from stultifying lives in a hygienically clean Toronto. I particularly like the writer in Lady Oracle who keeps running away from her life, changing hair colour and faking her own death at one point. But the wonder of Atwood is she keeps trying new things. There's The Handmaid's Tale a terrible dystopia where a woman's lot is decidedly unhappy, The Blind Assassin (a writer remembers the real story of her youth), The Robber Bride (three friends unite to defeat the woman who stole their men), Alias Grace (the mind of a possible murderess) and more recent forays into science fiction, Oryx and Crake and After the Flood. Atwood is in England tonight, reading to 10,000 people in Trafalgar Square. Lucky them!

And that's just the start...Looks like this will have to be a regular feature.

Happy World Book Day!

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Blast from the Past #fridayflash

It is all a bit different from her last visit. Way back in the '80's when she was experiencing her summer of love. A personal rebellion against the constraints of South London surburbia - living in exciting sin with Oz in his Liverpool bedsit. A complete success in the appalling-your-parents stakes, made even more so, by her refusal to return home and get a job.  Instead, she and Oz slept all day, and spent the evenings among the pseudo-anarchists he called friends. The men dressed in black trousers and roll-neck jumpers, wore National Health glasses and smoked roll-ups. The women had long dark hair, wore flowing dresses and hennaed tattoos on their arms..They talked till the small hours about the Contra rebellion, the miner's strike, the virtues of free love. And every Thursday, they queued up with the rest of the unemployed in the foyer of the smoked- filled  dimly-lit dole office. The concrete floor was covered in discarded chewing gum, the rug in the corner, marked with cigarette burns. Grey paint peeled from the wall, and the unsmiling staff gave out the weekly cheque from behind reinforced glass. It felt authentic. Real. That they were living the rebellion already.

It's not like that today. Dole in the twenty first century comes courtesy of IKEA. Bright blue sofas adorn the foyer, air-fresh and cleanly-lit with white striplights. The walls are painted pale yellow, the carpet, a soft fawn. The reinforced glass has been replaced by cheery security guards, who take her details and tell her they'll call her for her appointment. She might as well be at the doctors.

Back then, she and Oz convinced themselves they were on the side of the oppressed. Claiming the dole brought them into contact with Thatcher's victims. By opting out of the capitalist labour market, they were refusing to prop up the corrupt system. They were young,  free, in love. They were going to change the world.  Till she came home one afternoon, and discovered Oz practising free love with one of the dark haired anarchistas and realised there was more to life than revolution. She returned to her studies with enthusiasm, graduating, much to the relief of her parents, with a first that propelled her ever upwards.

Until now. It's unreal and unsettling, but here she is. With the redundancy money gone, her savings eaten up by mortgage payments, what choice does she have? She looks around the room, and for the first time, sees her fellow claimants. When she and Oz queued up in the old days, they never thought about the preoccupations of their fellow unemployed. Now, Oz is too busy being a media darling, he wouldn't be seen dead here. It is left to her to look across at the bald man with the bewildered air, and wonder whether he has just lost his job, or has been coming for a while. And is it stereotyping to think that the young mum trying to control her toddler has never had a job?  Or the lads coming in from their quick smoke out the front are boasting about skirmishes with the law? But most of all she wonders about herself. No lover, no parents, no end of degree to fall back on. What is she going to do now?

The security guard calls her name and indicates the lift. Second floor, third desk on the right, Ellen Chapman. She picks herself up with a slight sigh and follows his pointing finger. If this is going to be her life from now on, she'd better get used to it.

Friday, 4 February 2011

The Devil's Detail #fridayflash

"Morning Melissa," he smiles, and not for the first time, wonders how much longer he'll have to put up with her catatonic grin.

I should have looked at the small print, he thinks, as he does every Friday at eleven o'clock. He pulls up a chair for her and brings her a cup of coffee. Dad always said the devil's in the detail. But at the time, there just wasn't time. We had to get the deal struck and I relied on my team. I had more important things to do.Maintaining a media presence. Looking statesmanlike. I had to trust my boys would get the best deal. What else could I do?

Melissa tries not to wince at his faux-chivalry. How an earth has this happened? A year ago, I was riding high, now I'm just a laughing stock. She smiles, hiding her disdain for the smoothness of James' chin behind a sip of coffee. I shouldn't have left it to the boys. I thought they'd put the party first. Think of the good of the country. It didn't even cross my mind that the real ties that bind are formed in the playground.

"What's the latest Whip count?" his teeth glint in the morning sun.

"Sixty yeas, ten abstentions, ten nays. On your side?"

"Two hundred and forty yeas, six abstentions plus 11 from the other parties."

"So we're safe then?"

He resists the impulse to add, "No thanks to you." Instead, "It would help if you could rein Mark Townsend in."

Melissa stares down at her coffee spoon. The bastard, the total bastard.

 "He's making waves you see,"  his eyes gaze at her with fake sincerity, "And I believe you have some influence?"

She stirs her coffee.  Leave now, and the party is destroyed. Stay and I ruin every relationship I have. But once you make a deal with the devil, life becomes a series of increasingly unpalatable choices.

She smiles back, his equal in sincerity, if nothing else. "Of course, James. Now tell me, what is it you want me to do?"

Friday, 28 January 2011

After He'd Gone

After he'd gone, all that was left in the bedsit was:
A half emptied bookcase.
The stain of brown whisky at the bottom of the glass.
Rumpled sheets on his side of the bed.

After he'd gone, she lay on the sofa, coiled cobra-like, listening for the step of his feet returning up the stairwell. The click of his key turning in the lock. But the only sounds were the shuffle of Marjorie-next door making her way to the bathroom; the thunderous descent of Dec from upstairs and his friends heading out to the pub.

After he'd gone, each second that passed expanded longer than the last. The glowing red numbers on the digital clock moved the evening forward in freeze frame. The sodium-glare outside her window shone on a world of revellers, singing  and dancing through the night.

After he'd gone, all that was left in the morning was a rumpled emptiness. The stain of betrayal of their life that never was. All that remained was a half-life. But since that was all she was left with, she uncoiled herself from the couch, and took herself to the shower.

A life half-lived is better than none.

Friday, 14 January 2011

#FridayFlash Nobody's Fault

It cain't be my fault. I weren't even there. You cain't blame me. So I made a few off-tha-wall comments. I painted a picture to make ma point. Every right-minded individual knows I weren't serious. T'aint nothing to do with me.

Don't look at me. I'm a teacher,not a social worker. I'm just glad if they make it into school. I can't be held responsible for what they do outside. That's their parents' job isn't it?

How is this my fault? With my slender majority, I can't afford to ignore public opinion. I'm too junior to have a voice. If I speak out on controversial subjects too soon, that's my career down the pan. Besides, it's impossible to legislate for this sort of thing isn't it?

Whatcha  looking at me for? All I did was serve him. I've got a business to run. Gotta feed my family haven't I? I only give the public what they want. What they do with the merchandise after is up to them. So don't you come round here and point that finger at me.

Don't you go saying it's my fault. I gave that boy everything he ever wanted. Love and kindness, all the toys he ever needed, a gun to celebrate reaching manhood. Sure he's spend the last few years in his bedroom in front of the computer. But doesn't every kid? What can you do about it?

Why does everyone always look at me like that? Like I'm a fracking alien? Mum and those bastards at school were always on my case. The politicos pretended to help, but they lied. The Radio Lady was right, Cylons are real. I had to stop them. So I went to the only man I could trust, got what I needed, and hunted them all down. You're too blind to see the truth is'all.

It's not my fault. You can't blame me.

Sunday, 2 January 2011


Another of my writing course friends has just achieved success by winning a first novel competition run by Hookline books.

The Partridge and the Pelican by Rachel Crowther, will be published in April. More details then. But in the meantime, congratulations Rachel!