This is my writing blog, where I will be shamelessly posting my work. Poems, short stories, flash fiction, extracts from novels...they'll all be here. And if you don't like any of that, just play with the tiger.

Friday, 21 December 2007

A Christmas tale

Well, that time of year is upon us again. In honour of the season, there follows a Christmassy short story.
I'd just like to wish everyone the very merriest of Christmases. I know it's a bit early, but I'm now off to listen craftily for the jingle of sleigh bells...who knows, I might see him this year!

It was the egg and cress sandwich that started it all. Patience scurried into the bakery at the station on her way to being late for her train (which, as it turned out, didn’t matter because the train was late for Patience); she wanted a nice pasty to warm her during the journey. However, the shop’s three remaining pasties looked exhausted and their innards were seeping out and congealing on the hotplate. Discouraged, Patience looked in the chiller cabinet, deciding that a cold sandwich would have to do as sustenance instead. There were two sandwiches left. Gagging at the prospect of brie and cranberry relish, Patience harvested the egg and watercress, and stood drumming her fingers against her side while the thin-lipped, thin-armed assistant counted each coin of her change individually. She ensconced the sandwich in a paper bag as if wrapping the most precious Christmas gift.
‘Thank you!’ Patience called over her shoulder as she dropped the sandwich into one of her larger carrier bags, jostled them all into position, and scooted out of the shop towards the platform. She tried to ignore the voice in her head that told her to slow down. It wouldn’t exactly be a disaster if she missed the train, would it? Would Clarissa even notice?
Patience McDowall! She scolded herself. She didn’t have to invite you; the least you can do is show willing. Patience hurried her pace accordingly, and got to her platform just in time to spend quarter of an hour peering tetchily into the middle distance with the other passengers.
Once the train limped into the station, Patience joined the general stampede to be the first on board and rejoiced at securing herself a window seat. Her bags, their foil-papered contents rustling, set up a determined occupation of the seat next to her. Just let anyone dare to try and sit there. Luckily, the train wasn’t full, and the bags were allowed to ride in comfort. As the train loitered at the platform so as to be increasingly late at each subsequent station, Patience fished in her handbag and removed a magazine before extracting the egg and cress sandwich from its carrier bag. It had gone to hide at the bottom, and Patience’s rummaging inevitably disturbed the sellotape on one or two of the parcels, allowing the presents inside to peep out. She glowered at them, and busied herself with magazine and snack.
Finally succeeding in gouging a fingernail through the cellophane, Patience bit off a corner of the sandwich. The watercress, tired by a long day in the chiller cabinet, resigned itself at once to being devoured whole. Its peppery stems and leaves went limp and resistant to teeth, so as Patience bit off her mouthful a whole system of cress slid out from the bread and dangled listlessly against her chin. She had no option but to mechanically work the whole thing into her mouth like a snake despatching a leafy mouse-tail. In the middle of the process Patience happened to look up, and saw that a small, bespectacled boy was observing her with silent mirth. She turned crimson, and hid behind the pages of her magazine. The boy looked terrible. His cropped hair and unashamed stare immediately marked him out as a reprobate of the highest order, and if that weren’t enough, he was wearing a pale blue hoodie. He didn’t look much more than five years old, but Patience guessed he had started early on the road to thuggery.
Patience sneaked a look over a cocked page to see who accompanied the boy in the opposite window seat. She had been so busy wrestling with sandwich cellophane that she hadn’t noticed anyone sit down, but there was indeed a figure there. A woman. Possibly the thug’s mother, or, at an outside guess, his parole officer.
‘Don’t stare,’ said the woman in a tired, faded voice.
Patience ducked as far behind her pages as she could, hotly ashamed that she had been caught spying, until the mini thug piped up.
‘Mum! I wasn’t staring. I wanted to say hello.’
Patience emerged. ‘Hello,’ she said, with all the frosty aloofness she could muster.
‘Hello!’ piped the child, beaming as if pretending to be a little cherub. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Patience,’ conceded Patience.
‘Leave the lady alone,’ said the mother’s faded voice.
Patience sneaked a crafty peek at her. She was perhaps thirty years old, and her appearance matched her voice. Her bleached hair looked dead and dried, her skin was pale, and the tired greyness of her eyes blended perfectly with the heavy bags that underlined them. She wore a pale pink velour tracksuit beneath a Puffa jacket that may once have aspired to whiteness but was now a fatigued off-grey. Patience inwardly shook her head at the woman and tutted silently.
‘But I’m bored,’ snivelled the child. Patience wondered how rude it would be if she were to change seats.
‘Here, then!’ The mother rummaged in a bag down at her feet and brought out an unexpected handful of drinking straws.
The boy began to arrange them into patterns, and immediately fell silent. In spite of herself, Patience smiled at the way his tongue wormed out of one corner of his mouth as he concentrated. She went back to her magazine, but couldn’t absorb the articles on how to have the perfect family Christmas. She wallowed in a vague dissatisfaction; she had spent the festive season at Clarissa’s place enough times now to know that the days ahead would be more like a military exercise than a time of relaxation and jollity.
‘Do you want a drink, Stephen?’ The mother’s voice interrupted Patience’s mental wanderings, and she stole another glance out from behind her pages.
The child, absorbed with his straws, hadn’t uttered a sound. He looked up as his mother proffered the carton of blackcurrant juice, uttered a quiet thank you, and went back to his task.
Stephen. Patience was surprised. She had expected the boy to be named Preston or Kyle or Tyler. She was nonplussed; and began to scold herself. She still recalled the hoot of laughter, and the whole-body shudder that succeeded it, when her stepdaughter Clarissa had announced with a perfectly straight face that she would be christening her child Dolce. It was nearly six years ago, but Patience still grimaced at the name and raised up thankful prayers that Dolce hadn’t yet been followed by a little Gabbana or Moschino. It wasn’t that Clarissa was a – what was the word – a chav. She was as far removed from chavdom as anyone could be, with her immaculate house and exorbitantly paid nannies, and she had somehow convinced herself that Dolce was a name of the highest sophistication.
Patience and Clarissa both privately knew that the Christmas invite was purely for Dolce’s sake. Malcolm, Patience’s husband and Clarissa’s father, had died some ten years ago, and before the birth of the child the two women had very little to do with each other. There was no animosity; they simply had nothing in common. They hadn’t when Patience found herself bemusedly trying to raise the infant Clarissa, and nothing had changed over the years until a new generation, in the wailing form of Dolce, made Clarissa suddenly conscientious of the importance of family. And so, Christmas in London.
The first few times had almost been fun, but over recent Christmases Patience observed that Dolce was turning into a perfect replica of her mother. She had eyed last year’s dolly with lofty disdain, and asked Patience if she could have a new mobile phone instead. Patience trembled at the reception this year’s offering – a traditional jointed teddy bear – would receive, but she refused to be a party to indulging the child’s whims. Mulishly steeling herself against the rebukes, Patience rummaged in her handbag once more and withdrew a packet of wine gums, as if they could provide Dutch courage for the looming ordeal.
‘No, Stephen!’ the faded woman’s voice quietly interrupted Patience again, and she looked over the parapet of her magazine. The child was ogling the sweet packet.
Feeling martyred and generous, Patience offered him the packet, and the boy glanced at his mother as if seeking permission.
‘Go ahead, dear,’ said Patience. ‘As long as you won’t spoil your tea.’
Stephen took the first sweet that came to hand, and didn’t even look too disappointed that it was a green one. ‘Thank you,’ he whispered before popping it into his mouth.
‘I’m so sorry,’ added his mother. ‘He’s not normally so cheeky. I think he’s a bit bored on the train; it’s been a long day.’
‘Have you far to go?’ Patience asked in spite of herself.
‘Birmingham. We went up to Manchester this morning to visit Stephen’s dad, and now we’re heading home.’
Patience had a sudden vision of the dad in question: a slavering Neanderthal trolling around Strangeways.
‘Do you see him often?’ Somehow she felt herself growing increasingly interested in the shabby little pair. Beneath her bleach and velour, the woman seemed quiet and sad, and was ever mindful of her boy’s behaviour.
‘Not really. It’s hard, with the fares. But at Christmas the police benevolent fund usually helps us out.’
Patience mouthed the words ‘benevolent fund’ to herself in puzzlement.
‘He was in the force himself,’ Stephen’s mother explained. ‘He was stabbed and killed in a raid three years ago.’
‘Oh my goodness!’ Patience’s hand flew to her mouth. ‘I’m so sorry. How terrible. For you both.’ And she looked with mistier eyes at the boy, who was once again absorbed with his straws. He had methodically constructed an elaborate star pattern on the table.
‘Thank you,’ said the woman. ‘Some people think it’s ghoulish, taking Stephen to his grave, but I don’t want him to forget his dad.’
‘Daddy’s a hero,’ Stephen chipped in, briefly glancing up at Patience.
‘I’m sure he’d be very proud of you, pet,’ Patience smiled at him. ‘Aren’t you clever with your straws?’
Stephen nodded happily, as if a denial would be nothing but false modesty.
‘He has to be,’ his mother said quietly to Patience. ‘I mean, there’s compensation and his pension, but it doesn’t always go that far, you know?’
Patience nodded, remembering her own struggles to get by after Malcolm’s death.
‘Trisha,’ said the woman suddenly, extending her hand. ‘Thanks. Thanks for being nice to him.’
‘Patience,’ said Patience, forgetting she had already introduced herself. ‘He’s a lovely boy.’ And, despite her earlier misgivings, she was beginning to believe it.
‘Going somewhere nice for Christmas, Patience?’
Patience folded her magazine and confined it to her bag.
‘London. Stepdaughter. Keeping up appearances, really. They don’t need me there.’
‘I’m sure that’s not true!’
‘Oh, it is. I don’t say it to whine, but I don’t fit in. They’re not really my sort of people, you know? They don’t need me there. It’s my job to sit in the rocking chair and fall asleep after a couple of sherries. That’s all they do, you know. Play Scrabble and ply me with sherry. I’d never even had sherry outside of a trifle before I went there, but Clarissa said it’s the done thing so that’s what I do.’ Patience paused over a fond memory. ‘You should have seen their faces the first time I went and offered to make bacon butties all round on Christmas morning. Clarissa couldn’t get her Tupperware tub of muesli on the table fast enough!’
Both women laughed, and Stephen looked up at them.
‘What do you want from Father Christmas, dear?’ Patience asked, kicking herself as soon as the words came out. Could Trisha afford anything for him?
‘Don’t mind,’ said the boy. ‘I like toys.’
Patience felt an idea bloom in her head. She rummaged in a carrier bag.
‘Well. I saw Father Christmas earlier, and he asked me to pass this on to anybody who might like it.’ She handed a parcel over to the boy. ‘Go on, open it.’
Stephen’s eyes gaped wide and he stared at his mother. ‘Mum! Look!’
‘No, really, you can’t…’ Trisha began, but Stephen could and did.
‘Thank you! Thanks, Father Christmas!’ And he tore off the paper. It was the jointed teddy bear. He gasped in delight and hugged it to him. ‘I’m going to call him Edward!’
Trisha moved forward as if to speak, but she couldn’t. There were tears in her eyes.
‘Don’t,’ said Patience, touching Trisha’s arm. ‘He’ll get more out of it than my granddaughter. I’ll stop off somewhere and get her Harvey Nichols vouchers, or something.’
Trisha mouthed a silent, but no less heartfelt, thank you. Stephen was back in his childhood world, looking as if he and the bear had been companions since birth.
‘Can Edward have turkey at Christmas?’ he asked suddenly. ‘Teddies like turkey.’
‘Oh, Stephen, we’ve been through this. We’re having chicken. It’s silly getting a turkey just for two of us. All right, three of us,’ Trisha added as the boy brandished the bear in her face.
‘Okay,’ he muttered, going back to his game. Then he grinned, raised his head and flashed his spectacles at Patience and Trisha in quick succession. ‘What if there’s four of us? Is it silly then?’
Trisha blushed and beamed at the same time. ‘Maybe not as silly, but…’ she trailed off and looked shyly at Patience, who was also beaming. ‘I haven’t got any sherry, you know.’
Patience touched her arm again. ‘Sounds like the perfect Christmas to me.’

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Award! Award!

Many thanks to the lovely Carenza at LightlyDone for awarding me the rather splendid Roar Award (see left). I now get to nominate five other blogs, so I'm off to do some concerted surfing. Of course, I'm supposed to be writing an essay now, but one must have one's priorities...

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Tyrone writes again

Once again, I've had to turn to my old buddy Tyrone Butler to help me out of a flash fiction hole. Mr B, the floor is yours...

As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…
The hot whisper, the breathless quaking rush of words nearly makes me change my mind. Nearly. She glimpses up at me, her eyes wide and brilliant despite the three a.m. murk of the room. As I catch her eye, she whips her face away and whispers into clasped hands.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women…
Well whaddya know. I never realised she was Catholic.
Come on, I tell her. It’ll be easy.
She whimpers and retreats further into herself. I am the resurrection, and
I tell her to can it. This ends now. She crucifies me with her eyes; they’re all dumb terror and hideous knowledge at once. I smile, flatly, and she gives up any hope; she recognizes the look of death on my face.
I begin to type.
You’re not God, Tyrone, she hisses. Our Father, which art
I look away from her face and go on typing. In three sentences, she is dead. On a wing, and a prayer.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Stuck for that perfect Christmas gift..?

Then look no further than Amazon. Don't be put off by the fact that I'm in this book - it contains some truly brilliant writing by a lovely bunch of people. Go on, buy one. You deserve a treat.

Thursday, 29 November 2007


Just in case you were thinking I'd whined myself away to nothing...

A good thing happened yesterday - a nice surprise in the post. No, not my kids' manuscript finally staggering home from the agents who said about three months ago that they reply within a month. I suspect that that particular bundle of papers was long since shredded for hamster bedding.

Anyway. Some time ago I ordered some gig tickets, then suffered a prolonged attack of blondeness and forgot all about it. Said tickets wafted gracefully on to my desk yesterday, and once the cogs in my head torturously inched and shrieked into life, I grinned. Next Wednesday I will be spending the evening with the Manic Street Preachers, and all is well with the world. Huzzah!

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Whine list

Before reading on, please be warned that I am being self-pitying and pathetic.

For various reasons, I haven't been able to do much with the blog lately. First, there is work. I'm currently stuck doing two people's jobs, and am beginning to feel the strain. This would be bearable - I don't mind working hard - but, because I often have to bring work home with me, my Open University course is suffering. I am going through the motions of studying, but nothing more. Fellow students are discussing topics (Katherine Mansfield at the moment) with a depth of understanding that is quite beyond me, and I feel utterly stupid and inadequate. Which isn't helped by the fact that I am doing no writing at all. I can feel the first stirrings of the urge to write: it is a quiet, thrumming build-up, not of words or plots or characters, but simply a need to daydream and imagine. And I can't. So I feel penned in and miserable, and there's no prospect of change in sight.

On the plus side, I did manage to do a three point turn during today's lesson, without causing irreparable damage to local kerbs.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

The sounds of violence

It’s almost like a symphony. Nearest, and most irritating, is the slow, heavy drip as the water that seeps through the walls pools and then plops into the floor-sized puddle below. It never stops; never hesitates or misses a beat. Then there are the sudden staccato flashes of shells landing somewhere near; you constantly expect them – your nerves are wired for them – but every time one goes off your heart explodes into a flurry of panic-beats. Hodges provides the melody. In his dreams, he wails constantly, high-pitched, like some tortured soprano; his cries for his mother swoop and whirl through the foul dankness of the air. Then, after a while, you notice anew the bass line, and wonder how it could ever have stopped being at the forefront of your mind. Incessant, determined, making the soles of your feet tingle – that’s the heavy artillery, and you know it’ll still be rumbling on long after you’ve gone to join the heavenly choir. This is my music, now.

I wake, suddenly, knowing something is wrong. I strain my ears against the darkness, and realise. Half the wall has been blown in, and Hodges – well. His singing days are over.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

A longer short

November the fourth is the anniversary of the death of Wilfred Owen. In tribute (and it is a pathetically weak and inadequate tribute, I know) to him and all members of a lost generation, I'm posting a short story I wrote a few months ago.

‘Christ, that were close!’ Arthur ducked behind a decapitated daisy as the shower of earth pattered down. ‘Alright, Tommy?’
Tommy Atkins whimpered in reply. Of course, Arthur couldn’t hear the whimper over the mad, incessant, cacophonous roar of gunnery and shells, but he knew Tommy whimpered. Tommy always whimpered. Just your luck, Arthur Evans, he told himself. You had to get landed with a bona fide Tommy Atkins, and it turns out he’s a bloody coward. The Hun’d piss ’emselves if they knew.
Speaking of pissing oneself, Tommy now bore that hot, pained expression of a man whose bladder control has just gone AWOL. Arthur rolled his eyes. Now he wouldn’t only have to spend the evening in a trench rammed up next to the almost physical presence of Tommy’s astounding body odour, there’d be the acrid tang of urine, too. Assuming both of them ever made it back to the trench, that is. The Boche weren’t messing about today – they meant business. Not five minutes ago, Captain Mallory had taken one in the neck, a vicious slice of shrapnel that fizzed through skin and artery and showered everything within a ten foot radius in a spurting shower of purple blood. The captain had folded calmly to the ground and watched stoically as his men tried not to flinch. Then he died.
His servant, a skinny, rat-faced lad of perhaps fifteen, took the corpse by its armpits and tried to drag it home, but an invisible sniper took objection and felled the lad with a clinical bullet to the temple. The servant died even before he could cry out for his mother. Arthur had been glad about that, at least. He hated it when they wanted their mothers; it was impossible to comfort them when they took on like that.
Arthur had seen all this even as he charged, dived, flung himself flat on his face in the squelching, stinking mud. Once the show was underway, he had a sudden capacity to see, hear and do everything at once, as if part of him were outside his body and observing the lunacy and horror from far away. As a whizz-bang sailed narrowly overhead, Arthur wondered if that was how God felt all the time.
‘God!’ This time Tommy was audible. ‘Oh Jesus, I’m hit! Arthur, I’m hit!’
‘Alright, Tommy.’ Arthur began a slow flounder over the few yards that separated them. ‘Bad ‘un?’
Tommy went ashen by way of reply, and his eyes drifted to the top of their sockets. Arthur arrived just in time to catch him mid-swoon, and dragged him back into the relative safety of a shell crater. He stooped and collected water, or rather liquid mud, in his palm, and dripped it onto Tommy’s blenched face. He couldn’t see the wound.
‘Tommy lad, where is it?’ Arthur gave his face a couple of concerned slaps. ‘Come on, son, tell me.’
Tommy opened his eyes feebly, and worked his mouth.
‘What? Come on, lad, speak up!’
Tommy’s pupils flickered towards the top of his right arm.
‘Righto, let’s have a look, then.’
Arthur felt relieved. Not many people died of arm wounds. On the downside, he would have to get to the skin to dress it, and that meant loosening the fabric which, to some degree, kept Tommy’s BO under wraps. Arthur took a deep breath and began loosening uniform, using his knife to help. No time to look for a rip in the cloth. It was no use, though. As soon as a gap opened and Tommy’s pasty flesh peeped through, the stench burst out and assaulted Arthur’s nostrils. He gagged quietly, and wondered if his gas mask would be any use. God knew, you got used to all kinds of stinks around here – latrines, men who didn’t make it to latrines, Ginger’s cooking, the heavy, lingering sweetness of decaying flesh and spilled, spoiled blood – but this was another level of pong entirely. It was a warm, moist, rolling smell, redolent of rancid cabbages and onions, rotting fish, and burnt tripe. It pushed the breath from Arthur’s lungs, and for a second he considered letting himself submit to the wave of nausea rolling up from his belly. It wouldn’t make the smell worse, after all.
‘Ow!’ wailed Tommy suddenly.
Arthur had reached the wound, and was instantly caught between fury and laughter. It was a tiny, insignificant flesh wound, less than an inch long, that had already stopped bleeding. All that urgency, for this! He rearranged Tommy’s uniform without the needless formality of a bandage.
‘You’ll live, son,’ he said curtly to Tommy’s pained and bewildered gaze.
Son. That was a laugh. Arthur was only twenty himself, just a year older than the hapless Tommy, but next to this lumbering lad who had somehow latched onto him, Arthur felt an old, old man. Tommy was foolish and frightened, not ready to die, whereas Arthur had long since abandoned any hopes of making it home for good. He might get a blighty, but they’d stitch him up and send him back here sooner or later. It was never going to end, Arthur could see that, until there were no men left alive to fight.
Not to say that Arthur didn’t get the fear, sometimes, when the air hissed with lead and all around him men were falling, screaming, trying to run on stumps, and that spark of life within screamed at him to turn and run. The battle wasn’t with the Germans, then, it was with himself and the whole bloody war, not to give in. Live to fight another day. So far, Arthur had always won.
Gradually the seething air subsided to a low, distant rumble. It was over, for now.
‘Come on, Tommy lad,’ Arthur said as kindly as he could. ‘Let’s be getting back.’
Tommy made a vague, noncommittal noise, and blinked helplessly at his companion.
‘Come on,’ repeated Arthur. ‘It’s safe now. The shells are going miles past us. Jesus.’ Seeing that Tommy wasn’t about to move, Arthur put his arm around him and slowly steered him out of the crater and back towards the dug-out.

Arthur reassessed his mental accusation of cowardice once Tommy was safely crammed onto a narrow ledge to sleep. He lit a cigarette, not so much because he wanted to smoke, but because the resulting fug calmed Tommy’s odour a fraction. Tommy probably wasn’t yellow, not really. He just didn’t belong here. Watching Tommy’s big, bovine face, with its surprisingly long eyelashes and the youthful bloom on his cheek, Arthur felt a heavy, terrible pity for the lad. He should be back home, bringing in the harvest and one day raising a huge brood of stocky, apple-cheeked children. He had a girl, after all. He’d shown her picture to everyone he could find, when he first arrived. Arthur had been surprised, but when he saw the girl’s likeness, he understood. She wasn’t a beauty, not by any stretch, but there was a warm spark of kindness in her eyes that shone through the paper, and Arthur understood that she would love and nurture her Tommy all her days.
The other lads took the rise out of Tommy and his girl.
‘She bakes a fair cake,’ chuckled Butler, ‘but can’t she send some bloody soap, too?’ He pinched his nose, and everyone in the dugout burst into raucous laughter.
‘How does she do it, Tommy?’ added Morgan. ‘She put a clothes peg on her hooter?’
Arthur joined in the laughter, and it was only now, as he watched Tommy snore and mutter in haunted sleep, that he recalled the hurt miscomprehension in the boy’s eyes. Arthur tried to shift into a comfier position without kicking his near neighbour in the head, and wished he hadn’t laughed. It had never really occurred to him before that Tommy mightn’t want to stink. He dragged on his cigarette, and watched the ember glow like a living thing.

Arthur was woken even before he realised he was asleep and dreaming of rich, homemade cottage pies and steaming hotpots. His fag was still clutched between his fingers, but it had burned out long since. The sky was showing the first sullen traces of grey, fractured momentarily by sudden bursts of explosive light. There was an insistent, thrumming rumble everywhere, even in Arthur’s bones and teeth. The barrage. It was time for the offensive.
As ever, Tommy wedged himself in by Arthur’s side. Arthur breathed through his mouth, and tried to think of his companion as a big, hapless, lumbering puppy. Only without that delectable new puppy smell.
‘Stick with me, Arthur?’ Tommy’s voice was harsh with dumb fear. ‘I can’t face it alone.’
‘Course you can,’ Arthur replied flatly. ‘You’ll bloody have to, if I cop one.’
Despite his tone, he was secretly glad of Tommy’s reliance on him. It gave him a reason to keep going. If it were just himself he had to worry about, he’d have given in long ago. Not that he’d run away, or any of that nonsense, he would have just waited for the right moment and stuck his head above the trench, nice and easy for a sniper. Or he could have left it a fraction too late before leaping to avoid a shell. There’d be no shame. The margins were so small and ludicrous here that nobody would ever know he’d planned it. For a young man, Arthur knew his mind well, and he was all too aware that he had seen enough.
It was moments like this – the waiting – that really did it. Once you were out there, charging like a madman for your life, you got to a point beyond fear. But here, now, waiting for the whistle to blow and signal the clumsy stampede into hell, Arthur felt he could easily lose his mind.
He glanced up at the sky, wondering if he would make it through to the next dawn. In a matter of seconds, he could be reduced to a twitching, screaming lump of meat with nothing left to do but die in slow agony. He’d seen it happen so many times, strong lads mown down by tiny bits of metal, canny lads outfoxed by a single bullet, terrified lads put to it by their own bloody side when they couldn’t force themselves to go on – it was just a matter of time before Arthur’s turn came. Why shouldn’t it be today?
He swallowed, his Adam’s apple lumpy in his throat, and turned to smile at Tommy as the whistle blasts began.
‘Come on, Tommy lad!’ he roared, and went over the top.
They ran, hunted by death from all angles. Arthur charged ahead, dimly aware of Tommy right behind him, both their mouths gaping in instinctive screams; their eyes darting jaggedly to try and spot their fate before it spotted them. Men fell everywhere. For some, it was a pulverising death by shell, for others death was written in their glistening guts, dragged out by shrapnel. On the far periphery of his vision, Arthur registered men in new contortions, writhing and clawing their eyes and mouths. The air was vaguely green, as if the victims were breathing out a last curse in their agonies.
‘GAS!’ The cry came from several directions at once, and the hysterical, hideous panic to fit the masks began.
Arthur managed his, and turned to check on Tommy. He was just standing there, the lummox, like a terrified animal. Arthur rugby tackled him from the path of a shell and began wrestling the mask onto his face. Tommy neither helped nor resisted. He just blinked and blinked, as if the next time he opened his eyes the filthy nightmare would be over and he’d be back home.
‘Alright, Tommy!’ roared Arthur. ‘Come on lad, we’ve got to carry on.’ He began to scramble out of the shallow crater, and Tommy followed like a devoted dog.
They ran again, dodging corpses and men soon to be corpses. Arthur felt a deep, primeval shame at not being able to help them, not even being able to look them in the eye. But orders were orders. Leave the wounded for the stretcher-bearers. And so he ran.
They reached the barbed wire. Butler and Morgan were already trying to force their way through, driven by some mad anger that grew from fear. They were hacking and slicing, and cursing the heavy artillery for not making a proper job of it in the first place. Arthur joined in, and bellowed at Tommy to do likewise. At these times, they all forgive Tommy his daftness and his stench. He was brutally strong, and never seemed to tire. Soon they were through, advancing on the solid trenches ahead.
Men fell left and right, and Arthur stopped caring. All those thoughts he had in quiet times, on leave or when he was just far enough from the front to not feel threatened, thoughts about how all the fighting was in a way nothing to do with the soldiers – both sides were just the same really, doing as they were told – these thoughts were felled and silenced. All Arthur wanted to do was get at them, these bastards who wanted to kill him, and give them a taste of their own medicine. He wanted to shoot, to maim, to dash brains and slice throats.
Suddenly Butler crumpled, a bayonet in his stomach. Arthur saw Morgan turn to face the culprit, when his head was split by an entrenching tool. A German, broad-shouldered, and with the insanity of utter terror in his eyes, was lashing out. Arthur struggled for his rifle; the German caught it and wrestled it from his hands. A huge shell landed nearby and for a second nothing existed but a wall of noise, louder than Judgement Day. Arthur saw the German lunge at him, making a fist to knock his block off, and he thought distantly that it would be easier to take if the German wore a glare of hate instead of that searing, bottomless terror, as if he were the one about to die. The German’s mouth was stretched into a scream – Arthur could feel the force of it on his cheek – but there was no sound. Everything had gone silent.
Arthur reasoned that the silence must be the first thing about dying, and closed his eyes.
He opened his eyes.
‘Tommy?’ His mouth formed the word, but no sound came.
There stood Tommy, triumphant over the prone German. His hands and tunic were all blood. Uncomprehending, Arthur looked down, and vomited instantly. The German’s brains were splattered all around; at the furthest extremity of the bloodbath a huge rat was greedily snuffling. Arthur vomited again, and resorted to dry retching when Tommy proudly waved his gory rifle butt in his face. It was speckled grey here and there, where little bits of brain had stuck, like Aunt Nessie’s rice pudding.
Arthur gazed blankly at Tommy, who was beaming proudly as his mouth moved silently. Suddenly his smile switched off, and a concerned frown rolled over his entire face. He mouthed more words, and Arthur wondered why the clot didn’t speak up. It wasn’t as if that bloody German would overhear. Arthur was about to give Tommy what for; if he had something to say, then he should blooming well say it, when another a great, pouring, tumbling wave of earth seethed and showered down. Arthur felt an almighty jolt all through his body, and felt himself flung upwards and backwards. Darkness closed in; Arthur wondered if he was flying to heaven.

He awoke after an unknowable spell of heavy, engrossing darkness. Was that an angel leaning over him? He forced his eyes to focus.
The angel’s lips moved blurrily. Arthur tried to crane forwards, but was immediately pressed back by the weight of a new darkness. Slowly he became aware of rolling moisture on his face. Was the angel crying for him? His eyes fluttered open, and registered that the angel was squeezing a wet cloth over his forehead. Its lips moved again.
‘Speak up!’ gasped Arthur.
‘Wakey wakey!’ said the angel, in a voice so tiny and muffled it seemed as if it were swimming an ocean of Passchendaele mud to reach Arthur’s ears. ‘Feeling better, are we?’
Arthur muttered, and reassessed the angel. His vision was slowly sharpening; as it did so, his angel transformed into a slender, brown-haired nurse with a snub nose and rosy cheeks.
‘Am I dead?’ he asked foolishly.
‘Dead!’ the angel-nurse spluttered. ‘Not by a long shot, my love. You’ve just taken it a bit in the head, that’s all. The doctor says your eyes should be fine, but your taste and smell aren’t what they used to be. Don’t you remember all the tests?’
Arthur shook his head once, feeling suddenly peevish and foolish. ‘Did you say I can’t taste any more?’ he asked querulously.
‘Let’s see.’ The nurse extracted a biscuit from somewhere and offered it.
Arthur clutched it greedily, newly aware of the snarling emptiness in his belly, and raised it to his mouth. He snuffed. Nothing. He nibbled. Nothing but dry, choking crumbs. He coughed, and the nurse immediately swooped a mug of tea beneath his nose. At least, it was tea-coloured liquid; it had no more taste than the mess-hall soup after Ginger had watered it down for the third time.
Bugger. One of Arthur’s great pleasures, gone. His mind conjured images of huge roasted sirloins, apple pies, and fried egg yolks bright as sunshine, and he allowed himself to begin his descent into a syrupy, jammy well of self-pity.
‘It’s still dark!’
The words were muffled by Arthur’s damaged ears, but he was nonetheless jerked from his reverie by the panic-filled shout. The nurse started, and leaped over to another bed further down the ward.
‘Why’s it dark? Always dark!’
Arthur sat bolt upright as the voice filtered through to his brain. Tommy! He smiled wryly – his big, smelly shadow had even followed him into hospital. He eased out of bed, and padded barefoot to his companion. The nurse was bending over him; her lips moved but Arthur couldn’t pick up the words.
‘Alright, Tommy lad?’ he said. The nurse jumped, and he realised he must have spoken too loud. It was so hard to tell; even his own voice sounded distant and feeble as it traipsed forlornly through his head.
‘Arthur! Is that you?’
Arthur trotted the short distance to the bed, and pulled up short. Another nurse, a young, terrified-looking girl, had evidently been unwinding bandages from Tommy’s eyes. Or eye. What used to be the left one was a ragged-edged socket, a pool of darkness surrounded by raw flesh and pus. There was a glutinous glaze on the cheek, as if the eyeball had liquefied and dribbled. The right eye was still there, but it was dulled and patently useless, like the eye of a grilled trout. Arthur nearly buckled under his wave of sadness for poor, silly, harmless Tommy, and tried to inject a wave of cheerfulness into his voice as he placed his hand on Tommy’s shoulder.
‘Yes, lad, it’s me. Fancied a bit of bed rest, did you?’
‘Don’t tease!’ reprimanded Arthur’s nurse, her snub nose delicately hidden behind a hankie. The other nurse had retreated to a safe distance.
Arthur realised. No smell! He was standing right next to Tommy Atkins, and for the first time he wasn’t inwardly gagging at the stink.
‘What am I going to do, Arthur?’ Tommy’s words were barely audible, but Arthur caught the gist from the expression of profound despair on the unseeing face. ‘How can I be a farmer now? I’m no use to anyone. I wish I’d just di-’
‘No you don’t, Tommy Atkins!’ Arthur interrupted in his bossiest voice, even though he ached to weep for the destroyed boy. ‘You can bloody well stay and suffer with the rest of us.’ He turned to stare at the snub-nosed nurse, who understood and backed off.
‘I’ll take care of you, Tommy.’ Arthur hoped he was whispering. His innards winced in pity as Tommy’s one eye rolled hopefully towards his voice.
‘Will you, Arthur? Promise?’
‘Promise. I’m broken too, you see. I’ve got no nose, and you’ve got no eyes. Together we might make one decent chap.’
Tommy chuckled. ‘I’ll be your nose, alright! I’ll smell for both of us!’ He paused. ‘Is that what Morgan meant that time, Arthur?’
‘What time?’ Arthur was immediately tense and suspicious. Bloody Morgan!
‘You know, when I first joined up. He said I smelled enough for fifty men.’
‘Aye, Tommy lad. What else could he have meant?’ Arthur inhaled deeply, and smiled.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Chop chop busy busy

There once was a writer named Viki
whose work life was taking the mickey.
Left with no writing time,
would it be such a crime
if she were to pull a sly sickie?*

*if my boss happens to be looking in, this post should actually read cough cough sneeze sniffle

Saturday, 20 October 2007


Some time ago, I was whining about the prolonged absence of my poetic muse (if you're wondering, it later sent me a postcard from Rio, declaring it intended to stay there for the foreseeable and advising me to put my iambs firmly on the back burner). Though slightly irksome, an inability to poeticise is not a disaster for me, as I've come to see myself as more of a prosey type anyway.
And this is where I begin to panic. I have an essay due in on Friday, and no inspiration - and, apparently, no inclination - to write it. I find the subject (Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard) entertaining, and I know that there is a wealth of incisive and learned points to be made, but when I sit down to type I find myself a slave to the urge to displace. I can only hope that a sense of mounting panic will do something. Soon.
And now, instead of skiving on my blog, I suppose I must mix my metaphors, pull my socks up, and get my bandwagon rolling.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Sock, horror

Davis tiptoed over the shiny unfamiliarity of the floor, and hoped his shoes were clean. His eyes darted over the alien surfaces; their gleam and powerfully clean scent assaulted his senses. Ranged over the surfaces were intriguing contraptions, with buttons and lights twinkling at him in encouragement to meddle. He poised, finger hovering over an enticing dial, when the machine on the floor to his left sighed into silence.
Hunkering down, Davis peered cautiously through some sort of viewing screen, but he saw nothing clearly. There was a self-satisfied click. Intrigued, Davis tugged at a slight protuberance on the machine’s plane surface, and a porthole swung open.
Incredible. Davis couldn’t believe it. Gone. Was it a teleporter, or a vaporising machine?
The sound of approaching steps halted Davis’s wonder. He rose, and turned to the approaching figure.
‘Can I watch TV now, Mum? I’ve emptied the drier. Don’t know where all the socks have gone, though.’

Monday, 8 October 2007

Soupy Twist

She’s lost to me now, perhaps forever. I swear I was only trying to help.
She was sleeping, or away in a different consciousness, curled pitifully on the sofa. It was my chance. I was preparing the soup for her father’s lunch, but he’d brave beans on toast if it would help her. I ladled the steamy creaminess into her Tigger bowl, a favourite since babyhood, and tiptoed to her. I dipped the spoon, and blew. Her lips were slightly parted, and I tried to ignore the waft of death on her breath, the shrunken lips, the concavity of her cheeks that used to be so plump. Is that why, because we called her Chubbychops?
She reared awake as the soup oozed into her mouth, hurling the bowl and me away from her. Chicken soup splattered wallpaper; the carrots looked suddenly vomitty. She retreated to a corner of sofa, spindly legs tucked away, and as she glowered at the shards of Tigger bowl I knew that she had broken her last faith with food.
I collect the pieces. What else can I do? I weep as I realise. Fifteen fragments; one for each birthday.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Aw, shucks!

Big, juicy thanks to Cathy at My New Notebook for giving me this rather snazzy Rockin' Blogger award - it's a real pick-me-up at a time when life, work and studying seem to have combined in order to puree my poor little brain. After a good cogitate, I have decided to pass the award onto the spiffing Grumblog and Random Blethers, though it was a tricky choice as there are so many bloggers of quality doing their thang out there in the ether.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

A flash fiction about paint

The picture was in Gareth’s head, perfect with vivid clarity. Now he just had to bring her to life.
First, he prepared his canvas, covering it with an even layer of delicate peach. Next came a bold sweep of black, making the green eye doubly brilliant against its white background. Then a skilful touch of pink, soft as childhood laughter, and her complexion was alive. Gareth lingered over her cheekbones for a moment, delighted and enraptured by their compelling symmetry.
Finally, he took the thinnest brush, and filled in the warm expanse of lip. He had thought scarlet at first, but that would be wrong. He chose a quiet brown-red, not too glossy.
Finished. Gareth stepped back, and gasped. She was beautiful, even more beautiful than she had been in his mind. He looked at himself in the mirror again. Gareth was no more. Giselle lived.

Sunday, 23 September 2007


As I mentioned in my grumblings a couple of days ago, my little writing group is back on track with its weekly flash fiction, after a break caused by a sudden proliferation of holidays and house moves. I'm relieved to report that I have written something; I know it's hardly an original subject or breath-takingly graceful writing, but at least it's a story wot I made up from my head. So here goes. (The theme, by the way, was obsession.)

Come on, Simon, don’t look so sad. It’ll be ok. The drinks are nearly ready.
Remember, ever since we’ve been little, we’ve been the same person. Even to Mum. It was never Simon and Stuart; always
The Twins. The Boys. You can’t just break up something like that. I won’t let you. What is it with this Catherine, anyway? She’ll never understand you, not like I do. She wants to take you away from me, from everything, and turn you into something you’re not. We can’t live that life, with babies and dogs and Sundays in B&Q. We have to stay together.
What? No, not yet; I can’t untie you yet. You’ll run away, to her, won’t you? Here. It’s ready; let me hold the straw for you. Look; I’m drinking too. Bitter, isn’t it? Come on, swallow. Not long now, Simon. Sleepy? Me, too. Good. Relax. Soon we'll be
The Boys again.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Rhubarb waffle

No, not an interesting new dessert (though a rhubarb waffle does sound tasty) - this is more of a concerned outpouring. My brain is empty. I daresay that the more perceptive among you have already discerned that fact, but at the moment it seems more than usually bleak and echoey. All the shadowy characters, half-glimpsed scenes and snapshots of stories appear to have wandered off, beyond my recall. I know it's almost a writer's duty to whinge about not being able to write, so I won't harp on too much. Indeed, this has happened to me before, but somehow everything comes back when it's ready to and I can write again, but each time there is the nagging fear...what if it's permanent this time?
I can't think about that possibility too much, for fear of descending into a fit of hysterics. There's a flash fiction to be written by Saturday, so maybe cudgelling my brains over that will help to 'restore my natural rhythm', as the constipation adverts say.
In the meantime, I intend to scoot back to my old house to see if I inadvertently left my imagination in the cupboard under the stairs.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Quietly encouraged

Here I am in my nice new home, complete with a set of all-over bruises and a suspected cardboard rash. When I eventually unearthed the computer and smiled beseechingly at my other half until he set it up, I found a paradox in my inbox.
It was a good rejection. The editor concerned said he greatly enjoyed my story, but hadn't been able to fit it into the current issue of his magazine. He did, however, say that I was welcome to re-submit it for another edition. Yes, I know it's still a rejection, but it is a far easier one to take than the cold, detached form letters favoured by most publishers. I take this as rare but conclusive proof that not all editors are heartless swines, and feel a good deal chirpier about the whole writing business for it.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Upping sticks

This is just to let you know, dear reader, that I won't be doing any angsting for a few days. (Ok, ok, there's no need to cheer quite so loudly.) We're moving into a brand spanking new house this week, so I'll have neither the time nor the internet capability to go blethering on in my usual fashion.
I must say, though, that apart from the hair-tearing stress levels and the sudden ubiquity of brown tape and cardboard boxes, moving is a wonderful thing. It provides a perfect excuse for not doing any writing.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Hurrah for Magnetic Poetry!

Here's a little cat-inspired haiku I created with my magnetic poetry kit. This may seem like a contradiction of the title of my last post, but
a) the haiku was also created a while ago, and
b) I didn't write it. I merely dragged words around with an expression of childish glee. If that's not sufficient vindication, then
c) I have a new phone, and am duty bound to play with the camera thingy. So ner.

Friday, 7 September 2007

I can't write any new poems, so here's an old one

What the Cow Thought About the Rain

Sun’s gone; rain is falling
on all of us out in the field.
The rest are lying down already,
but my forecast system failed,
thought the cow.

Best seek out some shelter:
I’m in no mood for getting wet.
I’ll find some peace beneath this tree
and daydream while I wait,
thought the cow.

Swelling, dancing raindrops
are bouncing off each leaf;
familiar as a heartbeat
at the centre of my life,
thought the cow.

Rain patters like Dewdrop’s baby
hoofs on the dirt path to our shed -
now, in her place, trot memories
of those happy weeks we shared,
thought the cow.

In dreams I hear her call
for me, in infant need of love
and care. I know they took her from me;
I pray they let her live,
thought the cow.

I moan in tender agony at thoughts
of Dewdrop’s tiny waggling ears;
her tail-twitch as she nuzzled
me; the liquid beauty of her eyes,
thought the cow.

Now all I have is tugging weight
of milk I make in faith for her.
This dragging in my stomach just
reminds me she’s not here,
thought the cow.

Relief each morning turns to grief
as I recall who takes the milk,
and that cold squirting metal
noise is the same as raindrops make,
thought the cow.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Birthday musings

I woke on Saturday morning(ish) to discover that I was suddenly a year older. I wasn't consulted on this - I received no Windows-esque pop-ups asking if I wanted to add the extra year to my age now, or to re-boot and add it later. It's all rather rude, if you ask me.
Despite this unrequested age increment, I had a jolly good day. An 8-hour round trip to London might not be everyone's idea of a birthday lark, but there is something about mindlessly sitting there and watching the miles tick by that soothes my mind. This wasn't a spur-of-the-moment, reckless jaunt, by the way - we were off to see Prince. I couldn't honestly say that he's my absolute favourite artist, but it's mildly amusing to listen to the little pipsqueak banging on about how wonderful he is. Even better, I had the good fortune to be seated next to a madwoman. She danced like she was on the receiving end of some very high voltage, and was prepared to elbow anyone who got in her way. I began to feel that, even though I may be getting older, at least I am having a stab at maintaining some sort of dignity.
Now, if you'll excuse me, the fire brigade are at the door. Something about a cake fire raging out of control...

Wednesday, 29 August 2007


The following took place in a Peugeot 206 between the hours of 1.30 and 3.30 p.m on Friday August 24th.

DRIVING INSTRUCTOR: All set? Fine. To start the lesson, just ease out of the space and then turn right on leaving the car park.

VIKI (edging carefully forwards): Ok. (Unaccountably flooring it as soon as the open road is in sight) Oops.

DRIVING INSTRUCTOR (slowly relinquishing vice-like grip on dashboard and pulling foot back up through gaping hole in floor where dual controls used to be): Not to worry. Now, if I just reverse us off the grass verge, you can try that again.

VIKI (tight-lipped): Ok. Sorry.

DRIVING INSTRUCTOR reverses. VIKI inhales deeply, and attempts to manouevre up slope with car in neutral and handbrake engaged. DRIVING INSTRUCTOR smiles thinly, points to gear stick, and releases handbrake. VIKI stifles a sob.

DRIVING INSTRUCTOR: There we go. Turn right, please.

VIKI: Yup, right. (Switches on windscreen wipers; releases clutch whilst blithely ignoring gas pedal) Oh dear. Backwards.

DRIVING INSTRUCTOR (in slightly hysterical tones): HANDBRAKE!

VIKI (makes desperate lunge for handbrake; grabs radio tuner.) This isn't going too well, is it?

DRIVING INSTRUCTOR (swigging Bach's Rescue Remedy straight from bottle) It'll be fine. Right indicator, please.

VIKI indicates, makes a great show of looking left and right, and pulls out into the path of an oncoming juggernaut.

DRIVING INSTRUCTOR (screaming): So we're going now, are we? Put your foot down, then!

VIKI looks ostentatiously in rear view mirror, feigns ignorance of gesticulating truck driver, and accelerates to 13 mph.

DRIVING INSTRUCTOR: A little faster, if you feel comfortable. And do try to stay on your side of the road.

VIKI (swerves wildly and veers onto pavement. Pedestrians flee). Did I mention I passed my theory test yesterday? How long 'til I can go for the practical, do you think?

DRIVING INSTRUCTOR is last seen vaulting out of the window, tearing hair from her bleeding scalp and gibbering about how she never really wanted to be a driving instructor.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Time to tinker

It couldn't be avoided any longer. I have fired up my memory stick, donned my pernickety hat, and begun an edit of my second novel. It was written during the glorious frenzy of last year's NaNoWriMo, and is therefore slightly...shall we say...ragged. It rambles through knotted masses of adverbs, wanders off down irrelevant and verbose dead ends, and indulges in unnecessarily minute descriptions of everything.
Despite all of this, I can't help feeling that there is a story in there, and I must extract it. It will be arduous and frustrating work, but at least I have made a start. I wanted to begin now because my next Open University course is breathing ominously down my neck and threatening to dominate my every waking moment (the course is 20th Century Literature: Bunfights among Smug and Wordy Critics, or something like that). Knowing that the edit is a work in progress somehow makes me more likely to carry on once my life is my own again.
Now, if you'll hand me my machete, I'll go and see to those adverbs.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Oooh! Award!

Two happy posts in one day - this really isn't good for me. The sincerest of thanks to Graeme for giving me a Nice Matters award for my 'umble blog. I know I speak for many people when I say that Graeme's advice and encouragement to would-be writers really do make a difference. Cheers, Grum!

Pernickety hat in 'cheerful posting' shocker

That's right, I'm not whining about anything this time. Please do revel in the fact, as soon as you've finished fainting.
I passed my driving theory test today, and am jolly pleased about it - not least because they're on the brink of adding loads more questions and jacking up the price for taking the test.
That's all. Non-whiny posts on my blog are bound to be brief.

And now, here's Clarissa with the weather...

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Swift work, part two

The kids' manuscript's second foray into the treacherous world of agents lasted 10 days. To look on the positive side, at least this lot didn't purloin my paperclip.
If any agents are reading (ha!), I'd just like to make it clear that these speedy refusals won't make me stop pestering you. You may as well give in now.
That said, I think I may be well on the way to striking the ideal balance between writing and idleness. Given the increasing alacrity with which agents feel compelled to return my work, I will soon be at the happy stage where they proactively post me rejection slips without my needing to take the trouble to send a manuscript. Happy days.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Flash fiction, by Tyrone Butler

To explain: every week I'm supposed to write a piece of flash fiction on a prompt given by one of my little writing group. This week the prompt was 'window', and my feeble excuse for a brain had nothing to offer. So I asked my character Tyrone to do it instead. Makes sense now, eh?

I bought this apartment because of the window. Not the room-high one out front, but the little one looking out back, over the dumpsters. It reminds me of the other side of things, away from Central Park and sparkling avenues. Behind the glamour lies the filth.
This came home to me recently. Some squitty kid, fighting with Eugene the bellhop outside my door, yelling that I stole his story. Which, of course, I did not. He screamed so loud he even disturbed Bubba on the fifteenth. You know Bu
bba, wannabe Schwarzenegger guy who never got further than playing the knucklehead sidekick in lousy movies. Bubba’s been devoted to me since I found his stash of gay porn and suggested somebody may want to tell Entertainment Weekly. What a guy.
Bubba came racing down, ready to pound the squitty kid into next year. At this point, the kid became amenable to compromise.
‘Everyone’s agitated,’ I said, sending Eugene back to his lair. ‘Why don’t you go get some air, then we can talk this thing through?’
The kid was squeaking in agreement even as Bubba yanked him away for a tour. We have charming roof gardens – really charming.
I poured myself a JD, then went to my back window. I made a mental note to thank Bubba for stepping in, and settled back to watch my troubles fly away.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Yes, I know it's meant to be a blog about writing

I like to think I always enter into the spirit of Fridays. I wake, or at least slowly achieve some level of consciousness, with a quiet and earnest faith that it will be a good day. So when life takes it upon itself to piss upon my chips, I feel doubly cheated if it happens on a Friday.
Today, we found out that a long and thorny proposed takeover of my company (the company for which I work, that is; I'm no entrepreneur) has finally, and surprisingly, been approved. It's hard to know what will happen next, but I expect there will certainly be changes - possibly even the kind of change that involves P45s and invective-filled mutterings against the new bosses.
So, given the above, I hope I can be forgiven for harbouring a sort of crushed resentment towards the universe today. This is just the sort of behaviour I expect from a Monday.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Michael's Genius Moment

Here's the opening to a short story I wrote a couple of months ago; later sections of it need the attention of a brutal and merciless editor but I thought I'd post this bit anyway. Not that I haven't got anything new to show off, of course, dear me no...

What a time to notice it was windy up here. Clasping the futile railing with white-knuckled hands, Michael wondered why he cared about the gusty chill around his ears, the leaf-blowing sibilance on the concrete behind him. His breath sounding harsh and alien, as if it had nothing to do with his body, he inched forwards and bent his head. The ground cringed away from his sight. It felt higher than eight storeys.
The crowd was already forming. They looked up, goggle-eyed and open-mouthed, like a bunch of hungry goldfish waiting for food. Someone wore a red coat, red as guilt, and the sight seared Michael’s eyeballs. His stomach contracted, and for a second he thought he was going to vomit on his audience. He swallowed desperately, and forced his focus to spread. The crowd, like extras on a movie set, took turns to deliver hackneyed lines.
‘It’s not worth it!’ A man’s voice wafted up, vague and faraway like a half-remembered dream voice.
‘It’ll be okay, mate! Just hold fire, yeah?’ Jovial Cockney tones.
Michael felt abstractly annoyed. To the Cockney, this was just something to tell his slobbering, simian mates in the pub later on. Was this really what Michael’s destiny had intended him to be, a soon-forgotten anecdote with a splintering, splattering punch line? He shifted his grip. The crowd gasped, then settled back as they saw he wasn’t jumping yet.
A shrill, female voice burst out, on cue to ratchet up the tension. ‘Oh my god! Somebody help him! He’s going to…he’s going to…’ She cut herself off with a quivering wail.
Michael didn’t need to look at the woman to know that she had half turned away, tissue to mouth, but then turned back. She couldn’t look; she couldn’t not look. Michael understood.
As he perched, listening, he felt as if hours passed, though it could only have been minutes. Why was he waiting, anyway? Just get it over with. He wondered if he would scream, if it would be a manly, throaty ‘aaaarghhh’ or a high-pitched ‘eeeeee’. Michael willed his fingers to relax, and looked at the crowd again. He made profuse mental apologies to the woman standing front and centre, knowing with detached certainty that, on impact, her shoes would be indelibly stained by gobbets of his brains. He closed his eyes, and stepped out onto air.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Giddy up!

Never one to ignore an old chestnut, I have followed that rule about what to do when you fall off a horse (no, not cry). The kids' novel has once more ventured out into the world, and perhaps it will fare better now that is a more seasoned traveller. I picture it loitering in a sorting office somewhere between Manchester and London, eyeing the other letters with a steely gaze and drawling, 'yeah, I travel down here all the time,' as it takes a nonchalant drag of its fag. I'm only sorry I can't claim air miles for it; I'd be eligible for a flight to Mars by the end of the year.

Other than using work's franking machine for nefarious purposes (shh! I'll give you chocolate if you promise not to tell my boss), I have been most diligently NOT writing a short story. The characters are all milling around my head; I know what will happen to them (most of them die - a rare occurrence in my work *splutter*), but something is refusing to click. Of course, it doesn't help that I keep finding any excuse to avoid going anywhere near it because I am having trouble writing it. A most vicious and prickly circle.

Oh, and just one other thing: I have been practising my Nelson Muntz laugh. One day, if an agent or publisher should suffer a serious lapse in concentration and take me on, I intend to telephone everyone to turn me down (which will take a very, very long time) and HAW-HAW! at them before hanging up. Yes it's childish and puerile, but I'll danged well enjoy it.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Flower power

They all swarm around Mignonne – cousins, in-laws, pulsing spouses. It’s that time of evening when I wish I hadn’t come. I only know PY, and he is drawn to Cousine Mignonne like the rest. Look at PY’s grandmother, grinning gummily at her beautiful relation.
Mignonne is sultry in white, her swathe of black hair pinned to perfection by a single, virginal orchid. I feel huge and ridiculous in my dress. Grandmère ordained that the ball would be flower-themed, and the delicate buds that graced the silk in the shop seem to have bloomed into brown and yellow cabbages, rotting against my skin.
Later. I can’t sleep – I need PY. We must have separate rooms, he said. We’re not married; Grandmère would disapprove.
Regardless, I lumber down the corridor, and just avoid stepping on a white orchid outside his door. I pick it up and realise it is silk, after all – exquisite, but lifeless.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Swift work

It wasn't quite by return of post, but my rejection was shamefacedly lying on the doormat when I got home today. The tell-tale plumpness of the envelope belied the contents even before I turned it over to see my own handwriting, so the rejection itself (a bog-standard compliment slip tucked cosily inside my spurned chapters) wasn't too hurtful. I was expecting to feel at least slightly crushed, but I have done no wailing whatsoever and my teeth remain ungnashed.
This was not the only agent in the world. Everyone gets rejections at some point. A 'no' doesn't necessarily mean the writing is bad. I have been thinking this week - yes, despite appearances, I do think occasionally - and I have realised that even if every agent and publisher in the cosmos were to tell me that they will never, ever allow another word of mine to enter the public domain, I would still carry on writing. Perhaps this is one of those situations where the journey is more important than the destination.
Here endeth the sermon.
(In case you're wondering, the rejection was disappointingly free of rubber-stamped messages.)

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Get well soon!

A ditty for my dear buddy, Kim,
who's been feeling incredibly grim:
if your nose is still runny,
drink whisky and honey
'til you're bounding around full of vim.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Unaccustomed as I am...

Big, juicy thanks to Jude from Wikidwords (see Laudable Links) for nominating Pernickety Hat for a Creative Blogger Award. I'm doubly happy because Wikidwords is itself a fantastic blog (and I don't say that just because a couple of my offerings can be found there). I believe I can now nominate five other blogs for the award, and my first choice would be Grumblog because of the fantastic quality of Graeme's discussions.
More nominations to follow after I have finished weeping in a Paltrow-esque manner.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Bad day at the office

Subtitle (t0 be said at very high volume to nobody in particular):

Me, me! Me, me!

Stop what you’re doing, I insist
I’ll be heard. I’ll just keep
on shouting, and you can’t resist.
Give in, give in, pay attention to me.

I don’t care if you’re busy
with work of your own;
I’m far more important
and shan’t leave you alone.
Come on, come on, pay attention to me.

Forget your own business
and heed me, my friend.
Don’t try to ignore me.
I’ll win in the end.
Hurry up, hurry up, pay attention to me.

I can go on forever
in my shrill, nagging tones,
so it’s pointless you trying
to stifle me with your moans.
Quickly, quickly, pay attention to me.

No, you can’t have a break time
or five minutes of peace.
You’re in my command
till I choose to cease.
Hey you, yes you, pay attention to me.

Your time’s not your own now.
Put your whole day on hold.
You’re at my beck and call;
kindly do as you’re told.
Right now, right now, pay attention to me.

At last, you’re obeying
my urgent summons to you.
Seeing your mad dash to answer,
there’s just one thing I can do:

Monday, 6 August 2007

I digress

I've found out lately that I can't perceive a hazard for toffee.
For reasons which now escape me, I recently decided it was high time I began driving lessons, at the stately age of...*ahem*. The driving is pants-wettingly scary (and that's just for my dear, sainted instructor - I return from each lesson a gibbering mass of sweaty palms and high-pitched, hysterical laughter). I'm sorry, but it's just not natural to do so many things at once, and don't talk to me about multi-tasking.
Still, in a spirit of rakish optimism, I have booked my theory test, and now have two weeks of desperate swotting ahead of me. Even if I can remember those infernal stopping distances, I fail to see exactly what use they are. I couldn't guess a distance of 96 metres at 70mph (yay! Remembered one!) if my life depended on it, which I suppose it may do one day. Added to this are the terrors of the hazard perception test (one click too many, and the practice CD-rom glibly and infuriatingly informs you that you will score 0 for this test because of your wanton trigger-happiness). I'm already queasily nervous about the whole thing, and I know I will soon be dreaming about it every night and waking up muttering 'give the cyclist plenty of room' in a hoarse and haunted whisper. I need some sort of mantra to calm me down.
Altogether now...
20 mph is 12 metres...
30 mph is 23 metres...

Friday, 3 August 2007

What to do..?

Limbo. Not the bendy-back dancing type, but the vague, grey, floaty type. I feel an odd sort of deflation now that my first novel has been inflicted upon the world (well, upon one agent). Getting to this stage was something I had been aiming towards for a long time, and now it's over - until the rejection flops faithfully on the doormat, and I try again after a brief bout of hysterics. Of course, there are plenty of things I could be doing: edit novel number 2, do that short story for my little writing support group (who, I would like to say, are always supportive, encouraging and deliciously astute), pen a new flash fiction for the same group. Sometimes, though, one simply has to wallow.
If anyone wants me, I'll be taking a mud bath.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Been and gone and done it

Well. I have dithered, displaced and procrastinated for all I'm worth, but this day had to come sooner or later. The synopsis is written (perhaps I should say 'garbled') and the letter signed. Four chapters have had their hair combed, their collective coat duffled, and their face scrubbed with a hankie (clean). I have pressed an emergency 50p into their palm and sent them off into the world to try their luck.
My first novel has gone to its first agent. All I can do now is pace anxiously up and down the study's shagpile until the reply comes. I have a fair idea of what that reply will be (probably all four chapters, letter, and synopsis sent winging back by return of post, tetchily rubber-stamped with the legend 'DO US A FAVOUR; WE'RE NOT DESPERATE'), but never mind. Now, until the post comes, I'll be quietly rehearsing consolatory lines to myself...
It's all about luck.
Just keep on trying; you'll get there in the end.
*sniffle* what do agents know, anyway?
And then when the 'no' arrives, I will dissolve into a weeping, snotty mess, bewailing the fate of my poor, unappreciated baby.
If anyone tries to tell you that writing is all fun, send them to me and I will rubber-stamp their forehead.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Sulky Sunday Haiku

Weekend creeps darkly,
trickles past swift and silent
to hide in the past.

Moving with the times

The water was once zingily refreshing with its salt tang. Now it grew hot, thick, and swam with noxious gases. The fish was aware of his body’s mass for the first time, as he churned and struggled through the roiling current. His gills flapped in helpless desperation. Oxygen. Must have oxygen.
He struggled on, compelled by his choking cells. The water grew murkier as he passed a decaying plesiosaur, whose flesh flaked away to create a turgid soup. Normally he would rejoice at the sight – one less predator was no bad thing – but instead he felt primitive horror as he skirted through the gloom. Most of the plesiosaur’s skeleton was looming above the water line. The sea was almost gone.
The fish felt his brain would burst. He had to act. With instinctive panic, he swam into bubbling mud. He opened his gills to the air. Breathed. Evolved.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

The other Tyrone

This is a snippet from the 'novel' I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year (see for details). Before reading, please be aware that there is a naughty word in there...I don't want to offend any delicate sensibilities. So - Tyrone:

A couple of hours into lessons, as Tyrone was industriously identifying himself with Hamlet, a worried-looking secretary poked her head round the door. She waited until Mr Delaware became aware of her presence, then tiptoed stagily in on her high heels. The two adults held a whispered conference, during which Mr Delaware’s usually florid face turned ashen and grey. His eyes swept the room, seeming unwilling to land on anyone in particular. The whole class was goggling; something was afoot evidently.
‘Mr Butler? A moment, please.’ Mr Delaware beckoned Tyrone with his entire arm.
A whisper hissed around the class. What had Tyrone done? What had been done to Tyrone? Was he going to get out of class?
Aware of the weight of eyes upon him, Tyrone felt a slight flush creep over his cheeks. The combined woe in the faces of Mr Delaware and the secretary told him that something enormous and unpleasant was about to be revealed to him. For a fraction of a second he was convinced that Miss Gottlieb had gone to the police and told them that he had violated her, but the thought died almost as soon as it was born. She wouldn’t do that to him. Not Miss Gottlieb. His shoes made a sucking noise as he walked to the front of the class in surreal slow motion.
The secretary and Mr Delaware each placed a hand on his shoulder and steered him out of the room. Tyrone was strangely aware of the school’s insistent, peculiar smell: poorly cooked burgers; gently spiced sweat; cheap deodorant.
‘Be brave, young man,’ said Mr Delaware, his gruff tones strangely hushed.
‘What? What is it?’ Tyrone was mildly freaked out by now.
The secretary stood square in front of him and put her hands on his shoulders. Her red lips wobbled as she tried to formulate words.
‘What?’ yelled Tyrone. ‘For Chrissake, what happened?’
‘We…we had a call from the fire department. There was an explosion or something in the block where you live and they wanted to check you were in school.’
Tyrone stared at her, noticing how the fine down on her upper lip was picked out by the sunlight streaming through the window opposite. Her breath smelled slightly of coffee. He slowly realised that he should say something. ‘A – an explosion? What happened?’
‘They’re not sure yet, but they think a gas leak. Looks like it started in your apartment.’ She swallowed a sudden sob. ‘I’m so sorry sweetheart – but your…your grandparents. They didn’t make it.’
Tyrone suddenly felt that either he was very big or the world was very small. Everything zoomed into minute focus. ‘Gramps and Grandma? No. No.’ He began to struggle in the secretary’s arms, and Mr Delaware reached out a restraining hand.
‘Easy, son,’ he said in almost a whisper. Tyrone collapsed against him, uttering nameless noises. ‘Easy. Easy, son.’

I make it to the bathroom just in time. As I kneel there disgorging horror into porcelain, Tyrone sidles in. He raises a laconic eyebrow.
‘Something you ate?’ he asks smoothly. ‘Or too much to drink?’
I stare at him before the back of the toilet bowl reclaims my attention. Tyrone eases himself down beside me and holds back my hair, showing no distaste.
O nce it’s over, I wipe my mouth on toilet paper and shrink away from him. ‘Your grandparents.’

‘Yeah. It was a shame.’
He helps me up even though I don’t want him to touch me. He looks quietly amused. I splash water on my face and in my mouth, then brush my teeth. Tyrone leans on the door frame and watches me. I am shaking everywhere in what feels like fifty directions at once.
‘A shame? Is that all you can say?’
He stares at me evenly.
‘You did it, didn’t you.’ It’s a statement, not a question. ‘You. The gas leak. Them having colds. Dirk’s pipe. You.’
‘Accident.’ He yawns and stretches. ‘The fire department said so. Old people just get forgetful. I guess Grandma never realised she’d put that pan of soup on the stove and not lit it properly. Everybody said it was a miracle I wasn’t there at the time.’ He leans right into me and I smell the JD on his breath. ‘A fucking miracle.’
The nausea returns, with force. Once I’m empty I turn back to him with tears in my eyes.
‘ You must admit it’s strange, Tyrone. All the people who you think have crossed you seem to wind up dead.’
He is holding my hair again, and he suddenly pulls it tight at the nape of my neck and coils it over his fist. In that quick movement I am made horribly, vulnerably aware of his strength. He pulls my head back so that my face is virtually in his.
‘That’s the thing with people, honey,’ he says quietly and evenly. ‘They all wind up dead, sooner or later.’


She hums softly as she dusts. You are my sunshine – Mother always loathed that song. Or did Mother just loathe her humming it? She shifts the silver-framed slice of Bali beach, a relic from Karen’s wedding, fractionally to the left. Her eyes gloss over her photo-self, clammy in her finery, holding her wilted posy. Always the bridesmaid, Mother had said acidly.
The pewter trinket box gets nudged forwards. It holds a lock of curled wheaten hair, shorn from Margot’s first born. Mother had cooed frigidly over the baby, then delivered her shot.
Shame you’ll never have any. What man would want to impregnate a frump like you?
She moves the charcoal sketch of her cat, Harry, from the mantelpiece, and props it against a bland lidded urn. Look, Harry, she says as he twines round her calves. Now Mother’s on the shelf, too.

Monday, 23 July 2007


The eclipse is total. She takes small steps, but tartan trolley crosses paths with 4x4 as it docks into its slot. Wheel orbits collide; gravity takes charge. Spinning over the eternity of dark tarmac, oranges bounce and roll into the distance, nestling into their own patch of blackness and cowering like small suns. The bottle of Cava will never now touch down on son-in-law’s birthday table; it explodes on first contact with painted white line and sends glass sharding away to form glistening nebulae. The contents fizz and plume into the air, leaping like flares bursting from the sun. Cherry tomatoes jolt from their plastic cocoon and patter away, red dwarves impelled into the distance. Only the ground is still, an impassive canvas where chaos spreads. The old lady, screaming silently, her mouth a ragged black hole, looks into her trolley, wondering when the Big Bang within will cease spewing.

Monday haiku

Mechanical traipse
round bleak, morning-hushed office.
My brain's still in bed.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

A bite to eat

He brushed the drop of sweat from the tip of his nose just in time. Imagine if it had fallen into the soup – it would ruin everything. Even one molecule of salt too many, and he’d taste it. He wouldn’t have the meal ruined, or any subsequent ones – he was thrilled to see that there was plenty of soup for freezing, too.
The oven pinged conscientiously, and he twirled balletically to rescue the pie. Cradling it on wire rack, he experimentally touched the sides of the earthenware casserole dish. Nicely cool – he decanted the contents into a series of Tupperware lunchboxes and wrote finicky labels.
His cooking frenzy was almost over. This lot would keep him going for weeks, and every mouthful would stave off his mind-searing loneliness. He smiled as he basted the gawping head. It was lovely to have a friend for dinner once in a while.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Friday musings

Ahh, Friday...
Now, don't get me wrong, my day job never ceases to suffuse my soul with delight, but there's something wonderfully cheering about a Friday. Two glorious days stretch in front of me, and from here it almost feels like they'll never end, the way the six-week holidays used to seem back in the misty warmth of my youth. I know that is a preposterous assertion, but I don't care. Two days to myself should be plenty to make great advances in all sorts of areas - I could clean the house (ha!), rattle out a short story, and contact Interpol regarding my wayward poetry muse. Or, regrettably, I could (and will, I know) stay in bed until noon, make one or two half-assed attempts at doing something vague and unnecessary, then go and have a nap.
How I love my weekends.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Sunday dinner

Storm surge of gravy
spills over creamy mash banks -
peas drift on the tide

What I've been doing when not displacing...

My first novel - a children's book about a young lad who befriends a miniature talking gorilla - is almost on the verge of being sent out into the world to seek its fortune, if I can ever get that pesky synopsis written. This is scary and exciting in equal measure...contacting agents and so on seems like a grown-up, writerly thing to do, but I just know I will dissolve into a howling mass of hurt feelings and outraged dismay once the rejections start rolling in, like a pushy parent whose kid never gets picked for the school team. Still, I've got to try, haven't I?

I've recently finished one short story, set in the First World War (a literary obsession of mine), and I have another one (not set in WWI - I don't want to typecast myself) mired in an indeterminate stage of editing. I know it needs to be slashed and beaten into shape in a hard-faced manner, but I can't decide which bits to cull. Hey ho.

My poetry muse, such as it ever was, has packed up and gone on a long holiday. If you see it, could you please send it home? I'll even pay for its excess baggage.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007


You'd think writing the novel would be the arduous part, wouldn't you? But oh no, once the novel is written and you have tearfully hacked big bleeding chunks from it in a frenzy of editing, you have to write the synopsis. This blog exists largely because of my increasingly sly and desperate attempts to get out of synopsis-writing. The one feeble draft I have churned out (at around the rate of one sentence per hour) reads like the stories I used to write as a kid. There is this character and something happens to him and then something else happens and it's really bad but then in the end everything is ok. I'm not anticipating a huge publishing advance any time soon.

Weighted Words

left her like a stick;
just walking angles and concavities.
Eyes shrunken, hair thin –
a ruled line, nothing more.

used to feed her laugh.
Made her sensuous, alive
to pleasure; she was glossy,
piquant, moreish – saucy.

she missed the warmth
of flesh on her bones,
she turned round, and said,
‘I was made to be this shape’.

Can't see the...

The mighty oak. He was impressed. All that height and mass, silently drawing nutrients up from the soft earth. Its leaves whispered and waved to him, and, despite knowing it was foolish, he felt a primeval kinship with the tree. Tree. The very word sounded strong and reliable, quietly throbbing with life. He looked furtively around, saw nobody was near, and embraced the bark. It was rough, but not harsh. He could have stayed forever with his tree, sitting calmly in its fresh dappled shade.
It wasn’t to be. His Female Sibling Droid came gliding up. You should see the next room, she whirred. It shows all the different fuels they ate. They spent so many units of time preparing it. Fools!
He lingered, reluctant to leave his tree, but she nagged. Come on, BoyDroid RD12!
He activated his camera module, careful to include the label - EARTH’S LAST LIVING TREE – and followed.

With thanks to Graeme