Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Disguise on Microstory site

My short story Disguise is featured on Steve Isaak's Microstory a Week site from today (Aug 31).
Thanks Steve!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

To my depression

You're not going to win.

You might think you'll always be there, and perhaps you will, but you can not beat me. You are small enough to fit inside my head so you cannot take over my life. You can distort my thoughts, you can make me believe that lies are true, but I know what you are trying to do and you Will...  Not... Triumph.

I am aware of you. I am better than you. I can beat you.

You are the black dog and a dog can be trained.

So sit.
Roll over.
Play dead.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Learning new vocabulary

It's been a long time since I've had to sit with a dictionary by my side when I read, but Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird gave me a few challenges.

What on earth is a scuppernong1? And what's so special about Lane cake2? Why, the shinny3 it contains, of course.

I guess if I had much knowledge of the US deep south I might have done better, but my familiarity is limited to the north, and the north east at that. (My grandad was born in Connecticut)

At last I know where the Boo Radleys4 got their name and even good old Lily the Pink5 gets a mention.


1. scuppernong     A type of large white grape

2. Lane cake     Rich layer cake, doused in bourbon and covered in creamy white icing.

3. shinny     Bourbon

4. Boo Radley  Reclusive character who plays a signficant role in the book without appearing more than once.

5. Lily the Pink 1960s song by The Scaffold

I even had the audacity to review it.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday 160. How low?

‘Just how low can you get?’ Susan yelled as she stormed out and slammed the door behind her.
Martin called after her: ‘I’m a limbo dancer, what did you expect?’

With apologies to anyone who knows the original joke!

Now head over to the Monkey Man's place to see what else the Sunday 160 teams have dreamed up this week.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Great news

I'm going to be featured on Paragraph Planet tomorrow (Sunday 28 August). In case you don't know it's a creative writing site that features 75-word stories (novel extracts, descriptive pieces, whatever) and publishes a new one every day. And tomorrow will be my story Cat Yoga.

Friday, August 26, 2011

FFF55. Experiment

“Don’t be stupid”, the man in the white coat said, “They’re just dumb animals. They don’t matter and they can’t possibly understand what we’re doing to them.”
But  X19108 was born in the laboratory and had seen his mother, his sister and friends suffer at this man’s hands.
And he'd learned how a hypodermic worked.


A recent review of laboratory use of non-human primates (monkeys) in the UK revealed that almost a tenth of the projects involving them between 1997 and 2007 produced no significant scientific, medical or social benefit. But we still use them - and new EU laws that are due to be introduced in 2013 will reduce their protection even further.

OK. Now I've depressed you, hop over the see the G-Man to read other people's Friday Fifty Fives.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thursday extracts: Which in Henry Reed's case we have not got.

Sorry - I don't have a photo of japonica
I fell in love with this poem when I first studied it at school. As far as I am aware I have never read anything else by Henry Reed, but the phrase 'which in our case we have not got' entered my lexicon and has been used ironically ever since.  I also love the section about easing the spring.


Naming of Parts

To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And to-morrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
          And to-day we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
          Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
          Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
          They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
          For to-day we have naming of parts.

Henry Reed. 1942.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

3 word monday (only it's Wednesday): Disguise

“Perfect disguise”, Amanda said to her reflection in the cheval mirror. “No-one will recognise you.” The wig made her head look like a coconut and the mouth was a delightful touch. She gnashed her teeth and pulled back her lips, gurning at herself to get a better look. Yellow and crooked: what they call ‘English teeth’ in the US. Then, of course, there was the fat suit.

Amanda knew from bitter, adolescent experience that the best way to stop people from seeing you was to be overweight. She had suffered a long time to learn that lesson. All through her teens she had been the butt of the jokes, left out of invitations and spurned by her peers, just because she had a weight problem. Behind the size she was actually quite attractive but they never knew because they never looked. They deemed her invisible. Talk about the elephant in the room!

But when she reached twenty one she inherited some money and used it to change her image and her identity. Not because she was unhappy with herself, but because she realised by then she would have to play by ‘their’ rules to win their game. And she had won. Her face appeared nightly on TV as a respected anchor-woman on a national news programme. Every one of her old tormentors could see her now. She was relishing her triumph and planned to crown it with a visit to each of them to point out the error of their old ways.

Hence the disguise: the wig, the fake teeth and the fat suit made her look exactly like she did at school. That was the point. She wanted to make sure they knew who was responsible as she murdered them, one by one. It was the perfect disguise for the perfect crime. Only the victims could identify her and they did not live to tell tales. She had even been captured on security cameras a few times and earned herself the nickname of The Fat Slasher but no-one linked the obese image with the svelte news reader. She knew she would never be caught. She just had to remember not to laugh when she reported the latest killing to her eager viewers. 


Three Word Monday is run by Steve Isaak. Each week he chooses three words and our challenge is to write a 600-word (maximum) story including all three.  This week's words were: coconut, gnash and deem.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday 160: Just desserts

When the dessert arrived I heard Mother’s ghostly voice: ‘If you eat that you’ll be sick!’  But I stuck my spoon in with abandon.  Two hours later – guess what?

Sunday 160 is run by The Monkey Man. Go and see what other people have offered!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cat yoga

Barney in the garden
I think my cat is a Buddhist. He certainly practises yoga, out in the sunshine with my lawn for a mat. His stretches and postures performed with infinite slowness, from downward facing dog, to bridge, to happy baby and, ultimately, contented cat. His patient calmness the product of endless meditation. His expression is inscrutable as he plans his passive aggressive takeover of my sofa.

Friday, August 19, 2011

FFF55: A legal question

My friend is a lawyer and he often tells me about the claims he is working on.
Last week he appeared in court to represent a couple whose luggage went missing while they were on holiday. He could do very little to help them though.
After careful consideration he realised they didn’t have a case!


I'm sorry! Couldn't resist. I blame the G man.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thursday extracts. Terry Pratchett on books and libraries

Where to begin with Terry Pratchett? Practically any sentence he wrote could be given as a fantastic example of great writing, amazing humour, wonderful imagination, or just the vast range of knowledge the man has to apply from Roundworld to his creation.  Six-foot dwarves, gargoyles on stake-outs, dragons as pets, an orang-utan librarian, almost everything he writes is a fresh view of a potentially tired topic.

I figured the best thing would be to use part of his view on books, and more particularly, his concept of L-space, the mysterious effect that large collections of books can have on the world around them.

The following extract comes shortly after a discussion of the dangers to be found in the magical library at Unseen University, but demonstrates perfectly how Pratchett's Discworld relates to our own round planet.


Even big collections of ordinary books distort space and time, as can readily be proved by anyone who has been around a really old-fashioned second-hand bookshop, one of those that has more staircases than storeys and those rows of shelves that end in little doors that are surely too small for a full sized human to enter.
The relevant equation is Knowledge = Power = Energy = Matter = Mass; a good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read. Mass distorts space into polyfractal L-space, in which Everywhere is also Everywhere Else.
All libraries are connected in L-space by the bookwormholes created by the strong space-time distortions found in any large collection of books.

Guards! Guards!
First published 1989
Terry Pratchett

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


My intention is always to pack light when I go travelling, but somehow I end up with loads of clothes and bits and bobs that I throw in 'just in case'. Literally just in case, because that's where they spend the entire holiday; never touched, never used, never even seen. In spite of that, I never learn. I find myself standing on stations and in airports, weighed down with all my clutter, surrounded by bags and holdalls and rucksacks and wondering just how I'm going to fit in everything I'm prepared for. Reading, photography, painting, hill walking, bird watching, shopping, fine dining, (we never do), and that's even before I start to cater for every potential kind of weather.

Five pairs of trousers is way too much for a week, particularly when I shall find myself slumming round in the same, comfortable pair of jeans for four out of the seven days. Take lots of t-shirts to ring the changes, that's the secret. But then there's the shoes.


We're off on holiday in a few weeks and I've been wondering what to take with me. I started writing a list. It made me realise just how much STUFF I pack that I don't need, so now I shall start crossing things off it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A weekend read

I finished reading Arnaldur Indriðason's Tainted Blood  this weekend. If you want to know what I thought, checkout the Just Read page.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday 160. Vertigo

The view from up here’s great. I was amazed when I woke this morning. I just wish I knew how I got up here and how to get down.  Must have been some stag night!


It's for the Monkey Man. 160 characters of fiction!

Friday, August 12, 2011

fff55. It's a riot.

Photo shamelessly looted from
Smashing and burning and looting and storming.
Charging around
and breaking into the Pound
Shop to steal
useless things with no real
The mob is making its feelings clear
and armed police in riot gear
are fighting back.
Society’s cracked.
And no-one hears a small
voice in the darkness among it all
crying ‘help!’


We arrived at work on Tuesday morning to find our front door smashed. Our office is on an easy escape route from the shopping centre in the photo. Compared with some cities, we had it easy. They fire-bombed a police station but there have been no serious injuries and no buildings needing to be demolished.  But this unrest has touched me directly.

I work for a charity. We can't afford to be wasting money on repairing doors. We have a better use for the money.

Angry with society?  I am now. I'm just saying........


FFF55 is a weekly challenge to write a 55 word story (ok it's a poem) and it's hosted by the G Man at Mister Knowitall's Blog. Go there and see.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thursday extracts. Philip Larkin on parenthood. (PG rated for language)

On Monday I posted a photo of a Philip Larkin poem that's engraved on the wall of the Library in Belper. When I read that Larkin was included in the town's poetry trail my immediate thought was that they were unlikely to have used the one piece of Larkin's work that I can quote by heart.

This poem strikes a real chord with me and, as someone said a few days ago, it has "set the pattern for" my life.

Don't say you weren't warned about the rude word.


This Be The Verse
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself. 

Philip Larkin

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Reciting poetry and reading aloud

I wonder....

 Do kids still learn poems "off by heart" and have to recite them at school?
Back when I was a youngster (and God were a lad - as they say where I come from) we were encouraged to learn poems and recite to class members. Or at least read them aloud. I suspect that it helped create the love of language that has given me a career for most of my life.

There was a time when I knew this one - or at least the first verse - but I had simply forgotten it until it turned up on Platform 2 of Belper Station as part of the poetry trail (see yesterday's post). As soon as I started reading this it came back to me.

For K it triggered a memory of an old film that some of you might remember too. The Night Mail by W H Auden.

Do you remember any poetry and do you ever recite it?

Monday, August 08, 2011

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Sunday 160: Parting is such sweet sorrow.

Reluctantly handing over the owner’s manual, he knew he would never recover. But selling the full-size dalek replica meant he could afford the rent this month.


Sunday 160 is a weekly chalenge to tell a tale in exactly 160 characters. It's hosted by The Monkey Man.

This week's IS fiction - honest!

Friday, August 05, 2011

fff55: Rain rain rain

After the sunshine comes the long-awaited rain. Weeks of drier-than-usual weather have left the ground parched and dusty. The garden needed it desperately. Farmers were crying out for it to save their crops.  Fields of vegetables were dying for a drink.  But it might have arrived just in time to wreck this year’s grain harvest.

FFF55 is a weekly challenge to write a story in 55 words. Go over to Mr Knowitall's blog to learn more.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Thursday extracts. Paul Auster's view of writing.

Paul Auster writes a lot about writing. In fact one of the reasons that I stopped buying his books is because he got very self indulgent about it at one time.  But his early works are excellent and well worth tracking down if you don't know him.  Leviathan is one of my favourites. The reason for the photo is that The Statue of Liberty plays a huge role in the story. The book starts with someone blowing himself up while setting a bomb. This is a long time before 9/11. Leviathan was first published in 1992, but it is probably just as relevant today as it was twenty years ago.

However, two main characters are writers, and in this extract (Technically it's three extracts from the same chapter.) Auster compares their style and output. I'm sure every writer will relate to at least part of it.


After the success of his first novel, he immediately started to write another, but once he was a hundred pages into it, he tore up the manuscript and burned it. Inventing stories was a sham, he said, and just like that he decided to give up fiction writing, He began writing essays after that, all kinds of essays and articles on a countless variety of subjects: politics, literature, sports, history, popular culture, food, whatever was in demand, so he never had trouble finding magazines to publish his pieces, but there was something indiscriminate about the way he went about it. He wrote with equal fervour for national magazines and obscure literary journals, hardly noticing that some publications paid large sums of money for article s and others paid nothing at all.

I was always astonished by how quickly he worked, by his ability to crank out articles under pressure of deadlines, to produce so much without seeming to exhaust himself. It was nothing for Sachs to write ten or twelve pages at a single sitting, to start and finish an entire piece without once standing up from his typewriter. Work was like an athletic contest for him, an endurance race between his body and his mind, but since he was able to bear down on his thoughts with such concentration, to think with such unanimity of purpose, the words always seemed to be there for him, as if he had found a secret passageway that ran straight from his head to the tips of his fingers. 'Typing for Dollars,' he sometimes called it, but that was only because he couldn't resist making fun of himself.

I have always been a plodder, a person who anguishes and struggles over each sentence, and even on my best days I do no more than inch along, crawling on my belly like a man lost in the desert. The smallest word is surrounded by acres of silence for me, and even after I manage to get that word down on the page, it seems to sit there like a mirage, a speck of doubt glimmering in the sand. Language has never been accessible to me in the way that it was for Sachs. I'm shut off from my own thoughts, trapped in a no-man's-land between feeling and articulation, and no matter how hard I try to express myself, I can rarely come up with more than a confused stammer. Sachs never had any of these difficulties. Words and things matched up for him, whereas for me they are constantly breaking apart, flying off in a hundred different directions. I spend most of my time picking up the pieces and gluing them back together.

Paul Auster
Faber and Faber

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Bad day

Dear lorry driver
You know how irritating it was to be stuck behind that slow-moving juggernaut that you’ve just pulled out to overtake? Well think how much more annoying it would have been if you’d had to jam your brakes on to avoid driving into the back of him as he got in front of you.  I KNOW that you’re bigger than me, but in the playground that counts as bullying.

Dear workmate
When I say ‘good morning’ to you when you arrive in the morning, does it really take too much effort to reply? A monosyllabic grunt doesn’t count. Oh, and by the way, you can wash your own lunch dishes today. We’re all fed up with clearing up around you.

Dear boss
Just how am I supposed to know what you want me to do if you don’t communicate. I was hired for my office skills. If I’d wanted to practise clairvoyance I’d have moved to the seaside and set up a fortune telling booth.

Dear carpenter
The smoke from your cigarette break is drifting through my open window. If you’re working next door, why are you standing in our yard?

Dear shop assistant
I get twenty minutes for my lunch break. I did not intend to spend half of them waiting while you discussed your weekend activities with your friend who was in front of me in the queue buying a single item.

Dear postman
I don’t have a dog, so why are you afraid to push my post all the way through my letterbox? Do you realise that you left the back-end of my bank statement hanging out of my door for anyone to help themselves to? Identity theft is growing fast enough without your supporting it.

Dear cat
It would have been nice if you’d caught the mouse BEFORE it made a start on the fruit bowl.

Dear neighbour
I’m sure you love that style of music but the rest of the street don’t. We’d like to be able to sit in our gardens on the last sunny day of this week without being force-fed your taste.

Dear K
Thank you for making my life wonderful. As soon as you get home and hug me, the rest of the day’s irritations just fade away. I love you.