This page is home for my “nearly rans”, the short stories that I like enough put my name to, but need more polishing (i.e. a complete rewrite) before I send them to magazines and the like. It seems a shame not to have them read though, so here they are. I hope you enjoy them, and please do comment.
Here are three pieces from my work for Writing Short Fiction , part of my BA in Creative Writing with O.C.A., I’ve just completed my first “year” and am hoping to begin my second year as soon as I’ve saved up for the fees.
‘Just the one?’ I say.
‘Ooh yes, that’s enough for now,’ she says.
They always say something like that, as though the baby is a big roast dinner and I’ve offered them extra spuds. It’s a bonny little boy that this one’s got. I haven’t asked yet, but I’m a good judge after all these years. Listen to this:
‘He’s a bonny fellow,’ I say.
‘Thank you,’ she says, smiling.
I take the shoes she’s holding out to me as though they are tiny birds waiting to fly away. I ask if she’d like them to be wrapped. She hesitates, looks down at the pushchair, then back at me.
‘Well, no, I don’t think that’s necessary….’
‘It doesn’t cost any more,’ I say.
That always works. She nods and goes back to cooing at her little one. I cock my head to indicate I’ll be back in a minute and slip out to the dark little room where we can make our tea and wrap all the baby shoes. I pick a blue carrier, pale as a china cup and fill it with tissue to make a cosy shoe shaped nest. I take a length of ribbon and zip my scissors along it so it curls like a piglet’s tail then I tie the handles, drawing them close, tape the top with invisible tape and add a flurry of white ribbon curls. I slip the shoes into my locker.
The woman beams when she sees the bag. I slide it over the handle of the pushchair. Her bonny boy beams too.
Twelve o’clock is my lunch break and Mr Gaffney comes down from upstairs to mind the shop whilst I’m out. He’s never done a bag search, not like they used to when I worked at Debenhams. The shoes are swaddled in tissue under my paperback. I wave and say I’m just off for a walk. Half an hour at most.
Today the black paint of the gates looks like it has been nibbled away by ravenous mice. Even the trees insult and irritate me, each sway seems as ignorant as the woman at the end of my road who tells me this was God’s way. Some days I think I’d prefer to visit one of those sprawling cemeteries set in an industrial estate. I see them from the M6 on the way to Cornwall.
The section for babies is a mass of ribbons and bear-filled baskets. A woman walks past, remarking on tragedy. She catches sight of me and thinks better of smiling.
My Phillip is over in the far corner. There are only two bears near him now and a grubby statue of Saint Nicholas. There’s never that many visitors any more. I kneel, unswaddle the shoes, lay them gently under the words Phillip John and try not to imagine his toes. I wipe the headstone and pick up the dead leaves. I’ve no need to wait, or chat like some folk do. I scurry away. Like a criminal.
We have been quiet this afternoon. Just a couple browsing, wondering if the shoes are anti-bacterial. I lock up at five. My car is sitting where it always sits and my hand trembles as it always does. I miss the slot for the ignition. There are dozens of tiny pecks round the key hole. I might look into getting them sorted out.
My Phillip says its time.
Baby Shoes was my first attempt at flash fiction. For the uninitiated, flash fiction tells a story in very few words. There are many permeations, flash, micro, short shorts. All demand an economy and precision that is tricky to master. This story is a response to the six word story, attributed to Hemingway For sale:baby shoes never worn.
It is unusual, isn’t it? I couldn’t resist that smiling tortoise face and all those pretty swirls on his shell. I spied him through the shop window, tucked away amongst the scarves and crystals and those funny little feathery things. Ken wouldn’t come in with me of course. No time for tat shops. Stood outside, tap, tap, tap with his feet. Tortoise was wrapped and bagged up lickety-split. Ken was behind me by then, muttering something about a storm brewing. I gave him the fifty-three pence I’d had back in change and turned to get the little parcel. The shop woman held my hand, just for a moment like, and whispered something about Tortoise bringing me great happiness. I thought that were a bit far-fetched for a little tortoise, but it was a nice thing to say. Ken raised an eyebrow, I think he thought I’d said something, but I told him she was just one of those daft hippy types, which seemed to appease him. We went on to catch the bus home and said no more about it.
Well a week or so later I was dusting, like I do every Tuesday, when I heard Ken shouting from the front room.
I best go, I thought, he’ll be wanting a cup of tea.
Of course, I thought I were going doollally when a cuppa appeared, right on the middle shelf of the china cabinet. In his favourite Boro’ mug too. Anyway, I took it in and I swear he were that surprised he nearly said thank you.
‘I never heard the kettle,’ he said.
‘Well no, it just, well, it just, Oh!’
Tortoise started to burn my hands. It got that hot that I had to drop it. I held my breath and watched it tumble tippetty-top, over the pile of racing magazines and the Sports Argus, over the biscuit wrappers and onto the lino. And it just sat there, it’s little face smiling up at me.
‘What the bloody hell have you brought that bit of tat in for?’ said Ken
‘Give over, love. I was just dusting them, when I thought you might be wanting a cuppa.’
Well blow me if it didn’t happen again. Of course, neither of us said a thing. Looked at the cuppa as though we’d never seen one before. It was in my favourite mug this time, the one with the Labrador and the yellow roses. Ken snatched it and lined it up with his first one.
I didn’t move. I was a bit annoyed, but it’s never good to say so.
‘Try again, woman,’ said Ken.
‘What do you mean try again? You’ve got two.’
‘Say what you said. Say you want a cup of tea,’ said Ken.
Of course, that third one appearing got him completely overexcited. He started shouting all sorts.
‘Bacon and eggs’
‘Big steak pies’
Ken was quiet for a while. Munching and chomping, like Augustus Gloop. I thought about having a look in my Woman’s Weekly for that recipe for beef cobbler, but it didn’t seem necessary now. I decided to clear up a few plates and whatnot because it didn’t seem fair to ask Tortoise to wash up as well. I was half way through plate number twelve when the doorbell rang.
‘Send him through, Marg,’ shouted Ken.
I was a bit surprised to see Eddie because he and Ken fell out a few years back. Something to do with Ken always nipping off to the gents when it looked like it might be his round. The one time he did it all his pals just upped and left and that was that. Ken said he was sick of them any road. I’ve always got on well with Eddie. Not too well, of course. I’m not daft.
‘Hello Margaret,’ Eddie said.
‘Hello, Eddie, come in. Nice to see you.’
‘You too, love. Ken said he had something to show me? Urgent like.’
‘Oh yes, well go through. You know where he’ll be,’ I said.
I shut the door and wonder if Tortoise might be able to fix the bit at the bottom so as I don’t have to give it a kick each time I want to close it. I think about following Eddie in to explain everything, but I know that’ll cause a row, so I just go back and start on washing up the mugs.
Well, I’ve not been the kitchen two minutes, when the bell goes again. It’s Nigel this time, one of Ken’s golf lot. Now I know Ken must be up to something, he usually makes me clean top to bottom before he asks Nigel round. Nigel has a bit of an entourage with him, his friend Clive, and a couple of other chaps I don’t recognise.
‘Hello there, Marg!’ Nigel always speaks as though I’m on the other end of a long pier. ‘You’re having a bit of a do, I hear.’
Well, obviously this was the first I’d heard, but I don’t let on. I tell him they’re in the front and carry on with my mugs.
After a bit I left the door on the latch. We’d never had so many people popping in. Ken didn’t like it as a rule. Liked to keep us to ourselves.
‘Margaret,’ Ken shouted over the din of football and cheering. ‘Margaret! ‘Come and have a bit of a tidy up, will you, love?’ I knew there must be something funny going on. He hasn’t called me love since nineteen eighty-three after that incident with the woman from The Red Lion. I dug my nails into the palm of my hand and walked down the hallway wearing my best smile.
I must say it took my . I know people always say that, but I swear, for a minute I couldn’t take in or let out. I just stood and gawped. There was Ken sat in an enormous gold leather chair. A television covered the whole of the back wall. There were little side tables with fancy feet, you know like those ones they have in Argos, an enormous fur rug at his feet and the biggest pile of plates I have ever seen. Plates full of half-eaten pies with flaky pastry soaked and sodden in thick dark gravy. Plates crammed with oozing jammy cakes, abandoned after one bite. Plates with glistening piles of bacon, black pudding and fried eggs. Ken grinned. I cast an eye over the crowd of people crammed into our tiny front room. Nigel, Eddie and so many others I’ve never set eyes on, sat on fancy chairs and stools, stuffing their faces and laughing as though Ken was Eric Morecombe. Ken’s waving Tortoise about shouting for more and more food when he spots me.
‘Good this, isn’t it, pet? About time I got treated right,’ said Ken.
I couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t get me in bother. One of the young lads got up to bring me some plates.
‘Leave them. She likes to feel useful. Cleaning pots is about all ’ers good for now she don’t need to cook,’ said Ken.
I took the plates from the poor young chap who didn’t quite know what to do with himself and carried them back to the kitchen. I didn’t stray far from the sink for a few days. There was a steady stream of folk in and out, all eager for a free feed and a go on Ken’s fancy telly. He’d never been so popular. I took to going in early morning, when Ken would most likely be asleep, and picking up what mess I could you know. Broke my heart to see my lovely Tortoise trapped in Ken’s meaty fist.
Now, the one night there’d been a great load of fellas in watching the football and they must’ve been having some sort of sweepstake because the floor was covered in coppers, silver, even the odd note here and there. Now of course I’m being quiet as I pick the coins up because nothing sets him off quite as bad as noise. Anyway, I only went and dropped them. A great handful of coins clatterbutting over the glasses and trays and bacon rinds and pies, like an upended dish of dried peas. I stood stock still. Gave myself time to gauge Ken’s reaction. I never knew which way he’d go. That’s how he liked it, I suppose.
I heard him hiss,
‘You sly old witch. Can’t bear for me to ‘ave owt, can you? ‘
I edged forwards and placed the last few coins onto the middle of the table. His face grew purplerose up his neck, mottling his cheeks like one of those stains you know you’ll never shift. I watched him raise his hand. I stared at the carpet and hoped he’d miss but instead Tortoise lands, smacko, right at my feet. Head broke clean off. One of his little legs too. Neither of us spoke. Ken’s mouth twisted up in that way that used to put the fear of God in me.
‘You stupid bloody cow,’ he said.
The enormous chair shrank and the shiny gold leather changed back to the pattern of big pink swirls and roses. Ken’s fancy gold tankard turned back into his chipped ‘Boro mug and the massive telly changed back to the one we’d had from Rumbelows in nineteen ninety-four. The plates and plates of food disappeared, not a crumb to be seen. I thought for a minute Ken might cry. I tried not to breathe – just concentrated on the up and down of the football scores humming out of the telly.
‘Clean that up then get out of my bloody sight,’ he said.
I bent down and started to scoop up the bits of my precious Tortoise. I remember I felt couple of daft tears. I wanted that woman in the shop to be right, see. I wanted this little thing to make me happy, even if it was just seeing that smiley face every time I gave him a dust. I’d picked up his little leg and head when I spotted it. A diamond. Hidden under his shell. It shimmered and glinted. Reminded me of the ring Ken promised me.
He turned. I stopped my breath again.
‘I’ll not tell you a second-time woman,’ he said.
I looked down at my hand clutching the jumble of dust and bits of my lovely Tortoise. I looked at the diamond. I looked at Ken. Great, threadbare, fat lump of a man, sat glaring at the space where his big telly used to be. I looked at the door. I breathed in, steady like, for me nerves.
‘Yes, Ken,’ I said.
And I think I might have smiled.
Oh, I hated writing this. The topic was “magic realism”, which isn’t something I enjoy reading, so I was all at sea. I liked the idea of this little ornament that could work magic, and I liked the setting of a stereotypical old-fashioned couple. I’m not sure it worked, but bits still make me chuckle.
Until I have more work floating about, I’ve decided to publish some of my “exercises”, to give a flavour of my style. I love using writing prompts. This initial stage is exciting, where ideas grow and move and come alive. After this, of course is crafting, which is what takes an idea and makes it a solid, readable piece. This page is basically my sketch book, to capture ideas before they are pruned and shaped into a fully fledged piece of writing. From these sketches I build the final stories and poems for competitions and submissions.
I hope you enjoy them, and as always, your comments are very welcome.
Mslexia photo prompt
‘Just eat them,’ Jen says.
‘I don’t want to,’ I say.
‘Listen, it’s important. If there’s any left I lose my points. You know that’ says Jen.
They are bitter. They have to be I suppose, to stop the kids eating them. I do think if they weren’t the colour of Dorothy’s slippers they’d be less appealing. Perhaps they should be the colour of broccoli. The skins mould themselves to the contours of my teeth, slithering as I try to extricate them with my tongue. I thought putting all five in would somehow make it less painful but they are a great masticated mass. Jen is watching. People do spit them out but they’re always found and then the rest of us suffer. The directive is clear. Removal and destruction of the berries is the only way to keep the rulers safe. We are honoured to be chosen.
We are honoured to be chosen.
I repeat it and hope to believe it.
I start to feel my throat muscles contract. My body knows.
‘Just get on with it’ says Jen. ‘It’s not like you’re the only one’
They begin to work so quickly. I see in Jen’s expression that she knows I caught her thoughts.
‘We all have to do it. Selfish cow’
‘Listen Fi, you know how it is. I can’t help it. It’s normal. You know that’ she says.
Couldn’t you try to control them though? At least while I’m sat in front of you. They’re your thoughts.
‘I can’t just switch them off. You know that,’ says Jen.
I nod, reluctantly.
I gather up my bags and begin the journey home. We are allowed four hours of solitude, to allow the worst to pass apparently. Little research has been done, and less still is known, but four hours is what I have. I feel as though I am underwater, the sound of murmured frustrations seeps into my brain
‘Look at the state of her. And she’s getting paid for it’
This is before I’ve even made left the protected zone. Of everyone, these people should understand my vacant look and jellied walk. They attempt a benevolent smile. The falsehood makes it sinister.
I am afraid now. I know my awkward gait will degenerate. I will knock into people, and I will fall over. I will not get sympathy. If all these thoughts are to be believed, I will be harmed for being inconvenient.
It takes me twenty minutes to do make the short walk home. I draw the curtains, and hope for silence. This is ridiculous, there are people inside the block, as well as walking past. I will hear each one of their thoughts,their hopes, fear, happiness, anger; but most of all, I hear the sheer volume of lies they hide. From me, and of course, from you.
#creativewritingink photo prompt March 2017
Tick tell me
Tick tell me
Tick tell me
that I slip away.
Mean slivers of life
watched, counted and cursed
#creativewritingink photo prompt February 2017
I sit here every evening, noted, but unnoticed. Just a nuisance, and that is how I expect it to be. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be doing my job. I watch your scurried, hurried, puddle dashes, dodging well aimed pigeon shots, which you rarely manage. The pigeons are quite accomplished, but do nothing for the reputation of our species, in my opinion. There is little I can do, we all live together on this little patch if earth we used to call our own.
I am not so crass as the pigeons, nor am I a thief, a familiar for old crones or a teller of bad fortune. I’m just a bird, with a distinctive voice, a keen eye and a keener mind. I’ve seen the changes in you over the last four months, subtle, and entirely understandable. Your step is slower. Not more careful,but with less purpose. You trod in four puddles this morning and didn’t notice. When I first came, you’d have cursed and scowled and shaken the grubby water from those beautiful shining shoes. Now, the shoes don’t shine, they shuffle. I don’t mind, but I know you used do, and I know she used to. I notice the hands that never leave your pocket, not even to wave at Jim in the doorway who looked forward to the coffee you brought him every morning. And the chat you always had. I wonder if Jim wonders what he’s done, but I know he’s used to it.Like me, he’s invisible to all but hose who want to see. I watch you now, walking to the building where you worked, from where you saw the crash that stopped your life. I wait, and watch until you step out, into our territory. You move towards the ledge. The pigeons scatter. I do not. I stand firm and wait. You stand, yours hands clench and your feet rock back and forth, back and forth. You look through me, to the lights below, so distorted it’s as though they are under water. They draw you like a siren. You step slowly, slowly, slowly to the parapet. To the point where all the pain will stop, the hole will be filled, the creeping, crushing ache of being disappear into the blackness below.
And then it floats. A cliched single feather, white of course, landing perfectly at your feet. And it stops you. Just that moment. You breathe.You breathe, you look up,and I see your mind tick over, think that it can’t have come from me.
Which is exactly as it should be.
creativewritingink prompt January 2017
‘At least get out of the car John’
‘Piss off. I told you we’re not doing it.’
Clair stood at the car door. The clouds annoyed her. The way they glowered just made the dirty grey of the building look greyer. The wind was making the old metal sign creak like a cliché from a bad horror film. It was such a small place, for such a small dream. But she needed a new dream. Something resembling a purpose. She gripped the keys in her hand, feeling the outline of the P shaped keyring. She’d bought it for Dad when she was seven. He’d never used another, just added keys upon keys to it. Even when he went into the home he put the tiny one on that locked his bedside cabinet. ‘Always keep things safe Clair’. Tears were no use now though. John always got cross when she cried. A month was long enough to get over things in his mind.
‘Shall we just go home then? Or go for lunch somewhere?’
‘Well we passed Dad’s local. We could try there’
She got back in to the car. A hot meal might improve his mood. Perhaps a couple of pints. That could go either way of course. Looking over at him, slumped in his seat, jacket half covering his face, just his glaring eyes and frowning brow were visible; she suspected it might not go the way she wanted.
She started the engine, plastered on her bright smile.
‘Dad always said this was a goldmine. Just needed the right person to bring it back to life. He made a fortune you know’
‘Pity it all went on that bloody care home. The council one was fine’
Always a row. Always a dig. Clair tried to remember the last time she’d had a conversation that hadn’t ended in a sullen silence. The bright smile was starting to hurt.
There wasn’t a parking space outside the pub. The Black Dog. She winced. Perhaps it was an omen. They parked up the road.
‘If we get a ticket you’re bloody paying it’ said John
‘I’m pretty sure we’re ok. I don’t expect they have many traffic wardens out here’
‘I’m amazed they’ve got cars’ he replied
She pushed open the door. Her bright smile faded instantly. It stank. That sticky feel of years and years of ale thickened the air. She glanced over at John, imagining him comparing it to the places in town. As she walked over to the bar, six pairs of eyes followed them both. She almost expected a pitchfork to emerge. Ten years ago, they’d have laughed.
‘Do you do food please’
The barman tried to hide his mirth. Bloody tourists. Did this look like a gastro pub?
‘We don’t. I can make you a ham roll. And we’ve got scratchings’
‘That’ll be great. We need a quick bite before we go and look at the service station. It was my Dad’s ‘
‘Right you are. Drink’
‘Erm, yes. A Guinness, and a lime and soda, please’
John had perched at a table. He scowled at the drinks as she carefully placed them down. Her hands were shaking again.
‘What did you expect? A great hug and clamour that old Pete’s daughter had returned to the homeland. Stupid cow’
Clair’s face reddened. He never usually said things like that in public. The folk in the bar became fascinated by their pints and papers.
‘I was just being friendly. That’s all’
They sat in silence until the barman brought their rolls over. John opened his, poked the ham, glared at Clair again.
‘I rest my case. Pointless exercise’
Clair thought it proved her point beautifully. Even if the locals wouldn’t appreciate a café with good homemade food, then tourists would. She was wrung out from arguing, and ate, chewing as quietly as she could. The silence hung around them like stubborn mist. She twisted the sentence round and round in her mind, then slowly let herself speak
‘I thought you’d be proud of me John, trying to move on. You said we should try’
It was as though he hadn’t heard.
‘In fact, it all seems pointless. We can’t move on Clair. We need to be honest. It’s too late. ‘
The bar fell silent again. Clair couldn’t think. Or shout. She wasn’t sure what was more distressing. The fact that he appeared to be ending their marriage, or the fact that he’d chosen to do it here. On this day. It was supposed to be the start of something good.
She got up.
‘Where the ladies please?’ She winced as her voice cracked, nodded her thanks and followed the barman’s brusque direction. Her face in the age spotted mirror wasn’t what she wanted to see. Drawn, grey, decorated with red blotches from the effort of not crying. Her eyes still glittered though. She was still in there somewhere, underneath all the grief, all the disappointment, month after month after month.
John was smiling when she got back to the table. One of the old boys was sitting with him.
‘Seems your old dad wasn’t so daft after all. Tell her what you told me’
The old man was silent.
‘He reckons there’s money in that shithole. Real money. Not some pipe dream. He reckons he squirreled it away. ‘
Clair looked at the man. He looked back, nodded at the keys in her hand. She picked them up. And she knew. The old safe. Just a little box, but well hidden. She knew.
‘Come on. Let’s get out of this excuse of a pub. We can see what the old fool left’
Her coat felt less heavy as she pulled it on, her feet felt lighter than they had in months
She looked down at John, taking in his triumphant grin.
‘It’s too late John. Just too late. ’