Saturday, 1 August 2020

Winning with Rats!

I’m extremely happy to have won the Canary Wharf Short Story Competition and be part of the Story Stations, and featured in Timeout! A big thanks to Canary Wharf Arts and Events, and to Chris Waywell, Deputy Editor of Timeout, who judged. The story stations are a brilliant idea, vending machines that dispense one, two and five minute stories for people to print and read. They’re currently being made contactless for safety reasons, but will soon be back in Canary Wharf for readers, and I’ll be making a special trip there!

For me, entering competitions is a real motivator and the themes are often great inspirations. It forces me to polish, complete and finish stories too! Most of my creative endeavours during lockdown were very much escaping and ignoring the situation but writing Where the Rats Can’t Get Me was an excellent challenge, making me face reality and repercussions.

My now zoomy creative writing group were really helpful with feedback and Tuesday nights continue to be a highlight in my week. As much as I miss the wonderful real classes, the zoom group has been a good substitute and helped conquer isolation.

I’m also pleased to be in this week’s electronic Mid Hampshire Observer with The Real Reason Van Gogh Cut his Ear Off. It’s so good they give us this platform for our writing and thanks to our fantastic teacher, Nicky Morris, for leading this.

As I grapple with my second novel, which has become as wriggly as my first despite attempts to work in a more linear way, winning the competition has been a huge boost. The thought of people reading and enjoying my work is incredibly uplifting, and I’m delighted to be alongside ten brilliant writers.

https://www.timeout.com/london/news/we-reveal-the-winners-of-the-canary-wharf-lockdown-short-story-competition-072620

https://canarywharf.short-edition.com/story/5m/where-the-rats-can-t-get-me

https://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk/html5/reader/production/default.aspx?pubname=&pubid=998c676f-4b45-40c1-a511-8f4a4ef2588a


Saturday, 20 June 2020

Exquisite Corpse

Michael Jackson rose from his grave for the second time. This evening there was no dry ice and no need for zombie make-up. He brushed the dirt from his red leather jacket and yawned. His nights sleeping in an oxygen tent had helped prepare him for the claustrophobia of a coffin.

Michael stretched and felt a number of bones clicking unhealthily. Oh well, age catches up with us all in the end. A ravenous hunger came over him, after all, he hadn’t eaten for eleven years. Beyond the cemetery he saw the lights of an all-night diner, what a lifesaver. Michael’s stiff movements aped his old trademark dance moves. Fancy that, his choreographer had been more accurate than anyone could have guessed.

It was slow, jerky progress, but finally he got to the diner. It took all Michael’s strength to open the door and then he held his hands up, dazzled by the electric lights. He was expecting a reaction from the customers and staff, ‘Michael Jackson, back from the dead, call CNN!’, but unfortunately his resurrection had coincided with Halloween. The place was populated with werewolves, Vincent Prices and a variety of ghouls.

He staggered to the counter and sat on a stall, exhausted and even more famished from his journey. Michael inhaled the coffee, cherry pie, pumpkin fritters and ice-cream sundaes, but found he wanted none of these things.

‘What can I get you, Michael?’ the waitress asked. He smiled at her, pleased to be recognized. She was dressed as a vampire and he enjoyed the curve of her neck and her plump cheeks, so he leant forward and took a bite.

By the end of his meal, the diner was a bit of a mess, but Michael toothpicked fastidiously and politely wiped his mouth and hands on a napkin. He carefully stepped over some discarded entrails (too stringy in his teeth) to look in the mirror. Michael smiled broadly, very happy with his reflection, his cheekbones, his chipped point of nose and his fantastic, impossible thinness.

‘Still got it,’ Michael said to himself and moonwalked out the diner.

 

I have a vivid memory of Thriller being premiered before the six o’clock news when I was about ten. I was terrified but a couple of months later performed a gymnastics routine to it at a Croydon schools competition, where we danced like zombies. I’ve just re-watched it and it’s extremely dated but is still nostalgic. Vincent Price lends his voice too!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOnqjkJTMaA


Sunday, 31 May 2020

The Inverse Correlation between Reading and Grieving

As I had no Christmas requests, I received a nourishing pile of novels. From all the sadness at the beginning of the year I lost my ability to read. This was a major symptom of my bereavement. It took me two months to read the first one in my pile, an excellent book, and what should have been a real page turner. Next, attempting an old loved author felt like I was wading through words, and I had to give up, unsure whether we’d grown apart or I’d lost my reading ability completely. Even in lockdown, when time has elasticated, it took a month to finish another one, a beguilingly strange read.

But finally I have my appetite back; two books this week. The Christmas pile of reading has depleted. What's left are the broken digestives, already nibbled and previously discarded. I have that familiar panic of the reading junkie, where can the next fix come from? I’ve caught up with the rest of my fellow readaholics, realizing we currently have no library to linger in or bookshop to browse.

I could go back to my broken biscuits; I know magic can happen late in… look at Captain Corelli’s mandolin. And I know I’m lucky, because I’m a re-reader, I have a bookcase full of caged favourites that I haven’t handed on, and even one or two unreads, that sneaked in without staying on the reading pile, due to being non-fiction or gifts I felt too guilty to give to a charity shop without trying.

Yes, there is Amazon, of course, destroyer of the small and beautiful. Much more wholesomely is the little independent bookshop in town, P and G Wells, which is doing local delivery and deliberately, deliciously tantalizing passers-by with its ever-changing window of relevant suggestions and possibilities. Go, P and G, I’m back in the land of the literary!

The Pile:

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow. Perfect book for me to plummet through but took me more than that month to read. Consequently, unusually I feel like I know January well. Highly recommend to people who enjoy more than one world.

Boy Swallow’s Universe by Trent Dalton. Gritty, magical, harsh, excellent. Again, a stronger relationship with this book for the time it took me to read. Waiting for his next novel, which I’m sure I’d eat within a week.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Naughty Neil Gaiman. A fast-food reread to supplement the TV series and to prove to myself I could still read(!). Clever, funny book and great adaptation.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa. Clever, weird, tragic, loved the two stories reflecting each other. Took me a strange age to read.

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende. Isabel, I love you but I couldn’t read you. I promise I’ll try this again, but I felt overwhelmed by the lack of dialogue.

Oligarchy by Scarlett Thomas. I finally hit my usual pace. Window on a different world, page-turning, eye-opening, depressing reflection on adolescence.

Lanny by Max Porter – What a wonderful, heartbreaking, dark, light, dark read. A breath of different air. Thank you!


Saturday, 23 May 2020

The Power of Purple Socks


I, sockless, wander around the town. Where are my special lucky socks? Sandals look naked with nothing purple glimpsing through. And they’re harder on the feet. I feel through my soles, through the souls; it’s how I soothsay. What if I can’t soothsay without my socks? Doubt floods into my mind, drowning my happy synapses. Yes, I know the stench that usually surrounds me emanates from those socks but that is part of their mystic quality. My plummeting mood descends to conclusion. Someone has stolen my wonderful stinky socks; someone who knows. My last remnants of soothsaying spiral around my rusting brain and land on Madame Longstocking, my arch rival, her with the stripy legs and fulsome garters. Damn that witch, samsoning my power.
I stump in flat-foot-sore sandals to her house and there on Longstocking’s washing line are my socks, clean. Robbed of all remarkable properties. I pull them down and crumple onto the ground, crushing some petunias.
Madame comes out to greet me, ‘You’re welcome.’
‘What have you done, you wicked woman?’
‘Eco wash, 30 degrees, fabric softener, extra spin. And get out of my flowerbed.’
I shake my soft sweet-smelling socks at her. ‘I’ll never soothsay with these!’
‘No, but you might get a girlfriend.’


Monday, 27 April 2020

Lamplight and Lampshade


Orange-yellow-orange-red lamp, faded somewhat but still bright enough. Bold seventies pattern, metal rings support bent plastic. The rings are rusted; look too hard and we all betray our age. Circles in the geometric pattern almost contain a face with staring eyes. Funky psychedelic fun, but over the years, the lamp has taken on a wiser, more artistic integrity of its own. The base is smooth and anonymous, but the shade casts warmth from a different era. It has a story, of course, as everyone and everything does. When I took on its tale the lamp was about to be binned in a friend’s student flat. I fell in love and rescued it and so it’s travelled with me and lit my way for 25 years.
This lamp has been watching, seeing with its circle eyes all that has happened in this room and by its nature shining a light on it. Fortunately for me it didn’t have a mouth when the police came by, so could speak no ill, just illuminate and silently judge. However, something very recently switched in the world, and something in the electricity that powers the lamp switched too. Now in the Corona-quiet evening when everyone is packed away in their boxes, the lamp starts talking to me.
‘You are my third murderer.’ Like its light, my lamp’s voice is warm and comforting, contrasting with what it has said.
If I wasn’t on my third whisky I might be frightened for my sanity. I have also been alone for so long I’m happy to converse with anyone, or indeed, anything, however uncomfortable or direct they might be.
There is no need for pleasantries, we have known each other for many years. ‘Your other owners were killers too?’ I ask.
‘You think you own me?’
I skip over the lamp’s politically charged question. ‘Three killers; that can’t be a coincidence.’
A lamp cannot shrug.
‘I suppose objects as well as people must fall into patterns and maybe your sunshiney glow could have been sought in the hope it might counter dark thoughts.’
The lamp is so still I think maybe I’ve imagined its soft, androgynous voice, but I persevere. ‘How did you survive through the eighties? You must have been dangerously out of fashion.’
‘Neglect.’
‘I haven’t neglected you, I’ve treasured you.’
The lamp gives a lungless sigh. ‘Yes, and I had hoped you wouldn’t be a murderer. But there you are.’
I wonder if this is how Aladdin felt when his lamp came to life. Maybe there is a genie hiding in the patterns of the shade and that is who is speaking. I doubt this genie would deign to grant me three wishes though.
‘Tell me about the other two, tell me about the deaths.’ I want stories, yarns, but from its pauses can see this lamp is not a natural talker.
‘The first was an evolution. Ripping wings off butterflies, cutting his sister to understand blood, measuring how much pain a girlfriend could endure. The sequence inevitable. The second was a theatre of fury; anger and panic and hate. The third is in your mirror.’
I turn my head to see my reflection, the orange light that usually gives warmth transforms me into a bloody monster.
I look back at the lamp. ‘I’m sorry, we’ve been friends for many years, but there can be no witnesses.’
I smash the base, rip the plastic shade into shreds and bend my lamp’s rusty rings. There must be no possibility of resurrection. I look down at my hands, now covered in blood, then notice the insistent scream of a siren. A cold light, the opposite of my lamp’s, throbs through the curtained window.

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Pengopath


They are both naked. However, this is not sexual, it is simply how penguins start their day. Monocles and bonnets come later. Before the pomp there is coffee and conversation in bed.
‘He’s a moron.’
‘But why is he a moron?’
‘He just is.’
‘You need to think much more deeply than that.’ She shakes her head at him and purses her beak.
Marmaduke stretches, his mind is more on cornflakes than philosophy. He wishes he hadn’t mentioned his new boss to Cynthia. ‘I don’t care why, he just is.’
Cynthia sips from her mug. ‘Do you think he was neglected by his parents, shunned by his peers, or maybe he is on the spectrum?’
‘No, he’s just a pain in the tail feathers.’
‘Is he inherently evil?’
Marmaduke sighs, they’ve been here before and he’s not sure whether to surrender or defend. He’s too hungry to make proper decisions and the caffeine is whirling his brain. It’s the weekend anyway, why on earth did he even think of his stupid boss? He looks around the room, everywhere except Cynthia’s piercing eyes, and his gaze lands on the little crucifix. Penguin Jesus’s eyes are as intense and judgemental as his wife’s. ‘He’s not all bad, I suppose.’
‘So, he has some redeeming feathers?’
‘Yeah, um,’ Marmaduke’s mind frantically considers his boss, who has genuinely been a nightmare since he started. ‘He keeps his pencils nicely sharpened.’
Cynthia smiles coldly. Penguin Jesus doesn’t worry her; she’s done a pact with his counterpart. ‘Pencils?’
Why did Marmaduke mention pencils? Especially sharp ones. He’s done it again. He may as well be delivering a death sentence.
‘I think we should pay your boss a little visit, don’t you?’
‘Please Cynthia, he might be quite a nice bloke. I probably made a wrong first impression. He might make good pancakes,’ he tries but Cynthia is up and out of bed, already tying on her bonnet.
‘Come on, Marmaduke.’
He slumps out of bed, no time for pancakes or even cornflakes. Penguin Jesus stares down at him and Marmaduke has a pang of guilt about his boss. Nobody else is allowed to make Marmaduke’s life a misery, that is his wife’s job.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow


Grease, dribbling down granddad’s comb. Scented and stylish, not the under-the-car kind. Slather, gather, fingers run through and feel the real reason we dressed armchairs with antimacassars. Elevating to Pomade, calling to mind parading Pomeranians. Next wax, sweet smelling bee-nectar, not the ear-dug variety. Brylcreem, brilliant dream of masculinity in a pot. The revelation in the eighties was green gel. I still remember the smell of my brothers before a night out. After that mousse…S…S…Studio Lines, Loreal unapologetically ripping off Mondrian’s bold squares. Back to basics with Bed Head in the nineties, artfully dishevelled, stiffened to shape in any way. Punks had to use super glue in the seventies, but this stuff similarly rocked, was rocklike, just avoid any romance with rocks, no hands through hair. Then to the last iteration I’ve been sold and I’ll confess I’m a sucker; Magic Dust. Just like Jack’s beans, it’s incredible. A little sprinkle and I can shape my hair into whatever I want. I don’t need Edward to Scissorhand me. And handy now as soon we’ll all have hair like Cousin IT. I’m more and more tempted by Mr K’s clippers. I might look mad and my colleagues may think I’ve Britney Speared myself when we video conference but at least I wouldn’t be sculpting these straggly tendrils into a semblance of sanity. And there’s always wigs.