Friday story: 9) Underneath the Stars

This is a little story which I started in Italy in May, in the wonderful flash fiction course with Kathy Fish, Nancy Stohlman and a bunch of other talented writers. Here’s the beautiful soundtrack which inspired it and from which it takes its title:

Underneath the Stars

Cath Barton

He still looks for her at the tail end of the day, our old grey cat, Merlin. Sitting at the top of the steps, outside our front door. Watching the bend in the road. Watching and waiting for her battered old Ford Fiesta to appear round the bend, her tooting and waving to tell us she’s home and calling out to me to put the kettle on because:

‘I’m dying for a cup of tea!’

That was Marie-Louise. She was greedy for life.

She brought cakes, always a little sweet something. But now the days of our feasting are done and it’s quiet day and night in Silverdale, in the quicksilver light of the moon and the rarely-now-golden light of the sun.

For they closed the road off.

Marie-Louise would not have wanted that, would have insisted that the va-et-vient should continue. For she loved the rush and fall of things.

Merlin’s still sitting looking, still hopeful, as the silvery sheen of his coat merges into the dusk. I call him and we go together into the back garden. We sit by side, noses twitching to catch the sinuous waft of night scents as, above us, the map of the heavens unrolls. There’s the whoosh of a train down in the cutting but Merlin doesn’t stir.

I point. ‘She’s up there,’ I whisper in his ear.

It’s a blind hope. I can’t read the night sky any more than I could read her mind or understand her crazy impulses.

Merlin’s ears prick now and he darts after some little creature invisible to me in the fading light. Something snuffles near the railway tracks. A fox maybe, or a badger. I call Merlin back from danger. He comes and he sits, quietly, close by me. And I nuzzle his soft back.

 

NEWS!  I’m going to include this story in a collection of short fiction and photographs which I’m putting together with my husband and fellow writer, Oliver Barton. It’s called Candyfloss III. Yes, it’s the third in a series, though there’s been a bit of a gap since the last one. You can still buy Candyfloss II here.

We hope to have Candyfloss III out in January. All profits will go to local charities where we live in Abergavenny. And it will be available to buy directly from us. You’ll hear about it here first.

 

 

Guest post: Lindsay Bamfield on Australian Literature

This year there was a book by a Tasmanian author on the Not the Booker Prize shortlist. I thought it was about time I found out a bit more about Australian fiction writing, and invited the author Lindsay Bamfield to write a guest post for me.

Lindsay relocated from London to Melbourne six months ago. She writes short stories and flash fiction and has two stalled novels needing attention.

Here are Lindsay’s recommendations. Do add your own in comments.

Mining for Australian Literature

Lindsay Bamfield

Moving in to my new home in Australia, I set up a couple of Australian literature shelves in my bookcases. To accompany my battered copy of A Gold Digger’s Diaries by Ned Peters (my great-great-great-great-uncle!) were novels by writers I’ve read before, including Tim Winton, Jane Harper and Kate Grenville. Following Ned’s example of gold mining I mined for new literature. I browsed bookshops and, most importantly, joined my local library and found books encompassing Australia’s many cultures from a number of Australian authors writing a huge variety of characters and settings in an equally wide range of literary styles and genre.

I’ve read hard-hitting short stories by Tony Birch (Common People and The Promise), found the fictionalized story of Louisa Collins, The Killing of Louisa by Janet Lee fascinating and, to be honest, read several others that I didn’t rate very highly. The following, all from writers I hadn’t come across before, stood out for me as good reads.

Peter Polites’ The Pillars is a contemporary urban story of a gay man of Greek heritage. Vibrant, urgent and often dark, it is a story of the outsider. Covering racism, homophobia, greed and the ever-changing face of cities, it focuses on fitting in as the pillars of society crumble for new ones to emerge.

In contrast, Milk Fever by Lisa Reece-Lane is set in a small country town named Lovely. For newcomer Julia it’s anything but lovely. Overshadowed by her controlling husband she is drawn to Tom, a young farmer who experiences life and the surrounding countryside through nature’s colours and vibrations. I loved this gentle story of people at odds with their family members but ultimately at one with their environment.

Kate Richard’s Fusion is set in the remote wilderness where conjoined twins Sea and Serene live in self-imposed seclusion with their cousin, Wren. Self-educated, their life is richer than their circumstances might suggest. When Wren finds an injured woman on a lonely road, he brings her home to tend to her injuries and all three find their relationships are tested. An unusual and lyrical read.

Shepherd by Catherine Jinks, perhaps better known for her children’s and middle-grade literature, is the story of a young convict transported to Australia for poaching. Working as a shepherd for a settler he becomes the target for another convict, a vicious murderer. Can he outwit his pursuer? I found this fast-paced story fascinating.

Extinctions by Josephine Wilson tells of widowed Frederick Lothian, a retired engineer coming to terms with his future in the detention centre for the elderly as he calls his retirement village in Western Australia. Touching on the big issues of identity and the Stolen Generation, Fred meets Jan a fellow member of the retirement village whose blunt approach makes him confront his mistakes from the past and how they have affected his son and adopted daughter. Often witty and sometimes light it is also a serious thought-provoking read that I was sorry to have to return to the library.

Lindsay Bamfield
Photo copyright Lindsay Bamfield

Coming next: Friday story and preview of Candyfloss III

Flash thoughts

I’ve been pondering on flash fiction. This month I’m writing some every day. Here are a few thoughts about the process:

– It’s a useful exercise to use a prompt just to get the creative brain firing. Simply setting words down.

– A strict word limit can produce unexpected juxapositions. As in this micro I wrote this morning using Meg Sefton‘s prompt crisp for 50 word fiction:

First frost and the white ground is calling to me to imprint it. I run alongside tracks of mice and vole, earlier risers. Breath of dogs fogs the air, the shouts of their people boom and retreat. The colours of this time of day are muted, waiting for sun stroking.

I don’t think I would have come up with ‘sun stroking’ if it hadn’t been for the constraint of the work limit.

– Collaging the fragments which float out from my brain in response to different prompts may show up connections.

-At this stage this is all raw material, which I will return to later, to cut, shape and stitch into finished stories.

 

And here’s a picture, which could also be a writing prompt…..

Cat on a writing book cover.jpg
Cat on the cover of a writing book

 

 

Coming next: Guest post

What are you writing this November?

Last year I took part in NaNoWriMo. That was fun and gave me lots of material to work on.

This year I’m back to FlashNano. Nancy Stohlman gives great prompts every day during November. You can use these as you like – for me they are so useful to get my writing brain going, and the little stories I start here may bear fruit later – who knows?!

I’m also using prompts from Meg Sefton to write a 50-word micro each day in November, posted on Twitter with the hashtoag #50FlashNov19. Another little brain workout.

Here are a couple of the micros I’ve written so far:

Day 1 – prompt #ripe

I scan the room. Grey suits, haggard faces, the smell of age. I should never have trusted the photograph. The line is so fine between fullness and the slide into the decay. There, he’s waving. I recognise the eyes. But the flesh is weak. Mine that is. I turn away.

Day 5 – prompt #cat

They said they had to keep us in for three weeks. My sister and I had no say in the matter. They said we were feral. I have no idea what that means in human, but when they finally let us out we climbed over the house. To show them.

Huge thanks to Nancy and Meg for sharing the prompts.

Who’s joining the party?

Doods 7-3-10 3.JPG
Crazy cat Doodle – photo copyright Cath Barton

 

Coming next: More about flash fiction

Friday story: Competition winner

Thanks to all who entered my story competition. The entries were anonymised before I judged them, so knowing me did not benefit or disbenefit anyone!

I enjoyed all the different ways you used the prompt. On another day, with a different judge, any of you might have won.

I chose Samuel Dodson’s story as the winner because of the way it goes beyondindividuals. And it has a thought-provoking ending. Congratulations to Sam! Check him out on twitter at @instantidealism and find out what else he’s up to in the writing world.

I’ll run another competition before Christmas, so look out for that.

Here is the winning story:

The Gap

Samuel Dodson 

There is a gap that runs through the town. A bisecting line that divides the residents. It is small – smaller than you’d think; and almost un-noticeable. Yet it is impossible to cross.

The two tribes on either side inhabit separate worlds, though they all pretend not to. It only really becomes apparent when people from each side start to approach it. You can watch them – go on. See how they pause, look around; turn away. To cross the gap would be to acknowledge it.

There are, however, cracks. They spread out on either side. They started to appear not too long ago, when the mayor of the town forgot such a gap existed, and tried to ask the town-folk what he thought was a simple question:

“Are you content with where you are?”

The mayor thought the answer to this question was obvious. After all, he himself was exceedingly content. He lived in a big house in one half of town. He had a big garden with a stylish wooden hut where he could sit and write ideas he had. His wife wore expensive dresses and he never needed to worry. People even brought things to his house! There were fancy dinner parties. He never even needed to go into town – so forgot all about the gap that neither he nor anybody he knew would cross.

He couldn’t figure out what to do when the people in the town said they were not content. He hid in his little hut and didn’t come out.

The cracks in the streets are widening the gap.

Soon, the people will have to notice.

Some already have.

Every town has a gap like this.

 

Author pic. Sam Dodson
Author photo copyright Samuel Dodson

 

 

Coming next: FlashNano!

 

 

My writing week

Here’s my writing plan for the week:

Monday: Draft my ‘homework’ for Writing Group tomorrow. Prompt is ‘intolerable’ or ‘workload’ or both! It’ll be a flash fiction, though there’s always the possibility it could be the start of something longer. I’ll gather a couple of random words to help me on the way.

Finish a first read of the Flash Fiction Festival anthology which I’m due to review for Sabotage Reviews. 

Scribble first thoughts for a novelette for Lucent Dreaming contest.

Tuesday: Read through/revise my homework. Writing Group.

Wednesday: Go for a hill walk – great for clearing the head as well as essential exercise.

Thursday: Coffee with a friend – lots of chat about books.

Concert in Cardiff: pianist Llyr Williams  

Friday: Read submissions to my story competition, select a winner and publish!

Write review of Llyr Williams’ concert for Wales Arts Review

Saturday: Writing group in Pontypool.

Write review of Flash Fiction Festival anthology.

Sunday: Get going on the novelette!

What I’m reading this week: The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

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Photo copyright Cath Barton

 

 

 

Story competition – 1

This is the first in a occasional new series. You are invited to write up to 300 words (not including title) inspired by the photograph below. Send your entry in the body of an e-mail (no attachments please) by midnight (UK time) next Thursday, 31st October, to cath.barton@talktalk.net. No bios, but include your Twitter handle/link to your Facebook page. Subject line of your e-mail should be: Friday story submission + story title.

I will post the story I like best here as next week’s Friday story, with a big shout out to you and your writing.

Tip: Discard your first idea. Discard your second idea. Go with your third idea.

Please don’t send anything racist/sexist/sexually explicit/gratuitously violent.

Looking forward to reading your stories!

DSCF3964

Photo copyright Cath Barton

 

Sunday sentences

We live in ‘interesting’ times. There are lots of things to cause us anxiety and fear. I find the very best thing to do when I feel anxious or afraid is to get out into the countryside and walk. Trees in particular are very calming. Did you know that they have a communication system between one another too?

If you’re writing this week, make sure you take breaks and get out.

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Photograph copyright Cath Barton

 

 

Friday story: 8) In a Barren World

Last year I was publishing one of my stories here every other Friday. Then other things took over. But now the Friday story is back! Here’s one that took second place in the Zeroflash competition in March 2016.

In a Barren World

After the woman had gone to prepare for the journey I sat alone in the old chapel, watching the fire flickering. Watching as the heat retreated and the coals glowed, red pinpoints in the enveloping darkness. Watching as they faded. Watching until all colour was extinguished from them and the cold and the dark were the victors once more.

I walked to the western wall and held my ear to the granite. It seemed to hold the crackle of a half-remembered song from the time before. I closed my eyes and remembered laughter and wine, glasses raised to firelight and hope dancing in our hearts. If I had held a glass in my hand now I would have smashed it to the ground. But our drinking days were over, things were already broken and all any of us could do was seek shelter from the storm of the barren world.

The woman and I had thrown our lot in with one another after our dear ones had been taken. Some said by wolves though I thought that fanciful, even in the strangeness of these times. And there was no evidence that wolves had survived. Yet the seas had advanced as had been foretold, there was no denying that.

The chapel stood on a headland, too high for the seas to sweep it away. We had found it, she and I. It was ours alone and each day we tumbled down the grassy cliffs and swam in a blue bay with dolphins, while all we needed was provided for us. Miraculous, yes, but in these times there is but a short space between apocalypse and miracle.

When the dolphins left we knew our idyll to be over. Tonight we will draw warmth from one another. Tomorrow we face the cold again.

The sea, the sea.jpg
Photograph copyright Cath Barton

 

Coming next: Sunday sentences…

 

 

 

More thoughts about literary prizes: The Booker

So, this was a surprise – joint winners of The Booker Prizer 2019. The organisers might have been shocked, but I think a lot of people have welcomed the decision of the judges to flout the rules and award the prize jointly to Margaret Atwood for The Testaments and Bernadine Evaristo for Girl, Woman, Other. Seeing the way the two authors have responded to the decision is no less than inspiring: visibly supporting one another, plus Margaret Atwood is gifting her share of the prize money (£25,000) to the Canadian Indigenous charity, Indspire, which invests in the education of Indigenous people. 

I’m rather shocked that the Booker organisers are apparently so angry about the judges’ decision that they are threatening to withhold their fees. That seems very small-minded.

Who could not be pleased to see the warmth between Atwood and Evaristo? I’m looking forward to reading both their books.

Booker prize winners 2019

 

 

 

Coming soon: The return of the Friday story

 

 

 

Some thoughts about literary prizes/ The Not the Booker Prize

Not the Booker shortlist 2019
The Not the Booker shortlist 2019

 

For the past two years I’ve taken a close interest in The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize. In 2018 I decided to read all six books on the shortlist and was invited to be a member of the judging panel. There are five votes that decide the winner: two go to the book which wins the public vote and the three members of the judging panel have one each. So if just one member of the judging panel goes with the public’s choice, that book is the winner. (You can read more about the longlisting and shortlisting processes and the full rules on the link.)

Both last year and again this year (with a different judging panel) the prize has gone to a book which was not only not the public’s favourite but actually received few votes in that process. Both times that has provoked some people to cry ‘Foul!’ and curses upon the heads of the judges, who have been called an elite (and worse things which get deleted from The Guardian’s website).

I know from my personal experience that last year the final voting process was fair. There was no discussion between the judges prior to the judging meeting. I have no reason to think things were different this year.

Whether or not there are lobbies for particular books that influence the public voting, one thing is for sure: no-one taking part in the public vote has to have read any book on the shortlist other than the one they are voting for, or give more than a few lines of review about their chosen book. To be on the panel you must have read at least three of the six and commented on them in some detail during the weeks leading up to the vote. In practice panel members will have read most if not all of the six.

The debate has little to do with the value of the prize (a Guardian mug – though of course it is something for the winning writer’s CV). It is more about how people see their opinions being regarded or disregarded, and about how some will hold to the belief so brilliantly delineated in Orwell’s Animal Farm that ‘all animals are equal but some are more equal than others’, whether or not it is really so.

 

The 2019 Not the Booker prize was won by Lara Williams for her debut novel Supper Club.

 

Coming soon: Thoughts about The Booker Prize – and the return of the Friday story…

Editing

As I said in my last post, I’ve been working on edits of my second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, which will be published by Louise Walters Books in September 2020. You can read an extract of it here.

The editing process has been a very positive and fruitful one. It’s been great to work with an editor who is thoughtful and thorough, and Louise and I have sent edits back and forth several times to get to the point where we’re both happy to send the book off for copy editing. Louise has challenged me on sections where I’ve been a bit too much in love with my own writing and I’ve had to murder a few of my darlings. I’ve also had to work to make some parts clearer – a writer may see something in her/his own mind, but we have to make sure we’ve conveyed it to the reader. But on the other hand Louise has also been sympathetic to my wish to retain certain things, so long as I’ve been able to justify their inclusion. All in all, I’m sure the process has made the book a better one, and for that I’m very grateful.

And, excitingly, we’ve secured the rights to include the lyrics of a song which is very pertinent to the story.

There’s a way to go, but we’re well on the road to publication.

 

Selfie in the garden room

Here’s a selfie of me in my garden room, a haven for writing.

 

Coming soon: My thoughts about the shortlist for The Guardian’s Not the Booker prize.

The Many Facets of the Writing Life

Where did the last three months go?

May was mainly about Italy and flash fiction, retreating in the idyllic (but rather cold and wet!) setting of Casperia in the Sabine Hills north of Rome, in the company of ace tutors Kathy Fish and Nancy Stohlman and an inspiring group of fellow writers. Lots started there that will surely bear fruit in the future. And at the end of the week we got to read our work in a bookshop in Rome!Reading in RomeReading in the Otherwise Bookshop, photo courtesy of Jayne Martin

June went by in a flurry of visits to Hay to hear writers many and various speaking, London – where I met up with my publisher number 2 Louise Walters and her team at a book launch for Laura’s Laakso‘s Fallible Justice, and Bristol for more flash fiction and meet-ups with writing friends at the 2019 Flash Fiction Festival.

July has been about edits for novella number 2 and reading, lots of reading. As one of the team of judges for the Not the Booker prize last year, I get to help select one of the shortlist for this year’s prize. Our choice will be revealed very soon!

Now to get on with some new writing…

 

May Days

I love the spring, with its fresh greens, and bluebells and the may (hawthorn) trees coming into flower. I’m getting out into the hills as often as possible now, training for a sponsored trek on Hadrian’s Wall! And walking is always a great way to refresh the brain and inspire writing.

I’ve had lots of writerly good fortune these past few weeks, with both my second novella AND my collection of short stories signed. So, all being well, I will achieve my ambition to have three books published by the time I’m 70! And The Plankton Collector got a special mention in the Saboteur Awards Novella category this year.

I’m so delighted that Retreat West Books are going to be publishing The Garden of Earthly Delights, my short story collection inspired by the paintings and drawing of Hieronymus Bosch. They’re a publisher with a great environmental ethic. And on the shortlist for the Saboteur Awards in the Most Innovative Publisher category. Voting is open until 12th May.

I’m also very excited to be going to Italy next week, to write flash fiction in a group being led by Kathy Fish and Nancy Stohlman. Hoping for wine and sunshine too!! Report at the end of the month!

Bluebells at Coed-y-Bynedd
Bluebells at Coed-y-Bwnydd hill fort, Monmouthshire

Here comes Novella number 2!

It’s been an exciting week. Last Tuesday the news went public that I have signed a contract with Louise Walters Books for my second novella. It is as yet untitled, but is written and I’m looking forward to working with Louise on the editing process. Publication is scheduled for September 2020.

Here’s what Louise said about the story in her press release, which was picked up by both Bookbrunch and The Bookseller:

The lyrical, warm-hearted tale explores marriage, love, and longing, set against the unexpectedly majestic backdrop of Morecambe Bay, the faded glamour of the Midland Hotel, and the dance halls of Blackpool.

Cath sent me this short, bitter-sweet novel and I was captivated from the opening pages. Ted and Rene, the long-married couple at the centre of the story, tug at the heart strings in a quite extraordinary way. I can’t wait to start working with Cath.

The news provoked a bit of a twitter-storm and it was lovely to get so much support from fellow writers.

Onwards!

 

Morecambe Bay

Morecambe Bay (photo by CB)

 

 

 

 

 

Festival time

Festival time is a-coming. Not for me – at least not yet! – the heady heights of Hay, but I will be speaking at two writing festivals in April.

 

Abergavenny Writing Festival, Thursday, April 11th, 2.30pm

Do we all have a novel in us?

I’ll be on a panel with fellow authors Jack Strange, CG Menon and Penny Ellis. We’ll be in discussion with Abergavenny Focus Magazine editor Hannah Hill.

Aber Writing Fest

You can buy tickets here

 

Llandeilo Lit Fest, Saturday, April 27th, 2.15pm

Writing Novellas and Short Fiction

I’m excited to have my very own event at Llandeilo, where I’ll be in conversation with fellow writer Jane Fraser, whose debut collection of short stories, The South Westerlies, will be published by Salt in June.

Llandeilo Litfest

Buy tickets for that event here

 

And if you come to either, do be sure to come and say hello!

 

 

Guest Post: Sal Page on her writing journey

It’s been a while since I’ve had a guest on the site. Today I welcome Sal Page, with her thoughts on writing.

Writing and Me

Ah writing! This is something I do. I’ve tried to stop. Several times. I once wrote nothing but work stuff for four years. That horrible job. But it’s not a nice way to live. I missed it. I like having a story on the go, or two or three. Or the occasional poem or even a play. A novel, or two or three, that may never see the light of day but boy, did I enjoy writing them. And, yeah maybe writing helps keeps you sane.

Not that I call myself a writer. I’m just someone who writes.

I don’t believe, as many seem to, that when writing you have to suffer. I know it’s tough writing a novel synopsis but, if you’re talking blood, sweat and tears, I could tell you about all those from working in kitchens for thirty-plus years.

Neither do I think there’s ever going to be any money in it for me, although obviously on the odd occasion we mention writing to those that don’t, we’re suddenly going to be ‘the next JK Rowling’ so there might be some cash involved there.

The truth is I’ve made just over £700 from writing … since 1986. Yes, I’ve been writing for some time. I make close to that per month now, as a part time cook. So, I’m a cook and someone who writes.

Recently, I’ve been leaving flash, stories and novels behind, in favour of memoir and non-fiction. I’ve started writing my weight loss memoir/self-help book, The Impossible Thing. (#TheImpossibleThing, my own hashtag!) In the past three years, four months I’ve lost 101 pounds (7 stone 3). I’m aiming to lose 130 pounds and to keep it off. Then I’ll be qualified to finish this book and maybe it will, somehow, reach a few readers. Sal Page solves the obesity crisis single-handedly.

The next chapter I plan to write is a memoir one about being at school. In the spring of 2017, I wrote a blogpost that listed the names I got called at school. This was quite a moment. I could never have dreamt I’d go from being deeply ashamed and embarrassed and not telling a soul to telling, effectively, the world.

I love everything about writing. Having ideas, thinking about them, writing notes, getting stuck into a first draft, letting things lie, talking about writing on Twitter, reading other people’s work and putting my spoke in, redrafting, editing, tinkering, perfecting, submitting, having things accepted or rejected, getting listed, placed, winning, reading in open mics or being invited to read ‘cos I’m placed or the winner. I love the little shelf of anthologies with my stories in, my Amazon page and rereading things I wrote years ago and still love ‘cos they’re mine.

Why do you write?’ is a question often asked on Twitter. My answers are always ‘It can stop me thinking about food’, ‘I can create a world and control everything in it’ and ‘It’s FUN.’

Yeah. Writing. What’s not to like?

Thanks to Cath for inviting me to write this piece for her website.

Sal Page

Sal Page

Belated New Year Greetings

 


Happy New Year! And we’re nearly three weeks in already.

I’ve been doing final edits on my collection of short stories, The Garden of Earthly Delights. These stories are inspired by the extraordinary paintings and drawings of the Flemish artist Hieronymus Bosch. They will be winging their way in search of a publisher now.

And I’ll be getting on to other writing projects – developing a second novella, then pulling out the beginnings of a novel that I birthed doing NaNoWriMo, to see if that is going anywhere.

Meanwhile I’ll write flash pieces as and when.

Good luck with all your writing. What we call the ‘real’ world seems to be going crazy – I believe that writing and reading is part of our salvation.

 

the garden of earthly delights. detail

The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail), Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516)

NaNoWriMo

Alongside thousands of other people round the world, I’ve signed up to write a novel in a month during November. The aim is 50,000 words and on day 18 I’m at 28,103, so I’m confident I can reach the target by the 30th.

This is not a competition, except insofar as any of us are competing with ourselves. I’m doing it because it’s a great kick up the backside to do something I’ve always said to date I’d never do!!!

So, here’s what I can tell you about my novel. The title is There is a Shape to Everything. Here’s what I wrote as a synopsis when I started:

Mother Miriam and daughter Sylvana travel to Kathmandu to celebrate their 50th and 21st birthdays respectively by taking a trek in the Himalayas together. 

Before they set off on the trek there is an earthquake and mother disappears. Sylvana pairs up with Vic, a Nepali maker of thangkas (Tibetan Buddhist paintings) whose son Prem has also disappeared. Together they travel in search of Miriam and Prem.

Back home in Wales, Tritta, a friend of Sylvana’s, receives messages from both her and Miriam which set her off on a journey of her own.

Tritta has not put in much of an appearance, but various other characters have, including a man with a scar in the shape of a snake on his forehead. He’s obviously a baddie…

And the imagery in the Buddhist paintings is pretty important, that’s for sure.

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Buddhist painting, Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery, Kathmandu.

Photo: Cath Barton

 

 

 

 

Publication day!

My novella, The Plankton Collector, is out in the world. Flying free, as of today.

I”m very proud of this wee book.

Read about it here

Order your copy here

Post your rating and review here

Thank you!!

Plankton_covers_Final_web

Friday Story: 7) Clown

Here’s a little story that I wrote a couple of years back for Zeroflash.

Clown

He appears in front of me, between two blinks of an eye. I see his feet first. Clown’s feet in big shoes. They flap as he walks towards me. His white mouth stretches into a grimace and he holds out a hand. He’s shaking and I feel his fear. I take his hand and it’s stone cold. I want to say how cold it is and that I can give him gloves, but he shakes his head and glitter falls from his curly hair, falls onto his feet and onto my feet. And then we’re running together, hand in hand, his shoes slapping on the ground, and we dodge the people who turn and stare and – I’m glad about this – his hand is warming up.

We’ve run into the castle grounds and I know where he’ll be safe. I lead him there, my sad clown. I’m thinking about how I’ll cover him with dry leaves while I go and fetch a blanket. But he’s shaking his head again, he’s reading my thoughts and he waggles a finger back and forth. I want to say he needs a blanket, but he snuggles into the leaves and I can see that he doesn’t. I try to pull the gate closed but it’s so old and rusted it won’t budge. It’s getting dark now and I tell him I have to go home.

People are shouting in the streets but I ignore them. I go to bed but I can’t sleep. I’m thinking about my clown and about how cold his hand had been.

In the morning I go back. There are sticks, broken sticks thrown over the leaves. They look like broken bones. I blink and he’s standing there, just for a moment. Glitter lands on my shoes. I blink. He’s gone.

Glitter

Guest post: Interview with author Mike Scott Thomson

It’s good to hear different voices on the site. Here’s what English author Mike Scott Thomson has to say about his writing:

CB: I’ve read and enjoyed your stories in Visual Verse – you obviously like responding to pictures and do so imaginatively and in vivid prose. Have you used picture prompts much for other stories you’ve written?

MST: Thank you for your kind words, Cath. For me, picture prompts have provided a useful exercise in letting those creative energies flow: to build a brand new story, which I might not have thought to write otherwise. They can also provide fresh ideas, boost confidence, and are a brilliant method to get that keyboard tapping. I should use them more often.

What other kinds of stimuli do you use for your writing?

My fictions tend to arise from all sorts of different sources: perhaps a blurry, re-imagined glimpse from hazy memories; perhaps an overheard snatch of conversation, or an intriguing bon mot, stripped of its original context; however, instead it often comes from a slab of bureaucratic lunacy to which I cannot help but administer a good old British lampooning. For example, my story which won the inaugural ‘To Hull and Back’ humorous short story competition stemmed from an occasion at work where we were made to express our activities as a fraction of an integer onto a timesheet coded with 14 different colours, then upload them to a shared disc drive defined by a dollar sign, a wiggly squiggle and a pair of square brackets. Figuring out what that meant proved fruitless for the purpose it was intended, but I did get a good comic story out of it.

Of the books you’ve read this year, which one would you most recommend and why?

Jasper Fforde’s ‘The Eyre Affair’, and also its first three sequels. They’re full of literary references, are extremely funny, and Fforde himself is a superb plotsmith. Prior to reading them, I ploughed through Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’, under the impression some background knowledge would be helpful. As it turned out, that wasn’t entirely necessary; his books are a good way to glean a broad understanding of the classics without having to embark on marathon reading sessions. (That said, I did like Jane Eyre too.)

If you could have three wishes granted for your writing, what would they be?

Well, I’m still haunted by the events of W.W. Jacob’s ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, having first read it decades ago. If I did indeed wish for flawless first drafts, a lucrative lifetime publishing deal, and hundreds of millions of impatient and adoring readers, then what macabre consequences would accompany such desires? (Besides, it’d be cheating.) Instead, I’d wish to become more of a morning person (so I can fit in writing shifts before starting the commute), an approximate 10% increase in self-confidence in my writing ability (too much would be damaging, I feel), and a fervent desire that nobody in the world – ever, ever again, ever – misspells my surname with a ‘p’.

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Bio: Mike Scott Thomson’s short stories have been published by journals and anthologies, and have won or placed in a few competitions, including ‘To Hull and Back’, InkTears, and Writers’ Village. Based in south London, he works in broadcasting. You can find him online at http://www.mikescottthomson.com and on Twitter at @michaelsthomson.

Friday Story: 6) I Want to Go to Russia

This is a little story of mine which was originally published in Vine Leaves Literary Journal Issue #01, January 2012  It’s difficult to imagine winter, cold or snow in the UK just now, but perhaps this will help to cool us down!

I Want to Go to Russia

It’s winter now. The man on the radio said so. It’s because of the clocks going back, he said. I don’t know about that. I’m warm, under my duvet. I wiggle my shoulders and push down in the bed.

Then I think for a bit, and what I think is that it would be nice to be in Russia. The man on the radio said that the clocks hadn’t changed there. The president, not Putin, the other one, said they were going to be on summertime all the year round there. I’d like that. I reckon it must be really quiet in Russia, ‘cos there’s miles and miles of nothing there. I’ve looked at it in the atlas. Hardly anything there, just a big shape. Not loads of names, like there are in England. I hate England.

I’ve turned the radio off, ‘cos the news came on and it’s all about bad things and I don’t want to hear about bad things. You can scare yourself thinking about stuff like that.

Talking of which it’s Halloween tomorrow. That don’t scare me though, not At All, but I know it scares them old biddies down the end of our road. They got net curtains in their windows, like they was posh or something, and they’ve put out little cards that say “NO TREATS OR TRICKS”. The writing’s all shaky. Shirl just sent me a text about it. Hang on a minute, she’s up early! Don’t she realise the clocks have changed, silly moo?

Any road, those old ladies – Mum says I has to call them ladies, as if – don’t know nothing, ‘cos it ain’t Treats or Tricks, it’s Trick or Treat. Course, they never did it when they were young did they? They did something called bobbing for apples, according to Mum. I mean, bloody hell, sticking your head in a bucket of water to get your teeth round an apple. P –lease. It’s gross.

Now Mum’s yelling at me to get up. I bet it’s not like this in Russia. Mind you, it must be weird at Halloween. It’s so cold people can’t go out, I reckon, even if their president tells them it’s summertime all the year round.

I get up and turn on the TV. Daytime TV’s rubbish but you never know. There’s kids jumping and screaming and running round with pretend witches’ hats on, so I flip around the channels and that’s when I find it, this programme about Russia. Only it’s not about presidents or armies or any of that stuff. It’s about nothing much happening. Just pictures of woods, and snow in them. And there’s kind of the sound of people breathing. I like that. I like it a lot. I’ve texted Shirl to tell her, but all I get back from her is WOT U ON??????????????

Then something does happen. These really, really old people, all muffled up in zillions of clothes, they walk down this track through the snowy woods to their bread shop. And when they get there they have to stand and wait and wait ‘cos there ain’t no bread. Some shop person comes out and yells at them and they just keep on standing there. And eventually the bread comes out and they get it and they slam money down on the counter and they trek back home. And I’m sitting there watching and watching ‘cos it’s foreign and I like foreign.

If I was a witch I’d get on my broomstick and go to Russia and wait in a bread shop. That would be a cool thing to do at Halloween.

 

 

Friday Story: 5) This is a safe attachment, trust me

This a story for anyone who has ever had computer problems, so that’s all of us. My computer went pop earlier this week and had to go to the computer hospital. It is now back, restored to health. What a relief.

Feely (pictured on the chair at which I sit to use my computer) is a male cat, so obviously not the one in the story!

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This a safe attachment, trust me

I clicked on the attachment to the e-mail. Next thing there were multiple windows opening and reopening again as fast as I closed them. The screen was pulsating with the speed of it but I didn’t panic, just turned the computer off and went to make myself a cup of coffee. It was a shame that the cat got under my feet and hot coffee spilt on her, but I still didn’t panic.

Rebooted, the computer seemed fine. But as I started typing a document a little dog strayed onto the screen.

“Woof,” it went.

“Woof to you,” I said, “go away.”

“Won’t,” it said. I turned off the sound. I was not going to be dictated to by an animation.

“Be careful,” said the cat, from her seat behind me.

I whirled round. The cat was curled up like a cinnamon whirl, apparently dead to the world. I turned back to the computer. The dog on the screen had started eating my text and spewing it out of its backside in a mangled heap of letters.

This was too much. I started banging the desk, remembering too late what this would do to my collarbone.

“Ow!” I yelled, as pain shot up my arm.

“You should be more careful,” mewed the cat gleefully.

I’m thinking of selling the computer. Pen and paper have a safe track record, and no attachments with hidden secrets to trip you up. Perhaps I’d better ask the cat. She’s offering opinions on everything now.

Shortlisted in Helen Yendall’s blog about writing comp April 2013

Published on PostcardShorts (www.postcardshorts.com) on 26.05.13

 

Friday Story: 4) The curious incident of the pig in the café

It’s National Flash Fiction Day in the UK tomorrow, 16th June. Every year there’s a Flash Flood of stories. My story The curious incident of the pig in the café was included in the Flash Flood a couple of years back.

This year I have a micro story included. It’s called Lonely Hearts and it’ll be published here at about 1.50pm (BST) on 16th June.

Smile for the birdie

The curious incident of the pig in the café

It was that elusive thing, the first day of summer. The day when you fling off your cardies and your winter boundaries. So it was that at 12 noon sharp Charmaine and Sophie could be seen emerging from the dingy office where they worked, heading for Porky’s Pizzeria, just up the street. The local dosser, Ed the Rags, was sitting in a doorway crying out for the price of a cup of tea as usual.

There was a queue at Porky’s. As usual. The girls were happy to wait in the sunshine for their “You must be smoking!” specials with smoked cheese, bacon, pepperoni and smoked sausage. As they had their faces raised to the sun neither of them noticed Ed the Rags approaching. Someone must have slipped him a fiver. He pushed to the top of the queue and no-one tried to stop him, be it out of guilt or revulsion, because he ponged something terrible.

Ed got his pizza and emerged from the café dripping cheese and tomato onto the street and himself as he shoved the hot pizza into his mouth. A shout went up from inside. Had Ed run away without paying? It didn’t look like it, the way he was ambling with a beatific smile on his face. But following him and sniffing at his shoes, was a pig. A genuine porker!

Charmaine jumped back and Sophie squealed as her friend’s stiletto nearly pierced her foot. Other people were spilling out of the doorway holding their noses. A pungent odour swirled in the air, and it was not the sweet smell of baking dough mingling with cooked meats, but something altogether more earthy.

Francesco, chef-patron of Porky’s, emerged in a cloud of Italian expletives, waving a tea-towel at the retreating backs of Ed and the porker.

Finito!” he cried. “Ze lunch is finito. Zat pig has made escremento in my café. Eet is a dirty dog.”

People watched as Ed the Rags and the pig processed down the street. Ed seemed to remain blissfully unaware of his follower, engrossed as he was in the rich flavours of his pizza. Then the pig must have pulled at his coat, because he turned and saw it. What he did next was either poignant or gross, depending on your point of view. He bent down and offered the beast his last piece of pizza. The pig swallowed it whole and ran off down the street.

It turned out that the pig had escaped from a lorry that was taking it to market and run in the open back door of Porky’s. It’s now gone to live the rest of its days in a community farm, where it may not get pizza but children feed it other titbits daily. Ed the Rags got his his toothless grin in the local paper and some kindly old soul has paid for him to have pizza every week from Francesco.

As for Porky’s, it’s thriving more than ever, it’s name finally justified!

First published in National Flash Fiction Day Flash Flood, June 2016

Guest post: by author Nadya A.R.

In the first of a series of occasional guest posts, I welcome author Nadya A.R., to tell us about her novel Invisible Ties, and in particular why labels fail to do justice to the complex reality of women in the sub-continent.

WHY I HAVE A PROBLEM WITH LABELS!!!

Nadya A.R.

I am a writer, psychotherapist and motivational speaker. My latest novel, Invisible Ties, has been published by Rupa publications in August 2017. In Invisible Ties my protagonist, a well-educated woman in her early twenties, Noor Kamal, faces the overbearing pressure of marriage and succumbs to an arranged proposal, engineered by her shrewd, worldly wise Aunty Lily, who lives in Malaysia. An eligible, Pakistani banker, Meekaal Kalim, living in Singapore views her picture in her Aunt’s plush home in Kuala Lumpur and expresses his interest in marrying her. Noor’s intelligent father scoffs at this seemingly bizarre proposal, while her materialistic and socially competitive mother feels as if she has won a huge lottery.

Noor is definitely not the stereotypical, oppressed Eastern woman. Neither can she be described as a kickass nor as a badass heroine- terms which are now the flavour of today. Her reality is complex and evolving, very similar to what is happening in South Asia and to women in our modern world. Noor’s circumstances of agreeing to this marriage are unique and drastic, and though she perceives herself as ‘different’, she finds herself cast in the same mould as many women around her.

While grappling with the disturbing fact that her husband is a cold stranger in a foreign land, Noor is well-aware that she was given a one-way ticket by her parents. She is expected to make her marriage work regardless of the circumstances, which is the message that many parents give to their daughters, even in this day and age. However, there is that spark in Noor, regardless of the stifling pressures of an out-dated society, which lies dormant within her. Enjoying the new sights and ways of Singapore, and by opening herself to the narratives of others around her, Noor starts questioning and then challenging the norms which undermine her individuality and most important, her happiness.

Like many South Asian women living in the West, and those surviving and strong in their native, nurturing environment, Noor learns how to balance and juggle the traditions and values, which are perhaps more than a part of her and define her sense of self. Though she holds them and the wishes of her parents in high regard, her identity is no longer determined by the significant others and people around her.

The most important aspect of her journey is how she ventures out of her comfort zone, in her case the close and compact, South Asian community, and seeks out people who don’t identify with her philosophy on love and life. In the process, she is overwhelmed and utterly confused between the right and wrong, which again is dispersed in shades of grey around her. Until, she learns to live with the discomfort and those emotional ties, which now have a different meaning in her life. Her evolution reflects the change that we experience to become stronger, and as we stumble, fall and then rise as women to take charge of our lives.

UK readers can buy Nadya’s novel Invisible Ties here.

Nadya A R

Author Nadya A.R.

Friday Story: 3) Orange juice

Orange juice

Illustration for Inktrap Magazine by Sue Gent

 

Looking back, I can see how it started. Two ten-year-old boys, bored in the too-long summer holidays, complaining to our mothers that we’d nothing to do.

Our mothers, exasperated, overworked with the constant round of cooking, cleaning, washing from which they could see no means of escape, willingly gave us ours. Packed us off with egg sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper, an apple each and bottles of orange juice. Yes, glass bottles. That’s what we used then.

We headed off into the promise of the July day, kicking at stones on the road, not caring a fig that we scuffed our shoes, not caring that our mothers would care and would ask us if we thought money grew on trees. It might as well have done, for all we thought about it.

Cynan dropped his bottle before we even reached the river, the orange liquid spurting across the tarmac path like the blood of some rare primate. We kicked the sharp shards of the broken bottle into the grass, not caring that some tender-bodied creature might crawl over them and be cut, even mortally wounded. We didn’t think. We didn’t think about anything that day. Didn’t plan anything. Didn’t mean any of what happened. Going down to the river was just something to do, a way of passing another long boring day.

We found sticks in the long grass and threw them into the river, seeing which of us could get his the furthest, but we got bored. Cynan said we should build a dam. It was something to do, but it was difficult. Others boys had dads who helped them with things like that. At least we thought they did, and that made us both sad, though we never actually said so to one another. We didn’t have dads. If anyone had asked us we’d both have said we didn’t care, though of course we did.

We walked on down the river, picking our way through brambles and nettles, getting stung and hurt but not saying. Then Cynan saw the dead cat. It was lying half under some twigs, as if someone had tried to hide it, but couldn’t be bothered to do it properly.

“Or maybe,” I said, “it wasn’t completely dead and it wriggled a bit.”

It wouldn’t have been able to move much. Its back legs were at funny angles and its head looked as if it had been screwed right round. Cynan poked it with a stick.

“Don’t do that,” I said.

“It’s dead,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to it now.”

I don’t know why we didn’t just leave it there, or bury it, like other kids would have done, but we were bored. Dissecting it was something to do.

I had a penknife. It was a bit blunt, but I managed to saw through the cat’s sternum and pull out its heart. It was the same colour as the orange juice. I turned it over in my hands and we both gawped at it. I remember Cynan saying,

“We’ve got hearts like that.”

And me saying, “We haven’t, we’ve got red hearts.”

What happened next should obviously never have happened. But I was ten years old, it was a summer’s day, the sun was getting hot even though it was still morning and after days and weeks of boredom I was suddenly excited.

I lunged at Cynan and stabbed him with my penknife, hard, straight into his sternum. He screamed and twisted away. I shouted but he was gone, thumping through the undergrowth like the wounded creature he was. I didn’t follow him. I don’t know why I didn’t. I suppose I thought he would come back. I carried on dissecting the cat. It was something to do.

When I’d finished I washed my hands in the river. I remember the blood. The red and the orange and the dark blood, mingling with the water, turning it brown. And then it ran clear again and I got out the sandwiches and ate them all. And both apples. And drank the remaining bottle of orange juice.

Then I must have fallen asleep, because when I woke up it was shady in the wood and I was cold, in spite of the heat of the day.

Then I looked for Cynan. I found him quite quickly, and I covered him with sticks, the way someone had half-covered the cat, but better, because I knew he wasn’t going to move. His face was red and big and it scared me. There was something coming out of his mouth. Something orange and sticky, like the juice and the cat’s heart.

Then I walked till I couldn’t see him any more and I lay down and covered myself with sticks and leaves, because it was going to get really cold and I didn’t know how long it would be before they found me.

 

First published by Inktrap Magazine on-line, July 2015

Republished by Idler.ie, March 2016

NEWS, NEWS, NEWS

I am just back from a few days of rest and inspiration in Paris. Here’s a pic:

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Friday Story no 3 is coming later this week, so do come back and read that.

Meanwhile, I have a new flash in the latest issue of Moonchild Magazine. Go take a read of all the splendid work in there. The link to my piece is on my Stories page.

 

Friday Story: 2) Marching

Oh goodness, I said I was going to post a story every 2 weeks and somehow 3 have slipped by. Here is a story first published in The Pygmy Giant where it got an honourable mention in a competition in 2011.

Happy Friday everyone.

Marching

When Tommy was five years old he watched through a little gap in the fence as the Sunday parade passed his garden. He could hear when it was coming by the low thump of the big bass drum and the tooting of the wind instruments behind it. At school they had a music class in the hall once a week and there were things to play like recorders and triangles and, if you were really lucky though Tommy never was, tambourines which you could bang and shake. But there was nothing as big and shiny as the instruments in the band. There was one that curled all the way round the man who played it, like a snake. Tommy thought it must be squeezing the breath out of the man because his cheeks were puffed out and red. The men all wore peaked caps and they moved as if their legs were all joined together, like a centipede. His Mum said it was called marching. One day some funny ladies called Aunties with powder on their faces that looked and smelled like sherbet came to visit his Mum and asked Tommy what he wanted to do when he was a big boy. He said he wanted to be part of the man-animal with lots of legs that did marching. His Mum laughed and told the Aunties that he wanted to be in the town band, and this made Tommy cross because it wasn’t what he meant. But he couldn’t explain what he did mean, not even to himself.

When Tommy was eleven he went to a different school where they played in teams, though they didn’t move their legs in the same way. No ever asked Tommy to be in their team and that upset him but he didn’t show it. Instead he played games by himself on the computer and never went into the garden and though the Sunday parade still passed by he neither heard nor thought about it.

When Tommy was seventeen he left school and stayed at home, still playing computer games. One day his Mum lost her temper and told him to get out of the house and find something useful to do. He wandered the streets and fell in with two lads who offered him a drink. It passed the time but they weren’t a team. One day, in a blur of alcohol, Tommy told the lads the story of the marching band. They said he should join the army, that he’d get marching there right enough.

Tommy signed up. He got put in a team, he got the peaked cap and he even got a bugle to play. On parade the sergeant major yelled at him and he felt more alone than ever.

When Tommy would have been nineteen his Mum stood with her sisters, all pale-faced now, in the main street of the town and watched the parade of soldiers back from Afghanistan, their legs moving as one beneath the black-draped coffin.

New genre, new anthology

Cli-fi anthology blog tour

Climate change is a huge challenge for our world. It has inspired a new genre of fiction – cli-fi.

This is launch week for the new climate fiction anthology published by Retreat West Books, Nothing Is As It Was.

I’m proud to have a story in this anthology, all profits from which will be given to the climate change charity Earth Day Network.

I also wrote a piece about the inspiration for my story for the blog tour for the launch, which you can read here. Why not follow the whole blog tour and, even better, buy the book!

 

Support weird stories!

I have a story forthcoming in an anthology of weird stories – #Normal Deviation

I wrote my story, Conjuring Tricks, in response to a strange picture. We were asked to discard our first and second ideas and go with the third. I really liked this approach. My third idea was for a story about two characters waiting to audition for places in a painting by Hieronymus Bosch.

The anthology is all set to go, but first there’s a crowdfunding campaign underway. Your chance to support weird stories!

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Friday story: 1) Un chat couvert de fleurs

I’m going to post one of my stories every other Friday. Sometimes an old story, sometimes a new one. This one first appeared in Issue 4 of formercactus. I’ve taken the opportunity to correct a small grammatical error. And am illustrating the story with a photo of dear Eggy, not lost but gone to the Great Mystery.

Un chat couvert de fleurs

Un beau jour mon chat est disparu/vanished. My cat. Que j’aime/love.
D’habitude, le matin, il m’éveille avec un grattement sur le bois de mon lit. Wakes me, roughly, comme ça. I stir, chase him away, je retourne au lit. Ou bien pas/or not.
Souvent, le matin, avant la première lumière, je me trouve au bureau and j’écris. But now mon chat is/has vanished. Je suis writing, yes, typing, urgent(ly) mais mon chat est disparu. Est-ce- qu’il est parmi les mots? Amongst the words? No. Non. He est/is quelque part/je ne sais pas where? dans la maison/house. Est-il? Je mismix up/mélange les mots. Parce que mon chat me manque. I miss my cat.
Je regarde le jardin, it is dark, still nuit. Je ne vois pas mon chat, or do I? Là, there, parmi les fleurs/ the flowers of the night/ les fleurs du mal. He is couvert de fleurs. Non, c’est un, quoi, qu’est-ce que, what is le mot? C’est une blague/ a joke/ a jest and not funny. Ah, les mots m’échappent maintenant, leave me, now that mon chat est disparu. I am so triste/ sad that he has gone. Parti. To l’au-delà. J’ai rien. No cat. No more words.

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Reflections on writing (No 2 in an occasional series)

It’s been a long winter. Helped by the support of other writers – those in my local writing group and others at a distance – I’ve carried on writing stories through the dark days. I’ve submitted some of them here and there. I’ve had some acceptances, more rejections. I am grateful for those acceptances, believe me. But I’m always striving for more.

Sometimes I feel like a cat going round in circles, never quite able to catch its tail – or in my case, tale. So it’s good to come across a new writing exercise. Here’s one I came across on twitter courtesy of the writer Kathy Fish. I tried it this morning with remarkable results – and now have ideas for ways to start at least half a dozen new stories! I think the exercise gives you access to a free-thinking part of the brain. Perhaps this is what the Surrealists did with their automatic writing. Follow the link to Kathy Fish’s post and try it yourself.

 

 

Reflections on writing (No 1 in an occasional series)

Like all writers, I read as much as I can. I do this primarily for enjoyment rather than as an academic exercise, but of course it informs my own writing.

As I embark on a year’s mentoring I’m learning more about so-called ‘rules’ of writing, or at least recommendations. One of these is that dialogue is good. It breaks up the text, makes it easier to read. I’m a (fairly) diligent student and I’m currently sowing dialogue through the short stories I’m writing.

Another recommendation is to use the active voice. Passivity distances the reader. Yes, I’ve bought into that one.

Don’t jump from one point of view to another. Very confusing for the reader. Okay, must bear that in mind.

I am greatly encouraged when I read other people’s work which breaks these ‘rules’. I’ve just devoured Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 (2017). I have followed Jon McGregor’s work since his first novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (2002). This book became a success by word of mouth. Since then McGregor has gone on to become ‘a prize-winning author’. I put that phrase in inverted commas because, affirming as that may be, it’s just one thing about him, not for me a defining characteristic.

After I’d finished the book I looked up some one-star reviews, curious to know why anyone would not love this book as much as I did. Criticisms include it being boring, that nothing happens, difficulty of keeping track of multiple characters and, interestingly, lack of dialogue and the use of the passive voice. I think the problem is that people have certain expectations of a book, instead of reading it on its own terms. A cursory glance at the blurb on the back will tell you that this is not a conventional murder mystery story.

The comment that ‘Anyone could write a book like this’ is, frankly, crass. If one day I can write something that is halfway as compelling as Reservoir 13 I will be a very happy person. I’ll never write in the same way as Jon McGregor and neither do I want to do so. I want to use my own voice, and while I will think about writing ‘rules’, I will also feel free to break them.

 

 

Looking forward to an exciting year of writing

I’m absolutely delighted to have been awarded a place on the 2018 Literature Wales Mentoring Scheme for emerging writers.

Literature Wales

 

I’ll be back at Tŷ Newydd for a week’s course with fellow Mentees later this month, so watch this space for further news after that.

In the meantime I’ll be revisiting the work I’ve done so far on my Bosch stories (see my About page) and planning where I’m going next in that world!

 

The joys of collaboration

I often take inspiration for my writing from pictures, but it was lovely to come across an opportunity to do it the other way round, to put forward a story to be illustrated. Seeing a call on twitter from artist and illustrator Bonnie Helen Hawkins for crow folklore stories, I wrote this story, Crow world. I was delighted when Bonnie choose it to inspire a drawing for week 2 of her 52 crows project. The illustration of my story is reproduced here by kind permission of the artist.

Crow world

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With a final stab, the crow got hold of a long strand of sinew, drew it up and carried it away. It flew out behind him like a red flag, its ghastliness too far away for the watchers to make out. The new year’s day was as if it were the first, the world a scrubbed blank canvas on which to draw afresh. The two men, who had stood for a moment watching the dark of the bird against the icy pale of the morning sky, rubbed their hands.

“Too cold to stand here,” said the one, pulling his hat down over his ears and looking up at the clouds scudding above the hill “Let’s get up there. Before.”

If he said more the wind whipped away his words. He strode out and the other followed. Both had their heads down. They were intent on reaching the summit. It was, from one to the other, a dare, the sort that men make without regard for the consequences. Behind them, unseen by either, three more crows descended to the place the solitary eater had left.

In the valley the woman had stoked the fire. The smoke from the damp peat made her cough. She drew the pot down; the soup would simmer the day long until her man returned. She threw in the few vegetables she had. There was no meat, hadn’t been for a month now. She wasn’t like the crow; wouldn’t pick up something killed by another. She went to the door, looked up at the hillside. Her eyes were still sharp; she could pick up the movement of a rabbit in the dead bracken. But there was no ripple of beast or man on the brown curve of the hill, only the downward flight of the three crows. And they and their judgements were not her business. She closed the door against them and took up her pen. It was her time to write, the annual attempt, the record in case he returned.

It had been nine years since he’d gone up the hill with nothing but his ordinary clothes. For all they knew a crow might have pecked his eyes, but crows don’t eat bones and the search had been thorough, the men beating the bracken and the heather for all the days of a week, covering the width and the depth of the valley.

“You’ll be careful,” she’d said to her man that morning, as he and the other stood on the door mat, as if waiting for her permission. He wouldn’t meet her eye. And they’d left, between two blinks of an eye. There. And then not there.

The commotion outside distracted her from her writing. Crows cawing. It felt as if the world belonged to them more than to men, these days. Then the bang against the window. She stared at the smear of blood, her hands grasping the table, her breath coming in gasps. To the door, flinging it wide. On the step the dead bird. The three flapping into the distance. Their cries of triumph.

Her man and the other had reached the summit, heard from there the noise of the attack down by the house, but couldn’t see it. Or see the woman come out. See her dart into the bracken.

When they got back the house was dark and the fire had all but gone out. They searched, but their hearts told them the truth. And the one cursed the other for the dare, himself for accepting it and the crows for their part in the ills of the world.

Story © Cath Barton, Illustration © Bonnie Helen Hawkins

My twelve days of Christmas – 12 – Dreams

Relish your dreams for the year ahead. If you wake in the night turn your thoughts from your worries to your dreams, your dreams of what you would and can do. As we plunge into 2018 here are my wishes for you, the person reading this (thank you!):

Goethe.PNGQuote from Goethe

 

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Quote from Neil Gaiman

My twelve days of Christmas – 11 – The short story

As a writer of shorter fiction I obviously hope that readers will want to buy and read short stories. I’m currently reading Elizabeth’s Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, which you will see described as a novel but is actually made up of short stories. All feature the character Olive Kitteridge, but each can stand alone. I wonder if the book would have been so successful if it had been promoted as a collection of short stories rather than a novel!

Anyway, I look forward to reading new short stories in 2018. The longlist for the Galley Beggar short story prize has just been announced, and all are available to read here.

I also greatly look forward to the posthumous publication in June of a new book of short stories by Helen Dunmore:

Girl, Balancing and Other Stories

The Christmas season is nearly over, but  before you let it go enjoy Helen Dunmore’s story  A House by the Sea, published by The Independent in 2008.

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Happy New Year

Thank you to everyone who has read any of the posts on my website this year. Onwards and upwards in 2018.

I wish you all a Happy, Healthy and Creative New Year.

My twelve days of Christmas, celebrating creativity, will continue in the early days of the New Year, looking ahead now, not back!

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My twelve days of Christmas – 6 – Craft

Making things yourself is satisfying. Over the years I’ve tried my hand at various crafts. There’s a group of people in the town where I live who not only make great crafts, but also support others to do so. The group makes a huge difference to those people’s lives, so my craft shout-out this year is for

Abergavenny Crafty Women

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Abergavenny Crafty Woman at Monmouthshire Housing
Making a Difference Awards 2017

My twelve days of Christmas – 5 – Art

This summer I met a friend in London and we went to the Serpentine Gallery to see Grayson Perry’s exhibition modestly titled

Grayson Perry: The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!

It was lovely!

I especially liked his vases, and the two he made for Remainers and Brexiteers were very thought-provoking. They were left deliberately unlabelled. Although you could work out which was which without difficulty, what was  striking was how much the two groups had in common.

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Matching pair

My twelve days of Christmas – 4 – Music

Impossible to choose any one piece of music  from the year, so instead I give my prize to:

BBC Radio 3

Today they are devoting the day to the music of J S Bach, definitely one of the great composers.

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And throughout the year Radio 3 gives us a feast of music. Long may it continue.

Happy Christmas one and all. My twelve days of Christmas series will continue on 27 December

My twelve days of Christmas – 3 – Online Litmags

As all writers know there is a plethora of online literary magazines out there. Some are long-established and greatly respected; others short-lived. Some are curt in their rejections; others promise more than they deliver.

I have found a home for my work in quite a few of these places and particularly appreciate those that offer a personal response, whether to accept or reject my work.

My online litmag of the year, for its commitment to the writers it publishes, and generous promotion of their work, is

Moonchild Magazine

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My twelve days of Christmas – 2 – Publishers

As a writer, I’m delighted to see the rise and rise of independent publishers. My indie publisher of the year is

Galley Beggar PressGalley Beggars

Sam and Elly at Galley Beggars publish brilliant books – I haven’t been disappointed once. And they also respond personally to their customers. Next year they’re doing even more to support writers with their new School offering mentoring, classes and more – read all about it on their website.

 

 

 

 

My twelve days of Christmas – 1 – Books

It’s the Winter Solstice, so as we turn towards the light I begin my celebration of all people and things creative this past year.

I know the Twelve Days of Christmas should only begin on Christmas Day, but I’m starting now with:

Books

There are so many lists going around, so many plaudits. My favourite book of the year is

Himself by Jess Kidd

You can read my review of it in Electric Literature. I thought it was a cracking read.

Himself cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr Bosch and his owls

Earlier this month I wrote about joining when The Lonely Crowd, when my story The Wood has Ears, The Field has Eyes was published in the magazine of that name.

I’ve now written an essay about how I came to write the story and you can read it here

That particular story is one of what I hope will be a collection of short stories inspired by the work of Hieronymus Bosch. Read more about how that came about in my essay.

Owls feature in Bosch’s work and in mine. They are beautiful creatures – but are they always benign?


Statue on flying buttress, St John's Cathedral, Den Bosch.jpgStatue on flying buttress, St John’s Cathedral, Den Bosch, The Netherlands
(Photo: Cath Barton)

 

While you’re here, do hop over to my Stories page for links to my latest flash fiction on-line.