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
Here’s a little story that I wrote a couple of years back for Zeroflash.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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
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!!!
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.
Author Nadya A.R.
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
I am just back from a few days of rest and inspiration in Paris. Here’s a pic:
Friday Story no 3 is coming later this week, so do come back and read that.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
I’m absolutely delighted to have been awarded a place on the 2018 Literature Wales Mentoring Scheme for emerging writers.
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!
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.
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
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!):
Quote from Goethe
Quote from Neil Gaiman
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:
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.
You can find lists of upcoming major art exhibitions elsewhere on the net. My shout-out for art and craft in 2018 is the wonderful range of work we have available in the seven museums which make up:
It’s a new year, time to look forward, not back.
I’m looking forward to hearing new music in 2018. There will be lots of opportunities. Here’s one in Wales which will feature music from 19 living composers:
It is a shame though that only two of those composers are women. It’s good to find places that try and redress the balance. Here’s one I’ve come across:
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!
If you’re in London and you’re quick, you might still get seats for the final performance – tonight, 30th December – at the Soho Theatre of
A bravura performance by the multi-talented Lucy Rivers in a stunning piece of gig theatre that has deservedly attracted five star reviews.
Lucy Rivers in Sinners Club (photo: Kieran Cudlip)
I take at least one photograph every day and post it online. I also like to use photographs as inspiration for my writing. I particularly love the old black and white photographs posted on twitter by
John Bulmer, Black Country, UK, 1960
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 Woman at Monmouthshire Housing
Making a Difference Awards 2017
This summer I met a friend in London and we went to the Serpentine Gallery to see Grayson Perry’s exhibition modestly titled
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.
Impossible to choose any one piece of music from the year, so instead I give my prize to:
Today they are devoting the day to the music of J S Bach, definitely one of the great composers.
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
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
As a writer, I’m delighted to see the rise and rise of independent publishers. My indie publisher of the year is
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.
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:
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.
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, 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.
For those of you eagerly awaiting publication of my novella The Plankton Collector, there is an extract in issue #116 of New Welsh Reader, published on 1st December.
It is an issue celebrating the novella. And more.
Subscribe now and get a free gift!
I think I’m now entitled to call myself a member of The Lonely Crowd, as I have a story in the new issue (#8) of the Welsh-based print journal of that name, in the company of many prestigious writers.
I’m delighted to have had my story selected. It’s called The Wood has Ears, The Field has Eyes. It’s about something out-of -the-ordinary which happens in a small museum somewhere in Wales. If you want to know more you’ll have to buy the magazine – here’s the link.
If you buy it I won’t get any money personally, but you’ll be supporting indie publishing and enabling more writers to get published. As well as getting the work of over 30 poets and short story writers to read. I met some of them at a launch event in Swansea this week, where I read part of my story. And there’s a Cardiff launch on Wednesday next (15th November) – details here.
And while you’re here – pop over to my Stories page for a couple of new ones you can read online…
Choosing where to submit stories is a tricky business. On the whole I now avoid US-based publications and websites, because I’ve found that most Americans (or at least editors!) don’t seem to ‘get’ my writing. It’s good to see more and UK-based websites (as well as others around the world) publishing short stories and flash fiction and one of my favourites is Fictive Dream.
The Editor, Laura Black, is one of the best I have come across, professional, generous and supportive.
I’m also delighted that Laura has accepted a story from me for Fictive Dream’s Flash Fiction February 2018, which will feature a new piece of flash fiction every day of that month. You can submit until the end of December – see the link above.
Jonathan Gibbs, author of the novel Randall, a wonderful re-imagining of the world of the Young British Artists in the 1990s, has set up a weekly newsletter which generously offers an opportunity to any of us to draw up a personal anthology of 12 short stories. I jumped straight in and my personal anthology was sent out by Jonathan last week.
I relished the chance to revisit stories which have stuck in my mind since I first read them, some many years ago, others more recently. My chosen stories are:
Read more about my choices here – I also give links to where you can read and/or buy them.
A dear friend of mine, Anna Schiff, died not long ago. I offered to draft an obituary for her and send it to The Guardian for them to consider for inclusion in their Other Lives.
This was a new writing challenge for me. Capturing the essence of a life within 400 words is not easy! I was lucky in that I didn’t have to do any research, having not only my memories from many years but also a copy of all the material read at her funeral, as well as a chronology of her working life. However, getting an appropriate combination of key facts and anecdotal details was tricky.
Another friend offered an editorial eye, and polished up my work without compromising it – a great skill for which I was very grateful. We asked if it could be published under both our names, but The Guardian insist on a single byline.
They also asked for several pieces of additional information, including Anna’s mother’s maiden name. I realised why – an obituary is about recording information about a person for posterity as well as being a pen portrait. Fortunately, the inclusion of the additional information in the final edit done by the paper was not at the expense of all the fun bits.
The piece is in The Guardian online and I have just heard that it will be in the print edition tomorrow – 16th September. I’m so pleased – Anna deserves that recognition. She was, as one of her other friends said to me, a one-off, and we will not see her like again.
Sometimes the process of writing is clear; other times less obvious. There is a period of collection, or collation, of material. Then a period of gestation before a way forward presents itself. It is good to be patient.
Travelling produces material, willy nilly.
I have been in Cornwall this weekend. What will come of it for my writing remains to be seen. I am sure that there will be something. Meantime, here is an inspirational image. Feel free to make use of it!
Sea mist encroaching
I’ve been experimenting with black and white photography over the past few days. Using a setting on my camera called ‘high-contrast mono’ I’ve achieved some unexpectedly pleasing results.
Wheelbarrows in the walled garden at Croft Castle
It’s also got me thinking about how working in monochrome can translate into writing. We often talk about introducing colour into our work, but what about stripping it away? What about, instead, concentrating on shape, pattern and contrast?
What do other people think?
The time is to keep on writing. Sounds simple. And it is, but the trick is to concentrate on the the doing and not the end game.
This week I’ve completed drafts of three stories which will, in the fullness of time, form part of my Bosch collection. More of that in the months to come.
And today I found inspiration in another wonderful setting, encouragement to mine deep memory, and the company of more of my fellow writers.
Brechfa Pool, Powys
I’ve just got back from a week at Tŷ Newydd, the National Writing Centre of Wales. It’s close to the village of Criccieth in Gwynedd, North Wales, and overlooks Cardigan Bay. Dolphins swim in that bay, maybe mermaids too, for there’s more than a sprinkling of magic in the area. It’s been inspiring writers for many years.
I was one of a group of ten writers there this week. Under the guidance of tutors Francesca Rhydderch and Mavis Cheek, who complemented one another beautifully in their teaching, we ten all found that the words flowed freely in this beautiful setting. Helped not a little by the leaven of laughter – writing may be hard work, but it certainly doesn’t have to be solemn.
I came home with the drafts of two new short stories. As well as the makings of a new writing support network. And we’ve all promised to invite one another to our book launches, in the fullness of time!
The latest e-edition of New Welsh Review includes my opinion column on “Archetypes in the Novella and their use in The Plankton Collector.”