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.
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 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!
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!
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), Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516)
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.