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

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)

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’.

Mike Scott Thomson.PNG

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: 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