The Long Road to Oxford

Having been quiet on the writing front due to work commitments, it was a joy to get back into the swing of things on Saturday. First stop was the very first London Short Story Festival at Waterstones in Piccadily ably organised by Paul McVeigh and a host of volunteers. Tania Hershman hosted an hour of ‘weird writing’ with Dan Powell, Adam Marek and Rob Sherman which provided food for thought. Then it was up to the boardroom for a workshop on generating ideas with Adam Marek. As I spend a lot of time in boardrooms in my day job, it seemed a bit cruel to spend a lovely weekend day in yet another one but the workshop itself was really interesting. It confirmed some things I think I knew about how I write but also gave me lots more to think about.

Then, I headed off to Paddington aboard a tube that must have experienced the London Blitz firsthand, sprinting like a Michelin Man possessed to leap above the train to Oxford for what proved to be a four hour journey to Oxford, being thrown off at Didcot. Left to fend for ourselves and no taxis for about 30 mins, I went for the bus on the basis, I’d be moving in the right direction. How wrong I was and I arrived in Oxford a broken man having:

1. Toured round an empty industrial estate (Saturday night!!)

2. Visited the village with the most speed humps per 100m in the entire universe (can’t remember, my brain still hurts!)

3. Navigated Abingdon like a Google Maps car (sure we went down every bloody street!)

Eventually I arrived at the Albion Beatnik bookstore in Oxford  at the halftime interval for the National Flash Fiction day event hosted by Virginia Moffatt, author of Rapture and What Comes Next and a member of the Friday Flash community which encouraged me to start writing. Indeed Virginia wrote a lovely blog post about my writing by way of introduction which I really appreciate. I read a couple of stories – ‘A Room With A View’ from the Stories for Homes Anthology and ‘The Last Last Ride’ which is about going round in circles (somewhat appropriate for the evening) then enjoyed listening to some lovely stories from other writers.

Fortunately I’d decided not to travel home that evening and instead settled for a relaxing night in a hotel before hitting Blackwells in the morning (or did they hit me, I’m not entirely sure!). It was a tiring but inspiring day and I am so looking forward now to August and September which will be my writing months for 2014.

Thanks to Virginia and Paul for organising these events and helping flash and short fiction forms of writing gain the respect they deserve.

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‘Stories For Homes’ launched on Kindle

sfh-cover

Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that I’m not a great fan of Amazon so I’m wriggling in my seat as I write this.

My short story ‘Room with a View’ has been published in the anthology Stories for Home which is now available on Amazon Kindle . For those of you who, like me, prefer books with pages and ink and supporting local bookshops, a paperback will be out at some point in the Autumn.

‘Stories for Homes’ is a project to raise funds for the housing charity Shelter and to raise awareness about the housing crisis in London and beyond (because as some of us know, there is a ‘beyond’). Known and ’emerging’ writers (emerging sounds better than saying ‘unknown’ doesn’t it?) were invited to submit stories of up to 3,000 words on the theme of Home.

The book has had a great start. For those of you who like numbers, here’s the stats:

Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (5 customer reviews) – thank you to the ‘the eternal optimist’ who mentioned my story as one of her favourites.

Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,229 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store), #6 in Kindle Store > Books > Fiction > Anthologies, #9 in Books > Fiction > Anthologies

Naturally I’m really pleased to have been selected for the anthology. I’d love it if you’d support Shelter and even more so if you’d do so through buying the e-book or the paperback.  I’m sure you’ll enjoy the tales from some of the UK’s top short story writers.

Stories For Homes

I’m really pleased to say that my story ‘A Room with a View’ will be published this summer in the ‘Stories for Homes’ anthology in support of housing charity Shelter. As you may know, many people are now facing homelessness as a direct consequence of Government policy and the ongoing economic crisis in the UK. As I was brought up on a council estate (my Dad still lives there), I’ve an appreciation of what’s going on so this is a project close to my heart.

I’d struggled to come up with an idea for a short story right until the final day and was apologising to one of the editors, Debi Alper on Twitter. ‘You’ve got until midnight.’ she said. Actually, I hadn’t. I had two hours before I had to go out. Somehow I managed to think of something that would work and then there was a mad scramble to write and submit it in the time available.

An acceptance is always good but it comes as a nice boost to my confidence and I’m looking forward to seeing the final collection. I’ll publish more details when I get them.

As a teaser, here’s a short excerpt:

From our window, you can see the pier and sea. There’s a film called ‘A Room with a View’ and that’s what we have. Except it isn’t ours. It belongs to the hotel we stay in now. Most people think living in a hotel by the seaside would be fabulous, like being a film star, but there’s nothing good about living here.

Snow Angels

FLASH MOB 2013  is a hybrid competition/blog carnival to celebrate International Flash Fiction Day on June 22nd. Here’s my entry.

Snow Angels

The constant hum and buzz of the city is replaced by distinct sounds, a door slamming, children laughing.

‘Come and make a snow angel with me, Granddad. I’ll show you what to do’. Sophie pulls Patrick up from the bench by the hand and leads him over to an undisturbed spot in the communal garden, pointing to the ground. Patrick lies down cursing his ageing bones. He closes his eyes and moves his body but to another voice.

The trees are glazed in white in the warmth of a winter sun. He is a young man, here with his unit marching to battle. The children play in the soft powder of last night’s snowfall. Patrick watches them for a while then gestures to a pretty girl with long black hair, eight maybe nine, to let him join in. His arms and legs move slowly pushing the snow aside to her instructions even though he cannot tell what she is saying. He feels the sun on his face and for a moment, the fighting is forgotten. Afterwards he divides his chocolate ration between the children, slipping the young girl an extra piece when no one else is looking. Then he gathers his troops and sets off for the front.

The soldiers come back the next week, fewer in number. The snow and the people have gone. All that remains are the smoldering remains of what was once a village.

His granddaughter is shaking him now, crying out his name. Patrick opens his eyes and smiles back at the frightened child standing over him, whispering words of reassurance. He struggles to his feet, wiping his tears with his scarf as he does. He reaches into his pocket for chocolate and breaks off an extra piece for her.

Two Worlds

A Friday Flash, this story was highly commended in a National Flash Fiction Day competition on the 1000words site Feb 2013. 

Two Worlds

‘More plates, I need plates. This is a restaurant, not a take out.’

‘Yes, Chef. Right away Chef.’ Yes Chef, no Chef, Kiss my arse Chef.

Greg stared out of the kitchen window above the sink, his hands continuing to work on autopilot. He could see the lights of the Piste Bullies high up on the mountain bashing down the snowfall of the last twenty four hours.

‘For God’s sake, what do you call this? Do it again. Focus on what you’re doing or you’re out of here!’

‘Yes Chef, sorry Chef.’

Greg hit the take off point fast, twisting to his left as soon as his skis hit the air. As the skis came towards the vertical, he pulled his left arm back increasing the speed of rotation. On his first turn, he stared into nothing but sky. On his second, he could see the town nestled in the valley below as the sun sank behind the mountains. He watched for a second as he fell towards the ground then pushed out his skis to absorb the energy as he landed, then set off down for evening service. Down here nobody, up there a King.

That Voice Again

Another Friday Flash, this story was published on the Flashflood April 2013.

That Voice Again

 This train is for Kings Cross. The next station is Potters Bar.

Anna rested her head upon Dave’s shoulder as the train pulled into the station. The platform looked busy for a Saturday morning, more like rush hour.

The doors opened and the people streamed on board.

‘There’s seats over there.’

Dave winced. No doubt who it was. He hoped she’d sit somewhere else. Some hope.

This train is for Kings Cross calling at Finsbury Park and Kings Cross only

‘Hello Dave. Fancy seeing you here. Hi Anna.’

‘Hello Sadie.’

Dave felt Anna’s grip tighten on his hand and her fingernails sink into the top of his palm. Anna said nothing but now sat bolt upright. The two women glared at each other. Dave expected to see a layer of frost form on the carriage window.

‘Oh, this is Steve, by the way,’ said Sadie.

Dave thought about shaking hands but then thought better of it and nodded at him. Steve nodded back. He knew who Dave was and was determined to keep out of the conversation if at all possible.

‘So how have you been, Dave? Haven’t seen you for ages.’

‘Yeah, I’ve…we’ve moved’ said Dave.

‘We’re engaged.’ Anna unclasped her fingers from his, held her hand out, wiggling her fingers and smiling without baring her teeth.

‘Oh congratulations, how lovely. Steve and I were thinking of moving in together, weren’t we Steve?’

Steve nodded. Poor sod, thought Dave. At first it had been great until he and Sadie moved in together. He’d soon found out that Sadie couldn’t do anything without starting an argument. Dave sometimes wondered if Sadie could argue with her own shadow. Still Steve looked a patient man. He’d need to be.

This train is for Kings Cross. The next station is Finsbury Park.

‘I expect you need to get off here, Dave. I know you have that thing of not wanting to look at the Emirates.’

‘He’s fine, chirped Anna ‘and besides we need to go to Kings Cross anyway, remember?

Dave stared at Anna. What the hell was she playing at? Of course, he wanted to get off here and why did they need to go to Kings Cross? Anna stared back defying him to argue. ‘Yeah, ‘course I remember.’

This train is for Kings Cross. The next station is Kings Cross where this train will terminate.

The group settled into an uncomfortable silence. Dave stared out of the window and glared at the stadium as it approached. He hated Arsenal but he knew Anna hated Sadie more so he kept quiet. He looked back towards Sadie and then back to Anna. He knew this would ruin the day. Anna would be monosyllabic most of the day and there’d be an argument on the way home over something trivial.

This is Kings Cross where this train terminates. Please remember to take all your belongs with you when you leave the train.

No choice, thought Dave. No choice.

The Last Last Ride

It’s been ages since I posted a Friday Flash story. This story was longlisted in The New Writer Poetry and Prose Competition 2011. 

The Last Last Ride

IMG_7090 You’d stay on this small roller coaster ride all summer long if you could and if I were a rich man, I would let you. Is it fun riding around in circles? You’re only nine; of course it’s fun. Most things are fun when you’re nine, except doing your homework, tidying your bedroom and going to bed when you’re told! But going round in circles, that’s real fun.

Another ride? OK.

I’ll take some more photos for your Mum. For me too, but I won’t need to look at them. I’ll remember this moment like it was yesterday. Last year, you were losing your baby teeth; the Tooth Fairy had deep pockets. Now you have a beautiful wide smile. One baby tooth hangs on stubbornly but soon that will be gone and then that smile will be perfect. You’re not a baby any more, except to your Mum. You’ll always be her baby.

It’s a quiet day and the operator lets you go round an extra couple of times. I’ve lost count now. You never grow tired of this ride. Your Mum can’t understand the attraction but I understand much better than you think. I never grew tired of the ride when I was nine. My ride was different; a fairground carousel in a Northern seaside town with beautiful carved wooden horses painted in garish colours taking part in an imaginary race. Each horse would pull ahead then fall behind whilst I clung on tightly to my charge, looking out for my mother and father. They stood together patiently as I sped by, going round in circles, smiling and waving at a happy little boy that would soon grow tired of such childish things, who wanted to grow up too fast. It was a lifetime ago but yesterday too. I wonder what they were thinking then? Now I’ll never know.

IMG_7085Another ride? Last one, OK? And then we’ve really got to go.

At the end, you run straight past me towards your mother. She looks tired and distant but, as you approach, her face lights up as she listens to you, all breathless and excited. You grow more like her every day. You look to me for signs of weakness and plead for a ‘last last’ ride. You pull a sad face then flash that smile, not sure which tactic will work best. You know I am the verge of giving in but I smile and shake my head. It’s time to leave.

It’s getting late and your Mum’s tired, but the nine year old in me wants to say yes. I wish we could stay, that the ride could go on forever.

I wish for a ride when the world wasn’t on my shoulders, when I didn’t disappoint, when time didn’t matter and going round in circles was just fun once again and not a punishment. I want that ‘last last’ ride too.

 

 

Photos © PDomican LRPS

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