Month: February 2012

Flash 365 plus 1

Calum Kerr the organiser of National Flash Fiction day is also writing a flash a day on his Flash 365 blog. With this, Feb 29 being a bonus day, he has got lots of us to provide the bonus day stories on his blog including one of mine to be put up. With some great names in short story writing there give the stories a read and don’t forget to go back to Callum’s blog to see his new stories each day.

He’s also ran a flash competition and the winners of those very short pieces can be read here.

Hosting: Split Worlds Story: Coming of Age

Emma Newman’s (or EJ. Newman’) Split World project’s aim “is to immerse you in the Split Worlds with a mixture of storytelling, live events and online interactive events culminating in the launch of a five book series.” The Split Worlds “is an urban fantasy setting with gritty noir, fantastical magic, evil faeries and people just trying to drink their tea in peace.” I’m happy to welcome Emma and the Split Worlds series on the blog today. Find out more and read the latest story.

This is the seventeenth tale in a year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds If you would like me to read it to you instead, you can listen here.You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are releasedhere.

Coming of Age


Even though his right leg was cramping and his neck was starting to really hurt, Coll was enjoying himself for the first time in ages. Emily was wearing the jumper he liked best because it was more holes than wool. He watched her long blonde hair sway from side, brushing the top of her jeans as she laughed with two other girls who faded into the background, all three peeling their own apple.

“Is it the right shoulder or the left?”

“The left Cassie, it’s always the left,” Emily said with authority. “Like when you spill salt.”

“To blind the devil so he doesn’t make trouble,” Lilly said.

“Does that make this something to do with the Devil?” Cassie asked.

“No, stupid, it’s just a bit of fun,” Emily replied. “But you have to peel the apple all in one go, if it breaks it means you’ll never marry at all.”

That killed the conversation. Coll smiled, imagining Emily’s making a nice fat ‘C’. He was the only lad with that initial, the twat sniffing around Emily had the initial ‘D’ – for Dave. And Dickhead.

It was Dave’s coming of age weekend, so they’d all been sent off to camp and help prepare him whilst the adults waited at the farm. The lads were off gathering food, he’d had the sense to sneak off to spy on the girls in their yurt, hoping for a glimpse of Emily’s underwear as they changed for the evening gathering. He was sick of being with the others anyway, they were all so desperate to prove how ‘manly’ they were. They were all running around pretending to be cavemen, he was tucked behind the logpile watching the totty. No prizes for guessing who was the most evolved.

Coll dreaded his coming of age, still nursing a desperate hope that his Dad would come to his senses and move them back to the real world before his sixteenth birthday. No way did he want Emily to see him wearing only clothes he’d made himself, bearing a bare chest and a shield – of his own making too. He was hopeless at that kind of stuff.

“Okay, I’m ready,” Emily said, cupping the spiral of peel in one hand as she abandoned the knife and naked apple. She waited for the other two to finish, then they stood in a row, spacing out as much as they could amongst their stuff. “One, two, three!”

They threw the peels over their left shoulders, Coll imagined a clear C made of apple peel landing behind Emily – and not the others.

The trio spun around, Emily gasped, the other two looked briefly confused, then all three gathered around the peel that had landed behind Emily.

“Coll!” Cassie and Lilly gasped in unison, Emily was silent and rather pale.

“That’s creepy,” Lilly said, looking at the others. “Don’t you think so? I threw my peel behind me, not over here.”

“Me too,” Cassie said. “Maybe the spirits are trying to-“

The two girls looked at each other and ran out as Emily stared down at the peel.

Desperate to see, Coll stretched his neck, trying to peep between two unevenly piled logs. He wobbled, sending the top ones spilling onto the ground. Emily’s head snapped up and looked straight at him.

“Coll!” she yelled. “That wasn’t funny.”

“I didn’t touch it, I swear,” he said, glad to straighten up, now able to see his name formed in perfectly spaced apple peel letters. “How could I have?”

“Spying on me too now? Perv!” She ran out.

“Bollocks.” He climbed out of the yurt through the gap he’d used to get in, not wanting to emerge from the doorway when others could be watching.

When he brushed himself down and made his way into the centre of the camp, Emily was huddled with the others a little way away and all three gave him the look of death. He shoved his hands deep in his pockets, pretended not to care and sloped off into the woods. Sod Emily and the stupid peel. Sod Dave and his stupid ceremony. Sod them all.

Coll walked, feeling better the further away he got, deciding he would find a hollow to spend the night in and then go back to the farm after the ceremony. He thought about dead trees blossoming, he thought about the peel, he wished he had a sane father and that his mother hadn’t died. The evening passed in a blur of trees and bitterness.

***

Coll woke, not aware he’d dozed off. It was dark, his back ached and something was crawling on his cheek. He brushed it off and sat up hurriedly, only then becoming aware of the figures stood around him. The moonlight picked out four belt buckles, four pairs of eyes and a spearhead.

“Coll, you perv, Emily told us what you did.”

“I didn’t do nothin’,” he stood up.

“You hid in the girl’s yurt,” Dave said, jabbing the spear tip towards him. “You broke one of the sacred rules of the camp.”

“Oh piss off Dave, this isn’t a sodding TV show. Go back to camp and play cavemen with someone else, I don’t give a shit about the fact you’ve lived with a bunch of hippies for sixteen years.”

“I’m head of the camp, you broke a sacred rule. You know what that means?”

Coll shrugged, disinterested.

“It means I get to beat the crap out of you and no-one’ll stop me.”

Coll was running before his thoughts could catch up with his legs. Dave was bigger, he had a spear and he fancied Emily; all the odds were against him. He could hear the others joining the chase too, and none of them would take his side, they all wanted to be the alpha male’s favourite.

The ground was uneven, he tripped and regained his footing countless times, the pursuit filling the forest with snapping twigs and guttural shouts. He had no idea where he was going, all he hoped for was a place to hide before he broke an ankle. Then he saw a light up ahead, incredibly bright, he wondered if it was someone with a torch walking their dog. He headed towards it, hoping the imagined dog-walker wouldn’t run away at the sound of a pack of teenagers on the rampage.

He came to a huge log at the edge of a clearing. The light was dead ahead, he vaulted onto the log and leaped off, hoping to gain a good chunk of ground, but when he landed, he wasn’t in a forest any more. The trees were gone, as was everything else, even the ground was obscured by a dense mist. There were no smells, no sounds. There was more light but it was diffuse, like winter sunlight through fog, and when he looked up the sky was silver. He spun around, goggling, then Dave and the rest burst through behind him.

They too stopped, gawped, but Coll started to run, not wanting to be close when they came to their senses. He risked one glance behind and then when he faced forwards again he was back in a black forest bursting with life.

He tripped and fell hard, rolled onto his back and lay there a moment, panting, as he took in the trees and the moon above him. The bright light was gone. He hid, expecting the others to reappear any moment, shivering as the hours passed. It was only when the sun rose, revealing the spearhead and four rusting belt buckles, that Coll stopped believing they would ever be seen again.

Thanks for hosting Alison!

I hope you enjoyed the story. If you would like to find out more about the Split Worlds project, it’s all here: www.splitworlds.com – you can also sign up to get an extra story and get each new story delivered to your inbox every week. If you would like to host a story over the coming year, either let me know in the comments or contact me through the Split Worlds site. Em x

Which books have you thrown at the end of the bed?

I’ve just been having an interesting conversation on Twitter about books we’ve thrown at the end of the bed either during or at the end of the reading process. Of course there are many reasons why we might be frustrated with a book. Much of the time it just didn’t live up to the expectation we had of it or was simply substandard in some way in our estimation. But there are other potential reasons. Perhaps the material was too close to the bone. Perhaps it was very similar to the amazing novel we wrote five years ago and never had the courage to send out.

So which novels spring to mind? I’ve had some interesting answers so far: Lessing’s Good Terrorist, Miller’s “Demo”, Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Perhaps the individuals who gave me those answers might visit and tell us why in the comments. My own examples are ‘One Day’ by David Nichols, The ‘Terrorist’ by John Updike and ‘The Unconsoled’ by Kasuo Ishiguro. My husband also threw the much lauded The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen at the end of the bed. It was ‘too much’ for him.

With ‘One Day’ ( A book I’m almost afraid to criticise because of the hype and exaltation around it) I was not moved in the way I expected to be, I didn’t warm to the characters over time, I felt it all quite superficial and the ending (which I won’t reveal) was just a bit let down. Particularly with film, I try particularly hard not to hear too much before I see a film because I don’t want to know what it’s about or how amazing it’s meant to be. I think I suffered with One Day with expecting something extraordinary due to the hype surrounding the book. The premise was great enough for me to buy it but ultimately I didn’t enjoy it.

With The Terrorist I was put off again by the superficiality of character and lack of real insight into the character’s motivations but also by the unnecessary misogyny evidenced more by the writer himself than the main character.

With the Unconsoled it was a far more complex reaction. The reaction was visceral, physiological. The book engages from the off but then continues it’s narration over the long book in the manner of our dreams, endlessly truncated journeys and quests, a push towards a climax that ultimately dissolves. Sometimes I physically could not stand reading the book. I threw it to the end of the bed but retrieved it just to find out what happened. One of the quotes on the jacket says that it it ‘probably a masterpiece’. An apt description. Despite my difficulties reading the book, it has never left me. It’s dreamlike qualities have infiltrated my brain as if he spoke the very language of consciousness. And perhaps we, the readers are the ultimately ‘Unconsoled.’

So tell me, which books have you thrown at the end of the bed, and why?

#fridayflash Ice cream dreams

It’s been quite a while since I did #fridayflash. Here’s one with some of the characters from Origami Flamingos.

All day the ice cream van was circling. Ice dream van. Rat catchers, child snatchers from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Singing 99 bottles of beer on the wall while waiting for it to arrive. Eating in his mind’s eye a 99 – whipped ice cream with a jaunty chocolate flake. He would save that until last.

They didn’t have the money. Barry put his hand into his pocket and pulled out a lining that was torn. It was reminsicent of his magician hankerchief trick when he was still on the domestic circuit. He shrugged his shoulders. Gary glared in the ferocious glare of the sun. His lips were as dry as popped pods, from which he ate peas, shooting them staccato sweet at the back of the throat, as if he could extract something special from his resistent life.

It was all there, wasn’t it in the shrug of his shoulders? Pauline and Barry. His parents. Not his Mum and Dad, Just two random people who fused a sperm and an egg. He knew about that. He was interested in science. Life wasn’t all necessarily random, there were patterns and conditions. And if there were he was going to find them.

In Gary’s room there was a map, a print out. It depicted the route which the ice cream van took each day during the month of August. It was part of a greater analysis, the graphs of which were safe inside his computer. There was a slightly different pattern for every month. He was a fan of Traffic estimation and prediction systems, other wise know as TrEPS. His uncle Gavin the architect was fascinated when he showed him. His father told him about the perfect rhythm of the Las Vegas Can Can Dancers and how the crowd went wild when he made Pauline spin at the end of stick while elevated. The thrust of this revelation was somehow at the same time both tangential to Gary’s project and way off the mark.

Speaking of mark, Gary had made a new friend, Mark Burns, a strange boy with an obsession for paper aeroplanes. He was always trying to improve the aerodynamics. He said that he had once flown across the Irish Sea with his mother. He was such a serious boy that Gary was inclined to believe him, witnessing the incline of his head, his determined fingers as he sharpened the edges of paper wings.

Every day now, he and Mark would test the TrEPS for the ice cream van down to exact timings, leaving only sixty seconds from the house to the predicted arrival point at the ETA (estimated time of arrival). Gary had other friends but only online. They would Skype each other with verified sightings of the van as the data for the TrEPs was compiled. He was cheered by the sound of these disembodied voices. Barry and Pauline had never Skyped him, despite their many travels. They ‘hadn’t been ready’ for parenthood. He lived with Gavin and Christine instead. When he was younger he had made maps of their travels, stuck pins in where they were located but he was finished sticking pins now. Now he merely scowled at Barry’s empty pockets. Back on the sun lounger Barry revealed his gold medallion on his hairless, sculputured chest. Why would you want a Dad like that?

The chime of the ice cream van came from far away, but he knew it was closer. He had this impression of Mark putting down his paper aeroplane, tightening his laces. Gary had an aunty who ran. Gertie ran for no reason up and down the highstreet, out to the edge of town, in marathons and muddy obstacle races, during parades despite peramulatory preponderance. Gertie was running now, in the kitchen, helping Gavin and Christine out with everything. Any of them would have given him the money for an icecream but he like to test Barry from time to time to see if he really was good for nothing.

Pauline’s handbag was fancy. Alligator skin he thought she’d said. When he opened it up he saw the alligators jaws widened. He was quick to get in and out before the jaws snapped shut. He felt paper between his fingers. He folded it quick, sharp, like Mark.

His heart was on standby, kerthump, kerthump. His toes were poised and he heard the shrill laughter of Pauline on the recliner, the deep throaty answer of Barry. All that time he had been counting down in his head. At school they called him exceptional. The exceptional informed the pattern of the regular. The ice cream van may be late on the day of a match or the broadcast of an opera. The human bits were harder to equate for.

As Gary passed the recliners with the ten pound note wrapped into his tight fist Barry raised his hand but through his sunglasses he could not see his son’s face. The boy counted down to the suitable number. He raced out of the garden to the sound of the ice cream jingle. He crossed the road and headed to the green. He could see Mark coming towards him. In the glare it looked like he was flying in the centre of the great orb of the sun. For an instant he was halted by his imagination instead of facts.

If he had been too distracted by life, like his parents had been, if random events collided, like they had when he was conceived by the time he crossed the road he would have been in the path of the ice cream van. There would be a bang that rang out around the estate so that even Barry snoozing on his recliner, would sit up. Mark would fly to his friend and Gertie’s footsteps would not be far behind. The ice cream man would have his head in his hands and at the house Pauline would put her cardigan on against the chill. Gary would lie on the ground with white in his head, the last thoughts of ice cream melting.