#AmWriting News: A New Story at Short Story Sunday

Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 17.41.36I’m very happy to have had a story of mine published today on the wonderful Short Story Sunday website.

It’s called Will Tree Roots Damage My House? and begins like this:

As Daniel sits and opens his laptop, Ruth takes a sip from her well-earned glass of white and looks at the little oak tree that has planted itself in the flowerbed at the bottom of the garden. Against the darkening sky, its leaves look almost black. From where they’re seated on the patio, the swaying of its branches makes the stars behind them seem as if they’re really twinkling.

‘It says here that some species of oak tree can grow up to two-and-a-half feet in a year…’

To read the rest, visit Short Story Sunday

I hope you like it!

#AmWriting #AmReading News – February 2015

It’s almost the end of February and therefore time for another reading and writing round-up. This time of year seems to fly by, which is not a bad thing as I’m not a fan of Winter. I do like the cold-and-crisp blue-sky days, but you can keep the grey-and-drizzly ones!

As far as writing goes, I’ve not been doing much at all (Every winter it’s the same: my fiction-writing brain takes a vacation between January and March. I only wish it would take my body with it. It could do with some warm sunshine.). Two of my stories have, however, been published and are now available for public consumption.

I hope you like them!

On the reading front, I’ve worked my way through four books.

indexI finished FlashDogs: An Anthology. This is a super read. I do have two short stories of my own in it, but that’s not what makes it super. What makes it super is that it’s packed with great flash-fiction and short stories spanning every genre imaginable. Obviously, I enjoyed some tales more than others, but that’s to be expected from a book that contains 110 stories written by 34 different authors. At £1.99 for the ebook and £6.38 for the paperback, it’s an absolute bargain. Plus all profits go to The International Board on Books for Young People, a charity devoted to encouraging excellence in children’s books, to supporting literacy and reading projects across the world, and to developing international understanding through children’s books.

17336666After spending the whole of the autumn reading flash-fiction collections, I felt the need to start the year by devouring a novel or two. I bought Deadly Heat ages ago, but lent it to my mum who then lent it to a friend, and it only found its way back to me at Christmas. After reading it in January, I quickly ordered the latest book in the series, Raging Heat, as I knew I’d need a February fix too.

For those not in the know: Richard Castle (played by the ruggedly-handsome Nathon Fillion) is the titular character in the TV show Castle. Castle is a crime writer who rides along (initially for research purposes) with NYPD homicide detective Kate Beckett (played by the mesmerizing Stana Katic). A series of spin-off books have been released. This is where it gets complicated: these books are “written” by Richard Castle and “inspired by” his adventures with Beckett. In the books, the writer is a Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist called Jameson Rook (See what they did there?) and the NYPD homicide detective is called Nikki Heat (hence the ‘Heat’ in every title).

20454547The plots in the books are loosely based on the plots in the show, but readers are meant to believe that the show is not a show but real life, and once you get stuck into the books, you really do start to believes that’s the case, and it becomes increasingly difficult to remember that both Castle and Rook are fictitious.

As far as I’m aware, the public doesn’t knows who ghostwrites these novels. Whoever they are, they do a pretty good job of capturing the show’s ethos – and bending my mind. The writing can be a little bumpy in places and both of these latest books could have done with another pass in front a proofreader, but when it comes to Fillion/Castle/Rook I can forgive anything!

428864Living Out Loud by Keri Smith is a cracking little book – although it’s not really a book; it’s more of a folder with lots of pull-out-able pages. As my fiction-writing-brain has been switched off since Christmas, I decided to give my creativity a boost with some new fodder. This book is packed full of inspiration to keep you dreaming and playing. There are games, projects, activities, crafts and ideas that open the eyes and mind to all manner of creative opportunities. If, like me, you’ve been feeling a bit stagnant on the creative front, this might be just the refresher you need. (Expect another post about the creative endeavours inspired by the book!)

Outliers and Misfits: Search and Rescue

6170496511_0a3b07b582_z
Image by Walt Stoneburner. Some Rights Reserved. CC BY 2.0.

Outliers and Misfits is a collection of stand-alone flash-fictions all set in the same universe, a universe where there’s no such thing as normal …

Kelsey McCLellan: Obituary

Kelsey McCLellan, who died at the age of 47 while on a mission in Scotland, was probably the most loved and respected member of the international Search and Rescue community.

Having lost both her parents at a young age, Kelsey moved to Wales to live with her grandmother. After an unsettled start at secondary school, she took up climbing, and by the age of thirteen, to the surprise of everyone who knew her, she had earned a Golden Karabiner and been invited to join the International Rock Climbing Federation. Over the next three years, Kelsey won medals for Great Britain in the IRCF Championships, and, in the year that she gained twelve GCSEs, she also successfully lobbied for climbing to be included in the next Olympic Games.

Even with all of Kelsey’s sporting achievements, it wasn’t until she was seventeen that she entered the awareness of the general public. When a family became lost in extensive hill fog on Mount Snowdon, Kelsey led a group of volunteers up the mountain in near-zero visibility, locating the family – which included two children under the age of five – in less than an hour. That year, she was honoured for outstanding courage at the Britain’s Pride Awards.

After leaving school with A-Levels in Geography, Physical Education and Human Biology, she moved to Cardiff and joined the city’s police force. Following an exemplary four years on the beat, she was promoted to the Missing Persons Unit, where her case clearance rate was “second to none”. During this time, Kelsey’s love for climbing had to take a backseat, but after twelve years, she decided to combine her two passions and joined Search and Rescue UK, where she quickly earned a reputation for having “unbelievably unerring instincts” and a “whatever it takes attitude”.

During her seventeen years at Search and Rescue UK, Kelsey’s instincts and attitude took her on missions all over the world. She found people who had wandered off the Machu Picchu trail; she found more than one group of school children whose boats had capsized while white-water rafting in Austria, and she found airliners that had gone missing over mountain ranges in Canada, America and Nepal. Most famously, she located the whereabouts of the Atlas IV reentry capsule after it was lost by NASA. This January, Kelsey was recognised in the New Year’s Honours list, but sadly did not live to receive The Queen’s Commendation for Bravery.

When news of Kelsey’s tragic death was announced, tributes poured in from around the world. Among the most poignant, were the words of Jeanette Harrow, mother of one of the schoolboys saved by Kelsey on her last and fatal mission. She said, “if it wasn’t for her, my son wouldn’t be alive today. Words can’t express how grateful we are. She was a true hero.”

Kelsey did not marry and had no children. Her funeral was held outdoors at the foot of Mount Snowden. Nearly ten thousand people were in attendance.

(This story first appeared on Ether Books.)

Outliers and Misfits: Never the Same Again

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 18.26.08Outliers and Misfits is a collection of stand-alone flash-fictions all set in the same universe, a universe where there’s no such thing as normal …

The first time it happened was in my one and only university interview.

‘Why did you pick A level Biology?’ the tutor asked from behind his desk.

‘Um.’ I glanced at the clock. 11.15am. I’d been there five minutes already. ‘I … er … picked it … um … because … ‘ The truth was I’d picked it because my mum had told me to. ‘Working in a shop is fine for a holiday job, Josie, but if you want to make something of yourself you’ll need to study proper subjects, not wishy-washy subjects like accounting and business studies.’ I didn’t think that was the answer the tutor was looking for though, so I said, ‘I picked it because I … um … really like enzymes? They’re really … er … interesting?’

The tutor sniffed. ‘In what way?’

‘Um … in the way they work?’

‘Could you elaborate?’

‘Well … they … um … work… like … um … locks and … er … keys? Which is … um clever?’ I felt like kicking myself. The last thing my mum had said as she’d escorted me to the interview was, ‘don’t let your sentences sound like questions. It’s an indicator of insecurity and emotional weakness.’

‘I see,’ said the tutor, peering at his notepad. ‘And what are your career plans?’

‘Well,’ I said, thinking back to the statement my mum had made me memorise. I was supposed to say that fewer than 10% of managers in the STEM industries are female, and that once I gain my degree, I intend to work my way up the career ladder and become part of that 10%, but what actually came out was, ‘fewer than 10% of females in the STEM industries are … er … female and … um … once I have a ladder … I intend to be one.’

The tutor blinked. Silently wishing I could turn back time, I bit my tongue. For a brief moment, my insides did a loop-the-loop, and I felt like I was floating.

‘Why did you pick A level Biology?’ the tutor asked from behind his desk.

I frowned. ‘Sorry?’

‘Why did you pick A level Biology?’ he asked again.

‘Didn’t you ask me that five minutes ago?’ I said.

He returned my frown. ‘No. You only came in five minutes ago.’

Again, I glanced at the clock. 11.15am. Odd, I thought, it must have stopped, but then I saw that the second hand was still moving.

‘So.’ The tutor’s voice recaptured my attention. ‘Your choice of Biology A level?’

With my mind busy processing what had just happened, all I said was, ‘Er …’

After that, it took me three more times of biting my tongue and wishing I could turn back time to realise that turning back time was exactly what I was doing, but once I finally cottoned on, I finally found my voice. ‘I didn’t pick A Level Biology,’ I told him. ‘My mum did. What I really wanted was to study accounting and business studies and then run my own shop.’

And you know what? That’s exactly what I did.

My tongue was never quite the same again though.

(This story first appeared on Ether Books, hence the Ether Books swirl in the above image.)

Outliers and Misfits: Chatter

Fireworks Composite
Image by jeff_golden. Some Rights Reserved. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Outliers and Misfits is a collection of stand-alone flash-fictions all set in the same universe, a universe where there’s no such thing as normal …

As the sun slips behind the hill and casts the river into shadow, Jared steps onto the bank and takes a long, deep breath. Planting his feet hip-width apart, he lets his arms hang at his sides and his palms brush his thighs. Slowly, he breathes out and remembers what he’s been taught.

Stay in the present. Stay calm. Allow the sounds around you to enter your awareness, but don’t focus on them. Let them float by, like clouds in the sky.

Again, he breathes in, and then, as he pushes out his next breath, he tries.

Wind. He can hear the wind. It’s only a breeze. Only a whisper. Leaves rustle. Branches creak …

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Water. There’s water. The river. Rushing. Bubbling. Gushing. Hissing …

Just breathe. Breathe in. Breathe out.

A bird. Tweeting. A robin maybe. Calling. Crying …

Come on! In. Out.

I’ll be home by six. What are we having for dinner?

Gush. Creak. Rustle …

What do you mean you forgot to buy milk? Do I have to do everything myself …

Whisper. Rush. Hiss. Call …

You won’t believe what he did next! He only went and kissed … Don’t be late … Call me … I keep meaning to watch that but … Mine’s a beer … Don’t ever call me again … Can you pick Layla up from school … My sense of direction is terrible … There’s a tree down … No. I’m allergic to dogs … If you’re there, pick up …

With a cry, Jared drops to his knees. The pebbles fire arrows of pain up his thighs. He pounds the dirt, over and over, until his fists bleed. It’s been twelve months since he left the city, twelve months since he came to this valley to escape the constant noise, the constant voices, but he still can’t do it, he still can’t not focus, he still can’t tune them out. Even here, the chatter finds him.

This is pointless, he thinks and lets himself topple. He rolls onto his back and stares up at the sky.

For a while, he stays there, making wishes on the clouds that saunter into view, but as the air begins to cool, Jared begins to shiver, so he climbs to his feet. This really is pointless, he thinks. I may as well go home. With that, the decision is made. Jared closes his eyes, and this time, when he pushes out his breath, he pushes out his mind – out and up.

On the backs of his eyelids, fireworks explode. Lines of every colour score the darkness, twisting and turning and shooting this way and that. Resolved now, he reaches up, grabs one and yanks it down. It fizzes and cracks, but his mind holds on tight. It’s been ages since he’s done this, so he’s not sure how long it’ll him take to untangle all the lines of communication, but once he does, he’ll be able to call home and tell them he’s finally on his way back.

(This story first appeared on the Ether Books app.)

Outliers and Misfits: Healing Hands

If You Could
Image by jakub. Some Rights Reserved. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Outliers and Misfits is a collection of stand-alone flash-fictions all set in the same universe, a universe where there’s no such thing as normal …

Gary walks into the kitchen, puts the tray on the table and pulls out a chair. As he sits down, Sarah looks at the bowl. It’s still full of soup, and a thick skin has formed on the top.

‘Did he even try it?’ she asks, already knowing the answer.

With a shake of his head, Gary says, ‘He’s still hiding under the duvet. He wouldn’t even let me pull the curtains.’ His shoulders sag, and he sighs. ‘This is ridiculous. At this rate, he’ll waste away.’

Sarah lays her hand over Gary’s. It feels so cold. ‘He won’t, love,’ she says gently. ‘He’ll be all right. Wounds like this take time to heal.’ That’s what she keeps telling herself anyway.

‘How much time? It’s been three weeks already!’

Sarah manages a smile. ‘You remember what it was like to be young and in love and then have your heart broken.’

‘Of course I do, but I never took it this hard.’

She nods. ‘He’s always been a sensitive soul.’

Gary shoves the tray out of his way and slumps forward. He rests his head on his arms. ‘This is all my fault,’ he says, his voice muffled. ‘If only I hadn’t been so soft on him when he was little. Children trip over and graze their knees every day. They fall out of trees and break their ankles all the time. It’s part of growing up. If I hadn’t been so quick to rush in and make it all better, he might have developed some resilience.’

Sarah rises from her seat and walks around the table. Leaning over, she wraps her arms around Gary’s shoulders and kisses the top of his head. ‘Oh, love,’ she says. ‘I hate to see you like this.’

Gary sits up straight and draws her arms further around him. ‘You’d have done the same if you could’ve, wouldn’t you?’

‘Of course I would’ve,’ she replies. ‘I love him as much as you do. Forget about resilience. I just want him to get better. If only his heart was actually broken.’

For a minute, Gary doesn’t say anything, but then he grasps Sarah’s hands, and dislodging her embrace, he stands.

‘What?’ asks Sarah, as his chair scrapes backward across the kitchen floor. ‘What are you thinking?’

Light sparks in Gary’s eyes. ‘What if it is actually broken? What if it’s that Broken-Heart Syndrome thing? You know when people who’ve just lost someone they love have a heart attack or something.’

Sarah’s own heart leaps within her. ‘You think it could be that?’

‘Maybe. There’s only one way to find out.’

Stepping out of the way, Sarah points through the doorway. ‘Go,’ she says. ‘Try.’

Gary doesn’t need to be told twice. With his hands beginning to glow, he runs out of the kitchen and toward the stairs.

(This story first appeared on the Ether Books app under the title Outliers and Misfits: If You Could.)

Outliers and Misfits: The Actress

The Actress
Image by Varvara. Some Rights Reserved.

Outliers and Misfits is a collection of stand-alone flash-fictions all set in the same universe, a universe where there’s no such thing as normal …

I was in town with my gran – she’s eighty-six and living in a care home, but I still take her shopping every Thursday – when we stopped off at Cafe Mokka for a drink. I had a latte, and she had a cup-of-chino (as she calls them) and we sat at a table near the back, by the loos, in case she needed to go. Anyway, we’d almost finished our drinks, when the woman two tables down from us stood up.

‘Gran,’ I whispered, ‘don’t you think she looks like that actress in that film we watched the other night?’ As well as taking Gran shopping on Thursdays, I go round for movie night on Tuesdays. Last week’s film was a black-and-white from the 50’s.

Gran squinted. ‘That’s her.’

‘What?’

‘That’s her.’ Gran took a shaky sip of her drink. ‘Katherine Douglas. Wonderful actress.’

‘No, Gran,’ I said. ‘That’s not her. She just looks like her.’

‘No, love.’ Gran patted my hand. ‘That’s her.’

Now, Gran’s still got most of her marbles, but she does get confused from time to time, and her carers say it’s best not to go along with it when she does. It’s best just to gently put her right, so I said, ‘Gran, if it was her she’d be the same age as you, and she really doesn’t look the same age as you does she?’

The woman started to walk toward us, which gave me a better look at her. Her skin was perfect, unblemished. Her hair was dark. No grey in sight. Her eyes were bright and clear. As she glided past us, I glimpsed her hands. No wrinkly knuckles. No blue veins. No age spots.

‘She’s twenty-five. Tops,’ I said. ‘She really does look like her though.’

‘That’s because she is her.’ Gran rattled her cup in its saucer.

‘Oh, Gran.’

‘Now, listen here, young lady,’ she said to me, wrinkling her nose like she does when the care home serves kippers for breakfast. ‘Don’t you start patronising me too. That lady is Katherine Douglas. She gave up acting in the 70’s “to do other things” she said, but really it was because people started noticing that she wasn’t getting any older. She’s one of them you know … The Immortals.’

‘Immortals?’

‘People who live forever.’

‘I know what an immortal is, Gran. But there’s no such thing.’

Gran tapped the side of her nose. ‘That’s what they want you to think.’

I couldn’t help chuckling. ‘Maybe she’s her granddaughter.’

‘There’d have to be some pretty strong genes in that family if that was the case. Why don’t you look her up on that googly thing of yours. Find a picture, and when she comes out of the loo, take a closer look.’

‘All right, Gran,’ I said, deciding that going along with her delusion might actually be best for now. Two minutes later, the woman emerged from the toilets and as I looked from her face to my phone and back again, I had to admit, the resemblance really was uncanny.

(The original version of this story was published on the Ether Books app under the title of Outliers and Misfits: The Actress.)

Outliers and Misfits: Wormholing

Wormholing
Image by Lauro Roger McAllister. Some Rights Reserved.

Outliers and Misfits is a collection of stand-alone flash-fictions all set in the same universe, a universe where there’s no such thing as normal …

The brothers had been close ever since their parents had brought Harry home from hospital. Daniel, who had been two years old at the time, took one look at his little brother and then handed him his favourite toy, Nake – a foot-long anaconda knitted by their grandmother – and even though Harry was only a day old, he grasped Nake and smiled a gummy smile. From that moment on, the brothers hardly spent any time apart.

It was only once Daniel started pre-school, though, that their parents realized just how close the brothers actually were. At first, they thought Daniel was leaving Nake behind for Harry to play with, but it soon became clear that something else was happening.

‘Has your mum knitted another Nake?’ asked their father one day.

‘No,’ replied their mother. ‘Why?’

‘I could have sworn Dan took Nake to pre-school with him this morning, but when I went up to check on Harry, Nake was in his cot.’

‘Hmm … Danny definitely had it when you put him in the car.’

Moments later, they stood over a just-woken Harry and watched in disbelief as a disembodied child-sized hand appeared in front of their youngest son, grabbed hold of Nake and then vanished. Once they had pulled themselves together, however, they came up with a plan, and as soon as the brothers were old enough to understand, their parents explained to them how important it was to keep their talent hidden, and that if they used it, they should use it for good, not evil.

Of course, as they got older, the brothers pulled a few pranks, such as the time they ‘wormholed’ their scout leader’s car from the street to the roof of the village hall, and they almost gave into temptation on the day of Harry’s German GCSE exam. Languages had always been more Daniel’s thing. But, being by nature sensible and kindhearted boys, the brothers were generally happy to follow their parents’ advice.

At school, they took part in charity events by performing magic tricks that weren’t actually tricks. When Daniel decided to take a gap-year after college, he chose to spend it volunteering his way around the world’s orphanages. The children loved the endless supply of treats he pulled from his backpack. And at university, when Harry joined the caving club and ended up stuck down a hole with a fellow student who’d sliced open an artery on a sharp piece of rock, Daniel made sure their first aid kit stayed stocked with bandages until help could arrive.

It came as no surprise to their parents, therefore, that when the European Space Agency announced its manned mission to scour the solar system for new sources of energy, the brothers decided it was time to share their talent with the world. Things didn’t go as smoothly as they’d hoped though. Not only were they subjected to a media frenzy and endless rounds of scientific experimentation, they also came to a devastating realisation: they could not go into space together.

(The original version of this story was published on the Ether Books app under the title of Outliers and Misfits: Brothers.)

Outliers and Misfits: Her Blood Runs Cold

Her Blood Runs Cold
Image by Mate Marschalko. Some Rights Reserved.

Outliers and Misfits is a collection of stand-alone flash-fictions all set in the same universe, a universe where there’s no such thing as normal …

‘Aidan?’ Louise glances up from her microscope. ‘Could you come and look at this please?’

‘In a minute.’ Aidan has his back to her and is sorting through the tray of instruments he’s just removed from the autoclave.

‘I’m sorry, honey,’ she says. ‘I really need you to look at this now.’

Turning around, Aidan peels off his gloves. ‘Okay.’ He bends over the microscope. ‘What am I looking at?’

‘Blood.’ Louise rubs her eyes.

‘I can see that, but whose blood?’

‘Ian’s.’

Aidan stands up straight and shakes his head. ‘You really shouldn’t be doing this, love.’

Louise pinches the bridge of her nose. ‘He was a friend.’

‘That’s my point.’

‘I owe it to him to find out what killed him.’ She lays her hand on Aidan’s forearm. ‘Please, just tell me what you see.’

Huffing, Aidan bends down again. ‘Hmm … Looks like hemolysis to me. The contents of the blood cells have leaked into the plasma. Are you growing cultures?’

‘I don’t think bacteria are the cause. Look again. Look at what’s left of the erythrocytes.’

‘Uh huh. They look … um …’

‘Pitted?’

‘A little. Maybe.’

‘A lot. The surfaces are covered in cavities and that only happens when …’

‘Blood is frozen.’ Aidan straightens up again. ‘So he froze to death.’

‘No. Oh, I don’t know.’ Louise snatches the tablet from the bench and flicks through the images on the screen. After a moment, she shows one to Aidan. ‘There’s what might be a cold burn on his wrist, but other than that, it’s only the blood in his veins and arteries that show signs of having been frozen. All his other tissues and organs are fine. Apart from his heart.’

Aidan frowns.

After flicking through the images again, Louise shows Aidan another picture. ‘It’s as if his blood froze and its expansion caused his heart to burst but left the rest of his body intact. How is that possible?’

‘It’s not.’ Aidan takes the tablet from Louise and returns it to the bench. ‘Come on. You need a break. Let’s grab a coffee.’ He reaches for her hand.

Louise jerks away. ‘I can’t! I need to figure this out. For Ian.’

Aidan’s eyes narrow. ‘Ian wouldn’t want you burning yourself out over this.’

‘How would you know?’ she snaps. ‘You barely knew him.’

‘I knew him well enough.’ Aidan’s lips form a hard line.

‘You didn’t know him like I knew him.’

‘I wouldn’t have wanted to.’

Tossing up her hands, Louise sighs. ‘Not this again. I told you. Nothing happened between us.’

‘That’s not what Ian told me.’

‘What?’

Lunging forward, Aidan grabs Louise’s wrist.

‘Hey!’

He yanks her against him and presses his mouth to her ear. ‘He told me, Lou.’

Louise tries to wrench herself free, but his grip is too strong. ‘Aidan, stop! That hurts.’

‘He told me, Lou,’ he says again as blisters begin to form on Louise’s wrist. ‘Right before he died.’

(The original version of this story was published on the Ether Books app under the title of Outliers and Misfits: Best Served Cold.)

#WritingNews: Publication in Spelk

SpelkThis evening, I was dead chuffed to receive an email from Spelk, letting me know that the flash-fiction I sent them (The Last Mug) will appear on their site on the 19th of February 2015.

Spelk is a new flash-fiction presence on the web which aims to post a new story (~500 words) every week, written by both established and new writers from all over the world. They have ‘very eclectic tastes’ and they ‘don’t like labels’. They like ‘quirky stories with characters who have something to say. Stories that keep [them] thinking long after [they’ve] read them.’

I’ve read quite a few of Spelk’s stories now and have really enjoyed them, so if you’re a reader pop over and have a read, and if you’re a writer, pop over and have a read too, but while you’re there make sure you check out their submission guidelines.

Enjoy!