‘Sally’s List’, a short story

Sally lies in bed in the early-morning limbo of darkness. Unable to snatch more sleep before the alarm rings, her mind drifts and she wonders how life brought her here to this bed. This house. This husband. This life. The me I am now. Her husband snores and rolls over so his face rests inches from hers, the rush of breath on his out-snore brushes her fringe into her eyes. How did I get here? She remembers the list of ‘When I Am Married’ she’d compiled when she was 19. I will always paint my toenails. My bra and knickers will
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Book review: Anything is Possible

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout is an extraordinary book about normal people living normal lives. On the outside, people live private, God-fearing lives, they get by, they smile, they work. Inside, they hide secrets, horror, misgivings, sadness and love. With the same vision and delicacy she displayed in My Name is Lucy Barton, Strout tells us about the people of Amgash, Illinois, the small rural town where Lucy Barton grew up. In Anything is Possible, as in real life, threads of small town life are tangled together, generation after generation, each seemingly isolated but all connected by invisible tendrils
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My Porridge & Cream read: Graeme Cumming

Today I’m delighted to welcome thriller writer Graeme Cumming. His ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Eagle in the Sky by Wilbur Smith. “My Porridge & Cream book is Eagle in the Sky by Wilbur Smith. I can’t remember exactly when I first read it, but suspect around 1977. I’d started reading him after seeing Shout at the Devil at the cinema. A week later, I spotted the book in my local library (remember those?), picked it up and became hooked on Smith for years after. Eagle in the Sky was just another I picked up to read, but it’s the
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FlashPIC #26: Beware Danger From High Tides Beyond

This photograph is a short story waiting to be written. A woman and a child collect shells on a beach. Beside them, a sign warns of the dangers of high tides. As part of the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series, here is a FlashPIC photo to help you write a short story, a brief flash fiction piece of only a few words, or something longer. You choose. Consider this story and what might happen next. Write a list of five possibilities. Now work each idea into a paragraph outline for a short story. Choose one idea and calculate your beginning, middle and end.
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Book review: Nightfall

The first page was really intriguing and locked me into the character of Jack Nightingale, a police negotiator turned private detective. He is a troubled man, troubled by what he has seen through the course of his job though nowadays he earns his living from following unfaithful spouses. Nightfall by Stephen Leather is the first of the Jack Nightingale series, described as a ‘supernatural thriller’. This is a different kind of detective story, which begins when Jack is told he has inherited a mansion from a man who claimed to be Jack’s natural father. That’s not all, his ‘father’ leaves
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Family history: Did your ancestor train as an apprentice?

If you know your ancestor’s trade, there is a good chance he or she may have trained through an apprenticeship scheme. In 1563, the Statute of Artificers and Apprentices forbade anyone from practising a craft without first serving as an apprentice. And from 1710, a duty was levied. These records form a central register of apprentices by the Inland Revenue and held at The National Archives. As well as trade apprenticeships, there were also apprenticeships which were arranged specifically by parish overseers of the poor and were intended to prevent the child being a burden on the parish. As pauper
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How Nicole Krauss writes

Nicole Krauss: “The only way I could write about these things was projecting them into the character of this old, isolated, charming but difficult man. I could express things that I simply couldn’t in my own skin, in my own life… I think that is what one is always doing as a writer. Not just self-expression, but something bigger than that, which is self-invention. In that process of self-invention you are expanding a portion of yourself… Writers are kind of like mockingbirds, in that they take what is interesting and shiny and useful from their own lives and they weave
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Book review: Skin Deep

Skin Deep by Laura Wilkinson is a thoughtful, difficult book to read about modern-day notions of beauty, ugliness and society’s fascination with appearance. At times it made me feel uncomfortable. It is the sort of book which you find yourself thinking about long after you have finished reading it. It will make you think about your own attitudes to others, do you unconsciously leap to judgement based on their outward appearance, and how much do you worry about your own looks? Hulme, Manchester, 1984. Students Diana and Linda start university, Diana is studying art, Linda art history. Diana is keen
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Book review: How To Stop Time

How To Stop Time is another hugely inventive novel by Matt Haig with a thoughtful message about identity. Tom Hazard is a history teacher with a difference. He can talk authoritatively about the Great Fire of London, because he was there; about Shakespeare, because he met him; about witchfinders, because he was terrorised by one. Tom Hazard is 439 years old but he looks forty one. When he was thirteen, the process of ageing slowed down. Tom and his mother are protestant Huguenot refugees in England when their life falls apart; his impossibly youthful looks draw accusations of witchery. We
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Book review: Then She Was Gone

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell is a delight, the page-turning story of a disappeared teenager whose experience was something I did not expect. An excellent un-thriller; that’s a phrase I use after giving it some thought. This is not a psychological thriller in that it is frightening. It didn’t make my pulse race with a sense of danger, but it did make me very curious. Ellie Mack is fifteen the day she fails to come home from the library, she is due to take her GCSE examinations the following week. She is a clever student, a golden girl.
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