Archives for short story

#FlashPIC 38 Laburnum #writingprompt #amwriting

This is a photograph of a laburnum tree and it is going to inspire you to write a scary story today. This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Try this picture to kickstart a short story or a flash fiction exercise about fear. First, seven facts about the laburnum tree:- The common nickname for the laburnum tree is the ‘golden chain’ or ‘golden shower’ tree. All parts of it are poisonous. The yellow flowers are pea-shaped, resembling but unrelated to the pea family. The fruit develops as a pod that is extremely poisonous. The wood is highly prized for making musical instruments. The heartwood of the laburnum is hard, chocolate brown-coloured, and often used as a substitute for ebony or rosewood. The outer, or sapwood, is a pale butter-yellow shade. Now consider each of these facts in turn, and write one paragraph about each in a fictional setting. Consider how each fact could be threatening. Review your paragraphs and look for links between them. Discard any that don’t fit. Now turn your remaining paragraphs into a flash fiction story including one of the following:- A poisoning; A miraculous healing; An unexpected musical triumph; A piece of furniture made from
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

#GuestPost ‘Short Story Talk’ by Amanda Huggins @troutiemcfish #shortstories #amwriting

A warm Yorkshire welcome today to my blog to short story writer Amanda Huggins, a 2018 Costa Short Story Award runner-up, who has clear ideas about writing the short form. Welcome Amanda! “There’s been talk in recent years of a short story renaissance. In January 2018The Bookseller magazine reported that sales of short story collections were up 50%, reaching their highest level in seven years. However, this turned out to be largely due to a single book — Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks. This January the news was all about poetry — sales were up 12% in 2018, for the second year in a row. “It’s great to see a renewed interest in both forms — certainly a couple of independent bookshops I’ve talked to this week have confirmed that short story sales are up — and more collections are being featured in review columns. There was also the buzz around Kristen Roupenian’s short story, ‘Cat Person’, published in the New Yorker at the end of 2017, which really resonated with a younger audience. Whatever you thought of that story, it was all good publicity for the short form.” “As a writer, I know that crafting a two thousand word story requires a different
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

‘Endings’, a short story

The woman in the red coat stood beside her on the northbound platform, it was a feminine coat, cut tight at the waist and flaring out like an ice skating skirt. Just as Sue was framing the words, ‘Ooh, is that from Next,’ the 10.23 to Manchester Piccadilly arrived and something red flew past her. It was so quick she thought she might have imagined it. But then she saw the white staring eyes of the driver and heard the desperate squealing of brakes on rails. Footsteps behind her, people running, jostling, pushing. ‘What happened? Oh…’ ‘Is she? How…’ ‘I’ll go and find…’ Sentences unfinished. Sue knelt at the platform edge and looked down to the rails, the crushed Coke cans, crinkly crisp packets and dark stains, red fabric. The front of the engine loomed over her like a tall cliff. Death smelled like the diesel Sue put in the car. ‘Hello.’ Not even a whisper, smaller than a sigh. Sue pulled the red coat aside and two eyes looked up, black, like pieces of coal in a snowman’s face. ‘Help.’ Sue’s voice wasn’t working, it sounded nothing like the noise she usually heard in her head. She tried again.
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Categories: My Short Stories.

‘Space’, a short story

‘Ground Control to Major Tom.’ The thin tune came from his mother’s mouth, not the radio which was spouting some rubbish about cruising down the Nile. ‘Take your protein pill and put your big hat on.’ John stood in the kitchen, waiting for the kettle to boil, his mother was in her wing chair by the picture window in the lounge, a crochet rug over her knees. ‘I’m floating in the most pa-pa-queue-lee-ar way,’ she sang. ‘Rocket ma-an-aan-‘ He poured the boiling water over the teabags, gave it a swirl and a squeeze then poured out two mugs of tea. ‘That’s Elton, Mum. Not Bowie.’ He offered her the fine bone china mug with a pattern of bluebells which was her particular mug ‘Thank you dear… and I think it’s going to be a very long time-‘ ‘That’s Elton. The first bit’s Bowie.’ ‘I know, Jimmy, I know. But it’s what we sang, for fun.’ He worked hard at not smiling, not wanting to upset her. She was always doing this, getting his name wrong. Wrong facts, wrong lyrics, wrong singer. ‘Where?’ ‘Where what, dear?’ ‘Where did you sing?’ ‘Oh, at Mission Control.’ He did smile now, his mother didn’t have
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Categories: My Short Stories.

‘Home’, a short story

Demerara was Joey’s favourite. She wasn’t the colour of sugar but her nature was just as sweet, the sweetest pigeon in the loft. The least sweet was Darth who was almost completely black except for a flash of green on his left shoulder. He was the fattest pigeon, he ate the most and flew the least. Actually Darth was a pigeon version of Joey, a fact that neither recognised. Joey would spend every moment in the pigeon loft at his allotment if he could but he worked in the other direction, near enough home to walk or cycle. Two miles northbound, a straight road but a bit uphill. Two miles southbound at night, downhill, straight as an arrow, no map required. Every morning Joey pulled on his old fleece and got into his rusty blue Escort, carrying a pack-up made by Gill. It was because of Gill’s baking that Demerara was called Demerara. And Bakewell, Muffin, Drizzle, Battie [for Battenberg] and Simnel. Even Darth had originally been named Parkin but the name never stuck. It was the beginning of Spring and change was afoot. The pigeons were restless, strange birds were appearing at the bird table from the south, finding
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Categories: My Short Stories.

‘Movies’, a short story

‘Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.’ Jarek locked the doors, engaged first gear and nudged the nose of his black cab into the stream of traffic. His passenger didn’t acknowledge the stab at conversation. A pick-up on Regents Street at 6pm, the week before Christmas, it was going to be one long crawl, a back-double, then baby steps over the bridge to Waterloo. He sneaked a look at the passenger. A man. Dark business suit, smiling to himself, teeth as white as his shirt. Jarek studied him; no not a smile, more of a grimace. He tried his usual banter. Football. Stock market. State of the roads. Cyclists. Skyscrapers ruining London’s skyline. Whether Boris should be PM. No answer from the back seat. ‘What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate,’ Jarek muttered to himself. He didn’t like driving in silence. He paused, then waved at the silver and gold flashing lights, the red and gold streamers, people carrying bursting carrier bags. ‘If you build it he will come.’ No answer. Was he asleep? ‘I mean the shops.’ He hated that his voice sounded apologetic, hated the need to explain himself. ‘You build the
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Categories: My Short Stories.

Book review: Separated from the Sea

About love, loss, partings and freedom. About yearning for a connection with another person but sometimes recognising it is better to walk away. Separated from the Sea by Amanda Huggins is a collection of poignant stories that cannot fail to touch you. Some of the stories spoke to me personally because of the Yorkshire settings, but locations range from Japan to America and Europe. Huggins has mastered the form; just enough detail, just enough emotion to pull you in and a well-disguised twist at the end. I have chosen three stories to focus on. In ‘Whatever Speed She Dared’ a woman drives on an empty motorway across the Pennines in the dark of night. She is tempted by what lies ahead, a new future. But an encounter with a skittish rabbit gives her pause for thought. In ‘Sea Glass’ two children walk on the beach. Alife tells Cathy that pieces of blue sea glass are the souls of fishermen lost at sea. Another two pieces, he says, are the eyes of ships’ cats swept overboard. ‘If you match a pair of eyes, and sleep with them under your pillow, then the cat’ll find his way back to land.’ A melancholic longing
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth

Partly good and partly disappointing: The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth, the latest collection of short stories by William Boyd, is a bit of a curate’s egg. The shorter the stories, the more satisfying. Organised in three parts, the first comprises seven short stories. If asked for my favourite from Part 1, I would say the first, ‘The Man Who Liked Kissing Women’. Ludo Abernathy is an art dealer who has foresworn affairs, his previous dalliances having finished three marriages. Now, he sticks to kissing women. Except when he can’t resist the temptation of making a killing on a Lucien Freud painting. The title story, the longest in the anthology, makes up Part 2. It is more novella than short story, and I almost wish Boyd had developed it as such with a full plotline rather than letting Bethany Mellmoth drift from scene to scene. Bethany is a naïve twenty-something who drifts from boyfriend to boyfriend, dreaming of what she can do with her life but failing to make it happen. Each time it goes wrong, she gives up and moves back with her mother. It was a pleasant read but I’m unclear of Boyd’s central message – perhaps, the over-reliance
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Brightly Coloured Horses

‘Twenty-seven very short human stories’ it says on the cover of Brightly Coloured Horses by Mandy Huggins. Many of them are competition winners. This is Huggins’ first anthology, but these are not the stories of a beginner. She is a talented writer of the human state of mind who chooses every single word with care, and makes every single word work hard to convey its meaning. It has to in a flash fiction story; there is no space for indulgence on the part of the writer. Women, and men, fall in love, out of love, they grieve for what they have lost or never had, their attraction is instant, fading or lustful opportunity, they feel cherished, desired or neglected. I’ve chosen three stories to discuss. Huggins is excellent on the many shades of the human relationship and the titular ‘Brightly Coloured Horses’ is a key example. Marielle and Hugh arrive in Paris for a romantic weekend. ‘The food was mediocre: the bread was yesterday’s and their omelettes were overcooked. She smiled, and said it was fine, and they both drank too much wine because they knew it wasn’t.’ Their disengagement with each other is familiar to anyone whose relationship has broken
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Categories: Book Love.

‘Celebration’, a short story

The floor wasn’t big enough for all three girls to lay out their paper patterns so Jenny went first. Her dress would be full-length pale blue satin, spaghetti straps. Anne and Liz sat and watched. Jenny had sewn things before, the short tartan wool skirt she was wearing now was home-made, fully lined and everything. Jenny knelt on the floor, pins between her lips, smoothing fabric and smoothing paper, pinning along the lines. Her treasured scissors were in her sewing box. Satin was horribly slippery fabric to sew and Jenny wished Anne and Liz would do something rather than just sit there like wet weekends. All she could see was their feet. Anne’s white tennis shoes were muddy around the rubber sole. Liz was in bare feet, the red polish peeling off her toenails. The Rag Ball was on Saturday. She had no idea how Anne and Liz intended to sew their dresses. She got the feeling they only bought patterns and fabric because she had. This happened a lot. If she’d said she was going to bleach her hair blonde, they probably would too. It had been like this for almost three years. At first it had been giggly,
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Categories: My Short Stories.

‘Revenge’, a short story

They are bought with a purpose. Not cheap, but worth it. June prepares carefully. Works out the best place from which to spy, disguised, far enough away to be unsuspected. The binoculars take a bit of fiddling with until she gets the hang of them. Simple really, she doesn’t need her reading glasses. On the chosen day she dresses in brown, the better to disappear into the natural surroundings. The caramel cable cardigan she knitted herself when Jim was ill, the khaki trousers bought from the bargain bin at the supermarket, her comfortable gardening shoes and a clever sunhat which folds flat and fits in her pocket. She settles into position, her back against a tree, sitting on a picnic rug. See and not be seen, that is the plan. It will be impossible to miss the guilty party from here. Beside her she lays out provisions: cheese and pickle sandwich on granary bread, flask of black coffee, fingers of buttery shortbread. Nothing that will rattle or crunch, no plastic wrapping or greaseproof paper. Only cling film. She misses her daily lunch apple but it too involves crunching, perhaps she will eat it for supper instead. And so she waits. A
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Categories: My Short Stories.

‘Beginnings’, a short story

Eliza Tavernier set aside her sketchpad and rubbed her aching neck, her hand cupping the curls of bobbed hair which brushed the tips of her ears. Winter darkness had fallen and the dark panelling of her office intensified the gloom. She sat at her desk, once her father’s, and wondered if he would ever have been proud of her achievements. Leon Tavernier had only one ambition for his youngest child. Marriage. Eliza considered her greatest achievement to be the Relámpago sapphire necklace, featured in La Moda magazine, and now Miss Fitz was taking trunk calls from Rome and Vienna from gentlemen and ladies wishing to place orders. Atop of a pile of unread magazines sat a jewellery box. Her fingers lingered over the gold embossed lettering ‘Atelier Tavernier, Fitzroy Square, London’. This was the first piece of Atelier Tavernier jewellery she had owned, her father had proclaimed her too young for precious gems and to this day she simply opened the display case every morning and chose something to suit her dress. She had paid for this tiara with her own money. She remembered the first sketch, how her sharpened pencil had flown across the paper knowing what it would
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Categories: My Short Stories.

‘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 always match. I will wash and blow-dry my hair every morning. I will never go anywhere in the car with a coat over my pyjamas. I will never do something my husband wants to do, just for an easy life. I will never fake a headache. Ditto a period pain. I will not squeeze myself into tight black lingerie, just because he bought it for me. I will keep my own friends, and not adopt his friends as mine. I will not pretend to understand the rules of Formula One. I will not expect him to watch the boxset of
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Categories: My Short Stories.

Book review: Odds Against

Odds Against by Bruce Harris is not an ordinary collection of short stories. All have been shortlisted for prizes. All feature characters fighting ‘against the odds’. The theme is personal: all money raised by sales of the book is to be donated to the UK’s Huntington Disease Association. For Harris, whose partner suffers from the disease, the battle against the odds is personal. The stories are divided into three sections so, rather than review each story, I have chosen one from each. The first third of stories feature women. In ‘Devil’s Evening’, Iana from Moldova is trapped beneath a bed. Asleep on the mattress is her captor, a bulky, boozy man who uses and abuses her. Desperate to flee, she remembers her mother and grandmother and hears their words of advice. ‘Then it was Mama again, telling her to use the opportunity, not squander it in meaningless gesture.’ A tale of modern-day slavery and what it means to escape. In the section titled ‘Men’, ‘One Man’s Paradise’ tells the story of the captain of a patrol boat off the Italian island of Lampedusa, destination of refugees. As they approach a boat of refugees, a boat with dead and alive aboard,
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Categories: Book Love.

‘Running’, a short story

I didn’t run the Reighton Fun Run in 12 minutes 14 seconds, so why does everyone keep congratulating me? I didn’t come first, I didn’t win anything. I never win anything. No-one’s ever patted me on the back before, but it felt good. The Mercury sent a photographer to take my photo and I told him it wasn’t me but he took the picture anyway. Wanted me in my running vest and shorts, the best I could do was my blue trackkie bottoms and the t-shirt I wear for gardening. But he didn’t seem to care. It’ll be in Saturday’s edition. A boy knocked on my door. Are you famous? Don’t like children, I said. You boys run around our street shouting when you mother’s thrown you out of the house for being too noisy. Why can’t she be bothered to look after you instead of letting you litter the street with bikes and footballs and noise? Dunno, he said. But he’d seen a man with a camera walking down my front path. Had I murdered someone, or won the lottery, or done something really clever? No, the man wanted to take my photo because I ran in a race. Ooh,
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Categories: My Short Stories.

#FlashPIC 20 Rubbish Bin #writingprompt #amwriting

One rubbish bin is much like another rubbish bin, isn’t it? Yes… except for its location, the time of day, the weather, the people passing by. Consider writing a short story which takes place around a rubbish bin or in which a rubbish bin plays an important part. Here’s a FlashPIC writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series to start writing now. Choose three of the situations below, and write a paragraph for each. Then concentrate on one, and write 500 words:- An argument takes place beside the rubbish bin; A crime happens nearby; A homeless person meets someone he didn’t expect beside the bin; A passer-by finds something strange in the bin; Two strangers agree to meet on a street corner, near the bin; A spy uses this rubbish bin as a dead-drop, but someone else finds his package first; A bird nests in the bin; An uncared-for, un-emptied bin is adopted by a schoolgirl who lives nearby. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Coffee Shop Belisha Beacon Death Valley What are ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’? I want to help you put words on the page. Those words won’t necessarily be the first line of your
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Flash Fiction: Paris

In the thing where I keep the small metal circles I give the man in the shop where I buy bread, I find two papers I do not know. Why don’t I know them? This is my thing, it is mine because inside is a yellow paper with my name. Mary. Inside is my purse, this is where I keep the small metal circles and sometimes large paper things with people’s faces on. The lady at the bank, Annette, gives me the paper things every Friday. She says “Hello Mary, have you come for your money?” and she gives me the paper things. She always smiles and is ever so kind. I look at the two papers, they do not have my name on them, on one side there are words and on the other is a picture of two grey men. Who are these men? What are they doing in my thing? Someone must have put them there when I was asleep? I mustn’t go to sleep. People want to steal things. My Bill bought it for me, he said I needed a thing to keep my money in. Perhaps the papers are not mine. They do not have my
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Categories: My Flash Fiction.

New books coming soon

Isabel Costello Paris Mon Amour, a story of “desire, betrayal and devastating loss” by Isabel Costello, is to be published by Canelo on June 13, 2016. Set in France, Paris Mon Amour tells the story of one woman and two men, of love and loss. Costello [above] said: “Paris Mon Amour was inspired by my frustration with the double standards applied to women and men, especially when it’s about sex or age or both. But from the moment I started to write, it was Alexandra’s story and I’m delighted to be working with such an enthusiastic team at Canelo to share it with readers.” Read more about Isabel Costello at her blog, The Literary Sofa. Eimear McBride The Lesser Bohemians, the second novel by Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction winner Eimear McBride, will be published by Faber in the autumn 2016. Described as another imaginative novel, it is the story of innocence and love of an 18-year-old Irish girl, recently arrived in London to study drama, who meets an older actor. McBride [above] won the Bailey’s Prize, the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Goldsmiths Prize with A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, originally published by independent Galley Beggar Press. Faber
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Categories: Book Love.

Flash fiction: Left or right

The tall dark figure stood behind the small pink one, at the open door of the coffee shop. They looked out at the wet pavement, the December squall pushing the rain horizontally into their faces. “We’re going to go left. Which way is left?” “This one.” A hand waved in the air and was quickly shoved into a pocket. “No… Try again.” The man shared the same dark brows as the pink figure which leant backwards against his legs, sheltering from the chill wind which arrived in their High Street from snow-blocked continental Europe. “Grandpa, can we go. Please.” She stamped her feet. “It’s freezing here.” “Where to next?” “To get Mog.” “Show me the way then.” “The library’s over there.” She waved her left hand vaguely in a left direction. Her hands were cosy inside hand-knitted mittens, each with a crocheted-flower sewn on it. She was so proud of her new mittens. She had chosen the colours and her grandmother had done the special crocheting with a huge grey needle. The pair clasped hands, his left in her right, and disappeared into the cold rain. In the coffee shop, Mary watched them go. She sat at the table beside
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Categories: Book Love, My Flash Fiction and On Writing.

My ‘Porridge & Cream’ read: Judith Field

Today I am pleased to welcome short story writer, Judith Field to share her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read. “My book is Anybody can do Anything by Betty Macdonald. I’d read her books The Egg and I (which, like the Curate’s egg, is good in parts) and The Plague and I (which I love), so when I saw Anybody in a second hand bookshop in 1981 for only 25p, I grabbed it. I re-read this funny and uplifting boot, with its brilliant character descriptions. when I need picking up, but I leave it long enough between reading that I can’t remember the text word for word. When I do read it, I feel a thrill of recognition, like meeting an old friend. Published in 1945, it’s a memoir of life in Seattle during the Depression, in the early to mid nineteen thirties. Betty leaves an unhappy marriage and, with her two small daughters, goes back to live with her quirky, warm, and supportive family of four sisters and a brother headed by Mother, who “with one folding chair and a plumber’s candle, could make the North Pole homey.”  Betty says “It’s a wonderful thing to know that you can come home any
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.