Thimbles are old hat. As are hatpins, come to that.
We don’t skirt along wainscots anymore – linoleum and robot vacuum cleaners have made that too dangerous. Nor do we abseil down curtains – blinds are not nearly so conducive to a silent descent. And the pets…People still talk about Eggletina having been eaten by a cat, a story whose horror is not in any way reduced by its being apocryphal, but in modern Borrower life the Human Beans are far more eclectic in their tastes. Ferrets, parrots, tarantulas…my cousin Dimmer swears he had to squeeze through a letter box brush to escape a fucking micro pig. These days it is ventilation grilles, wood burners, and shimmying down USB cables.
I was out in my garden this week when a skein of geese flew overhead. The sight always reminds me of The Book of Merlyn in T. H. White’s The Once and Future King and Lyo-Lyok the goose talking to Wart on the mudflats about freedom and war. White was a passionate bird watcher and his enthusiasm is apparent in what is a beautiful piece of writing. The slim ‘v’ in the sky provided the inspiration for this set of haiku.
Bustle, bill, and honk.
Restlessness on the mudflats.
A glance, a stretch, flight.
A white-fronted front,
Chevroned against the turquoise.
Wings beating northbound.
Things I’ve read this week…
Chris Hall’s ‘The Facility‘ microfiction series is a wonderfully dark and twisted dystopian tale. She is not new to keeping her readers hooked through these series, with each snippet having its own narrative arc within the wider story. She makes us feel the white tiles and dull chrome of the The Facility. She makes us smell the disinfectant and hear the echoes in the long, stark corridors. Wonderful stuff.
Chris Terrell’s commentary on choice of subject for sketching is a lovely insight on an artist’s process. I had a look through Chris’s work and loved it.
Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Close to the Bone, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, Flashback Fiction, Cafelit, Best MicroFiction 2021, and Shooter magazine. He is a doctoral student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father. He blogs at www.matthewjrichardson.com and tweets at https://twitter.com/mjrichardso0
The residents of Lettaford are thin-lipped and watchful. Some put it down to the hamlet’s isolated position on the edge of Dartmoor. Others say that the place was borne from the people and that there’s nowt as queer as folk.
One thing everyone agrees on is that the moor is a dangerous place. Mists eddy and creep over the hillocks and streams and do strange things to people’s sense of direction. Rowan and Willow root wind underneath the peat and the heather.
When travellers stop by the low-slung inn, mauve smoke curling from the chimney, the villagers warn them not to set foot upon the moor, no matter how clear the path may seem. Some are foolhardy, though, sneering at the patrons with coaldust in their hair and dregs of ale in their beards.
Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain
‘How many times, throughout history, have immigrants had to contend with the accusation that they are lazy, grasping, on the take? How many times will they have to deliver luminous counter-examples before we cease to believe it? There aren’t many universal truths, but people do not lightly burn their small hoard of money or burden themselves with loans merely to put their feet up at someone else’s expense. They do not leave their homes and families because they are risk-averse. They travel, like medieval labourers, “onlie to seeke woorck”; or, like the pious pastors harried out of the Continent by Catholic armies, for religious and personal liberty.’
During the course of my doctorate so far, I’ve been fortunate enough to engage in some fantastic conversations and receive some wonderful advice from academics already in my field. I was pointed in the direction of Robert Winder’s ‘Bloody Foreigners’ by one such academic, who told me that he regularly gave the book as a Christmas/birthday present to associates and family members who held what he considered less-than-enlightened views on immigration. It certainly serves as such, charting as it does migration to Britain from 25,000 years ago to present day and discussing Normans, Jews, Huguenots, Protestants, Italians, Irish and many more.
There has been a glut of non-fiction in my reading diet recently. Doctoral literature has been eating up a lot of my at-home reading time, whilst I am finding that the commute to work lends itself more to non-fiction (history mostly) – my tendency to let my thoughts wander whilst driving means that I’m better able to plug back into a narrative I’m already familiar with. In an attempt to remedy this imbalance, I read my first Wodehouse, an author regularly cited as a bona fide genius by the likes of Stephen Fry and Kate Mosse. Wodehouse was prolific in later life, writing more than ninety books, two-hundred short stories, and forty plays. He is perhaps best known for his Wooster and Jeeves series of novels and short stories chronicling the chaotic, bumbling socialite Wooster and his long-suffering, brilliant manservant. I chose to start with ‘Very Good, Jeeves’, a collection of stories about the duo.
amidst the heat, a couple of waterborne haiku to keep you cool…
A glance below, a damp breath…
White splayed over grey.
River-worn and time-scoured.
Cast aside by spates gone by.
Waiting for Fall’s rush.
Things I’ve read this week
One of the benefits of being part of Ayr Writer’s Club over the past year has been being introduced to other authors’ writing. It really is a talented group of people, demonstrated by the awards won at the Scottish Association of Writers 2021. Marion Husband’s ‘Explore Govan‘ is a product of one such writer. I lived within spitting distance of Govan for five years, and there are myriad gems in this little book which surprised me. Marion’s tour takes us from Govan Ferry to the Riverside Museum, from Elder Park Library to Govan Old Parish Church. There are so many things that I drove past on a daily basis with a past, a story. Marion brings these buildings and their history to life. This is a fantastic book for those visiting the area, and indeed for those more au fait with Govan.
E.E.Rhodes’ ‘Self/Less‘ won the Federation of Writers Vernol Equinox competition, and it’s easy to see why. In form and language, it really is a beautiful piece of writing – five minutes of your life well spent.
Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Close to the Bone, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, Flashback Fiction, Cafelit, and Shooter magazine. He is a doctoral student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father. He blogs at www.matthewjrichardson.com and tweets at https://twitter.com/mjrichardso0.
Cheap pitches. Free showers. View of the loch. Save for the omnipresent midge, there seems little reason not to stop at Kinlochleven campsite. Strange then that no-one stays a second night.
Looking west along Loch Leven as the sun dives horizonwards, the summits seem benevolent, cradling the little town in a gnarled embrace. Binnein Mor, Na Gruagaichean, Am Bodach, Sgùrr a’ Mhàim and more lie in wooded repose lochside, benign under the last sideways-slung rays. This dying of the light is picturesque to be sure, reaching up into the loch. Weary trekkers and wellness bloggers snap pictures for their Instagram accounts, their eyes on their phones whilst locals search the gullies, the craggy overhangs.
It is not the dusk that the townsfolk are wary of. At least, not the dusk alone. It is a stillness in the evening air, a sense of heavy dreichness. The villagers can sense it. They close their doors over softly and stuff dishcloths and rags in the loose window frames. Curtains are drawn, lights dimmed.
Some short stories never really ignite for their authors. Some flare briefly before being doused by the sheer weight of writing out there. Others are slow burners, flickering flames dancing on cruisie lamp wicks long after the last of the oil has gone.
‘Foundering‘ was one such story for me. Initially published on this blog, it was picked up by Flashback Fiction, who in turn nominated it for the Best Microfiction 2021 anthology. I was equal parts delighted and surprised when it made the final cut, and there was the long-awaited kerthunk yesterday as my author copy wound its way from the publishers. ‘Foundering’ has flickered long after dusk has fallen, and given me more pleasure as a writer than I ever thought it would. I’m extraordinarily grateful that it has found a home alongside so many wonderful pieces.
If you are interested in microfiction across about as many genres as you could imagine, give Best Microfiction 2021 a look here.
The woman showed no surprise at the midshipman’s entrance. She stared at him, a smile nudging at the corners of her lips.
Bligh stood with mouth hanging open; a small boy caught stealing apples from the orchard. He had seen this fine green dress once before; across Bantry Bay, on a captain’s wife with a kerchief pressed against her mouth because she could not bear the smell of the harbour. Gone was the timid, sickly looking woman who had rushed off in her carriage as soon as it was politic, replaced with this confident, sensual creature.
“I was looking for…” whispered Bligh. His voice sounded childlike and tiny amongst the oak beams.
“You were looking for Ugly Bertha,” prompted the woman, her voice low and melodious. Bligh could smell orange blossom from the woman, the scent replacing the dank rot of the hold.
The woman held out her arms to each side of her petite shoulders. “Here she is.”
The sound of rolling glass permeated Bligh’s slumber and he woke slowly to the smell of rot and dampness. Looking down from his repose, he saw an empty olive-green rum bottle rolling from beneath the surgeon’s desk and under a hammock occupied by Harper. The young topman lay sleeping and, judging by the rum fumes emanating from him, was well sedated. From what he could see of the boy’s ankles, Bligh did not think that the boy would ever again climb rigging. On top of the table lay slouched the surgeon himself, drunk. Bligh sighed and looked around him. As a place of well-being and recuperation, the sick bay of the Cleopatra left a lot to be desired. Situated in the aft part of the lower deck, there was little light and even less fresh air. Bligh took a moment to wonder why surgeons, always lecturing about how bad airs contributed to disease, were put to work in one of the dankest, dingiest parts of the ship.