The Ragged Frenchman | Short Story


I’m delighted to have another short story published in Literally Stories. ‘The Ragged Frenchman’ was written last Christmas and involved a little bit of historical research. As such, it really was a labour of love and I was pleased with how it turned out.

One of the most evocative chapters of history is Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in 1812. A few critically misjudged decisions by Bonaparte saw the French army depart Moscow too late in the year and retreating along the same route that they had used to thrust deep into Russia. Consequently, the land had been stripped bare of resources. Harried by marauding Cossacks and dogged by rapidly dropping temperatures, army discipline disintegrated and men became feral with cold and hunger. Horses were set upon for meat after stumbling on the wintry ground, and officers wandered off from their men to end their misery rather than march on.

Hopefully I’ve managed to capture some of the chaos and desperation of the retreat, along with a healthy dollop of the supernatural.

Read ‘The Ragged Frenchman’ here.


Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Near to the Knuckle, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, and Shooter magazine. He is a PhD student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father.

Not necessarily in that order.

20 thoughts on “The Ragged Frenchman | Short Story

      1. Good to see you’ve kept submitting quality work where it’s recognised 🙂 Do you get any sense of what kind of story appeals to them & how to improve the odds of a piece getting accepted?

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      2. I’ve just trawled through my acceptance and rejection emails from Literally to see if there is any patterns, Tom. They are uniformly supportive even when rejecting, and on a couple of occasions have told me that I’ve been rejected after a split decision by the editors. From the ones that have got through (A Life on Track, Watan, and The Ragged Frenchman), I can only say that they have been character-based in nature. Obviously I am critiquing my own work here, but, looking back, there is not much in terms of physical action in any of these. Instead I think I tried to focus upon voice and ‘the human condition’ (pretentious I know) almost exclusively. Bear in mind that there are journals who have knocked me back umpteen times and in whom I’ve never feautured, so I think it really is a case of matching stories to journals.

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      3. Good point. Thanks for explaining it so clearly. Do they ever highlight any particular strengths of your accepted stories that really went the extra mile, or is it more general ‘we loved this & we’d like to publish it’?

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      4. The acceptances are less explanatory. Like you say, they are usually just ‘congrats Matt, you have been successful and will be published on…’. To be honest, I never really ask why my submissions made it through – might be a good idea to start exploring that, though.

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  1. Terrifying tale… and I loved the explanation of its origins/inspiration here on your blog. Congrats, Matthew. :)) Enjoyed reading your convo with Tom in the comments, too.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Well, as you likely might gather by now, I’m clueless when it comes to both scary fiction and history. However… I just re-read it, and I just realized something interesting… in creative nonfiction, there is a form called the “hermit crab” essay – in which a tale contains another tale. I believe you you have pulled off a hermit crab in your tale, cleverly housing historical facts within a kind of ghost story, in this case. Which I think, even when seated by the fire of your yarn, is pretty “cool.” 😉✌️

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      1. So many people dislike it, but I think it can work really well, especially for short stories. Like any of those writing rules, best to take it in moderation and not as an absolute.

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