Book Review – To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee

Arrow Books

GBP 6.99

‘Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.’

 

It is with some trepidation that I, the author of just shy of a dozen published short stories, attempt a critique of one of the great American novels. What can I possibly add to the already deafening din of praise? What new slant can I eke out from one of the most analysed books ever written? What can I write that hasn’t been written in exam halls and in high school essays across the western world? Maybe nothing, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t all be said again.

Continue reading “Book Review – To Kill a Mockingbird”

Fly and I

You’re bloody irritating, d’you know that?

Today is my lie-in – the only morning of the week that I can call my own. I didn’t even get a good kip; I had to sleep with the window open you see? The sound of traffic and drunken reveling was the price I paid in exchange for tempting a breath of warm, moist warm air into my bedroom.

And now my lazy morning is being disrupted thanks to you. Yeah, you – clever enough to find the crack in the slider window yet seemingly too senseless to find your way back out again. So here we are – you buzzing and thunking against the window pane, not one of your six legs able to gain purchase, and me hunkering beneath the covers, trying to ignore your increasingly frantic attempts.

What are the chances that, of all of the windows in all of the houses in all of the streets in Dundee, you’d choose mine?

And then I think, what are the chances of us being in the same room?

Let’s take it right back. I can remember learning about the reproductive system in Biology. I was one of three-million sperm trying to get to that egg. I faced down some serious numbers. I’ve subsequently avoided meningitis, rickets, polio, bird flu, and any number of scrapes, bumps, and road traffic near misses to take my place under the duvet here.

All of this pales in comparison to what you’ve experienced, of course. Literally born into crap, you had to worm your way around decomposing matter as a maggot. Once you were flying, the fun had just begun. You were fair game for spiders, frogs, birds and wasps, not to mention the cavalcade of pesticides, flytraps and swatters arrayed against you. And the half-opened window, of course.

Which kind of brings me to my point. If my parents, upon seeing me writhing in the maternity ward, were to place a bet on my meeting you they would face infinitesimally large odds. They’d get laughed out of the bookies. I’m not usually one for fate or destiny, but you must admit the maths are pretty compelling. It feels like a benevolent force has nudged you through my window, eager to prompt a meeting that will change the course of both our lives.

Should I usher you outside again? It doesn’t feel a memorable enough finale to such a journey. An owner/pet scenario then? The girl and her fly? That doesn’t seem likely. Perhaps you have entered my room as a muse; maybe you should prompt me into some profound reverie, some sudden…

Thwack.

Gotcha.

 

***As always I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts and comments on this!***

Boarding

I’m delighted to feature at McStorytellers once more courtesy of Brendan Gisby. ‘Boarding’ is described as ‘a large dawd of dry Scots humour’. Just remember to keep your car doors locked…

https://www.mcstorytellers.com/boarding.html

 

If you like short stories, Scots, Scotland, or any combination of these, Mctorytellers is definitely worth a follow. Brendan has a long history of supporting authors with a link to Scotland and really knows his stuff.

 

As always, I’d be delighted to hear your feedback and thoughts!

 

Fat

Helen smiled as the evening pedestrian traffic negotiated its way past her on Great Western Road, Glasgow. The kids on the bus had not been the first, and nor would they be the last, that laughed at her weight. Admittedly she did not do herself any favours; the supersize soda clenched in her pudgy fist and the entire double seat that she was spread over meant that it was a rare night that she did not elicit at least a few sniggers.

It had not been the titters that irritated her; more the inference that she didn’t know who they were aimed at. Being morbidly obese did not make her an idiot, and neither did it make her deaf. Tonight it had been two tattooed teenage lads hiding their laughter behind hoods and scarves; the cuffs of their tracksuit tops dirty and the miasma of their cheap aftershave overwhelming. As usual her friend Douglas, a fellow nurse at Gartnavel General Hospital had been unable to resist the provocation.

Continue reading “Fat”

Straight Down the Line

Morning folks,

little piece of flash fiction this morning. Hope you enjoy and as always, comments welcome!

***

Trevor sat on the metallic chair, elbows on his knees, staring at the floor. There were lights in the room, but none shining into his face. Not yet, anyway. Instead, up-lit lamps clung to the walls of the office, spilling soft yellow light onto the ceiling and down onto the table in front of him. There was no sound other than the low thrum of the aircon system, and Trevor had to raise his head intermittently to check that the two guards were still in the room with him. They were.

Hanging his head once more, Trevor heard it – the sound that all three men had been anticipating. Both guards straightened their backs against the wall and stared impassively past him, their lips as thin and straight as the creases in their trousers. Trevor rubbed his sweaty palms together as he counted the steps echoing in the warehouse. The factory was huge and the array of equipment that stood hulking in the airy darkness distorted the sounds.

The footsteps halted, and after two sharp raps on the door Mr. Mitchell, the duty manager, entered the room. Trevor raised his head again to see that, although immaculately turned out, he had the heavy-eyed, jowly look of a man recently roused from sleep. After conferring briefly with one of the guards, the man took out a tablet and dragged a metal chair to the table. He sat down on it heavily before tapping away at the screen in front of him. It was some time before he spoke.

‘Trevor Gillian?’ Mr. Mitchell asked, not looking at the man opposite him.

‘Yes, sir.’ Trevor stared at his hands.

‘Chip board fastener on production line E?’

Trevor nodded. This answer seemed to satisfy the man for a while; there was more tapping and swiping on the small screen.

‘Been with the company for eight years?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Second highest level of security clearance?’

‘Yes.’

‘Happy at your work?’

The man’s eyes flicked up from his tablet for the first time.

‘I…yes, sir.’

‘Can you tell me why I’m sitting across a desk from you in a deserted smartphone factory at three in the morning?’

Trevor said nothing for a moment before gesturing towards a sprawling pile of glass, plastic, and gleaming copper wiring that was heaped on the desk in front of them.

‘That’s right,’ said Mr. Mitchell, leaning back in his chair so that the metal shrieked. ‘We’ve had thefts before, and we’ve certainly had leaks of proprietary technology, but nothing as brazen as this. Nothing as downright…stupid.’

Trevor shrugged.

‘Well,’ said the man, getting up from his seat and buttoning his suit. ‘I’m afraid only one course of action remains, Mr. Gillian. We always prosecute, and we always seek damages – it’s the only way we can ensure we remain at the leading edge of smartphone technology. Once they have been searched, you’ll have your belongings sent to you at your home address, or your custodial one.’

He motioned to the guards, both of whom placed a hand underneath Trevor’s arms, raising him to his feet. Putting his tablet back into his briefcase, Mr. Mitchell paused.

‘Just out of interest,’ he said, his brow furrowed. ‘What on earth possessed you to dismantle the phones before you left the warehouse?’

Trevor considered the value of what he was about to say before shrugging once more and muttering out of the corner of his mouth.

‘I’m sorry,’ said the man. ‘I didn’t catch that.’

Trevor rolled his eyes.

‘I said I wasn’t trying to steal chipboards.’

‘Well then,’ asked the man, smirking. ‘What were you doing with a rucksack full of proprietary tech at three in the morning?’

With two men restraining him, Trevor was no longer able to avoid eye contact by staring at the floor. Instead, he chose a spot over his questioner’s left shoulder.

‘I was looking for a diamond ring.’

The aircon was the only sound in the room once more. One of the guards shifted his feet.

‘My girlfriend, Lyndsey, she works down the line at quality checking,’ continued Trevor, resigned to telling his story now. ‘The idea was…the idea was that I would put an engagement ring in the phone casing, and that she would get an abnormal weight alert and check inside.’

There were still only blank faces.

“A proposal,’ he spluttered. ‘It was supposed to be a proposal!’

Trevor shook his head, as though he himself was having trouble giving the story credence.

‘I’m sorry,’ said the manager, massaging his temples. ‘I still don’t understand what the pile of electronic detritus in front of us has to do with your proposal, which by itself constitutes a breach of contract and which will…’

‘She went for a bathroom break!’ said Trevor, pulling his arms free and grabbing tufts of his own hair. ‘Of all the times to go, she went then. Whoever was covering for her mustn’t have been paying attention, and the phone was passed as fit for sale.’

The manager looked down at the huge pile of components.

‘You mean…’

‘That somewhere,’ Trevor wiped his moist eyes with his sleeve. ‘Somewhere amongst this pile is a ring which cost me six months’ salary.’

Trevor saw the manager’s eyes flick to both security guards. Mr. Mitchell put down his briefcase before retaking his own seat.

‘I’m telling the truth,’ said Trevor sullenly.

‘I believe you,’ Mr. Mitchell replied before taking off his jacket and rolling up his sleeves. He motioned for the guards to do the same. ‘Now, what colour stone was it?’

 

 

 

 

Getting Toothpaste Out of the Tube: Writing a First Draft

The first draft is the worst part of the writing process for me. Why? Because, that brilliant, vague, abstract idea in my head is forced through the imperfect filter of my keyboard. First drafts are always a disappointment to me; I never write as well as I imagine I will.

Nevertheless, until science dictates otherwise, authors are forced into a grotesque mockery of what will hopefully end up as a presentable piece of writing. There are no hard and fast guidelines as to how best to get the toothpaste out of the tube – this is the perhaps the most organic and unstructured part of the writing process – but here are a few tips that I’ve found helpful.

 

  1. Use your planning

If you’ve planned well (as discussed in A Skeleton to Flesh Out and Storytelling on the Bus) then use that planning. Trust your instincts – if it was a good idea when you first wrote it down in pre-planning then it is a good idea now. There will usually be a time somewhere in the middle your first draft when you feel things aren’t working and when the easiest thing is to move onto another project. It is at this point that you must fall back on your plan. Grit your teeth and follow what you wrote – bad writing can be edited, but off-the-cuff plotting can lead to a project being abandoned.

 

  1. Minimise your distractions

Find yourself somewhere quiet where you can sit and write for at least an hour without being interrupted. I won’t say don’t have your phone near to you. I won’t say don’t write in front of the television (guilty as I write now). I won’t say don’t listen to music. Just be aware that these distractions will influence your writing.

 

  1. Leave your writing on a good note

First drafts will usually take more than one sitting to complete. I find it helpful to leave my writing in the middle of a rich vein of inspiration. If I walk away from my desk at a difficult section, I am less likely to return any time soon. When I stop, my fingers should be dancing over the keyboard. Ideas should be fizzing and snapping around my head. I should arrive at my writing the next morning and be able to pick up exactly where I left off – tappedy tap.

 

  1. Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be…

Once your first draft is done, save it, print it out, file it away, and forget about it. Get some space; get some perspective. I always stagger my projects so that I never edit a piece directly after having written it. I come back to a story with a fresh ear and often pick up mistakes and discrepancies that I had skipped over. A professional editor is useful because they view writing from a coldly and analytically. Writers can go some way to achieving this by letting a draft rest before taking the red pen to it.

 

Thanks for reading. As always, comments are welcome. Previous instalments in my writing advice series are available below

 

Igloos in the Tundra – Idea Formation

A Skeleton to Flesh Out – Pre-planning

Exploration and Sterilisation – Research

Storytelling on the Bus – Planning

Cracked

It’s kind of beautiful, really. Like dew strung on a spider’s web or sugar frosting on a birthday cake. Silver tributaries reach out in front of me, each spreading and dividing into the tiniest trickles, glinting as the morning sun catches them obliquely. And then there’s the chiming. Dozens of bells tinkle, off-key but in perfect unison. Beautiful.

At least, it’s beautiful until the rest of my senses catch up. There is glass in my mouth – a gritty nugget sitting right in the middle of my tongue. Ptuh. The cloying smell of milk reaches my nostrils. God knows how many bottles are broken in the back of the float; empty ones trundle past the cab as though determined to continue their journey. Most perverse of all though is the shopping trolley wheel poking through my windscreen, spinning and wobbling drunkenly. The rest of the trolley lies atop the buckled glass like a junkie on a burst couch.

I duck under the window and look up. There they are, the little bastards. One, two, three of them, peering down from the disused railway bridge, their elfin faces caught halfway between horror and delight. How on earth did they manage to get the trolley up there in the first place? Never mind, because I’m stepping out of the van and into the delta of full fat, semi-skimmed, and skimmed milk coursing around the wheels of the float.

This is what they want, of course – a chase. This is what they had in mind when they pushed it off the bridge – another adrenaline rush, another story to tell each other whilst drinking Mad Dog in the park. The sensible thing would be to walk away; to drive on with what’s left of my morning round and my dignity. They aren’t the only ones needing satisfaction now, though. There’s a blood debt to be paid. A milk debt. The faces disappear from the bridge as I start to run towards them.

***As always folks, delighted to hear your thoughts/comments on my writing. Hope you enjoyed!***