Better Safe…

The nearer Jacob gets to his home, the longer the streets seem. Every day after work, he powerwalks the pavements, hugging the building lines, all the while envisioning the interior of his one bedroom flat. Over the ridge at Mimosa Avenue he catches sight of the indistinct facings and closed blinds of his apartment. Safe. Secure. Shut away.

Jacob doesn’t even look around him as he dives into the darkness of the common close. He feels the lock click into place behind him and strides up the stone stairs one step at a time. One more door, two more locks, and he is in the cool hallway of his flat, the bustle and traffic and chaos left behind. Jacob sighs and lets his shoulders sag as he leans against the inside of his front door. Continue reading “Better Safe…”

Countdown

Garth has an unusual talent and like all unusual talents, it doubles as a curse. That’s the way it’s meant to work isn’t it?

You see Garth can predict how near something is to breaking. That rusty swing in the park? Still 21,638 arcs left before the iron oxidises enough for that bottom-left link to come away from the seat. That toaster? Only 252 more slices of burned-black toast (that’s the way that Garth likes it) will pop up from that old, chrome warrior. Continue reading “Countdown”

The Decent Thing

Good morning readers,

my latest short story has been picked up by the fine folks at Penny Shorts – quite the honour! Unlike most short story websites, Penny Shorts pay authors for their work whilst keeping content free for readers – a trait worth encouraging, don’t you agree?

Read it here

https://www.pennyshorts.com/stories/sci-fi/the-decent-thing/

and please let me know what you think of it.

Also of note is the fact that Penny Shorts are offering £50 for the best review of a short story submitted by the end of May. Find out more at https://www.pennyshorts.com/news/

Tide

via Daily Prompt: Tide

Evening folks,

a bit of flash fiction on the theme of ‘Tide’…

 

It creeps away from you, the tide. You can watch it for hours, a serene lead grey, but turn for a minute to look at the darkling room behind you and it has cringed away, eager to avoid watching eyes.

Bore tides, neap tides, rip tides, brown tides, semidiurnal tides. I can watch them all from my boathouse, glass of red in my hand and the gas heater humming away at my side. The cold is starting to edge in from across the bay.

It was a spring tide that brought about my undoing. Out beyond the pier the tide went, out beyond the rockpools, out past the moored sailboats. It had been a dog walker who found her; it’s always the dog walkers, isn’t it? There had been phone calls, more dog walkers, fishermen, and finally the police with their bright jackets and crime scene tape. There had also been the first knock on the door. No, I didn’t know who it might be. No, I hadn’t seen anything suspicious.

They’ll be back of course, once the DNA tests results are in, once the facial reconstruction posters are pinned upon lampposts in the village. For now, though, it is just police tape guttering in the sea breeze and men in white masks digging before the tide turns again. I sit back in the rattan chair before pouring myself another glass.

 

***As always, delighted to hear any feedback! The featured image is a beautiful boathouse on Loch Tay, Scotland***

Hungering for Success

I imagine Michael Phelps looks pretty strange to kids; a pair of ordinary legs are overshadowed by that looming torso. Slabs of granite muscle are decorated with thudding veins, all tucked into an impossibly small waist. Likewise Chris Hoy, whose skinny torso contrasts with thighs that could suffocate a fully grown highland cow. And look at Frankie Dettori. At five-foot-four inches and eight stone, if he were anywhere other than on the back of a horse he would be at best a curiosity, at worst a laughing stock.

All of them are scarred by their sport, marked by perseverance, pockmarked by passion. I’m no different, so when the kids snigger and point at me from across the street, I shrug it off. How could they know? How could they appreciate the sacrifices I’ve had to make? I’ve broken barriers. I’ve trodden ground previously untouched by boot or trainer. When fellow competitors whisper tales of derring-do, of impossible feats, it’s me they whisper about. Why would I look like others, when I am so much more?

Leaving the titters and the mutters behind me, I ease myself off the bus. The plaza is already crowded, and I’m asked to autograph a couple of programmes. As I get closer to the main tent, I’d like to say that the spectators part in awe as I approach. They part, sure enough, but it’s out of necessity – no-one wants to get it the way of my stomach. Here though, there is context. Here my stomach is my pride, my living, even. Here fans blow out their cheeks in admiration instead of laughing into their hands.

I enter the tent into a low thrum of anticipation. My fellow contestants are already seated, their piggy eyes on me. I’m the daddy, the don, the pacesetter. There’s no time for hubris, though. It’s focus that’s got me where I am and focus that will land me the title again. Like any athlete, I know my numbers. Eight hours of fasting before the competition, one litre of water in the morning to swell my stomach, seven pies in seven minutes, each five inches wide and one-and-a-half inches deep.

I sit down, close my eyes and breathe in. The day my mouth doesn’t water at the smell of shortcrust pastry, pie-meat, and gravy is the day I know I no longer have it.

As always folks, I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts/comments!

Clean Lines

Matthew J. Richardson

Clean Lines

When people asked Clement what he did for a living he would say ‘I’m a painter.’ Artist sounded too grand, artiste more so. He was these as well, though.

Clement didn’t believe in labelling. Artists shouldn’t be boxed in; they shouldn’t be categorised. If he were put into corner, Clement would say that he ascribed to the Ligne Claire style. Clear, strong lines directed the viewer’s attention exactly where he wanted it to be.

Not that any serious art critic would insist upon labelling Clement. That sort of nonsense was reserved for the uninitiated, the dour. People like his parents. Lots of money to be made in medicine, they’d remark casually back when Clement had been doodling in his notebook during maths lessons. Have you thought about learning a trade, they’d ask delicately when his grades failed to improve.

This was where Clement belonged. Here, there were always people queuing to see his work. On a busy morning, two thousand people an hour would be ushered past his paintings, each admiring his simple colours, his bold shapes. A shout brought him to. Swigging the last of his coffee, Clement acknowledged his gaffer with a wave. The roar of morning traffic was dulled to a low hum as he slipped his ear muffs back on. Back in the cab, a look out of the window told Clement that he was still in line. Down went the paint lever. Down went the handbrake. To his right, traffic weaved around the bollards, but behind him, straight down the middle, straight as an arrow, ran white rectangles. Like a piece of art.

As always, all comments welcome. See my published work HERE

Exploration and Sterilisation: Research

Surgical

I know, I know. Research isn’t the sexiest part of writing. It isn’t sitting in a Paris café with a cigarillo hanging out of your mouth, and it isn’t battering away at a Sholes and Glidden typewriter in a converted shed. However, unless you are writing the flashiest of flash fiction, or scribbling on a subject with which you are entirely conversant, most narratives will require a level of research.

The [copious] gaps in my knowledge should have been highlighted in the pre-planning stage of my writing process. Some pieces, like THE PREDATOR, will require less research – we’ve all been in a bar before. Others, like WATAN, will require substantially more. I certainly haven’t flown a kite on the rooftops of 1960s Lahore before, and to write as if I had without research would result in a story lacking in authenticity. Research adds weight to a piece when used appropriately. It gives a writer confidence that they know their subject, something that will be immediately apparent to a reader.

I research my work in four main ways:

  1. Journal articles

Fantastic if you have access to a university library or similar. These have the benefit of being targeted; if you want to write about a subject, odds are that someone will have written a journal article on it. This was certainly the case for WATAN. I was able to research Pakistani immigration into Scotland with ease and got access to the statistics I needed quickly. There is a certain skill in searching for suitable journals, not too dissimilar to hash tagging effectively.

  1. Books

The most obvious and best resource available to writers. Charles William Eliot said, ‘Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.’ Unless reading for pleasure, remember that your research book is there to serve your writing. Use indexes, use contents pages. It’s not cheating to dip in and out of a book for research purposes. At present I am reading Robert Graves’ ‘The Greek Myths’ for a story. Although immersive, it is perhaps not practical to read and annotate all 784 pages for the purposes of a 2,000-word short story. Read well and read with a purpose; the better your source material, the better your writing will be.

  1. Travel

‘Write what you know’ is perhaps too cliched a piece of writing advice, but its sentiment has solid foundations. If possible, visit the place you are writing about. I am writing a story set in a Scottish port called Mallaig at present and have booked a weekend away with my wife. This will hopefully allow me a sense of mise en scene, thereby doing Mallaig justice. I know from experience that the trip will also provide me with those anecdotal nuggets that are gold dust in fiction – the smells, tastes, and impressions that are impossible to garner from the comfort of your writing desk.

  1. Interviews

If you haven’t experienced what you are writing about, then the next best thing is speaking to someone who has. Odds are that if they consider the anecdote worth telling and you find it worth listening to, then it will translate well into a story. I had the good fortune to attend a writing group with a gentleman who had grown up in Lahore and who was able to add to the authenticity of WATAN. Going the extra mile and speaking to someone with experience in your subject area will undoubtedly show through in your final piece.

To finish, I’ll discuss one thing I try never to do when researching. If I am writing a ghost story, I won’t read Susan Hill whilst I’m writing it. If I am penning a piece of crime flash fiction, I’ll avoid Raymond Chandler for the duration of the process. Why? Because their styles will inevitably bleed into my writing, resulting in a depressing parody of an author I admire. Read other genres? Yes. Read research? Definitely. But I steer away from polluting my train of thought with other authors’ work. I see research much as a surgeon would their scalpels and clamps – keep them sterilized to avoid cross-contamination between styles.

As always folks, I would be delighted to hear about your creative processes.

Previous posts on my process are below.

Igloos in the Tundra: Idea Formation

A Skeleton to Flesh Out: Pre-planning

Froth

Good morning fellow scribblers,

A wee bit of flash fiction in response to the prompt above: Froth

Froth

Froth

Matthew J. Richardson

‘What is that?’

Mark looked up from the pint he was pouring.

‘I said, what is that?’

Sharper this time, the woman raised her eyebrow and gestured at the glass in his hand.

‘Your pint, madam,’ Mark answered hopefully, placing the drink in front of her and wiping his hands on his trousers. He had a sinking feeling. The woman had looked like trouble as soon as she had walked in. Dressed up to the nines, platinum hair, lacquered nails, she had sat down at the table furthest from the bar with her rugby-buff boyfriend before striding up to order like she owned the bloody place.

‘It’s an absolute disgrace, that’s what it is.’ Fake eyelashes raked him as she spoke. ‘Look at the head on it. If I’d wanted to spend a fiver on foam I’d have stayed at home with a bath bomb.’

For a moment, Mark thought she was joking. A glance at her ramrod-straight mouth told him otherwise. He felt the heat rising in his face.

‘Sorry. I’ll get you another.’

The woman sighed and took out a lipstick and compact mirror.

‘This is what happens…,’ she began, before pausing to reapply lipstick. ‘This is what happens when someone starts a job straight from school.’

Mark glanced up as he began to pull the pint. He realised that she was speaking to her six-foot-something partner, who had the good grace to give him an apologetic glance from his seat in the shadows.

‘What were you, the only village idiot left at the jobs fair?’ She looked around her at the otherwise empty pub. ‘Not exactly rushed off your feet are you?’

He decided that silence was the best policy. It was only his third shift, and the manager had nipped out to get herself something to eat. He hoped that the woman wasn’t paying by card, otherwise he’d have to wait until Julie returned to authorise the payment.

‘For Christ’s sake!’ shouted the woman, pointing at the glass in his hand. ‘Hold the bloody thing at an angle. I’d be quicker home brewing at this rate. Start again, and this time bloody concentrate.’

Mark could feel sweat on his upper lip as he tipped the half pint down the sink. The glass slipped from his hands, smashing on the porcelain. He kept his head down as he searched for another.

‘Absolute joke,’ said the woman, shaking her head ‘Tomorrow evening, why don’t you join the rest of your friends at soft play? Less chance of you breaking something, that way.’

His fingers found another glass. Past the point of embarrassment, Mark stood and began to pour a pint for the third time, this time staring sullenly into the woman’s eyes. It seemed as if she could no longer even bear to look at him. She was drumming her fingernails on the bar and staring at the ceiling. Probably a prissy city cow, thought Mark. Thinks she’s doing us a favour by gracing our pathetic little establishment. She would have had to brace herself even to speak to country bumpkins like him. The last drops of ale dripped into the foam. Mark pushed the beer pint towards the woman, who looked at it as if the bartender had just offered her a pint of his own piss.

‘I suppose that will have to do. How much do I owe you?’

‘Two-sixty.’

The woman shook her head as she handed over a ten-pound note. As she did, a receipt fell onto the floor by Mark’s feet. He bent to retrieve it.

‘Hurry up, can’t you,’ urged the woman. ‘Hard as it is to believe, I have no wish to endure a lock in with someone who still has pimples.’

Mark did not answer. He did not respond at all. Written on the back of the receipt in bright, pink lipstick, were six words.

 

Ex found me. Get help pls.

 

Slowly, mechanically, he opened the till.

‘Your change.’ For a moment their eyes met, but only for a moment. ‘I think you might be right about the beer, madam. I’ll nip down and see if the barrel needs changed.’

Almost imperceptibly, her shoulders sagged.

‘See if you can’t find someone who knows what they’re doing behind a bar, whilst you’re down there.’ She was snapping again, tones clipped and eyes flashing.

Mark opened the trapdoor and climbed down the ladder. As he descended, scraps of conversation reached him from above.

‘Sorry about the wait, darling…bartender was barely out of nappies…said the barrel needed changed…sorry if it’s not quite right…’

In the cellar, Mark’s face was illuminated by his mobile phone screen as he dialled.

 

 

***As always folks, comments welcome. See my published short stories HERE***

24-hour National Domestic Violence
Freephone Helpline

0808 2000 247

 

via Daily Prompt: Froth

 

 

Igloos in the Tundra – Idea Formation

Igloo

Morning fellow scribblers,

I have always been intrigued to find out about other writers’ processes. Interaction with other authors, whether it be in writing courses, workshops, critique groups, or in academia, has taught me that no two writers approach their work in the same way. Indeed, what one writer swears by, another will see as anathema!

Throughout the next few weeks, I’ll be exploring the different processes involved in being a writer. This is not by any means to suggest that this is the right way to approach writing, but merely a way which has worked for me in getting my short stories published. Today I’ll be exploring idea formation.

I’d be fascinated to hear what tips and tricks you have found useful in your work.

Idea formation

Any author worth their salt will know that an idea can strike at any time – on the bus, on the treadmill, on the loo! Most of these a writer will explore and discard on an almost subconscious level, but a few will ignite that creative touch paper. What I’ve found useful is getting these down on paper as quickly as possible. Many, and indeed most, will peter out before ever reaching the end of a first draft, but it is important to at least have that discussion with yourself.

A recurring complaint I hear amongst writers is that they are bankrupt of ideas. I don’t see this as a failure of imagination, but rather of mindset. Most of my stories are set in banal backdrops – a convenience store, a railway station, a bus; the catalyst for changing these into narratives is the question ‘What If?’ What if a woman tried liposuction using a vacuum cleaner in the bath? What if an agoraphobic man had to announce himself to the world? I think an author should always be on standby for an idea, their mind should always be worrying away at a ‘What If?’ like a schoolboy with a wobbly tooth. Stories don’t announce themselves; they have to be teased out.

Cliched as it is, I find that a lot of ideas strike me just as I am going to sleep (Watan, Light in the Blackhouse). For that reason, I will routinely text myself ideas before I forget them. Consequently, I often wake up to a badly written, almost indecipherable message on my phone which, if successfully decoded, may or may not result in a story! Whether it results in a final product is immaterial. Once it is written down it acts as an igloo in the tundra; somewhere I can explore from and return to if that exploration is unsuccessful. Like many writers, my tundra is littered with igloos whose bricks did not quite fit together.

That’s not to say that they won’t someday…

Let me know if the start of your creative process differs…