Category Archives: short story

Pancakes and Possession

Our latest story prompt was a bit of a mixture, with a few stories based on the theme of pancakes and others focusing on the theme of possession. We even had a poem to add to the mix this time. Regardless of theme, all of the stories were a great success with the rest of the group and we hope that you enjoy reading them!

Yours, by Michael Bailey

Gwen walked along the woodland path here and somewhere else. It was cool in the leafy shade, a relief from the searing sun outside on the lake. The path wound up the hillside between birch trees. A strong breeze shook the branches and made the leaves shiver. The birdsong died away as the temperature seemed to drop and Gwen felt the skin on her arms rise in goose-bumps. She looked behind her, there was nothing to be seen and yet a shadow moved at the corner of her vision. She stopped and looked again, the shadow didn’t move but hung like a dark area out of focus close to the path. “Get away from me. You have no place here, go back to where you belong,”, Gwen commanded. The shadow dissolved but Gwen didn’t feel reassured. She hurried on, turning down the hill and back into the sunlight at the lakeside.

She was still agitated when she met up with her partner, Rob. She told him what had happened and he asked if she was sure. She nodded. They went back up the path she had taken but all was peaceful and untroubled. They returned to the lake and sat on a bench looking left across the lake to the cleared track through the woods underneath the descent of a winter ski lift.

Rob lifted his binoculars and studied the vertical trackway. The supports of the lift cast black shadows that lay parallel at intervals like railway sleepers. He had thought he might spot a deer but instead he saw nothing. He couldn’t be sure, he couldn’t see anything to focus on but he got the impression of something outside his field of view moving from shadow to shadow towards them. Finally it disappeared behind the brick building that housed the end of the ski lift fifty yards away from where they sat. Now it was Rob who felt the hairs on his neck rise. He could sense something there, hidden behind the wall he was staring at. Gwen suggested they go into the hotel.

They talked about what might or might not be out there and drank a beer each, encouraging one another to put the incidents aside as the products of overactive imagination in this slightly spooky out-of-season ski resort. The shadows softened and the colours intensified into the golden hour of evening as they stayed at their table by the window and ate supper.

Upstairs in their room Rob was relaxing when Gwen burst sobbing from the shower. She said she was frightened, her eyes were wide and the suntan on her face had blanched where her skin was drawn and pale. Rob tried to put his arms around her but she pushed him away clutching her towel tighter around her shoulders. No, she said, I’m frightened of you. “Who are you?” she asked, staring hard at him. “I’m Rob and you are Gwen and we are the same as ever”, he told her. He suggested they go back into the bathroom and look in the mirror.

As she stood in front of the mirror over the sink with Rob standing behind her Gwen couldn’t bring herself to look. Rob gently raised her chin with his hand.

Look, he said, there is nothing to be frightened of. He put his hands on her shoulders and massaged them and her neck which was stiff with tension. As she relaxed she let her towel slip to the floor and he looked over her shoulder to admire her nakedness. Come on into bed he said, it’s all over, nothing to be frightened any more. He took her hand and led her into the bedroom.

Gwen kissed Rob tentatively at first and then with a desperation that went beyond their usual passion. She clung to him as he kissed her. She moaned and wrapped her legs around him pushing herself against him, pulling his buttocks with her hands, digging her fingernails into his skin.

Rob’s face was above Gwen’s as he entered her. In that familiar moment when intense feelings of love and oneness usually overcame him he suddenly saw Gwen’s face transformed into the mask of a wild beast, lips drawn back in a snarl that bunched under the merciless eyes staring at him. The long sharp white teeth were daggers bared in a grimace of savagery that would surely rip his throat open in an instant. Rob’s eyes popped as he thrust harder and heard his own voice “I love you, I don’t care, do what you want, I’ll never stop loving you.”

He blinked and Gwen’s face had the look of sublime and far away calm it always had when they made love. The terrifying mask had gone. Rob had no doubt that he had seen it and that he had somehow passed a test by reacting as he had. Accepting his fate without bargaining, without relinquishing his love for Gwen whoever or whatever she was.

In the morning Gwen was her old self, chatting about the history of the resort and of the region they had travelled through to get there. She said nothing of the strange apparition they might have imagined in the afternoon or of the terror they felt in the night. Rob didn’t want to upset her so he kept quiet as well.

Weeks later Gwen started crying one evening. Words tumbled from her as she told Rob she was afraid of what she was inside. Rob let her talk until she ran dry then gradually tried to comfort and reassure her that he loved her.

She was not convinced. “How can you love me when you don’t know who or what I am inside?” she asked. Rob smiled sadly and shook his head. “Gwen my love, I have already seen what you are and I know one day you may bite my head off, quite literally. But loving you makes me what I am and I am yours.

 

The Embassy Ball, by Alex Chase

Our eyes met

Across a crowded room

Kindred spirits shared a spark

A single thought

Your eyes shone

Brighter than the diamonds round your neck

And then we’re off

Our twin circles

Never quite align

Mutually exclusive gatherings

At the Embassy Shrove Tuesday Ball

As lackeys and toadies

Each more demanding than the last

Beg for favours

“Not me, it’s for a friend”.

I found out who you were

Married

Children

A duchess, in another life

The endless social swirl

Spins us ever further.

Apart we drift.

I saw you later on that night

But you were occupied

In quartering a crepe

Lemon and sugar

Simple tastes for one so glamorous

The music plays

I hesitate

“Ask her to dance”

A voice behind me says

I turn but no one’s there

Perhaps an angel

I turn again

Too late

You and your partner

Spin

Twin dervishes

Never pausing for breath

Much less a chance for other men

To tear you from his grip.

And then the evening’s done

The serving staff

Return to tidy up

The debris of the night’s soiree

And back to work

Though sore of head and heart.

What’s this?

Another function to attend

Perhaps this time

We can communicate

In words

And not just looks.

But then I read

Divorce

Society was not for you

And so the country girl went home

To her cows

And sheep.

And stable lads.

The life less gilded.

And I was left

Once more alone

Amid the spires and steeples

Of the urban wilderness

And so I go

Through endless parties

Conferences

And balls

Until I reach the end of term

And finally

Recalled to home

I look

At that great sea of toil and strife

And shines out just this

One moment full of happiness and bliss.

 

I’m So Lucky to be Alive, by Cuca Vega

‘I’m not a pancake!’ I kept repeating again and again to Jimmy, Joey and Tommy.

They wouldn’t believe me.

‘Seriously, I’m just a kind of flat donut, that’s all.’

Jimmy has been a rye bread all his life and the wisdom that comes from such a nutritious way of being prompt him to reflect. ‘Rather a flat donut, then?’

I jumped at the opportunity. ‘Yes! yes! A very flat donut without any jam inside.’

Joey wasn’t convinced and nodded his disbelieve to Tommy.

‘Look.’ I said. ‘Have a try. Just take a little piece of me and tell me I’m not a donut but a pancake.’

Tommy liked the idea and being a mini chocolate roll it was easy to move my way and have a taste.

‘What do you say Tommy?’ the square, sliced white bread Joey shouted from his shelf.

‘Uhmmm… I think Fenny is right; he does taste more “donuty” than pancake-like.’

Jimmy was satisfied and with that he decided: ‘Right then, you can be spared during breakfast time but you are gone in the afternoon tea.’

There!

That was all I wanted – a few more hours of glorious, vibrant life.

I was so happy I could have jiggled if I was not so flat. I did manage to ‘slop-slop’ my edges to show my delight.

It was already 5.30 in the morning. We were all freshly baked and ready for the day ahead. Jimmy and Joye would be eaten up first at breakfast time. Tommy and I, it was certain now, would be gobbled up during the afternoon tea.

Life is great!

I can sit here and savour another 12 hours or so of perfect joy.

I am so lucky to be alive.

 

Nothing Keeps, by Stephen Pellow

Every evening it’s the same. Home from work and it’s been a long day, I know, but there’s never a plan. No organisation. No structure. One by one each and every cupboard is opened and I peer inside to see if there is something – anything – that takes my fancy. Something different. We can’t keep having the same stuff week in, week out. Times are hard and the budget is tight, yes, but a bit of variety wouldn’t hurt.

Right, let’s start again from the beginning. I was looking but not seeing before perhaps. There has to be something more here. Could this be something promising? Store in a cool, dry place. That hasn’t really been an option. Cool is a phrase rarely attributed to this place. The expiry date has long passed. Nothing lasts forever no matter how many preservatives you inject into it. Never say forever. Nothing keeps.

And this? This has been here longer than I have and would probably kill me given half the opportunity. Can’t bin it really though, can I? It’s not part of the diet anymore… shouldn’t really need any physical reminder. In the bin it goes.

Something from somewhere I can’t even pronounce. There wasn’t any harm in experimenting, I suppose, but nothing good came of it either.

Well this is may be worth further investigation. A tin with no labels. Keeps things interesting. But after this long you need labels. Even if you ultimately aren’t going to enjoy what’s inside the can and especially if what’s inside has expired after leaving it so long. Without putting a label on it. Don’t even. Just sweep it off the shelf and straight into the bin. If it’s not good enough for me, I don’t want anyone else having it either.

Maybe check the fridge.

Ah, fruit. Strawberries no less. Their seeds are on the outside. They’re exposed to everything. I’d rather be the seeds of its neighbour in here, the tomato. Cushy and protected inside, shielded from the elements. From feeling.

I fear I may end up popcorn. It’s like I’ve been this little hard kernel. Small and insignificant, in a bag with hundreds of others just like me. Then I have my moment. I finally reach temperature. Maybe I even get there first and I pop and suddenly I’m twice or three times my size, and oh, so sweet. But then so is everyone else. They have their moments too and we are all the same again. The playing field levelled. Most likely I’m the one piece of popcorn that’s stuck to the bottom of the bag, going stale, or ends up on the floor and gets eaten by the dog. Worse still, I remain a kernel. I never had my moment. I never popped.

Or an egg yolk. It would be better to be one of those. A yolk rests within the membrane of the egg, that itself surrounded by a shell. But not a hard shell. It is fragile. It can be cracked all too easily, spilling the gold and the white out and mixing with milk and flour to make a perfect batter.

These cupboards depress me. Pancakes for tea again and then I really must go shopping. Never any bloody food in this house.

 

The Greatest Possession, by Becky Bye

He sat and stared fixedly at the woman talking in front of him, watching the red curves of her lips warp into different positions. He heard sounds, but the words wafted over him like a dream.

Sit still. DON’T panic.

He shifted his position slightly, feigning interest as best he could, crossing his left leg over his right knee, then swapping them over.

He felt his foot begin tapping uncontrollably and he focussed all of his energy onto it, willing it to stop. He linked his hands on his lap and squeezed until his knuckles bleached white. He bit his lip until he could taste metal.

Sit. Still.

The woman behind the desk was handing out a sheet of paper to him. He smiled, reaching out a trembling hand to take it from her and peered down at the paper. It fluttered in his grasp and he squinted, trying to stop the words from bleeding into one on the page.

Focus. You’re absolutely fine.

He realised that the woman had stopped talking and he looked up at her quickly, nodding his head and making noises in the affirmative, hoping that it was the right response. She stretched out her hands in front of her, the painted nails shiny on the pockmarked desk top.

He swallowed hard and placed the paper onto the desk as the woman resumed talking. He scratched his chin, though it didn’t itch.

Deep breaths.

He uncrossed his legs and shifted slightly on the chair, rubbing his palms down his thighs to remove some of the moisture that he could feel seeping through his pores.

Nothing is going to happen, just pay attention.

After a moment, the woman stood up, straightening out her pencil skirt over her thighs and extending her hand.

“Well, that will be all, thank you, we’ll be in touch.”

As their palms met, he felt the woman’s hand tense within his clammy fingers and she hastily withdrew her arm.  His lips trembled at the corners as he contorted them into something of a smile.

As he left the room his ears buzzed, his legs and feet clumsy as he tripped out of the woman’s office and into the hallway. The clinical smell of office equipment made him feel sick and he bustled outside.

The coolness of the air outside calmed him and he inhaled deeply. He sighed, knowing that they wouldn’t be in touch.

Messed that up didn’t you.

Panic attack 1, interview 0.

 

 

New Published Story: “Shuffle” by Jennifer K. Oliver

Hi everyone. I thought I’d take advantage of the blog and announce my short dark fantasy / horror story “Shuffle” has just been published at the wonderful Kaleidotrope magazine in their summer 2015 issue! I am beyond thrilled. The story is available online for free here:

Shuffle,” a 3300 word post-apocalyptic story about a dead thing reclaiming its life and realising perhaps death is better.

I hope you enjoy.

Show and Tell

It’s fast becoming a universal truth, that just about anyone of a literary bent is only too keen to trot out: the importance of ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’ in fiction. In other words, don’t say ‘he was an angry old man’, instead describe how ‘he leapt out of his mobility scooter and shouted at the children dropping sweet wrappers’.

Showing not telling is an easy rule to remember and once you get the hang of it it’s simple enough to apply to any fiction you read. But I have my suspicions about it. Should something as complex as literature really be judged by so simple a rule? More importantly, are we not in danger of imposing an arbitrary constraint on our writing, and therefore putting a limit on our powers of expression – the one thing that should have no limits?

As it happens, my natural inclination is indeed to show rather than tell. This stems in part, I think, from my having previously worked as a journalist which, unless you’re employed by the Daily Mail, is (or should be) about specifics – who, what, where and when – and a semblance of objectivity. It also comes from my admiration of works by authors such as Cormac McCarthy and JM Coetzee, where exposition is either completely absent or kept to an absolute minimum.

But over the past year as I’ve written more short fiction I’ve allowed myself the luxury of a bit of telling here and there, as I strive to pack as much as possible into a limited word count. Is this at all a positive development in my style, or simply a bad habit I’m getting myself into?

Ultimately that’s for others to judge, but I can’t help thinking that the show-and-tell rule is as much associative as causal. Just as watching lots of TV may be associated with obesity and ill health, that does not mean the former is the thing that always causes the latter.

Likewise, you are likely to find that writing which includes a lot of telling isn’t going to be terribly good. But the use of telling need not itself be the principle reason it’s no good.

I recently found support for this idea by reading Paul Auster’s novel, Sunset Park. Right from the start this book is nearly all tell, with the showing saved for the most crucial moments in the story. And the big surprise is that it works – the prose is alluring and quickly draws the reader into an absorbing story – with the novel’s weaknesses relating to overall narrative arc and a slightly unsatisfying ending, rather than Auster’s writing style.

I don’t doubt there’s a strong basis for the show/tell rule, and for most people most of the time it probably is the best way to ensure effective prose. But even so, perhaps we should keep minds as open as possible in the quest to produce writing that works.

Fact or Fiction? Two Tales of Turkey, by Muriel Higgins

It is true that we lived in Turkey for three years in the 1970s, but did the events related in Thanks But No Thanks and Hot Baby really happen?   Perhaps everything’s fact, or is it all fantasy?  Or can it be that one story is true and the other is made up?  Please read and comment.

Note: Words in Turkish have been written on a standard UK keyboard, so they lack the diacritics etc. of the Turkish alphabet.

Thanks But No Thanks 

South coast of Turkey, midsummer, a hot and scratchy time.  Our  campsite was near the shore between the sea and the highway on land which must once have been sea, and we swam and stayed in the shade till it was pleasant to move around.  The sea had receded here, while in other places by quirks of tide and current it had encroached.  We’d seen tumbled piles of masonry lapped by clear water, remains of ancient settlements, footprints of earlier visitors.

That was how we thought of ourselves too, visitors, not tourists.  Of course in those days anyone who reached Turkey by car was a traveller rather than a tourist, and many of our fellows seemed to have come to enjoy history-based exploration. We knew this from the scribbled recommendations for walks in the campsite office, and that was what set us off inland one  afternoon, the ground still hot underfoot and warmth radiating from the rocks.  We crossed the highway to the old road, centuries ago almost certainly hard by the shore.  Along this still discernible way would have passed Alexander and his Macedonians, later legions of Romans, St Paul on his journeys … same sunshine, same scrub either side of the track, same mountain scenery to the north.  Who knew what small finds there might be, come to the surface, disturbed by animals, missed by other hunters?

The dry smell of heat mingled with a sour waft of air from the thin sheep beyond a fallen wall.  Their bleats punctuated the chirps of crickets and the odd tiny clatter as a lizard scattered some pebbles. You might have imagined you were in another century.  Then, as often happens in a deserted spot, we suddenly weren’t alone: a small group of children came round a bend towards us.

Merhaba,’ we greeted them, ‘nasilsiniz?’  Hello, how are you?

One of the bigger boys was carrying a bag, and he pulled out a dusty bottle before observing ‘You’re not Turkish.  But you speak Turkish.’

‘No, we’re English,’ we said, ‘and we only speak a bit of Turkish, biraz yalniz.’  This was true, but we were up to most ordinary exchanges, and generally such conversations ran along predictable lines, which made it easy.

‘How come you speak Turkish?’

‘We’ve been living in Istanbul, we’re teachers.’  Distant sophisticated Istanbul, teachers.  The boy had nothing further to ask.  He waved the bottle in our direction: ‘You would like a drink of spring water, very cold, good?’  Yes, we would have, but everything we knew stopped us.  In a gentle version of the gesture common to the area we raised our eyes skyward, in this case meaning Thanks, but no thanks.

He dived into the bottom of the bag and pulled out what we saw was a handful of coins as he opened his fist.  ‘Eski, cok eski’ – old, very old.  Perhaps, we thought, and perhaps – and more probably – not.  Again from us that gesture, immediately understood. ‘No, we’re not buying, istemiyoruz, we don’t want them, thanks.’  Resigned, he dropped the coins into the bag, and gathering his followers around him turned and made to continue along the track.

We didn’t want to offend him, or any of them.  ‘Allahaismarladik,’ we called, in the correct farewell of those leaving.  The automatic response of those in situ came in a chorus:  ‘Gule, gule.’  These kids were the ones who belonged here, to whom this landscape and this track belonged.

A right turn would lead us back to the highway and the campsite.  Hot and thirsty, we picked our way along.  Fantasies make miles pass faster, so I hazarded: ‘What would you like most at this moment?  A glass of water would do me.’

‘How about a chocolate éclair?’  It wasn’t what I expected, but – yes, I thought.  And now we were at the edge of the highway, and one car was coming.  We waited till it passed, and saw a package flying through the air, landing by the edge of the road at the far side.  ‘What’s that?’

‘OK, let’s go and see.’

Yes and yes and yes.  We recognised it as a box from a pastahane, a cake-shop.  These weren’t bakeries for bread, but specialised in fancy sweetmeats: baklava, kadaif, seker pare, lokum – how the mouth waters.  One would choose or order by weight, then purchases were lowered into a box, dripping with syrup and nuts; this was wrapped in paper and secured with a flourish of synthetic ribbon – which was exactly what we could see.  ‘Got to open it, this is just weird.’

It was. We did.  Yes, believe it or not, chocolate éclairs.  Pastahanes did foreign delights too, and easily mastered choux pastry with chantilly cream topped by glace icing.

‘Maybe they were having a fight: someone was making a point.’

‘Or a child chucked it out in a tantrum, or just a fit of mischief.’

‘Or they’d been left in the car since yesterday and went off?’

‘We don’t want other people’s leavings, do we?’

‘They might come back for them anyway.’

‘Pity, but we’d better not eat them …’

‘Just leave it here then.’

The ping-pong debate reached a standstill.  We closed the box, pulled the wrappings together and retied the bow, placing it visible at the roadside, looking, I now realise, like one of those sad memorials to an accident.

That evening we ate apricots with sheep’s yogurt that came in a bulbous pottery jar with a handle.  And here it is, to show you that this really happened.

Hot Baby


The baby was all scream and heavy clothes.  A woollen bonnet pulled well down in front almost covered its face, but what you could see was a furious red.  It looked feverish and overheated, and I felt I wanted to loosen the clothes, untie the bonnet, give it some water and cool its brow.  The group of peasants to whom it presumably belonged took no notice of the bawling, the men smoking and laughing, the women, including the one holding it, staring into space.  You wouldn’t have known we were all on a Bosphorus ferry, one of the many which plied from Istanbul up towards the Black Sea.

Our two daughters saw me looking at the baby, thought I might be going to start talking, and edged away.  With fair complexions and blue-green eyes, they knew what might follow: chucks under the chin and a pinch of the cheeks.  In skimpy dresses and sandals they couldn’t have been a greater contrast to the peasants and their baby.
‘Sicaktir, degil mi,’ I said, hot, isn’t it.  I made a wide gesture to include the weather and the surroundings, and the baby: they could understand what they liked.  No response.  I looked at the baby and made some sweeping movements towards my ears and up over my brow, trying to suggest that it was too hot.  No, the mother wasn’t going to pay me any attention, foreigners didn’t speak Turkish.  But I heard the men say Not German, and knew they were referring to us.  Many Turks had worked in Germany, and they’d have recognised the language.  Ingiliz, Amerikan they were saying now.  I smiled and said ‘Ingiliz.’ This exchange went no further, and from then until they got off on the Anatolian side I stole looks at the baby, afraid it might cry itself into convulsions.
A few days later my husband came home from the office looking worried. ‘Something’s up’ he said, ‘but I’m not sure what it can be.  The Consul General wants to see us, both of us.’
Richard Moxon ushered us courteously into his very grand office, part of the impressive building which had been built as an Embassy but turned into a consulate when Ankara replaced Istanbul as the Turkish capital.  The Consul General was a generation older than we were, and headmasterly in manner.  He wasted no time: ‘We have a bit of a problem on our hands, but – ’ he smiled, ‘ – nothing that can’t be taken care of.  You were on a Bosphorus ferry at the weekend?’
We agreed we had been, and he produced a scruffy photograph: ‘That’s you, and your family, yes?’  It was.  Again we agreed.  What was this? Who’d taken the picture?
Fact is,’ he hesitated, ‘you talked to some Turkish people.  Yesterday someone blew in with this picture and what we think is a cock and bull story about a baby.’  We nodded; who could forget that baby? ‘Seems the baby, um, well, has died, that’s what we were told.’ He was watching me. ‘He died of pneumonia, they say.’
‘That’s terrible,’ I said, ‘but what’s that got to do with us?’
‘They say,’ he cleared his throat, ‘you tried to get them to undress him, and when they didn’t you put the evil eye on him.  Also, you insulted the mother by calling one of your children mother.’
‘It’s preposterous … completely … of course I didn’t.’  But at least I could explain the ‘insult’.  The Turkish word for mother is anne. ‘Our elder daughter is called Anna, and this is always happening – we call her, and people think we’re saying mother.  Our Turkish friends laugh a lot about it.’
Moxon unbent a mere trifle, and smiled.  ‘That’s that, anyway.  And of course the evil eye story’s a put-up job, I understand that.’
‘And anyway I didn’t try to – all I said to them was it was very hot.’  John came in: ‘It’s a scam then, isn’t it? A try-on?  But why?’
‘Afraid so.  They want compensation, that’s why.  They’ve asked for -’  he named a sum in Turkish liras that was the best part of a hundred pounds.  ‘Rather amateur, if it was a son and it did die, that’s not enough, really.’
‘Surely nobody’s going to fall for the story and pay?’ I asked. ‘Can’t we get a lawyer and …’
‘Now, can anyone prove that something didn’t happen?  Prove you didn’t put the evil eye on the baby?  I’m afraid not, and it’s not worth trying, really.’
‘So what’s going to happen?  Don’t want to pay, do we?  It’s a swindle.  Can we just let it go and hope for the best?’
‘No, I assure you, that won’t work, lead to more trouble.  What we must do is settle out of court, there’s no point in anything else. In these cases we usually find – ’
John interrupted, quickly on to usually: ‘We’re not the first, then? There’ve been others?’  Moxon nodded.
‘We’re going to pay them? That’s outrageous.’ I couldn’t believe what he was saying.
‘Perhaps.’  He was very calm. ‘We have a charity fund here, ours to hand out, no questions asked, not from H.E. in Ankara, not from our masters in King Charles Street: it’ll come from there.’
‘But -’
He cut in: ‘You wouldn’t want to embarrass HMG, would you? Cause trouble?’
I couldn’t say a thing, I was too busy thinking that Her Majesty’s Government operated a slush fund, it paid out for … it was hush money, that’s what it was.
Moxon laid a finger on the Daily Express which was on top of The Times in front of him.  ‘Britons in … um … Baby Death Probe,’ he said in capital letters with distaste. ‘Wouldn’t do, would it? Local English language press too, they’d be on to it fast enough.’
I thought He had that prepared, he’s manipulating the two of us, just like that bunch of peasants is manipulating the lot of us.  ‘The baby didn’t die,’ I said defiantly. I felt like a fish on a hook. 
‘Come, come, papers don’t care about what’s true or not if they want a juicy headline. And you can’t prove it, now can you.’  The consul’s tone changed.  ‘Now I’ve got something else to say to you.  In these situations it’s usually the more prudent course, the most expeditious – ’ he enunciated the syllables with emphasis ‘ – to take out the officer and his family and ask for an immediate posting.’  He smiled wryly. ‘As far away as possible.’
‘But – ’ now it was John who sounded uneasy.  He was cut off: ‘You’re thinking about your career.  Don’t worry.  You’ll find I’m sure that London is most understanding, no blot on your record, no, nothing like that.  He wagged a finger and looked each of us in turn straight in the eye: ‘You’ll keep this to yourselves.’  It was a statement. It was an order, giving meaning to the sinister nothing like that.  John kept to the present: ‘One thing then, what about … how do we … a cheque?’
Now the difficult business was over, Moxon, suave as you like, said ‘No need.’ I could swear he wanted to add dear boy.  He made a note on a pad.  ‘I’ll minute Pay and Records, and they’ll look after that for you.  Your share of the er disbursement will appear on your next salary slip as “voluntary charity donation”, right?  They’re used to that.’
He must have read my sceptical expression and turned to me: ‘Oh yes, it is a charity.’  Avuncular, in tone my dear if not in words, patronising old git.  ‘We make charitable distributions, we support DBSs, a number of them in this city.’
Distressed British Subjects, that was, yes, people marooned by circumstances, mostly old and needy.
‘Heating, telephone, doctors’ bills, shoes, things like that.  It’s a good cause.’
And no need for any secrecy about that, I thought.  Unlike us. 
How had he put it?  You’ll keep this to yourselves. I can still hear Moxon’s words and picture him in his fancy office, tap on the nose, Official Secrets Act, big stick.  And that’s what we’ve done, kept quiet about it, for more than thirty years.  But now, thanks to the Statute of Limitations and its thirty-year rule at last we’re free to recount this tale of trickery and collusion, condoned at a high level and played out in the grandeur of the British Consulate in Istanbul. Makes you think about hostages and ransoms, doesn’t it?

Getting Published

After several months of effort I have finally had my first story published, which you can find at www.everydayfiction.com/understanding-by-peter-jump. Here is a brief account of how it all happened…

In the first half of  2012 I’d concentrated on entering competitions. But after seeing a lot of money fly out of my PayPal account and nothing come back in I had started to lose interest in this area. In fact, it was comments from Jennifer Oliver at Storyslingers about her preferring to have her work published rather than pay to enter a comp that nudged me to try selling my work instead.

My first step was to identify likely publications for my style of writing using the Duotrope website (another suggestion from J Oliver). I then submitted stories in the specified formats. Some publishers responded within days, others several weeks.

In the case of the people who have just published my story, Everydayfiction.com, the response came 90 days later, by which time I’d more or less forgotten even sending them anything. Interestingly, I received an email with a list of comments on my writing from a half-dozen people involved in the selection process – slush readers, assistant editors and the chief editor herself. The upshot was that they liked my story but wanted a few changes.

The requested amendments were both reasonable and a source of valuable feedback on my writing. However, they went beyond what I would have expected, and required me to delete the opening section and enhance other elements of the story. This actually proved fairly easy and resulted in a story which, in truth, probably was a little better than the original. (Given that they receive 15 stories a day I was surprised they would go to the trouble of asking for significant rewrites. Did they especially like my story, or is it an indication of the standard of most of the writing they receive?)

I sent back the reworked story and two weeks later was told it was accepted. The following month, 23 February, it was published on the website (and also sent  to the inboxes of thousands of subscribers).

Having my work read, commented on and rated by total strangers has been quite a thrill, and I would definitely recommend anyone who has so far only been writing for their own pleasure to give publishing a try. It costs nothing, and if you’re successful you might even get paid a little something for your efforts.

Find my story, Understanding, at http://www.everydayfiction.com/understanding-by-peter-jump/

Announcing our first Short Story Slam, July 20th 2012!

Hi everyone. We have a very special announcement to make about something that’s been in the works for a few weeks now. This morning we finalised the remaining deails, so we can officially invite you to the first:

Storyslingers Short Story Slam!
Friday 20th July, 2012.

The Rutter Room, Shaftesbury Arts Centre. 7pm start. The official SAC page is here.

Storyslingers is hosting Shaftesbury’s first ever Story Slam – THE summer event for emerging writers to showcase their work, and for audiences to engage in fresh local literature.

A story slam is a contest of words, like a poetry slam for prose writers. Each writer has approximately five minutes (or 780 words) to read their story in front of a cosy audience and a friendly panel of judges.

This is an open event, and any writer can register to participate, though please be aware that some content may be unsuitable for children. We have a 60-seat maximum capacity with 10-15 performance slots. If we have any slots free on the night you can register on the door.

There are no set themes—you can read anything you like, from contemporary to fantasy, literary to genre-based fiction. The only restriction is that it’s your own work. And it doesn’t end there: Stories can even have live musical accompaniment if you want. But please contact us in this case so we can sort out the technicalities beforehand.

If you’d rather not compete you can still read a story during the non-competitive readers’ slots. Just please make clear in advance whether you want to compete or not. If you plan to read out a story email Jennifer K. Oliver at joliverdesigns(at)gmail(dot)com to book a reading slot.

Winner(s) will receive a small prize! And everyone will receive a massive round of applause.

Non-writers please come along and hear fresh new writing from the best local authors. There will be handmade books, zines, bookmarks and postcards for sale – mostly limited edition prints/ books, or one-off Book Art pieces.

Tickets £5 (£4 for SAC members and under 18s).

Bar and coffee-making facilities available.

Short Story Published – "Death Car Alley"

One of my short stories has been published in Issue 27 of Jersey Devil Press, and you can read it online for free here: “Death Car Alley.”

It’s a dark, urban fantasy with hints of post-apocalypse and a dash of tongue-in-cheek. There’s also a .pdf version of the entire issue available here, which I highly recommend checking out because then you’ll be able to read all the stories from Issue 27.

I hope you enjoy! And don’t forget to check out our Stories page for other published works by Storyslingers members.

Short Story Published: Intersection

Last month a new short story of mine was published by the most excellent Pygmy Giant. You can read it by going here: http://thepygmygiant.com/2011/09/12/intersection/
It’s less of a story and more of an intersection between two narratives that haven’t been written, with some philosophy thrown in. I hope you like it!

You can read another story I wrote a few years ago that I also got published at the Pygmy Giant: http://thepygmygiant.com/2008/12/05/elder/

SAC Arts Festival 2011 – more creative stuff

After Jenny’s awesome post about her flyers and story printouts, I thought I’d post about some of my own creative endeavours for the Arts Centre Festival. There’s just under a week left and I’ll bet the remaining days zoom by. So far I’ve been sorting out story flyers and booklets, but there’s still a lot to do. It’s a good thing we’ll have some time to set up beforehand!
I’ll be showcasing three separate pieces, two of them printed on large postcards (a bit slimmer than the exquisite 300gsm card Jenny’s stories are printed on, but still sturdy enough to be satisfying), and a single page, folded booklet for a slightly longer piece that was actually written for one of our very own writing prompts. Here is a little taster:

I’m also planning to make some bookmarks promoting Storyslingers and possibly samples of micro-fiction (a post highlighting what micro-fiction is can be found at my website here). These will be the standard slim card style bookmarks that slot easily between pages. I’ve got some nice black card, stickers and gold and silver pens to play with. We’ll see how they go!
I’ve also been making cute origami bookmarks that fit neatly over the top corner of the page. These are much easier to manoeuvre as they’re small. They’ll make great holiday gifts, too.
There’s even the possibility of a collaborative activity, if we can tempt visitors to our table to participate, in the form of a giant round-robin story. This is where the first person writes an opening sentence of a story, then the second person picks it up and writes a sentence, then the third person adds a sentence, and so on until you have a full story. Similarly, a game of Consequences could be fun. Maybe we’ll do both!
We’ll try to take photos at the Arts Festival and post them here, but if you can make it, please do drop by.