Fiction showcase

These short fiction were writing waymarks.

Accidental Tern
Age of Innocence
Ape in Hell
Café Kafka
Change at Crewe
Collide-E-Scope
Computer Dating
Gauguin’s Garden
The Handsome Prince of Harleyford Palace
Mangled
The Mermaid of Zennor
Nighthawk
No C in Houston
Past Form
Parallel Kleins
Recipe for an Anniversary Cake
Rhinocerotic
S.C.C.D.
Secondaries
Southampton Song
A Visit to the Exhibition


Accidental Tern

A man of good intent coupled to misguided direct action.
Great Yarmouth, double bascule bridge

A non-linear fictionalisation from a group weekend in Great Yarmouth.

In the story the characters are a group of birdwatchers, the narrator observing the gregarious behaviour of his companions. But not his own misbehaviour, with dire consequences.

Comments from the competition judges ranged through:

  • This story was an amazing, challenging read.
  • I am interested in what you have to say about the nature of storytelling and memory.
  • A clever, well-constructed and definitely quirky story.
  • There were lots of amusing parts which leavened the serious story.
  • The poet in me admired the lack of cliché.
  • An intriguing, totally unique treatment of a common situation.
  • Filled with a myriad of images, some brilliantly clever – like a Jackson Pollock painting.

Accidental Tern won the competition.

Words cause my memory to slide-slip. Every retelling slides into something different. Like a Petrel skimming the wave tops, circling to skim again - but never the same.
 I know these events happened one scorching summer weekend in Great Yarmouth.
 The Saturday morning mimer is gone from Market Street. Clusters of bag-carriers shuffle over the Star Trooper's empire of performance pavement. The corral of fast-food trailers smears frying onion through the air. Deconstructed chips squat on the pavement waiting for the street-cleaner or streetwise gull. Found Art – to be noticed or transformed by a boot.


Age of Innocence

Violent revenge in the name of a pacifist.

An avenging adolescent cannot escape from remembering the sights and sounds of the dove he is mourning.

A winner in multiple competitions, Age of Innocence is published in Computer Dating collection of my stories.

In a few minutes somewhere far away across the border, a mother is going to hurt. Blinded from the agony from her screaming gut. She'll know that speech-slaying loss where nothing has meaning. I know how she will feel; I have felt it. Tonight I will give it to her.
 I'll take some reward from hearing those screams far away when her ever-reliable floor turns to endless thin air. Falling, empty. Your son's life for another's life. My compensation will be that mother's endless anguish to come. An agony I have known so well.


Ape in Hell

Woman as actor – wordsmith as man.

This piece sprung into word-associative prose following a rehearsal of one of my plays. It prompted hours of switching metaphorical masks. I believe it is self-mocking. Certainly the first version was self-indulgent with words.

The second version chopped the 700 words to a third in developing its style of lyrical prose.

Statement, question, suggestion.
“See you on Tuesday.”
She said.
At the rehearsal,
the lines. The actress hasn’t learned the lines you’d like to hear.
 The lines the actress hasn’t learned. The lines you’d like to. Here.
 Here in the listening corner. Jack Horner, Horny Jack. Jack off.


Café Kafka

Dining out in the style of Kafka.
Gerrards Cross

This came from my first evening with a dining group for the adult unattached.

My emotional response was that I had walked into The Castle of Franz Kafka.

From that beginning – It was late in the evening when K arrived – emerged this stylistic appropriation.

It was early one fine evening when Wilhelm C arrived. The village was deep in silent pavements. The Café was hidden, veiled by parked BMWs and four-wheel drives, nor was there even a glimmer of alfresco life to show that The Café was there.
 On the line crowning the street that linked the station, via the row of shops, to the proximate detached houses of Gerrards Cross, C stood for a long time gazing into the illusory emptiness before him. Then he went in to find food for the night.


Change at Crewe

Strangers on a train swapping more than murders.
Crewe station.

A man suggests to a female passenger on an inter-city train they enjoy a variation on the “mile high club.” What made him ask that unknown woman? Or did she induce the invitation for her own reasons?

Bridport judge Alexis Lykiard commented: This is one of the most concise and chilling examples of the ‘slasher’ genre I’ve read. Thoroughly macabre and unpleasant, but completely and horribly convincing, it moves like an express train right to the final twist. Unputdownable.

Change at Crew was a winner in the Bridport Prize. As well as in the Bridport anthology it is published in my Computer Dating collection of stories.

The woman’s arm eased into the right sleeve of Lawrence’s discarded shirt. Its unrestrained movement reminded him of the pain in his triceps. Her reflection arched in the wall mirror as she sought the left armhole, breasts flattened by the lycra singlet she had produced from her shoulder-bag. Her Aladdin’s cave, he thought.
 His shirt. What next, Lawrence wondered, trepidant, terrified, still with his aching erection.
 He caught his own face in the mirror of the toilet, the packaging tape a beige clinical mask across his mouth. Not across his nose. She had taunted him with that for twenty-three seconds, counting aloud each one elephant, two elephant, her at-the-circus eyes staring at him until he was on the point of vomiting. The instant she stripped his nose free his hatred against her flipped to benediction. He would have done anything she asked.


Collide-E-Scope

A kaleidoscope of memory and confusion.

I did go on a weekend break for the unattached in Corby. I was paired on a jive course with a married woman. There was a woman in Windsor.

How these became entangled with my Bridport winning story Change at Crewe is anyone’s guess.

Nothing of great resonance happened in Corby. The jiver read the piece and refused to continue the dance course with me. The Floral Arms pub has been knocked down. The Windsor woman has sailed downriver.

“She’s a cheap little tart called Sandra.”
 William finished with a tight-mouthed grin and sat down in the orange plastic chair. There was a shrinking silence through the discussion group for a full six seconds. He could see the Round Tower of Windsor Castle through the window. William rapidly clicked his ball-point pen.
 “Comments,” said Terri and singled out a guaranteed opinion.


Computer Dating

A male and a female get together through a computer.
Published in IT Now magazine.

A particular feature of this story is the interleaving of pseudo computer code with the narrative text. There is a particular reason for this – not to be revealed here!

The story was extensively reworked from its original for the British Computer Society 50th anniversary competition. The narrative tale was retained while the significant advances in technology were incorporated.

A previous competition winner, Computer Dating won the BCS competition and is published as the eponymous story in my Computer Dating collection of stories.

IF (HE wants a slim person) AND (SHE is slim); 
 increment compatibility; 
ENDIF
 That makes 83.02 percent of males who want to date a size-zero. Luckily for them 76.93 percent of the females declare their weight is below average. Inconsistent data.


Gauguin’s Garden

Schoolboy learns about anatomy and friendship.

What better way to write a story for a Young Adult competition than to go back into a memory from my youth. An aircraft spotting bus outing with two school pals.

In the story, three schoolboys are on their way from aircraft spotting at Panshanger aerodrome when squeals and laughter behind a thick hedge catch their attention.

Only William’s telescope can get through the foliage to see a family of naturists by their garden pool. The other two go on but William is so engrossed he his caught by the family’s grown son.

Woman Holding a Fruit, Paul Gauguin (1893)
“I caught the little rascal peering through the hedge, Mother,” says the man. He has one fist clamping William’s shirt collar, his other flourishing the telescope. The woman filling William’s vision is wearing a brightly patterned wrap-round skirt. She’d been wearing nothing when William last saw her but he’d really rather see the girl. Naked. No he doesn’t, not this close, not among strangers.
 Billy Fury is “so near, but so far away” when the woman turns off the transistor radio. She is stern. “Do you always go round spying on people in their garden?”
 “No! Never.” William realises that’s not true. “This is the first time. That’s for aircraft spotting. We’ve just been to Panshanger aerodrome.”
 “It’s very rude not to look at someone when you’re talking to them. My face is up here.”


The Handsome Prince of Harleyford Palace

A Prince, a Princess, a Magnificent Ball and the Phone Fairy.
Hurley weir, Harleyford Manor (not Palace).

A post-modern fairy story about a chivalrous, romantic prince who gets a crossed line from ordinary girl Tactless Tracey. The call fires the Handsome Prince’s heart and on to independent action.

Written for my Thames Path Tales, a words spin-off from walking the Thames Path from Reading to Richmond, this was a piece exploring time-straddling writing.

“Prithee tell, who is it that has called?” asked the Handsome Prince into the telephone. “I recognise not the voice and I would surely recall it once heard for it is the sound of angels.”
 “Give it a rest,” said Tactless Tracey. “I gotta get back to work. Put Barmy Beatrix on.”
 “Speak a while longer with me, Dulcet Voice. Thy words are honey icicles melting through the morning mist, trickling silken beauty ’
 “I don’t know what your game is mate but leave it out. Is Bea there or ain’t she?”
 “Loathe though I am to disappoint one of such sweet music, alas no one ’
 She was gone. Her number was withheld. The Handsome Prince was distraught. All his life he had been able to have anything he commanded. Any thing and any one, for the Ladies of the Court fell over their silver slippers in their rush to win his favour. To win a share of his wealth, the Handsome Prince had, by the end of his formative years, come to realise.


Mangled

A caller and a pensioner but who is the con artist?

An early story of mine, a classic twist-in-the-tail tale. This one has a goodly twisting of an old-fashioned mangle in its cellar.

A multiple competion winner and published in magazines, Mangled is published in my Computer Dating collection of stories.

The knock on the weather-worn front door was forceful, carrying the sound through the few rooms of the terraced house. Alice was making arthritic progress to answer when the knocker was impatiently rapped again.
 The bolt was reluctant to slide but finally she opened the door. Its frame was filled with a bulky man in sombre clothing. The busy street was blindingly bright after the interior, dimmed by drawn damask curtains. Alice could barely make out the man’s square jowl, his aggressively cropped hair and sunken eyes.


The Mermaid of Zennor

The Cornish legend retold by voice over music.

The tale was put against a new piece of music, composed by Kelvin Thomson. It was performed with Feet First Improvisation Dance with Kelvin Thomson on keyboard, myself supplying the voice.

The image shows the painting The Mermaid of Zennor by Reinhard Wkeguelin (1900).

(Structure) One maxim for each section:

  1. Beach . . . White noise is wave-sieved shingle.
  2. Mermaid . . . Water. Woman. Sea. Sylph. Siren, mermaid.
  3. Under sea . . . Never the testing toe; only submersion of the soul.
  4. Memories . . . Recall the faded, the distorted, the replaced, the repressed.
  5. Fugue . . . Unconscious fears spawn unaccountable actions.
  6. Run/escape . . . Fight or flight; neither is escape.
  7. Pastoral . . . I touch, I see, I hear; therefore I think.
  8. Storm/wake . . . The physical world is a figment of my senses.


Nighthawk

A woman’s alternative persona gets out of hand.
Nighthawks by Edward Hopper (detail).

This story was inspired by the painting Nighthawks by Edward Hopper. Pauline, a woman in a senior job, with a caring husband she loves, finds she needs bouts of physical thrill to offset the expected in her regular life. About once a month she picks up a stranger from a late-night café and has a rough, anonymous one-night stand. But one John wants more.

Nighthawk is published in my Rhinocerotic collection of dark stories.

We are with Karla and she is in Phil’s Diner. Karla is sitting at the end of the long counter, shoulder to shoulder with a man she has never met before. He is wearing a trilby, which is unusual. Karla is wearing a scarlet dress with a neckline that almost shows her nipple, a skirt just hiding her gusset. This is unusual for the businesswoman, wife, mother of two twenty-year-olds.
 The man’s eyes flit over her flesh as his talk sails across his achievements and amusing tales. Karla is nonchalant, or she drools over his words. When he is sufficiently confident she will say yes and go with him through the sodium-lit streets to his car. This will be a first for Karla. Her body and mind are alive with every moment of this encounter.


No C in Houston

A man’s life of office, diners and the Pink Pussy bar.
Houston, Texas annotated map.

A fictionalised travel diary of a programmer working for three weeks in Houston, Texas. A tale of searching, firstly after fantasies, then physical and finally for the self.

The narrative is interleaved with the full code for a program to produce a person’s biorhythms. It is written in programming language C. C for Culture, Sea, Clara, Chauvinism, Cancer, Cock …

No C in Houston won the Slough Writers long story competition.

It always starts the same:
/* BIORHYTHM.c	Biorhythm Chart program. */
#include	
void main (int argc, char * argv) {
 Computer Programs - standard header, main routine ...
 Junk Mail - you have been selected ...
 Women ...
 After the opening lines comes the purpose. Predetermined?
BioChart ();
exit (0); }
 Does it always have to end the same way? That inevitable exit statement?
 Clifford knew he would not get the job as the UK support programmer for Sims Medical Inc. Insufficient experience in the C programming language. He was amazed he had reached the final selection in Houston.


Past Form

He killed. Was it really so unexpected by friends and acquaintances?
Melanie Gow presenting the trophy.

The story is gradually revealed, along with the character of the accused, entirely through the official and personal documents of the case. The story is fictionalised from a true event.

Novelist and editor Melanie Gow, the competition judge (pictured right) commented:
This was a very bold piece of writing and an immersive experience for the reader. The story doesn’t just flow out, it comes in great hits with each document of the story. Well thought out and beautifully written.

Ms Gow placed Past Form first in the competition, with the theme Identity. The story was subsequently published in Beat magazine.

Form MG 11(T) WITNESS STATEMENT
Statement of: Clara Bickley
I have known Jill Kneller sixteen years, no, seventeen. We met in the Royal Berks. She was having Dominic when I was having my first. We got on like a house on fire. We lost close touch when I moved to Brentwood.
 I came and stayed with her after Alex died. Her husband. That would be over four years ago. Terrible time for Jill. He had MS but it suddenly became much worse, no respite. He became pretty much an invalid. Jill was a mess for a long while. Definitely suicide. I think it’s harder for the family, they have to live with the consequences.


Parallel Kleins

Taking fiction beyond a personal limit.
Diagrammatic Klein Bottle.

This was an experiment in making fiction real life. I constructed the piece as if it was an unfolding internal monologue. Then I learnt it by heart. At the following meeting of Slough Writers I said I had a manuscript to read out for comment. I began my recitation, as if giving an extemporised preamble to the story I was to read to the members.

Having recited Parallel Kleins to its portentous conclusion, I looked at the printed sheets in my hands, read the title, and sat down. The silence lasted 30 seconds. The listeners knew about me. They could relate to the incidents in my narration, and were left uncertain about the validity of what I was proposing.

First, I need to explain a couple of things to help you understand why this has come about.
 The other Wednesday I was talking to Sara. Wednesdays are Story Cellar evenings and we were waiting for Michael after his weekly trip to Sainsbury’s with Pat. Sara had brought a bottle of Fronsac, which she particularly relishes, and we talked about wine snobbery. That led me to asking if she’d watched Frazier on the previous Friday.


Recipe for an Anniversary Cake

A party, a cake and a female guest as the icing on the cake.
Anniversary Waltz by Jack Vettriano (adjusted)

This story is a genuine recipe for a celebration cake, a fruit cake if you will.

Folded in is the conduct of one guest, a behaviour out of character for the woman. She had reflected on the occasion with respect to her life.Recipe for an Anniversary Cake was a competition winner and is published in my Computer Dating collection of stories.

Brush an eight inch round cake tin with melted butter.
 Natalie’s cheeks glow with blusher this evening. She has never been this adorned in the twenty-odd years of our acquaintanceship. She is wearing lipstick round her silent promises.
Line tin with a double thickness of grease-proof paper.
 Petticoats flare her cyan drift-net dress. She ensnares fat tuna and fast dolphins with her eyes as she sways her uncharacteristic assurance through the crowded lounge. Women try to herd their men from the group member gone rabid, the predator.


Rhinocerotic

A man obsessed by olfaction.

A man’s craving for overwhelming nasal stimuli leads him into all sorts of unexpected places. But when he spies his immaculate wife behaving against her nature, his nosing round takes him into unexpected and unwanted emotional currents.

The idea of extreme behaviour for the protagonist was inspired by Crash by J G Ballard applied to my experience of a tuna fishery in Madeira and the unripe fruit in supermarkets.

Rhinocerotic is published in my Rhinocerotic collection of dark stories.

The first time I used a ladies toilet, I was wearing my wife’s green Laura Ashley. She never wore the dress afterwards and I have never since bothered with disguise.
 It was Selena’s office fancy-dress do at a night club on the Purley Way near Croyden. My alcoholic reasoning concluded that, as I was wearing a dress, I should use the ladies. I remember standing in wonder at a different world to men’s bogs.
 The giggles from a cluster of women took on a ribald edge. One hauled me to a stool, keen to fix my clumsy make-up. The clasps and caps of her arsenal flew open. I was breathing a potpourri of scents, sprays and powders and it registered why Selena never used a public toilet. My wife nauseates at the smell of all redolence.


S.C.C.D.

There is an advantage of being the odd one out.

The story is concerned with racism, viewed from an unusual point of view. It was my first submission to a writing competition. It was placed third. Over a decade and many stories later, it continues to be remembered.

S.C.C.D. was used in my Residency at Reading Girls School to initiate the process of devising a play. Part of the GCSE curriculum.

“Of course he’s bloody well different. You just have to look at him.”
 The ferocity resonated from the curved walls carving through its own echoes. The absolute silence from every one of the other members strengthened the prevalent consternation.
 The voice continued defiantly. “He doesn’t belong with us. He should be with his own lot. The likes of him spoil our whole neighbourhood.”


Secondaries

A secondary effect from someone with terminal cancer.

How a sister perceives her brother when he is behind his marital door is eaten away when he moves in as a lodger.

The narrative uses multiple time shifts, quite jumpy, a ploy to evole of the state of mind of the narrator.

My brother Mark asked if he could stay in my spare bedroom for a few days. That was a surprise. He’s hardly spoken to his “little sister” for ten years: two phone calls since he married Pauline. She wasn’t the reason. He just doesn’t get in touch.
 I wasn’t over the moon to take him in. I’m used to living on my own now, and I love my little two-bedroom house. What if a friend wanted to stay over? When I heard my brother’s voice on the phone, I didn’t have any option.


Southampton Song

A choir soprano’s charity trip for her vicar leads to revelation.

This was written for a story competition with “Song” as its theme word. It took in lyrics, a weekend break, prose, philosophy and images, editing and transforming them into a story. A good deal of the creative, and technical, effort went in laying out on the page the paragraphs (no speech tags), emended lyrics, quotes and images. Not replicated in the sample below.

Philosopher David Hume’s work becomes Mentor for the protagonist, Jackie, allowing her to challenge her received assumptions. This lifts the ordinary tale of rivalry among the church choir and weekend abusive infidelity into a different arena.

Southampton Song was placed second in the competition.

strange how Radio Four can be soothing, soaring my mind from this Southampton hotel room to peaceful mornings in my kitchen, I listen to the expert.
 When we introspect, argues David Hume, we find ourselves contemplating sensory experiences, thoughts, emotions, memories, and all are fleeting.
I was so nervous arriving here the first afternoon, was it only the day before yesterday – like a girl on her first date.
 We are never confronting an experiencing self having these experiences.
the Reverend Nicholas was at the hotel, i dumped my suitcase, we walked across the park to an Italian for dinner, Nicholas talked vividly about the lectures and seminars of his Continuing Ministerial Development course, back across the park joking about the CMD he said I was giving to him, my charitable work for the parish.
 Hume said: beauty in things exists in the mind which contemplates them.
Nicholas wanted to watch me undress, i am his holy whore.


Striking a Cord

An English mouse and Tamil mother take on a shapeshiftier.

A young English woman flees to South India the shame of her Traveller mother. Her experiences and instinctive actions open her mind to a world beyond the obvious. She finds a pregnant Tamil girl who had fled her husband and family, and together form an alliance against the demons that dog them both.

Highly commended by competition judge: Extremely well written.

Coleroon River Valley. Continuing south from Pondicherry you will enter the South Arcot district of Tamil Nadu, the southern India rice bowl. Lush, fertile paddies reflect the clear sky.

Jo walks the track in the early morning. She smiles it will take three bidees to reach the Thanjavur road. The villagers told her three cigarettes, three hours. She smiles recalling their celebration last night in her honour.
 A sari lies in the paddy, tangerine and scarlet drowning in steel. Jo gasps in shock. She sees Amber, her mother in her garish clothes, sprawled on the pavement outside the pub.


A Visit to the Exhibition

An impressionistic piece on artworks.
A work from the Genpei series by Takedo Hideo.

The piece was written following my visit to the British Museum for an exhibition – Takeda Hideo and the Japanese Cartoon Tradition. The people wandering round the museum were as interesting as the exhibits.

It was the first in my Fiction-Recall works, written primarily for myself. Nonetheless I submitted it into the Slough Arts Festival and received the following comment: This kind of writing is not everyone’s cup of tea. I like it. Impressionistic writing needs a consistent emotion to hold it together, that is managed here. I like the vitality of the piece plus its wide range of references. Very good.

The British Museum, founded in 1753, is one of the great museums of the world. Takedo Hideo always claims he is a cartoonist and not an artist.
 Alone, alone on a wide wide sea.
 The work can be characterised by a kind of brutal sexuality. In the sea of love, you’re the poet in my heart. The nearest Underground Stations: Holborn, Russell Square. Unexpectedly, galleries prove a fertile place to meet unattached people. Bus routes: 14, 10, 188.

 

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