A Love Letter to Lincoln

For Culture Night Belfast this year, the theme was love. Women Aloud NI had two events in the programme. At the one I read at, each of the readers was given a letter and told to write a love letter to it. I got the letter L, and this is what I made of it:

Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England: the place I lived for three years in my late teens/early twenties.

When I thought about what I wanted to write about for this love letter, there were a lot of options, but I think a part of me will always come back to Lincoln.

While at university there, I learned a lot – a lot of it the hard way and absolutely none of it to do with the actual subject I was supposed to be studying.

I fell in love with the city before I had even visited, having poured over guidebooks, maps, and watched a ton of tourism videos. Then, when I did get to see the place in person, for an open day, I knew it was all going to go well from the moment I slipped on some wet leaves while walking down the big hill and ended up with brown sludge smeared all over my backside for the rest of the day as I met other prospective students as well as my future lecturers.

It was all uphill from there. Then downhill for a bit, then uphill again, before finally going up in flames. Which is to say, my experience in those three years was… mixed.  Continue reading

Obscure Writing Prompt Responses

A year ago, near enough to the day, Belfast Writers’ Group started up again after too long apart. When we got the gang back together, one of the first things we did was work on a crazy series of prompts that, first time around, had me writing about a dead body in a chocolate scullery. Because we’re wildly obscure like that.

Purely by a coincident of timing, we tried the same writing exercise again last week. This time I was to write about rotting turnips in an interview room made of platinum. Below is the madness I came up with.

Being the most expensive palace in the world that no one’s ever heard of, Killasia had its own version of everything – its own swimming pool and helipad, naturally, but also it’s own prison system and jail.

The only thing it didn’t have, until now, was anyone actually trying to break in – it’s difficult to have people after your goods if they’re secret, after all.

Even so, it was fortuitous that the eventuality of a criminal had been thought of and prepared for, because when Mickey Keystone Lennon happened upon the place and decided to try his hand at breaking and entering, the guards had somewhere to put him.

His eyes were wide as he looked around the interview room with its shiny, cold-to-the-touch walls. He wasn’t entirely sure but, if pressed, he would guess they were made out of solid white gold or platinum.

There were no windows in the room – not even one of those fancy two-way walls of glass that allowed people to look in on interviews – just some air vents stopping the space from being completely closed in.

Even the door had a seal around it.

Mickey was too surprised by the placement of his predicament to be worried; at least, at first. After what felt like an age but was probably an hour or two, he began to sweat.

He’d expected to be released soon after his capture, as soon as they figured out he hadn’t got very far into his crime and hadn’t actually managed to nab anything. The place was so big, after all. A palace the size of a country must be subscribed to the Geneva Convention or UN human rights laws or something, right?

By hour four, he was no longer feeling so hopeful. Not only was he not offered a representative, still no one had actually come to question him. That was bad for two reasons: his increasingly urgent need for the toilet, and the turnips he’d hidden in his socks that had been in contact with the heat of his skin so long, the started to rot.

Mickey cursed his decision to raid his neighbour’s allotment, and his stupid urge to follow the hidden path he’d found under a trapdoor he’d found there. Just look where it had landed him – eternally tapped in a platinum-coated interview room with nothing to occupy him but rotten turnips.

Not exactly your usual Thursday.

My Problem (Microfiction)

Another short piece written during Bernie McGill’s fiction workshops at the John Hewitt International Summer School, based off the prompt, “A time the teacher caught you doing something you should not have been doing.”

Talking was always my problem. Well, that and maybe not listening. I think that’s what they always used to say anyway. I was always being told off for something. If you ask me, my poor hearing was part of the problem. But, well, no one did ever ask me and apparently it was no excuse anyway.

Anyway, this one day, my ears were real fuzzy – like never before. The teacher was looking at me and I could see his mouth moving, but I thought to myself, surely he can’t be telling me off, I haven’t said a word!

Well, as it turned out, the homework that day was to work on an oral presentation and I’d forgotten. The one time I was actually supposed to say my piece, and I got in trouble for keeping quiet.

Bloody typical!

Favourite Quotes

Last week, my friend Valerie did a ‘quote challenge’ on her blog and tagged me in it. You’re supposed to share three quotes over three days, but I’ve decided to just share a selection of my favourites here in a single post instead. Just something fun as I ruminate on the bigger, more serious things I want to blog about in the future (it’s been a hard week; lots of think-y thoughts. But more on that later!).

I actually have a notebook dedicated to quotes & song lyrics I love. I like to collect them up to read back; why not share them?

Here’s one: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” (Often attributed to Dr Seuss) – I needed to reread this one, today, even if I am a firm advocate of crying if/when you need to. Maybe it should be, ‘cry because it’s over, but smile too, because it happened.’

Yes, I think I like that more. Inside my quote book – right inside the front cover – I have one that says, “What’s the use of a good quote if you can’t change it?” I don’t know who wrote that. It could well have been me.

What else?

“You are always a little bit wrong,” – Hank Green.

Sadly, sadly true.

I lot of great quotes come from the Green brothers. It was John who said, “Truth resists simplicity,” which is another sadly true fact. (Ah, but if life were easy!)

John Green was also the person to say, “Maybe our favourite quotes say more about us than the stories and people we’re quoting.”

And isn’t that brilliant? Quotes about quotes are terribly meta, and I’m here for it!

Time for a little Oscar Wilde! He said, “Women are made to be loved, not understood,” which I like, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t try for the latter.

It was Brad Meltzer who said, “There’s nothing more intimate in life than simply being understood and understanding someone else,” which is 100% true and 50% of the reason I love my husband (the other 50% is his sense of humour and fantastic beach body).

Genius, apparently (according to EB White, at any rate) is “more often found in a cracked pot than a whole one.” Which I guess is the reason my husband loves me. I’m an excellent crackpot, firmly following the advice of Abraham Lincoln (“Whatever you are, be a good one.”).

And speaking of love. “Love is a condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own,” – Robert Heinlein.

But let’s go back to John Green for a moment, because he shared this and it needs repeating and repeating and being written on walls and tattooed on backsides: “You are helpful and you are loved and you are forgiven and you are not alone.”

take a deep breath, then go back and read that again.

Now leave, I’m done here and returning to my writing. As Frank Zappa said, “So many books, so little time!”

The Chocolate Scullery (Flash Fiction)

During the September meeting for Belfast Writers’ Group (which has finally got back together after its long hiatus!), we did a writing exercise in which we wrote something based on three prompts: the name a room, a luxurious material, and something that rots. Pictured above are the options I was handed, and below is what I made of them. Heads up, it’s about to get weird.

Dark chocolate wasn’t the material you often found rooms made out of, but this room – a scullery on the side of a cliff – was no ordinary room. It had three walls, half a roof, and only one other room attached to it: a kitchen.

Inside the scullery was a large dining table, also made out of dark chocolate. On it were three matching candlesticks made out of white chocolate, and a centrepiece of lard.

Having only three walls, there was no need for any windows, but it had six anyway. It was soon discovered after the room was built that if you didn’t keep air flowing inside, it would melt. Enclosure didn’t help with the dead body smell, either.

The source of the dead body smell was, as can be expected, a body. That was dead. It belonged to the owner of the adjoining rooms, a man in his fifteen-hundreds who didn’t like you to point out the smell or oddities of his dwelling, thank you very much.

All in all, it wasn’t the weirdest thing about him.

Some people (for, yes, there were frequent visitors) thought the fact that he was lactose intolerant was the weirdest thing but, nope, they were wrong too.

One day – a very hot day, in which half of the kitchen (which was made out of Philadelphia cream cheese) – fell into the sea and the dead body (let’s call him Jim) decided he’d had enough, and melted the chocolate scullery to the ground/rock face.

It got stuck, which made Jim even angrier, and the skulls didn’t like it much either.

Desire (for National Flash Fiction Day)

It’s National Flash Fiction Day here, in the UK.

To celebrate the occasion, I present to you a super short story of mine, entitled Desire.

Janet licked her lips. Her eyes glazed over as she looked through the window at her soulmate. She’d been sure it was meant to be from the moment she saw the advert online.

Taking a quick moment to preen at her reflection, she stepped into the café, ready to meet her destiny. Bravely, she approached the counter, practically salivating at the shop girl before her. Everything Janet wanted was within reach.

Until, suddenly, someone jumped the queue and took the last doughnut out from right under her nose.

Bands I Have Seen Live

The recent ‘Guess Which of these Ten Bands I Haven’t Seen Live‘ meme got me looking back at all the bands and solo artists I have had the privilege of listening to in person. Here is my list, so far:

  • 5ive
  • 911
  • Aerosmith
  • Alter Bridge
  • Atomic Kitten
  • Avenged Sevenfold
  • B*witched
  • Bowling for Soup
  • Crazytown
  • Ed Sheeran
  • Fall Out Boy
  • Honeyz
  • Kings of Leon
  • Liberty X
  • Linkin Park
  • The Offspring
  • The Script
  • The Undertones
  • The Vaccines
  • Within Temptation

I actually think I might be missing some from that – it’s been a while – but it’s accurate for the most part. A pretty mixed bag, I would say.

Rap and Run (Flash Fiction)

A piece of flashfic I’ve just written.
Inspired by and dedicated to the kids in my street.

Jacob made his way down the street, knocking each door in turn, running away before the owner answered, and then coming back when they’d gone away again so he could move on to the next one.

Sure, it was kinda lame, and not how he was used to spending his last days of freedom before school started up again, but there was a lot of things that weren’t as they used to be.

Two weeks ago, his mom had moved back to this place where she’d grown up. She called it her hometown, but Jacob was not so charitable. Town? It was barely a village. And it was in the middle of nowhere! Ugh, it was so unfair!

Having left all his friends behind in the city, there weren’t many options for socialization left. So, even though he was a lot older than the other boys – practically a teenager, for god’s sake! – he went along with their stupid ideas of fun.

That’s how he got into playing rap and run.

Of course, the little kids with their short attention spans had gotten bored pretty quickly and gone off to have dinner or whatever, but Jacob wasn’t due in until dark and had no better ideas for how to spend the time. Might as well finish the row, he thought, kicking a rock along the dirt road behind a different row of houses that constituted his hiding place from the targeted ones. There were only two left, anyway.

No one answered at the penultimate house, and it seemed pretty empty, so Jacob moved on to the last without trying it again.

Outside the end house, he had an odd feeling come over him. Almost like he was being watched. He supposed he was more exposed, being at the end of the street beside the fields rather than in the middle of it, surrounded by other buildings.

As he raised his fist to knock, an even stranger feeling welled up in him. The door sounded especially hollow, and the house seemed empty, same as the last. That resonated with him in a way he didn’t expect.

His loneliness and desperation rising to the surface, he had to fight back tears as he continued to knock and knock, knowing no one was going to answer him.

Standing all by himself as the wind picked up and the sun disappeared behind a cloud, Jacob poured all of his pent up emotion into the door, his knocking growing more and more frantic until he was pounding it with both hands, making his fists hurt.

Just as suddenly as he’d lost control of himself, the door gave way and opened onto a dark hallway, making Jacob fall forward onto his knees on the mat.

He took a shuddering breath, trying to calm himself and figure out what to do next.

The house wasn’t quite as empty as he first expected. It didn’t look like there was anyone living there anymore, or anything, but whoever had once owned it left some of their things behind on the way out.

Unable to stop himself, Jacob walked the rest of the way down the hall until he was facing a table in front of a door, thick with dust and covered in chips and scrapes. On it was a photograph, which he picked up and inspected.

Jacob’s eyes widened as he recognized the girl in the picture as his mom. She looked about his age in it, though he could tell it was her without a doubt. She was standing beside an old man and another boy who looked maybe a year or two older.

Turning the photo over, Jacob found an inscription reading, Last photo taken before the disappearance, and below that was the stamp of a police department and a crime number written in pencil.

“I always knew she’d come back,” came a voice from behind Jacob, making him whirl around.

There, standing beside the door with its broken lock, was a man.

Taking a glance back down at the photograph in his hand and then up at the man’s face again, Jacob identified him as the boy in the photograph.

He had not aged well.

“Hello, son,” he said, reaching out his hand.

Into the Dark (Flash fiction)

At writers’ group last night, we set ourselves a challenge to write a story that included three prompts: a telephone, a black overcoat, and a Post Office. Here’s what I came up with:

Jack stumbled in through the door of the Post Office, tripping over the welcome mat on his way.

“Honey, I’m home!” he declared, sounding cheerful at first, but finding himself unable to stifle the catch in his throat over the word ‘home.’

It was an old Post Office from the 1940’s, no longer open the public. The place his grandfather had worked in all his life, and now the place where Jack lived. The ‘open’ sign still hung in the window, though it had faded beyond all recognition.

Staggering past precariously high stacks of books, Jack made his way to the small working kitchen in the back. The door fell off the fridge when he opened it, making the glass milk bottle in the door shatter, and two-week-old milk flood to the floor in clumps.

Two weeks. Was that really how long it had been? God! Jack sank to his knees, his head bending to the floor as sorrow weighed him down, before snapping up again as the smell of the milk clogged his sinuses. It sobered him, a little.

In the other room, behind the old customer counter, the phone rang, and Jack got to his feet once more. He took his time crossing the distance – pausing to wrestle his overcoat off his shoulders – having no doubt who would be calling him.

There were only two people in the world that called Jack, and one of them was gone, never to call him again. A fresh stab of grief jabbed at his breast, threatening to knock him down once more, but Jack fought it, managing to stay upright. Just.

Finally in the back office, he lifted the receiver and slurred a ‘hello.’

“Hello,” returned the voice on the other end of the line. The voice that could not be. That could never be again.

“Bernie?” Jack whispered, not daring to believe his ears.

“Yes, Jack, it’s me,” said the voice.

“Bernie!” Jack repeated, this time an exclamation. His face became animated, eyes focusing for the first time in a fortnight, before he paused. “But how?”

“Never mind that,” said Bernie, “It’s time.”

Jack smiled, making the corners of his eyes go up along with the curve of his mouth and releasing tears down his cheeks and onto his dried lips.

Slumping to the floor as he held the receiver to his chest, he recited Bernie’s name over again, reverently as his eyes closed.

“Bernie. My Bernie. You came back.”

What If…

alien writing promptWhat if our own brains weren’t, in fact, our brains? What if, several millennia ago, when the earth was still evolving, and we humans were not quite us humans, yet – what if aliens had visited us then, and planted themselves firmly inside our forming skulls? What if that was the reason we, apart from all other earth life, are sentient? What if that was why we were always so uncertain, so lost; always reaching for that elusive something that would give our lives meaning?

…if I had any talent as a sci-fi author, I would write a novel aiming to answer the questions above. But I’m not, and I’m not going to try. Thus, this is just another idea for the scrap folder, or inspiration for anyone who wants it. (Does anyone want it? Am I shouting out into the void? The alien’s at me again. Must go.)