Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

Monthly Archives: October 2011

A17B Audio CD: Part 4

Cuthbert Dry-Monotone, the eminent Reader from the Social Public University Enterprise (SPUE*), attempts to rescue his career from the barren spell which recently seems to have afflicted it.  His determined attempts to shed light into the dark corners of the human condition yield results which are not quite what he bargained for.

“Good afternoon.  Welcome to Part 4 of the audio CD which goes with the course A17B Start Talking Bollocks.  My name is Cuthbert Dry-Monotone, and I will be chairing a round-table discussion in which we hope to cover a range of important subjects with a panel of eminent writers.  I am delighted to say that, on this occasion, the SPUE has outdone itself in being able to secure contributions from some of the most famous authors alive today.  Here we have Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature; Doris Lessing, also winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature; J. K. Rowling, now the top-selling fiction writer in history; Philip Pullman, CBE, and – for his notable contributions to life-writing – Nelson Mandela, the man who will go down in history for his tireless and ultimately successful struggle against apartheid.”

[All.] “Good afternoon.”

“Before we go any further, I would just like to say on a personal note how fortunate I feel to be able to observe at close hand such a glittering constellation of literary stars.  What a mouth-watering prospect our conversation must be for students and academics alike!”

[All: murmuring.] “Mmph.  Not at all.”

“I wonder if we could start with you, Toni Morrison.  Your novels surely bear comparison with any of the jewels of world literature on their own merits.  Nevertheless, you have achieved particular fame because of your articulation of the modern black American experience.  I would like to ask you directly: what methods have you used to do this?”

“Before I answer that question, I am afraid I will have to leave the room for a while.”

“Oh.  I am very sorry to hear that.  Are you unwell?”

“No, not at all, but I have just realised that, while I was getting ready for this interview, I made a cottage pie, and I have left it in the oven.  I must go and see if it is ready.”

“Cottage pie?”

“Certainly.  Since I arrived in your country, I have developed a taste for traditional British food.  I’m going to be serving it with what I believe you call ‘mushy peas’ and gravy.”

“Er…I see…”

[Sound of chair-legs scraping.]

“Are you sure?  Can’t we send one of the office boys to do it?”

[Receding.] “No, I’ll take care of it myself, thank you.”

“Oh.  Oh.  Well, we seem to have lost Toni Morrison – and for what would seem to be the most incongruous of reasons – but – never mind – we still have everybody else.  Maybe we could try to keep as close to the previous subject as possible by examining the black experience in apartheid South Africa.  Before coming to you, Mr Mandela, let me ask Doris Lessing to summarise her personal journey towards the realisation that she had to do something to oppose racial segregation.”

[Sound of spectacles being taken out of case and rustling newspaper.]

“Your personal journey…?”

“Young man, could you tell me what time it is?”

“Er…It’s three o’clock.  Might I ask why that is important?”

“Aha!  Mr Mandela, I have just noticed that there is a horse running in the three-forty at Kempton Park called Long Walk to Freedom.  It is being ridden by a jockey I happen to know and the price given here is twelve to one.  I think we’ve just got time to get to the bookies!”

“Is that true?  Long Walk to Freedom at twelve to one? I’ll put my shirt on it.”

[More sounds of chairs scraping.  Strangled cry of dismay from Cuthbert Dry-Monotone.  Receding sound of an elderly lady and gentleman heartily singing Camptown Races in unison, with the substitution of Kempton for Camptown.]


“And what about you?  What have you got to say for yourselves?”

[J. K. Rowling.] “Er.  I wrote the first Harry Potter book while sitting in a café in Edinburgh.”

“Is that all you’ve got?  EVERYBODY knows that!  It’s even in the bloody course material!  It’s one of the stalest items of non-news in the contemporary literary world!  Get out!  Go on!

[Sound of chair scraping and hurried footsteps receding.]

“And you?”

“Now that you ask, I think I have left the immersion on.  Very forgetful of me.”


[Sound of chair scraping and receding footsteps.  Sound of clock ticking, crescendo.  Sound of a man crying.]

“Cottage pie… I just don’t believe it… Cottage pie…”  [Fade.]


* References to any real institution have been altered for legal reasons.

A17B Audio CD: Part 3*

This part is also introduced by Cuthbert Dry-Monotone.

“Hello.  Welcome to Part 3 of this audio CD which goes with Open University course A17B Start Talking Bollocks.   Today I will be talking to Harry Struggler, a typical member of the class taking this course.  We are going to examine how Harry organises his studies.  Good evening, and welcome, Harry… Harry?”

[Sound of cats meowing and fighting.]

“BUGGER OFF, YOU HORRIBLE CREATURES!  Ahem.  Sorry.  Were you talking to me?”

[Irritated.] “Yes!  We’ve started recording.  We’re working to a deadline, you know.”

“Sorry.  I’m with you now.  What…”

[Sound of door opening and clumping footsteps.]


“What is it, Jonathan?  I’m busy.”

“Can I have a pound to go to the shop with?”

“What about that money your mum gave you last week for half-term?”

“I’ve spent it.”

“Well, I…”

[Angry.] “Look, I’ll give him a bloody pound.  Here you are!  Please leave us in peace.  We’re trying to make a recording.”

[Sound of footsteps and door closing.]


[Sound of footsteps returning and door opening.]

“This isn’t a pound: it’s a euro.”


“You’ve given me a euro, you cheating bastard.”

“Oh, god.  Here!  Here!  Look!  It’s got Queen Elizabeth the Second on it.  See?”

“Is it real?”

“What do you mean, ‘is it real?’”

“It looks fake to me.  Passing counterfeit money is a very serious offence, you know, punishable by…”

“Yes, I know.  Here.  Here’s a fiver, now fuck off.”


[Sound of a mild physical struggle and door closing.]

“Right.  I thought the first thing we would do would be to look at your study, and get a feel for your creative environment.”

“I don’t have a study.  Does this flat look as if it has room for a study?”

“Well, no.  I suppose not, now that you mention it.  Where do you work then?”

“With my notebook and my laptop on my knee.”

“In which room?”

“In here.”

[Sound of door opening.  Sound of loud TV set.]

“This is my partner, Sarah.”

“Are you two going to be making a noise?  I’m trying to watch ‘X Factor’.”

“Do you honestly work in here?”

“Yes.  Where else am I supposed to work?”

“Cut!” [Muttering.] “They’ll never broadcast this.  Even the bloody OU will never broadcast this… I shouldn’t be here: I’ve got an MA in Media Studies.”

“Would you like some Ovaltine?”

*You can decide for yourself if this is true.

Audio CD: Part 2*

“Hello.  Welcome to Part 2 of this audio CD which goes with Open University course A17B Start Talking Bollocks.  My name is Cuthbert Dry-Monotone, and I am here with well-known Scottish novelist, Callum MacIrnbru.  His gritty and realistic books explore themes such as conflict, loss, bereavement, dislocation, and dental decay.  We are here to talk about how he creates an atmosphere which is conducive to creativity and productive writing.”

[Sound of footsteps on a gravel path.]

“Where are we going now?”

“To my shed.”

[Sound of a door creaking and rain on a wooden roof.]

“Aha.  Now here we have quite an array of objects.  What have we got?  We have a rusty bicycle frame; a Wellington boot which seems to have a hole in it; a number of child’s dolls, each with a limb or head missing; a zinc bath; a hurricane lamp; a leather suitcase with the handle broken off; a twin-tub washing machine; an old electric fan; a large box full of empty jam jars; a wooden tennis racket; a tea-chest containing various – how shall I put it? – ‘top-shelf’ magazines, and assorted buckets, plant pots and watering-cans.”


“And how would you characterise this collection?”

“It’s shit.”

[Uncertainly.] “Aah.  And how do you use it in your preparation for writing?”

“I don’t.  I’d take it all to the dump if I could be arsed.”

“Er…And the noise of the rain drumming on the roof…What effect do you find that rhythmical sound has on your psyche?”

“It really makes me want to do a wee-wee.”

“Cut!”  [Muttering.]  “Ian Rankin was never like this.”


*None of this is true, either.

Audio CD for A17B: Part 1*

“Hello.  Welcome to this audio CD which goes with Open University course A17B Start Talking Bollocks.  My name is Jenny Artydrone.”

“And my name is Penny Mousewhisper.”

“I am going to talk very, very slowly, in a kind of vaguely ecclesiastical Irish voice which sounds ethereal, and other-worldly.  I am going to use a selection of literary terms, which I never bother to define, such as ‘inscape’, to make me sound really clever.”

“I am also going to talk slowly, but not as slowly as you.  I am going to make myself sound clever by talking in a very clipped, upper-class English voice, which will give the impression that I am reserved but also delicate and complex.  I will occasionally create a contrast in what I am saying by unexpectedly uttering a rude word such as ‘bugger’.”

“Referring to ‘buggery’ is very cutting-edge.”

[Slightly off-mike]  “Doing it can feel like that as well.”

“During this conversation, we invite you, the student listening at home, to try to decide which of us is the more irritating.  I don’t wish to pre-judge, but I think I’ve got this one in the bag already.  I recently visited a Buddhist retreat in Nepal, where the monks have been meditating and fasting for years in spiritual contemplation.  I got them so riled up they didn’t know whether they were coming or going.  They threw me out of a second-storey window, and said that if I ever went back there, they’d set fire to me.”

“That is as may be, but I have a powerful weapon I can use.  I’m an upper-class, educated English person, and so I can create as much irritation as I want simply by trying to do a bad impersonation of a regional accent.  I only have to get it slightly wrong, and it will grate on the ear worse than brass nails scraping down a blackboard.”

“That is an interesting example of how we can re-use personal experiences to get up people’s noses.”

“I think that is one of our foremost duties as writers and teachers.”

*None of this is true.


Name’s Trevor.  Builder.  And landscape gardening.  Paths, driveways, laying.  And that.  Aye.  That’s me.

Don’t feel too good at the moment.

Been working on a job near Wentworth.  Posh house.  Big place: right big: right, right big.  Stables, horses and that.  There’s a big renovation of an old lodge to do: messy job: lots of damp to deal with.  New floors, new ceilings, new skirting.  Re-do damp course.  Strip all walls down to brickwork; repair damaged brickwork; re-board and skim throughout.  New electrics.  New plumbing.  New roof.  New windows.  Rebuild conservatory in hardwood double-glazed units.  And the pond.  Outside the conservatory they wanted a pond.

I dug it by hand.  It would have been much quicker to do it with the digger, but I costed it as if it had only taken the same amount of time as the digger would have done, but I think you can control the shape much better if you dig it by hand.  A good pond needs a mixture of depth and shallow.  They asked me – and I’m glad – that they wanted a natural pond.  No aerator.  No koi carp.  No fish at all, in fact.  Just a big container full of rainwater.  And let the frogs and toads and newts just find it for themselves.  If it’s deeper than about eighteen inches, they’ll breed, once they’ve latched onto it.  I smoothed the inside with a trowel once I’d finished the spade-work and shifted the soil.

I had finished digging it, and lining it, and spoken to the gardener about planting round it.  He was an all-right bloke.  He told me I could use two of his water-butts to fill it with, to get it going while the weather is dry.  I got some water-lilies and elodea to go in it, and some periwinkles and other things with over-hanging foliage to go round it.  They always look too new for a bit after they have been freshly-planted.  It takes a year or so for everything to bed in properly, but I was pleased with this one, though I say so myself.  It looked almost as if the pond was as old as the surrounding garden and buildings.

When I looked up, when I was rinsing out my flask and getting ready to go, I thought I saw a face at one of the upstairs windows of the main house, but I didn’t recognise who it was.

When I went back on site this morning, first thing I went to check it.  I wanted to check there were no leaks in the new lining.  As I walked along the gravel path round the back of the lodge, I could tell that some-one had been there.  I had left an iron lattice over the top of it – one of those things we use for strengthening ferro-concrete bases – but it had been moved.  I had put it there to make sure kids or pets or hedgehogs didn’t fall into it, because it was new and people wouldn’t know it was there.

The lattice was lying on the grass near the pond.  Vandals would have just chucked it somewhere, but it looked as if it had been deliberately placed.  And then I looked into the water, and I saw her.

She was wearing a dark green, silk dress.  She had long hair.  She was very pale.  Her skin was as white as a Belfast sink, except for a few freckles.  She had her arms by her sides.  Her hair was spread out in the water.  Some of the elodea had got tangled up in it.  She might have looked like a water-creature if she hadn’t been dead.  She looked very peaceful: I’ll give her that.  She looked about eighteen or nineteen.

She turned out to be the householder’s niece, who was visiting from Cambridge.  I wonder why she did it.  I wonder why she had to do it in my new pond.

A week off

I won’t be entering write-invite.com this week, owing to circumstances beyond my control.

Maybe she’s tired

On tiptoe, I can just reach the shelf where my mum put the spare key to the bedroom door. She often puts things where she thinks I can’t get them, but I can. She is very dopey, my mum. Dopey and thick. The teachers at school say I’m thick, but I’m miles smarter than my dumb mum. Who would lock some-one in a room and leave the key in, even if it is on a shelf?

My mum locks me in when she goes out. She goes out a lot. I had a talk with her a while ago, and I told her that she was doing it too often. It was about the fifty-thousandth time we have had that talk. My mum sighs and looks at the ceiling and just agrees with everything I’m saying. That is what really drives me mad. I wish she would stick up for herself and tell me what she is really thinking. I wish she would only agree to things if I ask her something she thinks she can stick to, but she agrees to everything. If I asked her not to go out so often and to bring me back a pink princess dress, she’d say yes to it, but there’s no way she could afford that. She’s always short of money, even when she’s been working. She never tells me what kind of job she does, but it seems to have something to do with going out late and getting drunk. She works for a man called Ali. He has ginger hair and a lot of tattoos. He hit my mum once. I hate him.

I need to work out whether my mum is in the house or not. If she is in the house, and if she has a man with her, and I come out of the bedroom, she will go mad with me, and the man probably will as well. When I say “go mad”, I mean absolutely mental. She’ll probably hit me and stomp around and start throwing things, even if she isn’t that drunk. So I need to listen carefully to see if I can hear anybody else in the house.

I can’t hear any music. I can’t hear anybody opening the cupboards in the kitchen. I can’t hear a TV programme. I’ve been asleep for a bit and so I may have missed her coming back. I don’t often sleep while she is away, because I like to listen for her so I know when she comes in, but I did fall asleep tonight, probably because it’s so cold. It has been colder than usual tonight.

I am going to have to go out. I don’t know if she is in or not, but I am going to have to take the chance.

I’m turning the key as quietly as possible. The hinges on this door used to creak like mad, but I stole a bottle of stuff from the hardware shop at the end of the road and they are really quiet now. I’ve put the stuff on all the doors upstairs, but I have left the ones downstairs creaking because it tells me when my mum is moving around.

I’m tip-toe-ing down the stairs. This this step I always step over, because it creaks as well, worse than the door used to.

I’m downstairs now. I’m peeping round the front room door. The door was open. I mustn’t touch the door, or move it, because it will make a noise. It’s dark, but I can’t turn any lights on. I’ve got my torch in my pocket. It is only a little one, but I’ll just shine it into the front room for a little while.

There’s some-one lying on the sofa. It’s my mum. I remember the red dress she put on before she went out.

There’s a load of messy things on the coffee table. I don’t know why we call it a coffee table, because it never has coffee on it.

There are two empty cider bottles and loads of cigarette-ends and little green and orange packets with those little bits of paper you make cigarettes out of. And there’s some spoons that are all burnt, and a hyperdummick shringe. My mum’s got a hyperdummick shringe still in her arm. It’s a good job she’s asleep, or that might be really painful.

“Mum. Mum. Mu-uum. Wake up. Wake up. What time did you come in? Can we go shopping soon? I’m hungry. Can we get some cola and some microwave chips and a pepperoni pizza?”

She must be tired. That’s it. She didn’t come in ’til late last night. She probably didn’t get to sleep until very late. She must be tired. I’ll get her some water. She might be thirsty.

Made-up tutor 2

Frank Hard was born in Castleford in 1966.  He had no formal education and began work at the age of 15 in a factory that processed slaughterhouse waste.  Three years later, while already serving a custodial sentence for assault, he was tried for the murder of another inmate and convicted.  It was during his life sentence in Wakefield prison that he became interested in creative writing.

His first publication is a piece of experimental short fiction that he wrote while still incarcerated, often referred to as On The Outside, but its full title is: When You Mark This, You Bender, Remember I Have Mates On The Outside.    This was followed by a novel, What Are You Looking At?  and a stage-play, Don’t Sit in the Front Three Rows.

Hard’s on-off relationship with Clytemnestra Hotchkiss is the talk of literary circles throughout the north of England.  After their last public break-up, at a book launch in Huddersfield in 2011,  both partners wrote a short collection of poetry.  Hard’s is entitled Soz Our Lass, and Hotchkiss’s Hard By Name But Not Where It Matters.

A kick up the backside

This is my latest entry for http://www.write-invite.com, a competition in which I have only been short-listed once.   To be on the short-list (which then goes to a ballot of all the people who entered) you have to come in the top three.

This entry came 4th.  In other words: nowhere.   As we say in West Yorkshire, “that’s another four quid down the nick”.


I have deleted this because I have entered it in a competition.

Prompt: pregnant falconer

Mabel Braithwaite had been told at school that she was “educationally sub-normal”, in the days before it became more fashionable to say “borderline learning-difficulties”.  Her teachers had taken every opportunity to tell her that she would never amount to anything, and that she would “get into trouble” if she was not careful.  Mabel had never had the foggiest idea what “get into trouble” meant, unless it was something to do with leaving gates open, or being cheeky.  She grew up mostly in the company of herself, her pets, and the livestock on her parents’ farm.  She always did her best to avoid getting “into trouble”.

Mabel was twenty years old by the time she began to venture away from the farm on her own.  When she visited the Horbury Annual Show for the first time, it was the most exciting thing she had ever seen.  She bought some candy-floss.  She watched Punch and Judy (and thought what a good job it was that her mother and father were not there).  She watched a man with three beautiful birds of prey give a display in the main enclosure.  It was captivating: the sheen of their feathers, their cruel beaks and talons, their disdainful eyes, and the speed of their attack when they went for the lure as it whizzed round above the man’s head.  The man had said that a falcon can dive at three hundred miles per hour – faster than a racing car and much more graceful.

After the show, Mabel asked the man if she could learn about birds of prey.  The man’s name was Stuart.  He was nice.  Stuart invited Mabel to come and visit him, so that he could teach her about falconry.  Stuart said he would pick her up in his Land Rover.  Mabel was worried the first time that her mother and father met Stuart, but they seemed to like him.  Mabel started going to Stuart’s house often.  She learnt a lot.

After a few weeks, Mabel began to wonder why she felt sick so often.