Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

Category Archives: parody

Testament Paint Chart

Martin Webster begat the National Front, and the National Front begat John Tyndall, and it came to pass that John Tyndall did leave the National Front, for, while it was verily a place in which the man of Albion did hate and vent his ire towards the man of Egypt, it was also a place in which a man, yea, a man who took an iron razor to all the hairs of his head, even until he bareth the skin, did lie down with another man. And John Tyndall said, I will leave this place, and will begin a new tribe for, verily, this tribe has become a tribe of sodomites. And John Tyndall begat the British National Party. And the British National Party begat Nick Griffin. And it came to pass that Nick Griffin said unto John Tyndall, you leadeth us into deserts wherein we cannot cultivate, and into marshes wherein we cannot graze our flocks, for, verily, you wear the swastika armband, and you wear the leather jackboot, and you ponce about in a manner which bringeth down hatred and scorn upon my brothers (I could not care less about my sisters). And John Tynall said unto Nick Griffin, verily, I need the swastika armband and I need the jackboot. I need these things to show my hatred of the Ethiop and the Egyptian. And Nick Griffin said, yes I get all that, but we need to be more subtle. For, verily, I wear outer garments which are known to our enemies as a suit, and I wear the fibres which come from the place known as Kashmir, which is even a fortress of our enemies. And Nick Griffin did become the father of the British National Party. And it came to pass that John Tyndall died. And it came to pass that Nick Griffin was declared personally bankrupt. And it came to pass that the tribe called the Ukips did come forth. And their leader was Mr Faraaaaahge. And it came to pass that many of those who had followed Martin Webster, and John Tynall, and Nick Griffin, did follow Mr Faraaaaaahge. And Mr Faraaaaaahge thought of this not. And, behold, Dulux did produce a paint chart entitled, “Contemporary British Extreme Right”, and it had four colours. The first colour was Martin Webster. The second colour was John Tyndall. The third colour was Nick Griffin. The fourth colour was Mr Faraaaaaahge. And verily they were all the same.

William Thirsk-Gaskill prose fiction critique bingo

Lose all the semi-colons.


Are you telling two stories, or one?


I love the title, but hate the story. Try re-writing this from a different point of view.


Show.  Don’t tell.


Is this important?


Get rid of the ellipses.


Break this down into shorter sentences.


This paragraph tells the reader nothing he/she doesn’t already know.


You seem to be engaged in what is known in cricketing circles as, ‘Taking a long run-up’.


The foot of this page is where the story really starts.


Get on with it. I hate this character.  Well done. Good use of detail. Why isn’t this in a standard format?
Yes. I love the story, but hate the title. Death to all modifiers. Now I am getting interested. I wish I had written this.
Your limited-omniscience third person narrator has ideas above its station.


Have you considered writing for Mills & Boon (no irony)? Now we are getting somewhere. Publish.


I’d like to buy this character a drink.


We were very excited to receive your submission for issue #6 of ‘Face Grinder’. It was edgy, contemporary, and sharp. Everybody in the editorial office read it and we all enjoyed it. I think we each drew something important from it, and not just in considering its innovative narrative mode, vivid characterisation, and page-turning story.

The character of Jason particularly struck a chord with Viv, our marketing manager, whose son suffers from bi-polar disorder. Viv showed your story to his son’s therapist, who has used the narrative arc of Jason’s recovery to devise a new way of looking at the son’s condition. It really seems to be working. The son has stopped gambling excessively and harming himself, and has an interview lined up for a job as a reporter with the local paper. This could be the start of a new life for him.

Alison, our trainee editor, applied your pared-down, skewed style of dialogue to her novel that was recently rejected, and has re-written it as a radio play. This has been accepted by BBC Radio 4. They have commissioned her to write another play next year. The University of Kingston, Jamaica has also booked her to deliver a series of seminars for emerging writers, entitled, ‘Saying the Unsaid’.

The complex set of plot threads to do with the android who conducts experiments in molecular biology were studied assiduously by Dave, our admin assistant, who is waiting to start his PhD at Edinburgh. He has spoken to his supervisor-to-be, and they have agreed to change the title of his thesis. The supervisor seems to think that the project might secure a big breakthrough in the fight against cancer. He seems really excited about the forthcoming experiments, and has mentioned the possibility, not just of a big batch of publications in prominent journals, but a Nobel prize as well.

We were also very interested and impressed to hear that you had managed to sell all ten copies of issue #5 that we sent you. Thanks for dropping off the money. Thanks also for managing to put out that fire that Dave had unwittingly started in the wastepaper basket after his cigarette break. I checked after that incident and, through some ghastly oversight, our buildings and contents insurance had not been renewed. Without your timely intervention, we would have lost our entire business, apart from any possible loss of life. I hope you have been able to use your time in the burns unit to do a bit of writing. I hear there are writers who can produce just as much with those eyelid-operated keyboards as most people can typing normally.

Unfortunately, the editorial panel felt that your story did not quite gel with the rest of the issue, and so we cannot publish it. Good luck with your future career, and we look forward to reading more of your excellent work in future.

P.S. Is it OK if we send you another ten copies of issue #5 to sell? We’re a bit stuck with them.

The defence minister comments*

I don’t know if anybody remembers this ephemeral politician.  This is something I wrote when he was in office.

I was reminded of it by a Twitter hash tag started by the novelist, Joanne Harris (@joannechocolat) entitled #CriticallyReviewedFairyTales .


Geoff Hoon MP, Secretary of State for Defence, comments on the “Three Little Pigs” dèbâcle*: 

Of course, the “Wolf” system is still at a very early stage in its trials, and let us not forget for a moment that even this prototype was in fact sixty-six and two-thirds per cent successful.  The Government has recently had very frank discussions with the manufacturer, and we are assured that Wolf Mark 2 will have an enhanced version of the “Huff-and-Puff” system with additional brick-house-busting capability. 

In the new global situation with which we are now confronted, it is increasingly difficult to predict where agencies such as little pigs are likely to build their houses.  Without wishing to raise undue alarm, I have to point out that, in the future, we must be prepared to expect not just groups of three little pigs, but increasingly sophisticated micro- or nano- little pigs, and our armed forces must be trained and equipped to react accordingly. 

As to these ridiculous allegations that there were unnecessary civilian casualties resulting from the chopping-down of the Beanstalk, this is quite a separate matter and it would be very wrong of me to comment until all relevant experts have filed their reports.  All I will say for the moment is that Jack’s Axe is a vital ingredient in the firepower needed by today’s flexible and responsive armed forces, and I am certain that there would have been greater loss of life had it not been employed in the timely manner that it was.  My condolences obviously go to the families of the bereaved and my congratulations to the brave men and women of our services who participated in the action, particularly those who live in Derbyshire.


* None of this is true.

Made-up tutor 3

Truk Ven Ut Ngo is one of the foremost Vietnamese writers working in Britain and one of the OU’s oldest academics.  He was born in 1934, and witnessed the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, between French colonial forces and the Viet Minh.  This was an experience which was to have a profound effect on his work. 

His early writing is lyrical, poetic, and introspectively philosophical.  It includes short stories (Dreams of White Lotus, The Lamps of Solace, Sapphire Visions) and a stage play (How Much Longer Does This Go On For, Daddy?)  He eked out a meagre living by writing short pieces while working on his magnum opus, Ascending Mount Gabrielle.  This is a book not about characters, but about forces, and refers to the French name of a feature of the terrain of the battlefield at Dien Bien Phu. 

His further work went gradually south:  Ascending Mount Beatrice, Ascending Mount Anne-Marie (in two volumes, reflecting the fact that there are twin mounts), Ascending Mount Dominique, Ascending Mount Claudine, Ascending Mount Eliane, and finally Ascending Mount Isabelle.  By this time, he had mapped, both figuratively and literally, the whole battleground. 

Since joining the OU, he has written three retrospective works of short fiction, Did I Ever Mention I Was At Dien Bien Phu?, The Bloody Battle, and Will You Ever Shut Up About That Bloody Battle? 

When asked to characterise his approach to teaching creative writing, his reply demonstrated both his philosophical outlook and his mastery of British colloquialisms: “If any of those twats can’t write, why expect me to do owt about it?” 

An undiscovered fragment of radio drama

Fade up.  Indoors, suburban street noise coming through open window.  Occasional shouts in background.

WOMAN:       What are you doing?  You’ve been staring out of that window for two hours.

MAN:             I’m not doing anything.  I’m trying to work out what those nutters are up to, over there.

WOMAN:       Why is that important?

MAN:             Why is that important?  It is important because we are an outwardly respectable couple.  I am an outwardly respectable man, and you are an outwardly respectable woman.  We don’t want undesirables coming round here, disrupting our accustomed routine and de-valuing our property.

WOMAN:       Yes, all right, all right.  Close the window, will you love?  That draught is freezing. 

MAN:             I need the window open so I can hear them.  They all seem to have flat, metropolitan Northern accents.  They are engaged in endless, nagging disputes with each other and keep losing their tempers.

WOMAN:       Who are they?

MAN:             A few goth-looking teenagers, some scratter in a hoodie and a baseball cap, an Asian chap in a suit, and a bloke who looks like a geography teacher.  They keep walking round and round a white van and shouting at each other.  Some of them have been texting furiously.  One of them has a pair of binoculars and a botanical sample-case.

WOMAN:       What the hell does he need those for?

MAN:             I haven’t the foggiest.  What’s that noise?

WOMAN:       It sounds like a strident, electric guitar playing the intro to an up-tempo, indie rock theme.

MAN:             Oh, god.  That can’t mean –

WOMAN:       Yes, it must: we’re in a Michael Stewart* drama.

Fade up ‘Temple of Love’ by Sisters of Mercy.  Man and woman scream.  Music fades after 45 seconds.

WOMAN:       (Breathless)  Calm down.  We need to calm down.  We mustn’t let this get to us. 

MAN:             What are we going to do?

WOMAN:       Have you been taking your medication? 

MAN:             What do you mean “medication”?  I’m not on any medication.

WOMAN:       Oh, my god this is worse than I thought.  You’ve not been taking your medication.  Oh, hell, that explains so much about your recent behaviour.  How long is it since you stopped taking it?

MAN:             I’ve never taken it.

WOMAN:       What?  And after you promised me and Dr Walker.

MAN:             I haven’t been prescribed any medication.  Have you gone mad?

WOMAN:       Look, Phil.  Here we are, both enmeshed in a Michael Stewart* play. You admitted yourself a minute ago that you are an outwardly respectable man –

MAN:             My god.  You must be right.  That means I –

WOMAN:       Must have a terrible secret.

MAN:             I don’t feel well.  Where are my pills?  Have we got any vodka? 

Fade up theme music.  Car engine starts nearby.  Loud revving of engine.

MAN:             Is one of those chavs stealing our car and going on a drug and adrenalin-fuelled rampage through rural areas in a desperate attempt to escape the long arm of the law while sublimating some kind of repressed rage or resentment? 

WOMAN:       I’m afraid so.

MAN:             (Receding)  The little bleeder.  I’ll kill him. 

WOMAN:       Phil!  Love!  It isn’t worth it!  In spite of protracted tension and some damage to property, there will be a reconciliation in the end.  Not exactly a happy ending: a realistic and plausible one, but a resolution which nevertheless allows the listener some grounds for optimism.  Phil!  Come back!    

* Michael Stewart did not write this: I did.  He has seen it, and he said it amused him.  Michael is the author of ‘King Crow’, which recently won ‘Not The Booker Prize’.  He is also the editor of the ‘Grist’ anthology.

Plink Plink Fizz made even sillier (content warning)

By using Bing translate, I translated the text into Japanese and then back into English. 

Detective shilling blamed brake and stumbled upon “A T… Inspector” adidas track suit young road. He stops in front of his yards more than manages. And topple the car gently youth and puts his hand on the hood. He grinned. Gingivitis gums boy shilling fear impact on noticed. He took a cold drink or ice cream, he exposed dentin sensitivity is whenever he is visibly.
Risk get a shilling to assist about him, another Samaritan come and assist young car: girl nor her late teens track and dark blue suits-women showed that she wore her long hair and soft skin. She is shilling is something she fixed appliance noticed both jaws. Some serious orthodontic work-perhaps had happened ago in the extraction of some. Her small Chin average higher than the capacity of the brain that did you? What was done to separate whether the people of her work. Who paid for it? In the minds of the shilling question that was blowing. His abandoned car in the middle of the road, Fox, reporting went to the nearest Pub. The shilling never had only four pubs had set foot in Glasgow. He liked the new experience.
7-Year-old small group car, shilling left after the gasoline-filled milk bottles, hammer hand fell. He has ignored them. He grant his emergency had planned and Mr. McEwan.
Saloon and Pack in the pub, drank their lunch customers is as commotion so loud. Most of them small stage will be ignored and the trio of teenage girls, each stocking who painted in the massage oil, gyrated and together they rub heavily pregnant bellies except the heels naked throbbing music. Appalled by the shilling stunned you have. Saw something that did not have probably none of them was my teeth, clearly, floss. He then reached, hiding the “cone” brush, nylon lace garter girl some packets 0.5 mm. At least he can do. He could not get the opportunity to show how they use them only. Eager was he all corners and get stiff probe crevasse.
Shilling order his usual: export and two straws at 1 pint of 70 cl bottle of whiskey. He then quaffed beer and contemplatively spirit drew straws. He should be given. Had picked some one the Castlemilk estate vulnerable girls, reasons for them – for – fixed appliance is installed up-to-date pay,? What, the Mr. big Mrs or Ms or doctor or pastor big) got in return.

Plink Plink Fizz (content warning)

A foretaste of the latest work from Callum MacIrnbru, the gritty Scottish novelist whose work deals with alienation, loss, and dental decay.

Detective Inspector “A.T.” Shilling slammed the brakes on as the youth in the Adidas tracksuit stumbled out into the road.  He managed to stop no more than a yard in front of him.  The youth gently toppled towards the car, and put his hands on the bonnet.  He grinned.  Shilling noticed with horror the gingivitis affecting the boy’s gums.  He visibly winced at the sensitivity the exposed dentine must cause him every time he took a cold drink or an ice cream.

Shilling was about to risk getting out of the car to help the lad, when a different Samaritan came over to aid him: a girl, also in her late teens, also clad in a dark blue tracksuit – only her long hair and soft complexion indicated she was female.  She said something, and Shilling noticed that she had a fixed appliance on both jaws.  Some serious orthodontic work was going on – probably preceded by several extractions.  Did her small jaw indicate higher than average brain capacity?  Who prompted her to have the work done?  Was it done privately?  Who paid for it?  Shilling’s mind frothed with questions.  He abandoned the car in the middle of the road and went to the nearest pub, The Fox and Informer.  It was one of the only four pubs in Glasgow that Shilling had never set foot in.  He liked new experiences.

A small but dedicated group of seven year-olds descended on the car after Shilling left it, petrol-filled milk-bottles and hammers in hand.  He ignored them.  He had an urgent appointment with Mr McEwan and Mr Grant.

Inside the pub, the saloon was packed and the lunchtime customers made a loud hubbub as they drank.  Most of them ignored the small stage and its trio of teenage girls, naked except for stockings and high heels, who smeared each other in massage oil and rubbed their heavily pregnant bellies together as they gyrated to throbbing music.  Shilling was appalled.  Clearly none of them had brushed their teeth for days, and floss was probably something they had never seen.  He reached up, and tucked a few packets of 0.5 millimetre “Teepee” brushes into the nylon lace garter of one of the girls.  It was the least he could do.  If only he could get the opportunity to show them how to use them. He was keen to get the stiff probe into every corner and crevasse.

Shilling ordered his usual: a pint of export and a 70cl bottle of whisky with two straws.  He quaffed the beer and drew the spirit up the straws, contemplatively.  He needed to think.  Some-one was picking out vulnerable girls in the Castlemilk estate and paying for them to have state-of-the-art fixed appliances fitted, but why?  What did this Mr Big (or Mrs or Ms or Doctor or Reverend Big) get in return?

Joseph Heller writes a bus journey

As soon as Yossarian saw the bus inspector, he knew he hated him.  The inspector waited on the pavement and observed the driver open the little door above the windscreen and furiously wind the handle round to change the display giving the bus’s destination.  The mechanism made a high-pitched, metallic ululation which set Yossarian’s teeth on edge.  Just as the inspector got on, Yossarian stood up and walked to the front.

‘What the hell are you doing?’  he demanded.

‘Changing the display so that it says “Roundhay Park” instead of “Shadwell”, and changing the number from 44 to 25.’


‘This bus isn’t going to Shadwell anymore.’  This inspector nodded his agreement with the driver, and adjusted the dark green polyester clip-on tie and white nylon shirt-collar that were part of his uniform.  Yossarian thought it was cheap of the bus company to provide clip-on ties: it made it more difficult to strangle the employees with their own neck-wear.

‘But the timetable says that the number 44 goes to Shadwell.’


‘So why are you changing it?’

‘Because this is now a 25 terminating at Roundhay Park.’

‘But I want to go to Shadwell.’  The driver glanced at the inspector, who answered.

‘In that case, sir, you need to stay on this bus until it terminates, wait 17 minutes until it returns to the centre of Leeds, get off on Vicar Lane, and then catch the next 44 going to Shadwell.  It is the 44 that goes to Shadwell, you see.’

‘I know the 44 goes to Shadwell.  That is why I got on the 44.  This bus was a 44 until you changed it.  I bet if I went back into town and got on another one, you’d change that too.’

‘Before we go any further, sir, do you mind if I see your ticket?’

‘Here.  Knock yourself out.’

‘Mmm.’  The inspector’s eyebrows bristled, his eyes narrowed, and his forehead creased with disapproval, as he regarded the ticket.  ‘I am afraid this ticket is not valid, sir.’

‘What the hell are you talking about?  This is off-peak, isn’t it?’

‘It is indeed off-peak, sir.’

‘Well that’s an off-peak adult fare ticket, isn’t it?’

‘It was.  It isn’t anymore.’

‘What?  Why not?’

‘The off-peak fare has been raised from £1.70 to £1.95.  You need to pay another 25 pence.’

‘Since when?’

‘Since the Cathcart Coach Company raised the off-peak fare to £1.95.’

Yossarian wearily examined his loose change.  He didn’t have 25 pence.

‘There is an alternative,’ the inspector hinted.


‘When you go back into town, we could take you to our Public Relations Department, and you could give a statement telling the public what a fine job you think we are doing.’

Kurt Vonnegut writes a bus journey (rude words)

Oberon Haddock saw the big machine coming down the road towards the stop.  The big machine was called a ‘bus’, and was made largely of ferrous metal.  It was directed in its path by a much smaller machine.  This machine was made largely of meat.  The big machine had been made in a factory and had, to the best of any-one’s knowledge, no emotions or volition.  The smaller, meat machine was seething with resentment.  He seethed with resentment because he suspected that the machine he thought of as his wife was interacting with another machine in something known as “an affair”.  He seethed with resentment because he wanted more money, and he seethed with resentment because he hated his occupation.  Being a little machine directing the path of a bigger machine was not what he wanted to do.  He didn’t get to decide the path on which to direct the bigger machine.  The path was decided by a table of text and numbers called the “timetable”.  He hated the timetable.  His name was Johann Funnelbiker.

As soon as Oberon Haddock stepped onto the bus and saw Johann Funnelbiker, he recognised his resentment.

‘I am completely normal,’ Oberon Haddock said to Johann Funnelbiker.

‘Evidently not,’ Johann replied, tapping the coin-dispenser with nervous fingers.  His face was already starting to redden.

‘I can help you,’ Haddock assured him.

‘You can help me by either telling me where the hell you want to go, and providing approximately the correct fare, or by getting the fuck off my bleeding bus.’

‘The bad days will end.’

‘The bad days will continue until I stop having to deal with twats like you.  Now where do you want to go?’

Oberon Haddock sat his thin, fragile body down in the vestibule of the bus, and adopted the lotus position.  He inhaled deeply, and exhaled slowly while Johann looked around for a spanner or similar object to use as a weapon.  Johann’s search led to nothing, except more frustration.  Oberon Haddock’s meditation inspired him.  He uttered the mystic word that now flared like a supernova across the constellation of his mind.

‘Ossett.’  Now they were getting somewhere.