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Something has to be written about these times; sorry that my skills are not as good as they should be. There is nothing I can do about that – my skills are the only skills that are available. I am the only one left and time is running out, so there is no time to get any better at this. Perhaps in a hundred years, someone will find this account interesting enough to rewrite it as a work of fiction – it’s dramatic enough. It would make a good film. I wonder if they’ll still have films in the twenty-second century? It’ll probably all be holograms by then – total immersion in a fake reality. But then what is reality anyway? And if what has happened here happens more widely there won’t be much left to fret about by then.
I’m sitting in an empty oil barrel inside a deserted factory – it used to be a machine shop. I used to work here. Now all the lathes and grinders have been sold for scrap and all that’s left is this oil drum and the run down building that surrounds it.
All around me lying in various awkward positions on the cold greasy floor are the bodies of the others. These were my fellow travellers, my crew, my gang, formed from an alliance of survivors. It has been six months since the coach crashed and it took us six outlaws every one of those 180 days to get here. I can’t look at them any longer, and there is nothing I can do but wait until the dangers have passed and all I have is this notebook and this pen. I hope it doesn’t run out . . .
At the end of next week – on Saturday January 7th, I will be appearing on stage at the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff along with a wonderfully disparate bunch of performers (which is what you might expect considering it’s a Wyrd Wonder happening). I won’t explain too much here but there is more info on the Facebook event page which should be accessible if you click this :- https://www.facebook.com/events/551824065014351/
The thing is I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet, but the fallback position is that I read a story or perhaps some poetry. What I would like to be able to do is some kind of stand-up comedy, or a funny narrative, something that will make people think they haven’t wasted their time sitting quietly for fifteen minutes watching some idiot making an idiot of himself.
So I thought of the opening joke:
“When I told my wife I was thinking of doing a stand-up comedy routine, she pissed herself laughing, so I knew I was onto a good thing . . .” – Ta-Da!
What do you think? It’s a bit Tim Vine isn’t it? In fact it probably is one of his that I’ve subconsciously absorbed and regurgitated.
I’m only kidding of course – ‘kidding’ – get it? (ha ha)
But seriously, I’m not serious about the stand-up idea – or am I?
Who knows, maybe I’ll see you then.
Cyfarchion y Tymor
What do I mean? I mean this is a short story with no style and no substance.
Why not? Style is taste, substance is an illusion.
Fair enough, but I don’t understand.
You don’t need to.
I mean I don’t understand the point of it.
Your short story. This.
Nor me. In fact I’d go so far as to say that there is no point to it.
But what’s the point of that? Why should I read it?
I don’t know. Do you need a reason?
Well, yes, otherwise I’d be wasting my time, my breath, my life.
Look at me shrugging. Read what you like, or not. Who cares?
Well, you should, it’s your short story. Don’t you want people to read it?
Yes of course, but I still don’t care if they do or not.
If you say so.
So what’s it about?
Nothing. It’s got no substance.
What’s the point . . . oh, never mind.
Good, you’re learning.
No I’m not.
Yes you are. You’ve learned that there’s no point.
No point to what?
No point trying to find a point in something that has no point.
OK. If you say so.
I was being sarcastic.
Because you’re winding me up.
Because of your stupid story that has no style and no substance.
And no point.
So what’s the problem then?
You’re doing my head in.
With all this story nonsense.
Well you don’t have to read it.
Fuck off then . . . .
The BEBS is a very prestigious award made just once – I mean how could it be awarded more than once – it’s for the Best Ever Book after all.
My latest book ‘To Me’ beat all other competition from all time, past, present and future hands down.
I would just like to express my thanks to the BEBS and to myself for writing such a marvellous award-winning tome.
The path to the cabin was choked with brambles; that was good. It meant that no one had been near the place for months at least.
‘Ssh,’ Emma said.
‘No, it’s all right now,’ he said. ‘Look – there’s no sign of another human being – we’ll be safe here.’
‘But it’s not human beings we’re hiding from, is it Jack?’
‘Of course they’re human beings; you’ve been watching too many episodes of Doctor Who.’
‘Oh shut up. I know what I saw. You saw it too. If that was a person then it was still a monster – more than just a normal person.’
‘Yes, but it’s still got to move around, whatever it is and it would leave traces.’
‘What if it can fly?’ Emma asked.
The sun was blotted by some shadow.
I’m just leaving the Co-op Shop and I’ve got a bag of “All Original Starburst Chews, Bursting With Real Fruit Juiciness”, a Grab-Bag of Walkers Salt and Vinegar Crisps, the last manky copy of today’s Guardian newspaper and one Silk Cut cigarette. I’ve got more cigarettes at home, of course, loads of them. Thing is, I’m not going to get home. I’m going to die before I get home. I’m going to die; I know I am.
Somewhere in the fifteen minute walk home, I’m going to die, I don’t know when exactly, but I know I’m going to die. Thing is, what am I going to do with the last half-mile, or less, of my life? It’s a difficult question. Perhaps if I run as fast as Flash, I can cheat death, slip past on its blind side maybe? Get home before it gets me. Continue reading
I am the richest man in the world. They say I am a recluse, I am afraid of doorknobs, I shower in purified water a dozen times a day, and I eat nothing but the flesh of sterilised fruit. It’s true; I am the richest man in the world, the rest doesn’t matter, it’s of no consequence, it’s irrelevant. All that matters is that these words reach you; that we touch.
I have no one you see – no mother, no father, no wife, no sons, no daughters, no family, no friends. Oh! I have slaves, paid slaves, unpaid sycophants, admirers, devotees even. I suspect that every second of every day my name is on the lips of someone; my name is typed into a search engine; my name is tweeted at the speed of light. Continue reading
“This too must pass.” These words have helped me in my long ordeal. They ring in my head like a mantra almost every minute that I’m stuck here in this God-forsaken pit of a room. If I divide the days into hours and the hours into minutes and the minutes into seconds and think only of the infinitesimally small time-period that I am conscious of now, it is just bearable; in fact it becomes like any other moment in my reality – never-ending and entirely ephemeral.
Those times that I come face to face with my captors are the worst – and the best. I crave for their presence to confirm my own existence. I despise their arrogance, that they have the power to liberate me, and the power to end my life; they are my Gods. There’s the big one with the slow voice and hairy scarred hands, ‘LOVE’ it says in scruffy blue letters across one set of knuckles and ‘HATE’ it says in thick blood-red on the other.
He seems nervous today, there’s a change in the atmosphere. Instead of shoving the filthy bowl of filthy food at me and hurriedly exiting – he lingers, as if he needs to talk. Now, I have the power. I hold the bowl jealously close, pluck out the food and cram it in my mouth. I pause, gagging on a piece of what smells like raw, rotten fish, but I force it down; I must live. I grunt at him, or at the nervous eyes visible through the narrow slits in his black balaclava. Continue reading
Wednesday night: I met this fit girl in the pub; we exchanged phone numbers. I wrote hers on a pack of silver Rizla cigarette papers. I don’t want to appear too keen – treat ‘em mean and all that, so I had an idea. There’s fifty papers in the packet. I’ve decided that if she hasn’t contacted me by the time I’ve used the last paper, I’ll give her a call. Thing is, the pack is just about full, and because I only smoke about ten a day, that’s an excruciating five days to wait.
I could cheat. I could smoke more; perhaps if I upped the stakes to twenty a day that would halve the time, or, if I offered the papers around, maybe when the guys are rolling spliffs – that would see them disappear in a night. I’m in a quandary. I always play these little games according to the rules, and the rules are quite clear – I have to wait until I’ve used all the papers in a legitimate way, and for the purposes of this game, the legitimate way is to carry on as usual and smoke the ten a day.
Oh my god, I’ve just remembered, I’m in the middle of another little game, I’ve promised myself I’ll stop smoking by tea-time on Thursday. I’m stuffed. Continue reading
Twenty-seven people were killed or injured when the bomb exploded. I happened to be travelling past on the bus, but I was only shaken up a little.
I went to help of course; I am a doctor after all. I attended to three of the victims. Mair died on the spot and Alice lost a leg, but it was Keith who got my sympathy. I suppose it was because I identified with him more than I did with the others. He was a man, we were about the same age and more significantly, it had been twenty-seven years for me too.
Keith whispered: “Twenty-seven years married, I thought I’d seen it all,” he laughed.
I laughed with him, there’s not much else you can do in a situation like that. He wasn’t seriously hurt in a physical way, but I could see the damage just as clearly as if he was. I knew the signs.
“I thought it couldn’t get any worse, after I lost my job,” he said quietly. “But of course it could, and of course it did.”
“Don’t worry, it won’t be long now.”
“I’m OK,” he said. “There’s no need to bother with me. Better go and see to the others, they need you more.”
I looked around. Through the dust, everything was surprisingly still and quiet.
“Is Mair dead?” he asked.
He already knew. Her blood and pieces of her face were dripping off his arm.
I nodded. Continue reading
Walter? What sort of a name was that to give to a child born in 1995? Walter Andrew Nankeville. You don’t need much imagination to know what nickname he acquired in later life. To be fair his parents were decent sorts, hard working and honest, and they only wanted the best for their one, and as it turned out, only child. Walter was quite happy in the nursery and infants’ schools and for the first few days of the primary school. Then the naturally cruel older boys, as soon as they found out his full name, gave him the nickname that from then on moulded his character and his attitudes to life.
When he was just eight years old he decided that he hated his parents and never spoke to them willingly again. They, poor innocent souls, never understood why they had bred such an ungrateful surly child, even until the day they both died in a pointless car accident when Walter was a broody fifteen. His feeble parents, pathetic even in the method of their demise, skidded on a patch of spilt butterfat and ended up upside down, skulls shattered, on the concrete forecourt of a Lada garage.
By then he’d already become entrenched as a true loner. All around him his peers joined football teams, went to the cinema, and started on the painful adolescent discovery of sex. Walter kept his own company, and, to the other teenagers at his school, seemed to live up to his nickname. Walter developed passions of course; he collected things, coins, stamps, and the addresses of pen-friends he never wrote to.
In the summer after the death of his parents, the children’s home that had taken him in sponsored him on a holiday to Wales. Walter didn’t mind being sent to Wales, he wouldn’t have minded staying in his room at the home either. Unfortunately, one of the staff at the adventure centre, some sort of patron saint of lost causes, decided to take on the challenge of Walter’s lethargy and apparent disinterest, and made it her task to get him out of bed in the morning and push him into some sort of activity.
Walter realised that he had to do something with his body while his inner self brooded its way through his earthly existence so he didn’t even mind that. He elected to go walking around the hills near the reservoir, on his own of course. Betty, his motivator, was not very happy at the prospect of Walter making the solo trek, but, she reasoned, it was better than him lying in bed all day and it might at last provide the trigger that would begin the process of him recovering from the tragedy of his parents’ deaths. Continue reading
The received wisdom is that when you conjure up a piece of fiction, such as a short story like this, you have to work hard to ensure its readers suspend disbelief.
They have to believe that the story you’re telling could have happened, if not in this world then at least in some parallel universe they can relate to. In fact, if your writing fails to invoke the suspension of disbelief you are not creating a work of fiction at all, but simply splattering weak words on a page; and reactions like ‘that would never happen’ or ‘this is bollocks’ are entirely justifiable.
As readers, we have to convince ourselves that what we’re reading is the truth, even though we know it isn’t. We perform this magic with our minds every day, without a thought.
Of course, the truth is, a work of fiction is no such thing. I mean, in every good fiction there is some fundamental truth that illuminates a corner of the human condition. And readers must not only get a glimpse of that underlying truth but also believe in the construct of character and plot that is used to carry it.
It’s complicated but that’s the trick you see, the trick of telling a successful story. It’s a bit like hypnosis. Have you ever been hypnotised? I haven’t (as far as I can remember) but once upon a time I engaged in the practice of hypnotising other people. Continue reading
Have the seasons slipped? It doesn’t feel like it’s the middle of summer although I know it will be the longest day of the year on Sunday. To be fair it is a nice day today but I’m spending most of it sitting in front of computer screens working on book covers and suchlike.
A book cover I’m working on
Does every day have to have a theme – like a story? Is every day a different story?
I suppose the answer is the same answer that is the usual answer to everything – it is and it isn’t, depending on your perspective. The truth is that every nanosecond is different than every other nanosecond – during the time between the beginning of one nanosecond and the beginning of another a trillion trillion molecules have shifted, or degenerated into atoms, or been created by the coming together of free atoms or however it all works at a molecular level.
At and below the molecular level everything is in a state of flux. Nothing is dependable enough to say it’s the same as something else.
But on the more prosaic level of day-to-day life I know that if I rub some soap under some water it will create a lather, so one bar of soap is much like any other bar of soap. And that’s the rub I guess, it’s not the same, it’s just ‘much like’, similar enough to be dependable enough – there are no absolutes.
If we extrapolate that across space and time then it means that since we human beings are composed of molecules (even our brains) then we are constantly changing too. I’m different than I was when I started typing this sentence and I’ll be different again by the time I get to the end.
On a practical level what this means is that nobody really knows anything for certain, life is just one big guessing game.
There was a dodgy guy in front of me in the queue for the till at the co-op earlier. I say dodgy because I couldn’t work him out, couldn’t put him into a nice little box with a label that said ‘middle-aged man, bit rough’. I mean, that’s what he was, but he was also much more of course. He was muttering to himself for one thing, and twitching, and looking around nervously and edging too close to the bloke in front of him. So I held back, kept at least a step away from him in case he went feral.
He answered his phone as he approached the counter and bellowed into it: “I’m in the supermarket – in the queue – it’s noisy – hang on.” I didn’t hear his phone ring, it may have been set to vibrate only of course, but I suspected he was only doing it for effect. You know, he was telling the world – “I’m not mad, I don’t twitch and mutter to myself in the queue for the till – I have actually got real friends, people who like me and respect me enough to call me while I’m in the supermarket.”
Or maybe I was just being paranoid.
Anyway, he didn’t go mad, not visibly, not then anyway, but he was still outside near the exit when I left, and he was still shouting into his phone, even though it was quiet there.
It’s about a quarter past six. I’m popping out to see a friend the other side of town now, in a minute . . .
Gone 8pm. Back from the other side and brought a memento – a holiday snap if you like
The bark of a mossy tree from the other side
The original photo is much higher resolution but you should be able to get the gist – it’s a world of its own – it really is.
So, my mate was, as usual, charming, intelligent, and entertaining. We had a little chinwag about ageing and reminisced about crazy days gone by. For example, he saw a mouse in his house the other day and it reminded him of a time when he was about eighteen and sharing a house with his friends. They used to cook chips in a saucepan full of lard until one day they noticed mouse droppings in the pan along with scratches where the furry little critters had tucked in to the glistening white lardiness.
“Eugh!” (or something that sounded like that) I said.
“Oh, it was OK,” he said. “We just scraped the droppings out with a spoon and made the chips anyway.”
“I’ve also got a pet slug,” he said. “Well I hope it’s just one. I think he hides under the settee, comes out every night, and makes a pattern on the mat. I run my foot over it in the morning and it vanishes. I don’t mind. Slug trails are harmless, made from good stuff – I saw it on Springwatch the other day. I don’t mind the mouse either to be honest – better than the hundreds we used to live with back in the 70’s.”
Mouse-dropping man also told me he’d been for a drive to Caerphilly Mountain earlier, with another friend of his from back in the lardy days. They’d sat on a bench and reminisced, pinching the skin on each others’ arms to see whose was the loosest.
“Fucking ageing!” he shook his head,
“Madness,” I said.
This is an edited version of the story I read at the Welsh Short Story Network’s event in Chapter Arts, Cardiff, on June 21st. It also features in my collection ‘Dead Flowers and Other Stories” published by Opening Chapter in November 2014.
HIS NAME WAS SAL
He was an American, a couple of years older than me. I was sixteen.
In the summer of 1968, I hitched from my dreary Welsh town to see Pink Floyd in Hyde Park. After a long, scary, but interesting journey, involving a lift in an abused Transit with a stoned roadie, I arrived in the park after midnight the night before the concert and leaned against a tree to rest and absorb the vibes. Excited fellow travellers buzzed around me looking for somewhere safe to crash. Despite my exhaustion I felt I was part of something significant, a revolution was taking place and I was at the heart of it.
A pair of London louts tried to sell me a lump of dodgy-looking dope, it was probably chewing tobacco, or henna, or something. They looked shifty and vicious, like sly hyenas. I felt exposed and alone, so I shook my head and turned my back on them. I was skint anyway. The big one pushed me against the tree and pulled a knife. Continue reading
“Made in Roath festival brings artists and the local community in which they live together in a wide array of exciting and thought-provoking ways.”
That’s what they say on the Made in Roath website.
There’s also a significant literary element to the festival organised by the creative and talented writer Christina Thatcher.
As part of the literary bit I will be holding a workshop on Self-Publishing at Cathays Library from 2:30pm to 4:30pm on Saturday, October 18th.
This a FREE event.
More details soon in the Made in Roath brochure and on their website.
I have been self-publishing for a decade in one way or another and have set up my own publishing company, Opening Chapter, to publish my own work along with selected work from other authors.
I’ll be basing the workshop on my very current experience publishing my latest book For the Time Being on Createspace, and possibly Kindle, if time allows.
more soon . . . .
It’s going to end up as a 200 page paperback book and will be published in late October or early November 2014.
For the Time Being is a bringing together of short stories, plays, poems, snippets and other fragments of my writing. Some of it is brand new, other pieces have been lurking in drawers for decades. Some of the work has been exhaustively edited while some is still red raw. Some of the work has already been published on this blog in one form or another, some of it emerged as I was putting the book together.
I don’t know if the book has any commercial viability – probably not, but I don’t really care – it’s primary purpose is as a distraction for me and something for me to read in my dotage – the pure essence of self-publishing if you like.
There will be more information about the book on Opening Chapter’s website when it’s available.
Penny looked at me with that adoration that embarrassed me so much. “Darling Charlie, I love you. You are so strong, so good-looking, and so successful; you are everything a girl could wish for,” she said.
“Come here my lovely, my lovely gorgeous Penny,” I said, and gave her a big, almost rib-crushing hug.
She laughed: “Take it easy Charlie, there’s plenty of time for that later, we’ve got work to do.”
“Yes, of course.” I pulled away reluctantly. “OK, you know what’s best my love.”
She sensed my disappointment. “What’s up anyway, you’ve been very distracted today? Is everything all right?” Continue reading
“Who says?” I asked. One of my last pleasures – challenging the assumptions of the young.
“I don’t know – they. Anyway, goldfish have no sense of time, they can’t get bored. By the time they’ve swum around the bowl they’ve forgotten what it’s like, so it’s always new and exciting.”
“Oh to be a goldfish,” I sighed. Continue reading