This just in: I’m on the long list for the Ink Tears annual short story award. Some good writers on the list, I don’t expect to get any further, but this is very encouraging.
I won the Den of Writers December 2018 competition with this bleak story:
It was the hour before dawn on Christmas morning. Robert stood under a pair of bay trees at the far end of the garden and breathed deeply, calming himself. The darkest hour it’s sometimes called, but he could see the light was coming fast now, a sliver of red showing on the eastern horizon. Shouldering his duffel bag, he hurried across a lawn silvered with frost towards the house where the glow of the security light in the kitchen gave him a window on a world he’d once shared. His task took only a few minutes but the familiar surroundings, the smells, the knowledge of their presence, their closeness, had taken a toll and his eyes glistened as he strode away on the long walk back to his digs.
Robert knew Adam no longer woke early on Christmas morning to tear into his presents; the boy couldn’t share that giddy pleasure most children felt on this special day. But in an hour or two his mother, Janet, would bring him from his room and sit him in front of the twinkling lights, the fascinating glittering wonderland, of the tree in the living room. The boy wouldn’t say anything, of course, but his mother would sense the joy, see it in his eyes, feel his little body tremble with excitement. And there, under the branches at the front of the tree he would see the new present. Robert stopped walking, closed his eyes, imagined the scene.
Janet would wonder about the broken pane in the kitchen door and why the glass had been swept up and a piece of cardboard taped in the gap. But Robert knew she’d work it out as soon as she saw the new present under the tree. She’d have been notified of his release a few weeks ago, may have worried he’d try to contact her despite being forbidden to do so. He was on probation, there were rules. Three years, he’d been inside. Causing injury by careless driving when under the influence of drink was the legal term. Coming back from the office party pissed and running over your own son who was waiting in the driveway to welcome you, that’s what it was, the reality.
Robert shook his head, clenched his fists and walked on. It was a going to be a long road to redemption.
My short piece, A New Dawn, about the first free election in South Africa, was published by Across The Margin on-line magazine. Here’s the link:
On a forum I frequent there is a monthly short story competition. All fun, nothing serious. The competition-setter is the winner of the previous month’s competition and in November he gave us a rather complex set of rules involving “the inciting moment” and an eclectic, and somewhat bizarre, list of prompts. One of the prompts caught my eye – Six accountants.
As a youth being dragged up in Hong Kong I’d auditioned for, and won, the part of the child who kills himself at the end of Pirandello’s play Six Characters in Search of an Author. I had previously been Timothy in Simon and Laura for the Hong Kong Stage Club and the boy king Ptolemy in Caesar and Cleopatra for the Garrison Players. Pirandello’s play proved to be my last shot at fame and fortune on the boards. And so, I couldn’t resist the temptation to imagine that Luigi Pirandello had started out having as his main characters six accountants, and what his agents reaction might be. I wrote this:
“Listen to me, Luigi; we’re always on the lookout for new stage plays and this one sounded interesting. Ingenious plot, bit of sex, incest, prostitution, a potential murder and ending up with a suicide.” He put down the cigar he had been waving like a conductor’s baton and folded his hands on his expansive belly. “What’s not to like?”
“I have a feeling you’re going to tell me, sir.”
“Six accountants. Accountants! Are you crazy! As your agent I can be brutally honest. It’s 1920, these are exciting times – drinking, dancing, gangsters pursued by heroic cops, sexy architecture, ground-breaking art. What on earth made you choose accountants as your characters?”
“Well, a friend is an accountant and he tells me it’s the most exciting profession in the world. I thought I’d tap into that.”
“Your friend is an idiot. No-one, just no-one, thinks of accountancy as anything other than boring. If you put out a play called “Six Accountants in Search of an Auditor” it will be watched by three people and you will be, quite rightly, a laughing stock.” The fat agent waved his hands in the air as if declaring a goal offside. “But enough, already. I’m telling you it won’t fly like this. Never. You need to rewrite it. And no bloody accountants.”
Winter turned to spring, the trees were decked in blossom, daffodils nodded in warm breezes and the days grew longer.
“Mr Pirandello’s here to see you.” said Maria.
“Hey, Luigi, welcome, welcome. Come in, sit down. Maria, please bring coffee and biscuits.”
When they’d settled down, pleasantries and small talk concluded, Luigi Pirandello asked:
“I take it you’ve read the new version?”
“Yes, and we have a winner on our hands, my boy.”
“So, you think people will be more interested in actors than accountants?”
“Of course, Luigi, of course. They could have been soldiers or, maybe, priests, but what you’ve come up with is a stroke of genius; Six Characters in Search of an Author. Brilliant.”
Luigi Pirandello sat back, smiled and sipped his coffee. He was savouring the moment, the door to success was opening, a bright new future beckoned.
“And now the real work starts,” said the agent, slapping a chubby hand on the desk.
“What do you mean?” said Luigi, sensing his euphoria may have been a little premature.
“Editing, Luigi, editing, editing and more editing.”
It didn’t win the competition, another forum member triumphed with a lovely literary piece which the competition-setter drooled over. I realised, as I read the competition-setters critique of my piece, he had absolutely no idea that Pirandello and his famous play existed!
When I reread my submission in light of that I could see how wacky a story it must have seemed. Oh well.
If you’re struggling to finish your work in progress, take inspiration from the efforts of this little fellow…
Trafalgar Day, 21 October, commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 when Lord Nelson lost his life. I wrote this piece about it:
Kiss Me, Hardy
There’s much to be thankful for this day even though my back is shot through and I’m finished. Thomas tells me the battle is won and I hope he doesn’t tell me so to soften my pain and I don’t believe he would. England is safe, I’m certain of that now.
My God how we fought today! Yes, the plan worked well but it could not alone have won the day, every man jack on this ship and on every ship in the fleet fought with the courage of a lion and without a thought for his own skin.
I’m so cold and with each breath I feel the blood spurt inside me. My pain is great but it will not last long now. They talk to me, reassure me, but I know the truth and so do they.
“I’m a dead man, Hardy, I am going fast.”
I’d feared Thomas was gone when a musket ball took off his shoe buckle. I smile now at the irony that even as I turned to seek assurance he was unhurt, a French sniper’s ball went through my shoulder and is now in my spine. I think of my dear Emma and I must ask Thomas to take care of her. I think I’ve done that but, truly, I am not in my right mind. The pain steals my thoughts.
“Take care of my dear Lady Hamilton, Hardy, take care of poor Lady Hamilton.”
They seek to comfort me, supporting me and rubbing my chest but it’s all in vain. My solace comes from the victory, and that our casualties are not as great as I feared when I determined our course must be to get in close, take them broadside. Close, so close. It was the only way to overcome such numbers. My God, the plan worked. Had it not, my beloved England would stand in peril. I’ve done my duty.
“Now I am satisfied. Thank God I have done my duty.”
I see my dearest Emma before me now. She strokes my face and brings her lips to mine. Oh, how I want to taste your lips my darling, feel their warmth once more before I go. I’m so, so, cold now.
“Kiss me, Hardy.”
Lord Horatio Nelson died during a sea battle at the Cape of Trafalgar in 1805. There is some controversy over whether or not he actually said “Kiss me Hardy” as he lay dying, attended by Thomas Hardy and others. Some believe he may have said “Kismet, Hardy”, kismet meaning fate. There are other strange theories, too, but my vote is still firmly with “Kiss me Hardy”. This is not to suggest he was homosexual, his affair with Lady Hamilton would tend to discount that. I like to think it went something like the forgoing. I’ve italicised dialogue which has been attested to by eye witnesses.
Sometimes the headline writers just get it wrong, with hilarious results.
Here are a few of my favourites:
Miners Refuse to Work after Death Lazy bunch!
Sheffield Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide No! Really!
Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says I’ll say.
Iraqi Head Seeks Arms
Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers That should get rid of them.
Safety Experts Say School Bus Passengers Should Be Belted Smack!
Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case Tight fit.
Survivor of Siamese Twins Joins Parents Revenge?
Prostitutes Appeal to Pope
Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over Above and beyond the call of duty.
Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant If that doesn’t work, string him up!
High School Drop-outs Cut in Half Bit drastic!
Two Sisters Reunited After 18 Years in Checkout Counter Damn, and I thought my local Tesco’s was slow.
Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges Wow, gotta get me some of that stuff.
New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
Kids Make Nutritious Snacks I still prefer a Mars bar