My latest piece of flash fiction is published today at Across The Margin, a wonderful online literary magazine.
My fictional piece “On the Road Again” has been published by Ellipsis Zine, a top quality publication.
This is the winning entry in the Word Cloud July 2018 flash fiction competition. The brief was to write about a severe weather event that leads to a discovery – I think she nailed it:
They said we were the lucky ones. They lied. The lucky ones were those we lost on Day One, the day the supervolcano ripped the seams of the world apart. The day the rest of us were condemned to death in slow motion, defenceless against the icy temperatures that crept across continents and horrified in our hopelessness as we watched the earth stutter and fail.
At first, we waited. Waited, child-like, for those who could tell us when normal service would be restored. Waited until the golden haloes of sunlight we depended on faded until light no longer filtered through the layers of pyroclastic cloud. Waited even as we were cast into perpetual shadow. Midday became a memory when everything was twilight.
Leaden grey skies blended with bleak grey buildings and hunched grey people stumbled through invisible grey streets searching for hope. There was none.
Silence enveloped the world. The echoes of our dying planet hung suspended in an atmosphere of decay, and the insidious scent of death permeated everything. Ash and acid rain fell steadily, laying waste to the plant life and contaminating our drinking water. With no alternative, we poisoned ourselves with every mouthful. Mountains wept in cascades of rust-red and silver, and the wind carried Nature’s song of mourning until it too, died.
We sleepwalked through an existence like the state between sleep and wakefulness until each time we slept it was in the hope that there would be no awake.
They said this was the worst natural disaster the world had ever known, but they lied about that too. Nature had nothing to do with it.
Safe in their underground haven with no world left to govern, only they know what did.
Sailors will tell you making progress in any direction is better than making no progress at all. That’s a lesson for the frustrated writer if ever there was one. Keep going, no written words are ever wasted.
On a yacht we can’t sail directly into the wind so we head off in a direction we can make, sails tightened-in as far as they’ll go. Then we tack and then we tack again, and again. By means of this zigzagging course we make progress towards our upwind destination, impossible as it might seem.
Sometimes there’s a tidal current running against us and this means we might actually make negative progress; we’re creeping towards our goal but the water we’re sailing on is moving away from it. But the experienced sailor knows this is only a temporary setback, the tide will eventually turn, then we’ll have it pushing us towards our goal.
Just like writing, isn’t it? Some days you have the wind on your beam, you can’t do a thing wrong, a couple of thousand words of scintillating prose pour onto the page. Yipee! Another day the wind is on the nose and you toil for hours but end up with nary a word writ.
Think like a sailor. Any progress is good and it’s the average progress over time that matters. At times you surge forward effortlessly, at others you fight an upwind battle against mighty waves and ferocious winds.
And sometimes you leave the boat at the dock and go and do something else.
If you’re one of the lucky few to have read my memoir you’ll know I was sent to Peshawar, in the northwest frontier region of Pakistan, to start up a new flour mill. I was a very young and still wet behind the ears engineer dropped in at the deep end. I was there for three months and it was a fascinating experience. Here’s my first trip to downtown Peshawar, it was 1970:
I was driven into downtown Peshawar by Salahuddin in the mill Land Rover. The city centre had a decrepit and rather chaotic feel to it. Many of the old buildings were of unbaked brick with intricately carved wooden window frames, doorways and balconies but it seemed as though these were being demolished to make way for characterless and poorly built modern concrete structures.
Crowds of people filled the pavements, the men in their pyjama-like loose trousers and shirts, the women uniformly anonymous, covered from head to foot in blue or black burqas, peering out at the world through mesh-covered peep holes. The dusty roads carried handcarts and donkey carts and old diesel trucks belching fumes. The shops in the bazaar sold leather goods such as Peshwari sandals, belts, holsters and bandoliers, there were colourful mountains of fruit, piles of exotic eastern spices and bolts of material in every hue.
The slight breeze carried the aroma of wood smoke from the small bakeries turning out coarse chapattis. Goat carcasses hung from steel hooks outside the butcher’s shop, the proprietor occasionally flicking a whisk to momentarily interrupt the gorging of the black flies which encased them. Men squatted in groups drinking green tea, smoking and chatting, their eyes following me as I strolled by, an alien interloper in downtown Peshawar.
(The pictures aren’t mine but they’re from that time)
Don’t you just love coincidences? That little shudder, the little frisson of surprise.
People who buy a lottery ticket are anticipating a coincidence – that the numbers they select will be the same ones chosen by a machine a few days later. The chances of that happening are incredibly small – in fact one in 14 million in the UK.
At the other end of the scale of coincidences would be meeting someone with the same name as you, wearing the same shirt as the bloke next to you in a restaurant, a car number plate one digit away from your own. That sort of thing.
Last week, Wednesday, I finished a piece of flash fiction in which the main character was called Aaron and he was the victim of a tornado which destroyed his farmhouse. My short fiction MC is usually called Adam but I changed it to Aaron, Adam didn’t seem quite right. Anyway, on Thursday I did the Times quick cryptic crossword puzzle, I do it most days. The answer to 6 down was tornado and to 10 across it was Aaron. The two clues formed a neat crucifix. Ooh, that is weird!
Anyone know what the chances of that happening are?
When the sun has melted into the horizon like a knob of butter on a hotplate you flick on the navigation lights and prepare for a night at sea. Night sailing is at times magical, at other times intimidating. Deep water with plenty of sea room, no traffic, a gentle breeze and a big moon are the ingredients for a pleasant night passage.
We enjoyed just such an untroubled passage between Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico on our sloop Adriana on the first of our modest odysseys. It had been hot and windless during the day but as night fell the breeze came back and the lights of Mayaguez twinkled on the horizon. I set the jib, slacked the mainsheet and cut the engine. Adriana leaned her shoulder into the sea and came alive. The sky grew into deeper shades of night, beset with a million jewels, as we cut a swathe through the boisterous sea.
Other night passages have been less idyllic: Battling to windward along the north coast of Hispaniola under a grim moonless sky, hugging the rocky coastline to stay within the umbra provided by the land, lightning blooming on the horizon – that wasn’t the most relaxing of night watches.
Dawn creeps up with the promise of delight or of dire warning – radiant sunburst or red tinged clouds. Another day at sea begins. What will it bring?
I found this one more like an Agatha Christie mystery set in the Australian rain forest. Five women go walkabout, four come back. Whodunnit? In alternating chapters, we follow the story from the point of view of the police investigation and of the five women involved in a team building trek through the bush.
Jane Harper has thrown the lot at this one, I had trouble keeping up with who was doing what to whom and why. Five women who work together in a firm of accountants, one of them a whistle blower who is being pressured by Falk to get the dirt on the company, another a member of the family that owns the company, set off into the Australian rain forest for no really satisfactory reason. Their male colleagues do the same but in a separate group of which we then hear little. The relationships between the women are tested to the limit as a series of disasters befalls them – they get lost, one gets bitten by a snake, they run out of food and water and one of them dies.
A few red herrings are knocking about.
I found it lightweight compared to The Dry and, although all fiction is contrived, I found this tried a bit too hard to fit some square pegs in round holes. An unsatisfactory follow up to an excellent debut novel.