Monday, 19 November 2012

Cloud Diary

Last time I checked in with what I was up to I was going to be reading at the Liminal event in Weston-super-Mare and at Warwick Words. Both events went well, with some great performances from those attending and, in the case of the flash slam, competing. It gave me the opportunity to read some new flash fiction as well as pieces that have been published or read out elsewhere. It also looks as if there is going to be another Liminal event just before Christmas. The following was taken by Keith Ramsey at Loves cafe in Weston:

As well as the Bristol half marathon — in which I clocked a sub-two-hour time — September and October brought with them a string of open mic events: the Ragged Stone in Portishead and two events at the Bristol Festival of Literature, one with cider and one with tea and coffee. Attending the Bristol Festival of Literature events was made all the more manic by the preceding week in London, where I spoke at Software Architect, JAX London and Skills Matter, and simultaneously (well, timeslicely) attending BristolCon.

I've also been busy writing, some of which has seen or is about to see the light (looks out of window) or cloud of day. (Aside: the word sky is derived from the Old — and modern — Norse for cloud, which says as much about the history of the English language as it does about the English weather.)

In anticipation of next year's National Flash-Fiction Day, there was a flash flood last month, which featured my story, "The Promise". And speaking of the next NFFD, which will be on 22nd June 2013, I have got together with some others to organise some flash happenings in Bristol. This part of the country has a disproportionate number of flash-fictioneers, so I was slightly surprised that no events were held here for NFFD 2012... except that it's not surprising at all: things like this happen by design rather than by abiogenesis, which means someone actually has to do something about it. So, I made the suggestion and we're doing something about it! Watch this space (and others).

In the meantime, I'm about to disappear off for a week's writing and learning in Devon under the tutelage of Tania Hershman and Adam Marek, along with guest Helen Dunmore.

More news as it happens... hmm... OK, more news some time after it happens.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Flash Fiction: So You Think You Can Cook?

Fuck, fuck, fuck. Fuck him. Fuck them. But him most of all. With a rolling pin. The fucker.

"Mmm, cooked in a reduction of quality with a drizzle of mediocrity." Live. On national TV.

Camilla wiped a tear from her right eye. Then another from her left.

"You know I can't be seen to have favourites," he'd said. "I can't let what's happened between us affect my judgement."

"Of course! I wouldn't have it any other way."

Of course. She hadn't realised the way he had in mind was live sacrifice. She wiped away more tears. Jason was so practised at living a lie for the camera that nothing had any truth to it, no matter how he'd whispered it in her ear. The fucker.

Besotted, smitten, flattered. He'd made her feel young... like a fucking schoolgirl. How could she have been so blind, so stupid?

No point in wiping away tears, no stemming a stream now sobbed into a flood.

But what could she do? Go to the press? Even if he didn't deny it, she'd be taking herself down with him. She had further to fall, with narrower shoulders, and husband and children in tow.

How she wished none of this had happened, that she couldn't cook — well, according to him, she couldn't — so she'd never have accepted encouragement to apply, to have been overjoyed at selection for a qualifying round, to have made it through to the televised show, to have welcomed time away from home, to have met him, to have looked forward to getting through to the next show to see him again, to have been lifted up by him, to have been smashed down by him. The fucker.

"So you think you can cook?" His catch phrase, delivered with a smug smile and a verdict, "I don't!"

She'd dammed her disappointment behind a fixed grin until she was off set. She'd held it until she'd found a corner, away from the roman holiday of lights, crew and studio audience.

He'd moved on to the next contestant, Sandy, a woman her age, pleasant enough but unassuming. Her cooking hadn't seemed particularly special, so Jason was probably well into his clever put-downs by now. But they wouldn't cut Sandy as deeply, couldn't reach as far as her heart.

"So you think you can cook?" he boomed. Camilla turned to watch from her corner. "I don't!"

"You smug bastard, I hate you! How could you do this?" Sandy grabbed the boning knife lying next to her rejected dish and thrust it into his chest, again and again, repeating, "I thought you loved me, you bastard!"

The set was bloody, the studio bedlam. Sandy staggered back, dropping the knife, her crazed eyes and lopsided smile a fairground mirror to his glazed stare and frothed mouth.

Camilla's quandary had been resolved. She'd simply return home and her family would learn to love ready meals. As if this had never happened, could never have happened. The two-timing fucker.

"So You Think You Can Cook?" was first published in Word Gumbo. More background here.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Flash Fiction: Plans for Tonight

"Oh God, yes!"

His favourite: her on top wearing no more than UGG boots, a push-up bra, blonde plaits and a succulent lipstick smile. Bustlucious, callipygian, Swedish and young enough to be his granddaughter, he'd fallen for her at once. She'd fallen on his money just as fast.

His empty whisky glass sat next to his pill organiser, tonight with a weekend pill bonus. He liked to plan these evenings.

She turned around, leant forward with her hands round his wrists, and sucked his toes, one by one. His favourite. That should do it.

"Oh God, yes!"

She'd been planning this evening for over a year, for when the prenup expired. Her carefully positioned fingers felt his pulse become erratic: the effect of her and the whisky and the weekend pill; the non-effect of placebos she'd switched for his medication.

One more round of the toes should do it.


"Plans for Tonight" was first published as part of the 2012 National Flash-Fiction Day FlashFlood. More background here.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Flash Fiction: I Think I Get It

"I think I get it," she said, twenty-first century tweenage eyes making sense of the twentieth-century icon. She raised it with both hands, the unexpected weight surprisingly reassuring, the plastic casing non-descript but solid, comforting. Lifting the handset, fascination smiled across her face. The tangled umbilical cord held spirals within spirals, untamed knots forcing the coil. She moved and removed her finger from the dial, releasing a steady, calming unwind. "But... how do you text?"

"I Think I Get It" was first published with Paragraph Planet. More background here.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Flash Fiction: Buttons

Pint in one hand. Clasped. Wouldn't want it to go to waste. Key card in the other. Got it ready. Mustn't look drunk.

Marjorie waited, swaying gently, no breeze but the air-conditioning.

Was the lift slow? Or was it just relative to the evening's rapid flow of drinks? Gerry, the MD, had wrapped up the sales-and-management awayday hours earlier. It was straight into the G-and-Ts, followed by the margaritas, followed by the nameless alcopops, followed by beer, wine and more beer. Food? She remembered peanuts.

Leaving the bar had been a good call. She'd had a few too many. If she didn't get back to her room she was worried the next one would be a co-worker not a drink. She'd sensed she was overflirting, practically groping her male colleagues, undressing them with her throaty laugh. Their beer goggles filling with expectation, slowly restoring her to youth. They were looking at her — to her — not just at the pretty young things — the bitches — from reception and purchasing.

Fuck. She'd dropped her key card. Bending over — more revealing than she'd meant to be, but not as easy as it used to be — she saw two buttons undone on her blouse. Did that happen earlier or just now? More revealing than she'd meant to be.

Ting. The lift door closed in front of her as she stood up. Fuck. She hadn't heard it arrive. She pressed the button. Too late. More waiting. At least she had a drink and yet another reason to have it.

Affairs as short as they were doomed. Drunken one-nighters with younger men whose regret she saw across the pillow in the morning. Or older men who couldn't believe their luck but couldn't get it up. At least tonight she'd be taking only the drink to her room.

Her marriage had limped across the finishing line twenty years after a false start. A husband whose long-running deceit had fooled her and three other women, an extended family she never knew she had. A son who drifted everywhere and committed to nothing, from his iPod shuffle to his carousel of girlfriends. A daughter whose prudishness seemed a studied response to her family, distancing herself by more than a reasonable airfare.

All gone. All done. Alone.

"Mar-jo-rie!" Jack sang her name across the foyer. "Looking good. How's it going?" He walked towards her, tie loose, shirt untucked, top two buttons undone, beer bottle in hand and a confident swagger that steered clear of a straight line. But a smile all for her.

Ting. She caught the door. They got in.

"Floor?" Jack's hands waved in front of the panel, nimble, conjuring, charming, drunken.

"Top floor, Jack." Smile. "All the way."

He pressed all the buttons, all the right buttons. The lift was slow. Jack was quick. But, at least tonight, she'd be taking only the drink to her room.

"Buttons" was published in Jawbreakers, the 2012 National Flash-Fiction Day anthology. More background here and here.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Loves and Words

Next month and the month after I'll be reading out some flash fiction at a couple of spoken word events.

First up, on Saturday 1st September, is another Liminal event, this time part of the Weston Fringe Festival, offering an evening of flash, poetry, food and music — which is, of course the food of love, and love is what it's about and Loves is where it's at. I'm planning to read "Buttons" and a couple of shorter unpublished pieces.

Second, on Thursday 4th October, is the Flash Slam! at Warwick Words, a festival of literature and the spoken word. Dan Holloway, the voice and brains behind the first Flash Slam! in Oxford this year, will be the MC and this time, by virtue of winning the Oxford slam, I will be panellist rather than competitor.

Both events should be a lot of fun, so if you can be around either Weston or Warwick at the right time, come along!

Friday, 24 August 2012

Prose Poem: Cleansed

At last they took away the only thing we had left. They reduced our numbers. It was almost merciful.

Before that they took away our clothes, our hair, our children, our names, saying it was for our own good. They reduced us to numbers.

Before that they said we must take you away, keep you apart. We said we are in work, communities, schools, homes. They said to line up, to board now.

Before that they said we must do something, you are different. We said we are the same, the same hair, eyes, skin, shops. They said no, you are different. We said like you we have hearts, homes, hopes, children. They said silence, there is no discussion.

But the first thing they did was to look and say there is us and there is you.

"Cleansed" was selected for inclusion in the 2011 Slingink Shorts Anthology (which, at the time of writing, appears to have been shelved) and was contributed to and included in the the24project. More background here.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Short Story: Milk Teeth and Chocolate Eggs

'Tis the night before Easter, when all through the house not a creature is stirring, not even a–

No, wait a moment, there is movement.

Barely there, a small figure floats through the house. There is a suggestion of wings — hard to say for sure... look too hard and perhaps not... but look away and there is a shimmer, a suggestion. What is obviously supposed to be a wand is not obviously a wand. The figure's frou-frou dress projects a prettiness that belies beauty, a deep and timeless beauty. The sparkling tiara cheapens her necklace, all filigree and finery. It looks out of place above the strong lines of her face.

Her hair is practical, coiled into a bun, tied and pent-up. Subdued but ill at ease with its sensibility. In her eyes there is weariness and something lost. But look closer... there is wisdom, command, passion.

She flutters up the stairs, pausing on the landing to caress and converse with the cat. The cat purrs and nuzzles in return before descending the stairs in search of a night out, shedding domestic pretence with every step, heading out to reclaim an untamed heritage — hunting, fighting, mating and more. Primal and necessary.

To work. She floats across the landing and through the sticker-covered door. She was here two full moons past, little has changed. The floor is action figures, toy cars and scattered books. Posters, cards and calendars paper the walls. Nursery wallpaper is visible in the gaps — a little too young for the boy asleep in the bed. He is outgrowing the room his parents prepared for his arrival seven winters before. Soon he will outgrow the beliefs they provided for him.

She is distracted back to work by the hiss and wail of the cat outside. She checks beneath the boy's pillow. He still believes. But the hourglass of that belief has almost run its course. Only a few more visits. She completes her exchange and leaves.

She pauses on the landing.

Something else stirs. Neither mouse nor cat. Something other. Something older. Something like her.

A figure steps out from the shadows. Tailcoat, shirt, cravat and breeches cover fur. A worn leather satchel is slung over one shoulder. His yellow eyes are narrowed. His ears are tall, upright and alert. His face is crossed by a fresh scratch, his buck teeth stained by blood. Cat blood.

"It has been a long time, Easter Bunny." He would dislike that name.

"Tooth Fairy." She is used to it. "I was in the garden doing my rounds. I sensed a presence indoors.... It has been a long time."

"Not long enough. You should have remained outside."

His whiskers twitch. He looks her up and down. "Nice wand."

"Staff. You have seen it before."

"I remember it being... bigger."

"What does the bag hold? Fabled eggs? Or stolen goods? What have you taken? Oh yes... the life of that poor cat. What a great and worthy garden warrior you must be! What tales of daring can those witness ears recount? Mighty foes felled, magnificent feasts, treasures found? Cats and chocolates and children's playthings."

"Silence! Do not mistake me for the part I play in this fairy-tale masque."

"And yet, Bunny, even that is more than I see before me."

"Fairy, I am the March Hare and more." He draws himself up, shadows and light falling around him. "I am Alde Hara! I am Bringer of Spring, Master of the Hunt, Lord of the Dance, Convenor of Night, Herald of the Moon!"

"And servant of Freya! Or did that memory somehow become lost and rotten in the addled larders of your mind? You betrayed me, Hara. You stole what was mine.

"All were trapped. We were weak and afeared. Belief was dying all around us and you fled. You slew my handmaidens, destroyed my hearth and halls. My brethren, my beloved cats, my chariot... all in flames. Kith and kin, kindle and tinder, you felled and razed them all to escape with my syncretic right. Fertility was mine to rule, mine to become. It was my path from one pantheon to another. My right. You took it and fled."

"I saw a chance for survival. I took it. I regret–"

"Do not insult me with unfelt apology! You come forth but once a year — or when it suits you. You deliver eggs and trinkets — if you feel like it. You do what you bloody well please and still you endure! I sought refuge amongst the Fae. I was tolerated without welcome. They took pleasure in seeing the queen of the Valkyrie diminished, humbled and hiding in the forests like a common fairy."

"Life was but one of your domains. Death another."

"And what has that become? Dead teeth. I once commanded the souls of fallen warriors, guiding them from the fields of their death to the halls of their valiant kings and proud fathers. Now? Now I buy children's fallen teeth. I work every night, every bloody night! Barely have I time to think, let alone curse you in all your names."

"That is maybe for the best."

"Enough! I will not be mocked by a delivery boy, a thieving knave, a miserable old hare in rabbit's guise."

The satchel of eggs and toys falls open to the floor. He throws down his jacket. Pretence cast aside, he leaps. She steps forward, swinging her staff, catching his stomach, tumbling him across the landing. He springs up, teeth bared, laughing, dancing from foot to foot.

"Yes, Freya, birds and cats are no sport. This is what makes us alive."

He bounds across the floor, spinning a high kick at her head, connecting. A crack. She falls back, staff flying.

Shaking her hair, she rises, fragments of tiara fall to the floor. Her hair unfurls — golden, flowing, elemental. She straightens to a fuller height, shoulders back, arms to her side, smile wicked and sharp. Light and shadow shift across revealed wings, feathered and full. Her eyes on him, she reaches down for her staff.

"Bunny, you are history."

They circle and fight, their moves becoming bolder, their clothes more torn, their cries and calls ever more base. Their eyes wilder with every taunt and blow, the trappings of their masquerade shed and spill across the floor.

They are not so real that their fight wakes those asleep in the house. But they are not so unreal that time does not weary them to deliver a fall.

He goes down, she is on him.

"Enough?" She pins his arms.

He smiles up at her, panting. "Do you expect me to yield, Freya?"

"I am victory. I am life and love. I give and take these as I please." Laughing, elated, released, she throws back her hair. "You may no longer be in my service, Hara, but just now you are mine. What do I expect of you? I expect you to do my bidding, to yield to my yearning. When we fight there is passion. I will have my satisfaction. That is my right!"

"And who am I to deny a goddess of love?"

"Denied...." She sighs. "It has been a long time."

Fighting and rutting. Primal and necessary. Barely distinguishable.

'Tis the small hours of Easter, when all through the house much is being stirred as these two are aroused.

The landing is a shimmering field of ripped garments, shattered toys, scattered teeth and small change. Two myths lie side by side.

"Tell me, Freya, what of the others? I know of only a few who made it."

"Alas, a few is all that made it. When the beliefs changed most were stranded. Without belief the old realms began to fade, taking with them all those who remained behind. The paths out became narrow or lost or led to other fading realms rather than new ones or the realm of Man. Some who made it took new roles. By right or by graft or by theft." She looks at him and then away. "Others lingered for a while, but faded as they passed from the minds of folk into the halls of memory, forgotten into folklore or less."

He hesitates. "Your brother?"

"Frey... Frey did not make it. He crossed to this world, but found no harbour of belief or place to make his own. Worlds' end and Frey's doom had been foretold, but not like this. There was no great war of reckoning, only slipping from being... without conflict, without valour, without prophecy. His loss was to have been to the sword, not to evanescence."

"I am sorry. There is barely enough belief to sustain those of us who, in one way or another, survived. We are fewer, less than we used to be. Time trickles ever down the hourglass neck. Few grains separate us from the sands that rest your brother and the others."

"Hara? Silence. Your mood has grown dark; I am caught in its shadow. We have enough light and belief for now. It is only slight, and perhaps only brief, but the hourglass tilts in our favour."

Their eyes meet. He nods and looks down. They stand and gather together the tatters of their things.

"Be seeing you, Tooth Fairy."

"Farewell, Easter Bunny."

'Tis the morning of Easter and the work of the night is far from done.

Many children will awake to disappointment, perhaps believing a little less when teeth are found and eggs are not.

But the restored belief in the self and the renewed belief in the other is currency enough to trade for more than a sunrise, enough to stay their fall through the coming seasons and their sunsets. For now, at least, these myths endure.

"Milk Teeth and Chocolate Eggs" was first published with The Liminal. More background here.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Dribbles and Drabbles and Hemispheres

I had a couple of micro-fictions published in June and July: "Measures", a dribble-and-a-half at Paragraph Planet, and "College Fund", a drabble-and-a-half at The Pygmy Giant. It was New Zealand's National Flash Fiction Day on 22nd June. A write-in on the day sought flash from both hemispheres, to which I contributed "To Catch a Falling Leaf".

And in other writerly happenings, last week I managed to attend the Bristol Blackwell's launch of Pangea, an anthology of short stories from authors around the world. One of its editors and authors, Rebecca Lloyd, is based in Bristol, as is another of the authors and key PR person of the book, Sarah Hilary. With excellent readings from Vanessa Gebbie and Tom Remer Williams, I managed to get a thoroughly signed copy of the book. The wine and nibbles then flowed into an evening meal next door, with a number of authors — what's the collective noun for authors? an anthology? — including locally based Tania Hershman and Jonathan Pinnock.

Shifting to performance art, I ended the evening by meeting up with Sam Aaron and other members of Live Notation Unit for a drink. As it coincided with the Olympic opening ceremony, I wasn't able to catch all of the live coding performances at the Arnolfini the following night, but some of what I saw was ingenious and inspiring, and makes me want to see more.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Flash Fiction: Tracking Elephants


"Slow down, Rajiv!"

"OK, auntie, but I really want to press the button — like in the movies."

"Does there have to be a countdown?"

"Yes — like a rocket!"

"In which case you should do it properly. You need to count down the seconds, which is a lot slower."


"And you should start by saying 'T minus' because that's what they use for real launches."

Sucheta was regretting her decision to bring her nephew into work. Her sister had thought it might help spark Rajiv's interest in science. Sucheta had some calibration runs booked with the synchrotron, but Rajiv had shown little interest in protein structures. He was, however, excited by the facility's main building, a circular structure that housed the synchrotron, a flying saucer that had somehow parked itself discreetly in the English countryside. Its medical and materials science applications held no interest for him, but he was very taken with the idea of the synchrotron as a particle ray gun or some kind of futuristic propulsion system.

"T minus ten... nine-eight-seven-six-"

"Still too fast. Try counting elephants."


"Pardon," Sucheta corrected. "Saying 'elephant' makes the interval around a second. T-minus ten elephant, nine elephant-"

"Shouldn't you say 'elephants'? We did plurals at school."

Sucheta's glare sent a message. Rajiv got it.

Besides being his aunt, what did she really know about children? How was she supposed to know that you shouldn't let kids have energy drinks? Her sister had never said anything, nor had any of her colleagues with children ever let slip this vital information. The countdown seemed superfluous: he was already in orbit. She certainly couldn't return him home until he'd landed.

"T minus ten-elephant-nine-elephant-eight-elephant-"

"Rajiv, that's a stampede not a countdown!"

"Auntie, I have the best elephants! They are fast."

"Let's take turns. You take the numbers, I'll herd the elephants. And let's start from five." She did not believe his anticipation could be contained for a whole ten seconds.

"T minus five..."

"... elephant, ..."

"... four..."

"... elephant, ..."

"... three ..."

"... elephant, ..."

"... two..."

"... elephant, ..."

"... one..."

"... elephant...."

"Blast off!"

Now she could start calibrating. About an hour since the drink? Probably another hour to go.

"Tracking Elephants" was published online with Flash-Fiction South West and then included in the Kissing Frankenstein & Other Stories anthology. More background here and here.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Flash Fiction: Lucky Pants

"Good morning, sir. Can I help?"

"I wish to buy lucky pants. Girl I chat in bar yesterday say 'no' when I ask… you know. She laugh and say Dmitri not wearing lucky pants. I did not know. Is shame, very shame."

Tina pepped her professional smile. Dmitri's accent suggested his handicap was idiom, not idiocy. Idiom and optimism.

"Men's underwear is second floor."

"Yes. Man there say ask you."

Darren. Bloody Darren. Bloody childish. Anything he could do to wind her up. He still couldn't accept she'd turned him down.

Her smile straightened out, paused a moment in thought… and revived, a little sharper, a little less professional.

"Could you take these and show them to him?"

She took a pair of knickers down from the display and wrote on them: "Mmm, thanks Dmitri. I got lucky. Love, Tina."

"Lucky Pants" was first published online with Flash-Fiction South West and then included in the Kissing Frankenstein & Other Stories anthology. More background here and here.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Short Story: Remembrance of Things Past

It has been years since I last made this journey. I am slower and more easily tired. My footfall is not as sure as it used to be, but nor is it as bitter, as sad, as resigned.

Up the slope, near the edge of the rock, the crowd has gathered. They stand along the ridge, waiting without conversation, silhouetted against the late-afternoon sky. I am joining them.

The ground is dusty, sandy with scraps of sun-browned grass, like the dunes before a beach.

Taken two months before today, the now faded photo on my desk records our last family visit to the beach. Madeleine looking out from beneath the sunshade of her hand, her light smile overseeing the girls. Nell in her purple star sunglasses and pink flower hat, her mouth drawn in shadow — a preview of adolescence between the giggles and play. Where Nell's sandcastles are numerous, ordered and well-formed, Cathleen's are few and careless. Squinting and sunburnt, her sunglasses and hat wilfully thrown aside, she beams a big camera smile, all teeth and gaps.

Perfect in so many ways, imperfect in so many others. The eyes are hidden. I imagine I remember their glint and colour, but I check other photos to be sure. I recall the sound of sea, but can I recall the sounds of that shoreline, those waves, on that day? Voices are easier. I can recall the mutter of idle nothings and words of comfort, although the words themselves are gone. And where, where are the smells? Of sea, of suncream, of Maddie's hair. Smells hide in memory, found only with a map that is also the key that is also the trigger. Perfectly locked, perfectly lost.

I reach the top of the slope, catching my breath in the still air. No ocean, only scrubland and rocks and a road. The smell is of desert.

The crowd is all gathered, all but one. Madeleine and the girls will be along soon. We will watch them pass, these different ages of me. Compelled to migrate, we return to this past as our present is marked out by anniversaries, birthdays and other remembrances.

We will watch the accident and wonder the same things. Was it the fading light? Was Maddie tired after so long behind the wheel? Were the girls squabbling, distracting her? Was there something on the road? Or perhaps a fault with the car? Was there anything we had missed? Something we could do to change the outcome, anything to alter time and replace tomorrow.

Across the crowd we each wear age differently — the haggard and the kempt, the mawkish and the resolved, the resigned and the hopeful. Chasing possibility, three scan the road with binoculars while three others pore over notebooks of lists, figures and calculations. Each looking for the overlooked. Each hoping for a contradiction to be confounded, to be unravelled to reveal an alternative.

But hope is not common among us. A few look only at the ground in front of them. Most gaze across the desert at the darkened foothills and fading mountains. I catch momentary glances and a few stares. I remember being those others looking at this older self, noting the one in the crowd of selves obviously older and frailer than the rest, none older.

The last to join the crowd is walking up the slope. There are thirty years between us. His journey is the first I made to come to this rock, to watch the accident from afar instead of attempting intervention. He sees me. He pauses, fists clenched. I remember the resentment, the feeling of being boxed by fate, of wanting to lay blame at the feet of who I am now for what I had told him — words of comfort, words of despair. He looks away and takes his place in the crowd.

The car is seen before it is heard. Everything is leading towards that moment, the moment I have seen, heard and felt so many times. I know how it plays out, how it feels.

A figure is running towards the road. His is the first time I made this journey. The technology had worked, but not with the precision I had hoped for or relied upon. I was running to recover lost time. Running to reach the road, to stop the car, to change everything.

But I was not alone. There were others running towards the road. I heard them and turned, hesitating, shocked, unable to make sense of these apparitions of myself.

I believed I had fooled causality. I had found a way to pass through the surface of the present into the past. But it was a sting.

At the last moment I look away to watch the faces of the crowd. Some look, others turn. Despair is written on the younger faces. The older ones cannot be read. The air carries and thins the cries of those running towards the road.

We each remember the phone call, the interruption before we were due to present our paper, pulled away from the conference and weekend together that Maddie and the girls had been driving across states to reach. The hotel, the departure, the hospital, the identification. Moments blurred together in an instant that took forever.

There is nothing to be done, nothing to be said. The crowd disperses. Some linger, some rush away. Out near the road they do the same. But one of them looks to the horizon rather than the ground or the wreckage. Singled out by the sunset, he catches sight of movement, of figures on a distant rocky edge.

I will wait for him.

What has happened has always happened and always will have happened. Time is like a river, but frozen not flowing. Eddies, pools and falls are fixed in place, timeless and immutable.

Closed curves in time allow my presence here and now; temporal entanglement demands it. But the logic of time loops is self-consistent and cannot be hacked.

I will take all this to my grave. This knowledge. This technology. This curse of impotence and reliving. The lid will close and my work and all the sadness it brings will be gone. The only markers will be an early paper — unpresented, obscure and seemingly little more than speculation — and the curiosity of my cancer — a novelty and a puzzle and, eventually, a memory for the doctors who gathered round and sampled and discussed.

I turn. He is coming up the slope.

I cannot remember exactly what was said, but it was words of comfort, words of despair. He walks to the edge, just along from me. He looks at the wreckage and the road. He looks at me, to me. Troubled. Uncertain. Desperate. He walks over. He wants to ask. He wants to plead. He needs to know.

I take his arm. Whatever I say will be the right thing. It will have been the same thing. Nothing can be changed. Words of comfort, words of despair.

"I know. It's OK. There is nothing you can do."

"Remembrance of Things Past" was first podcast at Litro and the text was first published at The Fabulist. I took the photo in Salt Lake City, August 2011. More background here and here.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The Last Chinese POSA

A recent trip to Hong Kong reminded me that I hadn't matched the announcement of the translation of Pattern-Oriented Software Architecture, Volume 4: A Pattern Language of Distributed Computing into Chinese with that of its slightly younger sibling, Pattern-Oriented Software Architecture, Volume 5: On Patterns and Pattern Languages, both translated by Xiao Peng. I received my copy last month:

Both volumes started life in the early years of this century as a single volume to be co-authored by me and Frank Buschmann. By the time we completed the manuscripts in 2006 (September for POSA4 and December for POSA5), it had split into two tree-felling volumes and we had invited Doug Schmidt on board as co-author. Both volumes were published a month apart in 2007 (March and April, respectively), but the translations into simplified Chinese have been later and further apart.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Flash Fiction: Three Moments of Defeat

Doors should not be designed like that. It was unfortunate.

Gina's head drooped. She sighed defeat. It was a sound defeat, total and resounding.

True defeat, complete defeat, has three parts. Three movements. Three moments. The first moment is requisite, the act that brings about defeat. The second moment is recognition, the awareness that defeat has moved from possibility to present to past. The third moment is resignation, acceptance of all that defeat brings — and all that it takes.

A day with William was never short. Today began at half past two. And then again at quarter past five — a time not even acknowledged by children's TV. Gina filled the shortfall with supercharged coffee and slapstick breakfast. One clean-up operation later the TV was on and filled with the carefree smiles of childless children's TV presenters.

Two years and counting and still no sign of sleeping like a baby. God, how she hated those newly mums with their two-month-old full-night sleepers.

Gina wondered when and where today's tantrum would be. How far through the day would it be? Would it be at home or when they were out? William's tantrums were one of life's bedrock certainties, but they were not so well calibrated you could set your watch or size your shopping to them.

Today it was at the shopping centre, sprawling, crawling and caterwauling in the aisles. The choc chip cookie of appeasement had probably postponed the tantrum by ten minutes. Enough to get William past the toy shop, but not enough to have finished shopping for unstained clothes, overseen by posters of angelic identikit toddlers.

He gave his body fully to the tantrum. And now he needed his nappy changed. The look of surprise on his face at freshly realised discomfort. Every time. If nothing else it drew the tantrum to a close and gave Gina an exit. To search for the toilet that promised facilities for baby changing, yet always disappointed, always left her with the same one.

The toilet was multi-purpose and multi-access. It was for those with disabilities, including age and children. Shopping bags carefully propped against one another, Gina and William found the eye of the storm in the ritual of changing.

Now it was her turn. She sat down on the toilet seat, looked down at the floor and closed her eyes. A moment of relief. A short moment, but nonetheless a moment. A moment before...

Ker-klunk. First moment.

She looked up. There was William. On the concourse. It was busy. He looked back through the open door with his cherubic cum chocolate come-get-me smile. It was unfortunate that ease of access in meant ease of access out, able or disabled, old or young. It was unfortunate that ease of access meant the toilet, the door and the concourse all lined up. She could look out at the passers-by just as easily as they were now looking in at her. Second moment.

Gina's head drooped. She sighed defeat. It was a sound defeat, total and resounding. Third moment.

Somehow she now had to recover. To recover her dignity from the knickers around her ankles. To recover her son from the concourse filled with passers-by and the now not-so-passing-by. To recover her keys, drive home and fight William into bed for a nap.

She would accept her defeat crashed on the couch. She would toast it with tea — or possibly G&T — and doze to the murmur of childless daytime TV.

"Three Moments of Defeat" was first published at Fiction365. More background here.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Flash Fiction: Underwater, Overwater

I can feel my heart beating.


"It's OK, you can jump in."

But I can't. I can't swim. It looks deep. I'm afraid.

"Everyone's enjoying themselves, see?"

Yes, splashing and shouting and swimming. Messing about, having such a good time.

My armbands are inflated. Against the encouragement to get in their pressure is oddly comforting.

My brother is filled with life. Underwater, overwater, smiling at me. I know he wants me to join in and play. But I just can't do it.

My mother's at the poolside in front of me, smiling, urging.

"Come on Edward, I'll hold you."


I see my brother again beneath a sky whose blue I thought lived only in colouring pens, a sea I have only ever seen in pictures and an island whose name is too unfamiliar, too foreign for me to remember at this age.

Traffic, tourists, ruins. Two days in Athens, the three of us. Hot, bored, bothered. And then escape to the sea, away from the city. Not simply the coast, but to an island away from the overflowing beaches, bars and bistros, away from the nationless front of the Med.

"Come on Edward, pretend you're an outboard motor! Get in and hold onto the lilo. We can both kick. We'll be back to shore in no time. Mum won't even notice we're gone!"

But I can't do it. It's too deep. I'll be in over my head. It's not like swimming in a pool. Maybe it would be enough if I dangled my legs slightly over the side? We try that, but my splashing doesn't add enough to counter the current. We're drifting out of the bay and the waves are picking up. The shallowness near the beach lured us in, pulling against caution.

"Edward, be careful. Don't go too far or too deep. Charlie, the same for you. And keep an eye on your brother — remember, he can't swim as well as you." My mother's concern.

It was hours before the wayward current delivered us back. And, of course, she did notice we were gone. A notice that rang in our ears and kept us from the beach for days after.

My brother's optimism and sense of fun is laced with an edge I don't have. It's why we're drifting out to sea in the first place. It's why we get back. It's why he finds some kind of thrill in being grounded while I just brood.

"OK, Edward, I don't think kicking's going to work, but I think I know what might."

We scrabble back onto the inflatable, exhausted, on our fronts, sun-coloured backs against a felt-tip sky. My brother rolls over, still catching breath, feet dangling in the water. He stares into the sun, squinting, his face caught between a thought and a grin.

"I heard... instead of swimming against the current, you should just go with the flow. The waves, the tide, the undertow... they'll take you along and back to shore... eventually. It can work both ways."

This sounds too good to be true. It doesn't make sense to me. But neither does seemingly still, shallow water pulling us out to sea. My brother's face breaks a full grin.

"You know why it's called the undertow?"

I don't. I don't even know what that is.

"Because it pulls you from under your toes!"

At least this makes sense. My brother laughs.


Always water.

The last time I see my brother is by a waterfall in New England.

He's home from university. He's just finished with his girlfriend. More convenient than trying to keep the relationship going over the summer. Apparently. We're off to greyhound across America, zigzagging from California to the north-east. Highways, motels, hotels, camping, floors, family friends, friends of his friends.

He's at the edge of the pool, I'm holding him. We're soaked through. I can hardly hear my sobbing against the white noise. My tears never get a chance to take hold. My face is already wet. The spray washes away anything I might add.

I tried to save him. We were both messing about, having such a good time. We're near journey's end. After Maine we were going to head down to New York, catch our flight back to England. The campsite is not far from the waterfall, so we went searching for it after pitching the tent. He wanted to get close to the edge.


I can feel my heart beating.

Underwater, overwater, breathe.

Underwater, overwater, breathe.

Underwater, underwater, swallow, struggle, overwater, gasp, underwater.

A-BEAT... A-...A-...BEAT... A-BEAT... A-...

Dark. Can't see. Can't breathe. Night? Yes, night. But darker.

The car? The car. The car and the bridge. The bridge and the river.

Heading home? Yes... no, visiting my mother. Late. Long drive.

What will she do? Dad. Charlie. Me.

A-...BEAT... A-...A-...BEAT... A-...

Rain. So much rain. Couldn't see. Can't see.

It's always about water. Always water.

Underwater, underwater.

A-... BEAT... A-...


"Underwater, Overwater" was first published in Word Gumbo. More background here.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Slamming Flash

It came. It happened. It went. It went well.

What am I talking about? National Flash-Fiction Day.

As well as the build-up to it, which involved many competitions and activities, including the Jawbreakers and Kissing Frankenstein & Other Stories anthologies, there was a lot happening on the day and the days that followed.

One of my shorter flashes, a drabble-and-a-half entitled "Plans for Tonight", was part of the NFFD FlashFlood, a deluge of flash fiction of all shapes and sizes throughout the day. I couldn't attend the official launch of NFFD and Jawbreakers in Southampton, with author readings from the book, so instead I sent a video of me reading "Buttons", my Jawbreakers story, to be shown at the event.

A coincidence of timing meant that in the days following I also had a couple of other flashes appear online: a dribble-and-a-half, "I Think I Get It", at Paragraph Planet and a longer piece, "The Cambridge Arms", at Every Day Fiction. The week before also saw "So You Think You Can Cook?" appear in Word Gumbo.

The main highlight of my day, however, turned out to be the Oxford Flash Slam. My luck began when I found a parking space a couple of hundred metres from the Albion Beatnik Bookstore. If you know anything about driving (and parking) in Oxford, you'll know such serendipity is a mere stone tablet short of a miracle.

The host and brainparent of the flash slam was Dan Holloway, who applied the poetry slam format to flash fiction. Presiding over the event was Tania Hershman, who offered praise and comment on each reading plus a couple of readings of her own. To judge the fourteen slammers Dan spontaneously and successfully press-ganged Paul Askew, Rebecca Emin and Ingrina Shieh-Carson. The judges had a tough job: the standard of fiction and reading was very high and the styles of writing and delivery were varied enough to confound many obvious criteria for comparison. The good news is that everything about the evening was a lot of fun, from the readings to the judging, from the compèring to the comparing, from the ambience to the audience.

I will also confess a certain fondness for the result. My reading of "So You Think You Can Cook?" and a drabble qualified me as one of the three who went through to a final round, in which I read "Plans for Tonight" and a longer piece. I won. An intoxicating result that I don't think affected my driving on the way back, although Tania may be the better judge of that as I gave her a lift back to Bristol.

You can read other more detailed — and less biased — accounts of the event from Dan Holloway, Tania Hershman, Rebecca Emin and Peter Domican. Thanks to all involved for an enjoyable evening!

Sunday, 13 May 2012


Hot on the heels of the publication of Kissing Frankenstein & Other Stories, in which I had two flash tales selected, comes the arrival of Jawbreakers, in which I have one, "Buttons":

The anthology, edited by Calum Kerr and Valerie O'Riordon, was collected together for National Flash-Fiction Day. And, speaking of NFFD, on Wednesday 16th May I will be slamming flash at the Albion Beatnik in Oxford.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Flashing Frankenstein

The weekend got off to a good start with the arrival of Kissing Frankenstein & Other Stories:

The anthology, brainchild of Rachel Carter, collects together flash tales by authors based in the West Country as part of National Flash-Fiction Day. Two of my stories, "Lucky Pants" and "Tracking Elephants", were accepted for inclusion.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Buses and Bridges and Flashes

April was a busy month on all fronts, with opportunities and good news arriving like buses.

The stories I had on Flash-Fiction South West's longlist made it through to the shortlist and have now appeared online: "Lucky Pants" and "Tracking Elephants". The shortlisted stories are also collected together in an anthology, Kissing Frankenstein & Other Stories. Thanks to the motivation and organisation of Rachel Carter, this anthology finds my stories rubbing pages with pieces by Tania Hershman, Sarah Hilary, Rin Simpson and Calum Kerr (that's Mr National Flash-Fiction Day to you).

And here comes another bus: a flash tale of mine, "Buttons", made the shortlist for National Flash-Fiction Day's anthology, Jawbreakers. As well as the usual suspects (see previous paragraph), "Buttons" finds itself hanging out with flashes by Ian Rankin, Valerie O'RiordanVanessa Gebbie and Jen Campbell.

I also contributed a prose poem, "Cleansed", to the24project, which was an open, pop-up arts site that took submissions for 24 hours and kept them online for a week before taking them offline. (I kept a snapshot of my contribution's page using FreezePage.)

Friday 13th April saw me and others at The Liminal's Superstition event (photos and film by Keith Ramsey), including my reading of "Milk Teeth and Chocolate Eggs". National Flash-Fiction Day, 16th May, is almost upon us, and I'll be reading at the Flash Slam in Oxford on the day. Timing is everything (four minutes, that's your lot), so I will likely favour something more humorous for my reading over something more serious.

And speaking of stories (and other written things), I got around to setting up some boards at Pinterest. I thought it would be interesting to use Pinterest as a visual way of collecting together some of my stories, so each image links to a story and represents something about the story or where and when it has appeared.

Last, but not least, and while we're in a pictorial mood, the following photo came second in an online competition:

This was taken in Bamberg, Bavaria, while I was there in November for a software architecture workshop.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Rounding Up

The last couple of months have been busy, particularly on the words and writing front. So, in no particular order, here's a round-up.

I had a story, "Underwater, Overwater", accepted for and published in Word Gumbo in February. This story started life in a one-day course I attended a couple of years ago, run by Patricia Ferguson. Another somewhat lighter flash tale of toddlers, tantrums and toilets, "Three Moments of Defeat", appeared at in March.

February also saw a revised version of my story, "Remembrance of Things Past", published at The Fabulist, along with some photos of mine used for illustration. Paul Grenyer wrote a review of it. This was one of the stories I read out at The Liminal 3 in Weston-super-Mare. I'm also reading a couple of stories at The Liminal's Superstition event on Friday 13th April. Posted in time for Easter, one of the stories, "Milk Teeth and Chocolate Eggs", can also be found on The Liminal site.

And speaking of readings, I read "Schrödinger's Pizza" at Stroud Short Stories's Love and Other Blows of Fate night. I had hoped to attend Ragged Stone, a new open mic night event in Portishead that kicks off next week with some readings from Gareth L Powell, but I'll be out of the country. I will, however, be reading at a flash slam in Oxford on National Flash-Fiction Day.

And speaking of flash, a story of mine made the Flash 500 longlist... but sadly failed to make the shortlist. And a couple more pieces of mine have made the Flash-Fiction South West longlist for National Flash-Fiction Day. I now have a profile on National Flash-Fiction Day's site, which features one of my pieces of micro-fiction, "Something to Eat".

After running WordFriday for just over a year, posting the definition of an unusual word on my Facebook and Google+ accounts every Friday, and an abbreviated definition to my Twitter stream, WordFriday now has its own Facebook page. A new word every Friday, a WordRefried (an old WordFriday definition) or two during the week, plus any other word-related links as and when they catch my eye.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Short Story: Schrödinger's Pizza

"I don't accept that you have to resort to animal experiments for explanation."

"But no real animals are involved, let alone harmed! It's an example to reason through, a thought experiment."

"I don't like your thinking. It's unnecessary, not to mention cruel and unusual. There's nothing reasonable about putting a cat in a box with a vial of poison and a lump of radioactive material, then wondering whether it's dead, alive or caught in some weird zombie state between the two, further prolonging its torment by pondering the philosophical meaning of it all instead of opening the damned box and rescuing the poor cat! Thinking it is not much better. I'm sure Mr Schrödinger–"

"Professor. Professor Erwin Schrödinger." OK, that didn't help. Jen's glare confirms it. The argument is slipping away from me. Not that it's supposed to be an argument.

Jen came round an hour ago for what's becoming our ritual end of weekend wind-down. Sunday night in after Friday and Saturday — and probably Thursday — nights out. Beer, pizza, TV and my flat to ourselves.

"Nice T-shirt," she said when I opened the front door. "What does it mean?"

Wanted Dead and Alive – Schrödinger's Cat is a favourite of mine, and this kind of geeky T-shirt has become my trademark in the physics department. I guess Jen hadn't seen this one before. A sure way to kill a joke is to explain it, but not explaining would be worse — apparent elitism, a sure-fire romance killer.

The discussion started out well enough. I managed to talk around subatomic particles and metaphor my way through wave functions without Jen's eyes glazing over. Quantum mechanics is now, however, threatening the evening, having somehow picked a fight with ethics and animal rights. Beer on empty stomachs is doing little to bridge the art–science divide.

"I'm sure he could have come up with something more humane to make his point," Jen continues.

"The fact it's a cat is not important–"

"I disagree."

I'm boxed in and more in need of rescue than any gedanken cat.

The doorbell goes.

"Ooh, pizza!" Jen's mood has found new prey.

"I'll get it."

They're quick tonight — I'm only halfway through my second beer. I ordered the pizza en route to the fridge for more bottles. I grab some cash, go downstairs and return, pizza in hand, as the scooter whines off into the night.

"What did you order?"

"A large one, for sharing."

"Well, duh. What kind?"

I pause. Pick up the conversation again or let it go?

"Schrödinger's pizza." Clearly something within me favours the risky option. "The box is closed and you can't tell exactly what's inside, right? It's pizza, and smells generically of pizza, but you can't be sure of the topping. You're probably wondering whether it's got pineapple or not. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. Fifty–fifty. What's the state of the box? Pineapple or no pineapple? Or both? Dead or alive, or dead and alive?"

I love pineapple on pizza. And the morning after, fresh from the fridge? Throw in coffee and sex and that has to be the perfect start to the day. For me. Jen prefers herbal tea and pizza without pineapple. Pizza in the morning is simply not on the menu. But the sex is good.

"If you loved me, you'd order without."

The L-word catches me off guard. Jen hasn't used it before. Not about us, not about me, not about anything — sex is sex, not making love. We've been playing around and playing along, having fun, nothing more. Just a summer thing, a summer fling. In September Jen is heading off to South America for a year and that'll be it. We both understand that... or I'd thought so. Neither of us has actually said as much. On the outside it's improv. But in this case I thought we were both sneakily reading from the same prepared script, no hidden variables.

"But I'm just the narrator! I'm outside the experiment."

"No you're not. And I'm not sure I appreciate being part of an experiment — although I guess it spares the cat... smart move." A smile. I'm not totally out of favour.

"You said earlier that this Schrödinger paradox raises the question of observer-created realities," Jen says. "As narrator, there's no question: you ordered the pizza; you created the reality. You know the outcome. The pineappleyness doesn't manifest itself one way or the other simply because I open the box."

"In theory, but I don't know if they got the order right. So at this point, like you, I guess I'm just an observer. The contents of the box are in a shimmering state of uncertainty, a superposition of different possibilities. Until we open the box, there's no better description of the pizza than simultaneously topped with pineapple and without. And, if you imagine these possibilities played out across parallel universes, there's one universe where the pizza has pineapple, another universe where it doesn't and–"

"Don't forget the universe where I thump you. In case you were wondering, teasing me with physics while withholding my half of the pizza, shrouding it with an air of undecided pineapple? Not a winner."

"But at least it's not pepperoni," I say, trying desperately to regain favour.

A couple of weeks after the end of the summer term, the pepperoni discussion had not gone well. But I guess it had helped clarify some things. We'd been in the kitchen, having a beer, thinking about getting a takeaway or seeing if Niall, my flatmate, had left anything useful in the freezer.

The doorbell rang.

"Who's that?" Jen asked.

"Don't know. I wasn't expecting anyone."

I went downstairs to find out and came rushing back up.

"It's a pizza delivery!"

"But we didn't order pizza."

"I know. It must be for one of the other flats. Hungry?" I grinned, grabbing some change.

"But it's not ours!"

"I know. It's probably for upstairs. And when it fails to turn up in half an hour, they'll ring up and get the free pizza they're entitled to for late delivery. It's win–win!"

"Hugh, you're bad," she called after me as I disappeared out the flat door.

"Pepperoni!" I returned in triumph, mischievous grin on face, pizza box in hand.

"I'm vegetarian," Jen replied.

I'd known that, but it hadn't really registered as something I needed to care about. That was about to change. "You could, err, pretend it was fish?"

"First, I'm not going to pretend. This isn't a case of being clever by being naughty. I'm not a vegetarian because someone else told me to be — it's my choice. Second, vegetarians don't eat fish."

"Some vegetarians do. Niall says he's vegetarian and he eats fish."

"People who eat fish are not vegetarians. Just because some of them say they are doesn't make it so. Mental hospitals are filled with people who claim to be Napoleon, Jesus and Elvis. Doesn't mean they are."

"You never know." I smiled. Jen glared. "OK, if they're not vegetarians and they're not omnivores, what are they?"

"Pescetarians or fishetarians, take your pick. Anyway, I saw Niall eating bacon the other morning."

"So what am I supposed to call him?"

"A hypocrite."

Niall being away for the most of the summer is good for everyone.

I'm spending a lot of time in the lab at the moment, trying to get sensible results out of my current experiment. Low-temperature physics gives you easy access to helium, and where there's helium there's always squeaky-voiced fun to be had. The week after most undergrads had gone home, Niall had dropped by my end of the building for mid-morning coffee and downtime.

"Hi, I'm Jen," he squeaked. "I like Spanish, media studies, kittens and postgrads."

Anything in a Mickey Mouse voice is funny, even jealousy. Jen standing behind him as he did this? Priceless. Niall stumbled a high-pitched apology, a mockery that only dug him a deeper hole. Jen then suggested a sudden and intimate relationship between kittens and Niall she would be more than happy to arrange — one severely at odds with her moral stance this evening.

"Dead or alive?" I push the pizza box across the table to her.

"If it's pineapple, you're dead to me."

She opens the box, smiles, leans over and kisses me.

It's an eight-slice pizza. Four with pineapple, four without.

"I love you too," she whispers in my ear.

"Schrödinger's Pizza" was first published in Litro. More background here.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Telling Tales

Unless I'm doing it privately while editing, the stories I write are not read aloud. Public exceptions to this include reading freshly written drafts out in writing classes and workshops and the "Remembrance of Things Past" podcast last year.

This year such privacy is set to change. Over the coming months I am reading some of my stories at three spoken word events:

Given that one of the things I do for a living is speak, this promises to be an interesting variation. No ad-libbing, no digressions, no slides, no technical stuff. I won't be talking about anything. I'll be reading what I've written.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Flash Fiction: Meeting over Coffee

I won't have another coffee. The clock in the corner has already stalled. People have come and gone, queued, bought coffee and left, ordered lunch, chatted, eaten and paid. Another coffee means leaving my seat twice — once to acquire, once to relieve.

The rounded sweetness of iced buns, the savoury edge of ginger cake, the melted crunch of panini. Temptations for filling time. Something to occupy my hands and mouth in lieu of greeting and conversation. But I won't. I want to kill time not my appetite.

We arranged to meet at lunchtime, but nothing definite was said about having lunch. The café is similarly open and uncommitted. It caters as readily for the twenty-minute casual rendezvous as it does for the two-hour lunch of lost time and deeper companionship.

When I met her last week it was for coffee, here as before. Mid-morning, half an hour, one cappuccino large, one latte skinny, no lateness, no ambiguity. Today perhaps something different, something more.

When we first met two weeks ago it was pondering coffee in Sainsbury's. Overwhelming options... moral minefield... social status... the dilemma of modern coffee choice was all over her face.

"Not easy, is it?" I said. "Knowing what to choose, what not to choose."

"And how much, at what cost and whether or not I should be giving it up," she continued.

Her shopping basket spoke of conflict. Low-calorie soup versus choc chip cookies. Diet coke versus full-fat butter. Nicotine patches versus Rioja. Sweetener versus sugar. And now the peppermint tea was to be pitted against coffee. Either side could have won the 5 items or less category on its own but, as is so often the case in deep conflict, there were no real victors.

"It's not a habit I've ever wanted to kick," I said. "That first cup of coffee is the starting whistle of the day. A real upper." I pulled a packet of Fairtrade Macchu Pichu Organic down from the shelf.

"I know what you mean. I just feel I ought to. All the health and fitness columns have a real downer on coffee. Maybe it's just guilt on my part!" As she reached for a packet of Fairtrade Macchu Pichu Organic she gave a laugh of relief and cigarettes, of red wine and coffee.

"Guilt's overrated," I said. "I was overdosed on a steady supply from school and family before I acquired an immunity."

"Sounds very Catholic."

"Guilty. Once upon a time, at least."

"Ditto. Has a long aftertaste, doesn't it?"

"Yes, all the way to adulthood."

"And beyond." We laughed. "So they say."

From there it was the checkout, the coffee shop and then our separate ways, with the hope of reuniting through swapped numbers and a coffee. But perhaps not a lunch, which now appears lost.

"Meeting over Coffee" was first published at Fiction365. More background here.

Friday, 20 January 2012

In Litro

I had a good year in Litro in 2011: two stories — online, in print and audio — and a winning photo.

Back in April I had an audio version of my story, "Remembrance of Things Past", featured on the site. A revised version of this story is due to be published in the next few weeks at The Fabulist. At the start of December, my story, "Schrödinger’s Pizza", was published on the site and in the print magazine. I plan to read both "Remembrance of Things Past" and "Schrödinger's Pizza" at The Liminal event in Weston-super-Mare, 18th February.

At the end of December — although I didn't discover until just after New Year — I won the Pictures of 2011 competition with the following:

This photo was taken in response to one of the challenges in the Street Photography Now Project.