Category Archives: Fiction

750 words: hay bales, part 7, the last part

I nearly didn’t write this today. After the late writing last night and an intensive physio session today I wanted to ignore the challenge and write this tomorrow. But I want to get started on writing a story I’ve had in mind for a while (since alt.fiction 2010 actually) and use the impetus of the last week’s writing to get it going. Not writing today would not be a good start. So, here is the final episode. There is no real climax but I can see enough that if I were to rewrite, it should be an interesting story.


on the day after sending the message, james had watched kat’s office from a high floor in a building opposite. the creep arrived late as if being boss meant he was above petty timekeeping. he was carrying the bag.

james drove to marsha’s office and waited until he could see her. ‘what brings you here?’ she asked when he was shown in to her office.

james said it was serious and private, asked that they not be disturbed and wiated until the secretary had left the office.

‘what’s wrong?’ marsha asked. ‘is it kat?’

james’ mouth was dry. he had thought this moment through a hundred times and still did not know what to say. that marsha was concerned about kat made it even worse. nothing else for it, he decided.

‘she and colin are having an affair, or they were up until a couple of weeks ago.’ marsha just stared at him so he explained about the hay bales shoot and how he came to see them in the car. he then sat silent while marsha absorbed it all.

‘you were…’ she began. ‘did you…’ she tried to ask. james nodded; he had photographed them together. he had a copy of the photograph with him but did not offer it.

‘i don’t want to see it, do i?’ no, james indicated. ‘not now,’ he said. you may want it later. it is up to you.’

‘oh,’ she said. ‘oh, yes.’

‘did you suspect before hand?’ she asked him. ‘no, nothing. you?’

marsh nodded. tears began to leak from her eyes. she blinked them away. ‘i’m so sorry, james. he did this before at least once that i know of and i’ve always suspected he was still screwing around. but i didn’t want to know. if i’d stopped him before, maybe…’

‘don’t go there, marsha. what they did is their fault, not ours. not ours at all. i don’t blame you in any way. and nor should you.’

she nodded then looked puzzled. ‘if this happened weeks ago, what made you come and see me now? were you planning not to tell me? has something else happened?’

james sighed. this would be even harder. ‘now,’ he said, ‘there is something for blame. for you to blame me, that is. i’ve been blackmailing colin. i threatened that i would show you the photograph unless he paid me a hundred thousand pounds.’

‘what?! and i suppose he refused to pay and that’s why you’re here.’ marsha was furious now. from sympathising with james and feeling joined with him in a joint misery, she felt strangely betrayed even more than she felt by her husband’s affair.

james shook his head. ‘no. sorry, i’m getting this wrong.’ marsha glared at him, still fuming. ‘as far as i know,’ james continued, ‘he has paid the money. i’ve not looked in the locker to find out.’

‘what locker?’

james took a deep breath and told marsha the whole story of the blackmail, his reason for carrying it out, his changes of heart and the resolution with james now carrying the bag and phone from the locker.

‘so that was why he had that tatty bag with him the last couple of days. i asked about it and he nearly bit my head off. you had him well rattled.’

‘i’m sorry,’ said james. ‘it was a stupid …’

marsha burst out laughing, shaking her head and holding up her hand to stop james. when she had caught her breath, she said, ‘it was brilliant. i only wish you’d told me about it so i could have been in on it as well. though i’m not sure i could have carried it off. how did you go on living with kat?’

‘i guess it was easier because she was so distracted anyway,’ he said. ‘i guess you’re not angry, then.’ this set marsha off laughing again. she had a really dirty laugh when she let go, james thought.

she looked puzzled again. ‘i wonder where he got the money from.’

‘if he did,’ said james. ‘for all i know, his bag has a bomb that’ll blow up as soon as i open the locker.’

‘ha! he couldn’t wire a fuse, let alone a bomb. and, even if he could find someone to make him a bomb, which i know he couldn’t, it’d cost him almost as much as you asked for anyway.’

she explained how closely drawn the creep was on his personal accounts and that she had refused to shift any money from her own accounts over to his when he had asked a few days ago.

‘i think it is time for the auditors to go in.’ she picked up her phone and made a quick call to her finance director, telling him what she wanted without explaining anything.

‘won’t he wonder what’s up?’ asked james.

‘he worked for my father,’ said marsha, ‘and never did like or trust colin. he’ll be up there doing a little happy dance, which, given that he is 78, would be something to see.’

‘i was going to talk to kat when she got home and spend the next few nights in a hotel, until i get somewhere to live. but, if you don’t want to confront colin, yet, i can hold off.’

‘oh, i want to confront him all right. in fact…’

james dialled the blackmail phone, hoping the battery had held out. the creep answered.

‘i thought i wasn’t going to hear from you again. what do you want now.’

‘hello, colin. james here.’

there was a silence at the other end. then, ‘i knew it was you, you bastard. you’ve got the money,’ james nodded at marsha, ‘so piss off back to your whore of a wife. you deserve each other. i’m going to fire her and you can see where how far the money gets you. i hope it chokes you.’

james swallowed, his throat aching from holding back on his own tirade. ‘where did you get the money from, colin?’ he said calmly.
‘what? go to hell. i’m not telling you anything.’

‘ok,’ said james and handed the phone to marsha.

‘so, ‘darling’, why don’t you tell me where you got it?’


Well, at least I finished this lot today (just). Going across midnight messed up the 750words stats.

Will see tomorrow how well I can write without editing as I go along on something that really matters. But that won’t be appearing up here. You’ll just have to wait to buy the book when it comes out.

750 words: hay bales, part 6

And still it goes on. I tried to finish this tonight but ran out of day. Tomorrow’s (okay, later today’s) part will be short. I hope.


time to end things, james thought, a few days later.

he walked into the local mail shop and handed over a copy of his receipt email. the assistant, in turn, handed over a key and james used it to retrieve the blackmail phone from the box he had rented online while in london. the battery was dead so james plugged it into a charger in his car. more messages and more missed calls from the creep. time for the next step in his campaign. james sent a text message.

“£100k – get it within five days and be ready for instructions on how, when and where to give it away.”

james thought of saying the phone would be switched off but didn’t care enough one way or the other.

life with kat had been tense. she was obviously worried and james had to play it carefully to show just enough concern without showing that he knew just how worried she must be. in reality, he found it hard showing any concern at all. his love seemed to have rapidly wilted since he returned from london. how could that be? in a sense, it was as if he was already divorced and had moved on from that, as if kat was someone he cared about in his past but who was now simply an acquaintance. the blackmail plan had cut him off from his old life. he was in between lives, just waiting for his new one to start.

the five days passed in the same way. at several times when they sat together eating or watching television, he sensed that kat was on the verge of telling him about the affair. he did not know whether he would then tell her of the blackmail scheme and abandon it or lie to her and say he knew nothing about it. fortunately, she never did have that much courage so the question never arose. james assumed that the creep had insisted that james should not be told, even if they both did suspect that he was the blackmailer. if they were wrong and james then told marsha, all would be up.

on the fifth day, james made his arrangements and picked up the phone again. this time he did not even look at any of the messages queued up from colin. the message he sent was much longer.

“put the £100k into a bag. take the bag to the station and go to locker E171 – the code for opening it is 6618. put your bag with the money into the locker. another bag will be in the locker. it will be empty apart from this phone. take that bag and leave the phone in it. shut the locker with the same code. carry the new bag with you and have the phone switched on at all times. at some point i will track the phone’s location and check that you have that bag. sometime after that i will retrieve the money. when the phone battery dies, you may get rid of both it and the bag. do all this correctly and you will never hear from me again. get any small part wrong and your wife, the board of your company and the local newspapers will receive the photograph with details of where and when it was taken. this ends all our communications.”

well, thought james. that should do it.

he wondered whether the creep really had got the money together. it was a huge sum. much more than james thought was possible for one person to acquire in only five days. but he really didn’t care whether the money was in the locker or not.

james had begun thinking about the blackmail wondering how he might spend the money he would ask for. at that stage it was only £10k. he then thought that such a sum might be too easily got by someone like the creep. hell, he could probably get that much by selling his watch on ebay. so, he had increased the amount, in his mind, to £25k and then to £50k.

but at that point, the money became separate from his own life. he could imagine himself having and spending £10k. there was a medium format digital camera that would take that much and some of his own money to buy. or he could trade in his car and get a new one with the extra money. at the higher levels, however, the money became too tainted with the same darkness as the betrayal of infidelity. he could no more imagine himself spending that sort of money, acquired in that way, than he could  imagine himself being unfaithful to kat.

it was this, he supposed, that had pushed him into indifference to her and the fate of his marriage. thinking about the blackmail money had brought home the exact wrongness of the affair. he wanted neither kat nor the money.

his next thought was to pick up the money and give it to a charity. certainly, he had no thought that tainted money could never do good. money was simply money. but the idea of touching the money appalled him. he did not want to get anywhere near it.


750 words: hay bales, part 5

Yikes. Nearly forgot about writing today. Is the end in sight? Absolutely no idea. Ask the characters.


back in the hotel, james was less confident about his ability to follow through on the blackmail scheme. he had edited one of the photographs, making it look like it had been captured on an iphone by lowering the resolution, changing the crop and blurring parts of the image. in particular, he blurred enough of kat’s features so that she was largely unrecognisable, making it look as if light flare had obscured her. there was still enough to remind colin of his escapade, though, and it was this that made james draw back. he knew that kat had screwed the creep and the creep knew this but the idea of handing him a souvenir of the fact turned james’ stomach.

he had to admit to himself that he still loved kat. could he forgive her this transgression? probably not. their marriage was almost certainly over but he did still love her. james could remember too much good about kat and their times together. he could not hurt her, could not want to hurt her, much as he thought he should. but a great wrong had been committed and it had to be righted. silly as it sounded, james believed in balance. he knew there was no such thing as cosmic justice, but he believed there ought to be. if someone does something bad to someone else, then something bad ought to happen to them. he hoped that kat would see the end of their marriage as a bad thing happening to her. but he knew that the creep would see the end of his own marriage in those terms.

so, he got on with it. after editing the image and modifying the metadata to obscure its origin on his camera, he transferred it to the phone he had just purchased. he did not think that it was possible to tell what sort of phone a message came from but, even if it was, he doubted this was something colin would be bothered about investigating.

he was about to send the message when he worried that the creep would open it in the company of his wife or other people. there was no way to be certain but james rang his office anyway and asked to speak to him. the secretary asked what it was about and james made up some story about having met colin the previous month, discussed some lucrative business and now wanting to follow through on it. the secretary put james through and he hung up as soon as the creep answered. just to make sure that he had his phone with him, james rang his number directly and, again, hung up when it was answered.

no doubt, the creep was getting annoyed. well, now to get him scared. james sent the photograph with the simple message, ‘you take a nice shot. think your wife would like a copy?’

the reply came back almost immediately. the guy’s thumbs must have been burning. ‘who are u. how did u get that. what do u want.’

well, thought james, at least he got to the important bit by the end. james thought to send a demand straight back but decided to let colin stew for a while. for a long while. james returned to the conference and enjoyed the rest of the sessions, the pre-dinner drinks and the conference dinner.

he was more than a little drunk by the time he returned to his room. the blackmail phone was vibrating as he opened the door. he drank three glasses of water using the plastic bathroom cups before checking the phone. there were seven messages waiting for him and the phone had been called three times. it seemed that colin really wanted to talk to his photographer. all the messages were variations on the same theme of wanting to know what james wanted. he deleted all of them and switched the phone off.

it was then that his own phone rang. james jumped up from the bed, dropping the blackmail phone and checked the display on his own phone. it was kat calling and it seemed she had called twice previously. he thumbed the call button and answered, ‘hello, love. sorry i didn’t get your calls. i left the phone up here during the sessions and didn’t come back before dinner. how are you?’

he spoke as much mundanity as he could in the hope that his own mind would still before he would have to take part in any exchange with his wife. ‘you sound drunk,’ she said. ‘i am very drunk,’ he replied. ‘the pre-dinner drinks were sponsored by one firm, the dinner wine by another and then another pitched in with cognacs all round. you ought to have come with me.’

james wondered if the last comment had been over the top. kat had never accompanied him to a conference before, had stated her dismal view of conference spouses in the past and james had long ago stopped inviting her. she surprised him with, ‘i wish i had as well. work has been dreadful today. i really wish you were here to talk to.’

this took james aback. kat had never said anything of the sort before. she had prided herself on being able to take whatever her colleagues or customers handed out without crumbling ‘like a weepy woman.’ she had always said that she had to be tougher than anyone else and had carried through that policy even into her home life. james had learned not to offer any sympathy when she told him about work difficulties, just to back her up with whatever plan she had for overcoming them.

‘we can talk now,’ he said. ‘no,’ she answered, ‘it can wait until you come back tomorrow. i’ll let you get to bed so that you are fresh for tomorrow.’ they did chat a little longer but soon disconnected.

what was that about, wondered james. he found out.

he arrived home late the following evening, tired and still with an unshifting headache from the morning’s hangover. kat greeted him with affection, leading him into the dining room where she had laid out a light supper. ‘i thought you might like a snack before bed, to unwind from the conference and train journey. do you want a drink?’ james asked for tea. kat waited while he sat down and started cutting into the cold meat and salad on the plate, then went to make the tea.

james heard the kettle switch off in the kitchen but heard no sound of the tea being made. he went upstairs to their bedroom. kat had strewn clothes from his travel bag all over the bed and was now sweeping her hands through his laptop case.

‘what are you doing?’ he asked. kat spun around with papers in one hand and his phone in the other. ‘erm. i’m just unpacking for you, so you can go straight to bed after supper if you’re tired.’

‘thanks,’ said james. ‘i’ll make the tea then. do you want some?’


750 words: hay bales, part 4

This has to finish soon…


the main goal, thought james, would be to cause colin the creep the maximum pain while not unduly hurting either kat or the creep’s wife, marsha, who james had thought quite nice, talented and wholly undeserving of her obnoxious husband when they had met at parties her company had thrown for employees and their families. the solution was pretty obvious. james would have to relieve the guy of a large sum of money, denting his lifestyle since he would have to take it out of his pocket money rather than try and get it from his wife.

but how to do this? james had taken pictures of kat and the creep cavorting so blackmail would be easy. and if he could make it seem that the blackmailer was an uninterested party, ie not james, it would be more likely to succeed. he could not just phone the guy since there was a chance he would remember james’ voice from when they had met. email would work but it was highly likely that someone with such an aversion to real work would have his secretary dealing with all his emails. sending him a text message would be best but how could he get an anonymous phone – tottenham court road, it would have to be. luckily, james had a conference in london the next week. the only drawback to this would be that the creep would be left with a picture of kat and her bare buttocks but that could not be helped.

the rest of the week and the weekend were difficult. james had the image of kat in the car in the front of his mind whenever he was with her, so he took to spending even more time out with his camera. his own experience had left him overly sensitive to other people as well. any time he took a picture of a man and a woman together, he imagined that they were illicit lovers, sneaking around behind their spouses’ backs. he was sorely tempted to tell kat what he had seen but the thought of making the creep squirm kept his mouth shut.

sunday afternoon, he set off for london since the conference had a greeting session that evening. it was good that the conference was two days long so he could get his blackmail scheme set up with no interference from either his own work or from the awkwardness of interactions with kat. he worked the plan out in more detail on the train. he did search his own conscience about the idea of blackmail but found it did not bother him at all. he was not at all worried about getting caught by the police, either. if it did happen, he would admit his guilt and take whatever punishment came his way. it was not as though he was worried about leaving kat while he spent time in prison.

james checked into the hotel room he had booked. the room was the usual anonymous glitz supposed to appeal to the travelling businessman. including the requisite porn channel, without which the businessman on his own could not be expected to pass a single night. this was something james had looked at in the past but was not in the least attracted to right now.

on the following morning, james chatted to people he knew from other companies and other conferences over breakfast. he attended the opening plenary session, spending the time like all the others working through his email and googling the other attendees on his laptop, or playing with the goodies in the conference bag. as the session let out and everyone else was racing to get to the coffee queues first, james slipped down the stairs and out the main entrance of the hotel.

tottenham court road was only a few streets away from the conference centre as, indeed, it seemed to be from most places that james knew from his infrequent trips to london. the conference handout map was enough to get him there. he walked down a street of hotels, another of b&bs and then ducked into a side street leading to the main shopping areas. it was on the side street that he found a dingy looking electrical and electronics shop advertising buy-and-talk phones. for only forty pounds he could get a cheap multimedia phone with one hundred minutes of calls and one hundred texts. more than enough. he didn’t even have to visit the bank for more cash.

having sorted out his main business, james decided to treat himself to a splurge on his credit cards in the tottenham court road bookshops. what the hell, he would soon have more than enough money to cover it.


but not yet!

750 words: hay bales, part 3

Still going, with a twist, of sorts.


james staggered back from the trees, stumbling over roots. he had had no idea that kat was unhappy or dissatisfied with him in any way. why would she be looking for love elsewhere? or did she just crave the excitement of sex with someone other than her husband? that she was so desperate that she would consent to the indignity of snatched coupling in a parked car only upset him more. he was finding it hard to wrap his mind around the concepts invading it.

he tripped and fell at the edge of the trees. twisting to avoid braking his camera he landed on the side where his coat pocket held the wide angle lens. he stifled a cry as the lens rammed into his kidneys. he dragged himself back up to his knees and took the lens from his pocket. it was broken. a wedding present from kat and it was smashed. the symbolism was hilarious and, again, he had to stifle a cry, this time of rage.

at least the pain cleared his mind. he didn’t want to confront kat until he had thought about what to say. that meant he had to get home before she got there. she could not know that he had been in the field or any change in his attitude to her would set off alarm bells. he wondered that he was so concerned about missing out on the shoot, more perhaps than kat’s betrayal, or was that just shock.

he made the return journey along the jitty in half the time it took previously and was easily home before kat. probably still pulling her knickers on, he thought. what to do was his next thought. he erased the answer machine message first then went upstairs to change out of his shooting clothes. the jacket was marked with dirt where he had fallen but that was hardly noticeable among the other marks on it. the trousers were okay. but his side was developing a decent bruise where the lens had hurt him. he’d have to think of an excuse for that if kat noticed it. he made do with pulling on his home-slobbing track suit.

he was back downstairs and packing the camera equipment away when he heard kat opening the front door. he panicked. how did he normally greet her when she got home. he could not remember. he called out a hi, trying to make it sound normal and unconcerned but it came out strangulated. kat appeared in the doorway. are you okay, she asked.

i’m fine, he said, getting up from where he was kneeling beside his camera bag. he winced from the pain in his side and explained, a guy carrying some lengths of wood rammed me in the side with them today; i think it’s coming up in a bruise. he pulled up his top to show her. come into the kitchen, she said, i’ll put some witchhazel on it.

james thought he managed not to raise any suspicions in kat that night and used the excuse of his side hurting to avoid any intimacy in bed, not that kat seemed inclined to initiate any. he suppressed his thoughts about that. when she was safely asleep, james crept downstairs and sat in the study to think.

nothing came to him. he got up and poured a generous measure of scotch and sat sipping that. the problem was not that he could not think what to do, it was that he could not think what he felt about the situation. he was angry and upset but not as much as he thought he ought to be. did this mean he was not as in love with kat as he thought he had been? and did this explain her seeking solace elsewhere?

no, he would not go there. if she had had a problem with him, she should have said something and they could try to work it out. screwing another man was not a justifiable response. had she become unloving to him because of this affair and that was the reason for his, albeit unconscious, distance from her. no, again, he would not try to invent excuses for himself, either.

he was on his third scotch when he tackled kat’s choice of illicit companion, her boss. yes, that definitely hurt. the man was a creep. even kat had said so in the past. in the distant past, so she, he hoped, had not been in any liaison with him at that time. the man played at running a section of his wife’s company while spending her money on his extravagant lifestyle. and that, he thought as he drained the last of the scotch, was where he would target his revenge. on the creep’s lifestyle.


Yes, ok, I skipped all the raunchy sex scenes. After all, there may be children reading.

750 words: hay bales, part 2

Well, I did continue the story, though it is the most laid back, directionless thing I have ever written.


although split into half a dozen separate tracks by intervening back roads, the jitty seemed all one. it was dark and dismal its whole length. james could imagine maids and youths making their way along it to their doom at the hands of the minotaur. there was something about it, even after only the first short section, that made emerging into the bright, comparatively wide back roads seem the more unearthly, as if humanity belonged to this dank and fetid, claustrophobic tract more than it did to the sunshine and well kept homes along the back roads.

the last stretch of the jitty was the most foreboding. it seemed to come to a dead end and required courage to follow through to the darkest point where one sidled between a threatening clump of nettles and massive trunk of an old oak tree, over a weather beaten stile and finally emerged into the fields beyond.

light reflecting off the stubble stabbed into james’ eyes after the gloom of his trek through the jitty and he had to pause. as his sight returned to normal, he could make out the whole of the view. the jitty emerged halfway up the slope of the field so that he could see the rolls of hay dotted up and down the field. he took a few shots to establish the context for later and thought about how to approach the exercise. it would be good to start at the top of the hill and make his way down so that he could walk home along the road and avoid the jitty at dusk when it would be even less welcoming and he would be likely to have to pass people returning to their own homes from the village. but he also wanted to get a series of shots of the rolls of hay at the top of the hill against the darkening sky of evening which would mean the reverse route to that he preferred. ah, well, he thought, art must prevail. and he made his way to the bottom of the hill along the hedge of which the oak tree was one, probably unplanned, part.

his feet raised clouds of dust from the dry ground and stubble and he was soon sneezing with almost every footfall. damn, he thought, should have taken a strong does of antihistamine before setting out. his sinuses would give him hell tonight.

at the bottom of the hill, he could see that the cars on the main road were finally starting to move a little more freely. whatever incident on the motorway had caused the blockage had seemingly been cleared, or people had heard of the problem before setting out and decided to find another way. it amused him that no one seemed to notice him looking at them in their little steel boxes as they pootled past. he recalled a series of photographs taken by an american artist which were of drivers and passengers he passed on the freeway and their reactions to his aiming his camera at them. james wondered if a more candid series shot from his place here in the field might be interesting, if creepy and intrusive. another idea to float past kat.

the first bale he came to was the one he had noticed from the road earlier. close to, it was even more impressive. its size testified to the power now being applied to the ancient craft of agriculture. from the grasses cut by hand and pitchforked onto a horse-drawn dray for several hundred years, to the rectangular boxes plopped out by haymakers smoking their way along fields in the latter half of the last century to these monsters which surely could only be carried one or two at a time out of the field, he wondered how much further technology could go or would the shortage and expense of fuel and the lesser power of renewable energy sources start trends in the opposite direction.

enough philosophising, he thought, down to work. he moved around the bale to get an idea of its backgrounds. interestingly, the best shots were with the hedge and the traffic in the background so he took a few of these, two with people dimly seen in the background. he varied the f-stop to bring the background in and out of focus. he wanted some shots of the texture of the roll itself but this one was angled so that the face of the roll was either in full sun or full shadow, neither making for a good image. some of the others further up the hill were better placed. why, he wondered, were the bales not all facing the same direction. he could not imagine the harvester wandering around at odd directions nor anyone coming out and turning them around for fun. one more mystery to add to his vast lack of knowledge of modern farming.

he hung his camera from its belt-mounted hook and took out his mobile phone to check with kat about dinner. the home phone rang and rang and eventually went through to the answering machine. he left a short message saying what he was doing and asking her to ring him back then wondered whether he ought to try her mobile phone. he didn’t want to interrupt her while she was driving home but if she had stopped for a take-away, she would want him there when she got back. he could not remember if she had said anything before leaving in the morning. he decided to ring her.

again, there was no answer. he made to hang up before that call went through to the mobile company’s answering service but then realised that the ringing of kat’s phone that he had been hearing was coming, not from his own phone, but from nearby. he ended the call and looked around.


At last, it seems to be going somewhere. I might have to continue it now to see what happens.

750 words: hay bales

As I said previously, I’ve started the 750 words challenge. I’m hoping this will get me back into a writing frame of mind. Normally, I would not post anything from that since my ramblings are usually drivel or personal: anything to get the 750 words out as quickly as possible. But yesterday, I decided to see if I could write a story in the time/space allotted. The rule was that there was to be no revision or significant thought involved. Just stream of consciousness, one sentence following another. I’d already had the idea for the story based on something I’d thought of doing the previous day so just kicked off from that. It was interesting to do this: I wish I could do it for writing that I’m serious about instead of procrastinating and dithering about every word and phrase. Anyway, here it is…


James was struck by the sight of bales of hay in a field just outside the village as he was leaving for work. they’ll make for some great shots, he thought, and vowed to get his camera out after he’d got home. the day passed predictably but for flashes of the hay bales that crossed his mind at points during the day. he thought about sketching in some likely shots during lunch but decided, instead, to just take the shoot as it came. he did, however, decide to take only his 50mm lens out with him. it made getting the shots more challenging but so much more satisfying when they worked out.

he looked out for the scene again as he reached the village that evening. for a change he welcomed the slow moving traffic that crawled into and through the village to the motorway junction just beyond it. it gave him a chance to check the field again. at one point he was stopped where one bale was just the other side of the fence. it towered over the hedge. he had not realise how vast the cylinders of wrapped hay were and decided he would need the 18mm wide angle lens as well. that was annoying; he was hoping to leave the camera bag behind.

James’ wife had not yet battled her own way through the motorway traffic so he wrote a note and left it on the kitchen table. ‘gone shooting,’ it said, with a smiley and multiple kisses. he did leave the camera bag behind. it was a mild evening, promising coolness later on so he shrugged into a battered old linen jacket with pockets large enough for whichever lens he happened not to have on the camera, picked up camera, lens, mobile phone and his keys and set out.

the day was still bright and it would be a couple of hours before the sun went down. James wondered what Kat had planned for dinner and whether he might risk getting home after dark so as to get some sunset shots in. he would ring her later if the light looked promising.

he was breathing heavily as he climbed the slight hill that led from his house to the centre of the village and lectured himself on the need to get exercise more regularly. maybe he could do a year-round series of shots of the environs of the village. it could not be called picturesque, by any means, but the village had some interesting old houses, a school, shops and a few businesses so that a series of seasonal changes would be interesting. he made a mental note to discuss it with Kat. he relied on her instinct for knowing which of his photographs would be most likely to sell from his online gallery. he added a rider to that mental note that he ought to tell her how much he appreciated and valued her advice.

the roads through the village were still heavy with slow-moving traffic so it was easy enough to walk through the near stationary cars to get across the road. the only danger might come from some risk-taking motorcyclist but even they seemed hemmed in on that evening. perhaps there was some delay on the motorway, an accident perhaps. the fuming cars and their equally fuming drivers lent the village an alien air. James usually only came into the village on the weekend or at night to pick up some item Kat had forgotten she needed for dinner. at those times, it was safer to use the pedestrian crossing than dodge the cars ignoring the safe driving speed limits.

he walked between the small supermarket and local curry house where a narrow gap between shops and houses led from village to countryside. the jitty was dark, overgrown with stinging nettles and littered with crisp packets, chocolate wrappers and other detritus that James preferred to ignore. it was hard to believe that anyone would design such a difficult thoroughfare into a town plan, easier that it resulted from an error of measurement or dispute between two medieval neighbours. but the jitty went from village centre to back road where it started again on the other side to another back road and so on all the way out of the village. it was a higgledy piggledy route but it did get a person out of the village without having to cross any major road. the only problem would come if anyone was coming in the other direction or moving too slow for James to follow comfortably. one or the other person would end up with nettle rash.


The one thing I do like about this, and something to think about working into proper writing, is the way it hints at possible story directions every now and then. I wish I’d done that deliberately 🙂

No idea if I’ll follow this up tomorrow. See how I feel in the morning.

Alt.Fiction workshops

I went to Alt.Fiction at the Derby Quad on Saturday last and it was great. From reading associated blogs and tweets (search ‘altfiction’ on Twitter), it seems most people went to panels or hung around in the bar talking to people. As an unsociable sod, I sat through all the workshops that were provided (except Horror; had to eat some time). Luckily, my daughter, Vicky (twitter), spent her time catching up so I learned about what people were up to from her afterwards.

10am, Fantasy, Mark Chadbourn
The room was full; about seventeen people in all, I think (see Mark’s pics here and here; some people missed off). Mark began telling us about the state of the fantasy market and that, after a few years of same-ish stuff, publishers are now looking for new ideas (so no more Tolkien-esque or semi-medieval worlds). He then told us to look inside ourselves for our ideas: use what we know or what we are passionate about. And it worked. He had us imagine a world based on what we knew well and then write ten lines about it: either starting lines, description or keywords. The first thing to come to my mind were the featureless faces of buildings where I worked when contracting in London so I worked up an idea starting from there. He then had us describe a character from that world, again in ten lines: who they were and what their key flaw was. Finally we had to write the plot in only two lines: what does the character want to achieve and what stands in their way. This was a good start to the day. Already, I had an idea for a series of books which I would definitely pursue.

11am, Science Fiction, Tony Ballantyne
Another full room (I’ll have to stop saying this; every workshop was pretty much full). Mark first handed out a sheet with an extract from Wikipedia on ‘incluing’. This is a way of avoiding the dreaded ‘info dump’. I have been accused of this trait in my short stories so was keen to hear what he said. There was some discussion around the room about different novelists’ ways of handling info dump and Tony read out some of the worst excesses from the Stieg Larsson books. He then handed out another sheet with some of the physical improvements that the Warhammer 40K Space Marines have had done to them. We then had to work in pairs to write up two of those improvements into a short piece of text. It was an interesting exercise.

12am, Dark Fantasy, Kim Lakin-Smith
This was, for me, the best workshop; Kim’s approach really got the creative juices flowing. She started out talking about dark fantasy and the ‘magic mirror’ that it holds up to the world to produce a ‘distorted reflection of life’ showing the ‘juxtaposition of human and monster’ in each of us. Next she looked at fairy tales, the origin of fantasy aimed at adults, and the darkness they used to contain (and how people like Angela Carter and Neil Gaiman have tried to reclaim that aspect). Kim then gave us a page of images of some archetypal fairy story characters: Baba Yaga, Anansi, Rumpelstiltskin and the Green children of Woolpit; and described them. We had to choose one of these characters to incorporate into a story. Kim then had us do four exercises:
1) Describe a street: any time period, any season, but at 3:30am.
2) One person is awake in the street, child or adult. Why are they awake? They are in the grip of a strong emotion. How do they feel?
3) They see our chosen archetypal character at the end of the street. How does the person feel about seeing this character?
4) The character offers them a way out of their earlier strong emotion.
Kim’s workshop approach had me working more intensely than I have done for some time. I may not write up that particular story but will try to recapture the feeling I had while in the workshop next time I start a story.

1am, pretty much wrung out by now, I retreated to the bar for beer, panini and a quick catch-up with Vick.

2pm, Screenwriting, Stephen Volk
Stephen kicked off by giving us each a page of script, saying that this was the industry standard way of presenting scripts and that the best tool for ensuring this standard was the Final Draft software package: not a cheap option (£170 from Amazon). He then read out a short story that he had written and the ensuing discussion focussed on what questions one would ask if turning this story into a film. Next, Stephen read from an original script of his, showing how the first few minutes, typically the title sequence, sets out the themes and tropes of the film. He then had us think about how we might open a film of his earlier short story and we discussed this for a bit.

3pm, Audio writing, Simon Guerrier
Simon was standing in for someone else so I was impressed that he came up with an interesting and entertaining workshop at short notice. Pretty sure he has done this before 🙂 He gave us all the beginning of one of the Doctor Who Companion Chronicles scripts, ‘The Prisoners’ Dilemma’, and had two of the workshop participants read the parts up to the title sequence (cue Dr Who theme tune!). We then paired off and Simon had us write our own starter scripts, with each pairing having to handle a different Doctor-Companion set. Me and my partner (sorry, forgotten the name: maybe that is why I never socialise) had Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford. The subsequent readings were hilarious with Simon commenting on each script. This was great fun.

4pm, Comics, Liam Sharp
Liam did not run a workshop, as such; he answered questions from the participants about writing for comics (of everyone there, only a couple of people were artists as opposed to writers, and both of them were writers as well). But the session did prove both interesting and insightful. I had never considered writing for comics before but am quite keen on the idea now. Liam talked about different ways to lay out the story for a comic and showed us several examples. I really wish I could draw 🙂

That was it for the day. I was completely knackered. I made my way around to the room where books were being sold but everyone was packing up. I managed to pick up a copy of Murky Depths. Afterwards, Vick and I made our way out for a couple of cold coffees. We both were interested in the later session on social sites for new writers but too tired to hang around. We’ll have to pace ourselves better next time.

Writing update

So much for keeping this blog up to date. So, where am I?

I have finished four stories, have one stuck and another just started. Of the four, I have submitted three, one each to Analog, Asimov’s and Interzone. The Analog and Interzone ones were rejected and I’ve not heard from Asimov’s. This may not be surprising. The Analog rejection came with a terse note saying that the International Reply Coupon I had sent was invalid, and I had sent the same to Asimov’s.

This was pretty surprising since I had bought them at the main post office in Loughborough at the same time that I sent the manuscripts. Turns out that, not only had they sold me IRCs which had expired at the end of last year, but they had not stamped the ones sent out, without which they are invalid! I got my money back and am about to send emails of apology to the editors of those two magazines. Just as well Interzone is in the UK.

I have also joined critters. This is an online community of SF/F/H writers who post their work and get it critiqued. You have to post a number of critiques before being eligible for getting your own work sent out. I’ve never been any good at workshops and dislike critiquing other people’s work but am managing so far and have just uploaded one of my stories to be considered: it ought to go out end of April as long as I keep up my rate of critiquing.


Over the last few days I’ve been commenting on the TPM site rather than here. One long-running thread of comments to a guest blog by Andy Walsh is here, and an essay by Russell Blackford here. Both about Dawkins and the so-called New Atheism. All good fun.

Yes, I know that I ought to be writing that third short story. I know, I know, I know …

Oh yeh, Happy New Year 🙂

Happy holidays

Just noticed last post was on my birthday, so figured I should do one for xmas as well. Not got a lot further with the third story. I have the subject, approach and layout but not making a lot of headway with the writing. Wrote the first two sections but then deleted them and went back to my notepad. Have restarted but still not too sure I’ve got it right. I was just about to start work on the second section (while wife & daughter work on xmas lunch; I’m keeping well away: wife thought they were aiming at 2pm so did the roast potatoes for then while daughter thought 1:30pm and was aiming the chicken to be ready for that time) when I thought to write this.

Will hit that section now while on second glass of bubbly: need to drink it all today: left one in fridge lying down – only way it’ll fit – couple of days ago and it exploded, emptying everywhere and stinking the fridge out so was only allowed to have second bottle (Tesco Cava as recommended in G) today if I finished it – bottle is on back step keeping cold and I keep going and topping glass up – sort of explains this post I guess.

Ho hum and bah humbug – happy xmas to all.

On my way?

Yesterday I finished my second short story, well the first draft of it anyway. The first one was done a couple of weeks ago but I did not rate that a significant achievement. Firstly, doing something once does not mean I am going to stick at it: this I know from LOTS of previous experience. And secondly, it was not what I considered publishable, or, not worthy of sending off to a publisher. The story started well but ended up going nowhere. The one real significance of that effort was more that I finished it given that I was only about 3k words in when I knew it was not worth sending out and it ended up being 7800 words long. In the past I would have simply given up on it at that stage but writing it did teach me stuff about writing.

The second one felt right from the outset. I’d had the idea for some time, sitting in my very long list of ideas. When the first story was nearing completion, I looked into that list for the next one to start on because I knew that if I delayed even a little on starting the second, I might never do so. About the second day into thinking about it, I thought of a twist that made the story work, that better said what I wanted the story to say. That was when I thought the story would be worth sending out. Of course, that made me extremely nervous.

Halfway through writing the story, I thought of a way of wrapping it up that I hoped would improve it, that would let me keep all the action to a single day but still properly ‘conclude’ all the characters’ arcs. This, of course, made me even more nervous and I blocked for a few days. It ended with driving up to the motorway junction, grabbing a coffee, and sitting there until I broke the block. I finished the last 2400 words in two days.

Now, though, I look at the story and wonder if the plot ‘twist’ is naff and the mode of keeping it all to one day is overly pretentious. Ho hum! I guess I’m never going to be a very confident writer 🙂

Time to dig out the ideas list again (yay, Evernote).