A selection of short stories: –
A video link to a piece of Flash Fiction called Filled With Joy
It’s only recently I’ve fully realised the connection between storytelling and photography. Runner-up in the Leominster Festival Short Story Competition, on the theme of ‘Leominster Landscapes’ and then published, May 2018
A children’s story based on the seven basic plots. Published in The Sabrina Magazine in 2016, I often use it at the start of creating writing workshops
Pooh Sticks & Rainbows (pdf)
Winner of the Kishboo, Spring Competition, 2016
Lottie Littlecup (pdf)
Lottie Littlecup – aimed at 5-7 year olds and published in the Spring / Summer Sabrina Magazine, 2016
Nan’s Faith in The Power of a Smile (external link)
Family Life piece – Based on ‘Smile’ by Nat King Cole, published in The Guardian, 2015
Running Away (external link)
Winner of the Erewash, National, Open Short Story Competition, 2014
The Chair (external link)
The Landscape Painter (external link)
The Briefcase (in full)
1st published by Graffiti Magazine after being Highly Commended in the ‘Magic
in Mind’ Competition
‘Would you mind looking after my briefcase for me?’ A simple question and from a man with an accent that’s difficult to place. In his forties, probably, a skin tone of someone who’d spent many of his summers in the Mediterranean, definitely, his flowing black locks sprinkled with the occasional hint of grey.
He’s a walking cliché of a south European man except for two things. The lack of refinement in the manner he scuttles away from me, and then, of course, there are the eyes. It’s only a small, insignificant request and yet the look in his eyes is one of desperation and impatience.
I don’t get the chance to reply. He disappears as quickly as he arrived – leaving me with both the briefcase and a faint recognition that I may already know him from somewhere else.
The train continues its journey – the gentle rattling, the rhythmical motion, soothing my mind and allowing my thoughts to wander. Zurich station is close now. One short flight and I’ll be home, my tedious life continuing as before.
‘Ist hier frei?’ A woman emblazoned with jewellery points to the two seats opposite, one of which is occupied by the briefcase.
‘This one is free, this one isn’t,’ I reply.
The woman says nothing, her face disapproving. Whether this is because of my lack of language skills or whether she would’ve preferred the seat by the window I don’t know.
The carriage is getting busier. People are wandering, searching for somewhere to sit. A pulse of aftershave precedes a man in a grey Armani suit.
‘Cette place est libre?’ French. At least I know some French. ‘Non, malheureusement pas,’ Unfortunately not, I reply. He takes the seat next to me and on my right. We both stare at the seat taken up by the offending briefcase – a seat that could’ve been his. The situation is uncomfortable and I glance up and down the aisle. There’s a moment, a short-lived moment when both the doors at the end of my carriage open simultaneously, allowing a glimpse of what could’ve been my European friend and the briefcase’s owner.
There’s a woman in the aisle, talking on her phone. Her hurried Spanish gathers pace, the sharp tone becoming ever more heated as her argument continues. She gesticulates in the direction of the briefcase – demanding its removal. I’ve no choice now and place it in my lap. If my ‘friend’ comes back, I’ll have to go through yet another difficult moment and explain what has happened.
The scream of Spanish continues. The awkward situation, her ear piercing shrill forcing me to make a decision – all because of this bloody briefcase.
I leave my seat in search of its owner, squeezing my way along the carriage. I can’t believe the items on show – protruding wallets, a Cartier watch and a set of diamond incrusted cufflinks.
I notice something else – a flash of blue near the top of my shirt. I don’t remember putting it there but I do have a memory, like déjà vu, of someone placing the blue card in my top pocket. There’s an eight figure number on one side written in pen. A phone number?
I look at the briefcase and a trigger is emerging. The combination lock on one side has eight figures. One more glance up and down the train carriage – the man who could’ve been my ‘friend’ has disappeared. There’s a bathroom close by and I charge in, locking the door behind me.
A splash of cold water on my face, the sound of running water eases my nerves. I can’t resist the temptation and I enter the eight numbers from the card into the combination lock on the briefcase. Something inside is telling me it’s the wrong thing to do but I can’t help myself.
So far so good. My eyes closed, my fingers and thumb resting against the soft, brown leather I open the lid. For a moment there is nothing. Nothing except a terrifying realisation that something is wrong and I slam the lid closed.
A bead of sweat runs down my face as a fight or flight response kicks in. I re-open the lid, the same thing happening again. The train has stopped moving, the vibration of the wheels against the tracks has ceased. The sound of voices from the carriage on the other side of the bathroom door has silenced. I look around to see the tap on the sink has stopped mid-flow.
My instinct is to close the lid and wait for everything to go back to normal, but I can’t. Something is telling me not to. There’s a further click and this time it’s me opening the door to the bathroom. A few more steps and I’m back in the crowded carriage I occupied only minutes before. It’s different now. The world has stopped moving completely and the people are standing, staring ahead. Their gazes look through me, past me and at nothing in particular.
I push past the first man – the man with the diamond encrusted cufflinks.
‘Sorry,’ I habitually say to him, but of course he doesn’t acknowledge. I know I shouldn’t, my conscience is yelling at me not to, but I can’t resist relieving him of his jewellery, and his wallet, and in fact every wallet from every pocket is soon emptied into mine. This is just so not like me, but I’m beginning to enjoy it. I feel transformed somehow, set free and it’s all down the opening of a briefcase lid.
The Spanish lady is quiet now. I grab at her phone. It takes a few seconds, her grip is tight but eventually it’s mine. A sharp stamp of my foot – the phone is now useless.
The German woman emblazoned with jewellery is, before long, not so richly decorated. I size up the Frenchman. He’s a similar size to me. After much tugging and shoving I’m soon the proud owner of an Armani suit for the first time. The Frenchman however is left sitting in his underwear, a pile of clothes from Marks & Spencers sitting on his lap.
I edge my way through the train, each compartment plundered like the last until there’s only one left – the 1st class carriage. I feel an extra leap of excitement at the thought of what I could find amongst the supposed rich.
The heightened stimulation brings something else with it however – clarity of thought and a question as to how I’m going to get away with this. The exits to the train aren’t manual doors like those between the carriages – they need activation. To get off the train, I need the world to come back to life and for the train to stop at the next station.
The trouble is, with the closing of briefcase lid, the people on the train are going to notice some changes. The walk along the train and back again to retrieve the briefcase from the bathroom seems to take forever. My mind swirls, filled with the memory of the desperate look in the eyes of the man who gave me the briefcase – I’m beginning to see why. He’s passed on a gift to me and one I should treasure, but it’s also easy to see how someone with this gift could go too far. Maybe I should do what he did and find a likely candidate. Maybe my life isn’t that bad after all. Maybe I should accept what I have.
There’s to be one last theft however, a first class ticket hanging from a suit pocket, just in case the ticket inspector arrives. I find a seat in the first class compartment and opposite a scruffily dressed young man. He looks to be in his early twenties, shoulder length hair and aspiration set in his eyes. He has a student ID in his jeans pocket – I assume he’s bunking his seat. I start to write the briefcase combination on his wrist, but then stop, a different conclusion evolving in my mind.
I close the briefcase – the young man’s eyes coming back to life, as do the sounds and rhythm of the train. Only ten minutes to the next stop but it’s enough time to sense the chaos from the other carriages. The guy opposite looks down at his wrist but he’s not looking at a combination – I’ve removed that. Instead he is looking at the Cartier watch on his wrist. There’s also a Gucci pen in his top pocket and enough Euros to keep him in beer for a few months at least.
The train pulls into the station. I leave the carriage and the train, my face covered by a scarf just in case someone on the train recognises me, a small recognition from their subconscious.
I feel guilty at not leaving the briefcase with the young man – maybe next time. For now I’ve decided however that the temptation is simply too great, the possibilities endless.
Boudicca’s Final Battle (in full)
1st published by Graffiti Magazine after being chosen as one of the Runners-up in the ‘Writing the Past’ Competition, 2014
Boudicca’s Final Battle
I couldn’t understand, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Bodies lying on bodies. Severed limbs strewn across the ground and then the blood. More blood than I could ever imagine creating rivers of red. Then came the smell – a pungent, slightly sweet aroma like rotting meat that made me wretch.
After the recent Iceni victories at Colchester and London, this was supposed to have been our day – the year AD61. One final victory to send General Paulinus and the Romans home in disgrace. All I could see however, was evidence of annihilation and yet, only hours earlier, any thoughts of defeat seemed impossible.
‘It’s too late for them to run Brigante,’ my father had said, lifting himself onto the back of his chariot, his leather gloved hands gripping the reins of the horse that would soon propel him into battle. ‘See how they wait to die!’
I followed the direction of his finger to the end of the sloping field where the enemy stood and waited behind a wall of shields, outnumbered by the thousands of Iceni tribesman by at least ten to one.
A loud cheer turned into a roar as a chariot approached us. On the back of the chariot rode a woman, her flame coloured hair glinting in the sun, her arched back making her appear over ten feet tall.
‘Boudicca, Boudicca!’ roared the tribesman, the sharp point of the Queen’s sword raised impossibly high into the cloudless sky.
On either side of her were two younger girls with glowing torches in their hands, reminding me of the reason for the revolt that father had explained many times.
‘The Romans stole Boudicca’s throne, whipped her and then raped her daughters. Now it’s time for revenge.’
Soon after, it began. The bellowing war horns and the thundering noise of swords clattering against the backs of the tribesmen’s shields accompanying the first wave of shrieking warriors. Their faces painted blue, both men and women together, they swept towards the small band of Romans who stood motionless at the end of the valley.
At thirteen, I was apparently too young to fight. Instead I was to stay at the back to protect the old, the very young and the mothers with babies. My moment of disobedience came soon – there was no way I was going to miss out on this. I picked up the axe I’d hidden at the back of our wooden cart and set off. Before I’d taken a couple of steps forward however, a hand tightened around my arm, pulling me back.
‘The battlefield is no place for a boy,’ said a voice. I turned to see an old man from our village, his dark eyes staring into mine.
Axe in hand, I headed towards the trees and behind the wagons, ignoring his plea for me to stop. With the cries of battle continuing, I ran into the shadows of the forest and using the gradient of the slope I headed downwards.
Through the trees I went, jumping over the roots. Many of the trees were tightly packed together, the occasional branch cutting shreds into my arms and I was forced to change course on several occasions. Finally however, I was able to head back in the direction of the battlefield and towards a gap in the trees, but then I stopped.
I don’t know what I was expecting, I hadn’t thought it through but what I did see sent a cold shudder through me. A mass of Iceni warriors crushed against a wall of Roman shields, tightly crammed together and making it impossible for them to raise their weapons.
‘Get back,’ one cried out, his desparate plea for help ignored as a sword flashed in the sunlight and struck him down – the Roman soldiers trampling over his crumpled body as they advanced onward up the slope.
The fizz of an arrow raced past my head followed by another. Without turning to see where it had come from, I hid behind a tree. Another arrow whizzed past, then another, striking the front of the very tree I was hiding behind, which meant only one thing.
They were surrounding me – so I ran.
I ran as fast as I could into the depths of the wood, terrified that I could’ve been followed. My heart beating at my chest, I crouched low to the ground. I wasn’t expecting to feel so scared – I thought I was brave.
I knew I had to go back to the battlefield though, I had no choice and that’s when I found the bodies. Except for the sound of the wind there was silence now – the thunder of hooves, the screams, the howls of war were replaced with a silent sea of death.
I searched amongst the carnage in a haze until I found him. Father’s eyes were closed, his body limp. There was an open wound in his side and I knelt down. His eyes blinked open as though he’d come back from the dead.
‘They’ve murdered us Brigante, every last one.’ He closed his bloodshot eyes for a moment, the tears pouring across his cheeks. ‘It’s over now.’
I looked away, the pain on his face too much to endure. As I turned however, I realised where I was – at the back of the battlefield with the wagons and the people I’d been instructed to protect and who the Romans had massacred.
Slaughtered children lay beside their dead mothers, some of whom continued to cradle dead babies in their arms. Next to them was the lifeless body of the old man who’d tried to stop me going into battle. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – how could they do this?
I looked back. Father was still now, his stare gazing into nothing and I ran my fingers across his face, closing his eyes.
Eventually, I managed to tear myself away from him and what was left of my people and head back into the safety of the forest.
Letter to Leominster (in full)
Short listed in the Leominster Festival short story competition, 2015
Letter to Leominster
Dear Mr Leominster,
It has been brought to my attention, via a muddled message from my husband that congratulations may be in order. In all honesty, I wish you’d told me that 2015 is your 100th year as a city. Birthday messages don’t just arrive I’m afraid, not without the appropriate application forms being sent to the Palace.
I enjoyed our last visit I must say, in April 1957 if I’m not mistaken, when the Duke and I witnessed the opening of Grange Court. I note my dearly departed mother also visited the Priory in 1960 and so before you consider any accusations of indifference, similar to those made recently by a number of so-called ‘loyal’ subjects, I thought I’d write.
You’ve been helpful to the Monarchy over the years, mostly. It’s probably worth glossing over how you allowed William Waller the Parliamentarian, to seize Leominster in 1643. Fortunately for both of us, the Royalists regained power two years later and I suppose the great fire at the Priory towards the end of the century also acted as further retribution for you.
I’m sure however that Henry VIII would have been delighted with the considerable revenue he received from the aforementioned Priory, which is another plus point to note.
Whether your rather chequered history concerning religion would be considered a plus point however is another matter, as the unfortunate Catholic Priest Roger Cadwallader would no doubt have testified, had he not been hung, drawn and quartered first.
I’m also sure a certain Jenny Pipes would have felt aggrieved to have been the last to be placed on a ducking stool in 1809, when this particular practice had been abandoned elsewhere.
Nobody’s perfect. We all have good and bad points to help add a dash of colour and yes, I absolutely use the ‘Royal We’ when I say this. I do remember seeing some wonderful, Tudor architecture during my visit. I’m sure my great, great grandmother would’ve have enjoyed the Victorian aspect as well, particularly the wonderfully named Victorian Street Market. In fact I’ve no doubt she would, and contrary to her most famous phrase, have been very amused.
When I spoke to the Duke about a return visit he briefly seemed keen, but then mentioned that he couldn’t tolerate, in his words, ‘those awful American accents and the ten hour flight.’
I’m beginning to believe he’s actually confusing you with your cousin, a certain Leominster Massachusetts. One thing I have to get used to in my role is that confusion reigns so to speak, particularly when it comes to long distance relations.
If so, I apologise. This is probably the reason why we haven’t received your 100th year birthday card application after all.
Congratulations anyway, on being a marvellously lurid and historic town (I’ve been assured that any historical reference contained in this letter is correct) and for future reference, and just in case, we also celebrate certain wedding anniversaries too.
HRH Queen Elizabeth II