Flash fiction: Mrs Jellico

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The teeth grinding and sobbing wake me. It’s disconsolate, broken-hearted, a funeral kind of weeping. I hear it through the wall, and I pull the cord with the red triangle. The nurses’ station buzzer sounds and shoes squeak on linoleum. The crying stops.
‘Where’s the fire, Mrs Jellico,’ the girl asks, although she knows I have no words left.
When she’s plumped my pillow and gone, the noise starts again. Keening, moaning, grinding. I rap on the wall.
The nurse is back, syringe in one hand, eyes kind. ‘Shh,’ she says. ‘Shh, Mrs Jellico. Not long now.’

The crying fades.

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Hear me read: 

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I’m not sure exactly how I got from the photo to this story; perhaps milling = grinding = teeth. Anyway, I got there. This is a Friday Fictioneers story of 100-words inspired by a weekly photo posted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. This week’s photo is provided by Shaktiki Sharma. Click here to join in and write your own story, or here to read other people’s.

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Last week I was asked by Penguin books to provide some tips about writing flash fiction, and they’ve just gone live on the Penguin website. Do take a look. I will be posting this piece on my own website in the future, so if you have any you’d like to add, please comment below here, and I’ll add them to the post, credit you and link to your website.

Bleak Books

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I love bleak books. Novels where only sad things happen, and then they get more miserable. Not the weepy kind of fiction where you know the characters will overcome their troubles at the end of the book, or grisly horror, just pretty relentless grimness. A few days ago Lissa Evans author of Crooked Heart wrote her top 10 bleak books and inspired me to do the same. These aren’t necessarily my favourite books ever, just my favourite really unhappy ones. You can look for our lists on Twitter using #bleakbooks, but here’s mine below.

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Flash Fiction: Once You Sat And Sewed

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I wake with my eyes still closed and hear the squeak of the treadle that you asked me to oil, the hum of the wheel under your hand. I imagine the needle, ticker, ticker, tickering, in and out of the hem; your pursed mouth and concentrated frown. I smile when you swear, almost see the pins falling from your lips, the pricked finger, and the thread snapped.

But your chair is cold when I rise, the machine still. Only the stain of faded blood on the edge of my shirt proves that once you sat and sewed.

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This is a 100-word (or so) piece of flash fiction written as part of the Friday Fictioneers Group, hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. This week the picture is supplied by the wonderful writer Sandra Crook (go and look at her writing – it’s very good). Click here to join in and write your own story, or here to read some more.

Flash Fiction: Now we are the same

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For two nights and a day they bloomed. Filling the world’s skies with light and apparently, sound. We sat on the playground, our faces turned skyward. The greatest firework display on earth our teachers said, their mouths round with each flowery burst. We watched late-night television in the common room, the hands explaining physicists’ and UFO experts’ theories, prophets’ and doctors’ warnings. And the doom-mongers’ threats: don’t watch, the lights will blind.

Too late they learned: it wasn’t the lights, but the noise.  They say the world is disabled; but we sign that now we are all the same: deaf.

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Listen to me read this story:

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This is a 100-word (exactly) flash fiction, part of the Friday Fictioneers group, hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. This week’s picture is supplied by Vijaya Sundaram. Click here to write your own 100-word story, or here to read others inspired by the same picture.

 

Indie Bookshop Love: Bookends

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Earlier this year I was invited to speak at Words by the Water, a fantastic literary festival in Keswick, in the Lake District, England. The bookseller for this event is Bookends, who own two wonderful shops in Carlisle and Keswick, and they invited me to speak at their book club the following evening. I was expecting a dozen or so people to come, but about 30 people turned up in Bookends’ Carlisle shop cafe to ask me questions, or perhaps it was for the crisps and wine. Mr and Mrs Matthews and their daughter Lucy looked after me so well, and I even got a tour of the bookshop by torchlight. It is a wonderful place and they are all so welcoming, I highly recommend it.

Lucy agreed to answer my questions for what will be my final interview with independent bookends2UK bookshops. I’ll be starting a new interview series on my blog later in the year. So watch out for that.

Can you tell me something about the history of Bookends?
My Mum started Bookends as a market stall selling second hand books over 30 years ago. My family’s been selling new books for 25 years now and we’ve recently moved into the same building as our second hand bookshop and café – new books, old books and coffee and cake all under one roof. Continue reading

Flash Fiction: Talk

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I stand under their bedroom window at night and hear them talking:
‘I don’t think she’s ever had a boyfriend,’ she says.
‘No?’ he says.
‘Still a virgin; at her age. Can you imagine?’
‘Not like you then, is she?’ he says, and she shrieks and laughs as if he’s goosed her. They are both silent for a minute or two, and I try not to imagine.
‘Do you think she misses it?’ she says.
‘You can’t miss what you’ve never known,’ he says.
‘But having someone?’
‘No,’ he says. ‘Not her.’
And I turn away, both stronger and sadder.

Listen to me reading it:

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This is a Friday Fictioneers story, hosted by the lovely Rochelle, and inspired by the photo above. This week provided by Janet Webb. Click here to join in and read more.

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A few weeks ago my short story, A Quiet Tidy Man won the Royal Academy & Pin Drop short story award. At the award ceremony the winner was announced by actress, Juliet Stevenson. The recording of the event and her reading my story aloud is now available to listen to. Visit this page, and click through to listen.

Flash Fiction: The SS Ayr

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Cara lay on the bunk, the baby asleep beside her, his arms thrown wide as if surprised to be falling. From far below, in the ship’s hold she felt as much as heard, the melancholic bleat of a cow – the sound travelled through steel, along the gangways, up the posts of her bed and into her skull. Cara wondered if the animals ever stopped missing their calves.

She woke later, with the baby on her chest, both of them tipped against the ship’s hull, the bunk no longer horizontal. The engine wailed, gears shrieking. But no, not the engine. The cows.

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This week I thought it might be fun to also post a recording of me reading my story. (And in the odd way that minds work, I only realised that this story bears the same name as the writer, C.E. Ayr, who gave me the idea to record it, after I’d written and titled my story.)

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This is a Friday Fictioneers very short story inspired by the picture above (this week the image was provided by Jan Wayne Fields). Friday Fictioneers, which is hosted by the lovely Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, is a weekly group, where lots of writers from around the world write a 100-word (or so) story inspired by a picture, post them on their own websites and read each other’s. Click here to join in, or here to read some more stories.

Indie Bookshop Love: P&G Wells

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P&G Wells is my local independent bookshop, and I love it. Not only because of the atmospheric building and (of course) the great books, but because the owner (Crispin) and all of the booksellers there, especially David and Ben have been incredibly supportive of me and my books. I highly recommended having a browse on a Sunday afternoon, choosing and buying a book, and taking it for a pint to the Wykeham Arms just around the DSCF4213corner.


Can you tell me something about the history of P&G Wells?
Founded in the early 1700s, P&G Wells was one of several bookshops in this quarter of
Winchester.  In the early days, the area was a literary centre, with publishing, printing, the Hampshire Chronicle newspaper and the county’s first lending library: all of which activities took place on the shop’s premises.  Originally the shop was owned by the Burton family, with the Wells family being in charge during the shop’s College-centred heyday.  The last Wells left in the mid 1970s but is still living in Winchester.

In modern times, Wells expanded to cover school supply throughout Hampshire, and to PG2serve the new University of Winchester.  Its centrepiece however, remains its original shop in College Street, by now the oldest bookshop in the country.

What’s your favourite section?
The oak windows looking onto the street date from Edwardian times, and permit us to show a variety of lovely new books to passersby.  I enjoy seeing dog-walkers, joggers and family walkers distracted from their journeys as they stop and respond to the dreams that emanate from the covers of unexpected books.

If you had infinite space what would you add?
I’d like to have a larger reference section, full of earlier works by current writers, and prequels to the history, the travel and the natural history that is published today.

What’s the hardest thing about running an independent bookshop?
PG3Multitasking.

Who is your favourite customer?
Anyone who is curious, open-minded and keen to find out all there is to know about their chosen topic.

What’s the craziest situation you’ve ever had to deal with in the bookshop?
Shoplifters who take a book, deface it, and come back to ask for a ‘refund’.

What’s your best/first memory of visiting a bookshop?
Being stuck in a foreign country on a rainy weekend, and finding in the local shop an old novel that reminded me of home.

What would you like your customers to do differently?
Be more experimental.

What would you like authors or publishers to do differently?
Think outside the box.

What’s been the biggest surprise of owning an independent bookshop?
How generous-hearted are the different people in the industry – writers, publishers and 51FVh7XPjZL._AC_UL320_SR208,320_reps obviously, but also the accounts departments, warehousemen and delivery drivers.

What fairly unknown book do you think more people should know about?
Anything by Patrick Modiano.

What book are you currently recommending / hand-selling9780008152079?
Hitman Anders.

How can people visit / get in touch with you? (Address, Twitter, Facebook, Website, Instagram etc)
All of these are possible, but the best is to visit.

(11 College Street, Winchester, SO23 9LZ, 01962 852016, pgwells@btconnect.com www.bookwells.co.uk @BookWells )

 

Other bookshops in this series:

Read about Book-ish in Crickhowell
Read about Mr B’s in Bath
Read about Lutyens & Rubinstein in London
Read about The White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough
Read about The Little Ripon Bookshop in Ripon
Read about Chepstow Books in Chepstow
Read about Chorleywood Bookshop in Chorleywood

Flash Fiction: Add but don’t subtract

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Her body sank to the cobbles, each bony vertebra grazing skin against whitewashed wall. In slow motion she slid sideways into the shade, eyes glassy and the taste of dirt and leather in her mouth from a million sandals that had trod the alley before her. It was empty now, everyone indoors – away from the midday sun. As sleep, or something greater overtook her, she saw her mother pouring homemade lemonade from a pitcher she had never owned.

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This is a Friday Fictioneers story. A re-run (because it’s summer and we’re all busy) of an FF story I wrote in 2012. It became a Continue reading