Monday, 17 September 2018

Skype-Time by Sara Burgess

   This ole wooden building is dang fine and dandy. He don’t see why no one would change it, no sir, but if the little lady’s wanting him to build another un, then that’s alright with him as well. At this time o’ life, you gotta take your pleasure where God pleases himself to put it for you. And God sure has put it square and fine in the palm of his hand this time, sending through the movin’ pictures of that there dem fine lady on the sparky ole box of tricks Saint Clare set up for him on the table inside the porch.
  Clement takes a look real close in the mirror at his pale skin, tiny black points coming pricking through on his chin again. Dang that razor, and that there interfering besom, his mater, thinking she can still tell him how to wash his smalls. After all this time, him being married three times and all, he sho’ knows how to look after his own clarts without no dame telling him what’s what. But he sho’ wants to look his best when she appears on that thar box. He has just enough of time to scrape them ole tacks off his throat afore their reg’lar chinwaggin session.

   A similar ritual is occurring four and a half thousand miles away across the pond, and some. How tiny is small town earth in the twenty-first century, and a lady of a certain age, also twice married but now decidedly single, presses black honey almost by Clinique onto her ageing lips, and blushes her cheeks unnecessarily, but for it makes her feel young. For young she isn’t. In fact approaching sixty fast makes the earth tilt a little. And much as her house isn’t rambling (a neat and tidy new build semi-detached with pure white walls throughout, a loft conversion and a conservatory that she tried to fill with cats) it’s far too big for her now her only son has flown the nest.
   Ever since Jesus visited her in the guise of a floating baby in her early twenties after some extravagant adolescent wildness, she has been a vigorous evangelist, eschewing the evils of that past life to embrace the healing power of the Lord in a hired hall twice a month with Pastor Marigold. And since then, with much laying on of hands, the Lord has sorted out some worrying tax affairs, fixed her broken boiler, and now sent her a like-minded fiancĂ©, albeit hundreds of miles away. How wonderful!
   Since learning how to pick out a bargain in the thrift stores, she has a certain kind of glamour, but the sapphire silk knee length at the school reunion didn’t quite bring in the right type of suitor, nor did the holiday with two BFFs in the Hebrides, nor did the earnest conversation till three in the morning with the newly divorced and slimmer version of a friend of a friend of a friend at her former sixth form bezzie’s oddly cannabis laced party in a notable cathedral city in the north. But the Lord works in mysterious ways. And compelled to visit a Christian lonely hearts website, she found dear Clement.
 Now she is lipsticked, rouged and foundationed, she is ready to roll. She never bothers with a backdrop, just puts the laptop on her knee sitting on the sofa in the lounge and awaits the breathless moment when she can see Clement’s nervous smile at least seven seconds after it has moved on to his cheeks. She can see him peering into his screen wondering what he has done to deserve this veritable angel at his time of life. She hardly dares to move as she sees his image flicker and buffer, and he spends several minutes just staring at this vision of beauty.
   She has never been adored like this. She too peers at the screen and notices a window in the background. She has already spent two weeks in his cabin and knows that the rest of her life is in that screen, beyond that window.

   If y’all can be born agin once, y’all can be born agin twice. Doan you forgit it, li’l lady.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Slippered Wrath by Nick Stead

Late was the hour in which the beast came crawling out from its dark lair, unbeknownst to me. I was still hard at work at my desk, struggling to meet another deadline when one of the cats alerted me to its presence, her unblinking stare fixed on something on the floor, something which called to her predatory instincts and had her up and ready to pounce. And I could guess what that something was, dread filling me as I followed her gaze to discover the nature of the creature.

Anyone who claims spiders are harmless has never felt the sting of an arachnid’s fangs as they puncture skin, often leaving angry mounds of swollen flesh in their wake. They have never heard the horror stories of limbs having to be amputated and worse, never seen the terrifying images of the damage those fangs can do on Google. But sometimes the deadliest killers are among the smallest, not that anything about this beast was small.

There it sat on its eight sprawled legs, each limb roughly the same size as my long, skinny fingers. The blood of tarantulas must have flowed strong in its veins, for its body was about the same length and thickness of my thumbs, far bigger than a native spider had any right to be on our small, cold island. Surely such monsters belonged in warmer climates, and yet there it was, unmoving on the carpet. But not for long.

Keeping my own sights on the eight legged foe, I crept across the room to grab a slipper, heart pounding as I expected the thing to start scuttling away. With all the hiding places my bedroom had to offer, I knew I probably had but one chance to slay the beast, and slay it I must if I was to get any sleep that night. If I missed I knew I would never be able to relax, too fearful of where it might crawl under cover of darkness. My skin itched with the thought of those long legs crawling across my flesh, perhaps climbing onto a bare foot as I lay in bed or maybe it would inch across my pillow and onto my face, leaving me a screaming wreck as I batted it away. I could not risk that happening for real.

A smaller specimen I would have beaten with the sole of the nearest footwear until it crawled no more, but there was no way I was putting my hand within a hundred metres of the half tarantula so I put the slipper on and crept back over to the monster. I took great care to line my foot above the creepy crawlie, ready to bring down on my foe, and yet even my size 9s felt insufficient for such a beast as I raised it above that huge body. My heart pounded faster still as I willed myself to strike, stomping down with a battle cry which startled both the cats.

My foot missed, the spider shooting off just as I’d feared. It disappeared amongst the wires beneath my desk, but all was not lost. For Yoda was still fixating on her prey, and its movement had spurred her into action, leaping from the bed with that feline grace to chase it in that tight space I couldn’t reach. With one mighty swipe of her paws, she brought it scuttling back out into the open, and I was given a second chance.

The monster was running straight at me and so I raised my foot a second time. Once again it felt insufficient for the sheer size of my foe, but even one with the blood of tarantulas so strong in its veins could not survive the might of my luxury fur lined slippered wrath. This time my aim was true, my foot dragging across the carpet to be certain of the beast’s demise. And sure enough, as I lifted my foot to inspect my grisly handiwork, there lay its shrivelled corpse, missing two of its legs and considerably less impressive in death.

And that is the tale of how I killed the biggest house spider ever to creep into my domain. Its body was left to rot as a warning to its fellow eight legged demons, until finally Yoda decided she was hungry enough to devour what was left. But the warning was unsuccessful and so the fight continues. And I leave my computer to do battle once again.

Monday, 3 September 2018

Sense Me by Annabel Howarth

Can you hear me?
I’m in that song I used to sing,
Randomly sung by another’s voice,
And in the tunes I used to play,
Over and over again,
Driving you crazy, then,
Making you cry, as you hear them
Now, on the radio.

Do you feel me?
I’m in the sun,
Kissing your cheeks,
Leaving my glow on your forehead,
And the wind,
Stroking your hand and your arm,
“It’s okay,” I say, as the sea rushes in,
I’m in every hug, still.

Yes, you see me!
I’m in every rainbow
That surprisingly fades in,
Brilliant and brighter,
On those significant days,
When you miss me the most,
Letting you know,
I’m still here with you.

And it really is me,
Hopping along your lawn,
Boldly towards you,
My red breast beaming,
Black eyes watching you too,
In those places we never went to,
But even there,
I am with you.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Fit for Purpose by Vivien Teasdale

I’m nearly there, I’m making it.  I managed to keep it up for 49.5 seconds last week.  I tell you twice a night, three times a week is finally paying off.  My wife says she’s never known anyone like me. 

So I told her, ‘I just need to keep practising’ and suggested making it four nights a week.  She was a bit dubious at first but after a couple of days thinking about it, she agreed.  She even went and bought me a new, soft tape measure so I could really keep tabs on my performance – it does get a bit awkward with that metal thing I used to use. I kept pressing the retract button when I got a bit excited and that’s painful, I can tell you.

I was a bit disappointed with my mate, Jack, though.  He was the one got me started on this regime in the first place. 

‘It’s amazing,’ he used to say, ‘you’ll feel so much better for it’. 

And so I began, just once a week at first, just for something a bit different.  All the measuring and checking was a bit distracting and my performance wasn’t what I expected, but then Millie suggested another night might be helpful and it was. I noticed a big difference and so did she. We really began to see some progress.  So, with her support and encouragement, I added a third night.

Trouble is, I think Jack’s got a bit jealous and he’s even admitted he’s gone off his form lately. I do feel sorry for him but if he wants to succeed, as I’ve done, he needs to commit himself.

So here I am Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and now Thursday too, each week down at the gym, weighing in, measuring my muscle size and recording weights lifted.  My graph is going sky high and I’m even thinking of going on some weekend courses. Might even train as an instructor. Millie thinks it’s great I’ve got such a worthwhile hobby now. 

Pity about Jack though.  Even when he dropped out of the other days, he used to come in on a Thursday, then we’d go down the pub. Now he’s even stopped that.  Prefers walking, he says, but I think he’s just jealous of my progress. No wonder his wife thinks he’s having an affair.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Book Review - Redline by Dave Rigby (Review by Clair Wright)

Redline is the second  "Harry Vos Investigation". Set in Belgium, the novel begins with the discovery of a body - identity unknown - and takes us, and Vos, into the worlds of tattooing, nuclear waste and fracking. I caught up with author Dave Rigby to chat about the book, Belgium and the business of writing. 

What inspired you to write about environmental issues and shady land dealings?

I’ve always had an interest in environmental issues and specific concerns about nuclear power and more recently, fracking.

There’s been an increasing need for storage sites for nuclear waste, particularly with problems around reprocessing of nuclear fuel, the decommissioning of older power stations and recent proposals for building new ones.

Likewise, there’s been a lot of interest from companies wishing to develop sites for fracking, another area of activity which has serious environmental implications.

(Although fracking is not currently permitted in Belgium, there’s an assumption in the book that this position could change and that therefore companies might well be actively looking for potential sites in anticipation of a change in policy.)

It seemed to me that if an organisation like Redline was able to provide land for such sites it would have the potential to make a lot of money. So, I put the company at the centre of the story and portrayed it as a ruthless organisation which protects its commercial interests by using both a high degree of secrecy and a range of underhand and illegal activity.

This provides significant scope in the book for tension, intrigue and ultimately, murder.

There's a strong sense of place in the Voss novels. In this story we learn more about the area, especially its wartime history and the regional dialect. You obviously feel an affinity to the region – do you have family connections there?

Unfortunately, no family connections at all!

But…I have visited Belgium on many occasions, starting in 1966. Over the years I’ve built up a strong feel for the country and in particular for cities such as Brugge, Gent, Antwerp and Mons. Aspects of the country remind me of Northern England, such as the coal mining heritage, the popularity of cycling and the interest in high quality beer!

On one of my trips, a few years ago, I had the idea of writing a book featuring a Belgian private eye. I saw the name Harry Vos in a local newspaper and decided immediately that I’d use this for my central character. When I visited a small town not far from Antwerp called Heist-op-den-Berg, to watch a football match, I was quite taken with the place and decided this would be a good location for Harry to be based. With very little more detail than this, I started writing what became Shoreline, the first of the Harry Vos investigations.

In both Shoreline and Redline I’ve tried to include enough local colour and specific place references to convince the reader that they are in Belgium. I’ve visited the country about a dozen times and I think this gave me sufficient confidence to be able to attempt this. I’ve had lots of positive feedback about the sense of place. It would be interesting to get the views of a Belgian reader and maybe I should try and arrange that!   

There are several storylines running through the novel. How did you handle them? Did you plan them separately or let them develop together?

I like the idea of having a number of plots in a novel, some of which link together. One of my starting points was that Harry should have more than one case on the go at any time. The main case involves the Redline company. The Waarschoot case, which is about a husband who has suspicions about his wife, is at a different scale and pace and appears to be totally separate from the main case but in the end the two make a link. The case involving the search for and discovery of Demotte’s wartime journal and gun stands on its own, but provides a different perspective on local life and some historical context. Harry was originally commissioned for this case at the end of Shoreline and this is one of the links between the two books.

Because I don’t do much planning before I start writing, I had to go back through the story, once I’d got a first draft, to make sure that the different plot lines hung together and that there was a logical development of each one. I ended up having to do this several times!

Identity is a big theme in this novel- people are not who they seem, lead double lives, even have more than one name! Did you begin with this theme in mind or did it develop as the plot unfolded?

I didn’t decide from the start to make identity a central theme in the book, but it emerged fairly early on. Charlie’s identity is a key part of the book. I wanted him to be a mysterious character where the reader only finds out a bit at a time what he was like and how he ended on a riverbank near Charleroi. Those involved in the investigation refer to him as Charlie – a name made up for him by a journalist. Those who knew him before his death refer to him by a nickname, Rudy. And there’s a twist later on in the book where it turns out that his actual name really was Charlie.

Webers certainly leads a double life! I wanted the reader to be unclear for as long as possible about who he is and who he works for. Hopefully that maintains a tension in the plot and adds to the intrigue.

I enjoyed writing the character Maes in a series of present tense monologues, gradually revealing more about him and clarifying where he fits into the plot.

Will there be a third Harry Vos novel?

I don’t have an answer to this question right now. However, Harry has been quite persistent in suggesting that there should be. So, who knows!

Redline is available on Amazon , in bookshops and from the publisher,  Troubador

Monday, 13 August 2018

Light Birth by Owen Townend

It fell down the Moore West drain cover some time ago. A smooth grey plastic pebble with no features aside from the white speckles forming a ring around its centre.
            It barely made a sound as it landed, a mere splash in muddy water. And yet it wasn't dragged off by the current. Instead it gained a strange heaviness and sank like all pebbles ultimately do.
            And then, at the bottom of the cloudy brown, it malfunctioned back to life. It switched on without prompt and started to emanate bright white lights that cut clean through the water and reached out past the drain cover.
            This light bent and shaped itself into something flat at the bottom but curved at the top: a gentle curve, the curve of a human foot. The light created a twin and these both sprouted up into thin legs that broadened into thighs and hips and levelled out into a waist and chest.
            The light split into a three-pronged fork at the top, the middle prong significantly shorter and rounder than its left and right side. Eventually the arms lowered to the figures' sides. The head lowered too, looking deep down into the drain cover beneath as if to contemplate its own origins.
            As its limbs finished shaping themselves, the light darkened into skin, formed hair from irregular shadows and rough features from precise imperfections.
            The body raised its head again and teased open the slit of its mouth, steadily widening it into an oval from which the light within shone as bright as it originally had.
It didn't breathe. It didn't mutter. It didn't scream. It just mouthed and not even discernible words.
            The figure then blinked its eyes, a frame rate glitch, as it knelt down on the grate. It curled its long limbs inward and wrapped them around the solid trunk of its naked glowing body.
            It lowered itself even further and shifted into the foetal position, mouth still working. The rain fell through this and every other aspect of its body. 
            When it finally shut its eyes for good, the figure started to fall away, sliding back down the holes and cracks and even solid material of the drain cover.
            The figure steadily broke back down into shards of light which retracted directly back to the pebble in the dirty water. The white speckles received every last photon before shutting off completely.
            The pebble did not resurface nor did it move with the sewage flow: it stayed in its exact position and malfunctioned again for three months for precisely half an hour starting at exactly 01:43 in the morning.
            Late passersby learnt to avoid Moore West and the figure who appeared, screamed, collapsed and then disappeared without a single sound. By the time those seeking to divulge truth from folklore came to investigate, the light birth and death had finally completely stopped.
            These investigators shook their heads and moved on to the next tall tale as the strange pebble was swallowed by thick dirt. The speckles clogged and inner machinery dampened, the ghost forever faded away.

Monday, 6 August 2018

My Black Shoes by Virginia Hainsworth

My black shoes.
My shiny, black patent shoes.
My full-back black shoes.
My lean-heeled black shoes.

My higher-than-high black shoes.
They are special, my black shoes.
Look at me, they say.
My glamorous black shoes.

I stand tall in them.
I feel majestic in them.
They hold me at the top of the stairs,
poised to convey me down
and make a graceful entrance.

My inky, ebony black shoes.
One last look at the way they elongate my legs.
One last look at their gleaming, resplendent beauty,
before I remove them
and walk barefoot downstairs.

They will not throw me headlong today.
My killer black shoes.