May 22nd

Round Two

By Gerry

Cloudies have been kind enough to comment on the first version of this – the one that won Friday Night Live but lost agent interest.


After FOW17 and trying to be a good boy, I had a go at excising the humorous touches the agents found inappropriate. Instead I concentrated on: how would such an experience look/feel. The idea was that humour can put a distance between the observer and the event, so I have tried to lessen that distance.


Good idea? Or not?


Cloudies have been cracking good with title suggestions and reactions, so I hope they don’t feel their patience strained by being invited to a second round of the great Submission Package Battle.




New Version of the First

500 words or so


My wife was pointing a gun at me and nothing made sense. “Cheryl, what are you...”

            The gun, it seemed so big in her hand. “How did..?”

            Aimed right at my face, barrel to eyeball. “Why are..?”

            She didn’t reply, just maintained that aim of hers. Determined Cheryl. Oh, it had been an exhilarating marriage, but right now, marooned on the tiles of our kitchen floor, I suspected its limits. True, we’d often joked that she only married me for my money, but a joke should mean we weren’t serious, shouldn’t it? “Look, I always...”

            She narrowed her eyes and pronounced one word.


            That’s all. Just the name, Esme.

            Then she fired.

            The blast was as insane as everything else, a blow so hard that no consciousness could survive.

            Perhaps something lingered, a sense of astonishment. Like an echo dwindling down a long, long corridor, till it turned a corner and disappeared.

            For a while there was absolute blank.

            Except for one detail.

            Somebody was noticing the blank.

            That pulled the echo back from round the corner, returned it to the corridor, sent it speeding back to me.

            And as it arrived I heard a voice say, “Well done, darling!”

            A voice I knew.

            Shit, what was my brother Zak doing in the kitchen?

            My eyes opened themselves except they were not physical eyes any more, not corpse eyes on the floor, they were areas of perception hovering somewhere in the room.

            I watched him walk towards Cheryl, a big congratulatory grin on his face and – here’s a curious detail – thin rubber gloves on his hands. He reached to take the gun while she said, “I did it. Didn’t think I could, but...”

            “Of course you did,” he purred, “and now the money’s ours. But first of all, let’s wipe your prints off that nasty weapon.”

            She held it to him and he took it at chest height, turned it around, aimed it upwards, and – I couldn’t believe it, couldn’t conceive it – shot her under the chin. From credible suicide range. With only her prints to say who’d handled it.

            At this stage my sight was entirely impressionistic so I couldn’t be sure how she fell. I tried swivelling my focus down – twist, jerk – to where her body arrived on the floor.

            Simultaneously, with a different sort of sight, I noticed how the ghost Cheryl came detached from her body. She hadn’t fallen, simply got knocked out her skin, floating backwards as the body went down, an amorphous ball of consciousness.

            Immediately afterwards, she began gathering herself and in scarcely any time at all she had reformed as a duplicate Cheryl – unmistakeable yet somehow elusive to detail, an obvious blonde beauty, with jeans and jumper sketched from memory, not really part of her, lingering out of habit.

            And she was staring at Zak with such rage that I doubted she was capable of anything else.

            So I coughed. Whether it reached her as a genuine cough I couldn’t say, but it conveyed the idea of my presence.

            She turned. Switched to Zak again. Switched back to me.


            And slowly, mournfully, I shook my head. What ever have you done?

May 21st

Andalucian Life. The next stage.

By Hilly

  ‘So, the plan is, we leave our packs, with all we own in the world with some bloke we’ve never met in the petrol station and then climb up a mountain with no particular clue as to where we’re going.  Have I got it all?’ I was looking over the edge of the escarpment and wondering at the amount of rubbish that seemed to have accumulated there.
    ‘Yep, that’s the plan.’
    ‘We’d better get out our money and passports, just in case.’
    ‘That’s a better plan.’
    When the station came into view, I mustered all my Spanish to explain our situation but the man smiled warmly and said he’d been waiting for us and that our friends Patrick and Shauna had warned him that we were on our way. He pointed out the route we must follow and hid our packs in a back room.
    Walking past a dusty pink bar set high on the hill, with a steep tarred track leading to it that was advertising a ‘flamenco’ evening in the week, round the corner we found an even steeper path that wound up the side of the mountain and slid out of view over the top.
    ‘This looks like it,’ I peered up the road. ‘Do you think we should check further up?’
    ‘They said that it came straight after the bar’s turn off, so this must be it.’

The walk was tiring as we struggled along the dusty, rock-strewn path and it led forever upwards. The view that faced us when our journey took us curling over the pinnacle was incredible: a surprisingly verdant area, criss-crossed with ancient drovers’ paths and mule tracks. Wild thyme and broom covered the slopes. The air smelt crisp and fragrant.
    The foothills of the southern slopes were cut by deep, fertile valleys rich with almonds, olives, lemon and orange trees, chestnuts, cherry orchards, walnuts, grapes and figs and terraced pastures created by the moors eight hundred years before and still being worked. Higher up the terrain changed to Mediterranean pine, heather and gorse, until above the tree line there was only alpine grassland, where I later found out, wild ibex, horned mountain goats roamed and golden eagles soared.
    Another town lay sprawled at the foot of this in the valley and heavy, imposing mountains rose beyond to dizzying heights and dominated the horizon.
    ‘Give us the letter, what does it say to do now?’ Kieran read our crumpled, much perused letter. ‘Okay, we carry on until we pass an old farm; Patrick calls it a cortijo on the left and soon after there is a fork in the track. One path leads upwards and we have to take the one that carries on relatively straight. The farm is about ten minutes walk from there.’
    We trudged on along the rough, rock-strewn path for a while in silence.
    ‘There’s the farm. Good grief, that bloke looks ninety if he’s a day.’
     A skinny, gnarled olive branch of an old man, earth brown and bent nearly double was ploughing the land with an equally elderly looking, grey muzzled stringy mule that struggled valiantly to pull the plough blade through the hardened, rocky earth. The house was built with the barn for the animals below it. I was not sure which looked the comfier.
    ‘You don’t expect to find old people up this far, do you? Especially not still working like that? It looks like a scene from the nineteenth century.’
    ‘Must be fit. I’d like to be that fit at his age.’
    ‘Either that or he’s only forty and it’s the lifestyle that has made him look so old.’
Kieran gave me a grin and then pointed over my shoulder. ‘Looks like the track is over there.’

We started along it, crossing the deep ruts made from vehicles, treading carefully as there was no give in the ground, the sun shining down on us from a clear azure sky. I wouldn’t like to sprain an ankle at this remote point. Our reverie was suddenly interrupted by the cries of a small child who was hurtling towards us at great speed.
    ‘Raaaagh!’ he shouted and stopped short in front of us. His bright blonde hair was sticking up on end and his startling blue eyes lit up his sun-browned face.
    ‘Who are you?’ he challenged in English, stood with legs braced apart in a fight or flee position, hands clenched at his sides.
    ‘We’re Kieran and Hilly,’ laughed Kieran, ‘And you must be Joe?’
    ‘Raaaagh!’ he roared again and ran back the way he’d come.
    We followed him and saw the farm for the first time. It was made using the large rocks favoured by the locals and looked like it was still in the process of being built from a ruin that existed there before. Unpainted, it blended completely with its surroundings. Rubble and fallen down stone walls sprawled all over with gorse and scrubby grasses sprouting from the nooks and crannies. Lithe lizards basked themselves in the sun, one beady eye alert in their immobility. Large bushes of broom dotted the landscape.
    ‘Hello there.’ A tall, thin man, hair laced with strands of grey, bearded and bright eyed like his son approached us. Yellow dust lay on him like a patina. His son ran around the perimeter like a posse.
    ‘Can’t believe we’ve made it.’ Kieran reached out to shake his outstretched hand. ‘Hi, I’m Kieran and this is Hilly.’
    He smiled amicably, ‘I’m Patrick. Shauna is at work but will be home in time for lunch. Come in, we’ll put a coffee on and we’ll show you the place. Did you have a good journey? The last thing we heard was that you were on your way to Madrid.’ His soft and lilting Irish accent was quite musical.
    ‘Yeah,’ said Kieran, ‘we spent about two weeks there with my brother, which was excellent.’
    ‘Good, you can’t beat family. That’s why we moved to here and neglected to leave a forwarding address!’ He grinned roguishly at us. ‘Only joking! Come on in, I’ll bet you could do with a drink, eh?’
    Passing what looked like a newly built section to the building that still managed to look like it’d simply grown out of the landscape, we swung down the side along a gravely track and turned into a beautiful slate flagged terrace with a sturdy wooden pergola, trailing jasmine and honeysuckle, that fronted the main part of the house. This led down to a number of irrigated man made terraces to a portion of cultivated land. Mature trees, leafless, now moved gently and creaked in the breeze. To the right, another path wound down to an irrigation tank, called an alberqua, which doubled as a swimming pool in the summer. This proceeded further down to the animal sheds where their horse and two goats lived. Land stretched away on all sides and the green and gold of the closer hills gave way to the more brooding darks of the mountains opposite. Shadows from light clouds scudded across them.
    ‘Come in, come in,’ Patrick turned and shouted, ‘Joe, do you want a juice?’
    We heard a roar from the distance.
    The double wooden doors were open and a bead curtain kept any flies at bay. As you came in, to the left a set of shelves held the precious radio and cassette player, run off the small wind generator that was spinning frantically further up the hill. Open cassette boxes littered the shelves.
    The kitchen was also to the left, the window opening onto the terrace. Plants and herbs thrived on the wooden windowsill. Bowls and plates were piled on the white, enamelled sink and terracotta shelving and bricks were constructed into shelving units. Arabic material was hung on a wire to hide the interiors of the shelves.
    The whole room, painted a soft, warm ochre was paved with large terracotta tiles but the kitchen area was on a slightly lower level to the rest of the room and you stepped down into it. A cooker, fed by a big, orange gas canister was in the middle and workstations, also of terracotta ran round thee sides of the walls. Various cooking implements hung from one of the ceiling beams that I later learnt was the traditional peasant style of building in this area. Crossing them were tightly bound canes. Chilli peppers and garlic were strung up on a bookcase at the far end. Beside that was an old fridge that hummed and clunked quietly.
    A bench ran round two sides of the far wall, made again from the shelving units, plastered over and covered in foam, materials and soft cushions. Hidden beneath them were the bottles of preserved fruit, vegetables in oil, tomatoes and marmalade made the previous year from their own produce. Tucked into this enclave was a round wooden table, and three extra chairs.
    To the right as you entered was the fireplace, quite large and stacked with an assortment of logs and twigs. On the organic looking mantle, fashioned from a rough piece of olive wood was a hand crafted mirror and some pictures of Joe as a baby.
    Two easy chairs and a small wooden seat nestled in anticipation in front of the fire, along with a thick multi-coloured tufty rug. Another rug sat in pride of place in the centre of the room.
    ‘Coffee all right with you both? I myself try not to have too many as I go mad on the stuff.’ Patrick stepped into the kitchen and I noticed he was wearing the strange slippers we’d seen the night before, dusty, well worn in and fraying.
     Kieran and I settled on the double bench.
     Patrick pottered about in the kitchen, explaining as he worked.
    ‘You’re lucky; especially if you’re a bit shy as we’ve only just finished the bathroom. Before, we had designated shit-pits. Don’t worry, they’re all well buried now but it was a bit of a bind having to stumble across the land in the middle of the night to find the latest one, armed with a torch, a shovel and a bottle of water.’
    Terrible thoughts entered my mind. Bottle of water?
    Patrick carried on, ‘We’ve just laid the floor and it’s now at the stage of being cleaned with a vinegar solution which brings out the salts before you finally oil them. I’ll tell you, we’re very proud of our bathroom. If you take sugar,’ he brought the coffee pot and three mugs over and put them in the centre of the table, ‘you have to use honey.’ He returned and fished a jug of milk and a pot of honey from the fridge. ‘You can’t beat fresh goat’s milk and orange flower honey from a local farm.’
     He was right.

May 21st

On Titles, Tone and Tomfoolery

By Gerry

Last September I (jointly) won Friday Night Live at the Festival of Writing. The procedure is this: you send a 500 word (or less) excerpt from your manuscript before the deadline in August, and then a shortlist of seven is chosen shortly before the actual event.


On the night you sit at the front of the auditorium and, when your turn comes, you approach the microphone to give forth. After that, a panel of three judges make their comments, before the next competitor steps forward. When all seven have had a go, the winner is chosen by audience acclaim.


This can produce interesting discrepancies of view. For instance, my entry was criticised by some of the panel for including too many ‘jokes’, although the audience seemed happy enough, giving loud applause both to me and my fellow winner, Jo Bunt.


Jo had an interesting experience afterwards. We were chatting near the bar – making ourselves available, as advised, for agents to approach – and lo!, an agent duly stepped forward with open arms and folded her in an embrace.


Seemed a good sign, though Jo later told me she’d never met her before.


She’s now signed up with that agent.


As for me, I made myself languorously available, but no agent, in any posture, approached.


Must have been them damn jokes.


So what can a poor boy do but rewrite his opening chapter, excising anything that might be mistaken for a joke, and submit the completed manuscript in the normal way. Took a while to get it finished, of course, and then there was the problem of a title.


That’s actually what this blog is about.


You see, I arrived at the Festival Of Writing thinking the book was called The Eidolon. I’d have preferred The Revenant, but Hollywood had just pinched the title, so I cast around for something with equivalent gravitas. Didn’t work. At my first One-to-One, an agent disputed my choice, reckoning the solemn title didn’t match the tone of the opening chapter – with all those culpable ‘jokes’.


It did occur to me that a first person narrator might be entitled to an ironic view of life, whether or not he had just been shot dead. Indeed, as a prophylactic against excessive angst, he might deliberately choose to regard his post-mortem situation with a raised eyebrow.


But Agent wasn’t impressed. Mixed messages, he thought. Is this book serious, horrific, humorous, or what? Well, you might argue that life is all those things, and, by extension, an afterlife might be equally mixed.


Ah well.


I think the whole problem is this post-mortem thing. Ghosts’ eye-views are all very well for creepy short stories, and they work well enough in occasional films (Ghost, The Others). But in a book? Well, this year to my knowledge we’ve had Lincoln In The Bardo: George Saunders (well weird, though) and On The Other Side: Carrie Hope Fletcher (supernatural chick-lit) so the topic can’t be totally verboten.


Must be that darned title.


I changed it to Ghosts, but the general consensus is it’s a crap title. So here we go. What follows is a list of possibles, and you, dear reader, are invited to (a) choose the best (b) rubbish the lot or (c) suggest something better. After that, as a thank you, I include the prize-winning, agent-losing entry, so you can trim your approach accordingly should you ever be tempted to enter Friday Night Live. (Go on – you know what to avoid now...)





When Cheryl Murdered Mike

After The Heartbeat Ceased

The Gates Of Purgatory

When A Ghost Speaks

Less Dead Than You Might Expect

When The Heartbeat Ceases

Testimony Of A Ghost




The Eidolon

Okay, Cheryl might have married me for my money, but that didn’t mean she should be pointing a gun at me. I was no expert on firearms but this one seemed a bit big for her hand. Typical Cheryl, she always wanted more.

            “What?” I stammered with the inevitable crass assumption of a joke. “Wait!”

            Her face suggested it was neither a joke nor something that could wait. Decisive Cheryl. Oh, it had been an exhilarating marriage, but right now, marooned on the tiles of our kitchen floor, I felt its merits may have been overstated.

            “Look, I always gave you anything you...”

            I trailed off. If you’re going to die, at least do it with dignity. Cheryl appeared dignified enough. Her expression suggested no hint of alcohol or other assistance, just a clear eyed certainty of where to aim.

            I’ve heard it said we’re trained by TV to expect a fall, and bullets don’t really knock us over. Well, that expectation almost saved me, because I started falling before the bullet left the barrel.

            It wasn’t much of a head start, though.


            It hit me right there.

            I can’t claim any special knowledge of front-on face impacts but this seemed appropriately severe but also, thanks to the severity, brief. One moment I was hit – well worth an extravagant fall – next moment I was dead and knew nothing.

            This, of course, is where the next question arises. Are the dead likely to know anything again?

            I suspected I was asking myself this, which was a promising start.

            Nothing else happened for some moments. Then something jolted me. A familiar voice. “Well done, darling.”

            What was Zak doing in my kitchen?

            And with that question my perception returned, and I saw my brother step forward, a big congratulatory grin on his face and – here’s a curious detail – thin rubber gloves on his hands.

            “We’ve got it,” said Cheryl, “all the money.”

            Zak’s grin continued. “First things first, darling. Let’s get your prints off that gun.” He reached out a gloved hand, took the gun at chest height, turned it under Cheryl’s chin, and shot. From credible suicide range. With only her prints to say who’d handled the gun.

            I watched as Cheryl crumpled to the floor with a look of intense surprise on what was left of her face. And I observed with fascination as she rose from her body, swivelling from horizontal to vertical just like a spirit in an illustrated book.

            It didn’t take her long to fixate on Zak and aim some remarkably hostile thoughts in his direction.

            I tried a cough. Strictly speaking, I had no throat to cough with, but I reckoned the idea of a cough ought to communicate if I gave it a go.


            Cheryl turned, saw me. I do believe my smile may have carried a taunt. If ever a woman found herself in two minds, right then it was Cheryl.

May 21st

Fantastic new Stories for Homes short:

By Catasshe

New story now up on the SfH website on the theme of Home, from the excellent Barry Fentiman Hall:


Catherine xx

May 19th

The Pringle Kid

By stephenterry



'Pack your kit, you're off to Dhaka.' This Aid Agency visit was welcome, because it involved a field excursion to the riverine people - small communities that live on the fertile banks of the Brahmaputra.

That year, devastating floods (a common event) had caused havoc, and I was to witness the aftermath. A one-day stop in Dhaka office, debrief, and two project officers were to accompany me for the two day visit 'up-country' to a partner's compound. Aid Agencies normally provide project funds to partners (who have the necessary expertise to carry out Aid relief).

Our Toyota Land Cruiser (4 wheel drive, a necessary requirement in this country) was comfortable enough, and I spent most of the morning gazing out at a flat landscape full of paddy-fields. Occasionally we passed a truck overloaded with brightly-dressed people hanging from every conceivable part - a religious festival taking place somewhere.

We arrived late evening, exchanged greetings, curry for dinner, and off to bed under a mosquito net.

'We set out after breakfast,' said one of the officers. 'About 7am.' Sleep didn’t come easy and I was up at first light to take a look around, joined by one of the partner's project officers. The compound - a concrete building housing an office and living quarters, was in a courtyard where vehicles parked. It was walled off and gated at night, opened in the morning.

‘The monsoon was tough this year,’ he said, a wide grin on his face. ‘You missed out. We set up base in the Post Office, and all our workers carried out rescue operations. Houses in town were flooded, including mine, and we hired a boat to ferry families to safe ground.’

All said in a matter of fact way as we strolled around. Another bad day at the office. Despite his family home being under water, his main concern was helping others. Human compassion at its best.

After a small breakfast – omelette, bread and fruit, we gathered together outside. While we waited for the driver, and discussed our route, a little scarecrow of a boy dressed in a pair of shabby shorts and sandals came through the gate and trotted up to our group. He couldn’t have been more than eight. He carried an empty coconut shell and held it out to one of our women officers, while gabbling away in a local dialect.

‘What’s up?’ I said.

‘He’s hungry, she said. ‘I know him. Comes from a large family, maybe six or seven brothers and sisters. At meal times, Mama puts rice and whatever she could scavenge at the market on the table. Tradition dictates that the eldest child takes food, then the next eldest and so on. He is the youngest, and by the time the others had eaten there was none left for him.’

I shook my head while she explained further. ‘He knows we help people and he hopes we’ll help him.’

And with that she dived into her carrier bag, took out a small green apple and, to my complete surprise, a carton of Pringles. Proceeded to undo the top, pour some crisps into his coconut shell, and topped it up with the apple.

You should have experienced his face. His eyes lit up, and he danced away as if she’d given him a 5 course banquet.

Would you believe it? In one of the poorest parts of a third world country, there were Pringles available.

And I just knew our journey to the riverine people, would hold similar surprises.


More next blog… 

May 17th

Changing the voice of a character


Changing the voice of a character


My first book was told through the voice of a younge girl.  I am currently planning out a sequel and wondered if the new book could be told in the voice of her brother?

What are your thoughts? Is it ok to change the main character for each of the planned three books?

Thanks, for reading and any feed back would be great thanks.


May 17th


By Joyful

I am a sucker for coincidences and have just read a response from Bruce Grove. Amused as I guessed he must be from Tottenham, a named park, part of my childhood, I wrote saying just that. To my astonishment he replied today saying he is in Birmingham and used Philip Lane as one of his characters. Now either he's having a laugh or this is truly weird. Philip Lane is two streets away from where I lived.... think about it. Gulp.

May 17th


By Squidge

Things have been going well for me recently on the writing front, but today proved that you can never take it for granted.

I was supposed to do a lunchtime author talk...and it didn't quite go according to plan.

I blogged it on the Scribbles, so click HERE to find out why.





May 17th

The Purring Woman

By Caducean Whisks

You know the one. She answers all the phones at any company you may call and purrs sing-song soundbytes like, ‘I’m sorry, all of our agents are busy helping other clients. You are [pause] nineteenth in the queue. One of our operatives will be with you in approximately [pause] twenty-seven minutes.’ 

If it’s to do with money, she’ll have a Scottish accent. She continues, ’We value your custom. Thank you for waiting.’ Purr, purr. Cue soothing musak.

She pops back at regular intervals to purr how busy they continue to be, how they didn’t see that coming (even though I always see it coming), how all the answers can be found on www. Even the ones that answer problems like, ‘My broadband’s not working.’ Go figure. 

Three-quarters of an hour later, she’s back with her full attention and presents an endless list of menu options when what you really, really wanted to do - ages ago when the world was bright and exciting - is talk to a real, live person with spots and bad breath. 

This, she says, is, ‘To ensure we get you to the right person as quickly as possible.’ Purr, purr. 

No darling, it’s not. It’s so that they can categorise your call and study the stats and generate more stats. 

This soothing, sympathetic voice is - I imagine - intended to dissipate stress, calm you down. 

It has the opposite effect on me and makes me more surly and argumentative by the time I’ve crawled to the top of the pile, dragging my resentment with me like a sack of black coal.

I can remember the days when we grumbled about phones ringing and ringing. Then came a drive to answer phone calls within four rings. In an office I worked at in the 80s, the receptionist became an accomplished sprinter, haring back to her desk by the third ring. 

Then some wideboy spotted an opportunity. ‘Hey! Answer the phone within four rings so we meet that target, but then leave ‘em dangling for an hour, and here’s the great bit - you can play ‘em adverts all that time, and it’s their phone bill! A cost centre [Complaints] becomes a profit centre [Free Advertising]. A win-lose to us!’

I miss the days when you spoke directly to a real person who knew what they were talking about, and not reading careful answers from a script. 

The whole standardisation thing, non-aggressive, smooth and purring - sends my stress levels through the roof. There’s no outlet for it, so it festers inside.

Then when you’ve wasted half a day, gathering all your reference numbers and notes and doodling on them while drumming your fingers on the head of that annoying purring woman, she has the nerve to ask for feedback on your recent call and ask you to rate everything. Note also that the questions are not designed for honest feedback to really help them improve, but - I’m sure - to generate glowing stats for the company report and make you say things you don’t really mean, because there isn’t an option for that. Also note, it's still on your phone bill.

Here’s a true anecdote: I once phoned up to cancel my computer service contract because they were rubbish. The chap I spoke to turned out to be real and quite nice. He asked for a reason, and I said, ‘Because you’re rubbish.’ He laughed and agreed and cancelled my contract. 

Then the purring woman came on and asked me, ‘Based only on the conversation you’ve just had with our operative, how likely are you to recommend [rubbish company]?’ 

How to answer that. I'd enjoyed the conversation. Sadly, operatives aren’t often as nice and honest as him.


Have to say, I’d relish a rude person on the phone, someone I could shout at, vent what’s left of my acid spleen. How I’d love an genuine, authentic human conversation and I don’t even mind if we swear at each other. At least it would be the truth and I wouldn’t feel soft-soaped and sleighted of hand. That purring woman. I feel I have to gird myself to withstand her purring assault and my stomach knots even before she’s opened her mellifluous mouth. Off with her purry head.



Guess what I’ve been doing this morning.


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