It is a warm enough morning for him to practice outside today. 

Taking his gaze upwards, he is reminded of a beautiful Van Gogh painting he saw once in Paris, or was it Spain? Maybe it was in London. He can’t recall exactly where, and anyway, that part of the memory is not so important after all.

The terrace has a dark chestnut stained pergola that in the summer months he used to cover with sailcloth to provide respite from the summer sun, but now the grapevine has claimed it for its own, weaving in and out of the timbers. He put the sailcloth away somewhere or other, now it sits in the back of his mind, along with other memories.

The grapevine is a maze of gnarly grey scrawny fingers at the moment, without bud as far as he can see, (well, it is only March after all), and he’s not certain it will flourish again after the two metres of snow that fell suddenly from nowhere, last month.

His wife has a postcard of the Van Gogh somewhere. He thinks it was a cherry, or perhaps an apple tree, with pink blossom set against the bluest of sky, quite Japanese in a way, and quite beautiful. It may not even been a Van Gogh, he muses.

Sometimes one in-breath can seem to last for ever. 

He folds forward, inwards. The muscles of the back of his legs grumble their objection. He is used to their whining, tends to ignore them, and simply wait. They usually surrender before his will does. 

Taking his gaze inwards he hears the name Hokusai. He is counting his breath for his mantra, and Hokusai departs.

He is taking his thoughts inwards, where he is nothing but everything. In this moment he can be neither the past nor the future.

His Guru was a man of few words, not in English anyway. He would say: ‘practice is all,’ and so, all has become ‘practice.’


Though a few years shy of fifty, Charlie-Ray is a man withering on the vine.

He’s sat at the piano.

His head hangs awkward, askew – like it’s all too much trouble for his spine to hold up. A solitary spotlight casts his eerie shadow deep across the stage.

Everyone who was once here has up and gone already. I guess they all had lives to go back to.

Charlie-Ray makes under-the-breath groans as he caresses the keys, letting each note breath, letting each one speak, letting each one be. The melody is from an old-time musical, but in that version was full of words, leggy dancers, smiling faces. The way he’s playing it has me close to tears – it always did.

He stops mid refrain, stares at his hands.

‘I’ve been playing this tune for over thirty years,’ he says, ‘and you know something, melodies don’t ever change, they’re written in blood. It’s me that does the changing, every time I play it is a different me.’

Is it? I wonder.

He smiles as a million memories come flooding back all at once. 

Let them only be good ones, I wish. 

He takes a deep drag on a cigarette that’s been wasting away in an ashtray, coughs from deep down and looks over.

I’m sat five tables back in the shadows, but he knows it’s me. 

‘Lydia, is that you? How you doing?’

Last time I spoke to Charlie-Ray was a decade ago, when two years too late I found strength enough to say goodbye. Yet here I am feeling all the love for a man I knew could never love me back the same.

‘You remember what I said the day you left… that I hope the man you end up with knows he’s the luckiest guy on the planet… well, does he?’  

‘Yes he does.’ I say.

Charlie-Ray turns away, takes one more hit before he grinds the cigarette out in the ashtray. His gaze follows the exhaled smoke as it rises and fades, lets his hands hover above the keys for a moment, then lowers them slowly and begins to play another melody written in blood.

In Our Country



“In our country,” the woman just sat down on the next table to me said, “they’d stab you for your cell phone, leave you on the street for dead.”

“Is that so,” I said, noticing that mine was sitting amongst the empty plates strewn across a tablecloth peppered with breadcrumbs and olive pits.

“Yes,” she said, “and, such young children would never be allowed to run around until such an hour unsupervised, they’d be long tucked up in bed, safe and sound.”

Her voice was shrill, like a winter’s breath. I placed her accent as African, and if I were prone to making assumptions, which I try not to; I’d say South Africa. Fair to say it was not easy on the ear, not the way Italian, or French is.

“Safe?” I said.

“Oh yes,” she said, “safe and sound. Have you lived here long?”

“If fifteen years is long, then yes,” I said.

“Wow, that is. And what was it that brought you here?” she asked.

I smiled at her; it was a thin-lipped smile, apologetic really.

I was still considering my reply when I felt my youngest, my daughter, tugging at my dress, her face hot, her breath quick from running up and down, up and down.

“Can we go home now mummy?” she said. I could see her eyes fighting the tiredness.

“Okay,” I said, “go and get your brother, meet me by the car.”

I folded a twenty-euro note in half, and placed it under an empty glass just in case the unpredictable wind decided to have a blow. Then I got up, managing to catch the eye of a waiter as I did.

I turned to the lady. “Have a nice evening,” I said, nodding politely, and turned away. I could feel her eyes grinding into me as I left, as if she was still awaiting my answer.

BSF 2018

Okay, so this year I’ve not written much, or rather, not written much worth reading (or subbing!), but to have my first nominations for ‘Best Small Fictions’ is a real honour. I honestly never thought it would ever happen, and am especially proud as the two  journals nominating my work are both fabulous.

Many, many thanks to the editors at Atlas + Alice (USA), and Flashback Fiction (UK)

Collage_Fotor BSF NOMS

A Matter Of Priorities

Screen Shot 2018-07-29 at 10.17.30

Today, the fantastic ‘Fictive Dream’ published my short story, ‘The Day’s First Wisp Of Blue.’ (link above) This was the first piece in a series that led on to my writing a novella-in-flash that was longlisted for the 2017 Bath competition, and it is the last of the seven pieces I reworked to be published, so I’m delighted it’s found its home. The short piece below is the eighth piece, and probably the last, but you never know, as these characters keep on calling.

The photo is by Konstantin Aal.

A Matter Of Priorities

A ripple of cymbal and flurry of saxophone ebb away. Stage-lights dim and the room holds a quiet hum. The quartet of players wait in stillness, empty as shadows.

In the audience, Boots nods his appreciation, and says – though more to himself than anybody else – “Circular breathin’.”

“What’s that you said?” asks Ed.

“Circular breathin’. That’s how he can blow so long without stoppin’. He’s breathin’ in all the while he’s breathin’ out.”

“Man, that’s cool,” says Ed, looking around the room. He elbow pokes Boots’ ribcage, “Hey Boots, there’s a fine looking lady over in the corner keeps checking you out.”

“Yeah, yeah, Ed, I know. I seen her lookin’. She was in here last week too, stood right in that exact same place.”

Stage lights brighten and the bass player counts them in. The tune is familiar – movie theme familiar – though now being interpreted in a whole different light.

“Man, this guy is good, these guys are real good,” says Boots.

“I reckon Jack’s got the chops to match,”
says Ed.

“No way. Least not yet, he ain’t. One day he might, if he keeps puttin’ in the hours.”

“Amen to that!”
 says Ed.

“Yeah, gotta practice like crazy if we want to get anything close to this good. S’all a matter of priorities, Ed.”

Boots closes his eyes and sucks it all in; losing himself – though it’s more like finding himself – in a zone that not even a fine young lady can sidetrack.

Ed thinks it’s high time that he should quit talking and start listening.

The tune ends and the porkpie hat wearing pianist leans in close to the microphone. He announces in a voice too deep for his wiry frame and too placid for his feverish playing that their second set will begin at eleven. Chairs begin scraping and legs begin stretching. The barman readies himself for the onslaught, setting down his newspaper, straightening his thick- rimmed spectacles, dusting off the creases.

The room lights up. Boots awakens, blinks eyes wide and looks over to where the lady’s still stood, still looking, still intrigued. Ruby shies away from his gaze, but not before seeing him coming straight towards her through the smoke-hazy crowd, feeling the colour rush into her cheeks and the moisture drain from her lips.



Mr. Weekes


Mr. Weekes

Mr. Weekes is hard at it lifting potatoes. I feign a cough. He looks up, sees it’s me, dives back into his work.

“Just the stragglers now,” he says, careful as he sieves soil with his pitchfork. The tweed jacket he’s wearing looks older than I am, a bit tight on him now, elbows threadbare and unpatched.

He doesn’t bother asking me about school anymore.

“There’s coffee in the shed,” he says, “I’m just about done.” He leans his pitchfork against a post, takes a bag from his trouser pocket and stoops down to gather the crop, tossing away the bad. He pops on the cloth cap the post was wearing and trudges his way over. He sets the bag down and without flinching plunges his hands deep into the big refuse bin brimming rainwater.

Among the flowerpots and tools in the shed, there’s enough space for two rickety chairs and a once-white picnic table. Mr. Weekes tells me to sit, wipes his hands on a tea towel, half-fills two cups from his thermos.

“I ever tell you about the time I jammed with Bob Marley?” He asks, smiling.

Continue reading “Mr. Weekes”

Just Above The Clouds


Just Above The Clouds

Yesterday I got to stand atop the summit of a nearby mountain, just above the clouds. The peak was marked with a concrete bollard daubed with paint: 1470 metres it read. There was no snow on the mountain as yet; in fact yesterday was another quite balmy October day with a blue sky and some twenty-one degrees. I say twenty-one, that being the temperature indicated at sea level, but when we parked the car a couple of hundred metres from the top, the gauge was reading fourteen, so I figured that if an elevation of approximately 1500 metres equates to a drop of seven degrees, then it falls one degree for every 200 metres. Having said that, I’m almost certain it doesn’t work that way, and that it’s far more complicated and involves all kind of algebraic formulae. It would be nice if it didn’t though. I like things simple.

Continue reading “Just Above The Clouds”

The Others


The Others

I’d been given the bottom bunk. Rabinowicz is up top. He’s a shorn-haired, pallid kid from Poznan, somewhere that I’d never heard of. And just like mine had, his face contorted in puzzlement when I told him the town I was from, but he said that he’d heard of Syria.

Four other boys share the room – four, red-eyed, tall as palms, dark as coffee, boys. They speak no English at all. Mine is okay, I was learning it at school when it got hit. Rab’s though, is excellent, but that’s only on account of all the years he’s been here.

The rooms are sorted on account of our ages, so we would have all been eleven years old, and while none of us are alive, none are yet ready to be dead.

Rab says that some of us get to go back, but only the ones who’ve managed to forget the horrors, only the ones schooled in forgiveness. He then shakes his head, and bites his lip, more like become brainwashed, he says.

He then calls them something else – in Polish – which I do not understand, and yet I understand completely.

The Governess calls them Angels, but in her heart she knows that most will lose their purpose on the long and treacherous journey, that they will be dismissed and ridiculed, that soon they’ll be forgotten, and that they will return to this place with wings fractured and hearts desolate.

Rab says that on one special night of the year, we – ‘The Others’ – as we are called, get to visit the place we once called home, and for one night only we get to scream suffering upon the howling wind, to plant terror deep inside shadows, and to cry tears as torrents of rain – to show that a world where hatred is king will soon no longer be.

I’ll Take The Aston


This Short Story of mine was shortlisted for the BBC’s ‘Opening Lines’ competition in 2015. It has since popped up on-line as an example of an editor’s critique. I have since re-worked it a little. And so here it is. Oh, and that’s me on the right in the photo – can you see the matching tie! Well, it was the 1970’s!

I’ll Take The Aston

Ronny wasn’t born this way, no sir. He considers those negative months as the most beatific forty weeks of all the sixteen years what’ve followed.

He’s sat on a sun-bleached sofa worn down to the bones, pallid and bug riddled. I prefer to stand, reckoning it’s safer. Someone’s patched the hole in the roof with army-marked tarp, the window’s slatted with bust up bed, the air’s thick with stench. Once upon a time this was somebody’s home. Once.

Shiner’s wearing out the floorboards, his arse must be giving him jip cause he keeps scratching at himself, just like that foamy-mouthed mutt did one time we went out hunting and wound up lost in the rain.

Continue reading “I’ll Take The Aston”