Thursday, 20 September 2012


Once, as a child, I was lost.

I don’t remember my exact age. Time has never been kind to my memories and my recall of events – dates, details – has always been a vague and untrustworthy thing. But I remember a sibling in the baby seat of the shopping trolley and as I was old enough to walk and wander by myself this must have been my brother and I must have been in the region of five.

It was in a supermarket. I was following my father and I turned away, just for a moment. What caught my five year old attention in the vegetable aisle of Safeway I do not know, but for a moment I turned away and I slipped into another place where I was lost.

I didn’t know I was lost until I turned back; mind still elsewhere, dreaming the day gone, and I put my hand into my father’s and then, at a jolt from him, dragged my gaze along that hand and the arm and looked up into the face of a man who was most definitely not my father.

He must, I think, have been a nice enough man. His puzzled smile is kind in my mind; his amused ‘hello?’ is gentle.

He almost certainly did not deserve the look of horror I bestowed on him, or for me to scrabble, cringing, away; heart tripping with mortified shame at having touched a stranger so casually with a trust that did not belong to him, and with the panic of being alone, alone – no parents, no sisters to be seen and the sudden, absolute, nightmarish conviction that they would not be found again, ever, and my throat clamped down with fear –

And there, down the next aisle, was my father; one hand on the trolley, frowning down at a packet of pasta. I rushed to him and clung, to his confusion. Bemused, he asked me what was wrong and so I learned he hadn’t even known that – for a moment – I had been lost.

Five things I like (and a bonus)

1) Ethnic supermarkets 

The ones you wander round in a happy bemusement of childish glee, picking up products and wondering what they are.

There will be packets covered in a language you do not speak, with pictures that seem to have no relation to food at all - or which you hope don’t. A small child may feature, or a cartoon panda. Or a small child dressed up as a cartoon panda. Is it panda flavoured? Small child flavoured? How do they know what small children taste like?

You will buy it and it will sit in the cupboard until you unearth it again and learn from the one piece of information you can understand, the sell by date, that whatever the child-panda food is it is now sadly past its prime. It doesn’t matter. You have consumed all the possibilities it contained. You can throw it away now.

2) Proper second hand bookshops

It should have nooks and crannies and precarious, avalanche ready piles of paperbacks leaning against the one shelf you are trying to get to. It should have the smell of books; their yellowed pages and crumbling, Penguin-orange spines and the dry, faintly-vanilla dust scent of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of much loved words.

It should have at least one cat and if possible the owner should have a beard. Even if they’re female.

3) Snow

Or the moment, first thing in the morning, when you step into freshly fallen snow.

Or the moment right before you step into the snow, the moment just before your foot places down.

The virgin moment just before you raise your foot and take that first explorer’s step.

4) Reading something new

Reading a poem or piece of prose and coming across the first, startling line or turn of phrase that hits right underneath your heart and makes you want to gasp. That makes you want to stroke the page and lift your fingertips to your mouth afterwards as if you could taste the words.

They would taste dark and roughly sweet.

They would taste clean and fresh and prickle your tongue with their lightness.

You want to find someone now and press your mouth to theirs and open up so they can lick the tang of the words from your tongue and savour your amazement with you.

5) Inspiration

The flash when inspiration strikes and the words start filling your head and you hurry home, cupping the words carefully, in dry-throated terror that they will spill and trickle out from between your fingers and leak away before you can capture them safely.

All the way back you are holding back part of your breath and the people on the bus only see your far-away look and don’t realise that you are a tightrope walker, a circus act; balancing wonder and performing miracles above their heads.

And a bonus 6) You

I like you.

(Keep it secret, but really you are my favourite.)

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Twitter fiction

I worked out that I've written about 1,500 words of fiction on twitter under the hashtag #vss (very short story), and since I haven't posted anything here in a while I thought I'd take the lazy route and repost some of my favourites.

Some of these were written using 'tweet the random' rules that I'd made up: use a random word generator to come up with five words, use at least four of those in a #vss, hope like hell the story makes sense. So if some word choices seem a little more... well, random than others, you'll know why.

(Posted from March 2011 to now)

Your bloodstream is a liquid buffet to me. Rapids of sustenance spiralling round. Of course I don’t sparkle. I’m a leech not a firefly. #vss

“I told him. Don’t say those things about Mam and me” He’s calm now. Guards lead him away. The psychiatrist’s body cools behind him. #vss

A neat man, he liked to grapple with big questions. Was hate distinctive to humans? Did God exist? Can’t Tesco sell a nice sandwich? #vss

“I could just eat you up!” He starts to cry. His mum comforts him “Granny didn’t mean it!” His Gran bares her teeth, white and strong. #vss

Beauty products. Processed food, additives. A chemical taint. The decision not to eat human flesh is a matter of taste, not morals. #vss

Nuclear winter’s not so bad if you have the essentials, she thinks. A solid bunker-door. Provisions. Every series of Star Trek on DVD. #vss

‘Well.’, the witch thought vengefully as the oven door clanged shut, ‘At least the little bastards will end up with cavities.’ #vss

‘Let’s play a game.’ She ran her thumb over the knife. Licked off the blood and ignored their whimpers. ‘You hide and I’ll seek.’ #vss

The sun is shining and there’s the scent of new blossom on the air. The lid stays on the pills. Today is a good day not to die. #vss

“There.” Vicki drops the purple crayon she’d used to draw in the bruises. “Now Barbie looks just like Mummy.” #vss

When he reached the seashore he thought he was safe. Turns out zombie barnacles are very tenacious. #vss

“Look, we all voted. It was fair. Why the complaints?” Bob the cabin boy eyes the knife and wails “We’ve only been adrift for an hour!” #vss

You’re like a bog, she said, densely packed. I’m like the tundra. I only seem empty; you have to look close. I don’t get it, he said. #vss

“Ours was a tainted love” he said. “With melamine, like the milk scandal?” I asked. “Replies like that are why we split up” he said. #vss

‘Make Yourself An Exhibition!’ Should’ve read the fine print. My heart’s on a plinth, my face’s skin in a tidy silent scream behind it. #vss

We overthrew all the rules. Of physics. Geometry. Now we don’t know if up is down or what shape we are. And we’re so happy. #vss

I know the shining fracture in the sky is just the moon on the clouds. But it’s so bright and there’s the whole universe beyond it. #vss

“Well, would you prefer I called you gorgeous patronisingly or ironically?” he snaps. “Are those my only options?” she asks. #vss

I go on a biennial desert cure. It sears away my tears and dries up my heart, so I can show the world a cold face for two more years. #vss

“Divorce is a terrible thing” she says “How would the kids have coped?” I tell her she’s right and ask her gently to give me the knife. #vss

I’ve made an iron heart to replace my old ceramic one. This one is strong and will not crack or chip or shatter. Or let anyone in. #vss

It’s not been all bad, locked in this cellar for years. The ants made me their king, the wall’s a good talker and I’ve kept my sanity. #vss

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Early rising

It’s early, and you are
probably still asleep.

Warm and safe and
in your bed.

I could come
and join you.
Creep in and
slide home beside you.

Swathe you with my body,
the covers hot and semi-
stifling on top of us, and kiss
you lightly. Wet your lips
and stroke your sides and
feel you come awake
all over,
underneath me.

I could slide
down the bed and
open up to your taste and
get you to stir and rise
like the winter sun
just gleaming in
through the curtains.

But it is very early. And you
were probably up late, and you
are likely still in bed.

Soft and safe and

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Why won’t any of you cunts dance?

No really. Why not? Because Throwing Muses – however fucking AWESOME they were tonight (and they were pretty fucking awesome) – have never been a favourite band of mine. They’re a band I was vaguely aware of during my teenage years, I recognised some of the songs tonight but that’s about it.

But I was still rocking the fuck out tonight.

Yes. I was that annoying bitch in front of you who was constantly moving around and headbanging to some of the tunes. Yes, I was the one who was howling like a wolf to try and encourage an encore.

And this is a band that isn’t even one of my favourites.

So why weren’t you dancing? Why weren’t you grinning madly when that bass line kicked in? Why weren’t you moving – helplessly, ecstatically – to the drum beat on that song?

How can you help but move? When Kristen Hersh is singing – in that rough, throat-fucked voice that makes you want to offer up anything you can so long as she’ll keep singing? When the bass and the drums melt over each other and beat into your chest and take over your fucking heartbeat?

Why are you all standing there and not moving a fucking inch?

This is music! This is something that, even if you’ve never heard the bloody band before, should beat in your fucking soul!

Dance like there’s no fucker watching. Dance like this says something to you. Dance like you’re fucking enjoying yourselves, you cunts!

*errata – this was written while I was a little drunk. I fucking stand by it though.

(Edit: I was indeed drunk here. Drunk enough to use 'errata' when I obviously meant 'caveat'. I still mostly stand by it.)

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Blasts from the past

I finally got round to converting old files from clarisworks and found some poetry from aeons ago. Most of it's shite, of course, but I might play around with it and cannibalise it into new shapes. But this one I won first prize in a local poetry competition with and I still like it in a nostalgic way so I'm putting it up in its original form.

I won a £50 book token, in case you were interested. Spent it on Miroslav Holub and William Carlos Williams collections.


            It’s summer.
            sultry, decadent heat.
                        Lying on the grass,
            a bowl of blackberries between us.
                        You’re talking
            and I am listening to the sound of your voice,
            watching your lips.

            (and touching those lips with the tip of my tongue
            unbuttoning your shirt kissing your throat)

            and we’re talking of books read,
                        and music heard.

            (and I’m whispering in your ear brushing lips on
            your eyelids running hands across your chest)

            No.  I’m not staring,
                                                    just looking at that bee.

            (I’m sitting astride your chest pulling my t-shirt
            over my head watching your pupils dilate)

            You go into the house.
                        I’m not blushing, just flushed from the sun
                                    and, if my mouth is dry,
            it’s from the tartness of the blackberries
            lying beside me,

            untouched in the sun.

Friday, 14 October 2011

This is a safe space

We’d been planning it out for days but of course when it comes down to it Alex manages to fuck up the timing. So we aren’t quite ready for Dave coming home and we’re all caught out. He stands in the doorway and looks at us. We stare back, looking kind of guilty. Then Fiona coughs and says, Dave. She says, Dave, we all care for you. You know that, right? She’s got the air of someone who’s cleared her evening for this bullshit, damn it, and is going to see it through.

Dave drops down into the armchair, carefully positioned so it faced the group but the placing of it wasn’t intimidating, and he says oh, come on, in this weary voice. Didn’t we do this already?

Fiona forges on. She likes to see things through. We want you to know we care about you, Dave, she says, it’s just that there are things about your behaviour we’re concerned about.

The late nights, Alex says. The stains on your clothing, says Bethany, and the rate you’re going through the drain cleaner; you claim you’ve got it under control but—You’re taking risks, man, Malcolm says bluntly, interrupting. You’re going to end up getting caught. It’s not as if it’s hurting anyone, says Dave. Well, says Malcolm, it kinda is. If you think about it. Malcolm’s always been a stickler for accuracy. Dave rolls his eyes. Ok, he says, it’s not hurting any of you. Is that better?

Fiona raises her eyebrows at me but I just shrug. What? I mouth at her. I’d been going to make the point about the drain cleaner before Bethany stole my thunder. Fiona glares and I sigh. I knew we shouldn’t have voted for her as chair.

Mate, I say, the thing is that it is hurting us. You’re going to start bringing down attention we don’t need and you—Hang on, says Alex, aren’t we meant to be using ‘I’ statements? ‘I’ statements and no generalisations, remember? All this ‘you’ stuff is very confrontational.

Fine, I say, I think that you need to stop shitting where we all have to eat, Dave. I feel that you using this area for your ‘episodes’ is going to affect us all and I think that you should keep your habits at a safe distance, like we do. Is that ok, Alex? I ask. There’s no need to be snide, says Alex.

We’re getting off topic, says Fiona. What we want from you tonight, Dave, she says, is an acknowledgment that there’s a problem and an agreement to deal with it. She pats his hand. We’ll help you if you need it.

And if I don’t agree there’s a problem? asks Dave.

John’s been quiet so far but now he leans forward to say his piece. Then the bottom line is, he says, that we start looking at other ways of remedying the situation. He smiles at Dave. Kill or cure, Dave. You know how it is.