Mrs Rochester’s Attic – short story anthology

I’ve been away from this blog for a while (busy working on a draft) but I’m delighted that one of my short stories, Pigeon Holes, will be appearing in an anthology called Mrs Rochester’s Attic.

More about this publication from Leicestershire-based Mantle Press soon.

 

Mrs Rochester - Cover

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My short story Lye Noon available to listen to here….

Lye, joint shortest station name in the UK and keen readers

Lye – setting for my short story – joint shortest station name in the UK and home to keen readers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve never had my work performed by an actor so what a great experience to listen to Jack Trow reading my story Lye Noon.

You can listen to it online here

It was great fun, if a little sad at times, to write and I hope you enjoy it.

It’s a story about one of life’s outsiders, Billy Boon, who suffers despite his wish to help and be accepted.

Billy is a devoted admirer of the Wild West too and isn’t afraid to dress the part when he’s out and about in the Black Country.

The story wouldn’t have happened without the commissioning and support of WM Readers’ Network and, in particular Roz Goddard.

I had a fantastic time working with Lye Down with a Good Book reading group. They were friendly and encouraging and very knowledgeable.

Thanks to Rochi Rampal, Duncan Grimley and Jack Trow too, for a great reading.

 

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‘A Little Love’ wins Cardiff Review short story award 2016

Cardiff review - Fall 2016

Cardiff review – Fall 2016

I had the great news earlier this month that my short story ‘A Little Love’ has won the Cardiff Review short story award.

There’s an excerpt of the story here and a full version in the Fall edition of the Cardiff Review.

In the story the protagonist has a humdrum existence after dropping out of university to care for family and feels life may have passed him by. One night a surprise chance to do some good and feel he can really make a difference presents itself.

 

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Great News – Garage Flowers chosen as winner by London literary agency

I had the fantastic news today that my novel Garage Flowers has been selected as the winner of Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV and Film Agency’s ‘Make Us Scared’ competition.

The official announcement is on the agency website here.

I’m delighted to win the prize which means I will be represented by the agency and I’m very much looking forward to working with them. They have some fantastic writers on their books with latest titles including The Missing by CL Taylor, Fiona Barton’s The Widow and (fellow Staffordshire writer) Mel Sherratt’s The Girls Next Door.

I’m looking forward to the challenge and excited to be working with a top agency.

The prize?

 

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Boscobel House piece on English Heritage

Boscobel House where Charles II hid

Boscobel House where Charles II hid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to English Heritage for picking up my Day Out in Shropshire piece on their Facebook page here.

Boscobel House is a great place to visit with a fascinating story….

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Out to Pasture

Newborough Warren

I’m playing hooky, skiving, swinging the lead, whatever you want to call it. The sky is black and a stiff wind is getting up, sending frothing waves crashing into the shore. Blobs of foam drift over my head and I paw at them attempting an Ali shuffle ankle deep in shingle. It doesn’t cheer me. I’m still in my shirt and tie, my only concession is an unbuttoned collar and sleeves rolled to the elbow as I kick up the surf and skim stones, desperate for that elusive seventh bounce from the water. I’m alone and there isn’t a soul, not even a solitary dog walker or fisherman, within a mile. The car park beyond the dunes is empty with windblown sand weighing heavy against a sagging fence. Without the steady supply of ice cream and burgers the gulls have given up and sought richer pickings inland. I take a deep breath and suck the salt-air down into my lungs. It’s what my Dad and the Victorians called bracing and it brought them here in their millions. I’m here for a different reason: it helps me forget.

I cheer and shout something rude about Pickering’s parentage but the wind blows my words and a spiteful sting of sand straight back in my face. My feet are blue and my legs pale where I’ve rolled up my trousers like those Mini-Milk lollies we queued for as kids. My skin tingles and burns the way your ear does when someone catches it square with a snowball, but I feel great and I feel free and I shout in a gap between the gusts.

Out in the bay a cormorant takes flight. It’s Monday morning, just before ten. Right about now, I’d be sending out the first of Pickering’s reports and sipping scalding coffee – coffee’s what the label on the machine says anyway – before being summoned into his office.

I grab the flask and take a swig of my own blend and jog back into the dunes. It is still and almost silent here, away from the crash of the waves. I have my own little den far up the beach, protected by millions of tons of golden sand and a forest of spiky marram grass. We once had a Scout camp here and Skip told us that many years ago the grass was harvested by the cartload to be made into mats and other household goods. Skip was an avid reader of local history. But take away the anchoring properties of the grass and the dunes are cast to the wind, he said. And before long the rich and fertile farmland becomes dunes too. I know lots of shit like this; none of it useful. Holidaymakers didn’t put bread on the table back then, so Elizabeth the First decreed that anyone gathering grass from the dunes would forfeit a hand. You had your hand chopped off for cutting grass. I’m sure Pickering would think that punishment liberal.

It’s not the failing that hurts because I haven’t – I’m second for sales this quarter – instead it’s being put ‘out to pasture’ that’s insulting. He wrote our names on a scrap of paper, mine was the only one beneath that heading. Yes, he’d actually written ‘Out to Pasture.’ I’ve got that note somewhere safe, tucked up case I need to use it. I push my toes through the sand and feel the grains fall between them. The note isn’t much, but I think it buys me today at least.

 

 

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A Perfect Day in the Country – Shropshire

A piece I wrote about a perfect day in Shropshire

View of Shropshire countryside from Hawkstone Park

View of Shropshire countryside from Hawkstone Park

The sun sparkles on the Severn. Rushing waters fetched down from the Welsh mountains shimmer as they twist and turn beneath us. We’re standing on the Ironbridge built in 1779. The industrial revolution began right here in Shropshire with Abraham Darby. We walk a muddy trail past abandoned workings through Benthall Woods. Industry has given way to heritage and nature. These days the only smoke is the drift of grilling bacon that draws us to breakfast at Darby’s, named for the great man.

Ironbridge has some fascinating museums – tiles and science and engines and Victorian shops and streets – but Joe and Jake have visited on recent school trips so, fortified with tea and full English, we decide to swap industry for royalty.

Boscobel House lies close to the Shropshire/Staffordshire border, surrounded by woods and farm fields. It’s a timber-brick house full of hidey-holes and most famous for being the place where a king hid up an oak tree.

Boscobel House where Charles II hid

Boscobel House where Charles II hid

Sometimes when we visit historical houses there are too many plaques and Joe and Jake’s attention drifts. We spend the next two hours keeping them away from wobbling candlesticks and precious vases.

But Boscobel keeps us busy with a ramble over to that famous oak (or at least its descendant) and a beautiful mile-long walk down to the ancient ruins of White Ladies Priory.

Most important of all for young Cavaliers the history is wrapped in activities and the scariest game of high stakes hide-and-seek imaginable.

When King Charles II fled after defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 he arrived in a desperate state – exhausted and soaked through with shoes full of gravel and feet ‘not only extremely dirty, but much galled by travel.’

As the search closed in the King took to the woods with a local Royalist officer. They spent the day in a thick, bushy oak tree as soldiers hurried beneath them searching the woods.

When the soldiers had gone the King returned to the house to hide in the attic. We crept up the same stairs and the boys pressed their noses to a glass plate covering a tiny, cramped space between the floorboards.

Charles would have hidden here and watched anxiously for signs of Cromwell’s militia. Another hidey-hole is reached beyond wood-panelling and down through a hatch. A wooden box is carved with a tiny Royal face peeking through the branches of a lush oak. The boys loved finding those faces and symbols.

Descendant of Royal Oak

Descendant of Royal Oak

Those surprised to find industry or kings hiding in trees may also wonder that Shropshire has lakes. Ellesmere is a beautiful and tranquil spot to finish our day. The mere is a legacy of the last ice age and a popular haunt of day-trippers forming snaking queues for farmhouse ice cream.

We grab the last table and take a delicious cream tea as ducks waddle past in search of crumbs. One decision remains: Shall we take the boat onto the mere or the horse and trap along the shore?

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