‘And Mary Answered’ at The Pine Cone Review

This short piece came out of a Smokelong Quarterly workshop led by Michael Czyzniejewski. It was selected by The Pine Cone Review for their dance-themed issue ‘Glissade’.

And Mary Answered

We dance under an almost-full moon, wearing only mud. Dancing by moonlight sounds like grace and ecstasy, but my skin itches; the river-silt must be crawling with microscopic bugs.

Read the story on Pine Cone Review’s website

‘Great Aunt Mavis and the Trees’ at Fiction Kitchen Berlin

This story was born in a workshop with Jude Higgins, and very sadly is the last to be published by Shane O’Halloran at Fiction Kitchen Berlin, a lovely online journal that also published an earlier piece of mine.

GREAT AUNT MAVIS AND THE TREES

Mavis arrives after a decade’s absence, wild grey hair and weathered skin, rust-speckled motorbike burping blue smoke. She hugs us, then lifts her hands in high-priestess pose, breathing, “It’s so good to be back! Such a spiritual place!”

Read the story here

‘As Humans Screw Up Yet Again, Don’t You Just Wish Mother Gaia Would Step In?’ in The Citron Review

I love The Citron Review and have been submitting stories there for a looong time! This first acceptance, for an eco-themed micro, is a reason to celebrate.

When the glacier shrank, its people woke from their long sleep … Read the story here

‘Euplectella Aspergillum, A Love Story’ at National Flash Fiction Day NZ

Inspired by ‘Attenborough’s Ark’, this tiny piece was shortlisted in the annual Micro Madness contest. One selected micro was published each day during June 2022; this one appeared on 17 June.

***

After the cameras leave, the Venus Flower Basket begins to grow.

Attenborough waxed breathless, describing how the sponge’s delicate latticework becomes a lifelong prison for monogamous pairs of shrimp. How in Japan, it’s given as a symbol of love.

Scientists speculate that this new exponential growth was triggered by submarine hydrothermals, or extreme concentrations of CO2 in the oceans. Believers call it conscious evolution, a response to humans despoiling the land. They say the creature has a plan.

Vast glimmering forests, unearthly white skyscrapers reach up from Pacific deeps, towards the light. They have yet to break surface.

‘Regional Delicacies’ at Ruby Literary

Cooked up in a SmokeLong workshop with Elisabeth Ingram Wallace, this piece was selected for inclusion in the first issue of Ruby Literary, a feast of foodie flash and creative nonfiction, with authors invited to send in their favourite recipes too. (I didn’t – see confessional author note at the end of the story.)

This publication feels to me like a huge achievement, because Issue One includes work by some of the flash writers I most admire – several of whom I’ve been lucky enough to meet in person.

REGIONAL DELICACIES

Near the Spanish-Portuguese border, there’s a roadside plant that grows wild and smells like fresh semen. It’s our first time away together. Ken wants to show me pine forests and mountain streams, young red wine in pottery jugs, veal grilled on an open fire. He can’t smell the semen-plant but likes that I can. He says, I guess all your senses are heightened right now.

Read the story at Ruby Literary

‘How We Are Formed’ in Lost Balloon

The second of my flash stories to find a home at Lost Balloon, this one sits on the line between fiction and creative nonfiction.

HOW WE ARE FORMED

Blue marl, greensand, greywacke. At the blackboard, your teacher looks like he’s tasting the names. Jonno murmurs Grey Wacky! and all of you laugh because it’s true, the teacher’s old and a bit weird. Read the story here.

‘Enkidu’s Harlot’ at FlashBack Fiction

FlashBack Fiction published this ‘historical’ flash story in March 2022. There’s also a recording of me reading it aloud, and a Q and A about the story’s gestation.

ENKIDU’S HARLOT

Back then I was a legend in Uruk, the top of my profession. They called me queen of harlots. When rumours of Enkidu first reached us, I was planning my retirement.

Read the whole story here

‘Singing Sisters’ in the anthology Stories and Poems in the Song of Life

Sweetycat Press published this anthology, available to buy on Amazon and Kindle, in January 2022. My story, below, is classed as creative non-fiction.

SINGING SISTERS

A composite summer tableau from the nineteen-sixties: three sisters sit on the soft grass beneath an apple tree. One is a small child, the other two are in their teens. Libby is playing her guitar and singing in French. Katharine hums along as she makes a daisy-chain for me, while I, too young to learn languages at school, warble nonsense words that sound almost like French. Our parents watch, smiling, from the summer-house. No doubt they are charmed by the scene, and by the older girls’ willingness to entertain their chippy kid sister.

I sing,

Dommy Neeka-neeka-neeka, son allay to Sam Plemonn,

Roo-chore, po-vray, shorn-torn….

The guitar-toting balladeers of the Sixties – Julie Felix, Peter Sarstedt, Nana Mouskouri, The Singing Nun – were Libby’s heroes. Her music is what people remember most, decades later. That, and her kindness. ‘She played and sang her way into our hearts,’ our aunt wrote, after Libby and her guitar had been on a visit to Canada.

She spoke, and sang, French thanks to a year at a Swiss finishing-school. She was no posh debutante, but didn’t get on with school in England, so our parents proposed La Fontanelle at Vevey on Lake Geneva. It was an inspired choice: she was happy, learned to ski, and made friends she kept all her life.

It would be wrong to say that there was no more music in our family when Libby died, but Christmases and family gatherings got quieter and sadder after we lost her to liver cancer, at the age of thirty-six.

The gibberish of Dommy Neeka stuck in my head, as rhymes and jingles from early childhood will. Decades later I used the Internet—that magical enabler of rediscovery, reunion, and ferreting-out, as well as the darkest embodyings of human obsession—to find the song’s real words. In the process I also found the woman who wrote them.

Jeannine Deckers was a Belgian nun, part of the Dominican order, who surprised the world, and herself, by becoming a pop star. In 1963 her song Dominique was an international hit, propelling her to fame but also into bitter conflict with the Catholic Church.

Dominique, about a saintly wandering monk, did not in itself anger the Church. The lyrics massacred by six-year-old me translate as

Dominique set out, a poor simple traveller, singing …

But fame and fortune led to problems, as they often do. The Singing Nun’s record label kept most of the profits from her success. Her relationship with the Church soured, especially when she released a song called Glory be to God for the Golden Pill in praise of contraception. She left her convent and became a lay Dominican. She never renounced her religious faith, but battled poverty and depression for years. In 1985 she died in a suicide pact with her companion and lover Annie.

Libby had no children, but there was music in the next generation. Three decades after she died, three of her nieces sang at my daughter’s wedding. Some of us wept to hear those voices, that were like songbirds. Like singing nuns. Like Libby.

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to read new stories when they are published, click ‘follow’. My previously published work can be read on this site.

‘Breakfast at the Lake’ at Brilliant Flash Fiction

This 439-word flash began as a micro called ‘Ice Swimmers’ and was expanded during a SmokeLong Quarterly workshop with Michael Czyzniejewski. It’s a hybrid piece, interleaving factual information with elements of fiction.

It’s dedicated to FLOWS, the Fabulous Leeds Outdoor Wild Swimmers – and especially to Caroline who introduced me and many others to the lake, the Knicker Tree and the sand martins.

BREAKFAST AT THE LAKE

Three swimmers crack the skin of ice at the lakeside, wade out through reeds in a pink-streaked dawn. Andy, the novice, is fully wetsuited. His breath comes fast and ragged as icewater finds the space between neoprene and flesh. Tim and Morag are in Speedos, fine mud squidging between their toes.

Read the whole piece here at Brilliant Flash Fiction (it’s the 8th story down)