‘The Woman Who Knew The Beatles’ at Meniscus

This story was born in a Surreal Flash workshop with Meg Pokrass, and published by Meniscus in Australia. It’s on page 102 of the journal.


In the packed-out Crem, the eulogy is delivered by a Catholic priest
who never met you.

‘They know I hate fuckin’ priests,’ you say. ‘All that shite when we
were kids, about the angel sitting on your shoulder, watching everything
you fuckin’ do.’

Read the story here on page 102 of the pdf: https://uploads.documents.cimpress.io/v1/uploads/e69fee01-2759-4b46-99cb-297847226fe9~110/original?tenant=vbu-digital

‘Cat Woman 2008’ in Potato Soup Journal

This story is based on a journal entry from 2008. My dear late friend, the astonishing Joan, has inspired a number of stories, but this is the first purely nonfiction Joan-piece that I’ve published. Pasted in below due to an apparent problem with the link.

Sooty waits in the hall, knowing the sound of my key in the door. He’s longhaired and handsome, with golden eyes and a dash of Persian somewhere in his ancestry. Feather-duster tail waving, he escorts me into the living room where Joan is watching telly.  

 She’s in pyjamas, in her orthopaedic chair. She’s always in the chair except when she’s in bed, or on the loo, or in transit between them by wheelchair. Three months ago, when her legs would no longer support her, her world shrank to these two rooms: the one where she sleeps, in which Liverpool Social Services have just installed a toilet and shower cubicle, and this one where she sits during the day.  

 She looks up and says, “Hiya, love”. Her blonde hair is mussed from sleeping. She doesn’t look sixty. Many months indoors, away from sun and weather, have left her babyfaced.   

 It’s Saturday morning, and I’m here to make her breakfast. It’s supposed to be done by a carer sent by Social Services, but the carer is late and Joan, hungry, has phoned me. I live a few doors along the same street, so I can be there in minutes.   

 She wants cheese on toast, with a cup of tea, “very strong, sugar, hardly any milk”. I go to the kitchen, along the hallway that’s too narrow to admit the wheelchair, down the two steps that Joan can’t negotiate, and put the kettle on. I used to think that if Social Services gave her a ramp and a narrower chair, she might use her kitchen again. But I know she won’t ask them. For one thing, she’d still have to wheel herself back up the ramp, and in the steady progression of the disease, her arms are already weakening.  

 The kitchen is shabby. Joan kept it spotless, but since she never sees it now, those who clean it – mainly me, and her family – pay little attention to its state. The lino is stained, the paint peeling. It’s not so much dirty, as cluttered with things Joan would never have left there herself: a wallpaper steamer in its box, an old office chair, a defunct computer and a dead fern on the kitchen table..  

 Sooty’s up on the counter and mewing as I put two slices of bread in the toaster. I go into the scullery and put food in his bowl, scoop lumps of shit from his litter tray and drop it in the bin outside. A good-tempered cat, he purrs and gets stuck straight into the food.   

 I melt cheese in the microwave according to Joan’s precise instructions (“I know I’m a fussy cow – you don’t mind, do you?”), slide it on to the toast and carry everything through into the front room. The cat, though he’s eaten well, sits upright on the seat of the vacant wheelchair, watching every mouthful with round gold eyes. Joan gives him a piece of cheese. I station myself on the sofa in the bay window, my back to the street and the morning sun.  

 Joan talks, I talk. I tell her my daughter has a hangover, my son’s going to his girlfriend’s house later, we’ve got a new kitchen door. Joan tells me she woke only twice in the night. “I think I’m sleeping better since they put the new bar on me bed, now I’m not frightened of falling out.” Falling is one of Joan’s biggest fears, along with crapping her pants. If she falls, she can’t get up. It’s happened more than once since her diagnosis; one time she broke her leg in three places, but felt no pain. She spent six weeks in hospital.  

 Much of her daily news is toilet-related. “Those Tena knickers are brilliant,” she tells me. “The first time I piddled meself in bed, I thought it’d all come out the side, but it didn’t. It’s like what the astronauts use.”  

 Joan says she can tell me anything, and I’m glad. I used to wish I mattered more to her. That was when she was a busy, hardworking, hard-drinking woman, who sometimes preferred to spend time with ‘the girls’, her old friends from the street, than with me, the newcomer.  

“That cat misses you,” she says, as we watch Sooty cleaning his whiskers after the cheese. “He’s been looking lost. He waits for you.”  

 Joan leaves the house rarely, Sooty never. It has been agreed between us that when the time comes, I will adopt him. Sometimes she tries to make me promise I’ll keep him indoors, but I refuse. Our street is no cat paradise – a row of back yards, a tarmacked alley full of wheelie bins, another row of identical houses behind – but Sooty is fascinated by the world outdoors, sits for hours in the window, would certainly go adventuring if given the chance. I’m determined that he’ll have the chance, will taste freedom, even if his adventure ends bloodily on the tarmac of nearby Edge Lane.  

 In my pocket I have an ampoule of flea treatment, because Sooty’s been scratching. I pin him down, part the long hair on the back of his neck and squeeze toxic liquid onto the exposed skin. The cat leaps away when I release him and sits on the far side of the room, glaring.  

 “You’ve pissed him off, he won’t come to you now,” says Joan with satisfaction.  

 “Bastard cat,” I say. Verbal abuse of Sooty, and each other, is part of our language. 

 Joan says, “I’m going to our Ellie’s birthday party tomorrow. She’s nine.”  

 “That’s good,” I say.  

 “I’m not looking forward to it at all,” says Joan. “I’ll have to get up, get dressed, get in the car, which is fuckin’ hard work now. Don’t get me wrong, I love me grandkids, but I wish I didn’t have to go.”  

 “Tough shit,“ I say. “You’ve got obligations, stop whingeing.”  

Although Joan doesn’t react, I feel bad at once. Not for tough shit, which both of us say often, but for stop whingeing. Not long ago, a relative told her to stop moaning. “That really pissed me off,” Joan told me afterwards. “I thought, you bitch. I’ve got this disease, I’m getting worse. I want to moan, I need to moan.”  

 Today, neither of us says out loud that I’ve dropped a brick. The cat continues to keep his distance and give me dirty looks. “He’s got a cob on with you,” Joan says. “Look at his eyes. Bitch, I’m not talking to you.”  

 Presently, I go home. I’ll be returning between nine and nine-thirty this evening, as I always do, to make a flask of tea for the night. Joan will spend her day in the chair, with visits from carers and family, laborious visits to the loo, snooze-time on her bed between three and four.  

 Through the day I think about that Stop whingeing. I think I should apologise, acknowledge I was wrong, bring it out in the open. Then I think, but it’s different when I say it, she always tells people I’m her best friend, she’ll take it from me.  

My next thought is ugly. I think, Joan won’t say anything because she needs me too much, I’m the one who comes to her every day, sorts out the cat, makes her tea, sits with her, she won’t risk pissing me off.  

 And indeed, she says nothing. I say nothing that night when I go in. There’s nothing in her manner to show she’s upset with me. The routine’s just as usual. I go in at nine-thirty, Joan’s already in her hospital-issue bed in the back room. She sleeps naked, as she did when she was well. A glass of vodka and tonic is on her bedside table, five different sorts of pills, her cigarettes and lighter, her mobile phone, and the intercom/remote control for the front door. On TV, the small set mounted on a wall bracket at the foot of the bed, is I’m a Celebrity – Get Me Out Of Here! I hate the programme, but watch part of it each night, Joan propped up in bed, I sitting beside her in the wheelchair, while our tea brews in the kitchen. “I hate that man,” she says every night, about one of the contestants.  

 Often the cat will jump on my knee for a cuddle and a stroke, but not tonight. “Look at him,” says Joan, pointing to where he stares down at us from the top of the wardrobe.” He hasn’t forgiven you”.  

 I’m a Celebrity finishes. The News at Ten comes on, I yawn and Joan says, “You can fuck off now, I need a ciggy”. She gave up cigarettes before her diagnosis, thinking the coldness of her right foot was down to circulatory problems. Once she knew it was Motor Neurone Disease she took up smoking again, with pleasure and gusto.  

 She won’t use a computer and doesn’t want to research the condition, but I do both. Average prognosis for MND sufferers is two to five years. Joan was diagnosed a year ago.  

 I get up, lean over the bed, give her a kiss and hug as I do each night. Her bare shoulders are fleshy and warm. Her chin’s bristly; it’s time for her regular facial wax. As ever, Joan says, “I love you,” and I reply, “I love you too”. The cat stares down from his watch-post. I leave, turning out the house lights, calling, “See you tomorrow!”, banging the front door shut. 

‘For the Ride’ at the Ekphrastic Review

This piece, inspired by the painting below (‘Istanbul’ by Garabet Yazmaciyan), was written in response to one of The Ekphrastic Review’s weekly challenges. It turned out a bit druggy!


You leave the witch adding twigs to her fire – delicately, as though their precise placing were significant – and go out onto the water-balcony as she’s directed. You’re already lightheaded from the sweet smoke inside the room; when you step out through warped wooden doors there’s an effervescence in your lower stomach, and by the time you set both hands on the rail, the night has begun to melt. 

You used to know things about this place at the confluence of two seas. You used to know about that city across the water, its bloodstained glittering history, its changing names – Lygos, Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul – but tonight, none of that counts. Here and now – though here and now is ebbing, already insubstantial, and I/me with it – other confluences are softly forming. 

You came here expecting symbols, and the night’s replete with them. The full moon, personal favourite of the witch, is for divinity and otherness; the unending dark water is for connection, the unity beneath the surface; the metropolis with its many eyes is for belonging; oh yes,you’re part of humanity even if you deny it! Over there is the caique on which your own hopes have rested. Sometime symbol of departure and crossing, it’s not yet rigged but surely ready; its shadowy pilot waits, who could be Charon or Phlegyas or Urshanabi (from here you can reach east or west across continents, ransack their mythologies at will). And then, drawing the eye, stalling the imagination, the rocky lighthouse-island that stilly, insistently, waits to call you home.  

You could draw a constellation, a mandala, heavy with meaning, to join up the symbols. It might even prove to be a roadmap of your spiritual life. Going, staying, family, exile, pagan goddess, reassuring ritual, love of home. You could draw it on parchment, carry it next to your skin, take it out and trace its silvered lines with your finger whenever doubt rises to choke you. 
Wait instead. See, first, how the colours begin to run, see how moon-green bleeds into underlit water, how the water rises, overwhelming the caique, creeping up the sides of the lighthouse, flowing towards the quays and jetties of the distant city, swirling in its streets, up against its walls and towers, extinguishing the witchfire, lapping at the balcony where you no longer stand, because you’ve made your choice and are already on your way to the deep places, to the impossible, luminous realm below. 

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.

‘Flanerie’ in Flash Fiction Festival anthology 2021

Like the last piece, this was written in response to a challenge in the Great Festival Flash Off during the National Flash Fiction Festival. The whole festival had a Bake Off theme, and for this challenge, all the stories had to engage in some way with baking! ‘Flanerie’ was chosen as the winner by Helen Rye and Ken Elkes, whose comments appear below the story.


When we meet, I ask Brian if he’s a community artist. He says, “No, I’m an artist who works with the community”. I don’t ask what the difference is, because I don’t want to look stupid.

Brian tells me his next project is about Flanerie, which is French and means wandering around. I say, “Around cake shops, right? Flan – erie, get it?”. He doesn’t crack a smile, not even a pained one, and I conclude he doesn’t like puns. Or cake.

He’s dark, short, with a dessicated look, as if painting murals in underpasses and building sculptures in city parks have kept him out too long in fierce sun that burned away everything, including a sense of humour.

Brian says his Flanerie project is about chatting to people, taking their pictures, collecting their stories. I follow as he flans, or flanners, until my feet hurt and I’m really hungry. I hope to lose weight, but I don’t. An old lady we meet asks coyly if I have ‘a bun in the oven’. Brian’s not interested in food, although he does like sex at the end of a long day flanning, or is it flannying, we’ll do it under a railway arch or up an alleyway. I’m still hungry.

Brian’s next piece of Art is a balloony perspex sculpture with tiny limbs, like Violet Beauregard after she turns into a giant blueberry.

I decide my first thought was better, and set out on a flanning odyssey of my own, sampling egg custards and stotty-cake, Chorley cakes and Banbury cakes and Bath buns, and tell myself this is my Art, I’m soaking up the culture along with the fake cream and custard and the doughnut jam that’s so cheap and runny, it can’t even remember what fruit it’s pretending to be.

Judges’ comments:  “This was a particularly tough decision, but in the end we chose ‘Flanerie’ due to its playfulness and comedic tone, which is seasoned with a hint of underlying sadness and quiet desperation.”

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.

‘Bacalhau’ in National Flash Fiction Festival anthology 2021

This piece was begun at one of this summer’s National Flash Fiction Festival events. In ‘normal’ times the Festival takes place in Bath, over several days in June; this year it was a series of monthly Zoom events. This particular challenge was to write a flash-fiction triptych, with the first section featuring a food you love or hate, the second your middle name, and the third a song you love or hate. ‘Bacalhau’ was chosen as the winning story by judges Karen Jones and Tim Craig, whose comments are below. It will appear in the 2021 Festival Anthology.


Dried salt cod

Antonio orders bacalhau for you both, in an overlit backstreet café with formica tabletops. You think it sounds horrible, but after vinho verde branco and the pottery dish of bacalhau stew; after red wine from the Dão Valley, Brandy Croft and leite crème torrado with its sweet blowtorched shell; after hearing about the mountain village north of Porto where Antonio grew up; after you’ve told him you want to learn Portuguese, to get closer to this country and its people, slurring your words a little, and he says he’ll be your teacher, which excites you both because officially you’re his teacher; after noticing that the whites of his eyes are smoky and smouldering and a little like pickled eggs; you’re ready to concede that bacalhau is food for the gods.


He tells you – not then but later, when you threaten to leave – that although the girl from the village was his first, and remains his betrothed, you’re the one he desires, the prize on the other side of duty and dullness and his family’s expectations. You say it sounds like Jacob and Rachel, and you’re surprised he doesn’t know that story, because you thought all Catholics knew their Bibles, so you explain about the seven years’ servitude and he says he could never wait that long for you, though strictly speaking, neither of you waited any time at all, not even on the night of bacalhau.


He likes playing Spandau Ballet’s True when you get home at two a.m. after late classes and late dinner, you’re swoony-tired but not too tired for that; at first you love its tune and deep lyrics about the soul, until you listen to it sober and notice the bullshit bits about seaside arms and not knowing what the next line was going to be, and when you leave Portugal and Europe for the Arabian Gulf, you talk to a woman who converted to Islam for love of a Bedouin with smoky eyes, and became his Wife Number Two, and says she’s OK with that as long as he always tells her the truth and doesn’t go looking for Wife Number Three, and you must be over Antonio because you laugh aloud to think that in another place, with a different view of sanctity, he could have had his bacalhau and eaten it too.

Judge’s comment: “I like the smoky exotic flavour of the story, the erotic promise, the spicy hint of danger in the (unspecified) teacher/pupil relationship and especially the perfectly cooked ending, which is served with a generous dollop of humour.”

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.

‘Nude Radish Harvest’ in Flash Flood 2021

Flash Flood is an annual event, held in June as part of National Flash Fiction Day: around 200 stories are published online, every 10 minutes over a 24-hour period.

This was one of these stories.


People would ask why we were friends, you so out-there, me not. I’d say Yin and Yang; It sounded cool, and saved me thinking of a real answer.

You came to my house often when we were kids. I didn’t like visiting yours, a once-grand villa that had a soggy sofa in the garden, sprouting mould and fungus like an ecological art installation. Inside were cobwebs, stained carpets, bits of plaster that fell from the walls with a whump and a puff of dust. There was never much in the fridge, so we’d forage in cupboards; we found potted shrimps, and anchovies that made us gag. Your parents never told us off. When I asked my mum why, she said they were probably busy. My dad said, “They’re bloody hippies, that’s what they are.”

I didn’t tell my parents I’d seen your dad through the smeared kitchen window, pulling up radishes with no clothes on. His bumcrack was full of ginger hairs. I didn’t wait for him to turn round, though afterwards I sort of wished I had.

I envied you a little back then, because your parents let you stay out after dark and run around barefoot. Later, everything you did was something I wasn’t allowed to do. Or had never thought of doing. Or wanted to, but lacked the nerve.

At a seventeenth birthday party, we all got drunk-stoned and played Truth Or Dare. You took our dares, mooning passers-by through the window, swigging from every bottle in the drinks cabinet while we counted down from sixty.  But then you chose Truth, and someone asked if you ever wished you could just be normal. We laughed, assuming you’d go Fuck no! and belch or fart or spray out a mouthful of beer.  

But you said, “Every day.”

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

‘Purple’ in Potato Soup Journal

This is another super personal piece for me, though more cheerful than the last.

I had my 60th birthday in 2020. Like most of my contemporaries, the pandemic meant I couldn’t have a wild (or even modest) celebration. During the first lockdown in April a schoolfriend, Maddy, had a Zoom meet-up instead of the party she had planned. That got me thinking of how things might have been. I’ve always loved Jenny Joseph’s poem about disgraceful old age, Warning; this story grew organically from that. It’s dedicated to all those born in 1960 or thereabouts. Especially women. Especially my friends. xx

Read ‘Purple’ here.

‘Take This Century’ in Love in the Time of Covid: Chronicle of a Pandemic’

All my stories are personal, but this one is especially so. I wrote it for, and about, my mother and granddaughter, born almost 100 years apart. When I submitted it to New Zealand-based Love in the Time of Covid, on Hazel’s first birthday, I didn’t know that my mother Torla would have no more birthdays. When the story was accepted on 16th December, I didn’t know that later that day, Mum would announce to my brother that she was going to die. And I didn’t know that the story would go live on Christmas night, just after she left us.


Love in the Time of Covid brings together stories and poetry for these times, with a focus on different aspects and experiences of love. It’s a project I’m very proud to have been part of.

Read ‘Take This Century’ here.

‘Roots’ in the Tymes Goe by Turnes anthology

Robert Southwell’s poem ‘Tymes Goe By Turnes’ was the inspiration for 2020’s annual Solstice Shorts event and associated anthology, organised by Arachne Press. My contribution to the anthology was a flash-fiction story called ‘Roots’, born in a Meg Pokrass online workshop.

In ‘normal’ times I would have read this story myself, at the live event in London on 21st December. 2020 being far from normal, however, it was read on Zoom by a professional actor.

In this short video, I talk about the story, and my writing life.


Where he was born, the earth was stony. Nodules of broken flint made his toes bleed. He was never going to stay.

Beneath his college town, the soil is clay-based and dense. He considers settling, for he’s been happy here; he’s been excited by learning, has fallen in love and out of it, watched the flowering of his limbs and his imagination. He’s already sunk up to his knees when winter rains saturate the land and floodwater spreads over the fields. He feels dragged down, trapped. He says Not here. 

He spends years in a distant place, a small hot island simmering with wealth and optimism, whose name means ‘Two Seas’. Legend tells of another, sweeter sea beneath the salt ocean, feeding ancient springs that made the island fertile and its people prosperous. In that crumbly earth, he’s both grounded and free. Money loosens everything. He addresses conferences and board directors about the benefits of endless growth.

He marries and moves back home, to a select neighbourhood on a hill near the golf club. His roots are thick and long, but his pleasure in their reach is subtly reduced. His wife, however, is happy. She purrs as she assures him size does matter.

By the time he knows he’s in the wrong place, he’s too deeply anchored. His toes graze tiny threads of mycelium. He used to make corporate jokes about mushrooms, keep them in the dark and feed them on shit, you’ll never go far wrong! Now he envies them their wordless communication, their certainty of belonging. He starts to hate the golf club.

He’s old. Wives and children have left him. It’s too late to move on, his strength has leaked away, along with his memory and bladder control.

He’s forgotten that his roots have continued to push downward. They’re thinner, and their growth is slower, but they have their own logic, and can find lost ways, seek out hidden paths below. In darkness, they find the other, sweeter, sea.