Short Story: So Famous


Here’s an old short story I wrote a couple of years ago (probably pre-dating most of the stuff I’ve posted on this blog). I don’t plan to do anything with it, so I thought I might as well chuck it up on here for you guys:

The woman clipped on her bra while he watched her from the cream bed, propped up on his elbow. There was a greasy smile on his face. She offered one of her warm grins in return before turning away, trying to avoid his gaze. She focused on an oil painting of a meadow hung up on the far side of the room. A dank, stagnant smell lingered in the bedroom.

“Oh God, that was amazing,” he said, stressing every syllable of the last word. He collapsed onto his back, soaking up what had just happened.

“Mmm, yeah, it really was,” said the woman. “Really can’t wait to do it with you again sometime.” She picked her blue blouse off of the floor and began to slip her arms through the sleeves.

“You can bet there’ll be another time Molly.”

“It’s Mary.”

“Yeah, Mary, of course,” he said, the mistake causing his smile to falter slightly. “So Mary, how does it feel to shag a future celebrity?”

Mary bit the inside of her mouth, tracing her memory for anything he said earlier relating to celebrities. She was midway through buttoning up her blouse. “Oh yeah, really, really great. I mean you’re just so good at… sex.”

“It’s gonna be a bestseller, I know it. With films rights and stuff I’m gonna make tons.” She heard him slip out from under the sheets and shuffle towards her. He placed his thick arms around her and took over buttoning duty. She could feel his naked body pressing against her back and could smell his post-sex sweat. She kept her plastic smile on and he continued to talk. “Everybody’s gonna know my name, I’m gonna be bigger than J.R. Rowling.”

“You mean J.K. Rowling?”

“That’s what I said.”

“Sure.” She looked over her shoulder and allowed her warm smile to soothe him.

“I’m gonna be able to buy you all kinds of stuff.”

“How sweet of you.”

“I can take you anywhere you want.”

“How lovely.” Mary untangled herself from him and went to pick up her heels from beside the door.

The man moved over to his desk and rummaged through the stack of papers on top of it. He pulled out a collection of stapled A4 sheets. “Here,” his arm was stretched towards her, “Give this a read.”

Her smile waned. “Oh, maybe next time. I’m in a bit of a rush…” She began to slip on her red heels.

“Come on,” his expression reminded her of a dog waiting to be fed, “Gonna be the next big thing.”

She continued to smile and slip on her shoes for a few seconds, hoping that the situation would resolve itself. It didn’t. “Ok then,” she said, “I’ll give it a quick look.”

Mary accepted the sheets, swept back a loose strand of hair and began to read. She was a fast reader, the first few paragraphs devoured in under a minute. As she finished the first page a slight snigger escaped from the corner of her mouth. There was a pause while both of them realised what the sound she’d just made meant.

“What’re you laughing about?” The man’s smile dissolved.

“Oh it’s, um, nothing. Really.” I just, you know, get the giggles sometimes.” She produced another one of her sweet, effortless grins and stared at him with her deep hazel eyes.

The man’s face grew tense, darkening in colour. “God, were you laughing at me? Were you laughing at my book?”

“No, it’s…”

“What makes you think you have the bloody right to do that?”

“Baby, I was just… You know how silly I am sometimes.”

“You can’t just win me over by fluttering your eyelashes and trying to act cute. What’s wrong with it, why’d you laugh? Why’d you laugh at my book?”

Mary bit her lip, cursing herself for letting that laugh escape. “Well it’s, uh… I mean I really enjoyed it, it was really, really good but… Like, it’s just that it’s about a guy that builds a time machine to, um, stop cats from taking over the world and…” Her voice trailed off, ceasing to be audible.

It’s a very deep and very complex science fiction novel,” he said, gritting his teeth. “What the hell do you know anyway? I mean, why the hell would I want advice from someone like you?”

“I’ve read plenty of books actually.”

“Yeah? Bloody Fifty Shades of Grey?” He laughed to himself.

She shook her head, “No, you’re right, what the hell do I know? You’re the writer.”


“I don’t know the first thing about writing a book.” She turned away from the man and dropped the sheets of paper down on the floor. The woman began to unbutton her blouse. “How about we just forget all this and I do something nice for you instead? Something really nice…”

The man’s sickly smile slowly re-emerged. “Yeah. Yeah, I’d like that…”

Mary was down to her bra now, she walked towards the man and took his hand. “Would you like it if… I kept the heels on?” The man nodded mutely like a small child and she led him back to the bed. The woman propped herself over the man, their faces almost touching. She smiled at him alluringly.

“I’m gonna be so famous,” said the man, “So bloody famous.” Mary slipped below the covers, managing to suppress the urge to laugh this time. She couldn’t even remember his name.



‘So Much Water So Close to Home’ by Raymond Carver


Hemingway and Carver are pretty much toe-to-toe when it comes to the best short fiction writer. As I’ve already posted a story by the former, I thought it was about time I shared some Carver-y goodness. Here’s ‘So Much Water So Close To Home’.

Like Hemingway’s best stories, Carver’s gain their power from what they leave off the page. The author leaves us insinuate how the protagonist feels – and what she fears. There’s an underlying darkness to the story surrounding the dead girl that her husband finds. But it is less the dead body that makes things unsettling, and how her husband and his friends react to finding it. There’s something unnerving about how they leave it for the night, enjoying themselves instead of getting to the police station.

And the title. ‘So Much Water So Close To Home’ may be one of my favourite titles ever because of how well it encapsulates the story. When I first started reading it I had no clue what the title meant, but by the time it showed up as a line in the story it came as a chilling gut-punch. Truly Carver at his best.

Other great Carver stories: everything from ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’ is just fantastic.

Book Review: The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy (2014) by Rachel Joyce


Although I  pre-ordered this book, it’s taken me a year to get around to reading it. Despite being a – let’s call it a ‘spin-off’ – to a novel I thoroughly enjoyed, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, I didn’t feel that much compulsion to read it. There’s two key reasons for this that I can pin down: 1.) Having read a lot of novels since Joyce’s last book, Perfect, the appeal of her style has faded a bit in my mind. 2.) I didn’t really feel like there needed to be another novel set in the Harold Fry universe. Now that I’ve finished the book, these two points still stand.

The novel tells the story of the woman that Harold Fry walked across England for, Miss Queenie Hennessy. Stuck in a hospice without much time left, Queenie decides to write a letter to Harold telling him the truth once and for all. With the help of one of the nuns at the hospice and the support of some of the other patients, she begins to write her story all the way from the beginning, from when she and Harold first met.

For me, retellings of stories from different angles hardly ever work. Although it can be interesting to see another perspective, it can also be really restrictive – there are certain facts and certain plot-points that must be stuck to no matter what. Despite Joyce’s best efforts, Queenie Hennessy suffers from this quite badly at times. It is simultaneously a book that you have to read Harold Fry to follow and one that has to repeat so much of the same story. There are points where the author chucks Queenie into scenes that she wasn’t in in the first novel and has to be certain that Harold doesn’t see her so she doesn’t contradict herself. The novel’s final scenes, which repeat those from Harold Fry, are particularly frustrating, as they have to make Queenie act like she did in that book rather than this one. In short, it doesn’t often feels like the novel stands up on its own, simply living in the shadow of its predecessor.

Though this doesn’t damage the novel an incredible amount, it’s still irritating. At times it makes Queenie feel like a character without any real agency, being trapped in somebody else’s story. She spends most of the novel pining after Harold Fry – often to concerning amounts – but the book never really explains why that well. Queenie has to act a certain way for everything to add up. And because of this, it’s when Joyce moves away from the plot of her first novel that the book’s protagonist really comes into her own. The time that Queenie spends away from Harold, mostly in the hospice, is what really elevates everything for me. Without any of the cast of Harold Fry around, the character really comes into her own – the supporting characters are also wonderful. I have a lot of respect for Joyce in how she manages to generate such fantastic writing from a setting as bleak as a hospice. It’s odd to say that most of the book’s most cheerful scenes take place there.

Another thing Queenie Hennessy has going for it is Rachel Joyce’s brilliant writing. While the story overall didn’t work for me – I didn’t feel like there was enough plot to fill a novel – it is stuffed with loads of lovely moments and lines. A couple of them:

‘I’ve never trusted an exclamation mark, especially a whole batch of them.’

‘I accepted that sometimes you cannot clear the past completely. You must live alongside your sorrow.’

It’s the tiny moments that I think she excels at. There are a few one or two page chapters in here that feel like they could easily work as pieces of flash fiction. Perhaps this is why I’m slightly excited that the author’s next book is a short story collection.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is, for me, a novel that never seems to fully justify its existence. There is good stuff in it, but only just about enough to outweigh the bad. How much you like this one, I think, will depend on your enthusiasm for The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.


British Fantasy Society Short Story Competition


I have excellent news to share – I’m going to have a short story published! I submitted a piece to the BFS short story competition a few months ago, it’s called ‘The Crows’, and it ended up coming in first place. A very nice bit of confidence boost for my writing. I’m not 100% sure when the publication will come out, either this year or the next, but I’ll keep you guys posted.

‘The Man Who Loved Islands’ by D.H. Lawrence


I recently finished reading D.H. Lawrence: Selected Stories and found it to be a bit of a mixed bag. There were a lot of stories that, while not necessarily bad, just seemed to repeat the same basic plots over and over again. There were three or four stories focusing on troubled marriages and about the same amount that focused on soldiers going against their superiors. Because of this, the best stories to me were the ones that shined with originality. ‘The Blind Man’, ‘The Rocking-Horse Winner’ and ‘The Man Who Loved Islands’ being the highlights. I’m going to talk a little bit about the last of these, so here’s a link to it (though you should read all three):

‘The Man Who Loved Islands’

The later stories in the collection seem to be, overall, a bit on the weird side. This is a good thing, as it leads to some unique material. ‘The Man Who Loved Islands’ runs as an extended ‘what if?’ scenario, with a man buying an island for himself and then later populating it with people. But every time he thinks he’s reached his dream situation, he becomes dissatisfied. The island by itself is enough to start with, but then he gets lonely. Then the people begin to annoy him and he moves to a smaller island. He marries a young woman but soon decides he doesn’t want her either and moves to an even smaller island to live alone.

While it’s fun to see Lawrence play around with the scenario he sets out, it’s the thematic resonance of the story that gives it its power. As humans we’re always striving for something and, when we reach it, we discover we want something else. Just like the man in the story, we’ll never be satisfied with what we have. It’s a theme that comes up in a few of Lawrence’s other stories, but I think he explores it most powerfully here. What a great short story.

Plymouth Book Festival


I’ve attended events at the Plymouth Book Festival for the past few years its ran and have always found it to be a great experience. It’s given me the chance to listen to some authors I really admire, such as Nathan Filer and Gavin Extence.

This year the big pull for me was the excellent stand-up poet Tim Clare. Though I haven’t been able to attend all the events I wanted to at the festival this year, the spoken word session that took place on Friday night, Live and Loud, has been an easy highlight for me. The aforementioned poet kicked things off with a wonderful poem called ‘Noah’s Ark and Grill’, which I’m just going to go ahead and post a YouTube link to:

The two and a half hours were made up of a lot of other great stuff, such as a mock-rap and an unconventional love poem. It really demonstrated how great a medium poetry can be. As an English student, I spend a lot of time reading the classic poets – Coleridge, Shelley, Eliot – so the comedy was a great change. It shows that it can be a lot more versatile than people give it credit for. Poetry doesn’t always have to be dense and layered – sometimes it can just be fun.

The other two events I attended were more straight-up book talks. The talk on Saturday was a discussion of the identity of authors, and featured a few faces from the poetry slam – Tim Clare and Anna Freeman. It was interesting seeing them take off their explosive poet caps off and putting on their more formal author ones. It was a more controlled session, but still entertaining. I walked out of it being sold on a few books, so I guess that’s a good sign.

The last event I attended was an even more measured discussion, being made up of no one more than the interviewer and the author of focus, Imogen Robertson. I don’t think there’s any better way for authors to sell you on their books than to hear them talk about them. Robertson was delightful to listen to and I came out eager to devour every novel in her series.

It’s a shame the audiences for some of these events were as small as they were, given how much – I at least – got out of them. There’s just something I find incredibly enjoyable about hearing authors talk about their books.

Book Review: Silence is Goldfish (2015) by Annabel Pitcher


If there’s one thing that I love about Annabel Pitcher, it’s her writing style. Despite what faults I have with her latest novel, the style of writing that I fell in love with when reading her first novel – My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece – is still very much intact here. She writes in an honest and funny way that is pretty much unmatched by any other young adult author I know. In many ways Silence is Goldfish is worth reading just for that.

But it isn’t by any means a perfect novel. Maybe my expectations were just too high, her first book is pretty much a classic in my eyes, but too many parts of it feel unrefined and a bit rushed. It feels like it needed just one more draft to blossom into something truly special.

Silence is Goldfish focuses on Tess, a quiet fifteen year-old – who is slightly obsessed with Star Wars. She’s content with her life, having a pair of loving parents and a great best friend, until one day everything changes. She finds out something that changes her, shocks her into silence, and all of a sudden she stops speaking. She distances herself from everyone close to her, becoming – as she describes – Pluto. As everyone tries to work out what’s happened to her, Tess digs deeper into the truth she’s uncovered and attempts to work out who she really is.

There are flickers of greatness in this novel, definitely. The premise is interesting and Pitcher goes to quite a lot of interesting places with it. In terms of characters, I found Tess’s father, Jack, particularly strong. Though he starts off a little bit two-dimensional – the controlling, bossy father – Pitcher does a great job of fleshing him out towards the end of the novel, showing both his good and bad sides. I also liked Henry, who seems to avoid the traps of a stereotypical love interest. However, for each strong character, there’s one that feels pretty cliché, such as the girls that bully Tess. Though there are a lot of real schoolgirls that act like they do, Pitcher’s portrayal isn’t unrealistic, it doesn’t stop them from feeling like they came out of a cookie cutter. Isabel, Tess’s best friend, also felt a bit so-so. Her back and forth with Tess is lovely, but it feels as though the author could’ve done more to make her feel unique. A geeky character who is obsessed with Lord of the Rings and writes masses of fan fiction doesn’t feel too original.

Perhaps the most troublesome character of all is Tess though. Like I said before, Pitcher’s writing style is fantastic and she does a great job of making Tess feel like a real person. But she doesn’t always feel much like a fifteen year-old. There’s a pretty huge gap between how a ten year-old acts – the age of Jamie in My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece – and a fifteen year-old, but it doesn’t feel like the author has fully realised that. Tess makes some pretty stupid decisions and says some horribly naïve things, that I believe a ten year-old would do but not a fifteen year-old. There were a few times in the book where I had to remind myself how old she was. In relation to this, the book also feels a bit restrained for YA novel, a bit too innocent. Thinking of John Green’s novels, and his ability to manage humour and mature YA themes, I feel as though Pitcher could’ve pushed herself a bit more. Like the protagonist’s voice, the troubles she faces feel a little more like they belong in a novel aimed at a younger audience.

Despite this being a pretty negative review, I did like this novel. If you’ve read and enjoyed one of Annabel Pitcher’s other novels, then you’ll find something worthwhile here. It’s just frustrating to know that with a bit more work this could have been an incredible novel rather than just a good one.