Category Archives: Creative writing

The Art of the Con – #1

I arrived at the cafe at just after four thirty that afternoon and looked for Philip. He was sitting at his regular table in the far corner.

‘How are things?’

He looked up; ‘Ah James, hello. How are you?’

‘Very well thank you, and the work?’

‘Oh you know, rattling along’. He closed his book and shuffled a bunch of loose sheets of paper together into his notebook. He called for another coffee and then turned to me, ‘James, you’re a publisher, a man interested in stories, let me tell you something fascinating’.

I sat at the table next to him. It was my pleasure to sit in the cafe every once in a while, usually after a day spent proofing manuscripts, and over the summer we had moved from strangers frequenting the same cafe to casual acquaintances. His work as a writer and mine at Hackforth-Newman Publishers meant that our worlds intersected somewhat, though we did not publish any of his work.

‘There is a con, a very simple con’, he began, ‘Where a man at a station approaches a waiting traveler with a story that he has lost his credit cards, his wallet, his identification cards, and all he needs is ninety Euros to get home.

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Filed under Creative writing, Stories

A transitory meet-cute

The tube carriage is close to empty when I finish my book; an old couple sit at the far end, a man with a duffle bag stands in the centre well. There is also a girl sitting opposite me, reading as I am.

I close the final page of my book and as I do I see the girl close her book as well. She looks up, stares ahead for a second, lost in thought, then puts the novel on her lap and places both hands on top of it in a final, concluding flourish.

‘Done?’ She asks, pointing at the book I’m holding.

‘Yes.’

‘Me too.’ She smiles lazily. ‘How was it for you?’

The girl is Asian, or at least part Asian, dressed in a loose fitting vest and black jeans. Her hair is long, tied up loosely behind her. Her ears are pierced.

‘Good’ I say. ‘You want to read it?’

‘What is it?’

I pass her the book and she reads the back cover.

‘Sounds good,’ she says.

‘It is.’

She passes her book to me and I take it. I read the back cover.

‘How is it?’

‘It will make you cry.’

‘You’re not crying’ I say.

‘I don’t cry easy.’

She smiles again, then leans forward.

‘Have you heard of a ‘meet-cute’?’ she asks.

‘Yes’, I say.

‘This is it.’ She says, ‘This is one. Two strangers finish their books at the same time, in the same carriage of the same tube. They talk. They swap books. They promise to meet again in one month’s time, to the hour, to the minute.’

‘You want to swap books?’ I ask.

‘Yes.’

The tube is slowing, the lights of the stations flashing through the carriage windows. She stands, gathers her bag up, still with my book held in her hands.

‘Sure,’ I say, ‘Okay’.

She puts the book in her bag.

‘Thanks.’

She points her hand towards the book I’m now holding, ‘That one’s good. Enjoy it.’

‘I will.’ I say.

The doors hiss open and she moves towards them.

‘And in a month’s time we meet again?’

‘Possibly.’ She  says, ‘Possibly.’

As she walks past the window  I turn my head to follow her, and then the train pulls off and the crowds seem to grow on the station and when I search for her she has already disappeared in the press of bodies.

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Filed under 5 Minute Sketches, Creative writing

Hangover

This is a reworking of an earlier piece.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Wasps buzz and tumble over each other deep between my eyes. Light stings, sound sickens. I bury my head; try to suffocate the wasps, try to starve them of air, starve them of life.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Again.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

The beat of blood pulsing though my veins echoes and warps, spills out of synch until the moment I feel the beat and the moment I hear the sound it makes are far enough apart that the world seems tipped sideways.

Outside my window, low down on the street people shout at each other. I can smell the cotton fibres of the sheet in my nose.

My eyes crack open and when the do the wasps, unsettled, beat their wings. The darkened room, tipped sideways and seen through black flashes of lightening, is still. An empty glass of water, the glass streaked with fingerprints, sits on the bed side table. A crack of light knifes through the tight drawn curtains, flashes off a mirror. Dust motes drift across the room, blaze like a meteor in the light, vanish. The room smells cold.

In the bathroom my skin oxidises, decays in the air. My throat tightens and I gag. Above the sink the small circular mirror is marked with lime scale but when I stare in to it I don’t see death, only two bloodshot eyes ringed with black, surrounded by pale wax skin pulled tight across the scaffolding below.

The water splashes in the porcelain basin, fills the dirty glass. I breathe the cold smell of ammonia through my nostrils.

I drink, and immediately afterwards am sick.

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The Bathysphere

A few years ago I had the idea of a story set on a bathysphere, sunk deep below the waves. The crew would have been small, four or five, and the cable would have snapped, plunging them down, down, down to the depths of the ocean. Back on board the research ship a reporter for the London Express would have been sending telegrams back to England about the disaster, rousing interest and sympathy in equal measure. The captain of the ship was named Rachman. His father was a tailor. The first mate, unnamed so far, was a coward, though it was only when Rachman was knocked unconscious in a mishap that this cowardliness became evident. In the great depths of the sea they would have been almost blind, but the phosphorescent glow of tiny sea creatures would have been visible in the black, like stars in space.  Later they would rise to the surface somehow, and find themselves the other side of the world than when they started. I had been reading a lot of Alan Moore and Jules Vern at this point, and the sketch, and idea, are obviously influenced by this. Something to come back to in the future perhaps.

A sketch drawn one lunchtime:

The text reads: The history of the explorers of the oceans is long and varied. From China to the Persian Empire, from Aristotle’s tales of Alexander the Great sinking deep beneath the waves, to sponge divers in India and village girls diving for pearls in the Philippines. The sea holds many attractions and many terrors. In 1903 a new diving bell was built in the docks of Liverpool. Not really a diving bell at all, this steel ball was built to sink many thousands of feet in to the churning waters and then hang suspended, a tiny point of light in the engulfing inky darkness. A bathysphere. 

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Filed under 5 Minute Sketches, Blog, Comics, Creative writing, Ideas

Flash Fiction

Flash fiction efforts from last weekend’s workshop (hosted by the incredibly talented Femi Martin). Not great, but not bad for 15 minutes apiece:

  • ‘Run’

Silver space foil crackled as I leant against the tree. The paramedics had loud, cheerful voices, wore green uniforms. They took my temperature, my heart rate, checked my breathing, said ‘Dehydration I reckon, it’s hot today’. Runners with black numbers on their chest’s streamed past. My number lay on the ground, crumpled, torn, forgotten.

  • Simplification of a paragraph from Oliver Twist – I ended up only really attacking the first sentence

You sleep, wake, sleep, eight o’clock, sleep again, drift. You see the pyramids rise, see Rome fall. You live, love, fight. You are born, you die. You wake. Eight o’five.

  • Based on touch

Dusted icing sugar clings to the felt base of the number. Candles flicker, balloons, anchored by coloured ribbons bob and wave. His feet kick the air with excitement and he stands on the chair, pulls his chin above the table edge. The room holds its breath. Then claps and smiles and sings. Thin cotton threads of smoke rise to the ceiling, and his mother takes up the knife, and cuts.

  • Based on sound

Exhausted from life she has retreated from the living and is now caught up inside herself. Her mind is a vast, empty egg-shaped blackness and at the centre, a head – hers, miniature – is suspended. It starts quietly, talking, reflecting on why and how it is here. As is speaks the awareness grows and as the awareness grows, strength grows. Stars begin to wink in the darkness and the night’s black is not as dark. The depression begins to lift.

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Sleeping beating crying dreaming

Wake up. Wasps buzz and tumble over each other deep in your frontal lobe; between the eyes, under the skin. Light stings, sound sickens. Bury your head. Thump. Thump. Thump. Again. Thump. Thump. Thump. The beat of blood pulsing though your head echoes and warps, spills out of synch until the moment you feel the beat and the moment you hear the sound it makes are far enough apart that the world seems tipped sideways. Whistles join the beat; shrill, joyful. Cars honk and feet slap against the tarmac. Your eyes crack, the wasps, unsettled, beat their wings. A darkened room, seen sideways through black flashes of lightening, an empty glass of water sitting on the bed side table. A crack of light knifes through the tight drawn curtains and flashes off a mirror. On the street outside a black man, old with dreads bigger than him beats a large white drum. He stands in the middle of the road. He is the announcer. The harbinger. Cars slow. Passers-by slow. Watch him dance. Thump. Thump. An electric pulse shoots through your body, a thousand smaller pulses contract the muscles in your neck. Your head raises, tilts up. The wasps fall over each other, they drone, clamour.  Your skin tingles in the air, oxidizing and decaying around you.  In the small circular  mirror above the sink you don’t see death, only a slightly pale face, furrowed brow, eyes ringed with black. The water splashes in the porcelain basin, fills the dirty glass. Water  droplets jump and freeze your skin. The drumming of the dancing man fades and following behind him, drawn along by the beat is a long black car and a crowd dressed for mourning. They sing. Celebrate. Dance. Cry. The wasps buzz again, their wings thrum and vibrate. Close your eyes. Grow quiet, still. The procession moves forward in the sunlight. You sleep.

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Transient underground

What was that? Oh? You’re pregnant? Look. No, okay, look, I’ve had awful, terrible day, just completely fucking fucked. Truly. However tired you are, it doesn’t come close. Why’ve you got that badge anyway? Look at you. Barely a bumb. All that extra weight’s a bummer huh? Wait till you get to eight months lady, then you’ll be physically pulling people out of seats instead of just sniffing loudly and pointedly. You’re ‘too polite’ to ask any one to move but you’ll make them uncomfortable and guilty at the drop of a hat? Jesus. Can’t say shit to a pregnant lady, there’s no way to win. Jay-sus. Listen, listen, carrying a child doesn’t make you Mary Magdalene, it doesn’t make you incapable of standing and, sorry darling, it doesn’t make you any less of a bitch. Yeah, I know, I know, I’m the prick right? Yeah I’m the prick. Jesus, what a fucking day.

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Filed under 5 Minute Sketches, Creative writing