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The Girl Who Had Everything

The Girl Who Had Everything

It was my daughters 21st  birthday last weekend. You may call me a sop for admitting this but I still get teary eyed reflecting about the little sperm and egg that done good all those years ago. From a microscopic speck to a five foot seven inch, blonde haired, hazel eyed force of nature. Part me, part The Mother (read: Ex #2), part who knows what else because she’s certainly got something from somewhere else. I love her dearly; have been so proud of all her achievements from her first words and her first steps, to her first recital and first day at college. Yet there is one thing…

Maybe I should explain. I’m a billionaire see: those fancy phones and tablets you’re always waving about, odds are in the continental US that the rare metals that make them tick came from a mine I own overseas. What this means is that my beautiful daughter never wanted for anything when she was growing up.

She was the girl who had everything.

She had a wardrobe of shoes before she could walk.

For her birthday she didn’t go to Disney, Disney came to her en masse. I tell you there were a few weird encounters in the toilets that day.

When her friends were playing with My Little Pony, her Little Pony, was well.. a Little Pony.

When I say friends, I don’t think I ever learnt the name of one. She seemed to always be surrounded by them and always discarding them. I put it down to little girls petty games. No matter what drama erupted in her cliques, she always had countless more ‘friends’ stepping up.

She didn’t just have a private tutor, she had a private school whose principal was on my speed dial and conveniently enough granted entry to our country club shortly before we enrolled her. We certainly had no problem ensuring the best education, results, for her.

Diamonds.

High Fashion.

Movie Premiers.

A ticket into space (I thought it was one way).

When people her age started sleeping around, naturally she did the naughty with the football captain and then decided she didn’t want to be like the others. So she popped to a clinic and emerged a half hour later with her halo back in place. Blame the mother.

Her voice changed over time too. No not by some kind of surgery. That sweet little voice that used to greet me when I came home asking nicely, hesitantly, for this and that, became somewhat shriller, more expectant as she grew up. She was the girl who had everything, and wanted more. Now, if you please.

Blame me for that one.

Ahead of any girls 21st birthday, the pressure builds on the parent. What do we give, what do we provide that shows our pride, our love. Something special and unique. For the girl who had everything, it was especially hard. I spent months leading up to it worrying. Oh I wasn’t short for ideas. She provided them. Daily.

Then the day arrived.  My little girl had turned twenty one. A fully grown woman ready to take on the world. The twinkle of my eye. Sharper than a draw full of knives, more beautiful than Miss Universe, and more demanding… always more demanding… than anything you can imagine. So what did I give her on her twenty first birthday?

A Porsche?

An aeroplane?

A small Caribbean island?

I gave her an envelope.

She didn’t even bat an eye lid, such was her expectation of extravagance and she tore the letter open without ceremony as friends and family watched. I sipped from my champagne, the drink she was now allowed but had supped since she was thirteen despite my efforts to restrict her. The colour drained first from her face. Her breath caught. Her eyes darted speculatively about, searching for me. Then she threw the letter and envelope down and ran off in a fit of tears.

A piece of tumbleweed drifting across the room would not have been out of place. Such was the silence and awkwardness that filled the room in my daughter’s absence. People looked at me, I sipped my champagne. I had done it, I had pulled it off.

What on earth could you get the girl who had everything?

Nothing.

So I cancelled her trust fund.

I got nothing for the girl who has everything.

It was probably the best piece of parenting I’ve ever done.

Image: Vlado / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Posted by on March 16, 2012 in Flash Fiction

 

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One Missed Valentine

One Missed Valentine

Spring would come early this year. There was a brightness, a smell, a feeling in the air. It would be a good spring, it would bring such promise. For now, the flowers shied away, stubbornly maintaining their concealment for a few more weeks yet. The showers from the previous night had given a freshness to the valley and vibrancy to what colour there was. For the young man and woman crossing the old stone bridge it was quite idyllic. He walked with a slightly awkward manner, dragging his left leg in a just-noticeable fashion that suggested some kind of infirmity perhaps from an accident, perhaps from a hazardous country birth. He wore the comfortable felt hat all the labourers on the farms did, accompanied by an old often repaired sack coat that was probably more than second hand. His companion wore a tidy, if plain, day dress and some blue ribbons in her hair. She politely ignored the man’s limp or simply didn’t notice. She fidgeted, a nervous smile never far from her face, as they strolled and chatted.

Below and a little way downstream a semi-naked man pulled an arrow from a quiver. He placed it on his bow and hefted the ancient weapon and pointed it towards the young man in the felt cap. Belying a hidden strength , the chubby pink skinned figure pulled back on the string all the way to his ear, and released to a satisfying twang. The sound had barely faded when the arrow head struck home right in the centre of the man’s chest as he looked over the side of the bridge. Neither one of the couple seemed to notice the arrow; in fact the only recognition that he’d been hit at all was a sudden sharp intake of breath. Rather than appearing wounded, he suddenly looked nervous as hell, as if plucking from some deep store of courage. He turned to the young woman and took her hand in his to her bemusement. He dropped awkwardly to one knee as the woman’s eyes widened.

A second arrow was drawn from the quiver. The man wielding the bow hummed a little tune to himself.  He enjoyed his work, and he thought he did a good job too. He placed the arrow on the bow again and pulled back to his ear as the young farm labourer proposed marriage to the servant girl. That twang again, and the arrow drove its way through the air, parting the currents as it whizzed at its target.

Which it missed by three inches.

The woman had her hand over her mouth in surprise at the proposal. Cupid could not hear her response but could see it. She shook her head, turned and hurried away from the poor young man still knelt on one knee on the stone bridge. Cupid sighed and shrugged to himself. Even the Greek God of Desire wasn’t perfect.  He put his bow over his shoulder and straightened up behind the bush where he had been hiding and unfurled his small but powerful wings. Think of how a bumble bee flies and you get the picture.  His wings then fluttered furiously and hefted his bulk up into the sky and away, as a broken man on the bridge tried to piece together what he did wrong.

Image: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2011 in Flash Fiction

 

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The Emperors New Art

The Emperors New Art

A conversation between an art gallery assistant and curator, based completely on fiction and not on any real, publicly funded, art gallery in the north-east of England.

“I’ve been looking forward to this exhibition. You guys seemed to be really excited in the office. Gold trimmed Opening invites!”

“This is really a big deal for us. We’ve got national press coverage, television coverage, and the artist is going to be doing a walkthrough of the exhibition with the VIP’s.”

“Who are the VIP’s?”

“Wealthy and influential people from outside of the town. You know the type.  Businessmen, Councillors, and what have you. We need their donations more than ever to offset the council cuts to our budgets. “

“Cool, I guess I won’t be able to bring my girlfriend on the opening evening if I don’t get one of those fancy invites?”

“Sure you can. Between me and you the invites are supposed to be a bit of a false perk for donating to the gallery, but we’re a public institution so we can’t turn anyone away. Bring her; there will be canapés and wine.”

“Thanks. So where’s the first item? Someone ran off with it already?”

“Your stood next to it.”

“Its a box.”

“Yes.”

“An empty, plain, see through box.”

“Yes. Fascinating isn’t it? Really speaks to you.”

“Seriously, is there something supposed to be inside it?”

“There is! That’s the clever part. Read the description.”

This container holds a one foot by one foot section of the atmosphere. It contains, amongst other gases – Nitrogen, Oxygen, Hydrogen, and Carbon Dioxide...”

“Can’t believe we nearly missed out on this in the bidding to Sheffield!”

“Uh, neither can I…  Wait, is this made out of the acrylic I saw in the Technicians workshop?”

“Yeah, he’s been making it all week. Cracked two of them and had to start again.”

“Let me get this straight. You outbid another gallery for the rights to the idea for an empty box.. sorry a box with ‘atmosphere’.  It isn’t even the original object made by the artist. It’s made by Peter in his workshop. And you are going to use this to attract donations from the well to do?”

“Hey the idea doesn’t take up space in our collection. We can keep that on a computer and make the art whenever we want it for display.”

“Wow, thats really… weird. Could you not have saved the thousands you spent on the rights to this idea and displayed any of the millions of pounds worth of art already in our collections out of public view?”

“Don’t be silly! This is a modern art gallery at the leading edge of the industry. We can’t start showing objects just because people want to see them. We have reputations to maintain. We’re even thinking of selling some of that old stuff to help us commission new works…”

“Like that collection of line drawing last year?”

“Exactly. We’ve worked out that if we sell some of the paintings and close one or two of the smaller museums we can plug the funding we’re losing from the council and central government. When the museums close, all their visitors will surely come here then and that will definitely help us hit our attendance targets.”

“You really think they will close popular museums to keep this place open?”

“Of course, we’re the flagship of the town!”

Image: graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2011 in Duologue

 

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Ether Books publish KATAKOMBY and more….

If you have enjoyed reading some of the stories on the Cul-De-Sac and would like to read more of my work, several stories are now available to purchase and download from Ether Books iPhone App. Ether are a mobile publishing company specializing in short stories and essays and I am very proud to be included on their distribution system. Mobile phones and short stories have always felt like a perfect match to me, something you can read on the go whilst commuting between work and home or on other long journeys. The Ether Books App allows you to search by author or genre to find new content by established big name authors like Conn Iggulden and Paul McCartney and new writers just bursting into the literary world. Mobile publishing could well be the democratization of the publishing industry. As ever, the customer decides. All stories you download are kept in a little collection just like a traditional ereader so you can build up a library of short stories and pick and choose from them depending on your mood.

Some of the stories featured on Ether Books have also been published on the website here. Exclusive content is marked.

Below the title, genre, price and blurb for the stories is listed. To download the Ether Books App click here.

KATAKOMBY (Noir) *EXCLUSIVE*

Czech Republic, present day. They had targeted him for a while and now they had their leverage… KATAKOMBY is a story of love, industrial espionage and prostitutes set in the underworld of a medieval town. Can he save the woman he loves?

Cost: 59p

FOR DANIELS BENEFIT (Satire)

Based on real council blunders. The ways of local government, and the benefit system in particular have often been described as ‘other’. Find out how this sense becomes literal as Daniel applies for the benefits he is entitled to and gets more than he bargained for.

Cost: 59p

THE GOD PARTICLE (Sci-Fi)

Mankind’s insatiable appetite for resources has already had enormous impact on the Earth. In this short story the dream of unlimited resources is explored with a consideration of possible political and social impacts. And as Mankind reaches out to the stars, how will the universe respond?

Cost: 59p

Photographs submitted to the Facebook ‘Like’ Page..

 

The God Particle was 'What's Hot' on its weekend release...

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2010 in Publishing

 

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Not Just A #fridayflash In The Pan

Flash

Flash in the pan?

The Cul-de-sac was set up originally in the summer as a separate blog with which to post new pieces of writing. I had made a resolution with myself at the start of the summer to start to put a concerted effort into my writing on a regular basis.

I was not ready to write The Novel nor to finish a supernatural western novella I had been working on. I needed to practice and build up the habit of regular writing. I also needed confidence, and this is where the #fridayflash phenomenon on twitter came in.

Friday Flash is a concept spearheaded by the author J M Strother which has it that authors should post a new piece of flash fiction (1k words approx) every Friday to their blogs and to share the fact on twitter with a url to the story and the tag #fridayflash. The concept has been such an immense success that J. M. Strother has just published a collection of the best Friday Flash stories so far via CreateSpace and Amazon. What was originally part practice and part networking has led to many first time writers getting that first all important publication.

On the subject of publication, the flash form of writing also lends itself well to publication in magazines both traditional and digital as they often fit on one page. A quick search on google also reveals plenty of opportunity to turn that casual Friday habit into a competitive zeal with many competitions held regularly.

There has long been two camps of writers when it comes to the little matter of giving away your baby works of great fiction. One side thinks you shouldn’t show your genius without seeing the color of money first, the other thinks that giving away work is an essential part of the new socially aware industry paradigm.

Here is the thing: People will buy The Novel from you if you have convinced them with your free work that your worth their time and money. Just as music fans (I don’t just mean consumers of music but lovers of it) will still buy CD’s and mp3’s of their favorite bands when they could just as easily download them free from somewhere else*. It’s a sign of respect for talent quite removed from a capitalist instinct of getting the most for the least investment.

For me #fridayflash has been a useful outlet to experiment with different writing styles, to meet some amazing, friendly, talented people (see links on the right) and also boost my self-confidence. Nothing boosts your self-confidence more than receiving an email from a publisher wanting to release your short fiction like Ether Books sent myself and fellow flasher Rebecca Emin (no doubt among others!).

I may have only posted 3 stories to the blog so far, however another 1 has been reserved as an exclusive for Ether Books and the inspiration has led to over a dozen other ideas that I am pursuing. Some as flash pieces, some as short stories, some as ideas for novels, serials and even non-fiction work.

That surge in productivity, to me, makes the concept much more than a flash-in-the-pan.

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* At least I still buy my music and movies legally, call me old-fashioned.

Note: J M Strother publishes a list of stories every week that have been added to his ‘collector’. Go here to add yours and reach a huge potential audience of keen writers and readers.

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2010 in On Writing

 

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The Lady Medusa

Hall of MirrorsOnce upon a time in Paris, society revolved around the salons and on the good word of influential people. Into this rarefied world stepped the Lady Medusa, from where she came nobody can recall. She was a woman of some means and considerable beauty who exerted an incredible pull on the men around her. She was aware of her power with men and used it to build that influence that brought her into the fringes of Royal society. She developed a reputation for using men, bachelors and wedded, bewitching them with her beauty and then discarding them lives ruined. That she was a predator in the world of society there is no doubt. Some tell it that her ultimate ambition was the heart of the King himself.

A woman of such means and reputation does not sail through the salons of Paris without making a few enemies. The betrayed girlfriends, wives, daughters, nieces of gentlemen whom she had bewitched and ruined formed a cabal of their own determining to put a stop to this foreign lady before she stole the very heart of the nation. To this end they enlisted a man, a most unusual man. Jean Baillehache was a man only recently returned to France from adventure and pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He had left at the age of 19 a healthy strong risk taking young man and returned three years later much older in wisdom than his years and most strikingly of all – completely blind. Being a man of significant wealth, not drawn from the land, he was not significantly disadvantaged and liked to claim that it was god’s will and he must suffer it, refusing any inspection by persons of the medical profession.

Jean spent most of his time away from court but had earned the favour of the King with his accounts of life in the Holy Land and vivid descriptions of the places Jesus had gone and travelled. For a man tied to his throne and to his duty, living through Jean’s experience was a most pleasing activity. For this Jean was regularly invited to balls and other events at the Palace of Versailles.

It was one such invitation that he received after being contacted by the cabal of vengeful women that he employed as a lure for the Lady Medusa. Sending his maid, less likely to be ensnared by the woman’s charms than his manservant, with a complimentary invitation he asked the Lady Medusa to accompany him to a Masquerade at the Palace. Though she did not know of this Gentleman Jean Baillehache, his proffered entry into Royal society aroused her aspirations and she consented.

The Lady Medusa was collected by carriage and met by the masque wearing Jean Baillehache who complimented her on her dress and offered his arm to her which she politely accepted, her other hand holding her own masque. He walked with a cane, which she assumed was to do with an injury from some adventuring. They chatted and drank, snacked and danced. Each one appearing somewhat distant to the other. She with eyes searching for the King, he focused on her voice so as not to betray his handicap. Disappointment began to settle on her as the evening wore on and it became clear the King would not be appearing, though it being a Masquerade she would not know if he was there at all!

Her attention instead began to focus more and more on her escort for the evening, her questions asserting his wealthy background and status. As the conductor signalled the last dance of the evening Jean invited her to follow him to participate in a cotillion. However, prior to leaving his seat he did a strange thing and felt the wall behind the chair a little uncertainly. He then placed his masque down and asked the Lady Medusa to do the same. Beguiled by his piercing eyes she placed hers down and moved into the centre of the hall, following Jeans deliberate steps – almost as if counting. They took each other’s hands and danced. Jean Baillehache and the Lady Medusa stared into each others eyes for the duration of the dance. Part way through she saw over his shoulder a fleeting glimpse, a reflection for the briefest moment, of herself. As they turned and moved in step with the music she kept glancing over his shoulder, looking behind her, trying to catch glimpse of herself again through the crowd of dancers who only had eyes for each other. And then a gap in the dancers opened open and she stopped in mid step with Jean, who unable to see her stop stumbled a little.

He blinked, unseeingly and listened… to nothing.

For the Lady Medusa, in her ball dress, was stood staring into the mirrors of Versailles at her own reflection; Seduced by her own beauty, unable to tear her gaze away. The power she had wielded on so many men now turned back on her. The crowd of people began to gradually thin out, leaving in their various carriages until there was just Jean Baillehache and the Lady Medusa.

Jean stepped back from the Medusa.

“My lady…”

He got no response. He nodded a little to himself and retraced his steps carefully to the chair which his cane rested on and departed the Hall of Mirrors smartly leaving the Lady Medusa alone. Yet she was not alone, for she was not even there herself anymore. Her skin growing paler, the fabric of her clothes growing stiffer and draining of colour until all that was left of the monster of the salons of Paris, the predator of aristocratic man, was a statue: Her size and height, with her same absorbing stare, but one which was now utterly powerless. The most perfect image of female vanity.

A flash, and then another.

Slowly, a group of chatty excitable Japanese tourists move past the statue.

“If you will please… come this way, please. We are now in the Hall of Mirrors which was part of the third building campaign of King Louis IV, or the Sun King as he styled himself. Work began on the extension in 1678 under the auspices of the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart…”

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I hope you enjoyed reading the above interpretation of the story of Medusa as much as I enjoyed exploring it. It was inspired from a sudden realisation this summer that the Medusa story was about vanity not bravery and has given me the urge to read up on those classic myths which are still such fertile ground for ideas about the world we live in. Feel free to share any comments about the above story below, or about your favourite Greek myths. I am considering expanding The Lady Medusa to about a 4,000-5000 word short to more fully explore the themes tentatively explored here.

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2010 in Reinterpretation

 

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The Short Form: Brief history, Prosperous Future

gutenberg When Johannes Gutenberg perfected his printing system in the 1450s he triggered a revolution in media. For the first time you could mass produce books (importantly for him, the bible included) rapidly allowing for an easier distribution of ideas and news. However whilst productions of texts like the bible and law codes were certainly undertaken it was the short stories, histories, plays, announcements, testaments etc which were the main beneficiaries. As the process became more developed, the technology for printing advanced and the manufacturing process of the paper became cheaper the long form gradually established its dominance. Now publishers expect texts to be a certain length to justify a certain price. Market forces and all that.

As a result short fiction, essays and the like have found themselves in an uncomfortable position. Unable to find publication outside of anthologies or journals except in rare cases. It has proven a major headache for students for decades being forced to purchase or borrow (from an under resourced university library) texts which they only need access to one article out of 500-1000 pages.

The information technology age always promised something different. Theoretically you should have been able to access individual articles, stories, essays instantly over the web. For various reasons – outdated distribution models, copyright systems, stubbornness – this has only been to limited effect. After all, the people teaching students never had these resources so aren’t familiar with it themselves. Now I am doing the vast majority of my essays for my PGCE by accessing articles on the Athens network, some of my colleagues haven’t touched a computer. People have their own preferences, always will. However the advantages of instant access, no waste, no risk of loss are finally becoming ever more prominent in further education. Middlesbrough College has even uploaded ebooks to their ‘Blackboard’ network cutting the need to own twenty copies of the same book. With the kind of cuts we’re seeing in education budgets, this use of alternative techniques can only be encouraged.

Yet through all this, short fiction has until recently continued to be marginalised. Now however several options for writers has appeared thanks in large part to the popularity of smart phones and e-readers such as the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook and Sony Reader.

Ether Books are one such company who are publishing short form (1,000-15,000 words) writing directly to mobile phones through their APP. Currently only on the iPhone system they have plans to move to Android, Blackberry and other operating systems as they grow and expand. Think about this as a writer. How many people have Smartphone’s? How fast is that market growing? People do not need to go to a shop, or pick things off a shelf at home. Most people keep their phones near them. Publish on the Ether Books or similar system and you have instant access to a market of millions at no cost to yourself. They handle the distribution and admin, you drive traffic to yourself with an online author platform and collect 20% royalty on each sale. For writers starting out and trying to build that platform, its a fantastic means of getting out there in a crowded market. I also cannot think of a better incentive for continuing writing than to see people actively buying your work for a nominal fee and not just reading it on your blog for free. Though I personally recommend if you have built up a following thanks to something such as twitters ‘#fridayflash’ phenomenon then to continue publishing those stories for free online and use it as leverage for sending traffic to more ‘exclusive’ stories people might be prepared to pay for.

Amazon have also got in on the act this time for academics and those researchers out amongst us. Their “Singles” platform aims to directly solve that student pickle over needing an entire textbook for one article. They have also cited the perfectly good research which never sees the light of print because of its length. There are some criticisms of this as with any kind of self-publishing in that peer review may not take place but the online space is quite efficient in self regulating via reviews and ratings. I myself have a personal research project on a lifetime history of psychiatric nursing, which I intend to base on oral testimony of former and current nurses working in psychiatric care. It will never be a long enough piece for full book publication but may be an appropriate size for the Amazon Singles. Amazon are looking for non-fiction works in the region of 10,000 to 30,000. Email them if you have a work you’d like considered.

So far no word from Amazon’s competition, but it would be limited the scope of their business if they didn’t follow suit in some form. Of course, you can always self-publish any length of work with Amazon’s DTP.

I’m an optimistic guy. I am a huge fan of 1930s-1950s pulp fiction. The quick, unpolished, high drama works that appeared in the likes of Black Mask Magazine. The current moves to once again commercialise the short form of both fiction and non-fiction makes me believe that a prosperous future lies ahead. At least we don’t have to all get bogged down writing The Novel, which after all, is a fashion itself.

What do you think of short form publishing? Have you used the Ether Books APP or contacted Amazon Singles? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2010 in Publishing

 

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