Posts Tagged ‘Bill Robertson’

through the darkest door

This week I decided it was about time that I got my backside into gear and started doing something more productive with my writing. I was inspired by Brendan’s Gisby’s recent blog on self publishing which sent me rifling through my story folder looking for some new work to submit to McStorytellers.  I always have a couple of stories in reserve that I’ve been “saving” for …well actually I don’t know what really. It used to be the annual slog of literary competitions until i realised the chances of someone like me winning the Bridport was a pipe dream and I’d be better off spending the entrance fee on some new music or something. Ditto most of the other well known and lesser known comps that draw in thousands of aspiring authors every year. I’d dabbled with self publishing mainly as a way of playing about with the technology and figuring out how it worked. I’d put out a wee themed collection and then a couple of Christmas stories (which I’d published as a nice wee gift for family and friends – giving them away for free over the holidays and then being presently surprised when a few folk actually forked over 99p to buy one!)

Anyway, I looked at all the stories I’d accumulated and thought to myself – “why send a couple of stories when I have enough here to do something a bit more substantial?” I got in touch with Brendan and pitched him the idea of putting out an anthology under the McStorytellers banner. Emails were exchanged and in no time at all Brendan had prepped a forty story collection fully formatted and ready to be published.

If you come here often you are no doubt aware of the developing paradigm shift in the world of publishing. Once upon a time, not so long ago, the idea of putting out your own work without the aid of one of the big boys was tainted with the label of “Vanity publishing” which nobody really took seriously. The name carried with it the stench of hubris and self delusion and images of faux-leather bound books gathering dust in garages and attics.

Computers have changed all that. Social Media, E-Books and Print on Demand technology have levelled the playing field to some extent and the power has started to be wrenched from the hands of publishing conglomerates and given to the thousands of would-be writers struggling to make it out of the slush piles.

In a lot of ways it reminds me of the music scene in the early 70s, dominated by major labels and stadium filling rock bands and then …pow! Punk arrives with the instructions: “This is chord. This is another. This is a third. Now form a band.” Bands like the Buzzcocks started bypassing the major labels completely to put their own singles out and inadvertantly started “Independent” labels dedicated to doing the same thing for other bands. These new labels were run on a shoestring but the limitations only forced them to be more creative and unafraid to take risks. They were run by people for the love of seeing the music get out there rather than for profit.

So the way I see it McStorytellers could be the literary equivalent of Factory, Mute, Postcard, Creation and all the others, leading a vanguard of literary renegades across the new frontiers of digital publishing and I’m proud to be part of it.

This week then those forty stories were launched upon an unsuspecting world when “Through The Darkest Door” was published. I don’t expect to set the world on fire. I don’t expect to trade my Ford Focus for a stretch limo or to be able to give up my day job, but I will be able to stand up proud and point to that book and say: “I did it my way.”

You can decide for yourself by following one of the links below. If you like what you’ve read afterwards please don’t forget to leave a review for future readers who might decide to check out my work for themselves based on your words.

UK Kindle version

US Kindle version

UK paperback version

US paperback version

wreckersAs part of Book Week Scotland, the Aberdeen Library Special Collections Centre runs a Flash Fiction competition where authors are invited to submit a story based on one of four images from their collection. This is the third year in a row I’ve entered …and the third year in a row I’ve come away empty handed! You can read the winners and all the other entries on the Special Collections page. In the meantime here is my not quite good enough effort.
Wreckers
Andrew picked his way over the rocks towards his grandfather. The morning mist had cleared with the rising sun and he could taste the salt in the air as the sharp rocks and shells pressed hard into the soles of his feet.
‘Let’s see what the tide has brought us today then lad,’ his grandfather said over the hiss of the waves.
They walked together along the shoreline. Andrew held his hand, enjoying the rough feel of his skin on his. The old man had taken him in after his had died when he was just a toddler and now Andrew could barely even remember his real father.
It was not long before they started to see the first debris. Scraps of splintered wood tumbled onto the beach atop the briny foam along with a man’s shirt and a solitary brown leather shoe washed up at the high water mark. His grandfather spared them no more than a cursory glance.
The first body was just a little farther along, arms splayed like a man-size rag doll as the tide nudged it ashore. The old man knelt and began a thorough inspection of the corpse. Andrew watched as his grandfather dipped his hands in and out of pockets. He was amazed as always at how quickly he worked. A rolled up sleeve revealed a gold wristwatch which he deftly removed. He held it to his ear to check it still worked before slipping it into his pocket. A quick tug on a finger also relieved the man of his wedding ring. The dead man’s head rolled from side to side as he worked as if he was objecting to his treatment. Finally, his grandfather’s long bony fingers plucked a cracked leather wallet out from an inside pocket. He flipped it open and carefully withdrew some sodden banknotes before tossing the empty billfold onto the sand at Andrew’s feet. The boy stooped to pick it up and opened it. A picture of a smiling woman and a little baby looked out at him.
‘Leave it be lad,’ his grandfather said. ‘It does no good to know too much about what washes up on the beach.’
‘Yes grandfather.’
Andrew dropped the wallet back onto the sand. The faces still stared up at him as the water washed over them making their features blur.
‘Let’s move on,’ his grandfather said wiping his hands on his trousers as he stood up. ‘Plenty more where this one came from I’ll wager, cargo too if we’re lucky.’
When they were done they would go home and count the day’s take and his grandfather would give him a share for helping. After the sun went down they would light their lantern and go for another walk along the beach. There were always plenty of ships plying their trade along the rocky coast and there were always a few that would be fooled by the light and founder on the reefs before spilling their holds into the waves.

 

Words have been hard to come by of late. The reality of a full time job and young family means little downtime for creative pursuits. Recently however I came across a competition to write a 50 word short story run by The Scottish Book Trust. “Surely I can manage to squeeze out that many words?” I told myself.

In reality, writing anything coherhent with so few words is actually pretty difficult. I obviously didn’t quite crack it as I got an email today to say that my effort wouldn’t be progressing to the next round of the competition but it least it sparked a little creative spurt – since completing this story I’ve managed to write another couple of longer pieces which will no doubt end up here at some point.

In the meantime here is “The Other Side”. The picture below is the one used as a prompt for the competition.

october_prompt_teaser_0

The Other Side

The experiment left me trapped on the other side. The footsteps behind you on the platform were mine.

I followed you home, becoming that creaking in the attic when you lie in bed, that door that somehow never stays shut. Cold air brushes your cheek.
‘Help me, please,’ I whisper.

ImageAt the tail end of last year I once again entered the Aberdeen University Special Collections Flash Fiction competition. Once again I didn’t win anything but hey-ho…

Anyway, since I haven’t posted anything for a while I thought I may as well share it here. The story was inspired by the picture.

Strictly Business

‘How was Bogota?’

They were standing in front of the model globe. Anderson could feel the slight chill of air-conditioning through his suit. Outside the muggy New York streets waited for him.

‘The arrangements were excellent as usual.’

‘And Señor Mendoza?’ Philips let the question hang in the cool air. He was close enough that Anderson caught a faint whiff of his cologne. He remembered the heat from the car bomb washing over him even from a safe distance. The plume of black smoke had stretched above the city streets like a crooked exclamation point confirming that Carlos Mendoza had ceased to exist.

‘Will no longer be a problem.’

‘And the authorities?’

‘Mendoza frequently criticised the drug lords so everyone assumes the Cartel did it.  So far the press hasn’t made the connection to his campaign against foreign investment.’

‘Excellent,’ Philips turned to the younger man. ‘I believe there was some collateral damage?’

Anderson nodded.

‘Senor Mendoza’s wife and his daughter were also in the car.’ Ana Maria Mendoza had been just six years old.  Her smiling, gap-toothed school picture had stared out at him from the front pages of the newspaper while he waited for his flight.

‘Unfortunate,’ Philips shrugged. ‘However, these things happen in our line of work.’ He smiled. ‘You’ve done well Jimmy. Your name is going to be heard by a lot of important people after this, you mark my words.’

‘It’s good to know that my work is appreciated.’

‘That’s the spirit Jimmy,’ Philips clapped him on the shoulder. ‘I have another assignment coming up if you’re interested.’

Anderson hesitated. He was exhausted after the Mendoza mission but perhaps keeping busy would be for the best under the circumstances.

‘What’s the job?’

‘Bit of a change from the last one,’ he rotated the globe. ‘How’s your Russian?’

‘Pretty good. I have a slight southern accent but not enough to make me stand out.’

‘Perfect.’ He reached into his inside pocket and handed over a small black box. It looked just like a regular Smartphone.

‘You can download more information via this once you leave here.’

‘Any other special instructions?’

‘You’ll need to pay a quick visit to the Lab before you go.’

‘The Lab? What for?’

‘This job needs to be a little less …public shall we say, than your last one. The political situation is more delicate. We need this to look like natural causes. From what I gather the eggheads downstairs have concocted something using polonium to do the trick.’

‘Polonium?’

‘It’s a radioactive isotope. The effects won’t be immediate but they should be fatal in the long run. You’ll be completely safe of course.’

‘I see. Well, I’d best be get down there and make a start.’ He made as if to leave.

‘Jimmy?’ Philips called after him. Anderson turned back.

‘Mendoza’s family – I trust you aren’t being troubled by any pangs of conscience.’

He thought again of the photographs and shook his head. Conscience was a luxury.

‘Strictly business, Mr Philips.’

A wee slice of flash fiction…Image

The Outer Limits

 The press of bodies moves with its own secret rhythm as music blares into the warm summer air from a dozen different sources. Pounding drumbeats and throbbing bass notes blend with ringing bells and peals of laughter to create a joyous cacophony.

The air is thick with odours too – sticky toffee apples, hot buttery popcorn, the sweet smell of spun sugar slowly fluffing into puffs of candy floss drifting through the night. Lights semaphore secret messages in gold, green and yellow flashes.

There are people everywhere, forming in knots along the strip of stalls lining the promenade. Children tug on their parent’s arms, pointing at the rides and making pleading faces. Hands dig deep into pockets searching for silver.

I stand in the middle of all this chaos and confusion, staring at the painted faces on the side of one of the rides. A thick-set, unshaven man with a worn leather pouch full of change jangling around his waist looks at me with mild disinterest. A smouldering cigarette is pinched between two yellowed fingers.

‘You just going to stand there gawping all night or do you want to go on?’

‘I’m trying to make up my mind. What is it exactly?’

The man drops his cigarette to the pavement and grinds it out with one scuffed work boot. He points to the sign above the entrance which promises “family fun for everyone!” It looks like a giant mouth ready to swallow the unwary.

I look at the pictures again – giant cartoon grotesques with bulging eyes stare back at me, daring me to join them in their day-glow purgatory.

I decide that I’d rather try and win a goldfish.