Posts Tagged ‘Scottish writing’

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

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A little festive story I wrote for my two daughters. Enjoy!

It was the night before Christmas and all through the castle people were getting ready for the big day. Outside, snow was falling. The castle courtyard was full of wagons piled high with food for the coming feast. Oxen stood impatiently scratching the cobblestones with their hooves. They breathed out great clouds of steam into the freezing cold air.
Inside the castle, Princess Erin and Princess Carys were playing hide and seek. Both girls were dressed in their special Christmas nightgowns.
‘My turn to hide,’ Carys said.
Erin turned to face the wall and began to count.
‘One, two, three…’
Carys ran off down the corridor. The castle was full of passageways and rooms to hide in. Flickering torches lit her way as she padded down the corridors. Her bare feet made soft slapping sounds on the stone floor. Carys was thinking hard. The problem was that her sister knew all the best hiding places and could usually find her without too much trouble. Just once Carys wanted to beat Erin. She could still hear her counting from behind her.
‘Sixty seven, sixty eight, sixty nine…’
She ducked into an open doorway. The room was filled with large colourful tapestries that hung from ceiling to floor. Carys looked at them for a moment. She couldn’t remember being in this room before. She pulled one of the tapestries away from the wall and slipped behind it. The bare brickwork was cold on her back and she wriggled her shoulders trying to get comfortable. As she wriggled she pressed against one brick that was a little different to the others. She heard a clanking sound and the scrape of stone on stone as a secret door opened behind her. She fell backwards into darkness. Moments later the secret doorway closed again, sealing her behind the wall.
It took a minute for her eyes to adjust to the dark. Once she realised what had happened, Carys was not afraid. The castle was ancient and riddled with tunnels and secret places put there when the castle was built way back in her great, great, great Grandfather’s time. She guessed that she had found a new passageway and smiled. If she could keep it a secret from Erin she was sure to win at hide and seek more often. She felt around for the switch to open the door again. Her small fingers traced the patterns of the brickwork. The stone was smooth beneath her fingertips. She pushed and prodded but couldn’t locate the switch. She heard the sound of footsteps coming into the room and froze.
‘Carys? Are you in here?’
Carys was torn. If she said nothing, Erin would go looking somewhere else and she would win the game. On the other hand, if she couldn’t find the switch she could be stuck behind the walls for a long time, maybe even forever!
‘Erin!’ she shouted.
‘Carys? Where are you?’
‘Over here. I found a secret passage.’
Erin walked over to the wall. She pulled the tapestry away and started pressing bricks. After a few tries she found the right one.
‘There you are. I can’t believe you found a hidden passageway all by yourself. We have to see where it goes.’ She stepped forward into the doorway.
‘No, Erin, wait…’
The door trundled closed again. Now there were two princesses behind the wall.
‘Oh no,’ Carys said.
Erin looked at her. ‘What’s the panic? All we need to do is find the switch that opens the door again.’
‘That’s what I was trying to tell you – I can’t find it!’
‘Oh,’ said Erin. She could feel her cheeks burning with embarrassment.
‘What are we going to do?’ Carys asked.
‘Well, the passage must lead somewhere – there’s bound to be another door along the way. We’ll just follow it and see where we end up.’ She took Carys’ hand.
‘Come on,’ she said.

An hour later the two princesses were hopelessly lost. The darkness made it almost impossible to figure out which direction they were going in and more than once Erin was convinced that they were going around in circles.
‘I don’t like this,’ Carys said. ‘What if we can’t ever get out?’
‘Don’t be silly Carys. Of course we’ll get out.’
However, after another hour, even Erin was starting to worry that her sister was right. She started to think about what might happen if they stayed stuck behind the walls forever. She imagined people years from now getting into the passages and finding their dust covered bones. She shivered and tried to push the picture out of her head. She felt her way around another corner and stopped.
‘Look,’ she said. ‘There’s a light on the floor ahead.’
‘Where do you think it’s coming from?’
‘I don’t know – let’s find out.’
The light was above Erin’s head. She tried to jump up and couldn’t quite reach.
‘Lift me up,’ Carys said.
Erin put out her hands for Carys to step on.
‘What can you see?’ she asked.
‘I think we’re behind one of the paintings in the great hall. I’m looking out through its eyes.’
‘Is there anyone there?’
‘I can’t see anyone – they must have all gone to bed. We have been gone a long time after all.’ She climbed back down.
‘Do you think anyone is looking for us?’
Erin shrugged.
‘Maybe, but everyone has been so busy running around getting ready for Christmas they might not even have noticed.’
‘If Mum and Dad were here they would have noticed,’ Carys said. ‘I miss them so much.’
‘I know,’ Erin said, patting Carys on the shoulder. ‘They will be back from our Uncle’s tomorrow and we’ll have figured out a way to get out of here by then.’
‘Do you promise?’
‘I promise.’ She pulled Carys close for a hug and stroked her hair until at last she fell asleep. Erin sat in the dark and listened to the soft sound of her sister’s snoring. She was starting to doze herself when she heard a new sound coming from through the wall.
‘Wake up,’ she whispered to Carys.
‘What is it?’
‘I don’t know – you need to get up and have a look.’ She held out her hands. Carys stepped up and let Erin lift her to the eye holes.
‘There’s something sticking out of the fireplace,’ Carys said. ‘I think it’s a boot.’
‘A boot?’ Erin said. ‘What do you mean?’
‘The kind you put on your feet silly.’ She peered again through the holes. ‘There’s another one. I think someone is climbing down the Chimney!’
Carys put her eyes against the back of the painting again. The boots were shiny and black and trimmed with white fur. Silver buckles glinted in the torchlight. Above the tops of the boots she could see deep red trousers starting to come out. To her amazement the legs seemed to bend and stretch at an impossible angle as a figure emerged from the fireplace.
‘It’s Father Christmas!’ Carys said, almost falling from Erin’s shoulders in her excitement.
The red robed figure froze.
‘Who said that?’ He looked around the room to see where the voice was coming from.
‘It’s Princess Erin and Princess Carys. We were playing hide and seek and got lost in a secret passage and now we can’t get out,’ Erin said.
Father Christmas chuckled to himself. ‘Deary me,’ he said. ‘Two little Princesses in a pretty pickle and no mistake.’ He put down his heavy sack by the side of the fire and walked over to the painting. Carys saw a tiny glimpse of all the toys hidden inside the sack before he pulled it closed.
‘Hmm,’ said Father Christmas stroking his thick white beard. He began rummaging in the pockets of his robe. ‘Now where did I put that thing?’ he said. ‘Ah, here it is,’ he said pulling out a black gloved hand.
‘What is it?’ Erin asked. It was very frustrating not being able to see.
‘It’s a key,’ Carys said. ‘But Father Christmas, there isn’t a door here. We looked and looked and couldn’t see one.’
Father Christmas smiled at the little Princess peeking at him.
‘This isn’t just any old key, young lady. This is a very special key. It was given to me by a Wizard a long time ago. I normally use it to get into places with no chimney.’
He waved the key at the painting.
Both girls felt a very curious sensation. To Carys it looked as if the painting had grown thinner, almost thin enough to see through. And then suddenly both girls were standing in the room blinking in the light.
‘Well now, there we are and don’t you look a sight? We had best get you both cleaned up before your mother sees you.’ He began searching his pockets again until he pulled out a large handkerchief. He dabbed at both the girls’ faces, wiping away the worst of the dirt. ‘There now, that’s a lot better. You look like little ladies again instead of two dirty chimney sweeps. Now we have a problem – I am seriously behind schedule in delivering my gifts after rescuing you. I’m going to need some help to get done and back to the North Pole before sunrise.’
‘We can help you, can’t we Carys?’ said Erin. Carys nodded.
‘That’s a wonderful idea.’ He clapped his hands together. ‘Let’s get to work right away. I will give you both some presents to deliver around the castle and that should get me back on track.’ He went over to his sack and began pulling out boxes and parcels. Before long, both girls were laden with gifts.
‘You will need to be quiet and quick,’ he said. ‘Here, you should take this as well.’ He pulled a small envelope from his pocket.
‘What’s that? Carys said.
‘It’s in case of emergencies.’ He opened up the envelope and showed the girls what was inside. ‘If anyone should see you, blow the magic dust in this envelope into their face. It will make them forget that they ever saw you.’ He handed the envelope to Erin. ‘Now off you go. I will meet you here again when you are done.’ He raised his hand, ‘Oh, and girls, one more thing before you go.’
‘What’s that?’ Erin said.
Father Christmas smiled. ‘No more secret passages – I don’t want to have to rescue you again.’
‘We promise,’ both girls said.

The two Princesses scampered out of the Great Hall with their armloads of presents. They ran all through the castle leaving gifts wherever they stopped. They left a toy drum and a puzzle for the Cook’s two little boys, gloves and scarves for the serving girls, toy soldiers for the Royal Falconer’s son and two dolls with pretty dresses for the Blacksmith’s daughter. By the time they returned to the great hall both girls felt like they had covered every inch of the castle.
‘Ah, there you are,’ Father Christmas said. ‘You’ve been a fine pair of helpers – I’d say you were right at the very top of my nice list for all the work you’ve done tonight. In fact, I think you both deserve an extra special treat.’
Erin and Carys looked at each other in amazement.
‘Take my hand,’ Father Christmas said. ‘I want to show you something.’
The princesses touched his hand. Moments later they were standing on the roof of the great hall beside a large wooden sleigh with eight graceful looking Reindeer attached.
‘Can we touch them?’ Erin asked.
‘You can do better than that,’ Father Christmas said. ‘They’re going to need a lot of energy to get me back to the North Pole so perhaps you and your sister can help me feed them.’ He reached inside the sleigh and brought out two sacks. ‘Here you go,’ he said. ‘Carrots and oats – just the thing to get them flying full speed ahead.’
Erin and Carys rushed over to take the food and started to hand it out to the hungry reindeer.
‘All done,’ Carys said as she handed Father Christmas her empty sack.
‘Well done,’ he said. ‘I’ll be home in no time at all now.’
‘You’re welcome,’ Erin said. ‘Do you have to go now?’
Father Christmas nodded. ‘Yes, but first I must make sure that two very sleepy princesses are tucked up safely in bed before I go.’
He stretched out his hands once more. The two princesses touched his gloves and found themselves transported to their bed chamber. Erin and Carys climbed into their bunk beds and pulled the covers up to their chins. Father Christmas turned and waved to them both.
‘Merry Christmas girls,’ he said.
And with that, he disappeared. Erin could feel her bed starting to get cosy and her eyelids started to droop. Just before she fell asleep she thought that she could hear the sound of sleigh bells jingling off in the distance.

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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.

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.

Once upon a time there was no Bill. In his place was Billy, a young lad who sometimes entertained the fantasy of being a writer one day.

In 1989, young Billy was sitting one of those English exams where they give you a booklet full of prompts and tell you to write something about one of them. He spied a newspaper headline which proclaimed, “Man to be freeze-dried” and the wheels in his mind started turning helped along by his regular intake of sci-fi stories from the local library.

Billy’s teacher read the story and insisted he put it into the school magazine. This was very nice of her and Billy was very chuffed as it was the first story he ever had published. Sadly, Billy’s copy of the story was lost in the great clear-out under the bed of ’95 and the story was thought to be lost forever.

Untill now…

Thanks to the wonderful world of Facebook and old school chum told me he had visited the old school recently as it is scheduled to be demolished soon. On his visit he found an old pile of school magazines which had been collected together for vistors to browse. Knowing that I still entertain notions of being a writer he sent me a picture of the long lost story and suggested I ask the school if I could get a copy.

I took his advice yesteday an envelope arrived containing the words written by little Billy when he was only 14 and a nice letter from the Deputy Head Teacher.

So here it is: The Man To Be Freeze Dried. Presented in all it’s badly punctuated glory. Some readers out there may think that not much has changed …apart from being a bit clearer where commas, colons and semi-colons go now!

Now, if only I could get someone to track down my long lost Christmas massacre story…