Short Story Problems!

Short stories have always proved problematic for me. The clue is in the word ‘short’. I’m not too good at ‘short’. But I am learning, and I am also learning how vital it is to master short stories.

Recently, an old friend was sorting out her attic and found something I had once given her. It was a short story I’d written when I was about fifteen. She brought it over and gave it to me and for a moment or two I was utterly flummoxed. Not only could I not recall writing it, but I couldn’t work out how I’d done it either. I mean, I struggle with short stories, I really do.

For a while, I gave up on them completely. I was too busy writing rather long novels, and didn’t see the point in pursuing something I didn’t think came naturally to me. Then one day someone suggested writing short stories related to my novels and releasing them as a kind of marketing tool. I have to admit, as cynical as it sounds, I liked the idea immediately. Not so much the marketing bit, but the writing short stories related to my novels bit. You see I am rather over attached to my novels, the current ones, the ones in progress, and the ones that are still just in my head. I rather see the characters as real people and it’s extremely hard to switch off from them. They kind of exist forever. They are always starting new stories, diving into new dramas and conflicts. So writing some short stories suddenly seemed like an extremely enticing and fun idea. And it was. And Bird People and Other Stories was born.

Now, I have to admit to being rather proud of this little book. I can’t say I have mastered the art of the short story, far from it. Many of the shorts in this book are character snapshots, or scenes from a different point of view than the one shown in the novel. But they were easy and fun to write, which was a massive revelation to me as a writer who had turned away from short stories for so long.

I’m now kind of addicted to them. In fact I write one once a month to be included in my author newsletter (click here if you want to sign up!)

My friend’s discovery reminded me that I had once embraced short stories before novels. Like a lot of young writers, I cut my teeth on short stories and little ‘books’ before I worked up the skills and patience to write an actual novel.

I’d just forgotten!

Reading through this particular story, I’m both embarrassed and impressed. Embarrassed by the younger me’s habit of repeating myself, a lot. I used to say the same thing in about three different ways, as if afraid of being misunderstood! But I’m impressed by my fearlessness, and that’s what young writers have in abundance. I didn’t fear the short story then, I just thought of one and got on with it. There was no ‘I can’t do this’, or ‘I’m not as good at shorts, so I won’t bother.’

If I am honest, I still find them a challenge. Some work instantly. Like magic. Others don’t. For as many finished shorts, I have unfinished, festering, niggling ones. I know what I want to say, but just can’t seem to say it.

I mean, what is the perfect short story anyway? The one that says something big in the shortest, sharpest way possible? Or is it really down to personal taste, as with novels?

The other problem I have with shorts is their annoying tendency to start developing into full blown novels! Give them an inch and they take a mile! I now have one epic novel, if not an entire series of books planned due to inspiration taken from the last two short stories I attached to my newsletter. Unexpected and brilliant, but you know, I don’t want this happening too often! There is already a backlog of books waiting to be written. (See Upcoming Books!)

So, what’s your opinion on short stories? Do you enjoy reading them? What makes the perfect short story in your opinion? And if you write them, how does the process work for you?

I’ve Got A New Book Out!

Happy Friday everyone!

This is just a quick and cheeky post to let you all know I have a new book out. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you will already be more than aware of this! But I wouldn’t be doing the whole social media thing right if I didn’t post the news to my blog too, would I?

Bird People and Other Stories is a short story collection I have been putting together for about a year now. In fact, I have another blog post and the very wise words of a follower on Goodreads to thank for this whole thing!

You see I wrote this blog post almost a year ago, which was all about getting my arse into gear the next time I had a novel out. I wrote a detailed plan regarding promotion, and some kindly fellow on Goodreads suggested writing short stories related to my novels as an added promotional tool. As soon as he suggested it, I got excited. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?

My mind went into overdrive over the next few days, and within the week I had several short stories already drafted. You all know how I feel about my characters, so the thought of writing extra stories from different character points of view was too enticing to resist. I had all sorts of ideas swimming around in my head, and the pen to paper was in overdrive. It was fantastic. I felt like there was no limit to where I could go with this.

Well, here it is and I really hope you like it. For people who have already read my work, you will find in this collection, two stories related to The Mess Of Me (one story from Leon’s point of view and one from Marianne’s.) You will find three stories related to The Boy With The Thorn In His Side ; one from Jack’s POV, one from Lucy’s, and one which is actually the ending I had in mind at one time! You will find a short story called The Collection, which is a teaser for my work in progress Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature. (It’s essentially the basic plot squished into a short story.) You will also find two stories related to a book I wrote when I was sixteen and discovered fairly recently in a suitcase under my bed (blog post here) I have since plotted the book and titled it A Song For Bill Robinson. Nightprowler is a prequel to the novel, and Bird People a character snapshot. You will also find a short story called She Is… This is another fledgling idea for a novel, one that I do not have the time to write for a while, but writing the short story helped ease the pressure! And finally, Tales From Province 5 includes three short stories which are teasers for my next novel The Tree Of Rebels.

Hopefully, there is something here for everyone. For loyal readers, something new, something different, and lots to tease! And for newcomers, a genuine taste of the way I write and what I write about…all for the attractive promotional price of 99p/99c.

Enjoy! And thank you 🙂

Too Many Ideas, Too Little Time

I’m lucky that I never get writer’s block, or run out of ideas. It would be quite nice to get some peace one day, but for now, my head is full of so many people and stories that I struggle to sleep or get a break from them. Some of them have been around for years. They fade in and out, getting loud, only to fall quiet again. Some are new, popping up and thrusting themselves into my consciousness when they are least wanted. Some of them are being dealt with right now, while some of them are getting really, really impatient…

It was the same today. I was out walking, because walking is where most of it happens, when I get away from the home and the duties and the children, I suppose when I get the chance to become more me…Anyway, today was a day like all others. It was good the way my mind jumped from one thing to the next. A new idea for the collection of shorts related to next novel The Tree Of Rebels. I had almost forgotten about these until I heard a gunshot while walking through the woods. In my perpetual childish state, I wanted to run and duck and cower and find a tree to hide behind because the baddies were after me…instead I let my mind run, and there was this small child running through the woods, running from the gun and the men in black and the dog-like creatures she’s can’t quite believe will be allowed to hurt her…and I thought oh yes, hell yes, another short for Tales From Province 5…I forgot I already had three…I need to sort these out and get these done! They were meant to be part of the launch plan I wrote for The Tree Of Rebels ages ago…you know, because for the first time ever I’m going to try that!

Anyway, there was that, and that was really good. I pretended I was her for a while, blundering through the thorns and the undergrowth, so that was fun. Then there was the Tree Of Rebels in general. You’ll be pleased to know I am not struggling with the final draft anymore. That’s probably because I know it won’t be the final draft! So at the moment I am changing it all to past tense, instead of present. It was worth a try to see if it worked, and I think it has. I’m editing as I go of course, but what I intend to do, is change the tense, then go back to the beginning for the final, FINAL draft. And I definitely love it again. I am loving it. It is loved!

Then there were some extra bits to add to a short story I wrote the other day, which was an attempt to alleviate the urgency of an old story pushing its way forward. It keeps doing it. This story about teenage alcoholic Bill Robinson I wrote when  I was 16 but abandoned for another idea…used to do that a lot back then! Anyway, Bill Robinson keeps piping up, so I wrote a short for him a while ago and put it on Wattpad and here, and that worked. It pushed him back a bit. But not for long.

You see, what happens is, I will be in the car, I’ll see a person, a face, hear some music, glimpse a building, a snippet of conversation, anything god damn it, and it will link up, it will hold on and it will grow and swell and it becomes fiction, although somehow real at the same time…so I can’t avoid it or ignore it, it just happens! So I wrote another short for Bill, but that made it worse. Some new bits came today, they’ll get added when I get time…he is not going to shut up any time soon.

And then there is Elliot Pie…quiet for now because his first draft was done, and that calmed him, that quieted him because his story is told. But even today, I got some snippets of dialogue, some expressions in my mind, some bits I need to remember…and this blog post…

I thought, god its frustrating and crazy feeling like this all the time, like there are stories and lives and stuff everywhere, and I get so impatient because I will never have the time to do it all, to say it all, to get it all out, especially when every time I leave the house I get more! But then I thought, hold on, isn’t it also the best feeling in the world? Like no other high? All that energy and life, all those possibilities, all that potential, comedy, tragedy, and drama in my head! It makes me feel so alive!

How to cope? Who to listen to? Who shouts the loudest or who has been waiting the longest? How to hold onto one thread and not drop it when another one barges in? How not to dilute the passion of one project, because another one is already tapping on the door? I will try to keep them back with shorts and notes, and thoughts that calm them. I will get to them all in time. Take a deep breath . Plot them out if I need to. Let them stew. So I do this, and I get home fast, got to rush in and get to a notebook and make a list, jot stuff down before I forget any of those things!

And then I step into the hallway and see that it needs sweeping, and the reality hits, and the toddler wants me, and oh it feels so selfish to want to push them all aside and get to my notebook before it fades… I just need to get this down, just quickly, just a few things before I forget, and my mind is always on it, always wandering here and there, always listening to the people in my head. So selfish.

Yet it’s not.

Think about it. All that sharing. Writers share their thoughts and feelings, fears and anger more than anyone else! Okay, a lot of it is made up, turned into fiction, exaggerated and so on, but at the same time it is real, because it came from us. Maybe we are like the sponge, absorbing all the lives and stories we see and hear around us, but we don’t just take it and keep it for ourselves. We put it right back out again. We share it with the world.

So I’ve decided, I will try not to feel guilty. It’s not like I can help it. I can’t stop them coming, I can’t stop seeing ideas and stories almost everywhere I look. I’ll just do what I can with the time I have, and try to remain calm. I just hope that if I am lucky enough to live a long life…I will have run out of ideas by the end of it. I want to lie on my death bed and know that there is nothing more to say! But that is probably wishful thinking.



Nightprowler-short story

Bill Robinson wasn’t the only one who roamed the streets of the estate by night, but as far as he could tell, he was the only one who did it for reasons not connected to living. The other shapes and forms who slipped in and out of the alley ways, were doing it because of life. They were stealing, or fighting, or prowling, or spying. One way or another, it was all about survival, because that was all they knew. Quitting, leaving, changing or dying on purpose were not things that ever occurred to them.

Bill Robinson considered that his purposes and reasons for roaming, made him different, but then Bill Robinson had always known that he was different, and he held that knowledge in his strong shoulders and steely eyes. Being different from them, being different from anyone he knew, was all he had ever wanted. Around here, being different was something that mattered.

Roaming and drifting took him around the messy edges of the small world he lived in. He remembered that when he was a child, it had seemed so big, so full, so noisy and bright. At one time, he had been certain that nothing else existed beyond the brick walls, concrete car-parks, and connecting alley ways of the estate. Now, he saw it differently. Now, he saw it mostly as it was at night; silent, jagged, black and white.

He left home in a dramatic fashion, which served no real purpose. His father worked nights, so was not at home. If his mother had hung around maybe she would have been the one to hear his bedroom window opening. Maybe that was why he did it. Because he could. Because no one ever heard him leave.

His older brother and younger sister slept through the clinging to the drainpipe which always sent his heart up into his throat. They slept through his leaping onto the concrete wall which separated their garden from next doors, and they slept through his cat-like pounce to the flag-stoned patio, hands and feet prepared in advance with boots, thick socks and woolly, fingerless gloves.

From there, it was a brisk walk to the back gate, which was always left open, as the top hinges had disconnected from the rotting post. After the escape, as he liked to think of it, the outside world was his. Their back alley led onto others, corridors of concrete and fence panels, separated by squares of parking spaces and lock-up garages. He could go left, or right. He could go anywhere. The night was his, and everything about it fascinated him.

The houses, all the same in size and shape, like little black boxes closed up after day. Chinks of yellow light shone behind curtains and blinds. He could see who left their kitchen light on for the dog, and who left the landing light on for the kids. The estate was like a massive, silent, sleeping secret…

Bill Robinson imagined himself to be feline, supple in shape and movement. All he really lacked was a tail. He wasn’t hunting prey, though he was hunting something. Some elusive, mysterious, transient something, which escaped him during the day. A something. A big, soft, sleeping, silent something.

In the dark, rats skittered and their eyes glowed behind wheelie bins and recycling boxes. Broken glass littered the ground. Cats watched him from the safety of walls. Every now and then he interrupted a scraggy looking fox from his scavenging. He often saw them trotting casually across the roads, unbothered in the dark by traffic. And as he wandered, he felt less human in body, like all the pretending that made up life melted away as soon as it was dark. He felt unburdened from all the expectations and disappointments which were heaped onto you from the moment you were born. He felt like he supposed the animals felt. Like all that really mattered was the moment you were in, and what you did while you were in it. One foot fell softly after the after, and Bill Robinson scoured the haunts of his patch, of his place of birth and life. From the school, to the playing field, to the shop shut up tight behind steel shutters, to the youth club behind and the community centre around the corner.

Passing the low red-brick building made his lips turn up slightly, as he thought about next Saturday, like he thought about every Saturday. Him, on the stage, if they let him. You’re not the only one around here who wants to do something, Marvin Grady liked to tell him. Bill thought that he was wrong. As far as he could see, he was the only one around here who wanted to do something. He sure as hell was the only one with any talent…

Beats filled his mind as he by-passed the hall. Beats from last week, beats from the next performance to come. He sometimes entertained the thought of taking his music with him when he roamed, pushing his ear-plugs into his ears and hitting play on his phone. But he never did. Silence was something too. Silence gave you time to just be.

He walked on, crossing an empty dark road, enclosed suddenly in the tight black darkness under a group of trees, before he emerged on the other side, illuminated by the street lights outside a block of flats. Bill Robinson courted danger at night, in a different way to in the day. But he was old enough to understand that danger attracted him, in all its many, complex forms. People were dangerous; he knew that. All of them. Especially the ones who knew you. Drinking was a form of self-destruction, albeit a socially acceptable one. Night prowling was anti-social and strange. It served no purpose, except he did it because he was hunting for something and he knew he would recognise it when he found it.

He wasn’t old enough to drive, but he somehow knew that if he ever got behind the wheel of a car, he would want to drive too fast. He would want to take a drink or two along for the ride. He would want to push it too far.

He felt this way about most things. His father and brother called him a bad-tempered wind up merchant. His younger sister, with her narrow-eyed knowledge of the estate, told him he was suicidal.

Bill Robinson, raven-haired and freckle-nosed, with blue eyes that pierced right through you, offering everyone the same rigid level of condescending contempt. Bill Robinson thought you might as well push things to the extreme. He had no illusion or trust in a better life, place or overseeing God. He knew that poor people mostly stayed poor, and angry people mostly stayed angry. He knew that whether you studied life and philosophy forever, or had the odd drunken ramble over beers with your mates, life was ultimately a chance, a fluke, a flash in the dark and in the great big Universe scheme of things, it was pointless.

Not that he wanted to leave. You’d have to be bored or scared to want to leave, and he was neither. He felt like you might as well push it a little, take your chances, enjoy risks and see if you could test the limits – how much were you really meant to be here?

On the night that the unfortunate Lewis Matthews felt his own young life rushing from him in a crimson flood, Bill Robinson, his heart thudding in his chest, was only two streets away.

He heard nothing and saw nothing.

The fifteen year old boy died on the ground with his face against the cold alley wall, and his hands under his chest, clutching vainly at the emptying vessel that was his body.

With the music in his head and his mouth silently singing along, haughty Bill Robinson passed by without knowing a fellow youth was spluttering blood in the very last remnants of his life. He walked on, leaving one alley to join another, and that was when he saw the other night-prowler.

They both stopped and stared. Bill, with his hands in his pockets, and his breath blowing out in front of him. The other form was familiar to him. Round shouldered and round eyed. Their eyes met, and they both squared up, anticipating something…and a decision was made.

You didn’t see me and I didn’t see you.

The figure moved on quickly, into the darkness, head down, feet light. Bill Robinson felt a chill and a thrill at wandering so close to a well-known evil. He had come off okay to still be standing. He chuckled to himself in the dark, and entertained the reasons Charlie McDonnell would have for roaming the streets at three thirty in the morning. Girls. Women. Threats. Drugs. He shivered, and moved on.

The next day, Bill Robinson woke at ten past nine and wondered if he still had two cans of Stella stashed away at the back of his wardrobe. He was rubbing his eyes and scratching his hair, and his lips were already moving quickly over the words they wanted to sing next time in the community centre.

His younger sister burst into the room without knocking.

‘Guess what?’ she cried out breathlessly, while he sat up in bed, yawning in confusion.


‘There was a murder last night!’


‘A murder! Cross Road alley. Lewis Matthews got knifed to death, Bill! The dustbin men found his body this morning! It’s all over the estate!’

(This is  a short story related to a book I started but never finished when I was 16 years old – I still have the writing in a suitcase under my bed, with all my other early works and ideas – it is about a teenage alcoholic whose only passion is singing in the community centre at the weekends – it’s been in my head a lot lately, so decided to write  a short, which is basically a prequel to what happens next, and get back to it when I have time, which won’t be for a while!)nightprowler.jpg