Surprised by Joy

On Saturday the 23rd of November, I’ll be taking part in this year’s C.S. Lewis Festival alongside other Women Aloud NI members. A couple of years ago when I took part, the theme was ‘Surprised by Joy’, for which I wrote the following flash fiction piece. I hope you like it!


It was a terrible, miserable, frozen, windy, brown-grey day; the sky the embodiment of ‘bah humbug.’

Jasper just wanted to sleep through it, but circumstance wouldn’t allow. There were presents to buy, food to arrange, parties to go to, decorations to put up – all the rest.

It wasn’t that he hated Christmas, it was just that he was exhausted and the holiday always poked at him, knowing just where his insecurities lay.

“Haven’t you settled down yet?” one great-aunt or another would invariably ask, only for all the other family members to pile in and spend no less than a half-hour discussing the intricacies of his love life, or lack thereof.

There would be advice – “You’ve just got to put yourself out there, you know?” – and there would be teasing – “Look, Jasper, even the cat has a girlfriend!” – and it would be miserable. All of it.

Jasper had tried to find someone, he really had, but there was nothing for it – no one out there for him. He was alone, and he was lonely. That was just the way things were.

Dragging himself around shop after shop to get everything sorted, Jasper’s mind wondered as his mood lowered still. It took someone calling his name three times before he blinked and looked up, coming back to himself.

There she was. He had to blink again to make sure he was imagining things. Joy Pringle – Jasper’s childhood sweetheart, who had moved away when they were twelve and, in all honesty, he had never gotten over.

“Joy!” he exclaimed. “I’ve found you!”

She laughed, the sound like jingle bells. “I found you, more like. I’ve been looking for you for years. You aren’t on Facebook.”

“Ah, well,” Jasper stammered, cursing his previous negative attitude towards the site. “I– I’ll sign up now.”

Joy smiled at him, the sun rising in her cheeks. “Oh, no. Not now. I’m about to meet some friends for a drink. Do you want to come?”

“Yes,” said Jasper, glad he pulled himself out of bed for such a glorious day.

fb-share-icon0
Tweet 581
fb-share-icon20

Nightmares in Bliss

Today I’d like to share a blog exclusive: an older piece of flash fiction by myself that’s never been seen before. It’s written exclusively in dialogue, but I like how it turned out. Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments section.

“I spy with my little eye…”

“Do we have to play this?”

“…something beginning with M.”

“You’re just gonna ignore me, then? What if I play the silence game instead of your stupid–”

“It’s a mouse.”

“What?”

“A mouse.”

“Where? No, don’t just shrug at me! Are you serious? Macie, if there is mouse I’m gonna scream, I swear.”

“Relax.”

“Oh, you relax! Were you making that up?”

“Maybe.”

“I can’t believe you! All your stupid games and pranks. Why did you bring me up here, anyway? I’m cold.”

“Here.”

“No, I don’t want your jacket. Take me home.”

“Look, I’m sorry, okay? I was just trying to lighten the mood. Take the coat, please.”

“Well, okay. But you have to tell me why we’re here. It looks like it’s going to rain, and we’re miles from anywhere.”

“This is where it started.”

“Here we go. Where what started?”

“Us.”

“Mace–”

“Okay, okay, hear me out.”

“Fine. What is it?”

“This, my darling, is the place I was sitting when I first saw your face.”

“Here?”

“Yip.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

“I’d run away. This is always where I came.” Continue reading

fb-share-icon0
Tweet 581
fb-share-icon20

All That Glitters… (Flash Fiction)

This time last year, during a creative writing class run by R.B. Kelly at the Crescent Arts Centre, I was set the task of writing stories using only dialogue. Below is a little something I wrote back then, inspired by the season.

“All that glitters is half price. If the glitter has fallen off, consider it a feature and double the RRP. If the lights aren’t working, or batteries are missing, include them in a buy-one-get-one-free offer. Any questions?”

“Just one.”

“Yes, you in the back. Speak up. What is it?”

“I was just wondering… are you serious?”

“Serious? Why, of course. Perfectly serious.”

“Right. Follow up question…”

“Yes?”

“Are you mad?”

“I don’t appreciate your tone, Susan. What right do you have to question me?”

“Well, I am your manager, and you have only been working here a week.”

“As if that matters. Business genius should count for everything, you know? Ah, but of course you wouldn’t understand.”

“Excuse me?”

“You’re excused. Don’t worry about it, I’m sure you’ll catch on.”

“Brian.”

“Yes, Susan? You want more business advice?”

“Oh, no, I think I’ve heard enough. I just wanted to tell you your P45 will be ready to be picked up in my office by the end of the shift. Have fun trying to sell yourself in another job opportunity. I’m not sure retail is for you.”

fb-share-icon0
Tweet 581
fb-share-icon20

Such A Night (Flash Fiction)

Here’s something I wrote at writers’ group last week. It’s a little bleak, but I thought I’d share it anyway. Would love to know people’s thoughts!

He didn’t want to go out on such a night but if he didn’t leave now, his head was sure to explode. The twins next door were both screaming to be fed and the dog in the apartment on the other side was howling in sympathy.

Gerald’s could feel his brain melting out his ears. He grabbed his coat and headed into the rain, just trying to get a little respite from the overwhelming noise in his tiny flat.

He didn’t ask for much in life. A quiet night on the one weekend a month he wasn’t working overtime was all he really needed. Six hours of uninterrupted sleep would have been worth all of the money his extra shifts were pulling in.

You can’t put a price on peace of mind. That’s what his mum always used to say. God, he missed her. Gerald didn’t think he was built for being alone.

Part of him wished he’d kept the house. It would mean he wouldn’t have to be dealing with paper-thin walls now, but he couldn’t justify keeping on such a big place just for himself.

Life after his mum was gone wasn’t the same. Existence was hollow. Maybe that made him sound weak, or pathetic, but he didn’t care. It didn’t change the fact that life for Gerald without his mother wasn’t really life.

He worked in a job he hated just for something to do. He came home to sleep – or try to sleep – because he physically needed to. But he didn’t want to do anything anymore.

Gerald’s mother had been a rudder in his life. Now he was adrift. No other family. No qualifications. No hope. And a blinding headache.

He hadn’t cried.

Some part of Gerald realized that he’d feel better if he just let go and gave into his emotions, but he was scared of them swallowing him whole. If he started crying, he didn’t think he’d be able to stop. That would be worse. It was all worse. There had to be a better plan than just being sad for the rest of time, right?

Gerald’s caseworker said he had a bad attitude.

“Sure,” he’d replied. Because that much was already obvious. “What do I do, though?”

She told him it wasn’t her job to offer solutions, so he didn’t go back.

He walked to the end of the block, turned for home, then thought better of it. He kept walking.

He didn’t go back.

He didn’t go back.

fb-share-icon0
Tweet 581
fb-share-icon20

Obscure Writing Prompt Responses

A year ago, near enough to the day, Belfast Writers’ Group started up again after too long apart. When we got the gang back together, one of the first things we did was work on a crazy series of prompts that, first time around, had me writing about a dead body in a chocolate scullery. Because we’re wildly obscure like that.

Purely by a coincident of timing, we tried the same writing exercise again last week. This time I was to write about rotting turnips in an interview room made of platinum. Below is the madness I came up with.

Being the most expensive palace in the world that no one’s ever heard of, Killasia had its own version of everything – its own swimming pool and helipad, naturally, but also it’s own prison system and jail.

The only thing it didn’t have, until now, was anyone actually trying to break in – it’s difficult to have people after your goods if they’re secret, after all.

Even so, it was fortuitous that the eventuality of a criminal had been thought of and prepared for, because when Mickey Keystone Lennon happened upon the place and decided to try his hand at breaking and entering, the guards had somewhere to put him.

His eyes were wide as he looked around the interview room with its shiny, cold-to-the-touch walls. He wasn’t entirely sure but, if pressed, he would guess they were made out of solid white gold or platinum.

There were no windows in the room – not even one of those fancy two-way walls of glass that allowed people to look in on interviews – just some air vents stopping the space from being completely closed in.

Even the door had a seal around it.

Mickey was too surprised by the placement of his predicament to be worried; at least, at first. After what felt like an age but was probably an hour or two, he began to sweat.

He’d expected to be released soon after his capture, as soon as they figured out he hadn’t got very far into his crime and hadn’t actually managed to nab anything. The place was so big, after all. A palace the size of a country must be subscribed to the Geneva Convention or UN human rights laws or something, right?

By hour four, he was no longer feeling so hopeful. Not only was he not offered a representative, still no one had actually come to question him. That was bad for two reasons: his increasingly urgent need for the toilet, and the turnips he’d hidden in his socks that had been in contact with the heat of his skin so long, the started to rot.

Mickey cursed his decision to raid his neighbour’s allotment, and his stupid urge to follow the hidden path he’d found under a trapdoor he’d found there. Just look where it had landed him – eternally tapped in a platinum-coated interview room with nothing to occupy him but rotten turnips.

Not exactly your usual Thursday.

fb-share-icon0
Tweet 581
fb-share-icon20

Attention (Microfiction)

This is the final piece of writing I did during Bernie McGill’s fiction workshops at the John Hewitt International Summer School. Short but, I hope, still able to strike a chord. Based off prompts given in the class.

She always said I was useless, though she never said it to me; never looked at me long enough to realize I was there, and could hear.

The worst decision I made was to make her aware of my presence.

I find myself now in the cupboard under the stairs, the door locked.

I am here because I couldn’t stand it anymore. I needed attention. I needed her to look at me.

In my pocket I am carrying the hair she pulled from my head when I spoke to her.

When people look at me, they see my bruises. They gasp and look away again. I hear them whispering.

The truth is, I think maybe I deserve to be here. I think I must be the worst kid in the world. Why else does my grandmother hate me?

fb-share-icon0
Tweet 581
fb-share-icon20

My Problem (Microfiction)

Another short piece written during Bernie McGill’s fiction workshops at the John Hewitt International Summer School, based off the prompt, “A time the teacher caught you doing something you should not have been doing.”

Talking was always my problem. Well, that and maybe not listening. I think that’s what they always used to say anyway. I was always being told off for something. If you ask me, my poor hearing was part of the problem. But, well, no one did ever ask me and apparently it was no excuse anyway.

Anyway, this one day, my ears were real fuzzy – like never before. The teacher was looking at me and I could see his mouth moving, but I thought to myself, surely he can’t be telling me off, I haven’t said a word!

Well, as it turned out, the homework that day was to work on an oral presentation and I’d forgotten. The one time I was actually supposed to say my piece, and I got in trouble for keeping quiet.

Bloody typical!

fb-share-icon0
Tweet 581
fb-share-icon20

Babies and Broken Skies (Results from a Writing Prompt)

Today, I want to share another short piece I wrote during Bernie McGill’s writing workshops at the John Hewitt International Summer School. We were given a list of first lines from existing stories, without initially being told what those stories were, to see what ideas we could spark off them.

From the list, we were only supposed to pick a single line to start, but of course I broke the rules from the off and took two different lines and put them together.

Here are the lines I used:

From ‘The Pram’ by Roddy Doyle: “Alina loved the baby.”

From ‘A Priest in the Family’ by Colm Toibin: “She watched the sky darken, threatening rain.”

And here’s the resulting story:

Alina loved the baby. She watched the sky darken, threatening rain, trying to focus on it and not the churning inside her.

The mum had the baby out in his stroller, rolling it back and forth in front of Alina’s house as if she knew what torture it was to her and was inflicting it on purpose.

Didn’t she care that it was going to rain, and the baby would get wet and cold; or that she’d been trying – really trying – for more than a year and just couldn’t do it; couldn’t make her body work to the same result?

It was cruel. Alina decided that the mother was a right bitch and didn’t deserve to have a little one. She cast her eyes to the clouds again, squinting at them as temptation warred within her.

It was safe to focus on the cool of the day. It helped her balance out the heat of her blood, for a while, but at the end of it, the tempest still raged.

She couldn’t really do it, could she? Was it abduction if the child needed rescuing and was calling her? Wouldn’t that make it a mercy mission?

The wind picked up, rattling the window, and the mum looked to see where the noise came from. Alina ducked from her line of vision.

The mum took the baby inside as the storm began in earnest.

fb-share-icon0
Tweet 581
fb-share-icon20

Dystopia in the Modern Day?

While at the John Hewitt International Summer School, I took a three-day workshop with Bernie McGill and, over the course of those three days with her, I completed a few different writing exercises. Below is what resulted from one of those. I was given a photo prompt and some starting words. I’m not sharing the photo for copyright reasons, but you should be able to gather from my description what it depicted.

I read the final piece at the JHISS Showcase at the end of the week and it got some really strong reactions. It was labelled dystopian and I suppose it is but I think, for some people, the word dystopia conjures up the idea that it’s set in some distant or alternative future where everything has fallen apart, but that’s not where my mind was when I wrote it. Maybe not here in the west but, as far as I understand it, the things I mention can and do happen here on earth, in this reality, in the modern day. In a lot of ways, I think that makes it more striking. But enough preamble, here is the piece. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

I can’t remember my name anymore and I don’t know where I am. I don’t know what age I am, or how old she is either, though she’s smaller than me. She can’t talk, but she clings to my side. We stay together on the streets and I keep her safe from the dogs and the bad men.

I wasn’t born on the streets, but in a house. It had one big room, and there were many of us. It was always warm, and there was always a fire.

It is still warm outside, the sun making the dust on the road rise up and burn in our throats. We cough and, despite the heat, cling harder to each other.

I like her close to me. I like to think of her as my sister, though I don’t know where she came from. She was never in the house with the rest of us.

I don’t like that I don’t know where they went –– all of my real brothers and sisters from the house. The night they were taken, everything was dark and loud. I ran and hid until the sun came up. Then I found her.

The last time I saw my mother, she was stooped over the fire, stoking it. She didn’t look up at me and I can’t remember her eyes, but I dream about them. The girl has nightmares, most nights, and I try and tell her about my dreams; about my mum’s eyes. She stills and listens to my voice until her breathing slows again.

I wonder if I’ll ever see my mother again, or if I’d recognise her. I wonder if she’d take my sister in, too, if she came for me.

I remember one day my brother found a dog and brought it home –– it wasn’t angry like the rest of them. My mother said we couldn’t keep it and my brother cried. She hit him for ‘acting out’, then told him to leave the dog and go fetch more sticks for the fire.

I watched her kill the dog and mix the meat in with the rice.

I have always wondered if my brother knew. He didn’t ask for the dog after the first time, when she hit him again, and he didn’t eat dinner that night.

I was angry with my mum for doing it, but when I look at my sister and hear her stomach growl, I wish we had a dog I could kill for her. The ones in the street now are too big, though. I worry they’ll get us first.

fb-share-icon0
Tweet 581
fb-share-icon20

Helena Brockovich (Flash Fiction)

At Writers’ Group a while ago, we did an exercise that consisted of a series of prompts –

Characters: A Kitchen Maid and a Retired Judge
Traits: Corrupt, Congenial
Sense: Smell
Location: Dog Show
Object: Piece of Flint

Below is the piece of flash fiction I wrote. Credit goes to David for the title. The reference should become clear at the end, where I will give a bit of extra context.

Helena was a kitchen maid for a big house on the other side of town. Usually a congenial soul, on this day she had to drag out her inner badass and go to war.

As she said goodbye to her sickly kids, hoping their condition wouldn’t deteriorate while she was gone, she mentally prepared herself for the confrontation, using the sight of them sat there, listless and suffering as motivation for her task.

Crossing over to the rich side of town, she passed her employers house and kept walking until she reached the dog track. There was a ‘Best of Breed’ show on for all the pedigree pooches of the neighbourhood, and she’d been told the judge would be there.

Sure enough, she found him in the front row, mercifully unattended.

Helena approached and he smiled at her, so she gave him the speech – a four-minute pre-prepared rant, that didn’t stop for pauses or interruptions, about the state of living conditions on the poorer side of town.

When Helena was done, she handed the judge a lunch box, which he opened and then immediately closed again, throwing it away as he swore at her.

Although he’d managed to throw the box quite a distance, they could both still smell the item strongly. All pleasantries had gone from the judge’s demeanour as he demanded an explanation.

Helena said it was a sample of her front yard, which had become flooded and, subsequently, contaminated with the local water. Which just proved her point: the water in the poor side of Flint, Michigan, was undrinkable. Unfit for the ground, and most certainly toxic to people.

The judge frowned before hesitantly agreeing to look into the matter, hinting that things would be sped along if Helena made a donation to his office.

It took her a month of working extra shifts, but she made the money and sent it off to the address he had written out for her.

It was only after that she found out that the judge was retired and had no influence in local matters anymore.

Not the happiest story in the world but, sadder still, it is based on a real-life situation. If you haven’t heard about the Flint water crises, you can (and should) read about it here. Education is power, after all.

fb-share-icon0
Tweet 581
fb-share-icon20