Dead Space for the Unexpected

Once upon a time, so I’m given to understand, it was popular in business to leave a ‘dead space for the unexpected’, an opening where time could be given to something unforeseen which might come up.  Great idea, you might think.  Very progressive.  Cogitating outside the container: well done that (wo)man.  But I couldn’t help thinking that it’s in the nature of the unexpected to be, well, unexpected.  You can no more schedule a space for it than the dinosaurs could pencil in the time of their own extinction.  The unexpected, when it comes, can be a tiny thing that fits into a margin or a tsunami-like event that overturns your entire schedule, your company and even your world.  It will almost certainly be something you never imagined, which is why no dead space could ever accommodate it.

I had a memory twingling away at the back of my head, that there was a short story I’d read years ago called Dead Space for the Unexpected.  I googled it and lo! one of the first things I found was this blog post, in reading which I learned…

…today’s new word, Novum, which means a plausible scientific invention in a work of SF; like Ray Bradbury’s hand-held communication devices or – well, anything in Black Mirror.

So that’s me done for today.  I can go back to bed now

Kirk out

Writing Tips – Make Friends with Serendipity

I’m going to tell you a story.  Actually I’m going to tell you two stories – a tale of two tales, if you will – and it goes like this.

A couple of years ago I wrote a short story about a jumper, in which I used knitting as a metaphor for writing.  You can see the idea: each stitch is a letter, every row a line of prose, every colour a plot-line, and so on.  The story touched on the themes of miscarriage and Greenham Common and I was quite pleased with it at the time, but when I found it again I felt dissatisfied with it.  Something was missing.  I rewrote and rewrote but it still wasn’t right.  But what happened next was pure serendipity…

Image result for serendipity

image removed on request

As you know, I’ve been getting daily writing prompts in my inbox.  I set a timer for five minutes and just write without planning or forethought until the timer goes off, when I stop.  I’m allowed to finish the word I’m writing but not the sentence, and I’m allowed to read it through once but no more.

So here’s the thing.  Today’s prompt was ‘Where Did They Find the Lost Doctors?’ by which they presumably meant the lost episodes of Dr Who.  Then again, how you interpret the prompt is up to you, so I chose instead to imagine all the previous incarnations of the Doctor and to wonder where they are now.  I decided – or rather, my subconscious decided, since there’s no time for conscious thought – that they are all gathered on Gallifrey; all except Tom Baker who is wandering Earth in search of enlightenment.  The older Doctors are teasing Peter Capaldi about being replaced by a woman, and it’s beginning to make him grumpy.  They spend their time reminiscing and playing uber-pool with models of various solar systems.  When I was finished I thought maybe OH would like to read it and so I typed it up. 

Now, when I type up new stories I use a story template so I don’t have to set the font, spacing and margins all over again.  And sometimes it happens that another story is still lurking on the template instead of having been deleted after saving to the Short Stories folder.  No problem, I thought, I’ll just delete it once I’m  finished.  But I forgot; so OH received what he thought was one story but which was in fact two.

This is where serendipity comes in – because he actually thought it worked!  He said the first ‘Doctors’ bit seemed to fit in perfectly with the second part.  So maybe I’ve found the missing bit of my knitting story.

Serendipity!  Learn to recognise it when it comes: just because something is a mistake, doesn’t mean it won’t work.  Some accidents are happy, after all.

Some, on the other hand, aren’t; like spilling water on my laptop.  So while it dries out I’m using OH’s model.

Kirk out

Time Spent Poorly?

Lately I’ve been back and forth with Facebook a lot.  On the one hand it’s my major way of keeping up with things; socialising with friends, finding out what’s going on and checking out news stories.  On the other hand it doesn’t take long for me to become either angry or depressed or both, and that’s not good.  As soon as I notice that reaction I close the tab, only to go back on there an hour or two later for the human interaction I barely otherwise get, due to writing being such a solitary occupation.  It’s very difficult when the reaction to your work from the wider word is silence (though I did have a rather nice rejection today, of which more anon) so I crave comments from other writers and thoughts like my daughter’s this morning (‘I’m still reading your novella and it’s really good.’)  I can’t get enough of that stuff.

So today I thought I’d try an experiment.  I’ll set a timer on my phone and see how long it takes me to get unacceptably depressed or angry.  But as many people have spotted, observing a phenomenon changes that phenomenon: the very act of timing it meant that I was more detached from what I was reading and able to observe both it and myself from a distance, as it were.  The result was that I lasted five minutes.  If that doesn’t sound very long, my usual time limit is (I would guess) less than two.  Unless I’m chatting on messenger it’s not long before several horrible news stories hit me and I can’t take any more.

Maybe I should set a stopwatch every time?

The rejection email I had this morning was not too bad: it said they’d passed my story ‘Heart 2 Heart’ onto the editors (ie effectively shortlisting it) but that it didn’t fit with the rest of the issue.  Since they have different editors each time I am by no means downhearted – appropriately enough, given the title (if you’re interested the story is about a woman who has a heart transplant which ends up changing her personality in drastic ways.)

I may be a little downheaded though…

Two more stories going off to The Fiction Desk today.

Kirk out

PS  Good luck to everyone doing NaNo

They Shoot Horses

I’ve posted a version of this story a while ago, but now it’s going live!  I’m uploading it to a fiction site where it may get taken up and published online.  So when you’ve finished reading, go to and vote for it!

They Shoot Horses

Queue is a lame word but it’s better than line: I seem to think it’s French for tail.  I wonder what sort of animal would have a tail like this queue – something mythical, probably.  A dragon.  Which makes us all knights, I suppose.  I like that thought – it makes the queue a little more bearable if you can be a hero instead of an idiot.

They say queuing in Britain started during the war – not the Satellite War; the one before that – because of the rationing.  Everyone had to queue for their food – and now it’s ingrained like democracy in our character.  Like the mantra of equal opportunities: that’s what this queue is all about.  You take your turn and you wait.  Then you get your fifteen minutes.

I wonder how much of my life I’ve spent in queues?  Days, maybe – even weeks?  How many hours at the airport?  How many at the supermarket, the dole office, the bus-stop – the food-bank?  When I look back, my life seems like one long queue.  One long line for admission to the human race.

Sure, I could leave, but I’d just end up coming back again – because the Queue is the only game in town.  I’m not rich enough to afford a stand-in – not at today’s prices – and for every one of us here there’s a dozen more waiting to join on.  It’s crazy – but what can you do?

This Queue is a whole other dimension; you’ve got time and space, you’ve got vertical and horizontal – and you’ve got the Queue, winding in and out of it all like a giant snake.  Which city is it where they say a great serpent sleeps under the streets?  Edinburgh?

I don’t remember.

It’s disorientating.  I can’t afford the Q-app, and without it you can’t get any perspective – unless you can find a drone, and there’s not many of those left now.  Sometimes you think you’re closing in and then you turn a corner and all you can see is that damned serpent winding off into the distance.  You’ve got no perspective.  It reminds me of India: you can sit on a train for days, but according to the map you’ve only travelled half an inch.  So you learn to wait.  You wait without hope or expectation; because life is waiting and waiting is life.

You soon stop trying to talk to anyone.  You’re not a human being to them, you’re the competition – and after a while you start to think the same way.  If someone gives you a smile, you wonder what they’re after.  It’s terrible, but what can you do?

What gets me is, there’s no need for the guards; yet there they stand shouldering their stun-rays like extras in a war-movie.  It winds me up.  What do they think we’re going to do?  We’ve sacrificed everything to be here: why would we screw it up?  Yet on every corner there’s another glaring numpty, like a bouncer on the stairway to heaven.

The thing is, the queue polices itself.  Anyone gets out of line, they’re thrown off by the others: then they either go right to the back or they leave.  I’ve only seen it happen once, and once was enough.

But boredom’s your main enemy.  I guess that’s what pushes people over the edge; just not being able to occupy yourself.  You get tired of the screens pretty quick, and the further in you get, the more adverts there are.  They’re all targeted, advertising stuff from the booths or the Q-runners; and in between adverts they run the Show.  Every so often they replay the big winners, just so you don’t forget.

You try not to, but in the end you all watch the screens.  There are only so many hours a day when you can practise and after that you get bored.  It’s out of kilter; all this waiting compared with the few seconds of your audition.  But then you’d better be ready to do the whole act.  You have to be prepared for anything, at the drop of a hat.  Anything, up to and including the sad old Loser’s Handicap.  But I’d take that – if it was the only thing left.  Hell, I’d even take an internship, and at my age that’s a very long shot.  So I leave nothing to chance: I spend several hours a day going over my first lines and then honing the main act.  I wish I could afford some coaching as it really gives you an edge.  These days you can even take a degree in Showmanship; but nothing’s guaranteed.

First few days, you’re going to get antsy.  No-one tells you how long it takes, so you think you’re going to get In pretty soon – and when you don’t, you fret.  People jiggle their feet or jump up and down; they start swearing and looking at their watches.  Scuffles break out.  Words are exchanged.  And I get that, I really do – because it’s hard.  Patience is hard, especially when supplies are low.  But impatience is like foreign currency here: there’s nothing to spend it on.  So hour by hour you calm yourself: you train yourself to wait.  I learned that in India, too.

The great thing is to keep busy.  First thing in the morning, I do my twenty minutes.  Doesn’t matter what it is: jogging on the spot, stretching, jumping, touching my toes.  Everyone has their own routine and sometimes you get into little contests.  Of course, before that you have to pee.  Your toilet buddy is the most important person in the Queue, because you don’t want to be paying a Q-runner every time you have to go; and you have to resist the temptation to – pardon the pun – take the piss.  If you spend hours out of line you can lose your toilet buddy and it’s hard to find another.  Mine’s called Cormac and he seems to go about twice as often as I do.  Weak bladder, he says.  So after our usual pee-exchange, it’s time for breakfast.  It won’t be much, just a bar or some fruit, but I make it last like the full English with extra toast.  Sometimes I pretend I’m eating a huge platter with eggs and bacon, sausage, fried bread (fried bread!) tomato, even baked beans.  I imagine the colours, the flavours, the textures.  Sees me through half an hour, if I’m thorough.  At the end of it I almost feel full.

You’ve got to pace yourself: after breakfast I can spend ten minutes just brushing my teeth.  Because all those hours when the queue hardly moves, if you can’t occupy yourself, you’ll start thinking – and that’s when it all kicks off.

When someone’s kicking off, you can feel it.  There’s a restlessness goes through the queue like a ripple through the body of a snake; and everyone’s thinking, uh-oh! – a jumper.  We’ve all been there.  The trick is to wait it out: sooner or later the feeling passes.  You have to keep two things in mind: the life you left behind, and that long snake of zeroes in your future.  One hundred pounds for every man, woman and child in the queue – you just think about that.  Your island off the coast, your helicopter, your farm.  Your ticket out.

Even so it can get to you.  Maybe you’ve been here too long; maybe you’re out of money.  Maybe you’ve lost faith in your Act.  But if you jump ship you’ve only got one life left – as a Q-runner – and everyone knows a Q-runner’s life is not worth living.  So when someone’s kicking off a ripple goes through the queue; and your senses are on high alert, listening for a cry, a bang; a siren.

            I feel a thrilling vibration close to my heart.  I jump; then I realise it’s my phone.  I’m tempted to look, but texts are my only entertainment in the evening, so it stays in my breast pocket.

Sometimes I get to reminiscing.  I can see the whole of my life laid out before me like a film winding from the opening credits all the way up to this scene.  I want to be the director instead of an extra: I’d like to cut all the bad scenes; the bits where I acted badly or forgot my lines.  And then I think I want to cut the future; edit out all the swirls and loops of the queue which stand between me and the Studio.  Cut to the chase: to my big scene.  Because I’m ready.  God knows I’m ready – but right now the only camera I can see belongs to some bloody queue-tourist.  I wouldn’t give those bastards the snot from my nose: poverty-porn merchants is what they are.

I don’t blame the refugees.  I don’t blame the unemployed; I don’t blame the dispossessed.  I blame the government.  Two million homeless after the last floods and what do they do?  Build more houses?  Deal with climate change?  Nope.  They make us stand in a queue.  Of course, they all live on the high ground, so they can afford to ignore it.

Again a movement ripples through the line: I pick up my bag and wait, but by some weird queuing alchemy, by the time it’s my turn all the space has gotten squeezed out.  I’ve seen it happen loads.  When I used to wait for the bus the people at the front would take up so much space that the rest of us were left standing in the rain.  Sometimes I’d shout: Hey guys, can you move up so we can get under?  Mostly they’d look sheepish and start shuffling.  But this ain’t no bus queue and by the time the movement reaches me I’ve got room to take one pace forward.  I measure the step like a Roman.  Pes, pedis. 

There were Romans here, once upon a time.  Led by old Claudius, they stuttered up from Kent, threw up a city wall and dug in some baths and sewers.  I used to live on the old Roman road; it went straight as a die from here to Chester.  But there’s not much of it left now.  The modern town’s a ragged conurbation, with the monorail slashing across like a line through a careless essay.

And then the Screens appeared; right after the war.  It’ll cheer people up, they said.  They slapped ours right on top of the old Roman baths, and before long you had a Screen on every corner.  Then they seeped into the houses.  The small screen is dead: long live the Big Screen!  They were wired right into the wall.  There was no off-switch and no plug: once they were in, they were on.  Some people took out their windows and put Screens up instead.  Herds of wildebeest; much nicer than the back yard.

The old style of news reporting was dead, since the advent of the Street Brothers and video-drones, so a fair number of journalists had joined the Queue.  And of course The Show had thrown most actors and musicians out of work.  Talented or not, we were all equal now.  You had to admit, the idea was genius: to solve unemployment, inflation and the housing crisis all in one fell swoop – you’ve got to take your hat off to whoever came up with that one.  But I heard he joined the Queue too, in the end.

At first there were folk who wouldn’t have a Screen in their house.  But they all caved in eventually, because if you didn’t have a Screen nothing else worked.  You’d have no kettle or fridge or washing-machine; no heating or hot water.  No computer.  It was the latest thing: a holistic and totally compliant home.

An hour later we’re outside the shopping mall.  A group of droids are in a window showing off the latest smart-suit: ‘a must-have for all executives.’  What does it do, I wonder?  Answer emails?  Field phone-calls?  Be your avatar at a meeting?  I’m out of touch these days, but it’s probably not much more than a wearable laptop.

Time for lunch: I take a couple of soggy sandwiches from my chill-bag.  Only a few left now, and once they’re gone I’ll have to buy in.  There’s plenty of food available: you’ve got burger stands, fried chicken booths, chip bars, ice-cream stalls, donut diners, you name it – and for anything further afield you can use a Qrunner.  Finding food is not the problem: the problem is paying for it.  We’re a captive market; so they can charge whatever they like.

Another shuffle – and now we’ve hit a Blind Spot, out of sight of a Screen.  There aren’t many blind spots left now – they’re working to cover them all – but here’s where I get the only few moments of quiet in my day.  I close my eyes and bathe in the silence.

A shout wakes me like icy water: with a sigh I pace out the space that’s opened in front.  We’re in Sight again now: wearily I put down my case and lob my sandwich-wrapper at the nearest rubbish-chute.  It’s only 12.30 and I’m bone-tired.  Some days sleep can seem like a distant memory.

But at least during the day you can tell yourself you’re headed somewhere.  The evenings are when I miss home the most: I miss my tiny kitchen and my fireplace; I miss Patchouli, my fierce feral cat.  I wonder if she’s still alive?  Cats are vermin now: if they catch you feeding one, they’ll shoot the poor thing right in front of you.  And then you’re out.

Mid-afternoon, I take a peek at my phone: it says 3 new messages.  My heart skips a beat but I save them for later.  Late afternoons are hard: hour after hour you glance up at the sky, trying to discern a tinge of dusk.  When it comes, the sky is lined with orange.  If I could climb up just once and watch the sunset, I’d go to bed happy.

As the orange spreads across the sky we shuffle forward again.  I might have come a hundred yards today.

Everyone’s flicking glances at the street-lights: when they come on we’ll halt for the night.  Then the Q-runners start swarming, yelling, place your bets!  You get odds according to your place in the Queue: then when you’ve paid, you can go home and sleep.  It’s not enough for them to have us queuing all day, they have to have a race at night for us to bet on.  Since horses are mostly farmed now, they race Q-runners instead.

I watched it once, and once was enough.

But even if I could afford to bet, I can’t go home – because my home isn’t there any more.  When I came here the Screen was disconnected and the house condemned.  No Q-deposit, no house.  You’re here for the duration.  It’s terrible, but what are you going to do?

The lights come on; runners and homers start shouting the odds and the rest of us stake out our sleeping-pitch.  The best places are by air-vents – you can sleep there till dawn, with any luck – but tonight all I get is a step outside the arcade.  I spread my sleeping-bag and sit on it, marking out my territory before it’s time for cocoa.  I keep my head down: the homer deals are still going on and tempers can run high.  The odds change all the time and if your runner gets a better deal, you can’t blame them for switching.

When everyone’s gone to watch the race I pop across to the vendor for cocoa.  Now comes the best time of day, when I sit and look at my phone and enjoy a hot drink.

The first few days, I had visitors dropping by.  But no-one’s been for a while, so I look forward all the more to my texts.  I take a mouthful of cocoa and swipe my inbox.  Still just the three messages.  True to form, two of them are junk; but the third is from Julie.  My heart gives a little skip as I thumb the icon, and see her smiling and waving.  I smile and wave back, even though I know she’s just a collection of pixels.  Then I open the message.

            Nearly there!

Julie’s always so up-beat.

The bars are lighting up and drinkers start to shove their way through; stepping over us like garbage.  I can’t remember the last time I had a night out.  I remember Carol and I were together.  I don’t want to think about it so I get out my diary and write a few lines about the day; then at ten o’clock Cormac and I do one last pee-exchange before the siren.  You should get to sleep as quickly as you can, before the clubs open; before the muffled trance-beat makes your ribs start to vibrate like a wild heartFriday nights are the worst: you get pissed on and beer-bottles thrown at you.  We are the vermin now.

I curl up small on the steps and lay my head on the pillow.  Maybe tomorrow we’ll be in sight of the Studio.  Maybe we’ll even get in!  Imagine – this time tomorrow, I could be sleeping indoors!  I try to picture it; all the bodies lining the corridors and stairs, all the way to the top floor where the Audition room is.  As I fall asleep the Screen is crooning a jingle about the new Sweet-Dreams App…

3100 words


The Frost Report

Here is the frost report: it’s frosty.  I cycled to my counselling session this morning with the air biting my fingers and chewing my ears.  It was cold then and it’s cold now: one of those days when the sun doesn’t make it through the clouds.  The kitchen is down to 12 degrees and I will have to put the heating on soon or it’ll never get up to temperature.  Still I guess, what with global warming and stuff, it’s good to know it can still freeze.

So: at the moment I am focussing on short stories.  I’ve got one almost ready to go off, called ‘The Dot Com Revolution’.  It’s about an older woman’s struggles with the modern world and specifically technology: she keeps the TV and computer well away from each other in case they fight, and always switches them off when she goes out.  She has a friend who keeps trying to get her to go on Facebook and eventually she gives it a try.  Then there’s another story about my teaching days and a third story is about people being like sticks of rock, but that’s not so well worked-out.

At the moment I am shivering in the front room with the gas fire on and trying to warm up.  You’d think I’d be used to it, what with growing up in freezing vicarages with ice on the inside of the windows, but somehow it never gets any easier.  I am aware that I find dry cold better than damp cold even if the temperature is lower, because the damp seems to seep into the bones, but I’ve never been very good at dealing with cold weather.  My friend at school used to call me a frowsty, which was possibly a word she’d made up.  When I think about it though our uniforms were totally inadequate for the winter months: a skirt and blouse with a thin v-neck jumper, a raincoat (my mother bought a lining for mine) and a regulation scarf (I had a long brown maxi-scarf which kept getting me into trouble.)  And tights!  Hideous, futile garment!  They ought to be banned.

That’s it for now.  Back to the pen-drive.

Kirk otu


A Saturday Afternoon in the Queue for the Toilets

I think I’ve more or less finished work for Christmas now: I may do a bit tomorrow but then that’ll be it.  So this week I’ve sent off a couple of stories to a magazine, and it occurred to me that they were in some way linked, as if they belonged to the same universe.  The worlds they inhabit are in a future about fifty years ahead – maybe a little more – and like most futuristic writing they take an aspect of modern culture, magnify it and project it forwards a number of years.

The first story concerns a Queue.  At first it’s not clear why the man is standing in the queue, but it slowly emerges that for those who have no work (which is most of the population) the Queue is the only game in town.  They are queueing for a talent show and the chance to win millions.  Life revolves around servicing the queue; those not actually in it are engaged in serving food and drink and running errands for those who are queueing.  The challenge with this story was to make something essentially monotonous seem interesting.

The second story was originally a chapter of a novel – a novel which I’ve unearthed and intend re-writing next year.  Again, it’s set between fifty and a hundred years into the future at a time when thoughts can be extracted from the mind and stored either on computers or in Museums where they resemble art forms.  The study of thought is very dangerous as most people don’t understand the risk of Assimilation – becoming sucked into the Thought and losing your own identity.  All this is of course symbolic, and it turns out at the end that the narrator is in a mental hospital: even so it’s left open as to how much of this is real and how much is delusion.

So that’s that.  And time to wrap up, I think.  Take care my dears and have a wonderful Christmas.  See you on the other side!

Oh, and I am utterly chuffed that Andy Murray won BBC Sports Personality of the Year and almost equally chuffed that Tyson Fury got nowhere.

Kirk out



The Wrong Sort of Snow

WordPress has gone all weird again.  I got a lovely load of comments on yesterday’s post, mainly from other writers who are every bit as insecure as I am, being supportive, commiserating and also loving the snow.  I like the snow too although it seems a tad inappropriate at the moment, what with the weather being so mild.  Obviously it’s nice that the weather is mild rather than freezing but it does make one worry about global warming.

So at the moment I am working on a very old story.  This is one of the oldest stories in my repertoire as it was originally a chapter of a novel; the first novel I ever finished.  The first one I wrote was when I was eight; however it only ran to half a page and then stopped: I’ve been trying to get back to that novel for fifty years.  But the first I ever finished was called Seven Days and was the story of a woman stuck in a nuclear bunker.  It was written during the Cold War years and it’s not immediately obvious where she is; even at the end it’s not clear whether she is really in a bunker or whether it’s all in her mind and she is, say, in a mental hospital.  Anyway, the chapter which became a story explains how she got where she is.  It’s set in the future – though only about 50 years or so – at a time when thoughts can be extracted from the mind and studied.  She works for a peace project which is attempting to defuse a very complex and highly aggressive thought which, if unleashed, could prove very destructive.

The story is called A Saturday Afternoon in the Museum of Thought and it needs a lot of work to get it up to scratch.  I’ve been at it all morning and now I’m taking a break.

So: WordPress is being all different again, which means it’s reorganised itself and now I don’t know where to find anything.  Why do things have to keep doing that?  My email has changed as well – you keep having to relearn things when you’ve only just learnt them.  It’s not fair.

In my day, things didn’t keep changing every five minutes.

Kirk out

PS if you’re not in the UK and wondering why I put ‘the wrong sort of snow’ as a title, it refers to a remark (unfortunately wrongly) attributed to British Rail explaining why the trains weren’t running.

Return to Sender?

Most of this post disappeared into the blogosphere yesterday: I’d spent ages writing it and then I hit ‘return’ or something and it took me literally and returned whence it came.  Wherever that was… then I started a new post today and it asked me if I wanted to restore yesterday’s post.  If only I’d known it would do that!  I tried everything to get it back… so now you have yesterday today:

Ouf!  That was a very tiring day, from which I am only just now beginning to surface.  For reasons about which I shall, for the time being, remain mysterious, I have been to Nottingham and back.  This involved a trip around the castle (not into it) and a tour of the back streets before getting thoroughly exasperated with Thing for not a) bringing directions to our venue or b) thinking to bring their phone number.  In the end we found a friendly local bobby (gosh, they really are getting younger, aren’t they?) and he set us on the right road.  I arrived hot, sweaty, tired and thoroughly irritated.  Not the best start.

It got better: after our appointment we found a small friendly cafe which had a nice line in paninis and baked spud as well as a vast range of herbal teas, and we had lunch.  We explored a little more and then got the train back again.  I was exhausted by then as I hadn’t slept well.

I’d also had a busy weekend: the Riverside Festival was heaving with folk from all over the place and as always with these events you bump into people you haven’t seen for years.  Every few yards it seemed there was a long-lost friend to catch up with; not only that, we signed up for a veg box with Riverford and bought coffee from a barge.  After that we were due at Andy’s in Birstall for dinner and wine and possibly a walk through Watermead Park (his hen-filled garden backs onto this wildlife haven).  I arrived too late for the walk but got stuck into the wine and food.

Interestingly they seem to have the same sort of bees as we do nesting in their roof:

White-tailed bumblebee on bramble - Zsuzsanna Bird - Zsuzsanna Bird

These are white-tailed bumblebees.  It’s quite amazing how many different types of bees there are.  We were worried in case ours were masonry bees which, as the name implies, make rather drastic inroads into your brickwork.  But they are in fact harmless.

Sunday at Riverside always features Sing for Water, which this year climaxed with a Bollywood song – terrific fun.  One of my all-time favourite Bollywood songs is Jai Ho, the theme tune for Slumdog Millionaire:

I love this dance sequence at the end of the film: I’d really like to learn Bollywood dance.

Aaand back to today: and it’s the usual scenario, another rejection and sending something off straight away.  That’s my tactic now – every time I get a rejection, I send something else off.  The problem with the previous story, apparently, was that nothing much happens.  That’s one good thing about Everyday Fiction, I guess – you always get feedback, even if it’s painful to read (and it is).  Still, they’ve published a couple of mine, so they can’t be all bad:

Kirk out

Am I an Oat?

Yesterday was a bit of a rag-bag of events, but a good mix for all that; a bit like my Josephine jumper.  First, poetry.  The mornings are for poetry, the afternoons for prose – it just seems to work that way – and so yesterday I practised my Artbeat Opening Ode (nothing will induce me to give you a taste) and worked on a couple of upcoming poems.  Then, as I often do, I foundered, hovering between Facebook and short stories like a woman hovering between life and death and unable to commit to either.  I have a couple of stories which are almost ready to go and a couple which are just starting; plenty of work, you might think – but I just couldn’t settle.  I switched back and forth between them, pausing only to check my Facebook status every few minutes.  Then I hit on oats.

During one of my frequent tea-breaks I had turned on Woman’s Hour and heard an item about making oat milk at home.  We seem to get through an awful lot of soya milk, specially when Thingy is on a cereal kick, so the idea of making oat milk at 20p a litre seemed quite appealing.  The first stage was to soak the oats.  No, the first stage is to look in the cupboard and realise you have no oats and send Thingy out to buy some.  Then you soak your oats.  After that you blend them and strain them – and voila! oat milk.

I’m still at the soaking stage so I’ll let you know how it turns out.

After that I resorted to knitting whilst editing a story and for some reason that seemed to trigger more creativity.  There’s a group called ‘Knit and Think’ and whilst it might sound cosy and trivial, there does seem to be some connection between knitting and thinking; and in my case, between knitting and producing prose.  Hence I finished the first draft of a story called ‘Josephine’s Jumper’ (yes it really does all hang together) and started another called ‘Thursday’.

After that I headed off to what proved a very useful workshop on taking a show to the Edinburgh Fringe.  I came away with the thought that a) this sounds like fun and something I’d like to do and b) it’s impossibly expensive.  Conservative estimates start at £1000 – and that’s without eating anything!

Still, Christine and I came up with an idea for a show which I said should be called ‘Juice-box Jury’.  This was because half the workshop was punctuated by her attempts to wrestle her way in to a small juice box and liberate the drinking straw from its container.  We were both in hysterics.

After that it was a quick whip home to gather knitting and head out to the Knitting and Crochet Group at Fingerprints cafe.  They were a pleasant and friendly bunch who helped me with my cabling difficulties and much admired my Josephine Jumper.

Here it is again, just in case you missed it:


Oh, and can anyone tell me who said the words in today’s title, and to whom?

Kirk out

Fortune’s Vomit

Fortune vomits on my eiderdown once more, as Edmund Blackadder once observed: today I got a rejection from a magazine I’d sent a story to, along with the story in my self-addressed envelopes.  I hate the sight of these envelopes coming through the post: at least when you email something and don’t get a reply you can imagine they’re still thinking about your story and that a committee somewhere is passing it round and discussing its merits.  There was a rejection slip in with the story, and someone had scribbled a note on it.  ‘Oh,’ I thought, ‘maybe they want to say how much they regret not being able to publish my story and wish me luck for the future.’  Not a bit of it.  It was a rather rude and patronising note advising me to do some research before I send stories out, to attach a covering letter and to use the name of the editor.

Now, I can only assume that the covering letter got detached from the story before this person read it; because I always attach a covering letter when I post stuff out; plus if the name of the editor was out there, why wouldn’t I use it?  I do all the research I am able to do; looking at listings and seeing what the requirements of the magazine are.  But – and here’s the rub – I can’t afford to subscribe to all the magazines I might want to submit to, so what am I supposed to do?

I thought the tone of the writer was rather rude and patronising and I’m tempted to reply with a little note of my own, thus:

Dear Person from ____ Magazine

I would advise you to reflect a little before you send out rejection slips.  Are you sure there wasn’t a covering letter?  These things can so easily get detached.  And before you criticise a writer for not studying your magazine, please reflect that magazines cost money and most struggling writers can’t afford subscriptions.

I would address this note to you personally but I don’t know your name.


Sarada Gray (age 57 3/4)

Off now to clear up fortune’s vomit.

Kirk out

PS  It occurs to me that I actually AM 57 3/4!