Live Kick-Off Event for Digbeth Stories

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I’m very much looking forward to this event. Here you will get to meet the editors of Digbeth Stories, hear their thoughts on the state of publishing in the UK, why they’ve chosen Digbeth and what makes a good piece of writing as well as hear from Kit de Waal who will be submitting a brand new story to the anthology. As well as all the above it’s an ideal opportunity to meet other writers and to pitch your story ideas to the editors. See you there.

Christmas Cheer

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It’s the season of giving, so here are a few snippets of Fletcher Christmas life from over the years – enjoy.

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Turkey Farming

Dad liberated twelve turkeys. It was mid-December, and he was out of work. He borrowed Jez Bailey’s Bedford van, and Jez, and drove to a farm just past Harlestone Firs early one morning. Armed with bolt cutters, sacks and torches they broke in, helped themselves. Terrified poultry blocked out the noise of the farmer waking up, thudding down his stairs and retrieving his shotgun. The van was parked, side doors slid back, and rear doors flung wide, next to the large barn. The sacks forgotten, they grabbed the birds’ legs and flung them into the van. Fifteen were inside when the farm lights went on. Dad and Jez froze. The turkeys gobbling and gabbling intensified; eyes like black pearls set in alien grey-blue skin, focused solely upon them. Jez ran to the driver’s door as Dad slammed shut the rear doors. A shotgun blast tore over the van and the remaining turkeys bolted for freedom; the silent night broken with petrified squawking.  Grey and black feathers snowed down. Jez scraped through the gearbox as Dad leapt head-first into the van. Half-way back to town hey slid the doors shut and stopped laughing.

Christmas Fishes by Juliet Fletcher

Dad never divulged his initial plan, just said it was Christmas. Jez took five and Dad took seven as it was his idea. Three escaped. I imagine them living out their days in the forest, however unlikely that is. The biggest bird was for us. The others given to the pensioners on the estate. 

Mum woke to a very confused and angry turkey strutting around the yard and said, if you think I’m killing that you’ve got another think coming. Pap, who’d worked for years as a butcher, was too busy to come round but offered to talk Dad through the process of killing and draining over the phone. Mum needed some fresh air and left him to it. When she returned, the yard was covered in feathers and Dad was washing out a bloody bucket in the sink. The bird hung in the small brick shed for just under two weeks. I wasn’t born when this happened, but I’ve absorbed more and more of the story at every telling. This story has changed over the years, as stories do, but the thing that hasn’t is that it was the best turkey they ever had.

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All Wrapped Up for Christmas

There were chocolates on the tree in the shape of reindeer, snowmen, Christmas trees, presents, all wrapped in festive reds, greens and golds. There were chocolates on the Christmas tree, and we coveted them, touched them, imagined them melting in our mouths. There were chocolates on the Christmas tree, and we were not allowed to touch them, not until Christmas Day. Not until Mum gave the word. There were chocolates on the Christmas tree and then, the low hanging ones, the ones we could reach, were gone. Have you eaten the chocolates off the tree? Not a question, more a statement of fact. I protested my innocence as did my brother, but he breathed lies. Punishment was swift, a hand raised a smack delivered once, twice, three times. The pain faded but the injustice didn’t. Sam, the boxer dog, looked on, eyes wide. 

A shadow hung over the next two days that was swiftly diffused by the glare of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I knew Lee had done it. That’s what he did. He lied and cheated, but food, presents, food, TV, food, family, games and food smothered the nagging in my stomach.

Boxing Day was bright and fresh, and yesterday’s presents were waiting to be played with. Sam was in the yard to stop him begging at the oven. I got washed and dressed and took some cold turkey out to him. He’d pooed on the slabs; Mum would not be pleased. He turned his doleful eyes towards me and sniffed at the air. I placed the meat at his feet and as he was eating it, I played with his velvet brown ears rubbing them between my thumb and forefinger. I looked over at his dark poo. Flecked within it were red, green and gold pieces of chocolate wrappers.

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Where I Belong

Christmas Dinner is a big deal in our house. The bird has to be ordered, collected, prepped and cooked along with enough vegetables to feed the street, not just the four of us. We never have people around for Christmas Dinner, but family and friends pop in and out before, during and after. Booze fuels the day. Food needs to be consumed in large quantities to stave off an early alcoholic peak which is a real threat considering Mum and Dad start drinking at breakfast. Mum favours wine, white wine predominantly, sometimes sparkling, but red and even the odd spirit can make an appearance. Dad sticks to bitter, or if he’s feeling daring, stout. I will join in, later, but not to their Olympic standards – I’m strictly amateur. Dinner time is announced, adjusted and announced again to incorporate guests and dashes to uncle Loz’s in the next street. The food is always incredible. Turkey roasted and glazed to moist perfection, the potatoes’ fluffy contents sealed within a crispy shell, carrots firm and sweet, fresh bread and onion stuffing, chipolatas wrapped in bacon, even the cabbage is edible.

At some point, there will be a moment between me and Dad. He’ll place his large hand on my shoulder, struggle to find the words, squeeze until I fear my collar bone will crack and then he’ll say, he’s a good lad. Isn’t he, Shug? Mum will call him daft, but later on, when the plates are just bones and gravy, she’ll corner me, bleary-eyed, and tell me how she loves me. 

There’s never an argument in our house on Christmas Day. There are wild claims, exaltations of friendship, debts highlighted, claims of tenderness and love, when the alcohol has marinated the heart, gratitude for gifts and favours given, all sprinkled with sworn warm affection. 

In the lounge, the TV will mumble in the background, a disjointed rhythm track to Dad’s snoring, and Mum will disappear upstairs for ‘five minutes kip.’ Hours later she’ll busy herself in the kitchen cutting cold meats, bread, cheese, setting out jars of pickles and chutney, crackers and cake. Mum will feel bad for missing the Queen’s speech and Dad will tell me for the hundredth time that Steve McQueen did his own stunts in The Great Escape. Outside, it will be black as coal with the smudge of mist and the hope of snow. Inside the heating will be up full, damn the expense, Mum will be on the phone to Pap going over the Christmas meal in minute detail, successes and failures, and I will know exactly where I am and where I belong.

Every Little Bit Hurts

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I’m very pleased to announce that my short story, Every Little Bit Hurts, is now available in issue 31 of Prole.

“Prole is a literary print journal that publishes high quality, accessible poetry and prose. We aim to entertain, challenge, but never excude. At Prole, the reader comes first but we work actively with our contributors and pay a small royalty for anything we publish. Prole is published twice a year in June and December.

Prole is edited by Brett Evans and Phil Robertson from North Wales and the North West of England.”

Every Little Bit Hurts is a bitter sweet tale of one man’s inflammatory response to his wife’s untimely death. You can order the latest issue of Prole by simply clicking on this link.

2020 Vision

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2020 is a year many of us would gladly forget. A year of upheaval, confusion and loss. People have lost their livelihood, their education, way of life, and far too many have lost their lives. I, like countless others, feel tempted to scrub this from my memory and start afresh in 2021. The pessimist in me needs little encouragement, and he’s had a wealth of stuff to feed on this year, but I’ve left him watching the BBC News Channel so that I can focus on the things that reminded me of who I was and why I do what I do. In short, this post is about the things that made me smile in 2020.

Getting stuff out there. I had three stories published this year. My mediocre average is around two a year, and I have another due out in January next year! Having said that, writing has been difficult under Covid. I’ve been working a lot from home – that’s the work I have to do to pay the bills, not the work I want to do, writing – and using the same space to do both has been difficult. But I’m lucky, many writers have nowhere to write.

One of my biggest pleasures of 2020 was discovering Junoire and playing their Une Deux Trois LP to death. It’s such a gorgeous album full of infectious choruses, subtle hooks, sublime vocals, cool French style and a clever nod to the pop of the 60’s – the great stuff, not the shite. Live music took a hell of a hammering this year, but when it’s safe to do so, I’ll be off to see these guys.

Galileo 7’s Decayed LP was a joyous surprise. I have some of their stuff which I enjoyed, but not to the extent that I’d rant on to others about how great it was – it was okay, and I liked it. That all changed with this album. An album of covers.

Covering other people’s work can be hit and miss. For every All Along the Watchtower, there’s a hundred reality TV morons and manufactured pop stars murdering Leonard Cohen etc. This was different. Very different. Their version of X-Ray Specs’ The Day the World Turned Dayglow aside, every track is an energetic revelation of how much you can cram your soul with joy using only guitars, drums and keyboards. The only reason I’ve excluded Dayglow from that is that it sounds so much like the original, but, between you and me, I prefer it. If you buy one album recommended by someone you don’t really know then it should be this one if only for their version of Julian Cope’s Reynard The Fox which is an invigorating crash of energy and conviction that surpasses the original.

A cracking live version of Reynard The Fox.

Kevin Barry’s That Old Country Music was a delight to read. Barry is one of the writers that I hugely admire, and this collection sees him at the top of his game. His use of language, form and his ability to tell a tale is unsurpassed. I attended the online book launch for this, and Mr Barry is just as rich and giving in real life. I’m not going to review the book – I think I’ve done that elsewhere – just buy the bloody thing.

Kevin Barry’s The Night Boat to Tangiers. I’m not sure when this was published but I read it this year and loved it from the first page till the last. For all the reasons above, you need to buy this too.

Digging a pond. Yep, iron bar, spade, buckets, skip and lots of sweat – from me, not to fill it. We’d talked about having a pond for the wildlife it attracts and when there was nothing else to do there were no other reasons not to. This was hard physical work, something I’ve not done since working briefly with my dad as a builder, but immensely satisfying. The pond is well established now. I spent the summer watching frogs go bonkers in the heat while reading Lisa Blower’s Pond Weed which was a pleasurable coincidence.

Wendy Erskine was a new voice to me, and I can’t remember who recommended her, but her short story collection, Sweet Home, is a real treasure. Why is it that most of my favourite writers are Irish?

Creating a podcast was something I fell into by mistake. My short story, Raven, was selected for the Dostoyevsky Wannabe Birmingham anthology, but due to Covid, we were unable to physically launch it. Emails went back and forth regarding what we could do and before I knew it, I was producing a series of seven podcasts to promote the book. This was slightly daunting and very exciting. Everything was recorded remotely then edited together by me – I even wrote a short piece of music for the introduction and end. Talking to the other writers about their stories and methods was enlightening and inspiring, and I’m always up for acquiring new skills.

https://fletcherski.podbean.com

I’ve read a lot of great books this year, but this is another one that stands out. Cage of Souls by Adrian Tchaikovsky is science fiction/fantasy and takes place at the end of the world. Tchaikovsky’s world-building is second to none. The world he creates is compelling and completely immersive. The level of detail coupled with his succinct descriptions creates a believable and gripping setting that his finely drawn characters must traverse. The writing throughout is very literary and not at all trashy. At 602 pages this isn’t a quick read, but I was reluctant to finish it as I didn’t want it to end. You either like genre stuff or you don’t. I do, and if you do too…

Gigs of the live variety were rarer than rocking-horse dung this year. There were a plethora of acts doing special online events. I only attended two. The first was an intimate performance from Billy Bragg’s lounge and the second the huge world-wide, live-stream, bonanza that was the Gorillaz Song Book tour, two very different events.

Bragg’s gig was very much like the man, honest, low-key and positive. It was him against a blank wall in his house playing to an iPhone and I loved it. The Gorillaz’s gig couldn’t have been more different. A scary Robert Smith in the flesh, holograms, Peter Hook with his knee-cap bass and an animated Elton John along with a kick-ass band and retina-burning light show. Between the gaps in songs, you could faintly hear the crew cheering like the ghosts of gigs past. I enjoyed both of these, but both left me hankering to be there for real – although I’m in no rush to get Covid.

Sticking with music I need to mention the massive grin that was on my face the first time I heard Valleys by Working Men’s Club – the best New Order song I’ve heard in years.

2020 has ended with me hosting meetings on Skype, running training from Teams, catching up with friends on Zoom and delivering lessons on Blackboard, things I wouldn’t have had a clue about this time last year.

Friends have been really important throughout this. I’m not the most touchy-feely of people. Maybe that’s because I’m a working-class male or just the way I am, but it’s something I need to work on. An old friend of mine died this year from a heroin overdose. He was a year younger than me, a funny, cheeky bastard, an amazing bass player, and a father. I think the last thing I said to him was how ridiculous contemplating buying a six-string bass was – they’re for wankers. I wish it had been something positive. A friend who lives in the States told me about his death and said that it had brought home the fact we need to tell people that we love them before it’s too late and signed off by saying I love you, man. Due to Covid we never got to say goodbye to Daryl, I’m not even sure if his family did, but I love you man – keep slapping that bass.

My son bought me an LP for Christmas and it wasn’t shit! My kids are bonkers and have helped keep me sane through all of this madness. I was genuinely surprised when my son handed me an LP-sized gift. 7 by Beach House is rather wonderful especially as it was so unexpected.

And if you haven’t heard Must I Evolve? from Jarvis Cocker’s Jarvis is…Beyond the Pale, you really should. You won’t hear a finer summing up of Darwin’s theory in under four minutes with such an infectious refrain.

Obviously, 2020 was a lot more than just these snapshots, but these are the moments I want to remember. It could’ve been a hell of a lot better, but here in the UK, we decided to vote in the worst government in living memory and play Russian roulette with people’s lives. Stay healthy, stay positive and never vote Tory. Here’s to a better one in 2021

Yes, I Can Hear You…

I’m Zooming, well, we all are these days.

As part of City Voices December get together, all virtual of course, I shall be reading some Christmas themed stuff. The work I’ll be sharing is brand-spanking-new, some of it isn’t even finished yet, but it will be on the night. If you like turkey theft, too much alcohol and dogs that drop you in it then you really should tune in this Tuesday the 8th of December at 19:30.

The night is open to all free of charge, but if you can and would like to leave a contribution you are more than welcome. Pay as you feel via http://offaspress.co.uk/shop I’ll also give out some info as to how you can get your hands on copies of Night Swimming, and Submerged in time for Christmas.

There are some other great writers reading too: Colin Wells, Gracey Bee, @KraziKuli & David Bingham.

The link to access Zoom is on https://offaspress.co.uk/events

See you all on Tuesday!

Hello and hello.

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I’ve not posted since the 30th of June. What did I miss?

Seriously, hello.

You’ve probably guessed this but I’ve been busy.

Busy writing, working and generally trying to distract myself from the apocalypse but now I’m back. I’ve some news later about a short story that’s due to be published but for now I just want to tell you about a little thing I was involved with as part of the Birmingham Literature Festival.

Hear Buddy Here is an online writers meet up and one of the meetings was recorded as part of the festival and is now available online. You can view it here on the Festival site, or here on YouTube, or it’s there, below, just click on it. This snippet features five writers: Michael Toolan, Kate Innes, me, Santoshi Mann and Dan Shooter. For those of you who need to know such things, I appear around the 20 minute mark reading an extract from Weekenders and go on to talk about writing and the life of stories. Enjoy.

Pond Weed

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I don’t tend to post a lot of reviews here, but I’ve made an exception for Lisa Blower’s Pond Weed and here’s why….

I read this very quickly much quicker than Selwyn and Ginny’s journey from Stoke to Wales. This is the third book of Lisa’s that I’ve read, and they continue to grow in richness and depth, much like the contents of one of Selwyn’s pond experiments. If you haven’t read Sitting Ducks or It’s All Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother’s House, you really should.

Pondweed concerns itself with Ginny and Selwyn an unusual couple who were neighbours in their teens and have met again in their late 60’s and early 70’s with Selwyn being the slightly older and supposedly wiser of the two. Ginny is our unreliable narrator who steers us through the present via the past and who has a larder full of secrets that are gradually revealed along their journey.

Pondweed starts when Selwyn arrives home early from work and instructs Ginny to pack her bags as they’re going on holiday to Wales. Try as she might she cannot get the reason for this impromptu break or their final destination. This book is all about language, the words the characters use and the economy and finesse with which Blower uses them to convey a situation or a character. At one-point Selwyn and Ginny stay in a grim room at a pub called The Swan with Two Necks,

“The room is dissatisfying and small. The door opens onto the double bed with its feeble white duvet, and there’s a window above the bed, with curtains that don’t meet in the middle.”

Brief, concise and crisp – much crisper than the sheets on the bed.

Throughout the book, we are treated to quotes from Selwyn Robby’s The Great Necessity of Ponds. I found these quotes interesting for several reasons. Firstly, I’d just dug, lined and filled a pond in my garden so any tips are greatly received but more importantly it was a glimpse at Selwyn’s inner life and his lifelong passion, and they often reflected what was going on in the book. This quote from the beginning of The Tenth Day chapter could equally relate to Ginny and Selwyn’s journey and relationship,

“Water beetles can fly, and they readily leave the pond, usually at night, to indulge in long flights in search of possibility. During the course, they occasionally mistake the wet road for a stretch of water and come to grief.”

At the beginning, I found myself siding with Ginny dragged away from home with no real explanation, chance encounter after chance encounter leading her to correctly assume there’s a method in Selwyn’s madness, but as their journey progressed it was Selwyn I started to side with as Ginny projected her distrust upon Selwyn’s actions.

There’s lots to love in this book. The two main characters are expertly realised with depth and humour as is Ginny’s mother, Meg and the mysterious Bluebird as well as the caravan with its optics and fish in the glass pedestal of a washbasin which, with its shedding of letters and weird plumping is almost another character in its own right. The convoluted car journey mirrors Ginny and Selwyn’s romance, of sorts, and is realised with craft and precision. I loved losing myself in this book with its attention to character and place, real characters and real places, and I’m sure you will do too.

Cuckoo

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I’m very pleased to announce, somewhat late in the day, that my short story, Cuckoo, is now available online at The Mechanics Institute Review for you to read and enjoy.

Yep, online. Free. Gratis. Payment needed: nada.

Click on this link, have a read and take your mind off of the Covid-19 chaos for twenty minutes or so.

Viral Story

Are you self-isolating, contemplating the viral apocalypse, or just keen to help others through this difficult time? Then, if you’re a writer, poet, scriptwriter, storyteller, filmmaker, or just a keen amateur this could be right up your street.

Passing a story on, not a virus.

I’m gathering together a wild creative bunch of the above people to produce a viral story – don’t worry, it’s not infectious. No, it’s viral in the sense that you have the story and then pass it onto somebody else who passes it onto somebody else who…you get the idea.

How will it work? I or somebody else will start the story off by speaking to camera, most computers/phones have this facility these days, for between two to three minutes, that’s around 260-390 words. That video will then be uploaded and shared across social media with the next contributor tagged in. They will continue the story for another 2-3mins and then tag another writer in. Obviously, I don’t want to be tagging writers in who are unable to take part so I will put a call out on twitter etc. to see who’s interested first. If you’ve ever played the drawing game consequences or used till-roll poetry in a writing workshop, it’s the same idea.

Let me know if you’re interested ASAP as I’d like to try and get this up and running today or tomorrow at the latest.