Still thinking about our 10th Anniversary and how to celebrate…
We are planning a festival-come-party/celebration-come-conference type thing [FUNDING PERMITTING] which will include panel discussions, workshops and OF COURSE, readings from all our books. We’d like our authors, readers and collaborators to contribute ideas on this so there are a rash of surveys below, to help us choose the lineup. Vote for your favourite poem or story in each of the books. There is a prize draw of a selection of books (of your choice!) as well, if you give us an email address to communicate with you.
Solstice Shorts Festival survey This one is slightly different, as it will also lead to a ‘best of’ ebook to replace this year’s festival, so you get more than one vote. With the 10th Anniversary festival we can’t manage both, and our ambitious plan for the next Solstice Shorts required a weekend, so 2024 it is! There is also going to be a competition to choose one additional story and poem to add to the ebook.
We will deal with forthcoming books separately, and our YA books will get a separate showcase, probably in the morning.
Julian is disappointed that he does not get a vote.
In the spirit of liking the concept of a random nomination, public vote version of the Booker, we put Devilskein & Dearlove forward for the Guardian’s NOT the Booker. Follow that link, and you can vote for it! I realise hardly anyone has had a chance to read it yet, but I bet you’ve not read many of the Booker nominees either… especially as they haven’t all been published yet. Go on, have some fun! You have til midnight on Sunday 3rd August.
The Guardian say:
We have to choose the six books that will go though into the next round. And when I say “we”, I really mean you. This is where you get to vote. All you have to do is to nominate two books, from two different publishers, and accompany those votes with a review of your chosen books in the comments section. This review should be something over 100 words long although, as the rules state, we won’t be counting all that carefully… And that’s it. Easy. I think. I hope.
To paraphrase #FlashGordon ‘We only have 36(ish) hours to save the world’ or in this case to vote #WeirdLies! https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/saboteur2014 you can also visit the book fair at the Jericho on Walton Street Oxford on Saturday 31st May in the afternoon, and come to the ceremony in the evening to witness our triumph – or our smiling-through-adversity-face depending on whether you vote or not. It’s your choice. No Pressure. ‘Other Anthologies Are Also Available.’ (But they probably aren’t as weird as ours.)
We asked for stories of exactly 100 words, and here are the submissions. We are posting them anonymously, in order of receipt. You can vote for as many stories as you like, but only vote once, please!
Voting closed on Sunday at 5pm the winner was announced as Story 5.
How can you not know your season?
Last year you were so bitingly cold that I spent sixty two pounds on warm slippers.
This year you blame October. Oh yes, we know it started cold but it quickly warmed. The wasps buzzed and grew flabbily indolent and seriously argumentative.
Now we rely on you to freeze them, to seal them in their many layered homes.
I had no use for my slippers in the spring, nor in the summer. Now November, you decide. Are you autumn or are you winter? When can I brush the dust from the Harris Tweed?
Cervelaf sprawled on his mossy woodland throne. An empty tankard dangled from one finger, his great antlered head lolled.
The doe-woman, Devnet, emerged from the forest edge, bow in hand. Graceful as ever, she crossed the clearing and bowed before Cervelaf. ‘The Marasmus has returned.’
Blood surged through Cervelaf’s heart. At last! He leapt to his feet, seized his hunting horn and gave three blasts.
Echoes of the horn faded among the trees. Cervelaf drove his fist into his palm and paced the clearing. Finally, the seasons turned. Boar-warriors, fox-people and collared men gathered around.
It was time to hunt.
“Penny for the Guy,” I called from the doorway of the laundrette.
10p would get us a Wham bar. 20p would get a Texan. Anything else would get cola bottles or gummy bears in triplicate.
“You going to burn it, then?” asked a man in a leather jacket, pointing with his cigarette at the bundle by my feet.
I nodded, feeling shy.
“Do it now and I’ll give you a tenner,” he said, pulling a half-full can of lighter fluid from his pocket.
I just hoped my little brother would stay still long enough for me to get the money.
It was night in the countryside; there was no light, not from moon or house. Reaching out a hand I switched on the lamp. It gave a dull click but nothing happened.
A power cut.
Across the ceiling an unearthly light painted a geometric and random pattern. Its very nature made me afraid. Quietly, as if there were company in the room, I went to the window and peered out. On the hill opposite a light danced.
I huddled awaiting my fate, but nothing happened. All night I sat until the morning revealed the truth; a harvester on the hill.
What is the late November doing? Spring was disturbed; the summer was hot; November terrifies.
The shining woods with their gold-brown light have tempted me out, against my better judgement. Perhaps this time it won’t happen.
And then it hoves into view: a ghastly half-rotten face with staring holes for eyes and a jagged, open mouth. It is laughing at me!
Charred twigs form a sinister circle at my feet; footprints in the mud remind me of a teasing, jeering mob.
The remains of a spiked wheel hang forlornly on a fence. It’s the 25th and my name is Catherine.
Every month has its own flavour : February – chocolate, July – raspberry, October – apple; November is treacle. Burnt sugar, molasses, toffee it doesn’t matter how I come by it, so long as there’s that bitter dark sweetness – toffee apple, parkin, stir-up Sunday; the air is constantly full of that scent, sticky with the feel of winter: dead leaves, fireworks and fires. My earliest memory is of sticking my baby-teeth together with treacle toffee, wielding the little hammer that was meant to break the slab apart. I hit more than the toffee, and ever since, treacle has been the flavour of guilt.
For the past three years, Anna had tried to imagine that November wasn’t going to happen. The kitchen wall calendar remained stuck on October until the 1st of December, when she would turn two pages at once. Guy Fawkes and St Andrews Day were passed over, and she pretended that the birthdays and anniversaries that she would have previously penned in didn’t exist. But every time she dated a document, or picked up a newspaper, or checked an email she couldn’t avoid the countdown to the only important date in November – the anniversary to her husband’s death on 30 November.
That Friday was our first taste, although not the expected exotic Spaghetti Bolognese. We’d giggled, anticipating our big sister’s bubbling pot, the whole sixty mile bumpy bus journey, but were met by Bobby unsmiling at the bus stop, “Quick, into the van.”
Margaret tensely smiled as we whirled to Foresterhill. Bobby paced outside, “Your dinner? Here.” We raced into the dark but, no chipper, only an offlicence offering us the new flavour, roast chicken crisps, with liquorice Toffos for dessert. Sated, we returned to Bobby’s mixed delight and denial at “It’s ANOTHER girl”, much too young to be our dad.
My father was a cross in a field, with a red flower in the centre, like his heart was pinned there. It was cold and damp so I wrapped him in my jumper; but my mother told me off and I put it on again. We left my father standing there, one cross among hundreds; a tree in a forest of stumps.
My father had fallen, they said: I wondered how far he’d fallen and how he had turned into this tiny wooden fork with a heart pinned to it.
Here are the poems to vote on, anonymous and in no particular order.
You have until 9am on Valentine’s Day at which point I will have finished ripping open multiple cards, obviously, and have time to consider which poem has the most cards from the voting public.
The contact form has played fast and loose with the formating in some cases so I’ve had to guess: If I have guessed wrong, authors, please alert me quickly and I will correct.
Scroll to the bottom for the voting form.
I want to be your shadow, to be with you night and day,
You stole my heart, but you can’t take my longing away.
I loved you will all my heart, not thinking we would every part,
but you were untrue, so I wait in vain,
but your shadow upon me will always remain.
A Whirlwind Romance
She came up to me in a bar
Dark-hair, sunglasses, a tight silk dress
Every inch of her screaming danger.
Bare arms, a tattooed ace – of spades –
On her shoulder, almost discreet,
Cleavage created under a knife,
White teeth, eyes that might have seen
Jesus walking out of the desert.
It was her shoes that convinced
Her scuffed heel a stiletto in my heart
And after two Martinis we took a cab
To the airport. First plane: Cuba.
Now, under the palms she sits
Knowing everything and nothing,
Sipping a banana Daiquiri, as I scan
Sports pages and three-minute eggs.
Replete. My shirt like downy plumage.
It is hot. A man plunges into the pool.
We have no conversation, nothing to say.
The shoes have been cleaned.
Her dress is out of place.
She gazes off into the distance
Across the blue where death and chaos embrace.
Feeling the pull of the smoky haze,
Abandoned cars, the machines given to rust
The thump of bass notes behind smoked glass
Gods skewered on billiard cues.
Obols on her eyes.
Poem 3 When You Walk Away
The room is hollow
Like my soul
When you walk away.
Is there nothing to make you stay
Beyond a while?
Is there nothing in me
Keeper of my misspent fire.
Jester of charm and eloquence.
My heart is in your
When you walk away.
Knowing not that it is there,
Carry on without a care,
Cherub’s back with flaxen hair:
When you walk away.
Will you, Won’t you, Well?
Darling will you still love me when
my hair is lank and stringy,
insecurity has made me clingy,
my flesh drips wrinkled from my bones
and gasps of passion become arthritic moans?
Will you, won’t you, well?
Well can you picture it, surfacing for air
when wheezy lungs and mouldy flesh make sex too much to bear:
will you want me then? Will you?
Will whatever else we have fulfil you?
When years have passed, everything’s been said
and the friends we’ve shared are dead?
Will you, won’t you, well?
Well, will we be enough for each other,
friend and enemy, father and mother,
life entire, self complete, one within another?
Will you still love me then, when
my eyes are dull and you have to shout
before I understand what you are talking about?
And when I’m dead, flesh crumbled, all forgotten,
will you dig me up and love me rotten?
Will you, won’t you, well?
Beginning to think we’ve made a mistake.
what are we doing here?
Tense and over emphatic;
one too hot intense dramatic
one so cool reserved phlegmatic.
At first sight the symmetry of difference
yin and yang’s
Dark and light
loud and quiet a dissonance
Tall and short too, but
we won’t go into that.
But balance is an illusion
each quick to anger it takes
us different ways
one explodes, screams and is done
one festers and smoothes,
indignation buttoned in.
One cries when angry
one shouts when sad
so what are we doing here?
Never eye to eye
sizzling, and cool
stroppy, and contained.
But then, side by side
observing the world
one will make a sardonic quip
the other will burst out laughing
And we are back in true
I tell you, I’m not in love!
I can tell you that straight to your face.
Because your face is everywhere…
In the coffee cup
In the mirror stains as I brush my teeth in the morning,
In the wrinkled bed sheets as I crawl out of bed at night for a glass of water
Not able to sleep.
In my dreams…
You’re following me around like a private detective.
I know I’m being followed, all right.
But I let you be
Hoping you’ll get bored one day and stop playing this silly game.
Sometimes I like having you around.
Like when my heart starts throbbing really fast out of the blue
And when my palms are sweating
And my legs grow weak
And my stomach crunches
And my forehead is covered in droplets of sweat
And a bitter sweet pain engulfs me,
Your face is there, reassuringly…
But most of the times I hate you.
I’m not in love, I tell you…
Poem 7 An Ode For Your Sixtieth Birthday
It can’t be true that you too are sixty
For I see a young woman by my side!
But it is true, for it’s more than forty
Years since on York’s Derwent Bridge I saw glide
A vision, and by beauty was smitten.
You wore an Indian dress, Paris bought,
And stunned me into aching in that hour,
As if by some bird of love I’d been bitten
And in her sweet enchantment I was caught –
So that I am still stunned and aching now.
Looking through pictures of you as a child
I swoon at images of loveliness
And, in photographs of a lifetime filed,
Feel, as if in my flesh, love’s soft caress
In your beauty fully-ripe: there as wife,
And there again, in your mothering phase,
With our children that in your image flower.
So blessed have I been through my life
Since that day when you turned to meet my gaze –
And still your beauty glows now and still now.
But flowers can’t be gathered all the time.
It’s true we’ve shared in ice as well as fire,
And in vinegar – though much more of wine –
And we’ve been low in love as well as high.
But still how brief they seem, those bitter hours
That come and finger like a passing frost,
Turning white all that once was green and grew,
But blighting not the blooming of the flowers
When the dark memory of frost is lost
And summer days return to make things new.
So, yes, now you’re sixty, but still on fire,
Flaming still higher as lover and friend –
For age is not the measure of desire
And nor does beauty on our age depend.
Our journey, it seems, is barely begun,
And Love the map to space and times unknown.
May we freely go where the warm winds tend,
May we sail together into the sun,
May we find in our Love eternal home,
And may our time together never end.
So, in the end we only had three entries for our London Lies flash fiction competition. Can it be I’m already in touch with all the Liars in London? I find that hard to believe.
You can read the entries here (minus info about the authors), and vote at the bottom of the post. Please only vote once, I will be able to tell! Voting closes at 8am Monday 12th November 2012. The winner receives a copy of London Lies, the runners-up win one of our nifty little London Liar badges. Wearing one of these beauties guarantees people will talk to you at cocktail parties, networking events, on the tube … actually you might want to think about where you wear them.
So – in order of arrival at Arachne’s web and with no intervention on our part:
CLAIM TO FAME
Nearly everyone of my age, who comes from the East End, will tell you they used to drink in the Blind Beggar with the Krays. It is the ones who don’t tell you that you need to be wary of. I never mention it, not even now; still keep me head down me, even though most of them are dead. Ronnie and Reggie gone before to answer to their maker, may they burn in hell the pair of them.
‘What’d you do in the war then grandad?’ the nipper asks, ‘we’re doin’ about it at school.’
‘Noughin,’ I growl at him from me chair, ‘I was ten!’
He’s talking about World War Two. I’ve been in plenty of other wars though, with The Firm, but there’s a heap of books out there about all that, film too I think. What most people don’t know about me, what they’d never guess, looking at this old fart sitting here in this chair by the window; this old dodderer who needs a nurse to help change his colostomy regular and can’t walk a step without hanging onto that bloody frame. What they don’t know is, I once went out with Diana Dors. Right smart looker then, me. Had a couple of dates we did, bit of how’s your father, but she was a bit clingy for my liking.
He’s playing with his little electronic game now, his mum, our Tracy, is reading a magazine.
‘Don’t know why you bother to come,’ always spoke plain me.
‘’cause your old and got no one else,’ Tracy sighs without looking up from the celebrity gossip.
Her mum used to bring her to visit me in prison, Tracy would sit reading her comic, nothing changes. I mean – Scrubs, nursing home … what’s the bleedin’ difference?
Second to get caught in the Web:
The boy was spoilt. You could tell that straight away. His dad told everyone how bored he got, how bright he seemed, how gifted he was.
He was unbearable. At the riverside café where we sat, he was noisily re-enacting the Iraq War. When the food was finally brought, he shouted for bigger burgers, fizzier pop.
He was running down the stone steps to the Thames. He’d tired of planning the Third World War and was now splashing into the water, calling out to his parents to look, look, look!
And he was screaming, probably because there was no one now he could pretend to bomb.
Then the screams became words.
“There’s a shark! Mom, there’s a shark in here!”
He screamed with the full force of his lungs. He screamed to make the sky echo. He screamed to make the clouds shiver. Heads turned to look at the child-rippled water; tongues clicked in disapproval at the irresponsible parents.
“What a liar!” people muttered. “There are no sharks in the Thames.”
Oblivious, the loving mother brought her camera to the water’s edge and filmed her brave son.
Oblivious, the loving father smirked proudly.
The boy screamed. He screamed to make the river cower. He screamed to make the birds cry.
Still the mother filmed. Still the father smirked.
The dark water was the first warning. From up in the café, onlookers could see the change in the colours, hear the difference in his screams. Through a viewfinder though, sounds that should terrify seem entertaining; colours that should alarm look artistic.
Only a sudden silence could pierce the proud parental insouciance, could make the mother stop filming.
It was only then that they realised that their lovely, clever, noisy son had not just been screaming but, weed-mangled and reed-pinioned, drowning.
And finally, this one arrived minus a title, so I’ve given it one, purely for voting purposes.
An ex-colleague of mine, Katie, was asked to dog-sit for an elderly labrador, the owners knowing she wouldn’t survive the uncomforts of the local kennels. Unfortunately, within hours the dog became ill, and using nearly all the “in case of emergency” money, she bundled the ailing dog into a taxi.
“It’s serious…” the vet said, “…we’ll have to keep her tonight.”
Now almost skint, Katie faced a complicated tube journey back, only to be greeted by a message saying the dog had died, please come and collect the body tomorrow?”
What to do? With hardly any money, options were limited.
Finding a suitcase under the stairs she set off.
But the weight of combined dog and case was more than expected. It was difficult enough trying to stop the vet carrying it out to her non-existent car. The stress of willing the case not to explode as she dragged it onto the tube, was unbearable. Worse still, the escalators back at the local station were broken.
She stood silent, preparing herself for the mountainous climb.
As if answering an unspoken prayer, a scruffyish man stopped to ask if she needed help. She paused for just a second before accepting.
“Blimey this is heavy! What’s inside?”
On the spur of the moment, her face reddening fast, the best she could come up with was…
“They’re books… college books….”
She thought she could see cogs of disbelief turning in his head.
“Big expensive college books… I’m taking th……”
But at the word ‘expensive’ eye contact had ceased, and with an unexpected burst of energy, he snatched the case and bounded up the stairs, three at a time.
And that was the last she saw of the man, the case, or the moribund mutt.
Remember! You have until 4pm on Wednesday to send us your flash fiction: 300 words set in London and including a really good lie. Same deadline for voting on twitter competition. After that we carve our pumpkin, put on our horror masks and entertain the local monsters to wicked treats.