Saturday, 8 December 2018

Review: Wild Life by Kathy Fish

What can be said about Kathy Fish’s writing that hasn’t been said before? She is a deserved legend of the flash fiction world, and Wild Life is a glorious collection containing work that spans fifteen years.

Fish’s themes are panoramic, distilled to their essence in these perfectly formed miniatures. She understands the human predicament, she writes sparingly, lyrically, with precision, about loss and longing, love and dreams. The world she creates is slightly off-centre, yet totally familiar, so carefully built, word by word. She crams the tiniest of spaces with illuminating wisdom, humour, and pathos, and with characters who are so close that you can feel their breath on the back of your neck as you read. 

These stories - all 109 of them - need re-visiting again and again, they demand to be savoured, and this collection will stay by my bedside until it falls apart.

Available HERE from Matter Press.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Review: This Is (Not About) David Bowie by Freya Morris

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I'm thrilled to bits to be stop number three on Freya Morris's blog tour for the launch of This Is (Not About) David Bowie

"Every day we dress up in other people's expectations.

We button on opinions of who we should be, we instagram impossible ideals, tweet to follow, and comment to judge.

But what if we could just let it all go? What if we took off our capes and halos, threw away our uniforms, let go of the future. What if we became who we were always supposed to be?


This is (not about) David Bowie. It's about you.

This Is (Not About) David Bowie is the debut flash fiction collection from F.J. Morris. Surreal, strange and beautiful it shines a light on the modern day from the view of the outsider.

From lost souls, to missing sisters, and dying lovers to superheroes, it shows what it really is to be human in a world that’s always expecting you to be something else."


I read This Is (Not About) David Bowie from start to finish in one sitting, and then promptly read it again the next day! 

Freya Morris has a unique voice that is strong and daring. This collection of stories, poetry and miniature dramas is bright with brilliance - exciting, poignant, surreal, simultaneously other-worldly and utterly grounded. You find yourself instantly immersed in the crazy, startling, off-centre, sci-fi-esque world of Morris's outsiders and lost souls; characters who, like Bowie himself, are striving to find their identity, and often trying to be superhuman. And although you can feel his presence in every corner, as Morris says, this collection is more about us than it will ever be about David Bowie.

Her words are the sweet and sour fizz of a bag of Haribo Tangfastics that you can't stop eating, the crackle and bang of fireworks going off in your head, and after you've taken them all in so fast, you have to pause, reflect, go back and read them again.

Each story holds a new surprise, and it's hard to pick favourites, but here are some of the lines that stayed with me:

"What’s the point of dancing in the rain if you can’t feel it?" says Tom to Hannah in Dancing in the Street.

Freya Morris

“There is a painting in my father’s house that we would step into. The painting became our window when we were too afraid to look out of ours.”  The Last Thing my Father Sang to me.

“You gave me permission to be that girl in my Dad’s old suits. No, it was way more than that – you made it feel extraordinary. Better than the rest. No norms. No lines.” Lifeline - an Eulogy.

This Is (Not About) David Bowie is published by Retreat West Books, and is out now.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

The Last Of Michiko

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If you'd like to hear me read one of my stories then head over to the Retreat West YouTube channel!

Wednesday, 24 October 2018


Reflections is a rich and diverse collection of prose and poetry, celebrating the legacy of Cleckheaton Literature Festival.

The anthology features work from many of the writers who appeared at the festival in 2015 and 2016, as well as stories and poems by members of Cleckheaton Writers Group, who organised and ran the festival.

Enjoy reading the work of James Nash, Alison J Taft, Ian C Douglas, and many other established authors, as well as that of emerging and – as yet – unpublished writers. The anthology is dedicated to the late Helen Cadbury, who appeared at both festivals.

‘This collection of writing is a testament to the work of the festival team that worked so hard to bring the joy of literature in all its forms to West Yorkshire. I hope they are justifiably proud of all they achieved in such short space of time.’  Mark Wright

The collection will launch at three separate events in November and December 2018, the first of which will be held at Cleckheaton Library, Whitcliffe Road at 1pm on Saturday 10th November. 

There will be readings by writers including Alison Lock, Ali Harper (A J Taft) and John Irving-Clarke.

This will be followed by an evening event at Heckmondwike Library, Walkley Lane at 5.30pm on Tuesday 27th November

There will be readings by writers including Julie Pryke and Martin Webster.

The third event will be at Cleckheaton Library on Saturday 15th December at 1pm 

There will be readings by writers including Noel Whittall and Ralph Dartford.

There will be the opportunity to purchase copies of the anthology as well as other books by the authors. All the events are free to attend, and there will be complimentary refreshments available.

Reflections includes work by the following writers: Martyn Bedford, Katherine Bevans, Helen Cadbury, John Irving Clarke, Clive Dale, Ralph Dartford, Bea Davenport, Martijn Den Burger-Green, Ian C Douglas, Laura Hobson-Tyas, Mandy Huggins, Alice Jorden, Sarah Linley, Alison Lock, Stephen Michael Moore, James Nash, Karen Naylor, Julie Pryke, Pauline E Scatterty, A J Taft, Neil Walker, Martin Webster and Noel Whittall.

Monday, 22 October 2018


I'm absolutely thrilled that I made the shortlist of the Bridport Flash Fiction Prize 2018 - the final 50 out of 1751 entries!

Congratulations to all the winners and fellow shortlistees!

You can read the full results here

Friday, 12 October 2018

Jonathan Pinnock Talks About Archie And Pye

I'm very pleased to welcome Jonathan Pinnock to my blog today, to talk about how Sylvia Plath helped him out of the creative doldrums to write his new novel, The Truth About Archie and Pye. I've only read Jonathan's excellent flash fiction up to now, but I intend to put that right and get hold of a copy of Archie and Pye as soon as my To Read pile gets down to twenty books (the minimum level before FOROOB* sets in!)

The Truth About Archie and Pye 

"Something doesn't add up about Archie and Pye ...
After a disastrous day at work, disillusioned junior PR executive Tom Winscombe finds himself sharing a train carriage and a dodgy Merlot with George Burgess, biographer of the Vavasor twins, mathematicians Archimedes and Pythagoras, who both died in curious circumstances a decade ago.
Burgess himself will die tonight in an equally odd manner, leaving Tom with a locked case and a lot of unanswered questions.
Join Tom and a cast of disreputable and downright dangerous characters in this witty thriller set in a murky world of murder, mystery and complex equations, involving internet conspiracy theorists, hedge fund managers, the Belarusian mafia and a cat called µ."

How Sylvia Plath Helped Me Out of the Creative Doldrums

At the beginning of 2014 my writing career was going nowhere fast. I’d had a small amount of success with Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens in 2011 and Dot Dash in 2012 and Take It Cool was on the way to publication, but I had no idea what to do next. So I’d decided to take the Bath Spa Creative Writing MA to help me find some kind of path. I’d sort of assumed that the array of illustrious tutors on the course would be able to steer me in the direction most suited to my abilities.

Oddly enough, that’s what actually happened, but not quite in the way I’d anticipated.

When you start the Bath Spa CWMA, you’re expected to come along with an idea of the book that you’re going to develop on the course. The idea I had in mind was an ambitious one. I intended to write a creative non-fiction alternative history of St George, framed as my (almost certainly unsuccessful) attempt to get the BBC to produce my putative sitcom about St George in the modern world and my (equally unsuccessful) attempt to get Omid Djalili to play the starring role.

I still think this wasn’t an entirely bad idea – I had a very early draft of something like it performed at Liars’ League in July 2008, called The Patience of a Saint – but it soon became clear that it wasn’t going to wash with Bath.

However, the Narrative Non-Fiction Module that I’d signed up for in order to help with the St George concept didn’t turn out to be a complete waste of time. The selection of books to study on the module was, frankly, a bit grim, being to a large extent about death and terminal illness, but I was rather taken with Janet Malcolm’s enquiry into the life and death of Sylvia Plath, The Silent Woman. This is actually an enquiry into the nature of biography, and takes the form of a series of interviews with various people who knew Plath and Hughes, discussing her own feelings as she evaluates the different conflicting narratives.

What I loved about it was the range of eccentric literary folk that she encountered along the way, and I was thinking about these people on my drive home one day. I imagined what a wonderful novel you could construct about a literary mystery and I suddenly realised that this was what I wanted to write for my course submission.

The problem was that I knew nothing much about literature – certainly not to the extent that I could get away with writing a book about one. I did, however, know quite a lot about Maths. And then I remember Archie and Pye, a couple of eccentric dead mathematicians that I’d invented for another story, Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions, that got read at Liars’ League (the month after The Patience of a Saint, in fact). By the time I’d got home, I knew exactly what I was going to write.

I submitted the first chapter of it to the next Professional Skills Workshop seminar and awaited the verdict of my tutor and peers with some trepidation. When my turn came, our tutor, the formidable Celia Brayfield, opened the critique session by asking everyone if they felt I should continue with this. One by one every hand went up, including hers. OK, I thought. We’re on.

So that was how I ended up writing an absurd mathematical murder mystery, with a little help from Sylvia Plath and a lot of help from my tutors at Bath – especially Celia Brayfield and also Maggie Gee. I’m quite proud of the result, although I’m not entirely sure what Sylvia Plath would have made of it.

Jonathan Pinnock’s THE TRUTH ABOUT ARCHIE AND PYE was published by Farrago Books on October 4th. A surprising number of people seem to be enjoying it.

You can buy your copy here 

*Fear of Running Out Of Books

Tuesday, 9 October 2018


It was a privilege to judge this year’s I Must Be Off! competition, and I’d like to congratulate everybody who made it onto the long and shortlists. Every one of the final nineteen writers deserved their place, and there wasn’t a single piece that could be cast aside with an immediate ’no’.
I’m currently reading Silverland by Dervla Murphy, one of my favourite travel writers. It’s a perfect mix of sparse, lyrical description of the Siberian landscape, Russian history, Murphy's own take on the world, and her interaction with the vast and disparate array of people she encounters on her journey. And those encounters, for me, are the most captivating parts of the book. I find myself reading faster, skipping some of the less interesting history, as I anticipate her next human story.
For a travel piece to work for me there has to be a human connection, or a meaningful interaction with nature. There are some beautiful descriptive pieces on the shortlist, yet a few are missing that interaction, or don’t have a strong story, and this is the reason they didn’t make the final five. There doesn’t need to be a tale of derring-do or fast action for a piece to be successful, however there does need to be a story of some kind.
A few didn’t reach the last five simply because one cliché too many or a weak final sentence can be the difference between getting there and not making it when it’s a close race. In a short piece of writing every word counts, so it’s worth thinking a little harder to find an original adjective. The sea should never be azure, markets should never be bustling, and buildings should never nestle.
I was in no doubt about my winner after the first read-through, however choosing the other four was difficult - so difficult that there are half a dozen pieces I’d like to mention in addition to the finalists!
I really enjoyed the elegantly written and enchanting story of The Dream Palace, and the Untitled letter, which is beautifully drawn yet feels a little more like memoir than travel writing. I felt the same about So Much New York!, which is a great piece of memoir writing, engaging, witty and entertaining. I love the phrase that sums it up - ‘tourists in each other’s lives.’  The writer of India Looks Like uses stream of consciousness to great effect in conveying the country’s relentless, overwhelming bombardment of the senses.
Two pieces that just missed the final five were Long in the Devil’s Tooth and Making a Whip out of Poo in Romania.
Long in the Devil’s Tooth is an entertaining whirlwind, a great story written in a captivating and charming style. It just feels a little cluttered as it stands - the final sentence, for example, feels superfluous - yet with another edit it could be honed to perfection.
Making a Whip out of Poo in Romania - what a fabulous title! This is another evocative piece, and I felt as though I was there in the snowy Carpathians, which is how it should be. The opening paragraph is strong, and the second half of the piece - the conversation on the train between the narrator and the wonderfully drawn Elena - is well-paced and works well. However, I feel the first half is a little clunky in places and needs a few tweaks.

The three commended pieces I’ve chosen are A Fighter in the Waste, Beyond the Reef, and A Peaceful Warzone.
I really enjoyed Beyond the Reef, with its vivid and colourful description of South Pacific ocean lifeHowever, I feel there’s an opportunity to elevate this piece further by making more use of the tension created by the appearance of the shark. As the saying goes, start with something interesting, not necessarily what happened first.
A Fighter in the Waste is the story of Marcos, a boy in a Nicaraguan orphanage, who has come from La Chureca, Central America’s largest garbage dump. The description of the dump is relentlessly grim, assaulting all the senses, yet even here there is a flicker of hope - there is still Latino pride, and the children have clean clothes. Another moving piece, filled with poignant detail.
A Peaceful Warzone achieves a satisfying balance between the human story, the description of war torn Aleppo, the frisson of tension, and the narrator’s own experience. That said, it felt a little as though I was being kept at arm’s length - although I appreciate that’s in keeping with the central theme of facade and outward appearances.
The piece I’ve chosen as runner-up, Not Your Mother’s Travel Porn, certainly didn’t keep me at arm’s length. It sweeps you up, deposits you in Africa, and then makes you question the differences and similarities between us that are perhaps not quite what we thought, and the way we see ourselves in contrast to how we are perceived by others. This piece made me think about why we travel, and question which part of what we see is a show and which part is real. What do we ever really know about other people’s lives?
Finally, the winner - a piece of writing that moved me to tears, and the story I’m still thinking about long after reading it. My Name is Mai holds nothing back, yet is sensitively written; a bleak, sometimes brutal piece about a street child in Bangkok named Mai who will never be forgotten.
The writing isn’t word perfect, and there is the odd typo here and there, but this piece is so evocative and moving that those minor errors are inconsequential. The description of Mai at the beginning of the piece, with her dulled diamond ear studs, is poignantly contrasted with the glittering studs worn by the wealthy Thai student in the closing paragraph.
The last sentence, with its double meaning, is perfect, haunting, and will strike a cord with many fellow travellers. The memory of those daily encounters with Mai still resonates down the years for the narrator, and this heartbreaking story will stay inside my head for a long time to come.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

The Word for Freedom - Retreat West Books

The Word for Freedom contains twenty-four stories written to commemorate the centenary year of women’s suffrage. A few of the stories remember the fight of the suffragettes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but most of them chart the ongoing fight for freedom that women still face in all corners of the world today. We’ve come a long way, yet there is still so much inequality, and so many more hurdles, that sometimes it doesn’t appear as if we have moved very far at all.

Most women are fighting small inequalities every single day, at work, at home, in every aspect of their everyday lives. There are many things over which we have no control, and in the most extreme cases these are things which can endanger our safety, or even our lives. Every women has the right to walk down the street or through their own front door without fear, and The Word for Freedom is being sold in aid of Hestia and the UK Says No More campaign against domestic abuse and sexual violence.

The stories in The Word for Freedom explore the injustices and harsh reality of many women’s lives, yet there is often bravery, always strength, and an overwhelming sense of hope even in the darkest places. There are tales of abuse of power, of assumptions of male superiority, of modern slavery, and of a woman exercising her vote for the first time.

The anthology includes some great stories told from the teenage perspective, including ‘To the Sea’ by Helen Irene Young, and ‘Relevant’ by Anna Orridge, where a schoolgirl friendship makes the suffragette protests relevant to the modern day.

‘Cover Their Bright Faces’ by Abigail Rowe is the wonderful story of a maiden aunt who represses her forbidden passion for her Girton College soulmate - “Lucy, my light and my salvation”, and highlights the difference between Aunt Portia’s life and the modern day world of her niece, Matty, enjoying a loving and open relationship with her partner, Linda.

I loved Angela Readman’s gorgeous, lyrical, ‘Tiny Valentines’, and Julie Bull’s story, ‘Those Who Trespass Against Us’, showing how both father and husband in turn abuse and stifle the life of Lucy, the protagonist, who is quietly waiting to take back control. ‘Out of Office’ by Emily Kerr is a short and clever story that highlights the continuing problem of pay inequality, and Angela Clarke’s story, ‘Gristle’, is a wonderful tale of revenge.

One of my favourites in the collection is the exquisite ‘The Second Brain’ by Cath Bore. This is a story that most women will relate to - the difficulty of saying ‘I feel uncomfortable’. The excruciating fear that prevents us speaking up about an unwelcome touch, an inappropriate comment, a kiss, or sexual advance. At school, Mrs Parkinson, the biology teacher, tells the class that “butterflies are an indication of the brain in the stomach talking to the brain in your head.” But we’re not talking about the nice kind of butterflies - the ones we get when we look forward to something - we’re talking about the sort with wings that flap angrily, the butterflies that hurt.

The voice is pitch-perfect, exploring and charting the pain of a child not daring to challenge an adult male, and the ongoing struggle of the protagonist as she reaches adulthood, unable to talk down the strangers making her feel uncomfortable with their ‘banter’ or to reject the sexual advances of her boss.

The anthology launches 1st November, published by Retreat West Books, and in aid of a great charity!

You can pre-order The Word for Freedom here

Exceedingly pleased indeed to be on the shortlist for the Colm Toibin International Short Story Award!

Review: Wild Life by Kathy Fish

What can be said about Kathy Fish’s writing that hasn’t been said before? She is a deserved legend of the flash fiction world, and Wild L...