Thursday, 25 July 2013

National Flash Fiction Day Competition

Since I started writing this blog I have been keeping an eye on the viewing stats and by a long way the most popular posts have been the creative writing pieces. So with that in mind I am posting the story I entered into the National Flash Fiction Day Competition in May. I didn't win this competition but that was no big surprise as I didn't even know about it until 2 hours before the submission deadline so it really is flash fiction - written in a flash and therefore not the best entry I could have submitted. I haven't made any changes to it, in fact I haven't even read it since I wrote it so you are seeing it warts and all.

I wrote this on a day I heard a news story about a baby being found down a drain in China and it kept bouncing around in my head. It isn't the first story of this type I have heard and is unlikely to be the last but it still stuck with me all day until I wrote this little story and shook it out of my brain.

If you are interested in seeing the winning entries they can be found here special issue of Flash Frontier with the top stories from National Flash Fiction Day, worth a look if you have the time.


How Do You Fit A Baby Down The Toilet?

Baby won't stop crying so I turn the TV up to block out her sobs. A girl in China has flushed her newborn down the toilet, didn't even know she had given birth or so she says. I sure as hell knew I was giving birth. Is it possible to have your lifeblood slip out of your body unnoticed?

Laundry shuffles to and fro, meals are half started, the bawling doesn't falter. There are moments of calm when we settle on cushions and the sucking begins, feeding exhausts us and we nod off in blissful harmony making the nipple pop out. The unpugged gap fills with a bellow so we try repeatedly, in, out, in, out, until it sticks. Surely flushing a baby down the toilet would block it?

I carry her around until my arms go numb and finally we have a bit of peace. I put her down so the blood can circulate around my arms - she hitches in her breath, we are back on the merry-go-round. Wouldn't you notice the blood and wonder if you were dying?

We stutter through the chaotic routine, nappies, feeds, housework, catnaps. Constantly moving from one chore to the next yet never achieving anything memorable. Are the sewer pipes bigger over there, just right for stuffing with babies?

Daddy arrives home wrapped in the freshness of the outside world. My voice is hoarse through lack of use but his is well lubricated with the chatter of grown ups so he speaks first.

 "Hi honey, how was your day?"

" The usual, yours?"

" Nothing special, and how's our little princess?"

"Just nodded off, she's such a sweetie."

And just how do you do you fit a baby down the toilet anyway?

Friday, 5 July 2013

My Personal Ranking of The Novels of Stephen King

I have wanted to do a personal ranking of Stephen Kings novels for sometime now and have finally got around to doing it. This is not an original idea of course and if you look around on the internet you will find more, none of them the same as mine however.

I have not included the books written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman (despite not being able to rank 'Thinner', one of my very favourite Stephen King books), collections of novellas and short stories, ( I have counted 'Hearts In Atlantis' as a collection), any non fiction works, e-publications, collaborations and The Dark Tower Series - they are a world apart from the novels. I have also omitted 'From A Buick 8', 'Joyland' and 'Dr Sleep' (this has my name on it for Xmas) which I haven't yet read but plan on doing so and will then add them to the rankings.

Stephen King's writing isn't for everyone but a lot of people haven't even tried his books for various reasons, mostly the stories are all viewed as horrors (which they aren't, well not the blood and guts type you may be expecting) and put some readers off but by far the most popular reason for not giving one a go is snobbery - any popular author is viewed as rubbish by many and Stephen King is obviously incredibly popular and by the book snobs reasoning the books must therefore be incredibly badly written. Not so as Stephen Fry commented on his BBC programme 'Planet Word' so if that doesn't satisfy even the most discerning of book hounds I don't know what will.

With these preconceptions in mind I have underlined the books that I think are most likely to appeal to new King readers - why not give one a crack?

The Stand - because this is the undisputed masterpiece and almost wiping out the human race is my favourite type of story

Dolores Claiborne - the strongest characterisation in all King's works, that's just my opinion of course, I read this in one sitting the first time and nearly fried my eyes

The Green Mile (originally published in six parts: The Two Dead Girls, The Mouse on the Mile, Coffey's Hands, The Bad Death of Eduard Delacroix, Night  Journey, and Coffey on the Mile) - anyone who has seen the film will know this is just a damn good story. I first read this story when it came out in monthly instalments and it just about killed me having to wait a month for the next book, now of course I have them all and can read it all in one go - heaven

Misery - this really could happen, something similar probably has, that makes this book very creepy

It - a glorious epic celebrating childhood

The Tommyknockers  - who doesn't love an alien invasion yarn? Don't let that put you off though - just like all these books it is really about people

Cell  - Zombies, a road trip, a race against time and a plethora of characters, you gotta love it

Firestarter - revenge is always a goodie

The Dead Zone - special powers, an evil baddie and a moral dilemma, a golden oldie

Carrie  - where it all began, Carrie will always have a special place on my bookshelf

Rose Madder - total girl power

Insomnia - grey power this time!

Bag of Bones - we all like a ghost story, especially with a Kingly spin on it

Pet Sematary - damn scary, I still have mental images but it's just too good not to read

The Shining  - a famous film but as usual there is so much more in the book, I can't wait to read 'Dr Sleep' which solves the 'what happened next' question

The Eyes of the Dragon - a beautiful book, an old time fairy tale

Christine - the first King film I ever saw but again the book has more depth and scared me big time

11/22/63 - intricate storytelling, very clever

Dreamcatcher - friendship, aliens, a race to save the world - what fun!

Needful Things - a reminder that we all have secrets, some of them very unsavoury

Duma Key - big, low key story - sorry about the pun but if the word fits....

Salem's Lot - the only book on this list I could only read once - it gave me serious nightmares - well played Mr King (of course I was a lot younger then, I'm sure I would be ok now)

Cujo - just plain good reading, this story doesn't hang about

Under the Dome - the implosion of an isolated town is always a joy

Cycle of the Werewolf  - another fairy tale with fabulous illustrations

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon - just go with it and see where it takes you, I think there are different ways to view this one

Gerald's Game  - mind games, they mess with your head, but I guess that's the idea

Lisey's Story -  the story of a marriage and yet more girl power - never a bad thing

Desperation  - I have to be in the mood for this one but when I am it really worms it's way into my brain

So there it is, my personal ranking for now, no doubt it will change over time but it has definitely inspired me to do some re reading of old favourites, I think I will leave Salem's Lot until last though, just to be on the safe side .

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Book Reviews - Just In Time To Be Too Late

I haven't added to my book reviews for a while so I thought it was time to catch up with them. I have been reading mostly non-fiction recently, I have tried a few fiction books lately that have been non-starters for me. I wouldn't say they have been duds but they have failed to hold my interest through to the end and I have had more than my fair share of 'did not finish' books lately.

The books I have finished have been worth the effort although a departure from my normal reading material. I will be posting reviews for the latest batch and as usual they won't contain spoilers or discuss themes, you are all smart people and can analyse books all you like if you choose but I'm not going to write an English essay on each book - I don't want to write an essay and I'm sure you don't want to read one.

Just In Time To Be Too Late - Why Men Are Like Buses by Peta Mathias 

This is a small book, perfect handbag size which is great as this is not the sort of book I would read for hours at a stretch but am more likely to dip in and out of so it's ideal for reading when you have a half hour wait somewhere or in your lunch hour.

Peta Mathias may not be a familiar figure outside New Zealand but here she is well known for her cooking programmes, bright red hair and her love of travel and gastronomy. This book is all about men - a follow up to her book about women 'We Can't Help It If We Are Fabulous' which I hope to read in the next few weeks when a friend has finished with it. 'Just In Time To Be Too Late' is part memoir, part advice and several interviews with male friends (not your typical 'kiwi blokes' however) along with a mattering of science (not too much thankfully as while I found these snippets interesting too much science has a tendency to put me too sleep). I am not normally a fan of memoirs and interviews - I prefer stories that are made up but I did enjoy this book. The mix was just right - not too many trips down memory lane to make my life sound embarrassingly mundane but enough to understand that Peta has created an interesting life and surrounded herself with some unusual characters.

If you are looking for a light read that will entertain you when you aren't in the mood for a heavy novel I recommend you give this book a try - you may even learn something about men and what goes on behind the glazed look in their eyes when you are trying to tell them something fascinating.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Movie Night: Life of Pi and Django Unchained

Our movie nights are not at the cinema but at home and involve the whole family and usually 5 or 6 films (these are movie marathons and often continue the next day). Of course that means we don't get to see newly released films but have to wait until they come out on DVD and are often the last people to see recent releases but we can live with that. We don't go to the movies very often (the last one was The Hobbit) for several reasons -

1, cost - for all 5 of us to go to the movies and get popcorn and drinks we have to spend around $100, that just doesn't add up for a couple of hours entertainment.

2, we are big fans of films and food, preferably together and the theatre managers aren't too keen on patrons bringing their dinner in with them.

3, along with films and food we also like plenty of fizzy drinks and the cinemas don't pause the film for toilet breaks.

4, while we all tend to go for similar film genres (horror, gore, action, comedy) as a family we make sure there is something for everyone in our selections, finding one film at the pictures that suits all ages and tastes is rare.

5, we make a family event out of visiting the DVD store, deciding the viewing order, organising the snacks, arranging cushions and blankets and the seating plan (dad always gets his favourite spot) thereby providing hours of family fun, especially useful during long winter weekends.

6, we don't have to put up with the noise and mess of strangers - quite frankly we make quite enough on our own and don't need any more of either.

7, when the going rough, tough and inappropriate we have the option to stop the movie and put the offenders to bed.

8, when the more mature audience can't keep awake any longer we can head for bed and pick up where we left off the next day.

9, just the hint of a movie night works magic by increasing the obedience in children for several hours preceding the festivities.

10, you can stretch out on the couch and cuddle the cat while watching.

Our most recent movie night involved only four of us as the youngest was away for the night which was the perfect opportunity to watch a couple of movies that we had been itching to see but were too long and unsuitable for the little one (we don't mean inappropriate with regards content as pretty much anything goes in our house but inappropriate meaning the little one would get bored and start annoying everyone else then have to be put to bed early making it not much fun for anyone). There were only two movies as they were both longer than most films and it wasn't an official family movie night. If you have seen The Life of Pi and/or Django Unchained feel free to skip the opinions below but if you haven't then the following should let you know if you are keen to give them a go. I promise no spoilers and no detailed plot synopsis - I hate it when you read a review and feel like you have already seen the film so I won't do it to you.


The Life of Pi

Remember when this film was released at the cinemas? The hype was huge which always feels like setting yourself up for disappointment when you finally get to see it. I had no real idea what the film was about prior to watching it (I had been told but had to ditch the memory to make room for more pressing bits of information such as shopping lists and school events) so I had no preconceived notions before watching the film and was prepared to be either blown away by it's brilliance or bewildered that the film had generated so much hype - it could have gone either way.

The very brief plotline is an Indian family are travelling by ship with the remaining animals from their zoo when the ship goes down with a handful of survivors and results in an unusual tale of a fight for survival across the Pacific Ocean.

We all really enjoyed this film told in flashback style with a very small number of characters which is a bonus for some of our family members who get a little lost with a large cast. The film was long (120 minutes) but not unnecessarily so as the length was needed to tell the story and no one got restless.

If you haven't yet seen the film and want something different from the usual sex and violence (why that would be I can't think but sometimes a change is good for the soul) then this is a goodie, highly recommended.

Django Unchained

Praise be to the God of film making Quentin Tarantino - he has yet again created a cinematic masterpiece. An even longer film (180 minutes) about a challenging subject - slavery in America but the story goes far beyond that. At the heart of this film is a love story ( I'm not a fan of love stories, the cynic in me finds them on the whole completely unbelievable and trite, sad but true) which somehow manages to portray the deep love and commitment of a marriage with the two romantic leads in only a few scenes together which is an amazing feat. There is a lot more going on of course but I promised no spoilers and I will leave the plot description there so as to leave it for you to uncover the whole story if you decide to watch it.

What I can't leave out however is the awesome acting. Leonardo DiCaprio is as usual immaculate and still unbelievably attractive whilst playing a hideous character (when is this man not fantastic?). Jamie Foxx was new to me but I am now a lifelong fan, love him, love him, love him! Not everyone can pull off one of his costumes and still look ubercool. Likewise Christoph Waltz who I haven't seen before, sublime performance, hopefully we will see more of him but I can't imagine how he will top playing this dream role which won him an Oscar. Samuel L Jackson has long been a favourite of mine (isn't he everyone's?) and in Django he is alternately screamingly funny (literally we screamed with laughter) and intensely vile, amazing work yet again.

Django was a delight to watch although there were some scenes which were hard to take but that is the nature of the subject matter. I have never laughed so hard at the KKK, if you are going to take the piss out of a group of people then at least make it entirely guilt free and laugh away - it is a glorious episode of the film and well worth watching for that alone.

I could go on and on about the gems in Django but really you need to see it for yourself if you haven't already. This one is in my top 10 films of all time, just thinking about it makes me want to see it again. If you do decide to give it a whirl don't get all uptight about historical detail, as they say in the special features 'never let authenticity get in the way of a good story' - amen to that! 

Friday, 7 June 2013

Old School vs New School

I don't usually discuss my children's coming and goings in public - they aren't that keen and you very quickly become a 'child bore' but as this incident effected all of us (except the other 2 kids of course - it was barely noticed in their busy lives) I think I can safely write about this from my perspective and call it 'a parenting experience', also it makes the lad look pretty cool and he is all for spreading the news of  his awesomeness by whatever means available.

It had been a funny week, short work weeks always throw me out and not only can I never remember what day it is, I feel like I have lived them all more than once. So while suffering 'Public Holiday Disorientation' I received a phone call from the school's deputy head advising my boy had a cut knee and probably shouldn't bike home, no biggie. After school we asked the boy what had happened to his knee and the following is the situation as we understand it and two different ways in which to deal with it - one is how my old school would have handled it when I was at primary and the other is how todays school dealt with it.

The Situation

Lunchtime at school, the class are outside munching away when Boy A decides to undo the blade from someone else's pencil sharpener and remove the blade. In the interests of science he wants to know 1, Does the blade cut? - yes, it does,  2, Do the cuts hurt? -yes, just a little bit and 3, Do the cuts bleed? - again yes, but not a lot as several cuts on his arm testify. He then decides to take the  experiment one step further - Does the blade have the same result on skin other than his own? - the answer is again yes, yes indeed it does as Boy B's leg is most certainly cut and bleeding a little although Boy A can't be sure of the pain level as Boy B is staunch. That's what happens when you are 10, bored and being a douche (new school) or a dork (old school). Boy B decides a plaster is in order and walks into the classroom looking for one but he can't find any so heads back out to finish his lunch. It is at this point the adults see the blood and get involved.

Old School Resolution.

As this never happened at my school that I was aware of (something this minor wouldn't even have blipped on my radar) I am making this up or in grown up speak 'giving my best guess scenario'.

Teacher sees Boy B and asks what he thinks he is doing inside at lunchtime (ie interrupting his quiet time). Boy B explains Boy A cut him and he now requires a plaster. Teacher advises Boy B to go to the office and get one then goes to see Boy A to get the lowdown (very old school). When the teacher sees the little blade he removes it from Boy A, calls him an idiot and returns to the classroom to continue eating his own lunch in peace. End of story, nothing to see here folks.

New School Resolution.

Boys A & B are sent to the deputy head to explain what has happened - easy really, Boy A cut Boy B because he had disengaged his brain as it was lunch time and the experiment had seemed like a good idea at the time. Then both sets of parents are notified and it gets really new school.

I can't be sure about Boy A's parents but Boy B's mother received the news via mobile phone on a busy street, in the rain with a woolly hat on making the receiving of quality information impossible, all she knew was her boy had a cut that may or may not need medical treatment and he wasn't in trouble - that's a relief then - the news can be so much worse when the deputy head phones. There was also the request for 'input about how to proceed with boy A' which sounded like a potential minefield so mother B defers the decision until 'both parents of Boy B can have a discussion'. The parents of  Boy B never really have that discussion however. Father B dresses the wound as he is good at that and mother B aims a few relevant questions at Boy B to get more background on the incident as she is good at that. Parents' B then put the children to bed and watch the final of Masterchef as they are equally talented at watching cooking shows. All good there.

The next morning Boy B does is civic duty on road patrol before school while mother B pops into the classroom to ask the teacher to excuse Boy B from P.E until his cut has healed and is greeted by the class teacher and the deputy head who clear the classroom of pupils leaving mother B feeling - 1, like she is infectious and 2, totally unprepared for any kind of official school business as parents B had failed to come to any conclusion the previous night other than agreeing that this years Masterchef title went to a worthy winner. Mother B has to wing it, luckily she has a small talent for this as she is often unprepared and it is often due to her larger talent for watching cooking shows on TV. She begins by stating that Boy A's parents are lovely people (this is not made up, they really are lovely people and the truth is always a good place to start when winging it) and they are sure to impose a penalty on their boy so 'lets not punish him twice', or something like that anyway. Thinking that was the end of it mother B prepares to leave but is then asked if she consents to meeting with the parents of Boy A which was a total curveball but mother B gamely agrees so she can set their minds at rest that Boy B was still attached to his leg and is such a tough cookie he was, as they spoke, bravely protecting the innocent at the school crossing (Boy B is old school tough) while she kept an eye on the time so as not to be late for work.

Mother B received a major shock when family B arrived into the office for a private meeting, they had clearly not been watching Masterchef the night before but had instead been up all night emotionally wringing themselves out over the situation - their child had self harmed and cut another child which does sound bad when you say it like that but family B saw it more as a kind of normal thing for kids to mess about with pencil sharpeners, compasses and the like - stationery can provide hours of schoolroom entertainment when the maths gets just too hard as plenty of my old school generation will attest to.

With family A obviously giving the situation far more thought then family B mother B was a little panicked and unsteadied from her previous position - had family B under reacted and publically  exposed their slack parental care? Mother B proceeded with a couple of badly aimed light hearted comments which, considering the audience were never going to fly but it did buy her some time to think and wonder if she ought to ask for a suspension or something - what is new school discipline anyway? It was obvious Boy A showed genuine remorse and the parents were living in fear of their son being forever known as 'The Schoolyard Slasher' and mother B insisting that he should be used as the class dartboard so all the kids could join in the fun with a game of 'divider darts' (remember dividers? Two holes for the effort of one, brilliant). The emotionally charged room put mother B off her stride a little but alls well that ends well with an agreement to 'learn the lesson and move on' which brought on sighs of relief all round - school, family A and mother B who was in danger of missing her bus.

Boy B is now almost completely healed and managed to 1, Collect another scar to show off (he didn't even have to make any effort to get this one - it shouldn't really count), 2, Has proved once and for all that he is the toughest kid in class (possibly the school - we will have to wait until the end of the year to see if anyone overtakes him for the title of  'toughest cookie') 3, Proved himself to be the most clear headed and mature of all the characters in the story and all whilst heading further up the awesomeness scale - he is pure gold that kid.

As for Boy A -  his parents had a lot more 'family discussions' in store for him and that seems punishment enough. He did write two letters of apology - one to Boy B and one to parents B who read it together and were very pleased to hear that Boy A 'never intended to hurt Boy B that badly', hhhmmmm.

Friday, 31 May 2013


Over two weeks since my last entry! May is my busiest work month of the year so I'm really not too surprised that I didn't get to post much during the month. It also just happened that the BNZ Literary Award competition's deadline is today and I have been working on entries for that which can be viewed here
I got all settled in to write an entry last night but as I was flicking around the internet I discovered there was another national flash fiction competition I could enter so I thought I would give it a crack. Great idea, except the deadline was 31/5 at midnight and the time was already 9pm so it was a total rush job - real flash fiction, written in a flash! I have entered the story - maximum 300 words and as usual I used every one - but I am now afraid to go back and read it as I sent it away with 38 minutes to spare and my judgement is never at it's best at that time of night, I have a feeling I will hate the story if I re read it so I'm not going there right now. Once the judging is over I can share it with you and we can all have a cringe about my '2 hour flash fiction' but I did the best I could under the circumstances and I have pushed send so there is nothing I can do to change it now. At least the title will get noticed though as it was inspired by the recent news story about the baby found in the sewer in China so I called the story 'How Do You Fit A Baby Down The Toilet?' which sounds really crass but it does fit the story which you will have to take my word on until I can post it on here.

So, with another work related writing project and four competition entries completed this month, 3 in the last 2 weeks I haven't had a chance to do any creative writing exercises but I plan on setting aside regular time each week to continue with them which should be doable now that work has settled down again. Also those damn addictive cooking programmes are all finishing this week freeing up my evenings - I swear I won't start watching long winded competition TV again although I think I promised that last year and I was weak, succumbing to their guilty pleasures yet again. 

Anyway, the competition rush has finished although there is a regional competition I want to get an entry ready for but the deadline isn't until the end of September so I will be using the long winter nights to get something half decent written. I have to be very careful with this new entry - it has to be longer - not flash fiction but regular short story length which I haven't written for years and the entries cost money so I can't just enter loads willy-nilly as I did for the BNZ competition. I have to work on one story and make it the best I can, I have never liked putting all my eggs in one basket but I will have to on this occasion.

I would like to enter as many competitions as I can this year - I am not expecting to win any of them but I like the challenge of the deadline, as a well practised procrastinator I need a deadline. I normally play to win with everything I do (whether it appears that way or not) but I can't think that way with the writing competitions as fiction, especially, is way too subjective. It all depends on the judge and who knows what they are looking for. It is actually very liberating for me to enter a competition and then forget about it rather than waiting for the outcome and being crushed if I don't win (that damn competitive nature again). I learnt a long time ago that you just can't please everyone so I am working on pleasing myself. I can now focus on the exercises and the next entry which will be a long time in the making, I will let you know how it goes.



Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Creative Writing 2

The next creative writing exercise is a simple, sraightforward account of a physical accident you have had. This is tricky for me as I was a very clumsy child and have plenty of accidents to choose from so I took a little time deciding on which one to write about. I chose this one mostly because I have strong memories of both the incident and the after effects.

When I was young our house was positioned on a sloping section which led to a small wooded area where I sometimes played. The day of the accident I was on my own, playing in the shrubby edges of the woods when I caught sight of movement from the corner of my eye, I wasn't sure what it was so I listened carefully to gauge it's postion. I heard noises, briefly saw what I assumed was a rabbit and sprinted after it.

Not long after I lost sight of the rabbit, stopped running and kept quiet trying to pick up the trail again but all I heard was my own harsh breathing so I sat down for a rest, I had given up on finding the rabbit. That's when I noticed a small hole in the ground nearby, most likely a rabbit hole but that didn't interested me however something shiny was embedded in the wall of the hole and that did interest me. The accident happened when I leaned forward to excavate the shiny thing from the earth  - a stick in the eye, it was half buried, poking out from the hole at an angle unnoticed as I was blinded by the potential treasure. When the stick stabbed me in the eye I rebounded and fell onto my backside with two thoughts running through my head - 1, my eye really, really, hurt and I needed to get to mum so she could fix me up because mums are good at that and 2, the unknown treasure was very attainable. Knowing I would never find the hole again this was my only chance to collect it so with one hand over my bad eye and the other frantically digging out the tresure with the offending stick I only took a couple of minutes to prise it free, take a quick peek and run home.

I landed myself in A&E for that little adventure, eye drops which stung badly for a couple of weeks and an eye patch which wasn't even cool - a thick white bandage over the eye for what seemed like the whole term but wasn't.

The upside was the treasure I found. When I got home from the hospital I could finally clean it up and examine it (with one eye). I was rewarded with a small decorative glass with sloping sides, a rose coloured strip around the base, a picture of a dog (an Alsatian I think) painted in black, white and grey on the body of the glass and a gold rim. I kept that little treasure for years on my bedroom shelf and it gave me pleasure far longer than the effects of the eye injury gave me bother so I guess I made on the deal.

This is the heavily edited version, I was surprised how much I remembered about this incident and I had to cut out a lot of irrelevant memories, probably should have cut more but couldn't quite manage to. Simple and straightforward is always hard for me as anyone who knows me can verify so I think I did an ok self editing job on this exercise.

This is a factual recount rather than creative writing but I can see the point of writing it - we all have a massive number of experiences, large and small, to draw on for inspiration. I don't know how inspiring this particular episode from my childhood is but this is the first memory I have about the thrill of finding treasure and that thrill is a wondrous thing, far better than a poke in the eye that's for sure.