Thursday, 26 April 2012

Fall River, August 1892

The news that Lizzie Borden's house is up for sale, prompted me to revisit this flash, which won the Fish Criminally Short Histories Prize. (NB: the house for sale isn't the one where the murders took place. That house is a B&B where ghouls can enjoy the last breakfast eaten by Lizzie's father and stepmother. You can book this luxury break via a site calling itself Homes of the Rich and Famous. Nice.) Fall River was originally published in the Fish Anthology.

Fall River, August 1892

It was such a very hot day, the air flapping like a thick cloth in her face. She escaped the chores in the house, wandered into the yard.

The prosecution said she didn’t visit the barn; the dust hadn’t been disturbed, they said, but Lizzie remembered the baking heat of the place, so parched a stray spark might’ve set it alight. The whole day was like that, tinder-dry, ready to go up.

Abby was feather-dusting the furniture, fat slapping above her elbows, sweat wetting the armpits of her dress. Bridget was washing windows; you could hear the sloppy sound of the water from the back end of the yard.

The sky was stretched like the skin on a drum, the sun beating there in a fury. Lizzie turned a fretful circle in the yard. She longed for lightning to slice the sky wide open, for the kiss of rain on her sun-battered skin.

She went indoors before Father returned from work. She wore the cotton calico, sky-blue. Later, she put on heavy silk, winter bengaline they called it, navy-blue with pale flowers printed on the skirt. Too much dress for such a warm day. She was glad when the police took it away.

Abby saw her coming, tried to run. Whack, whack, whack. Her head wouldn’t leave her shoulders, not quite, too many rubbery rolls of flesh in the way.

Father was weary, propping his cheek on a cushion like a little boy. One whack and he was gone. Red pearls beaded the wall behind his head.

Lizzie rolled paper and lit the stove. The hot day sucked up the smoke and turned the wood to white. She thrust the axe in.

Ash leapt and clung to the ruddy head of the blade, flying up from the hearth like feathers.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Flashbang wallop

We had a terrific response to the first ever Flashbang crime writing contest, with 121 entries from around the world. After a week's reading by our seven first-round judges, we came up with a longlist of 25, which has been published over at Flashbang today. It's traditional to congratulate those who made the cut, and so I do. But I'd also like to thank and congratulate everyone who entered, regardless of how far you got.

When I had the idea for Flashbang, one of the things I wanted to get right was the process by which we encouraged, thanked and congratulated everyone who supported the contest by getting involved. It's no mean feat to write a crime story in 150 words, so that deserves a whoop. And it takes guts to enter a contest, to put your words out there to be judged. Kudos to everyone who did that. I spent an extra fifty minutes this morning sending out personalised emails to each and every entrant, because I know all too well what that deafening silence can do to those waiting to hear, or wondering whether their words landed somewhere instead of circling in cyberspace. It was a privilege and a genuine pleasure to read the entries.

There are easily eight worthy winners (three main prizes plus five runners-up) and we're lucky enough to have many more than that worthy of recognition by the readers and the ultimate judge, Zoƫ Sharp.

It's been an education to be on the other side of a writing contest, and I didn't get it all right, by any means. I had to apologise abjectly to one lovely writer who got a 'congrats you made the longlist' email seconds before I realised that her story had in fact missed the list by a short margin. I'm still kicking myself over that now. But I've had enough kind thank-you emails from entrants to believe that I got eighty per cent of it right, which is good.

The longlist is here. Look out for the shortlist on 4 May.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Lucky 7 - seven lines from new works

I was tagged by Eva Hudson in this game, which looks like fun.

The Rules
  • Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript
  • Go to line 7
  • Post on your blog the next 7 lines, or sentences, as they are
  • Tag 7 other authors to do the same.

Here are my seven, such as they are:

A hall floor flat. Two bedrooms, he guessed. He was curious to see inside, but not enough to make a nuisance of himself. He rested his hands on the wheel, waiting, watching the light lift from the stucco as the sun broke through London’s cloud cover.

A man jogged past, flat-footed in expensive trainers, jarring the car’s suspension. His face was screwed shut, flushed red. Jake heard his father’s lazy voice: ‘Day I see a happy jogger’s when I take it up.’ A safe bet for a sedentary man; London’s runners sported scowls that scared even taxi drivers. Jake knew, because he was one of London’s runners. Nothing cleared a path across a busy road like a nasty scowl.

I'm tagging:


Tuesday, 17 April 2012


I'm chuffed to bits that my flash, 'Dinghy', will be in the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology, Jawbreakers, along with other commissioned pieces from the likes of Jen Campbell, Ali Smith, Vanessa Gebbie, Tania Hershman and Valerie O'Riordan. Then there's the pieces selected by the editors, by Sara Crowley and Martha Williams and many more. Plus the winners of the Micro-Fiction Contest which I helped to judge. It's a terrific collection showcasing what makes flash fiction so amazing to write, and read. Jawbreakers will be published in May. National Flash Fiction Day is May 16.

Oddly enough, this is the second time I'll be appearing a flash fiction anthology that includes a short Rebus story, Fieldwork, by Ian Rankin. So there's a crime writing connection too.

The full list of flashes and their authors is here. For latest news, follow @NationalFlashFD on Twitter, or use the hashtag #NFFD. Special thanks and congratulations to the tirelessly enthusiastic brains behind #NFFD, Calum Kerr. He's promised himself a break in a padded cell after May 16 to recover, but I'm hoping I might persuade him and some of the others involved to collaborate on a Quick Guide to Flash Fiction Contests, as the interest out there is at an all-time high. Drop me a line if you're able/willing to help.