Wartime Tales For National Short Story Week

short story weekToday I’m featuring wartime stories. This week is National Short Story Week (16th to 22nd November), an event I look forward to each year. I enjoy reading and writing this form of literature so I want to support this annual event by encouraging readers to dip their toes into short stories.

Several times this week, I’ve featured short stories from a variety authors and genres. Today, as I’ve said, it’s wartime stories. The First and Second World Wars immediately come to mind when anyone mentions wartime and these eras are included here. But, it seems that the world has always been at war and many tales reflect this. So I’ve also included stories from the ancient world and the English Civil War period.

‘Hush’, in the collection, Fall of Poppies – Stories of Love and the Great War, by Hazel Gaynor.

Fall of PoppiesOn the eleventh hour of the eleventh…

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The Writer’s Toolkit 2015 @writingwestmids



A fascinating event yesterday: ‘The Writers’ Toolkit 2015′, organised by Writing West Midlands (WWM) and hosted in the beautiful Bramall music building at the University of Birmingham. I met old acquaintances and made new ones, feeling an energising sense of being part of a community of writers.

Jo Bell, poet and Canal Laureate – she lives on a narrowboat – spoke about her collective poetry project, ‘52‘, the need to ‘lose the last three lines’  – someone brought their notebook to a workshop and said they had torn a strip off the bottom – and the benefits of giving and receiving objective critique. “The only person who will like your work without reservation is your mum, and even then…”

I went to a workshop with writer William Gallagher, publisher Nadia Kingsley and Emma Boniwell from WWM about blogging – watch this space and see if it improves! William’s book ‘The Blank Screen: Blogging’ may help – and the advice was to post something no less often than every three weeks. Snippets of research connected with, but not duplicating, one’s WIP, may be the thing.

A workshop about small presses with Jo Bell, Nadia Kingsley and Simon Thirsk highlighted for me how much work publishers have to do. Design, printing, warehousing, distribution, representation in bookstores. Managing the whole time-line. An argument against self publishing: it will not get one’s books into Waterstone’s. Either way, the writer has to build the public profile of the book with talks, book signings, media interviews and social media.

‘Working with libraries and archives’, with Jefny Ashcroft, Joel Stickley and Roz Goddard highlighted the key role of libraries as egalitarian and accessible cultural spaces where arts events  – lit fests, workshops, writers in residence – bring readers closer to books: “Libraries are the lifeblood of literature”. Jefny spoke passionately about the excitement of archives and how they can give the writer access to something which has not previously been written about, offering the chance of writing something unique and original. Archivists can be tremendously helpful to the researcher who contacts the archive in advance of visiting and can offer appointments to help the researcher find what they seek. The point was made in discussion about the nationwide threats to our libraries and archives as a result of austerity, highlighted here in Birmingham with the severe cuts to our library services. They need support and they need people to go in and use them.

‘Speed pitching’, run by Olivia Chapman from WWM, was a fun and challenging session. The audience were divided into pairs and we had two minutes in turn to pitch our novels to one another. Then we regrouped and tried again. Trying frantically to remember to include genre, theme, setting, key characters and plot twists, and why anyone could possibly want to read it, in front of a complete stranger, was a challenging exercise! One writer gave me a wonderful description of her Gothic, supernatural mystery set in a remote mansion in rural Shropshire. I could almost see the dark old house under moonlight. Then her two minutes was up. ‘Oh damn, I forgot the taxidermist!’ she said. We looked at each other and burst out laughing. I really want to read this book!!

Finally, renowned literary agent Carole Blake, of Blake Friedmann, spoke about what the industry wants from writers: good stories, help with marketing, and a professional approach. Her book ‘From Pitch to Publication’ is a longstanding reference read for aspiring writers. I’ve heard agents speak about the view from their side before, and they always seem to have horror stories about crazy authors. Carole’s cautionary tale was of a writer who sent her a submission packaged up in a wastepaper basket with a letter saying ‘I might as well save you the trouble.’ She liked the submission, but left it on her desk overnight in the wastepaper basket. By the following morning the cleaner had taken it away. She never tracked the writer down…

TCWG November Short Story: ‘A Month at Bath’ #amwriting


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‘Secrets’ is the theme (set by ME!) for the Telegraph Creative Writing Group November Short Story Competition.

My story, ‘A Month at Bath’, is a Regency pastiche involving a gambler’s secret.


It makes reference to the historical figure of John Law, a gambler and banker who caused an economic crisis in France in 1720.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose…


Entry III: The Sinking of the Nameless: Recollections of a Volunteer/Journalist

We need decent political leadership NOW. Volunteers can’t do it alone. #refugees

Megaphone Valkyrie

Great tragedies are supposed to have name. The Titanic, the Lusitania… Their dead live forever in the stories we tell about them and the living fight for change in their memory that they might not die in vain. This is just a boat of ‘migrants’ that sunk in the Aegean, another number, another regrettable spat of collateral damage in the border war. But not to us, the ones who were there when the rescued came into harbour. Not to me. Last night was the most traumatic of my life. Back home, I spoke with confidence about how ‘borders kill’ – but now I’ve seen it with my own eyes and I will never forget the sinking of that nameless ship.

Official Count So Far: 11 confirmed dead (5+ children) & at least 40 still lost at sea

My friend Ashley and I were supposed to drive back across the island…

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Tectonic Plates Or Losers’ Blues?

‘Tectonic plates…the slow subterranean shifting’: eventually the lava bubbles up from underneath and structures that seemed immutable come crashing down.

All Human Life Is Hereabouts

The last few weeks have been unlike anything I can remember in my life, politically.  There is a disconnect between people, and between the premises upon which they build their beliefs that is strange and unsettling.  Listening to the Today programme this morning, in which Labour’s calm Seema Malhotra was interviewed by an aggressive Sarah Montague, the thought suddenly hit me: it was like a discussion about the route to take on a long sea voyage between a flat earther and someone who believed the earth was round.  Montague was annoyed because Malhotra wouldn’t say where Labour would find the £15 billion needed to pay for tax credits, which Montague framed as an accounting question.  Malhotra was saying, economic policy is not accounting, and that growing the economy grows revenues.  They were talking about different things, with no point of contact whatsoever.  Montague was yelling that if they did what…

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180th Anniversary of Town Council Elections

Local government made our cities the great places they are today: water and sanitation, street works, street lighting, police and criminal justice, social services, parks, libraries, schools, birth marriage and death registration, coroners, theatres, concert halls and leisure facilities. Local government is what makes your city a civilised, enlightened place to live. We have started to take it for granted, and now these much maligned organisations are being cut to the bone for austerity, its structures sold off for profit. Civilisation is slowly being taken away. Never forget the lessons of history!

The Victorian Commons

This month marks the anniversary of a completely new system of local elections being implemented throughout England and Wales. One hundred and eighty years ago, almost 180 boroughs in England and Wales began to publish the lists of all those eligible to vote in the new town council elections created by the 1835 Municipal Reform Act. Barely three weeks after the Act’s passage, specially appointed revising barristers started setting up registration courts to decide who would be able to vote in what initally looked like being a remarkably democratic franchise. Unlike the parliamentary household vote – only given to those occupying property worth at least £10 a year in rental value – the new municipal franchise had no minimum property requirement. In theory every male householder, no matter how humble his dwelling, would be able to take part.

Hand written council voting paper, 1835 Hand written council voting paper, 1835

As the revising barristers set about…

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TCWG September Short Story: ‘Hinky-Dinky, Parlay-Voo’ #amwriting


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Screenshot 2015-09-28 22.13.26The Telegraph Creative Writing Group September theme was ‘Hype’ and ‘Hinky-Dinky, Parlay-Voo’ is a short story about the conflict between the hype of war and the reality of war.

I was on holiday in the Ardennes, where it rained every day and our campsite turned to soft mud that the driving rain spattered a foot high up every surface. Thinking every day that the end of the month deadline for the story was drawing near, and here I was in this muddy place not doing any writing. On the way back to Calais, a town now bound in everyone’s minds with the refugee crisis and the grievous human costs of war, we had arranged an overnight stop near St-Omer. We passed Armentières; the name stuck in my mind. We passed Hazebrouck, where one can glimpse the graves from the bypass. On the Michelin map one can trace the Western Front in a scatter of crosses that mark the WW1 cemeteries. The story came into my mind in a jumble of fragments and dialogue, typed into my iPad at odd moments. I had an idea that the jingoism of that period would fit with the ‘Hype’ theme.

When I got home to my desk I googled ‘Armentières’ and the song ‘Hinky-Dinky, Parlay-Voo’, one form of which begins ‘Mademoiselle from Armentières’, struck me as one of the most irritating tunes ever written. And there we have it.