Category Archives: Short stories

The Gone Gods

Gone GodsWhen I was a girl, my granda used to take me and my siblings for long walks in Ashridge Forest. We explored acres of glorious beech and oak woodlands, crunching through the bracken and collecting beechnuts and acorns to use as projectile weapons in the eternal sibling rivalry war. Trees have always fascinated me. The garden of my childhood was filled with hardy tree-climbing inspiration; Pines tall enough to see over the town and across the downs, Horse Chestnuts with perfect nooks and crannies for makeshift tree houses and stashing secret conker supplies. So, I guess it’s not surprising for me to link my love of trees and forests with my love of fantastic fiction.

The Gone Gods is one in a series of stories that feature dryads, nymphs, wood elves and other magical creatures. Writers have handled dryads in different forms for many years. Such stories are as old as the gods themselves. We find dryads represented throughout literature; Paradise Lost by John Milton, The Virginians by William Thackeray, and particularly as symbols of nature in; On the Difficulty of Conjuring up a Dryad and On the Plethora of Dryads by Sylvia Plath.

Dryads can also be found in fantastic fiction; The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and The Belgariad by David Eddings. I am sure that you can come up with many more examples.

This short novelette, The Gone Gods, is three chapters, which explore the juxtaposition between modern urban life and ancient myth; how these wonderful and alien creatures rub up against the modern Londoner. Hope you enjoy it.

 

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Speak to Me

New RealmMy story, Speak to Me, is published this month in New Realm.

If you follow me on Pinterest, might have noticed my board for Dryads and Trees where I have been collecting pictures and researching dryads in literature to inform my latest obsession.

According to Greek mythology, dryads are considered to be shy creatures, supernaturally long-lived and intrinsically linked to their trees. In the case of hamadryads, they are quite literally part of their tree and if the tree dies, so do they. Dryads are also known as wood or tree nymphs; ‘Nymph’ meaning ‘young woman’ in Greek, so they are always female. They never grow physically older, though they are very long-lived, wise and intelligent. They do not like being disturbed but will always be friendly if approached in the right way.

Generally, they preside over groves of trees and forests. A dryad is born with a certain tree over which she watches and will punish mortals who harm trees. Animals and trees are friends of the dryads who are thought to be their protectors.

This is a story about a dryad I found in a local park in East London. She too is quite shy, but harbours a deep desire to start conversations with people. Ironically, she has a curse hanging over her, which makes this particular yearning somewhat tricky.

 

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Unheard

The Mechanics' Institute ReviewAs writers we strive to engage in sensory description to bring alive our stories for readers. Through sight, sound, touch, smell and taste we can evoke a sense of the familiar and colour our characters with graphic depth. So, I thought I’d mix it up a bit in this story. Synaesthesia is an extraordinary condition where the stimulation of one sense automatically triggers sensations in one of the other five senses. For example, sound triggering a tactile response, music or voices seen as colours. I chose to play about with touch and taste in this case, but I’ll let you, my curious reader, decide for yourself how well you think that worked.

This particular story was also inspired by the deep divisions in our society that are growing ever wider and threaten our unique and inclusive cultural identity. The story takes us into a near future that is already sitting on our doorsteps. As a writer, you can’t help but reflect what you see going on around you. Whether set in our world, a future world or a re-written past, stories give us the opportunity to take a good look at ourselves and wonder what we can do to make the world a better place.

Thank you to The Mechanics’ Institute Review Online for publishing Unheard.

The Watchers

Steampunk shipI became interested in steampunk fiction when I used it as a theme to research London’s influence on the genre as part of my MA in Creative Writing.

As well as discovering a rich backdrop of inspiration, I uncovered untapped memories of my own. When I was a little girl, my grandfather used to take me and my siblings to traction engine fairs. I remember the green fields and muddy tracks, bold red and green painted engines with huge wheels and pumping pistons. Most of all, I remember the noise and smell; the sudden whoosh as steam was released that made me leap behind the safety of my grandfather and set my heart hammering against my ribs. The grimy, oily scent would stay in my nostrils for days and linger on the periphery of my senses. I was barely the height of those massive cast-iron wheels and the engines terrified me, deeply embedding a sense of awe. It is that same sense of awe that drew me towards speculative fiction with its big question of ‘what if?’ and then steampunk fiction, drawing on a nostalgia that has sat in the back of my mind for most of my life. If science fiction deals with the ‘what if?’ of pure invention, then perhaps steampunk deals with the ‘what then?’ – a reimagining of what has already been discovered.

My aim was to write a piece of fiction using the city as a backdrop, evoking a strong sense of place. Victorian London has always been a classic backdrop for steampunk and because I know the city well, I felt able to feed on its nostalgia. I chose Paris because it fascinates me and the similarities and differences between the two cities was interesting to explore. So with the background suitably steampunk, I managed to get in a bit of steam-powered tech alongside the retro-futuristic inventions. The protagonist’s story itself attempts to subvert the norms of the historical times, simply by the fact she is female attempting to enter a male dominated profession. And of course, there have to be aliens involved somewhere.

Hope you enjoy it – published this week in Electric Spec.

Walking The Dog

Chocolate LabradorWalking my chocolate Labrador has long been an excuse for me to see this corner of London from a different perspective. I have an ostensible reason for loitering around patches of grass area and parks, where you might otherwise be considered a bit weird. A pretext for watching the world go by and observing the strange behaviour of others; human or otherwise. Some random observations:

Helping Hands is a second hand shop, which has been there, trading throughout the recession when other high street shops had long since disappeared. It never seems busy and yet, the stock keeps changing and it remains in business. Perhaps it is a smokescreen for a secret surveillance organisation, or it is really being run by drugs barons who only pretend to sell furniture.

Across the road, a shop called Magic Carpets makes me think of Arabian adventures at sea. I wonder if I bought a carpet from there whether it might take me on a fantastical journey.

The local area has been redesigned with new buildings that look more like prison blocks than residential homes. Was that a deliberate reflection on the social capital of the residential majority?

I often walk my dog in the local park and it has long since been a destination to take my boys (when they were young) on a Sunday morning stroll. For many years I had no idea of the significance of its history. But when the area was being re-developed, a poster history of Steve Marriot, singer/songwriter for the Small Faces, who grew up there was displayed. Its nickname, Itchycoo Park, is said to be attributed to stinging nettles that grew there.

We have streets, blocks and a community centre named after our 16-year-old 1st world war hero, who was posthumously, bestowed the Victoria Cross, for staying at his post in the navy when all others had left. He was the third youngest recipient of the VC.

I have an invisible message stamped upon my forehead. I am convinced that I am marked, as every bizarre person seems to want to talk to me as though I am the only person left on Earth who will hear their story. Over the years, I have collected quite a motley crew, who have made debut appearances in my various fiction. I now carry a public warning; talk to me at your peril, lest you be immortalised in hyperbole.

Every day for a number of weeks, there has been a red fox following my dog and me. It has a weird kind of ‘I see you here and know what you are’ kind of attitude. And it is not afraid of human presence. Perhaps it is a werefox.

The banks of the River Roding are rife with rats the size of guinea pigs and the skies are filled with crows; sinister, satin, black – screeching to one another as though we are all enemies of the state.

A Seasonal Tale

Keats' House“Time to earn your place at the dance this year,” Mother said, shooing Pepper out of the door into the bitter frost of a late Hampstead afternoon. “While you’re about it, tell that fir tree that it’s wanted inside. And don’t forget to shake the ice out of its branches – the last thing I need is puddles in the living room.”

Pepper sighed and stomped up the garden path, thankful at least for her thick leggings and Doc Marten boots. The air smelt of stagnant defrosted droplets and woody conifers. Would this be the year she managed to entice Mr Keats to the dance? Hmmph. Unlikely. However much Mother hoped so.

“You’re wanted inside,” she said to the fir tree on her way past. There was a gentle rumble of earth beneath the snow white blanket as the tree uprooted itself and shuffled towards the back door. Pepper turned, hands on hips. “Aren’t you forgetting something?” The fir tree stopped mid-pace and drooped. Gripped by an idea, Pepper gathered up her skirt by the hem to make a cradle and stood beside the tree. “Well?” she said. The tree bristled its needles and shook its branches in irritation. It was enough to loosen the icicles that dropped with an off key tinkle into her skirt. Read the rest of this entry

Getting Ahead

New AcceleratorI have always been fascinated with the world that lies beneath London. I guess that travelling through the underground system every day sets off my imagination and so, many of my stories link to underground stations and stops. Getting ahead takes us a little further, literally into the bowels of London.

Although we take it for granted, London Underground uses tunnels originally built by the Victorians and an interceptory sewage system that delivered London’s reprieve from the ‘Great Stink’ of 1858. When it comes to feats of engineering, the Victorians were never short of imagination. You only have to look at the legacy of their work in London to realise that it was an era of industrial revolution and innovation.

My initial approach to research is usually with the people. I love the stories behind people and I’m fascinated by human motivation and behaviour, so I try to link the human stories to a place, then link the stories to each other. I like to get out and write in different places; parks, cafés, libraries, museums, underground stations, benches or anywhere in London where I can soak up the atmosphere and let it spill over into my fiction.

Place is important to me, but my stories are driven by character. I have to say at this point, that I didn’t take my research to the logical conclusion and into the London sewage system, that would be… well, eww. I found this wonderful book called London under London: A subterranean guide, by Richard Trench and Ellis Hillman, which explores the labyrinth of the city beneath our feet. So I let my own imagination run loose and exploited the use of ‘what if…?’

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs… (Rudyard Kipling)

 

 

“The Hamadryad” – Slippy Realism – by Frances Gow

Burnt Oak

P1020674You might have guessed by now, my curious reader, that I am ever so slightly obsessed by the London Underground and in particular, stops on the Northern Line. This is a little bit of a cheat and a play on words, as was my previous story, Angel. Another departure from my usual SF/Fantasy, but one that explores family, loss and the hidden fire inside us all. One of the scenes in Burnt Oak is taken from a real story told to me second hand and another is lifted from my past and re-told in all its fiery glory. I’m not going to tell you which scenes they are. After all, where would be the fun in that?

This one’s for my brothers; Happy Birthday, Martin – I miss you. x

Many thanks to the Writers’ Hub, an interactive web portal from the Writing Programme at Birkbeck, University of London, for publishing my story.

 

 

Plots with Guns

PWG-Winter2013-home.jpg

When my boys were young they wanted to play with guns. Being a conscientious mother, I steered them away from those plastic battle toys and harnessed their interest in puzzle solving, bubble blowing and Duplo bricks. One afternoon, I left them building towers in their room and returned some time later to discover they had built a veritable weapons store out of the Duplo and were in the middle of a game of shoot-em-up. It was then I realised that I was fighting the very forces of nature itself. Read the rest of this entry

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