Category Archives: Short stories

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

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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

Timeless Beauty

Wells StreetWhen I was a young girl, my parents bought me a sweatshirt with the words ‘Born Beautiful’ adorned across the front in rainbow coloured abandon. The sentiment was heartfelt and intended to build my confidence, so I wore it with pride and consequently exposed myself to ridicule from my peers. In effect, this bold gesture had the complete opposite result and made me want to hide my ugliness away from the world; shelter the naivety that couldn’t cope with the cruelty of children.

There is something about fiction that scratches beneath the surface of the superficiality of the media’s portrayal of modern life, something about the inner light shining through, the untapped beauty that resides in us all. Only the power of storytelling allows us to reach for that light. The enduring quality of classic Fairy Tales continue to inspire writers and entrance readers throughout time. Based on myth, legends and folklore, they gave rise to the fantasy genre and survive in many different forms. One such example that has gained phenomenal popularity of late is Beauty and the Beast. Not always obvious to the reader, who is nevertheless swept along by the classic plot structures and themes; think Twilight and Fifty Shades.
Read the rest of this entry

Nothing at Camden Town

Camden TownAvailable this week in the WiFiles, my story ‘Nothing at Camden Town’, explores the idea of ‘nothing’ and paradoxically, how the absence of something creates a space in our lives. We all have a very human response to empty spaces; we want to fill them. Whether it is a space in the conversation, an urban space or the empty spaces in our hearts. This particular story was in fact inspired by a joke told by Eddie Izzard in one of his stand up routines. I’m not going to tell you what the joke was or where the story refers to it. If you are fans of Izzard, you can tell me. That’s your challenge, my curious reader. Oh… and if you like your stories a little bit weird and surreal, then you might like this one.

Re-Writing the Central Line

I saw this written on the board at the Liverpool Street Central Line on National Poetry Day:

Central Line Poem
“The red line bursts at its seams
with atoms from the city’s caverns
Rushing on to travel through the heart of London
And out at its busy limbs.”

 

Coincidentally, I wrote about my own journey on the Central Line for my MA Writing the City class. Here is my version:

Today, the central line turns inside out.

Anticipation of a bumpy ride home clings to every traveller as the tubes invert at Oxford Circus. The bleeping doors crash closed but instead of trapping us in, we are expelled into the blue skies, hovering above Tottenham Court Road, waiting to disappoint us with the clouds of tomorrow. The expression of boredom, a face worn by every daily passenger, is replaced by the curiosity of thousands, flying through the air, chased by the crescendo whine of the tube line as it picks up speed towards Holborn. At Chancery Lane, the suits of TM Lewin shoot down below the surface and the shoppers hang on with a confused desperation to the fabric coated seats, wondering where the train has gone. A melodic voice rings over the tannoy.

‘This is your driver speaking. The Central Line rocks this evening with a totally awesome service. We guarantee to fly you to your destination within an inch of your lives. May passengers be informed that we are not being held at a red light and take a dim view of such restrictions imposed by management. Please take your rubbish with you when leaving, as contrary to popular belief, the earth is not a big round green wheelie bin. Next stop, St Paul’s.’

At Bank, people laugh and throw their left-over sandwiches at city folk who stand beside their skyscrapers, wondering why the world has turned flat. Seats fly from the train as we race above Liverpool Street, where people and their bags, children and their sweets are systematically sucked into tubes running like veins through the bowels of the city.

East is east and Bethnal Green smells of talcum powder and old music hall routines, long forgotten beneath the tiles of the station. Mile End, world’s end; view from above with passengers dropping from on high without a care in world to where they might land. A white light shines on the horizon as we rocket on through to Stratford; land of our salvation, so the legacy tells us.

The rush of an air vent behind me distracts my attention from the muted voice on the opposite side of the platform, ‘Duh, duh da. Duh da da dah.’ Doors whoosh open. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen. This is Stratford. Alight for Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Westfield Shopping Centre. Normal service has now resumed. Stand clear of the doors.’

The roar of the rails rumble beneath my feet.

Modern Faery Tale

Here is a modern take on a classic Faery tale.

Can you guess which one it is?

Bewildering Stories

 

What does your personality reveal about you?

I delivered a session last week on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which is based on Jung’s personality type theory.

I just love seeing that moment of understanding when a participant realises that something they have been doing all along and not had the confidence to voice is really grounded in psychological type theory. As an MBTI practitioner, it sometimes feels like I am giving people permission to be themselves. It is powerful and it is liberating. It gives the clients I work with confidence in their strengths and a framework in which to describe what they are good at. Not to mention, the understanding of how and why other people behave in certain ways – perfect for demonstrating teamwork scenarios.

This tool has so many other advantages, one of which is applying it to characters in my stories and books. It helps me to keep characters behaving in a way that is consistent and believable, without the need to even reveal how or why. It just is. And it works, as you have a theory in the sub-text of the work, invisible to the reader, but underpinning the elements that make a believable plot. It helps the reader to suspend disbelief without you having to signpost what you are doing. It is a powerful gift; check it out.

The Lost Planet

Kit gets more than she bargained for when her starcruiser is drawn into orbit around the lost planet of Stakis Ventura, where she finally learns the secret behind its mysterious disappearance… (read more)

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