paragraph planet – part 3

Spurred on by restarting my creative writing class last week, I decided to have another go at submitting an ‘exactly 75 word story’ to the brilliant Paragraph Planet again (see my other published efforts here).

I am absolutely ecstatic that it has been published today – probably happier than I should be 😉

You can see it featured on their front page today, but here it is anyway.


my e17 storywalk story

E17 Storywalk
E17 Storywalk

Back in November, I took part in the E17 Storywalk as part of the Words Over Walthamstow festival – which I wrote about before.

I wasn’t sure at the time whether I would post my story here or not, but I have decided to.

All six stories have been printed by the wonderful Paekakariki Press just round the corner from me – and it gave me a little frisson of pleasure to see my words in proper print.

E17 Storywalk booklet
E17 Storywalk booklet

So, here it is, my story based around Lot One Ten under the theme of change.

A time for change? 

When Jane had arrived in 1997, Walthamstow had been bustling but rough around the edges. There was a worn feel to it, like an old camel coat. It was easy to lose herself into the general busy-ness of the place, and that suited her just fine.

That was why she had originally moved from Kendal to London – she hadn’t been able to hide easily enough. The lush, vibrant greens of the hills and the dancing reflections on the lakes and waterways made her feel as if she were purposely standing out. An absence of hue on a brightly painted canvas – all the more noticeable simply for being dull. Here, among the dusty shopfronts and endless commuters, she’d been at home.

Her mousey-blonde hair and pale skin helped make her face unremarkable, certainly no one HAD ever remarked on it. She always wore neutral tones too, thus almost instantly forgettable – intentionally so. She often pondered a career in robbery – no one would ever match an efit photo or grainy CCTV image to her face.

Jane had always had no hope of being anything better than, well, blousy, beige and boring. That was her lot, she accepted it. It simplified everything – from what job she did (data historian in a corporate headquarters – there were delightful days where she didn’t see a single other person) to what dreams she had (ones about misplaced filing mainly) to what she ate for supper (ready meals in front of Coronation Street). She never dreamed or hoped of more. That was until…

One grey, drizzly afternoon Jane was walking home from Walthamstow Central, along Hoe Street. This was Jane’s favourite time to be out. Everything was muted and damp. No one took any notice of who was walking by – they were all too busy trying to get home quickly and out of the rain. She also had the added benefit of being able to hide under an umbrella. But as she walked past Lot One Ten, something caught her eye.

Looking back, she couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it had been. A movement from across the street? The reflection of a car’s headlights in the mist of the rain? She really couldn’t be sure, but she glanced into the window, her eyes quickly scanning the antique furniture on display.

A beautifully detailed tapestry stool sat in front of a dressing table that she believed was probably walnut – its dark wood shining from years of polish and beeswax.

However, Jane’s eyes were drawn up to the mirror.

It seemed rather large for the size of the dresser, a distraction from the beautiful hand-carved detail on the wood. It sat within an intricately carved frame, bracketed so that it could swivel to any angle.

Jane looked closer. Although the dresser must have been Edwardian and at least 100 years old, the mirror was clear. No black marks, cracks or that ‘foxing’ of the glass that makes it look misty. Had the mirror been replaced? If so, it must have been a very skilled replacement as the frame looked untouched.

But this wasn’t what caused Jane to draw a sharp breath. As she looked into the mirror, at what should have been her own familiar visage, Jane didn’t recognise herself at all. The mirror seemed to reflect a different Jane. A better Jane. A Jane that Jane had never hoped or believed she could be.

The dull light of Hoe Street seemed to have been enhanced somehow, as if there was a hidden sun just out of the frame, and the effect it had on Jane’s reflection was astonishing. Her lank blonde hair shone with health, her skin took on a slightly rosy tinge, like that of a young lover. Her lips looked more plump, hinting at secrets and promises, and her eyes were bright – their usual pale green seemingly deeper – confident and bewitching.

Jane was stunned and moved even closer, one hand touching the glass of the window. Her reflection followed suit, but to Jane’s eye it made her look as if she were trying to escape from the mirror – pushing out of the frame.

“I’m alive,” Jane whispered to herself.

A young lad in a hoodie ran past laughing, closely followed by a couple of mates. Jane turned to watch them go past, and the spell was broken. When she looked back into the mirror, all she saw was Jane. Forgettable Jane. Invisible Jane.

Her shoulders slumped. For the first time ever, Jane was somehow disappointed with herself. Being overlooked constantly, suddenly didn’t feel like a great way of living. If she could be mirror-Jane, what then? Mirror-Jane looked as if she could do anything she wanted.

Eventually, her fingers trailing the glass of the window, she turned away, and walked down the road, the puddles soaking through her flat shoes as she trudged on, oblivious; her head filled with images of the fun-filled life that mirror-Jane would have. Mirror Jane continued to dance and flirt and laugh hollowly in her head while she wrung out her umbrella in the hall at home.

Over the next couple of days, Jane spent a lot of time looking at herself in the only mirror she had – her bathroom one. It reflected the avocado tiles she’d never got round to replacing. They were as dull as she was, which was, she now realised, extremely dull. She studied her face at great length, tried putting on a little make-up, brushing her hair to attempt to make it shine. She even bought Optrex Eyedew eye drops that promised to make her eyes dazzle.

Nothing had any effect. Her skin refused to glow – and her inexperienced hands made the make-up appear like a clown’s. Her hair remained dull and her eyes became slightly red and irritated.

Who was she kidding ‑ Mirror-Jane didn’t exist. She couldn’t change her life with a bit of blusher and some eye drops. She couldn’t become a different person. She had the life she had and she should be grateful for it. Jane threw the eye drops in the bathroom bin, grabbed her coat and headed down to the High Street.

She loved the market – there was so much hustle and bustle it was easy for her to drift through unnoticed. But she never bought from the market as she avoided talking to people – especially the loud traders who called everyone “love”. The self-checkouts at Sainsbury’s and Asda were far better – just the occasional “Unexpected item in packaging area” puncturing her idyll.

She hurried along Hoe Street muttering, annoyed at herself, disappointed at how easily she’d been swayed by the dream of a good hair day, how willing she had been to give up everything she’d worked so hard for. She might as well have moved back to Kendal.

As she reached Lot One Ten, she glanced in the window…and stopped dead.

The autumnal sun currently bathing Walthamstow in a cool, yellow-grey looked warmer and brighter in the mirror on the walnut dresser. Jane felt her breath catch in her throat as she looked once again at her reflection.

Emerald green flashed at her from within smooth, soft skin. Mirror-Jane was back, almost sparking with energy. It was like the difference between normal TV and HD. Everything about her was richer, the life bursting forth as if it couldn’t be contained, and Jane realised that this really was the woman she wanted to be. She’d spent long enough in the shadows.

She vaguely registered the insistent bam-bam-bam of a jackhammer from one of the many building sites across the borough. Far from the dreary hidey-hole she had once sought out, even E17 was changing – little pockets of the town becoming brighter, full of life and colour. Did she need to follow suit? Did she dare?

“I can do this,” she said to the mirror. “I can be this.” She looked deep into her own eyes, which weren’t eyes she recognised. “Can you?” said the voice in her head, “Are you ready?” Jane stepped back from the window, took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

“Yes. I’m ready. It’s time.”

She let out her breath and realised that she could no longer hear anything except her own heartbeat. Startled, she opened her eyes, and whimpered softly.

Jane looked out, across Hoe Street. Where the Texaco garage had once been, she could see the big blue and yellow signs for the hand car wash place. She saw a Routemaster bus drive past, its usual rumble curiously missing.

Confused, she put a hand against the warm glass in front of her, as slowly her mind tried to make sense of what she was seeing.

On the pavement, Mirror-Jane looked into the window of Lot One Ten. Jane stared horrified at her as she looked straight into her eyes, her mouth curled into a smug smirk that had never graced that face before.

After a cheeky wave of her fingertips, Mirror-Jane tossed her head back, laughed and walked down Hoe Street and out of sight, with a sultry swing of her hips.

back to creative writing school – bridget whelan

Back To Creative Writing School – Bridget Whelan


As I have mentioned before, I did a couple of terms-worth of creative writing courses at City Lit end of last year, beginning of this.

I was excruciatingly nervous about this, having not written anything ‘creative’ for years – and definitely not being a college kind of girl.  However, all of my fears were soon put to rest by our wonderful tutor, Bridget Whelan.

She was unfortunately unable to take our class for the second term, and I think the all of the students that had continued missed her a great deal.

For me, one of the best parts of Bridget’s classes were the exercises that she used to set within the lesson, to get our creative juices flowing – and I was especially pleased to recognise some of these in the creative writing book that she has just published.

The book is set into three terms, each consisting of ten lessons and gives not only tools and exercises to help writers work on their creativity, but also warns of some of the pitfalls.

I am in the lucky position of being able to ‘hear’ Bridget throughout the book – but I think her warmth, wit and genuine love of writing and writers comes across in every page.  Bridget has taught many creative writing students, and I think you can really tell from her style that she’s enjoyed this, as above all it’s fun!  And fun definitely helps!

This is a fantastic book for writers at any stage – whether you’re trying for the first time to get something onto a pristeen page, looking for a little inspiration or (like me) need to kick your arse into gear to actually write something when you thought your creativity well may have run dry.

As she says, this book will NOT enable you to write a bestseller in a weekend, win competitions or become a rich and famous novelist, but it will certainly help set you on the path, and steer you away from some of the more dangerous obstacles.

Just £1.70 for Kindle on Amazon, it is actually going to be free to download for 24 hours Monday 2nd December (tomorrow) from 8am. You can’t ask for better value than that!

e17 storywalk

As part of the Words Over Waltham Forest literary festival currently being held, there was an E17 Storywalk event yesterday.

Over two hours an audience visited six venues in Walthamstow and at each they heard a short story created especially to feature the place where they were standing, read out by the story’s author.  the walk was free, but voluntary donations of a suggested £5 were collected for Lloyd Park Children’s Centre.

A couple of weeks ago, one of the authors unfortunately dropped out, and I was aksed whether I’d be interested in taking their place. Rather nervously, I agreed – my reasons at the time purely being to help the group out (of which I only knew one) rather than for myself.

The venue that I was given was Lot One Ten – a curious little antique shop less than five minutes walk from my flat.  Due to current personal time constraints, I literally had about three to four hours to write my story, which I did last Saturday.  So, that was the main obstacle out of the way.

However, the thought of reading my own work out to a group of strangers absolutely terrified me. I tried it out on my lovely mate – but I know he would have said it was good even if he thought it was crap!  I didn’t get a wink of sleep the night before, and woke up a bit sniffly, which didn’t help at all.

It also didn’t help that the others reading their stories out were all ‘writers’ – unlike me!

Filled with trepidation, I wandered down to the library where the walk was due to start.

Reading my story, with the other writers, my venue and the poster

The authors and venues were:

Each group had about 20 in the audience – and it was especially cosy on my one – but we fit everyone in.

The other five stories were fantastic, and I think we all relaxed after the morning group as the readings felt even stronger the second time round.

Poor Ken gave himself the short straw as his was the only outdoors venue. The first time round we were ambushed by a drunk piss-drenched Polish guy who demanded a tenner off the group to make him leave us alone. Luckily he was convinced to leave us alone without getting a tenner!  I’d like to think that it enhanced the colourful atmosphere of Ken’s story.  The scond time round it started raining pretty heavily and the wind really picked up – literally JUST for the time that Ken was reading.

All other readings were pretty uneventful in comparison!

I hope that anyone who did come enjoyed it – unexpectedly, once I’d resigned myself to the fact that I was actally there and just had to get on with it, I really, really enjoyed myself. And I met a great bunch of people, which helps! I’d totally be up for something like that again.

Paekakariki Press are printing a booklet featuring all six stories in the next 2-3 weeks, which some of our audience have already ordered. I’m very excited about this as I see it as my first instance of being ‘published’.

I must say, although he originally got me into this, I couldnt have done it without Simon’s help. He waded in and helped edit my brain-dump first draft and was brilliant at it!

So, despite my fears, it was a brilliant experience – what next?!!?

paragraph planet

As you probably know, in September I started going to a Creative Writing course at City Lit, which I enjoyed so much that I have signed up for a second term that started last week.

The tutor from last term happened to mention a flash fiction website called Paragraph Planet.  It is unpaid, features one story each day and will take submissions about anything – the only guidelines are that it has to be exactly 75 words long.

I decided to take the plunge last week and make a submission – during my first term I realised that flash fiction is kind of my ‘thing’.  Perhaps usually more than 75 words though!  However, I was very pleasantly surprised when my first submission was accepted, and it is actually today’s story!

I have already written a couple more that I may submit – I have found that my judgement of 75 words is uncanny.  Twice I have written exactly 75 words in my first draft!

I may never be published again, but today I can feel proud of myself 😉

flash fiction

Tiger and Moon

At my intro to creative writing course last night, we tackled flash fiction.  It was quite good timing really considering I’ve only recently finished all The Bananas I’ve Never Eaten.

During the class, we had to write our own flash fiction.  We were given a great little exercise to help us start, which I loved!

First we had to pick an animal, and write five characteristics of that animal.  then we were given the choice of place  a jungle, prison, the moon or a palace.  we had to pick one and again, write five characteristics of that place.  Then we had to choose an emotion.

Mine were – TIGER:  regal, feline, sly, fierce, hunter.  As I had chosen a tiger I thought jungle would be a bit boring, and as one of my words was regal, I thought a palace was a bit obvious, so I went for MOON:  dark, lonely, cold, desolate, rocky.  My emotion was lust.

The main character had to be human but embody the characteristics we had written down, the setting had to be somewhere that was NOT the place we had chosen, but again, embodied the characteristics and the story had to end on the emotion we had chosen, whereas it couldn’t have started with it!

Then, we were scarily given TEN MINUTES to write an entire story. Ten minutes!!!

I know I went for a real cliché, but looking at my words, there was only one thing that jumped out at me.  The following is my entire story word for word as I wrote it in class. No editing at all! For a 10 minute effort I was quite proud, so thought I would share 🙂

The Predator

The night was dark and crisp – the stars glittered in the sky like diamonds pulled from an expensive choker.

He padded down the steps of the turret, each step as silent as the last.

He saw her making her way across the rocky path – slow but determined.  His lips curled into a snarl as he watched her. Why was she here? How DARE she invade his property.

An owl hooted and he saw her jump, her long blonde hair jerking suddenly.  Good. Be afraid my dear, he thought.

He stalked around the corner, keeping to the shadows.

She came even closer. She was now almost at the main gate.  He could see how wide her blue eyes were, reflecting the heavy, silver moon.

A sudden noise reached them from further down the hill and she looked towards it.

Always one for an entrance, Jared stepped into a shaft of moonlight while her head was turned.  When she looked back, she gasped in surprise.

Oh pretty little child, he thought, you may well gasp. You have no idea what you are dealing with.

As if reading his thoughts she looked into his eyes and he noticed a sudden confidence possess her.

“I know what you are”, she whispered, almost in awe. “I want to live forever.”  And she closed her eyes and leant her head back, baring her sweet, white neck to him.

Jared’s blood boiled and he closed the distance between them in a split second.

As his teeth pressed into her flesh he suddenly wondered when he had become the prey.

waiting for the queen

As you may remember me blogging about before, I have been doing an introduction to creative-writing course.

I have been toying with posting some of what I’ve written on here, and decided hell, I might as well!

Nothing is ‘polished’. This is just from homework assignments, which I have to admit, I haven’t been spending that much time on – I have been using the exercises as I way to get my creative juices flowing.  Because I have been doing that, I haven’t exactly always stuck to the assignment!

This was from my first week.  The idea was that we were supposed to go to somewhere with a crowd and observe (I went to the bar at Hackney Picturehouse).  Check out what people were wearing, how they sat, their mannerisms, snatches of dialogue.

Unfortunately, this was when I realised I was very good at writing what was asked for, as I went off at a tangent.  I found that I couldn’t observe people closely without imagining a back-story of some kind for them.  So, here is my first attempt at anything vaguely creative in about 15 years.  Cut me a break 😉

Waiting for the Queen

I watch a group of three friends. One of them is quieter than the other two. She is wearing bright green ballet pumps, but the toes are really scuffed, like those of a little girl.  I have a sudden vision of her on a swing in a deserted playground late at night.  I wonder if her knees are grazed under her jeans.

A woman is wearing a t-shirt that says “RAP MUSIC MAKES ME FEEL INVINCIBLE”.  She is in her mid-40s and looks like a librarian – a bit like Mary ends up if George Bailey never existed.  Her hair is neat, but her fingernails are a mess, and she chews on one as she reads the local paper.  I wonder if she has borrowed the t-shirt from a son or a lover, or if maybe she mistakenly thought it said ‘invisible’.

An ageing DJ sits in the corner at decks with ‘Flights of Fancy’ emblazoned across them.  He looks like he might once have been somebody.  He plays reggae with undisguised joy.  He puts on a reggae version of The Carpenter’s ‘Yesterday Once More’ and looks disappointed when nobody reacts.  He pushes the volume up and I imagine that his dark glasses are showing him an alternative reality, where he’s in a thumping club and he controls the mood of the dancers – like a reflected memory of his heyday.  One of the staff girls asks him to turn it down.

“I think I’ve left it too long”, one girls says to her friend.  Her friend squeezes her hand supportively.  For a fleeting moment, I wonder whether she is talking about her hair, which is slightly lighter at the ends – the difference between coffee and chocolate.

One woman gives another a small doll in a clear ziplock sandwich bag.  She takes it without a word and immediately puts it into her handbag.  I wonder if the first woman stole it from her when they were children.

One of the bar staff looks like Jesus.  I think Jesus would work in a bar.  It’s the perfect place to see people from all walks of life – and especially those who may be a little lost.  And the bar could save a fortune on wine!

There is a woman drinking red wine.  As the level of her wine goes down, her face becomes more red, as if she is absorbing the colour directly into her face via her lips.

A door opens in the wall behind us, and without a word we stand and make our way into a darkened room.

“Aelita: Queen of Mars” it says on the screen.  We sit down, and the film begins.

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