New Year’s Eve Ritual 2017/2018

vintage-new-years-eve-in-the-past-08

(370 + 500 words)

First of all, a Very Happy New Year to all my followers, and to those followers with blogs and/or books, I wish you every success with them in 2018!

I’m starting the year with 350 followers, which I can hardly believe, so thank you again for following To Cut a Short Story Short! 

I’m very pleased to say that I managed to post a new story every five days throughout 2017, a goal I set myself. I also self-published two books and had audiobooks made from them, something I never could have imagined one year ago!

https://simonjwood.wordpress.com/books-by-simon-j-wood/

https://simonjwood.wordpress.com/2017/07/08/publishing-the-best-of-your-blog-is-as-easy-as-1-2-3/

I also entered two writing competitions a month throughout the year. No prizes yet, but fingers crossed for the coming year!

I’m intending to continue my WordPress publishing schedule throughout 2018, and I’ll be publishing a new book of stories about October time: To Cut a Short Story Short II: 89 Little Stories. Because the stories are longer now, that’ll be around 80,000 words, which should come out around 400 pages, so quite a substantial volume. It should be available as an audiobook in time for Christmas 2018!

I’ve a children’s picture book in the pipeline too, Promise Her the Moon, which has been submitted to a number of publishers and which I hope will be accepted and in print in the latter part of 2018. Then, who knows, there might even be a sequel!

https://simonjwood.wordpress.com/2017/07/18/promise-her-the-moon/

Finally, I’ve been running a fortnightly story group for the last two years (currently 400 words). A collection is sent out by e-mail every other Sunday. Right now there are a small number of dedicated contributors sending in one or two stories per fortnight (big thanks to those talented people!). New members are always welcome!

https://simonjwood.wordpress.com/contact/

So, without further ado, I’m republishing New Year’s Eve Ritual, my third most popular post (in terms of ‘likes’) ever. I have to copy the post, otherwise a notification isn’t sent out, which means there are two copies of the same story on the blog, but I think it’s worth it. I don’t want to copy and paste the old comments, but if you’d like to read them (recommended) here’s the link.

https://simonjwood.wordpress.com/2017/01/19/new-years-eve-ritual/

Best wishes, Simon.

 


(500 words)
Boxes, special boxes, lie at the bottom of my locked filing cabinet. Deposited there are letters and cards collected throughout my life. From grandparents, school-friends, parents, lovers, wives, children, more lovers, more children. Since the invention of e-mail though, they’ve been few and far between.
Tonight it’s New Year’s Eve 2027 and there’s a very special box of letters I want to look at. But first there’s something I have to do – The Ritual.
I go to my trusted computer and start. I’m alone in the house. My partner, Suzanne is at her parents, the kids are grown up, probably remonstrating with their own kids about coming home at a ‘sensible’ hour. As if!
I begin to type. Dear – . I leave the name blank for now, anticipating the thrill of typing it in. ‘I hope you are well and I wonder how this will find you? You were talking about moving to a villa in Portugal. Are you still planning to live there? Did you marry Fiona? Is your mother still alive?’ Questions surge into my mind.
I take a swig of cider, Weston’s Vintage Cider 2026, 8.2% alcohol. Three bottles for a fiver at Tesco, same as it’s been for the last ten years! I swill the amber liquid around my tongue and savour grass, twigs, toffee, leaves, moonlit apples.
For the next two hours I sit writing and drinking cider. About what I’ve been doing myself for the last year, my failing health, my increasing wealth and my disastrous love life. Then about my goals and aspirations. Maybe they’ll be interested? Do that trek up Kilimanjaro, play a recital on the piano, maybe get that novel published. The one that’s been rejected more times than I care to think about. But hey! What about Stephen King, Agatha Christie and J K Rowling?
Finally it’s finished. 11.30 p.m., half an hour before ‘witching hour.’ How pleased I am to sit ‘in here’, writing, rather than ‘out there,’ getting ‘wrecked’ and singing Auld Lang Syne with strangers!
I fill in the recipient, print my letter, sign and address it, then seal it up with tape. Finally I delete the document and empty the trash folder. That completes the ritual!
I go down to the fridge and take out a bottle of Chardonnay. I pour a large glassful of lemon-coloured nectar, then go back upstairs to my ‘special box.’ It contains ten long, white, thick envelopes, all with the same handwriting. I slot the one I have just written in at the back and take out the one at the front. It’s dated 2017, and labelled ‘to be opened 31st December 2027.’
The cycle is finally complete! I open it, trembling with anticipation. I begin to read, my eyes misting as I do so. Throughout the last ten long, eventful years, of life, death, joy and heartbreak, it has been waiting patiently in this box for me, though I now have no memory of ever having written it.
To read the comments on the original version of this post please click HERE
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Golden Tips

Darjeeling_Tea_Garden_worker

(1000 words)

Head Cook and Bottle Washer was the name of the quaint little cafe I’d discovered. It looked empty, but I’d fancied a change from the noisy, greasy clientele, and the even greasier sausage rolls of Kell’s.
“Here you are, sir.” A girl placed a silver tray onto the blue chequered tablecloth in front of me and transferred a white porcelain tea pot and cup onto it, followed by a white plate with a pink rose motif. On it sat a large scone, dotted with dried mixed fruit. Then a small bowl containing butter, and diverse jugs of milk and hot water.
“I’m impressed!”
Her large green eyes looked into mine with a sincerity that made me feel slightly embarrassed. “Is there anything else I can help you with, sir?”
“No, … no, that’s fine thank you.”
“Thank you, sir.” She smiled and walked away. I noticed she wore a smart brown uniform with a white apron, and matching white headpiece. This cafe might be small but they didn’t do things by halves!
I poured some tea out, noticing it looked good and strong, just how I liked it. I took out my phone. There was a message from Laura. Could I collect Shaun from school? She had a migraine. I looked at my watch, only 2 p.m. No problem. I buttered the scone and took a bite, starting to text a reply. Suddenly I stopped. This scone was gorgeous! Rich, fine-textured, and the dried fruit – sultanas, raisins, cherries, and others, more mysterious yet – were sweet and deliciously spiced. Why waste attention on a stupid text message?!
I looked around. There weren’t many tables, perhaps ten, mainly arranged along a kind of corridor, with three at the front of the cafe and three behind me at the rear. Only two were taken. A mother, father, and two small children, mouths full of cake rendering them temporarily silent, sat at the front, and behind me an old couple, whispering secretively, as if discussing a terrible family secret.
The girl stood at a counter looking attentive. “Was everything all right for you, sir?”
“Actually, it was delicious!”
“We bake our Scottish Lardy Cakes fresh every morning.”
“Well it was lovely!”
She smiled, as if genuinely pleased I’d enjoyed it.
“And the tea was lovely too!”
“Oh, yes, we import it from India, it’s our own blend.” She gestured to some small orange boxes on a shelf, high on the wall behind her – Head Cook & Bottle Washer Golden Tips.
I handed over the surprisingly reasonable price for my tea. “I’ll probably get some next time.”
“Yes, it’s very popular.”
That had been Thursday. So enamoured had I been with the place, and remembering an enticing array of cakes in a lighted compartment under the counter, I returned on Monday afternoon, having finished work early, to find it was closed. I felt a stab of disappointment and looked at the opening hours. Monday to Tuesday 09.00 to 12.00, Wednesday to Thursday Closed, Friday to Saturday 09.00 – 16.00. Sunday Closed. Hmm. They didn’t seem to open much.
I peered through the window. The cakes were gone but the tablecloths were in place, and the little orange tea boxes stood to attention neatly on the shelf. But with the lights off and no sign of life it all looked rather forlorn.
“Look Jilly, you must come to this fabulous little cafe I’ve found!”
“Where is it?”
“It’s behind the market place, down the little alleyway opposite the Cats Protection charity shop. They do this divine Lardy Cake!”
“Oh, I don’t usually go down there.”
“I don’t think many people know about it – yet! They do their own special brand of tea, imported from India, can you believe?!”
“Wow! OK, that’d be lovely. Meet me from work at one on Friday and we’ll go down together.”
Friday came and at 1.10 p.m. precisely, we both stood, staring into the cafe window. A sign said, ‘Sorry, Closed due to illness.’
I felt deflated, embarrassed, although it was hardly my fault. “Look, that’s their special blend of tea.” I pointed to the little orange boxes on the shelf behind the empty counter.
Jilly was fine about it. “It’s OK. Don’t Worry. Look, we’ll come next Friday, give him, or her, a chance to recover!”
“Good idea! I’ll have something else next time too. I saw Traditional Poached Eggs on the menu, with smoked salmon.”
I took a break from work on Tuesday morning. I told my partner I wanted to check I’d locked my car properly. The cafe was sombre, unlit, the staff presumably still unwell. Still, they’d be well again in another three days, surely?!
Friday came and I was ravenous. I’d skipped breakfast, looking forward to a fuller repast there, and Jilly accompanied me, dressed in a fetching grey suit, her blonde hair in a pony tail, and swinging a smart red handbag.
We stood, gazing into an empty window. Tables and chairs were piled up. The tablecloths and till were gone. There were no cakes behind the glass under the counter, now unlit and forbidding, and the shelf on the wall was bereft of the orange tea boxes. The place looked dead, desolate, abandoned.
“Look,” said Jilly, pointing to a small handwritten sign in the door. ‘Closed. Opening soon under new management.’
I stared in utter disbelief. I could taste the Lardy cake, smell the fragrant brown tea pouring from the white porcelain teapot. See the girl’s pleasant smile and her large green eyes looking into mine, seeking approval. I wondered what could have happened? “Oh, that’s a shame. Sorry to have dragged you here again.” Why hadn’t I bought one of their little orange boxes of tea when I had the chance?
Jilly sighed. “Should we go to Kell’s? I’m hungry.”
The thought of their greasy sausage rolls made me feel sick, and they didn’t use butter in their sandwiches either, just a flavourless pale-yellow spread. “Oh, all right.” The coffee wasn’t so bad.

 

To purchase the stories (up to June 2017) in paperback, Kindle eBook, and audiobook form, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 400 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on the blog. There are over 190! 

For She Had Eyes ….

A-couple-kissing-beneath-the-mistletoe

(1200 words)

I could hear she was quite young, nervous at meeting me, wanting to make a good impression on her first day, but afraid of my disability.
“Andy’ll show you the ropes,” said Sheila, my boss’s secretary. “Andy, this is Sonya.”
“Hello Sonya,“ I said, and smiled.
“Hello, Andy,” said a girl’s voice.
I continued, “Well, this is where it all happens.” I ran an audio and video library for a big HR department. “I do the audio, and you’ll be my eyes for the video!”
She laughed self-consciously.
Once alone together, I said, “Look, I know you probably don’t want to talk about me being blind, but let’s get it out of the way.”
Her voice showed relief. “That’s fine, if you want to talk about it.”
“Take a seat.”
We both sat on comfortable black leather office chairs. “Look, I’m really not much different to anyone else. I’ve lost a sense, but I’ve made up for it in many ways.”
“Oh.”
“Well, I know you’re wearing mascara, I hear the clicking of your eyelashes.”
“Yes, I do.” She laughed, and it was genuine this time, surprised, interested.
“And you have shoulder length hair, I hear it brushing against a jacket. It doesn’t catch, so it’s not so long.”
“Wow, that’s right. Can you tell what colour?”
“May I?” I put a hand out towards her.
“Yes.”
I felt her hair. It was fine, soft, shampooed and conditioned this morning. I wanted to smell it up close, but that would be going too far. “It’s auburn I think.”
“That’s incredible!”
I smiled, no need to tell her that Sue in accounts had told me that. “From your voice, I’d say you were, er, 27 or 28.”
She laughed. “29 actually. By two months!”
“I must be slipping!” No one had told me that, but the timbre and manner of her speech had. “Look, close your eyes.”
“OK. now what?”
“Imagine you’ve just sharpened a pencil with one of those sharpeners with a holder for the shavings. Now you unscrew it and smell the shavings.”
“Wow, I can a bit!”
“Now, imagine a burning match. Then you blow it out. Can you smell the smoke.”
“Sort of.” She laughed.
“And that’s just with your imagination! So, us, er, blind people, we can do most any jobs nowadays, especially with all the technology we have now. It can read the screens, make the letters huge, change the colour of the fonts on command. All that kind of stuff.”
“What do you see Andy, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I don’t see anything, Sonya, just light and dark. I can tell if it’s day or night!”
“That’s a shame.”
“They found I had glaucoma twelve years ago. It left me blind in my right eye, but I still had some vision in the left. That’s gone now, but I’ve got over it. It’s not such a problem. I’ve got a dog, Sasha, and a white stick. Most people are helpful.”
“Thanks for telling me all that,” she said, and I could tell she meant it.
Over the next three months, we worked together quite closely and I found her to be friendly, cooperative and efficient. I didn’t pry but she told me about her life. A difficult childhood with alcoholic parents, a chance to go to university. A guy, Chris, there. Then a life with an itinerant musician, Al, who found a kind of fame, and moved on to other pastures, and other women. She’d been on her own for a year and a half now. That surprised me. I didn’t need anyone to tell me that she was attractive.
Christmas came and she sat with me at the works’ Christmas dinner. “It’s OK Sonya, you don’t have to,” I said.
“I want to. Here!” She handed me one end of a cracker. We pulled it and it exploded, hurling something plastic into my face. We burst out laughing and I could hear her retrieving it.
“What is it?”
“Oh, it’s, it’s ….” Her voice trailed off.
I laughed. “A magnifying glass!”
“You’re amazing! How ….”
“From the sound when it hit the floor … and your embarrassment.”
She didn’t say anything.
You have it, you never know. It might come in handy!”
She laughed. “Are you coming to the party tonight, Andy?”
“I don’t know, I’m not really a party animal.”
“It’d be good to see you. I’m bringing a friend.”
“Oh.” I felt desperately disappointed, imagining a strapping rugby-player type.
That evening I’d spruced myself up and called a cab. I didn’t really want to go but felt I ought to show my face. The thought of Sonya being there tipped the balance. I used my stick, having given Sasha a break from her duties, and took the lift up to the entertainment suite on my own. The doors opened onto a noisy, crowded scene. Music was playing loudly, Merry Christmas Everyone, and glasses were clinking over the hubbub of speech.
“Andy!” It was Desmond, my boss. “Really pleased you could make it. Look, I want you to meet someone.” He escorted me across the crowded room to a secluded alcove. Several familiar voices greeted me on the way. They sounded genuinely pleased to see me, although their pleasure was doubtless fuelled by alcohol.
Someone handed me a beer and I was introduced to Paul, an information science graduate, who wanted to discuss reorganizing the sales training material. After about fifteen minutes, I’d had enough. Were Sonya and her friend here yet? I wondered. “Excuse me, Paul, perhaps we could continue our discussion in the New Year?”
He was good enough to take the hint. “Of course, Andy, sorry, let’s get you another drink.” He escorted me back through the throng to the bar. Suddenly I felt a hand on my arm.
“Andy!” It was Sonya. “Let me get you a drink, what would you like?”
I felt in need of something strong. “Oh could I have a large glass of white wine please?”
I could hear the tinkling sound of it being poured.
“Oh, and this is my friend, Erica.”
I felt a soft feminine hand in mine and shook it, feeling relief it was Erica not Eric.
“It’s nice to meet you, Erica,” I said.
Sonya spoke close to my ear. “She can’t hear you. She’s deaf!”
I stood, bewildered. For once I didn’t know what to say or do.
Then they both laughed. “Sorry, bad joke!” said Sonya.
I laughed with relief.
“Look, do you know what’s hanging above our heads,” asked Sonya.
“What?”
She put a hand on my arm and I felt the warmth of her face, smelt a faint, lavender perfume and wine on her breath. Then her lips on mine, hot, pressing, lingering, a touch of a flickering tongue. We embraced and I heard a cheer go up around us. I felt embarrassed but I didn’t care.
“Look, you two go and dance, I’ll catch up with you later,” said Erica.
“I’m not very good at dancing,” I said.
“Don’t be silly,” said Sonya. She laughed and kissed me again, this time on the cheek. “Merry Christmas!” then led me towards the dance floor.

To purchase the stories (up to June 2017) in paperback, Kindle eBook, and audiobook form, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 400 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on the blog. There are over 190! 

Boxed Into a Corner

Screen Shot 2017-12-14 at 17.28.53

(1200 words)

The long white envelope had changed everything, but it’d also changed the set of problems. Instead of, ‘How can I afford to pay the mortgage this month and still have money for food?’ it was, ‘What part of the country should I move to and how many acres of gardens do I want?’ Yes, those premium bonds sure came up trumps, even if they’d taken fifty years to do so!
So now one of my dreams was a possibility – a circular library! I’d envisioned burnished dark shelves, perhaps oak, stained a deep brown, areas of lighter brown and gold shining in the sun from a cupola high in the ceiling. Antique shelving would be nice, I thought, or I could get a skilful carpenter to make them. It’d take him some time, a lot of it in situ I guessed, but expense wasn’t an issue, I could probably afford to have them made of silver, if not gold.
The problem was, how do you actually build a circular bookcase? Well, the most obvious thing was to have a circular room, but I’d found that houses with such rooms were in short supply in my locality. The other possibility was to have it constructed in a large square room. Now that was a much more realistic possibility. I even had one already, a kind of office cum junk room, high-ceilinged and barely used. But what about the corners? Surely they’d be cut off, redundant, inaccessible, and gathering grounds for dust and cobwebs. Maybe even unwelcome rodents?
“What you need is EPS!” said my friend, Dave.
“What’s EPS?” I said.
“Expanded polystyrene foam. Didn’t you know that?”
“Well, why isn’t it EPF then?” I retorted.
Anyways, it seemed if you got the right type, you could have it made into blocks that would round the corners of a room off, leaving a perfect circle for the shelves to be constructed around. Apparently you could even have some cavities made in the foam for storage too, stuff that you would basically never need until you moved house, as it would to all intents and purposes be inaccessible. Anyway, that would get rid of some of the junk. Dave knew someone who could do the job.
We spent some time with graph paper and compasses working out the dimensions for the foam and in the meantime I’d found a ‘chippy’ who would fabricate the shelving from antique mahogany in his workshop, then bring and install it in a couple of days or so. I’d seen examples of his furniture in a showroom and online, and I was very excited about his work. So much so that I’d also ordered a beautiful coffee table from him in an exotic solid wood – Amboyna Burl. A deep honey colour, with swirling, marbled grain. It was great when money was no object!
Life was looking good. There was just one fly in the ointment. Sandra. Thirty years of marriage had been twenty too many. Once an attractive young woman with flowing brunette locks, she’d now become ‘dumpy,’ to put it kindly, irritable and argumentative. Even my new found wealth had barely cheered her.
Dave had a solution. “Look, I know a mate who makes these special, er, ‘suitcases.’ They’re hermetically sealed. You can put, er, stuff in them, and there’s no smell. Then when the heat’s died down, you can dispose of the, um, ‘contents’ more normally like.”
“What ‘contents’?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
So it was decided. I would take a fortnight’s holiday on a cruise. The perfect alibi! Meanwhile Dave’s ‘mate,’ the one who made the special ‘suitcases,’ would call round. Sandra would have an ‘accident,’ be popped into the case, placed in a cavity in the foam and sealed up. A car would be taken, so that it looked like she’d gone off somewhere and never arrived. Dave would then organise the carpenter.
The ‘accident’ wouldn’t be cheap but Dave, a financial wizard, would take care of the ‘laundry,’ and my ‘investment’ would be untraceable.
OK, it’d be inconvenient to have to take all the books off the shelves and disassemble some of the shelving to extract the case at some distant future date, but it seemed like a foolproof plan.
Six weeks later I sat in my beautiful library with Dave. Everything had gone perfectly, police informed, all very sad. Half the shelves were filled and there were boxes of books piled everywhere, waiting to be unpacked and assigned to their designated places. I estimated that there would still be perhaps twenty percent of shelf space available for further purchases, which could happily now be resumed, Sandra’s resistance having been ‘overcome.’ Once the shelves were full maybe I could do it all over again with a smaller room? The house was certainly big enough, especially with only one occupant now.
Dave sat on a ruby red leather sofa, sipping wine at the exquisite coffee table. “Nice piece of wood,” he said. “Very nice piece of wood!”
I sat in a browny-green leather arm chair, one of a pair, on the other side of the table. Behind me were two glass cases, housing some of my more valuable and interesting books. “Yes, it’s Amboyna Burl,” I said. “So over here are my first editions,” I gestured accordingly. “That section is books about books, and all that lot over there is on music.” I’d been a book-dealer, then semi-pro guitarist for parts of my life, and Sandra, incredibly enough, had been quite adept on the bagpipes, much to my perturbation.
Dave murmured appreciatively. “What’s those magazines in that glass case?”
A creature with its features set low in a huge round head glared at us, against an indigo background, full of what could have been bubbles or planets, reminiscent of the individual’s head. Its face bore a frightened expression, as if it knew what we’d done.
“Oh, that’s Science Fiction Monthly. They were published from 1974 to 1976, I’ve got the complete run, 28 issues!”
“I like science fiction,” said Dave. “Russ Ballard and them other writers.”
I rolled my eyes. “J.G. Ballard!”
The doorbell went.
“I’ll go,” said Dave.
A minute later he came back, ashen faced, accompanied by a lady. My jaw hit the floor.
“Well aren’t you going to say hello,” said Sandra.
“Y-yes, … of course,” I said. “But er, where’ve you been?!”
“Yes, sorry about that darling, I wanted to tell you, but you were off on your cruise thingy. I went to stay with Vanessa. Ronald’s left her and she needed some support. I actually thought you were coming back next week. When I saw your car just now I realised you must be back. I rang the bell. I didn’t want to shock you, coming in unannounced!” She barked a laugh.
“Oh, it’s … it’s g-good to see you!”
“The books look very nice. Your fellow did a good job. Did he do that table too? It’s lovely!”
“Yes, it’s Amboyna Burl.”
“By the way, darling, I had a lady in to measure up for curtains and carpets while we were both away. Has she been in touch? I haven’t heard from her.”

To purchase the stories (up to June 2017) in paperback, Kindle eBook, and audiobook form, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 400 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on the blog. There are over 190! 

Cruising Down the River

1200px-Tomahawk_Block_IV_cruise_missile

(1300 words)

“Come on Pete, wakey wakey!” Julie shook her boyfriend’s shoulder, looking with affection at his unshaven face. She wore just a shirt, lemon yellow with white stripes, and her shoulder-length blonde hair was tipped over her face.
Peter’s closed eyes blinked half-open. “Huh, wha’ the time?”
“It’s gone ten thirty. Come on, you said we could go to the park. We can get coffee at the kiosk.”
“I was dreaming of walking Lexie.”
“I’ve got her lead ready. Come on sweetheart, get up!”
Just then, three things happened. Someone started shouting down in the street below, a siren sounded somewhere and the phone rang.
“What’s that siren about? It’s weird.” She snatched up the phone.
Her sister Josephine sounded anxious, afraid. “Jules, have you seen the news?”
“No.”
“Well, you’d better put the TV on! The Navy fired a cruise missile at a terrorist warship. They’ve hacked it, turned it round towards the City of London. We’re getting out now!” Josephine hung up and turned to Alan, her husband, a good-humoured black man in his thirties. Now his face was so pale it didn’t look so different from hers. “I told Jules. They’re on their own now. Come on!”
With a shoulder-bag each of clothing, books and toiletries hurriedly thrown in, they left and Alan locked the door, wondering what, if anything, would be left of their house.
The street was almost empty but three doors away he could see Malcolm raising his hands in frustration, shouting to Sally and the kids. “Come on, we’ve got to go now. NOW!”
Alan waved. “Hurry up!” he yelled.
Malcolm checked his watch. 11.15. What the flying fuck were they up to? He went back inside. Ted was fussing over two guinea pigs in a cage; he turned, his face streaked with tears. “It’s not fair, I don’t want them to die!”
“OK, OK, bring their cage. We’ve got to go now, and I mean NOW.”
Sally came running down the stairs, her black bob of hair bouncing. She was wearing red shorts and sandals.
“For Christ’s sake, don’t you have any shoes?”
“Yes, they’re in my case. How long have we got?”
“Twenty minutes. Before we get fried! Come on!”
Sally, Jake 11, Daniel, nine, and Ted, seven, toting his guinea pigs, ran out of the house and bundled into the car.
Two blocks away they hit a traffic jam. There’d been an accident at a cross roads, two vehicles crashing head on. Horns were hooting, people anxiously getting out of their cars, yelling, gesticulating.
“What’s going on Dad, we don’t have time to stop, do we?” said Jake.
Malcolm jammed his hand on the horn. Jesus Christ!
Captain Charles Hester looked down on the gridlocked cars from the high cabin of his fire engine. He glanced at his companion, Edgar Tierney. Tierney’s face was white, his hands shaking. “I hope to God, Jude and the kids got out in time,” Tierney said.
Hester looked at his watch. Fifteen minutes to go. “They’ll be fine!” He felt his stomach lurch. I have to do this. He slammed his foot down on the accelerator and the car in front buckled up, swinging out of the way and smashing into another vehicle. Someone inside was shrieking hysterically. With his foot still hard on the accelerator, his ears closed to shouting and screaming, the fire engine bulldozed cars aside until it reached the accident spot. He could see blood over one windscreen and people in the back of the other car, motionless. He kept his foot down, the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object syndrome, he reflected grimly. What happens? The unstoppable force stops and the immovable object moves. With the engine roaring like a beast possessed, the now-wrecked front of his vehicle ploughed the mangled cars off the intersection, leaving a channel behind, into which those still undamaged enough to drive, sped through.
One of those was Alexa Rogers, an attractive barrister in her late twenties. Popular and wealthy she wasn’t hanging around for anyone. She’d not spent seven years studying, not to mention being the butt of sexual innuendo, assault even, on occasion, to get burned alive in her car! No, she was heading for the hills. Well, Lavender Hill to be precise. To her surprise the roads were running freely all the way there, the traffic going just one way – away from the financial district. A few hundred others must have had the same idea as her, she realised, as she hit congestion at the bottom of the hill.
She managed to park, then half-walked, half-ran up the hill, passing anxious families with crying children in tow. She kept her eyes fixed towards the trees at the top, signifying the park entrance. She wasn’t stopping to reassure anyone. She checked her phone. Ten minutes to go.
A crowd was gathered on the heath at the top to watch the spectacle from a safe distance, several miles away. Samantha Lacey hugged her husband, Tom. She spoke anxiously. “They’re saying it’ll be here in five minutes.” They looked down on the panorama below. Neat rows of red-roofed Victorian houses, then the wide silver ribbon of the river Thames, and in the far distance to their left, barely visible, the grey line of London Bridge. Beyond that, almost invisible brown dots, lay the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.
She pointed. “Oh my God, look!“
A gasp went up as a silver pencil-like object flew from their right, low above the river, engines screaming. Everyone watched, transfixed, as it disappeared out of sight to the left. Samantha gripped Tom’s hand tightly. She noticed his was wet with sweat. Then a distant deep echoing thud and … nothing.
The crowd stood, silent and expectant. Thirty seconds. One minute. Two minutes. Tension evaporated. It was a dud, Tom realised. After all that, the terrorists’ hacking skills had turned back a dud! The news went around the crowd. He hugged Samantha and they laughed for the first time that morning. “We can all go home!”
Suddenly nothing existed but brilliant, blinding light. Instinctively, they put their hands over their eyes and flung themselves to the ground. There was a tremendous ear-shattering roar that seemed would never stop, the earth vibrated against their bodies and Tom felt the intense heat of a fireball howling over their heads. Samantha was whimpering like a scalded puppy. After a while he cautiously took his hands away from his eyes. There were some white spots swimming around in front of him but his vision seemed otherwise unaffected. Thank God, I can see! “Are you OK Sam?”
She nodded affirmation, her face white and streaked with dirt and tears, and her fair hair now a blackened mop.
Behind them, cars parked on the heath were on fire. Below, they could see a wall of smoke and flames rising from the houses, and in the distance, beyond London Bridge, a red flame burned with the intensity of a firework. Above it, a huge pall of black smoke was forming into something they’d all hoped they would never see. “Fucking hell, they never said it was carrying a nuke. Why didn’t they tell us?!”
Cars were exploding like firecrackers behind them. They walked the other way, down to the lake, following the crowds. They passed a burning kiosk, turning away from two charred corpses on the ground. Then Tom spotted something close by the stick-like charcoal arms of something that had once been a man. He picked it up, a metal disc with burned leather attached. He wiped soot off it. Lexie. What was that about?
Samantha tugged his arm. “Come on Tom. Let’s find help.”
He tossed the disc back onto the corpse. “OK. Poor sods.”

To purchase the stories (up to June 2017) in paperback, Kindle eBook, and audiobook form, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 400 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on the blog. There are over 190! 

Three Lives

Servant Bells

(550 words)

“I’m a servant, milord, a maid to Sir Oswald’s household.”
“And are you happy there?” I asked.
“No, milord, cursed be the day I came into this house!”
“What do you see around you?”
“Stone flags, milord, and a great fire. There’s a kettle o’water a’heatin’ for the washing.”
“Is it the scullery?”
“Yes, milord, there be a great kitchen for the cooking.”
“Is there anyone else there?”
(subject laughs) “Yes, milord, there’s Jack, the vartlet. He sits by the fire, his face red as any fox!”
“Do you like Jack?”
“Yes, milord, he’s a knave, jolly as a pie!”
“That’s good. And what about Sir Oswald.”
(subject seems nervous) “He … he, by my troth, he doth take advantage. When my lady is away, I must needs go to his chamber of a night. He maketh me unclothe myself – naked as a needle, and … and ….”
“Can’t you refuse?”
(subject appears tearful) “What wilt thou say, milord, I must needs, or I’ll be flashing my queint as a trull down in the town, a penny a time!”
“Isn’t there anyone you can talk to?”
(subject starts to cry) “No, milord, there’s none as wish to upset his Lordship!”
I place a hand on the subject’s forehead. “On the count of three you feel completely calm and come forward in time to your next life, at roughly the same age.”
(subject nods)
“One Two Three!”
(subject looks around, smiling)
“Where are you?”
“In the children’s room, sir. I see boxes of their toys.”
“And what year is it?”
(long pause) “Good Queen Victoria reigns, … er, I’m not sure, sir.”
“What is your position?”
“Oh, I’m a nanny to two dear children, sir.”
“Where do you live?”
“Oh, I live with the family, sir, the James’s. It’s somewhere in London, near to the river.”
“What age are you?”
“Eight and twenty, sir.”
“And do you like your work?”
“Mostly. The children, Jacob and Jemima, are lovely, and the master is a gent!”
“What about the mistress?”
(long pause) “Hard as nails she is, sir, always finding fault with me, especially when the master’s not around. Once I’d taken the children out, down to the pond to sail their toy yachts, and Jacob fell over and cut his knee bad. Well it weren’t my fault, sir, but the mistress, she went mad. The master being away, she took me into her study and gave me ten strokes of her cane on my behind.” (subject begins to cry) “I couldn’t sit properly for four days, sir!”
“OK. I’m going to count down from ten, and on the count of one, you will be back in the present moment, feeling calm and happy, with full memory of this session. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Ten, nine, eight … two, ONE!”
(subject sits up) “That was heavy!”
“You see now. Your problem of over-dominance, especially of, er, subordinates, is linked, intrinsically, to these last two lives.”
(subject nods)
“In both cases, you were subject to sexual and physical abuse, on a regular basis.”
“Yes, it wasn’t much fun!”
“I’m going to give you some hypnotic suggestions, based on this session. They’ll help you see people for who they are, warts and all, as people, not objects or possessions to be pushed around.”

David smiles, relieved. “Thank you.”

To purchase the stories (up to June 2017) in paperback, Kindle eBook, and audiobook form, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 400 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on the blog. There are over 180! 

I Dream of Diwana: 2000 word version

delicious-south-Indian-cuisines

“Impressive, isn’t it?” I smile.
“Oh gosh, have I got to eat everything?” says my wife, Laura.
In front of each of us lies a circular metal tray, in the centre of which stands a bowl of steaming rice. The grains are tiny, some coloured red, yellow or green. Surrounding it are small metal pots containing vegetables – some plain, some battered and fried, in a variety of sauces. One pot contains chopped tomato, cucumber and raw onion, sprinkled with finely diced coriander leaves, and another, plain yoghurt. The restaurant is full of the aroma of curry and I’m salivating like crazy.
“Would you like anything to drink sir?” smiles a young Indian girl with deep brown eyes, darker than her dusky skin.
“Can I have Cobra please?” I say. Laura asks for mineral water.
I laugh, indicating a pot, half full of a thick yellow paste, inconspicuous amongst the others. “I remember the first time I came here I ate the shrikhand with my curry. I didn’t realise it was a sweet!”
I serve myself a portion of rice, some curried cauliflower, and some small pieces of potato in a thin greasy-looking sauce. “Wow, this is hot!” I exclaim. They’d not spared the chilli! I spoon a generous portion of yoghurt on top. It’s delicious, my taste buds overwhelmed by the fiery, aromatic experience.
It’s September 1987, the seventh year of my marriage to Laura, and I’m definitely feeling like scratching the seven year itch. The first years had been wonderful, although marred by frequent fights, but isn’t that usually the way? Her long dark hair still looks glamorous, but the pretty face has grown rounder and the pounds have piled on. Health problems abound with increasing frequency. Still, ‘Till death do us part …’ as they say.
 –
Laura stands, long black hair cascading over her black coat. She’s stood against the polished blue tiles of Regent’s Park tube station. She hasn’t noticed me approaching through the thin crowd yet. I linger and watch her. She’s looking straight ahead, blinking and touching her hair, glancing at her watch. She looks in a red leather handbag, pulls out a tissue and dabs her forehead, cheeks and nose. I approach and her face breaks into a wide, pink-lipsticked smile. She hurriedly stuffs the tissue back into her handbag. “Hello.” Her eyes are wide and dark. She’s wearing mascara and some face powder.
I put an arm on her sleeve and kiss her mouth. There’s a faint odour of floral perfume. Her lips are cool, but tingling with electricity. “Hello, sorry I’m a bit late.” We walk up the steps, out into the bright autumn air, and the bustling pavement.
There’s the usual newspaper kiosk. Three rows of colourful magazines below a shelf with more magazines and newspapers on it. There’s a rack of chewing gum, one of the worst inventions ever, how I hate the stuff! At the back there are more racks of magazines. The top row shows enticing glimpses of pink, brown and grey female flesh. To the left of the kiosk is a stand of international newspapers. EL PAIS, Süddeutsche Zeitung, La Tribune …. They’re dated October 1980.
Presumably there’s a human being lurking within this newsprint and glossy cave? I try to imagine someone actually designing the kiosk. And factories making them. Then I try to envisage all the people writing and designing this seemingly endless number of newspapers and magazines. There must be thousands, tens of thousands even? Massive machines printing millions of copies. I fail miserably.
“Should we go for coffee,” says Laura.
Can this gorgeous creature really be with me? “Yeah, that’d be good.”
She looks at the stand. “I just want to buy some gum.”
I start to say something, then change my mind. “Good idea.”
“Impressive, isn’t it?” I smile.
“We have bigger thalis in Gangtok!” says my partner, Lhamo.
“You always have to go one better don’t you?”
She laughs, shaking her red-brown bob, her hooded cat-like eyes twinkling. It’s September 1997 and once again I’m in Diwanas. I haven’t been here for ten years, but it’s like a time warp, everything seems exactly the same, even the waitress.
Lhamo isn’t eating a thali. Instead, she has a dosa, a long, rolled pancake, fried and filled with spiced potato, lentils and onion.
The restaurant’s packed, as always. A small queue stands by the door, resignedly waiting for a vacant table.
Lhamo looks apprehensive. “I need to tell you something.”
I know what’s coming. I’ve heard it often enough. “What?”
“I’m leaving, going back to Rasheb.”
I could save my breath. “Why?”
“I miss Ahmed. He needs me.” Her eyes mist over.
I take a mouthful of Cobra, close my eyes, and swill it round my tongue with my mouth slightly open. The light hoppy flavour mingles with those of butterscotch and dandelion. It’s amazing what you can find when you really focus on something! Back to reality. “Please don’t go.” And I mean it. Despite all the problems with her estranged husband and her collusion with him, I really love her.
We’d met at a theatre group in our small town. There were a handful of good actors, the rest of us weren’t any great shakes. To my astonishment she’d taken a shine to me, saying I reminded her of Robert Redford, and it was only weeks before she’d moved in, leaving her fifteen year old son and husband gnashing their teeth. Soon that slim brown body and her willingness to please had made every bedtime an exquisite experience.
 –
“Thank you for the lift,” I say. Lhamo has just dropped me off after theatre rehearsal – a pretentious ‘farce,’ written by our director, Maurice, entitled You Don’t Know My Mother! – saving me a bus fare. She’d seemed very friendly, smiling whenever I’d looked at her, until I’d felt a bit embarrassed. At the break she’d come and sat with me at the small theatre bar, drinking tea together.
“Where do you live John?” she asked. I noticed how white and straight her teeth were. Her skin is brown with a few light wrinkles. She’s not so young but still attractive.
“Oh, opposite the town centre. In one of those white flat-roofed houses. King’s Crescent. Do you know it?”
She smiled and her dark slanted eyes shone. “No, but I can give you a lift. I go that way.” She looked at me expectantly.
“All right.”
To my surprise, after dropping me off, she gets out of the car and walks along the path to my house with me. We don’t speak. We reach the front door. “Er, do you want to come in?” I ask, hoping she’ll say no. She seems a bit ‘odd.’
“No, I have to get back. I have to help Ahmed with his homework before bed.”
“Who’s Ahmed?”
“Ahmed, he’s my youngest son.” She pulls a photograph from her handbag and shows me a young Asian face, handsome even in the orange street light.
I make suitable noises. Then, “Thank you very much for the lift, I really appreciate it. I’ll see you next week then?”
She doesn’t speak, taking my arm and reaching up to kiss me quickly on the lips. Then she turns and walks back down the pathway without looking back, leaving me confused and wondering.
Six weeks later and I’m standing outside a staff entrance door at the back of a huge hospital complex. The year is 1996 and it’s late in the evening and dark, although there’s a street light nearby, casting an even white light. I feel nervous, wondering if I’m on camera. Then the door opens and Lhamo appears in a white coat, smiling and tossing her bob of chestnut-coloured hair. I relax and smile. It’s good to see her. She guides me through the door and down empty, echoing corridors. There are signs to departments I’ve never heard of – Nephrology, Oncology, Urology. Finally, we arrive at a tea room. A lady, dressed in a similar white coat looks up. Her name badge says Ann. She looks knowingly at Lhamo, then turns to me. “Hello, you must be John.”
I feel embarrassed but smile. “How did you guess?”
She laughs. “Lhamo said she was having someone to keep her company tonight. She said a few things about you ….”
Ann and Lhamo discuss work for a few minutes. They’re ‘on call,’ running any blood tests required overnight. They can sleep when there aren’t any. Tonight a baby is very ill and needs blood analysis. The nurses had a problem extracting any blood, then the machine doing the analysis went wrong. Operator error I surmise. They both look tired. They’re debating who’s going to phone the nurses to apologise and ask for fresh blood.
Finally Lhamo leads me through a sizeable laboratory, leaving Ann to smooth the ruffled feathers of the nursing staff. Surfaces are covered with test tubes and glass vessels of all shapes and sizes. Here and there stand large, strange machines. I’d like to ask her about them but she hurries ahead. Finally we come to an area with a sign, ‘On Call Suite,’ a grand name for a number of small rooms with an external kitchenette, shower and toilet.
Lhamo unlocks a door and leads me into her room. It’s small, cosy, like a room in a cheap hotel. There’s a single bed with a light on a bedside table. She turns it on and the room is illuminated with a warm yellow-white light. She faces me and takes off her white coat. I’m surprised. Underneath is nothing but soft, brown, yearning flesh.
 –
“Impressive, isn’t it, sir?” The Indian holds out the huge aubergine I’d been eying up outside his shop. “Only seventy five pence sir!”
I laugh, not wanting to lug vegetables around London, and tell him so.
“We’re open till 10 p.m. sir. You pick it up later!”
“Maybe.” I smile.
It’s September 2017, and I’m back in Drummond Street, just around the corner from Euston Station, inhaling the wonderful smell of curry that always envelopes the area. I pass other greengrocers, admiring the colourful displays of unrecognisable vegetables outside. Curious, I look at something resembling a bent white courgette, about 18 inches long. I wonder what it’s called and what strange land it comes from?
Passing two Indian restaurants I reach the Ambala Sweet Centre. I remember how Laura and I would buy boxes of delicious sweets there – made from condensed milk, coconut and suchlike, flavoured with spices. My mouth waters at the thought of gulab jamun, small cardamom syrup-soaked doughnuts. I ask myself why Indians aren’t enormously fat?
I walk a little further to Diwana Bhel Poori House. As usual, it’s packed, even though it’s only 7 p.m. I’d like to go in. But not on my own. I gaze through the window at the crowded tables where I’d sat with Laura and Lhamo. A waitress is serving plates of steaming dosas. A car drives past playing Michael Jackson on the radio – Bad.
Suddenly it seems like yesterday. I wonder where they are and what they are doing right now. I feel an ache in my guts, of nostalgia and loneliness.
I think of what might have been. Laura hadn’t wanted children, in fact had gone to quite extraordinary lengths not to have them. My mind refuses to go there. They’d be in their thirties now, doctors, architects perhaps? Incredible! Lhamo on the other hand longed for a daughter. I’d been more than happy to do my bit, but she hadn’t become pregnant. So no beautiful little coffee coloured girls running around our house in bright dresses, giggling and laughing. They’d be teenagers now, glued to their iPhones. More than likely rowing with us over ‘unsuitable’ boyfriends.
Maybe it’s better this way? I walk back down the road again. Thankfully my mood lifts. Never mind Laura, Lhamo and the rest of those damned women, I’m going to buy that aubergine!

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 160! 

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 400 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Also, I’m very pleased to announce that ‘the best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, and a short story, Bound in Morocco, are now both available as paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. Please see Shop in the menu above for full details.

A Baker’s Dozen of Favourites

bread

Here’s a list of personal favourites from my book To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories. Some are long, some are very short, some have been very popular with readers, others not, but they’re ones that, for whatever reason, I find I’m generally still happy to read.

Enjoy!

ADDENDA

For easy reference here are links to three non-fiction posts I published recently. They cover self-publishing, how to write flash fiction, and random tips on using WordPress.

EC was Here

eric clapton fretless bass

(750 words)

Profundity of expression wasn’t Brad’s strong point. “I don’t care if you don’t fucking believe me. Eric Clapton’s my mate and if I asked him to come and play here he’d fucking come and play here!”
Fred, the landlord of The Black Swan, coughed diplomatically. “Well I expect he’s a busy man.”
Brad ran a hand through his greasy, swept back grey-blond hair. “He’d still come and play – if I asked him to.”
“Bollocks!” said Billy, a large bald-headed man with tattoos down both muscled arms.
Brad looked daggers at Billy. I’d never noticed how much Brad looked like Dracula before. Give him a cape and the fangs and that look would have killed.
“All right, how much?” said Billy.
“What?”
“How much d’you wanna bet? I say you can’t get him. Five hundred?”
“I don’t want your fucking money!” snapped Brad.
“You bloody liar, you don’t know him at all!” laughed Billy.
“All right then, you’re on. I’ll give Fred five hundred quid tomorrow to look after. You do the same, OK?”
“All right,” said Billy. I’ll give you three months, till September. Eric Clapton to perform in this bar! Never!”
“I shouldn’t really allow betting,” said Fred.
“No-one’ll know if you don’t tell ‘em,” said Brad.
“All right,” said Fred, “just this once, as it’s Eric Clapton!” His eyes lit up at the thought of an interest free ‘loan’ of a thousand pounds.
So the weeks passed. There was a blackboard with the name of the musician or band playing that week. So far the letters ‘E.C.’ had been conspicuous by their absence. It was a touchy subject. Mention it to Brad and he was liable to fly off the handle or, at the least, return abuse. He’d been in the pop business for many years, once a kind of ‘pop star,’ now, long forgotten and unmissed, but a ‘mate’ of EC? The idea seemed preposterous.
Brad’s ‘squeeze,’ Jilly, likewise acted schtum. “I’m not saying anything. You’ll find out by the end of September,” she’d say, with an enigmatic smile and a shake of her curly red locks.
The second week of September I called in on Tuesday for the weekly pool match, on this occasion a home match against the ‘Tigresses,’ a ladies team from the curiously named Coach and Tiger in Thaxleby, an ‘easy’ match – in theory. With embarrassment I remembered our last meeting when the motley crew of elderly ladies had emerged victorious, their near eighty-year-old captain, Ada, winning the final game with a gloating expression on her wrinkled face, “Hard luck boys!”
Then my jaw dropped. The blackboard for the music that Friday indicated ‘Special Guest.’
Fred appeared. “D’you want a drink?”
“Is that who I think it is?!”
“Well, all I know is it’s Brad’s friend.” He raised his eyebrows.
Friday came and, burning with anticipation, I called in just before eight, surprised to find a meagre handful of patrons chatting and listening to an old man wearing a fedora, singing ‘I Walk the Line’ to an out-of-tune guitar. Lizzy, the barmaid smiled at me. “That’s Eric Clapton,” she said whilst pulling me a pint of Old Gravedigger.
“You’re joking!” I said.
“No, honestly, he showed everyone his birth certificate and driving licence, his name really is Eric Clapton!”
“Bloody Hell, what a swizz!”
“Just then Billy walked in. He took one look, then turned to Lizzy. “Get Fred in here, I’ll have my five hundred back!”
Brad appeared, having returned from the toilet. “I didn’t say it was the Eric Clapton did I?” he laughed. Jilly came over and hugged him. She turned to Billy. “No he never. He won that money fair and square!”
Brad and Billy stood a few feet apart, sizing each other up. ‘Eric’ had stopped playing and the bar was ominously quiet.
Fred appeared. “Calm down everyone. I’ve got someone else in to play.”
There was a gasp of amazement as a familiar figure strode through the door, carrying a worn hardshell guitar case and an amplifier. He put them on a table, adjusted his round glasses and ran a hand over his stubbly grey beard. “Hello everyone, just give me five minutes to set up. Fred’s asked me to start with Layla, I hope that’s OK?”
There was a cheer and more customers came through from the restaurant area. I turned to Fred. “I don’t believe it!”

He laughed, “It’s amazing who you can book for a thousand quid!”





Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 160! 
 –

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Also, I’m very pleased to announce that ‘the best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, and a short story, Bound in Morocco, are now both available as paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. Please see Shop in the menu above for full details.

One Year of My Blog: 20 Useful Tips!

 Screen Shot 2017-07-24 at 13.05.23

(4750 words approx.)

Well, my blog has been going publicly for exactly one year today, August 22nd! It’s been an interesting and thrilling journey, with huge thanks to all those who have read and/or liked and/or commented on my posts, and/or followed To Cut a Short Story Short!

When I started I never imagined having any followers, let alone over 250! Also, it didn’t seem like I’d ever get any comments, but I’ve since written over 200 replies on my blog, plus probably half as many again to comments on my posts on Community Pool and other blogs! As for publishing two books (see Shop) with material from my blog, well that was something I didn’t imagine in my wildest dreams!

Anyway, the point of this article is to give some tips, mainly fairly simple, based on my experience along the way. They’re kind of random, just things that I thought perhaps not everyone might know, and I’m on the free WordPress.com plan so they may not all be relevant, depending on your hosting/plan.

Contents 

(to return to this menu simply use your browser’s ‘back’ button.)

1

2

Comments

Community Pool!

3

Dashboard versus Desktop App

4

Drop Down Menus

5

Followers

6

Getting help

7

Indents, Fonts and ‘White Space’

8

Index/Contents pages

9

Internal Hyperlinks in WordPress Documents

10

11

Menus/Categories

Publishing Your Work in Paperback/eBook/Audiobook form

12

13

14

Removing Blank Lines etc.

Scheduling Links from Blogs You are Following

Scheduling Your Writing

15

16

Spam

Stopping ‘Self-Pings’

17

18

Tags

Uploading Multiple Images to Media Library

19

20

Widgets

Writing Matters!

1. Comments

I make it a rule to always reply to comments, or at the very least, to ‘like’ them if they are brief. I usually find the easiest way is to copy the comment from my original post or community pool etc. into a separate word processing document (‘blog comments’) including the poster’s name and the date. Then I find it easy to answer them all in that document in one go, and then to paste back into the post/Community Pool or whatever.

What I’ve found really useful, is by clicking the date hyperlink on their comment, it takes you directly to the post, whether on the blog, Community Pool or an external site! So it’s very quick to paste my responses in context. Alternatively they can be answered in the notifications area (click the bell symbol in the top right hand corner and choose ‘Comments’) but the text box there is small so you can’t see the whole post in one go. Also, I usually prefer to remind myself of the previous comments on a particular post when I’m answering the latest, in case I want to refer to one.

2. Community Pool

Well, if you are reading this on Community Pool, you don’t need me to tell you that it is a fantastic forum! I saw it recommended for quite a few weeks before having a look, then taking the plunge and posting. My follower, views and ‘like’ numbers leapt up almost immediately!

It’s a great place to post links to your work and get feedback on it. Also, there are hundreds of interesting posts to check out from other bloggers.

For maximum response I’ve found it pays to get on page one, which becomes live at 12.00 local Eastern time in the USA as far as I can tell. Recently they’ve taken to posting the new page at this time, but not opening comments until up to an hour or so later. I contacted the help-desk about both matters but couldn’t get a straight answer to either, unfortunately.

3. Dashboard vs. Desktop App

I’ve found that for some things I prefer to use the Dashboard and for others the downloadable WordPress App.

https://apps.wordpress.com/desktop/

It’s worth trying the same operation in each to see how you find them. As you likely know, the dashboard is reached by typing in your website name followed by /wp-admin. I’ve saved it as an icon on my browser page. Click on that and it takes me straight there.

I’ve found it handy when editing a post to have it open in both the browser AND the desktop app and to edit it in the latter. After making some changes that I wish to preview, I just ‘update’ the page, then switch to the browser and refresh the page displaying the post.

4. Drop Down Menus

After a while the page of posts gets cumbersome, even when selected under one category (see 11. menus/categories), so you might wish to incorporate a drop-down menu. These appear when you hover the cursor over the category in the menu (you can try this now on my menu at the top of the page).

To add posts manually (which you have to if you are on WordPress.com) you go to dashboard/appearance/menus then click on ‘add post to menu,’ check the relevant box and click ‘add.’ It then appears at the bottom of the menu structure.

You then have to drag it into position below the category in question. Then you drag it a little to the right. When the menu is updated it will then appear when the mouse is hovered over the category. This process can be a bit fiddly but you get used to it. To facilitate dragging into position when there are a lot of menu items I select full screen and then zoom out until the menu items are quite small.  

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 14.11.12

In my case the drop-down menus went off the screen, so I added some ‘dummy categories,’ A-D, E-H, for example and created sub-menus under each by dragging the posts further to the right. Then only the alphabetical categories pop up when you hover the cursor over the main category. You can see that in e.g. Longer Stories in my menu above. When you now move the cursor over the alphabetical categories the full menus of stories pop up.

Unfortunately, if you are on the free theme you can only have white backgrounds for drop down menus.

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 14.02.58

By this system you can easily locate any of the 160 posts on my blog from the menu along the top of every page.

Here’s a helpful video that explains the process in detail:

5. Followers

I like to keep track of my followers, as they have been good enough to take an interest in my blog! On WordPress.com there’s no easy way to do this and no way to print them out either.

When I get a new follower I get an e-mail notification so periodically I copy and paste the followers’ names into a spreadsheet, together with the date, and the most interesting-sounding of the three posts listed. That takes about a minute per follower.

Then the spreadsheet can be sorted by name or date and it’s simple to click on the post link to check out their blog at a later date.

Screen Shot 2017-07-24 at 12.12.59

If the follower number goes down (it does happen!) then to reconcile my spreadsheet with the figure on my blog, I go to ‘enhanced stats’ via dashboard/site stats (click on the Show Me button just below the date) and click on ‘followers’ in the top right hand corner. This list can be ‘zoomed’ in or out, unlike the app version. Then I go down the list versus my spreadsheet (set in descending date order) until I find the one(s) who’ve unfollowed. People sometimes change their account names, but you can match them from the date and there’s normally still a clue in the new name and/or their avatar. They are then moved to a separate spreadsheet. Sometimes they refollow at a later date. I don’t stress about the reasons for unfollowing!

6. Getting Help

In brief, I’ve found the quickest and easiest way to get help (on the free WordPress.com plan) is to e-mail ‘help@wordpress.com.’ A ‘Happiness Engineer’ will normally respond within 24 hours. If the answer isn’t particularly helpful (not unusual!) then another, hopefully more appropriate, answer is less than another 24 hours away! [But see section on displaying HTML in posts at end of this article.]

7. Indents, fonts and ‘white space.’

Normally I paste text into the editor from my word processor (Mac Pages ’09) after removing blank lines and new line codes via textmechanic. (Another way is just to paste it straight into HTML view.)

To get an indent of approx. 0.5 cm, I go into HTML view in the editor and add the following code at the beginning of the first paragraph of text:

< div style=”text-indent: 20px;” >

(there should be no space after the first and before the second angled brackets)

Then I go back to the Visual screen and go through the text, hitting ‘enter’ wherever I want a new paragraph i.e. indent. It will now automatically indent the text at that point. I haven’t found an easier way as yet, despite some spurious ‘advice’ from the help-desk! (Seems like you have to be on a paid plan to do it via CSS).

https://www.hscripts.com/tutorials/css/text-indent.php

Fonts: In the customizer select a nice clear font for your display text and be sure to include some ‘white space,’ i.e. blank lines. I’ve seen blogs with huge paragraphs of unbroken text that are just too hard to read, unfortunately. I use Cinzel for headings and Lora for display, both ‘regular.’

Creating blank lines can be a problem. If there’s a blank line in the editor but not in the preview (not uncommon!) then you can go to HTML and delete any superfluous < div > symbols, or just put a period or dash in the text and colour it white with the text colour tool in the menu. This latter method has the disadvantage that the dashes/periods will appear in black under certain circumstances, e.g. when printing and in the WordPress Reader.

Incidentally, if you don’t want a blank line inserted in the WordPress editor when you press Enter, then use Shift-Enter. (That also works in Facebook, Whatsapp etc. to force a new line instead of sending.)

8. Index and Contents pages

If you want to go a step further than just a menu you could create separate pages for index and/or contents lists. I do this by having spreadsheets of the entries and periodically copying these into the blog pages, having added the latest stories/articles.

Once the page is uploaded I might edit it before the next update, e.g. remove ‘scheduled’ from scheduled posts, add a link etc., so to make sure I have the latest version in my spreadsheet before updating the next time, I copy it from the web page (in edit mode) back into the spreadsheet.

What I found was that to copy from the blog page into my spreadsheet (Numbers ’09) – in order to incorporate any online changes I made – I have to do this from the browser (I use Firefox), one column at a time. To paste back into the page I have to use the desktop app. Then I simply erase the old table from the index or contents page and paste in the new spreadsheet table to replace it.

I have found issues with copying and pasting WordPress that didn’t used to exist – for me, anyway – so to enable some copying and pasting within WordPress using Firefox I have to do the following:

In a Firefox tab, type ‘about:config,’ accept the warning, then in the search box type ‘dom.event’ From the few that come up select ‘dom.event.clipboardevents.enabled’ and toggle the value to false by double clicking. I don’t find it necessary to restart the browser, it works straight away. Then I can copy and paste from one post to another with e.g. coloured text, links enabled etc. When I’ve finished I toggle the value back to ‘true’ and close the tab. Otherwise I can’t copy and paste to e.g. Facebook. Problems, problems ….

9. Internal hyperlinks

In this article I listed all the ‘tip’ subjects at the top (under Contents) and set links to jump straight to them. So internal hyperlinks can be pretty useful!

Creating an internal hyperlink in a WordPress document is not completely straightforward, but is quite easy once you’ve done it a few times. The process involves going to the point you want to jump TO and typing an ‘id’ into an HTML tag. Then, in the normal Visual view, you set a hyperlink from the point where you want to jump FROM.

The link below explains the process well, but I’ll give an example. In my contents list I have an item – Widgets. So in HTML view I locate the header for that item. It is a level 3 header so it will be in the form of:

< h3>Widgets</h3 >

Then it is modified to:

< h3 id=”widgets”>Widgets</h3 >

(there should be no space after the first and before the last angled brackets)

Note that I could have named the id, “Fred” or anything I wanted, but here “widgets” seemed sensible!

Then I go to Widgets in the contents list at the top and in the usual Visual view I double click the word Widgets and then click the link symbol. Then in the URL box I type a hash symbol, followed by the ‘id’ I wish to jump to, in this case #widgets. Now once the page is updated and previewed, clicking Widgets in the contents list jumps straight to the relevant paragraph. Neat!

https://www.wendycholbi.com/anchor-links-jump-links/

10. Menus/categories

When I look at other blogs I usually have two questions. What is the blog about and what is actually on it? Often it is by no means obvious! Sometimes it’s just a long page of posts of indeterminate length and you even have to scroll through them to find the titles, they’re not listed elsewhere.

So, ‘What is the blog about?’ is easy, just have an informative ‘about’ page and an obvious link to that page. You can set it to be the Front Page (via the customizer), so that people land on it when they go to your blog. And clicking the header in any page takes you there too.

‘What is actually on the blog?’ is more complex but I’d recommend at the very least you install the ‘recent posts’ widget.

The main menu in my theme (Sela) appears across the top and I was able to add pages and categories to it via dashboard/appearance/menus. You could add posts to the menu but it would quickly fill up the menu bar.

So every post is assigned one or more categories, and will then be listed in chronological order when someone clicks on that category in the menu. In my case, for the most part I chose length of story e.g. ‘longer stories’ but you might choose travel, food, humour or whatever.

For a more sophisticated approach see 5. Drop down Menus

11. Publishing your work in paperback/eBook/audiobook form.

I wrote quite a comprehensive article about this recently. Basically, if you have 5000 words or more (50,000 plus is good) of decent content, then you can compile it into a document and upload it to Kindle Direct Publishing, where you can also design a cover. The process is pretty straightforward, very flexible, and ‘free.’ The cost of printing a paperback comes out of your 60% royalty when sold. Your book/eBook appears on Amazon worldwide within a day or so! The article also covers audiobook production.

https://simonjwood.wordpress.com/2017/07/08/publishing-the-best-of-your-blog-is-as-easy-as-1-2-3/

12. Removing Blank Lines etc.

When posting from my word processor (Mac Pages ’09) to the WordPress editor, new paragraphs are represented by blank lines instead of indents. Occasionally it doesn’t matter but it usually does.

There’s a useful site, textmechanic.com, where you paste your text, click on ‘remove empty lines,’ then paste it into WordPress. It strips all the code responsible for generating blank lines in WordPress, as well as empty lines.

It also strips italics so they have to be put back in manually (as well as any blank lines actually required) and I indent the paragraphs as described in ‘indenting text‘ above.

There are many other useful text tools on the site.

http://textmechanic.com/text-tools/basic-text-tools/remove-empty-lines/

13. Scheduling posts from blogs you are following

If you don’t want to receive notifications about new posts ‘as and when,’ you can arrange a delivery window to receive them. Firstly, go to the Reader, then click Manage under Followed Sites. Then click Settings on your followed sites and decide how you want to receive e-mail notifications from each of them – instantly, daily or weekly, or turn them off.

Then click on the little avatar symbol to the left of the notifications symbol at the top right of the screen. Then click Notification Settings/Reader Subscriptions. You can now set a day/time slot to receive scheduled notifications.

14. Scheduling your writing

Some people like to publish posts whenever they feel like it, whereas others prefer to schedule. I’ve come to definitely prefer the latter, with maybe an extra post on special days such as Christmas Day or Valentine’s Day. I think a weekly schedule is best but to push myself a bit I schedule every five days. Nearly always between 12.00 and 13.00 local time.

It’s useful to have a time chart of different time zones handy so you know what time it is around the world. In my naivety I thought I would just get views from Britain and maybe the USA, I had no idea how truly international WordPress is and I’ve had views from places as far-flung as Azerbaijan, Gambia and Papua New Guinea!

The dashboard has a nice view of scheduled posts on the home page and it’s very easy to edit the scheduled time and category via dashboard/posts and the ‘Quick Edit’ buttons that appear under the post names.

To facilitate scheduling and writing generally, I keep a ‘writing assignments list’ on the wall by my desk, sorted into descending date order, which I update and print every couple of days or so. That way I can be sure to start on a story/article in good time. I nowadays always try to finish something with a few days to spare, then work on something else in the meantime, before coming back to finalize the former. Then I can see it with much fresher eyes and improvements/corrections usually leap out at me!

 –

15. Spam

Askimet seems good and I only once had a problem with Spam. The answer was to check the boxes for ‘Comment author must fill out name …’ and ‘Users must be registered …’ as shown in the screenshot below under ‘Other comment settings.’ I’ve only had once since. At least I think it was Spam …!

Screen Shot 2017-07-22 at 21.32.09

16. Stopping ‘self-pings’

If you publish a post that contains links to another of your posts, you are likely to get e-mails alerting you to ‘ping-backs.’ I used to publish my index as a post and I would get over 100 e-mails, and on my phone too! The solution is to uncheck ‘Attempt to notify any blogs linked to from the article,’ as shown above under ‘Default article settings.’

17. Tagging

Any post can have up to 15 tags and categories in total (more than that and it won’t be displayed in the Reader). If you go to the Reader, click on Search and type in some tags (in the desktop app you can type them directly) you can get a feel for how quickly a tag’s ‘timeline’ moves from the times/dates on the posts. So ‘creative writing,’ for example, is a fast-moving stream with a lot of viewers, whereas ‘curious fiction’ has hardly any posts other than my own! I aim for a mix of fast and slow-moving streams. If you tag a post ‘creative writing,’ for example, you are likely to get a quick burst of views, than that’ll be it!

Now, when you publish a post, any follower who has subscribed to e-mail alerts will see either an extract from your post or the full post (depending on your settings in dashboard/settings/reading/‘for each article in a feed …’). This is followed by a list of your tags. If you’re showing just an excerpt, then a lot of space can be taken up by the tags and there’s less room for the excerpt. Also, who wants people to see all your tags? I don’t.

I couldn’t find any way NOT to display them, but found a simple ‘workaround.’ You simply wait until the post is published THEN, after receiving e-mail confirmation of this, add the tags. I go into dashboard/posts and simply copy tags from a similar previous post, perhaps amending a couple. Or you can paste them into a blank document or e-mail, edit them and paste them back in. To see the tags make sure they are enabled in Screen Options via the button at the top right.

Personally I prefer to have excerpts displayed in the e-mail. Otherwise people have no need to visit the blog and so won’t see the nice formatting and picture 🙂

18. Uploading Multiple Images to Media Library

It can be a chore doing this singly. I’ve found I can get a bunch of images (usually from Google Images or Pixabay) and upload them in one go. First I save them in a folder called ‘images.’ Then I go to dashboard/media/library and click ‘add new’ at the top. Then in the window that opens up (with the dotted line around it) I click on Select Files, highlight all the ones I wish to upload (shift and click, or command click if non-contiguous) and then click Open.

Other routes to upload images I’ve tried don’t seem to allow more than one at a time.

It takes a little while for all the images to upload but if you’ve got something else to do in the meantime I find this the better method.

19. Widgets

On WordPress.com we don’t have access to the wonderful world of plug-ins available to self-hosted sites, but some of the widgets available are pretty useful. As mentioned above, the ‘recent posts’ one is great. Anyone looking at the blog can instantly see and click on the list, although of course it doesn’t indicate what the post is about (if it’s not obvious from the title) nor its length. Widgets are selectable via the customizer.

My theme is Sela, which is free. I’ve looked at all the widgets available to me and the ones I use are as follows:

Translate. I’ve no proof as to whether anyone has ever used this but it translates everything, even the comments! Of course, it’s not perfect, but I’m sure it could be helpful and it’s quite fun to see your blog in some weird and wonderful language! Also very useful if you are actually learning a language!

Custom Menu. I set links to my About and Contact pages. The About page can always be reached by clicking the header, but just in case people don’t know that …

Search. self-explanatory.

Recent Posts. I set this to 14 posts and entitled it ‘Posts Published in the Last Ten Weeks’ (as I post every five days).

Archives. A drop down box that enables readers to select posts by month. Entitled ‘Older Posts.’

Top Posts and Pages. I ordered this by ‘likes’ and displayed it as an image grid. I think this looks very nice on the page and invites visitors to click on the images.

Follow Button. There are a few ways for people to sign up to follow a blog. This one seems very simple. It’s a blue button which also indicates the current number of followers (if selected). Click on it and you are asked to confirm, then you are signed up. You receive an e-mail about any new posts, unless you unsubscribe from e-mail notifications. (You can always view the posts in the Reader anyway. Just click on ‘Followed Sites.’)

One thing I found is that if you are a follower (I follow my own blog too) and you click on the button again (‘to see what will happen’!) you are unsubscribed, without any request for confirmation in my own case!

My Community. This is great! I have three of these on my blog. It displays a grid of avatars of those who have liked, followed or commented on the blog. I have one under the follower button, set to display followers only, then two in the footer, set to display ‘likers’ and ‘commenters.’ The first two show 50 avatars and the latter shows a smaller number, chosen from recent commentators. My favourite widget!

Recent Comments. This displays the avatar of the commenter together with their name and the post commented on. It doesn’t give any of the comment itself but clicking on the post name takes you directly to the comment in question.

Tag Cloud. This displays all the tags you have used on your posts. The more often they’ve been used, the larger the font. Click on any tag in the ‘cloud’ and it takes you to a page with all thus-tagged posts on it. You can set the maximum number of tags and also exclude any you don’t want displayed.

20. Writing Matters!

Well, I sincerely hope you found some of the above information to be useful. To round off the article, here are a few miscellaneous remarks about writing content, whether fiction or non-fiction.

Writing: I published an article, Flash Fiction Matters, which details how I wrote the stories on my blog and includes links to a number of useful books and websites.

Dictation/screen readers: I haven’t explored dictation myself as yet, but I have found it useful to use a screen reader to read my posts aloud. Then if there are any ‘typos’ I’ve missed it’s easy to spot them. Also, despite its limitations, it does also help to find unnatural sounding dialogue. My MacBook has quite a number of voices/accents available, or there are online resources too.

Touch typing: If you are using the ‘hunt and peck’ system of typing then I can’t recommend learning to touch type highly enough. That way any thoughts/ideas can be transmitted directly to the screen without the ‘barrier’ of having to find the letters first. It only takes a few weeks and will save countless hours in the future!

Timer: I have personally found a timer very useful for writing. I set it to 20 minutes and get up and walk around for a few seconds when it goes off. After three 20 minute sessions I’ll take a 15 minute break if I’m going to do any more writing. Of course, you stop the timer if going to the loo, hunting for ink cartridges etc.!

Displaying HTML code in posts: Well, this was a hard one! I’ve tried everything I could find online and also e-mailed the ‘help-desk.’ They sent one reply that didn’t work and haven’t yet replied to my response, and it’s  OVER THREE WEEKS since I originally wrote to them. VERY disappointing service in this instance.

The problem is that if you display HTML code in your post and switch to the HTML view for whatever reason, then the code is implemented when you switch back to Visual, changing its appearance. You can write it normally as long as you DON’T switch to HTML view before publishing. The usual advice is to use ‘code’ tags but that doesn’t work here. So where I’ve used code in the sections above, I’ve put a space after the angled bracket and an instruction to ignore the space when actually using the code. I’d be most grateful if anyone reading this could let me know how to display HTML in WordPress posts that doesn’t change when switching between Visual and HTML views!

 

Here’s a link to a blog post I wrote right at the very beginning. It makes interesting reading now!

https://simonjwood.wordpress.com/2016/08/24/onwards-and-upwards/

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 160! 

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Also, I’m very pleased to announce that ‘the best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, and a short story, Bound in Morocco, are now both available as paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. Please see Shop in the menu above for full details.