129. A Nata and a Natter

A #ShortStorySeptember tale for a new year. Freshly sharpened pencils, new notebooks and all that. It’s also for anyone embarking on a brand new life at University or emerging, blinking in the light, from their cocoon as Lockdown opens up.

I thought a black coffee would be the cheapest, and as it was a universally unquestioned drink, I would always have a legitimate and innocent reason why I didn’t know the difference between a latte and a cortado. But why did the barista give me a little bowl of candy floss? 

Mum was right, £12 a day wasn’t nearly enough for food. Getting into a good school was one thing, actually being accepted beyond a pity pet project was another. I’d noticed every small detail between us. I’d read the books and seen the films, but some considered my life still to belong below stairs. I couldn’t absorb, only observe. If I bought the same bag it wouldn’t have the rich patina of their experiences. How could I possibly know if I had “summered well”? At least my nickname of ‘Tom Ripley’ hadn’t followed me here. Well, not yet, but it’s a small world.

The waitress in me made me sit at a table for two, and I faced the door, so my new friend could see me when she entered. I watched her through the window as she embraced each of the couple in turn then smothered their baby in mwah mwahs. Then she looked up and waved at me. The bell above the door of the coffee shop dinged as she entered.

“Sorry I’m late. I bumped into some old friends and got chatting. You know how it is. They have the fattest, most edible baby I’ve ever seen. Anyway, Happy Birthday!”

She unravelled herself from her hand knitted, cashmere scarf, then peeled off various layers until she was down to a t-shirt and a pair of cords. I wished I’d picked a bigger table. She piled her coat, scarf and jumper onto her chair and then fumbled around in her bag for her purse. I spotted a small turquoise box wrapped with white ribbon in her bag.

Photo by tommao wang on Unsplash

Her necklace cost more than my rent, her watch worth more than my car. A shabby leather strap on a vintage Omega. Two Cartier Love bangles jangled on her wrist, and although she once claimed they were fakes, I very much doubted that was true.

“Is it me or is it hot in here? Do you want anything? Ooh, they do those little Portuguese custard tarts in here that I like.” she said while fanning her face. She stuck out her chin and tried to blow air upwards towards her hairline.

“Could you get me some sugar please?” I said.

She cocked her head, raised her eyebrows and studied me for a second. Then she pinched a bit of the pink candyfloss and popped it into her mouth. Clawing up the rest of the nest, she dumped it into my cup. It dissolved immediately to nothing.

I looked up to see her perfect, high ponytail flick a spin. Her dancer’s body turned first, then her head. Muscle memory.


SHORT STORY SEPTEMBER FESTIVAL

I’m dead chuffed to be part of the Short Story September Festival event on Saturday 25th September 2021. Although I won’t be reading, I am part of the ‘A Brief Pause’ Writers Showcase, and have a short story included in the anthology, ‘Small Good Things’, which is published by Dahlia Books on the same day. You can order it here.

Tickets to the event are available here.

Dangles a carrot of a 2-hour Kathy Fish flash fiction workshop.

It’s an odd feeling (pride, fear, gratitude), just before a story is released into the world. I know every word so well, the plot inside out. It’s finished, tidied, polished with a bow on top and now out of my hands or control. If you want to read a bit more about how I was inspired to write my weird fairy tale, then click here.

Here’s one of my favourite songs. ‘Maps’ by Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs. It’s been viewed over 69 million times on youtube and I just love Karen’s vibe in it.

Do you have an artificial friend? If so, then you may like this book. I did.

Modern sc-fi (like ‘Black Mirror’ or ‘Never let Me Go’) is one of my little obsessions in life.

Dahlia Books Short Fiction Festival Weekend – 12 and 13 June 2021

The Short Fiction Festival Weekend, hosted by Dahlia Books, is a celebration of the short form, featuring writing workshops, author discussions and networking.

Led by some of the A Brief Pause tutors, the weekend is the ultimate retreat for anyone looking to master the short form.

Click here to find out more and to buy your ticket!


If you’re quick, you can still grab a ticket for an online reading and author talk with none other than Kathy Fish, queen of all things Flash Fiction, hosted by Dahlia Books. Click here for tickets.


Fancy putting some of that workshop knowledge to good use? Why not enter one of your own pieces of short fiction into the Leicester Writes annual competition or submit it to a new PAYING literary magazine called A Present Tense.


One of the positives to come out of the recent lockdown is the online festival and I think it’s here to stay. It’s perfectly suited towards all things bookish. I can honestly say that I’ve attended more virtual author talks, book launches, panel discussions, webinars and writing classes in the last year than the rest of my life combined. There was no rugby scrum for tickets, I didn’t need to book a train ticket or worry about it being cancelled due to the weather. I was able to ‘go to it’ even though the event was held in another country or I was feeling unwell. I didn’t need to find someone to go with, because everyone who attended was on their own. I have interacted with high profile authors in masterclass settings whilst still in my pyjamas. Delegates and Tutors have Zoomed in from all over the world, all coming together to learn, share their knowledge and network. I’ve felt safe, knowing that disruptive people would be booted out (Jackie Weaver style). Spoiler, I’ve never yet attended a Zoom class where anyone has been unfriendly or rude. I’ve found it a much more comfortable setting to learn, and think that these classes foster a sense of intimacy and community from the start.

126. The Aspiration Project on Colony IV


Photo by Sarah Dorweiler on Unsplash

Gemma poked her thumbs through the holes in her sleeve cuffs, then crossed her arms over her chest. Mum said she could sulk and regret it, or make the most of the few days they had left together. If she wanted to be taken seriously and be treated like an adult, then now was the time to start, and to try to appreciate that difficult decisions weren’t taken lightly. Gemma couldn’t understand why Laura had picked that stupid, greasy, lanky boy over her own sister. It wasn’t fair. Dad was dead. Laura was leaving. Every penny they had went on Mum’s medicine, and it wouldn’t be long before Gemma was on her own. At least she’d get to keep most of Laura’s clothes, including the jumper she had on. She looked at the fabric composition label. 60% Recycled Polypropylene. 35% Recycled Acrylic. 4% Recycled Viscose.1% Reclaimed Wool. Almost everything she had ever owned was second hand, vintage, hand-me-down, used, pre-loved. Clothes, toys, books. Colony IV was brand new. Laura would get her own apartment, and everything in it would be straight from the factory. She imagined how Laura would peel off the plastic wrapping from the front door and it would make a sucking sound as it opened. Shiny, clean and white. New intakes always moved into a hermetically sealed zone for the first two years, so they could acclimatise and be monitored for disease. All those teenagers. Taking classes together. Being trained for something important. Good food and free medical treatment. 


Early Colonisers had worked hard to set up The Aspiration Project, and reliable fresh air was a real thing now. There were enough trees growing to make it a renewable resource. She’d heard that people could run outside – on purpose – and were still able to breathe! It sounded amazing. No wonder she felt so jealous. Mum said that she would get her chance soon to apply and to not give up, and that everyone has to make the best life they can with what they’re given.


Laura’s Fare Well Event was in nine days time, and then she would be allowed only five minutes worth of video calls during the rest of her life. Due to the physics of space travel, it would take Laura six months to reach Colony IV, by which time, Gemma would have aged eighteen years. She doubted that Laura would care enough to ever call her again, and that she would sell her video slots to other people who were actually going to miss their families. But there was always the small chance that some time in the future, Laura would contact her. Gemma might even recognise her on one of those Colony documentary shows.


What neither of them knew, or the majority of people on that dying planet would ever know, was that the voyage Laura and her boyfriend were about to take, was not to The Aspiration Project on Colony IV, but to a human recycling plant. Those who actually got to go to one of the Colonies were not the most fertile, physically strong or genetically healthy specimens like the adverts showed. Prime humans at the start of their adulthood were not living their best lives on Colony IV or any other Colony for that matter. Colony IV was designed as a hospice paradise for in-bred, sickly offspring of legacy investors and their extended families. All of the spaces were always going to be permanently reserved for those who could afford it. But to avoid any hint of a rebellion or civil unrest, the lottery for tickets had to be seen to be a fair system for everyone. People cannot be allowed to give up hope.

Photo by Ryunosuke Kikuno on Unsplash

One of the benefits of lockdown is that I have been able to attend creative writing classes on Zoom and continue to work full-time from home. If I was still commuting, I would not have had the time to travel to different locations for classes.

The above short fiction was written to a Science Fiction brief in an ‘Investigating Genre’ class run by InspireCulture.org.uk


JOIN ME ONLINE!

As part of my professional development short story writers group A Brief Pause I am doing a “tight three minute’ reading on Tuesday 27th April 2021 at just after 19:00 BST, as part of their new short story reading series. This monthly space is for writers, readers and publishers to listen to and discuss short stories.

Click here for a link to the Eventbrite ticketing page.

UPDATE- Me doing my reading!