Flash fiction – Homeward bound

Time for another flash fiction effort with the Friday fictioneers, hosted by the lovely Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Here is the picture prompt:

Dhow in harbour

PHOTO PROMPT © Fatima Fakier Deria

They stop on the bridge looking down over the harbour. She grips the railings like she might jump. Next to her, he touches a finger to his lips. ‘Salt,’ he says.

‘Which boat would you choose, if you could, to go home in?’ Her voice is dreamy.

He’s thinking of moules et frites in the little café not two hundred yards away. ‘Home?’ It’s almost a foreign word.

‘Yes. Not that one with the cracked keel; it wouldn’t even make it across the Mediterranean. But, oh, look!’ She’s jumping up and down.

He follows her finger.

‘The dhow,’ she says. ‘Of course! What better boat to sail back to Africa!’


If you’d like to write your own 100-word story, click here for more information, or to read other peoples’ stories, click here.








Friday fictioneers – His house

Old houses

PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

‘This is your house?’ she says. She’s not imagined something so large, so sprawling hiding among London’s crowded streets.

He nods, and a muscle in his jaw twitches beneath the shaving cut she’s sure he won’t want her to notice.

‘What wonderful parties we can hold!’ she says, hands outstretched, as if already reaching for a cocktail glass. No matter that she has no friends yet. She will make some; for what else could a house such as this be built?

‘Parties? Goodness, no.’ His hand grips the gate, rattles at a lock she hasn’t noticed. ‘That’s what this is for: to keep my wife in and everyone else out.’


If you’d like to have a go at writing your own 100 word story, click here. And if you’d like to read other people’s take on the picture, click here.

In praise of libraries

I heard from an old colleague last week. While we were both still at what many of its staff called “the Mothership”, we occasionally used to pass a slow morning discussing what we intended to do in our next lives. I wanted to write and she wanted to read. ‘All day, on a chaise longue,’ she’d say. ‘A yellow velvet one, under an open window, with a tree right outside.’ Although we agreed that yellow, at least where velvet was concerned, probably wasn’t the most practical colour, she was immovable on the idea of the piece of furniture itself. We also agreed that I probably wouldn’t ever make a living as a creative writer just as she was unlikely to pay the bills from horizontal on a peculiarly decorative sofa. However, I hoped I might be able to supplement stewing over novels and poetry with freelance writing, while she thought that working in a library or bookshop were appealing ideas.

Some years later, after we’d both left, she emailed me a picture of a chaise longue in a sort of dark mustard colour (much more attractive than it sounds). ‘This is mine,’ she wrote. ‘I like to lie here and read when I get home from the library.’ Actually, I don’t suppose she did as much lying and reading as she’d planned; anyone who reckons small children are conducive to that sort of relaxation is either lying or delusional. Anyway, she loved that library.

She worked hard at it too. The hours varied over a fortnightly shift pattern – an all too common childcare challenge – and some nights she was still there long after her children’s bedtime. However the variety, she said, made it worth it. It wasn’t just book-shelving, issuing fines and checking out books; it was recommending titles, writing reviews for the library’s blog, running story time, dressing up for special events, organising computer classes, art classes, a writing workshop……a whole series of activities designed to help a community function as both a cohesive whole and a group of individuals.

Lonely people came to chat, new mothers turned up to drink coffee, to cry and to make new friends under the safe pretence that their six-week old needed to learn both words and actions to We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, students used the large, well-lit tables as a study base and job-seekers wrestled with the Sisyphean requirements of the DWP on the public computers. I’m sure they were all welcomed with a smile.

I’m a library-lover myself. I can’t remember my first visit (to the large stone Birkenhead Central Library, grand as any stately home – and now under on-going threat of closure) but I know the early years of story time soon segued into hours reading everything the children’s library had to offer. An omnivorous reader, I made little distinction between classic, contemporary and even, oh the horror, American high school stories (hello Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High). The joy, though, of being given an adult library card! Suddenly I could take out eight books rather than four, and I did so every week. Even now, almost thirty years later, I can still remember some of the books and authors I first discovered in that huge curved room of other worlds. There was Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel, Dora Shafe’s Miss Read novels, Violette Szabo in Carve Her Name With Pride (which led me  on to read an entire shelf on the Special Operations Executive), David Attenborough’s Zoo Quest; the list, truly, is too long for a single blog post.

My library use at university was more utilitarian but, one day, breaking away from the law library, I went to the section of the Stacks used by the English department, and discovered that Sylvia Plath had written diaries – and they had actually been published! I read and I read.

Then came the ancient and beautiful library of the Inner Temple, the well-resourced libraries of a City law firm and, by now accompanied by a squirming, often screaming and always sleepless infant, the surprising spaces of the Barbican library. I loved them all in their own ways.

Nowadays I spend a good deal of my leisure time at my current local library: Winchester’s Discovery Centre. Note the name. Library is no longer good enough in this multi-purpose age of ours. Libraries have to be about more than books and, indeed, mine manages this with consummate skill.  Not only do my children and I read its books, we go to plays and concerts there, we attend workshops and exhibitions, and eat in its café. One of the highlights of my month is Winchester’s Loose Muse poetry night, run by the esteemable Sue Wrinch, where I’ve had the good fortune to hear Liz Berry, Jo Bell, Kim Moore and Sarah Howe amongst many equally talented others. There’s also the Winchester Poetry Festival, which makes good use of the library building. We would all be so much the poorer without our library.

And my friend, my old colleague, feels the same about her library, which now faces closure. The only way it seems some vestige of it can be saved for its community is for all the staff to lose their jobs and their positions to be replaced by volunteers. To say my friend is sad is too simplistic. She wants to keep her job – needs it – but she wants the library too.

I don’t want to get into the political side of this. I could say a lot about how I feel about the voluntary sector stepping in to cover what the State once assumed responsibility for but I shan’t. It’s not fair to my friend, to her library or her community. I hope they find a solution that works for as many people as possible. A library is too important to be lost.

Friday fictioneers – After tea


Please forgive me the second blog post of the day; I’m on something of a roll. This piece for Rochelle Wisoff-Fields’ Friday fictioneers was (once again) inspired by the novel I’m currently writing. The following picture is the prompt. And isn’t it beautiful?


© Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

He was leaning back, yawning and kicking his heels against the chair legs. Her eyes detached him easily, away from the crowd of chattering parents and girls, the cucumber sandwiches and the half-drunk cups of tea.

Outside, behind the tea tent, they high-stepped its guy ropes to reach the line of stacked hay bales. ‘We were told not to go beyond these,’ she said, already scrambling up.

When he dropped down beside her, his eyes were restless and his face no longer ruddy.

‘Don’t worry! Who is there to see?’ she said, looking up at the sky and laughing. ‘There’s only God and He won’t tell.’


If you’d like to have a go at writing your own 100 word story inspired by the picture, click here, or here to read other people’s.



Of Birds and Beasts

A tourist stopped me the other day. I was hurrying along the high street, congratulating myself for being on a World Book Day trawl of the local charity and haberdashery shops a full three days before my children were expecting to pitch up at school as Pippi Longstocking and Just William (their school’s theme: books that have stood the test of time). The woman looked at me over the top of her guide book. ‘Can you help me?’ she said.

            I glanced to my left and prepared myself not be the least bit patronising or sarcastic when explaining that, yes, the cathedral really is just behind Debenhams.

            ‘This is my third day here,’ she said, forestalling me. ‘I’ve seen the cathedral, the Bishop’s palace, the Round Table, the museums and the College. Is there anything else? My train isn’t until three.’

            Out of the corner of my eye a pigeon, its wings hunched around its head, shuffled sideways along a window ledge. It had to be my imagination but it seemed to be moving away from a small pile of grey and white feathers. Perhaps they were the remnants of a nest, thought it was still early, even for pigeons, or perhaps…..

            ‘Peregrines,’ I said. The name came from nowhere. If I’d thought it before speaking, I wouldn’t have said it at all. ‘At the cathedral.’

            But the woman with the guidebook took a step forward. ‘Really? Here?’

            ‘Oh yes.’ Forgetting about pipe cleaners and school caps, I said, ‘There’s a few of them about. One pair used to nest on the old police headquarters on Romsey Road, opposite the hospital but were relocated before the building was demolished. The site’s being developed for houses now, you see.’

            She raised her eyebrows. ‘And the peregrines? They’ve moved them to the cathedral?’

            ‘I’m not sure they moved them exactly but you can see them flying above it sometimes.’

            She grinned, and dropped the guidebook into the canvas shopper bag over her shoulder. ‘I’ll go there now,’ she said. ‘I might be lucky.’

            I nodded. ‘I hope you are.’

            After she’d gone, I thought about the other creatures I could have told her about.  There are the otters at the City Mill and, in particular, the one that my daughter, then aged two and somewhat zoologically challenged, misidentified as a lion. There are the water voles in that stretch of the Itchen where it flows through the water meadows that border Winchester College, the roe deer and kingfishers at Winnall Moors, and the mallard who, one spring, led her ducklings not from one river to another but to the Butter Cross, favourite meeting place of generations of teenagers. To the amusement and bemusement of shoppers, the family circled the monument just as if they might have swum around a pond. They stayed long enough to get their picture in the local paper until someone at last guided them towards the nearest water. And then there’s my current favourite: the thousands of starlings that mass at twilight in great stormy-grey clouds in the neon-lit skies above the Tesco superstore.

            Back on my shopping quest, I thought how even though my city might be England’s ancient capital, famous for its Roman heritage, for its cathedral with the longest nave of any European Gothic cathedral, for Alfred and his cakes and Arthur and his knights, I know it best through its birds and its beasts. And I like that.