Publication! At last!

This is neither a story nor an entry in Stickybeak’s Lexicon.


It’s a good old fashioned slap on the back for…


I’ve had a flash fiction story accepted by a literary journal. I know many of my regular visitors have had similar success, but this is my first time, so I’m thrilled. Please join me in (not actually in, we’d get wet) a glass of champagne.

Champagne Celebration


(There’s juice over there if you prefer).

I’ll let you know when it appears, but in the meantime you might like to have a look at Flashquake. They have terribly good taste in writing. Apparently.

P.s. Does this make me a writer now?


‘Turning Worms’. A new flash fiction. #fridayflash

I’m going off piste, as it were, this week, and using a photo prompt. This is the first time I’ve used a promt suggested by someone else, so I’d be interested to hear what you make of it.

My thanks to Icy Sedgewick of Icy’s Blunt Pencil for the lovely photo. Icy’s blog is a cornucopia of wonderful stories, writing tips and, of course, great photography. If you have a moment, having read this first, pop on over.


Turning Worms

He was there when I started this morning, watching imperiously from the fence post, eyes shining like beads on my Grandmother’s jet necklace. Two dark mirrors reflecting the garden in miniature; I’d have seen myself, covered in soil most likely, if he’d come any closer. They say they’re the gardener’s friend, robins, don’t they? Happy to sit on your spade or hand, although I’ve never been able to persuade them. John could, of course; John could do everything.

They like to sit and wait for worms, which rather discounts the theory that there’s no such thing as a free lunch; not that that applies to birds. In any case, there must be enough food down there to burst his fluffy little tummy; but this one hasn’t shown much interest.

In fact, I don’t think he left that fence all afternoon, even when I went in for lunch. I watched him from the kitchen whilst I had my sandwich; he never once flew down to the hole to pick up a worm. Maybe he’s, you know, a bit deficient; slow, if you like. (Is that allowed these days? Or is it ‘learning difficulties’?)

 It’s not right though, the way he sits there, staring, like he’s passing judgement or something. But he can’t know, can he?

Anyway, it’s almost six and I think the hole’s big enough. I’ve given it a couple of extra inches at each end, just in case, but he’ll definitely fit. Whatever John might have told anyone, he was five-eleven. In his shoes. (He was never satisfied; certainly not with me.)  I’ll drag him down later, when the light’s gone. It had better be tonight: he’s beginning to pong a bit and I don’t want the neighbours talking.


I’ve just been down to check the sides are holding; they are. It’s clay soil you see. “Good for nothing”, John used to say. Not bad for holes though, even big ones.

He was still there, even in the dusk, staring with those inky eyes of his; first at the hole, then at me. Gave me the shivers, I can tell you. Now, I’m not normally prone to superstition, but that bird knew. I don’t know how, but he did. The thing that surprised me most was how trusting he was at the end, hopping on to my hand like that. John wouldn’t have believed it.

I’m sure they’ll both be very comfortable down there.


© flyingscribbler 2011


Shameless self-promotion time: have you turned the pages of Stickybeak’s Lexicon yet? An expanding collection of surprising words for us all to enjoy.


Stickybeak’s Lexicon. Hobbledehoy. A new, old word for life’s awkward phase.

Stickybeak’s Lexicon

Expanding my vocabulary one word at a time


Some words just scream old fashioned and today’s candidate for the Lexicon is one such. I came across hobbledehoy lurking on the page of an Aldous Huxley novel ‘Antic Hay’; the novel was published in 1923, so it is quite possible that it was still in regular use then. To my mind though, hobbledehoy would seem very much more at home in a descriptive passage of an Austin, or in one of Pepys’ disparaging diary entries.


A hobbledehoy is, and this is how Mr Huxley employed the word, a clumsy or awkward youth; a stripling (another great word); basically, a youth who is neither man nor boy.


I was trying to come up with a more contemporary equivalent in the ‘youth’ vein; my (admittedly quick) brain storm yielded only ‘yoof’, which is an uncomfortable and ugly-looking word. Perfect, you might say, for its intended subject. Roget is more forthcoming and offers laddie, sonny, urchin, nipper, whippersnapper and yob(bo). None of these quite fits the bill in the same way as hobbledehoy, which seems to encapsulate the uncomfortable, gangly, mumbling, awkwardness of adolescence; the ‘hobble’ conjuring up a great big lolloping teen coming to terms with his size ten trotters. Disappointingly it doesn’t quite describe the shifty looking boys who hang around street corners of an evening pooling lakes of spit on the pavement. Perhaps I’ll come across a new word for them too.


I rather like the fact that you can enter a phase of life called hobbledehoyhood, (just try saying that out loud without a smile on your face). I’d like to describe a character as looking hobbledehoyish, but would it make sense today?


The dictionary suggests that hobbledehoy hails form around the sixteenth century, origin unknown, which is rather apt I think for those it describes: they often look lost as they shuffle around, probably with no idea of where they might be heading. Hmm, that pretty much sums up my own hobbledehoyhood.


© flyingscribbler 2011

Stickybeak’s Lexicon. Gimcrack. A fantastically useful word.

Stickybeak’s Lexicon

Expanding my vocabulary one word at a time



Some words simply shout out to be used. Yes, they sit quietly enough inside your dusty dictionary, chatting occasionally to the words either side of them, but they yearn to be let free and roam the pages of novels, newspapers, poems and, who knows, maybe even e-mails.


Gimcrack is one such word. If ever a word suited its meaning with such glorious perfection, then surely this is it.


I came across it in a poem by John Betjeman. In the second stanza of ‘Felixstowe, or The Last of Her Order’ (Collected Poems, 1958), he refers to “the gimcrack attic of the villa”. I hadn’t encountered the word before, but even without a dictionary to hand, I think I could have made a pretty good guess as to its meaning. I immediately had an image of creaking old rafters through which the cold wind could blow freely. Perhaps the occasional drip, drip, drip of water or a brief glimpse of daylight where the roof tiles have slipped.  As an adjective gimcrack can indeed mean shoddy; it can also be used to describe something showy but flimsy and worthless. Equally, as a noun, a gimcrack is a cheap showy ornament; a knick-knack; a poorly made flimsy article; a dodge, a trick. Alternative forms of the word are gimcrackery (n) and gimcracky (adj). My Collins Concise offers the alternative jimcrack, (and this is how it is pronounced in all forms, if you were wondering).


Isn’t it wonderful? The possibilities for this word are legion. I wonder if gimcrack is one of those words which was more commonly known a half century or so ago. Perhaps it still is in regular use and I’ve failed to notice.


My favourite form is gimcrackery, especially when spoken with pronounced rolls to each ‘r’, (think Lady Bracknell and you’ll know what I mean).


It also occurs to me that it would make a rather good name for a comedic character: Jim Crackery, good friend of Tom Foolery and Gerry Mandering. Do you know them?


I think it would be right and proper to end with Betjeman’s poem in full; it was his work which led me to this splendid word, after all. Enjoy.


Felixstowe, or The Last of Her Order (John Betjeman)


With one consuming roar along the shingle
The long wave claws and rakes the pebbles down
To where its backwash and the next wave mingle,
A mounting arch of water weedy-brown
Against the tide the off-shore breezes blow.
Oh wind and water, this is Felixstowe.

In winter when the sea winds chill and shriller
Than those of summer, all their cold unload
Full on the gimcrack attic of the villa
Where I am lodging off the Orwell Road,
I put my final shilling in the meter
And only make my loneliness completer.

In eighteen ninety-four when we were founded,
Counting our Reverend Mother we were six,
How full of hope we were and prayer-surrounded
"The Little Sisters of the Hanging Pyx".
We built our orphanage. We built our school.
Now only I am left to keep the rule.

Here in the gardens of the Spa Pavilion
Warm in the whisper of the summer sea,
The cushioned scabious, a deep vermillion,
With white pins stuck in it, looks up at me
A sun-lit kingdom touched by butterflies
And so my memory of the winter dies.

Across the grass the poplar shades grow longer
And louder clang the waves along the coast.
The band packs up. The evening breeze is stronger
And all the world goes home to tea and toast.
I hurry past a cakeshop's tempting scones
Bound for the red brick twilight of St.John's.

"Thou knowest my down sitting and mine uprising"
Here where the white light burns with steady glow
Safe from the vain world's silly sympathising,
Safe with the love I was born to know,
Safe from the surging of the lonely sea
My heart finds rest, my heart finds rest in Thee.


© flyingscribbler 2011 (not the poem, obviously)






Gunpowder and Treason. A seasonal flash fiction story. #fridayflash

A seasonal offering this week. In fact, it’s a cross-over story taking a large chunk of inspiration from Bonfire Night (Lewes style) and a smidge of Halloween. Lewes Bonfire is the biggest and most famous Bonfire celebration in England. I should know having had it pass my front door for three years before I moved house. They really do burn effigies of the Pope, along with satirical effigies pertinent to issues of the day. This year I would expect to see at least one Murdoch go up in smoke. The Pope burning thing is more historical these days and goes back to the burning of several protestant martyrs in Lewes many years ago. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether a ‘celebration’ like this should still find a place in these modern times. I’ve simply based my story on an event which really does take place.  Anyway, you can check it out for yourself here. (Images from Google Images)

Pope effigy at Lewes Bonfire

Bonfire procession, Lewes

Gunpowder and Treason

‘What shall we do with him?’

‘Burn him! Burn the Pope!’

The crowd surged forward through the smoke, invoked by the collective cry, desperate for a closer view of the effigies as they were thrown onto the flames.

Margaret remained rooted to her spot; unwilling, unable to move forward with the pressing throng. She swayed as they pushed past her, knocking her shoulders, elbows thrust into her ribs, and still she didn’t move. The bitter sting of wood smoke caught in her throat, already parched from nerves. She felt the insides of her nostrils smart as a plume of acrid smoke drifted carelessly across her face.

I hope he’s awake to feel the heat, she thought.

Margaret scanned the horizon above the silhouetted heads bobbing in front of the fire. Which Pope would it be? There were several, spinning and turning in a macabre dance, ever closer to the flames. Most of them weren’t quite big enough; tall certainly, but not roomy enough to hold….there it was…..she was sure of it…..slower than the rest…..labouring through the mass of fire-glow faces. She gulped, a rasping, clawing, ash-filled gulp of bonfire air.

It had to be. There were black holes for eyes, as requested.

He’d agreed to it straight away, saying bastards like that deserved everything coming to them; for a price, at least. His men, he’d said, would kidnap her husband the night before, drug him, and encase him in the effigy. All they had to do then was join the crowd on the hill and follow the other Popes.

Margaret had told him (she never caught his name) that she would be at her mother’s all night, that Dave would be home by seven. She hadn’t been back yet; had come straight from her mum’s. Told her she was meeting Dave at the bonfire.

‘That’s romantic,’ her mother had said, ‘same place you met. Give him my love.’

Romance! Love! Try black eyes and bleeding lips.

The Pope had made his way round the bonfire; was straight ahead, facing the flames. ‘Go on,’ she muttered, ‘throw him on.’ She could see the figures toiling under the weight; they braced themselves, then, without warning, the Pope turned to face her. For the briefest of moments, she saw a firework reflect in his wide eyes. She smiled. He saw. That’s how it feels: trapped yet seeing everything.

‘Burn him! Burn the Pope!’

‘Burn you bastard,’ whispered Margaret, before turning away from the wave of heat created by the final burning effigy.

Margaret made her way home; she was calm, breathing evenly.

‘I couldn’t find him at the bonfire, so I came home to wait for him. He might have stayed out all night, but none of his friends have seen him.’ It sounded ok to her, inside her head. She had all night to practice. She’d phone the police around midday.

Her hand shook as she held the key, missing the lock twice.

‘Get a grip, Margaret,’ she said.

She looked around the hall. No sign of a struggle. Jake’s photo, the one she took before he left for college two months ago, was still on the table.

‘Is that you Margaret? Where the hell were you?’

Dave was standing in the doorway.


‘I…I…bonfire…not there…home…’

‘Your mother said you were going to meet me at the bonfire. Where were you? I looked for you.’


‘Yes. Your mother. I called her after I got up. Didn’t know where you were.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘You never bloody do, woman.’

‘No, I mean, you were….’

‘Spit it out, Margaret, for Christ’s sake.’

‘You weren’t home last night’

‘Do you ever check the answer phone?’


‘I switched to the night shift this week. If you’d checked, you’d know.’

‘I’m sorry. I don’t understand. I don’t feel well.’

Margaret grabbed the table, sending a dish of coins and keys clattering to the floor.

‘And where’s Jake?’


‘Jake, our son. Where is he?’

‘He’s…he’s at college. Isn’t her?’

‘Again, if you listened to your fucking messages you’d know he was coming home yesterday. Didn’t want to miss bonfire night.’

Margaret felt the bile surging upwards, pooling around her tongue.

She’d smiled.

He saw.

© flyingscribbler 2011