Saturday, 30 March 2013


The view took Caitlin’s breath away. The contrast between the deep blue sky and the terracotta roofs was achingly beautiful. The sunlight bounced off the white tiles of the Duomo and she fumbled for her sunglasses, still nestling in her hair after the long climb up the dark bell tower steps. Florence looked spectacular and as she drank it in Caitlin could feel the stresses of her life in England ebb away. It had been worth setting the alarm early just to get up here before the crowds she thought. She did not notice the man in the blue cap until he was standing at her elbow.
‘Well, this is a surprise,’ he said.
Caitlin looked at the man and he lifted his cap so she could see his eyes. Her heart lurched. 
‘What are you doing here?’ she whispered.
‘I’m on holiday, just like you.’
‘But here?’
‘I know! How weird is that? Of all the places...’ He smiled at her menacingly.
She started to back away from him.
Desperately she tried to think. Would the restraining order apply here in Italy?
‘Maybe it’s a coincidence?’ he continued as he stepped closer. ‘But I prefer to call it serendipity.’

200 words

Friday, 29 March 2013


When we were ten we went to stay at our uncle’s house. He wasn’t really our uncle, just a friend of our dad’s. The house was massive. There was a spooky damp cellar which was not for the faint-hearted. The only light came from a single bulb and you could never see right into the corners. We loved to play chase down there.
There were always loads of kids around. I think my uncle liked it noisy. He had a pool table in one of the spare rooms and a fantastic sound and lighting system. He used to DJ for us and the girls would dance in little circles.
There was one room where the girls used to play dressing up. It had a wardrobe stuffed full of flouncy dresses. I suppose the clothes must have belonged to his wife when she  still lived there. There was a huge mirror along one wall and the girls liked to put on fashion shows for us boys and my uncle. In the evening we used to watch scary films all snuggled up together on the battered sofa. 
It’s strange though. My sister’s memory of that house is quite different to mine.

200 words.

Thursday, 28 March 2013


'A whisky, please.’
‘Coming up sir.’
‘I needed that.’
‘That’ll be £5 please sir.’
‘Damn. No money. I need to pop to the cash machine round the corner.’
‘I need payment sir or I’ll lose my job. For all I know you might just hot-foot it out of here.’
‘Tell you what, let me leave these coins here as collateral. They’re old. I think they might be worth something. I’ll be right back.’

‘Where did you get these coins? They’re worth a fortune. I’ll give you £50,000 for them.’
‘No can do sir. I’m just looking after them for someone.’
‘Well, when he comes back give him this card and ask him to ring me.’

‘There. I told you I’d be right back. Now, what do I owe you?’
‘Excuse me. I’m a numismatist. I couldn’t help but notice those coins. They’re quite valuable. I could give you £20,000 for them.’

‘You’re joking! It’s my lucky day. You have a deal.’

Money changes hands and another greedy man loses his shirt, robbed by a flimflam that’s as old as the hills. I say nothing. I’m just the bartender. I’m not paid to notice stuff. But I do.

200 words

Wednesday, 27 March 2013


‘What are you going to go for?’ the tattoo artist asked. 
Lola continued to flick through the well thumbed folder of options. Each page was protected by a plastic sleeve and she wondered whether the pictures were in danger of being stained by tears. Or blood! She didn’t want to think about it. It had taken almost everything she had to get herself to the parlour in the first place. Her friends had scoffed - ‘A tattoo? You? With your needle phobia?’
‘I mean I can do pretty much anything you want,’ the artist continued. ‘Hearts? Birds? A neat little lizard? A unicorn? Whatever you want really’.
Lola could feel sweat gathering under her armpits. She chewed at the inside of her lip and tasted blood, sweet, metallic. Her heart raced and her head was telling her to run and not look back. Decisively she banged the folder back down on the desk.
‘Changed your mind?’ the artist asked and started to turn away. He must have seen fear like hers a hundred times.
Lola swallowed hard. 
‘No. I know exactly what I want thanks. It’s just that it’s not in your book. Please put ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ over my heart.’ 

200 words

Tuesday, 26 March 2013


We were booked for the treatment at 2 and as we waited in the dayroom in our white toweling robes I began to wonder if I should just have chosen a facial. The woman in white called our names and led us away. My paper knickers rustled as I walked and I suddenly felt horribly self-conscious. She took us into a tiled room, warm and humid like a rainforest. In the middle were three bowls of mud, white for the face, red for the front and black for the back. She left us. We looked at each other and sniggered. Even though we had shared secrets and even a bed in the past this suddenly felt incredibly intimate. Still, in for a penny... I put my hand in the black mud. It was warm and unguent and it oozed through my fingers. I smeared it delicately on Kate’s back and she shivered and then giggled. Next I took a little white clay and made myself a mask behind which I felt my inhibitions melting. Soon we were both entirely covered in the healing mud. It was in my hair, under my nails, everywhere. It felt good to let go.

200 words

Monday, 25 March 2013


Having shuffled through the formal reception area of Iwakuni Castle in a line of Japanese and American tourists, we finally reached a room filled with glass display cabinets. I waited until there was a gap in the crowd and then worked my way to the front. On the stark white backboard hung a vicious looking weapon. It was black with a sickle-like blade and a heavy chain attached. The card read ‘Kusarigama - 1467’. I stared at the kusarigama, trying to imagine the damage that such a thing could inflict in trained hands. Gradually I became aware of a man to my left. He was small, his silver hair pulled back in a tight ponytail. His moonlike face was smooth even though he must have been at least 80 years old. He too was staring at the weapon. 
‘It’s a impressive looking object,’ I said although I wasn’t sure that he would speak English.
‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘It belonged to my great great grandfather. He was Shinobi like his father before him.’
‘A ninja? Really?’ I was fascinated and about to ask more but our tour guide was shouting to reassemble us. When I turned back the man was gone.

200 words.

Sunday, 24 March 2013


‘Oh darling don’t bore the good people. Pass the wine would you. I got the idea for the plot whilst on my travels in the Far East you know.’ The eminent author Ferdinand du Vall waved his hand dismissively at his wife. The other diners were soaking up every word as if trying to gain some insight into the creative talent of this man who was widely regarded to be the best writer of his generation. His wife took another long drink and then began to pull at an invisible hangnail. Surrounded by the splendour of the night she looked out of place, her dingy day dress in sharp contrast with the elegant designer gowns worn by other guests.
Someone tapped at a glass with a fork and silence descended on the room as the sense of anticipation rose.
‘And the prize for Best Book goes to........Ferdinand du Vall.’ The room erupted.
As du Vall stood up to collect his prize, beaming beatifically at his audience, his wife whispered to the man on her right. 
‘Of course, you know he’s a phoney,’ she said casually. ‘It’s me that writes,’ but no one heard her over the wave of applause.

200 words

Saturday, 23 March 2013


He knew there was no one there but as he peered through the glass into the dark garden beyond he felt sure he saw a figure standing by the fence. He looked again but the shape evaporated into the branches of the buddleia. You are being paranoid he told himself, shaking his head to eject unwelcome thoughts. He should draw the curtains to shut out the night but was that a face staring back at him, pale against the darkness? His heart began to race, his pulse pounding in his ears as he held his breath and listened. The rattling of a window? Were the doors locked? The front door had secured itself as it closed behind him but the back? He raced to the kitchen knocking over a lamp in his urgency. He scrabbled in a drawer and found the key. His hands shook so violently that it took three attempts to hit the target. The lock turned with a satisfying clunk. He stood with his back against the door, all danger now barred from his house.Then, the light cast by the upturned lamp in the next room moved. Whatever it was was no longer outside the house.

200 words

Friday, 22 March 2013


‘You shouldn’t be in here Toby. You’ll be costing me my licence.’

Toby sat on a stool, his short legs dangling and counted pennies into piles of ten. The collection jar had sat on the bar forever. Punters dumped their spare change into it. No one ever asked what happened to the money but from time to time I would bag it up and drop it in at Oxfam.

‘We’re lucky aren’t we Daddy?’ 
‘Yes Toby. We are very lucky.’
It’s not luck I thought. It’s hard graft but I held my tongue.
‘Danny’s not lucky,’ Toby said and then he slid down from the stool and ran into the back.

I served a couple of regulars and then I set about bagging up the coins.Toby’s bags were all short by 10p. That made 70p.

‘Tobes? Did you take some of the jar money?’ I asked at teatime. Toby looked me straight in the eye and lied. I gave him the lecture about honesty, integrity, trust. ‘People put money in that jar for charity Toby. You mustn’t take it for yourself.’

Toby didn’t speak for a long time.

“Danny had toast at break today. From the tuck shop,’ he said.

200 words

Thursday, 21 March 2013


It was a perfect summer’s afternoon. The sunlight cast a golden glow over the ripening wheat fields with only the occasional poppy to distract the eye. Victoria’s discarded parasol leant nonchalantly against the rough bark of the tree, rendered redundant by the swaying canopy of leaves. She leaned back against the red velvet cushions and closed her eyes. Somewhere a peewit called to its mate. Victoria’s head was spinning deliciously and her body felt as if it belonged to someone else. Perhaps she’d been wrong to send Mark for another bottle but they had nothing to rush home for. Afternoon would bleed into evening.

The motion in her head was starting to make her feel a little sick and she opened her eyes, trying to focus on the branches above her. Maybe they could climb the tree later, when Mark got back. She peered through the leaves to the blue sky above but there was something blocking her view. She squinted and her brow wrinkled as she tried to make it out. Its shape changed as it twisted slowly in the gentle breeze. It was only then that she saw the boots of the hanging man. His laces were untied.

200 words

Wednesday, 20 March 2013


‘Not bad, not bad.’ 

My new boss perused my letter, red pen hovering like a kestrel, ready to swoop on any infringements of grammar or law.

I relaxed a little. If it was taking this long to find a problem with my work then perhaps it was acceptable, good even. The relentless shifting from Partner to Partner as I made my way around the law firm in pursuit of qualification was fraught with danger. Should I write in first person or third? Did the client need an introductory paragraph or was that a waste of time and fees? But this boss seemed easy to please. He was handing my draft back for signing without a single red blemish. I stood a little taller in my stilettos.  Three months in and already penning the perfect letter.

‘Hang on.’ He pulled the paper towards him and my confidence evaporated. ‘‘Outwith”? What kind of word is that?’

I wasn’t sure. It sounded legalistic and my boss, I mean yesterday’s boss, used it all the time.

‘Is it not right?’ I stuttered. I watched the red pen run it though like Zorro’s sword. In that moment I learned always to select my own words.

200 words.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013


This year I will win. I will hold the last unopened Easter Egg. Last year it was Claire. And the year before. I don’t think she even likes chocolate. I had five eggs lined up on the bookshelf in size order. It seemed easy then. I would just save the last one, maybe two to be safe. But the eggs called to me from their cardboard coffins and I could not resist their siren cries. Now just one remains. It is the smallest, its purple foil bearing witness to the honeycomb pattern on the chocolate beneath. I smooth the foil with my finger and the wrinkles move from top to bottom. I could open it from the back. I could scratch out a small hole in the chocolate and have a little taste. No one would know. I open the box from the bottom, noting the intricate folds of cardboard for the rebuild. Gently I peel back the foil in one piece. I push with my thumb, harder, harder. The egg implodes and sits in shards on my lap. No point saving it now. I cannot rebuild it even with the foil to hide the cracks. I eat. I lose.

200 words

Monday, 18 March 2013


I had never really noticed the penguin before. It must have been sitting on that shelf for years, since the children, now long gone, were small. I had an unstable memory of a trip to the zoo, of Robert demanding that we bought it for him. He drank his juice from it for a week or two and then it was forgotten and moved to its home on the top shelf behind the cake tins.

Carefully I lift it down. It was thick with sticky dust, the plastic of its beak brittle with age. I always thought it had a sinister air about it, a certain sneer about its smile. I contemplate sending it to Robert with the other things of his that I have collected as I empty the house. What would the new wife Cassandra make of that? It would not suit the minimalist lines of her perfect kitchen with its garish black and orange smile. Cassandra would wrinkle her pretty nose and then throw it away, not keep it safe for thirty years as I had inadvertently done.

I drop the penguin into the bin bag and hear it crack as it hits the stone flags beneath.

200 words

Sunday, 17 March 2013


The two buckets sat side by side on the sand. Mine was blue with a shark on the side but it was a cartoon shark with a smiley face. Gemma’s was orange with a crab waving its pincers high in the air. I liked mine best but it would have been better with a picture of a real shark.

Gemma’s bucket was full to the top of shells. She had been collecting them all morning. She stood there with her chest out and her nose in the air like this was some incredible thing that she had done. But if you looked at her bucket, I mean really looked, the shells were nothing special. Lots of them were broken, only bits of shells really and they were all still covered in wet sand. Her bucket looked a bit like the bottom of a concrete mixer.

‘Oh well done Gemma darling,’ mummy said. ‘How gorgeous they are.’ But she didn’t really look. She didn’t see the big stone at the bottom that made the bucket look full.

‘Oh James,’ she said. ‘Just one shell?’ and she walked away.

But my shell was perfect. A caramel twist with a pale pink centre. 

200 words

Saturday, 16 March 2013


‘You don’t like it.’ 

‘No. I do. Honestly. It’s just...’

What? That it isn’t quite what I was expecting? When she’d mentioned that she was going for a new look I clearly had not exercised my imagination as hard as she had. Her face is starting to crumple. I can almost see her self confidence taking flight. If I am going to salvage anything from this I need to say something. Now.

‘It’s just that it’s so different. You look...’ Again words fail me. Come on Paul. This is not the moment to suffer an uncharacteristic loss of vocabulary. I can see tears glistening in the corners of her eyes.

‘I knew it was a mistake. I knew it. I should have made her stop right at the beginning when there was still enough to bob. What did I think I was doing?’ 

She is no longer talking to me but to her reflection which smirks back at us, its new cropped orange hair saying all that is needed.

I like her hair long, dark, glossy. I like to twist it like rope through my fingers and pull her towards me.

‘I think marmalade suits you,’ I lie.

She wails.

200 words.


Life is fast. Fast food. Fast communication. Fast transport. And now fast fiction.

It's hardly a new idea. People far more imaginative than I am have been doing it for years. However, just because I'm late to the party doesn't mean that I can't have a dance.

So this is how it's going to work for me. One (or hopefully many) of you will give me a word that will act as a prompt for a story. This can either be as a comment on my most recent post - it might help if you identify it as a prompt so that I don't write something based on the many spam comments that I receive - or as a reply on the Imogen Clark at Home Facebook page.

I will then endeavour to write a 200 word story which incorporates your word.

I must be mad! Already I am nervous about this concept and I haven't even posted this blog yet.  I could just change my mind. But hey! Life's short, I like writing and you lot read what I write most of the time so how wrong can it go?!

(P.S. If I get lots of suggestions it's going to take me a while but I will attend to the stories in the strict order that I get the prompt so if your story takes a while to pop up then please be patient. I will get there eventually.)

Let the fast fiction fest commence!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013


I think I need a Spring de-clutter.

I'm not really talking about my house. I'm quite good at sifting through and getting rid. With six of us living under one roof there simply isn't the room to hang onto things that don't have a purpose.

No. I mean my mind. My head is completely cluttered up with stuff and most of it is pointless.

There are all those things that I've known as long as I can remember. Song lyrics mainly. Nothing recent of course. Hits of the 80s in the main and the words to random hymns. It's all very jolly to find that when a long forgotten ditty pops up on the radio I can pluck the words from the recesses of my mind and sing along. It's not very useful.

But I can't remember how to do long division or anything about my first seven years of life or the phone numbers of my children. This things elude me no matter how hard I try. There just doesn't seem to be any space left for them.

And then there's the day to day rubbish. It feels like the better part of my brain is fully engaged by who needs to be where when, what they need with them and when they can be fed. And not only do I have to remember everything once but then I have to send texts to remind them all to do the things that I reminded them about at breakfast because by then the rest of their busy lives will have taken over and they will have forgotten. It's my job to make sure that that doesn't happen. Sometimes I reflect on how irritating it must be for them to get a text like that. I wouldn't know of course. I never get one.

I try not to make lists. It is my equivalent of doing sudoku, keeping it all in my head with just my diary as aide memoire. I'm hoping that the mental gymnastics of family life will be enough to keep my brain from shrivelling up as old age approaches. The trouble is that my head is so bunged up with the detritus of daily life that there doesn't seem to be any space left for any other stuff. Where is the room for blue sky thinking, for dreaming up stories or even to switch off and let banal telly wash over me? Those little voices that keep telling me what needs to be done when never shut up!

So I need to find a way to silence them. Not all the time of course or my finely balanced house of cards would collapse taking my family's lives with it. But just sometimes it would be lovely not to be planning or calculating or working out timings. I would love to have just lose myself entirely in a thought process of my choosing without the rest of it getting in the way.

Am I being unfeasibly optimistic? Does anyone out there manage to do that? Answers on a postcard to Mrs Fullbrain of Ilkley.

Monday, 4 March 2013


We've been in a film. I say we but actually it was my youngest that was in front of the camera whilst I loitered out of shot trying desperately not to come across as a 'stage mummy'.
As with all these things we kind of stumbled into it. Someone dropped out. Someone knew someone else and before we knew it we were in. A script and shooting schedule arrived quickly afterwards. Half a day of rehearsal followed and then we were off. Five days and one evening of filming in and around our local area.
As the only person on set with no designated task except to ensure that my son was being properly cared for, I have been in a perfect position to just watch what happens. I have never been involved in anything like this before. Almost my entire experience of acting has been obtained vicariously through my children or from standing in the wings of a stage. It's been a steep upward learning curve.
So here's what I've learned.
1. Making a film is a very slow process. Even the smallest of scenes seems to take forever. There's a lot of hanging around whilst lights and sound and camera angles are sorted. Then the take. Then the take again. Then from a different angle. Then again because the light outside changed. Then again because a plane went overhead. Honestly. It takes forever.
2. Everyone has a job. We have a small crew here - just 12 and a gaggle of University students and then the actors - but everyone knows exactly what their part is and they all buzz around each other without seeming to get in each other's way. And woe betide you if you do someone else's bit or even suggest how it might be improved. This is tricky. He is my son. I know how to get the best out of him but that is not my job here and I have to bite my tongue.
3.  It doesn't do to fall out with people or have a hissy fit. Whilst we breeze in and out, the rest of the cast and crew have been here for twelve hours a day for two weeks and are only half way through the shoot. A couple of them are even sleeping here so they have no escape. But despite all that, each time we come there is a really positive buzz. They are all keeping each other going. It would take nothing for the morale to drop but not allowing that to happen seems to be high on everyone's agenda.
I have no feel for how things are going, what the finished product will be like or whether it will ever see light of day but even if it never makes it out of post production (whatever that may entail) just having the experiences that my son has had is of huge value. And I have been so proud of him. His focus has remained sharp throughout, even when his bedtime sailed past hours before and no one has had to say a harsh word to him. For an eight/nine year old boy (birthday on set) that is quite some achievement in itself.
And guess what? They really say 'Camera's rolling....Action....Cut' and "That's a wrap'!