For a while I was part of a group of writers who tried to write regular flash (very short – under 1000 words) fiction every week. We collected the best of the Friday Flash Fiction output in a little book called Illuminations, which we sold for charity. You can still buy it at Odd Two Out – but I’ve put some of the stories up here for old time’s sake.
I later expanded a number of these stories into longer pieces of fiction which have been published in a variety of magazines.
Over time I’ll also be adding the “From Turkey City” pieces that I’ve written for Focus magazine, the BSFA’s magazine for writers. In these I take the common errors that writers make identified by the Turkey City Lexicon and try to illustrate them with short fantasy/sf stories.
The editor called at about five. I’d been waiting for the call, so I let the answerphone take it.
As I say, I’d been expecting the call, but not for it to start: “Fucking hell, Wilksy, this is the best thing you’ve ever written -”
I snatched the phone from the cradle. Continue reading
One of the other Friday Flash Fiction writers suggested this title and challenged the others to write a story to match. This was my attempt.
Alex sat in the departure lounge and tried to wipe the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand, but a combination of the humidity and his own terror had slicked his whole body with perspiration and the movement achieved nothing. Continue reading
Every night, at 10:30, Abigail’s father closes the front door, climbs into his rusty Toyota and drives away.
Every night, before he goes, he strokes his daughter’s hair, reminds her not to open to door to anyone else and kisses her on the forehead.
It is dangerous to go out after dark. Continue reading
I’ve got two old shirts wrapped around my mouth and nose but, even so, I can still feel the dust coating my teeth, prickling on my tongue, and the thought of breathing it in, of swallowing it, is making me feel sick, The world is gyrating insanely, like a child’s spinning top just before it tumbles over. I close my eyes but it only makes things worse. My gut churns and the little food that I had for breakfast leaps into my throat. Continue reading
We buried Calum’s da today. We put him in the same patch of ground that we’d pretended to put Calum in. Eighteen months. I never thought the old man would last so long. Continue reading
There was darkness, the tang of decay and breathing, rasping and loud.
“I’m here.” Petr shuffled forward, arms outstretched, almost blind. Continue reading
From issue 58 of Focus the third of my pieces of flash fiction “inspired” by the common writing errors and bad habits catalogued in The Turkey City Lexicon. This time I go toe-to-toe with a “burly detective”:
This useful term is taken from SF’s cousin-genre, the detective-pulp. The hack writers of the Mike Shayne series showed an odd reluctance to use Shayne’s proper name, preferring such euphemisms as “the burly detective” or “the red-headed sleuth.” This syndrome arises from a wrong-headed conviction that the same word should not be used twice in close succession. This is only true of particularly strong and visible words, such as “vertiginous.” Better to re-use a simple tag or phrase than to contrive cumbersome methods of avoiding it.
The Turkey City Lexicon
Half term means I’ve not had much time to blog this week – but it does means I got to spend time with my daughter watching The Muppets, swimming and letting her thrash me at ten pin bowling (ahem!). Anyway, instead of something new, here’s something from Focus 56. I’ve been writing little pieces of flash fiction for Focus, the BSFA’s magazine for writers, to illustrate/make fun of some of the common errors made by writers as identified by The Turkey City Lexicon. This is the first one:
“Call a Rabbit a Smeerp”
A cheap technique for false exoticism, in which common elements of the real world are re-named for a fantastic milieu without any real alteration in their basic nature or behavior. “Smeerps” are especially common in fantasy worlds, where people often ride exotic steeds that look and act just like horses. (Attributed to James Blish.) Continue reading
Since issue 58 of Focus is now off to the printer, I thought I’d put up this from issue 57 – the second in what appears to be an ongoing series of flash fiction pieces inspired by common writerly errors indentified by The Turkey City Lexicon. This is a slightly longer version than the one that saw print, which was cut to fit.
The unwitting intrusion of the author’s physical surroundings, or the author’s own mental state, into the text of the story. Authors who smoke or drink while writing often drown or choke their characters with an endless supply of booze and cigs. In subtler forms of the Dischism, the characters complain of their confusion and indecision — when this is actually the author’s condition at the moment of writing, not theirs within the story. “Dischism” is named after the critic who diagnosed this syndrome. (Attr. Thomas M Disch)
The Turkey City Lexicon
The girl was skinny, skinny like one of them you see on teevee. Not the pretty ones, the starving ones – though my momma says sometimes you can’t always tell which is which, these days. Continue reading
I was born in a housing estate at the foot of a steep hill. The top of the hill is ringed with trees, ancient sessile oaks, wych elm and horse chestnut. The rooks owned the woods. These were big birds with heavy black beaks and bodies matt as coal dust but their hoods shone like satin and framed beaded eyes that saw everything. Continue reading
Sept sat cross-legged in the centre of an ordinary living room and pulled The World from his head one wire at a time. Blood ran down the pale skin on his back, staining the blue shorts that were the only clothes he wore, and spread across the wheat coloured carpet in a growing pool. The furniture, stylish, modern, tasteful, had been pushed into the corners. The screens were off. Pictures and paintings were turned to the wall. A small scattering of provisions and necessary tools surrounded Sept, everything else had been cast aside. He had prepared for this. He was ready. Continue reading
Solomon heard them coming just before dawn. He shook me awake and then I woke the kid, putting my hand across his mouth, just in case he made a noise.
He was becoming a proper little soldier. Continue reading
The colour of the money passing through the accounts of DeGris and Languedoc may be as green as in any other bank, but the colour of its customer’s blood is invariably blue. The company began life as a goldsmith’s and issued its first cheque in 1668. Today it serves a liberal scattering of the world’s royal families and literally dozens of dukes, archdukes, counts and earls. A fortune alone is not enough to persuade DeGris and Languedoc to open its doors to a customer. Breeding, here at least, still counts. Continue reading
She kissed me once and I was lost.
“Come,” she said.
Like a lamb, I went. Continue reading
The rusting husks of Soviet-era industry litter the Balkans. Shuttered chemical plants smear rainbows across ground water in Serbia, cold and rusting furnaces rot in Bulgaria, in Montenegro the wind howls through the girdered skeletons of dead factories and in Macedonia, in Bosnia and in Croatia vast plants with lost purposes are turning gradually into dust. Continue reading
From issue 59 of Focus the fourth of my pieces of flash fiction “inspired” by the common writing errors and bad habits catalogued in The Turkey City Lexicon. This time, it’s all about pressing buttons with clichés.
Words used to evoke a cheap emotional response without engaging the intellect or the critical faculties. Commonly found in story titles, they include such bits of bogus lyricism as “star,” “dance,” “dream,” “song,” “tears” and “poet,” clichés calculated to render the SF audience misty-eyed and tender-hearted.
A Song to the Sea of Tears
The tears were warm on Alicia’s silken cheek. The movement of the ocean stirred a susurration, sea against shingle, that seemed to grow more insistent as she listened. Seagulls screamed, wheeled beneath fast-moving clouds, and turned inland. Alicia saw none of this.
Her true love was lost.
A life does not flow evenly from spring to the ocean, its passage is broken by rapids and falls, twists and turns. The choices we make define a life’s course. Some decisions take us over a threshold where the effort required to backtrack, to paddle against the turbulence and cross to another stream, requires more strength and dedication than most can muster. Continue reading
The alien thing – white and oblong like a small refrigerator – was still smouldering and popping as Brad slid down the loose soil into the great gouge it had cut into the earth. Suddenly isolated Brad felt his drunken bravado slither away. Continue reading
The Spitfire was a sleek metal thing with a space for a battery underneath that made the propeller spin. I had coveted it for months as it had sat in the window of Morrow’s toy shop – the tiny moulded plastic pilot alert, day and night, for Messherschmidts and Focke Wolfs that would never pounce. Continue reading
The existentialist philosophers Heidegger and Satre argue that we have been thrown into this universe unprepared and abandoned in a universe that imposes fundamental limitations on what we might become.
They call this notion facticity. Continue reading
The astronaut scanned the console. All green. Good to go.
Far away engines roared, his helmet muffled the noises but vibrations still rattled his teeth.
He thought of the crowd, miles away, cheering. He imagined his parents and his wife and child. He smiled.
He would be a hero. The first man on Mars. Three years in space. His boy would be almost full grown when he returned. Three years without his wife. Three years and his father, already sick, might be dead.
Was it really worth it?