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Hello!  Thanks for stopping by!  Fiction Can Be Fun is a writing project run by David (@breakerofthings) and Debs (@debsdespatches).

We started the blog because we wanted to practice writing stories, and to talk about what writing (and reading) means to us.  Over the last few years we’ve showcased a number of short stories of different lengths, genres, voices, and you can find these via the Index.

We run a monthly prompt for #FlashFiction (used here in both senses: a short story that can be read quickly, and one that is written within a short period of time).  We like to go with quirky prompts (again, have a look at the Index!), and we mix in a few photo-prompts together with one of our USPs, the Gutenberg Prompt – have a look out for these.  We’d love to get more people involved with these, so do spread the word.

We post every Sunday, following a regular schedule.  Our schedule revamp for 2021 is the addition of an #IndieSpotlight feature as part of the options for the 3rd and 4th Sundays. We’ll continue presenting our stories, and one of our other USPs, #SecondThoughts, but we’ll be adding some features on the items on our Resources page, together with a new series of articles written by guests on how their chosen genre is entwined with their normal life.

If you’d like to find out more/get involved, please do take a look at the About page.  Or you can send us a message via the Contact page, or our Twitter handles (above).

Our (revised) regular schedule

1st Sunday #FF Prompt – submission deadline the next Sunday @ 8 am GMT
(or use our #TortoiseFlashFiction page if the deadline is too tight)

2nd Sunday #FF stories

3rd and 4th Sundays

Either:

A #SecondThoughts piece.

Or:

A focus on a Resource for writers (or readers), or something else of writerly interest.

Or:

An #IndieSpotlight piece, where we feature the work of an indie author via a book review, by hosting a part of their pre- or post- publishing publicity – for example a cover reveal, or… well, this is a new feature, so we’re open to options.

Or:

Occasionally a short story from one or another of us.

Exactly what turns up will depend on what we’ve been doing, and what is going on in the wider world.

5th Sunday On the occasion when these occur, we’ll be posting our guests’ musings on the intersections between their life and their chosen genre. (Do get in touch if you’re interested in writing one yourself).  The post that kicked it all off is here.

#ReadersResources: Read across the UK part II

A little while ago, Debs wrote a cracking post on Reading across the UK. We still need to agree a date for this, but I thought I might follow up with some further suggestions. Being naturally contrary, I’ve decided to present mine by genre…

Science Fiction

As might be expected, I’ve chosen to kick off with science fiction. Whether or not you enjoyed the film version with Tom Cruise (2005) or a repeat of Orson Welles’ (1938) panic inducing radio adaptation, you might not know, or may have forgotten that H.G. Wells’ classic War of the Worlds is set in the Home Counties around London. The description of the terrain – and the subsequent destruction of most of it – is beautifully evocative. I’m tempted to start running tours of some of the locations mentioned.

Similarly, the Day of the Triffids is worth your time. John Wyndham’s depiction of a world brought low by hubris and dubious experiments takes in a swathe of ground between London and the South Coast, not to mention the bastion of the Isle of Wight.

J.G. Ballard’s Drowned World sees London semi-submerged in a future where climate change has reeked havoc. Any day that is to hot for my liking makes me think of this book.

Detective Fiction

In the comments to Debs’ original post I mentioned Ian Sansom’s County Guides series. He’s going to have to pick up the pace if he’s going to manage to get round the whole of the UK, but so far the five published books give an interesting perspective on 1930s England, particularly bits that are not often looked at. The conceit here is that a prolific author is off collecting research material with his daughter and assistant for a series of books cataloguing the best bits of Britain, especially the things that are likely to fade in the face of technology and social change. Of course, they court disaster wherever they go. The assistant is, of course, plagued by demons: in this instance they arise from his time in Spain as part of the International Brigade.

The British Library has recently (over the last decade perhaps?) been republishing classic detective fiction, much of which has a locale element to it. So for example there is The Hogsback Mystery by Freeman Wills Croft and starring Inspector French. There are several others with this detective, and whilst he occasionally makes a foray abroad he is a Scotland Yard man at a time when local constabularies would call upon the Yard if they felt a case was a bit too much for them for whatever reason. So whilst a lot of French’s cases are set in and around London, he also travels extensively around the UK.

I’m also going to put in a shout for The Thirty-Nine Steps, even if it is not properly Detective Fiction. Whichever film version you’ve seen, the book is sufficiently different and exciting that it is worth your trouble to look it out and give it a read. Some lovely descriptions of Scotland in there, as well as the South Coast.

Non-fiction

I thought it might also be helpful to put in some non-fiction suggestions too. In this regard one cannot really go wrong with Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson. I’m less enamored of the follow up, The Road to Little Dribbling: to my mind, the Bryson who wrote the second book has become a grumpy old man and has lost some of the shine and verve of the younger Bryson – but that is just my opinion. There are still some splendid observations.

Footnotes: A Journey Round Britain in the Company of Great Writers by Peter Fiennes is, on the face of it, a bit niche. A description of walks around stomping grounds associated with particular writers. It is so much more though. Twelve mini-biographies which focus on a particular period of time or a particular piece of work by some of the greatest British authors of the last two hundred years or so, and how the landscape had an impact on their work. Beautiful.

Finally, this one really is niche, and is all about London, but is so joyous that you need to read it. Tim Moore’s Do Not Pass Go is, primarily, about Monopoly. Or is it? Sure that’s the framing narrative, in particular his carrying a board and some dice around so that he can work out where he’s going next, but this is, in a way, more of a socio-geographic history of London, and the changes that have occurred leading up to the London version of Monopoly, and those that have occurred since. Moore takes us around London, set by set, and explains the hidden meanings behind some of the collections – for example, Orange is the colour of justice… He even goes in search of Free Parking.

Do add your suggestions of potential reading material for future editions of Read Across the UK.

©David Jesson, 2021

#SecondThoughts: Writing a Family History when there’s cultural implications

The working title of my Family History is Indian Duty, Catholic Guilt, from which you’ll be able to gather there are significant cultural aspects to my family history. In addition to India, my family also lived in Nigeria and Bangladesh before we returned to the UK when I was 19 years old.

Once we got “home”, I felt like the proverbial fish out of water. I was surrounded by people who’d lived in the same area all their lives, who’d grown up in one community, who greeted (and were greeted by) people they’d known all there lives everywhere they went. In contrast, I had to work to make friends in the location my family had chosen for our “forever” home – I’d been at a boarding school elsewhere, and had spent most of my holidays in whatever country my parents were living at the time – whereas my peers in the local community had little experience of overseas life, let alone in countries of the third world where I’d spent my childhood.

Frivolously, I learned the beer was warm and bitter, you had to ask for ice in your drinks and were lucky to get more than a one piece. On a more serious note, I was brought up with servants and had a lot of practical stuff to learn. I taught myself to cook from cookbooks, and learned how to clean properly from a landlady who taught her tenants how she expected them to clean. While I gathered from fellow tenants that she had exceptionally high standards, I was simply grateful for the practical lesson.

While any tales I will share of my years growing up in India, Nigeria and Bangladesh will be authentically my own experience, and though there will be many a parallel with others who grew up in those countries as the children of expats – they will be different to the lives lived by Indians, Nigerians and Bangladeshis, regardless of caste or creed… and so there are cultural implications.

It’s been a while since I first started to ruminate on the spectrum of cultural appropriation to cultural appreciation. I love my Indian background, I love the impact living there for my first 10 years had on how I see the world. Equally, I love the lessons I learned from Africa – about humour, pride, independence and race. Returning to spend my final 2 years overseas in Bangladesh, I was amazed at how much was the same and how much was different between it and the country of my birth. I am grateful for having had the full spectrum of experiences, even though they included civil unrest and civil war.

For many many years, India was home in my heart. It was where I’d felt safe, and where my entire family had lived. The sights and smells and sounds were as familiar to me as my own family. My catholic God managed to co-exist comfortably alongside the gods of India’s multiple faiths; indeed I was more familiar with the mythology than with the bible. I ate Indian food by preference, using my hands rather than a spoon and fork. Before leaving India, I spoke English with a Bengali accent. Last, but most decidedly not least, my grandfather was Indian, his wife revoking her British passport to marry him.

If leaving India was a massive wrench, landing in Lagos airport was absolutely terrifying. The country was in the throes of civil war when we arrived and although the fighting wasn’t happening in the capital city, the place positively thronged with soldiers. My father, used to the polite deference of Indians, found the brusque nature of Nigerian soldiers hard to deal with. We did make it safely home – but the lesson I learned that day was not to pick a fight with a man carrying a gun. I was yet to have my 11th birthday. Soon, us children were spending term time at boarding school, returning home to the sunshine in between. It had started badly, but we had 6 happy years of outdoor life. Africa is a continent like no other – it has the ability to make me both laugh with joy and positively weep.

Bangladesh was a shock to the system. We expected something akin to India, but were surprised to find its capital city more akin to small Indian towns. It was easy for my parents to slip into the old ways, but Nigeria had changed me and made me notice more, even if I didn’t question aloud. We spent 3 years there, the final year of which I worked – for the British High Commission (a British girl didn’t just rock up and work anywhere, something Nigeria had made me notice). Even so, life was indolent and lazy, one of sitting around doing not much, of constant socialising, of drinking – a lot of drinking. Oh yes… and the government were overthrown twice during our 3 years. After that, my mother said “no more” and we returned ‘home’ to a place even more alien to my mother than to me.

My experience of those childhood years is undoubtedly one of white privilege, but I don’t seek to culturally appropriate any of those experiences when I admire and speak with affection of my time there. Not all my observations will be glossy, some not entirely complimentary, but so are my observations of where is now my home. Every one of those countries formed the person I am now; they were the building blocks upon which I grew – and grew up. I wouldn’t change those years and those experiences for the world – I feel incredibly lucky to have had them.

In short, I believe telling my own story is more cultural appreciation than cultural appropriation for I cannot tell the stories of India, Nigeria and Bangladesh like anyone else – I can only tell of my own experience. If you look at my Goodreads, it’s clear to see that I read many stories told by Indians, Nigerians and Bangladeshis about their lives and of their country – and I hope you will do likewise.


© Debra Carey, 2021

#FlashFiction: The Stories – Hitman for Hire

Family Business

My name is Theodore and I’ve been a Hitman for Hire for four decades now. I’ve been training my eldest son to take over from me, just as my father did with me, and as his father… well, let’s just say it’s been a family business for generations back. It’s not always handed down to the eldest son –  I’m a youngest son myself – but my elder brother don’t have the requisite skill.

He’s got no aversion to killing, it’s just he’s not able to see our clients. But there’s still room for him in the business. You see, I pride myself on doing a job clean and quick, whereas my brother is a downright messy killer. I save him for those jobs when a client wants the hit to suffer. In truth, those jobs offend my sensibility, so I make good and sure that the hit really deserves it before I take the contract.

After my folks died, I lived a solitary life as a result of my line of work, for I only wanted a wife who would be understanding of what I did. I had to move around lots, for each time I shared my secret with my sweetheart, her reaction meant I’d be attracting the wrong sort of attention. But, if the family business was to continue, I had to keep trying.

I was in my forties when I met Dorothea. She was younger than me but had a calm practical way about her. I could see she was shocked when I first told her, but she gave me the time to explain instead of screaming right off. When I’d finished saying my piece, she nodded, then asked a few questions to satisfy herself before expressing her agreement that I was providing a valuable service. We were married a month later. I’d agreed we’d let our boys attend college and not talk about the family business until after they’d graduated. I gave my word there was to be pressure – for I know this must be a choice freely taken. But both our boys displayed they had the requisite skill from quite an early age, so that marked them out as separate from other folks anyhow.

My eldest boy attends all client meetings with me and he’s a real natural with them. He’s been shadowing me on the hits too, just to see how I go about it. I’m not rushing it, he’ll let me know when he’s ready to make the step up. The youngest boy is champing at the bit to join us. He refused to go away to college but is attending classes locally. He’s promised his mother he’ll graduate before he joins his older brother and me, so she allows him to help out with the research on potential hits, so long as his college work is up to date. He’s a real flair for it, and I believe my boys are going to make a great team when I retire.

Twice a month, we go up to the cottage to do our practical training. Dorothea packs up the truck for us with hearty stews, big steaks, lots of fresh veggies and salad, plus plenty of home-baked bread and pies. There’s always the fixings for good hearty breakfasts, and she never forgets to include some pancake batter together with a big old jar of maple syrup. We drink cowboy coffee while we’re up there, but no beer. We enjoy our time together, but it’s work and not play. We take beer with us when we go fishing – those are the weekends just for fun.

My brother hasn’t been quite so lucky in a wife, but has three fine sons. Like him, none have the requisite skill to see clients, but they get on well with my boys, and who knows – maybe there’ll be a place for them in the family business should they want to join.

The current hit we’re working on has a real sad backstory. Our client is a real nice lady, very gentle and genteel. She’d no idea her charming boyfriend was going to turn into a wife-beater after the wedding, but that’s what happened. Not just an ordinary one either, but a real nasty piece of work. She’s one that wants him to suffer, and she showed us photos and her physical scars in support of that. From our research, he looks to be – what’s the word now – grooming, that’s it. He looks to be grooming a young gal who’s the spitting image of our client. He’s such a piece of work that I’ll be happy to set my brother on him.

We have the meetings with our client in the church graveyard. She always waits for us seated on her family crypt. She was an only child and is the last of her line, for she’s had no children. We slip in once the minister goes home, and some nights it’s a long wait if he’s struggling with his sermon. But she’s always there, waiting for us. She says she’s looking forward to going, to be with the rest of her family. She’s tried to join them many a time, but the pain always drew her back. She saw us meeting with another client one evening and decided we might be what she needed to get free. I sure do hope it works for her. Sometimes it does, but other times it doesn’t – and it’s real sad when we find our ex-clients still here after we’ve completed our contract.

Maybe only the minister could help them… if only he could see them. I’ve suggested it once before to a minister, but we had to leave town real sharpish that time, and Dorothea made me promise not to do it again. She realises I’ve a soft heart and feel for my old clients, but I’ve given my word and she knows to rely on it.

Although we’ve done our best for them, the boys and I always greet our old clients when we see them still here, and we spend a bit of extra time with each one when we can. It’s a lonely life when you’re stuck between this world and the next, and I’d hope someone would be kind enough to do the same for me.

© Debra Carey, 2021

Pete looked at the magnificent silver-back gorilla through telescopic sights.  Although he was hundred of metres away, the gorilla appeared to right in front of him.  Only his professionalism kept him from shuddering.  He really wouldn’t want to go toe-to-toe with the creature.  The gorilla was sat like an untidy sack of mail in a small clearing across the valley from the hide that Pete had created.  The intel was good, and today would be the day.  He’d set up his forward base a week ago, settling in with a patience borne of years of training and experience.  Not much longer now and he would swiftly retreat, leaving not a sign that he had ever been here.

Taking a couple of calming breaths, Pete exhaled, focussed and let off the first shot.  A poacher fell to the ground; another had barely enough time to register his comrade’s demise before searing agony spread out from his chest.  One by one, the small group of hunters were picked off, the suppressor on the rifle ensuring that they never heard the shot that killed them, nor realised where the sniper’s nest was located.

Pete didn’t really like the suppressor as it changed the whole feel of the rifle, but it was good for this relatively close work in the jungles, where lines of sight were much more limited.  He keyed the short-wave radio’s speak-button and listened to the static become interrupted as he toggled the button on and off.  Dash-dot-dot-dash.  He waited a moment and there was an answering dot-dash.  Pete policed his brass and then any other gash that he hadn’t already dealt with over the last few days.  As he did so he took frequent glances to where the fallen poaches were already starting to attract flies.  His mucker Slade appeared from the nowhere he’d hidden himself on the same side of the valley as the gorillas and checked that the poachers really were all dead.  Pete had just finished stowing his gear when the radio hissed out another staccato message.  Dot-dash-dot, pause, dot-dot-dot-dash, pause, dot-dash-dot, dot-dot-dash.  Pete grinned.  He’d been through a lot with Slade, one way and another, and still his mate could find a way to make him laugh – a race to the RV, yeah, right…

Three hours later, and Pete was back at the land rover.  Bob was providing security whilst Jag was stowing the last of their gear and ensuring that the vehicle was in tip-top condition – or at least as tip-top as could be achieved in the middle of nowhere.  In a matter of minutes Slade joined them.

“Looks like the beers are on you, old son” Pete drawled, attempting to make it look like he’s been back at the rendezvous for a lot longer than a couple of minutes.

Jag picked up the handset of a bigger radio than the little short-wave jobs that they used for local comms.

“Stanley calling Attenborough. Stanley calling Attenborough.  Livingstone and Tarzan secure repeat Livingstone and Tarzan secure out.”

Pete and Slade slung their packs into the back of the Landrover, climbed in themselves and were just seated when Jag tore off down the dirt track.  Not for the first time, Pete wondered what the real Attenborough would think of what they were doing here.  Not an awful lot, Pete suspected.  Was this a case of two wrongs not making a right?  Would there always be others to take the place of the men who’d died today, trying to set traps for creatures that should be left alone to live their lives in peace?  Still, from Pete’s perspective, there were wore ways to make a living, and with the skill set he’d developed over the years there weren’t exactly a lot of career options. 

“Attenborough calling Stanley, come in, over.” The radio crackled to life.  Bob picked up the handset while Jag continued to weave his way down the mountain track at speed.

“This is Stanley, receiving you loud and clear Attenborough, over.”

“Congratulations on successful mission, Stanley.  We have reports of poachers heading towards a herd of elephants.  It’s on your exit route.  We can provide you with an alternate route, or provide intel for engagement. Over.”  Bob looked around and collected nods.

“Understood Attenborough.  We will engage, but we will need a re-supply on route. Over.”

“Affirmative Stanley.  Standby for co-ordinates for resupply by drone.  Out.”

“Looks like those beers will have to wait”, Slade grinned.

“Reckon so.  And a shower if it comes to that.”

“I’ll miss the beers more.”

“We won’t!”

Pete and Slade settled down into the watchful doze of the trained professional who doesn’t know what the future held.  Yeah, Pete thought as he drifted off, there are worse ways to make a living.

© David Jesson, 2021

#IWSG: Drawing the Line

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. It’s an opportunity to talk about doubts and fears you have conquered. To discuss your struggles and triumphs and to offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.


October 6 question – In your writing, where do you draw the line, with either topics or language?

In real life, I swear a fair bit – yet I don’t when I write. I could suggest that’s because writing is a more thoughtful process and so there’s time to come up with a wider vocabulary to express myself – but, in truth, I’ve made a conscious choice not to. There are many things which can take a reader out of the story, so why not exclude something which is known to cause offence and is easy to avoid. I’ve read books – mostly set in the future – where words are clearly used in the same way as I swear. The difference is those words have no meaning to us in the here and now, and so are unlikely to cause offence. I have to say, I particularly admire this technique 😉

In terms of subject matter, we made a decision on this website to exclude anything which would be regarded as NSFW (not safe for work). In my off-site writing, I’d not made a similar decision but, when working on a series of short stories about love based upon one-liners sent in to a competition, I’ve found myself skipping over the one which would be overtly sexual in nature – even though my intended take on the prompt is light-hearted and humorous. The Bad Sex in Fiction award is enough to make me extremely cautious and so likely to avoid that particular genre… unless using a nom de plume 😉 I’m also not drawn to anything containing depictions of extreme violence or abuse – either as a writer or a reader. That said, one of the best books I’ve read contained both, but as they’re not topics I seek out, I feel I’m unlikely to write anything where they feature.

Finally, can I put in a plea to the large number of you using the Blogger platform. Please consider setting your comments to include Name/URL, otherwise the demise of Google+ means those not on Blogger are unable to fully participate in this blog hop with you.

The awesome co-hosts this month are are Jemima Pitt, J Lenni Dorner, Cathrina Constantine, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, and Mary Aalgaard – do take a moment to visit them.


While you’re here, can I tempt you with a #FlashFiction prompt?

Every month, we run a different #FF prompt and this month it’s about a hitman for hire, but with one twist – your clients are all supernatural. Your business motto is “… because ghosts need revenge too.” Tell us your story, or tell us their story.

If you’re inspired to give this a go, you can get full details here.


© Debra Carey, 2021

#FlashFiction Prompt: Hitman for Hire

You’re a hitman for hire, but with one twist – your clients are all supernatural. Your business motto is “… because ghosts need revenge too.”

Tell us your story, or tell us their story.
As ever, any genre you like.


Word count: up to 1,000
Deadline: 8am GMT on Sunday, 10th October 2021

If you can’t make this deadline, don’t forget you can use our #TortoiseFlashFiction page.

A reminder to new readers/writers, please post on your own site and add a link in the comments section below.  If you don’t have your own blog or similar outlet, do send us your story via the contact form on the About page and we’ll post for you, with an appropriate by-line – you retain the copyright.

One caveat, if you want to go down this route: this is a family show, so we reserve the right not to post anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.

Josephine Tey & Nicola Upson: a #SecondThoughts book review

A little while ago I kicked off a series of book reviews, where my intention is try and avoid star ratings and instead look at the good, the bad, and the ugly features of the book (or series) under scrutiny. Here then another in that series, and another look at detective fiction.

With the title of this post, there is a strong temptation to write ‘vs’ instead of ‘&’, but I’m trying to get away from that sort of book review. If you are a regular reader of this blog you’ll know that, of late, I’m probably getting through more books by listening to them than by ‘reading’ them. Audible and my local library’s current app of choice for borrowing audiobooks have been lifesavers for the times when I have chores that leave my mind free and otherwise boringly unoccupied. In that manner, I’ve been able to blast through several different series of books, as well as the odd standalone. So today’s post is more about looking at two bodies of work, one of which has been read traditionally – with actual books, not on the kindle – and one that I’ve listened to.

Elizabeth MacKintosh came to writing in her late twenties or so – that is certainly when her first publications came about – after a (short) career as a physical training instructor came to an end when she returned home to care for an invalid and dying mother. Later she cared for her father. Upson intimates that the writing was a means of escape, but more on that later. MacKintosh wrote poetry and plays under the pseudonym of Gordon Daviot: her most successful play was the historical Richard of Bordeaux, which, incidentally, is often cited as a major lynch-pin in the career of Sir John Gielgud. Her mysteries, of which there are eight, mainly feature Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard: of these there are five, and a further one where he has a bit part. This body of work features a range of realistic people, although generally sketched rather than laid bare in n overly detailed manner, and have clever crimes with clever twists – Grant is known for his ‘flair’ and usually has a sense that all is not right with the neat, pat solution, even if he stumbles on the truth by good fortune rather than solid police work. That said, he wouldn’t have the good luck if he didn’t do the solid police work in the first place. The nice thing about the Grant stories is that whilst there is some character development and a growing shared history, you can pretty much pick up the books in any order that you like and treat them as a standalone – no spoilers here. In particular, it is worth flagging the Daughter of Time, in which Grant, in hospital with a broken leg, is bouncing off the walls, if only mentally. his friends come to his aid he brings his intellect and detective skills to bear on one of the coldest of cold cases: the death of the Princes in the Tower. Daughter of Time was declared to be the Greatest Mystery of All Time (a mystery GOAT – therein lies a story prompt…) by the Crime Writers Association. It is not showy, there are no explosions, and there are no descendants of rival factions duking it out to protect ‘the truth’. But it is subtle, clever, and a good use of your time. Of the rest, probably the most well known today is the Franchise Affair, but in their day, most have received plaudits and awards around the world. If the new impressions that I found in the library are anything to go by, Tey seems to be having a resurgence. which is all to the good, in my opinion. It is worth mentioning ‘A shilling for candles’ (1936) and ‘To Love and be wise’ (1950) if only because they have a bearing on what comes next.

Nicola Upson is on her ninth Josephine Tey mystery, which is to say that she has created a fictionalised version of MacKintosh, called Josephine Tey, and placed her in a world with fictionalised versions of real people (such as Gielgud), fictionalised versions of fictitious people, and wholesale creations. What do I mean by fictionalised versions of real people? Well, for example there is Inspector Archie Penrose of Scotland Yard, who is categorically the inspiration for Grant, in Upson’s books at least. MacKintosh’s real fiance was called in WWI, and Upson presents Penrose as a brother-in-arms of a fiance who is also dead in her books. In ‘A Shilling for Candles’, Grant’s friend Marta Hallard is introduced, and there is a character called Lydia. Upson too has characters called Marta and Lydia, with Lydia taking the role of Anne of Bohemia, which in our world was played by Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies. (I couldn’t tell you how closely Lydia resembles her). In Upson’s Tey-verse, Lydia is closer in some respects to the original Marta – they are at least both actresses, whereas the Tey-verse Marta is a writer and artist.

I apologise for being cryptic: I’m endeavouring to unfold a line of argument without giving rise to spoilers. Suffice it to say that I believe that Upson has done a great deal of research about the period in general as well as the life and work of Elizabeth Mackintosh. I find myself struggling with this: the books are engaging, and I want to find out where the characters are going with their lives, and there are some clever plots with good twists, but…but…but…and again, but. I have a strong sense that we are somehow prying on someone (MacKintosh) who was an intensely private individual.

Compared with the Grant books, events in Upson’s Tey-verse happen at breakneck speed, so whereas Tey’s Inspector Grant first appears in 1929 (The Man in the Queue), and last has an outing in 1952 (the posthumously published The Singing Sands), the fictional Tey is much like any other modern sleuth and deals with a body or three every few months across the 1930s. A Shilling for Candles, the second Grant novel, actually forms something of a backdrop to Upson’s fourth, Fear in the Sunlight, where the fictional Tey is in negotiations with Alfred Hitchcock who might be interested in adapting ‘Candles’. (In real life, the book came ‘Young and Innocent’ and as with so many such adaptations bears only a passing resemblance to the book).

The tricky bit for me, having recently caught up with myself, as it were, is that in ‘A shilling for candles’ Marta and Lydia are both integral to the plot – MacKintosh’s Marta and Lydia, that is (who may well be based on Marde Vanne and Gwen Ffrancgon-Davies respectively). Upson’s Marta and Lydia are integral to Fear in the sunlight, but I think if I were Upson’s Marta and Lydia, I would be having words with Upson’s Tey – perhaps they are both thicker skinned than I give them credit for. And then of course, it’s all make-believe anyway…

So. If you like detective stories, you should definitely look out for these two authors. Tey’s work is of its time and so there is something of a health warning with respect to social mores and attitudes of the time. For example, in the Man in Queue, Grant has formed a mental picture of the murderer that he names the Dago primarily from some assumptions about the nature of the murder. Were the story to be adapted today, this is the area that would probably require the greatest attention. Still, Tey is writing of the time and the writing has a freshness and immediacy that still comes through today – there are a number of Golden Age detectives who can make the whole problem a little too intellectual at times and miss the great morass of humanity that are at the heart of it all. On the other hand, Upson’s work has a certain Midsomer aspect in terms of the number of people that the fictional Tey comes into contact with who end up dead. Whilst the evocation of the 1930s is excellent, you can’t help but see the 21st century building materials that have been used to create it.

What do you think of the trend of making real life people into fictional detectives? Where do you draw the line when casting back through the years for reading material?

©David Jesson, 2021

Comic Timing

The Bandleader blamed the Comic, for adding extra material.  The Comic blamed the Bandleader for coming in too early, drowning out the punchline.

Less than an hour after the end of the show, the Comic stood in a darkened doorway.  He’d arrived early, and removed the light-bulb.

As the musician fumbled with his keys, a voice tickled his ear:

“Laugh this off.”

Puzzled he turned, only to see a figure turning the corner at the end of the street.  His back began to itch as if it were on fire.

He turned and, in extreme discomfort, ran to the shower.

© David Jesson, 2018

________________

A little bit of Flash Fiction, which I submitted to one of Janet Reid’s competitions a few years ago now, but which has kept on getting bumped from FCBF for one reason or another.

There are a number of rules, but the key ones are:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:

extra
hour
early
light
dark

To compete for the Steve Forti Deft Use of Prompt Words prize (or if you are Steve Forti) you must also use: Fortran

3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.

Thus: early/pearly is ok, but light/sleight is not. Hours is fine, but grouch is not

(You might have to look twice, but I did manage to get Fortran in there :0) ).

#FlashFiction: The Stories – Journal on a Train

“How did I meet Emma? It’s a good story actually. Emma do you want to…?”

Taking a moment to go back to that fateful day, Emma started…


As we pulled into the station, I was wondering which train would leave first, for I’d observed on previous journeys that this is where two lines converged, with trains pulling in on opposite sides of the same platform. As the first two stations on the route are the same before the line goes on to split, commuters – you know what they’re like, ever in a rush – make a dash across the platform to get onto the train which leaves a minute or two ahead of the other. I’d not studied the timetables in order to work out which was which, so I was on alert to follow the dashing suits.

Having made the cross platform dash, I pulled out my tatty old paperback I could squeeze in a few more minutes of reading before reaching my stop. But my peace was disturbed when an impeccably be-suited woman caught her high heels in my laces as she tried frantically to exit from the moving train. Fortunately, another passenger (Emma gesticulated at Bill) grabbed the woman’s flailing suit jacket and pulled her to safety. Nevertheless the door swung open with a crash, for she’d had reached the handle with her desperately flailing fingertips.

“Get that door shut!”

Unbelievably, I obeyed instinctively, only later recognising the military tone of the passenger who had his arms wrapped firmly around the crying woman, holding her back. With the door shut, the fight went out of her, and she burst into tears.

“Deal with this! Err… please deal with this.”

Yes, I recognised that this other passenger felt I should be handling the crying woman for no reason other than that I shared her gender. I threw him a look but, seeing he’d positioned himself to block any more ill-considered exit attempts, I accepted my lot, grubbed around in my rucksack for a tissue and waited. Between sobs we heard…

“I left my journal on that train… One minute it was in my hand, but when I got here, it wasn’t… I must’ve put it down on the seat as I went to get out.”

“No need to go leaping out of the train. You can get out at the next station, wait for that train to arrive, get on it again and reclaim your journal!”

I knew was making sense, of course, but I really wished he’d drop that military tone, as it had started the woman off again.

“No, it’s no good… My boyfriend was sitting on the same seat as me and he’ll pick it up.”

Jumping in before military man – as I now thought of him – I suggested “but that’s good surely. He’ll keep it safe for you.”

Much to my horror, the sobbing unexpectedly descended into wailing, and I couldn’t avoid the raised eyebrows and somewhat smug expression appearing on military man’s face. Responding with a shrug and a wry smile, I settled down to waiting till the wailing subsided, which it only did as they pulled in to my station.

It turned out all three were getting off at the same stop – the final one before the line split. Military man opened the door and got out, offering a hand to first the crying lady and then to me. I’ll admit I tried to be annoyed at that, but couldn’t because I could see he was visibly struggling not to laugh. We fell into step alongside one another watching as our charge answered her mobile phone. Hearing raised voices coming from both her and her phone, we’d – as one – tried to step around her and speed past, but she flung herself at us, in flood of tears once more.

Even the gentleman, the military man (Emma made air quotes as she said that) steered their charge to a nearby bench and settled down to hear the sorry saga…

“He’s read it… Well enough of it.”

We waited…

“He’s seen what I wrote about that guy I spent the night with last night… And that bloke from the weekend… And…”

As one, we stood up and left her to her recitation of indiscretions. As they walked away, I know I was shaking my head and trying to keep from laughing but him, good old military man only laughed out loud once we’d got through the exit. I’ll admit I joined in, and we did laugh in a decidedly uncontrollable manner for a while, getting all kinds of looks from the other passengers as they streamed past us. When we’d finally managed to stop, he introduced himself and asked if I fancied a drink. Turned out I did, and I seem to remember suggesting that pub down by the river.


Bill picked up the story, for they’d remained in that pub until closing time as, despite their many exterior differences, it transpired they agreed on the important stuff.

“So, do you think it’ll make a good addition to my speech?”

“What, how some random’s woman’s journal of indiscretions brought you together – I should say so!”

“You can have it for your speech, but only if you agree to wearing a kilt!”

Bill knew he was beaten. Emma had been trying to persuade him on that front for the past week or two. He suspected he’d been well and truly set up.

© Debra Carey, 2021

#FlashFiction Prompt: Journal on a Train

Journals have become ubiquitous – so many of us keep one, whether that be as a device for managing our time better, for downloading our thoughts, for keeping notes for an on-going project, for development of our ideas …


But what happens if you leave it behind? What caused you to forget something so important? What might it mean to a stranger who finds it?

Tell us the story from whichever point of view you choose – the loser or the finder. As ever, in the genre of your choice.


Word count: up to 1,000
Deadline: 8am GMT on Sunday, 12th September 2021

Don’t forgot, if you miss the deadline, you can always post your story to our #TortoiseFlashFiction page

A reminder to new readers/writers, please post on your own site and add a link in the comments section below.  If you don’t have your own blog or similar outlet, do send us your story via the contact form on the About page and we’ll post for you, with an appropriate by-line – you retain the copyright.

One caveat, if you want to go down this route: this is a family show, so we reserve the right not to post anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.

#IWSG: Writerly Success

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. It’s an opportunity to talk about doubts and fears you have conquered. To discuss your struggles and triumphs and to offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.


September 1 question – How do you define success as a writer? Is it holding your book in your hand? Having a short story published? Making a certain amount of income from your writing?

Interesting question, as I know I’ll celebrate each and every step along the road, however small. Finishing the book was great and gave me a huge sense of achievement. Carrying out the edits has been hard, and I’ll celebrate once more when we get to a point of being ready to pitch and query. Getting an agent, let alone a deal would have me dancing, but I’d be proud to self-publish if that’s the route we end up taking.

All that said, if I’m being wholly honest, success to me is being paid an advance on the next book. I’d be pleased as punch to hold my book in my hand, really happy to receive good feedback/reviews, tickled pink to have a regular readership, and absolutely delighted to make an income from writing – however modest. But success, genuine success, for me is to be a real player on the field of publishing.

I don’t make this statement with any arrogance or expectation as I know the chances of achieving it are tiny, infinitesimal even – but I see no point in setting my goal low… what kind of Life Coach would I be if I did otherwise! 😀

The awesome co-hosts for this month are Rebecca Douglass, T. Powell Coltrin @Journaling Woman, Natalie Aguirre, Karen Lynn, and C. Lee McKenzie – do join me in taking a moment to visit them.


While you’re here, can I tempt you with a #FlashFiction prompt?

Every month, we run a different #FF prompt and this month it’s Journal on a Train. Journals have become ubiquitous – so many of us keep one, whether that be as a device for managing our time better, for downloading our thoughts, for keeping notes for an on-going project, for development of our ideas …

But what happens if you leave it behind? What caused you to forget something so important? What might it mean to a stranger who finds it? Tell us the story from whichever point of view you choose – the loser or the finder, in the genre of your choice.

If you’re inspired to give this a go, check back here on Sunday for full details.


© Debra Carey, 2021