Thursday, 18 November 2010

Available now!

And Figs Might Leaf by Christian Stretton | Make Your Own Book

Well, the paperback is now available for the bargain price of £3.95 (but there are some postage charges). Enjoy! Tell your friends!

Also, the Kindle version available from Amazon.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

And Figs... the book!

To finally put this thing to bed, I've formatted the stories that I wrote for the site into a paperback, which should be available soon. My excellent percussive friend Dave Kennedy designed the awesome cover. I'll let you know more details as soon as I have them.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

The Entirely Useless Monument

Edward talked about his plans for the Entirely Useless Monument long before he actually began working on it. He had been playing around with the idea for a while.
‘The plan is,’ he would explain, ‘to build a structure from only natural materials in my back garden. It should have no function apart from an aesthetic one, and it should be large; much taller than me - as big as the house if possible. I would work on it for one year, and when the year is up, whatever the condition of the structure, then the Monument will be finished.’
At this stage (which Edward would later refer to as the Planning Stage) reactions were overwhelmingly positive. ‘Good for you,’ people would intone. They would even offer suggestions of what they thought the Monument should look like: It should have feathers, it should represent the different stages in your life, it should be hollow, you should be able to climb it.
Edward was a creative person, though this was not reflected in his career trajectory. Following a series of clashes with the teachers, Edward had quit college at the age of seventeen, and being too proud to live off his parents’ substantial income, he had immediately found a well-paid-but-dull position in a bank. In this job, he had worked quietly and conscientiously; slowly rising in the company to his current position as a middle-manager.
When work actually got started on the Monument, reactions were more mixed. The next-door neighbour was especially concerned. A keen member of the Residents’ Association, her objections became quite vocal from the beginning. She was most concerned about the noise, and about the effect that the structure would have on house-prices in the area. After all, the Monument would be in clear view from her window. Even Edward’s family counselled against his decision.
Karl, his best friend from college, was absolutely behind him. He even helped with some of the preliminary sketches and loaned Edward the tools. So, in October 2009, work began in earnest, and soon there developed a clear pattern to Edward’s week:
Wednesday: sketch the additions which were to be made this week. This would usually be done on bits of scrap paper during quiet periods in the bank.
Thursday: visit the local hardware shop on the way home from work to buy the necessary wood and materials needed.
Friday evening: sit in the garden with a beer, just contemplating the structure, and imagining the future possibilities (this was the highlight of Edward’s week).
Saturday: Lay out tools and building materials. Work for two hours in the morning, then stop for lunch. Sometimes, work would recommence in the afternoon, sometimes those two hours would be enough.
Sunday: Bask in the glory of his work. Sometimes this would involve inviting friends around to the house to look at the Monument; sometimes it would simply involve feeling pleased with himself for the most part of the day.
Monday: Nothing. Forget about the project.
Tuesday: An anxious feeling would enter his subconscious, always extant in the back of his mind. This creeping paranoia would not subside until Wednesday came around again, and Edward set back to work on the project.

He continued in this cycle for a whole year, and though the slump of Monday and Tuesday were a drag, the sheer exhilaration of the build on Saturday kept him focused. And because he had adhered to this weekly routine so stubbornly, the Monument had really taken shape.
On his final Saturday morning, Edward sanded some rough edges, then put down his electric sander, and stood back to take in the view. The Monument was now everything he had hoped for. It would be pointless to describe it here, but suffice to say that it now satisfied every particular of Edward’s original brief.
Even the next-door-neighbour had to concede that it was quite a spectacle. People from all over the town came to visit the neighbourhood just to sneak a peak at the majesty of it. The Entirely Useless Monument was a hit.
Karl would sometimes ask Edward what was next: ‘We could add a wing to the side of it, and a dome. A dome would be awesome.’
But for Edward, this was missing the point. ‘You don’t understand,’ he would reply. ‘It’s finished.’

Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Penultimate

All good things must come to an end. That is true, but so too, must ordinary tales of madness, loneliness, and disappointment. One year ago, a small man had a small idea: that he would write short stories, and post them on the internet for all to see. The man was not a writer, but he saw in himself characteristics which one would identify with the writerly type: thin skin, an introspective nature, a bespectacled countenance, and most of all, a deep love of books.
So he began these short stories and committed to a new post every Thursday of every week. Though he was no great thinker, he was ambitious to become a writer, and so he worked hard to improve. Before posting a new story, he would re-read, and attempt to judge his efforts at a distance. Sometimes he would be proud of his offering, and this would leave him buoyant for the rest of the week; sometimes he would so despise his creation, that he would consign it to the trash, mope for a couple of days, and then begin again.
Tales of unicorns, donuts, crocodiles and time-travel began to populate the website. After a short while of producing these fictions, he began to see a pattern emerge: the protagonist is introduced, there is a goal to which the protagonist strives, the protagonist fails. Introduction, hope, disappointment. He wondered why the stories so often ended with disappointment, and yet still he continued, and still the pattern repeated: introduction, hope, disappointment.
Unsure of why this would be, and also wondering what connected all of these seemingly disjointed ideas, he decided to write one final story. The final tale would resolve the whole thing. It would be the ribbon that tied together all of his year’s work. It would be the answer to all the
questions that had been raised, and would leave the reader with a satisfying explanation for all of his labour. The story would be about closure, and about learning, and most of all, it would not be about disappointment.
Apprehensively, the writer turned the page of his journal, smoothed the clean white sheet, and began: ‘Edward talked about his plans for the Entirely Useless Monument long before he actually began working on it…’

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The weight of the CHI Rocket 1800 watt dryer

Having swept the last of the auburn curls from the floor, Hayley paused to check the oversized Ikea clock that dominated the wall: Five to five - balls to it, that’ll do. As the apprentice, she shouldn’t really be expected to run the salon alone, but since the appearance of Peter Ackworth, Susan was increasingly absent these days. Hayley retrieved the keys from under the till, and made her way to the front door to lock up. Just as the keys entered the lock, two hands slapped the glass on the other side, causing Hayley to jump back in alarm. Behind the two hands was a sallow face, lined and oval; thick-rimmed spectacles perched upon great meaty plates of ears. Hayley habitually reached down to feel the outline of her mobile phone in her back pocket.
‘We’re closed.’
‘Please love – just a trim.’ His voice was muffled through the glass, and by the traffic noises outside.
Hayley opened the door just a crack.
‘Sorry, we’re closed now. All locked up.’
‘Could you not just fit me in for a quick trim? Please love – the wife will kill me if I go home without a haircut. It’s our anniversary today, and we’re going out.’
For a moment, Hayley weighed her options. He seemed genuine, and harmless enough. Reluctantly, she opened the door and the customer gratefully entered.
‘We’ll have to be quick though – some of us have got homes to go to.’
‘Thanks love.’ He was already removing his jacket and cloth cap. Hayley indicated a chair, and as he sat, she gracefully swung a black nylon cape around his front, and fastened the Velcro behind.
She didn’t much feel like making conversation, but it was hard not to once the comb and scissors were in her hand: ‘So where are you off out to?’
‘Oh, we’re just going to the club; nothing fancy. But we’ll have our tea there.’
‘Very nice.’
Scratch scratch, snip snip: always in couplets. Deftly, Hayley’s hands worked their way from the nape of his neck up to the crown of his head, and feathers of silver hair fell obediently to the floor.
‘What about you love? You out tonight?’ he asked.
‘Probably not. I’ll be at home tonight. Watching X Factor with my mum. Sad isn’t it?’
‘Get away. Pretty young thing like you? I bet you’re not short of boyfriends.’
‘Oh yeah. Queuing round the block, they are.’
As she swept the comb across the top of his head, she thought that she heard him make a groaning noise. She looked at his reflection in the mirror, and noticed a small, but definite peak in the cape appearing around the customer’s crotch area. It can’t be, she thought. She edged her way around his side to take a look. Her glance downwards not only confirmed her fear, but compounded it: this time there was movement down there. Clearly, she could see a pumping motion, bouncing the cape up and down. She raised her eyes to his face, and saw him grinning back at her grotesquely, saliva specks at either corner of his wide mouth.
Without even pausing for thought, Hayley reached for the nearest heavy object: the CHI Rocket 1800 watt hairdryer which sat in its cradle by her hip, and with all her strength, swung the dryer 270 degrees until it collided with the customer’s cranium, sending him sprawling, unconscious, to the floor.
Screaming silently, her hands over her mouth, Hayley skittered backwards, astounded at what she had done. The adrenaline, still coursing through her veins, had given her the strength of an Olympic shot-putter; the blow to his head was pretty hard. She may even have killed him. Slowly, tremulously, she edged towards the old man, who remained prostrate, motionless on the floor. As she approached, she noticed that the impact of the fall had splayed the nylon cape up over his head, mapping out a trajectory of her defence.
Where the cape had been, his hands were revealed, still balanced between his thighs: his right hand held a yellow felt cloth, and in his left, those thick-rimmed spectacles reflected the late afternoon sun, which now spilled curiously through the window.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Infrequent flyer

Hi, I’m Pammy. Do you have enough room there? Sorry – all my bags. I’m not a very good flyer. This is my second time. Second time in the air. I’ll bet you’ve flown a lot? Not me. I get claustrophobic, see? You’ll have to hold my hand. I’m kidding – you don’t have to hold my hand. Don’t worry.
Are you off on holiday, or… No, no. It’s none of my business, you don’t have to say. I’m off to visit family in New Jersey. I have a sister there, and she has three children and eight grandchildren! Can you beat that? So that makes me a Great Aunt. Three of the grandchildren I’ve never met – this will be the first time.
Clara, Gabrielle, Edward, Karl, Tyra, Cassandra, Stevie, how many is that? There’s one more. I can’t think. It’ll come back to me.
I never had any of my own. Never had the time; never settled down. Oh I had the opportunity. You wouldn’t know it now, but back then I had the pick of the boys. I did. We used to go dancing at the Ritz. You know the Ritz in Manchester? It’s still there now. No, you don’t know it. We would go on a Saturday night and it would be Swing, Big Band, Rock and Roll. Not your ballroom nonsense. We were the original party generation. Back in the day. Back in the day.
Ooh! Looks like we’re moving; getting ready for take off. If the lady walks past, can you grab her? Well – don’t actually grab her, you know, but just let her know that I need her. Thanks. A man proposed to me once. Keith Smallshaw from Clitheroe, it was. He was well off too; he had a van. I know that means nothing now, but back then it was a big deal. He said that he loved me and would show me the world. He took me to Morecambe. He said that he wanted to marry me, but he didn’t have a ring. I said ‘Don’t be soft’, and that was that. He bought a tuba while we were there. I had to travel back to Manchester in the back of the van so that the tuba could be strapped in the front seat.
We’ve stopped again now; probably waiting for the little man with the ping-pong bats to wave us on to the runway. So there I was, bouncing around in the back of a van with no windows, while the tuba and Keith Smallshaw enjoyed the views. ELLIE! That’s it: Ellie was the one that I forgot. Eight grandchildren.
So I never saw Keith again after that. He dropped me off at my house – I lived just off Hyde Road back then, and I saw him drive away, the brass of the tuba glinting at me through the wing mirrors as he went. I wonder if he ever learnt how to play it.
Oh! I’m sorry, I didn’t realise you were wearing earphones. No, I was just saying: My name’s Pammy, I’m not a very good flyer. This is my second time. I get claustrophobic, so you’ll have to hold my hand…

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Slow down

Sliding a Michael Buble CD into the slot, I turn left out of the hospital car park, and my 5-series pulls me up the long slow climb of Edge Lane. It’s not too long before the terraced houses on either side of me are completely boarded up; empty shells that have been ready for demolition for five years now. I heard that it was a botched deal: the council readied the whole area for demolition, and then found that they didn’t have the funds. It sounds about right. Approaching the traffic lights, I furtively press the central locking button on the car, and with a satisfying ‘Shhhunk’ I am safely encased.
I find myself thinking about work again. Tomorrow, I’ll be presenting to the Manchester Branch. I’m completely out of my comfort zone on this, so I’ve put in way too much preparation. I’ve gone over the thing twenty times, but I’m still convinced that something will go wrong. In my dream last night, I opened up the Powerpoint presentation, and it prompted me for my network password. Now, in a moment of frustrated weakness some time ago (I don’t know, I was having a bad day) I set my password to a swearword. One of the bad ones. So there I am, behind a lectern in front of the whole of the Manchester Branch (who, incidentally, are all Chinese in the dream for some reason) and I accidentally type my network password into the wrong window. And there it is, projected on the screen in letters a foot tall: the bad swearword. The BMW sweeps me past the Littlewoods building, which looms down like a 1930s lunatic asylum, and I think: I must remember to change my password.
Really, seeing Steve just now should give me a sense of perspective. He’d been retired… what? A month? Maybe it’s a little more than that, but even so…
In his day, he was the best damn sales rep we had. He would’ve shown the Manchester Branch a thing or two. Old Steve would have had them eating out of the palm of his hand. Is that the expression? Eating Out Of The Palm Of His Hand? It sounds wrong.
Now he’s just wasting away. Arms that were once like Popeye’s reduced to silk draped over bone. It makes you think.
I should probably add another slide or two to the presentation; I may be running a little short of an hour. Maybe more information about the marketing campaign?
In the line of traffic ahead, a sign lights up to let us know we are in a 30 mile an hour zone. White LEDs encircled by red LEDs. The cars in front don’t slow down, and neither do I.
We all just carry on at the same speed regardless.