Showing posts from February, 2014

Room (now)

I stare up at my bedroom ceiling, high and wide and white, the smoothed-off icing of a wedding cake. Curly Victorian cornicing marks its borders, knotted squiggles in plaster. The centre has a moulding like a giant Marie biscuit painted over. From this hangs a light fitting with shell shades enclosing difficult-to-acquire bulbs. Red and black satin curtains caress two big sash windows, which look out into the branches of a lime tree. During springtime, blue and yellow finches nest at the same level at which I lie my head on the pillow; they chirp-chirp-chirp. The opposite wall has a rectangular Dickens and Jones mirror brought from the flat. Built-in cupboards too shallow to hang much and reeking of invisible moth balls, flank either side of an 1865 ironwork fireplace, which, according to a local dealer, is unusually complete. On the stripped wooden floor is a camel hair rug bought on our first foreign holiday - to Egypt, 25 years ago. The rug’s coarseness against the bare soles of

Words on Writing; Why your writing needs a service

I think there's something wrong with my car... I'm writing this in the waiting room of a local garage while two mechanics service my car. There's nothing specific I can put my finger on, but I have an underlying suspicion that it's not driving as well as it used to. ... and I have similar feelings about my new book. The car has been getting me where I need to go, and my writing has been doing the same, it's just that the journey doesn't feel quite right. The problem In England, I drove a Skoda. It had a loud diesel engine and a tape deck. Now I drive an American SUV which has a Bose stereo (natch), some kind of complicated noise reduction system which means I never hear the children fighting in the back seat, and a lot of buttons which I haven't yet dared to press. I was very fond of my English car, but the car salesman assured me that this one is better. I was fond of my last novel too. We spent a lot of time together and I understood how it wor

Second Hand

It was impossible for Dad to buy himself new clothes. It was a while before we knew about this. A couple of years after Mum died, I suppose. And what could we do? Charity shops were his place for spending money and time. My habits and my routines, they’re what keep me going, he would recite. No use pointing out that there were shops that sold new clothes not far from the charity shops, same street, same car parks. That’s not the point, he’d reply. None of us ever asked what the point was. He told us that it used to be jumble sales but after he stopped going to church he never knew when they were on, and anyway he couldn’t be sure to find what he wanted in amongst all the piles.   I just can’t believe that Mum let him go to those things: she certainly never let on to any of us about it. He prefers the charity shops. They do it properly, everything is sorted and organised so you can find your size. It’s all washed and ironed, you know. Well, that’s a bit of luck then, I tol


They were in a coffee shop when war was declared.   As the first brick drove a spider’s web of cracks across the window, Bob instinctively grabbed his granddaughter and pulled her beneath the table.   Under the continuing barrage, glass flew through the sunlit air, beautiful and lethal. Someone screamed and Bob turned to see blood trickling down a woman’s cheek.   Beside him, Maddie began to sob.   Over the past couple of days, the news had been filled with reports of rioting in some of the more rundown parts of London, but no one had expected the heat wave of violence to spread to this affluent suburb.   Looking around, Bob could see that the customers in the café were paralysed, as much by the shock of discovering the myth of their middle class immunity, as by the missiles landing around them. He would have to act.   With the help of the impassive barista, used no doubt to much worse aggression in his native Bosnia, Bob herded everyone to the storeroom at the back of th

Sumptuous Meadows

Mr. Beldorf’s armpits steamed underneath his black suit as he stood straight like a reed, umbrella stuck under his elbow. He watched the cumulus clouds form over the endless East Anglian fields, and he thought of Maud. He thought of how they had lain together in wet grass, watching the same clouds over the same fields; and how now she only ever gazed straight ahead at the pink curtain around her propped-up bed, and at the red roses her husband sent her once a week from Paris. Mr. Beldorf knew that Maud didn’t care for roses. She cared for clouds. “Look! That one’s a sheep!” Maud had pointed. “A sheep with a huge dick!” Her gurgle of a laugh had swept across the meadow, making the cows turn their heads. None of the clouds had looked like a sheep with a big dick to him. They hadn’t looked like anything except clouds. Only with Maud had he ever found their meaning. Mr. Beldorf clasped his pensioner’s bus pass as the bus pulled up, motor growling. At Sumptuous Meadows

Words on Writing: Keeping it real

What does truth mean in relation to our writing? Can we write well without thinking about truth? Stephen King, in his excellent On Writing, gives us a good place to start thinking about this: So okay - there you are in your room with the shade down and the door shut and the plug pulled out of the base of the telephone. You've blown up your TV and committed yourself to a thousand words a day, come hell or high water. Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want. Anything at all... as long as you tell the truth. My first novel, Frogsbone , takes place among newly arrived immigrants in 1908. As I wrote this, I became increasingly aware of how much I would never know  about that world. However much I researched, there were parts missing from the jigsaw: the shop window just beyond the photo's frame, the precise smell of the street after rainfall, the soundscape of early motorcars, horses' hooves an


"Ah, no; the years, the years   Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs" - Thomas Hardy You made rubbings   of the marks of death.   easing them carefully   onto the page   worn words rising   sharp   from crumbling stone.   The strong hands of death   ease you   into the earth   but your careful marks   will outlive   stone by Séamus Duggan 'Stone' was a winner of the Goodreads poetry competition  and was written in response to the death of Séamus Heaney, in 2013. 

Introducing... the Cafe Aphra Poem of the Month!

Greetings, fellow Aphraites! We have all very much enjoyed running our 'Beat the Monday Blues' poetry series here at Cafe Aphra - in particular our Poetry Editor, Yvonne, who has done a sterling job reading submissions and frequently offering helpful feedback on entries.  However, after careful consideration we've decided to change the format this year. While we are still committed to publishing poetry on Cafe Aphra, we'd like to do so less often and thus be able to take more time over the selection process. We've therefore decided to transform our series from a weekly Monday Poem, to a "Poem of the Month".  Poems will be published on the first Monday of each month. We continue to welcome submissions from poets both published and unpublished and the same guidelines apply as before. Send us your submissions with an accompanying image to: Our first "Poem of the Month", for February, is 'Stone' by Séamus Duggan -