Hannah Spencer Guest Post

Today’s guest post is from Hannah Spencer, whose Cracked Eye Double Feature, ‘Voices of the past/ Who is She?’, is out today.

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In Voltaire’s Candide, it was the humble farmer who was able to share with Candide and his companions the philosophy and interpretation of life which finally brought their long journey to an end, succeeding where the various philosophers, sages and scholars had all failed.

Working on a farm by day, and evening, and night, and writing the rest of the time, I think I can see why. The farming life is deeply entwined with both the miracle of life and the harsh blow of death, the two fundamental factors which forge the reality of our world. To be wholly reconciled with these would be to understand everything about existence.

It is probably no accident that when my career path switched from a microbiology laboratory to a dairy sheep farm, I also started writing stories, because writing is also about reality.  Not just understanding it, but using that understanding to form and shape it. An existing reality or a new reality. Controversial or mundane. The only limit is the power of the creator’s mind. A writer creates people and places and makes them real for the duration of the story. In some cases they survive long after the last page is turned.

Spending long hours in the milking parlour with my woolly companions is perfect for contemplation and creation. People, places and conversations are constantly streaming though my mind. I compose stories to the accompaniment of the chortled greetings of friendly sheep, the swish of milk through the milking clusters, a dozen sets of teeth on the cud,  soft noses and inquisitive teeth on my ears, and many deliberate hooves on my toes.

Unusual? Yes. Unique? Quite possibly. Influential? Most definitely.

 

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Voices Of The Past and Who Is She? A spine-chilling double bill from Hannah Spencer :

Voices Of The Past

“Osteo-archaeology could discover so much… She always found it poignant to hear the voices of the past begin to speak. What would this lost soul have to tell her? “

When osteo-archeologist Lorna is asked by a museum to examine the 250 year old skeleton of a woman who was once called a witch, she feels a compelling call from the past. Could there be a connection between the long dead woman and the young scientist?  Is the woman’s ghost speaking to her? Can Lorna bring her peace at last?

Who Is She?

“If I replay in my mind the last time… then maybe I’ll understand what’s going on here.”  Can our past life reach out to us?  Drawn to a place she has never been before a young woman encounters a terrible and chilling sequence of events – but are the horrors she sees a vision, a dream or her own past life?

Get the stories for 99p in the UK, or 99c in the US.

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Laid Off by Seth Augenstein

Today’s post is from Seth Augenstein whose short story, Laid Off, is published today on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

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In 2008 – as the chickens came home to roost, the seeds once sown were reaped, and just desserts were being served – I wrote the story “Laid Off,” now published by Cracked Eye.

The Great Recession continues to drag on, and friends continue to lose jobs, houses, savings accounts – and their natural hair color.

But as one character in the story says, it’s all part of a natural process of selection. Or is it?

The story’s genesis was interesting, at least to its author. It was written after a tumultuous trip back to Boston, where I’d gone to college. The excursion was distinctly different than the one portrayed in the story. In reality, the city was encased in ice – there was no snow, just a frozen slippery sheet over houses, sidewalks and streets. Walking up and down the slopes in Beacon Hill made for some Olympic-style slaloming, and some psychedelic contusions on every limb. My friend Mark – not Fred – and I lay prostrate in the back of a fishtailing pickup truck drinking beer and singing about Plastic Jesuses because, at the time, it seemed to make sense.

I forget the name of the driver of that truck. He was a bald person, and solemn – but kind, and he had good reflexes.

In the Real Trip, two vagabonds did indeed crash a party in a secret wing of a blue-blood old hotel through a decoy exit door, but there was no Aaron Burr. There was an aspiring novelist, sure – but he was a bigger jerk than was portrayed herein.

Back to history… At that point in 2008, America had made its bed and was just about to lay in it, as we’ve said. After a decade of paying for all sorts of nifty exploding gadgets abroad, and thousands of McMansions springing up across the land, all paid for on the credit card, the tab had come due. Suddenly big entities with anthropomorphic names like Freddie and Fannie were cashing in all our collective chips, and panic hummed in the air. And then there were talks – even in the mass media – about Historical Patterns and Cycles of Civilization and all sorts of other high-minded Pop concepts.

I believed them, and I still believe it now. But I’m also a student of History, and because of that, I’ve read Ecclesiastes:

“Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.”

In trying to make sense of our lean times by boiling it down into abstraction through a fictive medium, I drew inspiration from the greats, too. For one, I was a tour guide at the James Joyce Centre in Dublin one rainy autumn about a decade ago. And this story certainly owes a debt to the author of “Two Gallants.” So if you remember a mumbling American walking you through the steps of scheming Corley and lascivious Lenehan in the fall of 2003, it might have been me. Or it might have been some hopeful Yank, spry of foot and mind, who actually thought poor suckers had a shot in this world.

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Buy now on Amazon UK or Amazon US.

A Time And A Space – By Robert Rigby

Prolific author and Lit Bits contributor, Robert Rigby, talks about finding time and space to write…

 

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 Often, when I’m out and about, running writing workshops in schools, talking to reading groups, meeting people on my travels, I hear something along the lines of, ‘There’s a novel inside me and I’m desperate to get it out, but I just don’t have the time or the space to write.’

The easy answer to that of course is, ‘If you really want to write then somehow you’ll find the time, and the space.’

And that’s a fact; writers have been suffering for their art for centuries, locking themselves away, starving in some dank and draughty, rat-infested garret, their red-rimmed eyes streaming and sore from the smoke of a stuttering fire and a single candle that casts flickering shadows and barely illuminates the spidery scribbling filling the numerous pages…Are you getting the picture here?

With that amount of suffering authors deserve a bit of success. But does suffering produce a better novel? I’m sure in some cases it has, but generally, as a rule – not a fixed rule but for guidance only – wouldn’t we all prefer not to suffer for our art, if at all possible?

I know the realities and stresses of modern life mean that it isn’t easy to put everything else aside, even briefly, to start that novel. Family, day job, mortgage (if you can get one), commitments, they all conspire to continually delay the moment when we finally move on from the title page. But it can be done.

I’ve worked in a few metaphorical if not literal garrets, but these days I’m fortunate that much of my writing happens in a beautiful part of south-west France. My next novel for young readers, The Eagle Trail, is set there, during the early days of World War II. It’s a beautiful and inspirational part of the world, and locating the novel in that area continues a practise I’ve tried to maintain with every book I’ve written, which is to know the place I write about, or at very least to visit and get to know it.

Writing can be a lonely occupation. I’ve been at it for years and I’m used to spending entire working days speaking to no one but myself. But some writers, particularly those in the early stages of their career, need to talk, about their work, their thoughts, their writing fears and ideas.

So, with all this in mind, plus the fact that I enjoy running writing workshops, I’ve decided to host two week-long residential writing courses in my favourite corner of France. It’s close to the Pyrenees, deep in Cathar country; it isn’t fair to keep it entirely to myself any more.

And anyway, it’ll be good for me; I’m a writer, I don’t get out much, even though I have given up the garret.

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You can find Robert on his website. For more details on his writing courses, please click here.

Joel Blumenau Guest Post

Today’s guest post is from novelist and short story writer, Joel Blumenau. Look out for his short story, ‘The Commute’, forthcoming on Lit Bits.

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The good folks at Lit Bits are soon to publish my story, “The Commute.”  The protagonist, Jackson, is a man much like me in his struggle to fit into a life that feels borrowed, not owned.  In the end, he pays a hard price to redeem his soul from the devil’s pawn shop.  He kills the lie so that the rest of us may live, through him, in the fleeting grace of the setting sun, if just for a few short minutes before we go back to sleep.

People who know me, really know me, would not describe me as an upbeat, cheery fellow.  I have an issue.  It’s reality.  Yeah, not a huge fan.  I find it tedious, dreary, repetitive and unforgiving of the smallest miscalculation.

Don’t get me wrong.  Like all full grown inhabitants of the modern world, I can ‘fake it ‘til I make it,’ ‘put on a happy face’ and ‘turn that frown upside down’ with the best of them.  I mean, you have to, just to navigate the social labyrinth without crashing head first into a sharp corner at every turn, right?  But underneath it all, in my dank and loamy heart, burns a black, smoldering fire fueled by distrust of even the simplest human gesture.

Writing, perhaps the sweetest of all balms, is my salvation.  When I write I get to bare my ugly, unhealed wounds to the world and explore my true nature in a parallel universe over which I have complete dominion.  My characters do and say what I want to do and say; they often go where I must go in life but they end up in a place that, if not better than my disheartening reality, is at least different.  For better or for worse, they realize themselves deeply.  Who amongst us, the living on this side of the page, can truly claim that?

Even now, as I write these sparse words, I am experiencing a freedom from self, a silencing of the restless voice that murmurs incessantly in my breast.  I know it is all too temporary, like the junky knows the temporariness of his next high even as he smacks the vein to attention and aims the spike at its mark.  Does that stop him from plunging it in?

With these final words I hope not to disappoint those of you cheering me on in my rant.  But if I have a dim hope for my work, it is to have it defeated.  Defeated by the efforts of one or more of my characters to scratch the surface of all this gloom and find a ray of light, a reticent glow that can not be turned off or deflected as it edges through a small tear in the thick curtain.  If you read my stories, you will see it sneaking through here and there, glinting off the hard edge of some metal object, illuminating a stark hallway, and please god, bringing a wan smile to your face when you least expect it.

Find Joel on his website and on Twitter

Being a Superhero Again – Michael LaRocca

Today’s guest post is from acclaimed writer and editor, Michael LaRocca. Look out for ‘The Boatman’s Getting Restless’ and ‘A Modern Epic’, coming soon to Lit Bits as a bonus double bill.

Before you can write a story, you have to be so comfortable with each of your characters that you can slip into his or her skin and become that character, both in your mind and in your heart. Like acting, except that you don’t have to act.

So I’ve spent the past few months being a 6000-year-old gay hermaphrodite space alien.

Well, actually, several of them. Since I was driving and listening to Devo, I was obviously Cronus. Devo and Cronus always go together. Even Blind Homer could see that.

If I’d been on my bicycle I’d have been Hephaestus. I’ll spare you the other Titans for now. Along with an explanation of why I called Hephaestus a Titan.

I was putting some cat food in the car when I heard angry hostile violent shouts. And like Cronus, I just dropped my stuff and rushed over to the scene of the crime, ready to break it up.

Turns out it was some guys watching TV outside the sports bar when Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers’ QB) threw an interception. They were raging at the game, not at each other.

Bye, Cronus. Hello, Michael. What a relief. Fifteen angry youths might be a bit much for me.

Then I remembered that my blistered feet were hurting. I’d forgotten those in the adrenaline. I blistered them trying to hike like Cronus. He’s homeless by choice, so he walks a lot.

My next stop was to walk a dog. Part of my new part-time job. I never followed my own dogs with plastic bags because we lived in the country. (Shout out to Watha and Burgaw.) But in the city, I pick up the poop.

The second poop wasn’t even from my dog. It was much too large. She just had to sniff until I picked it up. It was probably from a very large dog, because we don’t have homeless people in this part of town.

Is that too much information?

I suppose that was my inner Hephaestus picking up the poop. Cronus would’ve just laughed at the shit.

Loki would’ve picked it up, set the bag on fire, and left it on your front porch, but I haven’t been in his skin. Yet.

You can find Michael here:

– http://www.michaelwrites.com

@MichaelEdits

People I Meet on Trains – R. G. McKay Ireland

Today’s guest post is by R G McKay Ireland. A poet and fiction writer, R G has contributed three stories to our Lit Bits series of short reads – ‘Remnants’, ‘Drive’ and ‘One-Way traffic.’

 

“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.” – William Faulkner.

That’s how my stories tend to start. I place a person, somewhere, in a predicament – and watch what he does. Before that I stare at something – like a blank page on my computer screen or at the back of the city on the train journey from London to south Wales – and I wait for someone to come to life: sweating, fearful, angry, or maybe brave, fearless, hopelessly optimistic.

I like the train from Paddington to Bridgend – you get to see much of how people live. Firstly you get to see the arse-end of west London through the window: countless Tox graffiti tags, Trellick Tower, sleeping bags in tunnels, factories and junk yards. I like to see the other passengers doing the same, their faint reflections like ghosts of themselves looking back into the carriage.

Then I get out into wealthy towns and villages beyond London that I’m not familiar with. I don’t know the places by name, but I see mansions on the river with yachts. There’s one house I look out for, it’s as equally impressive as the others and a picture-perfect river cuts through the immaculate lawn. I’ve wondered if the people who live there own the water and the fish for the short moments they pass through their property.

It’s not long before the houses become sparse and I’m in the countryside, and my laptop has turned itself off because I haven’t touched it. But it’s then, usually, when somebody desperate and imagined introduces themselves to me. It’s then that I turn my laptop on and follow what they do.

By the time I start writing I’ve got less than two hours until I get to Bridgend. I’m a slow writer. I’d like to say that I start and finish a short story neatly in the time it takes to get home – that’s not the case. But after a little while of writing I’ve passed through the Severn Tunnel and into Wales, through the coastal cities of Newport and then Cardiff, where the places and people are different to London but I assume not so different in the problems they face – and sometimes, I begin to like the person who introduced themselves to me. I feel guilty for putting him in such a predicament, while I sit comfortably and sip a warm Stella from the buffet car.

When the train leaves Cardiff (the next stop is Bridgend) I get distracted and my writing slows and the quality drops, and I flatten the screen of my laptop and look out of the window again. If I’m lucky, I feel for the character, and I think of him. I think of how I owe it to him to finish his story, and in the coming days he’ll tap on the inside of my head until I do.

Remnants, Drive, and One-Way Traffic – my first published short stories – were born on these train journeys. These are stories of desperate people in fierce predicaments, who I couldn’t help but like and do my best to keep up with on my keyboard.

http://www.rgmckayireland.com

Robert Rigby – Keeping It Short

Today’s guest post is by Robert Rigby. A prolific author, dramatist and song writer. We are delighted that Robert has contributed three stories to our Lit Bits series of short reads – ‘When Harry Met Dali’, ‘The Silences’ and ‘Each Little Bird.’

‘I was sitting in my dressing room after the show when I heard people outside my window shouting, “Max, Max, give us Max!” So I went outside. And it was raining!’

A Max Bygraves joke, which he may well have pinched from his hero, Max Miller. A joke, yes, but it’s also a story, a very short story with a beginning a middle and an end.In a few words it paints a picture, in artistic terms it might be called a sketch.

An artist friend of mine has been working recently on oil ‘sketches,’ trying to capture what he says is the almost impossible task of painting moving water. I think the sketches are fresh and beautiful, even though he maintains his mission remains unaccomplished. I asked him if the paintings were preparatory work for a bigger painting.

‘No,’ he said, ‘for me sketches are works in their own right, although they may inform a later work. Obviously, they are quicker to complete than a bigger work and perhaps they are painted more experimentally and with more freedom, but every sketch is a finished piece of work, once I decide it is finished, that is.’

One of my very short stories for the Other Publishing Company’s, Lit Bits Collection, When Harry Met Dali, explores the theme of creating images from memories, painting a vivid and permanent picture in the mind that can be viewed or stored away as required.

I’m interested in Art, and images, the narrative within a piece of art (not that there has to be one), and from a writer’s point of view, in painting pictures with words. And since that conversation with my artist friend, I’ve seen, more vividly, the similarities between short stories and sketches.

Short stories, too, are comparatively quick to complete, and mine certainly were written more experimentally and with more stylistic freedom than is usual for me. And they are finished pieces of work. It’s also possible that one of my short stories may inform a future novel. It happens often enough, the late Alan Sillitoe confessed that Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was made up entirely of a number of short stories. You can clearly see the joins when rereading the novel, but it worked, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is a twentieth century classic.

I’ve enjoyed the challenge of the literary ‘sketch,’ of saying everything I wanted to say but keeping it short. So there will be more, because in the words of the late Mr Bygraves, ‘I wanna tell you a story…’

Find out more about Robert Rigby and his work at:  www.robertrigby.co.uk