OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI ran a workshop for National Flash Fiction Day yesterday, at Carlisle Library.

Some of the students opted to write an exercise with one of my ‘catcher’ lines (that’s my term for the opposite to a kicker line, btw: a line with which to end, rather than to begin a story!). Just to make things fair, one of them suggested a line for me:

“He was left without his shirt, bloodied and in tears”. Sheesh!!

I got a page of crabby hand writing in the twenty or so minutes we devoted to the the writing, and finished it off this morning. I knew where I was going, and where I wanted you to think I was going, almost as soon as I started. I permitted myself the luxury of deleting one of the words – believing that the story always trumps the rules! So here’s what I came up with:

A Reverse

by Brindley Hallam Dennis

The problem was that Jenny didn’t understand. She never had. That was the problem. And it hadn’t got any better over the years. That was the problem. He looked down at Mutt.

The problem is, Mutt, that Jenny doesn’t understand, he said. He saw his own reflection in Mutt’s soft brown uncomprehending eyes.

Jenny had had that haughty look over breakfast; the look that said, Get over it! That said, Man up for Chrissake! The look that said, you never were much of a man anyway; said, I don’t know why I married you.

They should have had kids.

We should have had kids, Mutt, he said, standing up and stepping back from the edge.

But Jenny hadn’t wanted to have kids. Kids would have got in the way of her career. He should have put his foot down; not about the career. He wasn’t that sort of guy. He should have put his foot down about the kids.

But then we wouldn’t have had you, old feller, he said.

He had warned her so many times. Watch what you’re doing! If you just thought about it. If only she had listened, but Jenny never took any notice of him. He wouldn’t have to warn her again.

The grave was narrow and deep. The soil glistened with a dampness that belied the blue sky and the heat of the sun. Blood had got onto his shirt; onto his forearms, mixing with the sweat and dust; onto the sharp blade of the spade. A shadow passed across the sun and he shivered. He would need a shower. He stood up and felt for the spade. He remembered a funeral they had gone to, years before, where he had lingered in the churchyard, talking to one of the other mourners. Jenny had gone on ahead and was waiting impatiently in the car. He had heard the thump of the soil landing on the coffin lid as the gravediggers began to cover it up. There would be no thumping this time. The soil would fall back softly, the curled body giving slowly with the growing weight of it. He could not bear the thought of it falling onto the open eyes. He let go of the spade and tugged at his shirt front.

He should have put his foot down about the car. What did she want a car like that for anyway? It looked like a squashed sardine tin. All you could see out of the front was the underside of lorries, and the hump of the boot out of the back. You wouldn’t get any kids in the back of that car. Even Mutt would have been hard put to fit in, if he had been allowed.

Jenny’s voice sliced down from the house-back.

Have you finished yet? I need to go and get this bloody dent taken out of the boot.

When he appeared at the edge of the lawn, he was without his shirt, bloodied, and in tears. <END


There is a series of informal, drop-in workshops planned for Carlisle Library, starting next Saturday, 28th June, from 11.00am-1.00pm. Led by Darren Harper and Brindley Hallam Dennis (aka Mike Smith). There will be five in the series, fortnightly, ending just before Borderlines, Carlisle Book Festival & The Writers Quarter (of which more next week).

 28th June. 11.00am-1.00pm Fifteen Minute Biographies – come and join Darren Harper & BHD writing short biographies of themselves, of remembered family and friends, of imaginary people, then post them on our wall!

 12th July. 11.00am-1.00pm Reading as a Writer/Writing for the reader. Join Darren Harper and BHD in a discussion about how reading and writing match up, and why they sometimes don’t, and have a go at some short & simple writing exercises.

 26th July. 11.00am-1.00pm The Useful Little Story Machine: Darren Harper & BHD sets some writing exercises to find the stories you are ready to tell.

 9th August. 11.00am-1.00pm Desert Island Paragraphs. Come along to share your favourite

sections of novels and short stories with Darren Harper & BHD.

 23rd August. 11.00am-1.00pm The Book Doctors: Darren Harper & BHD will hold a series of surgeries looking at your stories and how they work!