Friday Fictioneers: The Red Barn

PHOTO PROMPT © David Stewart

The moon was full enough to illuminate the path, but I clicked on the light anyway, enjoying how my shadow stretched across the lawn, a giant in the night.

In the cardboard box were the broken spectacles, the engraved wedding ring (Forever), the shoes with their matted laces. All dried now, still rusty looking.

The riskiest things to keep are the driving licences, row upon row of tiny photographs like prison mugshots.

But I keep them anyway.

And touch each with my outstretched fingertip when the kids are on playdates, when my husband is down the pub.



Friday Fictioneers is run my the wonderful Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Come write and share and read other stories.

This week that shed took me along a deadly path by reminding me of the 19th century killing of Maria Marten at Polstead in Suffolk, otherwise known as the Red Barn Murder. My dad used to live closeby and I remember him pointing out the spot where poor Maria died. All I glimpsed was a flash of trees and a newer black barn as we drove past. The original building burnt down years ago but the tragedy lingers on.

***Editorial Sale*** I currently have a 1/3 off all critique and mentoring packages through to the end of September. What better time to polish those submission packages and short stories and make your novel the best it can be?

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If you go down to the woods today…

Image: Pixabay

Once upon a time…

I’ve not been on WordPress for a long old time, but that doesn’t mean I’ve given up writing.

At the start of the first lockdown here in the UK, I decided it was now or never for me to write the supernatural novel I’d been planning for a long time. But to do that, I’d have to stop my deliciously all-consuming blogging habit. So that’s what I did, went WordPress cold turkey. It was a wrench, but at the end of those three months I had a shiny new first draft. Alright, it was a ramshackle threadbare, ugly first draft, but it had one huge plus – it was finished.

And of course, once I’d done one draft, I had to do another, and another. And then I was invited to contribute to one anthology, then out of that came another, by which time that ramshackle first draft had become a slightly-less-awful second draft, an even-better-than-that third draft, and then I was sending my lockdown baby out on submission, hoping it would be noticed by some stunningly wonderful literary agent. Hoping, but not assuming of course, because the chances of getting signed are a thousand to one…

Then last November my thousand to one chance came in. I’ll share the full story of my road to representation another time, but I now have an agent – the amazing Susan Armstrong at C&W – and I’m currently sculpting that malformed creature of mine into something rather more beautiful.

So, what does a would-be author need, but somewhere to peddle dark tales, twisty thoughts and ghostly whisperings. Below is the link to my new author website where you’ll find the usual meanderings down unlit corridors and details of my critique services.

If you write spec fiction, women’s fiction or literary and need fresh eyes on your work, click the link below. I’m open to other genres (though not children’s fiction, sorry) but message me first so we can decide if I’m a good fit for you.

Or you can just hit Subscribe and wait by your inbox for news, updates and more shaggy ghost stories.

And we all lived spookily ever after…

Friday Fictioneers : My New World

PHOTO PROMPT- Copyright - Jan Wayne Fields

PHOTO PROMPT- Copyright – Jan Wayne Fields


The sun on the choppy waves is blinding. So different from the rain-lashed harbour we first saw together. We devoured every inch of the skyline with our eyes that day, oblivious to the pitch of the boat, the lightning shredded sky.

I feel the void, the narrowing of my flesh where a decade of wearing your ring cinched a waist in my finger. I imagine its gilt glint on the dressing table and wonder if you’ve found it yet, found the absence of me.

I turn my back on Liberty and face my New World.



Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. See the lovely photo and write a story in 100 words or fewer.

I resisted the temptation to write an immigrant story, despite the idea appealing greatly to my sense of history and adventure. Instead of arriving, my character is leaving New York – and why not have a chunk of REM gratis.

The wounded

Bowl of cereal

Image : Pixabay

‘Your pillow’s wet,’ said Mum. ‘Did you have another nightmare?’

She worries. I know that’s at the root of it all, the checking my bed for tears, for sweat, any hint I haven’t slept. Though over the months, the worry in her voice sounds more like hurt – an accusation. Why can’t she have a son who’s like the others? Who goes out drinking, gets hung up on girls? Why the endless scribbling, the hours on forums looking for answers?

Why does she have to have the wounded son?

I try to smile, to ignore the heaviness around my eyes, the way my limbs seem to float then sink, as if I’m caught in a rip tide.

‘I’m fine Mum,’ I say, tipping cereal into a bowl, sloshing milk in after it.

I shovel grainy clumps into my mouth, let the milk dribble down my chin – my best in impression of a ‘normal’ teenage boy. She smiles, ruffles my hair like she did when I was small. My chest feels like its breaking, like someone’s prising it apart and for a moment I think I’ll tell her everything. But the cereal’s turned spongy and it clogs my throat and I can’t speak. So I don’t.

‘Don’t forget to put out the rubbish, love,’ she says.



Witten for The Daily Post’s Daily PromptNIGHTMARE. See the word and write a post about it, why don’t you?

The cockroaches are on the march

Big Ben clock face

Image : Pixabay

The sun is strong, even through my tinted visor. I’m squinting, a strange sensation after the darkness of of the shuttle.

Connell kneels a few metres away, sinking into the sand a little. He’s adjusting his intruments, taking down readings – wind, temperature, humidity – whatever. Last night, over rehydrated mac n cheez he tried to explain what we’ve been asked to learn and why but I wasn’t listening. I don’t see the point in being here, in raking up old ghosts, rekindling hopes that should be left dead.

‘What do your cronies in the Party think to all this?’ I ask, scanning the horizon.

There are rumours of guerillas out here, supposedly squatters from the lowest parts of the old city. Druggies and crims armed with whatever they could salvage before the desert ate the place. The human equivalent of cockroaches. I don’t believe it – how could anyone live in this heat, without water? But I’m Security, so I watch the dunes, the shattered teeth of tower blocks, the pillars and snaking bridge chains for a threat that isn’t there.

He doesn’t look up. ‘You know what they say. If there’s a chance to recolonise the capital, we should take it. Good for morale.’

‘Ha!’ The noise is out before I can think to stop it. I look towards the clock tower I’ve seen so often on the digi-screens, the black and white face, the stunted roof cut short by wind and neglect. Through the binoculars, I can see scraps of gilding left on the ironwork that shimmers in the sun like it’s on fire – it’s still beautiful I guess. ‘We’re in a mess, then.’

‘Why’s that?’ said Connell, sealing a sample bottle, stowing it in his case.

There’s a smudge of grey in the sky, like cloud. No rain clouds here, not for years.

‘Well,’ I say, ‘if recolonising a desert city that has no food, water and shelter is good for morale …’ I drop the binoculars and lift my gun, peering through the sight. ‘You finished Doctor Connell?’

‘I’d like to carry out a few more tests. Is the shuttle due back already?’

I keep my eye on the patch of grey, the puff of smoke that’s growing, spreading closer with every second. ‘I think the cockroaches are on the march, Doc.’


Written for The Daily Post’s daily prompt, DESERT. Use the word as a springboard for an exciting post.

#tuesdayuseitinasentence:Where’s the dirt?

Harbourside, boats and painted houses

Image: Pixabay


Sara barely recognises her old home.

Or rather, she recognises only crumbs amid the feast: the curve of the dockside railway tracks; how the old bonded warehouses cut grey squares from a blue sky. But the place has donned its Sunday best, been buffed until it shimmers and dominating her harbour are whippy ice cream vans scrawled with cartoon cats, dimly glowing restaurants and a cinema that shows moving pictures in languages she doesn’t recognise.

Frederick rests a hand in the small of her back. ‘How do you find it?’

She gazes across the water, towards the steam cranes, leggy silhouettes that perform their jerky, pointless ballet to entertain visitors.

‘Where’s the dirt?’ she says. Where is the smog and puff of steam engines, the crush and bawl of dockers unloading bales of tobacco and cinnamom logs, rolling higgledy barrels of sherry? The thrilling promise of more. ‘I hate it.’

It’s the people she dislikes the most: the locals rapt in their music players, always looking down; the tourists stumbling blindly, pointing their image makers at nothing, recording but never seeing. Where are her sailors with their tales of willing women and vengeful oceans, their songs, their brawls, the stink of brine and sweat and pipe smoke?

‘The water,’ she says, staring into the churning brown slick below. ‘It’s the only thing that hasn’t changed.’

‘And us,’ he says, grasping her hand.

And she knows she’ll leave and never return.



Written for Stephanie at Word Adventure’s #tuesdayuseitinasentence. Take the word – today it’s HARBOUR – and use it in a post on a Tuesday. See here to join the fun.

W4W: Why all writers must be swots

Exam paper

Image : Pixabay

Exam season is drawing to a close here in the UK.

After months of preparation and stress, thousands of GCSE students will face their final papers before kicking back for few weeks, while trying to ignore the shadow of gloom that is Results Day.

Remembering my own experiences of this time is uncomfortable.

When I took my GCSEs, they were called O Levels (a simpler name for a harder exam, if the tabloids are to be believed) I don’t remember learning how to


I’m not saying I wasn’t taught the techniques, merely that I don’t recall the information being passed on to me.

But then, my mind is hazy about a lot of things from that time: how to calculate the area of a circle; why I stood outside the school gates, holding a cigarette for the Head Girl, before being caught by the evil harpy that was Miss Brown and losing my Prefect’s badge; why I chickened out of meeting Dominic behind the print works after school, even though he was pretty good looking and no one else had asked me out through the whole of Secondary School.

I think I might have glanced through a handful of old test papers, but in the main my revision technique was

(1) Wake up thinking about upcoming exam.

(2) Experience a sickening feeling of dread.

(3) Attempt to cover up sickening feeling of dread by playing the Seven and the Ragged Tiger by Duran Duran very loud.

(4) Eat oven chips.

(5) Got to bed.

(6) Wake up thinking about upcoming exam …

I passed most of my exams – some scraped more than passed – but would have got an A in The Union of the Snake,  if it had been on the curriculum.

When it came to studying for my degree, I took the whole thing rather more seriously.

I read, re-read, annotated, drew crazy looking diagrams with five different coloured luminous markers,  bought a stack of old exam papers and spent every evening for weeks on the run up sitting mock exams in my dining room until I could answer a question about Religious Observance or Women’s Role in Roman Society blindfold with my hands tied behind my back, scratching my answers into the wall with a spoon clenched between my toes.

I got a First.

Now, writing a novel is rather like sitting an exam that’s really important to you but has no time limit and which you’re never quite sure is over until someone buys your answer papers from you.


I’ve revised my YA novel many, many times. I’ve sent it out to four agents, three of which have come back pretty quickly with a big no and the fourth has yet to answer at all.

So far, I have failed the exam.

But an editor has just looked through my first chapter for free, covering the page in lovely squiggly red comments.

Now I’m back to revision.

Maybe this time I’ll pass the resit.



Written for Kat’s W4W prompt.

The editor in question was James at Storymedic. I’m not sure if he’ll read any more chapters for free, but read his blog anyway – in it you’ll find some brilliant guidance for writers.

Friday Fictioneers : The wages of sin


Copyright -John Nixon

Copyright -John Nixon


Cal’s been through his repertoire twice, though the regulars don’t notice the repetition.

This time of night, when the floor’s awash with beer and the pavement outside has had its first bloody baptism, he turns to the old tunes, ones that make the most busted booze hound weep.

He plays one of his Gran’s favourites – fair maids, broken hearts – and a ragged choir joins in the chorus.

Another shot of whisky joins the line-up on the piano. After closing, he’ll pour them all into a pint glass and take it home.

The wages of sin.



Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Fields’ Friday Fictioneers. See the pic, write a story in 100 words or fewer.

The piano in the picture reminded me of an old Billy Joel song. Sing us a song, you’re the piano man …



Patient as a stone

Stone cottage and wood carvings

Image: Pixabay



She waited patient as a stone.

Autumn leaves fell, drifting against her back, filling in the curve of her waist, the hollows behind her knees.

As the air cooled, sharp as a knife in her lungs, frost webbed across her skin, grew needles in her hair. Her heart slowed.

Gradually, the earth thawed. Buds grew plump and sticky on the trees, birds plucked moss from her eyelids to line their nests. Mulch vanished under bluebells, azure spears slicing the brown. Her heart beat faster.

One morning came the sound she had waited for – a voice echoing the blackbird’s call.

She rose, stretched, limbs stiff as wood, gazing at the cottage walls, at the faces . Her hands ran over unseeing eyes, fingernails searched gaping mouths. She remembered every one of them: blond haired children lost in the woods, burly shepherds chasing stray lambs, foolhardy youths more brave than clever. Each she had greeted, took as her own, bricked into her walls. They didn’t come often, but she was good at waiting.

The voice drew near, sweet, high – young.

Her mouth stretched into its widest smile.

After reading calmgrove’s wonderful review of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – and after our ensuing discussions on the perils of dealing with faerie folk, I felt inspired to write a tale with ‘Grimm’ overtones. You never know what waits in the deep, dark, woods …


Three Line Tales: Scream in the void

TLT week 19 – space

photo by NASA – click here for full res version (and with this one, you want the big             version to see all the detail)


Sylvie’s cheek ached, the plastic of the telescope’s eyepiece unforgivingly hard. For days since the explosion, she’d watched the fallout mark the cosmos, staining indigo golden brown. The initial blast had resembled a chrysanthemum bloom – fat, swollen – then as the dust entered the neighbouring constellation’s gravity, the bloom stretched and broke apart, its petals thrown lose.

She knew she was looking into the past, that due to the vast distance light must travel from the fringes of the universe, the impact had hit nearby planets thousands – hundreds of thousands – of years ago.

But she couldn’t help wonder. If she listened hard as she watched the collision on that far pocket of creation –

Would she hear the screams?



Written for Sonya’s Three Line Tales – an exercise in stretching the rules to snapping point, as I see it. See the beautifully chosen pic and write your damndest. See here for Ts and the inevitable Cs.