Category Archives: Themes

Introducing “Betting the Kitchen Sink” (Trio 2, Story 5)

Have You Ever Thought Your Numbers Came Up, if Only for a Second?This story was inspired by various cases in the British media of people winning the lottery–and then being denied their claim. Some were legitimate, some less so.

Here the focus is on a couple who live in my home town of Warrington, mid-way between Manchester and Liverpool. He plays the lottery, she doesn’t. They hit the big time. What happens to their relationship?

Money taints, and big money taints big. The question is two-fold in the story. Do they get the money, and what does it do to them? It’s not all bad, though, since the struggle to successfully claim can bring people closer together…but for how long? Can they repair their differences, and redeem their relationship?

Betting the Kitchen Sink” is an amalgam of real-life news. The media loves lottery stories, of course, since they revolve around huge wins and huge losses, putting everything into question, including identity, social values, pride, guilt, friendship and love. Together they often lead to that most valued of human feelings: schadenfreude, the pleasure we get from other people’s misfortunes.

Here’s a taster of recent ones ripped from the headlines. These two stories from the UK: Man Denied Lottery Winning Because Winning Ticket Was Printed Just Seven Seconds Too Late and We Did Win 254m Lottery Jackpot, and this story from the US: Man Misses Out on 14m Jackpot.

Good luck if you win!

Introducing “A Slice of the Adirondacks” (Trio 2, Story 4)

Have You Ever Left Your Kids With Babysitters and Worried?This story was inspired by a family visit to upstate New York and the enormous Adirondack State Park. The statistics on the park size are astonishing: it covers more land area than Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier, and Grand Canyon National Park combined. I guess New York state is kinda big.

On such a vast backdrop, I wanted to write a small story. An old man, Walter, goes swimming every morning, but one day is disturbed by some kids. It turns out bad weather puts their lives at risk, and the old fella is there to act as their savior. But not before they are forced to spend a night on an island in the middle of the lake…not far from shore, but too far to risk using the boat to get back. Has he really saved them?

The effect is a kind of cross between Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons or C. S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and a story of brooding horror. If Jonathan Swift got hold of it, Walter as the traveling anti-hero would be the Brobdingnagian giant to the kids’ Lilliputians. You just can’t trust big people.

The story might be seen as sinister and creepy and I’m fine with that. 🙂 Ultimately, I wanted it to be a story about irresponsibility (the absentee parents and absentee babysitters) and accusation (of the old man). An old man left alone with some kids must be up to no good, and yet events might prove otherwise. To accompany the story, there is also Video 4, Have You Ever Left Your Kids With Babysitters and Worried?

A Slice of the Adirondacks” is Story 4 in my writing sequence, and will appear in Trio 2, A Slice of the Adirondacks and Other Capers.

 

 

“The Last Page of Friendship” – why is friendship a combat sport?

friend-best-friendEveryone knows the scenario. You make a new friend, or you have an old friend you want to hold onto, but how to keep in touch? What happens when someone drops the ball? Is it your turn to make contact, or theirs? Who’s the bad person?

Friendship is one of the greatest loves, Platonic. It’s free of the often volatility of romantic love, whose intensity that can breed suspicion. Friendship is known as a calmer, more rewarding, often more long-term affair. Your best friends can be with you for life, longer than many relationships, even longer than your family. The demands are few, the support long-term; plus you picked your friends, so presumably you enjoy their personality, their humor, their giving emotional support. They’re just fun to be around.

But throw in a little business, a little competitive spirit, and what have you got? Yup, a mixed metaphor, a ticking time bomb and recipe for absolute disaster. Such is it in the third story of my first collection of three stories, Trio 1, The Man in the Gray Tie and Other Crimes.

In “The Last Page of Friendship,” Judy and Soo are successful middle-aged women living the American Dream (big homes, families, money to spare). They live on the beautiful Bainbridge Island near Seattle. But they have reached a level where dissatisfaction creeps in, with only coffee mornings to complain how drab and predictable their lives have become. To gain attention, meaning, maybe a little fame, why not become writers?

Aside from the incredible difficulty of this pursuit, of making the world sit up and care, they don’t dwell too long on how it might affect their being pals. But it does…and badly. Check out my website to read the first page of “The Last Page of Friendship,” a horror story to put you off being a writer for life (and that’s a good thing).

Judy and Soo made the mistake of picking the same dream. That’s what makes friendship a combat sport — it works best when your circles intersect, but don’t completely overlap. Instead, their friendship turns inward, self-consuming, nasty. Toxic, as the Americans say. Who will get the upper hand? Write the best story? Resist not plagiarizing her friend’s story? Try and be the one to stay above ground a little longer? BFNs: best friends for never.

Who needs friends when you have best friends?

“(He) Said, (She) Said” – why is getting the last word so important?

he-said-she-saidWhat is it about getting the last word? Sometimes people don’t care if they are right or wrong, or how much they hurt each other or themselves. Ending a conversation, or hurtful action, on a dismissive note  is all they need. That’s why getting the last word is so important: it reinforces who you are, that you matter, and that your vision of the world is the true one. (To hell with someone else!)

Such is the case with the two characters, young professionals Danny and Meredith, in the second story of my first collection of three stories, Trio 1, The Man in the Gray Tie and Other Crimes. As the title suggests, who do you believe? It’s a ‘he said, she said’ situation. But doesn’t the person with the last word often get to re-write what happened? Isn’t history written by the victors, and the quieter, smaller voice, gets erased?

Danny and Meredith, old school fiends who lost touch during ‘the university years,’ meet up for a drink in a London pub. They were never romantically linked, but outside of the friendship circles of their younger days, dressed formally and working, and with a little alcohol in their bellies, perhaps now is good as time as ever. But do sparks fly, or signals get misread? Are they being friendly, too friendly, or just plain abusive?

And who do you trust? Who encourages whom? Who gets seduced, and who goes along for the ride? Everything looks so much worse in the morning, when explanations are needed, and self-justifications. Social shame can be a powerful force, not to mention having to text with the same person the morning after about the night before. Who wants that?

To see how far Danny and Meredith go in the battle of the sexes (and of whose story is to be believed), my website has the first page of “(He) Said, (She) Said.”

More importantly, will they talk again after the fact?

“The Man in the Gray Tie” – what’s behind the tie?

auction-houseWhat is it about a man in a gray tie? The blandness, the dullness, the downright boring person behind the clothing item? Well, yes, but also the mystery, the possibility that they are not who they seem.

Such is it with the title story of my first collection of three stories, Trio 1, The Man in the Gray Tie and Other Crimes. The man in question is Dr. Sidney Holton, a chiropractor with a peculiar hobby behind his demure dress sense…he likes to provoke people. But not directly. He likes to visit auction houses and push up the prices, for fun, to make people buy things at elevated prices. It gives him a devious thrill.

There are consequences, of course, and escalation. First he meets a mysterious woman, Valerie Eden. She chats to him at the drinks table during a break in the bidding. She’s seductive, middle-aged like him, and very soon she’s sitting near to him as the auction restarts. Except she’s a distraction. What will happen to his hobby? Will he buy her something he can’t afford? Will he get stung by the auction house? Will she seduce him? To check out how deep Sidney gets into hot water, the first page of “The Man in the Gray Tie” is available on my website.

I see Sidney as one of life’s daredevils who has no conception that there are professional fraudsters and conmen out there, hiding in plain sight. He thinks he can roll up to any business or individual and have his fun, a selfish thrill that actually causes a little harm: that’s how he gets his pleasure.

But when the tables are turned, it’s not quite so much fun, is it?

Check out what happens to Sidney when he gets ‘backroomed.’ The boss of an auction house can be worse than the boss of a casino!

Trio 1 publishing on November 5, 2015 (Stories 1-3)

The Man in the Gray Tie and Other Crimes (cover)I can now confirm that the first three stories of Rising Apes, Falling Angels will publish on November 5, 2015. They will form a standalone trio (Trio 1) called The Man in the Gray Tie and Other Crimes.

Each story focuses on a particular theme: fraud in “The Man in Gray Tie,” consent in “(He) Said, (She) Said” and plagiarism in “The Last Page of Friendship.” Well, plus a little cheating, lust and murder!

The Man in the Gray Tie and Other Crimes will be available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com (in Kindle, nook and iBook formats).

Roll on November 5, 2015!

Videos live on YouTube (Stories 1-3)

Parkgate Press You Tube ChannelThe videos for Stories 1-3 are now live on YouTube. All three are viewable here on the Parkgate Press YouTube Channel. They are narrated by my slightly mad brother, Frankie. He’s even created his own corner for reviewing my stories, and called it, well, Frankie’s Corner.

Each video corresponds to the story from The Man in the Gray Tie and Other Crimes, with a tag line that reflects that story’s theme. For example, Video 1 is titled “Have You Ever Gambled and Won Something You Couldn’t Afford?” since Story 1, “The Man in Gray Tie,” is about a man who fraudulently pushes the prices up at auctions. He gets what he deserves, but not before he wins something he couldn’t pay for….

Video 2 is titled “Have You Ever Crossed a Line of Decency You Shouldn’t Have?” and reflects the theme of consent in Story 2, “(He) Said, (She) Said.” It’s a story about consent, set on a London college campus close to Tottenham Court Road. Do you believe what he said, or she said? Who drank too much, but who slipped away in the morning?

Finally, Video 3 is titled “Would You Go Into Business With Your Best Friend?” and reflects the theme of plagiarism in “The Last Page of Friendship.” Two Seattle women want to write the Great American Short Story. Have they got what it takes? Who is prepared to go further than her best frenemy?