Writing update

It’s been a little quiet on the blog front lately, but I’ve been furiously at work on several exciting projects.

With the support and sounding-board of my wonderful wife, I spent November/December completing my first short novel, a black comedy about a conspiracy theorist whose fears seem to be coming to life around him.  It’s called The Truth Is in Here, UPDATE: and it’s now available on Amazon!

In the meantime, I’m writing shorter fiction across several genres, to push out to Amazon’s e-publishing channels. One of these is an attempt at serial fiction, which is proving both fun and challenging, and I’m aiming to complete the first installment in early February.

This does mean fewer updates on the blog and less engagement with online communities in the meantime, but I’ve got a handful of pieces on the back-burner, and will post them once they’re ready.

Okay, back to the writing!

My Grandfather Lies

My mother was never given to open sentiment. A strong woman, raised by a mother without a ready supply of hugs or comfort, her most poignant words were spoken after Granddad died: “I never saw my father’s legs.”

His bones have rested beneath the ground some thirteen years now, but that’s not the way he would tell it.

There was usually an elephant, when Granddad spoke: two, in fact. There was the colourful, imposing beast that his words would conjure up, lowering its trunk to proffer a ride. There was also the shape beneath the blanket: my grandfather’s legs, his untold story.

Granddad was a prisoner of war for several years in WW2. Some stories he would share, along with his usual embellishments. The guard’s dog, a German Shepherd (of course), who magically vanished the day fresh rations were discovered. Other stories, darker stories, were never told. Vague hints of circumstance would arise from time to time, from the always trousered legs to the rare shadows on his face, giving a macabre child’s imagination something to play with – but that elephant never took on discernible substance.

Granddad had an eye for the light, the humorous, in any situation, and that inheritance was freely plundered during our childhood. The ageing Scottish voice, expressing any exclamation in his distinctive way, can still be summoned at will. His laugh, with a slight rasp from the incessant smoking, was always full, never feigned or moderated. I remember, distinctly, bouncing on his knee as a child, to his enthusiastic rendition of “Gee up Neddy,” which now makes me cry.  Being Granddad, it was a distinctive take on the lyrics, which Google doesn’t recognise:

Gee up Neddy, to the fair,
We’ll have ham and eggs when we get there;
A penny whip and a farthing crop,
Gee up Neddy to the butcher’s shop!

As emphysema and age advanced, Granddad continued to write his story. He maintained a driver’s license by judiciously cheating on the eye test: on walking into the examination, he would memorise the lower lines of the chart, ready to recite from a distance for the overly trusting Doctor.

Dangerous, perhaps; even with Huntly traffic. He needed the license, though, to maintain his second greatest love.

Gran and Granddad’s house was strategically placed to support this passion: a hundred metres from the Huntly Fire Station, and its piercing alarm. As the klaxon shrieked, Granddad would be at the wheel, ready to shadow the appliances to their target. Fire was his fascination, from the weekly incinerator smoking away in his garden, to the drooping cigarette smouldering in his mouth. He had a boy’s unfettered love of flame, which never seemed to age. I never got to see him witness a “real” fire, on his famous rubbernecking forays, but I can hear his phe-phew whistle coming out of those smiling, cracked lips, and see his gleeful squint as the flames creep skywards.

Granddad, in all his laughter and warmth, was an unlikely candidate to introduce me to Death.

He never seemed frail. Thin, yes. Aged, yes. But he held a presence far beyond the man seated in the red recliner in the corner. When he spoke, when he wove his stories, he was far larger than life.

In Waikato hospital, he could hardly speak. I remember the grey corridors, no fire to sap the chill. I remember him lying in the bed, a mask over his face as he struggled to breathe. Family members milled around in groups, with that helplessness only hospitals can bring. Capable women and men, lifetimes of experience. But nothing to do in the face of mortality.

I don’t remember him managing a sentence in the hospital, let alone a story. In his grey eyes was something unfamiliar, a trace of fear. I remember the Priest arriving, inviting my brother and me to stay, to assist with the Anointing of the Sick. I don’t remember if it was still called The Last Rites. I remember praying along with the Priest, using the archaic form of the Hail Mary. I’ve always prayed that version since, although I only just remembered why.

I remember the last words I spoke to Granddad in the hospital, as we left for the evening. “See you later, Granddad.”

But I didn’t.

I don’t remember my shock the next day, when the news came. I do remember seeing my mother in disbelief and denial. She rocked back and forth, reaching out to us kids, to our father, “He’s dead. My Dad’s dead.”

When they brought his body home, I remember the visit. His face looked different. Still Granddad, but the wrinkles less pronounced, the animation gone. His nose, I remember most of all, thrust out more sharply than I recalled, without his face shifting with laughter and life around it.

Into his cold hands, my uncles placed his Holy Book: the latest Best Bets racing guide, with some sure winners picked out. The visiting Priest didn’t find the comparison terribly amusing, but I’m sure Granddad did.

I remember the funeral. I stood beside my Great Aunty, wearing a lapel pin crucifix I’d received for my Confirmation. A dozen priests and a couple of Bishops stood among the mourners, alongside family, friends, clients and comrades. The celebrant, a younger priest, also knew Granddad: he lost it a couple of times during the ceremony. There was a Granddad-shaped hole in the room, and everybody’s grief flowed endlessly into it.

At the graveside, buglers played The Last Post, and everyone lost it all over again. Choosing a flower to drop into the grave, I remember the sadness oscillating into numbness and back, as the reality hit home. No more jaunty whistles to express surprise. No more elaborate tales, spun on the backs of elephants. No more Gee Up Neddy. No more Granddad. No more.

I remember. Being wrong.

As I think of him now, thirteen years on, I’ve gained other perspectives on his life. Like anyone else, Granddad had other dimensions, not all so rosy. He quietly ran with and tacitly supported the prejudices of his time and place, the racism and other ugly faces of society, the need to overlook and prevent scandal and never challenge taboos.

But the Granddad I knew lives on too. Remembering his funeral, a grown man bawls his eyes out. Remembering the hospital, the house, the sobs become wrenching, physically moving. Remembering further back, to a man who gave his grandchildren the gift of magic, the gifts of imagination and speech, the tears become smiles, become laughter.

I hold the memories, and they teach me about death.

I open myself to the memories and bring my ideal Granddad, my Granddad, back to life.

Just like he taught me.

I’ll never solve the mystery of my grandfather’s legs. And that’s okay now, because the mystery is enough.

There is no try

A man once sat down to write a masterpiece. Except that he wasn’t yet a man, not on the inside, and the masterpiece just wasn’t that masterful.

He wrestled with his words, afflicted quill and pen and pixels on a dozen pages, but what emerged was ever more tortuous, and less masterful still. His most precious convictions staggered across the sentences, crumbling into prancing, patronising parodies of themselves. The harder he tried, the more distorted they became.

And yet he tried. He wrote, he wept, he raged, but the words would not behave. Eventually, they stopped coming at all, and the man was left staring at a blank page.

It was some time before the words returned, tentatively whispering into his head.

The man asked, “Why did you abandon me, at my time of greatest need?”

The words replied: “It was you who refused to let us play.”

The man writes now, and the words come swiftly. He keeps two rules, keeps them on his desk and in his heart:

  1. Don’t be so bloody precious.
  2. Have fun.

This piece was written for Nika Harper’s Wordplay #13. The challenge was a parable on writer’s block, with the prompts “escalation,” “frustration” and “down but not out.”

Cover Letters

Her Royal Majesty, Princess Peach
Peach’s Castle
Mushroom Kingdom

Your Most Royal Highness,

As a loyal subject of the Mushroom Kingdom, I have long admired your guiding presence in our lives, and your advertisement for a bodyguard consequently caught my eye.

My background working beneath the streets of our fair city gives me a perspective that few can offer, with a practical, hands-on approach to problem-solving. Water sanitation and management is a risk-filled occupation, and I have experience subduing both fungal and reptilian threats, while preventing any harm to my clients. It is time to leave the sewers, and work for a cause I care about.

I thank you for taking the time to consider my application. Supporting a ruler I so admire would be more than a simple job to me, and I know I could keep your Highness safely in her castle.

Sincerely yours,


Princess Peach
Peach’s Castle
Mushroom Kingdom

Your Majesty,

I have followed your succession to the throne with great interest, and was saddened to learn of your need for a bodyguard – these are troubling times, indeed, and I would offer you my services.

My background in mechanical engineering and applied castle defence would lend itself perfectly to your needs, and my creations have sent thousands of would-be intruders tumbling to their fate. With a well-honed physique and extensive combat training, I offer reliable protection for your person, and my array of airborne vehicles provide a failsafe escape in the event of an emergency.

I beg Your Majesty to consider this application in all haste, as rumours of ill-bred stalkers spread through the kingdom.

At your service,


This piece was written for Nika Harper’s Wordplay #10. The challenge was a cover letter, with the prompts “the art of caring” and “a new day.”