Short Story – The Race

Following my first attempt at short story writing last week, I received plenty of feedback. Some was favourable, some not so, but it was all constructive, so thank you for that.

One comment that got me thinking was that I’d hardly stretched my imagination. OK, hands up – I admit I went for the tried and tested short-story-with-a-twist formula, and I don’t do formulaic. I’m a confirmed panster, for heaven’s sake!

For short story number two I’m going back to what I know. I have a title, a thought or two for the start (which may well change), and not a clue how it will end.

So here goes – roll up, roll up, it’s time for ‘The Race’…


The Race

“The Race is the stuff of myth and legend.”

Walking up a steep grassy slope in the company of the slimiest man I’ve ever met, I find myself wishing the stuff of myth and legend would confine itself to myth and legend.

“You are our honoured guest,” Slimeball continues. He sounds as though his mouth is full of – er – slime, I guess.

Then he smiles.

I wish he wouldn’t do that.

“Or should I say, Competitor?”

That’s got my attention.

“Oh no. I’m not competing in anything, mythical and legendary or otherwise.”

Slimeball looks baffled. One of his chins disappears into the sweaty pulp masquerading as his shirt collar.

“But it’s the Race,” he says as if that explains everything.

We crest the brow of the hill and I stare about in astonishment. There are crowds and crowds of people gathered either side of a deep canyon, mouths agape in anticipation. A collective “Ahh” goes up as we appear.

Slimeball spreads his fleshy hands wide and booms, “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the Competitor!”

In perfect unison, the crowd cheers. I crane my neck to see into the canyon. There’s a fast moving river at its base. With rocks. And…crocodiles? Not sure, but there are certainly teeth down there.

If that’s the Race Track, I want no part of it.

“No way.”

I turn on my heel and walk back down the hill.

Up the hill.

No, I’m sure I should be walking down it…

Why am I not surprised when I end up back at the canyon? The crowd cheers as if my walkout is all part of the fun.

Slimeball is waiting for me. I really wish he wouldn’t smile.

“My name is Slimeball,” he says.

“Yeah, I guessed that.”

“Now, the Race…”

“Look, Slimeball, what part of ‘no’ do you not understand? I. Am. Not. Your. Competitor.”

“Of course you are,” replies Slimeball complacently. “Oh, you’re worried about racing. You won’t race the Race…”

By George, I think he’s got it.

My relief is short lived.

“…The Race races you.”

“Slimeball, I really don’t want to do this…”

“Ms Competitor, may I ask you to go and stand on the bridge.”

My eyes follow the line of his fat pointing finger to a flimsy bridge spanning the canyon, groaning and quivering under the mass of sheep – I mean, spectators jostling for a prime spot.

No, I do mean sheep. They’ve all turned into sheep.

“If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather watch from here,” I say. “In fact, I’d rather go home, but as you seem determined I’m to stay for this poxy race…”

“Poxy race! Poxy race!” chorus the sheep on the bridge. They’re ever so loud all of a sudden. Oh, that’ll be because I’m on the bridge with them.

“The Competitor has taken her place.” Slimeball’s voice echoes around the canyon. A greenish drool rolls down his chin. “Let the Race begin!”

I have a split second to realise the bridge is going to collapse before the bridge does just that.

There’s no sensation of falling. It’s more that the river races up to greet me, but by now nothing is surprising me in this topsy-turvy world. As the water and I meet, I realise the railing onto which I’m clinging so desperately still has a plank from the bridge attached to it. I have my very own water scooter. Woohoo!

OK, I can do this. Gripping the railing firmly with both hands, I successfully negotiate my way past the first of the rocks. Lean left to bear left, lean right to bear right. Easy peasy.

The river carries me at a speed I don’t even want to consider, but at least I am moving forward – something in Topsy-Turvy Land is actually doing what I expected it to do.

Relaxing into my race, I allow myself some time for reflection. The Race races me? Yeah, right! Watch and learn, Slimeball, watch and learn.

Hang on a minute, though, weren’t there teeth involved too? Glancing over my shoulder, I notice I’m the only competitor left in the Race. The starting line is clear – flotsam litters the water marking the exact point at which the bridge collapsed – but there’s no sign of the sheep. The teeth are there, though. Grinning.

Looks like the teeth consider lamb more of a delicacy than human.

I don’t have time to grieve for the sheep. Turning to face forward again, I see a colossal rock looming in front of me. Right in front, that is. In fact, I’m riding up the side of the wretched thing.

A jumble of instructions races through my brain.

Lower your centre of gravity.

Do what?

Crouch down, you dolt! Hold on tight. Do not, I repeat, do NOT fall off…


I shoot up into the air, hollering my lungs out, then hit the water on the other side of the rock with perfect balance.


The sheep on the banks go wild. I raise a hand in triumph. At this moment in time, I’ll take any encouragement.

Hold on, rewind a little. The sheep on the banks? Sure enough, the forbidding rocky canyon has given way to grassy banks on either side of the river. Flowers are swaying in a gentle breeze. Sunshine sparkles on the water. Birds are tweeting. Sheep are tweeting (#competitorskijump).

I steer my water scooter to the left and drag it on to the bank with me. Slimeball is there, and he’s not smiling any more. (Small mercies, eh?)

“What are you doing?” he yells. “The Race has to carry on until it’s won.”

“Fine,” I reply, posing for a selfie with a group of young sheep (#competitorretires), “I’m withdrawing my entry.”

“You can’t withdraw your entry! The race has to carry on until it’s won.”

“Yeah, you said. So I must be the winner, being as everyone else has been eaten.”

“Tell her.”

A woman (or is it a vulture?) with shoulders hunched up to her ears and thin hooked nose is perching at the side of the river. I wonder if any carrion has managed to evade the teeth.

“I will, Ms Vulture.”

Slimeball turns to me, his expression grim. “The winner is the last competitor to die.”

“So that’s me then.”

Ms Vulture glares at me. I’m clearly far too alive for her taste. In fact, I seem to be far too alive for Slimeball’s taste too.

“No,” he spits. Literally. “You are not the winner until you die.”

“So as long as I’m alive, the Race is still going on.” I start to laugh. “Well unlucky, Slimeball, because I have no intention of dying in the foreseeable future.”

Slimeball turns to Ms Vulture for help, but she’s too busy scooping something unmentionable from the water.

“Have you ever thought of having a live winner?” I ask.

“#livewinner, #livewinner,” tweet the sheep.

Ms Vulture’s disgust is palpable.

“A live winner,” she hisses, “is against the rules.”

“And who makes the rules?”

“The Winner, of course.”

Slimeball looks at me as if I’m simple.

“So how can the Winner make the rules if the Winner’s dead?”

Back at ya, Slimeball.

“A live winner is unprecedented…”

“#livewinner.” The sheep aren’t giving up.

“Shut up,” roars Slimeball.


I love the fact the sheep are defying Slimeball, but it’s getting a little difficult to hold a conversation.

“Could you perhaps drop the volume a touch?” I ask them. #livewinner continues on a loop, but whispered.

The significance isn’t lost on me.

“Looks like the sheep are doing as I ask now, Slimeball.”

“Impossible.” Fat a-rippling, sweat pouring, Slimeball again looks to Ms Vulture for inspiration. Personally, I’d rather not risk seeing whatever it is she’s chewing on. “They only obey the Race Winner.”

“So how come they were obeying you…ah, you sneaky sod! A live winner isn’t unprecedented at all, is it.”

I beam round at the sheep.

“OK, back to full volume, guys. What do we want?”


“And who is that Live Winner?”


All of a sudden, Ms Vulture’s very interested in proceedings.

“Race rule,” she caws, waddling over from the riverbank and licking her lips at Slimeball, “number 5,048, as set by Slimeball in 1755: should the occasion arise that a new Live Winner is crowned, the previous Live Winner shall pay the forfeit…


“And the forfeit is?”

“His life.”

Did I really need to ask? “Careless, Slimeball,” I murmur.

“Din-dins,” says Ms Vulture, whipping a large napkin from her bag and eying Slimeball hungrily. Revolting though he is, I don’t actually want to see Slimeball die, and I certainly don’t want to witness what Ms Vulture has in mind.

“Hold on a minute. I’m the new Live Winner, so I make the rules. Scrub number 5,048. In fact, scrub the bloody lot of them. Two rules from now on. One, no one dies!”

Ms Vulture looks furious. A few teeth who have drifted over to listen in are clacking their dismay too. I fervently hope they stay in the river.

“Two, only willing competitors compete.”

Slimeball can’t contain himself any longer.

“That’s preposterous! No one will compete voluntarily. The Race will never be run again!”

“Jolly good, that means my rules will stay in place forever. The last Race has been won.”

Immediately #lastrace trends on Twitter.

Slimeball’s shoulders sag in defeat. Ms Vulture I’m sure would have voiced an opinion, but she’s foolishly trying to wrestle a piece of carrion from the teeth. There’s only likely to be one winner in that particular contest.

“Can I go home now?” I ask.

“Not until you’ve chosen your prize,” replies Slimeball with a sigh.



“Simple,” I reply with feeling, “I never, ever want to see this place again.”

As Topsy-Turvy Land plunges into darkness and the slurping, chomping sounds coming from the riverbank take sinister to a whole new level, I wish I’d thought a little more carefully about wording my request.

The Race sheep image

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Short Story – Innocence Lost?

A while back I read a blog post advising authors to improve their skills by writing a short story every week. To paraphrase the post, it didn’t matter whether the story was a literary classic or a pile of poo as long as it got written.

Interesting, I thought. My fiction writing to date has been very much character driven, meaning the readers need to get to know the characters in order to take an interest in whatever happens to them. And that, of course, takes time. Not conducive at all to short story writing, so here was my chance to give my work a new dimension.

Having read the post shortly before Christmas, I had a ready-made New Year’s resolution. However, I’m not talking about last New Year – it was the year before. Keeping New Year’s resolutions isn’t my strong suit!

For some reason the blog post’s idea came back to me at three o’clock this morning. Oh the joys of being creative – not that I’d want to be anything else, but why do alpha waves love the early hours so much? By four o’clock my mind was working feverishly on the following short story. By five I was editing and fine tuning it. By six I was still awake and heartily fed up.

Later, after an appalling night’s sleep, I got up and wrote ‘Innocence Lost?’. So here it is: my first attempt at short story writing.


Innocence Lost?

How did this happen? Jenny thought miserably, watching the summer sun sink behind pretty suburban houses. The scent of barbecues filtered into the car, and cheerful groups of people wandered here and there, enjoying the balmy evening. How happy they all looked. How safe.

How Jenny wished she could join them.

Risking a glance at the man beside her, Jenny felt her insides recoil with fear. Even through her drunken haze she realised she was in trouble – deep trouble – and she only had herself to blame. Hadn’t her dad warned her about the company she kept? Hadn’t he repeatedly told her about predatory men who wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of a pretty fourteen-year-old? Especially one full of a potent cocktail of cheap alcohol.

As the car passed under a street light, Jenny caught sight of her reflection in the wing mirror. An hour ago she’d felt so grown up, drinking in the park with her older friends – ‘friends’ too drunk to notice (or care) when the man beside her had persuaded her away.

Now she looked like a frightened little girl caked in makeup.

Wriggling in her seat, Jenny pulled her skirt down as low as it would go, but still it barely covered her knickers. The man glanced at her legs and made a sound somewhere between a growl and a sigh. Cold terror coursed through her booze-laden body.

Oh God, what’s on his mind? As if I don’t know. But I’m so young, and he looks so old. I didn’t realise he looked that old

The lights of the town were now behind them, and even Jenny’s fuzzy brain didn’t take long to register that ‘showtime’ was approaching. She pressed her hands over her mouth, vainly hoping to stem the rising tide of panic that threatened to burst out of her.

The man pulled into a layby. It was classic – a deserted country road; no one around for miles; spooky woodland on either side. All the horror cliché was missing was a ground mist.

‘Showtime’ had arrived.

The car was at a standstill, but the man continued to grip the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles were white with the effort. His jaw was clenched; his breathing was ragged.

“It’s no good,” he muttered, looking at Jenny’s bare legs again, his expression hard and determined. “I can’t drive in this state. We’ll have to do it here, in the car.”

“Please…” whispered Jenny, immediately clapping her hands over her mouth again as panic overwhelmed her. No, no, no! her mind shouted. Not here, not in the car.

Her mouth, however, had lost the ability to utter a word.

Jenny fumbled with the door handle, but the man grabbed both her wrists, restraining the inebriated teenager with ease.

“Not so fast, young lady. I’ve not even started with you yet.”

Oh God, no! Why did I drink so much? Why didn’t I listen? No matter what, I’ve got to get out of this car. Now. I’ve got to do whatever it takes

“Whatever were you thinking, you stupid child? I could have been anyone.”

“I know, Dad,” Jenny mumbled eventually. “I know you’re waiting to read me the riot act, but I’m about to be sick in your car.”


What do you think? Is the twist a little too obvious? If you’d be so good as to add comments or constructive criticisms below, I’d love to read your thoughts. Then I can take them on board for short story #2, which may appear next week, or may appear in two years’ time.

You never can tell with my resolutions.



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News! News!

I think it’s about time I resurrected my woefully neglected blog, don’t you?

The reason for my silence is one of the best possible from my point of view – Alison’s Editing Service has taken off in a big way and I’m super-duper busy. I have joined that lucky, lucky section of society who can say they make a living doing a job they love. I’m working with words, and from my point of view things don’t get better than that. The downside of being so busy, though, is that I’ve been way too quiet on social media, and I plan to redress the balance with immediate effect, starting with this ‘ere blog.

My big news is that my novel and I are now free from the publishers to whom we were tied for two years. Actually, I’m being kind. We’re free from the charlatans who took a naïve author for a ride three years ago and didn’t deliver on their promises. Any authors reading: please do not send your book to a vanity publisher. You’re more than welcome to get in touch with me and I’ll give you a whole host of advice to serve you and your work best.

Anyhow, I digress. In my spare time I’m working on an extensive edit of Dory’s Avengers and I plan a re-release next year. I’m not sure when, but hopefully earlier rather than later as I want my writing out there. Once I’ve finished self-editing I’ll hand over to the professionals, and the resultant streamlined Dory’s promises to be a mighty fine read.

Modest? Me? Never!

Please watch this space for more news over the coming months, and some blog posts too, I promise. Meanwhile I’d welcome your comments on my new prologue and blurb.


Much as I dislike being stereotyped, I have to confess I’m typically British inasmuch as I love a good queue. They’re so organised; they have a beginning and an end. A few years ago, my partner Andy and I had a wonderful holiday in Italy. I loved everything about the Italians, apart from one thing – they simply don’t get queues. Following a day trip to Amalfi, Andy and I formed the beginnings of an orderly queue to catch the bus back to our hotel, only to be advised by an elderly British lady to forget it. What? A fellow Brit telling me not to queue? She was right, though. When the bus arrived it was pandemonium as a heaving mass of people shoved and jostled their way on board. I was momentarily worried that my elderly advisor might struggle in the melee, but she was the first one up the steps! Andy embraced the Italian way with gusto, which was just as well – we’d never have got back otherwise. I’d still be standing in my queue of one!



Yesterday I spent well over three hours in a pretty damn impressive queue. When I took my place it stretched back about as far as you can see in the photo below, and it continued to grow and grow.


It was freezing cold, it was going to take a while to achieve our objective, but everyone was remarkably cheerful. Whenever we edged forward a ripple of excitement would run along the huge line of people, and we filled the monotony when we didn’t move for ten minutes or more with jokes, chatter, doing the Hokey Cokey and sharing our plight on social media. A local author (not me, obviously!) walked along the queue, attempting to sell copies of his book set during one of the most successful seasons in our football club Cambridge United’s history. Under normal circumstances I would have bought the book and read it (and hoped for his sake that the author had had it properly edited!), but at that particular moment all I wanted was hot coffee. Poor bloke; the scarf and hat sellers were a lot more popular.

So why on earth was I standing in a line of hundreds while frost slowly hardened all around us? Simple: we all wanted tickets to Cambridge United’s next home match.


I’ll give you a clue (if you can read it!): we weren’t queuing for tickets to the Newport or Wycombe games!

Yes, in the grand old tradition of England’s domestic cup competition, the FA Cup, my little club has been handed the tie of the round: at home to the famous Manchester United. Our ground, The Abbey, isn’t exactly huge, and tickets for the big match are like gold dust. Readers who don’t follow football could be forgiven for thinking I’m mad, and they’re probably right, but on the evening of Saturday 17 January (after having been standing in the cold for two hours to cheer Cambridge to a magnificent 4-0 victory over Newport) I was willing to sacrifice my extremities to frostbite to get my very own golden ticket. By the time we’d shuffled up as far as the entrance to the ground I think my brain was starting to freeze; the guys in front of me were discussing the relative merits of the two concrete mixers pictured on the billboard outside the ground, and I found myself gazing up at the poster and nodding along sagely.

Still spirits were high. We’d come so far (slowly) we weren’t going to give up then. My friends and family kindly let me know how warm and cosy their homes were at that moment while I dreamed about the roaring fire in my local pub. Not even some meathead striding past, telling us that we should have bought season tickets as he’d already got his place at the Manchester United match guaranteed, hah-hah-hah, could get us riled. By then there was no way we were capable of having anything as heated as an argument, so the worst he got was a bit of light hearted ribbing. Cambridge United’s chairman came out to keep us company, walking up and down the line offering words of encouragement, which was an admirable gesture and reminded me why I love that club so much.

Then finally, finally, we were through the gates and into the carpark. The end was in sight – the portakabin housing the ticket office has never looked so beautiful. I was almost moved to tears, but they’d probably have frozen. At last, that coveted spot at the front of the queue was mine and I was ushered forward by a cheerful steward to buy a ticket from a cheerful vendor (these people, all volunteers, deserve medals – they’d been manning that office since 8am, with only a break for the match, and they were still smiling over twelve hours later). I couldn’t help smiling back, widely.

When I got to my local pub, my friend Julie, the landlady, had kindly laid out blankets, a hot water bottle and furry Ugg boots next to the fire in case I needed them. While I brought my body temperature back to normal, the drinkers assembled at the bar formed a queue of their own to photograph my golden ticket. I did offer them the opportunity to take pictures of my ticket for the Wycombe game too, but I don’t think they heard me…



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Twelfth Night

There is, I believe, some debate as to the date on which Twelfth Night falls. As far as I’m concerned it’s tonight (5 January), the twelfth night of Christmas. I have been known to argue that if Twelfth Night were to fall on 6 January then Christmas Day wouldn’t be one of the days of Christmas, and that would be silly. However, as with many ‘Christian’ traditions, the origins of Twelfth Night belong to times way before this religion became popular in Britain. I recently saw a documentary about Twelfth Night celebrations in Tudor times. The festival would kick off with a cake being eaten; the cake contained a bean, and whoever found the bean won the right to rule for the evening, often leading to the lowliest member of the household becoming master for the night. I’m pretty sure that the temporary master or mistress’s instructions involved lots of revelry and lots of booze – as they probably would nowadays!

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Thanks to the ever helpful Wikipedia, I’ve discovered this servant becoming master idea originated from ancient Lord of Misrule traditions, included in the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Roman Saturnalia festival. The Lord of Misrule represented the world being turned upside down, the servant becoming the master, until midnight when normal rule was restored. The fact that there is some disagreement as to the exact date of Twelfth Night probably harks from these times, as Twelfth Night used to signal the end of a winter festival starting on All Hallows’ Eve rather than the end of Christmastime.

Fen Ditton Tree

I noticed this morning that the large Christmas tree which has been decorating the village green opposite my house for the last few weeks has been taken down – early! When I was a child, my parents left the Christmas decorations up until Twelfth Night, which was always 5 December as, being a devout Christian, my mum was adamant the Epiphany commenced on the sixth. She used to burn the holly and mistletoe ceremoniously on Twelfth Night, a ceremony I loathed. As the (by then) dried greenery went up in flames, so did the fun and frivolity of the Christmas holidays. All that lay ahead were the depths of winter and the bleak return to school, joyful end of term parties, card swapping and carol concerts but a distant memory. Now I’m in the happy position of loving my job so returning to work holds no dread for me. Indeed, I couldn’t wait to get back to work, but still I won’t be following my mum’s lead and burning my holly and mistletoe. The reasons for this are twofold:

  1. I don’t have any holly and mistletoe;
  2. I don’t have a fire.

I will, however, be leaving my decorations up until the Lord of Misrule has done his worst and order is restored.



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