Short Story – Doctor, Doctor, Please

Doctor image www.dreamstime.com

Picture courtesy of http://www.dreamstime.com

‘Come in, come in. Please, take a seat.’

‘Thank you, Doctor. So, what’s the verdict?’

‘Good news, Mr Average. I’m delighted to say you have a clean bill of health. All that remains of this year’s medical is a teeny weeny questionnaire.’

Opening a file on his computer, the doctor clicked on page one of 325 and read out the first question.

‘OK, Mr Average, do you laugh?’

‘Er, yes, Doctor, but only on special occasions…’

The doctor fixed Mr Average with a penetrating gaze.

‘Oh, alright then. I do enjoy a good laugh.’

‘How many per week?’

‘Um, seven or eight, I’d say,’ replied Mr Average, crossing his fingers behind his back.

‘We need to cut that number in half,’ murmured the doctor. ‘You are aware of the Government guidelines, are you not, Mr Average? Five chuckles a week. Chuckles, that is, not belly-laughs. So, do you laugh every day, or save your – ahem – seven or eight for the weekend?’

‘Oh, I save them. You can’t beat a few laughs on a Saturday night.’

The doctor drew in a deep breath and jotted binge laugher on the notepad in front of him before scrolling down to question two.

‘When was the last time you enjoyed a good view?’

‘Never, Doctor. I don’t enjoy views. I know the risks…’

‘I see from my notes you regularly walk in the Peak District.’

‘I swear, Doctor, I keep my eyes closed the whole time.’

‘Did you ever enjoy views?’

‘I dabbled in my teens,’ replied Mr Average, hanging his head in shame. ‘But I gave up over twenty years ago, and haven’t so much as glanced at a view since.’

‘Excellent. The Nanny State’s strict controls on view enjoying are there for a reason – they’re highly addictive. Here, have a leaflet.’

The doctor dropped a hefty tome on Mr Average’s lap.

‘Sport,’ he said, glancing at question three. ‘Do you practise sport?’

‘Yes,’ replied Mr Average, ‘I play football a couple of times a week.’

‘And do you hate every minute?’

‘Absolutely,’ lied Mr Average, who was actually quite partial to a game of football.

‘I hope you’re telling me the truth, Mr Average. I see evidence of people enjoying sport everywhere I turn, especially at the weekend. Good for nothing low-lives having fun, cluttering up open spaces which are supposed to be empty. Do you realise, some talk about sport, and some,’ the doctor lowered his voice conspiratorially, ‘even watch it.’

‘Surely not!’ said Mr Average, tucking his newly-purchased ticket for the rugby the following Saturday deeper into his pocket.

Shuddering, the doctor moved on to question four.

‘Music.’

Mr Average blanched.

‘Ah, I see that’s struck a chord, Mr Average,’ said the doctor, regarding his patient through narrowed eyes.

‘Music, struck a chord, that’s a good one,’ said Mr Average, just catching himself before he smiled.

The doctor was furious.

‘Are you accusing me of making a joke? Joking is a filthy habit. Filthy!’

‘Sorry, Doctor, no offence meant. I didn’t think.’

‘Well, that’s something, I suppose. There’s far too much thinking going in in this hedonistic world. Now,’ he continued, steepling his fingers under his chin, ‘music. Why did that make you react so?’

Mr Average looked at his shoes.

‘Come now, Mr Average. Trust me, I’m a doctor.’

‘I sang a song last week,’ replied Mr Average in a small voice. The doctor sat up straight, startled. He hadn’t been expecting that.

‘And it gets worse…’

‘How can it possibly get worse than singing a song?’

‘It was on the radio,’ whispered Mr Average.

‘The radio? You were listening to the radio? Oh, hold on, don’t tell me – you were…singing along.’

‘And tapping my feet.’

The doctor leant back in his chair, disgusted.

‘I hardly dare ask, but what was the song called?’

Mr Average shook his head, tears in his eyes.

‘Tell me!’ roared the doctor.

‘“Papa Don’t Preach”.’

For a moment, Mr Average was worried the doctor was going to collapse. Gasping for breath, one hand clutching his throat, he stood unsteadily and towered over Mr Average, glowering down at his patient.

‘You sang and tapped your feet to a popular song. A popular song! Get out, and never return. I don’t have the time for a hopeless addict like you.’

Mr Average leapt out of his chair and hurried from the room, the doctor’s contempt following him all the way home.

*****

That evening, the doctor returned to the house he hated and refused to kiss his wife, satisfied that they made each other respectably unhappy.

‘Turn on the television,’ he said, throwing caution to the wind. As her eyebrows shot up in surprise, he added, ‘It’s these wretched patients of mine. They’re driving me to sitcoms.’

Not wanting to bear witness to her husband’s demise, the doctor’s wife made for the kitchen, intending to force herself to eat a portion of the inedible offal stew she’d made earlier. However, as the signature tune of ’Allo ’Allo burst from the television’s speakers, she was unable to resist a parting shot.

‘You’re a doctor, you imbecile,’ she hissed. ‘You know what watching light entertainment will lead to.’

The doctor’s wife was gratified to see an expression of dawning horror on her husband’s face.

‘Yes,’ she concluded smugly, ‘reality TV!’

*****

There could only be one song to follow this little swipe at the nanny state – the great UFO with ‘Doctor Doctor’. Feel free to sing along, and even tap your feet if you like. I won’t tell…

Writing Tips – Self-Editing

What? A professional editor advising writers to self-edit? Surely not!

I’d like to make one thing abundantly clear right now: I am advising self-editing in addition to employing both a professional editor and a proof reader, not instead of doing so. Even the best writers in the world will miss crucial mistakes in their manuscript – unrealistic timelines, misleading or superfluous storylines, howling typos – because they’re simply too close to it. When an author’s eaten, slept and breathed their manuscript for weeks, months or even years, they get to the point where they may be reading the words on the page, but what their brain’s seeing is whatever they intended to write. (‘He visited they’re house’ made a valiant attempt to sneak into my debut novel, despite me reading the manuscript through about 100 times. Thank God for proof readers!)

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So why self-edit at all? Why not hand your manuscript over to the professionals the second you type ‘The end’ and have done with it? Two words – first draft. Do you really want someone else seeing the initial results of your brain going into overdrive while your hands struggled to type the words fast enough? No, neither do I. Furthermore, many editors and proof readers charge per 1,000 words, so if you can rein in the word count it’ll gain you some Brownie points with your bank manager too.

Self-editing is very relevant to me at the moment since I spent my Christmas break working through my own novel, Dory’s Avengers, due for re-release later in the year. I did this with the benefit of hindsight, extensive editing experience and the constructive criticisms of a number of reviewers, none of which I had four years ago when I first signed up to publish (with a vanity publisher – big mistake). Back then the manuscript weighed in at a whopping 163,000 words; I’ve since cut out 40,000 words of waffle and over-emphasis, rewritten passages that struggled, and dealt with characters acting out of character (why would someone who’s snivelling and needy in one chapter suddenly become admirably strong willed in the next?) and knowing things they couldn’t possibly know. (Just met someone for the first time? Well naturally you’re going to know all the names of their extended family – not!) Having done all this, though, I will still be employing professionals to go over my work before I publish. Yes, even editors use editors.

If you’re not happy with parts of your manuscript, the likelihood is your readers won’t enjoy those parts either. Can they be amended? Do they need to be included at all? Does your prologue (if you have one) entice people to read on or turn out the light and go to sleep? Does your epilogue (if you have one) add anything to the story, or is it just that you can’t let go? (Yep, been there, done that.) I know scrutinising every part of your manuscript will take time, but it’s well worth the effort.

Over the coming weeks I will share with authors following my blog the writing tips I’ve compiled from my three years as an editor, but I want to emphasise that these are only tips, not rules. You are the creative talent behind your manuscript and it’s essential that your author voice is heard; I merely make suggestions to help you produce a sublime reading experience. Next week I intend to tackle the ‘show don’t tell’ concept you may have heard writing coaches and other such experts lauding. Many authors ask me about that one, but it’s really not as daunting as it sounds. However, I recognise it’s not enough simply to wag an admonishing finger and say, ‘Ah, you should show your readers, not tell them’. It would be a lot better if I actually – well – showed you!

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If you’re an author looking for an editor and you’d like more information on the services I offer, please either click on the image below or email me directly on alisoneditor@outlook.com.

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Flash Fiction Foray – The Reaper in Love

Every week, The Book Blogger nominates a song to stir the imaginations of his blog’s followers, and those of us who feel so inclined submit a Flash Fiction story inspired by the song. This week the song is ‘I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You’.

However, having reread the rules, I find that the Flash Fiction entry has to be fewer than 100 words. That’s Flash indeed, and rather disqualifies my entry. What the heck, though, I’ve decided to publish and be damned, then work on the word count before next week’s foray.

In the last few days I’ve been saddened to learn that two heroes of mine have died: the immensely talented musician David Bowie and the equally talented actor Alan Rickman, so in a bid to drag myself out of the doldrums, let’s take a little sideswipe at death.

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The Reaper in Love

Death arrived on Murderous Maureen’s doorstep, a bunch of withered flowers plucked from a nearby graveyard in one bony hand, an solitaire diamond ring (still attached to a rotting finger) in the other.

“Don’t you ever give up?” asked Murderous Maureen with a sigh, opening her door to a skeletal grin.

“I love you, Maureen,” replied Death. “I can’t help it. You’re the woman of my nightmares – that’s a compliment, by the way.”

Maureen picked up a nearby dagger and started sharpening it, Death’s appreciative eye sockets reflecting in its gleaming blade.

“You’ve already given me so many children…”

“Adults too,” added Maureen with a wicked grin.

“Ahh, plenty of adults, which saves me having to get up in the night to change nappies.” Death’s laugh sounded like nails dragging across a blackboard. The neighbourhood dogs howled.

“Death, please don’t laugh. It doesn’t suit you. And anyway, the dead don’t fill nappies.”

Death had to check himself before he laughed again.

“Murderous Maureen, will you marry me?” he said instead, holding out the diamond ring (and the finger). “I can’t help falling in love with you.”

“Marry you?” Maureen threw back her head and barked with laughter. The neighbourhood dogs ran whimpering behind sofas. “I can just imagine the wedding day. What will happen when we get to the ‘till Death us do part’ bit?”

“I promise I won’t. Part us, I mean. You’ll be with me for eternity, giving me ever more babies. And children. And adolescents…”

“Yes, yes, Death, I get the picture.”

“I’m famous, you know. Who hasn’t heard of Death?”

“Who hasn’t heard of Murderous Maureen?” she replied, waving a machete in Death’s face. “Since that bountiful spree I had last week, I’m all anyone can talk about.”

Death visibly sagged, the flowers drooping by his side and shedding their few remaining petals.

“So the answer’s no?”

“I didn’t say that. Actually, Death, I’ve been dreaming of this moment since my first killing at the age of seven. We’ll make an indomitable pair, won’t we? So although you’re the riskiest bridegroom since Henry VIII, the answer’s yes.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really. How can I help falling in love with you too?”

Smiling his skeletal smile, Death took her hand. And took her whole life too.

Grim-Reaper[1] www.mirror.co.uk

Picture courtesy of http://www.mirror.co.uk

We Could Be Heroes

DavidBowie www.beigeUK.com

Picture courtesy of http://www.beigeUK.com

This is not the blog post I intended for today. A tribute isn’t something I would normally write. I’m not a dedicated follower of celebrity, not the sort of person who lays flowers and weeps and wails over the passing of footballers’ wives and reality TV stars, but I didn’t feel I could let the death of a true genius go by unmentioned.

I am referring, of course, to the news that David Bowie has passed away. Talk about the day the music died! David has provided a soundtrack to every decade of my life (and there’ve been a few), so I’m a little bit shocked to learn he will do so no more. I’m not grieving – I’m not crass enough to believe that how I feel can compare in any way to the feelings of David’s family and friends, but I do have a sense of loss. The last time I felt this way was when the world of comedy was shocked by the early death of the late great Rik Mayall, and like Rik, David Bowie was one of my heroes. I think we all need heroes.

So, Mr David Bowie, there’s no ‘could’ about it. You were. And not just for one day.

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Fellow authors, please join me next Monday for the first of my ‘Writing Tips’ series. This isn’t an idle promise, like the Christmas Eve love story which took a fatal tumble at the editing stage (hangs head in shame); this time the post is already written, edited and ready to go.

Festive Flash Fiction – The Many-Eyed Alien

Yes I know, my ‘write a short story every week’ project did rather grind to a halt after the…ahem…second week. Best intentions and all that jazz! To make up for the lack of fictional entertainment on my blog over the last few weeks (or any entertainment whatsoever if I’m to be brutally honest), this week I will present you with not one, but two Christmassy short stories to get you in the mood for the festive season. Ho ho ho!

The first story is a little gem (not a turkey, I hope) that came to me while watching telly last night.

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The Many-Eyed Alien

Alien www.wired.com

Picture courtesy of http://www.wired.com

Bored with watching television, the human glanced around the room from her place on the sofa. Staring back from the computer table opposite was a many-eyed alien.

Raising her eyebrows in surprise, the human looked again. A row of large unblinking eyes was definitely returning her gaze.

More curious than disturbed, the human crossed over the room and investigated the alien at close range.

It wasn’t a many-eyed alien at all. It was a roll of shiny Christmas ribbon reflecting the tree lights across the room.

“Duh!” said the human out loud, laughing. “And that reminds me…”

As the human went off in search of paper and scissors to make a start on the Christmas wrapping, the many-eyed alien blessed his chameleon-like disguise and settled back into planning world domination, blissfully unaware that he was about to be cut into pieces and used to decorate a pile of presents.

Ribbon www.ebay.co.uk

Photo courtesy of http://www.ebay.co.uk

*****

Having neither the level of courage nor curiosity of the human in this story, I never did find out what was staring unblinkingly at me from behind my computer last night. Perhaps it was a many-eyed alien planning world domination. I guess we’ll never know for sure, unless he succeeds…

Please join me again tomorrow for a heart-warming romance for Christmas Eve. Yes, you did read that correctly – I’ve written a love story!

Holly www.iconarchive.com-

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