Christmas Reading

If you like a seasonal story or poem to read in December, while you’re getting into that festive mood, or you want a ghost story to add a chill to a night that’s just too mild, then you are in luck.

My local writing group, called Big Sky Writers, has just released a thin volume of ten Christmas pieces, and it’s free to download now. You can get it in pdf, mobi or ePub format, to suit your eReading device.

BSXmas_360All you have to do is go to the Noisetrade site by clicking on the cover image or using the link below. You have to sign up with your email address, but the download is free, and once you sign up you can access lots of other free books and music too. Some of the music is really good, and you can pick up a couple of Christmas albums to refresh your turkey-stuffing playlist.

The principle of Noisetrade is that people give away free stuff to attract new listeners and readers, and I think it works.

Go to:



Story Draft – Somebody’s Birthday

This is the second draft of my story written for the FutureLearn Fiction Course (Warning – contains offensive language):

Somebodys Birthday

The ship docked in Sydney eight hours ago and disgorged all its guests and their bags before midday. Some left gratuities. Philo has now changed and cleaned all of his twenty four staterooms. His section of deck nine includes two superior, ten seaview and twelve inside cabins, and all are ready for the new guests arriving tomorrow for their fourteen Western Pacific cruise nights. Philo locks away his cleaning cart, changes into jeans and a tee-shirt, and descends to the gangway on deck three.

The second thing people notice about Philo is his warmth – he seems to understand moods and needs almost immediately, responding with sympathy and whatever help he can offer. The first thing they notice is how big and ugly he is. Philo is over six feet tall, but it is the wide shoulders and oversized head that make him stand out. The dark skin of his face seems to have difficulty containing the lumps of his cheekbones and his battered forehead, and it seems unlikely that lips could ever close over those splayed and mismatched teeth, but they do. The fact is that Philo’s smiling mouth drives you away, but his dark, understanding eyes, draw you back. You just have to overcome the immediate flash of fear as this monster of a man grins at you, and then you will feel his empathy.

The security guys at the foot of the gangway scan his pass, confirming his return time, and the Australians wave him past the immigration desk. One of officials makes a small gesture of jokey submission, swaying back with hands slightly raised as he passes.

Philo’s physical strength is manifest – he is a big guy with huge shoulders and hands that can hold basketballs, but there is no swagger or threat in his movements. He doesn’t seem to crowd you, even in the smaller cabins on the ship, because he occupies space almost apologetically, ready to withdraw at the first sign of alarm or discomfort. You wouldn’t want to make him angry, though, so that one eyebrow lifts and he starts to look at you with his head slightly tilted. His anger is truly fearsome, but is only ever kindled by insult or scorn. Philo knows he is unprepossessing in appearance, but he is also sensitive, kind and inoffensive; he will not accept being laughed at or ridiculed.

Philo couldn’t help but look out as he was servicing the balconied staterooms – this must be the most spectacular berth in the world. From deck nine he could see the huge Harbour Bridge arcing out to his right, and on the other side of the ship spring the white and cream shells of the Opera House. These famous landmarks are linked by the ferry terminal at Circular Quay, and that’s where Philo is headed now, to buy a postcard and stamp for his Mum in Corinth, and maybe to take a trip round the harbour,

Beneath the long point of the ship’s bow, the Opera House flashes sun sparks from the zig-zags of its roof, and Philo decides to sit on one of the stone benches and admire the view. The afternoon sun warms the left side of his face and he feels content. His eyes have been closed for a short while when he hears muttering.

‘Nah, don’t say it. Offside mate, Keep quiet, Kev.’

Beside Philo is a twitching shambles of a man, sandy hair thinning on a scab-spattered head bowed over a phone. The guy keeps glancing sideways at Philo, up at the ferries and then down at his phone, muttering and sniffling. Philo thinks he is drunk.

‘Big ugly sod though, ha! Zip it up Kev. Don’t get offside.’ He looks at Philo again and laughs, tossing his head back, ‘Gawd. Big black bastard.’

Philo turns to face Kev, head slightly cocked and one dark eyebrow calmly raised, fingers flexing, and waits for a fidget to bring their eyes together. Kev fiddles with his phone, twitches his head away, up, down again, and finally his eye catches Philo’s.

‘Were you referring to me?’ Philo asks in his slow, growly voice, holding Kev’s eyes locked tight despite that restless body.

Kev’s head shakes but his mouth says, ‘Yeah. Fucking madman, I am. Offside, eh?’

Philo stands, looking like one of the vast stone towers of the Harbour Bridge looming over a shack on The Rocks, and reaches out a huge hand towards the lippy drunk. Kev jerks back and his phone chooses that moment to leap out of his hand and land with a clatter on the stone slabs, bursting into three separate pieces. The battery skids past Kev’s foot, under the end of the bench where there is a narrow gap.

‘Aw shit. Me fucking phone. I got to call her. Me daughter. It’s ‘er fuckin’ birthday. She’ll kill me.’ Kev falls clumsily to his knees, gathering the front and back of his phone and scrabbling hopelessly at the gap under the stone bench end.

Philo feels all his anger drain away. This pitiful drunk needs help, there, sobbing quietly on the flagstones.

Bending down, Philo gently pulls Kev back and grips the bench with both hands. The thing must weigh half a ton, but Philo bends his knees, straightens his back and lifts the bench end a foot into the air. He is straining, certainly, but he holds it up calmly while Kev grabs the battery and sinks back, clutching it tightly.

Once Philo has reassembled the phone, sat beside Kev on the resettled bench, he turns it on, checks it and holds Kev’s erratic arm steady as he puts it in his hand. Kev glances up at him and his head shakes as he starts poking at buttons. He mutters something that could be thanks.

‘Just wish her a happy birthday, man,’ Philo says, resting his big hand lightly on Kev’s shoulder as he stands and heads off for Circular Quay.


Flying High

Margaret lifts her wrist into the beam of the reading spot so she can check the time again. Only the big hand has moved much, still only six hours into the flight. The lights have been dimmed but she’s not sleepy. Tired, weary, fed-up, but not sleepy. The stewardess she was watching earlier walks slowly down the aisle towards her, offering cold water to the passengers on either side. Margaret knows they are flight attendants these days, but she can’t stop thinking of how she once yearned to be a stewardess for BOAC or Pan-Am. They seemed so smart and glamorous, full of confidence and international mystery. She knows now that it’s not really like that – just glorified waitressing and toilet cleaning – but these girls, these Singapore Airlines girls with their tiny waists and their figure hugging sarong kebayas still carry that elegant dream, the promise of a better, cleaner life, off somewhere else.

This flight attendant never smiles. She has a lovely symmetrical face with full lips and clear dark eyes, curtained by turned-under hair, almost the way Cilla used to wear it years ago, but black and silky. It is clearly lacquered in place, because it moves almost as one when she bends, Her lips turn very slightly up to show the passengers that she is not unfriendly or grumpy, but her eyes give nothing away, she wears no expression as she goes about her service. She is like a smooth, beautiful robot, working efficiently and decorously. Responsive in action, private in thought. But not quite. Margaret has watched this girl a lot, whenever she has been in view, and has seen only one hint of emotion, when she was clearing the lunch trays back onto the service trolley. The man that traps Margaret, the one she will have to ask to stand so she can get out to the toilet, had heaped the detritus of his meal high onto his little tray, careless of the rearranging that the attendant would have to do before sliding it into the narrow slot on the trolley. As she bent to pick it up he raised one hand to stop her while he blew his noise noisily and luxuriantly into his napkin before placing it, glistening, on top of the heap. Margaret saw the slight recoil and the wave of disgust that crossed her otherwise expressionless face before she took the tray and turned away.

It’s no good. Margaret knows she will have to go to the poky little toilet and empty her bladder if she is to have any chance of dozing off. The horrible man has his headphones on and is watching a film, so she has to wave at him and motion her request. He looks at her with hostility before making a performance out of pausing his movie, unplugging from the socket, unbuckling his seat belt, finding homes for his book, his glasses and various other possessions and eventually levering himself out into the aisle so Margaret can squeeze out too. She finds she is standing at the back of the toilet queue once she turns, because the toilets are on either side of the aisle behind this row. She waits.

Later Margaret stands by the big lever on the bulky exit door, not wanting to return to her seat yet. Standing up for a while feels good, even though she has to keep indicating that she is not in the queue for the toilets now. In the centre at the back of the plane is a curtained area where the crew organise the food trolleys, mix drinks and chat between tasks. She watches them come and go, hoping they are not going to ask her to sit down. She sees her beautiful pokerfaced attendant pull the curtain aside and start picking out ice for a tray of drinks. A male attendant walks up behind the girl and fondles her buttock, stroking his hand round it’s smooth curve. The girl turns round sharply, dropping her ice tongs and glaring at him, outraged. Margaret feels angry for her too. The male crew member is not repentant. He makes a kissy mouth and reaches his hand up to stroke her face. The girl tries to slap him away, but he grabs her hand and reaches towards her breasts with his left. This is too much for Margaret. Five quick strides and she seizes his arm and pulls him to face her. He has to look down to see who has grabbed him.

‘You should be ashamed of yourself!’ she says in a raised and angry voice, ‘This young lady should to be able to do her job without being molested by the likes of you!’

The steward looks a little embarrassed, but straightens to re-assert his authority, ‘I”m sorry Madam, but this area is for crew only. Please return to your seat.’

‘I will not! Not until you tell me your name and I have reported your behaviour to the Captain.’ Margaret is not sure whether it is the Captain she should tell, or even if she can get access to him, but she is not going to back down now. ‘Bring me someone in authority to speak to, or I will go and find them myself!’

The girl attendant, with just a flicker of fiery amusement in her eye, takes over, ‘My colleague will fetch the crew leader from Business Class for you to speak to while I clear up here.’ She indicates the ice and tongs on the floor. ‘Or shall I go, Mister Mandel?’

He hesitates for a second, then decides to quit the scene.

Ten minutes later Margaret is back in her seat. Her unpleasant neighbour has just gone to join the toilet queue, so she slipped in. She has seen the crew leader, making a formal complaint and giving her name and her son’s address in Australia, so they can get back to her within three days. She has promised to contact the newspapers if she does not hear from them. Margaret is surprised when the young female attendant slips into the seat beside her.

‘I want to thank you for what you have done, Misses Graham.’

‘No need, dear. I can’t bear to see men bullying pretty girls like that. I never could. Any girls. Has he done it before?’

‘Yes, but not so much.’ Her English is good, but with an accent, and Margaret has to watch her red lips to catch some of the words. ‘He has been warned twice for these things, so this may finish him, I think.’

‘Well, I’m glad, er.., what is your name, dear?’

‘Minita – they call me Min.’ She looks at Margaret and her face softens, becomes more tender, ‘it is one of the bad things about this job – there are so many bad things.’ She shakes her smooth, shiny head.

‘Really Min? I wanted to be one, you know, when I was younger. A flight attendant. You look so… well, glamorous, high-flying.’

‘I thought so too, and I loved it at first, Misses Graham. Travelling to different cities and countries, the admiring looks, the money and the fun with the crew, everything.’

‘Call me Margaret, dear. So what happened?’

‘I grew up, I think, and the excitement gradually dried up. I got tired of trying to keep up with the others, you know, and now I have a boyfriend I hardly ever see, and a car I can’t afford that I hardly ever drive. My legs ache, my feet are getting bad and I never know where I am when I wake up. I feel lost, Margaret. Lost and trapped at the same time. I hate it.’

‘Why don’t you stop then? Get a job in Singapore?’

‘I can’t afford to. My credit card payments won’t go away and I can’t get a job that pays enough without working up to a senior position. I can’t take the time to do that – I struggle to make the payments and survive now. They cut our allowances as well as our hours since the slowdown. Fewer planes with more passengers. I just have to keep on. On and on.’

‘Oh dear, Min. That sounds horrible. What did you spend all the money on?’

‘Fashion things. Top label bags from duty free, designer shoes, clothes. I was trying to impress, to keep up with the life, you know?’

‘I understand. Things you can’t sell to get the money back?’

‘I would get so little, it is not worth doing. I just have to keep working, keep flying.’

‘That seems so awful, Min. Condemned to a job you no longer enjoy. I wish I could help.’

‘You have helped, Margaret, you have. You have made this flight very good for me, and now I will do something for you.’

Margaret looks up and sees the unpleasant man, her neighbour, standing in the aisle, wanting his seat.

Min stands up, stepping briskly into the aisle, forcing him back towards the toilets, ‘I’m sorry sir, but this seat is unsafe. I have been testing it and the seat back will not stay up correctly. I’m afraid you will have to move, sir. I will find you a seat elsewhere, please gather you things.’

The man protests and grumbles, but Min insists and leads him away. Margaret smiles then spreads her possessions onto the vacant seat and finds her pillow and blanket. She thinks she might be able to doze off for a while, kill a few hours.

A New Story (coming soon)

I haven’t posted anything for a long time, because I have been busy with two activities. In the real world I am building a new workshop from the shell of an old brick outbuilding, and in the world of words and meanings I have been writing poems – ones that attempt to be serious. In all this I have neglected my story writing. To get myself back into it, and to improve my skills I am currently enrolled in a fiction course with, which is a great organisation offering free courses in loads of areas run by universities all over the world. The fiction course is run by the Open University, and I am following it in my real name (Will Ingrams being a pen name). If you have arrived here from the futurelearn course then you will know my real name!

This explanation is the preamble for posting a new story, written as an exercise from the course and too long to post within the course network. It is called Flying High (currently) and I will post it shortly.

I am travelling at present, on my way to Australia, so it’s not easy to put up well edited photos, but I’ll add some later.

Rhymes and Ruins

I’ve been on holiday and visited a castle – see below.

In other news… one of my poems (called Old Boots) made the final group of 12 in the Poetic Republic competition, but I don’t know whether it was highly placed within that group. It will be published in the eBook of the winning poems in the Autumn, and I received lots of positive comments about it and my other entries. I will post some of them here soon.

I am also awaiting several other competition outcomes and hoping for success – poetry seems to be my thing at present.

Castle Visit

Judging other peoples’ stories…

Most poetry and story competitions are judged by a guest author or critic, after being whittled down to a shortlist by a committee who have to wade through a large number of assorted entries. The writers have probably paid several pounds to submit their entry, so they all deserve to be read by a couple of people before being cast aside. Generally the writers who don’t succeed get no feedback, and just have to wait for months to see a shortlist with lots of other peoples’ names on it.

Hurray for Poetic Republic though.  Their competitions (for poems of less than 42 lines and for stories of under 3000 words) are judged by the entrants themselves, and everyone stands a chance of getting helpful feedback from the many readers of their work.  The two Poetic Republic competitions closed for this year on 30th April, and us participants are now engaged in the judging process.  Without the web such a process would not be possible – each entrant has to read and judge at least 12 poems or 7 stories in each of the first two rounds, penning comments that will eventually be fed back to the writers, who remain anonymous until the process is complete.  We are currently in round one.

Once I heard about this innovative competition process I wanted to enter, and have submitted work in both competitions.  So I am currently reading other peoples’ poems and stories and awarding them a rank within their randomly allocated groupings.  I find this fascinating to do, and have enjoyed seeing the variety of ideas and levels of skill on display.  The system is organised so that you cannot judge your own work, and we all have to wait until 17th June to get feedback on our own entries.  The final winners are not announced until October.

This seems like a great idea, and I feel involved with this competition in a way that I have never been before.  If you want to know more, visit the website at

It’s great.