What I Treasure

This was a submission for the ‘What I Treasure’ feature in The Simple Things magazine. I never heard back from them but patience is a virtue, apparently…

I’d always coveted my dad’s gold nibbed fountain pen and was delighted when he gave it to me for passing my 11+, just as his mother had passed it onto him thirty years earlier when he’d gained his place at the grammar school. 

I’d often admired how he ended letters with his flamboyant signature, the smooth nib of the pen flying across the paper as he underlined his name with an exuberant swirl and a flick of his hand. I’d tried to imitate it with my felt-tipped pens but they just didn’t deliver the same panache. Once I had my ink-stained hands on Dad’s pen, however, I spent hours perfecting my autograph, trying out different slants and styles (yes, I went through the hearts over the i’s phase) until I had the perfect signature that expressed to the world that this eleven-year-old was confident, stylish, yet thoughtful.

At school, all work had to be written with a fountain pen but I soon discovered that my treasured pen, which needed to be filled up from a bottle of ink, wasn’t as practical as the cartridge pens the other pupils used. I couldn’t cart around a bottle of Quink in my school bag so I switched to one from WHSmith that did the job but its scratchy nib and plastic barrel didn’t spark the same joy.  My special pen was saved for home. 

Pre-internet and email, it was surprising how many letters a child could write each week: thank you letters for birthday and Christmas presents, Swap Shop competitions (those famous words ‘entries on a postcard, please’), signing up to fan clubs, and, of course, writing to pen pals. My pen pals included a girl from our twin town in France, my cousin in Scotland, and a friend in Somerset I’d met on holiday.  I wrote religiously every week, usually on Holly Hobbie or Snoopy notepaper, carefully blotting each page before inserting them into the envelope. Then waiting impatiently until the reply fell through the letterbox a few days later.  Very different to today’s teenagers used to instant responses on Snapchat and WhatsApp. 

Forty years later, when I’m never far from my laptop and phone, I still regularly use my pen. As a writer, I often write longhand into a notebook where my fountain pen allows my thoughts and words to flow on the page in a way that typing on a keyboard doesn’t. It’s almost like a form of mediation. I’m also an ‘authorised person’ who can register weddings and here my trusty pen comes into its own as I carefully complete marriage registers and certificates with special registrar’s ink, smug that the hours invested into my signature weren’t wasted as I sign my name with a flourish.*

And when I send cards and notes to keep in touch with my dad, I like to think that the pen infuses each word I write with precious memories and love from me to him. 

*Annoyingly, since I wrote this, the law has changed and marriage certificates are now printed off a computer at register offices (where’s the romance in that?) so I no longer write historical documents. Which is a bummer.

Seaside Memories

The annual Weston-Super-Mare trip has been a family tradition for fifty years. It follows the same routine, come rain or shine: crazy golf, the pier, chips on the beach, sandcastles and a paddle. But my favourite part comes after the other day trippers have left. We walk up to the rock pools where we watch the sun go down over the sea, enjoying hot cups of tea and home-made fruitcake. When darkness falls and there’s a chill in the air, we pack up our bags, saying, ‘What a wonderful day, we must do it more often’. But we never do.

This was an entry into a 100-word story ‘inspired by the place you live or somewhere you love’ in The Simple Things magazine.  I didn’t win…


Time for Tea


The story written by Suzanne and me continues.  Moira and Amber are hiding in the dark alley, whilst George waits at one end.

Day of the Badger (Part 2)

Amber would just have to leave the flash-drive in its precarious position and hope George didn’t spot it.

‘We need to get out of here,’ Amber whispered. ‘Don’t suppose you have a car nearby?’

The woman shook her head.

Duh. She wouldn’t be walking through a dark alley if she had a car.

‘Amber, I’m not leaving without it,’ George was still waving the knife, the light from his phone not quite strong enough to reach Amber and the woman. ‘I know you’re there. You can either give it to me now or wait until C Team get here. There’s no way you’re going to get away.’

Why didn’t he just try to get it off her if he was so sure she was still in the alley? It suddenly dawned on her. George was scared. He could give it all the big man talk but she hadn’t seen him on an active mission in months. Not since Rome. C Team, on the other hand, were another matter. A right bunch of nasty bastards.

‘Right, I’m going to count to three then we’re going to run as fast as we can,’ Amber whispered. ‘Stick close to me. We need to keep out of sight, find some cover until I can get another car. Christ, what a fuck-up.’

‘Sorry. I shouldn’t be here. My god. I feel sick.’ The woman took a deep breath through her nose. ‘Oh, I just thought. My work is literally around the corner. Is that any good?’

‘Lead the way.’ Amber heard the sound of at least two cars speeding down the road towards the end of the alley where George was, and shoved the woman in the opposite direction. ‘Now!’

Moira ran. She sprinted through the blackness and didn’t look back. She could hear the woman’s footsteps close behind and prayed she didn’t trip. Her whole body throbbed with fear; she’d seen the knife in that crazy man’s hand.

They broke through the alley into the lesser darkness of the street.

‘Which way?’ The woman she assumed was Amber asked as they huddled against the closed shop fronts and caught their breath.

Moira pointed to the tall office building at the end of the street. It was in darkness; Alfie had finally gone home.

Checking up and down the empty high street, they made a run for it. She fumbled in her pocket for the keys as they approached and unlocked the deadbolts.

Amber shut the door and locked it from the inside while Moira ran to the flashing alarm panel and punched in the numbers. Crouching low, she led the way across the deserted foyer to the receptionist bay at the back. At the same time she heard the rumble of several cars driving slowly down the street before Amber pulled her down out if sight.

‘What do you do here?’ Amber whispered at her ear. How could her voice sound so calm?

‘It’s an accountancy firm, all very boring,’ she managed to stutter out as she slid to the floor and hugged her knees to her chest.

She hated the offices at night, especially with a strange woman who was being chased by a mad knifeman and C team, whoever the hell they were.

Why the hell had she taken the alley? Just for a pint of bloody milk!

‘Are you alright?’ Amber asked, sitting down next to her with her back against the desk.

Moira sucked in a breath. ‘What… yes,’ she said eventually and then searched in her bag for her phone. ‘We should call the police.’

‘No!’ Amber kicked the bag away before she could grab her phone.

‘But that man. He had a knife. He’s dangerous!’ Moira’s voice wobbled, close to tears.

‘George? Nah, he’s a bit of a wanker but he’s not dangerous. What’s your name?’

‘It’s Moira. My dad named me after some newsreader, so he said. I don’t really watch the news, does anyone now? Just look at the BBC news site if I need to know anything. I mean, my dad does but he’s old. Well, not that old but probably your age. If you know what I mean.’

Amber waited for her to stop rambling. ‘Right, Moira, I don’t think there’s any way they could have seen us come in here so we should have a bit of time.’ She looked around the office in the dim light provided by the street lamps outside. ‘Is that a kettle back there? A cup of tea would be good. You should have one too.’

‘Shall I make some tea then? You don’t seem like the type of person to be ‘Mother’.’

‘Yeah. Couple of biscuits if you’ve got any. Keep away from the window. I’m going to think for minute.’

Amber closed her eyes, looking as relaxed as Moira’s dad having his Sunday afternoon nap. Moira, on the other hand, was still shaking as she made her way over to the tea station, crouching awkwardly as she tried to keep below the level of the window. She flicked on the kettle and put a couple of teabags in two cups. The familiar actions of tea making – sniffing the milk for freshness, rummaging in the biscuit tin for the chocolate hobnobs which always made their way to the bottom – began to disperse the adrenaline in Moira’s body and her breath slowed and the pounding in her chest faded away.

Amber watched Moira through slitted eyes. The tea wasn’t really necessary but she could see that Moira had been heading towards hysteria and doing something, didn’t matter what, was always good for nerves. She considered her options. Not that she had many. Not if George had C Team in his pocket. The trouble was, when your whole life was based on lies and deception, it was hard to know who you could actually trust when the chips were down. She tried to think who owed her the most, who would at least help her to get away before double-crossing her – as they undoubtedly would. As, to be honest, she probably would in their shoes.

She went round and round her contacts but kept coming back to the same name. Roman Braff. You’d struggle to find a meaner son of a bitch in the Northern Hemisphere but he had a strange sense of loyalty. And, hopefully, a strong memory. It was a long time since she’d last dealt with him but he’d promised he’d repay her when she needed him.

Part 3 to follow…

Every Day I (Mean to) Write the Book

As part of my ongoing battle to write more, I’ve forced persuaded my lovely friend, and extremely talented and prolific writer, Suzanne Rogerson to take part in a writing tag-team.  One of us writes a section of this spy/crime/thriller/Killing Eve rip off, then emails it to the other to continue the story.  I’m really enjoying it and it’s making me write because I don’t want to let Suzanne down.  Suzanne is usually a fantasy writer and certainly doesn’t need the practice but is humouring me because she’s such a nice person! 

It’s not been edited, the point of view jumps around (which is a literary no-no, apparently, although I personally think most people are intelligent enough to still follow what’s happening. But then I’m not a best-selling author so what do I know?) and I’ve no idea what the big twist will be but here are first few instalments:

Day of the Badger [working title…]

darkest walkway

‘Oh bollocks,’ said Moira, looking at the dark, forbidding entrance to the alley. She really needed to buy some milk before the shop shut at ten but bloody Alfie wouldn’t stop banging on about the Miller project, even when she’d turned her computer off, put her coat on and started jiggling her keys in her pocket.

‘Well, I must go, Alfie. See you tomorrow.’  She headed towards the lifts, lifting her hand in a weak farewell.

Alfie followed her. ‘Yeah, see you tomorrow. So should I call Frank about the overspend or send another email, do you think?’

Despite her best efforts, it had been another ten minutes before she’d finally got out of the office and now she had less than five minutes before Tesco shut.  She peered into the shadows.  She could either walk the long way around, which Usain Bolt would struggle to make in under five minutes, or she went through the alley.  She hesitated before making a decision and, putting her bag over her head and across her chest, ran into the alleyway.  What was the worst that could happen?

Amber ducked into the alley, listening out for the sounds of footsteps behind her. It was almost completely dark between the rows of buildings and she clung to the shadows, creeping further into the darkness. The opening to the alley was small and she prayed George would run straight past it.

He’d had a knife. She’d seen the glint of it when he approached her across Tesco’s carpark. She’d panicked and rammed him with her shopping trolley, crushing him against a parked car. Then she’d fled while he was on the ground. If he caught her down here she was dead.

Amber frantically searched her pockets for a weapon, nothing. Even her handbag had been on the trolley with her abandoned shopping.

‘Shit,’ she hissed into the darkness. Then stopped dead as she heard footsteps coming from the other end of the alley…

Had George phoned for back-up already? Surely they couldn’t have got there this quickly? The footsteps were approaching fast, actually running towards her. It had to be them.  Amber pulled the flash-drive from her pocket.  There was no way they were going to get it from her; she’d worked too hard, sacrificed too much for this information.  She frantically scanned the wall in the faint light, feeling with her fingertips for a gap or missing brick where she could hide the flash-drive. The footsteps were almost upon her, along with the sound of loud, laboured breathing, as she felt a loose piece of plaster and pulled it away from the wall, shoving the flash-drive into the tiny space left behind. Before she could replace the plaster, the owner of the footsteps almost crashed into her, stopping abruptly and letting out a loud scream.

‘Oh my god! Shit! You scared me! Christ, I thought I was going to have a heart attack. Um, sorry, I need to…can I just get past?’

Amber could just make out a young woman (well, young to her, but it seemed like everyone was younger than her nowadays), with curly hair, glasses and a panicked look on her face.

‘Did George send you?’

‘What? I don’t…George? I just need to get by. Can I please…?’ The young woman’s voice faltered as she tried to move past Amber towards the end of the alley.

A figure stood outlined in the light at the end of the alley. Amber reacted like lightening grabbing the woman and pinning her arms to her sides, while her other hand pressed against her mouth muffling her scream. ‘If you want to live, stay quiet.’ She hissed in the woman’s ear and pulled her back into the shadows.

The woman struggled feebly and Amber tightened her grip, glad for the gruelling sessions in the gym and with her personal trainer.

‘Amber, I know you’re down there.’ George lumbered further into the alley, moving with a pronounced limp. He used his phone as a torch and she glimpsed the knife shining in the glare of light.

The woman must have spotted it too as she stopped struggling, her whole body tensed. They were backed against the wall. Amber calculated her chances. She could throw the woman at George and make a run for it, but this woman was an innocent; the reason she’d joined the firm was to protect people like her.

‘Hand it over,’ George called. ‘Hand it over and you can walk away.’

She backed away, shuffling and stumbling, dragging the woman with her.

To be continued…


Close to You

Okay, I’m trying to get back into writing (again) with the help of my friend, Dawn, who’s training to be a life coach. Obviously, I’m taking full advantage of the free sessions she needs to do to pass her course…

So, in the smallest first step ever, here is a new Three Line Tale:



‘Yes, Jeff?’

‘Seriously, all this space and you gotta stand right there? You even looked at the news lately?’

You’ll Never Walk Alone: Promoting a Charity Walk for Cancer Research UK

I do like to blog regularly so it must be time for my yearly post…hmmm, not hard to see why those Blogger of the Year awards aren’t flying in my direction.

Anyhoo, I’ve been busy.  Really busy.  As well as doing a day job as a Weddings Coordinator (which can be surprisingly stressful – they don’t call ’em bridezillas for nothing), I’ve also been supporting a charity walk called 3500 To End It with PR and social media. Laurence Carter lost his wife to cervical cancer and decided to spend a year walking 3,500 miles around the coast of England and Wales, raising funds for Cancer Research UK and awareness of preventing and eradicating cervical cancer.  Thus, ‘3500 To End It’.

Here’s a post I wrote* for the 3500 To End It blog to highlight some of the great publicity we received (and to attempt to make me look good now that I’m job hunting again!):

You’ll Never Walk Alone

Screen Shot 2019-07-06 at 17.29.55

A couple of months into Laurence’s 3,500 mile walk – which actually turned out to be 4,250 miles due to walking up and down river estuaries instead of taking ferries, getting lost a few times, and several diversions to pubs along the way – he realised that he wasn’t getting as much publicity as he’d hoped.  It turns out that driving to an Airbnb, walking 10-15 miles, getting a bus back at the end of the day, eating, sampling a couple of pints of the local ale and trying to find somewhere to wash socks, doesn’t leave a great deal of time for contacting local newspapers or updating social media.

That’s where I came in.  I supported Laurence with PR and social media for the last nine months of his walk after a friend of a friend put me in touch.  I thought the walk sounded incredible and as for eradicating cervical cancer – well, who wouldn’t want to help to achieve that?

Screen Shot 2019-07-06 at 17.36.38

Because the campaign was so personal to Laurence, I wanted to work as hard as I could in the hour I had each day to get his message to the biggest audience possible.  After creating a media strategy, I set to work, contacting hundreds of local and national media outlets (I think I emailed The One Show every other week!), reaching out to celebrities from all different fields (thanks to Bill Bryson, Martha Kearney, Jimmy Doherty and Helen Skelton for your support), and linking posts on Facebook and Twitter with everything from Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, International HPV Awareness Day and World CancerDay to national days featuring sticky buns, Pi (and pies!), book giving and inconveniencing yourself!

Thankfully, my persistence paid off and Laurence’s walk received great interest and coverage, both nationally and locally, reaching potentially millions of people, with another half a million impressions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Screen Shot 2019-07-02 at 15.24.01

I was really pleased to get Laurence’s campaign into the national media. Laurence was able to tell his story in his own words with an emotional article in Woman magazine called The Picture that means So Much, as well as featuring in The Sun’s Fabulous magazine as part of the Cheers for Smears campaign.  The biggest coup was a full-page feature on the BBC News website, one of the biggest in the country with millions of visitors each day.  Laurence received lots of messages from friends and family who were amazed to read about him over their breakfast that morning!


Local media was also massively important, as Laurence walked through almost 30 counties over the year so there was a huge audience to reach.  Before this, I had no idea just how many local newspapers and radio stations there are in England and Wales – believe me, there are A LOT – and, if they’re anywhere near the coast, I’ve spoken to/emailed/tweeted or messaged them! They range from hospital radio and local magazines with a handful of staff to BBC radio stations with hundreds of thousands of listeners and local newspapers/websites with almost a million readers each week.  We were fortunate that so many journalists and presenters were interested in Laurence’s story and he was interviewed by almost 50 local newspapers, magazines, radio and even TV stations.

I enjoyed every moment of working with Laurence; I’m so pleased that I was able to help him achieve his goal of raising awareness of cervical cancer prevention and bringing forward the day when we can eradicate cervical cancer.

And if anyone reading this would like a hand with PR or social media, please do get in touch!

*Yes, I do feel like I’ve cheated on Barbed Words with a hotter, newer blog!

Busy (Not) Doin’ Nothin’

I was starting to get a bit full of myself, posting once or twice a week, but the organisers of the Least Prolific Blogger of the Year awards have been in touch and I needed to rein it in a bit if I was to retain my title.  So blog silence for a few weeks. But I haven’t been idle. No, siree.

My cosy mystery has gone to my editor for its first read through.  I’ve also passed it onto a couple of friends, one of whom has already commented on the swearing…hmmmm.

Through another friend, I’ve done a couple of articles for Fabric Magazine to get some experience of freelance writing.  Here I am, bigging stuff up: Organic SeptemberCoffeeCocktails, Cats and posh art.

I’m doing an Open University online writing course and I’ve signed up for a one-day writing retreat. I’ve had a idea for an online business, and am trying to come up with a fabulous name and logo for it.

My BIG PLAN is to somehow combine all these things so I can generate enough money each month to be able to work from home.  My alternative plan is to slip on a squashed tomato in Tesco and sue them for millions.  Might need to move to America for that one to be successful.

Unfortunately, someone else had this idea for a website before I did:

Yep, that’s it. You pay a dollar just to see how many other suckers people have paid a dollar to see how many people have paid a dollar to see how many people…and so on, until you’ve made a million.  Bloody genius.

Any other great money-making ideas out there??

Don’t Go Breaking My ‘Art… #3LineTales

Back to work tomorrow…noooooooooo!  How is possible that I didn’t win the lottery or get snapped up by an agent in the last six weeks??  The summer has flown by, mostly spent editing the finer details of my murder mystery (would you flee the country if you thought your witness protection identity had been blown?) and writing lots of flash fiction like the Three Line Tale below.

Don’t Go Breaking My ‘Art

I’d spent twelve hours folding and shaping the delicate paper into hundreds of tiny cranes, my fingers burning with the strain of the repetitive task but, at last, I had enough for my final project, the culmination of three years’ study embodied in a powerful comment on modern politics: a group portrait of world leaders with the cranes glued to look like they were flying overhead – each depositing a torrent of crap.

I left the studio and headed home, exhausted but buoyant, knowing that I had merely to stick the cranes into position to meet tomorrow’s lunchtime deadline.

‘Bloody hell, these stupid students can’t even be bothered to tidy up after themselves,’ said Bobby, the janitor, as he swept the scraps of paper off the table into a bin bag, scrunching up the coloured cranes and emptying a box of used paints on top of them, ‘don’t worry, I’ll clear up the rubbish, shall I?’

Keeper of the Castle #FridayFictioneers

‘Oh my god! I swear I just saw a face at that window! Oooh, maybe the castle’s haunted?’ Tiff gave a theatrical shiver.

‘Or maybe you’ve been watching too much Supernatural?’ said Chloe. ‘Let’s go in and have a look round. Look, that doorway over there isn’t boarded up properly.’

‘Bloody hell!’ Tiff stepped in a huge dog turd. ‘I’m always so unlucky.’

She wiped her shoe ineffectually on the grass. ‘Oh, come on, let’s just go.’

A pair of black eyes watched them leave. He snarled, fangs glinting in the candlelight as he lashed out with his taloned hands.

Next time.

A 100 word story using the photo prompt above for the Friday Fictioneers, featuring a guest appearance from the Check Out beast.