Tag Archives: short story

So, this is the first ever short story I’ve ever read aloud… #FridayReads

fiction-fridayWelcome to Fiction Friday. This week it’s a short story that came Runner Up in the Wotton Arts Festival short story comp…

A couple of years back before I not only got published, but even bagged an agent, I entered the Wotton Arts Short Story competition – and came runner-up. It was an exciting moment and, in fact, later that month I decided to throw myself into writing an idea for a thriller – that idea was for  Subject 375 and the Project trilogy.

Anyhoo, I read the story out at a short story event in Stroud last Sunday and, not only was it the first time I’d read any of my short stories aloud, it was quite a poignant, emotional thing to do given the year I won, I decided to try to get published. It brought that whole year back.

So, here you go, this Friday, my short…

“The woman who walked to school”

When Margaret turned up at the school gates, she couldn’t remember how she’d got there. She knew she had walked, always had; but no, that wasn’t it. She simply couldn’t recall the journey.

The village where she lived was a holding area for commuters, families and people with lives. On a Monday, Margaret would watch them from her lounge window and wonder what they were doing, where they were going. She always imagined they had busy, important things to do; doctors, lawyers, teachers. She would get up, flip on the kettle and check the time. She used to have a life. And now? Now it was as if the world was carrying on without her.

Grassmore Village was postcard-perfect, with the Church at its heart. Her name down on the helper rota, Margaret walked to Church with Thomas about twice a week to give the place a quick vacuum, but, with Thomas now a toddler and into everything, she found it hard to keep up, his endless investigations into hymn books, trees and dog poo, exhausting. When she saw the other mothers outside school, she imagined

Rural field with views to St. Michaels Church in the Cotswolds village of Broadway, Worcestershire, England, United Kingdom, Europe

they never had to deal with a child brandishing a stick of dog muck at them. These mothers arrived glistening, polished and utterly protected from mud and nature, their high heels un-scuffed, their fingernails shining and their hair styled. They somehow reminded Margaret of fresh candy floss – sweet, pink and popular. These women were so composed, so well managed, so…together. They were also together as a group. Every summer’s day they would converse with each other at the gates in fresh, delicate words, words so beautifully blended that if she could pop one in her mouth she imagined it would taste of the lightest lemon mouse. The group was something that Margaret felt, with her frayed skirt, greying hair and baggy t-shirt, she could never be a part of. Ironic, she thought, that this is what it had come to. It almost made her laugh. In her teens, Margaret used to be something of a popular girl at school, not too showy or tarty, but simply pretty, bright and fun. And, now here she was, at school once more, watching the other pretty, bright, fun ones and wishing she were one of them.

The morning when the Vicar first asked her to prepare the soup for the Friends of the Church lunch, Margaret thought he was joking. Do the soup with a toddler in tow? She’d end up wearing the soup, not eating it. Yet the idea, as she soon discovered, was not for her to actually eat any of the soup herself, but to prepare it at home, transport it to the Church and serve it. She wanted to say no. She wanted to tell the Vicar where he could shove his soup. Yet, saying no was hard for Margaret, and so, when she agreed to help, her shoulders dropped and her heart sank. This was her life.

And so it was that on a summer’s morning Margaret found herself entombed inside the Church, shivering and heaving a bucket-sized pot of vegetable soup into the serving area. With Thomas already playing cars on the floor, she side stepped a Matchbox Ford and promptly dropped her bag, the contents spilling to the floor. For a moment she just stood, clutching the soup. She looked at her things: a hair band, a bus ticket, broken breadsticks, nappies, biscuit crumbs, fluff from the carpet at home, tractor books. This was her, these were the items that represented her, who she was, what she was about. When she saw the other mums’ handbags, all soft leather, buckles and brand names, she knew those bags would hold items that kept each owner individual: a bit of Chanel here, a new scarf there, a mobile phone holding a lively social calendar. To Margaret, those women, they were still themselves. But, who was she?

            At the end of the soup lunch, Margaret was exhausted. She’d served and cleaned, and all with one eye on Thomas, who, in his two-year-old wisdom, had decided that the Church was his new racetrack. To her surprise, no one helped. At not one time did any of the Friends, including the Vicar, offer to assist Margaret with the serving or keep an eye on Thomas for her. By the end, her forehead was damp, her hair wild and her stomach rumbling. ‘Oh,’ the women said, smiling as they rose to leave, opening the Church doors, the July sunshine flooding in, ‘that turned out so well, so easy. We must do it again. We raised £75.’ ‘Yes,’ they all agreed, pleased. ‘What a success, let’s do this again.’ Margaret could by now only manage a weak smile and a nod, but, as she popped Thomas on the potty before she began the washing up, she watched the women bustle out and realised she had a choice. She realised that she didn’t have to do this anymore.

From that day, Margaret tried to make herself feel a little better. Like an amnesia sufferer experiencing flashbacks, from time to time she would recall snippets of her former self. She would remember how she used pay regular visits to the hairdresser, how she’d have long, candlelit baths, how her diary would be well thumbed and overused, how she’d meet her husband for drinks in a bar after work just because it was fun.

Wiping Weetabix from her sleeve, the following Monday Margaret began her usual journey to school. This week it was ‘Walk to School Week’, and she was always mildly intrigued to see the usual 4x4s and sharp tailoring replaced with weather-ready wellies and battered brollies. Margaret watched as these glamazons marched their offspring to school with their heads held high and their make up in place. If the day was sunny, out would come their floaty maxi dresses, Birkenstocks and cashmere cardigans, all the time with Margaret watching them, pulling at her t-shirt wishing she has hidden at home.

            So, it was during this week, when Margaret was scuttling to and from school, that Thomas happened to step on the hem of the dress of one of the glamorous mothers.

‘Oh, my, I’m so, so sorry. Thomas! Here, let me,’ Margaret said to the woman, reaching to wipe the dress.

‘Please, no. Thank you,’ replied the mother. Margaret stepped back. ‘I’m Helen, by the way,’ the mother said, holding out her hand. Margaret squinted in the sun and propped her hand on her brow.

‘I’m sorry,’ Helen said, ‘I didn’t ask your name.’

‘Margaret,’ said Margaret, thinking how the woman’s voice was all chocolate soufflé. Hers, she thought, was more of an upside down cake.

The two shook hands. ‘Well, nice to meet you,’ said Helen who began to walk away, then, hesitating turned back. ‘Look, Margaret, we’re having a summer party at our place in a fortnight. 16th July. Just a few drinks, barbeque, that type of thing. It’s eight until late. You should come.’

Margaret smiled; she suddenly felt light-headed.

‘Um, I think I have something with my address’, said Helen, rummaging through her bag. ‘Ah.’ She pulled out a card and handed it to Margaret. ‘This is us. Address is on there. Please do come, your other half, too. Would be simply lovely to get to know you, have a chat.’

Margaret gazed at the card with its gold lettering. ‘Oh, um, yes,’ she said, looking up. ‘Yes, I’d…well, I’d love to, thank you.’ Thomas pulled at Helen’s dress. Margaret took his hand.

Helen smiled. ‘Isn’t he a poppet? Well, nice to meet you.’

Margaret grasped Thomas’ fist. ‘Yes,’ she smiled, ‘nice to meet you, too.’

            For the next week, Margaret felt as if she were floating like one of those maxi dresses in the breeze. While she couldn’t bring herself to stand and have a full conversation with the glamorous group, on Tuesday, she did manage to smile at them. On Wednesday, she looked in the mirror and reached for the hairbrush. On Thursday she popped on some blusher. And on Friday she slipped on a dress. Mercifully, Thomas had now begun nursery, so, after walk-to-school week was over, one morning a week, Margaret had a window of freedom for herself. But, first, she just had the Church vacuuming to do.

‘Ah, Maggie,’ said the Vicar when he saw her, ‘just the person.’

‘Hello.’

‘I wondered,’ he said, ‘if you could host and serve at the annual visit by the Bishop? We’re all very excited! It would only be for the evening,’ he smiled, ‘and you do do it so well.’

Margaret pulled her cardigan tight. ‘Um, which evening is it?’

‘Let me see now…Ah yes, Saturday. 16th July. That alright?’

Helen’s party. Margaret felt her heart race. ‘Um, I’ll have to check my diary. I think I may have…Well, I may something on.’

His face dropped. ‘Oh. Oh, of course. We may struggle without you though, Maggie. You’re a real shoulder to lean on.’ And with that, he left Margaret to her vacuuming.

            No energy left in her, Margaret switched off the machine and let out a breath. It sounded daft, she supposed, but was this the way it was always going to be? Was she forever to be viewed as a shoulder to lean on? A doormat? Yes, everyone could rely on her. Yes, she found it hard to say no, found it hard to walk away from people and situations when help was needed. But sometimes…sometimes she just wished it wasn’t always so. She had never asked for any help, even at the hardest of times. When her husband was ill in hospital, when her kids where sick and she was out of milk and bread, or when she was struggling to come to terms with the death of her father – she would simply cry herself to sleep. She wasn’t a shoulder to lean on; she was a mound of jelly to be squashed with one thud.

            Saturday 16th July came and went and Margaret stayed at home. She called Helen and sent her apologies, and she contacted the Vicar and said she was sick. In a way she was. While she didn’t like to lie, she knew she couldn’t face anyone. She was fed up; fed up of her life as it was. Something had to give. As the final week of the school summer term came to a close, Monday morning popped up again and Margaret closed the door to walk to school. Once at the gates and the eldest waved off, Margaret was picking up Thomas when she heard footsteps running up behind her.

‘Margaret!’ came a breathless voice.

Margaret turned. Helen stood, shoulders heaving, bag slid to her arm.

‘So glad I caught you!’ said Helen, fanning her face. ‘God, I’m so unfit. I’m so sorry you couldn’t make it to the party. How you feeling now? Better? God, heels are hell.’

Margaret tucked a hair behind her ear. ‘I’m okay, thank you. I’m better.’ She popped Thomas on to her hip.

‘Oh good,’ said Helen. ‘Look, a few of us are going for a coffee. Fancy joining us?’

‘Um…’ Margaret squeezed Thomas close. Coffee? Her?

‘Oh,’ said Helen, taking this for rejection, ‘sorry, you must be so busy. We always marvel how you’re so energetic, all that walking and so patient with the kids and Church. We’re all in awe of you.’

Margaret frowned. ‘Really?’

Helen nodded. ‘Yes. That’s why we’ve never really plucked up the nerve to talk to you. Sounds daft, doesn’t it? God, I’m sorry. It’s just you seem so,’ she searched for the word, ‘together.’

Margaret let out a laugh.

Helen laughed, too. ‘So, fancy a quick coffee? Bring Thomas?’

Margaret smiled. ‘That would be lovely.’ And so, with the morning sun on her back, Margaret, for the first time, headed off from school for coffee and a chat with the group of mums.

 

Friday Fiction: Final part of my short story, ‘The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn’

It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”,  where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, it’s ‘fiction’, with the final part of my  short story, ‘The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn’…

 

The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn – Part Five (final)

With the snow melting on the peaks of Snowdonia, on Tuesday 8th May, 1945, two years after the death of her friend and one week after the diagnosis of her Father’s cancer, Megan and her family listened as Winston Churchill stood with King George to announce Victory in Europe and the war with Germany over. Gethan, safe home to Wales soon after, carrying letters from Megan in his hands and shrapnel from Fritz in his buttocks, got down on one knee and, declaring he was the luckiest man alive, promptly proposed. The date set for four weeks’ time, her Mother fashioned Megan’s wedding outfit from a pair of curtains to create a jacket and skirt worthy of a Welshman’s daughter. With their entire ration coupons pooled – for, even with the war over, provisions were still sparse, the ravaged land still recovering from the beating – the wedding food and drink was ordered.  Yet, as happens when one light burns bright, another began to fade. And so it was that, on the morning of her wedding, a late June day when the Irish Sea lapped the shore and the gulls flocked at the scent of fresh crabs, Megan Quinn’s Father passed away. Megan being young and in love with her betrothed, wavered on the outcome of the day, wondering as to whether she should continue with the ceremony, a union her Father was so delighted to see. But, mindful of what was expected of her, Megan’s sense of duty overtook and, with the soft cries of her Mother’s grief still fresh in her ears, Megan, with Gethan by her side, took the decision to call off the day, informing the priest that his services would now be required for an entirely different family occasion.

Three weeks after her Father’s passing, in a registry office in Mold with just her mother, Dorothy and Gethan’s parents present, Megan Quinn became Megan Evans. The wedding breakfast was a simple affair of cucumber sandwiches and tea in the parlour followed by a bus ride to Llanberis to Gethan’s home, now Megan’s also, where she would, for the next 10 years, share a roof with her husband’s ailing parents, two chickens and an oil lamp.

As the years passed and the seasons shifted, Megan went on to have three miscarriages, one healthy son and the funeral arrangements of two parents-in-law. Yet, life was kind. Gethan brought in a weekly wage from splitting slates, and Megan gained employment in the town bakery, a job that treated their only son upon his daily return from school to an assortment of buns, pastries and breads. The house of Gethan’s parents, now theirs by will and testament, was a source of great comfort to Megan, such joy did she find in its simple walls and open fire. But to their boy, Ewan, a child of a different generation, one who had not known the suffering and sacrifice of his parent’s youth, the house became a symbol of time stood still, and Ewan wanted to move, discover and explore. So, as he reached 19 years of age, Megan, with Gethan holding her hand, found herself waving off her son as he sat on a bus bound for Cirencester, taking him to his new life of  a building apprenticeship, and into, as time would show, the arms of a pretty, kind Cotswold girl, and marriage.

While Megan continued happy at the bakery, her beloved Gethan was beginning to die. Years of breathing in slate dust had ravaged his lungs and now, at the age of 52, Megan found herself nursing him in his bed, his breath heavy with emphysema and exhaustion. The news, one day, from Cirencester that Ewan’s new wife was expecting their first child, lifted Gethan’s determination to hang on, certain was he that he could keep himself alive long enough to see the sweet softness of his first grandchild. But, two weeks before what was to be the birth of a baby girl, hair black as coal, lungs loud with screams, Gethan Evans passed away at home in his wife’s arms.

Two years after the death of his Father, Ewan and his wife would go on to have another child, this time a baby boy. To Megan’s joy and sorrow, they named him Gethan Ewan, a name that would prove to be wisely chosen as the boy, when he grew to be a man, displayed the same strength of character and inner calm that his grandfather had always possessed.

As the older generations do, Megan watched as her grandchildren grew, married and produced great-grand children. This now being a new century, the year 2000 hailed for Megan bewildering new technologies, and it was a period that saw her move, at the age of 76, from her marital home, still with its outside lavatory, to a new bungalow with a warden, an inside bathroom and central heating. When her hands were too shaky to write, Megan would use the telephone to keep in touch with her grandchildren and her now new great-grandchildren. Each time they made the lengthy journey to come and stay with her, she found herself delighted and  would revel in holding the babies, in tickling the toddlers, in cooking and fussing over them all, singing to them, after a whiskey night cap or two, tales of when she was a girl in the War.

As her great-grandchildren toddled on, so Megan grew old.  The day the stroke hit her she had been into the town to share a coffee with old friends, proud of the fact that, at the age of 92, she could still walk down the lane unaided, free to breathe in the clear mountain air she so loved. The warden discovered Megan the next morning, still in her armchair, her bladder having emptied upon it, her jaw having drooped, her left arm having ceased to work.

For the first few weeks following the stroke, Megan spent her time recuperating at a hospital by the coast, the salt of the Irish Sea so close she swore she could sometimes taste it. But, as happens with illness, Megan’s body slowly began to crumble, doctors detecting the onset of Alzheimer’s at the base of her brain, a condition made worse by the discovery of a lump in her breast, an operation performed to remove it ravaging her immune system more. With her body shutting down, Megan found herself transferred to a residential home in Llanberis, a move that left her confused, the Alzheimer’s shaking up the memories of her life like a pack of cards, leaving them to fall in disarray.  Family would come and visit often, great-grand children bringing tales of school and class assemblies, Ewan, now 62, bringing a look of worry and sadness. Many of the residents at the home, Megan would find, liked to complain about their lot, about the beds, the TV, the food. But not Megan. Instead, she would go on to live her days in the home and make the best she could of her confusion, her new-found incontinence and of her one remaining breast; and when  it got bad, she would say nothing at all about it, letting the silence do the talking for her. For, towards the end of her quiet life, just as towards the beginning, Megan Evans (nee Quinn) never made a fuss.

Copyright © Nikki Owen 2012

Thanks for reading!  If you missed some parts of the story, you can catch it all by clicking on the tag “The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn”, (see the left-hand bar)or link to the Friday fact or fiction category. Have a lovely weekend.

**Look out for  my “Media Monday” post on, um, Monday. A short, sharp snippet on the latest writing & publishing news…**

Friday Fiction post: Part 4 of short story, ‘The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn’

It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”,  where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, it’s ‘fiction’, with part four of my new short story, ‘The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn’…

 

The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn – Part Four

That night, as the bombs routinely rained down on Liverpool, one of the Luftwaffe happened to misfire and instead of striking the city, for the first time, they struck Mold. The cold light of the morning revealed that the recipient of the accidental bomb was the military hospital on the outskirts of the town, the very same hospital in which Megan’s sister Dorothy had been working that night. It sent the Quinn family into panic. The bomb, Megan’s Father learned from the Vicar, had been a direct hit with many dead and injured, and as the day inched forward, no news came. It was only when morning stepped into afternoon, that Megan, home with her Mother and aunts making pots of tea to calm nerves, heard the shout from her Father, sat, as he had been all day, on watch by the back gate from where his beloved Dorothy had left some 36 hours earlier. ‘Dorothy! Dorothy!’ he shouted. Megan dropped the teapot and ran out. ‘Thank you, Lord,’ she cried, because, there, charred and shivering, stood her sister – she was finally home.

Once bathed and wrapped, after a journey that saw her walk some 22 miles covered in dust and entrails, Dorothy revealed how she had been saved. She had that night, it transpired, stepped outside during a quiet period of her shift and walked the two hundred yards to the copse of oaks that stood guard by entrance of the hospital grounds, and it was here she stood when the bomb hit. Holding her hand, their Father asked Dorothy why she chose the copse of oaks in particular to stand by. Drawing in a breath, Dorothy said, ‘I was smoking a cigarette, Dad. I’m so, so sorry.’ With breaths held and all eyes upon him, how Megan’s father responded that day would go on to make her smile with fondness for him long after cancer took his life. ‘Dorothy,’ he said, taking her hands, ‘if going out for a smoke was what kept you alive then you can puff on a thousand cigarettes as far as I am concerned, my girl!’

Dorothy Quinn never did return to nursing, her love for it still alight but her fingers, as it turned out, quite literally, burned. The Government, in need of desk clerks and administrators for their local councils on account of keeping the nation organised in wartime, recruited Dorothy to take care of their work programmes, a job that Dorothy Quinn would inhabit throughout her spinsterhood until her death in 1989, upon when Megan ensured her sister tombstone read: May you now be heaven’s nurse.

Three months following the bombing of Mold the British Army called up Gethan to their ranks. To the march of boots on cobblestone, once more, Megan found herself in the familiar position of having to keep calm and carry on, and, with the train carriage waiting at the platform, she kissed her beloved Gethan goodbye, praying then and every night after for God and a strong trench to keep him safe.

The routine of daily life kept Megan’s mind occupied in Gethan’s absence. In particular, an invite to visit Nancy in the coming weeks once Nancy’s baby was born became Megan’s temporary life buoy.  But the visit was not to work out. One week before Nancy was due, the Luftwaffe bombed Liverpool in one of its most savage attacks, and so, when Megan’s visit to Nancy finally came, it was to attend Nancy’s funeral.  With the air heavy and the clouds black, the service, a Catholic affair, was held in Liverpool, and when Megan arrived on the train she witnessed the rows upon rows of coffins that lined the community halls, the piles of rubble strewn with bricks and sticks and body parts, creating an image that would remain seared on Megan’s brain forever. It was in this landscape that Megan, in a black blouse and skirt made by her mother, arrived at a house five streets from Nancy’s now rubble-reduced terrace. In the parlour, the funeral gathering was in full flow, women weeping, faces shrouded by lace and weariness; men sipping whiskey, staring at the walls; children, limbs scratched and grey, tugging at skirts. As Megan soon discovered, Nancy was housed in a coffin in the adjoining room, and, as was the custom at a Catholic funeral, as Megan walked through the door she was greeted by the open coffin, Nancy dressed in her wedding gown, casket open, the body shrouded in a light film of brick dust. Immediately, Megan’s eyes were drawn to Nancy’s belly. It was flat. Of course, Megan thought, she lost the baby. Without warning, Megan, slapping her palm to her mouth, found herself having to streak from the parlour, and, darting into the back yard, located a bucket in to which she immediately wretched. Mouth dabbed, it was only upon return to the house to give her condolences and goodbyes to the parents that Megan plucked up the courage to enquire after Nancy’s unborn baby. ‘It were a girl,’ was all Nancy’s mother could say before collapsing to the ground to be comforted by the priest. Six months later to the day, whilst sat at home reading a letter from Gethan, Megan would hear the news that Nancy’s husband, David, had been killed in action, a grenade claiming his heart that was already broken.

 

Copyright © Nikki Owen 2012

Thanks for reading!  Part 5 of The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn will be out on next Friday’s Fact or Fiction post.  Have a lovely weekend.

**Look out for  my “Media Monday” post on, um, Monday. A short, sharp snippet on the latest writing & publishing news…**

Friday Fiction post: Part 3 of ‘The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn’

It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”,  where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, it’s ‘fiction’, with the third part of my new short story, ‘The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn’…

 

The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn – Part Three

Beneath the mist drifting in from the Irish Sea and the spring sunshine that melted the Snowdonian peaks, life in the town of Mold gradually adapted to the wartime routine. Like other towns, the community of Mold took to placing their previous lives, loves and habits into a hut for deep hibernation until such a time that the War was over, provisions were plentiful and life could once more blossom. Megan, her hair now cut into a shoulder-length blonde wave, her head taller than most of the young men who had left for the trenches of France, found life making bombs bearable by befriending a girl equally tall and answering to the name of Nancy. Sensing a kindred spirit in the other, the two would regularly talk their way home after a day’s work, sometimes so wrapped up their conversations that they would barely make it back before blackout. As time ticked on, Megan and Nancy would discuss boys, work, parents, babies, weddings, the future, but, from time to time, during these chats, Megan would find her mind wandering on to teaching and a tear would break free, at which point Nancy would pause, pass Megan a tissue and let the silence speak for them.

When their daily talks on the return from work moved on to babies, Megan soon discovered that for Nancy, the notion of having a baby girl of her own filled Nancy with so much light that Megan supposed that the Luftwaffe would be able to see it shine even behind the heavy blackout curtains. Eager for her friend to find happiness, upon this baby-talk, Megan would link Nancy’s arm, her fingers black with oil, and skipping along the lane would say, ‘You will have your very own baby girl, my Nancy, you will!’

            As the seasons changed, that day came sooner than either of them imagined. Indeed, the day Nancy met her future husband – he just 18 and awaiting conscription, she just 17 and awaiting love – was the day Megan found Gethan Ewan Evans. Gethan Evans was a Welsh country boy of her same 16 years, and would go on to mend Megan’s heart with a love that was to complete her for the rest of her days. Gethan’s parents, years infirmed from various ailments, lived at the heel of Mount Snowdon, their home built with sweat and stone in the age when there was a war not against Germany’s dictators, but against England’s Princes and Kings. It was to be a place that, in five years time, would become their marital home, a marriage that would occur after gentle courting was done.

            It was during the first flush of their courting days, days which saw dragonflies dart along the mountain pass, that Gethan’s own dreams of becoming a Doctor were ended by his parents’ respective heart conditions, his role as only child requiring him to leave his studies and, returning to the family home, tend to his Mother and Father. And so it was that Megan found herself courting a 16-year-old boy from Llanberis, Snowdonia, who once dreamed of becoming a Doctor and now spent every day black as soot working in the Slate Mine splitting great slabs of the stone with a chisel and a hammer. ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’, the posters in the town would announce as Megan and Gethan walked, arms linked, at the end of another hard day, sunlight fading, sneaking in a stroll before curfew. Keep Calm And Carry On.

            As Megan soon discovered, keeping calm was a notion that came easy to Gethan Evans. It was, by now, early spring, a time when the daffodil buds swayed by the roadside and the gentle air of the St. David’s Day song breathed a welcome warmth following the frozen winter symphony. For several months, Megan and Gethan had been meeting with their now betrothed friends Nancy and David Williams. David Williams, a man of now 19 years, had at last received his regiment instructions that he was to journey to France in one week to fight Hitler’s army with a bayonet and the pride of God, King and country as his armoury. The home of the young Williams couple was now David’s birth city of Liverpool, and Nancy, her belly now 32 weeks swollen, was contently installed there, playing house with David’s mother and father, and as happy as she had wished for during those first fevered talks with Megan on their way home from building bombs.

On this particular spring evening, in a rare chance for the couples to meet, an evening of dance was enjoyed at Mold Town Hall, the quartet joining arms afterwards to walk to the local fish and chip shop for a supper treat before the Normandy trenches came calling. Sitting on the step eating flakes of batter, it was custom for the four to observe the comings and goings of the customers of the public house opposite, a place where men went to drink and forget, to fight and remember. On this night, the group watched as one man, cap sideways, cheeks rudded and pocked, staggered from the entrance, legs splayed like a new born colt, breath loud with whiskey and ale. Megan, her eyesight as clear as a mountain spring, recognised the fellow immediately to be her Uncle Aled. Concerned for her Uncle, Megan felt a panic shoot up within her, for to be so drunk on a street in Mold, or indeed anywhere for that matter at that time, was deeply frowned upon, even if there was a War on. Yet, while Megan was panicking, Gethan upon hearing the news from her, was a lake of calm, and, holding out a hand on the end of his strong shoulder sculptured in the mines of Llanberis, helped her stand and said, ‘It will all be fine. You’ll see.’ And so it was. For at that very moment the air raid signal screamed. The group, startled, remained just long enough to witness Uncle Aled snap to a stand, the jelly of the drunk no longer about him, and, running to the fire shed, they witnessed as he rang the bell, shouting for his fellow voluntary fire fighters to emerge from their homes and prepare to protect the town.

Copyright © Nikki Owen 2012

Thanks for reading!  Part 4 of The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn will be out on next Friday’s Fact or Fiction post.  Have a lovely weekend.

**Look out for  my “Media Monday” post on, um, Monday. A short, sharp snippet on the latest writing & publishing news…**

Friday Fiction post: Part 2 of ‘The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn’

It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”,  where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, it’s ‘fiction’, with the second part of my new short story, ‘The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn’…

 

The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn – Part Two

It was during this time of the morning, as Megan was sitting out her silent surveillance, that she was caught, quite unexpectedly, by her Father. Holding her breath as she felt the warm weight of his hand upon her shoulder, Megan braced herself for the scolding that was sure to follow after caught on such a clandestine mission. Yet, to Megan’s surprise (and secret delight) her Father, a man of morals, principles and dignity, instead chose to seat himself on Megan’s step, and, cupping his daughter into the soft fold of his arm, said, ‘Megan, you know that whatever you chose to do with your life, I will be proud of you.’ Megan, a girl of clarity and thought, looked to her Father and said, ‘So if I was like Dorothy, a woman with a career but no husband, a woman who has not found love, you would be still proud of me?’ Her Father, one eye on his elder daughter who was busy smearing jam on to bread, said, ‘But Megan, our Dorothy has found love. She is in love with nursing. It is her passion. The trick, my little welsh cake, is to find yours.’ With the sun warming the window, the two spies sat and watched as Dorothy bit into her breakfast, where upon a blob of strawberry promptly slid off the bread and landed in her lap. Sensing her Father’s smile, Megan, suddenly animated, pulled at his ear and whispered, ‘I wish to be a teacher when I am older, more than anything. A woman of career, just like Dorothy.’ ‘Well then,’ said her Father, tapping Megan’s nose and rising to a stretch, for a day’s work was yet ahead of him, ‘that is what you must do. All I ask is one thing, the one thing I ask of all of my children.’ Megan concentrated, sensing a message a great importance. ‘You must,’ said her Father, ‘never, ever, ever smoke. Do you hear me?’ Megan nodded, and with that, her Father smiled and padded back up the narrow stairs. And so, from that morning on, Megan had her mind made up that she would learn all she needed to learn to be a teacher, a woman of an admired profession, a woman with a passion, a woman who had found her love.

Over time, Megan’s day synchronised with her sister’s, the pair of them, under the encouragement of their Father, rising early. Dorothy would attend work at the hospital on the East side of Mold in shadow of the Liverpudlian landscape, and Megan would sit and study her books of Welsh language, calculus and history, her frame now full and rounded from its 15 years of life. It was during this period of hard work and determination that the news came one day, the Quinn family receiving it together, huddled around the wireless in the parlour, each sat on the stone floor, bottoms cold, 1939 being the year that saw their wooden chairs on loan to the local Church hall for the annual jam and scones fundraiser. ‘Great Britain,’ Neville Chamberlain announced, his voice low, his vowels rounded plums, ‘has declared war on Germany.’ Silence filled the parlour that evening and for years to come; it was a silence that spoke more words than a thousand voices; it was a silence that would continue to speak, not only for the Quinn family, but for Mold, for Liverpool, and for every village, town and city the length and breadth of King George’s country, as dark clouds settled over the nation’s soul, lifting only when May, 1945 came calling..

By the time Megan had reached her 16th year, Hitler’s army had commenced it’s soon to be familiar flight of night time air raids on the ports, railways and industrial cities of the British land. Each night the hum of the Luftwaffe would announce their imminent attack on the cells, arteries, organs and veins that were vital to the daily survival of the country’s people. In villages and towns, bomb making and artillery factories sprouted, transformed from their former lives as engineering or car making businesses, and now used as secret but crucial nerve centres in the battle against the threat to freedom. 

Two days following the metamorphosis of Greene’s Automotive Parts Factory that rested at the foot of the Mold hills, Megan Quinn received her notice from His Majesty’s Government. Until then, Megan’s day had been an enjoyable yet tiring one of study books at one end and washing with Mother at the other, so by the time she seated herself at the kitchen table to the news her Father delivered, both her brains and hands felt rung out. Her Father took his daughter’s hand and, brushing back her hair, looked at her eyes and said, ‘Megan, you have been called to work at the munitions factory on the edge of town. A full time post, dear.’ Megan felt the warmth of his hand on her and blinked. ‘So, no more study?’ she said, a lump forming in her throat. ‘No more training to be a teacher?’ Her Father, letting out a heavy sigh, took her cheeks in his hands and replied, ‘I’m afraid not, sweet heart. I’m afraid not.’ It was then her Mother, a woman of compassion and duty, set a mug on the table, and pouring in the tea, put it in front of her youngest child, and said, ‘There’s a War on dear. We’re so sorry.’ Megan, trying to smile, simply nodded, poured in some milk and, stirring her drink, took a sip, the hot liquid slipping down her throat, melting the lump. Then, replacing the mug to the table, she looked to her Mother, her Father, and, simply said, ‘When do I start?’ And so, with no fuss, the next day, Megan Quinn, aged 16 years and two months, began her job at the Government Munitions Factory, Mold, her heart broken from the loss of her one love.

Copyright © Nikki Owen 2012

Thanks for reading!  Part 3 of The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn will be out on next Friday’s Fact or Fiction post.  Have a lovely weekend. And if you’re in the UK – happy Jubilee Bank Holiday!

**I’m having a little break, so there’ll be no Media Monday post until the week after next. If you have any good subjects I could discuss for the next Media Monday post, I’d love to hear them. Thanks & take care.**

Friday Fiction post: New short story, ‘The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn’

It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”,  where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, it’s ‘fiction’, with the first part of my new short story, ‘The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn’…

 

The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn – Part One

When Megan Quinn was born, nobody made a fuss.

Her mother, glistening with barley water and after birth took one look at her and promptly fainted. As the midwife -her belly a dough of Welsh cakes and dripping- breathed and bossed, the father and his sister smoked and sweated, their concerns not yet with the baby but with the mother, the children and the washing half hanging in the mangle, now forgotten following the first furious contraction. Once the cord was cut, Megan, fresh to the world, a brand new button, was briefly left to blink in the basket used for gathering potatoes from the allotment, her small pink body swathed in a brushed cotton bed sheet, her forehead still sticky with mucus, faeces and placenta. As afternoon swayed into evening and the sun set on the Snowdonia mountains beyond, Megan had been dressed by her mother in a towelling nappy and vest, her face mopped and her tuft of blonde hair smoothed. A pot of tea made and six biscuits set, Megan, swaddled in her potato basket, was tucked in by the fire hearth, the day’s mangled washing drip-drying above her head as she gently drifted to sleep. Life in the Quinn household returned to normal.

By the time Megan reached the age of seven, the Welsh town of Mold, which her family had called home for five generations, had become like a friend to her. Their house, a modest, terraced affair, sat perched on an outcrop of oaks and factories that circled the edge of the town like the moat of a castle. To the West were the peaks of Snowdonia, majestic and unfettered at the challenges Mother Nature and man hurled at them; to the East, the distant chimneys of industrial Liverpool stood pumping out great plumes of smoke, soot and smells. Flanked by these giants as Mold was, Megan often found it strangely comforting to think that the mountains and chimneys stood like soldiers on guard protecting her and her beloved town. ‘Mold,’ she would say to no one in particular while she turned the mangle in the stone yard, for Monday was always a wash day, even if there was talk of another war looming, ‘you may sometimes find yourself tired with all these immoveable mountains and giant chimneys each as high as Jack’s beanstalk. But, my dearest Mold,’ she said, ‘you must instead think of it as this: you, my sweet town, are a row of books, important books, sat on a shelf. Therefore, you must regard the mountains to one side, the chimneys to the other your bookends. For without them, you may well collapse in to a heap. Do you hear me?’ And, with that, Megan would squeeze the last of the water and suds from her father’s overalls and consider her beloved Mold well and truly told.

As the days rolled into weeks that tumbled into years, Megan Quinn began to quietly grow. Her siblings, all older by some good ten years, grew too, most marrying into the local community, and each emerging from the family cocoon as adults in various stages of happiness, pregnancy or apprenticeship. By the time Megan was 11, the only sibling without a wedding ring was Dorothy, Megan’s second eldest sister and some 12 years older than Megan. Megan would always watch Dorothy with the furrowed brow of the curious. Dorothy, it seemed to Megan, appeared to be unaffected by the rampant fever that would strike other girls Dorothy’s age or younger – and that was the fever of love. Each morning, Dorothy would rise at 5 a.m. when the cockerel in the Jones’s yard two doors down would trumpet his horn. It was a time when the low morning mist from the Irish Sea to the North would float its way along the shores to the towns and the villages, and the soft shadows of the night would slowly receed to reveal the haze of the day. Dorothy would tiptoe to the yard at this hour, use the wooden lavatory and then, nightgown billowing in the breeze, return, door creaking, feet padding on the stone kitchen floor to the basin, where she would promptly splash her face with the mountain cold water poured by Mother the night before, always inhaling a sharp breath as she did. It was a routine familiar to Megan, for Megan had taken, in recent months, to rising straight after Dorothy, quietly and immediately, the bed they shared top-to-tail still warm with her sister’s sleep. Once up, Megan would tiptoe down the stairs upon where she would place herself at the bottom rung, pull her nightdress over her feet and, resting her chin on her palms, sit and watch her Dorothy’s daily rituals unnoticed.

 

Copyright © Nikki Owen 2012

Thanks for reading!  Part 2 of The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn will be out on next Friday’s Fact or Fiction post.  Have a lovely weekend.

**Look out for  my “Media Monday” post on, um, Monday. A short, sharp snippet on the latest writing & publishing news…**

Friday Fiction: Final part of the award-winning story, ‘The Woman Who Walked To School’

It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”,  where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, it’s the 3rd and final part of a short story I have written, called The Woman Who Walked To School

 

 **STOP PRESS: Last Friday this short story was awarded the runner-up prize in the Wotton Arts & Literature Festival**

The woman who walked to school  (Part Three – final)

 

For the next week, Margaret felt as if she were floating like one of those maxi dresses in the breeze.  While she couldn’t bring herself to stand and have a full conversation with the glamorous group, on Tuesday, she did manage to smile at them. On Wednesday, she looked in the mirror and reached for the hairbrush. On Thursday she popped on some blusher. And on Friday she slipped on a dress.  Mercifully, Thomas had now begun nursery, so, after walk-to-school week was over, one morning a week, Margaret had a window of freedom for herself. But, first, she just had the Church vacuuming to do.

‘Ah, Maggie,’ said the Vicar when he saw her, ‘just the person.’

‘Hello.’

‘I wondered,’ he said, ‘if you could host and serve at the annual visit by the Bishop? We’re all very excited!  It would only be for the evening,’ he smiled, ‘and you do do it so well.’

Margaret pulled her cardigan tight. ‘Um, which evening is it?’

‘Let me see now…Ah yes, Saturday. 16th July. That alright?’

Helen’s party. Margaret felt her heart race. ‘Um, I’ll have to check my diary. I think I may have…Well, I may something on.’

His face dropped. ‘Oh. Oh, of course. We may struggle without you though, Maggie. You’re a real shoulder to lean on.’ And with that, he left Margaret to her vacuuming.

            No energy left in her, Margaret switched off the machine and let out a breath. It sounded daft, she supposed, but was this the way it was always going to be? Was she forever to be viewed as a shoulder to lean on? A doormat? Yes, everyone could rely on her. Yes, she found it hard to say no, found it hard to walk away from people and situations when help was needed. But sometimes…sometimes she just wished it wasn’t always so. She had never asked for any help, even at the hardest of times.  When her husband was ill in hospital, when her kids where sick and she was out of milk and bread, or when she was struggling to come to terms with the death of her father – she would simply cry herself to sleep. She wasn’t a shoulder to lean on; she was a mound of jelly to be squashed with one thud.

            Saturday 16th July came and went and Margaret stayed at home. She called Helen and sent her apologies, and she contacted the Vicar and said she was sick. In a way she was. While she didn’t like to lie, she knew she couldn’t face anyone. She was fed up; fed up of her life as it was. Something had to give. As the final week of the school summer term came to a close, Monday morning popped up again and Margaret closed the door to walk to school. Once at the gates and the eldest waved off, Margaret was picking up Thomas when she heard footsteps running up behind her.

‘Margaret!’ came a breathless voice.

Margaret turned. Helen stood, shoulders heaving, bag slid to her arm.

‘So glad I caught you!’ said Helen, fanning her face. ‘God, I’m so unfit. I’m so sorry you couldn’t make it to the party. How you feeling now? Better? God, heels are hell.’ 

Margaret tucked a hair behind her ear. ‘I’m okay, thank you. I’m better.’  She popped Thomas on to her hip.

 ‘Oh good,’ said Helen. ‘Look, a few of us are going for a coffee. Fancy joining us?’

‘Um…’ Margaret squeezed Thomas close. Coffee? Her?

‘Oh,’ said Helen, taking this for rejection, ‘sorry, you must be so busy. We always marvel how you’re so energetic, all that walking and so patient with the kids and Church. We’re all in awe of you.’

Margaret frowned. ‘Really?’

Helen nodded. ‘Yes. That’s why we’ve never really plucked up the nerve to talk to you. Sounds daft, doesn’t it? God, I’m sorry. It’s just you seem so,’ she searched for the word, ‘together.’

Margaret let out a laugh.

Helen laughed, too. ‘So, fancy a quick coffee? Bring Thomas?’

Margaret smiled. ‘That would be lovely.’ And so, with the morning sun on her back, Margaret, for the first time, headed off from school for coffee and a chat with the group of mums. 

 

Copyright © Nikki Owen 2012

Thanks for reading! Next Friday I’m switiching to ‘fact’, posting a travel article written for The Guardian. Have a lovely weekend.

**Look out for  my “Media Monday” post on, um, Monday. A short, sharp snippet on the latest writing news…**

A snotty nose ends in a short-story award…

It’s “Wednesday Wafflings” when I post the latest entry in my Diary of a Hopeful Author…Photo of a Diary

I’ve gone and got myself a cold. Well, not ‘got’ one necessarily but rather ‘acquired’ one from my daughter who’s been sniffing and coughing her way around the house for the past week. ‘Blow your nose,’ I say to her, sniffing and handing her a hankie. My husband looks at me. ‘Err, honey?’ I look up, my mouth hanging open because I have lost all ability to breathe through my nose. ‘You’ve got a little something streaming down your face.’ I touch my chin and realise that my daughter is not the only one requiring a tissue. ‘Oh damn it,’ I mutter to myself, to which the youngest hollers from her bedroom, ‘Whoohoo! 50 pence in the swear jar for mum!’  I stumble into the bathroom wondering why they only tell me about the swear jar and not my husband, when I promptly slip on a sock and land face first in the laundry basket. My husband walks in and points. ‘Look at mum, girls!’ They come running in. ‘You’ve got pants on your head!’ they yell, clearly delighted. I sigh and, after a few choice words to my husband and a further declaration of the swear jar by my youngest, I haul my snotty self from the smelly socks and PE kit, I wonder if I can go to Barbados and maybe stay there.

And so, this is pretty much how it has been all week, perhaps minus the head pants. Come Friday, I am sat at my laptop checking my emails and deliberating whether to have a crumpet with jam or Marmite for my snack (you can’t say I don’t make ground making decisions here…) when up pings a message in my inbox. Seeing the sender’s email, I happily click it open and read. At this point I have to tell you that I am rubbish at taking bad news. Utterly bobbins. Depending on what time of day it is, I can either a) go quiet, b) stomp or c) cry. I can also perform all three at once – it is a skill us ladies have honed over many a year, and a skill which on this particular Friday I display, with may I say, a special finesse. The email in question is unexpected. It is also not intended for me. It’s funny when you receive an email about you, but not for you – a bit like eavesdropping on a conversation at a smoky party. The good news is that I really don’t mind the comment in question that the email raises – but it perhaps just would have been handy if I had been told directly by the sender as opposed to through a crack in the door. But, such as things are, you’ve got to make the most of it and I think I’m pretty right in saying that, thankfully, give me a bit of bad news and, once I’ve dried my face, I’ll grab it by the legs like a snappy Jack Russell and not let go until I’ve sorted it out. 

And so, it is during this ‘Jack Russell’ period that, feeling low, I get a call from my good friend to remind me that in the evening we are due to attend the local literature festival short story night. Naturally, I had completely forgotten. ‘What are you going to wear?’ I ask her. I hear the phone drop. ‘You okay?’ I ask. ‘Jesus,’ she says,  returning, ‘the washing machine’s flooded the garage. Got to go.’ I put down the phone and wonder if perhaps Bali is nice at this time of year.

That evening, my friend and I attend the Wotton-Under-Edge Arts Festival literary evening. As I am normally a bag of nerves at these things to which my default position is to babble on like a  kiss on Blarney Stone, I was very grateful my buddy could be with me as an antidote to my waffle. Her default position in such nervous circumstances is to completely clam up, so between us we make quite a pair. We sit down, a bit late, and look around. The average age is about 65. ‘I’m sorry,’ I whisper to her, uncertain what is ahead. ‘It’s fine,’ she says, smiling and swigging red wine, ‘this is making me feel young! I love it!’ And do you know what? The evening is great. The two ladies hosting the event are the writer Sue Limb and Dr.Rosemary Bailey – and they are hilarious (think The Golden Girls meets Ab Fab and you’re about there). As the short stories are read out, everyone listens, laughs and applauds what are, without doubt, some well-crafted tales, particularly from the junior entry group.  Come the interval, my friend turns to me and asks what the name of my short story is. ‘The woman who walked to school,’ I whisper. And, just as I say this, they announce the next story to be read out – and, yup, it is mine. Like a man in a Zumba class, having your story read out loud is strange. ‘My heart’s banging,’ my friend whispers. ‘Poker face,’ I reply, ‘keep your poker face on.’ I say this because what I don’t want to do is reveal what I really feel – namely I might cry (seems my reaction to happiness is the same as to bad news – no wonder my hubbie gets confused.) To my relief, not only do they read it, but they like it too, commenting on how well constructed it is, how observant and how true. By the time the winners are announced I am breathing hard, and when my name is given as third prize runner-up, my friend can hardly sit down. ‘Yay!’ she mouths as I go up to shake hands and receive my prize. Yay! Afterwards, several people come up to me to comment on how much they enjoyed my story. I am so touched, it is very humbling. Indeed, one lady asks me if I can send the story to her daughter in France as she thinks it may help her adjust to life in a new country with a new baby. What can I say – I am honoured. It is all I can do to not cry there and then like a jelly mound of hormones.

That night, arriving home after my friend gives me a well done hug that could have squeezed the life out of a boulder, shrieking, ‘You won an award! For something you wrote!’, my husband pours me a large glass of red by way of celebration. I tell him all about the evening as well as the eves drop email early that day. ‘Are you cross about the email?’ he asks. I shake my head and sigh. ‘No. It’s okay. It’s good to get feedback – they know their stuff. I’ll make the most of it, and hopefully things will be even better.’ He narrows his eyes at me. ‘You cried about it, didn’t you?’ I nod. ‘And stomped?’ ‘Hmmm.’ I pull a blanket over my legs and peer at the TV. ‘Is that Stephen Fry?’ My husband nods. ‘It’s QI.’ I am about to reply when I promptly sneeze all over the couch. ‘Bloody hell, honey!’ says my husband. ‘Aha! 50 pence in the swear jar for you!’ I’m telling the girls. Take that, daddy!’ He tuts, leans to the side and hands me a tissue. ‘You’ve got a little something on your nose.’ I take the tissue and sniff. Maybe Crete is nice at this time of year.

**Out on Thursday “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my latest newspaper column to my blog. This week it’s all about shopping locally…**