Poem – Summer Garden

Poem – Summer Garden

There was another prompt night last week, with the theme of Summer. My prompt was a quote from Roman Payne’s Rooftop Soliloquy:

“Life, now, was unfolding before me, constantly and visibly, like the flowers of summer that drop fanlike petals on eternal soil.”

I decided to do a poem. As per my last few attempts at poetry, it got dark. In a similar vein to last November’s Winter Keen, it’s a cautionary tale from a fantasy world where people really don’t like their kids. I may do ones for Spring and Autumn at some point, if I can think of another way of terrorising children.


Summer Garden


Down forgotten paths of the deepest wood,

Lies a garden watered in crimson blood

Of slaughtered spring lamb, or sometimes a child,

Offered, by shepherds, to gods of the wild.


Forever renewed, this eternal earth,

Unfolds constant life, compelling the birth

Of saplings of flesh, skin leaves, heartwood bones;

Their pulsing red sap drawn straight from the loam.


The trees’ blossom eyes grow wider with fear,

When the garden’s guardian draws too near.

Imprisoned in bark, they dream of old life,

Their sap has memory, dread of his knife.


The wild gods’ gardener tends to these trees,

Lovingly watching for signs of disease.

His eyes are precise, judgement not fickle,

His old hands are as one with the sickle.


No foulness will he allow in his glade,

If a tree sickens, he sharpens his blade.

Spring damp, autumn rot or cold winter’s bite,

He trims off deadheads afflicted with blight.


Wood screams for mercy, but none is allowed.

Blood-spattered, the garden-butcher is proud

Of his service in his sacred mission;

He never thinks to seek recognition.


His endless labour is frequently hard

But he’s happy; work is its own reward.

From the deadheads, he extracts new seed-teeth

And plants them anew, to grow from beneath.


You seek an excuse, my young shepherd son,

For sleeping on watch; well, you will find none.

Guard the flock to evade gods of the wild;

If wolves take our lambs, we have but one child.


The header image is of branches cut from a bloodwood tree, which is exactly as gruesome as it sounds.



Poem: Tristyn and Adeline

Poem: Tristyn and Adeline

It’s Valentine’s Day(ish), so that can only mean a romance-themed Writers’ Soc prompt night. Last year, I wrote a superhero story about a monster destroying a city, so there’s some flexibility.

This year, I wrote a poem. It’s set in the same vague fantasy world as Winter Keen and, I guess, The Privilege of Fools (though it’s not comedic).

The prompt was a quote from Lao Tzu: “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”


Tristyn and Adeline

Sir Tristyn, atop his steed draped in mail,

Rode boldly into the depths of the vale

Where his love, Adeline, the Maiden Blade,

Had fallen, lost when her band was betrayed.


He found her amongst the wounded and dead,

Her arm in a sling, a rag ‘round her head.

‘Fair Adeline,’ said he, ‘I feared you be slain,

‘Though now I will see the dawn’s light again.’


‘My lover,’ she said, ‘The dawn is yet stilled,

‘For my warriors were tricked, ambushed and killed.

‘Our guide was a ghoul, disguised in man’s skin.

‘I swear, on our love, he’ll pay for his sin.’


Head bowed low, Tristyn agreed to the quest,

‘Til the traitor was slain, ne’er would they rest.

Their quarry sent forth vile servants in swarms;

Together, the lovers weathered such storms.


The storm broke and they reached the ghoul king’s throne,

A cannibal wretch on a seat of bones.

‘You have slaughtered my kin,’ the foul ghoul said,

‘But you are both wounded, soon to be dead.’


The ghoul leapt, fuelled by hunger eternal

Its eyes burned bright with fire infernal.

Adeline and Tristyn did hold their ground,

In love for the other, victory was found.


Love gives you courage, a reason to die;

To be loved grants strength to hold up the sky.

As one, the lovers could not be withstood;

Their swords stained black with their enemy’s blood.


Heroes are known for cutting off their kin,

For barring their hearts from those they’d let in.

To spare their loved ones mortality’s dread,

They walk alone, with none mourning them dead.


But Tristyn and Adeline held no fear;

For them, their loved one was always stood near.

They knew if one fell, then so would their love,

To meet again in those fields above.



The header image is The Ghoul King, by Dmitry Burmak, from Frostgrave: The Thaw of the Lich Lord.

Game of Thrones – Hope Like Hell Your Captor is Evil

Game of Thrones – Hope Like Hell Your Captor is Evil

I’ve been running a deadpool at work for the current season of Game of Thrones. Basically, people pick one or more named characters, pay £1 per character into the pool, and if one of their picks is the first to die, they get the entire pool.

Surprisingly, episode three has just ended and no one has won yet.

It was a difficult decision with this episode, because…

Wait one moment. Spoiler warning. Stop reading if you’ve not seen the episode yet.

Really, if you’re still reading this post, you only have yourself to blame.

One of my players had whatserface as one of their picks.

You know, her. Thingy. Whatserface. Pretty, Dornish, mostly pointless as a character, not stuck on the front of a ship?

That’s it: Tyene, apparently. (Thanks, Google.)

Unfortunately, one of my players picked her after last week, having correctly predicted that Cersei would target her, rather than Ellaria Sand, as vengeance for Ellaria’s murder of Myrcella. This led to a tricky quandary. Tyene was poisoned, supposedly with the same substance that killed Myrcella. I personally think that we’ll not see her alive again. However, she didn’t die on screen.

I wrote a few rules for the Deadpool of Thrones when I started it: “Flashbacks, bodies found long after death, weird mystical crow visions count in the order they’re broadcast, not when they occurred in-setting! If your character later comes back from the dead, but was actually definitely dead as far as the audience of that episode is concerned, it still counts.”

Tyene is likely to fall into the ‘bodies found long after death’ category, presumably the next time we see (an extremely traumatised) Ellaria Sand, but she’s not there yet. Ergo, she didn’t count as a death for the purposes of the game.

No one picked Olenna Tyrell, but then, no one really expected her to snuff it, least of all Olenna Tyrell. I’m glad of this, because (perhaps controversially) I’d say her death would have counted, despite the scene in which she was poisoned also ending with her still breathing.

For me, it all comes down to the nature of the poisoner.

Game of Thrones is fond of drawing comparisons between characters within an episode. In this case, the Lannister twins each killed a prisoner using poison, but the way it happened was completely different. In his Discworld novel, Men at Arms, Terry Pratchett wrote:

If a man has you entirely at his mercy, then hope like hell that man is an evil man. Because the evil like power, power over people, and they want to see you in fear. They want you to know you’re going to die. So they’ll talk. They’ll gloat.

They’ll watch you squirm. They’ll put off the moment of murder like another man will put off a good cigar.

So hope like hell your captor is an evil man. A good man will kill you with hardly a word.

Now, Jaime Lannister is not a conventionally good person, what with various murders and that time he pushed a child out of a window to cover up his incestuous affair with Cersei, but he’s still got a sense of honour and has been gradually developing a sort of decency since he hung out with that proper example of knightly chivalry, Brienne. He makes sure the poison he brings to Olenna Tyrell is painless and quick. When Olenna admitted to poisoning Joffrey in a very brutal fashion, I half-expected him to pull out his dagger and stab her to death out of anger, but he kept his word. He leaves the room to give her privacy to die, but Olenna, it is safe to say, is definitely dead.

Conversely, Cersei is evil. Her only redeeming features were her genuine love for her children, and the fact that she brought 67% of them up to become lovely human beings. As each of them has died off, and particularly since Tommen’s… uh… vertical abdication, she’s become soulless. Being evil, Cersei doesn’t even kill her actual enemy, instead promising to keep Ellaria alive, but murdering someone else instead. She poisons Tyene as vengeance for Ellaria doing the same to Myrcella. Cersei promises that the death could take a few hours, or it could be drawn out for weeks, and she’s going to leave the daughter to decompose in the cell occupied by her mother.

But she’s not dead yet, and Ellaria isn’t going to die for a very long time, because Cersei is evil.

What if Yara or someone else rescues Tyene and her mother? What if we see Tyene in a later episode, coughing up blood but still clinging onto life? What if there was never any poison and it was a cruel bluff by Cersei to torture both Dornishwomen?

Personally, I think Tyene’s had it. The Sand Snakes hardly served a narrative purpose in the show (and I barely remember them from the books, though the Dorne sequence completely failed to grab me when I read it) and it was obvious that the only reason she survived the battle at sea to be captured alongside Ellaria was for something more ghastly to happen to her later on.

My money is on Tyene being a corpse the next time we see her. So long as no one else croaks first, that would count as a win for the deadpool.

Ellaria though? As Cersei once said:

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”

Olenna Tyrell lost. Fortunately for Ellaria Sand, Cersei is evil.



Writing: Formatting Dialogue

Writing: Formatting Dialogue

Someone on Quora asked ‘What are the most common dialogue mistakes writers make that ruin a story?‘, so I generously shared the wisdom of an unpublished wannabe author:

One mistake that I keep encountering among aspiring writers isn’t so much the content of what characters are saying, but how it’s written on the page. It’s a failure to understand the formatting of dialogue, particularly in terms of speech tags.

Single or Double Quotes?

In other words, ‘this’ as opposed to “this”.

There probably is a rule somewhere, written several centuries ago, but in the modern day, it varies from publisher to publisher. Personally, I prefer writing single quotes for dialogue, as it looks nicer on the page. However, since this article has both quoted text and examples of dialogue, I’m going to use double quotes for dialogue here.

The Basics

The key thing to remember is that this is, in a way, a single sentence:

“Everything I say is rubbish. It’s absolutely awful, just like a Dan Brown novel,” said Max.

Sure, there are several sentences within the speech, but that’s irrelevant. As far as the formatting goes, it’s all one sentence. The entire content of the speech, even if it’s John Galt’s 100-page monologue from Atlas Shrugged, can be compressed down to:

“[whatever Max says],” said Max.

In other words, there’s never a full stop/period at the end of ‘[whatever Max says]’, as it’s the same sentence as the speech tag (‘said Max’). Instead, it’s a comma, as the sentence is continuing outside the speech tags.

Remember that basic foundation, and all the extra variations will fall into place.

Oh yes, and the ending punctuation belongs inside the speech marks, not outside.

Shouting and questions

Question marks and exclamations are the most obvious variation (although it’s a good idea to minimise the presence of exclamation marks/points, saving them for when they really, really matter). When there’s a speech tag present, use these instead of the comma, but pretend it’s a comma.

Don’t stress over this bit; your word processing package knows that it’s not really a new sentence when you put a ? or a ! at the end of speech. How can you tell? Because it doesn’t auto-capitalise the first letter of ‘said Max’ and the grammar checker won’t put a wiggly green line under it.

Also, don’t combine the two ‘?!’ except in the most extreme of circumstances. If you’re shouting a question, use a question mark. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” makes clear that it’s an exclamation. “Do you want fries with that?” is rarely shouted, except at the height of the lunchtime rush (okay, so bad example, but the reader will generally assume).

‘Max said’, or ‘said Max’?

As an aside, is it ‘said Max’ or ‘Max said’? Either works, although the unnamed equivalent ‘said he’ or ‘said she’ sound archaic, and so should be avoided, even when writing something set in the past. Of course, if a 15th Century character is saying, ‘said he’ in conversation, then that’s allowed.

‘He said’, ‘she said’

You don’t always need to use character names in speech tags. So long as it’s clear who is being referenced, use another pronoun in place of the name. Usually, this is ‘he’ or ‘she’, but others are available.

This doesn’t just apply to speech tags, but in general narrative as well, but ‘it’ is for a talking door knocker, artificial intelligence or an animal or supernatural creature whose sex or gender isn’t obvious. As a note, using ‘it’ tends to be extremely offensive when used about humans (it’s dehumanising, basically, and is hate speech when used for trans people), and can feel jarring when used about creatures that are virtually human. (I once wrote a novel where about half the character were angels, and used ‘it’ as their pronoun. Bad idea.)

‘They’ usually works as a gender neutral singular pronoun in English, even if its ‘correct’ form is to refer to a group of people. Apparently, Chaucer used ‘they’ for the singular, so there’s that as well.

If it still doesn’t feel right to use ‘they’, think of it this way: someone walks out of the desert, wrapped in mask, goggles and heavy robes, before sitting down at your protagonist’s campfire. The newcomer speaks with a voice muffled by their mask. Your protagonist has no idea if that person is male or female, and thus nor does your reader. You could assume masculinity and use ‘he’ to refer to this figure, but that says more about your protagonist’s prejudices (or, less charitably, yours) than it does about the character. You could use this to surprise the protagonist when the newcomer removes her mask, but that’s tough to pull off without it seeming a bit cliche. That said, it can be done; Brienne of Tarth removing her helmet for the first time in Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire might have been a minor surprise for the reader, but the reveal that she was female was an outrageous breach of propriety for the majority of the witnesses at the tournament. (See Samus is a Girl for examples of this trope in action.)

As an alternative to using names or pronouns, in either speech tags or narrative, you can also describe the person in question. If you have Ned Stark arguing with Robert Baratheon, both parties are male so pronouns have the potential of getting confusing, while ‘Ned’ and ‘Robert’ will get annoying if overused. Instead, refer to Robert as ‘the king’ or similar. If it’s parent and child, use ‘her daughter’ or ‘his mother’.

Pronouns get easier in first person narrative, of course, as ‘I’ cannot be mistaken for any other character. The same applies to the second person ‘you’, although you rarely see that except in Choose Your Own Adventure-style stories or the novelisation of the Space Truckers film. (Although, if I recall, that shifted perspective between chapters, while still keeping a ‘story in a trucker bar’ feel to the narrative by using ‘you’. Quite bold, for a tie-in of a film scoring 5.2 on IMDB.)

Paragraphs and Speech

Every new speaker in a conversation starts a new paragraph. This is entirely non-negotiable. Every single time, without fail. Even if you break every other rule of writing (and writing often involves breaking the rules to achieve a desired effect), this is one that shouldn’t be disregarded. Well, okay, you can disregard it, but make sure you’ve got a damn good reason to confuse your reader and annoy your agent/publisher.

Said, said, said, said, said, said…

Firstly, ‘Said’ is, 90% of the time, invisible to the reader. Don’t worry if it seems to be there too much.

Don’t go through the thesaurus and have a conversation in which characters ‘interject’, ‘argue’, ‘exclaim’, ‘blurt’, ‘sigh’ or even ‘ejaculate’. Sure, sometimes a different speech tag (particularly ‘asked’) is more illustrative of how something is being said, but the reader doesn’t usually notice. As per breaking rules, one of Harry Harrison’s Bill The Galactic Hero novels manages to do a conversation that lasts for several pages, consisting only of dialogue and a different and more absurd speech tag for every utterance. This was, of course, for comedy effect, ridiculing the thesaurus approach.

Helping with avoiding ‘said’ repetition, don’t overuse speech tags. Go without.

Speech tags are only needed when it’s not clear to the reader who is speaking. Ideally, strong characterisation and context should make that clear.

Max raised a hand.

Jordan paused. “Go on.”

“You mean I should just let my dialogue fly naked?”

“Something like that, though I would never phrase it that way myself.”

You should be able to tell who is speaking in that exchange. There was a slight cheat in that the first utterance was in a paragraph about what Jordan was doing (in this case, pausing), but it sets the context up so that the only other speaker is Max, and the only person able to reply is .

This is, of course, harder when there are more than two people involved in the conversation. If Jules was also in the scene, and added, “I often fly naked. I’ve been banned from El Al, but Qantas still takes me,” I’d likely name-check them and then make sure it was clear who was speaking later in the conversation before I decided to drop speech tags again.

Putting Speech Tags in the Middle of an Utterance

Jules’ comment above is pretty long. You could start it with a speech tag (see below for the rules on that), but I’m quite fond of breaking up long dialogue with speech tags instead.

“I often fly naked,” Jules said. “I’ve been banned from El Al, but Qantas still takes me.”

In that version, the speech tag ends the first sentence of the dialogue, and so adopts its full stop/period. The trick is to insert the speech tag early enough that it serves its purpose of telling the reader who is speaking and how – after the first phrase is usually the best spot.

Jordan’s comment earlier could have had a speech tag inserted as well:

“Something like that,” Jordan said, cautiously, “though I would never phrase it that way myself.”

In this example, the speech tag is interjected into the middle of a sentence of dialogue, so it has a comma at the end before the speech resumes.

Putting a Speech Tag at the Start of an Utterance

Going back to that weird grammar lesson example above, if Jules hadn’t paused to give context, but instead there was a speech tag, it gets complicated. There’s two schools of thought on this. The first is that ‘Jules said’ should be followed by a colon (one of these: : ) because the speech is what’s being presented by the speech tag.

Jules said: “Go on.”

The second is that the speech tag is just a part of the sentence and so it should be treated like any other speech tag:

Jules said, “Go on.”

One way or another is probably correct in some grammar book or other, but I’ve seen both used in professionally published works.

I’ve seen it argued that colons should be used for longer utterances, and commas for shorter ones, so the first example wouldn’t be favoured by that camp, but ultimately it doesn’t seem to matter.

Language changes, so this kind of oddity arises.

The Best Advice Anyone Will Ever Give to an Aspiring Author

Read a novel.

Not a self- or vanity-published one (no guarantee of quality control) and not a literary novel (more likely to break the rules for effect), but something published for the mass market by a reputable publishing house.

Take a look at how that author uses dialogue. The words said, the speech tags, the accompanying descriptions, the presence or lack of fillers like ‘uh’ or ‘well’. The best way to becoming a good writer, slightly ahead in my mind to actually writing stuff, is to read stuff.

Wargaming: Xenos Rampant

Wargaming: Xenos Rampant

Hey, wait, what, you can insert documents into basic WordPress blogs?

Awesome. In that case, here’s Xenos Rampant – futuristic wargaming in Dragon Rampant v1 (opens as .pdf).

Xenos Rampant is an unofficial supplement to Daniel Mersey’s Dragon Rampant, published by Osprey Games. It is designed to allow platoon-level skirmishes in a more advanced historical setting than the official Rampant games. You could probably also play historical 20th-century games (the World Wars, for example) using these rules, or even in the present day, although they are intended for battles waged in a science fiction setting.

It should also be noted that the existence or involvement of aliens is not a required component in such a game; Xenos Rampant is just the coolest title I could think of, and certainly more evocative than my working title of Future Rampant. Also, Lasers Rampant was already taken…

As this is a supplement, rather than as a standalone game, assume that all rules in the Dragon Rampant rulebook apply to games of Xenos Rampant, except for where specifically tweaked in this document.

As a further note, like Dragon RampantXenos Rampant is setting-neutral. You can use models from any manufacturer or setting, in any scale. Personally, I’ve messed around with models from Warhammer 40,000, Warpath, Afterlife, Necromunda, Gorkamorka and various game-neutral ranges.

Obviously, as an unofficial fan supplement, this is a completely non-profit project. Furthermore, any feedback from players is more than welcome, and will be incorporated into the next version.


(The header image is a bunch of science fiction cultists – probably Light Infantry or Militia Rabble in Xenos Rampant – painted by myself. The models are Frostgrave soldier bodies, Frostgrave cultist heads and arms and guns from Victoria Miniatures.)

Fiction – Sausage Fingers

Fiction – Sausage Fingers

In late 2015, The Guardian and Hodder & Stoughton held a horror fiction competition judged by Stephen King. I didn’t win, but here’s my entry, Sausage Fingers.




‘Hey, don’t hang up on me, bitch.’

‘John?’ she says, staring at the cellphone and wondering how he’d managed to get her new number so quickly.


‘Detective Cole, is that you?’ She’s not sure now. John Cole doesn’t normally sound so… agitated. It’s one of the things she respects about him. That calm, unflappable manner.

‘I’m sorry, I think I mistyped the number,’ the stranger says. She relaxes. ‘Look, I’m really sorry. I thought I was ringing, well, it doesn’t matter who I was ringing, but, yeah, I just, sort of…’

‘Got a digit wrong?’ she suggests.

He laughs. ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s it. I’m really, really sorry. I hope I didn’t come across as, you know, a bit of a, well…’


‘I was going to say something harsher, but thanks for being charitable. Look, I’m really sorry.’

‘So you’ve said.’ She smiles and wanders back over to the hob to check how the saucepan is doing. Not bad. ‘It was a woman you were arguing with, am I right?’

‘How… yeah, yeah it was. My ex-wife. You won’t believe the stuff she’s been doing with child access, you know?’

‘Oh, that’s awful,’ she says, stirring the broth. ‘You aren’t getting on then?’

‘Ha, no. She’s had her lawyer pull it back to just one afternoon a month. And she’s the one citing unreasonable behaviour. Can you believe that?’

She laughs, not unsympathetically. She has her own issues with the legal system.

‘Uh, while I’m on,’ he adds, ‘sorry about calling you a bitch earlier.’

She’d forgotten about it, actually. ‘No, that’s fine.’

He laughs nervously. ‘Well, this is awkward.’

It is, somewhat. She doesn’t talk to people much. Particularly not men. Not for long anyway. Conversation never seems to last as long as she’d like it to. She blames her shyness. ‘No, it’s not awkward,’ she says, mentally apologising to the memory of her parents for lying. ‘It’s funny,’ she insists. ‘It’s like something out of a sitcom.’

‘Yeah, yeah, I guess it is. I’m not catching you in the middle of anything, am I?’

‘No, nothing major,’ she says. ‘I’m just boiling up some stock.’

‘Oh, so you’re a whizz in the kitchen?’

She blushes. ‘Well, I try.’

‘Good enough to feed the family, right?’

She catches the expression of the man sat at the kitchen table. He seems to be glaring at her. She turns away. ‘I actually live alone,’ she says.

‘Oh, I’m sorry. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I mean, I’ve been by myself for nearly a year now.’

‘She got all the kids then?’

‘Both of them, yeah. Jack and Albie.’ He says the names mournfully, as if that’s all he feels he has left of them.

‘Jack and Albie,’ she repeats. ‘Boys, then?’

‘Oh yes, and…’ He pauses and laughs again. ‘Here’s me, rattling off my life story to some complete stranger I dialled with my sausage fingers. Hell, it’s not like I’m even likely to meet you in the flesh, is it? You’re a cellphone. You could be anywhere in the States.’

She grins. ‘Actually, you’re ringing from an Ellington County number, am I right? I’m just over the river in Burton.’

‘No kidding? Burton, Massachussetts?’


‘Oh my god! Talk about a coincidence! I’m in Bradford, and I ring a cellphone and I get talking to a gal just down the street.’

‘Bradford’s a nice little town. I’ve visited a few times. I was there last Christmas, in fact.’

‘Yeah? You go on that ice rink they set up in the square?’

‘That’s the place.’

‘Me too. I was with the boys. And her.’ There’s a pause. ‘Oh god, you weren’t there Christmas Eve were you? You know, when they found that guy…’ He coughs and tails off.

‘In the tree? No,’ she says. ‘I was there the night before, on a date.’

‘Ah,’ the man at the other end of the line says. ‘Good date?’

‘To begin with, but it didn’t last.’

‘I’m sorry.’

She giggles. ‘I’ve been chatting with you for, like, ages, and I still don’t know your name.’

‘No. No, you don’t. It’s Calvin.’

‘Kelvin? Like the temperature?’

‘No, Calvin, with a ‘c’.’

‘Ah,’ she says. ‘Like the church.’

‘Hmm? Oh, yes. I get you. Most people say ‘like the pants’.’

She giggles again.

‘What’s your name?’ Calvin asks.

She purses her lips. Should she tell him the truth? She does. ‘Abigail.’ No need to apologise to her parents this time.

‘Abigail,’ he repeats, as if trying it on his tongue. ‘I like it.’

‘Thank you,’ she says. ‘We should…’ She can’t say it.

‘Meet up?’ he guesses.

She can feel her face turning pink and fans herself. She tries to say ‘yes’, but has to settle for a positive-sounding murmur.

‘I’d like that,’ he says. ‘You sound really nice, Abigail.’

‘So do you, Calvin.’ She can’t stop herself smiling. She puts a palm to her cheek and is amazed at how warm it is.

‘When are you free?’ he asks. ‘I know a great restaurant in Burton. Enrique’s, just off Harmon Street, under the colonial museum. Latin place. Fantastic food, but somehow you can always get a table.’

‘Sounds good.’ She looks at the man in her kitchen. He’s still glaring at her. ‘How about tonight?’ she says, defiantly holding his gaze. The man’s expression seems to convey his disgust in her.

‘Tonight? Wow. Uh, yeah. I’ll give them a call, just to be sure, but yes, I can meet you there. Is seven good for you?’

She glances at the kitchen clock, and then at the hob. She could leave those bones simmering while she’s out. ‘That would be marvellous.’

‘Okay, right, well… how will I recognise you?’

‘I’m the petite blonde with the red jacket.’ The man at the table seems to scowl. She covers the phone mouthpiece and hisses at him: ‘I am petite!’

‘Fantastic,’ Calvin says. ‘I mean… Yes, well, I’ll see you this evening.’

‘And I’ll see you.’

‘So, uh, bye then, Abigail.’

‘Bye, Calvin.’

There’s a pause, and then his handset clicks down.

She sits down at the kitchen table and breathes out. Her hands are shaking, she’s that excited. ‘I know it’s soon,’ she says to the man opposite.

He doesn’t say anything. That’s typical of him though. It was the lack of conversation that made it not work out between them.

‘Calvin sounds nice. I think this might be The One.’ She’s still grinning and feels embarrassed at such a display of emotion in front of the man from last night. He stares back at her. ‘Well,’ she adds, ‘there is the whole divorce, I guess. But, you know, it can happen a second time, right? You know, L-O-V-E?’ She scowls at his surliness. ‘I believe in love, even if you don’t.’

After a few minutes of crazed silence, she decides she has to talk to someone about all of this. Someone who will actually listen and engage with her. She goes through to the utility room and removes another pre-paid cellphone from the bag behind the dryer.

She knows the number by heart. No chance of misdialling.

‘Hello, Detective Cole, it’s me again. You won’t believe what just happened.’

Poem – The Privilege of Fools

Poem – The Privilege of Fools

I don’t often write poetry; I just don’t have a poetic mind. This, however, is basically a story with regular rhyme and meter. Like most of my shorter-than-novel-length work, it’s from a prompt. A friend gave me ‘Winter is coming’, expecting a rude joke about Game of Thrones. Instead, this (somewhat foul-mouthed) cautionary tale emerged.

If I wanted to make this poem meaningful, I could say it’s about the importance of a free press in a functioning society.

This poem is about the importance of a free press in a functioning society. Ahem.


“Winter is coming,” so the proud lord spoke,

Upon the frost-bitten heath of his realm.

Around him, pyres and columns of smoke,

A field of rent shields and cleft helms.


“Winter is coming,” he announced once more.

Upon his lips clung the taste of blood red;

His throat still ached from his victory roar,

Most of the men he had battled were dead.


“Of course winter’s coming, you utter twat,”

Muttered the fool, ever stood at his flank.

“It’s December. I’m certain you know that,”

He said, “So why do you spurt out such wank?”


“I’m being portentous,” the king did say,

“Tis a necessary part of my role.”

The jester scoffed in an obnoxious way,

“More like pretentious, you pompous arsehole.”


“Hang on,” cried the king, “you speak to the crown,

“Curb thy foul tongue or I’ll have it cut out!”

“My lord,” laughed the fool, “Are my trousers brown?”

“No. You ignore what a jester’s about.”


“The gods have decreed that you be the king,

“But that I am also blessed with this gob.

“For when my lord says ridiculous things,

“So will this jester’s lips brand thee a knob.”


The boil of the king’s pomposity lanced,

The jester took his leave of the field.

Returned to the camp, the little man danced:

His master’s humility was healed.


The king considered the dark clouds above,

It was time to leave another clown dead.

Though the fool had acted only from love,

Much too far: “Winter is coming,” he said.



The header image is Knight and Jester, by Charles M. Russell, 1896.