Bilingual writing

2 05 2009

One of the things I’ve always wished I could do is learn to speak another language fluently.  I’m able to order a beer in French, German, Spanish and Czech and can say cheers in several others (including, for my sins, Klingon) but I envy people who are fluent in two or more langauges.  It opens up so much more in life, from being able to share jokes to being able to read more books as the author intended.

So I was chuffed to bits to have one of my short stories accepted by OFF_magazine.

OFF_ are a English/Polish collective based in London and the magazine aims to

bring writers together around an independent magazine/press
promote new literary talent in English and Polish translation
create a cultural bridge between Poland and the UK
publish books/anthologies under the OFF_Press banner
use multimedia tools/networks to promote literature worldwide

I feel really honoured to be involved with it.

Go check them out, and I hope you enjoy my latest short story.


New story published

2 03 2009

First off, it feels  like this is going to be a good year for me.

My writing is going well and I’ve already had some good responses to pieces I’ve sent out.

My first publication of the year can be found here…

The Battered Suitcase – March 2009.

The rest of this week I’m going to devote to getting my assignment finished.  I’ve enjoyed the poetry I’ve been writing but not sure it’s suitable for marking.  Some of the subject matter is a bit heavy going and I’m afraid my tutor might not “get it”.  And because I’ve put my heart into it I’m really not sure if I want to risk that.

To put your emotional heart into a piece is part of the joy of writing.  It can be like therapy, even if (as with this poem I’m thinking of) you’re using a different experience, the emotions are yours, you feel them, as you try to put life into your characters.  And that’s part of what makes it so frightening to send them into the world to be read, and judged, by others.  If a person doesn’t “get it” it can feel as though they don’t get you.  As though your emotions aren’t valid.

I’m sure this is part of the reason why so many good writers do it in secret for years, manuscript after manuscript gathering dust in a drawer.  The writer too terrified of having the feelings inside his or her head held up to public scrutiny.

I may stick to the softer option.  I have another short story I’ve been working on, and though I’m not sure it’s as good I think I’d be less personally hurt if the tutor tears it to bits.  But am I just copping out?

Is it my job, as a writer, to lay it all out on the page and hope that whatever genuine experience I’ve mined and carved into a new shape, resonates with the reader?  Should I trust that if I write “the truth” as I see it, that the reader will sympathise with my characters?  Or should I play safe and only write about stuff that has less depth but which will hurt me less if criticized?

How do other writers cope with sending out personal writing?

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Jumping right in

12 10 2008

For this exercise we were given a starting paragraph and a list of possible names for the piece.  By using the name we could create a piece in a variety of different styles. I had to look up what Peyote was (duh!) but once I did I imagined a Hunter S. Thompson style story.  The crying baby was a side-note in the original starting paragraph but (perhaps because I’m a mum) this stood out to me and so for my story I was thinking Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas meets Three Men and a Baby. Obviously it’s not a finished piece of work, I might develop it for later use in the course though.

My Problem with Peyote

The church clock struck eight, so those villagers who were awake knew without checking that it would be six. I think there was a cock crowing somewhere far off and there was me, strung out across the church doorstep, fedora over my face. Everything was peaceful, my world still same as it ever was. Alls I remember was a whiff of someone gliding past the church wall and then the silence broke hard by the baby crying.

I didn’t see him at first, just heard that noise. I read somewhere, or maybe Frank told me, when they worked out the noise for them ambulance sirens, well it’s exactly the same frequency.

Wheeah! Wheeah!

The sound felt like a truck roaring into my head. I sat up and adjusted my hat; squinting into the Texan sunrise. As I did so my hand caught on the edge of some sort of basket and I saw him.

Tiny purple face, all mouth screaming, “Wheeah! Wheeah!”

Now, I’ve woken up in some strange situations in my life. I mean there was that time me and Frank ended up in Fort Worth with them oil-baron heiresses. We guzzled champagne and hoovered coke like it was an end of the world party. Serenity or something she was called, peachiest ass in all of Texas but we’d went for a walk, you know how these things go, and in the morning she was gone and I was naked, surrounded by red-necks in her daddy’s oilfield. Never ran so fast in my life. But this… This time I knows I’m in proper trouble.

The little fella finally stopped bawling. I’m still only guessing at this point that he’s a he. Babies all looks the same don’t they? But he was looking up at me with them big blue eyes and his tiny hands all balled up into fists. That’s when I saw the note…

Dear Edgar,

I’m sorry to do this to you but I’ve got no choice. I’ve had to leave town for a while, just until things calm down. Please keep Dylan safe for me. There’s a bottle and all his diapers and things in the bottom of the basket. You’re the only one I can trust, and also, I should have told you this before now, but Dylan is yours.


In a lifetime the average person cries 121 pints of tears.

25 04 2007

‘I saw him yesterday. We left the refuge early in the morning. I wanted to get to the post office early like, before the queues started. Myra was bawling in her buggy. She wanted to walk but it was lashing and I didnae want her to end up soaked. There’s little enough chance to get your washing done in that place.

I’d cashed my book for my child benefit and we were just on our way round to the Co-op to get some odds and ends. Anyway. Just as we passed Petrrucci’s I saw him.’

‘And how did that make you feel?’ said the counsellor.

‘Scared. Ye’ ken? My legs felt like they’d turned into pipe cleaners or something. I thought I might just topple right over.’

‘Uh-huh. And did he see you?’

‘Naw. I don’t think so. We ducked into the cafe. With Myra in the buggy and everything. I just scooped her up and asked the guy if we could use the toilets and he said aye so I ran through to the ladies with her and we just hid. Must’ve been in there for twenty minutes like. I don’t know what the guy must’ve thought. Probably thought I was a junkie shooting up or something, we were in there so long.’

The counsellor nodded. ‘And now Helen. What about now?’

Helen looked at her feet for a moment. The sides of her left boot was starting to split from the sole and she wriggled her foot, watching the hole open and close before she said. ‘Angry. I felt angry. Why should he still be able to swan around like he owns the place?

And I’m pissed off at myself too. I wanted to go over there. So much I wanted to say. Not straight away like. My mind went blank. But then we came out and he was gone and I thought shit. I’ve blown it. There was my chance to really tell him. To say -look. Look at this wee girl here. This is what your missing out on…’

The tears came now. She pulled her hands up trying to cover her face. Trying to wipe them away but there were too many of them. ‘I’m sorry’ she kept saying over and over, in between tears and the heaving sobs she wouldn’t quite give into.

The counsellor passed her a tissue. Said nothing. Let her cry.

(400 words)

Tam the Bam

29 03 2007

I’m stuck here on this train full of people on their way into town for Saturday shopping because I need to pick up my car after a bit of a bender last night. I’m wishing that bloody kid would stop crying. Can’t that mother keep her bloody kid quiet for just twenty minutes? He’s stuffing is face with a milky bar and it’s all dribbling down his chin and he’s still yelling. Honestly, some folks don’t deserve to have kids. If he were my boy he’d have had a good slap by now. That would shut him up.

That’s Young Bill beside me. He’s still trying to sort out the details over the phone. I wish he’d get a proper haircut though. It makes him look like a right poof. At least he took my advice and got a smart leather coat. Mine’s is Dolce & Gabana though and Bill’s not quite on my kind of money yet. But I must say, apart from the hair, we look the business today. People take you more seriously when you look the part.

You wonder why these folks let it get to this stage. You borrow money from Big Brian you got to be able to pay it back. They fucking know the score though. Why borrow it if you’re not going to get round to repaying? That’s the rules. You don’t see banks letting folk just walk in and take money from them do you? No. Cause that would be stealing wouldn’t it? And a thief always gets what’s coming to them. Even the fucking Bible says so.

Finally, Bill get’s off the phone and says he’s got the address. He tells me Brian wants the job done by seven tonight. The quarter final’s on TV later so that suits me just fine. Bill’s missus has just had a baby so he’s looking pleased at getting the Saturday night off too.


Fuck me that was a crazy bit of work. Fuck. You should’ve seen the place. I think I managed to get most of the blood cleaned up. We picked up my motor and then got to the address Big Brian gave us, up a big old tenement; the stairs nearly killed me. And of course they were trying to pretend they weren’t in but I could see their shadows in the hall when I looked through the letterbox. Did they honestly think we’re stupid or something? We soon showed them. I got Bill to kick the door down. It was a horrible flat anyway, even before we did it over. All Ikea flat pack and they’d not even washed up their breakfast dishes yet. Some folks just have no fucking refinement. And then the girlfriend, Jackie I think her name was, started crying and bawling and the guy was pleading with us. Trying to get us to take their crappy little TV.

‘What do I want with a TV like that?’ I says. I looked at it and tried not to laugh. That program was on. The one where they have folks falling over and getting hit on the face and stuff…You’ve Been Framed. And there was this little dog on it yapping at this great big dog and I thought it was funny. But then I got back to the job and I gave the guy a good slap for his attitude.

And then -this was so funny you should have seen it- the girlfriend starts having a go

‘You take your hands off him’ she says. And you’ve got to give it to her, her voice was pretty composed. Like she’s watched a lot of gangster films and thinks she’s going to be the big hero.

‘And just how exactly’ I asks her, ‘are going to stop me.’

By that point Bill had her round the throat with the knife though, so she soon shut the fuck up with her back-chat. We were only going to cut off one of his fingers. It’s not liked we were going to rape her or nothing. Though what I wouldn’t give for a bit of that. Not now though. She’s a bit of a mess now. But she’d started squealing when I pulled the cleaver out of my pocket and I told Bill, I told him.

‘Will you shut her the fuck up!’ I had to shout to be heard above the noise of the pair of them howling.

‘How am I supposed to do that?’ Bill shouted back.

I looked at him for a second like he was thick or something. The TV had switched to adverts now and the music was driving me crazy. I gave it a good hard kick and it fell onto the floor with a crash.

‘How the fuck do you think?’ I said. The guy was literally pissing himself by this time. Nearly got my brand new Versace trousers wet. I still hadn’t cut off his finger though and to be quite honest the pair of them were really starting to give me a headache. ‘Use your head Bill or failing that I find fists and boots do the trick rather nicely.’

‘But this lassie doesn’t owe Brian anything.’ said Bill. She was making a sobbing sound like a little kids after their done having a tantrum.

‘What?’ says I, because for a start what did Bill think he was doing answering me back in front of the public like that. I had a good mind to give Bill a smack round the head for his cheek.

‘Well I can see why you need to knock him about but not the girl.’ Bill looked all soft. Like the lassie was a wee treasure or something. For fuck’s sake. You want a job doing right you got to do it yourself.

Clunck! I got the fella’s finger off with the cleaver first time which was good because then he passed out and so that shut him up. She started screaming even louder though and that, I suppose, is when I lost it. Bill was trying to cover her mouth with his hand but that wasn’t doing much good so I thumped her one. The bitch deserved it. She actually tried to hit me back a couple of times but a couple of good punches in the face soon shut her up. But Bill. What the fuck was he playing at? He starts shouting at me and actually trying to push me away? Fuck me, I always knew he was stupid but not that stupid. I whacked him one with the cleaver but the bastard moved out of the way so I only got him in the shoulder. The girl was lying in the corner making gurgling noises so at least the volume of the place had gone down. I knew by this point that the neighbours would maybe have phoned the police on account of all the noise. Bill looked shocked that I’d hit him. He was just sitting there staring at me. There was blood all over my good suit. I tell you I was not a happy chappy.

I told him to get back downstairs and wait in the car. I cleaned the blood off my hands in their grotty fry-up filled sink and then came down and got into the car. I told Bill to drive us out to the shipyards. Told him I needed a bit of quiet to get my shit together before the game tonight.

We drove in silence. All the time I was trying to think of a way out of it but what else could I do? You don’t get to keep being a Glasgow hard man very long with a sidekick who goes all gooey over a girl. I knew it was probably just him having become a father. I’ve seen it get some guys like that. That’s why I keep all that out of my life. You can’t do a job like this and start getting soft.

We got to the shipyard docks. By now it was 6 o’clock. The docker’s would all be off home by now no doubt, as keen as I was to get back in time for the game. Fucking Bill. By this point I think he kind of knew but maybe hoped I’d change my mind once we were there.

‘Get out the car’ I said. His face went a bit pale but he did as he was told.

He wouldn’t have felt much. I knocked him out with the back of the cleaver before I started chopping him up. My fucking suit was ruined anyway so I was past caring. There were binbags in the back of the motor. Good ones too. None of your Tesco’s blue and white stripey shit for me. They rip way too easy. ‘Be prepared’ like they used to tell me in the Scouts.

Like I said. I think I managed to clean most of the blood up once I got back to my flat. I got changed and put my suit in the same binbags as Bill and then drove back to the docks where I lobbed the lot into the Clyde.

And the whole fucking thing meant I missed the first twenty minutes of the game.

And then we lost 3-0.

(c) Jenny Love 2007

Published by Thriller UK, Winter 2007, Issue 30

Machine of Death

28 03 2007

This is my entry for the Machine of Death short story competition.

The basic premise is that there has been a machine invented which will predict a persons death. The machine is always right but can be vague. You know roughly how you will die but not the where or when…

See their website for full details.

My name is Mark. I work up there in The Facility. See? That big old building up on the hill? It was built in the early post-machine years. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of these places had to be built in those days. I mean, can you imagine how different life must have been fifty-sixty years ago?

They told us in history class that electricity had changed our industrial landscape and that the invention of the Net transformed the way we all did business but The Machine…man, can you just imagine what it must have been like not to know how you would die? I don’t get it to be honest. I mean I’ve always known, HEART DISEASE, like so what? Mum and dad got me one of those books when I was a kid. “Your Child’s Prediction Made Easy” I mean yeah I was embarrassed like but who isn’t at that age? Plus they chucked in all the stuff about sex about the same time at school and to be honest, at that age, that freaked me out way more than the dying thing. I mean dying’s just natural right? My dad says it’s easier on me because I’m a second generationer. Well…third generation really, though I’m nearly old enough to be a second. My dad still tells me about some of it. My grandad like so many in the olden days worked in insurance so you can imagine how different my dad’s family life ended up. He says after the big stock market crash The Riots were the worst war the world had ever seen. He’d even fought in a couple of them. They called them “Blue Collar Guys.” All the folks that worked in the big call centres, all laid off within months of each other. Wives and families to feed. Millions of them taking to the streets, and the banks trying to squeeze as much as they could before the whole system collapsed. No-one had imagined it could get so nasty.

And there was The Government, having seen everyone’s predictions in advance all prepared to go to war with China or the Middle East or whoever they thought was responsible. In the end its was our own bullets and bombs that did most of us in. The Government say that all the predications are confidential now, but man, they must know right? I mean they’re in charge and everything.

Anyway. That’s us here. I key the number in the door and give a nod to Martha on the front desk. I’ve worked here for the past five years. It started off as a summer job but they said I was good with them. We’ll meet John in a bit. He’s one of my favourites. He’s also one of the oldest Phobics we got in here. There’s maybe only a few hundred thousand of them left now. That was one of the things that really fascinated me in history, how such a big portion of our world got sooo fucked up by it all. But to understand them properly you’ve got to be able to imagine how they think and I guess, for them, it must have been a big deal. That’s why I’m good at my job, you know? I can like, put myself in someone like John’s shoes, try and feel it with him. You have to in order to do the job right? I know it’s hard to get your head around but John never had that sort of knowledge before did he? It would have been like living in the stone-age and suddenly ending up in Madison Square Gardens or something.

The ones who were predicted as BULLET WOUNDS all started planning for World War III, though like I said, a lot of them died in The Riots. The ones who had OLD AGE all thought ‘yippee,’ gave away their belongings and then had to pan-handle just to make ends meet after the economy crashed. My dad says for a while the things like aeroplanes and motor cars looked like they were going to be extinct, folks got so scared, but most of it survived. There were always collectors who kept hold of these things . But the Phobics….man. They usually were the first ones to be predicted as DROWNING or BURIED ALIVE or in John’s case it was ASPHYXIATION. A lot of the Phobics who are left had that one. Some folks got over it quick and just got back to their lives. Second generationers had it easier. They at least got to see that it didn’t really make that much difference what the ticket says. They say that when Death comes that is the day your biggest question is answered and that the “ahh…so that’s what it meant” moment is like, just the best feeling. Like probably better than sex I reckon. Maybe…

And I remember my Grandad telling me that there were some Phobics back then already thought they called them…what was it? Mental, I think the term was. But there were way ore of them after the machine’s got built.

They say it was easier in… what were they called, back then? I knew I should have paid more attention in history. The Developing Nations. Yeah. The poorer countries. My dad says he remembers Grandad telling him that back in his day there were huge famines and droughts and stuff and millions of folks died due to these but that the weird thing was, when the first machines got shipped out to these places the scientists thought they were faulty because they kept predicting OLD AGE and LUNG CANCER and hardly any mention of STARVATION or whatever. But then they hadn’t figured in the stock market thing. Shows how much more advanced our world is now though I guess. I mean, they used radiation back then, can you believe it? And burned coal to make electricity. Even elementary school kids could tell you that’s just stupid.

I go up through the corridors. Each section of the facility is slightly different depending on what exactly the folks are sacred of. Like, that section through there is for the SPIDER guys. That place gives me a headache. With all the white paint everywhere. Everything white. The other side of the ground floor is for the FALLING folks. Man, even the light bulbs are low down on the walls there. One time, we got this guy’s notes mixed up and put him in there by mistake. He went totally catatonic. We found him all wrapped up into himself and he had pissed his pants and the smell was just hellish. But of course he was an ELECTROCUTION wasn’t he? Yeah I know it seems like they are crazy but like I said, you got to see it from their messed up logic don’t you?

I go up the stairs to where John and his cronies live. The place has that hospital smell on account of all the tube feeding and stuff we do with this lot. John must be in his nineties now. His family was wealthy enough to be able to afford to put him in here. It was a wonder he survived, he was down to just 60kg and they say he looked like a little dried up prune. The staff in here persuaded him to get a line fitted so he didn’t starve to death. Kind of ironic isn’t’ it? I mean we all know he won’t starve to death but you can’t just leave folks to waste away the way he was can you? He’s sitting in the corner with old Tom and Mary playing poker. They’re ASPHYXIATION too. There are two others in the corner, I recognise them from the PAPERCUT ward. They’re playing chess and don’t look up as the others do when I come in.

‘Hey folks. How we all doing today then?’

John answers first ‘We’re just fine boy. Mary seems to be on a winning streak. I’m glad we’re just playing for matches or I’d be bankrupt by now. How’s yourself? Is your mother keeping better?’

‘Yes thanks, I think it was just a touch of the flu.’ At this Tom scowls at me screwing his ancient face up all suspicious, like. I know what he’s thinking and I try to change the subject but thankfully John is one step ahead of me.

‘So boy. Have you applied for that university course yet?’

‘I will John, I will. I just have to figure out how to write it all out, you know? ‘

‘Maybe we can help you boy?’ he lowers his voice, ‘Or what about them?’ He nods towards the PAPERCUT dudes. Man, he can be a sick old fuck sometimes.

‘Yeah John. I’m sure they’d love to.’ I’m getting out my equipment now and getting ready to change their lines over. John is first and he loosens his shirt and offers me the wrinkled skin at his collarbone where the line goes in. There is still a scar from where he had the accident. It’s like an angry jagged white line and the wrinkles are trying their best to grow over it. He notices me looking at it.

‘This is why you need to get your life sorted out boy. You’ve got a good brain in your head. You could go so much further than just mopping up after us old timers. Don’t’ want to end up doing what I did do you?’

‘Tell me John.’ I’d heard this story about a million times but I know John likes to feel like he’s “imparting his great wisdom” or something.

‘I’d just been tested. As you know boy, I was a maths teacher in those days, and every year that passed I hated it more and more. I thought I could make a difference but by then I knew. They didn’t really want to learn. I got up each day and did the same thing, day after day after day. I’d stopped caring really even before I got the test but when it said ASPHYXIATION that was the last straw. I already felt like my life was being sucked out of me. I had that feeling every night. As though I couldn’t breathe and then it started happening on the subway and I knew that the ticket was my great escape but I couldn’t bear for that machine to dictate to me how it would end. All my life other people had told me what I should do, where I should live. My parents were both teachers you see. They just wanted what was best I suppose but I’d always wanted to be a painter.’ this bit of information didn’t surprise me. I mean, you might not look at old John and see him as being like, an artistic type, but looking at him today with the sunlight pouring onto his wrinkled brow you could kind of see it. Something about the way his eyes gazed off just there. It was like, real, you know?

‘I had it all worked out. There was a railway bridge at the back of the school where I worked. I’d been going out at recess each day and timing the trains that run under the bridge. I did this for maybe four weeks and kept it all in my notebook. Eventually I had all the data I needed. I’d calculated that if I jumped off that bridge at the exactly 11.03 I’d have a 97% chance of meeting the 10.55 express train coming the other way. The only thing I had wondered was which bit of my life would flash in front of me as my flesh and bones ripped apart on impact.’

At this point Tom pipes in, ‘Yeah John but what happened?’ Like we don’t all know already.

‘The train had broken down that morning and instead of killing myself I ended up doing nothing more than breaking my shoulder’!

At this we all laugh. Mary is laughing so hard she’s started to like, choke and the other two stare at me in panic. I think for a minute I’m going to have to press the emergency buzzer but it’s just a cough. John’s line is in now and I move on to change over the other two.’The thing that scared me most though’ says John ‘was that I just felt nothing. On the way down, thinking this was it. Nothing.’ his face has changed again and the sadness and regret etches itself back onto him like shroud.

I’m done now and say my goodbyes. I don’t like to leave him feeling that but what can I do?

One day I think I might kidnap him. Take him like, outside of The Facility. Maybe go to a park with some watercolours or maybe a gallery. Something he could really enjoy. We’ve talked about it a few times and one time he almost agreed. But it was like man, that memory of facing death was still too much for him.

(2180 words)