A Lover of Books

Archive for the category “Short Stories”

Interview with Dan Brotzel ~ @sandstonepress @brotzel_fiction

Today on my blog I have an interview with Dan Brotzel.  His book, ‘Hotel du Jack’, a debut collection of short stories, was published in paperback and as an eBook by Sandstone Press on the 23rd January 2020.


I have been sent a copy of your book and am really looking forward to reading it. For the benefit of my readers can you please tell me a bit about ‘Hotel du Jack’?

Thank you so much for reading, Sonya! Hotel du Jack is a collection of short stories that I mostly wrote over the last 4-5 years. They tend to be funny-sad in tone, and look at things like parental guilt, dodgy gurus, the nightmare of office life, failed relationships, grief, ageing, wondering where your life went wrong etc – often quite domestic themes, but with a bit of a dark edge to them.

I’m interested in playing with different voices and unusual structures too. So in here you get stories in the form of a product recall notification, a dishwasher glossary, a grammar lesson, a shopping list – not to mention a strange ghost story in the form of a neighbourhood forum chat!


Have you been writing short stories for long?

I’ve been trying to write fiction for about 30 years, but I always thought I had to start with a novel. Then, about five years ago, I suddenly had the brainwave of writing shorter things. I’ve not been able to stop since…


Where have you had your short stories published?

My stories have appeared in lots of literary mags, such as Pithead Chapel, Ellipsis Zine, Reflex Fiction, Cabinet of Heed, Bending Genres, The Esthetic Apostle, Spelk, Ginger Collect and Fiction Pool. I won the 2019 Riptide Journal short story competition, was runner-up in the 2019 Leicester Writes contest, and was highly commended in the Manchester Writing School competition 2018 too. A couple of my stories have recently been nominated for the Pushcart anthology in the US too.


Where do you get your ideas from?

Often they come from something that I’ve seen or experienced that I can then use as a sort of prompt to make up from there. The title story for Hotel du Jack, for example, came from a man spotted on a beach who looked like a body-builder and seemed more interested in his quads than his kids. At the same time I was reading an Anita Brookner novel, and I thought it would be funny to see what would happen if I put these two things together. Another story, ‘Ella G in a Country Churchyard’ is based on me trying to explain death to my young daughter.

But as I write more stories, I find they are often less based on direct experience. ‘Now and For Ever’, for example, is based on an idea I had about a dubious guru who preaches that everyone can become immortal but finds himself terrified on his own deathbed, while ‘Nothing So Blue’ simply came from my son telling me to ‘write a story about being invisible’. I suddenly thought: What if being invisible turned out to be rubbish, and it just went from there…


Are there plans for anymore of your stories to be published as a collection?

I really hope so! I’m about halfway through getting enough stories together for another collection (working title: The Grace Period), so we shall see…


Have you got any other writing projects on the go?

Yes! I’ve got a comic novel coming out with Unbound in early 2021. It’s called Kitten on a Fatberg and it’s about a group of very eccentric wannabe writers… I’m also putting the finishing touches to another comic novel just now, a solo effort this time, called The Wolf in the Woods.


What do you hope readers will get from your stories?

Well, I’ve had some lovely reviews on Amazon and elsewhere. For example: ‘Life affirming, heartbreaking, quietly hilarious. A joy.’ And: ‘Hotel du Jack offers the chance to see life through many lenses; the joyful, the sad, the heartwarming and the hilarious are all treated with the same sharp wit and keen insight into the beauty of the mundane.’   I’m so thrilled with comments like these because they say better than me what I’d hoped for these stories – that they make people smile, maybe nod their heads in recognition, and feel they are not alone in being less than perfect! I love finding beauty and poignancy in every day things – or as Updike put it, ‘to give the mundane its beautiful due’.


What advice would you give to someone wishing to submit short stories to magazines?

Go for it. Just do it and keep doing it! Write a story and submit it to 20 places! Then write another while you are waiting! The most important thing is just to keep plugging away and not to waste time on doubting yourself – all writers do, I think, but over time you can learn to focus your thoughts elsewhere. There are so many wonderful litmags out there – all the ones I mention above, for example – that are really supportive of new writers, often giving feedback when they turn a piece down. And on Twitter there’s a lively community of writers who are are really supportive and generous with each other too. It’s an inspiring thing to find, especially when there’s so much bad news around. Also – enter short story competitions. Again, there are loads, and each one comes of course with a deadline (and sometimes a prompt), which focuses the mind wonderfully…


What do you like to do in your spare time?

I write! Also, I have three young children, so that takes care of most of my time. I play tennis badly too. But mostly, I write.


Who are your favourite authors?

They change all the time. But at the mo, off the top of my head, maybe Malcolm Lowry, Joyce Carole Oates, Jonathan Coe, Siri Hustvedt, Paul Theroux, Gary Shteyngart…  I could go on!


Book Blurb

A woman granted a superpower discovers it’s more trouble than it’s worth. A neighbourhood forum becomes the setting for a bizarre ghost story. A children’s entertainer wrestles with problems that are nothing to joke about. A harassed dad attempts to meet the challenge of the primary school cake competition.

By turns tender and satirical, witty and bizarre, the stories in this debut collection cast a fresh eye on first-world problems. Funny and humane, they zoom in on the absurdities and poignancies in work, family, love and loss in our frenetic modern lives.


About Dan Brotzel

Dan Brotzel’s stories have appeared in Pithead Chapel, Ellipsis Zine, Reflex Fiction, Cabinet of Heed, Lucent Dreaming, Bending Genres, The Esthetic Apostle, Spelk, The Ginger Collect and Fiction Pool. He won the 2018 Riptide Journal short story competition, was runner-up in the 2019 Leicester Writes competition, and was highly commended in the Manchester Writing School competition 2018. He is also coauthor of a comic novel-in-emails about an eccentric writers’ group, Kitten on a Fatberg (Unbound).

He lives in London with his partner Eve and their three children.



‘Hotel du Jack’ is available from Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hotel-du-Jack-Other-Stories-ebook/dp/B07YF61DMZ/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1585032597&sr=8-1

Twitter – https://twitter.com/brotzel_fiction

Book Promotion – ‘When Stars Will Shine: Helping our Heroes One Page at a Time’ by Various Authors and Compiled by Emma Mitchell ~ @emmamitchellfpr

‘When Stars Will Shine’ is an anthology of short stories compiled by the lovely Emma Mitchell of Creating Perfection.  It is out on the 9th December 2019 as an eBook and will also be available in paperback.  This is a project which Emma spent hours putting together with the help of various authors and I think they should all be so very proud of themselves.

Here is more information about the book.


Book Blurb

When Stars Will Shine is a collection of short stories from your favourite authors who have come together to deliver you a Christmas read with a twist.

With true war tales that will break your heart, gritty Christmas crimes that will shake you to your core, and heart-warming tales of love lost and found, this anthology has something for everyone. And, with every penny made being sent to support our troops, you can rest assured that you’re helping our heroes, one page at a time.

From authors such as Louise Jensen, Graham Smith, Malcolm Hollingdrake, Lucy Cameron, Val Portelli, and Alex Kane, you are in for one heck of a ride!

When Stars Will Shine is the perfect Christmas gift for the bookworms in your life!


A Note from Emma Mitchell:

As the blurb tells us, When Stars Will Shine is a multi-genre collection of Christmas-themed short stories compiled to raise money for our armed forces and every penny made from the sales of both the digital and paperback copies will be donated to the charity.

Working closely with Kate Noble at Noble Owl Proofreading and Amanda Ni Odhrain from Let’s Get Booked, I’ve been able to pick the best of the submissions to bring you a thrilling book which is perfect for dipping into at lunchtime or snuggling up with on a cold winter’s night. I have been completely blown away by the support we’ve received from the writing and blogging community, especially the authors who submitted stories and Shell Baker from Baker’s Not So Secret Blog, who has organised the cover reveal and blog tour.

There isn’t a person in the country who hasn’t benefited from the sacrifices our troops, past and present, have made for us and they all deserve our thanks.

It has been an honour working on these stories, and I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have.


Full contents:

Fredrick Snellgrove, Private 23208 by Rob Ashman
Four Seasons by Robert Scragg
The Close Encounter by Gordon Bickerstaff
Believe by Mark Brownless
What Can Possibly Go Wrong? by Lucy Cameron
Mountain Dew by Paul T. Campbell
The Art of War and Peace by John Carson
A Gift for Christmas by Kris Egleton
Free Time by Stewart Giles
Died of Wounds by Malcolm Hollingdrake
The Christmas Killer by Louise Jensen
The Village Hotel by Alex Kane
A Present of Presence by HR Kemp
The Invitation by Billy McLaughlin
Brothers Forever by Paul Moore
Girl in a Red Dress by Owen Mullen
Pivotal Moments by Anna Osborne
Uncle Christmas by Val Portelli
Time for a Barbeque by Carmen Radtke
Christmas Present by Lexi Rees
Inside Out by KA Richardson
Penance by Jane Risdon
New Year’s Resolution by Robert Scragg
Family Time by Graham Smith


When Stars Will Shine is available to pre-order now and will be released in digital and paperback formats on 9 December 2019.

Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/When-Stars-Will-Shine-Helping-ebook/dp/B08234131P/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=when+stars+will+shine+-+kindle&qid=1575718094&sr=8-1

Amazon US – https://www.amazon.com/When-Stars-Will-Shine-Helping-ebook/dp/B08234131P/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=when+stars+will+shine&qid=1575722888&sr=8-1

For more information, please contact Emma Mitchell: emmamitchellfpr@gmail.com


I’m off now to pre-order my copy.  Make this the one thing you do this weekend.  It’s worth every penny! 🙂


Short Story by Laura Wilkinson

Scary Stories Banner

We’re nearly coming to the end of this event now.  Here’s a short story from the lovely Laura Wilkinson.


The Whispering Wall

Laura Wilkinson

The first time Lucile heard the crying, it was the dead of a summer’s afternoon. She assumed it was her next-door neighbour’s son until she remembered they were on holiday. When she told Edward that evening, he smiled and shook his head.

‘You’re imagining it. Either that or the bloody woman’s invited some of her friends to use the house while she’s away,’ he said, returning to the Independent.

‘We’d hear them if there were visitors, wouldn’t we, Eddy?’

He peered over the pages, eyes bloodshot, and said, ‘Probably. I can’t imagine any of her lot being quiet. But look, Lulu, it’s all in your head. Not surprising after everything you’ve been through.’

‘We’ve been through,’ she whispered. ‘Anyway, I rather like her.’

‘You need to rest more, darling,’ he said, before disappearing behind his newspaper again. ‘You’re overdoing it.’

Lucile wondered how she could possibly be overdoing it. She hadn’t worked in six months, not since she’d been ill, and she’d done nothing in the house. The move had been Edward’s idea. She needed somewhere quieter, somewhere to build a future, he’d said. Highgate was perfect and the house backed onto the cemetery – a place they both loved. Had loved. Edward rarely went there nowadays.

Later, Lucile lay in bed staring at the walls, an open, unread book resting on her chest. She could hear only Edward, the soft whistle of his out-breath. She closed the novel, rolled over and watched him sleep. Flat on his back, the duvet pulled up to his hips, sweat beaded on his forehead, his lips fell apart and this slackness gave him the appearance of youth. She longed to stroke the fleshy rise of his belly, to feel his skin against hers. She reached out, and then stopped. Her hand hovered over his chest, the hairs tickling her palms. Sighing, Lucile turned over and closed her eyes; he would be furious if she woke him up.

She woke to the sound of whimpering. The room was clothed in shadow. Startled, she sat up. She held her breath and strained to hear more. There was a long pause, then it came again, louder this time. Lucile pulled the duvet aside and climbed out of bed, careful not to disturb Edward. She stood still for a moment, her feet welcoming the cool of the bare floorboards; a breeze wafted round her ankles and she realised that the bathroom window had been left open. She went to close it, looking out over the gardens first, half expecting to see Samantha and her boy.

Crazy. It’s the middle of the night. Of course they’re not there. They’re on holiday, you fool, she thought.

As she crept back to the bedroom, it came again: the sound of crying from the far wall. The party wall. A deep wardrobe covered its entire length; not quite walk-in, but large enough for the estate agent to mention it a few times. Lucile slid open the heavy doors. Dresses, jackets, shirts and suits swayed from side to side. She parted the clothes and leaned in. Nothing. She waited, but the crying had stopped. The only sound was the rustling of plastic covered shirts, fresh from the dry cleaners.

As she prepared Edward’s breakfast, Lucile decided not to mention the crying again. He would only think she was making a fuss. Since his recent promotion, he’d been more distant than ever.

He sat down at the breakfast bar smelling of aftershave. Lucile didn’t recognise the fragrance and was about to ask what it was when Edward said, ‘Lulu darling, I’m afraid I have to go away again. One of Iain’s clients, his mother’s had another episode. Needs twenty-four hour care, at least until he gets a home sorted. ’

‘God, how awful, poor Iain. And Teri. Do pass on my best wishes.’

‘I will, sweetheart. Bloody inconsiderate disease, Alzheimer’s.’

Lucile smiled at his feeble attempt to make light of Iain’s pain.

He came up behind her and squeezed her shoulders. ‘Sorry I didn’t mention it last night. I didn’t want to upset you after that crying business. You’ll be alright won’t you, darling?’

‘Yes, yes, of course, I’ll be fine. Are you going anywhere exciting?’ She turned the bacon in the grill.

‘God, no. Brussels, then The Hague – bloody boring places. I’ll bring you something lovely.’ He gave her shoulders another quick squeeze and sat down again.

‘Why don’t you get some of your old friends over while I’m away? It’d do you good.’

She passed him a breakfast of eggs, bacon and hash browns, and said, ‘I’m not sure if I’m ready for that. I don’t know if I can face the questions. What I’m up to, why the move, why we haven’t got children yet…’

‘None of their bloody business, that’s what you tell them. You’re trying to forget, move on.’

I don’t want to forget, she thought. ‘Calm down. It’s not as if they’ve actually said anything. I’m nervous, that’s all.’

‘Well, there’s no need to be. Look, darling, I’ve got to shoot. Sorry about the food. Have a good day.’ And with that, he was gone.

Another eleven, twelve hours to fill before he returned home. Lucile took a leisurely bath and drifted into the village. It was such a contrast to Chelsea. Intimate, higgledy-piggledy, leafy. It was a beautiful day and everywhere she went there were babies in buggies, mothers with small children on trikes, women with swollen bellies and happy, smiling faces. She turned round and walked to the cemetery.

It was quiet, hot and sultry. Flowers bowed in the heat on the graves of the recently departed, twigs snapped underfoot as Lucile inched into the heart of the graveyard. She sought respite in the shade of the Circle of Lebanon and walked it until she was dizzy, and, though she fought against it, she found herself drawn to the tombs and headstones of children. Precious, stolen children immortalised in stone etchings and watched over by angels.


Ten days passed before Lucile heard the crying again. It was night-time and Edward was away. She sat in the wardrobe for two hours or more, waiting and listening, an ear pressed against the wall. A mewling, at first plaintive and lonely, built to a demanding, angry howl before shrinking into exhausted sobbing. It sounded like a boy.

In the morning, Lucile knocked on the peeling paintwork of her neighbour’s front door. There was no answer. They had not returned from holiday.

For three nights Lucile rose and waited for the child, but he did not come.


Edward walked into the kitchen clutching half a dozen white lilies. ‘Christ, Lulu, are you all right? You look terrible.’

He offered the gift. The cloying scent of her favourite flowers hung in the close air. Lost for words, Lucile looked at him, silent.

‘What’s happened?’ he asked, fiddling with his keys, avoiding her eyes.

She turned her back to him as she lied, ‘Nothing. I’ve not been sleeping, that’s all.’

‘Are you out of pills? Ask the doctor for more. I could do with a few myself. I’m bushed.’

Edward certainly slept deeply. He retired to bed early and was asleep by the time Lucile emerged from the bathroom in a lace-trimmed baby doll nightdress. Disappointed, she exchanged the frills for cotton pyjamas. Brushing her hands over her wide hips and full breasts, she felt betrayed by the body which had promised so much.

That night, the boy returned. Lucile heard him crying through the wall, though his sobs were barely louder than a whisper. She sat on the floor and pressed her face and palms against the wallpaper. She could see him now. Blonde and pink with blue eyes and fleshy thighs. How she longed to hold him. To cuddle him, to comfort him.

For five nights he came, and then he stopped. Weeks went by and still the neighbours hadn’t returned. Edward was away on another business trip and Lucile was lonelier than ever. It hurt. She sat in the wardrobe for hours, day and night, waiting for the boy.

Then, late one afternoon, he came. His voice was faint, as if he were at the end of a long tunnel and not the other side of a few bricks. Lucile huddled in the corner, listening. Here, the wallpaper was loose, bubbling, almost peeling. She picked at it with her fingernails and tore away a large strip to reveal another layer beneath. A dated pattern of blue and grey stripes, it was harder to remove. Lucile went to the kitchen for a knife.

She scraped at the wall. Away came another layer to reveal large pink flowers, roses or carnations, set in a yellowing background of stems, thorns and frayed leaves. Another layer came away, then another, and another, until she came to a dusty, faded print: sandy teddy bears with burgundy ribbons round their necks. A nursery paper.

She pushed her nose to the wall and sniffed. It smelt of talcum powder and camomile. As she pulled away, she saw the pencil mark: a squiggle, like a child’s handwriting, the message concealed by a layer of paper still attached to the wall.

The sun had set but Lucile was sweating. She clambered out of the wardrobe and raced downstairs, across the garden and into the shed. Amidst the chaos, she retrieved a torch, a scraper and a toolbox. Heart racing, she returned to the bedroom and began throwing clothes and shoes out of the wardrobe. Armed with a wet sponge and metal scraper, Lucile attacked the remaining wallpaper. It slipped off with ease. She followed the childish letters, jagged and scrawling. At first, she couldn’t decipher the message, but she persevered.

Help me. Help mummy help.

The crying filled her head. She tore at the teddy bears until her fingers were raw, exposing the brickwork beneath. She grabbed a hammer from the toolbox and chipped away at the crumbling red bricks. The crying continued, louder and louder. In despair, she threw down the hammer and bolted out of the house back to the shed for the pickaxe.

She knocked along the wall. It sounded hollow. There was a cavity; she was sure of it. She hauled up the pickaxe and swung it at the wall. Bricks cracked and fell to the floor in a cloud of dust. Coughing and spluttering, she pulled at the stone, blood trickling from her battered hands. The crying grew louder and more desperate until she could bear it no longer. Then, quite suddenly, it stopped.

Lucile was staring at the remains of a child, entombed in the cavity wall. Unafraid, she reached out a shredded finger to touch the skull. She felt an unmistakable flutter in her belly. The stirrings of a child. An unborn child. She looked at her bloodied hands and tried to remember the last time she had bled. It was weeks ago. Many weeks ago. Before the wall began to whisper. Laura Wilkinson, 2015

Copyright © Laura Wilkinson, 2015



Laura Wilkinson originally wrote this story for ‘My Baby Shot Me Down’, a collection of poetry and prose. Though the other stories in this book are not related to Halloween you may want to get yourself a copy.

This is the link:-



Ghost Story by Ruth Dugdall

Scary Stories Banner

Ruth Dugdall is back with a short story.  I hope you enjoy it.  Don’t forget to help yourselves to food!


Victimes de la Route

It was the snow that did it. Beautiful, soft feathery flakes that fell and settled on the path around the lake, so perfect to the eye but such a problem for the two children, both wearing roller skates.

“We should have brought the sledge,” said the girl, wiping her hair free of the white icy dusting, and then pushing her hands into her pockets as the snow turned to ice on her fingers.

“Maybe,” said her mother, looking at the sky. “I don’t know why it wasn’t forecast. It looks like it’s going to last.”

It was the last day of half-term, the last chance to spend time as a family before school and work kicked back in to being, and this brief moment of calm was broken. The family walked, skated, and hunched their way back to the car. The boy, struggling on his skates, tried to grab a handful of snow from the top of a hedge and threw it as his sister so it melted and ran down her neck, she yelled at him, hit him on the arm, and the boy fell into a pile of snow, perfect white now marred by the dirt from his skates, the shape of his body.

They began the drive home. “It’s only three,” complained the mother, already regretting leaving the lake. They would be home in half an hour and then what? Television and i-pads and that would be the week over. She would start to put in the washing, potter around the kitchen. Her husband, in the passenger seat, was already talking on his phone to colleagues, as if to signify that the holiday was done.

The tyres ran dark routes through the icy gravel, and the car was a sanctuary of warmth while the outside world became all new, pristine with its speck-less blanket of fresh snow. It was as though they were travelling through a dream world, there were no people around, no other cars.

The mother sighed, taking the turn to the main road that led to their home, in the heart of Bastogne. They were sure to hit traffic then, this lull couldn’t last. Already the children were bickering in the back seat as they always did when they were minutes from home. One hit the other and they became louder, her husband raised his voice on his phone.

She saw the sign: Victimes de la Route.

She’d seen it before, every time they drove home from the lake, and didn’t think much about it. This was a part of Belgium where there had been a lot of fighting in the Second World War, the bulge had swollen and shrunk as towns had been won then lost then won again. Since the move to Belgium they had done the museums, seen monuments, and the kids moaned endlessly about it. Other families, they said, went to Aquariums. Or zoos.

So, because she always saw the sign after a trip to the lake, where they had picnicked and swam on warmer days, she had never taken the turn. But today, with the trip cut short and just a few hours left of their week holiday, she took it. Suddenly, without indication, so the kids slid together and her daughter called, “Mum! What are you doing?”

Though the tyres slipped, it was okay, there was no other traffic, and she took the hill steadily, pressing the snow button so the tread increased as the road rose and curved around the rise in the land, a small mountain, beautifully exposed to the weather that fell on the windscreen in white tears the size of hearts, winning despite the windscreen wipers, so the mother had to lower her window to see properly.

It couldn’t be far, though.

The father turned of his phone and gazed out of the window at the snow. He wiped his fist in circles on the mist on the window, as if to see a way through the blizzard.

The daughter asked, tension in her voice. “This isn’t the road home. Where are we going, Mum?”

“Just to see what it is. Victimes de la Route.”

A protest from the back seat, the boy this time, “I want to go home. I’m so tired.”

“You can rest soon. Just let’s have a look.”

“What is?”

“I’m not sure,” she admitted. “A war monument of some sort, probably.”

It loomed suddenly, she had to swerve so as to make the turn, and the car slid on the icy road, out of her control.

They took a moment before leaving the car. The kids still had their skates on and the monument was down the side of the mountain, a hundred yards through a white field. A square structure, pillars in grey stone. Large, structural, modern.

The mother felt disappointed, she had hoped for a statue of a soldier, or a small information area. But they were here now, so she led the way, opening the car door that was buffered back by wind, her face hit by snow which was no longer light and feathery but now a steel force.

“Come on!” she commanded, leading the way like a General with tired and weary troops. But for a moment it was just her, out there, with the elements. Swirling snow and wind, cutting into her. This mountain was the end of the world, a place untouched, and yet there was a house that she spied now, beautiful and ancient, turreted with a wooden wraparound porch. Windows were broken and the door was boarded up, but the beauty was still undeniable.

The car door opened, and she called, “Look at that house.”

Her husband glanced to where she pointed, but didn’t speak. It annoyed her, his silence. She knew what he would be thinking: that the house had been abandoned for a reason. That it would cost a lot to do it up.

“It’s beautiful,” she said, trying again to get her husband’s attention. “Look at the little tower at the top. It’s huge too, we could run a bed and breakfast.”

He was walking away from her, ignoring her.

Maybe he was right; she would hate being out here without him, and he was often away on business. She abandoned the fantasy, and turned back to the white-swaddled slope, swan-feather flakes stroked her cheeks, as she walked down to the monument. She saw now that there was some information just a few yards away, a simple plaque, but it would be in French so she didn’t stop. Her husband walked over, he would read it, but she would see the monument.

A movement behind, a scattering of snow. Her daughter, valiantly making the trip on her skates. “Careful,” the mother said, as the skates sunk deep into the snow. “You’re going to struggle on the way up. It will be impossible.”

The boy, not wanting to be left behind by his sister, was coming down the slope, his wheels halting then booling, so he arrived, both hands on his mother’s back.

Mother daughter and son approached the monument.

Inside the protection of the concrete structure, between the three grey pillars, was a place for flowers and, remarkably, three candles burned in red plastic votives.

“Wow, they must have just been lit. You’d think the snow would have burned them out.” The son, with a boy’s natural love of flames, knelt down, his hands round the glass.

“Don’t blow it out!” ordered his sister, and the boy protested, “I’m not,” though this looked unlikely. All three looked up, to where the pillars touched over them, and looked out onto the mountain, the valley below. The snow was fierce, a white blanket across the world, but within the pillars of the monument they felt warm and protected from such elements. The mother looked up, back to the abandoned house, and saw no longer the broken glass and boarded door, instead she saw the perfect symmetry of the beautiful home, and imagined lights in the rooms, a fire in the grate. No longer isolated and bereft, it looked cosy and inviting, a family home. She would tell her husband this, when he joined them. She looked back, up to where the car was parked, but couldn’t see him. She called his name, but the word was drowned by the snow and lost. He must be still reading that damned sign. Maybe he’d gone back to wait in the car. He was missing this, she would tell him later. He should have joined them, it was worth the journey. They had found a special place.

Up by his parked car the husband who was no longer a husband read the plaque that he had commissioned. He could no longer see the three candles he had lit in remembrance. He could hardly stand to look at the house, which would be auctioned in a sale next month.

He got back in the car, a new car, with four-wheeled drive, and drove back to an empty house in Bastogne.

Copyright © Ruth Dugdall, 2015


Short Story by Catherine Hokin

Halloween Stories

Who is ready for another short story?  I know I am!


Stolen Moments

By Catherine Hokin

Alice Morgan liked to steal. “You’re such a little Magpie!”

Her mother had been highly amused by the treasure trove of shiny trinkets she’d found burrowed into the tummy of five year old Alice’s teddy bear. A jumble of old coins and broken necklaces mostly and, yes, her eternity ring which she thought she’d lost for good, but nothing really important. All children did it and Alice would grow out of it so no need for a scene.

But Alice didn’t grow out of it and her mother’s laugh lost its sparkle when other parents muttered about ornaments that vanished and the party invitations began to dry up.

“You do understand that this is wrong, don’t you dear?”

Mrs Drake, the well-meaning head-teacher at Alice’s Primary School always smiled when she posed the question but, as the pile of hair slides and toys that Alice acquired and other children cried over, grew larger, the smile gradually grew more strained. It only reached her eyes again when Alice’s parents agreed with the gently unmovable suggestion that, yes, a new start would be best for everyone.

“I know you know it’s wrong so why do you do it?”

A more direct question from the harassed form tutor as she waved her hand across another heap of purses, watches and rings tipped out from Alice’s bag. But Alice merely smiled and eyed her teacher’s pretty brooch and the tutor had too many other challenging pupils to deal with to push the matter.

“If you’re going to do this, maybe you should at least try to hide the evidence or do you actually want to go to prison? You’re sixteen, Alice, we can’t protect you anymore and the world outside certainly won’t. But the choice, my dear, is yours.”

Head-teachers at secondary schools are far more direct and far less interested in solving the problems of pupils who choose to follow their own paths. It was that very lack of concern that finally caught Alice’s attention. Consequences were, to be honest, usually of little consequence to her but a lack of control over her comings and goings? That was worth a thought or two. So she looked at the mobiles and IPods gathered from her locker and concluded he was right: the choice was indeed hers and there must be more interesting options open.


“You can’t have him!”

Karen’s mascara-streaked face made her look like a clown, the cliché of a clown. “He’s my husband and you can’t have him!”

Alice shrugged, “That’s fine; I don’t want him.”

She watched with interest as Karen’s face seemed to collapse in on itself, barely listening as the older woman bleated out the usual litany.

“But he wants you…You made him fall in love with you and now you don’t want him… You stole him from me…why would you do that if it meant nothing?”

Better people than you have asked that question, thought Alice but she simply smiled and moved on.

Boyfriends, married men (she’d married one of those in a registry office with witnesses pulled in from the street and left within a month); all so very easy to acquire and just as easy to leave. Everything she’d ever wanted: she simply took it until she didn’t want it anymore, whenever that might be. There was always something else to be had, something new. Alice never planned anything: that would have caused too many complications. She just waited to see what would fall into her lap. It always seemed to work out.

Her latest acquisition had been no different.

Alice had been in London for a week, slipping away from her latest boredom to another place where no-one knew her. She’d taken a short let on a flat in an anonymous block through an agent, paying in advance from the bonus her last boss had paid her to leave her post, and not heard never mind seen her neighbours. Now she was starting to think about getting a job, nothing too demanding just enough to pay the rent while she waited to see what might happen next.

The café had attracted her because it was so quiet, the staff too busy with their mobiles to care much about her. She had settled herself with the local paper and they had left her to it, taking her order without bothering to make eye-contact. The one waitress who hadn’t slipped out back for a cigarette had barely looked up from the delights of her screen when the door opened again.

The woman who entered was exhausted: the dark circles under her eyes gave her the look of an abstracted panda and the lank hair drooping round her pale face spoke of too many broken nights. But the child, Alice couldn’t take her eyes off her. She was such a darling, about 6 months old, all chubby face and giggles topped off with a hat that looked like a strawberry. Alice grinned and the mother, grateful for any human contact, smiled back.

“Don’t be fooled by the angelic appearance, she cries like a banshee half the night.” The woman was weighed down by shopping, struggling to balance the load with the heavy pram.

“Here, let me help.” Alice pushed back a chair to make room for the buggy and took some of the bags, stowing them under the neighbouring table. The waitress looked up for a second and glanced away again as quickly; this wasn’t the type of customer to tip.

“Thank you.” The woman sat down heavily; she was bigger than Alice had realised, still slow with baby weight. “It’s always such a challenge to get out and get anything done, even the simplest things…” She looked at Alice without really seeing her, responding to the tiny kindness she’d been shown. “I don’t suppose you could watch Chloe for a moment could you? I shouldn’t ask and it sounds silly I know but just to be able to pop to the Ladies without juggling everything would be the highlight of my day!”

“Of course.” Alice nodded towards the back of the café, “it’s just over there. She’ll be fine, don’t worry.”

And it really was that simple. As the door closed behind the mother, the waitress slipped away from the counter behind the dividing curtain. It was the easiest thing in the world to pluck the baby from the pram, slip the changing bag over her shoulder and leave. Two minutes later Alice was on the underground, the baby perfectly content against her shoulder; thirty minutes later she was walking down the deserted street to her flat.

The baby had napped happily on Alice’s bed while she packed, soothed by one of the bottles her careful mother had stowed in with the spare nappies and change of clothes. Chloe (a pretty enough name but not one Alice could live with) hadn’t even stirred when Alice had popped out to the local High Street to buy a car seat and a travel cot from the bored teenager in a branch of Mothercare that had seen far better days.

The car packed up and Chloe (Emma?) strapped in, Alice had driven north; Manchester was somewhere she hadn’t been yet. The first couple of nights were spent in a Travelodge while she practised a story no letting agent was interested in hearing. Emma (Laura?) was soothed by a dummy but became fractious at night; no one in the hotel seemed to care. Alice had seen the story of the abduction breaking on the news but neither the distraught mother nor the defensive waitress had been able to give a clear description of the woman and the baby looked like any baby: lose the strawberry hat and the little red coat and who could tell one from the other? Alice had switched the television off, it held little real interest.

Two days in a confined hotel room where she couldn’t escape Laura’s (Kerry’s?) gaze was enough. This time Alice rented a little house with a garden. It was winter now but she could imagine sitting outside when the summer came with the baby crawling on the grass. Such a lovely thought and she would have made it happen, she really wanted it to happen; it was nice to want something. But the baby was so much harder to manage than she expected: it never slept and it pushed against Alice with such a frown sometimes it was as though it knew.

Staying and playing mommy was really too difficult and Alice didn’t like difficult, she never had. It was such a relief when she closed the door behind her and got back into the car. She’d tried, she really had; time to move on.

Copyright © Catherine Hokin, 2015



Catherine Hokin’s Website – www.catherinehokin.com

Twitter – @cathokin

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/cathokin?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

A Ghost Story by David John Griffin

Scary Stories Banner

It’s time now for a short story.  Enjoy!



By David John Griffin

Lightning appeared as jagged streaks above the charcoal sea. And a voice was heard inside of the Smugglers Arms, muffled and echoed as though spoken from a distance, ‘Do you believe in ghosts?’

Henry Sims was startled. It was difficult for him to locate the source of those words with their melancholic tone and strange reverberations. He looked about the small beamed room with its abundance of wooden panelling. First to the cast iron fireplace, then through the flickering flame of a candle on his barrel, to one of the room’s sides lined with chairs and more barrels. And when lightning lit the sash window panes once more, a grumbling of thunder came from across the bay and Henry said, ‘Who’s there? Show yourself at once.’

At the precise moment of his demand, he became fully aware of his surroundings as though he had awoken from a tiny place within the back of his skull.

A change in the ambience outside: a street lamp, casting puddles of light across the cobbled street, went out, and even distant hissing from the waves became silent. And there, in an unlit alcove of the snug, a distinct bluish glow could be seen.

Henry called out, ‘What the devil?’ as the glow pulsed, taking on a stronger outline, appearing to shift in an organic way like some phosphorescent sea creature. And when it formed into the distinct shape of a figure, a chill ran through him. Surely he was perceiving nothing less than a ghost in the snug of The Smugglers Arms.

To stand and run would seem an unmanly act but he was compelled to get away from that spectre. Yet it held some power over him, draining his strength and sapping any will to move.

By an unknown cue, he heard more echoed phrases spoken clearly and the ghostly apparition took on more substance. Distinct elements could be made out: features on the head, a shirt collar and jacket with sleeves, and hands even, those seeming to be resting on a luminous, open book.

Henry’s voice trembled as he asked, ‘What do you want of me?’

The words emanating from the ghost continued, now more insistent, ‘So you can hear? Can you hear me?’

‘I can hear you, yes. What have you done? I’m unable to move although I can think clearly but without memory. Are you a spectre sent to bring evil puzzles to warp my mind, to drive me insane? Already I feel…’


‘Quite the opposite: too real. A waking dream of a high perception that I am certain is about to change into a terrible nightmare. I should flee from your alarming entity if only I could move but my limbs have turned to heavy metal.’

The spectre’s voice continued, tinged with excitement. ‘So you can see me as well?’ The glow gained strength, showing the ghostly form accentuated like a neon chalk painting.

With Henry’s brow creasing with perplexity, he asked, ‘I see your strange phantom presence more defined by the moment and wonder why you haunt this snug. Is this a personal visitation?’

The voice still echoed though now stronger and without sibilance or distortion. ‘You could say that.’

‘For what reason? I have done nothing wrong; never have I harmed a soul.’

‘This I know. In fact, the opposite would be true. Much right, helping many,’ the visitant replied. ‘What do you remember?’

‘I do believe I have been suffering from amnesia,’ Henry answered, his tone, previously edged with worry, suddenly transforming with elation. His mind was opening again like a blossoming flower, senses refreshing as though muffs to his ears were being taken away and blinkers lifting from his eyes. ‘Now recalling much – I’m here in the snug of The Smugglers Arms waiting for someone. Yes, I await … I will say no more.’

The spectre now stood in impressive detail as if a real person bathed in a full moon’s cold light. ‘But you must. For your own good. Although I know the identity of your visitor, as well as the reason for his visit. You have nothing to fear. I’m not here to judge, turn your mind or worry you. My mission is to help, nothing more. You are a respected benefactor to many; consider me your benefactor.’

The reaction to those words was swift and abrupt. While Henry nervously stroked his greying beard, he replied with annoyance, “Why do you call me a benefactor? I know of no such person.’

‘But you are known for your help with the poor houses as well as improving conditions in the mills and factories. Your reticence to take any praise is now well-known. Take that beard off.’

Henry’s cheeks reddened with anger. ‘It is one thing to be tormented by a ghost but another to be insulted. I have no shaving equipment and even if I had, why should I shave off my beard, for you or anyone else?’

‘You know as well as I do,’ the spectre continued, ‘Please, remove it, now. I wish to see your fine features.’

‘For what reason?’ said Henry but began to remove the false beard all the same. Once he had peeled the beard from his distinguished face, he laid it on the barrel next to his tankard of ale. ‘Are you satisfied? I have done as you asked. Now my request — it’s time for you to leave, to be swallowed back into the miasmic pit from whence you came. I have been haunted enough. Go back to the past and may you rest in peace rather than your insistent stubbornness to remain on this Earth.’ The volume of Henry’s words had risen to the height of a pulpit-like sermon and, as if his words had taken his strength, he leant forward with his head hanging low.

The blue-illuminated spectre’s reply was precise: ‘I will tell you this much. I’m not from the past, nor am I in your present. Listen and try to understand. I’m from a time ahead of you.’

Henry was unimpressed and merely snorted. ‘Just as I guessed, one of Dickens’ ghosts from a Christmas future. Then what are you called, if spirits can still have names.’

‘There’s no need for you to know. I visit here to tell you something of the utmost importance.’

‘How can I believe a word you say?’ Henry replied. ‘ This could be some demon trick. Already you are becoming bluer and light up even more strangely, there in the corner. Why should I trust you?’

’I know much about your situation. I repeat, I’m here to help. Let me start by asking about the money pouch that was hidden in a secret pocket of your waistcoat. It contained two hundred pounds and five guineas, am I correct?’

Henry stood, swaying, pushing back the captain’s chair so that it scraped across the floorboards, and he bellowed, ‘No thief will come near, no matter how ingenious their entrapments! I begin to understand; it’s becoming as clear as that lightning in the black sky: here we have a Pepper’s ghost trick albeit a sophisticated one. Come out of hiding, you smoke and mirror criminal!’ But clasping the place near his heart where the money pouch should have been, Henry’s previous confidence vanished. ‘You insult my intelligence by taunting, after you’ve stolen from me? What disgusting creature are you?’

The ghost spoke quickly: ‘I will endeavour further explanation to our unique situation. Please listen carefully. I am, to you, indeed an apparition – but from your future, 2025 to be precise. I’m able to communicate with the aid of highly sophisticated equipment. You have become temporarily aware again, finally broken from your repetitive behaviour over more than a century. Before our contact I learnt a lot about you, Henry Sims, respected politician and public speaker, who has a secret not many people are aware of; and those that do know, are sworn to secrecy. You are a benefactor of the highest generosity helping those less fortunate ones. You’re here in the snug bar of the Smugglers Arms tonight, having again rented the room from the landlord for your private use only, to pass on another magnanimous money gift to Sir Christopher Plumber. He was due to arrive in less than thirty minutes time.

‘The money meant for Sir Plumber, for the aid of orphans in London’s workhouses, was stolen by the landlord of The Smuggler’s Arms.’

Henry said, ‘You somehow take the money and then accuse the landlord of doing so? You stoop low, sir.’

‘Not so.’

‘This is preposterous,’ Henry continued, ‘He is in the saloon bar, serving customers. I am here talking to a villainous actor involved with an intricate ploy.’

‘Of course you wouldn’t believe me. You must prove it. Do you see anything in the room, other than myself, appearing to be supernatural or other-wordly?’

Henry glanced over to a rectangle of golden light seen to hover above the floorboards, to the left of the fireplace. ‘Now perhaps I do. Seemingly a magical door.’

The spectre spoke clearly and precisely: ‘Then you must walk through that door. Pass through to heaven, your paradise, to final rest and peace. But first, go to a window and look over your shoulder at the reflection. Then you will see the truth.

‘At nine thirty-five on a stormy September night in 1879, a man you trusted, and paid to rent a snug bar in this public house, walked in unexpectedly and after a particularly vicious act of violence, stole the money pouch from your person.’

Henry was inspecting his wavering reflection in the darkened panes of the bow window, seeing a large kitchen knife buried up to its hilt in his back. And as a blanket of confusion descended, he staggered towards the door of golden light while the shimmering ghost hunter spoke on: ‘The landlord killed you in a terrible act of cowardly, cold blood. You see, Henry Sims, I am not the ghost. You are.’

Copyright © David John Griffin, 2015


About David John Griffin

David John Griffin

David John Griffin is a writer, graphic designer and app designer, and lives in a small town by the Thames in Kent, UK with his wife Susan and two dogs called Bullseye and Jimbo. He is currently working on the first draft of a third novel as well as writing short stories for a novel-length collection.

His first novel – published by Urbane Publications in October 2015 – is called The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb. The second novel, due for publication by Urbane in spring 2016, is a literary/psychological novel, entitled Infinite Rooms. He has independently-published a magical realism/paranormal novella called Two Dogs At The One Dog Inn. One of his short stories was shortlisted for The HG Wells Short Story competition 2012 and published in an anthology.




David John Griffin - book cover

Matthew Smith of Urbane Publications is kindly giving away 5 copies of David John Griffin’s new book, ‘The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb’, out next month.  To enter just leave a comment telling me what you thought of David’s short story.


Terms and Conditions

​This competition is open worldwide.

The closing date is 11:59 p.m. on the 14th November 2015

The winners will be randomly chosen and notified within 7 days of the closing date. Their details will be passed on to Matthew Smith who will send out the prizes.


Good Luck! 🙂


‘The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb’ is available to pre-order on Amazon:-



Blog Tour – ‘Petit Four’


Last month I took part in a book launch for ‘Petit Four’.  Click on the link below to be taken to my blog post.


I have since read ‘Petit Four’ and as part of a blog tour I am now reviewing it.

‘Petit Four’ has been edited by Lucie Simone who has also written the introduction.  I think it’s wonderful how this anthology was created simply by Sue Watson suggesting to Lucie that they write a book about cake.  ‘Petit Four’ consists of four lovely romantic short stories.


Après Vous’ by Lucie Simone

Tara takes her niece on holiday to Paris for two weeks as a graduation present.  But little is she prepared for events there.

In this story two people rekindle their love 32 years later.  I really enjoyed reading ‘Après Vous’.  The descriptions of the Eiffel Tower were wonderful.  Cake played a big part.


‘Cake Therapy’ by Cindy Arora

Olivia Cisneros starts working at SF Bridge News as a staff reporter with Tammy Kovac is her mentor.  Tammy is shocked to find that Olivia doesn’t eat cake and takes the necessary action to change her mind.  They soon become the best of friends.

Seven years later and lots has happened in Olivia’s life.  To top it all Tammy gets a new job which means a new colleague for Olivia to get used to.

I liked how Olivia’s friends and even her little girl all rallied together to get her out of the rut she was stuck in.


‘The Heart-Shaped Secret of Raspberry Jam’ by Sue Watson

Milly works as a waitress at the Victoriana Tea Rooms.  She loves baking and dreams of owning her own café.  For Milly cakes play a big part in her life, conjuring up various memories.  Capable of producing some wonderful creations Milly is constantly put down by her boss.  However, things are about to change.  It looks like the tea rooms are about to be taken over.  But what of Milly’s job?

This was a wonderful and often funny story.  The descriptions of the cakes were absolutely heavenly and made me salivate.  I would so love to eat rose-scented cakes and champagne cupcakes.  I was so happy when Mrs Jackson got her just desserts.


‘Her Charms’ by Joel Zlotnik

Scott is the Mayor of Ola Vista, a small and respectable town.  One day whilst in the park Scott meets a woman called Nicole who gives him a St Patrick’s Day cupcake containing a four-leaf clover charm.  He asks her out and they soon start dating.  Scott regularly finds cupcakes left by Nicole outside his front door with various charms and notes.

This story has been written from a man’s point of view which is a good idea as it is too easy to forget about how the male feels in romantic situations.  I think the whole cupcake thing was lovely.


I enjoyed reading all four stories.  They made me feel nice and relaxed and I felt at times as if I was sitting on a fluffy cloud somewhere.  My favourite story was ‘The Heart-Shaped Secret of Raspberry Jam’ by Sue Watson closely followed by ‘Après Vous’ by Lucie Simone.

I give this book 4 out of 5.

‘Petit Four’ – Book Launch


Today ‘Petit Four’ is published by Simon & Fig.  The cover alone is bound to get your mouth watering.


Cake is often a major part of life’s celebrations, both big and small. From birthdays to wedding days, cake, in all its delectable concoctions, marks joyous occasions with a sweetness that can’t be beat. But even better is the love that is shared when two people connect over a sweet confection. Maybe it’s a cute new guy wreaking havoc on a broken heart, or a beautiful woman testing the limits of love, or an old beau stirring up long lost desires. Whatever the circumstances, cake can always be relied upon to save the day when it comes to affairs of the heart. In this collection of short stories, cake is the delicious center around which each tale unfolds and romance blooms.

When single mom and journalist, Olivia, sets out to find romance in Cindy Arora’s “Cake Therapy,” she gets a little help from her friends and more than a few slices of cake to coax her off the couch and into the arms of a truly great love. Lucie Simone’s “Aprez Vous” finds success-driven Tara in Paris reminiscing of her long lost love, Jean Marc, and her niece bound and determined to reunite them. In “The Heart-Shaped Secret of Raspberry Jam by Sue Watson, cake enthusiast, Milly, meets her match in the kitchen, and other places, when new owners take over the tea rooms where she works and her talents and her heart are put to the test. And Scott, mayor of a small seaside community, flirts with political suicide in Joel Zlotnik’s “Her Charms” when he falls for new-in-town Nicole, an entrepreneur with a passion for cupcakes, and whose latest venture proves a little too sexy for the sleepy beach town.

From San Francisco to Paris, from small towns to tea rooms, this anthology tempts readers with humor, style, romance, and the powerful aphrodisiac that is cake. Petit Four is four stories, frosted with love.

‘Shop Gossip’ by Kathryn Player


Last month Kathryn Player released ‘Shop Gossip’, a short romantic comedy.


Book Blurb

When the charity shop is in danger of closing down, the ambitious Ruth (the shop supervisor) will do anything to keep it open. One cake sale later and a disastrous encounter with a Health and Safety officer, Ruth lands herself in hot water with Head Office.  Meanwhile, Molly (a volunteer) has a stab at internet dating and Nadia (her sister) has a huge crush on the shop manager.  But does Alex feel the same? What happens when a forty seven year old married woman has another try at love?

Nadia follows Alex when he goes on a date and she narrowly avoids being arrested.  She realises that she needs to leave Alex alone so, therefore, she decides to focus on her ambition to be a successful beautician.  She is determined to make it work and doesn’t miss an opportunity to give her beauty products away.  However, the dream receives a cruel blow from the bank and just when things couldn’t get any worse, Nadia finds out her husband has been having an affair. 

Nadia starts to question things.  Is she really cut out to be a beautician? And is she too old to find someone new?  Sometimes it’s easier to go crawling back to the husband of twenty years, rather than try life on your own without an income.  Does Nadia want to take the risk?  Is love really worth it?


Author Bio


Kathryn Player was a teacher for ten years before she decided to have a career break and become a stay-at-home Mum. At the same time, she launched her debut novel, ‘Moody not Broody’, which was written three years earlier. ‘Moody not Broody’ is based on her teaching antics (experiences) over the past ten years.

Kathryn’s second book, ‘Shop Gossip’ (a short romantic comedy), is about two sisters who work in a charity shop and is based on real life stories which Kathryn’s mum has told Kathryn over the last five years.

Currently, Kathryn is working on the sequel to ‘Moody not Broody’ and hopes to release it in the summer of next year.


‘Shop Gossip’ is available on Amazon:-


‘Annabelle’ by Nancy Christie


Pixel Hall Press are based in the United States of America.  They are a relatively new, old-fashioned small publishing house whose focus is on discovering literary gems and great stories that might otherwise have been overlooked.  Pixel Hall Press got in touch with me last year with regards to reviewing some of their books.  I was most interested in reading ‘Annabelle’, a short story by Nancy Christie.

This story is about a young woman called Annabelle who after trying to commit suicide goes for professional help.  Throughout her sessions with her psychiatrist we learn all about her rather lonely childhood.  Her dad, an artist passionate about his work seemed only to live for his painting.  Her mum would spend hours posing for him, her sole aim to be there to please him.  All Annabelle ever wanted was to love and to be loved.  When she finally did get the chance for her dream to come true, something tragic happened changing her life for good.

‘Annabelle’ is a haunting and sad tale and one which I’m sure that a number of people can relate to.  Beautifully written, I enjoyed reading this story and found it to be thought provoking.

I give this book 4 out of 5.


To find out more about Pixel Hall Press visit their site:-


Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: