Re-Released today. The Kindle version of my collection of Short Stories, poetry and sample chapters.
Designer Shorts is an anthology of short stories, excerpts from works in progress and a bonus section of poetry by the author of Tracy’s Hot Mail, T A Belshaw. The collection includes two emails from the sequel to Tracy’s Hot Mail, Tracy’s Celebrity Hot Mail. The Zombie Poets is a rather amusing tale about the aftermath of a Zombie apocalypse. The Zombies don’t want to eat brains; they have something far worse in mind. The Psychic is a short story about a bored policeman stuck on desk duty, who encounters a strange individual delivering a very disturbing message. Blind Date is a three-part story of a woman who allows herself to be persuaded to go on a blind date with the friend of a friend. The Instant Messaging Machine, the Bath O’ Matic and The Time Machine are a series of Steampunk stories based around a Victorian inventor and the wife of his best friend who is determined to become the test driver for his amazing inventions. The Second Valentine’s Day Massacre is a tale of gangster revenge. Can You tell me Where God Is, tells the story, in verse, of a man struggling to bypass heaven’s insufferable, red tape. At My Expense, is a poem about MPs expenses, whilst Clicking Gran is a children’s poem long listed in the Plough Prize international poetry Competition.
My Mistake was highly commended in the Farringdon Poetry competition.
‘What an interesting device, Sir Oswald. What
does it do exactly?’ Albert Parkin straightened his cravat, leant back in the
stiff leather chair and took a sip from his brandy glass.
‘This,’ said Sir Oswald, ‘is my latest invention.
I call it the IM machine. It is capable of sending short messages to
recipients anywhere in the world. Providing they have one of these devices of
‘Doesn’t the Telegraph system already do that?’
Sir Oswald nodded. ‘Yes, but this little beauty
can be set up in a person’s own home or office.’ A huge grin spread over his
face. ‘No waiting for the delivery boy.’
‘It does looks very impressive,’ said Mrs Parkin
from the back of the machine. Her head appeared through a cloud of steam. ‘How
does one send an instant message?’
Sir Oswald puffed out his chest and stood proudly
in front of the contraption. He opened a small door and threw in a single lump
of coal. A fresh burst of steam hissed from a valve at the rear making Mrs Parkin
scurry round to the front. She laid a soft hand on Sir Oswald’s arm as a small
cloud of smoke snaked from a funnel on top.
Let’s say,’ said Sir Oswald, ‘that I wanted to
send a message to Mrs Pettigrew, my secretary at Crankshaft and Piston Ltd. All
I would have to do is this…’
Sir Oswald pulled a red lever, twisted a dial,
then pulled on a green handle. He turned to Mrs Parkin with a smile as a panel
slid to the side and a typewriter keyboard presented itself.
Sir Oswald fingers danced across the brightly
polished keys. As he hit return, the machine emitted a small toot. There was a
crunching of cogs, and more steam hissed from the safety valve. To Mrs Parkin’s
delight a thin strip of tape appeared from a slot in front of her.
At Sir Oswald’s invitation, Mrs Parkin pulled the
tape from the slot and read aloud.
‘Mrs Pettigrew. Please reply to this message
Sir Oswald fed the tape into a second slot just
above the first, and pressed the return key again.
‘Shouldn’t take a minute,’ he preened. ‘We have
an identical machine in the office. We’re hoping to have thirty of them
littered around the county by the end of next year.’
Sir Oswald poured himself another brandy and
strolled back to the IM machine.
‘It’s taking longer than usual,’ he said with a
I live in a
village called Ruddington, part of the borough of Rushcliffe in
itself dates back to Saxon times, though a recent excavation on the perimeter
found stone arrowheads dating back to 1500 BC. Looking at certain members of
some of the older families of the village, I can well believe they have been
here that long. Two spring to mind immediately. They both have beards, long
straggly hair and the wife of one of them has a fur coat.
Close by the
arrowheads they found the remains of a Roman villa. Try as I might, I have yet
to discover any of their distant relatives. No orgies have been reported in my
Such is the gossipy nature of the village,
that if as much as a threesome had been planned, the entire village would have
heard of it before number three had taken his coat off. A full-blown orgy would
have seen a horde of Ruddintonians peering through windows long before the participants
got as far as second helpings.
is home to the famous Framework and Knitters Museum. I have to shamefully admit
that this is a place I have never visited. Maybe it’s the thought of those dark
old satanic mills that puts me off, maybe it’s the anger I would surely feel
when I saw the conditions those poor Victorian wretches had to work in. But
mainly I think it’s because I would be bored rigid. Cotton and wool, whilst
worthy commodities, do not do a lot for me.
is situated just beyond the church in the centre of the red brick village.
Ruddington may sound as if it is named after the colour of its soil, or the
brickwork on show; but it is actually named after a Saxon called Rudda. The
name Ruddington means “the homestead’ or ‘ton’ of the Ruddingas (Rudda’s
I believe an
ex-village hairdresser is a direct descendent of Rudda. I’m sure she used an
axe as a hair cutting tool, there is no way you could make it look that rough,
pond is teaming with wildlife at the moment. We have Koi Carp, Goldfish, a
couple of Green Tench and a few dozen newts, frogs and toads. I also have two
energetic Springer Spaniels. Both of them are accomplished frogger’s, Molly, my
black and white Springer, could frog for England at the ‘frogging Olympics’ if
such an entity existed.
She is so accomplished that she sometimes comes trotting
into the house with three frogs at a time, her mouth gently but firmly closed
over fat bodies, leaving a tangle of green legs hanging out of the sides.
Usually though, it’s only one unfortunate creature that has been caught unaware
s as it came out of hiding, thinking it’s safe to go about catching dinner.
Maisie, my liver and white Springer, isn’t quite as
adept at catching them, though she could still be an international at the
event. She likes to see them jump, so she’ll give them a whack with her paw,
then chase after them and repeat the exercise until they are steered in the direction
of the pond. She knows they live there; she saw them in the bottom when we dug
it out a month or two back.
Once the escapee is back in its watery gaol, she’ll go in search of another,
looking under shrubs, stones and bits of old log we have scattered about the
Occasionally she’ll pick one up and trot around the
garden with it. If we spot her, a quick ‘leave’ will see her cough up the
absconding prisoner. She will then guard it carefully until we, the warders,
stroll up to return the inmate to its watery cell.
Molly doesn’t give up her prize anywhere near as
easily. She is a hoarder, a collector, an expert on the species. It really
doesn’t matter if she has a frog or a foul-tasting toad. Once they are caught,
they don’t get released until they been carefully inspected, catalogued, sized
and sexed. We always groan when we see her with one, as we know what a tough
job we have ahead of us, trying to negotiate a ransom.
Another of the articles I wrote for Best of British magazine.
Winter is almost upon us once again. I wonder what the next few months have in store for us weather-wise?
Looking back, I can’t remember many
bad winters over the last forty odd years, none that match the winter of 1963
at least. It stands out in memory as the worst (and best) winter I have ever
experienced; I was nine at the time.
We kids welcomed the snow and all
the extra time off school. We made snowmen, toboggans from bits of old wood or
old pram parts and the most lethal pavement slides you ever saw. We had one on
our road that would carry you a good twenty five yards. Adults hated us for
making them; as I said, they were lethal. Once a fresh covering of snow had
landed there was no telling it was there until an unsuspecting adult tried to
negotiate the pavement. I can remember my father getting a letter from the
milkman saying we would have to pay for any more breakages ourselves. The slide
was there for almost three months so you would think he’d have remembered where
it was after his second or third fall.
In the early 1960’s we moved from our old Victorian slum to a brand-new house on a brand-new estate in Kirk Hallam, Ilkeston. I was about seven at the time
The old house, which was tied to my father’s job at the iron
works, had been flooded. We lost just about everything; the waters had come
half way up the stairs.
The flood struck at 8.am on Sunday 4th December 1960. The
normally placid Nutbrook stream, swollen by heavy rain, burst its banks and
flooded the Ironworks and the bottom half of Crompton Street. The water carried
a hidden danger in the form of highly flammable, Benzoline oil that sat on the
surface of the water. I didn’t know until years later that the oil had been a
problem. I remember my father sitting on the sill of the upstairs window of our
house as he smoked and chatted to the people next door. Cigarette stubs were
flicked into the water at regular intervals.
We were rescued by the fire brigade who took us all to a
community centre where we slept in sleeping bags on the floor for a few nights.
It was a major adventure for us kids but not so much fun for
the parents or the older members of the community. I could have slept on a
clothes line in those days but I doubt some people there got a wink of sleep.
We were fed soup and sandwiches by the Salvation Army.
Before the evening meal we all had to stand and sing ‘I’ll be a sunbeam.’ My
father, a reluctant Christian at best, would move his lips like a poor ventriloquist
then burst into song on the final line of the chorus.
A sunbeam, a sunbeam,
Jesus wants me for a sunbeam;
A sunbeam, a sunbeam,
A bloody fine sunbeam am I.
During the day we played Beetle, Draughts, Snakes and Ladders and Monopoly. The older residents must have been sick to death of Ludo, but they gritted their teeth and played on. I think they’d have done anything to keep the more energetic kids on their backsides, sat at chairs and tables instead of hurtling around on the parquet floor.
Mrs Henderson pulled open the heavy blackout curtains with a
grunt. The late August sun lit up the cosy sitting room, highlighting the
floral pattern on the square of carpet that sat neatly between the brown,
horsehair sofa and the high-backed chair that nestled next to the open
‘It’s the postman.’
Peggy Larkin walked into the lounge carrying a handful of brown envelopes. She handed them to the tall, grey haired woman, who had been Peggy’s guardian since she had been evacuated from London to the big house in the small country village, almost a year before. Their relationship had begun poorly, but over time it had flourished and they had become very close.
Mrs Henderson flicked through the letters and selected one
with a London postmark. She recognised the fine, neatly-spaced handwriting,
‘Ah, a letter from your mother, Peggy. Let’s see what news she brings us.’
Mrs Henderson picked up a small silver knife and slid it
across the top of the envelope. She took out the two-page letter and scanned
the first page quickly before handing the second page to Peggy.
‘Here’s your share.’
She smiled broadly as she re-read the first page, then sat
down on the sofa as she waited for Peggy to read her portion of the letter.
‘Aunt Margie is getting married!’
Peggy looked up from the letter, a huge grin on her face.
‘And Mum wants us to go home for the wedding!’
Peggy danced around the room, clutching the letter to her
‘It’s only for a few days,’ Mrs Henderson advised. ‘Your
mother thinks you’ll be safe enough in London for a short time at least. The
bombing everyone thought would come, hasn’t materialised.’
‘I know,’ Peggy replied. ‘Some of the evacuees in the
village went home at the start of the school holidays and they haven’t come
back. People think it’s safe now. My teacher, Mrs Johnson, says the Germans
might not bomb us at all. Mr Hitler seems to be busy fighting in France.’
‘We’ll have to see about that,’ said Mrs Henderson. ‘Don’t
count your chickens before they’ve hatched, Peggy. It’s not safe to go back for
good.’ She folded the letter and slipped it back into its envelope. ‘Anyway, on
a selfish note, I’d miss you too much, and your mother has a very important job
at the armaments factory. With the long shifts she has to work, I doubt she can
find the time to look after you as well.’
‘I know,’ she said sadly. ‘Mum works twelve hour shifts at
different factories around London, she has to train women how to make the bombs
and mines as well as doing her own job. It’s very dangerous work.’
Peggy was quiet for a few moments, then she stepped across
the room to give Mrs Henderson a hug.
‘I’m very happy here. It will be nice when I can go home,
but until then, I know you’ll look after me.’
Mrs Henderson hugged Peggy tight.
‘It’s been a pleasure my dear.’ A tear ran down her cheek.
She hurriedly turned her head and dabbed her face with a white, handkerchief as
Peggy pulled away.
‘Something in my eye,’ she sniffed.
Mrs Henderson walked through to the kitchen, shook the
kettle, decided there was enough water in it to make tea, and placed it on the
‘We have to make plans,’ she said. ‘We’ll need to check
train timetables, buy tickets…’ She placed both hands on Peggy’s shoulders, her
eye wide in excitement. ‘… and you’ll need a new dress to wear. We only have a
couple of weeks to get ready. Your auntie’s fiancé has only got limited leave.
He’ll have to go back to his regiment the day after the service. It’s all a bit
rushed, but that’s what young people have to do today, what with the war and
‘Are you coming too?’ asked Peggy.
‘Oh, I’m not invited,’ laughed Mrs Henderson. ‘It’s only a
small, family occasion. So, we’ll need to find you a chaperon.’
‘A chapel what?’ Peggy looked confused.
‘It means a companion,’ explained Mrs Henderson. Someone to
travel with, to make sure you get there safely.’
‘Harry can be my chappie, thingy,’ replied Peggy.
‘Your brother’s younger than you, dear,’ said Mrs Henderson
with a little laugh. ‘I bet he’s had a letter too; we’ll have to drop in at the
Watsons’ to organise things.’
Peggy and her younger brother had been split up the day they arrived. Harry was staying with a middle-aged couple on the other side of the village.
‘I think Harry’s forgotten all about Mum,’ said Peggy
softly. ‘He never mentions home when I see him.’
Mrs Henderson patted Peggy on the shoulder.
‘I’m sure he remembers her; he’ll be just as happy as you
are to go back to London for a while.’
‘I’m not so sure,’ said Peggy with a shake of her head. ‘He’s
changed so much over the past year.’
‘Don’t worry about him, Peggy,’ said Mrs Henderson, softly.
‘He’s just settled in very well, that’s all. It’s a good thing really, you
wouldn’t want him to be unhappy now, would you?’
‘He calls them Mum and Dad,’ said Peggy, ‘but they’re not.’
‘No, they’re not,’ replied Peggy’s guardian, ‘and I’m sure
he knows that. It’ll just be a habit he’s gotten into that’s all.’
Their conversation was interrupted when they heard a frenzied,
hammering on the front door.
‘Goodness me,’ said Mrs Henderson. ‘Something sounds
She hurried to the front door and flung it open, Peggy
rushed along behind.
On the doorstep stood a young boy. His hair was
close-cropped, he wore a dirty, white shirt, trousers that were torn at the
knee, and mud-caked boots, which he scraped on the edge of the step as he
‘ALFIE!’ cried Mrs Henderson. ‘What on earth is the matter?’
Alfie was a few months older than Peggy; he had been
evacuated to a nearby farm at more or less the same time that she had arrived
in the village. He and Peggy were best friends and had shared a scary
‘Nothing much,’ said the boy, looking puzzled. ‘Can Peggy
come out to play?’
Mrs Henderson blew out her cheeks.
‘Thank goodness for that. I thought someone had come to tell
us the Germans were invading the village.’
‘They’re tied up in France,’ said Alfie seriously. ‘I heard
it on the news this morning.’
Mrs Henderson turned away and returned to the kitchen. Peggy
walked out onto the front step. She waved her letter at Alfie.
‘I’ve got exciting news,’ she said. ‘I’m going back to
London in a couple of weeks.’
‘London!’ he exclaimed. ‘Brilliant news.’ He stared at her;
excitement written all over his face.
‘Mrs Henderson is going to find me a… a, chappie something…
Someone to look after me on the journey.’
‘There’s no need for that,’ said Alfie. ‘I’m the only chappie you need. I’m going to come with you.’
This is a serial I began writing in 2010. Sixteen chapters were written and published on a blog. It proved to be quite popular and I’ve been asked many times if I’ll finish it and turn it into a book. I think the time has now come to do that, so, I’m going for publish the first four or five chapter’s on here to see if there really is an audience for it. Thanks for reading. Comments appreciated.
‘Will stared down at the lifeless body of Sir Charles Montague and
smiled thinly. It was over, his tormentor was dead. He pulled his sword from
the neck of his victim, wiped it on the grass and sheathed it. He looked at the
brightening sky, the sun said noon, time to make for Durberry Vale, Elizabeth,
and the rest of his life.’
Stephen King looked up from his manuscript and surveyed the hall. The
audience of mainly elderly members stared back at him. The silence was
deafening. Then from the table behind him came a solitary clap.
Margot Sugden, the writers group secretary, rose to her feet.
‘Thank you for that, Stephen, I’m sure we all found it very interesting.
Not many members read the last chapter of their novel on their first manuscript
reading but there’s no rule that says you can’t.’
She held up her list and squinted at it.
‘Now, whose turn is it? Ah yes, Deirdre, do you have more from ‘The
Quilt? You do? Excellent!’
Stephen made his way to the row of empty chairs at the back of the room
and sat down with a sigh.
A white-haired woman turned to face him from the row in front.
‘Awfully good.’ she whispered. ‘For a first timer.’
‘Thank you,’ said Stephen, ‘I don’t think it went down too well.’
‘I think it needs work,’ she replied, ‘quite a bit actually and people
tend to read novels from the first chapter here. But you’re writing and getting
an audience, that’s what counts.’
She paused, popped a mint into her mouth, thought for a moment, then
offered the packet to Stephen.
‘You will find it will take a while to become accepted here. We’re an
ancient bunch with a very old-fashioned mentality. We probably see you as a bit
of a threat at the moment, but we’ll get used to you…eventually.’
Stephen took a sweet from the end of the roll and smiled.
‘I’ve only written the last five pages of this particular novel so far,
‘I thought if I got the end done, I’d know where I was heading with the story,
if you see what I mean.’
A warm round of applause greeted Deirdre as she took to the stage. Mary’s
voice dropped to a whisper as she was shushed by the members in front.
‘You ought to be writing horror stories with a name like yours. I’m Mary
Clark by the way.’
‘My English teacher said the same thing at school. Nice to meet you,
In the meeting room, Stephen returned to his seat on the back row. Mary
was chaperoned to a chair nearer the front by the elderly man who had
confronted him in the bar. He gave Stephen a warning look before he sat down.
Margot got to her feet and squinted at her list.
‘Ted?’ she queried.
‘You really ought to go back to glasses, Margot,’ said Ted, as he picked
up his clipboard from the floor.
Margot blushed and sat down.
Ted marched to the podium, nodded to Harriet and addressed the
‘Ted Hughes, not the famous one,’ he announced.
A gentle titter ran around the room.
‘I was going to read a new poem, but as I don’t have to share reading
time with my grandson tonight, I’ve decided to read the latest chapter of my
Ted patted his pockets, looked back to his seat, then patted his pockets
again before eventually finding his spectacles on a thin chain around his neck.
He cleared his throat and read from the clipboard.
‘The Jonah. Chapter 14. Unlucky for Some.’
The membership stopped fidgeting and concentrated on Ted.
‘Captain Farthing strolled into the coffee bar from the dusty street and
took a table by the window, he ordered tea from a native waitress. It was
stinking hot. The waitress sniffed, gave him a queer look and turned the
propeller fan above their heads up to full speed.
Captain Farthing added two large spoonfuls of sugar and milk from a jug
on the tray and stirred his tea slowly. He sipped the tea idly and thought
about Fiona. Would she turn up after their last meeting? He doubted it. He
remembered how he had trapped her ball gown in the door of his car and her
horrified face when she realised it had dragged through the mud.
He hoped she had forgiven him.
There was a tinkle and Fiona stood before him. ‘Hello Farthy,’ she said.
Fiona sniffed from her delightful nose. She lifted first one foot then the
other and checked her shoes.
Farthing groaned as he realised in horror that the smell must be
emanating from his shoes. He checked them under the table. Sure enough it was
him, somewhere out on the dirty, dusty street he had trodden in dog shit.
Fiona was sympathetic. ‘You get all the bad luck, Farthy,’ she said,
‘you must be the unluckiest man in India…’
As the story progressed Stephen developed an almost uncontrollable urge
to laugh. He bit his lip, then his cheek, but still the laughter welled up
inside him. He decided he had to get out before he collapsed in a heap on the
Stephen walked out of the rear entrance and made his way across the
tiny, puddle-strewn car park to the street. The car park only had a dozen
spaces and they had all been taken by writer’s club members. Stephen wondered
what time he would have to get there to claim one of the spaces. He suspected
he would need to be there a good half hour before the meeting started.
The club was situated at the bottom of a narrow street on a steep hill.
Close to town, the street was popular with drivers as it was one of the few
places left without yellow lines and parking meters. Pedestrians splashed their
way along the pavement eager to get to their destination and out of the
Stephen held his plastic document folder above his head and jogged up
the hill to his car. By the time he reached it the rain had begun in earnest. A
clap of thunder rattled the windows of the taller buildings, a few seconds
later a crazy zig-zag of lightning lit up the night sky.
Stephen fired up the engine and switched on the headlights. The music of
Snow Patrol roared out from the speakers. He began to sing along as he flicked
the indicator and eased his way through narrow gap between the lines of parked
Half way up the street he noticed two figures struggling with an
umbrella. Stephen hit a button and the window was lowered.
‘Can I give you a lift?’ he called.
Mick glared from under the peak of his cap.
‘No thanks, we’re fine.’
‘You may be fine, Mick, but I’m getting soaked,’ said Mary. ‘Thank you,
Mick opened the back door and waited for Mary to get into the car. To
his annoyance she opened the front door and climbed in next to Stephen. She
snapped on her seat belt as Mick grudgingly threw himself into the rear seat.
It began with a trivial moment of carelessness, but the shockwaves that reverberate from this seemingly insignificant incident, spread far and wide.
Ed and his heavily pregnant wife Mary are on an errand for Ed’s ailing father before the pair depart for warmer climes. But the winter of 1962 comes early and one innocuous event and a hastily taken decision will have devastating consequences for the family of young Rose Gorton. Mary’s already fragile mental state is put under further stress while Ed tries to make sense of events that are spiralling massively, Out of Control.
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