Switching Tracks

Yet again I entered the Scottish Book Trust’s 50 Words competition. April’s prompt was to write a story set in a train station. I found this to be more challenging than previous prompts; Sadie really seemed to enjoy it.

If nothing else, I am enjoying the participation in these contests as a starting point for creativity.


Travellers, clustered like meerkats, peering at the departure board. Amongst them, one couple. Two lives. Two suitcases.

Incredible, how much of one life fits into a suitcase.

He goes to the ticket counter, returns to her side.

Two lives. Two suitcases. Two tickets: one single, one return.


Campfire Stories

I have succeeded at entering every Scottish Book Trust’s 50 words competition of 2017. March’s contest featured a prompt that required a campfire to be in the story. Sadie told me this was her favourite so far. I expect the next one (April’s) will be less speculative fiction-y.


The survey craft streaked across the sky like a comet before touching down. As it cooled, hisses and pings filled the deserted clearing.

“Imagine,” she announced. “The first humans on Earth since the Diaspora!”

They spread out, scanning.

“Uh… Ma’am?”


He pointed.

The last embers of a campfire smouldered.

Speak his name

Two years ago today my favourite author died. So today, I thought it might be worthwhile to post an extract from one of his books. And, I thought, since I’m a teacher, I would post the extract from Wee Free Men where the travelling teachers appear.

I’m grateful that I’m not an itinerant teacher any longer.


And that was the trouble. If you didn’t find some way of stopping it, people would go on asking questions.

The teachers were useful there. Bands of them wandered through the mountains, along with the tinkers, portable blacksmiths, miracle medicine men, cloth peddlers, fortune-tellers, and all the other travellers who sold things the people didn’t need every day but occasionally found useful.

They went from village to village delivering short lessons on many subjects. They kept apart from the other travellers and were quite mysterious in their ragged robes and strange square hats. They used long words, like corrugated iron. They lived rough lives, surviving on what food they could earn from giving lessons to anyone who would listen. When no one would listen, they lived on baked hedgehog. They went to sleep under the stars, which the math teachers would count, the astronomy teachers would measure, and the literature teachers would name. The geography teachers got lost in the woods and fell into bear traps.

People were usually quite pleased to see them. They taught children enough to shut them up, which was the main thing, after all. But they always had to be driven out of the villages by nightfall in case they stole chickens.

Today the brightly colored little booths and tents were pitched in a field just outside the village. Behind them small square areas had been fenced off with high canvas walls and were patrolled by apprentice teachers looking for anyone trying to overhear Education without paying.

Balloons at Sunset

I’ve been fairly consistent in my entering of the Scottish Book Trust’s 50 words contest. I entered February’s, which features an image of balloons over Myanmar at sunset and asked for a story inspired by the image. In another show of consistency, I was not the winner.

So it goes.


We were drifting heavenward.

The plague would soon spread and before long it would leave only a wasteland below. It didn’t look so bad from up here.

For the moment, we watched the sunset and held each other, carriers and oblivious.

How many strikes do you get?

Once again, I’m debating departing my current mobile carrier.

I rely on my mobile. It is my phone, my alarm clock, my entertainment system, my email inbox, my atlas, and a great many other things besides.

When I first joined 3 Mobile, it was based on their “all-you-can-eat” data and the iPhone 5. Now we’re two iPhones later (I’ve smashed two and Apple has released two) and they keep trying to charge me more for “all-you-can-eat” data. With no other appreciable change in my service. And no appreciable change to my coverage. And I live on the east coast of Lincolnshire.

Which is to say, I don’t see this as especially acceptable and will continue to shop around for new plans that are cheaper per month — and perhaps a new phone! Plus, when you’re about to get into a negotiation with a telephone customer “service” representative, it always pays to do your homework.

[Image stolen, more or less, from http://retaildesignblog.net/2013/03/18/three-mobile-stores-by-urban-salon-uk/]

A roll of the dice

I decided I was going to enter the Scottish Book Trust’s 50 words contest for January. The prompt was “write a story that includes a roll of the dice”.

Sadly, I wasn’t the winner, but I still quite like the result.


They watch, wait, wonder about fate.

The muffled rattle of the dice in the cup. The slam of the cup on the table. Creased bills and futures change hands.

Gods may not play dice, but these people do.

When they lift the cup, they’ll see the role the gods play.