Friday Fictioneers: What is it?

Friday Fictioneers is on Facebook hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. You can read other stories or, better, join in and write your own at A complete story in 100 words in response to a photo prompt.


PHOTO PROMPT © Roger Bultot


This is unsettling, she thought, but art can do that.

She preferred Exhibit Pepsi, or the Virtual Visits Corp. thing she’d seen last year. That was good.

Here, the material was grey and ragged. How could anyone not know about auto-white and auto-mend?

The oddest shapes. Hollow bones? But of what? Roofs full of holes?

Much later, she remembered a story one of the elders told about birds (like dragons but real), and how there were once transports – the name eluded her – when there were great stretches of natural water: oceans.

Friday Flash Fiction: A stopped clock

Friday Fictioneers is on Facebook hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. You can read other stories or, better, join in and write your own at A complete story in 100 words in response to a photo prompt.  This week I realise I’ve been trying to channel my inner Merricat (I recently read and fell in love with Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle and there are some wonderful descriptions of what’s kept in the cellars and the rituals of how it is used or not.


When we moved here, the cupboard under-stairs was chill and full of forgotten things:

Ten jars of lavender honey

Plum preserve prinked with peppercorns and cloves

Old bottles of gin with sloes burst

A tray of skeleton mice laid out

Pickled frogs…


Which we ate and drank and threw away (the mice we buried in the garden).

Cleaned out the cupboard, added light and silly things, unmended-or-not-needed-now-but. Someone, someday will wear red monster slippers.

It is airy too with space for things we fear. These have multiplied of late. That clock for instance, always stopping at exactly the same time.

Can’t you take a bit of a joke /sexual assault ?

Nothing But Feeling « LRB blog

This was first posted on the LRB blog on 30 October as Can’t you take a bit of sexual assault 

To mark the 60th anniversary of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Michael Gove and Neil Kinnock were interviewed by John Humphrys about the experience of being interviewed by John Humphrys on the Today programme. In the live broadcast from the Wigmore Hall on Saturday, they were happy to go along with the myth of the 8.10 interview and show their willingness to play the game of politics hard and with good humour. ‘Coming into the studio with you, John,’ Gove said, ‘is a bit like going into Harvey Weinstein’s bedroom.’ There was laughter from much of the studio audience and applause from some. Not to be outdone, Kinnock said: ‘John goes way past groping – way past groping.’ Cue more laughter. Beyond the Wigmore Hall, there was outrage at Gove’s treatment of sexual violence as an opportunity for a chummy witticism; he soon apologised‘unreservedly’ for his ‘clumsy attempt at humour’. In the furore, the BBC continued to report that Michael Gove had made a joke about Harvey Weinstein.

It’s worth looking more closely at Gove’s queasy analogy (the remark clearly wasn’t off the cuff). Going a few rounds with Humphrys on the Today programme is something that high-status politicians choose to do. They hope not to get caught out, not to come out of it looking like a fool. But above all, they know what they’re letting themselves in for. It should go without saying that their experience is nothing at all like that of young actors being subjected to sexual harassment and assault by a rich and powerful film producer. But Gove’s comparison also brings us back to the familiar territory of blaming the victim for harassment and assault: she should know what to expect, she shouldn’t take risks and, failing that, she shouldn’t take things too seriously. Kinnock’s quip about the interview being ‘more than groping’ suggests he understands harassment in the same way as Gove, and a good part of the audience did too – the complicity was stifling.

Patting, squeezing, pinching, what’s the harm, can’t you take a bit of sexual assault? Kinnock’s joke suggests that there is a hierarchy of actions – part of a familiar discourse rehearsed endlessly over recent weeks. There are actions that are just a bit of fun, just ‘groping’, but there are other actions that a majority thinks unacceptable, sanctionable and, on occasion, serious enough to require legal redress – it’s a matter of degree. Within this discourse moreover there’s always going to be a familiar, tricky grey area: my version of events is always going to be different from yours.

But there isn’t a hierarchy of this kind. Rather, there are two languages fighting for interpretative authority over the same set of actions, the same set of events. The first language (‘a bit of a grope’, ‘just a bit of fun’, ‘I thought she’d be flattered’, ‘she can’t take a joke’) is colloquial, light-hearted, familiar; it’s what you say down the pub, or in the ‘locker room’, or in the editorial offices of the Sun and Mail, or in too many parts of the House of Commons. Its apparent everydayness fuses seamlessly with ‘men will be men’ and a thousand riffs of the same kind. It’s a gendered discourse, sure, but one that both men and women can and do use, and it has authority – Gove and Kinnock competed to use it. But it isn’t ‘common sense’, and it’s no more natural than any other language.

Sexual harassment and sexual assault are not different in kind from groping, squeezing and grabbing. Groping, squeezing and grabbing are harassment and assault. It should be simple but somehow it can’t be, and one of the reasons is that the two languages don’t have equal authority. The ‘trouble’ with words like assault or harassment is that they don’t seem to belong in everyday discourse, they sound technical, perhaps a little alien. And from here it’s a short step to seeing this type of language as unnatural: the unwelcome entry of officialdom into the private world – too much red tape and political correctness gone mad – because we all know what we mean, don’t we? Except, clearly, ‘we’ don’t. There is no ‘we’, and no end of ways not to believe women.

This facile ‘common sense’ needs to be countered with other ways of talking. One among others is to describe harassment and assault in chilling narrative detail, to defamiliarise it, sever it from the label of a ‘bit of fun’ or ‘things getting out of control’. Some of the most powerful witness from women has told in painful specificity exactly what happened. It makes for uncomfortable listening and reading, and rightly so. But patriarchy doesn’t suffer challenge, criticism or even discomfort lightly. All too soon, it’s time to move on. Gove’s ‘clumsy’ joke marks a moment at which Weinstein becomes a byword, starts to pass into folklore, and is neutralised. Jokes like this at moments like this are attempts at punctuation: full stop, end para, we’ve talked about this enough. Gove and Kinnock and all the others think it’s time to get back to ‘normal’. It isn’t. We won’t.

Friday Flash Fiction: After the fire

Friday Fictioneers is on Facebook hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. You can read other stories or better join in and write your own at A complete story in 100 words in response to a photo prompt.  I’ve been too busy these last few weeks to read or write but I’ve enjoyed today’s challenge and am looking forward to reading some other stories. My natural story length for this seems to be settling at 120 or so words so editing is becoming a wee bit easier, I think.


photo prompt by J Hardy Carroll

After the fire

It was the water she remembered: acute shining fountains; reflections everywhere.

They could watch from their window. Safe, the chief said, behind the yellow ribbon. A crowd gathered on the street below. This was entertainment, nothing terrible, and besides, said the chief, nobody lived on the premises.

But as the show went on, the crowd were paled by the ash, their faces streaked with irritant tears. They coughed and went away.

The morning after, the ribbon was still up and the hydrants exposed. Street quiet and no one but cleaners and menders and doorway sleepers wandering invisible, dazed or dead.


Friday Fictioneers: Roots

Friday Fictioneers is on Facebook hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. You can read other stories or join in and write your own at A complete story in 100 words in response to a photo prompt.

tree picture

photo prompt by Sandra Crook

She wakes thirsty, the glass by her bed is empty.

The tree is a legend, stories attach to its branches: it was a hanging tree and before that its bark made the barren bloom. Its homely scar has offered temporary sanctuary.

History in the garden – it brings in the punters. Its fame has spread as its roots.

Like her, the tree is thirsty, sucking the front wall loose and toothy. Now it has reached the house: her ground floors burst, tiles cracked. She tripped with a tray of glasses yesterday, watched the liquid dry, into the floor.

My Speeding Heart

Friday Fictioneers is on Facebook hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. You can read other stories or join in and write your own at A complete story in 100 words in response to a photo prompt.

photo prompt by Douglas McllRoy


Your nails are nothing like my claws. Your heart is steady.

This is the one place you let me fly: window-lit, tree-less. Full of the tools you humans grow: pliers and torches and the ancestors of the new sound machine that sits in honour on the sideboard.

You think I am getting tamer. (‘so calm, so still’).

I am not.

You dream of flying, humans do.

I dream you leave the window open. Your fingers steal the beat of my speeding heart but it doesn’t belong in your chest. You must go rushing after it, crashing on the floor.


London Review of Books Blog On Grenfell Tower: Nothing But Feeling

Nothing But Feeling « LRB blog

19 June 2017

There was a moment in her interview with Emily Maitlis on Newsnight on Friday when Theresa May mentioned a woman who had escaped the Grenfell Tower fire in just a T-shirt and knickers. The woman stays with you. Very briefly, something broke through the repetitions and evasions of the official discourse being deployed by the government, Kensington and Chelsea council, and ‘interested’ corporate parties who insist that regulations were complied with and profess to welcome any investigation.

Downing Street had clearly decided that May’s performances on Thursday hadn’t worked. It was feeling that the prime minister was sent out to communicate the following day; her repeated use of the words ‘horrific’, ‘terrible’ and ‘horrendous’ was the obvious index of this. And her repeated reference to the £5 million emergency fund, with its connotations of practical immediacy, was intended to make up for the lofty distance suggested by the public inquiry she had announced the day before. By Saturday morning, direct speech had been abandoned altogether, with Damian Green, the first secretary of state, insisting that ‘she’s distraught by what happened as we all are.’

It’s easy to charge May with a lack of empathy, a personal psychological failing. But her evolving language after the Grenfell fire is part of a bigger official discourse, which is itself in crisis. It is an axiom of popular knowledge that politicians never answer the question that’s put to them; a cliché that most political representatives don’t listen. Conversely, political parties never seem to tire of telling their constituencies what they are thinking or what they ‘really’ meant when they voted for Brexit or Ukip or Labour or the Lib Dems. And when they don’t respond predictably or conveniently, when they respond with anger or contempt, or propose an alternative version of events or proposal for what should be done, it is conventional for politicians to represent this not as conflict or divergence but as a communication failure: we just didn’t get our message over clearly enough.

The work and pensions secretary, David Gauke, gave an interview to Channel 4 News on Friday evening. As he tried to step deftly between ‘regulations’ and ‘guidance’ while saying nothing that would implicate him or his government in anything at all, it was almost inevitable that Gauke would slip. The speed at which he self-corrected ‘simplify the regulations’ to ‘simplify the guidance’ was remarkable. There was a startling lack of concrete nouns in Gauke’s language, and had it not been for the interviewer, Cathy Newman, you would hardly have known what events Gauke was talking about. He used the word ‘fire’ only twice in the six-minute interview, and despite Newman’s repeatedly asking whether the residents of Britain’s 4000 tower blocks could feel safe, Gaufe avoided using the words ‘safe’ or ‘safety’. He wasn’t speaking to the moment but to a probable future; his words had been chosen to withstand the scrutinies of inquest, investigation and enquiry. He said nothing that attributed responsibility to anyone or anything. The Downing Street statement that support for victims in the immediate aftermath of the fire ‘was not good enough’ is comparable:

The response of the emergency services, NHS and the community has been heroic. But, frankly, the support on the ground for families who needed help or basic information in the initial hours after this appalling disaster was not good enough.

This crucially obscures the question of where the support might have – should have – come from.

Gaufe’s replies were part of a catch-all disaster script, stuck together with boilerplate phrases: ‘we must get to the bottom of … we must understand … we mustn’t jump to conclusions.’ The ‘we’ of government is a problem in this crisis, raising a raft of questions about responsibility. May, Gauke et al. can adopt a ‘we’ quite comfortably if it is the ‘we’ that makes money available or instructs other agencies (fire services, local councils etc.) to make checks, follow guidelines and, by inference, bear responsibility for the fire and what follows. This ‘we’ also does vaguer stuff such as offer condolences, ‘get to the bottom of’ things and ‘try to fully understand’ them. But it quickly finds itself in tricky territory. ‘We’ mustn’t rush to conclusions or pre-empt investigations, and it can soon look as if ‘we’ isn’t doing much at all except standing on the sidelines and exhorting.

Responsibility is a double bind. The government, Kensington and Chelsea council, and the companies they outsource to, must appear to be agents who are in control and capable of dealing with what May called ‘an absolutely horrendous tragedy’. But they also want to deflect from themselves any responsibility for causing it, with the effect that they sound distant, defensive, repetitive and on occasion paralysed. Discursively they cannot win, which is one reason the fetish for feeling is so critical.

In May’s Newsnight interview, the fire was a ‘tragedy’, an ‘event’, an ‘incident’, at one point, agonisingly, a ‘circumstance’, nouns nearly always preceded by such epithets as ‘horrendous’, ‘terrible’, ‘terrifying’, which were themselves sometimes preceded by ‘absolutely’. Painful as this discourse is, it is uncomplicatedly intransitive: it promises nothing but feeling, and sidesteps hard questions about responsibility and agency. So if there is psychological failing, there is also, more importantly, political strategy. Virtues and their opposites have historically specific forms and perhaps it isn’t surprising that empathy and understanding, the demonstration of feeling for others, have assumed such significance in such a fundamentally unequal society.

I have always written: articles, reviews, essays, chapters – some of which you can read here. Most recently I have started writing fiction. My first novel Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves was published by Penguin in 2017.  I am now working on my second.

You’ll find information here about Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves: reviews of the novel, interviews and pieces I’ve written about the writing and the research process and what it is like to become a debut author when you already have one career behind you. I will also be posting short fiction and non-fiction and criticism about books, TV and film.

I am delighted to be one of the four Writers in Residence at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, Wales for 2018.




Friday Fictioneers is on Facebook hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. You can read other stories or join to write your own at A complete story in 100 words in response to a photo prompt.

photo prompt: Ted Strutz

They had been planning this Sunday on the lake. She had words for the sky, for the water: cerulean, pellucid. No exaggeration.

The town was a jewel pressed onto the lake’s edge; there was a restaurant under vines.

The boat didn’t stop. Dumped them on the opposite side in another town. Change of timetable.

The boat that could take them back was three hours away, the bus wasn’t running.

They ate sandwiches on the harbour wall, trying to laugh it off.

On the boat, she looked back at where they’d been:  houses the colours of pink sugar almonds and saffron.

The Warehouse



Friday Fictioneers is on Facebook hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. You can read other stories or join to write your own at A complete story in 100 words in response to a photo prompt. My second attempt…

friday fictioneers 2photo prompt by J Hardy Carroll

The warehouse

She skips past the old warehouse, all boarded up now. It is a tale of terrific failure – that’s what her dad said and she can see: nothing happens here. He was only repeating well-oiled rumour. Limp metal, a jamb in slow-motion fall. She passes every day, feels the shadow of the blackened chimney, the creep of rot. The days pass and she skips more slowly, sees more slowly: sees the stripes of rust and the makeshift armour of corrugation, notices how the glass has survived everything, how it shines.