This is an author I first came across by way of reading his own excellent review of a book I had previously reviewed, ‘Johnny Nothing’ by Ian Probert.
Andrew Updegrove is a prolific blogger, primarily writing about the self-publishing industry, marketing, and related topics, providing an excellent resource for any aspiring writer. As well as being a prolific blogger and writer, Andrew Updegrove has a successful background in law, business, and cybersecurity, making him eminently qualified to write this excellent book.’
Further links and contact details for Andrew Updegrove are:
Author site: www.andrew-updegrove.com
The Lafayette Campaign
A TALE OF DECEPTION AND ELECTIONS
Having already read an enjoyed the first in Andrew Updegrove’s cybersecurity/thriller series, I thought I’d give this one a try. This time the story revolves around an upcoming US Presidential election, but one where all the poll predictions are completely at odds with what everyone expects, raising questions about who may be trying to manipulate and influence the outcome? Once again, the US authorities call on the geeky middle-aged, I.T. cybersecurity expert, Frank Adversego, to look into things. Amid his investigations, Frank is also working on the book he’s been contracted to write warning of the dangers around hacking, cybersecurity, and so.
As in Book One, this is a superbly written cybersecurity themed thriller, but again, riddled with lots of clever and subtle humour, like where the author refers to a security thug as being ‘evolutionally challenged,’ and when he laments about being glad he’s not writing a political satire instead of a serious non-fiction book, the humour of which becomes even more apparent later on. In many ways, readers from any country will be able to identify with the part money and big business plays in politics all around the world, and not just the US.
Although this reads perfectly well as a stand-alone book, I was pleased to see some indirect references to Book One, The Alexandria Project, ironically the basis of the book the main character, Frank, is working on during the unfolding story here, and the inclusion of some of the characters from the first book, ie, his daughter, Marla, and boss, George Marchand. Again though, there are plenty of new characters to further engage the reader’s interest.
Not only is this well-written book, but also a well-researched one too. It does, however, convey a lot of US political workings and cyber-tech explanation though that some readers might get a tad lost in if they don’t already have some interest in them. As a UK reader, I must admit had I read this book when it first came out back in 2015, I might well have got a bit lost in some of the American election procedures and terminology, and quite frankly, found it a little too fantastical and far-fetched. Since then of course, there’s been the improbable election of Donald Trump and all that’s followed to take care of the ‘far-fetched,’ aspect. Also, with all the media coverage that event attracted worldwide combined with innumerable hours of Youtube American news footage of the 2016 US Presidential election, most people now have a better understanding of US electoral workings, so again, this really has become a book that is not only more ‘understandable’ to non-US readers, but a highly topical one too.
Another super cybersecurity offering; a satire for sure, but given what’s happened in US politics since its publication, really not so far off the mark … loved it!
Click HERE to read my review of Book One in the series, The Alexandria Project
Available from Amazon in eBook format, and from several other outlets in both eBook and print formats … See the author’s blog for details.
For links to all five books to date in the author’s cybersecurity/thriller series, please see HERE for Andrew Updegrove’s US Amazon author page
Based on an Fb news post that was shared with my ISAD writing group, I decided to apply a little of the ‘Rudders Writing’ touch to it. Hope you enjoy it …
Sonia Dixon just loved to read. Her favourite genre was crime and murder, the bloodier and gorier the better. She was also a successful author, blogger, and reviewer, and just as she strove to produce the very best in her own writing, she demanded it too in the many books she was sent for review on her blog.
The cover and blurb for ‘Piling up the Bodies’ by Nick Hazelwood had promised much but delivered little. In fact, it was by far the worst book she’d read since she couldn’t remember when. Unfortunately, Nick had already been blogging and posting that the famous authoress, Sonia Dixon, was eagerly devouring his debut novel, even before she’d read the first page. In doing so, Nick had made it difficult for her to privately message him with a polite ‘it’s not really my thing, sorry. Good luck with your future writing.’
Well okay, he would get his public review …
‘A great idea for a story but poorly handled. The methods of execution and body disposal were too bland for me. Personally, I prefer something a little more imaginative than simple bludgeoning and dismembering and feeding the bodies to the dogs? Sorry, but not my cup of tea.’
To say Nick Hazelwood wasn’t pleased with the review of his literary masterpiece would be the mother of all understatements. He imagined all manner of horrible things he would do to the high and mighty Sonia Dixon, ways of killing her far worse than that of any of his literary victims, though not of course before giving her a piece of his mind on how wrong she was about his fantastic book. With the aid of social media, it was a straightforward matter tracking down the address of a high-profile authoress. It was a bit out of the way, some farm in the middle of nowhere in fact. That suited his purposes perfectly …
Living in the remote highlands of Scotland, Sonia Dixon wasn’t used to visitors, so was more than a little intrigued at who might be at the door …
“Hello, can I help you?” she asked the man standing before her. It wasn’t anyone from one of the neighbouring farms, and yet, he looked familiar, though she couldn’t remember from where
“Call yourself a writer?” Nick screamed at her, “what’s wrong with feeding body parts to the dogs? All the crap you write is more like the stuff of cheap, second-rate B-movie horror scripts.”
“Uh?” was her first response, not sure of what else to say?
“It’s writers like you who keep readers hooked on a diet of cliched rubbish while real talent goes undiscovered.” Sonia Dixon was confused. Yes, she’d heard the same old drivel a thousand time before, but only online, not on her fucking doorstep. Then the penny dropped, his mention of feeding bodies to the dogs. She remembered where she’d seen him before, well, his blog avatar anyway.
“Don’t you think it would have been more appropriate to say all that in an email rather than travelling hundreds of miles? Or did you just want to be offensive in person?” That wasn’t the response Nick had expected. She was supposed to be scared, terrified even of what was going to happen next, just like his literary victims. Instead, she was mocking him, just like she’d done in her review. He was about to push past her when she invited him in.
“Why don’t we discuss your issues inside? I’ll make you a nice cup of tea while you calm down, and then we can talk about your book and the review.” Nick nodded his agreement. The first thing he noticed were the shelves and shelves of ‘true and unsolved’ crime books lining the walls and every little nook and cranny. Meanwhile, Sonia had made her way to the adjacent kitchen. Nick kept her in his sight, checking she wasn’t using her mobile to call for help. Actually, that was the last thing on her mind. A few minutes later she returned with their tea.
Nick was too drowsy from the sleeping pills she’d slipped him to see the blow coming. A solid whack with a poker to the back of his head had put an immediate end to his now slurred droning of how wrong she was about bludgeoning victims to death and feeding them to the dogs.
One week later …
Nick’s arrival couldn’t have come at a better time. ‘Writer’s Block’ had been crippling Sonia Dixon’s creativity, not that that stopped readers from screaming for another blood and gore fest horror from her. Thanks to Nick, she was now several thousand words into what she hoped would be another best-seller. She had to admit, elements of Nick’s story had worked a treat for her. She only had the one dog, ChiChi, a pint-sized sausage dog, and hardly big enough to devour a whole man, but she did have several pigs that fulfilled the role even better.
She made a note to write more scathing reviews in the future, especially for when the dreaded Writer’s Block hit again.
If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like this, please stay tuned for:
Scheduled for publication, June/July 2019
This latest short story collection is the fifth by John M. W. Smith that it’s been my pleasure to read and review. John M.W. Smith has had many stories published in various women’s weekly magazines and literary journals, and his short story collections are an established favourite among Russian readers where as well as being hugely popular, are also used as an English language teaching aid.
In addition to my review here of ‘More Longer Wacky stories,’ I’ve also included my past reviews of some of his other collections.
See below for John M.W. Smith on social media …
It’s been a few years since I read one of this author’s excellent short story collections, and I must say this latest novella lengthed 13 story anthology is the best so far. As in previous collections, the stories culminate in some unexpected twist in the tale, some quite startling while others are more of Ah-ha moment, though not once did I remotely see what it would be in each case. Mostly the stories stick to just one or two female characters (though not always), allowing the author to develop them more than is usual within the confines of a short story. Some of the tales are truly uplifting and will make the reader smile, but in a bit of a departure from previous books, others are indeed a tad sad, and equally sad, are more reflective of the not so nice side of human nature, as is the case in A Lonely Heart Breaks Easily.
This collection is definitely grittier, and with more of an edge to some of the stories that I’ve seen in previous ones, venturing into more controversial (almost taboo) themes such as in the third offering, It’s So Easy to Fall in Love, where the wronged woman turns out to be far more predatory than the reader is originally led to believe.
Most of the author’s stories centre around female characters, some strong and self-assured while others are often more fragile and vulnerable, so in some respects it’s easy to see why they would enjoy such popularity in women’s magazines/journals, and yet, I maintain, these stories are of a much wider appeal to anyone who enjoys cleverly crafted scenarios, great writing and dialogue, and in every case, an unexpected but totally satisfying conclusion to a story. I really can’t praise these little gems more highly.
MY PREVIOUS REVIEWS OF THE AUTHOR’S WORK …
Wacky Stories with Twist Endings – Volumes 1 to 4
(Available in eBook & print formats via Amazon)
This is a short collection of eight humorous short stories, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. The ‘twist at the end’ in the first four stories are more the sort to make you smile and chuckle rather than gasp in amazement, but every scenario and ending are entirely believable and just the sort of situation that any reader might readily identify with. In the later stories, the twist ending tend to have a bit more ‘punch’ to them, and the stories steadily become a little more intricate.
The author keeps the number of characters to a minimum in each case, and within the obvious confines of a short story, the characters are well-developed with convincing and natural dialogue. Each story is written in an easy to read and follow style, yet despite their apparent simplicity, all are actually very clever and well crafted.
By the author’s own admission, the stories are primarily aimed at a female readership, but the quality of writing and story-telling does I believe give them a much broader appeal. I shall certainly be reading and reviewing the other three volumes in this series.
Another short collection of eight short stories; as in the previous volume of this collection, every story is well crafted and wholly believable. Again, not one of these stories will fail to bring a smile and a chuckle to the face of the reader, but unlike the previous volume, the stories here are a little more involved, with a slightly more adult and mischievous flavour to them.
For such short stories, some of them are quite complex, dealing with issues of romance, family, and work issues. Again the characters are convincing and well-developed. The increased complexity of the stories, as compared to volume one, does require a slightly greater degree of concentration from the reader, but the rewards are more than worth it.
Overall, another great volume of well written and light-hearted stories which fans of the short story genre and women in particular, will really enjoy.
Well, this is the third volume of stories I’ve reviewed in this series and once again, I’ve not been disappointed.
Without reiterating too much of what I’ve said in my previous reviews, each of these delightful short stories has an unexpected, and in this volume more so than in previous ones, a quite often rather `naughty’ and punchier twist in the ending – never more so was the term `naughty but nice’ quite so appropriate. Compared to previous volumes, I think the stories here are, whilst still quite charming, are tending towards slightly more adult orientated themes. Again the reader never really sees what’s coming, and the author is an adept at leading the reader up the garden path so to speak before firmly tugging them back to a really effective punchline and conclusion.
What I’ve also noticed and enjoyed in this third volume is the way author very quickly settles the reader into feeling comfortable and familiar in what they’re reading; although each story is different and unique in its own way, there are often striking similarities in names, places, and the domestic settings in which they occur that you could almost feel that you’re reading another chapter in the lives of the characters in a previous story, much like that sense of familiarity you might encounter in reading the sequel to a novel. By employing such techniques, many of the characters appear much more developed and rounded than they might otherwise, given the limitations of the short and flash fiction genres.
I would agree with the author’s own admission that his stories are indeed aimed at a primarily female readership, and this volume perhaps more than in previous ones, but as your typical Neanderthal male, I too enjoyed them immensely and as such would contend that they still have a much broader appeal that of their intended market. Another great collection, and again, highly recommended …
This is the fourth and last volume of the ‘wacky stories’ series. Like the previous ones, all the stories are well written, and mostly with a deliciously naughty twist in them.
One of the dangers of anthologies such as this is that there can be a tendency for the stories to become repetitive, but here we have a refreshing diversity. Just when you think you’ve got the stories figured out, the author throws in a couple that are as delightfully sentimental and smile-inducing as you can imagine; the first story has quite an adult theme to it, treating the reader to a really sharp and almost shocking twist, whereas in another of the stories, the author leads the reader in a very definite direction, only to delight with a more gentle shock, and of the most touching confirmations of enduring love as I’ve read in a long time.
Yes, the stories are aimed at a female readership, but I think their appeal extends much further. I will certainly be reading some of the author’s differently themed anthologies in the near future. All in all, a great series that I would heartily recommend not only a female readership but anyone who enjoys cleverly written stories of the ‘twist in the tale genre’…
Click HERE for the author’s Amazon author page, and links to all his books …
Welcome to another report from SNNC, the Silly Nonsense News Channel, your reporter as always, P. A. Ruddock
The Flat Earth society had already gotten plenty of flak for their latest conference, claiming members from all around the world were attending.
A number of ‘experts’ had been assembled from among the farthest fringes of the crackpot science and conspiracy theory communities. The attendees were to be treated to the very cream of implausible nonsense to explain away such inconvenient concepts as gravity in a two-dimensional world and photographs of the earth from space
‘– they’re all fakes, just like the moon landings, it’s all big conspiracy by the global – err, sorry, I meant big-business corporations,’ a flat-earth spokesman told SNNC.
There was even to be a weird and wonderful explanation as to why people should end up back where they started if they kept travelling in the same direction – apparently, the closer you got to the edge of the world, it would increasingly tilt so you sort of rolled back to the middle, I kid you not – It’s still under discussion, we’ll keep you posted.
Also on the agenda was to be a debate on the general consensus that the edges of the world were surrounded by giant impenetrable and unclimbable mountains, a great wall of ice, or Antarctica as we Round Earthers call it. It was these mountains that, apparently, stop us all falling over the edge like we would a cliff, and of course the oceans doing the same. This last aspect was also to be an urgent topic of discussion. Not all flat-earthers were utterly bereft of common sense or indifferent to the wider scientific community, and climate change was troubling many of the society’s saner members.
They worry that all the mountains are going to melt. Others were less concerned, claiming the situation is all under control – Donald Trump’s plans to build a giant wall to keep out all those awful Mexicans is really just a clever ruse to disguise the wall’s real purpose – it was to be much bigger, all around, oops, sorry, along the circular perimeter of the earth, and that would be our new sea barrier
– yes, that’s right, Donald Trump is going to save the world! Hmm? Hilary Clinton was asked for her comments on that last bit … probably best not to repeat her reply.
Needless to say, the broader public has some difficulty getting their head around the idea of the earth being a giant pudding bowl, attracting ridicule from all around the world, especially from among their equally deluded arch rivals, the Hollow Earth believers.
But getting back to the conference – the original proposal was to hold it in Australia, but they eventually agreed on Birmingham instead after the Flat Earth central committee decided that said continent didn’t really exist and that it was actually a huge compound at a secret location somewhere in South America, filled with American actors.
When approached, Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan, stars of the Australian telly super-soap, Neighbours, appeared amused at the Flat Earthers’ claims but were otherwise unavailable for comment. On the other hand, Australian authoress, the lovely Patricia Puddle, while initially dismissive, has admitted, albeit amid fits of giggles, she intends to learn Spanish – “ Just in case.”
It seems too that all the world’s airlines, pilots, and astronauts are also all in on the giant hoax, but nonetheless, oversees Flat-Earthers were not deterred from hopping aboard budget flights to Birmingham, especially after their membership being offered generous discounts from local hoteliers.
Unsurprisingly, Australian membership of the Flat Earth society has somewhat flatlined since. On the plus side, the people of Birmingham can sleep secure in the knowledge that their city does exist, and by default, the rest of the UK too.
To attract more believers to their cause, the Flat-Earthers have taken a leaf out of Scientology and its dodgy Hollywood advocates. They cite several celebrities who also question the ‘global’ view of the earth – there’s Lofty Whatshisname, the well-known American basketcase, sorry, basketball player, along with British celebrity and former cricketer, Freddie Flintoff who has also admitted to coming round to their beliefs after asking several deep and meaningful questions …
“… If you’re in a helicopter and you hover why does the earth not come to you if it’s round?
“Why if we’re hurtling through space, why would water stay still? Why is it not wobbling?
“The middle is the North Pole, around the outside is the South Pole which is like a big wall of ice. This is why all governments now have bases on the South Pole.”
(All true, we’re really not making this up!)
SNNC did approach several leading scientists for answers to these probing conundrums, but unfortunately, they all claimed to be doing something far more important than dignifying such bollocks with an answer, like counting the grains of sand.
(Ok, we admit it, we did make up this last bit, but only because we already knew what the answer would be).
And that, readers and viewers, brings us to the end of our coverage of this year’s Flat-Earth conference.
“We’ll have to keep an eye on those bloody flat-earthers, they’re much closer to the truth than they realise,” the Galactic Council’s chief scientist was telling his mate.
“You’re right there. The only bit they’ve got wrong is that the water’s kept in by the sides of the petri dish – perhaps we should put them in a bigger one so we’ve got room for an Australia too?”
NASA scientists finally release …
… REAL photos of earth from outer space.
For the very best in internet bollocks, stay tuned for future reports … upcoming features include:
The Moon? Did we really land on it & Is it Really there?
Hollow Earth theories? Are they based on ‘solid’ science or just filled with hot air (or molten lava)?
Alternatively, keep a lookout for my upcoming book, Flashbulb Moments – Ninety-nine flash-fiction stories – some silly, some sad, and some plain scary ones.
This will be no:34 (of 100) in the eventual Flash Fiction collection, a humorous little Sci-Fi tale coming in at just over 500 words (521).
Further study needed
It was an odd-looking creature. Not in a bad or ugly looking way you understand, but just on account of being so alien. With its green fur, the one cyclops eye, and those insect-like six legs it defied description; despite the six legs, it wasn’t an insect, or at least no one thought so, not with it being two foot long.
The scientists had yet to decide on an official name or designation for it; in the meantime, they stuck with the name decided on by the two kids who found the little creature on the banks of the Pescos river in New Mexico, they had called it Fuzzy.
“I really don’t what to make of it, really I don’t,” Dr Markham was telling Colonel Bingley from the nearby Roswell air base, “definitely not native to earth though,” she added.
“I agree. It’s like nothing we’ve ever found before, either,” the Colonel replied, poking Fuzzy with a pencil, fascinated by the animated reaction as all its six little legs started to wave about randomly.
Fuzzy was taken to the Roswell Alien Studies facilities, deep underground below the innocuous looking air base. What followed was a seemingly endless series of tests, blood and tissue extractions, X-rays, and in between, Fuzzy would be exposed to extremes of temperature, noise, and other distressing stimuli to assess the creature’s reactions in each case. A couple of the junior lab assistants felt sorry for the little creature, sad that more efforts weren’t being made to understand or communicate with it. Unfortunately, compassion and understanding weren’t on the ‘what to do’ checklist of the military and senior science staff.
“I concur. We should keep the creature alive. We can determine the possible applications of its unique DNA, both medicinal and for weaponising. We can then move onto live dissection, pain threshold analysis, and so on,” Dr Markham agreed.
“I’ll put that in my report then – further study needed.”
The Roswell staff never did get to complete their studies. The following day, despite being kept under 24/7 surveillance, Fuzzy simply vanished. The whole episode was, of course, hushed up like an unclosed case from the X-files.
Species report of interstellar agent, Xenzorion1379 (aka Fuzzy)
A cruel and hostile race for the most part. A few specimens show kindness and compassion in the early years of their development but soon adopt the aggressive and self-destructive tendencies of the wider collective. During my time with the humans, I was prodded, poked, and tormented in all manner of painful ways with no thought to the pain and suffering they were inflicting on me. I witnessed several of them indiscriminately kill many smaller life-forms for no other reason than they were an annoyance.
A few might be worth saving for our species archives, but overall, they must on no account be allowed to spread beyond this planet. Furthermore, should they continue the extermination of their fellow indigenous species, and each other, at their current rate, consideration should be given to recycling and replacing them with a kinder and less destructive life-form, one that would appreciate such a beautiful world.
Further study needed …
Story number 11 of 100, and a mere 830 words. Given my last post was a tad on the dark side, this one’s s humorous contrast to that.
I must say I’m really enjoying writing this series, and it’s a great way of taking a break in between my longer WIPs – I’d definitely recommend having a go at these ‘short’ short stories if/when you’re feeling a bit stuck with longer projects.
The worst ever driving test!
If everything went well, Reggie’d be a qualified driver by lunchtime. He was as excited as hell, but nervous too; Reggie had good reason to be nervous, it would be his fourth attempt. It wasn’t that Reggie wasn’t a good driver, he was – no one got to level 8 on Xbox Motorsport without top-notch driving skills so yes, Reggie knew he wasn’t just a good driver, but a great one. It was just a shame he always got so nervous come the day of the test. Today was going to be different, Reggie just knew it.
“Hello Reggie, all set are we? Feeling confident?” The driving assessor asked.
“Yes thanks, Mr Dokes,” Reggie answered. He was pleased to see it was the same bloke who had assessed him last time. He was a friendly sort. Reggie already felt more relaxed.
“Good. Let’s get started then.”
Reggie was doing everything right: Seatbelt. Pre-driver checks. Mirror, signal manoeuvre. And off they went.
The test was going fine. Despite a racing pulse and sweat dripping from his brow, Reggie was remaining calm. They had parked up to do the obligatory reversing round a corner manoeuvre bit of the test. Reggie tried to ignore the alarm coming from the shops across the road. Immediately after completing the manoeuvre, Mr Dokes had gotten out to check their distance from the kerb. It looked fine. Both Reggie and Mr Dokes’ attention was again drawn elsewhere though. Two men were running out from a sub-post-office into a waiting car parked outside, seemingly from the same direction of the sound of the blaring alarm. Just then, a man ran up to Reggie and the assessor, bundling Mr Dokes into the back seat while he jumped in the front passenger seat.
“I’m Detective Sergeant Huxton. Follow that car. Now!” The DS screamed at Reggie.
He didn’t need telling twice. The car they were following, or rather chasing now, was the same one the two men running out of the little post-office had jumped into before speeding off.
Reggie was in his element. This was real driving, even better than level 8 on Xbox Motorsport! Reggie needed no further urging from the DS, weaving in and out of the traffic like a character out of the Fast and Furious films, beeping his horn every few seconds to warn pedestrians and other drivers.
Reggie swerved to an emergency stop to avoid a woman with a pram, but immediately resumed his direction of pursuit once she had moved out of the way. DS Huxton wondered just what sort of madman he had ordered to drive, silently regretting not jumping in the driving seat himself.
The robbers headed down a one-way street. Reggie went whizzing past it.
“What the … what you do that for, we’re gonna lose them now,” the DS screamed at Reggie.
“No we won’t,” Reggie snapped back, annoyed at his concentration on the road being interrupted, “that’s a one-way system with no way of turning round, and no houses or building to hide in. We’ll get to the other end of the system a good five minutes before the robbers,” Reggie explained. After four previous driving tests and over a hundred driving lessons in the area, Reggie knew these roads like the back of his hand.
They reached the exit of the one way road the robbers had taken and waited. Half a dozen cars exited it before the robbers’ car came into view. Reggie moved forward to block them. The robbers had no choice but to stop and try and make a run for it on foot. Two more police cars with back up arrived a second later, and the two fleeing men were arrested.
Reggie was on a high. No Xbox game had ever come close to this, it had been exhilarating. It was even worth failing his fifth driving test.
“Great work there, mate,” DS Huxton told him. Reggie felt ten feet tall.
“Pity they didn’t have you as their getaway driver,” the DS joked. Reggie laughed at the irony of the remark.
“You commandeered our car in the middle of my driving test,” Reggie told him, chuckling away.
“Your test?” The DS exclaimed, questioningly, “I just assumed you were the instructor!”
Again Reggie laughed and turned to Mr Dokes:
“Oh well. I guess we’ll have to reschedule again – maybe it’ll be fifth time lucky now, eh, Mr Dokes?”
“Well, let’s see, Mr Dokes began: “No faults prior to the reversing manoeuvre. Good use of mirrors throughout. I haven’t faulted you for speeding given you were under police instruction,” he added while turning to glare angrily in the Detective Sergeant’s direction. DS Huxton looked to the floor, somewhat embarrassed. Mr Dokes turned his attention back to Reggie and continued:
“The independent driving was definitely some of the best I’ve seen. And the emergency stop to avoid the woman with the pram, that was perfect.”
“Uh?” Reggie replied, somewhat confused.
“That’s a pass!”
Number 10 in my Flash Fiction series (just 90 to go – yayyyy). A hint of horror but with a very small ‘aitch.’ Got a bit carried away with this one, but with a bit of ruthless editing, still managed to keep it just under 1000 words (966 for those who are curious lol).
If you’re enjoying these flash fiction stories, for some even shorter 100-word microfiction from different authors, see link below:
Jack and Mary were a couple of twenty-somethings travelling around Eastern Europe. They made a living from travel writing and blogging about their adventures and way of life. For the past six months, they had settled in Romania, exploring its picturesque views, the historic villages and towns and the imposing stone castles that dotted the countryside. It was a country Jack knew well, being able to trace his ancestry back several generations there.
It was during a stay at one such Gothic fortress, Bran Castle, that Mary fell ill. It didn’t appear serious, but with Mary’s recently discovered pregnancy they were taking no chances.
“She’s a touch anaemic I’d say and has a slight fever. A virus would be my best guess until we get her test results back,” Doctor Miereanu of the Bucharest emergency hospital was telling Jack, “but let me assure you, there’s no danger to the baby,” he added, guessing that’s what they wanted to know.
“Thank you. But this virus? I mean, have you any idea how she may have contracted it, doctor?” Jack asked.
“I don’t know at the moment, but if you’re taking her back to Brasov today, I’d ask your local doctor. I’ll give you a letter for him, and I’ll be emailing your local surgery some patient notes.
Despite being widely travelled in some of the most remote and primitive parts of the world, when it came to health matters, particularly someone he cared for, Jack’s mindset was firmly geared to the high-tech facilities of a modern hospital.
Upon their return, Jack took Mary to their local surgery, just like the Bucharest doctor had suggested. Apart from all the usual health and lifestyle questions, Doctor Dragulescu asked how long they’d spent at Bran castle and if they’d done any wild camping in the area during their travels. Jack thought the doctor was merely going through the motions with his questions, at least until about where they’d travelled in Romania.
“Yes, as a matter of fact, we did some hiking through the Carpathian mountains and surrounding forests” Jack answered. The doctor gave a gentle, knowing nod of his head.
“Is that relevant, doctor?” Jack immediately asked, sensing the doctor was holding something back.
“Possibly. I suspect she may have been bitten by something. Some of our local insects transmit a harmless virus that induces temporary fever, but like my colleague in Bucharest told you, it’s nothing serious that might affect the pregnancy.”
Within the week, apart from her continuing anaemia, Mary had recovered. Three months later she gave birth to a seemingly healthy baby boy.
The local villagers were happy for them. It was an area where people tended to have large families, and childbirth was celebrated.
Because of her recent fever and anaemia, Mary and Jack had decided against breastfeeding, fearing that traces of the virus she had contracted might still be in her system and be passed to their baby.
Little Jack Jnr wasn’t doing well at all. He’d hardly put any weight on since his birth, and cried almost constantly; it was more like screaming, really, the sort you associate with being hungry, yet he refused to eat, bringing up whatever little milk he could be coaxed into taking from his bottle.
Mary and Jack worried at how pale and sickly their baby looked. Their friends and neighbours never commented on it though and continued to make a fuss of the new baby, assuring Mary the lack of appetite and constant crying would soon pass. The doctor had dismissed the young couple’s concerns, explaining the frequent crying as being due to teething pains; Jack Jnr was a rarity being that 1 in 2000 babies born with natal teeth. Even rarer in Jack Jnr’s case was being born with two front upper incisors.
Jack Jnr continued to refuse food, and after just a month, Mary decided she was over the virus and tried to breastfeed him. Jack Jnr seemed to quieten when she brought his face closer to her. A moment after putting his mouth to her breast, Mary recoiled in pain when she felt a sharp pain akin to a needle piercing her nipple. Jack Jnr seemed oblivious to her discomfort and appeared to be feeding. Mary instantly forgot the momentary pain, elated at seeing that Jack Jnr was finally feeding and had stopped crying. He suddenly looked a picture of health; even a trace of colour appeared to fill his otherwise deathly pale complexion.
After ten minutes or so, Jack Jnr ceased suckling, and she slowly put him back in his cot, not even noticing at first the trickle of blood around her nipple.
She gasped in horror when Jack Jnr smiled. She saw the two tiny front teeth in his top gum. Jack Jnr may indeed have been ‘a rarity’ as doctor Dragulescy had put it, having been born with some natal teeth, but these seemed much bigger than they should be and were dripping a small amount of blood. She thought it must be his gums, and that the traces of blood around her nipple was from Jack Jnr.
After that first breastfeeding session, Mary felt no more pain when Jack Jnr suckled on her. The traces of blood in each case, the doctor assured her, were down to the premature development of Jack’s front teeth and was nothing to worry about.
At just three months old, little Jack Jnr was already sporting two impressive quarter inch front incisors that would protrude over his lower lip whenever he was hungry.
The locals too were delighted at the progress little Jack Jnr was making. It had been several centuries since Bran castle had boasted an aristocratic Count in residence.
Dracula’s Castle as legend more accurately knew it would once again be restored to its former glory in the coming years, no longer just another tourist attraction.
Flash Fiction story number 9 in my 100 story series. There’s no particular order to the stories I’m posting other than their eventual place in the full collection later in the year.
I Managed to keep this one at a shade over 500 words (511). It’s a theme that’s been explored in other stories (and films) but I’ve tried to give it a new slant here. Hope it brings you a smile …
The world was in a mess, no doubt about it. People were reluctant to turn on the TV for fear of another of the almost hourly newsflashes popping up, informing the public about the latest terrorist outrage or of yet another pre-teen shooting half his classmates with a high-powered rifle. And on those rare days when no such atrocities took place, the regular news would be giving us the latest statistics on climate change, air pollution, and the imminent collapse of the economy.
A lot of people though had stopped worrying or even caring, convinced that it was only a matter of time before one of the bickering world leaders took umbrage at the latest social media insult and irradiated us all in a giant mushroom cloud.
Such fears weren’t helped by reports that the eastern dictator, Ting Wee Dong, had scheduled another nuclear test, the exact time and date to be kept secret. And just to show the West wasn’t to be outdone, the western dictator Donald Blair Bush had tweeted to the world that he too had ordered a nuclear test of the biggest and baddest bomb ever made, the exact time and date to be kept secret.
“I told you before, I want you to stop playing that game,” a mother was telling her son.
“But …” the young boy started to protest.
“No buts. I told you, it’s way too violent. The makers have allowed far too many psychopathic characters and guns and bombs and all sorts to spoil it.”
“But it’s at a really good bit now. Can’t I just play a little longer?”
“Why don’t you start a new game, one where people aren’t getting killed all the time?”
“Cos this one’s more fun. But I probably will start another one soon; this one keeps crashing every time the two sides start fighting or blow something up.”
At precisely 12 noon GMT the next day, the two most destructive weapons of mass destruction ever conceived were exploded simultaneously on opposite sides of the world. The earth literally shook. The combined blast of the two bombs had knocked it several degrees of its axis, along with opening up a ten mile crack in the earth’s crust that was getting longer with each passing hour. It had also done something to the magnetic core, causing our planet to stop spinning. To put it bluntly, we were all well and truly fucked!
“Are you still playing that game?” The mother called to her son.
“I was, but it’s crashed again. It’s stopped working all together now. I’m going to erase it and start again like you said …”
A trillion light years away in a different dimension where a million years was as a second to the beings who inhabited that place, a little boy and his mother had lost patience with us …
The lights went out, and our world ceased to exist …
A flash of light and a Big Bang … hopefully, we would do better this time around?
Another of my Welsh Wednesday Writing reviews of Welsh authors, this time a collection of short stories by Welsh author, Stuart Kear, a life-long resident of the Rhondda Valley. I first discovered Stuart’s stories via the Tonypandy Writer’s Group’s multi-author collection of short stories and poetry, which featured two of Stuart’s stories. Having been impressed with both contributions I checked to see if the author had anything published elsewhere, and so discovered this awesome collection of short stories here …
Click on book cover thumbnail below for Amazon purchase link …
Short, Long And Tall Stories
All the stories here have a Welsh theme, and in most cases specific to the Welsh valleys; now when I say a ‘Welsh theme,’ I don’t just mean that the author simply mentions Wales in passing or has perhaps given each story a Welsh character – in most cases, the Welsh setting, being Welsh, or having grown up in the valleys is an integral part of the meaning of each story.
This is quite a substantial body of varied stories, thirteen in total. Among the stories, the author tackles a variety of topics including bereavement and how close relatives deal with loss in their own very different ways, tragedy in the coal mining pits, plots of murder mixed up with irony and poetic justice, and even an incredulously funny flash fiction piece in ‘The Letter,’ – as simple a premise as you could imagine but a guaranteed ear to ear smile for the reader.
Some of the stories are more a reflection of the human condition and are simply satisfying to read for their own sake without the need for any clever or surprise conclusions. Others though are quite definitely of the ‘twist in the tale’ type, often blended with a deliciously wicked element of humour, and I have to say, Stuart Kear has demonstrated a real talent for that type of story.
My favourite story? – I’m torn between ‘The Look, ‘ a brutal tale of murder and poetic justice with a little touch of black humour, and ‘The Departure,’ another relatively simple story but having the impact of being hit right between the eyes with a claw hammer! Others that also caught my particular attention – ‘The Accident’ and the ‘The dig at the Station Hotel.’
If I had but two tiny criticisms it would be that I would have preferred a more ‘Wales’ orientated cover as the one here puts me more in mind of a major city than the Welsh Valleys. Secondly, given how many people like to read on their Kindles, tablets, and phones etc it would be nice if this collection were more widely available as an eBook too as these stories really do merit the widest possible readership! Apart from that, an absolutely superb clever and entertaining collection of stories. No hesitation in rating it a thoroughly well-deserved 5 stars!
About the author …
Born in 1945, Stuart Kear, was born and raised in the Welsh Valleys, having also lived and worked there all his life. With three children and two grandchildren, Stuart Kear was recently widowed and it is to the memory of his late wife of 47 years he dedicated the above short story collection.
In addition to his love of books and language, Stuart Kear’s other interests are photography, walking, quizzes, snooker, and of course, writing.
Tom Benson is a multi-genre author and artist whose work I’ve reviewed several times since first discovering his writing on his wordpress site (see link below).
In 1969 at the age of 17, Tom left his native Glasgow to join the British Army. Tom’s military career spanned from 1969 to 1992. He followed this with a career in Retail Management, in which he was employed from 1992 to 2012.
Tom is a prolific writer and book reviewer and has been writing since 2007. He has published seven novels, five anthologies of short stories, a five-part novel, a five-part series of erotica novellas, and a series of five anthologies of genre-based poetry. In addition to his own writing, Tom Benson has contributed short stories to several other multi-author anthologies both commercially and in aid of various charities.
Tom is presently working on a number of other projects including helping manage and promote an international collection of indie authors on the indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com website which he helped create.
A collection of 12 stories created using a wide spectrum of scenarios. Military experiences can be funny, heart-breaking and, everything in between.
This anthology is a blend of my personal experience and knowledge together with specially created pieces to highlight the highs and lows of service life.
These tales can be enjoyed equally by those who have served and, those who have never donned a uniform.
Humour, fact, fiction, and fantasy are used to portray service in theatres as varied as Vietnam, Northern Ireland, Ancient Briton, the Persian Gulf, Africa, and elsewhere.
By Tom Benson
(Available as an eBook from Amazon – click on above title for link)
Of all the short story collections the author has written this is by far and away my favourite. Tom Benson has drawn on both his imagination and his considerable length of service to craft a poignant collection of short stories across a variety of military theatres. Unusually for a short story collection, not a single story here disappointed or fell even slightly below the high standard of every other.
Throughout this collection, Tom Benson has applied meticulous attention to authentic military detail but not to the point of overkill as to confuse the non-military reader. As anyone who has served will know, the army and other services practically speak another language with all the acronyms, slang and other assorted colourful phrases, but the author’s clever use of dialogue and context give all the slang and military terminology clear and obvious meaning thus ensuring the non-military is never left confused or wondering at certain words.
The opening story is a real ‘lump in the throat’ one of courage and self-sacrifice but it is immediately contrasted by the side-splittingly funny satire of the second, one that any military wife (or husband for that matter) will immediately identify with but its razor-sharp humour it cannot help but appeal to all. In the third, the author takes a somewhat personal trip down memory lane in a way that we can all relate to from some time in our lives when we were determined to prove our doubters wrong. Others in the collection highlight much of the military ethos of courage and protecting the weak and vulnerable but still providing the reader with a captivating story, and in the case of Photographic Memory, a real ‘punch the air feel good factor. In The Odd Couple we get a glimpse into some of the more covert activities of ‘The Toubles,’ bringing back painful memories for some of real events that mirror some aspects of the story. Another thing I liked about this collection was its sheer variety; from modern-day Afghanistan and Northern Ireland right back to the 2nd Century, from Jungle warfare to covert missions in the desert, from the sadness of a family torn apart from being on opposite sites to the sort of comradeship that transcends family that can only be formed with those you would die for and they for you. One story that is particularly pertinent to modern times is that of Walking Wounded; with today’s modern medicine and better field facilities, many more servicemen and women are surviving the sort of injuries only a few decades ago would have spelt certain death. The downside to this, of course, is that we have a whole generation of soldiers returning from conflicts having to face and cope with life-changing disabilities, and it is easy to understand the increased cases of PTSD in many such people. In the Walking Wounded we see the beginnings of one such man’s journey in finding a reason to look to the future with some hope, and with an unusually heart-warming twist too.
In ‘The Afterlife’ the author once again uses mostly his personal experience to round off the collection, giving the reader some brief comparisons of his life since leaving the army with that of a younger man who has never served and through it we see just why so many ex-servicemen refer to themselves as such rather than simply accepting their post-service ‘civilian’ status.
Overall, a thoroughly entertaining collection that will not only entertain but give the non-military reader some rare insights into military service. For others, again it will entertain but also bring back memories, some good, others not so maybe, but if nothing else, for me personally they remind me how very much I have to be thankful for still being in a position to read such stories when so many others are not.
For further links to Tom’s many other books please visit his Amazon author page by clicking on the link below:
……………………. ……………………. …