my writing, short stories, writing

The Curse by Martyn Clayton

I’ve got a new story up at Literally Stories today. It’s called The Curse.

literally stories

Sometimes investigative reporters come sniffing around for news of Lionel Fetlar.  They’ve heard he’s living on the south coast now, a town that remains resolutely unfashionable while those nearby have undergone a modest transformation following the influx of the affectedly on trend from that London.

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book reviews

Book Review : The Speech by Andrew Smith

There was a beyond the grave reappearance of one of England’s most controversial and debated politicians the other week.  The fiftieth anniversary of  Enoch’s Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers Of Blood’ speech provoked plenty of social media debate and column inches to questions as to how far we’d come as a society in the past half century. The BBC’s decision to broadcast the speech in its entirety voiced by an actor particularly set the cat among the pigeons. In the middle of all this debate I came across The Speech by Andrew Smith   an historical thriller released in 2016.

Set at the time of Powell’s speech Jamaican immigrant Nelson finds himself embroiled in a murder investigation coming up against the ingrained racist attitudes of the authorities in the West Midlands of the late 1960s.

The novel is filled with rich period and local detail, from folk clubs to art schools, to protests and the suburban homes of local Tories. Powell isn’t just a vexatious background figure in the text, instead Smith takes the bold decision to give him fictional voice exploring what it was that made him tick and the thought processes that brought him to making the speech that would ultimately destroy his career. The Powell depicted is otherworldly, romantic and vain nostalgic for a High Tory England that probably never really existed. His administrator the more socially secure Georgina Verington-Delaunay tries to root her employer in a more realistic pragmatic approach. Powell proceeds with his preparations for the speech despite warnings from Georgie about its possible consequences, Powell the loner finding comfort in the populist support he rightly expected it to garner.

I was convinced by Smith’s portrayal of Powell. It’s neither a hatchet job nor an apology. Powell comes across as a deeply flawed man who probably knew full well what he was doing. The subsequent slap down by his party leadership perhaps playing into his own sense of personal martyrdom. Race relations in the years that followed were hardly smooth, but they were far from the apocalyptic picture that Powell presented. Time hasn’t proven him right.

One thing that struck me in the book was just how clear cut and decisive the action was from the leadership. Reading back over reports from the period and a famous Times leader written by the father of none other than Jacob Rees-Mogg the condemnation was pretty damning at a time when some might have felt it was politically worthwhile to harness the hate Powell cultivated. Seeing how politicians like Farage have been indulged over the past few years and the recent problems for both main parties with structural racism of different kinds I’m not entirely convinced the moral outrage is quite so clear cut nowadays. Powell’s erudition and supposed intellect (perhaps overstated) gave cover and credibility to some base politics at the time. He was playing with fire and he probably knew it.

I’m not a big reader of historical thrillers but I really enjoyed The Speech. It’s a real page turner with well developed characters that really immerses you in the period.  As a folkie I loved the portrayal of earnest sixties folk clubs.

Powell threw a bomb into the middle of a community that was adjusting to change and Smith captures the real life consequences that had for those caught up as collateral.

my writing, short stories, writing

Trains, Ale & The Poet by Martyn Clayton

A new story of mine about three old school friends, a boozy train ride and a famous Yorkshire poet

literally stories

‘You were cocky that first week at St Joseph’s,’ said Ian to Terry as the train pulled out of the station.  They’d been planning on having a quick pint in The Station Pump but Terry and Micky’s bus had been late so Ian had sat there drinking alone.

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my writing, short fiction, writing

what a hamster can teach us about happiness

She’d considered a dog but had ended up with a hamster. It was an impulse purchase from the little pet shop on Barwick Road that has long since turned into a loan shop. She’d gone inside and the owner, a small thin, wizard like man with long white hair and wisps of beard had appeared through the fly-screen. He was cradling the little creature in his hands;
“This is Alan,” he said. “I can’t keep him. I’ve too many already. They breed like rabbits.” He gave a thin chuckle that tailed off to a whisper then looked up at her with imploring eyes. “Would you like him ?”
“Oh I…” Iris had hesitated a second. It was a child’s pet wasn’t it ? Something you placate them with when you can’t stomach the thought of anything bigger. It’s a creature to learn about caring and if we’re being honest, death. They don’t live long. None of them make it much past their third birthday. It’s probably interbreeding, weak hearts, boredom. They don’t want to be in cages. There was something melancholy about keeping one for yourself. That hadn’t stopped her walking out with Alan and all the necessary accoutrements.
He’s gone now. Ten’s a good age for a hamster people kept saying. Someone said it might be a record but all that longevity cannot cushion the blow. His wheel is still in the corner of his cage like the rusting pit wheel above a redundant coalmine. A poignant reminder of all that once was. There’s silence where the clatter and squeak of his daily activities should be. It’s not just the demise of a small mammal, Alan had been her most consistent friend since the breakdown of her marriage.
Terry who looked after her shop for half the week said that animals like Alan only came along once in a blue moon. The shop was a small craft and gifts outlet two streets back from the harbour. It was narrow and only really held two punters at a time and even then they had to be careful with rucksacks. Alan would chatter, and respond from his place at the back of the shop. She could tell him her worries about cashflow, she could moan about the men she’d met on the internet. She could sing to him and that was mostly what she did. Particularly on those long out of season afternoons when only the drunks and the homeless staggered in to escape the rain.
He’d become much more than just a mere rodent and it was only fitting that he was given a dignified send off. She buried him in the back garden beneath the bird cherry. Terry had said a few prayers. He was good at moments like this. One night when they sat in the store room drinking one of the English sparkling wines they’d started selling next door he’d admitted that he’d considered the priesthood;
“It was an easy way for a Catholic boy to win brownie points with his mother,” he’d admitted. “But I lost faith in the creator and found it in the creation. The celibacy wouldn’t have been a problem though.”
That was true enough. Terry hadn’t been in a relationship since his early thirties, shortly after Iris first met him. She was still married to Iolo then. They hadn’t yet given up on a family. Iolo would never countenance an animal in the house. It had something to do with politics. Lots of things did with Iolo. You couldn’t ever just be happy without feeling guilty for it.
“If the public spent as much on the poorest as they do their dumb animals the world would be a better place,” he would spit. It wasn’t long after that she realised it wasn’t so much politics as a generally hateful disposition. He could never be happy so he looked for ways to justify it through ideology.
“Ideology is a problem,” says Terry. “People limit their lives for the stuff they believe in. It’s far better to believe in nothing. Like Alan. He was the happiest soul I ever encountered.”
That was true. He’d been a godsend. A tiny miracle. His presence in her life had helped her to move on from the loss. It took a few years but in time she stopped wondering what the children that had never made a life would be like. Three miscarriages. The first had been seen as unfortunate, the second suggestive of something. Her third pregnancy had been irresponsible. Iolo had said so;
“I cannot believe you’ve stopped taking the pill,” he’d kept repeating. He’d been up for adopting. He said there were hundreds of kids in the county and beyond in need of loving, stable homes. Perhaps it was better than having your own kids anyway. Why bring more into the world when there’s so many who need love ? The application was easier than she thought it would be except that while they were waiting for their case to advance her period went missing.
“Iolo, I’m pregnant,” she’d told him calmly, in the way she had rehearsed. “I think this one will be OK.”
Iolo had been quietly appalled. He’d said he’d support her whatever but it was really asking for trouble. He’d not told her to terminate. Not in so many words but she knew what needed to be done. He told her he was proud of her but pride had felt a long way off.
It was odd how she thought that he could ever be right for her with his principles and manifestos, his keen unbending sense of right and wrong, his uncomplicated way of dividing the world into those who were with him and those who were not. Sometimes he’d write down what he thought about things in a notebook then read them back to himself, page after page of pretence and self-righteous fury. She had no idea where he was now or even if he were still alive. It was probably better that way.
A man like Iolo could never love a hamster like Alan she thought as she watched Terry carefully cleaning out the deceased animal’s cage with the tenderest of care.