Tag Archives: short story

My story ‘Romantic’ in the Review of Australian Fiction

8 Dec

RAF_VOL16_ISS_5My story ‘Romantic’ appears in the Review of Australian Fiction this week, partnered with a story by Emma Ashmere, ‘Seaworthiness’. Emma’s first novel, ‘The Floating Garden’ came out this year and you can find my review of it here.

The Review of Australian Fiction is an online magazine that aims to support Australian fiction by publishing stories by established writers partnered with an emerging writer of their choice. In 2012 I was published in the RAF as an emerging author, introduced by Venero Armano and three years later, I am now honoured to be able to introduce Emma.

The Review of Australian Fiction operates by passing royalties on to the authors of the stories so you can subscribe, happy in the knowledge that you are keeping an author in coffee!

Read a preview here.

 

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Fully Sick Backpackers (a short story)

7 Jul

You wouldn’t think changing a hotel’s name would cause such a stir.

I knew that even if I lived to 100 I’d never be a local, but I hadn’t counted on becoming the town pariah in my old age. Not that I care.

I can thank Kenneth’s sister’s son, Derek for the name.

“These scones are fully sick Aunt Jean,” he said to me while tucking in to some afternoon tea after football training.

Well, I saw red. I had him by the ear, before he could stutter out an explanation.

“It…it…it…just means they’re totally awesome.”

The things they come up with. You have to laugh. But the name grew on me. I suppose you could say it was a bit of an ‘up yours’ to the ladies of the CWA. They wouldn’t have me on the committee because I’m from east of the Divide. Not that they said so, but I knew.

The ‘Settlers Rest’ was Kenneth’s first love. And his last. You’d think it’d been in the family for generations, not knocked up in the sixties, the way he carried on about it.

He’ll be turning in his grave now. I’m counting on him getting over it before we meet again.

“The traveling salesmen, that’s our market,” he’d say. “They know a quality hotel when they see one.”

“Move with the times Kenneth,” I’d say. I’d show him the young people in the street with beads in their hair and bags on their backs. Christ knows what they saw in this town. Australiana, I suppose. “We need to get some of them in here. That’s the market of the future.”

“Dirty troublemakers, the lot of them.” Kenneth would say, banging the jugs down on the bar. “Scare off our clientele.”

I always thought they looked nice though. I’d see them down at IGA, pondering over groceries in their foreign accents. It made me wonder what supermarkets were like where they came from, that they seemed to find ours so strange.

Kenneth’s mother hasn’t spoken to me since the sign went up. Her loss.

I’m quite proud of it, especially the smiling Buddha that Derek painted. He said that’s what they like and it seems to’ve worked. He’s a pretty talented kid, though his mother doesn’t think so.

Kenneth was wrong about one thing. The traveling salesmen love my backpackers, particularly the girls. Dear little things they are, with their pierced noses and threadbare clothes. They probably like it here because I remind them of their grandmothers.

I’ve been run off my feet since I got into Lonely Planet. Try Jean’s traditional Australian cooking, it said. Seems that not only are they exotic to me, I am exotic to them.

My scones are their favorite.

“Is this a spashal Orstaylian recipe ma’am?” a lovely American boy asked me.

Got me thinking. I wouldn’t mind seeing a place where they don’t make scones. What do ladies bring to cake stalls in those countries?

If I close my eyes I can picture them leaping out of a Cadillac in sunglasses and high heels with a plate of Pecan Pie in America. I can see them skiing down through the pine trees holding a steaming Apple Strudel in Austria. But what do the mothers do in Japan when the school needs to raise money? Hold a sushi stall?

I asked one of the young Japanese girls.

“Yes, yes, sushi,” she smiled and nodded.

I’m not sure that we understood each other. The idea that there might be completely different ways of doing things wouldn’t leave me alone. Night after night I worried about it. If it wasn’t supermarkets in Sweden or petrol stations in Peru, it was toilets in Tokyo or ice-cream in Indonesia.

Eventually I knew I’d have to find out for myself.

I’ve sewn the Australian flag on my new backpack and I’m counting down the days.

I can hear Kenneth turning in his grave right now.

 

This short story was a winner in the ABC Regional Short Story Competition in 2005 and was read on ABC Radio National. 

Night Calls (a short story)

27 Jun

The dream is always the same – a spinning marble.

He extricates himself from his tangled sheet. The sun is dipping behind the hills. “Time for work.”

The terrier pricks its ears at the sound of his voice.

Feet to the cold lino, he stands and inspects the map taped to the wall.

The red pins move further south each year – south and west. Woodenbong, Evans Head, Casino, Kyogle. These are the invasion fronts.

The enemy is getting better – more cunning, faster moving. It even has longer legs. “I think we can hold ‘em, Rusty, but there’ll be no slacking off.”

The dog wags its tail across the floor.

His bushy, grey eyebrows drop – the prognosis is dire.  “Twenty native animals almost gone for good – and that’s just this valley.”

Picking up on his tone, the dog climbs to its feet. Like its master, its hair is thinning, its legs creaky.

“Lucky we’ve got all night, ‘ay?”

He doesn’t sleep when it’s dark – hasn’t done for thirty-eight years. He’s tried, but it never works.

A sun-spotted hand shifts a pin. Picking up a pen, he circles the area for tonight’s operation. “Goin’ up the range tonight, Rusty.”

It’s a good night. A gentle rain taps on the tin roof. “Should be a decent catch.” He opens the fridge to check the storage – a lump of cheese and half a litre of rancid milk leaves plenty of room. “No worries there, mate.”

Flicking on his torch as he steps onto the verandah, he cocks his head – listening for the call.

Brrrrrr, brrrrr…

The males are calling. It’s like the dial tone of a phone in the rainforest.

Brrrrr, brrrr – is anyone there?

The dog trots behind him, pressing its nose into his leg before jumping into the front seat of the ute.

His first catch of the night is a big one – twelve centimeters. Hand inside a plastic bag he grasps the toad, knots the bag and drops it in his bucket. He gets back in his car, drives slowly down the dirt road.

The mountains rise above him – dark forest stretching all the way to Queensland. Two eyes shine in the headlights. He pulls over – another hopping hunchback. It would be easy to swing the wheel – to flatten it, but that’s not his way. You need to check it’s not a native. It can be hard to tell who’s who and what’s what on a dark night.

A quick grasp, a knot and it’s in the back with the others.

He never knows when it will happen.

A twig snaps behind him.

Instantly he’s back there – heart thumping, hands sweating – every shadow a potential enemy. The forest crowds him. A damp smell of rotting wood rises to his nostrils.

The only way to live is to kill.

            They’re only farmers.

            They’re growing rice for the enemy.

The dog whines, pulling him back.

What was it the Vietnamese said – the core of the body is not the heart, but the stomach?

Your stomach is chopped to pieces.

            What does that mean?

            You are in anguish.

There could be something in that. He still can’t stand the smell of Asian food – would choke on even one grain of rice. When in town he crosses the road to avoid the Thai restaurant.

He pulls out his map and the names blur, shift – are replaced by other names …

Maybe he should have moved somewhere more open – cleared plains. But this is what he knows. If he has a place in this world, it is these mountains.

            If he has a place.,,

It takes ten minutes for his heart to settle.

Back home he updates his records – sex, location, size – then puts his catch in the fridge. In the morning when they’re asleep he’ll move them to the freezer. There’s no need for cruelty. They’re just creatures out of place.

            Destroying without intent.

             Wrong country, wrong time, Mister.

Pulling more thumbtacks from a bowl, he pins them to the map. If there’s a strategy to their invasion he’ll work it out eventually.

Six whiskies into the night the clock hands meet at the top of their circuit. He lifts the phone.

Brrrrr, brrrr…

Calloused fingers touch the numbers, but he doesn’t dial. He imagines a phone ringing in a house in Melbourne he’s never seen. His eyes linger on their photo.

I can’t live with you like this anymore. You’re scaring Becky.

            I’ll get better, just give me time.

            It’s been twenty years – how much time do you need?

“Sometimes I wonder, Rusty, how things might have turned out if I’d been born one day later.”

The dog’s milky eyes regard him steadily. It’s heard this all before.

He pictures a hand digging into a barrel; pulling out the marble with his birth date on it. “Or one day earlier…”

If he hadn’t become a creature forever out of place.

Brrrrr, Brrrr…

He replaces the phone gently. “Come on Rusty, still six hours ‘til dawn.” Picking up his torch, he stumbles into the night.

Beside his path a barred frog glistens in the torchlight, its skin golden between the stripes.

Ok, ok, ok, ok, it calls.

The dog is well-trained. It cocks its ears, but doesn’t move.

Ok, ok, ok…

But without the marble – perhaps he wouldn’t be here… and someone needs to do it. “It’s alright, mate,” he murmurs to the frog. “I’m here now. We’re going to stop them.”

 

This story was the winner of the Byron Bay Writers Festival Short Story Award in 2008 and was originally published in the Northern Rivers Echo. I just came across it again and thought I’d pop it up here. 

A few off-cuts of deer sausages – stuff I found on the cutting room floor

17 Dec

It is quite instructive looking back at old computer files from a novel in progress. It’s a bit like baby photos – oh, I never imagined it would grow up like that! Today, I went back into a file from 2008, which is when – apparently – I first started writing the book that is now ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’. Only four years… nothing in the scheme of things.

In the finished version the protagonist, Edie, recites a short poem titled ‘Three deer and a sheep’. This poem started life as a short story, which became shorter and shorter then morphed into verse. It was inspired by a deer hunter I met in New Zealand who shared his recipe for deer sausages with me – add one sheep for every three deer.

I thought I’d share a little of the story here, and if you’d like to see the finished version, you can read the book preview here. The story is written from two points of view – a single mother and a deer hunter.

 

Three deer and a sheep

 

It rains a lot in Glenorchy. The clouds descend over the mountains bringing with them a damp chill. But today – today, the fog lifts. I step onto the veranda and the mountain tops are covered in a dusting of snow. The sun shines through gaps in the clouds and for the first time since I got off the bus, I have a feeling that things might work out.

But then I see the deer.

It is lying on my veranda with its neck twisted at an unnatural angle. I step closer, not breathing. Blood seeps from a wound in its chest. I look around quickly, but there is no-one there. Then I see the tire tracks leading down my driveway, disappearing into the morning mist.

Someone came early this morning and dumped this dead deer on my veranda. But why? Is it a threat?

 

I’d had a good night’s hunting. Almost got swept away in the river though. Had to open the doors as I drove through to let it run through the car or it would have taken me with it.

I felt sorry for her, a woman on her own. Thought she could use a bit of meat. She looked pale. The kids did too. There’s a lot of iron in venison. If the kids don’t like venison she can make it into sausages.  It’s a bit lean though, deer. For the best sausages, you really need to add a sheep. That’s the go. Three deer and a sheep…

 

And there is so much more where this came from…

 

The ebook version of ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’ goes on sale tomorrow at Amazon and iTunes. Print version available in a number of locations January 1stsausage

Playing Bingo on New Year’s Eve– my short story ‘Blossom’

29 May

My story ‘Blossom’ appears in the Review of Australian Fiction this week, partnered with a story by Venero Armanno, ‘Sugar Baby’.

The Review of Australian Fiction is a new online magazine that aims to support Australian Fiction by publishing stories by established writer s partnered with an emerging writer of their choice.

Veny’s short story ‘Sugar Baby’ is actually more of a novella and explores the emotional cost of an older man seeking comfort via a financial transaction with a much younger woman. For those who don’t yet know Veny’s work, you have a treat in store.

My story, ‘Blossom’ started on a trip to Japan where we spent New Year’s Eve as the only foreigners in a small lodge in the snow. I was very taken with the way the evening was organised. A whiteboard was set up in the lounge room outlining the agenda. Events ran to the minute and included bingo, noodles, a visit to the train station to see the snow train go by and a prayer at the Shinto shrine. The last item on the agenda, taking place just after midnight, was ‘sleep’.  It was such a contrast to the way we celebrate New Year’s Eve here.

In ‘Blossom’ I transported this New Year’s Eve to a train station in Byron Bay where an Australian woman meets a Japanese girl.  I wanted to explore the idea that a chance meeting with a stranger can change your life. Especially in Byron Bay of course…

The Review of Australian Fiction operates by passing royalties on to the authors of the stories so you can subscribe, happy in the knowledge that you are feeding a chocolate-hungry author. It is a bargain at $2.99 an issue and comes out fortnightly.