Bang Bang You’re Not Dead

When I was eight years old, my sister shot me. Looking at those words back now in black and white on a page it sounds all rather dramatic and 999 numbers panic-punched into the phone, but the incident was nothing, not really. My sister was twelve and pissed off with me, as almost-teenagers often are if they have an annoying eight year old sister. At least I think I was eight; I can’t really remember because what happened wasn’t a thing of great consequence at the time. I’ve not bothered recalling much detail.

Okay, my sister shot me with an air gun and that’s quite bad, the air pellet pinging off my belly leaving a small painful circle of cherry pink in its wake, but the mark vanished soon enough. No harm done. It happened in a 1970s summer during the long boring school holidays in a village in Lancashire on the urban/rural cusp; holiday clubs and courses for children to keep them amused were seen as exotic and a bit weird back then, so what else were you supposed to do with your time except practice your shooting? WELL?

I don’t think any of the children up my street here on Merseyside shoot their siblings, last summer they were more into the loom band thing, plastic circles spillages scattering the pavement in front of the house like multi-coloured ringworm. Young people today; they don’t know how to live, clearly.

cath bore

A more romantic interpretation of sisterhood can be found in the book Sisters Born, Sisters Found (Wordforest). I have an essay in it (my essay contains no shootings, sorry).


My Sister

My sister was my first heroine. As a little girl I thought my sister the most glamorous in the world. Her multi-coloured mountains of make-up on her dressing table I was forbidden to touch but did anyway, jars of perfumed cream, palettes of eye shadow bold and loud, waxy lipsticks in fluted metal, irresistible to me then as now. I wasn’t meant to read her Jackie magazine but guess what? Each week I took a lengthy peek, followed the hammy photo stories and advice on how to get a boy to like you; they gave no information what to do after you hooked the boy, which is just as well really and my sister didn’t seem to need such advice anyway. She was popular with boys already, and everyone else.

Bay City Rollers - Front

Her best friend the daughter of a veterinarian! Could that be any more ace, please? My best friend’s dad worked in an office and my own father in a car factory, not nearly as exotic or exciting as a vet. My sister had glamour by association, it handed something for me to strive for, though I never caught up. At age thirteen my sister got a newspaper round on Sundays; after that I wanted one too, desperately, but my parents wouldn’t let me. I complained endlessly but on reflection, maybe seven years of age was a trifle too young to trek up driveways with a sack of Sunday papers, spines folded sharp, tied to my back. By the time I was thirteen my parents still said no, I wasn’t old enough. The youngest child never catches up the eldest, no matter how hard she tries.

My sister got older and became a teenager, leaving me in a never ending game of catch up. I wore her hand me downs although my sister stopped at an inconvenient five foot nothing while I grew for another seven inches. My mum rattled out “You’ll grow into it” without a trace of irony, but I knew what she meant. I don’t think we ever catch up to our older siblings. No matter how hard we run, they do everything first, experts on everything until you experience the same too and even then they know better. The novelty wears off before the youngest child hits her landmarks. It might be virgin territory for us but for everyone else it’s old news, second hand like our clothes. As a teenager I was bitter and whiney about walking an already well-trodden path, but teenagers are bitter and whiney about everything they can think of, sulkily grasping anything to brandish in the air as an example of  “It’s not fair!”. I got over it.


My sister was a teenager in the 1970s/80s, loved the Bay City Rollers, she even wore the full Rollers ensemble including tartan knee socks. She outgrew the Rollers and moved on to The Eagles. She was going out with a boy once, he had the Hotel California album and she hinted how much she liked the group. No loan of the album was forthcoming or even an offer to tape it for her, so she dumped him.  Mercenary some might say; I reckon it showed standards. On hearing the news another boy from a very well to do family knocked at our front door and asked her out. He did it properly with a box of chocolates and everything, impressing my mum, but my sister said no, his fringe was much too short. She took the box of Roses he offered though; even Mum was pleased at that.

My sister went to Polytechnic in Manchester UK to read French and Spanish then met her Moroccan husband on a gap year in France, moved to and raised her children there, only visiting home very rarely since then. Her mother tongue twisted and quickened to accommodate the French language freely over the decades, my sister’s English became poor and thready like a weak pulse. There’s sadness to it, but a beauty too. Going her own way was always how my sister lived it. I’ve found sisters since in the form of friends, women who’ve supported me, danced with me, drank with me, but sisters made and sisters found are very different.


I have an essay “Women! You’re Such Bitches”  in Sister Born, Sisters Found (Wordforest, 2015)

The Poor Kid

Dressing up as your favourite character from a book is a tricky business this World Book Day judging by the endless stream of princesses I saw going into my local primary school this morning. I saw princesses, lots of them; but spied no books.

They don't make these in my size. Gutted.
They don’t make these in my size. Gutted.

I started to wonder, what do poor kids do on World Book Day? The ones from families who are skint? Poverty clings to poor kids like a smell, it follows you wherever you go. As a former poor kid, I confirm this is true.  It is obvious to your teachers, the other kids in class, their parents (especially them), all your neighbours; every single curtain twitching one, that you are poor.  As a poor kid, you don’t anything new, or for spare. You live a life of hand me downs and free school dinners.

And everybody knows.

So on World Book Day, what’s the script for the poor kid? She hasn’t got fancy dress left over from Hallowe’en, and the whole wear-a-sheet-and-pretend-to-be-a-ghost thing doesn’t work if you’re poor. A homemade robot made out of a cardboard box is fine if it’s common knowledge your mam and dad have a nice car and you go on hols to Dubai every summer.  If they know you walk to school no matter the density of the pissing rain and a day out in Southport seems exotic to you because it’s so rare, then that fucking robot underlines your poverty; a child may as well have a neon sign above her head saying “I’m a pov”.

My friend the children’s author Trevor Belshaw has a quirky idea. Why, he asks, aren’t kids encouraged  to go to the library, take out a book they really like and bring it to school with them on World Book Day? It’s free to borrow books, anyone can do it and we need to boost activity in libraries, so…

Too radical an idea? Controversial?

Apparently so.

No, let’s not bother with such bookish craziness; we’ll go for the costume angle instead and, y’know, children can bring a book if they really want to. It’s bound to work, and if it makes the poor kids feel even shittier than they usually do, we’re on to a winner.  Well played.


Yes, I lied. I’m coming clean.

Oh, Beyonce. I do love her, but she gets it in the neck so much. This week it’s via the Beck vs Bey meme, which goes thus:

How DARE she?
How DARE she?

Oh dear. What sexist rubbish (you can read why here).

The truth is, that authenticity is an impossible one for us writers to claim, whether writers of lyrics or fiction, poetry or prose. Love songs are written by those not in love and those in love sing about heartbreak; what fibbers, frauds and cheats they are. Name and shame now, I say. Because, y’know, that’ll teach them.

I know this is going to upset people but I’m even less authentic  than Bey. Yes, I confess.  In the stories I write, I lie. What’s more, I do it a lot. Like, all the time. I make shit up, constantly.

For example, I have NOT:

Had an affair with a seventeen year old boy  when I was forty four (GOOD TIMES – Slim Volume : No Love Lost – Pankhearst)

Pushed my husband down the stairs (FRIDAY ROSES – Eating My Words – Gumbo Press)

Stolen an apricot from a supermarket (STOLEN – Spontaneity Magazine)

Broken up with someone because they hate summer and ice cream (OPPOSITES DETRACT – The FEM Literary Magazine)

Broken up with a man for having hairy legs (WE ALL HAVE STANDARDS – Female First)

Turned into a man and sat in my underpants while watching my neighbour cleaning their toilet via a secret camera set up by me (LITTLE BROTHER – Shadows & Light – Ansco Press)

Killed a man and dressed it up as a suicide (THE SHORT GOODBYE –  The FEM Literary magazine and Twisted Tales 2014)

These aren’t the only examples. To my shame, I lie constantly on the page. If you want to inform the publishers of these publications, I won’t stop you. Sue me now. I deserve it.


Sole Freedom

I’m on a night out, going to see a group in town. I don’t call them bands anymore because it sounds like pop groups aren’t cool. Everything has to be so bloody authentic nowadays so I’m calling every group I like a pop group from now on, even if they have distinct rock sensibilities.  Blossoms are a pop group, like the other groups on tonight, Hidden Charms and The Vryll Society. The show (I’ve eschewed the word “gig” as well, for 2015) is in The Kazimier in Liverpool which I like a lot.

It’s a Sunday night and raining lightly, but steady enough to fill a puddle if the ground supplies a deep enough dent; this rain, it enjoys a challenge. We’re walking to The Kazimier and I hear a slapping sound amongst the pitter-patter of rain. I check it isn’t me (well, you never know), and confirm it’s not, so carry on walking. Then I trip; just a little trip, not a massive hands grabbing empty air kind but enough to give me a start. I take another step and there it is again, another skip-trip followed by a slap-slap.

Then I realise, it is me slapping. Not me exactly, but my boot. The sole has come away from the toe and it’s slapping on the ground as I walk. I give it another couple of steps and the slap-slapping gets worse, flapping and flopping instead. I hobble like I have dead leg to stop the slapping, but my naïve tactic fails. I go for broke and yank at the sole and the whole thing comes off in my hand. Underneath the rubber sole it’s rotten, leaving a hole in the bottom. That explains my ever-damp sock over the past winter. Good to know.

It’s eight o’clock in the evening, and even in a cosmopolitan city like Liverpool there’s no shoe shops open this late on Sundays, not in my price range anyway and it’s too late to go home and change because the opening band – sorry, group – is on in half an hour and I want my money’s worth for my seven quid ticket. So I put the boot back on and walk like a half wound up toy to stop the boot disintegrating further. Too late; the boot with no sole sheds its lining as I walk. I know because my already wet sock lets through freezing water, wintry and tart, but I reckon no one else will notice, or give a stuff so I carry on.

But the boot is not looking good. Now the sole and lining have deserted me the boot has nothing to hold it together and the top of it goes wide and baggy. I now have cruelly mismatched feet. My husband offers to give me his shoes. No thanks, I say. His feet are three sizes bigger than mine, I feel foolish enough.

I do feel stupid with my broken boot but once in the venue, people can’t see; The Kazimier is dark. I knew I liked this place.

So I’m standing there with one foot much bigger than its former twin and discomfort kicks in because now my boot heel is gone I’ve got one leg two inches shorter than the other. I have three options. I can take my boots off. Not a goer; I flash my Primark socks to no one.  Next I stand with one knee bent, both feet flat on the ground. I think I’ve found the magic formula but it starts aching after a very short while. Option three is stretching the toes on my temporarily shortened leg, keeping both legs straight; that provides relief but it’s unsteady and perilous, not good for long periods. This show has three pop groups playing, it lasts nearly three hours. I can’t toe it for that long.

I work either position alternately, giving a couple of minutes to each. It’s fine as long as I’m not doing the tip toe thing when someone brushes past; if this happens I fall over like a drunk calf because my balance is off.

Still,I forget about the discomfort and staggering thing after a bit. I enjoy the show. I’m pop’n’roll, I can get through this. The fates are plotting against me tonight, my boot is phlatt-phlatting on the floor if I tap my foot in time with the music so I try not to do it. Much.

The Kazimier tonight is crammed with young blades, the beautiful ones. It’s an evening of the lovely shoes and boots, neat and slender ankles, as cool as fuck. But me, I’m starting not to care.  These people with the beautiful footwear, they probably come out with words like “band” and “gig”, so what do they know? I’m setting a new trend and anyway, it’s all about the music, yeah? Don’t they know, the new thing is sole freedom? Of course it is. It’s actually quite punk.

I go to the loo before we leave. My heart booms in my chest when I see this on the toilet door.


Pop group. Show. Sole freedom. Consider the system smashed.


Slim Volume book launch

My flash fiction Good Times is included in the new book Slim Volume : No Love Lost (Pankhearst). The launch/celebration of No Love Lost took place in Sheffield – known as Jarvis Cockerland in our house – last Thursday and it saw my first visit to the city.

aka by some as Richard Hawley-land.
I found this chap in the corner of the cafe, on his bill.

No Love Lost contributors gathered in Harland Café in Sheffield to read and enjoy flash and poetry. A great night, with lots of laughs. You can buy the book here, should you wish to.

Slim Volume : No Love Lost editor Kate Garrett and myself, grinning happily at the launch last week.
Slim Volume : No Love Lost editor Kate Garrett and myself, grinning giddily at the launch last week.

I was made at home by such warm and friendly people, but the Sheffield Interchange in January on the other hand is the coldest place on earth, I am convinced. I waited for my coach home the next morning and my word, what a chill blasts through that place. Thermals next time, I think.

I also have a new flash fiction published in The Fem this week, which you can read here.