Fat Mo and the men who make stories like this necessary

book coverI had been writing Fat Mo for a while. Quite a lot of it went through the Lancaster MA critique system and became part of my portfolio. But I was never ready to publish it either as a standalone short story or as part of a collection of similar pieces. The time was not right; the collection was too hotch-potch; there was no obvious market.

Then Weinstein happened. #MeToo happened. Women were suddenly saying out loud what so very many of us knew to be true – that getting on in the world meant getting on with men and doing what they said we must. That not all of them had our best interests at heart was obvious but had to remain an unspoken feature of progression because the most likely outcome of any complaint would have been shaming at best and exclusion from our career paths at worst. Actually, not at worst. Women have died at the hands of entitled, controlling men and still do.

Gradually though, some voices began to break through – often famous ones, glamorous ones, ones belonging to people with high aspirations. Not yet the small voices of ordinary women in ordinary jobs trying to climb the ladder while seedy men stuck their hands up their skirts. It was time for Fat Mo.

So I put her story together with two ancillary stories; Merv, her boss/abuser, and Pauline, a woman who sees much but is never noticed because she is just the cleaner. Together, they offer an insight into the grooming process in a small-time 1970s north of England office. The power of carefully constructed charisma; the gossip; the isolation of the victim; the sense that everyone knows and feels free to sneer because, for the men there’s the fantasy of doing that themselves, and for the women the moral superiority of not being ‘like her’. No wonder women have not spoken up. No wonder so many have kept their experiences quiet, often for decades.

So when Dr Christine Blasey Ford spoke up; an academic, a person more used to the lecture theatre than the red carpet variety, much of the world listened. And let’s be clear, listening does not mean prejudging guilt or innocence, it means hearing someone’s side. Investigations are ongoing and it is just possible that, while she is right about the attack, she is wrong about the attacker. We will have to wait for the outcome.

The President of the United States, a man of supreme power and influence, while saying much the same thing about innocence and guilt, was not inclined to wait. He felt free to mock Dr Blasey Ford in a disgraceful display of partisan politicising of this dreadfully sensitive and difficult situation. He performed as only he can his impression of Dr Blasey Ford’s account in much the same way he parodied a journalist with cerebral palsy. A performance designed to intimidate, humiliate, and ultimately discredit her testimony. In case you have not seen it, here is the video.

In doing this, he tells every woman and every young girl – in fact anyone who speaks out about sexual assault against someone of power – that their voices are not to be heard, that the notion of ‘hearing’ their account is lip service, that humiliation is the proper outcome. At the same time, he tells every powerful man in whatever context they happen to exercise their power, and every part of the justice system that they need not take women’s complaints seriously, that this is how to behave instead.

It is hard to know what to say about a president who will so unnecessarily wield his own power in this way. I am just grateful he is not mine.

Fat Mo is on sale now. All the proceeds go to a UK charity that supports people with intellectual disabilities who have experienced sexual abuse. I hope you feel moved to buy it for that reason alone, but I hope also that you choose to read it for the voices of victims whose lives are too small for most people to notice, then maybe to be the one who notices and acts.

‘Let Me Tell You a Story’

Now released as an album via Soundcloud. All audio tracks are free to access but if you prefer to see what they’re saying, the book is still available from Amazon.

Unlocked: final three audio tracks from Let Me Tell You A Story

So go on, let us do that – we’re ready and waiting.

‘Terminus‘; descent into a room of sly eyes.

‘Puddles Like Pillows’. When gravity stops holding things down & litter fills the skies.

Phillippa Yaa de Villiers exceptional poem, ‘Origin’. 

From Let Me Tell You a Story available from Amazon.

‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ – a Halloween(ish) tale of a ghostly (maybe) gran

cartoon of three people on a sofaDrop Dead Gorgeous – a Halloween(ish) tale of ghosts (maybe) and quantum phasing (your guess is as good as mine). Bit sweary so don’t let the kids loose.


I first met Dillon when my dead Gran tripped me up in front of him. There was me, meandering along the sea front watching small dogs on extending leads crochet themselves into yapping compounds each time they encountered others of their ilk; and there was he, arrowing through them, the sleek lycra-ed warp to their woof. I was ok but he landed up in hospital with several broken bones and his bike was a write-off. Gran beamed like it was her birthday and she’d knocked back her celebratory bottle of whisky all in one go.

I wasn’t planning on visiting him; after all he’d reason to be mad and maybe even to monetise that. Can you sue pedestrians? But Gran had other ideas; I got the train to uni, it broke down and the replacement bus dropped me outside the hospital. I walked, there was an incident and a diversion that went right past A&E. I tried taking a taxi; the driver had a heart attack. So to avoid any further disasters befalling the largely innocent public, I gave in. Five minutes tops should do it, I reckoned.

‘Ok, I’ll go,’ I said. ‘But I don’t need an audience, right?

Fat chance. ‘Lovely, innee?’ Gran said, breathing pickle fumes over my shoulder.

‘Shut up,’ I said, trying not to move my mouth as if this somehow compensated for the conspicuous absence of a third party. It didn’t. Dillon looked around the room and started to reach for the call bell. I could see his point.

‘No, not you,’ I said, and fiddled around with a fantasy earpiece under my hair. ‘Bloody signal’s gone,’ I said, palming the non-existent device and shoving it in my pocket. I gave him one of those modern technology, what can you do? looks and shrugged at him.

Gran continued her onslaught. ‘Physicist,’ she said, picking at teeth that would be at least a hundred years old if she’d managed to haul her liver past eighty-six. ‘Should suit you, with all your book-learnin’ an’ that.’ She gave me a shove, ‘Go on, sit on his bed.’ I was propelled forwards and alarm spread across Dillon’s face as the woman who had put him there in the first place threatened to flatten him all over again. I grabbed at a drip pole. It was on wheels so we took each other down, along with a vase of flowers, a jug of water, and a box of tissues. The almighty racket drew the attention of a frosty-looking nurse in pink scrubs who rushed first to Dillon to inspect him for injury, and then turned her rather less solicitous gaze on me, sprawled on the floor at her feet.

‘And you are?’ she said, like we were at a posh party and I wasn’t on the guest list. I opened my mouth preparing to kill two birds with one F-bomb but …

‘My girlfriend,’ said Dillon, into the gap.

‘What?’

‘Yes,’ Gran said through my teeth, tittering in my ear and making kissy-kissy noises.

The nurse glared at me, then at Dillon, ‘Well, in that case …’ and she stomped away to find a cleaner she could terrorise.

‘Jeez!’ Dillon said, rolling his eyes. ‘I owe you; bloody woman’s been ogling me since I got here. Never seems to be off-duty. Have you seen that Stephen King film?’ He smiled one of those crooked smiles you read about.

‘Look look look!’ Gran whickered at me, ‘Drop dead gorgeous!’

I cocked an appraising eye, ‘Well, actually …’

‘You saw it, the movie?’

‘No, I meant – anyway, how are you?’

He told me.

We laughed.

I stayed two hours.

I promised to pick him up and take him home when he was discharged, and cook dinner as he couldn’t use his hands that well. Turned out he could. Whole other story.

I moved in.

Gran stayed away for quite a while, probably to focus on another deviant descendant, then suddenly, back she came.

‘Cheating gigolo,’ she announced from behind the sofa. I nearly lost my takeaway. ‘Quantum research shove-it-up-your-jacksie conference, my Aunt Fanny,’ she said. Gran liked an expletive or two, albeit somewhat retro ones.

‘What do you mean?’

‘So-called research assistant – more bosom than brains,’ she said, ‘And the bosom’s not much to write home about, if you ask me.’

Gran was right; Rihanna, her name was, and I met her at the faculty Christmas do a couple of months later. There she was, goggling at Dillon, passing him wine and nibbles, chirping about quantum entangled whatnots and superstring that apparently has toes, and Dillon mesmerised by her heaving chest. Gran dug me in the ribs then grabbed both my ears. This, apparently, was a way of establishing a conduit between her plane of existence and ours. She shrieked at Dillon, ‘You cunning, conniving, slippery little wormhole, you!’ Then she rose into the air and loomed over Rihanna, ‘And you should know all about quantum, with your itty bitty IQ and your Schroedinger’s now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t brazz-ee-ere!’ Gran had evidently upgraded her vocabulary since our last encounter; she embarked on a cackle.

Then somebody with a beard that looked as though it might house a decent sized lunch, and a T shirt bearing the periodic table in swear words said, ‘Quantum phasing,’ in hushed tones like he was in a church. He gawped, simultaneously awestruck and terrified and Gran turned on him, treated him to a blast of old onions and fried liver right into his face. She clacked her teeth, ‘Phantom,’ she hissed, and hovered yellow fingers over his throat.

‘Cobblers,’ said Dillon. ‘No such thing as ghosts. Quantum phased reality shifts though, there’s mileage in that.’ His face went into intellectually distracted mode. It was short-lived. Gran loomed back in Dillon’s direction, ‘Quantum reality shift, my arse,’ she said. ‘Tell you what, though, let’s put it to the test.’ And she dropped the ceiling on him.

Some days it’s just Dillon sitting behind me on the train; sometimes it’s Gran; other times it’s the pair of them. They’re still arguing the toss about ghosts versus quantum universes and they can’t agree on suitable boyfriends for me, which threatens the long term survival of potential suitors. So Gran borrowed me a part-time dog for company. ‘Big bugger,’ she said, handing me his collars, ‘And he’s got what you might call ongoing duties elsewhere, but he’ll keep the riff-raff away; happy clappies, dodgy roofers, Tories.’

He is and he does because he’s got one helluva howl on him, but he’s a poppet and when all three of us are indoors together, we each have a head to pat.

(c) suzanne conboy-hill 2017

‘Jussdeserts’ – Flash Flood flash fiction

People with intellectual disabilities want to be like everyone else which means they want jobs. But first, there aren’t enough jobs; second, there aren’t enough jobs for people who need support; third, what jobs there are often don’t pay; and fourth, the people who take them with hope and gratitude are frequently bullied straight out of them. Those things are fact; Jussdeserts is fiction, but only juss. Flash Flood, June 24th.

Edited 24/06/17 to include direct link

Collections in Progress: Fat Mo and a flock of tiny tweet tales

Fat Mo’s Taxi to Huddersfield and other stories of resistance. [working title]

Excerpt:

Mo considers the price she has paid, learning to be right. Merv would call it an investment – a cost for a benefit – and it occurs to Mo that in fact she has quite a portfolio of these. Most she has kept in her head, but there are others in the backs of filing cabinets and the bottoms of drawers. Mo reviews some of them: there are letters Merv does not want sent on; the envelopes he does want sent on, and the girl at a house in Huddersfield who pitied her but said nothing. These things are devious, subversive, and wrong; but they are wrong in a way that puts Merv in a different light, one where he is doing the paying.

Linked stories, The Mother’s Son and Home for the Queen, shine a light into some of those around her, including Merv.

Excerpts:

They only half do Christmas, he and Sam; maybe because they only half do their own origins, but he has presents for her and the first, safely concealed earlier in the day, is the one he really wants her to like. The others are backups in case she does not. He heads out to his car, a midnight blue Jaguar with leather upholstery, a built-in radio, and just enough of the right paperwork to fool the local idiot constabulary. He walks around it – twice clockwise and twice counter-clockwise – checking as best he can in the ditch water dribble that passes for street lighting, that it bears no sign of the night’s activities, runs a finger over the passenger door handle and peers at it; it seems clean. Then he unlocks the car and opens the door. The interior light comes on which makes his job easier but also picks him out should anyone be passing and not in enough of a bone-chilled hurry to just keep going. He judges the likelihood to be remote, given the derelict nature of the environs; nevertheless he needs to be quick. Merv looks around inside, practiced and expert, he has done it often. The Mother’s Son.

 

The pavements in the back streets are slippery with a layer of ice crusting the snow that has lain untroubled there since it fell two days ago. Pauline’s little ankle boots, zipped up at the front and with ridged rubber soles, cope nicely. Unlike the maroon patent sling-backs the girl over the road is wearing to totter along on goose pimpled blue legs like a frozen stork. Her skirt is nothing but a flimsy pelmet, a tiny wrap-around no more substantial than a bit of nylon curtain. Pauline tuts to herself. Where was this lass going, dressed like this? Home to her family is where she should be going. Probably she has been out all night at a Christmas party, drinking lager and lime or rum and coke, and ending up in a back bedroom under the coats with a complete stranger pulling at her pants. Pauline thinks she can even see the pants in question. Girls these days, no good would come of it, you only had to look at Mo. Home for the Queen.

A second group, set in The Royal Hospital – an asylum for the mentally defective that becomes an institution for the mentally handicapped, a repository for people with learning disabilities, and finally a crumbling warehouse about to decant its residents into the ill-prepared towns and villages nearby.

Excerpt:

Jeff’s feet were turning pink; the kind of pink where you couldn’t feel the floor any more. He lurched a heel forwards and rode it like a ballerina – arms out, trailing leg arabesquing behind him. For a moment, Jeff was an alabaster frieze, a pallid silhouette against tiles the colour of dirty bottles; and then he wasn’t. Fire broke out in Jeff’s knee when it hit the lino. A million volts lit up his cramped-back toes, two million went through his hip with its cracks and runnels no one knew were there, and knives chopped at his deep-freeze sausage fingers. ‘Big boys don’t cry,’ he said through a mouthful of gnarly bangers like you would never get from a shop. The Smell of Hollow Water.

The third group; less linked stories, more resonances of each other: an unnamed nurse plots revenge for half a lifetime, a deaf woman finds God on a beach, powerless Rosa retreats into dissociation and lets her hands take the responsibility, a young couple constructs a truth about the death of their baby.

Excerpts:

We’re placing bets again today; and Eric is jangling change in his pockets, like a showman at a travelling fair. Our plastic ducks are the inmates in solitary. They don’t come around often because, frankly, they’re a bit tame. All that ECT and chlorpromazine, aimed at curing what they didn’t have in the first place, rots their brains, eventually. Anyway, Eric is scrawling names on the board with a stub of white chalk; and we’re drinking tea that looks like stew, while he parades his contestants.

 

‘McTaggart,’ he says. An arm goes up, and Eric writes a name next to McTaggart.

 

‘Straker,’ says someone else; yuk yukking buddy-bravado. Suddenly, my idea starts to twitch in my head; a wick little grub, flick flicking its new body this way and that. I don’t know what to do yet; or how, but – ‘Give me Boothroyd,’ I say. ‘Two bob to kick off by lights out.’ The Justice Box.

 

Alice liked how the sea here didn’t just look bright, it felt bright too. As if every part of it were a little crystal that jiggled and jostled its neighbours as the wave went tumbling towards the shore, a chandelier on the move. That other sea was not bright at all; it rolled and heaved, smooth and dark and secretive. It drew you in with its slow thunderous mountains. One slip and you’re mine, it said.

Alice rummaged her toes through the shingle, exposing a scaled-down world of rivers and streams that hurried its cargo of sand grain boulders down the beach. How did this miniature sea feel about being so far away from home? Did it still jostle and jiggle down there between the pebbles, or did it try to stay silent and not be noticed until it was whole again and safe? The tide was on the turn, it would not have much longer to wait. Dancing Her Black Bones Home.

 

Ambiguity is the common thread; victims have lives and strengths, they’re not all sympathetic; perpetrators are sometimes also victims; contexts and the actions or inactions of small players can have undue impact, institutions bear responsibilities they do not always acknowledge. Nothing is wholly one thing and never another.

 

Tales in a Tweet [working title][illustrated]

Prompted by Edinburgh [Book] Festival’s regular twitter challenge; a word or phrase issued each morning and a tale-in-a-tweet to be posted by evening. Small triumphs of concision composed on the hoof.

Opening

A rip in the sky, an eye. Whose God was this? Whose prayers would condemn & whose exalt? New priests find opportunity amid fear.

 

 

 

Stone

Birthed in superheated majesty, pounded & shaped by tectonic tides; in modern ignominy it murdered a girl who loved the wrong man.

 

 

This tweet has only a placeholder for now:

Bone

There are 5 metatarsals in the human foot. In 2002 one of these damn near brought a country to its patellae. No sense of humerus.

Tales in a Tweet  currently totals sixty or so stories and is likely to be boosted by a further twenty plus during this year’s festival. Images take a little longer than twelve hours and will probably change. I have our local Creative Arts Group to thank for the imaginative stimulus and thinking space for these.

Post may be edited or amended over time as required.

Free Audio – poems & short fiction

Rapture by Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, notable South African poet, performance artist, and PhD candidate with Lancaster university. Rapture was First published in the 2013 anthology For Rhino in a Shrinking World (Ed Harry Owen).

Shadow by Lyn Jennings, poet and past Educational Psychotherapist for children with learning difficulties. Shadow is ‘dedicated to our neighbours at Shoreham with respect and sympathy for all who died or suffered in the Air Show disaster [West Sussex 2015]’.

Ducks in a Row by Suzanne Conboy-Hill, short story and flash fiction writer. This was also written after a Hawker Hunter jet ploughed through traffic waiting for the lights to change or standing on the verge watching the display.

Wood by Tracy Fells, short story and flash fiction writer with novels on the production line. Wood is a relationship story that sheds a different light on the idea of going back to one’s roots.

 

All material taken from the Anthology Let Me Tell You a Story (contributing editor, Suzanne Conboy-Hill) available from Lulu (print and ebook) and Amazon (print only). Listen to Ian McMillan’s foreword:

Green Buses: a story and an appeal

The four year old girl crouched in the footwell has never heard of christmas and wouldn’t care if she had. She stares at her hands and wipes them on the pink anorak that used to fit but now hangs more loosely from her shoulders.

 

The twelve year old boy next to her is angry and feels himself uprooted and displaced. He has heard of christmas but he blames the westeners who celebrate it for where he finds himself. His eyes tell simultaneously of a child’s dark despair and the blazing hatred of the adult he will become. He is already conjuring revenge in his head.

 
Their grandmother strokes his hair and nuzzles the girl closer to her feet but cannot be their mother. She too knows about christmas but finds it impossible to disentangle her feelings about it from their current plight. The flags of the people who mark it are often the ones which bring destruction, or which hesitate and do nothing to stop it. But some of those same flags fly proud at their destination which promises relief. Those people will be celebrating soon and what will that mean for her and the little ones?

 
Her son crashes into the seat next to her, scarf around his face, weapons bulking his khaki jacket. ‘We’re leaving,’ he says to his children, ‘Stay down.’ The gunfire stops, then starts again. The green bus starts then stops. There are two more starts and stops before the convoy eventually inches away along its assigned corridor of broken, bombed out buildings, abandoned family cars, and three blackened buses once as green as their own.

 
While his mother sobs silently into the chill air, the young father hunches over his children, a futile shield against snipers. He breathes them in and prays not to see their blood, but at least if they die today, the world will be watching. Soon it will be christmas day and then the countries of the puppet masters will be looking elsewhere. Their TVs will be full of joy and fun, their fridges stuffed with food, and their minds wiped of far-off troubles. No news is good news and they will not look for news.

 
Later, when they come back to pick up where they left off, believing somehow that the world will not have moved on while they were otherwise engaged, the father of children, widowed husband of a young wife, and son of a weeping mother, wonders what there will be of this fragile caravan for them to see. He hopes not ghosts. His son glances up at him and the father sees a ferocity burning in his eyes that he recognises. He bends to soften it, to say that there are good people everywhere in the world, but he cannot bring himself to promise it.

 

My thanks to an activist friend, who has spent much time volunteering among refugees at the Calais Jungle camp, for her comments on an earlier draft. She said no one she had met blamed Christians and so I have softened that reference. They do blame the West though, and I have taken licence to push that to the front in service of the message, which is that refugees and evacuees will still be in huge peril while most of us will be looking elsewhere until after the new year. If bombing and injury were not enough, starvation damages young brains, and emotional insecurity damages young minds. How can we hope for positive change when the next generations are so physiologically and mentally vulnerable? If you have a moment and a spare pound or so, please consider a donation to Save the Children for Syria or DEC’s Yemen crisis appeal. Thank you.

‘Let Me Tell You a Story’ – the eBook version

book coverOut today in ePub format, Let Me Tell You a Story is now a download for eReaders with additional links to sound files.

Problems with the ePub format? Try Calibre’s free converter to make a MOBI file and email it to your Kindle account. 

‘Ør1g1ns’

“Slick as oil over water, Katia headed for the house of the man whose dreams she needed to reprogramme. She shifted through his bedroom wall like damp through old bricks to wait by his cot for the right moment. Then, as his eyes began to flick back and forth and his long limbs twitched, she bent close to his ear, reintroducing the precious seed stolen by the Reversionists to demolish the future.”

In ZeroFlash in response to prompt including, um, zeros!