Website

I think I do need one – mainly to grab together all the loose bits of ‘me’ information out there. My brother has promised to help ‘build me’ one but in the meantime here’s a mock up of the opening page I would imagine to exist out there in web-land – sort of.

If he’s really clever, and I think he is, You, the public, will be able to click on a photo of me and find a short biography; click on various books – Hoxton, Dog, and other tales, Going out in the midday sun, The hundred and fifty-eighth book . . . and a notebook perhaps which will then reveal a page of my sketches and musings over characters/places/overheard conversations, etc. Oh, and a few links to this blog and the another one, Goodreads reviews, and so on. Simple.

He said it’s a bit like writing a book only easier . . . for someone who has just about mastered turning the computer on and off, the idea of ‘building’ something like his own wonderful website is utterly beyond me. Watch this space, as they say . . .

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Chickencarnation

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A closeup of one of our four chickens (all called Gladys) who have just dined on cold pasta, custard, old quiche and lettuce. Chickens must be one of the most wonderful things in the world, along with onions, tea and most forms of cake.

Not only do they provide us with eggs in return for all their tasty scraps hurled out of the kitchen window but great entertainment: sunning themselves, squabbling  over spaghetti, running in that eccentric side-to-side lolloping gait, and the noises – an extraordinary range of warbles, squeaks and squarks.

How terribly sad that many of their kind never get the chance to scratch in real dirt, lazily recline under the sun or stand in a tray of water. The following short story (from ‘Dog, and other tales’) was written after seeing a particularly haunting Facebook post, and months before we actually got our own chickens. If you have a space for a chicken or two in your life, and garden/yard, they are totally recommendable: in every way.

 

CHICKENCARNATION

© Kate A. Hardy 2016

 

“Oh . . . oh . . . cockadoodledooooo!”

Margy shuffles up against the headboard and stares at me as I slump next to her.

“Ant – I’ve never in all our . . . God, how many times must it have been? – heard you do that. Oh, Baby, yes! Give it to me, etc, but not chicken noises.”

“Rooster, actually.”

“Poultry, generally, then.”

She runs a hand over my chest and squeezes a nipple. I push her hand away.

“Stop that. You know it makes me shudder.”

The hand stops and moves back, stopping at my patch of chest hair that grows oddly like a small grassy hollow between two bald mounds.

“Your hair feels odd, Ant.” She leans over and peers closer: “Have you been taking some weird hormones or something?”

“No! Why?”

“These hairs . . . they’re thick, stubby.”

I sit up and stare down my nose at the patch. She’s right. The hairs look more like thin plant stems, although dark grey – miniature quills, almost.

I roll from the bed and pull on a T-shirt.

“Coffee, Margy?”

She’s looking at me in a peculiar way as she wraps herself in that absurdly expensive dressing gown.

“Sure. I’ll just shower.”

I walk into our new, sleek kitchen – bought with that bonus for another supermarket contract found and signed.

I’d walked around the plot with the boss late that afternoon; him pointing out where the next hanger was going to be built. He’d lit a cigarette, sucked hard and blown the smoke into the northerly wind screaming past the first shed. I’d held my breath not wanting to inhale his smoke but caught a full lungful of chicken shit stench instead.

“Yer’ a good worker, lad,” he’d said. “Keep it up and there might be a manager’s job for you – better car too.”

 

“Where’s the coffee, then?”

I jump back to the present; chicken molecules morphing into anti-bacterial spray.

“Sorry, Marg. Just thinking.”

“You’ve been doing a lot of that lately – gazing into nothing,” she says.

I have. It’s true. Since that evening I’ve told no one about.

Clopping a coffee capsule into the machine, I listen to its small macerations as my mind wanders again.

 

I’d stayed on late, trying to catch up on emails. Smyth had left, his pale blue Jaguar swishing from the forecourt to reveal my lead-grey Mondeo with its fake walnut dash and miss-matched hubcaps.

Better car too

Feeling nauseous after one too many machine cappuccinos, I had walked out into the dusk air. The wind had dropped. A faint tapestry of sound leaked from the main shed.

Man of office, I had never actually observed the birds, imagining some sort of chaotic but faintly pastoral scene of clucking and soil scratching.

I walked over, the sound becoming strident. The door was open. It should have been locked, surely. I stepped into bright light and sickening smell; white feather dust, a million desperate eyes. Someone else was in there with me.

A girl stood taking photographs. She turned to look at me without fear.

“Are you the owner?”

“No . . . how did you get in here?”

“Bribed one of them – ginger hair, stupid face. Anything for a quick feel.”

“What are you doing?”

“Obvious, isn’t it?”

“Not entirely.”

She stepped carefully through the sea of bodies and showed me the back of her camera, passing a pale finger over the screen. Images of crammed birds passed: 1-2-3-4-5 . . .

“Pretty pictures, eh?”

“What do you intend to do with them?”

She ignored my question: “Have you ever seen chickens doing what chickens should do?”

Memories flitted in my mind: sandy soil, scaly feet raking, low contented warbles and squeaks.

“Yes.”

“How can you work here, then?”

“It’s just a job. I have a mortgage to pay” –

She cut me short: “I’ll make you a deal. Quit this place and you won’t die unhappy. I’ll see to that.”

I had stared at her strange little sallow face, framed by yellow hair, and was unable to answer.

 

“Nat? Nat!”

Margy is glaring at me, hands on hips: “Oh, never mind, I’ll do it.” She pushes me aside and deals with the coffee. She’s somehow got dressed during my memory wanderings.

“Margy? You know . . . I was wondering about a change of direction. Perhaps that idea of a café we used to talk about.”

She snorts delicately: “With this mortgage. Are you insane? Anyway, you said you’d support me while I had another crack at public relations.” Knocking back her glass of coffee, she clicks it onto the marble surface and picks up her car keys. “I’ll be back at about six. I’m having early drinks with the guy from Zoidion Media – says he might be able to put something my way. Ciao.”

Ciao. When did she start saying that? When did I start becoming unaware of trees, clouds, perspective, water? Those sketch books had been heavy with pencil; books she had beguiled me into throwing out.

 ‘You won’t die unhappy.’

 

The day passes uneventfully in the office. I frequently turn from my computer’s glow to look towards the shed. Yellow machinery has appeared on the proposed site where Smyth paces in a hard-hat with clipboard-grasping people.

Dawn, the sandwich woman, looks blankly at me on her lunch round as I ask for crudities rather than chicken. I take the limp, off-white bread and smell the contents. Ghosts seem to rise from it. I fling it to the bin and eat a Mars Bar.

Tonight I cannot stay late. We have people coming round. Margy is going to cook – risking blemishing the new black hob.

I excuse myself to Smyth. He nods, suggests I can make up the time tomorrow.

 

Back at the house I can’t seem to go in. The garden seems far more interesting. I take off my shoes and socks and investigate cool soil with my toes.

The earth is quite loose – newly turned by that landscaper she’s employed; turned in preparation for an olive tree and ornamental grasses surrounded by shale. An olive tree in the Midlands?

I point my foot, ballet dancer-like and pull back it, scooping the soil. It feels good; as satisfying as scraping out a cake bowl, like I used to with Gran. I do it some more: left, left, left – switch – right, right, right. A large worm is revealed under the flickering street lamp. I bend forward, stoop, cock my head and stab towards the earth. I fall, knees hitting a pile of waiting York stone.

“Nat!”

Margy stands in the doorway wearing a never-before-used chef’s apron, hair freshly coiffured, new strappy sandals.

“Hi, just . . . dropped my keys.”

“Where are your shoes?”

“There, by the hydrangea bush. What time are the Frosts due round?”

“Eight-thirty. Look, do you think it might be a good idea to see . . . someone, perhaps.”

 

Half an hour later, mud is twirling into the shower drain. I rub a towel over the sink mirror prior to shaving and notice, not my face but my chest hair. The small ‘quills’ appear to have minute brown straggling hairs attached to them. Touching one, I observe iridescent green under the halogen glare.

Margy’s voice shrills from downstairs: “Nat . . . where are you? They’re here!”

After passing a hand once more over the hairs, I don the crisp, blue shirt and Armani jeans she has also bought on today’s credit card splurge.

A scent of roasting beast has infiltrated the air-freshener that she favours. Chat issues from the sitting room. I enter.

Toby Frost, a pale, wide person strides over.

“Nathan! Haven’t seen you for weeks. Champagne?”

Christ, she has been stretching the card: “Great, thanks.”

He slopes the glass and fills. His Aston Martin cufflinks glint under the chandelier light.

“Have you got the car to go with them yet?” I ask.

“Working on it – just the Porsche at the moment.”

We talk of cars and holidays. The women: hair and celebrities.

At some point, a forkful of chicken raised towards my mouth, I remember a beautiful field full of birds and wild flowers. The meat appears to writhe. I put the fork down.

“Nat?” enquires my wife.

“Sorry – what, Margy?”

“See, I told you, Sarah – he does that a lot.”

Toby laughs: “Been a long day, I expect. Merlot, Nat?”

I nod and he fills a glass.

A subject of conversation seems to be bubbling up within me. I can’t squash it. I glance around at all of them.

“Do you believe in reincarnation?”

Sarah giggles, wine-pinked face: “Why not? What would you come back as, Nathan?”

The quills itch.

“Some sort of bird perhaps . . . not in a cage. Free.”

The evening continues but I am not really there. Just a shirt, jeans and now-correct dinner party exchange.

 

I hang from one leg. Machinery grates; uncomprehending voices fill my ears, pleading, wailing. I pass through water that snickers with electricity. Agony. Dulled senses now, but not enough. I see white-feathered chests, sliced by a bladed machine. Scalding water beckons, the smell of seared flesh.

 

I heave myself up, pushing sheets back, shaking. Margy clicks on the bedside light and stares, dinner party makeup unremoved after too much alcohol.

“Nat?”

“Dream . . . awful. I was . . .”

She grunts, slumps back under covers, reassured, while I sit motionless, looking at my feet in the street lamp-light blur. One of my ankles hurts, as if the muscles had been ripped somehow.

Shuffling off the bed, I limp downstairs and make tea in the darkness. The shipwreck of a chicken skulks in the roasting tray. I had said I’d make stock, but somehow didn’t, retiring to bed with a much-thumbed copy of some comfort book.

I sit for a long time, possibly hours. I remember where that field was – Dorset. We had hiked over hills, talked of a café where we would serve cream teas and keep livestock.

 

She didn’t speak to me in the morning. God knows what else I had said after the fourth top up last night.

Now I’m at work, looking out on a drear, grey afternoon. Smyth has gone out for a meeting, leaving his second in command – me, in control.

Sandwiches were chicken again. I’d asked Dawn if there was an alternative, and she had looked at me as if I had asked for a cheese and plutonium bagel.

The new hanger already has foundations. I can hear the birds even in this room, or perhaps in my head. This spread sheet could be in hieroglyphics. Maybe Margy is right; I should see someone.

Three hours seem to have slunk off somewhere, and all I have to show is a selection of half empty mugs of coffee. Other employees have asked me questions and I have supplied answers, none of which I can recall.

Smyth is back, the Jaguar beaded with water. He gets out, locks the door and strides over, head bent against the rain. I hear him wiping those grey, pointed shoes on the corridor mat. He opens the door.

I have to say it.

I stand up, bag already in hand.

“Mr Smyth. I can no longer work for you.”

He shuts the door calmly, hangs his coat on the rack and turns to me.

“You do seem a little tired today, Nathan. Perhaps we could talk about this?”

“No, really. I have to leave here, now!”

Striding forward, I push the door and am standing outside in an early summer storm. The rain feels good. I’ll drive, sit on a hill somewhere.

I catch sight of Smyth staring from the office window as my fingers scrabble with the car door handle.

I fall into the seat, jab the key into the ignition, reverse, turn the wheel hard and screech into the estate’s main road.

The rain is heavy now, wiper blades furious. A white van is heading towards Smyth’s. I glance at its windscreen. Three people sit in the front, faces obscured by masks. The person with yellow hair protruding from a parka hood holds a gun. She nods at me, gives me the thumbs up.

I twist my gaze back to the road as a lorry approaches, lights flashing. I swerve but meet the brick wall of Parker’s Plastics very, very hard.

 

The field is longer than I recall, but then perhaps these eyes view things differently. To strut within these flowers is an intoxication.

My friends scratch in the earth, venturing into the meadow with me to peck at froghoppers and spiders. Of course, before, I never knew what the clucking was about. It’s fairly similar to any contented human’s conversation – weather, relationships, food . . . not so much about promotion, financial standing or political instability though.

The quills advanced and multiplied nicely, and when I catch my reflection in a puddle, well, you could say I’m a pretty good specimen.

Morning sunrays have reached the top of the line of oak trees. Light fans out, the early sky opal-green.

I stretch up and make the sound that welcomes in the day.

 

 

 

 

 

Wirksworth festival

About twenty years ago I lived in a fascinating little town set in the Derbyshire hills – Wirksworth; place of winding little secret lanes, ancient church, many pubs, glorious countryside and eclectic mix of people – original Wirksworthians, artists, musicians, teachers, etc – many people drawn to the town for its unusually ‘genuine’feel – no chain shops or cafés . . .

After a few years, a group of friends including myself, started up an art trail to encourage people to explore the town’s very interesting architecture. A couple of seasons on the art trail became attached to the festival, which then grew each year to become what it is now – a nationally recognised and much appreciated yearly art and music event.

This year, Mark (musician husband who also worked on the festival in the early years) and myself have been invited back to participate.

Mark will be performing, ‘Resonance’ a series of piano works influenced by landscape, and I will be ‘assisting’ (not quite sure in what capacity yet) with the performance/readings of extracts from my novel Hoxton.

Londonia 2090 – extracts from Kate A. Hardy’s novel Hoxton, performed by The Sureditch Drinking House Players

DATE: TUESDAY 13TH SEPTEMBER 2016
TIME: 7.30PM
VENUE: THE TOWN HALL
EVENT TYPE: PERFORMANCE PROGRAMME

Hoxton is with an agency at the moment, so I won’t have books to sell – who knows what further edits will lie ahead . . .  but I will have copies of my short stories available – Dog, and Other Tales. And . . . I have been assured by a grammar specialist that my gut feeling about a comma after Dog was the right decision, ha! (Does anyone really know?)

Wirksworth festival starts from the 9th of September and runs for two weeks. The art trail is on the first weekend, this year showing over a hundred and fifty artists’ work.

 

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Mixed Bag

Or book contents.

I’ve finally rounded up six of my short stories into a book format. I was originally going to write to a theme – make collections of stories about certain themes: Landscape or love; travel or horror, etc, but it hasn’t happened thus, my influences and ideas being a very mixed bag themselves.

So now on the last (hopefully) edit and onto the next bag, or book of tales.

 

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Dog, and other tales will be available at The Wirksworth Festival during readings of my novel Hoxton on the 13th of September. For anyone within reach of Wirksworth, Derbyshire, the festival and art trail are well worth attending.

Link: http://www.wirksworthfestival.co.uk/the-festival

Cats Like Plain Crisps

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somebody’s cat – sorry not sure whose, or whose image but we don’t at present have a cat to photo, with or without crisps

At present I’m re-editing my short stories with a view to making them into a ‘collection’.

What to call the book? one of the titles perhaps? or something random; something to encapsulate the wandering, miscellaneous subjects . . .

As sometimes happens, my brain (and I assume with most other peoples’) suddenly decided to present me with a curious phrase I haven’t recollected for about forty years. Cats Like Plain Crisps.

The whole figment came back to me – complete in every detail:  1974 or so, Mum driving round a roundabout in West London in the aged Hillman Minx; me in the back staring out on a grey, sleazy day after a school holiday spent in the Hovis-ad-like countryside of Dorset.

Mum, negotiating the rush-hour traffic and probably saying ‘bugger off’ to other motorists, failed to acknowledge this wonderment of graffiti – hand sprayed in large black letters on the blank end of a house, but I obviously logged it away for use forty years later.

Except . . . that it’s actually quite well documented. I checked on Google and there are images of the writing, not of the wall I had seen, but other walls, and on bridges, and padlocks, even. Apparently the first ever ‘Cats like plain crisps’ was scrawled on a kitchen wall in a Grosvenor Rd squat, Twickenham, and then reproduced possibly by the same wonderfully-deranged person in other areas of West London.

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Oh well, just another 40 million words/phrases to choose from . . .

Weasels Dislike Chamber Music?

 

 

The Writer

A story for my fellow writers.

 

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The Writer  Copyright: Kate A.Hardy 2016

 

The Writer looks down into the teeming street and wonders how many other writers are out there, the air thick with ideas, plots and sorrow over rejection letters.

He turns, sits at the table and stirs his own pile of envelopes: some large, some small; all containing the same sentiment:

Dear Writer, we looked at your chapters with great interest, but due to the high numbers of manuscripts we can only accept those that we really feel passionate about.

Did they read it? Surely those first lines should have stirred something.

The first thing that Reginald was aware of on waking was that his legs had become giant yellow pieces of a bulldozer.

Perhaps it was the grammar: A comma after waking perhaps. The spell check hadn’t said so though, but should one trust a piece of software? Or maybe the whole four chapters were riddled with misplaced SEMI-COLONS and the wrong dashes. Perhaps his finger had slipped and the word had become wanking. Proof read seventeen times means nothing; you just don’t see the words anymore.

But if it did say wanking, surely that could be good — cutting edge, surprising, ground breaking — better just check though.

The Writer presses the wakey-wakey button on the computer; never really shut down, just waiting for possible news from online submissions.

The manuscript lurks in a file along with many others: good and bad, and really really bad, or actually . . . rather wonderful . . . depending on if his mind is leaping along a sunlit hilltop or in a stinking pig-shitty ditch. This morning his mind inhabits a bus station: cold and grey thoughts coming and going, waiting for the right bus to hop on.

Word is stuck.

He presses Force Quit in a moment of unheralded stupidity and the screen goes blank: a blue rectangle in the dimly lit room.

“FUCK! No really, it can’t have just gone . . . The Writer shuts the computer down for a while and considers eating some cheese.

“Cheese is good, with Branston, better. Tea, big bloody mug of tea.” The writer realises he’s talking to himself. This has been happening alarmingly often recently.

The fridge is devoid of cheese and Branston, even bread. The writer must GO OUT. In fact the dog must go out, so why not.

The writer approaches the dog bed; plots and descriptive elements as ever fight their way through the cheese lust.

Beegee was a small dog: brown, sleek; remarkable only for the fact he could dance to men singing in squeaky voices. His bed of worn — no — threadbare velvet, was situated next to the wall of panelled Lincrusta; a morbid shade of dull green — nope, too many adjectives, editors don’t like them — green Lincrusta. The fringed lampshade of the standard lamp — too many lamps — the fringed shade of the standard lamp, cast a . . . should there be a comma after lamp? The —

The dog stands up aware that his master is ready to go into the real world. The Writer folds the idea away into his mind-store of a million dusty paragraphs and strokes the dog.

“Walkies?”

The dog, knowing that The Writer will have to go back to the computer and check a few things first, flops down with a grunt and waits.

Familiar words spike the flat’s stuffy air.

“Bastard internet company — right that’s it, I’m going to change to . . . oh, s’OK.”

A line slides across the blank bar at the top of the screen, reflected in the writer’s china/cornflower/piercing, blue, anxious eyes. “Come on, come on! I need to check the deadline on that competition.” The line stops halfway and the writer runs shaking fingers through his greying-brown hair; hair that was just brown when he started on this mad mission to be PUBLISHED.

“Sod it.” He cries and the dog gets up again, understanding the throwing back of the chair signifies walkies will now happen.

As The Writer drags/shrugs/pulls on his (worn, but once expensive Savile row tweed coat) the phone rings. The writer stops. Perhaps it could be The Girlfriend, or The Mother. Both women must be avoided at the moment, as there was talk of jobs and money earning. Yes, vital, and will be seen too, as soon as this last chapter is done.

Perhaps it could be an AGENT; it has been known to happen — the personal touch? Not just an email: The book in it’s present form would not make the market place, but . . . I think you have some interesting ideas. If you would like to . . .

The writer grabs the phone on the last ring, knocking a glass of wine to the floor.

“Shit . . . Oh, hi. Pub? Yeah, why not — just got to buy some cheese first. The Rat’n’Cucumber, in ten? OK.”

Dog and owner squeeze past the shared-house detritus on the landing, avoid Mrs Green on the first floor and reach the ground floor. The Writer pauses before the freckled hall mirror to examine his appearance: furrowed brow, hollow cheeks and . . . opps, no mirror descriptions. Oh so useful, but so damned clichéd. He turns his gaze to the dump of mail on the hall table.

“Phone bill, credit card statement — sharp intake of breath — postcard from Cleethorpes. A-ha, Beegee . . . what’s this?”

He slips a trembling finger under the envelope flap, the paper giving way with a sound as loud as a sandstorm in the echoing hallway.

Dear Writer,

Hutch and Wortleberry associates were interested to read your chapters, but . . .

The dog whimpers as his owner rips the A4 sheet into a small blizzard and kicks the pieces under a warped section of lino, noting first in his Earnest Hemmingway moleskin notebook, which agency has rejected him.

The greasy London street seethes with rush hour activity. Black-garmented people scuttle, bags and briefcases clutched in morning-knuckly hands, a million office chairs vacantly waiting their arrival. Weaving beetle-like through the crowd, The Writer dives into the fug of Sahides convenience store, grabs a triangular packet of Cheddar and heads for the counter, ignoring the lines of chunky bestsellers that sit smugly next to the pink-fronted celeb magazines.

He pays and heads off into the drizzle, the cheese continuing its fermentation in his cellar–like coat pocket.

Traffic lights blur in his rain-spotted glasses; hair flops, shoes leak. A job . . . at least he would own real shoes. Maybe. Just this last chapter: send it off and kiss this crazy urge goodbye. Imagine a future without it — get up, get dressed, take the tube, do the job, kiss the girlfriend, buy the ring, secure the flat, book the vicar, the church and the covers band; have the most important orgasm, the one that sends a tadpole burrowing into her egg that fixes itself to her womb and creates a tiny, new living form; move to get the right school . . . WHAP.

Beegee has chased a cat into the road and the writer has embraced a lamppost, hard.

He collapses to the pavement as the dog apologises, eyebrows converging, cat forgotten.

People hurry past; just another down-and-out.

The writer laughs, locates the cheese and breaks off a nub. He sits for a moment as the acid-saltiness stings his teeth and turns off all other senses.

A carelessly thrown fifty pence piece ricochets off the pavement and chinks into a drain. The Writer’s tired eyes follow the movement and he sighs as deeply as the wind in a thousand pine trees (nice).

“Pub, Beegee. I need a bloody drink.”

 

Dog and writer arrive at the Rat ‘n’ Cucumber. The doorway, a friendly orange rectangle amongst scarred, dusk-dark brick beckons them in: ale for the writer, bacon crisps for the dog.

A pink-haired woman, signals across the room, waving madly: “Hey, Dodo!”

The writer flushes, wishing The Artist didn’t call him this. Pushing his way between suited men braying about deals and thin girls with eyelashes of crows’ wings, he reaches the table she has claimed. A small sculpture of someone sits atop a pile of books, alongside hairbrushes, tins of soup and a melon.

“Who’s the guy?” says The Writer, peeling off his wet coat and throwing it to the bench seat.

She jerks her head towards the flaking personage: “Kennedy,” she says, and continues to empty her voluminous bag.

“Before the bullet, or after?” he asks, “and what are you looking for?”

“After. It’s for an exhibition — Presidents in Heaven and Hell. And I’m trying to find my fucking purse.”

“I’ll get them,” says The Writer. “Guiness and mint cordial?”

“No, I’ve gone off that — just a triple Martini with four cubes of ice. Thanks, Dodo.”

“Crisps?”

“God no . . . so bad for you.”

“And a triple Martini isn’t?”

“I had a pint of goats milk first. You can drink anything after that — just think of what goats eat.”

The Writer nods, remembering the time a goat ate his mother’s handbag in London Zoo.

He approaches the counter hoping the fair-haired barmaid will serve him, but she’s trapped with a guffawing man in silver-grey trousers, the jacket slung over his shoulder, Cartier watch revealed, and Ferrari cufflinks; the dancing horse in its sea of custard yellow as clear as a Dutch miniature. The Writer forgets what he is doing, drawn in by the outward signage of this person.

“Can I help you?” The man asks.

“Er, no . . . sorry, just wondered what time it was.”

“Same time as it says on your Timex, Mate.”

The barmaid titters as The Writer moves along the bar, wondering how he would choose to dispatch cuff-link man if murder could be ordered along with lager.

Returning to the table, he clinks down half a lager and a stem glass of amber-red fluid.

The Artist picks up the drink: “Thanks, but why only three ice cubes?”

The Writer turns heavy-lidded eyes on her: “Does it really matter?”

“Everything matters. Anyway, I have this thing about the number four at the moment,” she sips. “Ooh, that’s good . . . have to do things four times.”

“Like what?”

“Closing doors, washing hands, blinking, orgasms . . . ”

“That’s OCD.”

“It’s conceptual art.”

The Writer considers his own small routines in the flat: “So me going back to check the gas is off is conceptual art.”

“No that’s OCD.”

“Four orgasms?”

“Always.”

“How?”

“Visualising plant stamens. Another drink?”

“Er . . . yeah, sure.”

She glowers as he passes the drained glass: “You need something more thought-provoking that half a pint of piss — don’t go anywhere.”

Sighing, the writer watches as the The Artist pushes her way to the bar. The last time they left this pub, he ended up in St Thomas’s Hospital with a car clamp attached to his leg and crisp poisoning. Not this time. A new plot was forming: need to keep focussed. He could feel the story line hovering just out of reach: rain-slicked street, a burning car, acrid smoke hissing under the pelting/torrential/shimmering, steel edged rain/water/torrents . . . just rain for now, shit, just used rain . . . “Oh, thanks.”

A glass of blue is in front of him; an oasis amongst the matrix of grey brown and black that is the Rat ’n’ Cucumber.

“What is this?”

“A thought provoker.”

“But what’s in it?”

“Shut up and drink it, then you can come and help me finish the paper maché Nixon head.”

“But — ”

Actually . . . why not? The Writer considers: a couple of hours engaged in some other art activity while this new idea walks around in his head. No fearful staring at the computer squeezing a few words out before putting the kettle on, once again.

“I like the suit,” he says as they leave the pub. The collection of peculiar, coloured fabric strips that The Artist usually inhabits has been replaced by a sharp, single breasted number.

“Thanks,” she says. “Hair’s next — raven black.”

“Why?”

“Black and white, no fuzzy in-between stuff. You’ll understand when you see the flat.”

The rain is now as heavy as the torrents featuring in The Writer’s new idea. They dodge traffic and arrive panting outside The Artist’s grizzled residence to climb the four flights of gravy-coloured stairs. Dog and master steam gently as she searches for keys.

“Bastard bag.”

“Maybe you should get a small brief case to go with the suit?”

“Piss off, Dodo.”

The Artist opens the door and they stand in an empty white room.

The Writer gawps: “What happened to all the stuff?”

“New start,” she smiles. “Easel, materials and four walls – eight if you include the bedroom, or twelve with the loo.”

“Where’s this Nixon head thing?” He says, peeling off his coat.

She jerks her head towards the bedroom door: “In there.”

The Writer walks over and tentatively opens the door remembering a drunken dalliance in that very room when he and The Artist had shared apres-university hopes and ideals.

“He won’t bite,” she says as he peers into the room. A chicken wire structure looms in the space, empty otherwise apart from stacks of newspaper, a computer and a giant Technicolor photograph of the ex-president.

“Where’s the bed?”

“I gave it to the mad woman downstairs — got a futon in the bathroom.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Tinned peaches, or shall we start?”

 

Four hours later, sticky with gluey paper The Writer sips tea and looks out over the glistening rooftops from the flat’s one window.

“Penny for ’em,” says The Artist.

He turns and sighs: “Just thinking . . .”

“How many is it now?” she asks, stirring her tea.

“Rejections? About fifty.”

“You still got the itch to do it?”

“Think it’s hidden somewhat under layers of mental clothing.”

“You’ll know.”

“What?”

“When enough’s enough. There’ll be a sign.”

The Writer nods: “I’ll watch out then. Right better get back and do some work — or not.”

“Thanks, Dodo . . . for the head help. I’ll give you a credit.”

The Writer stands, wakes the dog, waves and heads out into the blackness of the corridor to wander back home through streets puddled with petrol-rainbow water. His weary mind juggles poetic prose but falls into thoughts of jobs and healthy bank statements. A sign? Life without the word urge?

 

Turning into his thin street, he looks up at the tenement block and considers the six years that were supposed to be six months while he figured out a way of contributing to a joint mortgage. The door of number six is ajar. Someone has left the door open: careless! The Writer pads upstairs. Beegee whines as they reach the landing.

“What?” questions his owner, “cats?” The whine becomes a bark as they approach the open door of the flat. “Jesus. F. Christ,” wails The Writer as he steps over a bookcase partly blocking the hallway. His voice rises to a screech as he observes the dark square on the dusty table on entering the sitting room. “The fuckers — the computer!”

He wades across the debris and stands white-faced, hands raking his hair. It’s gone. Along with the hard-drive and all the non-backed up files, words, phrases, pages, paragraphs, stories and . . . The Novel. As he collapses, sobbing, onto a pile of clothing, he remembers The Artist’s words: ‘You’ll know — a sign.’ He buries the words in his fury, covering them with the earth of phrases stored in his mind, but they surface again, a waving hand of the undead — ‘a sign’.

Hours, wine, coffee and a police statement later, The Writer sinks into his bed still dressed, a million phrases spinning through his dishevelled brain.

 

Day breaks with the ‘chip chip of urban sparrows and the thrum of the rush hour. The Writer sits up, leans over to the window and flips up the roller blind. Sun streaks into the room highlighting shelves bent under the weight of dust-inebriated manuscripts. Turning back to the window, he glances over the unkempt, privet-bushed garden and considers the beauty of this London morning. He waits for the usual gush of lyrical observations: nothing. His mind is as empty as an uninhabited goldfish bowl.

Looking back to the sagging wads of paper, The Writer imagines a clean wall and respectable wallpaper. Pushing back the bedclothes he stalks the idea into the living room. Perhaps it might be good to rediscover the carpet, paint walls and invite people round. As he stirs a pile of discarded papers with a moth-eaten socked toe the idea becomes an unbearably huge thing, filling the flat, making him breathless: he dives for the phone.

“Come on . . . come on . . . Hey! Yes, sorry I know it’s bloody six a.m . . . yes it is an emergency, sort of.”

An hour later, a blue van is parked outside the building, its portly owner yawning as he watches The Writer manically dragging bin bags into the patch of front garden.

“What the fuck are you doing, Dodo?”

“Don’t call me that. Just doing something I should have done years ago.”

The Friend passes a hand through the remaining wisps of hair stretched across his head and squints at The Writer’s zealous activity.

“Have you found God?”

“No.”

“What’s all these bags?”

“Paper millstone.”

“Sorry?”

“D’you want to come to an exciting life-cleansing ritual?”

“Can’t — got someone coming round to collect a cake. How long do you need the van?”

The Writer drops the two bags he is clutching and smiles blankly: “I really don’t know.”

“This afternoon then. Before two, I’ve a wedding tapas to set up.”

“Thanks.”

“No problem. Let’s get the rest of whatever it all is, out, then you can make me a coffee.”

 

As The Writer leaves the remnants of Suburbia behind, the sun appears, clouds drift away and the light drizzle that had threatened his plans evaporates. Today he is unaware of the patchwork of fields and the distant blue hills. The van chugs, the radio babbles and his mind feels divinely empty.

Inspired to turn left, he does so, and finds at the end of a track a clearing and a small pond. “As if to order,” he murmurs as he turns off the engine and observes the landscape. The cooling engine clicks. Wind ruffles the poplars’ yellowing leaves, some escaping and tickling the van window. No poem shuffles forward, just practical information: fires, ashes, and disposal of.

Opening the door, he steps out and breathes in the Autumnal air: “OK, let’s do this.”

The ash pile is smaller than he had thought: not much for seven or eight year’s work. Scooping up the feathery flakes he tosses them across the water where they land in clumps, not lyrically dissolving as he had imagined: himself as a lone figure weeping on the banks. “Huh.”

 

Van returned, The Writer walks towards his home, ideas of fresh paint and upholstery crowding his mind. There is much to be done, atonement, grovelling even.

He opens the door, hearing the swish of post and free papers on the lino. Stooping he picks up the pile and scans for his name — couple of crinkly-windowed, worrying things, letter from his mother and . . . “Huh! One of those.” Carelessly he slips an index finger under the flap and draws out a thick piece of A4. “Last time I’ll have to endure crushing humiliation, eh, Beegee.”

The page holds rather more words than usual: words he had often fantasied over.

    Dear Writer. Thank you for sending us your chapters. Although there are issues to be resolved, your work interests me. Would you please send the complete manuscript by return of post.

The dog cringes under the hall table, waiting for the howl of rejection. Nothing. Silence apart from his owner’s heartbeat, just audible in the musty hallway.

Reality crashes: “Holy, crapping, crap! What have I done?”

The Writer thunders upstairs, unlocks the door with sweating fingers and stumbles into the mess.

“Somewhere,” he spits, “in this nightmare, I left that USB key for safekeeping. Safe! Where!”

The dog retreats to its bed whilst The Writer/whirlwind passes through the flat, turning over piles and wrenching open drawers. Abruptly he stops as a memory surfaces. There was another one . . . I gave it to . . . who, WHO? Grabbing the phone, he stabs the keypad.

“Holly? Hi-yeah-fine-no-actually-totally-mad. Look did I leave you a USB key . . . after that gig we went to where Peter was playing . . . no? Shit. Sorry, I’ll call again, soon.”

He repeats this seven times without success then as he stands white-faced in the dishevelled flat another memory surfaces: the image of a messenger bag he had left at The Girlfriend’s flat after a spectacular row – the last row. Throwing all other issues aside he dials her number. No reply. She must be there; it’s Wednesday. She always works at home on Wednesday.

An apologetic bark reminds him that it’s Beegee’s teatime. The tin and opener have become a brain-freezing complication of metal; his hands slip and twist.

The dog snaffles the food while his master paces, thinking of the bag: did he really leave it there? Dog filled, they clamber back over the bookshelves, career down the stairs and sprint to the high road.

A black cab curves to a halt at The Writer’s frantic gesticulations. Scrambling in, he gabbles the address and sits hugging the dog.

As they flee through the back roads, gardens, feral cats and skips become again things to be considered, to be placed in sentences, paragraphs and page; the ordinary becoming once again a universe of extraordinary.

His guts gripe as the cab pulls in. He pays and stands looking up for a moment at The Girlfriend’s flat, situated at the top of an elegant mustard-bricked building. The argument rings in his head. He feels regret, but mostly fear: will she let him in?

Walking up the checked pathway The Writer glances at the pile of bin-liners covering the usually neat, gravelled front garden. Bin strike again, perhaps. He mounts the stairs and prods the illuminated rectangle next to her name, a shard of sadness running through him. Sweat pricks at his limbs. After what feels like days, her voice crackles in his ear.

“Yes, hello?”

“It’s me.”

“Piss off.”

Silence.

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for being a shit-head, or sorry for the last three years of total inertia?”

“Well . . . all that, really.”

“It’s over.”

The Writer feels a pain lance his throbbing heart, followed by brain-pulverising panic.

“Can we talk about this . . . and can I come in?”

“No. To be blunt, I’ve gone back to Sam.”

“What! That smarmy bastard who works at Nat West?”

“No. Sam with a job and a car who works at Nat West.”

The intercom hisses static as she moves to hang up.

“No, wait! My stuff!”

“Bin bags — outside. I was about to call you.” Click.

The Writer turns to look at the grey heap of rain-drenched plastic. He calmly takes off his jacket, rolls up his sleeves and un-knots the first one. A stench of ancient fridge contents knocks him back. Five bags later he’s unearthed his own familiar belongings. He hauls out socks, shirts, books, and, at the bottom, a crushed vinyl bag. The zip is stuck. He wrenches and tears, discarding notebooks, cigarettes, redundant technology and there . . . at the very bottom, a small piece of red plastic. Seizing it he jumps up, banging into a resident: “Sorry . . . I’ll be back — to clean up.”

He runs to the main road praying that Zippiprint hasn’t closed down. No, still there! Barging in he stands, close to hyperventilation, behind an old man requiring photocopies.

A youthful assistant is trying her best: “A4, sir?”

“No, I only want one.”

“The size — A4.”

“Oo, she didn’t say. Perhaps I’d better ring her.” His ancient hands shake as he reaches into an inside pocket for a mobile phone. “Oh, my glasses, I left them next to the television, I remember now. He purses his lips and peers close to the phone, mouthing silent numbers: “one, six, three . . . no, six, one . . . ”

The Writer fumes; sweat drops from his brow.

“Can I help you?” Another assistant has appeared from the back room: an amber-haired saviour.

“Never so sweet the messenger of sainted help,” murmurs The Writer.

“Sir?”

“Nothing. Sorry . . . ” he hands over the key. “I need a copy of a file on here, thanks.”

She takes the key, wipes the sweat from it and inserts it into a computer. It loads. The Writer dances frenetically on the spot. The old man stares at his phone.

Assistant number two turns wide, brown eyes onto The Writer: “Swedish Sofa Games, or Big Buns part two?”

He stops wriggling, face flaring: “Er . . . sorry, can I see.”

She turns the monitor and he regards the lengthy list of agent letters, synopi, short stories . . .

“Where the fuck?” he snarls, momentarily forgetting his whereabouts.

The elderly man turns to him and smiles: “No, not having much luck.”

The Writer grunts an apology and runs his straining eyes over the list once more . . . There! At the bottom, of course! During a drunken moment he had changed the novel’s name; it had never been changed back on this key.

He stabs a trembling index finger at the screen: “That one.” The girl opens the file and words fill the screen. “Scroll-please-thanks-sorry.” It’s there, the right edit — all of it. “Two copies, spiral bound, please.”

She nods, lips a firm line: “Fifteen minutes, OK?”

“Great, fantastic.”

The writer steps into the street, the old guy’s querulous voice replaced by the city soundscape of cars, buses, sirens and a million conversations. He closes his eyes for a moment as if to cement in time this monumental moment. What to do with fifteen minutes? Coffee? Beer? Nothing. He sits, guards the shop as if it might melt away, imagines the shape of the agent: hair, glasses or no glasses. The elderly man steps out from the shop and smiles at him.

“I remembered, four copies of A4 — colour. And I think your cookery project is ready too.”

“Cookery?”

“Buns, wasn’t it?”

The Writer salutes as he stands up: “That was it, thanks.”

The assistant squares up the two heavy manuscripts on the counter: “Twenty-four pounds, sir.” Producing his faded debit card, the The Writer prays there will be enough swishing around at the bottom of his monetary petrol tank. “Code,” she continues, “Thank you. Bag?”

“Please.”

Clasping the slippery plastic to his chest, he enters the buzzing street. Visualising his almost empty wallet, he opts for a bus. He runs, dog following, to the nearest stop. The traffic is a car park, no red shape remotely visible, even in the distance.

“A brisk walk, Beegee. Can only be fifteen minutes to Charing Cross.”

The earlier sunny day is morphing into true late autumn. Storm clouds gather, office blocks pale against their towering dark mass. Wind whips. The first heavy raindrops spot the dusty pavements and The Writer’s brisk walk turns to a run. With the force of a mighty slamming door, the storm commences. He dodges the crowds, a sea of grey clothes and black umbrellas; steps into Garrick Street not checking to his right. A messenger cyclist clips his arm. The bag falls and regurgitates its heavy, white contents into an overflowing drain’s miniature lake.

Lifting the dripping mush of papers, The Writer stares at the dribbling words for a second then drops the pile.

The dog shivers as The Writer fumbles for the USB key, scanning the street for another printers. No key. His brain replays the transaction in Zippoprint but nothing surfaces.

Feeling as if his lungs have imploded, The Writer reaches the printers. The auburn-haired girl is swishing fetid water out from the shop doorway, her expression, grim.

“Sorry to bother you,” gasps The Writer, “but, did I leave my key here?”

She shakes her head: “I gave it back to you.”

The rain pours. She sweeps.

A vibration that could be his heart living its last, awakens him from his trance: Phone text message from The Artist: ‘Dodo call round, I’ve  — ‘

The phone dies. Beegee howls. The Writer picks up the dog and walks, mind empty to The Artist’s flat.

 

He presses the intercom button, the door buzzes and he struggles to the third floor, wet coat clinging to his trembling legs.

The Artist peers out from her doorway, hair in a towel.

“What was the rest of the message?” says The Writer dully. “I only got: ‘call round, I’ve  —’ before my phone’s battery went dead.

She pulls him into the room, hands him another towel: “Look — dry Beegee, he’s shaking then come in here.

The Writer slops his sodden coat to a chair-back, rubs the dog over and walks into the bedroom. The Artist’s newly, black hair shines with a blue reflection from her computer screen as she bends to fiddle with something at the side of the Mac. The Writer looks over her shoulder as a Ping announces item installed.

A small white icon of a USB key appears on her screen saver of a Robert Mapplethorpe nude. She clicks on it.

“I found this stuck to Nixon’s head,” she says, looking up at him as a list appears. “Just checking it’s the right key — I seem to have several. Remember you gave me a copy of the novel? Somehow it must have got into my newspaper pile. Sorry.”

“That’s really quite alright,” sighs The Writer. He pulls her chin slightly towards him with a damp forefinger and thumb. He kisses her slowly then looks back to the screen.

His shaking hand covers hers as he scrolls down to The Novel and opens the file.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction to Kate A. Hardy

Hello.

IMG_9117.jpg

A small biography:

At various times Kate has been a bookshop assistant, DJ, estate agent blurb writer, Mars- Bar factory worker, gardener, sous-chef, barmaid, architectural impressions maker, chip shop worker, and photographic stylist. The latter requires a sub category of just about anything imaginable: detective, taxi driver, model maker, inventor, bullshitter, diplomat, location finder, robber, dog trainer and actor.

She now spends as much time as possible writing.

Work to date:

Mister Mint and the Monster – self published in crayon and pencil in a lined exercise book around 1968

Big gap

‘Alfi Beasti, Don’t Eat That!’ written and illustrated by Kate. Published by Puffin books, 2004

Trilogy of novels: Going Out in the Midday Sun, Staying Out of the Midday Sun and The Mad Dog Café. Started in 2010, finished 1015. Now out on Amazon in paperback and as e-readers

The Hundred and Fifty-Eighth book, The Couch, Rose. Short stories taken for publication by ‘Cracked Eye’ 2015

The Hundred and fifty-eighth book made into an audio-story, read by Anton Lesser

Collection of short stories – Dog, and other tales, completed and will be available as a hardback soon.

Current work:

Series of Novels set in 2090, in ‘Londonia’ Might be classed as Dystopia, but I would like to create a new genre – Dyst-hopia: post-apocalyptic but not utterly doom-laden.

First Book, Hoxton has been completed and is currently being considered by an agency. Second book, Smithi has been finished to editing stage. Another two books are at planning stage.

Sketch from Hoxton

Hoxton cover copy

A couple of comments from readers of Hoxton.

How lovely – how clever! From the quirky title onwards the reader is in for an edgy, spookily realistic adventure set in a dystopian London of the future.
Despite there being many versions of possible future worlds, your vision ranks as one of the best I have come across. It really holds together well, in all its gruesomeness.
You write extremely competently and nothing disrupted the pace and my enjoyable read. You have a solid style, an imaginative turn of phrase and a quietly irreverent sense of humour.
The imagery you conjure is brilliant – rather Joanne Harris in places – and we all admire her writing, I think – and then again a little Cloud Atlas in the use of the altered language in David Mitchell’s dystopian world. But in and of itself, it is very individual, very Kate Hardy!
 
 
Liked this very much indeed. It’s very hard to put a new slant on dystopia and at the same time not stretching credibility too much. Excellent work.
I like the originality, the new vocabulary, the general thrust of the plot, the realism, the stuff about IKEA and Thirty Shades.
This is really something else. No surprise to see that you’re a published author. If your agent doesn’t get you a TV or film deal for this . . . get a new agent!