Tag Archives: fiction

By Any Other Name

Imagine your Mum’s handwriting was so appalling that you were registered with the wrong name. An embarrassing one. And to get around it you create a whole fantasy existence …

By Any Other Name

by Caroline Sully

By Any Other Name

I was born at the same time we were moving house: from our crowded rented terrace in Glebe to a Federation pile on the lower north shore my Dad’s childless, widowed aunt had left to her only nephew.

From the confines of the Crown Street Women’s Hospital in Surry Hills Mum dazedly gave instructions about the move as Dad and my three older sisters thundered into the ward to congratulate a weary Mum and get their first peek at me.

I was, apparently, a red-faced squawking scrap of a thing with a mop of dark hair. My sisters, expecting a pink and white angelic infant who slept with a Mona Lisa smile on her perfect face, were disappointed and said so while Mum and Dad filled out the paperwork.

I was to be named Denise after the said departed aunt. After a heated discussion about my middle name, which made me howl even louder and brought a starchy nurse to the bedside, Mum scrawled the name Elinor down and sent the family away.

She gave the nurse the completed form for my birth certificate, and went to sleep. Job done.

Nobody thought to question Mum’s writing, which was appalling at the best of times and even worse after a long labour and a good dose of painkillers.

It wasn’t until I was five years old and starting school that we all realised the name on my birth certificate had actually been recorded as Penise.

*    *   * Continue reading


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Cat got your typewriter: Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs Murphy Mysteries

Not drawn by M GellatlyAccording to the cover, the Mrs Murphy series is written by Rita Mae Brown and her cat, Sneaky Pie Brown. Inside most books you’ll find a note from Sneaky Pie herself asserting that she is the author. This clever feline has, with the help of her human, written 18 books to date in this quirky series. She’s a dab paw with a typewriter.

Heroine Mrs Murphy is a tabby (or tiger cat as she is described in the books, tiger cat apparently being American for tabby). She’s assisted in her crime-solving by corgi Tee Tucker and grey cat Pewter (aka the grey cannonball as Pewter is ruled by her ever-hungry stomach).

Because this is a cat’s fantasy series, for want of a better description, the animals’ conversations are reported in English and these clever beasties can also read and do many other things you don’t even want to think of your cat doing. Cats are pretty smart anyway. Would you want a cat who could read? You’d never hear the end of it! 🙂

The series is set in Virginia in the present day, and the animals assist human heroine Mary Minor (aka Harry) Haristeen out of trouble; murder trouble, with Harry generally finding herself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The cats and dogs are the true crime-solving heroes and heroines, often taking on the villain with tooth and claw. I wonder that their owner Harry doesn’t get sued by the victims!

They are well thought out mysteries, laugh out loud funny, beautifully improbable and highly entertaining. The books are illustrated with line drawings of the animals. Out of the artists who have provided the drawings I prefer the superbly talented Michael Gellatly’s delicate and realistic work.

The human characters grow with the series, and Harry newly divorced in book one, falls in love again with her ex-husband over the series until they remarry. Supporting characters – and there are several regulars – also grow and develop. However, each book can be read independently of another. Heroine Harry changes careers from postmistress to full-time farmer through the series; she’s a very energetic person and I almost feel guilty relaxing with one of these books as her days are long and full – this woman doesn’t seem to ever rest!

If you think you’re going to be reading a childish series full of talking animals, think again. These books are for adults, and adults with a broad sense of humour and fun at that. Um… children’s books do not feature felines with a propensity for profanity: “Give me that back, you striped asshole!”

Much as I have loved devouring this series (rather like Pewter with a ton of tuna in front of her), Rita Mae …er, Sneaky Pie … has a rather annoying way of pointing out the bleeding obvious to those among her readership who may not be particularly savvy or able to put two and two together with a degree of accuracy. This is an example: The conversation is between two characters is about horses and racing…

“She came within a hair of taking the Colonial Cup.” Fair cited a famous steeplechase race. (Sour Puss, 2006)

I think any reader who’d made it to page 113 in a book that also has a horsey flavour to it would have worked out for themselves that the Colonial Cup is a race. Characters “cite”,”name” or “state” an explanation several times in each book. It’s the only downside to this series of ‘cozy’ mysteries with an edge all its own.

Overall, if you have imagination, a sense of humour, and a love of animals, I suggest you give this series a try. You can buy the first book of the series as an e-book on Amazon. Until recently the second was also available electronically. Owing to limited space in my bookshelves and limited funds in my bank account I sincerely wish the entire series had been available as e-books.

You may find a review of some of the books on this series here in the future – I’m sure I won’t be able to resist.

(Thanks to my lovely friend Genevieve for putting me onto this series!)

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The Cryink Game

Finally, a new short(ish) story: Holly’s first job in 1970s suburban Sydney isn’t just answering the phones, it’s dealing with a dodgy overbearing builder who wants to marry her off to his son.

“What’s a Palamar?” Rosemary squinted at the note; it had grubby fingerprints on it and smelt of garlic, clearly the work of Franco the foreman whose spelling was a phonetic reproduction of his accent.

Rhoda and I peered over her shoulder. “Palamar comming 10AM toomoro.”

“I suppose we’ll find out at ten tomorrow,” Rhoda said brightly.

“Palamar, palamar,” mused Rosemary, staring out the window into the muddy mire that was the backyard cum building site. Franco and the boys had left for the day and as usual they had simply downed tools and walked off, leaving shovels, trowels and other equipment in a still life.

Her eyes widened. “Pa-LA-mar! It’s a plumber!”

You wouldn’t believe how excited three people could get over this announcement but working with the builders was like dealing with an alien life form or translating an ancient Egyptian cuneiform. There were rare moments of brilliance in communication. Continue reading

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La belle baguette sans merci – dreams can make good fiction

La Belle Baguette Sans MerciLast night was abysmal. At 2am in our hot little uninsulated house it was still nearly 30 degrees in our bedroom. The kind of night when you lie under the ceiling fan, sans sheets, and long for sleep. When it comes, it’s in bursts of two or three hours, with vivid dreams.

I usually don’t remember my dreams, which is a shame, as they would make fantastic fiction! My dreams are usually of the adventure variety; in my dreams I travel the world, I get caught up in intrigue or danger, I do things I wouldn’t do when I’m awake. Like rock-climbing. One in ten dreams might still be in my head when I wake up, and when I woke up at 4 this morning hot and bothered, I had a grip of the one in the ten.

I had baked a baguette which performed akin to a light sabre. It was a weapon. It shot sparks. If I swung my loaf of bread it whizzed and whirred and electric pulses spat from its warm golden sides. I vaguely recall chasing an enemy (not sure who but probably the God of Hot Summer Nights) and slashing at him with the mighty baguette. Wham! Pow! (Oh, hang on, it’s a baguette. French in origin.) Paf! Ouf! La belle baguette sans merci!

I think the idea has merit. A magic baguette. So don’t steal my idea… only I know what the baguette actually looks like. Only I know how to make it a lethal 24 inches of flour and water and that little something extra. 🙂

Why did I dream about a baguette? I’m a baker’s granddaughter who bakes her own bread and while it’s usually a wholemeal or wholemeal/spelt tin loaf, I had found a baguette recipe to try on French Women Don’t Get Fat. It looks OK but I question not adding sugar or honey to the yeast mix. But I digress.

So back to dreams. Has anyone out there turned a vivid dream into written fiction? Have your dreams given you ideas? Have you dreamed about fiction you’re writing (and perhaps got some good plot twists)?

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The curse of the blocked writer

MoooooWriter’s Block is a cow. I think in my case it’s a Friesian who sidles up to my desk with a loud “Moooo!” and puts me off my thoughts.

I never used to suffer from Writer’s Block; as a child I had a disgustingly fertile imagination and always had a story or two in progress. I was still busily writing fiction in my twenties and thirties. And now I have half-formed ideas which I jot down in note form and can’t take to fruition. It’s very annoying.

I open my half-baked novel, read through it to date with the odd edit or two, decide it’s coming along nicely and then only manage three sentences in thirty minutes, if I’m lucky.

So I procrastinate. I work on client tasks. I read new emails. I look for daft stuff on eBay or catch up with my favourite blogs. I make a cup of tea. I weed the flower and veggie beds, going through plots and imagined conversations in my head.

But still that screen remains resolutely blank when I get back to it.

Clearly I’m not alone. Type in “writer’s block” in Google and you’ll get more than 2.5 million results. Type in “overcome writer’s block” and there are nearly 150,000.

Part of my problem is not being able to separate my non-fiction workload from my fiction work. As a self-employed freelancer I get clients with urgent demands which take precedence. And then there’s the non-urgent stuff which gnaws at me while I’m trying to write, reminding me that I should be doing it. Even at weekends it’s hard to turn non-fiction/business work off; typically I work at least one day of any given weekend as well as weekdays. Websites, meetings and other client projects nag at me, even waking me at 2am. Fiction writing takes a back seat these days.

The end result is that when I’m not working, I just want time away from the computer. I want to switch off and do physical things – exercise, shopping, just getting out and about and enjoying the fresh air. Or reading someone else’s fiction!

For a while last year I tried setting aside an hour every day to write, but the urgent stuff encroached, and then the non-urgent. By mid-February the hour had vanished. I just couldn’t concentrate on writing fiction knowing there was so much else that needed doing and had a more urgent deadline than my novel. By year’s end I was climbing the walls with stress.

I’m now researching tips such articles like this to see what can free my Writer’s Block; I suspect however what I need to do first is to learn to switch off and not respond to client requests outside working hours. Then go back to setting a time each day to write. Treat my fiction as part of my general workload.

Has Writer’s Block ever mooed at you? Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction/business writing? What did you do to overcome it?




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She Should Cocoa

I wrote this story as part of a marital challenge; my husband and I, having had a couple of glasses of red one night, both went off to our respective computers for 90 minutes to see what we could come up with in terms of fiction, off the cuff. I’d had some chocolate with the red wine, and decided that chocolate would be the theme of my story. It wrote itself after that -!

It was like the old song Some Enchanted Evening, but if you’d have asked Jane, she would have said “Wha?” in vague tones, not recognising a song penned hundreds of years before she was born. And even so, she didn’t believe in romance.

Instead her crowded room was full of men and women with grey skin or green, one eye, maybe two, often three. The eyes she met were those with the same colour of her own, dark brown and, most particularly, human. Continue reading


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The Adulterer’s Dog

Hugh wasn’t going to argue with his forceful vet when she told him his dog needed more exercise. However, the vet’s instructions didn’t include meeting someone and falling in love

It was, on reflection, rather amusing that a visit to the local vet could lead to such a passionate affair. Not with the vet. Hugh had no desire to enfold the plain-faced, squat Clarissa in his arms.  And not with his dog, either. Although he was fond of Todger, and, if pushed, would admit that he loved the dog as much as he loved his two children, but in an owner/pet kind of way.
No, Clarissa had prodded Todger’s amply-covered ribs and chided Hugh about letting young Golden Retrievers run to fat. “You’ll have horrible hip problems with him later. How often does he get a walk?”
“Um,” Hugh said, flailing. He was trying hard to remember the last time any of the family had taken Todger outside the garden. Probably six months ago, and he’d been so excited he’d pulled Claire off her feet and now she and her brother were afraid to walk him.
“Every day, Hugh. He needs a walk every day. For heavens sake, you live on the edge of the village, you’ve got the most wonderful woods and moorland just a hop away.” Clarissa glared at him through her thick glasses; obviously he was now on the list of Bad Pet Owners. “Cut his feed in half. No snacks, unless they’re carrot sticks. And walk him. Train him, take him to obedience lessons and keep his mind active too. Let him have FUN.” Continue reading

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Green(eyed) Tea

There’s a party next week and Gina’s Little Black Dress is about to become Gina’s Busted Seam Black Dress. But a chance visit to a Chinese food store and the impulse purchase of Dieter’s Tea will change all that…although perhaps not quite in the way Gina expected.

1. Finding the right mantra
The South East Asian food store smelt interesting, enticing. Its interior, so dark compared to the blinding, sunny white tiles outside, held a promise of spice, a soupcon of cheong-sam, a steaming bowl of noodles.
Gina swept aside the awful plastic flaps of fly curtain; her shoes sounded hollow on the old lino. She drew a deep breath of spilled soy sauce and dried mushrooms, and almost sighed in delight. Like so many other Asian corner stores, the shelves were piled to the ceiling with packaged goods, many of them labelled in Chinese or Korean or Thai. Several had English subtitles along the lines of “is good taste yum yum!” which were so endearing she was tempted to buy them anyway, regardless of whatever mysteries hid inside the tin. Continue reading

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The Fourth Guy Upstairs

When Layla, trapped under a fallen bookcase, calls for divine help, the last person she expects to answer her call is the Fuck Up Fairy….. Warning: Bad Language, religious irreverence. 18+

It had NOT been Layla’s day. The hot water system had died a natural death during her shower, she’d been overcharged at Sainsbury’s for some very indifferent Bulgarian red, a trolley had added a new feature in the way of a creative dent in the rear panel of her car when she finally found it in the carpark (after almost dropping the two bottles she’d fought over), a traffic snarl made her fifteen minute journey home take 35, and that was all before 10am. Since then she’d learned the water system wouldn’t be fixed for at least three days, her boyfriend had left an ominous message on the answering machine that simply said, “We have to talk,” in a way that said he was about to dump her, the secretary of the CEO she was supposed to interview that afternoon (deadline for major business article: tomorrow) rang to say she’d got the dates mixed up and the CEO was currently en route to Rio de Janeiro and couldn’t be contacted, and a letter from the bank informed her politely she was overdrawn.
Layla fought the impulse to scream at the secretary, but instead persisted like a bulldog until she got the Rio hotel details out of the stammering woman. She had a feeling the telephone on the other end had turned, of its own accord, to ice. Great, now she could add a nice international phone call to the overdraft. Continue reading

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The Million Dollar Cat

Georgina’s generous and rather loopy Aunt Hermione left her a house in her will. The only snag is Georgie has to share it with a feline monster with a penchant for belting up people he doesn’t like.   Dedicated to my lovely huge silver tabby Hamish McFlea, 1999- 2008, the inspiration for Glasgow Ned (but much nicer). Warning: Bad language.

Where there’s a will there’s a greedy relation. An old joke, but, like a lot of old jokes, based on truth. In this case there wasn’t one greedy relation, there were two of them, shouting at me at once.
“How DARE Gran leave you her house! You’re only her NIECE!”
“She was out of her mind! I’m contesting the will!”
Trent and Sebastian, my two furious and already well-off cousins, drew breath at the same time, ready for the next tirade. I took advantage of the microsecond’s pause to have my say.
“Firstly, Great-Aunt Hermione was entitled to leave her house to whomever she chooses -”
“Whomever she chooses,” mimicked Trent, who’d failed English in High School but mysteriously made his living as a newspaper editor.
I glared at him. “Secondly, she wasn’t out of her mind. She was a cunning old lady with a terrific sense of humour.” Continue reading

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