Flash Fiction: Inspirational Neil


This is a quick piece of flash fiction I wrote yesterday. The jumping off point was a prompt about a cliff and a lily, but the finished product ended up nowhere near that.The word count, this time, was 500 words. I did 498. Flash Fiction – I am learning – is a real challenge. There’s really only room to introduce one character, one scene, one idea, and doing so with any kind of depth is prettttty tricky.

Emily x

Joz and me jumping into a lake in Kampot, Cambodia, October 2014. The kind of picture that you might find online emblazoned with ‘LOVE LIKE YOU’VE NEVER BEEN HURT’ in swirly pink cursive. 

Keep Calm and Carry On

I’ve a pad of inspirational quotes – one for each day – stuck to my fridge. My sis gave ‘em last Christmas. ‘Big ideas for yer little head, Neil, maybe you’ll be inspired and like, leave the house?’ Princess Angelica, I think, I see your idea and raise it. I’ll live that pad, 365 days of inspirationeil. I say that, laughing, but she walks out shaking her head. Probably to give our parents the pity report. Bide your time, Neily, I think. Christmas 2017, show ‘em all then, just bide it.

Jan’s great. I dance like no-one’s watching and it’s easy: no-one is. I twat around to Queen, get my hooverin’ done too. Next, I live, laugh and love – bit more abstract but fully doable: Terry and I watch Fools and Horses on G.O.L.D and laugh our arses off. Terry’s my hamster: I love that furry bastard. I give him double treats as a random act of kindness, no stress. Terry’s over the bloody moon.

Feb I have to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Metaphor, I know, but I’m leaning in 100%. I pick Patrick – homeless fella on the high street round the corner. Never knew his name before, he takes some persuading but eventually he takes my Doc Martens as a holding deposit and I march his bashed up Cons along the canal. I have a good think about Patrick the whole way, really empathising. I’m practically in tears when I get back, but the bastard’s done a runner. Unlucky for him, he picks the shop doorway below my flat to hide in. Lucky for him, I’m still down about his parents lettin’ him sleep outside Debenhams, so I say keep the shoes, come for tea.

I do us waffles and beans. Pat wants sausages but I’m veggie, I say. Since I got Terry, I tell him, not got the heart. Pat just eats. I point out the pad on the fridge, explain all, how it inspired today’s events. He shrugs, asks what’s tomorrow. It’s not protocol, but he’s a guest so I check. When you get knocked down, roll over and look at the stars. It’s a clear night, I say, let’s go on the roof. I been knocked down and looked at stars enough, Pat says. A tinny convinces him.

Roof’s quiet, Orion’s Belt’s out, inspiration feels like it’s working. Friends AND hobbies, I think, next Christmas Neil, you’ll show ‘em. You feel any calmer, I ask, more inspired? Calmer than what, says Patrick, I need a piss. I give him a key to get out and back in. When he slams the door it’s the only sound on the street.

Thirty minutes, no return. Don’t be hurt Neil, I think, he doesn’t know it’s the only key. I stay lying down in the peaceful silence, wondering whether today is a day when good things come to those who wait or a day to take a leap and trust I’ll land on my feet.

My best friend has cancer

And here’s another reblog of one of my posts from that site. This time, some reflections on Grace now that she’s in remission.

Emily x


Disclaimer: this post doesn’t have much to do with writing. Except, I suppose, that we are encouraged to write about what matters to us. I hope that’s a valid enough excuse for me to keep writing.

My best friend has cancer.

Well, she had it. As it stands now, she is a 26 year old woman in remission from Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. She has newly chubby cheeks from the steroids they make her take and newly short hair which is soft and downy like a baby’s. A year of her life (which otherwise would have been filled with wedding planning and completing her Midwifery training) has disappeared into a hurricane of hospital beds, IV lines and strangers with clipboards. But none of these things matter now, in comparison to the one fact which, previously taken for granted, is now all that matters. She is still here. She is alive.

I call…

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Cosmic Grace

I have avoided writing a poem about Grace for a long time because she is much better at poetry than me. I first started liking poetry at university when we lived together, and she would read it aloud to me.

Grace found out she had cancer just under a year ago. She has dealt with the whole thing with a vaguely pissed off nonchalance which I have found staggering: I can’t even deal with being gossiped about or talking to strangers on the phone. But yesterday she was reasonably frustrated: after being asked to move to a Young Person’s Cancer unit, the ward sister told her she couldn’t use the special facilities (a TV room, x boxes, the kitchen) on the near empty ward because they were for young persons aged 25 and below. Grace turned 26 last month. And she’s recovering from cancer. The lack of compassion was unfathomable.

So I wrote this sonnet thinking about how the nurse was more attached to the rule and to her patient as a statistic rather than seeing Grace as a person.  And she is a wonderful person.

Emily x

p.s. I love this second photo of Grace, because the fish tank in the background reminds me that when we lived together in our 4th year, we bought two fishes (Dolly and Kenny) which mysteriously died within 24 hours of purchase. Being the lazy layabouts that we were back then, we just scooped out and disposed of the dead fish, then kept the tank – death water and all – on display for approximately 6 months. With this level of commitment to hygiene in mind, it wasn’t particularly surprising that we had a vermin issue.

Glastonbury, 2010.
Nasmith Road, Norwich. 2010
60B Nasmith Road, Norwich. 2010
Cosmic Grace
Today you are yellow and twenty-six.
I can see that these stats make you feel blue.
The skies around the ward are charcoal grey
But colours prismatic still burst from you.
The ward sister is a bleach white abyss.
(Cancer’s cool at twenty-five and under).
Your cogent disdain is cool duck egg blue
But your outrage strikes as blood red thunder.
You read poetry in smooth pastel rose
and daydream of whales in aquamarine.
Your dream to win crufts is black, white and gold.
Your shrieking fits of laughter are forest green.
The sister may be colour-blind on YPC,
But you’re more than twenty-six and yellow to me.

This Too Shall Pass

Storm over Saigon, July 2015. (Photo from saigoneer.com).
Storm over Saigon, July 2015. (Photo from saigoneer.com).

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” – Little Women

Just before I moved home from Vietnam I was having dinner in Phu My Hung when a storm started tearing through the district. It ripped the cutlery off the tables and the branches out of the trees. Everyone was panicking and shouting and, for a moment, I felt like Dorothy in Kansas: half terrified and half excited by the potential of the destruction it might wreak. I wrote this poem today for a good friend with the image of that storm in my mind.

Emily x

Rider Of The Storm

You are more than what you feel today.

For now, put on your raincoat.
Zip it tight under your chin.
Pull on your galoshes
and begin
to step outside.

Let the rain sheet down
but tell it  you don’t care.
You hear but won’t feel it.
You’re safe in here
inside your raincoat.

Pass the warm coffee shops.
Feel not shame but pride
that you’re braving the storm
while others huddle inside.

Don’t despair that – for now –
you can’t feel the warm.
Keep on walking
and believe
that you’ll outlive the storm.

On Friendship

A summer ripe strawberry in Hue, 2014.
A summer ripe strawberry in Hue, 2014.

I wrote this poem shortly after moving to Vietnam. The poem we were reading was ‘Queen Kong’ by Carol Ann Duffy: one of my favourites of Duffy’s from ‘The World’s Wife’. It’s a beautiful love story with some great images but, unfortunately, every child I’ve taught it to thinks it’s creepy and weird.

Emily x

She just needs someone to unlock her

I watched her today reading a poem
as three of us lay on my bed with
full bellies and after dinner mint cigarettes,
basking in a perfect slice of right place at the right time.

And given licence to express herself –
and share something she knew was good –
she grinned like a light-bulb as she pronounced the word:
She ate it like a summer-ripe strawberry.
Her clean cut English accent,
which sometimes sounded clipped,
at that moment was spring water clean
and felt like dipping your face in a stream.
Her eyes were 30 degrees and blue sky
where often they were overcast grey
with threats of showers.

She looked gorgeous.
And I thought:
she just needs someone to unlock her.
For God’s sake don’t we all,
somewhere down the line?


No Talking Please

Ubud, Bali. December 2014.

This weekend I had my bag snatched when I was a few metres from my apartment. Two men went past on a motorbike and grabbed it. I held on but they sped past and got my bag, leaving me in a pile on the road. Besides from the fact that no one in my life has ever intentionally tried to hurt me before, this was upsetting for three reasons:

  • My credit card was in there which expires in 5 months; if I had kept it until then it would have been my first card to reach its expiry date before I’d managed to lose it
  • My kindle was in there and I was two chapters from ‘The Red Wedding’ in  A Storm Of Swords
  • My pink thermos was in there, which I use to ingest approximately 4 times the recommended daily dosage of caffeine

Screw my phone and the money. I’ve had to learn not to get too attached to phones.

Anyway, I spent the rest of the weekend with Kim.  I have never yet been married but Kim and I have basically perfected the marriage model that I hope to one day achieve with a human male (Pete – but I’m not supposed to mention that or he won’t ask). She does a lot of cheering up without being asked, understanding without being told and we have a no judgement policy on dessert binges. Most of all, she enjoys endless talking.

The bag snatching left me feeling homesick on Friday and Kim hung out with me for a solid 50 hours afterwards. So I wrote this in celebration of her sick friendship skills.

Emily x

For My Conversational Soulmate

When I was nine
My brother tired
Of being ‘pointlessly interrogated’
Of being asked
(for the eleventh time)
If he’d be buried
Or cremated.

It’d be a lie to say
that at twenty-five
The questioning has ceased.
He wasn’t the first
(nor was he the last)
To ask for five minutes peace.

So I’m glad that you
Never seem to get tired
of endless prattle
and squawking;
that you never seem to question
‘what’s the point’?

Because the point is:
we are talking.


I met Josiah outside a pub seven years ago. He was wearing a long trench coat – a little ostentatious for an eighteen year old – and gave me a chip dipped in baked bean juice. We discussed Marillion for some reason: each of us knew one song by them and the conversation led Jos to fall so deeply in love with their back catalogue that he became the world’s most well researched Prog Rock fan to have spent less than a year in the actual Nineteen Eighties.

He is one of my best friends and I am finding it hard to write about him without it seeming too cloying or ‘gushy’. Suffice to say we have shared many beautiful moments: we have swum at night in the bioluminescent sea during a thunderstorm on a Cambodian island; we have attended a Secret Cinema event (Prometheus) in which we became so emotionally invested that, during the ’emergency evacuation’, we feared for our other friends lives; we have scarfed a four pack of Carling outside a sofa shop in a retail park before an Elton John gig at Wembley Arena (which Jos sobbed throughout).

Here is a poem I wrote for his 25th birthday.

Emily x

street art Cambodia
Graffiti in an abandoned hill station – Bokor Hill, Kampot, Cambodia. 2014.

For Josiah, when in doubt

The road well-travelled
Is the safest.
Signposts kindly guide the way.
But I would never expect you
To choose the path where footprints lay
Most heavily.

No, not for you are ‘best of’ lists,
Or Lonely Planet Choices.
I love you for your strength of mind
To shun those tempting voices.

Please never feel that since your route
Is not well Trip Advised,
That it is any less your route,
Or you any less wise.

On the boat to Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia. 2014
On the boat to Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia. 2014