Tag: Lesley Atherton

‘Elmer and Louise’ by Lesley Atherton, Part 4

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Elmer had assumed he was dead but, as occurs regularly in the cliffhangers of psychological thrillers, the ‘death’ he experienced proved to be an enormous exaggeration of his symptoms.

He was hurting, bleeding a little, and had bumped his head and almost every one of his body’s protrusions on the van and on the pavement’s kerbstone… but he was a strong and sturdy guy, and despite his injuries was in far better condition than he deserved to be after being hit by the large, white plumber’s van.

Following Elmer’s self-ejection from the stolen car, Dulcie and Louise had done exactly what he’d expected. The car had stalled right next to Elmer’s fallen form, but his girlfriend and sister had chosen not to scoop him up, return his forcibly to their stolen car, and take him with them on their journey.

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They’d driven off, without even a backwards glance, leaving Elmer crumpled in the gutter and with nobody but the driver of the white van to offer assistance. The plumber, at least, showed some empathy, squealing his vehicle to a halt and practically falling out of the van door in his eagerness to get to the crumpled shape.

‘Oh my God, you alright, mate…? Mate…? You just fell out of the car and my van hit you and then you rolled to the edge. It’s lucky there were no cars coming.’

Elmer shuffled slightly on the kerb and grimaced. ‘You can go. I’ll be alright.’

‘I can’t leave you here like this.’ The plumber’s forehead dripped with perspiration.

Elmer wiped his eyebrow with his forearm and was less concerned than he should have been when the blood seeping from his skull coloured the skin a deep crimson.

‘Here, get in. I’ll take you to the hospital. It’s only a few minutes away. It’s the least I can do.’

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Elmer nodded and allowed himself to be helped to his feet and guided towards the van. His right shoulder, hip, ankle and knee hurt like mad from the impact, and he struggled pathetically onto the front seat.

‘I’m Simon.’ The plumber offered a hand to shake.

‘Elmer.’ He shook his head. ‘No handshake. My wrist is killing me.’

‘I’m not surprised… You hit the ground pretty hard. And Elmer’s a pretty weird name.’

‘Yeah. Even worse when you try living with it. My sister’s called Louise. She was in that stolen car. That’s why I got out.’

‘What do you mean?’ He started up the van and the tinny rumble seemed to trigger cognition.

 ‘Hell! Elmer and Louise! No way! Your parents named you after a film?!’

‘Yeah. They had a terrible sense of humour. And look where it led us. Lou’s on her very own criminal road trip. I’m surprised it took her this long to come up with the idea, to be honest. I’m the straight one. She’s always been a wild card.’

Simon put on his seatbelt and took a toke of his e-cig before replacing it into his overall’s pocket. Elmer’s nose crinkled.

‘God, that smells like my grandma’s mouldy pot pourri. What’s it supposed to be?’

‘Can’t remember. Cinnamon biscuit? Strawberry and lime cheesecake? These things are a pile of crap, really. All they ever taste of is charcoal briquettes and ethanol… Strapped in?’

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‘Strapped in?’

‘Seatbelt. Get your seatbelt on.’

‘Oh. Yeah. I’ve done it. Thanks.’

‘Guess that means your arm isn’t broken. Still need to go to the hospital though.’

Elmer shrugged, then nodded in resignation, closed his eyes, leaned his congealing scalp against the van’s head rest, and began to sob.  

Review of Short Stories – Snapshots of Life, Morality and the Complex Human Landscape of Emotion

by Guest Blogger, Rebecca Wilson

Throughout my life in education so far, I have received the same message – that ‘high quality’ literature lies exclusively within the academically compiled lists of ‘classics’ which frequently feature lengthy pagination and fairly distant publication dates.

The majority of these ‘classics’ consist of reams and reams of plot, description and deeper meaning. However, the sheer length of many of these ‘classics’ has (arguably) rather ironically led some of them to fall into the trap many writers face – maintaining balance.

Although I am by no means advocating that all longer stories lack balance, as you lengthen a story, the danger of this pitfall increases, and the deeper meanings in works can sometimes be swamped by excessive description or other forms of irrelevant minor detail.

This is where short stories have a unique advantage over longer stories. This trap is often much easier to avoid.

So why do short stories not have the same claim to the literary spotlight?

Don’t be deceived by their length, these works can offer a lot more than you may initially think…

Punchy, Powerful Messages…
With Clarity!

When reading short stories, readers are arguably less inclined to rake through dozens of pages before uncovering any implicit messages. The power of these messages is thus less likely to be sacrificed or difficult to extract, as is the case with some of history’s most hailed literary classics. A key example of this in my opinion would be Tolkien’s famous Lord of the Rings trilogy. Although a classic story, and one which I adore, the important messages it carries such as those of the value of friendship, loyalty and teamwork are often lost amongst the endless description of the vast landscape and history of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Although I can admire Tolkien’s expansive imagination, in his ability to build a world in such minute detail, the level of this detail included in the story can sometimes make reading the trilogy an arduous and lengthy task, rather than a singular source of enjoyable fantasy escapism.

Quality not Quantity
(of Pages and Profit!)

It’s no hidden secret that many classic novels, such as Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles often owe their length to the practice of serialisation and being ‘paid by the letter’. Here, the creativity vs commerce debate begins to flare up again, although it is often difficult to judge whether novels entirely owe their length to this cause or not. The endless sub plots and lengthy descriptions evident in classics such as DickensGreat Expectations can most certainly frame many classics as guilty of this in many respects, whereas shorter stories can often pack unique punches some longer stories can find, owing to their length, much harder to achieve.

Travelling and mental exhaustion

We’ve all experienced this. We’ve all been on a holiday, or a long journey, or simply sat at home ‘relaxing’, picked up a book and after a certain amount of time been more focused on getting to a numerical target rather than reading the text itself. Just picking up a book that has 400+ pages can be a bit daunting, with your brain telling you “this is going to take forever”, and thus, in this mindset, it does. And then you procrastinate from reading it, and alas, five months later, you’re only 200 pages into reading Vanity Fair (and yes, I am speaking from personal experience here). The book is abandoned, you grumble something about time wasting, and move on to a different book (not a classic this time, seeing as you’re holding a grudge for a bit). This is why shorter stories are simply perfect for the weary traveller who just wants something interesting to dip into for a short while, and why short stories can often maintain reader interest for a longer amount of time.

Skill of the Writer in World and Character Building – in Such a Short Space of Time!

This is a skill that is very difficult to master. Longer stories enable writers to gradually build up characters and thus have the safety net of future events in the story to fall back on should the development of a certain aspect be sparse in one section of the novel. Short story writers do not have this safety net, and so their ability to craft worlds and characters in such short spaces of time, that are interesting and sufficiently developed to keep readers engaged should be celebrated as a true indication of artistic talent.

Exploration of Ideas Not Suitable for Longer Work

Some ideas that are captured in short stories, such as singular emotions or experiences, can be very high intensity or simply not suitable to be explored in a feature length novel. To shorten a story can often be an efficient way of ensuring intensity remains high, concentration is less likely to fade and allows unique ideas to be explored in isolation, rather than being mentioned briefly amongst a tangled web of plot, description and characterisation. To cite an example, in Lesley Atherton’s collection of short stories Can’t Sleep Won’t Sleep Vol.1, there is a fascinating short story titled ‘Conflict’. This is my favourite of the collection, because it explores one singular emotion in such great depth, and just makes you, well, think!

And that’s simply to name a few unique benefits reading shorter stories can offer you. So why not read some yourself and see these ideas in action? Lesley Atherton’s series of short stories titled Can’t Sleep Won’t Sleep currently has five volumes for you to delve into, and the series most certainly embodies the ideas listed above surrounding the unfairly marginalised value short stories possess within an ever-expanding modern literary landscape.

#lesleyfridayreads, #can’tsleepwon’tsleep, #scottmartinproductions, #rebeccawilson, #lesleyatherton, #shortstory, #shortstories

Read This Book: NO MATTER WHAT! ***** FIVE STARS

Read this book ‘No Matter What‘ by Lesley Atherton

Review by Guest Blogger, Lauren O’Neill

No Matter What‘ is a short tale told from the point of view of Jayne Smith, a ghost writer who loves her job. She enjoyed the challenge of trying to write a book, autobiography or memoir in a way that it would seem her clients had written the books themselves. That is, until a certain supermodel named Hawk was sent her way, bringing not only stress and trouble along with him but also a past that Jayne had long since left behind.

Image: Pngtree

Lesley Atherton does a really good job of drawing you in and keeping you there and interested until the very end. Usually for me, short stories are just something to read to pass the time but with ‘No Matter What‘, I found myself enthralled with every word.

Even for a short story, each chapter flowed easily from one to another, I never found it difficult to get to the next page, never got stuck on a paragraph and never struggled to find the motivation to continue.

Jayne Smith, the protagonist of the story, is a woman who doesn’t find the need to impress or be a different person just to appease her peers and clients. Throughout ‘No Matter What’, I noticed how I didn’t agree with everything she believed but I still wanted her to come out victorious, be it ignoring the “supermodel version of Christopher Ecclestone” that was Hawk or being able to one day get the recognition she truly deserved for her hard work.

Without giving too much away, I saw myself mentally making note of every word she wrote, putting it away for later. This may just be a short fiction story but within it, you’ll find many things you could put to use in your life. As I started reading, I had somewhat of an idea in my head on what ‘No Matter What‘ was going to be about. Boy was I wrong!

For a 64 page story, there were so many twists and turns that kept me guessing and I have to admit, I never would have predicted what was going to happen and I think that’s quite a feat.

Illustration – quick sketch by a young Morrigan Atherton-Forshaw

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed ‘No Matter What’: the story was interesting, gripping and even quite helpful in some places. It kept me intrigued and excited to keep on reading to find out what happened to Jayne and if Hawk had caused any more trouble for the poor woman.

I would definitely recommend ‘No Matter What‘ to you if you enjoy a quick little fix of humour, excitement, mysterious supermodels and a ghost writer with more to her than she lets on, if you enjoy all that, then this is the story for you.

5/5 stars

#lesleyfridayreads, #lesleyatherton, #scottmartinproductions, #laurenoneill, #nomatterwhat, #shortnovel

‘Elmer and Louise’ by Lesley Atherton, Part 3

Elmer’s girlfriend, Dulcie, tapped her acrylics on the passenger side of the car’s dashboard.

‘So,’ Elmer urged, glaring at her. ‘What’s with the car?’

His sister, Louise, was still struggling to remove her disguise and make-up, but piped up from the back seat. ‘Well…’ Elmer turned to offer his encouragement and noticed Louise’s eyes flickered sparkly and bright.

‘We kind of took it.’

‘Took it? From whom?’

‘Erm, I wasn’t introduced to the actual owner. We found it in the Asda car park.’

Elmer stopped the car and grabbed his girlfriend’s arm.

‘What?! There’s CCTV all over that car park. They’ll have seen you.’

‘They’ll have seen two mad old ladies. Not us. Even you didn’t recognise us.’

‘But what about fingerprints? Oh my God, my fingerprints are all over a stolen car!’

Dulcie sighed and continued tapping.

‘Well, yes. But so are ours.’

‘But why would you steal a car? Louise? Dulcie? What the hell’s going on? Why have you done this? Why have you got me involved? I didn’t need this. I have a management meeting tomorrow morning.’

Elmer held his hand over his frantically beating heart. ‘Come on, you two. I have a life. I’m next in line for a big promotion too. I can’t get involved in crime. Not even as an observer. There’s no way.’

‘Calm down, Mr Asthma Attack,’ Louise teased as Elmer’s face reddened.

He glared. ‘I haven’t had asthma since I was a kid, Louise, and believe me, I’m not going to capitulate on this one like I always used to. Mum and dad are going to be told about what you’ve done. You’ll be disowned by all of us. I’m going to tell Paul too. You’ll be a jailbird divorcee by the time you’re forty. And you, Dulcie, why would you jeopardise your new acting career my doing something so stupid?’

Suddenly realising that he was still holding the steering wheel, Elmer let go and with the end of his tie began to wipe as many of the car’s surfaces he could reach.

‘And shut up with those fingernails, Dulce!’

The tapping didn’t stop, but otherwise the two women held their silence as he continued wiping, and that was when, in utter frustration, Elmer threw himself out of the stolen car, and straight into the path of a large, white workman’s van. He crumpled under the tyres as the van screeched to a halt.

Did Elmer survive?

What happened to his sister and girlfriend?

And was there any reasoning behind any of the day’s events?

Well, obviously, yes. There’s always a reason. Or should I say that there’s always an explanation, though such explanations may be devoid of all reason.

That’s what Elmer thought as he emerged from under the white delivery van, and noticed the symbol on the side. It was in the shape of a stylised toilet, and underneath was the text: ‘Trust Us With Your Plumbing’.

He wasn’t going to trust anyone again in a hurry. He’d trusted two mad old ladies with his life, and look where he was just twenty minutes later: broken and bruised, with resentment and fury in his soul.

After all, he had things to do, places to go, work to finish and hair to preen.

Review of Bolton: The Positives, by Lesley Atherton

David Holding takes a wander through Victorian Bolton in his book ‘The Dark Figure: Crime in Victorian Bolton’ so I thought I’d stroll through the 21st Century version, for good and for bad.

Second, some goods.

  • Skaters yell to each other. Despite the heat and brightness of the day, they wear long sleeves and beanies and there isn’t a single t-shirt or pair of sunglasses to be seen. We watch as they zoom about, but we’re mainly looking at their facial expressions – pride, cool, nonchalance… The joys of being young.
  • We park in the multi storey where weekend parking is free, and we manage to find a spot on the first floor.  It’s never happened before.   
  • Thirsty, we flop into a café for a much-needed drink. I can’t place the accent of the man who takes our order, but he’s so friendly and recognises us from our previous visits. He asks about the family and gives us each a toasted teacake on the house.
  • We spend two hours rummaging round X-Records and emerge with music, DVDs and a pretty funky Led Zepp-inspired shirt. I absolutely love the friendly organised chaos of this place.
  • We decide to eat at the Cherry Moon café, just up the road. It is a place for gamers of all types, for comic book fans, and for diners who like good food. We certainly go mad for their halloumi fries, and my crushed avocado on sourdough toast is superb. Yep, this has to be the coolest and friendliest place ever. Oh, happy days.
  • A community police officer smiles at us and comments ‘Isn’t it a beautiful day?’ If he’d been wearing a bowler hat or flat cap I’m sure he would have raised it for me. ‘It’s certainly warm, I reply. ‘I think the lions are happy’. I gesture over to the distinctive town hall step statues, and note the affection for the town’s people in the officer’s eyes. †††† ‘Good job. We don’t want hungry lions rampaging round Bolton. We have enough problems.’
  • We do our fish and vegetable shopping in the covered market. The place is clean and bustling and the choice is fantastic. We purchase Caribbean curry to accompany the fish, and I suspect the man dishing out the chickpeas is the cheeriest person in the whole town. We leave, arms clutching food bags and faces glowing with anticipation of our evening meal. It feels like Christmas.
  • We take a trip round the museum and gallery and discuss the photographic exhibition and Egyptian displays. Another two hours happily spent. We don’t call in at the aquarium this time, as we need to get home.
  • The roads are busy, but I’m astonished when a pedestrian stranger leads us from the car park and onto the road. He holds up the traffic with a grin, and waves as we drive away.

#lesleyfridayreads

Elmer and Louise, Part 2

Image: Pngtree

The cure for depression is to purchase and use something expensive and new. That’s what Elmer’s mum had always told him, hence the suit and his manicure. He knew from experience that it didn’t always work. And when this was the case, doing good deeds was the only way to go.

†Elmer leaned against the door, and looked again at the nun who immediately began apologising for the dog-hair covered tartan blanket, but Elmer liked its digestive biscuits and dog paws smell.

‘How did you get here if you can’t drive?’

‘She can. She started, anyway. But then we stopped at traffic lights and this man went mad at us and she got out to tell him off. That was when he went at her with his fists and started saying she was a (swear word) god-botherer.’

‘Can she walk?’

‘She can’t see and her leg is all bloody. Don’t think so.’

‘I’ll drive her to the hospital. Then you can get help.’

‘How long will that take?’

‘Thirty seconds.’

‘Can she wait that long?’

‘She’ll have to. And the longer we wait here, the worse she’s going to be.’

‘Thank you, angel,’ came the whispered voice as I got into the driver’s seat and started it up.

‘Seat belt, seat belt,’ said the loony, throwing herself into the car next to Elmer while he plugged himself in.

That was when he heard the click of the car’s central locking.

That was when he heard the loony nun’s cackle.

‘Straight on, mate, and no funny business or this’ll go straight through your brain. ’

She brandished a tiny pistol that had been pulled from her coat’s inner pocket.

‘What’s going on? The hospital is next right.’

‘That might be the case,’ said the now very much recovered back seat passenger, ‘but that’s not where we’re going.’

‘That’s true, Mr Elmer Bartholomew Cross.’ The front seat loony had by that point removed her angling wellies and coat, and was beginning to look remarkably familiar.

‘I gave you enough clues, Elmer, Didn’t you guess it was me when you saw Scamp’s dog blankey?’

She clearly was not a nun. Not A sister. HIS sister. And the loony next to him was peeling off her facial prosthesis. He should have known it. His sister Louise, and his girlfriend, Dulcie. The drama school graduate. As she peeled off the final piece she grinned and removed her fake upper teeth. ‘That’s better.’

She sighed happily. ‘Remember telling me that there was no point in my going or that audition? Because I’ve never been much of an actress? Remember, Elmer? Well, I got the job. First proper one I’ve been to. It’s telly, and a long series, so will be good money too. So I guess your girlfriend really CAN act. What do you say to that?’

Elmer nodded his head and continued the driving.

‘Well done, you two,’ he said. ‘Good jape. But where’s the car come from?’

That was likely a different story.

Elmer steeled himself to hear it.

Review of Bolton: The Negatives, by Lesley Atherton

David Holding takes a wander through Victorian Bolton in his book ‘The Dark Figure: Crime in Victorian Bolton’ so I thought I’d stroll through the 21st Century version, for good and for bad. First, some bads.

  • The car park’s one we’ve been to hundreds of times, but they’ve changed the entry method. We assume it’s owing to the homeless people who regularly slept on the landings, and perhaps also the drug transactions we’ve seen occurring in this place which stinks of urine and is peppered with pigeon guano.
  • Three men sprawl on the ground, backs leaning up against a wall. One is more lying than sitting and the other two surround this incapacitated friend. ‘Spice’ a woman says, as we pass. Sugar and spice and things not nice.
  • A woman squats on the corner wearing a filthy, navy blue sleeping bag. We pass a little later when she’s being questioned by the community police officers who wander the town centre. She is insisting that she was innocent of a crime, while they are insistent on her guilt. A small crowd gather to listen. Meanwhile, a young near-toothless man, lies on a nearby bench and watches with open mouth.
  • Undeterred by cardboard policemen at the pound shop’s entrance, an elderly lady in an unseasonably heavy camel coat pockets a chocolate block.
  • In a large health and beauty shop, a dead-faced woman hovers by the make-up stands. She opens tubes, installing their contents on her face inexpertly and with speed. When two young staff members inform her that this is not acceptable, she immediately scurries away without a word.
  • A charity shop assistant discusses their recent spate of shoplifting, and the cheek and sense of entitlement of such people. Another customer comments: ‘They must be pretty desperate to steal from this place’. The two workers ignore her slight.
  • Three young boys scare an elderly woman with their play fighting. She stumbles, and the boys disperse.
  • Two teen girls mock a larger than average woman who is reclining in an arcade-salon chair to get her eyebrows done. Her body spills over, and the teens, with perfect skin and perfect bodies, point and laugh. The woman hears, and her smile freezes.

#lesleyfridayreads