Polly Cullen – Why Write

I have long believed I have a book in me – I read enough of them!

But it’s more than that; growing up with a mother who was a writer made me believe that it was a job people did for real. I was under no illusions that it paid much – only the lucky few hit the big time. I saw how many hours it took to write short stories and books, I watched those big fat typed manuscripts leave the house in a padded envelope. I also realised most of them came back with a polite note saying “interesting, but not for us”.

There were the giddy moments when a m/s was accepted but my mother had to edit it into shape, we tiptoed round the house then. Partly to avoid disturbing her but also not to bear the brunt of her frustration if the ‘words’ were not co-operating.

I’d seen it was a hard slog and wondered how I’d handle rejection. Did I have enough ideas for a full length novel? In a few years the internet went boom. Soon we had a home computer, but my whole family needed time on it. My husband for writing e-mails and CVs, my children for homework or gaming, but once I had my own laptop I could properly browse the internet and I discovered blogs.

My initial blog was populated with book reviews. I didn’t know how to promote , so it had almost no traffic, but I cut my teeth on creating regular posts. Next I got the idea to write short stories rather than a book, a less daunting prospect. Suspecting I couldn’t commit to writing a novel and wanting feedback, I wrote something for Wattpad.

I’ll be sharing that here. After that let’s see what happens, writing for prompts has been good for me so I intend to use Twitter to make connections with other writers.

Don’t Let Him In (3)

[Part 3]

In the school refectory, the clatter of lunchtime was loud. Alex and J slid their trays onto a table in the middle of the room. As they sat, J cast his eyes around looking for Laurie, before locating him sitting alone.

“Look at him,” J nodded in Laurie’s direction. 

Alex turned his head, but did not stop chewing macaroni cheese.

“What about him? Why the big interest in Laurie?” Alex continued shovelling the pasta into his mouth.

“Well he’s a popular guy sitting alone for one,” J counted off on his fingers. “He’s not eating… and he looks like a zombie today!”

This caught Alex’s attention. He turned to stare at Laurie.

“He does look odd, now you mention it … like ….. I dunno, like he’s zoned out.”

J picked at his baguette and studied Laurie. He couldn’t shake the idea that his behaviour today had a connection with what he had dreamed last night.

All through the school day J puzzled over the mystery of what might be wrong with Laurie, and whether his dream had any bearing on it. As he and Alex trudged home from school, he decided to confide in his friend. Describing the dream made him feel the the dread chill again, as cold and threatening as it had been last night. Alex was agog, but equally confused by what it could mean. 

They parted ways at Alex’s house, agreeing to discuss it more tomorrow at school. However, J did not get through the night without incident.

It was pitch black, the clock read 3.03 am. J was jolted awake by the same bad feeling. In the gloom he listened, but heard nothing. As he had the previous night, J cast his mind back in search of what had woken him.

This time J ‘found’ himself in a garden. There was a curved path glowing faintly silver in the moonlight which he followed towards a house. He wasn’t sure whose home it was, although it seemed familiar. As he got closer he saw that the glazed back door was slightly open and the hairs at the back of his neck began to prickle. He stood at the door to listen to the silence of the house… but it wasn’t silent. It was faint but he heard sounds of crying.

Despite badly wanting to run away, J stepped over the threshold and into the kitchen. Moving cautiously into the room, the sobbing noise continued, but seemed closer. Looking round the kitchen, lit by the glow from the oven’s digital clock as well as the moonlight, he could discern a hunched figure in the corner. J made out a pale nightdress and long dark hair. 

Drawing a little closer he put his hand out to touch the girl’s shoulder – and that’s when he remembered her. Katie Thomson – at Primary school they had become friends because J’s Mum and hers became friends the same time. He didn’t see her much around school, only in art class, but it explained the house being familiar.

As he touched her she whipped round. Her cheeks were streaked with tears and her expression was fearful.

Did you see him?” she was distraught.

Who?” J looked over his shoulder with dread.

Katie clutched his arm digging her fingers in painfully.

Him – he was here.” Her eyes scanned the shadowy room.

There’s no-one here but us. “ 

J wanted to reassure her, but she rose and went to the back door. She shut it, turning the key in the lock, before leaning with her back against it and holding the key tightly. 

“They let him in,” she said. Her shoulders shook with silent sobs.

[To be continued …]


House Captain’s badge 1.7 Minute read

In primary school we had three houses: Red, Blue and Green. It was a way to mix us up differently so that we interacted with pupis other than those in our class. I looked up to the older girls in Green house. On sports day, even though I was totally useless at running fast, jumping high or catching things I did my best at the alternative events – egg and spoon race, throwing a bean bag. For the obstacle course I came into my own, I could eat a dry biscuit, balance along an up-side down bench and move fast placing my feet in a series of hoops – faster than the others. I competed, wearing my green badge on my aertex shirt and a ribbon fixed in a diagonal stripe from shoulder to hip. I cheered long and hard for my team mates, and sometimes Green house won.

On St Patrick’s day it was tradition for Green house members to compile and present something for assembly to educate fellow pupils about our patron saint and how he’d earned his saintly status. He was kidnapped at 16 but later returned to Ireland, bringing Christianity to his native country. The bit that always sticks, is that he is credited with driving all the snakes out of Ireland and into the sea.

I knew we had snakes in England, my mother always warned us that if we were ever bitten by an adder (they have a diamond pattern on their head) we should stand very still and send someone else to get help. She said running would just make the venom get round the body faster.

Some of our garden was quite overgrown, so we were encouraged wear wellington boots rather than go barefoot. My brother had day-glo orange boots of which he was proud. One day when playing in the garden, a bright green grass snake slithered between his legs. Gliding over the orange toe of his boot, it was so swift and silent that neither of us had time to yelp. Instead we watched in fascination as it slid after a mottled green frog, its unfortunate prey.

During my last year of primary school I was made House Captain. My proudest moment was being chosen, for speech day/ prize giving, to make a speech of gratitude to the person invited to present the various awards and music certificates. It was a big deal. I sensed it bore great responsibility so when I wrote my speech and then lost it, I was in pieces. With one day to go I re-wrote it, mostly remembering what I’d wanted to say to the lady engineer.

This was the 1970s, my school was all girls, clearly my headmistress chose a role model to make us think out of the box regarding potential careers. What I said in my address escapes me, but I do remember trying to visualise the elegant lady on stage beside me wearing a yellow hard hat.

This is submitted for Reminiscences : Musings in Memoir #2 where the prompt is Green. Click the link to see what others have submitted.

My Dog’s Tale

Recently I had a light-bulb moment about reminiscing: it actually feels nice. A pleasant sensation is evoked by sifting through old memories. It’s particularly noticeable when I’m prompted to trawl my memories for something I’d almost forgotten. It makes me wonder if it’s like massaging for one’s brain!

I love dogs, I grew up with dogs and when I was old enough was given one of my own. Since then I haven’t stuck to the same breed of dog. Small, medium and large, I’ve owned all sizes. This story is about a large dog I owned when my children were younger, a weimeraner. They’re a beautiful looking breed, large and athletic with short, mouse grey fur with pale eyes to match. They make loyal and devoted family dogs but they’re also a lot to handle, in regards to both strength and their ‘fizzy’ temperament.

Determined to do things right, I had started by taking our girl to puppy classes. Next my dog and I drove to an agricultural college where a weekly obedience class took place at a fenced-in field. She was a sociable dog but rather vocal. I suspect  our trainer viewed us both as slightly ditzy. If we arrived early to class she wanted to greet (with a sniff and a wag) all the other dogs. If anyone arrived late she barked at the newcomer, seeming unable to settle til our tea break, when she could say her canine ‘hello’.

Tea-break on a blowy day in the middle of a grassy field was fairly basic. Our trainer provided flasks of tea and coffee. Alongside plastic cups, plastic spoons, sachets of sugar and milk, he brought biscuits and stackable plastic picnic chairs. We gathered in a circle with our dogs by our sides to chat, siping our drinks to warm ourselves.

The wind was making my dog quite lively. I didn’t want her to spill my coffee, so I had a cunning idea. I put one leg of my chair through the loop on my dog’s lead before I sat. The group of dogs were quite relaxed with each other, comfortable in close proximity. On this day, however, I wished I’d chosen a seat further away from a West Highland White Terrier called Theo. 

They were both puppies, but Theo’s testosterone was kicking in, causing him to want to dominate other dogs. My girl was happy to play, but the windy day seemed to make her more spirited. What she wouldn’t tolerate was Theo using alpha moves or trying to mount her. A few doggy tussles went on around my chair. I tried to get my dog to sit on the other side of me, away from Theo. I tried to avoid causing a disturbance, our trainer was telling a funny story. 

Suddenly Theo made another lunge for my Weimaraner. For her it was the last straw. She darted out of reach, accompanied by a crack like a shotgun report. Every startled human whipped their head round, seeking the source of commotion. 

I couldn’t understand how my dog had moved so far away. When some of the other dog handlers began to laugh, I noticed that my girl’s lead was still round the white chair leg. The chair leg, however, was dragging in the grass no longer attached to my chair!

Yet, without spilling a drop of coffee, I was still sitting on that chair with one leg missing!

This story is submitted for a writing meme the Reminiscences summer writing project. The point of this writing project is to create new content by writing from memory, with a focus on the form of memoir. The first prompt is to consider ‘wind’. (Both realistically and metaphorically.)

Aloha from Waikiki

The heat from the pavement made Brad’s feet ache. He kept walking, following that tiny string bikini swaying on the curvy rear up ahead. Hypnotised by the motion of her hips, he’d walked behind the girl since the beach.

Her rubber soled shoes smacking against bare feet, the pendulum swinging dark plait, all conspired to mesmerise Brad. Without a plan of what he would say – did he dare ask her for a drink?

Suddenly she stopped, turned. Alarmed, he spun away to study the tourist hats, heart thudding. She walked on. Coming to his senses, Brad did not follow.

Flash fiction for the picture prompt – follow the link to see who else is particpating. Many thanks to Ted Strutz for tagging me

Don’t Let Him In (2)

[Part 2]

In that instant the moon was cleared of clouds and J was shocked to recognise Laurie, a boy he knew from school. His sweaty hair stuck to his forehead and cheeks and there was a sickly pallor to his skin that had nothing to do with the moonlight. Now, more curious than afraid, J moved closer and called out Laurie’s name.

Hey Laurie, what’s up?”

The other boy took a moment to focus, blinking rapidly. His chest heaved with ragged breaths. J tried again.

What are you doing out? It’s really late.”

They let him in.” Laurie’s voice was shaky, barely a whisper.

What?” said J, “they let who in?”

Laurie just shook his head, his expression haunted.

I was safe until they opened the door and let him in.”

The alarm clock’s electronic bleating dragged J to the surface from his dream. His Dad threw his bedroom door open and poked his head into the room.

“Fancy a boiled egg J?”

“Unh – maybe.”

J was struggling to adjust to the fact that it was a normal morning and that the creepy events of last night had only been a dream. His long legs swung off the side of the bed. Rubbing his head, he tried to rouse himself from the sleepiness which clung. Outside his door were the sounds of normality, his younger sister talking to the dog and clatters in the kitchen from his Dad getting breakfast. Now he was hungry.

It wasn’t until J slammed the front door half an hour later, to set off for school, that he allowed himself to think about the strange events which had troubled his sleep. As he walked round Cranberry Gardens he passed Laurie’s house. Everything there appeared to be normal. He scanned the wall and the bushes, looked up at the window of Laurie’s room, but nothing seemed odd. Nothing to add to or detract from last night’s dream.

J loped on. A glance at his watch told him there was no time to dawdle, he had to meet Alex and get to class. He passed some junior boys from his school, the younger years wore cherry red blazers. A cut through the twitchell trimmed 5 minutes off his journey to school. He risked snagging brambles and mud on his shoes, but the twitchell came out opposite Alex’s house and most kids from Cranberry Gardens used it on route to St Ethelred’s High School.

At the front door he waited at the door for Alex to grab his rucksack, more pupils passed by. The girls clutched their folders to their chests or had colourful bags slung over their shoulders. Boys walked, hands deep in pockets, in separate groups – not many boys had the nerve to walk downhill to school in the company of a girl.

J’s attention was caught by Laurie passing by – his eyes were downcast and his face pale. J called out to his friend – he passed right by Alex’s drive. Laurie didn’t look up – didn’t even seem to hear him.

“What are you calling him for?” Alex was ready now, a piece of toast in one hand. With the other he struggled to shrug on the black blazer worn by the senior boys at St Ethelred’s.

“Homework,” J stalled, unwilling to talk about his strange dream just yet. “Wanted to know how he got on with the maths questions.”

Alex was not in the same set for maths, so he didn’t ask any more questions. Alex was a school ‘sports hero’: captain of the Rugby team, he also represented the school for long jump. J and Alex didn’t share many classes now they were seniors, but had been friends since their time at play school when both were fascinated by dinosaurs.

The two boys walked downhill, with only a few minutes left til registration, the Head was a stickler for punctuality. Luckily they could use the side gate into school – juniors had to use the main gate, at the bottom of the hill and round the corner. Darting through the narrow gateway, Alex & J cut across the quad into a low, flat-roofed building that housed their classroom. Miss Read had not yet checked the register. They sat in their usual places and another school day began.

Second lesson was Maths. J was keen to try talking to Laurie again, so he took a desk by the window, alongside him.

“Hey Laurie, how’s it going?”

Laurie looked up slowly – his eyes dull and vacant. He looked at J, or rather he looked through him. Then he looked away. Which was strange, but not as strange as his behaviour during the class. Laurie was a gifted pupil at maths, but he didn’t engage with questions or answers, in fact he didn’t participate at all. 

J craned his neck to see his notes, but Laurie had not answered any of the problems. When the lesson ended Laurie scooped up his books and left the room, without trying to catch up with his friends or talk to anyone. J was puzzled – the boy seemed a shell of his usual self. Was any of this in relation to what he’d seen in his dream?

[To be continued]

Don’t Let Him In (1)

Chapter 1

J awoke with a start – his skin was clammy and he could feel his hair stuck to his neck and forehead. He blinked in the dark bedroom and tried to orientate himself – what time was it? The blue glow of his alarm clock told him that it was near to 3 am. He knew he was in his room, it felt familiar and his bunk bed creaked as he moved but, he knew something had woken him, and the ‘something’ felt bad.

He lay absolutely still, trying to ‘feel ‘ the darkness without moving. He listened so hard he wondered if the sheer effort of concentration might make his ears tilt to catch sound – but there was nothing out of the ordinary. The house was still, the rest of his family probably sound asleep and the dog, despite being on point as a guard dog during the day, was probably snoring downstairs in the kitchen. Whatever had jolted J awake made no such impression on his family. Unable to shake a feeling of menace, J tried retracing his steps using his subconscious. In trying to make himself remember what he’d been dreaming, the feeling of dread pressed in on him once more.

J found himself on the street – the familiar route he took to and from school – yet it was wrong somehow. It was night time and the moon bathed the trees and gardens with an eerie silver glow. The wind moved the branches and clouds scudded along at quite a pace, while the first autumn leaves made scuttling noises as they were lifted and swirled on pavements and drives. J moved towards home, unsure why he was out so late. He cast his eyes to either side looking for danger. 

Suddenly his heart leapt in his chest when something lurched out of the shadows. It was a cat! Keeping low to the ground and emitting a yowl, it flashed past him to disappear just as quickly into the shadows of a nearby hedge. What had startled the cat J wondered? His own heart was still hammering when he saw a frail hunched figure near the garden wall.

J could make out that it was a child, the body was too slender to be a man, but it was hard to discern the features. J drew closer, whilst keeping to the shadows of the hedge.

[To be continued …]