Category Archives: Writing

flash fiction story about a comet and a marriage proposal

Wishing on a comet

Comet flash fiction prompt by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a comet. You can consider how it features into a story, influences a character, or creates a mood. Go where the prompt leads.

When I think of comets, I think of Halley’s Comet which passed by in 1986. At the time my son was twelve, my daughter was not yet born, and I was teaching a class of seven to nine-year-olds. My son and the children I taught may be lucky enough to see the comet for a second time when it returns in 2061. I wonder how many will still have the time capsule we made that year, and if they have it, think to open it. They will all be in their eighties.

It wasn’t an elaborate time capsule; really just a large envelope with stories and information about us, and I’m not sure what else. I was recently in contact with one of the girls from that class and she remembers the night we had a sleepover at school to look at the comet, and she still has the time capsule she made. I think that’s pretty cool. How special to create these shared memories that last.

My response to Charli’s prompt is about creating shared memories.

You may recall my previous two flash stories, the first of which was my first attempt at writing romance. He invited her to go camping. She was reluctant but gave in when she ran out of excuses. When she arrived at the campgrounds she saw the words “Marry me” spelled out with solar fairy lights. But he was nowhere to be seen.

It got such a good response that I continued the story the following week, leaving the conclusion open-ended. This too received a great response, thank you, and encouragement for me to continue the story along with lots of suggestions and ideas of how to do so. You were undecided about his intentions – were they honourable or not? At the end of the episode, she pushes back the tent flap and screams. But at what? It’s at this moment that I pick up the story, guided by Charli’s prompt. I hope you enjoy it.

flash fiction story about a comet and a marriage proposal

An Imperfect Proposal

“What the…?”

He scrambled through bushes, slipping and sliding on twigs and gravel in haste to his love. When he reached her, she was doubled over holding her belly.

“What happened?”

She shook her head.

“What’s wrong?”

“I thought…” Her body shook.

“What?” he soothed, wiping away tears.

“Snake… I thought…” She pointed.

On the bed lay the strap of his telescope bag coiled neatly.

“You’re laughing?”

She nodded.

——

Camping became their family tradition, but their children’s favourite story was of the “snake” that frightened Mum, not of the comet that graced the sky the night that he proposed.

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flash fiction abandoned suitcase

A case of the unexpected

Do they still do Greek myths in school? I know I read some in my primary school days, but I never read any to my students when teaching.

The two stories I remember most from school were of King Midas and Pandora’s Box. Both carry strong cautionary messages which had a big impact on me.

King Midas was greedy and when offered a wish, wished that all he touched turned to gold. He was saddened and regretted his wish when even his beloved daughter turned to gold. Lesson: Don’t be greedy. However, I was more horrified at the thought of that young girl trapped in a body of gold. Surely that would be worse than a straitjacket, the thought of which is terrifying enough.

Pandora was presented with a box which she was instructed to not open. What more effective an invitation could there be to a curious soul? Of course, Pandora opened the box. Who wouldn’t? Unfortunately, in doing so, she released all the ills of the world. It is her, so the story goes, we have to thank for illness, plagues, wars, famines and so the list goes on. Lesson: Do what you’re told and don’t be curious. I’m not sure that I learned the lesson from the tale. I’d already had the message firmly installed prior to encountering it.

As I matured I realised that the lessons from stories such as these didn’t always apply and I am now an advocate for curiosity if not for greed. Where would we humans be without curiosity, wonder, and imagination?

flash fiction prompt stranded suitcase

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about what happens next to a stranded suitcase. Go where the prompt leads you, but consider the different perspectives you can take to tell the tale.

The five W questions that we often teach children to use when interrogating a text or preparing to write spring to mind: Who, What, Where, When and Why.

  • Who abandoned the suitcase?
  • What is in the suitcase?
  • Where was the suitcase abandoned?
  • When was it abandoned?
  • Why was it abandoned?
  • Who found the suitcase?
  • What did they do?
  • Why?

In bygone days, had I come across an abandoned suitcase, I may have investigated it to discover:

  • Did it have any value?
  • Was it discarded or lost?
  • Was there anything of value in it?
  • Could I find the owner and return it?

I remember as a child going along with my older brother’s suggestion to create a fake package, tie some fishing line to it, place it in the middle of the road and wait for a curious and unsuspecting pedestrian to come along. (Traffic was infrequent back in those days.) When the pedestrian bent to investigate the package, my brother would pull on the line and the package would move out of reach. We found the response of the pedestrians hilarious and our laughter soon gave away the plot from the bush or fence behind which we lay in wait. Fortunately, they all laughed too when they realised what we were up to.

Nowadays, with warnings about the possibilities of abandoned bags and packages containing terrorist bombs, people may be less inclined to investigate, concerned that the result may be more similar to what Pandora discovered.

For my response to Charli’s prompt, I’ve decided to go with a more innocent age when two children playing in the bush find an abandoned suitcase.

A Case of the Unexpected

“I wonder what’s inside,” said Jamie.

“D’ya think we should open it?” Nicky asked.

They looked around. No one anywhere.

Jamie shrugged. “I guess.”

“Looks old,” said Nicky.

“Probably been here for years.”

“So dirty.”

The rusty catches were unyielding.

“Might be locked,” said Nicky, hopefully.

“Let’s see,” said Jamie.

They pried with sticks, battered with stones and willed with all their might. When the catches finally snapped open, they hesitated.

“Go on,” said Nicky.

“No, you.”

“Both.”

“Okay. One, two, three … open!”

The children’s eyes widened.

“What is it?” asked Nicky.

“Dunno,” said Jamie. “Looks like …”

What do you think was inside?

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how much of history is fiction, is fiction simply history that might have been

Fiction: History that might have been

I have just listened to When Nietzsche Wept by Irvin D. Yalom and was intrigued by the thought that fiction, perhaps more so historical fiction about real characters, tells a story that might have been, of situations that are equally as plausible as the real events. The only difference is, they didn’t happen. The author explains how the events he wrote about, a fictional meeting between the doctor Josef Breuer and the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, could almost have happened, were but a hair’s breadth away from happening.

(Note: The book was a recommendation by author Anne Goodwin. Read her review here.)

I often wonder about coincidences, those chance events and meetings that influence our futures, those things that may not have occurred had we been even one second earlier or one second later. It can be fun to contemplate the possibilities of our current situation had an alternate major decision been made. But what of the little events that slip by us every moment. How could a difference in any one fraction of time change our lives?

Memoirist Irene Waters asked a related question in her article Life is a Memoir: What is Fiction? shared at the Carrot Ranch a few weeks ago. Irene begins by saying that Truth is considered fundamental in writing memoir” but then tells us that memory is not exact, and that it is “a construct and will vary at different times and places”. She asks, As our remembering creates our identity, then, is our self a fiction?”

Knowing that each witness or participant may tell a different version of an event adds layers to that question. Which versions are fact and which are fiction? Are all enhanced with the fiction of our own perspectives?

Any teacher of young children, or perhaps anyone involved in jury duty, or any viewer of news stories knows, there can be many alternate histories of an event. Deciding where most truth lies can be the difficult part.

“He did it.”

“She started it.”

“It’s mine.”

“He punched me first.”

Carrot Ranch flash fiction challenge Fannie Hooe

When Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about Fannie Hooe. Although she is a legend in the Kewenaw, feel free to go where the prompt leads, I wondered what I could possibly write. I know nothing of the Keweenaw or of Fannie Hooe.

However, in her post, Charli explains that much of what is known about Fannie Hooe is from snippets of things “They say”, alternate histories perhaps, with either some or little resemblance to the “truth”.

Charli wrote, “legend has it, Fannie was a little girl, perhaps the daughter of an officer, who went missing. As they circled the lake they called, “Fannie…! Fannie, hooe! They say, they never found her body.”

Further in her article, Charli goes on to say, “Two historians … knew a great deal about the real Fannie. She was from Virginia and came as a single woman to Fort Wilkins to help her pregnant sister. She was not a girl, but a young lady. They say she went missing, mauled by a bear or murdered by a spurned lover.

Truth is, she returned to Virginia, married and lived a long life.”

This disparity between truth and fiction reminded me of a television program from years ago. As I recall it: three contestants professed to be the person described by the host. Each presented information about “themselves” to panellists whose role it was to judge who was telling the truth. The real person had to be truthful but the imposters could lie. After votes had been cast the ‘real’ person was asked to stand up.

This is my response to Charli’s challenge. I hope you enjoy it.

Truth or Fiction: Will the Real Fannie Hooe Please Stand Up

Contestant 1: I am Fannie Hooe. My pregnant sister was an excuse to escape my abusive husband. After the baby’s birth, I ‘disappeared’, started a new life in Canada, and never remarried.

Contestant 2: I am Fannie Hooe. While visiting my sister, I was abducted by miners and forced to be their slave. When I escaped, I was so disfigured, I wanted no one to see.

Contestant 3: I am Fannie Hooe. I was pregnant, unmarried, and begged my sister to hide me. She refused and banished me. I started a new life in Virginia as a widowed mother.

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Interview with prolific author Jennifer Poulter about her pictrue book Hip Hop Hurrah Zoo Dance

readilearn: Introducing Jennifer Poulter, author of Hip Hop HURRAH! Zoo Dance

Meet Australian author J.R. Poulter as she discusses her beautiful picture book Hip Hop Hurrah Zoo Dance which is great for reading and getting kids moving.

This week I am delighted to introduce you to prolific Australian author Jennifer Poulter. Jennifer writes fiction and poetry for children, education and the literary market. She has had over 50 traditional books and thirteen digital picture books published. She writes under the names J.R. Poulter and J.R. McRae and has received numerous awards for both fiction and poetry writing.

Throughout her career, Jennifer has been employed in numerous roles including Senior Education Officer with the Queensland Studies Authority and Senior Librarian with the State Library of Queensland. She even once worked in a circus. In addition to writing, Jennifer is also an editor and artist. Now, under the banner of Word Wings, Jennifer collaborates with other creatives from over 20 countries.

Today I am talking with Jennifer about her picture book Hip Hop HURRAH! Zoo Dance.

What initially attracted me to this book is its ability to get children moving. What a great way to incorporate fun with movement and reading into any day.

The book also fits perfectly with a dance curriculum that encourages children to become aware of their bodies and how they move in space, to explore and improvise dance movements. Children can be encouraged to move like the zoo animals in the book or improvise movements for other animals and objects that move.

But Hip Hop HURRAH! Zoo Dance can also find its place in the literacy curriculum. Written in rhythmic verse, it encourages children to join in with the reading. It has a treasure of words to delight and extend vocabularies and add sparkle to writing; words like ‘limber, fandangle, prance and shimmies’. Children will laugh at the hippos with the backside wobbles and be intrigued by the combination of illustrations by Jade Potts and the variety of media used by designer Takara Beech in creating the double page spreads.

If you throw in some counting of animals and legs, needs and features of living things, and places they live, you can cover almost the entire curriculum with this one little book. But enough from me, let’s find out what Jennifer has to say.

Continue reading: Introducing Jennifer Poulter, author of Hip Hop HURRAH! Zoo Dance – Readilearn

cute as buttons flash fiction story

Cute as buttons

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes buttons. You can use the word plural or singular in different expressions, or focus on how buttons relate to a story. Go where the prompt leads.

This is my response. I hope you enjoy it.

Precious as Gold

Too lads, reviewing the previous evening’s campfire conversation, dug stones from the bank, inspected each and competed to land one further in the creek.

“D’ya reckon there’s still gold here?”

“Dad says. Reckons someone found one this big.”

“But that’s ages ago.”

“So. Might be more.”

“What’d you do if you found some?”

“Easy. Buy a car, a yacht and a jet. How ‘bout you?”

He contemplated silently—a house of their own first, then for other homeless people too.

“Whoa. Look!”

“Gold!”

They sprinted back to camp.

“You struck gold all right—a gold button,” the adults laughed.

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there'll be good days like this, all is not lost

Days like this

Not the End of the World

Ever have one of those days? You know—it seems the world is against you, and everything you do goes wrong. Maybe you oversleep and in your rush, you fumble, make mistakes and get even later. You hurry to the stop as your bus pulls away. You flop down reviewing life’s punishments, and some jackass walks by telling you to “Smile, it’s not the end of the world.” What would he know? You open your phone and scroll: trivial drivel. Then this one story blows your insignificancies away. You phone your appointment, apologise and reschedule. All is not lost.

All is not lost Carrot Ranch flash fiction challenge

I wrote this in response to the challenge that Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch set for writers this week, to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about “not all is lost.” It can include recovery from disaster, an unexpected insight after a fall, or however the phrase moves you. Go where the prompt leads.

In her post, Charli tells of her friend Cynthia who normally sleeps outside in a tent, even in the snow, but not on the night of June 16. As Charli explains, “In a few hours, the thunderstorm stalled over the lower Keweenaw and dumped 7 inches of rain. Cynthia, who usually sleeps where a mountain slammed into her house, slept inside that night. She and her daughter woke up when her refrigerator tumbled over. Water filled her stairwell to the bedrooms on the second floor and pushed against their doors in a torrent, preventing escape.”

Though much was lost during that storm and its aftermath, Cynthia did not lose her spirit or her optimism. As she looked around at the devastation, she had thoughts other than loss (as quoted in Charli’s post):

“This is what I saw: beloved neighbors talking with selfless helpers and eating something finally as they gazed over tge work of some long days, people still digging and puzzling in the waterway, laughter ringing, dogs barking, a moon rising… and I was so pleased, so happy, so fulfilled. This is life, this is who we are capable of being. This is who we are. It was such a beautiful scene. It is our new reality. Blessed be.”

All around the world, there are tragedies of enormous proportion: wars, floods, fires, droughts, volcanic eruptions, illness. The list goes on.

What I attempted to show through my flash is that it can be easy to get caught up in the trivialities of our daily lives and forget to look from afar and see how small they are. When our problems seem overwhelming, we don’t need to look too far to see someone in a worse position. For those of you who are truly suffering, I apologise, I in no way intend to trivialise your concerns.

I also intended it as a reminder that we don’t always know what someone else is going through and an off-hand remark to tell them to “cheer up” may not helpful.

It is the same for children in our schools, in our classes. We don’t know what bumps they may be experiencing to make them withdrawn, moody, hostile or aggressive.

To truly understand another’s position we need to listen, put ourselves in their shoes and consider how we would feel. We need to accept that the world doesn’t always work in the way or timeframe we wish.

If we could lend a helping hand, a listening ear, kind words, and an open heart what a more beautiful world it would be.

Just as Cynthia chose to see beauty in the scene around her, it is important to remember there’ll be days like this, that all is not lost.

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glitter, glisten, smiles and sparkles

Add a sprinkle of glitter to make your day sparkle

Children love to create artworks using pencils, crayons, paints and anything they can stick to a surface using glue. With access to a variety of materials, they can be absorbed for hours creating their masterpieces.

While they might select from the materials offered, I found the one thing that few children could resist was glitter—and the more of it, the better.

There is nothing like glitter to add a bit of sparkle to the day. The only trouble is, glitter is so light and so small, that it goes everywhere—on the artwork, on the table, on the chair and on the floor. It sticks to the hands and is smeared on the face and takes forever to remove from the hair. But everyone loves it nonetheless, and it adds a little brightness to the day.

Smiles are like glitter in that they also spread easily and brighten the day. However, they are not nearly so messy, cost nothing, and require no cleaning up at all.

I think smiles are the glitter we should add to the artwork that is everyday life. And if there’s one thing about smiles, the more you give, the more you receive. Smiles come from a bottomless well, from a source that never dries up. A sprinkle of smiles will make anyone’s day sparkle, and who knows what difference a smile can make to another’s life.

The Ripple Effect by Tony Ryan

I often think of The Ripple Effect, written by Tony Ryan, and its inspirational stories. I especially enjoy this quote by Bette Reese included in the book: “If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.”

quote about effectiveness and size by Bette Reese

One of Tony’s stories describes the following scenario:

“As you enter the freeway, you discover that the traffic is heavier than usual, and is moving quite slowly. You then notice that the young driver in the car beside you is trying to enter your lane, because her exit is coming up. No-one is letting her in, and she is becoming tense and upset.”

Tony then describes the turning point in her day:

“You stop, and wave her in front of you with a flourish and a smile.”

and the ripple effect:

  • “she returns your smile, acknowledges your thoughtful action, and drives on
  • her tension dissipates, and she arrives at her company office feeling buoyed by your little effort
  • as the main receptionist, she is the first to greet the hundreds of people who enter the office each day
  • with her positive greeting, she decides to brighten up the life of every person she meets throughout that day
  • because of her efforts, many others in the business district are inspired to focus on their own positive efforts.”

Like glitter, we can never know how far the effects of our smiles might travel. There can never be too many smiles in any one day, especially in a classroom filled with children.

man glisten a flash fiction challenge by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about man glisten. It was a fun term coined by two men with glitter in their beards. What more could it embrace? Look to the unexpected and embrace a playful approach. Go where the prompt leads.

I’d only come across the word “glisten” before in the Christmas carol, Walking in a Winter Wonderland.

But Charli’s prompt reminded me of an incident in my childhood that had absolutely nothing to do with glitter or glisten (I don’t even remember glitter in my childhood) but loads to do with smiles. I’ve rewritten the incident to include glitter and other alternative facts. I hope it gives you a smile.

Glitter smiles glisten

Relentless rain meant no beach for the country cousins. They spent eternity on the verandah, making artworks, playing games, and bickering.

On the last day, when Mum said to clear space for their mattresses, they fought over who’d do what. Toys and games ended up in a haphazard tower with the glitter bucket balanced on top.

When Dad bent for goodnight kisses, he stumbled and demolished the tower. Glitter went everywhere—including all over Dad. The children gasped.

“Your hair glistens, Dad,” smiled the littlest.

Dad smiled too, then everybody laughed.

Dad wore a hat to work that week.

Writing Skills workbook with Strike Me Pink

I previously wrote about this incident for inclusion in a Writing Skills Homework Book published by Pascal Press. Workbooks such as this are very different from the teaching resources I now share on readilearn, but: it was paid work.

This version is closer to the truth.

Strike Me Pink!

Because we lived near the beach, our cousins visited one Easter. Unfortunately, it rained all weekend. Just imagine eight children under ten years old and four adults cooped up in one tiny cottage. Everyone’s patience was wearing thin. We children were starting to whinge and niggle each other. The adults were trying to keep cool and prevent us from hurting each other.

One night when it was all too much, the children were sent to bed early. Four of us were on mattresses on the floor. The line for drying washing, strung across the room overhead, held only one item: my pink dressing gown. I had carelessly tossed it there out of the way.

When Dad came in for a goodnight kiss he thought we looked like a row of toy soldiers in a box. Bending down he exclaimed, “Strike me pink!” And he was! The dressing gown fell from the line and draped over his shoulders like a cloak. What mirth erupted at the sight of my father looking like a pink general. The tensions eased and smiles returned to everyone’s faces.

The next morning was fine as our cousins left for home. We hadn’t been to the beach, but we did have a story to share that would bring a smile to our faces for many years to come.

Note: I don’t know how many others used the term, but my Dad often said, “Strike me pink” to express surprise.

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