March 2012: SHADES OF GREY

Jaypee Belarmino, Flower in Solitude

Jaypee Belarmino is an occasional artist whose desire to express the contradicting and esoteric nature of life has led him to photography. Jaypee’s interests include prose and poetry, photography, abstract painting, mixed media art, and multimedia art. He is a member of New Zealand Poetry Society and the World Poetry International

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Leanne Radojkovich, Cot Death
Six pairs of knickers laid flat.

Six pairs of matched socks.

Bras folded in half and stacked one of top of each other like soft paper cups.

The essentials.

You’re not a woman who does things quickly. Even running away is done in a careful, measured way. You no longer wear make-up or rings or even, some days, remember to brush your hair. You’re gradually losing yourself.

Your man.

Your job.

Your flat.


You click shut the suitcase. As usual, you’ve given yourself plenty of time, there’s still a few minutes left. You turn, crossing to the window where the bassinet once sat. Outside, autumn leaves float in the still air, sinking slowly.

Leanne Radojkovich’s stories have featured in various places from Turbine to Radio New Zealand and Renegade House. She’s writing flash fiction stories and posting readings on YouTube while working on a collection of flash – small, complete stories – that can be downloaded and read on one screen.

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Matthew Zela, Moonlight
Moonlight was certain, which we all felt fitted the mood, since the look on his blood-drained face reminded us of cats we’d seen previously at such times of night — all wild and wide-eyed and devoid of colour, as if filmed by some German expressionist auteur; a director of nocturnes who blankly refuses to film during daylight with the aid of special filters when it is obvious that none are fooled by it, but simply hold their disbelief in suspension, as we now supposed the poor young man in front of us was attempting as a way of avoiding the by now obvious and no doubt odious conclusion that not much was about to go his way on this soon-to-be-moonlit night when, as we were discussing, those of the feline persuasion were generally out and about in various states of chromatic bankruptcy yet, by all accounts, rather flushed with thyroxin, which did not give us nearly as much pause as the unintentionality such a pun might suggest and certainly nowhere near the level of circumlocution we quickly found ourselves engaged in, once the unwelcome and unsolicited suggestion arose that cats do not, in point of fact, display nocturnal habits, but something more exotic both in name and explanation, to wit: crepuscularity; which entails, within a whisker of more perfectly unintended wordplay, the tendency towards being more active at dawn and at dusk, but by then all further review was deferred since our man had upped and escaped.

Matthew Zela is a writer of poetry, prose and fiction, currently at work on a final draft of his first novel. Matthew lives in Northland, a gardener by trade.

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Katharine Derrick, Inside Out
I caught a bus from Denver to Kansas City but disembarked hundreds of miles early in the middle of nowhere. The man running the gas station nodded when I asked if there was anywhere nearby to rent. He handed me a key then pointed across the prairie to a speck in the distance.

“Watch out for rattlers,” he said through a mouthful of gum, “ain’t no hospital ’round here.”

I thanked him and stepped out onto the grassland. A crow circled overhead. I shivered. By the time I reached the house the sun had set. I unlocked the door and moonlight followed me in.

The room seemed empty at first but then I noticed a rolled-up poster lying on the floor. It was a Magritte print, The Evening Gown, 1954. A woman stood naked with hair flowing down her back looking out to sea, a sliver of moon above her. It seemed to hold a glimmer of hope and I gripped onto it as if it would save me from drowning. Silent tears slid down my face and flowed into the void of the unknown house. The moon crept higher and at some point I slept.

At dawn I awoke and went outside to watch the moon slip away. I undressed, released my hair and lifted my arms to the rising sun. Not even the cawing of the crow could disturb me.

Katharine Derrick lives in Kerikeri and writes mainly for children and young adults. She once had a 50-word story published in Brian Edwards’ Book of Incredibly Short Stories but most of her published works are with Learning Media. Her latest projects include tidying up a junior fantasy novel and reviewing New Zealand children’s books and interviewing their authors at NZ Children’s Book Reviews.

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Karen Phillips, It was a very good year

“When I was twenty-one it was a very good year,” sings Frank. Me too, thinks Colin. He steps back from his canvas, smiles.

Back then he was a rising meteor in the art world. The sun poured gold on his days; the stars hid deep blue nights of passion.

He turns up the volume on the paint-spattered radio. His hearing is not as good as it was.
“We drove in limousines,” sings Frank. “Not me,” mutters Colin.

His style went out of fashion. People wanted beiges with angular shapes to match their beige and angular houses. “Change your colours,” his wife had suggested as she walked out the door with a painter of beige and angular, a man of fewer years and more money than Colin. Colin continued with bright blues and greens but his drinking made more news than his art.

“…girls who lived up the stairs,” sings Frank. Colin frowns. He can’t remember any girls.

He left town alone. “You have debts. You must paint.” His agent’s voice crackled over the mountains to the distant cottage. Colin tried. The colours glared back, flat and garish.

Seasons passed. “It’s a bit dull. Some red would brighten it,” his visiting agent says hopefully. “Fashions have changed.”

Colin’s canvas glows with the shades of grey and blue of the mountains behind: the colours of a woman, not beautiful but quiet yet strong enough to live in this harsh climate. She is not a shade of red. Colin grins, takes up a fine brush and gently paints her name across the pale ground.

Karen Phillips lives in Ahipara, Northland. She began writing in 2009 and won the Katherine Mansfield Novice Award that year followed by first place in the Heartland Short Story Competition, and has continued to be placed in competitions since then. She is currently working on a collection of short stories.

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Sally Houtman, The sky on that day

Perhaps it was her eyes. Or the late November rain. Or perhaps the sky on that day was a particularly uncommon shade of grey. He couldn’t say. But he went there anyway, forced his shoulder against the wind, felt the pull.

With his head bowed forward he stood on the footpath across the street from her house. There was a quickening of pulse, a catch in his throat. What rippled through him in that moment, you could say, was something like desire.


Perhaps it was his mind, his thoughts having ceased their forward motion. Or the edges of his memory buckling from the weight of so much time. Or perhaps the paint on the fence had faded to that uncommon shade of grey. He couldn’t say. But years later he returned.

With the winter in his hair he lingered in the shadows across the street from her house. His hands were in his pockets, his trousers hitched up with a piece of string. There were no curtains on the windows, no footprints in the snow. What rippled through him in that moment, you could say, was something like regret.

Sally Houtman is a Wellington writer. She began writing fiction and poetry in 2007 and threatens not to stop.

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Stephen Garside, Horizon

“But how do I choose, Granddad?”

“You’ll know.”

The old man put his hand on his granddaughter’s shoulder. She was all grown up now. Got big.

“But I don’t know, Granddad. I don’t know.”

The girl’s grief was quiet but buffeted her hunched body like a gale. Her shoulders shook as she buried her head in soft-skinned hands.

The old man watched her and tears blurred his sight.

“It’ll be alright, love,” he said. He meant it truly but he didn’t feel it anymore than the girl.

Anne smeared the tears down her cheeks with the palms of those hands.

“He says I have to choose,” she said looking at her grandfather. “Berlin or him. God knows I’ve tried. But I just can’t. I don’t know what to do.”

Anne shook her head and looked toward the ocean. The sky was a litany of wordless grey clouds.

“How do I know what’s right, Granddad?” she asked.

The old man looked to the ocean also. A sliver of blue sky seemed to be emerging at the horizon.

“There is no right, Anne. That’s the hardest thing. There’s only what you do and where it takes you. And that’s a gamble whichever way you look at it.”

The old man looked at his granddaughter again. His hand still rested on her shoulder, and he could sense a calm returning in her flushed cheeks.

They sat without talking.

“I think the weather’s clearing,” she finally said, with a sniff.

The old man nodded.

Stephen Garside is a Wellington writer who has written full time, in and around three children and a shift-working wife, for two years but will be training to become a primary school teacher in 2012 so is wondering how much sleep he can go without in order to maximize writing hours.

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Vivienne Merrill, Shades

He’s an either or, a neither nor, kind of person. I know that and yet. I watch him now as he paces the floor muttering to himself and it takes all my control not to say anything. Why does it always have to be like this? Why can’t he realise that a decision is simply that. He’s researched the facts, authenticated his sources and written the list of pros and cons.

The dog sighs, his eyes following his master and his ears down. Outside, the wind begins to batter the house. I want something to break into his rhythm of walking, his restrictive pattern of thought but, after five years together, I know better. I know there is no point talking about compromise, about differing points of view. For him, it is all about right or wrong. Or, should I say, rights and wrongs.

I have to move. I stand, stretch and walk to the window. The sky is darkening now and beyond our house, the hills are changing hue. Come close, I want to say, come see how black and white and all colours of the spectrum, fade into grey How soon sky and earth follow. How nothing stays apart in this, the dance of the shades.

Vivienne Merrill lives on the Kapiti Coast where it is all too easy to beachwalk and dream her days away. Sometimes, when she’s lucky, some of these dreams become stories and poems.

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Kathy Sewell, The Blowhole

Silvery, diamante mists spew from the local blowhole. I’m alone except for two Māori women standing ankle-deep in the ocean with skirts tucked into large knickers.

They’re bent at the hip with legs straight and hands expertly shovelling the sand. It looks uncomfortable and I wonder if they’re straining their backs. Their mothers probably gathered kai moana this way for years and these women aren’t young. Their hands shake underwater cleaning sand from pipis, which are then thrown expertly into a flax kete.

One straightens, places a hand on hip and leans backwards. She laughs. A deep belly sound that makes her body change shape like a huge plastic bag filled with water. Grabbing the kete, they head towards me. “Don’t stay,” one rasps. “The kēhua calls tonight.”

The moon patterns a silver-gold path across the sea, like Grandmother’s best seersucker tablecloth. Ripples crawl over sand and lick my toes. It is cold. Greyish shapes, transparent people with gossamer arms, rise from the blowhole ignoring me. I cannot move. My teeth begin clattering a Morse code. The mist turns away.

A lone fisherman baits his hook on the rocks as the mist cascades into the water creating a hungry wave that rises. A huge, drooling mouth. The fisherman is silent as he’s swallowed.

Darkness spills over the scene. My orderly black and white world has turned grey. I’m alone with only the satisfied gurgle of the kēhua.

Kathy Sewell has had a number of stories published and several plays written and performed. She is working on her novel at the moment while completing the last two papers of her B.A. extramurally at Massey University. She lives on a lifestyle block, is a proud grandma and belongs to IWW, NZSA and Tauranga Writers, and she runs the Thames Writers Group.

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Campbell Taylor, At the Line

They appeared just as I was about to wipe down the washing line. It was a crisp morning so the dew had left little circles of dirt all along the line. Crouching with my hands in a bucket of warm water, I had been quite oblivious to the arrival of the two men standing by the apple tree. Naturally, I was startled and perhaps a bit sharp. After all, the machine was about to finish its cycle; if the load sat it would have to go through again. But I was cornered, so I indicated I was busy by putting on a fresh pair of rubber gloves.

I had washed my hands of religion at the age of twelve after failing to dust the organ at the chapel where my father played; he firmly believed cleanliness does not come in degrees.

The two men apologised but did not leave. Instead, they asked if they might say a small prayer for me on my hectic day. I looked at the badges on their ill-fitting suits, trying to ignore the mark of old sweat at the edge of their collars. There was no guile apparent.

I still don’t trust music; it seeks to shade belief in raptures better placed among the everyday.

Halfway through the blessing of my busyness Lucy woke and came outside. As I shushed her to my feet she settled to a low growl answering the sound of the washing machine coming to the end of its cycle.

Campbell Taylor is a phlebotomist and soundman. His short stories have been published in literary journals and on websites in New Zealand, Australia and the USA. Born and raised in Christchurch, he lives in Titahi Bay.

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Sarah Cotter, A Ripple

The ocean looks to me today like it has lost the desire to move another inch. It is still, true, serene even. I know how it feels, I too am tired of traversing the same old ground.

The jester passes by, brushing his teeth while juggling pots and walking on the water in such a way that he creates barely a ripple. At least that’s how it seems to me from where I sit, up on high. My vantage point is obscured up here in this giant kahikatea. It’s one of the last great trees, you know. We often like to sit together and watch the world go by. My friend the kahikatea has been standing sentinel here many hundred years. Long before you all thought this was a choice spot to put down roots.

It is rather precarious, sure, on the edge of the crumbling chalky cliff. A little more falls with every rain. But what a view. All the way to the long strip of grey over the other side where those massive aeroplanes come and go. Man, that is one big whānau you guys must have.

It’s funny, you know, when you think of it, all the grey you people are always creating —  your roads, buildings and driveways, your life plans and your dirty rivers. I guess you just can’t see it my way…. You see, I’m the last of the mighty huia and there ain’t no grey on me, not in any shade.

Sarah Cotter lives in Whenuapai with two children, heavy air traffic and a menagerie of animals. She has been writing poetry for a long time. She read at rhythm & verse in 2011 and will do so again in May 2012. She is embarking on a bachelor of bilingual primary teaching this year.

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Sian Williams, Map Reading

Long ago she lay in the tall grass of a Spanish afternoon while he traced the constellations of freckles on her body with his fingertips. He gave them names; there was Orca — the whale, Xerox — the photocopier, and, down her right leg, Burro — the donkey. Under the gentian sky they laughed, kissed and slept until tapas time. An unfettered sun burned on.

Back then it was easy to love her body, and he did, often. As did the others who came afterwards, although none was ever as attentive, or as observant, as her Spanish cartographer.

Now it was always with the lights out. She’d tried to wear her Caesarean scar with pride: a badge of honour, a war wound. Her husband said he didn’t care, and, after all, he had agreed to get into the trenches of parenthood with her. But the silver tracery of stretch marks that crawled across her softening flesh were harder to accept — ripples left by the receding tide — or the spider veins that intermeshed with them on her cobweb legs. Or the grey hairs.

When she stood contemplating at the mirror, he said he couldn’t see what she was worried about. But then he’d never really looked at her, never read the map of her body — unlike her conquistador all those years ago. Otherwise he would have noticed the new mole in the constellation Burro. The donkey had three ears. She had seen it though and reluctantly acknowledged a dark star rising.

Sian Williams is editor at Flash Frontier. She lives and writes in the Bay of Islands.

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Michelle Elvy, Earl Grey(s)
Tell us again, says Samantha.
Yes! giggles Henry.
Our children love the story of how we met.
Mummy and daddy sitting in a tree, whispering poetry and drinking tea…

It was in the library. She sat at a table cluttered with poetry books. I came in out of the rain, took the only empty chair.
Tea? she asked. Like I belonged there, my soggy newspaper flopped between Frost and Frame.
You study poetry?

The F’s this week, she said, pouring a cup for me. Cloves wafted up. We talked an hour. After she left I could only recall the sound of her white plastic raincoat crinkling at her elbows as she collected her things.

Next week, Ginsburg and Goethe. I muttered something feeble about Faust; she repressed a sly smile. I slurped peppermint, recalled a limerick but fuckit the girl from Nantucket did not belong here.
We sat together several more times. Ibsen and Joyce and Keats (black and green and oolong) followed Hughes (citrus).
Then one day, she was there with no poets. Come on. I panted up four flights behind her swishy raincoat, entered her neat apartment speechless and sweaty.
No more tea, she said, rounding on me with surprising fierceness. She swigged from a whisky bottle then opened her mouth, drew me close.
Later, on the couch — after the table and bed and floor – I thought I should ask her name.
Charlotte, she said suddenly. And I drink Earl Grey in the morning.

Michelle Elvy is the founding editor of Flash Frontier. She lives and writes in the Bay of Islands and enjoys poetry and Early Grey. And whisky.

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Please also see this month’s interview with flash fiction writer and editor Gay Degani.

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Coming in April: stories about after the party

Interview with Gay Degani

MARCH 2012

This month, we had the pleasure of talking with Gay Degani, who is an internationally recognised writer of flash fiction and the editor of Flash Fiction Chronicles for Every Day Fiction. She blogs at Words in Place. We asked Gay five questions about the nuts and bolts of writing flash. 


FF: Flash fiction has many different definitions, from Hemingway’s “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” to a definition framed mainly by word count (such as <1000 words). What, in your opinion, defines flash fiction?

GD: Flash fiction is to traditional short stories what lightning is to a storm. That to me is the best definition of flash fiction. And if no one has said this before, I want the credit!! But I’m pretty sure that’s where the name came from.

Thunder, rain, sleet, wind and lightning are all part of the excitement of a full blown nor’easter or afternoon thunderstorm. The rush of hard rain opens our eyes; its steady drum on the roof soothes us until that first roll of thunder raises our pulse; lightning makes us anticipate and 1 2 3 count. Then rain again and we wait for another loud crack, more electrical fireworks, the clouds to clear, the skies to blue. A good storm is filled with promise, surprise, fear, suspense, relief, joy, and sometimes sadness. So is a good story.

We experience fiction as we do storms with all their noise and fury. However, flash fiction is more like watching a jag of lightning split the sky to reveal a few seconds of landscape in a larger world.  In the span of 1000, 500, 50 words, flash gives us a crucial moment in a larger, less-defined or “suggested” story.

 Flash focuses on the “crux” of interplay between two characters, or one character and nature, or one character and self, when life is illuminated for the briefest of seconds. Flash creates a “close-up” on that moment when a “balance of being” shifts, even if it shifts ever so slightly.

Getting into it

FF: When you read a flash fiction story, what is the first indication that it’s a great one?

GD: An opening sentence that promises to intrigue, seduce and deliver the goods. A voice that engages me instantly and then something about the content — appearing almost immediately through voice, setting, circumstance, dialogue, language — that promises the story will be fresh and new and that the writer knows what he or she is doing.  I want to feel I won’t be let down, that I am embarking on an experience, large or small, that will surprise and intrigue me; that I will not be thrown any curves that make no sense.

Top Tip

FF: What is the single most important tip for someone aspiring to write excellent flash fiction?

GD: The admonition is probably different for every part of each writer’s journey, but for those just starting out, I’d say, “Don’t fall in love with your language until you’ve determined what it is your subconscious is telling you”. Too often we worry about every line when we’re new, not able to move on until each sentence sparkles. This often kills the initial impulse to write the story. My advice is to get the idea down, then take a look at what you have. Ask yourself who your character is, what does she value, what does she want and what stands in her way. There’s a magic thing happening inside you, the creation of a story. Listen to that voice or follow that thought as far as it leads you. Once you have content — the meat of the story — you will be able to figure out your scenes, what can happen to show the reader who she is and what she reveals about our humanity, and then it will be time to write those sparkling sentences.


FF: Flash Fiction seems to resonate with the current Zeitgeist. Why do you think this is?

GD: Stories have always given us a life experience without having to live through that experience. However, as society speeds up, we seem to have less and less time to sit down and read.  I have always read voraciously, but I struggle to find time to read books. There is always something else I should be doing, something that gets results. Yet I long for the feeling of being part of another world that reading gives us.

 Examples of excellence
FF: And finally, please share with us some flash fiction stories that you think are especially effective, and tell us why.

GD: This is really tough. I could probably list at least 100 stories by 100 different writers, but here are a couple I thought of when I was answering the second question. These have stuck to me.

Conversion by Gasoline by Marsha McSpadden because it says so much so well in so few words. Stunning.
Running by R.S. Thomas because of its natural yet seductive voice and flow, and the wonderful, sad story.  Authentic.
About Things That Are Lost And The Places That Things Get Lost by Andrea Kneeland because of its unique structure and how it forces the reader to think.  How did she think to do this?
A Shanty For Sawdust And Cotton by Sarah Hilary because has the right kind of surprise and a lovely humanity.  Just a damn good writer.

Bulletproof by Divya Raghavan because of voice.

Thank you, Gay Degani, for this flash fiction interview.

Read more interviews here.

For March’s stories inspired by shades of grey, go here.

February 2012: HEAT

Anonymous_Author©, Asemic Continuum #11

Anonymous_Author© is the literary voice of unknown writer Derek Jones, who resides near Puhoi. His short fiction is also featured in this month’s issue, below.

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Sally Houtman, Burn

“Mind if I open a window?” I say, still angry from this morning. I wipe sweat from the back of my neck with my hand. You are in bed reading, TV on. There is an argument going on in the flat upstairs. The cat is pacing sentry-style across the hardwood floor.

You turn a page in your book, lift one shoulder. “It’s a free country,” you say.


The voices upstairs are louder now, more distinct. On TV a fire up north rages out of control. My throat feels tight, my mouth dry. The cat is on the window ledge, head askew, looking outside. “Can I get you a drink?” I say.

You nod.


I go to the fridge and take out a beer. The voices above reach a crescendo, begin to subside. Outside a dog barks once. A car alarm blares. The air inside feels static, close, the way air feels at the end of a summer with very little rain. I feed the cat and fill your glass.


I slip beneath the cotton sheet, stretch out beside you, staring up. The ceiling fan turns in lazy circles, but moves no air. The fire up north continues to rage. It is quiet upstairs. You light a cigarette, turn away, inhale. I watch the tip flare, glowing red. I fill my lungs and close my eyes, wondering how you can do it, how you can set things alight and not watch them burn.

Sally Houtman is a Wellington writer. She began writing fiction and poetry in 2007 and threatens not to stop.

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Raewyn Alexander, Hot Day

Our father whispered, “This beach can only be reached by boat.” In our tent, I imagined he didn’t want eavesdroppers to know.

Mum packed home-made banana cake, fresh-sliced Christmas ham, fruit, warm white bread, plus a Thermos and juice for our picnic.

Across choppy waves we thumped at speed from Whitianga towards the mysterious bay. Enormous pale cliffs ahead curled around the miraculously white beach, sheltered by islands. Ocean soon smooth, we clearly saw the white seabed beneath.

On a fine beach with various seashells at Cathedral Cove, there were only our footprints and Mum on a blanket under her yellow sun umbrella.

A fresh waterfall tumbled from dense foliage over pale rock to the sand. My brother dashed underneath the sparkling water, he laughed with delight. Many pohutukawa, red and green above massive cliffs, faced the ocean. Then to our right, the magnificent cathedral cut through massive rock. A high, vaulted opening through to another, smaller bay.

Inside the cathedral we gazed up at the pointed apex, almost geometric as if someone purposely sculpted it. Dad explained, “Maui hauled up the North Island, here. Maui’s fish-hook made this angular shape.”

The perfect warm day appears in memory as if it’s a movie, always beautiful.

Streaks of light played in the crystal water, tiny iridescent fish fled from our sun-tanned legs. Blue skies over silvery sand and brilliant ocean, our family’s toothy grins, mad games and hearty appetites played starring roles for the entire time.

Raewyn Alexander is a novelist, poet, short story and non-fiction writer who was placed in the top five for the Landfall Essay Competition, 2011. Her latest book, A Bee Lover’s Poetry Companion, is published through Earl of Seacliff, and she’s going on a Poetic Tour to America in 2012. You can read more about Alexander here.  

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Rachel Fenton, Best Before Browning

I imagine a scrap book; he’s the sepia clipping, excess glue browning his edges.

The way it happens: “They go up instinctively.”

Timo looks at me fly-ways — all eye and no focus. Makes regal with his hand.

“How d’yer know weer?”

I smell earth, heat, “They make these burrows, dirt stacked like bitsy chimneys.”

Timo, close as soil. I taste him, mineral, sharp and cloying the way salt makes slugs slaver and dry up all at once. “Death inherits death.”



“How d’yer know yer hevn’t missed ’em?” He talks fast.

“There’d be little casts, on the fence like.” It occurs he misheard. “They shed their baby skins.” I need to go back further. “When they crawl out, adults trapped inside juvenile bodies, fat little grubs, clawed front legs. They climb the nearest vertical whatever like. The grown-up breaks out.”

“I can’t see a thing.”

I laugh. A cricket sets to fiddling. Timo cocks his head. I resist the urge to pat, ruffle the moon dust round his ears.

“They spend years underground; waiting for the right conditions. Some think it’s the heat like but no one’s sure, not even scientists.”

Timo nods. I stretch out my fingers, feel chimney crumble. He gets up. “Want a Tui?”

I follow him in.


I wake: bottles applauding the recycling bin. The fence a battlefield; spent filo armour. Breakfast crucified. Tonight, patience, wait for them to grub up. Before they get hard I’ll boil the lot of them.

This fiction is inspired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh from which the line “death inherits death” is taken (book five). Rachel J Fenton lives in Auckland, has work in Blackmail Press, Horizon Review, Otoliths and others. Her work was short-listed for the Fish One Page Prize and University of Maine Ultra Short Competition, and long-listed for the Sean O’ Faolain International Short Story Prize and Kathleen Grattan Award. She publishes a daily graphic poetry page about stuttering at Escape Behaviours as Rae Joyce, and blogs at snow like thought


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Stephen Garside, Better Than Rain

Mary waited in the long grass that led to the forest. The wind was strong up here: a warm, insistent nor’wester.

Seagulls eddied above her. Drawn by the promise of the landfill, they rode the wind waiting to drop and forage.

It was January and the winds had been blowing fluently for days. The valley to the harbour was a dusty gold. Even the grey water in the distance appeared dusty, like a mirage.

“Come on guys!” she called. It was still twenty minutes to the clearing, and walking was not everyone’s favourite.

The boys came running. Seven-year-old feet scuffing the dusty path as they raced to see who would be first.

Eloise plodded. Heavy, painful steps that showed she was feeling as enthusiastic about the walk as she had been when Mary suggested it at lunch.

“How long Mum?” she asked.

“Ten minutes.”

“It’s too hot,” Eloise complained. “My feet hurt.”

“We’ll be in the pines in a minute. It’s cool in there.”

“But it stinks with the tip.”

“We’ll hurry through. The clearing’s not far after that and we’ll find a shady spot to have afternoon tea.”

Eloise grunted and lumbered past.

Mary checked the boys. They were still racing each other.

Where do they find the energy? Days of wind and upper-twenties temperature had just about sapped her reserves. A month of school-holidays didn’t help either.

But you can’t complain. It’s better than weeks of rain; though a brief shower would be nice.

Eloise stomped on.

Stephen Garside is a Wellington writer who has written full time, in and around three children and a shift-working wife, for two years but will be training to become a primary school teacher in 2012 so is wondering how much sleep he can go without in order to maximize writing hours.

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Mike Crowl, Running and Waiting

The rhododendron, paler than white, leans in the heat towards the path which is sunk below the road. The glistening heat has melted the rhododendron petals off the branches; they settle as browning water lilies in the grass. But the grass doesn’t pour down towards the path because it isn’t water.

The path is a deep dip, so that a child can race with her dog down one side and make it up the other before running out of puff.

The child runs down the path, her knots of knees pumping past faster than the eye can grasp. There is a splash, but this isn’t water. The dog pulls on the lead and drags the child, strains to move forward. The child’s grazed knees bleed in rivulets. She pushes herself upwards, stands, sobs for a moment.

Calls to the dog. Calls the dog names.The dog sits on the hot pavement, indifferent. English is not his first language.

The girl dabs at her knees with a tissue: the heat of the sun is already drying the rivulets of blood. The dog waits, as dogs do. The pavement is warm. Waiting isn’t difficult. Boredom is not in his experience, or vocabulary.

The grazes sting in the heat. The child brushes the stings aside in her mind. Self-pity is not in her experience, or vocabulary.

Mike Crowl is a 66-year-old writer, pianist, composer, and actor living in Dunedin. He has been writing for publication since 1989, and has written his own blogs since 2005. He wrote a weekly column for the Star Midweeker for five years in the 1990s.

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Wendy Williamson, Heat
A wisp of smoke curls skyward from a bright pinpoint of light dancing on a small patch of blackened grass. All around looms the forest: dark, dusty and, after months of drought, tinder-dry. Under a cloudless sky the heat is relentless.

A shadow falls. A deer enters the clearing foraging amongst the sparse vegetation eventually reaching and stepping on the tiny hotspot. With one jerk of a hoof the startled deer snuffs out the seat of the fire.

And a discarded Coke bottle is sent skittering into the perpetual shade of a nearby pine tree.

Wendy Williamson comes from the seismically vibrant city of Christchurch and has been a member of South Island Writers’ Association for about a year. She has recently had some success in their competitions with flash fiction, a poem and a memoir. Wendy also belongs to a critique group which keeps her on her toes and enjoys the challenge of writing flash fiction.

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Maree Bishop, Haere ra, bro 
“Strike the bloody match, Vinnie,” Rangi screamed, hopping from one frozen foot to the other. Vinnie held off; fact was, he was scared shitless. He knew once he put a match to the pile of rubbish the fire would be enormous, the heat overwhelming. The idiots who owned the factory where they sheltered should never have left the boxes of waste paper just sitting there.

That winter had been the worst ever. It was August and still heavy drifts of snow covered much of the city. A couple of the olds had been forced to go in, surrender themselves to the ape authorities. But Vinnie and Rangi had their shit together. Long as they could score a meal and on a good day purloin the odd alco-pop from a sleepy shop owner, they were cool.

The group of homeless vagrants knew they had to move from under the viaduct when the surface became so icy their cardboard bedding slid right off the concrete. In one case both bed and sleeper had ended up on the motorway below.

“What the hell are you waiting for, you silly bugger?” Rangi ranted.

“Yeah,” replied Vinnie, “What if the whole fucking place goes up?”

Next thing Vinnie knew Rangi was on top of him. His unshaven face, ugly with anger, only inches away.

“I don’t give a crap about this place. I just want to feel some heat. I’m bloody freezing.” Rangi grabbed the matches.

The fire extended one city block and took ten appliances to extinguish.

Maree Bishop lives on the Hibiscus Coast. She has written two novels, one of which she recently published online. Both novels are based in the US where she spent several years. Some of Maree’s short stories have appeared in national magazines.

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Dan Ingledew, Illumination

The darkness was so complete and had existed for so long that there wasn’t even a concept of darkness anymore, just the world as it was. There may have been light once; stories that the ancestors passed down told of a world ruled almost exclusively by the sense of sight but now the strongest visual image of the world lived inside the mind, built of the other senses and of the stories and meaning that everyone lived in a different world, even those standing side by side.

And then, one day, the Light came. Light so sudden and intense and more blinding than any lack of light could ever be. The world moved and shook and flew through the air and what was once horizontal suddenly became vertical.


The world remained the wrong way round and there were tremors but all was calm, by comparison, for one last golden moment. A great rasping sound tore through the air, deafening and horrific, and then the world was burning. Smouldering heat and acrid smoke burst to life at one end of the world and rushed headlong, bringing death and ash to the other. Nothing and no one was spared; the heat was devastating and absolute.

“What the hell are you doing?!”

Holding his half-burned cigarette up to his ear, close enough almost to brand himself, Michael suddenly looked sheepish. Lowering his hand, he grinned awkwardly and cleared his throat.

“I, ah, thought I heard screaming….”

Daniel Ingledew is a 27-year-old Wellington native. New to writing, he reads a lot and is a keen amateur photographer, having recently branched out into paid photography work and begun a diploma in photography this year.

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Derin Attwood, The Fence 

The view depressed me when I first looked out my large front window. The fences were all grey or brown, imposing and seemingly unfriendly. The houses behind them were faceless, the inhabitants invisible.

I could feel the heat seep through the window even with the air-conditioning on. Outside the effect of the heat showed in everything, the brown threadbare lawns, the burnt flowers, trees and shrubs. A dusty veneer shadowed the sun and intensified as the day progressed. Everything in this new neighbourhood looked overheated and neglected.

With no reduction of heat as the sun touched the horizon, a lone neighbour trudged out of her house and began to clear away the dead and dying hydrangeas along her fence-line. As she pulled the plants and stacked them in a pile, she washed the palings. I watched and wondered – the fence would be as dusty again by mid-day. It seemed such a pointless chore in this heat.

She continued weeding and washing as the sun went down, and later I noticed her still working.

The heat didn’t dissipate through the night, and it became oppressive again as the sun rose. Dreading the drab monotony of my view, I opened the curtains.

My neighbour was still there, and glanced up at the movement. I answered her wave as I saw that every fence paling had been painted a different colour. She smiled. And I smiled back.

Derin Attwood was short-listed for NZ Writers’ College Short Story Competition 2010 and has had work published by a number of magazines and websites including 52/250. Her new novel, The Caves of Kirym, was published in July 2011.

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Matthew Zela, On A Day 
Behold, this august garden, in a wooden window framed. The chair sits by the desk at the window and I sit at all three. It’s warmer as the breeze continually drops; I consider the chance of a rainbow.

Perhaps sprinklers we never installed will erupt, founting support for my wish. Perhaps not. Loss rings hollow with doubt.

So I stay away and bring baseless ruin upon my reputation, which they can keep. Keep it all, the things she left. They tell me I must attend to meetings and papers and putting my mark here, here, and here, but I won’t. We have our summer afternoon.

This was our all-golden. Tritoma, Solidago, a sill box of Myosotis saying life is for getting, the walled Amaranthus, heads lowered in sleep. More than friends of ours.

They will all have words to say, about her deaf remains.

I tend the Abutilon again, and the Wedding Day’s still out. What a show.

Will they come around, after all’s said and done? I told them: only those welcome who come for the walk, in all seasons, no excuses, round we go.

I wait for autumn, her favourite. Summers she swooned from the heat and the last few were hard. Half a mile of net to shade against extinction. In the end she gave up. What a time to leave.

We had rain again. Everything’s green while I sit here, wishing on rainbows and wondering how, on a day like this, she is gone.

Matthew Zela is a writer of poetry, prose and fiction, currently at work on a final draft of his first novel. Matthew lives in Northland, a gardener by trade.

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Anonymous_Author©, Potential
A car strobed red through trees in the distance. Plastic bags cartwheeled in its wake. The afternoon was hot. I lay prone on the concrete which warmed my front. The sun browned my back. I closed my eyes and was anywhere. A cocoon. Fiji. Her bed. The concrete softened beneath me with each rise and fall of breath, drawing me into its porous surface. The weight of summer air pressed gently from above. I drifted into blurry sleep. Earlier I’d been diving into Richard’s pool. His sister was likely still there judging by the yells from over the fence. The water had chilled as the sun pushed shadows ahead of itself into walls, over fences onto the pool’s surface. I’d come into the street to warm-up. I heard Simone squeal and an uneven splash and imagined her limbs flailing wildly to break her fall, the water enveloping her, maybe peeling her bikini top down a little. I loved her limbs. I’d written poetry about them. Bad poems with the best intentions. Isn’t that what schoolboys did when they discovered a girl’s limbs had power over them? Concoct private and persuasive expressions of admiration? I hoped so. Simone had limbs of note, and other things besides. The summer had barely begun. The mix of anxious potential it was cooking already made me sick with happiness. Anything might happen. Life moved unstoppably forward. There seemed no purpose to it. It needed none. It was good. It just was.

Anonymous_Author© is the literary voice of unknown writer Derek Jones, who resides near Puhoi. He is an existentialist suffering from an identity crisis and exists only through the benevolence of language. René Descartes categorically stated: “I think therefore I am.” Anonymous_Author© ambiguously offers: “You think you exist.” As well as poetry, flash fiction and short stories, Anonymous_Author© is currently working on his unauthorised autobiography, The Ghostwriter in the Machine. Follow his progress on Twitter: @anonauth. His art is also featured this month.

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Megan Doyle Corcoran, Breach
In August, they went to Maui on holiday and she asked him for a baby. His head on the sand shifted so he could look at her and nod. An overheating summer sun spread its embers on the sand and water, his eyes even, and the droplets of sweat breeding to evaporate on his chest.

The following year, they didn’t have time for a holiday because they’d exhausted themselves with its accounting. Even if she didn’t feel like growing old, her body calculated days and weeks and expressed their passage as precisely, if not as efficiently, as a timepiece. It was the only thing her body did right. It never missed a beat and he could only wait in their bed—prepared and despondent—as her perfect rhythm dismantled familiar harmonies.

Another year. Another anxious sun rose hotly over another August day to spread fire on the salty surface of their skin. Time, not being counted, tread quietly around them. Their silent accord, old enough to stand alone now, bowed to its breach. His arm was heavy on her back like the ocean is heavy on the shore but never too much for it to bear. She watched the gold tips of ocean chop and he watched her.

Megan Doyle Corcoran lives in Wellington where she writes and rides a bicycle. A 2012 student in the MA programme at the International Institute of Modern Letters, she writes short stories that are usually much longer than 250 words. Her work has appeared in online and print journals in the US. She’s originally from California and appreciates that her presence in New Zealand is so graciously tolerated.

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Sian Williams, The Vicarage Garden Party

Finishing her round with the sandwiches Mrs Stanton stood for a moment in the cool shade of the big magnolia. Groups of people dotted the lawn. Flowery dresses, cheap shoes, big hats – the congregation at its most pretentious. Never mind, at least the garden looked lovely. The hydrangeas, in particular, were superb this year. Her husband, the vicar, strolled amongst the frothing bushes, arm in arm with the organist’s unmarried daughter. His hand clasped her golden forearm; he was noticeably flushed. The girl nodded earnestly at something he said.

Mrs Stanton ate the last remaining sandwich on the plate she was carrying. Already curled at the edges, it was unappetising, dry. Looking up, she spotted a dandelion she’d missed in the blue border. How vexing.

She wondered who had done the weeding in the Garden of Eden. She couldn’t imagine Eve getting her pretty knees dirty and breaking her finger nails, with her bare arse waving in the air. And Adam would’ve been much too busy being tempted by Eve. It couldn’t have been the serpent, as snakes have no hands, and anyway Mrs Stanton didn’t believe there was a serpent in the Garden at all; she felt certain Eve had invented it – as an excuse. That would only leave Adam’s wife, in sensible shoes and gardening gloves, to keep things in order. Yes, that sounded about right, she concluded, as she set off for another circuit, with the devilled eggs this time.

Sian Williams is editor at Flash Frontier. She lives in the Bay of Islands and does the weeding in her own Garden of Eden although, fearing the ferocity of the Northland sun, she doesn’t do it naked. Mostly.

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Michelle Elvy, Timpani
A cold platinum day. The waves at Raglan rolled in like timpani. Surfers dotted the water like seals, eager for the rollick and rush of the next big one. They rode the same wave in, walked up the beach together.

He wanted to kiss her shivering lip first time he saw it.


Snapper for tea. She watched him fillet it expertly, the blade slipping under the flesh, his fingers knowing exactly how to move over the meat.

She eyed his snapper hands, felt heat crawl up her neck and race down her thighs.


A hot copper day. The black sand of Muriwai melts in the sun. The wrong flame is fuelled by alcohol, noise: timpani made by years of temper.

She’s content out here alone, a seal in the surf. She comes in from a long set, hears the kids’ tinny voices off in the distance, sees him waiting, bored. Chilly bin of beer, three empties glinting in the sand. Her lip frowns involuntarily.

What?! What do you want, woman?

She longs for those winter days, the wild shores of youth.

She thinks: Platinum. Says: Snapper.

Michelle Elvy is the founding editor of Flash Frontier. She lives and writes in the Bay of Islands and wrote this story on a platinum day. For more about Michelle, visit her at Glow Worm

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Please also see this month’s interview with Auckland writer and conceptual artist Gus Simonovic.

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Coming in March: stories about shades of grey

Interview with Graeme Lay


This month, we had the pleasure of talking with writer and editor Graeme Lay. Here’s what he had to say.

On his own writing

FF: You’re a versatile writer. Your repertoire includes travel writing and YA novels, fiction and non-fiction. Do you find inspiration in familiar places, or in sometimes surprising places? And do you find it easy to switch between different genres?

GL: Responding as a travel writer, inspiration comes more from unfamiliar places. I love going to new areas (especially islands), learning about their history and culture, then writing about them. A recent example: the Gambier Islands, which I hadn’t been to before. These are strikingly beautiful, and they also have a fascinating history which I subsequently wrote about. The story was published in the Sunday Star-Times.

I don’t find it at all difficult moving between fiction and non-fiction writing. I just slip into whichever genre happens to be in front of me on my desk at the time. For example, while on Mangareva Island I worked on the manuscript of an historical novel in the morning, then on a travel story about the island in the afternoon.

However it also has to be said that I find writing fiction ten times harder than writing non-fiction. This is because there are totally different thought processes involved. Writing non-fiction is a kind of reportage, whereas writing fiction puts great demands on the imagination.

FF: Whether working as editor or writer, you are always writing about place. Or is it people? Which comes first in your writing? And how does home as place affect your writing, even your travel writing?

GL: Place is very important, but it can never be written about in isolation. Instead it should be used as the setting for, or background against which, significant actions by my characters occur. For example, my young adult novel ‘One Foot Island’ trilogy is set mainly on Aitutaki, in the Cook Islands, but the heart of the narrative is the relationship between Tuaine and Adam. Events are played out against the background of the island setting, which is crucial to the story, but it doesn’t supersede the relationship between the two young people. Similarly, in my adult novel, Alice & Luigi, the nineteenth century settings (Italy, the West Coast, Makara and the Kapiti Coast) needed to be recreated authentically, but it is the developing relationship between Alice and Luigi which is the most important aspect of the novel. Nevertheless, in historical fiction, all the details (e.g. clothing, transport, furniture and so on) have to be convincingly evoked. Those period details are very important in “transporting” the reader credibly to a very different time and place.

On keeping it short

FF: George Orwell famously said, “Never use a long word where a short one will do.” Do you agree or disagree?

GL: Generally, I agree with that statement. The most effective writing communicates well because it’s unadorned and therefore lucid. There’s great beauty in simplicity. That’s why I hate reading the writing of academics, which in most cases is stuffed with polysyllabic words and abstruse jargon. Ghastly stuff. But English being the wonderful language it is, sometimes I find a long word in the dictionary (yes, I browse through the dictionary) which is so perfectly suited to what I’m looking for that I have to use it. Three examples: “rodomontade”, “termagant”, and “tergiversate”. They all say a great deal in a few syllables. Interesting words don’t have to be long, either. “Doxy”, for example, is a great word. But a writer must employ these obscure words with care, otherwise it is just showing off.

FF: You’ve edited the Short Short Stories series in recent years. As an editor of short fiction, what do you look for in a short story? What makes one story stand out from the others? And who are some of your favourite short story writers, Kiwi or otherwise?

GL: It’s not greatly different from what one looks for in a standard length (e.g. 2-3,000 words) short story. I look for an ability to create credible characters and a plausible narrative, preferably one with some meaningful conflict at its heart. The saying “conflict is the essence of drama” also applies to prose fiction. All this is much more difficult when the writer has a maximum of 500 words to work with, but as the “short short” anthologies demonstrate, in the hands of a skilled fiction writer, it’s entirely possible. Anything extraneous to the central event/s must be left out, and the power of suggestion becomes very important. Very short stories must make the reader read between the lines. Take Hemingway’s shortest story as an extreme example i.e. “For sale, baby boots. Never worn.”

The best stories always jump out and grab you. We had many, many submissions for the short short collections, but the publishable ones always rose to the top. Usually they did so because they had an arresting opening sentence, then subsequently held the reader’s attention through engaging characters and original events. As with all fiction, characterisation is the paramount consideration.

FF: As a writer, what’s the most challenging thing about writing short short fiction? What’s the most enjoyable thing about it?

GL: The challenge is to create a story which other people find worth reading, whether for its insights, entertainment value, or humour. Writers always thinks that what they write is brilliant, the trick is to make other people react in the same way. Rewriting is crucial. Because every single word must contribute to the story’s effect, ruthless self- editing is vital. The stories must go through many drafts. Of my own short short stories, The Christening (in Volume 1 of 100 NZ short short stories) and The Mural (Volume 2) seem to me to be the most successful, the first for its sadness, the second for its humour.

The enjoyment comes from responding to the challenge the short short form presents, successfully meeting that challenge, then seeing the finished story in print. Nothing beats that.

On New Zealand

FF: Your collection of works includes so much of the landscape of Aotearoa. One of the books you edited, for example, The New Zealand Book of the Beach (in two volumes), stands out as a particularly Kiwi collection. Tell us, what is essential about the beach in New Zealand? Is it the landscape that inspires you most as a writer? And do you think landscape is central to evoking emotion and finding meaning in New Zealand writing?

GL: Landscape is very important  Zealand writing. Because the background of most of us is rural, the impression of landscape remains strong, even after we have moved to the city. In my case, “seascape” is even more important. Because I grew up beside the sea, it always fascinates me. The coastline is very close to New Zealanders’ sensibilities, because it is omnipresent. The sea is also mysterious, and beautiful. Hence the books of the beach, which I very much enjoyed compiling. And when you think of the best of our fiction writers – Janet Frame, Maurice Shadbolt, Katherine Mansfield, Owen Marshall, Maurice Gee – land and sea are integral to much of their work.

FF: In his judge’s comments for the BNZ Flash Fiction Competition 2011 Graham Beattie said he had noticed a preponderance of morbid themes. Is this tendency towards dark subject matter characteristic of the Kiwi voice?

GL: Yes, the dark element is definitely there. Whether this makes the writing “morbid”, I’m not so sure. For example, Ronald Hugh Morrieson’s fiction is thoroughly dark, but it’s also very funny, so the two elements are not mutually exclusive. Much of human nature is dark, so it’s unsurprising that that’s what inspires writers. If you examine Australian, British or American literature, there’s a great deal of morbidity. Irish writers, for example, often wallow in their own misery. But they too can be very funny.

On collecting and other pastimes

FF: The collections you edit tell the reader a lot about New Zealand’s social, historical and cultural fabric: The NZ Book of the Beach, Boys’ Own Stories, Home, even the photographic journey with Holger Leue, The Magic of New Zealand. Are you a collector beyond stories, or are stories your main means of collecting images of Aotearoa?

GL: Most of those books I was commissioned to write, but I would not have accepted the commissions had the subject matter not been of interest to me. In all cases I became immersed in the subject and relished putting together thematic anthologies, such as “the beach”. And if the collections have added something to New Zealand’s “cultural fabric”, then so much the better.

FF: What are you writing this summer?

GL: I have just completed a long (124,000 word) novel based on the early life of a notable historic figure, so I’m feeling a bit bereft, having kept imaginative company with this amazing person for over a year. But I’ve just been commissioned to compile and edit a collection of the best New Zealand travel writing, so that marks the start of another literary journey. Since I love travel, and I love writing, that’s an intersection I should find interesting. New Zealanders are inveterate travellers.

FF: What are you reading this summer?

GL: I will be reading the new book about the Parker-Hulme murders, by Peter Graham, along with the many travel stories which are contenders for the new travel writing anthology.

And finally…

FF: Care to take a crack at FRONTIERS in 250 words?

GL: Okay, I’ve had a go. Here it is.

Thank you, Graeme Lay, for the interview and short story this month. 

Photography of New Zealand scenes provided by Bernard Heise.

Interview with Gus Simonovic


This month, we had the pleasure of talking with Auckland conceptual artist Gus Simonivic. Read on to learn more about Gus’s world, and Gus’s view of the world around him.

Playing with language

FF: You’re primarily a poet, but you occasionally venture into flash fiction. Tell us, how challenging is it to switch from one genre to another, and do you see a connection between these two forms?

GS: Primarily, I think of myself as a conceptual artist. In recent years most of my concepts were expressed through collaboration with other artists as a part of one of Printable Reality’s projects. The final product of those collaborations are  poems, songs, videos, dance scores and stage shows, and they are heavily influenced by the other collaborators. Yes, when it comes to writing, poetry is all I can do. Although there are similarities and connections between genres, for me there is a huge gulf between fiction and poetry. Fiction, even  flash, requires different set of skills and sensibility, discipline and concentration all of which, as a writer, I lack. Some of my poems take more narrative shape and form, and might look or sound fiction-like, but for me they are still poems.

FF: As an immigrant to New Zealand you had to work in a new language. In what ways has your approach to writing changed with the shift to English? Do you find you think about poetry and words differently in English compared to how you approach writing in Serbian? And do you still write in your mother tongue? 

GS: For a poet, any language is just one big playground. Poetry exists somewhere in the illusive space between words and music. Trying to fit visible and invisible, shapes and figures, radiances and feelings into words is essentially an impossible task and a thrilling challenge. Serbian language is phonetic (much like Maori) and its basic principle is: “speak as you write, write as you speak”. Its natural sound and form, its rawness and simplicity provides an enormous space for self-expression, sharing and poetic interaction. English language is mongrel, and is much more complicated, but at the same time is much more playful or playable. At the time, switching to thinking, dreaming, talking and writing in English was a very painful process, to say the least. There would be many stories to tell about my rebelling against English form, grammar and spelling. Now, switching back to Serbian would be the same.

Probably the most significant determining influence on my art was stepping on stage. Hearing my work out loud and getting a response from the audience greatly helped me find my voice as a writer as well as adopt English as my “first language”.

FF: In flash fiction, choosing the right words and trimming down to the essence is central to the process. What kinds of words appeal to you? And how do you choose them?

GS: I used to say: “give me the words and I will give you back poems”. When I am in “the zone” and allow myself not to react — but to be — words start bouncing and popping out into the different meanings. The sound and shape of words are equally important as well as their ability to interact with each other on the page and as spoken. My English vocabulary is still very limited and I most enjoy words that I haven’t heard or used before. They become gateways, portals of new mental explorations and emotional experiences. Also, in my choice of words I am trying to keep my expression accessible for others and avoid the trap of being too abstract. Writing and performance is essentially like building a relationship. A relationship that an artist starts with his observations and self-expression, that extends to how readers and audience engage and relate to. In this delicate relationship, choice of words is essential to complete that circle and make the relationship sound and fulfilling.

Moving pictures, moving poetry

FF: In your Flash Frontier January story, Spinning the Real, you wrote about the cinema. Have you had a formative experience in a cinema? Or has cinema influenced your writing in other ways? 

GS: Cinema played one of the most important roles in my formative years. It’s one of the things that I really miss, as the time (or lack of it) is not allowing me to watch more movies these days. Although moving pictures can be one of the most powerful ways to set in motion one’s imagination, “Spinning the Real” is more a product of a word play, where nuances between sound, resonance and meaning of words reel and real are explored. Creating that real/reel framework, the story, time, and characters are moving and spinning whilst opening imagination space to  numerous interpretations.

FF: You are a performance poet, having most recently travelled to Europe to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe.  Do you write specifically with different media in mind? Do you write with an audience in mind?

GL: Absolutely, it gradually became compulsive. Creative space that I find myself in these days is not bound by paper or book covers but by “how is this going to look/sound on stage”. Being  fortunate to be able take my work to the biggest arts festival in the world and the opportunity to present  work in Europe and especially to the non-English speaking audiences was a life-changing experience. It manifested the  power of spoken word and it reinvigorated Printable Reality’s motto:“experience poetry differently”. Audiences’ reactions, laughs, and tears provided us with a completely different angle and took the understanding of our own work to a different level.  As a result, our next stage production (working title “ID – Insomnia and a Daydream” ) is going to be heavily influenced by those learnings and experiences.

A current odyssey

FF: Tell us more about your current engagement,  Lovers Walk. 

GS: Lovers Walk is an uplifting true love story told through fusion of music, poetry, video, theatre and dance. A majestic theatrical feast for your soul and all six senses.  The audience is taken on the intimate journey by two dynamic video projections, live dance and poetry.

Lovers Walk is a short (yet infinite) odyssey lived, created and choreographed by me and my partner Siri Embla. It is based on my poems with video material by visual artist Peter Brierley-Millman and music by Jo Blankenburg (piano), Gareth Priceless (guitar), Dubtext (electronica) and Kotaro Nishishita (classical guitar).

Returning from Europe, we are touring the show in NZ this summer, taking it to Wellington for the Fringe Festival in February. Our Walk continues on Waiheke Island 2nd and 3rd of March and arrives at the PumpHouse Theatre Takapuna on 15 and 16 March 2012.

It has been a fabulous experience so far, everywhere we go we have local artists sharing the stage with us and all our shows are essentially love celebrations. With every step of our walk the show evolves and opens hearts. Its path sets off a ripple, and all people that walk with us leave their footprints on that spiral route.

Warning: Lovers Walk show is rated “L”: if you love, it will make you love more, if you don’t, it will make you!

Dreamscapes and bedside habits 

FF: What are you writing this summer?

GS: I am writing and re-writing material for Printable Reality’s new stage production “Insomnia and a Daydream”. Siri and I are working on a show that is set out to be a stage sonnet – 14 scenes about life on the edge of consciousness and subconsciousness. Closed eyes, I am letting words form poems the same way the clouds are changing their formations in the sky. Words whisper, poems are commingling into dreamlike landscapes, waking up to come to life and impart the tale about the taciturn places they came from. And every time I open my eyes, they have formed another version.

FF: What are you reading this summer?

GS: Next to my bed are always several poetry books; one that has been open the most recently is Selected Poems of J.K Baxter. I am much more into listening to audio books than reading. I just finished listening to Herman Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, one of my teenage years’ favourites, and am now moving onto Orlando by Virginia Woolf.

Thank you, Gus Simonovic, for the view into your world.

Photography credits: Yelena Dumanovic

For February’s stories inspired by heat, go here.

January 2012: FRONTIERS

Jenny Baker, Motokaa

Jenny Baker has exhibited work in South West England and New Zealand. She works primarily in the photographic medium, most frequently in colour.  Baker resides in Northland, New Zealand, the perfect place for a photographer who loves landscape and outdoor photography. She works on personal projects, including portraiture and commissioned pieces.  Baker can be contacted at jbakerphotos [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Graeme Lay, Balance 
“It’s the most isolated place on Earth,” the man told him. “Only accessible by sea.”

James groaned. It had been calm in port, but once in open sea the ship had begun to roll and he found himself unable to stand. What in hell’s name had possessed him to accept the man’s offer to go?

He turned over in his bunk. He hadn’t vomited, but that would have actually been preferable to the ghastly giddiness he felt whenever he stood up. He staggered along the passage, then climbed the companionway, clutching the rail.

There was a cane sofa on the after deck. But while making his way towards it, the terrible giddiness came again. The world tilted, alarmingly. He dropped to his knees, crawled across to the sofa and clambered up onto it. The giddiness continued.

All day and all night he remained prone, unable to put his feet down without the world spinning out of control. His sense of balance had gone entirely, as if he had become drunk on overproofed spirits. Yet he had drunk nothing more than water. And could eat nothing.

Daylight. He heard the crewmen shouting. Leaving his bunk, he climbed the companionway to the deck. The ship was still rolling, but the dizziness had entirely gone. He went to the midship rail, then stared.

Rising sheer from the ocean was his destination. He saw soaring cliffs, bluffs, headlands. There was rainforest, and headlands crowned with solitary pines. A rugged, utterly beautiful fortress.

Pitcairn Island.

Graeme Lay is the featured author this month. To read the Flash Frontier interview, go here.

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Tim Jones, The Beginnings of America

The ice age receded. The land rebounded, higher and better than before. With our crew of cut-throats and cartographers, we set off to discover America.

When we came off the boat we made straight for the nearest Walmart to check our makeup and hair.

The assistants bowed and scraped, their feathers waving. The goods on the racks waited silently for us. We would need them as we moved across the countryside, establishing the Rust Belt, the Sun Belt, the mortgage belt.The assistants moved around us, lulling us with their chants. We established condominiums in the turkey woodlands. Various persons departed in their Conestogas, vanishing from view as they entered shallow depressions, becoming visible – though foreshortened – as they crawled up and over mountains.

We found ample resources conveniently close to a system of navigable rivers that ran generally south by east. Great herds roamed the land: the buffalo, the passenger pigeon, the investment banker. Each fell before our guns. Upon this rock, upon on this butte, upon this mesa I will build my church.

So much to celebrate. We retired to our ships at night, and in the morning, praised the Lord for our safe deliverance. Our assistants, unused to our ways, watched from the edge of the forest. In the morning, when we called for them, we found that they had gone before us. In years to come, we would find traces of them: discarded arrows, campfires, bones, always pointing west.

Tim Jones writes novels, short stories and poetry. He was awarded the New Zealand Society of Authors Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature in 2010. His latest book is the poetry collection Men Briefly Explained. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook too.

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Gus Simonovic, Spinning the Real

It was raining, one young girl, my mother to be, rushed into the cinema for shelter. Nobody at the box office, she walked into the dark but predictable theatre and found a seat. After the movie she realised that it was still raining outside. She liked that movie, it was so real, so she stayed for another session.  It’s been raining for nine months now.

The young man, who wasn’t at the box office, was my father to be. He had been popping corn since he was fourteen. At sixteen he was an expert, they even allowed him to sell tickets. And ice cream. Now he is spinning the reel.

When I was born in Japan, it was not November. Nor it was the month when cherry blossoms. I waited patiently. Waited waited… for the rain to stop. For the corn to pop. For an I to scream.

When the day came it was just like a movie premiere. Big noise, press-push, red sheets, bright lights. It was May, or it may have been June.  June, the month when most great movie directors were born. Like that big, fat one that made those scary cult movies. Or that guy with glasses that filmed the best comedies. I grew to like the young longhaired one even after he had a bad haircut.

And I popped the corn, I creamed the ice and I sold tickets. Spinning the real.

Gus Simonovic has lived in other countries and spoken other languages. Just back from his UK/Europe tour he is suspected to be in NZ, writing and performing, producing and tirelessly promoting… poetry. Apart from his own poetry collection, his work has been published in a few NZ magazines and anthologies. You can find Gus at Printable Reality.  

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Katharine Derrick, The Ghost of My Father

The ghost of my father arrived at sundown. He was hunched over, carrying on his back a book so huge that at first I thought it was a slab of concrete. As he came nearer I could see in black gothic lettering Lexicon of Theology scrawled across the cover.

I’d been shooting rabbits from my chair on the porch and put down the gun as he approached. I rose to greet him but he climbed the steps and walked on past me.

He stopped on the deck, offloaded his burden and opened it. From the middle pages gods of every religion oozed out and swarmed around him. I cowered against the wall. Subtle and shaky memories of my childhood snaked unbidden into my mind. My father tore a limb off the wisteria growing along the railing and thrashed at the gods. They backed away. He tottered towards me like a child, offering the branch. I reached out.

Then I saw his hand; gnarled and claw-like, fingernails long and crusted with years of shame. I reached instead for the shotgun, took aim and fired. The book shattered into a thousand tiny pieces and the gods spiralled away towards the heavens, lighting the sky in a glorious display of colour. My father toppled down the steps and dissolved into the night.

In the end, freeing him was easy.

Katharine Derrick lives in Kerikeri and writes mainly for children and young adults. She once had a 50-word story published in Brian Edwards’  Book of Incredibly Short Stories but most of her published works are with Learning Media. Her latest projects include tidying up a junior fantasy novel and reviewing New Zealand children’s books and interviewing their authors at NZ Children’s Book Reviews

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Raewyn Alexander, Etta on Edge
At the door, a man apologised, “Didn’t mean to wake you up.”

Etta snapped, “I never sleep in the daytime.” Hungry, she’d been slicing beef for sandwiches.

“I represent local councillor, Graeme Bloomfield.” The stranger smiled hopefully.

She snarled, “Council only raise rates, disadvantage the elderly.”

“No, no dear, not really.” He smirked patronisingly.

Etta still held the carving knife and somehow just slid it between the man’s ribs. Breathing heavily, the old woman didn’t feel a bit like she didn’t matter, now.

The thin stranger collapsed, his white shirt-front blood-soaked. He made no sound when she rolled him out of sight of the road.

As a diversion, she regarded the cottage her stepfather built. Saw herself younger, under the steps. Hidden from her mother’s hard slaps or angry stepfather. Etta frowned, despite her parents being long gone to hell (she hoped).

Where there was no verandah railing and only a few spindly weeds grew below, she dug deep. The man’s body rolled off the porch easily, plopped into the hole like a bag of fertilizer. She piled on dirt, sowed hollyhock and pansy seeds. Imagined lush, colourful flowers growing. Imagined all the compliments.

The front of the house needed a good scrub. Etta got to it with the hose. Next, she’d carefully apply a decent lick of paint.

Raewyn Alexander is a novelist, poet, short story and non-fiction writer who was placed in the top five for the Landfall Essay Competition, 2011. Her latest book, A Bee Lover’s Poetry Companion, is published through Earl of Seacliff, and she’s going on a Poetic Tour to America in 2012. More about Alexander here.

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Stephen Garside, Turbulence
The stars were twinkling – light viewed through turbulent air. Damien liked to know these things.

The moon was at quarter, very low in the west. The streets were quiet but the noise from inside hummed behind him. He spat and shook the last drops into the garden.

“Damien?” It was Gregg.

“Shit,” he said, zipping his fly. “Give me a fright why don’t ya.”

They laughed. A laugh because you’ve drunk your share laugh. Nothing was funny but you laugh anyway.

“Jill’s a mess upstairs. What’s that about?” Gregg asked.

Damien shook his head. “We’re through,” he said.


“For sure.”


Damien wished for another drink.

“Why? Why anything?” he said, though he was just being honest not trying to sound philosophical.

“Christ. What about the kids?”

He could see Gregg’s face in the light from upstairs. He wasn’t laughing now.

“I don’t know. It’s hard to think through.”

The moon embraced the black tips of the pine forest. Damien saw it because he couldn’t look at Gregg.

“Shit Bro! That’s serious.”

 “I know. It’s not what I want Gregg.” He needed to say that.

“I’m sure. But nothing’s final right?”

“Sure. Nothing except this.”


“Apparently. It’s been brewing a while.”

Damien spat into the garden again. “I need another drink,” he said.

The stars were forgotten as he followed Gregg into the house; electric light filled stairway. But the enormity of the night sky remained. Damien could feel its turbulence deep within.

Stephen Garside is a Wellington writer who has written full time, in and around three children and a shift-working wife, for two years but will be training to become a primary school teacher in 2012 so is wondering how much sleep he can go without in order to maximize writing hours.

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Sally Houtman, Safari Hats and the Colour Green

Your partner loves the morning. He likes his coffee strong and black. He is not afraid to touch wet paint. You are hopeless with directions. You have a tendency to blurt and stutter. You can’t seem to finish a thing. He loves footprints and footnotes and patched blue jeans. You are known to brood and oversleep. You can’t imagine why he loves you. You wish your life had liner notes.

He abhors abbreviations. He loves pure, unbridled language, the ladder-bump of compound words. You prefer your language neat. He is suited to the highlands. He loves safari hats and the colour green. He longs for fields with no fences, the gravel crunch of new frontier. You are suited to the grasslands. You like map-dot travel and compass points. You’re accustomed to long, grey winter mornings, to dust-fogged windows and dream-splintered sleep. You love nothing more than daydreams. He loves nothing more than you.

He loves the bite of ripe, tart apples. He lives for take-offs and landings, the throat-catch thrill of flight. He is crazy about jazz tempos, loves the music’s dervish spin. You are troubled by things that have no entrance or exit, by music that has no beginning and no end. Mornings he rises, shaves quickly, never lingers. Mornings you dawdle at the mirror. You stand, head cocked at an angle, eyes screwed up tight, staring hard into the glass. One day, you think, you just might see what he sees.

Sally Houtman is a Wellington writer. She began writing fiction and poetry in 2007 and threatens not to stop.

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Matthew Zela, Unrequited 
Mother didn’t so much collect things as ideas for collecting.

“Tragedashery,” she’d say. An assortment of clothing parts left at scenes of destruction.

Regretymology. An assembly of words best left unsaid.

Mother instructed me in the ways of the collector. First Phillumeny, which I quit in despair after learning of Yoshizawa’s unassailably huge collection.

I moved on, trying them all: Arenophilia, Tegestology, Plangonology, Entredentolignumology. My rootlessness stemmed not from the fear of failing to achieve completion, but from Mother’s prior command of every available topic.

I determined to create my own, unique hobby of acquisition, one she could not name. It would be my triumph.

I collected trowels – ceremonial types, used to lay foundation stones. Insufficient on their own, each was then paired with a plaque which displayed the names of those rumoured to be buried within their respective buildings.

I gained the friendship of mobsters and thieves. I promised I’d write a fine history one day.

“Cosa Nostalgia,” Mother said.

My collection expanded slowly over the years. Mother grew frail, her memory weak. She moved in, to the very room where my trowels glinted in their finery, at the foot of her dying bed.

One night the bell sounded. I entered in panic. Mother’s arm stretched blindly toward me, then out toward the trowels, waving urgently through her ragged, hollow breaths.

I drew close.

“Got it!” She said, her face like a victory lap.

Her eyes grew still, reflecting fine steel and buried names.

Matthew Zela is a writer of poetry, prose and fiction, currently at work on a final draft of his first novel. He neither lives with his mother, nor collects anything. He is a graduate of Massey University, an institution that boasts its own fine collection of foundation trowels. Matthew lives in Northland, a gardener by trade.

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Jac Jenkins, Leaving Here

I drive north from Emporia, past the darkened roadhouses and the flashing signs of pay-by-the-hour motels; then west through the swamp to the coiled razor wire that marks the correctional centre. I stop at the end of the blacktop. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird is playing for you – the wailing of the lone guitar – as I walk the halls to your cell.

We sit. A cigarette hangs from your lips. Ash fills the ashtray. It’ll kill you, I say. The clock ticks like a death-watch beetle. Click. Click. Click.

We talk. Baseball. Books. Family. Funeral. I twitch, dammit, like the last spasms of a dying bird. You want us to be strong, ongoing. You pass me your last Marlboro. I don’t smoke. You laugh and order six toasted cheese sandwiches, french fries, ketchup, six Cokes.

Click. Click. Click.

The Death Squad in black suits stand guard. I bear you no ill will, you say, and we walk the short Walk. Six steps. We feel cheated – it should take eight. They strap you to a gurney. The phone rings.  No, this is the Death House. Wrong number.

Later, I get back on the blacktop and drive east, away from the razor wire; south to Emporia, past the bright and busy roadhouses, listening to the wailing of the lone guitar on my radio.

Jac Jenkins lives rurally near Whangarei with a teenage daughter, two cats and five chickens. She currently works as a librarian, a thousand times removed from her initial career as a veterinarian. She has been writing poetry since she was a teenager and recently completed a poetry-writing course through NorthTec. 

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Karen Phillips, The Challenge 
The clarity of light surprises Lisa but it’s the absence of Alan’s voice that helps her relax gently in the current, stroked by ribbons of seaweed.

“How do you think it looks if the boss’s wife refuses to go?” he had blasted when she’d  said she didn’t want to go on his staff team-building exercise.

“You know I’m scared of the sea,” she’d snapped, reminding herself that she could still   walk out.

“You’re scared of any challenge,” he had snarled.


A cluster of black rocks guards the harbour entrance. Last week, he had meticulously plotted their course through these, impatiently sweeping the children’s homework from the table to clear space for his charts. “Think of the rocks as difficult customers foiling your sales targets,” says Alan to his staff huddled around him at the water’s edge. “Just kick on through.”

He leads them in like an underwater Pied Piper. Lisa soon falls behind, unexpectedly entranced by the peacefulness of this new frontier.


Surf pounds the rocks ahead. Lisa sees that the younger, fitter staff have overtaken Alan.  They group together, gesticulating enthusiastically as if at a sales meeting, then turn, splashing, kicking through the rocks with shouts of laughter. Alan is struggling. A wave pushes him under. He bobs up; his arms frantically slice the air. His face is white, the veneer of success washed away. He looks lost. Lisa holds the peacefulness to herself for a moment longer then turns and kicks towards him.

Karen Phillips lives in Ahipara, Northland. She has been privileged to win some short story competitions since starting to write in 2009. Her characters tend to take their own unexpected paths leading to much frenzied re-inventing of plots. This story was no exception.   

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Simon Minto, Chase 
Without his border collie cross, Iris, nothing would have happened. He wouldn’t have climbed the high brick wall to retrieve her green plastic dumbbell he had accidentally thrown there and been chased by the disabled man who limped towards him with a gladiator eye and a pot plant, yelling “Trespasser, killer.” And he might have chosen a better place to leap back over the wall and not dropped in front of a trolley bus, which braked so hard the poles came off their wires and clashed, sparking a chaos of shouting and smoke. Then he wouldn’t have crept away to a lunch bar and dropped his shoulders in heart-breaking resignation when he read the sign that said “Absolutely no dogs.”

And then she wouldn’t have said, “It’s okay. I’ll make you a coffee and bring it out.”

He wouldn’t have smiled and looked at her nametag and said, “Thanks, Alexandra.”

And if he hadn’t said that, she wouldn’t have said, “Call me Alex.”

“Thanks, Alex.”

Then she wouldn’t have let him walk her home to her flat on the Parade at the end of her shift.

Simon Minto lives in Wellington and works as an editor. He has been writing for a few years and has had pieces published in various local journals. He gets a lot of help and support from many people, especially his partner Bryony and his friend Ashleigh. 

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Lesley Marshall, Homecoming 
Home today. The train’s tickety-tack rhythm seeped into his soul.

Five years ago he was desperate to leave the tin-pot town. Not now – tin-pot towns didn’t have clinks, or gangs that left you to carry the can.

Lightning sizzled across the mountains ahead but when he finally jumped down onto the platform the wind was easing.

Memories marked the three-mile hike – here he’d pinched peaches from Old Man Dickson’s orchard; there he’d broken his leg falling out of that macrocarpa.  His mum had stayed in hospital with him the whole seven weeks.

He should have written to her – but hell, everyone knew he couldn’t spell.  And once he got busted, what could he say?

The track steepened, trenched by runnels of muddy water, then opened out – and towards him came a trudge of people, all clutching belongings, many battered and bloody.  Tubby’s aunt; the butcher; that bitch from the dairy who caught him nicking a chocolate fish… .

When Old Man Dickson staggered past he grabbed his arm. “What’s happened?”

“The storm,” the old man mumbled. “Half the mountain slid off. Buried the town. Only a few of us left.”

What about his mother?

“Lovelace Avenue?” the boy asked with dying hope. Already the pitiful line was dwindling.  “Over by the supermarket.”

“Nah,” old man Dickson said. “That’s where the worst was. No one survived there.”

The boy’s hand dropped. He took one last look up the empty mountainside, then headed back down the rutted, bleeding track.

Lesley Marshall lives in Maungatapere and divides her time between teaching and editing, and answering needy phone calls from various children, both biological and surrogate. It makes for a very interesting life. 

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Campbell Taylor, In the Motion
There are many ways to gather comfort. I remember spinning; spinning with arms out, leaping to go faster on the gentle slope of our front lawn. This was the favoured game I would play with my sisters when we were children. The rules were simple. Spin as fast as you can. If you fell, you had to stay down until another tumbled. It was a competition with no end – we all liked to spin.

Were we autistic or druggies to-be? No, we are the usual mix. Kate made a career of travel while Jo has her brood. I have sudden parenthood and a new mortgage. We live in different cities (on different islands) but we all make an effort.

The first Christmas after Mum died was at Jo’s. Zac, my boy, was overseas visiting family with his mother – a trip I was not asked to make. Jo decided to cook the turkey on the barbie, but there was a disagreement over basting, so I took my wine round the front where the kids were testing the limits of their new toys.

I wasn’t drunk when I started to spin. At first, they just watched and laughed while Jo’s eldest went to tell her mum.

They still talk about it. How Kate travelled the most in one spin; how Jo went the fastest; how I was sick in the roses newly transplanted from Mum’s garden.

Campbell Taylor is a phlebotomist and soundman. His short stories have been published in New Zealand, Australia and the USA. Born and raised in Christchurch, he lives in Titahi Bay with his young daughter who loves to spin.

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Sian Williams, Malaria Nights
I remember, vaguely; elegant lawns, flamingos’ legs through Rift Valley acacias, and an air of faded colonial charm.

More vividly I recall lying sweating as the ceiling fan malevolently swirled my dreams around the room; fluorescent red and yellow Lariam hallucinations that span and eddied in throbbing vortices. The cure, it seemed, would be worse than the affliction.

But most clearly of all I remember you, waking at dawn; refreshed, purposeful, and wryly dismissive of the brainstorm which had raged through my head in the night.

Yes, you, who had always understood my innermost thoughts, you, my love, were entirely without empathy. This was no creeping separateness, which I could perhaps have expected, but rather a sudden tear in the fabric of our togetherness; a rift in our Africa. Later, strung out, packing our bags, I saw the needle of the compass swinging back and forth, seeking its magnetic pole, but by then the world had shifted on its axis.

That morning we left Lake Baringo and the Club, with its verdant artifice of watered gardens and shaded verandas, and headed north towards the border and Somalia. Soon we came into a hard rocky country with a five o’clock shadow of thorn scrub where giant hornbills walked amongst termite mounds as tall as a man. A dry land under a harsh sun.

And although we left long ago it is a place I have reluctantly become accustomed to, and where I often find myself, still.

Sian Williams is editor at Flash Frontier. She’s been to the Rift Valley in Kenya where she failed to catch malaria but became infected with Africa. She’d like to take her husband and children wandering there one day – until then the Bay of Islands is home.

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Michelle Elvy, The Long Way
She stroked her last stroke and kicked her last kick, and then Gemma found herself on an unfamiliar beach. Washed up. But alive. She tasted salt, heard the snuffle of a dog. And she smelled sun-sea-air: life itself. She crawled under a palm tree and slept for days, maybe years.

In a dream.

She dove deep into sleep, met Tangaroa. Asked for pocket change for the bus but he laughed, scolded her for wearing fins instead of growing them herself. She swam on smoothly, did not say Goodbye or Nice to meet you.

In a dream in a dream.

Gemma swam into a kelp forest, pulled herself down. When she got to the holdfasts, she kept going, deeper. It smelled damp and rotten all around her, but she liked it here, down under the root of things. She glimpsed rootdwellers, small antlike creatures with lights in their windows but she forgot to ask them for change, forgot the bus. Anyway, how could ants have change in their tiny pockets? But one told her to keep going. Gave her a surfboard and said his name was Bernard. Moitessier? – the first thing she’d said in days, maybe years. But he’d already vanished into the kelp forest.

In a dream in a dream in a dream.

So she took the long way. And years later she landed, this time with a surfboard, here. A beach. A palm. A sleep.

Frangipani floated on the air. Gemma stroked the dog, named him Bernard.

Michelle Elvy is the founding editor of Flash Frontier. She lives and writes in the Bay of Islands. If she meets Tangaroa one day, she will not ask him for pocket change; she has other pressing questions. For more about Michelle, visit her at Glow Worm

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Coming in February: stories about heat