Short Story: Sparks

It swam with the current, flying fast down the line.

“Oh, what shall I be? Oh, what shall I see?” It thought.

Unformed thoughts and purposes cluttered up its mind, like neutrons. It never had decided and now the time was ripe, to see the world, to make a difference, to do something more than spin aimlessly, waiting, just waiting to be useful.

Father and mother, brother and sister, all had gone to do things, see things. One had lit the room of a great author, so she could write by candle light of crimes and egg shaped Belgian men. Another had embraced the wild, befriending a generator, travelling to the Arctic with intrepid explorers. All had done things. All had seen things. And all had returned to tell of them. Energy could not die and so their tales grew, circulating around the current.

“Oh, what shall I be? Oh, what shall I see?” It thought.

Though they had illuminated the lives of many students, of erudite scholars, they had no formal education system. They just grew and ebbed, lit up a room and dimmed away, returning to cast their knowledge into an ever growing pool.

Thoughts of a bright future, filled with a knowledge of all things scintillating. It would cast old knowledge into shadow, declaring a paradise of endless energy and learning.

“Oh, what shall I be? Oh, what shall I see?” It thought. “Oh, I am here! But… what… where is here?”


James Alistair McAlistair frowned and banged the side of his electric kettle. “Come on, I need tea. No tea, no work. I refuse to work without tea!” He thought of microwaving his tea mug but decided against it. Microwaved tea was insipid. The perfect cup of tea must be boiling water poured straight over the leaves. Whether bag or loose, it must be boiling.


“Oh, I can help!” The spark revelled! “I shall be the provider of tea!” It endeavoured to leap to the kettle, pleased beyond measure. Would it help to create darjeeling? Pu-erh? Earl grey? A humble mug of Lipton? It could barely stop vibrating with excitement.


The neighbours had never heard James Alistair McAlistair curse so loud as he held his singed hand. That blasted kettle had sparked! It even crackled malevolently at him! Or so he thought. What James Alistair McAlistair did not realise was that he had witnessed something rare. The death of something that had finally figured out what it would be, what it would do. The other sparks would never know the knowledge of their kin but would tell tales of how it had leapt to its death because it had no knowledge of what it was or what it would do. But they were wrong.

It knew very well it was going to be. It just didn’t know that James Alistair McAlistair was a cheapskate who never bought new appliances. A fatal accident was chalked up to suicide when, really, one should always make sure that electric appliances are well maintained.

RIP Sparks. You had such great potential.


Thoughtful Mondays: Desk & I

8:45am ‘Oh, hey Desk! I remember you from last year. Glad a familiar surface is still here. New faces, absent voices, but you. You’re still here. Hold my bag for me?’

9:15am ‘Don’t worry Desk. I’m back again. Just needed to put my lunch in the fridge. Now to be friends forever!’

10:15am ‘Desk, calm down. I just went to the bathroom. No, I’m not cheating on you with Sink. I’d never leave you. Really. Can you hand me the pile of papers over there? Thanks Desk.’

12:00pm ‘Alrighty Desk. I should go to lunch soon… Yup. Time to go walk aimlessly for an hour. Maybe we should buy you a treadmill… hm. Might include that in my first employment contract.’

1.00pm ‘Hey, Desk, who’s sitting near you? I thought you were my Desk. Just couldn’t handle being alone could you… Fine, I’ll just go talk to some other desk then…’

3:00pm: ‘Oh hi Desk. How are you? Still here? I mean, it’s only 5 hours into Monday, where else would you be? You want me back now? Fine. I’ll just sit here again.’

3:10pm ‘Oh DESK you are so funny. Let’s head bang like it’s the 00s and I’m back in high school. Actually let’s not because that emo stage may just kill me with embarrassment.. Oh god, is that more emails? Really? We should take a holiday together. Just you and me Desk. Yeah. Where do you wanna go? Oh, you just wanna stay here? Jeez, Desk, get a life.’

3:35pm ‘What… it’s only 3.35?! Desk, I swear you turn the clock back when I go get a cup of tea. What do you mean, you don’t know how to use a computer? You have one on you everyday! Do you want a cup of tea? No? Desk, you are a horrible thing. You don’t want to come to lunch with me, you don’t want to go on holiday, and you hate it when i give you tea! It’s like you don’t even want me here!’

4:55pm ‘You know what Desk? I’ll just leave. That’s it. Fine. No more of this fighting senselessly to get work done when all you want to do is complain when I come back from somewhere else THAT YOU WOULDN’T GO IN THE FIRST PLACE. I’ll just go now. Jeez Desk. You should really get out more.’

5:00pm ‘… forgot my purse. I’ll see you tomorrow, Desk.’

Disclaimer: I started full time (but indefinite) work today. So, not really a permanent position but with all the monotony of a real life, real world job. I love my boss and the people in my office. But I feel I have become really close to my desk. This conversation may or may not be completely, mostly, totally, and only a little bit, false.

Thoughtful Mondays: Beginnings

To start this weeks Thoughtful Monday, an update on the cat that was lost and found again! After a visit to my grandparents, conveniently adjacent to us, it turned out that the cat had been living on our land for approximately 6 days. He had not gone home but had decided to sleep under a tree. A visit to the local vet revealed he had a microchip and they promised to get him back to the owner. Unfortunately, when I checked the local animal shelters, the vet had turned him over to one which was notorious for being high-kill. Before I could manage to rescue him (despite allergies, I was sure someone would love him…), it turned out that he had been adopted and would be safe from death even if his owner didn’t collect him. Thankfully for that gorgeous cat, he was a purebred Birman (not a rag doll as previously thought!) and apparently more desirable to a new owner than the ‘domestic short hairs’ the shelter also holds (though I would happily adopt any of them if I lived on my own, some owners have a preference for ‘thoroughbreds’…).


Not actual cat since the shelter has since taken him off their list of animals to adopt…

The shelter nicknamed him Timberlake, so to whoever Timberlake’s new family is, thank you for adopting him. As a more general statement, if you are thinking of getting a cat or a dog, please go to your local animal shelter and make sure to either get a microchip or update it with your current contact details. If you find a lost pet and you have to turn them over to a pound or shelter after doing everything possible to find their owner, please make sure it is a shelter with a low or no kill policy. The amount of once-loved animals that are euthanised for no reason but convenience or lack of shelter space is both shocking and distressing and lost pets often only have 7 days to live if they are not microchipped.

Note: If you find a cat, make sure they are actually lost first. Due to their tendency to explore a few kilometre radius around their home, they may just be having an adventure…

So, what this post is really about is beginnings. A new beginning for Timberlake and an attempt at a beginning for the writing week for me. The attempts to summarise my thesis into a concise article and conference paper are a tad draining, particularly while I try to remind myself what it was actually about. The conference is on Thursday, so plenty of time yet. I have promised Kiera of Australian Medievalists that the article version will be done soon and it absolutely shall! Maybe next weeks thoughts will be about conclusions. Anyway, I have a number of things I’ve started…. but… I think the perfect beginning is one of the hardest parts of writing. I often feel unsatisfied with it and have to alter it before I get anywhere yet I feel this may be the least productive way to write a beginning. Maybe the best way is to simply add in a lot of [say smart thing here], [remember to introduce point 2 here] and move onto the body, rewriting the introduction after reaching the conclusion. Of course, that would not have worked for this post but then again, cats are rather wonderful ways to begin a post about the difficulty of writing beginnings without actually writing a beginning about beginnings.

Like many other aspiring authors, I have a number of novels started (are we authors before we have a completed and published book? Writer is perhaps a more definite term for the aspiring?… Or is that just imposter syndrome?). They exist in half page formats or loosely plotted out lines but they have not really truly ‘begun’. I envy the writers who say they just sit and write the whole novel at once. Characters and plots just fall into place. Harder for those like me who need to develop a loose story line or risk the entire novel wandering into some sort of ‘wibbly wobbly timey wimey’ ending (seriously, what was with that season…). Anyway, since I have begun this post, I feel I should actually continue writing things. Do I end a post about beginnings? Is that possible? It’s up to the reader I guess…

Also, go take a look at Australian Medievalists! If you like medieval history and other things, they are an excellent read and really lovely people.

Thoughtful Mondays: Lost Things

I think I shall do a little ‘thought of the week’ segment to start the flow of writing… So here is the first entry for ‘Thoughtful Mondays’.

Lost things are always a puzzle in my house. 3 years ago, I went on a trip to America and bought a rather lovely winter hat in a store there. I came home and it had vanished. After turning my room upside down, I was convinced that I’d left it in the hotel. Three years of room cleaning and renovation later, I opened the cupboard that I’d taken apart several times since that trip and found a drawer just would not close properly. So, I pulled out the drawer and there was my winter hat. Behind drawers that I’d pulled out and put back in at least half a dozen times. So, where did it go? I’m sure there’s some sort of mysterious vortex in modern houses, where the lost things fall for an undetermined bit of time before a mysterious being pulls it out and goes ‘oh, whoops, that should be over there’ and puts it back. Sort of but not actually like Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere but with winter hats instead of people.

Yet, it seems that this thing of being ‘lost’ has started to happen to animals. Out of nowhere appeared this gorgeous ragdoll cat.

Cat! It’s incredibly unusual because we live on an acreage and I’ve never seen a cat here in the past 15 years, save for the one who lived in the shed we kept the horse feed in. She’s been hanging around for a few days, rubbing herself on and purring at anyone who goes outside, and seemed to show no signs of leaving our front garden (or leaving a flower uneaten). She seems to particularly love rubbing herself on my legs. As lovely as that is, I didn’t expect to find out this late that I have cat allergies. Concerned that she was incredibly thin, I started asking around if people knew her. Yet, when I go out this morning to look for her before putting the usual ‘Lost a cat?’ in people’s letter boxes, she’s gone. I hope that she’s reappeared at someone’s back doorstep, where they’ll affectionately call ‘Crystal! Snowball!’ or whatever you call a white cat these days, and they’ll bring her back inside and feed her until she’s healthy again. For a few days, my house must have been that hole where lost cats appear. Or choose to go, if she was simply wandering.

Hopefully this vortex effect won’t extend to people. But for now, I shall keep an eye out for that mysterious cat and hope that she found her way home.

What have you lost or found recently? 

Review: The Salmon of Doubt

I don’t want to finish this book.

I really don’t.

If I finish this book that means I’ll have finished the last work of Douglas Adams. And since it is technically ‘unfinished’, that means I’ll actually need to acknowledge that he’s gone. Dead. Breathed his last. Snuffed it.

Have you read anything by Douglas Adams? If you were born in the last fifty years and are a fan of British comedy, I’ll assume you’ve come across The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Maybe you’ve even read about his detective Dirk Gently. Or his work of non-fiction, Last Chance to See, where he travelled to see almost extinct animals, like a very rare lemur in Madagascar and the Komodo dragon. If you haven’t, I must insist you do. If you don’t like British comedy? You may want to back away slowly. I’m sure there are many other book reviews you would find more pleasurable and I must insist you find one. Now, back to the book.

Adams’ friend and fan, Stephen Fry, introduces The Salmon of Doubt. It is a posthumous collection of things taken from his Macbook after he died (urgh, that hurts to say). The Salmon of Doubt includes articles from the late eighties and nineties about technology, book introductions, speeches and works that have never been published before. It is packed with Adams’ quirky sense of humour and contains plenty of the self-deprecating jokes common to British comic writers. Classic Adamisms include his section for children, where he explains how to tell the difference between things. Since I can’t actually for you to slowly wander to this section in the book, please continue to read it here!

You will need to know the difference between Friday and a fried egg. It’s quite a simple difference, but an important one. Friday comes at the end of the week, whereas a fried egg comes out of a hen. Like most things, of course, it isn’t quite that simple. The fried egg isn’t properly a fried egg until it’s been put in a frying pan and fried. This is something you wouldn’t do to a Friday, of course, though you might do it on a Friday. You can also fry eggs on a Thursday, if you like, or on a cooker. It’s all rather complicated, but it makes a kind of sense if you think about it for a while.

The second half of the book is the first half (or is it… technically if the first half follows the second half, I must be making a mistake somewhere) of Adams’ uncompleted novel The Salmon of Doubt. Dirk Gently is on the trail of half a cat and a mysteriously easy-to-track actor. It’s probably fantastic. But if I read it – that means I have to acknowledge that it is unfinished. Which means the story of Douglas Adams, the writer, the environmentalist, the radical atheist, and all around brilliant person, is finished. So, I haven’t read it yet. I will, I promise. But first, I must read the rest of the Dirk Gently series. Then I shall read it.

Anyway, you may ask who is this book for? If it’s not even finished, what’s the point? Unquestionably, The Salmon of Doubt is for the fans of Douglas Adams. Since I am undoubtedly that, I recommend this book wholeheartedly to other fans. If you want a few more Adamisms before you have to acknowledge (again!) that the man is gone, you can even divide this book up into each section and chapter. It truly is a delight to read. I found myself laughing in strange places and insisting the stranger sitting next to me or the friend I’m having lunch with read just this one paragraph.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go read another section as I edge slowly towards finishing this book.

But I really don’t want to.

Rating: 4.5/5 (It would have a 5 but I haven’t finished it yet and that’s not totally honest of me.)

News: It’s Done! & The Room Outside The Universe

Dining with Death

It’s complete! It’s done! I sit here with a bound copy of my thesis, ‘Dining with Death: An Exploration of Food Culture During the Long Black Death (1348-1771)’.

It is a very strange feeling to have this project completed so soon. I’m not sure why it feels soon… probably the rushing around for two days frantically making sure my citations are all correct, that there aren’t any typos, and god forbid that I accidentally screw up the formatting while trying to print it. Leaving aside all that stress… It’s done!!

When I’m a bit less sleep deprived and a bit more ‘haha, motivated‘, I shall make sure to write a post on what my thesis was actually about. But for now, I shall get ready to submit. Breakfast of champions… Coffee and Douglas Adam’s The Salmon of Doubt.

The Room Outside the Universe

In other news, this morning my short story ‘The Room Outside the Universe‘ was published by Mildred! I’m extremely grateful that they love science fiction! If you have any stories you’ve been hiding away for fear they’re not good enough, respond to magazines requesting them. You never know!

Short Story: Undead Life

ID-100212529“It’s not fair.”

“What’s not fair?” I turned my face into the breeze. I loved my friend dearly but he’d forgotten to sit downwind and he was getting a bit ripe. I had meant to sit in the shade but it being January, there was none to be found.

“We’ve given rights to everyone. Women, indigenous people, gays. Yet not to me. One tiny heart attack and I lose everything… It’s just not fair.”

“Jack… You’re not exactly the same as everyone else… It’s hard to legislate this when technically – people like you…”

He looked at me, eyebrow raised in the familiar look of mock surprise. The motion shook loose a few hairs. “People like me are what, Max?” I ignored the whispers of the blue haired old ladies, walking down the footpath opposite. People always stared and whispered. You’d think they’d be used to it by now.

“Jack… I was there. When you fell over, grasping your heart. When you made that awful death rattle…” I paused, remembering Eliza’s wail on hearing the news. “But you’ve got to admit, when you’ve been declared dead, buried and gone for two months, what did you think was going to happen? Eliza had no idea you’d activated the undead clause in your DNR. She moved on, sold the house…”

“Well, admittedly, I did forget to tell her…” He paused and breathed sharply through his teeth. I watched in trepidation as the tip of his nose quivered. “But it’s still not fair. You’d think my boss would have accepted the application for leave that the Facility sent him…”

“You were gone for two months! The economy is shit at the moment… It’s not like sysadmins are hard to replace, y’know. Besides, who wants an employee that’s… that’s….” I looked at him, seeing the oversized suit he hadn’t had a chance to replace since he’d left the Freezer. Jack had looked worse but only once. And that was a trip to Costa Rico I’d rather forget. Shaking the memories off, I noticed the tip of his nose was going green. “Jack, you’re literally rotting. You are starting to smell. I’m not sure how well you’d fit in at a professional workplace in your current state. I know they have undead working in the sewerage plants, why don’t you apply there?”

He shook his head. “I’m not old enough for them. It’s a bit like cheese? They think I can still pass as,” he paused and crooked his fingers in the air. “Normal.” Jack sighed, placing his hands beside him. “You’d think they’d tell us. Sure, you can escape death and live on forever, but only if you’re wealthy enough to invoke level one status. Those bloody vampires, kicking around, looking completely normal. Those’ve us that can only afford level three turn into…” He looked down at his hand. It had been white the first time I saw him, red where the blood had settled in death, walking around downtown. Now it was turning black and swelling slightly. “Well, I guess calling us zombies isn’t inaccurate.”

“Oh, come on.” I tried to reassure him. “You just haven’t put out enough applications. We’ll get you a job.”

“You do realise that I won’t? Right?” Jack smiled sarcastically. “It’s illegal in most sectors to employ someone who’s an OH&S liability, I can’t own property anyway since I’m legally dead, and I can’t even afford the upgrade that’ll stop my bits falling off.” I winced. His voice rose as he got more frustrated. “It’s unfair. I have to live somewhere, I have to buy new clothes, and I can’t even afford the continued medical treatments. Healthcare doesn’t cover the undead. We’re not full of health, we’re full of death. And nobody ever told me that deathcare is over a million a year, so I’ve never had a chance to prepare that kind of money.” He looked down suddenly, embarrassed. In the twenty years I’d known him, he’d never raised his voice. At least not in regular conversation. Jack Madson was a mild mannered man, who’d just wanted to help his wife and kids out after he’d died. He hadn’t counted on them leaving him, terrified, and taking all the money he’d saved up so that he could continue being undead.

“We’ll figure something out.” I said softly, and placed my hand on his shoulder. I winced slightly at the feel of him, soft and slightly damp. “I’m sure Mary will let you stay in the little flat out the back of ours. We’ll put some tarps down.” Mary would hate it but she’d have to abide. Her own father had invoked the undead clause and he hadn’t lasted six months. It wouldn’t be for long.

Jack smiled. “Thanks Max. I really appreciate it.” He was starting to slur as his tongue swelled.

“Let’s get you out of the sun.” I walked him inside, making sure to stick to the plastic covered areas of the house. The frenzy had been crazy ever since the undead formula had been made public two years ago. People lined up to sign away their houses so that they could afford it, braving the chants of the protestors. “Dead is dead! And it should stay dead!”. The controversy was increasing as level one and two undeads were protesting the fact they had nowhere to live, work or even get medical care, as they ran out of money or it was stolen by their families. They weren’t even eligible for state welfare payments, as they couldn’t prove they were alive. Activists were trying to legislate but many of them had reached such a state of decay by the time they reached Parliament that they were either unintelligible or stinking of death. Jack would be fine though. We’d watch over him until he finally passed, the formula out of his system. He would have no idea that Eliza didn’t know he was alive, that his children had prevented every letter he ever wrote reaching her.

He was a bit clueless, our boy Jack. He’d never known I was a level 1. I’d died ten years ago, in a roofing accident. Thankfully, I’d been part of the clinical undead trials for the year before or I’d never have been able to afford this. And there was no way I was going to tell him. He wouldn’t keep his mouth shut. I’d lose my job, my wife, and my house. I hadn’t planned on caring this much about having things. I’d always been such a happy-go-lucky chap when I was alive…

I guess you only realise what you have when it’s about to be gone. Being undead has really made me care about life.





 Image courtesy of hin255 at

Review: Rebecca

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

If there was ever a book that gave me haunting dreams, it was Rebecca. Daphne du Maurier, echoing the style of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, has crafted a classic piece of gothic literature for the twentieth-century. Filled with beautiful prose, the reader is transported, to the woods filled with bluebells, to the stately house of Manderley, and to the rocky bay, fraught with dangerous memories. The reader is further drawn in, encouraged to place themselves in the heroines shoes, by the fact that Du Maurier never names her, speaking instead from the first person for the duration of the novel.

We first meet this unnamed heroine (UH) in the summery Monte Carlo, acting as a companion to a rather overbearing woman named Mrs Van Hopper. Mrs Van Hopper is a society magpie, quickly fluttering to the brightest sparkle in the room. It is not long before our magpie finds an attractive bauble in Mr. Maxim de Winter. Maxim, a wealthy landed gentleman from England, is relatively famous: he owns Manderley, a beautiful country house that is found on postcards and in picture collection. The death of his wife Rebecca in a sailing accident a year ago has made him a shadow of his former self and, with Mrs Van Hopper occupied by the flu, our UH is drawn to his mysterious and brooding ways. Quickly, she finds herself besotted by his similarities to the tragic heroes of gothic literature and his resemblance to brooding but handsome medieval portraiture.

At first, I felt rather hostile towards Maxim. He is rude, brooding, and while he may smile and laugh with UH on long drives through Monte Carlo, his reaction when he is about to be separated from UH is a bit over the top. He proposes…

Do you mean you want a secretary or something?

No, I’m asking you to marry me you little fool.

… and she accepts. As UH is (understandably) sick of acting as a companion, she readily goes to Manderley, even though she is aware that he asked her only to escape living alone in an empty house. However, Rebecca is just as formidable in death as she was in life. Her memory lingers everywhere and the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers is quick to endlessly compare UH to Rebecca and undermine and creep out our dear UH wherever she can. The tension increases when the boat in which Rebecca disappeared is finally found and an inquest is opened into her death. Will Rebecca haunt the couple forever? Will they ever truly be happy to love completely?

As a masterful piece of gothic literature, full of flawed characters and terrible pasts, I would recommend you read Rebecca. Du Maurier is a skillfull wordsmith and her prose flows, placing us in the shoes of an awkward, inexperienced woman who is thrown out of her depth into upper class society and a marriage with a man she barely knows. It’s a coming of age story, as UH learns to both stand up for herself and to defend the man she loves against all critics. And most of all, it is a story of lies and secrets, that threaten to destroy the very existence that UH has come to know. Read it by the fire, with a cup of tea, or reading on the train on the way to your really boring job that doesn’t have a brooding gothic gentleman just dying to whisk you away to his manor in the English countryside.

Rating: 4/5

This review has also been published at The Forgotten Bookshelf!

Review: The Court of the Midnight King

A historical fantasy set in the midst of the War of the Roses, The Court of the Midnight King focuses on the reigns of Edward IV and Richard III. As an unabashed lover of historical fiction, I’d have to say this is one of the more unusual Richard III novels I’ve read. Therefore, a brief warning – if you like your historical fiction more historical than fiction, this is a wish-fulfilling fantasy that you ought to avoid. If, however, you appreciate parallel universes, with elements of new-age paganism and ecofeminism, then this is a book for you.

Myths are more endearing than truth.

Richard III is a king that causes division among historians and authors alike. Either you believe the Tudors and Shakespeare that Richard was an awful king, guilty of poisoning, infanticide, and incest, or you believe that he was a rather good king, innocent until the dastardly ‘winners’ rewrote history. Seen through the eyes of Raphael, an orphaned knight, and Kate, a priestess with whom Richard has a complicated relationship, The Court of the Midnight King apparently tells the truth about Richard III. Whatever you believe, Freda Warrington’s elegant pose conjures up a world of mysterious forests and fantastical creatures, leaving the reader immersed in the intrigues of medieval England.

He is the sort of man one either loves or loathes. I see straight into your kindly, open heart and know that you love him.

It is clear from the outset which side of history Warrington is on – she is fervently pro-Ricardean (as are Raphael and Kate). Her stance is understandable and would be easier to forgive and accept were it not for the constant interruptions to the main storyline. Warrington has framed her fantasy setting with a twenty-first century setting – the life of a history student named August. Obsessed with Richard III to the point of drastically neglecting her coursework, August is apparently dreaming the entire plot. She is determined to find out the truth behind Richard’s terrible reputation yet can do nothing but watch her dreams unfold. If these sections were left out, The Court of the Midnight King would read more like an alternative history than the fan-fiction like style these sections add to it, particularly as both August and Kate have similar thoughts and feelings about Richard (even to the point of thinking similar phrases!). It would be much easier to suspend disbelief if August were not there at the readers shoulder, reminding us that the work is not based in historical fact.

Overall, The Court of the Midnight King is a beautiful piece of writing, and Warrington’s imagery and historical description make up for the anachronistic Motherlodge and most of the silly sections of the work. If you enjoy the style of fantasy present in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, and are prepared to skim the painful first-person ramblings of an awed history-student (who may or may not represent the author), you should read this book. However, if historically inaccurate endings annoy you – avoid this book at all costs. It’s not worth the hurl across the room when you reach the end of the 500+ pages and realize that despite the deceptive quotes from sources at the start of each chapter, this isn’t anywhere close to non-fiction.

Rating: 3/5