Book launch success!

An extra post this week – to announce that we have launched our two most recent anthologies!

You can find out about all our publications on our publications page, and read about our next anthology call for submissions here.

A Night at the Railway Inn

ebook cover - thumbnail.jpeg

This book was launched on 4th Decmber 2019, and features sixteen portraits of the Railway Inn at various times in the last hundred years, making it the backdrop to a diamond theft, a murder, several unexpected discoveries, and a haunting. The stories range in style from haunting and serious to witty and comic, with each author giving their own take on the theme. The work went through two editing stages to ensure that all the stories agree with each other as regards the setting: the Railway Inn.

The book is available in paperback and ebook format here.

Museum Collection

ebook cover thumbnail.jpg

This anthology was launched alongside A Night at the Railway Inn in December 2019, includes short stories and poetry from thirty-five authors. Have you ever wondered what the story is behind some of the items behind the glass? Or what happens after hours in the offices upstairs? This book contains a range of answers to these questions and more.

You can read it in paperback and ebook format here.

Reader’s Choice: The Marriage Curator

The Marriage Curator

by Jane Andrews

My husband has always been highly organised.

As a child (so he’s told me), he used to collect any letters he could find and throw them down the stairs into the ‘sorting office’ (aka the hallway), where he would spend a whole afternoon playing at ‘sorting the mail’. Once he was a little older, it progressed to train spotting: he still has shelf upon shelf of tiny black notebooks, filled with neatly written numbers, along with dates and comments.

He’s carried that precision over into our marital home: everything is neatly ordered, and each room has a different theme. Modern art adorns the walls of the ‘Games and Entertainments Suite’ (the living room); framed facsimiles of first edition Penguins decorate the book-lined ‘Reading Room’; and the spare room is the haven for railway memorabilia: photos of trains, railway timetables and the ubiquitous spotter’s notebooks. In the kitchen, mugs are classified not only according to ‘His and Hers’ but the type of beverage that has been deemed appropriate: try giving him a cup of tea in anything other than a railway mug, or a coffee in something that doesn’t have a smiley face on it, and he’ll refuse to drink it. The herbs and spices are all in identical jars with handwritten labels – in alphabetical order, naturally; and every utensil has a specific function – woe betide anyone who tries cooking vegetables in the potato pan, or vice versa.

Even our holidays are structured and ordered: we seem to have visited every museum – no matter how small or how bizarre – in the British Isles. Give him a room full of objects that have been listed and classified, and he’ll be occupied for hours. In the past twenty years, we have visited the Postcard Museum on the Isle of Wight, the Pencil Museum in Keswick, the Dog Collar Museum at Leeds Castle, the Postal Museum in London (now updated into a slick tourist attraction) and the Pen Museum and Button Factory in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter – as well as all the more traditional stately homes and places of historic interest.

It took me a while to realise that he has Asperger’s. Although I’d read The Curious incident of the Dog in the Night Time, The Rosie Project and The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder, these novels hadn’t prepared me for the reality that those with ASD are characters who are endearing to read about but hell to live with. It’s not just the compulsive chronicling of everyday minutiae that’s annoying but the lack of social connection. I sometimes think he’d pay me more attention if I had a number stamped across my face.

Now he’s retired, he’s even worse. He’s taken over the spacious attic that used to be our son’s bedroom – since Adam’s at university, his unused space is being filled with catalogued train timetables from the 1990s and every other current obsession. He won’t let me look at whatever it is he’s doing up there: the former attic has become a second storey ‘man-cave’, larger and more readily accessible than the shed at the bottom of the garden.

Our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary is approaching, but I’m wondering if I can be bothered anymore. Perhaps we’ll be one of those couples who stayed together for the sake of the kids and then split up once they’re no longer around. I’m certainly not holding any hopes of a romantic getaway or a special celebration – particularly when I hardly ever see him these days as he spends most of his time working on his ‘project’.

For several weeks he has been more absent than usual, not hearing anything I say to him, barely communicating at mealtimes. If it were anyone else, I would assume he was having an affair; but John doesn’t have time to conduct a clandestine romance: he’s too busy ogling his back copies of ‘Railway Enthusiast’.

‘Should I book somewhere for next Thursday?’ I ask him loudly over the cornflakes one morning. He stares at me vacantly. ‘For our anniversary meal,’ I elucidate, adding, ‘Unless you’ve already organised something.’

The startled look on his face confirms my worst suspicions.

I suppose I shouldn’t let myself get too hung up about it – after all, John’s never been one for romantic gestures. For our first Christmas together, he gave me a tin opener. At first, I thought it was a joke present, but then, as his eyes lit up, waiting for my reaction, I realised he thought I was as excited as he was. ‘It’s just like the one I had when I lived with Linda,’ he said helpfully, referring to his ex-wife. By the time the Queen’s Speech was finished, it had already found its way into the dustbin.

As our anniversary looms, he seems more reclusive than ever. He’s now taken to disappearing for a whole day at a time, making himself a cheese and tomato sandwich and carrying it upstairs so he doesn’t even need to come back down for lunch. He’s stocked up with teabags and milk and the travel kettle. Occasionally, I hear his footfall as he descends to use the bathroom, but apart from that I don’t see or hear him at all. It is as if our marriage has ceased to exist.

Despite the hurt I feel at being shut out of his life, I find myself going through the motions of buying a special card and even trawling Amazon to find him one of the missing volumes in his ‘Railway Detective’ collection. ‘Happy Anniversary!’ I say, plonking the items down in front of him as he surfaces for breakfast.

John’s suitably impressed with the card and gift, but there is a distinct lack of anything for me. ‘Have you forgotten something?’ I ask pointedly.

He makes a vague remark about having ‘a surprise for me later’, but I’m pretty sure he’ll be dashing to the local garage for some wilted flowers later on.

It’s only as he starts to disappear up the stairs to the attic that my anger explodes. ‘For God’s sake!’ I yell. ‘Can’t you give it a rest on today of all days?’

He blinks at me uncomprehendingly. ‘I just need to finish something off.’

I sit at the kitchen table, head in my hands, letting all the pent-up frustration of a quarter of a century drip out in tears I can no longer hold back. Surely it’s not too much to expect just a tiny bit of romance once a year?

It must be an hour or two later when my errant husband reappears in the kitchen, where I am trying to drown my heartache by clearing out the cupboards. I wonder, momentarily, if he’s just after more milk, but then he tugs at my sleeve. ‘Come on, Margaret,’ he says, his face bright with anticipation. ‘I’ve got a surprise for you.’

Wordlessly, I follow him up two sets of stairs, wondering why I have suddenly been invited into his inner sanctum. He pushes the door open and the sight takes my breath away. Our attic room has become his Marriage Museum: every detail of our time together painstakingly arranged. Framed photos of the two of us line the walls, detailing our wedding, our honeymoon, our children. There is a wooden box on a stand, containing all our letters and cards to each other, and he’s also displayed former gifts I haven’t seen in years, along with more prosaic items. ‘Is that my missing potato peeler?’ I ask in surprise. When I asked him several months ago if he knew where it was, he replied with a non-committal grunt. At the time, I thought he wasn’t listening; now I realise he had already earmarked it as a prize exhibit, being one of the first things he bought me during our courtship.

Lost for words, I survey the carefully curated display. His love for me is recorded in every exhibit. It’s a shrine to our marriage – to us.

‘Happy Anniversary,’ he says, kissing me awkwardly.

And then I take him by the hand and we proceed to indulge in the sort of behaviour that definitely wouldn’t be allowed in any other museum.

Jane Andrews is a museum aficionado who likes writing about human relationships. She belongs to the Birmingham Writers’ Group.

Reader’s Choice: The Little Seaside Town

The Little Seaside Town

by Daren Carpmail

There wasn’t much to do in this town apart from visit the museum, and I suppose that’s why I became so fascinated by it. I’ve always loved the tawdry and the macabre, and this place definitely ticked those boxes. While I was staying in the seaside town I went there almost every day – it helped that it was only 50p to get in, and even that was a ‘suggested donation’. I was often the only visitor, so God knows how they kept it going.

The town was no Blackpool or Brighton, you could hardly imagine tourists arriving by the bus load, but it was away from Michael, and that’s all I really cared about.

*

I’d been looking for something, I suppose – aren’t we all? I was just out of uni, doing a crap job and feeling like I was having a midlife crisis at twenty-two.

He’s good looking, I’ll give him that, and I can’t deny being flattered when he started talking to me in the pub.

‘Bit soulless, this place, isn’t it?’ He smiled at me across the bar.

‘It’s cheap, that’s all I’m bothered about.’

‘Hi, I’m Michael, let me buy you a drink.’

I wouldn’t normally let a guy I’d just met buy me a drink, but he was lovely, and I was pissed off with my mate Laura. She’d just texted me to say she couldn’t make it, leaving me in the pub by myself, prey to any dirty old man that might walk in.

I found him fascinating at first. ‘Of course, I reject this kind of materialism,’ he said, indicating the pub, which was hardly palatial. ‘I see myself as a much more spiritual person, although I’m opposed to all forms of organised religion.’

‘Oh, I know what you mean. I think that God is whatever we want him to be.’ I leaned forwards. Yes, I was being flirty. With hindsight, I wondered why people like him always have a downer on organised religion. Should it be disorganised, or what?

‘Most people don’t get it, you see?’ he said. ‘After all, they are brainwashed, they don’t look into the soul and see that ultimately we are all energy. When we pass, our souls live on.’

I agreed. ‘And, of course, everything happens for a reason.’

‘Oh, you’re so right.’ He smiled, and what a smile it was.

We carried on talking bollocks like that for the rest of the evening, and we inevitably exchanged phone numbers.

Over the next few weeks the dates followed thick and fast. We ended up sleeping together on the third one – very unusual for me. I’ll be kind and say it wasn’t exactly Olympic standard, but I’ve had worse, and he was certainly an interesting guy. We’d sit up all night smoking weed and putting the world to rights – usually by talking a load of new age hippy shite.

‘Your aura is looking good today?’ He stroked my hair as I lay with my head on his lap.

‘What?’

‘Your aura. It’s a lovely mauve shade. Usually it’s an angrier red.’

I was a bit puzzled and I told him so, but he was unfazed. ‘You see, love, I have more than the traditional five senses. I can perceive things that those with a closed mind cannot.’

‘Oh,’ I said. I think that was the first time I had any doubts about him. It wouldn’t be the last.

*

The big row came on the day the new footie season started. Me and my dad are season ticket holders, and nothing and no one gets in the way of that.

‘But, sweetheart,’ he said. ‘I really don’t approve of competitive sports, and I don’t want you taking part in something like this.’

‘I’m not taking part. I’ll be in the stands, munching on an overpriced hot dog and shouting at the ref.’ I laughed, but he just looked pained.

‘I’m sorry I can’t allow it,’ said Michael.

‘What do you mean, allow?’ I was livid. ‘You don’t allow me to do things? What I do or don’t do is nothing to do with you.’

I stormed past him and went to the match.

We lost.

Afterwards, I went round to his house expecting an apology. His reply was unbelievable: ‘I’m sorry Chloe, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to forbid you from seeing your father in the future. He clearly has a negative influence on you. I can tell by the state of your aura.’

‘Forbid me? Who the hell do you think you are?’ As I left I slammed the door in his stupid, sexist, hippy face.

The phone calls started the next day. He’d withhold his number and then hang up as soon as I answered, but I knew it was him. Then he started driving past my house at funny times. I wasn’t afraid of him, not then, but I was sick and tired of his behaviour.

I returned from work a few days later to find my gate hanging off its post. When I went into the garden I couldn’t stop screaming. My pet guinea pigs had been killed.

I called the police and they warned him off, but there wasn’t much more they could do. He denied all knowledge of course, though he admitted to the phone calls. He promised that he was over me and that he’d leave me alone in future.

I had a few weeks holiday owing, so I decided to take a break all by myself. I’ve always been happy in my own company, so I took the train to this weird little seaside town.

*

I went into the museum on my first afternoon. As I said, I love anything a bit weird, and this was definitely it. There was a bit about the town’s history, not that there was much to say, really. Apparently The Who played there once, before they were famous, and there was a tour poster signed by Keith Moon. Other than that, there wasn’t a great deal to see, not in the main part of the museum, anyway.

It was the waxworks at the back that really fascinated me. Trust me, it wasn’t Madame Tussauds. For a start, I think their idea of celebrity ended sometime around 1998. Bobby Davro was there, and so was Samantha Fox. That one took plenty of wax, I would imagine. It’s fair to say that they needed the name plaques underneath each one.

The so called Chamber of Horrors was the best part. Not in the best taste perhaps, but I loved it. There was a room full of famous serial killers, ranging from Dr Crippen to Fred and Rose West. Again, they didn’t look much like whoever they were supposed to be, but I was fascinated by them nevertheless. In dodgy wax, Myra Hindley was reunited with Ian Brady, and the Yorkshire Ripper was all set to rip again.

*

I was staring at the Ripper one day when I noticed something a bit odd. He was carrying a handbag, and not just any handbag either.

It was mine.

I blinked. Surely, I was imagining things. But I wasn’t.

‘Well, I can’t imagine how that got in there, love,’ said the warden as he unlocked the cabinet. He took a bunch of keys from a belt that was feeling the strain from his ample belly.

Sadly, I could imagine it all too well. As I walked back to my B&B I kept looking over my shoulder. A couple of times I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye, but I’m sure I was imagining things.

Things calmed down for a few days until the death threats started. I don’t want to go into detail, but they were vile. The notes were posted through the door, sometimes covered in blood or shit, and found by Greg and Hannah, B&B owners. We told the police of course and they promised to keep an eye on things, but I know they can’t be everywhere.

I was sitting in the dining room one evening, looking out at the dark garden through the net curtains and wondering whether I should call it quits and just head home, when there was a bang in the hallway: he had kicked the door down.

I jumped up as the lights went out. He grabbed me and put a knife to my throat.

‘The old aura’s not looking so good now sweetie, is it?’

‘Better than yours, matey.’ I kicked back, and hit him where it hurts.

As he writhed on the floor, I saw that the street was lit up blue. Someone had called the police.

He was arrested and taken into custody. The coppers assured me he wouldn’t get bail.

The neighbour came over to help board up the door – he had witnessed everything, and Michael kicking the door down had been caught on his garage CCTV. This time I really was free of him. Sitting in the dining room at midnight, Greg and Hannah made me a cup of tea and reassured me that it was all over now. I was sorry they’d been dragging into it; I told them I’d pay for the door.

The next morning I went to the museum to say goodbye. I suppose I wanted to get a sense of familiarity before heading home to start my new, free life.

I noticed that since my last visit, they had put in a figure of Harold Shipman.

I looked closely. He was wearing my necklace.

Daren Carpmail: I’m a fifty one year old writer from the West Midlands. I got into writing several years ago as part of an ongoing midlife crisis. 

Competition winners for June-August (museum)

Our summer competition seems a long time ago now, but we had so many entries (and, being a three-month competition, they were mostly three times the length) that we slipped slightly on our end-of-Oct deadline, and the winners have only just been announced (sorry)! They are:

Winner: A Winter-White World, by Rose Little

Reader’s Choices:
The Little Seaside Town, by Daren Carpmail
The Marriage Curator, by Jane Andrews

These entries and 32 other stories and poems from among the competition entrants, have been selected for publication in paperback. We will let you know where you can get hold of the book after the launch on Wednesday 4th December.

In addition, the two Reader’s Choices above will be published online at didcotwriters.wordpress.com over the coming weeks on Mondays and Fridays, alongside the author bios. Follow the site (enter your email in the box in the bottom right hand corner) to receive them straight to your inbox as they are published.

Congratulations to all our winners, and thank you to everyone who sent in work, and to our Reader for their time – we love seeing how you interpret the theme each month.

Advance notice: next year we are going to be putting together a poetry anthology with two special guest editors, I’ll keep you posted on the themes and how to submit your work.