Reader’s Choice: Nature’s Reciprocity

Nature’s Reciprocity

by John Ludlam

Leaning against the viewing barrier, the wind shaking the reed tops on my right, I was lost in a gaze across the lake, when I heard a great flapping of tree leaves and twisting of branches behind.

‘Why are you here again?’

I was standing on a wooden slatted platform offering a panorama of the lake enclosing a wildlife island paradise. With a quick glance over my right shoulder I saw a man in a green outdoor jacket and floppy hat against the woodland trees; I could just make out a round face against the ribbons of leaves lacing the trees at this edge of the wood. ‘Do I know you?’ I said.

‘I know you.’

Saplings on the island waved their top-most branches in the wind while wisps of milky mist sloped away across the water. A glossy black heron took off from a high perch, soared to an apex, screamed in a dive, pulling out to skim the lake surface before dipping into the water. I felt the chill of the morning breezes pulled my raincoat tighter and half-turned, ‘How?’

‘You’ve been coming once a week for a year now. Before that you both came to walk round the lake, stop here and look across,’ he said, pointing to the island, ‘and let the world go hang.’

‘You still haven’t told me who you are; how do you know so much anyway?’

‘It’s what you know,’ he said.

Was this a side-effect of the sleeping tablets, “occasional short-term delusions with a feeling of nausea”? Should I tell my doctor about this? ‘Are you even real?’ I said.

‘Not in any ordinary sense but each time you recall this experience you’ll be another step along the way. First your spirit needs release from its prison cave of ice.’

How could I break this trance; what was happening? ‘Are you something to do with my wishful thinking?’

‘Not exactly. The strength of your lost love focussed on one person – ’

I couldn’t stop myself. ‘Harry,’ I said. Ducks and geese squawked and honked in a scramble to the lakeside café where a toddler with his mum scattered crumbs on the water.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Your love overpowered your tender spirit. That’s why I am here to help.’

Under the ethereal white sky soft air currents curled about me tugging, pulling at me. ‘My doctor suggested I come here,’ I said.

‘She was right. You have two children.’

‘They live their own lives now.’

‘And have their own families, which is good. Leave behind your memories, turn towards the sun, sense the growing warmth open you up to reveal the rainbow colours of your life. Gently begin to share your love more widely and you will create memories for your grandchildren and others. Then your life will become part of their lives and their lives will be added to yours in nature’s reciprocity.’

John Ludlam: with a career from factory through IT and counselling I need reading/writing for therapy. John is a member of Didcot Writers.

Our Reader said –

I liked the humour in this, the strong sense of place, and the unusual visitor. It left me wanting more.

Reader’s Choice: Bug


by John J. Galloway

“Who is it?” she asked. Her wine-stained lips pursed at the thought.

“Who is what?” I asked.

Her eyes darted all over me. The lake was empty, but she just kept fishing.

“It’s the only thing that makes sense,” she sighed. Her arms folded in a shell around her chest. “Another woman.”

“Believe whatever you want,” I said. I was so tired of caring.

In truth, I had no idea why I’d been distant, and that was impossible to swallow. Maybe the thousand tiny cuts that she had given had festered beyond healing. Maybe I needed to be heard, but she was too busy listening. Perhaps my soul had gone hoarse screaming a language that hers didn’t speak.

Or maybe, I thought, I just needed a break from her needs.

So, I left. I fled her wine-fueled accusations, and set out to the porch, where the splendours of the springtime were in the air. The air was crisp and fresh, and the tips of the wiry trees were budding with glorious green life. I sat down in my chair, and shut my eyes to drink up the songs of the crickets. In the distance, the sound of a train echoed its loneliness to me.

Innocent men don’t cry, I reminded myself. Tears would only confirm the worst to her.

Just before the numbness tightened its grip, a beetle came into my world and interrupted my sorrow. He landed on my arm to take refuge from the circling bats, and I bade him welcome. We startled each other at first, but his wings went still when he saw no harm from me, and my breath went slow when I saw none in him. He looked at me as if to thank me for not squashing him, and I to him for not biting. We sat for nearly an hour, my new friend and I, and replenished our strength in the sanctuary of each other.

And when he had rested, and flew into the black, I let the tears come. I yearned to be trusted again. To be blissfully ignored. To simply be. I needed it more than I knew, even if just for a moment. Even by a bug.

“Thank you,” I whispered, and went inside to mend her heart.

John J. Galloway is a scientist by trade, and a writer out of necessity.

Our Reader said –

This meditation on the healing power of nature does a fantastic job of tracing the inner workings of the mind.

Reader’s Choice: April Wayside Blues

April Wayside Blues

by Margaret Gallop

At the wayside springtime blues:
against the trumpet gold of dandelions
bright azure notes of alkanet
cerulean blue of speedwell
syncopated clusters of forget-me nots
and the ultramarine watery
saxophone swoop of bluebells.

Margaret Gallop: with a background in education and health I aim to putting words together to describe our beautiful and beleaguered countryside.

Margaret is a member of Didcot Writers, and her work has been Reader’s Choice three times before: click through to read ‘Sour Harvest‘, ‘Permission‘, and ‘Mariella and the Singing Flute‘. This last piece was also published in our print anthology, Compositions, which can be purchased here.

Our Reader said –

I love the way the poem explodes into the punchy metrics and sound patterning of the final few lines. This is truly a celebration of our colourful countryside.

Reader’s Choice: A Biting April Breeze

A Biting April Breeze

by Tessa Fenley

‘No more blind dates for me, Mum. Stop fussing, I’ll be fine.’ Joyce kills the call in a snit, trying to spot her daughter who is skipping along the embankment.

‘Don’t you just love it when the daffodils dance in the breeze?’ Joyce enthuses in spite of Lily’s harsh frown. Sunshine and flowers do not warrant unbridled cheerfulness in the world of eight-year-olds.

Comfortably settled at the Riverside Café, Lily decides this is the moment she has been waiting for. ‘Mummy, where does true love live?’

Joyce looks up from the menu. Momentarily flabbergasted, she searches her daughter’s face for clues on the origin of the question. ‘I’m not sure, pet. Where do you suspect it lives?’ Buying herself time, Joyce rummages in her Sunday morning brain for a sensible answer. ‘Let’s ask Daddy,’ Joyce suggests. ‘Shall we pick some daffodils and pay him a visit after breakfast?’

Lily’s Aries disposition rears its snappy head. She wants answers, not more questions. Daddy would not be any help. ‘The thing is, it’s urgent. Who else can we ask? Today.’

Joyce sighs at her daughter’s wilfulness, wondering how to redirect her attention to more suitable topics for pre-breakfast conversation. ‘Why don’t you decide what you want to eat?’

‘I’ll have the usual.’

Since he died, Lily invariably sticks to her daddy’s favourite: poached eggs on toast with smoked salmon.

‘Dad was my true love.’ Joyce offers.

‘Where did you two meet?’

‘At the library. It’s closed today, though.’

Lily feels increasingly exasperated. If only she could be honest with Mummy. ‘Daddy has been dead for a long time now.’

‘I suppose.’ Joyce says, taken aback by Lily’s matter-of-factness.

‘Maybe you should go out more. I could stay with nana. I don’t mind, honestly.’ Lily says.

‘Lily Beale, if you don’t tell me exactly what is going on, I will ground you for the rest of your life!’

Mortified, Lily lowers her gaze.

‘Out with it,’ Mummy orders.

‘I heard some teachers talking about you. They were mean. One of them said you had lost your good looks. They said you would never find a new man again. I wanted to defend you but I did not want to get in trouble.’

Stunned, Joyce gasps for air. Not trusting herself to speak, she chokes back her silly tears and reaches for Lily’s hand, squeezing it affectionately. She manages a grimace which is supposed to resemble a reassuring smile and orders breakfast.

‘Tell you what,’ Joyce says after they are finished, ‘why don’t you use the bathroom before we go and I’ll nip out for a sec.’

Outside the café, seeking shelter from the biting April breeze, Joyce calls her mother. Instead of agreeing to another blind date, as she intended, she falters and sobs while her mother listens and smothers her own tears as she tunes in to Joyce’s heart-wrenching despair. It finally dawns on her that there is no fertile soil in her daughter’s heart yet.

Tessa Fenley is currently finalizing her first detective novel. She lives by the sea which invariably inspires her work.

Tessa’s story ‘Love Equals Loss’ was selected as Reader’s Choice for our February competition this year, on the theme of confrontation. You can read it here.

Our Reader said –

An exercise in the power of brevity, this story explores the relationships between three generations of women in one short scene. Quite a feat!

Reader’s Choice: A Spring in Her Step

A Spring in Her Step

by Ian Marshall

Her shadow rushes ahead or lags behind depending on the street lamps. The sun is minutes away from its scheduled morning appearance, hinting at the promise of warmth yet to come. She has been out all night and is now walking home. Her legs may be those of a teenager, but they are feeling the full effects of her soirée and she takes the opportunity to rest on a wooden bench. It is situated between the bus stop at the top of the hill and the small wood behind it. From this vantage point she can view most of the village.

Yesterday’s rain has left a load of mirrors on the pavement which reflect the sombre mood of an old lady as she totters towards the newsagents. A wheelie bin has spewed its contents across the street and now rests against a telephone pole. From the wood she can hear a chorus of birds discussing last night’s wind. High above, a skylark sings as if nothing happened. A passing car splashes through puddles rearranging them in her direction, but she foresaw what was to come and disappeared as easily as a magician’s assistant.

In the wood the beauty of a carpet of bluebells is offset by a box spring mattress crawling with bedbugs. It is headlined by the unlikely duo of tangled fairy lights and a broken tennis racket. A squirrel hurtles past, making her jump when it scoots vertically into the leafy canopy without any loss of momentum. The birds have so much to sing about this morning. Their lives must be full of excitement.

She turns into an opening where the daisies, still half asleep, observe a robin picking out a worm. A cherry tree stands almost naked surrounded by a controlled explosion of blossom. She looks up to see two blackbirds bookending the rooftops on a block of houses. Their never-ending songs provide the soundtrack of spring. A fresh web spun between the guttering and a drainpipe glitters as the initial rays of streaking sunlight finally arrives. A parade of ducklings follows their mother across the road like a string of feathered pearls doing their “Abbey Road” tribute.

She follows the double yellow lines down the hill, proceeding carefully as though the footpath is a balloon which might burst at any moment. Nearly home now she startles a starling into flight from a patch of primroses and she spots a snail scaling a small brick wall.

The wooden gate to the old cottage is off the latch. She slithers around it without stepping on the damp lawn. Meandering up to the front door she can see a light on in the kitchen. The old lady is awake. Even better, the smell of something cooking wafts across her nostrils. Is that fish? She bends her head down and with the top of it pushes open the cat flap to investigate.

Ian Marshall is feeling sorry for those with hay fever or taking exams who miss out on the best time of the year.

Ian’s story ‘Puckers’ was a Reader’s Choice piece for our June 2018 competition on the theme of toast, you can read it here.

Our Reader said –

The imagery in this piece is wonderful, and I love how it evokes a liminal landscape that straddles the divide between urban and rural, human and animal.

Winner for May: Of Love and Alcohol

Of Love and Alcohol

by Lioba Multer


I started drinking because a relationship went sour. Relationships are a big challenge for me.

I then hung out with a group of Indian Students. They were kind and happy people. I was trying to be a writer. I then had everything, nice clothes, a good job.

Drinking took me to a place, where I had never been. It made me forget, who I was. Lots of people I knew had feelings towards the same sex, without openly identifying as gay/ lesbian.

Did the alcoholics in my life help?

Of course I joined them, having nothing better to do than to numb my bewildered senses with alcohol. It took me a long time to struggle back to reality.

When I started at the Ohio State University, life was exciting and beautiful. Then I was indeed a Graduate Student to full rights. My first Christmas vacation at OSU I spent in a house as deep and quiet as a well.

In the morning the sun would glitter in the alley ways, as I was walking around the college town in that cold winter.


One day in spring I started to befriend a woman, who really did not like me. She was an alcoholic.


I had started rather harmlessly, me getting drunk around my girlfriend and her family.

Visitors from East Germany arrived, elegant intellectuals as if from another world.


The girl, who lived in the void.

When I first started at OSU, I was offered a good life, but I did not know how to handle my feelings.

As a Teaching Assistant I felt pretty successful, meeting revolutionaries, who came up from South America.

Of course, coming from Germany I found the ill-clad female professor somewhat ludicrous. What a passage of grief, all of them, but compare to them, Helen was a complete disaster.

It did not help, that when you came, you entered a completely crazy place in turn.

That did not exclude me having met nice people here towards the beginning, except I did run into people who drank a lot. They were homosexuals.

Late winter nights with the Marxist Leninist study group were as much fueled by my alcoholism as by my desire to be elsewhere. I felt happy. I thought, finally something positive was happening in my life.


Once, in my second year at OSU, we went to Toronto, Dave Caldwell, Bob Maier and me.

It always starts out nicely with a Woman to Woman conference. Even homophobia was part of the repertoire.

It was spring outside, the sun was shining. I could have fallen in love with anybody. How could I have been so wrong?

Lioba Multer was born in 1959 in Munich, Germany. Permanent resident of the United States; one book publication: The Fruit of Happiness, 1999. 

Our Reader said –

This story in fragments displays a perfect marriage of form and content. It’s inventive and full of pain and longing.

Our Reader for May

Some of you will recognise our Reader for May as Katherine Meehan, who MC’d at our springtime-themed poetry open mic on 1st May in Didcot. Thank you to her for spending the time reading this month’s entries.

photo of katie.jpg

Katherine Meehan lives in South Oxfordshire and spends her free time reading books about time and how to survive in the wilderness. She’s had several short stories published in in the States and she’s currently studying for an Mst in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford. You can find her on Twitter @kmeehan.

If you’d like to be our Reader in a future month please email Alice via and tell us a bit about your writing experience and why you’d like to be involved.

Winners for May – ‘springtime’

Thank you to those who entered our May competition, themed ‘springtime‘. The results are in, so here are the winners:

Of Love and Alcohol, by Lioba Multer

Reader’s Choices:
A Spring in Her Step, by Ian Marshall
A Biting April Breeze, by Tessa Fenley
April Wayside Blues, by Margaret Gallop
Bug, by John J. Galloway
Nature’s Reciprocity, by John Ludlam

Congratulations to all! If you ‘Follow’ the site at you will receive the winning entries straight to your inbox as they are published.

As we did last year, rather than doing three 500-word competitions over the summer months, we’re going to do one 1,500-word competition – the theme is ‘museum‘, and the deadline is 31st August.

What is on display behind the glass? Where did these things come from originally? Who works in the offices upstairs? What happens when the gallery doors close? What object of yours accidentally becomes an acquisition? What has been lost in the archive?

You can send either one longer piece, or up to three shorter pieces in the same document. Entry details are at

If you’re local to Oxfordshire, don’t forget to check out our upcoming workshops and other events at

If you want a bigger writing challenge, why not submit something for our new anthology, ‘A Night at the Railway Inn‘? –