Other one, moron

The state of the world weighing on your shoulders like last week’s albatross? What you need, my friend, is a good injection of humour.

You’d have to be Visually Impaired Freddy not to notice that humorous stories do not, in general, do as well in literary competitions as serious, sometimes even a little, um, dull ones. Here’s a competition that seeks to remedy that:

The Best of Times short story competition #14.

Here are the conditions of entry. Note that payment can be made by Paypal, and entries may be emailed, so people outside Australia have no excuse.

What to enter:
Humorous short stories (any theme) up to 2500 words.

First prize: $200, second prize: $50. (That’s AUD.)
Third place, highly commended and commended certificates will be awarded too.

Closing date:
31 Oct 2012.

Conditions of entry:
Entrants can enter as many times as they like.
Each story must be written in English and be the entrant’s own original work.
Stories that have won a prize or certificate in previous Best of Times or Winter Surprise competitions are ineligible for entry.
Entrants retain copyright and all rights to their work.

Postal entries:
No entry form is required. Include a cover sheet with your name and address, story title and word count, and where you heard about the
Entry fee is $6 per story. Send a cheque or money order made out to Chris Broadribb. Post your entry to PO Box 55, Blaxcell NSW 2142.
Include a large SSAE so that your story can be returned afterwards, along with a results sheet.

E-mailed entries:
Please provide your name and address, story title and word count, and where you heard about the competition.
Email your entry to cabbook-14@yahoo.com.au
Entry fee is $6 per story. Use PayPal to pay cabbook-14@yahoo.com.au

For an electronic copy of the results, please provide your email address.
Winners will be notified by email or post by December 2012.
The list of winners will be displayed on the competition website.
Winning stories will be published on the website if the authors agree.

Competition webpage (Popups)

The contest is organised and judged by Chris Broadribb. So tickle her. Pluck a feather from that albatross and tickle her like there’s no tomorrow. Which, I sometimes think…Oh shut up.

Tuesday prose: Bloogled

June 18, 2012


Perhaps I shouldn’t have Googled myself. But who can honestly say they haven’t looked into that electronic mirror? If Jesus were around today, he’d probably be the only person on Earth not to even want to explore his computer self, those little masturbatory keystrokes revealing one’s achievements. Or lack of them. Me, I mean, not Jesus.

Don’t get me wrong. I only Google myself occasionally. I’d just had a poem published in Andromeda Street. I knew that of course, I’d checked out the site, but I needed to see the evidence reflected back to me, the great mathematical Google God presenting me to me on an airy platter. It’s deeply satisfying to see yourself emerge, like a woman in a bikini from an over-size sponge cake. Then the eye always travels to the crumbs, the other ‘me’s, the doppelgängers of name.

There aren’t too many Sebastian T. Smails in the world. It’s an unusual name. But there was a crumb this time, another me. Seems he was a writer too, but of short stories, not poetry. In Wyoming, U.S.A.. There was exactly one story by him, published in an American literary journal of the sort I dub Smart and Serious. Where genre is a very dirty word, and the readership sometimes reaches seven. But I’m a poet, so seven seems a fairly decent number. There was yet another Sebastian T. Smails with a trucking business in Queensland, called DeepNorthQwik. Only three in the whole electronic world, a tripod of Me, limping along. Better than being a John Smith, though, a centipede’s leg, lost in a moving forest of abundance.

I did some work, finishing a sonnet about trees and age, in which the word ‘autumnal’ did not make a single appearance. It was taut. It was elegant. It was good enough to send off to Wombat, the right wing journal which has Australia’s most brilliant poet as the literary editor. So far I’d only scored form rejections, not even personal ones from the great man.

But this time he liked it, and eventually my fourteen lines appeared wedged between an article about how the existence of the Stolen Generations was a myth, and another about how being stolen was good for Aborigines anyway, because they learnt so many useful things. Like logic, presumably. I only had eyes for my poem, though. In real black print, not that electronic pixelated muck. And then, a fortnight later, I Googled myself…

…and found that Sebastian T. Smails of Wyoming, now had a personal web-site, and my poem ‘Transpiration’ was listed under ‘Recent Publications.’ I sat, staring at the fat-faced American. He was wearing a dark beret, and had his head on an angle, as if he were just too intelligent to view things straight on, too totally quirky and poetic. He looked like a French cockatoo who’d been hitting the crackers and absinthe a bit too hard.

I e-mailed him saying that unless he removed the reference to my poem immediately, I would sue. This was a sad joke. Copyright lawyers aren’t cheap, and my total earnings from poetry totalled $672, including the $50 cheque I expected from Wombat. The wages from my day job, as a library assistant, were squandered on rent and food and other luxuries.

I waited a month for that cheque, fuming at the American Sebastian, sending him more and more irate e-mails. Eventually I rang Wombat, and the office administrator reminded me that I’d requested an electronic payment so I wouldn’t have to pay for depositing a cheque made out in a foreign currency. I was too stunned to argue. How had the other Smails known to ask for the electronic payment before the poem had appeared? Or had he rung afterwards, just in case payment had not been made? Who’d go to that much trouble for $50, anyway? Our plucky Aussie dollar may be worth almost as much as a real God-trusting dollar these days, but still, it seemed a little desperate.

I forced myself to do a little work on the manuscript I was about to submit to a publisher. No identity-stealing American was going to stop me seeing it in print, turning the pages, feeling its slender beauty. I fell asleep, dreaming of Lord Byron, who awoke one morning to find himself famous…

…and awoke to discover that the American Smails had a poetry collection called Leaving about to be published by Castanets, in London. Need I tell you the name of my intended book? I think not, attentive reader. I think not. The manuscript sat on my desk, next to the cubist Cyclops eye of the computer, ready to go. I would never have sent it to Castanets though. That was a bold move on behalf of the Septic Smails. I was thinking much smaller. Local, in fact. I opened my e-mails.

There were twelve urgent messages, from me, sent to someone of my name, each more desperate than the preceding one. I found a copy of a contract sent by Castanets, signed with a familiar signature. My electronic transfer account had new funds, too. I reached for a mirror. I’d obviously been working too hard. I’d put on weight, and my hair was thinning. I groped for my coffee, and my hand caressed a piece of cloth. A beret. It was black. It fitted perfectly.

Obviously, I was being consumed by that other me, like a 1950s film where a big red cloud of Communist rubber sucks people in and eats them. Only, I had to ask, was it really so bad? American me was doing better than I was. Better than I could reasonably have hoped to do. I could attend readings, continue writing, and it seemed some money was finally trickling in. If my identity was being subsumed, I didn’t really care. Eat away, Google blob, I thought. Suck me up. I’m yours.

Then I heard the trucks, a dozen of them, rumbling outside my window. A man in a blue singlet was knocking at my door, yelling ‘Boss’, holding a clip-board. I felt the beret morph into a cap, my beer-gut spill over my suddenly short shorts. I’d been Bloogled again. I grabbed my manifest, and headed for the door.

P.S. Cottier

‘Bloogled’ won third prize in the 2009 ‘Best of Times’ humorous short story competition and was published on the competition web-site, November 2009. Judged by Chris Broadribb, who also organises these competitions.

I was going to write something new in honour of National Flash Fiction Day (the 22nd June) in New Zealand, but my mind is simply not working in prose at the moment, so I recycled this one. (The attentive reader will note that the hero-loser of my story is a poet. At least most of the time.) At just over 1000 words, it’s arguably too long to be flash. It falls into the dead realm between flash and what is regarded as a ‘proper’ short story. Many narratives go wandering in that desert, and few are ever seen again.

Unusually for anything I write, there is the tiniest inkling of plot detectable here. Most ultra-shorts I enter in flash competitions are in fact prose poems. Please don’t tell anyone, though.

I look forward to seeing if any eligible Tuesday poets win prizes in the national flash fiction competition being finalised now in New Zealand. There’s at least one title on the shortlist that could possibly belong to a Tuesday poet, methinks. But I won’t provide clues as to who I think that may be. Because I’m probably wrong.

For proper flash fiction, press this feather:
Tuesday Poem
The central post is by Tuesday Poet Michelle Elvy, who has been organising the National Flash Fiction Day in New Zealand.

Trail of disinformation

August 18, 2011

Must find accent key...

Trail of disinformation

P.S. Cottier

‘Does it really matter, love?  After all, we’re talking about a snail, aren’t we?  I put down bait for them.  Or squash them.  It’s them or my veggies.’  Bill smiled, ate a peanut, and drank a little more beer.

‘It’s a special snail.  A green one. Tiny.’  I sounded vaguely desperate, and I knew it.

‘But it’s still a snail, green, orange or purple.  Rainbow even.  I just don’t see the point, worrying about an ugly little bugger like that.’

Bill had hit the nail, or the snail shell, on the head.  We were just talking about ‘ugly little buggers’.  We wanted to prevent the development of a proposed mine because of the presence of rare miniature green snails, only found in one small pocket of rain-forest.  If it were koalas, once the subject of a bounty, we would have been national heroes.  A rare species of bird would be understandable.  Everyone can see beauty in a bird.  But a mollusc is quite a different kettle of fish.  Too far beneath our eyes to count.  Too near our feet.

It was Jennifer, my best friend and fellow conservationist, who came up with the idea to give our campaign to save the habitat of the endangered snail a certain indefinable…je ne sais quoi.

I knew we were onto a winner the next time I ran into Bill at the pub.  He was reading the newspaper, the one that Jennifer had just leaked her ‘secret information’ to.  It trembled in his hands.  I noticed that he wasn’t smiling, or cracking jokes like errant carapaces amongst the beans.  Indeed, he seemed a little angry, a little red in the face.

Bill turned the paper over so I could read the article he had just read.  I had to cover my nascent smile as I read:

French offer to take Aussie snails

 This paper has heard that an offer has been made, through official channels, for all the endangered miniature green snails in the area currently being considered for the development of a new mine to be removed and relocated to France, at the expense of the French Government.  It is hoped that the species may prove edible.’

‘Bloody cheek’, said Bill, as he took a long drink of beer.  ‘They’ve got their own snails.  Poor little buggers.  Why do they want to steal ours?’

He’d forgotten his previous comments about pellets and gardening.  We had wrapped the miniature green snail in the flag, rendered it as Australian as the kangaroo.  We eat them, but that’s different, apparently.

Despite vigorous denials from the French embassy, the story stuck.  The public was outraged.  Next week, the Government officially declared the snail habitat protected.

And deep in the bush, the tiny snails act out their slimy lives, safe from the development of a new tin mine.  And of course, safe from any forced repatriation to the restaurant rich and risky boulevards of Paris.

As I approach the launch of my first book, I can’t help regretting the loss of my exclusive relationship with the poems inside it. Once it was just me and these works, with no third parties looking over our shoulders. Of course, I am pleased to be published. But one part of me, a part that I have shamelessly nurtured over the years, prefers the life of fantasy and dreams to the real world of readers and print.

It’s a well-worn trope (I bought it at the second-hand trope store) to compare a book with a baby. I always suspect a hidden insult to reside in this sort of comparison, at least when applied to the writings of women. It’s as if the work is less an intellectual endeavour than an extension of biology; poet as womb. Of course that is to ignore the intellectual aspects of pregnancy, and the fact that in advanced societies at least, the continuation of pregnancy is a willed act, no longer a question of mere chance. But there is something about the way my book now has a life of its own that does recall childbirth, in all its terrifying complexity.

I admire Emily Dickinson for her steadfast refusal to seek publication once she understood that it would mean compromise. That and the fact that she was unique and seemingly almost timeless in the invention of her own poetic language. But we can’t all be solitary geniuses, can we? (Most of us aren’t any sort of genius at all, not even noisy, self-promoting ones.) And publication, that rendering of the personal into the public sphere, the changing of monologue into dialogue, is necessary, if our conversations are to stretch beyond our immediate community.

All very serious. But here is a poem written about my first book. You can see why I say I am not Emily. But, on the other hand, so what?

The poet addresses her first book

Oh my little treasure, with your spine just like a real spine
and your two short footnotes; smooth, appropriate and small.
I would swaddle you in gossamer, rock you in a golden crib.
All too soon you’ll be waddling out amongst dangerous critics
(if one so angelic and slim could ever so perambulate.)
Strange readers may not see your brilliance, and overlook you
for the thicker, slicker, tarmac roads of easy fattening prose.
Those lard-backs, perched like obese babushka dolls
above the Muse’s cuter, lighter, cuddle-worthy spawn.

Hush, dear bookie. Drink deep.
No-one will ever love you as I do.

P.S. Cottier