Writings and Witterings


Beyond The Pale

I agree with Brian from dVerse, the Carroll square poem is a beast to do!  Samuel Peralta is wicked!

Beyond The Pale

When he moves beyond the pale
he turns towards the darker man;
moves towards his blood host grimly,
beyond the blood mist, the gaols,
the darker host, the vampire child.
pale man grimly gaols child, defiled.

If a Carroll square poem works it can be read right to left and top to bottom. Below, I have spaced it to make reading it top to bottom easier and to show it more clearly:

Polly Stretton © 2012


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Flash Fiction

Last Saturday saw the final of the first Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe Flash Fiction competition that was organised by author Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn as part of the Worcestershire Literary Festival.  The competition was judged by Lindsay and by Calum Kerr, the King of Flash Fiction himself!  Calum had only recently completed National Flash Fiction Day and also a whole year of writing a Flash every day, you may have heard about it on BBC Radio.

Maybe those who didn’t enter this time would like to see the finalists’ work—there were nearly 100 entries from all over the UK and from further afield.  A Worcestershire writer, Amy Rainbow, was the winner.  Most of the flash writers were present on Saturday and read out their work, suffice it to say that Amy’s flash moved many people to tears.  Plans are already being made to run the competition again in 2013.

You can get A Flash Of Fiction, the anthology created from the submissions, from the publishers: Black Pear Press. Click here for details and scroll to the base of the page.


Review—LitFest 42 Special with Adam Millard

Andrew Owens

42’s Andrew Owens introduced Polly Stretton the first performer of the evening.  Polly read three of her poems, Shadow of Fear, Spilt Milk, and He Drinks Blood.  Two are vampire poems and the other, Spilt Milk, is about a long-term homeless person in the city.

Polly Stretton

Tony Judge

Next on was Tony Judge, with an extract from his book The Whole Rotten Edifice set on the Russian Front in WWII – Marta prepares to fight, (pp.20-25), her colleague, Tanya, is killed ‘her quivering boots playing random drumbeats on the wood’ – a vivid description of life in the trenches with the protagonists held as ‘a pair of fledgling raptors’.  This reading made many in the audience want to read more and luckily Tony had brought along a few copies of the book, just in case!

Michael R. Brush

Andrew announced Michael R Brush, who read two short stories, The Skeleton in the Cupboard and The Good Scientist.  In the first a cabbie takes an elegant man, the wealthy Mountfell, to The Nichol – Mountfell is described as a man of ‘splendour’, and as such he needs help. It transpires that the young ostler he’s been bringing on has a foul temper and light fingers ‘but no longer’.  We mustn’t spoil the ending for others, so be there when Michael reads this one again!  The second The Good Scientist, in which the main character decides he must measure and experiment ways of leaving his money, was another entertaining read.

Time for a break and a catch up with friends. Everyone was invited to come along to other events in the festival including You Must Be Joking, Flash Fiction and the Poetry Slam and reminded  that it’s all in the programme, on the web and on Facebook.  Andrew handed over to Adam Millard, the speaker for the evening, to ‘Talk about Horror’.

Adam Millard

The first thing that Adam Millard said was ‘’write what you know’ doesn’t apply to Horror!’  He said that in the Horror genre, there are no boundaries, nothing is banned, nothing impossible, you write it, it is.  Like many Horror writers, Adam believes there to be a stigma in writing Horror, some writers deny ever having written Horror at the start of their writing careers despite evidence to the contrary. But, he said, ‘People like to be scared, people enjoy it’.  He is scared of spiders.

Adam discussed Mary Whitehouse and her attitude to Horror videos, so-called ‘video-nasties’ in the 70s & 80s and how he felt about the films, in which, he recalled, blood was cartoonish – ‘you could see the baked beans in some of them!’ – lots of these videos were banned but copied and at the age of ten, Adam used to see them even though they were ‘well-thumbed, rewound many times’.  They could be found at petrol stations and corner shops – the ‘Mary Whitehouse police’ confiscated films like Evil Dead II.  Some years later censorship was relaxed, though as we know some films are still censored.

Adam particularly likes J-Horror and said ‘No-one does Horror like the Japanese, there are some brilliant films coming out of Japan’ and he likes the original series of The Twilight Zone.  He really rates ‘the Stand’ by Stephen King and went on to talk about the major influence that King has had on his life ‘Misery’,  ‘Carrie’ and ‘The Shining’ are amongst his favourites – however, he identifies that even the best writers can have ‘off’ times and views Lawnmower Man as pretty bad.  On the subject of Stephen King books made into films, Adam commented that there have always been awful adaptations of books, when a movie strays too far from its roots it’s never good eg Phantom of the Opera, ‘there’s never been a good film made of Phantom’.

Adam Millard had some tips for writers:

  • Excessive gore is no good but you have to disgust the reader.
  • Google maps is brilliant, you can write a scene from Google maps so use it.
  • Comedy and Horror go so well together eg American Werewolf in London.

He believes we’re in the golden age of Horror with contemporary writers such as Laird Barron, Craig Saunders, Adam Millard, etc, lots of exciting Horror writing and, Adam said, print is not dead.

This was followed by an interesting and informative Q and A session.

Following a short break, Andrew Owens performed a fine story about a lake and a girl who visits.

Suz Winspear

Suz Winspear, second prize winner in this year’s Worcestershire Poet Laureate competition read her story about an election, in which an electioneer is drawn into a house by a woman …

Adam Millard then took to the stage again to give us a story about a picnic in which many distractions occur.  Birds attack and a family flee for their lives; reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, it took on another dimension.

Overall, an interesting evening with many different styles of writing showcased and it was a very great pleasure to meet Adam Millard.  Do come along to the next 42, 19:30 Wednesday 27 June, The Lunar Bar at the Swan with Two Nicks, just £3 entry – always an entertaining evening at 42.


Spilt Milk

Alleyway Refuge

He scrabbles in muck,
down on his luck,
a sorrowful sight,
with eyes swollen, tight
from crying
over milk
that was spilt
long ago.

He scrabbles in bins
for his things,
searches for food
in places you’d
rather avoid;
get’s annoyed
when offered help
he doesn’t want.

He scrabbles in brick dust,
crushed, flushed, stuffed
between lath
and plaster,
amongst jaws of
wood that splinters
against a darkening sky,
searching, always searching.

He scrabbles through days,
endless days,
tasteless days,
empty days,
and lays
his head down
at night
in a box,

with eyes swollen, tight
from crying
over milk

Polly Stretton © 2012


He scrabbles through wood…by Polly Stretton



Babies born ‘in the caul’ (when their amniotic sack, or amnion, has not burst and remain intact on the babies head or face like a circular crown) are in many instances worldwide thought to be lucky, special or protected (JSTOR: Folklore: Vol.61, No.2, p.104 in retrieved November 2011).


There I was, hurrying through Worcester Cathedral grounds, late for tea with the Bishop. Suddenly, something flew past my head. I ducked instinctively, looking around to see what it was. A small dark figure disappeared into a grating.

The next instant another one jumped off the Cathedral. A gargoyle! It launched off sprouting little arms and legs. Giggling wickedly, it scurried past to join its companion.

‘Look out,’ I cried, seeing another about to descend. A child laughed and pointed at me crouched with my arms over my head. The child tugged at its mother’s skirt, she shook it off.
‘Don’t be rude, Wayne,’ she said, ‘the vicar’s only praying’.

They couldn’t see the little beasts! I pondered this, now praying fervently as another whizzed past. It tumbled by me chanting ‘Whee … born in a caul, born in a caul, you can see us no trouble at all. Wheee …’ and scampered to the grating. Another followed quickly. I looked up at the scaffolding to see if more were to follow suit. Didn’t look like it. Not believing my eyes, I ran to the grating.

There the four of them sat in a circle. Tiny, childlike voices echoed up to me. ‘He-he-he, we are free, we’ve got an hour, what can we see?’ With that, they all jumped out onto the path and, holding hands, set off towards town. I had no alternative. I followed them, severely doubting my sanity and offering up a prayer for the Bishop’s understanding.

They moved fast for such little blighters. In seconds they closed on a rather large woman bending over her full shopping bag on a bench. I watched in horror as one found a stick and poked her rear with it. She jumped, turning angrily. Then, seeing me, she blushed furiously, simpering ‘Oh, vicar!’

‘Pardon me,’ I said indignantly and hurried off after the little monsters who were well down the path, holding their sides and hooting with laughter.

‘Juggernaut! Juggernaut!’ they squealed, seeing one stopped at the traffic lights. Within seconds they were aboard, moving the driver’s mirror. He straightened it, puzzled. They moved it again. They took his keys; the engine stopped. The lights turned green. The driver cursed, reaching for his keys. Car horns blared. Delighted pedestrians charged across the road at breakneck speed. I joined them.

The gargoyles were now by Elgar’s statue depositing the keys at its base. A mother with a child in a pushchair approached. They snatched the child’s lollipop. He began to scream; his mother searched the footpath for the lolly. ‘What have you done with it?’ she asked him crossly. The child continued to scream while just yards away the lolly was disappearing into the gargoyles’ fleshy mouths. ‘Yummy, yummy, yummy, food for our tummy,’ they chuckled. A Labrador swerved, sensing them, his eyes popping as he pulled his unsuspecting owner into a lamppost.

A policeman strolled along heading for the snarl-up at the traffic lights. Irate motorists shook their fists at the bewildered juggernaut driver. Another rhyme floated back to me. ‘Once in every century we have a chance to dance round free. We have fun and few can see, save those who were born in a caul.’

They turned, heading for the hotel. I’d lost them. Through revolving doors I saw the four of them busily emptying a guest’s suitcase. The guest had her back to them, signing in. Bras and stockings flew through the air, the gargoyles rummaged through cosmetics, smearing lipsticks, emptying bottles. It got worse when they found the talc. I dashed in without thinking and started shoving things back into the case. She turned around. Through a fog of talc I saw her open-mouthed amazement at the sight of me clutching a pair of filmy white panties to my cassocked chest. The receptionist, galvanized into action, reached for the phone. I knew just what was happening, heaven forefend!

The young woman of the underwear found her voice, ‘You’re a vicar! A vicar! What are you doing?’
‘Don’t worry miss, the police are on their way,’ said the receptionist. The gargoyles gambolled with glee, giggling and winking. ‘He-he-he, now you’ll see just how long an hour can be. Back to the Cathedral, that’s where we’ll be.’ They left.

Well … what could I say?  The police arrived.  The receptionist pointed an elegant, accusing finger at me.

The policeman viewed the devastated luggage and clouded reception area, a look of wonder on his face. He shook his head, saying ‘There’s something in the air today. A lorry driver threw his keys at Elgar, held traffic up for ages, now this! In public! Come along vicar.’

He escorted me to his car. I saw the Bishop in the distance. Beyond him the gargoyles squatted by the Cathedral. I looked again and they were gone as if they’d never been. Someone, as they say, crept over my grave, I shivered. ‘Pon my soul, how am I going to explain this to His Grace?

Polly Stretton © 2012



Cute lambs  5

Back in 2012, over at dVerse, Gay Cannon asked ‘What is modern?’ and also asked us to write a Triversen poem—I guess we all have our own take on what is modern—it seems to me to be a word that is used in many different ways…anyway, here is my Triversen poem, the form was invented by William Carlos Williams.

Now, in 2015, Grace asks us if we have a favorite spring poem to share—so here it is again 🙂


At the start of spring sunshine
in May, a clamour occurs,
an ignominious din.

She sees the lambs born
on a cool sunny morn, stumble;
bumble, late in the daylight.

The sun rises at four,
red, ruby, gold glows up high
and christens the new-born babes.

It comes round, it goes around,
it returns on this morning
of joy, of hope, of new lives.

Polly Stretton © 2012

Over at dVerse Poets, Gay had us writing Triversen  in 2012—it’s harder than it looks—go and see for yourself! Republished in 2015 for Grace’s prompt about springtime.


And Now For Something Completely…

…different at least from me, on my blog.  Maybe you’d like to try out some of my favourite recipes?  To test the water, as it were, I’m blogging one of our family favourites today.  Tartiflette is great with a green salad and chunky slices of crusty bread to soak up the juices!  Depending on comments—or lack of—I’ll put other favourite recipes on from time to time 🙂


Tartiflette – acknowledgement to

Recipe: Tartiflette

Tartiflette is the perfect dish for almost anytime. Here’s a great recipe adapted from Sarah Woodward’s The Food of France.

For authenticity’s sake, try to get hold of a whole Reblochon cheese. Reminiscent of Camembert or Brie in flavour, texture and shape, Reblochon has the perfect melting quality for Tartiflette—it’s available from all good delicatessens in the UK and from larger supermarkets.


An indulgent dish—it’s important to use a ripe Reblochon cheese.

Serves 4

5 or 6 medium-sized potatoes
2 large white onions, peeled and diced
2 thick rashers of streaky bacon, sliced (I add a 150g pack of pancetta cubes too!)
25g butter
1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ripe Reblochon cheese

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 5.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil and cook the potatoes whole, in their skins, for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the onions and bacon in the butter in a heavy frying pan over a medium heat; they should sweat but not brown.

Drain the potatoes and as soon as they are cool enough to handle peel them — the quicker the better.  Slice thickly across.

Choose an ovenproof earthenware dish and rub it well with the cut halves of garlic. Layer half the sliced potatoes across the base, season, then scatter over the onion and bacon mixture.  Add the remaining potatoes and more seasoning.

Place the whole Reblochon on top. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 for a further 20—25 minutes.  The Reblochon should melt within its skin and the fat drip down while the potatoes crisp.



The Faerie Blood-Tithe

Faerytaleish Pin Contest

This story was inspired by an image on Anna Meade‘s Faerytaleish Pinterest Board and written as part of the #Faerypin writing contest (300 words, fairy tale based on one of Anna’s pins).

The blood–tithe is soon due. The faeries set out to steal a mortal baby and issue a changeling in its place. The faerie court want a blue-eyed, blonde-haired boy child to pet and cosset and keep for the blood-tithe.

They leave the magical hedgerow and go through the hedge, the barrier, the divide between the faerie world and the world of mortals.  With their green-stained teeth, sharp, pinlike, pointy; their bright spikily waxed blond hair; disproportionately large knuckled hands, thin fingers and tapered nails; spiteful little faces, and blackly glinting eyes, they merge into the undergrowth and move swiftly, silently in shoes of moleskin.  They carry a poor sickly little mite, blue-eyed and blonde haired, a faerie baby, the one they call ‘the good for nothing’, the changeling.

Into the farmworker’s cottage.  A wife and mother is pegging out washing, their target mother, none too bright.  They snatch her child from the cradle and leave the faerie changeling behind.
The mother looks in puzzlement at the baby, it looks a bit different, but how?  No, a trick of the light, surely?  She tucks the blankets around the tiny child, only a trick of the light, she shakes her head.  The deed is done.  The child grizzles in its sleep.

The faerie court coo over the tiny mortal, they pinch it to make it cry then pick it up and fuss over it, loving the novelty.  They chuck it beneath its chin to see it smile gummily up at them and feed it on nectar giggling when it becomes drunk.  The fun lasts until the babe is so hungry it won’t stop crying and doesn’t smile any more.  Now the sacrifice is made, the blood-tithe gathered.

Another half-dozen and they will be safe until the winter solstice.

Polly Stretton © 2012