I had a fever. Drenched in sweat, I turned this way and that, trying to get cool as the embers of the fire in front of me emitted their last glows of orange as they lost their spark. I knew I was going to die. All those famous names in history who had been burnt at the stake or on fiery crucifixes. Pamphlets, old furniture, animals and books they deemed to be unacceptable were thrown onto the pyres. They deemed me to be unacceptable.

I was gasping for breath. It had all gotten too much. I’d been pushed down, smothered. I couldn’t breathe. The thick, black fog surrounded me. I was choking.

Ashes to ashes, my cremation will take place here, out in the woods.


This is the beginning of a piece I am performing tomorrow.

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Sleep walking to their early graves in front of a flickering screen which deletes the soul click by click.  Demented youngsters awaiting their daily diet fed to them by the electric babysitter.  Infantalised logic with lashings served up on noxious websites, they smile those crocodile smiles, all the while bored out of their skulls.  They know the deceit of the playful rope.

Plaits in ribbons, tied with fortitude, tied to the naivety of youth.  Retinas burning with upside down images, they spatter dead insects on their faces, aware of what is out there; a lid lifted and cockroaches race one another, scuttling away into dark corners.

Knotted up by the suits, they can’t see a horizon here or in the distance, and so they drink oblivion before our eyes.  Sweet wrappers replaced by condom wrappers, soon they will make it all start again, the merry-g-round, the millstone around their necks.

But they were my feet that stayed under the table.  They were my eyes I chose to close, and I turned away from the flashing screen.  They were my hands that ripped the ribbons from their hair, and cast them down into the gutter.  It was me who took the rope and secured it around their necks.  It was my mind where all this began, when I chose to declare, “They’re not my problem!”  I kept it all to myself.  I kept it all to myself; everything I had to give.


I wrote this piece in response to the painting Stephen Irving displays on this page of two children with a skipping rope, whose heads have been replaced by skulls.  The painting is about stolen childhoods.  At the time, I played a lot with double or multiple meanings.  Feel free to check out Stephen Irving’s art, T-shirts and other work on his website:


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Stylish after a fashion with black lips to veil a pink heart, she blends in with the craziness around her.  In a fervour, go after her boys, drenched in sweat, or she will consume you completely.

Retreating, blacked and blue, an echo of what she used to be.  Lipstick smeared, her breasts recoil into the background, caught up in a net of anxiety, not able to break free.

“I am truly yours, if only you would set me free.”

Behind that veneer of despair, masquerading her secret, she is quietly blazing beauteous fury.  Disapprove of her, drenched in sweat, if you dare.


This was a piece I wrote for several paintings of women by North East artist Stephen Irving as seen on this page:

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Three Questions

  1.  Catherine, why have you been so quiet so far this year?

I haven’t been quiet!  OK, as far as this blog is concerned, yes, I’ve been silent, but I’ve been pretty active with my work with vulnerable adults, reviewing books and music and writing for different websites and magazines.  I’ve also been typing up notes for a novel that is slowly coming together.

2.  Who is rocking your world right now?

My husband of course!

I’ve just reviewed a hilarious collections of memories and short stories (What Is It With Me? by Danny C Hall), I’m addicted to the latest album by the Afro Celt Sound System, The Source.  I’m also loving the BBC drama Broken, written by Jimmy McGovern which explores issues of faith and poverty in the north of England in 2017.  Compelling viewing.

3.  What do we have to look forward to?

I’ve started to write translations and put my own spin onto them.  And of course I’d like to finish the novel I am working on.  I have a friend who writes for TV and is working on an exciting project, so more on that when I have more on that.  Otherwise I am continuing to write for magazines but also I am putting together some short stories and hope to get back into writing more fiction this year after having a factual year last year.

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There he is, shuffling around in circles, tucked up warm inside that long, padded coat. He followed me back here two hours ago, back to my house, as he does several nights per month. I always pretend to not notice. I pretend I don’t see him, but I do. I pretend he doesn’t scare me, but he does.

He did.

A quick flick of the curtains and I can see he is getting ready to leave. I look over to where my mobile phone lay on the coffee table. 22:51. I looked back to the shambling figure outside. He always walks in circles and pats his grimy beany hat before he leaves.

He patted his hat.

I grabbed my red bag – the bag I had prepared, leaving my usual blue bag on the settee. I put on the green coat that I had bought two weeks ago, deliberately shunning my black coat. In fact, everything I was wearing, including the hat covering my hair, had been bought in the last month, in several different charity shops. I had been careful to not visit any charity shops I had worked in previously, before Jim and I went our separate ways.

The stranger walked away. I couldn’t keep calling him “the stranger”, so I called him “Jim”. It was as good name as any. Besides, he looked like a Jim.

Quietly, I pulled the door shut as I left, hearing the local click home securely. I loved that sound. My footsteps were silent in the cheap trainers as I followed the path Jim had taken. The wind seemed to blow through the thin trousers, but I knew this would not take long, and then I would be home and safe again.

No one was going to interrupt us. He led me out, from my street at the edge of the town to the dilapidated buildings from where a petrol station once operated. The sign had been painted over several times by different businesses that each had hoped to turn around the building’s fortunes, but had all failed, miserably and quickly, leaving the stone shell fit only for failed lives to fill.

I’d known many of them; Sammie, Dave B, Dave C and Dave H. Dave was a common name on the homelessness scene, as well as Nick and Gary. Gary P, Gary T and Gary H. I knew them all. I knew them all, I’d worked with them all and I knew their stories. I’d given them the best part of my life.

No one was there for me.

I’d gone to the badminton club, to the local arts group, I even went to the Women’s Institute, and I gave up. No one noticed. No one cared. I used to go back home each night and closed the curtains, terrified. I’d spent the best years of my life terrified – or what I had thought were the best years of my life.

He used to leave his mobile phone at his flat, so he could deny he was anywhere near me. He used to wear old trainers so I’d never hear him coming. He was always careful in everything he did. The police could not touch him, not until they had evidence. They were nice, the officers were nice. They just needed evidence. They got evidence when I was admitted to the burns unit. I didn’t even have to testify.

I thought of all this as I followed Jim, and I did not feel any hint of guilt or trepidation for what was to come.

I stopped behind the low wall that separated the old petrol station from the road. I watched Jim go into the hollow building, to his bed for the night. I didn’t know if he was alone or if others were sleeping there. I couldn’t call it “living there”. They weren’t living, they were existing, and I know the difference well enough.

I stayed hidden behind the wall.

I unzipped the red bag, which was aptly coloured. I took out the pop bottle I had filled with petrol and I unscrewed the lid. Slowly, carefully, I stepped forward, step by step, until I was at the doorway of the petrol station. I poured out the bottle, my eyes taking in the raft of litter that covered most of the floor. I had counted on this – the mess that animals live in. I flicked some of the petrol from the pop bottle into the building, spattering the litter with the strong-smelling liquid. Some of it had leaked onto my gloves. I peeled them off the bumpy, ridged skin and threw them down onto the ground. The box of matches was a little difficult for my webbed fingers to open, and even more challenging was the task of taking out a match and striking it. But I did it, and threw the lit match into the doorway.

Lit match after lit match fell through the doorway, the doorframe like a window into a world of fire, heat and anger.

Walking away, I felt just as numb as though I had watched an explosive television drama.


Life was nothing but drama.

But now it was all over and I could return home.

Once my front door lock had clicked shut, I closed my curtains, switched off the television and picked up my mobile phone to text a friend I had met last week. There is a salsa class at the church hall and I want to go with a friend. It was time for me to get a life.


Another one of my “dark” writing group stories.  It’s not yet complete but it’s getting there.

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Sarah knew how to make someone jealous. It was deliberate, it always was. She knew what she was doing when she invited us all around to her house, showing off, setting us all off against each other.

Of course, I smiled throughout. It’s what we do, isn’t it? Sarah and Wendy had just been on holiday together. Morocco, and Sarah brought out all the holiday snaps on her phone as well as in an album. She said to me, later in the kitchen, that she knew I couldn’t afford to go, that’s why she hadn’t asked me. She went to touch my arm, but I moved away. I pointed at the new, obscure picture her young niece had drawn that was held to the refrigerator by two magnets. Yes, Sarah had said, Gracey had drawn what she thought Aunty Sarah looked like on a camel as the safari group trekked south into the Sahara.

‘Nice,’ I smiled bravely, and I went to join the others in the living room. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the willow pattern ornament had been glued back together successfully. I had told Sarah so. The others were pouring over pictures of the interior of a Bedouin tent. It looks musty to me.

‘It was,’ Sarah said. I didn’t realise I’d spoken out loud. Sarah passed me a drink of sparkling soda water. ‘We kept our clothes on when we went to bed. Goodness knows when the blankets were lash washed.’

‘They smelled a bit,’ Wendy interrupted.

‘A bit?!’ Sarah laughed. ‘They reeked!’

There they were, giggling together like hyenas. What’s worse is the others joined in. Why, I do not know. Pack mentality I suppose. I didn’t want the others to think I was rude or unsociable, so I stayed and I smiled and I sipped my lemonade, eyeing the other glasses. All the other glasses in the room looked identical to mine, but I knew they weren’t. I could smell it, of course I could. And I knew where Sarah hid the bottles. She thought I didn’t, but of course I did. Last year, I’d pretended to go to the toilet when she went to pour herself another drink. She’d had quite a collection, so she didn’t miss two bottles I’d managed to sneak into my bag when she went to the toilet. I’d needed consoling after losing my job that morning, and chit chat just didn’t cut it.

Chit chat was all I was left with now. Crumbs. A remnant now that Wendy had come along. Perfect Wendy with her office job and perfect hair and perfect dog. Sarah said that she and Wendy have stuff in common. I’d asked what stuff. Sarah couldn’t really answer, but that was where the line was. I’d crossed it, and now I was only invited around when other people were there. I suppose some people just can’t handle having a normal friend and normal friendship.


I was a bit distracted when I was at writing group and wrote this.  Still, it’s the start of something.


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The pound of rancid flesh hung high from a piece of string. Open-mouthed, the gaggle of children froze beneath it, looking up. From my corner, up in the rafters of the decaying building that had once been a family home, I breathed a stream of hot air down onto my upper lip. Disturbed day after day by the marauding youngsters, I got no peace. For my solitude to continue, I knew I must draw these dementors into a trap, and so I set one.

Driven from my job as I had been driven from every job, I had moved out from my shallow end terraced house next to the cemetery and out to the edge of town where the aftershocks of the failed steel industry were easy to see. Grass had grown over tarmac and ivy weaved its way up chimneys. Nature was busy reclaiming the land that had been stolen by avarice and ambition.

Ambition – that delusion after which we all chased like innocent puppies running towards their mother for feeding time. That bubble in which we all lived, for which we all lived, keeping up hope even after to government decimated employment sectors one by one; ship building, coal mines, call centres, the steelworks. Bit by bit, our traditional as well as our modern jobs went, followed by the vocations of teaching, nursing, firefighting and policing, all swamped with unnecessary bureaucracy, regulation and targets, the joy sucked out of even the hardiest. All that was left were cafes to prop up the elderly and their care workers.

Bit by bit, I moved my books and my record collection into the crumbling Barrett house, my belongings hidden by the long grass and low, heavy branches of the front and back garden. Bit by bit I rescinded ownership of my dull, immaculate home for this one in the wilds. I could get a tenant any time. Plenty of homeless families would be grateful for my one up one down, and I was sure two homeless families would rub along well inside its four walls.

For I was going Gaugin and the only welcome visitors in my new home were the ravens who sheltered here beside me. I had stolen a sign from an addict’s front door which I hung with a short length of flex from the frame where there used to be a plastic door declaring, “No stupid people beyond this point”.

Yet the little bastards still came. Often, they were the snot-nosed, ragged-clothed, under-nourished urchins bred from chain-smoking, pyjama-wearing, turkey-twizzler eating dullards who didn’t know which cousin however many times removed had been the benefactor of the sperm. Sometimes, though, just sometimes, the rotters who disturbed my peace and sanity were the tanned, well-fed ones in their brand new trainers and vacuous craniums who came seeking adventure. Now that the summer music festival scene had folded, camping in buildings such as mine were the only source of adventure for them before they went back to Mummy and Step-Daddy.

I’d tried scaring them, I’d tried asking them to stop coming to my home. They laughed at me, called me names, sprayed a can of pop in my face. I had no alternative.

Astrid had said, ‘Blinky, just move, Just go. Don’t let them get to you.’

That’s what she always said. Move. Go. Don’t let them get to you.

But it was Astrid who left. She said she couldn’t take it anymore. She’s married to a banker now. Married to a banker. But at least she can pursue her painting. She exhibited in Leeds last year. When she was with, she was always scratching around for loose change to put in the water and electricity meters.

Don’t let them get to you. Go. Move. Well I have rights!

I have rights.

They forced my hand. I have rights and it’s time everybody knew it.

I feel vindicated. When those little brats moved forward towards the piece of rancid meat, to take hold of it, to examine it, when they stood on those floorboards – the ones I had fixed so they would tip, tipping the children down through to the basement, down onto those spikes I had spent many pretty hours sharpening with relish – yes, when they flayed, screaming, impaled on those spikes, I felt no guilt, I felt vindicated.

They were taken from this perilous world, a hellish existence. They had no future; the government and petty, chain-smoking, pyjama-wearing layabouts had seen to that. There was nothing left for them to enjoy; no libraries, no music festivals, no jobs and no love. I had spared them from all of this, and now I can live in peace, until the next gaggle of urchins darkens my door.

This piece was written in a writing group where we were given several words to weave into a story.  This draws on my recent experience in the workplace and walking around dull streets in an area where industry has failed.  It would be easy to drop out of society, but I will keep going and trying to make the world around me a better place.  Unlike this fella!


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