The Killer Question – Part One

It’s finally September, which means I’ll be back at university in a few weeks time. I’m actually (as sad as it sounds,) really excited about going back. I think it’s going to be a good year. I do have time for one more project before I get busy with coursework and lectures and revision. I’m doing a collaboration with Inkwell Knight, which will consist of a series of letters between a psychologist and a man convicted of several violent murders.

We should be posting every five days, but we’re keeping everything quite flexible as we’re both quite busy.

We both hope you enjoy the project.

Dear Mr Empwood,

I am currently a post-graduate student at the University of Exeter, and undertaking a research project on the topic of criminal rehabilitation, specifically on how perpetrators of violent crime recall their actions. I have discussed this project with my supervisors, your prison supervisors, and with the UK’s board of ethics, who have agreed this project can be pursued with your consent.

You were chosen for this study based on your crimes and your admission of guilt in court not because of anything that occurred after you were imprisoned. The project will involve me asking you for written accounts of the crimes you committed, and also asking you to fill out various surveys both before and after writing these accounts. It will also involve me asking questions related to your treatment and activities within HM Prison Wakefield. This will be supervised by prison employees.

You are not in any way obliged to take part in this study, and your decision will not affect your treatment at HM Prison Wakefield. You may discontinue your participation in the study at any time. All of this information, along with my contact details, is listed on the consent form, which is attached.

Your participation would really help me, not that I expect you’re capable of much empathy after what you did, but then

I think you owe it to society

What was it about me that made you do what you did?

Yours sincerely,

Emma Atkinson.


Alastair’s Photo Fiction – Pinned


Copyright – Alastair Forbes

This prompt came from Alastair’s Photo Fiction Blog.

The sun moves through the sky.

Well, that’s a lie. The Earth moves around it. As I lay on the ground, with thousands of miles of rock beneath me, contemplating our planet’s rotation causes my body to feel lighter. I feel scared that gravity isn’t sufficient to keep me from slowly floating away. People smile and talk about rising like a star, but why would you want to ascend up and away, away from everything you care about? I feel like I’m about to fall upwards and be swallowed by an infinite purple sky.

My family would be lost from sight within minutes. My sister’s freckles would be the first thing to disappear, fading into her brown face. My mother’s anxious features would shrink into a fleshy pinprick as I move further and further into space.

Instead, I lay on the ground. I’m heavy and cold, but safe, pinned to the Earth where they can always find me.

The Library Book Project – 23 February 2013

To read more about this project, click here.

It’s funny how some words on a little screen can cause pain like real punches. I have to sit down, winded, and fight the instinct to cry. Yet, I invite these words in, I carry around my phone in my pocket, a little portal through which people can injure me at any time. Of course, only a few weeks ago, it was our connection. The tone it played when it received a message gave me thrills, and I’d leap across my bedroom so I could read the message you’d sent.

In those first few days, the communication was incessant. There were messages from you well into the night, and your words were the first I would read in the morning. You’d continually joke about my clumsiness. That was how we met, after all. When those books spilled to the floor, my face turned crimson with mortification. You were the only one around who didn’t give me a filthy stare. Instead, you smiled sympathetically and waited around for me to check my book out. We started talking, and couldn’t stop, so we exchanged numbers.

After a week or so, I’d be anxiously checking my phone every half an hour to see if you’d responded to my texts. Your responses were slow, half-hearted, sluggish and with none of your previous wit, like you weren’t paying attention anymore. I wondered what I’d done wrong, and fought the desire to text you back straight away when you did eventually send me something, ashamed of my eagerness.

You added me on Facebook at one point, and my heart rose, thinking this was a sign your interest in me was picking up again. There were a few good conversations, and you suggested we meet up. I laughed at myself then, about how worried I’d been about some stupid text messages. I remember how I felt when you kissed me. I smiled for the entire afternoon, and I really thought this would last.

I was surprised, hurt, and maybe a little angry when you didn’t reply to any of my messages after that. I couldn’t figure out what you wanted. If you weren’t interested then you shouldn’t pretend that you are. I told myself that was it, that it was the end of our small whatever-it-was, emphasis on the word small. I was a person, I had a life, and you didn’t just mess someone around like that.

It didn’t prepare me for when I was browsing Facebook on my phone, and I saw that you were in a relationship with someone else. Hurt, confusion and depression weigh me down as I walk back to the library. I post the borrowed book through the return point. I do it hurriedly, because it upsets me to think that the book has been in my life for longer than you.

The Library Book Project – 18 June 2010

To read more about the library book project, click here.

I take the brown bottle out of the paper bag and place it on the kitchen counter. I stare at the label. The paper bag crackles as I scrunch it into a ball, and the noise seems to be obscenely loud. I throw it in the bin, almost angry with the bag for making such a racket. My mouth is dry as I walk back to the counter, where the bottle sits. My expectations aren’t heavy but my desperation is. The brown glass shows my face, contorted like my emotions. I’m not even strong enough to summon self-hatred, just more self-pity that rains down from the clouds of my consciousness, free flowing and plentiful.

I struggle to even open the bottle. After a couple of attempts I laugh at myself. I sound hysterical and wounded. The noise is so pathetic it spurs me on, and eventually the cap gives way and I’m looking at the little white pills. These are not my saviours, I know. But they might help. And at this point I’ll try anything, anything at all. The doctor thought they might work. But they might not. And I wonder if I can wait long enough to find out.

Because I can’t do this. It is now 5 o clock. He will come home in an hour and I will make dinner and then I’ll clean up and then we will watch TV and then we will lay in bed together without touching. I will lay there and think. And think. I will try not to shake as I cry. If I wake him, he’ll be annoyed. Silly woman. Yes, yes, I am a silly woman. Nothing more. The thought makes me want to consume every last tablet in this bottle, so I can escape.

I can’t escape.

I’m trapped behind this face. This face is not depressed. This face calls the children and chirps cheerfully down the phone at them. This face goes to work and natters with the office staff. This face is a regular at the local library.

This face swallows a pill.

Writing, Stress and Escapism

Today my Facebook newsfeed is covered with posts about A Level results day. It brings back memories of last year, when I was receiving my results. I had been consistently  underachieving throughout my A Levels, but with some retakes and hard work, I had hoped to make it into my insurance university choice.

The day came and I didn’t get into university. As it turned out, I bombed the exam I had been least worried about and was one UMS short of the grade I needed in that subject. I sent off for a remark, and spent a week applying for apprenticeships, JSA and carefully avoiding all my friends who were celebrating their excellent results.

My remark came back, and I had managed to get the grade I needed. That, my friends, was the first time I cried with relief. Despite my shaky start, I’m loving uni, and managed to get a high 2.1 this year.

However, I felt the whole situation summed up my final year of A Levels pretty well. I constantly felt like I was being tested, (which I guess was true, we were assessed pretty much every week,) and I felt like I constantly had a teacher watching over my shoulder, telling me I needed to do better, like I didn’t already know that I needed to do better.

Add that to my three failed driving tests, various friendship/relationship breakdowns and I can say that year was horribly stressful, to the point where I felt ill. This was also the year that I really got into writing my novel.

Without a doubt, the two things are related. I desperately needed a project where I could escape, one that I didn’t feel judged on. Something that was completely for myself, and did not necessarily have an effect on my entire future. Eventually, I very reluctantly let my sister view my work, and the fact she was supportive meant so, so much at the time.

To be honest, sometimes blogging means I lose the feeling that my writing pieces are a chance for me to escape, but to be fair, I’ve not much to escape from these days, given how much I love my course and the environment at uni. It’s good to know, though, that if I ever feel that same stress again, I know where I can leave it behind.

The Library Book Project – 27 July 2009

To read more about the project, click here.

I try not to look across the crowded hall. Many of them will be sitting and eating, but some will be staring up at the top table, hoping to get a glimpse of the happy couple. Until I woke up this morning, I was under the impression that I’d float through today on a cloud of love and bliss. I expected to transcend above everything but the thoughts of my new husband, and how happy we’d be. In truth, there are moments I’m slightly bogged down with anxiety. I worry about the food, what people think of my dress, all the photos. The list of things that can go wrong is endless.

I feel this absolute joy when I look at him, knowing we’ve made this pact to stick together for the rest of our lives. I was nervous this morning. It wasn’t about marrying him, I knew that was the best decision I could ever have made. When he bent down on one knee all those months ago, I felt like my stomach was being vacuumed out of my torso. “Yes!” didn’t feel like a good enough answer. It didn’t convey that I was past wanting him. I knew that without him, my life would feel so empty.

The nerves were more about the fact everybody would be watching me, all day. This is the person who broke down with stage fright as a little girl during her school nativity. I was playing the role of a sheep. It was a non-speaking part. Walking up the aisle this morning was terrifying, and only the prospect of being next to John calmed me enough to get me through the wall of stares.

To my left, Kathy sips her drink. I smile at her, and she smiles back. It doesn’t comfort me after overhearing her conversation a couple of nights ago. Me, John, Kathy and Greg, (John’s best man,) were sat in our front room, preparing the centrepieces. We finally finished, and got stuck into some bottles of white wine we had in the fridge. John was on a night shift, so he turned down the wine and left for work. I went to the kitchen to collect the library book I’d asked Kathy to return for me while I was on my honeymoon. When I returned, I could hear Kathy talking through the door.

  “So, I feel like I’m the only one now. It’s so crazy, just a bit of paper really, but it makes such a difference… You do feel like you’re suddenly less important.” I heard Greg mumble something in reply. “Of course I’m happy for her. Overjoyed, she deserves him. They’re great together. But I’m allowed to feel a little sorry for myself, aren’t I? I mean, it’s the 21st Century, I’m 27, and yet I feel like Bridget Jones. Seriously,  I thought society was past this, but I feel totally invisible.”

I quitely tiptoed up the stairs, then loudly bounced down them to make my prescence known. When I came through the door, both Greg and Kathy were giving me false grins.

I turn back to John and he notices my expression.

“Is everything okay?” he asks. I reply that everything is fine and tell him I’m terrified of something getting spilt on my dress. He laughs, and I take a moment to silently adore him. This is our day. Noone else matters. But, I think of Kathy and wonder if it’s that kind of attitude she’s unhappy about.

The Library Book Project – 25 July 2008

To read more about this project, click here.

Well, that was awful. I mean, I never even realized people could be so rude. My first ever shift of my first ever job, and I’m already exhausted. All I thought about when I applied and had my interview was the money. The woman who trained me, Martina, she was alright, but the customers? Don’t even ask. The rest of my summer stretches ahead of me, like the days are being reflected by a fairground mirror.

It blows my mind that some people do this day in, day out and that’s all they have. At least I have college to look forward to in September.  (That’s the first time I’ve ever said I’m looking forward to college.) This job makes the prospect of A-Level maths quite delightful. God, A-Levels. I mean, when I first started secondary school, sixth-form students were like this whole other species. Frankly, even as a GCSE student, they were weirdly different from us. Like they were way, way more than a year or a couple of years older than us. I think it’s the lack of school uniform.

College is even more… I don’t know. I know that it’s supposed to be the same as sixth form, but everyone told me not to stay on at my old school, or I’d regret it. “College is way better!” they told me. “At sixth form they still treat you like you’re a kid.” To be honest, I always wanted to ask them how they knew. They either went to sixth form, or they went to college. How could they compare and know which was better?

Still, it gave a finality to my last days at school. I handed in my textbooks and filled in the leavers form. I had to ask the librarian to stamp a sheet saying I didn’t owe any books or fees despite the fact I’d never even taken a library book out. I stood in the very long queue to her desk and wondered why that was. I loved reading and must have read all the books at home twice over.

With that in mind, I’d visited the library in the town centre during study leave. The book I took out is sitting on my desk. It hasn’t been touched in the past two weeks, and now it’s almost time for it to be taken back. I’ll have to return it on the way back from one of my shifts.

Unfinished Poetry

Zebras do not make good poets.

Hearts are not fields.
They do not lay fallow.
The weeds insist on growing…

Can you see it?
Look closer.
There’s nothing left,
the greedy bastards took it all.

New look
Old hook
Hair cut
Same slut

“You’re beautiful.”
Tell me again
And again
And again…

The middle class boy who cried angst.
It doesn’t matter, nobody heard anyway.

The Library Book Project – 04 March 2008

For more information on this project, click here.

I narrow my eyes at the clock on the wall, calculating how long it will take me to finish this exam paper. It’s only been half an hour and I’m about two thirds of the way through my multiple choice question booklet. I know I’m in for a long wait at the end. I sigh, but not too loudly. The air in the sports hall is the kind of cold that goes to your joints, making the hard seats feel harder, the desk more unforgiving on your elbows.

When I’ve finished the questions, gone through them once and gone through them again, I take a sideways glance at my classmates. Most still appear to be looking through the paper, but a couple are idly arranging their stationary, clearly as bored as I am. I almost feel guilty for not going through my paper for the fourth time. After all, I’m a second year student now. This is the first round of exams that count towards the final degree result. This is my final exam of the season, and the stress gave way to weariness a week ago. Weariness bred apathy. I just want this over with.

When we’re finally released from the sports hall, my friends and I have the usual natter about how the exam went, then I begin to walk home. I pull my coat around me, but the chill is still nipping at my fingers. It’s mid-February, and spring hasn’t even stuck its nose out yet. The flat is much warmer, but I dread the think of the heating bill. My housemate, Sara, greets me. She’s playing with the iPod touch her parents gave her for her birthday.

 Sara’s the kind of girl who doesn’t have to worry about heating or electricity bills. That’s why the TV is still on, a commentary of Obama’s success in the Columbia and Maryland primaries running pointlessly in the background, while her earphones are still in. Her parents pick her up out of every scrape. I couldn’t believe it when she came home a couple of weeks ago with that iPod touch. It must have cost a fortune. I don’t know anyone else that has one. I’ll admit, I’m jealous.

I sit in my room and realize that I don’t know what to do with myself. I can’t get rid of that exam season niggle, the one that tells you that you need to be revising and making notes. I could drown it out with alcohol and pizza, call my friends and organize a little end of exam party, but the truth is I’m broke. Instead, I wrap myself up a little warmer, put my coat back on, and take a little walk.

The town centre isn’t far away, and as I weave in and out of the pavement traffic, I realize that I don’t exactly know where I’m going. I think about going to McDonalds. As poor as I am, I can afford a big mac as an end of exam treat. I walk down the street and noticed the library. I’d forgotten about this place. I’d signed up for a card just after I first moved in, but never took anything out.

I want to kill time, and since I can’t afford new books, I wander inside. They don’t have a large collection, and I feel awkward walking past all the shelves, knowing I need to stop somewhere and take a proper look at what’s on offer.

An orange spine catches my eye. The white writing reminds me of a coca cola bottle. I pick it up, interested.

Alastair’s Photo Fiction – The Smallest Crane You’ll Ever See


Copyright – Alastair Forbes

This work is entirely fictional and has no basis whatsoever on what happened to me last night.

This prompt was from Alastair’s Photo Fiction Blog

I’m wearing that dress I didn’t like five hours ago but my friend told me it looked good and as I drank it looked even better and it’s tight but I can still dance even though my feet hurt because I’m not used to heels this high and I have to be careful to avoid the pools of spilled drink on the floor and I can’t take them off for fear of stray stilettoes and my drink keeps jumping out of my glass and maybe that last jaegerbomb was a mistake and then he makes eye contact for a little too long and I look away but it’s too late and I can feel his gaze burn my legs ass tits before I feel him behind me and he’s too close but the crowd makes it difficult to move away and then I feel his breath on my neck

“Babe, wanna see my crane?”