September 2019 – Furious Fiction Submission

Hey everyone,

Furious Fiction rolled around again at the start of this month, and I wrote something for it. My wife’s comment, at 11pm on Sunday night, when I needed to submit the piece, was: “Richard, you are a good writer, but this isn’t good writing.”

I would tend to agree, but I will leave it for you to decide.

This month, we needed to meet the following requirements:

  • Each story had to include the name of at least ONE element from the periodic table.
  • Each story’s first and last words had to begin with S.
  • Each story had to contain the words TRAFFIC, JOWLS and HIDDEN.
  • And finally, each story had to include something that BUZZES.




Neon Lights

“Sentimentality,” she said, “that’s the reason I did it. I wanted him to remember.”

“Remember what?”

“I wanted him to remember what it was like to really fear,” she paused, “I didn’t expect him to die.”

Alessia sat across from me in an orange jumpsuit. She looked both twenty-five and fifty-five all at once: beautiful blonde hair, made frizzy by the humidity of a crowded holding cell; day-old make-up that once covered and now accentuated the bags under her eyes; her streamline jaw tensing and releasing over and over as she replayed the events of the last twenty-four hours.

Even though the lower half of her body was hidden from me, a faint tapping suggested that she was nervously shaking her leg. I watched her face carefully as her jowls tightened and sagged.

“Why are you telling me this now?”

Alessia’s leg stopped tapping. Her face settled.

The silence was punctuated only by the buzzing of the neon lights, suspended perilously from chains that were bolted to the roof.

I smirked involuntarily.

It all created a nice bit of symmetry. Above, the noble gas was trapped in its tube, its electrons excited by a current, lighting up the room. And just below it the noble woman, dressed as brightly as the light, in chains and bolted to the floor.

Neither had chosen to be here, and the only way either would leave was broken.

“Why not?” she said, “What do I have to lose?”

* * * * *

It’s not like Alessia had never seen a dead body. As a good Catholic girl, she’d been dragged to open casket funerals, and she’d only vomited once. She’d never understood why they’d made such a fuss about her Nonno’s suit when he was going into the ground soon. Anyway, she’d said to her mother, I bet he’d find it funny.

There was a difference, however, between seeing a dead body, and causing one.

Years later and just yesterday, while Alessia’s mother cradled her in her arms for the last time, she’d said that “the police will understand. After all, you were defending yourself.”

“No Ma, I wasn’t.”

“Then what happened?” her mother’s voice caught as she asked.

“I remembered his eyes.”

* * * * *

Traffic roared across the bridge overhead and Jacob repeated himself, thinking Alessia hadn’t heard.

She had, but it bought her a second.

“You owe me, Al,” the affected sweetness in his voice making the situation even more threatening.

“I don’t owe—“ she trailed off and looked down the path home, blocked off by his arm. Her heart was in an adrenaline-fueled frenzy.

“Oh, shut up,” he pressed himself closer to her, “you don’t need to—Ah!”

The taste of iron filled her mouth as she unclamped her jaw, and even though the pounding of his feet behind her had died away well before she reached her house, a part of her had stayed there, under that bridge, and it hadn’t survived.

Poem – Is it such a problem?

Hey everyone,

I haven’t felt up to a poem in a while, but here’s one anyway.

Tonight I have been smashing out some 200-word vignettes for the “2019 NWF/joanne burns Microlit Award”. I have finished 2 pieces and am stuck on the third. I won’t find out if they win (they won’t), until December, but I will post them as soon as they’re clear of the winner announcement.

While sitting at my computer, stuck on the third I suddently felt like writing a Villanelle – and I love a good Villanelle.

As you can probably tell if you read the poem, I am pretty sick of being derided by most of Australian society as a teacher, and especially as an English teacher. It seems like the people who don’t like teachers really, especially didn’t like English.

Anyway – here’s a poem I just wrote. I like it, but the ending is clunky. However, by the time I realised that was going to happen I had already written all but the final stanza, so I did my best to make it work.

If you want to hear it in the form it’s intended then read it out loud, follow the punctuation carefully and all but ignore the line- and stanza-breaks, and put on your best “snarky English teacher” voice. I know you all had one at one time or another – English teachers can be mean.




Is it such a problem?

“Another English teacher writing poetry?
How quaint,” they look towards me and sneer.
“Is it such a problem to feel free?”

I ask, knowing what their answer will be.
But what do they have to fear?
Another English teacher writing poetry

is a common thing for them to see.
So I ask again, wanting to be clear,
“Is it such a problem to feel free?

Is it so bad that I don’t agree?
That while the blows land year on year
another English teacher writing poetry

might help your child know who to be?
Might help them be their own all seer.
Is it such a problem to feel free?

It was obvious – to them my words are paltry.
But from whom comes the question that they fear?
Another English teacher writing poetry:
“Is it such a problem to feel free?”

Ruminations on Writing – Blog Post

It’s been a long time since I blogged rather than just wrote, but I had an interesting interaction with a couple of students of mine today, and I wanted to unpack it a little bit.

As a public school teacher born and bred (quite literally, both my parents taught in public schools, although while my mother became a Principal, my father didn’t like the idea of actually teaching students as he was one of the “flower-children” teachers that came out of the post-Vietnam period in Australia), I come across students of all descriptions, talented in a plethora of areas, and – if you give them the right opportunities – ready to absolutely thrive. The profession has its challenges, but it is essentially the best thing I could possibly be doing with my life, and it brings me absolute joy.

It was absolutely pouring down with rain this morning, but I had organised to have a chat during my morning playground duty with one of my more talented students (and when I say “more talented”, I mean a better poet and writer than I have ever been, and only 16) about a spoken word poem she’s going to perform at a big event coming up.

The poem is seriously amazing, and it’s a shame I can’t link it here, because it’s a pleasure to behold.

During this conversation, with the two of us shivering in the unseasonably cold wind and being sprayed lightly by the icy mist bouncing off the pebblecrete standard to an Australian High School walkway, she said a few things to me that stuck out, and while I addressed them with her, I thought it would be worth just exploring the ideas here as well:

  1. “Anyone can write a poem. Anyone can act. Anyone can write. It just takes practice. What I am doing isn’t special.”
    Sure, as a teacher I absolutely believe that. In theory, it’s true. I don’t believe there is a huge amount separating the Terry Pratchetts from the others, but the bit that is separating them is integral. That bit might be drive, it might be experience, it might be opportunity, and it might well just be practise. If you write, try and write well, and if you perform, try and perform well. But who cares? If it were that simple, wouldn’t everyone do it? She doesn’t realise it, but I think that my student proved how special her skills are.

    We say that those people who do things well make what they do look easy, and young people sometimes find it hard to separate this feeling from even their own achievements. I think it takes time and maturity to be comfortable with success. If we are special; if we stand out, then we have to do something with it.

    I want everyone to write poems, and act plays, and publish books, but the key factor is they won’t. Most won’t, and because they won’t, they can’t. It’s not an easy thing to put your soul on the line, and when you do, no matter what, that makes you special.

  2. “Why does it matter anyway? This stuff isn’t tangible. How do you even measure poetry? Shouldn’t I be doing something more important?”
    What is more important than storytelling? We tell stories to our children. Ourselves. Our loved ones. We tell them to create maths problems, and build stories to explain scientific phenomena. We tell stories about our days, our lives, our loves, our embarrassments.

    Jokes are funny stories. Elegies sad ones.

    Our lives are just stories that are being told to us, and will be enfolded into a larger cultural, experiential, and human narrative that can’t be broken, no matter how small a part we played.

    It’s stories, all the way down.

    At my school in Year 11 (the second last year before the end of High School) we teach a unit called “Narratives that Shape Our World”, and we look at a whole bunch of different ways that narratives are constructed. From campfires, to oral traditions, to Dystopias, to Documentaries – even just in the space that the English curriculum has cut itself into the broader education syllabus we have multitudinous ways in which we can engage with stories. We only started teaching this unit last year, and on the second run-through of it, I am really starting to see the importance of what we do as writers, poets, and storytellers.

    As I said before, we don’t all get to tell a story well – for whatever reason – but we’re drawn to them no matter what. As a storyteller, we can keep our stories to ourselves, and we can hide them away. They are mine, and mine alone, who has a right to experience them?

    No one. No one has a right. They never have and they never will.

    But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try anyway.

    These stories we tell, and read, and view, and hear, they are stories that may touch some eternal part of someone. They are unquantifiable and intangible, but I can tell you now that the stories my Grandfather told me are etched into my memory like they are my own. I have sat in the plane with Yossarian holding the guts of Snowden, and I have cried with him. I have waited for Godot with Estragon and Vladimir, watching Lucky with bemusement and Pozzo with disgust. I have travelled with Samus into the depths of an unknown planet, and felt her fear when Ridley almost got us. I have watched as Dagon rose above me in an ancient ocean hellscape. I have walked the streets of a city that doesn’t exist with Commander Vimes, and I don’t just remember the words, but I remember the streets. The sounds. The smells. Everything.

    When Sir Terry Pratchett died a few years ago, I sobbed for an hour for him, and then for another one for the people I knew from within the pages. Tiffany, Susan, Death, and Moist would never walk the Disc again. They had stopped. Their stories were over. And just as we have our memories – the stories we tell ourselves – the old stories still exist, but they will never change.

    How can something that has such a visceral effect be meaningless? Maybe we put too much stock in the tangible. The streamer, Vinny Vinesauce (I know, stupid name, but we live in the age of the internet so you’ll just have to get used to it), that I watch has the following statement in his rotation of memes: “words, man. We made ’em up.” I mean obviously, but the fact we’ve been able to ascribe meaning and value to what was once intangible says something about the act of telling stories.

    But we made up numbers too. And science and time and everything else. So why bother? Because the further down we go, the less tangible and measurable everything becomes.

    Maybe we need more of the immeasurable, and much more of the felt.

    If we just listened and experienced the stories of others, we wouldn’t hate each other so much.

    And if you can really give someone else a story, and place it in their memory and their heart and their soul, well that’s probably the most important thing of all.

  3. “My mum said to me last night: [Student], you were on your way to becoming a scientist, or an economist, something like that, but then you met these teachers and you want to be a poet or an actor” and “I don’t think I should do maths in Year 11 and 12, but my parents will probably make me anyway”

    Screw your parents.

    Listen to them, and consider what they say, and move on. Hell, screw me too. You may be a kid, but you know what you want now. Follow that, and see if it works, and if it doesn’t you have a story to tell, and have learnt something.

    We have almost no time on this planet or in this universe. We’re a coincidence: born from nothing and turning back into nothing, and we don’t have a right to anything we have, but we have it anyway.

    Who has time to waste our lives making other people – even your parents – happy at the expense of yourself?

That’s it for now.

I hope if you read this is will help you to understand my writing better, and maybe help you to find meaning in your own writing.

Thanks for indulging me, it’s been a pleasure.

Enjoy yourselves, and tell your stories.


Prologue – Untitled Trilogy Book 1

Hey everyone,

Thought I may as well chuck up a piece of writing that I did at the end of last year. In theory it’s the prologue to the novel I have been (avoiding) writing for the past year or so. It’s slow going, and I find inspiration very infrequently. Even so, I am a little proud of what may be the opening to a novel that may or may not exist one day.

I won’t go into too much detail about the plot, which I have mapped out in my head and on a random bit of paper I have floating around in my study somewhere, but it should be enough to say I am planning the the novel to be set in Australia, a hundred or so years into the future – at least in the first book of the trilogy.

I won’t go on about it too much.

Enjoy, and feel free to leave me a comment with any advice, complements, or (more likely than not) criticisms.

Who knows, maybe I’ll be inspired to continue writing.



Australian Space Agency Launch Pad; Woomera, South Australia, Australia; 6:13am ACDT, 20th September, 2122 CE


Above the launch-pad the shooting stars that had glistened over the horizon throughout the night had given way to a subtle glow as the sun began to rise.

And for a moment it seemed almost as if the world wasn’t about to collapse.

The Australian Space Transport Ship Ark-10 waited impatiently, blowing recently evaporated liquid-nitrogen from its sides while it was made ready for departure.

“Engines cooled. Ark-10 on internal power,” there was a pause, and then, “T-Minus sixty seconds until lift-off.”

The voice over the speakers was calm and measured, but there was a sense of urgency that dominated the onlookers, some of whom had already been jostled into the shuttle-bus that would take them to be loaded into the next ship to take off, Ark-11.

If you looked closely at their faces you would see that they were scared, and that some of them had tear-streaks staining their cheeks.

You would see how tightly they gripped the hands of their loved-ones.

You would see the bribes of money and jewellery and information that was being passed between the passengers and their guides.

Oddly, it would be in only half an hour – if all went to plan – and they would have been shuffled onto the ship and sent on their way.

Not much had changed about space-travel since the first attempts in the mid-20th Century, and the largest changes of all had happened in the last twenty-four hours, when the news had broken. That news had sent people rushing to Woomera from all over the country. The smarter, richer, or more paranoid people had already arrived. The lucky ones had already left. And while those with the means had flown, looped, or even driven out to the middle of South Australia in an attempt to get onto one of the last flights off a dying planet, it was clear to those who took a moment to appreciate the gravity of the situation that only a few would ever make it off.

From Ark-10, a child who had only just qualified to meet the height restrictions looked out of the small window directly in front of him. The window faced outwards, but was tilted at a slight angle so that he could see straight up to the sky if he craned his neck backwards. For the last ten minutes the boy had been watching as the sky’s colour changed from a deep blue, streaked with light, through purple, and finally into the orange he saw now. What he didn’t know was that his seat was going to turn suddenly upwards, so that he was facing the nose of the vessel, as soon as thrust was applied, and he wouldn’t be able to see anything. Which, in hindsight, was probably lucky.

Actually, there were a great number of things he didn’t know, really, but that was okay – he wasn’t worried. The only thing that concerned him slightly was that he wasn’t sure whether his mother or father had gotten onto the ship with him.

Surely they had.

They wouldn’t leave him here.

“T-Minus thirty seconds. All systems are optimal.”

As time went on, the golden streaks above the world that had disappeared as the sun’s light got brighter began to reappear. Some people thought they saw little explosions, before light would blaze in pin-pricks overhead.

On the ground, a mother and daughter boarded the bus, but were separated in the crowd. Usually this bus would do two trips to load the passengers on board. They only had time for one now.

The daughter heard her mum call out to her, telling her to follow the instructions and that they would see one another soon. The daughter called out to her mother, telling her she loved her.

There was no response, but the bus was very loud.

From the viewing station a kilometre away from the launch-site – incidentally where the bus had just left with the mother and daughter – two parents looked on at the smoking vessel, a single pure-white cigar that would save their son. They looked at each other wordlessly, and the father held his wife’s hand tighter to stop his own from shaking.

Eight of the last ten ships had made it up. It was going to be okay.

The pair exchanged a smile, knowing that their son would make it. After all, they’d prayed together before putting him on the bus.

“T-Minus fifteen seconds. Ready for final count.”

The child had noticed that the ship had stopped vibrating. The whirring that he hadn’t realised he had been hearing for the last few minutes had stopped. He wondered who was crying, but couldn’t turn to see anyone. He decided it was his mother. He hoped she’d be okay.

He called out to her and told her it would be alright, but it only made her sob louder than before.

On the ground, the electric shuttle-bus shot forward towards the launch-pad, and the driver lowered the heat shields around the windows. They didn’t have time to replace the bus if it was burnt up by the rocket, but they usually didn’t drive directly at a launch.

The speakers on the bus played the final countdown, and all the occupants went quiet. Those who could, squinted through the heat shield near them to see the lift-off. There was a great deal riding on this launch – some people had family on Ark-10.

“T-Minus 10 seconds. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three.”

As the count landed on three, exhaust fumes billowed out of the tunnels that had been dug below the launch-pad as the engines powered up and began to thrust, held back only by the weight of the cargo.

On the bus, the driver slowed down by instinct, and braced himself for the heat as a shockwave hit the vehicle and the ground began to shake.

At the viewing point, the parents of the boy fell to their knees and closed their eyes, praying once more for their son’s life.

On Ark-10, the child was thrown backwards as the passengers’ chairs were moved into take-off position. He couldn’t hear anything anymore, so he thought the woman who he was convinced was his mother must have stopped crying.


Above, those not watching the space ship would have seen glitter in the sky – a huge storm of debris from the collisional cascade had entered the atmosphere as the ship began to buckle, almost lifting off the ground.


The only sound was the roar of the engines as Ark-10 began what should have been a long, uncomfortable journey towards the Martian colonies.

“Lift-off. We have lift-off,” the same emotionless voice reported over the speakers, as the debris-field entered the atmosphere yet again, and began to burn up.

Over the next ten minutes, a number of things happened. Firstly, the boy on the space ship, Ark-10 passed out. That was quite normal for boys of his age, who were not built to withstand the high-G environment of a space ship at full-thrust. Secondly, the parents opened their eyes, and watched with horror as Ark-10 sped towards the debris-field which was spreading across the sky, from horizon to horizon. Finally, the daughter realised that her mother was no longer on the bus, and screamed out for her while the others sobbed in sorrow and fear as their hopes and their loved ones joined the debris-field in the sky, and burned up in the atmosphere as they were torn apart aboard Ark-10.

August 2019 – Furious Fiction Submission

What a surprise, it’s been months since I last posted.

I have been told it’s important to write every day – in fact one of my colleagues tells me that if I really want to get my book written, I will need to do so. I know it’s true, but like so many things in my life I find it hard to find the place where my good intentions and reality meet.

Anyway, I am very grateful for the Australian Writers’ Centre, who give me a reason to write every few months.

If I can write a piece for each month over the coming few months I will be proud of myself. Let’s see how we go.

The prompt for August’s Furious Fiction was as follows:

  1. Each story had to include, word for word, ALL of the following SIX descriptions:
  2. One of these six descriptions had to appear in the first sentence of each story.

It was tough, and I was pretty happy with what I created, although I am yet to end up on a shortlist.

I did title it for the competition, but I have since forgotten the title, so I will leave it title-less.

Typical me.

I hope you enjoy reading last month’s piece. Keep an eye out for this month’s once the winners are announced.




It was the last thing we needed to get rid of before settlement in a couple of days: an old, scratched and weather-worn bench that our father had perched himself upon, cigarette hanging pensively from his mouth. He had sat there watching the sun set almost every day of our lives. Until the other day, when he just wasn’t.

That’s not a euphemism – we’re sure he’s not dead.

It’s just that he wasn’t anymore.

* * *

“He hasn’t answered his phone in a couple of days.”

“I know.”

“Or tagged me in anything awkward on Facebook,” my sister said, smirking and brushing her shiny, silver fashion-statement hair away from her eyes jauntily as the video-call buffered.

“I know,” I responded again. Dad could go days without answering the phone, but this long without a problematic Facebook post was cause for serious concern.

“In fact,” she paused, clacking on her keyboard for a second, “his profile is gone. I’m worried – we should check on him.”

I sighed, “I know.”

* * *

The weirdest thing about the house wasn’t even the fact that the door was already unlocked, nor was it that all the trinkets, electronics, clothes, pictures, and even the bills were gone. It was that on top of all of those things even the sweet and pungent smell of Dad’s cigarettes had disappeared entirely.

It was a smell that we wouldn’t have noticed if it had been there.

It was the smell of our childhood, an aroma that permeated memories of a man we tried to love, and who tried to love us. The smell wasn’t masked or cleaned away but just like Dad, it just never was.

* * *

The old removal truck had let out a shrill, piercing wail when it had come to a stop in front of what was apparently unbeknownst to us a property that was owned by my sister and I since we were in our early-20s. As the weeks after our father wasn’t dragged on, we discovered that according to the collective memory of our family and friends our Dad had left suddenly just before we were born.

Now the truck sat idle, waiting for the final possession to make its way up the hill, ready to be taken to Vinnies.

“You know what?” I asked with a smirk, collecting a now cold and greasy chip from the take-away box and sticking it in my mouth while I stared at the same sunset my father had watched for years before me.

“What?” asked my sister, doing the same.

“His butt still made an impression.”

She looked at me, bemused, and then looked down at the worn-out space that he’d occupied on the bench. The house was cleared, and he was gone without a trace. In every other way our father wasn’t, but like an ink-stained page an indelible impression had been left on this old bench.

And that, it seemed, was enough.

“Let’s find him.”