Making The Numbers Add Up: 1


Just wanted to share some thoughts, as I have done before, about what the thought process was behind the short stories I’ve recently put out. ‘Unlucky Numbers’ contains thirteen tales, some previously published in smaller volumes. I reordered them slightly for the complete collection, to try and create what I thought would be a successful reading order. Here I will explore the origins if the first four in order of the contents. Be mindful that there might be spoilers; DON’T READ if you haven’t already read the stories!

A CURIOSITY OF KITTENS: For all of the stories in this collection I wanted numbers to play a part so that I had a frame to hang them all on. It meant I brainstormed a range of situations where numbers played a part. One of these was page numbers in children’s books, and how sometimes they count up or count down characters or objects as the tale progresses. I then remembered how mind-numbing and repetitive reading these books can be for a parent. On more than one occasion I had skipped pages when reading to my own kids, hoping they weren’t that invested in the narrative! I didn’t go so far as pulling pages out, but not far off! This made me think of a situation where the book might fight back. Once I had that in mind, the rest fell into place. I was just mindful that I didn’t want it to be too similar to ‘The Babadook’; hopefully it didn’t come across this way. Final note: at first they were puppies… I can’t remember when they switched to cats. I guess once I’d decided to bring curiosity into it…

ROMANIAN ROULETTE: Some of these stories kill two birds with one stone, by being written to prompts from writing forums that I sometimes use to inspire and drive me. This particular prompt was a vial of blood. I then thought of that in relation to number, and mulled over how I could create a story that incorporated half a dozen or so vials… that’s when I thought about Russian Roulette and the one in six chance of coming to a sticky end. If it was blood, not bullets, then it seemed obvious that I was dealing with vampires. It was then just about creating a scenario where vampires found themselves in this perilous situation…

TAGGED: Also written to a writing group prompt. The last sentence of the killer’s verse was the line that needed to be used – the last person I killed was the last person I wanted to kill. It then made me think about who the other victims might be and what line the killer might say – or in this case, spray-paint – about each of them. Once I’d solved that particular puzzle it was then all about how I got that across to the reader. I liked the idea of the pieces being delivered in flashback rather than in true linear fashion, I suppose because they came to me in that way. It meant I could try a slightly different way of unfolding a narrative…

FAR FROM THE TREE: Another one from the brainstorming session about numbers, I noted down the idea of all the generations of a family tree. What could be the story? What would we be counting? My own family – or at least one half of it – is very large. I wish somebody would do me a very helpful family tree! What I could then count very easily, would be the frequency of certain names: John and James in particular. Here the story was born – a name that occurred, just once, in every generation. Of course, it couldn’t be accidental… why was the name important? And what happened when you reached a certain number? I enjoyed writing this one, specifically in preparation, as I designed the full Crenny family tree, complete with relatives and ancestors that didn’t make the cut, all the way back to Harry the Head. It’s nice to get lost in the world of a story once in a while…

SO, that’s the first four. I’ll throw the next batch up here in a couple of days; give more of you good folk a chance to read ahead!

Portentous… It’s Coming!

I’m very close to finishing the first draft of my latest project, so there’s every chance that it will be out and available in the next week or so.

‘Portentous’ is a bit of a departure from my more recent horror writing and perhaps can be described as fantasy / sci-fi / drama… something like that!

It’s a project that will be a series, rolled out in novella / short novel form. ‘Portentous 1:Brothers’ is nearly good to go. It will be followed by ‘Portentous 2: Ghosts’ and ‘Portentous 3: Gods’ with scope for a lot more if the series takes off. The joys of world-building is that there is a lot of world out there, and characters to populate it!

Anyway, watch this space. I also intent to make better use of this blog / site moving forward, aiming for at least 5 posts a week. Feel free to comment or drop me a line.

Recollection – A Flash Piece

RECOLLECTION (500 words)

I was back in the old neighbourhood for the first time in ten years. A father’s death, regardless of your differences, brings you home. The wake was in the house and I’d taken as many condolences as I could stand, so had stepped out for some air.

In the same way that school corridors shorten and classrooms shrink if you ever return as an adult, the old streets and alleyways seemed tiny and insignificant when compared to memory. I walked on, smirking at the flashbacks and the inevitable comparisons.

That’s when I came across the front yard of Tyrone Lang’s house, or at least where he used to live. Sixteen years ago, when I used to run around in a crew – mid-teen, angry, antisocial – he had been the only person for whom we had any reverence. He had been ripped, muscles stretching cotton tees taut. He used to do weights in this very yard, and we’d just watch him, and hoped he’d favour one of us to spot him. A good seven or eight years older than the biggest of us, we were impressed; in awe.

He was a fearsome beast, and everybody knew it. I had a clear memory of him beating another man half to death, an altercation at an impromptu house party that had gone too far. I realised there and then that I’d never been more scared of another human being more in my life, even after all these years.

I wondered, but didn’t have to wonder for long. I’d been stood there for a good half-minute and that had drawn attention. A man came out of the house. Stocky, but with a belly hanging over his belt buckle. Shorter than me, and balding. As he walked towards me I could see I was a couple of inches taller.

‘Can I help you?’ he asked. It was the voice that gave it away: this, unbelievably, was Tyrone. My initial instinct was to scurry off apologetically, but then I remembered I was no longer fifteen.

‘Not particularly,’ I said. ‘I’m Michael Buchanan. I used to live around here.’

Lang nodded. ‘You’ve done some changing, Mickey B.’

I was surprised that he remembered me, but he must have, using my old moniker like that.

‘So have you,’ I said.

‘Not so much. A beergut and a baldpatch, but that’s about it.’

I looked at him again and concluded that he was probably right: it was me that had done most of the changing, mainly my perspective on things.

‘Heard your dad died.’

‘Heart attack.’

‘Got to be honest with you, Mickey. I’m not sorry he’s gone. He was a mean son-of-a-bitch if ever there was one. Good that you and your mum got out when you did.’

I wanted to say I don’t know what you mean, or how dare you! but instead I stuck out a hand and he shook it. ‘Thank you,’ I said.

Memory was a fickle thing. It was good to hear the truth.

All the Unlucky Numbers are in place!

Excited, delighted, and I hope you’ll be affrighted! My latest short story collection ‘UNLUCKY NUMBERS’ is complete! Thirteen tales exploring different situations where the order of everyday life is disrupted and the numbers just don’t add up…

Available for download on Amazon, and FREE to read on Kindle Unlimited.



Inside, it’s so delightful…

So, I have released some Christmas tales, as mentioned previously. ‘A Door or a Window?’ and ‘The Last Present’ are both in there. These two you’ll find in other collections also.

However, you have also got three brand new tales: ‘Secret Sandra’ – my take on Secret Santa; ‘Wreck The Halls’ – the perils of acquiring a Christmas tree; and ‘A Ghost at Burrows Manor’ – because every Christmas collection needs a ghost in an old stuffy building.

‘Frightful’ – the collection is available now to download on Kindle, or to read free on Kindle Unlimited.

New and Upcoming

So Volume Three of ‘Unlucky Numbers’ is out. Three new stories of horror and suspense (although one is a reworking / extension of a bonus story that was in ‘A Very Bad Year’ for a time.)

There’s also a Christmas one – ‘A Door or a Window?’ Haunted advent calendar, anyone?

I’m thinking of releasing this story separately along with ‘The Last Present’ from AVBY, and two other seasonal tales that I’ve got in mind. That might be out next week if I can polish those baubles in time.

The new year will see the whole collection completed, as well as the start of a new story, collected in a series of novellas. ‘Portentous’ – more sci-fi/fantasy than normal – will be out in January too.

Then there’s a novel, ‘The Deleted’… I’m hoping 2020 is going to be a big Barnard year!

More Unlucky Numbers

The second trio of stories – in what will eventually become a collection of thirteen tales – is now available. Download for 0.99 (£, $ or Euro) or read for free on Kindle Unlimited.

The stories are:

Romanian Roulette – a grisly take on the well-known game…

Tagged – a murder investigation with puzzle pieces to fit…

A Curiosity of Kittens – a children’s picture book that isn’t quite what it seems…

Links here:



Upcoming Projects

So a summer of getting stuck into some writing is nearly done, and although I’ve nothing finished there are some (hopefully) interesting things on the way.

I’m a quarter of the way through a novel, ‘The Deleted’, which has gaming addiction as one of its central themes.

I’m also working on a new collection of short stories, entitled ‘Unlucky Numbers’. Numbers, sequences, lists etc will be the common trait, and three of those will be out for sampling very shortly, just in the same way that I released stories from ‘A Very Bad Year’ at regular intervals before the final volume came out.

Hope you’ve left a little more space for me on your virtual bookshelves!

Another Flash

In response to the prompt: Alpha Male. 500 word limit.

Office Space No. 9

K’Fara-nu was shown into the warehouse; the motion triggered the overhead lights, revealing the exhibit. It took up half of the floor space. Its four walls – equal in length – were made entirely of glass.

D’Jaka-ta elaborated. ‘It is to resemble what was once their working environment; crammed office cubicles, no privacy, back-to-back desks… the tension in there is palpable, and often entertaining.’ D’Jaka-ta, curled limbs with K’fara-nu and led her closer to the huge glass box.

It offered a view of a devastated scene. What she was sure had once been orderly rows of desks and carefully arranged partitions was now a landscape of overturned furniture and destroyed hardware. In the centre was a pile of desks and chairs, arranged as if being readied for a bonfire. K’Fara-nu questioned it.

‘It’s not that,’ replied D’Jaka-ta. ‘It’s a vantage point. No doubt we’ll see shortly. Keep an eye on the remaining humans.’ Heeding the instruction, K’Fara-nu’s stalks twitched in readiness.

They toured the perimeter of the exhibit and found some huddled together in a den made of partition walls, the roof held up with long-empty water coolers. Pale and sickly, their business suits hung off their angular frames. ‘How regularly do they need feeding?’

‘We drop it in twice a day, but some of the weaker ones struggle to get enough.’ D’Jaka-ta waved a tail at the stacked boxes in another corner of the warehouse. ‘Prepacked sandwiches, mainly.’

‘I see. What’s this one doing?’ K’Fara-nu pointed to a female sat cross-legged near the glass wall. She was flicking and flexing her fingers above her lap and holding a fixed stare at a patch of nothing just in front of her.

‘She thinks she’s still working, tapping away at one of their computers. Sad, really.’ D’Jaka-ta slapped a limb against the glass, but the human did not break her gaze, or the repetitive action.

‘Is it cruel to keep them locked up this way?’

‘They did it to themselves anyway before we came. They used to call it The Rat Race, or Swimming With Sharks. Ironic, as sharks and rats are far more intelligent and would never do this to themselves. It seems humans couldn’t live up to their own analogies. Oh look, here he comes!’

Their attention was drawn to the vantage point. Atop of the structure crouched a male, muscular; his shirt tight, some buttons popped. His tie hung loosely around his thick neck. He barked out what K’Fara-nu assumed were orders and pointed aggressively to all corners. A chunky gold watch still adorned his wrist.

The other humans came out of their holes and ran around aimlessly, panic-stricken, without purpose but active nonetheless. ‘He’s the Alpha,’ explained D’Jaka-ta. ‘He still feels he has to demonstrate his power, even though they can do nothing productive. Those that don’t scurry he won’t allow to eat at the next food drop. Poor creature still thinks he’s in charge!’

K’Fara-nu slid back and took in the whole exhibit. She nodded. ‘I’ll take it.’