I was invited to write the second story, below, to appear in an interesting and unusual project that used flash fiction to promote positive expectations of local government services. Gosh!
I chose to celebrate the mobile library service in my story, because the village in which I live is fortunate to have a visit from one every fortnight. Mobile libraries are invaluable resources, storing an extraordinary assortment of fiction, non-fiction, CDs, DVDs and even jigsaw puzzles in their limited space, for the benefit of remote communities, free of charge. They are especially valuable to those who have no independent transport to reach their nearest public library, but they’re also welcome to those who can’t otherwise get out very much, such as parents with small children at home, or those caring for housebound relatives who do not have the freedom to leave the village often.
My preamble is in danger of being longer than my story (the required word count for submissions was 350 words), so without more ado, here we go….
Every other Tuesday, half way through my shift in the village shop, I’d watch the white mobile library bus trundle past on its way to park by the village school. On its return trip twenty minutes later, the lady driver would wave cheerfully to me. In our narrow lane, the giant books painted on the side of the van almost touched the shop window, making me feel the size of a Borrower, which was ironic, because I’d never borrowed any of its books.
Then at the start of October, my hours at the shop were cut. Our takings had been falling since the new superstore popped up a few miles away. After that, I was always at home on Tuesdays, alone in my cottage opposite the school. I’d watch the library van park outside my house.
As soon as its doors swung open, school children bearing books would bound up its steps. Older folk followed more slowly, cautiously gripping the handrail with their book-free hand. When they’d emerge one by one, they’d all be smiling, large print books a common bond between the very old and very young.
As the days shortened, I grew weary of daytime television. I wished I could afford more bus trips into town, or to anywhere that would make my life less dull. Then last Tuesday afternoon I finally found my courage. Once its regular visitors had dispersed, I slowly mounted the mobile library’s steps.
“Can I help you, dear?” asked the lady driver, now standing behind the counter. It seemed odd to hear her voice at last.
“I don’t know,” I faltered. “You see, I’m not much of a reader.”
When she ducked behind the counter, I thought it was to hide her scorn. But she popped up again with a library card application form and a pen.
“Ooh, everyone’s a reader, dear!”she exclaimed kindly. “You just haven’t found the right books yet. We’ve got something here for everyone. I’ll help you choose.”
But that’s all I have time to tell you now, because I want to get back to my book.
Change the Ending is an intriguing anthology which includes the work not only of seasoned authors but also of local government workers who had never written fiction before, but were persuaded to by the project’s creator Dawn Reeves, a powerhouse of energy and inspiration. It’s now available to buy here.
To read more of my short stories, you might like to try either of my single-author collections:
Quick Change, published in the summer to mark National Flash Fiction Day, featuring 20 flash fictions on the theme of change
Stocking Fillers, just published this month, to celebrate Christmas with 12 humorous short stories
Both are now available as ebooks on Kindle, but if you’re ereader-averse, you’ll be able to buy them in paperback very shortly!
Following my recent appearance on BBC Radio Gloucestershire to chat to presenter Anna King about the notion of a butterfly mind, I’ve been asked to post the gist of my views about the notion here, for anyone who was unable to catch the broadcast.
The term butterfly mind is usually applied to people whose thoughts flit about all over the place, never stopping in any place for very long.
It’s often used as a derogatory term, but I think it is better described as the pessimist’s description of a lateral thinker. It’s a bit like the old glass half-empty/half-full analogy. Butterfly minds are not necessarily the sign of a scatty dimwit, but of someone who is interested in everything. The butterfly isn’t moving around because it’s got a low attention span – it keeps going because it gains a little bit of nourishment wherever it alights.
With a natural butterfly mind, I’m always shooting off at tangents in conversations, drawing parallels and connections with other things, as the diversity of posts on this blog testifies. Here’s a list of the most popular recent posts:
Having a butterfly mind makes me a very good lateral thinker and, if you’ll forgive what might sound like boasting, a great ideas person. In my long career spent in the hard commercial world, before I became a full-time writer, I had two key strengths – my way with words and my propensity to come up with new and original ideas.
These were offset by an awful lot of things I was very bad at, such as financial planning, wearing a suit without feeling imprisoned, and not falling asleep in meetings.
The Best Career for the Butterfly Minded
PR consultancy, which accounts for the bulk of my career, was a great niche for someone with a butterfly mind, because it actually requires you to delve into lots of different businesses and activities, applying the same set of skills in very different scenarios. When I was in PR, my clients ranged from public sector (NHS trusts) to retailing (retail pharmacy, grocery superstores), from food manufacturing (frozen food) to consumer goods (cat litter!)
Journalism can be much the same, whether in print or broadcast on radio or television. The anchors of magazine programmes must to flit about on lots of subjects every day and find links between disparate subjects when segueing from one topic to another. Whenever I go on BBC Radio Gloucestershire, I’m always bowled over the their consummate skill and deceptive ease with which the show hosts ply their trade.
Where Do Butterflies Go On Holiday?
Our main family holidays are taken by camper van, which enables us to flit about from one place to the next whenever we like, rather than stopping in one place. We seldom spend more than one night in the same place. We don’t use campsites but opportunistically find free places to stay without troubling anyone. When I get a moment, I’ll be writing a book about that too called Travels with my Camper Van.)
The Butterfly Minded Matchmaker
Another benefit of having a butterfly mind is that it makes you a good matchmaker – not necessarily in the romantic sense, but in terms of networking. Often when I meet someone new, I immediately think “Ah, I must put you in touch with such-and-such”. Examples:
I met the cameraman David James on Chris Baxter’s show recently and when realised his service would be just right for Read for Good’s purposes and also for the authors who use SilverWood Book’s publishing services in Bristol (who commissioned one of my books). I’ve since sent introductions to the directors of both companies.
Meeting Katie Fforde last year when we were both on a panel for Chris Baxter’s radio show segued into a gig at the Romantic Novelists Association’s annual conference, of which Katie’s president, to talk about self-publishing.
Having access to the internet makes it easier than ever to capitalise on the powers of a butterfly mind. It’s quick and easy to ping off emails and social media updates to connect people. But the internet can also easily sap the time of any networking butterfly: there are too many honey-traps, such as trending topics and intriguing hashtags on Twitter. Before you know it, you’ve got umpteen tabs open on your computer and you’ve wasted an afternoon.
Having a butterfly mind also makes you an opportunist. Butterflies spot opportunities more easily and seize them, making their own luck. I’ve done that a lot during my employment, both in formal jobs and in freelance work.
Having a butterfly mind is part and parcel of being a short-form writer, as I am, churning out short stories, flash fiction, blog posts and journalism, never dwelling on any one project for long. When I’m writing a book, the only way I can get it done is to break it down into chapters and tackle each one as if it is a short project. Before I tackle my first novel, which I’m hoping to do next year, I’m going to have to build up my stamina.
What Makes a Butterfly Mind Happy?
Constant stimulation of interesting things, new experiences, changes of scene – and that magic moment when disparate things in my life all come together:
For example, I discovered recently that my the flash fiction author Calum Kerr, whom I befriended via his National Flash Fiction Day event, and who comes from Manchester and lives in Southampton, has an aunt and uncle who live round the corner from me in my tiny Cotswold village.
Discovering that when I was in Fraserburgh, on the far north west corner of Scotland this summer, not only my brother-in-law and my nephew, were, separately, in town the same day and only metres away from us, but the next day when I was a few miles further down the coast in Aberdeen, my friend Cherry from ReadWell in Nailsworth was too. None of us saw each other, but we were all there!
I also get very excited when friends from different parts of my life become friends with each other in their own right – something that happens more easily because of the advent of social media, such as when Katherine, an old friend from my London primary school who now lives in Spain, got chatting on my Facebook page with my Gloucestershire friend Jacky, who lives in Cheltenham. Last year we ended up getting together in person and spent a lovely day together!
The Disadvantage of Having a Butterfly Mind
It can be hard to get things finished when you’re constantly getting distracted. I often find myself inadvertently overpromising and underdelivering, because I find it very hard to say no to things that sound interesting. For example, I’ve just got involved with the new roof appeal for our local church roof at St Mary’s Hawkesbury, even though I’m not religious, hardly ever go to church and know nothing about church rooves. But t’s a beautiful building with a fascinating past and it’s an important part of our heritage. What’s not to love?
Perfect Reading for the Fiction-Loving Butterfly
So now you know the real reason behind the beautiful butterfly on the cover of my new collection of short stories, Quick Change. With some stories as short as just 100 words, and none longer than 1,000, this has to be recommended reading for any literary butterfly. Mostly humorous, tempered with the odd poignant moments, it’s been gathering some fabulous reviews, and I hope you’ll want to read it too. It’s currently available only in ebook form, but there’ll be a paperback coming out shortly – just as soon as I can settle down long enough to make it happen! To find out more about the book and to see what others have had to say about it, flit over to its Amazon page via this link: Quick Change . And if you’ve read it and enjoyed it, you’ll make this butterfly’s day if you take a moment to leave a brief review of it on Amazon!
Do you have a butterfly mind? Do you love them or hate them? Feel free to join the conversation by leaving a comment!
New post about my two most recent appearances on our local BBC radio station, BBC Radio Gloucestershire
Showing off, moi? Yes, that’s not one but two radio appearances that I’ve notched up since coming back from holiday, both on our fab local BBC Radio station, based in the county town of Gloucester, 20 miles north of my home.
The Chris Baxter Show (27th August)
The first was on Wednesday 27th August on the Chris Baxter Show. I’d been on his Mid-week Mix before, which involves bringing in three local people to discuss the issues of the day. Having booked you in for a specific day, the producer, Dominic Cotter, emails you the night before the show with a list of the topics likely to be on the agenda, in case you want to read up on them beforehand. He reserves the right to throw in last-minute topics on the morning of the show, and if that happens he provides a quick brief while you’re in the waiting room before going on air.
This time I was in the company of two lovely chaps – David James, a former BBC and ITN cameraman now running www.cotswoldproductions.com, his own film-making business in Tetbury, and the Reverend Canon Paul Williams, Vicar of Tewkesbury. The advance topic list for our trio was very mixed:
the age that sex education should begin in schools
the same-sex kiss on the latest episode of Dr Who
the ice-bucket challenge and no-make-up selfie social media campaigns
our tributes to Richard Attenborough
the right age to start preparing for old age
regulations re e-cigarette smoking in public
nominations for pop stars to come out of retirement to do concerts
Mentally prepared for all of these (though with more enthusiasm for some than for others), I had to think fast to respond to a new topic on the morning: a retiring female judge’s pronouncement that if women drank less alcohol, there’d be a higher rate of rape convictions. As the only woman on the panel, I was the first to be invited to speak – yikes! I think all of us were much relieved when this was followed by discussion of ice-buckets, Attenborough and pop-stars. (We all had more ideas of which singers should go into retirement, rather than the other way around.)
Skilfully hosted by the always pleasant and fast-thinking Chris Baxter, the hour whizzed by, and before long I was outside on the pavement chatting to David James about common interests, including our enthusiasm for writing – he’s planning to write a book inspired by his experience filming in Afghanistan.
The Anna King Show (8th September)
The second invitation came via Twitter, where I’d recently followed Anna King, when she was doing an afternoon slot. She was intrigued by my current 160-character Twitter profile, which begins “Cheerful indie author with butterfly mind”.
Being of that persuasion herself, she asked me to come in for an interview about what it’s like to have a butterfly mind, and so we enjoyed a ten-minute chat in the studio this morning, in the first of her new morning shows. (They’ve just juggled the schedule: Chris Baxter’s moved to the 3-5pm slot.)
We agreed on the optimist’s definition of a butterfly mind: a healthy, wide-ranging interest in the world about us, and a tendency to flit from one exciting opportunity to another, gathering nourishment along the way. She did rumble me, however, on my bad habit of ending up with too many plates spinning in the air at one time, over-promising and under-delivering.
The show’s researcher Gemma kindly agreed to email me an .mp3 file of the interview, which I’ll post up here as soon as it’s available. In the meantime, if you’re in the UK, you can listen to the interview any time during the next seven days via this BBC iplayer link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p025gxxd.
To read the earlier post about my appearance on the Midweek Mix broadcast from the Cheltenham Festival, please click Walking on Air.