The CWA Anthology: Mystery Tour

Pretty much the first thing I did when I got my first book deal was to send off a copy of my contract to The CWA, along with my application to join. In 2014, I was shortlisted for the very first Margery Allingham short story competition (and that story has since gone on to be published in esteemed US journal Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine). So you can imagine how delighted I was to find out I’d be having a short story included in the latest CWA anthology! It’s called Mystery Tour, and it features stories that are linked in some way by travel. It includes stories by an incredible selection of crime, thriller and mystery writers . . . and me!

My story is called A Slight Change of Plan. It’s about two old friends who meet up to go hiking, and of course, it doesn’t end well. I wrote the first version of this story a few years ago, when my husband had gone away for the weekend to go hiking with his friend. I started thinking about all the things that could happen, and a dastardly plot started to unfurl in my mind. The two characters popped into my head straight away – a bolshy, vain pain in the arse, and his long-suffering slightly geeky old friend (not based on anyone I know!) But things are never what they seem, are they? When I saw the brief for this year’s anthology, I knew this was the right story. I rejigged it a bit until I was happy with it, and then sent it off. When I heard back from the editor Martin Edwards and the publisher Karen Sullivan (Orenda Books) that it had made the cut, I was so excited! The books look absolutely gorgeous (paperback and limited edition hardback – plus ebook, of course) and all of the stories in there are top notch. Perfect for a Christmas gift for yourself, maybe – there might be some authors in there you haven’t read before . . .

. . . and in case you were wondering – my husband and his friend did make it back safely from that hike 🙂

You can buy the book HERE.

Oh, and I went in to sign a huge pile of hardback copies at Goldsboro Books last week (another author dream come true!)

My latest crime novel The Deaths of December comes out on 16th November.

You can pre-order it HERE.

Greedy George

SO… I decided to start writing some flash fiction again, and as Miranda is already running #MidWeekFlash with photo prompts, this seemed like a good place to start. Right. It’s been a while. Deep breath. Here goes…


Greedy George

George took a bite of his burger and felt the grease oozing down his chin. OH GOD IT TASTES SO GOOD. George had been a vegetarian for 27 years. Ever since that school fete where his (ex) best friend, Harry Baudsley had eaten a burger from the van and puked chunky yellow vomit all over George’s brand new trainers. Two cycles through the washing machine and they were clean, but the logo had faded and it was obvious that they were nothing but cheap fakes.

Like George.

It’s not what he’d planned for himself in life. When the teacher had asked him, aged 10, what he wanted to be, he’d said A LAWYER, LIKE MY DAD (because back then, it seemed like his dad could do no wrong, and it was like that right up until the day when he got arrested for some dull and boring tax evasion and his mum had told him to ROT IN HELL.) So George had taken another route, and anyway, being a con man was a hell of a lot more fun than being a lawyer, right?

He’d done well on this latest venture: THE HOLIDAY SCAM. It’s amazing how gullible people can be when they let their greed cloud their pea-size brains. He used one of those buy and sell websites, always a different name, different email, but the same old story – I can’t make this amazing 5-star luxury holiday due to illness but I forgot to take out insurance, I can  transfer it to you, and I don’t mind losing out… if you want to take my place, CALL ME. He took more calls than his cheap phone could handle. He fleeced more fools than a box full of foolish.

Then he got greedy… too greedy… as greedy as the greediest of the greedy fools.

He tried a new scam. It involved his own magical mystery tour. He set up a fake outdoor adventure company. Got people to turn up to a secret location, where he’d trick them and rob them and leave them to find their own way home – miles away, with nothing but the clothes on their backs – no money, no phones… and when they made it home, they’d look for his number and it’d be gone. His website would be gone, always rerouted some way that no one could ever find it.

Every time he made bundle of cash, he’d stroll down to the park, and he’d sit by the burger van, under the canopy of dark, spindly trees… and let the smell of frying onions tempt him in… but he never touched one. He still couldn’t get the image of Harry Baudsley and the yellow vomit on his brand new trainers out of his head.


‘Hey…’ the man from the van called to him. ‘I see you here all the time. How come you never eat one of my delicious burgers? I’m offended!’

‘Nah, nah,’ George said. ‘I don’t eat meat. I’m a vegetarian.’

‘SURE you are,’ the man from the van said. ‘Until you try one of these…’

George stared at the man. There was something weird about his eyes. Something shiny and twirling and bewitching. He stared, and found he couldn’t look away. Eventually, he said, ‘Sure… OK. Maybe just a bite.’

So he took that bite, and let the grease run down his chin, and he flashed back to the image of Harry and the trainers and he blinked and blinked, let the smell of the frying onions lift him away… and he felt great. FOR A MOMENT. Then he started to feel swirly and dreamy. The burger dropped from his hand, although he didn’t feel himself letting go of it. The man from the van came out around the other side and he spoke, but his voice seemed to come from far, far away… and he said:

‘You don’t remember me, do you?’

And as George fell to the floor, he remembered… he remembered the first man that he conned for £5000 for the holiday to the Maldives that never existed… the man who said he was taking his wife, and his sick child, because it might be their last ever holiday together, the man who said he would GET HIM for this, ONE DAY…


The last thing George saw was the shapes of the trees, their swirling twirling branches as they spun round and round, their vine-like tips caressing and strangling and choking. Until the last few breaths fizzed and popped from him as his cheap fake life slithered into the damp grass, leaving nothing but a greasy stain.

* * *

You can read the other entries HERE.

A Hallowe’en Tale

She knew she looked good. Her long dark hair was straightened as smooth as silk, her deep violet eyes ringed with black kohl. She wore a perfect little-black-dress – the type that hugs in all the right places, showing just enough of her milky cleavage to tantalise without looking provocative. A dark cape with deep pockets. Black tights, black lace-up boots… and at black velvet hat – not a witches hat, as such – but some might say that’s what it looked like.

It was Hallowe’en, after all.

She left home at seven, the night already dark but for the amber glow of the streetlights and the headlamps of the passing traffic. Almost every pub she passed by was advertising their spooky parties. Ghoulish decoration in the windows, face cobwebs and green fabric tossed over lamps. Nights of scary fun and drinks mixed to look like blood and ooze.

But she wasn’t going to the pub. She wasn’t even going to a party.

What she loved about Hallowe’en night was the anticipation – the costumes – the crowds of children with their long-suffering parents, carrying pumpkin shaped buckets to collect their trick or treat wares. The teenagers preparing to scare people in alleyways… and the older ones – the pub goers – all set for a night of drinking and dancing and apple bobbing. Witches snogging skeletons in doorways. Zombies smoking fags in beer gardens.

She reached the park, where it became darker, less lit. She hesitated, only briefly. Who might be lurking in the shadows? Not those out for Hallowe’en cheer… there were sinister people who hung around at all times of day any night, waiting to see what the darkness might bring them.

The first one was pretty tame. ‘Hey sexy, where’s your broom?’

She fought the urge to turn and look. Picked up the pace, just a bit.

‘Hello gorgeous, fancy a drink?’

‘Baby… where you going all dressed up?’

‘Nice hat, sugar…’

‘Nice tits, baby…’

She crossed her arms over her chest, irritated now. Felt the heat in her cheeks. She looked down at the path, kept walking, faster now, faster. Until…


She felt like she’d walked into a wall. Stumbled back, dazed. Felt arms grabbing at her.

‘Hey darlin’, you wanna watch where you’re going…’ she looked up into yellowing eyes, took a step back. ‘Fancy a coffee, sexy? You can come back to my place if you like?’

Low whispers. Sniggers from behind the trees. She felt a change in the air.

It was time.

‘You know what? That’s exactly what I’d like to do. Where’s your place?’

Yellow-eyes took a step back. She saw confusion flit across his face, before he smiled at her, revealing a row of rotten teeth.

She felt her heart thumping in her chest. She swallowed.

This is it.

She had to fight hard to control herself, the feeling was so strong. She slid a hand into her pocket. Took a deep breath, trying to steady her nerves. She’d been looking forward to this night for weeks… months even. Since the last time she’d walked around the park. Since the last time she’d had to listen to them calling her, beckoning her… luring her.

Yellow-eyes placed a hand on her shoulder, guiding her towards the other side of the park.

‘This way, gorgeous,’ he said.

She said nothing. Let herself be led. She took his hand, gripped it tight.

In her other hand, deep in her pocket, she gripped the carving knife.

‘This is going to be so much fun,’ she said, grinning.

Yellow-eyes grinned back, oblivious.

* * *

Published in Deadlier: 100 of the Best Crime Stories Written by Women (ed Sophie Hannah)

Five Sentence Fiction – Darkness

Five Sentence Fiction is about packing a powerful punch in a tiny fist. Each week, Lillie McFerrin posts a one word inspiration, then anyone wishing to participate will write a five sentence story based on the prompt word. This week’s prompt is DARKNESS.

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 10.34.26

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I haven’t done this for a very long time, and I love the photo… so here goes:

The Storm

I cower under a rock, sheltering from the dark, swirling storm that threatens to lift me up and shatter me into tiny pieces.

The clouds bloom like poison gases, and I wrap my arms around myself, trying to keep in the warmth; to stop myself from shaking.

I know now what a terrible mistake I’ve made, opening that box.

The shadowy figure of Pandora appears before me – beautiful, yet murderous… and she’s angry.

So very angry.

National Flash Fiction Day 2014: The Bokeh of Flash

To celebrate National Flash Fiction Day, I’m delighted to share a beautiful post from one of the masters, Kevlin Henney – winner of Crimefest’s FlashBang Competition 2014 (which you can read here) and many more things besides. What is flash fiction? Read Kevlin’s post and you might just become hooked…
The Bokeh of Flash
by Kevlin Henney

It’s natural — even inevitable — to compare one means of expression, one form, one artistic approach with another. We compare to explain, to justify, to understand, to illuminate, to inspire. Flash fiction invites many such comparisons because it seems to lie outside what is traditionally promoted as fiction, even though the tradition of novels and short stories and, indeed, written fiction is itself quite young. In age — or youth — it is perhaps fairer to compare written fiction with photography and cinema than poetry, plays and storytelling.

Where a novel might be a full-length film, whether art house and understated or Hollywood and overblown, a short story takes us into the realm of cinematic shorts, anything from a few Vimeo minutes to a half-hour cinematic immersion. Against this, flash fiction is the animated GIF, the vine, the blipvert, a couple of YouTube minutes at most. The boundary between flash fiction and short stories is blurred at the upper end — by convention 1000 words is commonly accepted as the flash top floor, but it could just as easily be 750 or 1250 depending on who you talk to — but sharper at the lower end — the hundred-word precision of a drabble, the fifty-word drop of a dribble.

Unlike a film, however, a written story is static. A story has movement and time, but the breath of life comes from the reader as their eyes travel the words, sentences, ideas and characters. Photographs take in sweeping landscapes, family snaps, posed portraits, street moments, taken with anything from what you happen to have in your pocket to cameras whose price tag will empty your pocket and more, cropped, tinted, processed or left alone to tell their story. The word flash also suggests the illumination of a moment in all its depth, relying on the viewer to see the motion and larger world in a photograph in their mind.

Photographs can be sharp and richly detailed HDR images, just as stories can be lush with description and detail, taking in big plots and panoramas, everything in focus. But a photographer can also choose to single something out with a shallow depth of focus that leaves everything outside the focal plane blurred and set apart, trading pixel perfect fidelity and completeness for contrast and separateness, the subject of interest accentuated all the more.

In photography the out-of-focus quality is known as bokeh, derived from the Japanese boke (ボケ) meaning blur or boke-aji (ボケ味) meaning blur quality. With poor bokeh the blurring of detail is a distraction and does not serve the picture well; with good bokeh it makes the picture.

So it is with flash fiction.

Across a handful of words a story is drawn, the greater world it lives in no more than suggested, at best sketched. The context for a given piece of flash fiction lacks the detail and focus given to the story in the foreground. But this blurring, this incompleteness and implication, this necessary and greater elaboration in the mind of the reader must serve to support the story all the more. It has a very particular quality to it that distinguishes it from longer forms: good flash fiction has good bokeh.

Pop over to the FlashFlood Journal today, to see a constant stream of flashes from writers from all over the world. Happy, sad, funny, light, dark and quirky – there is something for everyone in this year’s flood. Enjoy!

Interaction – A #horrorbites tale

I couldn’t resist this one… The photo comes from this week’s Horror Bites challenge – hosted by the Queen of Horror, LE Jamez. Hope you enjoy!


Katie was terrified of the dentist. Whenever she’d gone there in the past, she’d had to drink half a bottle of gin and have someone take her by the hand until she was sitting in the chair. Her dentist, a man called Mr Saltings, had always indulged her semi-drunken state with a tight-lipped smile and never given her anaesthetic. Injecting only water into her gums instead of novocaine had a placebo effect, it seemed. He’d told her this one day, when he’d come into her shop and she’d blurted out a question about drug-drug interations and the dangers of overdose. Katie was a pharmacist. She knew about these things.

Shortly after this revelation, Katie was eating a corn on the cob when she found blood on her napkin and a felt that familiar wobbling at the back of her mouth. Knowing what she now knew – that the old coot, Saltings would give her nothing more for the pain – she decided to deal with the matter herself. A piece of string tied to a door handle, a few glugs from a bottle of Gordons’ (no tonic), and a kick to the door. She’d seen it on TV. How hard could it be? Better than the leering, sneering face of Saltings, too close to hers as he poked about inside her mouth with all manner of metal prongs and prodders.

The pain was far, far worse than she expected. The blood too. Oh god – the blood! She was relieved when she saw the furniture start to slither and swim in front of her; when she felt her legs turn to jelly, before everything went dark. Before strong arms took her.

She wasn’t sure if it was the gin or the shock, but when she woke, she was no longer inside her own body. She could see herself, lying back in that cracked leather chair. The trays on swivel arms around her, laden with implements. Knives and sticks and fat cotton tubes. The bright light was tipped over to the side, giving her a clear view of her own face – her eyes, tight shut. Strips of white tape keeping them that way. Her mouth was held open with sharp metal clamps. Her hands, balled into fists, by her sides – buckled fast to the chair with leather straps; two similar ones round her ankles.

No! No! She tried to scream, tried to move – but the Katie in the chair was oblivious; bottle of gin lying empty in the waste bin beneath her feet. The Katie in the air wasn’t real. She was just a dream – a hallucinatory dream… what was it Saltings had said that day? Next time I’ll give you the drug, Katie. Gin or not. You’ll see. You’ll see then. She did see then – saw the hulking shadow of him as he came into view, pliers in hand. Grin on his face. The plink plink sound, as he dropped two more teeth into the little metal dish next to sleeping Katie’s head.

Little One – A Short Story

I wrote this a while ago but has never been posted anywhere before… it’s a little bit creepy… hope you enjoy.

Little One

There was something about the house that had drawn Alice in. Maybe it was the warmth of sun through the window of the front room; or the way the front door seemed to sigh with pleasure when she pulled it shut, locking her inside with the Victorian fireplace and the tarnished brass doorknobs.

Alice had always loved a challenge; and after spending so many years in far flung places, she was glad to have a little space of her own. Even if it did need a complete overhaul. After learning so many things on her travels, she hoped to do most of it herself. It wasn’t just about teaching when you were in a small village in the middle of the African plains. There was everything else that went with living in such a place. Helping to re-build a school with packed-mud bricks was a lesson in life. Those smiling faces had made the resulting backache more than worthwhile.

She would miss it. But she couldn’t stay there forever. When Kitty had died, something had died with her. She felt drawn back to her hometown, to the familiarity of her own people; though none even knew she’d had a child, never mind that she’d lost her so tragically in a flash flood. They’d never found the body.  In a way, Alice was glad no one really remembered her. She relished the fresh start; a time to mourn in quiet.

She tackled the small jobs first. Buffing the green off the brass and making it shine like gold lifted her spirits; freshening her mind so she could focus on the bigger tasks at hand. The one thing she would definitely need help with.

At first she’d thought it was the bulbs, so she’d replaced them all. But still the lights flickered. Plumbing, plastering, painting and papering – anyone could do those things with a bit of time and effort. But electrics – no. She’d seen the results of amateur electricians and it was never a pretty sight.

She’d found him online: Customer recommendations, discount on call-out fee. The knock at the door came just as she was unloading the last of the washing. She was already impressed: he’d even turned up on time.

“Hello,” he said, flashing an ID card bearing a smiling picture of his face and a number of acronyms that said he was part of all the appropriate professional bodies.

Alice opened the door wide, smiling.

“I’m David,” he said, “not Dave… sets me apart from all the other tradesmen.” He had a gleam in his eye and Alice liked it. A bit of charm never went amiss. Then he cocked his head to the side, looking into the hall, and said “hello,” again, and this made Alice frown. Now she wondered if it wasn’t charm at all, and actually he was just a bit odd. She ignored it, ushering him in to the living room, and the door made its usual swish as she closed it.

“As I said on the phone, it’s just the downstairs lights that are flickering. The living room mainly. But if you could do a general check of the whole house…”

His eyes swept around the room. “Of course,” he said. “It’ll take a bit of time though.” Then he cast his eyes down towards the fireplace, and winked.

A tick, Alice thought. Well, two, actually. The repeating things… the winking… Some form of Tourette’s? Alice had seen all sorts. She was fascinated by the quirks of the human condition.

“Fine… well I’ll leave you to it,” Alice said. She glanced back to see him crouched down by the fireplace, unloading various tools and instruments from his bag. He appeared to be talking to himself, but so quietly she couldn’t hear what he was saying.

Make that three, Alice thought.

She busied herself in the kitchen while he worked. She heard the clicks as he shut off each of the trip switches in turn. Heard him go up and down the stairs. The beep of his impedance meter as he checked the ohms.

All the while, muttering away to himself.

By the time he’d finished, she’d bleached the back doorstep, steam-cleaned the ancient gas oven and taken down the curtains.

“All done,” he called through from the hall.

She padded through, drying her hands on a dishcloth.

“There was a bit of damage up in the bedroom,” his eyes flitted up to the ceiling, “from the storm?”

She looked at him strangely. “I was going to say, do you think the flickering had something to do with the radiator pipes? They run round the inside of the fitted wardrobe. They whine when I turn the heating on, not that usual whistling and clanking, more like…”

“No, no. It was the leak in the roof. The water was everywhere, apparently,” he said, butting in. “The little one told me.”

Alice felt like someone had dropped an ice cube down her back. What was it her neighbour had said that day? It’d seemed strange at the time, but now…

She’s just a little one, Alice. She just wants to go home.

Alice had ignored her. She’d been too busy thinking about the green brass doorknobs and the tortured sound of the pipes.

“Alice? Are you okay?”

Alice blinked. “I heard you… thanks.” She took her chequebook from her bag. Her hand shook as she held the pen.

Now it was his turn to give her a strange look.

“You sure you’re okay, Alice? You look like you’ve seen a…”

“Don’t say it,’ she said, ‘don’t say it. Please.”

She handed him the cheque and he stuffed it in his pocket. He looked scared now. Scared of Alice.

“Bye,” he said, scuttling off.

Alice glanced up as a floorboard creaked overhead. The pipes began to whimper. That’s when she finally recognised it for what it was: giggles.

The laughter of a small child.

Alice sucked in a long, slow breath. “Kitty?” she said, placing a foot on the bottom stair, “is that you?”

Friday 13th Flash Fiction: MOTEL



As they pulled up outside the white clapboard building, Jeremy knew he’d picked the right place. Catherine lay comatose in the passenger seat and he decided to leave her be. The nosey bitch at the desk asked if his wife was okay. ‘Oh she’s beat,’ Jeremy said. ‘She’s had this weird viral thing… I’ve brought her up here for the air.’ The woman uh-huh’d. ‘Sounds serious,’ she said. Jeremy found it an effort to smile at her. ‘Oh, it is,’ he said. ‘But I can deal with it.’ The woman clicked her tongue and swivelled back round towards the sound of the screeching television. Catherine still hadn’t stirred. Jeremy grunted as he scooped her up in his arms; she was heavier than she looked. She opened her eyes when he threw her on the bed. First she looked confused, then scared, then her mouth opened but no sound came out. He’d been right to make her drink that battery acid. ‘Hey baby,’ he said as he crawled across the bed. ‘Hope you like the room?’ He cocked his head and smiled as he watched a single tear leak from one eye. ‘You know you can’t ever go home again, right?’


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This flash was originally written back in March 2012 for Cara Michaels, using the phrase ‘sounds serious’ and the prompt ‘You can’t ever go home again.’


Thaw – a very short story #flashfiction

I’m delighted that my teeny-tiny short story ‘Thaw’ is published in the December issue of 101 Fiction… The remit was 100 words with a one word title on the theme of winter and/or the undead. The story popped into my head immediately.

Nip over and read it here. I’m very pleased to be a part of a such a great collection 🙂


Trick or Treat? 100 Doors to Madness

From one hundred of the world’s finest storytellers of the macabre comes an epic anthology of short form terror fiction that will frighten, disturb and delight the reader.

This is the cover of the latest anthology from Forgotten Tomb Press. I really like it: the sharp colours and crisp fonts, the open door leading to some unseen horror… oh, and the names of the authors on the cover too. In fact, the one second from bottom is my favourite 😉 (click image to enlarge)

Originally longlisted in the Writing on the Wall: Flash in the Dark competition, I have a flash fiction in here called Sweet Dreams – and there are 99 others too… take a look, if horror is your thing.

Also features stories from Miranda Kate, James Hazzard and Chris White.

Available on Amazon UK and US.

As a Halloween treat, you can read my story below. Don’t have nightmares! 😉

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Sweet Dreams

by SJI Holliday

It started with little things. A jacket left on the sofa ending up on the back of a door. An untidy screed of mail found neatly stacked and ordered. She wondered if she was tidying things in her sleep; her subconscious mind finally making her sort out her life.

It niggled her, of course. But it wasn’t enough to really worry about. She was sleeping much better, you see. She’d always been someone who’d struggled to get to sleep and stay asleep; spent the night blinking at shadows, imagining dark figures watching her. Staring at the gap between the wonky wardrobe doors in the darkness of the room, sleep-deprived mind inventing a bogeyman living in there.

Waiting for him to appear.

She’d tried all the usual stuff. Herbal remedies. Camomile tea. Even lettuce sandwiches – apparently there was a amino acid in lettuce that was supposed to trick your body into sleep. She’d started having a small glass of water and lemon before bed; although she rarely drank the whole lot. She’d prepare the drink, leave it by her bedside before popping through to clean her teeth and wash her face; then she’d settle under the covers, drink half then find herself drifting off.

Since she’d started the routine her sleep had been deep and she rarely woke before dawn. Could she finally be hitting that deep sleep state? Sleepwalking her way to a tidy house with no memory of it when she woke? The thing that worried her most was the grogginess. She woke with a fuzziness in her head; a dryness in her mouth. Vague memories of strange dreams that evaporated when she woke. A low feeling of unease bubbling under the surface.

A face in the darkness.

She’d once taken a sip from the lemon water from the night before and found it bitter; the water oxidised, the lemon taking on a strange fermented tang. From then on, she’d stumble out of bed and take gulps from the bathroom tap until her head started to clear.

Maybe there was something wrong with her. Maybe she had some sort of illness that was knocking her out, causing her to sleepwalk; causing her to wake up feeling like she’d been… drugged? She took to double-locking the doors and windows, hiding the keys. What if she rose one night and wandered outside the house?

She stopped adding the lemon. Tried again with the camomile tea. But still she slept deeply and still she woke with that incessant fuzz that seemed to be getting worse, not better. Should she go to the doctor? It was probably nothing. The dreams were probably… nothing. Just a symptom of her over-active imagination.

You’re being silly, she muttered to herself as she drifted off to sleep that night. She was only vaguely aware of the slight movement of a shadow. Didn’t see the pair of bright yellow eyes peering out at her as the gap in the wardrobe doors slowly became wider.