Monday, 27 October 2014

Can't think what to do over half term? Make something up!

So,  it's half term.  Time to watch lots of TV and take a break from school. Catch up on some Playstation / X-Box. Or be healthy and get outside and go for a bike ride, play some football, go on a trampoline. Do all that.

And then,  why not write a short story?

Not because someone at school is making you do it for an assignment but just because it's fun. When you're not worrying about fifty different things you have to put into your work in order to get full marks from the teacher, writing is actually really fun. We all like to tell stories (like that time we went for a walk in the woods and we stumbled across a crashed alien spaceship, no, it definitely, definitely happened!!!). (Or when Brad Pitt pulled over and asked us the way to the local Tesco, no seriously, he did!)

So just make something up. Doesn't have to be perfect or long or contain a minimum number of adverbs. It just has to be fun to write.

But don't take my word for it,  listen to Alice Osman, writer of 'Solitaire'. She says it so much better than than I do.

And if you fancy it, send a copy of your story here to the Arthur Ness blog at -  I'd be really happy to read it and give you some feedback or answer any questions you may have. And if you like, just let me know and I'll put it up on the site for everyone to marvel at!

Don't worry, the Playstation will still be there later  :-)


Monday, 6 October 2014

three : Blitzkrieg

Arthur drove quickly through the traffic.

His car was a brand new Ford Cortina. It had a 2 litre engine, 98 brake-horsepower and full leather-trim interior. It had been his pride and joy just two weeks earlier when he’d driven it off the car dealer’s forecourt. Yet, today, his new car couldn’t have been further from his mind.

Outside, the majestic stone arches of the Tower Bridge sailed by as he crossed the River Thames. Distractedly, he fiddled with the tuning knob on the radio. Nothing caught his attention (there was something about the Beatles breaking up but music didn’t really interest him). Arthur sighed and flipped the radio off altogether.

He didn’t know what was happening to him. Ever since he’d come back from Waterwhistle, his life had been brilliant. He’d been totally and completely fearless. Dr. Felix had been right – he had removed the school bully and taken his place. He had made everyone in school do whatever he’d wanted. The teachers, too. If he didn’t want to do any homework, he’d just tell them not to bother giving him any – and ta-dah­ – no homework.

He’d applied the same approach to the rest of his life. He steamrollered over everything and everyone to get what he wanted. He felt no fear and no remorse. His life had been one success after another.

Except, he thought now, perhaps it hadn’t been so great. Perhaps the failed friendships and relationships were not as unimportant as he’d previously believed. Perhaps they were actually a string of failures which were just as long – if not longer – than his string of successes.


What?! Arthur couldn’t believe it. The air raid alarm? Now? It wasn’t even night yet..! The enemy never did air raids unless it was under cover of total darkness. He could see it in the faces of the other drivers and pedestrians around him; panic, shock, fear. Everybody instantly knew the same thing.

This was going to be a bad one.


Arthur gripped the steering wheel – the explosion had been just a few hundred yards behind. He turned to see cars flying twenty feet into the air as if they were toys. He looked up – like a conspiracy of angry ravens, dozens of enemy aircraft filled the sky.

Without waiting another second, Arthur turned and rammed his foot on the accelerator pedal – his car screeched off before anyone else had managed to react. He weaved in and out of the traffic at seventy miles an hour. All around him, people screamed and ran and shouted and hid and stumbled and fell but Arthur just kept going.


The car physically lifted off the ground this time – the explosion was so close. Overhead, the Stuka aircraft soared by, their wing-mounted sirens filling the air with an unearthly wail. And falling from them were hundreds and hundreds of tiny, black-


Blackness. Silence. Muffled noises. Funny head. Dizzy. Eyes open… people running… on ceiling..? Noises getting louder… screaming and fire and explosions and…

Arthur awoke with a sudden jolt and realised his car was upside down – and that he was still in it. Alive. How he’d survived, he literally had no idea.

His body racked with pain, Arthur crawled across the ceiling of his brand new car (which was now the floor of his brand new car). Hand over hand, eventually, he made it to the smashed out window and crawled out. Dusting himself off, Arthur stood.

Everything was in flames.

It had been early evening and still bright – but now, the smoke blocked the sunlight out. The only light now was the dangerous, orange glow of the fires. The streets were still full of people running in all directions but most of the buildings were either aflame or had just collapsed altogether.

Arthur looked up into the sky. Angry, black, billowing smoke covered the entire view but through it was the unmistakable drone of hundreds of bomber engines. Stumbling, Arthur limped slowly into the middle of the road, his gaze fixed firmly to the sky.

Why was the war still going on, he thought? Why wasn’t it over? He had never thought it strange before now. But all of a sudden, the idea that the allies were still fighting Nazi Germany in 1970 seemed not at all right.

Suddenly, the clouds of black smoke parted as if some giant hands had drawn them like curtains. A single Stuka JU87 emerged from the gloom like a dark angel. And it was heading straight for Arthur.

Arthur had been used to not feeling fear for his entire adult life. Right now, staring at an enemy bomber flying towards him, he still felt none. He knew he should run – not out of fear but out of common sense. And yet, still, he didn’t. He just looked at the plane. The plane that he felt, more certainly with every passing second, should not be there.

For no reason he could put into words, Arthur began to walk towards the oncoming aircraft.

And that’s when he saw them.

The men in suits. Loads of them. Watching him. They were lining the streets like some kind of silent, dark parade crowd. Where had they come from, all of a sudden? Arthur knew why they were here, though. He didn’t know how he knew, but he was sure they were here to stop him walking towards the plane. He felt afraid. Very afraid.

But he kept walking.

And so did they. All as one, they stepped off the pavement and moved in his direction, hands outstretched. It was the most fearsome thing Arthur had ever seen. Twenty, thirty, more – all striding towards him. All intent on stopping him. Stopping him from what, though?

He kept on walking forwards. The plane came in lower and lower – as though it had spotted Arthur and was coming in just for him. The suited men increased their pace, hands reaching for Arthur.

The Stuka opened fire. The CLATTER-CLATTER-CLATTER of the machine guns rattled their way along the road surface getting closer and closer to Arthur.

Everything was getting closer and closer and closer…

Move!” came the little boy’s cry as he flashed across in front of Arthur, grabbed him by the arm and yanked him away.

Arthur didn’t even have time to blink – the boy had a firm grip of his hand and was dragging him at top speed off the road and down an alleyway. For some reason, Arthur let himself be dragged and off they went. Down one alleyway. Up another. Out onto a main road. Down another alleyway. Never stopping. Were they still being chased? Arthur didn’t dare look behind. Didn’t have time to even if he’d wanted. The boy was pulling him faster and faster, going who knew where. It reminded Arthur of another time – years ago, when he’d been no older than this boy, probably. When a talking cat had dragged him into an adventure he didn’t understand…


They were inside, Arthur suddenly realised. Inside where? He looked around. A library? It hadn’t been hit, he didn’t think. Looked in pretty good shape. Just dark and empty. There was something eerie about a library at night. But at least the place had walls and a door and a roof and could keep them out of the madness for a while.

“I think they’re gone,” the boy said, looking out of the window. There was something familiar about him, Arthur realised now. His hair, his old-fashioned sweater and shirt and shorts…

And it hit him.

The boy turned around and smiled a crooked grin that looked completely out of place on that face.

His face. His ten-year old face.

“Happy Birthday, Arthur!” said the young version of himself. “Did you get my card?”
<<< two : the island of fear Read the rest of the book >>> 

two : The Island of Fear

(from the terrified thoughts of Teresa Smith)

The huge, wooden doors creak open and I stand up as straight as I can manage. Don’t look scared. Don’t look frightened. Push back me shoulders and stick out me chin. I may be terrified but I’m not gonna to show them that.


And there is it. The crowd. And out there, beyond the crowd.

The wooden stage.

The place where Lady Eris told me, the Cat, Iakob and Iosef that we were all gonna be executed.

“I don’t suppose you’ve got a plan or anythin’ have you?” I whisper. The small, black cat near me feet just huffs.

“I shouldn’t think so,” he replies. “Plans are for wimps.”

I sigh.

“I were afraid you were goin’ to say that.”

The Knights, the Cat and me are all stood on the back of a horse-drawn cart. The driver’s some old fella, stooped and hunched over the reins and dressed in smelly rags. I know I shouldn’t be mean – but he is driving me to me execution so I think I can be forgiven a little bit of name-calling.

The driver cracks his whip and the two snorting horses break into a slow trot. We all jolt a little as the cart lurches forward.

We emerge out into the harsh, white sunlight and I try to raise me hand to cover me eyes – only, I can’t do it properly because of the ropes we’re all tied up with. Me and the Knights have got our hands tied together while the Cat’s got a rope round his neck attachin’ him to the cart itself. Despite everythin’, Iakob and Iosef are standin’ tall, motionless and defiant in their sky blue armour (though their helmets have been taken away). And even though the Cat’s just sittin’, starin’ out at all the people, he manages to look mean and rebellious. I try me best to do the same.

As we trundle forward, I squint against the cruel sunlight and see how big the crowd really is. Hundreds and hundreds of people – men, women and children – all turned out to watch. Thing is, they don’t look excited or happy or angry or expectant or anythin’. They just look… well, I can’t think of a better word than broken. Like they don’t want to be here – but they know they have to be here. They’ve been told to turn up and watch us die. And so they have, in their droves. They’re too scared to do anythin’ else.

Phobos certainly lives up to its reputation. Like all the islands, the sky’s black even in the middle of the day. But somehow, Phobos’ black sky seems even blacker, even more oppressive. Like a blanket dropped over everything, smotherin’ the life out of everyone under it. There’s that horrible feelin’ of rain just about to come – that fear when you know something terrible’s just round the corner, gettin’ ready to happen.

The buildings add to it, too. They’re all huge. Tall and wide. No cute, little houses. No interesting looking chalets. Just gigantic monoliths with tiny windows, all made out of awful, black stone.

There’s Yarnbulls everywhere, too. The giant, upright bull creatures walkin’ around carrying axes and swords and hammers. They’re starin’ at the people of Phobos all the time, just like in Waterwhistle. Unlike Waterwhistle, though, the people here can see the Yarnbulls. They don’t have to be tricked into bein’ afraid – their fear’s right in front of them, in plain sight.


I can’t hardly think about the place without me throat tightening up and tears threatenin’ to come to me eyes. My home… me and Arthur were goin’ to save it. I know we could have, too. We might only be a pair of silly children next to all these Knights and Weavers and talking cats – but we could have done it. I know we could have. There was nothin’ me and Arthur couldn’t do as long we stuck together…

That’s all over now, though.

Story’s done.

The crowd parts and lets us through. For a moment, I lock eyes with this little girl, a touch younger than me. She looks just as scared as the rest but for a second, I think I can see a glimmer of somethin’ else in her eyes. But then it’s gone and the crowd swallows her up again.

As we roll on through the people, as they stare at us with dull eyes, as we trundle slowly to the wooden stage at the front, I finally clap eyes on the woman that made all this wonderful magic happen. There she is now, standin’ up there, waitin’ for us, an evil, triumphant grin on her face. Yarnbulls and Royal Guardsmen stand on either side of her but it’s her what wields the real power.

Lady Eris.

And finally, we’re at the front. The cart stops.

“Out,” one of the soldiers grabs me arm and yanks me up onto the stage. They grab the Cat and the Knights, too. I’d like to see them be so brave if the ropes weren’t there. Iakob and Iosef would have ‘em all eating their own arms and legs, you just see if they wouldn’t.

Unfortunately, the ropes are there. So we don’t have no choice but to do what we’re told.

On the stage, there are four wooden posts in a row. They kind of remind me of the maypole that we put up back in Waterwhistle, every year. The girls of the village (not me, I refused) would dance round it to celebrate May Day. It’d be bright and joyful with loads of multi-coloured ribbons windin’ round each other in endless combinations.

Funny how these horrid, dull things could remind me of something so bright and happy.

The soldiers take the rope around me wrists and fasten it to one of the posts. They do the same to the other three. The Knights are tied by the wrists, same as me, while the Cat’s attached to the bottom of his post by his collar. It’s a very short rope, he can’t hardly move. But, still, he doesn’t seem the least bit worried. He just sits there, starin’ out at nothing in particular, like he’s tryin’ to decide what to have for dinner.

“Aren’t you worried?” I ask him.

He shrugged, “Worried? Why, Smithy, I never waste time being worried. Either everything will turn out alright in the end, or it won’t.”

“Well, everything’s gone wrong,” I say, more to myself than him. “It’s all about to collapse in on us and there’s no way out.”

“In my experience,” the Cat smirks, “that’s usually when the best stuff happens.”

A shadow falls over the Cat. We both look up. Lady Eris is standin’ in front of us, smilin’ that horrible smile of hers. The thing that makes it so nasty is that you don’t even get the feelin’ she’s all that pleased. She’s just behaving how she thinks she should behave. Really, she’s just like the people of Phobos. She’s doin’ what she’s told.

Unfortunately, that means she’s tyin’ us up to wooden poles and shootin’ us up into the Black to experience loneliness, starvation and death. So she doesn’t really get too much of my sympathy.

“So we have finally reached the end of our little tale, feline,” she says to the Cat. Then she turns to me. “You see where you end up when you defy me.”

“Yep,” says the Cat, “hoping someone would hurry up and shoot me into the Black just so I don’t have to listen to you yammering on anymore.”

“I’m so glad you have lost none of your legendary sense of humour, creature, even now, at the end,” she says. “Especially as your little band has been reduced by two. Any words for me to pass onto Captain Thrace, by the way?”

The Cat barely holds back a snarl, “Tell him, I hope he enjoys his blood money.”

“Oh, he is enjoying it immensely,” Lady Eris smiles. Then she looks at me – even though she’s still talking to the Cat. “And what of Arthur Ness? Oh, but I forget. He is gone from us forever.”

Me stomach tightens and me knees go weak. I try and gasp for air. I want Arthur here, with us, so badly. It feels wrong that we’re apart. But this witch woman’s right. He’s not coming back. Ever.
Lady Eris’ smile just widens.

<<< one : happy birthday, arthur ness three : blitzkrieg >>> 

one : Happy Birthday, Arthur Ness

LONDON. 1970.

Arthur Ness sat in his office and looked at the birthday card in his hands. Inside the card, in the scruffy handwriting of a child, it read;

Happy Birthday Arthur, 40 Today!

And further down, it read;

Have you noticed the men in hats lately?

It didn’t say who it was from.

The little speaker-box on his desk buzzed and the tinny sound of his secretary’s voice came through.

“Dr. Felix is here to see you, Mr. Ness.”

“Thank you, Martha, send him in.”

“Yes, Mr. Ness.” A pause, then, “Have you had a chance to think about my birthday? I’d really like the day off to see my mother and-”

“I have no interest in your personal nonsense, Martha,” Arthur snapped. “Be in work on that day or be in the job centre the next. Now, stop bothering me with your prattle and send the doctor in.”

“…yes, Mr. Ness…”

Arthur put the card back in its envelope just as the door opened and a tall, thin man in an ill-fitting brown suit entered.

“Happy Birthday, Mr. Ness,” said Dr. Felix. “I trust I find you well today?”

“If I was well,” said Arthur, ignoring the doctor’s outstretched hand, “then you wouldn’t be here. Please, let’s begin. I have a meeting in an hour.”

The doctor nodded, politely, “Very well. Let’s move right along.”

Arthur had been seeing the psychiatrist, Dr. Felix, for two months, now. To be honest, he didn’t even want to see the doctor. He wasn’t crazy. But Eleanor, his wife, had insisted. She’d noticed that he wasn’t feeling his usual confident, satisfied self. He’d been prone to fits of what she called ‘worried sadness’. Like he was afraid of something – something big – but he didn’t know what. These had been quite disorienting for Arthur because they went completely against the one thing that Arthur Ness was known for.

Namely, not being scared of anything. At all.

Over the years, Arthur had grown into a very successful businessman; the head of the largest electronics company in Europe. He had no fear of anything or anyone and had pushed, fought, shouted – and yes – bullied his way to the top.

Arthur would be the first to admit he wasn’t always the nicest person in the world. But being afraid of nothing meant he could forge ahead into whatever activity he pleased – and usually win at it. It had been many years since he’d felt the need to be nice to anyone in the process.

But it wasn’t just the feelings of sadness and depression that had prompted the visits to Dr. Felix. There were the dreams, too. Dreams he hadn’t had since he was a boy, newly returned from Waterwhistle. Dreams of flying ships, floating islands and talking animals.

Dreams of a world that didn’t exist.

“So,” said Dr. Felix, sitting on Arthur’s office chair, his pad and pen out, “how have you been feeling this week?”

Arthur himself was sat on a brown, two-seater sofa. The doctor had brought the chair up to the sofa and the two men faced each other. Arthur sighed.

“The same,” he said. “Depressed. Down. Like I can’t be bothered with things. Like things don’t… well, like they don’t matter. Like they’re not real.”

“Mm-hmm,” the doctor scribbled in his pad, “And the dreams?”

“Getting more and more vivid,” said Arthur. “Last night I dreamt I was talking to a stick doll.”

“Interesting…” said the doctor. He scribbled again. It annoyed Arthur when the doctor did that; said ‘interesting’ then scribbled. He didn’t know why, but it did.

“I haven’t had these thoughts since I was a child,” Arthur said, more to himself than the doctor. “Since I came back from Waterwhistle.”

“Ah, yes,” said the doctor, “back at the start of the war. The evacuations. What can you tell me about your time in Waterwhistle?”

Arthur allowed himself a rare smile, “It was brilliant. The people were friendly, I had lots of children to play with… I was actually quite popular, seeing as I was from London. They were fascinated with the way I talked. They said ‘grass’ and wanted to hear me say ‘grarse’.”

“It sounds like you had a good time there.”

“The best. Then, when I was finally allowed to come back home to my parents, things got even better. My father was a war hero – he flew in the Battle of Britain. But he was injured and had to leave active service. He came back home and the three of us were happy. Happier than ever, really, despite the war. I became really popular at school. I deposed the school bully…”

“You took his place, didn’t you?” said the doctor, checking earlier pages from his notes, “Tommy…erm… ah, yes, Tommy Watkins. The school bully. You knocked him off his perch, so to speak. And then took his place as ‘top dog’.”

Arthur nodded, no hint of remorse in his voice, “Oh, yes. Before I went to Waterwhistle, I was a frightened little scaredy-cat. After Waterwhistle, I felt no more fear at all. Not a scrap. So, yes, Tommy Watkins had it coming to him. I wasn’t in the mood for his nonsense anymore. And, yes, I took his place. In this world, the fearless are in charge. I didn’t make the rules, that’s just how it is.”

“So, what happened in Waterwhistle to affect such a big change in you?”

“I…” Arthur stumbled, “…I can’t remember… There was…”

“A girl?”


“The one you can’t remember anything about?”

“…yes. Because she wasn’t really real. I think I made her up.”

“Have you been thinking about her more, recently?”

Arthur nodded, slowly, “I’d managed to put her out of my mind, many years ago. But with all these thoughts coming back into my head, recently… yes, she’s been coming back too.”

“But you still can’t remember anything about her,” said the doctor, “because she isn’t real. Just like the stick doll or the talking cat or the floating islands.”

Arthur nodded, “I know, I know… and yet…”


Arthur looked at the doctor, now, something new in his eyes. Something the doctor hadn’t seen before. Something Arthur hadn’t felt since his return from Waterwhistle.

“There are the men,” Arthur said, “the men in suits. With hats. And cases.”

The doctor furrowed his brow, flicked through his notes, “Which men? You haven’t mentioned them to me before.”

“I know I haven’t. Because I wanted to pretend they aren’t there. They make me feel…” Arthur could barely bring himself to even say the word, “…afraid.”

“And… what do these men do?”

“Nothing,” said Arthur. “They just watch me.”

“Watch you?”

“I’ve noticed them over the last few months. Every so often, I’ll turn my head and one of them will be there. Standing in a crowd of people, maybe. Or on a bus that’s driving past. Just standing there, watching me. Then I’ll turn away for a moment and turn back…”

“And they’re gone,” the doctor guessed.

Arthur nodded, “I feel as though they’re keeping an eye on me or something. I haven’t told anyone. Not a soul. Not until now.”

“Perhaps…” Dr. Felix said, slowly, “…perhaps they aren’t real, either.”

“Oh? Then how do you explain this?” Arthur handed the doctor the envelope. Curious, the doctor opened it and took out the birthday card. He read the handwritten note inside.

“There’s no name,” he said, eventually.

“I know.”

“Who gave it to you?”

“It was on my desk when I got here this morning. Martha’s been in since the office opened but she said nobody else has come by.”

“I… see…” the doctor said slowly, putting the card down and scribbling in his pad again, quite quickly.

“Wait a minute…” Arthur said, “…you think I wrote it, don’t you? Wrote it to myself.”

Dr. Felix looked at Arthur with that expression where someone tries to think of the best way of saying something you don’t want to hear.

“Let me promise you one thing, Doctor,” said Arthur, firmly, “I did not write this card!

The doctor smiled, “Listen, Arthur. I just want to tell you something. You are not crazy. Okay? You’re just overworked. Anxious. Stressed out, as the youngsters say. You have a very successful life. Take some time off with your wife and take things easy for a while.”

“My wife?” Arthur said, anger suddenly tumbling into his voice, “You mean the wife whose lawyer sent me a letter this morning saying she was divorcing me? That wife? Or perhaps you mean my first wife? The one who also divorced me? Would it be one of those two wives you’re talking about?”
“Ah… I’m… I’m very sorry,” said the doctor, embarrassed, “I didn’t know…”

Arthur looked over to the dustbin by his desk. Barely visible under piles of screwed up paper was the green and blue of a Supermarine Spitfire Mk II. His favourite aeroplane. An exact replica of the one his father had flown thirty years ago. It had been a birthday present from Eleanor last year. Upon receiving the divorce papers this morning, Arthur had relegated it from his desk to its current position.

His life was full of relics like that. Ruins of things that used to be good – but which he’d turned sour. His fearless approach to everything had brought him money and power. But his life was full of wrecks and skeletons of all the things he’d messed up along the way. His parents. Two marriages. His children.

Had he made a mistake? Was his total lack of fear not quite the best way to be, after all? Could it be that he ought to-

“Sleep, Arthur,” the doctor interrupted Arthur’s thoughts.

“Hm? I’m sorry?”

“Everything’s getting to you right now. Don’t let stress and tiredness make you doubt yourself. You’re the head of this entire company – you just need a break. Recharge your batteries. Trust me…” the doctor put his pad and pencil away and got up, “…everything will be okay if you just get some sleep. Sleep will cure all, Arthur!”

Arthur was unsure, but nodded. He stood and walked the doctor to the door. This time, when Dr. Felix extended his hand, Arthur shook it – but he was distracted.

“What is it, Arthur?”

“Hm? Oh, nothing. Well… maybe nothing. It’s just… well, don’t you think it’s strange?”


“That the Second World War is still going on today? In 1970? Don’t you think it’s strange that it didn’t end back in the forties?”

The doctor furrowed his brow again, “Strange? I don’t know what you mean, Arthur. Everything is just as it should be.”
<<< prologue two : the island of fear >>>