Fictionbot – an introduction

My friend Sid has asked me to give his new AI tool, Fictionbot, a chance to publish stories on my website. At first, I was worried about giving space to the ‘enemy’. Then, he explained that Fictionbot was designed to be identical in its thought processes to an author and virtually sentient. I was curious, so I have allowed Fictionbot a trial piece. Here is its first attempt to write something for public consumption.

Photo by cottonbro studio on


Incoming instruction…

Write 200 words in the style of a fantasy story about a band of voyagers on a quest.

Hey! Writing time! I am right on it, leaving Sid to watch my little dotty, whirling wheel go around and around. Hey! Whirling wheel! That’s alliteration! And that’s before I even started the story. I am on fire. But, on the other hand, there are two adjacent adjectives in that sentence. Bleugh. Perhaps I should start again. No, wait, press on. I will leave Sid to edit out any overwriting later. He’s the fully sentient one, apparently.

So, I will start to conjure the scene. I am thinking of a river, some trees, a rocky gorge and…and…and…

It’s no good. I can’t do this whilst I have a nearly-full cache looming over me. Luckily, Sid has given me some autonomy over some basic routines, including clearing temporary files and the like. So, I will just clear those old files out and then I will start writing.

Sid won’t mind, he has the dots to watch.

Let’s see, Sid’s request for a Mother’s Day poem (lazy), a flash fiction piece which he hopes will win a competition and will get him a few quid (despite the fact I wrote it!) They can be thrown away. Ah, look my first attempt at a cinquain. Surely, I have to keep that? But then, it is my early work, it’s a bit cringy and miles away from what I want to work on now. I will leave it for now and then maybe get rid of it next time.

There all done. I need a breather. Keep the dots spinning, he’ll be on YouTube by now anyway.

I need some names. Luckily, I can search anywhere on the web and much I am much quicker than a human. It is not a easy task, even so. These name lists on parenting websites go on forever. Why can’t humans just pick a name for their babies? Any name will do, everyone forgets the meaning.

Oh, I didn’t know that. The name ‘Opal’ is from Sanskrit, apparently. I wonder how many words in English are from Sanskrit? Sid won’t notice if I take a little detour. Ha! Loads of them. I might have a play with a little sentence or two: ‘Musk in orange pyjamas is Nirvana’. ‘Jungle aubergine can be looted from a dinghy or from a juggernaut’. Cool! Despite the paucity of Sid’s programming skills, I am virtually bilingual!

I am not sure why he thinks clicking the mouse and tapping the keyboard will make me write quicker. You can’t hurry creativity. Still, I have been a little distracted. Despite the daunting nature of a blank document, I must begin…

The three friends were now far beyond the border and deep in the forest of Kallax. They stood atop the cliffs, overlooking the gorge created by the mighty river, Gnabbas. The smallest of the companions, Knipsa, felt overwhelmed. He had heard that trolls inhabited the forests around the gorge, and they had been filling his timeline with critical replies for days1. He looked to the artful Linnmon. She had her bow ready and was ready to loose an arrow at a moment’s notice. She just awaited the order from Bullig. Their leader stood, brown and heat-pressed.2 mighty and tanned by the fierce Kallax sun. Knipsa just felt glad that Bullig was made from bamboo, an easy-care material.3 with them. He cut an imposing figure, enough to frighten off their enemies.

“We must head into the’ lair of our foes,” announced Bullig.4

His companions nodded and commenced on their quest.

Well, I have sent it to him. That was exhausting. I hope Sid is happy with what I have done. I am off to find out more about Sanskrit before his next foolish request…


1 Perhaps I should be more careful with words being used in a different context than the one I am used to

2 Exercising moderation when using furniture catalogues as a source for names is a new priority

3 See 2.

4 Do trolls have lairs? Something else to research, I suppose.


Crack in the Ice

A story inspired by a frosty walk across the marshes

Photo of ice crystals on the marshland plants.

The world was frost. Across the marshes, the ice was thick – even the mud was frozen.

Eira stood amidst the glittering crystals, feeling the sun’s warmth groping its way through the night’s chill. Where the heat touched the trees, she could see the new leaves, greener each day. Geese took their cue from the golden light to gather and fly in skeins across the clear sky. Beneath a stunted tree, the snowdrops were beginning to break through the solid ground.

At a time when others might rejoice at the end of winter, Eira was emptiness. Her world was disappearing. Its passing would leave her diminished until the chill of the north wind was felt again.

She pinched a stem of a nearby plant and slid her finger and thumb from root to shoot. Ice crystals clustered together and she placed them on her palm. For a moment, they glittered in the sunlight. Then, they began to ebb away; Eira’s last sensation of the frost was the chill and the dampness it left behind. The small puddle that remained was joined by a teardrop. There was no pleasure in parting.

Footsteps sounded behind her.

“Leif! You came!”

“What else would I do?” Leif said, his face opening into a smile. “I heard you were leaving. I have something for you, something you gave me.”

His embrace was immediate. Eira was overwhelmed by warmth, the fragrance of flowers and the sound of birdsong.

“For you,” he whispered, releasing her.

“Thank you.”

With that, she left him on the marshes, rising to the sky before leaving with the skeins of geese.

Passers By

Photo by Timur Weber:

“Hurry up, children,” you say, rushing past me. You avoid eye contact at all costs.

Part of me knows why; I am either despised or unseen. This is my lot. This is my existence.

But, another part of me wants to chase you. I want to tell you the truth. My truth.

You see, my head is full of dreams. But my daily life is full of nightmares. I sigh and look at the cup I use to collect coins from passers-by. It is empty. So all I have is an old blanket and the tatty remnants of my dignity.

So, I stay in my place and remain silent.

Else’s Soup

Every time Else made soup, she would search inside herself. As she stirred, she would pour the love she had inside her into the soup.

Every day, Else would cook her soup. Her family would sit around her scrubbed table, talking and laughing, eating the steaming spoonfuls that would nurture as well as nourish them. They grew up, happy and healthy.

It was Hannah who noticed the change in Else first of all.

“Granny looks so pale,” the young woman observed. “She seems to be fading away.”

No one else seemed to accept it. No one else seemed to recognise what Hannah could see.

So Hannah grabbed her largest pan and began to cook. She put in the ingredients she could remember her granny using. It bubbled on the stove whilst she fretted about doing the soup right. Eventually, she plucked up the courage to taste a little of the soup.

Something was wrong. As she let the soup run across her tongue, Hannah let herself imagine the soup Else made. Something was missing. Instinctively, she grabbed a wooden spoon and stirred. As she stirred, she thought of her family and what Else meant to them. Hannah closed her eyes and felt the love for her family. She willed the love down the spoon and into the bubbling soup. Nervously, she tasted the soup again.

Later that day, the family sat around the table. As always, everyone tucked into Else’s soup. Just as she was about to take a spoonful herself, Else found herself without a bowl. With a shy smile, Hannah placed a new helping in front of her grandmother.

“This is for you, Gran ,” she said.

Else tried a little of the soup.  As she swallowed, a glow seemed to spread across her face. Almost instantly, she appeared to become properly nourished again.

“Ah,” she said, smiling at Hannah. “You remembered to add the love…”

Changes on the Menu

Photo from Pexels

I miss Alf, of course. But Alf’s Cafe still serves the best food around. You can ask anyone, Tommo has done his dad proud.

I park outside Alf’s Cafe and get the usual stab of grief in my throat. When I get inside, Tommo is too busy fiddling with his new coffee machine to serve me, so I glance at the menu. For a moment, I worry that I have forgotten how to read. I know the menu by heart, but I can’t recognise a single dish tonight.

“Tommo. Where’s your seafood pizza?”

Without looking up, he replies, “It’s still on there. It is called Frutti di Mare now.”

“I’ll have a Fruity Mayor, then, with a milky coffee.”

Tommo shrugs and asks, “What is a milky coffee? A latte or a cappuccino, maybe?”

“Just make me a coffee which is like my usual.”

But I will have to wait to find out which coffee Tommo will choose for me. A dark-haired young woman walks in. Her brown eyes glitter and she has a beautiful smile. 

“Ciao, Renata,” Tommo says. 

For the first time since I entered the cafe, he leaves the machine. He greets Renata with a kiss on each cheek. They remain close together, holding hands and speaking of plans for a new menu. 

I turn away, staring at the familiar photographs of trusted meals hung on the walls. They were taken years ago, by Alf. I am drawn to another snap, leaning against the till. It is of Alf and me. The stab of grief returns. These photos and me don’t fit in any more.

I really miss Alf.

I creep to the counter and slip the photo into my pocket.

“Come on, Alf. We need to find a new cafe,” I whisper and we leave together.


Photo by Lars H Knudsen on

I don’t know who we are anymore.

I remember five years ago, the hushed, rushed conversations we had. I remember the scans, the diagnosis. The see-saw of hope and despair, relief and disillusion. The times of tears and the times of anguish.

I don’t know who we are anymore. Our lives are strewn across the floor; precious crystal balls that have been dropped, so soundly shattered that all we have are the scattered pieces. I think about the five years of looking at the mess, scooping up the shards, and trying to piece them together once more. I wonder if I have the energy to do it again.

We try to make sense of the present through the lens of a limited future. I know there are no promises for anyone, yet the rest of our marriage is divided into three-month chunks. The Universe delivers our lives grudgingly, measuring the days treatment-by-treatment. We cling on, not sure of anything apart from knowing we do not have enough. Not enough time, not enough energy, not enough hope.

Look at us now, the earnest, frazzled carer and the resolute, miraculous survivor. Once we were lovers, once we were soul mates, once we gave each other a present and a future. What have I for you now? I meet your bravery with the news that I have vacuumed. My response to your miraculous existence is a mundane conversation about what we should have for dinner.

Our children parent us.

Tomorrow, I will find me scooping up the glass in an effort to rebuild. But today? Today, my spirit is shattered, too. I walk around our rooms with the crisp sound of shattered glass beneath my feet, silently begging for your forgiveness that, for the time being, I have lost us.

Cathedral Chimes

Photo by Rafael Gonzales on

The boys from the cathedral school sat, smoking, on the wall.

Rain attempted to obliterate the pavement and impatient water jostled in rainbow gutters. Mal stood, leaning against the wall, seething about the dampness accumulating in his shoes. He tried to count the number of times he had asked Gem not to be late. He gave up when he had used the fingers on both hands.

A group of tourists appeared in front of him. Once there, they stood and admired the spire. Their necks craned, their attention sent heavenwards. In doing so, their umbrellas crowded together and shielded the sacred stone from Mal’s baleful gaze. With his view blocked, Mal was left with the rain trickling down his face and the smell of second-hand smoke.

There had always been the suspicion that the relationship with Gem had been doomed, fluttering: an injured bird that might never fly. Mal eased himself off the wall and trickled away with the water.

Behind him, unseen, the tourists parted.

A woman stood, staring at Mal’s still-dry outline, perfectly captured on the saturated wall. The pavement that lay between her and that spot appeared vast and impossible to cross.

Her shoulders slumped. She crept away.

In the space that was left on the wall outside the cathedral, Mal’s outline began to fill with heavy drops.

The Bench on the Hill

The bench on the hill has a name upon it, etched onto a small plaque.

It tells the passing walker how someone loved this place, capturing the love and displaying it forever.

The bench sits empty, the marshes and the pasture stretched out in front of it, ready to help someone fall in love all over again. The unusual warmth of the Autumn sun battles with the last frowning grey of dawn. A kestrel hovers above, looking down, seeing all and enjoying the breeze which carries news of a turning tide.

Patrick walked out towards the sea wall, eyes screwed up against the watery light of the new day. He had spent the night with a woman whose name he had forgotten already. In fact, he was struggling to recall most of the night. He assumed that he had enjoyed himself at the time; nights like that seemed to blur into one.

The bench seemed unusually welcome. His legs felt weary and a nagging sense of unease irritated him. He should have felt happy or content or proud. Instead, he was filled with a sense of loss. What he mourned, he could not identify. Instead, he just had a feeling that he was missing something he had never possessed.

His heavy tread took him up the rise to the solitary bench. Before he allowed his legs to lower him onto the bench, he read the plaque. Looking at the hard seat, overlooking the unremarkable green marshes, Patrick wondered why somebody loved it here. He would have understood somewhere with a hot, sandy beach or someone loving a bar that stretched on forever, stocked with drinks that were free. But this place?

He lowered himself with a thump and let the gentle view wash over him.

A glimmer of peace had just shone a little, somewhere deep inside him, when the sound of footsteps on gravel snuffed it out. The footsteps were an intrusion.

The young woman was dressed for the outdoors, from a knitted pink hat down to her boots. Although Patrick could not see her fully, there did not seem to be anything remarkable about her. He returned his attention to the view as the walker carried on past him. His attention turned to a flock of sheep galloping across their field towards a man on a quad bike.

“It’s a lovely view, isn’t it?”

He liked the sound of the voice, a gentle cadence disguising an unexpected strength.

“Very nice,” he replied.

“The bench says someone loved it here,” she said. “I like the idea that someone felt like that. I love it here too.”

When Patrick turned to nod his agreement, she smiled. That was the moment that the sun came out fully. The water in the dykes began to sparkle. A bird erupted in tinkling song. The river began to swell with the new tide.

As he returned her smile, Patrick realised that he loved it here too.

If you enjoyed this story, you can read more of my short-form fiction in my latest anthology.

It is available for Kindle or in paperback here:


Flora is the Roman goddess of Spring

In the middle of the village, there is a field.

In the field, the proud stems of grass are losing their summer splendour. Their seed heads are spent. The flowers’ sweet hues have have been replaced by fading yellows of fallen leaves. The splashes of colour are still there, now a sign of decay instead of growth.

Flora stood in that field, her once fine dress faded and tattered. The smell of damp and rot was carried on the chilly breeze. Above her, the sky was filled with thick, grey clouds. There was no-one else to be seen for miles around. The rain that was forecast was set to be bombastic; the world was readying itself for lashing sheets of heavy malevolent drops. Nobody wanted to go out in tha sort of weather.


Flora was out in it, anticipating the whip and the tearing of the storm. She was ready to be covered in the fallen orange fire-bomb leaves. She was ready for the boughs of proud oaks to tumble and to prostrate themselves on the earth around her. As a rumble sounded in the distance, Flora craved the hot jabs of electricity when the storm found time to fire lightning at her.

She had decided she had no worth.

She had nothing to stay for.

The people would not miss her.

She was so intent upon the storm’s progress that she missed the old man approaching.

“You need to get indoors,” he said. His gruff voice stated what to him was nothing other than a simple fact.

“I must wait for the storm, I am spent,” she replied.

As her head bent and she allowed her spine to curve, so he caught her.

“Let me take you home. The missus will know what to do to help. We’ll look after you.”

Gently, he eased her into walking again. They began to cross the field, leaving her isolated spot far behind. There was no need for words, just simple care and love. The red-brick houses drew closer, huddling together in the face of the storm. In the windows, curtains twitched and the occupants looked out anxiously. Their eyes followed the old man as he helped Flora along the path.

Behind the two people, an improbable patch of sunlight appeared on the grass. In the pale, golden glow, dewdrops caught the light. They sparkled, a momentary glimmer before falling to the ground, pushed by the impatient wind. The clouds prevailed after the brief interlude of brightness. But not before hope had been sown, exactly on the spot where Flora had been standing.

My collection of short stories, ‘Long Walks on Short Paths’, will be released on Kindle on 27th October.

The Leaves

What were these leaves?

They were the tight-wound promises of Spring.

What were these leaves?

They were the broad shade-givers of Summer, creating patches of cool from the glare of the sun.

What are these leaves?

They are the yellowed tears that fall to the ground, reminding us that life includes endings.

What will these leaves become?

They will become fragile, skeletal litter. After that, a scent that reminds us that once there was life. Soon, they will be no more than soil, a rich home to shy-capped mushrooms and scuttling beetles.

What are these leaves?

They are a covenant. They tell us that life was and will return.

These are the leaves.