Another State ( Part 3)

One of my sister's horses. This was just after she rescued it and it was heavily in foal at the time.

Photo courtesy of Sunday Photo Fiction

This is a continuation of a story I began with Sunday Photo Fiction Called “Another State Another License Plate”. This is part 3, feel free to flick back and read the other two parts.

There may be more to follow!

Another state, another license plate. Part 3

Her beautiful eyes watch my approach over the half door. Latch unbolted easily, I coax her out in whispers. I scan behind her for a saddle and harness. She tippy toes anxiously to me, delicate like a ballerina.

Nostrils flared, clouds of steam squeeze out. Don’t want her kicking up a fuss. Must earn her trust. Skittish flicking of skin, twitchy uneasiness. She paces in circles, back towards the door, then stops. Back legs stretched out. Every muscle in her body clenched. Then I notice the hooves protruding and the liquid squirting, first just a trickle then a sudden gush. Tail is wrapped and strapped to keep it out of the way.

This horse is giving birth.

Now I see the ripples beneath her skin. Internal churning, pulsing, throbbing, sinewy life. Folded hooves, caught, cramped.

She lies down on her side. Back legs stretched, tail raised, head down towards ground, shivering. Her tail swishing from side to side, she lays her head down, curls it around her front leg.

Her breathing is filled with grunts and groans and moans. She’s asking me for help.

I need to pull. On my knees within kicking distance, I try to grab but my grip is slippery. I haul. Tug and twist. She heaves. Something gives, free, released. Another contraction squeezes.

I drag the legs out more, pull the head out, maybe. Hard to tell, it’s concealed in a membrane like a white plastic bag. I feel the head. I rub mucus from the foals face. I can’t tell if it’s alive or not, feels limp. Stiff limbs slide out in a slimy flop.

We all wait, stunned. My ears ring with static vibration like an electric shock. Slumped foal struggles to move. Wobbly head unsteady.

Mother horse exhausted, looks back with curiosity at her foal’s gangly attempt to get up. It’s when I follow her line of vision that I see the boots, a pair of green farmer’s wellies.

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Another state, another license plate. Part 2.

You want more? You got more!

A sequel was requested, read it here. With more to follow!

I know how to break into cars and steal them silently away, but I know nothing about engines. When smoke, pouring from the engine, obscures my view, I feel panic. Where is he when I need him? He would know what to do. My dead father is still silent when the car rolls slowly to a halt. Not talking to me, I presume because I ignored his attempts to stop me from misappropriating the car.

I take my screwdriver from my backpack, remove the license plate and slide it in with all the others. I consider opening the hood to have a look at the still steaming engine but it’s pointless. Time to move on. I have to abandon the car, evidence of my crime, no longer of any use to me. Something I need to distance myself from.

My shadow stretches out behind me as I stride into the blank road ahead. A fuzzy cloud of midges accompany me, buzzing around my head, nipping at my ears.

The sun is beginning to dip when I spot the outline of a house or barn on the horizon. In the sky above crows are circling, spiralling as if being sucked into a whirlpool. The smell of animals grows more pungent as I get closer.

The whinny of a horse on the wind, inspires my mind to strategize, come up with a quick exit plan. As the stables come into view I have visions of my escape, galloping off into the sunset.

To be continued…

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Fly on the Wall sessions: Finishing that Book

Finishing that Book: Part 1 Panel Discussion

On Saturday the 14th of March I attended: Fly on the Wall sessions, an afternoon with Stinging Fly Fiction Workshop where writers discussed their working practices. These sessions were full of great tips and advice.

Afterwards I promised to another attendee who got so engrossed and forgot to take notes that I do a blog post about it.

Since then I’ve been busy. I attended my Creative Writing for Publicati0n course, been on a foreign holiday and was at three different launches

  • Issue 1 of Writing News in Loughboy Library, Kilkenny in which I am delighted to have two stories published.
  • By the Light of Four Moons, by John MacKenna in Carlow Library. Published by Doire Press (, which I highly recommend for a beautifully haunting read.
  • Hammered Glass, edited by Suzanne Power. Published by Kilkenny Campus Press, Maynooth University. An anthology from the “Two-Roads” group filled with humanity, humour and honest talent.


Here’s the photo from the Kilkenny People of me and Karen selling the book at the launch.

So over a month later I have managed to order my chaotic notes taken at the Fly on the Wall panel discussion and order them into some coherence! I am sharing some the jewels of wisdom here on my blog. (Part 2 Kevin Barry: Reading and in conversation with Declan Meade to follow.)

Finishing That Book Panel Discussion with Julien Gough, Kevin Curran, Lisa McInerney and Nuala Ní Chonchúir chaired by Thomas Morris of The Stinging Fly.

1st Question: How many books did you write before being published? All of the writers have abandoned novels that were never published.

The editing process

Nuala described the experience of editing two different novels simultaneously and the weird head space she had to occupy, long days hopping between both.

Kevin was discovered at the Irish Writer’s centre Novel Fair by Liberties Press. He cut from 120,000 to 90,000 words. The integrity of the work was important. For his editing process, the things he had to look at were simple things such as five people in one family make them two. He found himself going back to basics such as plot and character.

Julien in the beginning, makes big structural drastic changes. Can do 15 drafts. Throws a lot away, shifts it around until it gets kind of coherent

The writers advised to get it as perfect as you can before it goes to publisher.

Edit with the perspective of a reader not writer.

They discussed how difficult it is to read like a reader, and truly get the reading experience. If you are too close to it, what you read and think is there, is what you want to be there. Need distance after you’ve finished. Need to be able to see the experience of the reader. That’s why you put it away for a while before you take it out to edit.

Don’t be a mother protecting all of its flaws, be social services and save the child.

Kevin described how the eye can become overfamiliar with the appearance of the text on the page said that it helps him to change the font size to 16 to allow him to see something new. Move places of words on page. Or even 10 or 14 looks different. Don’t tend to see little things. The brain delivers it’s memory, learnt it off.

Lisa finds the editing process brilliant. Her novel was 145,000 words long. At 90,000 she was nowhere near the end of the plot. Lisa had two big characters and a question asked of her during the editing process was how come they never meet

On the topic of: Feedback

Need valuable feedback, several friends would provide as Stephen King calls it a cloud of feedback. You can pay an editor who’s good at genre and will give genuine deep response. You can find a type of “Gestalt editor” from a writers’ group. If you find someone good, don’t let them go, a good reader is difficult to find.

On the topic of: Reading other books

Kevin is a teacher and couldn’t wait to finish so he could read, there are so many books to read.

Lisa can’t read when writing.

Nuala reads historical fiction when writing historical fiction and contemporary fiction when writing contemporary fiction. She finds that for her reading can give permission, help solve a problem.

On the topic of: Planning outlines

(Question from an audience member: How do you deal with knowing where you want to get people?)

Nuala is not a post-it-notes type of person. She is about 2/3rd the way through before she knows what the end is. She just writes. The story will dictate what happens. Characters will lead you there. Have to explore every possible outcome.

Profound uncertainty is a huge part of the process.

For Julien the end was different for every book. Book 1 He knew there would be a damsel saving a knight. Book 2 No idea, a wild journey. Book 3 Didn’t know how the final battle would end climactic scene. Wrote the book to find out who they were.

Kevin begins with a strong image, thinking constantly, and surprises himself by writing. He carries around an idea for a new book for about a year. It builds up in the subconscious working away, a composting process. He says there’s often a gap between the idea and your ability to write it. The time to process can take a long time.

You outline with conscious mind but write with unconscious. Sometime the outline can be wrong.

Just get back to the desk and set modest word count goals. Stick with it, sit down every day, set realistic goals and do them. You can edit. You will get there, you might change ending.

If something haunts you and niggles you owe it to it to do it. They are the ones that finish themselves. Obsessions are the most important. Publishing is an eco-system. Do the unique weird obsessional thing they haven’t read before.

On the topic of: agents:

It can take a while to find the right agent, have to be able to talk about the big stuff. An intense relationship, have to get it right.

Kevin has no agent, novel fair got him to publishers. Other published novelists who are agentless include Donal Ryan and Rob Doyle.

Having an agent is not a goal. Having the right agent for you is more important.

Writer as hero

The hero’s journey, it’s what you go through as a writer, despair is so real. That’s why so many novels get abandoned when they are almost there. Believe in your inner hero.

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Flash! Friday: Jackpot

 The Beggar. CC2.0 photo by Foto_Michel.

Image: The Beggar. CC 2.0 photo by Foto_Michel.

Image sourced:

Here’s my Flash Fiction story called Jackpot, written for Flash! Friday.

Inspired by the photo prompt above. Required story element this week: Character: spy

To be eligible for the Golden Ticket contest, the word “ticket” must be included somewhere in the story itself.


I always dreamed of winning the lottery, a unique combination of logic and magic. As a child I lay in bed conjuring up the things I would buy, inflatable swimming pools, swings and slides. As an adult the compulsion to buy a ticket has never left. Even when I shouldn’t.

It’s linked to my special relationship with numbers. My solace, maths helped me make sense of the world, calculations made things safe. My aptitude made them seek me out, recruit me as a special agent. Equations can predict behaviour. If you watch people long enough you can tell lots about what to expect, what’s going to happen next.

Dreams can come true. Sometimes it’s just the wrong place and time. I never anticipated this. My chosen sequence of numbers unfurled themselves onto my television screen. I punched the air, did a celebratory-bum-wiggling dance then realised.

Lotto tickets are evidence, bought in a particular place and time. A place and time I officially wasn’t in. To cash in my winning ticket would blow my cover, undermine serious international diplomatic relations.

Subtle observing is my speciality. I stake out the city, put my espionage skills to use, choosing carefully before I casually deposit the winning ticket into a beggar’s cup.

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Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 17: WINNERS

Delighted to be included in the HONORABLE MENTIONS for my story Poking the beast with a stick.

Flash! Friday

Howdy! color me OVER THE MOON HAPPY–you all rocked the prompt this week. I am absolutely bonkers for the way y’all gave the judges so much to work with in addition to a guy running down a giant Colorado dune. That’s exactly how it’s done, and in STYLE. Really truly wonderful work from each of you. Thank you for sharing your time and magnificent talents here at Flash! Friday. 


Dragon Captains Pratibha/Sinéad O’Hart say

Sinéad: What an assortment of riches to choose from this week. Stories of derring-do amid the dunes, archaeological mystery, otherworldly locales, despotic kings, and imaginings of a land without water – this week’s Flash! Friday entries had it all, and more. As a fantasy/SF nut, I was thrilled by the amount of SF-tinged tales on offer, but the ones which stayed close to home were just as moving. Thanks, you guys…

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Another state, another license plate.

Here’s my flash fiction story written in response to Sunday Photo Fiction

copyright- Joe Owens 2015

Another state, another license plate.

The wire slides neatly into the slit. I wiggle. It catches.

The question.

“If you weren’t here doing this what would you be doing?”

This isn’t the time for existential philosophical contemplation or discussion. Stealth, speed silence are what’s required of this moment. So I wait until we are inside to answer my dead father.

With the wiggle of wire, there is a click. I have the door open. We slide into the cream new leather upholstery smell. In the muffled silence I answer.

“Probably the same thing but in a different state.”

Plastic cover removed, I touch two different coloured cables together. They spark. The energy of their electricity releases a flicker of flame, the light of ignition.

Ra ra ra, the smooth hum as the engine growls to life. The spirit of the vehicle resurrected.


I know what he’s up to. Haunting me with his questions. Making me wonder if there’s more to life. A purpose other than my relentless pilgrimage for him. He’s persistent.

And so am I.

I will drive until I am in a new state, with new laws to escape from my crime. One car leads me to the next. A chain of state slates. Alabama, Virginia, Florida, Kansas. I have a clear vision of my shrine to the man who taught me to drive, gave me a purpose.

The engine purrs into gear. The car rolls smoothly away stretching towards a new future. Another state, another license plate.

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Flash! Friday: Vol 3 – 17

Here’s my story, written for Flash Friday
Poking the beast with a stick

Where time was measured by season and crop rotation, the turning of months in a year, the meaning of hands revolving around numbers is replaced by a serrated metal blade to tear open cans. Now, time is measured out in tins of soup and beans and pineapple slices.
The sun glints from his corrugated roof. Alone in our galvanised existence, I haven’t seen movement for a while now.
The shimmering air vibrates with forgotten ghosts, apple trees, acorns, bluebell, buttercup, cowslip, dandelion, heather and ivy. Rich fertile land now a barren dessert.
Whole village wiped out, only us two left. All my fault; my blunder in the nuclear waste plant. He was my boss; a bit grumpy now irreversibly venomous. I know not to knock on his door. He’d shoot me with his old blunderbuss, leave me walking around with guts in my hands like dirty washing.
Need to check if he’s alive. After relentless unrest, nail-biting, pacing, I risk it.
Sand swirls on the wind, howling gusts whirl, whip, trudging crunch of sand beneath feet. I throw a rock at his window. A web of cracks emanate from the point of impact.
A sudden burst erupts, zing of metal severs the sky. Danger in the present tense.
I run.

Flash! Friday

Happy Friday!! I must admit I’m still a bit teary-eyed over last week’s win by Sinéad O’Hart who, in serendipitous timing, is judging today with her partner-in-crime Pratibha. If you haven’t read Sinéad’s frank interview, please do so here. It is hard not winning, no matter how many times we tell ourselves it’s not the winning (or the getting an agent/publishing contract, or the breaking through Amazon levels, or the making of bestseller lists, or the number of comments on a story, or, or, or) that countsHow does one dig deep enough to find the courage to press on after disappointments? For some it’s a lifelong quest; but thanks to communities like you, it’s a quest we as writers never need to undertake alone. Let me tell you again, because it’s true:


Thank you, dearests, for all you do, Friday…

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