Friday, 20 March 2015

Lunch break

She leant back into the rain-specked anoraks and scarves, hoping their clammy embrace would swallow her up. Banish her from the world of malicious notes slipped into her bag, vicious taunts, barbed comments and public humiliation. 

The playground was too open. The library too obvious. The toilets downright dangerous.

Why had they singled her out with their sharp tongues and sharper nails? Why take out time from bikeshed snogging, smoking and carving boyfriends’ names into their arms to make her life a misery? Though dumpy and unkempt, there was nothing obvious about her to put the invisible “Kick Me” sign on her back - just some literary pretensions and words beyond the accepted vocabulary of conformist teenhood.

She put pen to paper. Words would wreak her revenge, long from now, when her tormentors had grown beyond teenage spite. Her bullies had given her a gift, which she would upwrap slowly and nurture until it bloomed to success whilst they lamented in regrets and reliving High School glories. 

The bell jangled through her thoughts, signaling the end of lunch break. Her heart thumped in her ears, she took a deep breath and prepared for Double Maths and Malice.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Headline news from humanity’s frontline

An abandoned shopping cart standing like a modern-day ‘Marie Celeste’ by the roadside. That streetlight that always flickers off the minute you get within ten feet of it. The succession of motley moochers in mismatching off-casts waiting for an undefined something on the wall outside my apartment block. The empty eyes and broken smile of the trolley jockey who greets me on my weekly trip to the supermarket.

They’re all mundane, everyday sights, but ones which arouse my curiosity. Make me wonder about the story behind the everyday, the banal. They set my mind off on a voyage of possibilities which can end up in the ordinary or take me way beyond where I usually let my imagination wonder. Sometimes, they take me to dark places – often inspired by reality. Sometimes, there are more than enough monsters or horrors in the real world.

I started my working life as a newspaper reporter, and that probably shows in my writing. I guess it’s the journalist’s inborn curiosity combined with the training to condense a story into as few words as possible without losing the facts, or the feeling behind them, that draws me to short stories as a genre.

I think of my flash fiction as headline news from humanity’s frontline. An anthology of short stories can be like a broadcast news bulletin. Sometimes, the headline tells you everything you need to know. Sometimes, it takes a few sentences to illuminate you and set you thinking. And sometimes, it leaves you with questions and the desire to learn more.

The tone of my stories often surprises me. I’m generally an upbeat, obstinately positive person, refusing to give in when the going gets tough and always seeking out the silver lining. My fiction, however, is often melancholy, dark, even sinister. But perhaps that’s another reason I write? Everyone, even those who have led the most charmed lives, have dark ghosts lurking in the corners of their soul. Writing casts out those demons and places them in tales where they can take on a life of their own, at a safe distance from my own psyche?

Story telling is as old as humanity itself. It was born long before the written word was, passed from mouth to ear around the communal fire built to keep the wolves, and other monsters, away when darkness fell. It entertains, challenges, questions. It can make us cheer in recognition, laugh, cry, or take a sometimes uncomfortable look at ourselves.

And while most writers harbour a dream of publishing some great opus in novel form, it’s the bite-sized offerings short stories that keep us entertained around that fire.


Words have been Mandi Millen’s friends since she was a child growing up in a house filled with books and story-tellers in Surrey, UK. She started telling her own stories young, and she’s still at it – for her own pleasure, to amuse others and (occasionally) to exorcise her demons.
After leaving school, she became a reporter with weekly and daily newspapers in the south-east of England, and later went into press & public relations.
Everything changed in 1989 when she left her job, her home and the UK for a six-month working holiday in Greece. That was the plan – until a brown-eyed boy in Samos persuaded her to stay. Today, he is her husband and father to their 18-year-old son.
Mandi lives in a suburb of Athens, works in Corporate Communications for an international company, and in her spare time writes short stories and general burblings for her blog.


This post appeared this week as a guest post in the “Why I Write Short Fiction” section of the Short Story & Flash Fiction Society website.
It's a great resource and place to connect with like-minded folk, if you’re interested in reading, or writing, short fiction, check out it at

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

You’re not in Surrey any more, Cynthia (Book Review)

Adrian Mole grew up, Bridget Jones left her singleton status behind, and we’ve all reached the Age of Reason. Or so they tell us. 

Now we have a new heroine to give voice to the trials, tribulations and unexpected absurdities of middle age in the person of Cynthia Hartworth, suburban Surrey housewife suddenly set adrift in an unfamiliar world by the wholly unforeseen (at least to her).

In her debut novel, “Dear Beneficiary”, Janet Kelly takes us on an unexpected adventure with Cynthia after she becomes a widow at 60 when her impeccably dull husband Colin suddenly drops dead, and she tries to expand her horizons beyond Waitrose and the Bridge Club. It’s a romp that sees oh-so-proper Cynthia dive into the unfamiliar waters of the internet, explore aspects of her womanhood she’d never known existed, travel beyond middle class respectability, get up close and personal with the kind of people she would previously have crossed the road to avoid, and become the unwilling owner of a foul-mouthed fowl.
One thing’s for sure, it changes the way she sees the Home Counties forever.

Kelly hilariously tells her tale of innocence overcome and boredom beaten, with more than a few bumps along the way. In Cynthia, she has created a character we all know or can identify with, and her journey takes us where many might imagine but few actually go.

A great read which had me laughing out loud at times, I hope “Dear Beneficiary” is the first of many more to come from the talented keyboard of the sassy Ms Kelly.

If you don’t believe me, see for yourself. It’s available for download as an e-book now at

Friday, 6 March 2015

A whole day? Just for me and my girlies? Gee, thanks (but no thanks)

It’s already started.

The ads for “Sexy Boy Live Stripshow”. Promos for “Ladies’ Night” special cocktails. Offers to teach middle-aged matrons how to defy gravity with pole-dancing lessons or workshops to bring out their inner Burlesque diva. Banners popping up on my browser for heart-shaped pizzas “especially for the ladies” (no doubt made with ‘Lite’ ingredients). Price-hikes at the florists as they prepare for the onslaught of bosses who want to gain the approval of their female staff by presenting each with a red rose on their “Special Day”. 
And me, sitting at my keyboard, seething at the screen.

Yes folks, International Women’s Day is just around the corner – this Sunday in fact.
And I, for one, am dead against it. I know that probably won’t win me many friends, but there you go.

I reject International Women’s Day on a personal level, based on the fact that I am lucky enough to have been born and raised in a time and place where a lot of the battles of my sex have been won (but certainly not all).  I grew up in a family that encouraged me to believe that I was entitled to equal opportunities and treatment regardless of what bodily equipment I lug around with me. I have the background, and perhaps the temperament, to be work hard for whatever I set my heart on without being discouraged by the “nice girls don’t” prescripts.

I don’t need to given a pat on the head and told how “special” I am, thank you very much. Nor do I need to be granted a WHOLE DAY in the year devoted to me and my sisters around the world to understand my worth. 
I know I’m special – just as every man, woman and everything in between is – and I certainly don’t need a wilting force-bloomed flower sitting forlornly on my desk next to a sad slice of taste-free pizza to tell me that.

Frankly, I’d feel a lot more appreciated if we could finally get rid of the pay gap, the glass ceiling and the pigeon-holes some male colleagues slot all females into (“hot” or “menopausal”). I’d also love not to being considered a bitch or harridan - or worse the victim of my hormones - when I am strong, assertive or simply plain pissed-off at someone’s rudeness, incompetence or ignorance.

I shouldn’t complain. We’ve come a long way, even in the past few decades. Many of my female friends feel we longer need feminism, shifting uncomfortably in their seats when I start getting all Germaine Greer and telling me “We've won the important battles” and “I like being a woman/feminine”.

Despite my short hair and sometimes strident words, I like being a woman too. I’m happily married to a man I consider my best friend. I love cooking. I even do the ironing (though with little joy). I enjoy the company of both sexes. I wear make-up. I don’t own a single pair of dungarees, and I have never burned a bra in my life. I love the intimacy and support of female friendships that most blokey relationships never come close to. 
But I am a woman on my own terms. And being patronized is not on my wish list.

Here in the developed world (for want of a better phrase), the whole International Women’s Day concept has been kidnapped by the commercial interests who want to squeeze dosh out of us. Not least, they want to convince the decent fellas in our lives that they have to buy more stuff and serve up special treatment to show us their supportive, fem-friendly side (just as they pressured them to produce enforced romance on St Valentine’s Day).

Missing the whole point, much?

In the same week I’ve seen offers for Ladies’ Nights and special girly pizzas (extra glitter anyone?), the headlines have made depressing reading.
In an interview, one of the men convicted of the horrific gang rape and resulting death of a student in Delhi states that women are more to blame for rape than men, and that she made things worse by trying to fight off the attack.
Girls are still being subjected to genital mutilation at an age when most of us were blissfully unaware of the details of what goes on down there.
Young women are kidnapped and enslaved en masse to make some idealogical point.
Female children are raised to believe that they have less value than their brothers, fathers, sons and male friends (if they’re allowed to have any).

Even in ‘enlightened’ societies, we’re brainwashed into thinking that we’re somehow less of a real woman if we fail to match up to the copy/paste ideal of half-starved, Botoxed, body hair-free, ‘Come and get me big boy’ prototype that is thrust in our faces by every available media outlet. The only acceptable alternative is the holy state of motherhood (believe me, your average mother of a pre-schooler feels very far from a sanctified paragon of virtue).

And don’t you dare get fat or old, girls.

These are the things we should be shouting about on International Women’s Day, not pink drinks and wilting roses. So let’s stop missing the whole point and, men and woman alike, start making the kind of noise - every day of the year - to try to put right some of the wrongs still left on our ‘To Do’ list.