Within the
word count

Manchester author David Gaffney’s new book contains more than 70 stories – some funny, some grim but all coming in at less than 150 words, says Antonia Charlesworth

Hero image

Having already published two books of short stories, Manchester-based author David Gaffney gained critical acclaim for his 2008 debut novel Never Never – a darkly comic tale about a debt counsellor, set in his hometown of Cleator Moor in Cumbria.

Having since returned to short story writing, the 52-year-old author set himself a task arguably more challenging than writing a novel – micro fiction within the confines of a 150 word count.

In More Sawn-Off Tales Gaffney demonstrates his mastery over flash fiction, as he evokes sadness and humour in equal measure through the often tragic but fully formed characters in 70-plus stories. Here he shares just a few of them.

Passing Place

She wore a dress with skulls on it and a black rose in her hair and Simon walked past her every day at exactly the same place.

One morning he smiled at her and when she smiled back he pursed his lips, changing his expression as fluidly as an organist shifting to a wistful minor.

Simon imagined them in cities like Oslo, laughing about The-Exchange-of-Smiles-Day.

With her it would always be cities.

The girl’s journey was so punctual that it could be calibrated to the second, and one day Simon stopped her.

“Look,” he said, and tore off his wristwatch and threw it into a bin.

She stared at him, and because she had no timepiece to discard, Simon unclipped the rose from her hair and tossed it into the road.

He hasn’t seen her since and hasn’t replaced his wristwatch, preferring to tell the time by peering into cars.

Let’s See What Rachel’s Been Up To

Rachel loved Richard Heaven and posted everything about him on Facebook.

Heaven knew the smell of spermicide like a tabby knows lion shit. Heaven whacked his dyspraxic son with a plastic bottle. Heaven once shagged a sweet wrapper.

Rachel was obsessed with Heaven and I became obsessed with her obsession.

Then one day they bickered about revival-ska, Heaven typed the word “sigh”, and the next night, in an urban park she’d never heard of, he told her it was over.

There was a Heaven-shaped gap on her sofa, and a photograph of a snowman sporting his trilby and a roll-up cigarette appeared entitled “When Heaven’s Not Here”.

The evenings were long without Rachel’s bulletins, so I persuaded my boyfriend Jason to message her about revival-ska and they agreed to meet.

Last night she uploaded a picture Jason had drawn of her, which he’d covered in glitter.

She called it sparkleicious.

The Homes of Others

Ethel was a homeworker, but her own flat was no place for industry with its mounds of bras and pizza boxes, so instead she worked from other people’s houses.

She would wait until the occupants left, slide a credit card under the Yale, then creep on to the sofa with her laptop and tap away at the day’s demands.

But today the numbers hypnotised her and she fell asleep. She woke up suddenly to find a man lying on the carpet holding her ankle tightly as if gripping a rail on a lurching train. His eyelashes were ginger filaments, almost invisible, and he smelt of cannabis.

“I thought you were my step-sister,” he said.

“I just work here,” said Ethel.

He loosened his clasp.

“I didn’t know I had another family. It’s like finding out you have an extra limb. You don’t know what it’s for.”

Another chewed-up orphan with a perma-dusk past. They make the greatest boyfriends.

The Three Rooms In Valerie’s Head

Valerie’s mind had three rooms: a front, a back and a cellar.

If there was something she didn’t want to think about at a particular moment she would move it into the back. Then she could concentrate on playing the viola or explaining her job to her mother.

The problem was the cellar.

Sometimes she would bring three or four ex-boyfriends up from the cellar and arrange them into scenes – a trad jazz band, or a dispute around a pool table – and she would move their jaws and make them speak in scratchy voices.

“Valerie was lovely, wasn’t she.”


“I wish I’d never left her.”

“We are all so stupid.”

Even though they smelled and had clouded weasel eyes and spongy biceps, it was good to imagine they were dead and position their bodies into these tableaux.

The drawback was having no space in the front room for anything else.

If you liked this article, we think you’ll enjoy these:

Interact: Responses to Within the
word count

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.