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New Story: ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS, SMOKE

Bloomin' heck, but it's been a while! Without going into any details/prolonged self-serving moans about the beastly unfairness of it all (at least not in this post), it has been a rough eighteen months, particularly on the mental side of things. In short, I hit a bit of a block with the creation of new work, and wasn't feeling especially confident when sending any out. I had tipped over from accepting rejection as a part of the process, to actively expecting it from the moment I clicked upon 'Send' or 'Submit'.


Which, perhaps needless to say, was distinctly unhelpful and thoroughly shit.


However, when I repeatedly stalled in the early stages of ambitious new projects, as opposed to giving up on writing or editing entirely - tempting though such a strategy was - I instead decided to revisit some slightly older works. Fellow writers will know the sort, I'm sure - the weird, personal little ditties that perhaps you only tried one of two places (if even) before deciding they were probably too idiosyncratic (for which read, in my case, 'full of daft or surreal attempts at humour') to find a good home, and so end up ensconced in your archives instead.


Sometimes, when returning to works of this nature, you are quickly reminded why they're gathering dust. Either the central idea really isn't as good as it seemed when your sleep-addled brain first disturbed you with it at 4:30 one morning, or would require so much time and effort to rectify that you just can bring yourself to try.


On other, rarer occasions, however, you fall back in love in the space of a breath. No, perhaps the first line isn't good enough, and/or the rhythm is janky, and/or that character's name is absolute guff. But... something about it all just clicks. Or is a few words from clicking, and suddenly that's all you want it to do.


Rewrite mode activated. Insert black coffee. Do not disturb. 'Rock, Paper, Scissors, Smoke' is just such a story, and I couldn't be happier with how it turned out.


Actually, I tell a slight lie - what did make me happier was when the new Editor of Interzone, Gareth Jelley, accepted it, meaning I could finally join the ranks of contributors to that hallowed publication, after years of close calls.


At any rate, here's how it starts: Tommy squints up at the afternoon sun, then down at his lager, while frisking the pockets of his faded blue jeans. His hand re-emerges with a pack of tobacco, which holds filter tips, Rizlas, and a lighter as well. Though the lighter’s disposable, see-through and green, he places it carefully onto the table, like the spirit level he uses to fit kitchen floors. The bubble is way left of centre, however, because the Tawny Bull's beer garden is wonky as fuck.


The slant calls attention to the graffiti beside it, which I think is supposed to be some kind of penis, yet looks more like the anti-spacecraft guns from arcade games of yore -- complete with the lines coming out of the tip. It's safe to say this isn't the best pub on Earth, or even in town, but it's where we come anyhow to squander our pay. Of course, Tommy spends a bit on his smoking stuff too, but it's hardly as though it's a serious habit; no yellow-brown teeth or stained fingertips, yet. It's just something he does when he's stalling for time.


The tobacco looks more than a little like sawdust, and as he portions it out with remarkable focus, I drain off the IPA dregs from my glass. Clink it down next to his, which is also near-empty.


“Subtle,” he mumbles, without looking up. He slots in a filter and rolls the cig closed.


It's a pretty hot day, with no breeze to speak of, yet he still needs three efforts to get the thing lit. He takes an eager but somehow luxurious drag, and then breathes out an incomplete ring, a smoke horseshoe, which floats rather lazily into my face.


There’s no doubt I could do with additional luck, if I want to get Tommy to buy the next round.


Thirsty for more? If so, get yourself an IZ Digital membership for only 3 Euros, if you don't have one already, and start savouring the rest - as well as all the other cracking fiction they have for you to read! Indeed, before I go, I'd just like to take a moment to thank Gareth again for accepting this story, and for his incredibly kind and confidence-boosting words throughout the editorial process. It really means a lot to have such a positive relationship with an Editor, and it's heartening to find that despite long-term steward Andy Cox's departure, Interzone is still very much in safe hands. Please consider supporting the magazine however you can.

Also, if you've found something of use in this post, and/or enjoy my short fiction, I would greatly appreciate it if you could support my future endeavours via Ko-fi as well - and share this story with anyone you think might like a read!




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