Michael Callaghan

Finalist 2017

Commendation 2018, Winner Scottish Arts Club Members Award 2018

Snake Bite and The Poppy Season are both calculatedly bleak. I’m not that keen on such endings in novels (I’m usually more invested in the characters and feel a bit cheated if the time I’ve spent with them has been “wasted”) but in short stories I think it’s okay to go a bit darker. One of my favourite short stories is The Fly-Paper by the novelist Elizabeth Taylor (filmed as a 1980 Tales of the Unexpected episode). The ending of that story is a moment of true, pull-the-rug, horror; and that “kick-in-the-stomach” moment is something I’ve always wanted to emulate. Snake Bite and The Poppy Season are as close as I’ve got. 

Excerpt from 'Snake Bite' (2017)

…I hear a cough. Not a real cough, like when you have a cold or something catches in your throat. It’s a can-I-have-your-attention cough.

I turn and see the librarian. He’s standing behind a long, horseshoe-shaped wooden desk, staring at me. I wonder how long he’s been looking at me. He has a grey, scraggy beard that looks oddly patchy -  like someone has pulled bits out of it - and silver rimless glasses that are too small for his face. He smiles, but in an odd way. Like something’s going on in his head. It strikes me that he might be the sort of man that my dad tells me to be careful of.

But my dad worries too much.

“Can I help you …Sonny?”

He pauses before he says Sonny, and he pronounces his s’s in a funny way. Slightly too long. It reminds me of the snake in Jungle Book; the one that pretends to be all nice to Mowgli - even while he’s wrapping his coils round him. Tighter and tighter.  Getting ready to snap.

 Excerpt from “The Poppy Season” (2018)

 …She looked outside. It was already growing dark. Across the driveway behind the lawn were the flower beds. They were full of pale pink roses and bright yellow chrysanthemums. Interspersing these were small clusters of poppies; blood-red and black and fierce. A storm had been forecast and the wind was already picking up. The woman watched the poppies swaying and flailing in the rising wind, and she shivered.

            “You know, my dear, I’ve never liked poppies. I watched The Wizard of Oz when I was little and Dorothy almost died in the field of poppies - or at least almost went to sleep for ever which is somehow worse. Since then they’ve terrified me. They grow on disturbed ground, you know. That’s why they get associated with war and destruction, because of those battlegrounds. It’s almost like the petals have fed on the blood in the ground beneath them. And that’s what I think of them – flowers that seem nice but, are horrible, dark things, that feed on pain and misery and death.”

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About Michael

I live in Clarkston, East Renfrewshire with my wife, two children and far more pets than a non animal lover really ought to have. I work as a lawyer in Glasgow and whilst I’ve always been interested in writing only became more focused on it in recent years. I read mainly crime/ thriller fiction, and particularly admire writers like Stephen King, Tana French and Gillian Flynn.

My long term ambition is to publish a novel but in the meantime I enjoy writing short fiction. My first short story success was Blessed (set in a post-apocalyptic world where it doesn’t stop raining - no longer available online) which came second in the Nottingham Writers Group Short Story Competition in 2015.  That was followed by The Ghost of St Cadoc’s (my favourite of my own stories - schoolboys follow someone to prove he is a ghost; things don’t work out quite how they expect…) which won Writing Magazine’s annual Ghost Story competition in 2015. Other stories that have since been published via Writing Magazine and still available to read on their website include: Talk to Caitlin (an uncomfortable office “romance” spirals out of control),  Egg in a Cup (girl searches for Mr. Right – but he has to provide her with the perfect meal) and The Bottom Drawer (the world’s worst employee faces a disciplinary hearing).  Also still available to read online is Last Delivery  (see page 8 of that linked anthology; ex-con is persuaded to make one last delivery, but – inevitably – all is not as it seems), which was the winner of the 2015 Chorley & District Writers short story competition.

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In June 2018 I won first prize in the Swanwick Writing School annual short story competition, winning a place at their summer writing school. The winning story Stuck on You was published in the competition supplement of the October edition of Writing Magazine. In November 2018 I took third prize in the 2018 Chorley Writers competition with my story Scalpel. Also that month my story London Rain was Highly Commended in the Brighton Prize.

I have previously been shortlisted / highly commended in Writers Forum, the H.E. Bates Competition, the Doris Gooderson Award and the Yeovil Literary Prize (short story category).

MY WRITING LIFE

 I don’t like complete silence when I write, preferring background noise, so the TV will usually be on. It can’t be too gripping though. Game of Thrones wouldn’t work.  Bake Off would be fine (unless it’s the final episodes when the tension really ramps up of course…).  I write when I can, on a couch, in my back room, with the laptop on my knee.

 INSPIRATIONAL PLACES

 I have no inspirational places! Snow-kissed mountains and melting sunsets might look pretty, but sadly they don’t help my writing. (If only…) Overall, I find that a looming competition deadline provides the best inspiration.