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Emphasising the Australian voice with a short story.

I recently entered a competition hosted by Pan Macmillan where they wanted you to write a 1,000 word short story using characters from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

So I did. I didn’t win, didn’t even make the top five. Heck, I didn’t even get a mention. Not that I’m bitter (honestly, no sarcasm there for once) as I went into it pretty sure they wouldn’t even read past my introductory blurb about me and even look at my short story. Why? Because I emphasised my love of the Australian voice and how I’d deliberately used it in my story.

Pan Macmillan don’t like the Australian voice. They publically say this a lot. Actually, what they say is there is no audience for the Australian voice and so they won’t even consider it. Which is rather frustrating, but nothing that causes me to waste too much of my time being grumpy over. This is because it’s my opinion that major publishing houses are out to do one thing – make money. They’re a business, it’s what they do. Sometimes, as a by-product, they publish books and even make smaller amounts of money for other people… but all in all they are seeking things to publish that shine dollar signs for their bank accounts. It’s okay, it’s how the majority of the world works, not just publishing. People tend to only put effort into things that will give them positive results like money and fame. Let’s face it, it’s human nature. Why bother being grumpy over people simply following human nature? Pan Macmillan say there is no audience wanting the Australian voice, therefore no money… that’s fine by me.

I’ve accepted it and moved on.

However, I will not give up on the Australian voice. I’m Australian, and I’m damned if I’m going to write like a different nationality simply to get my work published. I will not, for example, write sympathise with a z. My parents didn’t send me to school for all those years just to know where I was every day. My teachers didn’t spend hair pulling moments teaching me the spelling and grammar of Australian society simply for me to turn my back on it so I can get a bigger royalty pay cheque from a better known publisher.

I’m Australian and I’m bloody well going to write like one too! And no one is going to stop me. Yes it may mean I’m not going to be working for Pan Macmillan any time soon, but hey that’s their problem and not mine. 😉

I’m just happy to have found a publisher who doesn’t have an Australian voice phobia. Then again, as a small Indie publisher they’re also still more interested in getting new authors and interesting new works out there as they are at making money. Hence my love of the smaller publishers and why I now have them higher up my submissions list than I do the major publishing houses. I’ve come to the conclusion the major houses aren’t ready for me yet. And as I’m not into being an Author for fame and fortune, I’m okay with this. They may never be ready for me, bless them. Who cares?! It won’t stop me writing and it won’t stop me trying. 🙂

And with that little waffle I will end with the short story declined, and doubtfully even read by Pan Macmillan. I mean, they could have read it and thought it crap. Fair enough, I’m not saying I’m the world’s best Writer and it could indeed just be a rubbish short story. I usually don’t do short stories and so fully accept it would be no better than doggy droppings. Meh, all the same I enjoyed writing it and those of my international friends (who will rip my work to shreds if they don’t like it) enjoyed it too. And that is all that matters to me. Shite or no shite in the eyes of others, I enjoyed writing so job done!

I can’t save this short story up for another competition as it uses character names from Romeo and Juliet and so there are all those copyright issues. So you’re getting it here for free where you are fully aware it has these character names in it as that was the prerequisite of the competition I entered.

Finally I would like to tip my hat to Mr Baz Luhrmann who’s own Australian voice inspired me in this story. Obviously it’s only the literary world that’s not ready to hear/ read it.

Enjoy… Hopefully.

Benvolio’s lament.

Benvolio wanted peace. Despite not wanting to say out loud that he wanted it ‘at all costs’, the words always seemed to silently add themselves to his thoughts every time he requested it out loud.

The world was a mess, everything was gone and this was his last chance. Peace, at all costs.

And who wouldn’t want peace at the end of year Mantua Ridge Semi-Pro Ballroom finals?

Especially with the incomers from Verona Creek being eligible to take part, since their dance hall had burnt down in last summer’s bushfires.

But peace must be had; it was doing Benvolio’s head in. Thankfully he didn’t have to be the judge for the finals. But as Chair of the Mantua Ridge ‘Having an Active Town Environment’ – he wasn’t best pleased with the committee’s name – Benvolio still had to ensure things ran as smoothly as possible.

And it wasn’t that possible. The two towns had never gotten on, and combining them together in this way hadn’t helped. Although the instigator of the committee, Benvolio had never realised it would turn into such a mess, though should have guessed. All he had wanted to do was hold out an olive branch to the poor folk at Verona Creek after their town burnt down and his didn’t. All he had desired was to show community help extended further down the highway than old Paris’ farm. All he now craved was for the two towns to get along and enjoy a dance amongst the tinsel and mirror balls on this sultry summer’s night. What he instead got was an invisible, but distinct, line down the dancefloor where people decked out in their finest feathers, taffeta and tulle ignored each other as they twisted, glided and shuffled through the dances. Yes there was the occasional scuffle when partners from the two towns met on that line. All mere accidents, of course! Sadly one such accident had left Mercutio with a badly twisted knee and he and his partner Rosaline were out of the finals, sitting dejected on the sidelines; her with an ice pack, him with a beer.

But other than that things seemed to be progressing at a level of civility Benvolio decided was acceptable. There were just the wallflowers to contend with. Both towns had half a dozen ‘fair maidens’ lining the walls, also separated by the invisible line. Some, if Benvolio hadn’t been such a kind soul, would have been better classified as ‘old maids’ but there were some lookers there too. The stand out, of course, was Juliet.

Although barely old enough to meet the eligible age criteria to compete, she was beautiful. Fair of face, slim of figure and budding red lips seeming perfect to kiss… by a younger man, of course! But sadly her strict parents had shunned all offers from dashing young men to dance with her. However, this was about to change! A wardrobe malfunction sent Juliet’s mother scurrying towards the toilets in a flurry of lost sequins and fake pearls, her husband trying to scoop them up in her wake. Juliet was now left unguarded.

Enter Romeo stage right. Well, from the side door at least. He had been outside with some of his mates and hadn’t wanted to take part in the competition at all. But with his mother being Mayor of Mantua Ridge, he had had to at least turn up, and in appropriate dance wear at that. On seeing Juliet alone, a rose amongst a cluster of thorns, he felt it was time to stir things up. Why not have a good time and annoy the folk of Verona Creek?

Paying no heed to the invisible line separating the towns, or even the scowled looks from the local wallflowers, Romeo strode up to Juliet. With a flourish he bowed to her and asked for the next dance, which was about to begin. There was a collective gasp from both sides when Juliet grinned up into his smiling face, snatched his hand and strode onto the dancefloor as if worried he would change his mind.

It was the tango! Benvolio clasped his hands together in fear. He wanted peace; would this dance show all were equal and bring the two towns together? Or be the final nail in the coffin?

Romeo looked out of his depth for a moment; he’d only ever attended ballroom lessons as his parents demanded it. But he’d never really done the tango. And especially not with one so young, flexible and pretty. If he didn’t watch his step, Romeo could see himself leaving with a thick ear and their parents hurling abuse and beer cans across the carpark.

The two strutted, dipped and clasped each other in a rather haphazard manner. Definitely not competition winning style or grace, but they were still turning heads all the same. A Mantua boy with a Verona girl? A Montague with a Capulet! But for Romeo and Juliet it was more than just a silly dance contest. It was their way of thumbing their noses at the two towns and their age old hostilities. With each step they seemed to be saying ‘take that old feud about who had the bigger marrow in 1946.’ ‘Be gone lawsuit over who really owned the cow, long since dead while the lawsuit raged on.’ ‘So what if your town burnt down, we didn’t start it no matter what you say.’ The young couple were in a frenzy of stamping and dipping and stalking until a squawk from the toilet door showed the return of Juliet’s parents.

The spell was broken, the awed silence splintering into muttered insults and threatening looks as the two towns, at last, came together. Sadly it was not in the way Benvolio had hoped.

And as the fists flew and insults burned, out through the side door skipped a rather amused Juliet and her besotted Romeo. From beneath his table huddled a rather sad soul, there would be no peace for poor Benvolio.

 Until next time,

Janis. XXOO

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Posted by on May 3, 2015 in Writing


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A short story for Halloween – The last tenant of Adelaide.

Happy Halloween everyone! As promised, I’m sharing a bit of a ‘spooky’ story with you for this special time of the year.

The last tenant of Adelaide was a short story I wrote for an Australian themed anthology last year that, sadly, didn’t make it off the drawing board. I’ve submitted it to a few other short story competitions and anthologies, but no luck.

And so, I am giving it to the world here instead. Well, not giving really more sharing. So, no, you can’t go off and use it however you like. This is still my story. And I know by publishing it here, it will now be null and void to be used by me elsewhere. I can live with that, as long as those who read it enjoy it for what it is… A short story about Zombies. 😉

So, here is The last tenant of Adelaide, enjoy!


I’d never been a great fan of zombies. I scoffed at the concept while still fearing what would happen if it could really happen. But it was one of those late night, insomnia fuelled fears… I had never been the sort to prepare for the zombie apocalypse. That is, until it started to happen.

As with most epidemics that arrived on our shores, it started as a cough. The patient would steadily go downhill as necrosis set in around their body. Only, despite their cells dying, the victim did not, they simply changed. We had zombies. Not just an Australian first, a world first. No one knew where the disease came from, but for some unknown reason we had it here and only here. The rest of the world appeared safe, for now.

They weren’t your typical television zombies out for brains and zipping through the night after their next victims. They were slow, and appeared docile until the moment they were attacking and tearing you limb from limb. All they seemed to want was to kill, or to turn a person into another zombie. Why? Will we ever know? Burning the bodies seemed to stop them, and they didn’t seem to last too long in the ocean before dissolving. Mind you, there was no Wizard of Oz melting moment if sea water was thrown on them. People learnt that the hard way.

The zombie’s necrosis infected all they touched or all who an infected victim coughed upon. It spread faster than any known pandemic to date and soon the world closed its borders to anyone in Australia trying to get out. When it first began, either the Government didn’t know how bad it would be, or knew and had decided to try and keep it a secret. I’ve never wasted my time getting too philosophical over it. They did, however, enforce a nation-wide curfew from sun down to sun up. Only emergency personnel or those authorised to be out left their homes. The general public were not amused, until the deaths started. I was still in two minds over it until the night there came a scratching at my back door. Living alone and not owning a pet – nor at the time being too fearful of the night – I listened intently and tried to drown it out with the television. It was the ripping of the flyscreen in my open bedroom window followed by a thud and then shuffling that got my attention. I don’t know what it was, but just the presence of the zombie in my home had the hairs stand up all over my body. Despite not thinking too much of the threat then or even believing it to be a zombie, something deep within me sensed the danger and I found myself scrambling to my feet. My first thought was to move towards the bedroom to investigate but this deep, fearful survival instinct had me instead grab my bag, keys and phone then escape.

My first instinct was to flee away from the bedroom at the back of the house and so it was my front door I opened… and where I met my first zombie face to face. The memory still causes shivers as I saw a man, young, long dead and black and green with the necrosis disease – as it was then called. Flakes of skin falling from his shrivelled body as he slowly lurched forward, snatching at me. I slammed the door with a scream and turned to find another way out. The door behind me rattled and I was about to turn to ensure I’d dead bolted it when a shadowy movement caught my eye. There was definitely one in the house. This one was female, older and obviously had been dead for less time as the skin was more a mottled brown, red and green. Oh god, it was my neighbour! Why hadn’t I checked on her this morning like the police were asking people to? The beady, hungry eyes that stared at me from metres away down the hall did not go with the old lady I knew. The blackness, the rage, the almost pure evil that seemed to be within them marred all memories of the smiling, kind and friendly eyes I remembered. I was very lucky to survive that first meeting of zombies untouched. I fled back to my lounge room and flung open the window on the other side. Praying for no zombies on that side of the house I popped the screen and scrambled out. There were dark shadows milling under the peppercorn tree in my backyard, but I didn’t stop to count how many or whether they were alive or dead. My car was right there and I was in it and driving as quickly as I could before I even knew I’d done it. That primeval fear and adrenalin carried me out of the suburbs of Tea Tree Gully and into the city before the Police stopped me. I fell from the car, sobbing, into the arms of a Police officer. As the shock set in I realised the enormity of it all. Zombies were everywhere, how was a curfew meant to stop them to save us? In that one night I lost my home, my life as an accountant and my sense of ever truly feeling safe again.

That night wasn’t just the catalyst that caused me to realise life, as I’d known it, seemed to be over. It was also the night the zombie rumours became real life threats to everyone I knew. Those, that is, who survived.

The nation panicked, not just Adelaide. Anyone who could tried to leave by any means known. The world’s navies combined and shot down any planes and sank any boats that dared to flee. A country that had so recently disdained the very thought of boat people had become them, and their deaths were counted as a tragedy by a scared world who looked on and couldn’t think of a better solution to stop this plague.

For those of us who remained, our world became turmoil of fear and death. The problem quickly escalated and people didn’t just go about their business as if nothing was wrong. It was really then that we realised how much the world had abandoned us to this fate. That was when society started to falter. I joined the homeless communities of Adelaide, where we initially clustered in foyer of the Police Headquarters on Angus Street at night, fearful of the noises and hoping the bordered up glass frontage would keep the danger at bay. As society crumbled further, this small pretence of safety went with it. That was when we stopped being united in our fear and homelessness as a community and instead broke down into groups of people just out to survive.

As the homeless numbers grew, I found myself amongst friends, work colleagues and family members. We seemed to cluster together for support by association. By night we fled and hid from these night walkers, these vicious decaying creatures of our own making. And by day we fought and hid from those still alive, those who were seeking the best shelter, the most food and the greatest resources possible at any cost, including another’s life. There was no happy and safe commune out in the country for us all to strive for, we were on our own.

We became isolated pockets of fear and loathing, sheltering together one moment, fighting the next for the last scrap of food. I had been an accountant in a safe and happy firm on King William Street and despite the crumbling of society, I still found myself following the orders and requests of my Manager. Though, rather than reply with reports and figures, I fought beside him with knife and gun. As much as I was ashamed of being lowered to the level of savage, I had to survive. I did not ask for the zombies, I hadn’t been one of those who joked of the zombie apocalypse. And I was damned sure I wasn’t going to become one of the festering numbers with those oh so dark, dangerous and hungry eyes.

I don’t know how it started, but some unthinking soul thought the best way to eradicate the zombies was with fire. And so the country blazed. The entire nation. Towns, farmland, bush and cities… it all burned. It killed more than just the zombies and dwindled the food resources and population down to a few scattered thousands. No longer a civilisation, Australia was now gone as we knew it. And the zombies proved to be as resourceful as cockroaches in the onset of the fires and so the fearful bumps in the night continued despite our greatest of losses.

As for me, I was still surviving. Still an afraid, tormented soul who never wanted to believe in zombies, but refused to lie down and give up now they were here. No longer ashamed to be a savage, I did what had to be done to survive… as did anyone around me. At first our group numbered in the hundreds. We took the eastern half of Tee Tree Plaza as our home as there were enough of us to protect it. Our group weren’t zombie fighters and protectors of the innocent, don’t be stupid. We simply wanted to survive. And so we stole. Everything. Trucks to contain our goods, money and petrol to barter and move with, guns and weaponry to protect and kill. We fought others for our gains; zombies and the living both became our enemies in our striving for survival. We ram raided shops and homes alike, taking anything of use and trying to wait the possible day Australia was once more a zombie free place. The day the rest of the world would remember us.

As time passed, our numbers dwindled. We lost some to zombie, others to rival gangs. The fires that consumed all of the hills and parts of the surrounding suburbs of Adelaide left my group thin on the ground. We had to give up our fortified home and find smaller places to hide. So we headed back into the city, now an empty mostly burnt out shell, rather than a thriving bustle of cultural events and life I remembered it as. It still hurt to see the glass, debris and burnt bodies everywhere, but I was surviving, that is what counted. I had lost friends and family despite my best efforts, the least I could do was survive to be someone who remembered them and mourned their loss. Those that remained in our group grew scared and started to pick off individuals who were too slow to not see it coming. I was one of the last, not because I was tough, but because I was sneaky. I had seen what was coming, felt it in that primal survival instinct of mine and had already made plans. I had been stock piling a considerable amount of our supplies for some time in an apartment block in the city’s east. Half the building was gone, destroyed by a downed plane some years ago. What remained was charred, but still structurally sound. At least the room at the top I chose was. I knew I couldn’t store enough there to last me a life time, but I was hoping for at least another year or so before I gave in and let fate decide for me.

So, while hiding our resources, I watched the biggest, strongest and slyest member of my group, my Manager, of all people, hunt down the competition to ensure all our accumulated resources were just his. He had always been a ruthless man in business, and his steady will to survive had been what had attracted me to fall under his leadership when society as we knew it disappeared. He had changed now; his steady devotion to survive had dropped from all to one. Sometimes I even feared him more than the zombies at night.

What he was doing, his culling of our group, was done on the quiet at first, one person missing every few days. It had become natural to expect this. For those of us who survived the night, we were often too tired to then defend ourselves from the competition of the living the next day. When our group was dwindled down to ten in a matter of a month – after surviving for almost six as a party of thirty – I began to suspect. Being the trusting soul that I was, this is when I started seeking my own hide away and stock piling what I could there. I had been watching our great leader for some days when I witnessed him drop our number to below five and knew I would be next. There was a similar greed and hunger to his eyes, as his killed a man we had worked with for years, as I remembered seeing in that first zombie’s. He was alive, uninfected by the necrosis, but that same zombie darkness glinted in his eyes and I became frightened of this living day walker as much as I was of those dead creatures of the night. That was when I stopped looking in the mirrors, not wanting to see if that same brutal survival instinct was looking out at me.

Whether it was a survival instinct or just wishful thinking, but those of us who remained alive within the group still pretended nothing was wrong. Well, besides the obvious zombie apocalypse and destroyed world around us. So by day we still banded together and sought further resources for our stockpiles. One such day was when we had discovered a nursing home on the city limits on Portrush Road that stocked a fair amount of tinned goods. A stranger had pleaded for his life with this information. It wasn’t enough to save him, but was tempting enough for us to make the hike out to there and retrieve it before anyone else did.

Despite all the pillaging, fires and destruction of our once beautiful city, this place seemed almost untouched with a lot of glass still remaining in its windowed frontage. I think this is what saved us from the zombie. Well, most of us. To get to the pantry, we needed to enter through the dining hall. And there, scattered about at tables, dishevelled and diseased sat the elderly occupants of this home. Some really were dead, carcasses slowly rotting in the sunlight streaming through the windows. But amongst them were a few alert-eyed undead. I don’t know why, but they were always immobile in daylight. But it didn’t stop them from watching you with their dark, hunger filled eyes and, if you weren’t careful, retracing your steps and hunting you down come night fall. The room was a mess, chairs, tables and human remains were strewn everywhere. There had obviously been a function the day they had been struck by the disease as there were also tables of long rotted food. All in all I felt it was not a good omen to be there. It had been my job to get the place ready to burn down, so I was staying outside and dowsing the place with petrol. One of the best ways to ensure you were not hunted by a zombie was to burn its den to the ground. I had just finished my task when I heard a muffled scream and knew our team was now down to two. And I was fairly certain which two it was. As I looked up, I met the determined and mad eyes of my former Manager as he stood there with backpacks bulging and gun in his hand. My survival instinct had me moving before he could pull the trigger. I struck a match and lit my petrol sprayed work, using the whoosh of flames and billowing black smoke to run. Why I ran into the burning building, I don’t know. I lived off my instincts and that is what they told me to do. Why the stupid man followed, rather than expect me to burn, I also don’t know.

I found myself once more in the sunlight flooded dining room and hid. He was coming for me, my instincts warned. It was drowned out, however, by the fact that I was squatting in a burning building and very aware I was being watched by half a dozen zombies with those eyes I feared more than anything would one day be seen in me. Adding to my concern was the billowing black smoke; would it count as being darkness? Would these undead soon move?

I was broken from these thoughts as the ceiling started to cave in and the air became too hot and thick to breathe. Unable to stay my nerve further I leapt to my feet to make for the back door. Only to come face to face with the man I was fleeing. Despite the heat and urgency we just stood there locked in each other’s gazes. All we both wanted to do was survive, but who would shoot first? His steely eyes watched me, as if sensing I wasn’t as unarmed as I appeared. Could I reach my own gun in time? In the end I didn’t have to, but still learnt a valuable lesson. Thick smoke was indeed enough darkness to at least allow a determined zombie to lurch forward. The old woman grabbed my former Manager’s arm and that was all it took. The necrosis quickly flowed from her to him and his look of cunning turned to one of fear and pleading. I hadn’t been looking forward to shooting this man, but the look in his face proved it was a mercy killing. The bullet between his eyes felled him, if I had been too late in saving him from becoming part of the undead, the fire should at least do the rest.

Before he had even toppled to the ground I was running, I was out of the building and, not forgetting to grab as many packs of food as I could carry, I was gone before the flames reached the gas bottles I had piled up in the kitchen. Even from the distance of a few kilometres that explosion shook the ground beneath me as I staggered back to my city hideout. It was like a wave of shock allowing me to realise that, since the hell that was the zombie plague, I was now truly alone. Truly the last tenant of Adelaide.

That had been months ago and now alone; I resolved to be in charge of my own life and death. And so, here I now sit in my hide away, twelve floors from the city below in a building that threatens to topple down at any moment. I’ve done my best to protect myself from the undead and living alike. I piled the stairwell and halls with as much furniture and rubble as I could and then covered as much of it with wet cement to harden and prevent an easy entrance. I bricked up the lift shaft, despite there not having been electricity to this city for years now. In the end I even bricked myself into the apartment, resolved to the fact that I’m not going to survive this plague, but simply giving myself a few more months. It took a while, but I eventually even installed steel enforced metal shutters where the French windows once stood keep the night, and what it contains, out. Though I’ve not seen a zombie climb, I will never take that chance. I’ve pretty much been left alone during the day too, pigeons and rats excluded. I have a small balcony where I cook, when needed, and also throw the refuse of my life. There is enough food and water for another year, if I’m lucky. And I’m still undecided as to what I will do first when I crave meat – eat a pigeon, a rat or the tins of SPAM I seem to have unwittingly collected.

This is not life; I wouldn’t even proudly call it survival anymore. It is merely prolonging death. I’m the last tenant of Adelaide, or so it seems, and will eventually have to come to the decision I now ponder daily. Slowly starve or end it all by throwing myself away like the rest of the refuse. I know that is my choice if the zombies ever find me. Being twelve floors up, it will be a quick decision and hopefully an even quicker death.

And left behind will be this laptop, charged by a solar panel pack, containing this note to the world that some of us survived long after you gave up on us. Some of us chose to live and, depending on how I end up, we got to choose how we died. Don’t pity us, just remember the last tenant of Adelaide.

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Posted by on October 30, 2014 in Writing


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