*Features adult language and themes.*


Kurt Sampson, a self-help guru, is trapped in the fake life he has built for himself, no longer believing in the profitable shtick he’s peddling. Part of this is writing a monthly magazine article titled ‘How to be Happy’.

Over the New Year period five disparate (and desperate) people from the same small town are guided by their individual issues to seek out Kurt’s advice.

Charlie a young computer genius crippled by social awkwardness which has forced him into a solitary existence.

Daisy a meth addict whose only interest is chasing her next high, no matter the cost.

Simone a strong, independent, business woman. Her life revolves around her job and the comfortable lifestyle it affords her.

Evie is a frustrated artist. Since her son was born she has lost focus. She’s open to any fad or advice that promises to fix her life.

Jon, Evie’s husband, is content with life. He has a wonderful family and a menial job that pays the bills.

Everyone is trying to figure out what makes life worth living, and if happiness is really an achievable aim?


‘Jump to’ LINK INDEX

Prologue

New Year’s Eve/Day – Charlie | DaisyKurt | Evie | Simone | Jon

January – How to be Happy | EvieSimone | Daisy | Charlie | Jon | Kurt

February – How to be Happy | Charlie | Daisy | Jon | Evie | Simone | Kurt

March – How to be Happy | Charlie | Daisy | Evie | Jon | Simone | Kurt

April – How to be Happy | Charlie | Daisy | Evie | Jon | Simone | Kurt


This manuscript was completed in 2011/2012 after a successful attempt at Nanowrimo. I did send it out to agents at the time garnering a few polite rejections and it has festered on my hard-drive ever since.

After discovering it yet again (when beginning a new novel project) I gave it a read and was shocked to NOT be completely mortified by it. I think my writing has moved on from this, but I also thought this effort deserved a home for anyone that might find it interesting. To that end, I’ll be going through the manuscript again and giving it another hard edit before posting a chapter a week (on Monday’s) until the whole thing lives here.

I will also (probably unwisely) be opening comments under each chapter if you’d like to post feedback.


April – How to be Happy

*Features adult language and themes.*


“Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you’ll look back and realize they were big things.”
– Kurt Vonnegut

 

* * *

 

This is the fourth feature in our monthly series from self-help guru Kurt Sampson.

 

* * *

I have said many times in this series that the path to happiness becomes easier the further you travel along it. It’s not always that simple. In fact now is a very tricky time.

You will be feeling great, things are turning around for you. You’re beginning to see the world anew. Now is the time that dangers lurk on the side of your path and try to lure you away. You might leave the road, get turned around and be lost. You will have to retrace your steps and rejoin the path further back.

How can you prepare yourself to resist these temptations? The truth is simple.

We will always be presented with challenges in life. There will always be negative situations. Finding true happiness doesn’t banish the perils that occur in our everyday lives. Finding true happiness means we are prepared to face anything that comes our way.

Continue reading

March – Kurt

*Features adult language and themes.*


The whiskey burned his throat as he swallowed. It was one of his favourite sensations.

I can understand why people get whipped by pretty girls in Soho. If the pain is anywhere near as pleasurable as that burn down my oesophagus.

“Don’t you think you should slow down Kurt?”

“No Alan, I don’t. You’re here to discuss my career, not my diet.” Kurt waved his hand for the waiter to come over, he held up the empty glass and waggled it in the air.

“When your diet starts affecting your career, it is something I have to discuss with you.”

“I love how we’ve started talking in code. It’s like we’re teenage girls. Let me try to figure out your clever cipher.”

“Come on Kurt, there’s no need to be facetious.”

“Wow.”

“What?”

“I had no idea your vocabulary extended so far. Facetious? Have you got one of those word of the day calendars?”

Continue reading

March – Simone

*Features adult language and themes.*


“Hi, Dad. How have you been keeping?”

“Simone? Is that you?”

“Yes, it’s me.” Simone bent down to hug her father where he sat. He was in his comfy chair. It was next to the bed positioned at a slight angle away from the room so he could see out of the window. The room itself was homely, it always surprised her. It didn’t look like the sort of room you imagined when you thought of a ‘residential caring facility.’ It was decorated tastefully and furnished comfortably. Over the years he had lived there her sisters had bought a lot of his personal possessions to soften the institutional edges. Photos of his wife, children and grandchildren dominated every even surface in a wide variety of frames.

“Aren’t you supposed to be at school? Asked her Dad.

It doesn’t really matter what the room’s like or the amount of memories that are crowbarred into it. He doesn’t know where he is most of the time anymore. “No it’s Saturday. No school today.”

He looked a little confused for a moment. “Have you said hello to your Mother? She’s in the kitchen.”

“Yeah. I saw her earlier.” Simone sat down on the bed next to her father and held his hand. Mum’s been dead for 6 years. “So, how are you feeling today?”

Continue reading

March – Jon

*Features adult language and themes.*


The snot refused to budge. It didn’t matter how hard he blew his nose, or how he poked and podded it with his finger, it simply wouldn’t stay clear for more than a few seconds.

He was so congested that he could feel a tight squeezing pressure inside his head. His vision was ponderous and he didn’t have the ability to say his ‘v’s’ without them turning into ‘b’s’.

Evie had given him the chance to skip dinner. In fact she had been quite insistent. If it hadn’t been for Robbie’s swift recovery Jon would have given in and stayed in bed. For a split second he had been tempted to tell Evie to take Robbie over on her own, but he wasn’t that sadistic.

Jon tried to clear his nose one last time, without success, before leaving the bathroom. His parent’s place was a big three bedroom detached house; a long walking distance from the town centre, beyond the park. The neighbourhood was full of similar houses. Timber frame elements were preserved on most but surrounded by modern refurbishments giving each building a strange mixture of old and new.

It was the sort of house Jon and Evie dreamed about. The sort of place they couldn’t hope to afford. Jon often wondered if the reason Evie didn’t like visiting his parents was just down to her dislike for his mother, or that it showed her a lifestyle that was out of reach. Either way Evie was always reluctant to go and see them. Continue reading

March – Evie

*Features adult language and themes.*


I don’t know why, but when I read the new Kurt Sampson article each month he seems to be talking about my life in a very specific way. It’s a little disturbing. I said this to Jon the other day and, of course, he dismissed it with a derisory wave and a chuckle.

“He writes those articles like an astrologer. He picks up on generalities that could be applied to anyone’s life. It’s written in such a way that anybody can relate to it.”

He might be right, but that doesn’t stop me reading.

I think HTBH is helping me make some changes.

Last month I decided to try and open up to Jon a bit more. Let him see behind the curtain, as it were, and glimpse the craziness that I hide from him on a daily basis. It took a lot of courage for me to do that. I felt like I was going out on a limb.

It started on Valentine’s day. I got a little drunk and jumped in with both feet.

I just looked back through my diary to see what I wrote the next day. I think it bears repeating:

 

* * *

 

Last night I finally confronted Jon with the question that has been bugging for the best part of two years. I worked myself up into such a state of tension that I finally burst in the middle of the restaurant while we were eating.

“Have you ever thought about having an affair or leaving me?” I asked.

Continue reading

March – Daisy

*Features adult language and themes.*


“So, Daisy. How are you today?”

“Shit.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Is there anything in particular bothering you?”

“What do you think?”

The counsellor looked down at the folder in front of her. “We’ve seen each other every day for the past week. You haven’t really told me anything about yourself.” She closed the folder and looked Daisy in the eye. “If this process is going to work for you, you’ll have to open up to me at some point.”

Daisy took another deep drag from her cigarette.

The best thing about these sessions is I can smoke indoors. I guess they relax the laws in this case. They prefer me smoking tobacco to meth.

Daisy looked back at her with steely eyes and refused to say another word.

“I don’t want to pressure you Daisy but I must remind you that you agreed to participate in this process of your own accord. You told the judge that you wanted an opportunity to get off drugs.”

“I didn’t have a lot of choice, did I? It was this or jail.”

“So you don’t want to break your habit?”

Course I don’t. “Course I do, but I don’t see how talking about it is going to help me.”

Continue reading

March – Charlie

*Features adult language and themes.*


Her lips moved down to his neck, they were soft. Her tongue slipped out from behind her teeth and lightly traced a line over his skin. Charlie felt a thrill run through him as his body registered the unfamiliar sensation.

Chloe touched his hand, gripping it softly and moving it down to her thigh. He instinctively began to stroke along her leg. The pace of her breathing quickened.

This is going rather well.

In fact it had been going well for a while. Since their first date Charlie had spoken to Chloe every day. They still, predominately, made contact online. But the regularity of phone conversations and seeing each other in person had increased as the time had rolled on. Charlie had taken the trip to Chelmsford a few times but Chloe preferred to come to him. She said it was easier as he had his own place. She didn’t seem all that keen to take him back to where she was living with her parents. She’d spent the night at his a few times. They’d shared a bed but nothing had ‘happened.’

Continue reading

March – How to be Happy

*Features adult language and themes.*


“The only way to avoid being miserable is not to have enough leisure to wonder whether you are happy or not.”
– George Bernard Shaw

 

* * *

 

This is the third feature in our monthly series from self-help guru Kurt Sampson.

 

* * *

 

Spring is in the air, the nights are getting lighter. Nature is renewing itself. It’s time for change.

If you’ve taken the first arduous steps on your path to happiness, let me be the first to congratulate you. I realise that this series is not a real time process. You may still be wrestling with the exercises from the very first article. If this is the case, don’t be alarmed. Just stick with it, the rest of the process is waiting for you. Your path lies ahead when you are ready to walk it.

If you feel like you are ready for the advice in this edition, that’s great. The last month must have been full of challenges. In life when we are faced with something difficult it can be all too easy to give in because we are scared to fail. Have you ever considered you might, in fact, be afraid to succeed?
Continue reading

February – Kurt

*Features adult language and themes.*


“Where would you go for lunch in Soho if someone else was paying?”

Martha had looked up at him with a look of surprise on her face. “Oh, I don’t know. Let me think.”

She thinks I’m asking her out to lunch.

“Hix is good. L’Escargot is a classic, not as popular as it used to be, but still good quality. Satin is probably the most trendy place to go at the moment. Virtually impossible to get a reservation.”

“A reservation won’t be a problem. At least it won’t be my problem, the newspaper is paying.”

“Newspaper?”

“Yes, the Observer want an interview for their Sunday supplement.”

“That sounds good.” Martha’s tone was cold and dismissive.

“You’re more than welcome to come, we can make it a double interview.” I know she’ll refuse. The time was she’d have snapped my arm off for a free lunch.

“That’s very nice of you to offer, darling, but I have plans I’m afraid.”

‘Plans.’ Never heard it called that before. “Anything fun?”

“No, not particularly. The charity has a meeting, we’re trying to organise another fund raiser for the summer season. I don’t know what’s wrong with people, they aren’t donating like they used to.”

Probably something to do with the global recession. People like to eat and keep a roof over their head rather than give money so some over-privileged tosser can recite Shakespeare via rap.

Continue reading

February – Simone

*Features adult language and themes.*


The noise filled the hall. It was joyous.

Every voice mingled, fused and rang together. For Simone it was the ultimate method of prayer. She loved to look around her as she sang to watch everyone else with all their feelings on display. Nobody hid. Everyone was vulnerable. It was a perfect snap-shot of humanity.

During the songs Simone always thought back to her formative years at school and church. When she used to sing hymns in these settings it was always restrained and dour. People around her were uncomfortable; either humming along in a wordless dirge or mouthing silently in a pointless attempt at joining in. Everyone seemed embarrassed by what they were doing and where they were. It never made sense to her. Surely everyone was in church for the same reason? Why wouldn’t they throw themselves into the harmonious group activity of singing? No matter what the reasons were it never happened and it was always something that marred her understanding of faith.

People used to look at her strangely when she sang loud and proud to the moaning accompaniment of the church organ. She had a strong, confident singing voice but it was by no means entertaining or impressive. People seemed alarmed that she was willing to be so forthright and open in her expression.

It was something that very nearly derailed her belief.
Continue reading

February – Evie

*Features adult language and themes.*


Breakfast had been perfect.

It annoyed her that Jon had some niche recipes that she couldn’t hope to out-do. She cooked most of their meals, simply because she didn’t work as many hours as him but Jon was the better cook. He was domestically superior to her in almost every way but the emphasis was always on her to do the chores. Jon did his part but that didn’t stop Evie resenting the fact that their roles should be reversed. She should have been the breadwinner.

Her eyes played over the destroyed breakfast tray. The empty tea stained cups, her plate with a smear of sugary residue, one perfect red rose and a small envelope. She picked it up and slipped her hand beneath the flap ripping the top edge. The card was black with a sparkly red heart on the front. The message inside read: ‘To my darling Evie, you make my life better in every way. I love you more than any words could possibly say, all my love today and forever, Jon. P.S. I’ve got a little surprise for you, it’s in the living room. X’

Evie smiled to herself and rolled her eyes.

He does it every year. All I’ve heard from him for the last week is how Valentine’s day is the worst holiday in the year. How it just pressures people into spending money to prove their love, then he goes and does this.

They had agreed that they wouldn’t buy each other any gifts. For the last few years Evie had simply given Jon a card to mark the day. Jon had always given her some sort of gift, even though they couldn’t afford any extravagances.

Is it really an extravagance to go out somewhere for a meal, or buy your husband a book? It really shouldn’t be.

Continue reading

February – Jon

*Features adult language and themes.*


It had to be perfect.

Not too hot or it would cook too quickly. It needed to be evenly heated, soft in the middle with a little bite on the outside.

Evie loved french toast, or eggy bread, as she called it. It was her favourite breakfast. Over the course of their relationship Jon had always made Evie French toast as a treat. He was constantly searching for different recipes and new twists he could put on it to improve the dish. He was on a one man crusade to discover how to make the worlds best french toast for his wife’s enjoyment.

Recently he’d added flour to the egg mixture to give the toast a fluffier consistency, to counteract the bland taste he added sugar, cinnamon and vanilla extract.

Jon considered himself to be a good cook, not a chef, a cook. He had a respectable repertoire of meals he could make very well for his own, and Evie’s, taste. He had enough know-how and confidence to attempt unknown recipes and get them right. He would never win any awards, or be able to work in a proper commercial kitchen, but he could feed himself and his family. He was constantly surprised that this wasn’t generally the case with other men.

His Mum had never been a domestic goddess, preferring to limit her dominion to knowledge not practicality. She had worked as a librarian for as long as he could remember. The closest she had got to cooking was cross referencing Fanny Craddock. She still worked part-time but even when she was at home she lived her life in books. Early on in his parents relationship his Mum had commandeered a room to create a small personal library and reading room. It was a restricted area.

Jon’s dad had always been the cook. Otherwise he would have probably died of starvation. While his Mum locked herself away with her books, Jon spent time with his Dad and picked things up through watching and helping with meals and chores. Jon always joked with Evie that she was very lucky to have a domesticated husband.

Continue reading

February – Daisy

*Features adult language and themes.*


The smell woke her.

It was tangy and acrid, it made her want to be sick. She opened her eyes. That’s ironic. She was laying next to a puddle of vomit. I really hope that’s mine.

Daisy lifted her head from the sofa cushion. A bolt of pain sliced through her temple. She strained for half a second before giving in and letting her face fall back into the pool of sick. Why does the sight and smell of it make me want to throw up? Daisy decided to conserve her energy and survey the situation from the vantage point she found herself in.

It was a little difficult to see past the sick.

This poor sofa. I dread to think of the volume of bodily fluids that’ve soaked into it. I’m surprised anyone sits on it. Come to think of it, I shouldn’t really sleep on it. I might mutate or something. I could wake up one morning with extra toes or gills.

The view didn’t improve much once she saw beyond the vomit. The entire room had a similar hue and feeling about it. The walls were beige and empty, the carpet brown, frayed and stained. It was furnished sparsely; because they were poor. It wasn’t an attempt at modern minimalism. The room only contained the sofa, a TV on top of a few stacked beer crates, a pile of magazines and newspapers that Daisy couldn’t recall anyone touching and some clothes that where scattered over the floor.

It’s like the worst dentist’s waiting room ever, if you took away the clothes. Actually if I had to wait for a dentist appointment in a room like this I wouldn’t mind getting into the chair.

Daisy often found herself thinking about the dentist. She knew what meth did to her teeth. She’d seen plenty of other girls with gaps in their mouths. It was one of the many doubts about her lifestyle that plagued her but she managed to get rid of them all with each hit.

Continue reading

February – Charlie

*Features adult language and themes.*


The day was finally here. Charlie had put it off for as long as he could but it was inevitable. It probably wasn’t the best mindset to have when setting a date.

Chloe had become persistent. For reasons beyond his understanding she was very keen to meet him. They had chatted everyday for the last month or so. Usually through instant messaging and texts. On a few occasions they had tried speaking on the phone but it had been a little stilted and awkward. Charlie wasn’t a small-talk person. He could do it when he had time to think about what he wanted to say and type it out. When he was face to face or could hear the gaps in conversation on a phone he panicked and clammed up.

I’m looking forward to meeting her, but I’m dreading it. This is the problem with meeting someone from the internet. It’s no good asking someone to travel for an hour to have a meal or go to the cinema; you have to make a whole day out of it.

Charlie had visions of talking with Chloe for five minutes before she realised she’d made a terrible mistake. She’d be too nice to let on and they’d miserably linger around together for the rest of the day.

The trouble was that he knew this girl. He knew almost everything about her without having met her. He’d often heard people wonder aloud if you could really get to know somebody on the internet. Charlie was certain it was possible. He’d never met his best friends in person. Like most things in life it came down to trust. You had to trust that the other person was being totally honest with you. There were loads of reports about how people misrepresented themselves on the web. It wasn’t just predatory pedophiles. The risks of online dating were the same as online shopping; you never truly knew what you got until it arrived at your door. The only thing online shopping had over online dating was that you could send a product back for a refund. If you meet a girl online and she turns out to be a man there’s not much you can do to get compensation. That was taking it to extremes though. People always tried to up-sell themselves. Dating profiles were the new CV and the sad fact is that everyone lies a little. No matter how ugly a person is there will be one photograph of them where they look pretty good.

The elephant man probably had a picture that he looked at and thought: ‘You know, the lumps on my head look pretty good in that light.’

Continue reading

February – How to be Happy

*Features adult language and themes.*


“The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.”
– C.S. Lewis

 

* * *

 

This is the second feature in our monthly series from self-help guru Kurt Sampson.

 

* * *

 

Happiness is a strange and wonderful thing. We tend to think of it as a byproduct of our actions and circumstances. Perhaps we should look at it from the other direction? Why can’t happiness be the cause of good things happening in our lives? If you approach life with a happy demeanour it’s generally agreed that you will get more out of it. Unfortunately it isn’t as easy as getting up one morning and deciding that you’re going to be happy.

Your mental health works in similar principles to your physical health. If you don’t exercise your brain it won’t perform at the level you might want it to. Just like if you don’t train regularly you wouldn’t be able to run a marathon. Life is the biggest marathon of them all and we need to be mentally prepared for the challenges we might face.

Continue reading

January – Kurt

*Features adult language and themes.*


I used to think Radio studio’s were dark dingy places with scary looking equipment that hummed in a low threatening way. The machines had little blinking lights that never blinked in any discernible sequence. They used to look like underground missile command centres. It all seemed far too technical and important just to allow someone to talk and play music to the public.

Kurt looked around the studio. It was flooded with light and looked achingly modern. Lots of brushed steel and glass. He’d never been able to figure out how the music actually got played. When he’d first been invited into a studio he was expecting a really sophisticated CD player with a mic propped up against it. He had been assured by some prepubescent tech that it was ‘all done by computers’ now.

It’s weird how technology becomes more sophisticated, but looks simpler and easier to use. God, I feel old.

He’d been doing a weekly radio slot for a small commercial station in London for a few years. It was only an hour of his life and it was great exposure. The coffee was good too. They always had food available for the hosts and guests. There was an immense amount of fruit, but it remained largely untouched compared to the baskets of muffins and Danish pastries. Kurt was very tempted by a cake but had to stop himself. As he got older he had discovered that his body was rebelling. His waistline was determined to expand no matter how little he ate, or how much he exercised. He would have loved nothing more than to accept the inevitable; let his body spread a bit and find its natural shape. Unfortunately his body formed part of his image. He had to keep it in check. He extolled the principle of ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ to his audience so he had to live that specific piece of advice himself.

It was the biggest snag in his job. If you accept money to dispense advice you had to follow it yourself, or at least be seen to follow it. Kurt hadn’t figured out how to get fat in private.

Continue reading

January – Jon

*Features adult language and themes.*


The thin paper of his bus ticket always folded in a pleasant way. The creases he made we’re always strong and crisp. His fingers glided in small precise movements, deftly manipulating the bus ticket into something new.

Jon held his creation up for inspection. It was a tiny origami crane. Perfectly constructed but the paper needed to be thicker for a more substantial feel.

Jon didn’t think about it too much any more, it was something he always did on his journeys. He wasn’t able to fold any other shapes or have any inherent interest in origami as an art-form.

He used to get return tickets and had to make sure it remained intact for the way home. Then the routes changed. Now, he used two different bus services to get to and from work. To begin with he used to find that his wallet and pockets would become littered with old tickets. Then he started making cranes.

At the end of each journey he’d leave the crane on his seat before getting off the bus. He liked to think that the next person to sit down would pick it up, maybe it would make them smile. Strictly speaking it’s littering. I’ve often wondered if other people have picked them up and kept them. Maybe the same person sits in the seat after me every day and collects them?

Or maybe they get sat on, or swept onto the floor?

Continue reading

January – Charlie

*Features adult language and themes.*


The Star Wars alarm clock went off. It started gently with Darth Vader’s heavy breathing, and ended with the noise of a frenetic lightsabre battle.

Urrrghhhh. What’s that? Charlie flapped his arm across the bed and turned it off. Better.

Five minutes later it went off again.

What the fuck? I must have hit snooze. That breathing thing is actually pretty creepy to wake up to. He reached back over and looked at the time. 8am? Why the hell would I set my alarm for 8? He silenced it again. Then his phone vibrated, rattling on the bedside table. Arrghhhh. Who’s that? Nobody ever texts me.

The message read: ‘Charlie you set this reminder to go off after the 2nd alarm. Hopefully that got your attention. You need to get up to go to Uni.’ But it’s so nice and warm here. It’s going to be cold out there.

He hadn’t been to Uni for months. The week before he’d received a letter requesting his attendance at a tutorial for the start of the new semester.

Charlie rarely got up before 10am. He had no real reason to. Usually he stayed up late oblivious of the time. He hadn’t got to bed until 3am. Some stupid newb tried to troll everyone on a message-board he admin’d so he’d spent all night hacking the idiot’s computer and setting up pranks.

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January – Daisy

*Features adult language and themes.*


A new year but the same old routine.

Daisy stood outside the job centre sucking the life out of her last shred of tobacco. It was a wholly unsatisfactory smoke. She had spent five minutes trying to pinch the last crumbs from the bottom of the pouch. It was like trying to smoke powder. There’s no point smoking powders unless there’s a decent pay-off.

She’d been thinking hard about the rest of her day once the chore of the job centre interview was over for another fortnight. The familiar itch had been bothering her since she woke up but there was nothing she could do to cure it. No stash and no money to score. She wouldn’t get the money from signing on for a few days. She hoped something else would turn up. Two days without a hit was unthinkable. She’d managed to blag some weed from her roommate the night before, but that had hardly taken the edge off. She woke up that morning feeling shit. It had taken a super-human effort to get out of bed. Her limbs ached from lethargy. It felt like there was a rave going on inside her head; a constant pounding that wouldn’t stop.

The biggest drawback was the hunger. Meth suppressed her appetite, which was perfect. She had never enjoyed eating. When she went any length of time without a hit the hunger returned. It was excruciating. She had to choose between spending money on food or drugs. Easy decision usually. Trouble is if I’m starving in the morning I can’t take a bump if I’ve run out and the dealers aren’t about til the afternoon. They’re self-employed, they should really work unsociable hours.

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January – Simone

*Features adult language and themes.*


“Hello Mrs. Wilkinson. Thank you very much for waiting.” A middle aged woman walked past Simone into the office. “Did my receptionist offer you a drink?”

Mrs. Wilkinson sat down in one of the chairs. “She did, thank you. I’m not particularly thirsty.”

Simone shut the door, dulling the chatting voices and trilling of phones down to a low hum. She went around to the opposite side of the desk. Her side of the desk. When she sat down she felt comfortable; in control. The office layout had been considered carefully. Everything in it was positioned to point in her direction. Her chair was higher than any of the others in the room, elevating her. It made her look and feel superior. She never intended her office to feel comfortable for anybody else. Part of the reason for this was what she had to do next.

“First of all I’d like to offer you my condolences. I know what a terrible time this is for you and while no words can make a difference I offer them regardless.”

“Thank you Ms. Saunders. I appreciate that,” said Mrs. Wilkinson.

“Please, call me Simone.”

Mrs. Wilkinson nodded but didn’t offer her own first name as expected. She kept shuffling her bottom on the chair trying to find a comfortable position. She made no move to take off her coat and held her handbag on her lap as if for protection. It was clear to Simone that the woman was not at ease. And it’s about to get worse.

“I’ve asked you to come in for a chat, so we can go over a few issues we have with your claim.”

Mrs. Wilkinson looked confused. “Issues? I don’t understand.”
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January – Evie

*Features adult language and themes.*


She was late.

If there was one thing she despised in others it was bad time-keeping and now she was being forced into it herself.

That bloody woman. She does it on purpose.

Evie was standing at the front window in her living room tapping her foot and taking it in turns to look at her watch and back out to the driveway.

Robbie was on the floor behind her, amused by whatever bright colours and funny noises the TV was making.

Jon had left early to go to work. They’d barely said two sentences to each another. He always made a point of waking her up to say ‘bye’ and ‘Love you.’ It had become an automatic response when they separated for the day. She appreciated the gesture, but would have chosen to be left undisturbed.

She got up soon after to sort Robbie out, get him washed, dressed and fed then usually washed again. He had a habit of not quite knowing where his mouth was, or mistaking his nose for the place the food was supposed to go in.

Evie glanced to her right, spotting her empty easel out of the corner of her eye. Her desperation to be out the door was replaced, momentarily, by a flash of anger. I should be painting. She felt like her job stole time away from her art. If I had all day to paint, would I actually do it? She left the question hanging in her mind knowing the answer but reluctant to voice it to herself.
Continue reading

January – How to be Happy

*Features adult language and themes.*


“Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.

 

* * *

 

This is the first feature in our monthly series from self-help guru Kurt Sampson.

 

* * *

 

The start of a brand new year is a wonderful opportunity for change. The year ahead is a blank slate, full of potential. A wide field of fresh untrodden snow waiting for you to make your mark upon it.

Some people find this sort of freedom frightening and shrink away from it, others see it as the beginning of a new adventure.

Which are you?

We’ve all made New Year’s resolutions that have evaporated into the ether by February. Resolutions are the butt of many jokes and a lot of people simply don’t bother with them at all. These people are missing out on a chance to make their lives better.

The new year is a time for contemplation, renewal and growth.

Today I’m going to help you find your path to happiness.

I won’t lie to you, the road is rough, especially at the start. In the beginning the path is well rutted and broken where so many people have walked it. The further along the road you go the terrain becomes easier because most people have given up and turned aside.

Currently, you may feel lost, or maybe you have an idea which direction you want your life to take. I want to give you a compass so you can find your path and prepare you for those difficult first steps.

The compass in this case is an exercise I call ‘The life Audit.’ To discover where you want to go you need to properly understand where you are.

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New Year’s Day – Jon

*Features adult language and themes.*


 

The day was crisp and clean. The air felt cold in his throat as he sucked it in. The walk across town had been a bit of a challenge. Jon hated pushing the buggy. The wheels had a mind of their own, they veered off in surprising directions and found every rut and hole in the pavement.

Robbie sat in the buggy happily, he didn’t care about the ride, but he was excited about the destination. Jon had promised him a trip to feed the ducks the night before to bribe him to go to bed. He’d hoped Robbie would forget. But kids never forget. They’re like elephants, but smaller with a greater potential for destruction. Jon based this observation on their flat which was littered with Robbie’s toys and mischief.

Robbie had got the hang of taking toys out of the cupboards and boxes they were stored in, but he hadn’t twigged that they needed to be returned. Jon imagined that he was always amazed when Evie cleared them all away again. There’s nothing as painful as standing on lego bricks in bare feet. I’m surprised they don’t use it instead of water-boarding.

“Quack, quack, quack,’ said Robbie excitedly as he recognised where they were.

“Yes, Robbie. What goes quack?”

“Ducks.”

Jon wheeled the buggy through the gates into Christchurch park. He used the entrance at the bottom of an adjacent road. It wasn’t the main entrance to the park that led up to the Mansion. This was a short cut to the ponds and the ducks.

He locked the buggy’s brake into place and lifted Robbie out. “Time to use those legs of yours.” Robbie immediately tried to make a run for it, forgetting about the little harness he was wearing that Continue reading

New Year’s Day – Simone

*Features adult language and themes.*


 

She woke up gently. It was a pleasant, unfamiliar feeling so she decided to savour it. Simone was completely aware, no fuzziness or lethargy but she couldn’t remember much about the night before. She kept her eyes closed, the darkness was comforting; light was doing its best to tempt her to open them, but it was a soft light, not like dawn at all. There was a gentle hum coming from somewhere but it was difficult to describe. Not like a noisy fridge or a radiator warming up; a more pervasive sound. Her leg was cold where she had stuck it out of the quilt. Somewhere in her mind she thought she could regulate her body temperature by keeping one part of it chilly. The pillow was soft against her face and the mattress firm beneath her body. Everything she felt was comforting, yet edged with a sense of strangeness.

It was strange. Her own bed was soft, she usually sunk into it. Her usual pillows were lumpy and uneven. The humming noise was definitely different.

I guess I better open my eyes and see where I am.

The hotel room was stylish and immaculate. The only things out of place were the clothes strewn across the floor. A cocktail dress, shoes, bra, bow-tie and knickers.
Bow-tie?

It was still night, the room was infused with soft light turning everything blue. The window was open slightly, a gentle breeze ruffling the open vertical blinds making them clack together. Through the window she saw the lights of the South Bank and London Eye. The hum came from the streets below with their ceaseless traffic; the noise of a city where things don’t stop just because the sun disappears.

Simone’s memory began to come back. It was early morning on New Year’s Day. The first dawn of the New Year hadn’t arrived yet and she felt a growing dread that she’d done something stupid already. The light snoring behind her confirmed it.
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New Year’s Day – Evie

*Features adult language and themes.*


 

It just sits there waiting for me to do something. Each time I look at it, I feel it staring back at me accusing me of laziness.

Evie turned her head away trying to ignore it. It wasn’t going to win this time. She wasn’t going to give in. The trouble was she wanted nothing more than to fill the vast white blankness.

It’s only an empty bloody canvas. I’m starting to think of it as a puppy that needs walking.

Light played over the softly textured surface creating vague and shifting images of its own. It yearned to be used. It was waiting to be marked. Evie wanted to. She was full of ideas, but none of them made the journey from her mind, out of her fingers, onto the canvas.

She had a huge list of things on her mind that she needed to do. All of a sudden each one seemed more important than standing in front of her easel trying to paint.

I’ll make myself a cup of tea, that’ll make things better. Somehow.

She turned away from the table, knocking a brush to the floor. It stabbed into the carpet depositing a splash of red paint that made the floor look as though it was bleeding. Bollocks, something else to clean up.

Walking across the living room and into the kitchen she tried to ignore all of the other household chores that littered the flat. The task was more difficult in the kitchen; if she really wanted a cup of tea she’d have to do the washing up. She refused to rinse out a dirty cup and use it, she would have to do the lot. He never does the washing up. I’m sure he just leaves it because he knows it’ll drive me crazy and I’ll cave before he does.

Evie briefly contemplated drinking her tea from a gravy-boat before proceeding to wash up in a filthy mood. She washed everything vigorously, splashing water all over the work-top and the front of her cardigan. The water began to drip onto the floor, pissing her off even more.

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New Year’s Eve – Kurt

*Features adult language and themes.*


 

What’s the point of having a party on a boat if it never leaves the dock? It’s like getting into a taxi and paying the driver to stay put. Sure the view was good, but the floor didn’t stop moving. Plus the sound of water lapping at the side made Kurt want to piss constantly. Though with the amount he’d already drunk no other excuses were needed.

He stood at the rail looking out over the dark water of the Thames. Soft jazz music filled the air not occupied by the slapping of water. The boat had been moored just down from the London Eye. Firework central on New Year’s Eve. He had to give it to the magazine, they really hadn’t skimped on the promotion. I’m just surprised they had this sort of money left after my advance.

Self Magazine had hired the entire boat, all three levels of it. Kurt’s wife had told him it was the place to be to bring in the New Year. If you care about that sort of thing.

Martha did. She cared about anything that her friends deemed important. The latest production, the hottest restaurant, the popular bars. Seemingly any place that was preceded by an adjective. She had been thrilled when he’d told her about the magazine column. Her yoga friends were avid subscribers. They bought into the whole holistic, touchy-feely editorial. In fact Kurt had gone up considerably in his wife’s estimation with the deal. He’d had four books published, two DVD’s, countless sold out shows and a bank balance big enough to support her lavish lifestyle, and it was a few crappy magazine articles that justified his career. It’s only because her friends approve. She gets to use me as social lubricant. She finally sees a reason to show me off.

It was such a shame her friends were a bunch of cunts.

One of the biggest revelations to Kurt upon moving to the UK was getting a good grasp on the slang and swearwords. He was quite aware of the ‘c-word’ back in America, but the Brits seemed to use it with such flair.

It was such an apt word for Martha’s friends. It had a harsh sound, especially if you put emphasis on the ‘c.’ It reminded him of the meaningless noises they made when they greeted each other; strange squealing expulsions. The end of the word was also stamped with a strong ‘t.’ The same sort of noise they made when they disapproved of something. It just fit.

Kurt was a writer, it was his job to use words to describe a plethora of things. He had an extensive vocabulary, yet in all of the hundreds of thousands of words available to him, that was the one that best described Martha’s friends.

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New Year’s Eve – Daisy

*Features adult language and themes.*


 

The statue always gave her the creeps. She didn’t understand why the council thought it was a good idea to make a statue of a cartoon character. It wasn’t like it was Homer Simpson. The statue was of an old woman with round glasses wearing a big overcoat and a tea cosy hat holding an umbrella across herself defensively. Like most other old people in the town Daisy felt like it looked down on her.

She often thought of the old proverb: ‘Never judge a book by its cover.’ People thought they knew a lot about her by the way she looked. The trouble was they weren’t far from the truth. Still, it was rude to make assumptions no matter how accurate.

She sat on the plinth beneath Giles’ Grandma, knees tucked up to her chest, jittering up and down making her look cold or nervous, taking sharp pulls on a rollie.

There were plenty of people wandering around town considering it was late-afternoon on New Year’s Eve. The shops started the New Year’s sales early, usually on Boxing Day. It was strange but she guessed the shops needed all the help they could get. Anything to make people spend their money.

As if they didn’t spend enough before Christmas.

Daisy needed the money too.

She threw her dog-end on the floor, stamped on it, slung her canvas bag over her shoulder then made her way up to the market square.

Most of the market traders were beginning to pack up but it didn’t stop a few last minute shoppers looking at the wares as they were put away for the year. A lot of people were wandering through the square, most with shopping bags some with bottles and crates of booze, on their way to the night’s entertainment. Daisy wanted to make her own entertainment, but she needed the funds to make it happen.

The familiar itch had started a few hours ago. It was gnawing in her chest and tingling at her finger tips.
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New Year’s Eve – Charlie

*Features adult language and themes.*


 

“A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.”
– Steve Martin

 

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The march had taken them all night. They’d battled through the patrols; taking them unawares and making sure that they didn’t raise the alarm.

They made a strange pairing, a troll and a dark elf, but they seemed to work well together. The troll’s sheer strength combined with the elf’s speed and finesse had outwitted the enemies so far but two of their party had been lost.

They were so close to completing the mission. The fortress was in sight. They had to find a way past the gates and assassinate the fortress commander. It was a big ask for just two of them. They hoped that their compact number would be an advantage. Their weapons were stealth and surprise.

The plan was for the troll to cause a diversion while the dark elf slipped in to take the commander out. They were using the darkness as cover and it wouldn’t last much longer.

An arrow thudded into the ground next to the elf. He had no idea where it had come from. Retreating behind the troll, who could take more arrow fire, he drew his knives and prepared for an attack.

The enemy charged from behind, the arrow had been a ruse to turn them around. The troll jumped over the elf landing on the first attackers squashing them into the mud with its big stone shoes.
The elf hesitated for a moment too long, trying to decide if he should run and continue the quest alone, or to stand and fight with the troll. The decision was made for him when the fortress guards closed in. There were four of them wearing leather armour and carrying longswords. He raised his knives, swirling them around, loosening his wrists. The guard on his left feinted forward as the attacker on the right slashed towards his leg. He parried low and stabbed high, his knife sliding into the guards throat with sickening ease.

He had to swing around to block a second attack then kicked out at a third guard. Then threw one of his knives to stop the fourth guard taking his head off. The patrol was too big, they were surrounded, there was no way out. His troll companion had been felled and guards were climbing all over him hacking and slashing as he roared and struggled.

“Die, die, die… We’re dead.”

Charlie pushed his chair away from the desk in defeat. He continued to watch the slaughter on his computer screen. Light had started to leak into the room through half closed blinds. The diffused light made the mess in the room look a little sinister. The room could easily have been mistaken for an amateur bomb-maker’s workshop. Tables and shelves ran all the way around the room filled with technical books, computers and components. Dotted amongst the organised chaos were empty fast food packets, crushed cans of energy drink and a few collectable figurines. The limited wall space was filled with notice boards of post-it notes and scraps of paper covered in scribbles and notes. In between the boards, and sometimes underneath, were anime movie posters.

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Prologue

*Features adult language and themes.*


 

“Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
– Abraham Lincoln

 

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“Are you happy?.”

Fraud.

“To be happy you have to accept and embrace your true self.”

Phony.

“You have to protect yourself from negativity.”

What does that even mean?

“Negative thoughts are roadblocks across your path to happiness”

I can’t believe how easily the words spill out of my mouth. They landed softly on the microphone to be amplified and projected at the audience.

Presumably the audience was still there. He couldn’t see anyone beyond the first three or four rows. The spotlight shone in his eyes obscuring them.

Oddly, he never got many walk-outs; he assumed plenty of people were listening. At this point, he didn’t care if the place was empty. The theatre was sold out, he’d got their money. He didn’t give a shit if they hated the show.

The rows he could see were full. Full of people hanging on his every word.

“There are many forms of negativity. You must become resistant to them. Eventually you can learn to process that negative energy and send it back to its source as positivity.”
They sucked it up so willingly. It was pathetic. Some of the crowd were perched forward on the edge of their seats, caught up in his words, so willing to learn the great secret that would make their lives better.

He decided to take a stroll across the stage. He’d been standing at the lectern all evening, it was time to wrap it up, time to give the people some sort of closure. Make them think the last two hours of their lives had been worthwhile and enriching.

In many ways he was an illusionist. Instead of trying to make them think he mutilated an attractive assistant, he used words. The people came into the theatre expecting knowledge, possibly enlightenment. They came willingly, and paid good money, to learn something that would improve their lives.

What they got was a guy on stage using a slideshow to tell them they already knew how to be rich and happy but for some reason they were stopping themselves.

He couldn’t believe he got away with it.

The power of a slideshow should never be underestimated.

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