A mouthful of microfiction

Cassandra Khaw did a microfiction challenge on Twitter on 31 August 2019, which I decided to try. I hadn’t really written Twitter fiction before, but it was actually an amazing experience — so great that I’ve actually done it again just two weeks after this berry fun (see my Twitter profile).

(It’s very likely some of these berries will appear again in my longer fiction or poetry.)

My original tweet:

Let’s do this. Reply to this and I’ll give you one berry from the bushes growing next to the hedgewitch’s house.

And as people replied requesting berries, I responded. Here they are, those 43 berries, strung together for you in the order I wrote them.

✨ ✨ ✨

This wizened berry is snowflake-small yet it rests heavy in your hand. You take a deep breath and swallow it; it brings you back to childhood winters of hoarfrost and holy silence.

This berry clings to the bush and crouches deep in its thorns. But you persist: nettle-stung, thorn-bitten, you hold the truthberry aloft at last. Keep it in your pocket to warn you when politicians, past paramours and poets are nigh.

The lowest berry falls ripe off its stem—
You catch it with your questing mouth.
You bite–oh! all those years of drowth
Are banished with the juice of this berry-gem.

(This was in verse in response to @HangerbackTalk’s poem “Being a short creature, not one bucket tall,/ I search for the lowest berry of all.”)

You reach for the berry that glows golden in the dusk-light. It dissolves to dust before you can eat it; but when you lick your palm, you gain a memory long vanished into the dusk of days past.

The berry bristles with spikes and spits curses at you as you hold it up. But when you start crooning the lullabies your fathers sang you to sleep with, the spikeberry stops swearing and sings along in eerie harmony.

It looks like a raspberry, but when you bite, blood fills your gullet with its iron tang. You’ve been gifted thirteen more years of life, but the only way to wash away the taste is with five bitter espressos a day.

You arrive in the deep of winter. The berry bush is laden with snow; a single frozen bearberry lingers. In your hands, the berry melts, reddens, burns. You swallow it. With this fire, you’ll live to see the spring.

A sparrow brings you this berry as an offering. Dark as autumn nights, tart as a gooseberry, the braveberry’s taste carries you all the way through that conversation with your mother.

This berry, matcha green, looks too raw to be gorged upon. You hesitate, but the colour beckons: and look, you’re rewarded with a taste fresh as the finest sencha — and the ability to heat water to the perfect temperature for every brew.

A bunch of pearlberries falls onto the dry late-summer grass. The touch of their skin is like frosted glass, welcome in the scorching sun; they rattle in your mouth but settle in your belly. In the coming months, your nightly dreams will bring only peace.

Come, how could you resist reaching up for the berry growing from the highest branch? Up on tiptoes, you twist the honeyberry off its stem. Upon tasting, you sink onto the grass, soft as a queen’s bed. The sweet honeyberry haze stays with you for weeks.

You know which berry to pick: the unassuming wild strawberry. Its juice smears your lips red; it tastes of homesickness, buckwheat honey and the fervent joy of dance, with an aftertaste of cruelty.

This berry is your key to Faerie. Speak a door now, with your enchanted lips.

The abundance of late-summer berries makes your breath catch: all of them different, like variegated jewels in a queen’s crown. As you hesitate, the hedgewitch herself plucks a berry for you. “Noonberry, sweet as summer wine. Save it. You’ll need it when winter comes.”

You follow a wood dove’s flight into the witch’s garden. The bird croons a suggestion, & that was the berry you’d pick anyway: it glows the colour of a ripe mango, promises joy. In your mouth, the hopeberry sings; you see a door in the air. It leads wherever you most wish to go.

The cloudberry rests in your hand, fierce little flame. Eat it, & the crisp taste sweeps you thousands of miles away. You stand amid northern marshland: a field of cloudberries, winking amber in the sunlight. You gasp. You gather them in your skirts to bring to your beloved.

A strange berry among the strange: perfectly round, black as the void. Did it really grow from this bush? The witch assures you it did. They all do. “Don’t eat the spaceberry unless you’re suspended in vacuum,” she cautions.

Good thing you’re an astronaut. The time will come.

In the deep of night the hedgewitch’s garden is dark except where eerie lights flit and waver. In the berry bush, a single berry glows bright; you’re drawn to it as you’re drawn to all things speaking of light and hope. You enclose the starberry in your locket: all will be well.

The windberry chimes as you pluck it: a sound like the ringing of a faery bell. You’re seized with a memory – your sister’s laugh, before she was taken – & in anger you crush the berry in your fist.

And yet the wind speaks to you now. It whispers: “I know where your sister is.”

You bend down, observe the caterpillar: a magnificent beast, orange & fluffy. A berry nestles next to the caterpillar: it too is fluffy, & yellow as sunlight in a child’s drawing. Of course you eat it. It tickles your throat; brings you an orange cloud to explore the skies with.

This berry is big enough to be a fruit; you snap it up in three swift bites. With each swallow, you gain one thing: a deep appreciation for the language of toads; a new connection to a lost love; and a wine cellar full of the finest goblin vintages.

The berry is half-hidden beyond a veil of cobweb, spun onto the bush by an industrious spider. The sticky hands are worth it, though: in this dreamberry, you taste all the cakes you’ve ever partaken of in Morpheus’s lands, and the sweet sorrow of a truelove’s doomed kiss.

Perplexingly, this purplish berry tastes of sea salt. You lick your lips, remembering a summer long gone, the sweet selkie kisses. The hedgewitch casts you a sidelong glance and says: “She misses you, you know.”

This berry has the texture of an old stone. You roll it in your mouth, let the weight of history fill you. When you crack the brittle skin with your teeth, a dizzying sense of time (centuries, millennia) permeates your every cell.

You’re hungry, have been for months now. “Here. Have a luckberry,” the hedgewitch says. You accept her gift; the silver berry bursts, and your mouth fills with sweet nectar — your lips tingle with the promise of luck.

A tiny berry this one, barely a speck between finger and thumb. But what a taste! It spreads onto your tongue like liquid fire and opens you up, a supernova of determination and new possibilities.

A berry blue as a robin’s egg: how could you resist? It falls to pieces in your hands but look, the berry-shards embed themselves in your fingertips. The blue marks disappear eventually, but you will always retain that new gentleness in your touch.

The marrowberry unlocks something in you that has long remained hidden. You make of it an ink, deep blue as serenity is, and begin to write. Your hands are marrowberry-stained; your heart is marrow-strong.

You watch as a bud bursts into flower (rust-red, blood-slick), watch as it bears fruit. The berry falls into your waiting mouth. A manifold texture, seeds crunching in your teeth —

Every seed you swallow is a new story, waiting for your pen to draw it out.

The hovering dragonflies caught your eye, but the treasure they guard is even more enticing: a thistle-coloured bulbous thing the size of a blackberry. Snatching the calmberry into your mouth, you are filled with a simple, deep contentment that lasts for weeks.

This berry glimmers like copper filament. How could you eat such a glorious thing? At home, you place it on your windowsill to dry. Every night thenceforth, you dream of fey lands till your heart desiccates to a husk, just like the amuletberry you couldn’t bear to swallow.

It’s never too late for berries in the hedgewitch’s garden: here’s a bright berry calling your name. Its skin feels… like human skin, but this only disturbs you for a moment. After gulping down the berry’s bitter juice, you gain a lifelong, glowing determination.

The first snow has fallen, but roses still bloom on the hedgewitch’s bushes. And among them: a rosehip the colour of autumn sunlight mingled with heart’s blood.

You swallow it whole. This inner bloodsun keeps your soul warm and resilient when you most feel like giving up.

Rain batters the bushes, tears leaves off the branches. Soaked wet, you seek solace from the taste of the garden’s bounty. The fairberry heats you from the inside out, like a steaming mug of tea – and the witch invites you in, out of the downpour.

Listen: the days grow longer, everything should merely be budding and blooming – but the berry bush is already laden with fruit. You can’t resist: you pluck a ripe raspberry in rainbow hues. The taste takes you, for a full minute, back to the faerie dance you barely left alive.

The timeberry is intricate as clockwork, yet soft in your pointed teeth. You tear it to pieces in seconds, hungry for control – but in your belly, a deep realisation: what you’ve been given instead is peace. A sense of abundance.

It’s lingonberry-red, but the taste has the spicy comfort of mulled wine. Beware faerie fruit, your mother always said; you’re lucky hedgewitch berries are more benign. This joyberry heightens all the wonders of the world: pattering rain, purring cats, friends’ laughter.

The moonberry, silver in the half-dark, shakes shimmery dust everywhere when you pluck it. Reverently, you place it in the embroidered pocket where you keep other sacred things: a raven’s feather, your firstborn’s first tears. The moonberry will shelter you from night dangers.

This berry shimmers like an oil slick, is slick to the touch like a sealskin. Slick, like the sealskin your partner has hidden away. Grief pummels you; you chew the compassberry, numb.

Swallow. And then it tugs within you: the location of your sealskin. You gasp. You run.

First-frost outlines the grass in white. Fingers numb with cold, you pick a coral-pink crownberry & vow, thrice, that you will be king before the year is done.

Cruel crownberry: king you are, but king merely of your own hearth. Yet that too fills you with strange satisfaction.

You’ve had a craving for bilberries for weeks now. And here, incongruous on this bush: a single bilberry, blue as ink. It bursts on your tongue and you gasp – for before your eyes, the other thing you’ve had a craving for appears.

“My love,” you say, & enfold him in your arms.

Fallen, mulched berries form a feast for the bees. You let them buzz and fuss around you and reach for a berry still clinging to the bush: black-&-yellow, blobbish. It tastes of honey & long summers – & now you hear curious voices all around. You’ve gained the language of bees.

The swiftberry is a pea-sized vortex, & it’s exactly what you were looking for. The world too much, everything too much, you just need to be a little faster yourself – a little more, yourself. You gulp it down without chewing.

What you get is swiftness of imagination, instead.

The hedgewitch’s garden is misty just before dawn. Beauty all around – unbearable, when your mind’s monsters lurk close. Yet one berry on that overcrowded bush seems tolerable: a plain blackcurrant.

What you don’t realise is: it’s a lifeberry. Slowly, it’ll bring you back.

✨ ✨ ✨

And here is a lovely surprise my friend Laura (@UusitaloLaura on Twitter) wrote for me after I was done with my berries:

The last berry is yours alone. It glows beautiful warm red, beaconing to you. When you bite it, you gasp, overwhelmed by the joy of all the people gifted the hedgewitch’s berries.

The berry leaves you with a warm glow that will carry you through the bad word days to come.

✨ ✨ ✨

My Worldcon drabble(s)

It’s around a month since Worldcon (what! how is it only a month; a gazillion things have happened since then…), so this is probably a good time to post the drabble I shared at the “Why Do Finns Love Their Drabbles” panel on Sunday 13 August.

I wrote a drabble in English, and then, out of a translator’s interest, translated it into Finnish – keeping the drabble definition of 100 words, of course. I discovered – not suprisingly – that I had to add almost a quarter more words to the Finnish version. The bare-bones translation only came to around 75 words. The wonders of an agglutinative language! I can’t see how you’d be able to translate a drabble (adhering to the 100-word format) from English to Finnish without collaborating closely with the original author: to get to 100 Finnish words, there’s so much stuff to add that translating becomes even more like rewriting than usual.

It’s far harder to write drabbles in English, too, in my opinion: you can get way more of an actual story into 100 words in Finnish. I can see why drabbles are so popular in Finland! Anyway, I thought I’d share both versions. Those of you who know both languages will be able to appreciate the extra details I added to the Finnish version. 🙂


Marketing Trick

The sign said: “First poem free!”. The poems were printed in green ink, sold by a woman on a street corner. Why would anyone want a second poem? But I can never say no to free stuff.

I read the poem that night. It was terrible, but I went back to the street corner the next day. I needed another poem. It cost 50 euros.

I went back the day after. And the day after.

By the time I realised the ink was addictive, it was too late. I needed more poems. Needed them more than my life savings.





Kyltissä luki “Ensimmäinen runo ilmaiseksi!”. Runot oli painettu vihreällä musteella; niitä myi mitäänsanomattoman oloinen nainen kadunkulmalla työmatkani varrella. Miksi ihmeessä kukaan edes haluaisi toisen runon? Mutta enhän minä ikinä pysty kieltäytymään ilmaisesta sälästä. Nappasin runon mukaani.

Luin runon samana iltana. Se oli järkyttävän huono ja lisäksi paperiarkin muste takertui kummallisesti sormenpäihini. Palasin silti takaisin kadunkulmalle seuraavana päivänä. Minun oli pakko saada toinen runo. Se maksoi 50 euroa. Maksoin mukisematta.

Palasin seuraavanakin päivänä. Ja sitä seuraavana.

Siinä vaiheessa kun tajusin musteen sisältävän koukuttavia ainesosia, oli jo liian myöhäistä. Tarvitsin lisää runoja. Tarvitsin niitä paljon enemmän kuin pitkään karttuneita säästöjäni.

Eikö vaan?


The art of interpretation

At my writing group meeting last Friday, we had a pretty cool poetry exercise: using literal English translations of poetry originally written in other languages, we had to transform the translations into our own poetry, or make the literal translation more “poetic”. Since I’m rather pleased with what I came up with, I thought I’d share my efforts here.

The literal translation I worked with is based on the Romanian poet Nichita Stănescu’s poem “Emoţie de toamnă”, translated by our Romanian group member as “Emotion in autumn”. (ETA: the group member in question is Marlena Bontas, who, among other things, writes awesome poetry.) Here is the original poem in Romanian. Even though I know French, Spanish and a bit of Latin, it’s not enough to open up the Romanian for me – so the poem below is based entirely on the literal English translation we had at our meeting. It’s pretty close to the translation, but I’ve put my own spin on it. It turned out quite a “me” poem in the end, methinks.


Autumn Tremors

Autumn’s arrived –
draw a veil over my heart,
send a tree’s shadow to cover me,
or send your shadow.

Sometimes I’m afraid I won’t recognise you,
that I’ll grow bat’s wings and take to the sky,
that you will hide in a stranger’s eye
which will close, lidded by a wormwood leaf.

But then I reach the standing stones
and fear leaves me, speech leaves me.
I take these words and drown them in the sea.
Newborn, wordless, I whistle to the moon,
transform it into a crescent of love.


Some silly doggerel

I was reading a book relevant to my PhD research yesterday, and happened upon the delightful name Gabriel Gostwyk. He was some dude in 17th-century England who may have owned an alchemical manuscript.

In the silly poem that crept out of my pen inspired by his name, however, he became something more sinister. I will share it here because it’s silly. Thursday silliness!


He Does What He Likes

Gabriel Gostwyk baked a pie
and sang his wife a lullaby
Gabriel Gostwyk stitched her lips
up tight, drank tea in careful sips.
Gabriel Gostwyk laughed to hear
her muffled screams of rage and fear.

Gabriel Gostwyk’s under your bed.
Gabriel Gostwyk wants you dead.


Whan that Aprill…

033I’m not participating in NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) in any official way, but I have set myself a writing goal for April: to write something new every day, whether it’s poetry or prose. Shitty or good, three words or three thousand – it doesn’t matter, as long as I write something.

The first three days, it’s been poetry. I’ve opened up something in myself again – poetry feels easy as breathing right now. It’s not always good poetry, of course not; but then again, not every breath you take is amazing. Sometimes you don’t breathe deep enough, sometimes you inhale someone’s cigarette smoke. But every breath means you’re alive.

Same with poetry (and other writing too): in first/zero drafts, there will be shitty lines, unfortunate word choices, ideas that just don’t work. Some of the problems can be eliminated when editing, and sometimes a poem just isn’t meant to go further than the initial word-blargh. But it’s all writing, and that makes it valuable. When I write, when I’m all a-flutter with word-wonder, it’s worth all the stilted sentences and unviable ideas, as long as I keep on going. All that is gold does not glitter in the first draft!

I’m going to share today’s poem here because it’s just a silly little thing, born out of my frustration at the changeable weather. It’s also a homage to those two famous April poets: Geoffrey Chaucer and T.S. Eliot. April invariably makes me start quoting The Canterbury Tales and The Waste Land to myself. 🙂


Fool April

April, you old trickster
pouring rain-sleet-snow
long after we thought
we were done with all that –
no shoures soote these!
You batter us with change,
teasing us with dreams
of sun-warmth and spring

and then, cackling,
you pelt us with winter’s
foulest leftover scraps.
Cruellest month, indeed.


Poem for the year’s end

Soon off to celebrate the approaching new year. So here’s my last post of 2013, in the form of a just-written poem. Here’s to a good new writing year in 2014!


Year’s-end, year’s-beginning

What words
to wrap the year in?
How to sing in
the new? Should I end
and begin with ringing
bells in the cathedral-
vault of my days,
or perform the simplest
of fire-magics: light
a candle-flame?

I’ve cast myself
adrift. The new year
is an ocean, and I
am a skiff—
so perhaps, after all,
I’ll end and begin
the old year and the new
with a charm
storm-winds, rough weather.


Drabble for my grandfather

Long time no blog. Busy, &c &c. ad nauseam.

Last night at my writers’ group I led an exercise on description. We each brought an interesting object and then spent five minutes writing short descriptions of each. It brought out some really good stuff, I think – a nice exercise.

And one of the objects resulted in me being engulfed by memory and sadness, and the following drabble resulted (the version below is edited from the original rough write). I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandfather lately, the first loved one I lost to death. Nearly nine years ago, and I miss him. I always will.

So here’s a short piece. For you, ukki.


From the Woodwork

I’ve been thinking a lot about him lately. Grandad, with his steady hands and carpenter’s heart. These were his, I think as I run my fingers along the battered red handles of the pliers. His hands gripped them just like I’m doing now. They feel solid. Grandad was solid too, to the last.

I blink back tears, concentrate on the object in my hands. The pliers are flecked with paint from his past projects. The jaws, well-worn from countless hours of use, are rusty now. The shape and weight of the pliers give me strange comfort. I open and close them a few times. It feels like a heartbeat.

Like Grandad’s heart, that beat too irregularly, and then stopped beating.


Peppermint tea and a new moon

Warning for rambling just-before-bedtime thoughts.

I’m drinking peppermint tea and eating my second slice of berry pie. I haven’t done any writing today even though I was supposed to (both academic and creative) – well, apart from my morning pages (I’ve started a trial run again; I’ll blog about it later, perhaps). Today I’ve thought about writing; I’ve read about writing; I went to an invigorating fiddle class and finished my re(re-re-re-etc.)read of Lord of the Rings. And was at work for eight hours before all that, of course.

So why do I feel like I’ve accomplished almost nothing today?

I’ve always been good at trying to take on more than I can handle, and at being dissatisfied with what I do manage to do. At the moment it feels like that again, and nevertheless/as a consequence I’ve been spending lots of time alone and too much time on the internet. Procrastinating, of course. That’s the problem when the “too much to handle” thing isn’t in the form of full-to-bursting schedules right now, but in the form of overwhelmingly big decisions and finding out things and creativity and, well, all sorts of matters requiring extensive brain activity. Which is in very short supply after work.

I get frustrated with myself if I don’t have the energy and creativity for fiction/poetry, but I suppose I should be more gentle with myself. But at the same time: the year is rushing along, and I want to get stuff done fiction-wise too. I want to get my poetry out there. I want to start a new novel, I want to finish a few short stories.

I feel like I need new energy, new motivation. Unsure where to find such things. More sleep would probably help (although I’ve been going to sleep at slightly more sensible hours – finally getting used to my 9-to-5 days?). Dunno what else would. Sheer pig-headedness and perseverance?

I’m going to try to set myself a goal of writing every day – something, anything as long as it’s creative. Should try writing exercises. Should do a poem-a-day week again. Just something to get the words flowing and get rid of this anxiety.


But when I came back from my fiddle class this evening, I saw a sudden joy: a papercut-thin crescent moon silvering in the sky. It was one of those silhouettes that make my love for Helsinki deepen: Dark buildings on the horizon, where the sky was still a faint shade of orange from the memory of sunset. The colours sliding from orange to eggshell blue to the elven dark of early evening, and the moon a breathtaking silver sword, its crescent hanging almost horizontal in the sky.