The Fairytale Ending by Jan Kaneen

The Fairytale Ending

Jan Kaneen

Jill and Mason had been together for 12 years when they decided to marry. As between them they already had four children ranging from 16-year-old Violet to six-month-old Alfie, they resolved to make their nuptials more celebration of home and family, rather than their well-established partnership. They invited 100 nearest-and-dearest to their sixteenth-century cottage on the banks of the river Ouse. As the cottage had a large and charming garden, they hired a marquee and a sit-down hog roast and a brilliant magician to do impossible sleight-of-hand tricks and a bouncy castle full of red and yellow plastic balls to keep the children amused. The big day dawned fortuitously dry and sunny, and friends flew in from far and wide. The children bounced and laughed and threw the balls everywhere and at each other and everyone said it was the best wedding ever − a day they would always remember.

Five years later when Jill and Mason were pruning foliage under the ancient and majestic copper beech, they found a yellow plastic ball lodged in the undergrowth. How the memories flooded back. They squeezed each other’s hands as they shared a nostalgic smile.

Thirteen years after that, they planned a garden party to celebrate Alfie going to university. They braved the drizzle to cut back hazels by way of tidying up, when they found a single red ball perfectly preserved after all these years. Long-ago laughter echoed around their imaginations as they kissed in the verdurous gloom.

Twenty-two years later when Jill was scattering Mason’s ashes over the roots of a newly-planted apple tree, Alfie showed her the crumpled yellow shell he’d found when he dug the hole into the claggy soil. Tears shone in Jill’s eyes as she recounted the plastic’s history. Alfie hugged his mother and dropped the plastic into his pocket – a timely reminder of a moment of joy, in an increasingly volatile world.

After Jill’s death, the cottage eventually passed to Alfie, the last of his kin to live in that beautiful place. As a diligent citizen he replaced the saturated topsoil every year in line with government recommendations, and sometimes when he did, he found concave hollows of red and yellow plastic mixed in with the waterlogged loam and smiled a wistful smile.

A century later when the then-owners dug out the rotted apple tree and the drowned copper beech and replaced the last surviving plants with genetically modified flood-hardy crops, they were horrified to find slivers of coloured polyethylene terephthalate in the saturated mud. They shook their heads as they carried the filthy polymer into their stilt-built home, shocked by the folly of previous generations.

A thousand years after that, when ocean had replaced all that had ever been: the soil, the ashes, the cottage, the river – deep beneath the surface of wind-lashed waves, amongst the submerged ruins left by the last of humanity, salt-worn fragments of red and yellow lined the lairs and nests of water-scorpions and sea-snakes, remembered by no-one, signifying nothing.


About the author:

Jan Kaneen has an MA in Creative Writing from the OU. Her flash fictions have has been published hither and yon, most recently in Ellipsis, Flashback Fiction and Molotov Cocktail. She tweets @jankaneen1 and blogs at Her memoir-in-flash The Naming of Bones is scheduled for publication by Retreat West Books in April 2021.


Jan Kaneen: Why Retreat West?

Why Retreat West?

As part of our week behind the scenes at Retreat West, today Jan Kaneen shares her journey from starting out, with a creative writing course way back in 2014, to her forthcoming debut memoir-in-flash. And thank you so much Jan! Your kind words about Retreat West are very much appreciated and make all the hard work worthwhile! Over to Jan.

I started creative writing in 2014 to help manage my anxiety. I found it really helped, and so enrolled on an Open University creative writing course to see where it would take me. The following year, armed with a distinction for my coursework and a bit more confidence, I started subbing, which is when I found Retreat West. I won one of their flash fiction comps and the positivity I felt was affirming and confidence-building.

In 2016, I enrolled on the OU’s two-year Creative Writing MA and one of the exercises was researching potential publishers for a work-in-progress, then drafting bespoke submission letters. Retreat West, by now, had established their publishing arm. I bought the wonderful Separated from the Sea, by Amanda Huggins, and Retreat West founder Amanda Saint’s brilliant, As if I Were a River, and felt a connection. I decided that if I ever did this for real, Retreat West would be top of my list.

In Spring 2018, the taught part of my MA was over, and I was worried my old anxiety would resurface, so by way of pre-empting trouble, I joined Retreat West writer’s community. As I polished the first 15k words of the novel I was writing for the final MA assessment, I found the weekly prompts excellent at providing regular inspiration for short blasts of non-MA writing, and the Facebook group a supportive background burble.

The MA deadline came and went, and as I waited for the result (due December 2018), I curated the hotchpotch of flash fictions I’d written over the previous four years. I was gobsmacked to realise they were themed and autobiographical. When the MA results were published and I’d gained a distinction, I gathered my courage, sequenced the themed flashes, entitled the resulting memoir-in-flash, The Naming of Bones, and entered it into Ellipse Magazine’s Flash Collection competition. It won second prize.

As part of the writer’s membership package at Retreat West, you get an e-copy of all their books, so by now, I’d read, admired and felt a writerly affinity with absolutely everything they’d published. I truly felt my quirky memoir that examines life, love, grief and growing-up through a surreal and lyrical filter, fitted. I submitted it and, six nail-biting weeks later, my strange tale had found its perfect home.

So you won’t be surprised when I say I love Retreat West – its ethos, the ethical way it does business, the opportunities it offers writers, the fun comps, the gorgeousness of the books. Next January I’m doing their Plot, People & Place writers retreat, the first retreat I’ve ever done. I’m hoping that with a bit of expert guidance and some time and space I can get the novel I started doing on the MA, back on track. I cannot wait. I love writing. More than love it. It’s necessary for my mental health and well-being, and my writing journey has been so enriched and enabled by my involvement with Retreat West. I couldn’t be more grateful. True story.


Jan Kaneen’s stories have won prizes in places like Scribble, InkTears, Molotov Cocktail, Horror Scribes and Retreat West. Her most recent stories can be found at Flashback Fiction, Ellipsis and Molotov Cocktail and her debut memoir-in-flash The Naming of Bones will be published by Retreat West Books in 2021. She tweets @jankaneen1 and blogs.

Flakes by Jan Kaneen

When you storm out of the front door, slamming into the midnight, fast and antsy, thinking in angry fragments that whizz and whistle round your mind’s eye like burning shrapnel, oblivious to the cold air on your salty cheeks or the loud, quick, clip of your staccato boots echoing through the midwinter dark, and you walk and walk breathing sharp and jerky, until you take that long-deep breath that eventually and inevitably, cuts through the chaos, cools your lungs and you slow right down, frowning at the dark like you’ve just woken up mid sleepwalk.

When you stop to blow your fingers warm because you’ve become aware that your hands are aching with the cold and you watch your powdery breath as it billows up into the starless dark catching an impossible sparkle from the glittering specks that’re starting to fill the air and you lift your head to watch – diamond mots morphing into lacy flakes – millions of them, swirling and swarming, landing on your outstretched hand, settling on the country track where they form a quick, white covering and you shiver and glance behind you, at the eerie trees lit by the amber gloom of a single street lamp their blue-black branches tapping and scratching like old, cold bones, and you turn for home, teeth chattering, walking fast again, not out of anger anymore, that dissolved as soon as you saw the beauty, but because the inky village has become full of looming shadows and weird noises and although the fallen snow is muffling your footsteps so they’re quieter than your heartbeat that’s pounding in your head, you wish they were quieter still and when you round that final corner, almost running now, you’re so glad to see the familiar thatch of home silhouetted against the wintery midnight that you fairly leap up the breathless steps, fling the front door open into a wall of warmth that reddens your hot-cold face and he’s stood right there, in the vestibule, wearing his fat salopettes and that old polar coat that’s been hanging in the Narnia wardrobe in the spare bedroom ever since that time you fancied learning how to ski, donkeys years ago.

When the snowflakes in your eyelashes and hair melt in relief as much as anything else and you want to laugh and laugh because he looks so comical, but you don’t because his expression is serious – sort of angry and relieved at the same time, (he’s been worried sick and was just about to go and find you) so you shoot him that look, the one that always melts into smiles on both your faces, and you tumble into each other’s arms forgetting about everything else and make clumsy love right there in the vestibule, numb-finger fumbling with hilarious zips, lost in the intense white magic that the snowflakes are weaving as they land wild and silent in enchanted drifts just beyond the safety of the closed front door.



About the author: Jan Kaneen is doing an MA in Creative Writing at the OU and trying…really trying to write a novel. The Flash fiction obsession helps with both, allegedly. She’s been published in several mags and lit-zines and so far this year has won comps at Molotov Cocktail, Ad Hoc, Zero Fiction as well as running up here.

We’re Going to Pick Daddy Up by Jan Kaneen

The car seat’s all sticky on my legs. They make a squishy-squishy noise when I move them.

‘Are we nearly there yet?’

Mummy doesn’t say anything.

I don’t think she can hear me so I ask my Moominmamma. She’s got smiley eyes and an apron and a big handbag. My Mummy’s exactly like Moominmamma – kind and looks after people. The only time my Mummy isn’t exactly like Moominmamma is when Daddy comes home from the army.

When Moominpappa accidentally breaks a plate, Moominmamma says, ‘I’m glad it’s broken, it was pretty ugly.’ When Daddy breaks a plate, Mummy cries and runs upstairs until he’s gone to the pub then comes down and clears up the sharpy bits so we don’t get them in our feet.

‘Are we nearly there yet?’ I ask Moominmamma really loud, squishing my legs.

‘Flippin eck Jessie,’ shouts Pauly, ‘can’t you see she’s driving?’

Pauly thinks I’m talking to Mummy.

‘She can’t listen Jessie because she’s concentrating and we’ve only been going twenty minutes and will you please stop doing that flamin thing with your stupid legs.’

Mummy looks into her little mirror.

‘Alright Pauly,’ she says then, ‘No Jessie love, we’re ages away. Why don’t you two play a game of I-spy to pass the time? This traffic’s awful and I need to concentrate.’

‘I’m not playing with her,’ says Pauly. ‘She doesn’t even know the alphabet.’

‘Come on Pauly love,’ says Mummy, ‘be kind to your little sister. She’ll never learn if we don’t teach her how.’

I do my special smile at Pauly, the one that’s like sticking your tongue out and we play I-spy for a bit.

‘Bugger,’ shouts Mummy and the car starts stopping on the little road next to the big one.

Mummy puts her head on the steering wheel breathing all heavy like she’s been skipping.

‘Don’t worry,’ she says, ‘the engine’s overheated that’s all. It’s probably all the stopping and starting.’

She gets out and opens the front of the car. All smoke comes out and I say, ‘Look Pauly, it’s on fire.’

‘It’s steam stupid,’ he says shaking his head, ‘don’t you know anything?’

He’s very clever our Pauly but he’s not always kind. Mummy gets back in and turns the key two or ten times. It makes a clicky noise. Baby Charlie wakes up. She’s in the front in her baby seat.

Mummy looks at her then turns to us, ‘I think Rusty’s had it this time kids.’

Our car’s called Rusty because it’s knackered. ‘I’m going to have to telephone for someone to come and rescue us. It shouldn’t take more than fifteen minutes. There’s emergency phones every mile down the motorway. You two must stay in the car.

I’ll take Baby Charlie in the sling.’ She’s very serious now, looking right at us. ‘Paul, I’m relying on you to
look after your little sister.’

Lorries swoosh past as she walks away.

‘Pauly,’ I say, squishing my legs really fast, ‘I need a wee.’


Jan Kaneen is a mum, wife, sister and pug servant who recently got a distinction on the OU’s course A215 in Creative Writing. She loves flash fiction and writing short stories and is learning as much as she can about teeny tales to get match fit as she writes her first novel.

Let Jan know what you think of her story in the comments below!