Longlisted

A few weeks ago, I spotted a competition run by Flash500 who run a quarterly flash fiction competition But they were asking for stories up to 3,000 words for their Annual short story competition. The rules said that they accepted adult stories and also stories for children. As I have had my Writing for Children module assessed and returned, I decided to enter the story I had written for Assignment 4 where I had to show a power switch between two characters. My story was called Hidden Treasure, and I was absolutely delighted when it was longlisted, HERE and although it didn’t make the shortlist which you can also see on this link now (only contained the longlist when I got the email.) I was delighted to have got this far.

The whole experience has given me the confidence to believe in myself, and I shall certainly be entering more competitions from now on. In fact, I have entered the Bristol Short Story Prize and sent off a couple of stories to The Writing Magazine.

 

Project 5 – Reading between the lines

Project 5 – page 85 -exercise two characters who know each other well.

Think of a conflict/problem between them.

1a. a married couple who cannot have children.

1b. two friends who are in love with the same person.

Put them in a situation with a third person they don’t know

1c. perhaps a supermarket checkout assistant

1d. perhaps a car salesman.

Write the dialogue in such a way that the conflict is never mentioned, but the reader can work it out.

Once you have got your draft dialogue, cut it by half. Really think about what you can take out while still leaving in ‘what’s between the lines’.

1a + 1c a married couple who can’t have children

Jan and Dave unload the shopping from the cart. The woman on the checkout looks as if she didn’t bother combing her hair this morning. It was obviously just a job to her.

‘There’s an offer on these,’ the woman says, holding up a packet of Jammy Dodgers.

‘I know,’ says Jan, ‘It takes us a while to get through a packet.’

‘It takes five minutes in our house. I usually stock up when they’re on offer. My brood can finish a packet in one session.’

‘Brilliant! How many kids have you got?’ asks Dave, ‘I’m limited to one in my lunch box. She always says I’ve got to watch my weight,’ he adds signalling at Jan with his thumb.

‘Dogs not allowed any?’ the woman asks, scanning several tins of dog food. ‘There’s cheaper brands than this, you know,’ she says to Jan.

‘My Betsy only likes this particular brand. Turns her nose up at anything else. She can be a little madam sometimes, can’t she Dave? ‘

‘Don’t I know it.’ he answers, rolling his eyes at the woman behind the till.

‘Sounds like you spoil her,’ says the woman, ‘My man won’t have animals in the house. Not with so many kids about. You can never be sure, can you?’

‘We don’t have that problem,’ says Jan, ‘Betsy rules the roost in our house. She’s enough for both of us, isn’t she Dave?’

1a + 1d a married couple who can’t have children

‘Come this way. I’ve got just the car.’ The salesman leads the happy couple, Gemma and Tim across the showroom car park to a VW Touran in dark metallic grey. He can tell they’re newly married when he spots Gemma constantly looking at the two brand new rings on her finger.

‘Oh! We’re not looking for something that size,’ says Gemma, ‘Just a small car would suit our lifestyle.’

‘I can see your way of thinking, but it’s surprising how many newlyweds get a two-seater sports job and are back within six months looking for a family car.’ He winks at both of them.

‘We’re more into a bit of speed and luxury than family,’ Steve says, slipping his arm around Gemma’s waist before wandering across the showroom floor, ‘Can we have a trial in that convertible?’

‘Course. It’s up to you. I got one of those when I got married. Lasted a couple of years before Chantelle came along and we had to part-ex for a saloon. I like the people carriers best, though. Planning for the future is good, I say, and they last for years.’ He opens the driver door for Steve, but Gemma steps forward and climbs in.

‘I like this, Steve. Spot on for country drives and picnics. Wind through the hair and all that. Perfect.’

‘I don’t drive,’ says Steve seeing the surprised look on the salesman’s face. ‘Gemma’s the speed fiend.’

‘Won’t be much room when you’ve got a tummy as it were,’ the salesman mutters, half-blushing.

‘As I said, this is perfect for two,’ Gemma snaps, getting out of the car, ‘but as you’re not interested…’

1b + 1c two friends who are in love with the same person.

‘I’ll take the red ones,’ said Bill.

‘Would you like them gift-wrapped?’ asked the florist.

‘Why are you getting red, Phil? You know she hates red flowers.’ said Jack, frowning at his friend.

‘Does she? I didn’t know that?’ Phil turned back to the florist. ‘Looks like I might have to get something else.’ He looked around at the large selection of bouquets on display.

‘Get her the pink ones.’

Phil stared at Jack. ‘How come you’re such an expert on Sophie? Did she tell you she liked pink?’

‘No…Course not. I just remember how much she went on at the flower show the other week.’ Phil looked blank.’ When she practically pushed her nose in the display on that stall. The one with all the different things made of roses. You know… teapots, cups and saucers.’

Phil hunched his shoulders, holding his hands palm up. ‘They all looked the same to me. A flower’s a flower. Was the one with that fit looking redhead standing behind?’

‘Christ, Phil. How could you look at anyone else when you’ve got someone like Sophie? You must be mad.’ Jack scowled at his best friend.

‘Hey! I love Sophie. I’ve got eyes in my head, though. You can’t help noticing a good looking girl.’

The florist coughed loudly before painting a big smile on her face. ‘Did you want these gift-wrapped?

‘Eh. Oh Yeah. Sorry. How much are they?’ Phil asked warily, rifling through his wallet.

‘For Christ’s sake. I’ll buy her the bloody things if you’re afraid of spending too much on her.’ Jack pulled his wallet out. ‘Can you tie a big silk bow around them please and use a gift box with a water well so’s they’ll keep fresh for longer.’

‘Here’s the card sir, if you’d like to write it out now.’

Jack picked up the pen, hesitated for just a moment before passing it to Phil. ‘Here. Or would you like me to write out that for you as well?’

1b + 1d two friends who are in love with the same person.

‘Whoa! Look at this for a bit of kit.’ Brad was gazing lovingly at a sporty number in pillar-box red.

‘You’re joking. Right?’ Jack laughed at his friend.

‘I don’t think so, mate. It’s perfect. Tara’ll love it.’

‘Yeah. Sure she will. Plenty of room for a baby seat in that,’ Jack said, pointing at the narrow gap between the two front seats and the boot.

‘She’ll understand. Last bit of freedom before we’re tied to a baby for the next eighteen years.’

‘She won’t even fit in the front seat in a couple of months. What happens after the baby is born? You just gonna leave her at home all day? D’you know. I sometimes wonder why such a beautiful girl got stuck with a jerk like you.’

‘C’mon mate. Don’t be like that. You’re getting to be a right bore lately.’

Project three

Project 3 -page 72-exercise

1) Choose a short story, either one you’ve written, work in progress or a story you’ve read. Match the story onto the plot template.

 

Eurotrash by Irvine Welsh (The Acid House, 1995, Vintage)

1, Life in the beginning

Euan is staying with a friend in Amsterdam while trying to get off drugs.

  1. Trigger (to the sequence of actions

Euan goes into the city centre of Amsterdam to look for work and meets Chrissie in a bar where she is apparently in a relationship with the barman, Richard. He agrees to spend a day at the seaside with them and, although he despises her, decides to steal her away from Richard.

  1. Sequence of actions

Euan starts an affair with Chrissie, but as he straightens himself out and gets a job, he leaves Chrissie. He gets his own flat and meets a girl who he likes very much, and they become a couple. One night, they meet Chrissie on the street, and she regales Euan over the way he treated her. She leaves them in a very distressed state. Euan explains his relationship with her to his new partner.

  1. Climax

Richard goes to see Euan and tells him that Chrissie has committed suicide after the way that he treated her.  He tells him that if he cared anything for her, he would attend the funeral the following week in Jersey where she came from. Euan and his girlfriend go to Jersey and discover that Chrissie is actually Christopher and has spent his whole life estranged from his family because of his sexuality.

  1. Life at the end.

Euan goes back to Amsterdam and apologises to Richard for everything he has done. Now understanding Chrissie fully he feels a great sorrow instead of despising her and realises how judgemental he has been.

 

 

2) Use a character I have created and think of a trigger relevant to your character’s life at the beginning. Drop him/her into the template and take your character through the stages 1 to 5. Once you’ve got your trigger, you’ll probably find the rest flows. Write an outline and then a draft.

Susan

1, Life in the beginning

Susan lives alone and helps to look after her grandchildren (her abusive husband Tony left her several years ago when her own children were small).

  1. Trigger (to the sequence of actions

Susan is contacted and attracted to a man (Tom), who she knew as a teenager and starts a relationship with him.

  1. Sequence of actions

Tom slowly becomes more and more possessive. He doesn’t like her spending too much time with her family, but Susan thinks that she will change him in the end. She agrees to go on a holiday with him.

  1. Climax

On the first night of the holiday, he becomes very drunk and belligerent when she wants to phone home to say they have arrived safely and says that her previous husband probably had enough reason to abuse her. She decides to telephone her family and he locks her out on the balcony.

  1. Life at the end.

Susan calls her granddaughter, but as in the past, she finds herself unable to tell her granddaughter what is happening or to ask for help.

Writing Short Fiction

I am working my way through part two of WSF so I thought I would put some of my efforts up here so that I can either, get feedback or develop the pieces as I go along or use it as a learning tool as I progress.

Page 50 – Writing yourself 1.

I found a photograph from a few years ago. I’m the one on the left. I tried to see myself as a stranger might and asked myself the question. What do you see? I was now a character. I had to imagine a young businessman passing my character in the street.

Photo:

It was fun to imagine myself as a complete stranger and trying to imagine what the character was thinking about and what would happen next.

 

Lydia paints on a bright smile, she’s trying to relax but realises she is holding on to Jenny a bit too tightly. She wonders what Jenny really thinks about her. After all, she was a good friend to Monica. Does she think what they’re doing is wrong? Peter seems relaxed enough, but they’re hardly going to turn against him after so many years of friendship. Lydia hopes the weekend passes without any uncomfortable incidents. She almost regrets coming. How can she expect them to approve when they know that Monica is at home, none the wiser. Do they feel as if they are betraying her too? What if someone recognises them and tells her?

Peter lowers the camera. ‘Lovely. You both look gorgeous.’

‘Good,’ Jenny says and wriggles out from my grip, rubbing her upper arm. ‘Now can we go and eat. I’m starving.’ She links up with Simon, and they walk ahead of us, along the little, cobbled streets of the village that lies on the edge of the tulip fields.

A young man in a suit is coming towards them. He glances at Lydia. She thinks he must know her. His eyes are looking her up and down, a whisper of a smile on his lips. He nods almost imperceptibly as he passes. She feels the compulsion to look back at him, and when she does; he is looking back at her. She frowns, wondering and then it hits her. A shiver runs down her spine as she turns away, pulling on Pete’s arm and quickening her step.

‘Let’s hurry. I’m absolutely famished,’ says Lydia, desperate to leave the man behind.

269 words

 

Page 55 exercise – Familiar strangers

  1. Familiar strangers are the people you recognise from everyday life but don’t interact with. Choose somebody, it could be the old man you see frequently at the bus stop, the young mum at the gym or the taxi driver you pass on your way to work each morning.Choose one vivid detail about this person. From one detail that strikes you, write the introduction to this character’s short story in a way that reveals much more about who they are. As you’re beginning to learn, plots can come from characters so start to think how a story might develop from this introduction. If it’s working, keep going and draft a story.

    Brian always wears a woollen Crombie, black with the collar turned up. It’s too long for his five-foot-one frame but it looks good with his black, leather gloves. He wears it when he knocks on all the doors in the village, selling poppies for The British Legion every year. He wears it to attend church with his wife every Sunday morning and he wears it to attend the coffee mornings at the village hall on the first Saturday of the month during the whole of autumn and winter.

    It was a typical November evening when Brian knocked on the door of the new couple who had just moved into the village.

    ‘Good evening,’ he said in his usual authoritative voice, looking up at the willowy young woman who answered the door. ‘I’m the designated poppy seller for the village and I wondered if I might persuade you to purchase one. Any amount you care to donate would be gratefully received.’

    ‘Ah. Yes. I’ll just get my purse,’ the young woman said and disappeared inside, almost closing the door on Brian.

    Not exactly welcoming, he thought. Still, when Sheila invites her to attend the next WI meeting, it’ll break the ice a little.

    Melanie came back to the door and unzipped her purse.

    ‘I can’t rattle my collection tin, I’m afraid,’ said Brian, coughing slightly and smiling up at her. ‘There are only notes in there at the moment.’

    Melanie raised her eyebrows and stared down at Brian. She didn’t fasten the zip on the coin pocket of her purse. In fact, she looked at the pound coin in her hand and popped it back in her purse. Brian widened his smile until Melanie drew out a fifty pence piece and popped it in the slot on the top of the collection tin. It thudded loudly as it hit the bottom. She then helped herself to a poppy from the tray that was securely fastened to a broad red ribbon and hanging around Brian’s neck.

    ‘Goodnight,’ she said and promptly closed the door in his face.

     

    ‘Well, I never,’ spluttered Brian before racing back down the path and slamming the gate behind him. He hurried to the large detached house next door. He had no idea what Bill and Jacqueline Brown would make of it but it was definitely his duty to raise their awareness of the sort of neighbours who had just moved in next door to them.

408 words

2. Now try a monologue as a way of getting to know this familiar stranger as a character. This is an excellent way to get into the head of the character. In the same way as you free write, don’t think about it too much, just write from your character’s head – as he/she waits for the bus, works out at the gym, or drives the taxi – and see what emerges.

 

Just wait until I get home and tell Sheila. Disgraceful really and to donate only fifty pence. That is not the spirit of generosity I expect from my fellow neighbours in this village. It most definitely will not do. I’m not entirely sure now that Sheila should invite the wretched woman to the next WI meeting if she was going to be this mealy-mouthed. She’d barely made any effort at all to speak to me. There’s no way Sheila should make her welcome after that.  No! I’ve a good mind to warn everyone in the village about her. I know…I’ll bring it up at the next parish council meeting.

Oh dear! She’s making me behave as abominably as she did. Perhaps I’m being a little hasty in my judgement. Now then, Brian. Have a word with yourself. Charity and all that. Must give her the benefit. It may be that she didn’t want to open her door to a stranger. I suppose that could be it. In all fairness, that’s exactly what I am to her, a stranger. She doesn’t actually know me from Adam.

That’s probably it. Still, I have to say, I didn’t like the way she looked down at me. It would have been better if she had stepped down on to the path instead of looming over me as if I was a child.

Be that as it may. I shall be charitable and forgive this first encounter. I’ll send a personal invitation to the next coffee morning in aid of the RNLI. Then we’ll see if she and her husband will deign to show their presence. Then we’ll know. Yes. Absolutely, we’ll know.

278 words