I wrote yesterday’s post as a cathartic rant about my continued failure to succeed in the writing business, which was triggered by me not making the long list of the Bath Flash Fiction Award . I will write some more about that when the wounds are less fresh. Needless to say that will feature a spicy shower scene with my best acquaintance.
However, I thought I had cartharted enough to enter another Faber Academy Friday #QuickFic competition. It turns out that I hadn’t vented enough spleen and now I’ve lost another competition. Which means I’ve mired myself deeper into the swamp of Self Pity, located somewhere to the north of Petulant Anger.
This was the prompt:
“But why pumpkins?” Josh said.
Janet grinned at him. He asked the question every year. She wondered if he was old enough to understand the truth yet.
“Because of the miracle.” She said.
Jan nodded. “Of course! Jack O’Lantern sacrificed himself to save us all.”
“Yeah, but why do we have to scoop his brains out?”
“Well that’s what the witches and demons did to him when he was helpless.”
Josh frowned. “But that’s a really bad thing. I wouldn’t want my brains to be scooped out.”
“That’s why we’re all so thankful to Jack for saving us all. That’s why we celebrate Halloween.”
“Mum?” Daisy said. She stopped hacking at her pumpkin with the finger severing knife traditionally used. “What’s a demond?”
“Well, he’s one of Satan’s little helpers, darling. A demon,” she made the ‘n’ a separate syllable, “is a being who goes around doing Satan’s evil work.”
“Like the opposite of an angel?” Josh said.
“Josh!” Jan looked around the garden, hoping nothing was listening. “You mustn’t talk about those sorts of creatures. It’s bad luck.”
“They can’t hurt you though, can they?” Daisy asked, smearing a little pumpkin flesh over her forehead as she brushed her hair out of her eyes. It looked like she was playing rituals.
“Demons?” Jan said.
“No.” And the little girl leant forwards and whispered. “Angels.”
“Don’t be silly. They’re not real. It’s just superstition. Like when someone says ‘Curse you’ after you’ve sneezed.”
The winners are here
Hurrah! Faber Academy’s #quickfic competition has been reinstated after presumably being extremely naughty. This gives me the perfect opportunity to either:
- Hone my writing skills with a fun little diversion or,
- Spend hours crafting something pointless that I’ll then spend more hours wondering why it didn’t win or come second and then spend more hours questioning whether it’s all a big fix and why on Earth do I bother.
I actually got an email from them specifically telling me that they’d brought the competition back. For a few minutes I swanned around the house assuming they’d plucked me from a list of people who write amazingly. They were probably emailing a select shortlist of writers like Hilary Mantel, Donna Tartt, Barbara Kingsolver and me, just so they would get some really good entries for the re-inaugural bout.
So, with a spring in my pen, I set about writing my entry based on this prompt:
“I can tell that you’re looking.” He says. Apart from the scar he is handsome.
I look away and mumble an apology.
“No, it’s fine.” He says. “It’s more me than me.”
He bangs the black-handled chrome thingy against the tray, trying to loosen the coffee grounds and I frown.
“What do you mean?” I ask. I think he wants me to ask but I still feel awkward. And I never feel awkward.
He releases steam, taps dials and pulls levers, working the complicated machine like a train driver.
“If it wasn’t for my scar, I wouldn’t be here.” And he grins. “I’d be normal, like you.”
Without meaning to, I look down at myself, at my tailored suit, my shiny black shoes. At my leather litigation case which must have cost more than he earns in a month.
“Really?” I say. My confidence has returned. Now I realise his coffee making has made him bitter. He must try this routine on every successful man in his queue.
He nods. “Do you want chocolate sprinkles?” There is no disdain in his eyes even though I search for it.
“Just the coffee.”
He pops the plastic top onto my cup and slides it onto the round shelf in front of me.
As I walk away, I see the next customer staring at his scar. She’s a young pretty girl. I guess she’s a student. He’s already smiling.
“I can tell that you’re looking.” He says.
I’ve decided that it, rather than I, didn’t win. The real winners are here.
You’re probably not wondering how I picked the literary luminaries who were emailed by the Faber Academy earlier. Some of the more cynical amongst you might think that I chose all these marvellous women in an effort to appear feminist and cool. The truth is simpler. Those were the authors on the closest shelf to my desk. I will let you decide how cool that makes me…
We’re all denied the gaudy days, yet once I dared those decaying rays.
For a sweetness.
She had the nameless grace that only the living possess, but something more besides; a soft serenity that eloquently expressed her thoughts.
I watched as she floated amongst the headstones. She was adorned with brightness, a white flowing dress emblazoned by the baleful sunshine and crowned by delicious tresses of rampant gold.
I could not resist. The hunger was rife.
A row of melancholy yew trees stretched from my undercroft to within touching. Their twisted shadows promised a safe passage.
Without control, I shuttered my limbs up through the musty opening and crawled unseen into the shade. I jerked and crept closer, a mindless moth becharmed by the glow of the moon.
She was kneeling before a familiar grave now, her mind trammelled by the thing below.
Closer still, and closer I wriggled, my clapperclaws outstretched. I could so nearly engulf her purity.
A breeze shuffled the branches above and a stabbing fire erupted inside my hands and across my cheek. The deathly sunlight seared into my limpid skin and I wailed.
She started and shuffled back. There was fear in her aspect and her eyes, not terror.
I writhed away, spasming back along the avenue of yew tree shade.
Somehow the pity hurt more than the pain.
She is a creature of daylight, and now night is generally my time for walking.
The three winning entries can be found here
It’s been more than three months since I last blogged. I’ve been mired in self loathing, swamped by rejections from all the heartless agents of this United Kingdom.
However, NaNoWriMo has somehow come around again and I’ve started a new project (The Lost Lives of Eliot Lynton) which I hope will reignite my enthusiasm. Obviously, since I need to write 1,667 words a day I’ve taken to procrastinating and so this week’s #quickfic distracted me.
So, with the above quote, and the clues given about how topical it was (it’s the day after Bonfire Night and #EliotDay) I wrote a story about rugby.
If we win this one, she’ll be fine.
Stop thinking that. Now that you’ve thought that, it means if we lose, she’ll die.
“Crouch!” The referee calls.
My arms are wrapped over the shoulders of our two props, Greg and James. They’re so massive my feet almost dangle on the ground. I feel like Mum must do when she’s being carried from the bedroom to the bathroom by Dad. Small and feeble.
James reaches forward with his free hand and grabs hold of the opposing player’s sleeve. He’s grabbed back. I feel some jostling from behind as our pack prepares itself. The familiar feeling of excitement, of adrenalin surges through me. I grimace at my opposite number.
If we lose, she’ll die.
I’m hurled forwards as Greg and James lean into the scrum, interlocking our heads with our enemies. There are hollows, stuffed with heads and elbows and knees. Everything is hard.
I can only see the mud. It seems like it’s only a few inches in front of my face.
In comes the ball, tossed in at ridiculous angle, a cheating slant. Greg roars and heaves us forward. My shoulder wrenches back. I think I can feel the bones grinding, but I don’t care. Somehow I stretch my heel around the ball and hook it back into our pack.
Then we surge ahead.
And the ball is gone, taken by the backs.
I scramble to my feet.
If we can score from here, she’ll be fine.
The actual winners, and particularly worthy ones I think, are here
It’s Thursday which is not #quickfic day. But, in an effort to stop me from submitting to them, @FaberAcademy have decided to run the competition today.
Well more fool them because I spotted it and entered anyway!
I know why her parents didn’t want me come, but I still went round to her house after the service.
I could see them inside, slumped together on the sofa, nodding and faking smiles at all the meaningless condolences.
I stood out on the street and watched them until everyone had gone and the darkness had chased the noise from the world.
I couldn’t go home.
I crept down the side of the house, desperate to find something of hers. Something that meant something.
I saw them on the lawn. It looked like she’d kicked them off before getting onto the tatty trampoline. I nearly cried then when I imagined her playing.
I looked at the windows overlooking the garden. They were empty and dark. I scurried onto the lawn, grabbed her shoes and hurried away with my prize.
I wandered the streets then. Clasping the shoes to my breast, unaware of my tears. I went to the bridge and watched the trains. I went to the park and sat next to an empty swing.
I went to Hope Alley which was where she’d proved how much she loved me.
I placed the shoes against the crumbling wall, just where she stood when we first kissed. I fussed with them, arranging them exactly how I remembered she’d place her feet, one foot flat, the other with the heel raised against the wall.
I imagined her ankles growing from the shoes, turning to calves, knees, thighs and skirt. I imagined her waist and her arms, her neck and her face.
She was so beautiful. That’s where they found me.
I’ve edited my entry now so it’s actually 18 words too long.
The winners are here
Friday is here, another #quickfic competition to not win…
“Come on. You’ve got to explain why.” Lucy said as she scribbled out some of her own reasons. “They’ve got to know.”
I skimmed over the next postcard.
“Dearest girls.” It said. “Sorry we couldn’t make your birthday, but the trains from La Rochelle are hardly reliable and your mother and I thought it best if we stayed away.”
“They’ll know why.” I said.
“No they won’t. They’ll just think we’re too immature to deal with it. You need to write a proper letter.” Lucy had written almost a whole page, full of crossings out and confused sentences.
“We only need one. Yours will be enough.”
The next postcard was from London. A picture of Big Ben thrusting into a grey sky.
“Dearest girls. We’re staying at the Dorchester for the next few weeks. If you need anything ask Jarvis and he’ll sort something out.”
I snorted. “Dearest girls” was at the beginning of every postcard.
“I feel woozy.” Lucy said.
“Me too.” I lied.
Lucy’s head dropped onto her letter and some drool leaked from her mouth.
I watched as her breath slowed and then finally stopped. Then I collected the pills up from under the bed, the ones I’d pretended to take, and flushed them down the toilet.
Hopefully this would get his attention.
Hopefully he’d realise that I was his dearest girl.
The winners are here: Pre Cards and The Getaway
So, another Friday, another #quickfic competition to enter… This one inspired by the dusty handshake in the picture above.
“Good morning, gentlemen. I am the Director-General of the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs. Let me assure you that you have been selected because of your reputations as honest businessmen.”
I smiled at that. Miriam would be surprised that I had any reputation at all.
I looked around the sumptuous room at my five competitors. They were all relaxed and seemed infinitely confident. I, on the other hand, could not stop fidgeting.
“Do you all have your sealed bids prepared?” The Director-General looked at each one of us in turn.
Each look was answered by a curt nod.
My mouth was dry and it took every gram of strength to raise my hand. The Director-General raised an eyebrow.
“May I have a private word with you, Director?”
He looked surprised, perhaps for a moment even frightened. He looked at the others and then gave his own curt nod.
We adjourned to the bedroom of the hotel suite and I drew the thick envelope out of my breast pocket. It was far too thick to hold only a bid.
His eyes widened and he smiled. This smile was the most natural expression I’d ever seen. It made the rest of his face look false.
“I understand how difficult it is to survive on a government salary.” I said. “Perhaps this will help.”
We shook hands.
A day later I received the title-deeds to the Eiffel Tower.
The day after that I realised the truth. I didn’t tell the police.
The winners can be found here
So Faber Academy run a #quickfic competition every Friday. They’ve been doing it for a few weeks now, but I’ve only just found out about it.
This week, the challenge was to write a story in 250 words or less inspired by the canine idiot in the picture.
I called mine “A Man’s Best Friend” and it’s an ironic insight into the human male’s disregard for relationships in the face of his single minded pursuit of more pointless projects.
I thought it was quite clever in its meta qualities as I was obviously procrastinating by writing it.
It didn’t win, but here it is…
A Man’s Best Friend
It took many, many hours spread over years to train him, but I finally did it.
Jasper could smell an item of clothing inside his little, blue suitcase and determine who it belonged to in a room full of strangers.
It was our party trick. He’d hold the suitcase in his mouth, sit on his haunches and take a few moments to stare at everyone before him, considering. Then, with a confident flick of his tail he would take the suitcase to the owner of the item.
He was always right. It was like magic.
I loved showing him off at parties. I’d get him to do it ten times over the course of the night, and all our guests would be delighted.
Yesterday I was surprised to see Jasper sitting on the cobbles opposite the cafe I’d stopped at for lunch. He was staring at me, with his suitcase hanging daintily from his mouth.
As if triggered by my attention, he jumped up, trotted towards me and dropped the suitcase at my feet.
I looked around to see if I could spot my wife grinning from some hidden vantage point, but there didn’t seem to be anywhere to hide.
I lifted the suitcase onto my table and opened it.
Inside there was a pair my socks with a note pinned to them.
“I’m leaving you.” The note said. “You can keep the dog.”
I scratched Jasper’s head and wondered how he’d managed to find me.
The winners are here: QuickFic Winners 17th April 2015