Flash fiction: The smell of a mother

three_chairs

Outside the library the woman is sitting at one of the tables and flicking through a newspaper. She has her back to me, but I recognise the straight hair and green mackintosh I saw through the café window.

My heart thumps in my chest as if I have been running. ‘Mum,’ I whisper. I step forward, close my eyes and breathe in the smell of her. For a few seconds she is returned to me.

When I look again, the woman is slowly turning around. She is my age, perhaps even younger.

‘Can I help you?’ she says, suspiciously.

***

A 100-word or so story for Friday Fictioneers inspired by the picture above (supplied by Melanie Greenwood). Click here to join in, or here to read stories from other writers.

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This week I’ve written a blog post about the editing process I went through with my agent and the submission of my novel to publishers. Click here to have a read.

The auction

photo (12)

This is my second blog post about my journey to publication, taken from my diary entries. If you missed the first part about how how I got an agent, you can read it here.

11th May 2013: I’m about half way through the revisions that Jane [Jane Finigan, my agent at Lutyens & Rubinstein] sent me. I’d already forgotten how hard it is to write new words and I have to write quite a lot of new words. Nothing too major really, but it still takes time and creating new words is painful.

27th May 2013: I sent my first round of revisions to Jane on a Thursday and she replied that day that she would look at them and get back to me ‘shortly’. What does shortly mean? A couple of hours or a couple of days? Email checking in overdrive.

In order to keep busy I’ve been thinking about a new book. I should write some notes, especially as we get closer to submitting Our Endless Numbered Days to publishers who might I suppose, ask what I’m working on now. Or would ‘checking my in-box’ be a suitable answer?

Jane got back to me the following Friday. It was like having had a couple of dates with someone, believing that you got on well with them and then not hearing back for ages. But I resisted the urge to email her in a needy voice with, ‘don’t you love me anymore?’.

She liked everything I’d done, but had some more comments for me.

19th June 2013: In the past three weeks Jane and I have gone through three or four rounds of amendments, each time getting more and more minor. There was some discussion about whether I should write a prologue or not. I decided not to, but instead put a new paragraph in the first chapter about eating some fish eyes, but in the end we both decided it was too disgusting, so I took it out. So, after a month and a week, we got to a stage finally where we agreed it was ready to go. Not very long really – I understand that revisions from agents can sometimes take much longer.

Yesterday Jane sent through a list of publishers she’s going to send my novel out to. I can’t wait for it to go. I had no idea I was such an impatient person. I keep reminding myself that getting an agent is no guarantee that a book will be published. It might not happen. It might not happen.

And, in less than a month Tim and I are getting married. So much excitement.

27th June 2013: Yesterday Jane sent Our Endless Numbered Days out to her list of editors. She wrote me a lovely email to say that it had gone, and she was keeping her fingers and toes crossed.

I spoke to her on the phone on Tuesday and she explained the process, although it was as I had imagined. Any no’s will come in first. If an editor likes it they might communicate that to Jane and say don’t do anything with anyone else before talking to me, or they might just show it to their editorial team and if they like it, then take it to an acquisitions meeting. That will have to be done before an offer is made in any case.

She reiterated both on the phone and in her email about trying to stay patient and realising that this process takes a long time.

She said she would be in touch with any updates next week. So, for my own sanity, I have told myself that this means a week on Friday. And if I haven’t heard anything by then I’m still not allowed to email her.

28th June 2013: Friday night. India has gone off to her 6th form prom tonight. Henry has turned up for dinner, and Tim and I have had some wine and played Upwords (I won) and we were just packing up when my phone rang.

It was Jane. She sent Our Endless Numbered Days out on Wednesday and she’s already heard back from three editors who love it. But, there are no offers on the table, yet.

Then she said there was more good news. Because of the response they’d had from the UK editors, they’d sent it out to their foreign agents, and now people around Europe are reading it. And she said the editor in Italy had finished it, and would be making an offer.

Oh my god. I am very excited. I can’t really type or focus on stuff properly. Tim is cooking dinner, the lovely Tim who this wouldn’t have happened without, or as he said, it might have happened, but my children would be very dirty and thin.

The other day I was saying I was worried that I’ve said too much to too many people and if the book doesn’t get sold I will have to unsay it to everyone, so when Paul [my ex-husband] came round to drop Henry off, I practiced not telling him the news. Anyway, this isn’t really news; I haven’t had an offer.

1st July 2013: Received an email from Jane: The enthusiastic response to your book continues to grow and, to make the most of this momentum, I’ve asked editors to get their opening offers to me by Wednesday at 4pm.

Very much looking forward to being in touch on Wednesday afternoon but OF COURSE feel free to get in touch with any questions – I’m always at the end of the phone or email.

Wednesday 3rd July 2013

2.12pm:

There is a line going through my head that I’m practicing a response for:

“I’m really sorry Claire, but we haven’t had any offers in.”

I can only do mindless work. I have spent the last hour and forty minutes filling in names on a database.

4.20pm:

Jane phoned. We have an offer from Italy and three offers from UK publishers! I did a little scream in the office when I put the phone down and then told everyone. My book is going to be published.

Now we go to auction!

***

Our Endless Numbered Days will be published in the UK and commonwealth, US, Canada, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Taiwan, Israel and Turkey. It is available to pre-order now:

UK

US

Canada

You can add it to your Goodreads ‘to read’ list here, and you can join my mailing list to receive updates and news, here.

Flash fiction: Ophelia

trg-1

‘I used to follow her sometimes, in the early mornings,’ Gil said. ‘She never knew.’

Flora leaned forward beside his bed, waiting for her father to continue.

‘Once, I sat in the bird hide at Little Sea Pond and watched her shed her layers of clothes and emerge transformed into something ethereal, something not meant for this world. She stepped into the pond, lay back, and the water, it seemed to me, welcomed her, as if she had come home. She floated there as the sun rose – a naked Ophelia.

‘I never told her how much I loved her.’

***

Thanks to our wonderful hostess Rochelle Wisoff-Fields who has been guiding and inspiring us Friday Fictioneers for two years today. If you want to have a go at writing 100 words based on the picture above (this week supplied by The Reclining Gentleman) click here, or if you want to have a read of all the other flash fictions, click here.

This week I managed exactly 100 words, and rather than thinking about the rather chilly-looking pond above, I rather had in mind this paining by Millais. 1280px-John_Everett_Millais_-_Ophelia_-_Google_Art_Project

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My novel Our Endless Numbered Days will be published in early 2015. Click here to find out more.

Flash fiction: Wake-up Call

ff-photo-prompt-17-oct-2014

‘Just book a wake-up call,’ I said, unclipping my conference badge.

‘Shh, the hotel kitchen won’t miss one saucepan,’ Jonathan said, his words slurring. ‘Wait here.’

Two minutes later he emerged waving a pan. ‘Set alarm, put one wind-up alarm clock in saucepan, place pan in bath, go to bed. Guaranteed. Never trust wake-up calls.’

Outside his room we kissed cheeks. ‘Goodnight,’ I said.

‘Stay,’ he said. ‘Please.’

I hesitated a second too long. He opened the door, led me inside.

In the morning I crept out, leaving Jonathan sleeping. On my way I passed the forgotten saucepan and unwound alarm clock tangled amongst his discarded clothes.

***

I really struggled this week – hence posting on a Thursday rather than Wednesday, and I’m still not that happy with what I’ve written. For those who don’t know, this is part of the Friday Fictioneers writing group, where our kind host, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields posts a picture each week (this week supplied by Doug MacIlroy), and writers from around the word write a 100 or so word story inspired by the picture. You can join in here, or read other stories here.

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For anyone interested in the publishing journey of my novel, you might like to read my latest post about speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival.

Richard Ford, first-time nerves and a grand piano

Last Saturday I was very nervous. Last Saturday I thought I saw Richard Ford (one of my writer-heros) in a café, holding a clutch bag with a hairbrush inside. Last Saturday I built a grand piano* out of tiny lego. Last Saturday I was on stage for the first time in front of a paying audience.

Last Saturday I was one of three debut authors reading from our novels and answering questions at a Penguin Proof Party held in the Spiegel tent at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. It was my first time in front of a proper paying audience, and I was very nervous. My husband and daughter came to Cheltenham with me, and we started with lunch in a café. I was too nervous to eat much, but it was there that we thought we saw Richard Ford walk past with his hairbrush. We went to Waterstones’ bookshop tent and wandered around and I tried to calm myself with books. It didn’t work. My husband bought me a tiny lego-style grand piano which my daughter and I built whilst sitting beside a statue of Gustav Holst. It was a good distraction; but after we had built it I was still nervous. We arrived at the venue and had our sound check; I stood on the stage saying ‘testing, testing, testing’ to an empty room: terrifying. We went to the writers’ room to wait to be called, and by that point I wasn’t sure I wanted to have written a book.

We were called. We waited in the wings…

I stepped on stage: I felt great!

I read from Our Endless Numbered Days and answered a few questions from my Fig Tree / Penguin editor and our host, Juliet Annan. Then my fellow debut authors (Emma Hooper and Julia Rochester) did the same. Afterwards there were questions from the audience and then we got off the stage to talk to them and to sign the copies of our books they had been given. Perhaps my fight or flight response had finally chosen fight, or it was just that the audience were so lovely and friendly, or that I knew my husband and daughter were there willing everything to be alright, but something certainly kicked-in at the right moment.

Afterwards we went back to the writers’ room and celebrated with a glass or two of wine. And on the other side of the room was Richard Ford waiting for his turn on stage. He looked very relaxed, and nothing at all like the man in the café holding a clutch bag and a hairbrush.

* Appropriate because Our Endless Numbered Days features a grand piano.

 

Do you suffer from stage fright? Or were you in the audience on Saturday? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Flash fiction: The Back of Tom Jones’s Head

leverage-room-1

When I was young my father wrote ditties and advertising jingles which he sent off to toiletry manufacturers and record labels. Every one was rejected until the call came from a secretary at Decca records.

My parents went to London, my mother’s hair newly set. ‘We saw the back of Tom Jones’s head,’ she said. ‘And what’s good enough for Mr Jones, is good enough for us.’ My father signed on the dotted line for a no-royalties payment; just sufficient for a summer holiday.

Twenty years later his song – 1973’s Christmas number one – is still hummed by housewives, still crackles from supermarket speakers. My father would have been delighted.

***

This 110-word piece of flash fiction is inspired by the picture above as part of the Friday Fictioneers online writing group. We all write 100 words or so from a picture supplied to us weekly by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (and this week provided by Rochelle herself). You can join in here, or read other people’s stories here.

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Next year my novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, will be published by Fig Tree / Penguin in the UK, Tin House in the US, as well as various other publishers in other countries. If you’d like to keep up to date with news about my writing, you can subscribe to my newsletter here. Or, if you’re on Goodreads, you add the novel to your ‘to read’ list here.

Flash fiction: Unknown

unidentifiable-on-a-stick

I thought he was a reporter or an evangelist when I saw him through the front door glass. He was holding a book; clinging to it as if it was the thing that kept him from running away.

I put the chain on. ‘Hello?’ I said.

He was about my age, twenty-two, familiar yet unknown. ‘Is my father in?’ he said.

I was confused. ‘I’m sorry, you must have the wrong house,’ I said. He held the book up, my husband’s book, the one that made him famous.

‘Gil Coleman,’ the man said and he tapped the cover with a forefinger. ‘My father.’

***

This 103-word piece of flash fiction is inspired by the picture above. It’s rather a leap this week, but the idea that we don’t know what’s on that stick, led me to thinking about other things that are unknown, which led me to my story. Friday Fictioneers is an online writing group where we all write 100 words or so from a picture supplied to us weekly by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (and this week provided by Kent Bonham). You can join in here, or read other people’s stories here.

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In other news, I’ve written a blog post about how I got an agent, which you might be interested to read. And my novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, is now available to pre-order from Amazon in the UK and US, and of course from your local independent bookshop (hopefully).

How I got an agent

OEND from Amazon

Five months to UK publication

Five months today my debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days will be published in the UK by Fig Tree / Penguin. And last week I held the real book in my hands (an advance copy) – an unbelievably exciting moment, and one, when I started writing I never really believed would happen.

I began my novel in January 2012, and in the September of that year started keeping a writing diary, just a page every so often about what I was thinking and where I had got to.

To mark the five months and the fact that I can show the UK cover for the first time, I decided to write a post with some snippets from my writing diary, up to when I signed with my agent. (Submission to publishers, the auction and editing will have to wait for another post.)

8th September 2012: (43,412 words) Today I changed the title from The Great Divide to Our Endless Numbered Days. Seems to work, maybe.

14th October 2012: (50,871 words) I was pleased to hear that Morag [Morag Joss, an author and lecturer on my Creative Writing MA] finds writing incredibly painful, but she loves editing, which is the same for me. Once I have something down on paper I can see a million things that are wrong with it.

10th November 2012: (54871 words) To have it done [the first draft] by Christmas would be good and then it’s revising time. I have to be able to try and write like I’m doing NANOWRIMO, but I just don’t know what is going to come next – each word is painfully squeezed out and each one embarrasses me when it’s down in black and white.

17th November 2012: (55058 words) Procrastination. I have it bad. Cleaned the house, all of it, well nearly. Went on Twitter, only for 10 minutes which turned into an hour. And still I haven’t started writing. Soon it will be time for lunch.

28th December 2012: (70546 words). Removed all the crap from the end and finished first draft! (Well, actually it’s called draft 8).

29th December 2012 to end March 2013: (About 80,000 words) I spent these three months editing and polishing, but didn’t write any diary entries.

10th April 2013: Just to remind my future self when reading this back, last weekend I sent my novel out to 13 agents. So, Our Endless Numbered Days is out there. And I cannot stop checking my email – literally every half an hour, even in the evenings, since agents often read submissions out of office hours. I MUST prepare myself for a full rejection from all 13, but it’s so hard, my mind just keeps spinning off into dreams of agents, publication…

And then when I can see an email has come in, my heart races even more. And then yesterday there was a response from an agent! Click. Rejection. Spent half an hour trying to work out if it was a standard rejection letter or not. Probably it was.

15th April 2013: Still obsessing about agents. Last week I got another rejection and then the next day a request for a full submission from Lutyens and Rubinstein. I was very pleased, very very pleased but decided I shouldn’t go on about it, because it might not go anywhere, so I shouldn’t tell anyone at all. Then I told Tim, and Paul, and India, and Mum and Heidi and Sarah and Emma. Oh dear.

25th April 2013 (6:34am): Today I go up to London to meet Jane Finigan from Lutyens and Rubinstein. Their reader read the full submission and passed it to Jane who read it and wants to meet me. I am so nervous and excited. I can’t quite believe that someone who isn’t my friend or my family likes what I’ve written.

27th April 2013: Two days ago Tim and I took the day off work and went to London, so I could meet Jane.

On the train on the way up Tim practiced questions with me – how did this book come about; what was I reading at the moment; what would you say if I told you I thought this book was YA?; How long have you been writing for?; Who else did you submit to and what did they think?; Are you planning another book and what’s it about?  For an hour.

We walked to Notting Hill. And I got quieter and quieter as I became more and more nervous. Tim was very patient; we sat in a café, but I could only drank water and visit the loo. We were still early, so we went into Books for Cooks where I opened several books but didn’t read the words, and just as I was wondering where I was going to find another toilet it was time for my meeting.

The agency is in the basement of the Lutyens & Rubinstein bookshop, so after I had asked for Jane at the desk, I stood around opening random books looking at the print and not reading those either. I stroked a few covers instead. It is a very lovely bookshop.

Jane took me for tea and bought me the smallest raspberry cake in London. I could have fitted four in my mouth at once. We did all that chatting stuff about my journey. And then we talked about the book, things she would want to work on, the L&R process, how I came to write it – ah, luckily I could answer that one. I didn’t tell her I had practiced my answers for an hour. She was surprisingly enthusiastic.

She said she had needed to check I wasn’t a mad-cat-woman-author or someone who would throw tea in her face if she suggested revisions, and it seems I managed to convince her I wasn’t because half-way through the meeting she said she’d like me to sign with them.

We went back to the agency where I was introduced as ‘Claire Fuller, an author’, which made me want to laugh. I didn’t. And then she walked me up the stairs back to the ground level of the bookshop. She said she would send across the contract that afternoon for me to have a look at. I went to shake her hand, but she moved forward and gave me a hug. She smelled very nice. Important in an agent.

So, I went home on the train with Tim, already convinced I would sign with Lutyens and Rubinstein. And over the next two days it has been done.

Wow. Just wow.

***

Our Endless Numbered Days will be published in the UK and commonwealth, US, Canada, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Taiwan, Israel and Turkey. It is available to pre-order now:

UK

US

Or, you can add it to your Goodreads ‘to read’ list here.

Flash fiction: Un-telling

bottles-marie-gail-stratford

The early morning light filters through the empty bottles and stains my nightdress blue, green and red as I lean over the back of a kitchen chair, waiting, breathing. It had been quite some party. I remembered Rex, drunk on happiness, breaking his promise to me, and telling our guests to mark their diaries for seven months when they would be returning for a christening.

So many glasses raised, so many congratulations, so much love.

And now as another cramp grips me, I think about all the un-telling I will have to do, starting with Rex.

***

This is a 96-word piece of flash fiction based on the picture prompt above, this week provided by Marie Gail Stratford. It’s part of the Friday Fictioneers group run by Rochelle Wisoff-Field. Rochelle dedicates a great deal of her time each week to uploading, visiting and commenting on all our pieces of writing. To join in with your own story, visit Rochelle’s website here, or to read some of the other stories based on this prompt click here.