Flash fiction: Sleeping

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She lies on the sofa dreaming of librarians and love, naked Swimming Lessons and Ottolenghi. Envelopes fall through the letterbox and the telephone rings, the dinner needs cooking and the cat is hungry, still she sleeps on. Behind her closed lids a garden grows beside the sea.

‘What did you do with your life?’ A higher-being asks, turning the wheels and handles of its population-sized filing cabinet. The machine clunks and sticks on F.

‘I was working on my novel,’ she says.

‘Pah!’ Higher-being replies. ‘You were sleeping.’

She wakes, sits up and begins to write.

***

This week Rochelle Wisoff-Fields and our Friday Fictioneers host has selected one of my pictures for people to write to. And for those who don’t know, the picture is of the stacks in the university library where my husband works. The stacks is a system in the basement for storing books and documents. Click here to join in or here to read other people’s stories. My story this week is true.

If you’re so inclined it would be lovely if you would vote for my novel, Our Endless Numbered Days in the Edinburgh First novel award, and you’ll have a chance of winning a copy of all 56 novels nominated. (Scroll to the bottom of the page.)

Flash fiction: Adoption

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After she handed Pavi over, Elsa found a job as a butterfly recorder on the South Downs. She camped amongst the bell heather and rose early in the morning to tramp a ten mile stretch of heathland. She counted pearl-bordered fritillaries, white admirals and skippers. But it was the rare silver-studded blue that Elsa worried for the most. When the caterpillars hatched, a species of ant carried them into the nest and fed them until the butterfly emerged.

She wondered about her own child, being fed, housed and cared for by another mother, and whether she would ever fly back home.

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This is a Friday Fictioneers story. 100 (or so) writers writing 100-words (or so) inspired by the picture above (supplied this week by Madison Woods.) Join in or read some more stories.

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As well as being inspired by the picture above, this story was also inspired by the re-introduction of the silver-studded blue butterfly on the South Downs (a 1,600km2 national park stretching from Winchester to Eastborne in the south of England). More about the butterfly here.

Flash fiction: Sleepwalker

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On the first morning, Helen woke shivering on the bathroom mat. She was naked, her knees tucked into her chest. On the second she still had her pyjamas on, but this time she was squashed in a corner of the hall. And on the third she woke under the magnolia, a petal cupping her cheek. Her feet were muddy and when she returned to the house the front door was open. In the afternoon she drove into town and bought a video camera to catch herself sleepwalking . The next day when she played it back she saw no one. Her bed was empty.

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This is a Friday Fictioneers story. 100 (or so) writers writing 100-words (or so) inspired by the picture above (supplied this week by Madison Woods.) Join in or read some more stories.

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Vote for Our Endless Numbered Days in the Edinburgh First Book Prize, and you could win a copy of all 56 books.

Our Endless Numbered Days needs your vote

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Our Endless Numbered Days has been nominated for the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize. This prize runs alongside the official Man Booker prize to provide an alternative list.

The next stage of the competition is a public vote, so if you’ve read my novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, and enjoyed it, please do vote. You have until midnight (UK time) on Sunday to say which two books you’d like to vote for.

Here’s how: Visit The Guardian’s Not the Booker page. Choose two titles from the list of 70 (you don’t have to have read both of them). And write a new comment below the main article, including the names of the two books you’re voting for and 100 words or so about one of them. (You may have to set up a free Guardian account in order to vote.)

And thank you in advance!

Flash fiction: Rubbish

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‘What is it?’ I said, standing on the lip.

‘Victorian.’ He jumped in, didn’t wait for me. ‘Rubbish pit.’

I lowered myself down. In an oven tray he had collected pieces of coloured pottery, a clear bottle with a marble in its neck, a broken ceramic pot stamped with ‘Bloater Paste’. I picked out the edge of a plate, licked my thumb and rubbed until the pink glaze on a dinner service appeared.

‘One man’s rubbish…’ I started.

‘On top.’ He rattled the tray. I looked again and saw a smooth brown stick, jagged at one end. ‘Human,’ he said.

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This is a Friday Fictioneers story. 100 (or so) writers writing 100-words (or so) inspired by the picture above (supplied this week by G.L.MacMillan.) Join in or read some more stories.

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My novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, has been longlisted for The Guardian’s ‘Not The Booker’ prize. The next stage of the competition is a public vote. So, if you’ve read my book and liked it, it would be great if you could vote for it here. You need to choose two books from the longlist and write which two you’re voting for in the comments section, including a short review about one of them. Thank you in advance!

Top 10 Tips for Writing a Crappy First Draft

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All writers have little tricks for how to get the first draft of their novel down on paper. I don’t plan at all, but I do allow myself to go back each time I sit down to write and do a little bit of editing; perhaps just 20% of the writing time I have available. I tell myself it’s to get ‘in the zone,’ but really it’s because I worry that I might be run over by a bus and someone would see my crappy first draft. Another way I mitigate this possibility is by writing [THIS IS SHITE] (square brackets included) every so often. This technique (which I wouldn’t really recommend) also silences my inner critic for a little while which means I can carry on churning out words.

But what other tips and tricks do writers use? I asked a few author friends and below I have compiled the top ten ways of pushing your word count forward.

 

  1. Make notes as you go along. Kerry Drewery: I work with a notebook by my side and never ever look back until I get to the end. But if I decide something needs changing as I’m going along, for example, if character’s age or details need changing, I make a note of it. Then when I’ve finished the first draft I work through it with the notebook. Jo Bloom: I do the same thing using Scrivener.
  2. Allow yourself to write badly. Sarah Jasmon: Give yourself permission to sometimes write badly and not worry. It was such a relief when I realised I didn’t have to get it right all the time. Shelley Harris: I write a ‘Fuck-it’ draft – a dirty first draft where I push on and don’t look back.
  3. Give yourself a word count. Fionnuala Kearney: I bash out that first draft and I mean bash it out! I avoid too much editing as I go along by giving myself a daily word count target. Me: I keep a daily diary of what I’ve been writing and what my word count is – it’s very motivating to see it going up.
  4. Write something you’re interested in. Jon Teckman: Sometimes I stick in a scene about something I’m really interested in, just to keep writing. For example, if I get really stuck, I make up an excellent Chinese restaurant and take myself off for an imaginary pig-out! Me: Sometimes I skip to a scene further along in the novel that is more exciting to write.
  5. Read a few pages of someone else’s book. Me: If I know that I’m struggling to write new words because I can’t get the style correct, I’ll sometimes stop and re-read a few pages of a book that I really admire to get into the zone again. At the moment Richard Ford’s Wildlife seems to work quite well.
  6. Write a mini-first draft. Fleur Smithwick: I compromise on planning by bashing out a mini-first draft of about 20,000 words. It’s like a condensed book, split into around 70-80 scenes with a bit of dialogue. This way when I’m writing the full novel it flows, it’s fun to do and I don’t lose the momentum.
  7. Do a bit of editing and then move forward. Vanessa Lafaye: I can get caught in the trap of endlessly polishing and not moving on, so I try to limit myself to reading only the previous scene. I do some tinkering, but it doesn’t slow me down that much, and does put me in the ‘zone’ again.
  8. Write a chapter plan. Terry Stiastny: Sometimes bashing ahead with no plan can leave you with lots of words but no book. My approach is a compromise – a chapter-by-chapter outline, so I have an idea of what needs to happen next. Vanessa Lafaye: My chapter plan is literally one line with the main events. It shows me the shape of the book and whether it’s logical, and where the gaps are. And sometimes it reads, ‘Something happens here’ when I don’t know. Jo Bloom: I’ve realised that I’m a compromiser. I need to have one hand on a plan – and know the shape and skeleton of the story – but I leave a lot of room for the story to shape on the page. Kerry Drewery: I have a start, probable finish and key points along the way, but I need to give it room to develop a little and can’t plan much more than that. Sarah Vaughan: I do a chapter by chapter plan that changes between drafts.
  9. Don’t worry about what you might cut later. Sarah Vaughan: Whenever I get despondent about having to cut thousands of words, I remind myself that nothing is wasted. All writing is good practice.
  10. And the bottom line? Jo Bloom: SHUT THE VOICES UP and just keep writing.

Do you have any other tips on how to write a first draft? Please share them in the comments.

Flash fiction: Nadia

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The first time I saw Nadia she was shouting on one the backstreets in the old quarter. A boy on a scooter had snatched her bag and she was begging passers-by for help. I didn’t stop; like everyone else I thought she was part of the scam. Two days later I saw her at the airport when I was leaving. She turned and smiled at something and her full lips, painted red, stretched to reveal the gap in her front teeth. I knew we would be seated next to each other, but what I didn’t know was that within a year Nadia would be dead.

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This is a Friday Fictioneers story. 100 (or so) writers writing 100-words (or so) inspired by the picture above (supplied this week by Sandra Crook.)

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It’s been a while since I’ve written a Friday Fictioneers story because I’ve been on holiday and life suddenly became very busy. On 1st July Our Endless Numbered Days won the Desmond Elliott Prize – an award for debut fiction, and I’ve been doing quite a bit of promotion including writing this article on being a debut author over 40, for The Guardian.

Other People’s Postcards

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When my husband Tim and I got married two years ago yesterday, we provided our guests with old blank postcards and asked them to write us a message. We handed out envelopes with labels and told each guest to write on a date when we could open them. Then for added mailing authenticity got them drop the envelopes in a postbox we’d made. 20130713_210912

So far we’ve been able to open 26 envelopes and read our guest’s messages, and each time it’s been such a lovely little blast of wedding-day memory. My son (who was 18 when we got married) dated his ‘yesterday’; many people dated theirs for our first anniversary, and some (you know who you are) for their own birthdays – so we wouldn’t have an excuse for not remembering!

Yesterday we opened one from my friend’s daughter – G, who is friends with my daughter – R. She wrote:

Claire and Tim, I hope I’m still friends with you guys ‘cos you guys are BADASS. And I don’t say that lightly. R is very lucky to have you guys and your book tattoos and beautiful red hair. And your personalities as well, obviously. Have an amazing future. G

This message is very special, not least because it makes me think about the lovely G, and laugh at how Tim and I aren’t BADASS at all, but also because it is the last envelope we can open until 27th February 2017. There’s another envelope dated the same year, but after that things thin out considerably: there’s one each for 2018 and 2020, two in 2021, three in 2023, and then the next is 2033, and the final joker dated their envelope 2043 (when I will be 76). I just hope they wrote something worth waiting for.

Our Endless Numbered Days wins The Desmond Elliott Prize

I’m absolutely thrilled and delighted that my book, Our Endless Numbered Days has won The Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction. My husband Tim and I came back to London from our holiday in Sweden on the hottest 1st July ever recorded in the UK, 37.8 degrees.

The winner was announced by Louise Doughty at a ceremony held in the Drawing Room at Fortnum and Mason. Here are some pictures of the event, including me feeling very nervous beforehand.

There was quite a lot of media coverage, including a live interview with me on BBC Radio 4 Front Row (starts at 18 minutes 52 seconds), The BBC website, The Guardian, and The Telegraph.

If you’d like a signed copy of Our Endless Numbered Days, Foyles bookshop is running a competition to win one of three books. Click here to enter.