Flash Fiction: Third Person

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In books there’s always the drunk one. And the hesitant one. And the sober, sensible one – the person warning about the lake’s depth, the submerged dangers and the weeds to get tangled in. I should have been that person when we went down to the water in the dark, but instead we three were all the first kind. Giggling, we pulled off our clothes, plunged in, screaming at the cold.

A full five minutes of laughing and splashing went by before we missed him.

‘Peter!’ We tread water. ‘Stop messing around!’

In the blink of an eye we became the third person.

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Thanks to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for hosting this weekly 100-word Friday Fictioneers writing event. Join in. Read other people’s. The picture this week is supplied by Erin Leary.

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Another competition to win BOOKS. But this time not only Our Endless Numbered Days, but also books by Kazuo Ishiguro, Yann Martel, Kate Atkinson, Danielle McLaughlin, Julian Barnes and others. Click to enter.

Flash fiction: The Sable Stole

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‘My Aunt – my mother’s sister – had a sable stole.’
‘Stole?’ Cara frowned.
‘A collar, a scarf, made from real fur,’ I said. ‘Once, I came home early and it was draped over the back of a kitchen chair. I was reaching out towards it when she came down the stairs, my father following her.’
Cara raised her eyebrows.
‘She said I could stroke it and touch the tiny paws if I said nothing to my mother.’
‘And did you?’ Cara asked.
‘Touch it, or say something?’ I sighed. ‘She left me the stole in her will. I watched it burn.’

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The name of this house took me in a less than obvious direction this week for my 100-word Friday Fictioneers story. Join in. Read other people’s. The picture this week is supplied by Ceayr.

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Author and book-blogger, Jen Campbell is doing a worldwide competition to win one of five copies of my book, Our Endless Numbered Days, or Sweet Home by Carys Bray. Click here to enter.

Flash Fiction: When They Were New

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The harpsichord had woodworm, much of the ivory was gone and one broken leg was jacked up on bricks. Peter flicked out his coat tails, eaten into fine lace by moths, and sat.

Dressed in ragged petticoats and crinoline, Cara curtsied low and I took her hand, kissed it. As we danced I thought of those who’d played and danced before us; the people who’d worn these clothes when they were new. And as if from above I saw Peter sitting and us cavorting on the dusty floorboards, fading and turning, turning and fading until we too disappeared into time.

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A Friday Fictioneers 100-word flash fiction inspired by the picture above, provided this week by Jan W. Fields. Click here to join in and write your own, or here to read other people’s.

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If you live near Bath, England, you might like to know that Our Endless Numbered Days has been selected as The Big Bath read by the Bath Literature Festival. You can get a free copy of the book, read it and come along to open book clubs, and a couple of events I’m speaking at. More information.

 

Flash fiction: The pump room steps

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I lay at the bottom of the steps. It was dark and warm, and no one else ever had reason to come that way. I thought my nose might be broken, some teeth lost. I smelled blood and heard the sound of roots squeezing through stone, the tiny creaks and groans of something splitting, of new life forcing its way through. It was simple to keep still while the tendrils inched over me, wormed their way through my buttonholes, across my skin; easy to let the ants and the insects come.

I closed my eyes as the earth took me back.

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I really struggled with this story this week – started half a dozen and discarded them, and still not very happy with what I produced. A 100-word or so story for Friday Fictioneers. Picture by Amy Reese. Join in. Or read others.

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Writer and blogger Natasha Orme is hosting a competition to win one of two copies of my novel, Our Endless Numbered Days. Enter here. (Only open to UK residents – sorry!)

My Writing Process

 

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A sense of place

Vicki Goldman, a writer and book blogger recently asked me to write a piece about my writing process, which she posted on her website. She’s read and reviewed hundreds of books, if you’re looking for your next read, you should take a look. Vicki has kindly let me post the article below. 

I’m just beginning to write my third novel, and it’s taken until now to work out if my writing process is different for each book, or what similarities there are.

What I’m only just realising is how important it is for me to have an idea of place before I start. Where do my characters live – country, area, type of house, room – I need to be able to see the space they inhabit before I can really get to grips with the story.

And it seems after two and a bit novels, I’m a big follower of the process that E.L. Doctorow talked about in his famous quote: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

I’m not a planner. I have a vague shifting idea of an end point; perhaps who will live and who will die, but no idea how that life or death will happen. I start with one or two characters, drop them into a location, and see what they do. If it’s going well, by about a quarter or a third of the way through the characters take over and will sometimes refuse to do things. This isn’t anything spooky, it’s just that I know in detail the type of people they are, their habits, their likes and dislikes, and this in depth knowledge begins to help the story along. In my second novel, Swimming Lessons, I had two characters who I wanted to get together quickly, but they took chapters and chapters to do it. I’d put them in a room together and they would barely look each other in the eye. In the end I had to let them do it in their own time.

I don’t like writing. Perhaps it would be easier if I were a planner, but because sometimes I really don’t know what is going to happen next, it can be difficult. I treat it like a job; it is how I make my living, so I sit down at my desk at 9am and stop at 6pm. I do lots of other things during those hours, of course – I’m easily distracted – but that is my working day. What I do like however, is editing. Oh, to write The End on a first draft! Once I have 70,000 words or whatever, then I can have fun – cutting, moving sections, working on the structure – and then playing with the words, making sure each one is right, that sentences flow, that it all has a rhythm when I read it aloud.

However, I do edit a bit as I go along. It’s impossible for me to write without going back a short way each day and reworking. My new words are so abysmal that if I didn’t go back and edit a little bit then the writer’s doubt that we all suffer from would be too inhibiting. But I set myself some rules: Whenever I sit down to write I must also add new words to my manuscript. I’m never allowed to just edit until I’ve finished. Even if I only have ten minutes writing time, just three or so of those can be spent editing. If I have a full day available then I aim for 1,000 words (but I’m secretly happy if I get 800 down). At the end of each day I keep a tally of what my new word count is and a line of two of what I did and how it went. Very often I write something like, ‘I can’t do this, why am I doing this?’. And to keep the internal critic at bay while I’m writing I allow it a few words of its own now and again. So, in the middle of a paragraph I might write in square brackets [this is rubbish], and then carry on writing. It’s also reassuring to know that if I’m run over by a bus before the manuscript is finished no one will think that I believed it was any good.

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Our Endless Numbered Days has recently been published in paperback in the UK, and is both a Richard & Judy, and Waterstones Book Club Pick. Read Vicki’s review of Our Endless Numbered Days.

Flash fiction: Leaving on a Jet Plane

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Simon was whistling a tune, an old song I couldn’t place. I heard Cara huff. We’d taken a picnic up to the roof – cold salmon, cheese and bread, olives, too much wine – and we lay on the rug amongst the empty bottles and chimney stacks. When I opened my eyes an aeroplane trail had cut the blue sky in two.

‘What is that song?’ I said, turning onto my side.

Simon’s lips were stained red.

Cara staggered angrily to her feet. ‘Simon thinks I’m going to leave him,’ she said to me.

‘Well, you are, aren’t you?’ Simon said.

She swayed; whispered. ‘You’d never let me.’

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This is a 100-word (or so) flash fiction piece inspired by the picture above. You do need to know that old Peter, Paul and Mary song to know what’s going on. This week the picture was provided by Melanie Greenwood, and the whole Friday Fictioneers thing is hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Join in. Read others.

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The paperback of my novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, has just been published in the UK, and I’m delighted that it’s been chosen as a Richard & Judy Book Club book (the closest we have to Oprah), and also the Waterstones Book Club. Read more here.

Paperback Published and Selected for Richard & Judy, and Waterstones Book Clubs

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Ten months after the hardback of Our Endless Numbered Days was published in the UK, the paperback is officially out today. It’s had a beautiful new jacket designed with some wonderful quotes from readers. The picture above is what I woke up to this morning: our Christmas tree, newly decorated by my husband, and a bottle of champagne.

And I’m delighted to finally be able to announce that it has been selected for both the Richard & Judy book 351 Dec17club, and the Waterstones book club.

Richard & Judy
Three times a year eight novels are selected for the Richard & Judy book club which are promoted throughout all WHSmiths (a UK chain of book, stationary and news shops), as well as providing author interviews, book club questions and podcasts on the WHSmith blog.

A week before Christmas I was invited up to the Covent Garden Hotel in London to meet Richard and Judy, and be interviewed and recorded. It was great fun – they were lovely, and funny, and very professional.

IMG_0382And seeing my novel on the R&J stands in my local Smiths was exciting and a little odd. I’m not sure what all the customers coming and going thought I and my husband were doing jumping up and down and taking pictures.

 

Waterstones
Waterstones (the largest chain of bookshops in the UK) select eight books, four times aIMG_0423 year for their book club, and I’m delighted that Our Endless Numbered Days has been selected. This means that the novel will be promoted throughout all the shops, as well as having exclusive extra content in the back of the Waterstones’ version.

 

Poster campaign
Penguin are running a poster campaign alongside the paperback release, so look out for posters across London andOEND Poster make sure you take a picture and send it to me (with you in it!).

 

Flash fiction: Valentino

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Cara leaned back on the warm stone. A cat, the feral one who lived under the old brewhouse, came to sit between us.

‘Careful,’ I said.

‘I had a cat when we lived in Italy.’ Cara reached out her hand. ‘Valentino.’

‘I wouldn’t…’

The cat raised its scrawny neck in pleasure as Cara scratched at its matted fur. ‘He would sleep in the bed between me and Peter, stretched out like a little furry man.’ The cat purred. ‘Peter never liked it, of course.’

I put my hand out towards Cara’s, still stroking. The cat opened its mouth and hissed.

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This is a 100-word Friday Fictioneers flash fiction piece, prompted by the picture above. This week provided by Scott L Vannatter. Friday Fictioneers is brought to us by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Click here to join in, or here to read some more stories.

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This week, my novel, Our Endless Numbered Days was picked as one of the top reads of 2015 by Foyles – a wonderful chain of bookshops in the UK. Click here to read more.

Claire and Tim’s top 10 books of 2015

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My husband Tim is a university librarian and has always read more books than me, until this year. 2015 was a year of maximum reading for me; the most books I’ve ever read in a year (57), but I’m one of the lucky people who can count reading fiction as part of their job. I told Tim I was writing a post about my top 10 books that I read in 2015 (published any time) and he wanted to do one as well, except he doesn’t have a blog – so he’s muscled in on this one. But since this is my website I’m starting with my list, his list is at the bottom (if he doesn’t like it, he can get his own damn website…).

Here’s a little bit about each. The link in the title will take you to my Goodreads review, if I wrote one. Starting with my top three (in no order):

the seaThe Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch
I’ve been trying to catch up on Murdoch this year. I also read The Italian girl (weird but good) and The Bell (not so good). The Sea, The Sea was weird but wonderful. Buy on Hive.

sweetland Sweetland by Michael Crummey
Another book where the sea features strongly (did I mention that my second novel, Swimming Lessons is set by the sea?) This is about an old man on an island. Perfect writing, story, place. Buy on Hive.

the pastThe Past by Tessa Hadley
Four siblings come back to their family home to decide whether to sell it. A quiet book but full of old tensions and new problems. I don’t understand why this book didn’t win prizes. Buy on Hive.

And the other seven, in no order:

last The Last of Us by Rob Ewing
A bit of cheat this one, because this isn’t out until April 2016 and I was sent a proof. It’s about a group of children surviving on a Scottish island after a smallpox epidemic. Look out for this. I loved it.

duchessThe Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff
Have you ever read 84 Charing Cross Road? No? Go back to Start and read it now. Yes? Read this. It’s kind of a sequel, about when Hanff visits London in 1971. She writes so naturally about all the people who take her out to dinner. Looks like Harper Perennial are re-issuing it in July 2016.

did you everDid You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
Pretty relentlessly sad, but beautifully written, about a woman (and the people that satellite around her) who loses her family in a fire. The Man Booker judges agreed with me and it made the long-list this year. Buy from Hive.

Green RoadThe Green Road by Anne Enright
Another book about a family coming together, but this time with more insight into the siblings’ lives away from home. This also, deservedly, made the Man Book long-list this year. Buy from Hive.

MountainThe Mountain Can Wait by Sarah Leipciger
The first of the two which Tim and I agree on. This is an amazing debut about a man who plants trees in Canada and his son who does something bad. Sarah and I are appearing together in January in Winchester. Buy from Hive.

Ali smith How to Be Both by Ali Smith
You must all know by now that this is two stories that kind of mash and mesh together through time and character. Clever, and lovely writing. Go read it, let me know which story you get first. Buy from Hive.

aquarium Aquarium by David Vann
I think if I had been doing my top 10 books since I’d been reading David Vann, all his books would have made the list. I met him recently, and he’s a very nice man* (*That hasn’t influenced this book’s inclusion). It’s about a girl who meets a man in an aquarium, and much more. Buy from Hive.

Tim’s list

Tim doesn’t do reviews. Click on the picture to buy from Hive. I think he’d say you should read them all. I’ve read quite a few, and only two – The Mountain Can Wait and Aquarium – did we agree on. It makes dinner time more interesting.

Tim’s top three (in no order):

downloadbeside the sea images

Tim’s other 7

aquarium          Submission         BMImg_151335_BDOLImageTemp

     hausfrau-978144728079801          book_review         arbitrary-conduct-978144726891801        Mountain

Have you read any of these? Any cross-over between me and Tim? Let me know in the comments below.

Flash fiction: Heels and Souls

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In the early morning I discover a well-worn path leading away from the house. It takes me towards the woods, across the parkland. Wider than a deer-track, it’s a route made by and for humans; the earth rubbed smooth by heels and souls. The path passes into a stand of yew, beech and oak, but five hundred yards on, it stops; an abrupt dead-end of ferns and bramble. I can’t see why, since the path is so worn. Where did those who travelled it go? I turn to walk back; before I reach the edge of the wood I am running.

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This is a 100-word flash fiction story written for Friday Fictioneers, hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, who has also provided this week’s photo. Click here to read other people’s, or here to write your own story.