Flash fiction: The Roper Brothers’ Garage

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Ivy always took the car to the Roper brothers in the village, even though she knew they rolled their eyes behind her back and over-charged her.

‘Sounds like it’s the carborator or the catatonic convertor,’ Gordon would say, his voice echoing under the bonnet and Greg would cough and turn away to stop himself from laughing out loud. Ivy wasn’t stupid; she knew.

It was the smell of the place that kept her coming back to be made a fool of: oily dust and petrol fumes, warm leather and cigarettes. The smell of her father; dead and gone these past sixty years.

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I’m delighted that this week Rochelle has chosen one of my photos for our flash fiction prompt. Why not join in with the 100-word challenge, or read what other writers made of the picture.

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I’m also delighted that a short piece of my non-fiction about living with teenagers has been published on the Tin House blog today.

Flash fiction: After The End

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Before the end, Flora liked to dress in boys’ clothes and catch the train to the city, just for the hell of it. She wore trainers for speed, put her hood up, and slouched. She practiced saying ‘yeah’ and ‘nah’, as if she was bored by everything. Sometimes she even painted stubble on her chin using stage makeup.

She only stole small things – lighters, matches, pocket torches, one-size-fits-all gloves. She was a fast runner and never went back to the same shop a second time.

Then, when the end came, she was lucky: Flora was a boy, with items to trade.

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Another Friday Fictioneers 100-word story, inspired by the picture, provided this week by Rochelle herself. Click here to read other people’s or here to join in. And do let me know what you think about mine.

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Click here to find out about my novel, published early next year by Fig Tree / Penguin in the UK, Tin House in the US, House of Anansi in Canada, and various other publishers around the world.

Flash fiction: Small Talk

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Nan imagined sitting for ever in the car beside Viv. Until time deflated the tyres.
‘The weather’s been nice lately,’ Viv said.
The chassis would drop as the axles rusted.
‘Lovely,’ Nan said, looking ahead at the car park.
The rubber wipers would dry and crack, and as the months passed they would melt onto the windscreen.
‘For the time of year,’ she added.
The colour would leach from the paintwork, changing from red to rusty brown.
‘Hmm,’ agreed Viv.
Small animals would make a nest in the boot.
And Nan would find the courage to lean across to Viv and say, ‘Don’t go’.

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Another Friday Fictioners 100-word flash. Click here to read some more. Here to join in. Thanks to Jean L Hayes for the picture. I’d really like to know what you think – constructive criticism, or just a hello – so please do leave a comment.

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And if you like this story, you might like my novel Our Endless Numbered Days, out early next year. Click here to find out more, or here to add it to your Goodreads to-read list.

Flash fiction: The smell of a mother

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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.

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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

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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!

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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

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‘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.’

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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

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‘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.

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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

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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.

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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.