Flash fiction: Dogged

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Halfway home I turn and see him.

‘Shoo,’ I say, stamping my foot. ‘Don’t follow me, dog.’ Something in the way he looks at me squeezes my insides, loosens my bowels. I turn and walk fast, breaking into a trot, but can’t resist looking back; he’s still there, keeping pace, mouth closed, ears up, relentless. The day is hot, but my blood is cold. I stop and pick up a stone from the path, throw it. When it bounces off the dog’s shoulder he doesn’t even flinch; he just stands there looking at me, with my father’s eyes.

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This is a Friday Fictioneers 100-word (or so) story inspired by the picture supplied by the lovely Dawn Q. Landau. Friday Fictioneers is organised and run by the wonderful Rochelle. Click here to join in, and here to read other pieces. I’d love to know what you think of mine – please leave a comment!

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Hurray! After nineteen months of waiting, my novel, Our Endless Numbered Days has been published in the UK (Fig Tree / Penguin) and Canada (House of Anansi). It will be published in the USA on 17th March by Tin House.

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First Words

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From The Finnish Museum of Photography http://www.flickr.com/photos/valokuvataiteenmuseo/

In a week (a week!) my novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, will be published in the UK. I don’t have the words to express how excited I am. Well, I do, but they are all adverbs and those aren’t allowed. To celebrate the fact that I only have seven days to wait to see my book out in the world, I’d like to invite all the lovely writers I know (and those I don’t) to share the first words of one of their books, or whatever they’re writing at the moment.

In the comments below please share the first couple of sentences of your writing – not too much, just give us a taster. Include a link to where we can buy your book or read more and tell us a tiny bit about it. And then, and this is the most important part, read at least two other writers’ first words, and click on their link or comment on their writing. And finally, share this post.

So, to start us off, here are mine from Our Endless Numbered Days. It can be pre-ordered from Waterstones or Amazon in UK, Amazon (USA), or Amazon (Canada)

 

This morning I found a black and white photograph of my father at the back of the bureau drawer. He didn’t look like a liar.

 

About Our Endless Numbered Days: In 1976, eight-year-old Peggy Hillcoat is taken by her father to a remote European forest. There, he tells her the rest of the world has disappeared. She isn’t seen again for another nine years.

The promise

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Afterwards, Dorothy would have sworn she knew something was about to happen: there was a lull, a silence as if all the molecules in the hotel bedroom shifted infinitesimally. Then came the flash, the choking dust and the noise like a star bursting from inside her head, and the floor and Alex and the walls and mirrors and everything flew apart and tumbled together.

‘Live, live, live,’ she whispered to Alex in the dark as she made her promise to God.

Alex had lived, and Dorothy kept her promise. Now she never swore and rarely spoke and her name was changed to Sister Mercy.

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This is a Friday Fictioneers 100-word (or so) story inspired by the picture supplied by the lovely Marie Gail Stratford. Friday Fictioneers is organised and run by the wonderful Rochelle. Click here to join in, and here to read other pieces. I’d love to know what you think of mine – please leave a comment!

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I’ve had a couple of lovely reviews in for Our Endless Numbered Days (released in UK 26th Feb, Canada 1st March, USA 17th March). The first, from The Times (“A thriller of a fairytale,” and “a triumph”) and the second from The Sunday Express (“spellingbinding scary stuff”)

The Times reviews Our Endless Numbered Days

The Times

 

Today, The Times published a very lovely review of Our Endless Numbered Days – my first review in a UK national paper. The Times is pay-walled, so there’s not much point in having a link to the piece, so here is the print version. (The slightly odd sub-editing is caused I think by someone cutting down the online version for the printed newspaper.)

 

A thriller of a fairytale

By Fiona Wilson

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller Fig Tree

The year is young and yet already the literary world has been confronted with several novels that force readers to experience a parent’s bleakest nightmare, the abduction of a child – in both cases, that of a girl.

The stakes are high with a subject like this. The American detective novelist Laura Lippmann has described such missing-person novels as real-life ghost stories where those left behind are haunted by the possibilities of what has happened to their loved one. There is another side to the story: that of the point of view of the missing person. This is the premise for Claire Fuller’s debut novel, and it’s a triumph.

Our Endless Numbered Days is inspired by fairytales; the story’s menace is more Hansel and Gretel than that of a parent’s real-life horror story. Peggy, a young girl, is stolen away by her survivalist father to “die Hütte”, a ramshackle cottage in a European forest, and tells her that the end of the world has come, that her mother has died and they are the only survivors.

This much we know at the start: it is 1976 and Peggy’s father is building a fall-out shelter for the seemingly inevitable armageddon. He teaches eight-year-old Peggy to catch and kill a squirrel and trains her to pack a rucksack with everything she needs within four minutes of the blow of his silver whistle. When Ute, her mother, goes travelling with work, her father takes Peggy on “a holiday” to their cabin and cuts them off from the world. He tells Peggy that Ute has died and that a storm has wiped out the rest of the world. So begins their strange existence in the woods.

We know that Peggy survives the ordeal because twinned with this narrative is another set in 1985 – nine years after she went missing – when she has been reunited with the very much alive Ute, who has since had another child, Oskar. Peggy, we know, has arrived at her mother’s home malnourished with rotten teeth and only half an ear. “What did you like to eat when you were away?” Ute asks, “were away” being her euphemism for Peggy’s disappearance.

Peggy’s feelings about her father are confused: she cuts out a small photograph of him and sticks it under her right breast. “I knew if he stayed there, everything would be all right and I would be allowed to remember.” Within 50 pages, you are swamped with questions: what really happened that summer? How involved was Ute and where is Peggy’s father now? Slowly, the memories come back. Fuller handles the tension masterfully in this grown-up thriller of a fairytale, full of clues, questions and intrigue.

Fiona Wilson

Flash fiction: Afternoon breeze

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In the afternoons a warm wind blew in with the storks as they rose up from the banks of the river and flew inland. On the porch, rocking back and forth, she liked to turn her face towards the current of air and inhale memories:  cardamom from her mother’s kitchen, line-dried linen on her first lover’s bed, the warm straw of her babies’ heads as she laid them down to sleep.

She closed her eyes and the shadows of the storks passed over her face and she was still, the only movement, the chair rocking in the afternoon breeze.

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This is a Friday Fictioneers 100-word (exactly again this week!) story inspired by the picture supplied by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Friday Fictioneers is organised and run by the wonderful Rochelle. Click here to join in, and here to read other pieces. I’d love to know what you think of mine – please leave a comment!

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It’s just two weeks until my novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, is published in the UK by Fig Tree Penguin. And until early tomorrow morning (12th February) Goodreads have five copies to giveaway to UK residents. Click here to enter. Canadians have until 14th February to enter to win (click here). Sorry if you live somewhere else!

Flash Fiction: All Gone

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Jimmy and I ran under the rhododendrons, pressed our foreheads into the earth and jammed our hands over our ears until the noise stopped. When I sat up my head was ringing and I saw blood trickle from Jimmy’s ear and soak into his collar. We crawled out into the garden and for a moment I thought nothing had changed.

But we were alone. The picnickers, the tourists, our parents: all gone.

Weeks later we remembered the camera, the photos taken that day. And that’s when we saw it: a beam of light and high above a huge shape, hovering.

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This is a Friday Fictioneers 100-word (exactly this week) story inspired by the picture supplied by Melanie Greenwood. Friday Fictioneers is organised and run by the wonderful Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Click here to join in, and here to read other pieces. I’d love to know what you think of mine – please leave a comment!

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This week I’ve had a post (‘First Catch Yourself A Squirrel‘) published on the Tin House blog about some of the research I did for my novel, Our Endless Numbered Days.

BBC Opening Lines: How to write for listeners, not readers

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Every year BBC Radio 4 runs a short story competition called Opening Lines. The deadline for 2015 is 13th February. The three winners get their story broadcast on BBC Radio 4, and they get to see it being professionally recorded.

Last year my story – Baker, Emily and Me – was one of the three winners. You can read it here.

I haven’t been told why the judges picked my story over the hundreds of entries they received, but I sometimes wonder if it had something to do with the fact that I cut my writing teeth on short stories which I had to read aloud to an audience. Eight years ago I started writing pieces for a short story event held at my local library – Winchester Discovery Centre. People signed up to write a five minute story and read it out to a paying audience. On the night, after all the stories had been read, the audience voted, and the winner and the second-placed writer got a share of the door’s takings. I came second a few times, and once I came first. I probably earned £15.87. But it wasn’t about the money; it was about the experience: getting immediate feedback on what an audience likes (or doesn’t) and understanding what works when writing is read aloud.

Short stories which will be listened to, need different considerations to those which will be read on paper or screen. A listener, unlike a reader, has no opportunity to go back and re-read and so the writer has to think about things differently. Here are some of the things I considered when I wrote Baker, Emily and Me:

  • Don’t introduce too many characters at once.
  • You can start in the middle of the action, but don’t assume your listener will know where they are or what’s happening. At some point make sure your story gives them an indication of location, time period, age of characters etc.
  • Don’t have too much dialogue. (When a story is read by one voice, the listener can’t easily distinguish between characters, and won’t know who said what – especially if there are more than two characters speaking.)
  • Keep the story moving forward. Going off on a tangent for a long section or giving too much back-story can make your listeners lose the thread.
  • Keep flashbacks to a minimum, or at least keep them short, interspersed with the main forward-moving story. Too many flashbacks can also mean listeners lose the thread.
  • Don’t be too subtle. OK, you don’t need hand everything to your listener on a plate, but remember they can’t go back to see how the beginning of your story ties in with the ending; they have to keep the whole story in their head with just one hearing.
  • Stick to the guidelines for word length or timing. Opening Lines is very specific – between 1,900 words and 2,000 words – because stories need to fit into a specific scheduling slot.
  • Read your story aloud to yourself (many times), and then aloud to someone who has never read or heard it before, to check they can follow it.

Winning Opening Lines was an amazing experience. I loved sitting in the recording studio, and of course hearing my story broadcast. (Here’s a short blog post I wrote at the time.)

I would urge anyone to enter. You never know who will be listening…

Flash fiction: For the love of squirrels

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My mother fed the squirrels left-overs: scraps of bacon rind, apple peelings, and the skins of grilled tomatoes that my father left on his plate. The squirrels would only go to her – sitting in the palm of her hand to eat. She named them, worried about them, loved them, more than her own child.

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The investigating officer thought the fire had started in the attic. ‘The electrical cables were probably gnawed through,’ he said, putting his hand over mine.

‘Squirrels?’ I asked.

‘I’m afraid so.’

As he completed his report I bit my cheek hard and right on cue, the tears flowed.

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A Friday Fictioneers 100-word (or so) story inspired by the picture supplied by Ted Strutz. Friday Fictioneers is organised and run by the wonderful Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Click here to join in, and here to read other pieces. I’d love to know what you think of mine – please leave a comment!

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Click here to sign up to my newsletter to receive information on give-aways, competitions, events and updates about my novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, which will be published shortly.

Short story: The cockerel

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Every morning for a month Nanette and I trudged behind our father down to the boat. We each carried an oar, and he carried the cockerel. Everyone stared as he tied the flapping bird to the transom, and rowed out to sea. He didn’t care.

‘What’s he doing?’ someone asked.

‘Looking for our mother,’ Nanette said. I turned away, too wretched to hear her explanation: that Norwegians believe the cockerel will crow when the boat moves over the drowned.

The following day the cockerel got loose and my father sat on the sand and cried, and I turned away once more.

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A Friday Fictioneers 100-word (or so) story inspired by the picture supplied by Georgia Koch. Friday Fictioneers is organised and run by the wonderful Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Click here to join in, and here to read other pieces.

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If any Canadian readers are interested in winning a copy of my novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, Goodreads is hosting a giveaway for people who live in Canada. (Apologies again to all the Friday Fictioneers from the States!)

Flash fiction: For Sale

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‘Perhaps put some coffee on,’ the estate agent said, striding from the kitchen to the dining room. I tagged along behind. ‘Courtyard could be brightened up. And maybe lay the table.’ I must have looked bewildered. ‘It all helps. Viewers need to see it as a home, not just a house.’

It is home, I wanted to tell him. Was a home…briefly.

That night I fell asleep on the sofa surrounded by wrapping paper and boxes, but I had found the percolator and the dinner service. In the morning I put the rest of the wedding presents back under the stairs.

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A Friday Fictioneers 100-word (or so) story inspired by the picture supplied by Jan Wayne Fields. Friday Fictioneers is organised and run by the wonderful Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Click here to join in, and here to read other pieces.

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This week I was delighted to be included in The Observer’s ‘New Faces of Fiction’ article. You can see it online here.

And for the next 15 hours only you can win one of five copies of Our Endless Numbered Days, via Goodreads. (UK readers only I’m afraid.)