Flash Fiction: Minky

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They make quite a collection when they’re together on the mantelpiece. I dust them every day, very carefully; I don’t want any more accidents. One little nudge, and whoops, china and ash all over the carpet. It’s the devil to vacuum out. Happened to my brother Alastair just the other day. But I never could stand him. Sometimes I like to rearrange them: Dad beside Jeremy – couldn’t abide each other in life, or Agnes next to Peggy. I wonder who will tire first of that incessant chatter? But little Minky, my darling pussy cat, she’s always at the front.  Continue reading

Flash Fiction: Water

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I told them I saw her, under the water, hair swaying, eyes blinking. They brought the horse and cart, and Lewin stood on the back with a pitchfork, stabbing the lake, while all the village watched. It made me laugh, to see how they believed my joke. But the nag reared up and Lewin fell. There was screaming but no one jumped in to save him. We was all too afeared.

After that they wouldn’t use the water. Not even warmed. There was terrible thirst and then hunger. They ate the nag. Soon I think, they will eat me too.  

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This is a Friday Fictioneer story, inspired by the picture above, this week provided by Roger Bultot. FF is hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, who posts a picture online every week, and writer around the world write a 100-word story inspired by it. Click here to read stories by other writers, or here to join in.

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Click here to read a bit more about me and my books.

Flash Fiction: Graft

FF Tree

Her mother told Mary she wasn’t hers just before she died. Blurted out the words like some sort of confession. Learning it though, suddenly made her whole life – all those sixty-five years – make sense.

Her grandson posted information on a few adoption search websites, but she knew it was hopeless, searching for birth parents who would be in their nineties, if they were even alive.

A few months later she received a newspaper cutting through the post. Anonymous, no note. Creased and faded as though kept for years: Police Still Searching for Child Abducted from Playground.

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This is a Friday Fictioneers story. Write a 100-word story inspired by the picture above (this week supplied by Sandra Crook) and share. Click here to read more or join in.

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It’s been a few months since I’ve written a Friday Fictioneer story, but I have been writing. My third book, Bitter Orange, will be published in early 2019. Click here to read more.

Third Novel: Bitter Orange

The Grange

I’m delighted that my third novel, Bitter Orange, will be published in 2018, by Fig Tree / Penguin (August) in the UK and Commonwealth, Tin House (October) in the US, and House of Anansi (October) in Canada.

Here’s a little taster of what it’s about:

Frances Jellico is dying and remembering when, in the summer of 1969 she was commissioned to survey the follies in the garden of Lyntons – a decrepit and almost derelict country house. There, living in the attic for a month or so, she meets Cara and Peter who are staying in the rooms below hers. As Frances falls under her new friends’ spell and she learns their stories, the house offers up its own secrets, until her life is changed forever.

Lyntons is inspired by The Grange (the house in the picture above), in Hampshire, a fascinating Greek Revival style house, managed by English Heritage.

Flash Fiction: Pillow

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I found it in the bath. I hadn’t put it there, I was sure. I hadn’t been in the bathroom since the morning, and I was alone in the house. Anyway, who puts a pillow in the bath? I bent to pick it up, and saw a grey hair curled across the cotton. Not mine, I was sure. It repelled me, like extracting a long hair from a mouthful of food. And yet it was my pillow – missing from my bed. I left it there. Every night I washed at the sink and laid my head on a rolled-up cardigan.

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This is a 100-word flash fiction story inspired by the photo above. I know it seems a long way from the picture to my story, but to keep it to 100 words I had to chop out all the bits about sunlight and windows. The picture this week is supplied by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, our Friday Fictioneers host. Click here to join in, or here to read other people’s.

Other Friday Fictioneers might like to know that I had the pleasure of meeting a long-standing fellow FF, Neil MacDonald a couple of weeks ago. It’s the first time I’ve met another FF in real life since we’re all scattered across the globe. I can attest that he’s as lovely in person as he is on the screen.

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Do you look at an author’s photograph before you read the book? You’re not alone.

Flash Fiction: Running

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Lights. Over my shoulder their lights are coming, running through the trees, lamps and flaming torches. Coming for me through the trees, shouts, and hoots and laughter. It’s a game, for them. Dogs, teeth bared for blood. Running. Under the chicken house, into the nettles. Quiet!

In the morning she lures me out with food, and I let her paste the baking soda on my stings. I try to tell her about them, but my words don’t come right. She sighs at my tangled hair, my mother. Wants to keep me, but I slip away.

Tomorrow night they’ll come again.

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This is a 100-word flash fiction Friday Fictioneers story inspired by the picture above, this week supplied by Dale Rogerson. Friday Fictioneers is hosted by the lovely Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Click here to find out how it works or here to read some more stories by other writers.

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“A deeply moving read, that keeps you turning pages.” Oprah.com on my second novel, Swimming Lessons. Find out more.

Flash Fiction: Blackcurrant Jelly, 26th August 1966

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Snails had almost eaten the paper, but the writing on the label was my mother’s. I’d decided to tackle the sunroom last, after I’d gone through the rest of the house making piles: keep, charity, ditch. A lifetime of parental belongings. The warm smell reminded me of silent meals, my mother picking at her food, me itching to get down and play, unaware of things unsaid.

I would have thrown the jar away, except the date on the label was my birthday. Inside was a curl of baby hair, the same shade as my own.

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This is a 100-word flash fiction story inspired by the photo above provided by Sarah Potter. And it’s part of the Friday Fictioneers group of writers, run by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Click here to join in and write your own, or here to read some more.

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Find out more about my latest novel, Swimming Lessons, published by Fig Tree / Penguin (UK), Tin House (US), House of Anansi (Canada), and Piper (Germany).

 

Flash Fiction: Jane Deer

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The flies come and go. The rain against the studio windows, the snow, and then months of sun. The mice eat the badger bristles, nibble the end of the palette-knife still in her hand. No one knocks. The dust settles, the paint on the canvasses cracks, the paint in the tubes solidifies.
Her bills are paid by standing order, her bank balance enough. The newsstand man wonders if she’s moved away, and then forgets her. The world turns. Another season, another year. Another. A pipe leaks in the apartment above. Her door is broken down.
Her paintings sell for $100,000.

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This is a 100-word flash fiction story. Part of Friday Fictioneers, looked after by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. The picture this week is supplied by J. Hardy Carroll. Click here to join in, or here to read stories by other writers inspired by the same picture.

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Want to know what this competition judge looks for in a short story? I’ve written a post about it here.

What a judge looks for in a short story

Sally

Last week I was invited to the awards ceremony for the Jane Austen Short Story Competition. The event also marked the opening of a Jane Austen exhibition at Winchester Discovery Centre, visited by Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex. I’m not much* of a royalist but it was fascinating to see how these visits work (men in suits and wearing ear-pieces patrolling the library, lots of waiting and chatting with tea and cake, forming a literary ‘horse-shoe’ so the Prince could meet us all easily).

But the real event for me was announcing Sally Tissington as the winner of the short Ingrid HCT_RV_009story competition, and David Constantine announcing Ingrid Jendrzejewski as the runner-up.

Last August I was invited to be a judge of the Jane Austen Short Story Competition, along with David (a writer and poet), but it wasn’t until April this year that we got to see the longlist of 25 entries. (There were almost 300 in total from around the world.) I read the hard-copies I’d been sent many times, each re-read whittling the list down further until I had six that I liked the best. Luckily David had a similar number on his shortlist, and we crossed over with a few. We met (in a stationary cupboard, but with coffee, grapes, and biscuits) IMG_5675to argue our case for those stories we liked best, while understanding that we had to be willing to let some go. It was a difficult decision.

This was my first taste of being a judge and on the other side of the fence (I have won both the BBC Radio 4 Opening Lines short story competition, and the Royal Academy / Pin Drop competition), and I enjoyed it so much I’ve agreed to do it again for another short story competition run by Rye Literature Festival.

While I was reading the 25, I jotted down some of the things that made me put a story on the reject pile. This is not a definitive list of what to avoid when writing a short story (even our winners may include some things that made me reject others) – it’s just some subjective observations from those I read, which might be helpful:

  • Many stories were lacking enough forward motion (too much internal thought), especially at the start.
  • Many stories began with an event in the future and then spooled back, resulting in a pluperfect tense (eg – she had arrived), which meant that the forward motion of the story wasn’t as strong.
  • Lots spent too long on the backstory and justifying the actions of the characters. Have I mentioned forward motion?
  • Some stories were too big for the word limit, which meant characters, plot and location were skimmed. (Although our runner-up breaks this ‘rule’ to great effect.) Covering a lifetime in 2000 words is tricky to pull off well.
  • Nearly all the stories had a cliché or two (or a few more).
  • Sometimes the characters didn’t feel real. (This also comes back to avoiding clichés.) Real people have quirks, and ticks, and odd thoughts and mannerisms. I wanted to see these.
  • Too many stories had too many typos.
  • There were quite a few exclamation marks. And adverbs.
  • The majority of the stories were written in the first person. (Third person will open up more possibilities.) But if the writer had decided first person was best, it was those with a really strong narrative voice that worked well for me.
  • Many stories didn’t have a powerful enough opening. They lacked the ‘story questions’ I was looking for. I wanted to be intrigued, beguiled, puzzled and above all to have to read on.
  • Some endings were lacklustre. I wasn’t looking for things to be tied up neatly, but I wanted some logic and satisfaction.
  • A few stories started in the middle of a scene or with dialogue, and this is difficult to get right. It made me think, ‘who are these people, where are they, what’s their relationship?’ rather than paying attention to what was being said.
  • And finally – this didn’t make me discard a story but it did niggle – even if the competition didn’t specify layout requirements I saw too many stories with a confusing layout. I would have liked: double-spaced, no extra gaps between paragraphs unless it’s a change of scene, Courier, 12 point, first lines indented unless they were the very beginning or the start of a new section, etc.

Both the winning story, and the runner-up are available to read online here.

I hope this post has been helpful if you write short stories and enter competitions. Do let me know in the comments below.

(*Not a royalist at all in fact.)