Another week, another 100-word flash fiction story inspired by a photograph. My story is below. Feel free to join in, and if you post yours on your website or on social media, link back here and let me know, so I can have a read of it.
A Great Guy
Let me tell you ‘bout my uncle Jack. He added a kitchenette and a bedroom to his place on Switcheroo Road and let the rooms out to men who stole from him, small stuff mostly: teaspoons and hammers, glasses and tobacco, and left without paying the rent. Each time he said it’d be different: this man was down on his luck; another was a great guy. Reckon he was in love with them all, just couldn’t admit it. Finally, that annex stood empty for five years ’til my aunt Rosie rented it. Although, course, she wasn’t my auntie until later.
For any Oxford / Oxfordshire-based people, I’m doing my first in-person literary event for a long time, at Blackwell’s Oxford on 21st July, with author Lucy Atkins (Magpie Lane). It would be lovely if you could join us. Tickets here.
I’ve started writing flash fiction again after a break of a couple of years. I’m not sure why, but I’m enjoying it. I’m still responding to photographs, but this time from pictures that I own. And I’m still setting a rule of it needing to be exactly 100 words plus the title, and it must be a complete story, not just a scene. If you want to have a go, feel free to use the photograph above as inspiration for your own piece of flash fiction – you can work to my rules or you can set your own. If you post yours online, please do link back to this page, and if you want to post a link to your piece in a comment on this page, I’ll try to have look at what you’ve written (just to have a read, not critique) if I have time. If you want to write your own, you might want to write it before you read mine, so that my idea doesn’t get stuck in your head.
Goodman Orthodontics Limited
She watches him arrive for work, his shoulders slumped, head down. Wills him to look up and smile. A nice ordinary smile. His wife’s left him, she thinks; no, died tragically. He’s single and lonely. Has five sad children, or better, none. She discovers he works in dentures, and passes his office daily. She considers sending a memo: re your Status Update, re my Decision-Making, re our Team-Building. Then, at an adjacent table in the canteen, she sees his teeth glow too white, too bright, like luminous underwater animals.
The next day she works furiously, her back to the window.
My fourth novel, Unsettled Ground, is shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Read more about it here.
The spot of light, perfectly circular, roamed her bedroom, over her clothes and the dead fern on the windowsill – a sudden wincing flare as it crossed the mirror. At the window she craned her neck to find its source, but saw no one. The wavering beam sought her out while she backed into a dark corner, and followed her as she scrabbled under the bed. She ducked and weaved, and when she cried out she felt the heat on her tongue and down her throat as she swallowed. Below her beating heart, through flesh and skin she saw the glow.
This is a 100-word piece of flash fiction inspired by the picture above, supplied by Dale Rogerson (thanks Dale!) and as part of Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thanks Rochelle!). If you’d like to write your own story and join in, click here to find out how, or here to read other people’s.
This week I was very pleased to find out that my third novel, Bitter Orange, has received a starred-review from Kirkus.
Sometimes he took a box home, a perk of the job. Bottled water when the supply went bad, live crabs for Feliks his Estonian friend, ice-cream for his nephews.
Ära ava*, was printed on the box’s side. An exotic fruit he thought; too heavy for herbal tea. When Feliks came around with the Friday night vodka and blood sausage, he put the box under the table.
In the morning he remembered the fruit: oranges, maybe, to cure a hangover. The box was open and empty on the kitchen table, Feliks’s glasses smashed upon the floor.
(*Estonian for Do Not Open)
This is a 100-word (exactly) flash fiction story, inspired by the picture above, provided by Fatima Fakier Deria. Click here to join in and here to read other writers’ stories.
My American publisher, Tin House, is offering US readers the opportunity to join their ‘Galley Club’ for my third novel, Bitter Orange. Galley Club readers receive an early copy of Bitter Orange, in exchange for answering a questionnaire, and leaving a review of the book. Sign up here by June 27.
She wears a hat she’s made herself. No so much a hat, more a creation of feathers, net and fluff on the side of her head, as though an exotic creature is about to take flight. Understanding her place she hangs back behind the other mourners, his white wife and his sad children. She remembers the eleven years of Tuesday afternoons when he’d whisper my bird of paradise in her ear and tuck the money under the pillow. Now, after everyone’s gone she holds the hat over the coffin in the ground, pauses, and then re-pins it to her hair.
This is a 100-word (exactly) flash fiction story, inspired by the picture above, provided by Jean L Hayes. Click here to join in and to read other writers’ stories. It’s a long time since I’ve written a Friday Fictioneers story. I’ve missed it.
My third novel, Bitter Orange will be published in less than two months in the UK by Penguin. You can read the first paragraph here.
Petersen tensed, peering. The headlights showed snow coming down thick and two feet of white road. He felt the wheels skate, and he braked without thinking. Beside him, Julius slammed his hands against the dashboard and swore, while the car turned in a circle, graceful even in its gliding. And then a hard, heavy lurch forwards into a ditch.
‘Christ, oh Christ,’ Julius cried.
‘It’s alright,’ Petersen said. Calmness he’d feigned for so long he almost believed it.
‘We’ll be too late!’
‘We’ll walk.’ Petersen took his doctor’s bag from the back seat and clambered out into the storm.
This is a 100-word flash fiction, inspired by the picture, provided by Dale Rogerson. Click here to join in and read others’ stories.
This week my second novel, Swimming Lessons, was selected by YOU Magazine in the UK as their Reading Group book. Click here to buy it at a discount, to see some book club questions, and to read an exclusive piece by me about what’s true and what isn’t in the novel.
‘Henry,’ he said. ‘Please.’
‘Henry,’ she replied, but silently she said, ‘Doctor Berrisford,’ thinking about all the people he’d touched, and the parts of them he’d seen that no one else ever had.
‘We know each other well enough now, don’t we?’ When he smiled she could imagine the boy he once must have been.
‘Jean,’ she said. ‘Or Jeanie. Whichever you prefer.’
‘Jeanie,’ he said, taking her hand. She waited, not knowing quite for what or how these things were done.
The outside door opened and the wind swept in Julius. Jean pulled her hand out from Doctor Berrisford’s.
This is a 100-word piece of flash fiction, inspired by the photo above (provided by JS Brand). Apologies that it’s more of a scene than a story, but I’m thinking about characters for my fourth book, and this name just seemed to work. It’s a Friday Fictioneers story, a world-wide group of writers looked after by Rochelle Wisoff-fields. Anyone can write something and join in. Click here for more information.
I’ve been away from Friday Fictioneers for a while, but I have been busy. I met fellow FF, Neil MacDonald, and had the pleasure of judging the Farnham Short Story competition for his writing group. He interviewed me about my writing, here. And, the paperback of my second novel, Swimming Lessons, has been published by Tin House in the US, and Penguin in the UK.
At first, the changes were subtle: a framed photograph moved to a different shelf, a favourite pair of socks missing, the coffee finished when we thought we had another packet. It was always when we were sleeping, and we slept deeply.
One morning the cat was hiding under the sofa, the orange juice was gone, and the cupboard door was ajar when we were sure we’d closed it. It was a mess in there, but eventually we found the loose board behind the top shelf. We stared into the dark tunnel beyond; neither of us prepared to go first.
This is a 100-word story inspired by the photograph above, this week supplied by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields who also looks after all of us Friday Fictioneers. Click here to join in or here to read stories by other writers.
If you’re thinking about Christmas, I have an offer you might be interested in: Buy a copy of either Our Endless Numbered Days or Swimming Lessons for someone (or yourself) and I’ll post you a personalised card for free. Click here for more information.
At 3:17am August 12, firefighters responded to a fire at Barney’s Pub and Grill. The crew gained entry to the apartment above and rescued one adult male, one adult female and a child. They were transported to Iowa Hospital but pronounced dead on arrival.
The fire was extinguished after thirty minutes. Sixteen fire department personnel were on scene. The cause remains under investigation.
She kept the clipping in her purse amongst the bills and receipts for years, like some keep photographs of their loved ones. Eventually she lost the wallet and the piece of paper with it. Then, she mourned.
This is a 100-word piece of flash fiction inspired by the photo above (this week supplied by J. Hardy Carroll). Friday Fictioneers is hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Click here to join in, or here to read more stories by other writers.
If you’re already thinking about Christmas, I have an offer you might be interested in. If you buy a copy of either of my books for someone (or yourself), I’ll send you a personalised card for free. Click here for more information.
‘Four seconds. It’s quick, man. Four seconds and you bleed out. All over.’
But he doesn’t think about that, doesn’t think about anything. An empty head, and being the right amount of psyched. No rope, just a bag of chalk. His only thought: the next move of foot or hand. He’s traversing into a parallel crack system across a flat exposed plane when his foot slips, his fingers clutch and for a moment he hangs. And then he’s in the void, arms spread to greet the trees two thousand feet below.
‘Four seconds, man. It’s a lifetime.’
This is a 100-word flash fiction story inspired by the picture above (this week supplied by Marie Gail Stafford). Click here to read pieces by other writers, and here to join in. I did quite a bit of research on climbing free solo and Alex Honnold for this piece. Frightening stuff. I’m definitely not a climber.
If any readers happen to be in Hong Kong this weekend, I’ll be at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival on Saturday 11th November at 1pm, speaking about Swimming Lessons. It would be great to see you there.