Monthly Archives: May 2013

Baker’s Dozen

This month, I’m involved in an interesting new challenge: the Baker’s Dozen collaborative story. Twelve writers, each writing a chapter of the story, then a final closing chapter from our leader – Joe – making up 13 in total. There has been no discussion between the writers, so it’s a bit like that game “Consequences” rather than a traditional collaboration, and none of us knows what the other is intending or planning except what we can glean from previous chapters.

My chapter is number 7, and can be found here, along with the previous chapters. That means it’s exactly the mid-point of the story, so I wanted to make it a turning point: the beginning of the resolution of the story, but still an escalation on what had gone before. In his “Story Structure” series , Larry Brooks defines the midpoint as follows: “new information that enters the story squarely in the middle of it, that changes the contextual experience and understanding of either the reader, the hero, or both.”

It’s been an interesting exercise – to try to keep as faithful as I could to what had gone before (including those elements that might have appeared inconsistent at first glance), not to close off too much for those who come after, and to write the best chapter I could in a genre which is not my usual. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the story and I’d love to see your feedback on my contribution.

Click on the logo below to be taken to the story – and I hope you’ll come back over the next few weeks to see how it turns out in the end!

 

“Let’s get some air,” Angie whispered, her hand hot on Forrest’s arm as they were led back to the suite.

“Could we go outside?” he asked one of their escorts. “My friend needs some air.”

The two men consulted briefly, then one nodded. “This way.”

He led them out into a high-walled garden. From here, they could see the grand house, which was even bigger than Forrest had surmised from under his hood. Four storeys high and forming the shape of an L, it was as big as some of the ancient palaces he’d seen in Europe. The grounds were equally expansive. Ornate and tended lawns gave way to an orchard and this was the way Angie walked, leaning gently on him for support. Forrest was pleased to see that the two men waited on the veranda – he was looking forward to a bit of time alone with Angie, and when they reached a pond in the middle of the orchard, it was clear she had been too.

Her hands began to pull at the buttons on his shirt. Forrest reciprocated, his mind wandering back to the offer a shower that he had somehow turned down earlier. Stripped down to khaki t-shirts on top, Angie grabbed both shirts and threw them over her shoulder. They landed with a splash on the pond and began to sink.

“Oops,” he laughed.

“I had to,” she said, her hands wrestling with his belt, but her face strangely serious. “They could be bugged.” Forrest’s hands dropped from her waist as she spoke. “Listen, we probably don’t have much time.”

“For what?”

“We’re in danger now, Forrest. You’ve given them what they want, so what’s to stop them killing us?”

“These are the good guys!” he replied. “They have been sending me messages. They told me to save you. They told me not to trust anyone except you.”

She sighed and stopped kissing him, then, looking around, she eased down onto the grass and pulled him on top of her. “We have to make this look real,” she said, kissing him passionately on the mouth, “But I need to tell you something. Those messages, they came from my people. These guys are not my people.”

“What?” Her body was warm and he wanted to stop talking and concentrate on feeling, but he couldn’t. He rolled onto the grass beside her, forcing himself to keep his distance.

“Please, Forrest. You have to trust me. It’s my job to protect you, but I really do like you. Maybe after all this is over…” Her voice trailed off, but he didn’t resist when she pulled him back in close and placed her lips over his. He’d thought about this moment too often over the time he’d known Angie. Sure, Chrissie had been his girlfriend, but he couldn’t help finding Angie attractive. Was this what they called a honey trap, he wondered, because if so he’d fallen right in.

As they kissed and held each other, Forrest felt himself relaxing again. Maybe he shouldn’t, but he trusted her. He wanted to believe her, and as he thought about everything that had happened to them today, it fitted together. Her martial arts training, the messages, the Isreali helicopter pilot who didn’t speak Hebrew … He had been so relieved to finally feel safe, he’d handed over the pendant without thinking.

“I’ve let my father down,” he said, leaning out of Angie’s embrace again. “I gave them the pendant.”

“I know,” she sounded frustrated, almost angry.

“Why didn’t you stop me?”

“I couldn’t risk blowing my cover. If we’d resisted they would just have killed us both in that room. At least now we are alive.”

“But they have the talisman, the key, whatever it is.”

“I know,” she said again. “And we have to get it back. But first, we need to find a way out of this pretty prison, ready for when we need to escape.”

Forrest noticed the two escorts approaching through the trees. They were accompanied by another man, his dark tailored suit contrasted with the fatigues of the others. He looked angry.

“Can’t we just stay here,” he said, stroking her face and trying to convey with his eyes that they were no longer safe to talk, “I’ve been waiting a long time to get you alone and now that we’re safe, what’s to stop us relaxing?”

Angie looked like she was about to say something, then she seemed to understand his message. She sank down on top of him and wrapped her legs tightly around his thighs, her tongue dancing around his mouth. Forrest wanted so much to really live this experience, but when he closed his eyes, he could still see the three men approaching, and something told him that they were in more danger now than they had been at any time during this whole affair.

He opened his eyes, saw that the men were close, and tried his best to look surprised as he pushed Angie off and got to his feet.

“Err… sorry. I guess we…”

“We got carried away,” said Angie. She looked around, caught sight of the sunken shirts and giggled playfully. “Does any of you guys have a fishing pole?”

None of the men laughed. “The Commander says you will be safer inside the house,” said the businessman. He seemed not to register the embrace he had caught them in, and Forrest wondered whether that was because he knew it was false.

False, he thought sadly. He’d thought Angie actually liked him. Thought they might have a chance to get to know each other better after all this was over, perhaps even to have something like a normal relationship. But she was being paid to keep him close. She would probably not even have looked at him twice if he weren’t part of her mission. He knew in his heart that he trusted her, even with everything that had happened and all that she’d said, but he had trusted Yurdissen a few minutes ago, and now he felt like the Commander was holding him captive.

He had so many questions again – about Angie, about who ‘her people’ were, but mostly about the talisman and what this whole thing was all about. Right now, though, he had to concentrate on the charade she had placed him in. He was playing the part of a man in lust, that was easy enough, but he was also playing the part of a naïve innocent, the naïve innocent he had been until a few minutes before. And acting had never been Forrest’s strong point.

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Editing Update – May

In the original plan for my editing project, it simply says “May – July: Rewrite”. So here we are at the end of May and it’s time to take stock on that intention. By the end of April, I had a clear scene list, made up of 61 individual scenes, and for each one I’d put together any sections of the original text I thought might help me to rewrite that scene.

With 61 scenes and three months, I am aiming to do a scene a day, Monday – Friday. That gives me 5 days’ slack, which should hopefully cover the combination of a steady stream of visitors, an unpredictable baby and the odd ALS ([Incredibly*] Long Scene) that takes more than a day to complete.

So far, so good. I write during Sebastian’s morning nap, which means I’m not worrying about it all day. I did the Bella scenes first, since they are stand-alone to some extent, and also quite short. And now I’m plodding my way through the rest of the story, letting the plan and the old writing guide me, but also letting the new writing flow as much as I can.

24 Scenes done to date.

* I know Incredibly doesn’t begin with A. It’s not the original word from which the acronym is taken. That word is NSFW.

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Inspiration Monday – Struggling to Communicate

This week’s InMon prompts include the phrase “suspicious click”. That prompted the first few lines of this story, but the rest of it came slowly, as I deliberated what it was that hid behind the mysterious attachment. The resulting story is one that some may find disturbing, but I hope you will take the time to persevere with it.

Struggling to Communicate

Geoffrey opened the email with a single suspicious click. He’d been caught before – Lionel liked to send him loud videos and embarrassing photographs – so the email entitled “check this out” made him wary.

“There was a time when we didn’t send each other stupid things on a whim,” he’d told Lionel on the phone last time a stupid forward made people from neighbouring cubicles stand up and glare at him. “Postage stamps were expensive and going to the postbox put a sort of idiocy filter on even your behaviour!”

His brother had just laughed. Called him a “stick in the mud,” which was Lionel’s way of laying on the age difference between them. Five years had never seemed such a chasm as it did now they were approaching fifty. Geoffrey felt old. Lionel still went out to nightclubs, spent what money he had on drinking and partying. Not something Geoffrey approved of, mind you. It seemed to him that this made Lionel a dirty old man.

The email opened up. The text just said the same as the title of the message, but there was an attachment. “Lindsey.jpg”.

Probably porn Geoffrey thought. He wanted to delete it, but couldn’t quite bring himself to. Lindsey was the name he and Alison had wanted to call their first girl. Had called their first girl, but only for the purpose of a few letters scratched into a piece of stone. Lindsey had never drawn a single breath, and he and Alison had never breathed her name since.

It made the dilemma of the attachment even worse. If it was porn, he would never forgive himself for looking at a girl called Lindsey in that way. She’d be seventeen now. He felt something swell in his throat. Old enough for boys to be looking at her just that way. He swallowed, feeling a mixture of despair and anger washing over him.

Geoffrey picked up his mug, took a swig of cold coffee. He couldn’t bring himself to open the attachment, but deleting it wasn’t an option either.

He closed the email program and opened up a spreadsheet. Work: that was the solution. Numbers swirled across the screen, forming themselves into faces: Alison’s when they discovered she was pregnant; Alison’s on the day Lindsey was born; Lindsey’s scrunched up little features, too blue and too still. He didn’t know anything about babies, but he knew this was wrong. The faces were sharp but the numbers were blurred by tears. He took another swig of coffee and picked up the phone to call her. Alison’s voice would calm him. And she would know what to do with the email.

But he couldn’t tell her. Alison liked Lionel. She said he just struggled to communicate – an accusation she’d levelled at Geoffrey enough times too. The numbers on the phone’s screen caught his eye. 7/12/13. He hated the stupid American phone system. The sun was shining and the thermometer in the car this morning had read 28 degrees. It was the twelfth of July, not the seventh of December.

Twelfth of July, he thought. He couldn’t believe he’d made it almost to lunchtime without realising. He opened the email program again and clicked on the attachment.

The picture opened slowly on the screen. Lionel’s head and another man’s appeared first. They were looking at the camera and smiling. Behind them, a blue and orange logo said simply “Sands”. As the picture loaded, he saw that Lionel and the man were holding a giant cheque: the kind they used on TV. It was payable to Sands and signed with his brother’s elaborate signature. The amount on the cheque was staggering.

At the bottom of the picture, there was some writing, put on with a picture editing program.

Happy 18th Birthday to my beloved and much-missed niece.

Geoffrey looked around. No faces had appeared over the walls of his cubicle; the colleagues who had heard bad sound effects and dubious music from Lionel’s previous emails were oblivious to this one. His fingers thick and his vision blurred, Geoffrey dialled his brother’s number.

logo_sands

Sands is a UK charity which helps and supports those affected by the death of a baby. The characters in this story are entirely fictional but sadly their situation is not. If you have a little spare in your charity pot this month, please consider a donation to Sands. You can view their website by clicking on the logo above, and make a secure online donation there.

 Whatever force or power gave us Sebastian, I’m grateful for him today and every day.

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Friday Fiction – Dress for Success

There was something deeply haunting about this week’s FF prompt from Janet Webb. So much so that I almost went with a ghostly theme for my story. But ultimately, the story landed almost fully-formed on the page. There are too many Austins in this world, and I am grateful not to be married to one of them.

window-dressing-janet-webb

Dreams

(Historical – though not *that* historical – fiction)

It called to her every time she passed, shaking its skirts, preening its bodice. But Austin would have gone mad if Janet spent her housekeeping on a frivolity. So she flirted with it from afar, sewing a quarter into the hem of her coat each week, pinning all her dreams on a dress in a store window.

Spring came. She mothballed her heavy winter coat, but not her dreams.

For a single night, the dress hung secretly on the balcony behind their tiny apartment. Austin slept soundly, Janet not a wink. Then the dress was gone, and Janet with it.

 

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For Feedback

I used to work as a sound technician in my university theatre company, and back then, feedback was something to be avoided at (almost) any cost. But since I left the theatre, I’m a convert. Feedback is a wonderful thing and I won’t let anyone tell me otherwise!

In the theatre, feedback was the effect of a microphone being able to pick up the speakers it fed to. If I point a microphone at the lead and ask him to sing, the microphone picks up the sound and send it [via various amplifiers etc] to one or more speakers. If one of those speakers is standing behind the lead, he will be able to hear himself (that’s a good thing!) but there’s also a chance that his microphone will be able to hear the noise coming out of the speaker. Because the lead-mic-speaker process is all-but instantaneous, you end up with a feedback loop, which means the mic is picking up infinite copies of the same sound, amplifying them and pumping them out of the speaker, only for the mic to pick them up again. The result: an ear-splitting squeak that everyone in your audience will recognise as a bad thing.

However, outside the world of microphones and speakers, feedback has the opposite effect.

As a lawyer, one of my biggest challenges was the lack of feedback. It’s something we are usually good at providing in the education system, but the big wide world gives up. Many bosses only do any kind of evaluation during the Annual Review and even that can often be more of a formality than a useful exercise; Clients and customers who pay for a service usually take for granted whatever they get, and vote with their feet next time if they don’t like it.

When I became a waitress, things improved somewhat – I think the tipping culture makes customers in a restaurant more inclined to voice their opinions, and also as a waitress, one is expected to request feedback: “How is everything?”

But it is as a writer that I have really found the world of feedback again. Whether through this blog, or my offline writing groups, I have found people who are willing to share their opinions, good and bad, about the stories I write.

With a microphone, it doesn’t matter whether the lead is singing in perfect pitch or horribly off-key, the feedback loop will sound terrible either way. With human feedback, it doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad: if it is honestly and freely given, the recipient can use it to improve themselves if they choose to. Certainly there are more and less useful ways to give feedback, but frankly, giving it at all would be a good start.

I’m trying these days to give feedback in my daily life whenever I can. It matters to me if people notice whether I’ve gone the extra mile (or slacked off!) today, so I figure maybe it matters to everyone. How do you feel about feedback, both given and received?

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Grammar Quiz

A few of you have linked me to various news items from the UK about the new schooling attitude to grammar – thank you and hurray! I hope it might mean we’re raising a generation a little more aware of the joys and pitfalls of our glorious language.

For all those not blessed to live in the Green and Pleasant Land or who just haven’t come acrsso it, here’s a little quiz for you to test yourselves. Enjoy!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/news/magazine-22512744

In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I only got 9/10. Although on the one I got wrong, I did think there was a mistake in the question. Clearly, I should have been paying more attention to my gut instinct and read it again!

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Friday Fiction – Listening

Bit of a rush today – lots to do before more lovely visitors arrive this afternoon, so I’ll keep it brief. The Friday fiction bus is driven by Rochelle and has stopped this week at a pay phone belonging to Danny Bowman. I welcome all kinds of feedback on my story.

danny-bowman

Listening

When we were little, we made a string telephone. She, being the eldest, had the talking end and I the listening. That’s how I thought they worked. It was the same when we got older, she called to talk, I to listen.
So now what?
Is she talking in her head? Or does she expect me to take over? The doctor says she may be able to hear; that a favourite song or a beloved voice could bring her back. I want to believe it, but mine’s not a beloved voice, is it? I mean, would she even recognise it?

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