Monthly Archives: April 2014

Friday Fiction – As Seen On TV

This week’s FF post comes with a moderate language warning. Also, a note that none of the characters in this story reflect any actual persons alive or dead. That’s always the case with my writing, but in this instance one of the Fictioneers might notice a nod to her profession!

For those who don’t know, The Great British Bake-Off (aka Bake Off) has been a great hit with women of a certain age and disposition in the UK recently. so much so, it’s spawned The Great British Sewing Bee and presumably other hobbies and activities are lining up to follow. Just wait until the adult entertainment industry catches up and add The Great British Fu… I digress.

Quick, before I have to upgrade that warning, here’s Renee’s photo (the way it loads on the iPad I saw the bottom first, hence my interpretation), and my story. Comments always welcome.

melting-wax-renee-heath

As Seen On TV

“Shit!” Charlotte dumped the piping bag in the bowl. “Shit, shit shit!”

She shouldn’t have used fondant. A nice spreadable buttercream, or rolled-out royal and she’d be done by now. But no, she had to try fondant. They made it look so easy on Bake-off.

Now, she had rivers of sticky icing racing down the cupboards. Soon it would reach the floor, and Andy had already called to say they’d left the airport.

The door slammed and Charlotte drew breath. They couldn’t be here already.

“Hi Mum!”

She breathed again. “Ah, kids, perfect timing. Who wants to decorate Grandma’s cake?”

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Writing Process ‘Blog Tour’

Warning! Long post alert!

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to join a “blog tour” by Janet over at This, That and The Other Thing. When you’ve finished here, I hope you’ll head over to her site, where she posts stories and photos and haiku, and still manages to read every entry to the Friday Fictioneers. Presumably she doesn’t actually exist in real life; it’s the only possible explanation for how busy and prolific an artist she is! I’m certain you will find much on her blog to enjoy and admire. I do.

THE BLOG TOUR PYRAMID

When we were kids, we got chain letters. When you received one, you faithfully copied it out 5 times (with a pen!), and mailed it (often with a stamp!) to your friends, then they did the same. It was critical to do this within the specified short time period, lest the threats of terrible punishments (a lifetime of bad sex sticks in the mind) came true. Also, if you did, wonderful things were promised (yep, great sex included).

Then email came along and the chain letters kept coming. It was easier to send them on (a few key-presses instead of careful scribbling, and no more stamps), and what if wonderful things really could happen just because you’d taken part?

In the blogosphere, everyone wants wonderful things to happen. Specifically, everyone wants traffic, and so the chain letter has found a home here, in the form of awards, blog tours and the like. When Janet first contacted me, I agreed to join in, because I would love for more people to find and read Elmowrites, and I’d love to send some of my own readers to other blogs I enjoy. Then I started to contact people to ask if they’d like me to nominate them, and I discovered most of the people I’d recommend have already been involved. Why? Because chain letters are pyramid schemes, and pyramid schemes fail when they run out of people to recruit. Everyone who’s done this recently says “the hardest part is finding people to pass the baton on to”. I think there’s a reason for that.

Now, if I sent you to bloggers who I chose entirely for their willingness to participate, or for the fact they haven’t been nominated by anyone else, I’d be wasting your time. And if I pulled out, I’d be letting Janet down. By ending the chain, perhaps I’m doing that anyway, I hope not, and I certainly mean no disrespect to her or anyone else who’s participated by saying all this.

There is a value in bloggers recommending others – I have no qualms about suggesting you read Janet’s blog, and I am happy to recommend a few others to you at the end of this post. But the blog tour ends here. And if that’s taking me to a world of fewer readers at least they will know I take my recommendations seriously.

My answers to the blog tour questions follow, and then a few links I heartily recommend. And as for me, I hope readers find and enjoy elmowrites, and I hope a lifetime of bad sex doesn’t await me now – but neither the carrot nor the stick is going to make me change my mind.

MY ANSWERS

1) What am I working on?

I’ve got three draft novels and various short stories of all lengths saved on my hard drive, and to the extent that they haven’t been published anywhere yet, I consider them all the be works in progress. However, in terms of active projects, I really have two. The first is this blog, where I regularly post 100 word stories for the Friday Fictioneers and slightly longer flash fiction for Inspiration Monday, as well as a variety of non-fiction pieces about grammar, crosswords and writing in general.

Secondly, I’ve had a story milling around my head for a few years now, centred on a little girl whose mother has been diagnosed with cancer. It started life as a short story, but I’m convinced it will one day be a novel. I’ve written various snippets, some of them posted here (search this blog for “Melanie” if you’re interested), but nothing like a whole novel’s-worth. I’m currently doing some research on Christianity, which is a big influence in Melanie’s life, but I hope to get some serious writing done towards the novel by the end of the year.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My writing is mostly mainstream fiction – occasionally veering towards literary, once in a while dabbling in other genres. My first novel had elements of magic realism, for example.

Unnatural endings upset me when I’m reading. I like things to be resolved, but I don’t like everything tied up with a bow by an author who feels the only true ending is happily ever after. I try to show that life goes on after the back cover – that the characters have grown and there is hope for the future, but nobody’s waved a magic wand and made everything perfect for them.

Another grievance I have with popular fiction is the assumption that readers are stupid. I like to treat my readers as intelligent, sensible people. I don’t always spoon-feed them everything from the beginning, and sometimes that makes the rest of the story feel like a twist, or results in some readers finding the ending confusing. It’s a balance, of course, and I’m still learning where to strike that, but I like to think those who do get it will enjoy the challenge.

3) Why do I write what I do?

It might sound a bit like a stock answer, but the truth is, I write what I do because it’s what comes to mind. I occasionally refer to the Muse and I am only half-joking. Stories, characters, incidents come to my mind almost fully-formed and at times it feels as though I’m only transcribing things that have already happened.

More literally, the main reason I currently write flash fiction is time. I’m a full-time Mum to a toddler who is usually incredibly well-behaved and quite independent, but who won’t stand me to have the laptop open while he’s awake (he also steals any pen in sight). His naps are short and getting shorter, and there are always a million things to do, and two cats who think his naps are for their cuddles. 100 words is sometimes all I can manage, and I’d rather craft those well than dash off a few thousand useless ones.

4) How does my writing process work?

I try to write during the morning nap, sitting on a comfy chair with the laptop on my knee. I’ve tried using a desk, but it’s too uncomfortable so I get distracted within a few minutes.

I’ve often had an idea running though my head for a few hours of laptop-free time before I sit down, so it really can often be a case of transcribing what I’ve mentally written, but if not, I still find the story flows pretty well once I start writing it. My mind’s eye is almost completely blind, so stories come to me as words and emotions, not film reels – I don’t know if that makes it easier or harder, as it’s the only thing I’ve ever known, but perhaps it also explains why I tend to keep physical description to a minimum in my writing.

The real test comes during the editing phase, and it’s a phase I don’t enjoy as much as writing. With flash fiction, it comes pretty easily, but with something novel-length I struggle to hold the whole plot in my head at a time, enough to really make the structure work as well as I’d like.

SOME LINKS

For free fiction, you can’t go far wrong with Janet and Sandra, both of whom also post pretty, amusing or inspiring pictures to brighten your day! … or with Adam, another prolific fiction poster.

If you’re a writer and like a challenge, Rochelle and Steph run the ones I currently participate in. Rochelle also posts fantastic fiction of her own; Steph’s advice on writing really does hold nuggets of gold.

Finally, how to describe this one? Star is one of those people I can’t help but admire. She knows what she wants, she knows how to get it and she’s not going to let anything stand in her way. Her blog is a mix of musings on writing, updates on her on writing journey and … other things. If you need a new perspective, if you are tired of bloggers saying the same old things about writing, if you ever find yourself questioning your ability to achieve your goals … Star’s blog is the place for you.

 

 

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In Mon – Fridge Monster

It’s been a few weeks since I posted for InMon and I will say now it might be a while before I can again, but I’m glad to be here this time, and with a story for the prompt “fridge monster”. I hope you enjoy; your comments are welcome either way.

The Fridge

“Jules, could you pass Mummy the butter please?” She’s holding the big knife and sawing away at a loaf of bread on the counter, so she doesn’t look up when she says it. Just asks, like it’s the easiest thing in the world.

And it is, right? All I have to do is walk to the fridge, open the door, grab the butter, close the door, take it to Mummy. Easy. All things I have been able to do for ages. When I was a baby, like my little sister Mary, I couldn’t, but now I’m three and a half, I could do it. Easy, right?

But it’s not easy at all.

See. There’s a light in the fridge. And the light only comes on when you open the door, and then if you look really really carefully when you close the door, you can see it going off again just before it’s shut.

And Mummy says the light is powered by magic, but Miranda at daycare says there’s no such thing as magic and Miranda is five and goes to school, so she knows things.

So if there’s no such thing as magic, who turns the light on and off? And why? Why would the whoever it is only turn it on when I’ve got the door open? Because when the door’s open, there’s light from the kitchen anyway, so the only reason they would turn the light on is to shine it on whoever opens the door. And the only reason they would do that is to decide whether to attack you.

And if they live in the fridge, they must be pretty small, so they probably wouldn’t attack Mummy or Daddy. And Mary’s too small to open the fridge, so they couldn’t reach her. So that leaves me. And the whoever in the fridge hasn’t eaten me yet, so it’s probably pretty hungry.

I wish it liked cheese. Then it could just eat the cheese in the fridge. But it doesn’t. And that only leaves me.

“Come on, Jules, I need you to help me out.”

Mummy’s getting angry, but she doesn’t know about the whoever in the fridge. She thinks it’s magic. She wouldn’t want me to open the fridge if she knew.

 

 

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Friday Fiction – The Memory Sense

UPDATE:

This morning, I posted my story with a mea culpa and an admission of guilt at both hubris and exceeding the word limit. Now, I think I should add a different crime to the list – posting too early.

I have said it before – if it’s too long, it’s either the wrong story or you aren’t trying hard enough. The original version of this story was probably the latter. Some redrafting in the shower has given me the version immediately below the picture. 100 words exactly. The original (99 words with an overlong title) follows for the sake of posterity and to remind me to try harder next time!

Photo credit is Bjorn Brudberg’s, FF HQ is here.

bjc3b6rn-15

Sense Memory

If smell is memory’s sense, music belongs to the heart. Sweet figs in bacon and a Spanish guitar onstage carry me a thousand miles and three decades back, to a ranch beneath the Pyrenees and the unrepentant sun.

To a girl among men, determined to prove herself. To Alvino – the Andalusian colt who spent days clamped between aching thighs, my fingers lost in his mane. To Romeo – so well-named – whose hair, too, swallowed my hands.

I’m back there, enjoying a hot siesta; and the bar, the musician, the figs, and my husband are miles away in a future still unimagined.

****

ORIGINAL VERSION:

If smell is the memory sense, music is the sense of the heart.

Sweet figs and bacon from the kitchen and a Spanish guitar onstage carry me a thousand miles and three decades back, to the foothills of the Pyrenees.

My legs ache again from the saddle, my arms from the unrepentant sun. I remember Alvino – burying my fingers in his thick mane, his body strong between my thighs. And I remember Romeo. So well-named: born to woo. His hair, too, swallowed my hands.

I’m back there, at the end of a hot siesta; and the bar, the musician, the figs, and my husband are miles away in a future still unimagined.

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Happy Easter!

A Happy Easter to you – maybe the spring sun shine on you, the flowers dance in your garden (or the garden of your mind if you lack a real garden or get pollen allergies from real flowers) and the Easter bunny (or his faith-appropriate equivalent) lay chocolate eggs throughout your home!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This time last year…

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Friday Fiction – His World

It’s FF time again, and this week’s photo comes from Doug MacIlroy, a fellow addict who has just fallen off the wagon for at least the second time. Don’t worry, Doug, I’ve never made it onto the wagon yet!

There is a recurring discussion amongst seasoned fictioneers – it came up again a couple of weeks ago – about the prevalence of death in our stories. Are we all just macabre people? Is it taking the easy route? To an extent, I think it is; death creates instant drama, and that’s useful if you’ve only got 100 words to tell a story. But if it’s easy, does that make it bad? I hope not, because death crops up in my stories not infrequently. I hope, however, that I’m not always taking the easy route when it does.

As always, I welcome your thoughts – on that question, and/or on the story below.

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His World

Alice was dying. His little girl, on whom he had founded all his dreams, was dying.

The bodies at his feet writhed, screaming, a pink-striped leg occasionally escaping the tangle and lashing out; sometimes an arm grasping the leg of his trousers for an instant before returning to the mass.

But Alice was dying. Her husband, Owen, was gone already. And Alice was dying.

Dean wiped away a tear of self-pity; what was Alice to him, compared with ‘Mom’ to them? He etched on a smile and threw himself into the pile of giggles.

“Grandpa Monster’s coming to tickle you!”

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Reading Between The Lines … and the letters

One of the subjects I most enjoyed at school was English literature. Reading a book in that much detail, and with a knowledgeable teacher, is a totally different experience from reading the same book on your own with only your imagination to guide you. Not better, but different. And I relished the challenge of looking at writing in that much detail.

An exercise we did often would be to dissect a short passage of a longer work (usually a novel or a play) in response to a question like “How does the writer show tension in this passage?”. We looked at everything: large-scale elements from pathetic fallacy to pace; details like speech attributions and clipped sentences. Alliteration or assonance almost always came into it, regardless of the question – I’m fairly sure they could be equally responsible for showing romance and aggression!

And I enjoyed it, but my friends and I would sometimes take a step back and ask each other, in frustration, “Do you think the author really sat there agonizing over word choice to that extent?” Did Jane Austen stop and check Darcy’s alliterations every time he spoke? Did Emily Bronte really make the moors bleak and stormy to show Heathcliff’s mood? Was Shakespeare honestly trying to write a great big allegory for English government when he claimed there was something rotten in the state of Denmark?

Well, now I write. And I might not be representative, but in case I am, here’s my answer. A resounding YES. And a resounding NO as well.

Sometimes when I write, I’m being clever. Sometimes, especially in my FF stories – where I have time and energy to pour real thought into each word – there are layers and layers of meaning and implication beyond the surface. And then I read the comments, hoping some people saw them. And I wonder about posting a detailed explanation on the Monday after, but it feels a little like showing off to do that, so I just wait until someone posts a comment remarking on the double entendre of the title, puns, or clues in the wording.

But other times, No, No and No. Pathetic fallacy, for example, is almost always accidental. Maybe I’m feeling dark and stormy, because I’m writing a tense or miserable scene, so the weather in the story is dark and stormy, but that’s by accident, not design. I write the stories the muse conjures in my head – the characters speak that way because it’s how they speak in my head, not because I think it would be clever for them to use clipped sentences, or slang, or alliteration.

What about you? Do you write like the first or second style, or a mixture of the two? And where do you think your favourite authors fit in?

 

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