QuickFic 27/02/15: The Winner

Oooh. Well now. That was exceedingly enjoyable. Thanks so much to everyone who sent in stories – some absolutely beautiful pieces and some totally creepy ones too. In the very best way.

Anyway. As you’ll recall, we asked for 250 words on this picture:

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And here are our winners.

RUNNER-UP: Alison Chandler

Islands

I feel I should warn you the thing that happened to my face happened very suddenly.

Hours earlier, I remember looking through the kitchen window to see if it was raining.  And of course it was raining; it was the weekend, it was the bank holiday. I felt quite satisfied reaching for my anorak, thinking rain, cold barbecue, damp squib. Every bank holiday party I’d ever been to conformed reassuringly.

When I got there all was as expected. Tom who was usually drunk was drunk. Lisa who was usually cheerful was cheerful. The wind was blowing off the sea, barbecue smoke was flowing inland like a stampede.

And then the boy from the island appeared. Well he said he was from the island. Is he? Was he? Island, wasland.

What are you doing here? he asked.

I live four doors down, I answered.

That wasn’t what he meant.

Come to the sea, he said.

So we went, and we stood, and we looked at the waves disturbing the pebbles which tried to stay where they were but couldn’t quite hold their positions. And then he took a step towards the island and then another and another and that’s when the thing happened to my face. I felt it lose all control of itself. No more fixed smile, no more I’m in charge, no more how d’you do yes, fine, you too?

Don’t turn around, he said. Don’t turn around. 

 

WINNER: Jill Palmano

The Wait

What is it to wait? What goes through our minds? The projected thoughts of some imagined event? Played out behind our eyes in cinematographic detail? We embellish, of course. It’s only natural. To invent is to be human. I think therefore I am, someone said once.

Sometimes it’s important to step out of the mind and re-enter the body. Like now. What’s my body feeling? Cold and wet and I’m shaking. Can’t seem to stop. Relax and you stop shivering, someone said that once, I think. Who? Oh, her.

Put on her coat. Go on, take it off her body and put it on. She doesn’t need it any more. I’ve always coveted this coat. The colour, the fit, the price tag. Guess I can keep it now. They won’t know it was hers. When they come, they’ll think she wasn’t wearing one. 

They’ll arrive in a dingy. Bright orange, sturdy looking, even though it’s only rubber and air. They’ll be wearing yellow coats, red life jackets. Colourful and capable. We will coordinate, them and me in her red coat. I’ll be shaken. Shaking. No blood in my face and I’ll feel safe in their hands. 

When they ask, the wind will pick up the surf and send flecks of salt foam into our eyes. A gull will hang above, screeching. The sky will turn white. It will be beautiful. When they ask me what happened, I’ll think of something. Inspiration comes when you least expect it, someone said once.

 

Congratulations, Alison and Jill!

We’ll be back next Friday with another QuickFic prompt – join us! We’d love that!

Meantimes, if you’d like to read another story about a girl in a red coat (and one we think is pretty wonderful), you should absolutely go here.

 

QuickFic 27/02/15

Why, hi. A very happy Friday to you – fancy beginning it with a spot of QuickFic?

Us too!

So let’s.

Now, if you’re new to the game, this is how it works:

At 9.50am every Friday (now), we give you a prompt. You write up to 250 words of fiction about that prompt, give them a title, and send them to us at academy@faber.co.uk by 2.50pm this afternoon. No later.

At 3.30pm, we announce the winner, and the winner wins the books. And books are great!

Awesome. Let’s do this thing. Here is today’s prompt:

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A bonus point to anyone who knows which very exciting, just-published Faber title inspired us this week…

Speaking of very exciting Faber titles, we’ve got five of those for the winner, too. Here they are, look:

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L-R: Ariel, Private Life, You Should Have Known, The Mirror (by THIS GUY), The Windvale Sprites

NICE.

See you back here at 3.30!

 

By entering our QuickFic writing competitions, you’re granting us non-exclusive worldwide permission to reprint your story on our website should you win. The winner will also get a chance to win a place on one of Start to Write one day courses, because at the end of the year we’ll be choosing our favourite of all the winners – the champion of champions, let’s say. 

Wednesday Writing Exercise: The Unfortunate Email

We’ve all done it. Sent an email about someone without realising we’ve accidentally sent it to them. Or to someone else entirely other than the person we intended.

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With that in mind, we have another couple of creative writing exercises for you.

If you have a work-in-progress in, well, progress

Your main character receives an email that was not meant for them, and, in the process, learns something unexpected. Perhaps someone they trusted is talking about them behind their back. Or maybe someone has a secret which has just inadvertently landed in your protagonist’s lap. What will they do with the information? How will they react?

If you just fancy doing something short and stand-alone

Write a short story about someone opening an email with the subject line ‘You’ll never believe this…’ They are not the intended recipient.

What does the email contain? And what will the character do with it?

 

We‘re back every Wednesday with another set of creative writing exercises. But if you can’t wait that long, why not give QuickFic a go on Friday?

Why I Write: P. C. Dettman

Writing about writing, and in particular about why I do it, is the hardest topic of them all. It involves the kind of introversion which comes naturally to writers, but multiplied and distilled. It is turning the tool, or the weapon, on yourself. If I think back in time to why I originally wrote stories, I find it easier.

When I wrote my very first short story that was not part of some school assignment, it came from a simple place. I had some time, I had an idea for a story, and do not remember where it came from, but I enjoyed the thrill of developing a plot and some characters and seeing what happened to them. At the time, Ian Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy series was all the rage with my classmates. It was a set of ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books with a dice and some clever role play ideas. This was the mid 1980s and I was 9 or so. I enjoyed reading, yes, but the experience of making your own story was massively more satisfying. And the internet didn’t exist.

By the time I wrote my first novel during my second year at university, the internet had barely begun to exist. I still got a lot of fun from writing, but there was a new motive. It was a very clear one to a student in a grey northern city. The motive was money. Michael Ridpath had, unusually for a writer, made almost as much money writing books as he did as a trader in the City. Or a stockbroker, or whatever it was he did. He wrote a couple of thrillers about high finance, and they sold unbelievably well. He did the foreword to some Writer’s Digest books with titles like How To Write a Mi££ion.

Time passed. I graduated and got a real job. I moved to London. I moved back away from London. I moved jobs. But eventually I started writing again, and I feel like I have a healthier set of reasons to write, and a lot more experience of both life and the writing craft. I’m writing my first literary novel, which to me means it is not high concept, or plot-driven, or too unbelievable. It’s not about spies or space aliens. It’s about two people, professional musicians, following their dreams. I’m not writing for money any more. I learned the truth behind that pretty quickly. I feel like I’m doing it because I want to. The initial thrill is still there: to write captivating stories involving believable, realistic people. The more you do it, the better you get. And the better you get, you realise there is so much more to this than ever meets the eye to a reader, even an avid reader. Only the writer knows the terror emitted from a blank page.

I do it because it puts me in good company. Even if I’m just doing a diary each day, or a few days a week, I’m in there with Hemingway and Orwell and Greene. If I write a couple of letters (and apologies to the random assortment of strangers who have received one from me) then that’s even better. These things, this writing practice, helps me to understand the world and my place in it. No, really. I do a blog post here, a tweet there. Anything is easier than working on the current book. But the fascination is still there, the love of solitude, the freedom it gives you to think profoundly about almost any topic that draws your eye. The skill of making plain your ideas to a wide range of unseen readers. English, or any other language, is never as precise as your true internal thought.

And now that I’m back in London, or near enough, I have started rubbing shoulders with real writers. Ones with real publishers. And they’re not as different from me as my younger self ever imagined. They work hard, they worry, they see it for what it is, and still they persevere, but they’re only human. Almost nothing else offers you a chance of immortality as writing does. And as you approach middle age, mortality starts to become a topic to write about in a totally new way.

Paul DettmanP. C. Dettman

P. C. Dettman publishes speculative fiction as Paul Charles, and is currently writing a novel about a drug dealing pianist and the best tenor sax player in England. You can find his books here, or say hi to him on Twitter

In Defence of Small Agencies

Not so long ago, agent Jonny Geller wrote a piece about the state of the London literary agency scene today, and why a bigger agency is a better option for authors. Fellow agent Piers Blofeld was quick to dispute these claims. Here, Becky Thomas explains why she feels smaller agencies have just as much to offer.

There’s been a lot of talk recently about there being too many smaller agencies, and about how the authors at those smaller agencies are there under a misguided sense of loyalty or because their ego is better flattered as a big fish in a small pond. Authors should, it’s said, be at agencies where they can get a ‘360 degree representation’, farming out their content to the Film and TV Department, the Rights Department, the Theatre Department, the Voiceover Department and so on…and to be packaged neatly with other clients in other departments of that giant agency.

Having worked at both ends of the spectrum, I made a conscious decision to move to a smaller agency where I truly believe I can fulfil my obligations to my authors.

Firstly, there’s nothing wrong with loyalty. A trusting, honest and close relationship between author and agent can only lead to good things. An author whose event you turn up to or whose delivery date you extended when they were having a particularly hard time is someone who will reward you with longevity, love and a better platform – a platform of confidence – to work from in return. Authors should have the relationship with their agent, not their agency. My authors know that I am the one arguing over everything: from their high discount clauses, to whether their signature advance has hit our bank account on the day the publisher said, to their credit on their film adaptation – because those things directly affect both of us. Who is a better advocate for the work when placed in front of foreign editors or a theatre director or a festival booker than the first person to have read it, the person who has worked through draft after draft with the author and who knows what it means to them, who understands the author’s personal preferences?

Smaller agencies are nimble and well connected. We are out there putting together co-agent deals with other agencies who have no interest or expertise in our field or territory and vice versa and therefore we are not diluting our mutual strengths but combining them. We can broker unusual deals because we don’t have a set model of working, dictated to from on high. And we are on the phone or there in person to talk to our clients at any time. We read and edit their work because our lists are selective and therefore we have time to. Small agencies have some of the greatest authors and those great authors shouldn’t be shamed into wanting to be looked after by their chosen agent, their expert agent, at every step of the way.

beckythomasBecky Thomas

Becky Thomas is a literary agent at Fox Mason. Her client list includes Kate Tempest, Tyler Keevil and Isobel Harrop. Visit Fox Mason’s website here, or say hi to her on Twitter

QuickFic 20/02/15: The Winner

Ooh. That was pretty special, let us tell you. As you’ll recall, we asked for 250 word stories on this picture:

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You wrote about heaven, you wrote about war. You wrote about San Francisco and you wrote about the Heathrow Holiday Inn. Guys, it was epic.

But we do have to have a winner, so that our stack o’books has a home to go to. So here that winner is:

RUNNER-UP: Petrina Hartland

Something Wicked

You cannot fight a troll. Everyone knows that.

The only way you beat a troll is by trickery. By cleverness and wit, guile and deceit. Which leaves the nice people of the world, the kind, generous-natured souls who would no more lie to a stranger – even a slavering beast of a stranger –  than they would steal from one of their neighbours, well, it leaves them royally screwed.

Kind people. Nice people. They are not equipped to make it over the bridge.

Me, though, I’m an old hand at sweet talking my way out of trouble. I can argue, prevaricate and bamboozle. Even on a bad day, I’m halfway across the span before the troll notices the sound of my steps. Before he rises up out of the foul mist of his breath, to clutch and grope, to tempt and pull.

I am not nice. I am not kind. I am on my guard.

I am not above bargaining, as part of my cunning. One more step. One more metre. One more day. Tomorrow, tomorrow can be the day of reckoning because I am holding on to today. I am holding on.  

I beguile them all. Not just the troll under the bridge, but the demon in the tube tunnel, the genie in the bottle of pills. The cold, sharp siren call of the kitchen knife.

I balance on the bridge. One step at a time. 

WINNER: Emily Smallman

Feeding Time

“Just look at that,” he says through shutter clicks.

I kick up a clump of rust coloured dirt and crush it under my boot.  It cracks into dust.

“The fifteenth Wonder…beautiful.” He polishes the lens with a gloved finger and replaces the cap.  “Still works!”

“Can we go now?”

“Come on, we’ve still got a few minutes.  You know, for the time, it was quite a feat of engineering.”

I grant it a look.  Clouds seem to gather at the base.  They rise and fall as if they were breathing.

He takes out his tablet and starts swiping through facts.

“4,200 feet…1.2 million steel rivets – steel!” He’s interrupted by a slow groan of metal.

CLANG!

The noise rings out as we see a chunk of red metal drop.  We wait for the landing sound but it never comes.  The wind picks up and the mist lifts.

“We should go,” I say, taking a step back.

“Maybe you’re right.”

We put on our masks and head down the slope, careful not to slip on the loose earth.  I can just about hear his muffled words.

“We create the best and the worst…”

We arrive at the bottom in time to see a figure climbing over the barriers.

“Hey!”

We shout together, waving stiffly in our suits, but he ignores us.  He runs past the flashing lights and slows down at the mouth of the bridge, opening his arms. 

The mist thickens and swallows him whole.

 

Congratulations, Petrina and Emily!

And thanks to everyone who entered. See you next Friday!

QuickFic 20/02/15

Oh hello there.

Another Friday is upon us, and that can only mean one thing. QuickFic!

In case you can’t recall, or you’re new around these parts (hello!), the way in which QuickFic works is this:

At 9:50am (right now!), we give you a prompt. You write up to 250 words of fiction using that prompt, give them a title, and send them to academy@faber.co.uk by 2:50 this afternoon.

At 3:30, we’ll announce the winner, and the winner wins books! (More on those later). We’ll also publish the winner and the runner-up’s stories right here for eternal glory.

Books and eternal glory sound good, don’t they? Okay then. Let’s play!

This week’s prompt is this beauty:

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Ooh.

And those books you might win? Why, ’tis these:

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L-R (actually bottom to top): The Blind Man’s Garden, Poetry Please: Love Poems, Kimberly’s Capital Punishment, Rooftoppers, Every Day is for the Thief

Tasty.

See you back here at 3.30!

Wednesday Writing Exercise: Character Studies

We’ve got two creative writing exercises for you today, both designed to add wonderful flesh to your characters’ bare bones. They’re brought to you courtesy of author and Academy tutor, Richard Skinner.

If you don’t have a work-in-progress, or you fancy doing a little palate-cleanser

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A couple are taking part in a pub quiz. The woman wants a baby, but, unbeknownst to her, her partner is about to end their relationship.

Write a scene of dialogue.

If you do have a manuscript on the move

rswritingexercise2

Make a character you’re having trouble with write a letter to you, the author.

 

Richard Skinner

Richard Skinner is the Director of Fiction at Faber Academy. He’s a tutor on our six-month Writing a Novel course, now accepting applications for October, and also teaches our Start to Write one day courses.

For more creative writing exercises, why not play QuickFic with us on Friday? Write a short story using a new prompt each week for the chance to win books!

QuickFic 13/02/15: The Winner

Well now. That was a bit of a treat for us. We asked for 250 words stories on THIS:

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…and boy, did you deliver.

But as always, we had to choose a winner so that that winner could win books. So that is what we did.

RUNNER-UP: Nicky Tate

Anna and Me

Just babbys and I must have been wailing proper because she pushed Katy Wetheringshall down. Katy had snatched my babby umbrella see? I was too ickle to say that I’d been hitting Katy hard with it. Made me laugh it did to hear Katy shout.

Then I remember about the time Anna ‘n me went to different schools in uniforms same size; hers grey and mine bright red. Shaking I was as the special bus stopped at our house that first day. She said it proved I was special, that bus coming right up to our door for me din’t it? And she telt me again she will always protect me like that umbrella kept the rain off my cheeks. But she couldn’t could she? So I went bad and we ached every day to be apart.

She stands and takes the bible now and says she will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I know it is a lie and I hope God is real and knows I am sorry for what I did. I hope he sees I can be good. She looks at me and I love Anna and love is good and I hope and pray that counts.

WINNER: Ann Fielding

Not-London

Listen to how quiet it is. Might be the best thing about living here.

Not the whiskers on roses and raindrops on kittens?

What?

It isn’t quiet. There’s three blackbirds, a thrush, a linnet and at least two magpies. Give it a few minutes and the cockerel will start.

Birdsong doesn’t count.

Yes it does. Magpies are like broken machinery. Clatter clatter clatter.

Two for joy, right?

There might be more.

Do magpies have threesomes?

Probably. Loud magpie orgies with birds they met on Magpr.

Or Birdr?

Now that is a shameless website. Any bird any way any time. Almost as shameless as you claiming you like it here.

I do love you though.

I know.

And if you come with buses every two hours and none on Sundays and pubs where everyone turns round when a new person comes in and half the children are born with webbed feet then I guess I love that too. Honestly. I swear.

Honey.

Yes?

This is Surrey. Not Deliverance County. Different parts of not-London. I got you that map, remember? There be cannibals. Here be stockbrokers.

Here be you.

And that’s enough?

Yes.

That’ll stay enough?

Yes. I swear.

I believe you.  

 

Congratulations Nicky and Ann!

Happy weekends all.

 

We run our QuickFic writing competitions weekly – a new prompt every Friday morning. Join us next week!

Wednesday Writing Exercise: Achieving the Impossible

What can we say? We like to aim big.WednesdayWritingExercise_carousel_icon

Giving your main character a goal is an essential way to drive plot. Their motivations can change over the course of the novel, but they should always be there. Katniss wants to protect her sister, and then she wants to survive. Pip wants Estella to love him, and therefore to become a gentleman. Later, realising the error of his ways, the thing he wants most dearly is Joe’s forgiveness. These desires propel the characters into action, and action propels the novel.

This week on our Edit Your Novel course, the students are talking about middles. Middles are hard bits, aren’t they? They can be too saggy or too short, they can lose direction or a sense of imperative. With that in mind, our first writing exercise is for those of you who might be stuck in the middle of a project.

If you’ve got a work-in-progress on the go

Spend some time thinking about each of your characters and what they’re trying to achieve at this point in your novel. What do they want? How do they plan to get it? Is it out of their reach, and will that stop them trying? And if it isn’t out of their reach, how can you take it away from them?

And if you aren’t working on something at the moment

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500 words on this chap please. Where is he going? Where has he come from?

Enjoy this? Join us each Wednesday for new creative writing exercises and prompts. You could also check out our QuickFic competition each Friday – write a 250 word story on our chosen writing prompt for the chance to win a stack of books!