QuickFic 13/03/15: The Winner

Oh hi there, brave adventurers! What a whirlwind QuickFic trip you’ve taken us on.

As you’ll recall, we asked for 250 word stories on these little guys:


And what lovely stories they were. And also sad, lots of them. Thanks for that, guys. We didn’t need our mascara to stay on today or anything.

Anyway, the way this works is that we have to choose a winner, and so here the winners are. Because you’re all so annoyingly good, we’ve had to do the naughty thing again where we pick an extra runner-up (*shakes fist at your collective brilliance*):

RUNNER-UP: Louisa Barnes


Through the smoke, through the clouds, like two sycamore seeds spiralling towards a garden lawn…

Henderson tried to pat Bennett’s shoulders, but found that his hands had frozen into claws, gripping the co-pilot’s thick brown leather jacket. As smoke surged around the cockpit he wondered if Bennett was still alive. Henderson felt no panic; he had moved through fear and pain as though they were merely thermal currents in the air and now his mind was filled with memories of the old house, of dressing up and playing airmen with his older brother while Mother called to them from the foot of the stairs.

An airman – that was all he had ever dreamed of being. A man of the air. And now there was nothing left but the dream, as smoke thickened and darkened and a golden fire rose before him, peach and lilac at the edges, like the silk dresses in the camphor-scented wardrobe where once two brothers had made a den.    


RUNNER-UP: Olivia Olsson

Made At Home

“Woo!” Peter shouted from upfront, “Can you see it yet, George?”

George peered over the edge of the plane, daring to reach a hand on to the wing to prop himself up for a good view.

“It’s amazing, Captain! I can see the jungle from here! We’re not far!”

The young boys leaned back in synchronisation, Peter pulling at the front of the plane to land it.

“Nice landing, Captain!” George cheered.

Peter turned from the pilot’s seat giving his brother a dashing grin; but it soon flat-lined as he creased his brows, staring up beyond George’s face. I smiled at him sweetly, pushing the door open wide from the small crack I had been watching them through.


“At ease. There is a fat,” he smirked at me, “ugly beast following us.”

“Permission to catch it?” George requested, turning his head so his little brown eyes met mine behind ridiculous flight goggles.


I clambered down the stairs as four little feet trampled behind me. I could feel the whoosh that caught my back as they swung for me, trying to grab a wayward billow of t-shirt. I stopped at the kitchen as they calculated their next move.

“I suppose that you don’t want to help this fat, ugly beast make fairy cakes, then?” I feigned disappointment as they looked questioningly at each other, “Such a shame. I’ll just eat them all by myself.”

“Permission to bake, mummy?” they asked, looking through their eyelashes.



WINNER: Daniel Owen


“Where are we?” she asked.

“I believe this is the hidden city of Quepetl,” he told her.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I have looked at the map. I’m quite sure.”

They looked around them.

“Maybe we should ask someone,” she suggested.

“We don’t need to ask anyone. We’re not lost.”


They looked around again.

“No one around to ask anyway,” she observed.

A pause.

“Why is it hidden?” she asked.

“It means it’s been lost,” he explained.

“Really?” she asked, doubtfully. “‘Lost’ and ‘hidden’ don’t mean…”

“You said, if I let you come along, you wouldn’t be annoying.”

“But I’m not…”


“Yes. OK.”

“It means it’s been lost to civilisation. We are the first humans to see this place for over six hundred years.”

“Oh.” She thought for a moment. “That’s probably why there’s no one around.”

Another pause.

“Now what?” she asked.

“We are on a quest. We are looking for the lost biscuits of Cadbor.”

“Are they actually lost or just hidden?”

“You said…”

“Yes. OK.”

Another pause.

“Is it those biscuits over there on your bedside table?” she asked.

He sighed. She asked again, louder.


Another pause.


“That’s good. Have we found them, then? Can we eat them now?”

His shoulders slumped forward and he sighed again. He looked around his room at the dense rainforest and the ancient ruins, waiting to be explored.

“Yeah. OK.”


Congratulations Louisa, Olivia and Daniel! And thanks to everyone who entered. Happy weekends, all.

See you next Friday for a new prompt! We’re ALREADY looking forward to it.

QuickFic 13/03/15

Good morning, lovely QuickFic fans. It’s Friday, and you know what that means…

And if you don’t, well, let us tell you:

At 9.50am every Friday (precisely now), we give you a prompt. It could be a photo, it could be a phrase.

You write a story of up to 250 words using that prompt, give it a title, and send it to academy@faber.co.uk by – this bit’s important – 2.50pm this afternoon.

At 3.30pm, we announce the winner, and the winner wins books*.



Here, without further ado (we don’t do ado), is this week’s prompt:



See you back here at 3.30! We’re very excited to see what you come up with.

* These ones:


L-R: The Lighthouse, The Pocket Wife, The Revelations, One Three One, The Atlantic Ocean


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: A Dog’s Life (And A Bird’s And A Bee’s)

After the extremely wonderful news yesterday that Laline Paull’s The Bees has been longlisted for the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction, we’ve been thinking about unusual narrators.

The Bees is the story of Flora 717: a heroine who, ‘in the face of an increasingly desperate struggle for survival, changes her destiny and her world.’ And who also happens to be a bee.

There are lots of great examples of novels which make use of unconventional narrators: Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red features the POVs of a wide and varied cast, including a coin and the colour red, whilst of course Richard Adams’s Watership Down follows a group of anthropomorphised rabbits.

A narrator doesn’t just tell the story – they shape it too. And while using an unusual narrator can pose many challenges, it can also open up all kinds of possibilities.

With that in mind, here are a couple of exercises for you to try:


If you haven’t got something on the go, or you fancy trying something new

Choose a significant historical event, and write a 500 word story around it, using the point of view of an animal who was present.

What limits does the narrator have in terms of understanding events and expressing them? And what opportunities does that present for you, the writer?

If you’re currently working on a manuscript

Select two chapters of your work-in-progress and rewrite them from the point of view of a non-human narrator. It could be a pet or an entirely inanimate object.

Does this change the emphasis of the story and the way you feel about the characters? Does it cast a new light on certain elements?


We have new creative writing exercises for you every Wednesday. And if you can’t wait a whole week, join us every Friday morning for our QuickFic competition – write a story based on that week’s prompt for a chance to win a stack of books.

QuickFic 06/03/15: The Winner


We were pretty excited when we set today’s QuickFic prompt live this morning. As you’ll recall, it was this:


Inspired, of course, by the truly glorious book that’s been – deservedly – the talk of the town this last week: Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant.

We love it so much, guys.

So that’s why we were excited starting out. And then you lot started delivering us some absolutely beautiful pieces of fiction and we got a whole lot more excited.

Anyway. Because of that, we’re having three winners instead of two this week. Why not! It’s a party!

RUNNER-UP: Rose McGinty

The Sting

We hang in the deep blue. Two fallen stars.  Waiting.  The others have thrashed their way back to shore. I see them, arms waving.  Warning. But I’ve drifted too far out now, with you beside me. Leaving has never been my thing. Before, I would just splash about at the edge between land and ocean; but tonight the water is amniotic. So. 

I walked out, let the waves catch my white dress. Pull me into their embrace. I lay back and floated my limbs, let my breath go.

I saw your diamond threaded tentacles first, an electric constellation.  You pulsed, closer.

I see through you. Your ghostly, empty skull. Mesmeric, you beat like a heart next to me. I don’t know how to get back to the shore, even if I wanted. That’s the sting. No more delay.  We tie fingers, yours and mine together and swim. 


RUNNER-UP: Lorraine Blencoe


She clicks the top of her pen repeatedly. At any other time it would have really pissed me off. But I suppose you can cut some slack to someone you’ve just met and are crying in front of.

Limp handshake, hair tucked behind her ears, seven-ish minutes into the conversation and I’ve got my hand covering my mouth to mute my sobs. My skin will have gone all blotchy.

Does she find it as embarrassing as I do?

Crying in front of a stranger. But at least she’s getting paid to watch me whimper.

She slides a box of tissues towards me. My eyes flick onto it. We’re going to need a bigger box.

She lets me cry. Says nothing for a while.

When eventually I compose myself enough to speak, ‘Sorry’ is the best I can do.

Her face softens. She seems more embarrassed about my apology than about my breaking down.

She explains what the plan is. How often I’ll see her, how long the sessions will be, what we’re going to try to achieve.

A firmer handshake when I leave. ‘It’s going to take some time but we’ll get there.’


WINNER: Rox Nicholl


2AM Tuesday morning. New moon and clouds obliterate any starlight. I don’t believe in new starts. I can’t.  And yet …

Mara sleeps next to me. Her dream-kicks woke me again. The only time she ever cries is in her sleep. None of us tell her, because she’s not the only one.

I remember the little party my parents gave the night before I left. We laughed, and told stories, and they let me drink a little. For strength, my father said. Like he knew. But no father would send his daughter into this life. Not willingly. My mother gave me a small bag of food for the journey, hugged me, hope lighting her eyes.

“This is your one chance for freedom,” she said. I nodded, kissed her cold cheek.

Some freedom. I climb across the sleeping bodies to the ladder. I stand on a hand, but dare not whisper an apology. They know my voice. Sofia is at the ladder, holding her teddy bear. She’s too young to know to hide her tears. Some men like her better for that.

She reminds me of my sister.

Don’t think, just act.

I push her upwards, step by step. Below, bodies sprawl across the floor like corpses. It may not be much, but we understand each other. It’s still a home, of sorts. But the lady at the clinic slipped me a card yesterday. And Sofia deserves better. We stop at the door.

No more delays.


And we run.


Congratulations, Rose, Lorraine and Rox! There are some books which will be making a journey to you without delay. Well. Depends on the postal service round you.

You get what we mean.

And thanks to all who entered – you made our day epic and wonderful and we love you all so much too.

Join us next week for a brand-new prompt!

QuickFic 06/03/15

Why hello there.

We’re feeling all QuickFic-ish. How about you?


Now, let’s remind ourselves of the rules. They’re quite simple, really:

We’re about to give you a prompt (we’re very excited about this one). All you have to do is write a piece of fiction of up to 250 words on that prompt, give it a title, and send it to us at academy@faber.co.uk by 2:50 this afternoon.  Not a moment after.

At 3:30 we’ll announce the winner, and the winner wins a special stack of Faber books.

So let’s get straight onto that prompt, shall we? Because there’s a rather pressing matter at hand, friends:



Muses musing? Wonderful. We can’t wait to go on the journeys you dream up for us.

Journeys of 250 words or less, that is. Express travel.

Oh and F to the Y to the I, these are the books that the winner will win. We’re a little bit jealous, to be honest.


L-R: Y, The Accident, I Think I Can See Where You’re Going Wrong, The Free, The Last Word

We’ll meet you at 3:30, right back here, under the magical inspiration tree. Happy creating!


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. 

Writing a Novel: Beginning at the Beginning


The beginning of your novel is everything. You’re in a fight: a fight for the attention of your reader in a world full of distractions. You can’t afford to do anything that will give them an excuse to put your book down.

Jeffrey Eugenides says he puts his entire novel in his opening line. A quick glance at Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides confirms that. The benefit of this is obvious – you’re immediately signalling to the reader what your story is going to be about; perhaps some information about the main character, the tone of the piece, the central conflict, and so on. Maybe it sounds crazy to put so much emphasis on the first of what will be thousands of lines. But think of it as your first building block: a great opening line, a great opening page, a great first ten pages. These are the first three markers a writer needs to be thinking about.

So what makes an effective opening? An agent once said to me, ‘Start with a punch in the face.’ This is good advice, but it isn’t saying you must open your historical romance with a bar brawl. Unless you really want to, of course. Because while that punch in the face can be some kind of external struggle, it could also be something very subtle, full of nuance, and linked to the emotional life of the character. Whatever you choose, I think what the agent was getting at was making sure you have an answer to the question ‘Why now? Why start the story now?’

There are some great opening lines to novels. Is the most famous of them call – Call me Ishmael – famous because we keep saying it’s famous, or is it arresting because the narrator is full of authority, grabbing us, and taking us on this journey?

Here are three more examples from three very different writers:

Someone must have slandered Josef K, for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.

A merry little surge of electricity piped by automatic alarm from the mood organ beside his bed awakened Rick Deckard.

Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.

Franz Kafka, Philip K Dick, and Anne Tyler are not three names that you usually find together, but their ‘punch in the face’ first lines each ask the reader a powerful story question. And that’s what you need to keep in mind as you work on the opening of your novel: What question are you going to ask?

Kris Kenway is the tutor on our online Writing a Novel: The First 15,000 course, which is currently accepting applications. 

Why I Write banner | Faber Academy writing courses

Why I Write: Stark Holborn

I write because I’m not sure I could ever do anything else.

Even if I was never to have another book published, I don’t think I’d be able to hold back the ideas, the odd fascinations, the bones of new characters that are always lurking and coalescing in my mind. If I couldn’t get them down on a page or a keyboard, or a phone screen, I’d start piecing them together in my imagination. Then I’d spend even longer than I already do staring down strangers in the street without realising it, because I’m locked into some made-up conversation.

So in one sense, I write because I’m unable not to write. The impulse usually starts with something small, an image, a phrase, a sentence that will revolve and revolve and will not leave me alone until I write it down.

It’s an addictive feeling, and it’s simultaneously a joy and a frustration when writing a novel to a deadline. Some days, that compelling, whispering kernel will appear, and I’ll grab it and disappear into the zone for a few hours; that place of intense concentration where you forget to drink, or eat or take toilet breaks. Other days, it won’t and there’s no use faffing about on the Internet waiting for inspiration. I just try to get on with it and hack out the words, letter by letter, in the hope that I can make some progress.

Saying that, it’s often the laborious, hacked-out, oh-god-these-are-shit pages that turn out the best. Probably because they’re more exacting. Self-belief is important, but if you love your own work too much, there’s no drive to improve. I think it’s okay to be proud of something as an accomplishment and simultaneously aware of its flaws.

NunslingerWhich leads me on to the second facet of why I write. I write because I want to get better at writing. And the only way to do that is to write. I try to keep my eyes and ears open too, to read and watch and listen not just widely but well. Overall, I hope that if I keep writing as much as I can, I might start to learn what it means to be a good writer.

My debut novel, Nunslinger, began life as one of the kernels. A silly joke, a pun that got me thinking. I was actually working on a completely different novel then, but I started writing what is now Book One of Nunslinger because… well, I wanted to. I didn’t even consider that it might be publishable at the time, let alone that it would turn into a twelve-book behemoth. It was a story I wanted to tell, and so I simply set out to tell it, to the best of my ability.

Stark Holborn

Stark Holborn is the pseudonym of a thrilling new voice in fiction. But he – or she – knows to keep enemies close… and secrets closer. Check out Nunslinger here, and say hi to Stark on Twitter.