Wednesday Writing Exercise: The Letters

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Something a little different this week; a sort of choose-your-own-adventure of an exercise.

We want you to write a story using letters. We’re giving you the first one below, but we aren’t going to tell you anything else about the characters. It’s up to you to decide who April and Gus are and where to take them. Where did they meet? What do they mean to each other?

Dear Gus,

I was so happy to receive your letter. I’d almost given up hope! You know me – always so dramatic.

I am glad to hear that things are going as planned. I can’t help worrying, of course, but I will try my best to put it out of my mind until your next letter arrives. Don’t laugh, I will!

We’re all missing you very much, and Petra sends her love. Things are much the same here – the grounds are starting to show the very first signs of Spring, which makes things rather more cheery, and helps us to forget what is happening inside the house.

Anyway, I can’t say too much, otherwise I fear this won’t reach you. But I’m thinking of you, and hoping, and sending all of my love.

April

Let us know what you come up with!

 

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.

Why I Write: Ali Land

Recently I’ve been in a period of reflection. Having recently completed my first novel, a process which lit every synapse and nerve in my body, I began to wonder why I had waited so long to write. What I’ve discovered is that the journey began years ago.

The written word has always played a significant role in my life. Growing up in a military family, letter-writing to parents who were often in challenging situations on the other side of the world was the norm. Sunday mornings at boarding school were spent scribbling news (heavily censored of course) onto notelets, posted far and wide around the world. I learnt early on the warmth and joy that sending and receiving letters can bring. A friend in an envelope, to be read and re-read. The extra special ones, safely stored under my pillow.

English was my favourite subject at school; I lived for the reading lists. My books are my most treasured possessions, so much so that I can’t count the times I’ve boxed them up and shipped them to the other side of the world, just so they’d be there waiting for me in my new city when I landed. The only prize I ever won at school was an English one, and my class teacher banned me from entering his end of term anagram competitions.

The signs were there all along, just not the courage. So when I finally felt brave enough and sat down to write my first novel, it happened very quickly, in four months in fact. The words tumbled and somersaulted onto the page. I found, to my great joy, the hours spent day-dreaming and staring out of class-room windows had been useful after all. It turns out I had been writing in my head for years.

What I have learnt so far

I write because I love. Deeply.

I write because I care. Greatly.

I write to understand, and to make sense of the world around me.

I write to feel. Going deep, deeper than I ever imagined into my main character’s skin simultaneously broke and re-made my heart. I cried often during the process of writing this novel; the journey continually evoked compassion and hope in me.

I also write to escape order and the ordinary. A crazy chaos occurs during my writing. Post-it notes litter my walls, an ever-changing game of literary chess. My flat was messier, my laundry pile bigger. And I loved every minute of it. I ran with it.

The final reason I write is: to understand myself.

Kafka once said “A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.”

Believe me when I say, I’ve been there, close to the edge. Hanging on by fingernails close. By putting words on paper, I’ve been given a wonderful me-shaped key which is slowly unlocking the internal turmoil and conundrums which have, at various points in my life, disturbed me. The white noise, the voices, the images flashing through my mind. No, not madness, not insanity. Just a writer, not writing.

There is no monster in me anymore. He has been replaced by a giant, my very own BFG, who holds my hand and tells me, yes, this is the path for you. Writing has changed the way I see the world – it more vibrates than exists. Inspiration lurks everywhere, characters to kidnap lurk everywhere. I know there will be times ahead when walls will be hit, self-doubt will creep in. I won’t always get it right, but I know now that I will always write. Why wouldn’t I? Nothing is more beautiful than late nights spent at my desk with foggy eyes, watching something resembling a story emerge. A land. A place where the voices are heard. Are valid. And on that page, through my foggy eyes, those words are mine. Nobody can judge or criticise them.

That is until you hand them over to your agent or editor, but that’s another story for another day!

 

Ali Land

alilandAli Land completed our six month Writing A Novel course in June 2014. Her debut novel Good Me, Bad Me will be published by Penguin in August 2016, and has since sold in a further twelve territories.

Say hi to her on Twitter.

QuickFic 24/04/15: The Winner

What a jolly fun afternoon this has turned out to be.

We asked for 250 word stories about the rather lovely image below, and by golly did you deliver. Thanks, guys!

Somehow – somehow – we’ve managed to narrow it down and choose a winner.

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RUNNER-UP: Adena Graham

How To Make A Man Disappear

It was like clockwork. The first Friday of every month, he’d position himself on the promenade, just outside Frank’s Fish Bar. One time, he’d decked himself out as a one man band and performed a medley of off-kilter tunes. I wondered how long it had taken him to learn to do that. Surely not quite as long as it had taken him to learn to ride the unicycle. He seemed to be of the view that if there was no pain, there’d be no gain. Even though this had been going on for over 18 months now with no gain in sight.

‘Ahhhh, there he is,’ Shelley commented, peering out of the window.

‘Yup,” I said. “there he is.’

‘Do you remember the first time? With the bike and the balloons?’

‘How could I forget?’

Outside, he was getting into position – ready to do who-knew-what.

‘Ooooh, I wonder what it’ll be today,’ Shelley said.

I glanced across the road, but nothing seemed to be happening. He was just stood there, staring in. Eventually, he gave a small shake of his head and walked away.

Shelley let out a wail, grabbing my arm in a panic.

‘Maybe you should have said ‘yes’ last time,” I commented. “After all, covering yourself with bees while holding up a ‘Marry Me’ placard can’t be easy.’

Slamming out of the shop, I ran after him. He’d need a shoulder to cry on. Besides, I was certain he had an impressive diamond – now mine for the taking.

 

WINNER: Elin Heron

Reputation

‘Will you please just do it, David?’ Paula said. ‘I’m meeting Andy here at half past.’

‘How much?’

‘You mercenary little creep.’

‘How much, or you can get them yourself.’

‘Fifty pence.’

‘A pound. And your slice of cake at Gran’s on Thursday.’

‘Charming. I’ll remember your fee next time you ask me for a favour.’

‘This isn’t just a favour, is it? This is my reputation.’

‘You’re exaggerating.’

‘Hardly! Have you been past Giuseppe’s lately?’ I knew she had. She and her stupid mates always went past there after school trying to get Decko and his cronies to notice them.

‘It’s Sarah’s birthday. You don’t want to ruin it for her, do you?’ She had me and she knew it, my cheeks the colour of tomatoes.

‘Fine,’ I said.

‘Thanks, David!’

‘I’ll have the pound now.’

 

Riding Paula’s bike was like trying to steer a wheelbarrow, and as I pedalled past Giuseppe’s, twenty five helium filled balloons floating behind me, I wondered whether I might as well just take a right turn and cycle to the end of the pier.

‘Oi, Evans!’

‘Sod off, Decko,’ I called, but he and his mates had already got on their bikes and I was flanked by a troop of idiots. Despite the jeering, I made it to the Memorial Hall unscathed only to see Sarah, radiant and perfect, rush out the door.

‘You came!’ she said, and just as Decko took a pen-knife to the balloon ribbons, she kissed me.

 

Congratulations, Adena and Elin! And thanks to everyone who joined in.

We’ll see you same time next week for more QuickFic fun. Happy weekends, all.

QuickFic 24/04/15

Good morning to you, fine fiction folk.

It’s high time for another round of QuickFic, we reckon. Remember QuickFic? That thing we do every Friday?

Just in case you don’t, it’s all very straightforward:

At 9.50am (now!) we give you a prompt. You write a story of 250 words or less, give it a title, and send it to us at academy@faber.co.uk – by 2.50 this very afternoon, please, and no later.

At 3.30 we’ll announce the winner, and the winner will win the very attractive books pictured at the bottom of this post.

Sound alright?

Smashing. Well, here it is, this week’s prompt:

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Ooh.

And here they are, those books you just might win:

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L-R: The Discreet Hero, Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders, Music As Alchemy, I Think I Can See Where You’re Going Wrong, One Three One

Lovely.

See you 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 our 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 Candidate

It’s happening all over the shop. People pledging and promising things, people telling us what they can do, what they will do, what they absolutely will not do.

Yep, it’s two weeks to go until the election and the airwaves are awash with canvassing.  And this week’s creative writing exercises are all election-themed, too.

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If you’re currently working on a novel or another project

Your main character, for one reason or another, ends up running for election in the constituency/country/world/future they live in. Write their manifesto.

What does your character believe most strongly in? How far would they go to get elected? And what issues do their potential constituents care most about? You may find you learn just as much about the setting of your novel as you do the character.

If you’d just like to do something new

Write a short story about a candidate who, on the eve of the election, discovers a secret from their past which just might change their political views.

 

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 17/04/15: The Winner

Well, scratch our bellies and throw us a bone: that was a whole lot of fun.

As you’ll recall, we asked for stories – of 250 words or less – about this little guy:

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And you delivered. You made our little tails wag with delight. You made it pretty difficult to choose a winner.

But choose a winner we did.

RUNNER-UP: Emily Smallman

Viral

‘So, how did the book signing go?’

‘Okay, bit messy with the ink and that.’

‘Lots of happy customers?’

‘Yeah, I guess, but they were quite loud.  Euston was shaking a bit.’

‘Good, good.  So it’s a busy one this week.  There’s the luggage brand launch, the photo shoot tomorrow – have you booked him in for a trim?’

‘Well, yes but we might have to cancel.’

‘Cancel?’

‘Well, he’s not 100%.  Think he licked his paws too much after the signing – it was non-toxic wasn’t it?’

‘Sure – food colouring or something.  He’ll be fine, he just needs to sit there with that thing in his mouth.  Now, kids’ telly have been in touch.’

‘Telly?’

‘Oh yes, and they want him for a new programme.  “Euston to…blah” can’t remember the exact title, but it’s like a travel thing for kids.  They want to send him all over with his little case, meeting the locals, barking the lingo, I don’t know.  Think longer versions of the online stuff.’

‘He’s getting on now.’

‘Look, it’s great exposure, there’ll be more merchandise, interviews – might even lead onto a film.’

‘He’s seven and a half…’

‘So? What’s that, fifty? He’s never been better and bigger!  Four billion views? Cats are so over.’

‘The vet said his teeth are wearing down a bit…’

‘You can buy him new teeth.’

‘I need to think about it.’

‘Maybe you should have thought about it before you loaded those videos.  Now, let’s talk t-shirts.’

 

WINNER: Tim Bancroft

Double Bait

Annette shifted the blue overnight case onto her other arm, pulled at the collar of her new blouse. ‘Sam, this is really uncomfortable.’

Beside her, Sam shrugged. ‘I warned you about wearing something so new.’

‘But it’s bright. And it goes with my necklace.’

Sam snorted. ‘Overly ostentatious jewellery.’ He looked round the Market Square at the crowds of tourists dressed like themselves. A small dog trotted up to Annette, stopped, wagged its tail and sat down. It cocked his head to one side and pricked up its ears.

‘Oh, look,’ said Annette. ‘So cute.’ She put the case down, stroked the dog’s head and checked his tag. ‘Are you Piecrust?’ The dog muzzled her hand for a moment.

‘Leave it. You don’t know where it’s been.’

She looked up. ‘Don’t be grumpy.’ In that moment of distraction, the dog seized the bag in its teeth and ran back the way it had come.

‘Come back, you mutt!’ Sam gave chase but had to weave in and out of the crowd. The dog disappeared into an alley; moments later came the sound of a motorbike starting up. Sam arrived at the mouth of the alleyway just as a motorbike disappeared out the other end, Piecrust’s head poking from a saddle bag. ‘Damn,’ he said. ‘Lost them.’

Annette caught up, shrugged. ‘No worries.’ She pulled out her mobile, dialled. ‘Sir? They use a dog. The bait’s taken.’

There was a satisfied grunt. ‘Well done, Sergeant. We’ll track it from here.’

 

Congratulations, Emily and Tim! And thanks to all who entered.

We’ll see you at 9.50am next week – bring your muesli and your muses.

QuickFic 17/04/15

Now. After a week in an empty office – everyone’s been out at the London Book Fair, you see, leaving us home alone – we feel like doing something fun. And that fun something is our Friday round of QuickFic.

If you haven’t played before, QuickFic is pretty simple really:

At 9.50am, we give you a prompt (it’s just below this bit). You write a story of 250 words or less, give it a title, and send it to us at academy@faber.co.uk – this is the important bit – by 2.50pm, today, 17th April.

At 3.30pm, we announce a winner, and the winner wins books. They’re at the bottom of the page – have a look! They’re lovely!

Sound fun? Smashing. Here’s this week’s aforementioned prompt:

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He looks like a chap with a story to tell, eh?

And here are those books we were talking about:

qf19_booksL-R: Disquiet, Under The Radar, All The Beggars Riding, Dark Tides, The Path Of Minor Planets

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 Elevator Pitch

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It’s the week of London Book Fair; the week when agents and editors and rights teams gather together in a big glass cage of enthusiasm and pitch books as passionately as they possibly can.

Many aspiring authors also make their way to the Fair in the hope of untangling the mysteries of the publishing world – and for the possibility of running into their dream agent in the loo or in a lift.

With that in mind (don’t chase agents into the loo, by the way – they’re not keen on that), we’ve got a couple of little exercises for your Wednesday .

If you’ve finished your manuscript

Congratulations! Now it’s time to get that synopsis into shape. But here’s a challenge: can you pitch your novel in 200 words or less?

What are the key points you need to convey to an agent/editor/other interested party who doesn’t have much time? What is the most important element of the story? It might not be the one you think…

If you’re not working on a novel at the moment

Two people are stuck in a lift. One has something to sell to the other; the other has their own reasons for not being interested. Write a scene of dialogue.

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.

Why I Write banner | Faber Academy writing courses

Why I Write: Shelley Weiner

When people want to know why I write, I look at them blankly. It feels like they’re asking me ‘Why breathe?’ or ‘Why eat?’ And all I can say in reply is that it seems as necessary – and sometimes as problematic – as either of these life-sustaining activities.

the last honeymood weinerFor, while it is true that it doesn’t usually lead to asthma, acid reflux or obesity, writing has the capacity to cause extreme pain when blocked, distress when rejected and, when finally put out for the public gaze, an uncomfortable sense of exposure … or worse.

Who’d want to do it, you ask. And when it’s not going well I often ask this of myself. Then I remember or experience again one of those precious, fleeting moments when the words perfectly match an idea I want to express or a story I’m compelled to shape … That’s it. The rush, the high that keeps me hooked and will do for as long as I breathe or eat. There’s nothing like it, no endorphin or pharmaceutical or gourmet experience to touch it.

Yup – it’s an addiction I’ve labelled ‘scribomania’. I write because I must.

arnost shelley weinerAnd, like all addicts, I keep going back for more because I’ve never yet (and probably never will) done it well enough to satisfy myself – and when I’m not doing it I worry about it, until the compulsion to return to it is too great to resist. This time, I tell myself, I’ll produce a substantial literary work or a story that touches a universal chord or, at its most basic and popular, a piece of sheer entertainment …

Not only do I tell this to myself, I also repeat it with passion and conviction to all the many new writers I tutor and mentor in classes and on courses at home and abroad. ‘If you want to write, if you feel you have something to say, I’ll help you,’ I declare. ‘Bring me your new-born idea and your raw curiosity, and I’ll give you the tools to transform it into fiction; I’ll share with you all the tips and techniques I’ve gained along my own tenuous path.’ Does this make me a literary pusher? Am I fostering new lifetimes of addiction or (looking at it more positively) enabling artistic expression, the possibility of someone creating a great novel?

the audacious mendacity of lily greenImpossible to know. Writing defines and inhabits me, and I’m not quite sure why I believe so strongly that, in spite of the risk of dependency and disappointment and frustration, it is important for new writers – and a generation of new readers – to be given the tools and permission I offer. So I do it and I teach it – and now it sometimes it feels as though my head is crammed with other people’s stories, entangled like narrative spaghetti, and my own hesitant creations are throttled at birth.

Then – hallelujah – out of that morass pops out a shiny new idea: it’s strong, it is tantalising, it’s a survivor.

And the compulsion kicks in again. I eat. I breathe. And I write.

Shelley Weiner

Shelley WeinerShelley Weiner is an acclaimed novelist, short-story writer and journalist who has, over the years, established a reputation as an inspirational creative writing tutor and nurturer of new talent. Shelley’s novels include the critically-acclaimed A Sisters’ Tale, The Last Honeymoon, The Joker and Arnost. Her latest novel is The Audacious Mendacity of Lily Green.

Shelley is also the author of two guides, Writing Your First Novel and Writing Short Storiesand is a tutor on our daytime Writing a Novel course.

Join Shelley for her summer course, The Five Day Short Story, which is now open for bookings.

QuickFic 10/04/15: The Winner

Now. What a way to spend a sunny Spring afternoon.

As you’ll recall, we asked you for 250 word stories on this cheerful line:

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Huge props, by the way, to everyone who snuck Waste Land references into their pieces. We were mighty glad we have an office poet to point them all out to us, and we think you’re all very clever.

Anyway, love them all as we did, we still had to choose a winner (or three).

So here those winners are. WARNING: The first one’s a bit of a naughty one.

RUNNER-UP: Litty Williams 

The Hyacinth Girl

‘Achoo. Achoo.’ Lexie cast an agonised look sideways at Tris as sneezes wracked her naked body and tears leaked from her itchy eyes.

But at least her boobs held nice and firm when she sneezed. Worth every penny, they were. And once she’d got the money for the shoot she’d be able to start paying her step-dad back the loan.

‘Christ, Lexie, you’ve got snot everywhere. Do you know what I mean?’ Kyle, Lexie’s co-star, threw a bedraggled bunch of purple hyacinths down onto the overgrown lawn and wiped a hand gingerly down his waxed and oiled abdomen.

‘Take five everyone and get it sorted,’ Tris said. ‘And where’s that runner with the bloody antihistamine?’

The camera-man moved into the shade by the garden shed to check something on his hand-held camera, and Kyle went grumbling into the house with the make-up girl.

Lexie sat back on her heels, the long grass tickling her buttocks. ‘But if he’s whipping at my boobs with the flowers, Tris, it don’t matter if I’m crying.’

‘It does if you look like a rabbit in a testing lab, darling,’ Tris said, punching numbers into his mobile. He put it to his ear. ‘Where’s Gemma? I’ll need her here pronto. Okay?’

It felt like a boot in the heart. Lexie blinked back real tears as her mother’s voice crawled yet again into her mind: Lexie, with you it always ends in disaster.

But her step-dad understood her dreams. She could always count on him.

RUNNER-UP: Helen Thomas

April is the cruellest month

There is a variety of petunia, a type of pale yellow trumpet flower growing in abundance on either side of the muddy pathway that leads down to the magnolia tree, showing itself off in magnificent pink and rubber-white against the watercolour blue sky. Turning the corner there is a trace scent of hamamelis shaking in the breeze. The woodpecker beckons, then is further and further away when the ridiculous parakeets flash green by, wailing all the way. Pretending to be the redwood, reaching up as high as possible, my second-skin jumper is removed and nerve endings tingle.

Again, again, it all begins again.

The freckles on the girl who digs the flower banks are joined up already. Lined rough hands nurture all that is tiny, all that will be gigantic. Startled by me at first, soon we float well-meaning, meaningless words at each other before she flops back down to work. I am glad for her cheer and the waving blossom behind her but then I see the bench where you sat with your enormous legs crossed, staring in wonder at the glory of all of this, laughing your boom laugh at the whole damn prospect. Squinting your eyes, soaking it all up. 

The path seems muddier on the way back. Shaking my head, I am again astonished that you are not here. Not giving names to the many things I do not know, not leading my eyes to the many things I do not see.

WINNER: Petrina Hartland

April is the cruellest month

And when the dead come back, I hate this place more.

“But we will see Mama again? And Annie?” Davey asks of me, but what he asks ain’t what he means and so I can’t bring myself to tell him, yes.

Yes, we will see Mama with her hair all brushed back, the way I did for her, the way she liked it, ’cause a lady oughta be known by the way she keeps herself up, no matter what the good Lord sends by way of trial and tribulation.

Annie too, although her golden curls went before her, sacrificed to the fire and despair of the fever.

Davey’s too little to remember Michael in his blue sweater, that Mama knitted on the boat, ’cause didn’t they tell us winter would be cold here; cold enough to freeze the breath right out of your mouth, your words falling away like snowflakes to the bitter, iron dirt.

The first winter, with Michael, Mama said it was ungodly. Said the thought of him, out there in the woodshed was more than a person could expect to stand.

“Should I leave him out for the wolves, instead?” Pa’s snowflakes, etched from broken glass.

This last winter, with Annie, Mama made no complaint.

When Pa stands in the door of the cabin, all the snowflakes are gone from him and I see the treacherous earth that coats the edge of his shovel and I know that the thaw has come. 

Congratulations Litty, Helen and Petrina! Special congratulations to Petrina, who was a runner-up back in February and a winner back in January and who we think is pretty damn talented, you know.

And the biggest thanks, as ever, to everyone who entered. You’re the loveliest company to keep of a Friday.

See you same time next week!