Why I Write: Cal Moriarty

CalMoriarty_BobbiLomaxStory-telling  is a compulsion akin to addiction. But it’s one of those rare addictions that actually does you good. Conversely, it also does others all different kinds of good, which is why they still read books. Whether readers enjoy being creeped out by Stephen King, thrilled by Le Carre or turned on by E L James, they’ll keep buying books in which they can delve into and experience the lives of others. As a story-teller this is what turns me on. I love the fact that readers will hopefully escape the stresses of their lives and give themselves over to the stories I tell, the characters I create; that they will invest their time and emotional space in my ‘quirky’ creations. It thrills me that they will have a reaction to those characters, for good or ill. What other reason would a writer write for?

All that navel-gazing, ‘I write for myself’ stuff is the opposite of what I do. I write for the reader and strive on each page to give them something interesting, intriguing or something that invigorates the senses or the mind – and if I have fun in the process, then all the better! The initial reward for me, knee-deep in research documents and post-it notes scrawled with plot, is as Katherine Mansfield so exquisitely put it, to ‘try all sorts of lives – one is so very small, but that is the satisfaction of writing, one can impersonate so many people.’ It’s so true – for whatever time, no matter how fleeting, I have lived the lives I write. I’m fully invested in the characters. Both they and their lives are completely real to me. I’m just parachuting into them and jetting out again, hopefully without characters or readers spotting my presence.  In doing so, and without leaving my desk, I have been a key part of the Bloomsbury set, a harassed desert-based cop, a documents forger, a sexy Jewish housewife, and am currently in the process of becoming a charismatic, charming politician who also happens to have a tidy side-line in serial killing.

I’m not trying to escape my own life by writing all these characters, but because writing them is a huge amount of addictive fun. It’s completely thrilling to make up stories and characters and enliven them with dialogue and purpose, knowing that hopefully I put some magic down on the page that a reader might react to in whatever way it gets them. But the biggest thrill of all is when readers say they enjoyed it. Because although novel writing can sometimes feel like a legalised form of slow, painful torture, I wonder: is there actually a better addiction on the planet?

Cal Moriarty

Cal Moriarty is the creator and author of the Wonderland series. The Killing of Bobbi Lomax, the first novel in the series, was published by Faber earlier this month.

Cal is also a graduate of our Writing A Novel course, and Edit Your Novel, which will return later this year.

QuickFic 22/05/15: The Winner

Phew. That was a sun-soaked few hours in the parking lots of your imaginations, team. We sure had fun.

As you’ll recall, we asked for 250 word stories inspired by this excellent first line:

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That first line, by the way, comes from Cal Moriarty’s ruddy excellent debut novel, The Killing of Bobbi Lomax, published this month by Faber. Cal is a graduate of both our Writing A Novel and Edit Your Novel courses, so it truly gives us a lovely warm feeling to see her book being published over in the other half of Faber Towers.

Anyway, you guys did what you always do: you delivered all kinds of brilliant, funny, gritty, silly stuff, and made it as hard as ever to select a winner.

But we’re not ones to shirk our duty, and so select a winner we have.

Here we go:

RUNNER-UP: Carina Buckley

Bringing Home The Bacon

Without his badge and gun, by rights Marty shoulda left by the front door, but taking the back stairs was just another bird to flip at the captain. Screw the captain.

Goddam heat. The sidewalk shimmered and shifted under his feet. He squinted across the street at the kosher deli that had sent him on gardening leave. Goddam deli.

Six months ago he’d bust them; illegal imports of Italian salami. Nice racket – who woulda suspected that? Not him, there for his usual pastrami. But people being people, sooner or later they make mistakes. Like he did. Goddam idiot.

The deal had been pretty sweet. They bought his silence with mortadella and pancetta, beautiful prosciutto. He woulda never said he had a price, that he was a down the line cop. But then he had never tasted illegally imported cured meats. Everyone has a price; turned out that was his.

Goddam sandwich. He shoulda kept his mouth shut about how good that place was. Then he shoulda shut up and eaten. Just eaten, instead of gazing at that goddam piece of pork like it was holy. But no. The captain had to come in then, had to take an interest. Be a team player.

And like that he’s gone. The deli too, by the looks; closed sign flat against the dusty glass.

The car exhaled heat when he opened it but the package on the front seat was still cool. Salami; he could smell the chilli. He’d be okay.

 

WINNER: Chris Longridge

Reasons

Pig of a day, thought Marty Sinclair as he made his way down the back stairs of the precinct and out into the blazing heat of the lot. The air, thick with gasoline shimmer and the broiled-meat smell of summer, backhanded him; parched weeds brushed against his cuffs. Thinking of the leatherette oven of his car, he decided to walk, and made for the shadows on the eastern side of the street.

Two little girls on the sidewalk shrieked with pretended affront as their brother, or neighbour, or little friend, dropped water balloons from a third floor window. Sinclair felt their uncomplicated delight waft along the street like a cool breeze.

The apartment was four blocks away. His sidearm chafed against his ribs and sweat pricked the corners of his eyes.

He had learned in his first days on the job that unimaginable sorrows lurked behind the plainest of doors, and the years after had only brought novelty to the form those sorrows took. The things people did to people: not for money, nor out of madness, though those were the words most often spoken in the courts. They did them for the simple reason that they could, and that they had found no reason not to.

He stopped and looked up through his fingers. A plane sailed unhurriedly across the sun, its vapour trail a thread cast from the horizon across the unblemished blue void.

Pushed on by the breeze behind, Sinclair kept walking.

 

Congratulations Carina and Chris! And thanks to everyone who entered. You are all super-talented and make our Fridays as unpiggish as we could ever hope for.

We’re taking a little break from QuickFic next week – because people in the office will insist on going off on holiday – but we’ll be back in June. Same time, same place. NEW PROMPT.

QuickFic 22/05/15

Oh howdy.

It’s that time of the week again; the prompt klaxons are a-sounding, the inspiration bugles a-bugling.

If this is your first time playing QuickFic with us, let us lay it down for you:

At 9.50am each Friday, we give you a brand-new prompt. You write us a story of 250 words or less inspired by that prompt, give it a title, and then zip it off to us at academy@faber.co.uk by – now this bit’s important – 2.50pm today. Not a single second later.

At 3.30pm, we announce a winner, and the winner wins books. These ones, actually:

qf24_books

Bottom to top: The Baklava Club, Adventures With The Wife In Space, Dark Tides, The Girl In The Red Coat, Report From The Interior

SO. Let’s get started, shall we?

Here’s this week’s prompt – we’re ever so happy with this one (we’ll tell you why a little bit later):

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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 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.

The Weekend Read: How To Find A Literary Agent

Literary agent Charlie Campbell popped into our online classroom to answer questions from our Writing a Novel: The First 15,000 students about when and how to approach an agent. The conversation was so useful, we thought we’d share it here with you.

Charlie-Campbell-450x677Q: What are the top three things you look for in a manuscript, Charlie?

Charlie Campbell: What I’m looking for is quality of writing first and foremost. Then if it’s good enough, I will wonder about the market for it. A really well written history of snails might be hard to sell to a publisher – but you never know. And lastly, it’s very important that the writer and the agent get on well because it is usually a pretty close relationship. But the writing is what really matters.

Q: Could you elaborate on what you mean by well written? Are you talking about voice, structure, plot, strength of characters or all of these?

CC: We all know good writing when it’s there in front of us. Structure and plot are all things that can be worked on.

Q: Is it true that a novel needs to be finished, polished and oven-ready before we approach an agent?

CC: Other agents feel differently, but I don’t think a novel has to be finished before you approach an agent. But what you do send has to be as good as it can be. So polished yes.

Q: Are the cut-throat stories accurate – that one spelling or grammar error in the first line or para of your novel submission and you’re out?

CC: That’s a good question. I do think that a typo on the first page does leave a bad impression. You’d be unfortunate if the agent stopped reading there and then. But we are usually looking for a reason to say no. And a few sentences early on that don’t really make sense might be a reason to move onto the next manuscript. With non-fiction I might give the author more leeway. If someone has a unique experience, you might find an editor to help them tell it.

Q: So if the theme grabs you but the writing needs some editing and you like the story as it unfolds would you read beyond page 3?

CC: With a novel, I would look past what I thought were flaws, if I really liked the rest of it. Agents don’t expect manuscripts to be perfect and will be looking for potential. But publishers will tend to favour the projects that are already nearly there.

Q: Lots of Faber Academy writers are based outside the UK, so would you say they would be best represented by agencies in the UK?

CC: I don’t think you need to be represented by someone in the same country. I represent an author who lives in Berlin, another who lives in Cyprus, and one who is in Africa much of the time.

But if a writer is based in the US, I would wonder why they would be submitting to me – unless the book was very UK focused. I would assume that they’d struggled to get representation there and were now trying UK agents. Perhaps that’s uncharitable.

Q: Is it best to try and meet an agent face to face?

CC: Meetings are much more constructive once someone is already interested in your work. If I’m submitting to a publisher, for example, I don’t expect to organise a meeting between an editor and the author, unless the editor has already expressed strong interest in the manuscript.

Q: Charlie, you said you represent fiction and non-fiction writers. Is it better as an unpublished author to pitch a novel and mention, say, a children’s book and short stories too? Or should we stick to one form at first?

CC: I think that it is best to pitch one thing at a time. Otherwise you might lose focus.

Q:  Charlie, what are you looking for in a covering letter?

CC: I think covering letters should be short and to the point. Add anything that you think might be interesting to an agent or publisher: why you decided to write the book, if there was a particularly interesting story behind it. The marketing departments of publishers will like that. Marketing is more and more important in publishing – working out how to get the book to a reader/market. So if you can think of angles that would appeal, then great. But that is our job – to help you with that aspect. One last thing: I would never criticise another writer in a covering letter. A surprising amount of people do.

Q: Should the writer compare their work to an established writer – saying ‘it’s a bit like’?

CC: Yes, I think that’s helpful. Think of Amazon recommendations: people who bought this might like this. That sort of thing. It’s not totally scientific yet. But it does help readers.

Q: What do you think about authors submitting to several agents at once?

CC: It’s fine. Perfectly normal. But if an agent does like your book it’s best not to keep them waiting too much, if you can help it. But equally it’s a big decision to make.

Q: If an agency asks to see the first three chapters of a novel on their web submission outline, is it being too cheeky to send through the entire manuscript?

CC: You can send through the whole manuscript but I think it’s best to stick to the first three chapters, if that is what was requested. Also, these chapters should always be the first three. Not 7, 23, and then 48, even if they are the best ones. Because no one reads like that. Except BS Johnson fans.

We have a form that writers have to fill in to submit to us, so that does ensure a better quality of submission, in my view. We don’t get the cut and paste ones, where writers try 100s of agents in one go. It’s much better to really focus on a few very targeted submissions – to agents who represent books you have liked, that sort of thing. The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook is a good place to start looking for suitable agents for your novel.

Q: When you say you should target not spam agents, what would be targeting and what spamming? If I were to send 10 submissions to different agents is that spamming?

CC: Ten is fine, as long as they’re not all at the same agency. It’s worth taking your time. Try sending out one round and see if you get any helpful feedback. Sadly agents don’t always have time to offer constructive feedback. We usually spend that amount of thought on the books we are hoping to handle. But if more than one agent says something about your book, then it’s worth listening to. Maybe.

Q: What would be the ways of telling that I have approached a bad agent? Are there signs like them asking for a fee?

CC: No agent should charge a fee for reading your book. As for bad agents – there are busy agents, who might seem too occupied with their existing clients, but the right one should make time for your book. You have to be patient sometimes.

Q: Given that you are building a relationship with an agent and they are taking time to respond, does one send them a reminder and if so after what period of time?

CC: I would avoid chasing an agent too quickly. We’ve all had calls on the day of submission, which never make you want to work with that person. Obviously it would be nice if we all acknowledged receipt, but few agents have time. I think it’s nice to chase people with (good) news if you possibly can.

Q: What is a good timeframe in which to chase? Six weeks? Three months?

CC: I think it’s ok to chase after 4–6 weeks. But silence usually means someone hasn’t read something – rather than that they hated it and didn’t tell you.

Q: What are your pet hates in submissions?

CC: Pet hates: people who describe their novels as fictional. It’s sweet when writers talk about their mothers having liked their book. (I’m not totally sure mine liked the one I wrote….) But it isn’t that helpful for an agent.

Q: Q: Do you have a particular genre or area of interest you’re looking for?

CC: I’d like more thriller writers. Good lively literary fiction is something I enjoy. Accessible general non-fiction, too. But most agents will look at most things. We don’t tend to specialise as much as editors do.

Q: Finally, can you tell us a bit about the market? How is literary fiction doing compared to other genres and what’s hot right now?

CC: I would say that literary fiction is doing pretty well, with the successes of Nathan Filer, The Miniaturist, and so on. Trends are hard to spot. Obviously. There’s a lot of luck involved. No one saw 50 Shades of Grey coming. If a trend has passed but I liked the writing, I would try to think of another way of pitching the book. To be honest, trend following isn’t really what I do. And I think there are lots of people like me in the industry.

 

Charlie Campbell has been a literary agent for over a decade, and now heads up literary agency Kingsford Campbell

Writing A Novel: The First 15,000, our online novel-writing course, starts again in June. If that’s too soon, you can also sign up now for September.

This article was originally posted on the website of the Professional Writing Academy, our online course partners. 

QuickFic 15/05/15: The Winner

Well. That was jolly little holiday, we must say. A holiday into all of your wonderful imaginations.

See, we asked for 250 word stories inspired by this prompt:

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And you delivered some stunners. Wistful, sinister, dystopic and erotic. It was all there. There was a poem or two too.

Anyway, from all of that we had to select our winner. We took the plunge, and here’s the result:

RUNNER-UP: Thom Willis

Divinity

They were just diving. Jumping from the edge of the boat, they giggled and gurgled, collapsed, foaming, into the cooling sea. One of them essayed a clumsy somersault, another simply fell as if pushed. His arms pinwheeled for balance then he dropped like a cartoon character with whom gravity had caught up.

She stood by the rail, gripped the foam rubber edging with her toes and braced. She was not merely diving. She had plans. She was reaching out to something larger, out to the edge of sight. Beyond the horizon, out to where the Sun was dousing its evening heat in a haze of orange. She grabbed at the last of the light, arms outstretched, caught between worship and desire.

Her hands almost closed. She felt the soft static heat press them apart, saw caught between them the globe of the Sun. She bathed in its warmth, glowing through her. It radiated from her palms, where sat invisible the centre of the Solar System. For a precious second, maybe two, she hung in the air and everything swung about her.

Later that evening she sat, dazed, on the beach. The light of a bonfire prickled at her features. A man sat beside her, noted her darkened skin and glazed eyes. “Caught the sun?” he asked.

She smiled.

 

WINNER: LIZ HEDGECOCK

Boys and Girls of Summer

Dust has gathered in the corners of the frame and the glass feels tacky. It doesn’t really matter. I see it all in my mind’s eye. 

Lottie wanted a photo of the three of us diving in together. We wouldn’t play ball, though. We messed around. One of us would go on the 2, or Derek would fall sideways into the sea. This was the best shot. Jack flinging himself into the water, me in my new turquoise bikini, sucking my tummy in as I jumped (oh, if I’d known the horrors of flesh to come), Derek tensing to dive. 

We’d scrimped from our grants for a week of sun and cheap exotic food. Lottie photographed the fishermen preparing nets and old women knitting on their doorsteps. The boys horsed around. I was supposed to be with Derek, Lottie with Jack, but it felt impermanent. We could do whatever we wanted. Look at us, swimming in the warm sea, miles from grey skies and saving stamps and being careful. 

Four months later (when my tummy could be sucked in no longer) Derek agreed to marry me. I wasn’t ready, and we remained slightly out of step with each other. We still saw Jack and Lottie, together and separate, and when I no longer saw Lottie I saw her photos in the magazines.

When the help comes she sometimes picks up the photo and asks again, ‘Was that really you?’

And I always answer, ’It still is.’

 

Congratulations, Thom and Liz!

We’re off to steal a yacht.

See you all same time next week!

QuickFic 15/05/15

Hi there, flash fiction fans!

It’s time for QuickFic, our most favourite of all the Friday fun times. Now, if you haven’t played before, let us explain how it works:

At 9.50 on a Friday morning (now!), we give you a brand new prompt. It could be a photo (today it’s a photo), it could be a quote. You have a look about it, muse with your Muse, and then write a story, of 250 words or less – but certainly not more – and send it to us. We’re at academy@faber.co.uk, and you should give your story a title and copy it into the body of the email. Do that before 2.50 this afternoon, because that’s when the deadline is.

At 3.30pm, we’ll announce a winner, and the winner will win books. Yay! Here they are, those books:

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L-R, or bottom to top: The Killing of Bobbi Lomax, Under the Radar, When the Lamps Went Out, Ace, King, Knave, One Three One

Oooh.

So, the most important bit: this week’s prompt. Here it is—

qf23_799

 

That’s us, the Academy team, just hanging out, getting our manuscripts done.

Not really. It’s whoever you want it to be! Go create! We’ll 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 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: Writing Backwards

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We’re going to do something a little different today.

We’re going to give you the end of a story, and we want you to work out how to get there.  You can do that any way you like; the characters are yours to play with – as long as, somehow, they wind up right here:

‘No,’ Jenny said, her hand reaching out to grip Arthur’s. ‘No, this isn’t right.’

Arthur found he couldn’t reply. After everything they’d worked for, everything they’d done to arrive at this moment — and here it was, ruined.

‘I’m sorry,’ he managed to say eventually. ‘I tried.’

She turned to look at him, her face pale. ‘Please tell me this isn’t happening.’

‘I can try again!’ he said, but her fingers were already slipping out of his. ‘Jenny, I’ll talk to them! I’ll get it right this time!’

His voice echoed feebly back at him as he watched Jenny walk away, her footsteps thunderous in the empty hall.

She didn’t look back. Not once.

Oh dear, Arthur! What has he done?

That’s up to you, team. Do get in touch and 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.

 

QuickFic 08/05/15: The Winner

Well. That brightened up our day. Thanks, guys.

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

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Which is, as lots of you knew, a quote from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.

You sent in some brilliant things, about all kinds of people and places, and we loved them all.

But there were a couple which we loved just that little bit extra.

RUNNER-UP: J. P. Horsam

OF NECESSARY THINGS

Well, I still have my panache! I was able to read Rostand’s thing you know, didn’t get to see it played though. You could say I was otherwise engaged… in Reading. Didn’t read too bad, bit weak in the last scenes I felt.

Panache, what is that really? It’s the feather in your cap . . . the great flag of attitude. It was all I needed once. I thought it my only necessity, I’d been able to dispense with almost everything else. I was profligate in love, so needlessly in love! Many times you know, many times. The love that was given to me . . . I discarded that as freely as one loses a glove. There would always be more to come my way, if I kept that frantic feather aloft.

That mad bravado got me where I am. Didn’t work in court though. It was just bluster then. I had everything before that and none of it seemed the least bit essential. Then I was shown what was truly necessary . . . bread and water, a small patch of sky.

What’s left now then? I’ve got that same old ragged feather, but little else Monsieur, little else. I’m a shabby old peacock now sir, but still straining for the bon mot. Probably the last, yes, most definitely the last. Not necessary, you understand, but I feel the obligation.

Have I mentioned the wallpaper? I really can’t see the need for such vulgarity at my time in life.

 

WINNER: Steven Quincey-Jones

EMERGENCY RATIONS

I’d like to say a few words.

Jonesy will be missed. I’ll never forget what he taught me the first day I arrived. We were in a dugout near Mametz Wood. There was a break in the shelling. He swung his drawstring haversack off his back and emptied its contents out onto the patch of dirt between us.

‘What do you see?’ he said,

‘A few things,’ I said. ‘Bayonet. Waterbottle. Groundsheet. Pack of fags. Hip flask. Wash kit. About eighty rounds of ammunition. Then there’s the haversack itself.’

‘Right,’ he said. ‘Now, which are the most important?’

‘It’s got to be the bayonet and ammunition, hasn’t it?’ I said.

‘Nope,’ he said. ‘Think more imaginative.’

I pondered for a minute. ‘Waterbottle and groundsheet?’

Jonesy shook his head. ‘I’ll tell you. Fags; soap; hip flask; and this,’ he said, pulling the drawstring out of the neck of the bag.

‘Could have fooled me,’ I said. ‘Fags, soap and scotch are luxuries. ’

Jonesy smiled, entertained by my innocence. ‘All them other things don’t mean nothing when you’re in a tight spot,’ he said. ‘Look here. Fag ash purifies water for drinking. Soap’s good for lubricating a jammed rifle mechanism.’

‘Drawstring?’ I said.

‘Strangulation,’ he said. ‘Quick and quiet.’

I raised my eyebrows. ‘And the hipflask?’

‘Most important of all,’ he said.

‘Don’t tell me,’ I said. ‘Disinfecting wounds. Making a poor man’s grenade.’

‘No,’ he said. ‘Not that.’

I frowned. ‘What then?’ I said.

‘Easy,’ he said. ‘To forget.’

 

Congratulations both! And well done everyone who entered – a great effort. Hiding in our imaginations was fun, wasn’t it?

See you again next week. Onwards.

QuickFic 08/05/15

Hello there. Won’t you come on in?

Now, don’t be sad. It’s QuickFic time. And if you don’t know what that means, well, it’s very simple:

At 9.50 every Friday, 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 afternoon. No later.

At 3.30, we’ll announce the winner, and the winner wins books.

Get on with it! you cry. What is this prompt you’re waffling on about?

It’s this:

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Oooh.

And those books we mentioned before, the ones the winner will win? Why, ’tis these:

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L-R: Ten Storey Love Song, The Killing of Bobbi Lomax*, The Poisonwood Bible, The Consolations of Economics, Contested Will 

*Hot off the press! By super-talented Academy alumna, Cal Moriarty!

Ready…set…go!

 

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 Encyclopedia Entry

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It’s easy to become too close to a story; to its characters. And when you’re too close to it and them, you stop to notice so much when things clang or stutter, or when those characters start acting out.

It’s also very easy to get your timeline mixed up or to forget that your character has a back story, an important one. It’s important because it’s what makes them them. And you want them to be them, right?

The first exercise will help you with all of that.

The second is just really fun.

 

If you’re currently working on a novel

Draft a Wikipedia entry for your main character as if they are a real person, now in old age. Using a neutral third-person voice, write sections detailing their early life, education, career and personal life, as well as the events of the novel.

You’ll never need all the information you come up with, but setting it out in order, with dates, can help you map out your story in your head. Writing about the character in the detached, academic style of Wikipedia will also help you see how they, and their actions, might appear to a third party – and to your reader.

 

If you’re in between WIPs, or you feel like doing something new

wwewiki

Hit the random article option on Wikipedia. You get three spins.

Write a short story of up to 2,000 words using one of its three suggestions.

 

That’s it for this week. We’re off to pen our epic about Cheltenham Wildlife Management Area. Or Grandview, Oklahoma (pop. 394). Happy writing!

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.