Why I Write: Irenosen Okojie

There’s ink swimming around in my blood undetected. I’m sure of it. When my head is on fire, I search for my notepad and pen. If my flat were engulfed in flames, they’re the first items I’d grab, followed by my passport, then my purse. Writing is a form of escape; something magical occurs when all the elements of character, plot and pace come together. The reason I write shifts depending on where I am or what I’m going through. Sometimes, I write because there’s so much wonder and bleakness around and writing is a great space to unpick that. I write if I’m joyous, sad, frustrated, angry; I write because I have a lot to say yet, occasionally, I’m forced to walk around silently. I reach for it as a life raft, a weapon, a comfort. There is power in the pen. I write to make sense of the world I inhabit, peeling back layers of this weird, malleable beast called life. I love finding the strangeness in the everyday, playing with language until it seems like a form of contortionism and I can mould my characters’ lives into unexpected shapes that feel knowable, vivid, sly. That’s part of the fun. The aspect of surprise, not quite knowing how things will form but being certain that if I keep writing they will, they’ll assemble in their rightful place.

Writing is a constant in my life. When I moved to England as a child, I poured my heart out in diaries, detailing accounts of my new surroundings, trying to write the cold out of my bones. On renting my first flat, I struggled with insomnia some nights so I sat up scribbling, my only company a candle flame in a purple Chinese lantern, flickering in the dark. A couple of years later, while my mother was receiving treatment at the hospital after losing sight in her right eye, I wrote a poem in the waiting room I’ve never actually read to her. Through writing, I’ve had some wonderful people come into my life, leaving their mark when we had to go our separate ways. Writing also brings anxiety, insecurity, rejection and loss. It forces you to steel yourself, to learn how to cope.

Butterfly-fishI find myself writing internally when I’m interacting with people. On a trip to Portugal my money got stolen. All I could think about while the police officer interviewed me was how I’d describe the dent in his head. One morning in the hotel, when the cleaner wandered into my room too early, I felt like I knew her face, maybe from a past life. I grappled with the feeling of familiarity from a complete stranger. And days later, when I caught trains to Tavira, the way the landscape changed, got redder, dustier, wider. Feeling that some seed had been planted during that journey which would bloom between my organs, growing from the little successes and disappointments yet to come, dragging an old suitcase to meet a boyfriend who said he had a surfboard made of wood and white water waiting for me.

Writing is like being an actor in a way. I get to create and explore different characters. I wander the city drawing scenes; give them breath and blood. When there’s static coming my way, my hand hovers over the mouths of my characters.

God is probably a woman I think. Her choice of drug is writing. She probably has to support her habit juggling unfulfilling jobs she has to tolerate whilst doling out the odd extraordinary occurrence now and again. Like me, when she’s feeling good about it, she loves to entertain and challenge an audience. This is why I write; I am a reader too and because every now and again, I experience the joy of producing small miracles on the page.

Irenosen Okojie

SONY DSC

Irenosen Okojie was born in Nigeria and moved to England aged eight. A freelance Arts Project Manager, she has previously worked at Apples & Snakes as the National Development Coordinator and for The Caine Prize as a Publicity Officer for their 10th Anniversary Tour. Her short stories have been published in the US, Africa and the UK. Her first novel, Butterfly Fish, is published by Jacaranda Books.

For more information, visit www.irenosenokojie.com, or say hi to her on Twitter.

 

QuickFic 26/06/15: The Winner

Phew. Punnet of strawberries and a glass of squash, anyone? (Ian informs us that the normal post-match tennis player snack would be a banana. But it might sound a bit weird if we just offered you one of those, right at the opening of this paragraph, without any context).

Anyway: what a lovely round of QuickFic that was. And the sun was out as we watched you volley your micro-masterpieces into our net. Glorious!

As you’ll remember, we asked for 250 word stories on this little lady:

qf27_799

And you served up some aces, dear people.

Here are our three favourites:

RUNNER-UP: Matt Castle

Wimbledon

‘What’s going on, Mummy?’ asked Ophelia. While the giggling had stopped, puzzlement had yet to transform into panic.

No. 1 Court was split down the middle. For now, only the net divided adults from children. Small furry things unfurled barbed wire along the doubles sidelines, while police helicopters spluttered ineffectually overhead. In the near distance, a megaphone honked and reverberated incoherently.

Despite the rapid implementation of the evacuation plan, several families and more than a few players and officials had been ‘collected’. Since the collapse of the climate change talks last year, the increasingly assertive actions of Wimbledon Common’s radical faction had been building to this day. Amongst the stubby, snouted, masked and Uzi-wielding instigators of this action, several human environmental activists freely conferred. Five minutes earlier, shots had rang out from Centre Court, and the kidnappers seemed nervous.

Their leader – it was surely he – clambered to the top of the umpire’s chair to address the internees and his squad alike.

Isabel shushed Ophelia from across the net.

‘Dear friends, and unfortunate tennis fans,’ he began. ‘Sadly, a series of gentle novels, a television series and a largely forgotten film have proven inadequate to give our cause the prominence it deserves. I fear we will have to work on the younger generation a little more directly.’

A chilling smile played on Bungo’s furry lips.

 

RUNNER-UP: Jo Bradshaw

Second Serve, Mister

Don’t give me those eyes dripping with the same stuff that’s stretching the corners of your mouth like that, you’re faking it, mister, and you know it. I hear how you speak to my mum when you think I’m in bed. You wish I lived under a glass dome so you could take me out on Tuesdays all dressed in baby duck, feeding me pink frosting to glue my mouth shut because when I see the bad things I say them, and it scares you.

I’m not picking up your tennis ball to be cute, I’m picking it up because I need to run, I need to smash my feet into the court. Perhaps if I close my eyes and hit the ground hard I’ll bounce high enough to see the shiny spot on your head you pretend isn’t there. You have a fuzz around you, not whiskers but fear, and that’s why your eyes look like swimming pools.

When you were my age did your dad find the golden glowing beam that connected your feet to your heart and snap it clean in two? Did your mum feed you caterpillars instead of shreddies? I know what it was now, I can see it. Your teacher said you were stupid because your letters danced drunken spiders and that’s when your heart burnt like toast and you smothered it in bitter breakfast marmalade because you didn’t know what else to do.

Well, your serve. Second serve, mister.

 

WINNER: Will Moorfoot

Visitant

They would not speak in her own tongue; perhaps they had forgotten. Instead they would show her black structures and imprints of the world that were supposed to taste and smell of things. They never did. The passing coolness on the air was not wind, nor was the wet scent of a flower head a word-string to wear triumphantly about your lips.

It understood what she felt, yet could not think: the long, hidden form of the creature. It knelt in the grasses where the brightness of the playground faded into dusk and woodland, running the purslanes back through its hands. When it saw her, it smiled and its eyes shone with an invitation.

She smiled back, then giggled. They thought she must like the playground. They’d bring her back here tomorrow.

 

Congratulations Matt, Jo and Will!

And well played, everyone. See you next week: same time, same place, new prompt.

QuickFic 26/06/15

Hello there, dear QuickFic-ers.

We did miss you ever so last week. But did you have fun making up a tale for Ricardo the blue-footed booby?

Well, seeing as it’s been so long since we last played, shall we remind ourselves how this here QuickFic thing works? Go on then:

We’re about to show you a prompt. You have until 2.50pm this very afternoon to write a story, of 250 words or less, inspired by that prompt, and to send it to us at academy@faber.co.uk. We’ll choose a winner, and at 3.30pm, we’ll publish that winner’s story right here. Oh, and they win books!

These ones!

qf27_books

B-T: Y, The H-Bomb Girl, The Girl In The Red Coat, Telegram From Guernica, When The Lights Went Out 

You ready for that prompt now?

Ready ready?

Good! Here it is:

qf27_799

Aww. What’s on her mind?

You tell us – and 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.

Ricardo: A Story In Time

Ricardo the blue-footed booby

Meet Ricardo

So today instead of #QuickFic, we are doing something much sillier – we are writing a story together!

This chap is Ricardo. He’s a blue-footed booby on a mission, to publish his life’s work, 10 Rules Of Time Travel. Only two things stand in his way – the evil Gideon Eastcastle, Ricardo’s ex-life-partner & a big-time cormorant in the publishing industry; and the fact that Gideon has no thumbs, and no ready access to dictation software.

How will it play out? You decide! Join us on Twitter and use the hashtag #Ricardo to have your say!

Ricardo: A Story In Time

‘I will have had my revenge, Gideon!’ cried Ricardo. His cry filled the shed. It rebounded off the oaken minarets he’d bought in Isfahan in 1599, and off the synthetic feather from his great-great-grandson’s wing. It pinged off his new Dualit toaster, slid behind his iPod dock, and landed in the lap of Alan Sullivan, who barked paranoidly.

George the Guillemot put out a friendly wing.

‘Hey,’ she said. ‘Come on. So what if Gideon Eastcastle does publish 9 Rules Of Time Travel just to corner the market in bird-written time travel guides and crush your dreams..? I’m sure you’ll outsell him!’

‘No,’ said Alan. “I had this before. I did a YouTube about living with flippers and someone ripped me off and my ad revenue totally bombed. I never recovered. It was really, really, really bad.’

‘Not helping,’ said George.

‘It was terrible,’ said Alan. ‘Really bad.’

‘Look at me,’ said Ricardo. ‘I’m just a sad sack booby in a shed full of junk.’

‘Junk? Who’s junk? I’m not junk. Are you junk? You’re junk! Shut up!’ said Alan Sullivan.

With a sigh, Ricardo pum-pum-dum-bi-dun-dummed out of Skype and closed his laptop. ‘Who’s going to take time travel tips from a bird who can’t even fly?’

‘There are,’ said George dramatically, ‘other ways of flying than through the air. You may not be able to fly, Rick, but dammit, you can travel! Through time! Think about it!’

‘But I can’t go forward,’ said Ricardo. ‘You know that. The 10th rule states very clearly that no chronoflapter should ever, on any account, go forward in time.’

Right then, there was an almighty crash, and the ornate Venetian door of the shed smacked back against the wall.

And in stepped Ricardo.

From the future.

‘Why go forward,’ he said. ‘When I can come back?’

‘Who are you?’ said George.

‘It is I,’ said now-Ricardo and futuro-Ricardo, practically at the same time.

‘Woooooooooooah,’ said Alan.

‘Pleased to make my acquaintance’, future Ricardo announced, stepping forward and extending a wing in a crude approximation of a handshake. Sort of lodged under the other wing there was a sort of box.

‘Everything you need to know is in this box. Everything you do from now on, tracked and charted.’

‘I KNEW IT!’

‘Quiet, Alan.’

To be continued…

 

QuickFic 12/06/15: The Winner

Hi there. That went rather quickly, didn’t it?

This week, we asked for stories about these two ladies:

qf26_799

What are they up to, eh?

Well, you had plenty of answers to that question, and they have entertained and intrigued us all day. So thanks!

We did of course have to choose a winner, so that our lovely stack of books has a place to live. So here are this week’s winning and running-up (shh, that’s a thing) stories.

RUNNER-UP: Thom Willis

Pre Cards

‘Keep writing,’ the tone wavered between hope and command. ‘No. No that. It wasn’t that.’ She flipped past another postcard, reached for a cigarette and took a shaking drag.

It had been two weeks; both of them holed up in a hotel room writing postcard after postcard. The room service bill alone would wipe them out if they had any intention of paying it.

‘I don’t remember what it said!’ She tapped the light card with the tip of the pen. ‘Whose handwriting was it in?’

‘I’m sure it was yours.’ Another nervous pull on the cigarette.

Her hand was cramping as she began again. Salutation. Brief message. Sign off. Address, well, that was easy because they found it here a fortnight ago, dated tomorrow. A warning. ‘But you can’t tell me what the warning was?’ She grabbed the wine glass at the foot of the bed, scowled at its stubborn emptiness, refilled, drank. Perhaps she needed to be drunk, perhaps the words would come in those stretching gaps between thought.

‘I think I might just tell us not to waste our lives here,’ she declared. She looked at the card and started doodling and scribbling. ‘I want to go now.’ She stood up, threw the last card on the pile and left. The back was covered in pictures. Two people, hearts, the sun, all slashed through with thick strokes of the pen. A grey smear of dropped ash.

WINNER: Bethan James

The Getaway

Lying low was the only way for it now, after what we’d done.

Sylvia thought it was all a bit of fun, of course. She always did. Lounging around on the motel bed like it was some holiday we were on. More of a getaway.

I noticed she still had a fleck of blood on her cheek. It wasn’t her own.

While Sylvia was flicking through the newspaper and sipping whisky from that damn hip flask of hers, I was busy adding up what cash we had left and trying to figure where the hell to go next. I never was no good at map reading.

I cowered at the sound of every footstep and whisper coming from the corridor. She must’ve seen the frown lines gathering on my forehead.

‘Will you quit worrying Emily!’ She chucked a pillow at me.

‘Could they find us out here?’

‘We’re miles away now, and no one knows where we are anyhow.’

‘Shh. Can you hear that? Ain’t it him whistlin’ that tune out in the parking lot?’

She rolled her eyes. I got up to look through the curtains, but she grabbed my arm and thrust the whisky into my hand.

‘Drink.’

I enjoyed how the amber liquid burnt my throat.

Never did figure out if I was the one takin’ care of her, or if she was takin’ care of me.

Then there was pounding on the door.

The last thing I heard was that tune he always whistled.

 

Congratulations, Thom and Bethan! And thanks to everyone who entered. The most wonderful of weekend wishes to you.

 

QuickFic 12/06/15

Why, good morning to you!

It’s time to play QuickFic. It is! We are so very happy about that.

Before we give you this week’s prompt, let’s have a little refresher: those pesky rules. They’re ever so simple, though:

At 9.50am each Friday, we provide a prompt. An image or some words. Sometimes both. You have a look at that prompt, then promptly pull a story, of 250 words or less, from your magical inspiration hat. You send that story – after bestowing it with an appropriate title – to us at academy@faber.co.uk by 2.50pm this very day, and not a second later.

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

So let’s get right down to it and look at this prompt, shall we?

Here it is:

qf26_799

Ooh. Vintage.

And those books we mentioned? Well, this week they are these:

qf26_books

L-R (sort of): The Killing of Bobbi Lomax, Danny Boyle: Creating Wonder, The Temporary Gentleman, Forty Acres, Stage Blood

Ready… Set… 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.

QuickFic 05/06/15: The Winner

Well now. That was extremely wonderful.

As you’ll recall, we asked for teeny-tiny 250 word stories inspired by this image:

qf25_799

We had lots of brilliant entries. We always do, of course, but this week was particularly lovely. Even the seemingly grumpy entry about “Sea. Sand. All that… horizony stuff” turned out to be a charming little vignette about love.

But a winner we require, for there are books to be re-homed.

So here those QuickFic winners are:

RUNNER-UP: Tim Roberts

String Theory

Last week she noticed a loose thread hanging in the air. It brushed her arm as she entered the end cubicle in the cinema toilets. Pinching it between her fingernails, she teased it lightly and it began lengthen. She kept pulling at it until it came to an end and dropped to the floor where it lay like a technicolored piece of wool. Hmmmm, she thought as she picked it up and flushed it down the bowl.

Over the next few days spacetime began to unravel. Objects began to fall upwards; things that were broken became whole again. Language disappeared as sound waves mutated between speaker and listener. She watched reality crumble around her, unable to tell anyone what she had done even if she had wanted to.

One bright morning, which broke somewhere around the time that the middle of the night should have been, she took a trip to the beach. Yesterday this place had been a boarded up high street; today it was all soft sands, endless skies and glittering seas. She skipped along watching the beach morph to a deep blue and the sky turn yellow. As she did, she held her umbrella high above her head — you could never be sure when it might rain these days.

 

WINNER: Jemima Warren

The Umbrella

He said that I’d need the umbrella for the rain. Instead, in that tucked in part of the coast where we spent the week, I carried it as a parasol. I wished I had a white cotton dress, and a dangling string of pearls. I wished I had a small leather-bound book too. I wanted to sit on the beach, sun-browned, content and idle, turning its gilt-edged pages.

The sun shone all day, as high and proud as his sureness about the weather had been, and as each day passed I found it harder to believe in the cold. Just as I shook out sand from the umbrella’s folds, I was expanding. I had been a closed in, spokey sort of a thing. In the sunshine I could be another thing altogether. I knew that if I said this out loud he would tell me – again – that metaphors suited people who couldn’t name the truth, who were too meek to say it aloud.

I laid the umbrella against my knees on the train home. It had probably come to me second-hand, like all knowledge tends to do. But now it stood for the things – all the other things – he’d told me that were wrong.

***

Congratulations, Tim and Jemima! And thanks to all who took part.

See you next week!

QuickFic 05/06/15

Hello there!

We missed you last week. We missed our Friday fix of flash fiction.

So let’s get ruddy well going on this week’s, shall we?

Now, a quick refresher of the rules, seeing as it’s been so long:

At 9.50 on a Friday (right about now), we give you a prompt. You mull that prompt over, then write a story of 250 words or less inspired by it. Give that story a title, then wang it in an email to us at academy@faber.co.uk, by 2.50pm this very day. No later, mind.

At 3.30, we’ll announce the winner, who wins a stack of wonderful books.

Ready?

Set?

This week’s prompt is THIS:

qf25_799

 

Hmm. Wonder where she’s off to… Do tell us!

And just for that little extra motivation, these are those books that that winner will win:

qf25_books

L-R: I Think I Can See Where You’re Going Wrong, Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse, Y, The Girl In The Red Coat, Schroder

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.

Why I Write: Frances Mensah Williams

Why do I write?

Because if I don’t put all the drama onto the paper, I’ll be forced to live it instead and, really, who deserves to live with someone at that level of intensity?

Why must I write?

Because if I don’t get the story down on my screen and out of my head, it will keep badgering me day and night. Errant bits of dialogue will continually crowd my brain and distract me from anything else I have the audacity to try to do.

Why should I write?

Because it’s the only natural and normal thing for me to do. It’s the literary equivalent of playing with dolls; you get to create characters and then tell them what you want them to do. Like playing make-believe, writing gives you the illusion of being in control. When you plan the storyline and decide on the chapters, you can allow yourself to believe that you are the creator and the one in charge. Well – that is until you start to fill in the blanks and tell the story, and then very quickly realise that you control nothing!

Your characters, once formed, need nothing more from you than for you to record their thoughts, actions and emotions. They frown when you don’t get the words right and when you read back over what you’ve written and realise you didn’t say it quite the way they meant, you hastily rewrite to get back into their good graces. Now, if you think that what I just wrote sounds crazy, then you will begin to understand why I write. Because when you’ve created a whole new personality and given it a voice, you are accountable for getting that voice right. We all know how annoying it is to be misquoted!

When I desperately want to share a story with the world, I go over and over the words on the page, convinced that there’s a better way to say what I’ve just said. And with every rewrite comes the battle to stop myself tossing what I’ve written in the bin, convinced that it should never be allowed to see the light of day and confirm what I suspect; that I simply can’t write. But still I write, because the next day, just as I wake up ready to declare that I cannot, the words graciously start to flow. And another crisis is averted – for now.

Why I write?

51xmsbsR0lL__SY344_BO1,204,203,200_To tell stories, especially the stories that validate my own existence and the experiences of bi-cultural people like me, challenged to navigate the sometimes contradictory traditions that surround us. To make people think differently about what they thought they knew. To create a world that I want to inhabit, and where the good far outweighs the bad. To invite others to see into this world and, for a short while at least, to share it with me. To make people laugh – and yes, maybe, cry a little. To demystify the unknown, the ‘other’. I write because sometimes I worry that there are not enough writers telling the stories of people like me. I write to show that fundamentally, despite the diversity of our appearance, just below the shade of skin that we each carry on the outside, we are all the same; we all love, we all cry, we all want to seen, and heard, and accepted.

I write because….well, because it’s when I feel at my most free. I write because it’s when I can just be me.

Frances Mensah Williams

Frances was born in Ghana and, in 2011, voted one of the Top 20 Inspirational Females from the African Diaspora in Europe. She is the author of several non-fiction titles, and now her debut novel, From Pasta To Pigfoot: ‘a powerful story of identity and self-love and empowerment’. Find out more.