QuickFic 31/07/15: The Winner

Wow. We have to be honest here, guys, and say that we thought this week’s prompt was actually pretty tough. A bit of a headscratcher. We thought we might see fewer entries, that maybe your muses might not be , you know, feeling it.

But you lot sent in SO many brilliant stories. We were bowled over by them. We’ve laughed, cried, and argued about who the winner should be.

But before we tell you who came out on top in the end, let’s have a quick look at that prompt again:

qf32_799

That was, of course, the first line of Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome.

And these are, wonderfully, our winners.

RUNNER-UP: Jenny Redmond

2-4-1

We’d bought drinks, so many it was practically fizzing out of my ears.

That vile green shot was so sweet it made my teeth feel furry for days afterwards.
I missed one of my exams two days later thanks to Boots and their ridiculous opening hours.

But at least I can retake that. You didn’t try and speak to me. That was fine. 

Games of pool had led to spillages and sword fights, giggles and shots.  Thoughts of upcoming exams, life after uni, family and every-single-other-thing were drowned in a toxic mix of Apple Sours and watered down lager that had gone flat. Tim had stood on the pool table bellowing along to Cast No Shadow whilst Sarah, getting her round in, had stared at him from the bar, peering through her fingers with complete embarrassment and helpless with laughter.

        We went back to her house afterwards, and picked up cheap wine and ice cream from Spar on the way. She’d made me take my shoes off when we got inside. Something about creaky floorboards and annoyed housemates. We sat on the sofa and she fed me ice cream.

We kissed. Her legs were over my lap.

I didn’t hear her say no.

RUNNER-UP: Chrissie Cuthbertson

Missing

Jules misses many things. She misses browsing for men’s clothes. Cooking Tim’s favourite childhood dishes and making coffee for two. She misses Friday nights after Alfie’s bedtime when they shared a bottle, or even two, of wine and told each other about their day. She remembers Tim gently arranging the covers around her after they had made love. Cherishing her. When Tim collects Alfie, Jules takes care to dress in clothes that Tim might associate with happier times. She fills the house with the smell of home cooking. Jules hopes Alfie retains the scent of home – the right brand of soap and a tendril of her own perfume.

Tim misses things too. He misses wearing the clothes of the man Jules wanted him to be. Eating the same stodgy meals and the need to always make coffee for two. He remembers Friday nights when only alcohol saw him through another boring weekend, and her monotonous voice as she described the hellish tedium of her life. He remembers pulling the quilt over her after sex, ashamed, like a cat covering its foul-smelling faeces. When Tim prepares to collect Alfie, he makes sure he wears something new.

They meet on the doorstep. Here is Tim, slimmer and fitter than before, dressed in something that Jules doesn’t recognise, unwilling to step inside, his stomach gripped by the sickening smell of a baking cake.

And Jules, in a dress she thought Tim had always particularly liked, using the child to lure Tim inside.

 

WINNER: Joshua Davis

Edith

Several people, witnesses, agree Edith was smiling when she left the hotel. She was wearing the navy dress I gave her for her last birthday, Sam trainers and a t-shirt he’d bought in San Sebastián that afternoon. That’s how Sam remembered it. So did the bartender of Bar Gallina, where they ate padrón peppers and steak, though Edith is a vegetarian. He inspected her photograph over his glasses. You’ll find her, he said.

The owner of Bar Ostra remembered them arguing. Edith didn’t like the crowds or the pintxos. She got oil on her pink dress. Navy, I corrected him. She had a cigarette outside while Sam ordered a mackerel dish that came presented in a smoky dome and tasted like ash. The owner made me one. Edith doesn’t smoke, I told him.

The casino girls remembered Sam, who came alone and hit on the croupier. The dress code says no trainers, I said, but he wore them. They glanced at each other. He can’t have, the youngest said.

After that, nobody saw Edith with any certainty. Girls at a bar might have seen her on the beach, too many drunken nights ago to be sure. She’d get sandy trousers, one had thought. Another said, She had a black eye. She didn’t, the others were sure.

After she argued with Sam and left him at the casino, Edith met a stranger. He knew nothing about her, except perhaps how to kill her. But everyone agrees, they didn’t see it happen.

 

Congratulations Jenny, Chrissie and Joshua! And thanks so much to everyone who entered — we salute you.

Happy weekends, happy writing all.

QuickFic 31/07/15

Well hello there.

Firstly, thanks for bearing with us last week with all the Thursday-is-Friday-my-socks-are-on-my-head topsy-turviness. And sorry if you missed out on your weekly QuickFic fix. We’re back on track now: it’s Friday, and we’re QuickFic-ing just as we always do.

In case this is the first time you’ll be doing too, a quick reminder of the rules:

At 9.50 on a Friday (now! Friday!), we give you a prompt. You go away and write a story, of 250 words or less, inspired by that prompt — and then give it a title and pop it in an email to academy@faber.co.uk. Do all that by 2.50pm, also today, otherwise it won’t count.

At 3.30, we’ll announce the winner, and the winner will win some wonderful books (including a 2015 Man Booker longlistee no less):

qf32_books

L-R: The Illuminations, After I’m Gone, Under The Radar, Amnesia, Interstellar

That all sound good?

Great.

Here it is then, this week’s prompt.

qf32_799

Hmm. That kind of reminds us of something you know. Anyway — 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, basically.

QuickFic 23/07/2015: The Winner

That’s it! All done!

Congratulations to everyone who got their head round its being a Thursday, and sent us their QuickFic entries.

This was the prompt:

qf31_799

What are they? Shoes, yes. But what are they *really*?

We had lots of great submissions, and at least one perfect use of the word ‘aglet’.

Indeed, the entries were SO good, we’ve got two runners up. But there was one clear winner.

And here they are:

RUNNER-UP: Laura Pearson

Left

When she came to collect her stuff, she left her favourite trainers behind. Battered but still potentially useful, they were me in shoe form.

Was it a message? Was she asking me to come after her, to kiss her feet and slip them on? Were there Cinderella connotations?

I slept with them next to me in bed for a week. The cat was furious. He’d never liked her. Every morning, I threw back the covers to gaze at them. I imagined her in them, which was weird, because she’d never come to bed in shoes. I was in a bad way. I can see that now.

I called her.

‘What?’

‘Oh…you left something here.’

‘What?’

‘Your red Converse.’

‘Oh, bin them.’

She hung up. I lay on the bed, phone in my hand, and didn’t move for over an hour. Eventually, the cat started nudging my feet, checking whether I was dead.

I put them outside, by the wall. I angled them a little, trying to make them say ‘take me’. I thought if they disappeared, it would help. In my corner of London, people will take anything. Old rolls of carpet, wooden chairs with missing legs, cracked toilet seats.

But day after day, I passed them on the way to work and on the way home. I’m pretty sure the cat pissed in them more than once. It didn’t stop me bringing them back inside a few weeks later.

We co-exist: me, the cat, the trainers. We get by.

RUNNER-UP: Paul Jenkins

Red Cons

Any amateur psychologist would trace the start of this collection to the death of your mother. Soon after the funeral, you came across a real find. A giant Perspex letter H, fallen from the side of a local factory. Impact font. You dragged it down the alleyway, crossed into the lane that your house backed onto. It was an effort, heaving the little rugby posts through the back gate.

In the winter you trained yourself to see these things before others. Lone gloves, lost scarves, a bus pass, a Madness cassette. Nothing as large as that H, but everything else just as precious.

Sometimes the finds felt wrong, but only for a second. An engagement ring in a swimming pool locker, a walking stick against a graveyard gate. The shed became a museum. You bought a padlock with a fiver you saw fall from a paper boy’s pocket on Christmas Eve.

You hadn’t told anyone about your collection. It was sacred to you, a secret from the world. When the first item appeared outside your back gate, you thought it a coincidence. A bucket and spade, the castle turrets still flecked with old sand.

Soon, other items appeared – a skipping rope, two bibles.

Then the knife.

Now you don’t want to go out. But the urge is so strong. What will be outside today?

You pull on your tattered red Converse, the hole in the right foot getting bigger. You pull at the gate and it already feels too late.

WINNER: Tim Roberts

Preloved

“This is the last time, I promise.” I tell the store owner.

The old man groans and glances at the clock on the wall with his one good eye. “5 minutes, kid, then I’m closing.” He says. He runs through the options again, ticking each one off on his yellow, twig like fingers:

“Black is x-ray vision.”

“Green protects you from fire.”

“Red makes you irresistible.”

“Blue lets you walk on water.”

I tell him it has to be the red ones and, before I can change my mind, he snatches the £2.50 from from my open palm and throws my purchase into a creased paper bag.

“Make sure you don’t do anything stupid with them.” He says, as he ushers me out of the shop. I begin to tell him that I am going to use them to win over the girl of my dreams, but he doesn’t hear me over the clatter of his window shutters being pulled down. Then he is gone.

Monday morning, I walk into school ready for business. As I step through the corridors it feels like every pupil has assembled to point and laugh at my dirty, hole-ridden bright red boots. Everybody except Shelley, that is. She leans against a poster advertising the school disco, twirling her ginger curls, as she watches me pass. For the first time ever she has noticed my existence, and she offers me that cheeky smile; the one she reserves for all the cool kids.

***

Congratulations all three – but particularly to always-the-bridesmaid Tim Roberts on a crushing victory!

And to everyone who entered, thank you, and a very happy Friday. Tomorrow.

Click here to find all the winners of previous QuickFics, and all our other writing competitions.

QuickFic 23/07/15

Good morning, QuickFic-ers. This is a bit different, isn’t it? QuickFic on a Thursday? Heady times!

All the rest of it is exactly the same though. Just in case this is your first time joining us, though, here’s what ‘all the rest of it’ actually is:

At 9.50 on a Friday TODAY (now), we’ll give you a prompt. You, inspired by that prompt, write us a story of 250 words or less, give it a title, and email it to academy@faber.co.uk. You do all that by 2.50pm (also today) and you just might win a very nice stack of books.

In fact, this very nice stack of books:

IMG_0363

Sound okay?

Great. Here it is then, this week’s prompt:

qf31_799

They look like they’ve got a story to tell, don’t you think?

We’ll be back at 3.30 to announce the winner — happy writing!

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, basically.

Advice From A Publisher: A Q&A with Mary-Anne Harrington

Tinder Press publisher and editor Mary-Anne Harrington called into our online classroom to answer questions from our Writing a Novel: The First 15,000 students on when to work with an editor, where to find an agent, and how to avoid the common mistakes many new writers make.

Mary-Anne-HarringtonQuestion: Can you tell us about Tinder Press, Mary-Anne?

Mary-Anne Harrington: Tinder Press is Headline’s literary imprint. We launched in 2013 and publish 8-10 new titles a year, mostly fiction, and it’s a mixture of brand authors, and authors we’re working to establish. They’re books we’d enter for prizes, and target at high street and independent bookshops.

Q: Tell us about the journey to being published: should you get an agent first, or go direct to a publisher?

MH: This is an interesting one. I have to say the usual route is to get an agent first – all the debut authors I’ve published recently came via that route. It’s not the only way – more houses are doing open submissions, some of the indie houses want authors to go direct to them, and there is always the self-publishing option. But the agent route is the most established, and has quite clear benefits.

Q: How should a writer search for an agent?

MH: Think about writers you love and try their agents with a carefully worded letter about why you loved their client’s work, and why you think they might be interested in yours. Then look to see who some of the younger agents are, on Twitter, etc. These agents tend to be very active and are perhaps more likely to be taking on clients than the agents who have their names on the door at the agency, who will have very big and time-consuming clients, and might be more tied up with managing/running the business than a new agent might be.

Q: At what stage should a writer work with an editor?

MH: I know some authors do work with editors before they approach an agent, or even via an agent before their book goes out on submission. That’s really a case-by-case thing. You want your book to be in the best possible shape when an editor first reads it. But editors also quite like editing, so they don’t necessarily want to feel that an author has come to the end of the road with a book when it lands on their desk – they’ll usually want to work with the author to refine and improve it. At least I know I do.

Q: What makes a novel proposal stand out to you and avoid the slush pile?

MH: As an editor, I am almost always submitted complete scripts rather than proposals, but it is helpful if somewhere in the letter there is a two or three line summary of the book that I know will grab readers’ (and indeed booksellers’, and in the first instance, my colleagues’) attention. These two or three lines don’t need to encapsulate the entire reading experience, they’re just a steer, but in an industry like this we have to depend to a certain extent on shorthand, so a pithy and preferably original pitch stands out a mile.

A really strong title also helps. Borough Press are publishing a debut by Faber Academy Writing a Novel alumna, Joanna Cannon, called The Trouble With Goats and Sheep, and I can’t think of a single commissioning editor who wouldn’t have been stopped in their tracks by that title.

Q: When pitching your book, is there a requirement to reference it to previously published material?

MH: I don’t see the requirement to reference the book to previously published material. Yes, that’s shorthand we use as an industry, but actually I find when I’m pitching books to colleagues and booksellers they want to hear what this author/book is offering as a reading experience that they won’t have encountered elsewhere. So it’s the differences that are important, more than the similarities. I hate the ‘Curious Incident meets Love in the Time of Cholera’ style of pitching. It makes no sense!

Q: How do you feel when you read a new writer?

MH: I think there is something so fresh about reading new writers – it’s very special, and discovering a writer who is genuinely special and at an early stage in their career is an incredibly privileged experience. I wonder how Jeanette Winterson’s agent and editor felt when they first read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which has the kind of exuberance I think you only ever get in first fiction.

Q: What are the common mistakes you see from new writers?

MH: The main mistake I think is not being brutal enough about whether a book ‘delivers’ in the sense of having a narrative or offering a reading experience or a hook that can be summarised or hinted at or alluded to in some enticing way. To ignore that is to ignore so much about the way this industry works.

Other than that, I think it’s important that the opening pages are gripping and propel the reader in some way. Too many authors – even experienced authors – can squander their reader’s attention in the early stages of a book, with set up that doesn’t necessarily have to come right at the very beginning. Take us into the story at an engaging and readily intelligible point, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the beginning chronologically speaking. I’ve seen so many novels turned around by breaking up this linear sense of ‘X happens then Y’, it’s definitely something to consider if you’re finding your book feels slow to get going.

Q: Are there any particular themes or genres that there’s a glut of at the moment and you don’t want to see again – and conversely are there any genres and topics that are particularly popular and you’d like to see submissions on?

MH: There is an awful lot of psychological and domestic suspense around – there’s still room for it, but the bar is now very high in terms of quality/originality. Readers love that genre, and I don’t see it going away soon, but you’re going to need to really put your stamp on it quite boldly to make an impact in that area. That said, look at the success of The Girl on the Train, which has such a simple hook.

In terms of genres I’d like to see, for me it’s less a question of genre. I think so much of life and current affairs is bleak I love to read books that dare to be funny about serious or quite dark things. But that’s quite personal!

Q: Are there any stylistic writing features that you feel have been overdone?

MH: I do now find endless description makes me feel impatient rather quickly, no matter how beautifully it’s done. It’s certainly still out there; I have just become more demanding over time. I do hear editors moan about endless first person child narrators, but if these are done well, I still have a soft spot for them.

Q: Are there any recent books that you would have liked to publish yourself?

MH: I would have loved to have published Sathnam Sanghera’s memoir, Boy With A Topknot. It’s a painfully funny book about an incredibly dysfunctional but loving Sikh family in Wolverhampton in the 80s/90s. Also Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill, which I think is a work of genius.

Q: Tinder Press partnered with The Reading Agency in March 2015 to accept open submissions for un-agented manuscripts. Was this a success and do you think it’s something Tinder will do again?

MH: In all honesty, we’re still reading. I think we anticipated we’d get about 500 entries and we got over 2,000, so we’ve done an initial sift and have given ourselves the rest of the summer to look at everything else in more detail.

I’m very happy that we’ve tried it, and still hopeful that we’ll find a novel or stories we can publish. If that doesn’t end up being the case, I’m hoping there will be one or two authors we could mentor or start to build a relationship with, and that a ‘gem’ might surface a couple of years down the line.

Will we do it again next year? No, I think it’s a resource issue. But if not we will ensure we’re finding other ways of championing new writers and trying to source new writers more proactively than sitting back and waiting to see what agents send our way. I think agents do a really important job, but publishers need to be seen to be more proactive than that.

Q: To qualify those 2000 submissions, how many new titles do you publish a year?

MH: We publish 8-10 new books a year. We’re small by design; each Tinder book has it’s own slot in a particular month so it can be the focus of our marketing and PR activity. We find it really helps, particularly in terms of making a mark with debuts.

Q: Did you get a different type of book to the sort that agents send you, or broadly similar in terms of style, genre, etc?

MH: It was more scattershot than we’d expected. We hadn’t been that explicit in terms of genre, we simply asked for writing that would likely sit well on our list. It was pretty clear to me that not everyone had put much research into that. We got a fair amount of romance/fantasy/thriller, and that’s not what Tinder Press is really about.

But I also think it’s understandable – there are a lot of people writing, and it’s a good opportunity. If we’d seen one that was brilliant, we’d have pinged it to one of our colleagues on the main list, so I could see why the authors thought it was worth a try.

Q: Was there a particular thread that ran throughout the open submission entries that is not commonly found in agented manuscripts?

MH: I wouldn’t say there was a thread. I was amazed by how diverse the submissions were. I also felt that there were a good number of authors who could clearly write well and thoughtfully, but who hadn’t given a great deal of thought to genre and where their book might sit. For instance, there were a number of submissions that were somewhere between literary fiction and YA, which can work, but can also be a headache as booksellers don’t know where to put the books.

But the whole experience reminded me how gloriously unpredictable writers and people are, and I loved that sense of not knowing what to expect when I opened a file, and I imagine that’s what’s going to keep us going over the summer.

Q: How would you define literary fiction?

MH: We could debate this for hours, but for me it’s writing where the author’s style or voice is at least as significant as, or perhaps more significant than, the genre in which the book is written.

I’m very clear that genre fiction is in many cases every bit as finely crafted as literary fiction, and to write a completely page-turning genre manuscript demands huge energy and skill. But in literary fiction I think readers are looking to encounter something unique – the author’s voice, their words on the page, have a level of prominence they don’t necessarily in genre fiction. All of that said, I have to confess that even in literary fiction, I like to see a plot, or at least a very strong narrative arc.

It’s very interesting to look at the way quite literary lists are now publishing some out and out commercial fiction, and how a number of commercial houses – including Headline – are breaking into literary fiction. There’s a lot of redrawing boundaries just now! Sometimes I think it’s more a question of which publishing style fits a book best, whether it would get reviews, and where it would sit in a shop.

I think there’s a lot to be said for mixing things up a bit – if a book stands out on your list, everyone you talk to will remember it.

 

Mary-Anne Harrington heads up literary imprint Tinder PressThe next iteration of our online course Writing a Novel: The First 15,000 starts on September 23.

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

QuickFic 17/07/15: The Winner

Now then.

As you might remember, this week we asked for 250 word QuickFic stories inspired by this topical image:

qf30_799

Image Credit: NASA/APL/SwRI

We always knew stories inspired by such a, well, inspiring image would be pretty epic. But we had no idea, guys. You took us to whole new worlds and it was pretty wonderful.

Let’s have a look at this week’s winning stories:

RUNNER-UP: Nafisa Muhtadi

The Art of Self-Belief

‘Believe in yourself.’

I hear my mum’s voice inside my head, like she is talking to me.  She sits on the second row and her lips aren’t moving.  She says that to me all the time.  Believe in yourself.  She said it when I was too scared to go down the slide and held up the line and everyone started walking around me like I was a statue.  She said it to me when I fell off my bike and my cut knee had a redness that was bright as jam.  She said it to me when she was sewing my costume.

You’re not a real planet, they’d said.

‘Don’t believe them,’ Mum said.

She showed me the photo in the newspaper.  Round as a coin and the colour of Gran’s tights.  It even carries a heart like a present, like it was waiting for us, like I waited for Dad to come to my birthday party.  He missed it.

I walk across the stage, arms stretched wide to hold up the round edges of my costume.  Flash! I twirl.  Flash! I smile.  Flash! I dance.  Mum will get told off by Mrs. Thorne.  She has that angry look on her face when she wants to shush someone for talking in class.  But Mum doesn’t care.

I stick the photo next to Pluto in my scrapbook.  Mum says she can see both of us carrying our hearts and that is what believing in yourself is all about.

 

RUNNER-UP: Charlotte Geater

The Coldest Planet

It’s cold enough outside that the ice cream doesn’t melt. My fingers are slow, as dull as my head. He has to repeat himself twice before I understand. The van doesn’t have any proper heating, although I’ve got a portable radiator plugged in near my feet. I do my best to scrape a proper scoop — you know, a planet, a perfect snowball — of the raspberry-vanilla swirl and my muscles strain across my back and down to my elbow.

He gives me a fistful of pennies and I count them out, one by one. I hand him the cone, and he holds it up to the sky, which is already starting to get dark. No stars yet, though. He winces after the first bite, and presses his fingers to his teeth, as if they can help. ‘I told you it was cold,’ I say.

‘I’m already cold,’ he says. There’s ice cream trailing from his nose to his chin like snot. Or blood.

‘Not as cold,’ I say. I look up at the sky. It was clear today, but clouds have started to rush in with the night. The heater is making the same noise my cat makes before she coughs up a hairball. I look down at the boy again, blue-nosed, hungry enough to keep going.

‘You have somewhere to be?’ I ask. He nods, but doesn’t move.

I want to put the jingle on, but I don’t, and I don’t leave until he’s gone.

 

WINNER: Thom Willis

On To New Horizons

He could see her across time, from years away. In the crowd, there she was, his focus. All he could see was her face, wan in the distant sunlight. As he came closer he could see her skin was cream-pale, with a heart-shaped birthmark (or was it a scar, a scald from an accident in her youth?).

For nine years he had no other thoughts. Everything, she was everything. He was cold; she warmed him. He was alone; she kept him company. He was lost; she was his destination.

He chattered excitedly on his radio home, but no-one ever answered. He didn’t know if they were listening and he didn’t care. They’d sent him out so fast he could still smell the burst ozone; the thunderclap of his exit still rang in the delicate filigree he used to listen to the silent, empty universe.

He was close now, so close he could touch her. Forgotten parts of him burst ecstatically to life, eyes he never knew he had opened wide to take in her unseen beauty. He shot pulses of information behind him, sending image after image of HER; the furthest planet out, the final post at the end of the Solar System. Nine years, and

now

silence.

He could not even turn to see her recede as he passed on, into the stars. He fell into her shadow and closed his eyes.

 

Congratulations, Nafisa, Charlotte and Thom! And thanks to everyone who entered. You are all bright, shining stars in our Friday galaxy.

Join us again next week for a brand-new prompt — happy weekends, all.

QuickFic 17/07/15

Ahoy there. It feels like a QuickFic sort of time of day, doesn’t it?

If this is your first time joining us, here’s how it works:

Every Friday, at exactly this time (ten to 10 in the morning), we give you a prompt. You have five hours to write us a story, of 250 words or less, inspired by that prompt — which means you need to give it a title and pop it in an email, to academy@faber.co.uk, by 2.50 this afternoon.

At 3.30, we’ll announce the winner, and the winner wins a stack of Faber books.

Oooh.

This week’s prompt is, shall we say… out of this world? We shall. But before we show it to you, let’s have a look at those books we mentioned:

qf30_books

L-R: Bark, The Last Word, Y, I Think I Can See Where You’re Going Wrong, Kolymsky Heights

Like the look of those? Feeling motivated?

Great! Here’s this week’s prompt then:

qf30_799

Image Credit: NASA/APL/SwRI

Topical, see?

Meet you back here at 3.30 — good luck!

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, basically.

Why I Write: Sara Marshall-Ball

Put simply, I write because I can’t imagine not writing. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t write — even when I was too young for actual written words I spent all my time in my own head, making up stories about why my index finger hated my little finger, or which universe the secret door under the desk led to. The stories in my head always felt incredibly real to me, so it probably wasn’t a huge surprise that I started writing them down as soon as I was able.

Hush_final_front-665x1024As a child I wrote almost as voraciously as I read. My evenings and weekends were often dominated by writing (and also ballet, but that passion faded somewhat as I got older); I well remember my mother’s frustration when she found me again and again, hiding under the covers in the middle of the night, writing by torchlight. I don’t think I ever managed to clearly explain that I was not simply being disobedient, but that the compulsion to write was so overpowering — and the fear of losing the words if I did not write them down immediately so pronounced — that I felt like I had no choice in the matter.

That compulsion has never really gone away. There has never been a time in my life when I didn’t write on a regular basis (though I have had the odd six-month sabbatical). The way in which I write has changed a bit over time – what used to be just a straightforward need to write down a character or a situation has developed into a desire to construct interesting narratives, or to craft beautiful or unusual sentences – but the basic desire to discover other perspectives, to explore different viewpoints, to give voice to people who might not otherwise speak is still the driving force.

It’s often said that writing is a form of escapism, and in some ways I don’t doubt that’s true — except that the only thing I’ve ever tried to escape is boredom. I write to escape to places, rather than escape from them; to experience feelings and situations that I might not otherwise encounter, or explore ideas which might not directly affect my daily life. Writing is the way I process what’s going on around me. Sometimes it’s exhilarating, sometimes it’s irritating, but either way it’s necessary: I write because I am not capable of not writing.

Sara Marshall-BallAuthor_Sara_Marshall_Ball_1-768x1024

Sara Marshall-Ball spent her formative years in Cambridge. She studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Derby before moving to Brighton in 2007. She worked as a proofreader of gravestones to support herself through her MA in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Sussex, during which she wrote much of her debut novel Hush, which is out now from Myriad. Say hi to her on Twitter.

 

QuickFic 10/07/15: The Winner

Well. That was a lot of ridiculous fun.

As you may remember, we asked for 250 word stories about this good egg:

qf29_799

As the deadline ap-poached (sorry), you all soldiered on in the face of our terrible puns and produced some pretty wonderful tales. There was comedy and pathos; science fiction and silliness. We loved it.

Let’s see who’s getting custard-y (so sorry) of our stack of books:

RUNNER-UP: Nicky Tate

The Other Egg

I am the other.  One of many others your body rejected and although it is gauche to point it out, Mother I must.

My nose would have been as large as hers but more in proportion to my face, permitting bold haircuts.  I would have been resolute as lightning, and not instantly suicidal after a first kiss with a married man in Nando’s in Stevenage.  Had you not been distracted and sulking that month, we could all be together now.  Academically it is certain I would have excelled in a field more easily explained to your friends.

I would have been a better match.

A better daughter than she.

I would have found it easy to learn to walk, read and drive. To keep weight off. To feel no compulsion to hoard codeine. My tantrums would be reserved solely for later life, fighting for injustice, not going on and on and on and on about broken hearts.  My heart would be impossible to crack – as hard as my shell; you see I had to use my own head to beat through? My feet to kick? Her shell was thin, any sperm could have penetrated. Even now I see her skin inhales and exhales the world, sending her into mithering sways.

I would have stood obelisk firm.

He would not have left.

 

WINNER: Simon Worswick

Hello My Darlings

‘Happy days are on their way
This is what you’ve got to say
It’s a happy day today – sing
Hello my darliiings’

The tannoy buzzed and frothed, spat out its Charlie Drake.  Children ran darting, laughing, through the tree-trunk-crowd of keen impatient fathers.  The weather gave the best of British, and the pleasing scent of tobacco drifted on the breeze.

Moving along the line of poolside beauties, the judge stopped at the next contestant.  Straining up on tip-toe he fastened a pin to her bikini top.  Then leaning in further, delivered a kiss, let it linger far too long.  She blushed at his touch but her smile never wavered.  The crowd gave their approval, whooped and whistled.  Stood there sweating in shirts and suits, a wall of moustaches and eye-glasses.

‘Wear a grin upon your sleeve
Smile with your eyes
You will find to your surprise
Happiness will multiply.’

Then came the final contestant and the tannoy squeaked to silence.  The wind whipped the bunting, ripples serrated the water.

Something was wrong.  She could sense the gathered expressions hardening.  Nevertheless, she maintained her pose, kept smiling, but still her eyes darted wildly.

The judge looked from contestant to aide, back and forth, as the perspiration ran.

‘No swim suit…?’ suggested the aide.

‘DISQUALIFIED ON A TECHNICALITY!’ announced the judge as the tannoy played out again.

‘Let it rain or let it shine
Everything will turn out fine
The whole darn world is yours and mine – sing
Hello my…’

 

Congratulations, Nicky and Simon! And thanks to everyone who entered.

We’ll be back with a new prompt next week — happy weekends all.

QuickFic 10/07/15

Good morning, flash fiction fans. We reckon it’s high time for another round of QuickFic, and we’re pretty excited about this one. Eggcited, you might say.

Now, a quick reminder of how this here thing works:

At 9.50 each Friday, we give you a prompt. You go away and write a story, of 250 words or less, inspired by that prompt. Give it a title and pop it into an email; an email which you should then direct to academy@faber.co.uk. You need to do that by 2.50pm and not a minute later.

At 3.30 we’ll announce a winner, and that winner will win some books. These ones, in fact:

qf29_books

L-R: The Accident, The Meeting Point, Mad Men & Bad Men, Authenticity, The Rest Just Follows (watering can not included)

Tempting, huh?

So. Want to see this week’s prompt? It’s ever so happy-making.

Here it is:

qf29_799

That got your muse musing?

Cracking. 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.