QuickFic 28/08/15: The Winner

Well that was fun.

We feel like we’ve been on a lovely coach tour of the ancestral halls of your imaginations. Don’t worry, we didn’t touch anything.

As you’ll recall, this week’s prompt was this first line:

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Borrowed, of course, from the masterful ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Which felt particularly apt, as it’s short story season at the Academy right now — our Five Day Short Story students have been in the building all week, and we’re looking forward to welcoming the next group next month.

Anyway. You managed to do all kinds of things with the opening; some as sinister as the original, some decidedly more sunny.

Here are this week’s winners:

 

RUNNER-UP: Liz Hedgecock

TEN RULES FOR THE FULL ENJOYMENT OF STATELY HOMES

1. Dress appropriately. I favour a full skirt and a modest wedge, while John goes for the ‘enthusiastic rambler’ look. This also has the advantage of including a rucksack.

2. Be kind to the staff. Always have your membership card ready, don’t go behind the ropes, and do look fascinated when they impart information. Unless it’s ‘please don’t touch’.

3. As on an aeroplane, take note of the entrances and exits; particularly locks, bolts, and useful ground-floor windows.

4. Be patient. The woman with the huge ring of keys will leave eventually. It’s not her fault you’re hiding in a wardrobe full of tickly furs. That was your decision.

5. If the outfit won’t come off the mannequin, it wasn’t meant to be. And breathing in all night is not a good idea. Neither is enthusiastic corset-lacing. I swear one of my kidneys has shifted permanently.

6. Check all foodstuffs before tucking in. John once chipped a tooth on a very realistic apple.

7. All kinds of music work in a ballroom. I find the sprung floor lends itself to pogoing.

8. If an assistant or security guard finds you, switch to ghost mode. Glassy eyes, outstretched arms. Not too close to zombie, though. I had to climb out of a window after that one. After I’d put the guard into the recovery position.

9. If the assistant joins in, humour them. To a point.

10. Observe the stately home code; leave everything as you found it. It is history, after all.

 

RUNNER-UP: Tomas René

THE YELLOW WALLPAPER 2.0

It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral halls for the summer. So, rather than keep wishing for something that would never happen, John and I spent the winter programming a highly advanced virtual reality simulation of ancestral halls, to inhabit from June to August.

I was responsible for coding and fixing bugs, and I left John in charge of the aesthetic details, which turned out to be a big fucking mistake. Imagine my dismay when, on the first day of our stay, we entered the completed halls and there was bloody yellow wallpaper everywhere.

‘I HATE yellow wallpaper’, I told John.

‘For God’s sake woman, pipe down’, he replied. ‘This is where we’re staying and you’re going to like it.’

‘You absolute bastard’, I said to him, and was about to punch him when the doorbell rang.

‘Don’t tell me you programmed visitors into the simulation’, I demanded.

‘No – I didn’t’, John said, frowning. ‘That’s odd.’ He opened the door, to reveal a bland-looking man standing on the doorstep.

‘Nice to meet you’, the man said. John, bemused, accepted a handshake. ‘Welcome to my nightmare’, the man continued.

‘What the –‘

Suddenly, the man’s grip on John’s hand tightened intensely. Powerless and in unimaginable pain, John felt several bones crack.

John knew that I had programmed this, as revenge for a wasted life trapped in a miserable relationship. John had taken my hand in marriage – and at last I had taken his hand.

 

WINNER: Anstey Spraggan

SLEEPING UNDER THE STARS

‘Can we live here forever, Daddy?’ Nadya asks me. My fingers are curled round her tiny hand.

I pull the sleeping bag up under her chin. ‘We can stay a while.’

Across the room, I see her mother’s face in shafts of light and candle shadow; she stopped crying months ago but she would now – if she still could – just from relief. It has taken our every last penny to get to this place but we have chosen wisely or – at least – with luck. We would never have found this marooned desert palace without help.

My wife and I sit next to each other, on the floor, and watch the children sleep.

The smashed patterned tiles are covered with tendrils of succulent plants and crumbling statues look coquettishly at the floor where beetles and spiders have claimed dominion. There is no electricity and the taps are dry but there are no men with guns, no roadside bombs.

‘It feels like Heaven,’ she says into the dark and a moth moves his brown wings across the night.

I check the vivid stitches in her leg. It is hard in the half light but my work is as neat as it was in the hospital, in our other life. ‘It’s another life,’ she says sometimes and smiles, ‘better than no life.’

We are safe for now; a doctor, his architect wife, and their two frightened children sleeping in the dust.

It is another 4,000 kilometres to Calais.

 

Congratulations all! And we’ll see you next week: same time, same place, new prompt.

 

QuickFic 28/08/15

Hi there. Fancy a QuickFic?

We’ve got a brand new prompt just waiting for you a bit further down the page. In fact, if you already know how to play, you can go ahead and scroll down now. We’ll see you lot later!

For anyone new, here’s how this thing works:

At 9:50 on a Friday, we give you a prompt. Might be a photo (it isn’t), might be a famous first line or a quote. You have until 2:50 this afternoon to write us a story inspired by that prompt — but a very small story, of only 250 words or less. Give that story a title and pop it over to us at academy@faber.co.uk.

At 3:30, we announce the winner, and the winner wins books.

Look, these are them!

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L-R: Collected Screenplays (Paul Auster), Imagining Reality, You Should Have Known, The Anchoress, Tweeting The Universe

Okay. Let’s have a look at that prompt then:

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Ooooooh. What are you and John going to do there?

We can’t wait to find out. 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 21/08/15: The Winner

What a journey that was. So many women, walking for so many reasons. We were enthralled every step of the way.

And you know what? Given it was quite an ominous prompt, you guys broke with tradition and actually came up with some pretty upbeat tales. Which was lovely on such a sunny afternoon.

We mean, you came up with some dark stuff too. Which was also lovely.

Let’s remind ourselves of the prompt, and then have a read of this week’s winners:

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RUNNER-UP: Clem McCulloch

Words

The clouds bunch up against the horizon’s hills as they’ve been doing more and more lately, fat and ovine, signs that the rains are coming.

‘Ovine’ is one of my favourite words, excavated from the mammoth dictionary Pa left in the unlocked drawer of the bureau he’d never sat at. It’s so round and bouncy and sheepy. It’s a fairly recent acquisition too, which could explain some of my good feelings toward it. I only got through with ‘O’ late last month, so it’s still quite fresh. It’ll lose its lustre by the time I get done with ‘P’, but for the time being I’ll enjoy rolling it around my mouth as I keep plodding and those palatial peaks come to prominence.

‘Pareidolia’ is another new one. I knew there must be a word for what I see in the clouds on these walks. There’s a word for everything. You can’t understand what you don’t have words for. Sometimes I see animal shapes, sometimes I see faces, see my family. Sometimes the clouds don’t form into anything and I’m left alone to kick rocks and think about the weight of my backpack’s straps chafing against my bony shoulders.

Pa always said I’d be different to him. I was tougher, that’s why he could leave me to look after her. That he had to go but I could do it. I have this sort of boiling feeling in my stomach, but ‘boiling’ isn’t right. Maybe I’ll find the word someday soon.

 

RUNNER-UP: Linzi Harvey

Catch

‘You get to choose,’ he said, casually gesturing up and down the track, ‘left or right. Up or down. Cross country if you like. It’s your decision.’

Helena surveyed the landscape, taking a few moments to appraise what was before her. It was always important to think through your options before you ran, and she’d not been here before. The track looked to be well compacted gravel for at least a few miles. Probably private land she thought, maybe linking to a main road some way off. She couldn’t hear any traffic though, but it was very early in the day. Some recently cropped arable land lay one side, some wild-looking grazing to the other. She could see a single black building on a prominence about a mile away, perhaps an old church, she thought. She wouldn’t be going there, regardless. She looked at the man, he seemed harmless enough — he certainly seemed slower than her, but she’d been in this game long enough to know looks could be deceiving. ‘How long do I get?’

He contemplated Helena’s long legs and frowning slightly, looked at his watch, ‘I’ll give you a seven minute head-start.’

‘Seven? I usually get ten.’

‘You’d best run quickly then.’ He said, kneeling to readjust the laces on his running shoes. When he looked up, she’d gone, suddenly sprinting to put as much easy distance between them as possible.

She didn’t get paid if she got caught, after all.

 

WINNER: Henry Peplow

Joshua

After the rain, the desert smelled clean again. The scent of the Creosote bushes rolled down the track and swept over Francine. She let the honey-thick air embrace her.

She supposed people would find the station wagon, beached at the track’s edge, and wonder. No keys – she had flung them far into the scrub in case she’d changed her mind – an open door, plenty of fuel, a sat-nav set to nowhere. An empty baby seat.

The number plate would take them to an empty house on the sad side of Phoenix, with a back yard already yielding to the desert.

She left the comfort of the track, kicked off her trainers and walked barefoot, past the Saguaros and Agaves until she reached a clump of Joshua trees.

The empty house would take them to an abandoned job and to a small tragedy.

Francine laid a bundle in the shade.

The small tragedy would take them to a hospital and a missing woman. A grainy ghost on the security camera.

She scraped the ground with her hands, finding it cool beneath the desert’s skin. The sand crusted her hands where they bled.

The security footage would take them to a hospital car park, a woman with a bundle, running.

When the hole was deep enough, she rested the bundle in it. As she eased the sand back over she smoothed it flat, healing the scar.

 

Congratulations, Clem, Linzi and Henry! And thanks to all who entered and made it so bloody hard to choose.

See you again next week, we hope — happy writing and happy weekends all.

QuickFic 21/08/15

Ahoy there. It’s time to board the good ship Inspiration again, isn’t it?

That’s because it’s Friday, which means a brand new QuickFic prompt.

For those of you unfamiliar with QuickFic (jolly good to see you; thanks for stopping by), the rules are very simple. All you need to do is take a look at the prompt we’ve given you further down the page, and then write a story — of 250 words or less — inspired by it.

Send us those stories, to academy@faber.co.uk, by 2:50pm today, and you might win some books!

These ones, actually:

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Clockwise (sort of): Amnesia, The Good Of The Novel, Their Lips Talk Of Mischief, The Vogue Factor, The Wolf Border

They’re all really good. Especially the Sarah Hall.

Fancy a peek at that prompt?

Here it is:

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Hmm. Where’s she off to, then?

Do tell us — and we’ll see you back here at 3:30 to announce the winner.

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 14/08/15: The Winner

Hold on. Let us just clamber up out of the rabbit hole before we give you the news.

That’s better. Now, as you’ll recall, this week’s prompt was this lovely first line, borrowed from Lewis Carroll’s classic, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:

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There were some excellent interpretations; some of which made us laugh, some of which made us scratch our little heads at how clever you all are. Brilliant stuff.

But pick a winner we must, and here those winners are:

RUNNER-UP: Francesca Walsh

A View from the Bank

Alice was bored. Without her phone.

‘It’s not natural like, just to be sitting here. Doing nothin’ …’ She scratched the side of her head to prove she needed to work her hands.

‘Don’t do that. It makes you look like some oik, scratchin’. Mam’d go mad if she saw you.’ Marnie was always threatening Alice with Mam: What would Mam say? Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Mam’d be …

Mam wouldn’t care what bit of herself Alice scratched. Being dead an’ all, Mam would have other stuff to think about if she saw Alice and Marnie sitting there on the bank. Alice imagined her mother looking down on them. Like a drone but not making noise.

If Mam was looking down would she see it all as it was happening? In, like, real time? Or would she watch it a bit after? Like on YouTube? Maybe she could rewind the best bits same as watching that cat slide off the snowy car or Alfie Deyes looking gorge? He’s the bae for Alice. Not like Marnie’s fellah. A waste o’ space. If it wasn’t for him they wouldn’t be there waiting on that bank and Alice wouldn’t be fed up out of her mind.

But ‘Oh no, Danny wants us here so we have to stay.’ Sitting on the bank’s roof. Going lookout so him and his scumbag mates don’t get caught doing the job inside.

 

WINNER: Sharon Telfer

Mr Rabbit’s Tunnel

Mr Rabbit was bored.

‘How long must we sit here?’ he grumbled.

Alice tugged at her sister’s sleeve. Donna unhooked an earbud.

‘Can we go?’

‘Soon, hun,’ said Donna. ‘Just waiting for someone.’ She checked her phone. ‘They’re late.’
Mr Rabbit gave Alice a look. Donna was always waiting for someone.

Alice and Mr Rabbit sat and looked at the river. It was thick and brown. ‘Like poo!’ shouted Mr Rabbit. ‘Ssshh!’ giggled Alice.

‘Let’s explore,’ said Mr Rabbit. He hated sitting still, even for five minutes.

Alice and Mr Rabbit hopped alongside the wall. She thought it was beautiful, painted with bright colours and swirling shapes.

Where the wall ended, a hedge grew. Someone, or something, had made a tunnel through it.

‘Let’s go in!’ cried Mr Rabbit.

Curious, Alice took one step into the hole.

‘Further, further,’ cried Mr Rabbit. ‘It’s an adventure!’

Green closed about them. As they tiptoed to where the tunnel curved out of sight, she had the strange feeling that she was getting smaller. The tunnel rustled and whispered and creaked. A prickle ran up her back. Like someone’s watching, she thought and spun round. Nothing. But now she was racing back, out into the light.

‘God, Alice! Don’t disappear like that,” said Donna. “Look, here’s Ryan. He’s got you some chocolate.’

‘Cowardy custard!’ yelled a furious Mr Rabbit, dangling ears down from Alice’s hand. But Alice was eating her chocolate and, just for now, no one was listening.

 

Congratulations Francesca! And congratulations Sharon, who is our very first three-time winner, and, we think, an extremely talented writer.

Right, got to dash — we’ve a tea party to get to. Happy Fridays all.

QuickFic 14/08/15

Well now. Friday is here again — and that means another round of flash fiction fun.

But before we take a look at this week’s prompt (which just might be a famous first line), let’s do the rules bit for anyone new round these parts (hi there!).

At 9.50 every Friday morning, we give you a prompt. If you like the prompt, if you feel inspired by it, you go away and write a short — ever so short, and certainly no longer than 250 words — piece of fiction about it.

Send those stories to academy@faber.co.uk by 2.50pm this very day and you could win some books!

These books in fact:

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L-R: Target: Italy, Open City, Family Romance, Wide Open, The Lightning Tree

Come on then. Let’s have a look at that prompt shall we?

Here it is:

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And just what is Alice going to get up to?

Do 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, basically.

QuickFic 07/08/2015: The Winner

It doesn’t matter WHAT we do.

It doesn’t matter HOW summery and lovely and unimpeachably cheery we make the prompt, you still manage to find some darkness. Is it just something to do with writing competitions?

Look at this picture.

Apparently not.

Oh look, a 100% positive and lovely picture

Isn’t it charming? And extremely happy? And yet…

As ever, we had a lot of great entries to QuickFic this week, and as ever, judging was hard. But jeez, guys, come on, lighten up.

Anyway, here are the lauded entrants – two up-runners and a winner, all with very different approaches.

Runner Up: Crisa Cox
Set Fair

Things aren’t meant to fall from the sky. I mean things other than rain, sleet or snow (I correct myself automatically now, lest he get there first). There is something unnatural about seeing a black silhouette projected onto that bright blueness and about the speed with which it drops: both too fast and too slow at the same time.

We approached marriage cautiously, testing the idea out before committing and then, as he turned 40, bowing to the pressure to produce an heir (a girl would have been no good as his sister already had three). He did not want any more children: too much mess; too much chaos; too much interruption.

I wasn’t a very good mother: too indulgent; too impulsive; too idealistic. “But I only wanted”… He said that should be my epitaph. He hated it when I failed to think through the consequences of my actions. He hated having to pick up the pieces.

But I only wanted to re-create a childhood moment that now seemed so long ago: the lack of resistance against dusty feet, the saltiness on the upper lip, the bloody tang of the rust on the safety strap. The way you could look up and out and wave at the ants in the distance as your life hung by a metal thread.

It was all there as I had remembered: the primary colours, the heart in mouth and the shrieks of the fairground. I just hadn’t expected it to be so real.

Runner Up: Anstey Spraggan
The Chair-O-Plane-Door

Even as a child, Martin knew the portal was in the linimal seconds where the Chair-o-plane hit full swing, the pallid legs flew horizontal and excited squeals found an edge of fear. He knew he would be the keeper, like his father and his father before him. The portal was a last resort, a place of refuge. Not for sale.

It shared the characteristics of most portals hidden in fairgrounds – tiny coloured lights, tinny music and that twitch of dissolved chip fat on summer air. It is no coincidence that candy floss and magic smell the same.

It had the same Health and Safety restrictions; the height limit, the maximum weight of 18 stone. The fat Russian he’d shoved through the other day had certainly been over, but he hadn’t returned. Hadn’t come back for his money.

Martin’s grandfather had used the portal for smugglers before he’d disappeared. He remembered his own father hurrying people through in the war. In honest moments Martin remembered their frightened eyes and their religious scripts in undecipherable squiggles. No money changed hands for their safety.

‘You the bloke with the portal?’

Martin nodded. The man had the dead eyes of a killer and an envelope of cash.

He closed the bar over the man’s stomach.

‘And you,’ said a voice he couldn’t see but had imagined many times. ‘Get on the ride. Your time’s up.’

Above the Big Wheel two buzzards circled lazily on faux thermals from the engines that drove the vast cranks.

Winner: Jo Bradshaw
Those Poems On The Tube

He
We’ll know if it works because we’ll feel like heavenly bodies
Again you remember angelhood don’t you?

She
Yes but sorry I’m just
Catching your words on the wind there’s
A slight delay

He
Won’t it be nice to speak without vocal chords
Not have to shave or
Wear underpants

She
Or read those terrible poems on the tube

He
Yes those terrible poems on the tube they

She
Don’t scan at all

He
I smell fear and Head & Shoulders are you okay?

She
Phantom wings are searing my scapulae and also
I’m really going to miss

He
What?

She
What do you think?

He
We’ll make it my love you’ll see
We’ll soar into the heavens arm in arm
Winged to the end
Let your belief lift you up

She
No you twat I will miss
Those chips from the pier
All melting crunch of malt

He
I hated those

She
Never mind are you
Ready to rock

He
I’ve forgotten how to fly

She
I’m letting go

He
We will ascend once more
Oh bugger it

She
Mind that seagull

He

She
Oh Lord.

***

Congratulations to Crisa, Anstey and Jo. And to everyone else, thanks so much for playing – and see you again next week!

 

 

 

QuickFic 07/08/15

Good morning! Fancy a spot of flash fiction writing on this fine Friday?

Great — so do we. So let’s get started by reminding ourselves of the QuickFic particulars:

At 9:50 on a Friday, we give you a prompt. You mull it over with your Muse, then write us a story, of 250 words or less, and send it to academy@faber.co.uk. By 2:50 this very afternoon, please and thank you.

At 3:30, we’ll announce the winner, and the winner wins books.

These ones!

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Clockwise from top: Strange Bodies, Girl In A Band, The Temporary Gentleman, Why Most Things Fail, Schroder

Right then! Let’s get going, shall we?

Here’s this week’s prompt:

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Well now. Look at all those people, each with their own story to tell. It’s like a Lazy Susan of stories, is what it is.

Do tell us one. 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, basically.

Why I Write: Doug Johnstone

I write because I’m fucking angry. At least, that was a big part of it when I started to write, and it probably still is. I was angry about all sorts of things, but I was specifically angry about never seeing the world I saw all around me depicted in the fiction I was reading.

I grew up in Arbroath, a small town on the northeast coast of Scotland, famous for smoked fish and an Abbey. At school I had a piss-poor English teacher who barely gave us anything to read that had been written after 1900. The Scottish literature I read out of school all seemed to be about Glasgow. To me growing up, the big city was Dundee, and Glasgow might as well have been on fucking Mars.

Great writers, I now realise, like Alasdair Gray and James Kelman, but they didn’t speak to me about my life, my generation, my friends and enemies.

So I wrote about my life. Of course it was all shit at the start, but I kept writing and kept reading and kept writing and gradually it got marginally less shite. And I started to read other books that spoke to me more directly. Iain Banks, Irvine Welsh, Alan Warner – people who understood my part of the world, the Scottish small town mentality, the drugs, the desolation, all of it.

I kind of hated those fuckers for writing my experience so well, and that just made me more angry. Well, kind of. But it also showed me that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t pissing my own words up against a wall, that there might be some worth in what I was doing. So I kept writing. Still shit, but getting less shit every day.

Years later when I was working as a journalist, I interviewed Iain Banks. His big literary hero was Alasdair Gray, and he said something to the effect that it wasn’t enough to love your literary heroes, you had to hate them as well. You had to write what you wrote to prove you were better than those old bastards, to show that you had something new and important to say. I knew what he meant.

Of course, I don’t hate all those old bastards, I just thought I did for a while. And maybe I’m not quite as angry as I used to be back then. But when I sit down to write now, I still want to describe the world I see around me in the most honest way possible, and that’s why I write.

Doug Johnstone611hUmOfROL._UX250_

Doug Johnstone is a writer, musician and journalist based in Edinburgh. His sixth novel, The Dead Beat, was published by Faber and Faber in May 2014. Gone Again (2013) was an Amazon bestseller and Hit & Run (2012) and was an Amazon #1 as well as being selected as a prestigious Fiction Uncovered winner. Smokeheads (2011) was nominated for the Crimefest Last Laugh Award. His work has received praise from the likes of Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin, William McIlvanney, Megan Abbott and Christopher Brookmyre.

He is also a singer, musician and songwriter in several bands, has a degree in physics, a PhD in nuclear physics and a diploma in journalism, and worked for four years designing radars. He grew up in Arbroath and lives in Portobello, Edinburgh with his wife and two children.

Doug’s seventh novel, The Jump, is published this week by Faber. Buy it here (it’s very very good).

Find out more here, or say hi to him on Twitter.