QuickFic 25/09/15: The Winner

Phew. We’re feeling a bit dizzy. Giddy, really. Like we’ve been dancing through all your imaginations all day, kinda.

Well, that’s because we have. In a non-intrusive way obviously — and thanks for inviting us. You introduced us to sisters, to friends, to enemies; to women who like dancing and to women who don’t. And it was jolly good fun.

Shall we have a look at the winners?

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RUNNER-UP: Ruth Mason

Step, Turn, Step

I had fallen in love with the wildest girls.  They had a big band running in their veins.  Each heartbeat another stop on the hi-top, every breath a quaver.  When they laughed, trumpets rang out — and boy did those girls laugh.

Most Saturday nights the Maydon sisters could be found at Arthur Clarvion’s Dance Club.  It was a dingy place, discarded on one of the back streets of Clapham like a stubbed-out cigarette.  Yet on the evenings when live music played, the embers of its former glory burned up bright, drawing in the moth-youth of the city.  Inside, bodies brushed against each other, skin damp with sweat in the heat.  There were newcomers who doped about with their just-off-the-train glaze, young starlets primped up with their red lips and mottled coal eyes, gamblers and dealers who had sticky fingers, politicians with powdered noses, lost Las Vegas dancers still with feathers in their hair.  All found their lips wet with liquor, already heady with a cocktail of chaos and sound.

When the Maydon sisters danced, the jamboree just faded away.  Their movements were wildfire.  The whole world burned, no bodies, no empty chatter, no nothing.  All that was left were those two pretty girls and the muffled sounds of music, played from a further room.

My universe was just a step, turn, step.

WINNER: Judith Kahl

What They Do Do

They have never been unkind to each other. Not really. Not without reason. Not in a way that would exploit their respective unique positions of power, by, say, referencing an uncomfortable truth they both know. Such as, for example, telling Sue that her perm had been a mistake.

They wouldn’t do that.

What they would do: each other’s eyebrows. Listen to the radio. Rate men on a scale from one to ten. Go canoeing on the lake without Mary’s uncle Jeff’s (3) permission. Get caught and listen to a health and safety lecture, including the aesthetic threats of biceps on females. Tell each other repeatedly (Sue) and without exaggeration (Mary) that you are beautiful. Look at magazines. Discuss sex on a theoretical level. Rate women on a scale from one to one hundred. Chew gum. Tell Mary’s little sister (55, but not without potential, on a good day) to go away. Secretly sip Sue’s mum’s (solid 90, except for the smoking) Goldschlager. Dance in bright daylight until their shadows are dizzy. Sit down, panting. See themselves through the eyes of the Taylor boys (8, 6, 5, 6, 4) whose gaze is wedged in the gap of their thighs, whose dry lips are egging them on to twirl faster, whose knuckles are always scabbed. Look at each other. Laugh.

Congratulations, Ruth and Judith! And thanks to everyone who entered.

See you again next week, we hope — there’ll be a new prompt and everything.

Happy writing all.

QuickFic 25/09/15

Well hi there.

So happy you could join us for another round of QuickFic. If you’re a regular, hop straight on down to the bottom of the page for the prompt. Be warned though: it’s not the topical one you may be hoping for. We’re a classier act than that. Plus Charlotte’s Web is still in copyright.

For any newcomers: welcome! Here’s how this very simple QuickFic thing works:

At 9:50 on a Friday morning (round about now), we give you a prompt. You write us a fiction of some description inspired by that prompt — and, importantly, of only 250 words or less. Give it a title with the proper care and attention, and then whack it in an email and send it over to us at academy@faber.co.uk. You should do this by 2:50pm this afternoon, or you won’t win anything but the not-inconsiderable artistic satisfaction of a completed creation.

At 3:30, we’ll announce the actual winner, and that winner shall win some books.

Those’ll be these ones:

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T-B: The Temporary Gentleman, Hidden Symptoms, I Think I Can See Where You’re Going Wrong, Music As Alchemy, All He Saw Was The Girl

Sound good?

Great.

Here it is then, this week’s prompt:

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Lovely.

Happy writing! 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 18/09/15: The Winner

Wow.

Halfway through that round of QuickFic, the sky darkened. The rain was bouncing off the path outside; the windows were rattling in their frames.

It all felt extremely appropriate.

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

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Which is, of course, the first line from Emily Brontë’s glorious Wuthering Heights.

You had so many excellent, creepy, poignant things to say about this landlord character. It was truly a joy to read them all. Shout-out to the Em-Bron cameos too; we liked those a lot. And to the treasured regular who managed to make Tupperware sinister this week — big props. Your talent knows no bounds.

But here are the two we liked the very most.

RUNNER-UP: Suzy Wedley

Something About Mary

Who? Oh, she’s my landlady. Doesn’t like it if I play my drums too loud. To be fair, though, she and that old bloke of hers don’t seem so bad. Had a conversation with him about Led Zeppelin once. He’d been to a concert, he said. Sounds like he’s had a bit of a crazy life. Kinda cool for an old dude. Mind you, I’ve heard banging and stuff from their room too. God knows what an old pair like them were getting up to.

*

Ah, Mary! Yes, she’s very popular with the children. She’s been helping at the school about ten years or more I’d say. She started off listening to readers but now she takes out small groups and teaches them to cook. They do everything from fairy cakes to burgers!  She brings in some lovely sausage rolls to the staff room. I don’t know what she uses in them but they’re delicious!

*

Mary who? Nope, don’t think I ever saw her in here. I guess she brought her meat from that big supermarket that’s opened up down the road. People ought to use their local butcher’s else it’ll close down – you put that in your newspaper article!

***

BREAKING NEWS: Octogenarian Couple Arrested For Suspected Kidnap And Cannibalism!

Community is shocked by the arrest of an elderly couple following discovery of human flesh in home cooking. 


WINNER: Thom Willis

The Good Neighbour

Seething-black snake-serpent in MY HOUSE keep your distance creature I know you I know where you slither-crawled from where you’ll get yourself back in to curled sleepless round your nest of rotted chalk eggshells hatching only dead cells.

Out from here meet me again on the road between our houses you have walked it on your belly so many times and I saw you saw you from the dew-drip hedge as you made for my door under my door through my door without me unlocking for you like you own my house my house is not your house but I pay you to live here in this torment here with you STARING from those broken splinter-starred windows every night every morning.

Tonight I will be in your house snake tonight I walk from tree to tree unfurling like the shadow tongue tasting your absence insisting on your presence as I in turn slip through that broken window pooling in the starlight listening to each hesitant creak of board and whistle-in of dream-breath.

I visit you tonight as a neighbour as a tenant as a spirit as a plaintiff as an ending to keep silent our agreement as the stairs drift in the night’s breeze I climb through feelings you will never have and bring you never-will-bes as your coils slacken round your end-night thoughts.

 

Congratulations Suzy and Tom! And thanks so much to everyone who entered. You are so very wonderful.

See you next week — happy writing and weekends all.

 

QuickFic 18/09/15

Good morning!

We’re in a QuickFic sort of a mood. And we’ve got a brand new prompt ready and waiting for you. If this isn’t your first rodeo, head on down the page and see it!

If you’re new to the game, let’s break it down:

Every Friday, at 9:50am, we give you a prompt. You write us a story, of 250 words or less, inspired by that prompt. You give it a title (don’t leave it up to us; we’re idiots) and you pop it in an email to academy@faber.co.uk.

You do all that by 2:50 this afternoon and you might win some books! Here they are, look:

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L-R: Private Life, All The Colours Of The Town, Every Day Is For The Thief, The Temporary Gentleman, Their Lips Talk Of Mischief

Nice, right?

Here we go then, this week’s prompt:

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HELLO.

Right, let’s get going! We’ll see you back here at 3:30, when we’ll 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.

QuickFic Writing Competition 11/09/2015: The Winners

Oh Autumn. Season of yellow fruitiness.
There's definitely a unicorn in there SOMEWHERE...Judging a writing competition – even a little one like QuickFic – can be quite a Zen thing. Passages of equal length, on an identical prompt, can take on a lulling, cosmic quality. Beautiful descriptions of lush forest. Warm evocations of the season, of the mists, of the poets and the flora and the ineluctable cruising on of time’s Corolla.

And THEN there’s a unicorn.

And THEN someone threatens to murder a weeing schoolchild.

Anyway, I had a lot of fun reading the entries, and a lot of trouble choosing between them, but choose I did, and here they are. Congratulations to both, and thanks to all – come back next week for more.

RUNNER UP: Magic, by Alexis J Reid

The villagers are coming. All flaming torches and pitchforks. How parochial. I’d expected more from them, I’d hoped for a little ingenuity from my oppressors. But no, here they come, chanting their inane chants and brandishing their poorly-spelled placards. Sigh.

‘Give us our forest back!’ Shouts a rotund, red-faced woman who I believe is the baker’s wife.
I open the shutters, looking down on the crowd below, trying to find a friendly face amongst the sneers and the booing.

‘But you have a forest. I just made it better. Look how beautiful the trees are,’ I say.

‘You made it autumn. It’s the 15th of March!’

‘Yes, but look at how pretty it all is. All of those reds and oranges.’

I can feel their hostility growing, they obviously don’t appreciate the aesthetic wonder of an autumnal display.

‘You’re supposed to help us, wizard, not plunge us into eternal winter.’

Autumn. I’ve plunged them into eternal autumn. Can’t these people get anything right?

‘We need summer to come! We need our crops!’

Always with the crops.

‘There will be a bounteous harvest,’ I shout, pleased with my own munificence.

‘We want summer!’

And they all take up the chant. Someone spits at my house, a little globule of silver spittle dribbling down my door.

Truth is, I can’t change it back. We’re stuck with it. An autumn that will last through the ages.

‘Better find your brooms, you’ll be sweeping up leaves forever,’ I shout. And then I run.

WINNER: Waldeinsamkeit by Anand Modha

She’d heard about the girls who were eaten by wolves. Wolves whose mouths grew bloody and their bellies fat on the gristle of hooded Year 7 children. However as the rows of trees marched away from her, she had no fear. In fact, she had no words to describe how she was feeling. If only she’d known German, as then she’d have a word. A word to describe the solitude of being surrounded, yet alone. Yet she’d bunked off her double language lesson to be in the woods right now, so she was doubly at a loss. She’d heard of murderers dragging corpses to the copses, and burying people, both alive and dead in the woods. Yet the sun streamed in at friendly angles, and birds chirruped in the branches high above her, and she found it impossible to be scared. Instead, she stretched out her arms so her hands brushed the trunks of the trees that were nearest. She span on the spot, and danced in that way you only do when you’re alone. Little did she know, that she truly was experiencing, and enjoying, waldeinsamkeit.

QuickFic 11/09/15

September has sprung. And we’ve decided to embrace it; to welcome it with open arms and a seasonal QuickFic prompt. More on that in a tick!

First, let’s remind ourselves how this QuickFic thing works. It’s very easy.

At 9:50 on a Friday morning, we give you a prompt. You muse with your Muse about it, and then write us a story, of 250 words or less, and send it to us at academy@faber.co.uk. It’s usually best to give it a title, because otherwise we will. Do all that by 2:50 this very afternoon, and then sit back and wait for us to announce the winner.

We’ll do that at 3:30, and then we’ll send that winner THESE BOOKS:

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T-B: If Walls Could Talk, All Day And A Night, Original Rockers, Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse, Angel With Two Faces

Sound good?

Great.

Here is this week’s prompt:

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See? Open arms.

Happy writing! 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.

Something Odd

Debut novelist Matthew Blakstad on the joy of NOT fitting in when it comes to publishing, and how not all novels fit a mould — some are meant to break them

‘Nothing odd will do long…’ said Doctor Johnson; and you might think this a point well made, except that he went on to say, ‘…Tristram Shandy did not last.’

Because contrary to the good doctor’s words, Lawrence Sterne’s loopy, fractured masterpiece Tristram Shandy went on to prove itself one of history’s great slow-burners. Over the years, we’ve come to recognise its brilliance, profundity and wit, and it’s now seen as one of the defining works of the novel form. It had intertextual play and formal experiment down pat a couple of centuries before the sixties’ avant-garde came along and ‘invented’ them.

Colours to the mast, I love Tristram Shandy. As a reader, I’ve always gravitated to books that achieve such feats of genre-bending originality, that maintain a playfulness and formal dexterity while saying something profound about the world. And as Tristram Shandy proves, quirky doesn’t always equal niche. Vernon God Little; American Gods; Infinite Jest: some of the great popular successes of contemporary publishing, too, have defied categorisation. Which is why it’s a shame that publishing – like music, movies or any other creative industry – is so concerned with categories. It’s easy to see why: publishing is a market like any other. It’s easier and lower-risk to sell a book if you can position it as a little bit like that other book that did so well last season. In a market like this, you can to a large extent judge a book by its cover, because covers are designed to signal to buyers all the other books this particular book is like.

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When I started the Writing a Novel course at Faber Academy, I knew all this in principle but hadn’t taken on board what it meant for my own work. I’d started writing my novel, Sockpuppet, just as the course began – though at the time it was titled Lobster-pot. (Don’t ask.) Like most of us when we’re starting out, I had strong but unformed ideas about where the book would go and what it was going to say; but no idea how I was going to get it there. Into this swirling cauldron of ideas I tossed a hodge-podge of ingredients: online chatter, political satire, thriller elements, flashes of 20th century history. Nothing went in for the sake of it. Everything was there for a reason. Everything was meant. But I didn’t at first know how it all would fit together.

Yet gradually a form and a style took shape, and a narrative emerged. It turned out to be a pacy story about a political scandal that breaks on social media, and of the hunt for sic_girl, a blogger who’s dishing the dirt on a government minister. Which hunt is made more difficult by the fact that sic_girl doesn’t exist. She’s a chat-bot, created by a maverick software developer. This story gave me the opportunity to say things I found important and urgent: about how digital culture is shifting our sense of identity, eroding our privacy. The central metaphor of an artificial voice wreaking harm on the real world felt rich and resonant and I was enjoying seeing it play out through the narrative.

In the peer review sessions that are the linchpin of the FA course, nobody at any point asked me, ‘What genre is this?’ or ‘What other books is this like?’ And I wouldn’t have know how to answer if they had. They simply responded to the work: directly, honestly and constructively. Their feedback gave me the confidence to continue and their criticism lent me the clarity to make the novel better.

I only began to think about genre and categories when a Notable Writer of Literary Fiction, who shall remain nameless, spoke to my group in one of our all-day Saturday sessions. I should say to anyone considering this course that these sessions are incredibly valuable. They bring the students face-to-face with published authors, agents and publishers, and they provide real insight into the industry. They’re generally extremely positive and constructive. This fellow, though, I found most helpful because of some things he said that I found purely negative.

Because in his view, writing fell into two camps. There was proper literature – Literary Fiction, with leading caps – which was written and read with serious intent. And there was the other stuff, genre writing, which was not serious, and whose readers were looking for some form of high-fructose escape from their own frontal lobes. Suffice to say, I took the NW of LF up on this assertion. I cited the writers whose work I listed in paragraph four of this blog post. I said the most interesting writing I’d read of late was toying with genre elements, was playful, but was absolutely serious of purpose.

As you might expect, NWoLF was non-plussed by my questions, and perhaps not least by the implied assertion that his own work didn’t feature among the texts I found interesting – which was in fact the case. But I have to thank NW, for helping me realise that my book was a genre work, as well as a literary one – and that this is why I cared so much about this debate. And woe betide anyone who told me that because my book was genre fiction, it wasn’t serious.

“…my book was a genre work, as well as a literary one – and this is why I cared so much about this debate. And woe betide anyone who told me that because my book was genre fiction, it wasn’t serious.”

So I continued to write.

Fast forward to my next encounter with publishing categories. This came when I started sending Sockpuppet out to agents. I got a lot of favourable responses – to the writing, the themes, the characters and pace – but still, I was getting ‘no’s. Where the agents were good enough to give me feedback (and by the way, I would absolutely not assume that an overworked agent with a slush pile they can barely see around, will give you anything but a generic ‘no’ when they reject your MS – why would they?) – when they did feed back, these agents all said roughly the same thing. Something that’s best summed up by this one response:

‘My main difficulty was in seeing where I could position it within publishing’s internal marketplace.’

My book, I was being told, was too genre for a literary market and too literary for a genre market. I started to think I’d written something that simply didn’t fit an available mould.

Yet when, in March this year, I was picked up by Cathryn Summerhayes at the agency WME, she responded immediately and unequivocally to the book. She recognised that it sat a little to one side of established categories but she saw that as a strength, not a weakness. And when in April she successfully sold the book, in a two-book deal to Anne Perry at Hodder & Stoughton, it turned out that Anne, too, was excited by the book precisely because it hovers somewhere between mainstream and genre fiction. Over the last few years, Anne has been building a stable of terrific writers – including Sarah Lotz, Lavie Tidhar and James P Smythe – that she’s successfully promoted to both genre and mainstream audiences. The very things that made my book hard for others to place were the things that made Anne see a good fit with her existing list. Now the edit is all but done, and she’s helped me make Sockpuppet so much better a book, I couldn’t be happier to be with her.

I asked Anne recently what genre she things Sockpuppet falls into. She tells me it’s a ‘crossover thriller with near-future SF elements’. Which works for me; though suffice to say we’re not going to put that in the cover blurb.

So my advice to anyone who’s writing the book they need to write, rather than the book they think will fit an established mould – to anyone who’s worrying about whether their book will find an outlet in a market that’s so focussed on categories and sub-categories of categories – is to quote Faber Academy course director Richard Skinner, and the words he used at the end of every peer review session on the course:

‘Well done. Keep going.’

 

mattblakstadMatthew Blakstad

Matthew’s first career was as a professional child actor. From the age of ten, he had roles in TV dramas on the BBC and ITV, in films and at theatres including the Royal Court. After graduating from Oxford with a degree in Mathematics and Philosophy, he began a career in online communications, consulting for a range of clients from the BBC to major banks. Since 2008, he has been in public service, using his communication skills to help people understand and manage their money.

He is a graduate of our Writing A Novel course.

Say hi to him on Twitter, and find out more about him and his books right here.