QuickFic 30/10/2015: ? The Winner ?

Ooooooooooh, well, if that wasn’t the spookiest 250-word flash fiction writing competition that happened today, I’d like to see a URL pointing towards one that was spookier.

As ever, you took the prompt and ran with it, often into a dingy forest-scape, sometimes across the ill-lit plains of the mind. And as always, it was tough to gouge the winners from the fleshy mass of entries, but we did, and we’re delighted with them. So without further ado, here they are.

Scary animal person teenager thingums holding hands

? Oooooooh! ?

 

RUNNER-UP: Finn Cotton

The Work Virus

‘Are you alright?’ asked my manager. He was standing in the doorway of the printing room with a sagging horse mask pulled right down over his face.

‘Mm hmm’ I said in response. The room was small, my back pushed up against the printer as it beeped and whirred, pages spitting out onto the tray beside me. I didn’t feel good. His silhouette was blurring at the edges near the ceiling and fading slightly. Chin forward, lying beside the printer, I managed to speak: ‘I need to go home.’

The printer shuddered, a fan spun somewhere nearby and the manager signalled reluctantly to a colleague beside the door. ‘The virus has taken its toll’, he said. I was the fourth member of staff so far – each one was found gibbering in a corner of a room somewhere, clutching a contract or a wad of papers, sweating into the air-conditioned office. He walked briskly out of the printing room to a window at the far side of the building for a gulp of fresh air.

Colleagues crowded round me with their masks moving in the office breeze, leaning in towards the printer, jostling for a better view. They laughed and pointed, drinking it all in. Every microscopic germ, I knew, was travelling around the room, passing through them all. Perhaps they would all fall sick, I thought. It wouldn’t take long. ‘I hope you all catch this’, I coughed, ‘you bastards’.

WINNER: Stephen Oliver

LITTLE SISTER

I found the moleman on the internet. He set the traps when I was out last week, then tonight at dusk he comes back to check them. But this guy whose job it is to kill moles, brings his young daughter along with him. The traps are buried underground, marked with sticks painted white at the top. These little white-tipped sticks are poking out of the ground all over the lawn and the little girl is running around to see if the traps have gone off. And she’s singing. Singing a nursery rhyme to herself as she checks for dead moles. When I go out again three moles in plastic bags hang from the bird feeder. The traps have been dug up and the girl’s running around with one of the white sticks tap tap tap. Just in the right place to set the mechanism off. The steel jaws snap shut and the whole thing leaps a few inches into the air. The moleman collects the traps and they get into their ancient estate car job done. I’m standing looking in the boot where all their paraphernalia is. And in the gloom I see a little girl’s foot in a white ballet pump poking out from under a dirty blanket. Then I see the moleman watching me in the rearview mirror. A jackdaw flaps overhead on the way to its roost and, when I look back down, the moleman is getting out of the car again.

*

Congratulations to our winners, and 1,000,000 thanks to everyone who entered. Come back next week for another, less terrifying flash writing competition.

QuickFic 30/10/15

Good morning!

It’s Friday, and the day before Halloween – so we’ve got a QuickFic prompt that none of us in the office can look directly at for too long. That’s how scary it is. Yep.

So dust off your creepy trousers; put on your sinister hat. We want stories, of 250 words or less, that are going to scare the bejeepers out of us. Alright?

As usual, you’ve got five hours to do just that. That means you need to send us your story (with a title) to academy@faber.co.uk by 2:50pm. And at 3:30pm, we’ll tell you who’s won these glorious books:

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Top to bottom: Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders, Prey, The Cry, The Skull Beneath The Skin, Little Sister Death (that one’s really scary)

Okay.

Are you ready?

Here’s this week’s QuickFic prompt:

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We did warn you.

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.

Wednesday Writing Exercise: Point Of View

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Tonight, our Writing A Novel students are in for their third evening session, where they’ll be thinking about Point Of View.

Choosing a narrator for a novel is one of the most important decisions of the process. Telling a story in first-, second- or third-person can make all the difference, and that’s before we even start thinking about omniscience. And what if you add more than one perspective into the mix?

Here are a couple of exercises to get you thinking about your own novel and its narration.

  • Take a short scene (250-500 words) featuring a single character from your work in progress. If you’ve been writing in first-person, try switching to third; if you’re writing in third-person, give the character’s own voice a whirl.
  • Now think about the closeness of your narration. If you’ve been working in third-person, think about what your narrator knows – is it only what the character does, or do they have more information? And if you’re working in first-person, how exposed are we to the character’s thoughts and feelings? How honest are they being – do we get a sense that this is the whole story, or that something is being held back?
  • Finally, have a go at switching tenses – from past to present, or vice-versa. Which works best with which mode of narration? What different things do you learn about the character and the plot from each combination?

 

QuickFic 23/10/15: The Winner

Great Scott! What a one that was.

As you’ll recall, we went for this really quite topical prompt today:

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Which is of course, the first line of H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine. 

We kind of expected a lot of hoverboard action to be honest, with some Eighties’ denim thrown in for good measure. And that was absolutely, 100% fine with us.

But as always, you bunch of beauties went and pulled all manner of stuff out the bag. Silly, sad, smart stuff. Thoughtful stories which asked all of the big questions about life and the universe.

Shout-out to the rosé-drinking werewolf by the way.

Anyway, let’s have a look at the winners. Ian’s not here today, so we can go wild and have three again!

 

RUNNER-UP: Adena Graham

Out Of Time

Babs sat on the sofa, her hands clasped between her knees. She was upset – although the man standing opposite, mouthing words we couldn’t understand, wouldn’t know that. Behind him, the light from the bay window illuminated his form, so he was more silhouette than human. He was trying to explain something, but his meaning eluded us – it was both mercurial and complex, an algorithm we couldn’t fathom.

1985 he was saying – and each time, he brought his clenched fist down onto his right palm, as if that would help us understand. He had come back from 1985.

Eventually, Babs’s eyes flickered towards me and I raised my eyebrows – the unspoken question of sisterhood; a language we’d shared since pre-infancy, when we’d curled tightly inside our mother’s womb, separate yet unified.

‘I’ve come so far to be here,’ the man was saying. And, yes, I could see that – he had unravelled the thread of the past, grabbed the end and pulled himself into the present. Our present – Babs and me. But we didn’t care. Babs gave a small shake of her head, and I knew it was time.

‘We want you to leave,’ I said, getting to my feet.

The man stopped talking. He was old, I could see that now – his past-self barely visible.

All those wasted years, I thought.  A man who’d lost the right to call himself ‘father’ the day he walked out.

‘Time can’t just be turned back,’ I said. And we watched him leave our future.

 

RUNNER-UP: Catherine O’Sullivan

Time Out Of Mind

I privately thought of him as the Time Traveller. He jumped around in chronology. His topics of discussion never followed on from one another. The manuals say that each session should feel like a continuation from the last – that they shouldn’t feel like distinct blocks of safe, enclosed time, but one long, recursive, looping story. He didn’t adhere to the manuals, of course. The more interesting patients never do.

Nothing connected to anything else. I couldn’t form a stable picture. Each week, when he sloughed his soft backside onto my couch, I had no idea what he would begin to speak about. He didn’t ever want to return to something we had previously discussed, and my attempts to probe this reluctance met with blank refusal. I was young in my career then. He was the first significant problem I had encountered.

I appealed to my clinical supervisor for help. ‘How’s the Time Traveller doing?’ she’d ask if we met for coffee; she listened, murmured, but wasn’t any use. I felt skittish in her presence, unable to articulate myself. Something about his conversational style was contagious.

I began to hate his session. The low thrum of dread that begin in the morning, increasing as his hour ticked closer.

It wasn’t a huge surprise to me when he stopped showing up. There was no advance notice. It’s bad practice, of course. Frowned upon. Therapeutically inadvisable.

A relief.

 

WINNER: Ruth Goldsmith

Primigravida

My son arrived before his time.

The nurse finishes hooking up the feeding tube, slender white fingers touching reddened skin. She looks down at my son. My tiny, fragile son. 

‘He’s got an old soul, this one,’ she says. I nod, smile back, though I don’t know why. Words stopped meaning much a few days ago.   

She rests her hand lightly on my shoulder before walking to the next incubator. I watch her move in rhythm with the beeps and sighs of the plastic and metal and electricity that keep him breathing, in and out. In and out. Keep breathing, in and out. 

I go back to stroking his head with my thumb, willing him to feel me here, loving him. 

My phone says it’s Thursday; 3.17am. My son’s been in the world for 219 hours and 43 minutes. There wasn’t much warning; a backache. Not unusual for six months gone. And then… And then. 

They keep saying I should go home and sleep. How could I leave him alone in this box? What if he needed me? I doze in the chair. When Pete comes back in the mornings, I take a shower. It’s only round the corner, the shower. I’ll not go far away. 

220 hours, 4 minutes.

The only words that mean anything now are the doctor’s words. 

When he says, good prognosis. Healthy. Strong.

When he says, your son arrived before his time, but these days, he says, we can make that time back.

 

Congratulations, Adena, Catherine and Ruth! And thanks to all who entered. You are wonderful.

Happy weekends, happy writing.

QuickFic 23/10/15

Good morning!

Ready for another round of QuickFic? Because WE ARE.

It’s very simple, as you might already know. Just have a look at the prompt down at the bottom of the page there, and then write us a story (250 words or less, mind) inspired by it. Send us that story to academy@faber.co.uk by 2:50 this afternoon. In the body of an email’s best. Make sure you give it a title too!

At 3:30, we’ll announce the winner, who’ll win these lovely books:

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Clockwise: The Way of the Runner, The Love Object, White Crocodile, The Killing of Bobbi Lomax, The Girl in the Red Coat

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What a totally random topic for us to have chosen, eh?

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.

Wednesday Writing Exercise: Kidnap A Character

On Saturday, our Writing A Novel students came in for their first full day session. And we sent them straight back out again.

The topic at hand was (and still is — they’re back in tonight) Character. So we set them free on a little expedition to find inspiration in the world outside (we’re next to the British Museum; there’s a wealth of amazing characters to be found out there). By the time they came back for lunch, they all had a fledgling character sketch just waiting for his or her own story.

It’s such a worthwhile exercise — thinking about what makes a good and interesting character; thinking about how to build a history and a voice for someone — that we thought we’d share a sort-of-version of it with you.

Here are four people; four potential characters. Pick one (or two or three or four) and write a character summary for them. Tell us about their life, their ambitions, their opinions. Try writing it in your voice first, and then try it in theirs, thinking carefully about the different way the two of you might see things.

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This will come in very handy for next week’s topic: Point Of View.

QuickFic 16/10/15: The Winner

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First things first; let’s get the most important thing out of the way. To the regular with the European sausage story (you know who you are): WE APPLAUD YOU. Thanks for making Nicci splutter her soup.

And to everyone else — what an absolute treat of a week this was. We were a bit worried the prompt might be a little daunting, but you attacked it with your usual aplomb. There was joy, there was fear, there was gut-wrenching sadness. There were wursts. It was all unspeakably beautiful.

Here, though, are this week’s winners:

RUNNER-UP: Chris Longridge

Getting Started

“‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…’”
“Yes.”
“Well which was it?”
“I’m sorry?”
“Best or worst?”
“Both. That’s rather the point.”
“I worry that it’ll confuse people. Your first draft was better.”
“It wasn’t right for the story, though.”
“But it was atmospheric! Suspenseful! ‘It was a dark and stormy night…’ That’s cracking stuff.”
“It’s meant to be about the reign of terror.”
“Even better! It was a dark and stormy reign of terror…
“No, I…”
Once upon a dark and stormy reign of terror…
“Please…”
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a dark and stormy reign of terror in possession of no, fair play, that’s a bit over-ripe.”
“Couldn’t I just…”
It was a dark and stormy night in April and the clocks were striking thirteen…
“What?”
As Sidney Carton awoke one morning from from dark and stormy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed…
“Look, this isn’t really helping…”
Call me Ishmael!
“This isn’t working, Ishmael.”
I write this sitting in the kitchen sink…
“Look, I’m going to stick with the best-and-worst thing, okay?”
“Fine. I still think mine was better than yours.”
“Whatever.”
“Miles better.”
“If you say so.”
“A far, far better thing than you’ve ever…”
“Stop right there.”

 

RUNNER-UP: Kate Todd

Love Origami

The bottom button on Mr. Carter’s shirt is undone, the hair on his bulging belly pushing through the gap like withering daisies. I guess it’s better than his fly, like last week. He’s droning on as usual. It’s a tradition of his to read aloud to each class on Friday afternoons, a despotic, cruel abuse of his position as Head Teacher.

This term it’s Dickens, unending punishment. We asked – begged – at the start of term for The Hunger Games, but that would be too much fun. Instead, we’re sentenced to torture by high literature.

Victor isn’t paying attention either. A leaping leopard is taking shape on the cover of his exercise book, each hair perfectly detailed. Oh god, he’s seen me looking. Now he’s looking at me, his pencil moving to a blank corner of the page. There’s a pretty face taking form on the page, my face.

I tear a piece of paper from my notebook, millimetre by millimetre so it doesn’t make any noise. Nice sketch. Who is she?? lol x

Victor sees me carefully folding the paper. He leans across the gap between our desks, our fingers almost touching. It’s a magical moment, not dampened by Mr. Carter’s monotone drawl.

Oh shit, he’s looked up, he never looks up. Now’s he’s walking over, his hand extended. The note’s plucked from my fingertips, each deliberate fold prised open by his piggy fingers.

“Now what do we have here? An ode? A sonnet?”

My life is over.

 

WINNER: Christian Wolfenden

Right At The Heart Of Things

Liz and I were sat in the back of the clapped out Cortina, waiting for mum and dad to finish jamming the bags into the boot. We were off to Wales for a weekend none of us wanted.

The journey took forever. For long stretches there was complete silence, the four of us locked together in our travelling box. All the questions I could have asked instead of watching pylons pass by.

Dad set up the tent in the pouring rain. We watched him struggle from the warmth of the car, but he didn’t stop until he had done it. Mum turned to us and asked if we wanted some sweets. We sat there eating lemon sherbets, our sucking sounds punctuating the howling wind outside.

‘Make sure you thank him when he’s put the tent up. We’ve both worked very hard to bring you here.’

‘We will.’ Liz chirped. I hated my sister then, how happy she was regardless of the situation. And I never knew her long enough to love her. I wish I had been a better brother.

If I could go anywhere it would be back to 1987, to that campsite in Port Maddock. And the three of them would be waiting there, in the tent, with the rain lashing down. What I wouldn’t give to have that horrible holiday again.

 

Congratulations, Chris, Kate and Christian! And thanks for all the stories, everyone. You guys make Friday extra Friday-ish.

See you next week! Happy writing all.

QuickFic 16/10/15

Hi there, flash fiction fans.

It’s Friday morning, and we all know what that means. Cake for breakfast, power ballad playlist on Spotify, happy faces all round. And — of course — a brand new QuickFic prompt. If this isn’t your first time, head on down to the bottom of the page and take a look.

For those of you new to the game, a quick summary of the rules:

At 9:50 each Friday, we give you a prompt. A photo, maybe, or a first line. You have a look, muse with your Muse, and then write us a very short piece of fiction (of 250 words or less; certainly not more). Give it a title and pop it in an email, which you should then send to us at academy@faber.co.uk by 2:50 this afternoon.

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

These very ones in fact:

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Paper Aeroplane, To Reach The Clouds*, Bark, Love + Hate, One Three One

*Now a major motion picture!

Lovely. Let’s get going then, shall we?

Here’s this week’s prompt. It’s an obvious-y but good-y, we think:

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We’re very excited to see what you come up with…

Meet 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.

Wednesday Writing Exercise: Ideas And What To Do With Them

Tonight is the second session of our current iteration of Writing A Novel. Last week, the students met for the first time. They introduced themselves, and their novels, and they met their wonderful tutors. Biscuits were eaten. Muses were motivated.

Now the work begins. To kick them off, this week they’ll be looking at ideas, and what comes after them. Should you plan your novel? And how detailed should a plan be? And then how rigidly should you stick to it?

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So, inspired by that — and because next month happens to be the month when over 300,000 people worldwide (including all of us here at Academy HQ) attempt to write a novel in thirty short days — here are a couple of exercises to get you thinking about your story and how to shape it.

What if?

Stephen King famously wrote in his excellent and highly-recommended On Writing that a strong enough central situation made plotting unnecessary (he actually wrote ‘Forget plot’ but we’re not quite sure how we feel about that. Sorry, Steve). He said that ‘the most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a What-if question’. Like these ones:

What if a plane full of school boys crash-landed on a desert island?

What if the pigs plotted to take over the farm?

What if you lost your memory every time you fell asleep?

If you’ve already got a novel on the go, or an idea for one, see if you can shrink it down to that single question. It’s much harder than it sounds — and it might make you think differently about what the most important element of your plot is.

And if you haven’t got any Shiny New Ideas just waiting to be written, it’s worth keeping an ear out for any What Ifs your brain throws at you as you go about your day. King, by the way, swears by the power of a good stroll for dislodging those million dollar story ideas…

Start small

Not every novel idea can be boiled down to a What if? But how about a single sentence? That’s what followers of the Snowflake Method recommend.

Try and summarise the plot of the novel you’re writing, or want to write, in a sentence no longer than twenty words. Something like:

An orphaned boy’s life is changed forever when, on his eleventh birthday, he discovers he is a wizard

That wasn’t too hard, right?

But now turn that into a paragraph. And after that, into three paragraphs. Keep going, keep expanding, until you have a full page of synopsis. Doing this helps you really focus in on the key elements of the story you’re trying to tell, and the motivations of the characters within it.

 

Happy planning! Meanwhile, the faction lines are being drawn here in the office in the run-up to NaNoWriMo. We have one plotter in the office, one unabashed pantser, and one not-so-sure… Let’s see how that pans out…

QuickFic 09/10/15: The Winner

Well that was lovely.

Still riding the sugar-high and melty-in-the-middle-heart happiness of the Great British Bake Off result (YAY NADIYA), we decided to go for a bit of a homely theme with this week’s prompt. Here it is, have a look:

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What a cutie.

Anyway, there were baps and buns and loaves and love, and a fair old measure of despair as well. We weren’t surprised; we’re used to you lot by now. Give you a unicorn, you’ll give us a glitter glue factory. We kind of love it.

So despair and bread. Loaves and longing. As always, you were all brilliant. But someone has to win star baker, and so here we go:

RUNNER-UP: Chrissie Cuthbertson

Food Of The Gods

‘I never want to see you playing with that Anita.’

Tilly loved her mother, but children are never good at remembering instructions and considering consequences. In any case, Tilly wondered what was so wrong with Anita. Admittedly she appeared — not neglected exactly, but as though she could use some attention. Uncombed hair, grubby face and dirty fingernails. Rips and frays in mismatched, differently-sized clothes handed down from hand-me-downs. In contrast Tilly was clean and tidy, her clothes not flashy, but fitting. Someone had checked her over that morning, and sent her out with a kiss on the head.

Anita was exciting. She was fearless and challenging. Then Tilly remembered that her mother didn’t want to SEE her playing with Anita. And could it really be called PLAYING, when what they intended to do that day was against the law?

Their plan was one of distraction and stealth. Tilly would divert the baker, discussing GBBO and asking about techniques and ingredients. Then Anita would grab whatever was easy and go, leaving Tilly to say her sweet goodbyes.

And the thing is, it worked. Like a dream. Tilly was laughing like a crazy girl when she met up with Anita. Five white, floury bread rolls. Anita solemnly handed Tilly two, claiming the greater risk. They ripped and stuffed their plunder like it was the food of gods.

The thrill of it! How daring they had been! Only much later did Tilly think that maybe Anita had just been hungry.

 

WINNER: Keri Williams

Watch The Clock

I was in the kitchen and Grandma was in the kitchen and we were making buns and Grandma told us how you pre-eat the oven and Grandma put the buns in and we must watch the clock to see how long is left and Grandma said she was showing us how to make buns because it was one of the things she wanted to show us and there were lots of things she wanted to show us but this was the one were doing today because she asked us what we’d like to do today and we said make buns so Grandma said OK I don’t know what the other things she wanted to show us were maybe cakes because Grandma likes making cakes she made me a cake for my birthday and it was chocolate and cream and she wrote Grace which is my name on top so I knew it was special and only for me and she said she would teach me to make cakes so I could make cakes for someone else probably mummy that’s who I’d make a cake for or Daddy but Mummy says Daddy can’t have cake because of his belly and then Grandma had a lie down on the floor and then mummy said to wait with you and I mustn’t go in the kitchen but I’m worried about Grandma’s buns because Grandma said we should watch the clock because we have to be careful about how much time is left.

 

Congratulations, Chrissie and Keri! And thanks to everyone who played.

See you same time next week — happy writing, happy weekends.