QuickFic 18/12/15: The Winner

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A classic first line there; taken, of course, from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. 

Now, over the year we’ve watched on with awe and admiration as you lot have managed to take the cheeriest prompt and propel it into the darkest depths fiction has to offer. It really is quite a skill. So we’ll admit, we were kind of expecting some pretty grim stuff to happen to poor old Jo. But no. You surprised us with all kinds of funny, poignant, lovely reasons why Jo might not be getting any presents this year.

A whole bunch of dark stuff too, obviously.

Anyway, here are our winners:

RUNNER-UP: Louise Rose Boyne

Last Christmas

‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

Nobody at all knows what to say to that. The words hang in the air, which smells of sweat and smoke and sick.

The aircraft has a strong metallic smell too. Now that it’s stopped hurtling us around and we are still and bruised I look about us fearfully.

It’s circular – I suppose this is why it’s called a pod – and silver, with curved walls and thick bolted beams.

At one end there is some sort of control panel, but nobody has even begun to think about addressing that problem, although right now the pod seems to be driving itself. At the other end, where pa squats, the pod is a window.

We watch the Earth fall away as the ship takes us further into the darkness. Great belches of black smoke the size of mountains engulf its surface. My burns sing with pain.

Jo lies still and small as a doll. The rug she lies on looks bizarre on the corrugated floor and not under the table in our kitchen.

Us and the rug could be all that’s left of Earth. I watch pa watch our planet descend into darkness, tears are on his face, the window reflecting his grief.

Normally I’d be angry at Jo’s childishness, but right now I shuffle towards her and take her little hand. She isn’t the only one who doesn’t truly understand what’s just happened to our home.

WINNER: J Kelly

Grace

‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents’, grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. ‘I’m off to the market’, she smiled, fitting her naked body against his before she rose.  Their usual casual intimacy.  Telegenic, almost. She left their suite at the conference hotel, and on what seemed to her then like a whim, asked the taxi to take her to the Alte Pinakothek. So close to the holidays, and just before closing time, the gallery was quieter than usual.  She had always wanted to see Durer’s Self-Portrait at 28.  Her boots clicked energetically.

It was there, looking in to Durer’s eyes, that she decided to leave him.  Or simply not to return to him, her husband of nine years.  All she could say later was that, at that moment, she felt exhausted by his pursuit of her, or something that he thought was her.  Maybe some idea of grace to which, accidentally, she had easily conformed.

At the precise moment of this knowing, her nose set off the sensor.  Her head filled with the noise and it was as if the world itself was alarmed by her thoughts. Only Durer was implacable.  Understanding even.  Like he might reach out and touch the side of her face.  Or if there was mistletoe, maybe even kiss her. Though he would never need her.  He was complete in himself, perhaps the only man about whom she could say this.  ‘Frohe Weihnachten, mein leibling. Danke schon’, she whispered and walked away.

 

Congratulations, Louise and J! And a huge THANK YOU to everyone who’s played QuickFic with us this year. We can’t wait to see what you come up with in 2016.

And don’t forget to keep an eye out for our 2015 Champion of Champions – we’ll be announcing the winner in the new year!

Merry Christmas to you and your Muses x

QuickFic 18/12/15

Good morning, QuickFic-ers!

Unbelievably, this is our last QuickFic of 2015. Time does fly, eh? That also means that over the Christmas break, we’ll be looking back over all our winners and choosing our champion of champions. We can’t wait!

But there’s still a chance to be one of those winners, because there’s still one more prompt to go. It’s at the bottom of the page – if you already know the rules, go check it out!

If you don’t, well, they’re pretty simple. All you have to do is take a look at that aforementioned prompt, then write us a story, of 250 words or less, inspired by it. Send that story, with a title and your wordcount, to us at academy@faber.co.uk by 2:50 this afternoon. No later. We can be right Scrooges when we want to be.

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

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They’d make excellent presents, wouldn’t they? We won’t tell if you don’t…

Alright? Right!

Prompt time!

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That’s not really the spirit of the thing, Jo…

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.

For more creative writing exercises, click here

QuickFic 11/12/15: The Winner

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So. Another round of QuickFic comes to a close, and once again we marvel at your talent, your imaginations, your propensity to make ball jokes. High five, guys. That was an A+ effort.

This week’s prompt was that festive photo up there, taken by Nicci in San Francisco in 2011.

And this week’s winners are THESE GUYS:

 

RUNNER-UP: Paul Jenkins

He Knows When You’re Sleeping, He Knows When You’re Awake

Tinsel, that’s an a**hole.

You got to run the picker slowly around the tree, elevating the bucket. You’re doing this by torch so as to make the magic of Christmas appear overnight. It’ll be cold; good chance it’ll be wet.

She’s cheating on me.

The baubles, they’re no fun either. The big ones are fifty bucks and you only drop one once. Straight out the pay packet and your overtime wiped out right there. You pop it over the end of the branch, in the dark, in the rain. The bucket wobbling a little. Like I say, you’d only drop one once.

She won’t text back. She’ll say Carl, it was 2am, I was asleep for Christ’s sake.

It’s not as if you get to turn the lights on. Three hours winding round a tree, trying to space them out evenly.  Up here, alone with these thoughts. The town asleep. Except, I guess for her.

And him.

My friends warned me. Carl, she’ll be no good for you. She likes a good time, etc. Well I like a good time too I said.

Well, can’t say I wasn’t warned.

And next month, I’ll be back. It all comes down in the daylight. The whole tree. No overtime. They still dock your pay if you drop a bauble.

From up here I can see the city. All is dark.  All is quiet. I place the star into position and wish.

 

RUNNER-UP: Laura Arends

The Tug Of The Heart

The small hand in his squeezed a little harder. The metal cage wobbled above them. The man leaned out, his sweating torso at the edge of health and safety, but still the giant bauble fell through the sticky toffee air towards its impending doom. It shattered across the car park.

A woman screamed and dropped her bag. A solitary apple rolled out across the concrete. Twenty eyes looked up at the metal cage above. Next to him, Tim could feel the tiny shoulders slump and a foot kicking its scuff on the ground. An outbreak of yelling and profanity sliced the atmosphere.

“Come on, son.” He pulled at the boy’s hand,

“Dad?” Tim wiped the sweat line off his forehead. The boy was blinking up at the giant tree, scrunched-up confusion sitting in the tiny details of his face.

“Yes?”

“Does Santa come here?”

“Yes, of course.” He swung the boy’s arm to the rhythm of ‘Jingle Bells’ bouncing from the loudspeaker outside the Walmart.  

“Doesn’t he get hot? Why does he wear that big coat?”

Tim looked at the smiling bloke up above the doors of the store.

“He’s magic, and he works so quickly he doesn’t feel the heat.” He was reaching and the face below didn’t look convinced. Tim smiled his widest. “Don’t worry, we’ll have a great Christmas, everything will be just the same.”

“No, nothing’s the same here.” The tiny hand tugged itself free and slipped between the fingers of Tim’s sticky hand.

 

WINNER: Alex James

Bright Christmas

“A beauty, isn’t it? All the way from Lapland, apparently.” Her boss says, his tone suggesting that this was an extravagance too far even for the town council. He keeps talking even as she ascends out of his eye-line, then above the squat buildings of the town centre. The cherry picker trembles slightly as it lifts her up, like she is a stunned bird cradled in the things palm, a creature of hollow bones, infinitely fragile. Next to her, the star lies cradled in sackcloth, glinting on a pile of bricks.

A transplant, severed from the dark, close forests of home, where the only sound was the flutter of wings and the padded footsteps of miniature predators. Traffic blares below as a cyclist limps onto the pavement, dragging the warped skeleton of his bike behind him. Black, oily smoke congeals around the green mountain of the tree, tugging at the hairs in her throat.

She brushes her hand over the spindles, already drying out in the winter sun. You and me both, pal. Green needles tumble like dandruff to the tarmac below.

“Will you hurry up?” he shouts. “We’ve still got to string the lights after this.”

With exaggerated care, she places the star onto the iron spike driven into the tree’s crown. It slides into place, grinds and catches against some internal mechanism.

“Alright, all done. Get me down from here.” She yells, turning away. It’s so bright she can hardly bear to look at it. 

 

Congratulations Paul, Laura and Alex! And thanks to everyone who entered. You are an excellent bunch.

See you next week!

QuickFic 11/12/15

Hi there.

It’s time for our penultimate round of QuickFic for 2015. That’s right – only this one and then one more before we get to choose our champion of champions!

But let’s not get carried away. There are still two more prompts to go. If you already know the rules, skip down the page and have a look at this week’s!

If this is your first QuickFic – and very welcome you are, too – it’s all very simple:

At 9.50 on a Friday morning, we give you a prompt. You write us a story, of 250 words or less, inspired by that prompt and then send it to us (academy@faber.co.uk) by 2.50 this very afternoon.  Please include a title and your wordcount as we fudge these things up if left to our own devices.

At 3.30 we’ll announce the winner, who’ll win these excellent books:

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We’ve heard that Richard Skinner guy’s meant to be pretty decent, you know…

Right. Ready for that prompt?

Here it is:

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Cherry-picked, just for 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.

For more creative writing exercises, click here

QuickFic 04/12/15: The Winners

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Our prompt this week was those beautiful and bountiful opening lines, taken from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland. And they were indeed bountiful, if your stories were anything to go by – there were mysterious creatures, apocalyptic visions, microchips and a very famous cat. We enjoyed it all immensely.

But let’s get on with the serious business. These books are getting ever so impatient.

RUNNER-UP: Jane Bradley

The Speech

“This is written from memory, unfortunately. If I could have brought with me the material I so carefully prepared, this would be a very different story.”

The audience laughed. Jean began to relax. It wasn’t so bad, after all, as long as she did what her daughter had told her – picture the audience naked.

She was doing that now. Mrs O’Leary in her green woollen coat. Gone. Naked.

Bridget Nelson in her red knitted jumper and floral skirt. Poof. Naked.

Jennifer Butler’s smart cream blouse and navy slacks. Abracadabra.

Only wrinkly, saggy bodies in front of her. This was much easier.

She had had to use her imagination.

Her body was nothing like she imagined theirs to be. She’d seen to that with years of careful eating. Eschewing the Angel Delight for tinned oranges. Long walks. She’d not let herself go.

“Unfortunately,” Jean continued, “I had to scribble this speech on the back of an envelope on the way here.”

She had. Ten minutes of bus scribbling between Trimdon and Sedgfield. She’d left the folder containing her neatly written speech next to her umbrella stand in the porch.

On the bus, a man had tried to engage her in conversation. She’d been tempted; he was just her type.

But without a speech, she’d have been lost and this was an important day.

There was a noise at the back and another woman arrived. She was wearing a damson-coloured raincoat. Jean had it off her in a second. Kapow. Then the pleated mustard skirt. Pop.

She could concentrate again.

“Now, I will tell you why I would be the best choice for chairwoman of the WI.”

 

WINNER: Tim Roberts

Mother of Dust

In a desert — for only deserts remained — she knelt beside the the last living thing. She caressed its pale stalk and it fell into her palm. Closing her eyes, she searched the darkness.

The stars were gone.

All that remained was a dead wind, racing across the red dust; coming to collect her; to distribute her amongst the ashes of her world.

This is how he ends the story. There are no books from which he can recount the tale. He tells it from memory, just as his father told it to him.

“That is the history of Mother Mars,” he says. “Do you have any questions?”

One of the wide eyed children, who sit cross-legged before him, raises a thin arm.

“Will we ever have a chance to visit a real planet?” asks a tiny voice.

A muted giggle ripples across the young audience. 

The teacher shakes his head, slowly.

“Our kind has no place on the great rocks,” he says. “For thousands of years we have survived on our ships. Here, we can do no more damage.” He taps his boot on one of the alloy floor panels of the great ship Nostos.

Later, as his students file out to collect their lunch in the bio-dome, he looks out of the classroom’s silicate porthole. In darkness, he sees the pinpoints of light from distant solar systems and he is thankful that they will remain forever beyond reach.

 

Congratulations, Jane and Tim! And thanks to everyone who entered, as ever. You are the gift that keeps on giving.

Happy weekends, happy writing all!

 

QuickFic 04/12/15

Good morning! December is here; the official Chocolate-For-Breakfast month. Our very favourite.

And Fridays are our favourites too, because Fridays mean we get to read a load of brilliant stories from you guys. It’s QuickFic time!

As the regulars among you will know, we’re about to give you a prompt. You should then write a story which is:

  • inspired by that prompt
  • 250 words or less
  • sent to academy@faber.co.uk by 2:50pm

It’s that simple. At 3:30 (or thereabouts, it depends how much we argue over the judging), we’ll reveal the winner, who’ll win these books:

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The Illuminations, Y, Jim’ll Paint It, The Accident, The Rest Just Follows

Oooh!

Let’s have a look at that prompt now.

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Well now. That sounds like a beginning with all kinds of narrative possibilities, don’t you think?

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: A Question of Conflict

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Tonight, our intrepid Writing A Novel students, who are almost halfway through their time with us, will be discussing conflict: what it is, how to create it, and why it’s important. They’ll be figuring out how to introduce obstacles for their own characters, and how those obstacles can help drive the story.

If you’re struggling with your novel – if you’ve made it past the Shiny New Idea excitement and are now wading through the Baggy Middle – it might be worth thinking about conflict, too. What does your protagonist want? And what is preventing them from achieving it? It could be that another person stands in the way; it could be that a situation does. Or it could be a more internal struggle – for example, a boy who dreams of being a singer but who has crippling stage fright.

Conflict can be both the engine for your story and provide tension; it will help you naturally structure your story too. Here’s an exercise to get you thinking about it:

  • Below are a couple of one-sentence stories. Each has a beginning and an end. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to insert six steps after each beginning, making it as difficult as possible for the characters to arrive at the end. Airline strikes, evil stepmothers, phobias – whatever you like. Just make them work for it.
     
    A woman wins the lottery and marries a bank robber.

    A man loses his job and wins a gold medal at the Olympics.

    A couple fall in love in the supermarket and adopt a tiger