Author Archives: Nicci Cloke

‘Tis(n’t) the season: How to get any writing done this Christmas

Long dark nights and plenty of snacks: by rights, Christmas should be the perfect opportunity to get words on the page. But in practice, it’s easy for December to fly by in a blur of mince pies and endless Love Actually reruns, and it’s not unusual to find yourself wondering where all that lovely writing time you’d planned has disappeared to.

Here are a couple of tried-and-tested ways to get the season to work for you, whatever you’re up to.

Try a cloud-based app – or go analogue with a notebook and pen

If the next couple of weeks are looking a bit jammed for you – whether with parties, family commitments or a job that gets extra busy at this time of the year – it can be hard to find a decent window to be alone with your laptop. Instead, try and get creative with the places and ways in which you write. I’m a recent convert to working on Google Docs, because it means I can open and edit my manuscript on my iPad on the train to work, on my phone when I’m stuck in a queue, and on my laptop when I finally do get enough time to sit down and write for longer. There are plenty of apps available that allow you to do this, so finding one you like working with on your devices can make it far easier to get a couple of hundred words down when you get a quiet moment (sneak your phone into the kitchen with you when you go to check on the turkey, or hide your tablet behind a sofa cushion ready for when everyone else has a snooze in the afternoon).

Of course, you don’t need fancy technology to make writing a more portable pastime. Grab yourself a nice notebook and try writing by hand if it’s not something you usually do. You’ll be surprised at how much it’s possible to jot down in the space of a bus ride once you’re headed home with your Christmas shopping.

Don’t make it a chore

While it’s good to have targets, sitting down to write because you feel you should is one of the quickest ways to kill your creativity. This can be even harder if you’ve got feelings of should coming from other directions, too: I should be spending time with loved ones or I should be mulling my own wine and making my own wrapping paper or I should be watching as many trashy Christmas films as Netflix can offer me. When there are so many demands on your time, make sure writing is something you’re excited about, not something you’re forcing yourself to do. If that means that some days you write out of order – skipping to a crucial scene you’ve been planning for ages or cycling back to fill in some backstory about a character you’ve become more interested in – then that’s okay. If it means that some days you don’t work on the manuscript at all, but fill in a character questionnaire or sketch out a chapter outline instead, that’s okay too. It all counts. And if it means you work on something entirely different to what you were planning, well… don’t tell anyone I said this, but that’s fine too. Treat yourself and try and have fun with whatever you’re writing – you can always come back to the trickier thing you were stuck on when January rolls around, and you’ll probably feel re-energised and ready for it.

Find a friend

If you’re determined to really make the holidays count and get lots of writing done, find someone else who is too. Whether it’s a friend you can keep in touch with via text or meet up with in person (country pub with a roaring fire, anyone?), or a writing group you share a WhatsApp group with, or even friendly like-minded writers on Twitter, there’s nothing like feeling part of something to keep your focus on the page. Why not suggest word-sprints – where you all write uninterrupted for a set amount of time (15 or 20 or 30 minutes or whatever you have) and then report back on how you got on. Feeling accountable for your day’s output – even if it’s just a quick text to say ‘Hooray, 1000 words in between naps today!’ – is a great way to motivate yourself even after the third tub of Quality Street.

Remember you don’t have to be writing to be working

Whatever the time of year, it’s important to remind yourself that much of the writing process happens away from your manuscript – and some of that is really crucial stuff. It’s the thinking time and the moments when your mind wanders just enough to let ideas sneak up on you (as Stephen King calls it, the boys in the basement). It’s the plotting and wondering and listening. Listening to the world around you, to how people speak, how they react, how they think, will make you a better writer, but Christmas is an especially good time to also step back from the technicalities of the craft and listen to what engages the people around you when it comes to stories. What are the films they choose to watch on their days off, what are the books they’ve asked for? And what about you – what do you find yourself reaching for when you have an hour or two to yourself? Whether it’s a novel you’ve been saving for ages or that entire afternoon of Christmas films, regularly losing yourself in a story is frankly just good practice for any writer. Use this time to fill up your creative well, to remember what inspires and excites you about fiction.  Because that’s something that’s really worth celebrating.

Five reasons your plot might be stalling – and how to kick-start it again

Our Writing a Novel students have been tackling the subject of Plot vs Story this week, getting to grips with the selection and ordering of events within their novel and how best both can serve them. It’s something we’ve been talking about in the office too, especially as I started a new project for NaNoWriMo this month, which then fell down at the 20,000 word mark – not-so-coincidentally the point at which my outline also ended. I’ve experimented a lot with plotting and planning over the past few years, trying to figure out what works best for me (too detailed an outline and I lose interest; not enough of one and clearly I falter at the first hurdle).

But whether you’re a planner or a pantser, there are all kinds of ways in which your plot can go off the rails when you’re working on a first draft. Here are five of the most common.

You’re lacking connection

Plot is all about causality – it’s the why to your story’s who, what, when and where. How does this scene you’re showing us affect what comes next – and how was it related to what came before? These moments of connection, the feeling of pieces falling into place, are the driving force of a novel. So if everything happening in yours feels too disparate, too random, it can end up being boring for a reader, giving them no sense of something to follow. 

This doesn’t mean every novel must consist of a chain of tightly connected, dramatic events – twist followed by bomb disposal followed by marriage proposal and another twist for good measure. Yes, action often leads plot, but change occurring in a smaller, more internal sense is just as valid an engine in a more character-led novel. Having said that, even in a novel where not much is externally happening, you still need to be thinking of the why. Why is this happening to these characters at this moment – and why is important for us to see? 

You’ve got it all going on

At the other end of the scale, it’s easy to overcrowd your plot; to load it up with scenes and moments and key events to interest your reader. While this can have a propulsive effect, it can quickly become overwhelming. Giving us too many potential paths and connections, too many ways in which the novel could branch off (Why is that character doing that? Is this significant? What happened back in 1964 and why does that character keep mentioning it? Whose hat is that?) is confusing – instead of having no sense of something to follow, we start to wonder which thread we’re supposed to be most engaged with. 

Try going back to the drawing board – this could be a whiteboard and markers, or a roll of wallpaper and post-it notes, or (my new personal favourite) a good old Excel spreadsheet. Write down each of the key plot points in the novel, colour-coding them so you can see whether it’s to do with the main storyline or a sub-plot. You can further colour-code to show whether it’s a turning point – something dramatically important – or a quieter moment (and if you’ve got multiple narrators or viewpoints, chuck in a marker for those too). Looking at the beats in the bare bones of your structure like that, do they seem well-balanced? Or do they cluster together? Do any of them seem repetitive or unnecessary when viewed with the rest?  

Where you’ve ended up doesn’t fit with where you started out

No matter how meticulous a planner you are, novels have a way of surprising you as you write. The better you get to know your characters, the keener the sense you have of how they would react in certain situations, and that alone can change the plot you thought you had all nailed down. And if you set off without any of that in the first place, well, all the more mysterious the journey and its destination. 

The thing is, often the end of a story is what must inform its beginning. The two need to feel linked, as if the place we leave our characters was in some way inevitable from the moment we met them. And sometimes (most of the time!) as a writer it’s not possible to have that until you’ve walked the story the whole way through for the first (even, let’s be honest, the third) time. It’s only then that you can really look back and see where pieces need to be moved or added to pull the picture into place. If you’re halfway through and already feeling like you’ve drifted off course, don’t panic. Make notes if you can see where things might need to change in what you’ve already written, but don’t feel like you have to go back and start unpicking it all immediately (though of course it’s also fine to do that if that’s how you work best). Sometimes you need to get it all on the page before you can truly see where the plot lies. FYI, I’m pretty sure Eliot was confirming his pantser status when he came up with that whole thing about the end being where we start from. 

It’s all a matter of time

Sometimes the pieces are all technically in the right place – it’s the gaps between them that are causing the problem. Setting those key beats too far apart can see you lose momentum, but not having enough quiet space in between can mean you don’t allow yourself room for the characters to develop and breathe before the plot carries them on. 

Choosing the time frame covered by your novel is not a simple matter of saying ‘It starts on this date and ends on this one’ but also of deciding how much of that you want to set down on the page. Will you be relating events in as close to real time as you can, letting us live every moment (brave, but it can work!)? Or are we joining our characters at certain important days or weeks within a longer time period, perhaps even to the extent that that spacing and placement of those moments informs the novel’s structure (as in One Day or The Time Traveller’s Wife)? If you’re struggling to see why your plot is lagging or bunching up, think carefully about the time period you’ve chosen – was there a specific reason you wanted to set it over the course of an hour or a week or a summer or a decade? Do you still need to? And would there be anything to gain from switching up the chronology – would that exciting event that happens near the end actually make a brilliant prologue?

The plot itself is all good – but it needs a better agent

Even if you feel you’ve got the unfolding of your story exactly right – things in the right order, the pieces balanced and leading logically to one another – your plot might still feel lacking. In that case, it could be worth considering going back and looking at the way in which you’re setting out this story – might it be better told with two narrators, two different chains of events (or the same chain divided between them to show us conflicting versions)? Or is there another time strand to include which might shed light on or recast your current plot in a different and more interesting way? Sometimes shifting perspective rather than rearranging the elements of your story itself can pull things more tightly into place, or open up a path between your beginning and end that you hadn’t realised was there. And somehow, those always seem to turn out to be the perfect ones.

Darren O’Sullivan: The Three Steps of a First Draft

As an author who is lucky enough to do the odd panel, I get asked a lot of questions about how I got started. I completely understand why. Only four years ago I was a student at the Faber Academy, and Colette McBeth was answering the exact same question (in fact, I may have been the person to ask it). I was mesmerised by what she said, fascinated by her journey, and as I sat in the audience, listening to how she believed a first draft shouldn’t be perfect, I let myself dream of the day I would have my own story to tell.

Now I’m working on my sixth novel after being picked up by HQ two years ago.

The journey from then to now hasn’t been plain sailing: there have been a lot of rejections, tons of despair, and with my debut, Our Little Secret, I had to cut the best part of 70,000 words to rework it, even after an initial cull and rewrite. I literally have twice as many binned words as in the actual finished novel! It may sound pretty traumatic to have to throw away so much work, but in fact it’s been a blessing in disguise – and the most important learning curve for my writing process.

Now, when I begin a first draft, I go through three stages.

1: Ask What if?

Before I write a single word, I work on who the story is about and I get to know them. After a week or so, I have a good idea of who the character at the heart of the book is – but at that point I don’t think about the hook or the twist or even what’s going to happen (or what has happened) to them. Instead I ask, What if?  I throw situations at my characters; I drop them at the deep end of that situation and see how they react. A lot of the time the character begins to do things and say things I wouldn’t have considered.

This is, for me, one of the most important aspects of creating a story. Adding those immeasurably valuable two words to my thought process removed the crushing doubt and allowed me to have fun (well, as much fun as a person can have after cutting 70,000 words of course). In the What if lives endless possibility, unlimited creation, a universe of avenues to explore and new situations to develop. And it removed my super ego – because how can you be definitively right in a world with so much possibility?

And from that initial What if, I begin to write, building the scene and the world the character is in, until I hit a dead end. Then another What if usually kicks the story along. In my fourth book, Dark Corners, which is coming out in April 2020, I knew before I began to write that Neve Chambers had a secret she had been holding onto for over twenty years. But I didn’t know what it was. I knew she had moved away from where she grew up and lived in London, but I didn’t know why. I knew she had a challenging relationship with her father. But I didn’t know what had caused it. Then I asked the question. What if she had to go back to the village she fled when she was younger? What would happen? What if she hadn’t been back since the day she left, and what if the place she fled was so small, so wrapped up in its past, it hadn’t forgotten how she’d abandoned them in their time of need?

Once I had asked these questions, I wrote them down where I could see them, so I could reference them whenever I was building a scene.

2: Get it on the page

After the What if, the second part of my process is about getting the story down. I try to have an idea where I want to go, a few notes made in my journal, but it’s not essential. What is essential is to get it down on paper. I write breathlessly and my first drafts are scrappy. But that’s okay (thanks, Colette). Character motivations aren’t always clear, the plot will have holes everywhere. But at the start this doesn’t matter.

I aim to write the first draft in ten weeks. Some days I get to write from 9am until 3pm. Some days I have to write a bit in the morning, and then again once my little one is in bed for the night. But ten weeks is the target – it’s quite quick, I’m aware, but if you break that down, it’s just 1500 words a day, six days a week. All that matters is getting it down, getting it out of my head and asking the thousand What ifs along the way.

I lay out what I have on my office wall, using post-it notes to colour code the POV; plot points, as they are; and the questions I have yet to find the answer for. Then, the real work begins as I try to turn the messy, issue-riddled story into something a reader might enjoy. What I don’t do in this first draft process is get in my own way. I don’t stop when doubt tells me it’s shit. I don’t realise the plot is sticky and try to fix too soon. I focus on the only thing I can control at this point, which is the act of being at my laptop, putting down the words. Sure, a lot of the words won’t be the right ones but don’t they say, don’t get it right, just get it written?

3: Begin again, out loud

I often find it’s only once the first draft is done that I truly understand what I’m trying to say. For example, in my third book, Closer Than You Think, it wasn’t until I finished the first draft that I understood quite how close the killer was to the protagonist at all times. This detail wasn’t in my plan, and I didn’t know it was happening until the conclusion was wrapped up. Knowing this altered how I understood the story I was trying to tell, and consequently became a hugely powerful thread within the book.

So once the first draft is down, I begin again. I read the story out loud, a red pen in one hand, a green in the other. The red cuts the repetition and pointless words, the green is used to find the places where I can answer the questions I’ve posed for myself and add new details I can only see when I hear it spoken.

And once I’ve completed my three phases, I hand it in, to begin again with my What ifs once my editor has made their comments.

But there’s also the fourth – and most important – step.

4: Protect the love of writing

Writing a book, as we all know, is bloody hard. It’s a sometimes insurmountable summit and although I’ve condensed my process to a three step guide, there are dozens of side steps and backward steps. There is research and waking up in the middle of the night with ‘incredible’ ideas that turn out to make no sense once morning comes. There are sales figures and reviews and deadlines. It’s hard. But I make it a daily practice to remember my time before I was a published author, when I was sat at the Faber Academy, scribbling down every piece of information my tutor and other authors shared. I make it a daily practice to remember the reason I write. I didn’t want a six figure advance (in the beginning, I didn’t even know authors could get six figure advances!). All I wanted was to tell a story, finish it, and feel empowered to try and tell another. When no-one cared about my books, when I had no deadline, no reviews, no sales figures, I wrote because I loved it, and I protect that feeling every single day. And that, for me is the most important part of writing a book. I remind myself how much I adore writing. And that way, the 90,000 new words I need to produce in a new world I have dreamt up doesn’t seem so hard a mountain to climb.

 

Darren O’Sullivan is the author of three bestselling novels: Our Little Secret, Close Your Eyes and Closer Than You Think. His fourth novel, Dark Corners, will be published next April. He’s represented by the Madeleine Milburn Agency. Darren is a graduate of our Writing A Novel course.

You can follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, or visit his website

Applying for Writing A Novel? Here’s how to stand out from the crowd

As the end of the year approaches, we’re looking forward to January and the new term, when we’ll be welcoming the next set of students onto our six month Writing A Novel course. The course is now in its tenth year, having launched the careers of over a hundred authors, and we’re really proud of it. As applications start to come in, we asked our tutors to tell us what it is they’re hoping to see when they sit down to read through them – and what makes them want to offer someone a place in their class.

Our tutors on the daytime version of the course, Sabrina Broadbent and Shelley Weiner, are looking for originality and determination. Sabrina told us:

In the writing sample, I’m on the lookout for latent signs of that rare thing ‘an original voice’, which is hard to define yet unmistakeable when you read it. It often emerges out of risk, nonconformity and difference. Unusual dialogue is a good sign. Irreverence and wit also. With the letter, I’m usually thinking of what a good writing group needs – insight, humility, self awareness, commitment, a range of viewpoints and experiences.

Shelley agreed that the letter tells her a lot about how prepared an applicant might be for the challenges of the course:

The prose extract is important but, more than a piece of finely honed fiction, I look for freshness, a sense of urgency, an eye for the quirks and oddities in life. The letter should be articulate and coherent, expressing the potential student’s passion, realism and determination: passion for the crazy endeavour of long-form fiction, realism about the challenges involved, and determination to see it through.

 

Our tutors for the evening version of the course, Richard Kelly, Sarah May and Richard Skinner, are also looking for promise in both a potential student’s writing and their ability to contribute to the group. Richard Kelly told us:

What I love to find in an application is a sharp and original idea, some well-made sentences, and an overall sense of the writer’s readiness to share and exchange – which is the making of a great class.

 

Sarah May doesn’t expect an applicant to come with their novel fully-formed – it’s the raw material which matters most:

What am I looking for? Passion and potential in the writing sample. These outweigh polish and perfection every time. The covering letter needs to demonstrate commitment and an ability to work collaboratively.

 

 

And Richard Skinner, who created the course in 2009, agreed that polish isn’t everything – talent always shines through.

Of course we’re looking for good writing but, as long as a less polished piece has that certain something in it, that thing we’re all looking for but can’t name, then we’re interested.

 

 

Applications close for this iteration of the course on 31 December 2019. If you’re thinking about applying and want to know more, you can always drop us a line at academy@faber.co.uk or on 0207 927 3868.

Four reasons your POV isn’t working

It’s one of the first decisions you need to make when starting a novel (or a short story or screenplay or pretty much all writing in fact): who is telling this story, and how are they choosing to do so?

This week at Bloomsbury House, our Writing A Novel students have been learning about point of view. First person, second or third; past or present or a combination thereof – finding the perfect voice can do wonders for your narrative.

But if something doesn’t feel right as you start putting the words down on the page, here are some of the reasons your chosen POV might not be working for you.

Your first person narrator doesn’t know enough… Or they know too much

Writing in the first person can be a real gift – done well, it can quickly bring your reader close, make your action feel more immediate. But it can prove tricky in terms of plot because we can only know what your narrator knows; while this can add intrigue and layers to the reading experience, you may also find yourself constantly having to invent ways for them to overhear or see things that move the story along.

At the opposite end of the scale, a first person narrator can sometimes know too much for your plot to feel believable. If your main character is withholding information from the reader that will provide a twist at the end, think carefully about the mechanics of this. Of course deliberate misdirection can work brilliantly (do we even need to mention The Murder of Roger Ackroyd here?), but this suggests an interaction, a dialogue between narrator and reader. You can do this by playing with form – the diary sections of Gone Girl are another oft-used example – but if your novel features a more traditional first person narrative then there should be a good reason that a relevant fact doesn’t surface in their inner monologue until the point at which it serves you best. It can feel like a cheat, for example, if your main character spends an entire novel watching a murder investigation and only acknowledges to themselves right at the end that they’ve held a vital clue all along.

Your third person narrative is keeping you at arm’s length

A third person narrative can give you a lot of freedom. If you choose an omniscient narrator you can decide to move from character to character, even to impart information that none of them have; whilst even a close third person narrative can offer a cooler, more balanced perspective than being inside that character’s head. But it can also be limiting in certain stories.

Sometimes we need to have a closeness to our protagonist(s) in order to fully experience the things that are happening to them, and in the third person, you may find yourself resorting to that much-feared writing sin of telling your reader what your character is feeling and thinking. Consider this: Brian thought that Miranda was an idiot, especially since that time she had broken his favourite mug in the kitchen on the same day that he had stepped in a puddle on the way to work. He thought about what an awful day that had been. It becomes laborious to read; distancing for a reader. Instead, novelists from Jane Austen to Stephen King have made excellent use of free indirect style to bring their narrative to life. Miranda was an idiot. What about that time she had broken his favourite mug? That had been an awful day; his trousers still wet from the puddle he had stepped in on the way to work. The content is essentially the same and yet it subtly positions us, the reader, in a different way.

Your past tense is… not so tense

While writing in the past tense offers you a great level of control as a writer, if you’re also using the first person, it can make it harder to add suspense. Because how to make us wonder if things will turn out alright when the narrator is patently here to tell the tale? The third person can offer better grounds for toying with your reader here, giving you all the power. But it can work in the first person too – if you have that relationship between narrator and reader mentioned above. Is your narrator holding back what happened from us? Or do we know from the outset where they are now, and the drive of the narrative is therefore in finding out how that came to be?

Something to consider with any story is the question: why should we care? Why will we read on? Is it to watch events unfold, or to simply enjoy being in the company of an irresistible narrator? Is it because we can’t stop, because we need to know what happens next? Knowing this when you set out will help you work out at an early stage whether the POV you have chosen is going to help you achieve that goal.

The voice you’re using is great – but it doesn’t belong to the character you’re writing

Sometimes everything can be great in the thing you’re writing – you love the prose, you can tell the pace is there, exposition is no problem – but somehow it just still feels… wrong. If you’re writing in the first person, take a step back and consider your narrator. Think about who they are, where they’ve come from, what they’ve been through. Is the voice you’ve given them built up from that? Does everything that gives it depth – their vocabulary, their speech patterns, the unique way they think about and look at the world – come from it? If the answer is no – if the voice came first and their story is something you’re figuring out along the way, or if your plot has shifted and changed the longer you’ve been working on it, it could be time to revisit who this narrator is. Character questionnaires and other short exercises can be a great way to do this; on Writing A Novel, we often recommend students attempt writing a letter to themselves, the author, from their protagonists. Get to know your character again and you may find your POV slipping back into place.

Faber Academy are hiring – Join us!

[CLOSED] We’re looking for someone brilliant… is it you?

  • Super-organised?
  • Composed?
  • Bristling with energy?
  • Obsessed with writing and writers?

PLEASE NOTE: Applications for this position are no longer being accepted. Head to www.faber.co.uk/careers for more opportunities.

Faber Academy want you. We are looking for a new Academy Assistant to support every aspect of our thriving creative writing school: setting up the rooms for our classes and events, taking bookings, and keeping our customer data up to date.full-report-graphic

But that’s not all.

This is a varied, hands-on role: you will be doing everything from making coffee to drafting copy. You will know how to make writers feel at home and you can prioritise your tasks through the day so that every customer has an equally excellent experience. You will have some experience of working in a customer-facing role, either in retail or in hospitality, and you will need to be confident taking phone calls and answering customer enquiries from the outset. You will also have an interest in writing, though that doesn’t necessarily mean you are a writer yourself.

We’re a small team and our job is different every day, so you will need to be flexible, motivated and creative in how you approach your work.

What you don’t need, necessarily, is a degree. In fact, at this stage, we’re not even looking for a CV.

If all this sounds like you, click CLICK HERE and fill in a Google form to get things started.*

Any questions, call Ian on 0207 927 3827.

Applications for this position will close at 5pm, Monday 13th March, 2017. This is a full time permanent position.

*We’re using a Google form so that your application can be anonymised. We’ll keep your data for six months. See our privacy policy for more information.

#BookCharades – as it happens

It’s a festive Friday at Faber Towers, and here in the Academy we’re playing #BookCharades all day. One new book-themed charade every hour, with an excellent prize at stake.

The first person to email us at 5pm with all nine answers will win that excellent prize, and we just can’t wait to see how you get on.

Here’s where we’re at so far…

This was your first charade, released at 9 a.m. :

Followed an hour later by this one:

And then by this team effort:

This one is our noon charade. Can you guess the writing guide?

A modern classic for our lunchtime clue:

Up at #6, Ian does something that looks a bit sharky (but isn’t):

There was this cheeky one, about a book not yet published…

Ian interrupted a festive snack for this Academy favourite:

And finally, this one from Nicci:

Get your answers in to academy@faber.co.uk!

Time to play… #BookCharades!

Season’s greetings!

It’s been a festive old week here at Faber Towers. There was a fiercely contested Christmas Decoration Competition, mince pies aplenty and wall-to-wall Mariah. What better way to round out the week than with a good old party game?

Today we’re going to be posting an hourly #BookCharades video, beginning in just a few short minutes at 9am. Each time, it’ll be a member of Team Academy doing their very best to convey a book title to you in classic charade style.

All you have to do is guess what that book is – but keep it to yourself! Don’t be @ing us and giving the game away, eh?

There’ll be nine videos in total, with the last one posted at 5pm, and the first person to email us at academy@faber.co.uk with all nine titles correct is THE WINNER.

The winner will win one of two things. Those things are:

These ten wonderful Faber books (happy Christmas to you):

bookcharades_prize

OR a mini-report from our manuscript assessment team. If you opt for this one, you can submit up to 10,000 words of prose (part of a novel or a short story) or five poems to us, and we’ll provide a report of up to 1,000 words on your work’s strengths and weaknesses.

The choice is yours!

Here are some important things to know about the competition:

  • We haven’t just chosen Faber books to act out, so think outside the house
  • No Academy staff were harmed in the making of these videos
  • We might give extra clues if you tweet us nicely…

Meet you at #BookCharades! Bring a party hat.

QuickFic 23/09/16: The Winner

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We did something a bit different today. We asked for QuickFic stories inspired by a randomly-selected Wikipedia article, which happened to be about Sverre Farstad, a Norwegian speed skater and Olympic gold medallist.

RUNNER-UP: Anne Petrie

Speed Skating

‘You’re skating on thin ice, Lou. You’ll be in deep trouble if you carry on like this.’

I can’t stop, though I hear the creaking and cracking beneath my feet. There is too much still to do.

‘I must,’ I tell her. ‘Only today. I’ll stop tomorrow.’

‘You said that yesterday and…’

‘I know, but this time I mean it.’

I look down. The ice is fragile, translucent, beneath it a fathomless depth of numbing cold where nothing can be alive. Down there the dead dwell in chilly passivity. I shiver and wrap my arms around myself, but still I tremble. I want to sleep, to but I must not. You die if you sleep, and there is so much to do, so very much to do.

‘The usual, love?’ the man says. He takes my money and hands over the wrap. I snort, wait. The shakes start to subside, the weariness recedes, the fragile ice thickens. Now I can skate. I can spin and spiral and flip and fly and the dark abyss of the dead will not claim me.

 

WINNER: Sharon Telfer

Frozen

He keeps the blades sharp, the leather supple. Harder to keep his body in shape. The muscles in his legs are softening, that crouching balance tipping to one side.

The occupiers have forbidden skating. They seek to crack those they have conquered, shatter these people of the ice. He teaches other sports, gymnastics, football, wrestling: games of softness, the body’s rounded warmth. He trains his players to bend, to twist, to clutch. He yearns for the cold solidity of the ice.

Other men have gone into the mountains. They move on the enemy through the winter’s dark shrouded like ghosts bearing the white touch of death. Boys he was at school with, men he used to see in church. He has been sounded out, careful conversations started. He has pretended not to understand. Now people talk to him only of the weather.

He has a family to protect, he reasons, young children, his mother is frail. It is a shock to him, his fear. He has hurtled down the frozen river, the ice spitting in his face, the deadly water kept away by an inch of glass, his life balanced on a slither of silver speed. Now, overnight, terror has smothered him like a blizzard that leaves the morning world indistinct, uncertain, unfamiliar.

He takes down the skates down, runs his thumb across the edge. Whorls pattern his skin like lines traced in the ice. He wonders if this war will end in time.

Congratulations, Anne and Sharon! And thank you, everyone – there was some seriously special stuff sent in this week. It was beautiful.

Happy weekends! And we’ll see you again next week.

QuickFic 23/09/16

Morning!

We’ve got a new kind of prompt for you today (another one! After all the playlist-inspired fun the other week!). This one has a background to it, so prepare yourself for a brief immersion in the mists of time.

A long time ago, when the Academy was just starting out and Ian and Nicci were also just beginning their Faber journey, they liked to get a bit competitive about writing. One day, Ian (then prone to wild flights of enthusiasm) decided to set a challenge. The challenge was this: the person who could write the best story using a random article from Wikipedia (with only three clicks of the ‘Random article’ button allowed) was officially the greatest and the smartest and the winner.

One of the stories was excellent, and one of them was… not written. On this basis (and probably others) Ian is the greatest and the smartest and the winner.

But the challenge was a good one, and so I’ve used it as inspiration for today’s QuickFic. I randomly generated three Wikipedia articles, and then I chose the best one as your prompt for today.

Here it is.

So.

The rest of the rules are simple and the same as always. Read that article, have a think about how it might make a good story, and then write that story. It should be only 250 words or less, and when it’s done, you should send it, in the body of an email, to academy@faber.co.uk. Please include a title and a wordcount, and please make sure you send it by the deadline: 2:50pm.

Here’s what you might win:

qf73_books

Best get your skates on…

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.