Author Archives: Nicci Cloke

QuickFic 02/09/16 – a special one!

Good morning, flash fiction friends.

We’ve got a quite special QuickFic for you today.

The first reason it’s so special is that it’s a celebration of this very wonderful book, published yesterday:

 

It’s a beauty, right? You can find out all about it here.

The other special thing is that for the very first time, today’s prompt isn’t a photo or a first line. It’s not even a song.

It’s a whole bunch of them.

Yep, we’re asking you to write a 250 word story inspired by this The Lesser Bohemians playlist, put together by Eimear McBride herself!

An important note on copyright here: it exists. And lyrics are its most expensive limb.

Please don’t use lyrics, because it means we can’t reprint your story and that means your story can’t win.

What we’re going for here is inspired by the playlist. A similar mood or a memory it might trigger or whatever. Just not the lyrics.

(Titles aren’t subject to copyright though. Go wild there.)

As always, you should send your stories to academy@faber.co.uk by 2:50pm today, 2nd September. Please include a title and your wordcount.

To re-cap:

  • 250 words or less
  • Inspired by the playlist, but not plagiarising it
  • academy@faber.co.uk, by 2:50pm

The winner will win these excellent books:

005

Lovely.

See you back here at 3:30, when we’ll announce the winner – we can’t wait to see what you come up with!

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 26/08/16: The Winner

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RUNNER-UP: Fay Franklin

Pie de Résistance

It’s not easy to dine at chef Rory Carter-Swivell’s latest venture. First, leave your details – email, star sign and favourite album – on his website. You will, perhaps, eventually receive a reply giving a date and time (you have no choice in this – if you can’t make it, you are barred), and GPS coordinates.

At the appointed hour you will find yourself in a bland suburban street, facing an unmarked door behind a bookie’s. Ring the bell and the door will swing open onto a flight of stairs, ascending into darkness.

In the all-white, windowless room at the top, scarlet-clad servers move silently to and from the unseen kitchen, laying plates reverentially before the chosen diners at a single, planked-wood table.

There is no menu, no wine list, no “let me tell you about today’s specials”.

You might be presented with a kidney dish – not a dish of kidneys, but a vessel usually found in hospitals – containing a lone slice of sous-vide ox tendon, scattered with micro nettles. The ten courses that follow will make this appetizer seem mundane. Fertilized gull’s eggs roasted over driftwood or earthworm noodles in a ‘chip shop curry’ consommé, say.

The signature dessert is the ‘pie de résistance’ – Chef himself runs from the kitchen bearing a magnificent tart (ours was filled with a mousse of rhubarb-and-custard sweets) and bowls it overarm onto the table, to be eaten with your fingers. Returning home on the Tube with clothes spattered in pudding is a badge of honour.

WINNER: Jane Bradley

Perfection

They’d looked so perfect in the shop. She’d known as soon as she saw them. Smooth pink icing, crumbling centres, silver sparkles glistening on the top. They were her cakes: ethereal; beautiful.

She’d got the baker to stack them on a special layered tray. One for each guest and a few left over.

It was the perfect photo opportunity. She’d retouched her lipstick, checked her hair in the tiny mirror and, smiling, made her entrance into the reception hall.
Her guests beamed as she swished past them, their faces a sea of white, pearly teeth. It had been the perfect wedding; she was the perfect bride.

But as she got closer, she noticed he wasn’t smiling. He was staring, his eyes wide, spots of pink high on his cheekbones.

God. Why could he do nothing right? She toyed with asking the photographer to do it again, force him to put a smile on his goddam face this time. But no. She’d have to make do.
She tossed back her head and laughed – a tinkling laugh she’d been practicing for weeks – and picked up a cake. But before she could smoosh it into his mouth in the perfect romantic gesture, he’d grabbed her wrist.

“No,” he stammered. “No, I can’t do this. I’m sorry.”

She couldn’t take her eyes off the floor, where his retreating heel had trampled the cake into the white board.

It was still beautiful, she thought. Even broken, smashed into tiny pieces, the icing still sparkled. Perfect.

 

Congratulations, Fay and Jane! And thanks to everyone who entered. It’s good to be back.

See you next week! May your long weekend be word-filled and wonderful.

QuickFic 26/08/16

Guys. It has been a long time. The summer has raced away and we have missed you and your micro-fictions so very much.

But we’re back now – with a brand-new prompt in tow.

A quick reminder of the rules, seeing as it’s been a while:

  • You’re about to see a prompt
  • We’d love a very short story, of 250 words or less, inspired by that prompt
  • Paste your story into the body of an email, including a title, and send that email to academy@faber.co.uk by 2:50pm today
  • You might win some books:
qf69_books

Some *lovely* books, in fact

Without further ado, here it is then, this brand-new prompt:

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Oh dear. What’s happened there then?

Do tell us – by 2:50 today!

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 15/07/16: The Winner

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RUNNER-UP: Thom Willis (we’re going to have to ban you soon, Thom)

Reactions

“…bones, for some reason!” and he laughed; hugely, uproariously. She sank into herself. Oh god, that laugh. So certain of its own hilarity, so arrogant, so obnoxious. A toxic cloud of self-amusment that drifted slowly out from him until it stifled the genuine fun from any given room. He should have a warning, a yellow triangular sticker slapped on his face. Caution. Fumes.

She fumed. He could feel her resentment, white hot burning a hole in the sofa they just about shared. The gulf between them made it feel like two separate pieces of furniture. He tried to lighten the mood with a joke that screeched down to Earth in flames. Why did she do this? Incinerate the joy around her? She should have a warning, a red circle. Danger! Naked flame!

Those two are so great together, though you wouldn’t know it to hear them talk. They have a real spark, true chemistry. The way she reacts to him… It’s like hate, but you can see she’s knocked out by him, and she makes him just explode. They should have a warning, a big sign. Keep out. Private.

 

WINNER: Simon Higgs

Fathom

When Tom told what he considered to be an amusing anecdote, he would laugh the whole way through it. That uproarious laugh was one of a multitude of things that first drew Red toward him, a tide of tremendous traits that had turned, and now each and every one of them repulsed her.
 
As a child Red had watched her many brothers as they dammed the stream that ran past the house and created reservoirs for their toy naval battles. The steam always won in the end of course, especially if she gave it a little helping hand by tugging at an out-cropped twig or stone.
 
Tom had seemed to her like a rock, back in those days when she levered him away from his wife and children. Yet now she was breaking through and away downstream and running her inevitable course. The thing Tom had feared most, that she would one day change her course, had happened. The Storm had come and the swollen river, force of nature, was once more on the move, and he hadn’t even worked it out yet.
 
When that dam breaks, his soaring laugh will then be silenced, drowned deep beneath and unable to absorb. To Red this has already begun – his eyes now pearls, his bones of coral made. That damned laugh was his own drowning, and the story he was telling was not so funny, and everyone else could see the coming end.

 

Congratulations, Thom and Simon! And thanks everyone, for another round of astoundingly good flashing.

See you next week!

QuickFic 15/07/16

Hi there!

Firstly, sincere apologies for our non-appearance last week. It might have been the day after the Summer Party here and it might also have been someone’s significant birthday.

I can’t say for sure. It certainly wasn’t me.

(It was me.)

Anyway. Moving on. Here’s a new prompt!

As always, we’re looking for stories of 250 words or less, inspired by the prompt and sent to us at academy@faber.co.uk by 2:50pm. Please include a title and a word count.

You might win these books!

qf68_books

Right then. Let’s have a look at this prompt.

Here it is:

Quickfic

Yep.

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 01/07/16: The Winner

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Runner-up: Laura Riley

The Question

A satisfied sigh curled from Jennifer Attley’s rouged lips, as she relaxed into her exquisitely upholstered chair. She drained the last drops of her weapon of choice – a Vodka martini. Ice cold Grey Goose, Noilly Prat Original Dry, and three olives leaning proudly at the side of the glass – served alongside a generous Xanax chaser. This particular cocktail had ensured many a good night’s sleep. She’d upped today’s dosage. Nothing short of the hand of God would rouse her once it took its effect.

It had been quite a day. The screen icon had listened intently as her husband – studio owner Jerry Montgomery – informed her of his plans to divorce her. There was an ingenue – not his first – but there was a complication this time. The ingenue was pregnant.

He told her this as they both sat upon their marital bed. He told her this, after they had just shared that bed. Once he was finished, Jennifer rose calmly, crossing the room to her bureau. She confidently grabbed for the revolver inside, and without a moment’s pause pointed it between her husband’s eyes and pulled the trigger. Wiping away her prints, she forced the gun into her husband’s dead hand.

They would find her first – immaculately laid out downstairs. Then they would find him – another apparent suicide – but who had been first? This would be the greatest story of her career. No-one would ever know the answer – but the question? Oh, the question would live on forever.

***

Winner: Rebecca Pizzey

Gored

Through an octopus of smoke in Spanish: you can’t die from a bull kick to the head. Several cigarette laughs and a thump on the poker table. Someone remarked that the matador deserved it – not quick on his feet.

The balcony was awash with late afternoon heat and a cacophony of sounds and smells from the street below, into which the men were leisurely spitting and tapping ash. His money spent, Thom turned away from the gambling men and saw that Biddy had arrived.

She was surveying him imperiously from between the encasing wings of an armchair, her long fingers encircling a crystal martini glass – the only thing she was known to embrace.

She looked utterly royal; everything about her, from her carefully arranged silk frills to the tight curl of her hair, was demanding of a Velázquez.

Thom extricated himself from the table and plunged into the heady hotel suite. The only movement in the velvet quiet was the revolving liquid in Biddy’s glass, over which she was appraising him.

‘You must have been devastated.’ Her voice was the punch of a diamond earring. ‘All that money – and he fell.

‘I didn’t watch the fight,’ she went on, a flush creeping up her exposed collarbones. ‘I was seeing to Marty.’

Thom’s voice died in his throat.

‘He’s as good as dead. Like your friend the matador.’ Her martini whisper folded itself into Thom, who had no time to wonder whether he could have been quicker on his feet.

***

Congratulations, Laura and Rebecca! And thanks, as always, to everyone for their brilliant stories.

See you next week!

QuickFic 01/07/16

Gooooood morning, team. Ready for a flash fiction fix?

We definitely are.

It’s been a couple of weeks so let’s remind ourselves of the rules, shall we? They go a little something like this:

  • At 9:50 on a Friday, we give you a prompt
  • You write us a story, a very small one (up to 250 words), and send it to us at academy@faber.co.uk
  • (But make sure it has a title and your wordcount included before you do that!)
  • Do all of that by 2:50pm, because that is when the deadline is

At 3:30, we’ll announce the winner – and the winner will win these excellent books:

qf67_books

They look nice, eh?

Come on then. Let’s have a look at this prompt:

qf67_orig

Yup.

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.

Five Tips For Writing A Powerful Short Story by Shelley Weiner

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This post is written by acclaimed novelist and Academy favourite, Shelley Weiner. This is not her. This is a person unsure of the power of their short fiction.

It is a commonly held fallacy that short stories are somehow easier to write than novels – and certainly they’re, well, shorter. But that’s about it. A perfect piece of short fiction is as hard to achieve as a finely wrought item of jewellery. It demands precision, supreme control, and a good strong tale at its heart.

Here, to get you started, are five essential tips:

  1. Know every character in your story. What does each one of them want? What will they do in order to get it?

  2. Be ruthless. Make something happen to your main character that will put him or her to the test. This will help your reader to care about the outcome, which is vital.

  3. Make your opening as close as possible to the ending. Constricting the time frame can strengthen your tale.

  4. Write your story as though it’s a letter to a friend who shares your sensibilities – and your sense of humour. It’s a trick to make your story more engaging and to help with the flow.

  5. Every word counts; every sentence should advance the story. Don’t waste a single comma or distract your reader’s attention with an ill-conceived metaphor or an irrelevant piece of purple prose.

Shelley Weiner

 

Shelley Weiner is the tutor on our week-long course, The Five Day Short Story.

 

QuickFic 10/06/16: The Winner

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RUNNER-UP: Catherine Palmer

The Front

Pearce carries his burden with him, heavy by his side.  It throbs in the empty space on the right side of his body. 

As Pearce shifts in his seat, he looks to his left at Louise sitting next to him.  It’s a habit he’d picked up, always sitting on the right, always taking pictures in profile. 

He smiles at Louise.  She isn’t beautiful, her nose is too large, and Pearce can see the pores on her face.  But when she smiles, her eyes squint into half-moons and her mouth opens into a soft rectangle as her tongue pushes on her teeth. 

Pearce lifts his arm from around Louise’s shoulder, eats some popcorn, sips some soda.

“Are you okay?” Louise whispers, immediately attentive to his movement.

“Yes, good,” he whispers back.

As he settles back in his seat, Pearce rubs his shoulder.  He digs into his pocket, swallows a pill, grits his teeth.

Phantom limb pain, the doctor had called it.

“Difficult to treat,” he’d said, looking out at Pearce from the top of his glasses. 

“Psychological.” 

“It will go away with time.”

When he’d returned from the front, Pearce had learned to write with his left hand.  Granted, it was chicken scratch, but it was enough to get him through law school.  He could work on his car, kiss a girl, make coffee.  He could even dance the waltz like the couple on the screen. 

He could still live his life. 

If only the pain would go away.

 

RUNNER-UP: Susan McLeod

Celluloid

The mess hall fills rapidly. Men flood in, some with folding chairs, some hitching a hip on an occupied seat. The room is a desert of khaki.

I remove the film from the take-up reel and place it in its tin. A baby-faced private passes smoking a cigarette. Ash drops on my shoulder, the film stock.

“Back off,” I shout but he’s oblivious, eyes fixed forward.

The projector is ancient, a relic, and the reel changeovers will be manual. I thread the slippery cellulose nitrate ribbon, matching hole to sprocket.

“Hey, four eyes.”

The crowd grows impatient, hungry for the feature. Hello Frisco, Hello starring Alice Faye. A frothy confection yet drawing a bigger audience than the newsreel. The troops are more interested in a musical than the Eastern front. Go figure.

“Get on with it.”

I ignore the catcalls. Hand-cranking is an art, matching speed of frame rate to the sound – it requires focus.

Someone barges into me and I grab the projector as it overbalances. Laughter from the audience.

“He crapped it there, Jim.” The machine stills once more on its base. I release a pent-up breath.

A ball of paper knocks off my patrol cap.

“Bullseye!” More laughter, more jostling, more shouts. The cap lies where it fell.

I wave an arm and the lights blink out.

Silence falls. A beam of flickering light pierces the blackness and illuminates the screen. Bodies lean forward, faces turn upwards in reverence. The lion roars.

 

WINNER: Thom Willis

Close In Darkness

Sometimes all anyone wanted was to hear the rasp of the projector, the glassy sheet of film purring coolly though the gate and painting its vivid light on the wall. Some days it was all that I could think about, the thought that the darkness could be lit this way, like magic. Like stars up close.

One of those nights we sat near the back, your arm around me, my hand gripping your leg through sheer excitement. No funny business, not then not there. I would think about that later, in the silent grey of the early morning, and tremble.

The light of the screen was a hard rectangle adrift in the soft black fluid of the night. The images danced for us, sang shrill from a speaker somewhere behind the seats, beckoned us through the bright window. A night at the theatre for we who had no nights, we who sat in the close darkness as the fire screamed to the sky and the sky roared back, peppering our childhood bedrooms with soot, with lead, with carelessly spilled blood. How could we return to them now and be innocent still?

Impulsive, I turned and kissed you, once, on the cheek. You put your hand to it and stroked it like a new scar, eyes fixed ahead. Blinking tears, you held my chin and kissed me back. It felt sharp, like a bite, and I knew then that you were doomed, and I doomed likewise. The projector hummed on.

 

Ooof. Congratulations, Catherine, Susan and Thom – those are absolutely stellar. And thanks to everyone who entered. You are extremely excellent.

See you next week!

QuickFic 10/06/16

Hello there. Can we interest you in a spot of flash fiction frivolity?

That’s right. It’s Friday, which means a fresh QuickFic prompt and flapjacks for breakfast. That prompt is awaiting you at the bottom of this post. You should go and look at it, and then you should write us a story, of 250 words or less, inspired by it. Give that story a title, and then stick it in the body of an email (along with your wordcount) and send it to academy@faber.co.uk by 2.50pm (that bit’s important).

At 3.30 we’ll announce our winner, who this week will be winning this rather attractive stack of books:

qf66_books

Right. Here’s that prompt then:

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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.

For more creative writing exercises, click here.