Author Archives: Nicci Cloke

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:

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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.

QuickFic 16/09/16: The Winner

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RUNNER-UP: Laura Riley

Ready?

Do I have my keys?

Yes, of course I do. I already checked. Twice. OK, nothing wrong with a final check. Yep, there they are.

Oh no the coffee machine… The warmer is still on. It’s on a timer Sarah, it will turn itself off eventually. Don’t worry about it. Oh no, wait. Am I thinking about the old machine? Maybe I should check the manual. Do I have time? Yes, it’s only 3 o’clock. I don’t have to be there for two hours. Where did I put the manual. Here it is. OK, great, it will turn itself off after thirty minutes.

Wait, that can’t be right. I had coffee over an hour ago. Why is it still on? I should just turn it off. OK, it’s off. The pot’s dirty now. Should I clean up? No, it’ll still be here when I get back. It’ll be fine.

What if it goes really well and he wants to come back here though? What if he’s really into cleanliness? What an awful first impression to make. No, I should clean the whole kitchen. It should sparkle.

What time is it now? Twenty past four. I said I’d be there at five. I’m running out of time. I can’t be late. How would that look? He’d know then. He’d realise how messy my life is. How could we move on from there? No, I can’t go out today. There’s not enough time. I’ll just cancel. Maybe tomorrow.

I’ll be ready tomorrow.

 

WINNER: Nathalie Kernot

The Salmon Run

The window bites cold at her fingers as she holds them to it, a long, still wave. He has reached the crossing, penguin-huddled with men in jeans, dark coats, peeking scrubs of hair. The sky a burnt blue, the sun violent on parked cars and windows and the pale faces of strangers, the grimy pavement bleached brilliant white under their feat. Her breath mists the glass, changes the weather. When it fades, he is on the other side of the street.

She is taking less with her than she expected. Her clothes, her makeup, some photographs, a hollow nest of space at the top of the bag. The inside of it still warm, this morning, when she put her chilled hand in to check. Its leather fine and smooth, an old cheek under her palm.

The rest of the house is dark behind her, the soft cushion of their things. A rug she doesn’t like. The chair he favours in the evenings, shying from her hand as it reaches to touch his hair. His piano, untouched. It presses her close to the window, lets her turn to watch him nearing the corner. 

He will call her mother, first. He will be alright.

He is too far to see properly, now, a little minnow, a silver flash in the sun. Maybe looking back at the house, maybe watching for her with his marble eyes, unchanged since he was first in her arms, slick and hot and newly born.  

 

Congratulations, Laura – and an extra big congratulations to Nathalie, for being our winner two weeks in a row! Outstanding.

See you all next week, you wonderful bunch of fiction fiends. May your weekends be word-filled.

QuickFic 16/09/16

Hello there.

Shall we do some writing?

We’ve got a brand new prompt for you at the bottom of the post, and we can’t wait to see what you come up with.

As always, we’re after stories of 250 words or less, inspired by the image below. We’d like those stories in the body of an email, and we’d especially like it if you could include a title and your wordcount. That would be tiptop.

Send us your story, by 2:50pm, to academy@faber.co.uk.

Hey, look at these books you could win!

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Right, let’s take a look at this week’s prompt:

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Who’s out there? What’s she thinking? Tell us: 250 words or less.

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 09/09/16: The Winner

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RUNNER-UP: Jennifer Harvey

Swans

Tom dashes down the pier and I sprint after him.

‘Last one in’s a wimp!’ he cries.

I’m the faster runner, but he has a head start and I can only watch as he launches himself, arms akimbo, then hangs in the air like a bird, before hitting the water with a wild, triumphant whoop.

Earlier, we had watched the swans take off from the lake, the low thrum of their wings, strangely menacing, and at odds with the comical slap of their webbed feet as they gathered speed over the water.

Tom had stood so still as he watched them, awestruck. He’d never seen a swan take off before. Knew only their elegant, gliding forms. Those long necks.

But I know differently. I know that swans, for all their grace and beauty are not to be messed with. Neither am I.

So I do not jump. I dive into the water. Eyes open, arms straight, no splash as I enter. Just a slow, clean slide, deep into the green.

From below I look up and see Tom’s legs above me. I watch him hover and turn in circles. He is looking for me, wondering where I jumped. If I jumped.

And I rise, slowly. Creeping towards him, a pale arm reaching out to tug at his leg.

When I surface he is splashing. Frightened.

‘Damn it Addy!’

And I laugh and pull away.

‘Wimp!’ I cry.

And in the distance there’s a honk. The swans agreeing with me.

 

WINNER: Nathalie Kernot

The After Summer

He feels it at once, the thick muscled slap of the water, its pulsing tongue, its lips closing over his head. It’s dark and green and the cold a quick slice all along the edges of his skin. He kicks out unevenly, swimming as deep as he can until the swelling urgency is too much and he has to let go, whistles upright, breaks the surface. The seam of water at his chest is the coldest part, now, the breeze above it gentle and warm.

His cousin is closer to the dock, smaller than he is, paddling with little paw-hands, streams of her hair sectioning her face. It’s late, the sky melting yellow in the west, the green of the water reaching to meet it. The grown-ups stand like herons on the shore, fishing for lost shoes and bottles and sunglasses in the grass. He can see his father’s sister, her husband, his grandmother folded up small in her chair, maybe asleep, maybe watching him through the soft folds of skin around her eyes, the makeup that bleeds into her wrinkles. He waves, in case. 

The water around him is almost still, now, so that he can see the doubled sky, the wobbling edges of cloud. His family, smaller and smaller in the growing dark. His father is watching him, eyes in shadow, one hand clasped over the little egg-cup chair his mother always sat in.

 

Congratulations, Jennifer and Nathalie! And thanks to everyone.

See you next week!

QuickFic 09/09/16

A very good morning to you.

We’ve just about recovered from all the playlist fun last week, and we’re back with another QuickFic prompt. This one’s a photo, so you can fill your ears with whatever you fancy for the day.

A quick reminder of the rules, in case it’s your first time playing:

You’re about to see a prompt. We’d love you to write us a very short story, of 250 words or less, inspired by that prompt. You can send those stories, in the body of an email, to academy@faber.co.uk, and you should do so by 2:50 this very afternoon. No later please! Please also include a title and your wordcount.

There will be a winner, and that winner will win these books:

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Right. Here we are then – this week’s prompt:

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See you back here at 3:30, when we’ll announce the winner…

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 02/09/16: The Winner

Well that was fun.

If you’re just joining us, this morning we asked for very short stories, of 250 words or less, inspired by that playlist up there. That playlist chosen by Eimear McBride to accompany her just published, deeply wonderful second novel, The Lesser Bohemians.

So many of you sent in so many brilliant stories — but after much discussion in the office, we’ve managed to choose our winner.

Also, we’re having two runners-up this week. Because we can.

RUNNER-UP: Bikram Sharma

Home

I answer the phone in Norwich and am beside you in Bangalore, listening to you explain you are leaving, this time for good. You mistake my silence for disbelief and tell me about the packed duffel bag—your clothes rolled up and compressed tight so that you can carry as much of your life as possible. The rest will be for me to pick at, like a vulture and its nest of bones.

The table will be mine. Why would you want it after I slammed your head against its edge? Six stitches and a broken promise of ‘never again’.

The tea-tree-oil moisturiser will be mine. Its smell will always remind me of your calves, dotted red from mosquito bites.

The love letters will be mine. I will go through each one, marveling at how much ink I poured into you and you into me.

The carpet will be mine. Our first purchase together as a couple; our first commitment. Its seams will unravel and stitching fray, but I will keep it on the floor of my study, warming my feet on its worn surface.

Ninety-three days and I will return from my degree abroad to an apartment of dust. By then you will have severed ties, snipped kite strings, moved, disappeared, transformed into hushed whispers on friends’ lips. I will clutch at your possessions but crave most the empty spaces of your duffel bag. For only through your absence will I discover the meaning of ‘home’.

 

RUNNER-UP: Paul Jenkins

Unknown Pleasures

Twelve steps to the counter. Six days a week.

“Sex shop don’t open on the Sabbath, ma’am”, I say to an imaginary customer.

I’m almost there when I hear it land.

The shop’s called Unknown Pleasures. Opened by my uncle, before his accident. He asked me in hospital to mind the gaff.  Ten years later, I’m still here. I don’t know if that makes me sadder than the customers but I think that it might.

The girl came in wearing a Joy Division t-shirt.  But she didn’t turn and run. She pretended to browse awhile then walked up to the counter, cool as you like, and asks what the song playing is.

I‘ve been asked the worst things in the world. Never this.

I made a CD for the store, something appropriate for a dimly lit gateway to the fantasies of our grim clientele. Morphine, Tom Waits, Lee Hazelwood, stuff like that.

“Could you do me a copy?” she says in a voice that changes everything, seemingly indifferent to the novelty restraint gear between us.

“It’s just a job”, I want to say.

I hand over the CD. Mumbled something about a coffee sometime.

That was yesterday. Now there’s a tape on the doormat.

I scan the sleeve. Nice handwriting. I put the cassette on and wait.

A familiar organ refrain fills the room with beauty and hope. Loss and shame, our most regular customers, vanish from the store.

I flip the sign to Open, then to Closed.

 

WINNER: Justine Taylor

Do You Love Me

We smell of sweat, of cheap tequila; we smell medicinal.

Onstage Nick Cave punches the air and we throw our arms up high. More, we cry out, we want more. He sings of sex and death and love and death and desire and death. This is how we know we’re alive.

I want to take my medicine. I want to wash it down with something sweet.

He is our black-suited saviour. He preaches of our dark desires, he lays them bare. He is our saint. Saint Nick.

We run through the dark streets, rain fizzing off our skin; we are wired, we are electric. Street lamps burst in our wake. We are a blinding flash of light in the dark.

We throw open the windows. Our ears are full with music, our bodies beat to its rhythm. I lay you down, I stretch you out. Your body is as ripe as a peach, as bruised as fruit. I kiss you, I make it better. You taste pharmaceutical.

Our dark preacher stands in the shadows, his lips mouthing the words of the song ‘Do You Love Me’—

—until our bodies ring with it, chime with it. Until we cry it out. More, we want more.

Our light cannot stand the morning. We fade, we dissolve. There is only you and I, separate and distinct.

We say, see you later. We say, until next time.

We say goodbye.

 

Congratulations, Bikram, Paul and Justine! And thanks to everyone for their brilliant stories. This was fun. Let’s do it again some time.

In fact, let’s do it again next Friday – same time, same rules. New prompt.

A wonderful, word-filled weekend to you all.

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:

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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:
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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

Quickfic

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!