‘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.

#QUICKFIC 30/08/2019

Hello hello and welcome to the last days of summer. Faber Academy has a shiny new home and #QUICKFIC, our Flash Fiction competition, has shiny new bookshelves I can take photos on! It’s all very exciting.

Even more exciting (to me, personally) is the pieces that you’re going to produce. Alumni of #QUICKFIC, skip on down to the prompt at the bottom of the page. Newcomers, read on for the rules, regulations and requirements for this particular game:

  • You’re going to see a prompt on Friday morning at 9:50 am. Prompts can be anything, including but not limited to: Playlists, Wikipedia Articles, Quotes From Authors/Books/Taylor Swift Songs Because The New Album Is Great, Pictures and anything else I can come up with, so be prepared!
  • You then write a a short story of 250 words or less inspired by that prompt.
  • Paste your story into the body of an email, including a title and your word count, and send that email to academy@faber.co.uk by 2:50pm on the Friday afternoon.  Use the subject line #QUICKFIC 30/08/2019.
  • Once 3:30 pm hits, whip on over to this here blog or Twitter for the winners to be revealed.

Your winning author does, of course, receive a prize. This week we’ve got Louise Doughty’s brilliant new novel Platform Seven and, ahead of the release of her new novel Girl next week, Edna O’Brien’s August is a Wicked Month

 

On with the show! Here’s your prompt:

By entering Faber Academy’s flash fiction competition #QUICKFIC , you’re granting us non-exclusive worldwide permission to reprint your story on our website should you win.

#QUICKFIC 05/07/2019

Good morning #QUICKFIC fans! We’re jumping in fast and furious this morning — no muss, no fuss, no waffle from me, just pure writing prompt goodness. Read on for your instructions if you need them, or just scroll down to the prompt if you’re a returning flash fiction aficionado.

Rules! We keep it simple: you are going to see a prompt at the bottom of the page, from which we ask you to get inspired. Channelling the emotions and pure writing power that prompt inspires in you we ask for:

  1. A piece of flash fiction 250 words or less. Short and sweet!
  2. Your work to be given a title, copy and pasted into the body of an email with a line giving me the wordcount
  3. Send it to academy@faber.co.uk with the subject line #QUICKFIC 05/07/2019 no later than 2:50 pm GMT 

Then you’re done! My duty and privileged is to read through your work and pick a winner, revealed at 3:30 pm GMT both here and on Twitter.

Your winner gets these brand spanking newly released books: Graham Farmelo‘s The Universe Speaks in Numbers, Shiv Malik’s The Messenger and Joanna Kavenna’s Zed.

 

Ready? Here’s your prompt, and goooooooo:

By entering Faber Academy’s flash fiction competition #QUICKFIC , you’re granting us non-exclusive worldwide permission to reprint your story on our website should you win.

#QUICKFIC 21/06/2019: The Winner

Well well, much like rays of light in the darkness your pieces came to brighten up my slow Friday. Hello to our new participants and to my old guard, welcome back! Here’s your prompt one more time:

Runner up: John Peter Horsam

La Fete de Sainte-Jean.

I knew it was solstice, well vaguely, Australians don’t celebrate such
things. Here in France it’s a very special occasion. It’s not banging
drums and being a Druid, it’s a Fete De La Musique. All the squares are
full of performers… jongleurs, minstrels, mountebanks too, possibly.
The ancient city is performing for me too, shadows and flashes on Gothic
arches.

It’s also La Fete de Saint-Jean. I’m called John, a musician too, so
it it really is my day.

Not the best of days for photos, overcast. It hasn’t been good for my
project, I’m after shooting stars. I’ve sat up all night, twice this
week, trying to catch just one. I get quite good star trails…. but
nothing untoward ever crosses my lens.

Tonight, I’m in the crowd, but not really. I’m the outsider. It’s
quite obvious. A woman, my age I’d guess, touches my arm.
“The best photos will be over there.” Good English.
It’s a roped off playing field. There’s a man eating fire…. bit
boring if you’ve hung out with as many hippies as I have.
“Get ready!”
She kisses me.
“For luck”
Didn’t see that coming.
“Camera now.”
The fire-eater has set fire to his hair. A French gasp is a lot
different from an Australian one.
I have my shooting stars. I’m bedazzled.

I’d love to tell you we’re now married, but she’s gone, faded away
before the last sparkles flickered out.

***********************************************

Runner up: Roger Evans

Anniversary

Sit here by me, daughter, and learn your history. Tonight you will start your future, just as I did with my mother all those years ago.

Out there is the Dreamer, living in his ramshackle hut. He is old, older than we know. He was old when I was young and sat where you are now.

Every night he dreams, not such dreams as you or I may have, but dreams of lives, short and long, rich and poor. And each morning he wakes and a new name is inscribed on the many faceted gem by his bed.

Tonight, midsummer’s night, solstice, the Dreamer will not dream. Instead he will bring his year of dreams to this barren patch of ground, whilst we wait. For we are the Watchers – as essential a part of this as the Dreamer; without us to Watch no-one would know of his Dreaming, no-one would validate its worth.

See the barren patch of ground? It is not devoid of life because of a lacking; it is ready, open, for the Land to listen.

Tonight those dreams will burst forth from his hand; incandescent, radiant, a rain of furious fireflies burning their days in moments, to fall flaming to the ground.

And the Land will remember.

Winner: Chloe Heskett

Illuminating

“Welcome to Grafton, Pop: 121.”

The sign flashed by me, and in the back of my mind I vaguely registered that I was passing through a town. If you could call it that. My headlights briefly lit a mini-mart, before leaving it enveloped in darkness behind me, along with the rest of the so-called town. 

The road felt endless, and worse than that unchanging—not even a curve in sight. What a place to run to. It felt like a cruel joke: I fled the mundanity of my life, but there my path stretched—endlessly, mind-numblingly laid out before me. You can’t get away, it whispered through the sounds of my tires on pavement, you can’t change your life.

I turned on the radio; nothing but static. The miles ticked by slowly. I drifted. 

That’s when I saw it: the light up ahead. Not headlights, not a town; it was like a cloudburst where each drop traced a luminous streak through the air as it fell. Dumbstruck, I didn’t even think to slow the car as I whooshed by. There was a man at the middle of it all. Solidly built, of late middle age and in a canvas jacket and jeans. 

The beauty of it, and the ordinariness of the man, filled my eyes with tears. I wished I had stopped, or at least slowed down. I peered into my rear view mirror and started—it, he, was gone.  Darkness filled the landscape behind me.


Many thanks to you all for your lovely submissions. A round of applause for John, Roger and Chloe — Chloe, what a wonderful debut! Welcome to the #QUICKFIC club.

I’ll see you all next week at the earlier (less monstrous) time of 9:50. Or does starting it earlier make me more monstrous? Who can say. Either way, until then, goodbye!

For a look back at our previous #QUICKFIC flash fiction competitions, click here.

#QUICKFIC 21/06/2019

Welcome back, oh lovely #QUICKFIC-ers and welcome to our latest round of Faber Academy’s flash fiction competition #QUICKFIC. One week on from the Summer Party and the ritual appears to have worked, bringing heat and sunshine and rejuvenation etc etc. And also a new prompt!

First up, a whip through the rules of the game. Old hands, scroll down. New folk, read on:

  1. At the end of this post is a prompt (this week it’s a picture. Next week it may not be, but this week it definitely is!)
  2. Using that prompt, I’d like you to write me a single short piece of fiction. A piece of flash fiction, if you will.
  3. That piece needs to be 250 words or less. I’ve started checking, so stay honest!
  4. Title your work, pop it into the body of an email along with a note telling me the wordcount and send it to academy@faber.co.uk with the subject line #QUICKFIC 21/06/2019 no later than 2:50 pm GMT
  5. At 3:30 pm GMT I tumble back in with a new blog post revealing your winners

And what’s winning without prizes?! This week that luck person receives The Rapture by Claire McGlasson, In Paris with You by Clementine Beauvais, translation by Sam Taylor and In The City of Love’s Sleep by Lavinia Greenlaw.

 

(The rose is not included as I suspect it won’t survive the post.)

You do, as they say, have to be in it to win it though! So here is your prompt and away you go.

 

By entering Faber Academy’s flash fiction competition #QUICKFIC , you’re granting us non-exclusive worldwide permission to reprint your story on our website should you win.

#QUICKFIC 07/06/2019: The Winner

Ah, a staircase. The thing you fall down, walk down, curse at and, apparently, today produced some of the best paces of flash fiction it’s been my privileged to read!  You all truly out did yourself this week.

Here’s one last look at your staircase of dreams before we hit the runners up and the winner:





Runner Up: Ana Acapella

Eid Mubarak

“Eid Mubarak” she silently whispered to herself as the early morning sun streamed down from the skylight onto her bed.

Half asleep, she reminisced of this day a year ago. So happy. So full of love. So different.

Normally she’d have spent last night helping her mum preparing the Eid feast, listening to her father’s stories of his bygone days and adorning her hands with henna. Staring at her bare hands, she thought that they were the perfect metaphor for today.

She rolled over in her bed, reluctant to start her day. Downstairs, she could hear a soft, thudding noise gradually getting louder. Footsteps. She knew exactly who it would be, even before the door burst open into her room.

“Aisha, Aisha! Get up!” Jenna said, ‘’Go downstairs now!” Aisha looked up quizzically at her best friend.

“Why?” asked Aisha but before she could get an answer, Jenna pulled her duvet away and chucked her out of bed. Aisha quickly grabbed her hijab as she was pushed out of her room. While Aisha tied her headscarf around her face, the two best friends wound down the mahogany, spiral staircase slowly.

They both could hear muffled voices getting louder until they stood in front of Shirley’s office. The first voice was definitely Shirley’s (her case worker). The second was of a male and he was vehemently asking to see Aisha.

“Dad?!” Aisha blurted out from behind the door.

Almost immediately, the door opened…

“Eid Mubarak darling” said her father.

Runner Up: Katy Brinicombe

13 Steps to Freedom

13 steps.

That’s all it would take.

13 steps to freedom.

This day was a long time coming. He had spent sleepless nights imagining how he would feel on this day, at this time. It had remained elusive. Even now, a mixture of feelings threatened to swallow him up. Where would he go? What would he do? He had always known that the world was a scary place – he had witnessed enough fear and terror to know that no-one could be trusted – but he had always had the safety and security of his room. Somewhere to hide and feel safe once more. His space.

But now it was gone. Today it belonged to someone else and he had to go. He grasped the handle of his small, battered case a little tighter. It was the one he had arrived with all those years ago, and he was sure it would still be with him when he died. It carried each and every one of his meagre belongings that he had accumulated over the years. It carried his identity.

He remained on that top stair, still unable to move. He looked at his feet, in the worn-out leather brogues, and willed them on. He took one last look up the stairs, at the scratched wooden doors, and of the ghostly faces that peered at him through the balustrades.

One deep breath. One step. Towards freedom.

Go.

Winner: Gillian English

History Lesson

Instead of the usual fast-talking twenty-something, the estate agent looked well past sixty and seemed to be struggling for breath.

“How long has it been empty?” I asked. He muttered something and then coughed violently, clamping a greying handkerchief over his mouth.

“You sit here, I’ll look round myself” I said, helping him into a chair. He was still bent over his handkerchief, taking long hoarse breaths.

I wasn’t going to be long – I could already see this was far too big for us. It even had two staircases leading to different parts of the building. Used to be a school, so someone told me.

I was on my way back down the stairs in minutes, wondering if I should take the old man to a doctor. But then I stopped. In front of me was the door to the front entrance. But now it had a large wooden noticeboard nailed across it, blocking it up. I must have come down the other staircase to the back of the building.

I went up and came back down the other way. And there was the blocked door. No sign of the old man either. I went up and down the stairs two or three more times, becoming increasingly short of breath, always ending up at the blocked door.

Then, wheezing slightly, I walked up to the blocked door and read the single dusty notice on the board.

“Influenza – school closure, 17 June 1918”

And I began to cough.


Big congratulations to Gillian, Katy and Ana. Thank you one and all again — this week was one of the toughest to judge, but you all knocked it out of the park. 

I’ll be gone again next week, trapped in a Summer Party induced haze, but I’ll see you again the week after that!

For a look back at our previous #QUICKFIC flash fiction competitions, click here.

#QUICKFIC 24/05/2019: The Winner

Drop your pens, you styluses, your meme generating software (Thom) and still your fingers on your keyboards, for today’s flash fiction competition is over and done and a new winner we must crown.

Here’s one last look at your prompt:





Runner Up: Jessica Joy

Buoyant

He watched the yacht drift away. The sea lapped the hull like a thirsty dog.

The tide had turned and, with no energy to swim, he floated on his back; away from the shore, away from any chance of rescue.

He never imagined it might end like this. He thought he would be shot down by the Board, hung by his shares or crushed by his assets. This seemed so benign. No heart attack at the gym, no Monday morning stroke in the coffee shop. Instead, a slip, a twang of rope, a snap of bone, a yell, a splash.

The water changed colour to a bruised purple. He felt his life force seep into the ocean. The life force he had driven into contracts and deals and negotiation. The life force that had paid for the house and the boat.

Now, he and the sea were in accord. The brine welcomed him with puppy licks round his ears and affectionate nibbles at his toes.

Later, the waves would bowl him over and drop him on the beach in their own macabre game of fetch. He would crunch and flop on the pebbles, a much-loved toy.

For now, he watched the rippled reflection on the stern, the shimmer of his villa in the midday sun and the sparkle of water droplets on his foot, as it bobbed past his head. With equanimity, he realised none of them mattered to him anymore.

Runner Up: Nafisa Muhtadi

The View

I stretched my arms out as the sun rays warmed my skin and wind whipped my hair. I quickly retracted my arms as I was still wobbly. My sea legs hadn’t arrived yet so my land legs were working overtime. Jamie didn’t have his sea legs either but he was sat on the deck, eyes glued to his phone. I squinted in his direction.

“Can you even get a signal out here?”

“I’m hooked up to the marina.” His gaze didn’t stray from his device.

“Didn’t this boat cost, like, 20 million dollars?”

“We’re renting it, sweetheart.”

“So?” I bristled at the term of endearment, a sign that he was miles away. “We should still enjoy it.”

Jamie had developed a hugely successful app game, where fruits and jewels tumbled down the screen, which had paid for our trip. It wasn’t that I was ungrateful but more an exercise in cultivating gratitude and mindfulness. I grabbed the phone from him.

“Hey!” He stood up, feet unsteady, and before he knew it I pushed him overboard. It’s okay. I knew he could swim. The sea shimmered and Jamie thrashed in the water, mouth gaping like a stunned fish.

“Take in the view, sweetheart.” I waved a hand like everything the sun touched belonged to me.

He eventually stilled himself to a gentle float. “I can’t wait for your turn.”

My feet were firm on deck. The horizon met the sea in a thin-lipped kiss. “Gotta catch me first” I winked. 

Winner: S.F

Hell or High Water

The skin on my nose is turning crisp like roast chicken skin. What would mother have said about my lack of suncream? Nothing good, I imagine. Never mind the fact that I’m swimming a mere 15 minutes after a large, alcohol-fuelled lunch.

What is it about the sea that brings some primordial comfort? That old cliché about feeling small, perhaps. My life has been spent in the pursuit of largeness, of trying to intimidate, to overpower, but now the feeling of insignificance and dissolution is euphoric. I laugh, out loud?

The sensation of being on the border of drunk while the waves rock my body is neither pleasant nor unpleasant. It just is. I squint my eyes half shut, so that the shapes of the boat and of the clouds and the sun swerve and blur.

I wonder vaguely if my feet would reach the bottom – is it my imagination that the boat is getting rapidly further away?

I tip my head back, so my ears and my hair are submerged. I shake my head from side to side, like I used to in the bath. The old, familiar feeling of my hair swirling around my head is a punch of nostalgia. I hear myself gulp in air or out tears, impossible to tell.

In the distance, I hear shouts.

“Theresa! Are you coming back for dessert?” Philip’s voice.

Am I?


As I should have predicted, there were many characters meeting their unhappy ends this week, but sprinkled in there were some joyful moments! Big congratulations to S.F, Nafisa and Jessica. Thank you one and all for your wonderful pieces. 

Until next week!

For a look back at our previous #QUICKFIC flash fiction competitions, click here.