#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.

#QUICKFIC 24/05/2019

Welcome, one and all, to a super sunshine edition of #QUICKFIC, Faber Academy’s Flash Fiction competition. Whether you’re writing from a desk, desperately soaking up the sun from the window at your back and wondering when it’s late enough you can justify having lunch outside (solidarity, if so), curled up in bed, waiting for the day to begin for you or luckiest of all outside in the world, I’ve got a prompt to brighten your day even further.

But enough waffle! First, the rules of the game, if you’ve never played before. If you have, keep on keepin; on, for below lies your prompt:

  1. On Friday at 9:50, a prompt will be posted both on the blog and on the Faber Academy twitter.
  2. Inspired by the prompt, I’d like a piece of flash fiction of no more than 250 words (though you can, of course, write less).
  3. Give your piece a title, copy it into the body of an email and tell me the wordcount.
  4. Send that email at academy@faber.co.uk with the subject line #QUICKFIC 24/05/2019 no later than 2:50 pm GMT 

And after that, that’s your bit over with! From 2:50 onward I’m tasked with reading your wonderful words and picking a winner. That winner receives my undying admiration and three books. This week’s books are all about, fundementally, family. You’re in with a shot of winning Sarah Hall’s The Wolf Border, Laura Lipman’s Sunburn and Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered:

 

And all you need to do to snag those beauties is look right down here at this oh so summery prompt:

 

Write away, #QUICKFICCERS!

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 17/05/2019: The Winner

Typing fingers, halt! We’re over, we’re done and my choice is made. Here’s your prompt:

And here are your winners:

Runner Up: Jose Varghese

Escape Route

“Art is dead, honey. They draw things that look like dog shit, superimpose photos of vulgar body parts or huge construction sites and call it art these days.”

His hands move over her shoulder blades, fingers pressing down the flesh between them with each emphasis. She doesn’t have the courage to tell him that he has to stop doing that. He’s too dumb to notice that she’s neglecting his rant, and goes on speaking stupid.  

She fishes out her pencil and notebook from her bag and takes down a number from a poster.

“Come on honey, let’s have a nice lunch together. Where do you live now?”

“Would you stop calling me that?” She turns to face him.

“I used to call you that at school.”

“That was then.”

“You being tetchy? You’ve changed so much.”

“You should leave me alone now. Enough of courtesy, my mistake!’

“So, you don’t consider me a friend anymore?”

“Why should I, if you’ve turned out to be this in two years?”

She extends her hand for a goodbye, but he just stands there staring at her. She catches a glimpse of his glassy eyes. He looks weak and lost, but creepy too.   

She turns away from him to walk towards the bus station. He follows her.

“Honey, care to buy me a ticket too? I won’t mind…”

“No. Sorry. Art is all about shit, as you know.”

She graduates to a trot, waving him off. He stops, to smile at a middle-aged woman. 

Runner Up: Daniela Azzopardi

Something New

Rex scanned the noticeboard, vibrant posters screaming out for attention. He scrutinized adverts for upcoming concerts, realizing he was no longer alone only after he was done being disappointed over the fact that only cover artists were performing.

“Couldya tell me what the flyer up top’s for?”

Rex jumped and spun around. Besides him stood a man beyond retirement age, judging by the wrinkles etched into his skin, wearing a striped shirt and beige trousers. He was pointing steadily at a flyer above their heads.

“Skydiving.” Rex answered.

The old man he frowned minutely, his brows furrowed in contemplation, before ultimately shrugging.

“I’ve already been skydiving twice in as many ‘ears. Feel like something new.”

Rex wished he had taken up his mother’s suggestion to get his ears cleaned.

“Skydiving?”

“I said I’ve already done ‘at. And no more tattoos right now.” He continued as he disregarded another poster.

He inched closer to a piece of paper showcasing a woodworking class. “This looks new,” he mused as he tore a stub off the paper with the contact details on it. “A more relaxing activity every now and then’ll do me no ‘arm.”

The man saluted Rex as he sauntered out of the community building. The youngster shook himself as if waking up from a daydream.

The chaotic chorus of colours beckoned him back to the noticeboard. He reached out, not knowing where his fingers would land but knowing he would not be leaving empty handed.

Winner: Sarah Nash

BABY I LOVE YOU

Baby I love you.

Did I tell you how much?

Heat rises from the sidewalk with relentless intensity. The kid upstairs is yelling so loud it seeps into my brain. The shop opposite is boarded up, has been for months, the corrugated sheets covered in bills.

Promises: the land of milk and honey.

The stench of summer is in my nostrils.

We came here together, through the tunnels, hoping for a better life. Thought we could be the new Ike and Tina, with just the loving, not the other stuff.

But it got to us – the trying, the waiting, the failing.

It felt good to hold you.

I remember nights like this when we would lie for hours, dreaming and listening, my arms around you, hot and sticky in the faint light from the neon sign on the street below. For ever, we said.

Then, when I was working down under, on the subway, you packed your bags in the darkness and you left.

Did you cry?

My heart curls at the edges like the posters opposite. I hear you calling my name in the rush of the traffic, the hum of the generator, the cursing of the janitor.

I wore those lyrics out. They swirled around my head, the tune buzzing in my ears. There never was another woman for me.

Now, my heart can’t wait another day. It has dried, in the heat, to a stone.

I sit on the ledge. Can’t live without you.

Soon, I’ll fall.

Huge congratulations to Sarah, Daniela and Jose! Daniela, if you keep being this good I’m going to have to temporarily bar you from competing. Thank you as ever to all you wonderful flash fiction writers. You keep my Friday’s bright.

See you soon!

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

#QUICKFIC 03/05/2019: The Winner

BIG thank you for today’s round of #QUICKFIC, Faber Academy’s Flash Fiction Competition everyone!

Here’s the prompt once again:

Runner Up: Jennifer Harvey

FADE AWAY

We took so many photographs that day, do you remember? You pulled the film from the camera with an amused impatience, and we stood, our heads together, waiting for time to reveal itself.

I can still see you now, the memories laid down as a back-up, just in case. You are stood in the garden, the sun behind you, light shining through your dress, the image overexposed. Your body a shadow, your face obscured.

But you were smiling, I remember that.

There is one of me turning away from you (I never did like having my photo taken), and I was confused when I saw my expression, that far-away look in my eyes, as if I was contemplating another time.

“Oh, but you always look like that,” you told me. And I looked again at the photograph but failed to recognise myself.

Later, you put them all in silver frames, that summer day fixed and held beneath glass like it was something precious and not some fleeting, fragile thing, as impossible to capture as the flutter of your voice when the paper transformed.

“Oh, look! Look!”

But even as you shook the film into life, the colours were evaporating, those pieces of us dissolving, grain by grain, until we became shadows. The two of us fading, minute by minute, day after day, becoming what we always were and what I understood that day when I turned away from you.

That we were nothing but ghosts.

Runner Up: Kate Delaney

Memory

I should be packing. I know I should be packing. But I’ve reached the bookshelves, his bookshelves, and I can’t bear it.

I slump onto the floor and close my eyes. After a moment, I compose myself and that’s when I notice the camera. It’s one of those fancy new polaroid things, very hipster.

Very him.

The white plastic casing is swaddled in a beautiful leather holder. As soon as I touch it, the smell wafts over to me and I’m back at the shopping centre as a four-year-old getting my first pair of school shoes. It’s funny how smells can transport you places, and they do it so instantaneously that before you realise it, you’ve been ripped away from the present whether you like it or not.

The camera still had three images left. He didn’t get to use them all. I press the ‘on’ button and the front lens pings out, standing to attention. There’s a whirring noise, only slight, like what I imagine a dying robot would sound like. Don’t think about dying, Hannah.

I take a look through the little rectangular window, the one that kids these days wouldn’t know what to do with. I’m sure it has a name but I don’t know it. He would have.

The world is distorted. A crack intersects the lens from top right corner to bottom left. I aim it at the bookshelf and prepare to fire. Maybe this way, I’ll never have to say goodbye.

Runner Up: Thom Willis

Overlooked

Did you forget where you left your keys? They’re over there, just by the…

the camera flickered its small light, counting down, indicating indicating

there’s pasta in the fridge. Cold pasta, no don’t worry, it’s fine, it’s a pasta salad. You don’t have to…

fluttering its rainbow-filmed eye, the photograph popped into digital existence

well have you even tried it? Oh, do you have our number? I wrote it…

in its past self a plastic flywheel skimmed an instantly-developed photo from the slot in its base, but that was so long ago

please ignore that. It’s not plugged in. Oh, it’s flashing…

in its past self a charge of powder detonated

it’s a stills camera anyway, it’s not like a nannycam or anything, not sure why it went off like…

in its past self it was painting with light on glass

we have to go, just tuck it into the books if you’re worried…

in its past self it was alchemy

here, I’ve taken the batteries out, honestly it’s…

in its past self it was magic

harmless.

Winner: Nicky Tate

Lost and Found

The first photo is of the back of her jacket, (blurry), at the garden gate.

She’d not even had a proper play with her new toy and scolds her daughter who shrugs her shoulders. The paper film is expensive.

A second photo appears.  It is of the keys to the shed – (missing for days).  The photo shows them skewed behind a radiator.  Puzzled she checks, and there they are.  She always secretly believed she had a guardian angel although hadn’t expected it to be so small and white.

Then more. The silver dolphin earring mislaid when she was only a child. Tiny and tarnished on tarmac it is, God knows where. The purse left on the bus at university, (the really nice orange one with the tassel).  The purse appeared to be in a box, full of other purses, dust. 

More pictures follow.  Snatches of past friends, lovers, faces weathered, some smiling, some not. She begins to collect the photographs and places them tenderly in an album.  Turning the pages is time travel and she is comforted.

Soon the photos which appear narrow to just one face.  Again.  This picture is not so comforting, because it triggers the metallic taste of regret.  But again.  There he is.  Living.  She even thinks she knows where.  A photo helpfully provides the answer.

She takes up her coat and runs, through the garden gate.

Many congratulations to Jennifer, Kate, Thom and Nicky! Particular kudos must go to Kate, who spent the first few hours of her day off writing this. I cannot think of higher praise than that. Many many thanks to everyone who submitted today. It’s good to be back!

Until next time.

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

 

Journey to Publication with Nina de Pass

In early 2016, I left my job at a London publishing house to take up a place on the Faber Academy’s six-month Write a Novel course. I remember explaining this in our first class when asked to introduce ourselves. I also remember – clearly – everyone’s reaction: mostly their disbelief. The truth was I adored writing, and was doing it whenever I could – early mornings, late nights, on the bus, on my phone as I walked down the street – but I had worked determinedly for years to get that job and there I was, throwing it away for a place on a course that gave no guarantee that I’d actually complete a novel, let alone get it published. So why on earth had I just thrown myself off a cliff?

I hear all the time from other writers that the publishing industry can feel like a fortress, where editors are fierce gatekeepers. Yet, I had already worked behind those supposed iron gates, which gave me a different perspective. Over the years, I have worked with editors who care deeply about the books they publish, and fight tooth and nail to give authors the platform and reach they needed to get to readers. I remember one brilliant editor locked herself in a bathroom to cry when one of the books she worked on hit the Sunday Times bestseller list. She had worked relentlessly for and with that author – and, God, she loved that book. This made an impression on me – above all, I felt hopeful. I saw first-hand new books bought, new authors’ careers launched. I worked with many magnificent, talented authors. They worked tirelessly, they wrote tirelessly – but they showed me publication could happen, it did happen all the time. It would require hard work, of course, and dedication. A lot of writing, rewriting, editing, deleting would need to be done. But, at the end of it all, why couldn’t I be one of the lucky few? These are two words I think about a lot: why not?

The Faber course is, above all, a space to learn and write – it’s for people who take writing seriously. I am in that camp. To me, writing is a wonderful thing – something I do most of all because I love it – but it is also a massive commitment. I started working part time, I moved back in with my family, and I wrote whenever I could. My day in the Faber offices in Bloomsbury Square became my favourite day of the week. My tutor, Shelley Weiner, and my coursemates gave me the confidence to talk about my novel as though it was something more than just words and fictitious scenarios spinning around my head. It’s no exaggeration to say those days changed the course of my life.

My novel The Year After You, is about a seventeen-year-old girl called Cara who has survived the same car accident that killed her best friend. Unable to move forward, Cara is sent 5,000 miles from home to a boarding school perched at the top of a mountain, in total contrast to everything she has left behind. It’s a book about guilt and grief tied up so tightly they are indistinguishable from each other. But most of all it’s about love – the love between friends, as well as romantic love. All those people who show us how to keep living when living seems impossible.

I wrote it extremely quickly; I somehow completed the first draft by the end of the six months, so buzzed up by the energy, grit and fun of the course. When it ended, I felt both a little bereft and a little terrified. The agents’ reading, where literary agents are invited in to listen to two minute readings from students’ novels, was on the horizon. I am a horrible public speaker, so this, for me, was a nightmare. I don’t remember standing up – I sometimes wonder how my legs got me to that podium. I think I put so much importance on the reading, because my book had become so important to me. I had been living in it for six months, and thinking about it for many years before that. I am not a performer, but I reasoned that if this was the best opportunity to showcase it, it was my duty to give it its best shot.

Miraculously, after the reading, I was approached by my now agent, Laura Williams from Greene and Heaton, who requested the full manuscript. A weekend went by at a snail’s pace. Did I sleep? I must have done, but I honestly can’t remember. She emailed me the following Monday: I think your novel has huge amounts of potential, and I was wondering whether you’d be up for chatting through some editorial thoughts? I met her a week or so later, not knowing at all what to expect. Would we get on? Would she see the book the way I saw it? The meeting itself was a bit like a first date; looking back, I suppose we were both sizing each other up. I liked her instantly, I loved all the editorial suggestions she had, and I truly felt she understood the book I had set out to write. At the end of the meeting, she offered me representation.

The agent-author relationship is a professional one, but it’s a hugely important personal one too. I feel fantastically privileged to have Laura on my side – she is a cheerleader, smart and editorially brilliant. For months, she worked with me to get my novel ready to submit, then sent the book out to editors in 2017. And so it began. I read stories daily about big pre-empts, bidding wars and books that are snapped up overnight by over-enthusiastic editors in grand auctions. These things do happen and are fantastic for the authors involved, but they are by no means a given. This was certainly not what happened to me. In fact, the whole submission process took about a year.

About halfway through the submission process, I started working full-time as an assistant at The Soho Agency, a literary and talent agency in central London. When I first started, I kept my own writing quiet; a part of me worried they’d be horrified to learn I had written a book, the other part worried they wouldn’t think I was serious about my job. Neither of these things came true; I honestly couldn’t ask for more supportive or excited colleagues, who continue to be such champions of me and this book. But at the time, my hope for this book’s chance had faded somewhat. Rejections from editors poured in throughout 2017 – some of them warm, some of them lukewarm, some of them disinterested. Working for a literary agency helped me to fully understand the subjectivity of the publishing industry. It was a reminder that finding the right home for a book comes down to personal taste, timing and luck.

I was starting to make peace with the fact that this book wasn’t a goer, then, in February 2018, Laura told me that Ink Road had offered to publish The Year After You. The news came when I was working from home because it had snowed so heavily that travel in central London was a nightmare. I remember it vividly. I was sitting at the kitchen table and there was about a foot of snow on the ledge outside. I’m quite fatalistic, and this confirmed it. It must be fate – after all, my novel is set in the snow. Nine months later, just before the Frankfurt Book Fair, Laura rang to tell me that Ink Road had an offer from Delacorte Press, a young adult imprint of Penguin Random House in the US, to publish the book in North America in Spring 2020.

When I think about it, I realise my road to publication has probably been less jagged than most, but it has taken time. I have learned about patience, about subjectivity, and I have been reminded, as the first responses come in, of the generosity of all the people in the book world who have taken the time to support me. I continue to be amazed by the kindness and encouragement of those around me – my family, friends, Faber coursemates, colleagues – and all those I have met recently, and continue to meet: bloggers, reviewers, booksellers and other authors. This whole experience has been surreal; I feel very lucky and very excited about everything to come. 

By Nina de Pass

Author photo: © Alex Lloyd

The Year After You was published in the UK by Ink Road on 14th February; Penguin Random House will publish in North America in spring 2020.

Website: www.ninadepass.com 

Twitter: @marinadepass

Instagram: @marinadepass