#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 17/05/2019

It’s Friday,. You have a whole busy day ahead of you. The day? It’s grey. But never fear, for another round of QUICKFIC, Faber Academy’s Flash Fiction competition is here to make your day just that little bit brighter..

If you’ve QUICKFiC-ed with us before, head on down to the prompt. If you’ve no idea what this is all about, have a quick read through the rules:

  • On Friday mornings (so, now) I present to you a prompt. Images, playlists, other far better writer’s words, you name it and we’ll prompt you with it
  • Your task is to create 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.

Should your piece of flash fiction be chosen as the lucky winner we’ll send you off a lovely stack of books. This week our heart’s have bee set all aflutter thanks to Faber Members’ upcoming event, Making Debuts. So why not celebrate some of our brilliant debut authors by giving away their wonderful debut novels! Our winner receives Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater, Bev Thomas’ A Good Enough Mother and Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends:

 

So after dangling those beauties in front of your faces place run, don’t walk, to this week’s prompt.

 

Get writing! See you at 3:30!

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 10/05/2019: The Winner

Well. despite me initially getting the date wrong (I did tell you all I thought it was Thursday all week!) that was a wonderful batch of #QUICKFIC pieces. Excellent job, all! Let’s take another look at your prompt: 

And on to the winners:

Runner Up: James Atkinson

Shouting Across the Bar

She shouted across the bar, pointed to the little map.

He listened, didn’t hear and shouted back.  

It went back and forth.

They got nowhere.  

Well, they got lost.

They asked for Becks, he gave them Metz.  

They got irate, refused to pay and stormed off.  

He, shamefacedly, had to explain to his boss.  

And paid.

He didn’t recognise them.

He couldn’t understand their annoyance.

He let someone else take over.

He didn’t see them.

For over forty minutes.

No wonder they soaked him.

Immediately after, a frequent customer smiled kindly and asked for his number.

He gave her a flier, underlining the bar’s number.

She asked again, he gave an annoyed look and jabbed the flier.

She pushed it back and walked away, normally he had much more to say.

He shrugged, carried on.

It was only later he realised it was her.

And, while pouring her usual for someone else, he wondered… and spilt the drink.

And was ordered away from the bar.

It was just one of those shifts, one spent well outside the required zone.  

One not taking in anyone’s words or faces, just order, fulfillment, order, fulfillment.

A buzz filling his head.

Why did they play the music so loud?  

Often he dreamed of sleepy seaside tavernas.  

While collecting glasses outside he spotted his regular drinking alone across the street.  

In the relative quiet of the nightlife he crossed toward her preparing his apology.

Hoping it was necessary.  

He had often dreamed about her too.

Runner Up: Paul Jenkins

Nobody Knows Your Name

I’ve worked a lot of bar jobs. Student bars are easy but they’re also the worst. They are unfailingly polite, but irritatingly loud and they puke the most.

Regular bar, you don’t get so much puke and noise but you get more aggro. Like everything else in life, there’s a trade-off.

The girls get louder, they’re at the age where they know what they want. The boys are at the age where they just think they know. Neither the boys nor the girls will end up getting it and the pain of that realisation is where your humble bartender comes in.

This one girl, Sonia, she comes in more nights than she should but this isn’t social services. I just pour the drinks and take the money and clean up the puke.

“Can I get you a drink?”

She is very beautiful and very drunk and the kind of girl who’d drive a sane man crazy. But I’m crazy so her magic doesn’t work on me.

“I’ll take a half, thank you.”

I pass her a tray of vodka jellies and place a half pint glass beneath the pump.

My father doesn’t drink anymore, but did when I was a child. The smell of beer in my nostrils brings him back out the box, tearing upwards through the earth with his calloused fingers, shaking the dirt off his one suit and running at the speed of death to hammer his unmistakable fists upon our door.

But still I pour.

Winner: Daniela Azzopardi

Exploration

His hand hovered over the bottle hesitantly.

“Come on, I haven’t got all night.” Her eyes shone bright despite the low key lighting in the establishment. The chatter of his other patrons seemed to drown when compared to her husky voice.

“It’s not a mix I’ve ever heard of.” He picked up a bottle of clear spirit and unscrewed it.

“I know what I like.”

She smiled, directing him on the exact measures for her drink. Her accent sounded local, but something was off; she couldn’t recall certain words and would occasionally elongated the odd vowel.

“Is this it?” He asked, looking at the concoction sitting in his work space. A heavy blue settled at the bottom of the glass swirling into green, and then yellow at the top.

Before he could move, she reached over and grabbed the drink, examining the contents. Her nose twitched like an excited cat and her face broke into a smile.

“It’s going to taste like liquified sugar.” He warned as she put the glass to her lips.

One more smile, and half the drink was gone.

“Just as I like it.”

She put down the money for the drink together with a generous tip and waltzed away from the bar into the crowd.

The barman shook his head incredulously as he wiped his bench. Ever since humans started frequenting his bar, his alcohol stocks had started depleting shockingly fast. He had never met a species so capable of adapting and with such thirst. 

loved the tendency towards final lines that packed one hell of a punch her everyone! Congratulations to James, Paul and Daniela and thank you to everyone that played along this week. See you again soon for another round of #QUICKFIC!

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

 

#QUICKFIC 10/05/2019

Hello lovely flash fiction fans and welcome back to #QUICKFIC, Faber Academy’s (in)famous flash fiction competition. What a week! I, for one, was bamboozled by the Bank Holiday and have been convinced it’s Thursday every day. Luckily it’s finally reached Friday and your #QUICKFIC prompt is now within your reach.

First up, the Laws of the Land.

  • In however many minutes (or seconds, if you cheat and jump to it) it takes you to scroll and read the rest of this post, you’ll see a picture prompt.
  • From that prompt, I’d like to read whatever piece of flash fiction it inspires within you
  • Whittle that piece down to 250 words or less. Strictly no more than that!
  • Place your work of art into the body of an email, making sure to include the title and the word count, and send it to academy@faber.co.uk by 2:50 pm today. 

After that, you simply wait and wait until 30:30 pm when I reveal the winner!

That lucky person wins two very special books this week. This year Faber celebrates its 90th anniversary and so, to celebrate our long history and the fantastic new authors we’re lucky to publish, our winner receives Toby Faber’s history of the company and Rachel Cusk’s Kudos: 

With all that, are you

Ready

For

A

Prompt?

Here 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 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.

 

#QUICKFIC 03/05/2019

Well hello hello and welcome back to #QUICKFIC, Faber Academy’s flash fiction competition. We’ve had some Academy shake ups and some holidays and some bank holiday breaks, but a new month dawns and with it comes #QUICKFIC.

I teased your prompt last night, but you’ll shortly be seeing the full version. First though, the oh so strict rules!

  1. Further down the page is a prompt. Stare at it for a bit. Really let it inspire you.
  2. Alchemy like, I want you to take turn that simple prompt into a piece of fiction 250 words or less.
  3. Copy that piece into the body of an email, making sure to include the title and the word count, and send it to academy@faber.co.uk.
  4. Do all that by 2:50 pm today. 
  5. At 3:30 pm I’ll reveal your winner and runners up!

The winner is not just a winners in my heart and mind and on the pages of this blog. They also get a prize in the form of these lovely books:

Some cracking new releases in there just to really sweeten the pot.

 

With all that said and done here is the main event! The prompt itself:

Now let the inspiration flow through you like April flowing into May.

I’ll see you at 3:30.

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. 

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

#QUICKFIC 22/03/2019: The Winner

Well that was very lovely!

Riding the high of actual sun (briefly, but I swear it emerged guv, honest!) we went for a brighter prompt this week. And not one piece involving murder this week! Death, yes, murder, no. I think that’s a #QUICKFIC first. Let’s take one last look at your prompt:

So without further ado, your brilliant winners:

Runner Up: Thea Oxbury

The Single

Charity shops? Sorry, no. I catch the melancholic whiff of lives dismantled, unwanted consumables ‘regifted’ in the name of a good cause, I’m out. Should never have crossed the threshold. Except for –

I was passing by when they caught me. Those eyes. How many years is it now? Thirty? No, more.

I still think I find your hairs, sometimes. Quavers and minims peppering a patch of floor. I dream about them. I rarely hear that tune, though. How could I? I’d need your voice for that.

But those eyes.

I walked in. Couldn’t look back at those eyes, so I went to a clothes rack instead. Felt the tweed of a motheaten great coat and thought of… the bus stop, how we’d stand together, both of us, inside that coat. They don’t make them like that any longer, do they? Didn’t in those days, either.

I turn back to the window display, because I want, at least, to pick up that old 45, cover frayed around the edges. It’s just a momentary memory, your smile, his smile, as you slid the vinyl from it’s cover.

I’m moving towards the window, but someone stands in my way. Some kid. He takes the record from its stand.

“Mum,” he crows, “This’ll be great as a place mat. Forty five pence!”

“Oh, go on then,” mutters the woman behind me.

No, I want to say. No, you can’t. You’ve no idea.

But I say nothing.

And I think: melancholic whiffs of lives dismantled.

Runner Up: Thomasin Sage

The Seraph of Forgotten Songs

She’d been leafing through the vinyl records for five hours now.

The only sound in the dusty shop was the shwip of each dog-eared record sleeve as it came to rest softly on the one behind it. The old cardboard sleeves had the kind of nicks and rips that showed they had been loved once, perhaps played at full volume with friends or alone with a glass of wine.

The shop keeper had given up trying to offer his advice. She had returned his queries with a warm, beatific smile before continuing her search without a word. It was eerie.

What is she looking for? he wondered. The question gnawed at him.

He put down his tattered paperback and decided to watch her instead. Sometimes she would pick up a record and nod to it as if greeting an old friend, or place a hand gently on the cover before returning it to the box. Other times she would close her eyes and tap out a rhythm with her foot, or simply shake her head sadly and move swiftly on to the next.

By the end of the day she was surrounded by a halo of dust from disturbing the forgotten songs. The early afternoon light filtered through it oddly and it felt like he was looking at her in an old, yellowed photograph.

He approached her once more, his heart pounding in his chest. She reminded him of when he was a young boy and still believed in angels.

The Winner: Gabrielle Turner

Breakages must be paid for

It was back again, and it wasn’t long since the last one. This time I tried to memorise how it felt. I wanted to write it down, in the blind scrawl that was becoming my handwriting, but how would I find anything to write with, in this state? I stood still. All around me, the world was becoming hazy. I steadied myself against the door frame and breathed in until it hurt.

It wasn’t a migraine, I was sure of that. In the hospital they’d talked about degeneration, about auras, oedemas and tunnel vision. I’d had dozens of scans. Drops that made my face go numb. My sight was perfect.

“You alright up there?” a thin voice called from the ground floor.

“Fine, fine,” I heard myself reply. In a junk shop, of all places, I thought. What about the china ornaments; the stacks of records and first editions at my feet? Could I make it down the stairs? If it was anything like the other times, I’d be like this for an hour at least.

The closer things were to me, the more blurred they appeared. Against the white walls, I could make out the rectangular forms of paintings and felt thankful for their reassuring green dullness. Certainty continued to melt, and the hard angles of the room were twisting slowly out of focus. Feet, hands, books, all becoming one. The disease was taking me to a place where there were no edges.

Congratulations to Gabrielle, Thomasin and Thea. Big thank you to everyone who entered. Happy weekends everyone!

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