Why would You Write a Journal?

“One’s first diarist,” suggests psychotherapist and essayist Adam Phillips, “is one’s mother who links facts for one, holds the pieces together.” Forget the priest’s confession booth or your mum. There are more places than ever for confessionals today. Social media is a constant flood of inner thoughts memorialised. Still, the art of keeping a diary continues, despite a technological and social revolution that mean that both writing by hand and private introspection are fast becoming things of the past. Keeping diaries is an ancient tradition that dates back to 10th century Japan.

I found an old diary of mine recently. I had filled its pages about ten years ago, when I first met my husband. How young I seemed then. What a mix of embarrassment and wonder to rediscover who I was. I’m not a daily journal scribbler. I have a journal on my bedside table and use it when my head feels busy. It helps to spill my thoughts onto the page. I have no rules about what goes into it. I use it to hold myself to account with goals and for story ideas, which are starred and filed away in their proper place later. I remind myself to write a list of things to be grateful for, which I find really helpful to reread on the days I have had a disappointment and have lost my perspective. I have found myself journalling more this year in Switzerland, finding many trusted conversation partners far away.

So what is it that leads us to write diaries? There are some who say diaries are the preserve of the troubled. Once the seas are calm, the diary is relegated to the back of a drawer. A diarist its someone, who is self-important and secretly hopes to be read, who wishes to control, or who does not have the courage to voice their thoughts in conversation. S/he is someone who does not live in the present, who is fascinated by their own history.

Photo by Steve Loya

Photo by Steve Loya

While some truth may be found in the reasons above, it would be a shame to dismiss the benefits of journalling out of hand:

▪ Clarity. You can off-load and clear confusion by articulating your thoughts.

▪ Honesty. No-one has to read your journal but you. Your words are unfiltered, a stream of consciousness. You can strengthen your sense of self, show yourself in your wholeness, rather than the separate facets of ourselves you present to the world. You can say the unsaid.

▪ Presence. Too often, we get caught up in the needs of others and go through the motions of our established routines without self-assessments, but is the tiny adjustments to our evolving needs that leads to greater fulfilment. With a diary you are making time to pay attention to yourself.

▪ Freedom. There are no rules with journalling. It doesn’t have to be daily or grammatically correct. It doesn’t matter how long or short the entry is. Crossing out is just fine. Doodle. Leave a thought mid-sentence if that’s what you want.

▪ Creativity. Experiencing your unfiltered self in all its glory is disconcerting. For a writer especially, it can be wonderful material for a fictionalised character. Oscar Wilde once said, “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.”

Photo by Magic Madzik

Photo by Magic Madzik

▪ Reexamine. Work through difficult episodes. Write down your dreams and explore fantasies. The page is non-judgemental.

▪ Accountability. Track what is important. Map out your goals and progress. Keeping a diary reveals patterns of behaviour and builds self-knowledge.

▪ Recall. We process such a huge amount of information daily. Our lives are crammed full of experiences. It has become the norm to have hundreds of friends we keep track of in different ways. Is it any wonder we are forgetful? Our brains keep only the most important information. There are also physiological reasons why we might only remember the broad strokes of certain events. Take childbirth, for example, where there is good reason to remember the bonding with your newborn over the intensity of the pain of delivery. Use a journal to remember the details.

▪ Destress. The mental health benefits of journalling have been well-documented. It is therapeutic.

▪ Practice. It can be a good warm-up, in the style of Julia Cameron’s morning pages as detailed in The Artist’s Way. W.H. Auden once described his journal as “a discipline for laziness and lack of observation.” For writers journalling is a way to keep our instrument in tune.

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 01.25.01Wonderful published diaries include those of Virginia Woolf, Anaïs Nin, Samuel Pepys, Anne Frank, Abraham Lincoln, Frida Kahlo and Sylvia Plath. Other famous diarists such as Evelyn Waugh and Philip Larkin burnt theirs. Whether you write regularly or not, in a leather-bound journal or scrappy exercise book, in ink or on an app, what happens in the pages of your diary is completely up to you. If you do not want yours to be discovered by someone other than you, just remember to keep it somewhere safe.

Brilliant Flash Fiction

Photo/painting by freeparking

Photo/painting by freeparking

I’m excited to have made the short list for the January edition of Brilliant Flash Fiction for my story ‘Life is Good’, a tale of a spurned woman.

This one was written whilst waiting in the car to pick up my daughter from school. It was too cold to play outside with my toddler son, so instead, he took the wheel and pretended to drive. I switched to the passenger seat and picked up a pen. The word count was tight and didn’t allow me to include the line:

For someone who was vocal in the bedroom, he died remarkably quietly.

Still, that’s the beauty of flash fiction: it’s a moment of inspiration distilled into a few sentences. There is no room for verbosity. If the novel is akin to a marriage, then flash fiction is a one night stand. Don’t kid yourself though, both have lasting repercussions.

My shortlisted story is below. Read the winning ones and other entries here.

Life Is Good

My husband died last week. It was my doing. I’d planned it meticulously. I began bolstering his ego a few months ago with little scraps of attention until he was sure I’d fallen in love with him again. Then I loosened the railings on our balcony.

Our anniversary is in fall, and we have quite a view from up there of the trees turning gold and bare. It’s the fifth storey, you see. I handed him a flute of champagne and told him to enjoy the view while I went to change into something I had bought especially for him. He couldn’t believe his luck. At least he was happy when he smashed his head in.

I was equally happy when I returned in my gloriously expensive mourning outfit and saw him lying there, splashes of red all around. A girl has to celebrate. I allowed myself a triumphant smile before I slipped my widow’s mask on.

Oh, I excel in this role. It’s the happiest I’ve been…such a natural fit. I think widowhood is quite becoming actually. There’s an elegance to it that is lacking in a mere mother or wife.

Now I stand here with my elegant up-do, a silken shroud of black accentuating my assets. My lips have been painted in nude and there is a hint of mascara on my lashes. Waterproof, of course, in case tears are required. Subtle glamour is the look I am going for. Too much make-up on a widow is unseemly, crass even, and I have a flawless reputation to uphold.

I am awaiting the reading of the will. Money I know is going to me, not his mistress. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had. I wonder what I should splash out on first? Life is good.

The Pact: A Short Story Collaboration (Compiled)

You’ll find the combined three parts of our short story collaboration ‘The Pact’ below, based on the Surrealist game Exquisite Corpse. Thanks, first and foremost, to all the contributing writers. You’ll find their bios and contact details at the end of the post. Thank you especially to Jess West & Jo Blaikie, who lent a supportive hand on the editing. Jess also pulled together the image you see here. Hope you enjoy it.

JessPic

Nillu Nasser Stelter

He slept in a room full of colour and familiar objects, but the silence crept under the door and touched his face. A blue-black curtain of darkness still hung in the sky. Unease gripped him. He rolled out of bed to look for his mother.

The door handle spun easily in his hand as he padded out into the hallway. The house was dark and didn’t look much like his house at all. Shadows followed him as he stole past closed doors to his mother’s room, expecting to hear the rumble of her snore. Instead, he found her bed empty except for a pair of socks. She didn’t even wear socks.

That she was not there worried him. As a small child he had wept with passion when his mother had left him unattended. Now, even though he was almost grown, she still told him where she was and when to expect her. She had left the older woman in charge then, the one who lived with them and who they said was his grandmother though he had never quite believed it. He had sucked sherbet lollies while she was gone. The instinct was still there. The sugar left his teeth grainy and his mind alert. He was glad. He was never one to trust strangers, and there was something about Granny that sat all wrong.

A man-boy yearning for his mother’s comfort in the dead of the night was not someone who won at life. For a moment he wondered whether to search the remainder of the house for her. But though he was a clever boy, he was not a very brave one. Instead he retreated back to his bedroom and hid underneath the covers until the sun came up. He did not notice the grey cat with amber eyes watching him from behind a pile of discarded clothes.

J. Edward Paul

Will woke to a petrol sunrise, toes curled against the chill of morning. Scrubbing sleep from his face with dry hands, he levered himself off the old mattress and into a pile of dirty laundry. A brief search produced a pair of jeans and a Superman t-shirt that smelled of three-day old cologne.

Silence still held the house hostage, but it seemed less ominous in the light. TV fire burned in the still dark living room, casting technicolour shadows over empty furniture. Uneaten oatmeal sat warm on the sideboard in the kitchen and the orange juice was out.

“Mum?” Will called. “Mum, I’m running late for class. Can I take the car?”

No response came. He knew he should check her room, but his professor did not take kindly to tardiness. Grabbing the keys off a hook in the foyer, Will opened the porch door. It would take him hours to realise it had been left unlocked.

Frosted air nipped at his bare arms. Once in the car, Will rummaged through a pile of greasy bags and discarded Styrofoam cups, coming away with a thin jacket more dirt than fabric. Slipping one arm into a cold sleeve, he used the other to turn the ignition. Manic clicks sent a flock of sparrows scattering toward the town centre. The car was dead.

Will lay his forehead on the steering wheel. “Why today?”

Suddenly, a grey cat landed on the hood with a thud. Will jumped and then nearly scrambled into the torn passenger seat when something moved in his peripheral vision. His grandmother, wide and still, slowly turned toward sunrise.

“You scared the shit out of me, Granny,” Will said as he climbed out of the car.

“They came again,” the old woman whispered.

Natasha Ahmed

“What?” Will frowned, exasperated by his grandmother’s cryptic words. “I don’t have time for this, Granny.” He jerked. “I need to—“

“They came last night.”

He stopped. The flimsy jacket still dangled from his left arm. A gust of wind tossed a swirl of snow across Will’s face and he blinked. Had his grandmother suddenly become translucent? Her words penetrated the morning fog in his mind and he looked back at the house, remembering something about socks…

Will ran past his grandmother into the house, dropping the jacket behind him. The entryway was suddenly grey and cold, and he realised there was an emptiness to the house he hadn’t observed when he first got up. The porch door swung shut with a bang behind him, and he jumped. Cold fingers of fear slid through him. He moved towards the kitchen in the back of the house.

“Mum?” His voice wavered slightly as he called out. Where was she? “Mum, where are you?” He searched the refrigerator for a message, a note, something. She always left a note. Always.

“Mum!” Panic laced the word. He turned away from the refrigerator and almost pissed his pants. Granny was standing at the kitchen island, staring at Will. He hadn’t heard her come in.

“Granny. Who came last night? Where’s Mum?”

“They will come again.”

Will felt like punching her, but she still looked transparent, almost as if she wasn’t there. Would his arm go straight through her if he tried? Fear made his voice squeaky, his words terse. “What’s wrong with you? Tell me where Mum is. I…I have to get to college.”

“We must prepare.” The old woman, now shimmering slightly, moved towards the ottoman in the family room. “Come.”

She lifted the lid.

Margaret Locke

He didn’t want to follow her, fearful of what he might see within the bowels of his once favourite climbing toy.

“Wh-what’s in there? What’s happened to my mum? Who ARE you?”

Granny snarled, exasperation written across her face. “Come, you idiot boy.” She reached down and Will nearly fainted, frightened of what she might show him. Her hands came up again, clutching…papers?

Papers? That was it? No ancient voodoo doll, no cracked human skull, no secret book of spells? He sighed in disappointment as he walked over to her. Mum always told him he had an overactive imagination.

“What are they?” He wished he had a lolly, or maybe some of that oatmeal over on the counter. He’d forgotten to eat breakfast and he was hungry.

“Evidence,” Granny whispered, her eyes darting around the room, as if expecting someone to be lurking in the corners.

“Evidence? Of what?” He took the top sheet in his hand. “It looks like gobbedly-gook to me, just a bunch of numbers.” His eyes widened as he noted the drawing at the bottom. “Is this an -”

“Invisibility cloak? Yeah,” Granny broke in, impatience lacing her words. “Obviously in beta, which is why you can still see me.”

“But what—How—?”

Granny scooped up the rest of the papers and came toward him. “You think all the woman did was cut the crusts off your bread? This—this­—is her true life’s work. Not you, you ungrateful idiot.”

The cat slinked into the room, its amber eyes fixed on both of them.

“Take these and go quickly,” said Granny, thrusting the papers into his arms. He stared, bewildered, as she bent down to the cat and began to whisper in an indecipherable tongue.

Jimmi Campkin

“It’s ok, he’s not in today.”

A sense of relief and shame washed over Will as the lecture hall slowly filled, like a gentle incoming tide. Even Todd, his closest friend, now felt the need to tiptoe around him. To handle him like a fragile ornament.

“Randy MacGuffin.” Todd spat out the syllables and left them, rotting, on the sticky carpet. “Don’t pay any attention to him.”

Everyone did though. Blessed with the supreme confidence of someone who habitually relieved the local store of soda cans and chocolate bars, Randy was the figurehead of the year, a larger than life character through whom all events were channeled. He was an opinion piece and a newsreader in one cocky swagger, and now his top scoop featured ‘Weird Willy’ and his papers. And his grandmother, and the cat.

“Just so you know, I don’t laugh at the incest jokes about you and your mum.”

Todd had a knack of comforting you in a barbed wire blanket.

“It doesn’t matter to me whether he is here or not,” lied Will, as students turned away from the huge screen towards him. He tried to maintain eye contact with some but their smiles grew, eyes twinkling with malevolence.

The room fell silent as an officer walked in, furtively whispering to the lecturer. The two sets of eyes locked on Will. The rest of the room followed the gaze. A ripple of astonishment hovered over the collective heads, incredulous that the rumours might be true.

Minutes later Will learned about Randy’s corpse and that his engraved pen knife had been found jammed deep into the dead boy’s neck.

Linda Huber

The police car wound through town, Will trembling in the back and Todd tense beside him. To Will’s surprise they didn’t turn up the High Street towards the police station.

“Hey, where are you going?” The policeman in the passenger seat was astounded. The driver made no answer, but Will knew. They were going home.

Granny was waiting at the door, the papers he had dropped that morning in one hand. She approached the car and pulled Will from the back seat. He flinched at her touch. Her hands were cold, cold as her voice when she spoke to the officers.

“You have seen nothing. You will remember nothing.”

Todd scrambled out and stood beside Will as the police car moved away and disappeared round the corner.

Will could hear the panic in his own voice. “So where’s Randy?”

Granny turned into the hallway and the boys followed her through into the front room. There on the floor was the blood-soaked corpse of Will’s tormentor, flies already gathering in the wound under his jawbone.

“Not a very nice boy, dear,” said Granny. “He knew rather too much, I’m afraid.”

You killed him?”

The cat slid into the room and stood behind Will’s grandmother, its tail swinging from side to side and its eyes fixed on Will. And all at once there was a perfume in the air, a faint but unmistakable whiff: his mother’s perfume.

“Of course not. That was the others. Poor fool you are. You’ll understand tomorrow.”

She wheeled round, but the cat had vanished. Will looked at Todd. Tomorrow was his eighteenth birthday, but why would he understand then?

“I think you should go, Todd. You might not be safe here.”

“Of course he can’t go!” snapped Granny. “Why do you think I made the boys in blue bring him back here? He’s the witness.”

Jessica West

“What if I said no?” Will fidgeted under Granny’s glare.

Todd inched over closer to him, nudging Will’s arm with an elbow.

Her eyes narrowed. “I know what you’re thinking. If you run,” she gestured to Randy’s corpse on the living room floor, “your friend will end up like this young man.”

Will felt the shudder that ran through Todd, but to his friend’s credit, he held his ground.

“Who’s to say I won’t end up like that anyway?” Todd straightened to his full height. Though he was tall, he was also lanky. He didn’t exactly strike an intimidating figure. “Some weird shit’s going down, and you need to give us some answers.”

“Yeah,” Will said.

Grey, bushy brows rose high above Granny’s hazel eyes.

Still bolstered from Todd’s speech, Will spoke the words her glare had previously silenced. “And it seems like you need us more than we need you.”

Granny smiled and shook her head. She tilted it to one side as she appraised him. “I never thought you’d have the guts.”

Her smile struck Will as malevolent and proud at once, as though she were examining prey that had turned into a worthy opponent. Her features shifted to a blank expression as she lifted her hands. When Granny turned her palms up, lightening arced outward, shattering every bulb in the room. With one palm facing the window, she curled her fingers into claws.

The glass cracked and shattered.

With her other hand, she drained all colour from the room.

Peach walls and beige carpets bled out, leaving them black. The colours melted and burned midair, turning into a thick, dark syrup.

Granny guided the liquid into the shards of glass, the pane now a crackled black barrier against the light and life outside.

Drew Chial

Todd tried to pry the door open, kicking the wall for leverage. He tested the locks, but the door refused to carry out its function. Todd examined the crack. Molten glass had bled over the threshold.

“We’re fused in,” Todd tried to phone emergency services, “and it looks like that black stuff is killing my cell reception.”

Will couldn’t look away from his classmate’s corpse, “I’m more concerned about what happens when this smell starts circulating.”

Todd turned to Granny, knitting on the couch, confident her display of power had gotten the message across. The cat rubbed figure eights around Todd’s ankles, putting him in his place.

“What am I here to witness?”

Granny winked at the feline avatar, “The completion of a transaction. On the eighteenth birthday of the first son, the shadow lenders will collect payment.”

Todd shook his head, “Right, they’re malicious, but they won’t mess with minors, huh?”

Will threw a blanket over Randy’s body. “What do you mean, payment?”

Granny stretched her design to reveal a spiral symbol from some ancient alchemy stitched into the yarn. “Your mother sought benefactors for her invisibility cloak. They required a return on their investment. When the clock strikes midnight, they will come.”

Will scoffed. “She’s full of shit. I was born in the late afternoon. I was a fat fetus, took all day to deliver. Mum never tires of telling the story because she loves me. She would never offer me as payment to anyone.”

Granny nodded. “That was part of the deal. They wanted her to mother you, keep you nice and sweet. They have refined tastes.”

Will balled his hands to fists.

“Ha!” Todd tapped his phone. “The WiFi’s still up. Looks like she doesn’t have dominion over all the utilities, yet.”

Amira K. Makansi

While Todd frantically typed in a message to the local police via Facebook, Will stared between Granny and the grey cat, unsure whether the two were allies, enemies, or something in between. The courage he’d sought all his life seemed to hover before him, ready to snatch out of the air if he so chose. But between his mum missing, the strange cat, his Granny’s witchcraft, and the body buzzing with flies in front of him, Will wasn’t sure he wanted that courage.

“So where is my mum, then?” He asked innocently. He glanced at the cat for effect, inquiring if she was the cat, but Granny just smiled, peeling back her lips to reveal a perfect set of pearly whites.

“You guys are so loony,” Todd muttered.

In a blur of teeth, claws, and fur, the cat leapt past Will and latched itself onto Todd’s chest, clawing and biting with the fervour of a demon.

“I’d watch what you say, young man” Granny shouted above the clamour of the cat’s yowls and Todd’s shrieks of pain. “Tempers are frayed enough already!”

Will jumped to his friend’s defence, trying to pry the cat from Todd’s chest and neck, but was only rewarded with a sharp bite. For a moment it continued like that – Todd howling, Will scrabbling at the frenetic cat, and Granny watching the encounter with narrowed eyes.

Then, quite abruptly, she barked out several words in an alien language, whose sounds could only be described as ghoulish. The cat calmed, releasing Todd and dropping to the floor, cleaning its face as if nothing had ever happened. While Todd whimpered and surveyed his wounds, Will stared at his Granny.

“You’re not even on my side in this,” he said. “For God’s sake, Gran, what are you?”

Joanne Blaikie

“Well, I’ll tell you what I’m not. I’m not your grandmother, but you always suspected as much didn’t you?”

Will stood unflinching at the news.

“Go on. I’m listening. I mean, it’s not like I have a choice, now you have us captive here.” He gestured to the sealed door.

“That was a necessity,” the old woman snapped. “I told you when you found those papers that we must prepare, but would you listen?” She rose from the couch and glided over to Will. “It’s not easy to explain, but I am on your side. We hoped never to have to explain all this to you, but your mother’s work on that invisibility cloak remains incomplete and now they will make her pay.”

Will saw a look of sorrow cross her wizened features.

“Goodness knows I’ve done everything to protect her from this day!” She suddenly threw up her hands and, turning from Will, took a deep breath. “My name is Scareesha.” Her voice softened. “I am a Protector. There are many of my kind and our Order work against The Shadow Lenders. I was sent to protect your mother after she became embroiled with them.”

From behind the couch amber eyes flickered.

He was one of us.” She motioned to the body on the floor. “An immature, foolish Protector who got himself killed by them for meddling in matters beyond his comprehension, but a Protector nevertheless.”

“I wish you could lay an invisibility cloak on him.” Will balked at the stench emitting from the lifeless mass.

Scareesha considered the corpse for a moment, nodded, then stepped back. She raised a hand as before and a lightning bolt shot across the room. In a split second the body and blanket disintegrated into dust leaving no trace of Randy MacGuffin.

Rachael Spellman

“I gotta say,” Will said, “I’m kinda relieved you’re not my granny.”

Scareesha’s mouth twisted.

“You wouldn’t want my blood. You’ve enough problems with your own.” Opening her hands, she sent the knitted symbol into the air, where it hung cobweb-thin in the pooling blue light. Todd had curled into himself, silent and still; his phone lay upturned on the carpet, full of a half-finished message. He moved wet-dark fingers over his neck. Glaring at the couch, Will knelt, shuffling towards his friend on hands and knees. The cat blinked, a slow burn of amber, and stayed where it was.

Scareesha snorted. “You’ve more important things to worry about than a bleeding fool.”

“So you keep telling me. And everything else, while locking me in to wait for people who’re coming after me.” His back stiffened as the cat made a noise, but Scareesha only raised a hand. The phone flickered and died as the webbed symbol turned, slow-and-slow, growing in the air. Will held his breath. Numbers and letters threaded themselves through the yarn, collecting like rain in the faded skin and eyes of the old woman.

She watched his face. “You’ve no one else to trust. Be sensible.”

Thick warmth touched his hand. Will flinched, glancing down. Todd’s eyes were wide and dark; he smelled of iron.

“Just keep that thing away from me. I don’t care about the rest.” His friend licked his lips. “Whatever she’s on about, I won’t look. I won’t watch.”

A low laugh. Scareesha’s hand trembled as it traced shapes on the air, mapping the room in digit loops that found the clock and the mirror. Will felt the old woman’s fear as snow underfoot, burning and cold.

Soundless, the cat peeled away from the wall. It stalked the revolving symbol,

Peter Samet

which slurped down the alphanumeric strings like spaghetti. She shimmied her rear into a pouncing position.

The numbers zipped past Will’s face in barely legible streaks, but he was able to pick out a pattern. 3278…1893…990…423… A countdown sequence. Something important was about to happen very soon.

127…65…22…0

The strings reached their flailing ends. The symbol swallowed each one in quick succession, burping out the zeros.

Scareesha’s shoulders relaxed in the ensuing darkness. “The cosmic addresses have been resolved.” She gestured to the room’s remaining source of light, the symbol, which had morphed into a floating zero no bigger than a thumbprint. “Now for the tricky part. I want you to stick your finger into this hole.”

Will gave his hands a stupefied stare, as if suddenly forced to bid farewell to a dear friend.

“Don’t be a baby. I just need your boyish brawn.”

Will took an uneasy breath and approached the arcane zero at the slowest pace he could muster without moving in reverse. He hoped the easily frustrated old woman would rescind her order, but her glare did not budge.

The zero pulsed slightly as Will extended his chubby digit towards it. The edge of the ring emitted a brilliant blue light, but the center was a black void. A portal, he realized with a flash of panic. That meant anything could be lurking on the other side. A meat grinder. An alien with a pair of scissors. Or the vacuum of space—a much more likely and equally calamitous fate. Will’s finger trembled at the grim possibilities.

“Oh, do hurry up!” Scareesha moaned. “If you were in bed with a woman, she would have slapped your finger away and done the deed herself.”

Will’s eyes narrowed at the slight, and he plunged his finger through the opening.

Paula Reed Nancarrow

And then it was his body on the other side, and his finger wiggled through the opening backwards, as if chiding the naughtiness of the world outside the naught. The fused glass formed a wall in front of him, one that cleared and grew luminous. Elsewhere there were only shadows, twitching like flames, or the tail of the cat.

Gradually in the glass wall he saw things. He saw himself sleeping in a room full of colour and familiar objects; saw the sun rise in petrol hues. There was the old woman, translucent, telling him his mum had a “life’s work,” shaming him about bread crusts. There was Todd, not laughing at incest jokes, and bloody Randy, no longer making them.

He saw Granny – no, Scareesha – shoot lightening from her palms, heard the light bulbs shatter, and Todd invoke the god of WiFi; saw the cat attack Todd, and Scareesha calm the cat, assert herself as a Protector, throw her knitted alchemical cobweb into the air. He saw the cat stalking the revolving symbol, which danced on the wall like the point of a laser, till it rested on the hole his finger plugged.

“The cosmic addresses have been resolved,” he heard again. “Now for the tricky part.”

The scenes had a certain disconnected quality to them, like a jumpy, much-spliced reel of film. This is not the sort of story I would write about myself, he thought. Not the sort of play I would want to be in either. In his literature class they had been reading Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author. What would it take, he thought for a moment, to author oneself?

“I’m glad you asked that question,” said a familiar voice behind him. And there she was. His mum.

Graham Milne

Her feline form stretched and grew, limbs twisting and elongating, bones cracking, until the mother he recognised stood before him. She looked older, based strictly on the lines framing her face and the silver dappling her hair, but touched with a serenity that made her seem much younger, as if to her, the world was full of promise and opportunity waiting to be plucked like newly ripened apples.

Will stumbled. “Mum, what’s going on? I don’t–”

“Understand?” she finished for him. She shared a smile with Scareesha. “They never do, do they?” Will felt his own mouth warp into a dumbstruck simper as he watched his mother cross the room – a mirror image of their own – and seat herself next to the peculiar old witch.

“So few people ever reach this point, Will,” she said, in a voice part-lullaby, part-warm milk. So soothing. “Everyone is born with the potential, but most choose to ignore it. They are content to let fate author their lives for them, instead of grasping the chance to take charge of their own destiny. It’s about far more than just deciding to pursue a career, or a partner. It’s about seizing the very fabric of life itself and knitting it into the pattern that you choose.” Scareesha nodded agreement.

Will sank to the ottoman. His mother reached out and took hold of his hand. “I remember how scared I was when it was my turn, my son. I didn’t want to believe it either. But I need you to trust me now. Can you make this leap? Will you come with us?”

“Not if I have anything to say about it,” erupted a voice from behind. Will wheeled to see Todd, his form skewing and splintering into shards of pure darkness. It took no great leap, given what he’d learned, to surmise what his friend really was.

A Shadow Lender.

Roger Jackson

“Well,” his mother purred. “It’s about time.”

“We promised midnight,” Darkness seeped between Todd’s teeth. “But we didn’t say which one. Ever used Twitter? It’s always midnight somewhere. Time to pay up, sweetie.”

Will stood. “You’ll have to go through me first.”

Todd’s smile broadened. “I was hoping you’d say that.”

He raised his hands, thorny vines of blackness unrolling from his fingertips to encircle Will’s throat. Will tried to scream, but the spiked tendrils had already begun to squeeze.

Through a haze of pain, he saw his mum and Scareesha moving to flank Todd, and felt an icy current of fear run through him. Fear… and understanding.

The Shadow Lender had sprung his trap. But as the first sparks of lightning danced around Scareesha’s fingertips, Will understood whose trap this really was. In his mother’s hand Will saw a page of symbols, like the ones from the ottoman.

Todd had seen the page, too. His black eyes widened. Will felt the vines begin to withdraw. Scareesha shrieked, those strange indecipherable words, and a hundred blazing arcs leapt from her fingers. Todd screamed too, but whereas Scareesha’s cry had been triumphant, his was undiluted terror.

The lightning unravelled Todd, somehow. His body scattered like ashes, but something from the core of him was thrown across the room. It splattered across the paper that Will’s mother held, like some strange inkblot. The last of Todd’s body swirled into embers and was gone.

Will blinked, and found himself in the living room again. The real living room. Scareesha watched approvingly as his mother folded the sheet with the inky essence imprinted upon it.

“The cloak’s final ingredient,” she said. “The one they want to keep secret. A Shadow Lender’s soul.”

Will’s mother smiled at him. Her eyes were amber, slitted like a cat’s, but the smile was all her own.

The Writers

Nillu Nasser Stelter

Nillu Nasser Stelter is happiest barefoot with a book in hand, or when writing in her attic. She is currently working on a collection of short stories and a novel. nillunasserstelter.com.

J. Edward Paul is a writer, artist, and mailman. When not slinging letters, he is pounding his head into a keyboard hoping for a bestseller. jedwardpaul.wordpress.com

J. Edward Paul is a writer, artist, and mailman. When not slinging letters, he is pounding his head into a keyboard hoping for a bestseller. jedwardpaul.wordpress.com

Natasha Ahmed is a pen name. In real life, Natasha is a graphic designer who occasionally writes art and book reviews for publications within Pakistan. She is the author of the romance novella Butterfly Season. dearrumi.com

Natasha Ahmed is a pen name. In real life, Natasha is a graphic designer who occasionally writes art and book reviews for publications within Pakistan. She is the author of the romance novella Butterfly Season. dearrumi.com

Margaret Locke is a writer of witty, quirky romance who also dabbles in flash fiction. Find her at margaretlocke.com.

Margaret Locke is a writer of witty, quirky romance who also dabbles in flash fiction. Find her at margaretlocke.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jimmi Campkin is a writer and photographer in the North East of England. When he does something noteworthy, you’ll be first to hear about it. jimmicampkin.wordpress.com

Jimmi Campkin is a writer and photographer in the North East of England. When he does something noteworthy, you’ll be first to hear about it. jimmicampkin.wordpress.com

Author of The Paradise Trees and The Cold Cold Sea, Linda Huber lives in Switzerland and teaches English in a medieval castle. lindahuber.net

Author of The Paradise Trees and The Cold Cold Sea, Linda Huber lives in Switzerland and teaches English in a medieval castle. lindahuber.net

Jessica West is a freelance writer and editor and an independent author. She's the Pro Domme at Prose Before Ho Hos (see also Madame Editor), and maintains both a personal and bookish blog. Her newest release, Red River Rangers; A Whiskey & Wheelguns Novelette, is available at Amazon. west1jess.com

Jessica West is a freelance writer and editor and an independent author. She’s the Pro Domme at Prose Before Ho Hos and maintains both a personal and bookish blog. Her newest release, Red River Rangers; A Whiskey & Wheelguns Novelette, is available at Amazon. west1jess.com

Drew Chial is an author, screenwriter, graphic artist, aspiring voice actor, and a musician living in Minnesota. He writes short stories that he bills as Twilight Zone fan fiction. His self-published horror novella Terms and Conditions is available for free on his website. drewchial.com

Drew Chial is an author, screenwriter, graphic artist, aspiring voice actor, and a musician living in Minnesota. He writes short stories that he bills as Twilight Zone fan fiction. His self-published horror novella Terms and Conditions is available for free on his website. drewchial.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amira K. Makansi makes wine by day and worlds by night. When not writing, you will find her listening to music with a drink in hand. theseedstrilogy.com

Amira K. Makansi makes wine by day and worlds by night. When not writing, you will find her listening to music with a drink in hand. theseedstrilogy.com

Joanne Blaikie is a part-time teacher from the UK. She is currently writing her first novel; a children’s epic fantasy story in three volumes. fredamoya.wordpress.com

Joanne Blaikie is a part-time teacher from the UK. She is currently writing her first novel; a children’s epic fantasy story in three volumes. fredamoya.wordpress.com

Rachael Spellman is a freelance writer and researcher. She writes about mental health, Synaesthesia, social networking, and anything else which takes her fancy. Her short story Terminal is available on Amazon. raishimi33.wordpress.com

Rachael Spellman is a freelance writer and researcher. She writes about mental health, Synaesthesia, social networking, and anything else which takes her fancy. Her short story Terminal is available on Amazon. raishimi33.wordpress.com

Peter Samet uses science fiction to explore impossible existential questions. A film editor by trade, he earned his storytelling chops at USC Film School and Pixar. zeroechoshadowprime.com

Peter Samet uses science fiction to explore impossible existential questions. A film editor by trade, he earned his storytelling chops at USC Film School and Pixar. zeroechoshadowprime.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paula Reed Nancarrow is a writer and performer of personal and historical narratives, as well as folk tales and myths, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. paulareednancarrow.com

Paula Reed Nancarrow is a writer and performer of personal and historical narratives, as well as folk tales and myths, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. paulareednancarrow.com

Graham Milne writes about entertainment, politics, parenting and the meaning of life (with the occasional lapse into fiction), because he can’t act or spot weld. grahamscrackers.com

Graham Milne writes about entertainment, politics, parenting and the meaning of life (with the occasional lapse into fiction), because he can’t act or spot weld. grahamscrackers.com

Roger Jackson has little to declare but his geekiness. His novella CRADLE OF THE DEAD was published by Bloodbound Books in November 2014.  jabe842.wordpress.com

Roger Jackson has little to declare but his geekiness. His novella Cradle of the Dead was published by Bloodbound Books in November 2014. jabe842.wordpress.com

The Pact (Part 3): A Short Story Collaboration

A few months ago I came across a short story collaboration in The New Yorker based on the Surrealist parlour game Exquisite Corpse. This inspired the short story ‘The Pact’, written in collaboration with other writers. Essentially, the deal was fifteen writers, three hundred words each, no discussions and minimal editing. Follow the links to read part one and part two. Here, at last, it the third and final part of the story. A big thanks to the writers involved and I hope you enjoy it. Stop by the comments to let us know what you think and merry Christmas everyone.

Rachael Spellman

“I gotta say,” Will said, “I’m kinda relieved you’re not my granny.”

Scareesha’s mouth twisted.

“You wouldn’t want my blood. You’ve enough problems with your own.” Opening her hands, she sent the knitted symbol into the air, where it hung cobweb-thin in the pooling blue light. Todd had curled into himself, silent and still; his phone lay upturned on the carpet, full of a half-finished message. He moved wet-dark fingers over his neck. Glaring at the couch, Will knelt, shuffling towards his friend on hands and knees. The cat blinked, a slow burn of amber, and stayed where it was.

Scareesha snorted. “You’ve more important things to worry about than a bleeding fool.”

“So you keep telling me. And everything else, while locking me in to wait for people who’re coming after me.” His back stiffened as the cat made a noise, but Scareesha only raised a hand. The phone flickered and died as the webbed symbol turned, slow-and-slow, growing in the air. Will held his breath. Numbers and letters threaded themselves through the yarn, collecting like rain in the faded skin and eyes of the old woman.

She watched his face. “You’ve no one else to trust. Be sensible.”

Thick warmth touched his hand. Will flinched, glancing down. Todd’s eyes were wide and dark; he smelled of iron.

“Just keep that thing away from me. I don’t care about the rest.” His friend licked his lips. “Whatever she’s on about, I won’t look. I won’t watch.”

A low laugh. Scareesha’s hand trembled as it traced shapes on the air, mapping the room in digit loops that found the clock and the mirror. Will felt the old woman’s fear as snow underfoot, burning and cold.

Soundless, the cat peeled away from the wall. It stalked the revolving symbol,

Peter Samet

which slurped down the alphanumeric strings like spaghetti. She shimmied her rear into a pouncing position.

The numbers zipped past Will’s face in barely legible streaks, but he was able to pick out a pattern. 3278…1893…990…423… A countdown sequence. Something important was about to happen very soon.

127…65…22…0

The strings reached their flailing ends. The symbol swallowed each one in quick succession, burping out the zeros.

Scareesha’s shoulders relaxed in the ensuing darkness. “The cosmic addresses have been resolved.” She gestured to the room’s remaining source of light, the symbol, which had morphed into a floating zero no bigger than a thumbprint. “Now for the tricky part. I want you to stick your finger into this hole.”

Will gave his hands a stupefied stare, as if suddenly forced to bid farewell to a dear friend.

“Don’t be a baby. I just need your boyish brawn.”

Will took an uneasy breath and approached the arcane zero at the slowest pace he could muster without moving in reverse. He hoped the easily frustrated old woman would rescind her order, but her glare did not budge.

The zero pulsed slightly as Will extended his chubby digit towards it. The edge of the ring emitted a brilliant blue light, but the center was a black void. A portal, he realized with a flash of panic. That meant anything could be lurking on the other side. A meat grinder. An alien with a pair of scissors. Or the vacuum of space—a much more likely and equally calamitous fate. Will’s finger trembled at the grim possibilities.

“Oh, do hurry up!” Scareesha moaned. “If you were in bed with a woman, she would have slapped your finger away and done the deed herself.”

Will’s eyes narrowed at the slight, and he plunged his finger through the opening.

Paula Reed Nancarrow

And then it was his body on the other side, and his finger wiggled through the opening backwards, as if chiding the naughtiness of the world outside the naught. The fused glass formed a wall in front of him, one that cleared and grew luminous. Elsewhere there were only shadows, twitching like flames, or the tail of the cat.

Gradually in the glass wall he saw things. He saw himself sleeping in a room full of colour and familiar objects; saw the sun rise in petrol hues. There was the old woman, translucent, telling him his mum had a “life’s work,” shaming him about bread crusts. There was Todd, not laughing at incest jokes, and bloody Randy, no longer making them.

He saw Granny – no, Scareesha – shoot lightening from her palms, heard the light bulbs shatter, and Todd invoke the god of WiFi; saw the cat attack Todd, and Scareesha calm the cat, assert herself as a Protector, throw her knitted alchemical cobweb into the air. He saw the cat stalking the revolving symbol, which danced on the wall like the point of a laser, till it rested on the hole his finger plugged.

“The cosmic addresses have been resolved,” he heard again. “Now for the tricky part.”

The scenes had a certain disconnected quality to them, like a jumpy, much-spliced reel of film. This is not the sort of story I would write about myself, he thought. Not the sort of play I would want to be in either. In his literature class they had been reading Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author. What would it take, he thought for a moment, to author oneself?

“I’m glad you asked that question,” said a familiar voice behind him. And there she was. His mum.

Graham Milne

Her feline form stretched and grew, limbs twisting and elongating, bones cracking, until the mother he recognised stood before him. She looked older, based strictly on the lines framing her face and the silver dappling her hair, but touched with a serenity that made her seem much younger, as if to her, the world was full of promise and opportunity waiting to be plucked like newly ripened apples.

Will stumbled. “Mum, what’s going on? I don’t–”

“Understand?” she finished for him. She shared a smile with Scareesha. “They never do, do they?” Will felt his own mouth warp into a dumbstruck simper as he watched his mother cross the room – a mirror image of their own – and seat herself next to the peculiar old witch.

“So few people ever reach this point, Will,” she said, in a voice part-lullaby, part-warm milk. So soothing. “Everyone is born with the potential, but most choose to ignore it. They are content to let fate author their lives for them, instead of grasping the chance to take charge of their own destiny. It’s about far more than just deciding to pursue a career, or a partner. It’s about seizing the very fabric of life itself and knitting it into the pattern that you choose.” Scareesha nodded agreement.

Will sank to the ottoman. His mother reached out and took hold of his hand. “I remember how scared I was when it was my turn, my son. I didn’t want to believe it either. But I need you to trust me now. Can you make this leap? Will you come with us?”

“Not if I have anything to say about it,” erupted a voice from behind. Will wheeled to see Todd, his form skewing and splintering into shards of pure darkness. It took no great leap, given what he’d learned, to surmise what his friend really was.

A Shadow Lender.

Roger Jackson

“Well,” his mother purred. “It’s about time.”

“We promised midnight,” Darkness seeped between Todd’s teeth. “But we didn’t say which one. Ever used Twitter? It’s always midnight somewhere. Time to pay up, sweetie.”

Will stood. “You’ll have to go through me first.”

Todd’s smile broadened. “I was hoping you’d say that.”

He raised his hands, thorny vines of blackness unrolling from his fingertips to encircle Will’s throat. Will tried to scream, but the spiked tendrils had already begun to squeeze.

Through a haze of pain, he saw his mum and Scareesha moving to flank Todd, and felt an icy current of fear run through him. Fear… and understanding.

The Shadow Lender had sprung his trap. But as the first sparks of lightning danced around Scareesha’s fingertips, Will understood whose trap this really was. In his mother’s hand Will saw a page of symbols, like the ones from the ottoman.

Todd had seen the page, too. His black eyes widened. Will felt the vines begin to withdraw. Scareesha shrieked, those strange indecipherable words, and a hundred blazing arcs leapt from her fingers. Todd screamed too, but whereas Scareesha’s cry had been triumphant, his was undiluted terror.

The lightning unravelled Todd, somehow. His body scattered like ashes, but something from the core of him was thrown across the room. It splattered across the paper that Will’s mother held, like some strange inkblot. The last of Todd’s body swirled into embers and was gone.

Will blinked, and found himself in the living room again. The real living room. Scareesha watched approvingly as his mother folded the sheet with the inky essence imprinted upon it.

“The cloak’s final ingredient,” she said. “The one they want to keep secret. A Shadow Lender’s soul.”

Will’s mother smiled at him. Her eyes were amber, slitted like a cat’s, but the smile was all her own.

The Writers

Rach

Rachael Spellman is a freelance writer and researcher. She writes about mental health, Synaesthesia, social networking, and anything else which takes her fancy. Her short story ‘Terminal’ is available on Amazon. raishimi33.wordpress.com

PeterSamet

Peter Samet uses science fiction to explore impossible existential questions. A film editor by trade, he earned his storytelling chops at USC Film School and Pixar. zeroechoshadowprime.com

paula

Paula Reed Nancarrow is a writer and performer of personal and historical narratives, as well as folk tales and myths, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. paulareednancarrow.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Graham

Graham Milne writes about entertainment, politics, parenting and the meaning of life (with the occasional lapse into fiction), because he can’t act or spot weld. grahamscrackers.com

Roger

Roger Jackson has little to declare but his geekiness. His novella Cradle of the Dead was published by Bloodbound Books in November 2014. jabe842.wordpress.com

 

The Pact (Part 2): A Short Story Collaboration

Here it is, part two of our short story collaboration, based on the Surrealist parlour game Exquisite Corpse. If you haven’t had a chance to read part one yet, you’ll find it here. Thanks once again to Madame Editors Jess West & Jo Blaikie, who are also part of this week’s writing team. You can find bios and links to individual author websites at the end of the piece. Happy reading and hope you’ll be back for the third and final part next week.

Linda Huber

The police car wound through town, Will trembling in the back and Todd tense beside him. To Will’s surprise they didn’t turn up the High Street towards the police station.

“Hey, where are you going?” The policeman in the passenger seat was astounded. The driver made no answer, but Will knew. They were going home.

Granny was waiting at the door, the papers he had dropped that morning in one hand. She approached the car and pulled Will from the back seat. He flinched at her touch. Her hands were cold, cold as her voice when she spoke to the officers.

“You have seen nothing. You will remember nothing.”

Todd scrambled out and stood beside Will as the police car moved away and disappeared round the corner.

Will could hear the panic in his own voice. “So where’s Randy?”

Granny turned into the hallway and the boys followed her through into the front room. There on the floor was the blood-soaked corpse of Will’s tormentor, flies already gathering in the wound under his jawbone.

“Not a very nice boy, dear,” said Granny. “He knew rather too much, I’m afraid.”

You killed him?”

The cat slid into the room and stood behind Will’s grandmother, its tail swinging from side to side and its eyes fixed on Will. And all at once there was a perfume in the air, a faint but unmistakable whiff: his mother’s perfume.

“Of course not. That was the others. Poor fool you are. You’ll understand tomorrow.”

She wheeled round, but the cat had vanished. Will looked at Todd. Tomorrow was his eighteenth birthday, but why would he understand then?

“I think you should go, Todd. You might not be safe here.”

“Of course he can’t go!” snapped Granny. “Why do you think I made the boys in blue bring him back here? He’s the witness.”

 Jessica West

“What if I said no?” Will fidgeted under Granny’s glare.

Todd inched over closer to him, nudging Will’s arm with an elbow.

Her eyes narrowed. “I know what you’re thinking. If you run,” she gestured to Randy’s corpse on the living room floor, “your friend will end up like this young man.”

Will felt the shudder that ran through Todd, but to his friend’s credit, he held his ground.

“Who’s to say I won’t end up like that anyway?” Todd straightened to his full height. Though he was tall, he was also lanky. He didn’t exactly strike an intimidating figure. “Some weird shit’s going down, and you need to give us some answers.”

“Yeah,” Will said.

Grey, bushy brows rose high above Granny’s hazel eyes.

Still bolstered from Todd’s speech, Will spoke the words her glare had previously silenced. “And it seems like you need us more than we need you.”

Granny smiled and shook her head. She tilted it to one side as she appraised him. “I never thought you’d have the guts.”

Her smile struck Will as malevolent and proud at once, as though she were examining prey that had turned into a worthy opponent. Her features shifted to a blank expression as she lifted her hands. When Granny turned her palms up, lightening arced outward, shattering every bulb in the room. With one palm facing the window, she curled her fingers into claws.

The glass cracked and shattered.

With her other hand, she drained all colour from the room.

Peach walls and beige carpets bled out, leaving them black. The colours melted and burned midair, turning into a thick, dark syrup.

Granny guided the liquid into the shards of glass, the pane now a crackled black barrier against the light and life outside.

Drew Chial

Todd tried to pry the door open, kicking the wall for leverage. He tested the locks, but the door refused to carry out its function. Todd examined the crack. Molten glass had bled over the threshold.

“We’re fused in,” Todd tried to phone emergency services, “and it looks like that black stuff is killing my cell reception.”

Will couldn’t look away from his classmate’s corpse, “I’m more concerned about what happens when this smell starts circulating.”

Todd turned to Granny, knitting on the couch, confident her display of power had gotten the message across. The cat rubbed figure eights around Todd’s ankles, putting him in his place.

“What am I here to witness?”

Granny winked at the feline avatar, “The completion of a transaction. On the eighteenth birthday of the first son, the shadow lenders will collect payment.”

Todd shook his head, “Right, they’re malicious, but they won’t mess with minors, huh?”

Will threw a blanket over Randy’s body. “What do you mean, payment?”

Granny stretched her design to reveal a spiral symbol from some ancient alchemy stitched into the yarn. “Your mother sought benefactors for her invisibility cloak. They required a return on their investment. When the clock strikes midnight, they will come.”

Will scoffed. “She’s full of shit. I was born in the late afternoon. I was a fat fetus, took all day to deliver. Mum never tires of telling the story because she loves me. She would never offer me as payment to anyone.”

Granny nodded. “That was part of the deal. They wanted her to mother you, keep you nice and sweet. They have refined tastes.”

Will balled his hands to fists.

“Ha!” Todd tapped his phone. “The WiFi’s still up. Looks like she doesn’t have dominion over all the utilities, yet.”

Amira K. Makansi

While Todd frantically typed in a message to the local police via Facebook, Will stared between Granny and the grey cat, unsure whether the two were allies, enemies, or something in between. The courage he’d sought all his life seemed to hover before him, ready to snatch out of the air if he so chose. But between his mum missing, the strange cat, his Granny’s witchcraft, and the body buzzing with flies in front of him, Will wasn’t sure he wanted that courage.

“So where is my mum, then?” He asked innocently. He glanced at the cat for effect, inquiring if she was the cat, but Granny just smiled, peeling back her lips to reveal a perfect set of pearly whites.

“You guys are so loony,” Todd muttered.

In a blur of teeth, claws, and fur, the cat leapt past Will and latched itself onto Todd’s chest, clawing and biting with the fervour of a demon.

“I’d watch what you say, young man” Granny shouted above the clamour of the cat’s yowls and Todd’s shrieks of pain. “Tempers are frayed enough already!”

Will jumped to his friend’s defence, trying to pry the cat from Todd’s chest and neck, but was only rewarded with a sharp bite. For a moment it continued like that – Todd howling, Will scrabbling at the frenetic cat, and Granny watching the encounter with narrowed eyes.

Then, quite abruptly, she barked out several words in an alien language, whose sounds could only be described as ghoulish. The cat calmed, releasing Todd and dropping to the floor, cleaning its face as if nothing had ever happened. While Todd whimpered and surveyed his wounds, Will stared at his Granny.

“You’re not even on my side in this,” he said. “For God’s sake, Gran, what are you?”

Joanne Blaikie

“Well, I’ll tell you what I’m not. I’m not your grandmother, but you always suspected as much didn’t you?”

Will stood unflinching at the news.

“Go on. I’m listening. I mean, it’s not like I have a choice, now you have us captive here.” He gestured to the sealed door.

“That was a necessity,” the old woman snapped. “I told you when you found those papers that we must prepare, but would you listen?” She rose from the couch and glided over to Will. “It’s not easy to explain, but I am on your side. We hoped never to have to explain all this to you, but your mother’s work on that invisibility cloak remains incomplete and now they will make her pay.”

Will saw a look of sorrow cross her wizened features.

“Goodness knows I’ve done everything to protect her from this day!” She suddenly threw up her hands and, turning from Will, took a deep breath. “My name is Scareesha.” Her voice softened. “I am a Protector. There are many of my kind and our Order work against The Shadow Lenders. I was sent to protect your mother after she became embroiled with them.”

From behind the couch amber eyes flickered.

He was one of us.” She motioned to the body on the floor. “An immature, foolish Protector who got himself killed by them for meddling in matters beyond his comprehension, but a Protector nevertheless.”

“I wish you could lay an invisibility cloak on him.” Will balked at the stench emitting from the lifeless mass.

Scareesha considered the corpse for a moment, nodded, then stepped back. She raised a hand as before and a lightning bolt shot across the room. In a split second the body and blanket disintegrated into dust leaving no trace of Randy MacGuffin.

– ENDS –

You can read Part 3 of ‘The Pact’ here.

The Writers

Author of The Paradise Trees and The Cold Cold Sea, Linda Huber lives in Switzerland and teaches English in a medieval castle. lindahuber.net Jessica West is a freelance writer and editor and an independent author. She's the Pro Domme at Prose Before Ho Hos (see also Madame Editor), and maintains both a personal and bookish blog. Her newest release, Red River Rangers; A Whiskey & Wheelguns Novelette, is available at Amazon. Www.west1jess.com Drew Chial is an author, screenwriter, graphic artist, aspiring voice actor, and a musician living in Minnesota. He writes short stories that he bills as Twilight Zone fan fiction. His self-published horror novella Terms and Conditions is available for free on his website. drewchial.com Amira K. Makansi makes wine by day and worlds by night. When not writing, you will find her listening to music with a drink in hand. theseedstrilogy.com Author of The Paradise Trees and The Cold Cold Sea, Linda Huber lives in Switzerland and teaches English in a medieval castle. lindahuber.net

Author of The Paradise Trees and The Cold Cold Sea, Linda Huber lives in Switzerland and teaches English in a medieval castle. lindahuber.net

Jessica West is a freelance writer and editor and an independent author. She's the Pro Domme at Prose Before Ho Hos (see also Madame Editor), and maintains both a personal and bookish blog. Her newest release, Red River Rangers; A Whiskey & Wheelguns Novelette, is available at Amazon. west1jess.com

Jessica West is a freelance writer and editor and an independent author. You can find her at prosebeforehohos.com. She also maintains a personal and bookish blog. Her newest release, Red River Rangers; A Whiskey & Wheelguns Novelette, is available at Amazon. west1jess.com

Drew Chial is an author, screenwriter, graphic artist, aspiring voice actor, and a musician living in Minnesota. He writes short stories that he bills as Twilight Zone fan fiction. His self-published horror novella Terms and Conditions is available for free on his website. drewchial.com

Drew Chial is an author, screenwriter, graphic artist, aspiring voice actor, and a musician living in Minnesota. He writes short stories that he bills as Twilight Zone fan fiction. His self-published horror novella Terms and Conditions is available for free on his website. drewchial.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amira K. Makansi makes wine by day and worlds by night. When not writing, you will find her listening to music with a drink in hand. theseedstrilogy.com

Amira K. Makansi makes wine by day and worlds by night. When not writing, you will find her listening to music with a drink in hand. theseedstrilogy.com artz3.wordpress.com

Joanne Blaikie is a part-time teacher from the UK. She is currently writing her first novel; a children’s epic fantasy story in three volumes. fredamoya.wordpress.com

Joanne Blaikie is a part-time teacher from the UK. She is currently writing her first novel; a children’s epic fantasy story in three volumes. fredamoya.wordpress.com

 

The Pact (Part 1): A Short Story Collaboration

Here it is at last, as promised in my post last week, part one of an original short story collaboration based on the Surrealist parlour game Exquisite Corpse. Thanks very much to the contributing writers and to editor genies Jess West and Joanne Blaikie. You are appreciated and one day we will have that drink. We hope you like it and that you’ll be back to read part two next week. Drum roll please…

Nillu Nasser Stelter

He slept in a room full of colour and familiar objects, but the silence crept under the door and touched his face. A blue-black curtain of darkness still hung in the sky. Unease gripped him. He rolled out of bed to look for his mother.

The door handle spun easily in his hand as he padded out into the hallway. The house was dark and didn’t look much like his house at all. Shadows followed him as he stole past closed doors to his mother’s room, expecting to hear the rumble of her snore. Instead, he found her bed empty except for a pair of socks. She didn’t even wear socks.

That she was not there worried him. As a small child he had wept with passion when his mother had left him unattended. Now, even though he was almost grown, she still told him where she was and when to expect her. She had left the older woman in charge then, the one who lived with them and who they said was his grandmother though he had never quite believed it. He had sucked sherbet lollies while she was gone. The instinct was still there. The sugar left his teeth grainy and his mind alert. He was glad. He was never one to trust strangers, and there was something about Granny that sat all wrong.

A man-boy yearning for his mother’s comfort in the dead of the night was not someone who won at life. For a moment he wondered whether to search the remainder of the house for her. But though he was a clever boy, he was not a very brave one. Instead he retreated back to his bedroom and hid underneath the covers until the sun came up. He did not notice the grey cat with amber eyes watching him from behind a pile of discarded clothes.

J. Edward Paul

Will woke to a petrol sunrise, toes curled against the chill of morning. Scrubbing sleep from his face with dry hands, he levered himself off the old mattress and into a pile of dirty laundry. A brief search produced a pair of jeans and a Superman t-shirt that smelled of three-day old cologne.

Silence still held the house hostage, but it seemed less ominous in the light. TV fire burned in the still dark living room, casting technicolour shadows over empty furniture. Uneaten oatmeal sat warm on the sideboard in the kitchen and the orange juice was out.

“Mum?” Will called. “Mum, I’m running late for class. Can I take the car?”

No response came. He knew he should check her room, but his professor did not take kindly to tardiness. Grabbing the keys off a hook in the foyer, Will opened the porch door. It would take him hours to realise it had been left unlocked.

Frosted air nipped at his bare arms. Once in the car, Will rummaged through a pile of greasy bags and discarded Styrofoam cups, coming away with a thin jacket more dirt than fabric. Slipping one arm into a cold sleeve, he used the other to turn the ignition. Manic clicks sent a flock of sparrows scattering toward the town centre. The car was dead.

Will lay his forehead on the steering wheel. “Why today?”

Suddenly, a grey cat landed on the hood with a thud. Will jumped and then nearly scrambled into the torn passenger seat when something moved in his peripheral vision. His grandmother, wide and still, slowly turned toward sunrise.

“You scared the shit out of me, Granny,” Will said as he climbed out of the car.

“They came again,” the old woman whispered.

 Natasha Ahmed

“What?” Will frowned, exasperated by his grandmother’s cryptic words. “I don’t have time for this, Granny.” He jerked. “I need to—“

“They came last night.”

He stopped. The flimsy jacket still dangled from his left arm. A gust of wind tossed a swirl of snow across Will’s face and he blinked. Had his grandmother suddenly become translucent? Her words penetrated the morning fog in his mind and he looked back at the house, remembering something about socks…

Will ran past his grandmother into the house, dropping the jacket behind him. The entryway was suddenly grey and cold, and he realised there was an emptiness to the house he hadn’t observed when he first got up. The porch door swung shut with a bang behind him, and he jumped. Cold fingers of fear slid through him. He moved towards the kitchen in the back of the house.

“Mum?” His voice wavered slightly as he called out. Where was she? “Mum, where are you?” He searched the refrigerator for a message, a note, something. She always left a note. Always.

“Mum!” Panic laced the word. He turned away from the refrigerator and almost pissed his pants. Granny was standing at the kitchen island, staring at Will. He hadn’t heard her come in.

“Granny. Who came last night? Where’s Mum?”

“They will come again.”

Will felt like punching her, but she still looked transparent, almost as if she wasn’t there. Would his arm go straight through her if he tried? Fear made his voice squeaky, his words terse. “What’s wrong with you? Tell me where Mum is. I…I have to get to college.”

“We must prepare.” The old woman, now shimmering slightly, moved towards the ottoman in the family room. “Come.”

She lifted the lid.

Margaret Locke

He didn’t want to follow her, fearful of what he might see within the bowels of his once favourite climbing toy.

“Wh-what’s in there? What’s happened to my mum? Who ARE you?”

Granny snarled, exasperation written across her face. “Come, you idiot boy.” She reached down and Will nearly fainted, frightened of what she might show him. Her hands came up again, clutching…papers?

Papers? That was it? No ancient voodoo doll, no cracked human skull, no secret book of spells? He sighed in disappointment as he walked over to her. Mum always told him he had an overactive imagination.

“What are they?” He wished he had a lolly, or maybe some of that oatmeal over on the counter. He’d forgotten to eat breakfast and he was hungry.

“Evidence,” Granny whispered, her eyes darting around the room, as if expecting someone to be lurking in the corners.

“Evidence? Of what?” He took the top sheet in his hand. “It looks like gobbedly-gook to me, just a bunch of numbers.” His eyes widened as he noted the drawing at the bottom. “Is this an -”

“Invisibility cloak? Yeah,” Granny broke in, impatience lacing her words. “Obviously in beta, which is why you can still see me.”

“But what—How—?”

Granny scooped up the rest of the papers and came toward him. “You think all the woman did was cut the crusts off your bread? This—this­—is her true life’s work. Not you, you ungrateful idiot.”

The cat slinked into the room, its amber eyes fixed on both of them.

“Take these and go quickly,” said Granny, thrusting the papers into his arms. He stared, bewildered, as she bent down to the cat and began to whisper in an indecipherable tongue.

Jimmi Campkin

“It’s ok, he’s not in today.”

A sense of relief and shame washed over Will as the lecture hall slowly filled, like a gentle incoming tide. Even Todd, his closest friend, now felt the need to tiptoe around him. To handle him like a fragile ornament.

“Randy MacGuffin.” Todd spat out the syllables and left them, rotting, on the sticky carpet. “Don’t pay any attention to him.”

Everyone did though. Blessed with the supreme confidence of someone who habitually relieved the local store of soda cans and chocolate bars, Randy was the figurehead of the year, a larger than life character through whom all events were channeled. He was an opinion piece and a newsreader in one cocky swagger, and now his top scoop featured ‘Weird Willy’ and his papers. And his grandmother, and the cat.

“Just so you know, I don’t laugh at the incest jokes about you and your mum.”

Todd had a knack of comforting you in a barbed wire blanket.

“It doesn’t matter to me whether he is here or not,” lied Will, as students turned away from the huge screen towards him. He tried to maintain eye contact with some but their smiles grew, eyes twinkling with malevolence.

The room fell silent as an officer walked in, furtively whispering to the lecturer. The two sets of eyes locked on Will. The rest of the room followed the gaze. A ripple of astonishment hovered over the collective heads, incredulous that the rumours might be true.

Minutes later Will learned about Randy’s corpse and that his engraved pen knife had been found jammed deep into the dead boy’s neck.

– ENDS –

You can read part two of ‘The Pact’ here.

The Writers

Nillu Nasser Stelter

Nillu Nasser Stelter is happiest barefoot with a book in hand, or when writing in her attic. She is currently working on a collection of short stories and a novel. nillunasserstelter.com.

J. Edward Paul is a writer, artist, and mailman. When not slinging letters, he is pounding his head into a keyboard hoping for a bestseller. jedwardpaul.wordpress.com

J. Edward Paul is a writer, artist, and mailman. When not slinging letters, he is pounding his head into a keyboard hoping for a bestseller. jedwardpaul.wordpress.com

Natasha Ahmed is a pen name. In real life, Natasha is a graphic designer who occasionally writes art and book reviews for publications within Pakistan. She is the author of the romance novella Butterfly Season. dearrumi.com

Natasha Ahmed is a pen name. In real life, Natasha is a graphic designer who occasionally writes art and book reviews for publications within Pakistan. She is the author of the romance novella Butterfly Season. dearrumi.com

Margaret Locke is a writer of witty, quirky romance who also dabbles in flash fiction. Find her at margaretlocke.com.

Margaret Locke is a writer of witty, quirky romance who also dabbles in flash fiction. Find her at margaretlocke.com

Jimmi Campkin is a writer and photographer in the North East of England. When he does something noteworthy, you’ll be first to hear about it. jimmicampkin.wordpress.com

Jimmi Campkin is a writer and photographer in the North East of England. When he does something noteworthy, you’ll be first to hear about it. jimmicampkin.wordpress.com

A Collaboration Unfolds – Taking our Cue from a Surrealist Game

Photo by Bill Rogers

Photo by Bill Rogers

I am very excited to announce that I’ll soon be posting a three part short story on this blog, which has been written in collaboration with fourteen talented writers. The project was inspired by this original short story in The New York Times in October, to which renowned authors – Zadie Smith, Rebecca Curtis, Mohsin Hamid, R.L. Stine, Rivka Galchen, Nicholson Baker, Anthony Marra, David Baldacci, Elif Batuman and James Patterson – each contributed 100 words. It sounded like a fun process and my initial reaction was if those big names could pull off a writing relay, then so could the writers I’ve met on Twitter! You’ll soon be able to see the results of this experiment yourself.

The rules we came up with were simple. Each writer wrote 300 words. Once the story landed in their inbox, they had a maximum of four days to read the preceding parts and submit their own. No discussions with other writers in the group were allowed. There were no genre restrictions (and this for a group which includes fantasy, science fiction, romance, mystery, horror and literary writers). The story was edited only if necessary for continuity or grammar. I’ll be posting the results of the collaboration here on three consecutive weeks beginning on Monday. A huge thanks to all the writers involved, particularly @DrewChial, who is working on a group picture of the writers to accompany the complete piece. *Sends a very uncool but grateful high-five through the ether*.

Photo by Richard Smith

Photo by Richard Smith

@jimmicampkin called this collaboration a literary Chinese Whispers. Its informal nature reminds me of the oral tradition, or specifically, stories told around campfires. In fact, the game is based on an old parlour game called Consequences. In the 1920s it became popular with artistic and literary types during the Parisian Surrealist Movement. Andre Breton played the game with friends at a house at 54 Rue du Chateau in Paris. They renamed it Exquisite Corpse after a particular game in which they came up with the sentence “Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau” – “The exquisite corpse will drink the young wine”.

Exquisite Corpse can take many forms and can be played with stories, poems and pictures. Surrealists, including Andre Breton, Joan Miró, Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Prévert and Benjamin Péret, used games not only for recreation but for investigation, believing that randomness could play a part in conjuring art and that the unconscious mind has an important role to play in creativity. They were keen to disrupt the waking mind’s penchant for order.

As a child I used to play called Consequences with my friends. We would sit in a circle, each with our own piece of paper. The game required us to write down the name of a boy, girl, where they met, what they said to each other, what they did and what happened at the end. Each time an element of the story was written the paper would be folded over to conceal the words, then passed to our neighbour to write down the next words. Sometimes we used people we knew, boys we fancied. Or famous people we liked. We would end up with silly jumbled up stories that produced merriment and sometimes had synchronicity with real life.

There you have it then. Tune in on Monday for part one of our version of Exquisite Corpse to see which writers are involved and hear about the trials of our protagonist Will. I can’t wait to see what you think.

Not for the Faint-Hearted: Using Critique Groups to Accelerate your Learning

Photo by Kean Kelly

Photo by Kean Kelly

In case you missed it, it’s Nanowrimo (I’m hearing trumpets, triangles and all sorts in my head right now). I’ve been writing my socks off and so far I’m on track. Tough spots are lurking for me around the corner though as I tend to get saggy middle of the month syndrome. Still, for now I am celebrating the fact that I am writing. My head and heart are fully immersed in my story world, my fingers are flying over the keyboard, I am untangling plot knots and getting excited. I even made my own rather rubbish first book cover (apparently, writers are statistically more likely to finish the month as a 50k winner if they upload a cover). What we all know though is that rewriting follows writing, especially fast writing. While I am embracing this seat of your pants ride, there will be plenty to fix come December. I mean, let’s face it, I am throwing words onto a page right now, and I’m lucky they are not throwing themselves right back.

Sitting at our desks, or in bed, or in that field of long grass, with your notebook or laptop, formulating thoughts, writing down those words…is what makes us writers. That is, first and foremost, how we learn what works and what doesn’t in story-telling. But how can we accelerate our learning? Craft-books, reading widely, online and in-person courses, writer blogs, book clubs, first readers, beta-readers (which I blogged about here), mentors, editors, fans all play a part. But what about critique groups? It is hard to judge our own work. Are critique groups – where writers submit their work to their peers for comments – a tool for increased self-awareness as a writer? Have you been brave enough to try one?

If you’ve been hiding your words away in a drawer or on your hard-drive and they are just for you and our loved ones, fair enough. If, however, you have plans for world domination, or say, domination of the publishing/reading world as a starter, it’s probably not the best idea to upload your lifetime’s work to the black hole of the internet without putting it through some robust scrutiny. If you do, you are likely to either end up sinking into the nether regions of the web without a trace, or your potential fans will not so much read your work with hallelujah choirs at their backs so much as devour it in a bloody frenzy, leaving a trail of one star reviews in their trail…(of course, you may be a ready-made writing superstar. There are always exceptions to the rule).

So, are you ready to go into battle Sir Knight and Lady Winalot?

Photo by Jon Jordan

Photo by Jon Jordan

The advantages of critique groups

  • The best critique groups will give you an honest appraisal of your writing. We are all a bit too close to our own work
  • Writing can be a whimsical adventure, but we sometimes need support to stop us stalling before the finish line. For those of you, who like me, enjoy Nano because of the sense of community, critique groups can give you both support and deadlines to keep you moving forward
  • They allow you to use the critique to polish your manuscript before you query
  • If you are open to listening – which is easier said than done when you are laying out your project, your baby, for criticism – critique groups are a great way to benefit from other people’s experiences, saving you time in the long run
  • Any hey, who’s to say your group even has to spoon feed you solutions? The best groups give rise to discussions about your writing, which help stir your imagination and unknot your own problems
  • It’s not just about you. But really it is. You will learn huge amounts by listening to the work of others and by hearing the criticisms they receive

The disadvantages of critique groups

  • They can lay your vulnerabilities bare and be hard for the ego. In fact, I would question whether they are useful if you come away each week with your ego intact
  • The biggest risk for me is damaging your confidence. Don’t risk attending a critique group if you are not ready to hear the criticism and it will affect your mojo. The last thing we want is to scare you away from getting the words down in the first place
  • You know those tried and trusted writing wisdoms?: ‘The road to hell is paved with adverbs’, avoid prologues, extensive descriptions, exclamation marks, regional dialect, the list goes on. There is a danger that we all consume the same wisdom and risk losing our originality. Let’s not turn into one giant symbiotic organism. Dare to break the rule, once you know them
  • The critique group only sees part of your work in progress. They cannot see inside your head and embrace your vision nor would you want them to (shhhh, else the magic will escape). For this reason their criticism of your novel is not based on the whole picture. Trust your instinct above theirs
Photo by Daniel Parks

Photo by Daniel Parks

Making the most of a critique group

  • Avoid disheartening misfires by choosing the right group to start with. Find writers with diverse backgrounds, careers and interests but with knowledge of the genre you are writing for
  • Don’t slack. If you have committed to bring work to the group regularly, shelve the excuses and deliver
  • Be generous in critiquing the work of others, but avoid providing solutions unless explicitly asked. You are not a co-author. You are there to light the way.
  • Avoid false praise and give constructive criticism without being personal
  • Make your own mind up on which points you will take on board for your edits. You don’t have to accept all the criticism (but don’t defend yourself at the group as your sessions will never end). If you find you are going home with no changes at all, you will probably find you are not being entirely honest with yourself. Write down the comments you receive so you can digest them in your own time.
  • Agree in advance how much time each member of the group will have to avoid Mr I Am Everything dominating the evening, you getting frustrated and/or feelings being hurt when you have to cut him down. Death by committee is no fun.
  • If you don’t click with a group or the advice is not delivered constructively, don’t hang around. Find a new one or set up your own (Nanowrimo forums are great for building friendships. What are you waiting for?)
  • The last thing you need is for your critique group to be a time suck. If it is not working, leave the group as politely as possible or use Skype as a way to connect without the commute

Setting up a group

Finding a local critique group was fairly easy back on my old haunting ground in London. But what if you are unable to find an existing critique group where you are and you fancy setting up your own? Here is what you need to think about:

  • Setting membership rules: who is the group open to?; who decides who is allowed to join?; how will you handle a member who is disruptive, dominant or overly critical?; how big is the group allowed to be (given you have limited time)?
  • Practicalities of a critique group: how often and where will you meet?; will the stories be read in advance or on the night in question (as a rule of thumb you are more likely to get better feedback if you read the stories in advance)?; how will the manuscripts be delivered and how long can they be?; appoint a time-keeper.
  • Critique guidelines: Line-editing is probably not a good use of a critique group’s time; clarifications of critiques allowed, but defending your story from a critique in an active session can lead to an emotional clash that takes up valuable time
  • Create a crib sheet of what is useful feedback. The writer in question may ask the group to focus on certain areas when circulating the story. For example, if s/he is after a big picture analysis, you might be asked if the characters behaved consistently and believably, if the story works for the target readership, whether the pacing kept you interested. If s/he is after a detailed analysis, you might be asked if the title is arresting or if you stumbled over any phrasing or imagery.

So what do you think? Would you try a critique group? There is a reason why admissions panels to many acclaimed writing programmes subject candidates’ writing to strong criticism before deciding whether to accept them onto the course. They are testing reactions to their challenges, whether you can defend your ideas and are open to learning. The question is, have you got the stomach for it?

Let a Grassroots Writing Movement Give you Some Rocket Fuel

20141101_103827October has drawn to a close, signalled by the advent of All Hallows’ Eve with its ghosts, ghouls, black hounds and masked children asking for sweets at the doors of strangers. Next up November (where did this year go?), and you know what that means. It’s National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo), when writers of varying abilities take their dreams of being a novelist firmly in their hands and attempt to write a novel from start to finish of 50,000 words or more. Technically, today is day three of Nanowrimo, but don’t let that stop you joining in the fray. This is the month that word wizards can do anything!

I’ll be honest with you, I’ve never reached the finish line with Nanowrimo, but plenty of people have. Last year over 300,000 people from across the globe took part. They dipped into the lively forms, tracked their stats in fun graphs, received free pep talks and they wrote. And wrote. This year Veronica Roth and Chuck Wendig are mentors. For me, it means writing fast and not overthinking. Because perfectionism can be the very thing that stands between you and finishing your novel. Participating in Nanowrimo means a word count boost and it means that for the month of November, there are people out there who are toiling towards the same dream. The lonely writer in the attic becomes instead a group of writers on an island.

It is magnificent. And never more so when magic happens, like the fact that Hugh Howey’s Wool began as a Nanowrimo novel. Or that Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus did too. Especially Morgenstern’s Night Circus. I fell head over heels for the vivid colours of Le Cirque des Rêves, descriptions that appealed to all the senses, the layers of melancholy and hope in a fantastical setting, the whimsy and eccentricities of the world she created. Summit Entertainment and David Heyman, producers of Harry Potter series, have bought the rights to adapt the novel for the big screen. A quick search of Etsy reveals how many products it has inspired, from purses to prints and Kindle sleeves. A new voice, a sprawling fan base and a whole industry sprouting from a seed planted in an internet-based writing event. That is what words can do.

Most of us can only dream of Hugh or Erin’s success, and I remember reading that Erin reworked her novel significantly after Nanowrimo. But here’s the thing. I’m not promising that you can write a masterpiece in the next thirty days. What you can do is get those words on paper. Pull them out of your head and deposit them there. Give birth to your first draft. It’s ready. And so are you.

Life is Good

I wrote the following piece of short fiction today for an online contest. The instructions were to write a story of under 300 words on the theme ‘Life is Good.’ I couldn’t resist writing a macabre tale. You can submit your own entry for free here until mid-January.

Hopefully publishing it here doesn’t make me ineligible for the competition but it is too fun not to share. My husband is a bit worried though…

Life is Good

My husband died last week. It was my doing. I’d planned it meticulously. I began bolstering his ego a few months ago with little scraps of attention until he was sure I’d fallen in love with him again. Then I loosened the railings on our balcony.

Our anniversary is in fall, and we have quite a view from up there of the trees turning gold and bare. It’s the fifth storey, you see. I handed him a flute of champagne and told him to enjoy the view while I went to change into something I had bought especially for him. He couldn’t believe his luck. At least he was happy when he smashed his head in.

I was equally happy when I returned in my gloriously expensive mourning outfit and saw him lying there, splashes of red all around. A girl has to celebrate. I allowed myself a triumphant smile before I slipped my widow’s mask on.

Oh, I excel in this role. It’s the happiest I’ve been…such a natural fit. I think widowhood is quite becoming actually. There’s an elegance to it that is lacking in a mere mother or wife.

Now I stand here with my elegant up-do, a silken shroud of black accentuating my assets. My lips have been painted in nude and there is a hint of mascara on my lashes. Waterproof, of course, in case tears are required. Subtle glamour is the look I am going for. Too much make-up on a widow is unseemly, crass even, and I have a flawless reputation to uphold.

I am awaiting the reading of the will. Money I know is going to me, not his mistress. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had. I wonder what I should splash out on first? Life is good.

How Relevant are Book Awards and Writing Competitions?

The Booker, Arthur C. Clarke Award, Nobel Prize for Literature, Franz Kafka Prize, Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, Iowa Short Fiction Award, Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Award, Goethe Prize, Wole Soyinka Prize, Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis, Nebula Award, Guardian First Book Award, Costa Book Awards… How much attention do those outside literary circles pay to book awards? When you are browsing the shelves of your favourite book shop or want to buy a e-book, does the sticker marking out a novel as a prize winner make you more likely to part with your money? Or do you rely on word of mouth, random browsing or print/ online reviews to help you make your reading choices?

When shortlists for awards are announced, I write up novels in a memo which have a premise that interest me, particularly if they are by female writers, but I wonder how many other readers do the same. It’s only been about six months since I’ve had a e-reader (I’m a reformed paper snob) and already instead of looking at my list of award nominees to decide my next read, I tend to download e-books by authors I have interacted with on Twitter (latest great reads @akmakansi’s The Sowing, @CollettMeg’s End of Days series and @RachelintheOC’s Broken Pieces. Next up @petersamet’s Zero Echo Shadow Prime).

What are then the advantages of major book awards in a world where everyday readers have the technology to post their own reviews and access hundreds of others in a matter of minutes? Literary awards still open us up to authors we may never have discovered and books we might never have read, much like a book club. They are also a form of patronage, giving authors additional exposure and a boost to their future earnings in a profession where it can be difficult to earn a living wage. When nominees and winners of major literary awards are announced, fiction gets more attention in the media, it comes up more in everyday conversation, resulting in more people buying, borrowing and reading books. That can only be a good thing.

So how about the negatives then? How we receive art is a matter of taste, and for most awards, we rely on judging panels to tell us which books are worthy of acclaim. The judges on the panels work within set criteria and are supremely qualified to pick star novels from amongst a year’s publications, for example, and their tastes have been refined through exposure and experience. Even so, choosing an ultimate winner from a diverse range of books is to a large extent like comparing apples with oranges, an arbitrary decision. Some awards can also give the impression that they are for a certain kind of ‘well-read’ reader, which is unfortunate when fiction can bring such joy but is passed over in favour of other forms of entertainment such as television, cinema and computer games, because can appear inaccessible. I wonder if the opposite is true in literary circles, and whether there is a pressure to keep up with reading nominated books. How tedious. I did a dual literature degree at university and while I enjoyed much of it, extensive reading lists near drained me of my love of reading. I’m a firm believer in reading what you want when you fancy it, whether it’s a comic, a quick and dirty Mills & Boon or a Steinbeck.

In the end, for me, individual reader reviews and word of mouth recommendations are the most reliable form of judging the quality of a book. Even then, there is no guarantee that a particular work will resonate with you. How we respond to the art we experience is entirely personal. Sometimes an author’s vision touches a particular chord within us due to his/her choice of themes, episodes, character traits, form of expression, and there is no magic quite like it. When you find books like that, they remain dear to you. I bet there are a few award winners which have had that impact on you, but there also some on a publisher’s slush pile somewhere, waiting to be discovered.

Let’s move away from literary awards for a moment and talk about the small fish comparison: writing competitions. Just as a major literary award can substantially increase the profile and future earnings of an author, winning a respected competition can win you the attention of agents and publishers and put you on the road to traditional publication. Do you submit to writing competitions? I’ve not been inclined to submit my fiction to either competitions or magazines until a friend recently encouraged me to. I reworked my piece to ensure it met the competition criteria and reluctantly parted with my entry money, feeling a tiny glimmer of hope that my work might be good enough to make the short list (it wasn’t).

I’ve had a bit more time now to think about whether I would submit my work again to competitions and while I am not sure I would regularly want to pay an entry fee, learning to meet criteria such as deadlines, themes and specific word counts is good training for our craft. Just like blogging, competitions are a way of interacting with the external world. Your stories live when they are read, not when they languish in your drawer. By submitting your work, you are stepping into the void. It doesn’t matter if someone is there to catch you or if you fall. What matters is that with every story you grow. If your entry is short-listed or you win, what a weapon you’ll have to chase away those writerly doubts the next time you’re in a self-flagellating mood. And you never know, it may be the first step on the way to you featuring on the Granta List or winning the Booker.

Friday Flash Fiction

#FRIDAYPHRASES

#FridayPhrases were initiated by @amicgood.  The idea is to tweet a story or poem within 140 characters, follow the hashtag and retweet the ones you like.  Life gets busy for all of us. What I love about #FP is that is makes me feel creative and productive even if I don’t have too much time. Hope to see some of yours soon, but until then, here are some my recent ones:

15.11.13

TreeShe read curled up in the nook of a willow. Sunshine fell through its leaves. She saw only the light & shadows of the story #FP (For @raishimi)

Even as a baby he’d been fearless. As a man his mother despaired about his foolish bravery. He was the hero they’d all been waiting for #FP

She burned with anticipation when she saw him. He’d been her childhood crush. She’d waited 19 years to meet him. He would not escape #FP

22.11.13

Ruby red lips, sky-scraper heels and a razor-cut suit. Skilled negotiator, master manipulator. The boardroom vixen always gets her way #FP

The day she died he withdrew from the world. From then on he lived in his dreams, conjuring her up at will. Happy, deluded lover #FP

The wind swept her hair into a beehive as they ran hand in hand through the city. She tasted of cherries. A perfect day between strangers #FP

FLASH! FRIDAY

Here’s my entry (and the photo prompt) for today’s Flash! Friday competition hosted by @postupak:

Family Ties (Photo prompt/22.11.13)

This is not a peaceful place. The high walls and the barbed wire are reminiscent of a prison. It is in fact his father’s memory, which traps him. And those burnished robes. To me, they look so burdensome; I know he feels their weight too.

We have loved each other all our lives. In me he discovered his joy and peace. His family shunned him when they found out, so I became his family. I cooked for him and washed his clothes. I bathed his brow when he was sick. I used to dream of the tinkling laughs of our future children.

Last winter his father was killed, violently, in this place. So he took the robes, as his father had always wanted, to bring his mother comfort. One day, the old woman will die and he will come back to me. Until then, I will wait here patiently, quiet as a church mouse.

– ENDS –

NaNoWriMo Update and some Dark and not so Dark #FridayPhrases

November is NaNoWriMo, when hundreds of thousands of writers across the world try to pen 50,000 words in a month. Crazy, much? This is my third time doing NaNo and while I’ve never quite made the 50k, I have loved taking part each time. In fact, I love all things NaNo: the forums; the extra motivation that comes with having a deadline; the pep talks that land in your inbox from NaNo friends; gorgeous NaNo prints; even the word count tracker which generates a little graph of your daily progress.

NaNo mind-mapping

NaNo mind-mapping

It’s the end of week one and it has been an intense ride so far. I planned my NaNo novel this year, hoping it would give me an extra push to get to 50k.  I have filled half a dozen A3 sheets with mind maps. This year I’m writing a dystopian science fiction story based 300 years from now in an over-populated world torn apart by scarce resources. My protagonist is 15 year old Londoner Suki (always helps to know your setting inside out for NaNo). In her world, the Thames splits London in two. North of the river is solely for rich Londoners, who can afford to pay for what they need to survive in this wreaked world. South of the river is where Suki lives with her mum, but she misses her dad, who for some reason has crossed to the other side of the river. Suki intends to find out why.

At 7k so far, I’m already behind target, but not too far behind to catch up. Twitter games such as #NaNoWordSprints have been brilliant at making me feel less alone when I’m writing until the early hours. Even so, it’s hard to keep motivated day in day out, especially after work or if the kids are around. I won’t give up though. And there’s always time for #FridayPhrases.

Most of you Twitter fiends will have clocked #FP already, which  @amicgood initiated. Here is a link to her proposal. In a nutshell, the idea is to tweet a story or poem in 140 characters. Use the hashtag #FP to read and retweet other people’s work.  You’ll find some of my most recent #FPs below, some of which were written for Halloween. Others are less dark.

25.10.13

Monsters live in the toilet bowl. He knew it. Toilet training as a baby took forever. Not flushing cost him his wife. But the monsters never got him #FP

‘Punpkins make great weapons,’ she said. He was tied to a beam in the barn, orange goo everywhere. A cut-out smile was the last thing he saw #FP

Playtime at vampire school. Speed demons in darkened hall. Hopscotch bloodied slabs. Humans pinned to the vaulted ceiling. Snacktime soon #FP

1.11.13

I feared the day I would love you. The solution was simple. You lie perfectly in a glass case. Now you will always be mine #FP

I long to swim in the sea again. I relive those days in my dreams. Sweet relief to forget the thrashing gilled monsters there now #FP

8.11.13

1st time he saw an escalator he was scared. Then he took off his sandals & watched them travel up the stairs. His name was Taufiq Two Brains #FP

Forty minuted of queuing. The stench of fried onions hung in the air. She snapped, swinging her handbag in circles. She needed that burger #FP

Bubbles and foam everywhere. She took off her clothes and slipped into the bath, smelling notes of lavender and bergamot. Alone at last #FP

Good luck to all you Wrimos out there. I’ll look out for your #FPs too.

Short Story: The Gilded Mirror

#FridayPhrases

As an appetiser before the main course, here are my #FridayPhrases from this week ;). For those of you who are new to this, check out @amicgood’s blog for the background and feel free to join in next week by using the #FP hashtag and re/tweeting a story or poem in 140 characters.

The small child wailed in his cot. Beside him sat his mother, rocking gently, her face a picture of eerie calm while her insides raged #FP

The magic carpet sped past, a trail of silver dust in its wake. She leapt from its threads into the lake, thrill seeker till the end #FP

I once loved your wicked ways

Barbed remarks & power games

Honeyed words in cafés

Flatterer, thief, scared little boy

You will never know joy #FP

The Gilded Mirror

The short story below was written for WEbook’s Halloween challenge. The deadline is the end of this month.  If you’d like to enter, check out their website and writing community while you’re at it.  For this month’s challenge, writers have the choice of three opening lines to follow on from: one from Hamlet (eek!), one from Harry Potter, and the one below from Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim.

There is something haunting in the light of the moon; it has all the dispassionateness of a disembodied soul, and something of its inconceivable mystery.  The air around me feels heavy with expectation as I trample leaves underfoot on my way to the gleaming white house in the middle of the woodland.  I try unsuccessfully to still my imagination as my mind conjures up ghouls and unrepentant hellsmen that lurk in the shadows, just at the periphery of my vision. Every six years on All Hallows’ Eve, one of our family is chosen to walk this path towards the great gilded mirror in the upstairs bedroom of our ancestral home. Tonight, it is my turn.

I hold my breath as I catch sight of a silver-tinged owl watching me, her dull eyes tracing every movement of my march into the mouth of hell. The recent rain has muddied the ground, leaving splatters on my gown. My newly washed hair is fanned across my shoulders, its scent overpowered by the fertile moonlit landscape underfoot.  There are no humans for miles around, yet the woods feel alive. As I approach the dilapidated building with its half-formed turrets, I can make out moss-covered gargoyles peering at me with knowing eyes. My heart pummels my rib cage as I squeeze past monstrous gates into a courtyard.  I know the way as if by instinct.  This journey is in my blood, an ancient ritual borne of a centuries old feud.  Yet hope has not deserted me. It has been foretold that one day a girl-child will return from the depths of the woods. Perhaps that girl is me.

The house creaks its welcome as I enter.  Fanged bats swarm past me and escape into the darkness. I hold my offering close to me with fingers that are blue with cold and begin my ascent up the circular staircase, my footsteps muffled by carpet thick with dust. With each step I draw on my memory bank to say goodbye to my loved ones: my father chasing me through the corn-fields; my mother the year before she was taken, playing the harmonica with butter smeared in her hair; my siblings pleading with me to tell them a story. Those who may live because I die.

Almost there. It is as if the connection between my brain and my feet is severed.  They are no longer doing my bidding, and hurry towards a door at the top of the stairs. It swings open and I enter, my breath coming in rasps as I take in the heavy velvets adorning a bed, and in the corner, the gilded mirror standing tall, its smooth surface marred by a single, long crack.  And then I am face to face with my mirror image except the eyes aren’t mine and there is not a mark on the gown.

‘So you come at last, Evangeline,’ my reflection says to me. ‘I have been waiting a lifetime to meet you.’

I am transfixed by what I see.  Bile rises in my throat and I force my fingers to loosen their grip on the prize. I must keep my wits. ‘This vial is for you. It contains the last of the essence of Christ.  It is yours.’

My image raises a sleek eyebrow.  ‘What need do I have of forgiveness?’ it says, showing a tongue that slithers forth like a serpent’s. ‘My only wish is the eternal damnation of your line.  Tell me, how many of you now?’

‘Three,’ I stutter. ‘My father, my sister Emmeline. And me.’

‘Queer. I can smell your fear, but something else too – hope?’

‘One of us shall escape and it will be the end of your reign. Perhaps it is me.’ I close my eyes. ‘Will you not accept the prize?’

‘You are the prize,’ my reflection says to me, pushing a hand through the glass that emerges as greening bone and shrivelled flesh.

It pulls me into the mirror and the vial shatters on the floor. As I fall into the void, joy bubbles up inside me, even as I long for the things I can now never have. My blood has bought my remaining siblings more time. Not one, but three strong girl-children, one of whom will break the curse. My mother’s spirit wraps itself around me as I tumble and twist, already unrecognisable from my worldly form, and then there is quiet. And I am nothing.

Friday Flash Fiction

#FridayPhrases

Where were you for this week’s #FP? #FridayPhrases were initiated by @amicgood a few weeks ago.  The idea is to tweet a story or poem within 140 characters, follow the hashtag and retweet the ones you like.  It doesn’t take much time, and it’s addictive. Here are mine:

SunsetShe sliced through the water silently, her muscles working hard, her skin gleaming. Up in the rafters, he watched her, smiling & unnoticed. #FP

She was fed up of the constant drone of the TV. One day, when the kids were out, she shoved it violently off its perch & blamed it on the dog. #FP

He’d liked her for wks. He’d even brought her the best conkers. It was all over when his mum kissed him full on the lips in the playground. #FP

‘All day I preen & purr & rub up against you. You barely look at me. Well, fine!’ she thought, jumping over the fence into the neighbour’s arms. #FP

‘Well, how about that? Little Miss Perfect has a run in her tights,’ he thought, before slamming into the glass wall. She turned & cackled. #FP

She longed for the ocean’s gentle lapping waves & cleansing salt. Only seagulls saw her walk into its depth, leaving her sandals in the bay. #FP

FLASH! FRIDAY

Here’s my entry (and the photo prompt) for today’s Flash! Friday competition hosted by @postupak:

Master and Me (Photo prompt/11.10.13)

Photo by Dan Fador

Photo by Dan Fador

My master is down there.  He slipped from the cliff top during our morning walk.  It was just past dawn and the emerging sun cast a hazy light across the landscape.  He fell without a whimper.  I guess his eyes aren’t what they used to be.  I haven’t looked over the cliff top yet.  I want to take a moment to feel the breeze in my coat, to take in this marvellous vista without being hurried along, to taste the freedom of not being tied to a leash, of being alone.

I did love him once, the silly old fool.  When I was a pup we used to roll around together in the daisy field and afterwards he’d chase me home.  Then his interest waned.  I hadn’t pictured my future to be one of lacklustre coexistence. I wanted the real deal.

I can hear a scrabbling at the rock face and it almost pulls at my heartstrings.  We were supposed to be man and beast.  Oh, it could have been so beautiful between us.  But as I look down at my matted fur, I make my decision.  I want to be my own man now.  It’s probably too late to help now anyway.  This view, it really is to die for.

– ENDS –

This week @postupak also posted about an opportunity to be one of the judges in an upcoming Flash! Friday contest.  If you are interested in applying, find out more here.

This Week’s #FridayPhrases

As mentioned last week, @amicgood initiated #FridayPhrases/#FP on Twitter. Here is a link to her proposal.

Girl and Lamp postHere are my #FridayPhrases from this week:

I passed the homeless girl’s doorway today. I used to avoid her eyes. Now she’s not there I miss her. #FP

Autumn leaves were falling.  She couldn’t give up the comfort of her ballet pumps despite her cold ankles. CRUNCH. SQUELCH. ‘Bloody snails!’ #FP

She was ready for battle: Hair ironed sleek, lips painted a deep cranberry, warrior posture. Bk at home her strength deserted her & she crumbled. #FP

‘Mummy, mummy!’ she said excitedly, her plump fingers pointing at the furry balls of orange.  Behind them, the vixen approached. #FP

It was fun coming up with these on Friday and reading everyone else’s.  Hope to see yours next week too.

Flash Fiction: One Old Challenge and One New

Following my post on how writing challenges can help you make the most of your writing time, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and share some of my flash fiction with you.

FLASH! FRIDAY

Here’s my entry (and the photo prompt) for yesterday’s Flash! Friday competition hosted by @postupak:

Freedom

By Alexis/El Caminante

By Alexis/El Caminante

They didn’t want to let me go.  All those grasping hands – mum’s boney ones, daddy’s strong ones and grandpa’s frail ones – they reached as high as they could but I have been preparing for this moment ever since I was a babe in arms.

They were always trying to tell me what to do, you see.  Mum wanted me to wear my hair with a slick centre parting so all the other mothers would coo at me.  Daddy wanted me to pretend I like fishing as much as he does, but the first time I saw a hook in that trout’s mouth with its dead eyes…well, I just knew it wasn’t for me.  And as for grandpa, if I have to sit quietly and listen to any more of his stories, I’ll turn to stone on the spot, I just know it.  So I’ve been learning to fly.

This life.  It’s mine.

#FRIDAY PHRASES

@amicgood initiated #FridayPhrases/#FP on 27 September 2013.  Here is a link to her reasoning. #FridayPhrases are a story or poem within 140 characters max and the idea is to follow the hashtag and retweet the ones you like.

You can find my #FridayPhrases for yesterday below:

Their souls were paired for eternity, he said, dragging her through the forest. That was fine while the going was good, she thought. #FP

The night was hot & humid, the sheets sweaty.  She was relieved to feel cool air on her bare thigh until she turned & saw what it was. #FP

His breathing was shallow. He’d decided not to look but at the last minute he did. The cliff face distorted into past loves as he fell. #FP

I’m looking forward to submitting my entries next Friday too and commenting on/retweeting my favourite pieces.  I hope to see your entries there too.

How Writing Challenges can Help you Make the Most of your Writing Time

This week I’ve been thinking about how the year has passed so quickly.  Do you remember that feeling when you were at school and the weeks seemed to drag? Or how it seemed that you were fifteen forever?  Every birthday took an age to come round and you really, really, wanted to be older, worldly, making your own decisions. How does the way we experience time change so fast?  As I sit here in bed with my husband snoring gently beside me underneath our still summer duvet, listening to the wind rattling the ageing windows of our Edwardian semi and picturing the autumn leaves turning red and gold, I know that another year is nearing its end.  And what a year it has been.  I have spent it mostly with our son, accompanying him on his journey from red, squealing newborn to the determined, toothy, almost-walking man-child he is now.

Fleeting time and conflicting priorities

Does time run away with you too?  For me, my dream of sitting by the sea, with the wind blowing in my hair and a notebook on my lap as the world melts away, just isn’t feasible right now.  My family needs me (thankfully not all the time!) and as I’ve said in my post on Parenthood, Creativity and Time, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Many of you have family commitments, day jobs, friendships and more, which dwindle your writing time.  If you’re anything like me, however happy you are doing things other than writing, there is always a part of you that is longing to get back to the page, impatiently waiting it out before you can close the door and get back to your train of thought, immerse yourself in the world you have created. The older I get, the more conscious I am of the finite amount of time available to us.  So how do we as writers maximise the time we spend on our craft when time is at a premium? From my experience, and as friends such as @West1Jess have found (find her excellent blog here), writing challenges are one way to crank up that word count.

What’s in a challenge? 

ChallengeWriters procrastinate.  Sometimes procrastination feeds our craft, allowing ideas to gain traction, to cross-fertilise each other and ripen until they spill onto the page.  At other times procrastination leads to uselessly whiling away hour upon hour, when your fingers could have been flying across your keyboard.  Hats off to the writers who have mastered the art of having their morning coffee and making it to their work station without going via facebook, the remote control, the fridge, Ikea, the fridge again (you get the gist). The thing is, I’m not one of them.  Not always.  Sometimes, when I am tired or my head is full of my real life, I need little tricks to get me in the right mindset to write.  And that’s when a writing challenge is just the ticket into my fictional world.

What are the benefits of taking part in writing challenges?

  • Honing your skills in unusual, unexpected ways
  • Increased self-confidence at trying new things
  • Taking part in the writing communities that often build around these challenges
  • Just like agents, editors, writing circles and competitions, writing challenges can help to keep you and your writing goals on track.  Not everyone has the self-discipline to write regularly without the input (or arse-whipping) of their peers and colleagues.
  • Do you remember doing dares as a child? Or that *uck it moment just before you step off the precipice and do something out of your comfort zone?  Some of the best challenges are just like that.  Act fast enough and your fears and doubts won’t have time to keep up.

My top 5 writing challenges 

  • Flash! Friday hosted by @postupak – there’s nothing quite like flash fiction to get your creative juices flowing when time is short.  This challenge consists of a weekly prompt, after which you have a day to submit your entry.  There are generous rewards for winners including an ebutton for your blog or facebook page, your own winner’s page at Flash! Friday and a feature article on you.
  • National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) takes place every November.  Whether you’re a pantser or a planner, the idea is to write a novel from start to finish of at least 50,000 words or more. The team behind Nanowrimo provide fun pep talks and there is a handy stats section so you can track your progress.  No Nanowrimo month is complete without hanging out in the online support forums, checking out the online shop (I have some gorgeous Nano prints adorning my walls) and going to a write-in where you can write your novel in the company of fellow Wrimos. 
  • David Morley’s Writing Challenges – Morley heads up the Warwick University Writing Programme.  I’m a little biased here as I went to Warwick for my BA (in English and German Literature) but seriously, these podcasts are a special find.  Morley has a voice which works well in this format, and he fills the podcasts with writing tips, challenges and food for thought.
  • #ThursThreads hosted by @SiobhanMuir – this is another flash fiction challenge.  The prompt is a line from the previous week’s winning tale.  Entries should be between 100 and 250 words long and there is a twelve hour submission window.  Winners receive a bright shiny badge for their websites.

This is by no means an all-encompassing list.  If there are writing challenges that you are aware of and have enjoyed, please let me know about them in the comments section.  As for my next challenge, I’ve decided to take part in Nanowrimo again this year.  I’ve not reached the 50,000 word mark required to ‘win’ in previous years, but upping my word count by 20,000 fairly decent words in four weeks both times was a huge confidence booster and I’m looking forward to burning the midnight oil again this year.  Will any of you be joining me?

‘Procrastination is like a credit card: it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.’ Christopher Parker 

‘The greatest danger for most is not that aim is too high and we miss it, but rather our aim is too low and we reach it.’  Michaelangelo

Introducing My Superheroes. Who are Yours?

Taking on a challenge

A few weeks ago I went on a course called ‘We All Need Words’ at The School of Life in London.  It was my first day away from the kids since our son was born and I was both excited and anxious.  It was great to have the chance to do something purely for me, but after months of the baby being an extension of myself, I wasn’t sure how I would cope without him.  I needn’t have worried.

The course took place in a basement in Camden, which was kitted out with ornate wallpaper, velvety carpet and über-cool furniture.  We spent the day discussing how to write more effectively, trying our hand at mostly short pieces including dating adverts and dictionary entries, and sharing our work.  It was fun, surreal and out of my comfort zone.  I’d highly recommend it.  [http://www.weallneedwords.com]

Embracing writing exercises

One of my favourite exercises was crafting superhero stanzas.  Our course instructors, the brilliant, down-to-earth word-smiths Molly and Rob, invited us to write a few sentences about someone we know, give them a superhero name and zoom in on one of their strengths or weaknesses.  These may not be the typical qualities you would associate with a superhero – we’re not talking about flying, invisibility or weather-control here – but that is what makes this exercise so interesting; there is something unique and powerful to be uncovered in everyone you meet.

silhouetteMy superheroes

Inspired by Molly and Rob, I have decided to introduce you to some of the key people in my life, by way of a superhero stanza each.  For each one, I’ve isolated a trait I admire, but have also hinted at their vulnerabilities.  Do you recognise any of these characters in your own life?

 

  • Mistress Grafter – She works from dawn to dusk in the service of others, her loved ones barely registering her efforts while strangers are touched beyond belief.  Her body ages but her soul sings.  And the phone keeps ringing.
  • Calm Waters – He is a towering example of moral courage yet he has no religion.  He thinks clearly about his desired goal and moves towards it silently, with infinite patience.  Victory is almost certain, yet he keeps his emotions in check, restraint crackling in his fingertips. His strength, shimmering just beneath the surface, is not obvious and they do not see him coming.  Until it’s too late.
  • Mister Magnanimous – He is gives of himself gladly.  His affection knows no bounds and he is the first to reach into his pocket in times of need.  They flock to him, drawn by his charisma and warmth, circling him so he is in the very centre of it all, where he likes to be.  But his expectations of himself are equal to his expectations of others, and his disappointments weigh heavily, threatening to destroy it all.
  • Sweet Candy She fills the world with her light and they drink it from her greedily, with grasping hands that leave marks upon her soft skin.  One touch from her and sadness is banished.  Desperate for her gifts, they trample over each other to reach her, but the light remains hers, and hers alone.  Only the glimpse of a pink tutu in the corner of your eye suggests she was ever there.
  • The Protector – He guides her with gentleness, tending to her needs with a love that is selfless and pure.   You can almost touch the bond between them with your fingertips.  It fizzes and crackles and will last beyond their physical lives.  Father extraordinaire, who has taught his daughter to reach for her dreams and built a safety net under her with his own body.  And yet, the wounds left by his own father are still there, stinging, raw, on the underside of his skin, hidden from view.
  • Mistress Inkwell – She sends her missives into the world, hundreds at a time, hand-written in square print in a language all of her own.  She sweats over these patchworks of text, bleeds over them, squeezing out her joy onto the page until there is nothing left in her.  The brightly coloured envelopes arrive at their destination where they languish on the doormat, waiting, forever waiting for their readers.
  • Spaceman – He puts himself first, his self-respect propelling him through the gates of opportunity.  He has arrived at his destination already and has set his sights on the moon.  He will reach it quickly, without a spaceship, armed with stellar determination and textbook intelligence, his wings powered by the prayers of others.

So, those are some of my superheroes.  Who are yours?

‘Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.’ F. Scott Fitzgerald 

‘Though nature be ever so generous, yet can she not make a hero alone. Fortune must contribute her part too.’  Francois de La Rochefoucauld