Archive for the ‘short stories’ Category

As promised yesterday. How does this work for a pair of writings? Any comments welcome 🙂 Criticism welcome too!

An open book (2)

Knowing the library manager was out till tea time, I made straight for my favourite place down one of the aisles and started picking out all the books in that section that needed mending. I didn’t have to think about it. I’d mentally clocked them up when they came back in less-than-perfect condition. Numbers, facts, photographic memory… If only I didn’t have to work in a library. But it would have to do till something better came along.

Then I heard the main door open with a sough of chilly air, and my heart sank. This dark shut-in building was my womb – and wombs are best left in peace while things develop inside them.

I reluctantly stood up, picked up the damaged books and staggered with them over to the entrance. ‘Can I help?’ I called to the girl. ‘You look lost.’

There. She’d feel as if someone cared. The exact phrase was on page 25 of the training manual, bullet point 3. I could see it in my mind.

She handed me a list. I stared at it in amazement. What sort of person goes into a library with a list? And worse than that, a doctor’s scribbly handwritten list, naming self-help books for the weedy. I now recognise every doctor’s handwriting in this town – they’re all at it, this bibliotherapy thing. What we should do is charge them! And then replace these stuffy old shelves with neat lines of matching, pine-coloured shelving with desks at exact intervals so that people can sit near to where they’re browsing. I could make a proper go of running this place, given a chance.

I offered to fetch the first book on the list, and then, following rule 2, page 30, kept eye contact while asking her for identification. I did start to lose track when she rambled on about eBay and charity shops. Obviously out of work. Probably no good at anything. Anyway, if she was broke, I wasn’t interested in her.

‘Sorry?’ I murmured dutifully. (Rule 10: Keep your complete attention on the client from the moment they ask for help.) ‘Oh yes, I buy my books, too,’ I told her, hoping I’d got it right, and handing her the somewhat dog-eared copy of Managing your Moods. I’d need to add that to the mending pile when she returned it. ‘Yes, much better to own books than borrow them. Though I shouldn’t say that, should I? Not working here!’ (Rule 12: Maintain a sense of humour at all times.)

Of course, I wouldn’t be working here if I could find another job. It’s those stupid interviewers out there who can’t cope with suggestions for improving their businesses. You’d think they’d be grateful to employ someone who could think widely as well as remember all the existing protocols.

‘Have fun with this one, Lucy,’ I added as she turned away. I’m not sure why she looked so pleased – I mean, that book’s dumb.

I toyed with writing something in the first person from two different viewpoints of the two people who had a chance encounter. This is what resulted.

It would be a bit longer than usual for a blog post – 500 words each – so I’ll post one half today and the other half tomorrow.

If I wish you a really good drawing and writing new year (I’m not above a bit of bribery!) will you find time to read both?! Thing is, bribery apart, you only get the point if you read both. Same encounter but interpreted very differently by the two people involved.  I’d love to hear whether you think it works.

And thank you very much for the support in Likes and comments during the past year. Much appreciated in your busy lives.

An open book (1)

I was about to pass the library and pretend the doc hadn’t given me this note, when I found myself stopping. I fished in my pocket for the booklist: bibliotherapy indeed! Oh well, it wouldn’t do any harm to try – might even pass the time. There was precious little to do at home. Nothing interested me any longer.

I tugged open the heavy oak door, and a breath of warm air hit me, sweet and, well, booky. At first glance, the library seemed deserted. The vaulted ceiling and rows of dark shelves reminded me of an ancient church with a preservation order on it – both comforting and off-putting.

I was a bit disorientated because the layout was not at all like the modern scientific collections I was used to at Bellingham’s. There, because I was the chief lab technician, I consulted chemistry books stacked in modern pine-veneered shelves that must have cost a bomb. Of course, if they hadn’t invested so much in their library, maybe they wouldn’t have had to lay us off. It’s depressing how people get their priorities wrong.

This library was so gloomy and uninspiring, I turned to leave.

‘Can I help?’ a voice behind me called. ‘You look lost.’

I turned. A tall young man appeared from behind a stack, with a dozen books piled dangerously high in his arms. His friendly eyes peeped at me over the top. They held an air of alarm.

Caught deserting, I told myself ruefully. ‘No, not lost – but I don’t usually come here. Could you tell me where to find these, please?’ I held out the list, feeling even more like the maiden in distress that I’d become recently.

The man dropped the books in a messy pile on the front desk and took the paper from me. I relaxed a fraction as he scanned the titles. His dark hair was cropped short in a number one, just the way I like it, and his navy fleece gave him an air of cuddly reliability. About thirty. Nice looking.

‘I think they’re self-help books,’ I added, trying not to sound too eccentric. ‘But I only need the top one.’

It took him next to no time to fetch the book from a nearby shelf and return to the desk. ‘I suppose you won’t have a borrowing card?’ he asked. ‘I’ll make you out one if you have some identification.’

I handed over my driving licence and found myself opening up a fraction. Someone choosing to be helpful was a relief actually. ‘I usually buy my books from charity shops and eBay,’ I told him, cautiously putting a toe in the water. ‘We all do. Then, once a month, we go down to the bookshop and choose a new one.’

He looked up with what I took to be surprise on his face. ‘Oh, but not this sort,’ I added hastily. ‘Fantasy and sci fi, crime, thrillers. Nothing too touchy-feely.’ I wanted him to think the self-help books were for someone else.

Surprisingly, he didn’t look pityingly at me. ‘I buy my books, too,’ he said, handing me the somewhat dog-eared copy of Managing your Moods. ‘Much better to own books than borrow them. But I shouldn’t say that, should I? Not working here! Anyway, have fun with this one, Lucy.’

I felt as if life had perked up all of its own accord. He’d bothered to read my ID and remember my name!

I am delighted to have won a writing competition that I entered in August. I have very little time for fiction writing these days and am perhaps a little fed up that it’s almost impossible to get certain novels published. No, they’re not horrendous; they’re just not the “in” thing.

And although I have self-published really successfully in 2008-9, twice, I’m not sure that the one I have completed would be welcome in secondary schools, which is mostly where I would need to take it to do workshops and sell copies. (Oh for the return of Borders, the book chain that went into administration!) Schools are still very reluctant to deal with any issues of LGBTQ sexuality, even though the plot doesn’t hinge on it, but on the need to find out why a brother has suicided.

So to have written a successful, carefully constructed 1,000 word short story with a theme I know a lot about as a part-time young people’s therapist, and a dollop of emotion in the story, well… I’m pleased! It reminds me of my long-standing love of writing to move people. Currently I write for a very different audience in my editorials or the occasional article.

The new (January) issue of Writing Magazine will be out on December 1st, complete with my winning story. How nice is that! It’s their most popular competition of the year, so it feels extra good to have won it.

It’s a bit of a change from drawing a loo in Promarkers for World Toilet Day last Saturday! I was pretty pleased with this result too, although the reflection is a bit off and should be lighter. Mine is nothing like as posh 😦

promarkers-loo

All this talk about creativity. It occurred to me you might wonder if I actually ever finish anything. So I thought I’d offer some proof – in the form of a story based loosely around a creation fable I came across. It probably wouldn’t find a home traditionally but deserves an airing. So feet up, wine in hand and enjoy!

Yuri-nome and the Wind

Yuri-nome was a small black dot. She couldn’t be seen because she was the same colour as the darkness around her. But she knew she was lovely because she felt lovely. So she floated around exploring the dark.

Slowly Yuri-nome realised there was nothing there. No home, no friends, no toys, no trees, no flowers. She was alone. She could imagine these things, but she couldn’t find them anywhere.

She longed most of all for a friend to talk to and play with. But the only thing she noticed was a breeze that brushed her face and streamed round her body when she moved. It didn’t stop to play but rushed on as if she were invisible – and of course she was.

The effort to amuse herself made her frustrated and she glowed red with all the pent-up feelings.

It was then that she started playfully pinching and nudging the breeze as it rippled through the dark. The breeze turned into a strong wind and buffeted her in return, making her bounce around in huge arcs.

She laughed in delight and cried, “Hello, will you be my friend?” But the wind didn’t speak. It hurried on, spiralling and whirling. And Yuri-nome longed again with all her heart to NOT be a small, nearly invisible dot.

She felt like giving up, but something deep inside her whispered, “Try once more, Yuri-nome. Try once more.”

She reached out in front of her and grasped a thin wisp of the wind as it rushed by. She rubbed it between her hands and…

…a large colourful serpent appeared. “Hello,” it said. “Offi-oosa at your service. Do you want a ride?”

Yuri-nome didn’t know what a service was, but she had already imagined a thousand times what a friendly voice would sound like. She leapt onto Offi-oosa’s back, and shouted, “Yes, please. Let’s have FUN.”

Yuri-nome and Offi-oosa shot off together, riding and talking and swapping secrets that made them laugh. They twisted and twirled and hissed and fizzed everywhere until the dark was alive with their madness.

After a while, Yuri-nome noticed she was bright and glowing with happiness. Offi-oosa would curl his serpent tail around her and keep guard while she slept. When she woke, she would slip and slide on his back, from his eyes to his serpent tail, to keep him bendy and boisterous.

Then one day Offi-oosa said to Yuri-nome: “If you’ll stay with me for ever, we can provide trees and fields, rivers and seas, mountains and skies and animals for all the people who will live here one day.”

“And toys and homes?” asked Yuri-nome, summersaulting off his back.

“And toys and homes,” he laughed as he coiled round her. “Toys and homes and even babies to live in them. What is your wish?”

“I wish it to be so,” said Yuri-nome. As she spoke, she found all the colours of her serpent friend reflected in her, like a mirror.

So Offi-oosa uncurled his tail from around her and laid into the dark world all the wonderful things Yuri-nome had dreamt of when she was a little black dot with no friends. And she looked into his eyes and saw that she was not only lovely but loved.

 

I was over at the womagwriters site this morning (do pay a visit when you have a free moment) and found out there that Jill Finlay who deals with fiction at The Weekly News is only accepting email submissions, whereas it used to be that both were acceptable.

This is a huge leap into the 21st century and of course I’m pleased. Especially as it’s one of my new short story targets this year.

But it begged the question in my mind (and I’ve put it in a comment there) as to why we don’t pitch short stories in the same way that we pitch article ideas to editors of magazines and newspapers. In other words, not sending the whole thing but just the offer.

I know the editor needs to read the complete story. But as a first move, they could have the opening paragraphs and the gist of the story (plus ending) just as with an article pitch. Even a sentence as to why this fits their guidelines. We do something similar with novels already.

Then the happy editor could invite us to send the whole story if she liked the opening, or email back a cryptic comment in 30 seconds flat along the lines of: “Sorry, no, we don’t like drugs in our stories” or “Try changing this to the first person and I’d be interested.”

The editor would save oodles of time and we’d save the trees, get a reason for any refusal, and maybe even a tentative sale that was nearer to “definite” than it would otherwise be. They could still request a paper copy at this stage, of course.

There has to be something I’ve forgotten, or they’d all be doing it. Now where are the up-to-date guidelines for TWN…

The last few days have been productive with regard to my new short story for January. I’m pleased about that because when I write every day the rest of my work gets productive too. (Even the housework – it’s infectious!) And of course, a little voice says more written equals more sold. But that does ignore the question of standards! (I’d enter for Nanowrimo except that I know I’d write rubbish.)

So I decided to work in a way that would ensure some acceptable standards right from the start.

I outlined each scene as I visualised it – this habit ensures that I “show” (like in a movie) and don’t “tell”, especially not the transition bits. In a short story for a magazine, the reader can usually imagine the transitions if you put a section break. And I always remind myself that films don’t show transitions.

Anyway, now that I have been through each section and tidied the writing up – partly for length (target: 2,000 words) and partly because I hate to work on a messy piece – my next task is to go through each scene with a toothcomb following some advice I heard from Dennis Foley.

He says that good dramatised scenes should do as many of the following as possible:
1 Move the story forward
2 Create or increase conflict
3 Reveal something about the character(s)
4 Foreshadow something important.

I think I’ve covered 1, because writing in visual scenes like this almost has to move the story forward. I’m hopeful the others are at least incipiently present, but that’s what I will be refining, now that I know the story is written and has legs.

I have a market in mind for this January story and I’ll let you know how it goes.

I haven’t written a short story for a women’s magazine for a while. And I don’t go in for New Year resolutions (note this is Boxing Day not New Year!). But I do think it’s great fun to do short stories and I have managed to sell quite a few over the years.

So – what’s this about twirling?

Well, yesterday (Christmas Day, Nativity, new birth and all that) I had the bright idea of interweaving my novel writing and editorial work with one short story a month in 2011. Might be just the thing to keep me on track with all my writing.

Scrivener

So between Christmas crackers, I set up a template in Scrivener to hold the first six (they say you have to treat future goals as already present in order to trick your mind into taking them seriously) but that left the tiny problem of what to write for January.

So here I am today still in bed, keeping warm and cosy, when this tiny problem crops up again. So I pick up Writers’ Forum to read (the easier option) and that’s when it hits me: one winning gangster story contains the sentence: “The van screeches to a halt.” I instantly pictured my own son in his twenties turning up in our drive in a kit car he’d built (more of a brrm brrm than a screech, I have to say) – and here it is, a whole story fully formed in my mind. The event of the kit car will encircle a narrative with a “car” leitmotiv and cover an emotional tale of a son actually fulfilling an innocent wide-eyed promise made as a three-year-old to his mum.

I’ll let you know how I get on. But one important part of this idea is that I have set up a page for every story to track its submission history (hopefully with only one item needed on each page!). But look – if I don’t submit, how will it sell?

Here’s to my 12 tales a-twirling through 2011.