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Wednesday, 3 June 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 21: “Flash! Friday: 12 Months Later”

2015 WORD COUNT = 32335 words



I have dabbled in writing since I was old enough to hold a pencil and transfer my imagination to paper. It’s taken many forms from one page stories and comic scripts to half completed screenplays and several attempted novels.

Last year, through author Craig Anderson, I discovered a form of writing I’ve never heard of before; Flash Fiction. I couldn’t believe people were writing stories with word counts as low as 100 words. How can you write a story in less than a page of your average novel? Crazy.

And yet when I followed Craig’s link to a contest he took part in, it seemed that people could do it.

And they did it well.

So I stayed and I watched. Like a kid who wants to dive in but keeps hesitating because he can’t forget how painful a belly flop is, I wanted to join in but didn’t feel ready. Would I be accepted? Would my writing be laughed out as amateur? It was like trying to make friends in the playground again.

But eventually I found a reason to take the plunge. I wasn’t in it to win and I didn’t think I’d make too many friends (my only other experience of online social interaction was Xbox LIVE and it’s always been best just to stay quiet there). Instead, I thought it might be a good idea to just use the site as a practice arena. I’d pop on every Friday, exercise my brain by being forced to write around specific prompts, and then take that momentum into the weekend for my own projects.

I sat in my work canteen and stared at that photo for a good thirty minutes. I became worried that nothing would happen, that I wouldn’t be able to create from a random prompt. And then it came to me.

I’d say it was about 70% of what ended up in the final piece. When I finished that first draft it was a little too long and the cuts meant a few changes had to be made. I remember the main character being a lot nicer and not having a hidden agenda.

I still think it’s a good piece but it feels more like a condensed prologue. Still, the main thing was that I had done it, I had put my work out there.




Friday, 30th May 2014
153 words
(We had to incorporate Freedom)



THE LADY OF THE WOODS

I’d been watching her for hours before she finally spoke to me. “You can come out.”

Glad that the waiting was over I stepped from the shadows of the tree line and walked over to the pool in the centre of the clearing.

“Why are you watching me,” she sighed.

“I wanted to see you for myself,” I replied.

“And?”

“You are indeed beautiful.” And she was. The lady of the woods, a creature of nature; skin of grass, hair of ivy and eyes like lily pads.

She dipped her hand into the water. “Why are you here?”

“I want to help you.”

Her emerald eyes widened. “You can lift my curse?”

“More than that,” I said. “I’ll give you vengeance against those that trapped you here.”

The ground trembled as she stood, the earth becoming her body. She was majestic.

I grinned. “But I need you to do something for me first.”



One of my strengths is also one of my weaknesses. It’s usually the level of control I have that defines which side of the scales it sits.

I love stats and I have an addictive personality. Add this to my urge to want to write, and Flash Fiction became my new hobby.

Every Friday I would check my phone and see what Flash! Friday host, Rebekah Postupak had given us as a prompt. I would spend the morning a little distracted as my imagination tried to bend the photo and the theme into something interesting. Then I would head off to the canteen at 1pm with my sandwiches, a pen, and a notebook to start work on it. Pages would be torn out and scrunched up as each draft fell be the wayside until I had a story I was happy with. In the evening I would get home, help put my son to bed before firing up the laptop.

Sometimes things would change as I typed up the final draft. My wife would be pulled in on editing duties (if she had a penny for every spelling mistake she’d caught . . .). And then that scary moment: COPY. PASTE. SEND.

After that it was waiting for the results, hoping to see my name attached to an Honourable Mention or a runner up.

Or maybe even the winner.

My first happy, happy moment came in early July, just my sixth entry for the contest. I managed to get an Honourable Mention and the funniest part was that the judge was Craig Anderson, the man that got me into this fine mess in the first place.



Friday, 4th July 2014
159 words
(We had to include a woman)



AMERICA CAN WAIT

Another piece of scrunched up paper hit the floor.

“Perhaps we’re over thinking this,” said John.

“You’re over thinking this,” said Benjamin. With his part done he was fed up. He pushed his spectacles back up his nose. “It shouldn’t take this long.”

Thomas turned away from the large window, where he’d been looking out at the city of Philadelphia. He walked past his compatriots and dropped his quill upon the drafts and redrafts piled high in the centre of the table. He glanced at the Grandfather clock in the corner. “It’s nearly one o’clock,” he said. “We’re running out of time.”

There was a knock at the door from the other side of the room. All three men turned as it opened. It was Mary. “Sorry to interrupt, gentlemen” she said. “Have you written down your food order?”

Thomas snatched the document from John and walked over to her.

“Wait,” called John. “I didn’t see they had chicken.”

“The tone of this piece was great, playing with the reader by making them think it was going one way only to change directions at the end and turn into something much lighter. This contrast really worked and made the punchline that much stronger. There were lots of little touches throughout that gave each person character, with Benjamin pushing his glasses back up his nose or Thomas gazing out the window at the city with his part already done. To me it also helped to humanize these great men, they may have been working on one of the most important documents in history, but they still have to eat!” – (Craig Anderson)



I was over the moon with that; it was like having my name up in lights. It meant that I was doing something right.

I didn’t let it go to my head but now it wasn’t just about getting writing practice as had been my original plan. Getting the mention, having people congratulate me over Twitter, it was all pretty cool. I knuckled down and tried harder the following week. What happened next is still one of my top five moments of writing 2014.

I’d gone with a couple of friends to the MCM Comic Convention in London where Stan Lee was guest of honour (note – after wedding and birth of son, meeting Stan Lee is the greatest moment of my life!) so my weekend was already on a high. It went to eleven when the results for Flash! Friday came in and my story IF YOU GO DOWN TO THE WOODS TODAY (included in FlashDogs Anthology vol 1) was awarded 1st runner up. That’s a silver medal. It was ten times better than the Honourable Mention I’d been given the week previous. I was a ‘tell the wife, the work colleagues, everyone on my Facebook’ kind of huge.

That should have been it. I should have just ridden the high until the next weeks contest started. But then Rebekah did something that, I’ll admit here and now, brought a tear to me eye.

Back when I started taking part there were only about twenty or thirty people posting stories each week and they’d usually only do one. Things were a little easier less hectic for the judges. Rebekah used to do something back then called Flash Points, where she’d take a story other than the winner and break it down, praising what it did right.

That week my entry got chosen. The article she wrote (here) was beautiful and it made the piece more special to me than any story that has won any other contest.



Friday, 11th July 2014
152 words
(We had to include friendship)



IF YOU GO DOWN TO THE WOODS TODAY

I lean from behind the oak. All eyes on the duel. Don’t know the reason for their feud. Don’t care. Pistols go bang, one falls down and then there’s one less rich prick lording ‘round town. If they both fall down then that’s double trouble.

Their companions watch carefully, making sure it's fair. You want to talk about fair? Rich pricks ‘play’ life and death while my friends starve. I sell one of those fancy pistols I could feed my gang for a month.

All eyes on the duel and still no one notices little old me. I calm the horses and then climb my scrawny ass up onto the coach. Sure a pistol’ll feed mouths for a month but imagine what me and the guys’ll get for this fancy coach and two horses.

Shots ring out. A woman cries. I snap the reigns.

Lesson to you all; never leave valuables unattended.

This story brings the reader’s attention to the all-consuming emotions of witnessing a duel, only to step deftly outside of them and offer a unique perspective on how those emotions might prove a weakness. “I sell one of those pistols I could feed my gang for a month” is a great way to make a point, and maintain a voice, while using natural language to do so.  The tension isn’t the duel itself, but rather the thief’s contempt for the duellers and their culture and station. I love that this story expanded the scene around the duel and brought in such an interesting character with compelling motivations.



After that incredible high I experienced, there had to be a low. Things dried up and the work I produced wasn’t to a high standard. I still had little gems here and there, a couple more Honourable Mentions from judge Craig Anderson. In fact, it was when I had my forth HM in a row from him that I realised something that has helped get me past the not winning thing.

I noticed that I had a 100% record when it came to the weeks Craig was judging. I knew that there was no prejudice because the stories are judged bling. I mentioned to him that I had four for four and he replied, stating that 'he must just like my style of writing'.

I’ve mentioned before how it’s all relative, how one judge can praise your work while another will read it once and let it pass them by. I had weeks myself, back in the early contests, when I would see the winning entry and wonder “why is that better than mine?”

You see, writing a great story is only half the process. Those judges at the other end are the other half. It’s only when those two things align that you can get that win. Much like in real publishing. How many times have you read interviews with now famous authors who mentioned the amount of publishing houses who turned down their novels. Everyone knows that JK Rowling didn’t sign with the first publisher she sent Harry Potter to.

This was nurtured by my addictiveness and I ploughed on ahead, writing every Friday, no matter what. I knew that one day, the right prompt, the write judge, and the right inspiration would align and I’d have that winners spot I craved.

And so things carried on, through the summer, nothing changing too much. I got a couple more Honourable mentions and stumbled into the world of the FlashDogs (I think I’ve mentioned them once or twice).

And then in September, I upped my game.

Until then I’d either looked at a photo prompt and been stumped for a large chunk of the day, or a story appeared almost fully fleshed in my mind, begging to be let loose on the page. But on Sept 5th, I had two ideas.

I checked the rules and sighed in relief when I discovered you were allowed a max of two entries. My ‘twins’ could both be freed. Lord be praised.

And that should have been it really. A minor dilemma, the scare of Sophie’s choice, happily avoided. The next week should have been a return to normal service, right?

So why did I actively think up two stories. And do this in a hurry on the morning I was supposed to be getting ready to go on holiday. “Just five more minutes,” I shouted down to my wife who was ready to pack the car and head off.

So the week after that I went back to one.

Then another double. Then another. It was upping the odds. Giving myself more of a chance, right? Well kind of, but it also allowed me to take the prompt in two totally different directions. This is the main reason I did it, if I’m honest. To be able to post a dark brooding thriller and then use the same picture for a side splitting comedy was just me playing in a bigger sandpit.


I’m still chasing that elusive win. I thought after I won a couple of Angry Hourglass contests that the appetite would fade but it doesn’t seem to be that way. This is the one that started me off and this is the crown I want most of all.

And despite not having that win, I’ve still accomplished so much in the last year. Without Flash Friday I wouldn’t have met such a fantastic group of writers, I wouldn’t have my work published in a bona fide, physical book (with another on the way) and I wouldn’t be learning and growing as a writer.

I could ramble on all night about my experience with Flash! Friday but I’ve got washing up to do.
So I’ll just finish up by saying thank you.

Thank you to Rebekah for running a fantastic site. Seriously, it’s grown so much in the twelve months since I joined up; so many new authors, so many weekly stories. And there you are, adding features, contests, interviews. It truly is a hub for people like me. You’re a legend.

Thank you to Craig Anderson. I've mentioned the anecdote often, I know, but its small moments and random meetings that change the course of our lives. If he hadn’t have written a book called ‘Get Lucky’, I wouldn’t have ended up where I am today.

Thank you to all the great authors who turn up every Friday and lay down their best. You don’t make it easy to get my first win but it wouldn’t be worth winning if it wasn’t against the greatest.

And finally, thanks to all those writers that turn readers once their pieces are up. You write just a sentence or two after someone’s story and move onto the next. But that short, positive comment can keep a writer smiling for hours. I know, it works on me every week (unfortunately I’ve struggled for the last few months to find time for commenting but I hope to be back soon).

If you’re reading this and you’ve not yet taken the plunge then why not head over to Flash! Friday this week and have a go?

I leave you now with two of my personal favourite entries. One got a HM for dialogue and the other fell by the wayside. I don’t know what exactly it is I like about them, I just do.

See you in seven.




(every photo prompt for my first year of Flash! Friday)


Friday, 10th October 2014
147 words
(We had to include surgery)



SEND OUT THE CLOWNS

“I don’t want you guys to leave.”

“Believe me kid,” said Tramps, “we don’t wants to go eithers.”

If Tramps had a heart it would have broken as he looked into the kids eyes. He glanced around at the others; Wacko, Short-Short, Cracker and Dodo the Wonder Dog. Despite the sadness of this moment they kept smiling, just like always.

“Then why? Why won’t I see you again?”

“Your parents, they think it’s bestist if we weren’t arounds no more,” said Tramps. “Doctors gonna switch of the part of your brain that helps you sees us.”

“Please don’t let them.”

Tramps reached out and placed his hand on the kid’s chest. “Seeing ain’t always believing. We’ll always be here. Promise.”

The others nodded as Tramps pulled the kid tight and gave him the best hug ever.

When the kid opened his tear filled eyes they were gone.



 Friday, 30th January 2015
209 words
(We had to include Man vs Man as a conflict)



THUNDER AND LEAD

Thomas squinted as the wind brushed his face with dust. His revolver gained weight as the seconds passed. He adjusted his grip, steadied his aim.

Several feet away, under the shade of the last tree, his brother watched him.

“You won’t shoot,” said Jonathon.

“You underestimate how far you’ve pushed me.”

“Please. We grew up together. You’ve never been able to make the tough decisions and you’ve never been able to get your hands dirty.”

“What you did was . . . ungodly.”

“Then let Him inflict his justice upon me. Release the burden to your higher power. Maybe He’ll have the balls to follow through.”

Thomas felt his trigger finger itching to release the thunder and lead but he refused to believe his brother was truly lost.

“Tell me one thing, brother,” he said, “and answer with honesty, if you can.”
“As true as blue,” replied Jonathon.

“Why did you do it?”

“Why not?” Jonathon’s smirk became a monstrous grin, one so full of evil that it was the exclamation mark on his soul.

A tear rolled down Thomas’ cheek as he realised his brother no longer walked the earth.

The finger tightened. The thunder cracked. The lead flew.

And there was one less monster in the world.


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