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Wednesday, 25 February 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 07: “To catch a breath”


2015 WORD COUNT = 9403 words

Its two months into 2015 and things are going well. This time last year I was just getting my head around blogging and trying to work out how I was going to make my mark on the world. It was a topsy-turvy year with a lot of stopping, starting, stopping and backtracking.

I’m feeling better about everything this year. My confidence is growing, my writing is improving (I’ve been told) and I’m more focused and determined with what I want to accomplish before Dec 31st.



THE EPISODIC FANTASY THING


I’m only two episodes into FRACTURED DAWN but I’m feeling really good about it as a project. I think it’s going to help me side step that fear I have of tackling something bigger. With the episodic, 1500 word a fortnight structure, it gives me a little space between episodes to think about where I want my draft to go next. Whether it’s expanding a scene past its bare bone version, changing out characters that seem excess or just creating an extra scene to fill in gaps, I can take it slow and build the story deeper as I go.

I’ve got a wider story planned and I’d love to keep going with it for a long time; like an ongoing soap in short story form. Who knows what will happen down the line? As long as you people keep reading it I’ll keep writing it. And, hopefully I can get enough momentum on the project to perhaps bring the fortnight releases down to weekly.



FLASH! A-AH


It’s been another good weekend of Flash Fiction results. Scratch that; it’s been awesome.

After some kind words by judge Deborah Foy for CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE LESSER-SPOTTED DRAGON it was over to Flash! Friday where I picked up First Runner-Up for OXYGEN, the tale of an astronaut who accepts his depleting air supply means he’ll never leave the moon alive. I’m extremely grateful for some very, very nice comments by my fellow participants.

As if that wasn’t enough, my entry for Angry Hourglass titled CLOSING TIME picked up First place. That’s my third win of the year and I’m more than over the moon with joy.

You can read all three of my entries here.



FOUR DIGITS FOR THE WIN


And finally there was a fantastic coming together with some fellow FlashDogs on Sunday.

I’ve struggled recently to find time on the weekends to get stuck into the various contests and read/comment on other author’s stories. I can’t tell you how bad I’ve felt seeing people leave kind words for my own writings and not giving anything back.

That changed when I started to see rumblings on Saturday that the posting quota for last Fridays contest had broken 900. This got people excited and so I joked, saying that I hadn’t left any comments yet and that we should aim for 1000.

I awoke on Sunday determined to give back to the Flash community and read others work. When I opened the site my competitive streak perked up upon seeing the comment count was at 969. That meant I only needed to leave a minimum 31 comments. That wouldn’t be a problem, would it? My fantastic wife and my extremely well behaved son gave my some space Sunday afternoon and I set to work.

I tweeted a few updates every now and then and other FlashDogs responded. I began to feel cheered on, lapping up the great comradery, as we as a group closed in. Others were commenting too and, together, we raced towards that 1000 finish line.

When Rebekah posted that we’d succeeded it felt like an earth shattering, Guinness Record kind of moment. I wanted to reach through cyber space and High-Five all the others.


And that’s it; a great week for my writing. Normal service will resume next week as a whole slew of blog post ideas came to me on my journey home from work.

If you haven’t had a chance to start reading FRACTURED DAWN then what are you waiting for; head here now. It’s awesome (I know, I’m biased).

And don’t forget, if you fancy exercising that wonderful writing muscle of yours then why not head over to the various Flash Fiction contest on offer, see what spills from your mind onto the page. Who knows, you might even make some friends too.

See you in seven.



Sunday, 22 February 2015

Flash Fiction Roundup

It's the weeks end and we all go back to work tomorrow. But, before you do, how about a quick dive into some Flash Fiction (on time this week)?

MICRO BOOKENDS

The legend of Chris and Mike continues with another installment. I'll admit that, upon seeing the first and last word prompt, I was a little nervous. But then I caught sight of the picture and knew it would be okay. Enjoy the duo's most dangerous adventure yet.


CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE LESSER SPOTTED DRAGON

 “Spring,” said Chris, sniffing the vapours. “That’s what it reminds me of.”

Exasperated, Mike glanced over. “Would you stop lighting incense and give me a hand?”

“You’re doing fine,” said Chris as he saw his friend keep the Lesser-Spotted Dragon at bay with several sluggish sword swings. “Remember, you’re the muscle.”

“Zombies, ghosts and robots, you said.” Mike stepped to the left and dodged the dragon’s lethal claws, “You never said we’d be fighting dragons!”

The attack ceased then, the Dragon coughing and spluttering before it collapsed at Mike’s feet.

“What the hell?”

“Whisper SticksTM,” said Chris. He held up a packet. “Picked them up last year at a festival.”




FLASH! FRIDAY

As with last weeks contest I thought the canyon between photo prompt and the required setting of 'the moon' would cause me problems. But, as with last week, I think it actually helped me create a much stronger story.


OXYGEN

OXYGEN REMAINING 4%

No way I’m gonna make it back to the ship on that, no way in hell. I start walking; maybe find somewhere comfortable to check out. Not much to see out here, just rocks and space and big old planet Earth. Not much to choose from until I see the street.

OXYGEN REMAINING 3%

I don’t need the street sign to know where I am; Hope Street, where I grew up. Looks just like it did the day I left, ‘cept it’s on the moon. Some of the houses still have bunting on from the last street party.

OXYGEN REMAINING 2%

Halfway down I stop. Number 23. Home. I check the pockets on my space suit but don’t seem to have the door key on me. I go to knock but the door slowly opens by itself. I can smell mums cooking calling me. I take a last look at planet Earth above and then head inside.

OXYGEN REMAINING 1%

My space suit is cumbersome but I manage to lie down on my old bed. I squeeze Mr Bear tight and stare up at the glowing stars stuck to my bedroom ceiling. Ever since I could remember, I always wanted to be an astronaut.

OXYGEN REMAINING 0%




ANGRY HOURGLASS

The Hourglass prompt normally shows up Saturday afternoon for me. This contest is a little more roomy than the others with 36 hours to get something done so I tend to let the image sit over night. While out walking with the wife and mini-me on the Sunday, an idea popped into my head.

Back home it got typed up, chopped down, snipped here and there before I added a little twist at the end.

Enjoy.


CLOSING TIME

“Another day, another dollar,” says Frank.

“Same again tomorrow,” I say as I wipe down the counter.

He chuckles. “And so it goes.”

“I’ll rinse the ash trays and call it a night if that’s okay?”

“Of course, dear. And thanks again for helping out. Don’t know what I’d do without you.” He heads back out to the kitchen.

I wander out among the red and white chequered sea of tables and start collecting up ash trays. I think about which microwavable treat I’ll enjoy alone tonight when there’s a ding-a-ling from the bell announcing a visitor. Why does someone always drift in around closing?

“Sorry, kitchen’s closed,” I call out, “All I have is coffee and day old Danish.” I wonder if this is the man I dream about, the millionaire who’ll whisk me away from this hard life and treat me like a princess. I grab the last ashtray and turn only to find a scruffy looking drifter standing at the far end of the counter. He’s holding a gun.

“What do you want?” My chattering teeth match time with the clinking ashtrays in my hands.

“I’ll take one of those Danishes and all the money in your register.”

I nod vigorously, I’m not gonna argue down the barrel of a gun. Franks insured. I’m not. I dump the ashtrays and move back behind the counter. The drifter slides along so he’s right in front of me.

“Empty it,” he says.

I open the register and grab the notes, placing the day’s takings on the counter. That’s when Frank comes though the kitchen door.

“Did I hear another customer?”

The sound of the gunshot pummels my chest. I scream as Frank wheels back through the now blood stained door.

 The gunman grabs all the money and fills his jacket pockets. He raises the gun to my head as I say a prayer.

“My mother was called Maria,” he says, pointing to my name badge. “Your lucky day.” He turns and flees.

I look down at the badge that saved my life, Maria’s badge, the one I borrowed this morning because I’d lost mine.

My lucky day.



Friday, 20 February 2015

FRACTURED DAWN - Episode 2


With the hope that the woman with the red hair might reappear he stayed up later than he’d wanted to. Eventually he realized that wasn’t going to happen. He curled up next to the dying fire only to find what sleep he did stumble into was filled once again with images from another lifetime.
With morning came determination. He wanted to find someone, anyone, who could at least fill him in on his present location. He couldn’t find where he was from until he knew where he was.
With only his hastily formed hunting spear as protection he decided to slip back into his tatty armour. He was aware that it might advertise an allegiance he wasn’t yet aware of but the risk of being vulnerable in just his trousers and torn shirt was too great to ignore.
He took one final look at the beach and absorbed the memory of the view. For now it was the only good memory he had.
It didn’t take much wandering among the trees before he came across a path, or more accurately, a track. He stood there for a while looking both ways wondering which direction he should take. A little fear crept in and stole the simplicity of the decision; the wrong way could lead him further from people and answers. While he had accepted the fact last night that his search could take days, weeks or even years, he would still do all he could to speed up the quest and regain his past self.
Yet there was nothing, no one thing that could guide him one way or the other. Like the rest of the world, this small, dirt track meant nothing to him and neither did whatever lay at each end. It would be luck of the draw.
He hoped he wouldn’t have to spend too long in fate’s company. He wanted so badly to have knowledge to aid his decisions.
He glanced up at the sun and decided then that he would follow the journey of the world’s light. West it was.
He made it two steps before something caught his eye. Coming from the direction in which he had decided upon he saw someone running towards him. As the person closed in he saw it was a woman and that she looked more than a little distraught, though it became relief once she caught sight of him.
“Oh, thank Salus,” she said as she slowed in front of him. “Please, sir, you have to help me.”
“Help you with what?”
She didn’t say anything, only turned and pointed back the way she’d come from. Following in her wake were three men on horseback. The woman stepped behind the man from the beach as if he were a shield. The men on horses slowed down and finally stopped just a few feet away. They dismounted.
“There you are, precious,” said the first man as he approached. His face was dirty and he wore a patch over his left eye. Though his weapons weren’t drawn, each hand rested on the daggers nested in his belt. “We’ve been looking all over for you.” He looked now at the man from the beach. “Thank you stranger, we’re much obliged.”
The man from the beach said nothing. He felt the woman’s hands grip his arms. She was shivering.
Eye-patch went to step around but the man from the beach blocked him. This made Eye-patch sigh. “Look, stranger. This doesn’t concern you. And, even if it did . . .” He didn’t need to finish the sentence. His two friends stepped closer and they had their daggers drawn. Eye-patch moved closer so that the man from the beach could smell his breath. “So just step outta the way and get to see another day.”
The man from the beach had no idea of the events that had shaped him before he woke, reborn, just a day earlier. But something from that hidden past was trying to make itself felt now. His senses began to sharpen and his body tensed, ready to pounce. He sized up his opponents and a confidence swelled inside him. He felt like he could take these three men with one arm tied behind his back.
He smiled, dropped his pathetic spear and head-butted Eye-patch in the face. Eye-patch grabbed his now bloody face and cried out but his only reply was a swift kick to the ribs and then he was pushed over.
The man from the beach stepped past him and readied for the next two. The one on the left, whose mouth had seen better days, lunged with one dagger as the bearded man on the right swung his axe. The man on the beach blocked one, ducked the other. He released his grip on Toothless and punched him in the throat. Beardy came at him again but overshoot and received an elbow to the jaw as compensation.
The man from the beach felt a red mist start to bathe his mind and found he was ready for the next level; to end these men instead of just incapacitating them. At that moment he felt someone watching. He turned and saw the woman with the red hair standing among the trees. She still had the look of sadness on her face that she’d served to him last night.
She was shaking her head like a mother disappointed.
His fists unclenched and his muscles relaxed. Slowly the red mist drifted away and he felt the sounds of the surroundings come back. And then he took a punch to the back of the head. His fall just missed a tree and he hit the ground hard. He barely got his breath back when feet started striking him. He tried to call out but dirt, twigs and leaves choked him.
“Grab him,” said Eye-patch.
The kicking stopped and the man from the beach was dragged to his feet and pinned against a tree. He opened his eyes and saw Eye-patch stood in front of him, blood surrounding his mouth like crimson curtains. He held the woman by the wrist and seemed to need no effort to keep his grip despite the way she was thrashing around.
“Who the Dark do you think you are?” said Eye-patch.
Despite the pain and despite the predicament, the man from the beach couldn’t help but laugh at that question. He couldn’t answer that, even if he’d wanted to.
“You got something loose in that battered head of yours?” said Toothless.
“He’s already been too much hassle,” said Eye-patch. “As have you.” He turned to the woman who was still struggling and slapped her across the face. She froze and through her dishevelled hair she glared at him. He didn’t care. “Kill him,” said Eye-patch, “and let’s get back to camp.”
The man from the beach struggled to free himself as another dagger was aimed straight at his head. Yet the strike never came. Instead, his captives were all staring at his chest. He looked down to see a strange purple light glowing softly from beneath his chest armour. Before he could wonder what was happening he realised that he was no longer being held against the tree. Eye-patch noticed too.
“What are you waiting for? Kill him!”
The man from the beach dodged Toothless’ dagger but, before he could react, found himself doubling over in pain. From head to toe it felt like everything was suddenly being crushed. He looked down at his hands and saw the skin darken and crack. On the edge of his senses he thought he felt the dagger slash him but is was nothing more than a bug sting. His body started to change, his skin becoming like rock. He could make out the panic from those around him; confused and scared. His armour split front and back and felt to the ground.
And then there was no more pain. He stood up, a little taller than before, a little heavier too. Looking around he had four sets of wide eyes focused solely on him.
Toothless thought he’d have a go and charged forward. He met with a mighty stone fist and flew off between the trees, landing several feet away.
Eye-patch and Beardy knew a losing situation when they saw one and thought better of it. They hurried to their horses, leaving their comrade behind and rode off down the track, back the way they had come.
For a while the man on the beach felt strong enough to take on the world. He clenched his fists and felt the weight of his arms. He turned to find the woman frozen by fear of whatever it was he’d become.
His breathing slowed and he began to feel drained. Slowly, and less painfully, his skin began to soften. His shirt was torn and hung loosely across him. His lungs felt chilled as if he’d just run flat out in winter. He’s legs gave and he fell to his knees as the change washed away. The sounds of his surroundings returned once more; the leaves in the breeze, the birds in the trees.
He looked around but there was no sign of the woman with the red hair. There was only him and the woman who had been chased by the thugs.
“I’m sorry,” he said to the woman. “I . . . I don’t know what that was.” When she didn’t say anything he turned to check on her. She stood over him, a large branch gripped in both hands, held over her shoulder. “What are you doing?” he said.
She swung the branch and caught him across the side of his head.
His world went black.



Wednesday, 18 February 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 06: “What is FRACTURED DAWN?”


2015 WORD COUNT = 7106 words

I’ve been talking about my big project, my episodic fantasy series, for a little while now. Each fortnight I’ll be sticking a new episode up on the blog and hopefully people will enjoy, return, and get involved via comments so that the story grows and grows.

The first episode is already up (here) with episode two making its appearance this Friday. The posts viewing figures seem okay and show that some people have dipped into the world I’m creating. I’ve also had some positive comments from friends and family.

It’s very early days but so far I’m happy. 



WHAT’S IN A NAME?

However, there has been one tiny little hiccup.

For some reason I neglected to do something that I have done with almost all my big writing projects; Googled the title. I guess I’ve gotten into the habit with short stories and flash fiction where it’s not so much of a problem. But for novels, trilogies and series it’s a good idea to see if that title you’ve grown to love from your projects birth to completion has already been taken.

So, three days after I posted the first episode, I suddenly remembered to check. 


It took a little while to get my breath back and accept the disappointment. FALLEN SWORDS not only already existed as something that dominated its Google search but it was also extremely close to what my project was.

FALLEN SWORDS is an online fantasy RPG. If it had been something science fiction or historical then I might have pushed on and kept the title. But a fantasy story with the same name as a fantasy video game would probably just make people think I was writing fan-fiction.

Add to this the fact that, if you searched for my stories, all you would get was pages of links to the game and my project would be buried.

So, it was time for a rebrand.



LOOKING FOR A REPLACEMENT


I knew I wanted two words and that they needed the ring of epic fantasy. With the help of a work colleague I composed a list using words like ‘Fabled’, ‘Fire’, ‘Blades’, ‘Shadows’ and even ‘Scion’. I paired words up, mixed them around, and slowly started to trim away those that didn’t give me a feeling for what I was writing.

After that I used the tried and tested solution for list selection; I put it to a vote.

Big thanks to those people who took an interest and helped with this. It was pretty unanimous and the result is (spoiler) at the top of this post.

Special mentions to a couple of titles that got close; FABLED SWORDS and FRACTURED RISING.

But the one that stood out most was . . . FRACTURED DAWN.

Of course, that evening I had to go through all digital matter and rename a few save files, update some spreadsheets and rebrand the blog. But I think it’s all worth it (and the OCD side of me wouldn’t let it go).



COMING SOON


So, episode 1 is out there now and it feels kinda great. Up until now I’ve only really posted flash fiction on this blog so it was nice to put something out there that’s bigger, a little more in depth. I think I just needed to force myself to release something of mine into the wild, to get it out in front of eyes. Now I can be more relaxed and just update the story each fortnight.

I have that first draft I wrote back in November and that’s what I’m currently working from. It’s a very skeletal story in that form but it’s allowing me to expand on the story, characters and world as I continue to think about it on a daily basis (it’s probably what’s on my mind when I have a spaced out look upon my face).

On rereading the draft and preparing the next episode I was having trouble with some villainous motivation and the way in which the main character gets from A to B. Instead of bending the draft or padding out his journey, I’ve created a whole new scene that helps in three separate ways.

First it ends on another cliff-hanger which I think each of these episodes will need going forward. It’s nothing epic, just a moment that makes the reader wish that had the next episode to hand.

Secondly, the new scene gets the main character from A to B without just walking it. The original version was a couple of paragraphs of just walking and thinking. I couldn’t stretch this to a chapter but I didn’t want him reaching his first destination as early as episode 2. Now I’ve managed to move him without moving him (all will become clear).

And finally, and this will make more sense in a couple of episodes time, it introduces a motive for something that happens further down the line, motive that wasn’t there before. One of the things I’m dealing with from the original draft is foreshadowing, which I’ll talk about more in a future post. What it boils down to is that, while writing that first draft back during NaNoWriMo 2014, there was no time to go back. So when an idea popped into my head, when something was suddenly introduced, there is that mental marker of “I’ll have to set that up earlier”.

Of course I had no solid plan and assumed (correctly) that, when the time came, something would present itself and tell me why I randomly created new characters on the spot and what they are doing in the story.

I’m still busy working on episode 2 at the moment (I’m still taking it one episode at a time until I find my feet) but it will be ready for Friday. I hope you’re looking forward to reading it as much as I’m enjoying writing it. Please, please feel free to comment on the story so far, start discussions amongst yourselves (is it wrong to assume that there are enough people reading it to warrant a discussion?) and spread the word.



ELSEWHERE


Before I go just a quick round up of my other writing news.

I’m loving Micro Bookends at the moment. If you’ve been following my weekly entries then you’ll know I’m currently trapped writing the adventures of Chris & Mike. While it started as a one off joke I’m really enjoying the extra challenge it gives me. I already have a word limit as well as first and last words to deal with so why not add the extra dimension of keeping the same characters going no matter what the prompts.

On a side note, I’m hearing whispers of ‘Chris and Mike vs’ fans beginning to make themselves known. Watch out world; Chris and Mike may be the next big thing.

Meanwhile, over at Flash! Friday I managed to add another accolade to my cabinet. While I didn’t win, I did manage to get one Honourable mention as well as First Runner-up. It’s my first time getting both my entries in the top flight and I’m extremely proud of both pieces.

And with that it’s back to the grindstone. As always, thank you all for following my process.

See you in seven.



Monday, 16 February 2015

Flash Fiction Roundup

Welcome back for another round up of my entries for the last seven days of Flash Fiction. This week saw the Chris And Mike stories bust out of their trilogy, brought a kitten to a gladiator fight (twice) and saw me struggle once again with the Angry Hourglass prompt and not post a story.



MICRO BOOKENDS

The juggernaut of fiction that is the ‘Chris And Mike vs’ stories just keep coming. It started as a one off joke before becoming a trilogy and finally, thanks to some wonderful comments, become a full blown saga.

This is my favourite entry yet.



CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE SPINNING BIRD KICK



“Sweet moves,” said Chris, admiring the ballerina’s angelic movements.

“It’s all programmed,” said Mike.

“I can still admire it.”

Mike sighed and contemplated this new business venture. “Let’s just deactivate her and collect our fee.”

“Fair enough,” said Chris. “The owner said the panel’s between the shoulder blades.” He handed Mike a screwdriver.

Mike started towards the ballerina droid when she twirled around and kicked a leg out, catching him in the face. Mike tasted blood and, as his friend charged past him like a Valkyrie, he caught sight of something descending in the bright blue waters of the swimming pool that looked a lot like a tooth.



FLASH FRIDAY

This week the prompt was a picture of a kitten. We had to include a gladiator as a character.

Despite my initial reaction to the prompt (it was WTF!) it didn’t take me long to get my first idea. Due to the ‘character’ prompt from a few weeks earlier (writers block), I wanted to avoid the obvious choice to ancient Rome, Gladiators and the Colosseum. Instead, my first idea leaned more towards the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, Running Man.

However, with the first under the belt, I went with another idea that was creeping around the edge of my imagination. It took a few drafts, dropping a few characters and changing the POV but it’s my favourite of the pair and includes a piece of accidental research. Enjoy.



OFF SWITCH

Ignoring the pain, I tear the F.R.Y. collar from around my neck and feel the soft embrace of freedom. I have missed it.

The audience cheer as they realise in unison that they are about to witness the show’s greatest episode.

The arena’s alarm kicks in, blanketing everything in red and screeching like a chicken being raped. Security guards flood through the exits. Their mistake is thinking I want to escape. But I cannot be free while one man still breathes. Tonight I have a date with Marcus Denton; my warden, my torturer, my nemesis.

Security continues to try and put me down as I make my way level by level towards Marcus’s office which overlooks the arena. The fools are no match for me. I am a man broken and reforged in combat, all for the world’s entertainment. They are nothing more than ragdolls.

I reach the office with only superficial wounds and a flaring temper. Behind his desk, Marcus sits cool as a cucumber. He holds up a remote control and presses the button.

Images of kittens fill every screen on his office wall. My anger rapidly subsides and I sit down on the office floor feeling nothing but happiness.

I close my eyes and sleep.



IT’S WHAT’S ON THE INSIDE

“I’ll be a laughing stock,” said the Pit Master.

“You’ll be rich,” I assured him.

“How did I let you talk me into this side show?”

We looked across to the centre of the dusty arena where a single gladiator sized up his opponent; a fluffy kitten. The gladiator wore a bronze mask and held his trident aimed down at the animal.

The kitten meowed.

“The Caesar will hang my head from the city walls,” said the Pit Master.

The gladiator circled the kitten, thrusting his trident in jest as the crowd laughed.

“You’ve heard of Carpophores?” I said.

“Of course.”

“A fearsome gladiator, famed for fighting beast instead of man. I once heard he took down a rhinoceros with just a spear.”

“Fascinating,” said the Pit Master.

“After he died he was punished for his crimes against the animal kingdom. Would you like to know what the Gods decided to do with him?”

The Pit Master shrugged.

“They reincarnated him as the cutest, most harmless animal to walk the land.”

As if on cue, the kitten leapt onto the trident, ran up the gladiators arm and slashed his throat wide open. The crowd fell silent.

I leant closer to the Pit Master. “Like I said, you’ll be rich.”



Wednesday, 11 February 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 05: “Judgement Day”


2015 WORD COUNT = 6583 words


I’ve been taking part in Flash Fiction contests for a little over seven months now and I can tell you that the hardest part isn’t the story. It’s challenging, sure but it’s what you want to do, it’s why you’re doing it.

No, the hardest part is at the other end of the process. The hardest part is dealing with failure.

In its current state, Flash! Friday (the one I started with) can produce almost a hundred stories a week. The chances of making the cut and receiving a mention, a podium, or even the coveted win are slim. It’s a tough few minutes when the link pops up on your twitter feed, leading you to the results page, only to scan down and find you name is absent. A range of emotions hit you then as you wonder what went wrong and why your masterpiece wasn’t given the recognition it deserved. Do the judges hate you? How were everyone else’s stories better?

It’s not wrong to feel this way. It’s a natural reaction. But what’s important is what you do next.


DON’T rant to the world about injustice.

DO congratulate the winners / judges on a job well done.

DON’T give up writing because of one bad week

DO turn that frustration into determination and get ready to try harder the next week.


Because, at the end of the day, the more contests you enter the more chances you’ll have. It’s all about the 'Rule of Alignment'. Let me explain.


There was a time when, even though I’d received several mentions and a couple of second places, I honestly thought I would never be good enough to get that win I wanted so desperately. It didn’t matter how many nice comments my stories received week after week. It didn’t matter that each second place was beaten by, in my opinion, a much more deserved winner. I just wanted that win, as if that title meant that I would finally be considered a good writer.

I never gave up though. Week in and week out I plugged away. One story on a Friday became two, became another contest and became another. And then, on a Monday night, not long after New Year, while I was sat with my wife watching TV, I got the prize I’d been chasing since June 2014.

All I wanted to do was track down the judge for that week’s contest (you are in my will, Amy Woods) and give her a big, big hug. I was only a week into 2015 and her decision to pick my story, ROLL BACK, as the winner had made my year.

Despite hitting that top step I looked back at the story I’d written and asked myself one question; why this one. I'd had gut feelings about previous entries that I truly thought would be ‘the one’ but a story about lost love and time travelling roller-skates was a little bit absurd. When I posted it, I honestly didn’t think it had a chance. And that’s when I discovered the 'Rule of Alignment'.


A judge is still a human being. Sometimes it’s easy to look up at them and bow beneath their wisdom as they hand out awards like bread to the starving. But they are just like you and me. No, scratch that; the ARE you and me. All judges have lived lives filled with books and music and films that they both love and hate. All it takes is something in your story that speaks to a judge on another level, sparks a memory, stands out to them. And you can’t write that on purpose unless you know a judge as well as you know yourself.

You see it’s not personal. It’s all about timing. You write a certain story based on a specific prompt for a single judge week in and week out. There are probably only a handful of judges who would have even considered my story that first week in January, let alone pick it as their winner. A week earlier or a week later and there would have been a different picture that took me down a different route, one that produced a different story that didn’t speak to Amy.

So it’s all about alignment. All three things coming together at the right time is what helped a little time travelling, roller-skating love story come out on top.


Which brings me to the weekend just past. That win led to a request from Rebecca, the host of Angry Hourglass, to ask me if I’d consider judging. I’ll be honest and say that my first thought was arrrgggghhhhh! I have the upmost respect for the judges in all writing contests but I do not envy them one bit. These guys give up a fair bit of time to read a whole lot of quality stories and then have to make decisions that upset about 90% of the entrants because not everyone can be a winner. I hate it when the results page of any contest I’ve entered seems to be missing my name without explanation so why would I want to be on the reverse of that?

But then I thought better of it. Part of this came from curiosity to see exactly what it was like on the other side of the curtain. Most of it, however, came from the feeling that I owed it to the community and, in particular, to every judge who had taken their precious time to read one of my stories, whether it won or lost.

So, on Monday night I sat down at my dining room table, pencil in one hand and highlighter in the other, and proceeded to read the eleven entries for that week’s Angry Hourglass contest.

I’d worried briefly about an absurd situation where none of the eleven stories spoke to me at all and wondered how I could pick a winner from a bunch of tales that just didn’t appeal to me. Or, worse still, what if all eleven stories were amazing. After all, I’d written side by side with these authors for months and regularly found myself in awe of their output.

But I couldn’t worry about that. I couldn’t cross the bridge until I got to it and so I couldn’t worry about the outcome until I read them all.

And so I read.

On the floor to my left several piles appeared. Stories were read one at a time and then the order was rearranged. One story would make me reconsider a previous one. Did I like it as much? Was it better or worse than one I’d already had pegged for the podium.

Eleven stories read (some re-read) and after much thought, I found that I had my three. And without realising it, they were already in podium order.

It took a little while longer to construct the article that would go up on the website as I’ve always struggled with articulating why I like stuff. Usually it’s a gut feeling but I couldn’t write out my favourites and follow them up with “I really liked it” three times. However, I surprised myself when, by telling my wife what it was I liked about them, I suddenly had the words I needed.


Still, while I was happy to come out the other side of the process without a loss of sanity, I do feel a twinge of regret that eight people would see the results page over the following twenty four hours and probably curse my name. To those fellow writers I offer my deepest apologies. To work hard on a story and not even be mentioned is a feeling I know well. But like I’ve already said; it’s all about ‘Alignment’. Some people may look at my final three and think ‘what was he thinking’. But each of those three hit something in me that lays just beneath the surface and comes from 35 years of my own individuality.

What I’m saying is, it’s not personal and it doesn’t mean you’re not a good writer. It means one day you’ll write a story for the perfect judge and they’ll love it. So put you losing story to one side and move onto the next. Because that next one you write might just be your winner.

See you in seven.



Monday, 9 February 2015

Flash Fiction Roundup

Part of the new format for the blog is to collect up the weekly Flash Fiction stories and place them all in a single post so that I'm not scattering posts all through the week.

Going forward these will be posted on a Sunday evening (I'm late for the first one). There is no Angry Hourglass this week as I'm having my first go at judging (more on that in Wednesdays post).

So, without further ado . . .





MICRO BOOKENDS

When I first started taking part in David Borrowdale's flash fiction challenge, I used it to test myself and try weird ideas. There was the story written in reverse and the triangle story (each line being a word longer).

And then, three weeks ago, I thought it would be funny to put two work colleagues into a 100 word zombie story. I still don't know why I did it but the crazier thing is that I can't stop.

Last Thursday saw the third Chris and Mike story put up on Micro Bookends. And the best part? They seem to be getting a following. I fear Chris and Mike merchandise won't be far off.






CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE TEMPLE OF GLOOM

“Water?” said Chris.
Mike glanced at the flask in Chris’ trembling hand. “I’m good.” He shone his torch around the chamber. “Why exactly have you dragged me down here?”
Chris smiled and pointed across the chamber at a large iron gate. “This mine holds a treasure like no other.” He took an ancient looking key from his pack. “Fortune and glory.”
“I don’t like this,” said Mike.
“It’s perfectly safe” said Chris as he turned the key in the lock.
From the bowels of the mine came a monstrous roar.
“Safe, my arse,” said Mike. He grabbed the key and locked the gate. 





FLASH FRIDAY

This week was a tough one. While it never fell into writers block (see here), it did take a couple of goes. The story itself was fine but I tried it from several points of view and with multiple characters involved. In the end it just became about one man (called Clifford) and his journey to the other side.

This week the prompt was the following picture. We had to include a fleeting moment as a theme.

Enjoy.




BLINK OF AN EYE

It doesn’t take me long to realise I’m dead.
In retrospect, the heart attack was a debt owed on years of bad treatment towards my innards. Too many doughnuts and too much beer will eventually cause the old machinery to clog and fail.
For a while I wait because TV has taught me to expect a doorway or a tunnel of light. Instead I feel something gently pulling me away.
Outside the world is a different place than when I left it. Gone is the street on which I’ve lived for forty odd years. So too are the cars, the shrubs, and the streetlamps. My house is but an island in the centre of a sea of grey stretching as far as the eye can see.
And it’s raining.
I grab my umbrella and start walking across the expanse. After a while I begin to feel strange, as if a door in my mind has opened and everything there ever was is slowly rolling in. Human beings question so much during life and it seems the universes irony is to answer them all in death.
I take a deep breath as I realise my life was but a blink of an eye and I’ve become part of something bigger.