Wednesday, 24 June 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 24: “Who The Hell Are Chris And Mike?”


2015 WORD COUNT = 35331 words




Sometimes you can plan your writing as much as you like but that won’t stop the universe throwing you a curve ball when it feels like it.

I’ve got several half written novels, even more short stories, and an ongoing fantasy series all vying for my attention. But instead of worrying about all of that, I’ll be spending July’s Camp NaNo working on a story that is nagging my brain to be told, a story that started back in January of this year as a bit of a joke.





JANUARY 22nd, A DATE THAT WILL LIVE IN INFAMY

Of the three Flash Fiction contests I take part in every week, I find Thursday’s Micro Bookends the most challenging. With a word limit of just 100, and the extra constraint of having the first and last word already chosen, I struggle some weeks to get everything to work together.

To combat this early on, I started using Micro Bookends to experiment with format. This led to my second entry being written in the form of a triangle as the main character discovered their predicament before panicking as they tried to escape, each line gaining a word before reducing again to the end. A week later I wrote the story backwards to mirror the villager’s curse of reverse aging.

But it was the week seven prompt, a photo of a church graveyard and the words ‘Club’ and ‘Foot’, which sent me down a different path.

It started as a simple 100 word story about two guys, one who believes the dead will rise, and the other who realises his friend has come off his medication. The twist at the end was that the recently released mental patient was right.

Sometimes when I’m writing Flash Fiction and the character names aren’t too important, I’ll just take names from my work colleagues. This time around I ‘borrowed’ from Chris and Mike, two friends who had taken an interest in my writing. After that, if was just a case of riffing Scott Pilgrim and I had my title; CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE WORLD.

And that is where it should have ended.





THESE DAYS, YOU GOTTA HAVE A SEQUEL

Two things led to the continuation of Chris and Mike; writers block, and a woman named Stella.

The following week and I was struggling to get a story down. My entire lunch produced nothing and the evening at home wasn’t much of an improvement. The photo was of a gun sat in mud, which was fine, but it was the bookends that were causing the headache; ‘Weight’ and ‘Loss’. I was stumped. In fact, I nearly walked away from that week’s contest until I came up with the ideas of using homophones. Suddenly ‘Weight’ became ‘Wait’ and a story formed. A father and son, or two friends lost in the woods. One hasn’t taken medication and a speech impediment rises. Medication? Like Chris from last week?

A quick character name change and I had a semi-sequel; CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE FOREST OF DEATH.

And that is where it should have ended.

But then fellow flash fiction author, Stella wrote a comment.


I joked with the wife that I’d have to ‘finish the trilogy’ now. But a book? Based on these silly little stories? That was crazy talk. Silly Stella (but the idea hid at the back of mind . . . and waited).





TUNE IN, SAME TIME NEXT WEEK

So I finished the ‘Chris and Mike trilogy’ with CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE TEMPLE OF GLOOM and I guess there’s where I should have left it. But that pesky Stella was up to her mind controlling tricks again.


I honestly think that if Stella hadn’t written this comment, then I would have gone onto something else the following week and left Chris and Mike for dust. But her words tapped my ego and I saw a new challenge. Could I carry on with the same characters each week? It would add an edge to the contest where I was forced to bend the photo and the bookends into the world of Chris and Mike.

So that’s what I did. Each Thursday morning I would look at the prompts and then plan on my two heroes getting stuck into another adventure. It was a little like the ‘monster of the week’ episodes from X-Files or Buffy. Chris and Mike would have some banter and then kill or capture a robot/ghost/troll.

But, just like the X-Files, I went and made things difficult for myself.

A throw away comment brought about the idea of a nemesis and it started me thinking about subplots. Subplots?!?! With a 100 word limit. That’s crazy! Yet the seventh episode, CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE EVIL MESSENGER did just that when a crazy hobo demon informed our heroes that their time was up.

Things died down a little until episode 13, CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE LABYRINTH OF SHADOWS. With its cliff hanger ending, the arc of the Labyrinth ended up dominating two more episodes before, in May 2015, the dynamic duo were sent back in time in CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE HISTORY TRIP.

Things got more complicated as each episode led into the next and each weeks prompt tied my keyboard and fingers up ten-fold. I would try to get them to return but the story felt too big at that point to rush it in one. And then I brought in Chris’ dad and a floating prison. And I swear, I wasn’t on drugs. Thankfully I managed to get the pair back to our time last week in CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE SPACE TIME CONTINUUM (only epic could have saved me), and I’m now hoping to return to the one off monster episodes for a while.

And maybe that’s where it should have ended. But do you remember when Stella said BOOK?




IT’S A BIG OLD UNIVERSE OUT THERE

The real life Chris And Mike have often joked about merchandise, hoping to one day see their faces on T-shirts, mugs, or in a movie! But something that feels right at this stage is taking the 100 word Flash stories I’m working on and expanding them into a format with no word constraint.

So for this July’s CampNaNo, I’m making a start on bigger ‘Chris and Mike vs’ stories. I’m expanding back stories, introducing new characters, and giving more room to existing ones (find out more about Stan the Rabbit).

Let’s be clear though, I’m not starting again from scratch. Depending on what size works best, each novel / novella / short story, will follow the plot of each of the existing Chris and Mike stories. From the beginning. There will be no wiping the slate clean. It’s more like taking a balloon and blowing it up.

Stella will get her book.




NO FLASH IN THE PAN

I won’t be stopping my Micro Bookend entries. Because further down the line I’m going to need new plotlines. I still like that fact that I’m controlled and challenged by whatever the contest throws at me each week. Of course, it’s at this stage that Micro Bookends host David Borrowdale realises just how much power he has in the ongoing adventures. It’s his photos and bookends (+ my crazy imagination) that dictates where our heroes go next. Hopefully he won’t do anything cruel.

While I mention David, I’d just like to give him a big thanks. As was pointed out several months back, how can the Chris and Mike adventures be judged blind when everyone knows it’s me? In light of this, David could have banned the stories. He could have banned me. Instead he has let me run free. I, like a lot of the people that read them each week, understand that it is something just done for fun. I have never expected to win with them (although episode 20 did get an HM a few weeks ago) and I don’t do it for that. So thank you David. If anything epic ever comes from it, like a big Hollywood blockbuster, then I’m sure you will get a small piece on the DVD extras about how you where there at the beginning and how you never saw a penny (just kidding, you’ll get an Executive Producer credit!).

And let’s not forget the fans (can I say that?). Stella got the ball rolling and she will always by the #1 fan. But there were others too. Whether they knew they were encouraging me, or just felt like they were helping ‘the special kid’, it took all of your comments to turn Chris and Mike from a 100 word joke into a serious writing project.

And of course a massive thank you to the real Chris and Mike. They’ve seen the funny side and have enjoyed the stories as much as you guys. They even took the time to recreate my picture in photo form. Of course, I wish they’d stop sniffing around for a pay check. I’m not rich. Yet.



WRAP IT UP

Next Wednesday will be day 1 of CampNaNo and will come with its obligatory update post that evening.  Hopefully it starts off okay. Fingers crossed.

Thank you for following me on a journey through Chris and Mike’s creation. Hopefully there’s a lot more of them still to come.

See you in seven.

*****

June 27th sees the celebration that is National Flash Fiction Day and to celebrate, I thought it would be fun if Chris and Mike’s adventures spilled out of Micro Bookends. Look out for longer word counts as Chris and Mike take on Flash! Friday and Flash Frenzy.

Three contests. Two monster hunters. One Flash weekend.

*****

The adventures so far:


Chris And Mike vs The World
Chris And Mike vs The Forest Of Death
Chris And Mike vs The Temple Of Gloom
Chris And Mike vs The Spinning Bird Kick
Chris And Mike vs The Lesser-Spotted Dragon
Chris And Mike vs Plan A
Chris And Mike vs The Evil Messenger
Chris And Mike vs The Librarian
Chris And Mike vs The Escaped Doctor
Chris And Mike vs The Brides Of Vengeance
Chris And Mike vs The Scourge Of The Nile
Chris And Mike vs The Murderous Threat
Chris And Mike vs The Labyrinth Of Shadows
Chris And Mike vs The Chamber Of Flames
Chris And Mike vs déjà vu
Chris And Mike vs The History Trip
Chris And Mike vs The Phantom Fencers From Hell
Chris And Mike vs The Man With The Golden Molar
Chris And Mike vs The Choice Of Two Doors
Chris And Mike vs Scum And Villainy
Chris And Mike vs Limberline, The Floating Prison
Chris And Mike vs The Space Time Continuum

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 23: “FlashDogs: Solstice”


2015 WORD COUNT = 34472 words


If I was put on the spot to pick my three highlights in writing so far I would have to say:
Finishing my first ever NaNoWriMo back in 2007.

Getting my first ever Flash Fiction contest win over at Angry Hourglass.

Holding the physical copy of the FlashDogs: Anthology (vol 1) in my hands.


The spirit and skill of the FlashDog community is summed up in the fantastic Anthology that was released last December. From a small idea, the project grew and grew, fully rewarding the small group of writers who stood up and dared to make something from nothing.

Being asked to contribute was an awesome moment. There’s something really special about seeing your own work in print, something you can show to people and say, ”see that story? I wrote that.” I felt validated.

Oddly what made it so good was that it wasn’t my own personal project. You see, if I had just self-published my own novel or collection, I don’t think I’d have felt as good. Don’t get me wrong, that moment is still coming and it will be easily added to the list of my personal highlights. But being included in something else meant people out ‘there’ thought enough of my writing to want to put it into something they were working on.

It was just cool.


And now it’s happening all over again.

So, in four days time (Sunday 21st June you will be able to purchase the FlashDogs Anthology (vol 2).

Now it’s time for the info dump.


This time round there is a common theme running through the Anthology. While we all worked from a single prompt for the last book, a lot of us also included other random stories where we were allowed free reign. I myself submitted a Christmas story, a Super Hero story, plus a hightlight from my Flash writing. An eclectic mix, to be sure.

This time we were given the overall theme of Solstice (hence the release date) and this has been split into two halves; light and dark. That’s right folks, we’re following the likes of the Twilight and Hunger Games movies and splitting our sequel into two halves.

So, Solstice Light will contain your happier, more upbeat stories, written to give you hope and perhaps show you the better side of mankind.

Solstice Dark, on the other hand, will be filled with darkness, depression and the kind of endings that people enjoy from Game of Thrones.

That’s not to say that one book will be all Disney and Rom Com while the other is all Cronenberg and Tarantino. We have a skilful band of writers in the FlashDog community and you can trust at least some of them to slap your expectations in the face. Hard. Us FlashDogs know how to twist a prompt to our own devious needs.

Last time round we all scrambled for the e-book as soon as it was available so that we could dive in and see what the others had brought to the table. While it was great to have our work out there for other people to purchase and enjoy, there was just something so special when the physical paperback version of the Anthology rolled around in the early months of this year. This time, the paperback will be available day one alongside its digital sibling. This is great news and I myself will be getting up early to order a copy or two (and paying that little extra to Amazon so that it gets to my doorstep quicker).


I have four stories going into this volume; two in Solstice: Light and two in Solstice: Dark.



POTENTIAL
The first of my Light pieces, Potential, looks at the bond between father and son during divorce. Despite a tough few years, things are looking up for the pair until something strange, something dangerous, threatens to tear them apart for good.



KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOUR
Set in the same world as TANKS FOR THE HELP (from Anthology 1), this story takes a look at the crumbling world from a different characters point of view, a woman who has fallen in with a bad crowd and fears she will never be saved.


COST OF FREEDOM
The first Anthology story I finished for this project, Cost of Freedom explores how far someone is willing to go to save the person they love. What lines will they cross? What deals will they make?


MERELY OBSERVING
The little story that almost got let behind, Merely Observing takes a comically dark look at an unknown threat to our world. Perhaps we won’t even see it coming.



As before, the proceeds from the sales will be going to charity. FDHQ has this time chosen The Book Bus, a charity that helps bring books to children around the world who don’t have access. After the necessities of life like food, water and shelter, being able to read is something that can really change the lives of any human being, young or old. You can find out more about The Book Bus here.
The book will be available this Sunday via Amazon (I will be adding links across Twitter and this blog as soon as they’re up) so help a charity and get a beautiful collection of fantastic stories for the trouble.

Before I go, a big, big thanks goes to the incredible team over at FDHQ. Although they appear to be from beyond our realm, I’ve been assured that they are mere mortals, just like us. They have jobs, families, lives. And yet they somehow find the time to communicate, rally, organise, design, and edit a project that is one hell of an undertaking.  Without Tamara Rogers, we wouldn’t have such good looking covers. Without Emily June Street, we wouldn’t have consistent and professionally formatted stories. Without Mark A. King we wouldn't even have a project to work on. And without Lord David Shakes, we wouldn’t have whip marks and malnutrition.  

And let’s not forget, without the FlashDogs, we wouldn’t have the best Flash Fiction community in the whole wide world.

For a better look at the mad men behind this project, check out Rebecca Postupak’s interview over at Flash! Friday.

Enjoy the FlashDogs Anthology volume 2 this Sunday.

See you in seven.




Wednesday, 10 June 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 22: “A Quiet Week”

2015 WORD COUNT = 32653 words


I haven’t really been what I’d call ‘a writer’ this week. Only two contests entered. Still, it’s the calm before the storm. The next few months should hopefully be busier as one project I’ve been involved in comes to fruition while another I’m desperate to start on gets closer.




ANTHOLOGY

I have a bigger and more specific post planned for next week, but I’ll just say that the FlashDogs second anthology is due for release in less than two weeks.

If you enjoyed the last one then this one is going to impress you tenfold. With two books making it up, that include stories based on four different prompt photos, and all linked to the solstice, it’s going to be an eclectic mix of raw talent for your reading pleasure.



CAMP NANOWRIMO

Every November I attempt (and in most cases succeed) NaNoWriMo. The challenge of taking an idea and getting it past 50,000 words in just 30 days is both terrifying and exhilarating.

Last year I added another large chunk of word count to my year by venturing into CampNaNo territory. CampNaNo is a little less ridged than its bigger brother. It’s a world where you can choose your own word count, a world where you can stray from novels and write anything in any format you want.

I enjoyed working on my novella, TATTOO, back in July 2014, so I thought maybe I would give it another go this year. The relaxing nature of Camp means it acts as a kind of warm up to the main November event.

But what will I be writing, I hear you ask. Well, I’ve mentioned a couple of times in the last few months that I have something planned for my Micro Bookend contest creations, Chris and Mike. This year’s CampNaNo is that plan. As with the FlashDogs Anthology, this project will have its own dedicated post in the upcoming weeks, a post where I’ll talk about how it all started and where I see it all going.



OTHER

Other than that I’m just trucking along. I plan to write a couple of short stories over the next few weeks when I’m not planning for CampNaNo. Hopefully I’ll have the links to them on Wattpad when they are readable.

Until then, enjoy the sun, get psyched for the Anthology, and take a peak below at last week’s Flash! Friday story as well as the last three weeks’ worth of ‘Chris And Mike vs’.

See you in seven.




FLASH! FRIDAY

This week we had to include a farmer as the main character. Enjoy.


THREE ASIANS WALK INTO A SHOP

Three Asian gentlemen have been window shopping for a good fifteen minutes now. While my ad girls dance their dance for them, I stay behind the counter, reading the paper, being all patient. Like Papa used to say, ‘let ‘em come to you.’

Eventually they build up the courage and enter the shop.

“Afternoon, gentlemen,” I says. “Anything I can help you with?”

They confer like they’re on a quiz show before the short one in the middle speaks up. “We like to buy some women.”

I grin because my bank balance is about to get bigger. “You’ve come to the right place. Please, follow me.”

For some reason I bow because it seems like the thing to do. Oddly enough, they all bow back. I take ‘em through to the back and then on down to the basement. Hunching over the keypad, I enter my old man’s birthday, opening the door to the farm.

Lining both sides of the dingy room are twelve bio pods. Each one contains a synthetic woman, some still in the early stage of accelerated growth. My beauties.

“Gentlemen,” I says. “You can take off the self, or order from scratch.”

That’s when the short one utters my two favourite words.

“How much?”




MICRO BOOKENDS



CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN MOLAR

“Fear is our weapon,” said the man in the grey suit. “You can’t win.”

Chris punched him again while Mike kept watch at the end of the alley.

The man spat blood and looked up at Chris, laughing. “I’ll never tell you where he is.”

Chris noticed something then and smiled. He punched the man again and this time something golden shot out, landing next to Mike’s foot.

“Is that his tooth?” said Mike as he picked it up.

“Sort of,” said Chris. “It’s more of a key.”

“To what?”

“To a floating prison.”

“Floating?” said Mike. “So I guess we’re flying?”





CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE CHOICE OF TWO DOORWAYS

“Soap?” said Mike. “What do I need soap for?”

“To clean out your ears,” said Chris. “Don’t you hear that?”

“All I hear is the freezing wind, approaching prison guards, and you telling me that one of these doors means certain death. Which is crazy.”

“One door offers safe passage to the prison interior, the other leads to an undisclosed death.”

“Like a fatal security measure?”

“Exactly,” said Chris as he slid the golden key into the lock of the left door.

“Wait!” said Mike. “How do you know it’s that door?”

“Don’t you hear the music?” said Chris. “My Dad loves opera.”






CHRIS AND MIKE vs SCUM AND VILLAINY

“Under no circumstances do you hurt my father,” said Chris.

“Which one is he?” said Mike, as he picked up a hardback bible from a bookshelf

Lined up in front of the pair were seventy-nine very angry prisoners. They looked hungry. For violence.

“I’ll deal with the degenerates.” said Chris.

“Who you callin’ ‘degenerates’?” said a scar faced man with an out of date moustache.

Chris sighed. He rolled up his sleeves, revealing phoenix tattoos on each forearm. With a simple incantation, the fiery birds left his skin.

The colour drained from the prisoners and they fled en masse.

Only one man remained. Chris smiled. “He’ll be the only taker.”



Last Thursday’s entry got an Honourable Mention, the first award a ‘Chris And Mike vs’ story has got since the very first episode. Here’s what judge Jessica Franken had to say about it.

“I was already smiling after just reading the title. Oh, scum and villainy: you are no match for Chris and Mike! This is a compact, complete story that, at the end, launches the next scene in the reader’s mind. I love that the question posed in the second line hangs in the air until the last line. It’s fun to imagine how Chris and Mike got into this situation; great use of in media res. Favorite details include Mike’s bible weapon and the prisoner’s out of date mustache, a fun morsel that tells us he’s been in prison for a while. Also, I want Chris’ tattoos so bad now.”




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.