Tag Archives: flash fiction

A frisson

I’ve been feeling a bit creatively sluggish recently and in need of a new challenge to give me a bit of a kick up the bum. Luckily at exactly the right moment Nicola at Nikki Young Writes drew my attention to a creative writing exercise called “Ten to One”. The idea is to write a piece of micro fiction only fifty-five words long with a first sentence of ten words, a second of nine, a third of eight… and so on down to a final, one word sentence.

It was tricky but here’s what I wrote (NB I decided that hyphenated words count as separate words!):

Their eyes met the moment he walked into the room.
It was a seminar on eighteenth-century Russian architecture.
His striking architecture was far more stimulating though.
Her dropped pen rolled towards his feet.
Passing it back, their hands brushed.
Time stopped for an instant.
And then she remembered.
Affairs with students?
Not allowed.
Dammit.

 
Honestly, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it at all as I normally like to have room to be more expressive. It was quite a satisfying challenge to overcome and one I recommend as it really makes you think about the impact of your words. It’s interesting to see how you can tell a story in so few! Why not have a go yourself? Feel free to tweet me if you do, I’d love to read some!

Prose for Thought

Nikki Young Writes

what I’m writing – week seventeen

typewriter butterflies badgeWelcome to week seventeen of ‘What I’m Writing’. We had a great start to the new year over at Chrissie’s blog last week with more linkers than ever before! It was great to catch up with our regular linkers on what their plans for the new year were and we were also pleased to see new faces too. I’m really looking forward to seeing where this year takes you all – the only way is up, yes?

So, If you’re new here you might be wondering what #WhatImWriting is all about. You can find all the details here but the short version is Chrissie and I are both writers who love blogging about our writing processes and reading about those of others. Our linky is for all you fellow writers, poets, bloggers etc. out there to share posts about what you’re writing (and all your hopes and fears, triumphs and tears) with a group of people who understand what you’re going through. September’s and October’s round-up posts (we take turns to write them every month) give you a flavour of the sorts of things we chat about. I posted December’s Round-up last week.

We’d love you to join in and there are just a few suggestions (‘rules’ feels too strong a word) for taking part:

  • Link up any post (old or new) that is to do with writing/blogging etc. 
  • Please either use our badge on the post (copy and paste the HTML code below) or link to whichever one of our blogs is hosting that week. We will share your post on Twitter in return.
  • Read and comment on as many other posts in the linky as you can. What I’m Writing has developed a lovely, supportive community and we’d love you to join in :)
  • If you’d like to tweet your post feel free to use the hashtag #WhatImWriting. If you tweet us a link to your post @writingbubble or @rantybeast then we will RT.

Over to you – please link up below! I look forward to reading your posts (I’ll be linking up too of course)!

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a letter

sea

It was an icy January afternoon. The wind whipped Jane’s cheeks as she stood gazing out over the ocean, the letter clutched in her hand. The location was breathtaking. The winter sky brooded darkly over a landscape dotted with the frosty silhouettes of trees. It felt fitting: beautiful but desolate.

She glanced down at the letter. As the late afternoon light hit its surface it glowed with an almost ethereal light. It was just a single letter; her son’s initial, carved out of stone. A simple thing, yet so much emotion had gone into its creation.

It was the same every year – she poured all her lost love and dreams for him into a unique piece. It was always his initial but rendered each time in different materials. They were beautiful and her husband always marvelled at them on completion. Once, a few years ago, he had questioned her ritual of throwing them into the sea.

“They’re always so perfect.” He’d said, running his fingers over the mosaic letter she had toiled over that year, “And so different… maybe we could keep them? We could display them somewhere to remind us of him.”

“I don’t need reminding.” She’d snapped, rather unfairly, “I could never forget. And I don’t want them sitting on a shelf somewhere. They’re not for us, they’re for him.”

This was true. She knew it didn’t make logical sense – he was gone forever, after all – but casting them out into the ocean on this day every year always felt like reaching out to him. Sending him a message. She chose a different location every year too, and over the past fifteen years stretches of coast from the Northern Isles of Scotland to the beaches of Cornwall had all received her little memorials.

She took a step closer to the cliff edge and looked down over the foaming waves below. Unbidden, an image of his face appeared in her mind. She smiled sadly, drew her arm back and sent the letter soaring into the sky.

“Happy Birthday Patrick” she whispered as the sea accepted her offering, “We’ll always love you.”

 
Written in response to #ThePrompt over at Mum turned Mom. This week it was ‘a letter’. I didn’t mean it to be so sad, it just kind of happened. That’s the thing with writing – I never know where it’s going to take me. It is supposed to be as much about love as it is about loss though.

mumturnedmom

 

Nikki Young Writes

the mistakes we make

DSC_0013

Ella stormed out of the house with her hair still wet from the shower and a half-eaten slice of toast wedged between her teeth. As she teetered down the path, fumbling to prevent the stack of folders in her arms from slipping onto the wet ground, she was still trying to force her left foot into a rather-unforgiving heeled shoe. She stumbled slightly, and her foot came down heavily on the gravel. As the sharp surface dug in to her soft flesh she swore loudly. The toast fell out of her mouth. She swore again.

She knew this whole thing had been a mistake. Why on earth had she agreed to do the presentation this morning? She didn’t even know anything about migratory patterns in seagulls and had had to stay in the office for hours last night after everyone else had left, researching the subject. She hadn’t got home until nearly midnight. Again. Why had she agree to work late every night this week? Why hadn’t she just told that odious toad-of-a-boss ‘no’? There was another mistake. God, she hated her job. In fact, she thought angrily as she pulled the car door open and flung the folders into the passenger seat, it had been a mistake to take the job at all. There must be something out there that she would actually enjoy doing.

She limped round to the driver’s side and climbed into the front seat. A quick examination of the sole of her foot showed her the damage wasn’t too bad. She wiped away the beads of blood and forced it into the shoe. It throbbed against the tight black leather but there wasn’t time to go back inside for a more comfortable pair of shoes. If she even had any – it really was about time she started making purchases for a more sensible motivation than the desire to have fashionable feet. Well, that and the need to please the ever-picky Matt who seemed to think that any shoe with a flat heel wasn’t “sexy enough”… come on gorgeous, you know I like you to look your best.

Bloody Matt. She slammed the car into reverse and backed out of the driveway. Why on earth was she still with him anyway? Sure, he was charming and good-looking and had those eyes, but since when had she allowed any man – or anyone at all – to dictate how she should dress?! Moving in with him had been a mistake. One in a long line.

She turned left onto the main road brooding darkly over her relationship, her job, her whole stupid life, the way it was at the moment. Still, at least the road was clear. If she really floored it, maybe she’d make it to the office in time to avoid another bollocking. Her foot was really aching now though and the pain was spreading through her ankle every time she pressed the clutch. Maybe if she just loosened the shoe a bit…

As she fumbled with the buckle her eyes slipped below the windscreen. She didn’t see the truck that appeared around the corner. She heard the screaming brakes and throbbing blare of the horn though. She was aware of the grinding and smashing and shrieking of metal. The smell of burning. The suffocating pressure. Then nothing.

There it was: her real mistake. The only one that counted.

 
Written in response to #ThePrompt. This week it was “The mistakes we make.”

mumturnedmom
Prose for Thought
Nikki Young Writes

character development

typewriter characterOne of the (many) things I’ve loved so far about our #WhatImWriting linky has been finding out about the ways other writers develop their work. Two recent posts by Sadie and Nicola described an interesting process where they had taken characters from their books and put them into different situations to see how they’d react. The idea with this is that you can learn more about your characters than you could just keeping them within the confines of your book. And the more you learn about them, the more real they seem in your writing which is a very good thing for the reader.

I’ve been struggling with my book recently so I thought I’d have a go at this exercise to see if it got me past the block. I decided to explore a scene in my main character’s past. Eighteen years into her past to be precise! It’s not an extract from my book but writing it has revealed things about my characters that I wasn’t aware of. Here’s what I wrote:

“Is it time? Do you want me to call them?” Sam’s anxious face was close to her own, his breath hot in her ear.

Irritably she swiped him away. “Just… wait.” She said through gritted teeth “It’s nearly… ” She exhaled and slowly stood upright again, rubbing the small of her back with both hands in a steady circular motion. “Right,” she looked at him, “how long was that between contractions?”

“Oh, um, I’m not sure, I lost count.”

“Sam!” She snapped “You had one job!”

He dragged a hand through his tousled blond hair and gave her a weak smile. “I know, I’m sorry. I’m not much good at this.”

Staring into his worried, brown eyes Ruth felt a flash of sympathy for him; she knew he felt out of his depth. He was normally so organised and together. ‘Sam the man with the plan’ was what she had teasingly called him in the early days of their relationship – he always knew exactly what was happening in his life and when. His marriage proposal was organised down to the tiniest detail: even the sun had come out on cue. But this was one area where his plans didn’t seem to count for much.

Of course they had a birth plan, just as they had done with Tilly eighteen months earlier. Ruth had painstakingly created it herself based on that experience – all natural if possible, no drugs, overanxious relatives to be kept at bay – and Sam had crossed all the t’s and dotted all the i’s before she’d placed it in her maternity notes. But, well, anyone would think this baby didn’t know about the plan, because here they were on day three of the painful, exhausting, stop-start ‘is it actually going anywhere this time?’ contractions and she was already thinking fondly of diamorphine.

“Now!” she barked more harshly than she intended and gripped the doorframe as she felt another contraction building.

“What? Now? Oh.” And he peered at his watch as though his life depended on it.

Ruth breathed her way through it. They were getting strong now, maybe this time it was going somewhere. As her muscles relaxed again she looked up at Sam questioningly.

“Forty-five seconds that time… and five minutes since the last contraction I think. Do you want me to call the midwife now?” He stroked her back tenderly and she leaned into him.

“Yes. Good idea.” She said wearily. She wanted to add an apology for snapping at him but the words wouldn’t come. They were tangled up with the heaviness of her limbs and the ache in her back. She had no energy for explanations, besides which, Sam would know she was sorry and he’d understand. Ruth smiled at him weakly as she watched him on the phone across the room. He was a good man, just perhaps not the best in an emergency situation.

She groaned and leaned forwards as the vice round her insides started to squeeze again. Then there was a sudden rush of hot liquid down her trembling legs. Dammit. “Sam!” she said urgently “Tell them to get here now!”

I wrote this in an hour or so yesterday and I’ve not edited it much so it’s still a bit clunky. Writing it was an interesting process though. I knew Sam was the highly organised sort and that he had an anxious streak but I didn’t think he’d react quite like this. I actually like him more now than I did before.

What do you think? How do you develop your characters?

Nikki Young Writes

thunder

mumturnedmom

 

She felt the rumble before she heard it: a gentle buzz that set the hairs on her arms tingling. It was a long way off, though; not something she needed to be concerned with. Or at least that’s what she told herself. She concentrated fiercely on adjusting the buttons on her blouse and smoothing the fabric, all the while urging her feet to keep moving. Don’t worry.

Yet the vibration and sound were insistent. A deep, sonorous hum was building, moving closer and becoming more urgent. She paused and closed her eyes as bright flashes of anxiety started to leak their way across her vision. Breathe, she whispered, just breathe. It will pass.

Forcing her feet forwards again, her body soon resonated with the sound: a thundering that shook the ground beneath her. Sweat prickled her scalp and ran in an icy trail down her back. Relax, she urged herself, It will be ok. You can do this.

Finally as the rumble became a roar and the air trembled with shouts and cries, she reached the curtain. Pasting a smile on her face she stepped out of the wings. The lights were dazzling and the calls of her fans escalated as she walked to the centre of the stage.

A hush fell as she picked up the microphone. The audience held its breath. Then as her voice soared out over the concert hall she felt her fears fall away. Anxiety fragmented with every note and drifted away leaving behind only the beauty and purity of her song.

 
Written for The Prompt – this week it was ‘Thunder’

Also linking up with Wonderful World of Writing and Friday Fiction:

Nikki Young Writes

reflections

reflection in mirror6am. Eleanor grumbled to herself as she dragged herself out from under her warm covers and hurried across the icy corridor to the bathroom. It was too early and altogether too cold to be out of bed. She should have told John to make his own way home. Who needed picking up at 6.30 anyway? Ridiculous.

Splashing her face with water at the sink she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and leaned in for a closer look. Hmm. Those eye bags weren’t getting any smaller and the lines round her mouth seemed to be extending too. And the patches making their way across her sallow skin were clearly age spots now rather than freckles. Her hair contained more than a mere smattering of grey and the skin on her jaw – she pinched a bit – yes, it was definitely starting to sag. There was no denying it. She was getting old.

The side of her mouth twitched and, as she caught her own eye in the mirror, she couldn’t help it: a huge grin spread across her face. Old age! She had never expected to see it. No one had expected it. She doubted that even John, who had sat beside her in the oncologist’s office that awful day and assured her, “You’re strong, you’ll beat this!” had really dared to believe his own words. But she had defeated the odds and here she was. And there those beautiful wrinkles, grey hairs and saggy bits were too.

Walking back into the bedroom she picked up the teardrop necklace John had given her for their thirtieth anniversary and fastened it round her neck. It caught the first rays of morning light and shone. But not as brightly as her smile.

It’s been a tricky week. There has been bad news and sad news but none worse than that which a good friend of mine received about her health. I was thinking about her as I wrote this story. I fervently hope I will be complementing her on her gorgeous silvery hair in many, many years to come. The idea of growing old can be scary but the idea of never getting to grow old… well if that’s not a reason to celebrate our wrinkles I don’t know what is.

Prose for Thought

summer

sky

It was a beautiful summer’s day. The deep azure sky was flecked with only the fluffiest of clouds and the birch trees shimmered and shuffled their leaves in a gentle breeze. Alice sat on the edge of the lawn with her bare legs stretched out in front of her. Before her, the grass was a deep green and the sweetly-scented geraniums that swept across the flowerbeds around her drenched the scene with vibrant pink.

The sun was warm on her back as she watched her younger brothers and sister running around the garden. They were spraying each other with water and the air was filled with laughter. Alice tilted her face to the sun and felt contentment wash over her.

But a sudden chill wind disturbed her reverie. It swept across her, carrying away the shouts of her siblings and washing colour from the trees, the grass and the sky. In moments, summer had dissolved.

Alice blinked. From her bed she could see the ward door swinging shut sending another draft of cold air over her. Her frail hands clutched at the blankets as she gently eased herself further under them. She didn’t want to be here. Not in this hospital. Not old and ill and alone.

And yet there was comfort for, even seventy years on, her memories remained as clear cut as the day they were formed. Nested under her covers once more, Alice closed her eyes and smiled. It was a beautiful summer’s day.

Written in response to #ThePrompt over at Mumturnedmom. This week it was “Memories of Summer.”

mumturnedmom

challenge

I enjoyed joining in with The Prompt for the first time last week so I thought I’d link up again this week. This week the prompt is a single word: “challenging“. It inspired me to write this little story:

***

Mark clung on to the cliff face in terror. His limbs were trembling and his throat so dry he could hardly swallow. He knew he couldn’t stay where he was, he had to keep moving, but panic had wound its fingers round his ankles and rooted him to the spot.

Slowly raising his head upwards – even the thought of looking down made him feel sick – he saw a vertical incline and then, worse, an overhang. It seemed insurmountable, yet he knew it was his only option when what waited below was so much worse.

Locating a hand-hold just above him to his right, he decided he had to go for it. By sheer force of will, he slowly uncurled his fingers from where they clung and stretched out his arm towards it. He had just reached it, his slippery palm making contact, when a roar from below startled him. He lost his grip. At the same time one of his feet slipped from its precarious perch. Frantically scrabbling at the rock-face his fingers couldn’t find any purchase and he fell backwards twisting blindly and grappling at thin air.

The roar below became a jeer as he tumbled the short distance to the floor below. Winded, he opened his eyes to a ring of sneering faces – his classmates – and in the middle of the pack, Jason Green, the hulking tank-of-a-boy who’d made his life hell these last few years. It had been his challenge that had persuaded Mark to the climbing wall that day despite his terror of heights. Jason’s promise to stop his relentless campaign of abuse, if he managed to scale the wall without a harness, had seemed worth the risk. But he had failed (Jason’s precisely-timed roar had seen to that) and in doing so had only given his bully something else to taunt him with.

And yet, Mark realised getting slowly to his feet, Jason had made a mistake. The challenge had forced Mark to face his worst fear and in doing so had given him strength. Because he now knew that fear didn’t have to control him. If he could reach out – even through his terror – for a hand-hold on that wall then he could reach out for a hand-hold in other areas of life too. He made a decision. He would no longer fear the bully’s threatened reprisals if he ever told anyone what was going on. He would report him. And somehow, finally, Jason would get his just desserts.

***

The story took me a bit by surprise – I had intended to write about a child scared on a climbing wall but being encouraged by his Dad, but when I started writing it ended up like this. I tried a few different endings – in one, poor old Mark ended up lying on the floor getting another beating from the nasty Jason but I couldn’t bear to leave him like that!

I’d love to hear what you think. Do your stories take their own turns when you write too? (bet they do – it’s one of the things I love about writing!)

Thanks Sara for the prompt!

mumturnedmom

on the pier

waves dark

I entered the Paper Swans flash fiction competition this month with the following piece. It was written in response to a photo prompt of an elderly man asleep on a deckchair on a pier. I didn’t win but I did enjoy writing the story. I think flash fiction is really useful writing practice especially for someone really wordy like me!

Anyway, here’s my story:

He reclined on the pier, eyes closed, sun warm on his face, drifting in and out of memories. He was a child, muddy and beaming, collecting tadpoles with his brothers, then a teenager playing football on the back streets with friends. Now he was a young man dancing with his beloved Jean, their futures entwining with every step.

As he floated into dreams, images poured in: his friends from the pit, coal-dust faces over frothy beers; the tiny, sleeping form of his newborn son; his daughter, proud at her graduation; his grandchildren’s faces in flickering firelight and finally – wrenchingly – his wife’s casket descending into the earth. A whole lifetime caught in memory’s flickering reel.

A final fog of sleep descended and the images fuzzed and faded. Then out of the haze a figure came twirling towards him. It was Jean, rosy and radiant. Smiling, he took her outstretched hand. His last breath danced with the breeze over the sunlit waves.

 

Prose for Thought