Tag Archives: #fridayfiction

my latest crush

I tend to get crushes – literary crushes  – where I read a book and I think Oooh and I think Ohhhh and I think, I have to read more by this author!

And I read more and I think Mmm, what a delicious turn of phrase, and I need to get me some more of those concepts! and, oh, when you write like that it makes me feel…

And then… Oh yes, oh yes! This is fantastic, I want to be able to write like this! THIS IS IT! 

Ahem.

hearts

A recent crush of mine was Rachel Joyce. I loved ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’, I thought ‘Perfect’ was beautiful and as for ‘The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy’, well, it had me crying so hard I could barely read the words. The author has a way of seeing beauty in the mundane and giving you faith in the human spirit even in the face of the heartbreak and hardship that her characters face. I highly recommend her books.

My latest crush is Liane Moriarty, an author who’s grown on me over the past few years. I didn’t fall for her as fast as I fell for Rachel Joyce but now I’m every bit as enthralled. She’s a different sort of writer and I guess you’d find her in the ‘chick lit’ section of a book shop, but that label, to me (without wishing to diss chick lit authors), belies the depth of her writing.

I read ‘The Husband’s Secret’ last year which I found gripping, then later read ‘What Alice Forgot’ which I loved, but it’s ‘Big Little Lies’ (which I’ve just finished reading) that has sent me in to full-on crush territory. It’s a wonderful book which manages to be funny and lighthearted at the same time as serious and touching. It’s warm and frothy while being deep and meaningful. Actually, I think this is a skill the author displays in all of her books – they’re so easy to read but can still make you think, not to mention laugh and cry.

Big Little Lies is set in a small coastal community and the action revolves around a school. When the book begins we find out that a death (could it be murder?) has occurred at a school trivia night (murder at a school trivia night – see what I mean about gravity and lightness?) and then the story leaps back six months to allow us to see the events leading up to it.  Relationships are forged and broken and heart-breaking secrets and lies are revealed, all against the backdrop of hilariously bitchy school gates and yet with a heartwarming core of friendship.

I loved the three central characters – all (very different) mothers of kids just starting school – and the minor characters (who we met largely through tiny interview snippets between chapters) were fantastic too. The author has created a wonderfully vivid community that I could empathise with, which gives the hard-hitting elements of the story even more impact. I loved it. One of my favourite books this year.

Now, if I could just learn to write like that… *sighs dreamily*

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Nikki Young Writes

alphabet story

I enjoyed the ‘ten to one‘ writing challenge I did last week so when Nicola suggested doing another challenge this week I was up for it. This week’s it’s an ‘alphabet story’ where you write a story with twenty-six sentences and each sentence has to start with a consecutive letter of the alphabet. Here’s what I came up with:

toy leopard

A leopard had always appealed to her as a pet.

But Ellen, that’s ridiculous!” her mum said.

Can’t you see how dangerous that would be?” added her dad. “Did the snake calamity teach you nothing?”

Ellen considered this: it was true that Patrick the python had caused problems but his snakeish charm had made it worthwhile… perhaps not for her parents’ bank balance though.

Forget I said anything then.” but she herself had no intention of forgetting.

Grey’s Exotic Animal Zoo was deserted as she squeezed in through a gap in the fence later that night. Her heart was pounding so loudly she could almost hear it echoing off the silent buildings around her, but she she was determined to stick to her plan. It shouldn’t be too difficult she thought, urging her trembling legs into action. Just follow the path round the back of the bushes until it reaches the leopard enclosure.

Keeping very quiet she crept along, her torch light sweeping over silent cages and empty pens. Looks like all the animals are asleep, she thought with relief. Maybe that’s for the best considering what I’ve done to the security system! Now, is this where the leopards live?

Oh!

Peering out at her through the bars was a pair of glowing eyes. Quickly Ellen introduced herself and outlined her idea; she knew her life was at risk once the leopard knew his cage was unlocked so it was important to persuade him she was more than just a tasty meal!

Realising there was something interesting about this girl, Xavier listened to what she was proposing. She smelt good but there were other ways to fill his stomach and the life she described sounded tempting; more tempting than a midnight snack? Turning towards the door of his enclosure, he pushed it open with his nose and walked towards her.

Unsure of his intentions, Ellen stood rooted to the spot while the leopard sniffed her. Very well he finally nodded his assent and was gratified to see respect and relief reflected in her eyes.

Walking side by side they made their way back along the moonlit path towards the gap in the fence. Xavier turned his gleaming eyes upon her and Ellen could see what he was thinking. You and I: this is the start of an adventure!

Zoos are no place for wild animals” Ellen smiled back at him,“and I’ve always wanted a leopard as a pet.”

 

When I started the story I had no idea where it would lead so I’m pleased I got it to make some sort of sense! It’s clunky though. There were many sentences I was dying to restructure but I couldn’t because then they would have started with the wrong letter. It’s quite a restrictive way of writing in that way but I also found it quite liberating in a way because it freed me of the ability to tweak the story endlessly as I normally would. It has to remain a bit jagged and imperfect.

Funnily enough, I rather like the idea of Ellen and Xavier (names picked purely to fit the alphabet!) and the adventures they might have together… food for thought…
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Prose for Thought

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

writing picture books

I’m currently in the process of writing some picture books. I started writing them at different times and they’re at different stages of completion but this last week I’ve been working on all three of them at once. It’s been making me reflect on my creative process because although all three books are in rhyme and are a roughly similar length, writing each of them has been a very different experience.

frosted tree

The first book came at me out of nowhere. I wanted to write something for #ThePrompt over at MumTurnedMom and the theme that week was ‘Books’. When I sat down to write, the whole story appeared in a couple of hours. It just flowed and without any real effort I had a story about a girl who wouldn’t read. Of course, I’ve spent masses of time since editing it, re-editing it and editing it again but the entire story and structure basically happened in that first couple of hours of inspiration.

Book two actually came off the back of book one. There were a few lines (now edited out) where the girl read “Her latest book about a magic biscuit cook, whose fresh, enchanted custard creams were sure to give her sweetest dreams.” The lines didn’t make the cut but I rather liked the idea of a magic biscuit cook and decided to write a story about one.

This time round I had a reasonable idea of what the story would be before I started writing it. I also made a deliberate decision about the meter of the rhyme as I wanted it to be different from my first book. The story and the characters came into focus as I wrote it, but getting the first draft down was a lot harder work. I had to think about it and work it out and once I’d finished it I had several versions which were quite different in terms of length and story complexity. I’m currently trying to work out which version I prefer.

Book three is a whole different beast all together. The inspiration for this was my son responding to a question with “I’ve absolutely no idea”. For some reason this triggered in my head  the line “He’d absolutely no idea if aliens can even hear.” which in turn made me think ‘I know, I’ll write a book about a boy who meets some aliens!’ Of course the idea is hardly earth-shattering in originality so I then had a big think about what sort of book it would be (humorous but thoughtful) and what precisely would happen during the story in terms of key events and character development. At this point a few rhyming couplets popped into my head which gave the story its rhythm.

That was about two months ago and I’ve been writing it on and off ever since. It’s still nowhere near complete. It’s a very slow process (given the length that the finished piece will be) and I’m finding it really tricky. I’ve found myself wondering if it would be better in prose rather than verse… but then I’ve got little stretches of it that I love because of the rhythm and the pace the rhyme gives them. I have a funny feeling that if I can get this one right it will be the best of the three but I have no idea if I can pull it off at all.

So there you have it: three little stories with three very different creative processes.

Do you find your process differs between projects? What brings about the changes? Do you have a preferred way of working?

I’m sharing this with Friday Fiction as it’s the closest I’ll get to sharing extracts from any of these books! Also linking to the Wonderful World of Writing at Virtually All sorts.

Nikki Young Writes

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friendship

dappled forest cropWhen I saw that ‘The Prompt’ over at Mum turned Mom this week was ‘Friendship’ I remembered a short story I wrote on the subject a while back. Actually I must have written it a couple of years ago which is quite a long time in terms of how my writing has developed, and it’s also a bit unusual for me as it’s written in the first person. But I thought, rather than leave it to gather dust on my hard-drive, I’d share it.

To Last a Lifetime

I was a bit of a loner as a child. Not an unhappy loner, not lonely; it was just that I mostly liked to be on my own. I was – am – an only child, born late to parents who’d struggled for years to have me, and maybe this was one of the reasons for my self-reliance. With no brothers or sisters to play games with me, fight with me, drag me off on their adventures or follow me on mine, I learned to do things for myself and by myself. My parents supported this: desperately wanted and hugely loved though I was, they still allowed me my freedom. Perhaps they were aware of how easy it would have been to go the other way: to mollycoddle their shrimpy little daughter with the sticky-outy ears. Perhaps this pushed them to allow me to develop at my own pace and in my own way. Whatever the reason, from an early age I was something of an independent explorer.

We lived in a little house in the middle of the countryside, and this suited me. The expanse of fields, woodland and open sky surrounding our home were perfect for a young girl with an urge for adventure and as soon as I was old enough, my parents let me go exploring in the fields and woods beyond the house. I could happily while away hours climbing trees, damming streams and building dens in the undergrowth.

Despite being happy on my own, I think on the day I met Max I was ready to make a friend. It was one summer at the start of the school holidays and I was in the process of constructing a rather intricate dam on a little stream going through the woods next to our house. There had been a heavy rainfall the previous night and – not convinced that mere rocks and pebbles would be able to hold back the faster-flowing water – I was attempting a woven barrier of twigs which I intended to stuff with moss and plant in the stream bed.

The plan was not going well: the twigs kept snapping, I couldn’t seem to gather enough and a full two hours went by with very little progress made. Tired, I was sitting back on my haunches wondering whether to abandon the whole plan when, with a ‘plop’, a little stick landed next to me. I looked to my right and there was Max. For a moment we just stared at each other. He was about my height with a slightly impish look in his brown eyes, and his scruffy hair looked very similar to how I imagine mine must have done. My perfect adventuring companion. I looked down at the stick and realised it was really a very good size for my weaving project. “Thanks,” I said, picking it up and readdressing my task, then casting back over my shoulder, “You can help me do this if you like.”

And that was that. We worked side by side, Max bringing me sticks and me painstakingly constructing the dam. When it was complete it was pretty impressive – to our young minds at least – with an ever-deepening pool poised temptingly behind a surprisingly robust wood-and-moss barrier. A cursory inspection of our work complete, we both leapt into the water and played around happily, shattering the peace with our excited splashing.

When the time came to go in for tea I tried to persuade Max to come with me. “Come on! My mum’s a great cook and I’m sure she won’t mind me bringing you along.” But he wouldn’t, instead turning and walking off further into the wood. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow?” I called at his retreating back. He didn’t respond, but I had a hunch I’d see him again.

The next few days it rained so heavily that even I – who normally couldn’t bear to stay indoors – wasn’t tempted to go out. Instead, I wrapped myself in a blanket on the window sill and gazed out at the rain-lashed scene. I told my parents about Max and asked if they knew where he lived. My mum knew that the farm over the ridge had been for sale and speculated that it now had new owners… perhaps we could go over together and meet the whole family sometime? I nodded, although I wasn’t particularly interested in that; I just wanted to see my friend again.

When the sun finally came out the following day, I rushed off outside and headed in the direction of the river. I was hoping I’d meet Max on the way, or at least spot him in the distance, but the wood was silent. Wandering the well worn tracks, I tried calling his name. There was no response. I was just pondering heading up to the farm to see if he was there when a rustling, cracking sound behind me alerted me to a presence. I turned to greet him with a huge smile.

We played together all that day and all the next and, as the summer days rolled on, we became inseparable. He started having tea at our house most days (he showed a healthy appreciation for my mum’s cooking, so he was always a welcome guest) and even slept over some nights.

In Max I had found my ideal ally. He understood me like no one else could and, through his friendship, I learnt about companionship, trust and loyalty. With him, nothing was complicated: he seemed to have a gut feeling about what was important, and he stuck to that. I respected and trusted him. With Max, I felt safe.

Summer gradually stuttered to a close and autumn brought a return to school, whereupon Max and I were separated. I missed him, but school gave me plenty of distractions. I found I felt more confident than I had done before the holidays and I started to form more friendships. I suppose my summer with Max had encouraged me to seek out companionship in other places and I began to want something more than my previous solitary pursuits. Anyway, there was still plenty of time during weekends and holidays for me to seek out my friend from across the fields.

This pattern continued as the months – and then gradually years – went by. School, friendships I formed there, and life outside of my home in general became increasingly important, but I always had time for Max too. Whenever I introduced him to friends they always got on – Max had a way with people – but no one ever took my place in his affections, just as no one ever took his place in mine.

Years rolled on. Our friendship lasted through the gangly, tormented adolescent phase and into adulthood. Things changed as we got older, of course. As time progressed there was less damming of rivers and racing through fields, and more time sitting around eating, drinking and contemplating life. Yes, I had become more sociable as I grew older, but I never lost my love of peace and quiet, of nature and of losing myself in thought. Max understood all that instinctively, and with the passing of the years came a contentment on both our parts to just spend time together. There was no need to actively do anything like we used to, we could just be.

Then one autumn, returning home from college, I met Max outside our house, just as we met at the end of every term. But this time something was different: he looked tired and ill, and his brown eyes seemed sad. Of course, I ushered him inside immediately, and once he was sitting down I gave him something to drink. We all wondered if he was alright and if we should call someone, but as he settled down to one of my mum’s famous shepherd’s pies he seemed much brighter. We all began to joke together as we used to; it was a happy homecoming.

After my parents had gone to bed that night, Max and I settled in front of the fire together. As the crackling flames sent dancing shadows across the wall, I looked at him and felt utter contentment. I thought about my happy childhood here in this house, of the summer I’d met Max and the years I’d spent with him by my side. I thought of what I’d learned from him and how my life had changed.

But as I looked I felt a sadness creep in too; I’d known when I’d seen him today that he’d have to leave me soon. His youthful exuberance had well and truly gone. As I’d grown up, he’d grown old. Yet I was determined to make whatever time he had left as good as it could be. I’d stay by his side until the end. I bent down from my chair to stroke his fur and scratch him behind his ears, “I love you Maxy-boy.” Stretched out on the hearth rug, Max opened his eyes to look at me and gave a huge sigh of contentment.

 

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Nikki Young Writes

forgotten

walkDo you ever go through your files or notebooks (or wherever you keep your random bits of poetry/stories) and find something that you’ve completely forgotten writing? And then look at it and think, ‘what is this about? What was going on?’

I dug something up recently, and given the content, I was clearly quite stressed about a situation. But what was it? I don’t know – I don’t even know the context! And what did I do about it? Well, I don’t know that either. I assume it’s long since resolved but that’s pretty much all I know.

Anyway, I thought I would share it for #FridayFiction:

Dilemma

Crushing clarity,
A sudden certainty
And realisation
That words must be spoken
For ultimate good
Yet which, at first, could
Harm.
Separate.
Mutilate.

And I must find
The gentlest way
To wield the axe.

So there you have it. I assume I wrote it as some kind of catharsis or process of figuring things out. In which case it was quite successful… I guess. I wish I could remember, as finding a ‘gentle way to wield an axe’ sounds like a useful life skill. Ah well.

Tell me I’m not alone, tell me you write and forget too?

Nikki Young Writes

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

sickness

An Ode to Sick

sick
I’m very tired this morning due to being up most of the night with the youngest. There was much washing involved. Bleurgh.

I wrote the above in my head while sitting in the dark by the cot trying to get him to go back to sleep. Apologies for the bad photo. Too tired to try and take a better one.

Linking up with Friday Fiction… even though it’s a poem (not a story) and it’s more fact than fiction!

Nikki Young Writes

ghost story

forestneg2

A Christmas Ghost Story

The Tradition – Part One

It was late one Christmas eve. The little girl lay in bed listening to the old house sighing and groaning against the chill wind that buffeted it from all sides. Outside, the storm was whipping flurries of snow higher and higher, encasing the house and its inhabitants in a frosty fortress. Shivering, she nestled further down into her blankets and waited.

Downstairs she heard the grandfather clock strike the hour; slow sonorous chimes… nine, ten, eleven… it was time. As her feet hovered over icy wooden boards, she groped in the darkness for dressing gown and slippers, her fingers meeting them with relief. Encased in their soft fibres she moved silently across the room and out into the hallway.

Her brother’s door was ajar and, peeking round it, she saw his bed was empty. She knew he must already be downstairs and hurried to catch up with him. The hall was bitingly cold and at the top of the stairs a chill wind whipped up from under the front door below sending icy fingers skittering up her spine. The huge christmas tree, wreathed in darkness, loomed up at her as she hurried onwards and downwards. She paused only when she reached the threshold of the closed kitchen door. There excitement and trepidation made her tremble. What if he wasn’t here?

She could bear it no longer and, raising her hand to the door, entered the room. And there they were: her father and her brother sitting by the fire. They were both facing the flames, holding out long forks on which they were toasting bread. The scent – combined with the fir of the tree behind her – was as familiar as it was intoxicating. They looked up to greet her and her father, placing his fork on the hearth, welcomed her with a warm smile and open arms. She rushed over to him, leaping delightedly onto his lap.

This was their time. She loved her father deeply but his work kept him away from home for long hours, and often for weeks on end. He even worked on Christmas Eve and missed all the frantic preparations, the final dressing of the tree and the ritual placing of brightly-wrapped presents under its branches. But he always made it home an hour before midnight and they never failed to meet by the fireside like this, the three of them enjoying their special, festive tradition while her mother slept upstairs unawares.

And so the minutes passed happily. Her icy hands and feet were soon warmed by the fire and their father told them tales of his travels as they snuggled on his knee, their eyes shining bright in the firelight. These were perfect moments. It was her favourite hour of the year.

Then the hall clock chimed midnight and as its final note faded, the kitchen door flew open with a blast of cold air. The fire guttered in the grate sending a shower of sparks onto the hearth. Before them stood a vision in white, with long hair flying in disarray around a pale face and a night gown that flowed to the floor. Terror suddenly filled the little girl’s heart. Of course: now it must happen. She always forgot this point in the night and yet, year after year, it unfolded the same way. And she was always helpless. As her mother swept towards them, she trembled to her core.

To be continued…

PLEASE CLICK HERE FOR PART TWO

Prose for Thought
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.”

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Prose for Thought
Nikki Young Writes