Top Tip Of The Week

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Fabulous Five

If you’re finding it difficult to come up with subjects to write a story about, clear you mind and then jot down the next five things that come into your mind. It can work wonders for kick-starting that creative writing process. Here’s the five things that came into my mind when I tried this for myself:

  • face
  • mirror
  • white
  • bat
  • mist

And here’s  the story I came up with:

She peered into the mirror. Her reflection blinked back at her. Then the mist came swirling and swaying. A face appeared.

She opened her mouth.

“Don’t bother,” the mirror said, “you aren’t the fairest of them all. You were once, but you’re an ugly old bat now. I mean it.”

Snow White had to admit, age hadn’t done her any favours.

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Hope your weekend’s a good one. Here’s a Friday Funny for you:

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My Weekly Writing Challenge

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My new challenge series on flash fiction, which kicked off last week with stories in ten words, produced some amazing stories in so few words. Take a look at the fantastic results below news of this week’s challenge.

So, from ten, we now go to twenty-word stories. If last week’s entries are anything to go by, we’re all in for a treat.

Last week’s ten-word tales:

Sacha Black was the first in line to try this one and produced a great story:

He’s dead. I’m not. My fault though. Prison? Life? Never.

Eddy‘s short fiction is always excellent. Here’s two from him:

1) Birds flew, bombs blew, I drew my gun; barrel jammed.

2) Thanks. Got busy again. But I’m finally back in routine.

Keith Channing‘s is too clever by half!:

I came, I saw, I conkered. I bloody love autumn.

Keith‘s sister, Wendy Pope shows she’s every bit as talented as her brother:

Cormorant flying above. Sea foaming below … black arrow dives in!

Jasdeep Kaur‘s story make you want to know more:

Dense trees, frightful face, a roar, a shriek, cataclysmic silence…

Kate Loveton once again shows her talent for combining more than one challenge at the same time:

Lesson Learned Too Late:

Frenzied, desperate warning unheeded!

Finally… bloodied knife.

Husband should’ve listened.

Jason Moody sent this neat and entertaining story:

Our eyes met. My stomach knotted. Then the bus came.

A huge welcome to Sammi Cox who’s tried the challenge for the first time and written a brilliant flash fiction piece:

Running…

Can’t stop…Get caught…And then…

…Must keep running…

Markets For Writers

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This week’s market for you is a travel magazine, ‘Transitions Abroad’.  They describe themselves as ‘an inspirational yet practical planning guide for cultural immersion travel, work, study, living and volunteering abroad’.

There are lots of feature articles on the homepage so you can see the type of piece they’re looking for as well as the reader you need to appeal to: http://www.transitionsabroad.com/

They hold three travel writing contests a year, which are free to enter: http://www.transitionsabroad.com/information/writers/index.shtml

They have an excellent writers’ guidelines page, with a comprehensive outline of all the sections they accept work for, as well as how to send an article, payment terms and information on the competitions:

http://www.transitionsabroad.com/information/writers/writers.shtml

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It’s All Dad’s Fault!

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It’s All Dad’s Fault!

Well, I hate to say it, but it is all Dad’s fault. I couldn’t wait to tell him about my e-book of short stories.

“It’s not a proper book though, is it?” he said.

“Yes,” I replied indignantly.

“But I can’t hold it,” he said, miming the action of holding a book as if I didn’t know what one was or how to hold one.

I was about to say he could hold a Kindle but thought better of it. For Dad, a book isn’t a book unless it’s in print. I have to admit, I actually found his words quite reassuring. The first few months of the Kindle saw headlines along the lines of ‘The Death of the Paperback!!’ I recoiled in horror at the time. I don’t know about you, but I love the feel of a book, of running my hands across the cover and holding it (yes, just like my dad). There’s also nothing quite like the first sniff of a newly bought book (perhaps that’s just me, but books have a fresh, distinctive smell that I simply love. Mmm, on second thought, I think it is just me).

So, although I had just had my book published digitally, I was 100% with my dad. I hadn’t actually thought about bringing the book out as a print version. After all, unless you’re J.K. Rowling or of equal fame, who’s going to want to buy a paperback of short stories? Mine was just so my students, friends and family could see my work if they wanted to, which was why I opted for the e-book.

Well, it turns out quite a few of you want to buy a paperback of my short stories. Thank you to all those who bought my e-book and I hope you enjoyed it. I was greatly touched by all the support. But for every one of you who bought the e-book, there were as many who contacted me to say they’d love the book, but didn’t have a Kindle or any other way of downloading an e-book. Would I consider a print version?

So, it started with Dad and then a lot of you followed suit! Now, thanks to Dad and you, the print version is at the printers and I have a launch date of 15th November. I’ve added six extra stories to the paperback to make something more of it and for anyone buying both versions (enormous thanks to those who do!).

The book will be available to order over the internet at all the major outlets and in bookshops.

I finish with a massive thank you to all of you who have supported me with the book.

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Top Tip Of The Week

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Capital Speech!

Always use a capital letter at the beginning of a passage of speech e.g.:

“Would you like to buy my book?”

Most writers get this right, but, if ownership is assigned before speech, some writers become confused and don’t think a capital letter is necessary because the speech isn’t the start of the sentence. However, the actual words of speech are a complete sentence and so a capital letter is a must e.g.:

Hannah asked, “Would you like to buy my book?”

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Have a super Friday and weekend. I leave you with a Friday Funny:

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My Weekly Writing Challenge

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Last week saw the last in my current series of writing challenges. The results were brilliant. Please read them below.

This week, I’m starting a new series of writing challenges – flash fiction. I’m going to start off small. This week, I’d like to see your tales in ten words. Here is an example:

Fear gripped. A shove forward – out the plane. Charity jump.

As promised, here are last week’s superb stories and poems:

Keith Channing entertains with his delightful story:

“Do you remember the good old days, Eldrick? The days when we had a big house in the country, as well as our flat in Kensington?”

“Of course I do, Linda,” Eldrick said, depressed by how far they had fallen, “I had to work hard for it, but when the bonuses came through at the end of the year, all the stress and long hours were worthwhile.”

“Do you suppose those days will ever come back, my love?”

“Oh, I hope so. It’s not just the money. Okay, the money is important. It’s good to have plenty to splash about, and we loved the lifestyle, didn’t we? But, possibly more than that, I yearn for the excitement, the tension, the sheer exhilaration of driving deals that can make or break individuals and companies, that can affect the value of currencies and that can bend the prices of commodities to suit our profits – and lo, the profits spake, and the profits were mighty! God, I miss those days.”

Eldrick and Linda Hughes were certainly down on their luck from those days. Living in a rented semi in suburbia, Eldrick was working in a back-office job for a zombie bank, it was technically insolvent, and only afloat thanks to taxpayer support. Hang on a minute, that described a number of even major banks in those days.

“What went wrong?” Linda asked.

“What went wrong?” Eldrick echoed wistfully.

His voice suddenly became animated. “I’ll tell you what went wrong. Me! I went wrong.”

He leapt up from his chair and skipped across the room to the desk where his computer was already alive, ready for his touch on the keyboard.

“I took my eye off the ball. I became complacent. I thought… I believed I was untouchable, invulnerable. But guess what?”

“What?” Linda almost shouted, her voice as excited and as animated as Eldrick’s.

“I. Was. Wrong.” Eldrick paused.

“There,” he said, “I’ve said it. I was wrong. I, Eldrick Hughes, the most feared and respected trader in the marketplace, was wrong.”

Linda wasn’t sure where this was going.

“Was I untouchable? NO. Was I invulnerable? No I was not. Was I lining myself up for an almighty crash? Yes I was, and I had it, and I damned-well deserved it. But you, my love, didn’t deserve it, and I am going to make it up to you, starting right now.”

Fired up with levels of drive he hadn’t felt for a good few years, Eldrick attacked his keyboard; spreadsheets and charts danced around one of his twin monitors; feeds from markets, both home and overseas, came to life in the other. Messages and calls went out to contacts who had not heard the name Eldrick Hughes for some time, and had forgotten the levels of awe that name demanded and received.

They would remember again soon.

“It’s back, Linda. It’s back!” Eldrick jumped with glee, grabbed Linda by the shoulders and danced around the room with her.

When they stopped, Linda asked, almost breathlessly, “What is back, Eldrick, and where has it been?”

“The hunger, Linda. The hunger is back. Eldrick bloody Hughes has only gone and come back!”

Linda was nonplussed. Unable to take in this sudden sea-change in her husband’s mood and attitude, she just stood there, blankly looking at him.

“Tomorrow morning, nine o’clock, I’m going to re-form my company. Eldrick Hughes Ltd, dormant these five years, will be back in business. We’ll run low-key to start; no massive expenditure on office space or even stationery. We’ll do everything on our mobiles until we get up and running properly. Linda, my love; we’re coming back. Hold on to your hat, my girl, it’s going to be one hell of a ride.”

Kate Loveton combined two challenges together, with her touching story:

Hearts in Africa

“Hey, Gram, who is this?” asked Samantha, studying the yellowed photo she held in her hands.

Sam was home from college for the weekend. She was helping Joan get the house ready for sale; it involved going through all the things stored in her grandmother’s attic. It was a bittersweet task for Sam, one that left her with mixed feelings. Her beloved ‘Pop’ had died over a year ago, but Sam still grieved for him.

So did Joan, and that was one of the reasons she wanted to move on. After four decades of a happy life spent in the aged Victorian, Joan had decided it was time to take her life in a new direction. This was no easy task. She and Dave had been happy in the old house. They had raised Sam’s mother there. Unexpectedly, they ended up raising Sam, as well. Sam was now off at school for months at a time, and Dave… well, Dave was gone. Suddenly, their comfortable old Victorian seemed too big, too empty… and too filled with memories of a wonderful man who had been bigger than life.

The house was filled also with an accumulation of the bits and pieces of their lives. The dusty attic had become the repository of happy moments from their past. While it was comforting and safe to live in the presence of old memories, Joan had always been a realist. She knew the time had come to forge a new life for herself.

Brushing back a lock of thick, silvered hair, Joan glanced at the photo. Suddenly, a sweet smile lit up her face. “Well, well… what do you know… Sam, wherever did you find this?”

“In that beat-up old box in the corner, the one stacked under all the Christmas ornaments.” Sam turned the photo over and read the faded writing on the back. It looked like her grandmother’s handwriting. It read: Bobby – Tanzania – 1968.

“Who is Bobby?” she asked again, handing the photo to Joan.

“Bobby Monahan… I haven’t thought of him in years. Wasn’t long after this photo was taken that we went our separate ways. He stayed on in Africa; I came home.”

Joan stood up from her kneeling position and slipped the photo into the back pocket of her jeans. She brushed the dust from her hands and thighs. “I don’t know about you, Sammy, but I could use a break. How about some tea?”

“Sure,” replied Sam, following her down the stairs. “You were once in Africa? I never knew that!”

Joan grinned and, in that moment, looked like the mischievous twenty something she’d once been. “There’s a lot you probably don’t know about your old Gram.”

Sam smiled. “You’re the youngest person, I know – and the best!” Sam slipped her arm around Joan’s waist and they headed toward the kitchen. Sam loved her grandmother. When her parents had died in an automobile accident, it was Joan and Dave who had taken the five-year old in. Sam had few memories of her parents; Joan and Dave were the only mother and father she’d ever known.

Looking at her still attractive grandmother, Sam wondered why she felt so unsettled to learn Joan had possessed a prior life she hadn’t known about. Naïve of her, perhaps, but she had always thought of Joan and Dave as people who lived quiet lives of service in the small town of Hatfield, Indiana. Until his death, Dave had been the rector of Saint Barnabas Church, their small Episcopal parish. Sam’s memories of her youth consisted of church suppers, choir practice, Sunday sermons and community service. It sounder drier than it actually was; Sam had loved the security of it all, and the members of the small parish who looked out for her as if she belonged to them. All of Sam’s memories were good ones, warm and golden. Her Pop had been a good man – a man who made a difference in the lives of others.

Coming across the photo, learning that Gram had once been in Africa, noticing the tender smile when looking at a long ago photo… well, it bothered Sam. It upset the everyday trajectory of her life. It confused her, and she wasn’t sure what to think.

Joan put the teakettle on to heat. She then pulled the photo out of her pocket and looked at it again. “Bobby Monahan… I wonder what became of him…”

Feeling Sam’s eyes on her, Joan looked up. “Bobby was my first love.” She smiled then. “They say you never forget your first love…”

“Gram, how did you end up in Africa, of all places? Did you go to Africa with Bobby?”

Joan laughed softly. “No, no… Bobby was already in Africa by the time I’d gotten there. He’d been out of medical school about two years at that point, and had been assigned to Tanzania as part of the Peace Corps.”

“The Peace Corps! Gram, were you part of the Peace Corps?”

“Don’t look so surprised!” replied Joan, enjoying her granddaughter’s incredulity. “I was just a few years older than you when I decided to join the Corps. It was a special time… 1968. I was just out of college, longing for adventure, wanting to do something that would have an impact on the lives of others. JFK had been dead several years by then, but those of us who remembered him continued to be inspired by his message. He called upon Americans to take an active role in making things better throughout the world. It was a heady time, Sam… we believed – each of us – that we could create a better life for all.”

Joan sighed. “We were so young, so earnest… My parents were scandalized when I told them I was joining the Corps. They were good people, simple people, and their dreams for me involved a teaching job and a good husband – and settling down here in Hatfield. Their plans certainly didn’t include my traipsing around the world with a bunch of ‘do-gooders,’ as my dad put it.” She smiled at the memory.

“Yet that’s how you ended up, teaching school in Hatfield… didn’t you meet Pop while teaching school here?”

“I did. His niece was one of my students, and I met him at a school assembly.”

“That’s a long way from Africa, Gram.”

“In more ways than one,” said Joan.

Sam watched her grandmother set out two teacups and a few cookies on a plate. “Well, go on… tell me about this young doctor who stole your heart. And to think I thought Pop was your only love,” she teased.

“Your Pop was the best man I ever knew. I love him even now. Miss him, too… terribly.” Joan finished pouring the tea and sat down across from Sam. “Bobby Monahan was a long time ago.”

She blew on her tea, allowing her warm breath to cool it while she gathered her thoughts. “He was so intense, and so committed to taking care of the people in the small village where we were placed. Bobby was part of a small medical team, working long hours, inoculating the villagers, teaching them basic hygiene.”

“What about you? Were you a nurse?”

“Me?” Joan chuckled at the idea. “No, no. I was a teacher. Oh, Sam, what a time that was.”

“So, what happened?”

“We fell in love,” she said simply. “In love with Africa, with life… with each other. We were young, excited. We had a shared passion for helping others. Unfortunately, Africa didn’t love me as much as I loved her. I became very sick over there, almost died. I lost a lot of weight. After a year, I came home, never to return.”

“But what about Bobby?”

Joan shrugged. “What about him? I couldn’t return to Africa, and his life was there. At first, we held onto the idea I might return when better, but my doctor said my constitution couldn’t take it. We wrote long, intense letters for several months, but then we began to drift apart. It almost killed me to give that man up… or maybe it was the dream. Either way, it hurt me. Oh, I did yearn for him and the life we might h

had in Africa…”

Joan shook her head at the memory. “My poor parents… they were so worried about me. I was living in Indiana but my heart was still in Tanzania. I was like a zombie when I first got home, Sam… wandering around the house, thin, gaunt… aware that if I couldn’t get back to Africa, I’d lose Bobby.

“It just wasn’t meant to be.” Joan looked again at the photo. “Life had another plan for me. I recovered, and I got that job teaching school that my parents had wanted… and then I met Dave.”

“You ever have any regrets, Gram, about not keeping in touch with Bobby?”

Joan smiled. “No. That was a long time ago. When I met your grandfather, the past was just that: the past. Dave and I were happy; we had good lives. You know, you don’t have to go to Africa to make a difference in the lives of people. Dave made a difference here in Hatfield every day of his life. I like to think that I did, too.”

Sam reached across the table for her grandmother’s hand. “You sure made a difference in my life,” she said quietly.

“My good girl,” said Joan, patting her hand. “Now, let’s finish up our tea and get back to work. We have a lot of stuff to box up and crate.”

Sam watched her grandmother swallow the last of her tea. Joan rose, then, and went to the sink to rinse out the cup.

“Ever think about contacting him now? You could, Gram. Just to see how he is, find out if he ever left Africa.”

“I wouldn’t know where to start,” said Joan, drying the cup.

Sam said nothing. Looking at her grandmother, her heart was full. She made a mental note.

Nothing was impossible with the internet…

Samantha stood up and approached her grandmother, and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. She then rinsed out her cup.

The two women worked in silence, a silence that was sweet.

Ayo Oboro crafted this thoughtful poem:

She wished for all days to be dull and grey.
The colour of what her heart really says.
She’d married a man with short sight.
Or what do you say, when all he does is sit and watch?

She comes back from work, the TV is on.
Just like it is all the time.
She can hear the blare through the closed door.
He does no work but wants to eat.
And beats her over the head with scripture;
Submit! Submit! his only word,
As if love and work don’t exist in it.

She’s threatened and nagged but no response,
All she gets is the squeak from the chair.
Squeak! Squeak! he turns his behind.
Which gets bigger as he eats her food.

She labours, she sweats, she works two jobs,
But there he sits with hands outstretched.
“Where’s your pay and what did you buy?”
She weeps all the time, bills to pay, no help.
She yearns for a day that’s bright and clear.

She wakes up today, the sun in her eyes
Her heart is merry, her spirit light.
Nothing can change it, it can’t be stopped.
She hears the car hoot.
First one bag and then another.
She claps her hands together to shake off all dust
He can’t say a word, he’s frozen to the spot.
He looks like a zombie as she waves goodbye.

Jasdeep Kaur takes her main character on an emotional journey in her strong story:

Deep Impact

When I saw my brother enter the room, I knew there was a purpose to his visit. His broad shoulders, confident steps, and assuring smile were obliging. But I was in no mood for a prolonged conversation.

“So, sis, you’re indulged in your thoughts again.”

I wasn’t. I generally sat idle without thinking anything, and he knew it.

“I know you’ll deny. But you don’t know about your unconscious mind. Do you?”

My eyebrows curved.

“Yes, your unconscious mind. I’m aware of the acid reflux you’re diagnosed with, and I’m here to talk about it.”

So he was told about my new health problem, and that’s why he was here.

“You were working on taming your anger. Surely, you’ve accomplished it on the exterior, but what about the inner realm that you are unaware of?”

My eye lids drooped as I looked into the void. I had worked hard to control my anger, the anger that was ruining me and my relationships. I had reached a level where I could face any unfavourable circumstance without reacting, even though I felt awkward, embarrassed, or disdained. However, my health was deteriorating day by day.

He continued without any response as if he was reading my mind, “See Sis, if you try to repress the torrent, it will slip into the adjoining realm: your unconscious mind. You think you’ve mastered the skill of anger management, but actually you are directing the surge in the wrong direction. It should be thrown out and not pushed deeper in you.”

After months, I felt the urge to know more.

“Let me explain it. When you suppress your anger, you are actually pushing the stress to your unconscious mind. But when your unconscious mind is not able to take any more loads, it transfers the load to your body, which results in acidity and even ulcer. These health problems put more stress on your mind.”

After a pause, he said, “See Sis, you will have to take yourself out of this cycle…and only you can do it!”

My heart was all to his words, but I didn’t say anything. He left the room. He left me wanting for more.

I wanted to change my life, my attitude, my worsening condition. I rushed to him and stopped him.

“You can’t go like this. You must tell me what to do. A simple lecture won’t solve my problem. Help me out…”

He grinned, “O.K. Then come, look at the rising sun.

“It takes so long to rise and reach at the top of our heads: its goal.

“It changes its colour from orange to yellow: it adapts.

“The heat increases as it goes upwards: its vigour or anger.

“But the heat gets dispersed in the atmosphere: let it be.

“You’ll have to become like this.”

“Can you be placid and tell me in good words?”

“See Sis, it’s plain and clear. Don’t become a zombie; become like a rising sun. You must’ve a goal. Let the anger become your vigour to move ahead; the more anger, the more vigour, and the nearer your goal. The stress will be there, but it’ll be on the exterior.”

There was a point. I knew what to do.

I unlocked my musical instruments and let my fingers move on them freely. The world may think I was bull-shit; I knew I was not.