Monday Motivations/I’m In The Guardian Again!

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The thrill of being published never fades as evidenced when I opened the ‘The Guardian’ this weekend to see another short filler piece I’d written. I was even more excited when I saw they’d kept it in word for word – even the typo I shamefully have to admit to. Read on and I’m sure you’ll find it!

Playlist: The shoes didn’t fit but my first record did

Moonlight Shadow by Mike Oldfield

“The last that ever she saw him / Carried away by a moonlight shadow”

There I was, 11 years old, trudging around the shops with Mum and Dad, when I saw it – the sign. It was in the shop window of Clarks shoe shop: “Free with any pair of school shoes – a Top 10 single. Exclusive to Clarks.”

It was 1983, and I had just started listening to pop music. I didn’t have any records of my own, but when I saw that sign, I knew I was going to have my very first record. I was about to go up to secondary school so I needed new school shoes. I had never been so excited about buying shoes, especially school shoes. Sadly, my massive grin didn’t last very long.

“I’m very sorry,” the assistant said. “We only have this pair in your size.”

I looked down in horror at the frumpy fawn shoes.

“It’s all right, we can go somewhere else,” Mum said.

“No, no, no!” I cried. It was my record. My record.

“And the record offer ends today,” the assistant said.

My head shot up. At that age, I didn’t understand the word commission, all I cared about was my vanishing record.

Five minutes later, I was clutching a bag containing the hideous shoes, an enormous smiled on my face.

“You will wear the shoes, won’t you?” Mum asked.

“Yes, I love them,” I said, fingers crossed behind my back.

At home, we filled out the form to claim my record. I knew which one I’d choose. Yes, Paul Young was No 1 with Wherever I Lay my Hat, but I didn’t like his hair – or his song. I had loved Moonlight Shadow as soon as I heard it, so there was no contest.

“Was that the post?” I’d call out, bounding down the stairs every time the letterbox went.

When the record finally arrived, I was beside myself with excitement. Dad was in charge of the record player, but he showed me how to play the record, and play it I did. Again and again and again. Mum and Dad liked the song at first. They soon went off it, though.

Now, whenever I hear the song, I can’t help but smile.

“You only got the shoes so you could have that blasted record, didn’t you?” Mum asked when I moaned that the shoes didn’t fit a couple of weeks later. She made me wear them for the next two terms. But it was worth it.

Esther Newton

Top Tip Of The Week

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Don’t Rush It!

You’re almost at the end of your cleverly crafted story and the temptation is to race towards that last line in the bid to get the story finished and out to a magazine/competition.

Just stop right there. Don’t rush your ending. It can ruin the whole story. e.g. in a romance story, you have gradually built up the will they/won’t they scenario. Your readers are right there with the characters, willing them to get together only for you to gallop towards the ending:

“I’m sorry. I can’t be with you,” Dan said. He walked away, his eyes stinging with tears.

“Don’t go!” Sadie said, her voice catching.

Dan turned round, ran to her and pulled her into his arms. They kissed, married two months later and had three children.

After connecting with readers emotionally all the way through the story, you sever the connection and leave them feeling disappointed.

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Here’s a pic to lead you into the weekend. Have a good one:
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My Weekly Writing Challenge

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Last week, you were set a picture prompt as your challenge and you produced some fantastic pieces of writing. Well done you! Please read all the entries below.

As last week’s challenge proved popular, I’ll set you another picture challenge:

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Sacha Black‘s response to the challenge was almost immediate! She really has a talent for gripping her reader. Read and admire:

The stench of old liquor and stale middle age sweat lingered in the air.

Joey cheated and Juan noticed.

“Juan, he’s an idiot, a child, he don’ know any bedder, ya know?”

I put the poker chip I’d been twiddling back on the table so my fingers could instinctively reach for the steely cold trigger pressing against my hip.

A flash of gold. Juan smiling. Fingers twitching. A barrel of laughter rang out of Juan’s emotionless face.

“Joey, Joey, Joey,” Juan rumbled, “everybody knows what happens to people who cheat me.”

Juan’s eyes narrow to slivers and his thin lips curled. Joey was shaking, drips of sweat clumsily falling off his brow.

The click of metal. The thunder of a single round penetrating flesh, and the clunk of his head hitting the table.

Keith Channing wasn’t happy with his entry, but I loved it. Super characterisation. I’m sure you’ll all agree:

“Sit down, lad,” old Simon said to his young grandson, Sam. “Look at that picture and tell me what it says to thee.”

“It don’t say owt, Grampy,” Sam replied. “It’s just a picture of a messy room.”

“But how do you suppose it got so messy, lad?”

“Don’t know, Grampy. It’s only a painting, not a photo. It en’t real, is it?”

“En’t it?”

“Course not. If it were real it would be a photo.”

“If it were today, aye. But what if it were before photographs existed?”

“When were that, Grampy; before the war?”

Old Simon chuckled at the innocent naivety of the youth. Chuckled with love, not disrespectfully. Young Sam knew nothing of the history of photography and why, at seven years of age, should he?

“Nay, lad,” Simon replied, toying with his grandson’s mousy-coloured, shoulder-length hair. “Photographs have been around since the 1830s, you know. Colour photos came only about thirty years later, though they weren’t very good. Well, I never thought so, anyway.”

“Were you around in the 1830s, Grampy?”

“Cheeky little beggar,” the old man said, putting on a mock expression of scorn at the boy’s impertinence, but laughing inside. “When do you suppose this picture were from? Ring any bells from your history lessons?”

Sam scratched his head. “Don’t know, Grampy. It looks very old.”

“Tell thee what, lad. When I were your age, we’d walk into a bombed-out house and make up stories about the people who might have lived in it, what their lives were like, and such. Let’s say that it’s a real room we’ve just found, and see what we can work out about the room from the picture. Will you go first, or shall I?”

“That sounds like an adventure game, Grampy, I’d best take the first go, bein’ as you don’t know owt about gaming and I’m a level six wizard.”

“Level six, eh? That sounds impressive.”

“Not really,” Sam said, somewhat crestfallen. “My friend Billy says that his friend Alan has a cousin whose best friend is a level fifty!”

“Best get practising, then, lad.”

“Right. Well.” Sam’s face betrayed the whirring and meshing of cogs in his brain. Grampy had challenged him – he simply had to come up with something, and something good. His face took on the glow of a freshly lit lightbulb, albeit a slow-burn energy-saving lightbulb.

“I’ve got it, Grampy,” he said. “Look at how’t windows are all boarded up, an’t light coming in by’t hole where’t floorboards have gone.”

“What’s that tell thee?”

“En’t it obvious? She were a vampire. When’t light came through’t window… you can see’t mess on’t sofa where she were sat, then she had to smash up’t floorboard to escape into’t dark underneath. Weren’t first time, neither. Bits of floorboards everywhere. Why she didn’t just hide in’t chimbley’s a mystery, though, or even up’t stairs by’t door. No light coming in there. Or make a better job of boarding up the windows, or shut bloody curtains.”

“So when this were painted, she were…”

“Either down’t hole under floorboards or mayhap dead, if she were too slow.”

Simon studied the picture closely. “What d’you make of that picture between’t windows?”

“Can’t see what ’tis meant to be, Grampy, but it looks like it might be some sort of dragon or some other satanic creature or ritualistic device.”

“Satanic creature? Ritualistic device? Where’ve you been learning words like that at your age, and what’s it supposed to mean?”

“Don’t know, Grampy, but you get ‘em in adventure games and that could be one.”

“Okay. What does clock tell you?”

“Clock tells you ’t time, Grampy. Ouch! What were that for?”

Sam was unprepared for the playful slap across the back of the head that followed his response, but Simon’s look and waved finger answered his question without words.

“I think we’ll stop for today, lad,” he said, “take’t picture home wi’thee and come back and tell me more on the morrow. Let’s have a nice cuppa now, shall we?”

“Aye, Grampy. I’ll put’t kettle on.” Sam stepped down from the old man’s bed. “D’you want me to check blood sugar and see if you can have a piece of cake or a biscuit wi’it?”

“Aye, lad; but be careful. Can’t afford any mistakes after that last episode.”

Jasdeep Kaur chose a limerick and what a brilliant one it is too:

The appalling panorama portraying the plight
of the lost memories of the wrathful fight
didn’t satiate the soul
of the man with the mole,
our quibbler director, who says, ‘It’s still not right.’

Geoff Le Pard has a chilling tale for you this week. It’s highly entertaining too:

Starting afresh

Jimmy Stimpson wondered if his parents really cared when they cancelled his birthday trip to Disney. Sure his sister was in hospital after the car accident but his grandparents offered to cover. They never asked how he felt. Then she died and they decided to move. No discussion. New house, new neighbours, new school and, worst of all, he’d have to make new friends. And making friends was not Jimmy’s speciality.

He was pleasantly surprised when two boys, Albert and Robert took him under their wings. Soon Jimmy was part of their group, four boys and three girls who hung out together. The other children avoided them, barely registering their presence but Jimmy felt wanted. Even the teachers let him settle without the usual false friendliness.

His parents were so overcome by grief that they didn’t stop him going out with his new friends. And that was cool, even if Albert and Robert argued a lot.

It was maybe a week after he had arrived – he found it difficult to keep track of time with all the new experiences – that Robert told him about the old house on the hill. He said there were lots of stories about it – how it was cursed, how it was haunted, how it was really full of treasure. But Robert said these were silly stories; he was going to go inside to prove everyone wrong.

Jimmy liked Robert. He was strong and didn’t seem to care what others thought. Albert was more cautious, often complaining about the light on his eyes and how he needed another pullover because he was cold. When Robert challenged Albert to spend the night in the old house, Albert refused so Robert asked if Jimmy was brave enough. He said yes.

When Robert led Jimmy through the front gate to the old house – it was more a mansion – Jimmy felt sick and excited. It was decrepit with crumbling plaster and missing slates missing. All the windows were boarded.

‘How do we get it?’ Jimmy shook slightly.

Robert pointed at a window on the first floor where there was a gap between the boards and window.

‘Have you done it before?’

But Robert was already climbing and didn’t answer.

When Jimmy reached the window sill Robert had gone inside. Jimmy followed. The evening sun, previously hidden behind the clouds filled the room with light. Temporarily blinded Jimmy stumbled into a small table, knocking papers – brown with age – to the floor. The top had a list of names – as his eyes adjusted he read the bottom name – Jimmy Stimpson.

‘Welcome, Jimmy.’

Robert stood by a cabinet. Lined behind him were the others. They appeared to be dressed in old fashioned clothes.

‘This is your new home, Jimmy.’

‘But I have a home.’

All seven children shook their heads. Robert turned and pointed at the wall; a portrait of a young boy stared back at Jimmy. His portrait.

‘We’ve been waiting for you. You’ll be happy here.’

‘But Mummy. Daddy. They’ll miss me.’

Robert stepped forward. ‘They already do Jimmy. You’re dead. You died in the car crash that killed your sister. She will join us later, when her spirit has settled.’

He reached out and caught Jimmy as he fainted. Robert eased the inert ghost into a chair, before collecting the list of names that had once again spilled onto the floor and putting it back on the table. He took a pen out of his pocket and wrote a new name beneath Jimmy’s while one of the other boys began to hang a new portrait on the wall.

Jason Moody‘s story is full of atmosphere and suspense:

Decimation

They’re using the picture that’s been in all the papers this week. It’s yet another anniversary. This man is droning on forever. Wrap it up.

“This picture was taken from a cell phone three hours before the outbreak,” he says.

I can tell he doesn’t want to field any questions. To be honest, I don’t think anybody wants to ask any. They just want to wrap things up and get out of here.

It’s all wrong to me. Why open up an investigation two years after the outbreak was declared contained, and safe? It doesn’t make sense.

What is even more ridiculous is that they have now opened ground zero as a visitor attraction. What the hell?

I look at the picture one more time. It isn’t like I haven’t seen it before. Everybody has.

I remember it well.

Three children were playing in the abandoned house on the outskirts of town. The official story states that the kids were messing around and disturbed something. Something? What’s that supposed to mean? We’ve never been told what this something was.

Now, just two months after the grand opening, the site has had an incident. It was ordered to shut down immediately. That’s where we come in. I’m not looking forward to this. My friend was at the first scene. She made it to six months.

None of us are particularly happy about this assignment. Would you be? After the horror stories that leaked, it’s a wonder they’re sending anyone back. Who’s idea was this?

The man finishes his speech which nobody has listened to. A military man orders us to follow him. He looks about as much fun as a funeral.

After a short walk, nobody saying a word, we’re led into a hanger. A huge military jet of some description sits ahead of us. The military man just nods towards it. Great. I hate flying.

The flight is awkward. Nobody talks. The military guy passes through a couple of times and just stares. I swear, if he does this one more time, I’m going to kick him in the balls.

There’s nothing for it. It’s time to sleep. The flight is four hours.

After the worst landing on record, we come to a halt. I can already feel the heat coming in. This is going to suck. I’m hardly dressed for the sun. My jeans are already starting to feel like they were painted on.

Sunlight pours in as the rear cargo door to the plane creaks open. Like everyone else on board, I just stare.

What the hell is this place?

Markets For Writers

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I’ve had my job made easy for me again thanks to Sacha Black. She really has been wonderful in sending through details of competitions. Last week’s market had a very short deadline so you’ll be pleased to know this week’s is over three months away. ‘The Writers’ Village‘ is holding a short story competition with a closing date of 30th June 2015.

Entries of up to 3000 words are accepted from all around the world. And there’s some great news – publication in a blog, website etc. doesn’t exclude a story from being entered into the competition, unlike many. Nonetheless, if the story has appeared in print form it can’t be entered.

£1000 is awarded to the best story, with £500 going to second place and £250 to the third placed story. There are five short listed stories which will win £50 each.

The entry fee is quite steep at £15 an entry, but it does include feedback.

For further  details, see the webiste: http://www.writers-village.org/competition-rules.php

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Monday Motivations/Prepare To Be Inspired Take Two!

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Last week I published Geoff Le Pard‘s stunning piece of writing, inspired by the following picture prompt:

The_Secret_Garden

Maria Matthews contacted me to say she also had a piece of writing rattling round in her head on seeing the picture. Thankfully it managed to get out and I can now share Maria’s magical piece with you. Sit back and enjoy:

These few words are to give hope that all is not lost for there are other ancient worlds shimmering a breath away from our modern one.

If I close my eyes I can see it now as it was then, a world beyond worlds, beyond cruelty, harshness and death.

I was a child of twelve when it first happened back in 1973. I was walking close to Tara on a summer evening. The bird song drew me to the spot. I stood looking at the rolling green beneath my feet and felt it – the shimmering of the air. My world tilted, I felt light, I blinked.

In a sweet instant my belief of what is flipped upside down and inside out.

I was standing on a pathway, guarded by a line of old magnolia trees. My nose itched with the sweet cloying smell that filled the air. Then I heard the song. At first I was certain it was a strange bird song but as I moved closer I saw it was a young girl who was humming. She was kneeling on the grass at the end of the tunnel of trees busy with her hands creating a daisy chain.

Her chestnut hair flowed and rippled courtesy of the light playful breeze. She was petite. I could see her face now, snub nose, a dash of freckles racing across her nose and her full lips moving as she hummed.

I became mesmerized by her flicking, moving hands. The daisy chain was four deep in width and pretty; as a boy who loved creating with wood I could appreciate the intricate beauty of the simple task she had set for herself. I sat beside her and she stopped humming to smile.

“Hi,” she said. Those blue eyes bore into mine.

For a long moment our eyes lingered, acknowledged and that was that.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” she said.

I nodded. “I know. This is pretty.” With those words our two worlds were lost behind us as we sat at the top of the hill looking beyond the great halls of Tara. There was only the two of us, the now, the moment.

We talked for hours and suddenly she stood saying, “You will be missed, I will be missed. Can you come again?”

“I will.” With that promise my faith was sealed. When I walked back down the path and got to the last two trees the air shimmered and I stepped through back to the world of my birth. I was a little shocked the first time to discover that time had passed while I visited with Grainne. I had been there for two full days. I was berated for not returning home, my chores tripled in an endeavor to teach me how to be responsible.

The trouble was my responsibilities had shifted – my priority was meeting Grainne again.

Top Tip Of The Week

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Don’t lose heart

So, you’ve slaved over a competition entry and you’re satisfied it’s your very best work. You enter it into the competition and nervously await the results – only to find out you’re not amongst the winners. Perhaps you’re not even on the longlist let alone the shortlist. How do you feel? Disheartened?  Ready to throw your story away? Vow never to enter a competition again?

I’ve gone through and felt all those things. But there’s hope. I recently entered a story into a flash fiction competition. It came absolutely nowhere. But I liked my story so I didn’t alter it and entered it into another competition. First I saw my name on the long list, then the short list before it was awarded second place.

It just goes to show how subjective writing competitions are. A similar thing has happened before. A judge slated my story. That same story, untouched, went on to win a different competition.

Have a brilliant weekend. Here’s a Friday Funny for you:

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