FREAK: 'Behind the Curtain' Flash Fiction

Carly sat at the table watching her dad as he stirred his coffee, his face hidden behind the newspaper. Her bowl of cereal sat untouched in front of her, the flakes already puffed up and soggy from sitting in the milk too long.

‘Dad?’ she tried.

‘Hmm?’ he replied. He lowered the paper just long enough to notice that she hadn’t eaten her breakfast. ‘You need to eat that,’ he said.

Carly pushed the spoon around the milk and frowned. ‘Dad?’

‘WHAT?’

He dropped the paper on the table and stared at her and she felt her bottom lip start to quiver.

‘Noth… nothing. It’s okay.’

As he stood up from the table, he gave her shoulder a quick squeeze. ‘We’ll speak  later, okay honey? I’ve got a busy day today. You get that breakfast eaten and get yourself off to school.’

Carly sniffed and nodded. ‘Okay, dad,’ she said, ‘love you…’ But he was already out of the front door.

Carly wished he’d had time to talk to her, just for a minute. She’d wanted to tell him about the Bad Man.

The one who had stolen Laurie Cheevers.

Some of the other girls at school said they’d seen him. That he was 8ft tall with a head the size of a bowling ball and pointy ears like the devil and teeth sharper than knives. Carly had said there was no man in the world who looked like that and the other girls had laughed at her and said she better run home to her daddy before the Bad Man came to get her next because he preferred little girls who didn’t have mummies.

Already running late, Carly cut through the woodland behind her house and found the whole place swarming with policemen and dogs and the crackle of walkie-talkies.

She was right!

She’d tried to tell her dad that she’d seen the Bad Man in the woods… and now they’d found him!

She skipped through the final dark canopy of trees and was almost back in the sunlight when she heard a small grunt; felt the weight of a shadow pressing on her back.

Too scared to turn around, she stood still and waited for the Bad Man to grab her. She screwed her eyes tightly shut and tried to picture Laurie Cheevers’ smiling face on that last night they’d been together, on the school trip to the circus.

* * * * *

This is my entry for Anna ‘Flash Fairy Queen extraordinaire’ Meade‘s ‘Behind the Curtain’ Flash Fiction Contest – you can find all the information on Anna’s Yearning for Wonderland site by clicking HERE.

Entries are accepted until Midnight (EST) Saturday 13th October. You can read the other entries (and add your own) by clicking on the linky link below.

Worth the wait?

As you may remember, I had the bright idea of creating an anthology for the Once Upon A Time Flash Fiction Contest, which was held to coincide with National Flash Fiction Day… which was on the 16th May. You may also remember that I had hoped to have the book ready for then… As you are no doubt aware, it is now almost July, and this was over six weeks ago…

So what happened?

Right, here goes (feel free to skip this bit if you’re not really interested in my pain, but the pain was real and I felt it and I want some sympathy…)

I DID have the book ready for the 16th May, pretty much. Of course I’ve made a few tweaks during the proofing stages, but by and large it was ready.

Thanks to Anna, we got a wonderful offer… Jess Grey (who also donated her book as a prize and is basically a bloody lovely lady) offered the services of her husband to create us a swanky new cover… for free! Whoohoo! Amazing, and after a very short time, we had agreed on the fabulous cover – which you can see below (sorry, it won’t go any bigger in this post, but you’ll get the general feel of its gorgeousness).

So far so good.

Then everything went wrong.

I wanted to use CreateSpace, but at the time they didn’t have a European distribution channel, which would’ve meant that half of the authors in the book would’ve had to order from the US, taking to long and costing too much in postage.

So I went with a UK based company, who have distribution partners in the US. They have a nice looking website and they came recommended and I had seen one of their books before  and it looked great – so what could possibly go wrong? Upload the interior file (created according to their specs), then upload the cover file (created according to their specs), get a proof copy (quickly) then get it out there for everyone to buy. Simple, right?

WRONG.

First off, their lovely looking website was actually quite faffy and difficult to navigate. Then I uploaded the interior… the sizing was wrong… er, hello? I created it according to your sizing spec. I amended and uploaded another. Ok, fine.

Then for the cover. Sizing was wrong. Completely. Er, hello again? It was created according to your sizing spec. Now you might be thinking – ok, big deal, fix it, upload again, move on. It wasn’t that simple.

I sent it back to Jess and it was fixed quickly, despite the confusion over why it wasn’t right when it was right according to the specs. To cut a long story short, I think this happened three times, maybe four. I lost the will to live at one point, but luckily Jess was a sweetie and calmed me down. her hubby was fitting this work around his real, proper work, so I had to be patient. Meanwhile, I exchanged a few emails with my contact at the printing company. I was sick of the pretty website – it seemed to be full of bugs and issues and I lost faith in it.

Finally, the proof came: the cover was the wrong size and a white line appeared down the edge.

At this point I was ready to give up on the whole thing. I felt totally crap. I thought I was going to have to let everyone down. I stayed off twitter, I didn’t blog. I went on holiday and started thinking ‘what if I never go on twitter again?’ This might sound like an overreaction – my account of it all probably doesn’t even sound that bad… but when you’re like me, and you like things to be perfect, it was all a massive, massive let down. My contact at the printing company didn’t get back to me, it was all hanging in limbo…

Then a miracle happened.

CreateSpace announced that they now had a European distribution channel, so the book could listed on both the .com and .co.uk Amazon sites. Happy Days!!

The process looked a bit complicated – it wasn’t. I expected issues with the formatting. As it turned out, they have a neat little template for the interior, I had to do minor resizing and shuffling and checking. I expected that the cover wouldn’t fit. I uploaded it anyway. It didn’t fit quite right, but guess what? THEY FIXED IT. No hassle, no crap, no tears from me. I ordered a proof… I paid the extra for super fast delivery… it arrived.

Guess what?

It looks fan-bloody-tastic!!!

So it’s now in the CreateSpace eStore – you can buy it from there, but it should be on Amazon in 5-7 days where the prices will show up in dollars, sterling, euros. I’ve made it as cheap as I possibly can for you – it’s under £3/$4 (plus postage), but you’re not allowed to have no royalties so I’ve set them at a penny. I’ll give all the pennies to charity, and I’ll let you know which one when I do.

Finally, I’m excited again – and I’ve managed to get my mojo back – I’ve been back writing my novel again this week, and I’ll update you on the progress of that soon. I’m still a bit quiet on twitter, but I am back and I’m gradually popping my head above the parapet.

I can’t wait until you see the book… I can’t wait for your reactions when it plops through your letterbox.

I hope you’ll agree with me when I say it’s worth the wait!

***

P.S. I haven’t been totally idle, I wrote a festival review while I was on holiday… 😉

National Flash Fiction Day: A Debrief

So unless you’ve been living on the moon for the last few months, you’ll know that National Flash Fiction Day was on Wednesday. To re-cap – this was an event that celebrated flash fiction, i.e. very short stories, usually written quite quickly and generally focussing on a brief moment in time (that’s my definition, but there’s nothing set in stone). There were events online and all over the country (and international events too) – you can read more about it on the website and blog. When I saw the first announcement about it on twitter, I immediately jumped in with both feet.

Once Upon A Time

My first port of call was to contact Anna Meade at Yearning For Wonderland and ask if she’d like to collaborate on a competition. ‘It’s not just for UK writers,’ I begged her… and after her recent success with The Fairy Ring contest, I was keen to run something similar. An open competition where writers post their stories on their own blogs and link them all together. The lovely thing about The Fairy Ring was the way that everyone supported each other, read each other’s entries, and generally caused a Twitter frenzy. After lots of time-zone limited discussions with Anna, we came up with Once Upon A Time (#ouatwriting) and started madly promoting using our alter-egos… she, #fairyqueen and I, #darkfairy. Sometimes these personas switched. The result was a whole sheaf of fabulous prizes, including books, t-shirts and general adoration. We exceeded expectations and received 88 fantastic entries. It was very difficult to choose the winners. I had a rather long shortlist, as did Anna, and guess what? They were almost completely different! After a few painful discussions, we both did another re-read and came up with a much shorter list, and finally, the winners.

Oliver Barton’s ‘Pink Bells‘ was just the perfect, poignant tale. Angela Readman‘s ‘A Mermaid in Texas’ was just so completely raw and stunning, it stuck with me from the very first time I read it. McKenzie Barham‘s ‘I can show you the world’, felt so unbelievable real, it just blew me away. Then there was the gorgeous fan favourite, ‘Three Simple Words’ by Cory Eadson… There were many, many others worthy of a mention too, and I realised I had to do something about this – we couldn’t just celebrate the winners…

So I had the bright idea of putting them all together into an anthology… I wanted to celebrate the competition, but I underestimated the difficulty and time-constraints of putting a book together. It turned into a logistical nightmare, trying to coordinate 88 entries into a book, when each one was formatted according to individual taste on everyone’s own blog… everyone’s editing style was just ever so slightly different: single or double quotes, curly or straight, short or long hyphens, double spaces at the start of sentences, breaks between paragraphs, and my personal favourite – using spaces instead of tabs! Writers, PLEASE don’t so this – it makes editing a complete nightmare 🙂 As for typos, everyone does the now and again – how many times have you read a published book and find them? The odd one isn’t an issue, but if there are a lot, it does look sloppy (Note: this doesn’t apply to any of the entrants!) Then, of course, I had to contact everyone to ask for their permission, to make sure I had their link details for the author info, and to chase up people with missing information… My email decided to cause me a few problems there, but I got in touch with everyone in the end! Anyway, it’s almost done and I’ll be posting details of where you can buy it soon 🙂

FlashFlood

Then came my next activity (note: I have not even mentioned writing anything myself yet…) I volunteered my services and was very pleased to be chosen as one of the 7 editors for the FlashFlood Journal (I also chose the name *ahem*). This involved us all taking a stint on the accept/reject and posting schedule. I’m not telling you which day I was on, but it was non-stop until midnight, then actually a fair bit past that, tidying up the inbox etc. It was a crazy experience (especially towards the end when the emails started bouncing back for no apparent reason)… Stories were flying in quicker than I could read them. I managed it by giving each one a quick read, then moving on, then going back to each one again – then a lot of the time, filing it for a third read. Some stories didn’t make it to the third read, and it wasn’t because they were bad. Mostly it was because they just didn’t grab me, even if the writing was beautiful. Others didn’t make it because I just didn’t understand them! That might’ve just been me though… the whole selection process is very subjective and each editor has their own likes and dislikes. FYI – some of my ‘not sure’ stories got 4or 5 reads – it was that difficult.

However, a few stand-out things that led to my third read (and remember this is only my opinion)

  1. A great title (seriously – if I have to pick from a pile of similar stories, the best title will win)
  2. A great opening line/paragraph
  3. A quirky subject that I haven’t already just read in similar forms in 20 other stories

Funnily enough, these three elements are things that I try hard to think about with my own writing. That, and a good ending. It doesn’t have to be definitive, but it has to be satisfying. I like twists too, but they have to work well. I won’t tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t write, but if you use your twist to tell us that ‘and all along the main character was an animal’ then you better write it well or else it leaves me disappointed! Again, just my opinion. My last thought on this (and some, but not all of the other editors agreed) is that don’t write stuff TOO depressing. It doesn’t have to be funny or crazy, that doesn’t always work either unless it’s written well; but after you’ve read a few miserable tales about funerals and cancer and break-ups, you get a bit fed up with them, even if they are beautifully written (before anyone says anything, yes, I am guilty of the odd bit of misery myself, that’s not the point here – we all do it!) I also learnt something else – as tempting as it might be to email the editors when you’ve received a rejection – don’t. They really and truly don’t have time to give feedback, especially on a project like this where the submissions came in over a short period of time and were being set up for posting on a schedule. I think we all tried our best to respond to everyone, but now having been on the other side, I appreciate how frustrating it must be for anyone hoping for feedback.

So – to sum up – being involved in both of these competitions was a  great experience and a great insight, and (being a glutton for punishment) I would love to do it again.

Stuff that I wrote

As for my own writing… *Beware – I am blowing my own trumpet here*

  1. ‘Shed’ was published in the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology, Jawbreakers
  2. ‘Message’ was published on 1000 Words
  3. ‘Sweet Sixteen’ was published in the Raging Aardvark Twisted Tales Anthology
  4. ‘Nightcrawler’ was published in Chris White’s Photocopier Press Pamphlet
  5. ‘The Rock’ was published on the FlashFlood Journal (note: subject to the editing process, like everyone else!)
  6. ‘Uncle Charlie’ was written and posted on the Write-in Blog on National Flash Fiction Day
  7. ‘Beware: Swans’ will be included in the Once Upon A Time Anthology

I also posted a flashpoint that I wrote in a pub 🙂

What’s next?

And now that it’s all over, I’m reverting back to my *To Write* list… which is ever growing (and includes getting back on with ‘the novel’)…

Thanks to everyone who’s been involved in the above, and a big big thanks to King of Flash, Calum Kerr for the excellent work he put in to creating  and executing National Flash Fiction Day… someone buy that man a cake!!

Once upon a time… there were WINNERS #OUATWRITING

At last – it’s 16th May and it’s finally here: National Flash Fiction Day 2012 – whoohoo!

I’m keeping this short and sweet, I don’t think any of us can cope with the suspense any longer…

The winners of #OUATWRITING are HERE!

Picking 3 out of the fabulous 88 entries was very, very hard – please don’t be disheartened if you are not one of the 3, but you should definitely pop over and give them all a pat on the back via Twitter, or by commenting on their blogs… but don’t forget to give yourselves a big pat on the back too – you all ROCK!

Head over to Yearning for Wonderland too, see what Anna’s got to say about all this… 🙂

As for the anthology – it’s nearly finished, and as soon as I’ve checked the proof, I’ll be posting details about where you can get hold of it!

In the meantime – keep writing… we love your stories 🙂

Why write flash? #ouatwriting #ukwriters #nffd

I have asked this question before, regarding short stories as a whole (see post here.) But in honour of National Flash Fiction Day and the upcoming competition to be hosted by myself and Anna Meade, I’m going to give a bit of context to the whole thing – especially for those of you who haven’t tried it before…

The common consensus is that flash fiction is anything under 1000 words. There is even a definition of it as being ’55 words; no more and no fewer’. There are many weekly competitions with word count requirements of 100 words, 200 words, five sentences and even one that can only fit on the size of a tweet (140 characters). There is a well know competition called Flash500 (guess how many words in that one) and lots of online anthologies asking for 300 words as a max. Everyone’s definition is a little different, and if you search the internet, you’ll find hundreds of sites dedicated to the art. Take a look at my flash page here for some of the details and examples of my flash. You can also read some great examples of flash on the National Flash Fiction Day writers pages here: click on a writer’s name to read a sample.

For me, it’s not about the word count – I love writing flash. It’s a particular challenge for a writer to tell a complete story in a very short space of time. Flash fiction is not about writing a paragraph or an excerpt. It has to be a complete story, with a beginning, middle and end. That’s not to say that the ending can’t be ambiguous. But there’s an difference between ambiguous and ‘is that it?’ It’s a hard balance to strike. Take this famous example by Ernest Hemmingway:

‘For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.’

This might be the most well known, shortest ever flash fiction – 6 words! And the origins of it are hazy – it’s thought that he wrote it to settle a bar bet… (TIP: Try drinking mojitos/daiquiris prior to writing  your flash fiction- if it worked for Hemingway, it can work for you!)

So this is a call to arms: when this contest opens (soon), Anna and I would love to see some entries from writers who’ve never written flash fiction before, and those who have tried it and been too scared to try it again, and OF COURSE we want entries from all you regular aficionados of the form – The Grandmasters of Flash (you know who you are…)

So don’t be shy – just enter!  (DISCLAIMER: We promise not to laugh at rubbish attempts (unless they are meant to be funny)).

To recap, the theme is UNEXPECTED FAIRYTALES

Take that as you will. Perhaps it is a fairy tale set in an unexpected place, like a gas station. Perhaps it is a fractured fairytale, a fairy tale turned on its head, a fairy tale that isn’t one till the end. There are fairy tales all around us, should we only care to look. 

… so get those story ideas percolating now!