We all need to recharge our batteries from time to time. To take a holiday. But you don’t necessarily need to go away from home to do this; you just need to change your routine.
For a writer, taking a break is important. Take your brain elsewhere for a bit.
I’m taking a break from writing fiction during August. My draft novel is out with beta readers, so it’s a perfect time for me to do something else. Okay, I have one flash fiction story to edit and one review to write. But otherwise I shall be reading, walking and attempting to teach myself to play the mandolin.
It’s lovely to get more coverage for my book In the Sweep of the Bay, and also to do my little bit to encourage more young people to read. Our public library service is a treasure for children and adults alike. Use it or lose it!
Meanwhile, you can still buy In the Sweep of the Bay direct from the publisher, Louise Walters Books, or from any good bookshop.
My first book, The Plankton Collector, is also still available, and Waterstones currently have it on offer in their sale at just £2!
Congratulations to Janine Amos and John Holmes, the winner and runner-up in my competition. I am delighted to be able to share their stories.
Janine will also receive a copy of my novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, which has been kindly donated by my published, Louise Walters.
A Stranger Finds Her Voice
by Janine Amos
I stand at the hotel window, looking out over the bay: white foam horses riding a grey, greasy sea. I dig my knuckles into the window-sill and take two deep, slow breaths in – and –out, in a vain attempt to still my fiercely-beating heart. What I am about to do may rile the mob for I am a stranger here. A gull dives past, shrieking its yellow warning and is carried away on the wind.
“Miss Davis, it is time.” A timid tap on the door and in pops Rosemary Jones the tweeny, sent up by Cook no doubt, who can’t stand the sight of me. The little maid bobs a curtsey, reaches for my pot from under the bed, and scuttles away with it down the back stairs. Her trembling figure gives me heart as I must give heart to other women and girls the land over.
I leave the sea view and make my way down two flights of stairs to the front of the building. A faint smell of boiled cabbage pervades the air; my stomach lurches as memories of Holloway rise to my throat like bile. I swallow. The tread of the carpet is bare in parts; this is a seedy, run-down sort of place notwithstanding its genteel façade. My legs are shaking so that I stumble and must take hold of the banister. I am all alone, despite Miss Richardson’s assertion that she would be by my side, alone and vulnerable just as I was in my prison cell. I force myself to attend to the business in hand.
A constable waits at the french doors and I am guided on to the balcony. A gust of wind catches the brim of my hat and threatens to carry it away, but it settles and I look out at a different sea: a sea of gentlemen’s boaters. A large crowd has gathered just below me, nearly all gentlemen but some ladies too, their hats bedecked with ribbons and roses. I am an amusement to most of them, no doubt, a curiosity to help them while away a summer morning in a seaside town, but some will heed my call. If I can change but one mind, I will have done my job.
“Get on with it!” The first heckle comes from the front of the pack, before I have even begun to speak.
A rotten egg smacks onto the wooden board in front of me, spilling out its contents. Cabbages, carrots, an array of vegetable scrapings follow.
“Please – “a stick, smeared in some foul-smelling substance flies past my face and hits the door-frame behind me. I quake. The horrors of prison return: the stench, the horrific snake of the rubber feeding tube.
Then, wobbling along the road on a bicycle is Miss Richardson; a friendly face at last. The sight of her gives me the courage I need to continue and, keeping my eyes fixed upon her, I begin my speech again.
“I am a Suffragette!”
Janine Amos worked as a children’s commissioning editor in London, Bath, Berlin and Chicago before beginning her career as a children’s writer and tutor. She is the author of more than sixty ‘special issue’ information and ‘faction’ books for children, on topics such as bullying, divorce, anger and self-esteem. She has been published in fourteen languages. Janine takes her writing into schools and works with small groups of children to help them make stories of their own.
Janine has recently returned to live in Wales, to the beautiful town of Usk, where she lives with her husband andtwo unruly cats. She is currently writing her first historical novel for adults, set in Monmouthshire.
by John Holmes
The sound of perfection.
Bicycle chains and bikers’ breathing, oiled gears and smooth tyres. Finely tuned harmonies rising from the choreographed band, accompanying the flashes of colour, backed-up with its own wind.
Individuals working in unison, all waiting to orchestrate a solo break.
As they zip by, they create their own live stream.
I cheer loudly as they pass, but internally I worry that wheels will touch, carbon will snap and we’ll be only left with a choir of human cries.
The notes are carried away to the new, appreciative audience, waiting further down along the sweeping bay. Necks stretched, eyes wide and ears open. Cold fingers attentively hovering over the record buttons on their phones. The musical movement is heading their way.
Leaning back against my firm cushion, I allow myself to soak in the new silence, which is suddenly broken by the far off cry of a single, black-headed gull. I throw my dark memories up there – force them to grow wings and fly away. As always, some of them are just too powerful to take off. That day my bike screeched across the tarmac, like the call of that single bird, is still my private, permanent tinnitus.
My attempts to turn the wheels are fruitless. I’ve sunk deep into the muddy verge. A cheerful spectator registers my difficulty, gives me a firm push on to the path and I’m on my way.
‘Watch the pot…’ he shouts, as my front, right wheel bounces into a hole.
‘Too late,’ he adds with a laugh.
My chair rattles violently over the uneven paving, fighting the gaps and cracks.
No beautiful music escaping from my transport. It performs only one tune.
The sound of reality.
John Holmes, based in the North East of England, is a writer of short fiction. ( JohnHolmesWriter.com )
He is a previous winner of the The Times Short Crime Fiction Story prize.
In the last 12 months his work has appeared in Paragraph Planet, 101 Words, Fragmented Voices, Pen to Print, Glittery Literature, Globe Soup, Drabble, Cross The Tees, Bag of Bones and Ellipsis Zine.
John is the co-author of Rough Rides, a mountain biking guide book (ISBN 0861901894 9780861901890).
When he isn’t writing, he’s out onhis bike, exploring new routes.
Louise Walters is promoting my novella In the Sweep of the Bay as her Book of the Month in February – both paperback and ebook are available from her website at reduced prices and the ebook is 99p/99c everywhere for the whole of the month – paperbacks will be signed and each comes with a free flash fiction story, one of my Untold Stories of Ted and Rene.
To coincide with this I’m running a flash fiction competition. The winner will have their story published here on my website AND (courtesy of Louise Walters) will receive a copy of my book, or, if they already have it, can nominate a friend to receive a copy..
Here are the rules:
Write a flash fiction of no more than 500 words, not including the title (no minimum).
Include the words bay, gull, pot and bicycle in the story.
End the story with a sentence that is 4 words long.
Follow the usual rules about content – nothing defamatory please.
One story per entrant.
Send your story to me at firstname.lastname@example.org by midnight (UK time) on Sunday 13th February.
Attach the story as a .doc or .docx document. No pdfs or other formats, please.
In the subject line of your email type the words Submission: Bay competition. Nothing else.
Do not put the title of your story anywhere in the email – all stories will be anonymised before judging.
Entries are welcome from writers anywhere in the world.
I will choose and publish an anonymous shortlist by Sunday 20th February, and a winner and one or two runners-up by Sunday 27th February.
I will contact shortlisted writers before publication of the shortlist, and the winner and runner(s)-up before I announce them.
The winner will be offered online publication of their story, plus a copy of In the Sweep of the Bay – paperback or ebook in the UK, but ebook only elsewhere.
I will acknowledge receipt of all entries.
Any entry that does not follow these rules will be disqualified.
Sorry, I cannot offer feedback on unsuccessful entries or enter into correspondence about them.
Sorry this all sounds so formal – the rules are to ensure fairness.
I encourage you to use the prompt words imaginatively – have fun with the challenge and I look forward to reading your stories.
It’s wonderful to have support from other writers. In the run-up to publication of my new novella, I had the great pleasure of talking with the brilliant writer Charmaine Wilkerson, who I have got to know through the international flash fiction community.
CW: Cath, it was a pleasure to read through your lovely novella, In the Sweep of the Bay. Your story spans decades and generations within the life of the family at the centre of this story with such finely textured language and profound insights. How would you describe this novella in one line?
CB: It’s the story of a long marriage and the persistence of happiness, in spite of all obstacles.
CW: Where did the idea of the couple at the centre of the story, Ted and Rene, come from?
CB: I don’t know! Did I see a couple like them, in that café on the seafront in Morecambe that they visited on a day out? I wonder. Certainly I went to that café, and the scene was the first section of the book that I wrote, a snapshot of Ted and Rene in later life. It was a stand-alone flash originally and I called it Keeping the Magic Alive. Thinking about it, that could have been the title of the book – it’s what’s at the core of it.
CW: One of the things I appreciate about all of your writing, not only in this novella, is your use of small, telling details in a story. Often, those details evoke a sense of place, not the least of which is the English bay, Morecambe, which is referred to in the title of the story. Which element tends to come first in terms of inspiration for your story ideas- location, character, or event?
CB: Character, I think, always. Or rather, characters moving through their lives. I see the action scrolling out like a film. You know how in a film you can ‘read’ the characters’ emotions on their faces? That’s what I hope I can conjure up for reader in prose.
CW: In this novella, the sense of place includes the interior settings evoked through your storytelling. The buzz of comradeship at the ceramics factory, the coat shop, a hotel lobby, a marital bed. Do these details just come to you in the writing or do you find you take notes in your daily life which then lend themselves to story scenes?
CB: I do wish I was good at keeping notes, because we are surrounded by characters for stories as we walk down the street, any street, on any day. But I don’t carry a notebook. I do take photographs, though; I think I have a strong visual sense, and (I hope) good intuition.
CW: The end of the story is intriguing. I don’t want to give it away here but I do want to mention that it leaves the reader thinking, is this based on a true story?
CB: No, this is pure fiction.
CW: You frequently publish short stories, in particular, flash fiction? What about your longer projects? What can readers expect to see from you next?
CB: I like the shorter forms, novella, short story, flash fiction. I used to say I’d never write a novel. But I have a couple of longer projects. One is a novel I started in NaNoWriMo in 2018, set in Nepal in the aftermath of an earthquake. The other is what think will end up as a novel based on the life of my Auntie Phyllis, who was a famous circus artiste. I feel a responsibility to write her story. Though, unhelpfully, she left few words, only pictures, so what I write has to be fiction.
However, I may just write another novella – or even two! – first. I do seem to have an affinity with the novella form. I’ve tried writing novellas-in-flash without success, but I’m thinking of having a go at a novelette-in-flash, in which each separate story is under 500 words. I’m taking advantage of Nancy Stohlman’s prompts for FlashNano this month to help me with that.
Charmaine Wilkerson is an American writer who lives in Italy. Her award-winning flash fiction can be found in Best Microfiction 2020 and numerous anthologies and magazines. Her story How to Make a Window Snake won the Bath Novella-in-Flash Award in 2017 and the Saboteur Award for Best Novella in 2018. Her debut novel Black Cake is due to be published in 2022.