Flash Fiction Competition – The Winners

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.

WINNER

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 and two unruly cats. She is currently writing her first historical novel for adults, set in Monmouthshire.

Janine Amos

RUNNER-UP

Cycle

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 on his bike, exploring new routes.

John Holmes

Flash fiction competition!

We’re through the dark days of January – hurrah!

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 cath.barton@talktalk.net 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.

Photograph copyright Cath Barton

I encourage you to use the prompt words imaginatively – have fun with the challenge and I look forward to reading your stories.

In conversation with Charmaine Wilkerson

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.

In the Sweep of the Bay is available for order through independent publisher Louise Walters Books.

Charmaine Wilkerson

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.

Guest post: Louise Tondeur with top tips and thoughts on writing in crazy times

When writer Louise Tondeur and I arranged to swap blog posts a couple of months ago we had no idea of the way the world was changing. 

Louise has added a preamble to the top tips she originally sent me and a caveat to one of her ‘don’ts’, to take account of the times in which we now find ourselves. I’m grateful to her for sharing this. 

 

How to write

You don’t need me to tell you that these are crazy times. Some people have more time to devote to writing right now, others have much less time or a much higher mental load and therefore less thinking space. My writing time has been cut in half, for instance, and I haven’t been able to think about it at all over the last week, but I’m extremely fortunate that my family are currently well and I do get some writing time as my wife and I can share the home-schooling. We’re all thinking about key workers at the moment and people are worried about loved ones, of course. So is now a good time to be writing at all? There are at least three answers to that. Firstly people need books, stories, poetry and screenplays more than ever right now. Secondly, writing can be a great way to express how you’re feeling about what’s going on. For example, by doing Julia Cameron’s morning pages. https://juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/morning-pages/ Thirdly, if you don’t have time to write during the current crisis, be kind to yourself. You don’t need to add ‘worry about not writing’ to your metal load.

10 top tips

  1. Turn up regularly – make a commitment and schedule it. Why? Because the only real way you learn to write is by doing it. To me, ‘turning up’ includes making lists, simply noticing things, reading, morning pages, and scribbling down ideas or snatches of dialogue.
  2. Read, watch, listen – make time for it, especially in the genre you want to write in. Why? Nobody would try to design a chair without ever sitting down. It’s the same with writing. It’s possible you have more time for this at the moment, possibly not. My wife and I have been trying to watch silly funny programmes to take our mind off the crisis for half an hour or so. This is perfect for me as I would love to write for TV. I am absolutely considering this as ‘research’!
  3. Notice the world around you – use mindfulness to help you write. Why? Because that way you ‘make things new’ for your readers. I think this is one technique we can all practise while the world is going topsy-turvy. I have rediscovered Tara Brach’s meditations over the last few days, which has been incredibly helpful, but even without meditations, you could try to pause for five minutes to notice a plant outside or the things in the room around you. This is a powerful life skill anyway and when you write you can use these observations to make your work more authentic.
  4. Use all of the senses available to you – don’t always default to the visual. Why? Because you’re much more likely to go deeper – and therefore write something more touching or unusual. Again, even if you are unable to find time to write at the moment, use all of your senses when you’re observing the world around you, because that’s going to help you when you sit down to write.
  5. Get in touch with the small detail – don’t simply look at a tree, look at the veins on a leaf. Why? Because, to borrow Susan Sontag’s words, writers are ‘observers of the world’. This is probably my favourite tip of all and you don’t have to be able to go out into the world to do it.
  6. Put yourself in the way of inspiration – theatre, poetry readings, art galleries, and museums. Julia Cameron calls this technique ‘filling the well.’ You can’t do this in person at the moment of course but there are many ways to do it virtually. One good thing about this crisis is the way in which people have pooled resources so these virtual worlds are more accessible than ever. (Plus, one thing that has helped me a lot over the last few weeks is imagining the things I’ll do and the places I’ll go when the danger is over!) Why? Because there are no lightning bolts of inspiration – you’ve got to find it. Waiting around for inspiration is a big mistake.
  7. A combination of 1 – 6: be open to life. Get in the way of the universe. Say ‘yes’. Try new things. Why? See the answers to ‘why?’ under 1 – 6!
  8. Move. Dance, walk, swim, do yoga. Whatever it is, get outside your own head. Why? Because it gives the creative mind a chance to mull over whatever you’re writing and because moving gives us a new (and usually better) perspective on the world. As before, most of these things aren’t possible at the moment outside of the home but you can find dance and yoga classes (for example) on YouTube.
  9. Get to know other writers – join a writers’ group or start one, and check out your local writing centre’s website. Why? For motivation and accountability and for tacit knowledge about your local writing scene. My writing group is using Zoom to stay in touch. It’s easy to use once it’s up and running and a good way to chat to several people virtually.
  10. Try submitting something – or get hold of an opportunity from a writing magazine or online and work to the word count and deadline even if you don’t ultimately send it in. Why? Understanding the process of submission makes it a whole lot less scary and having a practice go makes it easier when you come to do it ‘for real’.

5 things NOT to do:

  1. Don’t compare yourself to other writers. We tend only to hear about successes, which warps the picture. Behind every success story you’ll find multiple ‘failures’ that were simply stepping stones.
  2. Don’t read / talk / think about writing without actually doing it. See tip number one above!
  3. Don’t give up after facing hurdles (for some people this means ‘the middle’ of whatever they are writing!). See these as opportunities to look for a solution. Believe me, this is where the fun starts.
  4. Don’t write only one draft. Real writing is redrafting – multiple times.
  5. Don’t write one thing. It’s easy to get fixated on ‘the Novel’ – I know that from experience. Have a go at writing a short story or a monologue or a poem. Give yourself a break from your main project.

I’m doing Sophie Hannah’s Dream Author coaching programme at the moment and she says that we should definitely compare ourselves to other writers – in detail not simply on social media – because then we will see how their writing lives have progressed, and understand the successes and challenges that got them to where they are. I’m adding that as a caveat to ‘don’t’ number 1, because if you do some detailed research it can be fascinating to compare yourself to other writers!

 

Louise Tondeur is a novelist and short story writer. She originally trained as a drama teacher, and currently tutors on the OU’s Creative Writing MA. She blogs at: http://www.louisetondeur.co.uk/blog and http://www.smallstepsguide.co.uk You can find her on Twitter here: @louisetondeur and on Facebook at: facebook.com/louisetondeurwriter

Author pic. Louise Tondeur
Louise Tondeur, credit Ana Bohane Photography

 

 

Dealing with uncertainty and anxiety

We all of us face this just now, writers as much as anyone else. How to deal with it? My small suggestions:

  • Bake breadSourdough. the cut and the rise
  • Walk the hillsWalking on the hills
  • Drink wineThe boys taste the local wine 2
  • And, finally, don’t give yourself any pressure to write anything. It can wait.

 

 

Coming next: Guest post with top does and don’ts for writers