Thursday, 30 September 2010

Short Story: Genre Dance

Miranda had prepared for her evening out with care. A tall, dark, handsome man had presented her with roses when he met her at the restaurant. The dining room was lit by candlelight alone and during the time it took them to dine, Miranda’s companion complimented and flattered her until she felt beautiful and adored. After they had ordered coffee, he held her gaze as he gently took her hand across the table.
Miranda was disappointed when she was dragged from her dream by the sound of the mail clattering through the letter box.

Leaving the warmth of her bed, Miranda glanced in the mirror and saw to her delight that her make up was as perfect as when she had fallen into bed the previous evening. Pouting at her reflection in the mirror, she pulled a silken robe around her low-cut satin nightdress. Sliding her feet into kitten heel slippers, she had descended the stairs by the time the doorbell rang. As she opened the door, her robe slipped off her right shoulder. Miranda smiled lasciviously as she spotted the rugged looking gardener on her doorstep.
“I’ve come to sort out your bush,” he said, and she raised her eyebrow suggestively.
“Come on in,” she whispered, “don’t mind my outfit”.
“Oh, I don’t mind at all,” he said under his breath as Miranda led him into the kitchen.

The coffee pot whistled as Miranda looked out through her kitchen window. With a puzzled expression, she wondered where the gardener had disappeared to. As she watched, his image materialised from nowhere. She was either imagining things, or there was a magical force taking hold in her garden. She shook her head as she poured steaming black coffee into the waiting cups.

As Miranda observed, the gardener picked up a shovel. Strong, solid muscles twitched in his forearms as he began to dig with a determined look on his face. It didn’t occur to Miranda that he was meant to be pruning foliage, not digging a deep rectangular trench in the soil. She went upstairs and enjoyed a relaxing shower. She failed to hear the footsteps climbing the stairs…

“Honey, are you in there?” Simon yelled above the noise of the shower.
“Yes, I’ll be out in a second” Miranda replied, wondering why Simon was home mid-morning. As she turned the shower off and wrapped herself in a thick towel, she shouted, “The gardener finally came to sort out that overgrown shrubbery, thank goodness.”
But as she returned to their bedroom, she noticed the grey, drawn expression on Simon’s face.
“What’s happened?” she asked urgently, her heart sinking, “is it the kids?”

Simon took a deep breath.
“I am not sure how to tell you this, but I am not of this world,” he began. “I was hoping to be able to stay, but it seems that my time has come. Seven years has passed so it is time for me to leave.”
“Is this some sort of sick joke?” Miranda began, incredulously. “Is there someone else?”
“I know you won’t believe me,” Simon gently replied, “but I am sorry to tell you that when Zac is seven he will also follow in my footsteps. That’s how it works when we visit from Zoriagon.”

Meanwhile, across town, Zac and Millie were sitting in a sandpit with some friends. Zac was nearly four and Millie two, but they always played together at pre-school. They were enjoying their time building sand castles, and were surprised when their dad came out into the garden to see them. He hugged them close and said, “Goodbye” which made them feel even more confused. They giggled as he tickled them, but didn’t turn to watch when he left. It was only ten minutes until Benny the Bear was due to show up, and everyone was excited about that special visit.

Back at the house, Miranda washed up coffee cups then gathered Simon’s clothes into bags to drop at a charity shop on the way to the pre-school. She opened the French window and strolled around the garden.
‘That rectangular patch of earth could do with being planted out,’ she thought. ‘I will pick up some bulbs from the garden centre before I collect the children.’ She smiled to herself as she whispered aloud, “That gardener will fertilise the soil nicely”.

The only thing left to sort out was the matter of her scheduled overseas mission. That was going to be impossible to pull off now that Simon had gone and she had no other full time childcare options available. She was sure that The Agency would understand.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Writing Tools: Six Minute Story


As every writer knows, there are times when the ideas flow and we have free time and an open mind to channel these stories.

There are other times when we have very little time and a million other things to be doing. We all know that life can be hectic, and it can be frustrating when you want to write and you can't seem to fit it in.

These excuses have been made redundant due to a fantastic website called Six Minute Story. You simply go to the website, pick your prompt, and once you click in the text box you have a total of six minutes to write and edit your story.

You can pick which prompt you wish to use, or if you want to be really daring you can go straight to the site and click in the box to see the prompt of the day. That means you have to think on the fly. I admit, I have yet to take the latter approach.

Six Minute Story is like a micro version of NaNoWriMo, and similar to Dr Wicked's fabulous Write Or Die. With all of these tools, you end up with a piece of writing but the pace is furious. It's not for the faint hearted but it is a fabulous adrenaline rush and will remove your writer's block and make you feel like you have achieved something even with very limited time.

Why not give it a try? It will only take up six minutes of your time.

If you would like to see some of my Six Minute Stories alongside the prompt photographs, please take a look at them on the Six Minute Story site.

Friday, 24 September 2010

50 Stories for Pakistan

Today I heard that my story Listen has been selected as one of the stories to be included in '50 Stories for Pakistan'. This book is a project that was started by Greg McQueen who was also responsible for '100 Stories for Haiti'. Proceeds from sales of this book will go to the Red Cross Pakistan Floods Appeal and I am deeply honoured to have had my story selected for an anthology that will be raising money for such a worthy cause.

On a personal note, this is the first time that I have had something published on paper since my poem Images was published in 1986! For that reason alone I am delighted at the inclusion of my story.

I think you will agree that the cover of this book is stunning. I was ready to buy a copy on the strength of that alone. And now, because of my story being included, you'll be hearing a lot more about it from me as time goes on...

Harvest Festival: We Will Go Out With Joy

For the past few years I have been attending the Harvest Festival in a nearby village where my children go to pre-school and school. The pre-school are often invited, so since my daughter was 3 in 2005 I have found myself listening to "Autumn Days" and similar hymns, sung by children and teachers alike. This not only reminds me of my childhood, (they use the same hymn books: Come and Praise!) but also of the fact that I do like a good sing. But anyway...

From 2005 I have always had the child that is there with their pre-school or school, plus one other. A baby, who may or may not scream or want a feed at the most awkward time, or a toddler who is more interested in flicking the kneeler pads off the hooks in front of us.

This year I attended and two of my children sat with their school groups and the third one sat with the pre-school. I have waited for the day when I can just sit and watch them all. I've waited and longed for it. Yet now that the time has come, it really hit me that, for that half an hour at least, they no longer need me.

When I welled up in the church this morning, it was not only because I could see my son smiling as he sang, and I could see my daughter singing without skipping any words. It was also because a small part of my heart was breaking for the loss of those early days.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Short Story: Temptation

It was five thirty and the children were eating when he arrived home. He hugged his wife and whispered “I’m feeling a bit fruity tonight.” But then the baby cried. 
“Later,” she promised with a sigh.

Later never came. Or rather, later came, but with it the tiredness that led to instant sleep as soon as their heads hit the pillows. Nothing could have prepared him for the dreams:

He was walking along Temptation Avenue.

He looked left. Full bouncing orbs, hanging downwards but still firm. He wanted to reach out and feel the smooth skin under his fingertips. He resisted and won.

He looked right. What seemed like hundreds of tight, round, reddish buds. He had the urge to touch and tease, then to gently caress them with his tongue. Instead he looked away.

Ahead he saw large round mounds of tight flesh begging to be stroked. He scrunched his eyes tight to avoid further temptation.

He woke with a start. The sun was slowly rising on a chilled Saturday morning.

“Harvest time,” he whispered to his slumbering wife, “I’ll go out and gather up some fruit right now before I forget.”

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Authortrek Revisited

Hi everyone

If you have visited my blog before you may remember my post 'One Little Click' where I asked for votes on my story on Authortrek. Well I am pleased to say that that story, 'A Knowing Look' received the most votes so far for any of the stories on Authortrek.

I have put another story on the site for September which is a re-edit of my story 'The Gift'. Please do take a look and vote if you like it.

I am not going to do a hard push for votes this month, firstly because I am concentrating on my novel, and secondly because it would seem a bit greedy to push so hard for votes two months in a row. I wanted to mention the Authortrek site again though, as I think a lot of my writer friends would enjoy it. It's a great way to get reader feedback on a story and well worth a visit.

If you have any spare time, please do read some of the other stories on there. We writers do love feedback!
My favourite for September is a story called 'Winner Takes All', by Lisamarie Lamb. Do have a read and vote if you like it.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Beta Readers: Feedback on my Novel

So it's the first day of term and my first child-free writing time in a long time. I am currently collating my feedback from a number of readers (26 in total!) who have read two versions of the first couple of chapters of my novel.

Last week I decided (as you do) that perhaps the story would read better in the first person, present tense instead of in third person, past tense. I re-wrote the beginning of it and was quite happy with the result. Luckily I am able to type very quickly, so I rewrote the first tenth of the book in under an hour. I still felt quite uncertain which version to go with though, so decided to ask some friends to have a read, and see what other people thought.

I started off asking some peers. Their feedback led me to think, why don't I ask some readers in the target market of 9-12 year olds? I ended up getting feedback from a total of 17 children between the ages of 7 and 14. I have to say I know some LOVELY children, they all came back to me quickly and with very helpful comments.

First of all I would like to share some of their thoughts:
I am pleased to say that none of them told me that they hated it!
EB (9) said, "I really wish this book could be published".
HE (14) said, "It's weird because I was never really a year seven, (thank goodness)but moving a lot, that's exactly what you feel like! Even asking where the bathroom is was really embarassing."
JD (12) asked her mum to ask me if I would sign a copy for her when it is published. Her mum also emailed me this morning to say she has told her friends all about me. Bless her.

My friend Rachel and her three children read it and she sent me this comment: "They liken the book to Jacqueline Wilson (which you must take as a huge compliment as they read everything by her!) They liked hearing about Sam, and her personal problems, both can empathise having been bullied and like the real life aspects..."

I also had several people who said that they would like to read the book when it was published (not all of them children!).

I'm so impressed with all of the feedback I received, especially as I only asked whether they preferred one version or another.

That of course, was the most important question. And the results:

*Drumroll*

An EXACT 50 / 50 split!
Then when I look specifically at the 9-12 year olds it is... an exact 50 / 50 split again.

So... which version am I going to go with?

You'll just have to buy the book to find out...

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Spotlight on: D.J. Kirkby (Includes competition)

I first started chatting to D.J. Kirkby on Twitter before I realised that she had a book under her belt and another one due for release. One word: CLICK! I can't vouch for her but it was quite powerful for me how mighty this click was. She's now up there in my list of firm favourites.

It was with great pleasure that I ordered both her memoir From Zaftig to Aspie (from Amazon) and her novel Without Alice (directly from Punked Books). They both arrived through my letterbox during the same week. I was really excited about reading them both but I had to wait until I had a couple of days away to be able to properly read and absorb them.

I chose to read From Zaftig to Aspie first. By this point I felt I knew D.J. Kirkby quite well but wanted to know her back story. She is the first to admit that she self published this memoir and that she has dyslexia. To me this enhanced the read, as I am full of admiration for the courage involved in this decision. If you bear in mind her dyslexia as you read it, you cannot fail to be impressed with this book.

The content is fascinating in itself. A story of a very colourful and full life, It is sometimes hard to imagine that one person can have had so many varied experiences. The writing is very intimate, and at times I felt like I was being a snoop and peeking in on D.J. Kirkby's private thoughts. This, in my opinion, makes From Zaftig to Aspie one of my favourite memoirs ever. I sat in a public place with big fat tears rolling down my cheeks at one point. I didn't even bother to brush them away. You will not be able to read this book without feeling emotional.

Five seconds after finishing From Zaftig to Aspie, I started Without Alice. I read it in under a day. The characters draw you in from the very start, and being as I always see the best in people until they prove me wrong, I did wonder what the deal was with Stephen at the beginning. He didn't 'feel' like the type that would be a complete bastard for the sake of it. I have so much empathy for Jennie, and for some of the secondary characters as the process of labour, birth and having a young baby was described, and my own memories came flooding back. The way the main characters are all involved is unravelled in what feels like a bit of a dance as they try and establish their own place in both their lives and in your mind. It truly is one of those books that you do not want to end. I put it down for a while when I had a few pages left, to try and savour the moment.

One thing I would like to mention about D.J. Kirkby is her wonderful eye for all things beautiful. You simply cannot fail to notice that the covers of both of her books are eye catching. I think this has hit a chord, as in some cases it seems that a cover can sell a book on it's own. You only have to look at the Facebook fan page for Without Alice to see that 'Stephen' (or rather the front cover model) has his own little fanclub.

An exclusive for you now: From chatting to D.J. Kirkby I became intrigued, and eventually asked why she chose to write as D.J.Kirkby. Curiosity led to my question - was it because she didn't like her name, wished to remain gender free, or for some other reason. The actual answer was one I would not have been able to anticipate at the time (pre reading From Zaftig to Aspie). The J is for her brother, Jia. So now you know too. But surely now you want to read the memoir now to find out the full story? I may be able to help you with that:
I have a copy of From Zaftig to Aspie and a copy of Without Alice to give away. If you would like to be included in this competition, please leave a pick me comment after this post and say whether you would like to read one in particular, or both.

I will select the winners on 20 September 2010.

You can follow D.J. Kirkby's blog here at Chez Aspie.
From Zaftig to Aspie Facebook page.