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.”

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:


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...