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Hello!  Thanks for stopping by!  Fiction Can Be Fun is a writing project run by David @breakerofthings and Debs @debsdespatches.

We run a writing prompt once a month to which all comers are invited to participate, we each post a piece of fiction every month, and we’re the originators of #secondthoughts. #secondthoughts are reflections on writing, responses to writing and…well, take a look and you’ll see!

If you’d like to find out more/get involved, please do take a look at the About page.  Or you can send us a message via the Contact page or our Twitter handles (above).

Our regular schedule

1st Sunday #FF Prompt – submission deadline the Friday following @ 2 pm GMT
(or use our #TortoiseFlashFiction page if the deadline is too tight)

2nd Sunday An original short story from Debs

3rd Sunday A #SecondThoughts piece from David or Debs
(except for those occasions when we’ve been able to persuade a guest to write one for us!)

4th Sunday The next edition of David’s 2019 Writing Experiment

5th Sunday On the occasion when these occur, we love to host a guest post, so do get in touch if you could be interested.

Cally’s wedding

He was but 10 years old when first he met Cally. She’d stopped to help him back on his bike after her older brothers had knocked him down. Some time later, she taught him how to fly under the radar. It was the best course of action for folks like him, for his family were church folk and hers most decidedly were not. Her lessons worked darn well and Cally’s brothers soon found other targets. The rest of his schooldays, James split his time between his studies and teaching those targets the life lessons he’d learned from Cally.

Cally had always been kind to folks, so James felt genuine surprise when she started dating one of her oldest brother’s friends – someone most folks regarded as not a nice guy – yet Cally seemed smitten. Like her brothers, Cally left school as soon as it was legal, to start working in the family business. In contrast, James stayed the full course, studying hard till he graduated. But having planned his escape, James skipped the graduation ceremony, spending the next few years working in the third world.

But he’d made a promise to join the seminary, one he’d returned to fulfil. Now he was home, freshly ordained, come back to support his father. Although remarkable for his age, his old Dad had been struggling with the size of parish allocated to him, yet always turned down offers of assistance, in the fervent hope James would – one day – fill that role. He’d been kept busy too, so busy there’d been no time to catch up with old friends. Then, just as he was finding his feet, his father had a fall. Despite attempts to brush it off as just a broken wrist, complete bed rest was prescribed,  and that’s when James discovered what busy really meant. With his mother caring for her husband full-time, James carried both their workloads alongside his own, which explained why he hadn’t realised Cally was getting married in his church … until he recognised her walking up the aisle that is.

Shock gave way to relief – she wasn’t marrying that guy; the one she’d been so smitten with all those years ago. He suspected she wasn’t marrying any friend of her brothers either, for none were church goers, not even for weddings and funerals.


“My goodness, it’s that boy – the minister’s son. I thought he was away doing good deeds in Africa or such like.” Cally knew her mind should be on Brett, the handsome man by her side, her husband-to-be, but she’d not been able to think straight since the hen night.

Thing is, Brett had made this huge thing about their waiting till after the wedding, yet it turned out he’d been keeping company with at least two of her bridesmaids. It was their drunken confessions that fateful night which had left Cally questioning everything. She hadn’t known what to do. Her entire family had been up in arms when she’d chosen Brett. They’d expected her to marry one of the boys – for her brothers had a lot of friends and there was no doubting she could’ve had her pick of them.

But Cally had wanted something different. She’d dated a few of the boys but, if she was honest, she found it hard to tell them apart. Nice enough, some were even real nice looking, but none got her motor running. There was no drive, no ambition, no plans, hell no sign of much in the way of brains. Not one of them read other than sports magazines. They liked to hang out with their pals, expecting their girl to be satisfied with listening to their joshing, then drive them home. Surely there had to be more to life than that?

Then she met Brett. When her aunt got married for the second time, she’d insisted they go away for a hen weekend somewhere fancy to change her luck. They’d shared fun and a lot of laughs, till a problem with flights left them stranded for an extra day. It was at the airport she’d run into Brett – there with his friends, all hungover after a stag weekend. Brett had been attentive, good mannered, and keen as mustard. They’d started dating immediately she got home and Cally had been sure she’d found “the one”. Until her hen night that is.

Since that night, she’d gone through the motions and not one living soul had spotted anything wrong. She’d made her bridesmaids swear not to breathe a word, and it seems the guilt had kept them quiet.

Cally’d intended to make a decision by now, but here she was, standing in front of the minister – James – that was his name, she remembered now. They’d done their rehearsal with the old minister during the week, but she’d heard something about him falling off his bicycle. She was following the cues and responding automatically, but this couldn’t go on.


It was a blessing that her duties had pretty much ended when Cally had handed over her bouquet, for Becky’s mind had been in a whirl ever since she’d decided to tell her friend what her husband-to-be was truly like. He wasn’t the good guy he’d pretended to be – all said and done, he was no better than any of the boys Cally had known all her life. Sure he’d better manners and a glossier veneer, but he was still a dog underneath it all.

He’d caught Becky out by charming her into helping him chose a wedding gift for Cally. To thank her, he’d invited her out to dinner, then got her drunk before trying it on in the car while driving her home. Yes, she should’ve said no, but she’d been smitten from the very first time she’d seen him – and that was well before Cally’d met him. She’d pretty much decided to fake illness in order to avoid the wedding, when another bridesmaid confessed to being in the same boat. A few discrete questions later and the truth came out – Brett had been quite the lad while wooing Cally.

She’d really believed Cally would call it all off immediately, expecting it to happen at any moment. Unsure where she stood with Cally now, she’d tried to stay close by, in case Cally needed support when the news broke. Now she now wondered if Cally was actually going to go through with the wedding after all.

Brett was gazing into Cally’s eyes and repeating his vows – oh lord, what a rat! If only she’d been brave enough to shout out when the minister had asked “is there anyone here present …?” for now it was time for Cally’s vows. As the minister spoke to Cally, Becky realised why he’d looked vaguely familiar. Momentarily distracted by recognising James, she realised that he was having to repeat “will you take this man …?” while giving Cally a most concerned look. Cally was just standing there – in complete silence – when she should have been saying “I do.” Handing the bouquet to another bridesmaid, Becky stepped forward. Taking Cally’s hand in hers, Becky addressed James quietly “Is there somewhere we can go to get away from the crowd?”

Brett flushed red in the face and tried to grab Cally’s hand from Becky. A picture of calm, James looked Cally in the eye and asked “would you like to get away from here?” At her mute nod, he stepped between her and Brett, leading her away from the altar to a side room. Holding his arm out for Becky to join Cally, he closed the door firmly behind them. In the quiet of the side room, Becky could hear James speaking to the congregation, asking that they disperse quietly in respect of the bride’s wishes. There were raised voices – Brett’s prime among them – but James remained calm, repeating his request, until everyone finally complied.


In the time it took for the church to empty, James remembered those lessons he’d learned at Cally’s hand all those years ago. Now he was finally in the position to repay her kindness – and he was grateful.


© Debra Carey, 2019

#FlashFiction: A case of unintended consequences

We called them the dickie birds.  Thick as thieves they were at school.  Today people would say they were BFFs, but then that’s just another example of the Fall of Mankind as far as I’m concerned…where was I?  Oh yes.  Peter and Paul, the dickie birds – what?  You know, two little dickie birds…no?  Two little dickie birds, sitting on a wall, one named Peter, one named Paul.  There’s more but I’ll be drummed out of the golf club before I sing anymore.  You can just look it up.  Listen, stop distracting me.  Peter and Paul, both of them had brains the size of planets…no I’m not interested in your diodes.  What diodes?  What are you blithering on about?  Look, stop interrupting.  If you haven’t got anything sensible to say…

Right.  Peter and Paul.  Great friends.  Oxbridge bound both of them, although that’s not saying much when you think about it.  Anyone who went anywhere else was thought a bit of a duffer really.  One chap went to Imperial.  Nearly had to return his school tie.  And then there was what’s his name…went to a redbrick.  We don’t talk him.

Not sure what went wrong, but back then they had this plan of changing the world.  They tried to come up with a new model of taxation.  Do you know Income Tax was brought in originally to pay for the war against Napoleon?  Oh! You did? Hrmph. Well, there are lots of examples like that.  Lots of things that don’t really make sense.  Lots of times when you hand over money, you’re paying for something completely different, like a road of a hospital.  But what about all the things that you end up paying for that have nothing to do with you.  Robbing Peter to, heh, pay Paul, so to speak.

Anyway.  They had a plan to make things more equitable.  Problem was, one would suggest something and then the other would say something like “are you MAD, if you do that, then what about the consequence for the widget industry”.  Completely beyond me of course.  This went back forth for the whole of the Summer Term when we were in the lower sixth.  When we came back after the Hols, the two weren’t speaking.  Tricky to be in a school together, especially when you’re studying the same subjects.  Still Peter was a Dry Bob, and Paul was a Wet Bob, so they had plenty of opportunities to avoid each other.  After school, we went our separate ways.  I headed to Sandhurst actually, but we’re talking about the dickie birds.  One went to Oxford and the other Cambridge, both studied Economics, both got Firsts.

Peter followed an academic path after that.  By all accounts completely brilliant, although poor as a church mouse by all accounts, at least until he won a Nobel Prize.  Not a lottery win of course, but still, not to be sniffed at.  Paul went into the City, made a packet like they all do, got into politics.  Bit of a wunderkind, was in the Cabinet in record time.  He was angling to be the next Chancellor, except  he made a bit of a faux pas.  Don’t really understand what he did but apparently he pushed for cutting some tax or another back and as a direct result three hospitals had to close.  Didn’t play well with the voters, I can tell you.

© David Jesson, 2019


 

“Just look at it! What am I going to do?”

Julienne dabbed at her eyes with her lacy edged handkerchief while Aurora looked in horror at the piles of stuff covering every single surface.

“It’s William you see, he didn’t have a practical bone in his body, just leaving his books everywhere, always losing pens and notebooks, his pipe still burning, put down on all old surface. The burn marks on our furniture …”

Julienne’s voice rose steadily both in pitch and volume, until it finished in a strangled sob. Being the practical sort, Aurora had patted Julienne’s hand, before settling her into an armchair. Not quite the straightforward task she’d first envisaged, having had to first clear away several newspapers and – oh – a number of women’s periodicals, together with a pair of large wooden knitting needles with a few rows messily completed and trailing a ball of fluffy wool which had shed all over the armchair’s upholstery. Making a note she’d have to thoroughly de-fluff the armchair later, Aurora made Julienne a cup of tea and wasted a good few minutes rummaging in the kitchen for the biscuits which Julienne had requested in that little voice she used sometimes.

Aurora worked steadily, sorting the clutter in the living room into piles on the dining room table – she’d find out where everything went in one go rather than bothering Julienne with constant questions. Julienne had always been fragile, Mother Francine had said so when first placing her into Aurora’s charge all those years ago. Aurora was tall and strapping, ungainly Mother Francine had called her, while Julienne was petite and blonde, with the palest watery blue eyes. She had a way of looking up at you through long lashes, which only enhanced the impression of helplessness. She’d proven completely incapable of ever the least task, with Aurora having to work for two – lucky she was so strong and capable as Mother Francine was heard to comment.

But the the young men all adored Julienne, so there was never any need for her to learn how to do things. She only had to select carefully to ensure she picked a man with prospects, who would ensure she’d have a life of comfort and staff. And so transpired. William was lively, clever and awfully ambitious. He seemed to have the right connections and Julienne was wafted away to his family estate on a cloud of white lace – her wedding gown having been crafted entirely from the lace the nuns were famed for.

Aurora went on to become a governess, travelling the world with her charges. She was paid well and, having few indulgences and even fewer costs, had been able to return home with sufficient funds to buy a little place in the country to call her own. While signing the papers to buy a small cottage on the edge of a large estate, she was surprised to discover the estate belonged to William – or rather, now to his widow – her old friend Julienne. Aurora’s cottage was one of many on the estate being sold to clear William’s debts – which were quite substantial according to her solicitor’s clerk. Kind, generous-hearted Aurora had, of course, hurried to the big house to offer Julienne her sympathies.

It had taken her the remaining weeks of her leave to get everything straight. The staff had all left – due to unpaid wages – and Julienne seemed to have no idea at all where anything went. Luckily Aurora was competent and experienced in the ways of a well-run household, so simply made decisions on her behalf. She took pride in her work, but was disconcerted to find, as each room was made straight, it took only a matter of days – hours sometimes – for it to return to a cluttered mess. The kitchen was the worst, for there was a never-ending stream of cups & saucers strewn across the counters. Julienne never seemed to drink more than once before taking out a fresh one. Aurora tried to have her set a tea tray and use a teapot, but after finding four trays of complete tea sets left in the kitchen one evening, she began to realise that the problem may not have been just William after all.

She’d sat down and tried to explain to Julienne the changes which would have to make in her straitened circumstances, but Julienne either buried her face in those absurd little lace hankies, or looked mournfully up through those lashes, a tear theatrically escaping from the corner of an eye.

“I simply cannot stay here and take care of you Julienne – no, it’s no good you doing that, I cannot. I have obligations and a family to care for in Hong Kong, and I shall be leaving at the end of the month. You are going to have to make other plans.”

Near hysterics having followed, Aurora had been forced to use her most stern governess voice – the one she saved for frivolous parents when they upset the routine of her young charges. Not that Julienne didn’t tried her best, pulling out every trick in her substantive arsenal, but Aurora had been firm, instructing her “to save those tricks for catching yourself a new rich husband – and you’d better be quick about it.”

Before leaving England, Aurora instructed her solicitor to find a buyer for her little cottage. She’d not live in it now and would select somewhere else on her next home leave. It would be best for both of them if she were living not quite so close to her old friend.

© Debra Carey, 2019


 

The uber-talented Stuart Nager has already written & published his great response to this prompt on his site – do visit, there’s loads of excellent writing to be found there.

#FlashFiction Prompt: A case of the law of unintended consequences

Need I say more? Will 500 words suffice or will you exceed the 1,500 limit?
Write your tale, let’s see where it takes you.

 

Word count: 500 – 1,500 (ish)
Deadline: 2pm GMT on Friday 11th October 2019

Don’t forgot, if you miss the deadline, you can always post your story to our #TortoiseFlashFiction page


Post your story on your site and link to it here in the comments below, or drop us a line via the contact us page and we’ll post it for you.

 

 

 

Your Life: Now with More Sci-Fi

As it says on the front page, whilst Debs and I write the majority of the content on this blog ourselves, we’re also delighted to post contributions from others.  The periodic fifth Sunday in the month frequently causes consternation as we try and figure out what we’re going to be putting in that slot.  This time around, that fifth Sunday has coincided with our third birthday (time flies…), and we wanted something extra special.  This month we kicked off with a prompt we came up with in honour of James Pailly.  James runs the Planet Pailly blog, which is completely awesome, and well worth your time (once you’ve finished up here of course).  James has been a great friend to this blog, and he has very kindly written this article for us. I feel very privileged that we get to post it here.

–    David

They say we’re all the heroes of our own stories.  I always wanted my story to be a Sci-Fi action adventure with lots of aliens and cyborgs, some cool spaceships, and maybe a light sprinkling of time travel.  As a compromise with reality, I thought I’d pursue a career in television.  My dream was to end up working on the set of Star Trek or Doctor Who or some other science fiction TV series like that.

But upon graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in TV/Film production, I soon learned the truth about the entertainment business.  It’s just… it’s the worst.  There was no way I was going to Hollywood.  There was no way I’d end up working on the kind of cool Sci-Fi shows that I’d watched as a kid.  So I took the best job I could get: editing the news for a local TV station.  And I was lucky to get that job when I did, because the 2008 financial crisis was right around the corner.

People have pretty strong opinions about those of us who work in the news media.  Some of those opinions are probably justified, but let me tell you this: if you think watching the news is depressing, try working in a newsroom.  Every day, you’ll be exposed to the absolute worst that humanity has to offer.  Murders, rapists, dishonest politicians?  Sleazy businesspeople ripping off their customers?  Huge mega corporations laying off their employees?  It’s all just another day at the office.  You either find a way to compartmentalize this stuff or you have a nervous breakdown in the middle of your work shift (yes, I’ve seen it happen).

Was I the hero of my own story?  I didn’t feel much like a hero.  I felt pretty sure that I was in the wrong story, that I belonged in some other story world entirely.  But as I already mentioned, the 2008 financial crisis was coming, and once the crisis hit, finding another job was no longer an option.  Not for a kid like me, fresh out of college, with such an embarrassingly short résumé.

So there I was, trapped in a depressing and demoralizing job due to economic circumstances that were beyond my control.  I was frustrated.  A lot of people were frustrated.  One day I was sitting with a reporter who, for the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to refer to as Susan.  Susan and I were commiserating over the stresses of our jobs.  The hot story that night was a missing person’s case, except it wasn’t really a missing person’s case.

The police weren’t saying anything yet, and neither were the family, but Susan was a seasoned journalist.  She’d covered stories like this before, and she knew that this so-called missing person’s case was really a homicide investigation.  The police just hadn’t found the body yet.

“It’s like I’m from the future, and I already know everything that’s going to happen,” Susan told me.  “But I can’t say anything about it on air because that would make me look unprofessional.”  Of course I don’t remember Susan’s exact words.  I’m paraphrasing, and I’m leaving out a lot of expletives.  Anyway, the next morning we found out Susan’s prediction was 100% right.

If I’m supposed to be the hero of my own story, then I’d say Susan fits the character archetype of the herald.  She was the catalyst for change, the person who made me suddenly see things from a new perspective, the one who finally set my real adventure into motion.  I just had to use a little imagination, a little creativity, to transform all my professional experiences (and all my professional struggles) into science fiction.  In my head, journalists became time travelers.  Camera people could be cyborgs, and the stories we covered for the news–they were the great conflicts and calamities of a vast, sprawling intergalactic civilization.

The Tomorrow News Network: Bringing you tomorrow's news today.

I have to confess I do have an ulterior motive for telling you all this.  As of this writing, the first book in the Tomorrow News Network series is nearing completion.  In a matter of days, I expect to be handing my manuscript over to my editor, and shortly after that, dear reader, I will have a book to sell you!

In the meantime, if you click this link here, you can learn a little more about the Tomorrow News Network and see how they covered the beginning of the universe.

But the more important reason I wanted to share my story with you is to set up a writing prompt.  Life doesn’t always go the way we planned.  Life is full of setbacks and frustrations.  So I want you to pick something really frustrating in your life–some frustration that you’re dealing with right now–and try reimagining the situation in a science fiction setting.  What would change?  What would stay the same?  And how would you, as the hero of the story, handle the situation differently?

Or if you’re not into Sci-Fi, do it as a western, or a romantic comedy, or a film noir detective story.  Use whatever your preferred genre of fiction happens to be.

Oh, and one last thing: no matter where you are in life, no matter what you may be dealing with right now, never forget that you really are the hero of your own story.

© James Pailly, 2019 (Main text and embedded graphic)

Experimental Writing: Part 9

This is the latest installment in a story that I’ve been writing over the course of the year.  There is a prologue which was used to shape the story, which starts here, but which you can easily miss out.  The story proper starts here.

Owain had parked as he’d been taught, front facing out for a ‘quick get away’ – this was probably not what his Father had in mind all the times he’d said it whilst teaching his son how to drive.  After ensuring Esther and Meredith had their seatbelts, he started the engine, which come to life with a throaty roar.  Even as he was pulling out of the space, Meredith was providing directions, courtesy of the AI.

“Turn right out of here, onto the A40.”

A warning message popped open on Meredith’s heads-up-display.  There was some kind of tracker system on the car, and the circuitry was not of Earth origin.  The diagnostic package determined that it had been stuck to the inside of the back near-side wheel arch.

“We’ve been tagged” Meredith said to Owain.

“What?”

“Just keep driving! Whatever happens next, just keep driving away from here – don’t go too fast though, and look out for a van or something ahead of us.”

Once again, Meredith oozed out of the disguise.  This time, instead of forming into a perfect sphere, a thin tentacle like protuberance extended.  The tractomorphic ‘limb’ reached out and wound down the window – conversation with Owain and Esther in the front of the vehicle was now almost impossible over the noise of the air flowing into and around the 4×4.  Meredith oozed more of themself into the appendage which was creeping its way along the line of the window frame of the rear cabin. When the limb was directly above the wheel hub the limb made a sharp right turn and made its way down towards the wheel arch.

Owain was concentrating on the road, with the occasional glance to see what was coming up behind.  Esther had no such distraction.  Initially she’d try to see what was going on in the side-mirror, but disbelieving this reflected image she’d tried to squirm round in the seat.

“What are you doing, bach?” Owain bellowed over the noise of the air rushing through Esther’s open window. “Get your silly head back in before it gets tangled in the hedge or something!”

Quickly Esther pulled her head in and did the window back up, before trying to find a spot that would enable her to look through Meredith’s open window.  She gasped as she say the tractomorphic limb develop some fine, finger-like features.  The tip of the limb made her think of a star-nosed mole, and she struggled not to gag at the thought of the little wormy features wriggling on the front of the mole’s face.  She watched as the weird, slightly freaky ‘hand’ pulled its way to its target.  Somehow the limb was stuck to the side of the Landrover.  She surprised the desire to be sick, again, as she watched pulse waves travel along the limb, as it thinned out and extended further.

She kept up a running commentary on everything that she could see until her brother let out an exasperated “Shhh!”  In a more kindly tone he said “Put a sock in it, bet, I’m trying to drive us away from whatever’s back there!”

The ‘hand’ had now reached the rim of the arch, and Esther held her breath as the hand disappeared under the arch, so close to the rotating wheel that she thought that it must be dragged away from the electronics package that it was seeking, pulled down and crushed between the wheel and the road.

A moment later the hand came back into view carefully retracting, bulky now, with something held in its grip.  The hand eased passed the wheel with only millimetres to spare.  As it came up, the arm came loose from the side of the Landrover, as if the tracker was too heavy, and peeled away, dropping towards the road.  Even as it do so, Meredith retracted and the hand came whipping back around, up and into the open window.

Two more appendages extruded from Meredith.  One reached out to the little box and with the original hand started turning the tracker over and over.  The other one extended out towards the door and, almost absentmindedly, wound the window shut.  The immediate reduction in noise was almost startling.

“Is that it?  Is that the tracker?” Esther had turned round in her seat and was looking into the back.

Meredith reformed into something approximating a human being.

“Yep.  Give me moment.”

Bunter? How would you like some more responsibility in this organisation? Meredith woke up the AI sub-routine.  I’ve got a job for you…a couple of jobs actually.

“There’s a van up ahead” Owain said, to no one in particular.  “It’s indicating.  Look’s like it’s going to turn right onto the A479.”

“Can you close up on it a bit?”

“I’ll try…what have you got in mind?”

“You’ll see!  Don’t worry too much – look it’s just turned, quick carry straight on past the turning, but speed up quick, at least until we’re the other side!”

Meredith gave the tracker a last caress and, in something that was halfway between a lean and a slump, reached over to the other side of the vehicle and opened the window behind Owain.  As they continued past the turning, the tracker shot out of the window, propelled by a peristaltic pressure wave emanating from inside the alien.  The lorry was perhaps ten yards away and accelerating off down the road, but the tracker arced upwards and came down on the roof, where it stuck.

Release the hounds…

Bunter wondered if it was possible to change names.  In the virtual reality of the AI interface, Meredith caught an image of a man of average height in pin-striped trousers black jacket, black tie, well shined shoes, holding back a pack of large dogs that were straining at the leash.  At Meredith’s command, Bunter let go of the leads, and the dogs ran off down a gravel driveway, seeming to discorporate in mid stride.  Bunter swung itself onto a motorbike, which bore the legend “Triumph” in curly gold lettering on the black paintwork of the fuel tank and set off in pursuit of the hounds.  He too disappeared leaving nothing but a spurt of gravel.

“Right, I definitely owe you two an explanation, or at least as much of one as I’m able to give.  First off, Esther, you’d better take this.”  Meredith handed forward a piece of what looked like a thin film of plastic, but which was as rigid as a piece of glass.  The edges were lipped to prevent accidents.

“What is it?”

“A map.  We’re heading to Llyn-y-Fan Fach, and my computer reckons this is the best route.”

© David Jesson, 2019


During 2019, I’m undertaking a writing experiment, as described here.

The shape of the story was formed through a four-part prologue: the first part of prologue is here, if you want to start right at the beginning.  All through, I’m hoping that you’ll help me shape the story.  Every month there is a poll on some feature or another.

Good grief!  Three quarters of the way through the year already.  Three installments to go, so time to start wrapping things up.  Apologies for missing-out the poll last month – life got a bit hectic.  As ever, I’ll put this up on Twitter as well, or you can leave a comment.

What sort of ending do we want?

1 – A happy ending e.g. everyone gets more than they deserve.

2 – A tragic ending – Meredith is ultimately unsuccessful, people day

3 – Somewhere in the middle – Meredith wins through, but not without a cost.

4 – Other – Let me know!

See you next month!

 

#secondthoughts – Book Awards

I spotted a comment that recent Hugo awards were not such rich pickings for a particular reader as in the past. Not being a regular reader of science fiction or fantasy, I didn’t feel able to comment, as all I could offer was the fact one of my oft recommended reads To Say Nothing of the Dog was a past winner.

My own previous go-to book award as a reader was the Booker, but I started to fall out of love when it was opened up to writers from the USA, thus limiting the offerings from commonwealth countries – and as a child of the commonwealth, those are the types of books I am especially drawn to. I’ve cast about a bit for a replacement and – this year – thought I’d struck lucky when realising a number of the books I’d been earmarking on my “want to read” list were candidates for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. But, whilst a good read, I wasn’t blown away by the winner – An American Marriage. The only other shortlisted candidate I’ve read so far – My Sister the Serial Killer – was a decidedly enjoyable read, but I wasn’t blown away … and I’m generally blown away by Bookers. Indeed, I may judge Booker candidates more harshly than most for that very reason.

I’ve not found the Pulitzer a good hunting ground either. Donna Tartt’s first two books are among my favourite reads ever but The Goldfinch was a massive disappointment; I’ve hugely admired the works of Elizabeth Strout but Olive Kitteridge wasn’t amongst them. Interpreter of Maladies and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay were both enjoyable reads, but neither gained 4 stars from me – and without a 4th (or 5th) star, I remain in the not blown away camp.

So I empathised with the person making that comment, for I could see that it came from a place of loss. As a reader, it’s great finding an author you love, knowing that there’s years of joy to come from future works (or a backlist if you’re late to the party). It’s even better having a regular source of new books (and potentially new authors) that are right up your street – and book awards can be one such source. Until they change, that is …

When I last bemoaned the changes in the Booker, a blogging friend pointed out the dearth of awards for non-literary works – children’s literature in particular – and there is no doubt that literary fiction is better served. Still, I am left wondering about the value of book awards for the reader.

As a writer, there is no doubt that winning awards not only increases your profile, but also your sales. Increased sales can be measured from the moment a book appears on a longlist, and candidates progressing to a shortlist see a further uplift. Previously unknown authors, unsurprisingly, benefit the most. For more facts and figures on this subject, here’s a post I wrote elsewhere on the subject.

As a writer, who doesn’t dream of their first published work being considered for an award? Actually, who am I kidding, who doesn’t dream about any of their published works being considered for an award? We all do – and we’d be foolish not to.

But is it possible that readers are turning elsewhere for new sources of inspiration rather than book awards? Are celebrity book clubs such as Oprah, Richard & Judy and Reese Witherspoon proving a more fruitful hunting ground? Are the regular reading lists released by the likes of Barack Obama and Emma Watson finding growing audiences? Is reading to a theme another way to go?

In all honesty, does it matter? Despite a number of readers being drawn to book awards for their next reads, they’re surely not in the majority, for how often does a Booker or Hugo winner top the bestseller lists? I’ve long assumed that alongside the support and acknowledgement of authors, the important factor about book awards is to elevate the sales of non-bestseller type books?

Just so long as readers keep on reading, and loving what they read … eh? Personally, I have to admit this year’s Booker shortlist is calling me again.


© Debra Carey, 2019

We nearly ran him down …

The old man crossing the road that is. I wasn’t driving fast – luckily as it turned out – for he just stepped right off the pavement in front of us, pulling his wheelie suitcase right behind him. I slammed on the brakes and my car did that cartoon thing of almost standing on it’s nose. But we didn’t hit him, or his suitcase.

He looked surprised to see us, but I thought the fact he was heading towards the old people’s home may’ve been a clue. We stayed in the car and watched his slow progress across the road, up onto the pavement on the other side. He had a fair bit of trouble with that case, so much so my boyfriend was nearly out of the car to give him a hand till a couple more old men rushed out and helped him with it, waving us on our way.

So, we did just that, we went on our way.

The local news channel ran a story a few days later. Police were investigating the copious amounts of blood found in the village reading room. The odd thing was there didn’t seem to have been any attempt made to clean it up, but there was no body to be found. Given the amount of blood, they expressed surprise there’d been no bloody footprints at the scene either. The public were asked to contact them if they had any information.

That night, I lay in bed with my boyfriend and we speculated. Had those old men and that wheelie suitcase anything to do with what had happened? He’d been right outside the reading room when he’d stepped out in the road in front of us. We speculated if the missing body had been in that suitcase and whether that’s why he’d had so much trouble getting it up onto the pavement. We pondered back and forth for a few days and finally decided it was better to say something than keep stum.

They didn’t seem to take us seriously – the police – and who could blame them? But they did follow it up – or so they said. To be honest, we forgot all about it once we’d done our civic duty.

The following summer we were at the airport, waiting for our flight – delayed due to the French traffic controllers being on strike. It was a regular occurrence, so we’d gone prepared. We were reading our books in the coffee shop when they came in – those three old men. I thought I was imagining things until I saw the look on my boyfriend’s face. We sat whispering to each other, feeling really daft. But we couldn’t help ourselves – one or other of us kept a watch on them. Until our flight was called that is, when we decided enough was enough, we were going on holiday and would forget all about it.

We duly checked in for our flight. I’d all but put it out of my mind when we passed the first class check-in area, and there they were – with their brand spanking new luxury luggage, and not a wheelie suitcase in sight.

I swear he winked at me too – the one I’d nearly run down – but I must’ve been imagining things …


© Debra Carey, 2019