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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 each post a piece of fiction every month, run a writing prompt once a month and are 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.

 

Upcoming schedule for July 2017:

Sunday 2nd: #FF Prompt – post by Friday 7th 2 pm GMT

Sunday 9th: Short story by David

Sunday 16th: #SecondThoughts by Debs

Sunday 23rd: Short Story by Debs

Sunday 30th: Guest poster, Sue Bursztynski, talks about her writing

Trust no one

Mel sighed and wiped the knife clean. She’d gone to the meet without guns, as agreed, only to find that he’d reneged on the deal. So, ‘twas lucky she’d not been totally naive. She was sighing, nevertheless, for his killing brought to an end months of one step forward, two steps back negotiations. Maybe if she’d allowed herself to be sacrificed, to be the dead body instead of him, her team would now have the upper hand and they’d be able to drive forward the peace plans. Sure, he’d been carrying a gun – even if he was a lousy shot – but they’d just say she’d planted the gun, despite knowing different. It was all a mess, just one bloody frustration after another.

Her shoulder burned where his bullet had nicked it, her quick reactions having saved her once again. It needed to be cleaned up, but she wanted to get home quickly to Matt. She’d promised she wouldn’t be gone long and he was only five, so time was still a tricky concept for him.

They really had to stop this nonsense before he grew up and was forced to change sides. She’d not be able to bear losing her only son.

 

©Debra Carey 2017

#secondthoughts – Harry Potter

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As I write this, I am surrounded by the news that June 26th 2017 marks an important 20th anniversary. If you’ve had your head under a stone, let me enlighten you – it was the 20th anniversary of the day J K Rowling (JKR) published the first in her hugely successful Harry Potter (HP) series. So, what better time to revisit my thoughts on this publishing phenomena?

Three years ago I wrote this, expressing my enthusiasm for all things HP.  And have my feelings changed? No, I can’t say that they have, certainly not as a reader. I found them pacy and perfectly plotted (yes, I’m afraid I’m an alliteration addict) and they tell a cracking yarn. I love the way the books were structured so that children could grow up with the story, year upon year. I also admired the way the story matures with them – both in terms of content and the time required to read them.

So, I had to ask myself – how can I look at the series in a different light, from a different viewpoint? As a writer seemed the obvious answer – and what writer wouldn’t want to learn from JKR’s mega-successful series?

Let’s start with the fact that JKR didn’t just write these stories, although simply writing them was a hugely impressive feat in itself …

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She also planned all seven books before she sat down – in that now famous coffee shop – and wrote the first one.

<Sigh> and as a pantser, it’s got to teach me the value of planning … and planning … and planning. The following extract from JKR’s notebooks isn’t overwhelming in itself, but let’s not forget, it is only one extract …

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JKR is famed for having multiple notebooks filled with background information for each and every character who appears in the books, no matter how small a part they play.

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I’ve read multiple interviews where it’s been stated that she could answer questions on how someone might have behaved in a situation that didn’t happen in the books, in order to move the story along correctly in one of the films. Daunting, huh?

And, of course, long ago I carefully saved all those pages of questionnaires whereby an author “interviews” their characters and so knows everything about them. I’m also hugely grateful to those people who prepared – and shared – them, but I am more than slightly boggled about completing them for even my major character, let alone every single one. But I solemnly swear that I am up to no good I will do so now … honest.

What else have I learned from JKR and HP? This is a big one for me … rather than worrying whether I can match the purple prose of my favourite literary authors, to write something people will enjoy reading. A good story, characters that readers will engage with and care about, oh and to make sure there are no factual inconsistencies to annoy and distract. Remember that there will be people who will behave as I did with HP – talking at length about the book, discussing the plot, and picking over the minute details of what this or that means in the grand scheme of things.

OK, so this pre-supposes that my book will get written, edited, published and read … but there’s no point writing if you don’t make that supposition, is there?

And, with that in mind, let’s talk about those fine qualities to be learned from JKR …

  • determination
  • belief
  • persistence

 

She had a story in her mind and she was determined to tell it. Equally, she was going to make it the very best it could be (need I mention the planning?) Yet she trusted her instincts and didn’t allow all that detailed plotting to have her shy away from making the changes that she believed were right, once it came to writing time. Of course, when she did make those plot changes – even substantial ones – she knew exactly what tweaks to be make to keep it all on track (and yes, we’re back to all that planning). As to persistence, let’s just say that JKR appears on that list of famous people who were all rejected multiple times before they found one … who believed.

But to end this revistation of HP, I’d like to return to my thoughts about the books as a reader, and to mention one final thing.  You see, I love, absolutely love, that their heroine is a girl. Yes, I did say that. I know the books are called Harry Potter and the … but, come on. Hermione is a heroine, if not the heroine. After all, where would Harry have been without her?  And that’s before we talk about her status as the best ever female role model. Come on – she’s brainy, an unashamed swot, and has unruly curly hair <sigh> She’s bloody perfect.

From a gender-perspective, is it a shame that JKR had to hide behind her initials as an author and that Hermione had to hide behind Harry? Well, yes … but that’s a different story for a different day. If I’m going to pick one fight with JKR, it’s that in the recent epilogue, Hermione doesn’t become Minister for Magic but only “something senior” in the Ministry for Magical Law Enforcement, whilst Harry heads up the Auror’s department. Hermione went back to study for (and no doubt ace) her NEWTs, whilst Harry never did. What message are you giving there JKR …?

 

© 2017 Debra Carey

Perpetual Motion

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Hi. Call me Merle – it means ‘blackbird’, if it matters. I realise that this is not a common name. It gets worse. I wasn’t born here. My beginnings were in the south of France, a rural idyll where my family band I spent all our time out-of-doors, come rain or shine.

I suppose you could describe me as an immigrant, but I didn’t really ever want to come here. I’ve tried to fit in, I really have – no I promised I wouldn’t cry. I think the hardest part is that I haven’t been able to fulfill myself.  Everyone has a purpose and I have been tantalisingly close to completing mine several times, but I have been denied. Instead I have been passed from hand to hand as a gift, as a prize.

My troubles, and my travels, began when I was packed in a cardboard box with five of my sisters.  For days I did not see the late of day, but heard the occasional chink as we were jostled in our box.  The lid was opened suddenly and I saw a much greyer sky than I was used to.  I was added to a display, and watched as bottles and cases were bought until finally, many months later, my turn came and I was part of a mixed case, sold to clear the way for new stock.

Again the journey, much shorter this time; again the display, here a wine-rack rather than the shop-window; again seeing my friends go before me.  At last, I thought my time had come – I was taken from the rack.  But no.  Instead of being placed on the table in the dining room, I was put on the table in the hall.  This was at least something new, but what next?  I journeyed again, this time peeking out of a bag perfectly fitted for me. I was handed to someone else, amidst much hugging – and then I was forgotten by the door.

Here I stayed for a few days before being passed on again, this time with less ceremony.  Over the next year I was to change hands 27 times.  I was donated to four different fêtes over the summer.  I listened to discussions by three different bookgroups.  I was a house-warming present eight times.  I have been so jostled around I am probably completely undrinkable.

In all my travels, the closest I came to absolute despair was the time when I was with some man who I had seen once or twice before.  I hadn’t realised it, but he had clearly noticed me.  Whilst most others simply reached for the nearest bottle and I had been unlucky, this pig carefully marked my label in an unobtrusive but unmistakable way.  He talked to himself as he did it saying that he wondered if I would ever come back.  Then, with cold calculation, he passed me on.  I never saw him again.

What is wrong with you people?  Can Merlot somehow have gone out of fashion?

 

© David Jesson, 2017

(500 words)

Project Gutenburg

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Squib, and his friends

Tom felt the tears prick at his eyes, and instantly suppressed them.  It was his 10th birthday, and ten-year-olds don’t cry ever, certainly not in front of their parents, and definitely not ever in front of their older brothers.  It was typical of Jonno that he had handed over the immaculately wrapped gift with a sort of nonchalant carelessness.  Once you would have noted him looking to Tophe, the eldest, for approval in the manner of the handing over a gift, but recently he had become more self-assured and had begun his own career from out of the shadow of the ever-successful older brother.

The gift was a little larger than a piece of A4 in area, and a little thicker than a decent chocolate bar in depth.  The paper was so sharply creased at the corners, so neatly folded, so elegantly and understatedly beribboned, that the parcel was almost a work of art as it was.  It almost felt like a crime to unwrap the present inside and Tom knew that as soon as he pulled on the corner of the ribbon that the whole wrapping would fall apart – no tape or glue had been used at all.  With all eyes on him, Tom felt a little like Charlie Bucket about to peek and find whether there was a gold ticket or not.   With a sudden movement that made everyone else jump he whipped off the ribbon and let the paper fall to the floor.  Inside he found a sketch in charcoal, a rare piece allowed to go free from his brother’s portfolio, in a neat, bog-oak frame that Jonno had undoubtedly made himself.

The sketch was from life, and Tom remembered the day well.  He hadn’t realised that Jonno had been there.  Tophe, Captain of the first XI had been of course, together with a cadre of senior boys and PE teachers.  Tom had captained his first match, an unimportant one in many respects, but all in important in others.  An opportunity to shine in front of those who would be choosing who would make the transition to the teams that represented the school – and who would not.  For Tom, it had been the proudest day of his life.  He had played well, and led well, and had received a coveted thumbs-up from his brother.  He had bowled well, fielded superbly (including making an improbable catch) and had scored his first ‘six’.  It was this moment that Jonno had captured. The picture, despite being in so basic a medium had captured not only the essence but the dynamism of the moment.  The spectators in the stands could be seen to be jumping to their feet to applaud, despite being small because of their distance from the wicket where Tom stood like a colossus.

Jonno had even managed to make the neat block type of the title look elegant.  Tom knew that he would never be able to hate his nickname again, because he could never hide this picture away, and it would declare for all time “Squib, and his friends”.

 

© David Jesson, 2017

(516 words)

 

Uncle Wiggily’s Fortune

Pete’s wool suit was making him sweat profusely. Pulling out his handkerchief, he was startled when the lady beside him grasped it whilst murmuring “thank you”. Pete turned, but could identify nothing except for the sound of subdued sobbing as her veil was black and impenetrable. Raising his eyebrows at his cousin Frank, also squirming in his good suit, Pete got a shrug in return.

Reverend Potts soon brought the service to a close and the casket withdrew behind the curtain. There was much tie-loosening and mass removing of jackets outside before Pete noticed her again, now standing with Reverend Potts who was holding her gloved hand in both of his. “Who was she?” thought Pete, certain he wasn’t alone in wondering. Just then, the Reverend announced “Everyone, a moment please! Mrs Basson invites you all to partake of some refreshment at the Randolph Hotel.”

At the Randolph, Pete saw that all the cousins were there and some of their wives. Those of the aunts who were still alive were there too, mostly seated on the few available chairs, with their children settling them in and making sure they had what they wanted from the buffet. Pete and Frank were the only two without kin, probably one of the many reasons they’d always been close. But of Mrs Basson – the lady in the veil – there was no sign.

People got to chatting, as they do when family gathers, catching up on news. The lively hum of conversation was interrupted by the sound of someone tinging a glass. On a little stage to the side a be-suited man stepped up to the microphone. “Thank you all for coming here today. Mrs Basson is grateful for your kindness in showing your respects to her ex-husband, Walter Wiggily.” Ex-husband? The room buzzed with the sound of people’s reactions.

“Mrs Basson has invited me here to read you Mr Wiggily’s will.”  This news caused a smaller buzz, for Uncle Walter lived quietly and no-expected his will to contain much to write home about. There were no big surprises with personal bequests made to his surviving sisters, and small sums left to their children and grandchildren. The final item was the leaving of his cabin and his land to Pete and Frank. People nodded, this was right, for the boys had taken good care of their great Uncle Walter. Pressing his business card into the boys’ hands, he invited them to his office the following morning.

Once at the lawyer’s office, Pete and Frank were surprised to discover the man they knew as Uncle Wiggily owned way more than just the cabin and its grounds. Seems like he had a whole heap of land, much of it in Florida and all of it beach-front. Apparently that Mrs Basson had advised him during their brief marriage, her being a well-healed property tycoon herself.  Turns out their Uncle Wiggily was quite the dark horse.

 

© Debra Carey, 2017

[490 words]

#FF Prompt #Project Gutenberg

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The aim of Project Gutenberg is to help people access books that they might not otherwise be able to get hold of.  This can get a bit tricky because of copyright issues, but in some ways it becomes easier, because there are some fantastic books that are now out of copyright which would get lost forever if it weren’t for PG.

To celebrate the wonderful people at PG, we’re going to run prompts on a (fairly) regular basis. So head on over by clicking on the link: try not to get distracted by the 50,000 or so books on the site!  Take a look at the Recent Books section and pick one that you like the look of. The title of your chosen book forms the title and prompt for your story.

Word limit : 500 words (ish)

Deadline for your story : 7th July, 2 pm GMT


As always, either write a piece on your blog and pop a link to it in the comments below, or e-mail us with your piece and we’ll post it for you.

The Old Gang

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Prompt:  Our old gang were back in town together, but it was at the cost of a family funeral.

 

Bob cleaned his shoes whilst waiting for Jenna to get ready. Easy for him, she’d said that morning. Just wear a suit, a plain tie and clean shoes. Lucky she’d said it, so he’d remembered to clean his shoes. Old man Burton had been a stickler for that kinda thing and his funeral was no time to be letting standards slip.

He and Jenna had been the only ones of the old gang who’d stayed in town. The rest of them had all flown away, but they were all back for the funeral, including old man Burton’s daughter Brenda, together with that guy she’d run away with. Bob wondered whether Jenna ever heard from her. She always said “no” when asked, but he had the faintest of suspicion that she was keeping something close to her heart. They’d been close Jenna and Brenda, real close. Just then she came in, “Honey, can you do up my zip? After you’ve done with your shoes and washed your hands will do fine.” She busied right back out of the room and Bob smiled. He put on his shoes before washing his hands. Then went into the bedroom, put on a clean shirt, his dark tie and jacket. Finding Jenna in the kitchen, he held out his hands towards her. She backed up to him, so he could do up her zip, before planting a kiss in the nape of her neck.

“Time to go” he announced before heading out to the car. They were collecting Teddy and Susan from the station before heading over to the funeral parlour. The four of ’em met up every couple of months. What with Teddy’s folks being older than most, they’d not moved far away. There was a fair bit of work to be done on the old Manning home and Bob visited every week to make sure urgent stuff was kept on top of. He really liked the Mannings. They’d always made him welcome, even when Teddy was out, understanding that his home could be a zoo, what with so many younger kids. He used to stop there to do his homework – he’d never have made it to College without their kindness.

Buck and Johnny were arriving on the same train, except they were coming from a lot further afield. Both had booked in to the local B&B, not wanting to turn this into a family visit. Bob found that odd, but had never gotten to know their families growing up. The Gang had always met at his place, or Teddy’s, or Brenda’s. That’s how they’d all gotten to know old man Burton so well, even after he retired from teaching school. Johnny and Brenda had been an item then, and were all the way up until she’d skipped town. Johnny had always been regarded as the local heart throb, the bad boy, but he’d fallen for Brenda and been heart broken when she left. He spent a fair bit of time round with old man Burton after she left, until he finally got a job in the big smoke and left town himself. They got the odd phone call from him but nothing more.

Buck was married, to a girl he met up town. They had a new baby, so she was staying home. He promised to visit again, next time bringing them both. But a funeral was no place for a small baby and a shy young bride. Not for the first time of meeting The Gang. Bob assumed Brenda and her guy would be driving in, so he was real surprised to see her alighting from the train too. She was looking up at someone, he assumed her guy, only to be surprised to see her take a toddler into her arms. He looked back and was even more surprised to see that the person stepping down from the train was a young girl in a sorta nurse’s uniform. They both bustled around sorting out pushchairs and luggage, before Brenda waved and rushed to hug Jenna. Bob helped Teddy and Susan with their bags, before walking over to join Brenda. The ‘nurse’ introduced herself as the nanny and said “this is John” indicating a little boy with the bluest eyes Bob had ever seen, since … er … since he’d last seen Johnny. Puzzled, he looked at both Jenna and Brenda, but obeying the look in Jenna’s eyes, he kept his thoughts to himself.

Teddy and Susan joined them, and all was bustle and busyness. Bob looked round and caught sight of Johnny and Buck. They were over by the cab rank and waved “we’re going to check in the B&B first, see you there” called Buck. There was a cab waiting to take Brenda and her gang to the old house, so they parted after agreeing to meet up at the funeral parlour. Arriving early, Bob got talking to other locals who’d shown up for the service. Mr Burton had been a long-standing resident and loyal servant to the small town and its school. Despite being a stickler about the rules, he’d been much respected and much liked.

Brenda arrived at the parlour alone and sought out Jenna. Holding onto her arm, they walked up to the front pew together where they were joined almost immediately by Susan. Bob settled down in a pew with Teddy, where they were joined by Johnny and Buck. Buck simply raised his eyebrows at Bob behind Johnny’s back, but said nothing as Bob shrugged in response. The service was simple, if lengthy. Lots of people spoke of their memories. There was a lot of affection and respect in that room. Brenda didn’t speak. She simply put a flower on the casket, touched a kiss to her hand and then indicated that the casket could be withdrawn behind the curtains. The townsfolk filed out past her, most stopping to offer kind words for her loss, and to enquire about the house. She smiled at them all, said demurely that she’d made no decisions yet and moved on to the next person smoothly.

Heading back to the old house, Bob could see there were caterers there already. Brenda clearly had made all the arrangements remotely. The wake was a pretty subdued affair as people were mostly there “to show their respects”. They mostly just accepted a cup of tea and a cake before moving on. Finally, it was just “them” left. Well, them, the nanny and Brenda’s son, who was now being very vocal in asking for his mother’s attention. Brenda picked him up, called over her shoulder “y’all make yourselves at home, kick off your shoes, pour some drinks, no-one’s going home early tonight” and went upstairs. About an hour later, she returned and the nanny went back upstairs. Jenna had whispered to Bob to pour Brenda a glass of white wine and as he handed it to her, she looked around the room and said: “so, who’s going first?”

Johnny swore loudly and walked out. Bob followed to try and calm him down, finally persuading him sit out on the old stoop at back and get it off his chest. “She told me her old man had caught her having sex with that guy, you remember the one?” I nodded, we all remembered him. In a town like ours, a 6ft 6in white guy stands out a mile. He’d taken a room with them and was a newly qualified teacher starting at the school after summer. In fairness, we’d all liked him. He was smart, funny, athletic, a regular guy. “She told me that she’d seduced him, not the other way round, so she was having to leave town.” I nodded again, and said that I seemed to recall he’d left either at the same time, or straight after. “I thought they’d either gone together, or met up after. That’s what she let me assume. I mean, we’d done it, y’know, but we’d been careful, so I never thought …  And then she turns up, after not one single word and … there he is and his name is John.” I couldn’t argue with him, she’d treated him badly. At the very least, she could’ve written to warn him. Or visited him at the B&B – there is only one in the town – or even asked to speak to him alone at the end of the wake. But to just say “so, who’s going first?” Really not classy, not classy at all.

Just then, Jenna and Brenda walked out. Brenda walked up to Johnny and held out her hand: “I’m here to apologise. Will you shake my hand?” Jenna quietly said: “you owe Johnny a lot more than that Brenda, you know you do. Sit down and tell him what happened from the start. Bob?” She held out her hand to me and we walked away, but stayed sat on the stoop nearby, so she could make sure Brenda did what she’d promised. My Jenna was like that – honest and fair. I was one lucky guy.

© 2017 Debra Carey

#Second Thoughts – Sci Fi and Fantasy.

I can’t stand werewolves. Zombies leave me totally unimpressed. Wizards with faux philosophical sayings fail to inspire interest. I just don’t like science fiction and fantasy.

And yet.

And yet.

Over the years I have discovered some authors who have crept around, over or behind my prejudices and have challenged and entertained me. Some even made me laugh, even out loud.

Standing first in my personal pantheon – because he was the first I read – is John Wyndham. Not particularly The Day of the Triffids, that one I read at school and have re-read several times, but especially The Kraken Wakes, arguably a more ecologically sensitive novel than Triffids, The Midwich Cuckoos but above all the wonderful short story collection The Seeds of Time. In this he tackles several genres, comedy, romance, mild horror, adventure even, and proves master of them all. I especially like Chronoclasm, Pawley’s Peepholes (what do you do when travellers from the future come as tourists and disrupt normal life?), and Dumb Martian which can be read as a manifesto for equality.

On the whole Asimov does not feature much in my ‘read for enjoyment’ list: I did like Caves of Steel but the whole Foundation series is just too much. I have not finished any of those books. Where, to me, Asimov scores, is again in his eclectic range of short stories. He is a master of the unexpected twist in the punchline. The classic is where the argumentative brothers, one wanting to tell the grandiose sweep of history is foiled by the other who complains that there is not enough papyrus in the world to write it all down. So Moses has to rephrase: ‘In the beginning God …’

C.S. Lewis’s series which begins with Out of the Silent Planet is, I think, mostly under-rated by those who can’t separate the writing from his not always subtle Christian message, but again it is a series that I kept on my bookshelves for years and read every so often.

I was introduced to Harry Harrison only a few years ago but I do enjoy his Stainless Steel Rat series, despite his propensity for technical ‘hand-wavery’. For me it is important that the Laws of Physics should be respected not subverted. (Although the Cannae Drive, named because despite Scotty’s perpetual plaint in Star Trek it might actually be possible to change the Laws of Physics undermines that principle rather).

The two authors who have done more than most to reconcile me to the genre though are more recent: David Weber and Lois McMaster Bujold, and the one thing they have in common is that they both write exciting prose and complete stories – no hand waving distractions. Bujold has, in fact, four series and there are discernible differences between them.

The longest, in terms of titles published, is the Miles Vorkosigan series of adventures of a young man, crippled by a chemical attack on his parents when he was in the womb, and his fight to be accepted in a highly militaristic society. Despite many mishaps he does rise to become one of the Emperor’s most capable investigators and righter of wrongs. I have now read these many times, and each time find something new. The latest in the series Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen deals with Miles’ mother in her widowhood and the plans she makes which set her son aback rather. In a complete change of genre is The Sharing Knife series which, I confess I have not read but deals with the conflicts which arise when two styles of civilization collide – farmers and adventurers. I may get around to it someday, but it is not urgent. Then there is the mediaeval series set in the Kingdom of the Five Gods, beginning with Chalion. This series contains all the things that I usually detest – magic, demons, talking animals – and yet it is so well written and Bujold has such a well-developed and believable theology that it all fits together extremely well. What is becoming a sub-set of the series is the Penric novellas (i.e. short!) which I can thoroughly recommend.

David Weber writes what has been described as ‘Hornblower in Space’ novels about Honor Harrington in a galaxy which has been settled from Earth well into the future. She is a character who has grown as the stories unfold, from a nervous starship Captain in the first book, about to take over her first hyperspace capable command (On Basilisk Station) to a highly decorated and senior Admiral. The latest novels in the series feature her less as she ascend more in the political sphere, and Weber has rightly been criticised for his tendency to explain in minute detail the capabilities of the weaponry deployed and the calculations for firing weapons in space, but my non-technical mind tends to slide over all that until I get back to the story! Again, this is a series that I re-read frequently.

So, my mind is not wholly closed to the Sci Fi/Fantasy genre, but the stories must, for me, be well written, with a believable plot and technology and, preferably, with a touch of humour.

© 2017 Alan F. Jesson