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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.

 

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 David or 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 : Another Short Story from David or Debs

5th Sunday : on the occasion when these occur, we’ll provide details as early as possible (but typically we’d hope to host a guest post, so do get in touch if you could be interested!)

#secondthoughts – Writing Groups

When first I started to scribble very late in life, unlike most writerly types, the very thought of letting another human being – be they stranger or friend – look at my words, made me shudder. A lack of confidence – of course – is at the root of it, but there were reasons (and not just excuses) that formed an orderly, if not overly lengthy, queue.

We all know that ‘proper’ writers have written since they were young, so how could I be (or become) a proper writer, if I hadn’t put pen to paper till past my 50th birthday? Then there was the lack of training – I did sign up to an online writing course, only to find it wasn’t at all what I was looking for; worse, that it was out-of-date in the information and resources provided. So without training, without some form of certification that I could do this, how would I know whether I could – or not?

Eventually though, I did start to write, and to write and to write. Then I moved to blogging – annonymously until I felt ready and able to face the world as a writer. A big part of that was David’s suggestion that I co-host this site. Whilst it took me waaaay out of my comfort zone, it’s been a massive boost – both in terms of confidence and in the requirement for regular practice.

That said, writing is a lonely old process, so the instinct to club together with a clan of writers was strong. But the question I kept on asking myself was what benefit can be derived from joining a writing group?

Too nervous and not having anything I felt was ‘ready’, I avoided critique groups like the proverbial. My primary focus was how much I have to learn, and where better than from those who are already doing it? I avoided the fear (you all know what I’m talking about) by steering away from the high-powered-author hosted courses, as I don’t feel far enough down the road yet and know I’m likely to end up feeling intimidated rather than empowered. Nevertheless, clear that I needed (and wanted) to learn from the already published – whether self or mainstream – as well as those still writing, editing, querying – I dived in to the vast array of writers groups out there.

The first group I joined was – 10 Minute Writers – set up on Facebook by Katharine Grubb specifically for time-crunched writers, and which now has over 10,000 members. There are themed posting days for anything from promoting your blog to seeking support from a fellow member as a beta reader, editor, marketeer etc. Interesting articles are shared, warnings about sharp operators are posted and it’s a great source of interesting reading and support.

Still, I craved more. Something that made me really examine my writing, my process, my craft. I’d seen reference here and there to the Insecure Writers Support Group, but hesitated. You see, I’m a Life Coach, and providing support to others is what I already do a lot. My oh my, how did I mis-read that one! Having taken the plunge earlier this year, it has become clear that the support is flowing in the other direction. Why? Because I’m a novice, an early learner, and hugely lacking in experience in all things writerly. I do – of course – offer encouragement and congratulations, post positive comments and do what I can. But – for me – the very best bit about the group so far is the questions. Every month a question is set. It’s optional, so you can post on any other subject that could be useful or relevant. But those questions … they’ve had me thinking, pondering, learning about myself and my craft. It’s been exactly what I was after.

So I say to you – get thee out there and find yourself a writing group. These are just two which work for me. There are many, many others – in all flavours and types – there’ll surely be one to suit you, whatever type of writer you are. Go on, give it a go!


© Debra Carey, 2018

Last night I dreamt I went to Barsoom again

I lay down in my hotel room, far from home and low in spirit.  In place of the usual Gideon’s, to my surprise, was a copy of “A Princess of Mars” – a first edition, no less.  I flipped through the pages in a desultory fashion, at once recalling the the adventures of John Carter and Dejah Thoris and puzzling over the mystery of this volume’s presence in my room.

My eyes started to drift shut, and I placed the book back where I had found it in the bedside drawer.  I found my accustomed sleeping position – and immediately fell asleep.

I woke, almost at once it seemed, but with a groggy-start, as if from a deep sleep. I sat up, shook my head and looked around, trying to find the light switch.  As I continued the rise from the depths of sleep, I realised that it was already light, about as light as on Spring day.

I looked around.  This was most certainly not my bed, not my hotel room.  The ground I was sitting on was cold, and covered with greenish-lichen.  I got to my feet: the lichen crunched underfoot as a turned around, looking at the terrain.  The depression of ground spread out for tens of kilometres in every direction; off in the distance, I could see hills, low and red.

I jumped.  It was not as graceful as I had hoped, but John Carter’s first attempts had warned me of what to expect. Leapt and bounded to the top of rise, covering tens of metres with every stride.  From my vantage, I looked around and saw two clouds of dust closing on each other.  I wished I had binoculars, but had little doubt that two tribes of the fearsome, fearless green warriors of Mars were closing on each other ready for battle and conquest.

Dare I go closer?  No.  I was sure to be seen and captured, if I did not stop a radium bullet fired with malice or by mistake.  I continued to look around, warily returning to view the distant fight from time to time.  I saw a flotilla of airships, perhaps from the fair double city of Helium itself, crest the hills.  Gracefully they floated across the arid desert-bowl.  I stood between the ships and the Green Martians and did not know where to look.

I gazed too long at the airships and, when I turned again, I saw that a part of Green Martians had broken free of the battle and were racing towards me.  I turned and ran, taking long jumping strides.  I was just able to keep my lead, but I was no Fighting Virginian and quickly became winded.  I landed a little too heavily on a rock that shifted underneath me.  It threw me off my stride and I tumbled headlong, striking my head on a rock.

Blackness.

I woke in the middle of falling out of bed, and landed on the floor of my hotel room with a bump, that would have been embarrassing if there had been anyone there to see it.  I landed on my shoulder, but not too heavily.  I sat up and saw the glowing red figures of my travel alarm o’clock.  Surely I could only have been asleep for minute, two at the most.

I got back into bed, and wondered why my ankle hurt, why the bed felt gritty.

© David Jesson, 2018

 

 

 

#FF Prompt: Leaking Glue

“How are you? I’m OK, but I’m leaking glue.”

“You look a bit shattered!  How are you?”

“I’m OK but I’m leaking glue. It’s OK though, it’ll harden off soon and then I can sandpaper it down and retouch the paint and nobody will ever know.

It’s all Pinocchio’s fault, of course.  It usually is.  Don’t be taken in by that oh-so saccharine Disney cartoon.  Pinocchio is not a simple innocent going about in a complex and wicked world.  He is a consummate liar, cheat and fraud.  He manages to kill his only friend, the so-called ‘voice of his conscience’ but happens to put the Blue Fairy under an obligation (just don’t ask, ok?) so all is forgiven and he gets to be human. Call that fair?

Sorry, I didn’t mean to shout.  It’s just that sometimes the emotions just get out of control. Why? Of course, you wouldn’t know.  Pinocchio is my little brother!

Why be surprised?  You don’t think Gepetto managed to carve him without some practice first, do you?  When the old woodcutter handed over the talking log to Gepetto the first thing he did was to cut it in half (despite the screams I might say) and then he tried out his technique on me. But I wasn’t good enough, oh no!  All I was good for was to cast to one side whilst he got on with Pinocchio.  And there I’d be to this day, turned to firewood probably, until the aspiring theatrical passed by, took one look and made me his partner.  I was turned into a ventriloquist’s dummy!

Of course he wasn’t actually a very good ventriloquist, but because I could talk everybody thought it was him!  And so from street performances we got bookings at flea-pit theatres, and then as we became better known, so the venues improved until we were high on the bill in the very best.

Which is when it started to go wrong. Corky, the human part of the act, started getting erratic – he actually wanted to marry his childhood sweetheart, but of course I couldn’t have that.  I started, very gently, to control him like he was controlling me, but he reacted badly and it all fell apart. I might have been able to salvage the situation but my little brother turned up one performance, and I could see that added to his other ignoble characteristics he was insanely jealous of the success I’d made of my – well let’s say career since I didn’t have a ‘life’.

Jealous younger sibling; partner halfway to madness; convenient axe – well you do the maths!  It’s taken me nearly a month to put myself together, and that would have been impossible if Pinocchio hadn’t decided to take me home to Gepetto’s workshop, where, of course, there was a hand pot of glue perpetually on the fire next to the wood-box where I had been cast.  But this is the last!  When this glue sets I shall be whole again and my dear little brother will be – vulnerable.

After all, how could a wooden puppet kill a human?”


Copyright © 2018 Alan F. Jesson
[For ‘Corky’ see Internet Movie Database – film
Magic]


Stuck

The night of the dreaded party had – inevitably – come round and Steven was struggling to tie his bow tie. Not for the first time he wondered why on earth he hadn’t found the time to buy a ready tied one. After all, it’d been five years since Amanda … well, since anyone had been here to tie it for him.

Many expletives later, the tie was tied in some approximation of a bow and he was now frantically applying what he understood to be referred to as ‘product’ onto his wayward hair. It had been a source of much amusement to Amanda when no-one, not even her much vaunted London hairdresser had been unable to handle the odd bits which insisted on flicking up in a curl in the most random of locations all over his head. That same hairdresser had insisted ‘product’ was the only possible solution. He’d initially agreed to us it just to please her, he hadn’t minded the wayward curls himself, but since … well, he’d accepted the validity of her argument that he didn’t have to look at his wild hair, whereas other people got no choice in the matter. Also, it was only on those rare occasions when he left the flat on social occasions that he had to bother – the clean environment of the lab meant it was a no-no during the working weekday.

His phone buzzed, announcing the prompt arrival of his Uber cab, so a final washing of hands to remove all that damn ‘product’ allowed Steven to pat his pockets to check for wallet and reading glasses, before heading to his big sister’s big birthday big bash. For the first hour it was pretty much as Steven had feared. He’d been greeted with the warmest of hugs by his sister Susan, before she was dragged off to old friends long not seen. Her husband had made the time for a friendly chat, before he too was dragged off in the same direction.

Susan’s world was very different to his. Her friends were loud, confident and well suited to the world of advertising, marketing and PR. Those he’d met before would always make the time for him, but he never felt entirely relaxed in their company and would excuse himself before long on some vague pretext. And so it was again, he’d been to the gents where he’d attempted – without much success – to tame a stray curl that had escaped the evening’s application of ‘product’. He’d realised such a trip might be necessary when Susan’s boss had been unable to pull her eyes away from the top of his head during their conversation. As Geraldine usually liked to maintain eye contact in the most disconcerting manner, it was a relief to have a reason to excuse himself.

On his way back to the ballroom, he spotted a small group on the balcony – smokers he realised – and wished fleetingly that he smoked, if simply for the relaxed companionship he observed they all seemed to share, even when all were previously strangers.

That was when he bumped into her – quite literally – although what she was doing here was a mystery to him. Surely Susan hadn’t invited her, not after what had happened. Susan was the only person Steven had spoken to about Amanda, the only person he’d told what had really happened, how he truly felt. To everyone else he’d simply said “it’s over” and firmly changed the subject. But there she was and, having bumped into her, he had no choice but to be civil.

“Erm, how are you Amanda?”
“I’m OK, but I’m leaking glue.”

And with that ridiculous statement, he was back. Right back in her thrall once more. As she backed carefully through the door to the ladies, she pleaded with him not to go anywhere whilst promising that she’d be right back. Waiting in the passageway, the memories flooded back. As he’d told Susan, Amanda had been the one to break the mould. Before her, Steven had dated exactly who’d you’d expect. Nice women, with girl-next-door looks, clever enough but with no serious ambitions career-wise. And they’d bored him. None had lasted much longer than a year, but each had made it to that point before manoevouring him to commit, at which point he’d had to admit to both himself and them, the lack of desire to take things further.

Just before he met Amanda, Susan had been quite sharp with him, pointing out that he was being unfair, unkind even, in allowing these ‘gels’ as she called them, to have expectations, when he knew the relationships would go nowhere. She’d even suggested he ‘see someone’ if he needed help to sort out what he really wanted. And that had stung him. A night or two later, when he’d drunk rather too much scotch and gone through the emotions from anger to self-pity, he realised she’d been right. He also came to the startling realisation that the reason he dated the same sort of woman was he never met anyone different in his normal circle. So he’d signed up to a dating site.

After the site algorithms had matched him with clones of his previous relationships, he decided to take a leap into the unknown and contacted a handful of women with whom he barely matched at all. All but one had completely ignored him. That one had been Amanda.

Steven always felt totally out of his comfort zone with her, but in the best of ways. Their first date had been a total disaster on paper. He’d knocked over the bottle of wine – red naturally – into her lap and she’d insisted he bought a bottle of white wine to pour over her dress so that it wouldn’t stain. Thinking she was joking, he’d laughted, only for her to frog march him up to the bar, after which she’d solemnly poured the white wine over the red. She swore it’d worked, but he’d noticed the dress in a dry cleaners bag the first night he’d stayed over. For it had been that kind of relationship. No rules followed. Amanda had laughed at him when he’d looked shocked, before checking that he wasn’t going to be a hypocrite and judge her for it. He wasn’t and he hadn’t. The next two years had been the happiest and most fulfilling of his life.

Then one day, quite out of the blue, he came home to find her packing her bags. There had been tears – a lot of them – and on both sides, before he’d helped carry her things to the kerb. A phone call later and a man in a van had pulled up, hugged her close, then taken her and her things away. That was the last he’d seen of her. The odd person had tried to talk to him, saying they’d seen her, spoken to her, even in a couple of cases had messages for him from her. But he’d cut them all off firmly. He didn’t want to know why she’d chosen to leave him for someone else, it was enough to know that she had.

Until today that is. Today, he wanted to know why – very badly. So he waited.

Eventually she emerged – still sticky.

“I’ve a room here. Do you think we could go there so I can get out of this dress? Please Steven, don’t look at me like that. It seems my son thought it would be a grand joke to put a tube of glue in my pocket, and it’s everywhere. I just need to change so I can talk to you. I owe you an explanation.”
“That you do Amanda, but I’d rather wait in the lobby for you to change.”
“I’ll be as quick as I can Steven, please don’t give up on me. This stuff is … well, sticky and it might take a bit of getting off.”

Steven had decided to give her an hour and just as he was about to give up, she’d appeared, her hair still wet from the shower. After the waiter had delivered two cups of coffee, Steven looked Amanda in the eye.

“So. This explanation. Will it involve telling me about your son?”
“Marcus is only two and a half. I agreed to have him as Tim was dying.”
“Tim …?”
“… was my first love. We broke up before I met you. I’d known him since childhood. We’d grown up together, been friends in school, started dating when we were teenagers, applied to the same universities to be together. But when we started working, the cracks started to show. Tim was a homebody, not ambitious, and me … well, you know neither of those characteristics suits me.”
“That doesn’t explain why you didn’t tell me …. nor why you decided to go.”
“No. It doesn’t, does it. The thing is I’d known Tim was ill from the first. From before we started dating. His Mum – who was more a mother to me than my own – she told me. She made me promise that if we did get together, we’d stay together until he died. And I broke my promise to her when we split. Tim tracked me down because she was dying too. It was her dying wish and … well, I knew I couldn’t deny her, even though I’d denied him. And how could I tell you that no matter how much I loved you, I was going to marry someone else, to have his child?”

Steven had given a sort of shrug – the only response he could come up with.

“One final question – what are you doing here?”
“I contacted Susan a couple of months ago.”
“She invited you?”
“No, she saw me off – several times. She’s still very angry – but I kept coming back until she agreed to hear me. She loves you Steven and she’s always been loyal to you, but when she took a phone call about the arrangements for this party, I decided to take a chance and gatecrash. If we didn’t bump into each other, I told myself I’d accept that fate didn’t mean us to be together. Do you still hate me? Can you ever forgive me?”

Staring into his empty coffee cup, Steven took a deep breath, allowing his racing thoughts to still and his feeling to become crystalise.

“I never hated you Amanda, I just never got past you. I think it’s rather apt that your son chose glue for his prank, because I’ve been stuck in the same place ever since you left. As for forgiveness, I don’t know … but I can better understand what you did. I am glad we had this chance to talk though. I don’t feel stuck any more, and I’m truly grateful for that.”

And with that Steven signalled the waiter to settle his bill, before rising to leave …

“Goodbye Amanda – I wish all the best to you and your son.”


© Debra Carey, 2018

#FlashFiction prompt: “How are you? I’m OK, but I’m leaking glue.”

We promise, this was genuinely said to one of us … and how could we not use it as a prompt? So, go on, we’re giving no more away than that!

Word count: up to 1,500
Deadline: 2pm GMT on Friday 8th June 2018

A reminder of our #TortoiseFlashFiction page if you just love this one but miss the deadline.

 


A reminder to new readers/writers, please post on your own site and add a link in the comments section below.  If you don’t have your own blog or similar outlet, do send us your story via the contact form on the About page and we’ll post for you, with an appropriate by-line.  

Two caveats if you want to go down this route: if you want to retain the copyright, then you will need to state this, and this is a family show, so we reserve the right not to post anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.

 

Girl in Blue

I’d searched for her, to no avail. Long weeks, chasing down lead after lead. But now the trail had come to an end.

How well I remembered that blue dress. We’d seen it in the shop window that last time I saw her. She’d jumped up and down so excited when I’d said I’d buy it for her. Our mother had refused to, saying it was an unnecessary frivolity, but I’d made her swear on her bible that she’d not sell it – not till Gertie grew out of it anyway.

My father’d been in the service and my mother who was not really suited for life as a serviceman’s wife, well her already fragile emotions had started to crumble after the Shenandoah crash. He’d survived, most of the crew had. But the crash of the Akron had taken him, had taken most of the crew in fact.

By the time the letter from the US Navy reached me, he’d been dead four months. I headed back home the very next day. But there was a new family living there. Of course the Navy had moved them out – my mother and Gertie – you couldn’t stay in Navy quarters when you weren’t Navy no more.

I went in to town, to the boarding house they’d taken rooms in. The old lady there told me things had been bad. My mother’s mind had become addled. She’d lost her religion and turned to drink. It had gotten them thrown out.

I followed the trail from town to town, the boarding houses going from shabby to plain cheap. I finally found her in a flop house. But Gertie was gone. My mother told me she’d taken to putting on her blue dress and going out – she knew not where. In truth, she probably didn’t care.

Someone had found her down by the rail tracks, and the local church had given her a decent burial and some kindly souls had paid for a headstone. I thought about using some of my savings to change the headstone, but I kind of felt Gertie would like the mystery of it. Instead I spoke to a nice lady at the church to arrange for flowers to be put on her grave regularly – my little sister deserved that.


© Debra Carey, 2018

#secondthoughts: Fanfic

Fanfic has an interesting place in the grand scheme of things.  There are whole communities that have arisen around a book or TV show, that simply exist to share stories that the fans feel should be out there.  These include a way of providing an answer to a question that is too unimportant for the source material to address (but which has taken on significance to the community), or exploring an unlikely situation – a romantic entanglement between characters that are normally enemies is a popular form of fanfic.  It might be a way of filling a gap when the next book of a series is over due, or when a TV show is cancelled.  It might be a way of gently poking fun at the more absurd aspects, whilst saluting the parts that make the source material so worthy of a strong fanbase.

Fanfic has a lot of potential, and numerous writers begin their careers by writing fanfic and then graduating to their own stories.  Some writing courses encourage the writing of fanfic as a way of getting started.  The question though, is when does fanfic become plagiarism or an infringement of intellectual property?    Can fanfic be mainstream?

Fan fiction was originally applied as a pejorative term for (usually science) fiction writing of generally poor quality that was submitted by amateurs to be published in magazines.  If you follow any writers on social media, one of the things that comes across quite strongly is that there is a strong view that a writer is someone who is putting their own words down on paper (electronic or otherwise), whether or not they are paid to do so.  Even some professional writers, by which I mean those that receive financial remuneration for their writing, have other jobs in addition to their writing gigs, or their writing is a form of paid employment e.g. journalists.

With the advent of the internet, it became much easier to discuss shared interests, much easier to achieve critical mass for small niches within a larger setting, and so fan fiction changed its context.  But arguably there are many professional writers who have undertaken fan fiction gigs – if they got paid for their fan fiction, is it still fan fiction?  To illustrate, let me give an example: Sherlock Holmes.  Sherlock Holmes is the IP of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who died in 1930, which means that the copyright on the books expired in 2000 (in the UK at least).

The first pastiche was apparently written by JM Barrie (yes, of Peter Pan fame) in the 1890s  – a contemporary piece, and something of a friendly jibe.  Conan Doyle (and subsequently his estate) seem to have taken a fairly laid back view of the works that have been written – there is a separate page on Wikipedia that lists the (majority of) published works built on the Holmes canon.  This “extended universe”, as it were, includes stories from the perspective of other key characters including Lestrade, Mrs Hudson, Mycroft, The Irregulars, and of course Moriarty.  Many collections of short stories have been written that purport to be from a descendent of Watson who finds a bundle of papers…these usually deal with the stories that it is suggested have been suppressed for political or other reasons in the main stories.  There was also a treatment which had the grandchildren of Holmes and Watson – a very serious Watson who talks of the legacy of the grandfathers and a Holmes who would rather be doing anything else, but of course is prevailed upon to deal with whatever situations arise.

As an aside, one of the least convincing series of stories is by Laurie King, who has Holmes found in retirement by a teenaged American girl; she becomes his apprentice and subsequently his wife.  It feels in rather poor taste, and completely flies in the face of what we know of Holmes.  People do change…but Holmes marrying is improbable, and marrying someone of the order of 30-40 years younger is, I would contend, unlikely in the extreme.  That said, King is a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, and I am not, so what do I know?

In summary, more words in the vein of Conan Doyle have been written of Sherlock Holmes by others than by the man himself, not to mention the parodies and allusions. Are these fanfic?  I would argue, yes, even if the authors got paid for their troubles.

At the other end of the extreme, others have gone to a great deal of trouble to squash anything written about their characters.  Given that there have been law-suits by fanfic writers claiming that the owner of original IP stole anything from a plot-device through to a complete book which forms a part or the whole of a subsequent book in the series, it is not surprising that there are those who steer well clear of fanfic.

So, should I write fanfic?  Should you?  For the most part, I’ve never really felt compelled to write fanfic per se, there are enough of my own stories that I want to write that this doesn’t feel necessary (although I did write a piece off the back of one of our prompts that was very much an homage/parody of an Asimov ‘Union Club Mystery’).  On the other hand, I do have to watch myself, as sometimes things have a much stronger influence than some writers might like.  I don’t think that I’ve ever gone so far as to get someone excited enough to threaten legal action – but a quick smurf of the internet shows that litigation is popular in the field, and some people will suggest plagiarism or some other literary shenanigans at the least provocation.

As a clising thought, the Anglican church says of confession that “all may, some should, none must”, and that actually works quite well with fanfic, I think.

 


© David Jesson, 2018

Smile

You’ll see her, perhaps, if you take the time to look.  She’s there, in the crowd, or perhaps at the edge.  She’s there, in the park, in the cafe, on the bus, at the school gates.  She has a beautiful smile.  She talks to those around her: she engages.  But if you do spot her, if you notice her, you’ll see that whilst she talks, nobody ever really gets close.  Nobody ever gets close.  If they did, they might see that the beautiful smile never reaches the eyes.  Make sure she never notices you noticing, because nobody ever survives that.

 


© David Jesson, 2018