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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 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 : An edition of David’s Writing Experiment

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: Bridge of Spies

One weekend a while back, Himself put on the film “Bridge of Spies” telling me he was interested to see how they handled this piece of Cold War history. Now Himself being a military history buff and the Cold War being his specialist area, I’m entirely used to being less knowledgeable than he, so I watched the film as just another spy thriller. Tom Hanks puts in a good turn – doesn’t he always – and I thought no more about it.

To be honest, there’s long been a large vacuum around the Cold War for me as, having spent my childhood in the third world where we had actual conflicts to deal with, the Cold War mostly whooshed by. But a person can’t spend as much time as I do around Himself without that Cold War knowledge rubbing off and, bit-by-bit, it did just that.

There were two recent triggers …

For the last few years, Himself and I have visited a Nuclear Bunker in Cheshire where they hold a Cold War themed re-enactor event. I’ve had a brief wander around indoors but – for me – it’s mostly been about keeping warm and dry. This year the owners invited the re-enactors to set up stall indoors … and the bunker was brought to life. For the first time it was clear how it would’ve looked should the worst have happened. The owners asked those re-enactors who were young (and so looked realistic) to pose wearing their historically accurate uniforms at the sensors and monitors. That – combined with the large images lining the corridors depicting recreations of city streets before, during and after ‘the blast’ – had a somewhat chilling impact.

Attending that same event was a podcaster – Ian Sanders from Cold War Conversations. I’ll not pretend otherwise, I initially engaged with him to pick his brain on podcasting and the equipment which would be necessary and/or recommended, as it’s something I’m considering getting involved in. But then we got talking, exchanging cards (as you do), when he mentioned “Bridge of Spies”, Gary Powers and the downing of the U2 spy plane in the same breath. Naturally, I nodded knowledgeably, only admitting to Himself later that I’d not really remembered the Gary Powers bit at all. So, we listened to Ian’s interview of Gary Powers Jr – son of the downed pilot who now runs a Cold War museum in the US – and then watched the film again …

There is no way I’ll have the same feelings as someone who grew up in the UK during the Cold War, who lived through the fear, the warning leaflets, the everyday stocism, CND, the Aldermaston marches, the cuban military crisis – for all those cast a shadow that I never got to feel. But the second time I watched “Bridge of Spies”, I looked at it with a new set of eyes – as something that had happened to real people and not just characters in a spy novel, as a time my contemporaries had experienced first-hand while they were growing up.

It’s still a good film, but now it’s also a film I’ll remember … for I’ve had a chance to take a walk around in their shoes.


© Debra Carey, 2019

Confined to barracks

confined to barracks

(Featured Photograph: By Karen Knoff – from her book “Gentlemen”)


“Well gentlemen, nearly lunchtime: can I confirm the names we’ve shortlisted for the 1-6 positions?”

There were vigorous nods, and the kind of murmuring that extras mimic with phrases such as ‘rhubarb rhubarb’ and ‘soda water bottles’.

“Excellent.  Before we break, Carstairs would like to suggest a controversial addition to the line-up.  I we should at least look at the Paper.”

Document packs were riffled.

“He can’t bat!”

“He can’t bowl!”

“He dropped that easy catch!”

Carstairs looked every one of them in the eye before saying “All true – but he’s even better than Aussie when it comes to heckling!”

© David Jesson, 2019

#FF Photo Prompt

The Shrine

They’d followed the path for what seemed like hours. Even though they’d been going only just over the hour, the mutterings and grumbling had grown to a level which had begun to infect even Jim’s famous positivity. He’d really wanted to get them out of the wood before nightfall, but had to acknowledge their current pace wouldn’t get them close to achieving this aim. Accepting he’d been a touch over-optimistic, Jim suggested they stop at the next clearing for a rest and a brew. Almost immediately, the mood of the group raised and the pace picked up, which was just as well as the next clearing was further away than Jim had expected. They’d been appearing at what he’d started to think was suspicious regularity, so this last leg had both covered more distance than he’d expected and settled his concerns.

The clearing was larger than any they’d passed previously and there were signs in the middle of previous fires. Jim quickly nominated the freshest to gather wood, reminding them not to stray out of calling-out distance, before he turned his attention to settling down the older and less fit of the group as comfortably as was possible. He got Jen to distribute a square of chocolate to each member of the group, with a little extra for those who needed the boost, while he sorted out the kettles and flints, and reassembled the little framework he would erect over a portion of the fire for boiling kettles. Jen returned earlier than expected and gave him the bad news that there was no way their little group could travel further that day. Time was needed to dress sore and blistered feet, and some proper nourishment would be needed to fuel any further walking.

Sighing, Jim nodded his assent, before diverting a few of the returning wood gatherers and setting them to gather ground covering in order to provide the group with more comfortable bedding upon which to place their sleeping bags. With the wood gathered so far, he laid a fire and got it started. Having filled the kettle from the stream on the other side of the path, he got them boiling for tea. Leaving Jen to manage the fire and tea with a few helpers, he assembled their foragers for a foray into the woods. Grabbing a few decent-sized branches, alight from the fire to guide their way, he split the group into pairs, each setting off in different directions to see what they could find. They found mushrooms, a wide variety of berries and something that looked – and smelled – like rosemary growing on the higher and drier bits of ground. His foragering partner had him dig up some tubers which she decided would be safe to eat, and they collected some bones and two carcasses of recently dead small birds off the ground.

On their return, the kettles were removed, all but the one which made tea for the returning foragers, and large pots were placed over the fire. Other members of the group refilled the kettles and soon the mouthwatering aroma of mushroom soup filled the clearing. Wary of attracting wild animals, Jim ensured that lit branches were placed at intervals around the clearing, before settling down to his own bowl of soup. Hunks of bread from various backpacks got handed round, and the group settled down for the night with relatively full bellies. Having checked the supply of wood was plentiful enough to keep the central fire and the circle of lit branches going through the night, Jim divided the group up into sentries for 2-hourly stints throughout the night. The elderly were excused this duty, although old Josh insisted on taking his turn. That made Jim smile. Josh had been a great leader in his time and Jim had hoped to rely on his wisdom and experience on this trek.

The night having passed without incident, Jim had agreed the kettles could be refilled and a brew enjoyed before they set off once more, but not before he’d made clear they wouldn’t be stopping again until they’d cleared the woods. The foragers distributed the berries gathered the night before to provide some energy for the day ahead, before carefully storing the remaining herbs, mushrooms and extra bones around the group’s backpacks.

It was a tired and footsore group who finally broke clear of the wood as the sun was setting. Ahead of them the plain seemed to stretch out for miles. Despite the golden light of the sunset, it seemed barren and overwhelming. Jim ensured that wood was gathered, a fire lit and a surrounding circle of lit branches set up once again. Tea was brewed, a soup made after the foragers had returned, and Jen with her team of helpers had re-dressed the wounds and tended to the old and unfit. Even after soup and bread, and more of their valuable chocolate was distributed, the group remained unusually quiet. The sight of the vast plain had struck fear into all but the bravest of hearts. The night’s sentries found they weren’t alone in their wakefulness, for most of the group found it hard to sleep that night.

In the morning, old Josh took Jim aside for a quiet word, after which Jim invited Jen and the most experienced of their foragers – Cecilia – to join them. While tea and berries were distributed among the group by the remaining foragers, they discussed the problem of what lay ahead from every possible angle. In the end, Jim had to agree – they’d hug the edge of the wood for it provided them with abundant wood for fires, a stream for fresh water, and a source of food to be foraged. It would take them in a different direction to the one Jim had set his heart upon but he realised, now, that this group didn’t have the strength and stamina to cross that terrifying plain.

By the time this decision was made, most of the day had passed, so a decision was taken to make it a rest day. Mid-afternoon, Jim told Josh he’d scout ahead as this was a different path to the planned one and, leaving the group in the care of Jen and Josh, he’d set off, promising to be back in time for the evening meal. He’d made good progress alone and had soon scouted two days ahead. Then realising it would be dark soon, he rushed into the woods to find a suitable branch – both to light his way back and to signal to the group that he was returning.

Stopping at the stream to drink his fill, he noticed the far bank was now rocky. Gathering up some brush, he’d applied a spark. The burning brush lit up the area allowing him to notice the shallowness of the stream. Rolling up his trousers, he’d crossed the steam to investigate. The rocks were higher and smoother than he’d expected but as he cast his branch around, a greenish glint caught Jim’s eye. Moving in closer, he found an alcove, inside of which sat the greatest surprise of all. In the middle of the woods, miles away from civilization, was an extraordinarily beautiful bottle. Triangular in shape, with multiple sloping facets, Jim guessed it was made of crystal. Some of the surfaces glinted green, others blue, while most were clear. There was a large round stopper and it sat on a delicate square base.

Jim was drawn to touch it and, finding it cool, he’d moved his hand all around it. Finding no booby traps, he’d picked it up. Surprisingly heavy, he realised it was filled with a clear liquid. Removing the lid, he’d poured a small amount into his tin cup. Smelling it, he was surprised by the scent – it was entirely natural, not chemical, so he risked wetting his lips. Although it’d stung the cut on his lip, he’d swallowed a small sip. Instantly it warmed first his throat, then his stomach. Knowing he couldn’t delay without causing tremendous concern in the group, he’d poured the remaining liquid into his flash and, replacing the bottle, he’made his way back to the group with a decided spring in his step.

Having apologised for his delayed arrival and supped his meal, Jim was keen to take Josh aside to share his tale. Having offered Josh his flask, he’d been surprised when the old man had burst out laughing. Calling over Cecilia and the other foragers, Josh‘d asked them to smell and taste the liquid in order to identify the ingredients. Citrus offered one, coriander another, liquorice a third, angelica and juniper berries Cecilia stated firmly with a grin.

Jim looked at them puzzled “What are you lot on about?”
“Gin” said Josh, “it’s gin m’boy. You never tasted it before then?”
“Bombay Sapphire, if I’m not mistaken” chuckled Cecilia, taking another sip “it was my mother’s favourite.”
“But what’s it doing out here?” demanded Jim, trying to drag them back down to earth. “Well, from your description of the bottle, I’d imagine some uneducated savage thought it was the elixir of the gods and created a shrine for it.”
“Be serious you lot, are we in trouble do you think?”
“If no-one saw you take it, they’ll probably never notice it’s gone. Let’s hope so eh?”

© Debra Carey, 2019


 

#FF Photo Prompt

IMGP5653

The photograph is one of mine which I took … actually no, I don’t want to lead the story you’ll write by telling you anymore.

So, what do you think it is, or better yet – tell us the story it inspires you to write. Any style or genre, just nothing NSFW.

 

Word count: say up to 1,000 words
Deadline: 2pm GMT on Friday 8th March 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.

Experimental Writing: Part 2

It wasn’t until after dawn that the wings of the cocoon unfolded.  Ostensibly this was the first sign that anything was actually happening, although the craft had been monitoring various electromagnetic frequencies for some time.  A data-squirt had arrived from the mothership with a mission update including a hack-patch to allow the pilot to interface with local operating systems.  The onboard computer started processing the information available and put together a languages pack and location specific briefing information.  It also sent files to the onboard synthesiser to start producing the equipment that might be required: clothing, interface patches, documentation for a legend – the usual.

The pilot got its first look of (another) alien sky.  Slightly bluer than it was used to: it prompted the computer to check for nutritional requirements and whether there would need to be any supplements to adjust for the predominant frequencies of light.  It released itself from the webbing that constrained it in the pilot’s seat.  Anyone who had been passing, who happened to be able to speak grzzt, would have been able to discern some muttered imprecations.  These mutterings mainly related to having been uncomfortably squished into a seat meant for a completely different species, and that just because it was a shapeshifter, it didn’t mean it should have to put up with this sort of thing.  Mind you, a casual passer-by probably wouldn’t have noticed all of this, being distracted by the form that flowed over the lip of the cockpit, disdaining the retractable ladder-rungs that had automatically deployed when the wings of the canopy had unfolded.  Reaching the ground, the shape flowed into a perfect sphere about half a metre in diameter and rolled along the side of the craft.

A hatch popped open in the side of the craft.  Things started to drop into the hopper as they were manufactured: trousers, a top, a hat, dark glasses…

More grumbling, the grzzt equivalent for: “What the…?”

Some kind of appendage extended from the spherical alien and reached out to the trousers which it held up in a rather disdainful manner before bringing them close and flowing into them.  The same was done for shoes – the creature didn’t bother undoing the Velcro straps but just extended the ‘legs’ from the end of the trousers and pulled them into place.  By the time the process was complete, the sphere had become a reasonable approximation of a small human being.  Dark glasses and a beanie hat disguised the ‘face’, for the most part.

A canvas back-pack dropped into the hopper, followed by various bits and pieces that were hastily stuffed into it.  A couple of things, one which looked vaguely pistolesque, were held up for inspection.

“Nah.”  They were tossed into a receptacle next to the hopper.

Finally, a device on a strap appeared, and this was placed on a, for want of a better word, wrist.  A string of symbols flowed across the screen.  Something vaguely finger-like on what was approximately a hand curled back over itself and swiped the screen off.  In response, a warning sound issued from the craft and a message, in grzzt, played:

“Alert.  Field pack incomplete.  Please collect standard issue armament.”

If the pilot had been familiar with Earth idiom, it would probably have sucked its teeth, if it had any, at this point.  But it wasn’t and it didn’t so it just ignored the message, and went back to checking through the kit in the back-pack, making sure it had everything it wanted.  What might have been a sigh issued from somewhere that might have been a face.  It left the pack by the open hatch and walked back to the cockpit.  It swung itself up the ladder in a long-armed simian fashion, disdaining to use its legs.  Leaning over the lip of the cock-pit it pressed a button and something that looked a lot like a tablet computer detached from the cock-pit console.  It lowered itself by one…arm, and then jumped the rest of the way to the ground.  Digits flew across the screen as it programmed something.  By the time it made its way back to the synthesiser’s hopper, a new thing had appeared.  It looked a lot like a plaster and it immediately slapped it onto its…head, about where an ear should have been.  The tablet was tucked into the backpack, which was itself heaved onto a shoulder.

The hatch over the hopper was closed.  The message from earlier was repeated, this time much more muffled.  The pilot tapped the watch and transmitted an authorisation code: the wings folded back automatically and, simultaneously the ladder retracted.  A nozzle released quick-crete over the whole cocoon making it appear to be just another rock.  The quick-crete was permeable to a range of gases, as well as being an efficient absorber of selected parts of the EM spectrum (some of the visible spectrum, tailored so that the coated cocoon would match other rocks in the area, some other bands, but not too many from any one part of the spectrum – should anyone come snooping around then it wouldn’t appear that this ‘rock’ was absorbing unusually large amounts of energy).  This energy powered the transformation of the absorbed gases into the required reaction mass, powered various systems that would keep the spacecraft safe and secure, and charged the energy storage systems.  And if things went terribly wrong with the mission, in a couple of years’ time, if the ‘rock’ was still here, then the accumulated energy would be catastrophically released, turning the rock to its component atoms.

The day was starting to warm up (getting the electrochemical processes off to a flying start: the pilot headed off down the mountainside.

© David Jesson, 2019


 

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

The shape of story was formed through a four-part prologue: the first part of the 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.  At various points, I’ll be asking questions with a choice of answers.  I’ll be polling on Twitter, or you can add a comment below.  So for example, you’ve helped me to decide that the story is science fiction, our protagonist, who is a rogue with a dash of ranger,  is an alien, but the story is set on Earth.

Without giving too much away, the protagonist is piloting the craft that has just landed in the Brecon Beacons National Park.  Last month the consensus was that the MC is retrieving something: we’ll be coming back to that later.  Right now, our MC has collected their field pack and is walking away from their spaceship.  Are they:

Option 1: Heading into town (local)?

Option 2: On their way to the big city?

Option 3: Heading further into the countryside?

I‘ll leave the Twitter poll open for one week, and will add in any votes on here that come in during that time.  Feel free to expand on the options in the comments!  I’m not promising to incorporate anything but always good to hear where you think this is heading!

See you next month!

#secondthoughts: All Quiet on The Western Front

I’m very parsimonious in handing out 5-star reviews, but Erich Maria Remarque’s masterpiece would’ve got twice that many if they’d been available – for yes, I do believe we need a 10-star rating system for books to properly rank them, but that’s a ramble for another day.

Last year, the Reading Addicts site took a poll of their members from which came this list of recommendations of 10 books set during WWI :

Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
The First World War – John Keegan (non-fiction)
Goodbye to All That – Robert Graves (memoir)
A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemmingway
Testament of Youth – Vera Brittain (memoir)
The First Casualty – Ben Elton
The Sleepwalkers: How Europe went to War in 1914 – Christopher Clark (non-fiction)
Private Peaceful – Michael Morpurgo
The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry – Various authors (poetry)
All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque

The Penguin poetry collection formed part of the set reading for my English Literature ‘O’ level all those years ago, and I read the Vera Brittain when about 20 – her age when WWI broke out; unsurprisingly, it had quite the impact on me and it was years before I chose to read about WWI again. I’ve since read a number of the other candidates and wouldn’t argue with the list, except in one aspect – Remarque’s book should, now and always, top it.

Of those listed, half are fiction, and only Remarque’s was written from the perspective of the ‘bad guys’, the aggressors, the war-mongering Hun (I’m British, and that’s how I was taught to perceive the ‘other side’ in both world wars) … and it’s all the more important a read for that very reason, for this book provides the balance which is sorely needed.

otto dix skull

A couple of years ago I wandered into an exhibition of prints by Otto Dix, and this book reminded me of that experience. The obvious common ground is their sharing of the same subject matter – WWI. Others are that their work was produced later – between world wars, both were banned by the Third Reich, and both depict subjects which make you want to look away while having a power that draws you in.

All Quiet on the Western Front was written from the point-of-view of Paul – an educated and thoughtful young man – and what stayed with me were his observations.

How soldiers literally reverted to animal instinct as they get nearer the front, with Paul commenting that indulging in thought before acting could leave you dead. It made me wonder, does being a ‘successful’ soldier mean you must lose your humanity? Paul’s experience in the shell hole with a French soldier he has stabbed, and who dies slowly, demonstrates that conflict between the human and the animal all too clearly. How the fighting of a war makes one scornful of those who continue to insist on the petty military parade-ground rubbish. How those who actually fight can view the older generation, who’d whipped them up on the glory of serving their country and sent them off to a horrific war without a single thought. How going home on leave could be such a viscerally painful experience. Paul had mused previously that the older soldiers, those who’d already started their adult lives, had something concrete to return to if they survived the war. But the younger men, the ones on the brink of adulthood had nothing. They’d been schoolboys, they’d not had a chance to develop yet – and becoming a soldier, fighting in a de-humanising war, had left them empty. Paul’s experiences on leave simply served to remind him of who’d he’d been before, demonstrating that he was unable to re-connect with his past, how that person was gone forever.

No wonder it was banned by the Third Reich. Described as one of the greatest pieces of anti-war literature, it’s strength is in its subtlety. There’s no speechifying, no ranting and raving. It’s neither a gore-fest nor gung-ho, we see soldiers simply doing what has to be done. But seeing the impact that has on them and whether it can be OK for those of us who do not fight to ask that of them, is just one of the many questions you end up asking yourself.

I was recently watching Indy Neidell’s excellent ‘Great War’ channel on Youtube, when he made mention of Remarque’s book. I hastened to his review and was interested to see that, despite coming to the book from the perspective of a historian, he had the same reaction which I, as a reader and writer, had.  What was particularly interesting is that Neidell spoke of the research carried out by Remarque – research which allowed him to write such an accurate depiction, despite his own very brief involvement. Do take a moment to watch it …

 

In short, if you only read one book about WWI – this is the one. It’s an absolute masterpiece – a work of fiction, but positively dripping with historical accuracy.

© Debra Carey, 2019

Rachael Ritchey on The Making of an Anthology. — Fiction is Food

I may have mentioned this a couple of times, but I had a story published in an anthology, and I thought you might find this behind the scenes story of interest:

Last November saw me alongside fifteen other authors published in The Crux Anthology. This is Rachael’s story on how it unfolded.

via Rachael Ritchey on The Making of an Anthology. — Fiction is Food

I may have mentioned this a couple of times, but I had a story published in an anthology, and I thought you might find this behind the scenes story of interest: