Announcement: Experimental Project

When I first broached the idea of this website to Debs, the plan was that it would be a space for us to present smaller pieces of fiction that were opportunities for us to try out new skills, new ideas.  Over the last two and a bit years or so, I think we’ve succeeded in that goal.

As we stare down the barrel of 2019, I’m very aware that I have several larger projects that need some TLC, and new ideas come sleeting in on a daily basis.  BUT.  There is only so much time available and the day-job and other commitments that take priority.  I’m going to need to be careful about what I take on over the next 12 months.  For example, I’m very conscious of how stressful the #AprilA2Z is, both for me personally and for those close to me.  I don’t think I’m going to do that particular challenge this year…

But I do want something that is going to stretch me as a writer, and I don’t want to abandon offering a monthly story. Thinks.  Hmmm…And what about that adventure style story that I was going to write…Thinks.  Hmmm…

OK.  So here’s what I’ve got planned.  Over the first week or so of January, I’m going to be starting a story.  Each day, there’ll be about 100 words of text, leading up to a choice, a choice that will affect the direction the story takes.  After we’ve got the fundamentals established, I’m going to revert to a monthly installment of around 500-1000, again, each chapter will end with some kind of choice.  Each choice will be run as a poll here and on twitter.

That’s all for now!

See you in 2019!

Advertisements

#second thoughts: Seasonal Reading

Full disclosure: this is a #secondthought on a #secondthought I had back in 2016, only this time I’m coming at it from the viewpoint of a grandparent.

My granddaughter’s first Christmas was last year and, at 8 months, she had no real idea what was going on. It was a just a big family gathering where the gift which most diverted her was the remote control car Himself got for her and which the grown-ups were happily ‘driving’ around the room. Her little eyes followed it everywhere. But now, at 18 months old, she just loves books – which obviously gives great joy to this reading grandparent. After my initial over-enthusiasm when I purchased every single children’s book on my daughter’s amazon wish list, I’ve been better behaved. But now it’s Christmas … and let’s be honest, there are Christmas book traditions to be started.

My first stop had to be the Christmas book “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement C Moore …

I was drawn to a pop-up version in board book format, illustrated by Gina Bordicchia which I thought could be perfect for surviving enthusiastic young hands. I was disappointed, though, to discover that it’s an abbreviated version of the poem as, ideally, I’d wanted one copy of the book which would last throughout childhood. On the positive side – the illustrations are really rather lovely and the pop-ups look not just great but robust. As the book is relatively small, it would also work well for a small person’s hands. There are other board book versions, but I discounted them after reviewers commented about spelling errors (unforgivable) and glitter (no-one needs that stuff getting everywhere). I decided my best option was to buy this for one for the early years, and to buy another – more older-child-suitable version – in due course for keepsaking.

Then I came across an alternative version of the poem written by Kes Grey (illustrated by Claire Powell) which I think has may earn the right to go on my older-child-suitable version list alongside the traditional poem – and then realised this is exactly how I get into trouble over there being so many books …

Next, I checked to see if her favourite CeeBeebies characters – Sarah & Duck – have a Christmas book. Hurrah! They do, so Sarah & Duck and the Christmas Lights – also in board book format – leapt into my shopping basket. If you aren’t familiar with them (I wasn’t), all I can say is that they make my granddaughter smile.

Then, on a trip to my local National Trust property on a cold but gorgeous autumnal day, I wandered around snapping pics with my new (landscape-suitable) lens, before seeking sanctuary from the cold in the festively decorated shop. There were books … who am I kidding, of course there were. There, yet another in board book format was to be found leaping into my shopping basket – “A Christmas Wish: A Peter Rabbit Tale” – for after all, a person can’t go wrong with Beatrix Potter surely?

And there I felt I had to stop the actual shopping – for this year at least.

For next year, there are a number of books in consideration – Allan & Janet Ahlberg’s “Jolly Christmas Postman” for one. A number of people have recommended “Lucy & Tom’s Christmas” and “Alfie’s Christmas” by Shirley Hughes as nostalgic options. As someone who was more influenced by Christmas USA-style than by Victorian-style English, these don’t immediately tick my boxes, but an in-the-paper browse is probably required before making any final decision. I can see that seasonal book buying could become one of the many joys of being a grandparent.

© Debra Carey, 2018

 


In closing, we hope this festive season has provided you with some wonderful reading or some gorgeous writing materials (both for the luckiest of us) and that 2019 provides you with the time to make the most of them  😀

 

 

Designing Christmas

Every year she visited the West End to see the Christmas windows. It was a tradition that her mother had started when Isabel was 10 years old. They’d go during the day, battling the crowds, then stop to have a meal in a small bistro. But when it was dark and the shoppers had gone, they’d return, taking their time, drinking in the sights. On that one day each year, Isabel was allowed to stay up late and have a lie-in the next day.

Her mother always made Christmas special. They didn’t have a lot of money, but she was artistic and made wonderful decorations from bits and pieces, and other people’s cast offs. She absolutely loved that Isabel had made a career out of designing Christmas for one of the biggest retailers in the country.

The year Fortnum & Mason had windows inspired by Russian fairy tales was Isabel’s favourite – simply magical. She always took pictures and made notes as she travelled the world, not just at Christmas time, but to festivals throughout the year, building up her inspiration portfolio. In her job, money was no object – to a certain degree – but what she learned at her mother’s knee of “make do and mend” was years ahead of the current enthusiasm for recycling. She’d been trying to persuade her retailer to apply a less disposable attitude to Christmas, but it was falling on stony ground. She’d been thinking how she could start her own business and bring some of her mother’s ethos with her.

As a young girl, she remembered her mother saying “this year we’re going to have …” and it would be gingerbread men one year, boiled sweets wrapped in colourful cellophane the next – home-made snowmen, angels, santa, elves, or reindeer featured also. During the year, they’d unravel old jumpers to knit stockings and garlands, and they’d crochet mistletoe and holly clusters. There were trees in the park where they’d collect fallen pine cones, and the old string they’d collected throughout the year would be dyed into festive colours to tie up their gifts. The cards they received were kept in a box – some cut up to make gift tags, some to create a christmas collage, others for ideas and inspiration. They’d been the first in London to make popcorn strings like the Americans, and no old material was ever thrown out – it could be dyed, decorated or made into something new. Friends allowed them to cut holly and greenery from their gardens in return for some of their home-made decorations, so their home was always bursting with freshness and festivity. Plenty of plain white candles, bowls piled high with walnuts, oranges and rosy apples, with mulled fruit juice gently infusing the house with its seasonal smell. Her mother had a special collection of beautiful big glass baubles, and each year she and Isabel would spend ages deciding which one to add to it. Now that her mother was frail and old, that collection was spectacular and their tree was magnificent.

After her father died, Isabel had persuaded her mother to move in with her. She’d fought against the idea for a while, but when Isabel was able to buy a lovely mansion flat in the West End, her mother had given in gracefully. She loved to walk around the shops looking at the window dressing, still making notes and drawings in her sketchbook. When Isabel had met Mark, her mother had insisted on finding somewhere small for herself. But when Isabel lost Mark after just five years of happiness, her mother had agreed to return to her beloved West End.

This was the first year Isabel had walked round the West End windows without her mother. She wasn’t able to walk that far anymore, so she’d wait until late at night and their favourite black cab would take them for a leisurely drive. Jennifer was still too young, so Mrs Grey would stay with her, but she was already asking to join them. It seemed that Christmas was in safe hands for yet another generation.


© Debra Carey, 2018

#secondthoughts: Writing routines

Like many of us time-crunched part-time writers, I do too much or, more accurately, I aim to fit too much into the time available. I’ve been trying to develop a writing routine in the belief this will ensure my writing doesn’t lose out when priorities are having to be made. Previously I made time for writing only when the muse struck me, and that seemed to be anywhere from 10pm to midnight.

I’m not going to pretend. I’d convinced myself that the later evening hours was when my muse came out to play and that – cue drama queen and much flouncing – if I didn’t write then, I’d never be able to write. All of which didn’t help when I’d changed my normal owl-like pattern for the lark-like pattern demanded by Himself’s job. And whilst I said I was doing it willingly, there was that aforementioned bit of drama queening going on; I think I may’ve quite enjoyed playing the martyr.

The thing is, as a Life Coach, I know only too well that once things become a habit, it becomes easier to ensure they get done. Taking the words of Somerset Maugham contained in the image above in mind, I’ve continued to work at figuring out what set time of day I could have for my writing routine and decided on a get up early and write before work routine.

This hasn’t worked too well as, on those days when I failed to get up early and write (which were often as I’m not a natural lark), I became despondent. And when I get despondent, I get down on myself and I tend not to try to write, even when finding myself with an unexpected bit of free time. Instead, I faff about on the internet, or do some cleaning, or … well, pretty much anything else actually. I put this down to that famed writer’s procrastination. But – in truth – it isn’t that at all.

It’s taken time, but I realise the wisdom I really needed was to be found in what Steven Pressfield tells us in “The War of Art” after the Somerset Maugham quote about inspiration striking …

“Maugham reckoned another, deeper truth: that by performing the mundane physical act of sitting down and starting to work, he set in motion a mysterious but infallible sequence of events that would produce inspiration.
He knew if he built it, she would come.”

Now, I’ve applied the nail-self-to-chair methodology successfully in order to meet the monthly #FF deadline here. Also, when writing our combined April A-Z story, there were constant deadlines to be met, so I simply sat down and wrote whenever I could. And guess what – almost none of those times were between 10pm and midnight.

I’ve been allowing my rotten mindset to get the better of me. The simple act of nailing myself to the chair and telling myself it’s time to get on and write … well, it works. I’ve a job to do – all I have to do is turn up and get it done.  It’s taken a long time to catch up with other wise writers, but lesson finally learned.

Of course maintaining the right mindset is vital. Seeking out time to write every day is what matters; conversely not beating myself up if there genuinely isn’t time, will allow me to maintain a positive mindset for the next day, and the day after, and so on. I’m grabbing on to this writing mindset rather than trying to hammer out a routine, because I believe it already works for me. Now I just need to apply it.

Sit down and write – rinse, repeat!


© Debra Carey, 2018

Job Hunting

How could it be Fall again? Summer had seen my bank balance plummet, to the point that I was starting to tip into the red – a double whammy of too much fun and too few clients. I looked at the dog-eared copies of my favourite ‘tec novels slanted against each other on the shelf. What would Philip Marlow do? Sam Spade? Nick Charles? They’d shake things. They’d damn well find a client. I found a pencil and paper and started to write a list.

© David Jesson, 2018

________________

A little bit of Flash Fiction, which I submitted to one of Janet Reid’s competitions.  There are a number of rules, but the key ones are:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:

fall
plummet
tip
slant
list
3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the
prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.
Thus: fall/fallacious is ok but fall/faille is not

 

Project Gutenberg #FlashFiction

The 1st of December is the birthday of Project Gutenberg, an online archive of out-of-copyright books that have been digitised and are made available to anyone who would like to read them.

A quick reminder that the prompt was to go to Project Gutenberg, have a look at the recent releases and pick a title that appeals: that is the prompt, and the title of your story…

An Engineer’s Sketchbook

There were probably only three people in the world who still called him Christopher, and one of those was his Grandmother.  At school, the custom was still to call the boys by their surnames, but some of the younger masters would buck the trend – if the Head or Bursar weren’t in earshot anyway.  And if you were going to go against what was practically a rule, you’d think you’d go al, sirl the way and use a chosen name.  But no.

Dr Hughes was young, earnest, and more than a little shy, all topped off with a generous helping of obliviousness.  As a relatively new master it was inevitable that he’d inherited the mantle of Career’s Advisor from a colleague who was retiring.

“Ah, Christopher, come in.  Have a seat.”

“Please call me Toph, sir.”

“Now then, lets see.  Well.  Are you enjoying being in the Sixth Form?”

“If I’m honest, sir, I don’t see very much difference to being in Year 11.”

“But you were paying attention in Assembley, when the Headmaster was talking about university?”

“Yes, sir, of course.  But I’m really not sure what I want to read.  Nothing really appeals.”

“Well then Christopher, lets take a look at your reports.”  Dr Hughes opened a manilla folder and riffled through the papers inside.

“Toph, sir.”

“Ummm?” Dr Hughes did not look up.  “Well, Captain of the First XI for Cricket and the First XV Rugby, so a sportsman. Good marks in French and Spanish.  Reasonable compositions in English…History is not your strength is it? With a little more effort in the Sciences you could probably have your choice of any Medical School…The world is not quite your oyster, although it could be, Christopher, it could be.  Have you decided whether it’s to be Oxford or Cambridge, yet?”

Toph was tempted to say that he’d been considering a Red Brick, but whilst History might not have been his best subject, People was something he excelled in.  It would do no good to give the master apoplexy.

And so the interview ground it’s slow but inexorable way to a conclusion that was unsatisfying for both parties.  Dr Hughes immediately put it out of his mind as he moved on to the next pupil in the Lower Sixth, reflexively making some marginal notes in Toph’s file, which he’d already forgotten before the closed folder was placed back on the stack on the table.

A few weeks passed, and then it was half term.  Following tradition, a trip to Town was organised, which would include a visit to the cinema.  Surprisingly, Tom, his youngest brother, had beeen desperate to go to the second hand bookshop that was one of his Father’s favourite haunts.  Jonno, the middle brother, had also been keen on the idea.  He was looking for some references for an art project on the one hand, and some old but not valuable books on the other for various pieces that he had in mind.  Toph could have gone off on his own somewhere, meeting up with the family at the cinema, but he decided that accompanying the rest to the bookshop might be quite fun.

On the way to Town, he was uncharacteristically withdrawn: Jonno was making notes and doodling in his sketch book, Tom was talking nineteen to the dozen about a book he’d found there on a previous visit.  Toph sat back and let it all wash over him as he thought about the mad man they’d been to see talk a few days before.  It had been a charity event,  something about closing down orphanages by getting the children homed with families, but the speaker was an explorer who’d travelled round the world by bike. He’d come into contact with the charity when he’d passed through Bosnia, and he’d stayed in contact.  Toph didn’t have many detractors, but there were one or two who thought him superficial.  They’d be surprised at how much he’d been affected by the talk.

Given the energy that Tom had been exhibiting earlier, he was quietly focussed in the shop, working his way through various departments in a methodical  and determined manner.  Jonno knew what he was after and wasted little time in finding it.  Toph browsed.   He nearly missed it: a little white haired old man moved a pile of books and exposed a blue-leather covered book, tooled with gold, upin which was emblazoned the legend “The Engineer’s Sketchbook”.  He picked it up, and leafed through it.

Toph was the kind of person who excelled at things because he wanted to.  He’d decided he wanted to be the best cricketer he could, for example, and he’d set out to make it happen. Without something to focus on, he had a tendency to drift.  As he looked at the book, two neurons in his brain fired together and he suddenly knew not only what he wanted to study at uni, but why, and what he was going to do afterwards.

He would read Mechanical Engineering, and travel the world, for a few years at least volunteering, his skills whereever they might be of use.

© David Jesson, 2018

Post Script: How could I not go with that title as my prompt?  I’ve written a few other stories about Toph, Jonno, and Tom, and you can find these via the Index page.  The charity mentioned in the story is a real one, and you can find more details about Hope and Homes for Children here.  Al Humphreys is also real, and not only that but an amazing and inspirational human being.  You can find out more about him here.  I firmly believe that everyone should be issued with a copy of his Microadventures book: you don’t need kit to have adventures and you don’t need to travel to far off climes.  (But that can be fun too).


An Artist in Egypt

There he went again. Shaking his head, Jonathan thought (and not for the first time) what a strange fellow his neighbour was. Up every morning shortly after dawn, he’d take breakfast on the verander, just as Jonathan did; but while Jonathan was having a cigarette with his coffee, he’d pack up an easel and a large bag, before heading off across the dunes.

Leaving for the Embassy, Jonathan would be back anything from teatime to late at night, depending what had blown up during the day. Tourists generally, especially the upper class ones, were the bane of his life. Oh, there were plenty of working and middle class tourists who got into trouble, but they were generally grateful for whatever assistance Jonathan and his team would give. But the upper crust … oh no. Always went their own way, ignored Foreign Office advice, and that given them by the Embassy. When they did get into trouble and needed fishing out – for they always did – they treated Jonathan and his team like a bunch of lackies. No gratitude, simply annoyance and ill manners.

The most recent lot had enquired after a chap they knew, who turned out to be Jonathan’s neighbour. For some reason, Jonathan felt a degree of kinship with this man he’d never spoken to and decided to check if he wanted this group to descend on him. Not that he’d done so yet, for it had been a long day yesterday and he’d only been home for a quick shower and change into dress uniform before that shindig at the French Embassy. He should have gone over this morning during breakfast, but it was his one moment of private peace – and he hated to give it up. Something told him that his neighbour would understand. He’d leave a note with his card on the way to work.

As he got home that evening, the sun was dropping low in the sky – his neighbour’s “lot” had already managed to get into trouble and, to divert attention from their idiocy, had complained to the Ambassador that Jonathan hadn’t located their friend. The Ambassador had not been pleased and had given Jonathan a very lively flea in his ear. Jonathan knew he’d have to speak to his neighbour that evening to obtain his wishes.

Changing into casual trousers and shirt, he accepted a long cool drink from his boy, before walking out onto the verander. Although still just a silhouette, he was confident he spied his neighbour returning over the dunes from a day’s painting. He decided to walk across the road to greet him. With luck he’d be able to raise the matter and get the chap’s decision, all before either of them would have to extend an invitation to the other. These damn tourists, upsetting a chap’s routines.

It didn’t go according to plan though. “Got your note” said his neighbour, handing his easel to Jonathan, before striding across the road. Reaching his front door, he passed his bag to his boy and then looked back across the road to where Jonathan was still standing – looking a touch gormless if he was entirely honest – and beckoned him over “you’d better come in for a drink while I clean up.”

Once inside, Jonathan was struck by how different the interiors of their houses were, especially considering their identical footprint. His neighbour’s house was cool and airy, whilst Jonathan’s was warm if not stuffy. Where Jonathan’s home was furnished like a typical British army batchelor – relatively spartan, with well-crafted pieces of furniture – this was lush and layered. There were colours and textures, comfort was clearly of prime import. There were also a number of paintings on the wall, all in watercolour – a mix of dhows on the river, and buffalos working the fields, to views of an entirely buccolic and decidedly English countryside. Jonathan had to admit that he was really rather taken with them – they had clean lines, and a slightly sketchy quality which suggested movement. He knew he’d buy one before he left.

His thoughts were interrupted by his neighbour’s return. Handing him a drink, he announced “Tristan Dawes – but you presumably already knew that from the contents of your note. So, who are these reprobates who’ve asked for my whereabouts?” Jonathan pulled his notebook out and read the names, noticing that Tristan’s facial expression wasn’t exactly one of delight as he did so. “What’s the drill then? You give them my whereabouts, and my peace is over?” Jonathan smiled “Not at all. If you’ve no wish to see them, I simply advise them that you’ve left instructions not to be disturbed … by anyone. They’ve no rights to your address and the Ambassador isn’t obliged to provide it to them.” Tristan nodded before holding out his hand to shake Jonathan’s  “Thank you, I didn’t expect that.”

He’d gained another flea in the ear from the Ambassador for not persuading his neighbour otherwise, but Jonathan stuck to his guns. The Ambassador would do anything for a quiet life, even if it was not strictly correct protocol.

He and Tristan took to having supper together, one night a week, alternating between homes. Jonathan arranged for him to join Embassy trips into the more far flung parts of the country, where he could paint new and different scenes. In return, Tristan had earmarked two paintings for him. Turned out Tristan had not only come to Egypt to escape his over-bearing family and family friends (like the lot who’d tried to track him down) he’d come to Egypt for the dry heat. Having been a bit of a speedster as a young man, the broken bones which came with the inevitable crashes had left him with arthritis. Cold and rainy England may have his heart – which it did, for he still painted it from his memories – but Egypt had provided him with the conditions to be able to continue wielding his brushes.

© Debra Carey, 2018

#FF Prompt: Project Gutenberg’s Birthday

Once again, it’s time to celebrate the anniversary of Project Gutenberg being unleashed on the world on 1st December, 1971).  OK, so we’re a day late in our birthday wishes …

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.

For this month’s #FlashFiction prompt, head on over by clicking to Project Gutenberg, trying 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 the book is the title/prompt of your story.

 

Word limit: 500-750 words
Deadline : Friday 7th December @ 2pm GMT

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


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