Songs for when you’re feeling …

As I unlock my door, I can hear it – the music coming from next door. Taking a deep breath, I enter my flat and prepare myself for the assault on my ears. You see, my next door neighbour expresses his emotions via the medium of music.

Friends ask why I put up with it, but it’s just one of those things you get used to when you live in a shared building. Generally, the arrangement suits me. The exterior is managed, repairs get carried out, the gardening gets done, the car park is kept clean and pothole free, and I still have my own private space and front door. OK, so I can hear a clacking noise from upstairs if she hasn’t taken off her high heels yet and – of course – there’s Steven and his music.

Steven lives next door to me in an apartment which is the mirror image of mine. He lives alone, as do I. He walks to work, but, like many young men, has a very nice car. Twice a week, I see him clutching a basket full of laundry on a two-way journey through the car park. I know his parents live nearby, but I prefer to believe he’s too old to be taking his laundry home and chooses to use a laundry service instead. I suspect my initial reaction is correct though.

Like many a young man, he’s a football fan. Certainly whenever there’s a big game on, he has friends round. I hear them cheering or groaning, depending on how things are going for their chosen team. In the summer, they congregate in the garden with their bottles of beer – but they’re not rowdy, and they’re unfailingly polite.

Most of the time, the music he plays sounds upbeat and partyish. I even occasionally recognise 80s classics like Dancing Queen, I Will Survive and It’s Raining Men, which he’s far too young to have grown up with. While the cheerful jangle of pop can grate if it goes on for too long, it’s easily cut out by retiring behind earphones to listen to my own choice of music, or to an audio book. If I go into the garden myself during the summer months, I can hear what he’s playing more clearly. Last summer he was in love … until he wasn’t that is, at which point I was driven indoors by Someone Like You on repeat. Adele’s got a great voice and it’s a good song, but not when it plays for hours on end.

But it’s worst when he’s stressed. I recognise the signs when I meet him in the hallway. Unfailingly polite, he can barely manage even the most basic of greetings. And then it starts … the thump-thud-a-thump of heavy rock. There’s that underlying beat which you can feel in your gut even more than you hear it, so the earphones don’t cut the mustard. I have to avoid rooms with a shared wall, essentially meaning I stick to the bedroom. Earlier this year, it stretched into a third week, causing me to re-consider my long-held views on the benefits of shared dwelling.

Then, just as suddenly, it stopped. That evening I noticed a girl with long blonde hair in the garden and, sure enough, the dulcet tones of Bruno Mars started drifting through the shared wall. The only question mark was over how long it’ll be before he’s back to Adele.  So before the current backdrop of love songs from John Legend and Ed Sheeran changes to heavy rock, I’ve started planning my escape.


© Debra Carey, 2019

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#FF – Photo Prompt

prompt 4 abandoned ships

Any style, any genre, just nothing NSFW – otherwise the world is your oyster.
Tell us your tale …

 

Word count: 500 – 1,000 words
Deadline: 2pm GMT on Friday 12th July 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.

 

 

 

Questions to ask your Beta readers

I volunteered to be a beta reader once but, by the time I’d figured out the technology to read the work, another reader had made substantive suggestions which the author decided to take on board immediately with a re-write. To be clear, he didn’t communicate this with me directly, I read it in a tweet – which I ‘liked’.

But then I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I continue with reading the original version and offer my feedback on it regardless? Should I wait for him to incorporate those changes and read the revised version? In all honesty, I should’ve asked him what he wanted me to do – but I didn’t. He hadn’t communicated with me direct, I was new to the whole #writerscommunity and felt totally out of my depth.

A couple of years later and our co-written work The November Deadline is getting closer to completion, and thus being ready for beta reading. As a result, I’m paying more attention than usual to this subject, so was delighted to find an article on this very subject at BetaReader.io. In brief, BetaReader was set up by a writer who’d had a less than perfect experience with beta readers, and set out to look out for a better way. Do check out the site as it may prove to be what you need.

BetaReader recently compiled a list of the most common beta questions asked by authors:

  1. Did you lose interest, even only a little, at some point? Where and why?
  2. Which character did you enjoy the most? The least? Why?
  3. Did the dialogue feel natural?
  4. If you could change anything to make the story better, what would you change?
  5. Did anything in the text confuse you? What? Why?
  6. Were there any points throughout that you found unbelievable or illogical? If so, why?
  7. Were any parts of the plot predictable?
  8. What’s your favorite part about the book?
  9. How was the pacing between narrative and dialogue?
  10. What enticed you the most if anything? What grabbed your attention the most?
  11. Lastly, did the climax feel climactic, was the payoff in the end worth reading the whole book?

In the spirit of gathering as much information as possible

As a writer
are there additional questions you’d like your beta reader to answer?
are there areas you don’t want your beta reader to comment upon?

As a beta reader
how much direction do you like to receive from writers?
what questions have you previously been asked by writers that you would add to the list above?


 

 

 

Shirlyn

Named by my grandfather for his wife and daughter, Shirlyn may have been a vast, white colonial edifice, but it was also a much loved family home.

With covered verandahs stretching the length of the house, a car porch extended the upstairs verandah, providing us with the perfect location to sit out on cool, dry evenings. There, during family visits, we’d chat or listen to the BBC world service, while my grandfather got to smoke his pipe in peace.

The main body of the house was split into three. The rooms on the outer edges were cavernously long, while the middle ones were square and positively homely in comparison. I say in comparison, as each comfortably housed four large sofas, giving my sister and I every opportunity to bicker over who could sit where.

Downstairs provided the perfect base for entertaining – a favourite pastime of my grandparents. That middle room held not only those four sofas, but a magnificent sideboard for turntable and speakers, coupled with a gorgeous dark wood sprung dance floor. Absolutely perfect for a time when having the waltz, foxtrot and quickstep in your repetoire was commonplace; of course my sister and I preferred to experience the spring as we jumped on and off the sofas while playing badminton.

One cavernous room contained a vast dining table, the other my grandfather’s bar. The bar had been made in rattan and dark red leather, and held every drink you could possibly imagine – and then a few more. Six or eight matching bar stools ranged in front of the bar, where family lore places my mother drinking Martinis on her 21st birthday, two days before my birth. This was my grandfather’s domain, where relaxed entertaining took place, where he could wear a bush shirt, and mix drinks as he chatted and laughed with his guests.

My grandmother favoured the formal dinner party, although the size of their dining table and her preferred grand style, meant these were more akin to banquets. Off the kitchen was a locked storeroom, bursting at the seams with wooden packing chests. Inside those chests was the most extraordinary array of crockery, silver and glassware, everything painstakingly packed away in straw between uses. During each family stay, my grandmother would arrange a storeroom visit, imperiously instructing staff to unpack different items for our careful and awed inspection. As a child I remember most the sparkle – everything from from the gilding on the dinner service, the buffed and polished silverware, to the carved facets of the crystal glasses. With age and the passage of time, grand dinning happened only rarely, and I came to realise that my grandmother loved her beautiful things and needed an appreciative audience for them.

The kitchen was the domain of Cookie – a one-legged master chef. He ruled the staff with a rod of iron, yet was patient with my mother despite the hours she spent by his side, painstakingly transcribing recipes. Those hand-written recipes were scribbled over and much amended, for Cookie wasn’t traditionally trained. A pinch of this and a handful of that was easy enough to translate, but his method of indicating measures using the knuckles on his fingers caused my mother many a headache.

Shirlyn provided the perfect venue for the reception when my parents married. The long staircase with its intricately carved dark wooden balusters was the ideal backdrop for those traditional shots of father and bride.  The long verandahs proved a wonderful venue for photographs of the wedding party, and the car porch the perfect place for their wedding gift – a small black car tied with a large white bow.  Yellowing pages found decades later in an old leather suitcase contained local press reports of the grand event.

It was a different time. It was a very different life.


© Debra Carey, 2019

#FF Prompt – Project Gutenberg

We’ve kept you waiting long enough for your favourite #FlashFiction prompt from Fiction Can Be Fun – yes, it’s time to pick a new release of an old (out of copyright) book at Project Gutenberg.

To select your prompt, go to the Recent Books section of the Project Gutenberg website. Pick a book whose title makes you go ‘ooooh I know what I want to write about …’ and there you have it – your #flashfiction prompt for this month.

Do have a good browse while you’re there – you could find even more reads to add to your massive TBR lists – and all at no cost!

 

Word count: 500-750 words
Deadline: 2pm GMT on Friday 7th June 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.

#Secondthoughts : Raised Expectations

When something is hyped, is that the kiss of death for you?

Something happened recently which made me ponder a while on this subject. For one reason or another, more time than usual has been spent chez nous, resulting in much catching up on TV box sets, a fair bit of reading, a whole slew of YouTubes and the odd film. One of those films has caused many a friend to spout superlatives so, when Himself unveiled it, my mood took a little lift. Sadly, that didn’t last long. I’ll return later to the who and the why, but first I’d like to take a look at the subject of raised expectations as a whole.

Where books are concerned, I feel I’m generally pretty good at managing my expectations, because I’m well used to not liking the same books as most of the people I know. That said, I have to admit having recently written a couple of reviews where I’ve admitted being disappointed … following high expectations. Two which fell into this category – where I was the only guilty party in the expectation raising – were Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage & C J Samson’s Tombland. I’m a big fan of Murakami and just love his crazy style and I’ve found every one of Samson’s Shardlake books to date a real treat. Yet both, somehow, lacked. Could it be that – in both cases – I’d spent too much time in anticipation, something neither could really live up to?

Live events are another area where there can be hype and expectations. Not a fan of football, I’ve nevertheless had excellent experiences on the only occasions I’ve attended live games. Manchester United featured in both, so you could posit that the play wasn’t at all shabby, or was it that I found much to praise about the experience because I went expecting so little?

Therefore, I have to ask, is disappointment a foregone conclusion when expectations are raised? Not always it seems. I caught up with modern classics All Quiet on the Western Front and Things Fall Apart absolutely eons after everyone else.  Yet both totally & utterly blew me away.

On then to The Greatest Showman – where Hugh Jackman plays the great P T Barnum. A successful stage musical, now transferred to celluloid, this is the film which trigged my train of thought. Multiple friends professed their love for it, posted about attending the cinema multiple times to watch it, to have purchased the soundtrack for repeated listening … yet I found it entirely forgettable. And I consider myself a fan of musicals.

So, what was wrong with it? Leaving aside the fact the film did nothing to develop the stage show visually (by which I mean that the scenes still looked like theatre sets) the songs were unremarkable, as were the singers, and the choreography was simply frantic. Worse, the story was pure hokum. Whilst I don’t object to some bending of the truth, this played fast & loose with the true story, was utterly laden with trite tropes and filled with plot holes. I’m sure the aim was for it to be fluffy, feel-good, family entertainment – so perhaps as a 60-something wannabe writer, I’m not the target audience.

Still, I’m glad I’ve seen it. It reminded me that taste is very personal and to trust reviews only from those I know share mine. I’ve given considerable thought to whether I’d have enjoyed it without having my expectations raised … and the answer is still no. But it would probably be true to say that I wouldn’t have felt so deeply disappointed.


© Debra Carey, 2019

My mother’s home

There’s a muffled sound, rhythmic and regular, but I’m still in that land between sleep and awake. There’s also a light breeze drifting over my left cheek, my left shoulder, my left arm. My eyes open and close, just a crack, but enough to allow a faint glow of light to enter. The light is bright, but with a covering of haze. I close my eyes and turn over, turning my back to it. That light breeze drifts over my right cheek, shoulder and arm instead. But the light is fighting its way in and forcing my eyes to open more and close less.

I’m lying in a small iron bed right under an overhead fan. Ah, that’s the source of the muffled sound and the light breeze. But what of that light? When I turn again and open my eyes for a few seconds, I see that white wooden shutters are still covering the windows. Slowly, I roll onto my back and open my eyes once more. This time I see that small upper windows are uncovered. They are high, very high when you are only 10 years old and still lying in bed. But the sunlight is streaming in through them from two sides of the room. The light is coming into the room in what looks like beams – the sun is highlighting the dust in the air. I’m not at home, I’m in Shirlyn – in the house where my mother grew up, in the big upstairs bedroom.

Lying there is bed, covered with a sheet and a light blanket, all is peaceful. I watch the hazy light, the dancing dust which is whirled around by the air of the overhead fan as they mix. I become aware of the sound of my parents in the upstairs sitting room. They are probably having coffee waiting for my sister, or me, to wake, before we go downstairs to breakfast. My sister is still breathing regularly, as is my grandmother in her big bed behind me. My grandfather will have been up for some time and will probably already be at work. He will be back later to join us for breakfast, – he always is. I leave my parents to enjoy the early morning alone together. I know they are talking – I can hear the low hum of their voices through the huge tall wooden double doors – but I can’t hear what they’re saying.

So, I lie there and drift …


© Debra Carey, 2019