Friday, 8 December 2017

National November Writing Month - Winner


I'm a bit behind in posting (or should that be boasting?) about my National November Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) success, as I have been basking in the 'I don't have to write anything today' afterglow.

For those that are new to the writing game, this is a yearly November challenge to try and write 50,000 words in one month. The idea is to get you into the habit of writing daily and also to keep you writing forward and not continually editing or rewriting what you have written. There is also a June one now (JuNoWriMo) so you have two opportunities to do this each year or use both to get some serious writing done.

I find the pressure to write daily quite hard. In fact this is my fifth attempt and my first success, so I am not one of those that can be blaze about it and consider it a walk in the park. Most of my failures have also been down to trying to juggle work as well, but this time I had no work so I was able to give it my full attention.

I find I tend to hit a wall around the 10th day, but I managed to push forward this time. I had a trip to Edinburgh for a friend's book launch already planned, so I knew I was going to have to stop writing for about four days. I used this as a sort of deadline, raising my daily writing quota to compensate.

In the end I was surprised at how easy it was to maintain a 2,000 word daily quota, even doubling the daily word count of 1667 to 3334 on occasion to cover my four day absence. The trick I found was to write some of it in the morning, get some words under my belt before the children came home in the afternoon and then the evening shift was much easier. And also the trick of leaving it mid-scene or mid-sentence so I could pick it up again quickly.

I wrote directly into Scrivener too, which was new for me. I loved how easy it was to keep track of my daily word count and my overall progress with the Project Target tracker. I could easily change how much I wanted to write daily as well. It was simple compiling it into a Word version for verification at the end, and the entire process has definitely made me a fan of this software.

After my trip to Edinburgh I did struggle to climb back into it the novel and the routine of writing, but once I got going again, it felt normal. And that's the trick really, maintaining a certain level of writing, if not daily at least a few set days a week, which keeps it all flowing, like a muscle you are trying to build.

Previously I have left my novels for a year or sometimes more, which has made it necessary to re-read the entire thing to refresh my memory. Although that does give me the opportunity to do edits or rewrites, or add in scenes before I continue. 

I started a new novel for this NaNoWriMo, rather than finishing one off as I had done last year. And although what came out was not exactly as I had envisioned, it came out painlessly and flowed in a way that made writing forward easy to maintain.

I am not a planner on the whole. I have an idea, I tend to know the ending and I have a few scenes in my head I want to include. I have a page of notes: a bit of an outline, a few questions and the concept of what I am trying to achieve, but that is all. I didn't even have the main character's names until the week prior to starting NaNoWriMo, although they tend to pop into my head when I begin. I jot them down as I go along too, so I don't deviate. This novel has been swimming around my head for the last six months and I had let it gestate and grow a little before trying to shape it.

So now I've had a rest I'm considering my next step: continue with it until it is finished, or return to editing a previous novel? Yes, I know, I can do both. But come on, that would be pushing it a little, wouldn't it? It is the month of December afterall.

See? My ability to procrastinate is still in fine form and not been disrupted by my success in any way. 😉😀



Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 33

This week's prompt was created by a Turkish interior designer called Manolya F. You can see more of her art over on Deviant Art. She calls it Reflection of a Conscience. 

I have produced only a short one this week, but it contained all that I envisioned for this picture, which conjured emotion rather than a story.  

The General Guidelines can be found here.

How to create a clickable link in Blogger comments can be found on lasts week's post here.





Perspective

The painting led her away to a far away land she wished she could visit. Warm, blue azure seas and the imagined beaches they washed up on. She would dream about lying on them and feeling free, liberated from the world of emptiness she now resided in.

On calm days she would imagine floating on the surface, drifting to wherever the current took her, washing her up on some idyllic island where she would bask in the luxury of only having to care about herself and no one else.

On rough days she would imagine being on the deck of a sturdy ship, rising above the waves and ploughing forward through them to a place unknown but full of hope and rest.

But most days she would stare out at the ocean as though from a window of a cell, in a place she felt held prisoner, if not in reality then in her own mind.

And some days the painting would seem to leak, the seas so rough they splashed over into her own world, filling her with fear and hopelessness, unable to change or control anything; the inevitability of drowning becoming more real as she thumped on the glass attempting to break the window and release her soul.






Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 32

This week's picture prompt is a painting by Keith Alexander, called 'Dead End'. It doesn't look like a painting at all. Keith Alexander was a white African artist, and much of his art was inspired by what he saw. This particular painting was inspired by a train in the Namibian Desert called Martin Luther. Sadly Keith Alexander passed away in 1998 at the young age of 52.

I have had the opening of this story in my head ever since I spotted this picture. It is sort of my nod to Stephen King's magnificent novel, The Stand, but doesn't come close to the fantastic tale or characters he weaves in that.  This book also reminds me of The Dark Tower series - which crosses over with The Stand - and Blane the Pain (DT No.3). Interested to know what others see in this picture.

The General Guidelines can be found here.

How to create a clickable link in Blogger comments can be found on lasts week's post here.




The Power of Books

“Have you ever ridden on one of these, dad?”Jasper climbed up the side of the old rusted steam train.
“Maybe once or twice, when I was young like you, but these were already past my time when I was a boy. The trains we used to ride on were electric.”
“E-lec-tric? What does that mean dad?”
“It means they worked using electricity, and not steam like this old train.”
“What is ele-triz-eaty?”
“ElectriCITY. It was a form of power, it made things go.”
Jasper was up in the cabin now, fiddling with the rusted lever. He glanced at his dad, who could see he didn’t understand.
“Power is like energy it makes things work. With this old thing ...” Paul patted the metal side of the engine, “you had to burn coal in there.” He pointed to the furnace. “Which then heated water in there,” he pointed to an area above the furnace, “and the hot steam would push the pistons round which would make the wheels turn.” Jasper looked at every place his dad pointed. “But although electricity was created the same way, it was made in huge power plants and stored in big generators, so they could send it through wires to different things and places, including lights for homes and ovens and TVs.” Paul knew his son didn’t know what any of those things were, but he enjoyed remembering them and attempting to pass on the knowledge.
“So what happened to all the power?”
“It stopped being made.”
“Why?”
“Because there were no people to make it anymore.”
“Was that when all the people got sick?”
“Yes.”
“Did you get sick too, Dad?”
“No, Jasper, I didn’t otherwise I wouldn’t be here either. I was one of the lucky ones. I was immune.”
“Ee-moon? What does that mean?”
“It means I can’t catch it. And neither can you.”
Jasper stopped fiddling with the engine and sat down in the cab, hanging his legs over the edge, and looked down intently at his dad. Paul could see him thinking.
“Do people still get sick, dad?”
“Not anymore, Jasper, no. All the people who are left are all immune too.”
“Good. It doesn’t sound like it was good.”
Paul smiled at how simply his son stated the catastrophic event.
“It wasn’t, billions of people died all over the world.”
“Will we ever have electree-city again, dad?”
“I don’t know son, maybe. There aren’t many people left who know how to make it, but there should be books somewhere that we can read that will tell us, if we can find them.”
“Can you read, dad?”
“Yes. I can.”
“Can you teach me?”
“I can, but we have to find some books first.”
“Where are they?”
“In the towns, you know, where all the buildings are.”
“Where the bad people live?”
Paul’s smile dropped when he thought about how bad it had gotten in the cities. It was why he and Jeanie had left to live in the desert. “Yes, like where the bad people live.”
“Will they let us have some books?”
“I’m not sure. It depends if they have been burning them or not.”
“Why would they do that?”
“To keep warm, or use the flames for light.”
“But if they burn the books we won’t know how to make power!” Jasper was outraged.
“That’s true. But maybe we can find another town where there aren’t bad people.”
“How?”
“By walking that way?” Paul pointed to the hills in the distance.
“It looks a long way.”
“It is.”
Jasper looked back at the tent he called home, the only one he had known since his birth five years earlier.
“Will mum come too?”
“Of course. We’ll all go.”
“Good.”
Paul saw his partner on the horizon, carrying something on her shoulder.
“Come on, let’s go see what your mum’s caught.”
“Yummy! Food!”
Jasper jumped down and went running towards his mum. Paul looked on. Whatever she was carrying was big. He hoped it meant they could feed themselves up before the big journey.




Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 31

This week's photo prompt is by Javier de la Torre, who is a professional Spanish photographer based in Madrid. He has some amazing work. Check out his page here.  He calls it 'Alone'.

I adore lavender: I grow it, and I use the oil for mediation. And of course it's my favourite colour: purple. So this picture just called to me to be written for, and this story also appeared in it's entirety. It moves away a bit from my darker side too. What does this picture say to you?

The General Guidelines can be found here.

How to create a clickable link in Blogger comments can be found on lasts week's post here.

 

A Whisper 

Evie put her hands down and ran them through the tops of the lavender flowers, and then lifted them to her nose and breathed in the glorious smell. All through her life it had been the only smell that cleared her mind. She used it for meditation. It was the fastest thing to relax her. She loved it. But she couldn’t remember how she got here - here being a lavender field.

Evie could see perfectly despite it being the middle of the night. The sky was clear and bright, lit by infinite stars, an arm of the galaxy winding its way across it. It domed the row upon row of the beautiful herbs growing all around her, perfect in their straight lines and their round bushy tops. The night air was full of their scent. It was magnificent. It was heaven.

But where was it? Evie had no sense of place. She hadn’t remembered being in the south of France or any other Mediterranean country that grew lavender as a crop. In fact Evie’s last memory was in her car, looking out over the sea, contemplating her life. Was she dreaming?

Evie pinched the skin on her arm. She could see the skin between her fingers and pressed it hard, but was it the memory of the feeling or the actual feeling? She felt her hair against her face and even a breeze across her skin. She was awake ... or dreaming she was awake.

Evie noticed a tree in the distance and felt drawn to it. As she moved closer it became brighter. It wasn’t the tree emitting the light; it rose around it throwing the tree into silhouette. She wanted to see the other side where the light was coming from. Did she hear a whisper? Was it the tree?

She travelled without moving, the tree drawing closer as she thought about it. She had to be dreaming. And then she heard a voice that hadn’t been with her for decades; the voice of her maternal grandmother. It brought back the memories of sitting on her knee and hearing stories of magic and wonder. Evie felt butterflies in her stomach. Was her grandmother really here?

Then the tree was gone and only her grandmother was there, standing with her arms open, tears running down her face.

“Oh Evie,” she said. “I had hoped you wouldn’t be here for some time yet.” 
“But where is here, Nanna, where are we?”
“Heaven sweetheart, couldn’t you tell?”

Then it all made sense to Evie: her car, distracted by the view of the ocean, drifting across the road and the oncoming freight train. There’d been no pain, no drama, only a dream come true, she was with Nanna again, the emptiness was over. 




 

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 30

When sourcing this week's photo prompt I came across another wonderful artist/photographer - Todd Wall. You can see a huge selection of his work on his page at 500px website and on his facebook page.

I knew how I wanted to end this piece, but it took me a while to get there. I think it worked. Another one of my dark tales. I do enjoy them.  

The General Guidelines can be found here.

How to create a clickable link in Blogger comments can be found on lasts week's post here.




Imagined

He kept seeing her at the edge of his vision: in the peripheral, a flash of colour or movement, something orange: a dress. If he turned he’d see something, but it wasn’t her.

Callum continued to ignore it, on the surface at least, although it increased whenever he was out with Gina, his new girlfriend.

“What is it?” she’d ask him. “Nothing,” he’d say. And he was right there wasn’t anything – not in reality.

The dreams escalated, too, to a point where Gina would shake him awake on the nights she stayed over.

“You’re doing it again.”

“What?”

“Shouting her name.”

“Sorry, I don’t mean to.”

“But who is she?”

“No one.”

Gina would give him a look. She thought he was lying, but he wasn’t. The woman had been no-one, just a figment of his imagination, a reflection of an old colleague, someone he’d fixated on and wanted something to happen with, but she’d been married. It’d only lingered in his head: imagined meet ups, imagined romance, imagined torrid affair.

He’d been lonely and desperate, but that had changed now. He’d settled in this new town, got to know a few people, date, and then found Gina. And that was the link: Gina. Since they’d been dating these glimpses had escalated. 

It made him think about this old work colleague again. He’d left the company, but had she? If he passed by his old firm would she still be there? The offices were on the ground floor; her desk would be visible through the windows. But when he went there he couldn’t see her. He bumped into another old colleague instead.

“Hey Callum, how are you? I didn’t think you worked round here?”

“I don’t, I was just visiting another company in the area. How’s it going? Still the same?”

“Yeah, the work’s still the same, just the people differ.”

“Oh? Have others left too?”

“Yeah a few. Jena’s disappearance unsettled everyone, especially the female workers. They thought maybe she’d been taken by someone in the area.”

“Taken? What do you mean?”

“Didn’t you hear? Yeah, they think she was kidnapped or something. No one really knows. “She was seen being forced into a car, but they’ve not been able to unearth anything else.”

Callum was stunned. “Wow, that’s bad. And there’s no leads?”

“No.”

“How long ago was this?”

“Oh quite a while back, a year, almost two. Just after you left, I think.”

Callum’s stomach started to churn. Was he having these ‘sightings’ because she was in trouble and trying to reach out?

That night he had another dream. This time he was in a wood and he could see her body in the ground. He was digging at it frantically, trying to unearth it and when he did, her eyes flew open. He sat up gasping. He knew the woods. They were behind the house where he’d grown up. He had to check it out.

He called in sick the next day and drove out there. He’d put a shovel in the boot, but he wasn’t sure that was a good idea. If he did find a body, it would look strange, too prepared, but on the other hand, what was he going to use, his hands?

He went to the spot he’d seen in his dream. There was a small mound in the ground, under some trees where as a child he used to make a den. It could be something or nothing.

He dug round it. The earth came away easily. He dug further in and saw something orange. It was the dress; her dress. He paused, wondering if he should call the police. But he kept going. He revealed her torso and her hands. In one of them she was holding a ring - his ring: a signet ring his parents had given him. He looked at his hand, expecting to see it, but it wasn’t there. Then he uncovered her neck and found a scarf – his scarf, the one he’d worn at university. It was pulled tight; she’d been strangled with it.

Callum dropped the shovel and backed away. Images tumbled through his mind, images he thought he had made up in his daydreams about being with her. They crowded in, overwhelming him. He fell to his knees. But he was sure it was her husband he’d imagined doing these things to her; how he would’ve reacted if they’d had an affair. He would have committed murder, not Callum.
 

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 29

This week's photo prompt came from someone taking part in a Sunday hashtag twitter photo theme called #SundayPix hosted by Michael Wombat. This one was #SundayPixBlue. I asked the owner Lou Armer‏ if he minded me using it, and he was happy to lend it as a prompt.

This story came easily, and I liked how it developed. I hope you enjoy it too.  What do you see in the picture?

The General Guidelines can be found here.

How to create a clickable link in Blogger comments can be found on lasts week's post here.


Paranoia 

He was the only one that saw them, he knew that. I mean, how else could people just keep walking by them without taking a wide berth? Sometimes he even had to cross the street.

In the winter it was even worse, with all the leaves gone the truth of these strange beings was exposed. And they were beings, he was sure of that. He heard them moving at night, talking to each other in their strange language that was similar to the sound of the wind on a blustery night.

He would stand in the dark at his bedroom window and watch. It would always begin around midnight. He would watch their movements; they would spin round, reaching out to each other as well as other neighbourhood plants and trees, connecting – communicating.  And in those movements their shapes would change and their bodies would appear. They were almost human in shape, as though dancing acrobats.

Peter would shiver and close his curtains in a hurry. Rushing to bed and snuggling down deep. In the morning they would be back to their stationary positions, conning people into believing they were harmless and inanimate.

But he knew differently. He knew the truth. And it had all begun one moonlit night when he was returning home from drinks after work.

Peter hadn’t been alone that night; a co-worker he’d been successfully flirting with was with him. They had both been tipsy and giggling, paying no attention to the trees, even taking a short cut through the little park near his house, something he wouldn’t ever consider doing now.

He’d been engrossed in his companion, not looking at the trees or their movements, and was oblivious when a branch had swept down and grabbed his new love interest.

Richard’s hand had been wrenched out of Peter’s as the branches had taken him up and enveloped him. The only sound he’d made was a short yelp. Peter had stood in shock, unable to speak or do anything. But he had registered the movement in the next tree and managed to leap out of the way before it took him too, running all the way home, and not stopping until his back was against the inside of the front door.

His mind had raced: Should he call the police? What would he say? Would they believe him or just take him for a drunk? Would he be arrested for wasting police time? Maybe it was safer for someone to miss Richard first, then he could step forward.

After a restless night Peter had gone to work the next day wondering how Richard’s absence would go down, but he was shocked to find they all believed Richard was on holiday; apparently his leave had been approved the week before and he would be gone for ten days.

Peter had been unsettled by this. It meant it would be even longer before anyone noticed he was actually missing. But he was powerless to change it - saying ‘he’s been eaten by a tree’ would be laughed at, or even cause them to think he had a mental illness. He’d have to wait it out, and see how things changed when Richard didn’t return.

But stranger still, Richard had returned, breezing into the office on the Monday he was due back. He’d looked fine and behaved normally, and Peter hadn’t known what to make of it. He’d tried tentatively to find out, but Richard had no recollection of ever going home with Peter. In fact the laugh and incredulous look he’d given him at the suggestion implied it wasn’t something he would have ever considered. Peter had masked his upset and kept his distance for the rest of the day.

And that night he’d gone home feeling dejected, and even walked through the park, stopping in front of the tree that had taken Richard, daring, even willing it to take him too. But it hadn’t. It hadn’t even moved. Although he was sure he’d seen a shiver pass through the leaves, like a laugh as though it was mocking him. He couldn’t be sure.

But he was sure that the thing in the office calling itself Richard was an imposter. He’d seen it, a strange movement in the eyes and occasional stilted walk. It wasn’t right. And it was only a matter of time until they were all taken. 




Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 28

This week's photo prompt is another one from Sarolta Ban who is a Hungarian photographer and artist. I love her surreal work.

This story developed as it went along. I did rather enjoy it. Hope you do too.

The General Guidelines can be found here.

How to create a clickable link in Blogger comments can be found on lasts week's post here.



Cutting Action

Roger found the first one on his desk when he returned from his hourly walk round the house.

Writing wasn’t just a solitary business it was a motionless one too. The walk round helped him clear his head, especially when he was busy editing. It was so hard to decide what to cut out and what to keep. He was so undecided on what worked and what didn’t. The walk not only got his legs moving but his mind too.

The tight ball of paper was lying in the middle of the blotter pad when he came back. He wondered if someone had thrown it in from outside, but the large leaded windows were shut.

He picked up the crushed paper and unfurled it. There was one letter written on the lined sheet of notepaper, a large C. It looked handwritten. It looked like he’d written it, but he knew he hadn’t. He frowned and screwed it up, tossing it into his wastepaper basket.

An hour later when he went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea, he found another one by the kettle.

Roger checked the windows, they were all closed. He even tried the backdoor, it was locked. This time the letter was a large U.

He made his cup of tea and took it back with him to his desk, racking his brain as he walked trying to imagine who would have thought it was a fun game to play on him. He half expected to find another ball of paper on his desk, but this time it was a pair of scissors, lying there as though someone had just been using them.

He sighed and put them back in the pot on his desk. How could any of his family members or friends be doing this? They were all at work or school.

“Hello?” he called out the study door, hoping to prompt anyone who might be lurking into a response or movement. But besides startling himself with the loudness of his own voice, there was no other sound. He stood in the doorway for a few seconds, letting the silence permeate. All that reached his ears was the ticking of the clock in the hallway.

When Roger turned back to his desk there was another ball of paper.

The fear that ran up his body rolled all the way along his arms, too. He watched the hairs lift with the goosebumps. He edged his way to the desk and peered at it, a little afraid to touch it. He forced himself to breathe and relax; he was being silly. He snatched it up, opening it to find a big T this time. 
 
Cut?” he mumbled to himself. What could it mean?
But he didn’t have time to ponder as a strange sound emitted from the kitchen. It was like the cutting sound Magpies made. Were there birds in the kitchen?

He didn’t hesitate to find out and rushed along the hallway, coming to a sharp halt at the door: There were scissors, lots of pairs spread out across the counter. What?!

He watched them, waiting for them to move or make a sound. Nothing.

Then came a tearing, crunching sound from his study. He rushed back. A collection of scrunched up balls of paper were piled on his desk. What was going on?

The cutting sound came again from the kitchen, then the crunching sound in the study. The balls of paper shuddered and rose.

Roger sank to the floor. He must be going mad. He shut his eyes and covered his ears willing it to stop. He stayed that way for several minutes.

When he uncovered his eyes the pile was still there, but when he took his hands away from his ears there was silence.

He waited. Nothing.

He slowly stood up and went over to the desk. He picked up one of the balls and opened it. Besides the letter there was a number on it. He opened another and found the same. He opened them all and then put them in number order. The message spelled out:

“YOU CUT US, WE WILL CUT YOU. LOVE YOUR WORDS.”