#WritingNews: An Interview with … Me!

1000wordsGood morning! I’ve two pieces of writing/publishing news to share with you today.

Firstly, the winner of the Paperswans Fourth Flash-Fiction Competition wasn’t me. It was SueAnn Porter with Trip to the Pier. Congratulations, SueAnn! If you’re interested in knowing which of the entries was mine, it was The Air Is Still, and I’ll be posting it here tomorrow as this week’s #fridayflash.

Secondly, I’m being interviewed today over on F. C. Malby’s blog about my role as editor and publisher of 1000words. F. C. Malby is the author of Take Me to the Castle, which was published in December 2012 and won The People’s Book Awards in 2013. She also writes short stories, and earlier this month I published her beautiful flash-fiction, North Norfolk Coast, at 1000words. If you’d like to find out what she asked me and how I answered, step this way …

A #Flashfiction Contest at Paperswans

Brighton PierThis week, I have a flash-fiction up for public vote in the latest Paperswans contest. The requirements were to write a 160 words (max) story, inspired by the image to the left. The entries are displayed anonymously, so I’m guessing I’m not supposed to tell you which one’s mine, but I’d be grateful if you’d have a read anyway and vote for whichever story you like best. I’ll tell you which one you should have voted for after the voting has closed at 00:59 on the 30th of July!

This way for the stories …

A #FridayFlash #FlashFiction: They Really Do Look Like Ants

Image by Stefan van Bremen. Some Rights Reserved. (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The day it happened, I was perched on the rocky outcrop overlooking our ranch. I’d had enough of Jake, my little brother, teasing me about the field-hand who’d said I was ‘blossoming into a very pretty flower’. I’d gone up there to let my cheeks cool. I’d gone up there to be alone.

You could see for miles from that outcrop. You could see the house with its twin chimneys and cedar shingles, the patchwork fields with their swaying maize and stubby pea plants, the meadows beyond spotted with cattle. Every time I took Jake up there he would make that joke about how the people on the ranch looked like ants. Most of the time I’d even laugh.

I must have been the first to spot the ship. I’d thought it was a vulture, circling on the thermals, but as sunlight flashed off its back, I realized that the rumours we’d been hearing for weeks were about to become reality.

The sky tore apart. Below me, our jeep fire-balled. Our crawler leapt from the ground and rolled over and over, wrapping itself in flame. The booms were like a double punch to my gut. My family, our field-hands, they all spilled out of the house and the barns, running to see what was happening. It’s stupid what goes through your mind at times like that, but I remember thinking: ‘Jake’s right. They really do look like ants from up here.’ But then the sky tore apart again, and all I could do was scream.

‘No! Stop! Run!’

It was only a breath later that the ship landed, its door opening before it had even scratched the dirt. For a minute, all was quiet again, but then another noise started. It sounded like corn popping on the stove, but I knew it wasn’t, and it went on for the longest time. I only realised which side had won when I saw the raiders fan out from their ship and wash toward the house like a wave washes up a beach.

By the time I made it to the ranch, everyone who was still alive had been coded and loaded and the raiders were picking through the debris, kicking over bodies as if they were piles of hay, looking for anything that would make them a profit.

They say your mind goes into a holding pattern when you witness things like that, things like seeing your family and friends attacked and killed or herded into cargo bays like the cattle you’d farmed all your life. It addles your senses, renders you incapable of making sensible decisions.

I’d crept up to the house and was hiding behind the kennels. Not three meters in front of me, one of the raiders was bent over, pecking through the pockets of the body at his feet. As I stepped out, he turned and raised his gun. I lifted my hands.

‘Please,’ I said. ‘Take me with you. I don’t want to be alone.’

1000words: An Interview with Karl A Russell

1000wordsToday, I’m very pleased to welcome flash-fictioneer Karl A Russell to my blog. At 1000words, we have published two of his tales: the humorous Stormin’ Norma (a 1000words National Flash-Fiction Day 2013 winner) and the haunting (and very recent) Such Sights To See.

Hi, Karl. Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. What prompted you to submit your flash-fictions to 1000words?

I love writing contests, prompts, anything which gets the ideas flowing, and I’ve been so impressed with the stories I’ve seen on here, I thought it was high time I had another crack at it.

We’ve published two of your stories at 1000words. Can you give us an insight into how you get from your chosen image to a final flash-fiction?

I just scrolled through the boards, looking at all the photos, till I found the one which “spoke” to me. Sometimes, photo prompts can be completely incidental to my stories, but for Such Sights To See, it was a very clear inspiration. I saw the photo, wondered where she was and why it was blurred, and that just made the whole thing pop in my head; OK, so she’s got bad eyes because… and she’s in the city because… and he took her there because…

Other than images, what inspires your stories?

Music. I can (and do) write anywhere, but I can’t write in silence. Wherever I am, I’ve got a couple of pads, a couple of pens and my mp3 player. It can be very obvious – I rewrote the lyrics to I Say A Little Prayer as a zombie love story, and just used Talking Heads for a fake reality tale – but other times it can be more of a tonal inspiration; Can I take the feel of listening to this and turn it into fiction?

Which writers (or other creatives) have inspired you?

Of the big names, Stephen King for his apparently careless ease with words, and Philip K. Dick for his endless stream of ideas. Much closer to home though, I have a fantastic group of supportive and inspirational friends – Jacki Donellan, David Shakes, Bart Van Goethem, Beth Deitchman and many more – who turn out every week at The Angry Hourglass and show me how many different ways there are to interpret a single prompt and how many different kinds of stories one writer can tell. I occasionally judge there too, and I’ve learned so much reading their work out of competition.

What do you like about reading and writing flash-fiction?

Going back to music, it’s like the difference between a triple gatefold concept album and a minute-thirty punk single. There’s no time for digression and superfluous noodling, you just have to jump straight in and grab the reader by the throat. There’s nothing wrong with Dark Side of the Moon of course, but I could listen to Teenage Kicks all day and night, and reading flash is the same. As a writer, it’s also incredibly challenging as all I have is this moment, a tight deadline and a limited word count to tell you everything about the world; “I’ve got three words left to express how much he loved his late mother, and the contest closes in an hour…”

What tips would you give to aspiring flash-fiction writers?

Write, and don’t be afraid to show people what you can do. Whether you think it works or not, whether you express what you wanted or not, it doesn’t matter; Someone will appreciate it, and this time next week, there’ll be a whole new prompt, a whole new set of stories, and you get to try all over again. But don’t be afraid to try. And maybe get yourself over to Flash!Friday or The Angry Hourglass too and meet some of the nicest people around (and me…).

Thanks again for agreeing to be interviewed. But before we let you go, is there anything else you’d like us to know?

Taking a leaf out of Jacki’s book, I should say that I’m writing a novel, just so that I can’t let it slide again. I’m also thinking about trying my hand at another screenplay and a comic script or two as people keep referring to the visual element of my stories.

Karl A Russell 3Most of all though, I should tell you that I’m selling a collection of my stories through Just Giving, raising funds for a local hospice, The Halton Haven. They do great work and will appreciate every penny they get, so if you want to read more of my stories, head on over to the link and drop a couple of quid for a very worthy cause.

You can read Karl’s stories here and here. You can also find him tweeting here.

A #FridayFlash #FlashFiction: Lasso

Image by Elizabeth Haslam. Some Rights Reserved. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

I find him sitting on the steps of the motel, elbows on his knees, hat tipped forward over his eyes, a shield against the evening sun. Yesterday, I’d have been thrilled to see him there, my very own cowboy, all legs and shoulders and work-worn denim.

‘London?’ he says, lifting his head, an eyebrow arched. He pulls a piece of paper from his shirt pocket. ‘You’re going back to England?’

Damn. This is not how I’d wanted this conversation to start. I reach for the paper, the boarding pass I’d asked the manager to print for me. Dale whips it away, holds it above his head.

‘Let me guess,’ he says, grasping the rail and heaving himself to his feet. ‘It’s not me it’s you?’

My mind fumbles for a response. ‘Yes. No. I mean. It’s time. That’s all. You know I was only ever passing through. I never meant to stop this long. I only meant to …’

What? What had I meant to do? I’d meant to leave Ian and my two-up-two-down-nine-to-five-very-British life. I’d meant to cash in my savings and see the world. I’d meant to buy a car and drive across the States. It was supposed to have been the road-trip of a lifetime, a Shirley-Valentine-meets-Thelma-and-Louise adventure, except without the shooting, stealing and driving off cliffs. Ian had said I was having a mid-life crisis, told me I’d be back. I’d said I was finally living my life, told him to sod off.

‘Nicky.’ Dale takes off his hat and spreads his arms. ‘What’s going on?’

I shake my head. How can I explain? He’ll think I’m mad. Hell, I think I’m mad.

‘Come on, darlin’. Talk to me. Was it something I did? Something I said?’

Yes, I want to shout. Yes, it was both: we’d been to the rodeo, spent the afternoon watching men roping cattle, wrestling them to the ground, wrangling them into pens. It had been loud and hot and dusty; our clothes had glued themselves to our skin.

‘Wanna cool off?’ he asked afterward. ‘I know a place.’

We swam for hours, nothing between us but water. We lay on a blanket, nothing above us but sky. He talked about the plains and the mountains, all the places he wanted to show me. I listened, painting pictures in my mind.

As the air cooled, he leaned over me. ‘How much that motel costing you?’

‘Not much,’ I replied, shrugging.

‘Must be eating up your money though.’ He slipped his arm beneath me. ‘They’re hiring at the diner.’ He pulled me against him, circled his other arm around me. ‘And I got plenty of room at my place. You could save some coin if you come stay with me.’

I look at him now – all legs and shoulders and work-worn denim – and part of me wants to stay, but as he steps forward and reaches for my hand I find myself stepping back, and all I want to do is run.

Summer Reading Challenge 2014

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 14.01.22Every year, my kids take part in the Summer Reading Challenge. At some point in July, we toddle off to the local library, sign up and take out a book or two. By the end of the summer, they’ve usually read and reported back on more than the six books required to complete the challenge and have received a shiny medal and a scratch ‘n’ sniff sticker chart to show for it. This year, the Big Kid (now aged 12) is too old to officially participate, but the Little Kid is still raring to go.

I’m going to set myself my own Summer Reading Challenge too, and that is to read all of the books on my To Be Read pile. There aren’t actually many, as I’ve been quite self-disciplined on the book-buying front, but here’s my list – in no particular order:

  1. Runaway by Alice Munro
  2. Looking Out of Broken Windows by Dan Powell
  3. The Book of Small Changes by Tim Stevenson
  4. Look Back in Hunger by Jo Brand
  5. Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2 by Annie Proulx
  6. North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud

Six books in six weeks. I can do that!

#BookReview: Lunch Hour by Calum Kerr

Lunch HourIf you enjoyed Calum Kerr’s Breaking Distance, the odds are you’ll enjoy his recent book, Lunch Hour. The premises of both books are the same: every flash-fiction-length chapter is set in the same place, at the same time. In Breaking Distance, every story occurred in a motorway service station at the moment someone dropped a tray. In Lunch Hour, every story revolves around the population of a single office during a single hour – the titular ‘lunch hour’.

This book has everything: romance and unrequited love, murder and mayhem, fraud, fantasy and philosophy, assassination, ambition and alien invasion. It’s a kind-of Torchwood meets Groundhog Day meets Sliding Doors meets The Office.

As it’s a flash-fiction collection, it’s a super-quick read. I raced through it in about 40 minutes. I say ‘raced’ because it’s a proper page-turner. Don’t let me give you the impression that it’s a superficial read though. Calum has a way of exposing his characters’ innermost conflicts that makes you feel as if you’ve known them all their lives, and he deals with some pretty big topics too: sexuality, prejudice, office politics, isolation, the daily grind, all manner of -isms and even the meaning of life.

5/5 – Amazing!

A #FridayFlash #FlashFiction: A Price Too High

Image by Sheila Sund. Some Rights Reserved. (CC BY 2.0)

(This story won in the ‘Desire’ category of the 8 Days of Ether Contest.)

~A Price Too High~

‘You’re sure now?’ asks the shopkeeper, planting his hands on the counter. The badge pinned to his leather apron reads:


‘Yes,’ I reply, stabbing my hands into the pockets of my parka to stop them trembling. ‘I’m sure.’ It’s odd, but Patrick reminds me of Ian, my husband. He’s tall and broad and has the same lines scored at the corners of his eyes, the same flecks of grey in his hair. There’s something of Gerard Butler about them both.

Pointing to the sign on the wall behind him, Patrick says, ‘You understand the returns policy?’

I read the sign aloud: ‘“Absolutely NO Returns.” Yes. I understand.’

He pushes a pad of yellow forms toward me and pulls a biro from his apron pocket. ‘Sign this.’ A brown fingerprint smudges the curling corner of the top sheet.

As I take the pen and sign on the dotted line, he reaches below the counter. ‘Put your payment in here,’ he says, placing an empty tub next to the pad. I glance over his shoulder. Through the beaded curtain, I can see the stockroom shelves. They’re stacked with tubs exactly like the one in front of me. The tubs look like white, plastic bricks. The shelves look like walls. For the first time since entering the shop, I hear music. It’s coming from the back of the stockroom. I recognize the song. It’s one of my favorites: Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’.

‘Whenever you’re ready,’ says Patrick, tapping the tub.

I swallow hard. My hands are trembling again.

‘Look, do you want this or not?’

‘I want this!’ I say. ‘This is all I’ve ever wanted.’ Until last night, I’d thought it was all we’d ever wanted as well, but Ian said: ‘You’re making a mistake, Dee. Don’t do it. Please. Some prices are just too high.’

Patrick coughs. ‘Well then?’

The zip of my parka feels cold between my thumb and finger. It buzzes like a wasp as I pull it down. Patrick pushes the pad of forms aside and in its place he lays a knife. Its handle is black. Its blade is long and sharp. Breathing deeply, I pick it up and close my eyes.

Moments later, my heart lies bloody and twitching in the tub.

Slowly, Patrick turns and reaches through the beaded curtain. ‘Here you go,’ he says, finally smiling as he wheels my purchase toward me. ‘Enjoy.’

With steady hands, I grasp the pram and look inside, and there, right there, tucked beneath a pale green blanket, her eyes wide and blue, her tiny pink fingers stroking the air, lays my heart’s desire.

But … but something’s not right. Something’s … missing. For years, I’ve ached for a baby. We tried everything, spent every penny we had. My hands should still be trembling. My breath should be hitching. My heart should be pounding. But I don’t feel any of that.

I don’t feel anything.