Outliers and Misfits: The Actress

The Actress
Image by Varvara. Some Rights Reserved.

Outliers and Misfits is a collection of stand-alone flash-fictions all set in the same universe, a universe where there’s no such thing as normal …

I was in town with my gran – she’s eighty-six and living in a care home, but I still take her shopping every Thursday – when we stopped off at Cafe Mokka for a drink. I had a latte, and she had a cup-of-chino (as she calls them) and we sat at a table near the back, by the loos, in case she needed to go. Anyway, we’d almost finished our drinks, when the woman two tables down from us stood up.

‘Gran,’ I whispered, ‘don’t you think she looks like that actress in that film we watched the other night?’ As well as taking Gran shopping on Thursdays, I go round for movie night on Tuesdays. Last week’s film was a black-and-white from the 50’s.

Gran squinted. ‘That’s her.’

‘What?’

‘That’s her.’ Gran took a shaky sip of her drink. ‘Katherine Douglas. Wonderful actress.’

‘No, Gran,’ I said. ‘That’s not her. She just looks like her.’

‘No, love.’ Gran patted my hand. ‘That’s her.’

Now, Gran’s still got most of her marbles, but she does get confused from time to time, and her carers say it’s best not to go along with it when she does. It’s best just to gently put her right, so I said, ‘Gran, if it was her she’d be the same age as you, and she really doesn’t look the same age as you does she?’

The woman started to walk toward us, which gave me a better look at her. Her skin was perfect, unblemished. Her hair was dark. No grey in sight. Her eyes were bright and clear. As she glided past us, I glimpsed her hands. No wrinkly knuckles. No blue veins. No age spots.

‘She’s twenty-five. Tops,’ I said. ‘She really does look like her though.’

‘That’s because she is her.’ Gran rattled her cup in its saucer.

‘Oh, Gran.’

‘Now, listen here, young lady,’ she said to me, wrinkling her nose like she does when the care home serves kippers for breakfast. ‘Don’t you start patronising me too. That lady is Katherine Douglas. She gave up acting in the 70’s “to do other things” she said, but really it was because people started noticing that she wasn’t getting any older. She’s one of them you know … The Immortals.’

‘Immortals?’

‘People who live forever.’

‘I know what an immortal is, Gran. But there’s no such thing.’

Gran tapped the side of her nose. ‘That’s what they want you to think.’

I couldn’t help chuckling. ‘Maybe she’s her granddaughter.’

‘There’d have to be some pretty strong genes in that family if that was the case. Why don’t you look her up on that googly thing of yours. Find a picture, and when she comes out of the loo, take a closer look.’

‘All right, Gran,’ I said, deciding that going along with her delusion might actually be best for now. Two minutes later, the woman emerged from the toilets and as I looked from her face to my phone and back again, I had to admit, the resemblance really was uncanny.

(The original version of this story was published on the Ether Books app under the title of Outliers and Misfits: The Actress.)

Outliers and Misfits: Wormholing

Wormholing
Image by Lauro Roger McAllister. Some Rights Reserved.

Outliers and Misfits is a collection of stand-alone flash-fictions all set in the same universe, a universe where there’s no such thing as normal …

The brothers had been close ever since their parents had brought Harry home from hospital. Daniel, who had been two years old at the time, took one look at his little brother and then handed him his favourite toy, Nake – a foot-long anaconda knitted by their grandmother – and even though Harry was only a day old, he grasped Nake and smiled a gummy smile. From that moment on, the brothers hardly spent any time apart.

It was only once Daniel started pre-school, though, that their parents realized just how close the brothers actually were. At first, they thought Daniel was leaving Nake behind for Harry to play with, but it soon became clear that something else was happening.

‘Has your mum knitted another Nake?’ asked their father one day.

‘No,’ replied their mother. ‘Why?’

‘I could have sworn Dan took Nake to pre-school with him this morning, but when I went up to check on Harry, Nake was in his cot.’

‘Hmm … Danny definitely had it when you put him in the car.’

Moments later, they stood over a just-woken Harry and watched in disbelief as a disembodied child-sized hand appeared in front of their youngest son, grabbed hold of Nake and then vanished. Once they had pulled themselves together, however, they came up with a plan, and as soon as the brothers were old enough to understand, their parents explained to them how important it was to keep their talent hidden, and that if they used it, they should use it for good, not evil.

Of course, as they got older, the brothers pulled a few pranks, such as the time they ‘wormholed’ their scout leader’s car from the street to the roof of the village hall, and they almost gave into temptation on the day of Harry’s German GCSE exam. Languages had always been more Daniel’s thing. But, being by nature sensible and kindhearted boys, the brothers were generally happy to follow their parents’ advice.

At school, they took part in charity events by performing magic tricks that weren’t actually tricks. When Daniel decided to take a gap-year after college, he chose to spend it volunteering his way around the world’s orphanages. The children loved the endless supply of treats he pulled from his backpack. And at university, when Harry joined the caving club and ended up stuck down a hole with a fellow student who’d sliced open an artery on a sharp piece of rock, Daniel made sure their first aid kit stayed stocked with bandages until help could arrive.

It came as no surprise to their parents, therefore, that when the European Space Agency announced its manned mission to scour the solar system for new sources of energy, the brothers decided it was time to share their talent with the world. Things didn’t go as smoothly as they’d hoped though. Not only were they subjected to a media frenzy and endless rounds of scientific experimentation, they also came to a devastating realisation: they could not go into space together.

(The original version of this story was published on the Ether Books app under the title of Outliers and Misfits: Brothers.)

Ether Books FlashFortnight Challenge: The Results

Slide10
My winning promotional poster. Click through for image credits.

I had a bit of good writing news today. The results of the Ether Books FlashFortnight Contest were announced and it turns out I was a winner! I won both parts: most downloads and best promotional poster.

To say I’m chuffed would be an understatement. My prize consists of two parts: options in Ether Books (Might come in handy one day!) and a $125 package of book promotion by BooksGoSocial. As I don’t have a book of my own to promote at the moment, I’ve decided to donate my prize to a good cause and use it to promote Flashdogs: An Anthology which is due for release on Saturday 13th December. All proceeds from its sale are being given to The International Board on Books for Young People which is a non-profit organization representing an international network of people from all over the world who are committed to bringing books and children together. I have two brand-new short stories in the anthology plus there are over 100 other stories from some brilliant flash-fiction writers. To stay up to date with its release, follow @FlashDogs on Twitter.

Thank you to everyone who downloaded my Outliers and Misfits stories. I had a blast writing them, and I hope you enjoyed reading them!

Poster
Artwork by Tamara Rogers. All Rights Reserved.

Outliers and Misfits: Her Blood Runs Cold

Her Blood Runs Cold
Image by Mate Marschalko. Some Rights Reserved.

Outliers and Misfits is a collection of stand-alone flash-fictions all set in the same universe, a universe where there’s no such thing as normal …

‘Aidan?’ Louise glances up from her microscope. ‘Could you come and look at this please?’

‘In a minute.’ Aidan has his back to her and is sorting through the tray of instruments he’s just removed from the autoclave.

‘I’m sorry, honey,’ she says. ‘I really need you to look at this now.’

Turning around, Aidan peels off his gloves. ‘Okay.’ He bends over the microscope. ‘What am I looking at?’

‘Blood.’ Louise rubs her eyes.

‘I can see that, but whose blood?’

‘Ian’s.’

Aidan stands up straight and shakes his head. ‘You really shouldn’t be doing this, love.’

Louise pinches the bridge of her nose. ‘He was a friend.’

‘That’s my point.’

‘I owe it to him to find out what killed him.’ She lays her hand on Aidan’s forearm. ‘Please, just tell me what you see.’

Huffing, Aidan bends down again. ‘Hmm … Looks like hemolysis to me. The contents of the blood cells have leaked into the plasma. Are you growing cultures?’

‘I don’t think bacteria are the cause. Look again. Look at what’s left of the erythrocytes.’

‘Uh huh. They look … um …’

‘Pitted?’

‘A little. Maybe.’

‘A lot. The surfaces are covered in cavities and that only happens when …’

‘Blood is frozen.’ Aidan straightens up again. ‘So he froze to death.’

‘No. Oh, I don’t know.’ Louise snatches the tablet from the bench and flicks through the images on the screen. After a moment, she shows one to Aidan. ‘There’s what might be a cold burn on his wrist, but other than that, it’s only the blood in his veins and arteries that show signs of having been frozen. All his other tissues and organs are fine. Apart from his heart.’

Aidan frowns.

After flicking through the images again, Louise shows Aidan another picture. ‘It’s as if his blood froze and its expansion caused his heart to burst but left the rest of his body intact. How is that possible?’

‘It’s not.’ Aidan takes the tablet from Louise and returns it to the bench. ‘Come on. You need a break. Let’s grab a coffee.’ He reaches for her hand.

Louise jerks away. ‘I can’t! I need to figure this out. For Ian.’

Aidan’s eyes narrow. ‘Ian wouldn’t want you burning yourself out over this.’

‘How would you know?’ she snaps. ‘You barely knew him.’

‘I knew him well enough.’ Aidan’s lips form a hard line.

‘You didn’t know him like I knew him.’

‘I wouldn’t have wanted to.’

Tossing up her hands, Louise sighs. ‘Not this again. I told you. Nothing happened between us.’

‘That’s not what Ian told me.’

‘What?’

Lunging forward, Aidan grabs Louise’s wrist.

‘Hey!’

He yanks her against him and presses his mouth to her ear. ‘He told me, Lou.’

Louise tries to wrench herself free, but his grip is too strong. ‘Aidan, stop! That hurts.’

‘He told me, Lou,’ he says again as blisters begin to form on Louise’s wrist. ‘Right before he died.’

(The original version of this story was published on the Ether Books app under the title of Outliers and Misfits: Best Served Cold.)

#WritingNews: Publication in Spelk

SpelkThis evening, I was dead chuffed to receive an email from Spelk, letting me know that the flash-fiction I sent them (The Last Mug) will appear on their site on the 19th of February 2015.

Spelk is a new flash-fiction presence on the web which aims to post a new story (~500 words) every week, written by both established and new writers from all over the world. They have ‘very eclectic tastes’ and they ‘don’t like labels’. They like ‘quirky stories with characters who have something to say. Stories that keep [them] thinking long after [they’ve] read them.’

I’ve read quite a few of Spelk’s stories now and have really enjoyed them, so if you’re a reader pop over and have a read, and if you’re a writer, pop over and have a read too, but while you’re there make sure you check out their submission guidelines.

Enjoy!

A #FridayFlash #FlashFiction: You Didn’t Say Anything

BricksStanding at the kitchen window, she takes another sip of coffee and stares at the plastic bricks scattered across the patio. Sharp-cornered blocks of every shape and size have turned the paving slabs into a multi-coloured minefield. She can still hear the crash they made as Dylan hurled his latest creation out of the door.

‘What did you do that for?’ she’d shouted, startled from her calculations by the sound.

‘You weren’t looking!’ he’d shouted back, eyes bright with tears, anger mottling his cheeks.

She’d sighed. ‘Mummy was busy. I asked you to wait a minute.’

‘No you didn’t. You didn’t say anything. You just kept looking at the computer.’ With a fling of his arm, he’d knocked the papers she’d been holding out of her hand and onto the floor. ‘You’re always on the computer.’

‘Dylan! That’s enough. Go to your room.’

She turns away from the window and looks at the laptop on the table. Dylan’s face smiles back at her. Dylan at the beach. Dylan at the park. Dylan at the zoo. Dylan’s first tooth. Dylan’s first step. Dylan’s first day at school. The photos drift across the screen.

Turning back to the kitchen window, she takes a last sip of coffee, and after sweeping up the bills from the floor, she sits back down at the laptop and reopens her spreadsheet.

The #1000words #FlashFiction #Flashcomp: November 2014

1000wordsGreetings, flash-fictioneers! It’s been ages since we held a #flashcomp, so we thought it was high time we rectified the situation, and as Jack Frost has once again started nipping at our noses, we’ve picked a wintry picture to inspire you.

Find out more at 1000words …

Deadline: 10pm GMT Saturday 29th November.

Results announced: 9pm GMT Sunday 30th November.

Word limit: 200

Prizes: Publication on the website and a Writers’ Survival Kit

Entry fee: None

Outliers and Misfits: My @etherbooks #FlashFortnight Flash-Fictions

Slide10A couple of weeks ago, Ether Books announced its latest contest: The #FlashFortnight Challenge, and being a sucker for a challenge, I couldn’t resist, so last week, I wrote one flash-fiction a day for seven days (each one based on the daily theme) and sent them off. For the competition, I also made a series of promotional posters to be used on Twitter and Facebook, one of which you can see to the left. (Image credits and copyright notices are here.)

I didn’t start the challenge thinking I’d write a set of connected stories, but by Day 3 it became clear to me that that’s exactly what I was doing, so I emailed the lovely Chris at Ether Books and asked him if I could change the titles of my previously submitted stories and give them the umbrella title I’d come up with: Outliers and Misfits. Being lovely, Chris said YES! and made the changes for me. (Thanks, Chris!)

All seven stories are set in the same fictional universe (a fictional universe where there’s no such thing as normal) but each one stands alone which means they can be read in any order. They are as follows:

EtherIf you’d like to read them, and I hope you do, you can download the Ether Books app, search for Natalie Bowers and then scroll down my story list until you find them.

Remember, though, there is no such thing as normal …

Outliers and Misfits: Image Credits

To promote my Ether Books #FlashFortnight stories, I have created promotional posters using pictures that have been released under Creative Commons licenses. Below you’ll find the images and the details required by the licenses. I’ll add each day’s as I publish each new poster. I used Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 to crop and resize the images and Microsoft PowerPoint:mac 2011 to create the posters.

Slide1Background image (Books) by shutterhacks. Some Rights Reserved. CC BY 2.0. I have cropped the original image and added the text and Ether Books swirl. The owner of this image has not endorsed me or my use of the image.

Slide2Background image (Blue Power) by flattop31. Some Rights Reserved. CC BY 2.0. I have cropped the original image and added the text and Ether Books swirl. The owner of this image has not endorsed me or my use of the image.

Slide03Background image (December Magic) by Erich Ferdinand. Some Rights Reserved. CC BY 2.0. I have cropped the original image and added the text and Ether Books swirl. The owner of this image has not endorsed me or my use of the image.

Slide04Background image (Do you believe in magic?) by Garrett Charles. Some Rights Reserved. CC BY-SA 2.0. I have cropped the original image and added the text and Ether Books swirl. The owner of this image has not endorsed me or my use of the image.

Slide06Background image (Blood) by Mate Marschalko. Some Rights Reserved. CC BY 2.0. I flipped the original image, added two extra small drops of blood and then added the text and Ether Books swirl. The owner of this image has not endorsed me or my use of the image.

Slide07Background image (Fireworks Composite) by Jeff Golden. Some Rights Reserved. CC BY 2.0. I cropped the original image and added the text and Ether Books swirl. The owner of this image has not endorsed me or my use of the image.

Slide08Background image (Elizabeth) by Varvara. Some Rights Reserved. CC BY 2.0. I have cropped the original image and added the text and Ether Books swirl. The owner of this image has not endorsed me or my use of the image.

Slide09Background image (hand) by jakub. Some Rights Reserved. CC BY 2.0. I cropped the original image and added the text and Ether Books swirl. The owner of this image has not endorsed me or my use of the image.

 

Slide10Background image (Universe in my hands) by Lauro Roger McAllister. Some Rights Reserved. CC BY 2.0. I have cropped the original image and added the text and Ether Books swirl. The owner of this image has not endorsed me or my use of the image.

Slide11Background image (Compass) by Walt Stoneburner. Some Rights Reserved. CC BY 2.0. I have cropped the original image and added the text and Ether Books swirl. The owner of this image has not endorsed me or my use of the image.

Slide16This is a composite of some of the above images. All the above license information applies.

In A Flash: Creativity and the Power of a Small Group

Change the EndingFollowing on from my review of the flash-fiction anthology Change the Ending on Monday, I welcome its curator, Dawn Reeves to my blog to talk about her involvement with and her hopes for the project. Over to you, Dawn …

Spreading creativity is inspiring!

I like what’s weird, wonderful and unexpected about the world, the sort of stuff that lies just beneath the surface of everyday life. And I’m one of life’s half full type people who believe it’s possible to make a difference. Small changes matter and big changes don’t happen by themselves. If you share any of these sentiments, you’ll find something in the Change the Ending collection to interest you. I started the project back in June and as Natalie’s review highlights, the collection is a quirky mix of creative stories about the behind the scenes bits of public life and people doing something to change it for the better.

My behind the scenes experience, producing the book – has been similar – unusual, challenging but also really uplifting. I know local government can be a hard sell, there’s precious light and people don’t know where the end of the tunnel is. I genuinely didn’t know what stories would emerge, what the collection as a whole look like, what it would become and what would become of it? So although the project is very close to my heart and I was determined to make it happen, at many points it felt pretty risky.

To keep me from losing the plot – I kept my focus on the practicalities, basically just doing it. I wrote a story myself, I ran workshops on how to get going with flash fiction, and supported, cajoled and chased anyone who showed any interest to have a go. I worked with a fantastic editor, Lisa Hughes, and Quarto Design, who made the book look and feel very classy.

Some of the tricky bits to negotiate included a stunning story about a tragedy that got pulled at the last minute because a Council was worried about it being misinterpreted. We had to decide what to do with a few stories containing lots of swearing (played safe in the end and took most of it out, still not sure about that decision though?) We had an eclectic mix of contributors, many more used to writing reports than fiction and some that had great ideas but had busted the word count three times over. Unfortunately we had to turn some stories down just because we had too many, which wasn’t a problem I thought we’d have to be honest. The great thing is that people got the idea and came forward with inspiring content.

This book aims to Change the Ending through stimulating a different debate, from the reviews so far I know it’s both entertaining and thought provoking. Does it really change things? In the end readers will be the judge of that but somehow – magically almost – it exists. It’s made me really positive about the power of story-telling and undertaking new creative projects in future.

I love Margaret Mead’s quote: “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” Hats off to all the people who’ve pulled together the story collections that Natalie has reviewed, I appreciate the work, energy and imagination needed. And good luck to you with however you’re going about Changing the Ending!

Dawn updated photo 081013You can find Dawn at her website. She also tweets as @Futuredawn. Change the Ending: flash fiction about the future of public life is published by Shared Press and available in paperback and as an e-book.