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.

#BookReview: Change the Ending (curated) by Dawn Reeves

Change the EndingWhat would the world look like if care home workers were paid a decent wage? What would the world look like if teachers refused to play the work-till-you-drop game? What would the world look like if every cog in the public services machine was given a place that fit and enough oil to keep it spinning? These are some of the questions to which Change the Ending offers answers.

In The Guardian, on this year’s National Flash-Fiction Day, writer and former local authority director Dawn Reeves launched a creative writing project. The aim of said project was to produce a flash-fiction collection about the future of local government written by the people who care about it, and at the start of October, the collection was launched and Dawn kindly sent me a free copy to review.

Many of the stories in this book resonated deeply with me. Instead of the usual narratives that tell us what’s wrong with the education system, local councils and communities, this book is full of dreams of a future in which workers aren’t bound by red tape, in which the vulnerable are given the help they need, and in which small acts of generosity, kindness and self-sacrifice have a positive impact on the lives of others. While not every story was to my taste in terms of style, the collection as a whole has left me hopeful and more respectful. If these dreamers are the people working in and running the public sector, the country might not be going to hell in a handcart after all.

The stories in this book seem to fall into two categories: those that give us a glimpse into the lives of individuals, and those that give us an overview of the system. For me, it was the former group that worked best. Most of these tales are snap-shots of the positive impact that a well-run and people-focused public sector can have on lives, and the effects of communities actually being communities. While there were some uplifting and encouraging stories in the second group, my ignorance of the inner-workings of public services was a bit of a barrier to my understanding the significance of what I was being told.

Of the 42 flash-fictions in the collection, my three favourites were Enough (the story of a secondary school teacher whose decision to look after herself has knock on effects for her students), Instagram Sam (the story of someone who decides to reap the benefits that paying taxes can bring) and The Interview (an ending far happier than it might otherwise have been).

I found this an engaging and inspiring collection. Congratulations to all who were involved in its creation! I hope these dreams spark conversations that really will lead to the ending being changed.

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.

#SaturdaySoup: Vegetable (Morrisons Soup Mix)

IMG_9166Yes, it’s Saturday Soup, but on a Tuesday.

As I was trotting around Morrisons on Friday, I spotted this bag of Vegetable Soup Mix and thought I’d give it a go because … well, there would be no peeling, no chopping, and it was an absolute bargain! (I bet I’d have been hard-pushed to buy the individual constituents – potato, swede, carrot and leek – for less than 69p.) All I had to do was take it home, open the bag, “sweat” the veg in a bit of butter and oil for five minutes, add 600ml of vegetable stock, leave it to simmer for 20 minutes and then give it a whiz with the hand blender. Easy peasy.

IMG_9173It was a little bit leeky and could have done with a few herbs, but served with some buttery slices of tiger bread it was tasty enough and made about six portions.

The kids deemed it “nice” which is pretty high praise coming from them!

Any suggestions for this week’s Saturday Soup?

#BookReview: War, Conflict and Resolution

WarIn February this year, Ryan Thacker and Alex Gallagher, Creative Writing students at Edge Hill University, put out a call for stories of between 150 and 500 words inspired by the themes of war, conflict and resolution, and this is the result – a collection of 17 flash-fictions and two poems that commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One and honour its fallen.

I bought this collection because it features two 1000words authors: Tim Stevenson and Stella Turner. Tim’s story, Mudflowers, is simply beautiful, a subtly-told moment between grandfather and grandchild, a memory and the making of a memory. Stella’s story, May Day, is a heart-wrenching instant in which we are shown the gap between generations, the innocence of childhood and the long-reaching effects of war. Bravo.

As you might imagine, the other pieces in this book range from stories about the effects of war on those left behind to stories about the effects of war on those who fought on the front lines. There are also tales of bravery and sacrifice, of suffering and regret, of longing and loss, of justice and injustice.

Yesterday, as I stood in our village square listening to the reading out of the names of local WWI servicemen who gave their lives for our freedom, it occurred to me that it’s stories like these that need to be told, so that those of us who are too young to remember these conflicts don’t forget the sacrifices that have been made for us.

The only thing that lets this collection down is the apparent lack of proofreading it’s been through. I don’t know what the paperback version is like, but in the ebook there are lots of distracting typos and errors that could have easily been rectified before publication. I think a collection like this deserves better.

War, Conflict and Resolution is self-published and is available from Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. Any profits made from this project will be donated to The Royal British Legion.

A #FridayFlash #FlashFiction: For King and Country

Train
Original image by Reinhold Behringer. Some Rights Reserved. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

(This story was inspired by this week’s prompt over at Flash!Friday.)

For King and Country

“Don’t cry, Gracie,” Jimmy whispered in her ear as they clung to each other outside the waiting room. He tightened his arms around her. Her fingers grasped the back of his greatcoat. “Don’t cry. Or you’ll make me cry, and how would that look in front of the lads, eh?”

“Don’t go,” she said.

“I have to,” he replied. “For king and country and all that.”

“Well, at least don’t die then.”

He laughed and said, “I shall endeavour not to,” and then he kissed her.

Outside, steam billows from beneath the train, engulfing the platform and everyone on it.

“This is it, boys!” shouts a man at the far end of the carriage. “We’re off!”

A cheer erupts.

Jimmy’s breath snags in his throat.

As the steam clears, his eyes find her again. Catching sight of him, she lifts her head, squares her jaw and glares at him. “Don’t. Die,” she mouths. Her eyes glisten.

The train jolts forward. Jimmy tries to smile.

#SaturdaySoup: Thick and Creamy Parsnip Soup

photoNow that Autumn is well and truly underway, it’s time to dust off the bread machine and break out the hand whizzer. That’s right … It’s Soup Season!

Yesterday, I whipped up one of my favourites: Thick and Creamy Parsnip. The whole family loves this one, even the 12yo who won’t normally give parsnips the time of day. It’s quick, easy and tasty which is pretty much all I want from a soup. It’s probably quite high in fat as it contains butter and cream, but if you wanted to reduce the calories, you could use low fat alternatives. (But I’m betting it wouldn’t taste as good!)

 

Ingredients:

  • 30g salted butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 decent-sized parsnips, cut into small pieces
  • 1 heaped tsp garam masala
  • 750ml hot vegetable stock
  • 100ml double cream
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method:

  • Melt the butter in a non-stick pan and then add the onions. Cook the onions until soft but not brown – about 5 minutes.
  • Add the parsnips, garlic and garam masala and cook for about 2 minutes.
  • Pour in the stock. Bring to the boil and then simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until the parsnips are soft.
  • Remove from the heat and puree using some kind of blender. Be careful as the soup will be HOT!
  • Stir in the double cream and season to taste.

If you give it whirl, let me know how it turns out.

#BookReview: Rapture and What Comes After by Virginia Moffatt

RaptureRapture and What Comes After by Virginia Moffatt is a collection of 30 paired flash-fictions. The first half of the book is comprised of 15 flashes chronicling the ever-hopeful beginnings of love: the rapture. The second half of the book is comprised of the other 15 flashes, the stories of what comes after. These tales are not lovey-dovey romances though; they are an honest look at love and its pitfalls, at the light and dark that can exist in even the most caring relationships.

I’m not sure if I approached this book in the intended way. Instead of reading Part One and then Part Two, I decided to read the flash-fictions in pairs. In other words, after reading Flash-Fiction One in Part One, I flicked forward to read Flash-Fiction One in Part Two. This worked for me as the first story in each pair was still fresh in my mind as I read the second. Some of the pairings are linked in an obvious and straightforward manner – they tell the tale of the same couple, although sometimes from a different person’s point of view. Others are less obviously linked, and you have to read between the lines to see the connection. Regardless of how the pairs are connected though, they all work very well together. I enjoyed each story in itself, but I also enjoyed each pair, and the before-and-after conceit added to satisfaction I felt on finishing the book.

Of all the pairings, the most memorable for me was Red Shoes – The Moves You Make. I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I’ll just say that after reading The Moves You Make, my understanding of Red Shoes was completely flipped on its head.

On the whole, this is a well-written and well-conceived collection, and I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of Virginia Moffat’s work.

4/5 – I really liked it!

Rapture and What Comes After is published by Gumbo Press and is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook format.

(I received a free e-copy of this book to review.)