FFfAW : Waiting to drown


This week’s photo prompt is provided by Yarnspinnerr. Thank you Yarnspinnerr!

***

It’s just me and dad now, two left out of the five that once made our family. Susie and Jess left within months of Mum dying.

Susie told me it was Dad’s drinking that finally made her leave, the cycle of alcohol and anger and self-recrimination.

Jess never told me why, only that she was going and that she would never return. I remember her expression as she boarded the ferry for the mainland, that mix of shame and sorrow. And relief.

I’ve never blamed my sisters for leaving but I can’t. Dad and I circle each other like boats caught in a whirlpool, pulled by the same forces, unable to separate. Without me he’d sink and without him I’d have to rejoin the world.

Here we drift, trying to stay afloat, wondering when we’ll grow too tired to paddle, waiting to drown.

***

Written for FFfAW. See the pic, write a tale but don’t forget to read and comment on others. See here to join in.

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FFfAW : The Great Black Bird


This week’s photo prompt is provided by Yinglan. Thank you Yinglan!

Another two inches of snow had fallen overnight, a frost following close behind. When Lou finally ventured out, the wooden sledge she used to haul firewood skidded waywardly behind her over the hard surface, while she cracked the ice and sank ankle deep, the snow holding her every footfall.

The cold wants me, she thought, her thigh muscles burning, skirts growing heavier, stiffer. 

Not for the first time, she was tempted just to stop, let the snow take her. Take the arthritis swelling knuckles, knees and wrists, take the knocking in her left lung, the ulcer on her ankle that wouldn’t heal no matter how many hawthorn poultices she made. 

She stopped a moment, breathless from the wind and effort. The crows were arguing in the tree canopy, great black wings flapping like huge sheets of paper. Somewhere in the future, a black bird waited for her.

But not today.

Tugging the sledge, she headed on. 

***

Written for FFfAW. See the prompt picture, write a tale and share with others. See here for the full rules and to join in.

 

Falling in love for the over forties: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

 

Falling in love is the best, isn’t it?

The anticipation when the object of your desires draws near. The raised heartbeat, the sweating palms, the desire to spend all day, every day in your loved ones company, denying all others. You can’t eat, you can’t sleep, all you can think about is them and the next time you’ll be reunited. And when that moment finally comes, when the two of you are alone, slipping between the sheets, your fingers clumsy, hungry to run over those silken pages, to open that glossy cover, to let your eyes feast on what’s inside …

I’ve loved many authors over many reading years – Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, later Margaret Atwood and Sarah Waters and Neil Gaiman

Yes, I’m a fickle soul, but what can I say? The heart wants what it wants.

Recently, I’ve begun a new affair with David Mitchell’s Booker longlisted The Bone Clocks. I’d like to describe to you what it’s about, but I’m only halfway through and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure myself.

There’s a teenage runaway and a predatory, swindling Cambridge undergraduate, a conflict-addicted roving reporter covering the war in Iraq and a supernatural fight between good and evil – I think.

Social commentary, love lost, fantastical horror, life and death and a family wedding – all things that keep the reader engaged.

But it’s Mitchell’s writing that’s drawn me in. Rounded characters, genuine shocks and terrifying threat – both those otherworldly and all to familiar from the evening news – make us care and sympathise for his protagonists, even those who are in the wrong, even as they’re performing the most heinous acts.

To say I’d love to be able to write with his skill and intelligence, handle a range of settings and styles and manage to hold the lot together without it falling into a mess, is an understatement.

Have I found another author to love, another to add to the list and me so damned cynical and middle aged? Perhaps I’ll only know once the last page has turned.

Like love, I don’t know where this story will lead me in the end, but for now I’m just enjoying the ride.

 


Have you recently discovered a new author to love? Did you think you’d never love again, but found a book that sent your heart a-beating as if you were a teenager in the first throes of bookish passion?

Link : What the late Ursula K le Guin thought of David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks.

 

 

 

How a drowned story came back from the dead

Back in 2015, The People’s Friend magazine launched a serial writing competition to find new authors.

Now, the ‘Friend’ is a bit of a legend as far as I’m concerned. It’s been published by DC Thompson (the same company that publishes the equally legendary Beano) for years, it’s been in existence since 1869 and is one of the few weekly magazines in the UK that still publishes fiction. It’s certainly one of the few (perhaps the only) that has a generous ‘open door’ policy for debut writers, where many magazines are closed to those who haven’t previously worked for them.

So filled with excitement at the prospect of breaking into the tricky WoMag (Women’s Magazine) market, I crafted my three part serial.

Set in the Regency period, it had a brave heroine, a sinister boathouse, a hint of romance and a long buried family secret. I wrote, I polished and slid the first instalment into the post.

I waited. Didn’t hear anything. Waited some more. Still didn’t hear anything. As the day  drew close for the magazine to announce the winners, doubts began to bubble to the surface. Perhaps the writing wasn’t good enough. Perhaps the themes were too dark. Could I do this writing thing at all?

Still, despite my misgivings, come the big day, I checked online, because maybe, just maybe …

I read the list of winners. My name was not there. I read the list of honourable mentions … nothing. It was with a heart of lead that I accepted the fact that all of my hard work, my proofing and editing and extra proofing were to no avail. The ‘Friend’ did not like my story. I licked my wounds and – as we writers must do – tucked the disappointment away and moved onto the next project.

Almost two years later, the story was still languishing on my laptop, unfinished, neglected. I’d looked at the file a few times, thinking I should delete it, clear some space for an idea with potential – after all, where else was I going to sell the story?

Then …

One day last July, I opened an email. At the top was the dictinctive red and white masthead of The People’s Friend. Dazed, I read the note. It was from Alan Spink, a member of their Fiction Team. Alan wrote that although my story didn’t win the competition, they felt it had potential to work for the magazine and would I like to write it up?

Well, what do you think I said?

Within a few weeks, I had the first draft complete and after more rewriting with Alan’s wonderful guidance, the serial was ready to submit to the editor. Now, the wheels of fiction turn slowly, but last November I had the news –

The editor loved the story and it had been accepted for publication.

The first part of The Mermaid of Mortling Hall will appear on 3rd February this year and the story runs for three weeks.

Now, I’m not sure what lesson we can all learn from a story that seemed to be dead in the water, for which I had lost all hope, that will have taken almost two and a half years from its conception to publication.

I’m not trying to fill you with false hope that a story or novel that seemed a no-go will suddenly be plucked from the slushpile and published. In my experience, when most stories are rejected by a publication they stay rejected.

But success can come when you least expect it and through surprising avenues and maybe, finally, it’s just the right time for the Mermaid to swim.

One thing’s for sure. As writers we should never give up, we should keep honing our craft, keep learning, keep improving, keep seeking feedback, keep sticking our backsides to the chair and our fingers to the keyboard.

And if we do that, well, we might just win out.

 

 

 

Older writer? Smile, your time may yet come

 

When I read those author interviews, you know the ones,

the ones where the successful writer claims they ‘always knew they were going to write’, that they wrote their first word before they were out of nappies, their first short story before their first spoken word, their first novel before leaving junior school – those interviews – I read them with a mixture of resentment and admiration.

Admiration because anyone who is together enough to have a life plan at a young age is truly blessed and resentment because I … didn’t.

I drifted through school, got kicked out of college, fell into retail (hairdressing, measuring old ladies for corsets, selling extra strong cider in an off licence, waiting tables in a cafe that closed a week after I started) … I was hopeless.

When asked what I wanted to do when I grew up I shrugged. Drift, drift, drift …

Floristry came along and was a reliable way to earn a little money, but it was only after I put myself through a degree and the studying was over that a hole opened in my life that needed to be filled.

And I filled it with an old love – writing. And I realised – I had found it. I’d found my one, true love. 

Nine years and a LOT of writing later, I’m starting to feel vaguely competent. I’m not sure if I’ve completed Malcolm Gladwell’s fabled 10,000 hours yet, but I don’t think I’m that far off and there are days when I feel I’m at a publishable standard.

But at 48, have I left it too late for a career in writing?

If you’re an older writer like me take heart from this article in Author’s Publish Magazine.

There maybe some hope for us yet.

 

 

K. Rawson : Hitlist

 

 

Anyone who spends time exploring the wide open plains, narrow gorges, warm shallows and chilly depths of WordPress will be aware of what a wonderfully creative slew of people there are out there.

Every time you discover one of these people it’s as if you’ve stumbled across a nugget of gold, a precious stone you can hold in your palm. And because of the intimate nature of reading, you can feel that discovery is all you’re own, a wonderful secret few others have seen.

But there are some discoveries that should be shouted from the rooftops …

Those of you who take part in the writing prompt What pegman saw will have already discovered the talented writer and fellow Friday Fictioneer K. Rawson‘s stunning short fiction, but did you also know that she’s written a novel for young adults with a great premise and the most timely of subjects?

K herself describes the book as

‘a YA Novel about a teenage girl who writes a computer virus to get revenge on cyberbullies’.

Do take a read of the preview above.

 

The Blood-Tub

Nighttime London

Image : Pixabay

 

He steps back to survey his work.

The alleyway stinks of the Thames, of fish baskets, of ropes steeped in river water. Snatching the handkerchief from his neck, he cleans the filth from his hands, grinds clean the half-moons of his nails.

Time to leave. He almost drops the ruined kerchief, but instead screws the sodden cloth into his trouser pocket to dispose of later.

Now the thing’s done he feels calm. The buzzing in his head has eased, the swarm of bees that beats and hums and stings the inside of his skull gone, leaving him soft.

As he turns to go, his heel slips on the greased cobbles.

*

The pub was busy tonight, the raddled old tarts warming themselves before the fire like stray dogs. ‘Terrible nip in the air, Pol,’ they said, ‘not fit for a dead moggy’. They don’t say the real reason they stay together, avoid the alleys and steaming rookeries. No mention of the Lambeth Butcher, as if to say the words aloud will summon him up.

My feet ache as I leave work, left big toe pressing against the seam of my old boot. Time for a new pair, if I had the money.

I smell the meat market before I see the runnels of blood, slick black in the lamplight. I jump over a clotting stream, leaves and a half eaten rat caught in the flow. The stink of death should make me heave, but my empty stomach growls, working against itself.

In my room there’s bread, a piece of cheese wrapped in a square of muslin to keep the flies from laying their eggs. But I’m not heading home.

Hand in my purse, I feel three fat pennies.

*

He stands on the Embankment, looks across the blinking river, imagines the carrion in the water, thud-thudding against the wherries. He lifts a finger to his nose, inhales, licks the tip. Tastes metal.

*

Pie in one hand, half cup of cocoa in the other, I walk. The brew’s watered down and gritty, but it’s hot and feels good in my chill fist. I don’t have a hand free to lift my skirts as I turn down New Cut, so I skip over horse shit, the potholes filled with straw and stinking run off, risk losing some cocoa.

The Old Vic Theatre lamps are off and the place feels haunted, hollow in the darkness. But the rain’s pattering the roof like hail, so I hunker by a column, swig the last of my drink, eat the pie, all tough pastry and grey tubes that stretch when I pull one from my mouth, like chewing on something newly dead.

Is my Francis is on his way? Boots shiny as a soldier’s, bowler tilted low?

I don’t like being alone.

*

Waterloo Bridge. Bridge of the dead. How many has he tossed into the water from here? It’s a simple thing once a body’s up on the balustrade – a brush of the hand and momentum does the rest. They drop like kittens in a sack, kick and beat against the tide, against the weight of their own clothes. But the chill Thames always wins.

Rain starts to fall.

*

The Blood-Tub, that’s what they call the Old Vic and the peeling advertisements show why. There’s a play about a man who shoots his sweetheart during a fight, buries her in a barn. In the print, her body’s scraped over with dirt, hand sticking from the ground like she’s trying to unbury herself. There’s red on her fingertips, blue for her dress, green for the barn, ink messy splashes like a young child’s painting.

The thought of that girl lying under the cold mud makes me shiver. And all by the hands of a man who loved her.

*

Trains rattle-clunk-wheeze to a halt on the railway bridge, a surge of smoke, smuts in his eyes, pricking his lungs. Gaslights gutter above him, remind him of the hole in his head where the buzzing grows. He stops a moment, listens for the bees.

A woman emerges from the smoke. Skinny, shawl pulled tight round her shoulders, dress faded, hem splashed with filth from the road. As she draws close, he can smell meat on her, something sugary.

His mouth begins to water.

*

My heart jumps at the sound of footsteps. I imagine blood washing the streets black, the glint of a blade. My mouth seems stuffed with gristle and I see a dead girl, hands clawing aside the earth, pointing a bony finger at her killer. I’m shaking hard, my eyes fill with tears, my bladder aches and I’m choking and I can’t swallow and a man steps out of the smoke, arm outstretched, reaching, reaching …

‘Evening Polly.’

‘Francis.’

I’m so relieved, my knees sag, I reach for him to stop from falling. My face is wet and his arm folds round me and he smells of the city – of smoke and the river and tin – and laughter rumbles in his chest.

In a while I’m calm and say, ‘Got a hanky?’

His hand reaches to his pocket then stops, falls limp to his side.

‘I … lost it,’ he says. ‘Come to my lodgings. I’ll build a fire.’

He takes my hand and I flood with warmth. Finally I’m safe.

 


This was originally posted on Waltbox as The Fate of Lambeth Polly, but as it’s nearly Halloween and we all need to be creeped out a little, I thought I’d repost it here on Word Shamble. Happy Scaring.