The rain and what comes after (A story in 209 words)

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Rain is threatening as the woman leaves her office. She has no umbrella and there is a bus waiting outside, the queue making its slow, shuffling way onboard. But the bus will be packed and noisy and moist, and the woman strides on, opting to take her chances with the weather instead. When she is halfway home, the sky, tiring of its burden, tips and empties, and soon the road is a river and the woman’s flimsy summer pumps are as soft and useless as wet cardboard. A bus sloshes past, and she curses herself. Then the sun appears, and all of a sudden – a rainbow. Not in the sky, but hovering just above the road, shimmering against the spray from the passing cars. She is the only one who seems to see it, all other heads being bent beneath the rain, and she stops to watch it. Until a red light halts the flow of traffic, and the rainbow is gone. The rain continues, and the woman walks on. At home, when she is peeling off her sodden clothes, she reflects that she is glad she chose to walk past the bus stop this evening. Because she could have avoided the soaking, but not without missing the rainbow.

How many is lots? (A story in 127 words)

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‘How many kisses left before I die?’ you ask me, as I kiss you goodnight.

Your best friend’s grandmother died this week, and you are full of questions.

‘Lots,’ I say, smiling.

‘But how many is lots?’

‘A million,’ I say. ‘At least a million.’ And I plant kisses on your nose – one, two, three – to start you off.

But then comes the illness, tsunami-like. And when I kiss you now I must be careful not to disturb the tubes attached to your soft skin.

‘How many kisses left?’ you ask me one day, as I am pulling away from your cheek.

The smile hurts my face as I prepare my reply. ‘Lots.’

‘But how many is lots?’

And this time I have no answer for you.

Polaroid Prose challenge – final week (Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust the Process)

Four and a half thousand words and almost 30 stories later, I’ve reached the end of my micro fiction challenge*. I’ve written about winged girls, abandoned shoes, time travellers, depressed cats, TV ghosts, floor sweepers, storytellers, compulsive hoarders and cream buns. Some of the stories have been extremely brief (the shortest, this week’s ‘The rose’, is only 29 words) and others technically sit outside the boundaries of micro fiction by clocking in at over 300 words. It’s been both fun and frustrating. Some days the stories, and ideas, have come easily and I’ve been relatively pleased with the results; other days I’ve struggled to get hold of a single decent idea, never mind write about it, and have convinced myself I am the World’s Biggest Fraud calling myself a writer. So, pretty standard stuff in the life of anyone trying to write, really. And if you don’t think every writer feels that way sometimes, even the super-successful ones, let me refer you to a Tweet I spotted this morning:

The point is, it does come and it will come, if you trust yourself and keep on going. So, despite the frustrating bits, I’m feeling more disappointed than relieved that this particular challenge is over. Planning and writing these little stories has become as much a part of my daily routine as brushing my teeth or trying to pacify the cat. I actually considered extending the challenge for another week or two, but the point of this exercise was to flex my writing muscles before starting a bigger project – a new novel – and so an extension would just be a form of procrastination. Having said that, I’ve got the short fiction bug now and I fully intend to continue to write and post these kinds of stories whenever I can – I just won’t be doing it every day.

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Jan’s Postcard Stories, which everyone should buy immediately

So, before I press on with my final selections, I just want to say another big THANK YOU to everyone who has made it their business to read the stories and pass on a comment in one way or another. I know everyone’s lives are busy, and free moments are precious, so I hugely appreciate it. This has been the first time I’ve shared any of my writing so publicly, and having actual, real, breathing people engage with these stories has been amazing. Everyone has reacted slightly differently and identified with different stories, and that’s been really fun to watch. I’d also like to once again thank Jan Carson, whose wonderful volume of Postcard Stories started it all.

 

Sometimes as a writer you can get bogged down with all the stuff that surrounds the writing itself – the waiting, the inevitable disappointments – but these little stories have reminded me why I persist. It’s because I love the actual process of writing. It’s the joy of creating something that didn’t previously exist from nothing more mysterious than individual words. It’s pure alchemy, and it’s worth the work. Worth the waiting. Worth the disappointments. A fantastic writer called Emily Lowrey (watch this space – she’s going to be huge), in a beautiful video she made called ‘One Million Words: An Ode to Writing’, says:

‘There’s this feeling in my chest when I find the exact right word, a lightness in my limbs when I make a stubborn sentence sing … the simple joy of it never goes away.’

That about sums it up.

Thanks for reading!

 

*The challenge was to write a piece of micro fiction, i.e. 250 words or less, every day for a month and share a few stories at the end of each week. To find out more about the background to this challenge, or to read the stories from the first three weeks, check out my earlier blog posts – week 1, week 2 and week 3.

 

Week 4 stories

Wings

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Penelope wakes up on her thirteenth birthday and discovers that she has, during the night, grown a pair of wings. They aren’t like the wings of a bird or a butterfly; they are a greyish colour, like old paint, and webbed. Penelope is ashamed of the wings. Luckily, they are small enough to hide beneath her clothes, and so she is able to go to school, like always, without anyone being the wiser.

The wings grow slowly, like Penelope herself, and she begins to think that maybe they aren’t so ugly after all. But still she hides them. She goes to school, like always, and then she comes home and stands for hours by the mirror, staring at her wings and wondering what they mean. Wondering if they have anything to do with the peculiar feeling she has had for as long as she can remember (one that, so far as she can tell, isn’t shared by any of her friends) – a feeling of heaviness in her very bones.

In time the wings become too big to hide, and Penelope cuts holes in her clothes and goes to school, like always. Some people are cruel and some are kind – as is the way with people – and Penelope collects the kindnesses like shiny pennies while the cruelties she does her best to cast aside. Her wings grow and grow and are beautiful, their colours shifting, opal-like, as she moves. And they ache, too. A deep, ponderous ache that mingles with the heaviness in her bones and weighs her down.

Then one morning Penelope wakes up and something is different. She feels different, yet somehow completely herself. She rises, goes to the window and climbs onto the ledge. Her wings spread themselves wide for the very first time, and the ache is replaced by a quiet sense of readiness. She is light. She is strong. It is nothing like always. Penelope steps off the ledge, and her wings catch the breeze and carry her on.

 

The rose

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There is a rose in my garden that blooms a different colour every year. It was red the year my daughter was born, and white the year she died.

 

Sweeping clean

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It is Jim’s job to sweep a long stretch of corridor. Every day, he works his way from one end to the other and then works his way back again. The corridor is a busy one, and it is surprising just how quickly the dust and dirt accumulates. Sometimes Jim wishes he could get rid of all the things that give rise to this dust and dirt. The people. The air. And, of course, himself.

 

The cream bun

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She stares down at the cream bun – golden and glistening with sugar. She should take a photo of it and post it on Facebook and Instagram. She should Tweet, WhatsApp and Snapchat it. Her friends and followers will want to know about this bun. They deserve to know. And, like the tree falling in the forest, if she eats this bun but tells no one, will it even really have happened?

She pulls out her phone, opening the camera app, and holds it above the bun. But something isn’t quite right. She switches to selfie mode and poses with the bun, showing her teeth and the whites of her eyes. Something still isn’t right. She places the bun back carefully onto the plate, closes the camera and puts the phone down.

This cream bun, though it is only a cream bun, is simply too good to share. Just this once, she will keep it to herself. It will be her delicious secret.

She picks up the bun, shuts her eyes, and takes a bite.

 

Marking time

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Bill is a time traveller. But he doesn’t have a Tardis or DeLorean, or the coordinates of a secret portal or wormhole. The truth is much more pedestrian. Bill lives and works in two different time zones, and so for eight months of the year – when the place where he works observes Daylight Saving Time and the place where he lives does not – Bill time travels every day, twice a day. Because of this, Bill has a unique appreciation of the slippery nature of time. Every evening, when he arrives home, he pours himself a whiskey and feels like a god amongst men, having cheated time once again; and every morning, when he sits down at his desk, his thoughts turn more bitter than his coffee as he contemplates his loss.

 

A country walk

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Today I went walking and saw rose bushes in the garden of a derelict house; giant daises all along the roadside; an old hay shed almost buried in greenery; crystalline raindrops on a neglected hedgerow. It’s the things we let be that grow the prettiest.

 

Polaroid Prose challenge – week 3

So here we are, three-quarters of the way through my challenge (to write a piece of micro fiction every day for a month and post a few at the end of each week), and once again I want to start with a big old thank you to anyone who’s read and commented on the stories so far – you guys rock QUITE A BIT.

If you want to read more about the background to this challenge (and why Jan Carson is entirely to blame), or read the stories from weeks 1 and 2, check out my last two blog posts – here and here.

Jan Carson wrote in one of her blog posts that once you train yourself to observe you start to see the foundations of stories everywhere (this ties in very nicely with the whole concept of mindfulness, which I’ve been practicing, albeit fairly haphazardly, for a few years now). Unlike most writers, I’ve always found it tricky to get hold of A Really Good Idea, but since I started this challenge I’m definitely becoming better at noticing all those little daily occurrences that can form the basis of a story. Mind you, when you start seeing inspiration everywhere it can prove a tad overwhelming. One day after work this week I saw so many things with story-spawning potential that I couldn’t focus on just one idea, and I ended up going home and writing about something completely different. But I’m not complaining – maybe some of those other things will find their way into stories yet.

Just a couple of things to mention before I stop wittering and crack on with this week’s selections. Firstly, I apologise for the terrible use of puns in two of the titles – if this trend continues I may need an intervention. Secondly, ‘The lonely sole’ (one of the aforementioned offenders) is exactly 100 words long, and I’m going to go ahead and claim that this was totally intentional.

As always, all comments, criticisms and witticisms will be gratefully received. I do hope you enjoy.

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Polaroid Prose challenge – week 2

First off, a HUGE thank you to everyone who read and commented on last week’s stories, either via this blog, on social media or in person – I’ve been overwhelmed by how kind you guys have been and I’m not at all sure I deserve it.

Just to recap, I set myself a challenge to write a piece of micro fiction (i.e. 250 words or less) every day for a month, inspired by something experienced on the day of writing, and post a few of these stories at the end of each week. For anyone wanting to find out more about the background to this challenge or to read the stories from week one, check out my first blog post.

I’ve now reached the end of week two, and I’ve more or less kept to the every day thing, although I’ll confess to having cheated a little by having written no stories on some days and two stories on others. And I’ve mostly kept within the bounds of micro fiction, but a few stories have ended up significantly shorter. For example, ‘Fifteen’, one of this week’s selections, is only 71 words, putting it somewhere between a dribble (50 words) and a drabble (100 words). And yes, those are Actual Proper Writing Terms (I learnt them last week and have just been awaiting my opportunity to show off).

So, preliminaries over, let’s press on with this week’s offerings. Make yourself a cuppa, put the dog out, stick the kids in front of YouTube, relax and enjoy.

And remember, all comments, criticisms and general musings will be gratefully received!

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Polaroid Prose challenge – week 1

I blame Jan Carson.

In May 2017, Jan published a wonderful little book called Postcard StoriesEvery day for a full year Jan wrote a story on the back of a postcard and sent it to a friend, and Postcard Stories is a collection of the highlights. I devoured this book, struck by the powerful simplicity of Jan’s stories – stories that moved me, made me laugh and made me think, all in less than 300 words – and was inspired to attempt my own short fiction challenge, as a fun way of exercising my writing muscles and relearning the discipline of writing every day.

Because I am neither as talented nor as industrious as Jan Carson, I am setting myself a more modest challenge – to write a piece of micro fiction (i.e. 250 words or less) every day for a month, inspired by something experienced on the day of writing. To give me an extra push in the right direction, I’ve also decided to publish a few of these stories at the end of each week via a blog post. Short fiction is a brand new experiment for me, so I can’t promise the stories will be any good (apologies in advance to anyone intrepid enough to read them), but I do promise to have fun. Which is sort of the whole point.

Since I’m stealing Jan’s idea, I thought I’d better not steal her title too, so I’m calling these stories Polaroid Prose, because – stick with me here – they’re designed to be relatively quick and fun to write (and, hopefully, to read), and they’re snapshots of particular events, moments or feelings. Like Polaroids.

Still with me? Fantastic! Here goes…

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