Link

Due to that all-too-frequent excuse of life getting in the way, my writing has taken a back seat for a couple of months. On the plus side, both me and my wife have nifty new jobs that involve writing and analysing others’ writing respectively.

Now that’s all settled I’ve been trying to get back into a writing rhythm but struggling. The main reason is that I’m at a bit of an impasse with a couple of projects and at the early stages of another where it’s hard to pick it back up  again just like that – it’s not ingrained in my brain enough yet.

Fortunately I received an email from some newsletter or other I’d signed up to about a short story competition and something sparked in my head. Check out Create50 – they’ve got a horror comp on at the mo and it’s a variation on the usual. While I’ve submitted a short story (max 2000 words) they’re also open to creepy music and art. The panel, and they seem like a high profile one, will pick their top 50 and that amalgamation will be published together. Quite how that works with music too I’m not sure, but I like the idea.

In addition to being open to other media, there’s a great community vibe going on. As part of entering you have to pay (a fiver) but you also have to provide feedback on at least 3 other entries. This feedback can then be used by the author to redraft their submission once or twice if desired.

It’s a cool system that seems like a good way to build a community around the Create50 projects. So far I’ve received two bits of feedback on my story, both of which are really positive but highlight the same element as a weakness – that of course gives me a great idea for how to redraft and resubmit.

There is the potential, as there is in any crowd-based idea, for things not to work out. If many people highlight the same weakness then how can you be sure they all read the piece rather than copied an earlier review? 2000 words is pretty short which should encourage people to do it properly, and I get a supportive vibe from looking through profiles and the like.

Also, what if someone’s mean about my story? Well, the likelihood is they’re also a creator themselves so it’s more likely there’ll be some kind of constructiveness in there… right? We’ll see!

Another odd thing is the star ratings – when leaving feedback you have to give the piece a star rating out of five. I’ve received two 4s so far, which is nice, but it’s hard to know what they really mean. According to the competition blurb, the judging panel disregard these ratings which is good – otherwise it could turn into a popularity contest with social media campaigns trying to get chums to block vote. The idea of the star ratings is under discussion by the Create50 team at the mo, so perhaps they’ll disappear.

I’m going to take a look at a few submissions tonight and give feedback, so hopefully I’ll discover some nifty new horror.

The comp is open until November so there’s plenty more time for submissions and redrafts – I’ll let you know how I get on. If you’ve entered then let me know and I’ll have a read of your submission. Or a listen. Mine’s called The Cut if you fancy taking a gander.

Alternatively, if you’ve entered this kind of thing before let me know of any great or terrible experiences in a comment below.

@BornToPootle

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Terry Pratchett: There Are No More Words

A few years ago an author who’d had a big impact on me as a child died. I found out about her death about a month after the fact and felt gutted. Really gutted. I’d reread a few of her books over more recent years, having met and married someone who’d stayed more of a fan than I had, and they were joyous. It was Diana Wynne Jones, a truly wonderful writer.

I didn’t have any way to get the emotion out, other than write a short story. It wasn’t massively original and I haven’t done anything with it over the intervening few years. I’ve ploughed on with my novel-shaped projects and largely forgotten my short stories.

Today Sir Terry Pratchett died. And I found myself thinking of the short story. It doesn’t come anywhere close to doing justice to the influence he’s had on my life. I honestly would be a different person if I’d not read any of his books. But it’s all I’ve got at the moment.

Deep In The Forest

Deep in the forest, beyond where the foxes and rabbits and crows venture, past the uprooted oak and near the old smuggling cave, a figure sits on a rock. It is a tall figure, with shaggy hair hanging down as it holds its head in its hands. The figure has goatish legs and a tail that flicks this way and that like a lion on the prowl. The figure lifts its head up to what little brave starlight filters down through the leaves. Tears gleam on its face.

The figure opens its mouth and lets out a ragged cry, a wordless scream that could be understood by anyone or anything, at any time or in any place. The figure stands, panting from the exertion of emotion. It starts to run, hooves gouging at the ground, tearing great chunks free. All the creatures that thrive in darkness, the small hiding ones, the clawed hunting ones, they all scuttle away from the figure as it thuds onwards.

#

High in a tower made of black stone that echoes with terror, a young man stares out of a solitary window. The room is filled with all the busy paraphernalia of youth, the thousand things that have piqued his interest today and the thousand more that might tomorrow. His spidery hands grip the window ledge until stone cracks. Tears roll down his face, kicking up metres of dust as they hit the hungry earth far below. In silence he turns and leaves the room. He runs down spiral staircase, taking the steps first one at a time, then two, then more. He flicks his hands just so and he’s flying down them, spiralling round and around and around again.

#

The figure with the goatish legs pauses as it reaches the edge of the forest. Its eyes, yellow and pointed, flick left and right, left and right. Pace by pace it continues on, building into a run once more. Over dark plains of grass it goes, through fields of wheat and corn and earth. It reaches a road where indiscriminate cars whine past, and leaps it in one single bound. It can see the lights up ahead now, the hazy place where it has always feared to go.

#

The young man flies out through the door of the tower. Great splinters of wood and iron stab the night as he continues onwards and upwards. He is oblivious to the cold as he embraces the clouds. He ducks down to study the black patchwork spread beneath him. Blisters of light pock the land spoiling the mysteries of night. A plane glides through the air near him, but the shades are down, the passengers oblivious. With a surge of energy the young man flies faster, ever faster.

#

The figure is almost there. It pounds down pavements, hooves starting to split under the concrete pressure. The streets are empty, the night-people instinctively knowing to stay out of the way. A tall building rises ahead of the figure, and it quickens its pace further still.

#

Down the young man flies, gaining speed as he does so. The bright haze becomes a series of lights, becomes a network of roads and houses, a map that is unreadable by the young man. There is a tall building in the centre of the map though, and this, he knows, is the place.

#

The figure stumbles. It falls to the floor. It tries to stand but its legs won’t work. It lets out another cry, thrashes with its arms and starts to claw its way forwards.

#

The young man suddenly loses control. He is tumbling now, not flying, and the ground welcomes him to its bosom in a bone-shattering embrace. He skids across grass and paving until he hits the wall of the tall building. He opens his eyes and sees the figure with the goatish legs crawling, scrabbling forwards.

They lock eyes, these two. Sworn enemies since time began, they have fought each other and they have been brothers. They have seen every triumph and every humiliation they thought possible. But here, on this day, all is forgotten, all is irrelevant. In that shared moment, every death is forgiven and every betrayal understood. Each sees fear on the other’s face.

The figure stops scrabbling and lies still, panting no more.

The young man closes his eyes and slumps forwards.

Above, on the top floor of the tall building, the author breathes out for the last time. The machines are switched off, the sheet is pulled up. No surprise resurrections, no last-minute potions.

The story is over.

Writing Competitions

I haven’t mentioned much recently about how I’m faring in trying to get published because, well, there’s not been much news. However, while trawling the internet for opportunities I’ve found that there are a couple of great writing competitions for debut/undiscovered novelists on at the mo – I thought I’d share them just in case anyone’s interested and hasn’t spotted them yet:

Tibor Jones Pageturner Prize 2015

This one actually has my local bookseller – Bookseller Crow – as one of the judges, which is pretty cool. I’ll be taking bottles of whisky in on a weekly basis until the shortlist is announced.

The Word of Mouth Prize

This also looks good and has, amongst others, the owner of Dulwich Books as a judge – also not a million miles away for the purposes of bribe-delivery.

I might actually send different novels into each one. For those who’ve read a few of my previous posts you’ll know I’ve got one novel ready to go (in my opinion) and another one well under way. The second of the competitions allows for works-in-progress, and I’m pretty happy with the first half of my second novel, so might give that one a whirl. The deadline isn’t for a while, so I’ll give it a bit more thought before committing either way though.

I also spotted this short story competition today, specifically looking for speculative fiction on the theme of First Contact (not necessarily extra-terrestrial). I haven’t written a short story for a while, but have a stack awaiting an airing. Maybe it’s time to try sending a few out…

Good luck if you’re going in for any of them. Anyone know of a good resource/blog/twitter account that reliably collates these kinds of things? I’m thinking of the novel ones specifically really, and ideally UK-focused.

@BornToPootle

Crossroads

Dylan

I get to my patch nice and early. It’s barely gone eight and the sun is bruising across the sky still. From the crossroads at the top of town I can see the whole sorry mess splayed out below me, sparks of light flaring as people lose the game of chicken with the night. I strum a few chords as I wait, checking my phone impatiently every few minutes. The guitar’s not even in tune, but it doesn’t matter, that’ll come with time. When it’s my time.

It’s full dark now and I half-rise as a car crawls by, anonymous face peering out from the passenger window.  It’s a black Mercedes, which is what I picture him driving. But it carries on down the hill, trawling for something I’m not offering.

At ten past midnight I sling my guitar over my shoulder and start the slow walk back down through town. I pass the same familiar faces and we pass the same familiar conversation.

No luck, they ask.

Not tonight, I say. You?

Maybe tomorrow, they say.

Maybe tomorrow, I agree. And then we all stroll on home with our instruments and our souls.

They Grow Up So Fast

Wicker

She found the baby in a wicker basket on the porch, no sign of who had rung the bell, no note to give a name. She raised it as her own, named it for her grandfather and kept its horns filed flat to its head. She gave it a strict bed time, read to it every night and hand sewed trousers to allow for its forked tail. She bought it mints for its brimstone breath and sent it to piano lessons on Sunday mornings. She gave it an alibi when the church burned down. She asked no questions when the deaths began, when the cloud of flies engulfed the house, when the sun failed to rise for the third consecutive day, simply reminded it that school would be open regardless. She never raised a hand to it, but then it never uttered a profanity. She wept for days when it announced it would be leaving. She packed it a week’s worth of its favourite sandwiches and waved it off from the porch. She closed the door and thought back to that fateful night before the screams, before the rivers ran red, before the mutilated animals. She thanked God the basket had been placed on her doorstep. She thought, Imagine if it had been next door, Mrs. Frampton’s boys are right tearaways.

Drunk

red wine

I feel like I’m drowning, she’d said. Melodramatic bitch, he’d said.

It was not, by some margin, his first bottle of wine of the evening. The solitary glass stood forgotten on the side table as the bottle made its happy glug-glug-glug. This was a Malbec 2000, or at least he thought it had said 2000 on the label; he was finding it hard to read the labels now. This was one they’d been saving for a special occasion. Well he’d be damned if she’d take this bottle from him along with the car, the house and the kitchen sink.

Damned if she could have any of the other bottles either. One by one he’d sunk them. The Beaujolais from their anniversary in Paris, the Domaine du Grande Maine found at the back of a dusty old wine warehouse in Southwark, even that Rioja they’d picked up in Barcelona. One by one the empty bottles had been flung out of the window into the garden. Their garden. Soon to be her garden. Well let her clear up the broken glass then, he thought. He tipped the bottle up again. A thin red stream flowed from the corner of his mouth as he smiled at the glug-glug-glug.

He flung the bottle away, let out a cheer as it hit something solid in the garden and exploded into a million fragments. He reached for the next bottle. Cabernet Sauvignon. 2003. He’d always hated Cabernet Sauvignon. This was one of hers, one he’d bought to please her. Like the beige sofa. Like the taupe rug. Like the oatmeal lampshade. All to please her.

He grinned as the idea formed. He laughed as he staggered into the living room. He capered as he poured the Cabernet Sauvignon over the beige sofa, over the taupe rug, over the oatmeal lampshade. It wasn’t much revenge, not for what she’d done to him, but it felt good.

He grabbed another bottle, then another. A Merlot they had brought back from a vinyard trip to Bordeaux, a Shiraz her father had given them as a present. The red liquid sloshed out over the carpet, over the furniture, over the walls. Bottle by bottle the pools grew. Wine lapped at his shoes and still he poured. Wine lapped at his knees and still he poured. Wine lapped at his chest and still he poured. He reached for the last bottle, the 1995 Pinot Noir, the one bottle that predated even her. He uncorked and poured their relationship away.

She found him in the morning. The doctors said he’d drunk until he’d drowned.