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Wednesday Write-In #69

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

monkey see :: attraction :: solid :: complete :: whisper

And here’s what I made of them…

Image: en.academic.ru

Image: en.academic.ru

More Than You Can Chew

It’s at moments like this that James wonders how he ever felt any attraction toward the woman who calls herself his wife. On all fours beside him, her hair askew, she looks like that nineteenth-century dragon carving he’d finally managed to flog, for a fraction of its cost price, a few years before. She even has the teeth, and everything.

‘It’s monkey see, monkey do with that child!’ she says, in a hoarse whisper. ‘He sees you cramming everything around you into your mouth, so of course he’s going to do the same!’

‘Just shut up and keep looking, will you? Greg’s barely eating solid food yet. I don’t see how, or why, he’d shove a jade figurine into his gullet.’

‘Well, I’m telling you,’ she says, sitting up onto her knees. ‘I’m telling you, that’s where it is. We need to get him to hospital, right now.’

James’ eyes fall on their son, gurgling happily in his high chair. His gummy grin beams across the room and he waves one chubby, grubby hand at his mum and dad who are, as far as he’s concerned, playing a very funny game. What a complete idiot! flashes across James’ mind, and immediately, he hates himself for thinking it. He blows his son a kiss, making the little boy dance with joy.

‘That figurine is worth more than our car,’ he murmurs to his wife, keeping his eyes on his son. He imagines a green glow sliding down into Greg’s stomach, working its way through his intestines, ever-so-slowly squeezing its way round corners on its long, long journey. God knows what state it’ll be in by the time it comes out.

‘All the more reason for getting him seen by a doctor, now,’ she grumbles, rolling to her feet with fluid ease. ‘Who’s a good boy!’ he hears her say as she nears the high chair, making Greg crow with pleasure. ‘Who’s the best boy? Come on, now, darling. Let’s go for a ride in the car! Yes? Come on.’ Greg stretches and bucks against his restraints as his mother starts to unstrap him.

‘I’ll go and get the keys,’ James mumbles, getting up off the floor with as much grace as a dying elephant. His knees and hips and ankles click and creak, and his heart races as he straightens himself. ‘See you outside.’

Grace is too preoccupied with the baby to reply. Honestly. You’d think I wasn’t even here, James thinks, swallowing a mouthful of acid. I’d like to see you keep this roof over our heads without me! He turns on his heel and makes for the hallway, grabbing the keys as he goes. Jasper is lying in his basket by the radiator, as always.

‘Hello, old man,’ murmurs James, risking a crouch. His knees pop again, and he balances himself against the wall as he rubs the dog’s greying head. Jasper looks up with eyes like two lost souls, feebly licking his chops. ‘We’ll be back soon, once this ridiculousness has been dealt with.’ James’ fingers lose themselves in Jasper’s dark, silky coat.

‘Get up,’ snaps Grace, suddenly appearing behind him, a quizzical Greg in her arms. ‘Or have you forgotten we have a sick child?’ She strides past him, yanking the front door open and leaving it to smack against the wall.

James turns back to Jasper, biting back his anger.

‘Don’t look so mournful, old friend. I won’t be long. When I’m back, we’ll go for our constitutional, right? Me and you, two men alone.’ He leans down and presses his face against the top of Jasper’s bony head. ‘Look after everything until we’re back.’

James gets to his feet, slowly, and follows his wife and son out the door. Jasper’s eyes follow his master, full of silent pleading. He takes another painful swallow as he watches James lock the door, and as he hears the car’s engine roar away. He flops his head back on his paws and tries to breathe.

It had looked like such a tasty treat, you see. Such a lovely colour, and the perfect size for nibbling. Jasper coughs, feebly, and closes his eyes against the pain.

 

 

 

Wednesday Write-In #68

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

man’s best friend :: diamond :: bulge :: mail :: stew

Image: thefenceline.co.uk

Image: thefenceline.co.uk

Operation Dognap

‘Come on, you little idiot,’ muttered Ade. ‘Look! Steak! Mm-mm!’ He waggled the drying lump of meat between the slats of the fence. All the dog did was bare his teeth and growl, very quietly. He didn’t move an inch from his post beside the back door, and his tiny, sparkling eyes glared out of the gloom.

‘Man’s best friend, my eye,’ whispered Dagger, getting to his feet.‘What do we do now then, eh?’

‘We go to Plan B, don’t we,’ sighed Ade. ‘The full Monty.’

‘The what?’ Dagger wrapped his arms around himself. ‘If you think I’m droppin’ my drawers in this weather – ‘

‘Nah, you twit,’ snapped Ade. ‘Think about it. Why are we here in the first place?’

‘To get the dog,’ mumbled Dagger, his thoughts skittering about behind his eyes like dead leaves on a winter breeze. ‘But ‘e isn’t playin’ ball, the little –‘

‘Yeah, yeah, all right. So if ‘e won’t come to us, what can we do?’

‘Go down the pub and forget about this whole thing.’

‘Most amusin’,’ said Ade, in a voice like freshly poured cement. ‘Nah. If ‘e won’t come to us, we go to ‘im. Right?’

‘By ‘we’, you mean me, don’tcha?’

‘Well, I ‘ardly mean myself. I am incapacitated, if you remember.’

‘A broken ankle is hardly incapacitated, mate,’ muttered Dagger, already eyeing the garden wall with suspicion.

‘I’d like to see you sayin’ that if it was your ankle in question. The man ‘as to pay for ‘is actions, yeah? And we’ve already decided –‘

‘Yeah, yeah – kidnap the mutt, leave a ransom note in ‘is mail box wrapped around a lump of meat, tell ‘im next time it’ll be the dog’s ‘ead, or whatever. Draw ‘im out. Get ‘im to face yer.’

‘Precisely,’ answered Ade. ‘Now. Let’s give this meat one more try, and if ‘e won’t take it, then it’s Operation Dognap. Right?’

‘Just get on with it,’ sighed Dagger, crouching once again. Ade was sprawled on the cold ground, his injured foot stuck out in front of him. He dangled the meat through the fence again, and this time the dog hopped forward, just once. His head cocked to one side.

‘Diamond,’ said Ade, smiling. ‘That’s it, little fella! Come on!’ The dog took one hesitant step, and then another. Ade widened his smile, sticking his fingers out as far as he could, dangling the meat closer and closer. Then, he flicked it forward. It landed on the cement ground with a faintly moist smack.

‘Now you’ve gone and done it!’ whispered Dagger. ‘If ‘e don’t eat it –‘

‘Look, my friend,’ replied Ade. ‘Is ‘e, or isn’t ‘e, wolfin’ it down?’ The dog leapt upon the steak like a hunter on his prey. Within seconds, he’d eaten nearly half the meat.

‘Just another minute now…’ said Ade, gripping the fence and pressing his eye to the gap.

‘Is ‘e – ‘e is! That dog’s swayin’ on ‘is paws!’ hissed Dagger.

‘Drugged meat, my friend,’ replied Ade. ‘Now, ‘op over and grab ‘im.’ Still muttering, Dagger scaled the wall. Lightly, he dropped into the garden and picked up the dog, and the remaining meat. Together they made a rather strange bulge under his jacket.

Ade hauled himself to his feet as Dagger let himself out of the garden.

‘Now, we’ll let your owner stew for a while, won’t we?’ said Ade, running his finger lightly over the unconscious dog’s head. ‘We’ll see how many walks ‘e takes you on with two broken ankles, yeah?’

The dog snored in reply as his captors hobbled off into the night.

 

Wednesday Write-In #63

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

hideout  ::  transitory  ::  share  ::  full bodied  ::  problem

Image: blog.kyletunneyphotography.com

Image: blog.kyletunneyphotography.com

Little Girl Lost

‘It’s almost full bodied, isn’t it?’ Becky settled her head on her folded arms as she stared out the reinforced window, her vision getting lost in the howling dark. Nelson cleared his throat, wondering where she was going with this one.

‘How d’you mean, full bodied? Like, curvaceous?’ He licked his lips.

‘Nah, you twit,’ she said, turning to smile at him. In the candlelight, her hair was translucent. ‘I mean, multi-layered. Sort of lovely, if you look at it the right way. Full of hidden depths.’

‘If you say so.’ Nelson settled back into his chair. ‘Just looks like a pile of snow, to me.’

‘Yes. Well. You never did have an eye for beauty.’ She waited for his snort of laughter, but the crackle of the radio interrupted them.

Hideout? We’ve got a problem.’ Becky moved smoothly, on silent feet, to Nelson’s side.

‘Control? Hideout here. What’s up?’ Nelson’s voice was steady, but his fingers weren’t.

It’s the signal. It’s fluctuating,’ came the reply. Becky wasn’t sure who was speaking – the voice was unfamiliar. Control changed radio operators pretty frequently; nobody lasted long, up here.

‘Fluctuating? How can it fluctuate?’ replied Nelson. The set started to squeal, like an animal in pain.

…can’t explain it. It’s strong as ever one second, and gone the next. Have you…’ The rest of the message was lost in a scramble of static. Nelson fiddled with the controls as Becky bit back her urge to tell him to hurry. She clenched her fists and turned back toward the window again, the darkness drawing her eyes like water to a plughole.

Then, something hit the glass. Something small. Something pale.

‘Nelson!’ she said, in a half-hiss. ‘There’s something – ‘

Hideout? Hideout, are you there?’ The radio sputtered. ‘Be advised we’re getting readings… levels of radiation off the…

‘Hello? Control?’ Nelson thumped the set. ‘Dammit! I can’t find the frequency. It’s like something’s bending the waves.’ Becky was only half-listening.

‘Nelson, there’s something out there,’ she said, her voice low. ‘Something alive.’ Nelson sucked his teeth in irritation and bent toward the radio again.

‘Your brain’s got frostbite, darlin’,’ he muttered. ‘Nothin’s able to live out there, Becks! You know that. Come and help me with this, willya?’

A small, pale shape slapped itself against the window pane, and then was gone again. It reminded Becky of a piece of paper caught in the jaws of the wind, a transitory message left unread. A downy feather, floating on a breath of breeze. A flash of sunlight through green leaves. A tiny face with dark eyes, lost.

She’d slipped into her jacket before Nelson even noticed she’d moved from his side.

‘Oi!’ he yelled, as a gust of frozen wind ripped through the hideout, upending equipment and dousing candles. Before he could move, Becky was out the door; by the time he’d suited up and made it to the threshold, she’d been swallowed by the emptiness.

Becky!’ he called, his breath fogging up his visor. ‘For God’s sake! Where are you?’ He took a couple of steps away from the hideout, trying to follow Becky’s tracks. He could only see a few feet, and he was terrified to move too far from the door. You could turn around in weather like this and get so lost you’d never be found, and Nelson knew it.

Already, he was getting tired. It had only been seconds, and his bones were starting to ache. He took two more steps, and then he fell to his knees.

Then, somewhere up ahead, something moved. Nelson’s heart skipped as he struggled to focus on it.

‘Becks?’ he shouted, realising as he did so that he was out of breath. ‘Becky!

A child – a child? – appeared out of the whirling snow. Tiny, white, dark eyes, dressed in rags. Nelson didn’t know her, but that was the least weird thing about her being there. He struggled to understand as his blood turned to slush in his veins. Nelson blinked, and the child was beside him, her cruel teeth bared and her tiny ice-dagger fingers around his neck.

‘Next time you’ll share your warmness and your good stuff, won’t you?’ whispered the child as it stepped over Nelson, its bare feet blue. ‘Next time I won’t have to take what I need, will I?’

The only answer the child received as it closed and sealed the hideout door against the night was the hiss of the radio, still searching for a signal that would never come.

NaNoooOOOoooWriMo…

I may have done something foolish yesterday.

No. Scratch the ‘may have done.’ I did do something foolish. It could, however, turn out to be the best thing I’ve done in quite a while.

So, what did I do? Well, I signed myself up for NaNoWriMo, didn’t I.

Image: thesnapper.com

Image: thesnapper.com

‘NaNoWhat?‘ I’m sure some of you are saying – well, fear no more. I shall explain.

(At this point I cannot resist a picture of Inigo Montoya. Please stand by:

Image: quickmeme.com

Image: quickmeme.com

Okay. Normal service can resume.)

NaNoWriMo stands for ‘National Novel Writing Month.’ Every November, people all over the world pledge to write 50,000 words during the calendar month, and at the end of that time they submit their work (for counting purposes only) to the NaNoWriMo website. If they have reached the grand total of 50,000 words, or more, they are declared ‘winners’; if not, well, there’s always next year.

The idea behind it is to encourage people to write enough words to form a first draft – you’re only supposed to write for the month, not edit or any of that fancy stuff – so, in theory, there should be just enough time to get it done. The website offers encouragement, tips and tricks, all the help you could want and lots of support from your fellow NaNoWriMo-ers, and I think it’s a great idea. I’ve been wondering about taking part for a while now, and so yesterday I did what I normally do when I’m making a big decision, i.e. I agonised about it forever and then just threw caution to the wind and signed myself up before I could talk myself out of it.

I spent some time yesterday, once the deed was done, putting a little bit of flesh on the bones of an idea I’ve had stewing for a while. It’s an idea I haven’t thought about too deeply, so the story was a total sketch – all I had was a title, and a vague notion of the central characters. (NaNo is supposed to be about writing a story from scratch, not about putting the finishing touches to a project you’ve had on the go for a while, but I don’t think anyone really minds as long as you’re writing.) As you might expect for me, it’s going to be a children’s book, and it’s going to involve family ties and friendship, and noble self-sacrifice for others, and deep, life-changing love (but not the yucky kind. This will most definitely not be a ‘kissing book.’)

I promise, I promise it won't be a kissing book. Okay? Image: smallreview.blogspot.com

I promise, I promise it won’t be a kissing book. Okay?
Image: smallreview.blogspot.com

One character who I am quite clear on is the Antagonist – and he deserves that capital A, for he is a nasty creature – and I’m letting him settle in my head. The whole book will take shape around him. An ancient evil force, whose prison is made weak and who is finally released in error by a child, he will wreak all kinds of dreadful havoc. In preparation for getting started, I’m thinking deeply about a few things, including: ‘When I was eleven, what were the things I was most scared of?’ and ‘When I was eleven, who were the people I loved the deepest?’

Of course, I haven’t written a word. I can’t even write the title into my Word document before November 1st, because I would consider that cheating. However, I think a bit of mental preparation can’t hurt.

I’m also going to write this book in the third person. I’ve made that very clear to my brain just in case it starts to write in first-person, which seems to be its default setting. I haven’t tackled a full-length project like this in the third person for a long, long time, and I’m looking forward to that. Third-person gives the writer a bit more freedom than first-person, but it also means the reader isn’t as involved in the action. As a reader, I don’t really have a preference for one over the other, but as a writer I want to make sure I can handle both types of narrative voice with equal ease. So, this is my chance.

Of course, my NaNoWriMo project may well turn out to be nothing. The story may work, or it may not. I might reach my 50,000 word target, or I might burn out at the 20,000 word mark. I’m hopeful something great will come out of it, something I can work on and perfect well into the new year, but even if it fizzles out I know that nothing related to writing is a waste of time.

I still feel like I’m being a reckless so-and-so, though. Will you wish me luck? I’d really appreciate it.

And hey! If you want to take part yourself, here’s the link you need: NaNoWriMo. Have you always wanted to write a novel? Well, here’s your chance!

Happy Tuesday, folks. While I’m here, thanks for all the feedback I got – not all of it via WordPress – on yesterday’s blog post. It seems to have struck a chord with some of you, and I’m glad.

The Smaller they Are…

…the harder they can be to write. Don’t you think?

But seriously - how cool is this? Image: themarysue.com

But seriously – how cool is this?
Image: themarysue.com

I’m not talking about the physical act of using tiny writing or minuscule* print, of course. But you knew that. I’m talking about short stories, and – firstly – how hard they are to write, just in general, but also how hard it can be to switch your brain between different types of work.

A while back I wrote a piece about my brain ‘switching gear’ and beginning to think in terms of short stories, having been programmed up to that point to think only in terms of book-length projects. I thought, in my naïvety, that this was a huge breakthrough. I was under the impression that my brain would now find it easy to hop between the two, and I could happily change gear whenever it liked.

Nothing’s ever as easy as that, though. You’d think I’d have worked that out by now, wouldn’t you?

Anyway. I’ve been writing short stories for the last few days (I wrote three yesterday, so editing will be needed today), and it’s been a very strange experience. The first story had to be 500 words long, and for whatever reason I managed that reasonably well. Writing it was a bit like watching a gas in an enclosed vessel – it expanded to fit the the space available to it, settling into the nooks and crannies without a problem. The idea for the story (as with a lot of the flash pieces that I write) was centred around a particularly emotional, dramatic event in a person’s life, and I felt like the 500 word limit was tight enough to focus the story on what was important, and long enough to hint at the character’s history and future. So, that was fine.

Then, I moved on to another story, also flash (just about) at 1,000 words. The story, in this case, had to be prompted by an image, and as the idea began to grow in my mind, I sat down to start writing it. And, completely without warning, I started to feel dwarfed by the immensity of the 1,000 word limit. It was like I was standing in the centre of a huge, frozen field, so large that I couldn’t see the ditches on any side – the white, hard land just rolled away out of my eyeshot in all directions. I felt marooned, and a bit scared. And I’m a person for whom finding words has never been a problem. Normally, I run to the verbose. I’ve written novels! I’m used to the long form.

But 1,000 words scared the living daylights out of me, yesterday.

I couldn’t understand this. I’d never felt anything like it before. I mean, think about it. Being afraid of a word count? Completely unsure of how you were going to structure a story in order to fill the word count adequately? It sounds ridiculous, because it is. But there you are. That’s how I reacted yesterday to the task of writing a piece of long flash fiction. I did write the story in the end, and I’m going to revisit it today to see how I can improve it; then, I think I’m going to have to write another, just to get my brain to limber up. Perhaps it’s not so much the differing word counts that bamboozle me, but the rapid swapping from one to the other. I guess, just as your muscles start to seize up as you get older, so does your brain.

Do you think it’s possible that some writers are naturally better at short stories than novels? Or, even, that some people who write short stories are better at certain types of short story than others? Logically, there’s not a lot of difference between short stories and longer pieces. You need character, plot, motivation, drama, crisis and resolution in a written piece, no matter how long it is. So, it shouldn’t really matter. But I think it does.

The important lesson I learned yesterday, anyway, was this: don’t assume that because you’ve done something once that you can do it again, effortlessly, whenever the mood takes you. Writing, like everything else, needs practice. You need to switch it up – change genres, change styles, change narrative voice, change authorial perspective – to avoid over-developing a particular writing muscle. I tend to get stuck in first-person narration, so it takes a huge effort for me to use third-person. I tend to use present tense, so I need to work on that. And, I’ve learned, I tend to get comfortable in a particular length of short story; getting out of that comfort zone can leave me very disoriented. So, to avoid that, there’s only one thing to do.

Write more.

 

Image: oxbridgeessays.com

Image: oxbridgeessays.com

Happy Thursday! I hope, wherever you are, that life is treating you well.

 

 

*Not in the palaeographical sense, either! I just mean ‘really, really small.’ There was a style of handwriting known as minuscule in the Middle Ages – click here to read about it. I’m too much of a nerd to write this post without mentioning it, and making the distinction. And, yes, in case you’re wondering, sometimes it *does* hurt to be this pedantic.