Saturday, 28 January 2012

#DivineHell - The Collection

For ease of reference, I'm gathering my different flurries of flash fiction into ant-size anthologies (sorry, the alliteration was too tempting).  Yesterday I collected my #NightGale entries.  Today is the turn of #DivineHell.

The December 2011 #DivineHell challenge was the brain child of the redoubtable Timony Souler and the rules were as follows:

5 stories of 150 words, each inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy.  Timony specified specific Circles of Hell as prompts and lo! The following stories were born (click on titles to read in full):

Read Limbo: A grieving mother mourns the loss of her unborn child.
"...wet against my hot palms, as though the earth is weeping..."

Read Heresy: A young child sees his mother tried by the inquisitors for witchcraft.
"...faded tapestries hung on the walls.  Funny faces, saints had. Two black holes and a line for a mouth."

Read Fraud:  Medea looks down on the tortures Jason has to endure with gleeful satisfaction.  
"...'Jason,' she whispered into his ear. 'Marching like the ant he is.  Back and forth, whipped by demons.'..."

Read Violence: The Seventh Circle of Hell as described by one of its inhabitants. 
"...Dog-chewed, sun-bleached.  Thorns like stiletto-blades. Untouchable..." 

Read Treachery:  Who dares to torment the Devil himself?
"...A tear rolled down his blood-red cheek.  It reminded Barry of ice-cream drippled with raspberry sauce."

To find links to other people who joined in this challenge pop on over to the Roll of Honour page.

Friday, 27 January 2012

#NightGale - The Collection

A week or so ago, and far behind everyone else, I belatedly joined Stevie McCoy's #NightGale flash fiction blog challenge.  Here are the rules:

"So for this Blog Challenge I issue you to create four stories 200 word minimum that includes a sort of journey or realization about immortality or the lack there of in striving for it." - Stevie McCoy
There were four prompts, one each week.  As I was catching up, I wrote mine out of order.  Here they are in order:


January 5th – PROMPT  Through Hemlock

  Keats: “That I might drink, and leave the world unseen, And with thee fade away into the forest dim:”(Ode To A Nightingale)

"...Through the tattered thatch she could see splinters of moonlight, brighter than the day.  A full moon.  A moon for magic...."

January 12th – PROMPT Immortality comes to you, you do not go to Immortality
Shelley- “Why dost thou pass away and leave our state, This dim vast vale of tears, vacant and desolate?… No voice from sublimer world hath ever, To sage or poet these responses given – Therefore the name of God and ghosts and Heaven, Remain the records of their vain endeavour,”(Hymn To Intellectual Beauty)

"...You won the lottery.  Immortality.  Sign on the dotted line..."

January 19th – PROMPT To Die and become one with Nature

Keats – “Darkling I listen, for many a time, I have been half in love with easeful Death, Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme, To take into the air my quiet breath; Now more than ever seems it rich to die;”(Ode To A Nightingale)

Read about Daphne, transformed into a tree whilst fleeing from the God Apollo. 

"...the deep soil cools me, draws down my roots into the blessed earth.  I feel moisture here, slick against my roots.."

January 26th – PROMPT : Writing is Immortality

Keats – “But on the viewless wings of Poesy, Though the dull brain perplexes and retarts: Already with thee! Tender is the night, And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,”(Ode To a Nightingale)

 Read about Xander, a lame boy who witnesses the prophecy of his hero, Achilles' death. 

"...'My blessings on you,' she said.  'For you will die tomorrow.'   And she was gone, in a soundless flurry of feathers, a white ghost against the pewter sky..."


So YEAY! That's one of my 2012 Writing Goals completed.  To find out what the rest are pop on over to Mentors & Magicians of 2011.  What's up next?  @Timonysouler's Dear Valentine Blog Challenge, that's what.  4 stories, each 300 words and a clutch of mysterious prompts.  Come join in the fun!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

#NightGale 4: Writing is Immortality

Today is the last day of Stevie McCoy's #NightGale challenge, inspired by the Romantic Poets.

This week's prompt is "Writing is Immortality" and is inspired by Keats' Ode to A Nightingale
“But on the viewless wings of Poesy, Though the dull brain perplexes and retarts: Already with thee! Tender is the night, And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,”

As with some of my other flash fiction stories this has a Greek Mythology theme: the choice Achilles had to face between a long and happy life, or a short life and eternal immorality. To read other writers responses to these prompts, just pop over to the links page.


The boy sat in the shadows watching the hero pace.  They were far from the close packed tents now, from the stink of smoke and charred fish and the deathly pall which hung over the camp.   Despite the threat of Troy’s dark walls rising above them, despite the clear white moon which gleamed on Achilles’ gilded helm and rendered him conspicuous to the archers in the citadel, the boy’s hero was fearless.  He always was.  In the red haze of battle, faced with a raging bull or the wrath of Agamemnon, leader of all the Greeks, Achilles’ bright courage shone like a beacon.  He was a God made mortal, golden and glorious.  He was everything that twist-footed Xander was not.  There would never be another like him.

And that was why, although the night pressed close and dark and the silence swelled around them, suffocating and still, Xander was safe.  Achilles would protect him.  He was invincible.

At the river bank Achilles stopped and knelt down, trailing his broad hand in the cool water.  The ripples broke its polished surface, scattering the reflected moon into crystal fragments.   “Child,” a voice whispered on the warm, night breeze. “My child.”

Xander froze, his arms wrapping tightly around him.  He could see no one.  It was magic at work, or the gods.

Fearless Achilles, bravest of the Achaeans, lifted off his crested helm and laid it by the water.  “Mother,” he said.  

The boy’s breath stilled in his throat as realised upon whom he spied.   Thetis, the silver-footed had summoned her golden son.

A pale bird glided across the surface of the water and before the boy’s round eyes she was transformed into a woman, white-armed and silken haired.  The scent of ambrosia perfumed the air, intoxicating. Her eyes were dark, shadowed midnight.   Laying her hand on her son’s shining hair, she bowed her head.   “You have chosen then?”

“I made my choice when I came to Troy,” he said.

“You can always turn back, beloved.   Return to the land of your father, live a long life.”   Even to the boy’s ears, her voice had the rough cadence of mourning.  Whatever choice her son had made was to bring her sorrow.   Fear gripped him, tightening around his fast beating heart.

Achilles raised his head, wrapped his arms around her slender waist.  “Mother, I cannot.” 

“You choose the immortality of a glorious death,” she said.  “You could find it another way.”

He shook his head, releasing her.  “You know I cannot.”

“Then this is goodbye, beloved.”   Leaning down, she touched his face as lightly as the dawn, but Xander could see tears shining in her liquid eyes.

Achilles nodded, slowly. 

“My blessings on you,” she said.  “For you will die tomorrow.”   And she was gone, in a soundless flurry of feathers, a white ghost against the pewter sky.

Xander stood, nausea rolling in his childish stomach.  He clutched his hair, scraped his nails down his cheeks.  Achilles could not die. 

The hero looked straight at him, into the fathomless shadows of the trees.  “Boy,” he said.  “You’re Xenophos’ child aren’t you, the lame one?  What business have you here?”

Standing, Xander straightened.  He pulled back his shoulders, lifted his chin.  He would show no fear.  “I came to offer you my service, Lord Achilles.” With hesitant steps, he limped over and knelt at Achilles sandaled feet.

Achilles sighed.  “You heard the prophecy?”

Xander’s head lifted.  “I did my lord.”

“Then do this one thing, child.  Remember me.  You are too young to soldier, and if the Gods will it, you will survive to see the sacking of Troy.  Remember me.” 

He flushed, shame and pride burning him in equal measure. “I am lame, Lord Achilles, but I can scribe."  He gripped his hero's hands.  "I will remember and my children will remember, and my children’s children.  It will be the greatest tale ever told, my lord.  Your glory will echo down the centuries.”

Achilles did not laugh.  When he looked into the boy's thin face, he saw the ferocity of conviction and all doubt lifted from his heart.  He raised his face to the canopy of stars and breathed deeply of the sweet night air.   “Immortality indeed.”

Monday, 23 January 2012

Entering Belsen, a personal account

On clearing out my study, I found a photocopy of a letter written to my grandparents which had been circulated to all my siblings.  In crabbed writing Vincent Fay, my Great Uncle and a British Army chaplain of 9th British General Hospital and one of the Relief/Liberation staff sent to Bergen-Belsen relives the horrors of the camp.  Stretching across the years, this letter brings to life the reality of Belsen with heart-breaking immediacy.  A picture of Vincent christening a child born in Belsen can be found in the Imperial War Museum archives.

Vincent Fay, baptising a child born in Belsen

Rev V M Fay CF
No 9 (Br) General Hospital 

09 May 1945

Dear Hugh and Anne

It seems ages since I wrote to you but by now you will know the reason.  Believe me the horrors which one reads about in Belsen camp are not exaggerated.  There were some 60,000 internees mostly in camp 1, the “horror” camp.  Of these 40,000 were sick in camp 1 and altogether 4,000 have died.  At present there are 5,000 sick in camp 1, and 8,000 have been removed to the hospital area, the former German barracks adjoining the horror camp.  Conditions in the camp 1 were indescribable.  If an internee were ill he died of starvation.  All are suffering from malnutrition except a few who worked in the cookhouse and looked after themselves.  If a patient was too weak or listless or merely indifferent to get out of bed to answer the needs of nature well, it was just too bad.  Nobody cleaned him up.  The huts contained as many beds as possible, tiers of three, packed in series of six, sometimes twelve, sometimes twenty four.  However a wonderful improvement has taken place. Typhus is still very prevalent and almost all other diseases, especially TB and dysentery.   The dead were thrown out into the road and afterwards thrown into a pit and to some extent still are.  People died as they walked or stumbled about... of enough of these horrors.  Father Morrison of the CCS who came here very early on told me of this incident which happened a couple of days ago.  He was about to give Holy Communion to a woman who was wearing a short undervest and nothing else.  Suddenly as he was about about to give her Holy Communion she seized a handkerchief and put it on her head!

The internees are being gradually transferred to hospital quarters and the huts the occupied are being burnt down.

Well we tried to celebrate VE day but it was hard to do much with 5,000 patients to look after. All sorts of people are here.  Internees of every nationality especially Poles, Russians, Beho-Slovacs and many Jews.  Hungarians guard the camp.  Russians help, Germans also (a German hospital staff arrived today).  The best part of the work in my opinion is being done by 100 medical students who are caring for the internees in the huts.   5 minutes is enough for me but they are in all day.  I believe some of them are cracking up now.

My work does not consist in going into the huts; Father Morrison and some foreign priests do that, but I do the hospital especially giving a general absolution and Holy Communion.  Well things are improving enormously, thank God.

We are living on the fat of the land as regards drinks, champagne twice this weeks, wine tonight etc.  But I would give a lot for a decent substantial meal; one of ma’s Sunday dinners; food is rather short here.  We had a sort of bonfire last night to celebrate the peace, a little affair, and but the beginning of the fun.  There were several sore heads this morning and blank memories as to what had happened.

Well, cheerio and thank God for peace,

Yours ever


Sunday, 22 January 2012

#NightGale 2: Immortality comes to you....

Continuing the theme of my disordered #NightGale entries (pop over to Stevie McCoy's blog to find out more about the contest), this is the story which should have been the week 2 (January 12th) entry.  The prompt was:
"Immortality comes to you, you do not go to immortality."
It is inspired by Shelley's Hymn to Intellectual Beauty

“Why dost thou pass away and leave our state, This dim vast vale of tears, vacant and desolate?… No voice from sublimer world hath ever, To sage or poet these responses given – Therefore the name of God and ghosts and Heaven, Remain the records of their vain endeavour,"


“Congratulations! You’re a winner!” 

It was a dream, of course, but vivid enough to wake him.  Sod that.  Chesney pulled the bedcovers tightly around his head and snuggled down to sleep.   For a moment he thought he heard a mutter but he disregarded it.  Probably the cleaner.  Or his mum.   Either way, between his hangover and the slow burn of an incipient sore throat, he wasn’t getting up.   

“Hey!” he shrieked as the marshmallow warmth of his super thick winter duvet was ripped from the bed.  

“Congratulations! You’re a winner!”  Not his mum.  Or the cleaner.  Neither of them could manage that level of crystal clear perkiness, especially not at 7am on a Saturday morning.   Who the... ?  Blinking blearily he sat up.

If it wasn’t a dream, it should be. 

She was beautiful.  No, more than that.  Stupendous.  Sheer unadulterated hotness.  His thick-headed vocabulary ran out and he just feasted on images.  Her mouth was pure sin.  Full, parted lips, gleaming with promise.   Her body was a fantasy, the colour of gold tinged whipped cream and shaped by a master craftsman into curves and valleys.  His palms itched to touch, just looking at her.   There was a lot to look at.  Whatever she was wearing was sheer.  Like, really sheer.  With the morning light behind her, it was damn near transparent.  Just enough to tantalise.  His mouth was dry and not just with hangover, he tried to move, to lick his lips.

Is that a gun in your pocket...?
She stared down at him and for the first time he noticed her eyes.  Baltic.  There was no other word for it.  He was a worm, a speck on the golden sandal of the most divine woman he’d ever seen.  He couldn’t blame her, really.  His t-shirt was stained, his breath smelled of cider and vomit and an outbreak of acne scarred his thin face.   Even if he was on the football team, he’d have no chance with her.  And he wasn’t.  He really wasn’t. 

“At last, it wakes!” Beauty said.  Her pout just avoided a sneer. 

“You’re a goddess,” he blurted.  It was out before he could stop it.  Blurting.  He hoped he’d grow out of that with a desperation born of a need to survive in the hormone-fogged jungle of adolescence.  It was like some compliment oriented Tourette’s syndrome, one sniff of a pretty girl and blurt. Out it came.   The netball team called him slimeball.  They had reason.

Oddly, Beauty looked pleased.  “At least you got one thing right, shit-for-brains,” she said.  “Maybe that’s why you were chosen after all.”


“Immortality,” she shrugged, glancing over her shoulder.  “Zeus, I hate this job.  I don’t see why Hermes couldn’t do it, he’s supposed to the messenger.  What am I?  The goddess of spotty adolescents?” 

She did not appear to expect an answer

“Immortality,” he managed, at last.  She glanced back at him, one golden eyebrow twitching. 

“Yeah, that.  You’ve got it, buckaroo.  Enjoy.”  Turning away again, she looked towards the window. “Am I done now?”  She seemed to be listening to something beyond the room.  In the distance, thunder sounded in an ominous growl.  “Alright, alright, pops!  Fine.  I’ll tell him.”  She turned back to Chesney and yawned.

“Here’s the deal.  You worship us, you get immortality.  You spread the word, you tell your friends.  All those brainless girls you spank your monkey over every night,” she ignored his fierce blush, “you tell them they could get eternal beauty.  All those pathetic, football obsessed animals, tell them they could get godly strength.  You spread the word.  Forever.  Deal?” 

Chesney blinked again, pulled his knees up to his chest and shivered.  “Um.... but who are you?”

“Oh by the bleedin’ Gordon’s right breast.... what do I look like?”

“A goddess?”  

Leaning over the bed, she rapped her knuckles on his head.  “Ring a ding ding, someone give the guy a banana!  You got it.  I’m a goddess.  Aphrodite’s the name, love and beauty is the game.  Ancient Greek pantheon.  Every other deity is evangelising like crazy, so Hermes came up with this cretinous PR policy.  This is it.  You won the lottery.  Immortality.  Sign on the dotted line – blood will do.”  Clicking her fingers, she plucked a shimmering golden parchment from the air and held it out to him.
Chesney fell back on the pillows and clutched his hands to his head.  “Jesus, I want to die.” 

Aphrodite's expression froze.  "Wrong deity, pal.  And wrong decision." 

Saturday, 21 January 2012

#NightGale 1: Through Hemlock

As I'm playing catch up, I'm posting my #NightGale entries in random order.  To find out more about the contest, see my earlier post. And to see what other people are writing, pop on over to #NightGale originator Stevie McCoy's blog and see where it leads you!
Week 1 was supposed to be posted on 5 January.   Inspired by the Romantic Poets, the prompt is: 
"Through Hemlock" 
This is inspired by a quote from Keats' Ode to a Nightingale:
“That I might drink, and leave the world unseen, And with thee fade away into the forest dim:”


It would be worth it.

Morrigan pressed the thought to her stomach, her palm flat against her cold skin.  The attic was draughty.  Through the tattered thatch she could see splinters of moonlight, brighter than the day.  A full moon.  A moon for magic. 

She had loved it up here when she was a child.  The thatch had been thick then, the attic a cosy burrow in which she could curl up, sheltered by thick stone walls and the embroidered eiderdown which had been handed down from her grandmother.  She fancied it had smelled of her.  Dusty, herbal, touched with exotic smoke.   It was as though Nan had wrapped her arms around her, sewn lullabies into the goose-down filling.

But that was a long time ago.  Before death had come, black and hungry.  It had been Sukie who had gone first.   They found the lumps beneath her little sticklike arms and within twenty four hours she was dead.   Within three days it was half the village.  And then they’d come.  Oh, then they’d come.  As soon as the whispers of plague had begun to swell, the priest had run.  No sacred rites for the dying.  No blessed graves.   She could see the fear in people’s eyes, to die unshriven.  They could smell the hellfire, them with their narrow little minds. 

Better not to die.  Better to risk a witch’s cure.

Months of isolation, of pointed fingers and sly glances were forgotten.  They needed Nan now, wanted her remedies.  God had shrugged and turned away and they’d take anything.  Even the Devil’s magic.  Even that.

But it was too late.  Morrigan knew that as soon as she’d gotten up.  She saw the beads of sweat on Nan’s brow and she knew.   All that wisdom, gone.  She saw the anger in their eyes, the desperation.  They'd been ready to risk damnation to save their babies and Nan couldn't help them.

So Morrigan tried.

Nan had sowed the seeds in her head, told her tales of enchantment.  She knew how to brew a love potion, how to make a rub that would cure a fevered child.   It was in her blood, that’s what Nan had always said.   Their family had always been wise women, back through the generations.   Ancestral wisdom was what it was.

It wasn't enough to turn back the plague.  She couldn't save the sick babies any more than she could save Sukie.  She saw the anger in their eyes and knew she needed help. She needed the knowledge of the women who'd gone before.  The wise women.  Her Nan.

And there was a way to reach those women.  She knew there was.  Remembered the rhyme, moonlight, hemlock, stems of chives, drink it down to reach past life.  “If they ever come for you, Morrie, you drink it.  You’ll be with us then, have all our powers wrapped around you.   You'll be with us and we'll be with you and they won't be able to hurt you.  It's better that way.” 

They were coming.  The ragged remnants of what had been Little Poddington.  Gaunt, sad-eyed and angry.  They needed a reason for the destruction, a reason why no children play in the lane and their loved ones lay, piled six deep in unmarked graves. 

God had chosen them to be punished and why? Because they had suffered a witch to live and it had brought the curse of plague down on them.  The village would be cleansed.  The plague would go.  

She heard the door crack downstairs, loud voices echo in the yard.  Not long now.  With trembling hands, she raised the rough earthenware cup to the moon and spoke the words.  

And then she drank.  

Friday, 20 January 2012

#NightGale 3: To Die and become one with Nature

The Metamorphosis of Daphne, inspired by the prompt "To Die and become one with Nature"

Is this death?  

The hot wind kisses my branches, shuddering through my arrow-edged leaves.  It smooth my ragged bark, blows seed pods and dusts into the darkness of my crevices.  A wild lover, one that rages on the mountain tops and screams through the worn pillars of Apollo’s temple.  Searing, angry.

But the deep soil cools me, draws down my roots into the blessed earth.  I feel moisture here, slick against my roots.  I coil in its depths, stretching, seeking.  

I am old now.  I barely remember my narrow feet pounding the grass, the sharp twist as I glance back over my shoulder, the blood surging, terror cold, in my veins.   He was beautiful as the sun, gleaming with solar glory.  

His golden hair streamed behind him, comet like.  

He was a thief, reaching to take what I would not give.  Myself. 

So I chose this.  Or it was chosen for me.  It hardly matters now.   Gaia saved me from Apollo, caught me in her fecund maw.  Slender arms became twisted branches, my trunk rooted in her maternal soil.  

I do not chase the wind, or leap the fast flowing river.  The wind is my lover.

Is this death? 

To Die and Become One with Nature...
Keats – “Darkling I listen, for many a time, I have been half in love with easeful Death, Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme, To take into the air my quiet breath; Now more than ever seems it rich to die;”(Ode To A Nightingale)"
One 2012's writing goals was to participate in the lovely Stevie McCoy's #NightGale blog challenge, inspired by the Romantic poets.   And, er... I haven't.  This week marks week three of the challenge, so better late than ever I am jumping on board.  In Stevie's words, the challenge is:
" create four stories 200 word minimum that includes a sort of journey or realization about immortality or the lack there of in striving for it."
 Each week there is a different prompt.  This week I chose to revisit a myth I explored in an earlier blog challenge: the myth of Apollo and Daphne.  In the previous version, I brought you his point of view. Now it's Daphne's turn.  

Thursday, 19 January 2012

#ThursThreads and the True Price of Gambling

Nothing says a million bucks like a great big shiny car
For some weeks now, Siobhan Muir has been tantalising me with invitations to join her #ThursThreads challenge.  Thursday Threads operates a game of consequences...  you get given a line from the previous week's winning entry as your prompt for a 100-250 word story.  It's a fun formula!

The way I approach flash fiction is to come up with a random response to the prompt - pretty much the first thing that pops into my head.  Then I write.  Free write. Tampering with the words a little as I go along.

The prompt this week was:
"You look great, and yeah, you’re worth a million bucks."
Million bucks?  A million bucks says a red ferrari to me.  And a man called Gerry. And so a tale was born...

One in a Million 

He lay spread-eagled on the bonnet of the Ferrari, his cheek pressed hard against the windscreen.  It felt martini cold, smooth as silk beneath his skin.  Gorgeous, delicious.   With a voluptuous sigh, Gerry slid to his feet and stood up to stare as his new purchase.  In the harsh strip lighting she glowed like fire, a provocation in scarlet.  With careful veneration he placed both palms on the sleek bonnet and inhaled slowly, breathing the rich scent of petrol and money.  

"You look great, and yeah, you’re worth a million bucks.  Damn it, you’re worth every penny."

He didn’t hear the door creak until the voice caught him like a whiplash. “I didn’t believe it.”  It was a thread in the still air, barely audible.  “They told me, but I didn’t believe it.  Oh God.  It’s true.  How could you?”

Taking a deep breath he turned.  “Mel, I can explain.”

She looked so thin, outlined against the light.  Painfully so.  Bryony was clutched against her shoulder, sleeping.  With a stab of guilt, he saw that her playsuit was grey from washing, worn at the knees.

“You said that you’d never gamble again.  Never.”

He stepped towards her, holding out his arms.  “Mel, it was a sure thing.  A million bucks!  We can start over.” 

She looked past him at the gleaming red beauty.  Her mouth wrinkled, like she was trying to hold in the words.   “You can start over, Gerry.  But not with us.”

This week's judge is the fabulous LupusAnthropos half man, half wolf and a wonderful writer. 

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

On Getting back in the Saddle

Up until tonight, I hadn't worked on my work in progress since 4 January.  In my usual fashion regarding groups and regular commitments, no sooner had I signed up to the marvellous #WIP500 over on @caramichaels blog, Defiantly Literate, than I disappeared. 

Not literally.  That might have been cool.  But I was back at work and in keeping with my New Year's Resolution to sleep and thus avoid being completely mental, I've been trying to listen to my body and have a decent balance.

Unfortunately, in last year's frantic wave of productivity I failed to notice that the combination of full time work and parenting is bloody knackering.  If I'm not distracted by writing, by 11pm my eyelids are drooping.  By midnight I'm unconscious.

And I've been too tired to write.

It was a weird thing.  Gradually, I started to feel aggrieved.  As though something important had been stolen.  Then I started to lose my nerve.  Maybe my writing mojo had just run out?  Maybe I just didn't have it in me any more?

But the teasing temptation of Twitter stopped me from disengaging completely.  Seeing other folks sharing tips, and successes, prompts to join various flash fiction challenges and a timely hello from the lovely Cara Michaels prodded me into action.  I want to do #WIP500.  I want to get back in the saddle.

Only I couldn't remember my book!

Looks like an etch-a-sketch, saves lives
So I emailed it to my kindle and re-read it.    Now, I don't know if published authors read their own books, or whether once completed, they can never bear to look at them again.  But this was good.  Kind of like hugging an old friend.

And here's the weird thing.

When you read your book on a kindle, it stops being your book - far more than if you read it printed out on printer paper.  It looks like a book.  Like a REAL book.  And somehow, disbelief becomes suspended.  I found I was reading another author's book, and moreover one that I liked.  I wanted to know what happened next.  I liked the characters.  I wanted to know the ending.

I wanted to know the ending.

The ending is not yet written.  The book is only two thirds complete.  And when I got to that bit - the incomplete bit, I was enraged.  DAMN IT!  I want to know how it ends.

And here's the cool bit - I get to decide how it ends! 

So that's my top tip.  If you're lagging or flagging, if you've had a break or lost your mojo, don't despair.  Get yourself a kindle (or equivalent) and enjoy the fruits of your own talent.  You never know, you might enjoy yourself. 

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Sleep... the finest elixir known to man


Or lack thereof.  Pertinent this week for me.  I'm back at work after Christmas and I'm SUFFERING.   My head is busy, busy, busy making plans, catching up and  being excitable.  I'm gripped by the book I'm reading.  And my baby?  My lovely baby is waking up at night.  Except she's not a baby any more, she's four and thus a wriggly, squiggly tangle of limbs who climbs into my bed and wraps her arms around my neck with the deadly efficiency of a boa constrictor.  She also talks in her sleep.  Shouts about her bicycle, about ice cream or spiders. 

I am not sleeping.  

The most rapid sign of this is going a bit manic.  I start working too fast.  I tear through stuff, I talk too quickly.  I'm not calm.  I turn into a mini-cyclone and then of course, I struggle to sleep.  Voila! A vicious circle emerges.

As this is not in keeping with my new year's resolution to BLOODY WELL CHILL OUT I'm nipping it in the bud.  I'm going to have a bath and get the f**k to bed.  Even though it's early.  Even though I could get a bit of writing done.  Even though...

Because I know, if I try and do any of that, it will be crap.  Yes indeed, you heard me.  And moreover (as the advert says...  here comes the science bit) it's proven crap.

There's a fascinating article on t'interweb (on Serendip, an online playground hosted by Bryn Mawr College) on the Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Brain and Behaviour, which tells us about the impact of sleep deprivation on the brain's frontal lobe:

"Its functions are associated with speech as well as novel and creative thinking. Sleep deprived test subjects have difficulties thinking of imaginative words or ideas. Instead, they tend to choose repetitious words or clichéd phrases."

Furthermore, an article on the WebMD website, citing Jim Horne from Loughborough University's Sleep Research Centre tells us that:

"... the part of the brain that overworks in the sleep-deprived people normally is one of the most active areas of the brain. It is involved in complex functions such as updating working memory, planning, attention, sense of time, dealing with novel situations, and verbal fluency."

Oh dear.  Repetition! Gasp.   Clichés!  Weep!  Diminished verbal fluency!  Wail!

What writer wants that?!

So what got me thinking about that then?  A GREAT article by erotic romance writer Emma Holly, that's what.  Check it out.  It's called Steaming Up Your Love Scenes and its excellent. 

One of the points Emma addresses is not being in the mood to write love scenes. "Are you getting enough sleep?" she asks.  "Exercise?  Are you eating right?"

The health regime for writing sex is apparently the same as for having it.  If you're exhausted, badly fed and de-energised a sauce-pot you will NOT be - whether its in your head, or in your bed.

What's more, not only will you not be sexed up, whatever you are trotting out will be hackneyed, dull and forgettable.  So forget about that image of writing in a garret by candle light, falling asleep with your ink-stained face pressed, bleary eyed, against your work of genius.

And get your arse to bed.

Night Night!

Saturday, 7 January 2012

You had me at hello... does your first line grab?

 I have written about first lines before (in To Bang or Whisper), mainly as hymn of praise to Homer’s Iliad and its translators, because – if you didn’t know – Homer’s Iliad has the BEST FIRST LINE EVER.

Ooer, nice mullet
However, I was recently reading a fairly elderly copy of a Signet paperback called Rakes and Rogues(notable for the fineness of the mullet which graces the front cover – worth of a youthful George Clooney).  Rakes and Rogues contains five stories by authors romance superstars Mary Balogh, Mary Jo Putney and perhaps a little less well known (to me at least), Melinda McRae, Anita Mills and Maura Seger.

Two things struck me:

  1. I’m more drawn to stories which start with the hero’s POV;
  2. An exciting first line (or first three lines) makes all the difference as to whether I read on or not.

Moreover, the exciting first line was not a false dawn.  The stories I enjoyed the most were the ones with cracking first lines.   Now, I’m guessing this is because authors that can kick start a story with verve and élan are those who are most in control of their craft.  

But still, it’s a lesson to writers. When you finish your novel, go back and inspect those crucial first lines one more time.   Because whilst many readers might dive off the deep end, many will just dip their toes in the frigid water of your first page.... don’t let them run away yawning.

Now, without further ado and just for fun, see if you can match the author to their first line.   Which line speaks to you?  Which would have you reading on?

  1. "George Farron Chevening Atwell, the sixth Viscount Belmont, stood upon the top step of his house in Chelsea, frowning at the green-painted door before him."
  2.   "He was going to be hanged on Tuesday."
  3. "Without a doubt it was the most stupid thing he had ever done."
  4.   "Archer, what a nice surprise," the older woman exclaimed. 
  5. “The line was long until the rain began to pour, and then most who were there dispersed, grumbling that they’d be back when there was less danger of a soaking.”

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

To resolve or not to resolve, that is the question

New Year's Resolutions - do you do them? 

I've got writing goals.  You can see them in my previous post.  But what about everything else?

It's easy for me to set myself writing goals.  I like writing.  It's easy for me to set career goals.  You can plan careers.

But what about everything else?   To be honest, it's the everything else I struggle with the most.  November/December 2011 found me with a bad ass chest infection which had me coughing like I was auditioning for a bit part as a workhouse consumptive.

Okay, I might have developed that anyway.  But it sure didn't help that I was working my arse off in the day job, trying to be a good mummy, writing half the night.  Burning the candle at both ends and in the middle. It's not difficult for me to be manic.  I'm all boom and bust, me (see Supersonic Workaholic).  One week I'm Madame Productivity, churning out fundraising proposals, novel chapters, goddamn victoria sponge cakes - you name it.  The next week I'm propping my eyelids open with match sticks.

There's a bit of me that likes it.  It is, after all, a mega buzz when you're superhuman for a day or two.  Call me Wonder Woman why don't you.  But it isn't serene.  When I'm like that I think too fast and I talk too fast.  And I push my body to the point where it latches onto the galloping consumption with a sigh of relief, desperate for a few hours of back to back CSI and a mug of hot chocolate.

So health, that's one thing.

Personal relationships, that's another.  When I'm working my arse off, I'm not thinking about myself and I'm not thinking about my loved ones (my baby excepted, she always gets a look in).  My beloved is neglected, my friends get manic me, talking ten to the dozen, wild eyed and frantic.  I'm not thoughtful.

Administration.  That's what has prompted this, really.  Sitting down to do ONE YEAR'S worth of book keeping.  Preparing my sodding accounts, two months late.

I'm a shocker for administration.  I lose bank cards like pounds of flesh from the Slimmer of the Year.  I forget pin numbers.  I don't monitor my bills.  I don't keep my books.  I put off and put off and put off.   And let's not even get started on housework.

So resolutions for 2012.  Non-writing resolutions.

To bloody well take a chill pill.  That's it, really.  Slow down.

Carpe Diem is all very well, but stuff needs done.  Heads need ironed out.  Friends and family need time, love and attention.  My bank cards need to be put back in their purse.  I need *sigh* to clean the damn house.  And I need to sit back, reflect, watch CSI and have bath.

So what if it takes longer for me to improve?  So what if I don't get all those writing goals nailed by March?

They'll keep.

It's about responsibility on all fronts.  It's about kindness.  It's about serenity.

So my one resolution for 2012:  chill.

Or find a cunning way to lure Mary Poppins into my household.  Mary, I need you.  It's windy outside, I'll leave the door open.

For a great advice on resolutions, check our Michelle Woodall's blog over at Life Planning.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Mentors & Magicians of 2011

Ah New Year's Day.  What better time for a Review of the Year

In 2010 I decided that within the next five years I wanted to write a novel.  Not publish a novel, but just to complete one.  I’d dabbled, stopped and started so many damn times.  I just wanted completion (the goal of any romance heroine, you understand).   2008-2010 had all been about photography, but thanks to the magical powers of Michelle Woodall, I discovered that was a red herring.  

I was going to write. And so I did.  And how did I do?


1 historical romance of 90,000 words, Merely Players, completed, redrafted a dozen times and in need of complete revision.  But completed all the same.

2 half written novelsDaughters of Leda (the intertwined stories of Clytemnestra and Helen) and Boundless as the Sea, the sequel to Merely Players.

Numerous flash fiction stories of 100 words and more (see Twitastic Tweeps below). 

5 or 6 outlines of other books. 

Dozens of blog posts.

2 RWA Contests entered (finalist in the Historical Category for the Catherine - I love those Canadians!).

1 Mills & Boon New Voices Contest (still recovering)

1 Successful NaNoWriMo (I'm a winner!)

I’m pleased.  More than pleased, I’m delighted.  But I didn’t do it on my own.  2011 has been all about learning.  Sitting myself at the feet of other people reaching for their own goals, masters of their fields, open-hearted people willing to share their thoughts, skills and talents for the benefit of the worldwide writing community.  So this is my shout out to them.


Twitter.   What did I do before I discovered Twitter?  It has been my very own magic portal to discovering vibrant, generous communities of writers and a gazillion useful writing tips.  Through Twitter I discovered the fun, useful exercise that is Flash Fiction.

Much of the Flash Fiction fun has been orchestrated by two fine ladies who go by the Twitter appellation of: @theGlitterLady and @TimonySouler.   If you want to be challenged, to find other people writing and sharing their work, follow them – they will lead you like spirit guides in the right direction to some super cool blog challenges.  A regular favourite of mine is #TuesdayTales but I massively enjoyed the #7Sins, #7Virtues and #DivineHell challenges.  

Thanks to the fun times from these various Flash Fiction challenges I’ve been privileged to meet some great writers, aspiring, aspired and just damn good.   Big wave to @LenaCorazon (her blog is inspirational) @Emilia_Quill (her worlds are both magical and funny) @BryceDaniels58 (his poetry makes me want to cry) @Rosie_Lane (great flash fiction) and @DavidALudwig (incredibly thoughtful writer). 


Know the feeling
The other Twitter group who supported, inspired and cheered me on were the veterans of the nail-biting and mildly traumatic Mills & Boon New Voices 2011 competition AKA #NewVoices2011. @JoannaShupe (has now got representation - go you Joanna!), @katherinelbone and @ValkyriesEdge (has been invited to query - go Blue!), not to mention the wonderful @AndreaWalpole (but she deserves a special mention all of her own), and off line the lovely and talented Helen Kolocevic who will hopefully be submitting her novel, Shameless, soon.  

New Voices - a mildly traumatic but fascinating voyage into public scrutiny.  Why do people do X Factor or Pop Idol?  Why? Why?  You can read all about it in the "On Trusting Your Instincts" post from earlier this year.  It has a picture of a chimp.  Go read it. 

November brought a vastly more positive experience in the rollercoaster, adrenalin fuelled writing frenzy which was #NaNoWriMo. 


I wasn't going to enter NaNoWriMo AKA National Novel Writing Month.  It had a target of writing 50,000 words of a novel in one month (November 2011).  I absolutely didn't have the time.  I was full time at work, stressed up to my eyeballs.  I DID NOT HAVE THE TIME. 

Sleep is for wimps
But it looked sooooooo much fun.  Cue a hideous chest infection and voila I was off work, on the couch, coughing my guts up and with laptop to hand.  And then there was that nice Lena Corazon, who was ever so encouraging.  And the forums were so interesting.  And Twitter was alight with people necking coffee and writing writing writing.  And they have these fun little barometers. 

Before I knew it, it was November 30 and I had written 50,752 words of Boundless as the Sea.  I was a WINNER baby.  Though I still had 40K to go to complete my novel.  (25K now). 

Without the twitastic NaNoWriMo community (found via the hashtag #NaNoWriMo) I would never have done it.  Thank you lovely tweeps!

And I'm so glad I did it. I'm already plotting for 2012.  Clear that calendar - next year I am NaNoWriMo-ing.  Don't call.  Don't invite me out.  I will be WRITING.   Come and play.  It's the best fun you can have with a keyboard and a mug of coffee.  Just don't expect to sleep.


Author Joanna Bourne
Some people have really great blogs.  They think, they read, they share.   They are the open-hearted cornerstones of the romance writing community, who give you a backstage pass to their mid-novel traumas and writing inspiration.  Top of the list in the regard is Joanna Bourne.  Besides writing some of the best romances around, she also shares her learning and her daily challenges through her blog.  She's a responsive tweeter and lovely to her fans.  Golden laurel wreath to the lovely Jo (read Black Hawk! One of my top books of the year).

Author Stacia Kane

Also, ranking highly on the list is the marvelous Stacia Kane author of the compulsive Downside Ghosts series.  Not only does she have one of the best guides around to writing sex, Be a Sex Writing Strumpet, found for free in a series of posts on her blog and in e-book form at a very reasonable price (amazon).  

There's a lesson here about how authors operate on the web: fans love to get a sneak peak of how novels are brewed, what inspires them and what challenges are faced along the way.  Like our literary heroines, we want to know that our writerly heroines aren't perfect. We want you to be human.  It extends the enjoyment of the reading experience.  Static websites are like staring at a book cover.  The enjoyment comes from looking within the pages. 

Author Aimee L Salter
Other authors who get big thumbs up for sneak peaks and responsiveness included Laura Kinsale (she has a whole forum for us to grill her on the finer aspects of her work) and Eloisa James (love the sneak peaks) - found at @EloisaJames on Twitter.  For historical details you can do no better than those Two Nerdy History Girls, Loretta Chase (read Silk is for Seduction, read it I say) and Susan Holloway Scott (@2nerdyhistgirls).  I could mention others - Jennifer Crusie would rank highly (love her essays, love her books) and Liz Fielding is truly generous with her help.  I could go on...

Outside of the romance writing community three regular #writetip Twitter favorites mine are @elizabethscraig, @JodyHedlund and @AimeeLSalter - great bloggers, great tweeters, fine ladies. Follow them, learn how to write.


I couldn't let a review of the year go by without a massive thank you to Andrea Walpole who is a dazzling combination of physicist, tailor, talented musician, DIY expert, mother of two and romance author.  She's read copious amounts of my stuff, travelled similar roads and provided tons of support and encouragement.  It's been phenomenal to see her work transform over the last few months too, to crystallise as an original, sharp, funny and sensuous writer.  2012 is going to be her year!

Big thank you also to Helen Kolacevic, who is a really good writer herself, and provided really helpful criticism and support, stopped and made me think.  Her novel Shameless will be submitted soon and should be snapped up in no time.  

Other big acknowledgements go to my sisters Gilly, Nin and Kate all of whom suffered to read and give feedback on my work, my brother Mike who helped brainstorm ideas, my husband Roddy who let me embarrass him royally by picking his brains on what men think about when they fancy someone, to Jen Poyser who read Merely Players and laughed at the sex scene and to Aysha Awan who read ALL of Merely Players and was massively encouraging all the way along.


This is sounding like the oscars now, so I'll stop.  But the main point is that its takes a lot of help from a lot of different people to learn anything about anything.  This year has been all about building supportive communities to help me on my way.  

There's a lot of people out there and a lot of communities open, willing and ready to be helpful and to be helped in exchange.  Which is awesome sauce with cherries on top.  


Assuming we don't all get wiped out by a giant meteorite and / or harried by the four horsemen of the apocalypse, here's what I plan to do in 2012. 

All through the year...

1. January 2012 will see me joining #WIP500 (Twitter hashtag) orchestrated by @caramichaels patroness of the #MenageMonday Flash Fiction Challenge.   If you want daily encouragement to write #WIP500 will continue where #NaNoWriMo left off.

2. I want to learn about querying and submitting and getting representation.  

3. I want to enter more contests and competitions, learning about my strengths and weaknesses and putting myself out there.

January - March 2012

4. I also want to participate in @theGlitterLady's #NightGale flash fiction blog challenge, inspired by the romance poets.  

5. If I get time, I want to do @TimonySouler's Resolution Confusion Challenge.

6. I want to finish Boundless as the Sea by February 2012.  Which means it will probably be July (these things happen).   

July - September 2012

7. I want to rewrite Merely Players.

October - December 2012 

8. I want to start the third book of the trilogy, which will be about a character called Ernestina Love (I've already written the first scene).

9. I want to do NaNoWriMo and use it as the launch pad for the fantasy-mythology story that I have been composting for months (Sisyphus)

10. I want to finish Daughters of Leda

If I do three of these things, I will be pleased.  If I do all, I will be ECSTATIC.  

What are your plans and goals for 2012?  What do you feel you have achieved in 2011?  How far have you come?  What have you learned?  Who have you learned it from?