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Flash: oo-arr! Your West Country Needs You!

National Flash Fiction Day 2012
We’re getting together an online flash-fiction anthology for National Flash Fiction Day 2012 in May, under the heading of Flash: oo-arr!* to represent the West Country. Not necessarily a West Country theme though just a West Country team!

*UPDATE 10 March 2012: The new site is up and there is a new name too. Please visit Flash-Fiction South West

We want writers – of any or no experience – living in the West Country (in England) to submit a flash fiction (that’s anything from six to 1,000 words!) throughout March. For this you simply need to live in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Bristol, Gloucestershire or Wiltshire, have the desire to write and a general idea of the flash fiction genre. More ideas here: Flash What?

Now open for submissions:
Entries by 31st March please.

    A piece of fiction of no more than 1,000 words.
    Send your flash fiction as an attachment (such as .doc) in an email by sticking this email address back together:
    mail @ flashfictionsw .co.uk
    Please call your email “NFFD
    In the body of the email please state your name and the county in which you live. (You can be more specific – I always say I’m in North Devon, for example)
    Please put the title on your piece, along with a wordcount and some idea of genre such as humour, romance, suspense, whatever but don’t worry if it’s non-specific.

There’s no minimum wordcount (well… zero is not enough really…! ). We would love a few very short flashy flash in order to have a good mix of lengths and really show off the joy of tiny pieces of writing. The mini ones can be rather poetic.
Submissions are by email to me. I will not read them yet but forward them anonymously to the reading team who will chose their favourites.
This is not a competition but I suspect there will probably have to be the odd rejection. But not necessarily…
If you’ve never written before but think you might like to, now’s your chance!
And if you’re an experienced writer and don’t mind slumming it, please join in!

And don’t worry if you don’t hear back from us straight away. We will get there eventually!

I will be updating this post every time I realise I’ve forgotten something. But for now you could “like” the National Flash Fiction Day group on facebook to receive updates and links, etc.

Ouch! Feedback Nasties

A message for my Mystery Feedback Meanie.
Choose your words carefully… Please…
Even though I tell myself to try to be immune to feedback – as a quote in the dedication to Sophie Hannah’s A Room Swept White goes: ‘Take nothing personally, even if it’s got your name on it.’ … however often I remind myself of that, I still find any negative feedback on my writing upsetting. But when it’s given on something written from the heart it’s physically painful.
Right now I feel as if I have been thumped in the chest with a cold iron bar. I am literally shaking. (Which is a shame because I’ve spent all day trying to overcome stress and thought I was winning)
A one star review on a poem on the Ether app has just wiped out the joy of a 5 star review I received minutes earlier for a short story. They didn’t like it. It’s a shame but I can cope with that. Everyone is entitled to give one star for something that doesn’t work for them.

But what did the most damage and hurt the most was the comment: “Childish”

And the reason it hurt was because I know different and I can’t tell that person.

This is what I want to tell that person:
I wrote that poem because I know how it feels to lose and to hurt. To hurt very, very badly. I know how it feels to desperately look for something that describes how you feel and not find it. I wrote it when in a deep state of grief after finding poem upon poem that I couldn’t connect with. So often I hear funeral poems that make me want to scream. I didn’t think it was a marvellous piece of creative writing, but it was as much from the guts as anything I have ever written and to be given a one-word review like that was, quite simply, unfair and rather nasty. I wasn’t trying to be clever I was deliberately being simple and honest. In fact I made a point of writing in the blurb for it that it is ‘simple.’ (I’ve just checked and the actual word I used was ‘uncomplicated’) It was also free so I’m not sure it was necessary to be that nasty.

I didn’t learn to write poetry at school. I wasn’t taught to appreciate poetry. In fact, I spent nearly forty years being scared of poetry. Poets were part of some special elitist club for snooty poetry brains. Thanks to the education system in this country, I know I am one of thousands of people who feel like that
And then 2 years ago I discovered that the elitist bit wasn’t true. Poetry is for whoever wants it (although there are some academic snobs that would like to keep the normal folk out still). I bought myself some audio CDs of poetry readings and realised that poetry is simply a matter of taste. Someone else’s dull might be your idea of deep and meaningful. My idea of too long might be someone else’s perfect escapism, for example…

Anyway, my point is if my words were not the ones you were looking for – Mystery Feedback Meanie, then think about how yours were much less imaginative. And I have to suffer the consequences of yours every day

Here are some alternatives:
‘It’s not for me.’
‘I didn’t really like it.’
‘Not my kind of thing.’
‘I prefer Auden.’

‘Childish’ is just … childish, really.

Being a Grown-up

Being a grown-up…

… is all about acting like you know best
even when you don’t
and pretending to have all the answers
even when you don’t…

…and getting paid for dressing up,
riding on trains,
and playing with money

It’s just like being a child really
only you don’t always get to say where the money goes…

…unless you’re a politician.

So when I grow up
I’m going to be a politician
then I can carry on acting like a kid.

Criteria

A flash fiction (written from some prompts given to me by facebook pals *)
She was the only woman in the bar and he the only man.

She was looking for a well-presented man. He hadn’t shaved and had long, dark, greying hair.

No good. She’d always imagined her future husband to have short, blonde hair.

She liked quiet Sundays indoors with softly-scented pampering products, a movie and the clean, ever-cleaning cats. Everything about him said ‘muddy walks with dogs’ (particularly the presence of his two filthy dogs and the mud-caked walking boots he wore).

The List was not going well. She wanted to walk back out of the pub. He did not fit the criteria of her perfect partner in any shape or form. But he saw her and walked over.

‘Hi. I’m Steve,’ he said in a Belfast accent, holding out a rough hand to shake hers firmly.
‘Oh Jesus,’ she thought, in a Home Counties accent, slipping her manicured digits back through his calloused, soil-stained grasp.

But perhaps the ‘Suitable for parents’ criteria wasn’t really worth keeping on the list now that both her parents had died of old age.

She mentally referred to her list. The list she had written at eighteen, now etched on her memory and referred to every time she met a man:
Where were the blue eyes suitable for her future babies? His were brown.
Where was the evidence of security and financial stability for the family they might have? He had holes in his t-shirt.

Perhaps, as her friends had pointed out, she was too old for children now. Perhaps, as her sister had pointed out, a good companion was more important than money.

She had to do this. She’d promised. She would make polite conversation, smile, have a couple of drinks, swap phone numbers, thank her friends for setting up a blind date and then never call him. In a couple of weeks she could say it just didn’t work out. There was no way she was committing herself to this guy while Mr. Right was out there waiting for her.

3 hours later, he led her into his house and showed her the hall, the bathroom, the kitchen, the sitting room and the lizards. They wouldn’t be languishing so lazily under their heat lamps if her cats were in the room, she noted aloud with a snigger.
He laughed too and cleared some papers from the sofa so that she could sit down.
Real ale seemed good for the inhibitions and the OCD she noted with a belch, plonking herself onto a stinking dog blanket and grinning.

He grinned back fondly and sat himself opposite her. ‘You’ve a good sense of humour. I’ve not laughed so much in a while.’

‘I don’t usually make men laugh,’ she tilted her head, thoughtfully. ‘It must be the beer.’

‘No. It’s not you. It’s the men you’ve been dating. You should always make sure someone’s got the same sense of humour as you. It’s number one on the list.’

‘You have a list?’ She leant forward in interest and nearly fell off the sofa. ‘This could be the start of something really ugly,’ she laughed, righting herself and pointing to a rotting half-eaten apple on a corner table behind his elbow.

‘I wondered what the smell was, ‘ he said, jumping to his feet, grabbing the apple and running to the kitchen bin with it.

She watched as he washed and dried his hands carefully and then returned looking about him as if in shame.

He was making an effort for her. She realised she liked that in a man.
Why wasn’t that on The List?

( *The prompts: ‘Presentation isn’t everything.’ … ‘There’s a half-eaten apple on the table in the corner of the room. Why?’ and ‘Lizards languishing lazily’ (yeah, thanks, Mandy…) )

Written in a hurry and not edited. Life on the edge, huh?
😉

The Foot

A short story/flash fiction
High fencing, topped with barbed wire, surrounds the house. I sit in the car thinking about what I’m going to ask Tom. But this is such a peculiar story I think I’ll have to assess the situation as I go along.

The facts:
The missing man’s name was Darren and he was a diver. He started behaving oddly after losing a foot in a diving accident five years ago. Recently his family reported him missing and that was when the rumours started… Tom was the only one he had allowed to see him in the last five years. The family will talk to no one. The police will talk to no one. The marine biologists have gone very quiet…

The stuff we can’t be sure of:
There’s a rumour that the policeman who went to search Darren’s house after his disappearance was so disturbed by what he found that he took to drinking and was last seen huddled in the entrance to Plymouth Marine Aquarium, dressed in old fishermen’s clothes, telling tales of a horrific half man/half sea creature with only one foot that expelled waste from his head and killed himself with his own poisonous tentacles.

It’s disturbing and I don’t want to do this but I’m the only one Tom will talk to so I guess I’m flattered really. Besides if I get nowhere no one need know and if it’s a good story then I can afford Bella’s university fees. As a freelancer I have nothing to lose. Except perhaps my sanity…

He’s waiting for me inside the fence, restraining a large, angry dog on a chain.
‘Sally.’
‘Tom.’
He’s changed. I hardly recognise the man with guarded expression and stiff posture as the effeminate boy who swapped Pokemon cards with my eldest son fifteen years ago.

He takes me to a sparse, windowless utility room at the back of the house. As he shuts the door the insistent dog barking and the hum of traffic cease. There is a soft electrical buzz but otherwise the room is quiet and intense. Tom points to a plastic chair and I sit down and reach for my laptop. As I turn it on he spots my Internet dongle and swiftly confiscates it while he begins to talk…

‘Darren was my diving instructor. I worshipped him. We spent time together on dives and trips around the world – just the two of us. He had this special interest in anemones, you see, and didn’t care for the more extensive dives organised by other people. I fell in love with him. I assumed that he was gay too because he didn’t seem to like women. But as the months went by I began to realise he didn’t feel that way about me. I stuck up for him when people said he was going mad although deep down I wondered if I was wasting my time. He collected anemone eggs and sperm samples to take home and became fixated on asexual reproduction. Bits of anemones can break off and form into new anemones, you know? He said he wanted me to help him with some research and although it sounded far-fetched I would have done anything for him. There’s something a bit obsessive about loving someone you know can never be yours… I hung on his every word, agreed with everything he said, became as passionate as I could about everything he was passionate about.’

I nod. I know all about misguided loyalty. ‘I’ve seen photos. He was quite something,’ I say.

‘ “Was”? He’s not dead.’

I fumble, not wanting to stop him talking. Then I remember the rumours. ‘He changed though? Put on weight? Grew pale?’

‘In the early days, when we first started going off on our own, the other divers said he must have suffered decompression sickness because his face swelled up and he forgot people’s names. But he told me he didn’t dive deep enough.’

‘Weren’t you with him?’

‘I was on the boat.’

‘So he might have. Didn’t he suffer from weak joints too?’

‘It wasn’t that though. He knew what he was doing.’

Now, I’ve researched the bends and it sounds to me that – as it went untreated – that was exactly what brought about his madness and demise but I feel I am on the brink of something so I wait.

Tom seems to read my mind. ‘Just because someone displays the symptoms of something doesn’t mean that is what they have. He’s a genius who knew exactly what he was doing. The foot wasn’t an accident. That was part of his research.’

I feel sick.

He unlocks another door and beckons me through. I hear bubbling and splashing and taste salty air. In the dim light I make out three head-height glass tanks taking up the walls of the room. Dark shadows and bright flashes move everywhere. Tom takes a fishing net from behind the door, scoops something out of the nearest tank, and carries it to the tank at the far end of the room. I follow.

As my eyes become accustomed I see what looks like a human foot on the bottom of the tank. It is enlarged and viscousy but as I slowly make out toenails and an ankle I see that it is definitely human. I clench my teeth together and try to swallow the disgust pushing at my throat as I see, growing up from the enlarged ankle, several giant tentacles waving as they stun and trap in a split second the fish that Tom releases into the tank. The tentacles lower the fish into an opening in their centre.

‘He started injecting himself with the anemone samples ten years ago. That’s when he swelled up. Then he cut off bits of skin and ear, thinking if he could keep growing himself on from bits of his own body that he would never die but when they didn’t grow he intensified his treatment by injecting his brain, his heart, his groin. But he couldn’t do it on his own. The injections were making him ill. So he cut off his foot and instructed me how to look after it – to make it survive on its own just like an anemone. And it worked – to a point… The rest of his body became a giant anemone and he began to drown in the air and his tentacles poisoned everything except his other foot. That foot found in his house won’t survive in the hands of the scientists… But this one will.’

Love at Twenty

A flash fiction

‘Okay. What’s eatin’ you?’
Lily didn’t look up as Jack sat himself down opposite her and leant his arms on the table. She wanted to get her words in the right order. She felt his gaze and kept her eyes down as she spoke.
‘I just wanted you to know that you really annoyed me – that way you whistled and shouted out some leery sexist comment when you first saw me.’ She stared at his suit buttons.
‘Oh. Right. Yeah well. Gosh…’
Silence.
‘It’s not funny, Jack.’
‘Who’s laughing?’
Lily looked up. ‘You. Your eyes are laughing. I just had to tell you.’
‘Well, I promise I won’t do it again.’ Now he was laughing. ‘But I do fancy you. I’ve always fancied you. Nothing wrong with that is there?’ He smoothed his smart new mauve silk tie like a pet guinea pig.
‘Will we do your cake in a minute?’ a voice interrupted.
‘Oh yes, thanks, Fiona, thanks… You made me feel like an object, Jack. Cheap. That’s what you made me feel. And in front of all the lads from work. I felt like you were just doing it for their benefit.’
Jack reached across the table and took her hands. He fiddled with her engagement ring with his thumb. ‘You’re not cheap. You never were. I’m truly, honestly, sincerely sorry if I offended you. It was never my intention. I’m just a bit shy with the girls and it was the only way I knew how to make the first move. And I’ve been good to you ever since haven’t I?’
‘Mostly.’ Lily smiled her wicked smile and Jack knew he’d been forgiven.
‘I thought it was love at first sight, you know?’ He looked thoughtful.
‘Oh?’ Lily had thought so too. Secretly. She twiddled with the white lace cuffs of her dress, looking down again to hide her disappointment.
‘But how can you really know what love is at twenty?’ Jack lifted Lily’s chin with his fingers.
The noise in the room began to build and they realised that their names were being chanted.
‘We’d better go over.’ Lily nodded behind him at the expectant faces.
Jack helped her to her feet and they walked, arms linked, over to the semi-circle of guests around a large white cake, as people began to clap and cheer.
‘Speech. Speech. Speech!’
Lily held back as always but Jack raised his hand and cleared his throat.
‘Sixty years ago. I married the prettiest girl I’d ever seen. I didn’t think you could be in love anymore than I was then. I really thought it was love at first sight and I’d scored a real corker.’ He stopped and placed a shaky arm over Lily’s shoulders.
‘But I was wrong. I fell a little more in love with her every year. This is what love really is. It’s knowing someone inside and loving them more as the outside falls apart.’
‘Charming.’ Lily dug him in the ribs. But her eyes were shining.

‘Will we give the other residents some cake, if there’s enough?’ asked Fiona.

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