I always try and find something vaguely romantic that I’ve written to share with you all for St Valentine’s Day. As I don’t write romance, that’s usually a bit tricky. But this year, I have the perfect thing! For the NYC Midnight #flashfictionchallenge2017 I was assigned the genre of Romantic Comedy. Being neither romantic or funny, it made my heart sink but I ended up scoring a few points for it. It wasn’t enough to make it to the next round, but that is one tough competition. Anyway, here is…
I thought it would be nice to share a romantic story with you for Valentine’s Day. So, I scanned my back catalog of stories and realised…I don’t write romance. I knew it wasn’t a theme that cropped up often in my work, but I thought there’d be more of it than there was. Maybe one of my goals for this year will be to try and write more about love, to include these important human relationships in my stories.
Here, though, is one piece that is definitely romantic. It was written as an Hour of Writes entry in response to the prompt Health and Safety; that means the story below is literally an hours work, it hasn’t been edited since and will contain imperfections. I hope you enjoy it, anyway.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
Getting a nickname was how you knew you’d been accepted at Henshaw’s. It didn’t matter if you started as an apprentice, or came in fully trained from another garage, until you had your nickname you were on a sort of probation. Once you had your name, you were a fixture.
There were no hard and fast rules for how a nickname came to be assigned, some of the lads were named after their particular abilities, like Tyres who could change and balance a pair of wheels faster than anyone else. Others got their names as the result of happenstance, like Flat-head, who had once been underneath a car when it had come off the ramps and given him a fairly serious head injury. Romeo got his name for the number of married ladies who arrived at the workshop doors asking for him particularly, wanting him to check their oil or listen to a banging noise from the engine. There was no way to control how your nickname came about, and no way to change it once you’d been given it unless you stayed at Henshaw’s long enough to be given a new one, as had happened with Codger.
Stanley Hetherington had been working at Henshaw’s for eight weeks now and was beginning to feel the lack of a nickname. He had no reason to suspect that the other lads didn’t like him, they were pleasant enough once the initial teasing of the new chap had settled down. He’d been wise enough not to go and ask in stores for a left handed hammer, but he hadn’t expected them to fill his boots with ice water. Laughing along with them was all part of it, and he’d done it out of good spirits as well as a keen desire to be liked.
Always on time, Stanley did his job to the best of his ability but he didn’t shine in any particular area. There was nothing remarkable about the things he said, or how he said them, he didn’t hold strong political views like the lad they dubbed The PM. He didn’t want to force a nickname, that wasn’t in the spirit of the thing at all, but he was becoming more anxious that, whatever he was called eventually, it was something positive.
His anxieties had started three weeks ago, when the bosses daughter, Mildred Henshaw, started working in the office. Mildred was no starlet, but something stirred inside Stanley the first time she paused in the doorway to the workshop clutching their wage packets with one hand and pushing her thick, national health spectacles up her nose with the other. She’d called all the lads by their nicknames but had hesitated when she’d got to him, and stuttered out ‘S..s..s..Stanley?’
From that very moment, Stanley was seized with a keen desire to protect the lovely Mildred from the embarrassment of speaking his true name again but what would it be replaced with? The lads could be course, and whatever she called him, it had to be the sort of word that you could whisper with, well, fondness. The way that he said her name, in the privacy of his own thoughts.
But here we were at the end of his ninth working week, and still no event had transpired to give Stanley the name he waited for. He had just finished his last job for the day and was carefully putting his tools back in his toolbox when he saw Codger making his way across the workshop floor. The older man was carrying a box of spare parts that obscured his view, and he didn’t notice the hose that Tyres had running across the workshop at just the right height to trip a man. Stanley spotted it, and realising the older man was about to fall, he quickly closed the distance between them calling ‘Stop!’
Flat-head was the first to call it out ‘Oh ho! Health and Safety!’ and the chorus was soon taken up by the other lads. Stanley felt his heart sink, although there were definitely worse things to be named for (ask ‘Skid’ Mark Turner, the paint sprayer) this nickname still held the troublesome, sibilant S sound that would trip the tongue of his beloved Mildred.
It was with heavy heart that he waited for his pay slip that week, cap in hand and eyes downcast. Then all of a sudden he heard her gentle voice calling ‘Health and Safety’ and for a wonder, she didn’t trip over the sounds at all. Looking up to meet her eyes, a surprising green behind the spectacles, he was warmed by her smile.
‘I like it,’ she said.
‘I do. Health and safety. Them’s good qualities, in a man.’
The lads were stifling laughter or outright tittering, but he didn’t care. Stanley Hetherington felt ten feet tall.
‘Oh, um, well then. Could I walk you home, Miss Henshaw?’
‘I suppose you can,’ she replied, pushing her glasses up her nose and making Stanley’s heart quicken, ‘and you can call me Mildred, too.’
A roar of approval went up from the lads behind him, and Stanley suddenly found himself being lifted from the floor and held between Romeo and The PM. He had time to see Mildred retreat in blushing confusion before he was paraded around the workshop to the chants of his work mates.
Good old Health and Safety.
On Monday, 29th of September, Hour of Writes announced that the prompt for that week was ‘life plus 2m’. At the time I read their email, I was in the car on the way to a weeks holiday in Warwickshire and Herefordshire, and didn’t think I’d get the time to enter.
On the Wednesday, another email arrived announcing the guest judge: David Zetland of the Life Plus 2 Meters Project. He wasn’t just looking for winners, he was looking for stories of about 1,000 words to use in his project to “help people think about climate change impacts and adaptation“. Successful articles would be published on his website and in an anthology due for publication in 2017.
I wistfully told my husband how I’d love to enter this week but we had no wifi where we were staying. He immediately suggested dropping me at the library in nearby Ross on Wye, so I could have some relative piece. So, I gave the idea some serious thought. I knew I wanted to tell a personal story, not a grand vision just how the impact was for one person. I wanted something dramatic to happen, not just a rise of water but a dramatic swell; that’s when I remembered walking alongside the River Severn many years before to watch the bore at the Spring Equinox. I got the opening line and that sense that it was ready to write, and headed for the library.
One hour later, it was done. Now, unfortunately Ross Library doesn’t have public wifi access, but I was able to use my husbands phone as a tether and submit my entry that way. It felt good, I liked it a lot, but that’s usually a sign it isn’t going to do well.
That idea was reinforced when I checked the marking later in the week; markers felt that I’d misjudged the ending, and emotional impact. Argh! Then, on Thursday, a friend messaged me to tell me that I’d won. I was both delighted and surprised; I had really wanted to nail this entry as the cause is important to me, and was glad that the judge, at least, felt I had.
So, my entry is now going to be part of a larger project (and included in another anthology), and that feels good. It feels like more than just storytelling, more than just entertainment, it feels like those words might be part of a wider change of consciousness. I don’t usually write stories with an agenda, but maybe I should do it more often.
If you’d like to be part of the Life Plus 2 Meters project, David is looking for more submissions. You can find out more by visiting the Life Plus 2 Meters website.
I’ve shared a lot, here on my blog, how much I enjoy Hour of Writes. It’s a weekly writing competition with a different three word prompt each week, and the challenge is to respond to that prompt in any way you choose, within the time limit of one hour. You mark three other entries, and get feedback from three other writers on your own, which can be really valuable.
I took a break from the competition after entering pretty much every week for months, because I needed different challenges and because I was focusing on Alfie Slider; getting Shape Shifter into print and Frozen Prince to beta readers.
I bought myself four credits last month, and I’m pleased to say that three of those four entries got me into the top three with a ‘Featured Entry’; they’re listed on my successes page. The one that didn’t get featured was one that I really liked writing; ‘I Can Change‘.
I find that I’m not a great judge of what will be popular with others. Things that I write that I think are awesome get a lukewarm reaction, things I don’t like at all go down well. That’s part of the value of the experience for me, that and being nudged to write stories that are out of my usual genres of Sci Fi or Fantasy. Maybe one day I’ll see the pattern and be able to tell what will be well received, but for now? I’m rather enjoying finding out.
I’m currently working towards a Certificate in Creative Writing with the University of York (Lifelong Learning). It’s a distance learning course which suits be perfectly because I can work from home around my other commitments. I completed the Core module last year and am working on Critical Analysis this year.
Last week we were asked to write no more than 500 words in response to the prompt ‘The darkness is overwhelming…’ The first idea that came to my mind was not my usual sort of thing at all, but it was a strong idea and wouldn’t quit until I’d written it. It was pretty dark, though, and I didn’t want to make that the first thing I shared with my fellow students, so I wrote something else and submitted that instead.
This is the original piece; 500 words with minimal editing. I can’t see myself expanding on this in the future, so thought I’d share it with you, Dear Reader 🙂
Trigger Warning: Suicide
I sent Alfie Slider out to an agent that I really, really wanted to work with at the beginning of the month. They got back very quickly (their respectful attitude to submissions is one of the reasons I was drawn to them) with a polite thanks, but no thanks.
The thing is, before I started looking for an agent, everyone that I shared Alfie with was overwhelmingly, amazingly, positive. This wasn’t just politeness, this was a genuine enthusiasm for the character and the story. Alfie is a bit magical like that. Whilst I knew, rationally, that finding an agent and then publisher was going to be difficult there was a part of me that hoped the Alfie magic would hold true there too.
I’ve adjusted my expectations. I know that agents and publishers get to see a lot of really great submissions; one agency said they got over 300 a week. I know that there are a lot of really talented writers out there, and I know that publishers are now looking for books that are a calculated certainty to make a profit. It isn’t as simple as someone reading the book, falling in love and throwing caution to the wind to publish it. It’s business, but it’s also a bit disheartening.
Alfie will get published, one way or another, but I would really like it to be through a traditional publisher. That route has so many advantages to getting the story more widely read and that’s what I want; lots of kids enjoying reading Sci Fi. I think it’s a great time for kids Sci Fi, between Doctor Who and the planned Coal Hill School spin off and the release of new Star Wars stories, Sci Fi is big right now.
In the meantime, my spirits are being lifted on a weekly basis by Hour of Writes. It’s a competition website that gives a three word prompt and a one hour time limit to respond to it in any way you please; prose, poetry, fiction or non-fiction. I’ve been entering for a few months now and have been lucky enough to win three times.
The latest was for my entry in Christmas week, Pass the Parcel, which I really enjoyed writing. I had a feeling it was a strong one, as when I was reading it aloud to my husband both kids stopped to listen too!
Hour of Writes challenges me to write well, speedily. The prompts take me to subject areas I probably wouldn’t explore otherwise and within a week I have feedback from three different people as to how they think the story went. Getting pretty consistent positive comments, and useful critique where I’ve dropped the ball, really keeps me going.
I recommend it!
Last weeks Hour of Writes prompt was ‘After the Flood’ which gave me the chance to write a story idea that had been floating (pardon the pun) around in my head for a while. It went down pretty well with reviewers too, getting 75% in marks and some constructive feedback. It’s set in a future that has inspired a couple of stories now, and I think I may work them up into a novella (perhaps even a full novel) at some point.
If you enjoy Sci Fi, you might enjoy ‘After the Flood’ and also ‘Many Worlds Theory’.
My previous entry ‘Climate of Change’ was less well received. Two of the three markers liked it, but one took great exception to the subject matter. Whilst I welcome critique, this felt more like a personal attack where the reader had extrapolated things about me from the opinions stated by a character. I’ve asked the Hour of Writes team to look into it, but haven’t had a reply as yet. I hope they get back to me soon, I had real trepidation when I scrolled down to read the marking this week but was glad to see it was back to the usual helpful and constructive tone.
68% for this weeks entry to Hour of Writes, with the comments by readers being mostly positive too. I was happy with this one, I felt that I’d expressed what I wanted to in the prose.
They’re a little behind on results over there at the moment, there are a couple of weeks in November where the winner hasn’t been announced yet, and of course this weeks winner should be revealed today. Hopefully they’ll get all caught up, but I guess when they have guest judges and other projects like the anthology on the go, things are bound to slip.
Hour of Writes is still one of my favorite writing exercises of the week, but inspiration is eluding me this week. I’m not quite sure what idea to chase down for ‘Climate of Change’.
Positive feedback for my Hours of Writes entry last week, although I’m not sure whether Marker 3 was talking about my story or another as the quote isn’t from my piece. I enjoyed this one, I’m happy with it but the criticisms are justified – there are always things you would do differently in a story, especially when you only have an hour to write it.