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Sarah Dixon

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Story (for Adults)

The Other Thief

I’ve just had an email with the results of the NYC Midnight Short Story Competition – Round 1. My story got an honourable mention – that means I was close but didn’t actually make it into the top 5 to proceed to the next round. I’m looking forward to seeing the judge’s feedback so I can improve going forward.

As so many people are trying to find ways to fill their time at the moment, I thought I’d share it here. Grab a cuppa, take five and escape for a little while. Let me know what you think in the comments.

The Other Thief

It’s like a gut punch. I mean, it’s never good to get called into the bosses office, that’s going to get your guts churning like a dodgy Vindaloo no matter who you are. But when you’re me? An unexpected call into the Security Manager’s office could spell doom.
He has flourescent lights overhead, they’re giving me a headache and making the room look weirdly far away. It’s buzzing. The transformer needs sorting, but that’s not my job. It’s just distracting, and I need to concentrate on what he’s saying.
‘…items going missing from dressing rooms overnight.’
I open my mouth with a denial and Nick shakes his head. ‘Look, Pete. I don’t care who’s doing it, I just need it to stop. I took a chance on you, stuck my neck out, and now I look like a right muppet. So I don’t need to hear anything, I just need it to stop.’
I can see my nostrils flaring as I stare down my nose at my hands. There’s so much I want to say. I’m taking my meds. I’m seeing my therapist. I’m healthy, just now. I haven’t felt the urge to take anything for a while, and longer since I acted on it.
But that little voice? The new me? It’s struggling to get heard above the roar of shame. ‘You’ll never change!’, ‘Rotten to the bloody core, just like your father.’, ‘If I see you in my court again, it’ll have to be a custodial sentence.’
I want to vomit, but that will probably be seen as a sign of guilt. So I swallow it down and just nod.
‘Alright,’ Nicks says and waves me towards the door.
I make it all the way to the gents before I puke, the sour stench snapping me out of my mood better than a bucket of water to the face.
‘Fuck.’
It’s not fair. It’s not bloody fair! I’m going to lose everything because some other tea leaf is taking stuff out of dressing rooms. If Dave knew anything about my condition, he’d know that wasn’t my scene. What’s the fun of stealing in an empty building? It’s the thrill of the chase that gets me going. Fires off the reward centers of the brain. I’m an addict, but I’m in recovery. I have healthier mechanisms now. Meds. Talking therapy.
I flush, move to the sink and take a sip of the stale water. It’s a Victorian building, the pipes are probably lead and sending everyone crazy. I’m grounding, though. Coming back to myself.
If things are going missing at night, then someone’s either hiding out or breaking in. Either way they must be dodging the cameras, because even if Nick is too tight to pay for a night guard, he must leave the CCTV on. Not that it would be hard to dodge, there’s dead spots all over the place.
All I have to do is hide myself, get into the security room and find out who the other Klepto in the building is. I’ll show Dave, he’ll apologises profusely, I’ll ask him to put in a word with the boss and maybe I’ll get a reward or a raise or something. Simple.

Theatres are strange places. They stand empty for so much of the time, it’s like when people are there they have to make up for it. The overblown luvvies, the ‘characters’ that make up the back stage crew and the audiences, all dressed up and eager to be entertained, or to find fault, depending on their personalities.
It’s all over quickly, time doesn’t drag because you’re always waiting for the next cue and the next silent journey through the rat runs to leave a prop or move a flat.
Tonight, I feel like I’m being watched all the time. I try and tell myself it’s paranoia. I’m just sensitive because Nick made me feel like a thief, not a recovered one. But who else knows things are going missing? Who else knows about me? I just don’t know and it’s sending the hairs on the back of my neck into overdrive.
It’s a relief when the curtain goes down for the final time and everyone starts to file out. I keep myself busy so I know that most people have gone, and then I go to sign out. Old Terry, the stage door keeper, is looking predictably tired and distracted by now. He should retire, really, but I don’t think stage door keepers do that. They seem to last forever. I take my time scribbling my name, then wait until something distracts him and move as though I’m leaving – and then step into a CCTV dead zone.
I’d be willing to bet that Pete left the security office hours ago, but not enough to go straight there. I head down the narrow stairs that leads to the cellar, less chance of bumping into anyone who’s slow to leave down there where it’s just long-term storage and large equipment.
As I near the bottom step I realise I might not be the only one who’s decided it’s a good place to wait. Is the other thief down here in the darkness, too? I stop on the bottom step and let my eyes adjust to the darkness, listening for any sound.
The layout down here is pretty simple, it’s a rectangle that runs underneath the backstage area, and the stage itself. It’s where the trap door lets out. There locked cupboards around the sides full of props that might get used again one day. Cinderella’s carriage, Banquo’s Ghost, the perfect rock to sit on while you wait for Godot. Once I’m as sure as I can be that I’m alone down here, I start walking the perimeter.
I thought it would be quiet here at night, but it’s not. There’s clicks, ticks, and rumbles coming from all over the place. It’s the pipes. The heating. Everything cooling down as the heating gets turned off. It’s an old building. Definitely not the grey lady.
The first padlock I come to is locked, I give it an experimental tug to be sure and then keep walking. I’m more scared than I thought I would be. I don’t mean tense or anxious, I mean proper, creeping fear. That feeling that there’s something just out the corner of your eye, that there’s danger hiding in the shadows.
I ignore it. I’m just doing something a bit risky, but whoever the other thief is they’re a thief, not a serial killer. I continue walking around the passage ways that turn and turn until I’m back at the foot of the staircase. Nothing seems out of place down here, apart from me.
When I get back up, I realise there’s a small flaw in my plan. All the lights are out, so I can’t see a thing. The cameras are still on, but it’s just got ten times harder to move from one to the other without stepping into view. I want to catch a thief tonight, not convince my boss I am one. Then I remember they all have a small, red light just above the lens. I breathe, take my time, and pick my way up the stairs and through the corridors.
I’m accompanied by that pricking sensation between your shoulder blades that makes you feel followed. At one point I think I can hear another set of footsteps but when I come to a halt, so do they. I take one step. Nothing. It’s just an echo, amplified by anxiety. The other thief might not even be here tonight. It’s still a relief to get to the security office, turn the handle and step inside.
Most of the stress disappears immediately. I’m definitely alone in a small room and there’s some ambient light from the CCTV monitors which are the main reason I’m here. It feels good to slide into Nick’s chair and sit on the opposite side of the desk I was on earlier.
There are three monitors on a side desk, and each one displays the view from four different cameras. Two are outside the front, two at the back. Then there’s four that work the lobby and bar, one for each staircase up to the circle and a final one that shows the auditorium from the stage. The final screen is what I’m most interested in. There’s a camera on each of the staircases that lead to the stalls and eventually to the costume department in the attic. Then there’s the one of the corridor outside this room, and finally one inside the stage door that takes in the green room and dressing rooms.
It figures that the cameras are low resolution. They’re in infra-red mode so everything is washed in a dark green tinge. I push the chair back until I’m in a position where all the screens are in my field of vision and settle in. It’s then that I notice that the cameras can be moved from up here, there’s a control panel on the desk.
I can’t help but smile. This is how I’m going to catch the other thief. They know their way around the cameras the way they’re positioned now, but if I move them? They won’t know exactly where the dead zones are. I’ll catch the in the act.
I lean forward, trying to decide which cameras to move where. I start with the one backstage, where I’m most likely to see our culprit. At the moment it centres on the exit through to the stage, so I move it to angle more towards the dressing room doors. Perfect.
So where next? I cant my head as at a single tapping noise from out in the corridor, I’m telling myself it’s just the radiators, and when nothing else happens within 10 seconds or so I get back to the screens. I experiment with the camera on this level. It’s just showing the corridor and the office doors off of it. That’s when it hits me that it’s strange that things are going missing from the dressing rooms but not up here. The cash office is next door, and they don’t keep a lot of money on site but there’s bound to be some. More than you’d get from selling off some piece of jewelry stolen from the sort of D-lister we get in shows here.
I know better than most that stealing isn’t about the money. Maybe whoever it is gets their kids from being in the private spaces of the not very rich and not very famous. Who am I to judge?
But if that’s the case, maybe they hang about in the auditorium, or on the stage. There’s no way I can see what’s going on on-stage, but I can move the auditorium camera a little. I put my hand on the camera and start moving it, seeing the greenish grey of the infra-red display try and keep up. It blurs and refocuses, and that’s why it takes me a while to realise I’m seeing movement.
I find myself leaning in to try and make sense of it. It’s low to the ground, and it’s like the darkness is getting displaced. The movement roils, like smoke, sometimes there and sometimes not. I shift the camera again, and as I do a more distinct shape coalesces.
Fabric. It’s fabric. A cloak or something? Did they raid costume? Of course it would be the perfect place to hide out up there, and to grab a disguise that’s been worn by someone ‘famous’. As I shift the camera gain there’s a swift response, something lurches towards the camera and I get a glimpse of a white face leering at me before it turns and disappears.
A mask. Just a mask. But my hands are shaking, and that instinct I’ve been trying to ignore all night is shouting really loudly now. This isn’t right. None of this is right. Where the hell did that thing go?
Not out the front to the lobby, and there’s nothing on either staircase. Has it come backstage then? No. Not yet.
Tap.
It’s that noise outside the door again. Get a grip, Peter. There’s an actual human person in here, you don’t need to be giving your attention to radiators.
Yes, there they are. Just coming off the stage. It’s a movement low to the ground, perfect for staying out of sight of the old camera position but slap bang in the middle of the new one.
Tap.
I’m leaning in again, trying to spot who it could be. They’re agile, whoever it is. Definitely not Old Terry. The cameras make their movement look oddly disjointed, like their limbs are too long.
Tap.
I have a sudden thought that this has all been for nothing. All I’ve done is stay in the theatre to get unidentifiable CCTV footage that looks like a prank. Best case scenario we can leak it on YouTube and say it’s the grey lady and maybe attract some paranormal nuts into the audience. Whoever it is, they’re leaving now.
Tap tap.
They’re gone from my field of vision. Slipping into a dead zone. I switch my attention to the outdoor cameras, waiting to see them emerge from the stage door.
Tap tap tap.
It’s with a sickening lurch that I realise they haven’t left the building at all. They’re coming up the stairs, towards the office. They’re right in view now, not trying to hide at all, and one thing I know for sure now. They’re not human.

Medway Messenger, Friday, January 24th, 2020.
Police were called to Rochester Theatre today, following the discovery of a body in the security office this morning. The victim has been named locally as Peter Mannion, a stage hand at the theatre who had recently come under suspicion of stealing from his fellow staff members. Police report there are no suspicious circumstances.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day

I always try and post a love story for Valentine’s Day, which is always tricky because I don’t tend to write romance. But last night, I happened upon this story on my Kindle. I wrote it for NYC Midnight, but felt it didn’t quite fit the prompt so wrote something else. I don’t think anyone but me has ever read it. It’ll be rough around the edges, but then, aren’t we all? Happy Valentine’s Day!

Felicity

Why are we turning?

Lurching from his seat, Neal swung himself around the pole, his thumb finding the button to ring the bell. Thundering down the central aisle of the bus, he yelled, ‘You’ve gone the wrong way!’

The driver didn’t take his eyes from the road, he just jerked a thumb towards a dog-eared piece of paper pinned to the Perspex screen surrounding him. Neal read as far as, ‘Route Change on the Number 5’ and groaned.

‘I need to get to the Royal Holdney,’ he checked his watch, ‘in ten minutes.’ Giving his best pleading look to the driver’s profile, he added, ‘I’ve got a date.’

The brakes on the bus squealed as it came to a halt, and the doors hissed open to admit the cool night air. The driver pointed across the street to a high stone wall.

‘It’s about two miles that way.’

‘Thanks,’ Neal muttered, shuffling, slump-shouldered off the bus. ‘Thanks a lot.’

The bus drove away, leaving Neal to stare at the solidly yellow-gold barrier that separated him from his goal: Felicity.

God, but she was beautiful. His mind wandered back to that afternoon, the college refectory, and her, illuminated in the autumn sunlight.

‘Daddy’s having a thing at the golf course tonight. The Royal Holdney, do you know it?’

‘Yes,’ Neal said, with a confidence that hid the fact he’d only seen the name over the wrought iron gates as he’d passed on the bus.

‘Will you come? It’ll be dreadfully boring if you don’t. Langley Suite, at 8.’

Felicity Windham-Jones, ice-cream heiress and unobtainable goddess. This was his one chance. He wasn’t going to let a wall come between him and happiness.

Glancing left, then right, he barrelled his way across the road, the pavement and the verge banking the wall. Leaping with all he had, Neal grabbed for the top…and came up six inches short. Again, he tried, again he failed; 9 inches this time.

Pressing his head against the lichen-covered brick, Neal breathed in the dampness. Think. Find a way.

Stepping back, he looked both ways, then headed left towards a large oak tree. One thick branch projected over the wall. Grasping at knot holes, Neal worked his way up the trunk and sat in the v between two branches staring. In the distance, the bright lights of the clubhouse burned through the night. Felicity.

Neal crawled towards the wall, his breath misting the air before him. As the branch narrowed, so he clung tighter. Seeking another handhold, his palm slipped on slick wood. Momentum took him, leaving him hanging from one hand a foot shy of the wall. Grunting his exertion, Neal shuffled forward, hand over hand until his feet touched solid stone.

Muttering curses, he lowered himself to sitting, then jump-slid to the ground in a pile of wet leaves. Brushing himself down, Neal sucked in a breath and kept his eyes on the lights ahead. You can do this.

At a jog, he began to move on a direct line towards the clubhouse, towards his goal. Scrub soon gave way to long grass that wrapped itself around his feet sending him tripping forwards. Don’t fall. Grass stains.

A stand of saplings loomed out of a patch of mist and Neal slalomed between them, then froze at the motorised whirr of a golf cart. Security! Ducking down, Neal pressed himself against the slender trunk.

At precisely the wrong moment, his phone rang. The cart pulled to a stop.

Patting his pockets, Neal found the phone on the third attempt. With another trill imminent, Neal made a choice. Summoning up his strength, he lobbed the device down the fairway. It beeped, then hit the ground with an audible thud. Closing his eyes in supplication, Neal gave thanks as the cart began to whir away, in the direction of the still bleating phone.

Glancing at the departing cart, Neal made a break for the next line of trees. The long grass soon gave way to a close-clipped green; Neal saw the flag in the hole just in time and swerved right. Grinning in triumph, he ran over a rise, high on adrenalin.

His foot came down, and found air where the ground should be. Tumbling base over apex, he landed, winded, in a sand-filled bunker. Hearing a fearsome yowl, he turned to see an angry cat, back arched and tail fluffed. Cat. Sandpit. Sh

Jumping to his feet, Neal pulled off his jacket. Nose wrinkling at the stink of the brown smears, he tossed it to the ground and ran on.

Bursting through another thicket, the clubhouse loomed magnificently before him. Running his hands into his hair, Neal slowed to a casual swagger as he neared the glass doors. On the other side was a stiff-backed waiter in a bow tie, blocking the way. ‘Your jacket, Sir? Club policy.’

‘Of course! I’ll get it,’ Neal said as he backed out, mind racing. Jogging left, he circled the building until he found a fire door, propped open by a girl in a maid’s outfit smoking outside.

‘Forgot my jacket!’ he said as he rushed past, heart thumping. Moving rapidly through the corridors, Neal halted as he saw the snooty waiter pushing through the door ahead. Ducking into the nearest room, Neal found himself confronted with a coat rack. He grabbed a jacket, threw it on, checked his hair in a mirror, and ambled back out just in time to nod condescendingly to the staffer.

A sign saying ‘Langley Suite’ directed Neal to his location. Polite chatter washed over him as he entered, the air scented with strawberry and chocolate. Then there, across the room: Felicity. Their eyes met. She picked a cherry from the top of her sundae, popping it seductively between her lips.

Neal’s smile widened; the cat that got the cream.

Behind him, a voice said, ‘I say, that chaps wearing my jacket!’

 

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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…

Crouching Dragon, Hidden Lizard

Romance

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.
‘You do?’
‘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.

Life Plus 2 Meters

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.

Read my entry here.

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.

Featured

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.

The darkness is overwhelming

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

Continue reading “The darkness is overwhelming”

Winning stops me feeling like a loser.

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!

After the Flood

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.

Click here to see my Hour of Writes entries.

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.

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