Poetry and NYC Midnight

We’re almost halfway through June. How did that happen?

The month kicked off with a poetry at the Button Warehouse. (Normally hosted by Joy Winkler but covered this month by John Lindley). Angela Topping was guest poet, and gave fantastic readings at the start of each half from her various collections. Then the evening was turned over to the open mic, and I ended up closing the evening out with ‘Legs Eleven’ from my collection ‘It’s All In The Blood’. This was probably my favourite performance of the year so far as the atmosphere was fantastic, I made it through the poem without stumbling, and even sold a copy of my book. 

 The following evening I was one of the featured readers on the Shrewsbury Poetry zoom. Ten whole minutes to read poems and give a bit of detail on what the collection was about, and how it came into being. The chaos of 2020 and 2021 resulted in the book not seeing the light of day as much as I would have liked, so I’ve been trying to make up for lost opportunities.

While not technically a June achievement, as it fell into the last ten minutes of May, I managed to get the reworked version of my short story sent off to the Bridport Prize. What was originally a 1,500 words piece of fiction now closes off at almost 5,000. With ten minutes to go before the deadline struck, I had to sacrifice some of the edits I wanted to make in order to actually have something submitted. As with all the competitions I enter, I’m not holding out much hope of placing, but I feel as if I get a lot out of entering. Who knows, I didn’t think I would do very well in the London Independent Story Prize and my entry was a Selected Finalist. As many of my writing friends like to remind me, there’s a slim chance of winning whatever you enter, but no chance if you don’t send anything off. Write, edit, submit, and eventually something should stick. 

On the poetry submissions front, I’ve finally heard back on the last of my outstanding 2021 submissions. It was another rejection to add to the pile, but on the bright side, I can now mark last year’s spreadsheet as closed. June also appears to be the month of reading windows for poetry journals so I’m busy putting together a set of submissions to go out before the 30th. The biggest of those will be the manuscript for ‘Stone Tongued’ which I’m planning on sending to Fawn Press. Currently I have six poems out for consideration, with two different journals, so I’m in a good position to redraft my rejected pieces and get some new bits sent out. Friday was a relatively productive day when it came to reworking those poems that have bounced back to me time and time again. Eventually they will find homes, but until then I will keep working on them. 

Those poems might have to wait until tomorrow though, as this weekend it is the first challenge, in the first round of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest! I’ve entered this particular challenge a few times. One year I places quite well in the first challenge, only to flop dramatically in the second. Another year I wrote my story for the first challenge, realised the location was wrong and it would get kicked for not following the prompt, and had to hammer out a second with a few hours to go. The second story got some really mixed feedback from the judges, and the first (which didn’t get sent off due to the location issue) ended up being my entry to the London Independent Story Prize. (So as I mentioned, there is more to entering competitions that just the competitions themselves.) 

This time around I’ve been given the genre, fairy-tale, the location of river rapids, and the item that must be included in the story is a scooter. Those first two I can work with, they even sort of make sense when mushed together in a 1,000 word story, but why? Why, oh why you cruel writing gods? Did you put scooter as the object?

I think I’ve made it work. I think… Either way, I now have a piece of flash fiction that’s just over a 1,000 words and I’ve got the rest of today to edit it into shape. (If you were wondering what task I’m using this blog post as procrastination for, then you’ve finally found it.)

I’m also in need of a title for my story, and I’m probably going to aim for something relatively fairy-tale-esq in case I end up getting the same feedback as I did on the last fairy-tale I tried to write. “Not quite fairy-tale enough”. 

*Grumbles quietly*. 

So before I wile away the remaining hours of my Sunday, moaning about not quite hitting the writing mark, I’m going to hit post on this blog, and go edit my story. Until the next time I want to avoid writing, I wish you all the best with whatever projects you have on this weekend. May the words flow, and someone else put the kettle on for you! Happy writing. 

Gods Out Of Men – #FlashFiction

When the coffee runs out, she drinks tea instead. It’s bad, overly floral and cloying. She drinks it anyway, hips bumped up against the chipboard kitchen counters, sink at her back, eyes on the peeling desk on the other side of the cabin.

Uploading… 65%

The screen on the computer flickers for a second before steadying.

Uploading… 66%

She sips the tea, holds the liquid in her mouth and grimaces when she swallows.

Uploading… 66%

It will be another hour at least before the system is up and running. Until then she will have to be patient. The screen flickers again, blanks out temporarily.

She holds her breath.

Uploading… 67%

She keeps the breath in her lungs until they burn.

Uploading… 67%

She lets it out slowly, carefully, so not to break the internet connection’s concentration. The screen stays clear and she closes her eyes. It would be easier if she could leave the system to do its thing and come back when the download was complete. Outside was not an option though. Not even in the middle of nowhere with nowhere to run.

They’d still locked her in.

Besides the disgusting tea she’d found in the back of a cupboard, the ancient set up on the desk, and the towers stacks of her notes, the cabin itself was mostly bare. There was no bathroom, only a lime green mop bucket and a damp roll of toilet paper. She hadn’t decided if the lack of food was encouragement to work faster, or an oversight of her captors. Unfortunately, the wavering broadband connection dictated the timeframe, and fourteen hours in, her stomach was threatening to turn in on itself.

Uploading… 68%

 

She’d tried sleeping but there was no bed, no chairs, and a scritch, scritch of tiny feet scurrying beneath the floorboards.

Uploading… 69%

She’d checked for gaps in the floorboards, for holes in the walls. Logic told her that there was no way out, and no way in. Logic didn’t let her sleep though.

Uploading… 70%

Uploading… 71%

Uploading… 85%

 

She blinked at the screen, checked she wasn’t mistaken.

Uploading… 86%

 

Her next mouthful of tea was cold. It didn’t help the taste but at least explained the jump in progress. She’d lost time.

She dumped the mug on the floor.

Uploading… 86%

Her mentor called the coding demonic, but he’d been overly conservative in his approach to the future of technology. War was a race, and she just happened to be the one who worked out the winning hand. Every nation wanted control over the others, they might claim to work only for their own protection, but reality dictated that it was more than that. She could take control of every government system and hand over the keys to a single person. That was why they’d taken her.

Uploading… 87%

 

She picked up the closest pad, felt the grooves in the paper where she’d pressed to hard with her pen. Burning them would not keep them safe, copies had already been made, and killing herself had turned out to be trickier than anticipated. They were going to take this power from her no matter what she did.

Uploading… 88%

 

If she had more time, she could have written an antidote. Something to consume her programme before it could get its claws in anywhere important. Half the coding was already dancing behind her eyes, but there was no way to implement it. Interrupting the upload would not end well for her, she’d been shown an example of that already.

Uploading… 89%

 

They could have got someone else to implement her programme. She had been so helpful in leaving clear instructions on how to do so in her arrogance. She was the quickest option though, the most efficient.

It was her idea after all.

Uploading… 90%

 

She’d done the maths on the outcomes. Her best estimate left around ten percent of the human population alive three months from the current date. Dissenters would always find a way to fight back, even against impossible odds.

Uploading… 91%

 

How would they kill her? Her fingers curled and the notes under her hand crumpled. She wasn’t sure if she should hope for a quick death or not.

Uploading… 92%

 

The screen flickered and a bang beneath the desk announced something blowing up. The room went dark.

The locks on the door clunked open.

‘On your knees! Hands behind your head! DO NOT MOVE!’

She follows the orders. Laces her fingers into her hair.

‘Get the back up going so we can see in here.’

Footsteps move around the outside of the cabin, followed by a loud click, and the whirling groan of a generator grumbling into life.

Uploading… 92%

 

She flinches at the sudden brightness, the impossibility, it should have failed. She watches the pixels turn to static and then reform.

Uploading… 54%

 

Her stomach rumbled.

‘Here.’

A gun presses against the back of her skull. A slow trickle of sweat runs down her spine.

‘Food.’

A bag drops in front of her, the gun retreats, door closes. She waits. The lock turns.

Uploading …54%

 

She rises slowly, brushes the grit from her knees.

Fifty-four percent, two hours at most. Then she would be making gods out of men.

She reaches for the bag.

No, she decided. She wouldn’t be making gods out of men. They would not be taking this power from her. She would make sure of that.

Not A Word To Waste, The Horror Of Redrafts #WeekendCoffeeShare

This weekend the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge is taking place. Last month I posted my entry for the second challenge of the first round: Stolen Silence and at the moment I’m working on redrafting my submission for the first challenge of this year’s first round.

Redrafting is the part of the process where you quite often find yourself doubting that you have any ability to put one work in front of the other at all. You find typos, spelling mistakes, words that you didn’t even know existed. Tenses switch back and forth, character names suddenly change, and out of nowhere you move from mountains to city surroundings. Editing is where all your mistakes come to the forefront and you have to go back and fix them.

If you’re luck you will have brilliant people who will help you with your redrafts and edits. These people (if you can find the ones that will give you an honest review rather than just ‘yeah mate, good job’) are invaluable for getting your past that snow-blind stage where you can’t see the words for the prose. Distance from your work can help, but I often find a fresh pair of eyes will pick apart of poem or story far more effectively than I ever could.

I’ve been very luck, I’ve always had friends who were interested in reading and writing so I’ve always had people to run work past. At the moment there is someone reading my poetry collection ‘All In The Blood’ for me, and someone else who has been giving feedback on my NYC submission. For both it has been less about being told what is wrong with my writing, or what is right, but about being challenged to look at my work through a different lens. More often than not this means I go back and take another shot at saying whatever it was I was trying to say.

So, my top tips for editing and redrafting.

  • Try not to send out first drafts. Do a little redrafting yourself before exposing your child to the elements.
  • Remember that you’re asking someone for their opinion. You don’t have to agree with it, but you asked for it so be polite when they give it.
  • Think about the comments your editor makes and even if you don’t go in that direction, think about why they have been made. You might find it sends you off down a different avenue of thought.
  • If your story has an element that you’re not familiar with in it, try finding someone who is familiar. I don’t always believe in the ‘write what you know’ but you should at least ‘write what you’ve researched’.

Now, enough procrastinating, I have a story to redraft, a poetry collection to edit, and a novel to corral. As they say, no sleep for the writer.

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NYC Flash Fiction Challenge 2018 – Stolen Silence

Last year I took part in the NYC Flash Fiction Challenge and came tenth (I think it was) in my group overall. Unfortunately this didn’t get me through to the second round, but for a first try I was pretty happy with that result and it was a valuable learning experience.

Today I signed up for the 2019 challenge and though I have another look at the second of my flash fiction submissions from last year. If I remember correctly, my group was given the genre of drama, our object was salami, and our setting was possibly circus but I could be making that up.

Since I was no longer focused on writing a piece of flash to fit with the prescribed prompts, I decided to focused solely on ensuring the piece stayed under 1,000 words without losing the original plot. Fair warning, it’s somewhat dark.


Stolen Silence

The circus crowds poured out in waves of warmth and laughter, ushered past the gates by stout men in dark jackets. Tucked inside the shadows beyond the spill of the gas lamps Emeline smoothed her skirts in an excuse to work some of the feeling back into her fingers. The fabric stung against her grazed palms, but she pressed more firmly, focusing her attention on the burn.
James weight shifted beside her and she titled her head a touch to watch him. He followed the movement of the crowd carefully, lips moving as he counted.
‘Near enough,’ he said and snatched her hand. Gravel burrowed deeper and Emeline swallowed her cry. Screaming never helped.
The wide road between the edge of the city and the docks was almost empty now, but she ducked her head anyway as they skirted past the few remaining dawdlers. James quickened his pace as small, squat man with a heavy chain wrapped around his fist ambled towards the gates. He drew them together and looped the chain through the bars. James hand came down on top of it.
‘Wait, we’re here to see Madam Hammerish. She’s expecting us.’ Sweat glittered across James’ top lip and there was a tremble in his hand.
‘No Madam Hammerish here,’ said the short man. ‘Show’s all done too, should have got here by seven to see it.’ He rattled the chain. ‘Let go laddie.’
‘We made an appointment,’ James begged. ‘We have the rest of her payment!’
The little man paused and glanced at Emeline.
‘The boss doesn’t like it,’ he said slowly. ‘Thinks she’s asking for trouble with what she does. But that hag has a way about her and I don’t need her cursing my balls for harmin’ her trade.’
The chains came loose with a clatter and the little man pulled one gate open enough so James could pull Emeline inside. When she caught his eye, he flinched.
‘Touch of the witch about her too,’ he muttered and closed the gate behind them. He threaded the chain through and clicked the padlock into place.
‘Here,’ he said and passed James the key. ‘Just lob it back over after you’re gone. Wouldn’t do to have it go missing and all.’
James took the key from him and pocketed it.
‘Don’t get lost. I ain’t coming to find you if yous do.’
Careful not to look at Emeline again he turned towards the tents.
Not waiting to see the man vanish from sight James pulled away and steered her towards the other end of the camp.
‘In here,’ he said, once they had reach the further row of tents. He let go of her wrist and pushed her through a narrow opening. The rug caught beneath her feet and she stumbled.
‘You’re late.’ The old woman scowled toothlessly at them, her nails digging into Emeline’s arms where she had caught the girl. Behind her was a tiny space, stained green by the fabrics draped across a hanging lamp. There was no bed, only a hammock slung between two posts, and a scattering of threadbare cushions across a stained carpet.
Emeline felt her stomach flip.
James came in behind Emeline and placed his hands on her shoulders. ‘Madame Hammerish. It was good of you to make time for us. We appreciate it.’
Madame Hammerish’s scowl stretched into a smirk as he brought his purse around Emeline and held it out.
‘Over there,’ she ordered, and pointed to the cushions on the floor. ‘Best to get these things over and done with. It shouldn’t take too long.’
James hands moved down to Emeline’s shoulders and urged her towards the spot.
‘Wait, no!’ The words sprung out before Emeline could stop them. ‘I don’t-’
He spun her and the slap threw sideways, upending the room around her. No, it was wasn’t the room she realised as her skull thudded against something solid.
James brought his boot to her stomach and kicked the thoughts from her head.
‘Behave,’ he warned.
Bile came up and Emeline choked.
‘Get up,’ he said. He watched her crawl to her knees and then directed her into place with the toe of his boot. The cushions smelt of mildew and Emeline shuddered as Madame Hammerish followed her to the ground, wizened hands grasping at the fabrics of her skirts.
It was cold in the tent and the skin on her thighs prickled.
‘Just lie down and when this is over your gentleman friend can take you home safe and sound,’ Madame Hammerish soothed.
James came to kneel above her head, hovering above her.
She wanted to say no, refuse the brush of the woman’s arm against her calf, the metal inching closer.
She fisted her fingers in the loose material around her bodice, the slight curve of her stomach firm and real beneath her palms.
‘This will be almost painless,’ promised the old woman.
Painless, thought Emeline, closing her eyes.
That was what James had told her when he still had the energy to pretend long enough to lure her into a room alone. It only hurt when it was someone you didn’t love. That was the lie he had spun for her.
‘Here we go,’ said Madame Hammerish and she nodded to James. His hand closed over Emeline’s mouth.
‘It’s for the best,’ he said. ‘Trust me.’
Madame Hammerish’s hand touched her thigh and then higher.
No, thought Emmeline.
It wasn’t and she’d didn’t.
This was wrong.
All of it.
‘For the best,’ James repeated.
Then the pain began.

If We Were Having Coffee: Novel Redrafts And Flash Fiction Competition #amwriting

It’s been a while since I’ve written a Weekend Coffee Share post, months in fact, but I’m currently supposed to writing an entry for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Competition so this seemed like the perfect way to procrastinate.

Project StatsI signed up late for Camp NaNoWriMo this month. At the start of the month I was debating whether or not I was going to have a crack at it and decided not to because I tend to find that writing purely for word-count goals make it even harder for me to get myself into the right frame of mind for writing. That said, having  a goal in mind does help drive me forward on projects so when I started rewriting my Shadow Dawn novel around the 10th July, I decided that I’d set myself a 30,000 word goal for the month and use Camp NaNoWriMo to help me hit that target. I’ve got more time to focus on my writing this month as  I’m still waiting for the result of my last AAT Level 3 exam which means I haven’t got any studying to do. However, other social engagements are taking up most of my weekends so my current progress has been limited to what I can write during my lunch hour at work. Hence the pitiful looking bar chart above.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I’m also taking part in the NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction competition. The deadline for round one is 4am (GMT) so I’ve got the rest of this afternoon to sort out my 1,000 words story and submit it, even if the heat is making it almost impossible for me to get on with anything. I’d rather melt than write at the moment so I’m hoping hammering out a post might encourage me to hammer out a thousand words of fiction in a few minutes time. I can easily write a thousand words in a hour so a first draft should be straight forward, I just wish the weekend wouldn’t slip past me so quickly.

*Note: It’s now almost five in the evening as I’ve been procrastinating from writing this post as well. I really need to learn to just get on with things.*

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Tomorrow will mark DVerse Poets Pub coming back off their two week break, something I’ve been looking forward to since their first day of absence. For the last fortnight I’ve been desperate for poetry prompt so I can’t wait until Monday’s Quadrille night.

I’m also trying to work out how to take my poetry to the next level on this poem. When going through the stats on this site I realize that I only reach about fifty views per post most of the while so I’d really like to start bumping that number up. I suppose the upside to that total is that my view total stays quite close to my likes total so I can see that most people who read the poems, go on to liking them. I just need to find a way of getting more people reading them.

Other than that there isn’t much going on this weekend. I hope yours have been slightly more productive than mine and I will now go off and get this flash fiction piece written for NYC Midnight before I find a way to procrastinate right up to the deadline. All the best for the next week and thanks for reading.

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