Thursday, 18 December 2014

New Beginnings!

Yesterday I received my certificate from Brunel University confirming my results for the recent MA in Creative Writing I recently completed. While I've been celebrating my Distinction, another glance at the letter that came with the certificate said that this is not the end but the beginning. And it's true.

Just taking part in the course helped hone my skills, open me up to knew ideas for my writing and I met some wonderful people on the way.

I sat down the other day and thought about the range of writing activities I have lined up and I'm going into the new year with quite a few writing projects that I can't wait to undertake. I've started the groundwork for these projects already and I never seem to come up for air. Not that I'm complaining.

I'll continue with the ghost writing and will also be bringing out books under a pseudonym. But my biggest journey, which started in 2012 when I completed a book of short stories, is finding out how to self-publish the stories.

The work I've done on that project so far is finding a good editor and having a copy-edit done on the stories. So now I'm reading through the edit, making a few adjustments and then I'll have it proof read.

While this is going on I've asked an illustrator to help come up with a picture for the cover. I provided her with my ideas, colours, mood and theme and I'm looking forward to seeing what she comes up with.

Self-publishing has lost some of the stigma attached but I'm making sure I do all the right things so this collection is published to the highest standard I could possibly make it.

It's a very different experience from the traditional route I went down when Holding Paradise was published. And though I feel privileged to have had my first novel published in this way, self-publishing seems to be a better for this next project.

So I've got a full year ahead of me in terms of writing and I'm looking forward to all of it. I will be keeping you posted along the way in the hope my journey will prove helpful to anyone contemplating self-publishing. Mostly I'm looking forward to making comparisons to both routes to publication.

I received my first royalty cheque from the publishers! It didn't put me in the same league as J K Rowling...but it's a start. And who knows what the future will bring.

The head professor of the Creative Writing course was very complimentary about my talent as a writer but pointed out that luck plays a part in success in this business. That being said, I'd like to wish everyone reading this luck and lots of it for 2015. Let's hope there's enough to go around!

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Graduate!

English: Dustin Hoffman during filming of the ...
Warning! This post has nothing to do with Dustin Hoffman.

In fact it's a bit of a 'me, me, me' post today.

It's my birthday today and I received a fabulous present... my University marks came out and I discovered that I was awarded a Creative Writing MA with Distinction.

Dustin was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe Award for The Graduate and won a BAFTA but, as awards go, it really feels like my distinction tops all of those.

And so I didn't get to wear beautiful, long dress or walk along a red carpet - I had to make do with leggings and walking on air- and I truly am.

So here endeth the 'me, me, me,' moment - well on this blog anyway! I have a feeling I'll be walking on air for quite some time to come.

Now to work on that speech...

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Goodreads Giveaway!

A Goodreads Giveaway of Holding Paradise is on offer for the next few weeks folks!

It's good to give and why not something that is dear to my heart?

While I'm busy trying to get the follow up to Holding Paradise ready for publication next year, here's a chance to read Holding Paradise for free before that happens.

All you have to do is click to enter!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Holding Paradise by Fran Clark

Holding Paradise

by Fran Clark

Giveaway ends December 15, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Editing Your Novel

With the first draft of my second novel, When Skies Are Grey, finally completed, I've been patting myself on the back but have decided to set it aside for a short while.

Next will come the long job of further drafts to get it into shape before submitting to literary agents - another long job in itself.

But, for anyone at this stage of the writing process, be it 1st or 2nd draft, here are a couple of books I've read that I think would be useful to you.

The first is a book by John Mullan called How Novels Work this link is to an updated version of the one I read so there might be more handy hints in it than the 2006 version. Well worth a look for any novelist.

The second is by Renni Browne and David King, called Self-Editing For Fiction Writers
Again, lots of really useful advice
Happy Writing Folks

Monday, 3 November 2014

Book Signing

Each time I sign my book I get a mixture of feelings all at the same time, ranging from pride, embarrassment, fear, amazement, self-belief, self-doubt, a need to lie down, joy, alcohol cravings and realisation - yes, I really am a writer.

I joined the line up for this amazing event today called House Of Arts at Boston Manor House

There was also African music by Steven Kasamba and a photography exhibition and talk by James Barnor.

A few book signing pics, just so I can re-live all of the above feelings and maybe give in to the alcohol cravings!
 Also did an acoustic performance of my music so had a few CDs on sale too!
 James Barnor from Ghana insisted I wear something from his country (didn't get to keep the scarf though!)

 Some tricky name spellings so had to concentrate.
 She's checking I'm the author!
Had a fantastic afternoon. Now back to the writing, rehearsing, and everything else!

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Black History Month

My local libraries celebrate Black History Month each year with various events around the borough. I've been invited to take part in an event called House of Arts, at Boston Manor House in Hounslow this time around.
English: Boston Manor House is a Grade I liste...

I'm looking forward to this (taking place a little later than October which is the official Black History Month this year).

There'll be a photography exhibition, a performance by an African drums specialist and singer/songwriter and author, Fran Clark. Yes, me.

So I've been rehearsing my songs as I'm performing an acoustic set from my recent album, Beautiful People, as well as doing a reading from my novel, Holding Paradise and performing a song by one of the characters in the book.

If you're in the area, pop along, it's free. Details below:

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The End Is Near

Well, not quite the end...

Having put a hold on all of my freelance writing contracts, I'm keen to finally finish the first draft of my second novel, When Skies Are Grey (working title), and I'm almost there!

The title of my second novel is very appropriate for today. I'm in London and we're in for some stormy, rainy weather so what better way to spend the next few days but to sit, glued to my laptop and write.

My creative brain has been split into several directions as I've been ghost writing stories for other people. So, I'm dedicating this time and using all of my creative energy on my own project.

It's a very exciting prospect to get to the end of the first draft but then all the hard work begins.

I remember what it was like writing Holding Paradise. At the end of the first draft I was far from finished. The editing process began. It was the time for making harsh choices in terms of the narrative, plot lines, dialogue etc. Not all of your original ideas make it to the final draft and it was hard giving up certain scenes and characters to get to the end project.

I think I will be a lot tougher when it comes to killing off my darlings this time. I know how important it can be to the final product and became a lot better at listening to and being able to use constructive criticism.

So, no more staring out into this grey and miserable London sky, it's back to the writing. This book won't write itself!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Meet Angelica Ford

Holding Paradise is a split narrative story about a mother and daughter growing up in two very different parts of the world. They are very different in character but a lot of parallels can be drawn between certain events in their lives.
Today I'd like to interview Angelica Ford, the leading character of one of the narratives:

Many people might be impressed by the way you created a business from nothing while being a single mum. How did you manage?

AF: Well, don't forget I had a business partner. Jasmin, my best friend, was always there for me and when we had to, and very sadly, part ways, she made it very easy for me. It was strange how it all worked out. I had no real ambition to start a business, I just knew that I wanted to change my life and it isn't always easy to take a risk like that. I struggled for money at first and we ran the catering business from our little flat in West London to start. It was only through a series of taking risks and lucky breaks that we were able to open the cafe. From there it just went from strength to strength. I feel blessed that I could make a living out of something I loved to do.

It is also very difficult to raise a child alone but when you finally married, your teenage daughter became quite a handful. How did that affect your marriage and the business?

AF: Wow, that's a big question, you have no idea. As a family we went through some very big and dramatic changes and upheavals. I know I gave my daughter, Eva, a lot more flexibility in the way I raised her than my very strict upbringing. She went through her tantrums and tiara stages, and she won't mind me saying so, but, fundamentally she is a good girl. What happened was a young girl falling in love. It was misplaced and created an enormous rift in the family dynamic but I have to take some of the responsibility for that. I am her mother after all and, though she never blames me, I can't help blaming myself. As mother's we do our best. I look back at that summer and wonder what I could have done differently.

You had to travel half the world to try to put things right between your daughter and your husband. How traumatic was that?

AF: I look back on those few weeks as the worst moments of my life and I never want to go down that road again. Hearts were broken, things were said and done that can never be taken back. But what I learned from all of that experience was about the power of love and family. It was my mother, of all people, who showed me that there might be a way to put right all the catastrophes that were taking place over that time. It just seemed to go from bad to worse. I learned how to trust and to trust what your heart is telling you.

When all is said an done, there are still some secrets in your family.

AF: Yes, that's true and I don't know how I can live with them. My mother had to live with lies and it tore her heart apart. I just know that the secret I have to keep is just so big it would destroy more than just my immediate family if the truth were ever known.

How can anyone reading this interview get a close up view of what went wrong in your life, how you tried to fix it and the secret you have to keep?

AF: They can watch the following trailer and decide if they want to know more. The secret is a big burden to carry and not anyone can or will want to.

Thank you for sharing with us today, Angelica, it was great talking to you.

You can find out more about Angelica and her family by following this link if you are a UK Reader or this one is you are any where else in the world.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Meeting Those Deadlines

There's nothing like a nice break and my 'Big Fat Blogging Break' was nothing like a nice break!

I have been hard at it. I finally handed in my dissertation *big cheer* and I couldn't be more relieved. Problem is, I keep looking over my shoulder, thinking I've left something behind only to realise that what I'm searching for is the thing that has been keeping me up all night - the dreaded dissertation. It's over and done with and I will never use the word, dissertation, ever again amongst friends and family. They must also be sick of me ranting and raving about it. That ends here.

So, what next for me then? Is there life after the big D?

Fortunately, yes there is. I had to turn writing jobs away in the last few weeks but now I have three on the go. All of them ghost writing jobs of various descriptions and lengths and varying deadlines for completion.

Then there is the big deadline - finishing my own novel. When Skies Are Grey is still at first draft stage and I'm desperate to get it finished by January so I can start sending it off to various agents.

Plus I have another deadline that has been waiting in the wings. That is to have my collection of stories edited so that I can self-publish them. It might be adventurous of me but my deadline is Valentine's Day 2015. As the collection begins with a split narrative, love story that spans a period between 1896 and 1926, it would be nice to have it ready for then.

For those of you who don't know, these stories are a follow up to my debut novel, Holding Paradise, and if you haven't picked up a copy from here, here or here then you better get a move on so you can follow what happens with some of the Holding Paradise characters next. The collection of stories is called The Long Way Home and includes two novellas and three longish, short stories.

Now, because my mother-in-law tells me that I take on too much and that is why I'm a borderline insomniac, that has to be it for the big deadlines - for now!

I will spend time talking about the characters and themes of all of the above and would love to get your feedback if you have read Holding Paradise or are interested in any of the stories I have talked about.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

My Big FAT Blogging Break

Regular readers of my blog will see that I have not been on the scene for a while. I'm sorry not to have been coming up with the goods but freelance writing jobs and the due date for my dissertation is fast approaching.

You will notice I call the submission date for my dissertation the due date. It's my baby, you see, I live and breath it at the moment. It keeps me up at night, it makes me crave unusual (but mostly naughty) snacks at unreasonable hours. I have dark circles under my eyes, I don't exercise and I'm moody as anything.

When it's completed I will breath a huge sigh of relief.

Until then I have to take break from blogging and Tweeting and dipping into Facebook, come to that.

Due date for dissertaion: 17 September 2014 - the countdown continues.

Following that date I will be re-thinking the blog, possibly re-naming it and certainly inviting a few more guest bloggers. One of them could be you if you'd like to contact me. Unless of course, you are the person who offered to do a guest blog about your English school and had a website full of bad grammar. That was a joke, right?

Anyway - I digress. Back to my baby and the freelance jobs. I'll get down to meeting my dead lines and I'll see you all on the other side very, very soon.

Happy reading and writing folks!
(apologies for typos as I did this post in between nervous breakdowns)

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Thursday Short #9

Grice, Searle, Leech, Brown and Levinson identified the co-operative principles of dialogue. The principle describes how effective communication in conversation is achieved in common social situations.

Well, in today's, Thursday Short, I break all of them.

Based on an event that took place, coming home on a bus in which the driver stopped the bus and appeared to be having some sort of breakdown, I describe what could have happened the morning he left home before driving the bus.

By Fran Clark

Every morning, at 6.30am, the alarm rings. Lily gets out of bed and heads for the shower and George sleeps on for an extra ten minutes. He hits the snooze button, slips his feet into his slippers and goes downstairs to make freshly-brewed coffee and toast.
When Lily comes to the kitchen to join George they usually talk about their plans for the day, decide who is doing dinner and what they will eat when they see the other that evening at 7pm.
“George, what are you doing? Where's breakfast? Why are you holding a golf club?”
“Do you know, it's absolutely impossible to get rid of a dog. I left the front door open and told him to run, get lost. He went to the lamp post, had a slash and now he's sniffing around outside.”
“But, breakfast, George. Look, I'll make it. You let Bonzo back in and go up and take a shower.”
“I'm a cat person. I always wanted a cat. I don't even like dogs.”
“Maybe you should have today off, George. Would you like me to bring you something up? I can call the depot and say you're not well.”
“Lily, you can call the depot and tell them I've got the two bob bits for all I care. I'm playing golf today and I won't be talked down.”
“Darling, I have no intention of talking you down. Are you sure you're alright?”
“How can we ever be sure of anything? Life is just a bowl of cherries. Unfortunately someone ate all the flesh off mine and all I'm left with are the stones.” He laughed and shook his head. “Yep. Just. The. Fuck. Ing. Stones.” With each word he swiped the air with his golf club. The last swipe caught the edge of a vase which came crashing to the floor.
“George, your mother gave us that!”
“My mother is a two-faced, bitch. Lies get you no-where and what the hell is all that scratching at the door?”
“It's Bonzo. Shall I let him in?”
“Today, I'll build a dog flap. I'll need to take the front door off its hinges. May get a bit draughty in here but a little fresh air never hurt anyone.”
“Ok, that's fine, dear. You were excellent when the sink was blocked so you'll be great at carving a great big square into the woodwork. Bonzo is such a big dog.”
“Look, forget the dog flap. Let's just get rid of the dog. I better get dressed. I've got a bus to drive.”
“Well, if you're sure, George. But I think maybe you should take the day off.”
“Will you just shut your big fat trap for once in your life?” George leant the golf club up against the table as Lily stared at him, open-mouthed. “No. I'll be fine. The travellers on the 195 will be in good hands today. I think today will be a good one. The best.”

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Thursday Short #8

Difficult to decide what the Thursday Short should be today but I've gone for this one.
Look for ward to your comments.

When He Sleeps
Fran Clark
Benny was dead. He was sprawled out across the sofa, one arm outstretched, eyes not fully closed. Cathy sat on the footstool watching for the rise and fall of his chest, hoping he would begin to snore in that loud and ferocious way so that she could exhale. Her mother, Terry, crouched in a corner crying silently into shaking hands that were impossible to control.
   “Is he asleep?” Cathy had asked this of her mother several times but Terry could not speak. Heavy rain pelted the window of their third floor flat leaving a distorted image of a black sky with speckles of orange reflected from the street lights below. The paramedics and the police walked soggy footprints into the flat. They questioned Terry who hugged Cathy close to her and stroked her hair.
   “Was he your husband?”
   “And he'd been drinking?”
   “He hit you?”
   “So you thought you'd punish him?”
   “It's not like that.”
   “Mrs Theresa Banks, I'm arresting you on suspicion of murder, you do not have to say anything...”
   Cathy was only sixteen. She had school the next day.
Cathy lit another cigarette. She inhaled deeply and watched the cloud of greyish white waft around her face. She half closed her eyes and turned to see the barman from the The Latin Corner hovering by the window again. There were only two people drinking inside but it was brightly lit and it looked warm in there. In the forecourt, where Cathy sat, there were four long tables and eight benches alongside them. It was damp and grey and the barman had been out twice to ask what she wanted to drink and each time Cathy had said, 'I'm waiting for someone.'
   “Don't you want to wait inside? It's freezing out here,” he'd said, but Cathy had shaken her head, blowing cigarette smoke over her shoulder. The barman watched her now, a tall slim woman with one or two dreadlocks escaping from a green knitted hat, as she pulled her collar tighter and tapped the empty cigarette packet on the table,
   The traffic was loud along the Camden Road. Buses, cars and taxis had passengers neatly packaged away but not one person on foot. For years she had waited for this moment. Her mother, Terry, home again. Out. No more visits with a table between them but a chance to rebuild their lives. At least that is what she hoped would happen, but Terry had changed. She was thinner, paler, lines patterned her face and her red hair had turned a dirty blonde colour. But it was not only a physical change. They'd had less and less to talk about and Cathy worried that as her release date drew closer her mother might be having second thoughts about staying with her. She felt guilty that her mother was the one who had been locked away for so long when it was the pair of them that had wanted him dead.
   Benny was her mother's first boyfriend after Cathy's father died. She never trusted him and she hated his eyes. They bulged from his mahogany face, the whites slightly yellow and always stern. He had a broad nose and wide lips, his face taking on the look of a grotesque mask and Cathy never trusted him. He wasn't dissimilar in colour or height to her father but they were not the same. One of the first things Benny did was shove a photograph of Cathy holding hands with her mother and father into a drawer. She loved that photograph it was the only one in which Terry wore her red hair loose to her shoulders and her father's afro reminded her of a lollipop. She was six in that photo.
   Cathy could hear Benny through the walls at night, snoring after a bout of drinking or a drunken rage. As angry as he sounded in his sleep it was still a comfort to know he was doing just that – sleeping. Very often Terry would crawl into bed with Cathy. Sometimes her lip was split sometimes her eye was too battered to open the next morning. Terry never fell asleep she would just shiver under the cover as Cathy wrapped her arm around her until morning.
   “Settle down, Cathy, Love.” She would say to her daughter when she crept into her room. “When he's asleep he can't hurt us.”
    One night the sound of Benny's hand across Terry's face made Cathy jump. Something had broken or snapped. She was sitting next to her on the sofa when it happened. Terry's hand was against her red cheek instantly, her eyes darting from Cathy to Benny who hovered above her with his fist clenched.
“Benny – no. No more!” Terry cried, but he never listened to pleas. Not from her and not from Cathy. This time Cathy threw herself across Terry but Benny grabbed her by the back of the neck like a rag doll and tossed her across the room. Her head hit the corner of the radiator and she cried out as she saw Benny's fist land again in the same place on her mother's face. It was not a human sound her mother made before she slumped backwards on the sofa. Her neck bent to one side and she was not moving. Cathy ran to her mother.
   “You bastard, you've killed her. I'm calling the police this time.”
   “Keep out of my business or you'll make things worse for her.” He left the flat as Cathy cried. She dialled 999 and asked for an ambulance.
   The doctor prescribed strong pain killers in draught form because Terry's jaw was broken and she could hardly open her mouth to speak.
   “Don't look so sad Cathy, these pain killers knock me out. I can sleep off the pain.”
   Cathy held Terry's hand as she slept, staring hard at the bottle of pain killer. Then she rested her head on her mother's lap and fell asleep too.
   A car horn sounded on the Camden Road and Cathy looked across at the low red brick building. Terry had told her not to wait at the gate it would be too upsetting. Cathy arranged the place to meet but the time was ticking away and she wondered if her mother had walked away, changed her mind about meeting her. It had tormented Cathy that Terry might not want to see her, that she might not forgive her and that she wanted those years back.
   The barman placed a coffee in front of Cathy.
   “On the house,” he said and walked away. It was becoming dark, it would rain soon and she would be forced to go inside. She yawned and suddenly there was Terry walking slowly towards her and then waiting to cross the road. Cathy leapt up and waved.
   “I thought you weren't going to meet me,” Cathy said, there were tears in her eyes now.
   “Why would you think that, love?”
   “Because, because you might resent me. I can never pay you back for what you did for me.”
   “It was all I could do to say sorry for the years I stole from you as a child. I should have been stronger for you. I'm sorry, Cathy.”
   The barman watched them hugging each other for a full minute before disappearing along the Camden Road.
When He Sleeps was written in response to a Burnett Archive account by Lillian Westall called The Good Old Days Vol no. 1:746

Thursday, 3 July 2014

The Thursday Short #7

For today's Thursday Short I thought I would give you a lipogram. This is a story with certain letters of the alphabet not used at all. So now it's time for you guess which ones.

By Fran Clark

Henry Mills sat in his taxi, fingers gripping the steering wheel, back teeth clenched. The changing traffic lights reflected against the shiny black paint and lit up his cabin. He blinked each time they changed. Green, amber, red – again and again, as he stuttered his way up Fleet Street. He didn't even have a fare and it was five pm. By five-fifteen his nerves were especially frayed. His arteries pulsated in time with his diesel engine as it idled at City Thames link. His veins bulged like the underpass way back at Piccadilly Circus. The dreaded traffic lights were always against him, as were the cyclists. Their risk taking, weaving between all that heated metal and reckless driving, left him breathless.
He had had a terrible time falling asleep last night. Blinding headlights and sirens screeching plagued his dreams. He kicked at his blankets and talked in his sleep. He was tired and stiff at 6am when he left his flat. He had dark circles under his eyes and yawned all day.
Suddenly a well-dressed man waved a creased newspaper at him. Finally, a fare. The man sat heavily in the back seat and sighed like air escaping a tyre.
This particular rainy evening heralded Henry's last time tackling the grey and grimy city streets. New and quieter passengers awaited in the sleepy suburbs. It meant less cash in his wallet when his shift ended but at least he'd have his sanity back. He stuck his fingers up at St Paul's Cathedral as he inched past. Never again he mused.
In the back seat his fare read the newspaper and hadn't realised that Henry sat biting his nails in the creeping traffic. Minutes later Henry's neck flushed pink and then scarlet until it finally became a vivid red. This went unseen by the sighing man with his Daily Telegraph held high. An astute passenger might have detected the steam rising in Henry's cabin. A smarter passenger might well have seen that just ten metres later, Henry's cheek rested against the steering wheel and his eyelids fluttered. Very little air reached Henry's lungs. He was fading away and his last views were traffic and rain. Henry heard the clicking metre, increasing his wages while the man in the back turned the pages and became increasingly captivated by the finance pages. He squinted in the failing light at the fine print.
Behind the taxi, traffic was at a standstill. Ahead drivers pulled away and left the taxi sitting in the middle lane as cars queued up and beeped their anger at the shiny cab.
A few minutes later, Henry's passenger heard tapping. Surprised, he jumped and let the newspaper fall as a red faced lady peered in at Henry. The passenger then saw his driver slumped at the wheel. They had passed the Festival Gardens and the taxi had stalled.
The lady pulled at the handle, panic rising. She reached inside the cabin and gave Henry a shake. He slid sideways and fell against her. She shrieked and stared, lips slightly parted, at the passenger.
“We need an ambulance.” She breathed. The passenger was already dialling as the rain became heavier still.
Nearly thirty minutes passed. The passenger, still in the back, saw flashing blue lights as an ambulance zig-zagged its way up Fleet Street. When it drew nearer he gathered his newspaper and, using it as an umbrella against the blustery rain, slid away, heading east. He caught the Central Line at St Paul's. Newspaper print dyed his fingers as, sitting in a busy carriage, he watched his shaking hands.
Français : Piccadilly Circus

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

I've Been Nominated!

Yes, a little while ago I was nominated to receive the Liebster Award

It has taken a while to thank the wonderful Samantha for the award, but I gladly accept and am delighted to be able to pass it on to a blogger with a difference.

Just quickly, though, take a look at my award:

Pretty nifty, don't you think?

But, firstly Samantha is a published short story writer who is hoping to make that transition to novel writing. You must pop over to her blog and check out this talented writer and follow her writing journey. I promise it will be worth it as Samantha has a new short story collection for you to discover. You can click over to find out more about Samantha here

Now part of handing over the award is to ask the person receiving the award some questions. Here are Samantha's questions to me and my answers:

  1. What is one mod-con that you cannot imagine living without?

    I would have to say my laptop. I write all the time and my handwriting is a disgrace. I start off neat but then it just looks like I've been drinking while I write. Granted that sometimes I do but that's just between me and you:) Also, being on line is how I stay in touch with everything and practically everyone I know. Who can live without a laptop?

    2) What is you pet peeve?

    Without a doubt it has to be the way a lot of Brits have decided to pronounce the the eighth letter of the alphabet. It is written like this: aitch. But some people insist on making a 'h' sound before it. People are actually pronouncing it inaccurately on television. You can tell I'm peeved.

    3) Who are the 3 people you most admire?

    One has to be my son. He has just turned 14 and he swims for the local team. He gets up at 4.30am three mornings a week to train before school. In all he has about 7-8 swimming sessions, keeps on top of his school work and has recently made it to the Nationals. (Which is a big deal in the swimming world). Another is the late Nelson Mandela. I admire his choices, what he stood for and the way he touched the lives of so many people. Last but not least is my mother for the sacrifices she made in her life, how she stays true to her faith and the fact that her stories influenced my début novel,
    Holding Paradise.

    4) What is the first record you purchased with your own money?

    If I remember rightly, it was
    Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Elkie Brooks. I think I was 11 or twelve, not sure. But don't go looking up the date it was released as I am known to lie about my age.

    5) If you could only take two books on holiday with you, which two would you choose and why?

    The first would be Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. One of my favourites and I have only read it once but it stays in my memory as being so beautiful. I don't know why I haven't read it again but that would be an opportunity to re-read it. I think I would choose the winner of the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction 2014, Eimear McBride's A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing to see how hard I have to try to get that prize one day! I can dream can't I?

    6) What is your favourite quote, and by whom?

    This is a really hard one as there are so many to choose from. But I like the one that says. “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” by Benjamin Franklin. I think I should make that my mantra.

    7) Why do you write?

    I write because over the years it has become part of my identity. I would be lost without being able to write and I've got so much more to say, how could I cope if I couldn't write it all down?

    8) In your opinion what is your best blog post? (Please provide link)

    Hmm, difficult. Maybe it is this one This is my latest feature and I had to get up the courage to do this and keep it going on a weekly basis. I really hope it will generate interest and one day other writers might want to feature their short stories on my blog. That would be great.

    9) What are you scared of?

    I have a list. Cats, dogs, water, bees, wasps, horror movies. But I'm really scared that I can't continue my current lifestyle. Being able to write and make music keeps me happy. I'd be scared of losing that.

    10) You've got 3 wishes - what are they? (Just to note - I'm afraid I can't grant them!)
    One is to write a book that people will remember for years to come. Another is to produce an album that people will remember for years to come. And the third is to remember that I'm trying to lose weight and I must lay off the naughty snacks between meals:)
Now the rules of the award says that you may choose the number of bloggers you nominate but for me, I chose just one and if you follow her blog you'll soon find out why.
I nominate Luccia Gray, the author of the Eyre Hall Trilogy. Luccia is what I call the contstant blogger and she never tires of posting on a regular basis, popping over to other blogs and being kind enough to support and comment on the posts of others.
She claims that there are more than one of her and I'm beginning to think that is true.
Congratulations on winning the Liebster Award Luccia and here are my questions for you:
  1. What subject do you most like to blog about?
  2. Other than writing do you have any other artistic talents?
  3. Is there a part of the world you would like to write about?
  4. How would you describe The Eyre Hall Trilogy to someone you met at a party?
  5. Have you ever taken any courses in writing and how helpful do you think they are to writers?
  6. At what stage in your life did you start to call yourself a writer?
  7. What do you do for relaxation?
  8. What are you working on at the moment (Doesn't have to be book related)?
  9. What would you best like to be known for?
  10. I wish that my life was like a black and white musical, a la Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - any secret or strange desires of your own?
 Congrats and thanks once again to both of these writers and I look forward to Luccia's post!

Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Thursday Short #6

A love story for today's Thursday Short - but with a difference. See what you make of this one...

By Fran Clark

Libby Taylor wasn't beautiful, her figure was far from perfect. I would never dress like her or dye my hair that shade of red but she fascinated me all the same. I saw her almost daily from my window. I stopped writing to watch her pottering in the garden, setting out for a jog or jumping into her Spitfire.
Not long after they moved in next door, Libby and her husband, Jack, invited Paul and me for dinner. It was summer. We sat in the garden drinking sangria and eating salad. I was bothered by the flies but Libby, so poised and confident, had Paul infatuated.
A few mornings later I went to hang out the washing. I heard a radio playing in Libby's garden. She hummed to the music and then let her voice soar. It wasn't a special voice but I dropped Paul's shirt back into the basket and peered through the hedge. She was on a reclining chair, the radio beside her on the uncut grass. She wore a bold orange dress, long and flimsy. It clashed with her beetroot red hair. Her eyes were closed, her feet bare, a fine, gold chain around her ankle. She raised her arms and from the nape of her neck she flicked her hair so it fell like a silky red drape over the back of her chair. Her armpits were unshaven, her arms silky and white.
Suddenly she stopped singing and turned towards me. I crouched down. How stupid. She saw the top of my head, or at least the pink towel wrapped around it since my shower.
“Don't be shy,” she called. As she leant forward to turn off the radio, her dress gaped in the front. I caught a glimpse of her breasts. Smooth domes that collided as she leant forward and separated just slightly with a fluid movement as she stepped off the chair.
“Can I come through?” She asked. I couldn't answer at first. She laughed, only lightly. I shook my head so that I could focus again and my towel dropped onto the lawn. I bent to pick it up and saw Libby making her way through the gap in the hedge. She ran a hand over the bark of my eucalyptus tree, its branches overhung her side of the garden.
“I hope the leaves won't bother you.” What a ridiculous thing to say.
“I love eucalyptus,” she said. And that's how it began.
I hadn't intended to fall in love with Libby.
Jack and Paul usually worked late. Paul was a lawyer and Jack an architect. I didn't care what either husband did. All that concerned me was how Libby made me feel and what she taught me. After a few months my personality was transformed. I dressed more like Libby. I bought an ankle chain. I felt freer, more open with Paul but my most precious moments I spent with her.
We talked a lot about running away together. I imagined our husbands' faces as Libby and I jumped into her open-topped car and waved goodbye to them. Paul in a dirty shirt – I was becoming increasingly fed up with looking after him – and Jack, just as bemused.
But summer came round again and we were still with them.
On a hazy afternoon in July, Paul called to say he'd been delayed. Jack wouldn't be home for another two hours. The heat was overwhelming. All the windows in Libby's house were open but it was still stifling in the bedroom. I asked her to turn the music down because the neighbours might complain. Libby only laughed with that musical trill in her voice, a delightfully, audible exhale.
“Just relax,” she said.
I did just that, laying my head on her pillow. I looked down to see her red hair spread across my stomach and the gentle movement of her head. I thought she was humming to the music, slight vibrations passed through her lips. I arched my back, my head sank deeper into the pillow. I sighed in time to the music letting the sound swell and diminish to her rhythm until I called out her name like an anthem. I lifted my head and opened my eyes. There stood Jack. I wanted to scream but the sound got caught somewhere between the thought and my mouth. I tried to pull the sheets across my body. Libby just sat up and smoothed her hair.
“You're back early.” She turned to Jack then slipped off the bed to turn the music down.
“Decided I'd had enough.” Jack's tie was loose and he unfastened another button. He looked over at me and smiled. I lowered my eyes and watched his feet reluctantly leave the room.
“Sorry about that.” Libby stood by the open window and lit a cigarette. “Will you stay for dinner?”
In my rush to leave, my ankle chain broke but I refused to answer the door when Libby tried to return it.
The hedge between our gardens grew taller. I had the gardener fill the gap and cut back the branches of the eucalyptus. Libby and I never spoke again.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

The Thursday Short #5

This short story was inspired by an exercise on the Creative Writing MA. We were given three words and asked to use them in a short story.

Can you guess the three words? Comment below if you figured it out and I'll let you know. But this may or may not be a clue:

by Fran Clark

When Ian Marsden sat at his desk, his new desk, in his own office, he smiled. I have arrived, he thought to himself. I have a door that everyone has to knock on to enter but before doing so they will read my name on the door. Here everyone will know who I am.
Ian hadn't been entirely unhappy with his last position in the firm. He had worked there for six years and, finding that he could do his job in his sleep and sometimes wondering if in fact he had been asleep for a large proportion of the day, he applied for and gained a promotion. Where he'd sat, in that open plan office, with the persistent hum of the air conditioning system and Tom Downes' constant rustling of sweet wrappers and biscuit packets, he thought he might slump backwards in his swivel chair and die - his death going unnoticed by the inexorable flow of colleagues walking past his desk leaving wafts of perfume, aftershave and deodorant just under his nose.
Of course there had been Katy Browne. Lovely Katy Browne who he'd glance at occasionally, her desk being only six feet away. But she never glanced back. Her eyes were always fixed on her computer screen and her right hand glided up and down and from side to side over her mouse pad as she held her mouse, clicking and double clicking, stopping only to raise her coffee mug to her mouth and sip.
With his promotion, his new desk and his new office, a new suit naturally followed. His mother urged him to wear the cuff links she'd given to him as a present when he turned thirty. They had been handed down by his grandfather but he'd never had occasion to wear them until now, just ten years after having received them. His mother, as a special treat, made him a packed lunch on the first day in his new position. She got up especially early to prepare it. She made a cheese and pickle sandwich, boiled and peeled an egg and rubbed a Gala apple on the front of her dressing gown before placing them all into a large, plastic food storage box and handing it to a blushing Ian before he left for work ten minutes earlier than usual.
The plastic, food storage box sat in the top draw of his new desk as his manager welcomed him to his new post, promptly leaving his office and closing the door behind her. Once he'd sat down and turned on his computer he became aware of the air conditioning system, the noticeable absence of Tom Downes' noisy snacks and the comforting click-clicking of Katy Browne's mouse. It had to have been the longest morning of his life as he thought longingly of his packed lunch and the undeniable knowledge that yet again he would be eating alone.
At the window in his new office, he stood with his hard-boiled egg in hand, the sun glinting off his right cuff link as he distinctly heard footsteps approaching his office door. Making a swift lifting and lowering action of his egg to and from his mouth he shouted, “Come in!” before he'd even heard a knock at the door. Startling himself by the volume of his welcome call, he dropped his egg and watched as it landed on his left shoe, rolled onto the floor and lay just inches from his foot. He bent quickly to collect it. Rising from a crouched position, he remembered that someone had been approaching his office. He stood to see Katy Browne holding the door open with one hand and a mug of coffee in the other, a warm smile on her face.

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Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Thursday Short #4

Today's Thursday Short has a taste of Brazil because of the World Cup - but there is not a single football in sight.

Please feel free to make a comment below.

By Fran Clark

Marta Bat 011 Marta ran through the small field of orange lantanas and along the gritty path to the wooden house. She clutched the unopened letter in her hand, the envelope warm and creased. Thiago would be expecting her and the door, as ever, would be open.
“Take a seat, Marta. How is it town today? No, don't tell me. I moved out here to be away from the madness, I only wish you could have too.”
“Obrigado, professor.”
“Please, Marta, call me Thiago. I stopped being your teacher a long time ago and even then you very rarely attended class. Here, let me see the letter.”
Minha querida Marta
I miss you so much and I hope this finds you well. I spend my waking moments imagining what life must be like for you now. I still pray that you can forgive me one day for leaving you alone like this. I dreamt last night that you came to visit me. Perhaps one day?
It has been almost six months and by now you must have run out of money, or close enough. Your family turned their back on you because of me but if you are desperate then you must turn to them for help. Maybe you could go to your father and beg forgiveness. After all, he was right, I am a failure. God knows, nothing pains me more than to think you are lonely and afraid, Marta.
I know, you are saying, where was God when my husband behaved in such a brutal way? I have thought about my actions for a long time and wish I had an answer. I am no better than any of the criminosos I am locked away with. They act tough and threatening by day and by night they cry themselves to sleep like hungry children. I cry silent tears - but not for me. God knows I deserve my fate. But you, Marta. So pure, so innocent, I should never have made your life so stained. Perdoa-me, Marta. If I live to return to you I will spend my life atoning for my sins against you and your family.
Today a gift of books was presented to the prison. I was to teach you how to read. I have not forgotten. Please find a way to continue with your lessons. It will help you in the future. Maybe one day we can read stories to our children.
I hope my mother's health improves and she is no longer a burden to you. She loves you as though you were her own daughter, I know.
One sheet of paper is never enough to write everything in my heart but I leave you once more until I am permitted another letter. One day I hope you can write me back.
Com amor o seu marido
“You should think about that, Marta.”
“Think about what?”
“Letting me teach you how to write.”
“One day, Thiago. I have more important things to worry about.”
“You always make the same excuse. Eduardo is right. Education will give you a better future. You could move out of that place, make a new start for yourself. But you should be getting back. You mustn't wander too late in town. Get home before your mother-in-law begins to worry.”
Marta left, wrapped her shawl over shoulders. All the shops in the small town were closed. She saw Dores on the corner.
“Olá, Marta. Going home or coming to seek some fortune?”
Dores stood a little distance from the other women but Marta could see that they wore just as much make up as her. They were also as brightly dressed.
“Look,” said Dores. “The business men and tourists from São Ricos are already arriving in their fancy cars. What do you say, Marta? Paint your face and make some money so you can feed your husband's family. God knows he can't.”
“I've made my decision.” Marta tied her shawl around her waist and walked a short way up the street. A car stopped and she leant into the open window. The letter slipped onto the curb as she stepped into the back seat and the car pulled away.

Check out the other Thursday Shorts  Number 3, Number 2 Number 1

Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Thursday Short #3

A slightly eerie Thursday Short today folks. See what you think of this tale.

By Fran Clark

The clock on the bedside table says 2am. I'm sure that's what it said half an hour ago. I'm tossing and turning but I can't get back to sleep. Just relax, I keep telling myself. I am relaxed. I'm sure I am. I try counting sheep and then taking deep breaths. Nothing works. Damn. Now I need to go to the loo.
   The floor is cold against my feet and the flush sounds a million times louder at this time of night. I hope I don't wake anyone. It's too warm in the bedroom, no wonder I can't sleep.
   I look over at Eddie and he's fast asleep. Snoring. Just great. But wait, what's this on my pillow? Did I leave a book or... My hand is at my mouth, I want to scream but... I. I can't believe this. I'm there. In my bed. That's my head on the pillow. That's me lying in my bed. Wearing my nightdress. Asleep.
   I sit beside the me who is happily resting in my place. My heart feels like thunder in my chest and I don't know what to do. Eddie is still snoring. I put my hand on her, slowly. I'm convinced that I'm asleep, that I'm dreaming this. But her body is warm, it moves up and down in a gentle, relaxed rhythm. I put my face next to hers and I can feel her warm breath. I stand abruptly and look at the door. I look at the window and then at all the dark shapes in the room.
That's just the chair, I tell myself, that's just the wardrobe and that's just me. Asleep, in my bed. No it can't be.
   I go around to Eddie's side. Maybe I'll wake him and he can wake me up and everything will be all right. I kneel beside him. “Eddie, Eddie,” I whisper. I touch his arm and he rolls over and throws an arm around her. She's smiling.
I stand and pace the room. I'm feeling cold now. If I’m feeling cold then this can't be a dream. My hands are like ice. My fingers like icicles as they grip my arms, now covered in goose bumps.
   Eddie, please wake up.
   I sit on the chair and rock gently back and forth. I watch the minutes on my alarm clock moving agonisingly towards daylight.
   At last it arrives. Eddie leans up on his elbow and looks over at her. He yawns and she wakes slowly and rolls over to him, reaches out and strokes his face. He smiles and slips a finger under the strap of her nightdress and pulls it down. He kisses her cheek, her lips, her neck. She wraps her arms around him and seems to be looking straight at me as Eddie's tongue finds her nipple.
   The bedroom door flies open and there's Suzy.
   “Mummy,” she screams and jumps onto the bed, while she pulls her nightdress back on. I stand and watch them tickle Suzy and then Eddie gets up to start breakfast.
   She combs Suzy's hair the way I do, dresses Matty in the clothes I'd planned for him to wear. Tears gather in my eyes but cannot flow as I watch them eat breakfast.
   They drive away and I'm standing at the living room window screaming at them to come back but they don't stop the car, they just keep going.
I've been curled up in a ball by the living room window all day. She was the first one back with the children and got packed and ready for our drive to Grandma's for dinner tonight. Somehow I have to follow them, try to make Eddie see me. Surely the children will.
   The journey in the back of the car with them was a waste of time. I watched Matty hitting Suzy, listened to her tell him off and watched her run her fingers through Eddie's hair.
   Please see me. Please hear me.
   They've stayed too late at Grandma's. The kids fall asleep in the back of the car and Eddie drank too much so she's driving. She's driving my children, my husband. I want to scream.
   I watch her in the rear view mirror. Her eyes are drooping, her head nods every now and again. Eddie chats but now he is asleep.
She puts on my favourite CD and sings softly so she won't wake the kids.
I see her eyes droop again, her head sag and the lights of the lorry, driving towards us. Her eyes are closed now and the car swerves to the wrong side of the road.
   I shout. I scream my name. I shout for Eddie and then try to turn up the music to rouse her. The lorries lights are flashing and I hear brakes screeching. I lean forward, my hand at the dial and then I see the time. 2am.

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Thursday, 29 May 2014

The Thursday Short #2

The Thursday Short this week takes place in a fictional prison. Please feel free to leave a comment at the end. I love to hear from you.

by Fran Clark

Acres of wild, lush forest surround the grey walls of a large stone building - built in a century when a workhouse for orphaned children would not have been out of place. Back then, a dusty track led to the workhouse from a nearby town. Now a motorway cuts through the forest and the workhouse is a male prison of the same name.

Dunstone Hall looms high above the landscape and that same dusty track is a slip road off Junction 11. Three lanes of fast, wide, black road; blinking white dashes being eaten up. Now the junction, and now the slip road. Narrow, quiet, lying in the heart of overgrown evergreens that dominate and captivate all at once. The rumble from the motorway subsides and almost suddenly there is birdsong. But always, and most certainly within 800 metres of the prison, there is silence.
Prison Officer, Mike Langton, observed this silence as he had done for the last twenty years, eight hours a day, six days a week, 50 weeks of the year. Having lost any notion of what drew him there after all this time, he never lost the desire for that silence outside the prison to accompany him whilst within its walls.
Three times a day the main hall of the prison over-spilled with men in uniform. Men in grey shirts and trousers. Some in black suits, a tie and black cap. Fewer of those, but whose presence was overbearing. There was a deafening sound of feet shuffling along an endless line that led the men in grey to the main hall for a meal served on plastic plates and eaten with plastic forks. Echoing in the hall, the exaggerated level of voices, chairs screeching along the floor and the occasional instruction barked from one or more of the men wearing black suits and caps.
Above the din, Langton picked out the sound of one inmate. The tea monitor, sloshing the tepid fluid repeatedly from a large pail into the Melamine mugs of his fellow inmates. Langton, his cap pulled far down on to his face, studied the man pouring the tea. This was the man the other inmates called Headcase. Headcase spoke to no one. He looked at no one and appeared not to be listening either. Over time, Langton realised that Headcase was the participant of a secret conversation. His lips would move, but no matter how near or far away from him Langton stood, not one syllable was emitted. He would pause, as if awaiting a response to these silent words and once received, his lips would move again. This private conversation was the one thing the Prison Officer wished he could hear.
Headcase had been in this prison for longer than anyone could remember. Inmates came and left and every now and again a familiar conversation would arise amongst them.
Who, Headcase? I don’t know.”
Well he was here before me and I’ve been here 6 years.”
What’s he in for?”
Killed someone. Never goes up for parole.”
Once in a while a man is wrongly convicted for a crime. It was Langton’s belief that every prisoner he had seen walk through the doors of Dunstone Hall, must be guilty of something. There were no innocent men here. Whether guilty of the crime in question or not - justice had been served. His only exception was Headcase. He thought Headcase was neither guilty of the crime he’d been convicted of, nor was he capable of being guilty of anything else. Langton believed that one day he would come to know the truth about this man but so far had found no way of penetrating the prisoner’s world within these prison walls.
Headcase, or Stephen Drake, had been convicted of the brutal murder of his father when he was just 16 years old. He had transferred to the adult prison at 18. Whereas at the Young Offenders prison he used monosyllabic means of communication, at Dunstone Hall he refused to speak at all. In court he answered yes or no in a hushed voice and could offer no defence for the crime except to say, “I couldn’t stop it.”
Evidence had placed him at the scene, his home. The murder weapon was found covered in, not only his father’s blood, but his fingerprints too. The weapon had been the cricket bat his father gave to him for his 14th birthday.
From age four, Stephen Drake had been raised by his father - his mother having abandoned them both following the last in a series of cruel beatings from her husband. The next would have killed her. Having then been left to satisfy his rage on his son, the court heard that the boy sought revenge on the senior Stephen Drake and was, therefore, found guilty of murder.
The boy was now a man approaching fifty. Langton decided it was his duty to give this milestone significance. From his home he brought in a radio cassette and took it to Stephen Drake’s cell.
Mr Drake, I thought this might be useful to you. It’s not new but it still works. I couldn’t find any batteries so you’ll have to plug it in. Here’s the lead. I assume you know how it works. Well, I suppose you can work it out. Oh, and Happy Birthday.”
Not expecting an answer, Langton closed the door behind him. It was only minutes to lights out and two more hours until his shift was over. Before Langton came on duty that morning, the Warden had summoned Stephen Drake to his office and had informed him that his release date was imminent, exactly 6 months to the day in fact. Drake had not reacted in the slightest and was shown back to his cell where he’d remained seated on his bed all day, ignoring his duty as tea monitor for the first time in 32 years. Langton, unaware of his release date, had assumed that the age of 50 must be of significance to Drake after all. He had awarded himself a day off and no amount of coaxing could persuade him to make or serve the tea.
When Langton arrived at Dunstone Hall the next day he was informed that there had been a suicide over night. Stephen Drake had hung himself with the cord from his radio cassette. Langton drove away from Dunstone Hall that night for the last time. 
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