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.

Escape
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. 
You might also like: The Thursday Short #1

 
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Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Adventures in Ghostwriting

Ever been a ghostwriter? I recently took on a job as a ghostwriter as part of my plan to start making money through writing as I write my second novel.

I always laughed at supermodels, actors and other celebrities who could hardly string a sentence together but had written a book! How could that be? That's when I discovered ghostwriting.
ghostwriter ~ 3
So now I find myself being just one of those phantom writers, lurking in the background, never to be seen or credited, all my rights signed away even if the book I am writing becomes a best seller. But that's just something I would have to take on the chin.

Let me say straight off, though, that I am not writing for a celebrity biography. The truth is I don't know who I am writing for and what this person will do with the story. What I really wanted to talk about was what a strange experience this is proving to be.

First of all I have an outline for the story. So I'm not using my own inspiration but I do have to use a lot of imagination because that is what is required. Secondly, it isn't really my style. So now I have to develop the skill of writing out of character for me. As writers, we sometimes use certain words, phrases that are particular to your voice. Now I have to create a new voice because I'm writing for an audience I don't see as mine (well not entirely). Yes I told you it was weird.

The up side is, as writers, we are told that the more we write the better we get at honing our craft. Can that still be said of ghost writing if you have to change voice, style, tone? Will this experience actually help me become a better writer?

So far the jury is out. But - and here is an upside - I get paid. Granted, not very much, this is my first ghost writing job and I need to build a reputation. And that got me thinking. What if I start a ghostwriting agency? I could get a team of writers on board and we could take the ghostwriting world by storm. But I quickly changed my mind when I realised I'd much rather be just a flesh and blood writer of my own stories and be present if and when I write a best seller.

I even came up with ghostwriting agency titles: Sixth Sense, I See Dead People, The Funky Phantom and Between the Lines (the latter being the title of one of my short stories).

Anyway, spooky stuff over - now back to the writing, the thought of ghosts is slightly creeping me out.

Are you there...?

Seriously...where are you...






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Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Thursday Short #1

Welcome to the very first Thursday Short  - a short piece of fiction that I hope you will enjoy. Please feel free to make any comments or suggestions and do drop in again for another short story next Thursday.


Living Pictures
By Fran Clark

My mother once told me, and I must have been ten years old at the time, that the happiest day of any young woman's life is the day of her wedding. I didn't want to wait until I got married of all things before I could be happy. My big brother, Charlie, made me happy. Many is the time we sat and dipped our toes in the pond and drank lemonade, then our Charlie would belch the alphabet and I'd laugh until I cried. What about the time Teacher Wenstall had pneumonia and we had two weeks off school? I know I was happy then.
   Some of the happiest days I ever spent, though, were the days we could afford to go into town to see a movie – 'Living Pictures' we used to call them. At the Tivoli Cinema on a Saturday afternoon I could live any life I wanted and become any one of those beautiful actresses I chose to be. But it wasn't until today, my wedding day, that I understood what my mother meant. I'm happy, I know I am, but I can't help thinking about what could have been. 
   Three days before my fifteenth birthday the annual inter-county choir contest was due and I was promised a new dress. Not handed down three times with patches and worn out collars, but brand new, bought to fit and very likely to be fashionable. I was excited. I waltzed into the Church Hall that day but slowed down so that Rita Farnworth could take in every inch of the crisp, lilac cotton and watch the skirt swish around my knees as I walked by, never mind that the collar was stiff and uncomfortable, I would act like a movie star if it killed me. She noticed me at once and I smiled.
    “Oh Barbara,” she said. “Don't you look dandy. Such a shame you weren't chosen to sing the solo, all dressed up like that.” The other two witches at her side laughed into their podgy hands and would have carried on if Sister Mary Mercy hadn't coughed loudly and looked over the top of her glasses at them.
   “Never mind them,” Evan told me as I pushed past him to find my place. “They could never look like you look in that dress, Barbara.”
   “Thanks Evan,” I whispered, just seconds before our first hymn began. Sister Mary Mercy tapped her stick on the pulpit and we all breathed in at the same time. I knew full well that my voice was not the best but I loved to sing despite the looks I got from the others and despite our Charlie howling like a dog whenever I practised my choir songs at home. We sang three hymns and then it was the turn of the visitors. 
   It was when I took my seat in the audience for the visiting church choir to sing that I saw Michael, standing in the front row with his cuffs and his top button fastened like a grown up. I didn't know his name until the competition was over and we were all having an outdoor tea by the pond. Someone called his name and he turned around. He was the tallest boy there with the greenest eyes and thick red hair. His ears turned a wonderful beetroot colour when he sang his solo but when his voice poured out into the wooden church hall the audience was motionless. It was my sister, Susan, who prodded me in the ribs at the end of his solo to let me know that my mouth was still open. Michael's voice was not like any I had heard before. It wrapped me up like a blanket on a chilly night, rocking me gently so I might sleep peacefully for one hundred years.
Susan had to prod me again as we sat to have tea at Dystar Pond.
   “You're staring, Barbara,” she said, “and if father catches you, you'll be cleaning out the pig sty until you're twenty.”
   “When I'm twenty I will be married to Michael and we'd have had six children.” I said.
   “Wash your mouth out you terrible girl and don't let father catch you talking like that.”
   Michael's choir had won the inter-county championship and he picked up the prize, I saw his ears redden again and laughed out loud. Susan tutted at me.
It was a very hot afternoon, everyone had eaten far too much but it didn't stop the boys fooling around by the pond. Someone had tied a long cord to the branch of a tree hanging over the water and all the boys took turns swinging from it. I watched them and laughed and then noticed Evan staring at me.
   “I meant what I said about your new dress,” he knelt beside me and Susan. “You do look very pretty today.”
   “Thank you,” I said, but I scarcely glanced at him because Michael walked by on his way to the pond to watch the others swinging from the cord. Evan rose to his feet, quickly.
   “Watch me swing!” Evan's voice was a little too loud and enthusiastic, and he pushed my brother Charlie aside so that he could take a turn swinging from the cord. He leapt towards it, arms outstretched, and just about grabbed hold. His movements were jerky, his feet thrashed wildly, to and fro. I could tell he was trying to swing higher and higher and the other boys were becoming impatient. I saw Michael shake his head. I shook mine too at Evan's foolishness.
   Suddenly his hands slipped down the cord and he yelled like a mad man but kept trying to swing as high as he could. Someone called to him, “that branch can't take any more,” but just as Evan turned to smile at me he fell into the pond with such a loud splash that one girl screamed.
   The boys all laughed at Evan as he tried to tread water but very quickly his head disappeared. I got to my feet. Despite the sun I felt cold. I moved closer to the pond, straining my neck above the gathering crowd to see if he would pop up again. I stopped, my arms crossed over my chest before realising that I was standing next to Michael. He glanced only briefly at me before jumping into the pond, his red hair sinking below the bottle green water. A few of the men had waded in and some of the older ones were pushing the little ones back onto the grass and up the slope. No-one would make me budge.
   Then I saw red hair again and a pale looking Michael coming up for air and looking hopelessly at the the faces in the crowd at the water's edge. I was shaking because I couldn't believe we could lose poor Evan like that. Evan was the only boy that spoke to me in our village. The others called me Batty Barbara because I wore thick glasses and couldn't see the chalk board in the classroom without them. Evan defended me every time.
   I felt an arm around my shoulders as Michael came wading in from the Dystar Pond along with the two other men who'd jumped in too, there was no sign of Evan. I realised it was Susan's arm around me and she held me so close. Large tears rolled down her eyes but she made no sound. That's when I noticed the silence, no more laughter, no chatter. Only a disaster could shut us up.
   I was certain I was the one who heard it first. A scratchy little chuckle. Susan's arm loosened. Then a stifled laugh. I recognised it and turned around. Evan's laughter was uncontrollable.
   “Evan!” His mother was at his side, hugging him until her dress became soaked. I walked towards them.
   “Did I make you scared?” He was looking at me.
   “But how did you – ?”
   “I held my breath and swam underwater. I wanted to surprise you all.” He felt the back of his mother's hand around his ear and his father dragged him home, to give him a good hiding Susan said. As everyone gathered up the remnants of our picnic, I looked for Michael. I searched the crowd as it dispersed but he and his family had gone. Packed away and vanished.
   As the years went by I sometimes questioned whether or not Michael had actually come to our tiny village that day. Everyone remembered the two men that jumped in after Evan, but no-one mentioned Michael. Was he real? Or was he just a 'living picture'? He did not compete the following year or the year after that. I never saw him again.
   When it happened that the only boy in our village who ever spoke to me asked me to marry him I found myself saying yes. It could have been to avoid cleaning out the pigsty ever again or to avoid having to sleep top to toe in a bed with three other sisters but I said yes and today I marry Evan.
   He stopped playing silly pranks but he never stopped loving me. He waited until I was seventeen to propose and Mother said it was a good age.
   “You look beautiful,” she tells me as I pick up my bouquet and make my way downstairs to the waiting carriage. “Isn't this the happiest day of your life?”
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Monday, 19 May 2014

Chasing The Dream

My last post sparked a lot of interest and got lots of hits. It seems, by what the Tweets were saying, that people need inspiration, however it comes, to keep them motivated and working towards their goals.

IMG_4265In my last post I talked about all the things I plan to do in the short term to get me nearer to my long term dreams. This post is about one of the biggest things that inspires me and keeps me focused and keeps me going. It's my youngest son - he is a keen swimmer and his dream is to swim for Team GB one day. 

If you don't know, the training that these swimmers do is strenuous, intensive and time consuming. It means lots of early nights and very early starts in the morning. Training before and after school twice a week with up to 8 sessions a week for my son who has just turned 14.

He has been chasing National times which is the next stage for him to get closer to that Team GB dream. It is always a tough ask because of where his birthday falls he has to achieve a time in year group above his or in a year group in which he has only just hit that age.

Well, this weekend we celebrated the achievement of his first National time! He feels epic, is looking confident and ready to do battle with some more National times in the months to follow. This summer he goes to Nationals with, so far, at least one individual event and not just in the relay team as he did last year.

I look at all the things I want to achieve (one of them being going for a run and then doing the shopping which is what I should be getting ready to do but I had to write this post!) and I look at my son - my inspiration - and I want to work that bit harder.

My life is my training session until I get the things I want. And I've just got to dig in, even when it seems like an impossible dream, and do my best to get all the things that I talked about in my last post, The Next Big Chapter.

Have an inspired week folks!
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Thursday, 15 May 2014

The Next Big Chapter

Since the Holding Paradise book launch I've been in a daze. There was a big build up, I got very excited about the whole idea of being published and now I feel as though I've got nothing big to look forward to.



Is there anything bigger than having your first book published? Simple answer: getting your second book published! Of course. And that is my next big chapter.


Holding Paradise was published by a small publishing company. There are many benefits to be had by this but I read so many success stories in self-publishing that this time round that is the route I will be taking for subsequent publications.

I am looking forward to finding out more about self-publishing and everything I learn I will report back on for anyone, like me, who is learning.

As part of this self-publishing journey there are other aspects of my life that I need to set in motion. Namely:
  • Finding an agent
  • Earning money as a writer while writing the second novel
  • Completing my dissertation
  • Researching my second book
  • Publishing the collection of short stories that are a follow up to Holding Paradise
 So I really have my work cut out for me.

Join me as I take on all of the above while still trying to be a good wife, mother, sister, daughter and friend. I know it's not going to be easy but I hope it will be fun. It certainly is an exciting chapter and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Stop Press
Every Thursday I will be publishing a short story here in a series I will be calling The Thursday Short - short fiction on various topics that I hope you'll enjoy.
The first instalment starts next Thursday so don't forget to drop by and checkout a piece of short fiction from yours truly.
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Monday, 5 May 2014

Passing The Baton

One of the great things about blogging is you never know who you will meet along the way.

Just last week I had the pleasure of meeting Luccia Gray, author of the Eyre Hall Trilogy. Luccia told me about the blog hop, Passing The Baton, which I thought was a great way to discover new and exciting writers.

First of all - meet Luccia Gray


Luccia was born in London but now lives and works in Spain. I can't wait to read the first in the trilogy, All Hallows at Eyre Hall, which is on Amazon now. To find out more about Luccia please visit her blog and she is well worth following on Facebook.

Thanks for passing the baton, Luccia and here are my answers to the questions:

What am I working on?

I've got a few irons in the fire right now. I'm studying for a Creative Writing MA. This term (my last) I have my dissertation to finish by 14th September 2014. As my dissertation is my second novel then I'm killing two birds with one stone. Smart, huh?
Another project I have going is working towards the publication of my follow up to Holding Paradise. It is a collection of (long) short stories based, loosely, on Holding Paradise characters. I hope to publish this collection, called The Long Way Home, next year. So I'm on the look out for an excellent editor, book cover designer and self-publishing package as I think I'll go down the self publication route for this title.
Next stop, when novel two is finished, I'll be trying to find myself an agent.

How does my work differ from others in this genre?

Well I'm in to recent history so this tends to be a feature in what I'm writing right now. Holding Paradise is a split narrative and switches between present day London and 1950's through to 1980's London. At the beginning there is even a trip back to the 1930's in the early Caribbean scenes.
Novel two, currently called When Skies Are Grey begins in 1950's London and finishes in the 1970's. It means a lot of research which I find so intriguing. A few of my short stories have the split narrative running through them and again this idea of going back in time. I don't know why but I'm intrigued by historical events and love to intertwine this with the modern world.
 
Why do I write what I write? 

This is as simple to answer as it is hard. I just get inspiration for a story and run with it, so in some respects I write what I do because a storyline has haunted me for long enough. A familiar theme for me is relationships. I don't write love stories as such but I like to experiment with different scenarios and where a relationship could lead us.
That also means that I like to concentrate on character development. A good story needs good characters so I want to bring realism to what I do. I guess I could never be a fantasy writer or introduce a vampire love affair into one of my plots. That just isn't me. What I do best is writing what I know so my stories are always rooted in what moves us as humans and what measures we take to get ourselves out of unusual or extraordinary situations.

How does your writing process work?

Well the process is quite varied. I don't set a particular time to start from or to end at, I just write when I feel inspired. That usually happens when one or two of my characters are knocking at the door, waiting to say something or get to where they need to get in the plot.
I am a very bad sleeper and I wrote most of Holding Paradise during my sleepless nights. Something in me has changed and I often feel I need to get away from my office so that I can write. I've tried coffee shops but they can be a bit distracting. I will be experimenting with a reference library in town that I was told about and is supposed to be very conducive to writing.
This summer, now that I'm not attending classes, I hope to put in more hours writing as I work towards completing the first draft of When Skies Are Grey.

And now it is my turn to Pass The Baton to the next writer. Let me introduce Jane Davis.


Jane Davis lives in Carshalton, Surrey with her Formula 1 obsessed, star-gazing, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. Her first novel, Half-truths and White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award and was described by Joanne Harris as ‘A story of secrets, lies, grief and, ultimately, redemption, charmingly handled by this very promising new writer.’ She was hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch.’ Jane has since gone on to self-publish four novels, I Stopped Time, These Fragile Things, A Funeral for an Owl and An Unchoreographed Life. Indie book accreditation site, Compulsion Reads, wrote that, ‘Davis is a phenomenal writer, whose ability to create well rounded characters that are easy to relate to feels effortless.’ Jane’s favourite description of fiction is that it is ‘made-up truth.’
Jane blogs about her writing journey and hosts interviews with other authors and invites guest blogs at http://www.jane-davis.co.uk/blog/ 
You can also link up with her on:
 
Her paperbacks are available to buy from Amazon and selected bookshops and her e-books are available from Amazon and Smashwords. 
I look forward to joining Jane next week on her blog when she passes the baton on!









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