Monday 27 April 2020

Stay at Home Lit Festival Fringe 27 April 2020

Thanks for joining me this morning at the #stayathomefringe Morning Workout.

Here are the prompts I used today.

Ideas are a tricky kettle of fish. Some writers like to lay traps for them and surprise them at dawn. Others go hunting at night with sharpened pencils and alcohol. But ideas are not always on the run: sometimes, they chase you, and ambush you at surprising moments: they hide in atmospheric pieces of music, in beautiful pictures, and childhood memories. They can be particularly troublesome at night when they have been known to disturb the sleep of unwary writers. To protect yourself from such nocturnal encounters always keep a pen and notebook by your bed: this almost certainly guarantees that no ideas will ever come to you at night.
-Helen Newell
(The road to somewhere: A creative writing companion)

Prompt 1:
List 10 items/Objects that come to your mind.
Now choose a few of these items that could be inside your character’s handbag/backpack. What
observations can you make of this character?
Write 250 words, describing this character, including some of the items listed above, in a situation
where he/she is preparing to go out to meet somebody.

Prompt 2

In fiction, however, dialogue is one of the main characterisation tools at the writer’s disposal. I would say it is the main function. So I see dialogue as an adjunct of characterisation, not plot. It does of course have a lesser function, that of dramatisation, moving the plot forward.  Invariable, if a writer uses dialogue purely as a conveyor of information, it sounds clunky, and inorganic.’
- Character, characterisation, Dialogue and Language, Tobias Hill from Short Circuit – A guide to the Art of the Short Story ed. Vanessa Gebbie

Write a scene of about 200 words, where the character's feelings change from the first to the second expression given in the following:

Prompt 3
Your Childhood Bed
Think about your childhood bed. Make a few notes describing the bed. Use your senses to describe what it looked like. What it smelled like. What it felt like etc
(Note: It doesn’t have to be your own childhood bed. But it needs to be a bed from the past. Perhaps a bed you slept in at your grandparents, or at boarding school, or at the summer Guide camp, hospital etc
Then move your focus to the room. Write short notes about the room. It needs to correspond to the bed you have chosen in the earlier exercise. Make quick notes about the room. 
Think about the quality of the light, the details of your setting, the colours, smells, sounds of the place you describe.

Take this scene and compose it following the pattern: 
Long Shot – Middle Shot – Close Up.
Now take the same scene, but compose it inverting the order of the presentation: Close Up – Middle Shot – Long Shot. (You can use different images.) 
How does the order of the presentation change or affect the mood. Which order was more effective for what you tried to achieve, which was easier to use? 

Hope you found these prompts helpful... Enjoy the rest of the festival and keep in touch :)

Tuesday 7 April 2020

Stay at Home Festival - Writing Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction Workshop

What is flash fiction… 
The guidelines for the Smokelong Quarterly advise:
       language that surprises
       narratives that strive toward something other than a final punch line or twist
       pieces that add up to something, oftentimes (but not necessarily always) meaning or emotional resonance
       honest work that feels as if it has far more purpose than a writer wanting to write a story

What makes great flash fiction:
       How to write flash fiction:
       Start in the middle.
       Don’t use too many characters.
       Make sure the ending isn’t at the end.
       Sweat your title.
       Make your last line ring like a bell.
       Write long, then go short.

Different approaches: Hermit crab style
These stories, which make use of ready-made templates such as recipes, board-meeting minutes and shopping lists, are a great way for experimenting with form in short fiction.

Instructions:10 minutes

How to build a home
How to leave the country
How to tame a lion
How to become a writer
How to throw a party
How to spend your money
How to cook in a lockdown
How to live in self-isolation
How to talk to your father/ mother

Choose one and start free writing. Take note – while the instruction is given in future tense, the story will emerge as past tense…instruction is given in second person – produces a unique tone that becomes the focus of the story. 

- Adapted from Barrie Llewlyn's prompt in Teaching Creative Writing - ed Elaine Walker

HW Write a playlist for a character. What is the relationship of the playlist creator with this character? 
An example:
from Flash Fiction Festival Three (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2019)

Write the same incident from 3 different perspectives
A character arrives late to a party, not knowing that an old significant other is attending too. 
The relationship didn’t end well. The host introduces them to each other, unaware of 
their history. In 300 words or less, write the scene from three POVs: The late arriver, the ex 
and the host.
•The late arrive – 1st person POV
•The ex – 2nd Person POV
• The host – 3rd Person POV.

Smokelong Quarterly
Flashback Fiction
Reflex Fiction
Flash – The International Short Short Story Magazine
Cabinet of Heed
Fictive Dream
Lost Balloon
Okay Donkey
TSS Publishing
X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine
Zero Flash
The Fiction Pool
Ad Hoc Fiction
Bare Fiction
Flash Fiction Online
F( r)iction
Jellyfish Review

You can follow me on Twitter: @susmitatweets
Short Story in a Weekend course:

My favourite flash fiction (my own, I mean):

Hope you enjoyed the session! Have a lovely day :) 

Friday 3 April 2020

Stay At Home Fest Readings

Hi everyone,

Here are a a couple of links to short story writing and a selection of short story openings. You can follow me on Twitter @Susmitatweets and I will share more short story links there throughout the day. Do share your story openings with me on Twitter.

Happy Writing!

My friend Herb McGinnis, a cardiologist, was talking. The four of us were sitting around his kitchen table drinking gin. It was Saturday afternoon. Sunlight filled the kitchen from the big window behind the sink. There were Herb and I and his second wife, Teresa—Terri, we called her—and my wife, Laura. We lived in Albuquerque, but we were all from somewhere else. There was an ice bucket on the table. The gin and the tonic water kept going around, and we somehow got on the subject of love. Herb thought real love was nothing less than spiritual love. When he was young he’d spent five years in a seminary before quitting to go to medical school. He’d left the Church at the same time, but he said he still looked back to those years in the seminary as the most important in his life.

 Beginners- Raymond Carver, New Yorker

I once met a man with a 40-litre monkey. He measured all his animals by volume. His Dalmatian was small, only 18 litres, but his cat, a Prussian blue, was huge – five litres, when most cats are three. He owned a pet shop just off Portobello Road. I needed a new pet for my girlfriend because our last two had just killed each other.
‘The ideal pet,’ the owner told me, ‘is twelve litres. That makes them easy enough to pick up, but substantial enough for romping without risk of injury. What did you have?’
‘A gecko,’ I replied. ‘I guess he was about half a pint.’
‘You use imperial?’ The man smirked and gestured towards a large vivarium in the corner. ‘Iguana,’ he said. ‘Six litres, and still growing.’
‘Oh right,’ I said. ‘I also had a cat. She must have been four litres, maybe more.’
‘Are you sure?’ He asked. ‘Was she a longhair, because they look big, but when you dunk them they’re small, like skinny rats.’

- The 40-Litre Monkey, Adam Marek

Two of us have been watching telly and as of last minute I’m the one heading to the shop. A game of rock paper scissors is usually what it takes for me and my housemate Hannah to decide who’s doing what between us, and now I’ve lost the best of three rounds I’ve to peel myself from our duvet nest and get going. You enjoy it, I say. Hannah says she will, her head dunking back into the covers, her phone    a periscope that’s snapping a picture of my defeat. Post that and you’re dead, I tell her. I’m in my comfiest clothes, greasy hair balled into a bread roll shape on top of my head, and no one needs to see that. I slide into our other housemate Smurf’s bubble jacket that I know he won’t mind me borrowing, then I take the angora scarf from the peg in Hannah’s room. I won’t, Hannah calls out. She’s such a liar.

Some Rivers Meet- James Clarke, Granta

Pranab Chakraborty wasn’t technically my father’s younger brother. He was a fellow-Bengali from Calcutta who had washed up on the barren shores of my parents’ social life in the early seventies, when they lived in a rented apartment in Central Square and could number their acquaintances on one hand. But I had no real uncles in America, and so I was taught to call him Pranab Kaku. Accordingly, he called my father Shyamal Da, always addressing him in the polite form, and he called my mother Boudi, which is how Bengalis are supposed to address an older brother’s wife, instead of using her first name, Aparna. After Pranab Kaku was befriended by my parents, he confessed that on the day we first met him he had followed my mother and me for the better part of an afternoon around the streets of Cambridge, where she and I tended to roam after I got out of school. He had trailed behind us along Massachusetts Avenue, and in and out of the Harvard Coop, where my mother liked to look at discounted housewares. He wandered with us into Harvard Yard, where my mother often sat on the grass on pleasant days and watched the stream of students and professors filing busily along the paths, until, finally, as we were climbing the steps to Widener Library so that I could use the bathroom, he tapped my mother on the shoulder and inquired, in English, if she might be a Bengali. The answer to his question was clear, given that my mother was wearing the red and white bangles unique to Bengali married women, and a common Tangail sari, and had a thick stem of vermillion powder in the center parting of her hair, and the full round face and large dark eyes that are so typical of Bengali women. He noticed the two or three safety pins she wore fastened to the thin gold bangles that were behind the red and white ones, which she would use to replace a missing hook on a blouse or to draw a string through a petticoat at a moment’s notice, a practice he associated strictly with his mother and sisters and aunts in Calcutta. Moreover, Pranab Kaku had overheard my mother speaking to me in Bengali, telling me that I couldn’t buy an issue of Archie at the Coop. But back then, he also confessed, he was so new to America that he took nothing for granted, and doubted even the obvious.

Hell Heaven- Jhumpa Lahiri, New Yorker

At first, people kept phoning, to make sure that Nita was not too depressed, not too lonely, not eating too little or drinking too much. (She had been such a diligent wine drinker that many forgot that she was now forbidden to drink at all.) She held them off, without sounding nobly grief-stricken or unnaturally cheerful or absent-minded or confused. She said that she didn’t need groceries; she was working through what she had on hand. She had enough of her prescription pills and enough stamps for her thank-you notes.

Free Radicals – Alice Munro, New Yorker

Daniel stands in the funnel, a narrow path between two high brick walls that join the playground to the estate proper. On windy days, the air is forced through here then spun upwards in a vortex above the square of so-called grass between the four blocks of flats. Anything that isn’t nailed down becomes airborne. Washing, litter, dust. Grown men have been knocked off their feet. A while back there was a story going round about a flying cat.

- The Gun, Mark Haddon

I cut my boyfriend in half; it was what we both wanted. I said once we could double our time together. He said he could be twice as productive. I don’t think it would have worked with just anyone at any time. It had to be now. 
Daniel got a spade off his mother that belonged to his father, and to his father – both men who were never really all there. He lay on the bench in the concrete back garden, knees bent to squeeze in. The yard was carpeted with silver slug trails. I suppose we could have used the kitchen floor, but I didn’t want to scratch the tiles.

- Don’t Try This at Home, Angela Readman

The Prompts:

Life story as prompts:

For this exercise, create a character whose life story you'd like to follow through. It is important that you find one important/surprising event or experience during that decade to write about. It doesn't have to be life-changing, and can be something small that is important only for the character...
i) Write down one surprising feature of your characters birth. 
ii) Write down one surprising thing that happens to your character from birth to age ten. 
iii) Write down one surprising thing that happens to your character from the ages of ten to twenty. 
iv) Write down one surprising thing that happens to your character between the ages of twenty and thirty. 
v) Write down one surprising thing that happens to your character between the ages of thirty and forty. 
vi) Write down one surprising thing that happens to your character between the ages of forty and fifty. 
vii) Write down one thing that happens to your character between the ages of fifty and sixty.
viii) Write down one thing that happens to your character between the ages of sixty and seventy.
ix) Write one surprising thing about your character’s death. Perhaps they died at an earlier age, or perhaps they have lived in to their seventies. 
Now you have 9 different story openings, or one entire story eg Claire Polder's Woman of the Century.
You can use these prompts to write different short stories, either with the same character, or with different characters. You could write a novella-in-flash. You could write flash fiction. 
Good luck with your writing, and do post your story openings in the comments. I'd love to read them :)
Sty safe everyone, and take care
Adapted from Tom Holloway's building characters for scriptwriting at the Bush Theatre.

Friday 28 October 2016

500 Words

Aleppo Dreams

She rushes out of her nightmare, into the silence of night. She gasps, as though fingers are closing around her throat. Breathe in. Breathe out. Feel the peace. Push away the images. She tries, like she tries every other night. But the dreams of her first husband trample her sleep. The bombs falling through the air. The rubble. The smell of gunpowder. The blood. Her mind always ricocheting between what was and what is. Breathe in. Breathe out. She wants to reach out for his hand. But she lets him sleep. He should not be drawn into the unbearable layers of her past.

He feels her breaking out of her dream. She is gasping. Moaning. Gagging. He knows that she had stood there, bathed in her husband’s blood, screaming like an animal. That was years ago, before he married her. And he wonders if he should have married her at all. He cannot take this anymore. They have escaped, but cannot escape the haunting of her husband. He feels her reach out for him and then her hesitation. He moves away. He cannot comfort her. His life too has been riddled with loss.

They resort to sleeping separately. First, he on the floor and she on the bed. Then to different rooms. He claims her dreams keep him awake and he cannot concentrate on the present. She agrees, and is relieved. It is time to move on, but she is fettered. She has nothing to offer him. Together they have memories of trying to forget their individual pains. Together they left their country and struggled to gain a new identity. But they have no identity. Only a past. Only a story. Only a dream.

Then one day, years later, he will dream. He will dream of paradise. The streets of Aleppo alive with celebration. The arghul filling his heart with the music of his childhood. Men dancing the dabka, swirling, kicking and clapping. Their energy thrusting into the air. The smells of sheesh kebabs and shawerma spilling out of cafes and driving him closer to ecstasy. Bakalava, like only his mother could have made, dropping bit by bit onto his hungry, greedy tongue. And he will see her in this dream. Gliding in swathes of cloth, her laughter tinkling and merging with the sweet giggles of his daughters, the husky guffaws of his mother, the laughter of his first wife. Her voice long forgotten. Their warm breath will caress his face and he will reach for her. But find emptiness. She is long gone. And he?  His body will not be strong or young. It’ll be just like a pressed leaf. The memory of youth. Only the skeleton and veins will remain.

(First published in The Lampeter Review and then in Flash Flood Journal)

Mind Games

There she was at the window, steam creating a misty blur on the glass. Her head bent, she was probably doing the washing up. Laura peered over the hydrangea bushes, standing on her tiptoes to get a better look. She had not acknowledged Laura ever since that fateful day. Laura had been concerned, but she had ignored the hesitant knocks on the door, the note scrawled untidily, offering to bring over some soup. Laura tried to be a good neighbour, but she hadn’t allowed it. Slowly Laura tapered off, leaving her to herself. She had now started to leave the empty milk bottle outside the door again, and would collect the fresh one in the morning. Laura had hated to see the milk curdle on the doorstep, incriminating her with that small move. She had resumed listening to Woman’s Hour on the patio, stirring her tea with a metallic clink.
So why was she crying now? Laura looked again. She had been getting over it, Laura had presumed. But today she stood at the sink, enveloped in steam, gently wiping her eyes. Perhaps she ought to call on her, Laura thought. Try to win her over again. But would she respond?
Pam was aware of her hovering about in the garden and refused to make eye contact. She was behind the hydrangea bushes, surely on tiptoes, trying to get a look in. Every time Pam saw her, she remembered how that woman had been responsible for Pasha’s death. The shameless woman had tried to make up for it with promises of soup. What a cold-hearted murderer. Pam leaned over the sink, letting the steam soften the sting in her eyes. She had purposely left the milk to curdle on the doorstep for weeks, hoping to drive the thorn of guilt straight into Laura’s heart. Poor old Pasha, crushed under that woman’s car. The thought of it sent shivers through her body. She had been sorry, of course. But that was not enough. Laura had to suffer. Pam would make sure she suffered.
Pam stood at the sink, enveloped in steam and gently wiped her eyes. If Laura came over to make amends she wouldn’t respond, yet. She dabbed her face with a tea towel and turned away from the window. Picking up the knife, she continued to chop the onions.
(Published in Spelk Fiction)
Steady on (250 words)
They reach the corner and stop. The filth is bobbing around their waist. A rat swims past. A sanitary pad floats up to her. She turns and retches. “Look what you’ve done,” he shouts. And now around them, bubbling like stew, her breakfast. They move on, slowly, dragging their feet. They mustn’t fall into an open manhole. She’s sobbing. The rain washes her salty tears away. Her eyes sting and she cannot see very far. She wants to throw these clothes away. She wants to peel her skin off. She holds on to his shoulder as he tests each footfall.  There are others, like them, balancing in the water. Lurching. Slipping. Clutching to one another for support. The sharp pain hits the side of her belly. She screams. He holds her up and comforts her. They can do it. They must do it. There are helping hands along the way. She stays focussed. Ignore the pain and keep moving, is his mantra. Today of all days, she curses under her breath. Try to hold back, he urges her. But no, there is no way out. She shuts her eyes and immediately a picture of her Gods and Goddesses with garlands round their necks springs to mind. She wades, comforted by their image. The filthy floodwater swishes around like a whirlpool, threatening to swallow her whole. But she perseveres. They reach the fluorescent lobby of the hospital. A starched white nurse reaches out for her. Her waters break.

 (Published in Flash - The International Short-Short Story magazine)

It’s Pizza night, Mum.
We scream and race around the room, throwing our schoolbags on the floor. But there’s no smell of pizza. No plates or forks or knives on the table. No Mum. Where is mum? Muuuuum! Robbie attacks us with a candlestick, his light sabre.  Miah recoils, giggles and runs. Where is she? She had promised pepperoni and cheese. I’m desperate for the toilet. I rush in and Mum’s on the floor, her eyes all funny. I watch a line of red run down her mouth.  It’s pizza night, Mum, I say, shaking her body hard. She remains still. 

(100 words)