Posts Tagged ‘humour’

I admit it – I have neglected this blog quite shamefully and it is almost exactly a year since my last post. Having our house on the market for two years and attempting to keep both house and large country garden under control for viewings took much of my time. But the main reason for not posting was that I had run out of things to say about writing and the writers’ condition. The online writing sites that I have used for the last twelve years or so have fallen into what can only be described as the doldrums and I have perceived a general lack of enthusiasm for giving and receiving feedback in this remote fashion.

That is not to say people aren’t being busy and successful! On the positive side, many members of my favourite site have now been published or have agents and potential publishing deals, so the process of online reviews has clearly been working well. I have had a few small successes of my own, including several shortlistings in Flash500, acceptance of a story into Twisted Tales 2016 and – tarantara – I won the Worcestershire Literary Festival’s Flash Fiction competition, with another story shortlisted. So that was nice! Sadly, the announcement was made at the launch of the Festival and, since I couldn’t be there because of moving house, one of the judges had to read my winning story. But there you go. I’ll be reading both stories at the launch of the anthology on Sunday 20th November, all being well.

The reason for posting now is that I have joined an actual live writing group in my small town and thought it was an opportunity to share this new experience. It’s a five-minute walk to the weekly venue so I have no excuse for not turning up, apart from family commitments, disasters and holidays. I have only been to one meeting so far because of the first of these, but I did do the homework, which is limited to 500 words on each occasion. I had also done the homework for my first meeting: to write a love scene.

My first thought on the subject was – AAARRRGGGHHH! I would never put myself in the position of writing such a thing, especially if it were to contain sex. I don’t enjoy reading sex scenes and I can’t imagine the horror of writing one. But when I had calmed down, I realised that a love scene needn’t contain sex and that many of my very short stories are love scenes of one sort or another. So I wrote a new one and read it aloud when my turn came around. It went down well, with hoots of laughter in all the right places, along with a collective groan at one intentionally sickly bit and even a tear from one member at the end. Who could ask for more? I also got some useful feedback, which I have used to tighten it up for submission to Flash500.

I was very impressed by the general standard of writing – and reading – within the group and all the feedback was pertinent and kindly given. Having become used to somewhat more brutal treatment via online groups, this made a refreshing change. But I do want the truth, 100% of the time. Anything else is of little use, but I must be careful how I phrase any criticisms. Coming from Yorkshire, this isn’t really in my DNA…

So my first experience of the writing group was overwhelmingly positive. My only problem arose during the usual end-of-session five-minute writing challenge. The topic was ‘a message to a particular member who is sick’ and could take any form. The fact that I had never met this person shouldn’t have been the barrier it became, but my mind went completely blank and I didn’t write a single word. The others managed some very entertaining, irreverent and poignant poems and prose and I felt really stupid for not producing anything.

This failure probably wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows how I work. I’m not a jotter or drafter. If I have an idea for a story, I let it grow and develop in my mind until it is either forgotten or emerges fully formed and largely edited after a period of days, weeks or even months. I am extremely intimidated by the idea of writing ‘on-the-spot’, especially when everyone else gets their heads down and starts scribbling. It’s my recurrent exam nightmare all over again! When my turn to ‘show’ came round, I explained my predicament and was met with understanding and reassurance. Somebody said that the group is a safe place in which to try things out and no one should be anxious about any perceived failure, because it is about having a go and gradually building confidence. I hope I fare better on Thursday when the next challenge is set but if I don’t, I’m not going to beat myself up. I’ve managed three lots of homework on a given topic, something that is normally outside my ‘comfort zone’ – note the inverted commas, because the latest assignment is a maximum of 500 words using as many cliches as we can squeeze in. I’m not sure how this exercise benefits our writing but I’ve done it anyway. So I am already stretching myself a little further than usual and if the only benefit to my writing is that I achieve the odd submittable piece, it will be a good result.

I ought also to mention that it is lovely to meet new people and to share an experience, doing something at which we all want to improve. So no minuses, really. It gets me out of the house and away from the computer for a couple of hours and I heartily recommend it. So far…

Watch this space.

If you have any experiences of writing groups you’d like to share, please post a comment. Go on – scare me!

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I recently posted a new flash story of 500 words in my online writers’ group and received a number of critiques. These ranged as ever from ‘I really liked this! Perfectly judged,’ to (more or less) ‘I don’t really get it’. This is very much the nature of writers’ groups and is often an indication of the writing styles of other members rather than their ability to offer constructive criticism, but it led me to ponder the issue of ambiguity in fiction.

I love an unreliable narrator – it’s my favourite thing, both to read and to create (see Crossed Lines, Mother’s Pride etc). While it must be quite hard to keep it going over the course of a novel (I’m currently reading Gone Girl and am finding the clues a bit heavy-handed but check out The Dinner by Herman Koch for one of the best examples) it is relatively easy in very short fiction.

Even if I write a story in the third person, I like to create some ambiguity so that readers have to join some dots for themselves. I much prefer this approach when I’m reading someone else’s work rather than have everything laid out for me on a plate, because it then includes me as an active participant in the story and brings the reading experience to life.

But where do you draw the line? What proportion of readers need to ‘get’ it to let the writer know he or she has done enough ‘signposting’? Perhaps I am too cavalier about this, but if only one reader clocks it, I am well on the way to letting the story go as it stands. However, if a critic indicates that a tweak in a particular place will enhance the tension and lay another subtle clue, I am definitely and gratefully up for that.

Last year I parodied the Government’s hideous bedroom tax with a flash by the same title. I set out to be completely ambiguous in an effort to create mystery and humour, and was rewarded by this comment from John Hudspith, writer and editor: The huge level of intrigue and boundless possibility almost made my brain explode, and I just know I’ll have some good nightmares tonight. So thanks for that. As for the title I wouldn’t change a thing. It sits there like the malicious tin opener it really is.’ It was the perfect reaction, yet another reviewer wanted more clues! Which proves that it is down to you to assess and decide which type of reader you’re writing for. The Bedroom Tax was published last year in the National Flash Fiction Day anthology, Eating my Words but you can read it here. I would love to have your comments if you have a minute.

For myself, physical details are rarely necessary or desirable in very short fiction, where every word counts, unless it has a crucial part in the story. I might mention grey hair or gnarled hands if I want to indicate age, but not so the reader can see a character if appearance is unimportant to the meaning of the piece. The shorter the piece, the more implications each sentence has to carry to earn its place in the whole. Where a novel may take a whole chapter to reveal a critical character trait, flash fiction must achieve the same reader understanding in a couple of sentences. There is no time to dwell on eye colour!

So I will continue to put my stories up for criticism on the understanding that the same people will like them and the same ones will always need a fuller explanation. When those who usually ‘get it’ also need an explanation, that’s when I’ll know I’ve got more work to do. Just because I know what’s going on, doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve put it across. Hooray for second opinions!

In other news, I’m pleased to report that my flash, Message Understood  made the final twelve to be published in this year’s Twisted Tales anthology, so many thanks to the judges. I have also just heard that all three of my 300-word submissions to the Worcestershire Literary Festival flash fiction anthology will be published! I am obviously beyond thrilled about this. A Stash of Flashes will be available in October and launched with readings in November. More details on that nearer the time.

My reading in Bristol went really well to a packed house and I had lots of lovely comments. I decided on Bye Bye Blackbird in the end, which you can read here.

And that’s it for now. All comments and criticisms cheerfully received!

FlashFlood was bigger and certainly better than ever this time – many thanks for all your entries, and to Calum Kerr (Mr Flash Fiction) and my fellow editors. Social media was used very effectively by contributors and we really were flooded with flashes. The standard of submission has soared since our first outing and, in the case of some writers, all three submissions were of such a high quality, it almost impossible to choose one – a very nice problem for an editor to have. If you got more than one story accepted, hats off!

Now that the dust has settled, I thought it might be a good idea to reflect again on what makes a good piece of flash fiction. But first, because the list is shorter, it may be helpful to say what flash fiction is not.

It is not a stream of consciousness that begins and ends in an arbitrary time and place, unless you are particularly adept at guiding your readers through a series of experiences to their satisfaction. There must be an underlying purpose with thoughts juxtaposed in such a way that the reader feels the undercurrents of emotion, links the ideas, and understands the meaning, otherwise it is an aimless and self-indulgent ramble. Despite the poetic nature of the prose, there were several stories that left me wondering, what the heck was all that about?

The other thing flash is not is a truncated novel. Simply relating a series of happenings in an arc with a beginning, middle and end but without the depth of character and plot development a novel allows, does not constitute a satisfying piece of flash. Again, the underlying themes must convey meaning and intent: it has to be about something more than what is sitting on the surface. We turned away some very well-written pieces because they made no impression – they were just carefully arranged words.

So what is flash? If I had to sum it up in one sentence I’d say it is a piece of writing, however short, that makes the reader think beyond the words.

This means a good flash will imply a before and after (though not necessarily at the beginning and end) and will be understated, yet have the richness and depth conveyed in longer pieces. It often presents as a pivotal scene, at the end of which the reader should be in no doubt that something has irrevocably changed.

As ever, there were some common themes running through this year’s entries, the most popular being death and dying. This is bound to be the case because it is a universal fact and obsession but, this time round, I was very impressed by the diverse directions from which our contributors approached their subject. It was treated with mystery, yearning, anger, sadness and even comedy.

The other common theme, not entirely unrelated to the above, was the degradation of the environment. This is something that most of us are assimilating into our thoughts, so it isn’t surprising. In fact, I expect to see a lot more of it. However, most of these stories took a very literal approach – of landscapes and wildlife devastated by human greed. There seems to me to be a wealth of interesting and entertaining ways this theme could be tackled and I hope, next time round, to read some.

The mechanics of good story-telling are well documented but in flash fiction it is more than usually important to kick off with a crackingly good sentence – one that pulls the reader in and plunges him or her into the middle of a situation. In other words, it is essential to start the story in the right place. How the situation is resolved (or not) must be satisfying and integral to the story but not necessarily a foregone conclusion.

The title’s importance is often overlooked. Make it work for you. Don’t waste words but use it as a subliminal signpost for your readers to carry throughout at the back of their minds. Several titles felt tacked on as an afterthought, which is a trick missed.

I hope these thoughts are of interest and will help in your quest to write the perfect piece of flash fiction. Please do have a read through some of the Journal and take what you can in tips from the successful entries.

We will be doing it all again to coincide with National Flash Fiction Day on 27th June, so please add the link to your bookmarks and send your brilliant new flashes when we open for submissions. We’ll look forward to reading them!

My humorous flash, The Farcebook Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth, made the long list of Flash500 this quarter but not the short – my first submission not to do so. It isn’t deep or moving, it’s just a bit of fun, but I hope it gives you an idea of my views on social media. Don’t get me wrong, I use Facebook and Twitter, but I do think they encourage narcissism and superficiality in a world that doesn’t need any more of that. And don’t get me started on ‘selfies’…

Anyway, I hope it gives you a bit of a chuckle this fine Monday morning. You can read it here. All comments welcome.

eatingcoverfrontmedEdge of Passion E book 1000x1500This week I received not one but two paperback anthologies, each containing one of my stories, both of which I am extraordinarily proud to be a part of. The first is Edge of Passion, a Crime, Mystery and Suspense Romance collection, to which I was invited as a guest writer with one of my Strid stories, Two of a Kind. The other, Eating My Words, is National Flash Fiction Day’s 2014 selection of fifty flash stories, and includes The Bedroom Tax, my satire on this government’s morally bankrupt plan for saving money. Both of these are available in kindle and paper formats. While it’s lovely being published in either form, there’s nothing quite like holding a real book with your name in it. Especially when it’s among writers whose work you have long admired!

I am also delighted to be Alfie Dog’s featured writer for the next two weeks. Alfie Dog publishes in several downloadable formats and there’s something for everyone, so please pop along and have a read. If you fancy an unusual and entertaining insight into the red-light district of Coventry in the 1970s, try Footprints. It’s not what you think.

Otherwise, things are fairly quiet. We are hoping to move house this year so our energies are divided at the moment. However, when it’s all done, I will certainly have plenty more story-making material. You meet some very strange people…

Have a lovely weekend!

 

eatingcoverfrontmedI really enjoyed my day as a selecting editor and found myself accepting a larger percentage than usual. I suspect this is because people have had much more practice at writing flash fiction than when we started FlashFlood in 2012 and the standard is generally higher. However, the majority of submissions were of the dead babies, dying spouse, thwarted love variety and there wasn’t as much humour as one might hope. The tragic stories also tend to be more well-written than the more light-hearted ones – possibly because they are written from the heart. But we have tried for a good balance of styles and subject matter so there is something for everyone. We do hope you enjoy reading them!

My story, A Matter of Taste, will be up sometime after 9am. Interestingly, during my stint as editor, a story with the same title and remarkably similar subject matter turned up in my Inbox! As this story has already been published in last year’s Twisted Tales and is also on Ether Books as One Man’s Meat, it set alarm bells ringing. I’d prefer to think it’s not a copycat but simply great minds thinking alike!

I am also thrilled to report that my flash fiction The Bedroom Tax was one of fifty selected for this year’s National Flash Fiction Day anthology, Eating My Words. I shall be rubbing shoulders with some of the best flashers in the game. You can find it now on Amazon in ebook and paperback format.

There are many NFFD events around the country in celebration of flash fiction. Last year I went to the one in Bristol, which was great fun and a chance to hear well-known and gifted flashers reading their work. There wasn’t a dead baby in sight and I laughed my socks off.

However you spend National Flash Fiction Day, have a good one!

 

Memoir: fact or fiction?  

1208757_10151891817565817_1189422053_nIs it autobiographical? How much of your life is in the story? They’re questions fiction writers get asked a lot. My answers, and it would be the same for most authors I know, are no and very little.

For sure, my life experiences influence the exploration of certain themes. It has taken many years, and many narratives, to realise that a recurring theme in my work is absent parents, fathers in particular, and though it hasn’t been the driving force in my stories and novels, it is there. Always.  It’s fair to say this obsession is a direct result of my childhood experience, but my work is fictitious, categorically; the story arcs, characters, voices; all products of my imagination. It’s much more fun making things up, and I consider my own life way too boring for public consumption – I’m as ordinary as can be.

But my mother and father’s story… now that could be interesting. This story, and my small role in the latter part of it, has held an increasingly strong grip on my imagination since I heard it, in its entirety, when I was twenty-seven. Given that many of the characters are still living I haven’t had the courage to pen anything, for fear of upsetting people I love. Until now. Elsewhere is a short story, a memoir, of a part I had in the larger narrative.

It was hard to write; much harder than fiction, I found, and not because of the emotional nature of the tale but because it took me a while to relax about the facts – whether or not they were accurate. Because memoir, or life writing, shares much with fiction and one person’s truth may well differ from another’s – and often quite dramatically.

book coverI approached Elsewhere (published by Ether Books this week) like any other story, the crucial difference being that the characters, the places, were conjured not from my imagination but memory and, as we all know, memory plays tricks. So, not wanting to be hampered even further by the facts, I wrote two drafts before checking a couple of details with my mother. I’d got them slightly wrong, muddled in time and place. A mixture of recall and things my mum had told me about my paternal grandmother, Betty. See, it is their story that fascinates; so much so that I’ve placed my small self in parts of it; incorrectly as it transpires.

Should I have altered these details in search of truth? No, my mum said, it is your truth. She is right. I may not have visited Betty – or Mrs Wilkinson as I called her – at the Gothic, tumbledown house in Everton, but the sense of foreboding, rancour and sheer misery Betty secreted was real enough. The children in the school yard as my sister and I told the pie story might be playing different roles, Helen might have been wearing a different coat, but we did tell the story and it did loom over my primary years. A changeable shadow I couldn’t shake off. And it is these emotional truths that matter, that I attempt to uncover in the retelling of the tale.

We all create fictions whether we are writers or not. Stories are how we humans attempt to make sense of the world and our place in it. And perhaps the narrators of memoir are all unreliable, to a greater or lesser extent, but they are not barriers to a good yarn. Stephen King said fiction is the truth inside the lie; the same is true of memoir.

Will I write more memoir? I’m not sure; I’ve enough ‘pure’ fiction to be getting on with. But maybe one day I will tell my mother and father’s story. It has fine ingredients: young, handsome lovers; a mad, bad mother; a devoted maiden aunt; a missing husband; mental illness; 60s asylums and tragic deaths. I just need to find my angle. Just. Ha. Until then it’s back to the novels.

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Elsewhere is available from Ether Books. Download the App onto your iPhone, iPad, Android for FREE here.

Ether Books is a new mobile social reading platform, connecting Writers and Readers around the world. Ether publishes “made for mobile” Quick Reads straight to Smart Phones, the fastest growing digital reading device on the planet. Discover talented new and bestselling writers right from your pocket.

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About Laura Wilkinson

Laura grew up in a Welsh market town and now lives in Brighton with her husband and two boys. As well as writing fiction, she works as an editor for literary consultancy, Cornerstones. She has published short stories in magazines, digital media and anthologies. She writes general fiction as Laura Wilkinson and erotic romance as L. C. Wilkinson. Her first hot romance, All of Me, is published by Xcite, an imprint of Accent Press. Currently, she’s working on a two novels: one is set against the backdrop of the 1984/85 miners’ strike; the other is a romance following a petulant young woman and a man running from his past. What does all her work have in common? Compelling stories, fascinating characters, and ideas that make you think a little. At least she hopes so! Find out more here.  Or follow her on Twitter: @ScorpioScribble. She loves to hear from readers.