Tuesday, 21 June 2011

A Short Story for a Long Day

Photo courtesy of Paul Wilkinson on Flickr

The Addict 

by Sarah Schofield 

He was addicted to tobacco and sulked like a child over the lollipops that his doctor offered as a poor cigarette substitute. The satellite navigation in his Mercedes helped him find the confectioners he’d looked up on the internet.

“What did you like, when you were little?” the woman in the saccharine-lined shop asked.

“I cannot recall,” he said. A pink sugar mouse peeped from under the counter. He rattled the cash in his pocket.

“Coltsfoot rock and liquorice, that’s your sort,” she said and patted him on the hand. His eyes softened at her understanding.

Standing in the shower he looked at the remnants of rose soap his wife had left dissolving in the porcelain dish and sucked coltsfoot out of his molars. He cancelled his afternoon appointments.

“More liquorice?” she asked, as he walked into the shop, shaking her fringe out of her eyes.

“How about dinner?” he said.

The restaurant was beige. She sat opposite him. He was used to seeing her framed in multicoloured fudge and Uncle Joe’s and jelly babies.

But she had brought the aromas with her; candy floss and cola pips. Her earrings dangled like sherbet drops.

“Marzipan fruits are my favourite,” she said, picking at her bread.

He watched her longingly and started to salivate.

“Fisherman’s friends,” he said.

She pushed the asparagus tips round her plate with the fork. He imagined that if he sucked her fingers they would taste sweet, from trailing through the candy jars all day. If he breathed her in, he might head rush, like that first cigarette he’d stolen from his father all those years ago.

The restaurant was starting to empty, and he felt the familiar pull of panic. The mildly frantic gnawing at his thoughts as he glanced round.

He took her hand and asked her to come home with him. She smiled. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Object of my Affections...

Don't we all just love stuff. Things, tat, tut, flotsam... Whatever we call it... human nature has an obsession with objects. They don't have to be worth much in monetary value (although sometimes they are...) We are intrigued by archeological digs. We adorn the walls of pubs with items that have long since lost their purpose. We carry useless things around in our pockets, handbags, dangling from our keyrings. We obsess over museum artefacts... 

We hoard. Old bits of this and that. My friend kept the condom wrapper from her first sexual encounter. I inexplicably keep a ticket from a Canon and Ball gig that I found carefully preserved under the carpet when I moved into my house. 

This handbag was something found in a second hand warehouse, Bygone Times. It is too fragile to use, so therefore is useless. But the lipstick marks and curious perfumed scent inside, the hints of past owners, are too intriguing to disregard. It has been well used and I keep it because I hope perhaps in some way it will reveal its secrets to me... or at least suggest them for stories.
And this might look like a plop. But actually it's the first thing I ever whittled when my dad bought me a pen knife and taught me how to use it safely. Incase you're wondering, it's a mouse, sans ears or tail; they take a whole lot more years of whittling to master. The mouse fits perfectly in my palm. I've carried to every house I've ever lived in.

On one of those Channel 4 documentaries, that's really a freak show, a man of noble gentrified descent had had to sell his country manor and most of the content. The few old possessions he'd saved, he put into a storage unit. These possessions included a tupperware box containing dust and hair balls gathered from around the parquet floors. To him this stuff was precious. Significant in a way that was hard to quantify.

This obsession with objects was discussed in a short story workshop with writer Carys Davies recently, looking at its function in fiction. Her workshop inspired me to write 'Still Life' which made it into Writer's Forum, about a nodding dog. And if you think of almost any story / film / poem there's often highly significant objects that weave themselves into the narrative. Think Snow White and the apple and her stepmother's sycophantic mirror, think Dorian Gray with that portrait in the attic, think Donoghue's 'Room' where many of the objects take on special potency.

Roselle Angwin, writing in her Mslexia column Writing Your Self: The secret life of objects says 'Humans have known forever the power of objects... sometimes it's to do with the whole concept of the numerous human lives that have passed across the surface of that object, or created it..."

This was the aspect I was keen to capture in a 'Write on the Night' evening I organised this week at the Ormskirk's Owls Writers Group using the objects shown in the top image as a stimulus to creative writing. I asked the writers to select one to spark the first inklings of a story. The Owls writing Group is positively bulging with creative talent. Many members are widely published. And all have original voices and styles. It didn't take long before the fledglings of eleven fantastic stories were hatched. It was an exciting process. I'm looking forward to hearing where these stories go in the next few months.

The story I started, based around an old locked leather diary, will unfortunately have to go on the back burner. I've got a rewrite of a story for People's Friend that needs some serious editing and the Guardian short story competition deadline is looming. The story for this is behaving like a cat that doesn't want to go in its vet box. I'll keep wrestling and treat my scars with alcohol when it's done. 

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Flashing Good Fun

So! It was nowhere near as bad as I'd thought. Actually it was lovely. 

This time last week I was feeling decidedly pukey at the thought of reading my flash fiction at the Flash Mob, Flash Fiction Competition as part of the Chorlton Arts Festival 2011.

But it wasn't scary at all.

The Flash Mob Team worked so hard to make it a great event. From lining up a great programme of fun, non-stuffy readings from themselves, the prince of Flash Nick Perring, who read from his collection 'Not So Perfect' and from all of the shortlisted writers. The evening was broadcast live on Chorlton FM (no swearing please...)

I read first, which was a blessed relief. People clapped kindly when I stopped reading. Also a blessed relief.

There were twelve pieces on the shortlist. Unsurprisingly, my flash didn't get further than the shortlist. But I was delighted to be beaten to the top positions by three incredible pieces of writing. Third place with 'The Dryer Monkey' was Sal Page, second place, with 'Marked' was Michael D Conley, and first place was Socrates Adams with 'Water Pressure'. Three brilliantly varied pieces of work. The whole twelve shortlisted flashes are included in a downloadable myebook. Definitely well worth a read. 

My actual personal favourite was the second placed entry - 'Marked' by Michael D Conley, in which, one day, alphabet letters fall from the sky. It appealed to my fascination with obscure supernatural events occurring in a otherwise measured and understood setting. Lovely. It made me wonder what incriminating words would appear on my skin after an alphabet shower. It stayed with me, which is what I reckon a good flash fiction should do. Each word has a far more powerful resonance than in a longer piece. 'Marked' is full of gorgeous ideas and images, without feeling heavy or overly condensed.   

Many thanks to the superb Flashmob organising team, the Dulcimer for hosting such a great event and all who read. I'm already looking forward to next year's do! 

On a course recently, I mentioned flash fiction in passing during the coffee break. A bloke took me to one side and asked me what flash fiction was. "Tell me..." he asked with a blush and a little smile some might have called salacious... "Has it got anything to do with... erotic fiction?"  

How tempted I was to say; "Well, actually yes. It's designed for the gentleman with a penchant for displaying his wears in public... a story of similar intimate brevity, and an equivalent size..." But I worried he would take me seriously and felt for the poor judges of flash fiction competitions everywhere... so put him straight. And gave him a wide girth... I mean berth for the rest of the day.