You can see stories by searching for the hashtag #sffiction on twitter, but we will also be publishing an anthology of the best work in the next month. This is the really exciting bit for us, picking the best work, editing and producing our anthology. This year we are going to publish through Amazon KDP & create space, so you can get a paperback or kindle copy of the anthology. As we didn't do this in the last run of the project we will be publishing a combined anthology this year, with work from volume I and II of the project.
Keep posted for more details.
This is the first year that we've given the project its own twitter profile, so its still gathering followers and it would be great to get some help spreading the word.
So What' s The Challenge
The challenge is to write a story in the constraints of a tweet. Entrants have to tweet using the #SFFiction tag, leaving them just 129 characters to create a story.
We are surrounded by stories and there are loads of great writers and out there and loads of avid readers, However, we've all done it; put down a book we've loved felt almost sad for a moment and then wondered what to read next. The Serious Flash Fiction project hopes to bring writers and readers together in a quick, accessible and fun way.
What Happens When The Project Closes on the 24th of June?
The best entries will be picked for publication in our anthology, along with those folks who were publishes last time.
Some of the great stories we've had so far:
Sun danced on her arm. She relished the heat, the light. The Shadows approached. A sob caught in her mouth. Too late to run #sffiction - By @bex_spence
Her eyes are beautiful. A deep forest green. Watching. Expectant. I could stare at them forever.
One by one we emerged from below, the light blinding us. Once green lands now ash. Our world had truly gone, but we're still here #SFFiction - by @Kate_Sykes
The Serious Flash Fiction project is back.
The project challenges writers to construct a story in just 129 characters. All you have to do is log on to twitter and tweet your story followed by #SFFiction.
The project is open from the 25th of April until the 24th of June and invites everyone to start writing and reading. The best of the entries will be chosen for an anthology.
or more information you can visit the project website www.SeriousFlashFiction.weebly.com OR head straight to our twitter site @SFFiction
‘After the overthrow of any regime, a period of relative chaos is a sad inevitability.’ That’s what the pale man tells us. I try to ask a question, but my father shushes me. He is trying to learn. Teaching is their gift - he tells me this all the time. I'm bored by his preaching and the pale man’s words so I just nod, as politely as I can, and run outside.
I want to see what my mother and sister are doing. I shouldn't go anywhere near the tent, but I've never been good at following the rules. I stand in the darkness of the doorway. I can see that my sister is having her hair braided. If it's still shoulder length after the braiding then it will be official. She will be a woman. My mother told me this would happen soon. Today must be the day. I know she is both happy and sad, because it means that Nina will be leaving. I can't be sad. I am excited for my sister.
They come in big silver ships, the pale men. They call them vessels, but I'm not sure what that means. They come from the sky and they are the brightest silver. One of them tried to explain that colour to me, but I didn't listen. The best bits are when they come and when they go. The ships go hazy in the sky, like they are vanishing; like you can see them drift from this world to the next. They tell my father it takes a long time, but he wants to go anyway. It's a shame he wants it so bad. Men aren't allowed.
'Money does not give birth.' My mother barks at Nina, as she braids her hair and tries to shoo me away.
I am out of reach and she has more important arguments to win, so she allows me to dart into the corner. For now anyway.
'I know Mother, but it helps. That is why you take them for tours, make baskets. Money makes it easier to raise family.'
'That is no reason to go with them. Soon you may be a woman.' I watch as she wraps the braids tighter, she is desperate for them to be too short. 'and you will be able to take any man you wish. From this world or the other.'
'Their life is better than ours Mother. Don't you wish they had been here to take you away?'
'No I don't! I love your father. He puts bad dreams in your head, girl. That is the only thing I do not love. He doesn't know what life they live. None of us do. I worry that they may hurt you.'
'Mother they have bought us real learning.'
I watch Nina smile. Mother refuses to learn anything she doesn't have to. She refuses their 'education', but she is bright. Neither of us had known until she started to correct us. She has learnt, so she can put us right and give us the best life. She secretly agrees with Father. At least that is what Nina tells me.
'They have brought us education, shown us how to live off tourism. They help us. Why would they hurt me?'
'I don't know, but I don't trust them.'
'Mother, I remember you having to eat the hide you slept on so that I could have meat.'
I don't remember this. It must have been before I was alive, before the pale men came. There is ten years between me and my sister and my father calls it the time of change. He says I'm his babe of the new world. I have never known a world without the pale men, but my sister lived nine years before they came and she still screams in the night.
Father says that our ancestors lived wild for so long that there was not even a whisper about the planet before. None of us knew it any other way than black and burnt. Then they came and told us what happened. The pale men have been watching for a long time.
My mother has shining eyes now and Nina has gone quiet. She remembers and the braids on Nina's head are all done on one side and even I can tell they are going to be fine. They would have been last year, but Mother wouldn't do it for her then. I watch in the silence. I know Father cannot wait for her to go away. He loves her, maybe more than Mother, but he wants her to have the best life and he has faith in the pale men and their teaching. My mother calls it blind faith. He finds them more amazing than the ships they come in. I don't know how! They are just men and they don't even have hair to braid. My Father hopes Nina will go with the one we call Lion and I know she will. Lion is not his name and he doesn't like it, but that is what we call him. Nina will definitely go. Her and Lion laugh all the time and she has Father's trust.
Mother is finishing the braids and her shining eyes are leaking tears down her cheek. Nina asks her not to cry and then Mother whispers something and I have to get closer to hear.
'You will do it?'
'Of course Mother.'
'You will come back here. To me, with child.'
'Mother, of course. When I'm pregnant I'll come. You will help me have it, even if I go. Won't you? I can't do it without you!'
My mother doesn't need to answer and now they are both crying. I slip out, because all this crying is silly and it makes me feel bad.
Outside Lion and Father are talking about the Universe. I listen sometimes, but all they tell us is that it's a load of black around our planet and nobody even lives in it—except the pale men. It seems pretty boring to me, like when we had no neighbours.
The pale man pauses in the middle of his conversation. Lion never does this and I turn to see what he is looking at. My Mother and Nina are leaving the tent. Nina is running and she does look beautiful. I hope I look like Nina one day. Nina hugs my father and he looks prouder than the day he killed the hippo. She steps back and looks at Lion.
'I would like you,' she says quietly.
'I would like you too,' he says.
Mother and Father both have their hands to their mouths. Father to keep back the shock and Mother to keep back the tears. I'd like to be more concerned for Nina, but this is where the fun starts.
Singing and dancing, till late. Much too late for me, but no one cares and that makes me love it even more. We have ate so much and I feel happy and heavy. Men dance around large flames and even a number of the pale men have come to watch, though that is all they do. The music gets louder and the women join in; their braids swing back and forth, like horses tails in the dust. The one thing my father is glad of is dance.
'Lion' he says laughing, 'For all the learning in the Universe I would not want to shuffle like a pale man.'
Lion laughs with him and holds Nina's hand. Of all the pale men I am glad she is going with him. He is kind. The others are too stiff to be kind.
We stand around and all the flames flicker in the silver body of the vessel. This is the exciting bit, where we see it disappear, but this time they are taking Nina with them and I am surprised to be sad. After all the dancing and the food and the fun, all I can do is hold my mother's hand.
Nina gives me a hug. I can't remember the last time I let her hug me and this time I hug her back tight and it makes her shake. She brushes my loose hair out of my face and says something quietly in my ear.
'Maybe when you're a woman I'll see you there too. Look after Mum for me.'
She never calls her Mum and that makes me sad too, but I smile because that is what Father said I should do.
‘Do not be sad for your sister,’ he says. ‘smile and keep her heart whole. She is going somewhere amazing. We should all be happy and proud.’
Under the great silver body she stands and the doors slide open, even more quietly then the flap of our tent. Even Lion looks sad to be leaving. I think it must be a relief for him. He's been here for so long, so far from home, but when I look across he doesn’t seem relieved.
She waves as she steps inside and I want to wave back, but Mother has my hand too tight. I miss my chance and that puts a rock in my throat.
Father steps up behind us and holds Mother and me.
'She will be back.' he says, 'and when she is we will be grandparents and she will have many exciting stories to tell us about the Universe.'
'But none of them have come back yet.' Mother says with a crack in her voice.
'Nina will,' he says. 'She will.'
Last week I said I would post a story every weekend for the next three weeks, so here's number two. Please let me know what you think of the style, characters and story; I'm hoping to use this exercise to get audience feedback for book three. If you want to see a character expanded, see a plot idea within these shorts, or just like the style, please let me know.
This short was inspired by a single line in a 'hot club de paris'.
AT THE DEALER'S TABLE
She watches me with the same warm suspicion she has for the casino customers. Peering at me from over the breakfast bar with a judging smile; or is that a projected insecurity on my part? On the night we met she was wearing a shirt and red waistcoat. Bow ties don't exactly complement a woman, but she still caught my eye and I bee-lined for her table. Now she's wearing tight jeans and a flowing top and the combination do her a lot of favours. Still, I quite liked the bow tie.
‘So have you been at the casino long?’
‘About a year, but I’ve been at others before.’
She lays the cutlery down in front of me with the same nimble fingers that dealt me that winning hand. I’m no card expert, in fact that night was only my third time in a casino; the odd poker night with friends has taught me that I'm not at all bad though.
Looking at her again I weigh my odds and something tells me it doesn't look good. Not an outright, this is going badly, but more a complete failure in my foresight; like shaking a magic eight ball only to get ask again later.
She is beautiful and while I’m not bad looking, I’m a little overweight and I was never a popular kid. Add to this the 600 quid I won that night, the fact that she readily let me buy her a drink and I’m still wondering if she’s wrongly picked me as a card shark with a bag of cash.
Paul says that she’ll have seen a damn sight more won on a hand of poker than £600; that she’ll have had a lot of men come on to her, most wearing far nicer suits than mine and that he’s sure she'd know a real card shark from a mile off.
‘The real test,’ he says ‘is how long she’s worked in the casino. If it's a few days then you might be right. Anymore than six months and you're in, so work the question in early.’
I run the answer over in my mind; about a year, but I’ve been at others before and I remember those nimble hands and the effortless way she pushed the cards across the table. She brings the food over and we exchange all the pleasantries and it's not awkward because it really does smell great and I'm enjoying her company. Then she sits down, she pours me a drink and she looks straight into my soul and asks so what do you do?
It takes me a second to respond and as I do I remember more of Paul's advice from the night I met her.
'Go careful with poker, mate. When you're at the dealer's table going home gets harder.'
It occurred to me a few days ago that my blog so far as has been predominately aimed at writers and supporting writers. It's funny that as a storyteller we tend to grab hold of other writers and spend our time working and producing material for them because we know they have common interests, understand what we're doing and love reading. Its really easy to forget that we don't need other writers as much as we need readers. To assume every reader is a writer is like assuming every film lover is a filmmaker, its just not true and means you're not reaching your audience (look there I go again 'you're not reaching your audience' its ingrained).
So - Dear story lover,
Over the next three weeks I'll be posting a short story every week. What a crazy idea, hey!? I'll actually be sharing some stories. What I'd love to ask you to do is to read. Once you've read to tell me what you think and if there was any characters you loved, any plots that should be expanded; if you'd like to see the idea widened out into a novel, or just want to see one of the characters again, let me know. I'm not too far now from finishing my second book, so this is a chance for me to put some ideas out into the world and see what book three might become.
p.s. Here's the first:
At 79 the journey from home to see my little Marie is getting tiring. Still, as I sit here next to my beautiful daughter and her loving husband, I can feel a buzz that has always filled me before the curtain goes up. Tonight, like all the nights for some time, I’m on this side of the curtain. I’m sat on the hard school chairs, the ones that clip uncomfortably close together. Rachel and I are sat thigh to thigh and I can feel her excitement. Her little girl is about to stand on stage. I'm delighted listening to her occasional deep breathes; the proud mother of a proud mother. I like how life let's you reflect on the person you've been and understand your past a little better. Rachel and I always shared a passion for dancing. But she was born with a set of her father’s feet; both left, far too big and designed for falling over. She became an artist. She found her passion there and I’m so happy she did. Marie is different, she thinks in movement not images. When she dances she seems to float and she loves it.
For a school hall the venue isn’t bad, especially to say it doubles as the cafeteria—I’ve danced in worse. There is a shining spotlight on a red velvet curtains, highlighting the space where Marie will soon stand. We have a duet of passion, her and I. Music and movement. We have a special intelligence that is made for it; an awareness and bodily control. I think her ability might even be better than mine. When she moves she is in her element and, as a child, she never stops moving. The freedom of it is still familiar to me. I remember how it feels to live with your passion, to exist for it. I miss it terribly.
With age my body has betrayed me somewhat. I should feel lucky. Not many women close to 80 still have their health and their brain. I do miss the rumba, swing, the Charleston. I tell Marie all the time, Your body is your greatest tool, look after it, my sweet. She says, yes Nana, and goes off to find another packet of crisps and a jam sandwich. Still, at her age she can eat anything. That is the beauty of youth.
I can feel my insides tighten; part excitement, part worry. It was the same when I was behind the curtain. Tonight it isn’t fear for myself, it is fear for Marie. Not really for tonight; she is young and this will be a fantastic experience whatever. My worries are for the future. Will she find a way to use this passion? Will she be able to live comfortably and happily if she does? Will I live to see it? I so hope I do. I pray she doesn’t have to fight all those battles I fought. At my age it's clear that life would be boring if it was easy, but I still don't want her to feel an an ounce of pain. What an old fool. I don’t want her to be held back: for being a woman; not being from the right background; being the wrong colour. When I found dance I made it my tool and while others stared towards America, as a place of aspiration, I travelled to Asia. I learnt about cultures and movement I’d never seen. I was one of the first to find Yoga; I find it hilarious that its now in every worn village hall, tucked inside pockets of village green societies. For all my joy and friendliness, I was a little reckless and maybe a little selfish. Travel sorted that. I hope Marie will travel, though I know Rachel will hope she doesn’t.
As the curtain shivers and ascends, it reveals her. My, Marie. We knew she’d start, but seeing her there alone, centre stage. Wow. I remember those days. I wonder how she feels. At her age she probably doesn’t care at all. It’ll be later that she’ll feel sick with excitement and worry. She sits stock still. Her poise is perfect. It is one of the hardest parts, the composed stillness, but she does it effortlessly. That comes from starting young.
First her head rises. The smile on her face runs right off the stage and infects us all. The buzz I get inside might be from her, or from the music. Then I remember it is the blend of the two. She rises slowly, spreading her arms and looking to the sky. Then she begins. I hear Rachel exhale, quietly but forcefully. She can’t have taken a breath since the curtain went up. We watch her glide across the stage. She has a presence that escapes her day to day. This is what dance has done for her, what it did for me. She is quiet child; the same as Rachel, the same as me before. What I love about this part is its ability to go beyond. The performance sweeps you up and everything else is forgotten. This music and movement is rooted so much deeper than the rest of our world. That’s what I learnt when I travelled. Everything negative is swept away; we are entranced by it. In this moment my Marie is beyond. Beyond culture, religion, class, gender, colour or language. Rachel grabs my hand as Marie pirouettes and throws herself, so gracefully, across the stage in one perfect arc. The movement ebbs and flows and my emotions follow; as if on a tidal drift, controlled by Marie and the music. Right now she has no idea of the power. I hope one day she will and she’ll use it to breakdown whatever challenges she finds. She has that energy. I can see it in the movement, and the vigour, and the power, and the presence. I watch her sway, dash and settle. Sinking back into the sitting position from which she began. The applause goes up, and in that moment I know. She’ll be better than okay. Nothing will stop her. If this is all I get to see of it, I’m happy.
So after getting a new job 6 months ago the writing has ground to a halt :[
However, I'm back in the swing this week with some work on a film concept for some friends in kent, who have a great production company - Backlight Films, take a look. I'm giving a talk on ways to get published to Converge students at York St John University and back to the old haunt as well as a ex-MA student to tell potential applicants all about the joys of MA Creative Writing, on Thursday night.
More coming soon folks.
Don't judge a book by its cover, they say. Unfortunately for writers, we all do! Hours, weeks, months, years poured into writing a book and the most talented writer in the world can go completely ignored. Why? Because the book didn't jump out at us. No matter if it's a post on facebook, on an amazon e-shelf, or in your favourite book shop, we all look for a cover that grabs our attention. So why's it important and how do we get it right, especially since the majority of us will be handing this incredibly important task over to someone else.(
If you don't, this is the place to start. Once you know what a professional cover looks like and which ones you would buy, save all the images and put them together. I don't care if you print them and stick them to a piece of paper, if you stick them on a word document, or if you spend hours on photoshop creating a professional mood board, but you need to have these covers together.
Then you can go look for a designer. When your doing this you want to look at a few things:
When you've got all this right, approach the designer and tell them what you've written. Tell them the genre and the atmosphere of the book; tell them who you think will buy it (teens, Mum's, 18-35 year old sci-fi readers). Be as precise as you can. Then share your collection of other book covers. Your not saying 'I want something exactly like these', you're saying 'this is the feel I want my book to have' and 'this is the market I need you to help me access'.
Finally a few small thoughts about what to avoid.
If you're reading this, I guess you've either got a finished book, or one that isn't far from it. In which case CONGRATULATIONS and good luck. :]
What do they do, how to get one, what happens once you have one?
The three agents, Julia Churchil, Jo Unwin and Oliver Munson, were brilliant. They gave three talks on: What Does an Agent Do; Once You Have An Agent, what then; How to get an Agent, as well as taking questions from the audience and even opening the floor to a few book pitches - It was great.
In this blog I thought I'd bring you a few of the details from each of those talks and fill you in on a little secret. So what's the secret? Well... It turns that agents are real people, who are genuinely excited about books and finding new writers.
What does an agent do?
- They are the first port of call for an author and their new ideas
- They deal with almost all the paperwork
- They are deal negotiators, to make sure you are getting the best deal for your hard work
- An agent hopes to be a bedrock for a writer. They are the person you are likely to spend your whole professional career working with. It turns out that more writers in the market will/would like to leave their publisher than their agent!?
Once You Have an Agent, What Happens?
- They will help you form a strategy and vision for your writing career
- They love your manuscript, but will help you (at this stage) produce the best possible final version of it.
- They will ensure nothing goes to a publisher until it is the best possible shape
- They will get your work to the right editor for you
- They will handle deals, negotiations and 'auctions'
- Lit Agents help with expectation setting, getting deals and putting the pressure on other people you'll have to work with.
How To Get An Agent?
- Write a great book (easy right!?)
- Finish the book before you send it (despite the fact that your only asked for the first three chapters, very often, make sure you have a complete book, so you can get moving if they are interested)
- When you've finished put your book away for a while and then give it one final edit with fresh eyes
- Send one book at a time
- Always follow the submission criteria and don't deviate (its not professional)
- Make sure you have a great query letter that is: Brief; has a good tone; shows the architecture of your story (how it moves from beginning, middle to end)
- People can be turned down 30-40 times, it is fairly normal. However, if your getting template rejection letters in bulk you need to rework your story.
- Use the Writers and Artists Year book, google and other research methods to make sure you find the right literary agent who is interested in your style of writing and genre.
When we were invited to ask questions I asked one about my current book, which I was very unsure of. Fellow writers talk to me about word counts all the time. You hear things like 'it isn't a novel if it isn't 60,000 words'; 'the ideal spine width is 80,000, agents don't want less than that'; 'anything over 150,000 should be split into two books'. I am glad to say that, when I asked about my book that is currently at just 50,000 words and if it was ready to be sent, I split opinions. Two agents said that for the genre (contemporary literature) that would be fine and to send it and see what response I got - I could always work on it more later, don't force more story, a lot of debut novels try to do too much. The third agent said he generally liked to be looking at things between 80-100,000 words. However, he also said that was predominately for the sort of work he was looking at (crime, thriller, ect.)
The thing I took away from this was not to delay sending to literary agents because I'm unsure of details like this. Any little thing that might hold you back isn't worth it. Give it a try and see what feedback you get. It was clear that the panel saw books as art and every submission as a separate beats. While this meant there wasn't too many hard and fast rules to follow, it was nice to see that these were people on the other end and if they liked it, they liked it.
I hope you've found this useful and massive thanks to the Agents, York Literary Festival Team and the folks at Writers and Artists Year Book.
So I've been quiet for a while. That's mostly because I've been trapping myself in a wintry room with pots of coffee, finishing my second novel. I've been on a strict no internet distraction diet!? I'll be posting more about the new book soon, but for now I will just let you know that it is with some test readers and should be emerging for all you lovely people well before the end of the year.
So get across to the site now and see you there.
Ben Warden - Editor of the #SFFiction project and author of 'Life Without', which made the top ten literary fiction e-books on amazon.
Adam M Booth
Adrian P Fayter
Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award
Birds Of The Nile
If Only You Knew
Karen Hill Green
Marketing Your Writing
Ralph And The Purple Fly
Self-publishing And Reviews
Words From A Bench
Writers And Artists Year Book
York Literature Festival
York St John University