#22 – Short Story Competition

Episode 22 is a short episode. Anna and I talk about a short story competition that we entered together.

Below you will find an early effort, followed by the finished story. Wish us luck.

Early Effort - Dina and the Ducks

Dina winced at the rattle of the doctor’s stethoscope as it landed in the tray. She would open her eyes if she could be bothered.

The doctor spoke as if he cared, “I don’t know what to say. A choir, or ice skating, or wild swimming… something new can help with grieving…” He trailed off.

She struggled to respond, hardly listening because of the weight trapping her inside. How could the doctor understand the desire to live in a better past?

The shock of sudden cold stopped her breath for what felt like hours, not seconds, and was followed by all over tingling. She spluttered like an old engine and continued downstream. Blessed numbness erased the pain in her head, wiping everything clean.

Leaves clogged her throat, green and fresh, choking her with vitality. Branches floated on the surface of the river, catching at an arm and then a leg. The water swept her past too fast for anything to grab hold.

Further downstream through gaps in overhanging trees, the last of the autumn sun warmed the back of her neck, reminding her of something that she immediately forgot. On the bank, impossible to see, an adder coiled tight to absorb the last of the heat.

Dina swam on, long curly hair – too thick her mother had said – trapping twigs and other debris. Floating through clear patches where she could kick and paddle. The water’s soft and silky. Breast stroking through a silty brew of bracken.

Later, as she towelled off, her limbs turned to frozen lumps, warmth creeping up her toes. A forgotten sensation, gone long before Aaron’s illness. At one with it all, an inner glow.

Someone was wiping her brow with a flannel. The coolness gave her brain-ache.

“It’s alright, luv. You were in the amphitheatre. Though why you’d want to go there with all the young ‘uns that were drinking and fighting and eating McDonald’s, I don’t know.”

Dina couldn’t fathom it. “What I…”

“Have a nice sleep. You’ll be alright.”

“Leaves,” she said.

“What d’you say, luv?”

“Leaves.”

“Oh, you sleep it off, dear.”

She opened her eyes. Lids heavy, like they’d been taped down for too long. She was surrounded by strangers, in a bed that squeaked whenever she moved, sliding across the plastic-coated mattress. Warm water in a plastic jug. Strong tea in a white mug.

“You have a visitor, dear.”

Now she was laughing to herself, leaves, left, leaf, leaves.

“Come on now, luv, he has come all the way from Barnsley. It’s Graham, isn’t it, dear?”

The nurse turned, revealing a large shape, silhouetted against too-bright lights. “Dina, it’s Graham.”

She squinted, trying to remember what had happened. There had been a man. He’d been kind when she was lost, said he’d got off a train and was on his way for a night out. Was this him?

“He brought you here from the amphitheatre. Said you’d eaten something. Saved your life, probably.”

Had he? Dina made another effort to open her eyes and found herself staring at a man with eyes the colour of blue water like the Mediterranean, not the Sheaf or the Don.

“Too hard,” she said

“I’ll come back tomorrow.”

Blinding light replaced the welcome shade cast by his body, and she wished she’d tried harder. Tomorrow, he’d said, but did he mean it?

Sunlight dappled on the brown water, making it hard to see below. Ducks quacked in alarm, scattering in a cloud of feathers. Did they think she was a shark?

This time when she opened her eyes, dust motes hung in the hot, dry air. The murmur of voices too insistent to ignore. She longed to be back in the water and felt like a marine mammal captured and alone.

“Doctor Salvage wants to take a look at you, luv.”

Dina sighed, too tired to resist the prod of cold implements pressed against her skin. Too tired to answer the many questions. She did not want to be Dina anymore. It was time to be someone or something new.

“What do you think, doctor?” A harsh voice she’d heard but ignored. “There’s nothing wrong with her. It’s all in her head.”

Dina drifted and thought about catching one of the branches that that stroked her arm. The trees were thinning out and the sky was growing wider, more open, making her insignificant and invisible.

A young, female voice asked her something else, and she tried to form words in her head before she opened her mouth, but they trickled away through her fingers. She remembered the doctor’s name – doctor Salvage.

“Check when Michael Carlisle will have a bed.”

Dina tried to put meaning to the words but couldn’t force it to matter. Anyway, doctor Salvage wasn’t speaking to her anymore. 

Dina’s hands were pale shadows beneath the surface. Bubbles released from the riverbed tickled her sides. Something touched her toes, forcing her to swim faster. Her mind was full of electric eels and giant pikes with teeth and the sky vast and empty. The last of the trees lay ahead on the right. They seemed more important than the others. Perhaps because beyond, there lay nothing but sea and sky. Dina angled her body away, content to find the waves and salty depths.

The figure at the end of her bed was familiar. A name rose from somewhere inside. Graham. He’d come again. What did he want? How was he?

“Hello Dina, glad you’re a bit better today.”

She stirred, reaching, reaching and stretching until she felt the rough bark on her palm and the leaves tickling her arm.

Who was Graham? Why was he here at her bedside?

“I’ve brought you flowers and a bar of Cadbury’s. They said you weren’t well enough, but I reckon you must be stronger than they think.” 

Warmth spread from her toes up.

 

 

Final Submission - Turbulence

Dina winced at the rattle of the doctor’s stethoscope as it landed in the tray. She would open her eyes if she could be bothered.

The doctor spoke as if he cared, “I don’t know what to say. A choir, or ice skating, or wild swimming… something new can help with grieving…”

She hardly listened. How could the doctor understand her desire to live in a better past?

Despite misgivings, Dina placed a foot into the water – it was freezing. Mud squelched between her toes and she gasped as cold crept up her thighs. A fear of creatures in the riverbed launched her forward.

Gasping for breath for what felt like hours, followed by all over tingling. Blessed numbness erased the pain and wiped everything clean.

Old brown leaves clogged her throat choking her with their decay. Branches floated on the surface of the river catching at an arm and then a leg. The water swept her along.

Further downstream through gaps in overhanging trees, the last of the autumn sun warmed the back of her neck, reminding her of something she couldn’t grasp. On the bank, impossible to see, an adder coiled tight to absorb the last of the day’s heat.

Dina swam on. Her long curly hair trapping twigs and other debris. Breast stroking through a silty brew of bracken. Where the water was soft and silky in clear patches she could kick and paddle.

As she towelled off frozen limbs, warmth crept up from her toes. She had an inner glow. A forgotten sensation since long before Aaron’s illness.

Someone was wiping her brow with a flannel. The coolness gave her brain-ache.

“It’s alright, Luv. You were in the amphitheatre. Though why you’d want to go there with all the young ‘uns, drinking and fornicating and eating McDonald’s, I don’t know.”

Dina couldn’t fathom it. “What I…”

“Have a nice sleep. You’ll be alright.”

“Leaves,” she said.

“What d’you say, Luv?”

“Leaves.”

“Oh, you sleep it off, dear.”

She opened her eyes. Lids heavy, like they’d been taped down for too long. She was surrounded by strangers, in a bed that squeaked whenever she moved, sliding across a plastic-coated mattress. Warm water in a plastic jug. Strong tea in a white mug.

“You have a visitor, dear.”

Now she was laughing to herself, leaves, left, leaf, leaves.

“Come on now, Luv, he has come all the way from Barnsley. It’s Graham, isn’t it, dear?”

The nurse turned, revealing a large shape, silhouetted against too-bright lights. “Dina, it’s Graham.”

She squinted, trying to remember what had happened. There hadbeen a man. He’d been kind when she was lost, said he’d got off a train and was on his way for a night out at the Leadmill. Was this him?

“He brought you here from the amphitheatre. Said you’d eaten something. Saved your life, probably.”

Had he? Dina made another effort and found herself staring at a man with eyes the colour of water like the Mediterranean, not the Sheaf or the Don.

“Too hard,” she said

“I’ll come back tomorrow.”

Blinding light replaced the welcome shade cast by his body, and she wished she’d tried harder. Tomorrow, he’d said, but did he mean it?

Sunlight dappled the brown water, making it hard to see below. Ducks quacked in alarm, scattering in a cloud of feathers.

This time when she opened her eyes, dust motes hung in the hot, dry air. The murmur of voices was too insistent to ignore. She longed to be back in the water and felt like a marine mammal captured and alone.

“Doctor Salvage wants to take a look at you, Luv.”

Dina sighed, too tired to resist the prod of cold implements pressed against her skin. Too tired to answer the many questions. She did not want to be Dina anymore. It was time to be someone or something new.

“What do you think, doctor?” A harsh voice she’d heard before but ignored. “There’s nothing wrong with her. It’s all in her head.”

Dina drifted and thought about catching one of the branches that scratched her arm. The trees were thinning out and the sky was growing wider, more open, making her insignificant and invisible.

A young, female voice asked her something else, and she tried to form words in her head before she opened her mouth, but they trickled away out of her ears. She remembered the doctor’s name – Doctor Salvage.

“Check when Michael Carlisle will have a bed.”

Dina tried to put meaning to the words but couldn’t force it to matter. Anyway, Doctor Salvage wasn’t speaking to her anymore.

Dina’s hands were pale shadows beneath the surface. Bubbles released from the riverbed tickled her sides. Something touched her toes, forcing her to swim faster. Her mind was full of electric eels and the sky was vast and empty.

The last of the trees lay ahead on the right. They seemed more important than the others. Perhaps because, beyond, there lay nothing but sea and sky. Dina angled her body away content to find the waves and salty depths.

The figure at the end of her bed was familiar. A name rose from somewhere. Graham. He’d come again. What did he want?

“Hello Dina, glad you’re a bit better today.”

She stirred, reaching, reaching and stretching until she felt the rough bark on her palm and the leaves tickling her arm.

Who was Graham? Why was he here at her bedside?

“I’ve brought you flowers and a bar of Cadbury’s. They said you weren’t well enough, but I reckon you must be strong enough for chocolate.”

She let go. Warmth spread from her toes up.

#21 – Author Voice

This week’s episode has Anna and I entering a short story competition together. It’s the first project that we have worked on together. See how we get on as we document our process.

We go on to talk about the author voice and how some writers achieve such a distinctive voice that it makes them easily identifiable.

Let us know what if there are any authors you can spot by their writing alone.

#20 – Marketing Your Author Business Through Newsletters

The experts tell us that one of the essential aspects of marketing your books is putting out a regular newsletter.

Why put out a newsletter?

· Build your brand.

· Build a relationship with your audience.

· Keep people interested between books so that they haven’t forgotten about you by the time you put out your book.

· To make sure that you don’t only contact people when you have a book available.

Why write this one?

You need to be clear why you are writing this newsletter. Is it to connect with your audience, to get people to respond or to get them to act in some way? What results do you want?

How do you put out a good newsletter or write an exciting blog week after week? 

Well, it’s about finding your truth, being authentic and leading an exciting life. Easy, right? It explains why, although we know that’s what we should be doing, so few of us do it.

Practice makes perfect and like learning to write great novels; it’s about the number of words on the page. Like reading widely, it’s another skill to learn, and it helps to subscribe to other famous author’s newsletters. What do you like about it? What do you hate?

For me, it has also been about dedicating precious time to creating something that I’m proud to put out rather than pouring my ramblings out and expecting that anyone would want to read it.

How do you find topics?

I’m still learning this one, especially as I write under a pen name because of my day job. Balancing being honest without making yourself vulnerable seems like another skill to learn, and it’s difficult, although you’ve probably had loads of practice if you post on social media.

A while ago, I did an experiment where I put out a chapter a week of raw material on the book I was working on at that time. It made me commit to writing a chapter a week and gave me something to submit. It was about being vulnerable in a whole new way.

Journaling can be a good source of ideas.

 

Structuring your Newsletter

Headings break a newsletter up and allow busy people to skim the ‘headlines.’

 

Should you be political? 

I have chosen not to be, simply because I’m too political and don’t want that side of my life to spill too strongly into my author business. Not because I’m afraid that people who disagree with me won’t buy my books but because the politics in my books is subtle and often unconscious.  

#19 – Revisiting Goal Setting

In episode 19, Anna and Lucinda discuss goal setting and revisit Lucinda’s goals set earlier in the year.

Why is it good to set Goals?

  • It is motivating. – Goal setting is a way of monitoring our achievements.
  • It helps us to use our time better by identifying activities that aren’t valuable or are a waste of our time.
  • It helps us to be honest with ourselves and identify areas where we’d like to do better.
  • Sometimes things change and that’s okay. – The process of reviewing goals helps us to recognise that we might have gone off track for good reason.
  • Just the process of setting a goal and committing it to paper makes magic happen. It set us on a path of achievement.

New Goals

Here are our current goals.

Anna

To print off three chapters of her novel and edit them to a good standard by the end of November.

To continue to produce poems and short pieces of work.

Lucinda

Release 3 books in the Cadicle universe with Amy Duboff.

To finish 2 books in the Barathrum Series.

To send out a newsletter every 2 weeks.

To produce a blog post every 2 weeks (once website is up and running).

Joint

To continually improve the quality of the podcast and gradually build an audience.

To continue to put out the podcast regularly, every 2 weeks.

To send out a newsletter every 2 weeks.

Thank you to Sites Built for You for a fantastic revamped website: Lucinda Pebre.

#17 – Writing Conferences and Events

Anna and I have a conversation about the benefits and struggles of attending writing conferences. We talk in some depth about the 20Books conference that happened at the end of July in Edinburgh.

We agree that there are many benefits to attending events. They can provide the motivation to be more productive, to share and connect with other authors. 20Books was unique in some ways. There was a real collaborative feel, and it felt like every single person wanted to help others in some way.

It can be daunting to go alone and then there’s the cost of travel, accommodation and the conference itself. Overall, my experience is that the benefits outweigh the cost but it is worth considering a few things before you go.

Think about the purpose of the conference. Edge-lit and 20Books were two very different conferences; both valid in their own right. Like most things, you will get more out of the experience if you consider what you would like to get out of it beforehand.

#16 – Secondary Characters

A secondary character should help reveal the details of the plot and progress the story in some way. They can either inspire the protagonist or oppose the protagonist.

Do:

  • Attach them to a place so that the reader can remember who they are.
  • Go shallow, go deep to make a rounded character. As an author know something superficial as well as a character’s greatest fear.
  • Use a character to illustrate the world you’ve created.
  • There ensure that there is a reason the character is in the scene.

Don’t

  • Have too many characters
  • Make them into caricatures or too black and white.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

All human beings have to have their lower levels needs, such as food and water met, before the character can pursue self-actualisation.

  • Food, water and shelter are the most basic needs.
  • Safety and security.
  • Love and belonging, inner wellbeing.
  • Accomplishments and self-esteem.
  • Self-actualisation.

#15 – Six Senses

In episode 15, Anna and Lucinda talk about incorporating six senses into writing and give some tips on how to achieve this.

 

Anna talks about her experience of NPL (Neuro Linguistic Programming) to determine how people learn in different ways, and with a primary sense.

 

Anna reads an extract from Philip Pullman’s novel, The Golden Compass, where the author cleverly invokes three senses to good effect. Lucinda choses Sarah J Maas, Queen of Shadows, to demonstrate how to the author brought emotion into a scene.

 

#14 – Goals

In this episode, Anna and Lucinda revisit goal setting and discuss why it is okay not to achieve those goals.

Goals aren’t meant to constrain us. They are tool, like many others, that’s help us to get where we need to go. Lucinda’s goals changed when she discovered Story Grid.

Lucinda talks about the need to structure her novel. One of the ways to do this is using Story Grid.

Anna recognises that life can get in the way of novel writing goals and that is okay.

Lucinda discusses how Scrivener has helped in the planning process and how it can be used in conjunction with the Story Grid methodology.

What tools help you to write? What goals have you achieve or not achieved?

 

Shawn Coyne The Story Grid – What Good Editors Know

https://storygrid.com

#13 – Conflict

In today’s episode, Lucinda and Anna talk about how conflict and motivation add tension in a novel.

Almost every important character in a novel needs two types of conflict.

External conflict:

Character vs another character/nature/technology.

Internal conflict.

Character vs self.

Inner conflict is a vital aspect of storytelling because it creates empathy in the reader, which is one way of making the story compelling.

Outer stakes are related to the character’s goal whereas inner stakes equal a yearning. To create tension, the two should be in further conflict.

It can help to ask a question – what important decision does your character have to make?

Consequences

All action or non-action has consequences and tension is created when a character has to make a difficult decision or choose between two unpleasant options.

The greater the stakes (what’s at risk), the greater the tension. The writer should aim for a reader to be left with questions after each scene.

The character has to take action in line with their motivation and that motivation needs to resonate with readers.

This makes sense but the difficulty comes putting it into action. For me, Lucinda, this is only something I think about in the editing process, which is where the larger part of my work is done.

Attaining the Impossible

The greater the war within the character, the more satisfying the story. One way of raising personal stakes is for the writer to ask how they can make the goal matter more and then show the resulting internal turmoil going on inside the character. This will make the reader identify with the conflict and care about the decisions that the character makes.

Another way of making the story stronger is by giving the character multiple conflicts weaved together with the internal and external conflicts of other characters. Sounds easy, I don’t think so!

Characters can have a wound that’s a source of inner conflict. This can be due to a traumatic event, such as the murder of their family or a sad early life that taught them not to trust. Another possibility is that the character wants something that they daren’t go after which results in something missing from the character’s life.

The character might have a blind spot created by the trauma and their goal, which prevent them meeting his or her need.

They may have a wound that causes the character to live in a fantasy world or fear relationships or avoid all conflict. They could be bitter or angry at the world or seek attention.

What does your character want?

What’s the opposite of what they want? What reason is there not to pursue their goal?

Your character cannot have both so, how does this became apparent?

Other ways of creating inner conflict: –

A powerful fear and desire to avoid confronting it.

The antagon­ist forces the character to face their fear.

The character might have a secret fear that they are ashamed of getting out or it could lead to them getting arrested.

They might have a flaw that leads to trouble.

Other sources of conflict

In the podcast, Anna came up with a number of life issues, such as, where to spend Christmas and the resulting dilemma about a cause of action, guilt or self-doubt.