There seems to be a flurry of affection for the short story of late. Between the inaugural Costa Short Story Award and the revived publicity for the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award, we’re having a grand love affair with that small and mighty type of writing. Continue reading
Tag Archives: Short story
The sky was a crisp, fresh sheet of blue, stretched taut in the heat. The dead branches of a tree scratched marks across the road above me, and the warmed tarmac sagged underneath my feet. I followed the road to the bend, where it curved left under tree cover – a cool, green shade that smelt of cool, damp soil.
There was a five-bar gate on the bend ahead of me, the metal hot under my hand. I lean one foot on a lower rung. I press the top rung against my collar bone, and feel the heat of it rise up under my chin. The field is high with golden wheat. It whispers to me. There is barely a breeze today, but the wheat feels it and talks to it.
As I watch, the whitened prongs of antlers rise up in the middle of the wheat field. They are stark and boned, jagged like angry forks of lightning, and deathly pale. I feel eyes on me – two wide, brown eyes, below twitching leaf-shaped ears. The ears glow pink as the sun shines through them, and the eyes watch me, unblinking but unafraid. Wary, but no fear or anger.
The face is soft and white, somehow blurred at the edges as if it’s a mirage. I feel close enough to see the soft lips and quivering muzzle. The stag regards me further. Its ears, twitching back and forth, shine pink from the sun – two leaf-shaped, veined satellites. I barely breathe.
Then it’s away. The stag lowers its head further, hiding everything but the angry tips of the antlers, and I can hear the wheat protest and shudder as it passes through – the stalks bending and yielding before springing back into place. At the edge of the field, I see it again, in the space between the wheat and the hedge. The stag turns its head once more to look at me. It blinks. Once. Twice.
It lowers its head, soft muzzle seeming to touch one hoof in a bow, then, holding its antlers aloft, it steps away in to the hedge. And gone. I step back from the gate, feeling the stark change against my chin – from hot, metallic heat, to cooler, summer sun. I hold the bar a moment longer, lingering, yet knowing that I should go. I blink. Once. Twice.
I look to my feet, placed so squarely on the road. I let go of the gate.
If you’re new to this, the rules are simple. You take the nine images and create a story about them, starting with the words “Once upon a time”. You can see my first attempt here.
These short stories are currently the only fictional writing I’m managing at the moment – so I am subjecting you lot to it too. Did any of you have a go at the other one!? If so, if you fancy it on the blog, let me know and we can have some guest posting going on.
Anyway, I have some bad news for you wonderful people – I will be quiet for the next few days. I am visiting a friend in Newmarket (snow permitting) and so the blogs will go silent. Sad times!
In which case, I thought I’d give you the next few days to ponder on this selection of story cubes, and when I return I will have lots of shiny new posts to entertain you with (namely a review of The Hunger Games, and a short story followed by more ramblings and maybe some interesting stuff).
Have a beautiful weekend my lovely ones, and have fun writing!
Mobile phone (cellphone for you Americans!)
P.S. A plea for followers on Twitter – I’m on 93 and will do the happy dance if I’m at 100 by Monday (also I will be tweeting over the weekend, just so you won’t get withdrawal symptoms).
Oh, and I will FILM the happy dance and post it for you if I can reach over 100 followers on my fashion Twitter!!!
Penguin Fiction: paperback published 2007: 313 pages
Catherine and her brother, Rob, don’t know why they have been abandoned by their parents. Incarcerated in the enormous country house of their grandfather – ‘the man from nowhere’ – they create a refuge against their family’s dark secrets, and against the outside world as it moves towards the First World War. As time passes, their sibling love deepens and crosses into forbidden territory. But they are not as alone in the house as they believe…
Did I mention that Helen Dunmore is my favourite author? No? Well, she’s my favourite author. She began her writing career as a poet, and then went on to short stories and novels (both adult and children’s). And it shows in her writing – each novel I have read is almost lyrical, and when describing Dunmore, I prefer the term “wordsmith” rather than “novelist”… it seems to fit her poetic descriptions and way of writing.
And A Spell of Winter is no different. I found the blurb didn’t really match the story – the First World War, though featuring, isn’t as heavily implicated as much as the blurb suggests, and the grandfather is rarely referred to as “the man from nowhere” at all. But the story is beautiful nonetheless. Cathy gives a dreamy narrative, tinged with grief and also a sense of dissociation, which is a peculiar mix at first, but you soon become familiar with her voice and learn to roll with it. Dunmore’s novels are very character-heavy as opposed to plot-driven, so if you like lots of action, her writing is definitely not for you. I will admit, however, that this novel is not my favourite of hers (Talking to the Dead is, though her children’s Ingo series is pretty close). Cathy is not overly likeable, and neither are any of the other characters, so I found it hard to relate to anyone. The story is beautiful in that you hope for the best, but like real life, it doesn’t always happen that way. It’s hard to review this book properly, because it’s so dreamlike, it’s hard to describe. The best bit – by far – was Dunmore’s descriptions of the seasons. When she talks about the winter, you feel cold to your bones, and when she describes the roses in the summer you can smell them and feel the heat on your skin.
Next book: I’ve chosen The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – a Young Adult novel – because there’s a film of it coming up, and they’ve FINALLY done an “adult-suitable” cover. Also, I figure it could be a quick read.
Once upon a time there was a castle where it was always night time. Only one person lived in the castle, and this person was a young woman. She was neither beautiful nor ugly, but whoever saw her would fall instantly in love with her. It was a curse. No matter what she did, everyone would always fall in love with her. But there was another problem with falling in love with her – the minute you laid eyes on the young woman, and the minute you fell in love, you were instantly turned into a beetle. And so the castle had one human occupant, and thousands upon thousands of beetles.
Now, as previously mentioned, it was always night over the castle. A crescent moon always hung in the sky, although the rest of the world continued as normal with day and night.
This was also to do with the curse.
There was only one way to lift this curse, and that was to shoot an arrow into the topmost window of the castle the moment a shooting star flashed overhead. Many had come to try this deed (as it was always night, there were frequent shooting stars), but many had turned into beetles. The young woman was a lonely soul – due to her curse – and would often come out to greet her visitors before they had shot the arrow, and promptly turning them into a beetle.
So it was not unusual when the young woman was brushing her long brown hair by candlelight, when she heard a voice call from the path below. She looked out of the window, yet saw no one.
“Hello?” she called.
“Fair lady!” replied the male voice. “I have come to release you from your curse!”
The voice was a booming, valiant-sounding voice, and the young woman smiled and clapped in excitement.
“Oh isn’t that wonderful! Tell me, sir knight, is there a shooting star overhead?”
“There is fair lady.”
“And tell me, sir knight, can you see the topmost window of the castle?”
“I can fair lady. And, might I say, I am the best shot in all the kingdom.”
“Oh, what wonderful news! And tell me, sir knight, for you have not yet turned into a beetle, have you set eyes on me?”
“I have not fair lady, for I am stood with my eyes closed until the appointed time to shoot my arrow and release you from this curse.”
“Oh, you are clever sir knight! But, tell me, sir knight, where are you, for I cannot see you?”
“I will be revealed to you shortly fair lady, but first, pray, let me shoot this arrow and release you from your curse.”
“Oh, of course, of course,” the young woman cried, realising that all this talking would not cure her.
There was the high twang of a bow string, and the young woman watched as an arrow soared upwards – shining in the light of the crescent moon as the shooting star curved overhead – and flew through the topmost window of the castle.
All at once, the castle was full of thousands of voices, for all the beetles had been turned back into their human form again, and the castle was bathed in sunlight, for the eternal night had been lifted.
The young woman ran from the castle in joy, eager to meet her saviour.
She ran to the path from whence the arrow had been shot. But no matter where she looked, she could see nothing but a footprint in the mud. She clutched her hands to her heart in sadness.
“Oh, sir knight,” she sighed. “Have you left me already?”
“No, fair lady, I have not,” replied the knight’s voice from beside her, and she jumped in surprise.
She turned, but no one was there.
“Is this a trick, sir knight?” she asked.
“No, fair lady. You see, I am also under a curse, and I am invisible. It is a curse which can only be lifted by a young woman who is freed from a curse when an arrow is shot through the topmost window of her castle. To free me from this invisibility, I must have a kiss from this woman.”
“I see,” the young woman slowly. “But… there is one problem, sir knight. How am I going to be able to kiss you if I can’t see you?”
There was silence.
Today I felt Death. I felt Him brush past me, a chill and a darkness in the corner of my eye. He didn’t stop to whisper in my ear, just ran a finger over my shoulder as He went by.
I knew that today I was going to die.
I felt a tingling in my arms and legs, a lightness in the pit of my stomach. The rushing sound of nothing pressed against my ears.
I waited. I waited for Death to return, to take my hand in His, to grip me in cold and darkness.
I felt Him step closer as the day went on – as I slipped on the stairs, and swerved to avoid a pheasant on the road. He watched as I swung from lane to lane in panicked realisation, and as I stepped into the path of an oncoming bus.
But I didn’t die. What grace touched me? What took me from Him? There was no miracle, there was nothing remarkable in the day.
The day I was meant to die, I simply… Lived.