Category Archives: becky bye

Pancakes and Possession

Our latest story prompt was a bit of a mixture, with a few stories based on the theme of pancakes and others focusing on the theme of possession. We even had a poem to add to the mix this time. Regardless of theme, all of the stories were a great success with the rest of the group and we hope that you enjoy reading them!

Yours, by Michael Bailey

Gwen walked along the woodland path here and somewhere else. It was cool in the leafy shade, a relief from the searing sun outside on the lake. The path wound up the hillside between birch trees. A strong breeze shook the branches and made the leaves shiver. The birdsong died away as the temperature seemed to drop and Gwen felt the skin on her arms rise in goose-bumps. She looked behind her, there was nothing to be seen and yet a shadow moved at the corner of her vision. She stopped and looked again, the shadow didn’t move but hung like a dark area out of focus close to the path. “Get away from me. You have no place here, go back to where you belong,”, Gwen commanded. The shadow dissolved but Gwen didn’t feel reassured. She hurried on, turning down the hill and back into the sunlight at the lakeside.

She was still agitated when she met up with her partner, Rob. She told him what had happened and he asked if she was sure. She nodded. They went back up the path she had taken but all was peaceful and untroubled. They returned to the lake and sat on a bench looking left across the lake to the cleared track through the woods underneath the descent of a winter ski lift.

Rob lifted his binoculars and studied the vertical trackway. The supports of the lift cast black shadows that lay parallel at intervals like railway sleepers. He had thought he might spot a deer but instead he saw nothing. He couldn’t be sure, he couldn’t see anything to focus on but he got the impression of something outside his field of view moving from shadow to shadow towards them. Finally it disappeared behind the brick building that housed the end of the ski lift fifty yards away from where they sat. Now it was Rob who felt the hairs on his neck rise. He could sense something there, hidden behind the wall he was staring at. Gwen suggested they go into the hotel.

They talked about what might or might not be out there and drank a beer each, encouraging one another to put the incidents aside as the products of overactive imagination in this slightly spooky out-of-season ski resort. The shadows softened and the colours intensified into the golden hour of evening as they stayed at their table by the window and ate supper.

Upstairs in their room Rob was relaxing when Gwen burst sobbing from the shower. She said she was frightened, her eyes were wide and the suntan on her face had blanched where her skin was drawn and pale. Rob tried to put his arms around her but she pushed him away clutching her towel tighter around her shoulders. No, she said, I’m frightened of you. “Who are you?” she asked, staring hard at him. “I’m Rob and you are Gwen and we are the same as ever”, he told her. He suggested they go back into the bathroom and look in the mirror.

As she stood in front of the mirror over the sink with Rob standing behind her Gwen couldn’t bring herself to look. Rob gently raised her chin with his hand.

Look, he said, there is nothing to be frightened of. He put his hands on her shoulders and massaged them and her neck which was stiff with tension. As she relaxed she let her towel slip to the floor and he looked over her shoulder to admire her nakedness. Come on into bed he said, it’s all over, nothing to be frightened any more. He took her hand and led her into the bedroom.

Gwen kissed Rob tentatively at first and then with a desperation that went beyond their usual passion. She clung to him as he kissed her. She moaned and wrapped her legs around him pushing herself against him, pulling his buttocks with her hands, digging her fingernails into his skin.

Rob’s face was above Gwen’s as he entered her. In that familiar moment when intense feelings of love and oneness usually overcame him he suddenly saw Gwen’s face transformed into the mask of a wild beast, lips drawn back in a snarl that bunched under the merciless eyes staring at him. The long sharp white teeth were daggers bared in a grimace of savagery that would surely rip his throat open in an instant. Rob’s eyes popped as he thrust harder and heard his own voice “I love you, I don’t care, do what you want, I’ll never stop loving you.”

He blinked and Gwen’s face had the look of sublime and far away calm it always had when they made love. The terrifying mask had gone. Rob had no doubt that he had seen it and that he had somehow passed a test by reacting as he had. Accepting his fate without bargaining, without relinquishing his love for Gwen whoever or whatever she was.

In the morning Gwen was her old self, chatting about the history of the resort and of the region they had travelled through to get there. She said nothing of the strange apparition they might have imagined in the afternoon or of the terror they felt in the night. Rob didn’t want to upset her so he kept quiet as well.

Weeks later Gwen started crying one evening. Words tumbled from her as she told Rob she was afraid of what she was inside. Rob let her talk until she ran dry then gradually tried to comfort and reassure her that he loved her.

She was not convinced. “How can you love me when you don’t know who or what I am inside?” she asked. Rob smiled sadly and shook his head. “Gwen my love, I have already seen what you are and I know one day you may bite my head off, quite literally. But loving you makes me what I am and I am yours.

 

The Embassy Ball, by Alex Chase

Our eyes met

Across a crowded room

Kindred spirits shared a spark

A single thought

Your eyes shone

Brighter than the diamonds round your neck

And then we’re off

Our twin circles

Never quite align

Mutually exclusive gatherings

At the Embassy Shrove Tuesday Ball

As lackeys and toadies

Each more demanding than the last

Beg for favours

“Not me, it’s for a friend”.

I found out who you were

Married

Children

A duchess, in another life

The endless social swirl

Spins us ever further.

Apart we drift.

I saw you later on that night

But you were occupied

In quartering a crepe

Lemon and sugar

Simple tastes for one so glamorous

The music plays

I hesitate

“Ask her to dance”

A voice behind me says

I turn but no one’s there

Perhaps an angel

I turn again

Too late

You and your partner

Spin

Twin dervishes

Never pausing for breath

Much less a chance for other men

To tear you from his grip.

And then the evening’s done

The serving staff

Return to tidy up

The debris of the night’s soiree

And back to work

Though sore of head and heart.

What’s this?

Another function to attend

Perhaps this time

We can communicate

In words

And not just looks.

But then I read

Divorce

Society was not for you

And so the country girl went home

To her cows

And sheep.

And stable lads.

The life less gilded.

And I was left

Once more alone

Amid the spires and steeples

Of the urban wilderness

And so I go

Through endless parties

Conferences

And balls

Until I reach the end of term

And finally

Recalled to home

I look

At that great sea of toil and strife

And shines out just this

One moment full of happiness and bliss.

 

I’m So Lucky to be Alive, by Cuca Vega

‘I’m not a pancake!’ I kept repeating again and again to Jimmy, Joey and Tommy.

They wouldn’t believe me.

‘Seriously, I’m just a kind of flat donut, that’s all.’

Jimmy has been a rye bread all his life and the wisdom that comes from such a nutritious way of being prompt him to reflect. ‘Rather a flat donut, then?’

I jumped at the opportunity. ‘Yes! yes! A very flat donut without any jam inside.’

Joey wasn’t convinced and nodded his disbelieve to Tommy.

‘Look.’ I said. ‘Have a try. Just take a little piece of me and tell me I’m not a donut but a pancake.’

Tommy liked the idea and being a mini chocolate roll it was easy to move my way and have a taste.

‘What do you say Tommy?’ the square, sliced white bread Joey shouted from his shelf.

‘Uhmmm… I think Fenny is right; he does taste more “donuty” than pancake-like.’

Jimmy was satisfied and with that he decided: ‘Right then, you can be spared during breakfast time but you are gone in the afternoon tea.’

There!

That was all I wanted – a few more hours of glorious, vibrant life.

I was so happy I could have jiggled if I was not so flat. I did manage to ‘slop-slop’ my edges to show my delight.

It was already 5.30 in the morning. We were all freshly baked and ready for the day ahead. Jimmy and Joye would be eaten up first at breakfast time. Tommy and I, it was certain now, would be gobbled up during the afternoon tea.

Life is great!

I can sit here and savour another 12 hours or so of perfect joy.

I am so lucky to be alive.

 

Nothing Keeps, by Stephen Pellow

Every evening it’s the same. Home from work and it’s been a long day, I know, but there’s never a plan. No organisation. No structure. One by one each and every cupboard is opened and I peer inside to see if there is something – anything – that takes my fancy. Something different. We can’t keep having the same stuff week in, week out. Times are hard and the budget is tight, yes, but a bit of variety wouldn’t hurt.

Right, let’s start again from the beginning. I was looking but not seeing before perhaps. There has to be something more here. Could this be something promising? Store in a cool, dry place. That hasn’t really been an option. Cool is a phrase rarely attributed to this place. The expiry date has long passed. Nothing lasts forever no matter how many preservatives you inject into it. Never say forever. Nothing keeps.

And this? This has been here longer than I have and would probably kill me given half the opportunity. Can’t bin it really though, can I? It’s not part of the diet anymore… shouldn’t really need any physical reminder. In the bin it goes.

Something from somewhere I can’t even pronounce. There wasn’t any harm in experimenting, I suppose, but nothing good came of it either.

Well this is may be worth further investigation. A tin with no labels. Keeps things interesting. But after this long you need labels. Even if you ultimately aren’t going to enjoy what’s inside the can and especially if what’s inside has expired after leaving it so long. Without putting a label on it. Don’t even. Just sweep it off the shelf and straight into the bin. If it’s not good enough for me, I don’t want anyone else having it either.

Maybe check the fridge.

Ah, fruit. Strawberries no less. Their seeds are on the outside. They’re exposed to everything. I’d rather be the seeds of its neighbour in here, the tomato. Cushy and protected inside, shielded from the elements. From feeling.

I fear I may end up popcorn. It’s like I’ve been this little hard kernel. Small and insignificant, in a bag with hundreds of others just like me. Then I have my moment. I finally reach temperature. Maybe I even get there first and I pop and suddenly I’m twice or three times my size, and oh, so sweet. But then so is everyone else. They have their moments too and we are all the same again. The playing field levelled. Most likely I’m the one piece of popcorn that’s stuck to the bottom of the bag, going stale, or ends up on the floor and gets eaten by the dog. Worse still, I remain a kernel. I never had my moment. I never popped.

Or an egg yolk. It would be better to be one of those. A yolk rests within the membrane of the egg, that itself surrounded by a shell. But not a hard shell. It is fragile. It can be cracked all too easily, spilling the gold and the white out and mixing with milk and flour to make a perfect batter.

These cupboards depress me. Pancakes for tea again and then I really must go shopping. Never any bloody food in this house.

 

The Greatest Possession, by Becky Bye

He sat and stared fixedly at the woman talking in front of him, watching the red curves of her lips warp into different positions. He heard sounds, but the words wafted over him like a dream.

Sit still. DON’T panic.

He shifted his position slightly, feigning interest as best he could, crossing his left leg over his right knee, then swapping them over.

He felt his foot begin tapping uncontrollably and he focussed all of his energy onto it, willing it to stop. He linked his hands on his lap and squeezed until his knuckles bleached white. He bit his lip until he could taste metal.

Sit. Still.

The woman behind the desk was handing out a sheet of paper to him. He smiled, reaching out a trembling hand to take it from her and peered down at the paper. It fluttered in his grasp and he squinted, trying to stop the words from bleeding into one on the page.

Focus. You’re absolutely fine.

He realised that the woman had stopped talking and he looked up at her quickly, nodding his head and making noises in the affirmative, hoping that it was the right response. She stretched out her hands in front of her, the painted nails shiny on the pockmarked desk top.

He swallowed hard and placed the paper onto the desk as the woman resumed talking. He scratched his chin, though it didn’t itch.

Deep breaths.

He uncrossed his legs and shifted slightly on the chair, rubbing his palms down his thighs to remove some of the moisture that he could feel seeping through his pores.

Nothing is going to happen, just pay attention.

After a moment, the woman stood up, straightening out her pencil skirt over her thighs and extending her hand.

“Well, that will be all, thank you, we’ll be in touch.”

As their palms met, he felt the woman’s hand tense within his clammy fingers and she hastily withdrew her arm.  His lips trembled at the corners as he contorted them into something of a smile.

As he left the room his ears buzzed, his legs and feet clumsy as he tripped out of the woman’s office and into the hallway. The clinical smell of office equipment made him feel sick and he bustled outside.

The coolness of the air outside calmed him and he inhaled deeply. He sighed, knowing that they wouldn’t be in touch.

Messed that up didn’t you.

Panic attack 1, interview 0.

 

 

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The Accidental Novelist

I always thought that writing a novel would be impossible, that my ideas could never be big or grand enough to become anything more than rather elaborate short (or not quite so short) stories. That said, I suddenly find myself facing my laptop, on which sits a total of 60,000 words on a single project, and whilst I am loathe to admit it, I guess that does in fact constitute a novel…and not even a finished one at that! I am roughly 5 months into a project that stole my fascination almost a year ago and not that I can say it has been easy up until this point, I can surprise myself by saying that it has actually been really fun. I just hope that it will continue to be so right up until the final edit.

Of course, I have hit stumbling blocks and bumped into various walls in order to get to this point, but unlike with previous projects, I have been able to find ways around these hurdles and to keep myself focussed on the most important point – just keep writing. Since this project began, I have not had a single day off of writing. Even if it means hastily scribbling down 50 words over my bowl of shredded wheat in the morning, some words are better than no words and it is this perseverance which I think has helped me get to where I am now. I still have a long way to go, but I do have a beginning, an ending, and quite a lot of middle, though there stretches before me a good few months of editing, re-writing and inevitably, cutting.

One of the most irritating things which has halted my progress is finding the balance between research and writing. Owing to the fact that my novel is a historical fiction, it means that much of what I have written needs to be researched fully, in order for it to be authentic. I have been aware of the dangers of doing too much research and putting myself off and have settled on a happy medium of simply getting the words down on paper, and just researching critical points as I come to them. The rest of the holes I can fill in later (she says optimistically…)

It is incredibly satisfying watching characters develop and their personalities emerge over the course of a novel that cannot quite be fully alluded to in anything shorter, and fully immersing myself in a world that I have become deeply fascinated by. I would say that my fascination has become a borderline obsession and the research that I have done has been really exciting and interesting, even if not all of it will find its way onto my page.

Hand in hand with the research and excitement however looms the shade of paranoia, and the fear that actually, my idea has already been done before. It seems that everywhere I look, I notice one of my characters appear in something else on television/in a film/in another book, and I worry that particular interpretation is better than mine. Thankfully, my incredibly supportive writers group have been able to silence my demons and have encouraged me to just keep writing and insist that my own interpretation of these historical people and events will naturally be unique to anyone else’s anyway.

I can only hope that I finish my first draft with as much enthusiasm as I have held for my project thus far (and that it won’t take me another 60,000 words to get to the end!)

Inspiration- Friend or Foe?

Inspiration is a key element in a writer’s toolkit and is just as important as compelling characters, paper and pens and a plot that readers would give their back teeth for. But it can be a fickle friend.

In my experience, inspiration tends to act a little like public transport; it never runs on time. You can be sat in the most beautiful surroundings with no excessive noise around you and inspiration stands you up; you are waiting there with open arms, a blank canvas of paper spread on your lap, pencil poised…and nothing.

I have also noticed that inspiration likes to play tricks on its victims. Usually late at night, when you are tucked up in bed, everything in darkness and then suddenly, inspiration becomes the nagging little voice in the back of your mind that tells you a sudden idea for a story. Naturally, you try and ignore it, to pretend that you’re already sleeping and that you will remember the story in the morning. ‘Of course you won’t,’ inspiration says. The annoying thing is that inspiration is right, which is how you end up with a notepad propped up on your knees in the wee hours of the morning, scribbling furiously about this ground breaking new idea. This is also how you end up with glazed eyes at your desk the following morning, dark circles under your eyes and your boss assuming that you had a heavy night on the town whilst you swallow your fourth cup of coffee.

Whilst inspiration never shows up when it is meant to, it usually is trustworthy, provided of course that you just go with it. I have been known, on more occasions than I would care to admit, to pull over whilst driving and on finding no paper or pen to record my sudden epiphany, I have been forced to use an eye pencil and scribble on the back of a receipt so that the new idea is not forgotten during the remainder of the journey whilst singing badly to the radio.

There are of course exceptions to the rule and there are measures that you can take to ensure that you will meet inspiration, on occasion, at a time and place of your choosing. I tend to find that surrounding yourself by creative like-minded people is a good start, because naturally, conversation with other writers will spark ideas of your own. Writing prompts can also be generated in this way to help inspiration start rolling again later.

If all else fails, then the best thing to do is simply go to your local Starbucks or nearest coffee shop, find a quiet corner and merely observe people. Some of life’s real characters are far too colourful not to have a starring role in your next novel. Though do try and look discreet and above all, don’t stare- it might frighten inspiration away.

Interview Tips

When you’re a freelance writer, you take any writing gigs that you can get; that includes the dreaded telephone interviews. Even if you have never done an interview before, this is something that you don’t want your editor to know – as far as they’re concerned, you’re a professional, you’re a natural, you’ve done hundreds of telephone interviews before.

Even if you are quite the professional interviewer, there are several tips that you cannot enter an interview without.

Number one: Probably the most obvious – do your research. You don’t want to make the call to your interviewee and get any information wrong, because if you get the facts wrong, you won’t get the story you want.

Number two: Don’t ask the questions that everyone else always asks; ask the questions that you and everyone else really want to know the answer to.

Number three: Do your prep, but don’t stick to your script. Sure, make some notes before you begin the call and have your questions at the ready, but if your interviewee feels comfortable and is on a roll, just go with it and let them steer the conversation, even if it isn’t necessarily going in the direction that you hoped.

Number four: Allow it to open doors; you never know what might come of the interview, what event you might get invited to and what networking opportunities that could have, so be open to everything and anything.

Number five: Don’t rely on technology. More often than not, you will be recording the interview so that you can type it up later. If you’re using a Dictaphone, make sure that you have spare batteries, and if you’re using your phone to record, do a few test runs, make sure you’re fully charged, and take some notes during the interview just in case. It pains me to admit this, but this is where shorthand (that you felt like you were being tortured with in journalism class for months and would never ever be useful) comes in handy!

Surely it’s all about Self-Publishing?!

For some, self-publishing is the last resort after an entourage of failed attempts at securing an agent or publisher.

For others, the idea of self-publishing completely removes the stress associated with approaching agents, and it is the option that they would take as their first choice to get their work published.

More and more, new writers are taking the route to self-publish their work, as the emergence of new media platforms increases at an alarming rate, providing a wider range of options to make their writing available in a few simple clicks.

One particular site which allows writers to publish their work in hard copy is lulu.com, where packages are available for you to completely design your book from scratch. The cover, book size, number of pages, font etcetera is all completely up to you and you can publish your book for free. You can then choose the cover price yourself, and either purchase a batch lot of your publication for you to distribute, or give people the details so that they can go directly onto the site and buy your new soon-to-be bestseller.

Whilst Lulu makes it incredibly easy for you to suddenly have a complete hardcopy of your book available in print, there are obviously some potholes which need careful navigation. Firstly, the concern of advertising and marketing is down to you. Unless you are simply satisfied with your mum and your granny buying copies, once you have created your book, the entire buzz needs to be generated by you; something which is no easy task without a little knowledge of how the marketing and advertising industry works, which unfortunately is something that most new writers simply do not have.

We all know that you should never judge a book by its cover, but let’s face it, when you are an unknown writer, that is exactly what your potential book buyers will be looking at, and so your front cover needs to be pretty much the bee’s knees, for any new readers to trust the decision to make investment in your title. However do not despair, for all is not lost and there are other much quicker and easier ways to see your book potentially hit the big time.

With the explosion of i-pads, Kindles and tablets, Amazon have come up with a unique way of getting your title onto a hand-held screen near you. Ok, so it’s not the top shelf in Waterstones, but it’s certainly a start.

By logging onto Amazon, it only takes a few clicks to locate the link for Kindle Direct Publishing, where, in a matter of seconds, your manuscript can become a global ebook. With the option to select your preferred royalty percentage, the cover price of the book is up to you, and your book can appear on the Kindle store within a day.

This is widely becoming a fast and furious method of getting yourself noticed. As you may be aware, the author of the Fifty Shades trilogy began with uploading her book as a Kindle ebook, and after a sudden surge of popularity, E.L. James found herself with a publishing contract.

Whilst the blossoming romance of new media and technology is giving birth to lots of new writers who are paving their way in the self-published world, for me personally, it seems that there is a certain missing piece of the puzzle which remains lost through this method of publishing.

Whether it is something that you openly or secretly desire, the one piece of post that as writers we all want to see waiting in our post box, is that acceptance letter from an agent or publisher saying that rare and golden three letter word: yes.

Writing in Space (or, Creative Spaces), Part I

Where do you write? A while ago Book Chick City hosted a series of guest blogs called Where Stories Are Made, in which writers posted a short entry about their creative workspaces and their writing routines. These range from home offices to parks and coffee shops, and any other place writers feel inspired and comfortable, and most importantly—where they get stuff done.

Here at Storyslingers we thought we’d share a few of our own Creative Spaces on the blog.
Shaftesbury-based writer Becky Bye shares Old Wardour Castle:
Many people say that there is a time and a place for writing, and for me, no place is better than Old Wardour Castle, near Tisbury in Wiltshire. A romantic ruin set in the Wiltshire landscape, the castle is a serene and beautiful spot in which my notebook has been filled on numerous occasions.

There is something intriguing and mysterious about writing in a location where so much history has taken place, and that I myself become part of history in those few moments; scribbling profusely in my notepad under a tree, or sat at the bottom of a spiral staircase. The mood of the castle shifts from day to day, which has a significant impact on my writing; some days the castle reveals its secrets, most of which I was never expecting to find, and which weave their way into my stories. On other days, the castle looks less inviting than usual, blending into the grey backdrop of a dreary English afternoon, and on such occasions the grandeur of the castle simply adds a unique elegance to my thoughts and ideas. No matter how bad a particular bout of writers block may be, there is no level of inspiration which cannot be released after just a few moments at Wardour Castle.
Dorchester-based author Gail Aldwin shares her study desktop:
I like writing somewhere quiet but I’m not sure what the best writing environment is, as I haven’t experimented with this. Normally I work in the family study, a small, untidy room with a window which has a fabulous view over the water meadows to the north of Dorchester.
 I share the space with everyone except my daughter who prefers doing homework in her bedroom.  My husband and son play games on the desktop and I write on a notebook.  Sometimes we sit alongside each other but that’s only possible when the headphones are in use. If I can’t stand the distraction, I relocate to the kitchen table and work there.
Writer-in-denial Stephen Pellow talks about inner creative spaces:
Writing about something that doesn’t exist is something people who write do all the time. Being asked to write about something that probably should exist but doesn’t is proving to be problematic, though.

I don’t have a writing space. No nooks, crannies or cubby holes. No ready room. No secret garden. No stark whites, or muted earth tones and certainly nothing airy and spacious overlooking sweeping vistas. I write in my head, and with all the useless trivia I have retained over the years there’s certainly no room for a desk in there.  Sometimes that’s all I need, but it mostly comes down to having pen and paper and me, and that’s it. If I were to sit in a room at a desk and try and surround myself with inspiration – when I’m put against a clock, pressured even slightly to produce something – nothing happens. If I have to do it, I rarely want to.

So I always make sure I have ready access to a notepad and pen (or pencil) because I never know when, or where, I’m going to be pinched by creativeness!

*

We will be posting more Creative Spaces over the coming weeks, so do check back for updates.

Miracle Marvel at Old Wardour Castle

One of our members, the fabulous Becky Bye, recently wrote a parody article about Old Wardour Castle where she’s lucky enough to work, and since it gave me a chuckle I thought it worth asking if we could link to it from the Storyslingers blog. Becky was happy to share, so here is the aforementioned link: Miracle Marvel at Old Wardour Castle.

And an excerpt:
Visitors will be pleased to know that Old Wardour now boasts a wide range of miracle merchandise, including bottled miracle water from the castle well, and pilgrim patches, guaranteed to cure any ailments that you may have (not subject to liability), as well as a range of miracle medicines, with current BOGOF offers on selected items, such as genuine and authentic signed portraits of The Blessed Lady Blanche. (Items mentioned may alter from items actually sold.)

Additionally, there is now a wide range of miracle inspired snacks to refresh you after your long pilgrimage, such as ‘Holy Hotcakes,’ Miracle Mochas’ and ‘Oh My Lord Hot Chocolate.’ (Please do not enquire instore.)

Definitely worth checking out if you like a bit of tongue-in-cheek!