Archive for the ‘ Short stories ’ Category

Locked – BAME Short Story Competition Entry

Back in May, a friend of mine brought the Guardian and 4th Estate BAME Shorty Story Prize to my attention. The competition, which was set up in 2015, is intended to discover and promote talent from Black, Asian and Mixed Ethnicity backgrounds whose voices statistically tend to get overlooked by traditional publishers. In the spirit of 2019 being the year of my return to fiction writing, I decided I’d give this a go.

At first, I struggled to come up with an idea I felt I could work with but, when I finally got into it, I was pretty pleased with what I produced and submitted last month. The longlist was announced today and, alas, my story was not deemed worthy of continuing in the process. After an initial wave of disappointment, I read through the list and realised nearly all the longlisted entries this year appear to be fairly established journalists, filmmakers, traditionally published authors or have an English or Creative Writing degree from Oxbridge, so the level of writing must have been on another level. I can’t even be upset about not moving on because, who can really compete with that pool of talent (not me, obvs, heehee)? Anyway, I’ve decided to share my entry with you guys as always (hurrah!). Maybe I’ll find another competition to submit it to but, until then, I hope you enjoy what I had to offer.

 

LOCKED

 

“You are Joanna.”

Uncertain if this was a question or a statement, Ezinne nodded to be on the safe side. She didn’t answer to the English name on her passport, but it was the first listed in the document so most people took it for granted that she would. She usually gave it a few days before expressing her preference to be addressed by her Igbo name, although she wasn’t sure she would have that luxury here.

“Is something wrong with your mouth?” the portly man bristled, glaring at her with a raised brow.

“Sorry, sir. Yes, I am Joanna.”

Leaning back in his chair, he scratched his salt-and-pepper beard and inspected her documents for a little longer before nodding and handing the pack back to her. “I see you are with Uchechi, you will be in good hands.”

Ezinne attempted a smile as she heard the room door creak behind her. “Thank you, sir. I’m looking forward to getting started.”

“You might regret those words in a few minutes.”

Spinning around, Ezinne took in the speaker standing in the doorway, a short caramel skinned woman clad in loose fitting khakis with thick multicoloured braids pulled away from her makeup free face. She eyed Ezinne up and down for what felt like an eternity, with toned arms folded across a heavy chest. When she finally motioned for her to follow, the woman didn’t bother acknowledging the man behind the desk as she exited the room.

The chain of command was clear enough for Ezinne to know she didn’t require permission from the man to leave but she hesitated, glancing longingly at the noisy but effective air-conditioning unit which hung above his head. It was only when he waved her off with a deepening scowl that she hurried along behind the woman, suppressing a sigh as she caught up with her. They walked down the narrow fluorescent lit corridor in silence, meeting no one else, until the woman stopped outside an unmarked timber door. She wiped freshly formed beads of sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand and then pushed open the door, stepping to the side.

“Take off your clothes.”

It wasn’t a request.

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“You read the briefing notes?” The woman threw up her hands, as if this was all the explanation that was needed.

Ezinne nodded but her frown remained.

“Then you know that you need to be prepared. Don’t worry, there are no cameras in here. I’ll turn around if you’re feeling self-conscious.” The humour in her voice was exaggerated.

“It’s not that,” Ezinne wavered, peering past her and into the small room. A lone chair was pushed up against a wall with a yellow Hazmat suit draped across it. “I thought there was no contamination recorded.”

The woman laughed but the sound held no mirth. “Come on, don’t you know your people again? Do you trust that they would have gotten everything right?”

No response was expected and refusing to comply was clearly out of the question so Ezinne settled on to the metal chair, sliding the suit to the ground. She had no intention of taking all her clothes off but putting on the suit required the loss of her knee length skirt.

As she leaned forward to slip off her shoes, she caught sight of her reflection in a full length mirror which was propped up against one of the walls. She had thought her white blouse and beige skirt combination were a little too clinical when she put them on that morning but pale colours complimented her carob skin best when she was looking to make a good first impression. It didn’t help that her black rimmed glasses were always perched high on the bridge of her broad nose or that her buzz cut made her look much more uptight than she felt. She needed to come across as warm and amiable today.

And now the stupid suit was going to wreck all that she had worked towards. She picked up the yellow plastic and began to unzip it but promptly stopped when a strong waft of BO hit her.

“You know what?” Ezinne got up and replaced the suit on the chair. “I’ll take my chances. I have already signed the waiver so there’s no need to worry, you won’t get blamed if anything happens. Uchechi, that’s your name, right?” She smiled at the woman to soften the rejection of her authority.

Uchechi’s nostrils flared but she recovered quickly.

“You can’t say I didn’t warn you,” she said as she led Ezinne back into the corridor and unlocked the door beside the room they had just vacated. “Go through there and unlock the door with this key.”

Ezinne hadn’t expected to be left alone so quickly but she didn’t complain. Instead she took the key and did as she was told, only turning slightly when she heard Uchechi lock the first set of doors behind her.

The brightly lit room was almost as bare as all the others Ezinne had been in so far, save for a single bed in the corner of the room. A girl sat cross-legged on it with her eyes closed, the long pale blue gown which draped across her thin body forming a tent across her knees. She looked to be no older than pre-teen and yet there was something about her which kept Ezinne hovering by the door. The idea that others had felt she required a Hazmat suit for this meeting probably didn’t help.

Nobody had used the word dada in the briefing notes but Ezinne knew what she was there for. Her thesis on ritualistic offerings and cultural scarification had been cited when she was approached for the assessment. The markings on the girl’s cheeks were barely visible on her ebony skin but more so because her face was almost completely covered by the thick matted black hair which fell to her shoulders.

Ezinne stood for a moment observing her until she realised the girl had no intention of acknowledging her presence. Resisting the urge to remain by the door wringing her hands, she cleared her throat and took a small step forward.

“My name is Ezinne,” she announced a little too loudly but then, realising the girl may not be fluent in English, she switched to her native tongue and repeated in a much softer tone. “Aha m bu Ezinne.”

The girl’s eyes flew open and she uncrossed her legs, turning to face her visitor. Her narrowed eyes took in Ezinne with one quick sweep. And then she smiled, revealing a sizeable gap between her bottom incisors. “Aha m bu Odera.”

Ezinne could sense the absence of the ridiculous suit had bought her some points. “Do you know why you are here?” She continued in Igbo.

The girl shrugged but her left hand tugged at one of her long tangled locs. “They say I am not safe.” Continue reading

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The Comeback Kid…and a story

It has been nearly 18 months since I last posted on here (Oct 2017, whaaat?)! Gosh, where has the time gone? I wish I could say I have spent all this time writing an epic bestselling novel, meeting with Netflix producers over a glass or two of champagne and generally refining my writing skills but, sadly, real life got in the way and I’ve pretty much done NONE of that. A few life changes have been recently made so I hope this means I’ll be able to get back into writing with some sense of joy, something that eluded me over the last couple of years.

In that spirit of optimism, I decided to enter a short story competition that was due this week but (shock of all shocks) I didn’t quite meet the deadline. Probably for the best because I suspect the story I came up with may not have been the sort they would have been looking for anyway. The best thing about it though was that, despite its (very) short length, it kept me up late for the last couple of nights so I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it.

Here’s to 2019 being way more productive and to that future bestseller finally getting written!

 

CARBON CONTENT

 

“Are you sure you’re ready to do this?”

Rahe’s response came after a full minute and an almost equally lengthy sigh but Mante didn’t press her. Certainty was more important than a few wasted seconds. Or minutes, as it was turning into.

“If I am being completely honest, I could spend another month thinking about all this and I still won’t really know for sure,” another weighty sigh escaped her thin rouged lips, “so I’m going to bite the bullet.”

Barely able to conceal her relief, Mante smiled and nodded before leaning forward with a black conical device in her right hand. She raised the object towards Rahe’s face which now bore a perturbed expression. “For the record and for absolute clarity, can you please say the words? Just as we practised.”

“Oh sorry, I forgot about all that.” Rahe cleared her throat and edged closer to the device. “I, Rahe Vicki Drowe, consent to the use of the carbon content of my body by Blue Pharmaceuticals In the event of the expiration of my mortal body. Anticipated expiration date being sixth of October twenty seventy-eight. And I confirm that I have not been coerced in any way to come to this agreement. Is that alright, love?”

A firm nod from Mante was enough to erase the frown from the older woman’s face.

“Now, if you could please open your palm for the scan, we can finalise the process and I’ll be on my way.”

This was always the part Mante found trickiest, even though it was what the subjects all seemed the least concerned about. That is, at first. Continue reading

I’m in a magazine!

Well, sort of. I entered a short story competition for The University of Nottingham alumni magazine, Connect, all the way back in February and genuinely thought I didn’t have a chance of getting shortlisted (because I almost never do for these things). Shock of all shocks, I did! My story was picked as one of the top 6!

All entries were initially judged blind by a panel of 8 Creative writing and English students and graduates, and assigned scores for: creativity and premise, characterisation and dialogue, plot and structure, presentation and grammar, style and tone. Then three  prestigious judges cast the deciding vote.  I know I didn’t win but I really don’t care. It’s just nice to know that my rambling makes sense to other people out there. And I get featured on the online version of the magazine.

The final judges with the casting vote were:

Jon McGregor – creative Writer-in-Residence, whose latest novel Reservoir 13 is currently on the longlist for the acclaimed Man Booker Prize 2017.

John Miller – celebrated BBC television and radio producer, who has published books on many famous actors including Dame Judi Dench, Sir John Gielgud and Sir John Mills.

Lauren James – British Young Adult author of The Loneliest Girl in the Universe and popular The Next Together series.

This is the link! Don’t be thrown by the fact they’ve called me Kenny on the website. Hope you enjoy it!

The Conversation – The University of Nottingham – The University of Nottingham

Pilot Episode – Short Story

I am actually enjoying participating in random short story contests on Freelancer, partly because I get to post them here when I don’t win (silly, but true). This entry was a little bit more challenging than the last. A Swiss luxury cosmetic brand was looking for a pilot episode (700 to 1000 words) for future episodes of their serial online novel which would help promote their products and have characters their customers could relate to. They wanted the protagonist to be likeable, charismatic, lead a desirable avant-garde lifestyle, differentiate herself from her peers, travel regularly in style and luxury and lead a global, urban lifestyle. I figured, hey, I am a female architect and I feel like I could tick all those boxes (in a fictional world where we actually make good money, obviously) so…you guessed it…my story was about a female architect on site. Which is probably why I didn’t win, heehee. Well, this was my entry. Hope you like it more than they did.

Pilot Episode 

“That’s definitely not going to fit.”

Annie cocked her head and examined the enormous claw foot bathtub which sat in the hallway. The tub was a thing of beauty with a matt ruby exterior, gilded gold feet and a shiny porcelain interior. It complemented the other fittings in the bathroom perfectly, something Annie had obsessed over for weeks to get right. But there was no way it was going to fit through the doorway.

“I wish I could say this isn’t our fault but…”

The remark came from the frowning foreman who stood to the other side of the bath scratching his stubbly chin.

Annie’s brow rose slightly in disbelief. She had been expecting a snarky comment about how she should have designed the hotel suites with smaller practical tubs. But, at the same time, she wasn’t completely surprised.

Joe wasn’t like most builders she’d met. His clear grey eyes never seemed to miss a thing and he actually seemed to think about resolutions to problems before offering his views. She couldn’t count the number of times she had sighed with frustration on other building sites where nobody cared to hear her design opinions. The way her comments were dismissed, you’d never guess she had studied for nearly a decade to qualify as an architect.

“What’s done is done, eh? I think we need to rip out part of the wall and rebuild it afterwards to avoid wasting more time. It’s a good thing you insisted we set up the showroom flat first. We can’t possibly get rid of this lovely bath because of one oversight.”

He winked and Annie felt herself blush. Try as she may, she couldn’t stop herself from reacting like a school girl whenever the man standing before her showed her any sign of warmth. It had to be those eyes. They twinkled when he smiled, hinting at a cheekier side to the lean dark haired man. Or maybe she had a thing for stubbles.

No, it was definitely his eyes.

Annie tried not to dwell on the wink as they finished their inspection and headed back to the site office in silence. She quickly stripped off her hard hat, high vis jacket and steel toe cap boots. She hated the utilitarian boots as they always hurt her toes, but health and safety always came first. Besides, hard hats and stilettos didn’t really go together. Shame the hats never did her curly brown hair any justice. She loosened the braid she held her hair in to fit under the hat and fluffed it gently with her fingers.

When she looked up, Joe was watching her intently. If he felt any guilt at being caught, he certainly didn’t show it. Continue reading

Starting the New Year Off…

A belated Happy New Year to everyone! Where has the time gone? I’m still slightly shocked that it’s already mid Jan…at this rate we’ll be singing carols again in no time! Anyway, at the start of each new year I promise myself I will write more short stories for fun but life tends to get in the way (as always) and all my random story ideas get shelved for another year. So when I came across a flash fiction competition last week with a four day deadline (I work best under pressure), I decided to give it a go just to prove to myself that I can still conjure a complete tale in a few words. Suffice to say, I didn’t win (maybe I should have spent more than a couple of hours on it) but I kinda like the story I came up with so I thought I’d post it here. There was no theme (I actually wish there was!) but the word limit was 400 – 500. Hope you like it.

Refund – A Short Story 

“You can’t make me leave,” Jane bellowed at no one in particular. With her long dark fringe hanging over her eyes and her arms waving frantically in the air, it didn’t look like anyone would actually have the courage to try to move her.

When she was sure she had the full attention of her little audience, she pointed at the bag of chewy sweets she had dumped on the counter. “I was promised five hundred grams and this weighs four hundred and ninety-three.”

“But ma’am, it’s only a rough estimation. You can’t expect them to get it down to the last gram for every bag.”

“I don’t see any statement on the pack about estimations so I’d like my three and a half pence back or a full refund. I know my consumer rights.”

The rather young looking manager’s eyes darted around the store, making it quite obvious he wasn’t sure what her consumer rights were. He was probably wondering how long he could entertain her hysteria without scaring off other customers. She had been there less than five minutes and pretty much everyone had stopped what they were doing to focus on the unfolding debacle. Her glare wore him out in the end and he sighed, nodding at the checkout lady who handed Jane four one penny coins.

“I don’t have half a penny…” Continue reading

The Mystery of the Disappearing Modern Day Novella: Why Length Shouldn’t Matter 

img_0123I occasionally get asked by my readers why some of my books are short. And by short I mean between 30 and 60,000 words. In fact only three of my books are what the industry accepts as novel length. Truth is, traditional publishers and literary agents tend to reject work that doesn’t hit the golden mark of 75,000 words (80,000 in some cases). There was even advise on a very popular agent search site for writers to shelve any novellas they have and focus on getting a few novels accepted by an agent or publisher first. Their novellas would then get a chance to see the light after they develop a strong readership. And when seeking to advertise your work, if you are self published, don’t bother trying if your book isn’t novel length. Most websites have clear rules stating they won’t accept your work. This idea baffles me. It really does.

I admit I initially started off by following these guidelines (hence the three books) but the simple fact is, not all stories need to be fleshed out to get the message across. Sometimes all a writer needs to share with the world can be conveyed in 60,000 words. Or 40,000. Maybe even 10,000. You get my drift. Don’t get me wrong, a tome is fine if it is actually written in such a way that readers feel the length is justified (one of my favourite books is the Pillars of the Earth and it’s a whooping 312,000 words). We can all relate to flicking through a few pages of a book just to realise that the only thing we got out of all those words was that it was a cold autumn’s day. And then we wish for those few minutes of our lives back, to no avail.

There is also the silent rule that books of novella length are only acceptable for children or middle grade books. Obviously this is nonesense as there are a good number of critically acclaimed works written for adults which fall very comfortably below (or just above) the 50,000 word mark. The problem being that most of these books were written over 40 years ago, which supports my theory that the rejection of novellas is a recent push by publishers and agents to appease some unknown quota. I wonder how different the world would have been if these books had been thrown into the rejection pile just based on their word count. Which brings me to the list below (yes, I actually spent some time doing research for this post). Some books on the list do in fact fall into the short novel category, but they count if we consider the modern day rejection rule of nothing less than 75,000 words. It could be a much longer list but I decided to go for books I’ve either read or have on my reading list so I can (mostly) attest to being satisfied by the completeness of the prose. A simple search engine click will throw up hundreds more and, trust me, some titles may surprise you. Here we go:
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925

Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad, 1902

Breakfast at Tiffanys – Truman Capote, 1958

Animal Farm – George Orwell, 1945

The Mist – Stephen King, 1980

I Am Legend – Richard Matheson, 1954

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens, 1843

A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess, 1962

Continue reading

Twice Upon A Time: Fairytale, Folklore and Myth – Reimagined and Remastered.

Twice upon a time_coverTwice upon a time_back cover

I am so thrilled to be a part of this spectacular fairytale retelling anthology. Twice Upon A Time was put together by editor and blogger Joshua Allen Mercier as a launch for his new publishing house, The Bearded Scribe. Having previously been featured on Joshua’s blog (Aversion review), I was approached earlier this year with an invitation to submit a short story for the launch. Since I’d already tackled Cinderella’s story in my YA novel, The Other Slipper, I figured I would try to come up with something darker for this. About six months later, I submitted my  wacky take on the Sleeping Beauty story, which was accepted (phew!) and now sits alongside about 40 other stories . I hope new and old readers of my work will enjoy the stories, and share your thoughts on them online.

The anticipated release date is the 23rd of December, just in time for a Christmas morning read in bed. I will post more links up in the coming week but, in the meantime, below is the book’s blurb and links to its Youtube book trailer Continue reading

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