Sunday, January 31, 2010

Challenge 11

Create a narrator intimate to the story but outside it as well. The wonderful effect of a narrator who is intertwined with a story but also essentially unimportant to its outcomes is that you have more leisure to explore the complexities of the plot, the kinks in it, and the gaps of knowledge this cheerful spectator is going to have. Don't make her omniscient or even close - though she can guess expertly at the problems she is observing and can even be wrenched by the emotional logjams she is witness to.

Wordcount: 800 (+/- 10%)

Challenge 10: Mr Umber's dinner party


Mr Umber was having a battle with the housekeeper.

It had started even before the dinner party. In fact, it's been going on for years. It's just a bit more embarrassing when everyone's there. The current theory: the reason Mr Umber never has dinner parties is because he's terrified of the housekeeper. They are talking about it (when Mr Umber is downstairs trying to find out where the cheese has got to). It's clear that everyone (who's fashionable) is having a battle with their housekeeper.

Sadly, no one seems to have told Mr Umber. He came up the stairs looking forlorn, and doesn't say anything about the cheese when he sits down.
"Darling, don't worry about it," says Mr Umber's cousin, Lady Aspic. "You know, everyone has trouble with the hired help."
The cheese, and the housekeeper, wander in about ten minutes later. They've brought two maids with them: one looking sullen and half asleep, and the other looking slightly pregnant.

Mr Umber, with much nudging from Lady Aspic and her companion, instructs the housekeeper to remain in the room. "You can't go running after them. If they won't respond to the bell, then they should stay where they can be of use."

"He needs a woman to look after him, that's what," whispers Mr Hartle to Mr Osman. "She'd know what to do with the servants."
"The problem is this unionisation business they keep going on about. They think they can get away with anything these days." The housekeeper moves half an inch closer to the table.
Mr Umber hears this part of their conversation too. "Actually - " he's interrupted because Lady Aspic spills wine on her dress and shrieks.

This is considered the signal for the ladies to retire. The housekeeper follows us - the sleepy maid is left with the men - and Lady Aspic is brought water and towels.

Another reason why Mr Umber should find himself a wife is that she would be able to lend Lady Aspic a dress to wear. Lady Aspic has already told her carriage to come at eleven, but she must sit 'til then in her wet, wine-stained gown.

The housekeeper fetches a little wooden chair for the slightly pregnant maid, and fusses over Lady Aspic's dress.

"That man is utterly scatterbrained," Lady Aspic tells the room. "One of these days he'll forget his own hat!"

She turns to the housekeeper. "I hope you don't let him forget his own hat."
"No, m'm."
"But you forgot his cheese."
"It was late being delivered, m'm."
"Tradespeople. You can never trust these shopkeepers to be on time. Now, why don't you take that girl away."

The housekeeper takes the wooden chair and the maid takes the extra towels.

"Letting a girl in her condition see to the ladies! Appalling." Lady Aspic's companion inspects her gloves as if something could have soiled them.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Word count: 481

Permission!!

Iconoclast suggested that we check that we are allowed to be writing this blog, so we sent the following email to Brian Kiteley, the Author of The 3 a.m. Epiphany:

---

Dear Professor Kiteley,

We are writing to you about your book 'The 3 AM Epiphany'. We are a group of amateur writers who love your book, and enjoy sharing the exercises. To this end, we have recently started a blog - http://3amepiphanyproject.blogspot.com - on which we regularly post a challenge from your book, and our responses.

We have linked to your book on Amazon.com but it has just occurred to us that there may be copyright issues with posting the exercises, and we would like to find out what your feelings are on this.

Yours sincerely,
[Anistasya and The Iconoclast]

---

We were excited to recieve a response within hours:

---

Dear [Anistasya and The Iconoclast],

I am delighted you're doing this. I don't believe there are any copyright problems with the blog and using the language of the exercises, as long as you keep the link to the Amazon page fairly obvious.

Thanks for the kind remarks.

Best wishes,

Brian Kiteley, Professor and Associate Chair
English Department
University of Denver

---

We are very excited and more enthusiastic than ever. Here goes the next 190 exercises!

And now for something completely different

The blog is in its second week now, although I'm sure it feels like longer when you're doing the challenges! This seems like a good time to give a bit of background on the contributors, so that we each have some idea of who we'll be sharing our writing with over the next few months.

Those of you who wish to do so, please feel free to leave a comment telling us about your interest in writing, why you're undertaking this challenge, and any other information you'd like us to know.

As a general note, we're a group of enthusiastic New Zealanders, scattered around the country, with varying degrees of experience and interest in writing, brought together by the beautiful Anistasya, who has already completed her first novel and the talented Nightfire, winner of more Nanowrimo's than should be allowed!

Fan girl moment...

The book (The 3 a.m. Epiphany) is at my house at the moment and I have been reading around the posted challenges. This is seriously the coolest and most challenging writing book I have ever come across. The tagline reads "Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform your Fiction" and it is so true. Even after having only done 10 of these, I am feeling so much more confident about the actual process of writing (as opposed to story creation). I really recommend that you guys get your own copy of the book when you can, because it's simply inspirational.
*hugs*
- Ani

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Challenge 10: Mama's Smile

I remember when I thought mama was happy. She would smile and dance in circles around the ball room with my brother standing on her feet and I would laugh and clap. Papa would take over after a few songs, asking for a dance. He would take mama into his arms and kiss her cheek.

Do you think he loved her?

That would be sad. He always had a nice smile for her. He would tell her she is beautiful and she would sort of smile with that marble face and I would think ‘mama is not happy any more’.

The walls are listening to every word you say, so be careful when you visit. Mama isn’t happy any more. She paces the polished floors, scuffing them with her bare feet. Papa is gone too. Dead. That made me cry, a long time ago. Still makes me cry; when mama isn’t listening.

I remember when I liked Mama’s smile. When my brother showed her his painting, or when she tiptoed out of her bedroom in the middle of the night, down the cold floors, shivering in only a silk slip. The garden out the back of her palace, the one overlooking the golden falls. She would smile for him.

It’s not really that bad, is it? Dana said a lady can have as many special friends as she likes, as long as she is discrete. I asked if I could have a special friend, but she said, ‘absolutely not’. I asked my brother later, why not. He looked at me funny and then laughed. He said it was because I am crazy and no one would want to bed a crazy girl, even if she is pretty. I cried. Then later, I tried to kiss the gardener and he ran away. I cried some more, but mama didn’t care because she was busy. I went looking for her, trying to show her how sad I was. I found her in the hall with all the faces on the wall, staring down me.

Have you ever had a hundred wrinkly old stone women glaring at you at once? It is very scary. Especially when mama was yelling and papa was yelling and that other man was watching with a white face. He was saying, “Please’ a lot, but mama wasn’t listening. And then papa pulled out his sword and I thought he was going to kill the other man and to tell the truth, I was happy… and sad… because then mama would smile quite the same.

But he didn’t, did he?

I’ll never forget the way the metal of his blade went right through Papa’s own stomach and came out the back, like my morning knife in the cheese – except Dana will never let me hold a knife. She says it’s not safe.

Mama thinks she’s safe. She told me Papa killed himself because he was angry. She thinks I am a child and I will believe her, but I know magic and I am not a child. Mama told Papa to fall on his blade and that is what he did. He had no choice, did he?

Now Mama’s smile is wider, it has more teeth.

Wordcount: 537

Challenge 9: Black July

The petrol stations gave out the gasoline. It was to burn the dogs and their houses, after all – a donation to a good cause.

Imagine a teenage girl who lives with her brother and her parents in the top floor of a house, in a relatively nice area. She’ll be glad there’s no school, until the tension started building and smoke appeared on the horizon. Her brother should be sitting exams, only they’ve been cancelled.

Their father’s friend will turn up with blood on his face – “They’ve got the voter’s lists!” – and still, their parents will tell them it’s okay. They don’t own the house – their names aren’t on the list. No one will know what ethnicity they are, or what language they speak. They’ll stay inside and shut the doors.

That’s what they do, when the mob starts up the end of the street with their torches and knives and sticks and the stuff they’d already looted. Her mother will start packing her jewellery, just in case.

But that guy they’d been living next to for the last seven years? The one who’d bought the children sweets, who came over for cups of tea? He will find himself a big stick too, and go out to join the mob. Our girl might see him as she peers through the window - as he points at their house.

She’ll never see her mother run so fast as when they race down the inside staircase – the one they never use – and out the back. She won’t get a chance to see her house again, because there won’t be time to turn around. Two streets over, they will find the family who takes them in – five hours huddled underneath furniture when the place is searched, and then out because the family has small children and they’re scared too.

Somehow, she’ll lose her family as she wanders around on the streets, looking for refuge. Someone will ask her father a question - she won’t understand that they’re asking where the dogs are. He knows their language, but he can’t fake the accent, and she runs when she sees the sticks come down on his back. Maybe she won’t get a chance to see her family again, either.

Maybe she’ll be lucky enough to find a quiet moment, a new hiding place. A street that hasn’t been ravaged, that doesn’t have charcoal for houses and corpses across the road. She’ll wonder if that makes it any safer. She’s not street-savvy, like her brother or even her parents.

Somehow, she’ll end up at a school. There are priests. They can’t give her food. But her heartbeat will slacken a little. She can wipe the sweat from her face and sit. There must be hundreds of people in the school – people she knows, too. None of them will have seen her family, and she won’t have seen theirs. She can be relieved, hearing their stories, that she hasn’t recognised any of the bodies. She didn’t linger long enough to look. A friend’s mother will find her a corner to sleep in.

In two days, they’ll be put on a bus, then an overcrowded cargo ship. It’ll be another three days without food before they reach the north.

This is where the government sends them, to be safe with their own people. She will never have been here before – many of her friends haven’t. They’ll put her in an orphanage, before she finds a distant aunt. Days without school are most days here. She’ll get used to the sound of explosions and gunfire - used to the feeling of terror every time an aircraft passes overhead. The checkpoints. The soldiers.

This is the land they’re fighting over.

The riots have happened before. They’ll happen several more times in her life, assuming she gets another decade or so. She’ll see fighting on the streets, and three armies battling for control. She’ll plead for her life at a checkpoint because a soldier didn’t – or did – like the look of her.

She’ll lose another family to the war.

Maybe she’ll call herself lucky to leave the country, and raise her children to speak a different language.

Maybe she’ll never leave the country. Sometime within the next twenty-six years, she will end up standing behind a barbed wire fence in a plain full of sewage and sickness and starvation. More corpses, but they won’t bother her any more. Her teeth will number sixteen and she’ll be half the weight she was as a teenage girl. She may not call herself lucky then, but she’ll still be luckier than some.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

Word count: 768

Friday, January 29, 2010

Challenge 10

The Ironist

Create an observer of events outside his/her own experience, someone who knows more than she lets on, who jokes with us (the readers) but who also indirectly reveals a complex reading of the events she is describing. In Greek comedy, the character eiron was a dissembler, who spoke in understatement and pretended to be less intelligent than he was. This will be like the unreliable narrator, except that this character is aware they are telling 'tall tales'.

Wordcount: 500 (+/- 10%)

Challenge 9: Empress Zhangsun

In the year 613, somewhere in the north of China, the young Lady Zhangsun peers through the shutters of her study at commotion in the courtyard below. Her uncle is home, and he has brought guests. She does not recognize them, nor does she expect to, but rumour among the servants for several days has been ripe. Uncle is impressed with one of the young men training under him. He has given her to him as wife.

She watches the men dismount, the servants leading away those fierce looking stallions. Four men, besides her Uncle, are left. The older is at least her uncle’s age, large around the middle with an easy laugh. He is surely the young man’s father. The next is a man, tall and proud. He has seen more than twenty summers compared with her mere twelve. Her hands clasp together, hidden beneath the sleeves of her silk shawl. The sight of him sends a tremor of fear through her and she pulls back from the window, scolding herself under her breath.

“You must be a good wife to whomever Uncle picks.”

She returns to her desk and retrieves a piece of paper from the drawer. She smoothes it down, holding it in place with the special rods, and then, slowly, dips her brush into the well of ink. Holding back her sleeve, she practices her words of the day.



Xian. Courageous and valiant.

孝道

Xiao dao. Filial piety.

She looks up from the page when one of her ladies, Xiaoyu, arrives, curtsies, and announces that the Lady has been summoned. Lady Zhangsun gives the girl her warmest nod, carefully setting down her brush and leaving the words to dry.

The pavilion she has been summoned to is vast, floors of polished wood, walls open to the surrounding garden and lakes. Beautiful lakes with herons and golden trout are the pride of the Gao household. Before she arrived, Gao was concluding his negotiations with the general Li Yuan, his honoured guest, and entertaining Li’s three sons. Now, they are gone and the young Lady Zhangsun and her mother kneel, prostrate, before Gao Shilian, awaiting news of his decision.

“I am impressed by Li Yuan’s boy, Li Shimin,” Gao speaks, almost to himself. “He has shown great courage and piety. He has the heart of a leader. You will marry him, my niece. Bring honor to your family and please him, and he will care for you well. He is an honourable man.”

Zhangsun bows, her head pressing against the floor, heart pounding, but no one can hear it. What does he look like? Is he kind? It will be a month, perhaps more, before the wedding is held. A long time to practice patience.

Mother and daughter rise, bowing their way out of the pavilion. Alone again, Zhangsun prepares tea for her mother, holding back the questions burning within. When she is ready, the Lady Gao says, “My brother has been kind to us and you have blossomed under his roof. Continue to act as I have taught and you will bring great honor to your family. Always obey your husband and respect him, and he will treat you well. Respect and treat your servants well and they will love you. Live within your means, and no one shall have power over you or your house.”

Zhangsun pours the tea, focusing on the flow of liquid into the cups, allowing the scent and the steam to fill her lungs.

“It will be as you say, mother.”

The wedding comes far sooner than she expects, a blur or anticipation, colour, music heard through veils and curtains until that one final moment when she sees him for the first time. He is not the man she was expecting. This boy is fourteen, fifteen perhaps, with shimmering, deep brown eyes, terrified, just like her. All at once, her back straightens and she allows the hint of a smile.

It will be all right. She says with her eyes. He almost smiles back, slipping his hand over hers, claiming her as his own. It will be another thirteen years before they rule China. He will have many other concubines, gifts from families and countries paying tribute to the Golden Empire, but he will never love them as fiercely as he loves her. No other death will devastate him as much as losing her.

Lady Zhangsun was, and still is, one of the kindest and most loved Empresses of China.

Wordcount: 752

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Challenge 9

Historical omniscience

Write about an event set well in the past. Write from above, as if by means of researched opinion (doing a little actual research can't hurt). By this, I mean write about several historical characters or an interesting event, imagining any POV you want.

Wordcount: 700 (+/- 10%)

* Note: Historians often have access to letters, emails, journals, memoirs and interviews. They sew together fragments of information into a whole cloth, hence becoming as subjective as any novelist.

Challenge 8: Tourism

(Yay a chance to look through my Box of Randomness! I think this one is from third form or so...)

I have lived here for as long as I can remember. The only useful memories I have are of learning my way around the city. I know shortcuts everywhere. It is how I survive. This city gets tourists every day, even in Winter! I may not know why the places they want to see are so important but I know ways to get there. There are the ways that the Fancy folk take, I don't go those ways, Guards are paid to keep people like me out of those fancy streets. I don't bother them, but the poorer ones, those that claim they want to see the 'real city'. Them I can get a coin or two, or food, out of for directions, better if I guide them to it. The other thing I know is which of the inns are cleaner, which will cheat tourists and which are downright thieves. I get something for recommending inns sometimes. I get my revenge on those that don't tip at all, or are miserly without needing to be too. I send them to the worse inns, the ones where they will 'loose' things. I am working on getting some sort of job at one of the better inns, even if it's only something for showing customers to the premises. The owner knows I send folks to him. Well, he knows that one of us street-rat-come-guides is directing customers his way. All I need is for one of the Fancy-in-hiding's to want directions to an inn and then maybe I can get it sorted. I don't plan on being nothing for my whole life after all!

I am early this morning, there aren't many tourists yet, most won't get here till after noon, but everyone knows that, it's why I'm here now. Now I won't have to fight to show someone around, later I might. Now though, because they are rare, I have the pick of them. It makes my day longer, but what else am I going to do? I don't get to eat unless a tourist decides I am trustworthy. Horses! But these ones aint dressed as Fancys! “Would you be needing directions to an inn?” I ask as clearly and properly as I can manage. The man glances at the Lady, “That I do lad,” he says. I do not bother to tell him that I am a girl, on the streets it can be better to be thought of as a boy. “Any inn in particular or would you like me to suggest one Sir?” I ask. “You can suggest one boy.” says the Man. This is perfect! Exactly what I need! “I could take you there if you like Sir, the inn I believe would suit you is called the Dragon's Den.” I reply, careful not to sound too self-important. “That'd be good lad, do you know your way around the city?” he asked. “Yes Sir.” I reply, careful not to sound too hopeful. “Well, then I will have another job for you after this. I have some things I need to deliver.” I am going to get to eat tonight! “I will be happy to guide you anywhere you need to go.”

Wordcount 544

Challenge 8: Japanese Dreams

Walking through her nightmare was like tumbling back into a scene from one of those old Japanese movies. Standing atop a barren hill in the moonlight, she wore a long, tattered dress, white once but now so thin it fluttered in the soft breeze. Her straight black hair tumbled forward, over her eyes, slightly damp. Her sword was long and thin, lethally sharp.

I clambered up through mud, feeling it squash and creep beneath my nails. The fog was rising. By her side, we were surrounded by moans, the crack of bones and scrape of feet dragging in the dirt.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I whispered.

Glancing back, her large almond eyes were so innocent and trusting. “Charlie? I thought you were dead.”

That part was true. I was dead. How else would I be invading her dreams? But now wasn’t the time to be discussing something so trivial.

The zombies began to climb up, out of the mist, heads twisted to unnatural angles, tongues lolling, dribbling black saliva. There were her parents, faces just like in that faded photograph she hid at the bottom of her bag. Their skin was grey and clammy with blood oozing slowly from the bullet holes in their heads. Behind us, were other familiar faces; my own included - a long deep gash down the side of my face, crimson red eyes staring back, hungry.

“You sure have a morbid imagination,” I muttered, scanning for anything to could use as a weapon.

“I know.” She gripped her sword with both hands, closing her eyes. “Tadano himawari, dakedo watashi wa tsuyoi!”

I’m just a sunflower, but I am strong.

A sudden wind blew warm, dispersing the mist and leaving a faint scent of cinnamon in the air. Akiya opened her eyes, no longer sad, or innocent. Lifting her blade, she danced through the throng, each slice leaving only dust in its wake. Only at the end, did she stop, frozen. The shake of her shoulders was all that betrayed the buried emotion. I scrambled down, through the mud, to reach her. Sword thrown aside, clinging together, holding and kissing, her eyes were wide and shimmering.

“You will be gone with the morning.”

“But I will always be with you, I have been watching,”

She looked at me then, that almost forgotten humor on beautiful, pouting lips. “You’ve been watching me?”

I grinned, knowing what was coming and racing to forestall it. “Except in the shower…”

She stared, the silence widening.

“Or when you are getting changed,” I added hurriedly, when her expression did not change.

There was another silence as she examined my face, a slight crease above her brow annoyingly indecipherable. “Why not?”

Wordcount: 450

Special Challenge for the Iconoclast

Due date: 28-01-10
Due time: Midnight

Assignment: take a break, relax, do something you think will make a difference.

;)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Challenge 8: The imagination knows no bounds

I laughed, watching the small cat meowing and trying to catch the wool, which was rapidly unravelling. It tripped over a string, became distracted by a bird, and chased off, leaping up the wall.

The jade lawns stretched ahead, broken only by the tall brick fence and occasional cherry trees scattering snow-petals over even leaves of grass. I sat down gingerly on the long grey wooden bench. Below, where chair legs dug into the turf, sprang sprays of fresh daisies, bluebells, unknown strands of green clustered with dusty white clumps. The mid-afternoon’s sun donated a patch of light to my repose and refreshing warmth to the garden, peering with vague interest through sheets of steel clouds.

Silence; no movement disturbed the serenity until the approach of twilight, which was followed by a young man. “Mother says please come in before you catch a chill, dinner is ready if you want it, and she has heated water if you would like a bath instead,” he said, dropping a fluffy plaid blanket lightly on my lap, leading me inside to a room lit by a healthy fire.

A frying pan was hissing on the stove and an array of food laid out, just leaving room for the four places around the circular board. My brother sat in his place and the chubby cat perched on his plate. He lifted the feline, passing it to the man who entered the room through an inside door. The newcomer was middle-aged, solid in a plain, loose shirt with rolled-up sleeves, and baggy pants. The cat curled up in one of his arms, and the woman near the stove smiled. “How was your day?” The man washed his hands at the sink and sat. “Not bad at all. Looks like a good harvest this year. We can repay that loan soon. Good news,” he added, turning to us two. “We’ll be able to send you to study whatever you want. You can even be a lawyer if you insist,” he finished, with a curious look at his son.
***

I’d been watching my sister. She was surprisingly quiet all day; sitting on the broken plank stool in the untended backyard; laughing when the wind brushed through the flower-cadavers, rattling the vestiges of leaves, flinging them over the cracked railing; remaining there when the rain came tumbling down. When called to finish the household chores, wet washing dumped on her lap, she went to the cold kitchen and sat at the wobbly table without doing anything about dinner. Father arrived from the fields where we were working, and Yolande cheerfully ignored his protests at the lack of food, his tirade of “Your mother would never have let this happen!”

Finally, weary of father’s complaints at being unable to find work, his whining at my ambitions, I left. Perhaps, when mother was alive, things would never have gone this way, but I’ll be hanged before staying and listening to him insulting me and my sister. I walked out the back and stood a moment studying the broken tree trunk that adorned the buried garden path before jumping the fence and sitting dejectedly in the yellow sward.
I would be hanged before going in there again.


***

I smiled contentedly as mother sat next to me and asked, “Shall we eat?”

--------------------------------------------------------

Word count: 550
Based on a story written in 2003.

Challenge 7: Summer

Pete soon catches up, wiping crumbs off his grinning face.

“Did they take ‘em then?” Mattie throws an arm around his shoulder.

“Sure, and they gave me chocolate cake besides!”

“Nah!” Hemi doesn’t believe him, but it’s true! He opens his mouth to show them the chocolate stains on his teeth. “Did!”

“Man ya coulda brought us some back.”

“Nah, yous made me take the fish.”

“That’s fair,” Mattie announces, and they shut up. Dad and Mum are waiting up the road a bit. “What’s the story then, boys?” Dad’s looking pleased with himself.

“Tide’s comin’ in,” Mattie says. “Did pretty well though.” He’d been carrying his kete and Hemi’s bucket, and shows them off. “Got a bit carried away, so I sent Pete around to a coupla ladies on the beach, give them some.”
“Well, auntie says we just need to be back for dinner, so we got the whole afternoon to ourselves. Any plans?”

Pete’s a city boy, really. He gets all excited on holiday. “Let’s go for a walk, Dad! Let’s go up into the forest.” Hemi’s not protesting the idea yet, so Mum says “I’ve got lunch packed, why don’t we drive into the national park and see what walks there are?”

Mattie’s not so keen. He’s met a girl at the dairy where he’s been going to buy the morning milk. He’s been hanging around there talking to her all the time, any excuse. But he does a pretty good job hiding it. “Make it a short one, eh guys? I’m tired from running around after you kids.”

Mum and Dad exchange a smile at their eldest acting all grown up.

“But I want a long walk,” wails Pete. He’s been watching too many reality tv shows about people losing weight or something.

“Maybe coming down with a bug,” Mattie adds. A frown is developing on Pete’s face.

Mum tugs the car door open. “You take it easy then, Mattie. Dad’s got some work to do anyway, so he can stick around here too. I’ll give you boys your sandwiches and take these two up into the park.”

Dad gives her a look. “Go on,” she says with a wink. “You’ll get your work done and Mattie can rest. We can go for a walk later.”

“You owe me, Mattie!” Dad tells him pointedly.

“Oi, no, you go. I’m good on my own.”

“No, no. Auntie’s home, we’ll drop you off at hers and she’ll look after you.” Mum knows this is an even worse prospect for Mattie than staying back with Dad.

Hemi’s been a bit too quiet. The reason becomes clear when Mattie says, “And Hemi shouldn’t get a walk. He’s been trouble all morning. Running off past the rocks and trying to get into the deep water to swim.”

This is amusing. Mattie hasn’t realised his parents know exactly what he’s doing, saving up information so he can nark on his brothers at the right time in the hope his parents’ll forget about him. He’s not lying, though. Mattie doesn’t lie about his brothers, only about his love interests.

“Hemi, what do you feel like doing now?” Mum finally gets in the car and the others follow
.
“Wanna go for a walk...” Hemi doesn’t want a walk, but it would’ve been worth keeping quiet and going along if it meant Mattie didn’t remember to tell on him. Now he’s hoping his punishment will be to get left behind.

“Right, we’ll talk about this over a walk.” Hemi already knows what the talk is – he’s heard it often enough. The theme is about listening to his big brother, and today the plot will be about drowning.

Mum starts the car. “It’d be nice if Mattie could come too, of course.” She looks back at Pete, who’s squished in the middle of the back seat between his brothers. Mattie went through a phase when he wouldn’t let anyone else in that seat because he was scared the seatbelt would chop them in half if there was a crash. Now he’s too big to fit in the seat, he just starts complaining when his parents drive too fast. Not that it matters here, where the roads are unsealed and no one wears seatbelts anyway, apart from Pete, only he doesn’t today.

“You okay there, son?” Mum doesn’t turn around, but she can see him in the mirror. Dad turns around, though. Some days, they wonder if Pete’s the best schemer of the bunch. With great big tears like that in his eyes – well, let’s just say Mum drives straight to the park and doesn’t even ask Mattie what he wants to do. Oh, she doesn’t mind. Pete’s parents can put up with his tears. Even Hemi says “You’re such a baby, Pete.” But Mattie keeps his mouth shut and doesn’t say anything about feeling sick or misbehaving siblings or even wanting to see his auntie. He’ll just make everyone big milkshakes the minute they get back. Really big milkshakes.

------------------------------------------------------------

Word count: 835

Challenge 6: Ma's birthday party

Ma thought it was a bit strange at first. It is strange if you think about it - one living being growing inside another. But she got over the weirdness - perhaps the slight bit of disgust - soon enough. Same old story, right? We look into each other's eyes, we fall in love. Ma had heard it all before, but it was something else to experience it for herself. The kid? Well, she did the usual. Eat, poop, scream. We got along so well, even when Ma thought the kid would bust both our eardrums screaming. It wasn't five days before the kid was little Lou (Ma only became Ma when little Lou was born, she was Annie before that, then everyone got so used to Lou hanging around asking for 'Ma!', they started calling her that too) and Pa had vanished again. Lou, growing up without Pa, barely noticed - that's how well we get on.

We're at the beach today. Ma's wearing her old sundress and Lou's wearing her new one. Actually, Ma gave Lou hers but Lou gave it back when she got the new one. It's Ma's thirty-fifth birthday, so we thought we'd go out, only Ma's drinking has taken a bit of a toll on our finances, so we took the bus to the beach. Lou got the day off, and made a picnic. The only reason we do birthdays now is because when Lou went to school, all the other kids had birthday parties and cakes and lollies. Since it was rare we had more than canned tomatoes and cheap bread to eat, Lou never got a birthday party until she was thirteen and had her first part time job, and figured it was a good investment to buy a cake if she got presents in return. Took her a while to realise that meant she'd get invited to parties too, and would have to come up with presents of her own.

Once Lou left school it was easier for a couple years - we had two incomes, and we started having our own little birthday dos, just us two. That was before Ma started drinking - but we're working on that. We always support each other. When Lou got into trouble with the cops, Ma told them our sad story about how that bastard walked off and left her holding the baby and they felt so sorry for us they just said don't let us catch you dealing pot again. And Lou can be pretty smart when she wants to be - she hasn't let them catch her again.

We're happy just to walk along the beach. Some boys are playing around on the tidal flats, finding shellfish or something. Neither of us likes seafood. Ma doesn't even like the smell of the sea, though Lou doesn't mind it. She’d a boyfriend who smelt like the sea once, because he used to go fishing all the time. Actually, that was her only real boyfriend and he was a tough one. Ma would’ve scared him off if he hadn't got himself into trouble already because of the weed. Ma’s a bit put off lunch by the smell, so we wander back towards one of the benches and sit down. Lou starts eating, makes a face. “Good to see your sandwiches ain’t changed,” says Ma, “go put some salt in it, that’ll make it taste better.”

A boy runs up to us with a big grin on his face and a kete in his hands. The others are straggling back to the shore. This one can’t be more than six or seven. “’Scuse me.” He drops the kete and we can see it’s full of mussels and something else. “Mattie says we got too much, and would you like some?”

We don’t know what to do for a moment. Ma’s eyes’re full of tears.

“Oh, darlin’. ‘Course we would. Would you like some cake?”

------------------------------------------------------------------

Word count: 659

Challenge 5: A few days in our time

Dear Tuck,

I promised I’d keep a diary for you, so...here. It’s a beautiful book. I hope to do it justice! It’s strange to be writing by hand rather than a transcriber. Nevertheless, it’s nice to think things out, to ensure they are phrased well – to not have to focus only on thinking the right thing in the right order! I suppose – and I suspect it to be a common problem –we become accustomed to restricting our thoughts, structuring them such that a first iteration from a transcriber is comprehensible. I anticipate it will take some time before I can think a hundred things at once and structure them in writing, but I do look forward to it.

19 January 2010
Four days in, my fear is that someone will discover my diary. I shall tell them everything – this included! is some fiction I’m writing. But, dear Tuck, I must tell you about this fantastical world. Even here, a paper journal is anachronistic. They use the ‘computers’. They’re not quite as I imagined – somewhat larger – though smaller communication devices (do you remember the word ‘phones’?) and variations thereon, are widespread.

In other news, there was an earthquake – can you believe it?! – in a little country in the Carribean. I’m not sure where it is (you know my geographical knowledge is lacking!) & we shall have to look it up when I return. The Captain mentioned it, but I haven’t been in communication with the others since arrival. The earthquake was devastating – I’ve never seen such awful happenings as they show on the ‘teevee’ (abbreviation, ‘television’). Back home, we never think about fault-lubricating systems or whatever they use to keep landmasses moving smoothly without these dangers.

Sometimes I wonder how I ended up with a scientific team! However, I’m privileged to be the student assistant. As for the others: Captain and partner are travelling. Yts (I should say ‘she’, as Captain is female for the purposes of this mission) is, of course, familiar with this routine. Samy (female, historian), is buried in a library nearby; Innley, (biologist) has gone off on his own – apparently that’s typical, though he’s the one with the other DEVICE so hoping we have no problems! The rest are crazy – the two geologists have found their way to the earthquake, and the chemist went in search of a warzone! I wish I could have accompanied the others, but, Tuck, don’t call me immature – I understand they can’t risk inexperienced members getting into trouble. I’d like to tell you more, but I have a sore hand! And it’s time for dinner – my host family is kind, and the ‘father’ is an excellent cook – besides which you’ll get to see most of the other details in my report.

21 January 2010
I promised to write everyday, didn’t I? It’s easy to become carried away in absorbing this world - seemed a shame to spend a moment sitting here writing. Had a ‘phone call’ from the Captain –meetings all going well and hoping to be back within two days. No word from the chemist – who knows what yts wanted with a warzone – or Innley; the geologists are enjoying their studies but not the devastation. Samy met me for ‘coffee’ (hot, caffeinated drink of which there are many varieties) before leaving to visit another university. She’s thrilled by all this.

23 January 2010
The computer’s not functioning! Something to do with angry ‘farmers’ and ‘power cuts’. So back to writing. No communication. Is this normal? I don’t remember, though I’m sure they were to check in with me daily - so far all I’ve had is that one ‘phone call’ and the meeting with Samy.

24 January 2010
No word from anyone – the Captain at least should’ve checked in by now. Samy’s back and worried too. Departure tomorrow!

25 January 2010
Dearest, dearest Tuck. I wonder if I’ll see you again. I wonder if you’re even still real. The Captain came back alone, a mess. They won’t share the details but someone attacked yts and now they have the DEVICE, or so she says. If Innley returns perhaps we can return to the 22nd to stop it, but what if we screw things up further?

28 January 2010
The three day leeway’s gone - the gateway will be closed. Maybe one of you will come for us after the twenty year rest period. If the world is still here. If the future is still there. There’s talk of high-tech weapons – they’re banned in our time! – and war. Captain says her monitor recorded DEVICE flux last night. Someone’s up to something.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Word count: 769

Challenge 4: Feed the birds

There’s a girl, sitting under the willow tree, with a plastic bag of dried up old bread getting wet on the leaf litter and soil next to her. For that matter, she’s getting wet too.

That girl is me. I wonder where the ducks are. This time of year? There are meant to be ducks everywhere. Duck shooting season, etcetera, etcetera, I know. But they haven’t killed all the ducks. They can’t’ve.

She makes a pretty sad sight, in the bright sunshine with hands clasped around knees and that forlorn look as her eyes search the river. Is that a hint of tears?
Normally, I wouldn’t cry about ducks. It’s just not been a good day, and the ducks are always here. I spend an afternoon here with the ducks every week. My family can be counted on to be that careless with their food supplies. When they haven’t been, I sneak a few slices of the fresh loaf away, hoping no one will notice.

Sometimes I take the good stuff anyway, because I feel sorry for the ducks.

She’s crying now. Leaning against the bug-laden tree trunk. Burying her face in her knees.

I’m hoping like hell no one will walk past and notice. Or maybe I'm hoping they'll come and ask what's wrong.

I know there’s a construction site further upstream. Maybe the ducks couldn’t handle it. Maybe they’re all lying there poisoned by construction effluent. What a horrific sight that would be!

Don’t go to look.

I can’t. It’s not far, but it’s on the other side of the park, and there are lots of trees, and I’ve been warned about walking through lots of trees! There’s a fundamental rule about not walking through trees that all girls get taught. It’s the same as the one about not going out in the dark and not getting into strangers’ cars and not wearing short skirts, though I suspect the latter was only fundamental in my family.

I would like to see where the ducks are, though.

She gets up and wanders further into the park. I want to tell her not to. I know what happens when a girl wanders around in there by herself. But he can’t be in there. Surely he can’t, because I’m already dead and the ducks have already gone.
But she comes running back again. Running back so fast she scares the ducks away, only where did the ducks come from? They were scared away last time. I don’t know how they keep coming back. I never see them come back. She doesn’t see them either, she just sits down and dies and I wake up again with blood on my skirt getting the bread bag soaked and the ducks are gone. Sometimes I remember, and sometimes I don’t. I still don’t know how it started. But first I have my cry, and then I know I've got to go and look for the ducks.

The bag gets a little bloodier and the bread gets a little drier every time.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Word count: 475

Challenge 3: Seduction?

"...far more time together than you'd expect. And...well...his daughter, Sonja, says Simon's over there all the time. Everyone else in the lab seems to think something's going on too. It's just that I'm the only one who remembers when we first met him and he introduced himself as your fiance...he hasn't said anything about it since. I just thought you should know..." Alexis was cleaning her fingernails rather determinedly. "I wasn't trying to interfere."
Jack wished the slow churning feeling in her stomach would go away.
"Damn Michael," she managed to say.

Alexis cleaned her fingernails for a few more seconds, then, hesitantly: "It's not Michael. Simon knows what he's doing. I've met both of Michael's wives - he's not some kind of...predator. Sarah, the first, knew what he was like. Maybe she didn't find out until after they were married...but Jessica knew what he was like early on - he's got a reputation. She married him anyway." She sighed. "He wouldn't have done anything so openly if Jessica were still alive, but everyone in the lab knew he'd be moving on to the next one now she's gone. So I warned Simon."
"What?" Jack was almost too tired to care.
"Not obviously, but they were already getting along really well and I was worried. I told him Professor Collins had been married twice - what I told you now. About the rumours. He didn't care."

Damn Michael. She'd heard about him, too, but she'd never seen him as a threat to Simon. Michael knew they were engaged, for fuck's sake. And now, when Simon had lost his family and was already vulnerable...

He'd been coping surprisingly well until now, even though they hadn't been as close, not when he was being so fucking philosophical and depressed at the same time. It was too much, even for Jack, to spend all day with him when he was being like that. Maybe it was her own fault, but she just couldn't see how to reason with him, and he'd said that was okay. Maybe Michael had a hold on him even from that first day, when the world had exploded around them and she hadn't been there.

And damn Alexis, too.

"Simon's family..."
The other girl hesitated again, waiting to see if she'd finish. "I've seen Michael with his son. This isn’t the same sort of relationship."

Were they both in on it? Alexis and Professor Collins? No, because they wouldn't get anything from it. No, it must be true. But Alexis was trying to make Simon out to be the monster because she didn’t see how awful Michael really was. Jack hadn’t spent much time in the lab, but everyone knew Alexis was Michael's favourite student...
“Why are you telling me? Do you think I should’ve kept a better rein on him, is that it? You think I told Simon to snare your professor?”
“Shit, no, Jack!” Alexis stood up. “I was just trying to help. I didn’t like everyone else knowing what was going on when Simon hadn’t even said anything to you. If you ask me, it’s disgusting that he doesn’t even have the decency to talk to you about it.”
Maybe she wanted to get Jack out of the way so she could have Simon to herself...

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Word count: 550
Acknowledgements to Anistasya for the background story and characters :)

Challenge 8

Third to First

Rewrite a part of an old story of your that was originally in the third person in first person (or vice versa). When you're making this change, count the number of hes or shes (or Is) in the original piece. Reduce the number by half in the rewrite. Use a relatively small section of a story or novel.

Wordcount: 500 (+/- 10%)

Challenge 7: The lottery

Mrs Anderson works in other people's homes. Caring for other peoples children. She works long hours with very little time for herself let alone her children. But it has to be done to give her children the education required to get them better lives than she has. Her one luxury is the lottery ticket she buys each week. She never wins, but it helps to have something to hope for. Mr Anderson works long hours too. He fixes pools and always smells of chlorine. Mrs Anderson is aware that he is unfaithful to her with at least one woman at every house he works for, but for her children and the money he earns that is required to keep the family afloat she stays. Mrs Anderson has an Ace up her sleeve too. She is prepared for the day she miraculously has enough money to support her two children without Mr Anderson. She has evidence of Mr Anderson's infidelity and her parents insisted on a pre-nuptual agreement that states that if he is unfaithful to her the marriage can be dissolved quickly and she gets pretty much everything. Mr Anderson didn't read the agreement. He was a silly young boy when he married Mrs Anderson. So was she for that matter but her parents, who thankfully never lived to see their fears about Mr Anderson come true, they were prepared for him. They were not going to loose their daughter over an unsuitable marriage. They were not rich people, but they had a friend who was a lawyer who helped them with the agreement. Mrs Anderson even offered her employer a draft of the agreement when they were getting worried about it. She got a nice bonus out of that, which bought her children their school things for the year as well as her lottery ticket. She gets these bonuses from time to time, mostly due to the fact that her employer's children don't think she speaks English, only Spanish. She does, of course, her Spanish is a bit better than her English but she does speak perfectly good English. Mr Anderson doesn't speak Spanish at all, but their children do. Mrs Anderson's parents insisted on it and Mrs Anderson agreed. Mr Anderson didn't mind, and in the early days of their marriage he even tried to learn himself. It was when he stoped trying to speak Spanish that Mrs Anderson knew she had lost him.

Mrs Anderson takes her usual break to check her lottery ticket at midday. She cannot believe it. She has won! The grand prize of more money than she has ever seen in her life! She calls her employer and lies, telling them she is not feeling well so that she can go home and tell her children. When she arrives home she hears noises that she does not like from her daughter's bedroom. She opens the door to find her 15-year-old daughter in bed with a boy of at least twenty-five. Her daughter, unknown to her mother, has been seeing this boy for over a year now. She thinks they are in love. Her mother is shocked and immediately grabs a broom and chases the boy out of the house. Mrs Anderson faces her angry and upset daughter. “I will not scold you, but even if you do love this boy what you were doing is illegal.” she tells her daughter. “If he loves you, then he will wait.” she adds. “I am sorry I was not here sooner, but that is going to change. I am quitting my job. It is time I started caring for my own family and I am now rich enough to do so.” Her daughter looks at her, confused, “How are you rich enough?” she asks. “I won the lottery.” replies her mother. “I am going to take you and your brother away from here.” she adds. “So you do know about dad then.” replies her daughter. “Yes.” replies her mother. “Will you tell him we are leaving?” she asked her mother. “I am not sure, what do you and your brother think?” asked her mother. “I don't think you should tell him.” says her son from the doorway. “He is less our father than you have been our mother. You were sorry that you couldn't spend time with us. He never cared to.” “Then that is what we will do. The money will be in my account tomorrow. Where would you like to go?” asked their mother. “New York!” says her daughter, “I like that idea!” saus her son. “New York it is then.” replied their mother. “We can go to the bank in the morning to check the money is in my personal account and we will get our tickets and go.” “Just like that?” asked her daughter, “If you want we can wait, but I like the idea of a completely fresh start. Somewhere that I have never been just a housekeeper and you can be whoever you want to be.” Her daughter thought for a bit. “Tomorrow is good for me.” says her brother. “Me too.” replies his sister. “Done.”

Wordcount: 878

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Challenge 7: The New York Girls

Danielle
I think Katherine knows why dad left, but she won’t say. She doesn’t say much of anything these days. She’s just this dark little waif who sits up in her room and reads, or does her homework, or helps mom with dinner. Isn’t it a bit weird, a ten-year-old being that good?

I asked mom once, what she thought was wrong with Katherine, but she didn’t really answer. She feels a bit guilty maybe. Last week, she came across a bunch of old VCR tapes from when us kids were little. She popped one in the machine while I was doing part of my folio on the lounge table. There was dad and Angelica, chasing each other around the garden with the hose and a couple of soggy dodgem balls. Kitten, as dad used to call her, was standing on the drive in her frilly little bikini, cheering him on. Her face was all glowing. I had forgotten how loud she used to be. Mom turned it off, not long after that. She tried to hide it, but her eyes were all glittery and she was holding her breath, like if she let it out she’d start crying. I turned around so she wouldn’t know I saw. I painted over everything in black.

Angelica
Why is nothing where I left it? I swear, Danielle is out to make my life a living hell. She doesn’t even wear Crimson Sunset. Her lips are always black, just like her nails, her eyeliner and that bloody perfect hair that falls down over her eyes in class to make her look like that horror chick from The Ring.

Fuck!

I have a date tonight too! I swear I’ll kill her one day. She laughs at me for dating college guys, but then she goes all red as soon as I mention the jocks at our school. She’s kidding herself if she thinks she has a chance with James. He’s just too English and definitely too stuck up for anyone. He didn’t even pretend to care when I told him, in no uncertain terms, that just because I was the head of the cheerleading squad and he was the captain of the football team, it didn’t give him the right to think he owned me. I like my men a little more mature than that anyway.

Brenda (Mom)
So busy! Arthur is pulling all-nighters to get the bank’s security systems up and running here in our New York branches and father insists that I supervise. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he’s trying to set me up with the guy. Not that I would object, so to say, but I can’t imagine how the girls would take it. Arthur is such a gentleman though. He’s from England. One of the best guys in the business. Moved here after his wife died. He has three boys of his own, actually. They go to the same school as my girls. I wonder if the kids know each other?

Why are the lights still on in the kitchen? Oh shit, the front door is unlocked. It’s after midnight! Check the girls. Katherine is asleep, little angel. She looks so much more peaceful when she sleeps. And there’s Danielle, tossing about. Her hair will be a sight come morning. Her and Angelica will probably have a bloody screaming match over who gets to use the upstairs bathroom first. I honestly don’t believe those girls have a cooperative bone in their bodies. Good thing I won’t be here to worry about it. Gotta be back at the bank first thing to make sure Arthur gets his morning coffee. Oh dear, the president’s daughter is turning into a secretary for the security architect… somebody shoot me before I make a fool of myself and propose or something equally terrible.

Wait, what was I doing? Oh yes, front door… ANGELICA!!!

Katherine
The night time is peaceful, usually. Mother is home late, again. She has a funny look on her face, like someone who is looking down over the edge of a cliff and realizing just how high up she really is. She is cross with Angelica, but maybe she is also cross with herself.

Now she’s gone from the doorway. Her footsteps are plodding down the hall to Angelica’s room. She won’t find anyone inside. Angie has gone to play with the big boys. She wants to feel special. It’s her way of missing dad. Danielle doesn’t understand.

The nights keeps moving. Danielle’s breath is uneven, over there on the spare bed. She is dreaming about her boyfriend, the way he touches her, just like that… They get all close and cuddly in the music room at lunch time. It’s out of bounds but he’s a senior and the captain of the football team, so nobody notices. Danielle thinks that she is keeping me safe, sleeping in here. We have enough rooms for everyone to be alone, but sometimes, it’s nice to know someone cares enough to try and fight away the nightmares.

Morning makes it better. A new day, maybe a pretty sunrise. Who knows what they’ll try to teach us at school. Always keep moving, keep thinking. Don’t look back.

Wordcount: 872

Monday, January 25, 2010

Challenge 7

Family Consciousness
In a short piece of prose, dip into the consciousness of a family. Rather than one or two distinct points of view, this fiction should allow us into the minds of a marriage with children (old or young). This will be different than limited omniscience because a family can reasonably know a good deal about the goings-on of its various parts. You could also used the royal we as an occassional pronoun to make general pronouncements.

Wordcount: 800 (+/- 10%)

As always I look forward to seeing what you write!
As this is so vague I will add another day for answers. You now have until 4-5pm on the 27th (NZ time as always).

Challenge 6: Secrets of the Desert

We ran away.

There is something important out here in the desert, we can feel it. Tynan pulls his cloth a little tighter around his face, Tasya checks the water bottle. There is not much left. If we can’t find more soon, we will be in trouble. We push on, since we can’t go back. Everyone is fighting over us back there. They want Tynan dead because he can do magic, and boys shouldn’t be able to touch the spirit world. They want Tasya queen and she hates crowds. She likes to dance and fight and do tough girl things. She will get us through this.

We stop when the night takes over. Tynan says he can feel the water in the air. It is so close. He sits up all night trying to find a way to borrow the water from the clouds, high above us, and maybe from the wind. Tasya sleeps, lips cracking, hoping she will have more energy in the morning.

The feeling drags us on, further into the barren wastelands. It is calling us. Tasya has a little more spring in her step today, Tynan managed to condense a few extra drops of water for them. There are bags under his eyes though, it cost him a lot to do.

We push on, and on, missing papa and aunty Willow. They will be worried, but we didn’t have a choice really. Too many people are still so angry. We think that the answer is out here somewhere, perhaps beyond the black spine of mountains spewing smoke and ash. Tynan thinks, if we make it through hell, we will find what we are looking for.

Who knew the desert was so cold at night? We huddle together, warmed by the fire Tynan keeps in a bottle. We think about mother, each hearing the other’s thoughts, seeing the other’s memories.

Mother was beautiful, tall, at least to a child, with dark eyes that seemed to go on forever. She could see inside us, she knew what we were feeling and how much we loved her. She loved papa very much too. She went away two years ago. Papa told us she had died, but we can still feel her. She is here, in the desert, and up there in the sky. We are going to find her.

Tasya brushes her dirty blonde hair out of her face, staring at the flickering light, trapped inside the bottle. Tynan watches her, thinking, we don’t belong here.

In the desert?

No. In Tyria. Here on this planet…

There is that word again. Tynan said it once, a long time ago, and papa didn’t understand. Planet. We close our eyes sometimes and think of the sky. It is almost like we can step off the earth and look back at ourselves, and then we see this big round ball with all the people and the animals and the oceans. Papa asks us why, if we live on a ball, the land looks flat. We aren’t too sure just yet. Maybe the answer to that is out here in the desert too.

Tasya watches the sunrise. She is looking back. We don’t normally look back. Tynan give her a moment and then starts packing things back into our bags. He stands up just in time to see the morning light glitter off something in the black land. We are nearly there.

Wordcount: 569

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Challenge 6: First day

“Tirella, Mirella, Breakfast!” called our mother. Mother is the only one who calls us by our full names, most people call us Tia and Mia. And often enough they call us the wrong one. We don't mind. We barely slept last night. Today we were off to our new school. Hogwarts. Mother and Father have told us heaps of stories about their days at school. We can't wait to see whether we will be in Hufflepuff like Mother or Ravenclaw like Father. Though we suppose that we may end up in Gryffindor or Slytherin. Our trunks are all packed and Ella, our owl, will be downstairs having her own breakfast.

After breakfast Father magics our trunks into the car. And we are off. Off to King's Cross Station and the train to Hogwarts.

We were early. “Here we are, platform nine,” said Father, he and Mother were pushing Mia's cart while we pushed Tia's and held Ella. “Just walk through the barrier between platform nine and ten.” Mother instructed. We admit we closed our eyes before walking through but we heard people talking, then we heard different people talking so we opened our eyes and got our first look at the Hogwarts express. Mother and Father were right behind us. “Choose a compartment girls.” said Father. “Your Mother and I will help get your trunks in. “All right.” “Thank you.” we said as we found an empty compartment. “This one.” we said, choosing one near the front of the train, but not at the front. Father and Mia took Mia's trunk while Mother and Tia took Tia's trunk. Ella having been put in already. We placed the trunks tucked away in a corner of the compartment. “There's Mrs Weasley.” said Mother. “Her twin terrors will be starting this year won't they?” asked Father. “Molly!” called Mother, “Jennifer!” replied Mrs Weasley. “So these are your famous twins!” said Father. “This is Fred, and this is George.” Mrs Weasley introduced the twins. “Tirella and Mirella.” replied Mother introducing us. “Nice to meet you.” we said. “Enchanté” they replied in unison with a bow. “Would you like to sit with us?” we asked indicating the compartment we had chosen. They just bowed and picked up their trunks and placed them next to ours. We left our parents talking. “I heard that the sorting test is you have to fight an ogre...” said Fred once we were seated. “Really?” we asked, “Hogwarts, a history says it's a hat. Godric Gryffindor's hat.” we reply. “Bill was probably making it up.” replied George.

Travel was uneventful, we got some candy from the cart, and bought some for our new friends. Then we were there. “First years!” called a loud voice. “First years over here! Leave your trunks, they'll be along!” he called. We followed Fred and George to the boats and our first view of Hogwarts.

“Told you it was a hat.” we whispered to the Weasley twins as we were instructed about the Sorting hat and listened to its song. We joined the que.
“Fred Weasley” “GRYFFINDOR”, “George Weasly” “GRYFFINDOR”. This was hardly a surprise, all their family were Gryffindors.
“Tirella Prewett”, How odd to be sorted apart. What if we are in separate houses? No. We will not consider it. The Sorting hat takes our preference into account, Mother said so. Tia placed on the hat. “Hmmm interesting... plenty of intelligence, and plenty of tolerance... hmmm... Interesting... Two halves of a whole almost... Well you'd both better be RAVENCLAW”, “Mirella Prewett” The sorting hat barely touched her head when it yelled “RAVENCLAW”. Together, for Tia had waited, we joined our Housemates. It was a pity not to be in the same House as the Weasleys but we would see them around.

Wordcount: 660
Disclaimer: I do not own Hogwarts or any other part of J.K. Rowling's world or characters I only own Tia and Mia.

Challenge 6

The Royal We

Write a first person-plural narration of an event from the POV of a close-knit couple (not necessarily lovers or opposite sex). This means the narratice should sound a bit like this:

We found the body in the outhouse, and Jenny got the can of gasoline from the garage while Benjamin removed all the toilet paper folls stacked up on the door shelves (no sense wasting them).

The reader should not be able to discern who is telling the story - do not use 'I' at all in this exercise (not even in dialog).

Wordcount: 600 (+/- 10%)

Challenge 5: Leaving Louisiana

February 14th
It is hardly surprising that I have no valentines today. My school is a prison and boys are the devil. I look out, through the bars of my cell, and see other girls dancing merrily on the street or walking by on their lover’s arm. I shall never be one of them. My father already knows who he wants me to marry. Less than a year and I shall be Mrs. Louis Rodger, baroness of the largest plantation in Carencro, Louisiana. Oh hell, that old man is twice my age and five times my weight. I fear he shall squash the very life out of me on our wedding night.

February 19th
Academy of the Sacred Heart. There is a sort of comfort in that name, don’t you think? I was in mass this morning and Sister Maria spoke about a part of our heart that no man can touch. I mean, to tell the truth, the catholic church is probably short of nuns at the moment, so maybe she is just recruiting, but still…

February 20th
My room-sister, Elizabeth, found my diary last night. I was such a fool, leaving it just sitting on top of my chest like that. She has promised she didn’t read it, but I am not sure I believe her. I will definitely lock it up when I am finished tonight.

March 17th
Back at last. My father and mother took me out of school for nearly four weeks to visit my future husband’s estate. Can you believe that I would rather spend my days in this two person cell than as mistress of such a place? Neither can I. The tour was certainly impressive, golden fields stretching out to the horizon, food so plentiful that I would soon look as large as dear Louis himself. Could I put aside the knowledge of where it all comes from? Do I even have a choice?

There’s another thing too… Louis took me aside into his library on the afternoon before we were to head back to New Orleans and he told me he was very happy that father was agreeing to this marriage. He promised me all sorts of pretty dresses and parties and that I would be one of the most popular ladies in Carencro… maybe I would even get to meet the president some day. He seemed sweet, but I know he was wrong. The president hates men like Louis Rodger. I hear it from Sister Agnes who is the only black nun at Sacred Heart school. She says that there is a war coming and the South is going to feel the pain of god’s wrath.

Now I’m back here, sitting in my tiny room, staring out my barred windows and I can hear Elizabeth snoring behind me. She doesn’t notice my candlelight, or maybe she pretends not to anyway. She’s a good girl, when it comes down to it. Maybe she wouldn’t tell, at least for a little while. See papa has decided that whatever he is getting from ol’ Louis for me, he can not wait any more. I overheard him talking to the matron about taking me out, maybe at the end of the month. I only have a few more days.

Please god, help me decide. What should I do?

April 4th
The hay is getting everywhere, under my shirt and into my worn out shoes. I barely recognize myself as I cower here, behind the bales, listening to dogs howling to each other. I am not a prisoner any more, I am a runaway slave, or near enough. I am certainly a fool.

Has it really been a half month since I wrote? I suppose I did not want Elizabeth to know my plans. Perhaps now she can marry old Louis, she seems like the sort who would enjoy that sort of thing. Myself, I could not live without adventure, nor with the blood of those men and women in my sugar. Figuratively, of course.

Papa will never forgive me for what I have done; I only hope God will be a little more understanding.

Wordcount: 708

Challenge 5: The new guy

December 26th
Dear Diary – That's how you start these things right? I'm not sure what to write here really. Life is average really. Yesterday was Christmas. The first with Mum's new boyfriend. Which is why I'm writing this really. This diary was his Christmas gift to me and I'll hear about it from mum if I don't use it. I will admit that I like that he replaced the pathetic lock this thing came with by adding a proper padlock to the gift. Complete with packaging so I know who has access to it. He even gave me a neat chain to keep the keys on. Apart from the fact that I barely know the man he seems ok. Better than mum's last boyfriends. Why Mum dated any of them is beyond me. Mum wouldn't tell me. I am fourteen years old, I would prefer it if she would talk to me. That's really my only complaint about my life. Ever since Dad died two years ago mum hasn't had time to talk to me. I understand that she has to work hard to keep our apartment, but I would prefer less money and more quality time. Maybe it will get better with this new guy.

December 27th
Today was amazing! Mum's new boyfriend took us to the Zoo! He actually got mum to take a day off! We actually had a almost 'family' discussion over lunch. This guy actually listened to me, encouraging me to be part of the conversation rather than seeming annoyed that he wasn't alone with Mum. And then, even better than the whole day. Tonight after he left mum actually asked me what I think of him. I, of course, responded that I liked him. That he seemed to make her happier than any of her other boyfriends. We spent most of the night talking. It was great! We had a proper discussion of everything. I actually told her that I missed spending time with her and she admitted that she did too. So now we have a regular mum and daughter evening arranged for Friday nights. I even added that her new boyfriend was welcome to join in sometimes if he wanted to. Mum looked really pleased at that.

December 31st
It seems that mum and the new guy have been going out for longer than I thought, because we are on our way to his family home for New Years. Apparently he has quite a large family, not siblings but all of his aunts and uncles are regular guests at his father's home along with their spouses and children and their children's spouses and children. I really should stop referring to him as the new guy his name is Cesare Corleone. He is very family oriented, he is the only one of his siblings that isn't married. Almost all of his stories are about one or other of his family. And they are all varied stories. His family seem to be in almost every career I can think of. Cesare is an architect. Apparently he met mum while she was working as a receptionist for someone. Mum does a lot of temp work as a receptionist, sometimes for a couple of weeks while someone is away sometimes for a years maternity leave.

January 5th
I meant to write in here earlier but things have been really hectic. New years was great, after mum and I met all of Cesare's family – I still can't get names straight in my head – mum and I had a bizzare 'interview' with Cesare's mother and father then it was like we were long-lost family. Then at midnight just as the countdown finished Cesare proposed to mum! This all seemed so quick! Mum glanced at me for just a second for me to nod before saying 'yes'. It seems that his family decided that he's been single for too long so the wedding is today! I don't know how I managed to find time to write this. I am to be mum's maid of honour, I'm too old to be a flower girl. Then I will be staying with my new grandparents while mum and my new dad go on their honey moon! And while they are away I am to help move both mum and I and Cesare into the house that is their wedding present from his parents! They don't know that yet, I was called in to make sure that mum would like the place and it's amazing! Now I really have to go!

Wordcount: 761

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Challenge 5: Tomatoes

November 20th

“I planted plants while he brews beer” I love it when life matches up to my favourite songs like that. Technically speaking it was vodka he was brewing and I'm not sure that setting up the hydroponics counts as planting but it's close enough for me.

I've just realised how bad that sounded. If anyone finds diary this they are going to think we sound like drug dealers. It makes me giggle to think that I'm actually growing real hydroponic tomatoes. Along with beans and carrots too. I wish we could have a real veggie garden but this apartment is on the 3rd floor.

As for the vodka, well... it's not like making your own is illegal or anything. And it's so much cheaper.

I've decided that once I finish my degree this time next year that both of us are going on an OE together to London. He can find a job in a pub and I can get one in a museum or whatever it is that people do with a classics degree. They say that any couple who can travel together are made for each other. It could be a good way to test just how great we are together. I am sure we will come through it great. Hopefully it will show mum how serious I actually am about him so she can stop nagging me about it.

Anyway, I'd better go I'm getting kind of hungry.


November 23rd.

D has got a promotion at work so tonight we went out to celebrate! I felt like such a rebel sneaking home made limoncello into the restaurant but nobody caught me and it tastes so much better than anything they sell there. I never could get a taste for wine.

Dinner was very romantic, he had the steak and I had the pasta. I could hardly pay attention to the food though. There were actual candles at our table and fairy lights strung right across the roof. Not the swankiest of places but perfect for us. We don't really fit in to upmarket kind of places.

The waiter realised we were celebrating and asked us why. Before I could answer D said “It's her 25th birthday today” which is a complete lie. I'm 23 and my birthday is in June. The waiter congratulated me and brought me a free glass of wine. D drank it though of course.

Sometimes I worry about how easily he lies but I guess as long as he isn't lying to me it's ok.


December 28th

Wow, I can't believe it's been so long since I wrote anything. I just got so busy with Christmas that I didn't have time. I've managed to keep the plants alive anyway. Well... D helped. OK, maybe he's pretty much completely taken over. It's kind of odd really. He doesn't even like veges but he seems more than happy to be the one looking after them. He spends quite a bit of time looking after them now, I'm not sure what takes so long. When I asked him he said he was singing to them. I'd believe it too. He gets pretty stressed out so singing to plants could really help him feel better.

January 3rd

Worst. Day. Ever.

Well me and D split up. Our apartment got broken into by the police and it turns out that while D was 'looking after' my veges he decided it would be a good idea to rip them all out and replace them with pot. The guy who he bought all the plants off dobbed him in to get his own sentence decreased. We weren't even home when the police came to the house, I got home from work to find them there. Of course because I was the only one home they started grilling me about the plants and I had no idea what was going on.

Luckily them seem to believe that I didn't know about it although they could just be humouring me. D hasn't come home yet.

I guess when I said that we split up it wasn't exactly true, I haven't actually seen him yet since the police were here. He's as good as broken up with anyway. Luckily the lease is in my name so he can just piss right off and I can stay here.

I'd better go type out my formal statement for the police

word count
740

Challenge 4: White flowers

It was now late afternoon, he would have to move quickly. On this planet once the sun set it got very cold very quickly. Tonight, to make it worse, there would be one of the biggest storms the planet had seen. Due to hit just after sundown. The vegetation here was short and sparse, having to survive both the intense heat of the day and the chilled cold of the night. Add to this the extreme UV exposure and it was surviving anything could survive here. Sean had prepared himself for the mission as best he could but nothing could really prepare you for a place like this. He paused for a moment to consider the mission.

I have been on this hell hole for eight days now. With the number of rocket launchers guarding the target they had to drop me a long way off. That wouldn't have been so bad except that since we don't know what kinds of tech they can detect, I have had to proceed almost unarmed, on foot. All I have is a small stun gun, enough food and shelter to survive and the dagger I stole from my last target. All packed small enough to fit into a low profile backpack. It has taken me this long but now I can see the building I have spent the last week walking towards. They obviously don't expect an attack from ground level or they would have made it out of something other than chrome and glass. It sticks ostentatiously out of the stunted and scrubby plants like a new cell phone propped up in a bowl of dirt.

Suddenly something caught Sean's eye and he took a moment to examine one of the plants. It was flowering. Tiny white flowers just like the ones that grew outside his window in the place he called home. Used to call home that is, he reminded himself. He would never see those flowers again now and there was a man in that building on whom much of the blame lay. He may not like the manner in which his mission had to be carried out but he would enjoy his success. Someone had to pay for what had happened and they would do so at the tip of his dagger.

I have no plan from this point. I don't know what security there is or where in the building to look. There must be hundreds or rooms. Never the less he will not get away from me. Once night falls and the storm begins, nobody will be able to exit the building for at least a day. My objective, to be the only person alive in that building when the storm does lift. The guards will be easy enough to deal with. I can just stun them then slit their throats before they come around. They won't be expecting it so I have the element of surprise. Wes Nye, however, will not receive the mercy of being stunned. He will face me fully able to feel the pain. I will show him as much mercy as he showed on my home planet.

Sean got up and started walking again. The low sun cast his shadow long and lean behind him.

He was going to enjoy this.

449 words

Challenge 2: Plant

Go to sleep, baby. Dream about your mother, out in the fields digging, planting. Dream about the late morning sun beating down on her back as she bends and stretches and sweat stains the armpits of her green blouse. Dream about the skirts hiked up to her knees, about flies and mosquitoes and the dust powdering her feet; dream about the trickles of water through the little culverts she’s so painstakingly dug.

Give your mother a smile before she puts you down on the straw mat inside the cool walls of the house and sets your sister to watch you and takes up the splintery wooden handle of her old hoe. Watch your sister frowning, wandering around the house, sweeping the floor; watch her light the fire and make the morning bread, burn her fingers, cry. Cry too. Forget about it when she picks you up - make happy noises instead. Make her smile.

Go to sleep, baby. Dream about your sister chasing the mosquitoes away from your face, feeding the cow, overcooking the lentils. Dream about the shawl she drapes over your little cradle so you won't get bitten. Dream about the wind rioting through the house, the dark clouds rushing to you. Let the burst of thunder wake you - cry again. See your mother running back in the heavy rainfall with her shawl over her head, see her struggling with the hoe.

Grow up; follow your sister. Let your mother stay at home and sweep the floor, light a fire to make the bread, feed the cow, cook the lentils just right. Follow your sister into the fields - follow your sister with her sweat-stained second-hand green blouse and her skirt hiked up to her knees and the flies and mosquitoes and the dust powdering her feet. Watch her recalling memories from before you were born. Watch her remembering days in the field with your mother. Watch her remembering how to dig culverts and furrows and plant seeds. Learn from her.

Try to find her a husband. Cry when she finds her own and leaves to sweep his floor and light a fire to make his bread, to feed his cow, to cook his lentils just right. Take up the hoe with the splintery handle - wonder how to fix the blade back on. Fix it with who-knows-what and a thousand prayers to keep it there. Greet your sister and her husband when they visit; wonder how you’ll feed them. Take the corn they give you; think of them as you eat it.

Chase the mosquitos away from your mother's face. Slap them and get itchy hands. Learn to sweep the floor, overcook the lentils and burn your fingers making bread. Buy a mosquito net with the money you borrowed from the moneylender. Sell the cow. Tell the moneylender you’ll need an extension on the loan.

Bury your mother. Set the light to her funeral pyre; cry.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Word count: 490

Challenge 1: Afternoon on the Ilam fields

"That one," she says decidedly, her eyelids flickering open briefly. "It's different to all the rest."

She's right. Her favourite - so far - is a little wispy grey thing, stubbornly hovering over the field while all the regular white cliched clouds puff past far above.

Her hair’s wet from when she washed it this morning. Her clothes are a bit too big, and the right front pocket of her jeans (her old-ish bright blue jeans) is bulging where it’s crammed with used tissues and keys. One day she’ll switch to handkerchiefs, and turn vegan, and stop buying jeans-made-by-slaves-in-sweatshops. Right now? Give it another five minutes, and the damp would have soaked through the back of them. That’s why my coat is spread out on the grass – it means she won’t need to worry about the potential embarrassment if she complains about a wet butt. There are big holes under the armpits of her fluffy, pale purple turtleneck jersey. She always wears her purple t-shirt underneath just so that she can get away with it.

The flowers are straggly, squished by soccer boots. She’s given up on the daisy chain, which was mostly clovers and tiny yellow flowers anyway. Another bus lurches past on the main road with a horrific groan and a hissing of doors, and makes her grin. She smiles again when the wind picks up, and when the flagpole at the sports hall clanks, and even when a little wish from a dandelion lands on her cheek, right next to her nose (but that’s after she’s had minor hysterics and is convinced it’s not a poisonous spider. The poison fear is so she’ll sound sensible and not like a sufferer of irrational arachnophobia. She’s actually scared of most spiders.)

Then it’s back to the discarded daisy chain, and uprooting little tufts of grass to peel them apart and expose the smooth, shiny green inner stalks. That’s one habit she won’t grow out of, even when she starts worrying too much about hygiene and inhaling worms to sit outside on the ground or do any of the gardening.

“Might go shopping tomorrow,” she murmurs. “What are you up to?”
Shopping means a five hour trip with her mum, in which they circuit the clothes shops in the mall at least twice and neither of them ends up buying anything.
“Rock climbing tonight, so nothing that involves moving...look, your cloud’s grown!”
This makes her open her eyes. "Maybe it'll rain! And it'll take you an hour to get home now."
But rock climbing night is once a week, and strands of grey cloud and straggly flowers and dandelion wishes and she are a treasure there isn’t a word good enough for.
“It won’t rain, and it’s worth it anyway.” How elegant. Still, that makes her smile too, and, about twenty seconds later, reach out to accidentally bump hands and pretend she hasn’t noticed so she can leave hers there.

It’s not long before the first wet drops make her eyes snap open and glare at the sky.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Even though it means going home, returning to whatever cabinet-sized fantasy book is currently popular amongst the group and watching raindrop splotches reshape themselves on the windows – even though it means the end of the afternoon - the rain seems to fit in.

And the afternoon hasn’t been that short – we heard two more buses successfully make it down the street, and only after that did the drizzle turn to rain.

She rolls over, stands up with grass stains all over her beautiful skirt, and reaches out a hand.
Taking it: “You fell off your coat!” Or maybe there wasn’t room for her on it in the first place. But she brushes the worst of the dirt off herself and twirls around, admiring the green patterns left behind. “Isn’t it brilliant?”
She’s still holding my hand, until she has to put her coat back on and run for the bus stop.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Word count: 660

Challenge 5

Journalism

Write part of a story in the form of journal entries. Everything that happens in the story will most likely happen between the entries. Make sure your readers can see the events offstage, but also remember to present your journalist's blind spots - she/he will not present the whole story. Your journal writer may not even understand the significance of events until a few entries later (if ever). Keep the entries close together in time. Avoid completely self-obsessed narrators.

Wordcount: 700 (+/- 10%)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Challenge 4: Jimmy Likes

Jimmy sits on the bank at the edge of the lake, watching ducks. There is an old Asian couple with bread and they keep stealing the ducks away. They will be gone soon enough though, which is good.

I like being alone.

Jimmy digs in the dirt beside his foot with a stick. It is soft and a bit muddy from the rain last night.

I like rain.

He knows his mother will probably be angry when she sees the mud on his trousers, but not too angry. She gives him dark pants so he won’t look like such a mess all the time. He imagines, after his mother has scolded him, she will let him help her load the washing machine.

I like the way the bubbles swirl around.

He will probably sit for the whole wash cycle, just watching them.

Jimmy hears his mother calling and runs back through the overgrown section at the back of his house.

I like the feeling of grass tickling my ankles.

“James,” she says. “There you are.”

Jimmy smiles, holding his arms wide for a hug. His mother scoops him up, holding him close. Something is wrong. She hasn’t told him off for being at the lake again, or for the mud on his bum. He wraps his chubby arms around her neck, burying his head against her shoulder. There is a big man at the kitchen table. He is eating the lemon slice.

Jimmy’s mother puts him down and he keeps one hand on her skirt while swiping the last piece of slice with the other. His mother doesn’t scold him. He hides behind her leg and munches on the slice.

I like how lemons make my eyes water.

“Is this the Quinn boy?”

“I…”

Jimmy knows they are talking about him. He peers up at the man, in his brown jacket and tweed trousers.

I don’t like grown-ups who think they know everything.

“He is their last heir, Gwendolin...”

“He is my son.”

“Don’t you want a bit of payback on that bastard? You’ll make us both rich.”

Jimmy doesn’t like this man. He is making mother nervous. Jimmy backs up, thinking he might just go to his room until the angry man is gone.

“Get him back here,” the tweedy man growls.

Jimmy starts to run, out into the hall way, down the front steps, out onto the street where his mother’s beat up old Beetle sits, unlocked. Jimmy climbs inside, curling up on the front seat. There are angry voices inside the house and then a long silence, punctuated by a loud bang. Jimmy curls up tighter.

I like the smell of mum’s perfume on the leather.

After a long time, Jimmy’s mother jumps in the driver’s side and revs the engine.

“Let’s go on holiday,” she says. “How about France?”

“As long as we’re not taking that angry man.”

His mother shakes her head as she speeds off down the gravely road. “He won’t be following us.”

I like when me and mum play runaway.

Wordcount: 510

Challenge 4: The Break Up (R)

See this on our R-Rated site.

Or: