I said there would be exciting news on the literary front for the next Blog – and indeed there is. See below.
“STRATA – Slices through the Human Landscape” – a new short Anthology of short short stories will be on the market from 30th November. And when I say “short” I mean no story is more than 350 words long so no-one will be able to say “I don’t have time to read these”.
Seriously, though, my Writer’s Group – CHALK CIRCLE – decided to try writing “Flash Fiction” – a relatively new genre of which you may not have heard before. Then again, perhaps you have. If you have, you will realise that your tale must be compressed so that it takes no more than around 500 words to tell. And you know what? That’s not easy.
We decided to go one better and limit ourselves to 350 words – making it even harder. Yes – we challenged ourselves – because we are silly like that – and all six of us sat down and tried to produce something that fulfilled the criteria. Some of our stuff was “so-so” – but some of it was excellent so we chose two of the best pieces from everyone – ending up with 12 pieces of “micro-fiction” in Anthology form – which we are calling “STRATA” and are publishing on November 30th. Yes, guys, it will be available in a bookshop near you, if you live in the East Sussex area – and at £5 a copy it is a “steal”. A “stocking-filler” I think – innit? Look for the striking front cover.
Our front cover is, in fact, something of a “coup”. Drawn by the V. & A’s Illustrator-of-the-Year, JOHN VERNON LORD – it is iconic. OK, it was lucky that he lived next-door-but-two to one of our members in Ditchling and she asked him if he would do it and he said ‘yes’ – but then, such a distinguished artist would not have agreed if what we had produced was rubbish, now would he?
I have invited my fellow CHALK-CIRCLE writer, Jayne Block to contribute to this post, as my ‘Guest Writer ‘ – you might be interested to hear of her struggles to write “Flash Fiction”. ( I did say that this “compression” is not easy, didn’t I?)
Triumph and Tribulation (By Jayne Block)
Who would have thought that a writing exercise would end up being published?
As a newbie to Chalk Circle in Spring 2018 I was invited to contribute to an Anthology the other five members had been developing.
I had a short story I liked that originated from a writing exercise where I had begun by writing a list of words beginning with the same 2 letters. For some reason I had chosen ‘Tr’ and came up with a list of 20 – from which I chose 3. We were given 10 minutes to scribble down a story using all three of the chosen words – in my case, trip; triumph and tribulation. I decided to put my main character on a road-trip in the desert with a broken-down Triumph motorcycle, and after 2 minutes of anguished writer’s block a story evolved.. After the writing session, I liked the idea so much I expanded it to 1000 words – thus too long for the Anthology. The limit for that was 350 words. I cut it back to what I thought were its barest bones.
It was returned to me with the suggestion that if I could cut down even more it would work very well as the final story in the Anthology. Cut it down even more? ‘ I felt I had already given it a ‘savage’ cut, as Judy would say. But I sat down at my computer and whittled away at it.
I found that cutting it down kept the essence of the story but got rid of every superfluous detail. It was immensely satisfying. Up until then, I had mainly been working on editing a 120,000 word novel involving sorting out plot flaws, character inconsistencies, grammar, style, pace – an endless list really. To have a story finished in so few words was a triumph in itself.
I am happy everyone liked it, and it now has pride of place as the last story in the Anthology; a girl in a desert with a broken down motorbike while the sun is setting, wondering if she is ever going to get out of this Goddamn place alive.
Jayne’s piece of micro-fiction is a great read – but novelist and poet CATHERINE SMITH has described all our work as “beautifully-formed jewels of story-telling..” and that is praise indeed.
“STRATA” will also be available as an e-book on our website www.chalkcircle.org.uk
So that’s this month’s excitement, and, believe me, it has taken up a lot of time and attention. Made even tougher by my latest geriatric affliction -“DEAD LEFT HAND” – of which I spoke in Blog No.55/56. The Doctor looked at it and said “I don’t think this is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – I don’t know what it is. But I know that the NHS will consider it so unimportant that you will wait until you are 95 before they get round to it. I am going to have to mention a dirty word to you. Money.”
So last Monday saw me trotting into the Private Hospital round the corner to see their Private Specialist in Dead Hands. He looked at it and said “I can tell you what this is NOT – but I don’t know what it is. I think your next port of call is the Neurology Department.” Then he sent me his bill for £200.
Apparently there is an 8-month Waiting List for the NHS Neurology Department at the General Hospital. I have spoken to the hand in question and it has said it would be OK to wait 8 months so long as it doesn’t get any deader or produce weird signs of some deeper complication elsewhere. “At your age,” it reminded me “I could be ANYTHING.”
Therefore, I am now in the queue for the Neurologists, and am taking the Polymyalgia Approach – Wait And See. Meanwhile, although using the computer keyboard is presenting problems, I have developed ‘coping strategies’ elsewhere. For instance, my bra’s are now stapled up (Jim and his stapling gun), stepped into, and wriggled up the body into position – I no longer wear tights, but ‘pop-sox’ and have given up cooking, relying on lovely meals from COOK, or M & S, which are quite a treat. Jim has bought me an electric tin-opener and now hot-water-bottle-filling is a thing of the past as he has also brought over a spare electric blanket. This last is so wonderful I would like to marry it, but Jim says I cannot marry an electric blanket. Well – we shall see about that. I can be very persuasive when I am in love.
The Weather Forecast continues to delight – “..some of these showers have Ian Hendry at times..” and it seems there may also be “..localised thunder leading to fighting and travel disruption..” In the general news the state of Britain’s High Streets continues to decline with “empty and bacon-chops” and on Sunday 11th November the Queen attended “a Service of Her Membranes in Westminster Abbey..” Good for her. Plus if anyone can offer suggestions as to the meaning of the following gem, then the Jude’s Blog Dairy Milk Medal awaits them;
“…with fixing they goes ooh…” ?????
THE ONGOING SAGA OF JUDE ET JIM – GERIATRIC LOVE-BIRDS;
Jim has decided that the Hobbit homestead requires a lot of attention and too much time has been spent recently having fun with Jude instead of cutting the grass, trimming the hedge, picking the apples, making the marmalade and repairing the many electronic devices which are strewn around his dining room. So he and Jude have not spent as much time together as usual and Jude was not with him to tell him to watch out as he sliced through his left hand with a faulty hedge-trimmer. Such an injury is bad news when a chap is on blood-thinning medication, but Jim, being a practical man, leapt into his car, bleeding copiously, and drove to A & E where they saw him promptly, sewed him up (8 stitches) gave him a tetanus jab and sent him home. Jude did not hear about this drama until it was all over and she is damned glad she didn’t. But the result, as you may already have worked out, is that both Jude AND Jim now have only one hand each. Bummer.
However, although they have been getting on with their lives on their own for a bit, there has been some Jude-et-Jim socialising – mostly involving Eating Out – therefore a few Thai Curries and the odd Lasagne or two have been consumed – but they have also had their cultural “fix”. Last Wednesday they visited the Multiplex to see “THE NUTCRACKER & THE FOUR REALMS” – a delightful, Christmassy Extravaganza presented by Mr.Disney on his best blingy form.
The Press Releases describe it as “an American Fantasy Adventure” and seem to think it suitable for 6-to-12-year-olds. “Don’t go without the kids..” says one reviewer. Well, Jude would like to tell you that two octogenarians sat there (without any kids) and absolutely loved it. It presents a snowy wonderland, spreading it out for you to eat with your eyes like Christmas Cake – amazing costumes, make-up, set-design – all marvellous. This is just as well as Jude et Jim were able to hear and understand only about 10% of the dialogue – but, hey, you can’t have everything. Who cares? Most of us know the story anyway. Sadly the worst offender as far as diction went was the “star”, the youthful MCKENZIE FOY, playing CLARA – and I would respectfully suggest she gets some voice-coaching before her career goes any further. Sorry, but it must be said.
However, this is a mainly visual experience – ballerina MISTY COPELAND offers beautiful solo performances as the BALLERINA PRINCESS, fake snow swirls, clowns tumble, animatronic mice run away with golden keys, tin soldiers come to life – it’s all there. And in the end Clara finds that her dead mother’s final gift to her is her courage. Happy Endings ‘R Us.
WRITER – ASHLEIGH POWELL (based on the short story “The Nutcracker & the Mouse King” by E.T.H. Hoffmann’ and Marius Petipa’s “NUTCRACKER” ballet)
DIRECTORS – LASSE HALSTROM and JOE JOHNSTON
PRODUCERS – MARK GORDON and LARRY FRANCO
CAST – MACKENZIE FOY (CLARA); JAYDEN FAVORA-KNIGHT (CAPTAIN PHILLIP);KEIRA KNIGHTLEY (SUGAR-PLUM FAIRY); MATTHEW MACFADYEN (CLARA’S FATHER); MASON FREEMAN (DR.DROSSELMEYER); MISTY COPELAND (BALLERINA PRINCESS)
Go and see it – and don’t take any kids with you – they will only spoil your fun by wanting the loo and ice-creams…..
TIPS FOR OVER-70-YEAR-OLDS; Stuck for small Christmas-present idea? Find a copy of STRATA” – better still – find lots of copies and give them to EVERYONE…