Category Archives: Creative writing

New Short Story – ‘The Wedding’ – by Sally-Anne Wilkinson

Here’s my latest story on Storgy.

For some, the urge to marry is strong, regardless of the consequences…

THE WEDDING

by

Sally-Anne Wilkinson

typewriter love

That night, Obsita was swarming, which was comforting for us.  Exhausted after days of patrolling, hungry for food and company, it was gratifying to return to the tribe.   Raids from the vespers and avis were thick in Saltus recently; they stole from our oothecas, murdering our burgeoning young.  Of course, all of us were permanently at threat, and the knowledge of it lay thick amongst us – heavy as approaching thunder – but we were not afraid.  As warriors, we were strong, ready; our instinct to protect.

The sultry night air filtered into the club, leaving a residue of moisture on our flesh.  Strong drinks were required, and hopefully, if we were lucky, something more.  Many of us were experiencing the pressure of the season – of Tempore – which was so much more than our usual urge to defend the tribe.  Our mating instincts…

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You’re a god of writing. Or are you?

Talented writers? Are they born or developed? Some people might say, if you have to go on a course to learn to write, you’re never going to be any good.

Questions are often raised as to whether writers needs to do a creative writing course in order to learn the basics of good writing. The view many people take is that, where creativity’s concerned, you’re either good or you’re not, and if you fit into the latter category, no course is going to give you a talent you weren’t born with.

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Yes, we all came out of the womb knowing how to do this. It was very painful for our mothers.

This is pretty unfair. Some might even go as far as to say it’s downright snobbery. Obviously, there are many writers who are naturally talented. They seem to know without thinking, what constitutes a good plot, what image will be most powerful, how to create natural dialogue that delivers most impact to the reader. Writers like these have a natural capacity to write from an early age, and they develop their skills through sheer hard work. As a result, they have little truck with writing courses. Who can blame them? They did it all themselves, so you should too. However, the way I see it is, these writers also have a natural confidence that drives them, and not all of us are that lucky.

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Do not interrupt. Genius at work. Any noise will cause his head to implode.

When I started to write, (after years of procrastination, and gazing at books I loved, thinking ‘I can never write like that’. I was right – I couldn’t, so instead I learned to write like myself) my prose-style was initially so full of holes, an elephant could have fallen through. My inclination was to over-explain everything, and I also found that my love-affair with language created an over-elaborate and flowery effect that was off-putting for the reader. This didn’t mean I was a bad writer – what I had in common with more accomplished writers was a love of books, a love of words, and a compulsion to write, that gave me a great starting point – but I clearly had a lot to learn.

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Popular writing mistakes.

Joining a writing course made me realise that there is a type of ‘science’ to good writing (a science, however, that does not have a ‘one rule fits all’ formula. Writers all have their own styles that these ‘scientific’ theories should not inhibit, but should instead, work alongside). Some people are aware of this ‘science’ instinctively, but many are like me – they need to learn how it works.. Once I learned what constituted good writing, I could apply this knowledge, and my writing improved significantly (though even now, beyond the course, I’m still learning and improving, and happy to do so.)

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Weirdly, staring at all these scientific numbers and symbols isn’t helping to get my novel moving along.

But of course, be warned. Doing a course by itself will not make you a good writer. You’re not going to improve if you’re not ready to change. You have to be prepared to take on the advice of others, you have to be ready to work hard, and you have to be open to adapting your writing. There’s a phrase that purports writers as the ‘god(s) of (their) own work’. This basically means that, whatever anyone else says, you are CREATOR, and so any final decision-making regarding your story is up to you. What it doesn’t mean is: ignore what everyone says, and don’t change a thing.

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Don’t you DARE tell me what to do with my story!

Being a GOD OF WRITING means a writer should take any constructive criticism and use it wisely. The critiquer isn’t always right, but then neither are you. You should think about what you were initially trying to achieve in your writing and how the constructive criticism fits within that framework, then change your writing based around your own view and theirs. Sometimes your initial idea is not going to work, and you might just have to give up on it. Your story might turn into something else entirely (this happens to me on a regular basis). It doesn’t matter – creativity has no boundaries. So what if your story isn’t how you intended, as long as it works in the end? Remember, your reader’s enjoyment is far more important than your initial idea or your ego.

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THIS ISN’T HOW MY STORY WAS MEANT TO GO!!!!!! *head explodes*

Okay, back to some sanity.  In the next blog post, I will be looking at the advantages and disadvantages of the creative writing course, and the one I enrolled on in particular.

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Sally-Anne Wilkinson’s New Short Story – ‘A Forgotten Colour’

Another light-hearted romp from the Wilkinson imagination! Hope you enjoy, and please, tell me if you do. And if you don’t, please tell me why…! I only get better if I know how to improve…

A FORGOTTEN COLOUR

paint tins banner

by

Sally-Anne Wilkinson

*

Judith draws back the curtains, securing them with tie-backs; gently fingering the black beaded ends.  David chose them.  She glances around the room.  It could do with a polish, and a hoover.  Instead, she settles for smoothing the duvet with the palm of her hand.  Aubergine.  David’s favourite.

It’s purple, Mum, he said, snorting. 

 

That’s not what they call it on those design shows.

 

Well, exactly.

The conversation she remembers verbatim, but it’s a while since she’s seen him, and lately, she finds it hard to recall his features, such as the line of his nose, and the natural hue of his hair.

She likes to keep his room tidy. That way, it feels like he’ll turn up any minute, though the bedcovers are rumpled from when Frank stops in here.  Why can’t he clean up after himself?  It…

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Sally-Anne Wilkinson’s New Short Story – An Element of Surprise

This is my latest Storgy story, though really, it’s one of my earliest stories.

AN ELEMENT OF SURPRISE

shhh

by

Sally-Anne Wilkinson

Though it was early, with the sun suspended low on the horizon, the sky was bright.  On the estate, a fine layer of frost coated the grass and cars.  Sarah, concealed by a tree, stood watching a house across the street, a hood obscuring her face and hair.  In her hand, she clutched the handle of a long, wheeled, black bag.

It was almost eight o’ clock.  Any minute now, Richard would leave.

As if she willed it, the front door of number ninety-two opened, and a tall man with dark hair stepped into the cold.  He fiddled in his pocket, extracting a bunch of keys – she could hear the faintest jangle from where she stood.  Double-locking the door, he tested the handle, then headed towards the station, his breath visible as a thin vapour. Sarah stepped back.  For a moment, as…

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Sally-Anne Wilkinson’s New Short Story – Amazing Grace

AMAZING GRACE

Amazing-Grace - steven michael

by

Sally-Anne Wilkinson

Photo by Steven Michael

Seth sat on the bench trying to think of the right words.  In actual fact, there were no words for what he had to say; for what he was about to do.  He looked at the paper again, which he’d stared at for the last thirty minutes.  Dear Grace.  It was as far as he got.

His hand was unsteady, and the words uneven, and though his fingers were unused to writing, it was not this that made the pencil quiver.  Outside, the wind cried mournfully, and frigid air crept into his thin clothing, but it was not the cold that made his body shake.

He only hoped she could forgive him.   His hand finally allowed him to scribe.

It was not a decision easily made.

He sat at this bench when he first saw her, not yet seven years old. …

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Sally-Anne Wilkinson’s New Short Story – Colin

My new story on the Storgy website.

COLIN

Shopping trolley in supermarket

by

Sally-Anne Wilkinson

The front door clicks gently, and as I step into the cool stillness, it reminds me of how the day used to start when I was a boy – with the electric whirr and clinking bottles of the milk-float.  The sound was friendly, like the milkman himself.  He’d come around, every Friday night and stand in our doorway, asking about Gran’s health, and about Eileen who’d moved to Australia three years before.   Sometimes he’d tell jokes, or pull a sweet out from behind my ear, while Mum counted coins from her purse.  His barrel-chested bonhomie filtered through to everyone he met.  Many mornings, you’d collect your pint from the doorstep, to be greeted with a cheery hello from a neighbour or a passerby.  You don’t get that now.

These days, people choose to wander supermarket aisles like zombies instead, barely able to glance up from their…

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STUCK IN TRAFFIC

Here’s my new short story on the Storgy website:

Stuck in apparent gridlock, two car-sharing colleagues are late for work.  It seems that Rick’s female passenger will never shut up. 

Surely, the start of the day can’t get any worse than this?

I hope you enjoy.  It’s a five minute read, so just the right amount of time for sitting down, putting your feet up, and having a coffee.  Comments and feedback are very welcome.  Thanks.

Sally-Anne Wilksinson's New Short Story - STUCK IN TRAFFIC

Please click on the link to read – STUCK IN TRAFFIC.

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Sally-Anne Wilkinson’s New Short Story – Loving Rapunzel

I hope you enjoy this new five minute read of mine on the Storgy website.  Please leave a comment, as I’d love to hear your feedback.

Click on the link to read: Loving Rapunzel.

crown-of-thorns

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New STORGY story – Sally-Anne Wilkinson

Another 1000 word flash fiction for the Storgy website.  Hope you enjoy.  Please feel free to comment or share.

The Angry Beaver – Sally-Anne Wilkinson.

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Filed under Creative writing, Fiction, Short fiction, Storgy

Write Now? No… Write Ahead

Set the sat nav. I want the fastest route possible.  Now GO!

Goal Posts

Goal Posts (Photo credit: KTDEE….back on track I hope.)

In life, we all need goals. (And no, I’m not talking about the football variety. Though, there are times – particularly during the World Cup – when we need those too.)  In order to achieve these goals, we have to look ahead to a future that hasn’t happened yet, planning the route to where we want to be. For some people, this is easy – maybe they have more confidence, resilience, or are better connected. But the vast majority of us achieve our ambitions through sheer motivation, determination, and hard work. Also, if you’re anything like me, you might have to stop yourself from constantly talking your way out of situations, simply because you’re scared.

One of the main problems with writing, I find, is that it’s a lonely business. On the one hand, seclusion is essential. You know what it’s like when you’re trying to concentrate, and someone barges into the room, assuming that it’s okay to witter on or clatter around?  But on the other, this same isolation, where you’re trapped with nothing but your own thoughts on a daily basis, can lead to crises of confidence, and processes of negative thinking. You may be familiar with them:

  • Who exactly am I doing this for?  Myself or others?  (Only the dog and the cat show interest.)
  •  Am I any good? (If so, why do only the dog/cat care?)
  • Should I be feeding my children/changing my underwear more regularly instead of this?
  • When is the last time I talked to anyone?

Ignore these thoughts. (Though it might be good to socialise every once in a while, wash, and stop your children from becoming feral). Spiralling into pessimism is common, and it’s your brain’s way of trying to protect you from, what it views as, inevitable disappointment. With everyone around you turning away the minute you mention the subject of writing, it’s easy to give up; to think ‘What’s the point?   No-one cares anyway.’   But you care, and out there will be readers who care, too.  So, if writing is your aim, ignore you doubts.  It’s vital to think beyond what seems like the futility of the moment, and to look ahead towards your objective. But be aware, it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take time, commitment and a huge amount of bloody-mindedness.

Can you hear the Death March?  Quick!  Run!

Although I’ve always wanted to write, it’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve developed the confidence to do it. Though, to be honest, I’m not sure if it was a burst of confidence that was the catalyst. Most likely, it was reaching the age of forty that spurred me on. There’s nothing like being faced with the mid-point in your life – when you see that the end of days is only a hand-reach away – to suddenly make you think, ‘If I don’t do it now, I never will.’  And, a frightened lamb I might be, but the idea that I’ll never attempt to make a grab for my dream, makes me shudder.

I know there’s a book in me, but how do you get it out?

Like every other person on the planet, I consider myself to have the makings of a novelist. I mean, I have all the qualifications: I read books – lots of them; I can write and spell; I know how to use a thesaurus, and I’m a fantasist. To add to this list of qualities, I can touch-type, and at a snazzy speed.

rover 5000 04

rover 5000 04 (Photo credit: donovanbeeson)

As I’ve said, I’ve always been a fantasist. But, it was the typewriter I received for my tenth birthday that was to blame for one particular flight of fancy. In my dream, I’d sit there, focused, forehead smooth, pounding out page after page. By my side, a neat pile of perfectly written prose – no typing errors in sight, no scrunched-up balls of paper on the floor. There aren’t any flakes of dried-up correction fluid, or any stressful vibes, either. I am the delight of the newspaper critics. Bookshops around the world are straining, each trying to contain fifteen hundred copies of my bestseller. On the back cover of the book, a portrait of my smiling face. In soft focus, of course.

Popeye

Popeye (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who knew the reality would be so different?  For a start, my fantasy is out-of-date. Sadly, typewriters are virtually extinct, due to the popularity of the PC (though, positively speaking, their demise does eliminate the need for correction fluid and endless reams of waste paper. Plus, you don’t develop Popeye-like muscles on your wrists and fingers from the effort of typing). As for bookshops, I know where their future lies. In two words: internet and e-reader.

Then there’s that closely guarded secret. You know the one?  Come closer – I don’t want anyone else to hear… Writing is hard work. And it’s nothing at all like the scenes playing out in my imagination. No-one told me that being literate is just one of a multiplex of skills required to produce a masterpiece.

But, thanks to the dreaded four-oh, and all that it implies, I rejected the idea of writing as something only other people do. In an act of bravery unheard of in the Western world, I switched on my computer, opened Word, and wrote two thousand words. In one go. Sweating, leaning back to recover my breath, I gave the story a once over. It wasn’t too bad. Not great, but that’s what editing’s for, eh?  Day after day, I typed, and typed, and typed. In the end I managed fourteen thousand words in about ten days. An average novel is about eighty to a hundred thousand, so I knew, with perseverance, I had a good chance of getting down an entire first draft.

But then I started to make mistakes.

Perfectionism is in the hand of the pen holder

Writing- Pen & Paper

Writing- Pen & Paper (Photo credit: LMRitchie)

When I say mistakes, I don’t mean those linked with punctuation and grammar, or an over-use of the passive voice. These are common errors – and can be corrected through re-writes and editing. What I mean is, instead of just going for it and completing my first draft, I started to introduce obstacles, which eventually led to a total literary standstill.

In wanting to make my story as polished as possible, I failed to understand that I had to get the entire draft down in rough form first. By heading back, repeatedly, to the opening chapters – to re-read, re-write and tweak every word and nuance – I was getting nowhere. Mainly because I wasn’t looking ahead.  I didn’t realise that I’d let the editing process take over from the writing.

Escalator

Escalator (Photo credit: vpickering)

It was like walking up on a downward escalator. Though I was constantly moving, I was stuck in one place. In fact, the many re-readings of the initial chapters didn’t lead to a more polished novel, but to a total disinterest in the story. Worse still, I failed to see what anyone else would like about my writing either.

Room for improvement

As you can see, by this point, my writing and I were no longer on amicable terms, but I wasn’t ready for divorce. In an act of desperation, I involved the help of an intermediary: a trusted friend whose opinion I valued.  Someone I still consider to be my ideal reader.

After reviewing my work, she sent me a critique. She’s a real treasure, as not everyone is as honest, or as astute, as she is.  Whilst focusing on what I’d done well, she also picked out what needed to be changed, and the list read a bit like this:

  • Use of too many adjectives and adverbs. (A fatal flaw in new writers.)
  •  Too much telling and not enough showing. (Ditto.)
  • Dodgy dialogue, or none at all. (Ditto.)
  • Revealing too much about the characters in one go. (Ditto.)

Her overall positivity reassured me that I wasn’t as awful as I feared. Yet I was still stuck.  Mainly because her criticisms baffled me. What exactly is showing?  I’d read about it, but I didn’t understand what it meant within writing itself. And why couldn’t I use fancy words to describe my characters appearance or actions?  What the hell’s wrong with langorious or pulchritudinous?  (I’ve never EVER used the second word. I swear. I don’t even know how to say it.)   And the characters – how do you tell the story if you can’t reveal their lives; what makes them tick?  As for making dialogue realistic – even now, achieving this is a daily struggle, though it has become easier.

That escalator I was talking about?  Yeah. Things had become even tougher. Someone had turned the speed up, and now I was going nowhere and having to run faster, too.

If an artist has to suffer, why suffer alone?

New LCD 22" computer monitor

New LCD 22″ computer monitor (Photo credit: freefotouk)

After buying a couple of ‘how to’ books on the subject of writing, and getting very little from them, I applied for an online course with York University. It was the first positive step that I took towards improving my writing technique. Let me tell you, I was terrified, but it was beneficial for a number of reasons:

  • The regular writing exercises focused on improving skill in showing, characterisation, description, point-of-view, narration etc. All the things I experienced difficulties with.
  • Students critiqued each others’ work, and by identifying positives and negatives in someone else’s writing, it highlighted what needed to be improved in mine.
  • By critically analysing strategies in successful and published writing, it meant that these techniques could then be implemented to improve my own writing.
  • In addition to focusing on fiction, I also worked on poetry and scripts (genres I’d never even considered) which honed my choice of words, imagery, and dialogue.
  •  I learned that authenticity is established by writing in your own unique voice, not by emulating the styles of writers you admire.

But the most important aspect of this course, for me at least, was the investment I was making in my writing. I was looking towards a future where all these improvements would eventually allow me to write my novel. I realised that this was something I couldn’t do overnight, but instead, were skills I would have to practise and nurture. Somehow, it was comforting. A novel wasn’t the sole focus anymore. Continuing to build up knowledge and a strong writing style were my aims now. And that meant working on a much smaller scale.

Short (and sweet) stories

Cathedral

Cathedral (Photo credit: Bill McIntyre)

See, I’ve never really been a big fan of the short story. Not since childhood anyway. And I don’t want to dwell on my addiction to Aesop’s Fables, Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Twenty Stories about Princesses (Yes, I know). Though Americans have a great market for short fiction, British adults give them short shrift, which is tragic really. Now I’ve come to appreciate them, I admire the concentration of meaning in the words. Like poetry, but written in prose.

In the past, it was their shortness that particularly offended me. I considered the short story the runt of the fiction family. Also, I disliked the endings, which often left you with a sense of ambiguity. I wanted something complete, that wasn’t a struggle to understand. (Strangely, now that I write my own short stories, I like these ambiguities and the possibilities they imply. I suppose it’s another form of writing ahead – a knowledge that the reader will have a proactive role in the story process, working to find meaning in the words.)

In contrast to this, novels were something I could sink my teeth into. The characters and plot drew me in, and there’d be days, not minutes, to bathe in the pleasure of the storyline. Okay, so occasionally, you might get an unsatisfying ending, but as you’d found yourself totally immersed in the previous two hundred pages, you could accept this as a blip (and would resist the urge to write to your local MP to complain.  This time.)

In a rare moment of clarity, I came to understand that short fiction writing isn’t given enough recognition.   Less forgiving than novels, they require an accurate selection of vocabulary to create sharp images and characters in few words. I realised that, in developing the techniques of successful short stories, I was tightening up and enhancing my writing style.  Again, I was investing in my future writer self.

Hello?  Am I on my own here?

Audience

Audience (Photo credit: thinkmedialabs)

As the fiction module of my creative writing course drew to a close, I experienced a feeling of trepidation. I knew there was a chance that without the impetus of deadlines for my weekly tasks, my enthusiasm for writing might wane. What if I couldn’t write?  What if I didn’t have any more ideas?   One thing I knew for sure, I couldn’t go back to my complete self-imposed isolation. I needed people to bounce ideas off. I also needed an audience. Another thing I was certain of, husband and elder daughter weren’t willing participants in my journey towards getting published. Other victims were required, though I didn’t think it was right to put an advert in the paper, entitled Readers Needed.

Here is how I created my own audience:

  • Setting up an online critiquing group with some students from my online course proved an invaluable support to me (and them). We’d already developed a trust, and felt comfortable enough to be honest with our thoughts. I continue to learn from their writing and feedback, and one year on, we still check in regularly to critique each others’ work.
  • Making use of an online publishing platform. This, I admit, was done with some consternation. After my course, I wrote my first independently written story (without a tutor to hold my hand), and posted A Strange Occupation on Circalit. Expecting ridicule, I was pleasantly surprised when it was met with a positive reception, giving me a huge confidence boost.  Circalit is now defunct, but the new site, Readwave, invited me to submit stories, and later, they asked me to review other people’s stories too. All of this has given me exposure, an online presence, and a feeling that I must be doing something right. The practical advice and suggestions my readers have given me have also been invaluable.  Beyond this, I’ve developed relationships with other writers, and as a result, have been asked to contribute writing to a short story website called Storgy. Most recently, I’ve been invited by Readwave to submit four pieces of short fiction – The Dream, A Suspicious Mind, Aftermath and After Dark – to Worldreader, a charity that uploads stories onto mobile appliances to improve reading in the developing world. These opportunities would never have arisen if I hadn’t exposed my writing to the public at large.
  •  I joined a local creative writing group, mainly because I’m interested in everything to do with writing, but also, as we’ve already established, it can be a lonely business. If you’re not careful, you can go for days without speaking to anyone. (This worries me more because I don’t really see any disadvantages in this.)  My first session was a revelation – we spent the time writing, but we also socialised. A combination which was new to me. Its facilitator was sparky and dynamic, and his quick wit and random thought processes rubbed off onto group members, who came away dowsed in inspiration. Basically, mixing with other writers (in person) really enhances your creativity.
  • Another way of gaining an audience is by entering as many writing competitions as you can, or sending off stories to lit mags. A good place to start is to buy a writing magazine, which lists competitions and publications in every issue. There are also a plethora of competitions and calls for publication on the internet if you search. I’ve had a little success, being published as a result, which is another nice confidence boost.
Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

  • By opening a Twitter/Facebook account, you have another platform for your writing – it’s amazing who’s interested in what you’re doing if you just GET YOURSELF OUT THERE. Once more, I’ve made connections to people who are interested in writing, though it does feel a bit like you’re standing alone at the top of a foggy mountain when you first register.
  • BLOG, BLOG, BLOG!

Do I have to?

All of this seems like a lot of effort, doesn’t it?  Well, yes, I did warn you. But it’s worth it. You just need to consider it all a part of the concept of writing ahead. Planning not just for the now, but preparation for the future.

But be prepared for the fact that your plans may not always be fixed in stone. Just as life itself can be unpredictable, something that isn’t always in your control, consider your writing in the same way. Be prepared for it to change, at times, into something other than what you intended (whether it be because of the complexities and ambiguities of the words you use, the fluidity of the storyline, or because of the interpretations imposed on it by the reader). Sometimes it might be a shock what you produce, but most times, it’s a lovely surprise. Just remember to be open and learn from everything you do, and apply that knowledge to your future writing.

Cover of "Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Ze...

Cover via Amazon

And there is one final thing.  If you want people to take your writing seriously, ensure that it’s as polished as possible. Spelling, grammar, punctuation and layout all stand out (and not in a good way) if they’re left in a rough state. It tells a potential publisher you can’t be bothered. So, write ahead with this too. If you can’t be bothered, can they?

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