Literature

The Safe House

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[ Bit of context: I’ve been working on a longer-term writing project over the last few months, and in a bid to expand that particular universe and keep the muse going I’ve written a few bits of flash fiction focusing on the minor characters. This is the first of them. ]

newton houseIn the house on the end of Newton Avenue, a community of wanderers and left-behinds arose practically overnight. Families formed wherever there was space: blood pacts and brotherhoods, sisters and mothers and cousins.

Miss Terezhkova sat on a battered sofa surrounded by the littluns, who within just a few hours had taken to calling her “Ma”; she sang a lilting nursery rhyme in her mother’s native language, idly bouncing the youngest of them on one knee. The toddler cooed and grinned toothlessly, pulling at her necklace with pudgy fingers. In the far corner the Novak twins (only just clear of their teenage years, all bruised cheekbones and male bravado) sat watching Mr Perkowski’s weather-beaten hands as he whittled a crude model of a wolf out of the remains of a broken chair leg.

Nina and Yara were already walking everywhere arm in arm and calling each other “sister”– and for all anyone under that roof knew, they might have been. The fact that the two of them had been total strangers only the previous day, huddled together behind a crate at the Hainsley docks and hardly daring to breathe lest they be caught, was unthinkable to anyone.

It seemed the stars had aligned to bring them all together to their own crowded little corner of the universe, and they gravitated towards each other, comfortable – for now – in their orbit.

Top 5 Tools For Writers (That Are Absolutely Free)

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This post is a counterpart to a video I did over on my YouTube channel, detailing some useful pieces of writing advice I’ve picked up over time. Here, I’m going to look at some of the best free websites and programs for helping with the writing and editing process– I know it says top five, but really they’re not in any particular order.

#5 – Oneword.com

oneword

Oneword.com is a brilliant exercise in flash fiction/microfiction. You’re given one word as a prompt, to be interpreted any which way you choose, and a single minute to write as much as you can in the text box provided. It’s great for writing short stories and poems in a very limited time frame – several of the In For A Penny entries came from this website – but you can also take what you’ve written and use it as the opening paragraph or stanza to a longer piece.

#4 – Hemingway App

hemingway

The Hemingway App is one of the most useful editing tools I’ve come across. Using Hemingway’s writing style as a model, it highlights common mistakes and elements of the text that might hinder it like overuse of the passive voice, adverbs, and overly complex sentences. Not only that, but it also grades your writing on a scale of reading difficulty and suggests alternative word choices where necessary. It’s not one hundred percent foolproof– while often inadvisable, adverbs and complex sentences can have their uses– but it works under the principle that if a piece of writing can be simpler or more concise, it should be. You can paste in previous work or write from scratch, using the app to edit as you go. Hemingway app is available both online and in desktop form.

#3 – Writesparks!Lite/WriteThis2

writethis

Okay, so I’m cheating a bit by lumping two together but these two programs are very similar in design and function, and both equally good. Both of these programs are first line and prompt generators with their own built-in text box and timer. I think of these as more advanced versions of tools like oneword (above). Writesparks!Lite has a smaller range of prompts to generate than WriteThis2, being the free version of a purchasable program, but there are more options as to what kind of prompt you want. All in all the difference between them is negligible and they’re both useful for getting the creative cogs turning again.

#2 – WritePlus

writeplus

It’s very easy, when you have work you’re procrastinating from, to spend ages fiddling about with the formatting or minor changes and feel like you’ve accomplished something. Write is completely simple and uncomplicated, with the bare minimum of options which does wonders for combating distraction and maximising the amount of time spent writing. It’s only available through Windows 8 (boo, hiss) but it’s still pretty decent.

#1 – Storybook 2.1.15

storybook

Holy wow do I love this program. This is built for far longer projects, and if I were to try to list the vast number of functions it has we’d be here all day. Put very simply, however, Storybook is a database designed to help you organise every single little facet of your story – characters and their relation to one another, locations, time frames, background details, the list goes on. It makes it so much easier, when piecing together a longer project, to keep track of what you’ve written and how it fits into the story; making it easier to write out of chronological order. It can be complicated to use at first, the user interface being rather crowded with a million and one options, but once you get the hang of it, it’s so so worth it.

 

 

 

Day Thirty-Seven – “Synesthesia” (In For A Penny)

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When Helen was twelve, her parents whitewashed the walls of her bedroom and bought her a new set of paintbrushes. The walls were filled with colour in under a week, her senses uniting and spilling across her new canvas.

Sometimes as she painted she’d hear her mother on the piano – Moonlight Sonata, C# minor in deep burgundy. Her father’s jacket hanging in the hallway had a rich mossy green smell, leather and cigarette smoke from the pub every Sunday; her bare feet on the kitchen lino felt like bright, clear blue as she went to wash the paint from her hands.

To find out more about In For A Penny, or for previous entries, click here.

Day Thirty-Six – “Mirror” (In For A Penny)

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If I could stop her, I would.

I’ve seen the way her hands shake, fumbling with the cupboard door. It always takes longer than it should to find the right bottle, and she never gets the lid open on the first try. She’ll twist it this way and that, whack it against the sink, let every swear word she knows tumble past her lips before tipping out

one,

two,

three,

sometimes four little white circles into her palm. She’ll look at me, dead-on, as she swallows each one back.

If I could stop her, I would— but I can only watch.

For more information on “In For A Penny”, or for further entries, click here.

Day Thirty-Five – “Curtain Call” (In For A Penny)

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Waiting for the curtain to fall had become a solid part of Carla’s daily routine – as each day went by, her lines and choreographed routine seemed blur a little more into one. It wasn’t just on the stage, either.

It had started out all sunshine and diamonds and camera flashes– and before she knew it, she was stuck in an endless routine like a dance at a masquerade, hiding behind a carnival mask stuck in a wide grin. Always the same – Bat eyelashes, smile for the press, strut, change dresses, kiss cheeks, sign pictures.

All she wanted was a curtain call.

For more information on “In For A Penny”, or for further entries, click here.

Day Thirty-Four – “Welcome Party” (In For A Penny)

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Image

The ship had been destroyed on impact. Unfortunately, so had a curious farmer.

Smoke spilled from the large gash in the side of the ship as blood pooled and soaked into the earth around the farmer’s head; one arm stuck out at the same awkward angle as the ripped metal hull. The pilot exited the ship quickly, looking over the farmer’s glassy-eyed form with curiosity.

Yes, it decided. That’ll do nicely.

The farmer’s body straightened up, arm righting itself with an unpleasant cracking sound. It stumbled a bit, almost fell, and began to walk stiffly away from the crash site.

For more information on “In For A Penny”, or for further entries, click here.

Five Books That Need More Love

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As a student and lifelong lover of English Literature, I feel a certain obligation to prove myself by enjoying and appreciating the classics – not just read them because I’m supposed to, but read them for fun.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely do – at least a third of my “Favourite Books In The Entire World” shelf is taken up by the books that Dad bought when he cleared out the “Classics” section of the local Blackwell’s shop. However, the other two-thirds of that shelf is taken up with a whole mish-mash of different books, some of which most definitely need more love – so here they are for you now, counting down from five.

5. “Someone Like You” by Roald Dahl

ImageThis one’s at the bottom of the list because, I suppose, it’s the least in need of recognition – but in comparison to Dahl’s other hits (with which everyone from the age of five upwards is familiar) “Someone Like You” is . Most people tend to know the stories through the TV series “Tales Of The Unexpected” which is fine, but the book is certainly worth a read as well. In fact, it’s not so much on the list as a book that needs more love as one that everyone should read.

First published in 1953, it’s one of Dahl’s earliest publications, and was the first short story anthology I ever bought. Each story is simultaneously hilarious and incredibly dark with its own unexpected little twist at the end, and the cynical, blackly comic style of writing has been one of the main influences on my own writing style –  see this short story for evidence (although that’s based more on a short story from a different anthology – fifty completely meaningless points if you guess which one).

4. “Un Lun Dun” by China Miéville

Image“UnLondon is at war. We’re under attack. And it’s been written, for centuries, that you – you – will come and save us.”

This young adult novel is an explosion of all the things I didn’t know I wanted until I saw them on the page. Set in UnLondon, a sort of dystopian alternative world formed from all of the broken or discarded things of the original London, “Un Lun Dun” features deadly giraffes, walking buses, dustbin ninjas, talking books, creatures made of words (a concept I cannot ever express enough love for) and one of my favourite fictional villains of all time: the terrible Smog.

Miéville’s book is dark and bizarre and insanely fun to read. I’d recommend it to any Potter fans still looking for similar reading material after the end of the franchise, or anyone who’s a fan of Neil Gaiman’s work. Sidenote: it’s worth getting an author-illustrated edition – Miéville’s drawings are the cherry on top of a beautifully macabre cake.

3. “The Cartoon History Of The Universe” by Larry Gonick

Image“‘I will be the first on land!’
‘Hmm. Appears the bugs are already there…’
‘Oh, they won’t get the credit.’
‘Why not?’
‘Because my descendants will write the book!”

The English Literature part of my brain is berating me for including what is essentially the mother of all comics in this list, but the fact remains that this book is absolutely brilliant. I’ve always been something of a history geek, particularly in my childhood – I still have the three boxes full of Horrible Histories magazines that I collected until the age of ten, and to my delight I found that this acted as a sort of adult follow-on from that (which is great, because while I have no shame in using my little sister as an excuse to watch Horrible Histories on CBBC, it’s nice to have an equivalent that’s actually written with older readers in mind).

2. “Mister God, This Is Anna” by Fynn

Image“The diffrense from a person and an angel’s easy. Most of an angel is in the inside and most of a person is on the outside.”

Even though I no longer count myself as a religious person, this remains one of my all-time favourite books. “Mister God, This Is Anna” follows the story of the titular character, a five-year-old runaway in 1940s East-End London who is taken in by Fynn and his family. It’s presented as a true story, with “Fynn” as the narrator – in fact, I thought it was, until I did a little bit of googling and discovered that “Fynn” was in fact the pseudonym for the actual author, Sydney George Hopkins.

Even so, the characters are vibrant and very well-rounded, and the way we see even the most complicated philosophical questions filtered through Anna’s world view and distilled into something incredibly simple continues to intrigue me every time I read it (and at only a hundred pages or so, it’s one of those finish-in-a-day stories so I’ve read it through several times).

1. “The Incredible Adam Spark” by Alan Bissett

ImageThunderclap! Theme music! Adam, prince of eternia, raises his sword roars i have the power then lo and behold – hes he-man! Most powerful dude in the known yooniverse dudes.”

“The Incredible Adam Spark” centres around eighteen-year-old autistic fast-food worker Adam, who – after a sudden head injury – finds himself thrust into the role of Falkirk’s first and only superhero. Or does he? As the reader, you watch Adam grow and change and struggle with the question of whether or not his curious new powers are, in fact, all in his head.

One of the many things I love about this book is the unique narrative style – it’s written according to Adam’s inner monologue, meaning that the entire novel is narrated in a thick scottish accent, spelled phonetically, riddled with interruptions and bizarre formatting. It’s very easy to be put off by this over the first few pages, but after about the first chapter you just become acclimatised to it and in fact it brings a whole new level to the way the story is told.

And that’s the list! I may or may not do another one of these at some point in the future – maybe suggest a book that you think deserves more love (with reasons attached) in the comments and I could do a reader-dictated post? Just spit-balling here.

– Anna