Time to Write?

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Someone once told me you have to treat time like money.

It makes a lot sense, when you think about it. We all have only a finite amount of it to spend after all. And we all have ‘time expenses’ we can’t wriggle out of – direct debits from our hours, if you will. Once you deduct those bills (sleeping, working, eating, showering and so forth) you’re often left with very little to spare.

So then, you have to budget. You’ll want to spend a fair bit on your family, particularly your children.  Friends too, and hobbies, and relaxation, and Netflix, and Facebook… before you know it you’re overdrawn on your hours.  You’ve gone from having a little bit of disposable time to being overstretched, and owing more than you can feasibly pay.

If you’re trying to fit serious writing in as well, it might feel like you’re continuously in the red, and no one will offer you a loan.

As well as the finite nature of time, there’s another hard truth facing aspiring writers: no one takes you seriously to begin with. If you’re lucky, a few close family members, and your critique partners, believe you are going somewhere. Everyone else thinks you’ve got a cute little hobby. So you feel apologetic, embarrassed even, when you try to carve out some time for it.

But when you start to view time as if it were currency, it becomes a little easier to stand firm. You wouldn’t buy every product someone wants to sell you, or splash out on new clothes before your bills are paid. So, if you want to write seriously, you have to ring-fence your time in the same way you guard your pin number.  No one else is going to protect your hours. It’s your responsibility.

Another piece of advice, one that has stuck with me over the last few years, is that you have to treat writing like a job if you ever want it to become one.

So, I don’t draw my writing time from my disposable hours. It has its own account. The fifteen hours a week available to me to write are immutable. I am, to all intents and purposes, at work. OK, I’ll have a coffee break and check my social media… maybe I’ll take a long lunch sometimes, but I won’t allow those hours to be eroded. They’re too precious. They’re an investment – in myself.

For the last two years I have spent those hours working on my novel, When Jimmy Saved London. I have been absent from the blogosphere during that time, because I found it too distracting from the task in hand. I’ve learned an awful lot, and worked closely with some awesome writers who have helped me bash it into shape through several redrafts. Now, I am gearing up to finally submit.

When people ask me if the time I’ve invested will pay off, they mean in a financial sense. And I honestly don’t know. But when I consider  for myself whether those hours  will pay off, I think of everything I have learned, the critique partners I have worked with, the sheer accomplishment of having written the story that yearned to be told – and I can’t help but feel they already have.

Flashing!

No, not that sort of flashing – get your mind out of the gutter! If you’re expecting a discussion about the virtues of going commando under your best anorak, I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place. But don’t worry, this is the internet, it won’t be hard to find what you’re looking for 😉 . I’m talking, of course, about flash fiction.

People keep asking me when my next short story will be out. In case you missed the announcement on Twitter (and let’s face it, if you’re following more than a couple of hundred people it’s impossible to keep up with everyone!), the lovely people at Page and Spine have recently published my flash fiction story ‘Dearly Departed’. You can read it for free here:

http://pagespineficshowcase.com/249/category/dearly%20departed/1.html

However, I’m afraid all will be quiet on the short story front for a little while, as I really need to focus my efforts on getting the first draft of ‘When Jimmy Saved London’ (my current novel in progress) finished. I have been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and support of my fantastic alpha readers, who have so generously given their time and expertise to help me with this project. There are very few people willing to have in-depth discussions about explosives, hypothetical economic crises and theoretical new technologies with a slightly insane writer, so I count my lucky stars I found three of them! Gary, Steve and Ash, I am forever in your debt, and I couldn’t possibly do this without you!

So, seeing as I keep being pestered for new shorts by some, and moaned at for writing them when I ought to be working on the novel by others, I thought I’d try for a compromise. Below are some flash fiction pieces previously written for various competitions, (and a link to my very first interview – eeeeek!) I hope you will enjoy them. As always, comments are very welcome 🙂

Be patient my pretties, the novel will come… if you’re very good (or very bad, he he) I might share some excerpts soon…

Just Maybe… by N J Crosskey (Winner of MicroBookends 1:27)

Silent treatment, that’s what she accuses me of. Then it’s all: You Never, You Don’t, You Aren’t.

Well maybe I don’t and maybe I’m not. But maybe Glynis, just freakin’ maybe, YOU don’t and YOU aren’t either.

And maybe, just maybe, you sound like a flock of constipated pigeons. Maybe you’re a shrill, controlling harpy who kicks me when I’m down, so MAYBE, just maybe, I Don’t and I’m Not because of YOU.

Maybe I’ll smash your skull in with a freakin’ shovel. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll bury you on the hillside with the other cows…

…Or maybe I’ll just turn the sound up so I can hear the film.

You can also check out my Winner’s Interview here: http://www.microbookends.com/2015/04/21/who-is-n-j-crosskey/

Losing Coral’ Honourable Mention – Flashmob Writes wk 7

Losing Coral (499 words)

I’m wearing a cream blouse.

The air smells of lavender and bleach. The woman beside me kisses my cheek.

“Bye Mum,” she says, and I realise it’s Meghan. Silly of me, must be the new ‘do. She looks so different.

I forget things sometimes. That’s why I’m here; I think… a word flies across my mind so quickly I can’t hold onto it. I chase it, but it’s gone. So has Meghan.

I walk down the corridor to the lounge. The fraying, floral chairs are occupied by people much older than I. The woman beside me must be ninety if she’s a day. I’m only… well, I’m not sure exactly, but I’m much younger.

She smiles at me, I smile back. “I’m new,” I say.

“That’s nice,” she replies. “Have you ever been to Storrington? I’m from Storrington. Course I didn’t work there. I always caught the number thirty-seven into town-”

She talks, a lot. I listen politely as she tells me every nuance of her life. It’s not until she says, “I must telephone my father, he’ll be dreadfully worried.” that I realise she’s crazy.

I look at the others more closely. One of them polishes a teaspoon, frantically, with her jumper. Another gets up, sits down, and gets up again. They’re all crazy. That word I was chasing rushes forward, belts me round the head. Dementia. I’ve heard it a lot. I’ve heard it said about me.

I’ve got dementia. The memory kicks me in the guts, I struggle for breath. I’ve got dementia, and it’s going to consume me, take away everything I am. I look at them all, locked inside their bubbles. Like scratched records, stuck in one groove. How long before I am the same?

Someone starts to wail. I realise it’s me.

I’m wearing a blue nightdress.

The air smells of smoke. My house is on fire! I flee my bedroom, race to the front door. But it’s locked. I can’t get out! I scream, hammering my fists in vain.

“Help me! I’m burning alive!”

Footsteps thunder toward me. Uniformed arms grasp mine, stopping me from hitting the glass pane.

“Coral,” the young lady says, “look at me.”

I’m shaking, but I obey.

“It’s Okay.” She speaks slowly, deliberately.

“My house is on fire!” Why isn’t she panicking?

“No honey. Not now. You’re safe.”

She leads me back down the corridor, sits me down. She tells me things I half remember, things that seem like whispered dreams.

I left the stove on, burned down the house.

“That’s how you came to live with us.” She says.

I’m wearing a green jumper.

I must change before my date tonight. I pick up my mirror to check my lipstick. A shrivelled face, covered in burns and framed by grey hair stares back at me. I scream.

I’m wearing a purple dress.

I sit next to a woman much older than I. “I’m new,” I say.
“That’s nice,” she smiles. “Have you ever been to Storrington?”

Honourable Mention and Special Challenge Winner – Three Line Thursday  wk 27

Viscous secrets, sparkling champagne.
Some things, once opened, cannot be closed.
“Don’t pry, little girl.” Mama poured out another.

‘Heaven’s Gate’ Special Mention – Flash! Friday vol 3-18

Heaven’s Gate (210 words)

I’m never drinking with Seraphim again. Bastards. Getting into a theological debate was a bad idea. Taking the bet was worse.

It’s not that I don’t support the Watcher’s strike. But, closing the gate, forever? My species can’t have got that bad.

Raziel just laughed. “Alright,” he said. “You try. I’ll grant one last place. Just one. And I’ll bet you can’t even fill that.”

So here I am. Scouring humanity. And I’ve probably lost my own slot, what with the coat stealing. But, those gilt-winged gits dropped me here buck naked. I’ll plead entrapment, Pete’s a good guy, he’ll understand.

And I’m losing. Raziel was right, things have changed. The city is a cold sea of scowls and selfish aspirations, drowning kindness in its tide. The crowd may move as one, but they live apart.

A man slumps beside me on the bench, cloaked in dirt and body odour.

“You look like shit,” he says. “When’d you last eat?”

I shrug. I don’t think “fifty years ago” would go down well.

“Ain’t much, but here…” He offers me a half-eaten sandwich. “Reckon you need this more than me.”

I smile, and press Raziel’s crumpled ticket into his hand.

“Buddy,” I say, “you just became the richest guy on Earth.”

The Day Maker
(199 words)

“If I left tomorrow, would anyone even know?” The Day-Maker asked his wife, as he collapsed on the patchwork sofa.

She looked at him, and smiled. He worked so hard, so tirelessly. Whilst all the world slept he toiled. Weaving dappled sunlight to greet their sandy eyes, brewing gentle breezes to kiss their cheeks, or distilling cleansing rains to water their crops.

But lately, the shadows had darkened around his sparkling eyes. He winced as his muscles screamed in protest and rubbed at his back. He needed a rest.

“No,” she whispered as she stroked his long grey hair. “I don’t think they would.”
He breathed a sigh of relief and fell into a deep, dream-filled sleep. And tomorrow never came.

When at last he awoke he was refreshed, invigorated. He gave the birds a brighter song, the sun a more vibrant hue. He hopped and skipped his way through the day’s ablutions. His wife’s heart was filled with joy at the sight.

“Oh my love,” she said, “I think you should skip a day every year! Nobody would miss silly old February 29th anyway.”

He frowned, and thought for a moment.

“I’ll work one in four.” He said.

Party Games (360 words)

“Ziro points for originali-ti-ness you bastards.” Rhys yelled. He pulled at the cuffs holding his hands behind his back. They didn’t give. When he looked down the cracked pavement was spinning, a kaleidoscope of pinks and greys. When he looked up, the streetlight overhead flooded his retinas with a sickening orange haze. He groaned, the bile churning in his guts. What had been in that last pint?

“What’s up mate?” Ed yelled from across the street. “Feeling a little WOOLLY headed?”

The pack of Neanderthals he called colleagues roared, slapped each other on the back and disappeared into the bar.

Great.

At least the inflatable sheep strapped to his middle was covering his (now painted green) modesty. But seriously, how predictable. Welsh name, Welsh parents – doesn’t matter if you’ve never actually lived there, you will, on the eve of your nuptials, end up with a white plastic effigy on your groin. It was horribly inevitable.

God, he needed to scratch his nuts. The thick seam tickled his inner thigh. He wiggled a little, hoping to alleviate the itch. Then stopped abruptly when he realised how his gyrations might look to passers-by.  Just have to bear it. They wouldn’t leave him here long, surely?

The minutes lolloped by. Couples joined at the hands sniggered as they ambled past.  An old lady tutted, yanking her spaniel away as it tried to cock its leg up his lamppost-prison.

A gaggle of high pitched shrieks approached, all tutus and deely boppers.  A young woman wearing a ripped veil, and an oversized “L” plate ran up to him, squealing like a saw drill.

“Hey girls, get this!” She sidled up to him; he could smell the vomit on her breath. She pulled down her top, thrusting her breasts at him, wiggling her yellowed tongue.

Her coven of harpies reached into their bags and pulled out their phones. All at once the true horror of his situation hit him.

YouTube – another crashing inevitability.

He groaned, and cursed himself for his folly. Old Etonian buddies or not, you should never, ever let a member of the opposition organise your stag do.

He’d never get re-elected now.

New Published Story!

I am absolutely over the moon to announce that my story, The Cleaner, has been published in the anniversary edition of Far Horizons emagazine!

As well as yours truly, the magazine is packed full of stories from some wonderful writers, some of whom I have had the pleasure of talking to online, and even beta reading for!

You can read it online, or download it, for FREE! My story is on page 45, I’d be thrilled if you’d give it a read and let me know what you think.

But be warned, if you’re used to my work being short and sweet (aka Stormcatcher or Don’t Be a Hero), you might be in for a shock ;). The Cleaner is a darkly speculative, somewhat macabre, tale of great power combined with dubious morality. (Contains content that some may find disturbing. Hell, some of my betas DID find it disturbing 😉 )

Just click this link to read or download the magazine, thanks for reading!

http://www.joomag.com/magazine/far-horizons-tales-of-sci-fi-fantasy-and-horror-issue-13-april-2015/0270512001429307378

I’m On YouTube Baby!

Well, my stories are anyway. Truth be told, I’m far happier behind the keyboard than in front of the camera ;).

As those of you who follow me on Twitter may already know, and those of you on my Facebook certainly know, the lovely people at Bad Actors: Writers with Microphones have produced two of my short stories in audio form.

I saw the submission call on one of my writing groups last year, and it sounded like too much fun to pass up! So, I duly sent a story for consideration and sat biting my nails for – well, not for very long at all. Within the hour the managing editor responded, and he liked it. So much so in fact that he asked me if I had another, and I was happy to oblige.

For a writer just starting out it was beyond exciting to think that, somewhere across the Atlantic, someone was reading, and recording, my words! They’ve even gone and added images and music too! The links are below, but first let me tell you a little bit about the stories. Both were originally written as assignments for a writing course I took last year, which just goes to show nothing you write is ever wasted. Even that story you wrote as a kid, when imagination reigned supreme and silly things like grammar and sentence construction were ignored, can be polished up into something awesome. You just need to believe in it.

 “Don’t Be a Hero” is a short and sweet tale about a young boy who fears his dreams of being a hero might be over before they’ve begun. For this one, the brief was to write approximately 1000 words about an eleven year old boy. It got me thinking about heroes, who are they? What do they do?  Is the definition of hero dependent on perception?  Is there more than one way to be a hero?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fexFBHhEDjg

“S 4.0” can best be described as a comedic (and slightly crass – you have been warned) sci-fi piece. The brief for this one was to write a piece that was dialogue driven. I had, at the time, been musing on something of a modern paradox: we are constantly these days striving for perfection (particularly physically), yet technology is on a quest to be more “realistic”. This seems strange, as reality is far from perfect. So I wondered what would happen if we continued to shun realism and uphold impossible standards of manufactured beauty, and yet demanded our tech be realistic. Somewhere along the line, the two would have to collide…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tKJXQcRTiE

And if those aren’t dark enough for you, watch this space. I have a macabre, darkly speculative piece coming out in an ezine any day now. (But be warned, you may never look at the school caretaker the same way again… 😉 )

It’s Been A While…

I’ve been absent from the blogosphere for a while, your patience in not unfollowing me is greatly appreciated! I’ve had a rough few months involving a monstrously large, twisting growth, emergency surgery, and an agonising wait for biopsy results.

Finally, after one round of lab tests came back “dodgy” (they didn’t use that term, but that’s what they meant 😉 ) I have, after further testing, been given the All Clear! I shan’t go into gory details, I’ll save that for my next horror piece 😉 but I’m pleased to say I’m almost fully healed now!

But it hasn’t all been doom and gloom, I’ve been making good progress with both of the novels I’m working on AND I have some more publication credits for short pieces which I will share with you soon.

Meanwhile, the little monsters- err, I mean DARLINGS are about to break up for the Easter holidays. May Heaven have mercy on my soul…

Back In The Saddle

It’s been a busy few weeks in NJ land. What with trying to complete two courses simultaneously (sadly only one of which involved writing), my daughter’s ninth birthday, and long-suffering hubby and I celebrating our eleventh wedding anniversary (seriously, give the guy a medal).

My writing course finishes tonight, and I am left with five short stories in need of homes. So the Submission Grinder and I will be getting up close and personal, and I’m sure to have fun trawling through hundreds of submission guidelines, trying to find somewhere that might take pity on me and give me another publication credit ;).

With all this going on, I have neglected Keepers for a few weeks. Now I find myself itching to get back to my characters. My protagonist has been glad of the break, but my antagonists are tapping their feet and giving me evil looks. I’m in danger of being disembowelled, or thrown to the acids, if I don’t give them some mischief to be getting on with soon.

So today I’m rereading the first fifty thousand words, and tomorrow my poor protagonist is going to find herself confused, bewildered and fighting for her life… Sorry dear girl, I do love you really.

 

Beta To Be Better!

Most writers know the importance of beta readers. Sometimes (well, a LOT of times) you simply can’t see the words for the prose in your own work. You can’t see that you haven’t got your point across properly, because you know what you’re trying to say, so you can reread it a hundred times and your mind will still fill in the blanks. You don’t notice glaring plot problems (like the fact you’ve got a family running from a blazing building, even though the flood waters are rising during an apocalyptical downpour… Yes, I have done this). You don’t realise you’ve said the same thing three different ways (or felt you had to, until a beta tells you “I got it the first time! Stop harping on!”

Good betas are invaluable. Every writer wants them. But, there seem to be fewer writers who want to BE one. To my mind that is a terrible shame. Not just because it’s nice to be helpful to others, but also because beta reading for others helps you with your own work.

I’m not just talking about the prospect of reciprocity, though that is a great thing too. Beta reading for other writers will often lead to them offering to do the same for you in return, which is great. You scratch their back, they’ll scratch yours. But even if there no prospect of the favour being returned, what you learn from beta reading is reward in itself.

As well as getting to read some really awesome stories, and the opportunity to give input to their construction, I have learned a great deal about my own words by reading those of others. It is far easier to see what works and doesn’t work in someone else’s work than in your own. But, and here’s the rub, having learned to identify it in the prose of others starts to make it more obvious to you in yours. You start to see that YOU’VE committed some of the literary sins that you’ve highlighted for others. They were hidden beneath your own perceived awesomeness before, but suddenly they’re leaping off the page at you. Suddenly, you can see your own grammatical errors more easily, spot the wrong pacing, realise that your character is coming across dull as dishwater… It’s as if your eyes have been opened.

So who should you beta for? Well, ideally you want to make sure that whoever you are reading for actually WANTS to hear your opinion. If what they’re really after is a pat on the head, or someone to faint with awe at their literary prowess, don’t go there. Make sure they are serious, and genuinely want to improve. Otherwise, your suggestion that perhaps having the main character wake at the end to find it was all dream, or reveal in the last page that they are in fact a dog, is not the best idea will be met with anger. And justifications. Or perhaps they’ll start to explain the bits you didn’t understand… Are they planning on visiting everyone who buys their book personally to explain the obscure bits? No? Then they ought to take your lack of comprehension as an indicator that they haven’t quite pulled it off.

In short, be sure your input will be welcomed. Sometimes writers receive critiques that make them seethe. But if someone has spent time and energy trying to help them, that in itself is a compliment. I always thank my betas profusely, and instantly, for their feedback. Even if I’ve just been kicked in the stomach by their words. And you know what? Often, when the initial shock dies down (“How could they not like my twenty-foot high giant poodle? How is that not the most awesome thing ever?” – OK, I made that one up), and objectivity creeps in, I can see real merit in the blows I’ve been dealt.

Often, they hurt the most because they confirm what the nagging voices in your head were already telling you. You knew it all along, you just didn’t want to listen.

So be the type of writer who takes criticism from betas with good grace, and in the spirit of helpfulness in which it was intended (but do get more opinions if you fundamentally disagree. REAL opinions, don’t cherry pick the people you know will boost your ego…), and be the type of beta reader that tells it straight, but tells it constructively.

It is also highly possible (and to my mind, positively essential) for the whole process to be great fun. The trick to that is to find someone with a similar sense of humour. I don’t know if any other writers out there cry with laughter at the cheeky, sarcastic comments their alpha/betas return their manuscripts with, but it sure helps if edits come with a free giggle :). Why take everything so seriously? It’s perfectly possible to get the laborious task of nuts and blots editing done with a little laughter to sweeten the process.

Now, I sit here eagerly awaiting the next instalment of a fantastic story by my (reciprocal) alpha reader. Last time I got edits back from him on my own work in progress the git had “corrected” gigglesome typos that I hadn’t made, he’d put them in for his own amusement… Well, it’s my turn to edit his work now… Be afraid, be very afraid… 🙂