Vicky Newham


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My Flashbang 2015 entries: ‘Sinker’ and ‘Mercy’

A few people have asked if they could read my two Flashbang entries, so here they are. Both were longlisted. ‘Mercy’ was then shortlisted and won 3rd prize. This is such a fabulous competition, with very generous prizes, and anything that encourages a bit of flashing gets my vote!

SINKER

I’d planned it meticulously. The virus would spread on your laptop and you’d need the technicians. I would allocate myself the job and plant the images, each one selected to make the judge’s pupils dilate.

You, the most un-computer savvy person in the company, the one who just happened to have nabbed the guy I’d been warming up for the last two years. Oh, I’d seen you, swishing that blonde hair of yours with its split ends, throwing out that hyena laugh.

And I’d watched him fall hook, line and bloody sinker.

But he wouldn’t want you for long. I knew him. Unlike you.

I’d emailed my concerns to the CEO. He’d be onto the police in a flash.

Ah. Here they are now.

‘Ms Harris? I’m arresting you for installing indecent …’ The words were a blur. What …?

You’d only gone and installed tracking software, hadn’t you?


MERCY

He’d asked for freesias. ‘They were Jean’s favourite,’ he said.

In the vase by the bed, the buds loosen and release their delicate aroma.

He’s already half asleep. His body, barely a bump under the covers. Eye sockets hollowed out and cheek bones protruding.

‘No-one important,’ was how he described himself. ‘Not famous or special.’ A simple life, of love and loss: fish paste sandwiches eaten on the beach in the wind; an afternoon movie and night-time drive; the death of his wife.

Except – he was no ordinary man. He’d survived the war but was no match for this disease.

Six o’clock he’d requested, the same time he was born.

I glance at my watch and check everything’s in place. Increase the dose into the cannula. And clutching his frail hand, with skin gathered round joints, I sit with him and wait.

And say farewell to my beloved dad.

‘Mercy’ is dedicated to my lovely father, who, sadly, suffered – but I didn’t murder him. Honest.

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Vicky Newham © 2015


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The London Short Story Festival 2014

The window at Waterstones, Piccadily

The window at Waterstones, Piccadily

I saw this event advertised some months back and followed the promo on social media. When the programme was announced I knew that many events, especially the workshops, would sell out quickly so I booked up the sessions I wanted via the early booking facility. I could only afford to go for one day and I found it hard to decide which day but in the end I plumped for Saturday. It is the first time the festival has been run and, as a short story aficionado, I wanted to learn as much as possible but also support the event, organisers and contributors.

With such amazing events, it was hard to choose what to book.

With such amazing events, it was hard to choose what to book.

 

I headed into London and made my way from Victoria station to Waterstones Piccadily on a shiny, black No 38 Routemaster, clutching a sandwich for the bus (breakfast) and one for lunch.

Lovely boards around the store

Lovely boards around the store

Someone has very neat writing!

Someone has very neat writing!

 

My first event was a workshop with Clare Wigfall, the winner of the BBC National Short Story Award. What attracted me to Clare’s event was that she likes to use characters that aren’t based on herself and says that she rarely writes from her own experience, preferring to jump around in time and place with them. Given that I am doing this in my WIP I wanted to see what I could learn.

 

 

 

 

The workshop was on idea and character development. We chose a photograph and then invented a character around someone in the image. Mine was (I discovered at the end) set near the Israel/Palestine border, taken in 2007, with the boys looking over Bethlehem.

Clare Wigfall (left)

Clare Wigfall (left)

 

Photo from the Magnum website

Photo originally from the Magnum website

I have done this exercise before but always enjoy it. Clare mentioned how photographs and short stories have a lot in common: both are snapshots in time, and with both we don’t know what has happened before or after the frame. One piece of advice she gave was to really take time to think about your stories and characters, and not put pressure on yourself, that thinking is as much part of the process as the actual writing.

The next event was The Short Story Gatekeepers with (from left to right in the photograph below, Ruby Cowling, author, the first on the left) Di Speirs from BBC radio, Jen Hamilton Emery from Salt Publishing, Vanessa Gebbie as Chair, Claire Shanahan from Booktrust, Carrie Kania from Conville & Walsh,and Jacques Testard from the White Review. Proceedings kicked off with a reading from Ruby who has recently won the White Review Short Story prize. If ever you wanted an example of a unique voice, Ruby had it in her reading.

The various 'gatekeepers'

The various ‘gatekeepers’

Discussion started with what puts the panel off a submission. Cue discussion of spelling, syntax, grammar, clichés, and entry / submission requirements. The nugget here was that editors and agents are looking for reasons to stop reading your work so the writer has to give them reasons to read right to the end. They all mentioned how many entries always come in on the deadline day, suggesting either that we writers take huge care to get things right or are a nation of last minuters! What came across from the panel was how enthusiastic they all are about the short story. They agreed that it is helpful for writers to enter competitions and awards, that these can open doors and attract attention.

The third event was Stories from the Heart, and the panel and readers included (from left to right in the photograph below) Roshi Fernando, Mary Costello, Anita Sethi as chair, and Jacob Ross.

Authors who write stories which stay with you

Authors who write stories which stay with you

As soon as Roshi started talking about her collection, Homesick, and how all the stories are about people trying to find their identity, I knew I’d have to take a copy home with me.

Roshi Fernando, reading from Homesick.

Roshi Fernando, reading from Homesick.

Mary Costello

Mary Costello

Jacob Ross

Jacob Ross

The authors discussed their writing process, something I can listen to for hours. Some set out to achieve something specific with their writing (Jacob Ross said that he likes to challenge our moral compass) whilst Mary Costello says that she likes to let the stories emerge and gets no peace until she’s written them.

 

 

My last event was with Claire Keegan. She was talking to Paul McVeigh about her writing, doing a Q&A and a reading. For me this was the absolute highlight of the day. I hadn’t previously heard of Claire but when she started reading from her remarkable story, Foster, I found myself intermittently making sharp intakes of breath, laughing, glugging down lumps in my throat and nodding a lot. I sometimes find that readings don’t do much for me but I’m pretty sure that Claire’s blew the entire audience away. It is quite a personal thing to say [but a) it’s meant positively, and b) writing and reading one’s work is personal] but Claire’s voice, accent and intonation all gave the excerpt extraordinary life. When Paul introduced her, he said that Foster was the story that switched him back on to writing again after a long break. This was enough to arouse my curiosity. I love it when things touch us so deeply that we are propelled into action.

Claire, reading from her remarkable short story, Foster.

Claire, reading from her remarkable short story, Foster.

Some of the things that Clare said about writing made me hold my breath. I won’t include them all here. In text, they might seem ordinary but at the time they felt extraordinary and still do when I read my notes  back.  I was interested to hear that she always stays in the present with her characters and never knows what’s going to happen to them but that she gets to the point where she ‘feels an ending coming on’. She describes her writing as ‘physical prose’, saying that she likes to be her characters. She said she that all good stories are about pain and loss, or about someone wanting something. She said that desire enters the body through the eyes. Her advice when writing characters different to oneself, is to lock onto the set of desires influencing the person.

Paul McVeigh, the Festival Director, introduced all the events in the main area. The whole day he was running around, greeting people, making sure they were okay, and bringing out the best in them.

Paul, in his role as a wonderful host.

Paul, in his role as host.

This was the first London Short Story Festival and what a stonking success it was. The spacious, multi-floor Waterstones venue worked well. It is, of course, a perfect and natural combo: bookshop and writing event. I can also highly recommend the banana loaf with chocolate chips.

If this year’s festival was anything to go by, I’m looking forward to next year’s event already.

Vicky Newham © 2014


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Waiting for the past: flash fiction

 

‘’Ere you are, love! Another coffee?’

The waitress plonks the chipped mug down on the cluttered table, slopping liquid on his paperwork. She appears oblivious, picks up the old cup and walks off. Muttering under his breath, Danny grabs a handful of wafer-thin napkins and dabs at the spreading pool of milky liquid on the plastic tablecloth.

He snatches another look at his watch, and his cheek muscles twitch. Swipes the touch screen of his phone with his index finger. Nothing. Eyes peeled on the door, he glances up each time the mini wind-chimes announce an arrival. Where is she? She’s late now. Has she been held up? Changed her mind?

He opens his novel at the book mark. The third time in an hour. Frustrated with having to keep re-reading the same sentence, he closes the book and lounges back in the plastic chair, gently rubbing the two day stubble on his chin with his fingertips. Should he have made more of an effort? A haircut perhaps?

When they spoke on the phone, she hadn’t been convinced. Wasn’t it better sometimes to let sleeping dogs lie? He’d pleaded of course and she’d relented. But that was two weeks ago. The lady at the agency had emphasised the need to have low expectations. But how could he? After all this time.

‘You’ve got to protect yourself,’ she said. ‘Don’t think that this is going to be everything you’ve always wanted. It might lead no-where. It’s been a long time for you both.’ Her sing-song-y voice had floated round the room.

How many times before had she said the same thing? And how often had the outcome been positive?

‘Sometimes people in this situation agree to meet but change their mind. Get scared and don’t turn up. But Danny was sure that she would. She’d promised.

Ding ding. Danny sees her come in. Short, dark hair, she’d said. A pink top. Age about right. She clocks him. In the corner. Panic spreads over her face like a rash. She turns back for the door. Danny’s heart sinks. He’s about to jump up and shout out. Then she changes her mind again. Approaches his table. Her eyes dart, her outstretched hand shakes. Blotches creep up her neck.

‘Danny?’

He flickers a smile and leaps up. The mug goes flying. Thirty six years he’s waited. His whole life. To fill in the gaps about who he is, and why she gave him up all those years ago. ‘Mum,’ he stammers. ‘I’m so pleased you came. I knew you would.’

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(I wrote this piece a couple of years ago. Found it on my old PC)(Can’t seem to get proper formatting on WordPress)

Vicky Newham © 2013