When the air smell likes ice

Following on from my self-set challenge, here is the third in a series of seasonal flash-fiction. Again, I’m not going to tell what the season is, but I really hope that you can guess.

I love it when the air smells like ice. Dark green pine sways between barren branches and then mountains rise behind. Cars crunch salt, engines purring. It’s an experience, negotiating ice in six-inch heels; challenge accepted.  Coffee cup clutched tight to my chest. The bitter taste of rising steam is mellowed with double cream. Hat pulled low on burning ears and sunglasses paint the sky in gentler hues; lines of pink and gold across frozen blue. There’s another flurry on the horizon. Feet slip without warning. The ground is harder than it looks and less forgiving. Must buy boots.

Part One and Two can be found respectively.

Once part four is thrown up here then I’ll compile them together into a post. I’ll probably even tell you what seasons I was originally aiming for. Fingers-crossed that I’ve managed to avoid my natural inclination to the abstract. I have a tendency to think flash-fiction and then jump across to poetry. So you may have noticed some rhymes sneaking in.  The only problem is, that my abstract is often too abstract for most people to make any sense of it.  So what I’ve been learning is to write simply. Or rather…more simply. If I have an image in mind then just say what I see without trying (and usually failing) to be clever.

Unexpected

I’ve set myself a challenge to create a series of flash-fiction. Just four pieces of 99 words each and representing the seasons. Here is the second piece, aptly named, number two. I’m really hoping that you can work out which season is which!

Seasonal Flash-Fiction: Two

Spires of bright fuchsia sway. Scattered bursts of buttercup, daisies and dandelions dance on the meadow. Waves of long grass whisper and break on the fence line. The thump and trundle of an antique tractor approaches, rumbling over hard-baked earth. The driver bounces from window to window over the dips and furrows of the ancient field. A blast of Heart FM twists across the boundary. Bare toes wriggle on the fresh-clipped lawn. Wide-eyes fixed on cracked blue paint. Pigtails and tiny fingers stick in fresh varnish. The metallic beast makes a slow spin, grumbling, puffing, ready for the next charge.

I’ve been finding these pieces harder than I expected! For only ninety-nine words they’re taking me far longer than it would take to write 500. When I start writing a new chapter I like to set a scene. With the seasonal flash-fiction I’m trying not to be overly direct and say ‘this is spring!’ etc and the idea of flash-fiction is maybe to do more than just my usual flowery openings that then develop into a story. The flash-fiction is a mini story in itself and I don’t really have the time, or the words, to provide an expansive introduction and explore a character.

So I start with a few opening lines and then as I struggle to piece those together I’m searching for the twist or just the question that the fiction can raise. So far, two down, two to go and I’m satisfied I’ve been able to full-fill my own criteria. I hope that you enjoy them.

The first piece can be found here:

Seasonal Flash-Fiction: One 

If anyone wants to join in the challenge, I’d love to read your pieces. Just 99 words of flash-fiction inspired by a season. Drop me a comment or e-mail me at fibijeeves@gmail.com.

Responding to the Daily Prompt Outlier. I hope that I’ve been able to challenge a few expectations in the fiction and provide something unexpected.

Aesthetic – Strip it away

 

I like to write about things that are important to me.

I saw today’s prompt and I was excited. So excited that I’ve raced home in order to try and express my response in a slightly more logical, accurate and researched method than my usual ad-hoc ramblings.

Woman in fantasy writing, who are they and how are they represented? As a child I fell in love with Dragonlance. A mouldy paperback of the Dragon’s of Autumn Twilight by Margerat Weiss and Tracey Hickman was what sealed my love for Fantasy. I’d already explored Narnia (thoroughly), Hobbitton and the Hundred Acre wood and Harry Potter hadn’t arrived yet. So here was this book, for adults with all the things I loved about the computer games I immersed myself into: Daggerfall featuring most prominently.

However, as a young woman the main heroine of the saga is Lauralanthalassa. Now, not to discredit this character who grew into the Golden General, Dragon-Flying, Army-Leading incredible powerhouse – but for the entire first book of the initial series she is defined by her beauty. I love the writing of Laurana’s introduction, but it’s all aesthetic. She’d an elf, she achieves an untouchable ideal of beauty by her very race. Not only that, but Laurana is the epitome of womanhood, no trace of age is upon her. Even the mage who see’s decay, looks upon the elf-maiden and sees beauty for the first time.

Now I fell in love with Laurana – but I really wanted a sword. Before she becomes the general she needs to be rescued and protected – a lot. She’s a fairy-tale princess, although not necessarily passive. After all, she decides to follow her true-love instead of waiting for him to come back; and it is this decision that propels her into adventure.

But after I fell in love with Dragonlance, it felt like I spent years searching for a heroine that I could aspire to be. I could never reach the ideal beauty of Laurana and I really really wanted a sword. I wanted to be a knight if I’m honest, and I couldn’t find that story in any of the books I was reading.

I was seventeen when I picked up a copy of ‘First Test’ – By Tamora Pierce in the library. I read it, sat between the stacks whilst my parents did the weekly shop in the supermarket over the road. I still remember shivering with excitement, barely able to read as I was pulled into this amazing world and this story that I had wanted, so badly, for so long, to read. It was like when you watch Peter Pan, then spend all day jumping off the sofa trying to fly – hasn’t worked so far, but I might keep trying. I checked out the entire series and within a day had finished it off. I had to go back to the library over the weekend and took out as many of Pierce’s book as I could. Here were heroines who go to be girls, and be knights. To speak to animals and yet…they could still be girls.

Natalie Babbitt calls fantasy “the most wrenching, depth-provoking kind of fiction available to our children’.”[1]

My desperation was to find a strong, female role-model that I could identify with, and that’s what I want to write.  As study was conducted by Laura Solomon, who analysed 45 fantasy novels for children and young adults. This is one of the results:

Statistically in the books studied: “In Alternate World/History fantasy, beauty is a defining trait for 25% of females.”[2]

That’s it. For a quarter of heroine’s beauty is their defining trait. They don’t get to be brave, intelligent, they don’t have hobbies, talents or skills – they’re pretty.  What’s worse, is if you’re not pretty in the story then you fall at the other end of the spectrum and you’re a hag. In stories, how much emphasis is placed on appearance? It’s something hard to avoid when writing, because you want the reader to be able to visualise your protagonist. However it feels as though there is something deeply harmful in only allowing our young woman to be either an epitome of beauty, or a hag.

“Certainly most children will not describe themselves as ugly, making those at this end of the spectrum unlikely candidates for close reader relationships. Females noted mostly for or only for their appearance fall at the other end and, while some readers may relate to them (and many girls wish to be them), these types of depictions only strengthen society’s message that beauty is all-important.”[3]

I want my characters, male and female to be defined by more than their appearance. I want my readers to engage with role-models that offer ways to deal with a complex and changing world and to come away with a sense of hope; that no matter how crazy this place gets – it’ll be alright.

Here is a brilliant article about writing strong female protagonist and how we’re loosing them. When an inevitable aesthetic is stripped away, I want it to be clear to my reader that their heroine could never be replaced by a floor lamp.

I also agree that being a strong, female protagonist doesn’t mean that you can’t like pretty dresses and make-up. Readers, especially our young adult readers, should be able to engage with characters that they feel represent them or they can identify with, no matter what race, gender identity, sexuality or disability. There’s another amazing series of articles here if this is something you want to carry on reading about.

[1] AUTHOR Solomon, Laura

TITLE Images of Women in High Fantasy for Children and Adults:  Comparative Analysis.

PUB DATE1998-10-00

Solomon, Laura. “Images of Women in High Fantasy for Children and Adults: A Comparative Analysis.” (1998). – Page 6

[2] Ibid., Page 15

[3] Ibid., Page 16

My Response to the Daily Prompt: –Aesthetic

To me!

Audience of One: Daily Prompt

Picture the one person in the world you really wish were reading your blog. Write her or him a letter.

Dear Fibi,

If you’re reading this then you’ve probably gone a bit mad – because you’ve only just written it. Seek medical assistance immediately.

But I want you to remember how you feel right now. That fizz of excitement from laying tracks in front of a moving train. The MS is moving forward, track by track, week by week. Every time you come back to it, you’re amazed that you can keep moving forward. Well I’m going to tell you something important, something that you tell other people all the time. Have a little faith in yourself.

Yes, you might feel like you’ve been running uphill for far too long. But at least you’re halfway up now. Not only that, but this is the easier part. The home stretch. Continue the journey and then wrap it up. The giddiness growing day by day as the word count keeps creeping up. Not only are the words going down on screen – but they’re pretty good too. One day soon, you’ll take that next step of sending it all out again. Maybe you’ll even print out a full hardcopy to share with your mum.

Remember that at all times that the ‘Spelling’ is not your friend. It will deceive you. The computer, also with occasionally shut down and magically lose your work. So back it up with an obsessiveness created by the fear of impending doom. Delete all inclusions of the phrase ‘a little’ or ‘for a moment’ because these are pointless.

Pay attention to dialogue. No one ever says what they’re really thinking, so the characters should either. And how many times do you call someone by their name in one conversation? There is never a good reason to have a flat, uninteresting chapter. Invite tension and wibbly wobbly plot lines and at the same time, cut out anything unessential that is doing less than two things to the story. Either developing the world, adding depth, providing information, momentum or joy. But nothing that is only one.

Most of all, you must never give up (even if you run out of coffee.)

Love me.

What would you want to tell yourself?

I can’t stay mad at you – Occupational Hazard!!

My cousin Alex is doing ten amazing challenges in ten months to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis and the Fire-Fighters trust to mark ten years since his sister passed away due to this destructive disease. In the past four months he must have walked, cycled, horse ridden and kayaked more than 300 miles! Not to mention the miles put down by everyone joining in with the cause. So, to help him I decided to pull together a collection of poems, short stories, flash fiction and art work from friends, family and fellow creative people and create a book that we will be able to sell; all profits donated to charity.
I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the submissions I’ve received and they’re still coming in! The theme is You Mean the World to Me. Now, this post is supposed to be forgiveness based and I’ve named it Occupation Hazard. I’ve come a long way around, but I’m finding it hard to read the submissions. They’re so beautiful and so many of them are raw. I’ll be honest; the first reading of each submission is tending to leave me in tears.
I’m not usually an emotional person. It takes a lot to choke me up and I’m certainly not one to wear my hearty on my sleeve – well, that’s what I like to think anyway! But I keep choking on the words that other people have sent to me, in honour of this amazing cause. Don’t get me wrong by any means. I am LOVING pulling everything together and working on something physical which will both help the charity’s and act as a kind of record for what my cousin Alex is undertaking. I didn’t expect to need a box of tissues when reading through though.
Luckily, after the initial waterfall-inducing whammy of the pieces, I’m able to step back a little bit. Or at least, I know enough of what they each are to put them into a cohesive order for the book. Make me cry once, shame on me, make it happen twice – well…well done your creative geniuses for creating such moving pieces.
I forgive you all though.
Thank you.
Fibi xx

Missing the bus of life.

I can’t help it, but instantly Taylor Swift’s song ‘fifthteen’ burst into my head when I read this daily prompt. Stop it, stop it – get out my mind. It’s not that I don’t like Swift, it’s just that it’s the wrong year, and has no connection to my own time as a sixteen year old as it was released a decade after that fact! Right, I think…I think I’m free of it.
So…Sixteen? I was just starting Sixth-form. I had to catch a bus every morning to the nearest town. Perks of living in a tiny village. I remember one October day, huddling in the stone shelter out the way of the rain. Proper heavy rain, with deep grey clouds above. Cars flashing past, splashing up the puddles then, out of the mist, I could see the yellow glow of the bus lights. It zoomed up to the bus-stop and carried on going. No college for me that day! I wasn’t prepared to make the four mile hike in.
When I managed to catch the bus though, I remember chatting with excitement to three other girls who I’d known through secondary school, (one who became a very best and even closer friend a couple of years later – but that’s a saga to be told another day…) We’d be talking about how our lives would go, from here on out. What choices we would make about University’s and why. I was definitely going to University because, and this is somewhat ridiculous – after reading, and obsessing over Enid Blyton books throughout my childhood, I had once demanded that my parents sent me to boarding school. They said NO. And that was that.
My dreams of having a ‘trunk’ and a tuck shop, of being Head Girl, waking up in dorm rooms was over and only slightly mitigated by having a tuck shop at my secondary school and the fact that it was very unlikely I would ever be head girl, anywhere. So, I was going to Uni. I was going to study literature because, well I quite liked sitting literature exams and I liked the idea of reading books for a degree. I also have a lot of useless, historic literature related knowledge, like what a piz’nez is… I loved reading; I loved writing essays – win win. From experience, I can now appreciate the fact that my parents were so laid back about my degree choice. In the past decade I’ve come across so many peers who were told they could NOT study certain things, or had to choose something like ‘Law’ in order to be doing a ‘proper’ degree.
For some people this is a positive thing, I have one close friend who is amazingly artistic and talented and just wanted to make things for her degree. She was ‘encouraged’ by her parents to pick a degree that would lead more directly to a job, instead of ‘fine art’. She chose a model making course and is now a very successful model maker within the film industry, credited on Harry Potter, Captain America, Gravity…the list goes on and on and on and I’m so proud of her. Not only that, but she’s doing a job that she loves. For other people, the firm shove in a particular direction is very negative. I have another friend who is another wonderfully talented artist who was told she had to do a proper degree and become something ‘proper.’ She was ‘encouraged’ into studying Law with the view to becoming a lawyer. After a few years of repeated modules, I’m not convinced she’ll ever be as happy in that profession as she would have been, had she followed her creative dreams. So, I was lucky that my parents didn’t try and push me into any particular direction. Now this is slightly owed to the fact that they knew very very very little about higher education and my mother feels that it is somewhat pointless to have a degree (don’t get me wrong, she’s very proud) but she also spends a lot of time telling me that it’s not necessary to have a degree because you could get one and work in MacDonald’s – yes…yes you could. And what is wrong with that? They have an excellent career progression scheme. But you do have a better chance of a more successful, higher flying career.
Not discounting work experience at all, because I’m a firm believer that you need to have both. Experience being a proper ‘people’ and working your socks off in low, entry level jobs and building experience and connections in the work – place. Learning how to be a professional –kind of grown-up-person-thing. But it’s important to back skills up with qualifications. Yes, you can see that I can manage difficult, challenging situations and I am very very unlikely to pour soup over an annoying customers head – but I can also string together a sentence, in writing – see I have degree to prove it! You can feel confident that I will answer your e-mails and not embarrass the company with ‘street ism’s in professional correspondence, isiiiiiiitttt??? Kind of thing. Sorry, I digress… I chose literature. It was something I loved.
I also decided that I would travel during my time at Uni and have a year studying abroad. All to kick-start my life as a ‘travelling writer’. I had no idea what kind of career or path my life would take ‘beyond the degree’ but I knew I was always going to write. I planned to live for six months in all the countries I wanted to visit and have a patch work life. Building on my experience with different cultures and landscapes in order to make my writing better.
I have to say, that despite being lucky enough to travel through quite a lot of Europe and living in North America, that whole patchwork thing has dropped to the wayside. I’ve managed to begin building a good career in something I never expected to, and no I’m not a teacher, despite the belief that that’s what ALL literature students ‘do’. Can you imagine me a teacher? Honestly? I was always worried that I’d be that teacher who hides from her class in the stationary cupboard…
But all the rest of those dreams I had on the bus? I made them come true. I stuck to what I believed was the right path for me. I went to Uni, got my degree, have travelled and I write. I may have ended up a little sideways to where I thought I’d end up, but I’d not change anything for the world (well maybe travel more?) But it is also my firm belief that it doesn’t matter where you end up, as long as you’re happy. As long as you have a plan in mind and put one step in front of the other, on this crazy road called life, you’re doing great and you’re moving forward. Who cares if you end up askew from the original destination?
Well…that’s a rather long post from me and I’ve definitely gone a bit off topic! What do you think? What do you believe in?