The Telegram: A plotting challenge

Ever wondered how the literary greats managed to construct such complex, compelling plots? I certainly have. Plotting’s one of the biggest challenges for me as a writer.  There are so many things to line up. One of the great things about writing for The Story Mint multi-author serials is that I can end a chapter with the characters falling over a cliff and leave it to the next writer to work out how on earth to save them. So I thought it was about time I took on an author-only serial and sorted out the mess myself! All fiction serials on The Story Mint website consist of a preface followed by ten chapters of 500 words each. Every week they’ll publish my latest chapter of The Telegram (so no time for writer’s block!) You can read the preface below.
As for those literary greats, here’s how they did it.
moor

The Telegram – Preface

Written by: Linda Alley

Yorkshire, England – July 2008

Lilian’s calves throbbed as she struggled up the hill. Well, alright. Slope. Beneath her cotton slacks her varicose veins bulged like knotted tree roots.

Ahead, she spied her granddaughter sitting astride the stile. Scarlett’s denim shorts barely covered the tops of her thighs as she dangled her long, sleek legs either side of the fence. As usual, her head was bent over her phone, fingers flicking between the keys at lightning speed.

A warm, moist nose ploughed into the back of Lilian’s legs. Apollo, her Irish wolfhound, deposited a muddy tennis ball at her feet.

“Well, at least someone’s prepared to wait for me,” Lilian panted, tossing the ball.

Apollo streaked down the slope, muscles rippling. Lilian sighed.

The day after Derrick’s death, she had run over a hedgehog and decided it was time to give up driving. If she made one more concession, she would end up like her sister Enid, whose only opportunity to glimpse the moors was from the windows of the Chesbrook Nursing Home minivan once a fortnight.

Lilian shuddered and gripped her walking stick.

“Blake says it’s raining in Leeds,” Scarlett announced by way of a greeting.

“Soon – here – too,” Lilian puffed, clutching her hip and glancing up at the granite sky. “Put that thing away and enjoy being outdoors for once.”

“Like you are?” Scarlett pouted her crimson lips and sprang effortlessly down.

Lilian was reminded of herself at sixteen. She’d even favoured the same heavy shade of lipstick.

“You don’t understand, Gran. We’ve never been separated for a whole week.”

Lilian laughed. “A week? People didn’t see their sweethearts for years during the war.”

“You did,” Scarlett pointed out. “Grandad never left your side.”

There was a distant rumble of thunder. Down in the valley, Lilian could just make out the colourful dots of tourists, making their way around the grounds of Chesbrook Hall. The heritage trust had asked Lilian if she’d like to be a guide since she’d been stationed there when it was a wartime hospital. She’d politely declined. It wasn’t the ghostly waxwork nurses that bothered her, or even the audios of moaning soldiers. Even now, her dreams were still visited by the same wide, glassy eyes. Eyes that peeped unblinkingly over the top of the bedcovers while other men slept.

Lilian forced a smile for Scarlett who had returned to her phone.

“I wasn’t a nun before I met your grandfather, you know.”

Scarlett’s head shot up. “You had other boyfriends?”

“Well, I don’t know if the use of the plural would be accurate here,” Lilian said, suddenly wishing she’d kept quiet.

On the other hand, Scarlett had just slid her phone into her pocket for the first time that afternoon.

“Tell me.”

“We should get home first.” Lilian looked at the sky. “Where’s Issac?”

Scarlett grimaced. “Being a kid. He found a cave to explore.”

Lilian’s face paled. A large crash echoed across the valley. But this time it wasn’t thunder.

***

Time for some serious plotting! I’ll post Chapter 1 next week.

Short fiction: dancing and driving school

What if someone decides to open a school that specialises in both driving and dancing lessons? Ken Burns explores this intriguing business idea in his entertaining preface to the multi-author serial ‘d.a.d.s’

Ken’s opening:

d.a.d.s = dancing and driving school:  That is my new business idea. I need a job that is not based on someone else’s world view.  Dancing is for girls and driving for boys. Over the last six months it’s succeeded. Word of mouth about my abilities is spreading in this small-town community and I’m earning a living.

Today’s sunny morning shift is in a small, automatic transmission training car.  I have a 16-year-old student, Rory, coming for his first driving lesson.  Boys can be cocky and confident so it will be interesting to see how this goes.

A tap on the window at the driver’s side startles me.

I push the electric button to lower the window and I see a tall, dishevelled schoolgirl in uniform. She pushes her head through the window and as I reach across to lower the window further our foreheads crash together…  Read more

The girl turns out to be Rory’s twin sister Ramona. He’d rather be dancing and she’d rather be driving. Story Mint founder Suraya Dewing continues the story in Chapter 1, followed by talented writers Anna Zhigareva, Ray Stone and Hemali Ajmera. I joined the serial at Chapter 6 which you can read below.

cat-2545195_960_720.jpg

Chapter 6 by Linda Alley

I reach down for the car keys that Nijinsky, my Russian Blue has knocked from the hall table in one of his gravity-defying leaps.

Lorraine folds her arms. The tip of her ears have gone red. A very bad sign.

“You can’t be serious?”

“How else will she get home?” I risk a glance at Ramona. “You can come and pick up the rattler tomorrow. With your dad,” I finish firmly, then wince slightly.

Nijinsky’s just landed on my head with considerably less elegance than his talented namesake.

Ramona flashes me a demure smile and reaches up to stroke Nijinsky who purrs contently.

“Whatever you say, Mr. Daniels.”

“I’ll come with you then,” Lorraine says firmly.

My heart does a backwards flip. Or at least that’s what it feels like. Surprisingly, it’s Ramona who comes to my rescue.

“I get nervous when I carry passengers and in weather like this I really need to concentrate. Don’t worry. I’ll take good care of your fiancé.”

Lorraine goes rigid. I rush for the door, eliciting a loud yowl from Nijinsky as he tumbles onto the carpet.

“Won’t be long!” I call too enthusiastically as I make a dash for the car, not even noticing whether Ramona does the mandatory mirror check or not before she pulls out.

“We’re not engaged you know,” I say through gritted teeth.

“I know,” Ramona says cheerfully and I bounce an inch in the air as she hurtles over a speed bump. “I saw her fingers.”

“Take it slowly!” I snap.

“Is that what you’re doing? Mum works with Lorraine. She says you’ve been together for three years.”

I close my eyes, head throbbing. The heating’s on full blast, circulating a pungent aroma of wet wool mixed with that sickly sweet deodorant that teenage girls insist on using.

“Left or right?” Ramona asks and my eyes flick open.

“Wherever.”

“You should really make a decision,” she says turning left into the high street. “Why don’t we go to the jewellers now? I can help you pick.”

I slam my foot down on the instructor’s brake pedal. The car skids on the wet tarmac. Ramona shrieks, grabbing the steering wheel just in time to avoid ploughing through the front windows of Maxwell’s Furniture Store.

“What did you do that for?” she demands.

“Go into the carpark,” I tell her, my heart thumping as loudly as the rain drumming on the windscreen.

I’m not sure what scares me the most – our near collision or the thought of spending the rest of my life with Lorraine.

Ramona pulls smoothly into an angle park beside a green Fiat that looks vaguely familiar.

“Hey, isn’t that Miss Stephan…” my voice dies away as the dance teacher leans over and caresses the cheek of her male passenger.

Even though his back is turned to us, I recognise that thick neck with its fatty rolls. I glance at Ramona and from the wicked grin she gives me I know she’s recognised him too.

Mr. Baldwin.

 

Short Fiction: Liberation

thames

London, 1944

They should have chosen a warmer place to meet, Helen Coles thought as she huddled at the end of a bench next to Cleopatra’s Needle. The ancient Egyptian obelisk offered little protection from the biting wind that was buffeting down the Thames. The sky was as murky as the river. A pale young woman wandered into view. She sat down beside Helen, propping a battered umbrella against one knee. As the woman’s fingers absently caressed a sizeable chip in the wooden handle, Helen glimpsed the gold rim of a wristwatch.

“Excuse me, what time is it?” she asked.

The young woman glanced at her wrist. “A quarter to twelve.”

Ralph was forty five minutes late. Helen laced her fingers together. It wasn’t as if her brother was the most punctual of men, she reasoned, even before the inevitable wartime delays to public transport. She glared at the river, thinking of all the things she would like to say to him when he finally arrived, but knowing she’d be so relieved to see him that she wouldn’t say any of them.

This would be only their third reunion since the war began. The first time had been after Dunkirk where Ralph had been rescued by a fishing boat from Ramsgate. That was the last time the four of them had been together. Six months later, Jerry dropped a bomb on the Coles’ terraced house in Bermondsey.  Ralph was back in Europe. Helen was at the pictures. But Mum and Dad were in the kitchen.

The next day, Helen had signed up for work in the munitions factory.

Now, the young woman beside her had taken out a novel. The title was French, but Helen knew it immediately: a translation of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. After her parents’ deaths, Helen took her old sixth form grammar book down to the shelter. As shrapnel screamed above her, she would conjugate French verbs, clenching the book until her knuckles were white.

A young man in civilian clothes limped into view, leaning on an umbrella. She offered him her seat, which he gratefully accepted. Helen walked behind the monument, hands in her pockets.

“Where is he?” she murmured to one of the sphinxes, but it gazed cryptically back it her.

Big Ben chimed the hour. A raindrop splattered against the brim of her hat. With a sigh, Helen set off up the Embankment. Just ahead, she recognised the man she’d offered the seat to. His limp seemed to have miraculously disappeared as he was striding up the street as if Hitler himself was after him. Thrust under his armpit was an umbrella, only it wasn’t his umbrella. Even from here, Helen recognised the chip (a bullet hole?) in its handle.

As the downpour started, the man stopped and pushed up the umbrella. It was only a second, but enough for Helen to see him slip a paper from its folds. He crushed it into his pocket before continuing on his way.

To be continued.

******

What’s going to happen next in Liberation?

That depends on the talented community of writers at The Story Mint who will be continuing this multi-author historical fiction serial. But for now, I can tell you the story behind my serial starterWartime Britain has always held a special fascination for me, perhaps because I’m half-English. My British grandfather served on an aircraft carrier and my grandmother’s last wartime posting was at Bletchley Park (although she didn’t come across any coded messages inside umbrellas!)

Like many Kiwis, I did the obligatory O.E. to London in my twenties and spent several years working in offices close to the Thames. Wandering up and down the river during my lunch breaks, I would often marvel at how one city could hold so much history. What had life really been like for the people who lived here during the Second World War? My generation’s lucky enough not to know that. The closest I got was being in London during  the 7 July bombings , which although terrifying, were one day.

Liberation is a complete work of fiction. I’ll never know what it was really like for people like Helen, or my grandparents, but I do believe that stories can help us to imagine.

If you’re curious to find out what Helen does next, you can follow the rest of the serial on The Story Mint website. I’ll also post Twitter and Facebook updates when a new chapter is published. Upcoming contributors include historical fiction authors Suraya Dewing and Ray Stone.

Enjoy and thanks for reading!

Short Fiction: Josephine

Josephine has been an intriguing serial to continue. I wasn’t given an exact time period, but this multi-author historical fiction saga seems to be set sometime before the French Revolution. Josephine is on her way to marry Marquis Guy Leroy Hamelin de Auvergne when her coach plunges into the river. When I take up the story in Chapter 2, she’s just been rescued by passing soldiers.

horse and carriage

Chapter 2 

“Capitaine général! We’ve found the coachman.”

With considerable effort, Josephine turned her face away from the handsome General Alexandre to the scrawny soldier who was struggling along the muddy river bank towards them, grasping at the reeds to stop himself sliding into the river. A pungent odour of horse dung was rising from the faded  garments that hung loosely over his gaunt frame.

The soldier boldly met Josephine’s gaze, before allowing his eyes to travel over the entire length of her body, resting on her chest. Instinctively she cupped her hands over the damp silk folds of her dress to ensure it had not slipped during her ordeal. Although her modesty was still intact, the filigree brooch was not. Dismayed, she stared down into the swirling river before turning back to the soldier.

As he held her gaze for the second time she realised it wasn’t lust in his eyes, but something far worse: contempt. And yet he was a good foot shorter than she was. How had he had the strength to pull the burly coachman from the river? A sudden suspicion trickled into Josephine’s mind like the drops of water that were dribbling down her spine. A chill spread through her body. Glancing down at the soldier’s hand, she saw his fist was curled into a tight ball, almost as if he were concealing something.

“Well, Gerard?” Alexandre’s eyes were on a group of soldiers on the opposite bank who were attempting to rescue one of the thrashing stallions.

The soldier Gerard slipped his fist into his pocket. “He’s ready for the eternity box.”

Josephine’s stomach churned. She gripped Alexandre’s arm to steady herself. Gerard’s lips curled into a sneer at this, but Alexandre didn’t seem to notice. He stood up carefully, lifting Josephine in his arms. “Were there others?”

She shook her head.

“Bring my horse, Gerard,” Alexandre ordered. “Do not be afraid, Mademoiselle. We’re ten miles from the border of Auvergne. We will accompany you to the château of Marquis Guy Leroy Hamelin. He is an honourable man and will see to it that you are safely reunited with your family.”

Josephine spasmed at the mention of the Marquis.

Alexandre, misinterpreting her movement, called after Gerard. “And bring a blanket and some brandy for the lady!”

“Yes, sir,” said Gerard but he wasn’t looking at his superior. His eyes were on Josephine again and she knew that he at least had read the fear in her eyes.

He gave her a barely perceptible nod as if to confirm it before striding away.

“Now, Mademoiselle, may I ask who I have the pleasure of assisting?” Alexandre said.

She looked up into his deep, amber eyes, wide with concern. She didn’t want to lie to eyes like those, but as she watched the General’s men digging a grave for the poor coachman she knew that God had given her a second chance.

“I am Dame Annise Yves de Aquitaine,” she whispered, blinking, as the rain stung her eyes.

***

Read the other chapters here.

Short fiction: Storm

Graduation is supposed to be the beginning of great things, but for Angelica, it feels like life is falling apart. Unemployed and abandoned by her long-term boyfriend, she is contemplating her future without enthusiasm when she encounters a strange, old man in Albert Park. However, she’s not the only one to notice him.

Storm is a multi-author contemporary fiction serial set in New Zealand. It was started by Suraya Dewing, founder of The Story Mint where you can read the previous chapters. My contribution is Chapter 2.

planeinstorm.jpg

Chapter 2 

Angelica had never witnessed a hush like this descend on a crowd. Even the thrum of traffic had been muffled to the whirr of a mosquito. She squeezed in beside a heavily-tattooed couple who were staring rapturously at her former companion.

“Who is he?” Angelica whispered.

“Shh!” hissed the couple.

“Where the hell have you been?” On her other side, a cameraman from one of the national channels raised his eyebrows at her.

That’s exactly where I’ve been, Angelica thought, while mumbling something about being too busy to watch the news.

“That’s Dr. Jeremiah Noland.”

Angelica stared. As she glanced back to the Morton Bay Fig tree, a deep sadness suddenly welled up inside her and she was mortified to find tears spilling down her cheeks.

Dr. Noland had been the reason she’d chosen her major. In an age where remote cultures could be accessed with the click of a button, the famed anthropologist had travelled the globe, consistently showing the world there was always more to learn.

Or at least he had done so until his plane plunged into the Pacific Ocean nineteen years ago. He had been on his way to French Polynesia with an international team. Shortly before they lost contact with air traffic control, the pilot of the chartered flight expressed concern about an unexpected storm that was advancing rapidly towards them. Search and Rescue had combed the area for weeks afterwards, but the wreckage was never found. The world assumed there were no survivors until two years ago when Dr. Jeremiah Noland floated into the Hauraki Gulf on a driftwood raft.

He was barely coherent, babbling about years spent on an island with a tribe who had never had contact with the outside world. He had no recollection of the crash itself, and when he was told that nearly twenty years had passed, he broke down completely and was committed to a psychiatric hospital. When he was released, a few loyal supporters attempted to validate his story but Noland was unable to pinpoint the island’s location. He faded from public life and became something of a joke in academic circles.

Now, as twilight settled over the park and the lights of the city’s skyscrapers blinked above him, Dr. Jeremiah Noland rose creakily to his feet. His voice was soft, but it floated easily to the back of the clearing.

“Ladies and gentlemen, in the words of Marco Polo, ‘I have not told half of what I saw.’”

The crowd leaned in closer like a forest in the breeze.

“Both of us knew we would not be believed.” Noland surveyed the crowd, glancing at the cameraman. “Yet there is still one island on this Earth where people have never seen a camera. Heck, where people have never even seen their own reflections, except in a river.” Noland’s blue eyes rested on Angelica and she saw them light up with the same enthusiasm she had seen so many times on his documentaries.

“And now I can prove it.”

***

To find out what happens next, look out for the subsequent chapters on The Story Mint website. Each chapter will be written by a different author and a new chapter will be published every 1-2 weeks.

 

My latest fiction: Everyone Has a Story

front-anthologyEveryone has a story. There is the story of Lasiandra, the air hostess who is afraid of flying. Then there is the tale of farm girl Elizabeth who runs away to the city to find love. There are the adventures Irish immigrant Liam and his dreams to work on the new American railroad. And there is the mystery of Max who receives a missing piece of a mystery photograph in the mail every Sunday.

These are just some of the stories which feature in Everyone Has a Story: Anthology One, a collection of twelve short stories written by thirty-two authors from eight different countries. Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that I often contribute to The Story Mint’s multi-author serials. I was thrilled to hear that four of my chapters were to be included in the twelve serials selected for publication.

 

With so many writers involved, it is always a challenge to develop the characters and plot while keeping the style consistent. Flo Ginsburg, Sumandra Maritz and Ray Stone have done an excellent job of editing the serials. The collection covers a wide range of fiction genres such as historical, contemporary, thriller, comedy, science fiction and romance. An abandoned space station, a teenage rehab centre and a haunted village are just some of the equally diverse settings.

The Story Mint is always looking for new writers. If you are interested in reading more of the serials or participating in future projects, visit http://www.thestorymint.com/.back-anthology

As Suraya Dewing, CEO and Founder says. “If we peel back the layers we wrap around ourselves we will find stories, our stories…That’s where the magic dwells.”

Both reading and writing stories has always held a special kind of magic for me and I’m certainly looking forward to unwrapping more stories in 2017.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a happy and productive New Year.

F Ginsburg, S Maritz and R Stone (eds), Everyone Has a Story Anthology One, Rangitawa Publishing, Feilding, 2016 is on sale at Amazon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Short fiction: Ghost Ship

Do genuine old word pirates still exist or have the crew of the African Star become involved in an elaborate hoax?

I regularly contribute chapters to The Story Mint’s multi-author serials as a way of experimenting with new genres and styles.

Ghost Ship is a modern day adventure story, set off the coast of Africa. It was started by thriller author .Ray Stone. My contribution is Chapter 8. You can read the previous chapters on The Story Mint website.

pirate2

 

Chapter 8 of Ghost Ship

Gerard collapsed next to the bow, chest heaving. He gulped in deep breaths of air and gripped the ship’s railings, shaking uncontrollably. Adam watched in concern. During his shore leave, Gerard was an amateur boxer. Very little fazed him.
“That’s it!” Toby Mitchell kicked out at a coil of rope, sending it slithering across the deck like a twisted python. “Those bastards are playing us for fools!”
He strode towards the hold.
“Wait, sir!” Gerard called after him.
“What now?” Toby snapped.
Gerard unzipped his jacket. With fumbling fingers, he pulled out a flintlock pistol. A silver shark hovered over the trigger.
Adam stared at it in astonishment. It was a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. He’d seen something similar once before in a maritime museum. That gun had been over three hundred years old.
Toby’s eyes bulged. He strode back to Gerard and grabbed the pistol. “Where the hell did you get that?”
There was a loud bang. A dark cloud of sulphurous smoke billowed around them. When it cleared, Adam saw a bullet had splintered the deck half a metre away from Gerard’s foot. Adam glanced at his Chief Officer and saw for the first time a hint of uncertainty in Toby’s eyes as he stared at the gun in his hands.
Pointing it straight ahead, Toby edged down the steps leading into the bowels of the Aegean Sunset. Adam followed close behind. Gerard remained clinging to the railings, his eyes glazed.
When they reached the trapdoor of the cargo hold, Toby flung it open and Adam pointed a torch. Sal and Squiddly remained tied to their post, a pool of seawater forming around their legs. The ship was listing badly now.
“What’s going on?” Toby demanded.
Sal squinted up at them and gestured at the water.
“We’ll all be in Davy Jones’ Locker ere long if you don’t do something, guv.”
“Never mind that now,” Toby said. “What happened to Gerard?”
Sal gave a toothless grin and winked at Squiddly. “Saw the ghost, didn’t he?”
“Enough!” Toby held up the pistol. “I want the truth!”
Down in the hold, the shadows seemed to lengthen. The prisoners stared at the flintlock with wide eyes. In the faint light of the torch, Adam saw their tattoos were glistening with sweat.
“Cross me heart, guv, we’re not trying to run a rig this time,” Sal whispered. “You can’t take that blunderbuss. It belongs to the White Wench!”
Something splashed in the water behind Squiddly. Both pirates screamed. Adam dropped the torch. It clattered into the hold and went out. Despite their proximity to the African coast, Adam felt suddenly cold. The hairs on his arms rose up like a tiny army. It was so dark he couldn’t see his own hands.
“Sir?” he called out. “Do you have a lighter?”
He scrabbled in his own pockets, cursing that he’d given up smoking six months ago.
“Sir?”
The only answer was the gurgle of the sea, seeping into the hold.