It happened in a flash….

We had the first session of our short stories module today, and we looked at flash fiction.

When I first came across flash fiction a couple of years ago, I wondered what the point was, particularly as  the stories concerned can be as short as one sentence. It challenges our whole idea of what a story is- surely it needs development, both  in terms of plot and character, and how can you fit the beginning, middle and end of a tale into one sentence?

However, it is an effective literary form in its own right- I like to think of it as the Facebook meme or witty graffiti offering of the literary world.

Having studied some examples in class- such as Jon McGregor’s “Thoughtful” (my favourite) and the well known offering from Hemingway (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn“)- and read an article on the subject by flash fiction writer David Gaffney, we were ready to have a go at our own.

Flash fiction writing exercise

First, we were prompted to think of a room which we know well. Then, from within that room we were told to visualise an object that is completely useless and describe it in detail, without giving any back story or details of anyone or anything else at the moment.

Here’s mine (in all it’s unedited, un-thought-through glory):

It’s just elastic-y. Broken.

A black piece of elastic attached to a green plastic ring, which attaches to the student-card holder, which is blue or black- who knows? It’s got a sort of wheel-type mechanism that makes it wheel up or down. It’s broken. And it’s got a silver bit.

Literary genius.

When the class on the whole could absolutely not write a single word more on their collective useless objects, the next task was to start a new paragraph, beginning with “I” and write from there, whether it was connected to the broken object or not (I think this particular comment was meaningless, as most of us, by now, would have been itching to explain the significance or just the sad little story of this utterly pointless object).

Again, here’s where my mind went:

I nearly threw it away because I’m sick to death of random shit being scattered in the house- particularly when it’s not even random shit that I’ve brought in. The problem is, because the house I’m currently living in is a shitheap already, even my closest friends think nothing of adding to the pile. Maybe it is an innocent oversight when they leave their unwanted debris after one of their visits, but subconsciously they’re doing it because they, not unlike myself, think nothing of the place I’m forced to dwell in.

It’s the same subtle arrogance that accompanies the question they ask everytime they use the toilet at my place. “Have you got toilet paper in,” they titter, smiling as it it’s a cute in-joke we have. But it’s not cute- what they’re really saying is “remember that one time I came round about a year ago when you were so piss poor you couldn’t even afford to get loo-roll in? Yeah, I still think you’re that much of a tramp.

But anyway, the student-card holder that is useful no more: it avoided it’s deserved fate of ending up in the tip, because, unwitting arrogance aside, it belonged to my friend. And my friend isn’t here anymore.

Sentimental stuff.

At this point we were given free range, and told to use what we had from these particular writing prompts to create flash fiction, most likely by whittling most of it down to leave just the basic idea in as stark a way as possible.

This was a fairly open task which I think is made effective if you force yourself to go with your initial instinct on how to form the story- and do it quickly.

For me, the obvious features to leave in were the fact that it was a lanyard left by a friend and the fact that the house was shit, and the most striking sentences within what I’d written were probably the ones in quotations, because they gave a good impression of the voice of the piece as well as a picture of the relationship between the story-teller and their friends.

So I ended up with this (the grand sum of 67 words…)

What she meant by “Have you got toilet paper?” was “remember that one time I visited a year ago when you were so piss poor you couldn’t even afford to have loo-roll in? I do!”

Now she had left again and the lanyard for her student card, which she had broken on her last visit, still occupied its dusty space on the set of drawers.

When compiling this, I deliberately left it as ambiguous as possible- if I go minimal, I’m going there to the extreme 😉 Hopefully the result is a strong sense of the place and personalities of the people involved but with enough questions left to be intriguing (without being irritating…).

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Broke

What she meant by “Have you got toilet paper in?” was “Remember that one time I visited a year ago when you were so piss poor you couldn’t even afford to have loo-roll in? I do!

Now she had left again, and the lanyard for her student card, which she had broken on her last visit, still occupied its dusty space on the set of drawers.

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This Week’s Media Headache: I watched Kanye’s new video

I love the media, but there are some things even I can’t excuse….

BREAKING NEWS: Kimye’s video’s a bit shit

Although I’m coming to the party a bit late with this one (Kanye West actually released the video to his single “Bound 2” in November), I think most people will forgive me, accepting the fact that I simply didn’t care enough to check it out sooner. However, curiousity got the better of me this week and I finally caught up with the video that everyone else has been trying to forget for the last two months.

I would explain the concept to you, but that would involve more effort than the production team expended on it, so you’ll have to look for yourself…..

I suppose what happened here is Kimye’s minders allowed them some unsupervised telly time, the couple consequently spotted that big celebrity couples- past and present- have created music videos together with varying degrees of intimacy (MJ and Lisa Marie Presley; John Lennon and Yoko Ono; Beyonce and Jay Z) and bless their hearts, they got it into their heads that they could make one with the same level of artistic merit.

With an abundance of “Yes” people around them, the idea was (unjustly) allowed to become a reality, although it had its hurdles along the way: at one point during filming, a stage manager pointed out that with a Kardashian involved, it would take more gimmick than usual to provoke interest; the sight of two massive tits on a motorbike would not, in itself, be enough to shock. Eventually, however, a ballsy floor runner suggested that Kim take her clothes off, and the horrendous project was back on track.

The result, clearly, can only be described as a flagrant abuse of creative freedom, but I like to try and be constructive. Unlike the 268 314 viewers who merely left a “thumbs down” before walking away to burst their own ear drums or destroy their internet servers, I’ve pinned down what I think is the worst part of the whole exploit (the utterly ridiculous lyrics) and put comments below explaining how to do a better job next time. After all, we’re all learners here….

Bound 2‘s worst lyrics:

“When a real n****r hold you down, you spose to drown” 

Where it went wrong: I’m guessing there’s supposed to be a double entendre here, but somehow all I can envision is, well, willfully allowing someone to drown me. With some force. Sorry.

How to improve: Don’t suggest drowning me.

“I know I got a bad reputation/walk around always mad reputation/leave a pretty girl sad reputation/start a fight club Brad reputation”

Where it went wrong: I was waiting for a swift “but” after the first mention of your “bad reputation”; instead I spent another 10 long seconds hearing you clarify how your reputation’s bad before you changed the subject. Oh, and the “Brad” wordplay just reminded me that there are  blokes I’d rather go out with than you.

How to improve: Throw in some of your good qualities, too. Go on, sell yourself….

“One good girl is worth a thousand bitches”

Where it went wrong: Now, now, Kanye; I’m sure the thousand bitches don’t think much of you either.

How to improve: Why not stick to “You’re the best person I’ve ever met” or something along those lines. You know, non-misongynistic lines.

“I wanna f**k you hard on the sink, after that give you something to drink”

Where it went wrong: Look, Kanye, the least you can do is get the drinks in first. Then after the sink sex, you can massage the tap imprints out of my lower back/pelvis.

How to improve: Seduction first, unreasonable demands later.

“Do you remember how we first met/OK, I don’t remember where we first met/but hey, admitting is the first step”

Where it went wrong: Why on Earth would you ask the question in the first place? Admitting would seem to be the first step towards a full blown argument here.

How to improve: Common sense

“She asked me what I wish for on my wishlist/have you ever asked your bitch for other bitches”

I’m not sure what to say to this, other than to point out that you were talking about a good girl about two minutes ago and now we’re back to bitches. Consistency would be nice, at least..

And don’t forget:

“Jerome’s in the house, watch your mouth”

Who the fuck is Jerome? It’s not his sink we’re having sex in, is it….?

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How we remember in 2013

Remembrance parade in Nottingham
Remembrance parade in Nottingham

Until 10.54 this morning, I was at liberty to completely forget that today was anything other than a normal day.

I woke up when I was ready, as it is both my day off work and a lecture-free day. Having tapped about on my phone a bit, I decided to meander into town and try to catch McDonald’s breakfast before starting a bit of Christmas shopping.

This was a morning when I felt briefly annoyed at catching the drizzly weather on my way out of the house; a day when I flicked through the Metro on the bus and tried to get my head around what it would be like if 10 000 people died in London all at once; and a day that featured a brief moment of dread when I turned the corner on Clumber Street/Long Row and found myself directly in the path of not one, but two clipboard, charity “Hi, Have you got time for a quick chat…..” people.

Having swiftly navigated the unfortunate charity-sales souls, I walked out onto the Market Square to be faced with a larger than usual crowd. At which point I remembered what day it was.

It’s a rare day, where for no more than 5 or 10 minutes, there is a certain focus on the centre of the market square: where you can take out your headphones, stand still and not feel like you’re in the way, or all eyes are on you because you’re acting a bit weird. It’s a rare 2 minutes where you won’t hear a sound in the middle of Nottingham- or whichever UK city you normally charge through.

Even the trams stopped to observe the two minute silence led by a handful of military personnel in the square, where Nottingham’s Christmas tree was beginning to be assembled.

As the canon rang out the first time, more pigeons than I thought existed scattered from the confines of the Town Hall and giggles ensued from a crowd who had, in complete unison, bricked it at the unexpected sound.

As the giggling and murmering died down, in the centre of Nottingham, home to students and tourists and gangs and rowdy nights out and families from all different backgrounds and political opinions and outspoken ideas, the carefully placed police officers were unneccessary as the crowd observed the usual two minute silence for- well, whatever you believe it’s for.

You can disagree with everything that Remembrance Day stands for, but surely you can’t fail to marvel at how it brings crowds of strangers, whatever their personal beliefs, together just briefly- how it stops the usual unrelenting noise and hurry.

When you go home
Tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today

My today, as a 22 year old in 2013, consists of hopping on whichever bus I want, at whichever time of day; reading free newspapers on the way into the city I chose to live in; it involves Snapchat, Twitter and Jeremy Kyle, a supermarket job and a degree that I love but that sounds incredibly “airy-fairy” to some.

It’s a “Today” that many people would look at and think isn’t worth much. At the same time, it’s a “Today” that some people would love to have. And even now, it’s a “Today”  people are dying for.

Even for a fleeting moment, that’s worth remembering.

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The NaNo Diaries: Day 5- I haven’t started yet…..

Better fit NaNo in somewhere...

Better fit NaNo in somewhere…

“Oh look, it’s November”….

…..I said two days ago, on the second of the month i.e. two days into National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Despite spending October plotting which of my ideas I wanted to develop during this, the most stressfully encouraging writing month of the year (“Just get it written!” The NaNo-ers cry. “But it looks so much nicer in my head” you sob into your notebook…) I now find myself 4 days in without so much as a plot outline.

I think the NaNo-ers will forgive me for this. I mean, we’re all fellow lazy creatives (or bohemians, maybe? I think bohemian sounds better..?) But just in case that’s not how it works, I’ll make my excuses by chronicling my first four days of NaNo (during which there was much writing, none of it fiction):

Day 1: Seven and a half hour shift at The Day Job. Could possibly have started NaNo in the morning. Except I forgot it was November.

Day 2: It  was The Day Job again….and my very favourite friend was back from uni for the weekend, so I took time off from my obviously perfectly planned writing schedule to make a big fuss over her (she tells me student midwife stories- creative inspiration?)

Day 3: Day 3 was really writing heavy. I went to the Impact Media Day at uni- more of this onan upcoming post- then spent the evening at a Spoken Word event in the city, which has also provided a wealth of inspiration for future posts.

Day 4: OK, I went shopping today…:/ Then Day Job. My bad.

If that doesn’t make up for my thus-far NaNoFaiLur (having read it back, I’m 100% sure it makes up for nothing) here is an extract from the 3000-and-something words I managed to string together last year, which will please you if you like random fictional excerpts with no context  whatsoever. Or if you like the fact that you’ve probably already written more than I wrote last year.

NaNo starts tomorrow…

.....Done!

…..Done!

An extract from last year’s roaring success (ahem):

Mila’s gaze swept across her surroundings. Starting at her feet, soles listlessly planted on the cracked tarmac; moving up towards the horizon, across the sea of morbid faces, before the shadow fell across her legs.

“Think you’re on your own again, duck.”

She let her head res t back gently on the wall she’d been sat against; sighed slightly as she summoned the effort to raise her eyes.

“Did you see the coach?”

“Naw, the driver dropped by though. Don’t think he’s gonna’ bring the bus round again unless he’s guaranteed passengers.” Gary informed. The weak sun dipped behind a cloud. Mila had sensed a while ago that it was that late time in the day again when she just sitting here for the sake of it, but still; she didn’t welcome the verbal confirmation. Turning away from Gary slightly, she ignored the contempt channelled her way by the other drifters across the station forecourt and focused instead on the familiar scenery beyond them. A pretty bleak view, by all accounts.

“My day off tomorrow, ducky…. hope you get lucky, if not I’ll see you Thursday.” Mila smiled heavily at Gary’s retreating form before letting her gaze rest again on the panoramic view before her.

She didn’t care how ugly the immediate scenery was. The potential beyond what she could see was beautiful. She’d be back tomorrow, but, now, she still wasn’t quite ready to leave.

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It’s a baby girl!

Nice piece of writing on an important theme

The Espresso Addict

She was 27, and at home.

She stood in front of the mirror, naked. She looked at her breasts. This was the biggest they had ever been. But she knew that they were going to get bigger. She stared at herself for a long while before she ran her right hand across the entire area of her belly, from just above her abdomen, all the way down to its lower end. It looked bloated and the bump had begun to show through her clothes now. She was five months pregnant, and had just received her scans from her gynecologist. She had dreaded this moment would come right from when she turned into a teenager. And 15 years later, she still wasn’t prepared for it.

“You are going to have a healthy and beautiful baby girl. You just have to keep eating healthy, and get good sleep and sufficient exercise, just like…

View original post 2,018 more words

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A standard supermarket exchange…. (Snapshots)

Waste

IMG_0041[1]

“What a waste!” she declared to her friend down the aisle, while I continued to bag up the bread. She swung back round.

“What a waste!” she leveled at me, wide eyed.

It was nine o’clock in the evening, so today’s bread needed to come off. I shook out a new bin bag.

“Does all that just get thrown away?” she demanded, her face pulled into a theatrical frown.

“Unfortunately.” I said.

“What a waste,” she tutted, in case saying it twice wasn’t enough. I shrugged.

“Unfortunately, this is the result of our ultra-consumeristic society, in which people expect to be able to walk into a supermarket and have the choice of the biggest range of freshest, best quality and cheapest products available, with nothing ever being out of stock. The self-centred demands of our target market leads us to grossly over produce on a day-to-day basis, leading to high levels of waste,” I told her in my head.

“We used to donate the waste to homeless shelters, then someone tried to sue us ‘cos they choked on it,” I told her.

She walked back to her friend, and I walked away because I only had an hour left and the bakery was still a tip from the day shift.

 

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Work experience: reasonable employer expectation or a door slammed in our faces?

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend an “Open Door” event at BBC Radio Derby. These events are opportunities for anyone who has pestered their local BBC radio station enough to have a look around the place, meet the lovely staff and ask as many doe-eyed, aspiring journalist-type questions as they can possibly fit into two hours.

Obviously, the day on the whole was very informative, but as with most employability/career days, the most important information I was looking to pick up was: “What are you looking for on my application for work experience and, eventually, jobs?” (or to put it in shorthand “How do I make you love me?”). To this end, I learnt two invaluable things from my day at the BBC.

The first one applies to those of you who are considering a degree in journalism. You need to make sure your degree courses are accredited (that’s BJTC accredited for broadcast journalism and NCTJ accredited for journalism degrees). I recently had this confirmed to me by a friend of mine who has graduated with a journalism degree only to be told she can’t write for certain publications because her degree isn’t accredited.

The second thing I learnt is exactly how far away I still am from getting anywhere near the glamourous role of work experience girl….

“Open Door” Events? So they’re taking you on, right….?”

The short answer here is “Don’t be so naive.”

I’ll take you back three years to when I first moved to Nottingham. With A-Levels in English, languages and business studies under my belt and a passion for writing and journalism, I took myself into the offices of the Nottingham Evening Post and asked the ladies at reception who I should contact regarding work experience. I was told I could only undertake work experience if I was studying journalism at university.

Now, as a moody eighteen-year-old who hadn’t achieved the grades needed to enrol on the journalism degree offered at the local university, I was none to happy to hear this. However, after going away and sulking about it for the best part of two years, I finally got sick enough of my menial, low paid jobs to apply for my current degree in Creative and Professional Writing (including journalism).

As I tell people frequently, it is undoubtedly the best thing I have ever done and I enjoy every opportunity it brings my way. Having completed my first year and taken advantage of the contacts available through employability days, I thought when I had been invited to this particular open door event that taking part in that much strived for work experience placement was finally within reach. However, when I asked the all important question “What will you be looking for on my application for work experience?”, I was hit with this bombshell;

“I don’t  take people on for the sake of giving them experience. I only take on people who I think I would hire. So I wouldn’t consider you at the moment….not without the postgraduate degree (in broadcast journalism)

“I have to do what to get hired…?”

Before I continue, there are a couple of things I would like to point out about this statement in order to be balanced:

1. It should be noted that I am not on a full journalism degree, I am on a degree with elements of journalism in it, so it could be that this comment was aimed directly at me as opposed to undergraduates in genereal

2. Before making the above statement, the person did point out that this was just their own criteria for selecting people and that they couldn’t speak for every part of the BBC i.e. each BBC radio station will have it’s own selection methods

It’s also true that there is so much competition for any kind of place within the media that you should expect to have to get the best experience and qualifications you can before you get any.

However, I think it’s relevant to point out that I was asking for unpaid work experience, not employment, and that the experience of being told to go and do the post graduate degree, having already enrolled on a degree as I was told to do three years previously, made me feel as though I am not jumping through hoops so much as having the same hoop held up for me to jump through time and time again.

Not to be detered, I put this person’s theory to the test and contacted the news and sports editor at BBC Radio Nottingham to ask him his criteria for work experience applicants. He informed me that they do take on undergraduate students, but they have to have shown a keen interest in the media by, for example, taking part in their student radio station, writing for their local papers etc.

What to think?

experience

Clearly, asking candidates to show interest in their chosen career is perfectly reasonable; it’s the best way to determine who will make the most out of any opportunity offered to them by media outlets who already have a lot on their plates. But when the above meme popped up on my Facebook feed this morning, I started to wonder what kinds of stories other people might have when it comes to gaining experience. Do people think the demands being made on them are fair or do they feel like they have having career tid-bits endlessly dangled on a string in front of them, always slightly out of reach? I would also love to hear what employers think about this.

My own conclusions

 I really appreciate the time given to me by everyone at BBC Radio Derby when I attended the “Open Door” event. Every member of staff I met that day was welcoming and completely forthcoming with their advice and experiences.

The most important thing I took away from the day was to not get so wound up in trying to get the “top job” as quickly as I can. I think that people my age have had “economic crisis” “fewer jobs” and “BE MORE COMPETIVE!” crammed so far down our throats that we spend more time chasing professionals for work placements we’re not ready for than we spend on actually developing our skills in other ways. In my case, it is right to say I should be putting all that time and effort in to

  • Working on my blog
  • Writing for my student paper/working for the student radio station/tv station etc.
  • Taking part in hospital radio
  • Submitting articles to local papers

etc.etc.etc. After the initial panic of being told I’m still not good enough to be taken on, even on an unpaid basis, I began to look at this as an opportunity to relax. Essentially, what I was told at that open door event was that I shouldn’t be worrying about chasing work experience just yet, I should be focusing 100% on my interest in writing.

That’s a much nicer thing to think about than LinkedIn profiles and constantly updating my CV….:)

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21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity

OK, Millie didn’t write this, it’s just uplifting 😀 Enjoy!

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Looking for a Fight…….?

Radio phone ins: I thought I’d cracked it when we covered this colourful area of journalism in one of our lectures. We were asked to check the news and find a subject that we could convert into a question suitable for a radio phone-in.

Note at this point: “suitable for a radio phone in” translates as the most divisive question you can think of: something that you couldn’t ask someone without them falling on one side of the argument or another-and preferably with a sky high helping of indignance thrown in.

What’s the question?

To give you an example based on today’s news stories:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22827368 Google is accused of allowing the US government to access its servers in order to snoop on the British public.

Our question

“Should the government be allowed to spy on people?”

This is weak because it doesn’t immediately offer enough “layers” of argument. You would probably jump to the answer “no” without too much further thought. You need to make the question specific enough to illicit a furious response; it needs to be provocative. People should have a strong leaning to either “Yes” or “No”.

On Stephen Nolan’s BBC Radio 5 Live show, they posed the question “Is loss of privacy a small price to pay for our security?” This offers those “layers” I mentioned above. It opens up the debate to include peoples’ experiences  of terrorist attacks, particularly in light of recent events e.g. Boston bombings and the Woolwich attack and people would feel very strongly either towards the importance of surveillance for personal safety or the sanctitude of personal privacy.

A good radio phone in question does one or more of the following:

1. relates to an experience everyone will have had experience of (even if indirectly)

2. is phrased in a provocative way i.e. “shouldn’t people just accept that X?”

3.can provoke a strong response on either side of the argument

Pressing the right buttons

So back to my initial statement. I thought this was my area. “Inciting colourful arguments?” I said. “Let me loose amongst the radio phone ins.” I thought I’d found the phone in question to end all phone in questions when I found a story about a train driver who’d made a tannoy announcement “to the lady in carriage B talking loudly on your phone” to ask her to quieten down as she was disturbing other passengers.

I posed the question “Should trains and buses be allowed to impose rules and “quiet zones” or should people accept it’s public transport and people have the right to make as much noise as they like?” As our journalism class began throwing their experiences of public transport around, I sat back and started planning my future in radio phone ins (another week, another media ambition).

My public transport story was trumped, however, on the same Stephen Nolan show mentioned above, when a caller phoned in to say she’d been sacked from her job because customers had complained about her tattoos. Her employers had had no problem with her performance or work ethic. The show asked “Should people be judged if they have tattoos?” It was carnage…..! One caller suggested that all people with tattoos are underachievers and idle and shouldn’t be employed. Needless to say, my phone in quesion suddenly felt more dull than the quiet zone on a cross country train.

In true media style, as I sat taking in the explosion of “tattoo-gate” at twelve o’clock on a saturday night, all I could think was “I hope I can rile that many listeners one day.”

Listen to Stephen Nolan http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0070jd4

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