Saturday, 28 July 2012

Free short story: Extraordinary Possibilities

So, here it is: my first ever short story. I hope that you like it. Please let me know what you think!

Extraordinary Possibilities

I arrive at work before the sun is up, convinced that if I can lock myself in my office for a few days, then everyone will forget. In a day or two there will be some new office gossip, and Rob and I will be yesterday’s news. 
Except there is no Rob and I. I know that other people do it: romances in the workplace, a relationship with the boss, but it doesn’t feel right for me. 
I forgot this last night. 
At the end of the evening, when the lights in the bar came up, I was shocked. I had no idea that so much time had passed. Slowly, as the buzz of conversation and the sour smell of too many bodies invaded my senses, it became clear that we had attracted more than a little attention from our colleagues. Panic prickled my skin: I had to get out of there. 
Rob offered to walk me to a taxi. I refused, knowing that it would only add fuel to the fire, but he followed me out anyway. I didn’t argue; I just wanted to get away. The whispers I could hear in our wake confirmed my fears. The crowd in the bar didn’t even try to hide their interest, and I was certain that the rumour mill was already working overtime.
 I think back to the first time that Rob walked into my office. I hadn’t a clue who he was. All I knew when I looked up from my tired, emotional, groggy funk, was that some sort of god with Disney-hero looks – all muscly arms, perfect teeth, and hair begging to be touched – was standing in front of my desk holding out a hand. 
‘Rob Harris,’ he introduced himself confidently. ‘Your new executive assistant…’ he continued when my blank stare made it clear that I was incapable of speech. Fortunately, I’d been able to blame my lack of composure on the fact that I was only just back from sick leave, rather than being turned into a drooling, dribbling, adolescent mess at the sight of him. And so I settled into a routine of sitting, every day, ten feet away from a man about whom I had sticky, sweaty, Technicolor fantasies every night, but who was strictly off limits.
Another flashback to the bar makes me grimace. The pressure of Rob’s hand on the small of my back as we leave, wishing I could lean back into it, but forcing myself to move away. You weren’t doing anything wrong, I remind myself for the thousandth time. Nothing happened. The whole department was in the bar. It was an innocent after-work drink. You were just talking. Except ‘just talking’ didn’t seem the right word to describe the three hours we’d spent, to the exclusion of all others, huddled in a quiet corner. I remember the way he looked at me when my foot brushed against his under the table. The way that he moved closer, as I tried to move away. 
‘You’re still here,’ he says. 
‘I don’t know what you mean.’ 
‘I mean, how long have we worked together. A few months now?’ 
I agree, wondering where this is going. 
‘Well, for months now, whenever the conversation has threatened to move away from anything strictly work related, you’ve decided it’s time you were going home. Or time that I was. I mean, we’ve never sat like this before. Just talking.’ 
I nod slowly. He’s right. For the past three months I’ve tried my hardest to maintain my professionalism – not easy when I was developing the mother of all crushes. I’ve done everything that I can to shut him out. I’ve left the room rather than face up to my feelings more times than I can remember. And that’s what I should be doing now, I think. But there have been times tonight when the attraction between us has felt so strong that I could reach out and almost touch it.
 After we leave the pub, I start walking up to the top of the road, hoping that I can hail a cab. I can hear Rob following close behind me. He catches up to me and I swing round at the feel of his hand at my elbow, trying to pull myself away. I stumble on the jagged edge of a paving slab and feel my face heading inevitably towards the ground. I brace myself for the impact, waiting for the crunch of skin and bone against concrete. 
Rob catches me. 
He pulls me up against him, and as I catch my breath I can feel the intensity of his gaze on my face. I can’t bring myself to look up and meet his eye, even when his hand brushes back the hair that has been thrown across my face and tucks it behind my ear. A curl of desire starts in the pit of my stomach and spirals downwards.
I sit back in my chair, remembering the feeling of his fingers against the sensitive skin of my neck, and my reaction to it.  It was unlike anything I’d felt before: more intense, more overwhelming, more frightening. It was the first time I’d had ever felt that, and I’d walked away without saying a word. 
But now, suddenly, there’s something I’m more afraid of. What if I never feel it again? What if I run from Rob forever? What if this is my one chance, and if I blow it now, that’s it. 
This isn’t some fleeting crush. I’ve not been able to get him out of my head for months. And now I am determined to do whatever it takes to at least be able to speak to him about how I feel. My heart quickens at the possibilities opening in front of me. I don’t want to bury my head in the sand any longer. I don’t want to hide, or avoid him. The only thing that was going to help was doing something. I could talk to my manager; I could tell HR; I would do anything other than spend another minute sitting alone, in my office or in my bed, wishing that things could be different. 
As I race to the door and reach for the handle, it opens inwards, and I collide with Rob’s broad, solid chest. 
‘I need to talk to you.’ 
His tone is serious, and I’m instantly on edge. This isn’t right. We can’t have this conversation yet. But the shock of his presence, on top of my sudden epiphany, throws me, and I let him shut the door and lead me over towards my desk. 
I perch on the corner, and that’s when I see the envelope in his hand. My heart sinks. 
‘Rob, what’s going on?’ 
‘I’m leaving,’ he tells me matter-of-factly. ‘Please consider this official notice of my resignation.’ 
I’m horrified. He obviously doesn’t feel the same, and now I’d made him so uncomfortable that he needs to leave. 
‘Rob, you don’t have to do this. If something has … happened, to make you feel that you can’t stay, then I’m sure that something can be sorted out. Perhaps you would be happier if you were working in another part of the company, or if I was …’ 
‘No. I want to leave.’ My heart breaks at the certainty in his voice. 
He reaches for my hand, and holds it gently in his. I’m still so shocked by his announcement that I can barely register this additional surprise. ‘I’m sorry,’ he starts, and I want him to be quiet. I want to be able to sit in silence and concentrate on the feeling of his skin, warm and soft and smooth. Because he’s leaving, and I know that in the days and weeks and months to come, I’m going to think of this moment often. 
He continues anyway: ‘Please, let me explain. It’s impossible to stay here.’ I’m desperate to say something. It’s not fair that he should have to leave, just because I can’t keep my feelings to myself. But, again, the words don’t come. 
‘I can’t work for you anymore,’ he says slowly, with a hint of nerves making his voice waver. ‘Because of how I feel about you. Because until you read that letter, I can’t kiss you.’ 
Realisation hits, and for a moment, I can only gape at him. He wants to kiss me. He’s leaving. The two thoughts battle for space in my head, and I still can’t shake the feeling that this is wrong, that I’m forcing him out of a job. I stand, take my hand from where he still holds it, and open the envelope. 
‘Like I say in my letter …’ A hand on my waist gently pulls me towards him. ‘… I’ve been offered an excellent opportunity …’ The hand creeps around to my back and holds me firmly against his chest. ‘… With extraordinary possibilities …’ I hold my breath and tilt my face up to his, waiting for the feel of his lips on mine. ‘…That I just can’t walk away from.’

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Sneak preview

I mentioned in my last post that I've been working on a short story, and I'm very excited to say it will be appearing here soon. But I couldn't wait to share just a little bit of it with you, so here are the first few paragraphs:

I arrive at work before the sun is up, convinced that if I can lock myself in my office for a few days, then everyone will forget. In a day or two there will be some new office gossip, and we will be yesterday’s news.
      I know that other people do it: romances in the workplace, a relationship with the boss, but it doesn’t feel right for me.
      I forgot this last night.

As always, let me know what you think! More to come soon...



Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Waiting Game

Once that all-important first draft is completed, writing is a bit of a waiting game. Especially if you're hoping to publish, you will probably want lots of people to read the manuscript: crit partners, beta readers, and eventually, agents and editors. I know from experience that the waiting is a strange time. After months and months of writing every day, making sacrifices to find the time to work on your book, all of a sudden it's gone. 

So, what to do while you're waiting? The first, and most obvious, option is to sit in front of your email inbox, hitting 'Refresh' on a regular basis. I'm not saying that this isn't a valid life choice - it's certainly one I've indulged in from time to time - but if, like me, you have decided to step away from the inbox, here are a few things that I've tried:

  1. Try a different style of writing. Explore different aspects of the writing craft by trying something completely new. Recently, I've started short story writing, and found that it's really helping me to develop my skills - the restricted word count means that I think harder and longer about every word, making sure that each line packs in as much intensity as possible. One of my favourite things so far is the freedom it gives you to make fundamental changes in style and POV. How would this read in the first person, I think to myself. To change a whole novel would take hours, if not days, but with a short story, twenty minutes later I can see for myself! If short stories don't appeal, what about poetry, haiku, feature articles, a blog? 
  2. Visit old friends. I have two NaNoWriMo novels stashed away that, on the relevant December 1st, I swore would never again see the light of day. But the characters from the first one pop into my head on a regular basis, and I know that one of these days I'm going to have to  write them a proper story. If you don't think you could revive a whole manuscript, is there a character, a location or a plot twist that you can use elsewhere? Or, on a related note, you could: 
  3. Plot your next NaNoWriMo novel. If you've not NaNo'd before - I can highly recommend it. But let's face it, writing a novel in a month is hard. It is a lot easier, however, if you have elements of plot, characterization, setting, etc. clear in your head and down on paper before you start. That way, if you start to enter a slump (for me, always after the half-way point), or the words start to fly, you don't have to stop writing to work out what happens next.
  4. Watch TV. And go to the cinema, read books - especially outside your usual genre, go for walks, overhear things in Starbucks. Load up your author notebook with so many brilliant story ideas that you can't wait to get back to your computer/notebook and start on the next project.
  5. Start your next novel. You knew this was coming, right? Because now you know you can write a novel, why wouldn't you want to do it again? You've lived through the ups and the downs, the moments of genius and absolute idiocy (maybe that last one's just me). You've found time to write on days when it seemed impossible. And even though, when you were somewhere around the middle, you thought you might just give up now, YOU DIDN'T! 
So, there you have it. Five things to try. Any other suggestions?


Monday, 16 July 2012

Let's talk about sex...

Love it or hate it, Fifty Shades of Grey is changing the way women read, and talk about reading, sex. Suddenly we’re openly reading erotica on the commute to work and discussing it at barbeques. I don’t think I’m alone in wondering what impact this is going to have on the whole romance genre.

At the moment I’m working on revises to my first novel (currently nicknamed Hollywood) and I’m just about at the part where all the sex starts. But before I make any changes, I really want to try and gauge whether the success of Fifty has already changed what women want, sex-wise, in romance novels, and how (and if) I should reflect this in my love scenes. It seems as if there has been a huge shift in public opinion – or what women are willing to say publicly about their opinions – over the past few months, and I want to make sure I’m taking this into account when I’m writing.

So my question is this: Has Fifty changed what you look for in a romance – in either direction – do you select steamier reads these days, or has it made you realise you’re from the ‘less is more’ school of literary sex? Or are your predilections much as before? Share your thoughts below.


Monday, 9 July 2012

Happy ever after

WARNING Contains spoilers for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Romeo and Juliet and Casablanca.
As a romance addict, I love knowing that a happy ever after is guaranteed. I don't think anything matches the anticipation, when everything is going horribly wrong, of what will come to shake up the action, change the dynamic or break down barriers so that the hero and heroine can find a way to be together.

A couple of months ago I read an article in the Guardian that reminded me how awesome Buffy the Vampire Slayer was, and I’ve been steadily working my way through the box set ever since. It’s just as good as I remember. The writing is brilliant, the acting is superb, and the romances are intense. But one thing still upsets me – I just don’t understand why Buffy and Angel can’t make things work. Sure he’s more than two hundred years older than her, and a vampire, but ten years later I still think that maybe, maybe, they’ll realise that their love is more powerful than all the things keeping them apart.

I guess this eternal optimism is the reason I always half expect that Ilsa won’t get on the plane out of Casablanca, Juliet will wake up just in time to tell Romeo that she’s not really dead, and Angel Clare (how these Angels torment me) will accept Tess’s past.  

This has got me wondering… Which doomed fictional couple would you most like to see find their HEA, and how would you make it happen?  For me (current Buffy obsession aside) it has to be Tess and Angel – and the answer is so simple. No supernatural powers to be overcome, no warring families or Nazis. Angel just has to ignore what has happened to Tess in the past, or Tess could wait for him just a little longer. That’s all it would take! See, still so frustrated….

So how about you? What sad ending would you rewrite and how?


Monday, 2 July 2012

It's a mystery

Last night, when I was trying to get to sleep, a scene idea popped into my head, and no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get it out again. Good girlfriend that I am, I didn’t want to switch on the light and write it down there and then, instead I resolved to remember it and write it down this morning. Of course, when I woke up I could only remember the bare bones of the thing, and all of the words I’d spent hours agonising over had deserted me. But over the course of the day I think I’ve managed to reconstruct most of it, and improve it in places.

As I’m still working on the edits for Hollywood, have another manuscript in progress and ideas for several others on the go, for the moment I’m going to leave this as a micro short story – but I’m sure I’ll revisit these two characters in the future. I have no idea who they are, and not much more of an idea of what they’re up to. Mostly I just sense the enormous attraction between them, and their desire to be together. I hope that this comes across in the story.

‘Tell me you don’t love me,’ he insisted, taking a step forwards and pressing her back against the wall. 
‘You know that I cannot.’ She tried to avoid looking him in the eye, but the lightest of touches from his fingers tilted her face upwards.
‘Then marry me,’ he demanded again. Willing her to agree. Unable to stop himself moving closer.
‘It’s impossible. My husband…’
His hand caressed a line from her cheek, down to her jaw and around to the nape of her neck. Slowly, he pulled her face towards his own until he could feel her breath on his lips. ‘Your husband is gone.’
He heard her gasp and saw hope in her eyes, but still a trace of doubt remained. 
‘Truly.’ And at last he let his lips brush against hers, knowing that nothing, and no one, could come between them now.

So, who are these two, what is going on and what has happened to the husband? Answers on a postcard please, or alternatively in the comments box below…

Ellie x