3 Minute Story: A Good Meal

I had never eaten so well in all my life. The rich aroma filled my nostrils. Roasted lamb, so tender that a mere touch parted it from the bone. I gulped. I had only seen this kind of food from the other side of a window. I remember the warm glow of the taverns and the tormenting smells of the freshly prepared bread and meat it served there. The streets were cold most of the year. Not quite cold enough for the incessant rain to freeze to snow, but a harsh cold that burns and chaps the skin.

I held the metal cutlery awkwardly in my hands. I had never needed to learn how to use a knife and fork, there wasn’t much need when food was as scarce as the warm shine of the sun. I speared some of the meat and placed it into my mouth. It melted, filling my mouth with a rich taste I had never known. It made my head spin. If only things had been different.

I hadn’t chosen to live on the streets, not many do. My earliest memory was The Home. A place for unwanted children. Little more than a place to rest your head between the long hours working in the linen mill. A bowl of salted porridge and a flea infested blanket was all the respite we were allowed.

I delicately arranged some of the roasted vegetables, so bright with colour it felt almost wrong to eat them, and scooped them into my mount as delicately as I had the meat. An ecstasy spread through my body, as if my body cried out in joy as the nutrient rich food hit my stomach. The mill wasn’t so bad a place. Not when she was there. Emma, we had all but grown together, sharing blankets and warmth. Crawling among the nooks and cracks of the machines amidst thick fumes day after day was almost bearable knowing she was by my side. But during our sixth winter together, she was bitten by one of the machines. This wasn’t uncommon in the mill. Many of the children had been bitten. Missing arms and legs, a sign they must bear for the rest of their lives. The winter it happened had been an especially cold one. Emma took a fever and died. No one cared apart from me.

The plate was emptying fast. I grabbed the fresh, crusty bread in one hand and smeared it with a warm yellow butter. The softness within made me gasp. Bread had served as the main component of my diet for most of my life. But the stale, dirty crusts couldn’t compare to this masterpiece. I had thought I would be better on my own. That I could make my own way in the world, away from the mill, and everything that reminded me of Emma. But the streets were a mean place. A world of its own, with nowhere to run or hide. It hadn’t been more than two nights before a group of men took me in. They had been nice at first, offering me my first bite to eat since leaving the mill. They promised me more. I just had to do as they said.

I finished off the last of my plate. Sitting back, I stared at the ceiling. The gnawing pain of hunger was absent from my mind, creating a stillness and calm I had only dreamed of. Even the pain of the wound across my chest had calmed. A robbery that had taken a turn for the worse.

The rattle of keys and inaudible cries of men from cages marked the moment I had been waiting for, for what seemed like an eternity. The bars creaked open and a man wearing a priest’s robe walked through the door. “Have you any sins you wish to confess and seek forgiveness before god?” A croaky voice. A pitying look in his eye.

I just sighed and returned my gaze to the ceiling. Too late to start praying. Two large, well fed guards walked in past the priest and grabbed me by the arms, easily lifting my malnourished and ragged body. I didn’t bother to lift my feet. There was nothing I could do. My head hung between my shoulders as I was dragged towards the gallows.

3 Minute Story: A Soldier’s Cage

“Some birds are not meant to be caged, that’s all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild.”

― Stephen King, Different Seasons: Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption

soldier

Cages come in many shapes and sizes.

I stood at the foot of the gate, gazing at the grey cement road that shot as straight as an arrow into the distance. Like a window to another world, the view was framed by towering iron fences. I glanced at my feet. Boots, black, with a shine so deep, one could easily see their own reflection. I had spent most of last night polishing them to perfection. I wasn’t sure why. It didn’t really make sense, considering that this was probably the last time I will ever wear them.

Twenty-two years is a long time. The thought dawned on me. Twenty-two years of following orders. Not having to think. To simply just do. I had prided myself on my ability to carry out my orders to the letter. The row of glittering medals across my chest, proof of my deeds, demanded respect from all those who wore the same uniform. Yet before the day was out, these would become a relic of the past. Locked away in drawer, all but forgotten.

Turning around, I looked over my shoulder. Buildings, two-storied with red bricks, much like those you could find anywhere in this part of the world, stood in orderly rows. To an ordinary man, these may appear the same as any other building. But to me, they were distinctively different. Different, perhaps not in shape or design, but in the emotion they stirred within me. Feelings of home, of belonging.

“Left! Right! Left!” The voice of a drill sergeant marching his troops cuts through the air. “Platoon! Salute to the left! Salute!” The sergeant rhythmically calls to the ranks of men. With the kind of precision that only comes with years of disciplined practice, the Platoon snapped their hands to their forehead in unison. I return their salute, an action as natural to me as breathing.

As the Platoon marched into the distance, I returned my gaze to the road ahead. I was being ridiculous. I had led men into battle. Faced death itself. But this feeling deep in my stomach was one I hadn’t felt in a long time.

A pair of magpies flew overhead with joyful chirps and playful tumbling. Swooping from one side of the fence to the other, as if to mock my fears.

“It’s all my head” I muttered under my breath.

I was not sure what awaited me at the end of that road. But I knew it was a path I must take. Sink or swim, it did not matter. What lay ahead was endless possibility. Surely that is reason enough.

A small part of me had wished I had made this journey earlier, at a time when I was younger. I let go of the thought. It was too late for regrets.

With a cold sweat atop my brow, I grabbed my black case and stepped over the threshold. For the first time in 22 years, I was a free man.

 

This story was created as part of a writing prompt from the creative cafe on Medium.

Please let me know what you think in the comments and follow!

3 Minute Story: Everybody Dies

“I don’t want to die.” The sob escaped my mouth, cutting through the blackness.

Silence. “Everyone dies.” A rough voice echoed. “It’s the only thing in life that’s guaranteed.”

Stones shift and grind as I adjust my position, offering slight relief from the cold, sharp ground. “There’s still so many things I want to do.” I could feel my voice shake.

“Well, why haven’t you already done them?” The calmness of the other man’s voice sounded almost mocking. “You’ve lived a life, haven’t you?”

The usual excuses bubbled to the forefront of my mind. “I never had the time. I had to work. The car still needed paying off.” I thought. But could only manage a swallow. The thoughts sounding idiotic, even to me, in the cold pitch black.

Time passed, as time does, in its steady relentless way. For how long, I couldn’t say. I drifted in and out of what could only have been sleep. The intermittent sound of dripping water, the only sign that I was still alive.

Still no sign of any rescue.

“I was once like you, you know.” A dry voice, the product of dehydration, sparking me to alertness. “I used to think that there would always be a tomorrow.” The man coughed. “It’s a lie. One that everyone seems to believe. Or maybe just not want to talk about.”.

“What happened?” I managed, prompting for more. Anything to take my mind off the cold that had sunk deep into my bones. But the silence resumed. Maybe he had been talking in his sleep. Maybe he had died.

“I had a family.” The man broke through the dark. “There was four of us.” He paused. “I had met my wife in school. We married and settled not long after. I started working here at the mine, and before long, two kids had come along.” The words seemed to strain him.

I tried to focus on the man’s story, but I could feel my mind slipping away from my numb body. I didn’t even care anymore. I just wanted peace.

“I thought those days would be like that forever.” The man’s voice was a little more than a whisper. It was enough to focus my mind. “A car crash took them. On the way to the lake. All four of them. I had been too busy to go.”. For the first time I recognised pain in the man’s voice.

“I’m sorry.” The clumsy words tumbling from a numb tongue and clenched teeth.

“Everybody dies”. The man’s voice mocked.

I sank into the blackness.

A dazzling white light shone before me. Voices shouting muffed words. I felt my body leave the floor. I blinked my eyes clear and looked around, my head heavy on my shoulders. A face catches my eyes. A still face, as if frozen in time. A curled smile etched into his lips. Before me laid an old man, his hair long since greyed.

“Everybody dies” Echoed in my mind.

Let me know what you thought in the comments!

Author Interview: Devin Madson

This week I had the fantastic opportunity to talk with the incredible author Devin Madson. Devin is the author of the Vengeance Trilogy, the award winning novella In Shadows We Fall, and her most recent, and SPFBO 2018 entered, novel We Ride The Storm. As you can see from my review, I am a huge fan of Devin’s most recent novel. Before we being, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Devin for being such an awesome person for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk with me.

So, here it goes!

Hi Devin. Tell me a little about yourself. What do you like to do when you are not writing?

There’s not a lot of that sort of time because I’m a workaholic, but I do love playing both video games and board games, and I read as much as I can. I’ve tried more useful hobbies like cooking and gardening, but it appears I’m terrible at everything else.

How did We Ride The Storm come to be. When did you first get the idea to write it? How did everything come to together from there?

Since We Ride the Storm technically continues on from a story I began back in my first trilogy, I always knew I would write it. And the two dozen other books currently planned for the same world. As it’s still a world people are coming to I didn’t want to shift too far from the original roots, yet it needed to expand so I branched out by choosing POVs from neighbouring areas and the story just developed itself from there. I plan in a very… loose way, but mostly I have a very big picture understanding of the whole history and each individual book is written by the seat of my pants.

I loved your characters in your latest novel. The contrast between each and how this was expressed through the first person was something I found extremely interesting. Where did you get the inspiration to write three such different characters? Do you have a favorite?

I think in choosing to write three POVs in the first person each character has to be very different, because three similar characters would view the events in the same way and the readers would lose the nuance… the greyness to the situation and might not see the weight of any given character’s decisions. In the case of We Ride the Storm, I knew I was writing a clash of cultures, and so to properly do justice to the fact that none of them are ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ I needed a POV from each. That Rah turned out honourable, Cassandra not honourable at all, and Miko in between was an incidental bonus rather than something I deliberately sat down and planned. Like I said, planning isn’t something I really do. As to a favourite, Cassandra was the easiest, Rah made me feel like a good person, and Miko makes me proud. That’s as close as I can come to an answer on that one.

The pacing in We Ride The Storm was fast and furious. Is this something we can expect to see throughout the trilogy?

Yes! It helps that there is a lot of story still to come. It’s actually planned (ha!) to be a four book series rather than a trilogy, with a new, fourth POV showing up in the next instalment. Things could change, but at this point I’m pretty confident that’s how it will go.

Why do you write and what keeps you motivated?

So many writers say they’ve written stories for as long as they can remember and it seems trite and overdone to say I write because I can’t cope with not writing, but authors say these things because they are true! It’s like being born with a disease I can’t get rid of and don’t actually want to try. I’m motivated in part by having an obsessive disposition and in part because I have SO MANY stories to tell that even a single day off seems like a waste of time.

The reviews for We Ride The Storm have been fantastic so far. Is there any advice you would give to aspiring self-published authors?

Make sure you’re ready. In most people’s minds you’re only going to get one chance to make a good impression. Just because self-publishing allows you to put out a book as soon as the first draft is done – don’t. Take your time. Get a good editor. Keeping working at it until you have the very best book you can write.

I admit that I have yet to read your other works, but I am making it a top priority to do so. For a reader who is new to your works, where would you recommend starting from?

Because people will always be entering my world at different parts of the history, it was important to ensure any Book One would be a good entry point. Depending on where you start you might have a slightly different experience of the entire story, but no spot is inherently better or worse. If you like chronology then In Shadows We Fall is the earliest, but Blood of Whisperers was the first. Generally I tell people to start at the book that calls to them the most. If We Ride the Storm sounds like your cup of tea then start there!

We Ride The Storm was left on such a cliff hanger that I am eagerly awaiting book number two. When can your fans expect book number two of The Reborn Empire series?

We Lie with Death is due March 2019! I am super excited. Depending on how a few other projects go, I will either keep up with the every 9 months release schedule for it, or stick with March each year.

 

Find We Ride The Storm on Amazon and Goodreads

How To Actually Deal With Writer’s Block: A Mindfulness Approach

I have seen a lot of advice drifting around on the internet, suggesting ways an author can overcome writer’s block. These often include things like – going for a walk, making coffee, having a break from writing, and spend some time doing something you love. These are all well and good, but what happens if you return from your walk and still find yourself staring at a blank screen?

I think the problem with writer’s block is our lack of understanding of the condition and what it is exactly that causes such a frustrating condition. Scientific research of the area is lacking, however, it is suggested that the main cause of writer’s block is anxiety. Anxiety leads to a certain evolutionary response within the body that reduce the mind’s ability to think creatively. You may have heard it known as the “fight or flight” response. In my personal experience of writer’s block, anxious and stressed is certainly how I felt. I would sit staring at my screen worrying about the “what if’s” of not completing my manuscript and worrying that I may not possess the actual ability to complete it. And while a nice walk may clear your head and reduce the symptoms of anxiety, it may not be enough to reduce your anxiety to a level where your creative thoughts can run free.

A popular, and what is becoming a well researched approach to reducing anxiety is mindfulness. Mindfulness is described as the non-judgmental acceptance and focusing on the experiences that are occurring in the present moment. This is a great psychological skill and one i have consistently used to reduce my anxieties in all parts of my life, including public speaking. Below are 4 ways which mindfulness may improve your writing.

Image result for mindfulness

1) Reduce anxiety.

It is thought that our anxieties are primarily linked to thoughts of either the past or future. For example, you may have experienced feeling anxious during an exam. But it is not the actually process of taking the exam that is making you anxious, but the thoughts about what would happen if you do poorly in the exam that are causing the anxiety. Thoughts such as this are useless, as after all, the only thing we can do is effect what we do in the present. Learning to bring your thoughts back into the present moment reduces the source of the anxiety and increases your focus on the task at hand, helping to get your creativity flowing again.

2) Achieve flow state.

Have you ever become so engrossed in your writing that your mind becomes fully emerged in the world you are creating, you feel an unstoppable energized sense of focus, and feeling an enjoyment similar to when you first started to write? It is likely that you were in a state of flow. Research has shown that those who practice mindfulness find it easier to achieve this state. Mainly, due to the ability to ignore distracting thoughts and fully emerge oneself in the present moment.

3) Enjoy the writing process.

When we do not focus our attention on the present, we numb ourselves to all the feelings we could be experiencing. For example, imagine eating an ice-cream. If you eat the ice-cream while thinking about what you are going to have for dinner, chances are you will not fully taste all the flavor that the ice-cream has to offer. Now, imagine you are eating the ice-cream while focusing all of your attention on the present experience of eating ice cream. Its smell, texture, and flavor. Much nicer, eh? This can apply too with writing. If you give the process of writing your full mindful attention, you may find that you start to enjoy the process much more.

4) Concentration while editing.

After long last, you have finally completed that first draft. Now it’s time for the edit. Yet when you come to read over what you have wrote, you find that your mind is drifting elsewhere. This is in part a natural occurrence, but one that can be extremely frustrating. Training yourself to be mindful can help to increase your concentration and stop your mind from drifting off into thoughts of the past or future. A great skill to have.

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So how do we become mindful?

Mindfulness is primarily achieved through meditation, and like all psychological skills, it is not something that can be achieved overnight. However, after following a daily mindfulness program of just 10 minutes for 2 weeks, people have reported a noticeable difference in their thoughts and feel themselves becoming more mindful. Mindfulness is something that can be done for free with the internet offering great guides and videos, or even paid services if you are more serious about becoming mindful. In these you will find all you need to know about how to become mindful.

I hope you have found this a useful post on how writer’s could benefit from mindfulness. This is part of a writer’s psychological skills guide that I am in the process of putting together. My other posts include Keeping Your Writing Motivation High: How To Set Goals, with more to come in the future.

Please like and share and let me know what you think and if there is anything you would like to see in the future.

Keeping Your Writing Motivation High: How To Set Goals

As a psychology PhD student, my studies have taken me into the midst of many psychological theories. My particular area of study involves encouraging people to adopt certain behaviors, or do certain things. When trying maintain or increase motivation towards a specific behavior, a lot of research has suggested that goal setting can help you achieve this.

Goal setting may sound simple, and it really is once you understand its basic principles, but it can be easy to create goals that may actually become detrimental to the goals you want to achieve. Here, I will show you how to use one of the most well-established and simple methods of goal setting that you can use to set your own goals. Those of which can be applied to all aspects of life, such as staying motivated to complete your novel, adopting a new exercise routine, and learning a language (These areas are just some of those I have personally used goal setting for).

Image result for smart goals

The SMART method of goal setting has proved to be very useful to me and is extremely easy to pick up.

Specific – Goals should be specific. “I want to write fantasy” would not be a specific goal and would be difficult to know when this has been achieved. “I want to complete my novel” would be much more specific.

Measurable – The goal should have some component you can measure. Adding onto the previous analogy “I want to complete my fantasy novel”, how many words per day would that take, or how many hours per day? Using methods such as this to track progress helps to keep you motivated.

Attainable – “I want to complete a whole 80,000 word novel in a weekend” is obviously not an attainable goal. This aspect of goal setting is also very personal, and will vary person to person. “I want to write 3000 words per day” may be attainable for some, but for others, such as myself, it is not.

Relevant – Keep your goals relevant to higher goals you want to achieve. For example, “I want to write 1000 words per day” should be relevant to the higher level goal of completing your novel.

Time-based – It is easy for goals that lack a time component to be put aside and lost in a busy life. Having a point in time that you want to complete your goal helps to keep it high in your priority list.

For me, my current SMART based goals look like this:

  1. Complete the first draft of my fantasy novel by 31/10/18 by writing 1000 words per day.
  2. Study Japanese for 40 minutes five times per week in order to take and pass the JLPT 3 exam.

If you look back at the SMART principles, you will find that this covers them all.

Adding onto the SMART goal system, there are a few other points that research says make your goal setting more effective. These are:

  • Write them down and put them where you can see them – This helps to keep them at the forefront of your mind.
  • Don’t be too strict with yourself – For example, if I was to write 1000 words per day until the end of October would be much more than the word count I have planned for my novel. But it is likely that something will come up during those three months which means I am unable to write, so to ensure I stick to my goal, I have given myself some wiggle room.

If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment.

I hope you enjoyed this post and I would love to hear your thoughts on whether you found it useful or not. Psychology is a very broad subject and if you would like to see more of it applied to writing let me know!

A Completely Free Masterclass From the Legend Himself – Brandon Sanderson

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind you.” – Henry Ford.

I have found that I have always enjoyed writing. From the more formal academic writing, to writing fantasy where I can let my imagination run wild. Leaving school at 15 to join the Army, I have struggled in the past to understand the “how” when it come to creative writing, and primarily wrote from my gut instinct. In order to improve my writing, I had to take to the internet to find content which could help me develop my own writing style. Last year, I came across a series of Brandon Sanderson’s videos by BYU, where you can watch as a fly on the wall all of his creative writing for fantasy and science fiction lectures. I found these extremely useful and as Sanderson himself puts, has helped me to become more of a chef and less than a cook when it come to creative writing. The course spans 12 lectures across multiple topics including plotting, dialogue, character, and his renowned take on magic systems. Below you will find a link to each of his lectures. I hope you find them as useful as I did!

#1 – Course Overview

#2 – Chefs vs. Cooks

#3 – The Illusionist Writer

#4 – World Building

#5 – The Box

#6 – The Business of Writing

#7 – Character

#8 – Magic Systems

#9 – Guest Speaker – Brandon Mull

#10 – Plotting

#11 – Dialogue and Agents

#12 – Q&A