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Five April Stories

  12+   My first attempt at the Australian Writers' Centre's Furious Fiction writing challenge was in April 2020. Since then, I've submitted entries to every challenge except two when I was away from home on holiday. I wrote my forty-third (official and unofficial) Furious Fiction this month, my fifth April story.

The format of the writing challenge has not changed since I saw it on Twitter on Friday, 3rd April 2020, and tweeted: "I'm going to have a crack at #FuriousFiction this weekend!".

The Writers' Centre emails the story criteria at 5 PM on the first Friday of the month, and writers have 55 hours until midnight Sunday to submit a 500-word story that meets the brief.

The only change since 2020 is that the Writers' Centre used to offer a $500 prize. They'd also publish the winning and shortlisted stories on their website and the longlisted titles and writers. There is no prize money nowadays, but they publish their "Top Pick" and a dozen Showcase stories with the month's longlist. 

I never won first prize, nor have I been a "Top Pick", but the judges have selected two of my short stories for the monthly Showcase (including one of my April stories below) and longlisted three. And that left me feeling as proud and happy as if I'd claimed the $500! 

I've shared all my Furious Fiction stories on Tall And True, narrated most of them for my Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast and published two collections containing my first two years of Furious Fictions, Twelve Furious Months (2021) and Twelve More Furious Months (2022).

To celebrate my fifth April Furious Fiction, I'm sharing short insights into the Five April Stories (with no spoilers, I promise), including the Writers' Centre's briefs and website links to the stories and podcast episodes.

A Song on the Radio (April 2020)

A Song on the Radio was my first Furious Fiction. The Writers' Centre brief for the April 2020 story was:

  • It had to begin on THE SIDE OF A ROAD
  • Include a SPLASH 
  • And the words APRON, PIGMENT, RIBBON, ICON, and LEMON (the first letters spell April).

The challenge coincided with our first weekend of the COVID lockdown, so self-isolating at my writing desk was perfect timing. 

As I wrote in a 2020 blog post, I typed in the brief and stared at it on my otherwise blank computer screen. It felt like a Rorschach test, only with words instead of inkblots. But slowly, my writer's eye discerned shapes in the random pattern:

A car pulls up and parks on THE SIDE OF A ROAD near a beach. There is the SPLASH of waves on the shoreline. And a bottle of Tequila, with salt and a LEMON (lick, sip, suck). An APRON is spread on the sand. And, of course, harking back to a song on the radio from my youth, there's a yellow RIBBON tied around an old oak tree. 

I didn't win first prize or make the short or longlists for April 2020's Furious Fiction. But I enjoyed expanding and weaving my pattern around the story's characters and writing A Song on the Radio, a welcome creative diversion from the COVID lockdown.

Read A Song on the Radio on Tall And True and listen to the story on Tall And True Short Reads 

The Lucky Country (April 2021)

The Lucky Country was my thirteenth straight Furious Fiction. The April 2021 brief was:

  • The story must begin in some kind of QUEUE
  • It must include the words CROSS, DROP and LUCKY
  • And feature a MAP.

Once again, I didn't win or make the short or longlists, but I found the different approaches to the QUEUE of the winning and shortlisted entries on the Writers' Centre website interesting: 

There was a store checkout, a funeral motorcade, a troupe of dwarves on a mountain pass, a trail of black ants, dancers queuing backstage, and a queue of tourists outside St Paul’s Cathedral. 

I set my QUEUE at a border crossing in the future after the Climate Catastrophe and Climate Wars and during the Third Great Depression, with refugees pleading with armed guards to open the padlocked gates to the "Lucky Country".

As for the fictional "Lucky Country", I borrowed an idea from Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman. But no spoilers: you'll have to read her book, which I highly recommend. (Amazon affiliate link.)

Read The Lucky Country on Tall And True and listen to the story on Tall And True Short Reads.

Twelve Furious Months eBookBuy on Amazon, Apple Books and Kobo

The Lost Hour (April 2022)

The Lost Hour was my third unofficial, off-quarterly month Furious Fiction (the challenge shifted from monthly to quarterly from January 2022 to March 2023). 

I followed the usual competition rules and gave myself 55 hours to write my 500-word short story based on a randomly selected brief from the Writers' Centre's archive. For April, I drew the October 2018 brief from my hat (literally!):

  • The story's title had to be The Lost Hour
  • It had to include a sentence with three colours in it
  • And the sentence/phrase, "it was lighter".

After drawing the brief, I went for a long walk with my dog and contemplated options for "the lost hour". Before we got home, I had my story's draft opening lines, along with an absurdist observation: 

"You know what it's like when you lose something. It's always in the last place you look. But how do you find a lost hour? It's not like it can slip down the back of a sofa."

Other parts of the story came together when I started writing. For example, if we "lost" an hour overnight, it would be lighter in the morning than expected, and only atomic clocks could confirm the discrepancy. World leaders would make speeches, and conspiracy theories would run rampant. And NASA would be involved, of course.

Neil Gaiman says of short stories: "They are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams." I wanted The Lost Hour to tick the Furious Fiction brief and tell an odd and unlikely story about the world losing an hour. But I also wanted it to offer a tiny window into the mind of a man who's lost more and seeks redemption.

Did I achieve my goal? That's for the reader to decide.

Read The Lost Hour on Tall And True and listen to the story on Tall And True Short Reads.

Family Reflections (April 2023)

Family Reflections (originally titled Morning Reflections) marked my third anniversary of writing Furious Fiction. The brief for April was:

  • The story had to have something that CHANGES COLOUR
  • Include the words ACCEPT, POINT, RIDDLE, INKLING and LABEL 
  • And have an ENGAGING OPENING SENTENCE that would make readers want to read on.

My first idea was a dark piece on domestic violence, opening with a woman staring at her bruised face in a mirror. However, I decided I couldn't tell that story, so I abandoned it. But I kept the mirror and gave it the narrator's voice.

I enjoyed exploring the possibilities of a bathroom mirror reflecting on the family. As an older dad, I recognised its melancholy, recalling the children's younger days and its worry over the effects of ageing on the parents. And I'm sure the family and I are not alone in confiding our confidences and concerns to our reflections, with no INKLING that the mirror may be listening to us. 

Family Reflections was my twenty-seventh consecutive short story submitted to the challenge (there were fewer Furious Fictions when it switched to quarterly in 2022), and [drum roll, please], it was my first Showcased story on the Writers' Centre's website. A fitting anniversary gift!

Read Family Reflections on Tall And True and listen to the story on Tall And True Short Reads.

Twelve More Furious Months (ebook)Buy on Amazon, Apple Books and Kobo

One of Those Mornings (April 2024)

The brief for April 2024's Furious Fiction was:

  • Your story's first sentence must be a question
  • It must include something being pulled
  • And the words POST, TEAR and THUNDER. 

In addition to examples of questions and how writers can use them to open a story and engage the reader, the Writers' Centre specified: 

For this challenge, we don’t want to see any "she said" or "Jane asked" tags at the end of this first sentence. It must end with a question mark!

My question, "Have you ever had one of those days?" and the scenario for the short story about a widowed father with a teenage daughter came to me very quickly. But soon after I started writing, I realised it was too broad, and I'd need far more than 500 words to tell the story. And even if I had 1000 words, I doubted it would engage the reader until "The End"!

So, midway through, I gave up on the story and thought of another opening question, "Can you keep a secret?" I wrote a paragraph but returned to my original story, drawn back by its characters and premise. However, I tightened the timeline and pace by slightly modifying the question, "Have you ever had one of those mornings?"

The Writers' Centre judges didn't Showcase or longlist my fifth April Furious Fiction, which was disappointing. But as my protagonist artist says in another of my Furious Fictions, The Winner's Toast (August 2021), "I've learned to channel disappointment into creative energy." 

I revisited the story, tweaked a few sentences and shared One of Those Mornings on Tall And True.

Official versus Unofficial

In the introduction to Twelve Furious Months, the collection of my first twelve months of Furious Fiction stories, I wrote:

I look forward to the Writers' Centre's monthly Furious Fiction competitions because I've become addicted to the escapism of writing short stories!

In December 2021, the Writers' Centre announced that Furious Fiction was moving to a quarterly challenge. I knew other writers like me would miss our monthly writing fix, so I contacted the Writers' Centre and asked if I could promote unofficial, off-quarterly-month "Furious Fictions". There would be no judging or prizes, just the self-satisfaction of writing a short story in 55 hours, with the brief selected randomly from their archive of previous challenges (dating back to February 2018).

The Writers' Centre responded they had no issue with the concept, but I might like to choose another time of the month to run it because they were planning First Friday Fixes in between the quarterly Furious Fictions.

The First Friday Fix emails would include writing tips, micro-story challenges, and profiles of Furious Fiction Fan Club members. And [proud puffing of cheeks] they invited me to be the first fan profile!

As I wrote in a January 2022 blog post, I was immensely proud to be profiled in the First Friday Fix email, and I enjoyed the Writers' Centre's 50-word challenge. But I still missed Furious Fiction.

So, while the challenge was quarterly (from January 2022 to March 2023), I wrote and shared three unofficial stories. I also finished the two short stories I'd started when I was on holiday, which is why April 2024's story was my forty-third "official and unofficial" Furious Fiction.

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Thanks, Writers' Centre

I love looking back at my writing to see how I've developed as a storyteller, and Furious Fiction has been a major part of that development.

The Writers' Centre's challenges have helped improve my writing and writing process and given me the confidence to know I can start and finish a story, even if sometimes I need to abandon it and set off in another direction.

So thanks, once again, Writers' Centre for Furious Fiction. Since April 2020, you've inspired me to write and share my short stories and to launch a storytelling podcast. Here's to the next Five April Stories!

© 2024 Robert Fairhead

Thanks to Chris Stermitz from Pixabay for sharing the image of five hands.

N.B. You might like to read another of my Showcased Furious Fictions from September 2023, My Speech

Grammarly

Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com. He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.

Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story. In 2021, Robert published his first twelve short stories for the Furious Fiction writing competition, Twelve Furious Months, and in 2022, his second collection of Furious Fictions, Twelve More Furious Months. And in 2023, he published an anthology of his microfiction, Tall And True Microfiction.

Besides writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, watching Aussie Rules football with his son and walking his dog.

He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. ~ Maya Angelou

Tall And True showcases the writing — fiction, nonfiction and reviews — of a dad and dog owner, writer and podcaster, Robert Fairhead. Guest Writers are also invited to share and showcase their writing on the website.

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