Fiction

Snazzy Snippets: The Incredible Weight of Feathers

This is enormously delayed and I believe I should have done it quite awhile ago, but no matter: today, for the first time, I'm joining Alyssa and Emily in their lovely Snazzy Snippets link-up! I have admired the beautiful pieces in previous versions of the link-up from afar, but I am so very delighted to be joining the pack this month. For some context, here is the description of Snazzy Snippets:

It’s an opportunity for writers! Every two months, we post a prompt or question for you to share a snippet of less than 500 words. It’s designed to let you have fun, analyse your work on a smaller level, or just write something to join in.

This month, to celebrate 2016 and the New Year, the three possible prompts were:

A snippet from page 16 or A snippet of 16 words or fewer or A snippet about something NEW e.g. a new year, new school, introducing a new person/character/setting, a new revelation

Here is a fun story for you:

Two nights ago, I sat down at my computer at 11pm, exhausted but with a new story idea. I said to myself that I would write for only an hour and then go to bed and pick the story up in the morning. Fail-safe plan, no?

Midnight rolled around and I was still writing. Didn't Hemingway or someone say something about how one should stop in the middle a sentence so that one can pick up in the midst of the story the next time one begins writing? No matter, that was a good enough excuse. I closed the computer, turned off the light, and climbed into bed.

Half an hour later, I couldn't sleep. All I could think of was the story; I was tossing and turning and my mind refused to quiet down. So finally I succumbed and decided that there was no way I'd be able to sleep now. And so, at 12:30, I got out of bed, retrieved my computer, and began writing.

"It's 1:30 in the morning. I have to sleep." I went back to bed.

This story refused to leave me alone. It kept pestering me. Kept whispering in my ear. And I was sitting there like "Oh my goodness, shut up, I'm trying to sleep." No. The story would not go away. 2am was here. I was more exhausted than ever, and I still couldn't sleep. I was regretting ever having started the story.

I got up again and said "well, my life is going to hell," but I picked up my computer and kept writing. At this point, as one might imagine, I had essentially given up on life, and so I didn't even look at the clock. I ended up writing until 3am, and then finally I went to bed. I was meant to go out for breakfast with a friend the next morning, but ha, there was no way that was happening, so I texted my friend to cancel. (Thank goodness, he is familiar my nocturnal writerly habits, and so at least I knew he would be all right with it.)

At last I was able to fall asleep, but then, at 6am, I woke up. Couldn't go back to sleep. I looked at the clock and said "I despise everything," and then I got out my computer and wrote, wrote, wrote until 10am rolled around and my family was worried about why I hadn't come out of my room yet.

Here is a small part of the result of that, from the short story The Incredible Weight of Feathers. I chose the third prompt, something new—in this case, a new revelation—and it is part of a story about a fallen angel, and the woman who finds her on earth, and the old man who tries his best to send her back to the stars where she belongs.

(Also, one more thing—I will be sharing this full story with my newsletter lovelies this afternoon, along with the chance to help me edit it. Please do join us. I would so love to hear your thoughts.)

But for now: enjoy! xx

But then there are the good days, and these are what the woman tries to focus on. There is one day when the carnival is in town and, on heart-soft whim, the woman drives the angel to the fair and calls the old man, and all three of them spend a sun-soaked afternoon wandering through the fairgrounds, ignoring the stares of passers-by as they glimpse the angel’s rustling wings and the man’s floor-length beard.

There are quiet, small moments that the woman plucks from the singing wind and tucks away: the angel’s laugh, however rare it is, how she throws her head back and giggles with supernova delight. The gossamer film that drops over her eyes when she is too exhausted to keep them open. The way she gives the woman a tiny, uncertain half-smile when she doesn’t know what is going on, as if she is asking for confirmation, for directions – mostly as if she wants the woman to hold her hand and guide her through the soot-dark path of being human, and that makes the woman’s chest ache in a way she is not sure how to explain.

But they are at the carnival, and the old man points out a caramel apple stall, and the woman buys the angel an apple and watches as she studies it carefully.

“You’re supposed to eat it. It’s sweet,” the woman explains with overcooked patience.

Finally the angel nods, serious as ever, and takes a tentative nibble at the caramel. And then her eyes are widening, and after a beat of shock she turns and flashes that rarely glimpsed sky smile, the kind that calls the woman a miracle worker without words, and the woman can see that her eyes are filling. “How did you know?” the angel whispers.

“I – what?” the woman asks, lost, because the angel is looking at her like the moon shines at its lover, but the woman has no idea what she has done.

“This,” the angel says, waving the caramel apple, “this tastes like – like stardust. It tastes like home.”

They are both smiling at each other, close enough for something infinite, one flushed with wild, glowing joy and the other soft with unsaid things.

The old man looks between them.

“Oh,” he says.

16-16: The End

It has been a wild, beautiful ride.

I'm finding it hard to believe that our 16-16 project has come to an end at last. Who would have thought that I could become such close friends with 15 strangers in the space of two weeks? And who would have thought that we would create something so magical?

Our book contains sad Elvis impersonators and a copious amount of pickles, detectives and radio shows, out-of-work actors and overbearing mothers. It is insane, and random, and cobbled together with 16 different writing styles. And it is perhaps one of the loveliest things I have ever had the pleasure of calling my own.

The editing was frantic and fast-paced, filled with everything from major structural rearrangements to minor line edits. I must admit that I did not get much sleep over the three days—and if I hear the words "pickle" and "Elvis" in the same sentence one more time, I may go insane—but now that it's all over, I'm finding myself almost mourning the loss of this book.

Not that I've lost it completely, of course. After all, now it is time for the Tny Press team to take over, to work their magic as a publishing house will do, and then in January I will hold it in my hands once more and so will all of you, for the first time. It is not perfect—far from it, in fact—but its imperfections give it character, I think. It is the product of 16 days of laughter, of frustration, of arguments, of delight, of newfound friendship. I wouldn't dream of changing it.

So now that these 16 beautiful days are over, I will be turning my attention to other writerly endeavours. There is more work to be done elsewhere, as always—but this project is one that has profoundly changed my writing, and I am so very grateful to have taken part. And more excited than ever for you to read it.

I will be sending out a letter to my email lovelies in the next couple of days with a more in-depth exploration of how it went—and all of the victories and pitfalls, and what I learned—but for now, the next you will hear from me about this project is in January.

I'm sorry to leave it behind. But also: excited for what the future holds. After NaNoWriMo in November and now this taking up the first half of December, I feel as if all of the prose has been squeezed out of me. We still have three more weeks of winter break, and I am planning on immersing myself in poetry. And sharing it with all of you. Of course.

There is more to come in the days ahead, but for now, I will leave you with this: don't forget about the 16-16 project. You won't want to miss it in January.

All my love. xx