Flash Fiction Friday 061: Carte Blanche by Marion Grace Woolley

Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the sixty-first piece in this series. This week’s is a 922-worder by multi-genre author guest bloggerinterviewee and spotlightee Marion Grace Woolley, which won first place in the Swanezine Short Story Competition in December 2011. 🙂

Carte Blanche

We’re like the sea, you and I. Rolling to a thick, deep rhythm that only we can hear. That invincible river of truth running between two distant shores, the type of truth you can drown in. 

Some nights, that’s exactly what happens, dragged beneath the surface of my own consciousness. Pulled under by the crocodile teeth of my own lies, ready for that final death roll. I wake, sweat drenched and sour in my own scent. Afraid that I will never be able to rise again, back to the cool oxygen that my body craves.

That’s the thing about cravings. Some things you crave because, without them, your flesh would die. You need to breathe, to eat, to drink. But other things – you need them just as much, but, in needing them, you’re killing yourself.

You never understood that, did you? You never quite got it.

And now it’s too late. Every day of our lives I tried to explain it to you. Tried to show you; make you aware. At first I thought you hadn’t noticed – I really was that subtle. Pouring your champagne before mine. Helping you into your coat as we left the restaurant. Would I have noticed? Probably not.

But as time went by, I started to suspect. I knew you better than that, see. To me, you’re like crackle glass. There’s nothing transparent about you. If you were ordinary, I could look straight through you and know all there is to know. I could see our future on the other side of you. I could look you over, and look away.

But you’re not. Your clarity changes with the light. Those thick fractures within you, they fascinate the eye. I could gaze at you for a lifetime and never see the complete picture. It takes a complicated person to be that beautiful. It takes intelligence to break itself upon the jarred rocks of self-realisation and denial.

That’s how I knew that you were choosing not to acknowledge me. You were fully aware of my craving, yet you chose to overlook it. You chose to withdraw into the facetious playroom of childhood innocence. You chose to be stupid, blind and dumb.

And every part of me wanted you more for that.

I couldn’t help what happened that night. The fairy lights twinkled as bright as stars around the garden trellis. Your husband and his fat, porky guests quaffing port like pigs in a mud hole. Drunk on their own fine taste and sense of self-worth. I watched you smile, like a string of pearls strung around a pauper. That fake, false way that I watched you cultivate over twenty years of marriage.

I missed the girl in you. I missed the part that was real; that was genuine. Where did she go? Sometimes when we’d take tea, or walk in the country, I’d imagine that I caught a glimpse of her. For a moment she would return as if from some far-flung adventure to the outer shores of existence. ‘I was always coming home,’ she’d say, then just as soon be off on her next escapade, far beyond my grasp.

I loved you from the first moment I saw you, standing in your skinny gym slip at St. Mary of the Immaculate Heart’s. I cherished those all-girl dances we used to attend. They were our salad days. Where no man could touch you, because none were invited.

Every sentence begins with ‘I’, because I never knew what you thought or felt. Did you ever look at me sideways in the showers? Did you ever wonder? Did you ever, for one brief moment, in the dark-enraptured night, consider what it might have been like?

Each of your boyfriends came and went, so literally. Yet I was always constant. After every heartbreak, after every betrayal – wasn’t I always there, just as I ever was? Perhaps you believed my inventions, those imaginary boyfriends who never called and never sent me flowers. Surely you knew that there was only ever one. One person, out of the entire world, that had my full attention.

It had to be said. As we sat beneath the eaves of your grand affluence, staring out across the night-cooled lawns towards the lake. It had to be said.

The sting of your hand across my face burns still. That hot horror as you realised what I had been trying to tell you all our lives. And in that moment, as your eyes flashed and your pearls broke and scattered, I knew that you had known. I knew that, in your own way, you had expected this moment to come.

I suppose, if we’re now to be honest, I had always known your reaction. What caused me to provoke you, I cannot say. The empty look of your Gould-guzzling guests, your husband’s hollow laugh; the sheer plasticity of it all? The faintest recognition in the depths of my soul that there could be another life behind all of this. Something real. Something meaningful.

And now, there is nothing. Should I regret opening my mouth? Because I do, with every ounce of my being. If, by staying silent, I could look upon you every day for the rest of our lives – look, but never touch – I would sign my name to that contract. But it’s too late. That river of truth touches both our continents, but forever keeps us worlds apart.

Should you ever return to the country of our birth, you shall find me waiting. Here, beneath the eaves.

I asked Marion what prompted this piece and she said…

Carte Blanche was written specifically for the Swanezine Short Story Competition in December 2011. Incredibly, it beat 214 other entries to take the (cash) first prize. So, an afternoon well spent.

I’ve been a long-standing supporter of a scriptwriting community called Celtx. They used to run short competitions on their forum, based on prompts. Their 14th competition, in 2008, asked for a ‘script over 5 pages of a meeting between two formerly-close friends that haven’t seen one another for over a year.’

I titled my seven-page entry Meet Me Next June. It was set in a café where two formerly-close friends, June (ho ho) and Emily, were experiencing a less-than-comfortable reunion. Friends for years, they had fallen out when June finally confessed her feelings and tried to kiss Emily. It’s a theme that I had been holding onto for a while.

At the time of writing Carte Blanche, I had been enthused by the Muse. Every now and then – rarely – you meet someone who captures your imagination. It’s never a deliberate thing, but it has the effect of wiring you into the mains, rather than running off double As.

Possibly for that reason, this story was one of the easiest to write; it just flowed onto the page. I think I knew, when I got to the end, that I’d written something special. It’s a hefty thing to say, but I still class this as one of the best pieces I’ve written to date. See what you think.

It was great. Thank you, Marion.

Marion Grace Woolley is the author of four novels and a collection of short stories. In 2009, she was shortlisted for the Luke Bitmead Bursary for New Writers.

Balancing her creative impulses with a career in International Development, she has worked and travelled across Africa, Australia, Armenia, and a few other places beginning with ‘A’.

An associate member of the Society of Authors, Marion is currently at work on her fifth novel.

You can find out more about Marion and her writing from her website and see her book trailer on YouTube.

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If you’d like to submit your 1,000-word max. stories for consideration for Flash Fiction Friday take a look here.

The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with psychological thriller novelist Rebecca Reid – the five hundred and fifty-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

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You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything. You can contact me and find me on the internetview my Books (including my debut novel!) and I also have a blog creation / maintenance service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

Author Spotlight no.83 – Marion Grace Woolley

Complementing my daily blog interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the eighty-third, is of Marion Grace Woolley.

Marion Grace Woolley studied at the British Record Industry Trust (BRIT) School of Performing Arts, Croydon. After obtaining an MA in Language & Communication Research from the University of Cardiff, she declared that she’d had enough of academia and decided to run away to Africa.

Balancing her creative impulses with a career in International Development, she worked and travelled across Africa, Australia, Armenia, and a few other places beginning with ‘A’. In 2009, Marion helped to oversee the publication of the first Dictionary of Amarenga y’Ikinyarwanda (Rwandan Sign Language). A project of which she was immensely proud to have been a part.

The same year, Marion was shortlisted for the Luke Bitmead Bursary for New Writers. She is the author of three novels and an associate member of the Society of Authors.

She now lives in Gloucester, having just taken on the role of managing the New Olympus Theatre.

And now from the author herself:

I think that I’ve always been a writer, in much the same way that I’ve always been female. It’s just something I am, rather than something I consciously set out to become. In that respect, I’ve been quite lucky. We tend to excel at the things we enjoy, and I enjoy writing immensely. Of course I have my off-days, and the occasional month of intellectual inertia – who doesn’t? But I always come back to the page. I think, in order to write good stories, you have to love stories themselves. Within every author is an inherent need to communicate: ideas, expressions, knowledge. A compelling need to get something across. To reach an ‘aha!’ moment of understanding with another person. Whether that person is reading you on a commuter train, whether they’re lying in bed or rowing single-handedly around the world. We reach out with our words and seed imaginings.

One of my favourite Latin phrases is: Pro captu lectoris habent sua fata libelli – which basically means ‘each book has its destiny according to the capability of its reader.’ I love that as a concept. That, as writers, we breathe life into something which goes on to fulfil its own destiny in the hands of the people who read it.

I also think that authors – especially of contemporary fiction – have to be pretty fearless. You have to be willing to ‘go there’. To speak from a place of questioning and observation. Big books require big ideas, which come from testing boundaries, travelling, seeing things, talking about them – an exhausting undertaking.

I’m not just talking about travelling in a geographical sense – though that is important. I also mean travelling within oneself. Great stories almost always include some element of love, conflict and death. A straight-road story from A-Z through B, C and D is dull. People read fiction in a similar way to peering through the proscenium arch of a theatre. They want to observe a human disaster, without having to live it. That’s how we learn. We watch things happening from a safe distance, allowing us to retain enough sense of self to analyse what is happening and plot our response.

I think that’s why I find it difficult to stick to one genre. Thanks to e-publishing and flourishing small press, I don’t have to. Fiction, for me, is a constant exploration of Self, even in its most sycophantic or indulgent form. To restrict myself to one genre or style would breed frustration down the line. It might not be the best marketing technique, but it’s best for me as a writer right now.

For aspiring writers, I’d go back to that quote. Remember that every book has a soul within it. Trust in that soul to shine through.

Then invest in an editor.

Now I know why my school best friend studied Latin. Thank you, Marion. You can find more about Marion and her writing via…
Her website: http://www.authormgw.co.uk
Angorichina Book Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOfH_BGLhAc
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Marion-Grace-Woolley/215153611833763
Twitter: @AuthorMGW / https://twitter.com/#!/AuthorMGW

The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with author Susan Spence – the three hundred and sixty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & NobleiTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum and you can follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.  I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.