Flash Fiction WINNER 🏆

I’m making a deliberate effort to change the way I write and SOMETIMES alter the narrative perspective and style of my stories. It’s not easy. I think most writers have a ‘way’ they work and it can be incredibly hard to break away from.

But one of the most important elements of my creative journey is keeping it interesting, challenging and fresh. This inevitably means changing the way I write. Just coming up with a new story each time isn’t enough. I look back at my early entries (over a year old) and I can see clearly why they were unsuccessful. I was failing to get noticed and then entering writing competitions with stories that came from the same mould.

I was flogging a dead story.

This year has been decidedly different, and not just for my writing style, but also for the REASON I choose to write.

Instead of blindly chucking entries with barely enough thought in them to competition organisers, I am carefully looking at the competition itself and ONLY creating an entry if I feel inspired to do so, with a story that feels engaging.

Again, it’s not easy and often I find myself having to accept that, although I want to enter a comp, I don’t have an entry that feels like a good fit. For me, it’s better not to enter at all than to send in something that feels sub-par. That’s what I was doing for a while before this eureka! moment hit me.

What’s changed?

Well as I say, I want to sound like a different writer when I enter stories. At least sometimes.

I’m studying for a Degree in Creative Writing and Design, and the focus now (year 4) is writing fiction…despite writing almost every day for years now, it’s been a MASSIVE learning curve. I’ve been looking at setting, showing not telling, narrative, form, character development and most importantly, genre.

I’m not sure where my style has fit in the past. Actually, I’m not sure where I fit now. I like to think all of my stories leave you with questions, but not always a cliffhanger. It’s not always terrifying or romantic, quite often it contains characters I’m able to pad out because I know them from my own life. Sometimes (more often than not) they are me.

So, predictably, the story that I’m telling you about today was created around a character that’s loosely based on a past life of my own.

Sandy is a woman working on the end of the 999 phone line – a job I was doing myself, only temporarily, several years ago. And I really loved it. Anyone who’s worked in a call centre will tell you the job is mainly dross. The same calls over and over again OR the same silence (due to lack of punters) over and over again. Despite being an emergency service rather than a retail or customer service role, the same applies for Emergency Operators. You can go for half an hour without a call coming through if your shift falls at the wrong time of day.

Call centres are an all-or-nothing environment and your shift is bearable or unbearable based entirely on the regularity of the calls coming in. If your headset is silent, if you’re spending most of your time twirling around on your office chair admiring that random stain on the ceiling, if you’re trying desperately not to fall asleep in front of your computer monitor (we’ve all been there!), then your day is going to drag better than RuPaul, and frankly it’ll be shite.

On the flipside, if you’re put on a busy shift (for 999 evenings and weekends were best for this), the liklihood is your shift will pass by in the blink of an eye, often leading to accidentally leaving later than scheduled.

But there’s a huge drawback to those fast-paced, blink-and-you-miss-it shifts…

The calls.

If you’ve been busy, then you’ve probably received a difficult call. And by difficult I mean something that doesn’t involve the standard script. I mean a call that punches you in your heart, reminding you of your own loved ones and maybe even forcing you to remember difficult situations in your past. You can hear abuse, blow by blow, as it happens at the other end of the call and you are redundant in your ability to stop someones pain. Someone you are talking directly to and trying, often with utter desperation, to help.

That’s what’s happening in the story below. A story that WON the Secret Attic Week 10 Weekly Write. Yes!

So there is alot to be said for writing what you know. I do it all the time. The stories are often an invention that’s moulded around a situation I’ve heard about or been part of and, in my experience, the best stories on paper are the ones that stick out in real life.

I have many calls I remember from my short time on the end of that phone. I had to leave for personal health reasons but, had that not been the case, I’d probably still be there now. It’s a taxing job and even the least-caring member of staff is hit by the sadness or upset of a call that really hits home from time-to-time.

I only had 300 words to play with for this story, and I had to include the phrase “Emergency, which service?”. The route to my story was obvious for me, because I’ve been the person saying those words. However I’m certain there is another story, possibly the same story I’ve written but from the CALLERS point of view, that could be passed out in 300 words and give you a completely different feeling or alternative questions when you’ve finished reading.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, point of view and the narrator are critical in seeing the difference of those 2 ideas.

Anyway, you can see proof of my WIN 🏆 on the Secret Attic website. As always, the story is below for you to devour and (hopefully) enjoy. I really hope you agree with the judges decision. Behind this flash fiction is an important message for us all, a message that should remind us to look out for people who are suffering in silence. A reminder to take care of each other.

A reminder that call handlers are people too. They really are.

The picture

This is the most route-one picture I’ve created, but the story is called ‘Jalapenos’ so I drew a bloody jalapeno. Sue me.

**********

Jalapenos

Sandy had a job she loved. She felt lucky, no two days were the same. Every call was surprising, some far more than others.

However, today was slow. Lack of punters.

A beep sounded in her ear signalling an incoming call…

“Emergency, which service?”.

Silence. Sandy rolled her eyes, frustrated. Another prank call.

“Emergency, which service?”.

“Can I order a pizza please?”.

“Madam this is an emergency line, if there’s no emergency, I’ll be forced to terminate the call”.

“Yes, large please. Extra pepperoni”.

Sandy’s skin prickled.

The Ambulance Service was hot on safeguarding abused women, training operators to listen for callers asking for takeaways. ‘Extra pepperoni’ was the phrase charities were promoting to secretly convey their fear, danger, and desperation for help without alerting their abuser.

Her tone changed automatically.

“I’m here to help. Are you in danger? If you are, ask me for jalapenos too”.

There was a pause and Sandy’s training forced her to reluctantly focus on the background noise. Disgusted, she heard crying children clearly caught in the middle of a man’s drunken rampage.

“Jalapenos too please”.

The loud humming of her grey open-plan office went numb and although the call lasted seconds, it felt like hours. Sandy diligently ensured the family had officers on-site before leaving 20 minutes late.

***

She opened her door and enjoyed the heat on her frosty cheeks and the morning stress melted away too.

“Dave? I’m home”

“Where the fuck have you been?” Dave staggered down the stairs with a bottle of whiskey in his left hand and a clenched fist on the right.

Sandy’s heart sank. She instantly knew another evening of anguish lay ahead.

Remembering the family earlier she wondered when she’d be ordering her own pizza, and if she’d have the bravery for jalapenos too.

Published by stephc2021

Hi! I'm Steph, an amateur writer and illustrator specialising in Mental Health and being a self-confessed Spoonie. My website is home to any successful fiction I create, with stories that have won so far covering difficult subjects such as baby loss and mental health in grief as well as some funny and heart-warming tales when I get the inspiration. Every drawing and picture on my website was created by me. I spend a lot of time coming up with illustrations to accompany all of my posts and pages. I try to create original content across all of my channels, whether I'm writing about my own fiction or just generally musing on mental health or my own issues. I want to be part of the change because I believe the understanding of MH in the UK is getting better, but has a very long way to go. By being honest about my own struggles and symptoms I think others will relate and hopefully it will encourage them to talk to someone and get the help and support they need. Long term my goal is to help children too, help them understand their own mental health and how to help with the mental health of those around them. I live in the UK with my partner, daughter and dog, I swear frequently and I adore a well made, traditional, gooey, chocolatey, delicious brownie.

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