Responses to a Demonetisation Short Story – can you guess what they might have been?

As previously mentioned, I’ve been taking part in a short-story writing challenge this year. One of the December stories, and surprisingly only one, had the ongoing demonetisation fiasco as part of its theme.

The story was a simple one. A man takes his last ₹1,000 note to market to buy a longed-for item. To his dismay, his is informed that his ₹1,000 note is no longer acceptable. He is emotionally crushed by confusion and disappointment at this news. But later, along with a group of others, he is serendipitously gifted lots of newly-minted ₹2,000 notes. The story is a fun read and, pardon or not the pun, right on the money in terms of being bang up-to-date. The story line even ends on a happy note (a rare thing in the short story world – short-form writers tend to be joyful realists).

However, out of the critiquing round, can you guess what was the most consistent response?
Was it that the characters were not well drawn?
No.
Was it that the setting was not well described?
No.
Was it lack of a good plot?
No.
Was it that the sudden appearance of new ₹2,000 notes was unbelievable?
No.

OK, suspense over. The consensus was that given the story has an upbeat ending, in amongst the₹2,000 notes there should be plenty of ₹100.

I think this tells us something about people’s true reactions to the demonetisation debacle – which continues unabated – despite Modi’s ascertion that all would be well for everyone by 30th December. Sadly, with only a few days remaining, we still have no sight of the necessary and much needed ₹500 notes or even access to larger daily ATM withdrawal amounts.

Now remember, the story ended on a happy note, yet several of those critiquing the story wanted an additional hit of realism added to the ending. Here’s why.

Much as those ₹2,000 notes would have been welcome, cash is cash is cash after all (hear that Modi and all), those darn ₹2,00o notes are difficult to deal with; many people and businesses cannot constantly give away their precious ₹100 notes as change to every customer. Nor are there enough ₹10 or ₹20 notes to make up that short fall. All in, every day people are continuing to struggle. For some, farmers and labourers in particular, they are facing starvation for themselves and their families, employers can no longer employ workers, or they use workers but can’t pay them. There is much strife and much fudging of the truth around this. For example, propaganda abounds about villages that have gone cashless. IN TRUTH these villages are not cashless, they are poor, have low internet connectivity and regular power outages daily. IN TRUTH cashless educators have simply been to the village and inducted some of the villagers about the processes around being cashless. Giving advice and training about how to process cashless payments is far from being truly cashless, a state which I feel most villagers would decline if they were offered the choice.

Here I am going to do a ‘I told you so’ mini-rant given I expressed this belief back in November  – the ongoing push towards a cashless society was the true motivation behind Modi’s demonetisation drive, and not the hounding of black money dealers he originally declared. Because anyone with even an ounce of savvy about how corporations and governments are behaving can see that being cashless means the populace at large become more visible to an ever-increasingly despotic and authoritarian notion of governance.

As things stand, we in India are only a few days away from Modi’s earlier assertion that things will return to normal by year end. Given the images of long ATM queues, lack of useful change at shops and businesses, and the long, long wait for new ₹500 notes to appear, me thinks ‘normal’ is still some weeks off.

Fortunately, Mr D and I are currently blessed to have minimal needs as well as the opportunity to withdraw cash from a bank branch other than SBI: we’re not hungry; our bills are minimal; we plod on. I’m still hankering after getting certain tasks and jobs I have on my To Do List attended to, but for now they are still deferred until there is cash to fulfil them – clearly that’s a minor worry. For now I am on a Modi-imposed belt-tightening drive. The skipping is helping too.

But back to that short story. I’m truly hoping the writer is even now doing her last round of edits and getting it sent out. The timeliness of the plot line and the wonderful twist at the end are a winner!

Happy Holidays Everyone
   ❤︎    

 

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A Kiss to Remember Him By – A Short Story

That Kiss. It had meant something. She was certain. So why would he not reply to her texts? Why the sudden silence after all the talk, the sweetness, the fun, the laughter? And that kiss?

She had been reasonable. She had been fair. Her messages to him had been benign: How’s it going? Hope your hangover’s not as bad as mine LOL. Are you free this weekend to meet for coffee? But nothing: no response; not a silly emoticon; not even a curt rebuff. Where had she gone wrong?

She trudged back in to work on the Monday after the weekend that followed their after-work Friday-night jaunt, and that kiss. An empty text message inbox and overflowing mind still tormented her.

Mid-morning he appeared at her office door. ‘Hi. I think you’ve got something of mine.’

‘Uh?’ She looked away from her computer screen and up at his face. The face with which she had shared that kiss. Sensing how shapeless and humdrum she must now appear – make-up less, hair unwashed since Saturday morning, dressed in black jeans and black jumper – she couldn’t have felt more unworthy of that kiss.

Knowing her bravado on Friday night had been buoyed by alcohol, she nevertheless truly believed in the deep connection she had felt with the man who had just now walked into her office. She had not hesitated when he had moved closer to her on that pub banquette; hadn’t recoiled when he had whispered to her the secret of his strangeness. Instead she had leaned towards him and felt the sweetness of his breath send sensual messages skipping across her nerve endings. His tongue in her mouth had been like nothing she had imagined, not even in the fantasies of her many lonely nights. His kiss, like his secret, had been otherworldly; her whole body had responded as his tongue, his lips, had played on hers and she had felt a swell of sensations in her crotch as his hands had held her face to his.

‘I reckon you’ve got something of mine? From Friday night?’

‘Really? Like what?’ She became aware of how vacuous she must have appeared to him, as though he had been explaining the philosophy of quantum physics. For a moment the shape of his irises narrowed giving her the impression of the arrow slits of an ancient castle, equally disquieting.

‘My mobile phone?’

‘Uh? I mean, really?’ she frowned at him.

‘I spent all weekend checking the places we went to, even tracked down the cabbie we got. You probably grabbed it when we were rushed out of that pub,’ he said. ‘You’re my last hope.’

‘Oh, OK. Let me have a look.’

She rummaged in her cloth backpack, pulled out headphones, wallet, make-up bag. She didn’t pull out the spare tampon, or chocolate wrapper, nor the two used tissues or the dried apple core.

‘Oh God.’ Her hand felt the hard, smooth edges of what she immediately recognised as a phone that was not hers. Pulling it out of her bag cautiously, as if taking a Fabergé egg from a velvet-lined box, and with a physical sensation in her belly as though a sack of rotten eggs was about to explode, she knew exactly what was waiting for him, about her, once he had charged it, once he had accessed his messages, once he had read the trail of texts she had sent since Friday night, through the entire weekend and even that very morning: Don’t know why you’ve not replied all weekend. Was Friday night so awful? Really enjoyed getting to know you. Was hoping we could spend more time together. Cannot believe you’ve not replied. That’s just plain rude. Please don’t come see me for a while. But here he was with a cool outstretched hand, fingers slightly webbed, skin rippling drily. His hand hovered momentarily, then took the phone from hers. She felt her stomach gurgle – those eggs felt ready to explode. When she lowered her eyes and saw her belongings strewn across her desk she grabbed at them and started shoving them back into her bag.

‘Right. Thanks. I’ll be seeing you then,’ he said.

‘Yeah, right,’ head down, she continued to grapple with her things as she listened to his receding footsteps.

She threw her bag onto the floor then flopped back in her chair. ‘Oh God. Oh God, oh God. My life sucks.’ Immediately she remembered, that kiss. It had been a taboo-breaking kiss, but she had enjoyed the thrill of it and now wanted to dive into what lay beyond, the way a free-diver plunges into the ocean. She had liked her first kiss with a reptilian-human hybrid. She had liked it a lot.

A 2016 Short Story Writing Challenge

Back in December 2015 Radhika Meganathan, a writer friend from Chennai (India), was visiting London and we had a lunchtime catch-up in the hubbub that is Westfields just before Christmas. She told me about her 12×12 Short Story Writing Challenge that she would be hosting again in 2016. I loved the idea.

Most writers work better with deadlines, but what was also compelling for me was the idea that I would get some much-longed for feedback on my writing. All I had to do each month, along with everyone else on the challenge, was to write a new and complete short story of between 1,000 and 6,000 words and then critique the stories submitted by the rest of the group. A great opportunity to work on my craft and skills, and pull together a collection of stories. I was in.

Now, with only two weeks left of 2016, those of us still in the challenge – about less than half who started back in January – are looking toward celebrating our achievement. No small thing when every participant has so many other priorities and commitments to focus on. In fact, throughout my involvement I have both loved and hated being part of the challenge because of those very things.

What I have loved is …

… the challenge of working through to a completed story each month. The process has involved: wondering what tale to tell, how to weave it into a cohesive, punchy, satisfying whole; starting to jot ideas down and have one, or a combination of ideas, begin to flow and meld into something akin to a story someone, anyone, would want to read; hanging out with some new characters; delving into different landscapes and locations; reaching an end point. For too long I have kept several electronic folders full of started, incomplete and sketched-out stories lurking in the near periphery of my consciousness like persistent mosquitoes buzzing just out of sight. Last year (2015) I think I only completed three stories, so now, with the end of the year in sight, I have 12 complete stories. That achievement is a major confidence boost.

… the challenge of critiquing a significant number of good stories each month. Surrendering myself to new worlds. Exposing my heart and mind to quirky plots, intricacies of erudition, the curious and the fantastical. Seeking ways to clarify the hunch that something does/not work. Figuring out how best to explain a particular problem.

… that my fellow writing challenge participants were willing to give their honest and learned opinions about my work, always managing to highlight something useful, from a bloody obvious typo to some crucial element of the story that’s missing, like a plot hole or a lack of clearly-evoked emotion or a poorly-described scene.

… feeling flattered that these same folk have looked forward to my comments on their stories.

What I have hated is …

… how some months, after taking time out to work on other projects, I suddenly found there are only about a few days in which to produce a decent, rather than very rough, draft.

… how I never gave myself enough time to get the depth and richness out of a story because I didn’t use the full month between submissions to work on what was presenting itself and make the story even better.

… that doing my monthly critiques took me an inordinate amount of time ( I call it being thorough…).

… that each month I wondered if I could keep the momentum going when I had a shit load of other things I was and am trying to move forward. In the end, continuing with the benefits of staying in the challenge outweighed the considerations to quit and the consequent anxieties. I dearly wanted to get on with those other things, but I stuck with the challenge because I was benefiting in a whole host of ways.

Overall I loved…

… completing a fresh batch of stories

… getting concrete feedback about my work

… my writing craft being richly informed and developed by the review process (both giving and receiving critiques)

On a final note about the challenge
A side benefit of being in India during my participation in the challenge was that I got to meet some of the other writers, all of whom were previously unknown to me. Rads, our challenge founder and moderator, has been in the writing world for a long while. She’s run and hosted several writing workshops and online courses, and given talks and encouragement to many other groups. In April 2016 Rads hosted a challenge get-together and I was lucky enough to be able to join them and meet some of the Chennai wing for an afternoon of chat. The meet-up was such fun. Meeting people who for the previous few months had simply been stories, reviews and a few email comments appeared as their real, non-virtual selves in the comfort of a cosy diner in north-central Chennai. As I often find with writers, they were all great people – interesting, quirky, vivacious, thoughtful, wise, funny, opinionated, curious, responsive, intelligent.

Version 2

A happy Sara having just met some of the lovely writers on the 12×12 Short Story Writing Challenge

To find out more about Rads and her writing opportunities, follow the links for her blog and Facebook pages.

If Rads decides to run the challenge again next year, I probably won’t take part – not only does a novel beckon, but I’ve got 12 stories need some thorough editing – but if she runs it again in 2018, well then I could be on board with that one.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to crafting my collection of completed (woohoo) stories into something I’ll be proud to see out in the world.

 

Unsung Shorts – For Readers & Writers Everywhere

Do you enjoy reading and writing speculative fiction? If so, Unsung Shorts are worth a gander.

Unsung Logo

As often happens, I was doing that sometimes helpful, sometimes time-wasting Twitter thing of clicking through links and connections (I love how I can discover new and useful people and organisations with a few clicks) and found someone else to follow – Unsung Stories. A couple more clicks later, my email address typed in and viola! I have another selection of interesting and quirky reads as well as an opportunity to submit my own work. Double-whammy delight.

Readers: The stories are fun, quirky, interesting, sometimes dark (I’ve only read a couple so far). I’m sure you’ll enjoy ’em all.

Writers: The writing is good, so put your best speculative work forward.

Here’s what they say about themselves on their Home page:
Unsung Stories are publishers of literary and ambitious speculative fiction that defies expectation. We publish stories that you’ll never forget, from the varied worlds of genre fiction – science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and all the areas in-between.

Why not sign up now – hop on over to their website – and get a  copy of their published goodies. Maybe you’ll also get inspired to write and submit your own fine fiction.

They’re in the business of providing: “Captivating short stories delivered every fortnight…”
Source: Unsung Shorts