Mother of two from Scotland and a finalist in the flash fiction category of our ‘three-word title’ WAWA competition, Julie Shackman (52), uses her talented writing skills in diverse ways - creating contemporary romance novels and captions and verses for greeting card companies.
Trained as a journalist after studying media and communication, Julie decided to turn her hand to women's fiction and is now the proud author of five books, the latest being ‘A Secret Scottish Escape,’ published as a HarperCollins imprint, One More Chapter.
To help us understand the creative process involved in writing her flash fiction story, ‘Live For Today,’ an intriguing Halloween story with an astonishing twist, Julie said, “It was actually close to Halloween, and the ghostly aspect of the story came to me through that. I revised it a few times before I decided I was satisfied with it. I spent a few days working on it before entering it in the competition.”
The biggest challenge? “Definitely the tight word count. I tend to like writing lots of description and world-building, so that was tough. I had to be really disciplined.”
As for choosing her title, Julie, who heard about our competition through ‘Writing Magazine’ said, “Usually, I do change my titles or struggle to decide on one, but ‘Live For Today’ just came to me.”
As for being selected as a finalist, “I was delighted and honored to be named in this prestigious competition,” said Julie. "I don't tend to write that many short stories, especially Flash Fiction, and the fact that so many entries were received from so many talented writers is quite something, so thank you so much to the judges. And congratulations to all the finalists and the winner.”
Live For Today
by Julie Shackman
“You can’t wear that!”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Don’t you think it’s a bit too revealing?”
“It’s down to my ankles!”
Alex pursued his lips. “You know I’m not talking about your skirts.” His attention loitered on the plunging, square neckline of my dress.
I rolled my eyes and swished around, making my skirts rustle like Autumn leaves. “But it’s a fancy-dress party!”
Bloody hell. Since he hit sixty, he carried a face like a soggy cloth.
“Once you get to a certain age,” he pontificated, “you begin to realise what suited you when you were younger, doesn’t anymore.”
I let out a bark of laughter. “Oh yes, I used to wear Marie Antionette outfits all the time.” I threw my shoulders back. “Well, you only live once and I’m wearing it.”
Alex folded his arms. “You do realise our guests are arriving soon?”
“Well, I should hope so. It is supposed to be a party.”
Outside, the Halloween weather was fowl. A wind raged and rain lashed the windows of our detached cottage like a silver whip.
I lit one of the pumpkins which I’d placed at the window in the hallway. “And your point is?”
Alex whipped up one of his condescending smiles. “My point is that you’re all… you know… exposed at the front.”
I glanced down at my neckline. “I’m supposed to be Marie Antoinette, not Mavis from Coronation Street.”
“Yes, but you could have opted for something more sedate.”
“What, like surgical stockings?!” I eyed my husband’s Charlie Chaplin outfit with annoyance.
A Halloween party with all the frills and he had been too tight to even go out and hire something.
Instead, he had dug out one of his old pre-retirement pin stripe work suits and bought a bowler hat and cane from the local charity shop.
“Right! They’re here!” he exclaimed like an army general from under his annoying, black pencilled moustache.
Out of the rain stippled windows, car headlights washed across us as we hovered in the hallway.
Alex strode to the front door; past the gorgeous family portraits we had taken of our now grown-up kids and tugged it open.
Huddled on the door step, were half a dozen of our closest friends.
I froze. None of them were wearing fancy dress. “Sally? Kate?”
They dabbed at their tear cluttered eyes.
They didn’t answer me. Instead, their husbands guided them inside.
Sally shook her dark head. “I can’t believe that has been six months since it happened. They were both in their prime of life.” She gulped. “It was my fault they had that argument at their Hallowe’en party and drove off like that. I told her to leave him.”
My heart juddered in recollection. The colour seeped from Alex’s face. Outside, I noticed a For Sale sign waggling in the wind.
“Rubbish!” exclaimed Doug. “It was a tragic accident. Right, let’s crack open a bottle and raise a toast to Stella and Alex. To dear, departed friends…”
From New Zealand, Suzy Malseed, 44, lives in Australia having moved there from Indonesia due to Covid and said she has “worn many hats” during her life - teacher, financial planner, athlete, farmer, freelance writer and neuro-diversity advocate.
“Most of all,” she adds, “I'm a proud Mum.”
Explaining her story, ‘Choose Your Reality,’ about her children, chosen among the ten finalists in the creative non-fiction category of our ‘three-word title’ WAWA competition, Suzy said, “My kids, 10-year-old twins, are a constant source of inspiration for me, they are quirky, clever, honest and unique. I wrote about conversations we had had the day before. I also love reading non-fiction and am fascinated by human behaviour.”
Suzy wrote her story, “early in the morning, in silence at sunrise, in one sitting, the words just poured out of me. It was very cathartic. Scary putting it on paper, but rewarding. I kept coming back to it for about 10 minutes a day, for three or four days for editing.”
As for the title, “It felt like a natural fit, it is our family's mantra,” Suzy said. “Everyday we wake early and follow our routines, setting ourselves up to choose our reality, each day, every day.”
She added, “I felt if I could find my voice, I could use words to create a greater impact for the neurodiverse community than I could ever hope to by clocking in and out of an office. I want to share the joys and challenges of parenting kids that are ‘twice exceptional, or 2e,’ meaning gifted kids who also have disabilities. The world would be a better place if we could be truly inclusive and accepting of the full spectrum of human diversity.”
As for being named a finalist? “I’m still grinning ear-to-ear. I feel so proud and validated for being brave and vulnerable and believing in myself.”
Choose Your Reality
by Suzy Malseed
“Hey Mum, did you know no one has ever seen their own face?” William asked.
“Hmmm,” I pondered as I buttered toast for our breakfast, trying to understand the logic and find examples he may not have considered.
I love how unique my kids are, the things they notice. Not to minimise the daily challenges ADHD and dyslexia throws up in the classroom and socially, but without doubt, it gives superpowers. None of us would change it, even if we could. It sure makes for an interesting life.
It also explains why I’m buttering and cutting the toast. None of us can forget the gruesome scenes from the ‘great knife incident of 2020.’ We still can’t understand how the knife got lodged in William’s leg when he was cutting a sandwich, he didn’t know either.
High energy, big movements, distraction, fine motor challenges… anything is possible, we have learnt.
Far, far away I drifted, my brain on a runner as I did the toast on autopilot. There I go again, I caught myself… no need to justify anything to anyone, knowing how other Mums would perceive me making the kids’ toast. We are on our own journey… I am OK, the kids are OK… I am enough, Marrissa Peers hypnotic voice replaying in my head.
“Because we have only seen a reflection of our faces in the mirror,” he continued.
“And in photos,” Moana chipped in. “You learnt that on TikTok.”
“Told you it was educational, Mum,” they grinned.
“Yeah, and did you know that people with messy bedrooms are actually intelligent, Mum?” Moana asked, the collector of the family.
I laughed, “Why, because they have to remember where everything is?”
Tag-teamed I feel most days, but in a good way. We ate our breakfast, the same thing each day in the same way, Dad already headed off to work. A tight routine. Whilst it would likely feel restrictive to many, helps us to feel safe and start our day right. Life had been hard, our challenges private and handled within our family. Like a fog slowly lifting, each year life is getting easier. Like a birthday gift, we get more sleep and slowly move from survive to thrive. Square pegs, round holes, resonates, living in this world where we don’t quite fit.
As I brushed my teeth, I looked in the mirror.
When did I start looking so old? Just as I was about to go in closer for better attack, I stopped myself. Nope, I thought, that’s just a reflection. If everything is a reflection, mirage, illusion then I choose my reality.
I choose how I feel when I go out and face the world. I closed my eyes, turned my face to the sun coming through the bathroom window and let the light in. I pictured my face radiating health and positive energy. I felt amazing and powerful, yep, that’s how I’m going to start my day.
Thanks kids, I thought, hoping they would never change for the world.