Can you believe it? We’re nine years old today! And what better way to celebrate than with a birthday story written collaboratively by our authors, competitions, prizes and a hefty slice of virtual chocolate cake? We invite you to join us 🙂
We’ll be sharing an extract of the story every hour until the end of the day. With every extract there’ll be a book+chocolate prize and, with six extracts, there’ll be plenty of opportunity to win! Simply read each extract to the end so you can answer a question about the story and see how to enter (we’re sure you won’t find it hard as the story’s a corker!)
Morton S. Gray starts us off this morning, where we meet Lauren on the morning of her thirtieth birthday, and she’s getting ready for an adventure …
The Forgotten Birthday – Part One
Lauren woke to the sound of the post plopping onto the doormat. She shrugged on her dressing gown and walked down the steep staircase of her tiny terraced house, retrieving the mail before she went into the tiny kitchen. Her friend the robin was sitting on the bird feeder outside of the window. It was almost as if he waited for her morning greeting and conversation before flying off to do whatever robins did all day.
‘Morning, Red. I know I’m late. I need to get a move on. It’s my birthday you know. Thirty. How did that happen?’
She filled the kettle, set it to boil and glanced half-heartedly at the assorted envelopes. It wasn’t likely that anyone would have sent her a birthday card. When you’d fallen out with your sister over a year ago and divorced your ex about the same time, it didn’t bode well for surprise parties or birthday greetings.
It took her the time it needed for the kettle to switch off to brave those envelopes. A charity request, store card coupons, a bill and a bank statement. No surprise there then.
‘Whoopee do! Happy birthday, Lauren.’
A cup of coffee made her feel more human and the robin uncharacteristically came back for a second visit to the bird feeder.
‘Thank you, Red. You’re the man who always make me feel special.’
The little bird bobbed into a bow, just as if he’d understood every word. Lauren laughed. Time to get ready to face her big adventure.
She’d booked her birthday treat well in advance and taken this Friday as holiday from her boring job in insurance administration. Only now did her stomach do a somersault when she thought about those unknown strangers’ faces. At least they wouldn’t know it was her birthday.
It was a terrible habit to talk to herself, but as she lived alone, it kept her on track. ‘Shower, tick, bag packed, tick, rubbish put out, tick, bird feeder well stocked for Red, tick, car keys, yes. Right let’s get this show on the road.’
Following the satnav’s annoying male voice, she headed south, stopping for another coffee at a service station on the motorway. The countryside got lovelier as she neared her destination in the Cotswolds. She kept repeating her Thomas the Tank Engine mantra. ‘I can do it, I will do it, I can …’
Before she knew it, her things were installed in a single ensuite room and she’d found her way to the conference room. There were eleven other creative writing students, five men, seven women. They all arranged their notebooks and pens on the tables and gave each other shy glances. They would be spending two days together – it was a voyage into the unknown.
Just when Lauren decided she really ought to try to make conversation and break the ice, the door crashed open. A man carrying, or rather dropping, a large cardboard box, lurched in.
‘Sorry, so sorry, I’m late, traffic was awful. Now I know you were expecting Daphne Peacock, my … erm, mother, but I’m afraid she’s sick, so you’ve got me instead.’
Hmm, this wasn’t the inspiring person she’d been hoping for. She loved Daphne Peacock’s novels. The man looked as if his jacket had seen better days, his beard was bushy. Lauren hated beards.
One of the guys helped the man pick up the box and put it on the desk. All sorts of things were spewing out of the cardboard – magazines, leaves, odd bits of metal, a watch.
‘I’m Hugh, I’m a published writer, three novels now and I’m your tutor for the weekend.’ He rummaged in the box and retrieved two rolls of sticky labels and marker pens. He scrawled Hugh on one of the labels, pressed it to his chest and then passed the rest around for the rest to do the same.
‘What sort of fiction do you write, Hugh?’ asked a fifty-something woman with a label that said Marion.
‘Romantic suspense novels, actually.’ The expression on his face suggested he was used to a weird reaction to that statement.
More rummaging in the battered box and he bought out a folder brimming with words torn from magazines.
‘Right, we’ve only got a short session before our lunch, so grab a word and write whatever comes into your head. Best to pick one at random, I find.’
Lauren found her heart-rate increase and her stomach churning as she stared with horror at the word she had picked out – chains.
Hugh was speaking again. ‘Don’t worry about this exercise, it’s just a warm up. We can share what we write in the session after lunch. Prose or poem is fine.’
It certainly broke the ice, after a tense thirty minutes of silence, apart from pens scratching over paper, the group made their way down to the dining room chattering away. Lauren held back a little listening to what the others were saying. There was a table set aside for them in the refectory with a huge Creative Writing label. Lauren glanced around at the nearby tables, Life Drawing, Vegetable Gardening, Drumming, were the ones she caught sight of.
They were the first course to arrive, but the room soon filled up. Lauren exchanged a few words about her journey with Marion and tried to assess the rest of the course members from underneath her eyelashes. All ages, but predominantly older than her. One of the men was smiling broadly at her. She squinted to read his badge, Ian, and then avoided making eye contact.
Then it happened!
A woman appeared through the door marked kitchen with a birthday cake, candles aflame and came straight over to their table.
Hugh leapt into action. ‘The course administrator noticed we had a birthday girl in our midst, Laura.’
Cheeks aflame, Lauren got up. He obviously meant her even if he had got her name wrong. She stood frozen by Hugh’s side as everyone in the room sang Happy Birthday to Laura.
‘Lauren’ she mouthed under her breath and belatedly realised she was talking aloud as if speaking to her tame robin. So much for anonymity and escape on a course miles from home.
Hugh’s face suggested he was puzzled by her reaction. Lauren blew out the candles and scurried back to her seat, amid congratulatory noises from around the room.
‘We can have the cake with our tea in the meeting room later,’ said Hugh, smiling.
Lauren wanted the floor to open and swallow her up. She’d have to read her prose piece about chains when they got back to the room …
Oh dear, how embarrassing for poor Lauren. We’re cringing for her but also can’t wait to find out more! We’re sure you feel the same. And you don’t have to wait too much longer as Kirsty Ferry’s second instalment will be up in the next hour!
If you Morton’s writing, you might like to check out her fabulous novels. You can find details by clicking the images above.
To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate to go with it simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):
What is the name of Hugh’s mother?
To enter, send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Morton S. Gray comp’ by Tuesday 19th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 20th June.