Free Gifts might be short and sweet, but it has a special place in my heart, for several reasons.
I had the idea for it, sat down and wrote it in a single afternoon, which almost never happens. For me, writing can take a very long time. My novel, Spider Circus (coming soon!), has grown out of ideas and stories that I’ve been working on since I was about fourteen. That was thirteen years ago. Free Gifts, on the other hand, just popped into my head and told me to write it down, now. As someone who’s had her fair share of writer’s block, I loved it for that.
Free Gifts is also the first story that I sold. I’d seen the entry for Aquila magazine in The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, and I thought “Well, why not.” So I sent it in. They wrote back, said they wanted to publish it, and posted me a cheque for £90. I’d had stories and poems published before, in various writing magazines. I’d won a few writing competitions. But I’d never been paid for a story before. When Aquila sent me a copy of the magazine, and I saw my story there in print, I felt that, at last, I was really an author.
But mostly, I love Free Gifts because of the narrator – which is odd, because there’s a lot that I don’t know about them. I don’t know their gender, race, or what they look like. I don’t even know their name. The only definite facts I know about them are the same ones that you do – they’re eleven years old, and their parents own a shop. Usually, I spend a lot of time thinking about characters – who they are, where they’re from, what they do and why. The narrator of Free Gifts, though, didn’t want to get into all that. They’d had a very strange morning, and they just wanted me to write it down. And, as you can tell, they’re pretty stubborn.
That’s what I love most about Free Gifts. The narrator’s voice came through to me so strongly that, even though I didn’t know what many people would think are basic facts, it didn’t matter. I knew who they were just the same.
I don’t know if they’ll turn up in my writing again, but I hope they do. I suppose, though, that I’m going to have to wait until they have another strange day.