Charlotte L Oakeby

Fiction & Freelance Writer

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Thursday, 19 September 2019

Publication Announcement: Take a Bow



Exciting news! My piece of short fiction, 'Take a Bow' has been selected for publication by The Woven Tale Press, (Long Island, New York).
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Monday, 9 September 2019

LiveWriteThrive Publication: Five Submission Tips from an Editorial Reader


Based on my experience reading for the award-winning literary magazine based in Florida, 805Lit, I
decided to share some of my submission tips with other writers. I am constantly sending out cover letter after cover letter--it's a draining process, and it would be selfish to keep my new-found submission secrets under lock and key!

A huge thank you to C S Laskin (Susanne) for publishing my work.

Read my article here on LiveWriteThrive.
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Thursday, 22 August 2019

'The Clocks Are Still Ticking': Locations of Print Copies


Print copies of my latest article, The Clocks Are Still Ticking, can be found at the following locations:

The Hawth Theatre, Crawley
Borde Hill Gardens
Clair Hall, Haywards Heath
Burgess Hill Theatre
Mabel's Emporium




Image: Dominika Gregušová




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Friday, 16 August 2019

Hi, Rejection - How Are You?


My article, Tips for Handling Rejection, was published late last night on The Daily Positive. Based on my own experiences in the literary sense and beyond, I write with nothing but honesty. Rejection should, and will always be, a common occurrence within every aspect of our lives and normalising it must be step one. Draw something positive from the pain.

As always, thank you to Bernadette and everyone over at The Daily Positive. I love writing for you and I'm grateful for these continued opportunities.

Click here.
                                                                                                               Image: Dexter Fernandes
                                                                             


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Thursday, 15 August 2019

The Clocks Are Still Ticking


The greatest comfort of all is knowing that even when you feel your life is falling apart, its walls of sanity crumbling to rubble, the rest of the world is still moving. The Earth is still rotating; the clocks are still ticking. The sun will still rise, and set, and rise, and set again. Everything will stay just how it was before. 

During challenging moments, you must firmly ground yourself and recognise stability, even when it seems non-existent. Put on your pair of rose-coloured glasses. Make a daisy chain for good measure. It’s easier said than done, and I know this first-hand.

I'm an overthinker. A dramatic overthinker. Although I know the sky won't fall down anytime soon, (well, fingers crossed), my mind constantly bunny hops from worry to worry and I simply lose control. It feels as if life itself has placed me in its palm, spent a while deciding what to do with me, and then tossed me head-first towards a traumatic situation. It's even worse when a situation changes in a split-second. I halt both mentally and physically - I'll just freeze.

The last time this happened, I was having a driving lesson. A middle-aged cyclist, dressed up like some Power Ranger in his too-tight lycra and chunky red helmet, appeared out of nowhere and nearly clipped my wing mirror. I had no idea what to do. So, I did nothing. Quite literally, not one thing. If it weren’t for the dual controls and my exceptionally-calm instructor who later told me, ‘no, Charlotte, you can’t just lift your feet off the pedals and hope for the best’, I can’t bear imagining what could’ve happened. My lightning-quick reaction to not react at all serves to be proof that sometimes, we just cannot control what avenue our body hurtles down when trying to protect us. It’s the fight or flight mechanism - a raw and animalistic function embedded within our cores. We cannot suppress it.

Once the cyclist had vanished, and I saw the other cars humming past and the dog walkers with their mackintoshes and the gardeners shearing the street-lining evergreens, I was surprised to see that everything was normal. I’m not sure what else I was expecting. My mind had sent me to this outer-worldly dimension of irrationality, and I needed to (kindly) get a grip.

Everyone possesses their own toolbox of recovery remedies, but if a specific method has failed to bring about improvement, it could be time to shake things up a little. I'll use myself as an example. Months ago, amid a storm of panic and paranoia, I tended to trap myself in my bedroom, staring at nothing but my laptop screen and the four walls around me. I really was pressing the 'self-destruct' button without even knowing it.

Now, whenever I encounter a slight obstacle, I’ll go anywhere but my bedroom. I want to be out in the open and surrounded by fresh air, or I’ll gravitate towards busy environments, where my natural curiosity towards everything around me steals my attention. Subtle people-watching, (for innocent purposes, mind), can encourage you to live in the present - always be mindful of your surroundings and ground yourself among them. Noticing little details can help ease that mad frenzy, but recognise things on a larger scale, too. Put your problem into perspective. Ask yourself, will the world end because of this?

Distraction works wonders temporarily, but suppressing your emotions will only make that inevitable explosion ten times bigger. Because of this, I’ll lend my destructive thoughts a few moments of awareness, rather than ignore them completely. If I told you to think of anything but a pink elephant, what’s the first thing you’d picture? Exactly. A pink elephant. The more you tell yourself not to think of something, you’re immediately giving it priority in your mind. Don’t give it that privilege. It doesn’t deserve it. 

Throughout our lives, our hearts don’t stop beating and our lungs don’t stop breathing because we’re supposed to be alive. That’s our purpose. If we were to stop in our tracks every time something went wrong, we’d barely move. We’d be slower than Southern Rail. 

Of course, there are many occasions when we need time out; time to just be. Focusing on the present and firmly grounding yourself is vital. As humans, we're tiny, tiny cogs in an extremely large machine - this machine is life, and it's constantly in motion and moving forward. So, we must move with it. We have no other option.





Image: Pixabay



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Friday, 21 June 2019

The Golden Rules for Gratitude: The Daily Positive


I’m delighted to say that my article, The 5 Golden Rules for Gratitude, is now published on The Daily Positive. It’s based on the recent loss of my father, and how I attempt to overcome any inevitable brewing anger and replace it with gratitude. It was lovely to connect with Bernadette Logue, the life transformation coach behind The Daily Positive, and I’m honoured to have the opportunity to reach out to their audience of 1.6 million (gasp)!

Truthfully, I’ve been overwhelmed with the response to this article. I tried to be as raw as possible, which, although making my article an honest one, means I’ve exposed a little of the pain I normally hide so well. It was worth it. I’m so touched to have received messages of thanks from readers, and I appreciate those who are sharing the article, whether that be with counsellors or on social media.I’d love you to give it a read if you haven’t already. Thank you for all your support!

Click here.





Image: Jack Gittoes

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Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Gordon Square Review Editorial Mentorship



I'd just received my first ever acceptance letter for Forever Yours, Mr Carter, and in a spontaneous burst of motivation, decided to start right away on my second piece. I knew from the get-go exactly where I was going to take it, which is a rare occurrence and also a blessing. A doll, I thought, will definitely have to ruin someone's life. Isn't that what all dolls do?

Somehow, it took me just three days to write my original draft, make any last-minute revisions and send it off to publications. I'll be incredibly lucky to have a turnaround as quick in future. Originally titled ‘Farewell, Elizabeth’, the piece slipped out of my mind whilst it mulled in inboxes. For my previous piece, I’d spent every minute of every day checking its progress, but this utterly drained me.  I forced myself to sit back and relax. If you know me well, you’ll know this is something I rarely do.

It reached the end of March and Laura Walter contacted me. Her email promised not only publication in Issue Four of her journal, the Gordon Square Review, but an editorial mentorship on top of that. Editorial mentorships are offered to three writers during an issue's submission period - with an editor, you work together to polish up your draft and you’ll learn a hell of a lot during the process. Not only was I extremely flattered, but utterly shocked. I wasn't expecting it at all. I cried a little that night.

The mentorship lasted for just short of two months, and my word, have I taken a lot away from the experience. I was surprised that little change was required within my piece - we just added a few sentences here and there, supporting the transition from scene to scene and the overall fluidity of the piece. Reflections, being as short as it is, didn't take too long to 'perfect' - (I put 'perfect' in quotation marks, as my piece is literally based on the idea that nothing can be just that).

The ending was something that took me a lot of time to feel happy with, though. I originally cut it off too harshly - in the first draft, the last sentence was just 'Farewell, Elizabeth', hence its previous title. When I first wrote the piece, I think I rushed things a little. I didn't want the ending to drag on or lose its impact. Quite possibly, I may have been excited with its progress and I just wanted to send it off. So, I just whacked a snappy sentence on the end and hoped for the best.

Laura suggested we change the title, as it would give away the plot before the piece had even been read. I am partial to a bit of a twist, let's say, so it was vital I corrected this. I wanted the reader to feel the full force of the tale playing out before them, and so, we eventually settled on 'Reflections'. This ties in with the mirror imagery found throughout the whole piece. It links more to the narrator than the doll - although it may appear Elizabeth is the subject, she's really not. She's that factor that brings the harsh reality to light, but it's the narrator who bears the brunt of this. There's a scene in the piece that tells of the narrator looking at herself in the mirror, comparing her looks to Elizabeth's. This is a key metaphor, ladies and gents. Take note.

I suppose the whole purpose of this story is to highlight the damaging ideals currently weaved throughout society. My generation, in its mad social media storm, seems to be obsessed with visual perfection, disregarding substance and all that makes up a person. It'd be hypocritical of me to say I don't take care of myself; I eat well, wear make-up and practically live at the gym. However, it's when these ideals are taken too far, stretched beyond their limits, that real individuals and their fragile feelings get damaged beyond repair.

I wanted to take the narrator on a journey, from being an innocent girl to an insecure, self-aware one. It's inevitable that every single child will meet the darker side of the world at some point, and in this case, Elizabeth was the catalyst for the narrator's awakening. The doll, being a symbol of fake beauty, invades her world, forcing her to question herself and everything that makes her her. Elizabeth isn't real, though, and this is what the narrator simply doesn't understand. Elizabeth's been designed, crafted and painted. Her beauty is not real!

I'm grateful that as a 2002 baby, I was able to live my childhood in pink tennis dresses, collecting My Littlest Pet Shop toys and prancing about with imaginary friends. I narrowly missed the social media craze - it only hit me when I was around thirteen. Just as Elizabeth is the tool for the narrator’s bittersweet revelations, social media is ours. It’s toxic. End of.

In my first draft, I deliberately made the narrator destroy Elizabeth as a symbol of her overcoming the jealousy she felt. After working with Laura, however, I came to understand that this wouldn't be possible. Something as jarring and traumatic would not be able to leave you so soon. What’s more, you wouldn’t have the capabilities to do so. And so, I felt it was necessary to show how the narrator continues to be affected by her encounter with the doll for many years to follow. Her experiences unleashed both physical and mental reactions she never expected to meet, and again, this is part of growing older. I don't think others fully appreciate just how hard this can be.

Since publishing Reflections, many have commented on how dark the piece is and how shocked they were at the narrator's actions. This was music to my ears! The piece was supposed to have an underlying tone of suspicion - it all sounds too good to be true in the first couple of paragraphs. By using the end scene, I'm able to show the narrator's pent-up hatred in a way that translates it clearly. It makes you think how many young children are fiercely envious of the dolls they’re playing with right now. Scary, no?

I was reading through some other mentorship essays in the Gordon Square Review and picked up the idea that many were concerned how much their piece would change. This was never an issue for me. Still being in education means that my work is constantly critiqued, and I seek out constructive feedback rather than hide from it. Laura taught me to look at my finished draft in a different light, and address things I'd neglected before: transitions, parallel imagery, hidden metaphors. The list goes on.

I'm so thankful to Laura, of course, for being quite possibly the best mentor I could've asked for. I also thank the Gordon Square Review and everyone behind the scenes of this publication, including Literary Cleveland, for making this possible.

Read Reflections in Issue Four of the Gordon Square Review.








                                                                          Image: Pixabay


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Thursday, 16 May 2019

Reflections

           Published in Issue Four of the Gordon Square Review, May 2019
                                                                                                                                  Cleveland, Ohio


Open your eyes, darling, my mother had said to me.
 
I stood in our living room, doused in the expensive perfume that sat on her glass dresser. The hem of my satin ball gown danced on the floor, the toes of my dress-up heels peeking out from beneath it. My father had been disappointed when I’d paraded into the room, hands on hips, showing off my new attire—he thought I was acting much too grown-up for his liking. His moans fell on deaf ears. It was my ninth birthday, after all.
 
I was full of anticipation. What could my present be? I had seen them, of course, hurriedly taking in deliveries of paper-wrapped parcels and glancing over their shoulders to check I wasn’t prying. It had been troubling me for weeks. A handbag? A puppy? My own bottle of perfume? I smacked my glossed lips together, pretending the sticky gloop didn’t bother me. Beauty is pain, I’d heard once before.
 
I blinked a few times to focus my vision. Sitting elegantly on the armchair was a doll, dressed in a powdered pink gown that was similar to my own. Her pale skin was a puddle of milk, the sort that’d be lapped up by a cat, with two circles of rouge dabbed on the apples of her plump cheeks. Her custard-coloured locks tumbled down her rigid back, ending at her waist, the tips softly curled. Her name will be Elizabeth, I proclaimed.
 
During the weeks that followed, I spent every break time skipping around the playground, clutching the clammy palms of those who wanted to hear everything about my glorious present. During assemblies, we’d whisper into each other’s ears to pass time, feeling the warm breath of the girl next to us strike our necks. They gathered around me like moths drawn to a flame, bright-eyed and eager with electricity. I’d spun them intricate tales of Elizabeth’s creation, which proved only too well my desperation for attention. Did you know, she was made in Buckingham Palace and the Queen chose to give her to me? I’d declared. Her dress is made from the same silk as the princesses’! I marched around, my nose tipped upwards with an air of newfound superiority.
 
But then, everything began to change.
 
I was soon thrown into her shadow. My friends started to disregard my presence and instead were captivated by Elizabeth. Elizabeth this, Elizabeth that. Playdates were never the same – we’d sit in silence, whilst the other one cradled Elizabeth in her arms, caressing her tresses of hair and speaking to her softly. I, meanwhile, would fail to conceal the pout of disapproval that formed on my lips, as if I were sucking a bitter lemon. Isn’t she pretty? My companion for the afternoon would coo. Yes, she is. I’m very lucky to have her, would be the reply, usually said through gritted teeth.
 
I began to glare at myself in the mirror, despising the reflection that stared back at me. My tawny brown hair was nothing compared to hers. I'd never been able to grow it past my shoulders. Her lips were so perfectly formed—parted slightly, as if a word was always ready to roll off her plastic tongue—and the expression painted on her face by her skilled craftsman was charming. Why couldn’t I be Elizabeth? She was everything I was not.
 
It was approaching my tenth birthday and my mother was planning my celebratory lunch. Shall I set another place for Elizabeth? she had asked me. The mere thought filled me with pure horror. All my party guests would make remarks about Elizabeth’s appearance, forgetting the reason they were there in the first instance. I wouldn’t let her steal the spotlight on my special day. Of course not, I’d replied with a scowl. She’s just a doll. She’s not real. My mother had been surprised by my stubborn refusal.
 
Bitter jealousy consumed me. She had held me in the palm of hands, as she did everyone – but now, I was a green-eyed devil, unable to rid the anguish and deep-rooted hatred I felt towards her. Her beauty sickened me, but my inability to be her equal sickened me the most.
 
One night, I threw her on the floorboards. Her false eyes snapped open, her eyelashes like spider’s legs. I pictured a fearful look appear on her face and gave a wry smile. I grabbed her perfectly manicured foot and started to pull. Twist. Pull. Twist. Pull. Pop. I held the flesh-coloured leg in my hand, staring at the gaping hole it left behind—the gateway to the hollowness of her body, devoid of anything but the air that I breathed. I was full of dissatisfaction even after I’d removed all four limbs—she still looked pretty, lying there like that. Vulnerable. Innocent.
 
I picked up my nail scissors, imagining myself as a hairdresser in a swanky salon, and began shearing off her hair. Chop. Chop. Chop. It still wasn’t enough. I flicked off the lid of a felt-tip marker and started scribbling over her porcelain face. The chemicals of its ink stung my eyes. I drew over her button nose and flawless lips, ruining her taut skin. I looked at her for what would be the final time. At last, her beauty was gone.
 
Years later, thoughts of the doll never failed to leave my mind—her limbless body, her hacked-off hair, her stained face. I felt murderous, shocked at the destruction I’d been capable of. Had I alleviated the pain? I could not be sure. Perhaps I’d made it worse. I’d look at my reflection and see what I’d become—the innocence and fragility I’d once known, and my way of perceiving the world, were shattered.




Published in Issue Four of the Gordon Square Review, May 2019. This piece was awarded a Gordon Square Review Editorial Mentorship by the Editor-in-Chief, Laura Maylene Walter. Essays on the mentorship process have been written by both Laura Walter and Charlotte L Oakeby.




                                                                            Image: Pixabay
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Sunday, 12 May 2019

Forever Yours, Mr. Carter

Published in Volume 13 of the Cosumnes River Journal, May 2019
Sacramento, California


It’s him. It has to be him. I recognise the back of his silky, tousled hair, its tips brushing gently against the collar of his crisp, white shirt. I hear the charming chime of laughter escape his lips and see the way he adjusts his patterned tie, whilst swirling his blood-red wine around the glass that he holds so carefully between his fingertips. I can almost picture the confidence and charisma oozing out of the veins that snake underneath his cold, thick skin as he captures the attention of the Bambi-eyed female sitting opposite him. Her blue eyes, heavily surrounded by a black kohl liner, mist over in awe, her gaze fixated on the sunken dimples in his cheeks and the dark, sooty stubble scattered over his tanned chin. I know it’s him. Christian Carter.

My eyes are roaring flames, dancing and flitting around my surroundings. I don’t fit in here with my tangled hair and unflattering tracksuit, which displays the creases of the loose skin hanging around my stomach as a result of my pregnancy. I know it’s there for a reason. It’s there to remind me of what I did.

I’m slouched on a stool by the bar, glancing half-heartedly at the several empty glasses that are gathered around me. I trace my finger in and out of the grooves on the wooden surface, allowing my thoughts to drift. The beer has risen to my head. I told myself not to do this tonight.

“Can I get you another?” the lively barman asks me, grabbing the pint glasses, clinking them in unison. He already hovers near a clean glass because he knows what my answer will be. It won’t be any different from the countless times he’s asked me before. I nod and mumble something under my breath, fumbling in my pocket and pulling out a crumpled fiver.

I can’t help but stare at them. I should be sitting there, soaking up every inch of his caramel skin, breathing in his musky scent. I bought him that crisp, white shirt and that patterned tie. I was his everything - but now, everything is gone. I can’t let him see me. He warned me last time he would ring the police if this happened again. I promised, but I was crossing my fingers. I won’t leave him alone until I finish what I came to do.

I wrap my fingers around the fresh pint with such great force that froth spills over the edge and trickles between my fingers. There’s a shuffle of chairs and he helps her put on her jacket. Her butter-gold blouse brushes softly against his chest. She tosses her honey-coloured hair behind her shoulder, the tinkles of her giggles ringing in my ears. This is my chance; I have to take it. They head to the car park as I follow behind them, possessing what can only be classed as a sickening sense of excitement, my beer abandoned and waiting to surprise the barman. I lurk in the shadows, watching Christian swing his car keys between his fingertips and the lady totter in her patent heels, waiting for the slam of his navy BMW doors.

Despite being close to eleven at night, the temperature at the peak of June doesn’t fail to demonstrate its presence. The remnants of a muggy, unbearable heat lingers in the air, and along with the sour taste of beer in my mouth, I feel clammy and frustrated. I hear the rev of Christian’s engine - he always was a show off, after all - and the car purrs out of the pub.

I trail behind his car down an everlasting road, and one I don’t recognise. My head pounds. Several times, my vision becomes nothing more than a series of blurs, and the car swerves abruptly until I jerk the steering wheel back in control. I’ve always had a problem with alcohol. It’s why Christian divorced me. It’s how I lost my baby.

A few miles later, I see the warm glow of his rear lights vanish into a turning. I slow down and gradually make my way up the road, using a weakly-flickering lantern outside the property to guide me and, sure enough, the navy BMW is there – in prime position.

Hastily, I open the glove box. I rummage in a chaotic mess of empty pill bottles and prescriptions and rusting coins before I find what I’m looking for. I open the car door, inch by inch, and leave it open - it would make too much noise to shut it. If I’m seen, everything is over. I creep towards the BMW, twisting the cap of my tin of lighter fluid, and, using my other hand, slide open my matchbox, staring at the three single matches with dissatisfaction. I’ll have to sacrifice my midnight cigarette.

I have one chance to get this right - one chance to get my revenge. He left me when I needed him most. What’s more, he blamed it on me. My drinking and my smoking killed our baby, he told me.

To my delight, the backseat window is open slightly, and although I’m immersed in complete darkness, I gently tilt the tin’s nozzle into the car, feeling the weight of it decreasing as its contents soak the interior. I swipe the chosen match against the matchbox and an amber flame sparks immediately, curling around the wood, devouring it. Without a second thought, I toss it into the car, running towards the safety of my own. I crouch down, feeling the heat of the roaring flame against my skin.

A minute later, the fire is high in the air, licking up any remains. The front door swings open and Christian sprints out, shouting expletives that are silenced by the crackling of the raging fire. I notice the devastated look overcome his face as he watches his beloved BMW burning to pieces. I soak up every moment of his priceless despair. He realises how it feels to lose something you love.

I’m expecting his lady lover to run after him, but there’s no sign of Bambi-eyes. I think he realises this at the same time as I do, because his gaze turns hollow and meaningless. Then, I see it. Among the wreckage, I see a charred hand lying on the gravel.




                                                                                                                  Image: Maria Geller



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