October’s Guest Storyteller, Andrea Stephenson

Andrea StephensonAndrea Stephenson writes fiction, including short stories and The skin of a selkie, her first (as yet unpublished) novel. She finds inspiration in nature, the coastline and the turn of the seasons. During the day, Andrea is a libraries manager, but by night she is a writer, artist and witch. 

Her story below is inspired by the activities of the Order of the White Feather, an organisation active in World War One, with the purpose of shaming men into enlisting by encouraging women to present them with a white feather.

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WHITE FEATHER

Her friends giggled as they nudged her forward so that she could present him with the feather.  He accepted it as if it were a gift, blushing and looking at the ground.  Her friends couldn’t know about the balmy days that they’d shared as children.  They couldn’t know that as a young woman she’d cherished his gentle soul.  The girls moved on and she stayed for a moment, watching the feather outlined starkly against his overcoat.  Neither of them said a word.

She received just one letter, a crumpled missive from the Front.  His words were relentlessly cheerful and still seeking her approval.  Her reply was swift and steeped in the things she couldn’t say.  She wanted to seek forgiveness in person, to tell him that it was she who was shamed by her action, not him.  It was returned unopened with his effects.  She kept it in her bottom drawer with all the things she’d collected but would never use.

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Sarah says: Thank you so much, Andrea, for your most poignant contribution this month that says so much in so few words. I had no idea about this appalling practice of shaming men into enlisting until you told me about it, and sincerely hope nothing like it will happen again, although I suspect its equivalent might still occur in some parts of the world: probably with the shaming done by “tweet” rather than by white feather.

Everyone, do visit Andrea’s awesome blog Harvesting Hecate, which is about life, writing, creativity, and magic.

You might also like to check out previous guest storyteller posts via sarahpotterwrites.com/guest-storytellers-2/

Author: Sarah Potter Writes

Sarah is a British eccentric who writes offbeat fiction, haiku and tanka poetry. She's into nature, gardening, and natural health. For her, sociability is something that happens in short bursts with long breathing spaces in between.

63 thoughts on “October’s Guest Storyteller, Andrea Stephenson”

  1. Reblogged this on Harvesting Hecate and commented:
    This week you can read my first piece of flash fiction over at Sarah Potter Writes. Sarah writes speculative fiction, sci-fi and fantasy, but her blog is an eclectic delight of fiction, haiku, photographs and more. Thanks so much to Sarah for inviting me to be her October guest storyteller. Please let me know what you think of the story and check out some of Sarah’s other posts.

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  2. Sarah, thanks for the opportunity to share my first flash fiction story. I look forward to reading the short pieces you write and I’m always a little in awe of writers who find it easy to write flash fiction – I find it difficult to write a story in so few words!

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    1. I used not to find it easy to write flash fiction, but the writing of haiku and tanka poetry has helped me to write succinctly. My problem when I was younger was keeping things within a word count as I had too much to say!

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  3. Andrea, this is a haunting piece of short fiction highlighting a cultural practice, that I, too, had not heard of in any of my history classes at university or elsewhere. It would be fascinating to read more background (why a white feather, for instance, which to my mind symbolizes purity and peace, which seems to me to run counter to the warrior instinct, which is a red or other, more brash color) on the practice and these specific characters’ world. It also speaks deeply to peer pressure, a topic about which I’ve given much thought, and cuts incisively with a fitting minimum of words. I’m very much looking forward to reading more from you, Andrea!

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    1. Thanks Leigh. Apparently the original symbolism comes from the days of cock fighting, when birds with white feathers in their tails were seen as weak fighters so it was seen as a symbol of cowardice.

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      1. So it seems that one cruel practice (cock fighting) inspired another one. That’s even worse than my guess about the white feather representing the shamed person’s pacifism.

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  4. I’ve been an avid follower of Andrea’s blog for a while now. Her writing is beautiful and she well deserves her moment in your spotlight. Thanks for publishing her flash fiction – I for one am looking forward to the novel!

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  5. This is a wonderful flash Andrea and congratulations on being featured as Sarah’s October’s Guest Storyteller (pleased to meet you Sarah!). By chance, I only recently heard about the Order of the White Feather so I was intrigued by your story and as always with your writing, was struck by the poignancy and beauty of it. So much laid bare in so few words, a powerful and moving tale. Very well done on your first flash my friend 🙂

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    1. Thanks Sherri, it was one of those things I’d vaguely known about for a long time, but hadn’t realised that it was an actual organisation set up for this aim. I was also dismayed to learn that some of the early suffragists were involved in it.

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    1. I hadn’t heard of it either. So cruel. Some men have far too gentle hearts for fighting in wars. I’m sure there were a great deal of civilian jobs back home in World War One, that would still have provided them with an opportunity to support the war effort.

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    2. Thanks JM. They actually had to create badges to prove that some men were active servicemen, because so many who were fighting but were home and out of uniform were also being presented with feathers.

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    1. That feeling of regret in life is the deepest of agonies that go with having a conscience, which I guess is better than not having a conscience at all. The trouble is that when one learns something too late, there’s a chance that the people we’ve hurt (and want to say sorry to) might not be around anymore, which then quadruples the regret. I think that the woman in Andrea’s story was a good but weak person who bent to the pressures of her time.
      Andrea has succeeded so well in writing one of those stories that one goes on and on thinking about. It’s so succinct yet multi-layered

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    2. Thanks Kourtney and Sarah. One of the things that really interested me about this practice was whether the women who did it regretted it in later years – and with such potential consequences.

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