Inspired by garden gnomes

A tiny, cheerful man

This August I won the Word Factory’s monthly flash fiction contest, which has the on-going theme of citizenship, identity and belonging, with my story ‘Other People’  A lot of people like the story. It’s been lovely to get that feedback on social media. I mentioned on Twitter, in response to a query, that it had been inspired by garden gnomes. Reviled so much for making peoples’ front gardens vulgar, they are now making a comeback. I saw a row of them in a posh Art Gallery near Bruton, Somerset last April. The exhibition, in a reference to Aldous Huxley, was called ‘Brave New World’ so it wasn’t actually a celebration of kitsch.

The characters in my story, who are all lonely, live in different places and gain comfort from different solitary activities. The narrator likes the presence of the garden gnomes, the ‘tiny cheerful men’ in her garden.  Although they are alone, all these people are connected by their relationship with the moon. Which gives some hope.

The piece was also prompted by an invitation from a member of my ‘Flash Follies’ online flash fiction writers’ group, for everyone to write something in the second person, an article I read about a pod of stranded whales, and my hairdresser, who during  the time of the meteor showers last year, told me she and her boyfriend parked up in a lay-by, climbed on the roof of their car and lay flat to watch the shooting stars. I thought that was a wonderful thing to do.

I would absolutely love to read ‘Other People’ at a Word Factory event, something which has been indicated as a possibility for winners. So I hope that comes off.

Launch of ‘The Chemist’s House’

My pamphlet, ‘The Chemist’s House’ published by V Press in June and also available to buy on this site,  has had a couple of outings — one at Novel Nights last month, where I read one of the longer flash fictions, ‘Mirela’ and one at the Flash Fiction Festival in Bath, where I read a slightly different version of the story, ‘At the Hospital’, that won the Retreat West flash fiction contest, judged by David Gaffney this year. Thank you to everyone who bought the book on those occasions. I’m holding an official launch of ‘The Chemist’s House’ at one of Bath Flash Fiction Award’s regular Flash Fridays at St James’ Wine Vaults, Bath on Friday 29th September, 7.30 pm – 9.30 pm. I’ll read for about ten minutes there, along with Meg Pokrass, Diane Simmons, Tino Prinzi, Alison Powell and Conor Haughton who’ll be reading some of their stories too.  It’s free this time, as it’s a launch. Plus a free glass of wine. Plus nibbles. Wonder if I can manage cup cakes?  Plus books for sale. Hope you can come!

The Flash Fiction Festival in Bath at the end of June was wonderful. I’m just getting back to writing now after sorting out post festival things and also thinking about next year’s festival. We are definitely going to organise another one, the feedback was great. I was just sorry not to be able to chat to other writers. It was so busy all the time. Must build in more chat time for 2018! Here’s a picture of me reading my story, ‘There’s No Such Thing as a Fish’, from NFFD anthology 2017, ‘Sleep is a Beautiful Colour’ to a big festival crowd.

Latest news

There is so much going on in the world of flash fiction!  The big news for me is that my flash fiction pamphlet, ‘The Chemist’s House’, published by the wonderful Sarah James at V Press is now out in the world and you can buy it here on this site. The picture is me being a proud author on publication day,which was yesterday, Friday 16th June. My pamphlet will also be for sale at the Flash Fiction Festival on 24/25 June in Bath.

In other flashy news, I was delighted to reach the final 22 in Flash Frontier’s Micro Madness contest. They post one story a day until June 22nd, National Flash Fiction Day in New Zealand. Scroll down their blog  to June 14th, to read my story about the Owl and the Pussycat’s future relationship. I am also thrilled that my flash fiction written during Flashnano last November, ‘Ten Ways to Prepare For Your Brothers’ Visit’, is going to be posted on the Flash Flood blog on National Flash Fiction Day UK  at 1.00 pm. It will be nice to see it up there at lunch time on Saturday, during the Flash Fiction Festival.  So many flash fiction friends from social media are coming. It’s going to be amazing. And I will get the chance to read a story from my pamphlet in the evening of readings on the Saturday night. Booking for the festival is closed and nearly everything is now sorted. It’s been great working as the Director with the flash festival team. Meg Pokrass, Diane Simmons, Santino Prinzi, Michael Loveday, Matt Coles and Louisa Bailey. And we also have Freya Morris in charge of the raffle on the day.

For those who are coming, see you soon. For those who aren’t able to make it, there’s always next year. The intention is definitely to hold another one in 2018.,

 

Seeding Stories

I run writing events with my friend Alex Wilson in Bath. We’ve just finished a four week creative writing series, the theme this time – writing about landscape and setting

The other week, I introduced the idea of writing about changes in seasons to convey the passage of time in fiction. The story prompts were based on packets of seeds.
So, give this exercise a go if you want a quick-write this evening to celebrate the end of March and maybe the beginning of your story growing season. Set the timer and go, go, go. Get to the end in 20 mins.

Title first – Choose some words from a seed packet in the picture or a seed packet of your own. Could be the name of the plant, eg. Sungold. Or could be anything else on the packet eg Summer Cropping.

Choose a character completely unlike yourself who grows vegetables. Done it all his/her life. Or not.

The story begins with this character planting the seed. Each shift of season is a major shift in the story. Show the plant growing too and indicate the changes in inner and outer landscapes for your character. The story ends when the plant has come to the end of its life. But the character is not the plant So it’s change, not death.

And yes, of course it has been done before. Jack. The Beanstalk. The Giant. The Golden Goose. Fi fo fi. etc. But never mind. Your story is different. Make it foolish if you like, ready for the beginning of April.

February is the coolest month

I don’t mean climate-wise. It feels okay for me write  ‘cool’. If I attempt to say ‘cool’ out loud, I sound like a pigeon, apparently. The word just doesn’t sound right coming out of my mouth. It’s an age thing.

Anyway, the cool February  events: Three of my  tiny flash fictions have been published on Great Jones Street, the short story app which contains around 1000 stories to read on the move, on mobile devices. And I got money and a  free tee-shirt too. Search my name to find my fictions.

I won the Retreat West yearly flash fiction contest judged by David Gaffney with my flash fiction ‘At the Hospital’. I wrote the first draft of this in one of the brilliant flash fiction online weekends with Kathy Fish. Winning first prize was  a huge and wonderful surprise. I thought I had included a big  spelling typo in this story. But apparently not. A different version  will be published in my forthcoming pamphlet from V Press. David made some very nice comments

“At The Hospital is an intimate and moving encounter between a young girl and her dying grandparent, and the way it focusses on the minutiae of the scene – the grape she is peeling for her granddad, the colour of his skin, the bird outside the window opening and closing its beak – create a emotionally powerful vignette. ‘The hairs on his chest are still black and wiry,’ she says and ‘a pulse ticks in his throat. I don’t like the way the grape trembles in my fingers. ‘ Its hard to end a scene like this but the author does it brilliantly with the stunning last line ‘I still don’t know how to put on the brakes.'”

The third piece of big news this month was the launch  Bath Flash Anthology at the beginning of this week. Ad Hoc Fiction, designed the cover,  and laid it out beautifully.  It’s the first book from their new press. People (and me) love the way it looks and reads.  I am so pleased. 145 page-long stories from authors in eleven different countries from the first four rounds of the Bath Flash Fiction Award  Do buy it, because it contains such a wide variety of flash fiction.

Finally, with the help of Festival Curator, Meg Pokrass and the festival team, Diane Simmons, Michael Loveday, Tino Prinzi, Ken Elkes and Linda Selick-York, I have organised the first UK festival entirely devoted to flash fiction, taking place at the New Oriel Hall in Bath on 24th and 25th June, the same weekend as National Flash Fiction Day on the Saturday.

Every one of the UK’s finest Flash Fiction Practitioners said ‘yes’ when we asked them if they would like to come and lead workshops or do talks. Also, it was a major achievement on my part to obtain Arts Council Funding to cover costs for the workshop leaders and more.  Pats self on back for that. It’s going to be fabulous. We hope anyone who wants to find out more about flash fiction or extend their skills will come and get addicted to the creative potential of flash fiction.  It’s now open for booking. Do come.  Look at the action-packed programme on flashfictionfestival.com and you won’t want to miss it.

Some new definitions of flash fiction

I love good definitions of flash fiction. There’s some marvellous ones listed in the back of Flash Fiction International, the anthology of world-wide writing edited by Robert Shapard, James Thomas and Christopher Merrill, recently reviewed by Santino Prinzi at bathflashfictionaward.com. But the definitions below also capture the essence of the form really well. They’re from a great blog post by the Netherlands based author, Richard de Nooy, who has won the micro-fiction contest adhocfiction.com twice, most recently last week. His winning stories are linked in his blog.

Richard had a twitter conversation about flash fiction with award winning flash  writers Emily Devane and Sharon Telfer and here are the definitions they came up with:

Richard says “Flash fiction forces writers to develop motif, setting, character and story at high speed, drawing readers in like moths to flame, before blowing out the candle, leaving them in darkness, wondering what the hell they just saw and wanting to read it again in slow motion.”

Sharon adds”For me, it’s as much about depth and layers. Infinite riches in a little room”

And Emily’s response is .”That’s what’s great about short short fiction: it can be anything from impressionistic sweep to microscopic focus“.

Read the whole of Richard’s blog here.

I’m excited that the Bath Flash Fiction anthology, volume one is at the printers.  There’s a hundred and forty five pieces from eleven different countries drawn from the first four rounds of the  Bath Flash Fiction Award. And those stories fit the definition of flash fiction above very well. They linger, they resonate. You have to go back to read slowly. There are sweeps of life, or minute foci. I can’t wait to see what the book-in-the-hand looks like  when it’s back from the printers in a couple of week’s time.

Brevity and Bulk

I was recently told by a student on the MA in creative writing at Bath Spa University, that a well-known novelist, writer on the short story form and  creative writing professor there, had dismissed flash fiction as mere writing exercises, to do before you started the ‘real’ work of writing a novel or a ‘proper’ short story. It baffles me that writers in such a position like to dismiss short short fiction in this way and thus anybody who wants to write in the form.

So, I do like these two quotes from the end of a  recent great conversation on the state of flash fiction published on  the marvellous website Electric Fiction between David Galef who has written Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook and Len Kuntz, renowned flash fiction writer and  fiction editor at Literary Orphans.

“Galef: Too many critics consciously or unconsciously equate bulk with importance. We talk about the Great American Novel, not Great American Flash Fiction. The traditional-length short story is somewhere in between. The few flash fictioneers who get credit, like Hemingway, made their reputation in regulation-length stories and novels. I’m not sure that’s ever going to change much.

Kuntz: Yet Alice Munro recently won the Nobel Prize and George Saunders the National Book Award. Both won for short fiction, and while it’s not flash, it does seem as if there’s a new appreciation for brevity in writing. Certainly a lot of people are reading and writing it. I’m still holding out hope that flash fiction writers will soon get their due.”

I recently taught an introduction to flash fiction with Alex Wilson at Writing Events Bath, soon after seeing the latest Planet Earth documentary series, where to demonstrate equality between genres, I used the oft-quoted metaphor by Luisa Venezuela that a novel is like an animal, a short story a bird and a flash fiction, like an insect, iridescent in the best cases. In that  documentary series, you saw how each life form was equally wonderful. One  was not lesser than the other, although the smallest creatures can be less visible.

As with any writing published, not all of it is great – novels, short stories and flash fictions. We all know that. Of course, if you want to see what’s out there and what writers are doing with the form, you have to read a great deal. Two of the writers I came across this year and really enjoyed are American writers and major exponents of flash fiction, Meg Pokrass and Pamela Painter. I agree with a reviewer who said that all Pamela Painter’s last lines  are masterly. So are her beginnings. If you want to closely study how to begin and end a short-short fiction, her collection Wouldn’t You Like to Know gives you many examples. You should also read the collections Damn Sure Right and The Dog Looks Happy Upside Down by Meg Pokrass if you want to find out how much a single sentence can hold. Meg’s fictional leaps are astounding.

It’s by reading these two authors and many other writers of flash fiction this year, that my own writing has improved. I’ve been sending out stories to magazines and contests and the marvellous end of year news for me is that the small publisher, V Press are going to publish a pamphlet of  my flash fictions in 2017.  I am so thrilled.

Flash Nano?

The American Flash Fiction writer Nancy Stohlman is offering Flash Nano again this year –  a flash prompt a day for the month of November. So if you’re not into the 50,000 words NaNoWriMo challenge to write a novel in a month, why not use the structure to go for this? Let me know if you want to be a Flash Nano buddy with me. Mutual encouragement is always great.

If anyone wants to enter the new  novella-in-flash award, judged by the great flash fiction writer  Meg Pokrass, which is open at Bath Flash Fiction Award until 31st January 2017, participating in Flash Nano would be brilliant way to accumulate a number of flashes to sequence into a novella form. This contest has a 7,000– 18000 word limit. A novella-in-flash consists of stand-alone flash fictions of different lengths which flash-novellasequenced together, tell a longer narrative. I’ve linked here to an interview in Smoke Long Quarterly about the Rose Metal Press guide on the form, My Very End of the Universe, which includes a wonderful novella and craft essay by Meg Pokrass. In writing 30 flashes for November you could write more than enough pieces to enter this competition. And have time to edit and polish.

Obviously, I can’t enter because I’m the organiser. But, as always, I set things up to give me the inspiration to get on with a project.  Flash Fiction is such a versatile form, so if longer works daunt you, like they do me, this is the way to go. The Rose Metal Press also have their Chapbook competition open until the end of November. This is for a short collection of flash pieces, not necessarily a flash novella. But the chapbook, that won last year, Superman On the Roof by Lex Williford, was in the form of a novella. I am just about to buy it for further inspiration.

Moodling and Mind Wandering

I’ve always liked the quote below by Brenda Ueland from her book published in 1938 – If You Want to Write – a book about Art, Independence and Spirit.41996dt3mfl-_sx331_bo1204203200_

“So you see, imagination needs moodling—long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.”

For those who haven’t heard of her, Brenda Ueland was an American journalist, editor and free-lance writer who was born in 1891 and died at the age of 93 in 1985. Her mother was a suffragette, and Brenda remained a staunch feminist throughout her life. She was said to live by two rules: to  tell the truth and not to do anything she didn’t want to do. I’d recommend reading this classic.

I love an older woman role-model. With her feminism and the above ‘rules’, along with the moodling advice, Brenda Ueland is certainly a good role model for me. Most of us were told at school that day-dreaming  was lazy or unproductive. Sometimes such reprimands kick in for me. That sour-faced English teacher – what was she called?

There’s an interesting recent Radio 4 series called The Anatomy of Rest which suggests mind-wandering, zoning out, day-dreaming is an important part of creativity. Listen to the series and you’ll also discover that in a large sample of 18000 people, reading comes top in a survey of the most restful activities.  You can certainly mind-wander in someone else’s imaginary world if you’re reading any length of fiction.

So instead of  bothering to clean the floor or wipe the kitchen surface, I’m going to follow Brenda Ueland’s advice and do what I want –  which is to dawdle, idle and putter down the lanes near where I live. No brisk walking for fitness, no intention of getting anywhere, no time-scale. A new flash fiction idea might even pop into my head…

Time Out, Time In

It won’t be news to iPad or iPhone owners, but I’ve discovered the timer function on Siri.  Saying ‘Timer’ in a firm voice into the microphone then have the automated voice answer. ‘OK here’s the timer’ helps me get started with a daily write. I like the way the seconds tick down in large black letters, I like the red line that shows you how much time is left. I like the the timer sound at the end. Mine is like a fading old-fashioned alarm. Very subtle. The cookie monster likes the Siri timer too apparently. And you can get a waiting time playlist should you like music when you write.

Anything that gets me into a regular writing habit is a plus.

I am forever in awe of writers like Eileen Merriman, who is a hospital consultant with a couple of small children and who, I read recently in an interview with her by Bath Flash Fiction Award current judge, Robert Vaughan, on Smokelong Quarterly, still manages to write each day, sometimes for a few hours, getting flash fictions, short stories and novels completed and winning awards.

I have a goal now, in any case. I’ve pinched it from a brilliant article by Kim Liao on going for 100 rejections a year. Clearly, you have to write a lot and send out a lot to gain acceptances. This article has such a positive spin.  Timing myself when I write helps. Since I began the year-of-100-rejections goal a few weeks ago I’ve received at least four of them, but I’ve also had an offer of publication in a lit mag and am waiting to hear from another magazine. Also I sent out about twelve flash fictions to a pamphlet submission slot recently so that could soon nicely increase my total of rejections.

Start rite sandals
I was very fond of these shoes when I owned some.

I’m also currently taking part in another wonderful flash fiction weekend with Word Tango. This time a creative non-fiction course with Pullitzer prize winning novelist and memoirist Lee Martin. Article on memoir writing here. His prompt today at Word Tango about recalling childhood shoes meant I have completed a flash fiction before midday. Yes! And it was an interesting shoe memory. Here’s a picture of the remembered sandals