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.

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…

Dancing with Word Tango

Word tango
Word Tango’s logo

I completed a second weekend hosted by Word Tango with Kathy Fish as the teacher, a couple of weekends ago. A birthday present to myself.  I like Tango, I like words.  I love Word Tango. The focus for the weekend was flash non-fiction. My, oh my it was a good group of writers. I was honoured to be part of  it. During these weekend sessions conducted via the forum site, Kona, Kathy posts a lecture and some prompts on day one. And then another extension to the prompt on day two. The writers then get on with it and give each other feed back in a thread.

Unlike Argentinian Tango where I can’t make any moves although I adore the dance and the music,  I’m not a beginner in writing flash. I’m not an expert either. They say it takes several months or longer to get the basic steps of  Argentinian Tango. Then you improvise and improve over many years. Lovers of the dance spend their whole lives going to Milongas, getting close up, becoming more intricate, learning about space. Now I’m in my fourth year of flash fiction writing, I’m past the basics and getting bolder. The word-dance in flash fictions  should set people on fire, ignite their passion. Everything that goes into the Tango.

The interesting experiment on this weekend with Kathy, was the challenge to weave flash fiction memoir extracts into different orders and to think about the use of  space. A generalisation, but it’s my view that writers born in other countries seem to find it easier to think about white space when composing flash fiction. Is this because of our densely populated island, I wonder?  My piece was fine, but I think it was too packed. I’m re-drafting now to break it up after seeing what other people produced. I’m cutting and trying out different arrangements, using short paragraphs, lists.

It was really a wonderful dance that weekend. I highly recommend writers have a go at one of these weekends.  Word Tango also has a writers’ community with great support for people. I’ve yet to check that out, but I believe that on their current submit-to magazines-and-competitions-day they’ve been suggesting writers  submit pieces to the latest round of  Bath Flash Fiction Award. So I’m very pleased about that too.

Dribble, drabble, toil and trabble

I had fun adapting the title for this post from the witches’ spell in Macbeth “Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble… for a recent tweet at @bathflashaward. I can’t resist using it again.

A Dribble is the term for a 50 word story, a Drabble, 100 words and a Trabble, 300 words.  I don’t believe the writers  who came up with these terms toiled to find them. I’m sure they were playing in order to discover a fun way of encapsulating the essence of the  form –  very short but not only that – something more.  Perhaps that is why I took the phrase from the witches’ chant in Macbeth. Good tiny fictions mesmerise. Like a spell, you can be changed by a mere few sentences.

There are many longer definitions of very short fiction including this lovely metaphor by writer Luiza Valenzuela I used in a post on the Bath Flash Fiction Award website

” I usually compare the novel to a mammal, be it as wild as a tiger or tame as a cow; the short story to a bird or a fish; the micro story to an insect (iridescent in the best cases)

The one word or short phrase descriptions for the form are also often metaphorical. According  to Shouhua Qi, writing in the brilliant Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, in China, where the form is currently ‘white hot,’ very short stories  go by  the following names:

Minute Story, Pocket-sized story, Palm-Size story, smoke-long story, hint fiction.

All these names suggest something more than just the ‘size’ of the work. There are other names that describe the process of writing or reading very short stories

quick fiction, fast fiction, furious fiction, sudden fiction, flash, five-minute fiction.

Very short fiction can be ephemeral, written fast and then forgotten. But gone in a moment, they can also linger long  like the brilliant flash of that iridescent insect you might first have seen as a child and never forgotten.

Other terms suggest the places where such stories can be dashed off:

postcard fiction, napkin fiction.

There’s an ongoing debate as to whether prose poetry is the same as very short stories.

‘Flash’ fiction – arguably the term  most widely used – in the US and UK at least –  was coined in the early 1990s by the writer James Thomas who, together with Robert Shapard collected stories published in  an anthology called Flash Fiction in 1992.

I don’t know why there is so much fascination in providing different names for stories 1000 words and under. There are many more names than the ones I’ve mentioned. Longer stories only get the one name – short stories. Longer still you get ‘novella’, then, of course, novel. Perhaps it’s because the shorter the story becomes, the more room there is for experimentation. Nearly everything can fall away – plot, structure as well as most of the words. The one or two word description for the genre, can be itself a tiny story.