This week’s prompt to go surreal, historical or sinister…
Use the title. Include four fish and a woman called Margaret. Sea horses optional.
It’s raining today at the beginning of my birthday weekend — the day itself is on Monday, but the whole month has been particularly sunny with successes and fun events. I was delighted that my flash fiction ‘Winter Spider’ won the Flash 500 quarterly competition and now, encouraged by people’s comments, I plan to write a longer sequence around the characters. Less organising and more writing is the mantra for June. Could this happen, I wonder, with the Flash Fiction Festival coming up in July?
In other writing news, my story ‘The Ways of the Flesh’ was selected for the National Flash Fiction Anthology, 2018. I’m very, very happy to be included in this with a great line up of writing friends. Also, my tiny micro, ‘Wings of Desire’ — which does, yes, reference the film directed by Wim Wenders, received a highly commended in a new micro contest judged by write and editor Jayne Martin in Bending Genres magazine. And was fun to write.
The evening of readings of Ad Hoc Fiction winners for Ad Hoc’s third birthday earlier this month in Bath went brilliantly with great readings and a birthday cake with a sparkler made by Diane Simmons. This length of micro (150 words) works very well read out loud when there are a lot of readers. Eleven came from around the country and Louise Mangos came from Switzerland. The pace and the energy was perfect. And many people said how much they liked the variety of fictions and how much could be said in so few words.
Last week, I had the privilege of going to the Saboteur Festival Day last week and was stunned and so thrilled that Charmaine Wilkerson won the novella category for her novella-in-flash ‘How to Make a Window Snake’. And I am very pleased for Ad Hoc Fiction who published this beautiful collection of novellas-in-flash last June and has had this acknowledgement.
This month, I also went to the reception for Creative Bath finalists where Bath Flash Fiction is a short-listed in the publishing category. Results in June at a party in Queen’s Square, Bath. Fingers crossed.
January 2018 is starting off with a flourish. I am honoured to be interviewed as guest reader for Smoke Long Quarterly and am selecting a story from the submissions received from January 8th to January 14th. They suggested I could include a picture of my writing desk but didn’t use it eventually. Anyway, as it’s now a lot tidier than it was, here is the grand tour…
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.
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.,
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.
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.
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 sequenced 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.
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.
“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…