BristolFlash ReadingsI am really looking forward to National Flash Fiction Day’s Bristol event at Foyles on Saturday 27th June, where I will be reading one or two flashes. I haven’t decided which as yet, but there’s a five minute slot for each reader and it’s up to us how we fill it. One thing I have learned from my reading aloud experiences is that you almost can’t read too slowly, so I may confine myself to one five hundred-worder.

But which to choose? I have had a good couple of weeks with a short-listing (only ten writers long) in the Worcestershire Literary Festival’s flash fiction competition, a current short-listing in the annual Twisted Tales competition, and one of my favourite stories, Countdown, selected for Landmarks, the official 2015 National Flash Fiction Day anthology. I am tickled skinny and that’s a totally painless way to lose weight!

Everyone is welcome at Foyles and it’s free! The coffee bar will hold its usual temptations and there will be lots of chat, both writery and otherwise.

Earlier in the day there will be a free flash fiction workshop upstairs at Bristol Central Library from 13.30-16.30 with Calum Kerr, the Director of NFFD, and Ken Elkes, a prize-winning flash author. It should be fun, whether you’ve written very short fiction before or are a complete beginner to creative writing. The atmosphere will be relaxed and encouraging but you can always go along in disguise if you prefer!

There are many such events planned around the country, so please go and support your local writers. And even become one…

Have a great National Flash Fiction Day, wherever you are!

Are we mad?

The floodgates are open again for one week from today for your fabulous flash fictions, culminating in a special issue of the journal to run throughout National Flash Fiction Day, on Saturday June 27th. Send your stories on any subject, any style, any length up to five hundred words, and make sure it’s your best work because it may be in the running for inclusion in a future FlashFlood printed anthology! Not to mention the 190,000+ readers the journal has attracted so far…

The team has recently reread all the stories from the first three issues of the FlashFlood Journal and whittled them down to around seventy for the very first FF anthology and it was one of the most difficult challenges to date. The flashes were all brilliant, otherwise we wouldn’t have chosen them in the first place! So it really does represent the best in flash fiction. The book should be available within the next week and I’ll post a link when I have one.

So beat your ideas into shape and then follow the submission guidelines – remember, no attachments, please. We’ll look forward to reading a rich variety of work over the next few days. Please spread the word.

Good luck!


I haven’t done much in the way of submissions recently because (drum roll) I have been busy writing new stories. They’re all short (some only 140 characters) but are new stories nevertheless and that gives me great satisfaction.

wpid-fine-linen.jpg.jpegSo I was thrilled to hear that my submission to Fine Linen, a new Literary Fiction magazine, had been successful. ‘Dressing Up’ is a flash fiction of which I am particularly proud and started as an opening sentence that popped into my mind and wouldn’t leave, as with most of my successful stories. It is a gift that arrives apparently out of the blue and I count myself exceptionally lucky to receive it now and again.

Fine Linen Magazine is a curious and original ‘pack’. It consists of several parts, including an A5 magazine containing half the stories and an A3 full colour fold-up broadsheet with the remainder. There is also a little factsheet, a suggested reading order, a mini-bookmark displaying ten-word biographies of the issue’s contributors and another linen one.  It’s lovely but I’m not sure what to do with it! My other printed pieces are in conventional magazines and anthologies which can be casually(!) displayed on the coffee table or retrieved easily from shelves. Unfortunately, I think Fine Linen will remain in its envelope to keep the elements together and stop them getting dog-eared, which is a bit sad, especially because a remarkable coincidence occurred in this issue.

Fine Linen is based in the US and yet two of this quarter’s contributors (myself and Simon Kewin) live fifty yards from one another in a tiny English hamlet! As the list of selected stories numbers only fifteen out of hundreds of submissions, we were astonished to find ourselves back-to-back in the broadsheet. I’d like to think it was because I’ve trained Simon so well but, alas, he has a good many years of publishing successes on me!

You can subscribe to Fine Linen by following the link.

I was also delighted to be approached by the Editor of a new online Literary Fiction magazine, The Writing Garden, for permission to print ‘Decorated Hands’, which she found on Readwave, in her third issue. This is a story I wrote over ten years ago after sitting opposite a woman with decorated hands on a train following the death of my mother. Everything that happened around that time is still very clear in my mind and the story I wrote, though having nothing to do with death, has a great deal to do with loss. It is a story that has had many lives in print and online and I am so pleased it continues to travel independently.

And finally, please get your submissions in to National Flash Fiction Day’s micro competition (100 words) and anthology (500 words) by midnight on May 15th. I have nothing to do with the judging of either of these but you will recognise the names of all this year’s judges if you follow the flashing scene. I’ve got my three hundred-worders in but am still mulling over the theme of ‘Geography’ for the anthology. With only a week to go, I’d better get cracking, and so had you! Please use the links to spread the word.

Cheerio for now, Sue.

FlashFlood was bigger and certainly better than ever this time – many thanks for all your entries, and to Calum Kerr (Mr Flash Fiction) and my fellow editors. Social media was used very effectively by contributors and we really were flooded with flashes. The standard of submission has soared since our first outing and, in the case of some writers, all three submissions were of such a high quality, it almost impossible to choose one – a very nice problem for an editor to have. If you got more than one story accepted, hats off!

Now that the dust has settled, I thought it might be a good idea to reflect again on what makes a good piece of flash fiction. But first, because the list is shorter, it may be helpful to say what flash fiction is not.

It is not a stream of consciousness that begins and ends in an arbitrary time and place, unless you are particularly adept at guiding your readers through a series of experiences to their satisfaction. There must be an underlying purpose with thoughts juxtaposed in such a way that the reader feels the undercurrents of emotion, links the ideas, and understands the meaning, otherwise it is an aimless and self-indulgent ramble. Despite the poetic nature of the prose, there were several stories that left me wondering, what the heck was all that about?

The other thing flash is not is a truncated novel. Simply relating a series of happenings in an arc with a beginning, middle and end but without the depth of character and plot development a novel allows, does not constitute a satisfying piece of flash. Again, the underlying themes must convey meaning and intent: it has to be about something more than what is sitting on the surface. We turned away some very well-written pieces because they made no impression – they were just carefully arranged words.

So what is flash? If I had to sum it up in one sentence I’d say it is a piece of writing, however short, that makes the reader think beyond the words.

This means a good flash will imply a before and after (though not necessarily at the beginning and end) and will be understated, yet have the richness and depth conveyed in longer pieces. It often presents as a pivotal scene, at the end of which the reader should be in no doubt that something has irrevocably changed.

As ever, there were some common themes running through this year’s entries, the most popular being death and dying. This is bound to be the case because it is a universal fact and obsession but, this time round, I was very impressed by the diverse directions from which our contributors approached their subject. It was treated with mystery, yearning, anger, sadness and even comedy.

The other common theme, not entirely unrelated to the above, was the degradation of the environment. This is something that most of us are assimilating into our thoughts, so it isn’t surprising. In fact, I expect to see a lot more of it. However, most of these stories took a very literal approach – of landscapes and wildlife devastated by human greed. There seems to me to be a wealth of interesting and entertaining ways this theme could be tackled and I hope, next time round, to read some.

The mechanics of good story-telling are well documented but in flash fiction it is more than usually important to kick off with a crackingly good sentence – one that pulls the reader in and plunges him or her into the middle of a situation. In other words, it is essential to start the story in the right place. How the situation is resolved (or not) must be satisfying and integral to the story but not necessarily a foregone conclusion.

The title’s importance is often overlooked. Make it work for you. Don’t waste words but use it as a subliminal signpost for your readers to carry throughout at the back of their minds. Several titles felt tacked on as an afterthought, which is a trick missed.

I hope these thoughts are of interest and will help in your quest to write the perfect piece of flash fiction. Please do have a read through some of the Journal and take what you can in tips from the successful entries.

We will be doing it all again to coincide with National Flash Fiction Day on 27th June, so please add the link to your bookmarks and send your brilliant new flashes when we open for submissions. We’ll look forward to reading them!

FlashFlood awaits your entry!

Posted: April 9, 2015 in Uncategorized

Just a brief post to let you know that we are now accepting flashes of up to 500 words for one week to coincide with the launch of National Flash Fiction Day 2015. Please read the submission guidelines – we never open attachments.

Good luck!

bookmuseFFoF Front Cover 2014Just a quick update, if anyone’s interested. Last Sunday I read my 300-word story, Care, at the launch of the Worcester LitFest Flash Anthology, Fifty Flashes of Fiction, and was thrilled to find that two of my flashes had been longlisted and included! The other was In Living Memory, which was previously shortlisted in Flash500.

Despite the complimentary glass of wine I was very nervous and black spots started to appear on the page as I was reading. It was a good job I knew it by heart! It was a good event and I was very impressed by the standard of writing and reading. It was also nice to meet some writers I had met before, and a couple with whom I had communicated on social media. I also have another nice book to add to my collection.

I had not really intended to enter the Words with Jam Spoof Genre Competition but the afternoon before the deadline an idea popped into my head, which I wrote down and sent off with no thought of winning, since my usual style is to agonise for weeks over a single word or phrase. Anyway, I didn’t win, but was a runner-up, which meant my crime spoof, The Pot Thickens, was included in the Bookmuse Journal, and a lovely little book it is too.

So that’s about it for now. I hope to get back to hosting Guest Blogs in the New Year, so if anyone has something interesting to say on a personal writery theme, please get in touch.

listen_with_mother2-229x300Some of you (though perhaps not very many) will remember this introduction to Listen with Mother on the BBC Light Programme back in the 1950s. Listening to stories on the radio, at bedtime and in the classroom, was (and probably still is) an introduction to literature long before we read it for ourselves. We learned how to sit still and focus; how to imagine ourselves in another world; how to suspend our disbelief.

I can still remember the frustration I felt looking at a storybook and being unable to decipher the letters. So each night, when my father read me the latest installment of Rupert Bear in the Daily Express, I insisted on studying the words so that I could match them to what he was saying. Soon I could tell if he was trying to cut corners and read the short verse instead of the much longer prose! These experiences translated into an insatiable appetite for fiction, long and short. But for reading, not writing. That came much later.

Although I speak the words aloud when I write (and often suggest to writers whose work I am critiquing that they do this to check the dialogue, sentence structure and clarity) the idea of reading to an audience was unthinkable for many years. All my life I have shied away from public speaking (which rather scuppered my early political ambitions) and always insisted in being on the production side of school plays because, although I knew how a role should be played, nerves would have strangled the words before they ever came near to being spoken.

So it was with great trepidation that I agreed to read my prize-winning flash fiction Mother’s Pride at a flash slam on National Flash Fiction Day in Oxford two years ago. The closer the date drew, the more nervous I became and every day I had to force myself not to pull out. But my husband came along for support, there were a couple of faces I knew from the internet, and everyone was very friendly. They were also, I realised with relief, at least as nervous as me. So I sank a glass of red wine and got the job done, and it was fine – even quite good! I can’t tell you how proud I felt when other experienced readers told me they would never have known it was my first time.

My second public reading wasn’t such a success. It was at the first meeting of Southville Writers, in a Bristol pub, and the background noise made it impossible for me to tell whether I was speaking loudly enough. Turns out I wasn’t! No one had any idea what my story was about until they read it afterwards.

My third venture was last Saturday in the Bristol Foyles, at an event organised by Southville Writers and Bristol Women Writers, where a mixture of poetry and prose was read over a five hour period. It was great to hear poetry read by the poet not in that monotonous, dreary way it is so often presented (think of Roger McGough on Poetry Please). This was real and vibrant and the writers knew exactly how to get the best out of it. I learned some valuable lessons about pacing, expression and delivery during those few readings, which I was able to use a short time later.

There were long breaks in between sections for chat and I had fun catching up with a couple of regular live performers I had met before, whose names (Pauline Masurel and Kevlin Henney) invariably crop up on shortlists and as winners of short fiction competitions. By the time my name was called I wasn’t too jittery, despite the large coffee. It went well, although I had a last-minute panic over differentiating between three separate voices, even though I’d practised and practised. I more or less pulled it off without stumbling and this time I knew everyone could hear because I had a microphone!

Again, the feeling of achievement was immense and I am now looking forward to my next performance – a reading of my 300-word story, Care – at the launch of the Worcestershire LitFest Flash Fiction 2014 Anthology in November, with much less fear. I’m hoping it gets easier every time, but I have a feeling I’ll always be grateful for a swift glass of wine beforehand.

As a listening experience, I can’t recommend live readings too highly. I find that hearing the words the way the author intended gives an extra depth to the story or poem and recreates that feeling of being immersed in another world that Listen with Mother gave us. In an age when it is all too easy to skim the surface of experience on social media, electronic games, film and television, this is a real treat. Please, if you see an event near you, do go along and support the writers. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did!

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If you have any tips or tricks for live performance, I’d be very glad to hear them. Please leave a comment below.