Now the dust has settled…

Posted: May 17, 2012 in News
Tags: , , , , , ,

National Flash Fiction Day is over for this year, excepting the odd competition that is tied in with a literary festival. I have come away from it with two great new experiences: reading a story aloud to an audience for the first time at the Eight Cuts Flash Slam event in Oxford yesterday evening, and being one of the selecting editors for FlashFlood.

First the live reading. I gaily signed months ago to read my Flash500 winner, Mother’s Pride, thinking it was so far in the future that it would never happen. Then a few weeks ago I realised it was nearly May 16th, had serious misgivings, and almost pulled out. However, urged on by sadists, I decided to make myself do it, even if it meant getting drunk and wearing Huggies. And it went really well!

The audience, at the Albion Beatnik Bookshop, couldn’t have been friendlier, and a glass of wine helped steady my nerves. The words were therefore rather blurred and kept disappearing off the page, but I knew it by heart and managed not to fluff anything. I was one of fourteen readers, all of whom, including the wonderful Tania Hershman, performed excellent stories to a very high standard. Tania read three of her own flashes and one of Richard Brautigan’s, proving that flash is far from being a new idea. Today I found out that I was the only one who hadn’t performed live before, and I’m bloody glad I didn’t know that before!

So, now that I’ve cut my teeth, I wouldn’t mind doing it again. And I’d urge anyone who fancies the idea to give it a go. It’s worth it for the sense of achievement (and relief) when it’s over!

Secondly, the FlashFlood selection. It was my stint on Monday and I reckon people had been busy over the weekend polishing their stories, because it was non-stop from 9am until 11pm with a fifteen minute break for lunch. I read over fifty stories, most of them two or three times, and the standard of writing was generally very high. There were some real gems and several that made me wish I’d written them, and I was delighted to be in the position of choosing them!

However, by the end of the day, I was actually quite depressed, the reason being that the subject matter of most of the entries was unrelentingly miserable! Having kept a close eye on judge’s reports for flash fiction competitions (looking for clues) I have heard this said many times. If something quirky, darkly humorous or funny turns up, the judge leaps on it with glee and, unless it’s badly written, it is almost bound to make the shortlist.

Don’t get me wrong – tragedy, if written well, can be the most affecting of all genres and I take my hat off to those who can pull it off. I love to try and write it myself – death is of perennial interest. But my advice is, if you’re going to write about death, divorce or dementia, really go for it. Push it as far as you can and, if you can add some comedy into the mix, do so! A subtly placed lighter moment can throw tragic events into greater relief and wry humour may leave the reader with a much stronger impression of  events.

In short, flash fiction is an opportunity for experimentation with format, subject and voice. I know when I have found a strong or idiosyncratic voice, or pushed a theme to an unexpected place, those stories have done well. Grab the judge by the throat – make them laugh, make them cry – but don’t just leave them feeling a bit miserable, because they won’t want to read it a second time. In my opinion, of course!

The story I submitted to FlashFlood, which had to run the gauntlet of editors like everyone else’s, is here. I hope you enjoy it.

Thanks to Dan Holloway for arranging the Flash Slam and especially to Calum Kerr, Mr Flash Fiction himself, without whom none of these great events would have taken place.

  1. It was lovely to meet you last night. Actually I’d never read any of my writing live either (unless you’re counting reading a story at primary school) but I am used to doing business presentations so I thought of it as one of those and wasn’t too nervous in the end. Anyway, I thought we held our own against the pros quite well? I’d certainly do it again.

  2. jilljmarsh says:

    Really impressed by your bravery, Sue. Well done for leaping that barrier. Next time, how about a video?

  3. Well done for reading a story out loud….scary isn’t it 😉

    I have to say, when I do write flash fiction, it does tend to be on the gloomy side, but I don’t know why. Will heed your advice from now on 🙂


    • Sue says:

      Hi Vikki! I don’t have a problem with sad per se – the sadder the better sometimes – but I do think there has to be an element of something else, so that the reader gets a new perspective on a universal condition. There are many ways to do this, but it might simply be a matter of starting the story in a different place!

      Thanks for the thumbs up. Yes, scary, but worth it!

  4. cathaber1 says:

    Useful advice, thanks!

    Cath Barton

  5. Valerie says:

    Great tips on writing, Sue, and well done for performing!

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