Sunday, 9 October 2011

For Reading: Flash Interview, Never Published

Given the fact that not a lot has been happening this week and that I've been suffering with some kind of quirky post-Fantasycon lurgy, tonight's blogticle is going to be a particularly lazy one.

About a year back, I posted about how I'd been approached by a student named Heather Vann, who asked if I wouldn't mind her writing an article on my story Strive to be Happy and then for the story to be republished alongside her article at

Well, I didn't mind and Heather wrote her piece.  But a further part of the plan was that she'd ask me some questions to serve as a companion to Strive, and this last bit, so far as I can tell, fell through somewhere down the line.  Well waste not, want not, right?  So I've decided I might as well run the interview here, on the grounds that someone somewhere might find it interesting - but much more so because I've had lurgy and nothing much is happening and it took me bloody ages to come up with the answers.

Thanks to Heather for the questions, me for the answers and Ernest Hemmingway for the post title.


How long have you been writing?  Can you pinpoint a certain source, moment, etc. when you became involved in writing?

I've been writing off and on since I was at school, but it was about five years ago that I really began to take it seriously.  I'd reached a point where I didn't feel my life was going how I wanted it to go, and I realised that for a long time my writing career had been more talk than action.  So I started thinking seriously about what I'd need to do to make it a reality, the kind of commitment it would take, and what I'd need to change in the rest of my life.  The answers I came back with were pretty tough.  But the more I considered it, the more I realised it was what I wanted - and needed - to be doing.

What drew you to writing flash fiction? 

Truth be told, it's not as if I write flash more than anything else.  I've written novels, a whole load of short stories - and even, at the other extreme, I've even had a couple of Twitter stories published.

Looking back to when I was regularly writing flash, though, I think the biggest appeal was the quick win aspect, closely followed by the scope for experimentation.  Flash is a brilliant learning tool, because you can get a complete first draft down in a single session.  If you're lucky, it might actually be publishable and if not all you've lost are a couple of hours of your life.  Plus, you get to take risks, have fun and try out things that couldn't sustain a longer story.

What advice would you offer to those who are new to flash fiction writing? 

That's a tricky question.  It's tempting to say that the advice for someone just starting to write flash would be the same as to anyone new to writing any kind of fiction.  But I guess there are specific challenges, and therefore skills, to writing very short stories.  So the first thing I'd say is that flash isn't necessarily a good starting point if you're new to writing.  It can be a quick option, but it certainly isn't an easy one.

That said ... I think flash perhaps rewards planning more than the average short story.  There are clear limits to what you can accomplish in what amounts to about two pages, and going off on a wrong tangent can be disastrous.  So take some time thinking through what you can realistically achieve with the wordage you have.  Every extraneous scene, character and sentence you put in will end up being cut at the redraft stage, so keep your concept simple and plan tight from the beginning.

Do you think there is a consistent theme or image you focus on throughout your different writings? 

No, not really.  I mostly write genre fiction - Horror, sci-fi, fantasy and a little bit of crime - and in genre fiction the story has to come first, you don't get to impose yourself in quite the way you perhaps can with literary fiction.  

That aside, I'm always trying to push myself, so if I thought I was putting out the same ideas time and again I'd deliberately try and shift away from that.  A big part of the appeal of writing for me is the imaginative scope.  There are no end of things to write about or ways to write about them, and every story has the potential to be a unique challenge, so why limit yourself?

What do you find the most challenging about flash fiction?

The challenge is the same thing that I love about it - you have to do everything in a thousand words or less.  It's not okay to say, "I didn't have any room for characterisation" or "I had to just skip the middle section," you have to do it all and you have to do it with far less words than you're accustomed to.

I've literally spent hours shaving away unneeded words and contracting phrases to keep a story under that magic thousand word mark - and I learned a lot in doing it.  If you want to tell a good story at flash length there's no room at all for waffle, and that's a valuable lesson, one you can take back to fiction of any length.

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