So many different experiences and images went into the creation of The Perfect Fall Christopher’s striking second-prize winning flash fiction from our October round judged by Robert Vaughan. He shows us how meticulous his writing methods are, from the arrangement of the words on the page, to his many, many rewrites. He carves out the basics in a quick rough draft, then chisels in the fine details. This process can take a few months or longer. The finished result in his winning story demonstrates the attention to detail very well. It’s a story with several layers and we like his advice for others — “remember to write two stories: the one on the page and the one between the lines.” Christopher also points out that ideas can come from the most unexpected places and multiply once you get started. You can find flash fictions in your longer stories if you ruthlessly cut down the words. We look forward to seeing more of his fiction, both the long and short pieces and hope his intriguing George and the Dragon comic fantasy tribute to Terry Pratchett gets completed and into print.
- Can you tell us how The Perfect Fall came into being?
This flash evolved over a number of years from a variety of images, ideas, and experiences I’d collected and filed away: an art exhibition that included a small, unassuming painting of a woman spinning through water; reading Forever Overhead — a short story by David Foster Wallace about a boy climbing up the ladder of a diving board on his thirteenth birthday (if you haven’t read this yet, do it now!); watching the Rio Olympics high dive event on TV following a discussion about the perfect ‘rip entry’ technique; and an exploration of using the second person narrative — a popular flash voice and something I’d never tried before. I’ve also seen, but only second-hand, the pain of either being unable to conceive, or losing a child through miscarriage or stillbirth. Having two young children myself I can only imagine what the parents must go through, but to be able to break through that and try again, and again, and again… I have the deepest respect for these mothers and fathers. It was difficult to balance the weight of grief and acceptance, of despair and courage, throughout the story. I hope I succeeded.
- Our judge, Robert Vaughan, particularly noted your use of white space and the way you mirrored the action of the “perfect fall” in the way you wrote the story. Is layout and structure something you think about a lot in your writing?
You’ve opened the door for me to thank Robert for his kind review and feedback — so thank you again! Because you have so little room to make an impact in flash fiction, ‘white space’ is essential to stimulate enough intrigue in the reader to make them want to turn around and start all over again from the beginning — the words on the page are just as important as the untold story behind them. In terms of structure, this isn’t something I think about when I start writing. I have a basic outline or idea or theme to work with, but my main focus to begin with is simple: just get some words on the page — a very rough draft to mould until, eventually, it becomes something else entirely. For me, the structure comes as a natural part of the research and editing process over many, many rewrites. I tend to carve out the basic shape of the story and chisel in the fine detail until it resembles something people may actually want to read and, more importantly, connect with.
- How long have you been writing flash fiction and which authors of the short-short form do you currently like and enjoy reading?
I’m relatively new to the short-short form, both reading and writing, so pick up whatever comes my way, from classics to contemporary mainstream to twitterature. There are so many great authors, it’s impossible to pick out a few without excluding other worthy examples. I’d recommend reading all forms of flash wherever and whenever you can — inspiration comes from the most unlikely places.
- We’d love to know more about your other writing projects and writing plans for the future.
I’m currently focusing on another flash fiction and my first novella-in-flash, which is going surprisingly well so far! There are a couple of stories in there that I’ve been turning over for a while, but it’s mostly new material. I’ll hopefully be able to link it all together into a coherent whole. After that, I have a short story to finish up and then I think it’s time to stop putting it off and work on a novel — I just need to pick one and stick to it. I also want to get back to a children’s book I’ve been working on ever since my son was born almost six years ago, and when I need a change of pace I always return to writing a comic fantasy that’s loosely based on the legend of Saint George and the Dragon, which is kind of a tribute to the late, great Terry Pratchett, and injects some much needed fun into the writing process. All this sounds very controlled and structured. In reality I’ll probably continue to write them all at the same time!
- Your top editing tip for flash fiction?
I’m sure there a thousand ways and more to write a great flash. When I have an idea it usually takes a day to draft and a month (or two!) to edit. This method won’t be for everyone, but I find that a meticulous approach works for me, and it also helps to shelve it for a couple of weeks before reading it again with fresh eyes. Make every image, every action, every word mean something in relation to the overall theme that you’re trying to explore. If you can discard a phrase or a sentence or a paragraph without harming the narrative, get rid of it, no matter how beautiful or perfect its construction. Finally, to keep the reader coming back for more, remember to write two stories: the one on the page, and the one between the lines.
- What advice would you give to a prospective entrant for Bath Flash Fiction?
Dig out that bottom-drawer novel or short story. Take the centre of it and squeeze it into 1,000 words, then 500, then 300. Be ruthless. And don’t be put off by rejection — I submitted a couple of flashes to previous BFFA competitions that didn’t place at all, and I’ll probably submit another few in future rounds that won’t make the cut. Competitions are great (and being selected even better!), but what appeals to me most about flash as an art form, and the reason I keep coming back to it, is that it sparks creativity — I’ve never had so many ideas until I started writing flash. And ideas like each other — they merge, and multiply. For anybody sitting on the fence I’d say just give it a try, and keep trying, because you never know where it might take you.