Interview with Amanda O’Callaghan
June 2017 Flash Fiction Winner

  • Can you tell us how your wonderful micro Tying the Boats came into being?

I once knew a woman who really did have a long hank of her hair in a drawer. I think it had been cut off when she was a child, but I have no idea of the background to the story. I’ve only recently remembered seeing it, and from the vantage point of many years I started thinking, “What on earth was that about?” It seemed to me that there was a tremendous amount of regret tied up with the act of keeping it. Of course, hair has always been a potent symbol in stories – of power, strength, beguilement, for instance – but, for me, “Tying the Boats” had to be about regret, the hair a symbol of something lost, of a warning unheeded.

  • You’ve been successful in several flash fiction contests. What appeals to you about the form and when did you begin writing short shorts?

I’m really attracted to the form. It’s hard to get flash fiction right and there’s absolutely nowhere to hide, no possibility of sloppiness. I always think of carving when I write flash fiction; little by little, whittling away, until you have the precise thing. My interest in flash fiction started a couple of years ago, and grew quite slowly at first. Stories should only be as long as they need to be, I think, and I found a few pieces I’d written seemed to come to their natural conclusion at under a thousand words. When I tried to pad them out or extend them in some way, it did not work. So, I began to think, ‘That’s all I have to say in this piece’, and I slowly developed the confidence to leave it alone. However, unusually, “Tying the Boats” started out even shorter than the 164 words it is now. I first wrote it for a contest for flash under 100 words and it was (rightly) rejected. When I looked at my piece again, I could see it was too understated, too enigmatic. I’m still learning to trust my judgement on these things – I almost didn’t submit “Tying the Boats” to the Bath Flash Fiction Award because I felt it might be too short! But I did know that it was right this time, that it really was all I had to say. I find reading pieces out loud very helpful in this regard.

  • You have recently been awarded a Queensland Writers Fellowship to assist in the completion of your first book of short stories. Does your collection have a theme and will it contain both flash and longer short stories?

I was absolutely thrilled to be awarded a Queensland Writers Fellowship late last year. The award provides both financial support and mentorship from an experienced editor. My first book of short stories is now close to completion, so I’m hoping to find a publisher soon. The collection does have a theme: the secrets people keep and how those hidden elements shape their lives. I didn’t set out to write with a theme, it just evolved in that way. And, yes, there will be flash fiction! The longest story is over 10,000 words, and the shortest is under 300, so there’s quite a range. I like the idea of such a mix.

  • Who are your current favourite flash fiction writers? And why you like them?.

There’s so much strong flash fiction out there, much of it in anthologies. Lydia Davis would still be one of my favourites. I like the delicate, clever way she writes. Read “Fear” or “The Fish Tank” from her Collected Stories to get a feel for her genius. I won’t be entering the next round of the BFFA, so I feel I can say that I love David Swann’s work. “Dead Colleague” and “The Wrong Address” are amazing. From my part of the world, I’ve long admired Josephine Rowe, especially her haunting piece, “Brisbane”.

  • We now receive a lot of entries from Australia at Bath Flash Fiction Award. Would you say that flash fiction has grown in popularity in Australia in recent years?

I have a sense that it is really growing in popularity here. There’s an increasing number of competitions for flash fiction. Spineless Wonders publishes some terrific anthologies, including Flashing the Square (see Susan McCreery’s wonderful piece, “The Hold-Up”) and they also run a number of contests for flash, including the joanne burns Award. Seizure publishes a new, paid piece of flash fiction every week in their online Flashers section, complete with specially commissioned artwork. Kill Your Darlings is another vibrant home for flash in Australia.

  • I remember reading that the Irish Writer Edna O’Brien, writes her drafts on hotel notepaper. Good quality. We’d love to know whether you write straight on to a computer or like to write by hand? Do you have a writing routine?

The notion of writing drafts on good quality hotel notepaper, ideally while ensconced in the hotel to which it belongs, is appealing to me in every way! However, my own experience is far more prosaic. For many years I wrote, on and off, without trying to be published. I cannot adequately explain this in a few short sentences (perhaps not even in many long sentences) but when I was writing as some strangely furtive process, I wrote everything by hand. Now, I usually write straight on to a computer. I yearn for the glamour of that cloistered hotel garden, or that cliff- top view, but the truth is I look straight at a painted wall as I type. This is probably a good thing. Because I live in the sub-tropics, the light is magnificent, so from where I sit I can look out my kitchen windows at a huge sky, which I love. My dog often lies nearby, watching me and egging me on in her quiet, doggie way. I try not to tie myself in too many knots about a writing routine. I consider writing my job, now, so I write as much as I can, and think about writing almost incessantly.

  • Finally, can you give us your top tip for writing and finessing a micro of 300 words or less?

Accept that writing flash fiction is hard, learn from others, take the time to let your idea sift and settle in your mind, read it out loud (to the cat, if necessary), whittle away until you have the exact shape.

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