We’re holding the Bath launch of All That Is Between Us by K. M. Elkes on 28th September, 7.30 pm – 10.00 pm, at St James’ Wine Vaults in Bath at our celebration evening of flash fiction readings. It is a wonderful collection which was first launched into the world at The Flash Fiction Festival at the end of June this year. It’s interesting to hear how Ken put the book together and what he says about his own writing style. And the picture below shows Ken’s selfie in front of a happy festival crowd. We looking forward to hearing more stories from the book at the readings in Bath so do come. And you can read more about the collection here in a previous post and buy from the Ad Hoc Fiction bookshop.
Interview – K.M. Elkes
- Writers are always interested in how authors decide on the sequence of the fictions in a collection. Will you tell us how you arrived at yours?
I could say I spent sleepless nights poring over a moveable patchwork of story titles, scrawled onto old envelopes and bits of crumpled paper, furniture pushed back to the walls, neglected mugs of tea on every surface, working out a sequence that would carry the reader aloft through the whole book. But that would be pure fiction.
In truth, as with my writing, the sequencing was mostly instinctive – finding stories that spooned together like lovers or created syncopation through a sudden change of style or length. Juxtaposing stories that had bounce and urgency in the language, with those that were more dense and required more input from the reader.
A few pieces were more deliberately placed because there are subtle, hazy story arcs in the collection, with the same characters recurring in different sections of the book.
I wish I could offer some practical advice to anyone putting a collection together, but the simple truth is that unless the structure of the book relies on certain stories being in certain places then sequencing is more art than science. The best I can say is start with some good ones, then go with your gut.
- The book is arranged into different sections. Was that something you had in mind at the outset?
Absolutely not. I hadn’t considered creating a flash fiction collection because I thought my pieces were too disparate. It was only when Ad Hoc Fiction asked if I wanted to put a book together that I looked more closely and realised that human relationships were at the centre of much of my flash writing.
It was only after this thematic thread was established and the 40 stories contained in the collection finalised, that I thought about structure.
I realised that the book could be split into three sections arranged like a triptych (I like triptychs, it’s the leftover Catholic in me). There are stories about parent and child relationships at the start, then the main ‘centre panel’ concerns couples and lovers (and if you look closely enough, this section of the book is roughly divided into three sub-sections). The final part of the triptych features relationships between friends and with strangers.
I like things in threes. Maybe because I’m a musician and groups of three in music feel freer than the more regimented twos and fours. Maybe it also has something to do with three-panel strip cartoons. I think these have a close relationship with flash, that idea of a beginning, middle and end which work together to create an effect on the reader.
- The title of the book All That Is Between Us, is not one of the story titles in the book, which is often the case in collections. How did you come up with this one?
It was a gift from the hot jungle of my subconscious. I was keen to find a title that gave a hint of the tone and themes of the book, without being too obvious and on-the-nose (the working title ‘My Big Fat Book of Relationship Stuff’ didn’t quite make the grade).
- Do you have any favourite flashes of your own in the collection?
- Who would you most like to be reading this book?
- Your style can be described as punchy, ironic, tender and sometimes surreal. And you do not mince words. Which is eminently suitable for flash fiction. Would you agree?
- The cover is very striking, the hill and trees suggests togetherness and separation which are some of the themes in your book. Can you tell us more about the artist and how you decided on this picture?
- Your book was published on 22nd June. What is the most unexpected outcome so far? What would you like to happen next?
Like a lot of other writers, I tend to get ideas while falling asleep and keep a notepad next to the bed for scrawling/remembering purposes. This doesn’t always work. Quite often the scrawls are mystifying oddities like “write cat pram story” or “DOLPHINS!”
But during the process of putting the book together, I wrote down ‘All That Is Between Us’ as the third or fourth in a list of titles. I wasn’t convinced at first. At all. But as time passed, I realised how flexible the phrase was, and how, by placing the emphasis on different words, it changed meaning and mood. In a sense, just like a relationship, the words of the title can be interpreted differently by different people. That was the clincher for me
That’s a bit like being asked to choose your favourite child or friend! Let’s put it this way, like any collection I think there are stories which are stronger than others or fit more neatly into the whole. But what’s genuinely more intriguing to me, as the author, is the reaction of readers, because they are the ones who close the loop on your stories and apply their own imagination to them.
So far, a number of different flash fictions have been flagged up by a number of different readers and reviewers. This, I’ve told myself, is good thing, as it suggests there’s at least a consistent base level of quality across the book, rather than just a couple of stand-out stories.
What’s also interesting, and what might be of encouragement for any flash authors going through a run of rejections, is that some of the stories given acclaim by readers are ones that have not always had a smooth path to publication. They have endured rejections, rewrites, had tops and bottoms lopped off and replaced. They bear the scars of earning their place. Perseverance has its rewards.
Someone who feels a little at odds with the world, unsettled in their skin and in need of a swift, warming shot of intense fiction. Other than that, then just about anybody – it’s written to share.
This collection contains versions of stories created not long after I started writing (from about six years ago) through to stories written this year. About a quarter of the pieces in the book were written specifically for it, the rest were either previously published elsewhere or have been waiting for a bit of spit and polish.
What does all this have to do with my writing style? Simply that the genesis of the book means the style is, I think, quite eclectic. It’s a style that’s dipping into a dressing up box and trying on different outfits. Perhaps that’s why there is irony alongside the surreal, satire mixed with social realism. Arguably that could be seen as a positive thing – it is a flash collection not a novella-in-flash, so needs more breadth and range.
If there is a distinct authorial style that underpins or emerges from this, then I would hope that stems from what I strive for when writing, which is distinctiveness (an attempt to find the particular and peculiar in a situation), an attention to language, emotional heft, and boldness.
I think a good book cover is hugely important. Covers work on multiple levels, not just a simple exchange of information – title and author name and blurb – but they can give an idea of tone and theme. Covers make you want to pick up the book in the first place and that’s an important consideration.
I’ve known the artist, Suzanne Clements, for a long time. She is originally from New Jersey but moved to the UK a few years ago and settled in Bridport. Though she often works in traditional mediums, she also plays around with all manner of art apps on tablets and phones.
I was thinking about images for the cover and began flicking through Suzanne’s Instagram account. When I saw the image of Colmer’s Hill (a Dorset landmark just outside Bridport) I knew it was right. The trees huddled on that bare hill, the sense of a cosy rural scene but also something more stark and wild and a little bit odd, really appealed to me. It also seemed to chime with ideas about aloneness and belonging that occur in the book.
I also liked the fact that this was, literally, a digital mash-up. Although the image was generated on an iPad and filtered through several different apps, it is Suzanne’s fingers which have created the details.
You can find more of Suzanne’s artwork and photographs via her Instagram account
This book is a series of unexpected outcomes. I didn’t expect to have a book of flash in the first place. I didn’t expect that every author I approached for a few lines of blurb would say yes. Or that they would give such positive acclaim. For that I am extremely grateful.
I didn’t expect the generosity of people who have posted on social media about the book and how it has moved them. Such feedback is precious and, frankly, vital to sales because as with all small publishers there’s no giant PR machine promoting this book, so word of mouth is its strongest marketing tool.
I didn’t expect how difficult it is to get national level media coverage for a book of flash fiction, though I knew it was always going to be a long shot.
I didn’t expect to be checking the dreaded Amazon bestseller rankings every few days, fascinated by the e-book version’s slow, painful slide down the charts and then its dramatic resuscitation when a few copies are bought.
As for what outcome I would like next, part of me thinks I need to leave the book to its own devices now, that its out in the world and has to struggle through on its own.
But part of me also wants it to reach a much wider audience, for something to happen that puts it in the vanguard for flash fiction in the mainstream. Not just for selfish reasons, but genuinely to help raise the profile of the form itself, and to make it a little easier for other flash fiction writers to get the recognition they deserve.
Maybe there will be some stroke of luck or serendipity which makes that happen, maybe not. All you can ever do, really, is write the best book you’re capable of writing, give it the best push into the world you can, then sit down and try to write something better.