We’re delighted that award winning writer, editor and teacher Emily Devane is judging our 22nd Award, open now and closing on Sunday 9th October.
Read her bio and her really interesting answers on what she considers when she writes and reads flash.
- Emily Devane is a writer, editor and teacher based in Ilkley, West Yorkshire. She has taught workshops and courses for Comma Press, Dahlia Press, London Writers’ Café and Northern Writers’ Studio. She has won the Bath Flash Fiction Award, a Northern Writers’ Award and a Word Factory Apprenticeship. Emily’s work has been published in Smokelong Quarterly (third place, Grand Micro Contest 2021), Best Microfictions Anthology (2021), Bath Short Story Award Anthology (2015, 2017 and 2021), New Flash Fiction Review, Lost Balloon, Ellipsis, New Flash Fiction Review, Janus, Ambit and others. She is a founding editor at FlashBack Fiction. Emily co-hosts Word Factory’s Strike! Short Story Club and runs a monthly social writing group at The Grove Bookshop, Ilkley. She was recently shortlisted for the prestigious Mogford Prize for Food and Drink Writing. Find her on Twitter @DevaneEmily and @WordsMoor.
Q & A
- You have been very successful in writing both flash fiction and longer short stories. Among many other successes, you won the Bath Flash Fiction Award, judged by Kathy Fish in 2017 and third prize in the 2021 Smokelong Quarterly Grand Micro Competition. You were shortlisted in the Bath Short Story Award in 2021 This year, you were one of four writers shortlisted for the prestigious Mogford Short Story Prize. Do you find your flash fiction and short story writing, is very different in approach?
- That’s a great question. Instinctively, I’ve come to know if an idea is better suited to the flash or short story form. I tend to write a first draft, or sometimes notes, and then take a long, hard look at what’s in front of me. There’s a balance to be struck between clarity and depth. For some stories, distilling them down to one intense moment is the best way to tell them –anything else feels like padding. But while I’m all for efficiency in storytelling, there are times when a story is crying out for more space in which to breathe. Perhaps it would be better told in a sequence of scenes, or maybe there are several layers to explore, and a shorter version just isn’t doing the job.
- Usually, I have an idea what sort of length I’m aiming for before I start, but it’s not set in stone. I think of writing as a process of excavation – what I want to end up with is something that feels true, and complete. For a long time, ‘Too Long Under Water’ (which won third prize in the Smokelong Quarterly Grand Micro Competition, 2021) was just two paragraphs of a child queuing in a reptile house. It began with a coin clutched in a child’s hand, and that metallic
smell left behind on the skin. I kept going back to it, knowing there was something powerful in that scene, if only I could find it. When Uncle Billy arrived in a later draft, the story finally took shape. And it’s happened the other way around, too. ‘Maria Belfiore’s Shoes’ (published at TSS) had to be pruned right down – in sacrificing a secondary plot, I was able to sharpen the story’s focus.
- One thing I have noticed about your writing, which makes it very powerful in its resonance is that you include great sensory details. Is that something you always payattention to carefully in your writing?
- Thank you. In truth, I’ve always been keenly aware of my senses – sensory details are woven into the fabric of my memories. For me, including them in my writing feels quite natural, I don’t have to think too much about the process. But those details serve a purpose, too.Something that transformed my writing was being taught, early on, to consider the reader’s experience. Writing is all about getting the reader to feel something. The right details can seta tone, create tension, establish character and even suggest narrative – I’ve talked before about how, in flash, description can do ‘double duty’. That said, those details need to be the right details
- If sensory details seem forced, or confusing, then they don’t work. They need to feel right for the story. Describing a character’s toes pressing through wet, gritty sand, or the rough bark of a tree, or the high screech of a kettle, or the particular metallic smell of a coin,brings the reader into the story – he or she has to dig into their own sensory memory bank,and with that comes a whole raft of emotions, all of which add depth to the reading experience. These details are like emotional hot keys. With them, we can make the reader feel fear, disgust, warmth, compassion. When editing a story, I’m mindful of how it works on different sensory levels, from the rhythm of the sentences to the images, sensations, smells and tastes it evokes.
- You teach flash fiction and short story writing online and in person for Moor Words and Comma Press. Can you tell us a little more about this enterprise and what you have coming up soon?
- Teaching is in my bones – I love it! Over the last few years, I’ve taught workshops and courses for various organisations, including Comma Press, London Writers’ Café, Retreat West and Word Factory. I trained as a teacher, and there’s nothing quite like the buzz of being in the classroom – though, admittedly, story acceptances are hard to beat. I set up Moor Words and started teaching local classes in Ilkley before the pandemic. When lockdown began, I was midway through a short fiction course and had to quickly adapt to online teaching. It was a steep learning curve!
- I’m especially grateful to Farhana Shaikh of Dahlia Press. Back in 2021, she invited me to deliver a masterclass on her A Brief Pause programme, along with a wonderful group of teachers and writers. Through the excellent training she provided, I discovered that online learning can be warm, engaging, fun and inclusive. For many, online workshops have opened up new possibilities: writers in varied time zones can participate asynchronously, and those unable to travel can tune in from home. It’s not perfect, because not everyone has online access, but it’s a step in the right direction. During lockdown, especially, those regular human interactions became so important.
- I have lots going on at the moment. I’m currently teaching a 6-month short story course in Leeds for Comma Press. It’s great to be teaching in person again. I’ll be co-leading a workshop with Sharon Telfer at the Flash Fiction Festival. I also co-host Word Factory’s Strike! Short Story Club, and I recently set up a monthly social writing group at Ilkley’s Grove Bookshop, where I work part time. I’m taking a few weeks over the summer to focus on my own writing projects, but I have new online workshops and courses brewing for the autumn,so keep an eye out for those.
- What do you like about teaching flash fiction in particular?
- Flash fiction is an incredibly versatile form. It’s a great introduction to writing short fiction –although that’s not to say it’s easy. The form is perfect for workshops, because a first draft can be written in a few minutes. Once that first draft is written, editing and polishing it seems do-able. It’s so rewarding to hear when writers have come away from a workshop brimming with new ideas – even if all they have is one phrase that pulls at them to write more, it’s a start. Because of the short word count, a wide range of flash stories can be shared in their entirety, which makes it perfect for teaching different aspects of craft. There’s so much fun to
be had trying out various ways of presenting a story – experimenting with structure, exploring voice, setting and tense. I recently introduced a group of young writers to the form. It was so exciting seeing what they made of it – to say to them: don’t worry about grammar rules for awhile, just play.
- There are very many astonishingly good flash fictions we can read these days, published online and in print. Which flash fiction stories have made a strong impact on you recently?
- Oh goodness, yes. Where to begin? It’s sometimes hard to keep up with all the amazing work being published. I adored Angela Readman’s collection, The Girls Are Pretty Crocodiles, which includes a number of flash fictions. She writes in a way that is so particular to her; her descriptions are often surprising, and yet perfect. I also loved Nora Nadjarian’s gorgeous ‘Baby, be mine’ in the Flash Flood – she has such an ear for rhythm. It’s at the short story end of flash fiction, but I so enjoyed Nod Ghosh’s ‘The Mouthfeel of Another Accent’ at Fictive Dream – who couldn’t resist a stammering cat? We recently published a beautiful micro by Struan Gow at FlashBack Fiction, called ‘RRS Discovery’, which made brilliant use of perspective. I also recommend reading the latest issue of Smokelong Quarterly – it’s packed with great stuff. ‘My Americanah’ by Vincent Anioke was especially powerful. I can’t stop thinking about it.
- You are also an editor for Flashback Fiction, an online magazine that publishes historical flash fiction. And with Sharon Telfer, you are running a workshop at the 2022 Flash Fiction Festival.What have you learned about writing historical pieces from being an editor of the magazine?
- Editing at FlashBack Fiction has been a joy and a privilege – I’ve worked with some great writers, and I’ve learned so much from my fellow editors. It’s all about setting the scene,weaving in historical details in a way that feels natural, and allowing the story to shine through. As a former history teacher, I have to avoid the urge to explain the history – I often get stuck in the ‘head’ stage of writing rather than allowing the ‘heart’ part to take over. With historical detail, it’s usually a case of less is more, although I admire writers who pay attention to those things. We tend to think history should be told in a grave tone of voice, but I am
always delighted to see stories with a playful take on the past, like Salena Casha’s ‘This is not a story about my grandfather’, which takes the perspective of a suitcase lost at sea.
- Any tips for writers who might be considering writing a flash of 300 words or under for our Award?
- It might help writers to know that I almost didn’t send my BFFA-winning story, ‘The Hand that Wields the Priest’. My husband read it and urged me to send it in. I assumed it was too quiet,too unexciting. I submitted the story, along with a piece I thought stood a much better chance in the competition, but I suspect I’d edited the life out of the other story. So, the moral of the tale? Have a go. Send in the piece that feels like you’ve put a piece of your heart on the page,
the piece where you took a risk, the piece that makes you feel a little bit scared to share. I’m so excited to read your words.